Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Touched Harry Potter

The last time I went to a Broadway opening, I must admit was a tragedy. The show was, without reservation, excremental. It didn't take long for the wide-eyed child who delighted in A Chorus Line and Into the Woods to become a teenager and adult who would rather watch Papillon on TV than go see a Broadway musical. It is our uniquely American art form, but it ain't my cup of tea. This is probably sad for my father who delights in the American musical. Whether sheer nostalgia or a true love, or most likely a combination of both, I am the child of a musical lover. And I do feel bad stomping on his enthusiasm every time he asks if I would like to go see such-and-such a show with him.

Every now and again, though, I've relented. I even dragged devoted partner to the crapstorm that was Dracula: The Musical.

So it was with trepidation that I agreed to accompany my father to opening night of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - a capital-M musical. It didn't help that none of my evening dresses fit. Ok, one fit. The one I wore. The one I originally wore to my brother's Bar Mitzvah and the only reason it fit me then was that I had spent the month prior suffering from a wasting disease that clipped 20 pounds off my frame and left me as naturally pale as most goths spend lifetimes trying to achieve.

My father looked dashing as ever in his tux and, this being one of his all-time favorite musicals, he was hyped up. I was cautiously pessimistic.

The show was fine. Listen, my expectations were way low. After all, normal humans do not communicate through song and since musicals are in English whereas most opera is in a language I don't understand, it's hard to ignore the overwhelming artifice. This show, however, was immediately saved by truly excellent set design. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the set, in its heavily Mad Men-ish, self-consciously retro get up set the stage, literally, for a production that I felt wasn't about to take itself too seriously. It was a period piece that didn't try to demonstrate rampant relevancy and also knew that it was a throwback. I felt winked and nodded at.

For a musical, there wasn't a lot of oversinging. As someone who can carry a tune myself, one of my biggest objections to musicals (and, frankly to the cast of Glee) is that the vocals are always always overstylized. I doubt seriously that any of the singers actually sounds like that. And since the result of their musical-theatre-voices is so deeply cloying, I have difficulty listening. Yes, this cast sounded like it was singing in a musical, but just a normal amount. And the book is funny. I laughed a couple of times. John Laroquette helped this since I find his deadpan amusing.

But I didn't catch myself, at any point, finding god simply so I could pray for the end of the show. And from me, that's a mark of distinct praise for the production. My father's client was very funny and this helped when I saw her later being able to honestly convey congratulations.

It was the after, though, that was just silly. The party, held at the Plaza, was so big as to be patently ridiculous. The production had something like 20 distinct producers, and there had to be over 1000 people at this party. When it comes to celebrity, I am the product of the massively jaded New Yorker scene that judges celebrities to be neighbors to the point of downright ignoring them wherever possible. Truth be told, there are only a handful of celebrities whose presence would deeply enthuse me: Tom Jones, Joan Collins, to name two (though I realized at the show that I would like to meet Sian Phillips, who played both Livia in I, Claudius and the Reverend Mother in Dune and who was married to Peter O'Toole, and who is generally awesome). So I guess my taste in celebrities is quirky. After all, a story I love to tell is being halfway through a conversation on the street with a very handsome man before I realized it was JFK Jr.

But I had promised my knitting group I was going to meet Daniel Radcliffe, so meet him I did (apologies to the many many many little girls who didn't get to, I think mine was one of the last hands this poor guy shook). Sadly, my heart was far more aflutter when I met Umberto Eco (Umberto, call me).

Later, at home, I remarked to devoted partner that the whole idea of the opening night party was yet another example of the self-indulgence of the performing set. I mean, when you finish a project at work, how often is there a huge catered affair to commemorate it? Yes, putting on a show is an endeavor, but it's also a job, and the idea that every successful job needs a party is, well, silly.

But I had a nice date with my dad, who still looked dashing as we sat on the stairs at Grand Central waiting for my train. It may have been 20 years since the first time he took me to an opening, but we were both wearing essentially the same thing, and I was just as pleased to be his date.

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