Joy, Memories, and “You Can Call Me Al”

One of my very favorite songs is Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” — I’ve had a strong emotional connection to it since my days in high school theatre, and this weekend at my best friend’s wedding, I was reminded how overwhelmingly, exhilaratingly, fantastically wonderful and joyous it can be, as my theatre family and I danced along to it once more.

I think it all started before a show for the spring musical, Seussical the Musical, my junior year in high school. We were all running around trying to get everything ready when our very beloved director, W, called the cast to the stage. I was freaking out that whatever she wanted us to do would cut into our time for our secret (and also beloved) pre-show traditions and rituals, and I kind of wanted to just get back to what we were doing.

And then W turned on Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and began to lead a dance to it, complete with grapevines and bits of choreography from the show. It was amazing. I adored it. And a new tradition was born. After it, W leading choreography to “You Can Call Me Al” (different choreography each time, and we’d just follow along) before the show for the musicals became one of our traditions.

I have no words for how much I loved that song, that dance, that moment of connectedness. W, the cast, the crew would join in sometimes — it was beautiful. I thought that my last time with “You Can Call Me Al” would be with Hello, Dolly! my senior year, and then at the end of our theatre banquet, we cleared away the stage, and W led us in “You Can Call Me Al” (aka “the Bodyguard song” for the “if you’ll be my bodyguard” line) one last time. In the moment, I remember knowing that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world, for any reason.

My best friend got married this weekend, and there were a number of friends from theatre at the wedding — theatre was, after all, at the heart of her middle school and high school years — including our wonderful theatre director and tech director (W and E, whom I adore). Nearing the end of the reception, someone requested “You Can Call Me Al,” and we all gathered on the dance floor again. W started dancing, and we all fell in line, just as we always did.

It was such a perfect moment. I almost couldn’t believe it was really happening, but I couldn’t have been happier. I spared a brief thought for what we must have looked like to the other people there — apparently, people do spontaneously break out into choreographed dance (it doesn’t just happen in musicals). I was nearly deliriously happy; I couldn’t have planned a more unexpected and magical moment.

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