In an attempt to get off the “format.” I have the songwriting ability of a chimp on a rollercoaster, and frankly, I don’t think it’s the greatest medium for a Broadway review. I cannot stand myself being seen or heard on camera, so a video is out of the question. I’m going to steal a move from my delightful peer Justice and write an angsty essay. Some say I am becoming him. Lets see.
Should I tell you my favorite performance this season so far? It was “All is Calm” featuring Cantus at the Pantages, where I also saw Aida (the show I should be reviewing right now and will, all in good time) All is Calm was straightforward, clean and direct, within my expectations, and all around enjoyable. Now why did I enjoy it so? Because the songs and the words all spoke to the event the musical was depicting, the Christmas Eve of 1914 on the Front. But that is not the only reason. Had All is Calm been a broadway show, things would have been different. (Of course, if All is Calm was a broadway show, Arrested Development would have lasted 6 seasons and a movie, my dog would smell nice, all the time, Morgan Freeman would be the pope, Justice would stop playing “Punchy sub-waist circles”, Pop Muzic would have never existed and this would be published in the New York Times.) But if it was, I doubt I would have liked it as much. Should I tell you why?
From my understanding, every Broadway show that comes to or opens in Minneapolis is here because of profitability. They would not send an obscure one that barely made it. They will and do send the show that will be appealing to 45-60 year olds or 30-40 year olds, and in the case of Beauty and the Beast, 7-13. It would be great if you went to a Broadway show, you know, once or twice in a lifetime. Otherwise, you begin to feel that this is just a great game. I severely doubt it’s love of theater that selects the touring shows. In the words of ABBA; “Money money money.” Does anyone really believe that Priscilla came because it represented exemplary theater? It isn’t. It wasn’t consistently awful. It just doesn’t captivate me in any way, a sign that it is not exemplary. I’m not saying that all Broadway theater is awful and capitalistic, but there is no thrill to the “tried and true.” There is no thrill to “appealing to the masses.” (too mainstream)
All is Calm and Aida are not as tried and true. Sure, it’s not the first time they have been done, but it’s local.These shows aren’t just passing through for our money. They don’t need to appeal to the masses. They can get by with a smaller viewer base. Sure, I’m sure that they both would like to make money,have a larger audience, but that isn’t the reason they are performing them. These pieces come from the hearth, the heart. The people made it here, now. You don’t go in expecting to be dazzled, where as with Broadway, you do. You don’t go in expecting targeted appeal, where as with Broadway, you do. You go in, not knowing what to expect, and are in turn, are pleasantly surprised. The performances feel more intimate. The space feels more intimate.
It becomes harder to walk into a Broadway show and think ‘this is in no way just an attempt to appeal to the broadest base possible.’ Theater on a smaller scale doesn’t need a broad base. Sure, not everything is as grand as it can be, but that might be a good thing. As an example, Aida had some… glaring effects. They would flash lights and sometimes things got quite loud. Had the show only been in town for the week before moving on to Spokane I would have said something along the lines of “this show was loud, bright, and harassed almost every sense, especially taste”, but, this show is not going to Spokane, so I can shrug it off. Eh. Nothing is perfect. They don’t have the budget to suite the lights and sound to my taste. I find myself more lenient, more empathetic, more forgiving. The music was fine. I could have gone for one less stirring patriotic number about Nubia. And some songs got old after awhile. Everything else was average. But I found myself almost captivated. When I walked out of the Pantages theater, I found myself saying ‘it was refreshing that they…(spoilers, I cannot finish this sentence). Sure, Aida might be a reincarnated Broadway show, but the spark is held in our hands. The cast can be small, the band can be onstage. Something of our own, something special, something created amongst us, just for us. Something that, when given money, might not take it far.
So I generally enjoyed Aida. Sometimes the songs got a bit tiresome and the blocking formulaic, but nothing is perfect, nor does it have to be. I’m not going to tell you to go out right now and buy tickets. Frankly, I don’t care about Aida. It had to sacrifice what would have been a not bad review for the betterment of theater. I can thank Aida for allowing me to see theater in a new light-—not the bright neon lights of Broadway but the gentle streetlights out my window.