Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Of Theatre Snobs and Show Queens

One of my favorite things to do while standing around the theatre district in New York (Shubert Alley is an especially great place to do this) is to look at others and make up stories of who or what they are based on how they stand, their body language and, of course, how they are dressed. I suppose that because of where we are, most of my “stories” tie, somehow, into the person’s interest in theatre.

Last Saturday, in between rainstorms, Shubert Alley was its usual hustle bustle self: actors going to work (always fun to see what they are wearing as opposed to their character –but that’s another blog), last minute lunchers trying (unsuccessfully) to get a table at Junior’s, and small groups of people like me and my friend simply waiting in anticipation outside the theatre. Shubert Alley also offers a unique opportunity for autograph seekers with the stage doors to both the Shubert (Memphis) and Booth (next to normal) fully accessible; again, probably a blog on that topic will be forthcoming. Add to this little scenario that we arrived very early – an hour and a half before the doors would open, two hours before curtain. So, we chatted, caught up, ogled the wide range of attractive young guys (and even a few gals) and then I started my stories. I was bored, don’t judge!

“I bet she thinks she is dragging him against his will to Finian’s Rainbow,” I said of a couple who passed, she talking loudly about seeing Cheyenne in Xanadu three times, he trying to look interested in what she’s saying. “But he is really secretly excited about seeing Cheyenne Jackson, too.” My friend laughed. “How do you get that last part?” he asked. Because the minute she said, ‘Cheyenne Jackson’ he blushed a little and caught up with her, and because even though he is trying so hard to keep up with her, her really wants to stop and look at the show poster for In the Heights – the graffiti guy is HOT! – but will say he’s looking at Spider-Man if he gets caught looking!” “Ugh! You think everyone is gay!” Who turned around as my friend said that? Mr. I’m-being-dragged-to-Finian’s-Rainbow! (Neither my buddy nor I are particularly quiet or subtle.)

“Oh, look!” I snort, sneer firmly in place. We both turn to a newly formed group of high school kids, two guys, two girls. “Here we go,” my companion sighed. “Let me guess. The boys are really a couple and the girls are covers for their parents?” “Close!” I chuckled, “the two boys are together, but no one but them knows. Each of the girls has a huge crush on the boys, which they’ve secretly had since last spring, when the blonde kid was Lewis and the brown haired kid with the perfectly gelled flip in front played Pippin in the spring musical!” We both laughed for a good 3 minutes at that – it’s funny because it is so true. OK, if not Pippin, than You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, where they bonded as Charlie and Snoopy. Anyway, the blonde kid, trying desperately not to be too girly in his perfectly matched mismatching suit coat and jeans with (again not matching, but matching) scarf, twirled around nervously trying to sing “I Miss the Mountains.” My friend and I stopped instantly, looked at each other and said, “Lottery winners for next to normal!” With a small look of fear in his eyes as I edged closer to my new story victims, my friend got very serious and gulped, “Please don’t say anything more…” What’s a guy to do? “Well,” I continued not swayed by peer pressure, “the two girls, both in carefully chosen, completely ugly and ill-fitting, outfits that screamed WE DO HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE…” I paused, fearing they’d turn at my volume. No reaction. “The two girls think they ‘know’ theatre because they can name – in order- every person who ever played Elphaba on Broadway.” I stopped, disgusted at the thought. “What’s the matter?” asked my companion. “I’m right about those two.” “Oh,” he sighed, “you are such a theatre snob, Jeff.”

OK, confession time. I guess I am a “theatre snob,” if this is the definition: “One who regards theatre as a serious art form, regardless of the subject or sub-genre, and who holds in disdain anyone who purports to be as serious about the subject but lacks the knowledge or experience to really know anything beyond the obvious and mundane about current theatre offerings.” And he always spells theatre with the “re” ending, and cringes at anyone who pronounces the word “thee-ate-her.”

But if you define “theatre snob” as someone who only sees serious dramas or “arty” musicals only by certain writers, then I am NOT a theatre snob. I am the guy who can debate the artistic worth of any Sondheim show, discuss the trend toward known works as vehicles for new shows, and explain why Jason Robert Brown will never be in the same league as Adam Guettel. BUT I am also the guy who can see Mamma Mia! seven times, Xanadu five times, and worship at the Lion King altar. Heck, I’ve even seen Wicked 3 or 4 times. I guess my point is that I am willing to try any piece of theatre, no matter the buzz, no matter the popularity or perceived artistic merit. And I’m not ashamed to admit that a perfect day of theatre was seeing the matinee of Passion and the evening performance of Beauty and the Beast in 1994. Or Mamma Mia! and Grey Gardens in the same day… or 13 and All My SonsThe Goodbye Girl and Kiss of the Spiderwoman

I know for sure that I am not a fangirl/fanboy, for I know that Howard McGillin isn’t REALLY the Phantom of the Opera, nor can I tell you Patti LuPone’s shoe size or in how many performances Idina Menzel missed the last note in “Defying Gravity,” or how many times she missed Wicked altogether. But I admire greatly all three performers and their shows.

I guess I might be partly a show queen (I hate the term “queen” in reference to being gay, though I am) because I love show tunes and will sing them over and over in my cubicle at work. And because I own hundreds of cast recordings, and because I’ve seen hundreds of shows, including at least 15 Pippins, 8 Droods and 6 Grand Hotels. But I don’t go to “Show Tune Night" at local gay bars to belt out “And I am Telling You,” “Memory,” “Popular,” or anything by Judy, Liza or Bette.

Wait… all right. Complete honesty time. I AM a theatre snob. And a fanboy (Angela Lansbury is my expertise). And, gulp, a show queen. Before I sat down to write this, I was at the bathroom sink brushing my hair when “It’s Today” came on Sirius. Last thing I remember, Mame was cavorting down my hall in a terrycloth turban.

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