Friday, April 9, 2010

Magical Moment 64, "The Improbable Star"

I went to the Broadway musical “Chicago” last night, one I’ve wanted to see for a while. I wanted to go a few weeks ago when Ashlee Simpson played the lead role of Roxy to see if what kind of talent she really had, but I missed out. Instead, Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child played the role, and she sang and danced brilliantly, as I expected.

I’ve seen 4 shows on Broadway since I’ve been here and every time, I have the same routine. I arrive early, get my Playbill, sit in my seat, and feverishly read every page word for word. I count how many actors are in their Broadway debut and get nervous for them. I count how many names I recognize from a previous show. I find the lowest name on the cast list and think how lucky even that person is. I read the understudies, the scene setting, the choreographer, and song list. And then I go to the very bottom of the page, in the tiny, squished, brief paragraph and read the names of the musicians down in the orchestra pit.

Unlike the movie version of Chicago, which has dazzling costume and wardrobe changes, the characters in the play have only one costume throughout the whole night. It turns out the wardrobe tech for this play has it pretty easy; fish net tights, black heels, and short skirts were the running style theme.

The play stands out from others also because the orchestra, who is usually stuffed away underneath the stage, is one of the main “characters” in the play. They sit right on a platform in the middle of the stage for the entire duration of the play while the conductor vocally narrates transitions and interacts with the characters. I was excited to see the magic of a live, theatre orchestra and because I was in the third row, I had a beautiful shot of the piano. He played note for note, line by line, in perfect rhythm, with a watchful eye on the conductor for 2 1/2 hours. The concentration and precision that it takes to be a musician in one of these plays is outstanding and I was happy that they were on stage to be recognized by the audience for once.

As I watched the play begin with awe and amazement for all the talent that was before me, I noticed something. The women actors in the play were decked out with heels, long legs, and bare mid drifts. They were beautiful and certainly talented, but then I looked at each musician. Every single one was male. I was a little disappointed because that’s normally how it is. I long to see the female musicians outnumber the males, or at least a female pianist. Just when I thought, that’s how it’s always been and probably always will be, the music conductor, with short hair and wearing a black unassuming, subdued blazer that musicians wear so as not to take the focus off the actors, turned around for the first narrating line. She was a woman, Leslie Stifelman. For me, it was a small, but important victory. And knowing that she was the one driving the entire pace, structure, and energy of the play, allowed me to enjoy the night just a little more.