Maybe Musicals Don't Suck, After All?

Oh what a day Friday was. I woke early and camped myself at the nearby Starbucks so I could finally finish the essay portion of the grant proposal I've been working on for the South Fork Snoqualmie Trails project, then hurried home to work so that I could spare a few hours to take Kristin to the play Friday night. We were supposed to go on Saturday, but she had a combination bridal shower and bachelerette party to go to for a co-worker. The lady's wedding isn't until November and it's her second wedding at that; maybe it's just me but I would have held off the celebrations until the fall just to be on the safe side. I wish her the best of luck, but if they call the wedding off, she better give back those fruit-flavored condoms Kristin gave her. Unused, please!

So, back to the play... This month's play at the Taproot Theatre was Big River, a play about Huckleberry Finn and his pal Jim going down river on a raft. Now, you might be apt to call me poorly read or even possibly un-American for the confession I'm about to make, but I think in the interests of full disclosure I should tell you right now that I've never read "Tom Sawyer" or any of the other Mark Twain books for that matter. Too many n-words for the school system, I guess. I know, I know, I could have read them as an adult or on my own outside of school as a kid, but I didn't. And on Friday night, at the theatre, I was kind of glad. I might have been the only person learning the Huckleberry Finn story for the first time, but it was nice to not already know how it turns out.

That wasn't the only I thing I learned that night. I also learned that the "play" I got us tickets for was actually a "musical". I hate musicals. Maybe it's a lingering effect from having to watch "West Side Story" as a schoolboy, but the idea of people spontaneously breaking into song -- when they were supposed to be stabbing one another, no less -- is just preposterous. Nobody in real life just starts singing. There are no choreographed dance numbers at the office. Not at the grocery store either. And certainly not on the sidewalk downtown. If I saw this kind of behavior, I think I just might punch someone. In the face. Hard. To shut them up.

Spontaneous singers should be treated no better than smokers. They should be banished from civilized society and be forced to remain at least 25-feet from all places of employment, enjoyment, and err, yes, even cement too. Or any other -ments as well. No, they shall not even be able to unlock Xbox 360 Achievements!

Or, in keeping with the theme of Big River, be shackled together and forced to live in a barn.

Our tickets were front row on the corner of the stage. And when I say on the corner of the stage, I mean it. I had to continuously remind myself not to put my feet on the stage or stretch out, else I would have tripped an actor. This was particularly hard to do since I spent the first act asleep. The air conditioning wasn't working; I was pretty tired from working late the previous few days; and I was also pretty disappointed that I brought us to a musical. Let's see: tired, hot, and pissed-off. That's a great combination for sleep.

Except I couldn't really sleep because of all the damn singing!

And that was what finally woke me up. While the guy playing Huck Finn reminded me of Shaun White with better compexion (and shorter hair), Jim stole the show. Geoffrey Simmons was incredible. Everything about his performance was impressive. From his blank slave-stares out into the distance to his big dumb grins to his heartfelt sorrowful singing, every aspect of his Jim was amazing. Most of all his voice. Granted, I was sitting close enough to see his droplets of sweat splatter on the stage, but I had never been near such a powerful vocalist before. No microphones necessary, I'm sure the people in the "cheap seats" could even hear him well.

That's a joke, by the way, as all the tickets at this theatre are less than $25.

I downed a can of coke during intermission to help wake myself up and was really enjoying myself during the second act. The story and acting was great, and I must admit the singing was pretty damn good too. And not only Jim's (who apparently honed his craft singing backup for Mariah Carey... go figure) but also these two young teenage boys playing supporting slave roles. One of the boys was probably no older than 16, was thin and wiry, and had this incredibly deep baritone voice. It was amazing to see such a deep, mature voice coming out of this, well, this kid!

The play also had its funny parts... especially when playing up the 19th century rivertown hicks from Mississippi, but it's not a play that's supposed to be funny and primarily wasn't. The director didn't shy away from showing the perceptions of slavery from both sides during the play and while the idea of buying/selling other humans can be uncomfortable for today's audience, as is hearing people call one another "nigger", you got a sense you were seeing the world through Mark Twain's eyes, as it was. Nothing about Big River seemed sanitized for 2008, but rather as an honest telling of a fictitious pair of lives on the Mississippi River in the 1840's.

It was very well done and, in the end, I wound up enjoying it. This isn't to say I welcomed the singing, but rather that I was so greatly impressed by one or two of the actors abilities to sing. To be honest, I wasn't even paying attention to the words, but more their presence and power. It was, well, it was very impressive.

But no, this doesn't mean I want Taproot adding a bunch of musicals to their line-up for 2009. Hell no.

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