3 plays, 3 days: Blithe Spirit, Blaq Boi, King and I

There is also a jittery maid whose very presence is quite amusing.

There was no master plan in seeing 3 plays in 3 days the fist weekend in May. Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Back in March, I “won” a silent auction at a PTA function at my daughter’s middle school for a play at Capital Rep, which turned out to be Blithe Spirit. Our first three weekends were already full. By the time I tried to redeem the coupon for the last weekend in April, the seat selection was extremely thin; an obstructed view here, very far to the right there.

Fortunately, Blithe Spirit was extended an additional week, and my wife and I got very good seats on Friday night. I was unfamiliar with the 1941 Noel Coward work. From the Wikipedia:

“Socialite and novelist Charles Condomine… invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.”

The production was quite hilarious especially as Charles responds to Elvira, and Ruth believes he is talking to Ruth. There is also a jittery maid whose very presence is quite amusing. Coincidentally, there was a violent thunderstorm outdoors as there was a mock storm in the theater, which we were unaware of until much later.

Saturday, my wife and I left the Cinco de Mayo party to pick up the Daughter and see Blaq Boi, written and performed by students at Albany High School. It was primarily about Treasure, a young man at various points in his life. The play also used news clips and some music to tell the story.

It was quite compelling, especially the second half. It was so well received that the principal wants all the teachers at the high school to see it on an upcoming Professional Development Day.

There was discussion afterwards featuring a black Albany police officer and how he joined the force nearly 30 ago , after seeing some young black men treated less than respectfully by local cops.

Finally, on Sunday, the three of us saw The King and I at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. We experienced the 1951 musical back in June of 2011 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, about 45 minutes away, and while it was a fine performance, this production, on a large stage, was quite exquisite.

The struggle between modernity and tradition, of power politics and gender roles is based on a real story. There are several well-known tunes such as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Hello Young Lovers, and Getting to Know You, though the song I most recognize is the instrumental March of the Royal Siamese Children.

It was a tiring but satisfying weekend, which also featured being treated like visiting royalty when I attended Free Comic Book Day at the local comic book emporium.

The Small House of Uncle Thomas

Things on the cast album that seemed pedestrian suddenly made sense.

Many bloggers, including this one, will start a blog post and then move on to something else, leaving it in incomplete draft form.

Such was the case of this piece about the two musicals my wife, my daughter and I saw, both in June 2011, at the Mac-Hadyn Theater in Chatham, NY, about a 40-minute drive from our house in Albany.

The first show we viewed was Annie. I’d seen TV productions of it, I’m sure; certainly the one with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. But the stage performance made it more real than I remembered.

So my wife asked if I wanted to go see The King and I. She could hear the ambivalence in my response.

You see, I thought I knew the story well enough that I didn’t need to. I remember seeing the movie, or at least segments of the movie. Moreover, I own the 1977 Broadway cast album, even though I had never seen the musical. And while the hits Hello, Young Lovers, and Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance? are strong, the totality of the listening experience of this Rodgers & Hammerstein piece was lacking; this was, to swipe a phrase, “a puzzlement.”

Yet seeing the performance in person brought this chestnut to life for me. Things on the cast album that seemed pedestrian suddenly made sense. In particular, the reprise of I Have Dreamed was a real revelation.

And there is this whole long section in the second act not even hinted at on the cast album: the narrated dance “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” From Wikipedia: “Hammerstein found his ‘door in’ to the play in [author Margaret] Landon’s account of a slave in Siam writing about Abraham Lincoln.” At some level, that rewrite of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with its revisionist happy ending, is the core value of the whole musical.

So maybe I only viewed scenes from the movie. Regardless, seeing this production was a revelation. Glad I saw it.

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