Thursday, March 26, 2015

Play Time Again

Due to the amazing connectivity between students at Danceworks, the week before my daughter’s school’s performance of Aladdin Jr. we went to see a couple of her student teachers (Miss Katie and Miss Marissa) as the dance captains in my old High School’s spring musical.

It was remarkable to return to Morris Knolls and see that the fashions, the hairstyles, the slang and the attitudes hadn’t changed since I’d been there.

Then I realized The Wedding Singer is a period piece making fun of the 1980’s.  The cast viewed the time period with the same unknowing distance as if they were performing Grease

Crap, I’m old.

It was a fantastically fun and catchy show.  Even though there were some depressing interruptions from my daughter:
“Why is everyone’s hair so big?”
“Who’s Billy Idol?”
“Why is he wearing pants like the harem girls do in Aladdin, and what does that have to do with a parachute?”

Once again, I am truly amazed at their level of performance.  It was far beyond what I remember from my years there.  I don’t suppose anything has magically amplified talent at that age, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a “musical theater performance enhancement” equivalent of steroids. 

It has to be increased desire and drive to practice on the student’s part. Looks like there is a positive side effect to the existence of Glee and American Idol after all.

The set was minimal, consisting of an upper and lower section with stairs on both sides and a couple of sliding bits.  With the application of a few signs and movable furniture, the portrayals made it believable as a home, a basement, a NY Nightclub, a catering hall a swanky restaurant, a Wall Street office, a mall and Vegas, baby.   

We’d seen the leads as Sky and Sarah in Knolls performance of Guys and Dolls the previous year, and were unsurprised, though still impressed, at how they used their presence and talents to bring the level of command performance required to lead a stage musical.

I could understand it as a fluke if a school had a couple of standouts, but that wasn’t the case. The two other leads from Guys and Dolls, who had since graduated, were of equal caliber to this pair.  Also the supporting cast had show stopping solos or group numbers with individual moments to shine.  The beta couple alternated between comedy and songs where they held the audience in the palms of their hands. The villains similarly switched between powerful songs and powerful boo and hiss inspiring performances.  The character based on Boy George was equal parts highly hysterically amusing, highly musically talented…and highly generating a long string of questions from my daughter.  Overall, the acting was stellar ranging from super over the top expressive, to completely believable quiet, emotional moments as the script required.   Bonus points to the “Mother” who somehow seemed older than her classmates through her actions alone, and fake Billy Idol who exuded pure, um, Billy Idolness.

In addition to her usually spectacular dancing (which I am not qualified to explain), Miss Marissa played Grandma Rosie, cementing the opinion I formed based on their humorous background reactions last year.  That is:  it’s amazing someone so graceful has that much of a highly developed sense of comedic timing and delivery. (Which I am qualified to explain.) I think it violates some law of physics.

The dancing ship sailed on in good hands when Miss Katie was the lone captain in the ensemble during scenes that needed Grandmaness.  (That analogy made far more sense in my head.)  I think her movements and expressions had the most accurate Eighties vibe out of everyone on stage.
That statement can’t be explained, you had to be there. 

Not at the play, I mean in the Eighties. 
It was a unique and gnarly decade.

There were other Danceworks students in the cast, and they were the best ones in the ensemble dances.  I am not saying this only because I am prejudiced. (Though I am.) Luckily, I am also enough of a buffoon to have made this observation impartially.  With the stage hair, makeup and costumes, I found it nearly impossible to recognize anyone in the group numbers.  I was noticing certain dancers were crisper. 
(That’s sharper, Daddy.)
Yes, sharper, that’s exactly what I meant.

Anyway, while I noticed this sharpitude, Anabelle was pointing out who she knew in the dance numbers from the Moving Company and classes.  Invariably they were the same ones I had noticed.

Another Danceworks student was dance captain in the Spring Musical of a different high school which Anabelle will be attending all too soon. 


Considering that position requires expertise in dancing, performing and coaching/mentoring, I’d guess definitely not.

Speaking of Danceworks students standing out, I can brag about Anabelle in Aladdin Junior, adding much flair and pizazz to her moments while presenting as a non singing narrator and in the ensemble musical pieces.  Yes, she was the only Danceworks’ student in the play, and yes, as her Dad, I am completely and unashamedly prejudiced.  However, I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t a freak combination of my juggling genes and Rosa’s Latin genes that magically combined to produce those “Broadway Jazz” moves filed with crispy sharpness she threw into her performance.

This year was a big step up for her. Not only was it her first part with spoken lines, but the structure of the play gave her more stage time.  Since this was the “Junior” version of the story, it received some tweaking.  Part of this was practical. When the only special effects are dimming the lights, quick changes and having the actors hide behind dancing harem girls, no one’s getting turned into an elephant.

There was also time compression.  The narrative got shifted to rush from one famous song to another, hence the need for narrators in the first place.  The singing ones provided continuity with their excellent voices, the speaking ones provided one liners and comic interactions to keep the pace going towards the big numbers.  Some were quieter moments that allowed the lead actors to get some practice in the art of owning the stage.  Each main character pulled it off several times when they got their turns.  Other changes involved getting nearly the entire cast out there to let the big production numbers have the impact required. (“Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali” plus the opening introductions and the closing reprises)

There were supposed to be Friday and Saturday night shows, and a Sunday matinee.  Thanx to the winter that wouldn’t die, the Friday show was cancelled.  The solution was to run a second show Saturday night at 9PM.  This put the kids in the position of doing back to back shows, AND having three performances in under twenty four hours.

Not only did the gang pull it off, but the second show on Saturday was probably the best one.

Yes, my wife and I, along with other parents sat through and enjoyed all of them.  Fortunately for us, there is no such thing as identical performances of a live show. Seeing the nuances and differences the kids experimented with was half the fun.

The adrenaline rush from the first show, coupled with immediate memories of any minor glitches both honed and energized the second go around.  We expected the kids to be fried, and pass out as soon as we got them home.  However, applause is still the most invigorating, addictive and beneficially wonderful drug in existence. They all left the school still wired, and Anabelle was fully awake, reviewing the evening with us until about midnight.

Amazingly, they all still did a marvelous job the next afternoon.

This was probably the perfect script for that age group.  There’s basically no fourth wall in the show, and silliness and magic are weaved throughout. That meant as long as the gang kept their wits about them, and bluffed or laughed their way through them, any bloopers integrated themselves nicely into the fabric of the play.

It was very cool and sweet to see the kids helping each other out with various cue and line reminders if another was struggling.

In spite of being only a couple of years apart, they turned in highly varied performances.  Jasmine could be sweet and melodic but also feisty and defiant, Jafar was imperious, commanding yet easily exasperated, the Genie was mischievous and wild but with honest emotions, Aladdin was sneaky and animated, yet innocent, the Sultan was goofily haughty and energizing to watch, Abu was nonstop in-character kinetics, the various guards, villagers, narrators and princes added a mix of styles and interpretations to the songs and actions…
And Iago was pants wettingly funny.  (Being a giant Gilbert Gottfried fan, that’s high praise from me indeed.)

Much acclaim for their success needs to be given to Director Paul from Pushcart Players.  He had a script, some bare bones props, a group of middle school kids, and four measly weeks to create a viable show.  It’s a testament to his ability to motivate them all to put in the amount of work and focus required in that month to turn out the extraordinary performances they had.

Nice work by the musical and instrumental director as well, throwing a couple "visiting musicians" in with a student pit band to provide live music for the whole shebang.  I probably should also point out a similar set up was used to add professional sounding orchestration to the already professional looking and sounding Wedding Singer show.

I’m thrilled my daughter is learning of the joys of getting ovations from relatives, friends and strangers as a result of hard work.  I’m even more thrilled that she’s learning about the bonds of friendship formed with the people who cooperate on that hard work.  Having her two best friends in the play with her added much to the experience, but they all connected with the entire cast as well.

Speaking of bonds, Miss Marissa came to one of the Aladdin Junior shows.

For those of you with a shorter attention span than I (if that’s possible) that means a high school senior, with a large pile of her own extra-curricular activities, came to a middle school play with none of her relatives acting in it.

She also explained the connection between the students at Danceworks far better than I have in several of my bumbling attempts:

"I, as well as most of the other older girls at Danceworks, feel partially responsible for making sure the younger girls feel included and connected to us. We want to be good role models for them, but we want them to know that we are human beings as well. We love talking to them and getting to know them, and hopefully they will do the same for the girls younger than them.”

I don’t think it could be any clearer about why we’re happy our daughter wants to follow in certain dancing and performing footsteps, especially when she added:

“And I am glad to leave behind footsteps for [them] to follow in. It is the younger girls that remind us why we do what we do. Their accomplishments are our accomplishments, their joy is our joy!”

Now not only will my daughter have that example to guide her going forward to when she’s one of the “older girls.” She’ll have her incredible pain in the keister father who has witnessed that example to remind her of it should it slip her mind.


Antonia Nedder said...

Love this!! And I LOVE that Anabelle is doing theater!!!

Jeff McGinley said...

Many thanx. As should be obvious from the above, I am thrilled as well. She's building bonds, confidence and memories that will last forever.