Sunday, October 18, 2009

The 39 Steps


On Friday I played a fun game with my twitter followers: I let them choose the Broadway show I’d attend. There were four I was considering: Superior Donuts, Memphis, Finian’s Rainbow, and The 39 Steps. Two plays, two musicals; two open, two in previews; two originals, two adaptation/revivals. There isn’t a whole lot that ties all four of these shows together – except, of course, that I hadn’t seen any of them on Broadway.

For me, the goal is always to open up a Playbill to the back – where you can find a list of all of the currently running Broadway shows under the heading “How Many Have You Seen?” – and be able to put a little mental check mark next to the title of each show. “Seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it.” There was a time last year when I had seen 26 of roughly 30 shows running at that point.

Based on the time-crunch due to limited runs, as well as discount-ticket availability (when you go to the theatre as much as I do, it’s impossible to see everything at a $125 price), I never managed to go above that mark. I continue to try to see everything, but as some shows close and new ones open, it proves pretty darn difficult to cross every single show off my list!

I see almost every show at a severe discount – student rush whenever I can (though I’m past the point of waiting in long, overnight rush lines – I’d rather pony up the cash for a mid-price ticket), TKTS, lottery, or the myriad of online discount codes that can be found with a simple google search. Unfortunately, that means that certain shows will never be within my reach: I knew fairly early that I wouldn’t get to see Will Farrell’s You’re Welcome America (even though there were student tickets available, the lines were too long), and currently I’m afraid that my chances of seeing A Steady Rain are slim-to-none. (Sometimes I avoid star-vehicles like these just to make a statement – fame does not always equal quality! – which is why I never made it to Katie Holmes’ All My Sons.)

Anyway, I generally feel like I’m doing my job (my totally uncompensated, financially-draining, all-for-the-love-of-it job, I should say) if I can hover right around the 20-show mark. When I check the list and I’ve seen more than 20 currently-running productions, I feel like a successful Broadway Girl. When that number starts to slip, I know I have to take action – you guys are counting on me, right? (Wink.)

Yesterday morning, my count was 18. Un Ac Ceptable, am I right? I had to get to the theatre. But I was torn. What to see?

The dilemma started when my email delivered a message titled ominously, “LAST CHANCE TO SEE THE 39 STEPS!” which, even though the show doesn’t close till January, got my obsessive little heart pounding (“I gotta go so I can cross it off my list before it falls off into the ‘Never Got to See’ category – the horror!”)

But I’d also been meaning to get to Superior Donuts; and two big new musicals were out there calling my name, too: Memphis and Finian’s Rainbow. When a tweet came through from @TDFNYC telling me that all four were available at TKTS, a decision had to be made, and it wasn’t one I was prepared to make on my own.

Twitter to the rescue! Just after noon Eastern time, I posted the following tweet:
I'll let YOU decide what #TKTS show I see tonight! @MemphisBroadway, @FiniansRainbow, Superior Donuts or @39stepsbroadway ? Most votes wins! And just like that, the decision was out of my hands.

Having mentioned The 39 Steps a few tweets before – asking, “Is it worth it, even if I haven't seen the film?” – I acknowledge that its early lead may have been a bit unfair. But then Memphis made a huge surge – thanks largely, I presume, to the show’s official twitter chiming in, encouraging loyal fans to vote for them! (Great strategy, by the way, @MemphisBroadway. I sort of wish you had won just for getting involved in the process!)

Memphis ruled most of the day; at one point Finian’s caught up to tie them, but never passed into the lead. Superior Donuts was left in the dust early (even with @SteveOnBroadway ’s attempts to rally the troops). And 39 Steps, despite its early advantage, couldn’t quite catch up either. It looked like Memphis was gonna be it – but then the second wave of 39 Steps votes came in, and by the time I headed over to TKTS, we had a dead tie.

So, I did what any obsessive theatre fan would do: I chose the show that could offer me the better seat. And as it turned out, that show was The 39 Steps.

Shortly before 8pm, I gathered my heavy winter coat and scarf (what’s the DEAL with the cold weather right now by the way?! We fully got cheated out of June this year; the least the Universe could have done would be to make up for it with a nice, crisp, warmish fall!) and headed to the Helen Hayes.

It was my first time back at the theatre since Xanadu closed, which I saw three times. I’m a child of the 80s, so all that DayGlo and glitter really appealed to me. I did feel a little pang for the spandex and roller-skates! But I made my peace with that, and took my seat. And The 39 Steps began.

I’m guessing that, since the show has been open for almost two years, many (if not most) of you have seen it. So, you know that this is not a “serious” night at the theatre! It’s a slapstick spoof on the original film (which I hadn’t seen), an event of comedic timing and character acting that’s more like a showcase than a play.

I felt like I was watching clowning – an art I enjoy and find entertaining for sure. The physical abilities of all four actors is remarkable in this show, and the direction (choreography, actually, is probably a more appropriate word) is innovative. That said, I wasn't fully engaged. Nothing was "missing," per se, but it wasn't the style of theatre I like best.

Watching The 39 Steps, I kept laughing; I wasn’t bored for a second; I always had something to look at and I especially enjoyed the quick-switches between the multiple characters taken on by actors Arnie Burton and Jeffrey Kuhn . I agree with the twitterers who insisted that I had to see this show before it closes – I would have been sorry to have missed it. It was great – but it wasn’t something I feel I should have seen when it first opened; I’m not mourning the fact that I won’t get to see it three or four more times.

This show taught me something about my personal theatrical taste, and that is that I like to be transported by a show, swept up in its grandeur or clever plot lines or innovative word-play. The 39 Steps is a spoof of itself, as well as a spoof on the traditional staging of theatrical works. It is hilarious to watch the actors switch on and off their various characters; the use of minimal scenes and props works brilliantly; and the audience is kept entertained. I have nothing bad to say about it, and yet here I sit, shrugging my shoulders, as if my “it was amazing” review necessitates a “BUT” followed by a “dot dot dot”.

I guess my hesitation in giving The 39 Step an unfettered rave review comes from the fact that I was aware, the entire time, that I was in a theatre. The show, by design, constantly reminds the audience that what we’re watching isn’t, and couldn’t be, real. “What about a musical?” you may ask. “Are we supposed to believe that anyone would just burst into song & dance in the middle of a conversation?” Of course not – but that’s what makes it so remarkable when we ARE transported, when we DO believe for a couple of hours that we’re in the world of the play.

When I’m not seeing a Broadway show, I’m known to check out a circus, or a carnival, or a comedy act. That’s what The 39 Steps felt like to me. A showcase for some brilliant performers, with a loose story line in which to demonstrate their comic timing and massive comedic range. Huge bravas to the actors and the director, for giving me a night of laughter. But next time, I’m choosing something with a story or a score that’s as captivating as the performers themselves.

Monday, October 5, 2009

TWITTERVIEW: The Story Pirates present FOUND: The Musical



The following is a transcript of an interview conducted via Twitter on Sunday, October 4, 2009.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: OK lovelies, it's 5pm! I'm not JUST about Broadway, you know. Today I'm twitterviewing the co-creators of a new musical called FOUND.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: You may have heard me rave about the The Striking Viking Story Pirates, my favorite NY theatre company.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: Usually, the @StoryPirates work with kids, adapting the kids' original stories into hilarious musical and sketch comedy numbers.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: Now, the @StoryPirates are doing something different: collaborating with Found Magazine, @FoundMag.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: So, I'll be interviewing @StoryPirates and @FoundMagazine about this new piece of musical theater, to be performed this Friday at @arsnova.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: So @storypirates and @foundmag, are you guys with me & ready to start? (Everyone follow them so you can read the whole convo!)

FOUNDMAG: I think so... Is this thing on?

STORYPIRATES: ready for the twitterview!

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: What up, @StoryPirates? First off, tell us a little about the Story Pirates in general. And @Foundmag, tell us about Found Magazine!

STORYPIRATES: we've spent 6 years adapting kids stories into sketch comedy and musical theater - we're in 50 schools in NYC

FOUNDMAG: FOUND Magazine is a community art project started in 2002 by Davy Rothbart. We collect lost notes, pictures, etc.

FOUNDMAG: We published the magazine once a year and just released our 3rd best-selling book

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: How did the Story Pirates and Found Magazine first become aware of each other? (@storypirates @foundmag)

FOUNDMAG: We came in contact thru Plus Ent, when we started developing a theatrical version of our already popular live reading show

STORYPIRATES: found magazine was looking for a way to put their mag on stage- a producer, Victoria Lang was brill enough to hook us up

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: So you knew you wanted to make @FoundMag a stage show. What format did you decide on? Did you always know it would be a musical?

STORYPIRATES: we knew there would be a huge musical component to the Found show. The heart of our work =our amazing composer @kittybrains

FOUNDMAG: Many, many conf calls later we developed the idea of a multi-media musical w/ sketches based on some of our favorite notes

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: I should mention: I saw a performance of the @FoundMag musical during its sold out run at The Actors Playhouse in June. It was brilliant!

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: When I saw it, each number was based on a single (real) found item; there was no specific plotline that ran thru the show. Is that still so?

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: (Definite big ups to @kittybrains. The tunes in the @FoundMag musical -- as well as the @StoryPirates regular shows -- are fantastic!)

FOUNDMAG: It is... We liked keeping is as random as the FOUND scraps of paper we used for its conception

STORYPIRATES: Correct- each piece in the Found show is based on a different found item- including items that the audience brings in the night of the show!

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: Audience members bring their own found items -- letters, cards, shopping lists, notes -- to the show and you incorporate them. How?!

STORYPIRATES: We incorporate audience "finds" through the brilliance of @kittybrains, improv and even special guests like @reggiewatts

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: When I saw the show, the improved scenes were so seamless that I wondered if the finds were planted! Those actors are so impressive.

FOUNDMAG: For sure!... It's been one of the most gratifying collaborative projects I've ever been involved with

STORYPIRATES: The biggest problem with improvising in the Found show is that people don't believe it's possible to do what we're doing! But it is! It is.

FOUNDMAG: I think they're the best improv group around. They continue to amaze me every time I see them

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: I was particularly impressed with the range of emotion in the show; I laughed my ass off, but some sketches were moving and even sad!

FOUNDMAG: Exactly! I loved the humanity in which they brought the notes to life. It's so easy to just make fun of these notes

FOUNDMAG: Here at FOUND, we never want readers or audience members to think we're exploiting these people. The Story Pirates got that

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: To both of you (@storypirates & @foundmag), do you have particular fave find/scenes that you look forward to seeing on Friday at @arsnova?

STORYPIRATES: everyone is always looking forward to The Booty Dont Stop, our adaptation of a homemade booty mix tape found in Michigan

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: THE BOOTY DON'T STOP! Love that number. It's the hilarious finale. The choreography and the jam are off the hook! @storypirates

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: How about you, @foundmag? What's your favorite number from this weekend's show at @arsnova?

FOUNDMAG: My favorite sketch the is one based on the FOUND fraternity pledge's journal... "None of Us Are Gay."

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: My favorite find/scene is an adaptation of a letter written by a lonely girl putting on a brave face. I am choked up just thinking about it.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: So now that everyone in twitterville knows a little bit more about Found, The Story Pirates, and the new musical theater collaboration...

BROADWAYGIRLNYC:...where can people get even MORE information? And more importantly, where are tickets available?

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: Go to www.foundmagazine.com for FOUND, www.storypirates.org for STORY PIRATES, and click here for tix for Fri's show.

BROADWAYGIRLNYC: Thanks for tuning in for my first twitterview! And thanks to @StoryPirates and @FoundMag. I'll have the whole thing on my blog shortly. xo!