Monday, January 29, 2007

Of Laws, Sausages, and Musical theatre

“Laws”, Otto von Bismark is reported to have said, “are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made.” Had he been an actor instead of 19th-century Germany's Iron Chancellor, he might have added, “Oh, and musical theatre, too. Especially musical theatre.”

So here I am sitting in the large rehearsal hall at Clayton High School. In front of me is the full Clayton Symphony Orchestra, the concertmaster literally within arm's reach, although reaching him would be a fairly dumb idea right now. To my right are the sixteen other singing actors of Stray Dog Theatre with whom, in less than a month, I'll be appearing in a concert version of one of the ten best musical theatre pieces of the last century, Lerner and Lowe's My Fair Lady.

The opening bars of the overture are a bit scrappy and the tempo and meter changes a bit scrappy, so Mary, our choral director (who's on the podium pending the arrival of Ed, the Symphony's music director) confers with the concertmaster. They launch into it again, and already it sounds more assured.

Then Ed shows up - he commutes from Columbia and was delayed in traffic - and the real work starts.

This is where von Bismarck's comment about laws and sausages comes in. Because while there's no denying the visceral thrill of singing with a symphony orchestra on one side and a chorus on the other, the fact is that, at this relatively early stage of the rehearsal process, what will eventually be a beautiful testament to Lerner and Lowe's genius “ain't that pretty at all” (to quote the late Warren Zevon). We're not all comfortable with the musical entrances and exits yet, not all of the planned cuts in the score have been worked out, some of us (yours truly included) are still a bit wobbly in the ensemble numbers and things are, in general, a bit chaotic.

Fortunately, all of us have done this before. We know it's going to be messy for a while. We also know that, if we all do our jobs right, when the rest of you come to see My Fair Lady the weekend of February 16th, none of the current blood, sweat and tears will be visible. There is, happily, no theatrical equivalent of C-SPAN where everybody can see the show being made, warts and all.

And that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. When I go to the theatre, I want to buy into the illusion. I don't want to be aware of how hard everybody is working to maintain it. One of the great ironies of the performing arts is that nothing requires more effort than making your work appear effortless.

So - anyone for Bratwurst?

Stage Left Podcast, 1 February 2007

Explained: Why there hasn't been a new episode in over three months. Short explanation: the show was on hiatus while Your Goodly Host appeared in three shows in rapid succession: Orpheus Descending at HotCity Theatre, Amahl and the Night Visitors at Midwest Lyric Opera, and My Fair Lady at Stray Dog Theatre. Whew! Reviewed: Spencer Day's cabaret show, complete with musical examples.