• A.Word.A.Day

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Cirque du Soleil: Ovo!

Last Tuesday night, March 29, the Husband and I went with my parents to see a Cirque du Soleil show called Ovo. Oh my! What to say to describe this? I had never seen Cirque before, and knew it was something very impressive and unique, but I don’t think I was prepared. And I’m not sure I can paint it for you if you’ve never seen one of their productions. But I shall try.

For starters, it was really like an old-fashioned circus in some ways. I think I was picturing something more like theatre, in a fancy hall, with the audience in their finery. And they do perform in concert halls and theatres sometimes; but this was a circus tent (“big top”) set up in a very large parking lot (at a horse-racing track). It sounded like a circus when we stepped inside (circus music!) and

one of my favorites

smelled like one (popcorn!) and, well, it looked like a circus – bright colors and vendors and beer and wine in plastic glasses. The crowd was very diverse and variously dressed in more and less formal attire.

As expected, the performers were in outrageous costume. They were a troupe of various insects: grasshoppers, spiders, a ladybug, and more. And their tricks… wow. There were acrobatics and truly athletic feats of flexibility, balance, and strength – like a combination of gymnastics and dance and yoga. There was juggling, dancing, people being thrown in the air and caught and flipped… tumblers… tightrope

unicycle! on a high wire!

walking… and a truly amazing trampoline act. There were trapeze artists swinging above our heads. (The Husband and I were both reminded of the Drive-by Truckers song The Flying Wallendas. Happily no tragedies this evening!) I had not expected to be thoroughly terrified by almost every act! But I was so thrilled and exhilarated, too. There is also a story involved, of the egg (ovo), and all the insects’ interest in it; and there is a love story. But really, this show is short on plot. And that’s okay; the acrobatics and skills and various performances are the whole point.

I’m so glad I got a chance to see this amazing show. It was a very special experience, and the performers are very, very special talented people (and some of them clearly have joints that bend in extra directions, but that’s another issue). What a treat! What a magical night! And how cool and interesting to see that circus performers are still around – I think I had sort of thought that this was a dying or dead industry, but I’m glad that it’s alive and well at least in the Cirque du Soleil company. I was also glad to not see any animal acts; I’m not sure I’m really up for the animal-cruelty questions in a traditional circus, and there was plenty of thrill with these human performers!

Broadway presents Billy Elliot

Sorry, friends, I have just realized that I failed to write up my experience last Friday night seeing the Broadway show, Billy Elliot. Here we are now.

I went into this one without a clue of what the story was about. Sometimes I like to do that. But, I think it is almost always better to have an idea of what it’s about. Maybe I just got lazy.

what DO you call it?

My synopsis: Billy Elliot is the young son of a north English miner. The backdrop for Billy’s story is the miners’ strike of the 1840′s, and this sets the emotional scene for Billy’s struggle. He lives in a working-class world of economic hardship and strife, and his home life is male-dominated; his mother is dead and his grandmother is a bit batty, but his brother and father provide macho male energy to go around. In this environment, Billy is taking boxing lessons, but at heart he is a dancer. He stumbles into a ballet class full of little girls (in his boxing helmet or what do you call it? and all) and takes off.

Predictably, his love for the ballet, when discovered, does not make his family proud. But, as the story goes, the town’s miners are crushed and learn to put their pride in this gifted son of the community, and Billy ends up with his father’s support.

It was a touching story, and quite humorous at times, and a touch political – I liked the Margaret Thatcher gags, although I confess I’m not up to speed on the contemporary politics. There’s something absolutely irresistible about a little boy singing and dancing his heart out; and the young actor did some extraordinary dancing. I loved it.



But, I have to say, this play had weaknesses. Unlike RENT, and West Side Story, this was less than perfect. There were definitely moments, for me, when the action lagged; I got impatient on several occasions for them to go ahead and get on with it. I get it, Billy’s brother is mad. He’s going to run offstage and do something. Do it already. The story was good, the music was good (ahem, by Elton John), and the dancing and emotion was great. But the pace could stand an adjustment, in my opinion.

Oh and also – I enjoyed the relationship between Billy and his friend, was it Mark? This little boy likes to dress up in his mother’s dresses, and while doing so, is the one to suggest ironically that Billy might be a little “poof” for enjoying the ballet. Mark (or whatever his name is) turns out to be the “poofy” one, in fact, but they have a touching friendship and when they dance around in little-kid-drag, there are some fun comedic moments.

All in all, I had a fabulous time, as usual, and feel so lucky to get to see shows like this one. Next up, Urinetown! followed by Cats!

More Broadway!

Hey! Guess what! Pops is continuing to encourage my interest in Broadway theatre! I’m going to be seeing Billy Elliot with my mother in a few weeks, and Urinetown with the Husband a few weeks after that, and CATS with my buddy Barrett in April. Lucky girl! You can look forward to write-ups here.

Broadway presents West Side Story: one more thing

Referencing yesterday’s post about West Side Story: I failed to mention the bilingualism. This morning I read a Houston Chronicle article about the production, and it mentioned several changes in this revival tour, including a “grittier” feel with more violent, scruffier gangs, which I think I did observe. It also mentioned the addition of quite a bit of Spanish, and in fact for the tour it said the director returned some lyrics to English to make it more accessible. I feel that he did achieve his goal of creating realism, in that bilingual characters seemed to use Spanish when they would in real life. I’m from Houston, and I don’t know how this change plays everywhere, but Houston is a city accustomed to quite a bit of Spanish. It worked for me. I understood enough of the Spanish to be comfortable; and when I didn’t understand it, I felt at home, because that’s what living in Houston is about. I thought it was a great effect. Just wanted to add that. I’ll be back tomorrow or maybe Tuesday to tell you about finishing Lee Child’s 61 Hours and why I found the ending highly unsatisfying.

Broadway presents West Side Story

Oh my goodness. I had the most fabulous time last night! My wonderful father bought the Husband and I tickets to go see West Side Story here in Houston. It was at the new(ish?) Hobby Center. I was frankly surprised that the Husband was interested, but he had a great time too! (Perhaps he would not say “fabulous.”)

I have to say that my greatest reaction was to be transported back to the first Broadway musical I saw, at age 16 or so, at the Nederlander Theatre on the actual Broadway in NYC. My same wonderful father and I were visiting prospective colleges, including NYU, and he took me to see Rent while we were there. We were really far back, maybe just a row off the back wall, but it was a tiny theatre and the seats seemed to just go straight up – we were fairly far away from the stage but it was all vertical distance, as I remember it. I was just transfixed. The personality and emotion conveyed by the actors was enormous. I guess musical theatre by definition expresses itself through exaggeration, kind of like how the ancient Greek theatre used oversized masks to make emotions and characters extra-obvious to those sitting really far away in the amphitheatre. I felt simultaneously taken in by the characters and their struggles, and interested in the process by which these actors created the characters. I liked thinking about how they did this, the rehearsals, and everything that goes into it.

Rent is a powerful story. It’s a rewrite of the opera La Boheme, which I have not seen and do not know much about, but apparently it follows the story quite closely, re-setting the love of Rodolfo and Mimi from 1830′s Paris into 1990′s New York City. The illness originally was consumption (whatever that means) and now is HIV/AIDS. In Rent, then, a group of young, impoverished actors in NYC deal with AIDS’ effect on all of them, although only some are infected.

This story captured me so powerfully at 16. I cried, and I still cry and cry when I hear songs off that soundtrack. It was perhaps one of my more powerful experiences to date at that time. I also had a gay friend who came out to his family around the same time, and I remember being excited to share with him the gay culture I discovered in Rent, in San Francisco, and in Seattle during my travels.

Like Rent, West Side Story is a remake, of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Again the story is re-set in a more modern time and place: this time in 1950′s NYC. The Capulets and Montagues have become rival street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. I had seen the movie years ago, but had forgotten how racially charged and not-PC it was: the Puerto Rican Sharks are reviled by the Irish-Catholic Jets but also by the police lieutenant (who doesn’t completely spare the Jets his racism, either, but being white they get gentler treatment). So that was a little shocking to me. One of the most fun scenes, in which the Shark girls sing back and forth about the charms of the US vs. PR (“América”), plays to some of the stereotypes, too. It’s a great, fun, funny scene, but again not entirely PC (as comedy often isn’t, I suppose). It was interesting to note.

It was such a great, fun play in general. Husband and I were both shocked and impressed at the outrageous dancing the women did in stiletto heels! (I can’t even walk in them, or even stand still!) I find it perfectly acceptable, in theatre, to know the ending; for me, it’s not about being surprised by plot twists, but about seeing a story executed. Still, I was surprised by the ending which diverges slightly but crucially from Shakespeare. For the bulk of it, though, I enjoyed knowing what was coming and appreciating how these incredibly talented actors, singers, dancers take me through a series of emotional reactions. I’m so touched.

Tony & Maria

And again, I was taken back to that little theatre in NYC when I was 16 and so touched by Rent. What a beautiful experience. There were little parallels: when Tony and Maria touch for the first time, they exchange comments about cold hands;

Roger & Mimi

I can still hear Roger and Mimi singing, “cold hands”… “yours too”… “big… like my father’s… wanna dance?” “with you?” “no… with my father.” These lines are more readily available in my memory than those from last night.

Musical theatre is amazing stuff. What a special treat. Thank you so much, Pops.

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