Thursday, May 27, 2010

Great Moments in New York Theater: The Kid

I know who Dan Savage is. I don’t read his column. I don’t even know where it is published. I don’t read it because I know that I am not smart enough for the political part of it and I know that I don’t need any advice on sex or relationships. I know who he is, I have read some of his writings, I think he is smart and I respect him. That would not, though, have been enough for me to, blindly, choose to see a piece of theater based on a book he wrote. Off-Broadway theaters do (sadly) not get a lot of press. Oftentimes shows open and close without my having heard of them and weeks, months, years later I hear of their existence and ask “now why didn’t I see that?” It makes me so mad, sometimes. I do not, though, have the time to read all the theatrical listings that can guide me into an off-Broadway theater, even though these are the theaters where I have had some of my best experiences as an audience member. Happily, I make a habit of taking regular strolls down to Theater Row on 42nd Street to see what is showing there. A few weeks ago I saw a poster with Christopher Sieber’s face on it. THE KID. I don’t know what this is. I read the poster and said “I will see this.” Christopher Sieber is enough to get me into a theater but this cast also featured Ann Harada, Tyler Maynard and a lady whom I happen to adore: Miss Jill Eikenberry. THAT is reason enough for me to buy a ticket and see a show about which I know absolutely nothing. So I didn’t research the show. I simply looked at my calendar to see when my husband and I had a mutually schedule-able time to go see this new work. That was the tough part, between his job, my travel, our travel and every other thing that demands our attention. It was with great good fortune that we scored two seats during the final week of the run of the show. That was two nights ago.

The day of the show, it was a harrowing day that featured one bad thing after another, the first of which was having a really bad cold that made me cranky and unbearable. Never. The. Less. We dressed and hit the bricks to Theater Row for the seven o’clock curtain, in spite of Pat’s insistence that we stay home because I was sick. Boy, howdy, were we happy we followed my best instincts and got our bumms in those seats.

I love new musicals. Correction: I LOVE new musicals. Don’t get me wrong – revivals are an essential part of theatrical culture; revues are fun and entertaining, dance shows are full of excitement and beauty, jukebox musicals can be good… can be bad. The sad and honest truth is that I have been extremely disappointed in the (general) level of quality of new musical theater in this town, this day, this age. I won’t name names. I am, though, fed to the teeth with people deciding that it is a good idea to take a movie, a tv show, a cartoon strip, a body of work and turn it into a stage musical. I miss the old days when people were making new works for our beautiful musical theater actors to perform. I think back when people were creating either completely new musical stories or taking their inspirations from literary works. Green Grow the Lilacs became Oklahoma. Pygmalion became My Fair Lady. Show Boat stayed Show Boat. It gives new musicals a strong foundation, a stronger one than, say, a second string summer movie would (and NO, I am not talking about 9 to 5 – I happened to really enjoy that musical). When you create a musical out of a work of literature, your roots are already starting out with an artistic road map, one that has been tested on the (sometimes finicky) members of the literati. It’s a good place to start.

That is why THE KID succeeds as a new musical. Well. It’s one of the reasons it succeeds. The other reasons are just plain good writing on the parts of the playwright, the lyricist and the composer. These three people all did their jobs well, leaving the director with a product he could trust, allowing him the luxury of focusing on the work of his wonderful cast. And when I say wonderful, I mean, superwonderful. Each and every person in this show was a joy to watch, many of them for completely different reasons, be it impeccable comic timing, a strong sense of sincerity, vocal abilities like a crystal bell on a Christmas morning, a performance so honest and real that it seemed like the actor was really just someone who wandered in through the stage door. These performers, showcasing the words and music of such gifted artists, brought Dan Savage’s book (and real life!) to audiences who, deeply and genuinely, appreciated it (at least the night I saw it, they did). How about that. A new musical off-Broadway. And a really good one. Yee Haw.

THE KID will remain one of the great moments of theater on the New York stage for me because of more than just the overall enjoyment of the show and the cast. Christopher Sieber is a particular favourite of mine and he has been since the moment I first saw him in TRIUMPH OF LOVE (one of my favourite shows ever and the topic of one of my upcoming stories). He is a beautiful actor with inimitable comic timing that he has been showing off in REALLY BIG roles lately. Tony nominations for SPAMALOT and SHREK are google-able indications of how great his comic timing is. Those are really broad shows, though, and THE KID is not. With THE KID, Christopher was able to remind everyone of how versatile his talent is. He is completely contained, deliciously funny, overflowing with pathos, heartwarmingly honest in his performance. He had me in the palm of his hand, the entire time. And then, of course, there is that singing voice, the one that makes him one of my favourite Broadway boy singers (the others, for the record are Brian d’arcy James and Cheyenne Jackson). His work in THE KID is, simply, unforgettable.

As is the luminous Miss Eikenberry; and one moment in particular….

I was so excited to, finally, see Miss Eikenberry onstage. I wish, so much, that she worked more often. I don’t know if she only works when she wants to, by choice, or if it is true what they say and that nobody is creating roles for women of a certain age; but let me tell you – she looks exactly the same as she did when we were all watching her on LA LAW. Correction: she looks better. She looked more beautiful, more radiant, more sexy on that stage two nights ago than I had remembered. And she had a masterful control of the stage and of her character. SHE had EVERYONE in the palm of HER hand. I think everyone in the audience was as thrilled to be seeing her as I was. How lucky for all of us.

In the second act, Jill Eikenberry’s character (Dan’s mother) has a musical number in which she sings about knowing her son was gay when he, at a pre-pubescent age, saw the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks three days in a row, then put on her shawl and shoes and pretended to be Angela Lansbury. I think it would be a safe bet to say that Dan’s mother is not the only mother in the world to have been clued in in this exact same way. I say this because I, like Dan, did the exact same thing. So did my husband. I am sure many other pre-teen gay boys did it, too. This night, though, was especially moving for me because, during this song, Pat began to cry. He continued to cry until the end of the play. You see, it was as though he were watching his late mother up on that stage. Jill Eikenberry, singing that song, became the image of Sue Dwyer, recounting the exact same story of when Pat saw Bedknobs and Broomsticks and wanted to be Angela Lansbury (hell, certain days of the week I STILL want to be Angela Lansbury). It’s been a few years since my mother in law was recalled after a six year battle with breast cancer and I miss her every day; imagine how Pat feels and what it was like watching Jill Eikenberry become the image of her, singing about that time she caught Pat trying to fly on her kitchen broom. I understood why he was crying and sat in the darkened theater, our faces illuminated by the stage lights and our eyes illuminated by tears, being moved from our daily lives into a more special, more theatrical, more magical life, for the time that we sat in those seats.

This is why I love live theater and why I love living in New York. Where else could I observe my husband being moved by so special a night of theater and so delectable a cast of gorgeous and gifted artists? Oh, I am sure that, if we lived in London, it would be exciting to see a Redgrave or a Smith or a Dench; if we lived in San Francisco or Chicago there would, surely, be many chances to see actors (local or in from out of town) that would transport us to another place and mood. For Two plus hours on Tuesday night, though, it was a Sieber and an Eikenberry and a Blackwell (Susan, who Pat ADORES) who made magic for us.

And we never forget the magic.


Anonymous annalisa said...

dan and i go waaaaaaay back (he writes for the alternative paper in seattle and he and my uncle used to do seattle pride events together) and i am a HUGE fan. i HIGHLY recommend his podcasts (savage love) because even if you don't have much use for his advice, he is hysterical. i also highly recommend you read the book "the kid" (which i own, natch) because when i first read it when it came out, i was so hooked that i used to sit in my car before rehearsal, waiting for the last possible moment before i absolutely had to leave, laughing my ass off while i read it.

i unfortunately will miss the show (which closes this wknd i believe), but i'm glad to hear it was so good.

i absolutely cannot wait to see you tomorrow. i know i've had to have a lot of my life on hold this year and now i'm so eager to spend time with my city and my family.

4:45 PM  
Blogger AJohnP said...

I'm so sad I didn't get to see this show. I've been reading all about it and I'm happy to read another glowing review. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they make a recording so I can at least grab the CD.
Talk about an amazing cast! I love all the folks you mentioned, but I have to add Susan Blackwell to the list of awesome folks in 'The Kid'.
Hooray for new works!!

8:10 AM  

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