Author’s grand­par­ents, pho­to cour­tesy of the author

The first musi­cal I ever saw was Joseph and the Amaz­ing Tech­ni­col­or Dream­coat. I was prob­a­bly around eight years old, and I was trans­fixed from start to fin­ish. The har­monies, the cos­tumes (that coat!), the chore­og­ra­phy, the act­ing — it all solid­i­fied for me that any sto­ry worth telling can be told even bet­ter when there’s a song behind it.

My par­ents deserve most of the cred­it for my love of musi­cals. I grew up lis­ten­ing to a stack of orig­i­nal cast record­ings on a set of cas­sette tapes that they rotat­ed when­ev­er we were in the car. Every Sun­day, as we drove to North Mia­mi Beach to have din­ner with my grand­par­ents, I was induct­ed into the myth­i­cal moral­i­ty of Camelot, the fam­i­ly dra­ma behind Tap Dance Kid, and the dark side of fame in Dream­girls

While my mom and dad cer­tain­ly fos­tered my deep and undy­ing love for an eleven o’clock num­ber (the show-stop­ping sec­ond act num­ber), it was my grand­par­ents, Izzy and Evie Abrams, who first inspired this pas­sion. My mom grew up on a steady diet of Fun­ny Girl and Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein, but my dad, a Cuban immi­grant, did­n’t know his Carousel from his Cin­derel­la before my grand­par­ents took them to see the Neil Simon clas­sic They’re Play­ing Our Song, the begin­ning of a life­time of admi­ra­tion for the genre. 

My grand­fa­ther was a lawyer and a judge by trade, but his true love was per­form­ing, espe­cial­ly jokes set to music. One year, he even tried his hand at writ­ing an off (off- off- off-) Broad­way show — Tem­ple Beth Torah’s pro­duc­tion of Isn’t Every­body? This orig­i­nal musi­cal fol­lowed a group of mon­key astro­nauts sent on a mis­sion to Mars who dis­cov­er upon land­ing that the plan­et is already pop­u­lat­ed and every­one there is Jew­ish. It’s a great loss to the annals of musi­cal the­ater that it nev­er crossed over to the mainstream. 

The world of musi­cals was mag­i­cal to me, even though I was nev­er brave enough to fol­low in my grand­par­ents’ per­form­ing footsteps.

My grand­moth­er Evie was the sen­si­ble one, but she too got swept up in my grandfather’s musi­cal fer­vor. (It’s true, you can’t stop the beat). As a pair, they were in high demand, per­form­ing at wed­dings, anniver­saries, and — their spe­cial­ty — the bar and bat mitz­vahs of fam­i­ly and friends up and down the Flori­da coast. Their can­dle light­ing cer­e­monies were epic, as they tweaked the lyrics of pop­u­lar songs to reflect the hon­or, humor, and deep affec­tion the occa­sion required. After my grand­moth­er died, in 2000, Izzy con­tin­ued per­form­ing, call­ing him­self a sit down come­di­an” (“because I’m too old to stand up for too long”). Every Passover he pro­duced a new dit­ty, still set­ting his jokes to music. At my wed­ding, he request­ed a twen­ty-minute set (we gave him five). 

The world of musi­cals was mag­i­cal to me, even though I was nev­er brave enough to fol­low in my grand­par­ents’ per­form­ing foot­steps. But in 2019, on the cusp of turn­ing forty, I decid­ed on the for­mat of my (pre) mid-life cri­sis: I would leave my job as CEO of a phil­an­thropy con­sult­ing firm and try my hand at unpaid intern­ships in all the jobs I had ever dreamed of doing. The first stop on my tour of what ifs” would have to be the Great White Way. 

I had two oppor­tu­ni­ties to shad­ow and sup­port shows in New York that were about to open – an off-Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Assas­sins at the Clas­sic Stage Com­pa­ny, and Fly­ing Over Sun­set, a new Broad­way musi­cal set to launch at Lin­coln Cen­ter. In between fill­ing water jugs for the cast, get­ting cof­fees and fil­ing receipts in the pro­duc­tion office, I got to watch as these experts in their respec­tive crafts – peo­ple like John Doyle, James Lap­ine, Tom Kitt, and Michael Korie – direct­ed, wrote, and re-wrote songs and pulled togeth­er, in the way that only a musi­cal can, that per­fect mar­riage of music and lyric to tell a sto­ry in the most soul-fill­ing way pos­si­ble. Because what my grand­par­ents always knew – and I found out – is that what musi­cals real­ly do is allow us to share pieces of our lives, our cul­ture, our his­to­ry, and our feel­ings to get at the root of who we real­ly are. Some­times with tap danc­ing. For me, there is tru­ly noth­ing bet­ter. At the end of my first intern­ship day, I texted my hus­band: Today was amaz­ing. If this was it, and I had to come home tomor­row, it would have all been worth it.” 

The sto­ry of what hap­pened next – the shut­ting down of Broad­way due to the pan­dem­ic, three oth­er intern­ships in wild­ly dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sions, and the chang­ing of my entire life – can now be found in my recent mem­oir, My What If Year. And while my book only fea­tures a few choice men­tions of my won­der­ful grand­par­ents, I think about my grand­par­ents every time I hear a song that makes me laugh or cry, and par­tic­u­lar­ly when I’m writ­ing jokes. Their voic­es in my head – always set to music – are what keep me want­i­ng to tell my stories. 

Alisha Fer­nan­dez Miran­da is the author of My What If Year. She serves as chair and for­mer CEO of I.G. Advi­sors, an award-win­ning social impact intel­li­gence agency that con­sults with the world’s biggest non­prof­its, foun­da­tions, and cor­po­ra­tions on their phil­an­thropy and social ini­tia­tives. A grad­u­ate of Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty and the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, her writ­ing has been fea­tured in Vogue, Busi­ness Insid­er, Romper, and Huff­in­g­ton Post. Orig­i­nal­ly from Mia­mi, she cur­rent­ly lives in Scot­land with her hus­band and children.