Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Rich Griset’s review of This Beautiful City is in this week’s Style. He – like most reviewers in town – gave the show an appreciative rave. The winter season really starts to heat up this weekend with “Once on this Island” opening at the Mill. By my count, over the next 3 weeks six productions will be opening and that’s not even counting “The Color Purple” at CenterStage or the Kander & Ebb review that SPARC is putting on. Prepare to get busy!

For those of you who keep track of this sort of thing, the longest running musical on Broadway – “Phantom of the Opera” – celebrates the 23rd anniversary of its opening night today. It’s funny – in my experience, “Phantom” is a little like “Cats” used to be. It may have run forever but few people I talk to mention it as one of their favorite shows. So who is still going to see this show after 23 years? Just for the record: I have never seen it. It’s never risen to the top of my must-see list during those precious few trips I take to New York. Perhaps this year I’ll break down and give it a shot.

Yesterday I had my first rehearsal for the night of sonnets that Richmond Shakespeare is putting on Feb. 8th. I have a rather ridiculous history when it comes to acting. When I was a high school senior, I was in the ensemble of our production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” a task I was recruited for by my girlfriend at the time (a wonderfully talented singer who was playing the Minstrel) because of the lack of boys willing to try out. I was wisely paired with the best and loudest female singer in the ensemble so no one would hear anything that came out of my mouth. I had one line – something like “Get a rope!” – and I delivered it horribly.

Later, when I was working backstage for Theatre IV, the director of “Isn’t It Romantic” tried to block a scene to include some of us backstage guys. It was a scene in a café and one of the characters was supposed to wave at successive passers-by while having a conversation with another character. All we crew folk had to do was walk by and give a friendly wave or salute. Well, apparently we all looked so awkward trying to look natural just walking across the stage that the director decided to just have the character pantomime seeing acquaintances walk by. Clearly, the audience’s imagination would be more convincing than our acting. As it happens, I think I was about 23 years old at the time and perfectly happy to stay backstage and behind the scenes where I belonged.

Time and experience have put me on stages of various kinds since then. I’ve done training and conference presentations and taught college classes and even had to open an awards show once. But my acting technique has not gotten any better. As I quipped to the very patient Freddy Kaufman who is directing the night of sonnets, I covered the emotions from A to B in my reading. But don’t let that dissuade you from coming to the Feb. 8th performance. I’ll only be on stage for a minute and a half or so and there will be many professionals there who actually know what they’re doing. And I’m trying to recruit a loud and talented performer who might consider singing through my sonnet so once again you won’t have to hear anything that comes out of my mouth. Shhh. Don’t tell Freddy.


Jason M. said...

No one wants to hear me wax poetic on "Phantom", but I will anyway since no one's stopping me :)

I often walk by the Majestic theater, just by chance, here in NYC during the time the show is getting ready to open the doors to the public, and I cannot tell you how many times (most of the time, actually), that the line is stretched around the block, or at least heavy crowds are pouring in off the streets. People love the show, and come back to see it time and time again. Is it a tourist trap? I don't like to think of it that way, but sure - people know the brand and the history, and want to see it if they've never done so. As someone who has seen it 3 times in my life, I can attest that I think what draws people back is that they want to escape into this beautiful world that is created each night - it's also a universal story - unrequited love, which is something everyone can identify with. Even if you're not a fan of Lloyd Webber's music, or you think the show is a piece of dreck, it's hard to deny the emotional impact the show has to this day. It must be doing SOMETHING right if it has played for 23 years.

In addition, Dave, you SHOULD go see it, as there is a Richmonder in the role of Raoul, Sean McLaughlin. While I do not know him personally, my understanding is that he used to work in Richmond theater a great deal. So there's a good reason to catch it!

philcrosby said...

I will be joining you as a "Sonneteer" on February 8th! I haven't performed any Shakespeare onstage since 1981, so this will be quite an experience for me as well! What a hoot.

And I agree with Jason, you should see "Phantom." For one, come one, you've had 23 years. :-) But as a show, it works. It is 100% true to what it sets out to be, and does it beautifully.

Susie said...

In the early days of "Phantom" I was a big fan! Sat in the last row of the highest balcony and still felt like Michael Crawford was singing just to me; listened to the album a million times; took my kids when they were old enough. Its appeal has paled for me, but I did love it then.

And I will also be onstage with a sonnet on Feb. 8. Thank God Freddy's a great coach! But I take responsibility for my (undoubtedly nervous) performance.

Jacquie O. said...

There is also another Richmond alumni in it - Kris Koop - who was in the original cast of Cinderella at Theatre IV and she is also a grad of Shenandoah Conservatory - which many of us here in Richmond are (including the fabulous Jason, Robyn O, Katrina, Robyn Harris and me!)

Anonymous said...

Never seeing BWay's Phantom isn't funny, it's sad. It's like skipping a huge bench mark in musical theatre history. It's a loss to your vocabulary.

Maybe your unconscious mind is blocking you from wanting to see Broadway shows which have received the Tony for Best Musical? First you admit to not being interested in Fela, and now Phantom? C'mon, at least help the road tours by buying a cheap seat the next time these shows come through Richmond. You may just discover why Phantom and Fela had lines around the block!

Andrew Hamm said...

Seeing Phantom in London when I was 16 is what made me fall irrevocably in love with musical theatre. It's an experience like few others. And, unlike many, I maintain it's one of Webber's best scores, and that people who say it's just the same melody over and over again can't possibly have been listening very closely.

You should see it.