Sunday, September 21, 2008

Accomplishment #14: Attend a Theater Performance (#8)

The first time I ever went to the Thee-a-tah (not including a children's performance of The Sound of Music for Monica Schroff's birthday party in second grade -- the little girl playing Gretl got stage fright and we laughed) was to see Annie in fourth grade.

Here's a big surprise: I was obsessed with Annie. (I'd bet my bottom dollar that lots of little red headed girls in the 70's were. Annie and unicorns.) I played the 8-track over and over. I learned how to play "Tomorrow" and "Maybe" on the piano, warbling along with feeling. I envied my parents for being children in The Great Depression. I secretly called our dog, named Spot, Sandy. And when the stage play came to town, things got worse.

I was beside myself with excitement. We were going to San Francisco to see a play (and not just any play), and I was wearing my fanciest dotted swiss dress. We had front row balcony seats, so I could lean over and see the stage perfectly. And when I opened the program, I gasped. I looked just like the little girl playing Annie, Patricia Ann Patts. (Before the transformation to the curly haired, red dressed Annie Warbucks. I looked like the scraggly orphan, despite the dotted swiss.) And I wasn't the only one who thought so -- everyone around me gasped, too, and the usher came and pulled my arm and said, "You shouldn't be here! You should be getting ready!"

I was destined to be a star.

After that, all I wanted to do was star in Annie. For the first time in my life I actually practiced piano, singing along with even more feeling. I was Annie -- complete with one of my mom's old curly wigs -- for Halloween. I made up tap dances in my room, though I had never taken a lesson and we had wall to wall carpeting. I dreamed of the day when an agent -- my own personal Daddy Warbucks -- would discover me and whisk me away to the bright lights of Broadway. I begged my parents to take me to auditions, but they always seemed to have something else going on.

And then I sang "Tomorrow" in the fifth grade camp talent show and I, along with everyone else that I'd been bragging to that I was going to be the best Annie ever, discovered that I didn't really have talent after all. I couldn't just stick out my chin and grin and say that the sun would come out tomorrow. My life was OVER and I was only ten.

But... I was a resilient ten year old. I got over my bitter heartbreak and moved on to "Fur Elise" in piano. I became more obsessed with the soundtrack for the movie Xanadu and teen heart-throb Timothy Hutton than a plucky orphan and her stray dog. I even managed to set foot inside the thee-a-tah again.

For a long time I worked in a bookstore, and one of my customers was Carole Shorenstein Hayes, who essentially runs the theaters in San Francisco. She was very kind to me, and set me up with tickets for all the opening night shows for about four years. I got to see everything from Les Miserables to The Sound of Music starring Marie Osmond to Cats and Phantom of the Opera (both of which I hated). And yes, even Annie. (I still knew all the words, and still felt the flush of embarrassment at the thought of flailing so hard at the fifth grade camp talent show.)

I loved it. I loved going to Will Call and getting the tickets, and then settling down in plush seats and looking at the ornate walls and loges. I loved hearing the sounds of the orchestra warming up, and the moment when the house lights dim and the initial crash of music or the action on the stage. I loved being sucked into the story and falling in love with the actors -- such intimacy, especially up close when you can see them spit and the microphones on their foreheads. (I usually got really good seats.) I loved intermission and seeing all the dressed-up people in the lobby, as I would stand there and marvel at all of it. (One time, Danielle Steele and her brood of a hundred children sat in front of my mom and me -- in Ms. Steele's Chanel suit's pocket was a bottle of Maalox. So glamorous!)

But all good things come to an end -- the bookstore closed and my days of free theater and glamour ended. I hadn't been back for years until I treated myself to a discount ticket to see Grey Gardens on Broadway a few years ago. My God. Talk about HEAVEN and a dream come true. I sat in my slightly obstructed seat in the amazing Walter Kerr theater and had to pinch myself that it was really happening.

But going to the Thee-a-tah is something that I don't normally do. Sure I want to go see Spring Awakening or whatever else I might see a commercial for, but I was so spoiled that I don't even think of buying a ticket and going. Which is stupid, because it's an extraordinary experience.

So when my friend Leslie invited me to go see a production of Jungle Red, a drag parody of the movie The Women from 1939, I jumped at the chance.

Jungle Red Flyer

Now, let me explain something about The Women. It is, hands down, one of my all time favorite movies. I know that there is a remake out right now starring Meg Ryan, and I probably won't see it. It's not just because it's a remake -- it was remade in the 50's as The Opposite Sex starring June Allyson and Joan Collins -- it's just because the original is so fabulous that I just don't need to see a new movie of it, set in modern day.

For one thing, the cavalcade of stars in the original is perfect. Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford -- I mean, come ON. You can't get any better than that... but it does. The costumes are by Adrian, one of my favorite designers. (He also did The Wizard of Oz, if that helps give any perspective.)

Here is a clip from the movie -- it's utterly surreal. Smack in the middle of the B&W film is a technicolor dream fashion show sequence, all done by Adrian. It's utterly bizarre, and utterly FABULOUS.

But that's not even what makes this movie so great -- it's the writing (such amazing wit and bitchery) and the stars. Rosalind Russell is just outstanding as Mrs. Howard Fowler, the bitchy, gossipy and fabulous Sylvia. Norma Shearer as the jilted Mrs. Steven Haynes is dewy and lovely, as is Joan Bennett as Peggy, the only one who still believes in love. And of course, Joan Crawford as Crystal Allen, the devious "other woman"... divalicious.

So, there would really be no reason for me to see the new movie. But a show starring all men in a parody of a movie that starred only women... well, sign me up!

So Leslie, her father and I took BART into the City where we went to the Victoria Theatre, which, admittedly, is a far cry from the Curran, but fun nonetheless. (AND you can have popcorn and drinks at the Victoria!) The feeling was very excited, and, well, gay in the happy and orientation sense of the word. (Leslie and I joked that we would find a few of my ex boyfriends there.) And I got the same old feeling of anticipation and delight when the orchestra arrived and tuned up and the lights went down, and I settled in my seat.

Let me tell you -- it was fabulous. Only fabulously flamboyant drag queens could convey the style and wit and camp of the original, with cheeky lines and double entendres. But Varla Jean Merman as Crystal Allen (with touches of Joan in Mommie Dearest, which was uproarious and well received with that audience), and especially Katya Smirnoff-Skyy as Sylivia Fowler stole the show. I was mesmerized by the two of them -- the others, though wonderful, just paled in comparison. Katya was SPOT ON Rosalind Russell. Everything -- from the voice inflections to the expressions to the veiling on her hats... let me tell you, I am a tough critic when it comes to my favorites, and after the show I had to go tell her that I loved her. And she was very, very sweet. (And a bonus -- Varla Jean liked my hair. I felt like I had just been crowned honorary queen for a day!)

JUNGLE RED!  09/20/2008
Varla Jean Merman as Crystal Allen, and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy as Mrs. Howard Fowler

It's true about the thee-a-tah --it is such an personal experience, more so than with movies or TV. You really feel like you've built a relationship with not only the characters but the actors, and feel that since you've seen them work their craft in person, you have an intimate connection. And songs that you would never usually listen to on a regular basis -- you hear them in a production and you LOVE them and want to buy the soundtrack, so you can relive those moments, over and over again. (But, sadly, that doesn't always last very long.)

And best of all, you can say you've gotten culture by attending a thee-a-tah performance. Now, I don't know if a drag show of Jungle Red counts, exactly, as culture, but I like to think so.

JUNGLE RED!  09/20/2008
Annie's all grown up, and her claws are Jungle Red.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm so inspired I'm going to go practice my tap dancing in my room. I'm still waiting for that agent (or Daddy Warbucks) to discover me.

Fourteen down, 83 to go.


Dane said...

I envy the hell out of you, seeing that performance.

Also: in our fifth grade musical production, we did a "broadway's greatest hits" thing and I was Annie and sang "Tomorrow."

Very badly indeed.

Sparkleneely said...

Ummm.. we really ARE the same person, aren't we? And how do you feel when you hear "Tomorrow" now? I get a little nostalgic and a little embarrassed.

Oh, the performance was truly fabulous. I wish I could see next weekend's, too -- apparently Katya as Sylvia is going to have yet ANOTHER fabulous costume! Sigh. What a glamorous life she leads.

larajanepark said...

Fabulous! That's my girl Karen! I just love to read what you write...I still have the story you wrote to me in a flowered cloth bound journal for my 21st birthday about "Dolce". It's one of the few things I took with me when I left! A perfect treasure...just like you.

Andy said...

I LOVE the Women! I'm sad they remade it as well, it's perfect as is. The drag version, however, sounds amazing!

D. Debil said...

My son is doing Antigone. (the play, get your mind out of the gutter. He's only 11 for god's sake.)

Sparkleneely said...

lara -- ooh boy, that's an old one for sure! Dolce. Is that the one that you bound for me in pretty black taffeta? I still have that!

Andy -- it was FABULOUS! But while I was at that, YOU saw Jeff Conway in a bar with the Enabler. It's a pretty big toss up...

D.Debil -- I promise, my mind was never in the gutter. About your son in Antigone, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I love the original movie and was horrified that they recently remade it! I am wondering how they got around the whole getting a Reno divorce part? Jungle Red sound fabulous though!

xo- dolin

Sparkleneely said...

I know -- I'm kind of curious about the new one, but hey -- I still haven't even seen "Sex and the City." So I doubt I'll ever see this one. But have you seen "The Opposite Sex," the remake from the 50's? It's awful but the clothes and sets are divuun.

You and I should have movie night -- The Women and Bringing Up Baby or something...

larajanepark said...

well, sex and the city is a must (though the movie pales in comparison to the series). I do believe that the HBO series had a direct effect on my decision to get a divorce (I mean, GOD! what I missed!!!). It saved my life, and thanks to Carrie Bradshaw is all I can say...

Anonymous said...

i like to remind my mom about 6373 times a day that she refused to let me try out for the new mickey mouse club (or MMC) when they held auditions in minneapolis. she is totally unimpressed that i could have been as BIG as britney.....i think this also stems from the fact that i had very minimal musical talent. all of my dreams of fame and fortune have turned to my son, who WILL be lord of the dance by god. i have waited all my life to be a stage mother and for godssake, he better not screw it up. sparkle truey sparkle.

have you seen "life after tomorrow" the documentary of all the ladies who starred in annie on broadway? brills. i got it from amazon as soon as it came out. you will cringe at the shrill singing.

Anonymous said...

Varla Jean Merman was on Project Runway this year. So not only are you fabulous for seeing this show, but you're fabulous for coming in close contact with a PR guest star.

My standards for fabulosity are obviously very unstable.

Sparkleneely said...

Lishy -- you and I could have been STARS. Big time. Who cares if we had no talent? Our charm would have taken the world by storm. I just may call my mom today and make her feel guilty for never helping on the stairway to stardom. Who cares if I would have been humiliated to the point of catatonia? I had a dream!

So it's your DUTY to go out and DRIVE Tru to stardom. Look at Little Justin Timberlake! Now THAT was a pageant child and he is so well balanced, and HE STARTED THE TRUCKER HAT PHENOM. And even Britney's back on track now. Get out there!!!

Jennye -- well DUH! The whole audience was abuzz about that!!! So I'd say your fabulosity is very, very stable.