My major events of the work week were: 1) being out with a cold for two days and 2) moving my corporate office. As far as the latter went, we managed to move all our boxes with a single trip of the company jeep. The best thing about my new office is the view. I can see the Pentagon, the (newish) Air Force memorial, Iwo Jima, and the Netherlands Carillon. I can even get a glimpse of the Potomac. Of course, I won't spend very much time there, so the view doesn't really matter, but it's nice.
The weekend was occupied with more enjoyable pursuits. I took advantage of my Hilton points to take a trip up to New York without seeing my mother. Two free nights in a suite in the heart of the theatre district, including breakfast, is a pretty nice consolation for umpty ump nights of business travel. I took the train up Friday night, walked up from Penn Station, and got a slice of pizza for dinner.
I hadn't really planned anything specific for Saturday morning. But I am a compulsive reader of the sort of tourist publications that fill hotel rooms and discovered that there was an Adventure Travel exposition going on. Before going to that, I had to do a certain amount of walking around midtown, of course. Some people give their regards to Broadway, but I generally give mine to Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions outside the library. And I always like to admire the elegance and grace of the Chrysler Building, which I still think is the most beautiful skyscraper on the planet. Finally, it's always fun to watch the skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink.
Then I walked through more boring points west over to Pier 94 for the travel show. I picked up a ton of brochures and got a few ideas. (It's not as if I had a dearth of vacation ideas to start with, of course.) The really exciting thing I learned is that Air Greenland is starting service from Baltimore in May! This is the first direct service to Greenland from North America and is very very tempting. The disappointing aspect of the show was that the overwhelming majority of the offerings are not what I would consider particularly adventurous. I realize that I am the only person on the planet who doesn't think safaris in Kenya and Tanzania or trains across China are adventurous, though. Seriously, there were a surprising number of booths from tourist boards of Caribbean islands and big cruise lines and other way too mainstream things. And nothing about places like Suriname or Yemen or Cameroon. To be fair, the Georgian tourist office had a booth and that is a country that is off the beaten path and well deserves more tourist interest since it is one of my favorites. And I did gather information about floe edge trips to see narwhal in Nunavut.
I used the travel show's free shuttle bus (to 52nd and Broadway) to save a dull crosstown walk and dumped my stacks of brochures in my hotel room. Then I had a quick and cheap lunch at a small Chinese restaurant before going to the first of the two musicals I had tickets for. This was really the main purpose of the trip, in fact, as I had seen the good reviews for Kristin Chenoweth in the Roundabout Theatre Company production of "The Apple Tree." Jerry Bock's score is as gorgeous as ever, which had me thinking about the decline of overtures in this day and age. Back in the 1960's, there was always an overture. It set the mood for the show, with hints of the music to come. Nowadays, you're just as likely to have a musical start without any music at all. And you rarely get anything as lovely as the "Eden Prelude" here. Which is why it irritates me when people keep talking during the overture. As far as I am concerned, you are supposed to shut up the very instant there is a note from the orchestra. (Well, not tuning up, but you know what I mean.) It's disrespectful to the composer to treat the overture like a throwaway bit instead of a fundamental and important part of the score.
The show is somewhat dated, but I enjoyed it for the most part. The first part, based on Mark Twain's "The Diary of Adam and Eve" was both funny and moving. The weak link is definitely Part 2, which is based on Frank Stockton's :"The Lady of the Tiger." The music is enjoyable enough there, but I've just never liked the story. That isn't Bock and Harnick's fault, of course, and the adaptation is true to the original, cheap ending and all. As for Part 3, based on Jules Feiffer's "Passionella," it's probably the most dated, but was still very enjoyable. I will be walking around humming "oh, to be a moooooovie star" for days, inevitably.
The three stories are linked thinly by being sort of about how men and women relate. (Well, also, by a running joke involving the color, brown.) I'm not sure that any set of short musicals can work thoroughly as a theatre event. At the same time, none of these stories is enough to sustain a full length musical either, so I'm not sure you could do anything else. Except maybe make up your bloody mind about the lady or the tiger, but that is, still, Frank Stockton's fault and other people don't hate that damn story as much as I do.
One final thing about "The Apple Tree." Kristin Chenoweth has gotten all the press - and she is good. But don't overlook Mark Kudisch, who also turned in excellent performances. And, oh, I should also mention that it's very cute to hear Alan Alda as the (uncredited) voice of G-d at the beginning, since he was the male lead (opposite Barbara Harris) in the original 1966 production.
I went back to the hotel and rested (and sorted out travel brochures) for a while. Then I got dinner (at Raku, a reasonable and decent Japanese restaurant) before going over to Circle in the Square to see "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." I'll note briefly that I had very good seats for both shows, which is also a part of my musical theatre philosophy. Namely, you might as well spring for the best seats you can afford. If all you can afford (or all you can get) is the very back, go anyway, but somebody has to fill those center orchestra seats.
As for the show, I have mixed feelings. It was very very funny. But the music is utterly forgettable and, frankly, I wasn't sure why it was there. It's not just the lack of an overture. It's not the lack of an orchestra - single piano accompaniment can be fine. The songs tended to slow things down here, rather than enhance the show. Which brings me to my main philosophical point. Music in a musical is actually important. It should be used to reveal character, to illuminate what's going on, not as mere filler. Yes, there's a place for an uplifting production number that doesn't really move things forward (a la Jerry Herman), but even those should provide a mood.
That said, I did laugh uproariously. And I haven't seen the nonmusical source (a play called C-R-E-P-U-S-C-L-E) so I don't know whether I'd have laughed as hard at that. I do know that I shouldn't have left thinking "damn it, we all know William Finn is gay, he should understand what a show tune is!"
I've left out my rants against audience participation and against the overuse of the standing ovation, as this is long enough. Since one might ask if I did anything today (aside from rant), the answer is I slept late and I satisfied my minimum semi-annual requirement for eating sour pickles. And, of course, I took the train home.
Copyright 2007 Miriam H. Nadel