It’s an odd one is musical theatre. I’ve always looked at it as a lesser art form compared to its non-musical brethren; too much staccato plucking of strings and merry prancing for me. Although still able to elicit emotions, I was bawling at the end of Oliver, I was always of the opinion that this was despite the music rather than because of it.
Last night I was lucky enough to see a Broadway show not only for free, but performed outside in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. I say “lucky”, I had to endure a horrifying two hours of sunbathing, reading and sleeping in the beautiful surrounds of the park whilst queuing for tickets. It was a struggle, really. The most difficult part of the process was deciding whether to queue at all when faced with a line that stretched almost half a mile. There were only about 350 people, but most had been there since the night before and had brought with them various sleeping apparatuses, everything from folding chairs to full-size air mattresses, that lengthened the line to monster proportions. Most seemed to be enjoying the experience and, rather scarily, most seemed to be veterans of The Queue.
The show itself took place on a small stage surrounded by what turned out to be a rather intimate amphitheatre. There were probably only about a thousand people there which is almost nothing when compared to the behemoth auditoriums of Broadway that cater to over 3000 restless lovers of jigging. The cast was apparently a Who’s-Who of Broadway too, although the only names that leapt off the page were Amy Adams (she of Enchanted and The Fighter fame) and Glenn Close as a pre-recorded voice. Still, having the whole thing introduced by James Earl-Jones (again in voiceover unfortunately) was pretty damn cool.
I’d never heard of Into the Woods but apparently its quite the Big Thing, the US equivalent of Phantom of the Opera penned by the US equivalent of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Stephen Sondheim. A sort of mishmash of various fairy tales, it started jovially enough but retreated into more serious fare in the second half. The amount of themes and messages addressed was sometimes a little overwhelming: “Everyone has to face the unknown to grow” “Children never do what you tell them” “Children may never do what you tell them but they will learn from your example regardless” “Parenthood is hard and comes with unexpected tribulations” “A relationship is two-halves of a whole” and so on and so on. The main themes revolved around the parent/child relationship set to a fairytale background set in the context of real world issues. With a giant.
I enjoyed it, but it was too long for me. I drifted off at several points that turned out to be pretty key in fact. It was rather abstract in its delivery and the characters were too broad to pull any particular emotional reactions from me, although a couple of the deaths were nicely unexpected. Amy Adams was probably on the bottom end of the main cast performance wise, leading to the common belief she had been cast due to her star status (something I heard repeated multiple time on the way from the theatre). It wasn’t as enjoyable as I remember Phantom being, nor as impressively dramatic as Les Mis or Cats.
You can count the number of times I’ve been to a musical on two hands just about, so I’m no expert. It was a fun night out and an activity mainly attended by locals, something extremely rare for a tourist in this city seemingly built for them. It was unique, entertaining and a fantastic window onto the New York enjoyed by its residents. And it was free. Fuck yeah.