Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Simple Little Things

I have to write about this while it's fresh on my mind. Tonight I saw Audra McDonald and Will Swenson in 110 in the Shade at Hale Center Theater Orem. Two mega-Broadway stars reprising roles they played on Broadway in a 300 seat community theater-in-the-round. Big deal. Huge deal. This is like the planets aligning...kinda deal.

Anyway, um...this was quite possibly the best theater experience of my life. I've never been so entertained, so impressed, so thrilled,  so inspired, or so touched by a piece of musical theater like this before. The talent was phenomenal across the board. There is not a weak performance in the bunch. I was not unimpressed or dissappointed in anyone on that stage at any time and that is a huge deal. That being said, watcing Audra was like nothing else. You think you know what a perfect performance is, and then you see her. I have never, ever been so blown away by a single performance. My expectations were sky high and she managed to shatter them. I don't know how better to sum this up than with the Simple Little Things I saw:
  • Front Row - This theater is so freakin' tiny. I've seen a couple other shows here, both times towards the back. There isn't a bad seat in the house, but I did  have a great seat. Will hit me with his rain staff accidentally when he turned around. Audra's dress brushed against my legs several times and she rested her hand on the back of my chair. Heaven.
  • Lizzie's entrance - The energy was like nothing I've ever felt before. I've seen big names in Broadway productions before and in my experience, when a big name makes their entrance, the audience cheers and the actor stands there, frozen, basking in the applause the audience is feeding them. Audra had none of it. There was an eruption of applause alright, but she didn't spend one moment not being Lizzie Curry. She hugged her father and her brothers and started doing the dishes. She didn't stand there and indulge herself.
  • The first note she sang - My heart fluttered in unison with everyone in the audience. She has such a unique, stunning, mixed voice that rattled the walls of the theater and pierced the hearts of the audience.
  • File - He was just so great from top to bottom. I've seen this guy in another show and I was very impressed with him yet again. He has a fantastic voice and he is such a smart actor. This may be a bizarre observation coming from another guy, but he has such expressive eyes. You could always tell what he was thinking by looking into his eyes.
  • Starbuck's entrance - The collective swoon of the ladies behind me was just as natural as his performance. Will surprised me. He was charming and unassuming. He didn't make the role anything more than what it really was.
  • The Picnic - You cannot fake a performance as emaculately detailed as Audra's. There was passion and humanity even in the way she set up the plates. The expression on her face when she realized that File wasn't coming was unforgettable.
  • Raunchy!  - I think I finally understand the phrase "bring the house down." She so brought it. I've never seen someone so animated, so alive, so ridiculous, but at the same time, completely grounded and real. She had everyone in the palm of her hand and had them rolling in the aisles. It was also fantastic to see H.C. actually playing a harmonica and guitar.
  • When Noah told "the truth" - I loved the way he delivered it. It was such a harsh thing to say, but he honestly believed that it was the right thing to say and did it because he loves her. It could be very easy to hate this character, but I felt for him. It made it all the more heartbreaking to see Lizzie reluctantly agree with him.
  • Old Maid - Just...oh my gosh. Bore her soul.
  • "I'm Pretty" - And she pretty. I had a huge lump in my throat when she asked "is this really me?" with tears streaming down her face.
  • The choreography - I was holding my breath a couple times. I was terrified that someone was going to fall off of that tiny stage but they were all pro. Hats off.
  • The end - It's just perfect. Go see it. "Oh Starbuck, you said the wrong thing."
I could make minor criticisms about the staging and such, but really, what purpose would it serve? And, I don't want to.

If there's one word to describe this show, it's honest. Everything about it was real. Hale could've really dropped the ball with this. They could've made this show a flashy spectacle and alienated their cast from Audra and Will, but they really pulled it off. The entire cast is to be heavily commended. Yes she's Audra McDonald and her performance stood out; she doesn't have four Tony Awards for nothing. But it was an honest performance and it was a humble performance. It was never about her. She was contributing to the rest of her cast, giving them their moments and being as true to herself as possible. The look on her face during the curtain call told it all. She nodded to each side of the audience, just bowing her head in thanks. No arms flailing, no fake smile, no blowing kisses, just genuine appreciation.

 I honestly feel as though I've gotten to know her through her two hours of vulnerability on stage.  When you give an honest, connected performance, you let people see the highs and lows of your life. That's what I saw tonight and that's why I love theater. I believe that everyone has something deeply divine in them that is worth sharing with the world. I love seeing people for who they really are and the theater is the best place for it. This really reminded me of that beautiful truth. Thanks to the cast and crew of this incredible production. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm a better person because of it.

This production plays until August 7th, but Audra and Will's limited engagement ends this Saturday, July 10th. This is a must-see, cannot miss. Really. Tickets range from $99-$149 and there are still plenty of seats available. It is worth every penny. BUT, if you simply cannot afford these prices (I couldn't) there is a solution! Show up an hour before the show starts and any remaining seats can be yours for $25! That is the deal of the century. You will never get the opportunity to see a performer of this magnitude in a space this small ever again. I'm considering going again. If you haven't seen it yet, I would be showing up at 6 every night until Saturday if I were you. It is certainly worth your time. I promise.
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  1. April James (via Facebook)July 8, 2010 at 10:22:00 AM MDT

    Holy cow boy! You can write! (no...I didn't call you a That was seriously so well done! And yes, I so want to see the production now, I Love HTC they always do such an amazing job. A few years ago we bought two season tickets to Hale for a Family Christmas present. Each girl got a play with either mom or dad. Best Christmas present ever!

  2. Wonderful write-up on the show! Wish I could be close enough to go to it, especially after reading your review of it! But alas, we are heading to MN later this afternoon. I had gotten info about this show quite some time ago when I was reading up on Will Swenson & wanted to go then. Timing just doesn't work this time, but your review of it made me wish that somehow it would have been possible for me to go.

  3. I Love HTC they always do such an amazing job. A few years ago we bought two season tickets to Hale for a Family Christmas present.

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