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Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My two best theatrical memories of 2011

Next to making a New Year's resolution for the upcoming year, there is not a more futile list than deciding what was best in the year just past. Most of my problem with best lists is that being in the business of reviewing theater and arts for a daily newspaper I find comfort in thinking the offering of my opinion has a purpose - to give direction to someone to either see or avoid an event.

Looking back over the year by making a list is more like saying look what I did and you didn't do.

OK, with that in mind let me share my two best theater experiences of 2011, which because they are out of the region can't be placed on any local best list. (which will appear in this space shortly).

One you might have done, the other - no way.

My absolute best theatrical experience of 2011 was attending the production of "Jerusalem" on Broadway. It featured what might be the most awesome stage performance I've ever seen. Mark Rylance was enormously powerful, touching and flamboyant in the lead role. There is hardly a week that goes by that his portrayal doesn't find its way into my head.

If there is a negative with such a strong performance, it is that we tend to remember the performance rather than the material. Too bad because the material is as large in scope as was Rylance's performance, which totally served the work. It's a trite phrase, but this was a "once in a lifetime" portrayal that I treasure.

The other great experience was attending the opera "Tosca" at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. sitting in the Presidential Box. Oh yeah! Though an excellent production, this wasn't the best "Tosca" I''d ever seen but the surroundings made it one of the best experiences I've had in 2011.

I tend to be jaded. I've attended so many great art events and met and interviewed so many talented, famous artists I am not easily impressed. This experience impressed me. Sitting in the Presidential Box, sipping champagne and eating chocolates all packaged with the presidential seal made me feel like a giddy kid. It gives you the slightest taste of what life in the really fast lane can be like.

In the interest of full disclosure President Obama was not there. However, the president's social secretary and one of his guests did share the box (it seats eight). We engaged in good discussion about the state of the arts and I was impressed with their ability to speak knowingly of the upstate NY region. At one point we were all trying to remember the name of the former artistic director of Glimmerglass Opera and one of them went to his contact list on his smart phone and pulled it out. As I said - impressive.

There are a number of wonderful times provided by the arts. Some are simple - like sitting on the lawn at SPAC listening to Emmanuel Ax or attending the world premiere of a play in the Berkshires believing it will be a future hit on Broadway. And perhaps, just being part of a crowd listening to a great band in downtown Troy at Rockin' on the River.

Another reason I hate best lists is because there are far too many diverse experiences to list.

Indeed, 2011 was a year of great experiences - but two do stand out. I hope they are matched in 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

tolerable holiday entertainments

For some reason I turn into a music fan during the holidays. Not all music, mind you. I quickly have my fill with the familiar pop Christmas songs that seem inescapable between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. I don't even like it when carolers come around the neighborhood trying to force good cheer upon me. I care about neither Rudolph or Frosty, though I do agree the best nights are silent.

That said, when attending an event during which the performer encourages the audience to join in a holiday sing-a-long I have to admit I don't hate it as much as I do the rest of the year.

Maybe it has to do with the communal aspect of the singing that makes it acceptable to me. There is something uniting about hundreds of people joining together to sing a familiar and (maybe) even an inspirational song.

Sing-alongs are at the bottom rung of my tolerance for holiday cheer. I prefer things that encourage me to look inward at the holidays.

For me that is mostly accomplished by listening to classical music. I think it is because much of the classical music repertoire has been around for a long time - in many cases hundreds and hundreds of years. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith in the era of Latin masses and when the Gregorian chants were still in fashion. Obviously that upbringing didn't make me a better, kinder person but it did instill in me a love of ritual.

I love to be involved with any art form that has endured - whether is be a play first performed by the Greeks or Roman or music that originated in the Dark Ages. There is something about the fact that art survives that offers me hope during this holiday season.

And after all, Christmas really is a birthday celebration that's been going on for slightly over tw0-thousand years.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


One of the great experiences of being a reviewer is going to a show you are certain you will dislike and having a good time. That happened to me this week with the musical "The Addams Family" that continues at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday Were I not reviewing the show there is no way I would have attended the production. Indeed, I've successfully avoided the show in NYC for over a year.
I still don't think the show is great, but as I said in my review it has a great cast who makes average material seem better than it is. Thanks to great comic timing from the cast even lines you can see coming for miles were funny. And, to give credit where credit is due, some lines are extremely witty and unexpected.
The point is that with theater reviewing - as in life - don't prejudge. Always have an open mind and experience things for what they are - not what you want them to be. "The Addams Family" is true to itself and doesn't strive to be great art. It was designed to entertain not to enlighten.
And, it is very entertaining.