The film is a musical. Shortly after the movie begins, a brave but nervous girl walks onto a nearly completed stage. High overhead workmen are rigging electrical wire and so on. In a bored voice an assistant director says, “Okay, kid.” A pianist launches for the 89th time into the audition song. And there it is! A voice that comes along once in a generation. The workmen slowly stop their tasks and one says to the others, “Wow, she can really sing!” Down on the stage the assistant director says, “We’ve found our girl!” The rest, as they say, is history.
Sometimes, not very often, the movie’s opening scene occurs in real life. Such was the debut of Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic in 1943. The scheduled conductor, Bruno Walter, was too ill to appear at Carnegie Hall that Sunday afternoon. At the last minute the Philharmonic’s assistant conductor, Bernstein, was substituted. By the end of the concert, according to brother Burton, “the house roared like one giant animal in a zoo.” Next morning the reviews were unanimous including that of the mighty New York Times. A genius!
Bernstein’s success, however, was a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t a matter of if, only when. Yet once in a great while the completely unexpected occurs. A segment of the British television show Britain’s Got Talent, has caused a sensation on the Internet. The launching pad for American Idol, the show features contestants who sing a song of their choice.
As with most shows of this nature, contestants are rockers with an average age of 19. If you’ve hit 25 you’re over the hill. The chicks are hot and men are the male equivalent. Onto the stage walks a 47-year-old woman who is downright plain. The audience titters. There are three judges and they all have a, do-you-believe-this? look.
After a few preliminary questions from a judge noted for his harshness, she is now given her chance. She has selected a song from a traditional Broadway musical instead of rock. The audience titters more. Perhaps she will simply run off the stage. The rest of us probably would have. Instead, she starts to sing. Five seconds later she has judges and audience enthralled. By the end of the song there is, and there is no other word for it, pandemonium.
She has a marvelous voice but so do others. True, no one expected this from a plain 47-year-old woman and suddenly we can all feel that if she can do it, so can we. Perhaps not with a song but with something. All true but not yet the core of the truth. That is as old as the story of David and Goliath. It requires just the right circumstances to mesh with just the right person. This happens only once in a great while.
I am aware that a number of cynics think all this is a publicity setup. Possibly, even probably, they are right. I prefer to say along with Francis Church, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” And a Susan Boyle!
Charles Blank lives in Oak Bluffs.