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October 22, 2018:

HOLD THE AUDIENCE

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, at what point did modern theatergoing turn into a circus?  At what point did audience behavior turn into American Idol/America’s Got Talent screaming and whooping and hollering at every loud note, beginning of song, beginning of show, and at what point did it become okay to dress for the theater like one was in their back yard having a barbecue?  This is my dilemma, dear readers, this is my dilemma.  You know how when you order a sandwich one occasionally has to say “Hold the mayo” or “hold the mustard” or “hold the ketchup?”  Well, I’d like to say, “Hold the audience.”  It is no longer fun for me to go to the theater, I’m afraid, because when confronted with all that whooping and hollering and crazy over-the-top reaction I just want to bolt immediately.  I say this having gone to the theater yesterday to see a musical comedy. There was a pre-show announcement that was very long, basically talking about the upcoming season for this company, and then trying to purposely ratchet up the audience by getting louder and louder (and even louder thanks to the sound board op) and telling them to send all their energy to the stage – in essence saying, “Start screaming now.” Which, of course, they did.  And so it went throughout the show.  It all seemed to be coming from the back of the house, but it was so loud and so distracting.  It happens whatever musical I see these days – small theaters, large theaters, even cabaret rooms.  It would never occur to me to try to pump up an audience like that to laugh or cheer or whatever.  I believe shows have to earn a response.  But every show gets the same response now, bad or good.  It literally has no meaning anymore.  And the shows themselves pander to it with pumped-up sound, jacked up light bumps at the end of every number, and now added stuff after the curtain call just to make sure everyone will stand up if they haven’t already.

All of these things were on display yesterday as they’re on display at whatever show I see.  42nd Street as imagined by Gower Champion and his collaborators, was a smash hit on the Broadway.  I saw it twice – once right after it opened, and once at the Winter Garden Theatre.  I enjoyed it for what it was – a fun, occasionally silly and goofy pastiche, filled with Champion magic.  It only got a little dark in the title song in act two. The songs were, of course, tuneful, and you couldn’t really beat that original cast.  Then I saw the revival that my friend and collaborator Todd Ellison conducted, and while I didn’t love that production or the casting (Mr. Champion’s work was basically recreated with a few original “touches” the show didn’t need by Randy Skinner.  What I mostly found with that revival was that all the humor had been sucked out of the show, which was a real problem.

Since then, I haven’t seen another production, only the opening number, which I’ve seen several times, including when my friend Cheryl Baxter recreated it for one of the ALS benefits I directed.  It’s a wow of an opener with great Champion staging.  Can’t really go wrong with it and it gets the show off to a rousing start.  I’m not going to say much about yesterday’s production, which I found hit and miss. I will say it was fun seeing our very own Sandy Bainum looking glamorous and having a grand old time, and seeing our very own Jenna Lea Rosen, who I’ve been working with since she was eleven, I think – she’s all grown up, and boy can she tap and she had a nice little role which she did very well with.  So, I always enjoy seeing my friends up on stage.  I do wish lighting designers would take it easy on the light bumps (Mr. Champion didn’t need light bumps – his staging had its own light bumps, if you get my meaning), and I really wish the sound designers would take it easy on the pumped-up sound – whoever designed this show pumped up the tap sounds so loud that it was painful.  Tap sounds should sound natural, not like jackhammers.

I went with Sami’s mom, so that was fun.  We lunched at a nearby Wood Pit Barbecue or whatever that chain is called. I ordered a brisket sandwich extra lean, but was instead brought brisket on a plate.  I should have kept it and eaten it, but I erred and got the sandwich I’d ordered, which was overloaded with fat and more fat.  I don’t think there was any meat on the fat and after one bite I thought I was going to vomit on the ground.  So, I didn’t want to do a second send back and therefore I removed all the fat and just ate the bun, cole slaw and 1,000 Island dressing.  Not exactly what I’d call a good meal, but I did have a small Caesar that was fine, and a side of mac-and-cheese that was pretty good and a little thing of beans, which was even better.  And then we went next door to the Macaroni Grill, where I had about half a pumpkin cheesecake slice with whipped cream.  That made the lousy meal much better.

Prior to that, I’d gotten seven hours of sleep, done the usual morning things, and then Sami’s mom arrived and we did the rather long drive to the theater.

After the show we came right home, and I answered e-mails, listened to music, did some work on the computer, and then went to Gelson’s for a little evening snack – one chicken tender, a tiny bit of stuffing, and a little salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  I came home and ate all that, and then relaxed and listened to more music after two long telephonic conversations.

Today, I’ll eat a little something at noon, hopefully pick up some packages, and then we have a music rehearsal for the revue I’m directing, just setting keys and hearing how things sound.  That will end at five, and then an hour later I’ll mosey on over to the theater for our rehearsal.  Even though we still have our one gal to find, I’m going to do a run-through of the show, no matter how rough, and actors will not have scripts in hand – they can call for their line if they can’t think of it.  It’s time to get used to doing the show and playing scenes without noses being stuck in a script.  And I’ll have Alexa cover the missing gal so we’ll be able to do everything.  I’m also hoping we find the gal today so she can come learn her stuff.

Tomorrow is another music rehearsal for the revue, and it’s our night off for Carol Christmas.  Then we begin six days in a row – we haven’t done anywhere near that, and it is my intention during these six days to whip this puppy into fine shape and get the performances where they need to be and the pace how I like it.  I believe we have a designer run on Friday.  Then it’s the Kritzerland show rehearsal week, Halloween, and then it’s full-on runs of the show at every rehearsal until we go into tech.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, eat, hopefully pick up packages, have a music rehearsal, and have a rehearsal for our show.  Today’s topic of discussion: What are your biggest complaints about theatergoing today? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, hoping the next time I go to the theater I can say, “Hold the audience.”

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