Anna Describes Musicals She Can't Remember

Guess whose birthday it is today?

That’s right, Stephen Sondheim’s! Also, it’s my sister Anna’s! And a few months ago, this happened:

Anna loves musicals as much I do, but she’s more well-versed in movie musicals than stage ones (Singin’ in the Rain is her absolute favorite). She’s also got a very interesting way of describing things, so I thought it would be fun to ask her what she thought the plots of several stage musicals were.

And it was. Here are a few of her summaries.

Les Miserables

OK, so it’s the French Revolution, and people who used to be rich are now poor, and they narrowly escaped the guillotine. And they’re sad because they have tuberculosis, and Fantine is visited by the ghost of Eponine, who tells her she needs to shave her head so she can have money to raise her child?

[Uncontrollable laughter.]

She’s in love with like… Antoine?

[More uncontrollable laughter.]

It’s a French name!

Marius.

…Dimitri?

Marius!

Marius! She’s in love with him, but he doesn’t love her back, and she becomes so weak from it that she dies. And then, at the end of the movie, you’re back at the beginning and you see how Eponine the ghost saved Fantine.

…No.

Cats

It’s like a character study of neighborhood cats. But like, there’s magic? And they go into space?

What?

Yeah, It’s like NASA for cats! Mr. Mistoffelees is Buzz Aldrin!

[Uncontrollable laughing.] That’s what you think the plot of Cats is?

Yeah, I feel like it’s a danced and sung civil war between the cats that do and do not want to go into space? Like there’s violence, but they need to show it through choreography?

(The best part is she’s actually seen a production of Cats.)

Cabaret

It’s about Nazis, right?

Uh… kind of?

And they start up... like a drag show in a concentration camp?

Uh… are you maybe thinking of the English POWs in Slaughterhouse-Five?

I didn’t read Slaughterhouse-Five.

So what else happens?

Oh, I don’t know! I think they put Emma Stone in a bustier for it?

RENT

It’s New York City during the HIV/AIDS crisis. And there’s this group of just… straight-up lowlife friends. They have one friend who sold out to the dot-com boom—

—When exactly do you think the dot-com boom took place?

Like before pets.com? And they are going to abolish their squatters’ loft and turn it into an Internet café. And then the hot guy meets Mimi, and he’s like willfully uninspired and she’s like, underage and chronically unhappy.

And then they reveal their HIV/AIDS statuses to each other? And then they make a pact to never get real jobs? I don’t know, and then the new guy kills the sellout friend’s dog. I don’t remember anything else about [Angel]. I think he dies in the end, but comes back? He’s like a Jesus.

Phantom of the Opera

There’s a guy—I think they forced him underground? Because he was born ugly? He takes refuge in the opera house, and he’s terrorizing them. And they just want to have a fun night out, with the singer... Chantal?

That’s not her name.

Anyway, this other guy is mistreating her, and he thinks it’s his shot to try mistreating her. And there’s this other woman who thinks she can sing and he’s like ‘no thanks.’ But because he likes... Justine? I think he breaks into her bedroom every night to teach her how to sing, and then they escape on the chandelier.

Christine.

That’s her name? That’s so basic! I thought it was like, something French. Anyway, I think he dies after she leaves him? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know!

What was that you said about him being born ugly?

Well, that’s the point! He turned evil because of his horrible treatment. It’s about not judging people by appearances. It’s like Shrek, but with singing.

Happy birthday, Anna! It’s not your fault: no one ever really remembers the book, anyway.

Stuff I Did This Week: I appeared on my dear friend Ariana’s new tarot podcast, What’s Your Deal? I talked about my belief system, faith versus trust, living with chronic illness, and how I used to believe I wished Anna into existence.

I also got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson in real life last week at our event, and she is just as brilliant, warm, trustworthy, and funny as I expected. Read her new book, Shout! It is a beautiful and timely book.

Fake BBC Show of the Week: Frogspotting