Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waitress on Broadway

Now that I got that last post out of my system, time for something lighter a little less charged.  

As I mentioned in my last post, my sister and her fiancĂ© now live in New York City.  I went down a couple weeks ago to hang with them, check out their awesome new place, and see a couple shows.  We all saw the Birdland Big Band, which was OUTSTANDING and something I'd recommend even to the non-jazzers that read this.  Earlier in the afternoon, however, I visited the TKTS booth and wound up scoring an orchestra seat to Waitress.  I'm really, really glad I did.  

I walked into the theatre not knowing much about the show, aside from some friends having raved about it and knowing that I have enjoyed the few Sara Bareilles songs I had heard (from the show, and otherwise).  I did not expect to be emotionally sucker-punched in the gut, and I certainly didn't expect to have to stand on the side of Broadway for about ten minutes just to mentally center myself.  

The show tackles several topics, ranging from pregnancy to adultery to judgment to stereotypes to, ultimately, happiness and how far one can and should go to reach it.  It does so with a very good modern piano-driven rock score, a very strong cast, convincing staging, and a tight on-stage pit band, among other elements.  None of those individual elements were the absolute best I've seen (it'll be a while before The Last Five Years is unseated as my favorite score), but this show is a quintessential example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  The "whole" of the show absolutely blew me away.  How and why?  It made me think, it made me question, and it made me feel.  And those things are EXACTLY what should happen when someone is exposed to (or dare I say, assaulted) by quality art.  

Among the thoughts that ran through my head as a result of this show:

1.  Is lying OK?

2.  Is cheating OK?

3.  Even if cheating is not OK, is it possible to understand WHY someone might do so?

4.  Can a character still be rooted for despite their imperfections or flaws?

5.  Is "happy enough" truly "happy enough"?  Is "happy enough" even a thing?  Could the answer to that question be different for different people in different situation?

6.  How hard is it to have your opinion of someone changed?  

7.  Can you grow to like, or even love, someone with whom you get off on the wrong foot when you first meet?  

Any of those questions could be argued, and convincing so, any number of ways (except #2, IMHO).  I say that even about the first and third questions, and I would not have said that if not for this show and a couple others I've seen.  Ahh, the power of musical theatre.  

I would LOVE to discuss any or all of the above questions with anyone who'd like to do so, either within or outside the context of Waitress.  However, I want to share a few take-aways before wrapping this up.  

1.  I turned thirty last year, and I've been (and still am) so, so lucky to have had the people and experiences in my life that I've had and still have.  And that's the understatement of the century.  All of that said, I still sometimes think "Holy shit, I'm a third of the way through my life.  To what extent do the things I'm doing and the choices I'm making rev me up and move me toward meeting all of my goals and realizing my potential (both individually and in the bigger picture), and to what extent do they hold me back?"

2.  The protagonist (Jenna) writes a figurative letter to her unborn baby at one point in the show.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the show, but I give Jenna's character so much credit for saying what she says (not easy or widely accepted thoughts, mind you) with such honesty and candor.  

3.  This show reaffirmed my long-time belief against "settling" in any facet of life, because (a) it rarely works and (b) life's too short to spend it wondering if the grass is greener on the other side.  Disclaimer:  I firmly believe that there is a huge difference between settling, and modifying one's choices due to an outside need (caring for a family member or friend comes to mind, but there are other examples).  The latter is sometimes necessary, and can turn out to be rewarding in its own way.  

That it for now.  Like I said earlier, just drop me a line if you want to discuss or debate any of the above, or nerd out about the show itself.  And if you haven't seen the show, do yourself a favor, and go see it.  And leave yourself some time after the final curtain to collect your thoughts.  You'll need it.  

Charlottesville, Cabaret, 2016 Election

It's been far too long since I've updated this thing, and a lot has happened since May 2016.  A few recent things have compelled me to write, so here goes:

I haven't written or said much publicly since Donald Trump was elected last November, and at times I still feel like I'm in a state of disbelief.  Throughout the campaign season, I said time and time again, "We're not that stupid."  "We won't vote him in."  I even foolishly thought at times that Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination would turn a sufficient number of Republicans off to help Hillary or Bernie win the election.

I remember watching in disbelief as the results unfolded on November 8th of last year and wondering how the FUCK we could vote someone in whose hair-trigger temper and Twitter fingers could trigger foreign powers that have the capability to nuke us (look at what's happening with North Korea today)?  Someone who mocked an autistic reporter on the campaign trail?  Someone who appointed people to Cabinet posts with the intent of bastardizing the very organizations they would head up?  Someone who objectifies women and tries to save face by referring to it as "locker room" talk?  Someone who clearly does not see ALL people as equal and deserving of the same basic human rights and protections?  Those are but a few examples.

I know several people all across the political spectrum, and I have not been able to fathom what could inspire ANYONE to excuse ANY of the above and find it the "lesser of two evils" compared to another candidate.  The Democratic candidates were not perfect, and I was not 100% in love with any of them.  But NONE would have done ANY of what I described above, and certainly not the two that made it the farthest in the race.  I would like to think that those I know who voted for Trump take issue with ALL of the above, and I have faith that that is true, as I see good in them as people.  I really, really hope I'm right.  Part of our job as voting citizens is to make it clear when we're unhappy with our elected officials, so I'd go so far as to challenge any Trump voters I know to make one of the following two choices.  Choice one:  Make it clear through your actions that NONE of what I described above is tolerable from ANYONE, much less an elected official.  Choice two:  Disassociate from me until you find it in yourself to make choice one.  I welcome diversity in every sense, including opinions.  But I don't associate with people who don't view ALL people as equals, or who think any of what I described in the previous paragraph is excusable in a President.

Also, for quite some time, I have questioned the relevance of the Electoral College.  From what I understand, it was designed to ensure that candidates would visit small states on the campaign trail.  Sure, for the first part of our country's history, I can understand that.  However, the internet is now a thing, and it is very widely available on mobile devices and in free public libraries.  Information is out there, and people in small states can access it just as easily as people in large states.  While I'm sure what I mentioned above wasn't the ONLY rationale for the Electoral College, that particular rationale is no longer relevant.  And honestly, I struggle to see the point of something that doesn't serve a purpose other than to potentially distort the popular vote.  Think for a second about the possibility that, had a small handful of people (far fewer than the two million plus voter advantage that Hillary had) lived in another state, Trump would not have won the election.  That thought is sobering.  So is the possibility that a foreign power meddled in the election.  So is the reality that even if corruption is found to have happened, we can't simply go back for a re-do (which I feel is the ONLY fair correction in such a situation).  We live in a Democracy.  We need to ditch the archaic Electoral College, as it no longer serves a viable purpose in our society.

Either way, it happened.  The ball is now in our court to ensure that everything we have worked for over the past several hundred years, and especially recently, doesn't get lost.  Jason Robert Brown wrote a song called "Hope" the day after the 2016 election, and it helped me make some sense of the situation back then.  It also served as a reminder of how much stronger we, as people, are than we may think.  I had wanted to learn that song since it came out, and acquired the sheet music in January.  It came up in conversation with some friends a few days ago, and I revisited it the next day, as I felt it was still very relevant given the course of Trump's presidency thus far.

Barely after I had worked it out and made a pass at recording it (the final product can be found here), I looked at my Facebook feed and learned of the horror of what was happening in Charlottesville.  My sister and her fiancĂ© lived in Charlottesville for three years, until a couple months ago.  Thank God they're now in New York.  I had been to Charlottesville three times within the last year.  It's a beautiful town.  There's a vibrant music scene (which spawned the Dave Matthews Band, one of my favorite musical groups).  That it could be overtaken by such a virulent display of racism, fascism, Nazism, and poison is beyond sickening.  I realized then that the song was far more relevant on that day (Saturday 8/12) than I had even thought.  It's disgusting that this shit is even a thing, and Saturday's events proved that it is alive and well, and I'm sure very largely responsible for the election of Trump to the White House.

I'm also currently music-directing a production of Cabaret.  I won't spoil the show for those who have yet to see it, but it takes place as the Nazis were rising to power in Germany.  The sheer relevance of the show in TODAY'S times is devastating, and there are far too many parallels between the show and our current situation.  Hopefully, the production, as well as other art/music/theater out there, will serve its purpose and help people understand the gravity of what's going on as well as what must be done to stop it.

There's no sugarcoating that the world is a massive shit-show right now.  It's also an incredibly beautiful place.  It's our job to bring the beauty back to the forefront and flush the shit away.  It's up to us to do what we can to stand up for what we believe is right, and to stand up for those who are not viewed as equals.  It's up to us to stand up TO those who don't view all people as equals and deserving of equal rights and protections, both in our personal circles and in our national leadership.  I plan to do my part through music and theatre, but there's a lot that can be done in many ways.

We, as people, are stronger than we may realize.  We're still here, in spite of what each of us has survived so far.  We can do it.