02 December 2007

all that jazz

Musical theatre is a decidedly American form of entertainment. Modern musical theatre using not only the spoken word, but also music and dance to tell a story. When the emotion is too big to be contained in words alone, the character sings and dances. Muscial theatre started in the US and no one does it better. The Brits try, and some of their efforts are stellar (Les Miz, Martin Guerre, etc.). Most, imho, however, fall flat; lacking that spark that makes musical theatre magical. I've seen some musical theatre in Russia. Russians just seem to be mystified by this genre. It doesn't quite work here.

Friday night I went to see Чикаго, as it said on my ticket. It was a production of Chicago. This is a show I love. I've seen it on Broadway, on tour and in the cinema. While it was lots of fun to go, this particular production lacked razzle dazzle.

It was the best musical I've seen here. But, it was on par with a good amateur production. The choreography was lackluster. My grades 4-6 dance class do a better job (and their choreography, if I do say so myself is more interesting, more clever and more Fosse-esque) with the opening number than this cast did. The entire production looked like it was trying to be the film. Film and theatre are DIFFERENT. One should not try to be the other. But, in this case, scenes from the film had been added to the play. The costumes were very reminiscent of the film. Velma looked remarkably like Catherine Zeta Jones. She was good. Roxie, bizarrely, looked like Little Orphan Annie--curly orange wig and ill-fitting dress. Although she was a Russian Actor of the People, she was not very good. She was cartoonish and melodramatic. She has little truth to her character instead posing and shouting. Amos was likable. Billy was horrible. And the chorus, well, left a lot to be desired.

I don't like ballet very much. To me, ballet, especially here, is all about physical prowess and lacks passion. The story gets lost in technicality. The dancer focuses on precisely positioning his or her body in demanding positions. And, to me, this is boring. These dancers had certainly been trained in the Russian ballet. They were flexible and able to kick...but they didn't use dance to tell the story. Bob Fosse, I'm certain, would not've been unimpressed.

But, even a poorly executed musical is better than no musical at all!

The most entertaining part came from our interactions with the other theatre goers. We were astonished to find that Kat (the ticket purchaser for this girls' night out) had gotten us seats in the front row of the balcony (my favorite spot) for only $14! The seats were plush, we were in the center of the theatre and life was good.

It was actually too good to be true. It turned out we were actually seated in some makeshift seats behind the seats in the balcony. It looked like an area that normally was used for storage. We couldn't see a thing!

We moved our chairs forward and I turned mine around backwards and was kneeling on it. The usher, who looked very stern, came and told me that after the lights went down we could go and sit in empty seats.

The lights went down and we leapt. Unfortunately, only Liv and I got to move down. (Though, as it turns out, Kat ended up with a more comfortable seat with less irritating neighbors.) The woman sitting next to me, who also moved down when the lights dimmed, was unpleasant-- crowding me in my seat and worrying that my boot might touch her. It was bench seating. Although the seats were generous, she decided to sit right on the edge of her seat next to me for the second act--and to be disapproving.

I was glad this was a show I knew backwards and forwards. I merely sang along in English in my head (well, mostly in my head...) and watched the dancing. I did laugh out loud when the line "My sister in now unfortunately deceased" was translated as "But now my sister nyet." No one else laughed but I was tickled.


Maggie said...

That line made me laugh! Well, even if it's sub-par, a halfway decent production of Chicago is still entertaining!

chou-chou said...

I agree - a crappy musical is better than over-technical ballet any day.

do you like opera? i would image there would be good opera in Russia... but maybe not.

Rachael said...

well you got your theater fix anyway...sounds quite entertaining actually!

votemom said...

sorry about the seats. it's always soooooo disappointing when you THINK your seats are going to be good and then the reality is different than the expectation.

but, hooray for girls' night out!
p.s. i've never seen chicago - the musical OR the movie.

Debi said...

K8....singing in your head...you should have sung out loud maybe they would have given you a roll next time...

hooray for a GNO...I don't get enough and when I do they are usually to eat and gab...I would love a good theater night...and at 14 bucks...that never happens in Chicago...NEVER

Tina in CT said...

I have a wonderful opportunity as the large company that I work for gets comp tickets to a nearby theater. They don't do the big Broadway plays but it is live theater and the price is right. I'm thankful for it.

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know that Musical Theatre did NOT start in the USA, but was fact around in Europe since Greek times.

Also, I don't agree with you that 'most British musicals fall flat' ... perhaps it is the difference between American and British humour that makes you feel that way.