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Broadway presents Chicago

Mom and I went to see the Broadway production of Chicago play here in Houston a few weeks ago. She had seen it before, in London, and we had each seen the movie; I have the soundtrack and love it. It was neat to see a show that was so very familiar to me. I think this was a unique experience for me in a Broadway show; I guess seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream is comparable (in my familiarity), but not much else. Certainly, if I were to see RENT again… This had me tempted to sing along, but I refrained for the good of those seated nearby. 🙂 These performers are too great for me to, ahem, help them out.

John O'Hurley as Billy Flynn

Do you know the story? Roxie Hart has been cheating on her boring husband Amos in 1920’s Chicago, when her boyfriend threatens to leave her. Not able to take this final rejection, after years of trying to make it in vaudeville, she shoots him in her rage. While imprisoned, she meets the famed vaudeville star Velma Kelly, awaiting trial for killing her sister (and partner on the stage) and her husband when she caught the two of them together. Popular culture, entertainment and stardom are mixed up with criminal infamy in Jazz-Age Chicago, and Roxie wants to be just like Velma. Step one is securing the same top-shelf lawyer, Billy Flynn, who makes a name for Roxie while getting her off on the murder rap.

But like most Broadway musical theatre, the story is secondary. This is a great story, a strong plot with hilarious characters – one of the better stories you’ll find – but still, the song and dance is the main point. I was so thrilled to see live performances of my favorite numbers, like the Cell Block Tango, When You’re Good to Mama, Mister Cellophane, and Razzle Dazzle.

Tracy Shayne as Roxie Hart

This is a great show, and I have to agree with all the promotional hype that says if you’re going to see just one, or your first, Broadway show, this is an excellent choice.

I will also say, though, that I loved the movie. For me, Roxie Hart IS Renee Zellwegger; Billy Flynn is Richard Gere, Velma Kelly is Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Mama is most definitely Queen Latifah. The woman who played Mama in Houston has an amazing voice, but Queen Latifah gave her more sass.

It was a great time all the same, and I recommend Chicago in any and all its forms – however you can get it. Thanks Pops for another great time!

Broadway presents Cats!

Cats! What fun. Courtesy, again, of my Pops. Thanks Pops.

I got to take one of my oldest, best friends, and we started off with sushi and drinks – thanks Barrett! It was an excellent evening of quality time on top of the theatre.

And, the show was one of the best I’ve seen this year, along with West Side Story. I spoke with some ladies at intermission who were concerned about following the “plot” – but I think this is a show, almost as much as Cirque du Soleil, that asks that we release the plot restrictions. It’s an exhibition of various talents and arts, mostly song and dance, but also acrobatics and displays of flexibility, again in Cirque style. As Barrett put it, Cats is a little bit a series of character studies, of a variety of different cat personalities. The fat, lazy cat; the mischievous, trouble-making cat; the lecherous cat; the old tired warrior cat; the sick and tattered cat; the magician cat. It’s a celebration of cats – what could make more sense? But mostly it’s song and dance and Theatre, people!

And oh man, the costumes! Serious stuff, and many of them spandex and very revealing – you know, this is a very popular musical to take your children to, but I must say, some of the gyrations were pretty… to the point. I’m not real squeamish – and I’m not saying I was bothered by what I saw – but it’s quite a sensual production. Certain things are not much left to the imagination! I wasn’t bothered, but I was surprised. I’m not saying your children aren’t safe, and my hypothetical policy of parenthood (which is vague since I’m not a parent) would certainly allow children to see this play; they might not “get” what I got, anyway. But I could see some parents being a little surprised, too.

I had a fabulous time; this was a dazzling show with lights and acrobatics and feats of movement and action and magic. Everything was professionally produced to perfection. Again, along with West Side Story, the best show I’ve seen this year.

Masquerade Theatre presents Urinetown!

What a joy. Ahhh. On Saturday, April 9, I finished my database searching class, with a final paper and presentation. Now, I LOVED this course, found it fascinating, found my instructors’ passion and expertise inspiring, learned a lot, and am so glad I took it. But the semester turned out to be about a week too long for me. Returning from the effortful trip to Ouachita to write a paper (I had barely started it. I confess. am not usually a procrastinator but none of us is perfect) and plan a presentation… just about overwhelmed me. (And, I got sick for the second time in two weeks while trying to write & plan.) Whine whine, sorry, my point is… Saturday I did my presentation and it was less than perfect. I didn’t plan very well, and I ran out of time and didn’t get to make all my points. I think I still did fine but it was below my standards and that’s a shame. But mostly I was just SO glad the semester was over with. (And I’m already contemplating the condensed, advanced class this summer. I am NUTS right?)

SO, this long preamble is trying to say, the Husband and I celebrated the end of the semester that Saturday night by going out to see a Broadway musical, courtesy yet again of my Pops! Thanks Pops! Thanks Husband for being game for more Broadway! If you let a reluctant patron of musical theatre, like the Husband, pick your musical, you end up with something like Urinetown. Lol! The story is of corruption, water shortages, and pee. Water supplies are so low that toilet facilities are fee-based, and the greedy Urine Good Company (UGC) is hiking fees and partying hard on the money of the little people. Assistant toilet attendant Bobby Strong and UGC heiress Hope Cladwell fall in love before realizing each other’s position in the scheme of things, and the balance of power, money, and pee is upset.

This is another cute, funny play a la Curtains, but decidedly superior in production. There were no gaffes, aside from more microphone woes. The cast was very professional and it was a very fun event. Very silly, but very fun. Officer Lockstock is our narrator as well as a character in the play, and he breaks down that fourth wall like crazy (with some assistance from Little Sally) in ways that tickled me pink. I thought it was a great play, fun and well produced, and also rather ambitiously taking on social, political, and environmental issues with relative success; but the ending fell a bit short for me, unfortunately. The Husband doesn’t have any idea what I mean by that so I guess it’s a personal thing.

What a great time. I’m so glad I’m getting all these theatre experiences this year! Never have I spent so many evenings in this way, and I’m loving it. Coming up: CATS, straight from Broadway! And dress rehearsals of Houston Grand Opera‘s productions of The Marriage of Figaro and Ariadne auf Naxos! Am I a lucky girl, or what?

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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