Maria Majsa
St James Theatre, Auckland 1966

Maria, I’ll never stop saying Maria

By some quirk of fate, two of the biggest musicals of the sixties both had leading ladies called Maria. As someone scarred by a formative brush with the genre, I can report that this was not helpful. If I had a buck for every random who launched into song when I was introduced to them, I’d have been the richest traumatised kid in Pakuranga.

My mother didn’t have a musical bone in her body; tone deaf she was. Though she listened to the radio, it was more background fill than act of commitment and she never bought records. She did have a favourite song – Moon River. Sometimes she attempted to sing it while cleaning and, I’m ashamed to say, my brothers and I would gather like a wolf pack and howl to block out the sound. Yet somehow, despite contraindications, she loved musicals.

Oliver, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, My Fair Lady. One whiff of singing and dancing in a film and my mother hauled me off to it. I was about four or five the first time. It was raining and we were late because of the traffic. By the time we got to the cinema, the only seats left were front row neck-breakers. Mum bought me a box of Jaffas, we sat down and I studied the ruched velvet curtains, feet swinging in space.

The house lights dimmed, the curtain rose, a hush fell and the assault began. Big shiny faces floated at me like soap bubbles, bursting into song without warning. Women flounced in full skirts and men seized their shoulders and sang into their faces. It was too loud, too hectic. It pinned me in place, like a G force test. Proximity of screen plus technicolour panavision multiplied by gigantic singing heads equals nausea.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they got personal. A man in a yellow suit with slicked back hair walked down the street, singing my name. He sang it over and over till it echoed off the walls. Invisible people joined in. He sang it loud, then soft. He walked towards me shouting my name a