First, Happy Father’s Day Dad. Yay.
Second, Happy Summer.
Third, I am happy to report that rock and roll is alive and well on Broadway. ROCK!
This morning, well, mid-morning, Jessica and I emerged from my apartment to partake in the New York brunch. We went to EJ’s Luncheonette, a diner-type establishment that had been recommended to me by one of the girls in my department at the Whitney. Jessica got sweet potato pancakes with bananas and pecans, I had a more standard eggs and home fries (really excellent home fries, actually), with challah toast. You know a restaurant is a winner when challah is automatic toast choice on the menu.
We window-shopped a bit to kill some time and also got a cupcake to split at Crumbs, as though we hadn’t had enough to eat already.
We then headed down to Times Square to get tickets for Rock of Ages at the theater’s box office using a little online discount thinger. Our day-of tickets with discount had us in the second row of the orchestra, center on the aisle. Um, win? We had a bit more time to kill so we wandered through Times Square, where they were having yoga, which is weird, and then walked to Rockefeller Plaza because we didn’t have anything better to do.
We went to the Al Hirschfeld theater, where Hair is playing, and took our seats up in the mezzanine on the aisle. I love the Al Hirschfeld theater, tons of old Spanish-Medieval looking fixtures and ceiling paintings, just a lovely old historic space. The stage, when we entered, was shrouded by a large scrim with a projection of the moon, which was presumably in the seventh house. The playbill had a dorky hippie-esque insert, and there were many younger folk (read: teenagers) in tie-dye with silly head-bands.
Hair was fairly awesome. The cast is young and vibrant and talented and they are all in incredibly sexy shape, and they have to jump up and down and belt for the majority of the show. They are all, indeed, extremely hairy people. I went through a Hair original cast recording kick when I was sixteen or seventeen (the prime age for the naive idealization of the 1960s, I have found) and so was incredibly familiar with all of the music. Some of the songs, “Frank Mills,” “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In,” “Walking in Space,” “Easy to be Hard,” are really well known and beautiful and fantastic, and others, such as “Sodomy” and “Yes Imma finished with y’all” are silly but fun theatrical novelties. On a side note, how odd must it be to have to tell your parents that you are the character who sings the “Sodomy” song, which has the opening lyrics of “Sodomy, fellatio, cunnalingus…” Awkward? Well, I guess it depends on the type of parents one has.
Will Swenson, as the hairy and dirty but sexy Berger, and Gavin Creel, as the fresh-faced and eager Claude, are both really excellent and bring heart and even a bit of plot to a musical that can seem like a hippie variety show. The “plot,” if there is a plot, revolves around one of the main character’s draft number being called. He grapples with the decision of whether to report to the army or to flee for much of the show. The final image of the show was one of the actors in military uniform, sprawled dead over an American flag. One of the more powerful political images I have seen in live theatre, ranking up there for mewith the end of the 1996 revival of Cabaret, and certainly a powerful image for our time.
Some other positives (there are many) about this show: The onstage orchestra was awesome. The choreography was fantastic and natural, very much what I imagined a bunch of hippies to do if they were told to dance. Also, I was extremely glad to be on the aisle, as members of the cast run around and harass audience members. Well, not really harass–one fussed with my hair during “Hair,” and one gave my sister and me flowers, and me a kiss on the head, during the invitation to the be-in. We also got up-close and personal views of the dancing cast-members and their very tight, very low-slung jeans. I mean, really, these people were in the best shape.
Also, we danced onstage with the cast at the end of the show! Once the curtain-call is over the actors start pulling people onstage to dance to reprises of “Hair” and “Let the Sunshine In,” and Jessica and I had ensured that we were in position to rush the stage as quickly as possible. So we and the flowers in our hair jumped and danced and sang and pretended we were hippies but not really. There was an awkward moment when, caught in the moment, I lifted my hands up in peace signs–only to have one of my hands captured by the nearest cast member, the guy who played Woof (coincidentally the actor who sings the “Sodomy” song). He held onto my hand for the rest of the dance, which was a little awkward but whatever, we were all in a moment of peace and love, man.
Despite all the fun and hippie nostalgia, I do have to give the show points for having at least one character (Sheila) tell the hippie tribe that they need to grow up. I know that there is a lot of idealization of the 60s, and hippie culture, but I just don’t think that reverting to the past is an appropriate way to cope with today’s political situation. I’m hoping that some of the audience’s younger members took heed of Sheila, as well as the production’s extremely somber ending.
Apologies for the brief and serious moment of political speech–I’m a little tired, and sometimes disjointed ideas just happen. Regardless, Hair was a really wonderful, invigorating production. If you have the opportunity to see it, do it.
We left the theater, all kiddy and peaced out and whatnot from dancing onstage, and grabbed a quick slice of pizza at our favorite theatre district pizza joint. We then went on a hunt to find my soy-milk based soft-serve at Kyotofu. We went past the Hair theater on our way to Kyotofu, and saw Audra MacDonald standing outside, just hanging out. She’d clearly just seen the show. We gawked for a moment, all fangirl like, and then kept walking.
After a bit of searching around 9th avenue we found my soft serve. I’d read about it, of course, on SeriousEats, my food bible. I got a green tea and chocolate swirl with some green tea mochi. The soft serve was incredibly creamy and not too sweet, and if you fed it to someone without telling them it was soy-based rather than dairy-based, they would never know the difference. Jessica, however, was less willing to branch out in terms of soft serve, so we had to make a Red Mango stop for her.
By the time we had both satisfied our need for soft serve it was 6:35, and time to head to the Brooks Atkinson theater for our next show, Rock of Ages. Rock of Ages is an 80s jukebox musical with really awesome songs such as the “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and “We Built this City,” and “Sheila (Hold On)” and the Act I closer of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again On My Own” and the Act II closer “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” and “The Final Countdown” and well, you get the idea. The plot is pretty standard Broadway: dreams and boy meets girl and following your dreams and boy loses girl and more dreams and a wedding and a baby at the end. However, the onstage band was an 80s band with lots of hair called Arsenal (they were awesome) and the female ensemble had to play strippers. Seriously, there were two poles on the stage as part of the set, and they were well used. At the end of the show one of the actors emerged dressed as the Angel of Rock, with giant wings. He shot glitter on us. Also, before the show started the ushers handed out little clicky flashlights shaped like lighters.
This was like one of the best shows ever y’all.
Constantine Maroulis (of American Idol Fame) is surprisingly watchable and talented. We had an understudy in the female lead, but she was fine as well–though Jessica was disappointed to have missed Amy Spanger. The figure of the narrator, who resembled a thinner Jack Black with a mustache, was sort of awesome. I need to type this man’s bio out for you verbatim, as it was…well, I have never read a bio like this. And this was after reading all the bios in the Hair playbill, mind you, which talked about zodiac signs and love and bliss and transcendental meditation and such:
Mitchell Jarvis (Lonny). A single father of a Lhasa Apso named Elroy looking for SWF. Experience in ceramics a plus. Ploy experience a must. Enjoys lazy afternoons working in his raised-bed garden. Seeking a kindred spirit to spend rainy days reading Thoreau with a steamy mug of organic Tazo chai in his matching sage green Snuggies. If thi sis you, see you at the stage door after the show.
Um. Yes. Anyhow, I totally rocked out to the show. I fist pumped. I made little devil’s horns thingers. I sang along. I waved my fake lighter like a compulsive maniac. It was totally fun, and a fitting follow-up to Hair. I told my sister, who really doesn’t know much music outside of Broadway (she only knew two songs in Rock of Ages, I just don’t know what to do with that girl, goodness) that she was witnessing the evolution of rock in the middle of the twentieth century via these two shows–from socially-minded, politically important music to the music of the greed-is-good 80s which was all woo sex drugs boobies big hair loud guitars fun noises boobs. She sort of looked at me funny when I said that. Whatever, I think I had a point.
I also appreciated that Rock of Ages had no pretenses: the narrator said multiple times that this is a ridiculous touristy fluff entertainment musical with Whitesnake songs, and I loved that. Sometimes, as Constantine Maroulis’ character so wisely says, you just wanna rock.
Wow, that was a long post. Thanks for reading through the entire thing, and for dealing with my pseudo-exhausted ramblings. The point of this post is that I love musical theatre and I love musical theatre done well: vibrant casts, not taking itself too seriously, audience participation, audience enthusiasm. Today was an excellent day of theatre, I feel extremely invigatorated. Tomorrow: back to work. But that is all right–it will be relaxing, after running around all weekend!