Thursday, March 24, 2016

Season of the Stage

With Danceworks and school connections, springtime brought a swarm of school plays onto our radar.  We had a lead in to the season with Grease: Live.  A bizarre idea where -instead of doing the stage show live on television like other recent TV plays - they did an extended version of the movie live on television. This meant instead of many of the original songs, they padded the length with dialogue and a fake car race, which doesn’t really work live, on television or otherwise.

Anabelle proved how much of the theater culture she’s absorbed over the years with the following statements:

On the ending of the song at the Rydell dance contest:
When the lyrics asked, “Now can you hand jive, baby?”
- “Based on those moves, apparently not.”

On “We Go Together” being removed as the act one closer and only appearing at the end as Danny’s answer to, “What are we going to do?” being
“A wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom!”
-  “That makes no sense now. Why aren’t they all looking at him like he’s crazy?”

And on the casting choice of Danny in general:
“They should have asked Bobby. He was better.”

High school plays hit before her turn on the stage and we saw Mountain Lakes do The Addams Family and Morris Knolls do Les Miserables.  Considering the vast differences in the material there were some strong similarities in the shows.

A) Both featured cast members Anabelle had danced with and gone to school with.

B) Both featured Danceworks students as student choreographers/dance captains.

C) Both featured musical numbers sung by characters that were dead.
(This caused my daughter far less confusion in The Addams Family, as it was more expected.)

The Danceworks connection is, again, unsurprising. Students of that school always stand out in the group numbers.  It goes beyond just recognizing them, because after three years of going to these plays, the pool of people I recall seeing before has expanded considerably.  

I still maintain that, “You can’t teach ‘Ta-Da!’”  However, I have come to accept the positive environment and experiences of Danceworks allows the absorption of “Ta-Da!” through osmosis.  Or maybe it’s Dancemosis.

I have a hard time accepting any take of The Addams Family that isn’t the TV series.  No other version gets the “ooky” quite right.  However, I recalibrated once I understood the play’s heavy movie influences and character transitions in order to make a standard musical plot work.  Then I could handle the changes.

Miss Adelaide (from the Guys and Dolls Anabelle was in two years before) retained her ability to execute show stopping numbers as Wednesday.  She wasn’t alone as Morticia and Alice pulled them off as well.  Gomez mixed musicianship and humor to serve as the emotional core of the play.  The high points of (often low) comedy came from Grandmama and Fester, while Lucas, Mal and Puglsey each had moments to shine, and also supported those in the foregrounds.  The undead ancestors as the Greek chorus insured the mood maintained macabre elements.

There was one problem with the show. Not the cast though, the audience. When the iconic theme song was played at the opening, instead of snapping their fingers, most of the crowd clapped.  What is wrong with people?

Morris Knolls did Les Mis

I think my reaction was the same as everyone else’s when we saw the signs posted for interest meetings when we were at Knolls for the Danceworks recital last year.  
"Yeah, right.”

While listed as the “school version” the director ended up adding a great deal of material from the original back in.  The result was nothing short of staggering.  Aside from the fact that it took place in an auditorium filled with seats I had sweated through AP Exams in, there was NOTHING in that evening to suggest it wasn’t a professional production.

The performances, the music, the modular sets (which folded in half to form the barricade) were all mind bogglingly astonishing.  Hats off to the faculty who organized it and inspired and coaxed the fantastic (and constantly sung) portrayal out of each and every student involved.  Normally, I list all the main cast members, but for this one, everything I’d have to say would be the same: far surpassing any expectations and over brimming with talent that captivated us for the entire night.

I will take a second to make special mention of the guy who played Enjolras, since he played (might as well be Boy) George in The Wedding Singer last year.  That’s a hell of a range.

Watching the older kids’ shows once more served as inspiration before Anabelle’s school play.  For a second Disney production in a row, the director again did an amazing job of whipping the gang into show ready shape in only four weeks.  The weekend of Little Mermaid Jr.  performances was a rousing success.

Anabelle pulled gypsy duty this year. She had a jellyfish umbrella toting background part of the Blackfish (she sings) in “Under the Sea” along with a similar dancing and cajoling fish role in “Kiss the Girl.”  She was also Carlotta the maid and one of Ursula’s tentacles/captured souls/handlers/backup singers.  

This really gave her the total live theater experience as there was one scene where Ursula is announced and “Carlotta” needed to scream and run off in order to re-emerge shortly on tentacle duty.  She showed enthusiasm and presence by bringing the Danceworks pizazz to each of the parts while gaining that valuable experience.

As he proved last year, the director understands that Disney stories run on the strength of the villain.  Ursula owned the stage every time she was on it, showing there’s no limit to “over the top” for a true Disney Villain. 

The rest of the cast were equally well chosen.  Ariel had a beautiful melodic voice, but also held the audience’s attention even after being silenced.  Eric was free spirited yet regal with a princely presence.

The several chorus groups (Mersisters, Princesses, Chefs, random sea life) each had their moments in the sun…or maybe sea.  Triton was commanding but still a caring father.   The chef was entertainingly psychotic.  Grimsby was alternately (and convincingly) fussy and nauseous. Flounder was cute and panicked.  The eels were captivating as they worked seamlessly together and transitioned the story through scenes.  Sebastian was a talented and funny master of ceremonies.

And Scuttle marked the second year as a hysterical Disney bird for the former Iago.

All in all it was a fabulous spring play season. As always, live shows are the most amazing way to learn how to think on ones feet.  Keeping the performance going strong in the face of late janitors, mikes that weren’t shut down off stage, and a zillion other strange happenings prepare the actors for facing any curve balls requiring instant decisions that life could throw at them.

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