Monday, September 17, 2018
The Monmouth, IL Rotary Club celebrated its 100th Anniversary last Saturday evening. Good food, good drink, and a fine message from a former Rotary International president. He reviewed the organization's remarkable progress on eradicating polio and ended with a quote from Helen Keller. When asked if there was anything worse than being blind, Ms. Keller said, "Yes, being able to see and having no vision." This is an organization I am proud to be a member of.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
In the past month I have had the opportunity to revisit the Broadway blockbuster musical A Chorus Line. I have seen it at least three times before—one of them in Chicago during its first post Broadway national tour. My most recent viewing was at a top notch community theatre. It was a fine evening in the theatre, full of energy as befits an amateur effort and in spite of the occasionally uneven casting, pleased me and those around me. Yet as I left the theatre, I experienced some of the same misgivings I have had for a number of years about this show—and let me emphasize not the production of it but the show itself.A Chorus Line is aptly titled to emphasize that this chorus represents all chorus lines. Broadway Musicals, by definition, have groups like this who labor in relative theatrical anonymity at minimal wages. One item that troubles me is the final image of the show. As the cast dons their identical golden costumes to become “the chorus” , there is a simultaneous feeling of exhilaration and depression. The finale seals the wannabes into the group, but you can’t forget that those who were cut earlier will not really get to don the golden regalia. They will have to start the same dehumanizing and demoralizing audition process all over again at the next call.
Watching A Chorus Line from the vantage point of 2018 also feels a bit like watching a live feed from a hurricane site just before it hits. The natural aura of self congratulation about how hard young hopefuls work for a nibble at the sugar cube of success now pales in our sad acknowledgement that the destructive and poisonous scourge of AIDS was just around the corner. That disease will shortly decimate the ranks of this show, Broadway, and the gay community in general and it unfortunately can't rewrite history.In spite of the unrecognized specter on the horizon, I cannot deny the appeal of this award winning musical. Dreams of stardom are hard to kill and even local actors find it alluring to strut their duel singing and dancing chops. Clearly the show will likely survive my doubts.
However none of the above manages to change the reality of its shaky plot. A Broadway director is choosing the chorus for a show. The dancers are assigned to execute a few songs wedded to a series of standard jazz and tap routines. Zach, the director, seems to function more as a manipulative narrator than a real life director holding auditions for a show. You must remember that the final production will cost him personally if he casts it based on nepotism or sympathy. For unexplained reasons Zach spends most of his time questioning the auditionees about their pasts in an effort to tease out their sad life stories. The only problem is this is a standard musical and it is looking for singer/dancers not Stanislavskian actors. The back stories of the performers have no real import on their selection; only their vocal and dance capabilities are up for measure. I struggle with this point even though I do realize that plenty of shows have been quite successful in spite of a straw man plot device.There is also the simple fact of length. Most productions of the show I have seen have gone on longer than they need to. Many of the single turns (especially Paul’s in Act II) could easily be trimmed without hurting their emotional punch.
Finally there is the aura of self congratulation in the show that masks the essential cruelty and sexism that pervades it. The “T and A” song is not the only part of A Chorus Line that has not aged well in the age of Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves, and the “Me too” movement. Too much of it remains mired in the pre-feminism 1970’s. I grant you this is a typical disease of fiction. There comes a time when history outruns content and what was cutting edge begins to look dated, uninformed, and stupidly out of touch. From my point of view A Chorus Line sits in that uneasy compartment now. I love a lot of it, but it makes me uncomfortable. In a few more years it may earn the label of a classic (eg. Showboat) , but for now it might be wiser to give the show a rest.
Sunday, September 02, 2018
We had a visit from our grandson over the weekend. He is finishing up his certification as a Paramedic next semester. He had not been to Chicago in a while and wanted to see the new dinosaur at the Field Museum.
So we hopped on our handy dandy Illinois Zephyr in Galesburg and right on time we were treated to the remarkable Chicago skyline.
Then is was a short cab ride to the Field Museum. and a walk up those impressive stairs.
The Main Hall was waiting
We meandered through the mummies and the tomb replica, then hit the Asian Galleries.for some peace and serenity.
It was then time for a trip through the evolution of the world. That finished off with a peek at the re-assembly of the famous Sue dinosaur skeleton and a final look at her even bigger replacement in the Main Hall. .
Our next stop was the Art Institute--which our grandson had never visited. We thought the Impressionism collection would be a good introduction for him and he was particularly moved by Monet's colorful garden pictures and his painting of London's Westminster Bridge.
It was a warm day so liquid refreshment was then taken in the cool confines of one of our favorite Chicago stops--Millers Pub. From there it was a pleasant walk up Adams and back to Union Station in time for the train back to Galesburg.
Even with some long signal delays, our journey was pleasant because of a group of Amish folks who were traveling to visit relatives in Missouri. While we were sitting motionless outside of Princeton conversations were struck up and there was even some group singing. One woman with striking red hair who was traveling to her sister's outside of Galesburg said that had she known traveling on this train was so much fun she would ride it every week. We all shared life experiences and leaned quite a bit about Amish life and customs.
It was after 10 pm before we got back to Monmouth. We were all tired but glad we went.