There’s no business like watching show business

by stephanie.mlot@gmail.com. 0 Comments

It's a rare moment that I utilize a public space (newspaper column, social network, airplane banner) to share my thoughts on national events. But Monday's tragedy in Boston, as well as the subsequent manhunt and capture, deserve a couple inches of space.

Without explanation, people were killed, injured, and left scared and shaken. Some of the latter are people I love. The week's non-stop media coverage wouldn't allow the effects to be muted or turned away from. It wouldn't allow the country to forget what people are capable of — be it creating weapons of mass destruction, or running the extra miles to help strangers in need.

My friends are OK. They checked in on Facebook, ate some tacos, and went back to work. But not everyone has been so lucky to snack on Mexican food and relax on their couch in the wake of horror. They caught him. The manhunt is over, but the story isn't. If you can do something, do it: Donate blood, money, prayers (if you've got 'em). Just because the police commissioner announced it and the president praised it, doesn't mean people aren't still in need.

There is so much good in this world; moments like this simply give that goodness the spotlight it needs to shine.

* * *

There's nothing like live theater.

In its purest form, that is — not the line of mentally unstable men on a park bench debating the merits of a Burger King menu. (Though that scene certainly lends itself to a community theater-level Tony nomination.)

The reality of live theater is sitting in the front row of a stunning 110-year-old theater, wiping away the spittle that flies from Nathan Lane's lips. It's watching the heat of the spotlight keep up with actors dancing across stage without missing a beat. It's being in the presence of true greatness as Tom Hanks returns to his on-stage glory days by making his Broadway debut to a standing crowd.

But more than the wild exhilaration that brings tears to your eyes as America's favorite son enters stage right, live theater means knowing you're bearing witness to two hours of human existence that only a handful of other people (perhaps including Tony Bennett and Tom Brokaw, as I can attest) will experience.

That intimacy is the pure essence of live theater — be it Broadway, off-Broadway, Frederick's Weinberg Center for the Arts. But it can also be what brings a show to its knees. See: The crooning audience of "Motown: The Musical." Don't get me wrong, I love Smokey Robinson tunes as much as the next just-that-side-of-middle-aged woman. But I have the self-restraint (sense of courtesy…?) to keep those choruses to myself. Still, the warbles emanating from behind me for two hours and 25 minutes weren't enough to completely sully the experience. Especially not when the superlative Raymond Luke Jr. took the stage, belting out his part as the youngest of the Jackson 5. (Google him. … You're welcome.)

* * *

Part of my right of passage into womanhood (along with reciting a long-forgotten portion of the Torah and being hoisted in a chair by four not-altogether-muscular men) was sitting in the Broward Center for Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, one maternal grandparent on either side, watching six merry murderesses in Prohibition-era Chicago sing and dance in what is probably one of the more inappropriate shows for a 13-year-old.

It was my introduction to the wonders of live theater. And seven years and four touring musicals later, my first trip to New York City earned me an official Broadway carrying card. In the most cliched visit to the Big Apple since "Cats" closed, my newbie friends and I — under the advisement of my unofficial tour guide uncle — donned our best summer dresses, dined at the Times Square Bubba Gump restaurant (Hi, my name's Stephanie, and I'm obsessed with Tom Hanks), and made our Broadway debut in the audience of "Phantom of the Opera."

Honestly, I remember very little of the actual performance, aside from my friend's cell phone vibrating loudly in her purse during the first act, and being truly amazed by the chandelier crash as The Phantom vows revenge against Raoul during the "All I Ask Of You" reprise. And come on — How'd they get that boat to "float" through the foggy sewer river?

Oh, no big deal — that's just the magic of live theater.

Before I began waking up every day in a mid-rise apartment in Manhattan, I made occasional trips to The Great White Way, waiting in the TKTS line for half-price tickets, racking up Playbills, and learning how to spot the theater's stage door. Almost every visit revolved around a Broadway experience. December 2007: The Aaron Sorkin-penned, Hank Azaria-starring "The Farnsworth Invention." April 2008: Clay Aiken's surprisingly terrific coconut-clapping turn in "Monty Python's Spamalot." December 2008: The I'll-never-regret-it-because-I-saw-Sutton-Foster-and-pre-"Smash"-embarassed-Brian-D'Arcy-James-perform stage version of "Shrek."

In six years, I scored tickets to seven Broadway shows, and had the distinct opportunity to tag along to see "Wicked" at D.C.'s elegant Kennedy Center and "Hairspray" in the show's own hometown of Baltimore.

Yet, once immersed in this marvelous city, it took only 10 months to double that number.

* * *

"There's nothing like live theater," I said to the woman next to me, patiently losing feeling in her limbs as we stood outside of the Broadhurst Theater two weeks ago, both celebrating our third attempt in two days at snagging an autograph from Tom Hanks.

She nodded her head and smiled. "Nothing like it."

———

Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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