What about that Von Trapp family, anyway? Was the Captain really the draconian dad of the year? And, was Maria such a darling? And is South Pacific one true story? Two? Three? Not even close. What became of Green Grow the Lilacs? There is always more to those musicals than you see on the stage, and if you want to know what gives, Charles Troy is your man for a creatively illustrated real story behind the staged story.
Charles is an esteemed Broadway musical historian who had never seen or heard any musical theater until one night at the age of 13 he turned on a radio, fiddled with the dial, and lost his heart to Fiorello. The year was 1959 and Charles’s life took on a new purpose. It was the lyrics that got him. He was hooked by the very idea of telling a story in songs.
He collected everything he could read about musicals, and 2 years later he took his first step on the way to Broadway as a lyricist. he wrote his first show in high school and his next at the University of Michigan. He was ready for the big time. Off to New York for a musical theater workshop. He did everything right. He signed up, wrote songs and was very pleased, but there was one large red flag. He says that lots of people were as talented or more as he was, but they were 35 or 40 and had gotten nowhere. Then the final blow to this incipient career. Hair. This age of Aquarius was too new an age for him; clever lyrics that told a good story but too stream of conscious for Charles and the rest of the old guard. He went back to Chicago and was a copywriter for a short while after which he fell to his father’s desire and joined the family textile business. “I was a lousy businessman. I was not good at making deals. My brother was much better.” He spent the 80s miserable at it. “In 1990, my mother was dying and I thought there is now no one left to please, so why not please myself.” He sold his half to his brother, took out a payout over time and now could figure out what to do with his life. He was intrigued by desktop publishing so went to his brother in law’s daily to play with it. Graphic design, the visual equivalent of exactly the kind of thing he liked to write – puns and wit expressed visually. Perfect enough. He hung up his shingle and became a self employed graphic designer.
He had been, for a time, a distance from musical theater as one of his children is deaf and it did not feel right even to take his children as a group to musicals. But in 2003 one of his clients from a senior learning center had lots of classes in musical theater. It was another aha moment for Charles, who knew he could and should be doing the same. He learned to incorporate everything on power point for his presentations starting with putting lyrics on screen for which he enthusiastically credits his wife Lauren, herself a teacher, who wisely said not to pass out material but to put it on the screen so people would not be looking down rather than up at him.
What he does now is better than being a lyricist because he gets to communicate his own passion for musical theater coast to coast. “There are lots of people teaching about musicals, but no one tells the history like I do. I am now doing the most creative work in my life and I am 68 years old. I started when I was 55.” He created the shows and the market appeared. The boy who was stage struck at the age of 13 is now himself center stage because he was passionate enough about it and brave enough at mid-life to trust his instincts and take a leap of faith.
His love letter? So many possibilities, but the first one will be to his wife of 43 years, who stuck by him when he was miserable with his day-job and encouraged him to do what he wanted to do. Then maybe to his parents with the wisdom of hindsight that comes with a distance that clears away difficulties and lets the good come to the front.
For a man whose life centers on the story behind the story, a letter to his parents is a natural. As for the story of Charles Troy, every letter by him would add to the history not only of musical theater but be a tribute to the power of the personal growth.
From me to you with love in the air,
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