Friday, March 28, 2008

Take Me Out to the Broadway

For the record, Operation Embrace Winter was an astounding failure. The weather did not cooperate with my goals and it was impossible to enjoy winter sports that are mostly dependant on snow, something we got in December when it turned ugly and icy and stayed that way until this week. The lakes were well iced over but walking on ice with the pups was not the best idea as my husband could not join us and risk further injury to his shoulder already in a sling. Luckily the nasty, long season that is winter is almost behind us and rather then focus on my winter recreation plans that did not materialize I can communicate instead another goal that I actually completed last night. My lack of enthusiasm for living in the mid-west is well known as I yearn to be closer to family and my east coast centric view of civilization. Since moving back east is not on the immediate horizon it became necessary to embrace some of the finer things the Twin Cities has to offer. As locals know, Minneapolis is second only to New York in the number of theatre seats per capita and for me personally the accessibility of downtown is the one thing Minneapolis does have over Manhattan. Through the years we caught a production here and there but rarely with any consistency which is why we decided to purchase Broadway Across America season tickets to ensure we had 6 show dates on our calendar. This week marked the end of our subscription season and the Hennepin Theatre District saved the best for last.

The Wedding Singer was the first production on the schedule. The movie is in my top ten for romantic comedies and I was looking so forward to an evening of cheesy 80s music and a feel-good love story. Unfortunately the show left us wondering if our purchase of two tickets for 6 shows was one of the least wise investments ever made. The stage production of The Wedding Singer can be easily summed up in one word; horrible. All the music not written by Adam Sandler for the movie was left out of the show, more then likely because the rights to songs by A Flock of Seagulls, Spandau Ballet and Madonna would have sunk their production budget. Part of the movie’s appeal is the soundtrack and without those familiar songs the musical did not feel very musical. The Wedding Singer is a pretty simple movie but the chemistry between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore was believable and instantly made the film a classic romantic comedy. The woman who played Julia was so sweet she was saccharine and Robbie had pipes but no personality. The one standout in the show was the Boy George lookalike character, George, who stole the show.

Disney’s The Lion King was the next show to roll into town. We decided to take our “niece” Sophie to see the production. We discovered in the first 30 seconds of the show that poor Sophie had a small fear of the dark and I quickly learned how skilled I was running up an aisle filled with actors dressed as animals on the African plains with a 3 and a half year old in my arms. The theatre staff got us a seat to watch the show on their hallway TV and we realized Sophie just wasn’t ready for the show and her Dad came to get her. That is where the whole Minneapolis being accessible thing really came in handy, can anyone from Long Island imagine running to Manhattan to pick up their kid so Aunt Shelf and Uncle wadE could catch the rest of the show? We did catch most of the show and it was… okay. Like most Disney shows it was visually spectacular; the costumes, the lights, the special effects. I think my disappointment was a case of high-expectations that just were not met. My only experience seeing a Disney Musical was a production of Beauty and the Beast at the Kennedy Center which was amazing. The Lion King was good but it was not as well done as other shows and the story is really not among my top Disney favorites (and you cannot believe how upset I am that the Broadway version of The Little Mermaid received terrible reviews). We did learn from very sympathetic parents in our section that we should take Sophie to the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre where the lights are always on.

Avenue Q is Sesame Street for adults, but only adults who can handle songs with somewhat uncomfortable topics and puppets having sex. Songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” "What do you do with a B.A. in English?,” “It Sucks to be Me,” and “The Internet is for Porn” teach more valuable life lessons “C is for Cookie” or “Sign, You’re a Friend of Mine” ever could. Of course the musical did have me question what was really behind the Sesame Street classics “Rubber Duckie” and “Doin’ the Pigeon,” but I digress. We loved the show; the concept of Sesame Street for Adults, the provocative songs, the performers. The only thing we loved more then the show was the audience reaction to the show. At 32 years old we are not your average theatre patron. Playbill has a section called “The Playbill Reader” so advertisers know the type of audience they can target. The average Playbill reader is 45.9 years old, has an annual household income of $132,240 and a median home value of $476,315, so the average member of the audience was slightly appalled at some of Avenue Q’s content. The row of older women in front of us and their gasps were almost as entertaining as the show. During intermission they were talking and horrified that “Gertrude was seeing tomorrow night’s performance and she’s going to faint.” After the final curtain I was personally appalled at the number of people who got up and left without even so much as a golf clap, rude! Kudos to the writers of this edgy show, if shows don’t start looking at capturing different audiences theatre could find themselves without patrons in another 20 years.

Sweeny Todd is one of my favorite shows, and the last production I saw at the Kennedy Center was nothing short of haunting. We avoided seeing Johnny Depp’s screen version so The Husband would not have the show spoiled. The cast was amazingly talented but the show again fell short of expectations. The director’s interpretation and translation of the script was awful. The sound was off. It was hard to follow, difficult to hear and overall seemed disjointed which was a shame because the actors were Tony winners straight from Broadway which we thought would make up for a “Law and Order” free cast. Through the years we have read the Playbill and the number of actors who appeared on “Law and Order” has a direct correlation on the quality of the show; more “Law and Order” guest appearances means a better stage production. So even though the stage was packed with Tony Award winners our “Law and Order” Theory remained strong.

My Fair Lady was the one show The Husband was fighting me on, even going so far as to pawn the tickets on girlfriends who would enjoy the show more then him. I tried to persuade him to go based upon his need to expand his cultural literacy through seeing this classic and timeless show but ultimately he went because we mixed up the date on our calendar and realized about 7 hours before show time that the show was not the following week. I am happy to report that The Husband enjoyed the production which was professionally done with great costumes, stage direction and a top notch cast. We were fortunate to attend an evening where Eliza Doolittle was being played by an actress participating in a actor exchange program; she plays Eliza in the production in London’s West End. The pompous and arrogant Henry Higgins fast became a new hero of The Husband and suddenly I was being referred to as “you impudent hussy!”

Jersey Boys, the story of The Four Seasons, was a huge award winner on Broadway and some of the cast was straight from the original production. Upon entering the theatre I had an instant good laugh at the warning posted at the box office; “Jersey Boys is not recommended for children under the age of 12. The characters use coarse ‘authentic Jersey’ language throughout, and the show also includes sexual situations.” As I speak fluent “authentic Jersey” I didn’t need subtitles. Songs that are instantly recognizable does enhance the theatre experience but the intense energy of the cast and fast-paced script were nothing short of incredible. As a season ticket holder you actually begin to recognize and have conversations with other season ticket holders and by the sixth show we knew many of the people around us. The woman sitting next to me had been trying to figure out for 4 shows what actress I looked like and finally declared “Sarah Michelle Gellar” as she took her seat; we had given her that name as a possibility early in her struggle to find the name but she needed to catch some old Buffy re-runs to make the connection herself. This same woman wondered if we would enjoy the show nearly as much as the rest of the audience who had followed Frankie Valli long ago. While I’m not sure if I left the production with the same level of nostalgia felt by the baby boomers among us the songs were all recognizable; my parents are baby boomers with a love of music.
A quote from Jersey Boys which I instantly adopted as my own:

"I'm maybe the one Italian out of a hundred who's not into the drama!"
- Bob Gaudio, The Four Seasons
Before Jersey Boys we questioned whether we were going to renew next year’s subscription and much of that will have to do with what shows come to The Hennepin Theatre District, but the final show was so good that chances are good we will get some ticket package even if it is not the full season. After 6 plus years of marriage it is easy to fall into a boring routine and forget to explore all the fun in your own back yard. Buying season tickets forced us to have unique and fun date nights on our calendar and the quality of the shows, although mostly good, were not nearly as important as making sure we continue doing things that improve our quality of life and strength of our relationship.


Anonymous said...

Hey chelle! Nathan and I saw the touring production of Avenue Q when it was in DC in December! Nathan hates musicals - but loved this one!! Anything Christmas Eve said had us in stitches. We also got a kick out of the reaction of the normally staid DC "the-tah" crowd.

Just curious - did you see Sweeney Todd as part of the Sondheim festival at the Kennedy Center? I had to go by myself, b/c I couldn't get anyone to join me, but it was worth it - Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski were amazing. It was the only time I ever saw a DC show that made my NYC friends envious!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Jooli, I believe I did see Sweeney Todd in the Sondheim festival many moons ago with Christine Baranski. I seem to recall being distracted by my intense jealously focused on her legs!

Oh how I miss the Kennedy Center!

Wade humors me with the musicals... I offered him a change of pace next year with season tickets to the orchestra and he balked, opting for another musical season.

husband said...

Allow me to retort:

Wedding Singer - was bad... very bad. Bad script, bad songs. Was very slow for the first 2/3rds, then picked up the pace for the last part (which actually was pretty decent), but it couldn't make up for the first 2/3.

Lion King - agreed. Visually impressive, but kind of hollow. (some would argue "that's Disney for ya!")

Avenue Q - excellent. Although I would add here that there are a surprising number of people who turn and bolt for the exits after each show we saw. It's Minneapolis people, it's not going to take you an hour to get out of downtown (especially on Wednesday nights!!!) That annoyed me at every show.

Sweeney Todd - all I can say here is the sound they used for the "killing" was akin to a high pitched whistle blown loudly into a microphone placed too close to a speaker set to 11. The shreaking feedback was so bad that it caused physical pain to the audience members. Maybe that's the artistic point that was trying to be made, but it was not appreciated

Fair Lady - in my defense Chelle was the first one to mention that perhaps she could take someone else and *I* was the one who said I should go b/c it's part of popular culture that I was not familiar with. With that being said, it was excellent, although Henry Higgins was truly a bastard. Eliza should have ditched him.

Jersey Boys - no brainer for the Tony Awards it received. Great story, great music, fast paced, and has music that you've heard regardless of your age.

If we don't get season tickets next year it won't be b/c of our experience, it'll be through more selective choosing of what we want to see.

Long story short (too late) I agree that everyone should get out to live theatre and other performances more.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

First show of next season announced! Think we can get a group of 20 together to pre-purchase Wicked tickets for November?