Monday, November 21, 2011

#21 Off Off Off Broadway, and the magic to be found there

Not all the great things happen just on "Broadway". I love to go to off, even off off, and sometimes just clinging by a fingernail, Broadway shows. They are intimate, cheap and usually easy to get tickets to see.
There are 2 off Broadway shows which have been my passions for the last 2 months and sadly, both are closing soon. I initially came to these shows because I follow the Divas who are appearing there, but have returned multiple times because of the acting and music that support them.
First, The Blue Flower: It's not easy to do a musical about lost love, war, death, driven artists, DaDa and German Expressionism, with a touch of Kurt Weill and Country Music.  I won't do a review(see my post of 12/13/10, re: the Cambridge production, it's good), but this is one of the most compelling and riveting pieces of theater I have ever seen. Sadly, the taste for dark musicals is limited, and the people who pay big bucks for a seat in a theater want to smile and be happy, so it is ending too soon. Teal Wicks is the Diva responsible for luring me to this innovative show. Lucky for me that she has good taste in material. Lucky me for being close enough to see both that show and the evolved production that hit 43rd Street in October. It changed in the 4 hour journey to NYC, but Teal's songs and humor remain pivotal. I have brought my NY friends to see the show, 98% are repeat viewers like myself. They have become TheBlueFlowerBunch. They are devoted. I am proud to have introduced them to the show. I wish it would run forever.
Next, Queen of the Mist: It's also not easy to write a show about Anna Edson Taylor, a sad, impoverished but strong woman, who, at 63, decided to make her name by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She sings "There is greatness in me" for her opening number...chutzpah, perhaps (although she is an Episcopalian), but greatness eluded her, and she did not have a hero's finale. What we do have here is a bravura performance for Mary Testa, the woman in in the flotation device and my longtime favorite Diva, Julia Murney, as comic and vocal support. I have driven 27 gazillion miles to see Julia all over California and taken buses up and down this East Coast. She is worth the effort. How nice of her to do a show that is 10 minutes walking distance from my apartment. This show is literally in a gym's basketball court. Bleachers hold the audience, yet it is a spellbinding work. The music is soaring and the comic genius of La Murney is pure crackalicious (what she does with a typewriter,"Damn Damn, stick a...."). At the matinee performance I saw last Saturday, I witnessed one of the most touching moments I have ever seen in a show. Mary Testa has sung her powerhouse final song, and she is in tears and is exhausted. The audience rises to it's feet when she comes to the floor for her curtain call. Then, at the center of the first row, an older man who has not been able to rise in ovation, puts his arms out in a reaching gesture to her, imploring her to come to him and give him a hug. This is so unusual! Then I look at Julia. She is streaming tears and smiling like a fool. This is Mary Testa's father! The pride on his face and the 3 other members of her family just was almost too much to witness. I feel I am seeing a private moment. I'd love to know the journey of that family to reach that joy. Of course, I went down and spoke with them. They were thrilled that someone would come multiple times to see her triumphant role. (Well, no one really understands my calling, but they are polite and grateful I get keep coming)
The magic wasn't over that afternoon. After saying thank you to all the cast and Hi to Julia and Mary, I left my friends to go their way to the Subway, and I walked towards Washington Square on my way home. More magic! It was about 4:45. The light was dimming to grey. It was crisp cold, but in the square there was a magician doing a show, beautiful people taking wedding shots in gorgeous clothes, french bull dogs, basset hounds, a man playing Chopin on a Grand Piano, British filmmakers shooting children playing in the waterless fountain, 2 women doing romantic poetry out loud, a homeless man singing "Sesame Street"in a powerful voice, laughing children and a group of parents from a day care center selling yummy baked goods for a dollar. All that within a 2 block area. It was overwhelming in it's wonderfulness. I went home...had some hot chocolate...pondered my good luck and fell sound asleep.

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