November 12th, 2019

storyteller doll

Catching Up - Theatre, Adult Education, Kvetching

Elections: Most of the election in my district was uninteresting, since I live in an area that is so blue that it is practically indigo. The Republicans no longer bother running candidates for Delegate or State Senator here. But we did have an interesting race for our representative to the County Board of Supervisors, with a Republican candidate whose platform included restoring female modesty to schools and rec centers. I actually approve of many school dress codes, but I believe they should apply to boys, as well as girls. And rec centers? How do you apply female modesty to swimming pools and gyms and still allow girls and women enough freedom of movement to exercise?

Fortunately, the rightest of right wingers lost (not surprisingly). But where does the Virginia Republican Party find these people?


Condo Association Annual Meeting: Wednesday night was our annual condo association meeting. There were only as many candidates for the board as there were openings, so it should have been short and sweet. Except, there is the matter of this lawsuit. We share our clubhouse with another condo association (representing the building next door) and they don’t like how much they have to pay to use the facilities. So there was a whole big presentation on that. The only thing we can really do is wait while the lawyers fight it out.


A Chorus Line: I went to see A Chorus Line at Signature Theatre on Friday night. The big deal with this production is that it is the first time Michael Bennett’s estate has given permission to use new choreography (in this case, by Denis Jones). I saw the show during its original run, but that was long enough ago that I remember little of the original choreography.

The main thing to keep in mind is that this was always intended to be an ensemble show, based on real stories of real dancers. Despite which, a few of the stories are always going to end up dominating the evening. The most obvious one is the history between Cassie, who failed at her attempt at stardom and is willing to be back in the chorus, and Zach, the director. Paul doesn’t get a solo song, but his monologue is the longest in the show. It’s hard to remember how revolutionary his story of coming to terms with his sexuality – and his parents’ eventual acceptance of who he was – seemed in the late 1970’s. The most dated line is the one about "what do Puerto Ricans know about musical theatre?" but Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn’t even born when the show was first produced. But I still think the line in "I Hope I Get It" which runs "What am I anyway? Am I my resume?" (not, of course, unique to dancers) captures the experience of people in their 20’s. And "At the Ballet" remains one of the saddest songs ever in a musical, with its contrast between the emotional abuse of childhood and the beauty of the ballet. Throw in the humor of "Sing!" and "Dance Ten, Looks Three" and the spectacle of "One” and the score remains memorable. Despite all of that, the song which sticks in my head afterwards is one that isn’t even from this show. It’s Kander and Ebb’s "Why Don’t They Mention the Pain"” which was apparently written for Chita Rivera and is sometimes included in And the World Goes ‘Round under the title "Pain." Let’s just say that my strongest sensory memory of many years of dance classes of various sorts has to do with the smell of ben-gay.

As for the performances, I’ll particularly note Jeff Gorti as Paul and Signature regular Maria Rizzo as Sheila. But it is unfair to single people out in what is, after all, an ensemble show. It’s a good show. Go see it if you can.


Metro Whine: Because I had gone from work, I took the bus to/from Shirlington (where Signature Theatre is) on Friday night. Taking the bus back to connect with the metro, I was really annoyed when the driver made racist comments about "Spanish" immigrants. Oy.


One Day University: The metro was also annoying on Sunday, when they were doing track work that made what should be a 45 minute trip take nearly twice that. Still, it isn’t as though I had any desire to drive into the city and I definitely have no desire to ever park anywhere near Lisner Auditorium, where One Day University was being held.

Anyway, I made it before the talks started. The first speaker was Stephanie Yuhl of College of the Holy Cross on The Shifting Lens of History: How We Reimagine the Past. Her key point was that there is a distinction between history, which allows for multiple perspectives, and heritage, which she defined as a particular social groups claims about their past. She talked about the role language plays in this (e.g. whether we refer to "slaves" or "enslaved persons"), what stories we tell (e.g. lack of discussion of the domestic slave trade), and what monuments we have. One interesting bit of trivia was that a statue of King George III was melted down and the lead which most of it was made of was used to make bullets during the Revolutionary War. Re: monuments, she spent a lot of time on World War II and on the American War in Vietnam. I think that the fate of monuments to Lenin in Russia would probably be an even better example, as there are still statues of him in places that most Russians would think of as the hinterlands (not just parts of Siberia, but also in places like Belarus). Overall, it was an interesting and thought-provoking talk.


The second speaker was David Helfand of Columbia University on What We Know About the Universe (and What We Don’t Know). He emphasized the centrality of light to the study of cosmology and how our ability to perceive only visible light limits our perception. He showed a lot of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope and mentioned things like dark matter and dark energy. Because One Day University was being chintzy and didn’t serve coffee and I refuse to pay four bucks for a cup of the swill the Lisner Auditorium sells, my blood caffeine level was too low to stay awake for much of this.


The third and final talk was by Sean Hartley of Kaufman Music Center on Four Memorable Musicals That Changed Broadway. For a theatre geek like me, it was pretty easy to predict which musicals he would talk about. Pretty much everybody acknowledges Showboat as the turning point of the American musical, using songs to tell a story, versus just interjecting popular music that doesn’t advance the plot. In addition, it dealt with the serious subject of miscegenation and it had a sort of integrated cast. Only sort of because the white characters and black characters interact only in the context of master and servant, not as equals.

The next obvious choice is Oklahoma! which advanced the idea of the book musical and triggered a whole era of that genre. I think he missed a key point by not mentioning choreography at all. Oklahoma! is generally credited with introducing the dream ballet, an instrumental piece in which dance moves the plot along and reflects character. On the plus side, he had an audience sing-along (to "Oh What a Beautiful Morning") which is always a fun thing.

His third choice was Company, which was the first successful concept musical, as well as the first Stephen Sondheim musical that Hal Prince produced. He was a bit mocking of Sondheim’s concepts, however, which he described primarily as people regretting what they’ve done in their loves.

Finally, he talked about Hamilton. While I can’t argue with its success, I think it’s too early to tell how much long-term influence it will have on Broadway. Also, Hartley got several things wrong there. For one, Lin-Manuel Miranda was born in New York and was not an immigrant. (I’d argue that even had he been born in Puerto Rico, he wouldn’t be an immigrant as he would still be a natural-born U.S. citizen.) I also think it’s unfair not to mention his earlier success with In the Heights, which did win the Best Musical Tony (and three others).

On the plus side, he did also talk about the role of regional theatres in keeping musicals a viable art form. That’s precisely why I support Signature Theatre and Creative Cauldron (among others). Still, I wish he’d said something I didn’t already know.


Veteran’s Day: I did not get off from work yesterday. Alas, neither did the people doing extremely noisy construction work inches from my office. Sigh.


Weather Whine: It should not be this cold until December. I need to fast forward to April or so.






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