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Lessons from watching classic musicals with children

Nicole Welle

FARGO — In an effort to make sure my children are exposed to what I consider some of the "classics" in art and culture (and so I can listen to campy Broadway music without complaint), I have started incorporating more musicals into our family movie nights and Spotify playlists.

I was encouraged, because two Christmases ago, I invited Bing and Danny into our living room to rave reviews. The boys were enraptured by the singing and dancing (I'm sure the army references didn't hurt either), so I decided to splurge on the $10 "White Christmas" DVD this past season so we could make it a holiday tradition.

Since then, I've been bringing home more Rodger and Hammerstein delights from the library's movie section to see what catches my children's eyes. They seem open-minded, which is more than I can say for their attitudes towards dinner every night.

A few weeks ago, I acquiesced to their request for movie night on a Wednesday, under one condition: that I pick the movie. They were so eager to have me say "yes" that they agreed.

"Fiddler on the Roof" it was.

Yes, it was met with some groans. Yes, they walked away multiple times to something more kid-engaging before wandering back. Yes, there was much of it that went over their heads. But I have reason to believe it made a lasting impression and was appreciated, if not fully enjoyed by my 8-, 6-, and 3-year-old.

My biggest takeaways:

• I didn't realize it was three hours long until we were about halfway through. #momfail Good thing there was an intermission to switch to the second VHS tape, which created a natural stopping point so we weren't up until 10 p.m. on a weeknight.

• It made for good discussion on light-hearted topics such as the persecution of the Jews, prearranged marriage, when to follow orders and when to follow your conscience, as well as traditional Russian and Jewish dancing customs.

• It took only one chorus before my 3-year-old daughter was singing "Sunrise, Sunset" to herself. She is my songbird.

• I realized I don't recall ever actually seeing the movie version before, just the stage rendition and listening to the soundtrack growing up. Perhaps I should have screened this first.

• It didn't receive the enthusiastic response of "White Christmas," but it didn't bomb either. I guess a drab, poor village in Czarist Russia just doesn't have the same zip and appeal as a singing, dancing, sequined holiday in Vermont.

• My 8-year-old son has been requesting the soundtrack as his bedtime music, so I consider that a win.

• Once you hear "If I Were a Rich Man," you can't get it out of your head. Sorry.

While no one has asked to watch it a second time, and "Star Wars" and Disney still reign supreme, I think we're making good progress. It was a nice opportunity to use a show like that to talk about some of the more complex topics that arose. Plus, now they recognize some music besides the soundtracks from "Moana," "Frozen," or VeggieTales.

I tried to sneak it in the other day while I thought my daughter wasn't paying attention.

"This iiiiiiiiis ... The guy on the roof," she declared before quickly begging that I turn on "The Lorax" instead.

Recognition, appreciation, enjoyment. We're a Yiddish work in progress. Mazel tov.