so i have been stressed out (very stressed out) recently. It’s the time of year for stress and add to that the less than two weeks left to finish application one (deep breath), my best friend moving to the other end of the country (deep breath), her dealing with sickness in her family, a family that I grew up with, (deep breath), my dealing with my mixed-up, confusing, and mainly in my head love life (deep breath), as well as piles and piles of work. (multiple deep breaths).
So what does this run down of my stressed life have to do with musicals you may ask? Well, since I was a young thing I have found musical theater to be one of the best anti-depressants. And in the past two weeks I have been able to transcend my (deep breath) life by experiencing two of the goriest musicals ever written and one toe-tapping affirmation.
Shlemiel the First, opens tomorrow night (pay what you can preview tonight!), and is very traditional musical happy theater. Something that I am not always drawn too, a script that though it has it’s moments doesn’t hit deep at all, anywhere, and yet, seeing it, hearing the music is pure joy. There is something about really good klezmer that hits me deep deep down. I like to think of it as a connection to my Eastern European ancestors. Those who escaped, those who perished, this was their music. The shtetl was their home, the stories of Chelm were a part of their tradition. And when those cords hit, I feel it all the way back hundreds of years. A connection. It’s a wonderful feeling. But even if you aren’t Jewish there is plenty to connect to, and I dare you not to tap your toes. In today’s backstage column Nick Olcott reflects on the reading version we did last year, “the moment the band started playing . . . people would get this glow. . . . This music really touches people just where they live.” Agreed. Read the full backstage article.
Last night I had a different type of connection with a musical, in this case Shawn Northrip’s Titus, the Musical. In an interview with the dc social/hipster/scenester blog brightest young things Shawn talked about his love of the art of musicals, though not necessarily the current state of musicals,
Theatre is a performance, music is a performance, both are onstage and each heightens the other making for a great show. I love putting them together. But sadly, a lot of musical theatre struggles to keep doing exactly it has been doing since the 1920s. It’s like it is the only art-form not allowed to evolve. I try to show that the form can change and still be good. That it can entertain men and women of all ages, not just an elderly subscriber base. read the full interview.
I agree strongly with shawn’s hopes for the evolution of musical theater. It is a form that hits somethng deep in people. For some reason, the experience is heightened by music but most musicals (realizing that this is a huge generalization) being produced currently do not expand on how it can connect but are being written with a certain audience in mind without looking to expand the connection.
That being said, Titus is also written for a specific audience. The music is loud and punk. The songs are screamed as much as sung. The play is vulgar and bloody. The plot, particularly in a concert version, like last night, gets lost in the frenzied moment. But, Shawn (with Shirley, as director) have created something that captures an audiences attention and excitement. The play is LIVE. Not live, the way a play is normally but LIVE, in the way an amazing concert can be. Where the audience automatically feels like they are a part of the event, just by being there. It’s a feeling I wish every play could achieve and is one of my own goals in creating new works. That connection is something seriously missed in contemporary American theater and is something I want to see happen.
The final musical of this write up was not LIVE or even live. Sweeney Todd. The play is one of my all time favorites, the story, the music, the passion and the blood. It’s a brilliant piece. The movie, in Tim Burton’s twisted mind, got the story, got most of the music, got the blood to an extent that would not be done on stage but I found lacking the passion. Johnny Depp was better than I expected him to be but I had some serious issues with Helena Bohnem Carter, who I usually love. She played Mrs Lovett too light for my taste, her sweet soprano didn’t have the intensity I desire from the part. But Burton sure did get the blood. One of my coworkers left the movie feeling physically ill and if that’s not the sign of a good twisted musical, I don’t know what is.