Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There is a scene in the movie “This is Spinal Tap” when they reveal a new set piece for their tour. It is supposed to be Stone Henge with Druid worshipers dancing around it.

The Stone Henge set is lowered onto the stage with very dramatic music. However, since a groupie designed it on a cocktail napkin, instead of the set piece being 30’ feet tall t is actually 30” inches tall. The next night they use midgets to dance as Druids to help with the proportions.

This morning our designer wrote that the new set would have to be 80% smaller than Broadway to fit the London stage. I am suddenly envisioning a Muppet stage and me as Goliath frightening a diminutive village of wooden children. Or perhaps I would have to do the show on my knees. It was an interesting mental adjustment.

Not so. The new set is actually only 20% smaller. The proportion was supposed to be stated as 80% OF the Broadway set. Wheww!

Very exciting. New set, new theatre, new town. TAO London is almost here.

As you were,

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ever had one of those inappropriate laughing spells? It always happens in a setting where laughing is the last thing you should be doing, but you can't control it. We've all been there.

It was portrayed perfectly in "The Death of Chuckles" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show years ago. AFI ranks that episode as the funniest moment in television history.  Well, here is my real life contribution.

Two of my three sister-in-laws have performed the show Evita many times. Donna (number three) even starred in the title role for a year. Because of them I have seen this show more times than any human needs to.

The production show aboard one of my recent voyages is a tribute to Broadway. With nothing else to do that evening I decide to attend. These ship board production shows are mediocre at best but I am under some delusion that I am duty bound to watch. I guess in my narcissistic fog I assume the performers on stage will say to themselves "Look isn't that Jay Johnson 2007 Tony Award winner sitting in the orchestra section? How gracious of him to come. " If my desire was to get noticed that evening I guess my wish was fulfilled.

The producers have taken Broadway songs and rearranged them into what they think is a contemporary look and sound. There is only a basic set and the choreography is usually basic as well. This show starts weak and slows down,  but there is a moment that for me is unforgettable.

A familiar orchestration begins and I recognize it immediately as the balcony scene from Evita. I settle back to "experience" it one more time. I know it all too well. I could do it in drag.

A production singer in a long white sleeveless dress appears at the top of a staircase just like the original. If you know the show it starts with a mournful, "I had to let it happen..." She begins singing and descending the stairs.

The foot of the stairs is flanked by two male dancers. She reaches the stage deck just as she is singing the phrase " You won't believe me..."

On the word "believe" the two dancers grab the white dress and rip it away revealing a shiny silver mini-dress underneath. There is an immediate orchestral "shift" into a very heavy beat and they literally launch into a frantic "disco version" of "Don't cry for me Argentina". It is startling and catches me extremely unprepared.  

I had just sipped my beer which vaporizes as I spit it into the air and onto the row of people in front of me. As if this classic Danny Thomas spit take was not enough, I explode with a loud uncontrollable, spontaneous "gufaw" which I did not know I was capable of creating.

Heads turn, old ladies frown, others "shush" me but I am gone, laughing without redemption. There is nothing worse than trying to stifle laughter that is uncontrollable. I am too far into the row to make a diplomatic exit. I would like to say I suffered in silence but I could not stop shaking with laughter and I could not be silent. I do not remember the next two numbers because I have my hand over my mouth and head down trying to compose myself.

I have never been so embarrassed nor laughed so hard. Of all the versions of Evita I have ever seen I never knew it was a slapstick comedy.

My apologies to the cast and crew.

As you were,