Saturday, January 17, 2004

Jake's Great Big Theater Weekend

So Thursday after work I met up with Bob for dinner and an amazing production of A Little Night Music. Of all the Sondheim oeuvre I have committed to memory, I probably know Night Music the best, and I've seen some pretty excellent productions of it over the years. This one was no exception -- and it was filled not only with great performances but fun little knowing winks to those of us who love Sondheim's work, including a few whistled quotes from his other shows.

I had toyed -- long ago -- with the idea of auditioning for this production, but 1) I was chicken and 2) on the very, very very remote chance I got cast, I would either have to quit my day job that so nicely pays my mortgage or turn down an opportunity to play some dream roles (Carl-Magnus or either guy in the quintet) in what I knew would be a fabulous show. I couldn't bear the thought of either scenario, so I wallowed in my professional inertia ... and here I am writing about it from the audience's perspective.

The production was exquisite -- right down to the sumptuous costumes, the lush, full orchestra, and the balls-out operatic delivery of the cast. (And while I think I could have held my own singing with this quintet, I couldn't hold a candle to the brilliant comic performance delivered by Michael Cerveris as Carl-Magnus.) One very pleasant surprise was the casting of Barbara Robertson as Desirée Armfeldt. I had been so moved by her hurricane-force performance in The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? at the Goodman a few months ago that I came back to see it again, and her visceral talents brought Desirée to marvelous life here like no other actress I've seen in the role.

After the show, Bob and I walked to the Orange Line to meet my stunningly handsome Disney dancer/singer/actor friend Keith, who flew in for the weekend to visit. After a long, gabby catch-up session on the train home, we sat up and talked a bunch more (mostly about theater, because we're a couple of big queens) at my house and then crashed for a long winter's nap. We spent next afternoon in the suburbs with Keith's delightful friend and former dance partner Holly, and then we headed home to get all prettied up for my second amazing theater experience of the weekend: Hairspray.

I just have two words to say about this show: HOLY SHIT.

I left the theater unsure whether I should be bubbling with excitement over having seen one of the hands-down coolest musicals ever or seething with bitterness and jealousy that I'm a 35-year-old copywriter doomed to a life of writing junk mail at a desk that looks like my grandma's deep freezer when I know I belong up on stage shaking my only-starting-to-get-slightly-flabby tush in such a brilliant, energy-filled show.

It helped that we got to see the show from the fifth row center -- spectacular house seats secured for us by my new friend Jim, who just happens to be the show's distractingly handsome musical director. It also helps that Keith is friends with Bruce Vilanch, the show's star who invited us backstage to his dressing room afterward for some handshakes and friendly gossip. (Me? Backstage after seeing the national tour of the coolest show on Broadway? I about DIED.)

So I don't know where to start with how much I loved the show. The music and lyrics are amazing and clever and infectious and so damn fun you just can't help but smile all the way through them. The costumes are downright (you'd think I earn a nickel every time I use this word) fabulous. The choreography is masterful -- exuberant and over the top at moments and judiciously restrained at others. And the cast is first-rate from top to bottom -- high-energy, adorable, talented, graceful, goofy and blessed with rank upon rank of powerful, Teflon-coated vocal cords that repeatedly raised the roof and sent shivers down my spine for almost three hours.

Speaking of adorable, my handsome musical-director friend Jim has some competition in the distracting-beauty department. The actor playing Link starts out the show all cute and talented and stuff -- but kind of skinny. Then he shows up in shorts and a tight white T-shirt revealing an impressive set of arms. A nice little bit of eye candy, I think. But I quickly focus back on the magnificent show. And then he comes on stage in tight pants and a blue T-shirt that hugs his tiny little waist (let's hate him) and his well-sculpted pecs and his nicely veined pipes ... and suddenly a whole raise-the-roof gospel number goes by and I realize I didn't hear a single note of it.

But with my advancing age comes a nice grasp of reality, and I fully understand that I get fun, short-lived little crushes on every hot actor I see in every show I see (just scroll through my archives for paragraph after paragraph of proof), and in a few hours my torrid affair with Link will be nothing but a nice little memory.

In the mean time, Keith and I have a weekend of Chicago fun -- starting with some long-overdue breakfast -- ahead of us, and I need to get in the shower.

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