|My ticket stubs and one program from my weekend of musical theater. Photo by J. Berta|
This weekend, I had the good fortune to get to see two musicals. On Saturday, along with my daughter Cassie, I saw West Side Story. Tonight, the whole family saw Jersey Boys. Two different shows, with two different casts in two different venues. Yet I came away from both shows with the same feeling of profound appreciation for the experience of being an audience member. More on that in a moment.
Let's talk about the shows. First, West Side Story. This was a young person's production, held at The Center for Living Arts in Rock Island, Illinois. My friend Dino Hayz directed it, with considerable assistance from his wife, Tina. For those of you not familiar with the show, here's a brief overview:
In the late 1950s, on the Upper West Side of New York City, there was gang violence. Disaffected youths, fueled by fear, prejudice and poverty, waged war against each other, sticking with "their kind." The "Jets" and the "Sharks" are the two gangs. Out of this backdrop, two star-crossed lovers meet, Tony and Maria. The musical is inspired by Romeo and Juliet and follows the same tragic script. Along the way, there are great songs and a cast of characters you just cannot help to like...in the beginning.
Then things turn very dark very fast. Murder follows murder, a near gang-rape occurs and then Tony dies as Maria weeps. The show closes with Tony carried off on the arms of Jets and Sharks. A young Jets places a black shawl, a universal symbol of mourning, around Maria's shoulders. As the lights faded I wiped my eyes. I doubt I was the only one.
Jersey Boys played The Adler Theater in Davenport, Iowa and tonight was its closing performance. It tells the tale of Franky Valli and the Four Seasons. Four guys "from the neighborhood" who made it big. Then it almost all fell apart. For some of the members of the group, it did. This story is not nearly as tragic or dark as West Side Story, yet has its share of heartbreak and strife.
I've got links to information about both shows below in the sources. The songs are classics in pop culture and I suppose after 50 years, you can drop the "pop" reference. They are cemented in the fabric of America.
I like both shows so much I did a rare impulse buy and got both soundtracks from iTunes. We listened to alternating songs tonight to and from the theater. They are catchy tunes. Good luck in not singing along with them.
In many ways these two performances were quite different. One was a show of junior-high and high school students in a community theater. The other, a Broadway-level national touring production with all the bells and whistles. Yet for me, as an audience member, I took away one similarity: Actors and actresses performing their hearts out on stage.
With the West Side Story production, it was wonderful to see young people taking a step forward in performing. For some, this may be the extent of their acting career. For others, I fully expect to see them on stage again and in bigger venues. I look forward to those future shows.
There is something magical about theater. It is a place where you can be transported to another time and place. You can experience the emotions of love and hate, joy and loss. You can leave 2015 and travel effortlessly back in time to 1957 or 1965. You can be running the streets of New York City or standing on a street corner in Bellevue, New Jersey. But to do so, you must pay a price and I do not mean the cost of your ticket.
That cost is, as Cassie's English teacher, Mr. Don Fry said, "The willing suspension of disbelief." You have to ignore the limitations of a set, that a street corner is now a high school gym and now back to a street corner. That set changes are not really set changes, that the show is not a show but an experience. If you can do that, then you become more than just a patron, you become part of the show. Of course, you're not up on stage acting or singing or dancing. Yet you cease to be just a passive observer, you are able to connect (for lack of a better word) with the show. If you can do that, then you've gotten way more than the cost of admission.
I love watching sports, especially my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes or Green Bay Packers. Yet sports is not theater, at least for me. Concerts, recitals, poetry readings, political debates, all important forms of expression and/or art. Theater, however, has a special distinction for me. Perhaps it is the involvement of most of the senses. Maybe it's the use of music and lights. It could also be seeing real people interacting with other real people and not on a screen. I cannot put my finger on it, especially at this late hour. But for me, it is something special.
I've written on a number of somber and serious topics lately. This is not due to some master schedule. (If I had such a schedule, I'd have a more organized garage.) Instead, it is triggered by events and things that matter to me, at least at that moment. But I wanted to write about something positive, something that made me feel good. Seeing theater this weekend did that for me. It is great whenever I get to see a show. Getting to see two shows in one weekend, now that is a treat indeed.
It was my privilege to be a member of both audiences. I look forward to getting to do it again, and soon. If you have not seen live theater for a while and enjoy it, then seek out a show. Odds are there is some type of show going on in your community. I think you'll be glad you did.
Be well my friends,