The many sides of Broadway

One of the biggest reasons I was excited about finally living in New York was the theatre scene. I have been doing theatre for about 15 years, but in the south it’s not considered a prestigious past-time, like oh say….football. In some ways I have to admit I enjoyed this. As a self-proclaimed actor I was considered interesting, and the title carried with it a sort of exoticism. In New York, when you say your an actor, it is generally met with a “and how is that working out for you?” kind of nod. So, I miss the status of being more interesting because I was not afraid to bare my soul, body, voice, talent on a stage in front of many viewers.

However, moving to New York gives me something I have never had. Access to theatre 24/7. Whether I am in a subway with rhyming beggars, on the streets with live musicians, or in a Broadway, off-Broadway, or off-off-Broadway theatre. I am constantly surrounded by people working in theatre as a business rather than a hobby. Since I moved to New York I have seen two shows, and I think they sum up a lot about the variety of theatre you can see here within the “Musical” category. The two shows were:

 

 

Spring Awakening

This was definitely the crowd pleaser of the two that I saw. The show is young, (there are only two actors who play adults), and has music that is very emo-pop with a Broadway twist. I had heard the soundtrack, and enjoyed it, but the songs were kind of hard to really place within the context of the show. The show takes place in the late 19th century (1890’s) in Germany. Although the musicals addition of microphones and general music type makes it feel wonderfully current/timeless. Kind of like a modern day Shakespeare. At any rate, it’s about kids who are kept in the dark about sex, and what happens when parents refuse to talk to their kids or even recognize that their kids grow up and will be sexual human beings. This makes for an incredibly interesting plot, and because of the presentation I was hooked by the end of the first song. As an actor, I was immediately impressed with the talent of the cast. The singers sung intricate and tight harmonies. Many of the actresses looked incredibly young, and most actors were in incredible shape. The lights, the set, everything had this polish that I’ve rarely seen off a Broadway stage. It was incredible. Perhaps the most “awakening” experience was the fact that they managed to write and produce a show on Broadway that has the first act ending with two actors having sex on stage, while the other actors are singing and present on stage. They also managed to do this in a way that did not seem forced, weird, or cheesy. I cried, but mainly just at the idea of these children all wanting affection from their parents who are incredibly cold and afraid of the sexuality of their children. I was slightly disappointed to see that they gay characters were kind of reduced to comic relief, but I guess wi  teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, and death by improper abortion, adding on dramatic gay subplots would have been a little much. Having said that, the show still managed to not be bogged down in the doom and gloom of it all. True to emo-style the teenagers might have complained, but they were upbeat about it.

The other show was:

  SITPWG

I know the score of Sunday in the Park withGeorge backwards and forwards. I can sing every song, and I own the DVD of the original production with Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin. So my expectations were incredibly high! Luckily this production actually exceeded my high expectations. One of the reasons was not only the incredible acting, but the use of media on an entirely white canvas of a stage. There were projected images to illustrate George Seurat’s painting, was simply incredible. Towards the middle of this clip you can see how some of it works:

 

 I cried, the audience cried, it was just beautiful. Jenna Russell who is the female lead in the show is one of the finest actresses I have ever seen in a musical. She broke your heart portraying both “Dot” a model who is in love with George, but cannot be with him because of the artists inability to connect with her as a human being, and as “Marie” the child of “Dot” who is nearing the end of her life and is trying to convince her grandson the artist (also named George) the importance of not only being an artist, but being human. Connecting. Although I certainly enjoyed “Sunday in the Park with George” more, it is more difficult to recommend. The music is not exactly hummable (to use Sondheim’s self-criticism from Merrily we Roll Along) and the plot is very similar. The genius of course being that pointillism works that way, but for someone who is just wanting to be “entertained” rather than attending “art” the show is a hard sell.

The nice thing is…you don’t have to sell it! There are plenty of theatre goers who want intellectual art, and plenty more who just want to be entertained by some good songs they can sing along to in their car. Both are constantly available in this city, and that I love. In the south, even the incredible theatre scene in Houston, these options are just not as readily available. Primarily out of lack of demand, but for people like me who want it all, it is nice to have it at last.

 

 

 

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