The King and I


Little Saigon Golden Buddha

Last night was a date night, with dinner and a show. Anne and I dined at Little Saigon Café in the Central West End and then saw “The King and I”, performed at the Fox. This pairing made for an enjoyable Indochina themed evening.

Back in the day, we used to frequent Little Saigon for date nights. Then the boys were still young and our need for romantic getaways were fulfilled at this exotic and tucked-away establishment. The menu now boasts more western influences then I remember, but our food was still good. We started by sharing a pair of shrimp summer rolls. I had their shaking beef, which gets its English name from the constant shaking of the pan while browning the meat. This dish featured wok-seared flank steak and onions that is served over a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and a side of lemon garlic dressing. Anne chose their ginger rice and chicken. Featuring wok-fried jasmine rice with ginger, shredded chicken, soy-ginger sauce and topped with scallions and cilantro. Served with cabbage salad.

We have seen “The King and I” before. Mostly at the Muny, where it has been performed five times during our tenure in town. We even saw Yul Brynner in his signature role there. He was on his swan-song tour, while dying of cancer.

This production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite was more sumptuous than any I have seen. The musical opens with Anna, the “I” in the show, on the prow of a titanic yacht, first docking in Bangkok and who is moved to whistle a happy tune. In this performance it was also refreshing to see all of the characters of color played by actors of color. It is 2017 and this fact should be able to go unremarked, but then there it is. This was not an inconsequential casting decision, what with this play’s 50+ member cast of men, women and children.

None of the score’s standards have paled with time. It was glorious to hear them all sung again. The musical itself has also worn well. In this #MeToo moment, the play’s dueling themes of unrequited love versus man’s barbarism resonate with what we now read daily in the news. Anna and the king spar, but also listen to each other and eventually learn from each other. Their friendship is tragically mirrored in the romance of the two star-crossed lovers from Burma (Myanmar) and foreshadowed in the play within a play, Small House of Uncle Thomas.

There are also moments of levity, such as the dressing scene, where the king’s wives are trying to get used to wearing western hoop skirts. A British envoy is arriving and Anna and the king are striving to show him that Siam (Thailand) is not a barbaric nation. A sight gag is the casting of an absurdly tall actor as the envoy, who is head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the cast. When he stands next to the king it serves as a visual reminder of how things once were. 

On Your Feet!


Bandaloop Duo — Way Up on Their Feet!

 

We went to the Fabulous Fox last night, to see the latest Broadway musical offering that has come to town, “On Your Feet!”, the Emilio and Gloria Estefan story. This bio-play is part of the current trend in musicals, where a musician’s life story is combined with their already popular catalog to create a winning theater package. Earlier this year, in London’s West-End, we saw and loved  “Beautiful”, Carole King’s life story. Showbiz has always loved to tell stories about itself, so this trend comes as no real surprise. 

“On Your Feet!”, sports a large orchestra (ten) and an even larger cast. It begins with the two families emigration from Cuba, covers childhood, their early music careers, breakout success, the 1990 bus accident and its aftermath. All of which is punctuated with the steady beat of their popular hit songs. As is de rigueur with these bio-plays the finale is accompanied by endless encores, where all of the hits that you’ve been patiently waiting for are finally performed. It was an enjoyable show and by its end, everyone in the audience was on their feet.

While, searching for a suitable graphic to accompany this post, I happened upon the above picture of a couple of dancers from Bandaloop, an acrobatic dance troupe, They came to town in 2013 and performed around the corner from the Fox, by rappelling down the front face of the twenty-story Continental Life Building. They headlined Dancing in the Streets and seemed a good fit here.

Something Rotten in Denmark


Saint-Guilhem Cloister

Considered Shakespeare’s best play and arguably the best play ever, Hamlet has come to the Rep. The show begins in ghostly darkness and ends three-hours later, with everyone dead. The show has the usual fine production values for which the Saint Louis Repertory Theater is well know. The cast performs their roles flawlessly. Great material with perfect execution, but then why am I still left feeling underwhelmed? Is it that the script seems more like a recitation from Bartlett’s than dialogue? Or is it the countless parodies that it has spawned? 

Hamlet: To be or not to be that is the question.
Yoda: Be or be not. There is no question.

If imitation is truly the highest form of flattery, then Hamlet has no shortage of pretenders. I just became aware that the Lion King is a Hamlet retelling, only in a more anthropomorphic and African setting. Which begs the question, which two Shakespearian characters do Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog duo, represent? My money is on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Mainly though the play is just too long and is filled with too many “words, words, words”.

Rah-cha-cha


Fabulous Fox Detail

I took off before dawn, even at 30,000 feet. Blasted through the rain-soaked cloud deck to find stars and just a hint of the rising sun. As soon as we peaked, we started to descend into Chicago. It’s sunny here and I just remembered the first thing that I forgot to bring, sunglasses. There are an awful lot of Cubs fans here. Dan was here too, earlier this week for business, dressing windows for Macy’s.

Last night, we saw “The Bodyguard” at the Fox. This musical is a spin-off from the Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner movie, whose soundtrack had the second biggest box office ever. Because of current events (Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown,…), the staff was vociferous about warning the audience of the show’s opening scene gunfire, but they never warned us of the eye-watering bright stage lights. Who knew we should have brought our eclipse glasses? Also, the show had an unexpected intermission in the first act due to technical difficulties. On the other hand, the music was nice.

Landed in Rochester, where Chris picked me up. He fixed lunch and afterwards, we took a walk out of his front door and into Lucien Morin Park. He marched me up the hill again and again. Our destination was a gazebo in the woods, but not just any gazebo, but the officer’s watch tower. Originally part of a national guard rifle range, it was eventually handed to the Boy Scouts. Now it is part of Morin Park. Sitting there in the warm afternoon sun, I got to tell a D&D joke:

Dungeon Master: You come upon a gazebo.
Player #1: Oh, I’ve heard of these, they’re tough!
Player #2: I fire my crossbow of slaying at it.
DM: It hits.
#2: What’s it doing now?
DM: Nothing. It is just standing there.
#1: I told you that these were tough.

I also learned that that word gazebo is a portmanteau, formed humorously from gaze, in imitation of Latin future tenses ending in -ebo. We eventually made it down to Lake Ontario or at least a bay off of it and then we hiked up the hill again. Tomorrow, begins our road trip to NYC.

The Curious Incident


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

We kicked off the theater season with our first show at the Rep, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. This play, set in England, tells the story of Christopher a school boy, who happens to be on the spectrum for autism. The incident is his finding the neighbor’s dog dead, with a garden fork stuck in it.

Christopher doesn’t like the colors yellow and brown or being touched. He does like numbers, lists, accuracy and Sherlock Holmes. Christopher is living with his dad, because his mother died in the hospital or so his father tells him. As it turns out the old man is not entirely honest. Not able to cope with Christopher, Mom ran away with the neighbor’s husband and is living in London. Dad killed the dog, knowledge of which causes Christopher to fear for his life. Most of the rest of the story deals with Christopher’s odyssey to London, where he successfully reunites with his mother. In the end, he passes his A-level exam, reconciles with his father and gets a puppy, making for a happy ending of sorts.

The cast when they are not portraying a particular character work together as an ensemble. The ensemble moves randomly about the stage, sometimes speaking, but mostly distracting. Acting like a Greek chorus they serve well to convey a sense of Christopher’s confused perception of the people around him. It is always a difficult task to put the audience into a character’s head. One usually ends up resorting to metaphors, which Christopher hates, because to his literal world view, these abstractions are like lies to him. The play tries to portray Christopher as different, but not deficit. Christopher comes to realize this distinction and accepting this reality allows his parents to move forward too.

Winters Coming


Wooden Head of Henry VIII

The Tower of London has long been both famous and infamous. One attraction that it has been famous for is its collection of arms and armor. When we visited the Tower much of this collection was on display. This includes various suits of armor worn by Henry VIII, a man that put the ‘in’ in famous. Separately, the pictured wooden head and a pair of wooden hands were also displayed. They were once used to supply a likeness of the king, wearing his armor. 

We attended Shakespeare in the park last night. This year’s offering is The Winter’s Tale. This is one of Shakespeare’s so-called problem plays, in that it starts out as a romance, but ends as a comedy. The play is dominated by the king’s irrational fear of his queen’s infidelity and the blind rage and consequential suffering that it precipitates.

Unlike the NYC performance of Julius Caesar, the Saint Louis edition of Shakespeare in the park was not objectively political. Shakespeare could ill afford much political criticism in his literary works. The Tudors did not take kindly to dissent. The best that he could have managed was oblique criticism of the crown. So, maybe Leontes, King of Sicilia served as proxy for someone closer to home or maybe not.