I’m back from a perfect New York City week. Smooth sailing: flights to and from without drama, Broadway shows brilliantly performed, streets busy, proof of vaccination required to enter most places (as it should be), food interesting, and friends friendly.
Best of all I felt healthy and strong the whole time, something I would have taken for granted a few years ago, but no longer do. The touchy-stomach problems, I am apparently doomed to experience with some regularity, disappeared while I was in the world’s Best Big City—and I actually ate normally and even had a beer with my meal a few times. It’s either a medical miracle OR the fact that I walked from 5 ½ to 9 miles every day OR sheer determination to feel good while traveling. I’ll know more after this winter’s 3 ½ weeks in Africa and the Caucasus!
Since I was with Broadway Bob for three of the recently reopened musicals and one newly up and running show at the Public, I had vast amounts of information right in the next seat—and excellent info it was. Bob’s been a Broadway aficionado practically since birth or at least as soon as his mom starting taking him to musicals.
I, on the other hand, have the experience of 10 or so Broadway musicals over the last 30 years, so I’m limited to opinions rather than actual knowledge. And here are this year’s additions and my layperson’s opinions of Girl from the North Country, Jagged Little Pill, Hadestown, and The Visitor. My qualifications include a broad knowledge of contemporary dance theater and being a semi-obsessive Dylan fan. Oh yeah, and I’m a social worker and every one of these shows has one or more social issues at its troubled heart, all to be resolved or not by a plethora of talented singers, dancers, and actors.
It’s true that the political, business, religious, and educational leaders of the world are doing f**k all to save the planet or any living thing on it, but seriously folks, I’m not sure artists are going to be able to pull this off all by themselves.
But anyway, here’s what I think of the shows I just saw…all of which I loved in one way or the other.
So Girl from the North Country has to be my favorite. Not because it was the best, in fact friend Bob, considered it something of a mess, but because I AM a girl from that same North Country (northern Minnesota) so that’s the lens through which I viewed the show. I liked the low-keyness of it, and I also liked that I could understand all of Dylan’s lyrics even though almost none of the songs were familiar. Interestingly it deals with the stark realities of racism in a place we rarely think of as being particularly racist, Duluth, Minnesota. But I suppose there’s no such thing as a place to be declared ‘not guilty’ of racism.
Next came Jagged Little Pill, which I first was dazzled by but, in hindsight, do not like. I agree with Bob that the story, dancing, singing, acting are pretty much Broadway musical-level flawless. Wow, so flashy and shiny and powerfully presented. Even though I’m not an Alanis Morissette fan, having never listened to anything of hers, and being unable to understand a single word of a musical number during the entire show, she obviously is a serious musical presence. (Right?) I’m being cranky about this show from viewing it through two lenses: 1) I’m old and 2) I’m a social worker. The old lens you get instantly I’m sure. The social work lens reminds me: drug addiction/OD’ing and rape are nasty dirty degrading painful dangerous conditions and actions…musical theater makes them bearable, almost glamorous, shiny. I don’t care what the words say, the dancing and singing and pretty people override all that…I texted my grandchildren after the show and said ‘you should try to see this.’ I take that back. Don’t. Donate the money to a rape crisis center instead.
I unequivocally loved Hadestown. Greek mythology, lovers’ separated, a desperate search, devilish overlord of the underworld, plight of the enslaved—what’s not to love. Except for a slightly didactic musical rant on the evils of capitalism (to an audience of mostly satisfied capitalists), it was perfect.
Finally The Visitor, just opened at the Public, incubator of many Broadway hits (Hamilton for example), was engrossing and brilliant in spite of not feeling as finely tuned and polished as those others already up and on Broadway. The Visitor tells the tale of Walter, an aging, disillusioned college professor, who finds renewed purpose through friendship with young immigrant artists seeking new lives in an America that is doing its best to drive them out. David Hyde Pierce plays the confused but well-meaning old white guy extremely well—being one helps, I suppose, albeit a talented, artistic one.
Now a few days after this splurge of musical theater experienced at the center of its universe, I feel so happy to have participated. I never felt drawn to the genre until I’d seen my first few plays in NYC, but it’s hard to resist for the sheer talent of those singers, actors, and dancers. They are, almost without exception, just so extraordinarily good.
It is confusing. My performing arts love is still contemporary dance-theater of the often confrontive, sometimes profoundly consequential variety. And that’s where I usually expect to see social issues addressed. To experience four big-time musical theater pieces on Broadway or Broadway-bound that shout at me in not-at-all subtle ways to deal with racism, drug addiction, rape, workers’ rights, and immigration abuse, was a surprise. Although, now that I think of it, I guess that’s always been true to some degree on the ‘great white way’ – where whiteness isn’t so prized anymore.
There. Nothing new to say but what’s a blog for if not to babble on about one’s thoughts and experiences.