High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

If I Were a Ding Dong . . . Oh, Wait . . .

My pal M has a long string of secretary [boys/girls]. I am proud to be among the number, although my tenure was brief (JFUF summoned me to managerial editorial glory). If memory serves, Secretary Boy was my immediate predecessor. In addition to his mad skillz tending to the needs of Professor Swishy Pants et al., it turns out he's a hell of a sax player.

So Secretary Boy was with the band and M suggested we take in the show at Court Theatre. She'd scored the four of us (Your Humble Correspondent, my beloved M, my pal M, and her non-Hank Hill spawn) front-row seats at stage left. I love me a front-row seat, personally, but in this case, we were very nearly assisted to within an inch of our lives and almost didn't make it to the seats in time. Like most theatres, Court solicits the aid of volunteer ushers. Unlike most theatres, Court seems to have an "Older than Methuselah" requirement for theirs with a preference for having enough to push the envelope of the fire code.

Seriously, there were about 12 ushers manning each entrance, none of them under 65 or over 3 feet tall, each of them hell bent on making damned sure we knew where our seats were. At intermission, a gaggle of them were flittering around a ridiculously tall younger man who was obviously a salaried employee of the theatre. He stopped a woman who was trying to come into the theatre with a drink and pointed out to the volunteers that they needed to watch the patrons after intermission to be sure that they didn't bring food or drink inside. The tiniest, most ancient among them clutched at his t-shirt and cried, "But what do I say?"

I then made my way back to our seats where I was relating this story to the editrix. In mid-story, the volunteer usher who had been standing near the stage saw some kind of Usher Signal, invisible to the plebeians, before rushing off to attend to it---I swell with pride at the telling of it---she deputized me to fuck up the shit of anyone who tried to get up on the stage. Naturally, pal M immediately suggested that she hop up and make a call on the vintage phone, while I banged out a tune on the piano.

The Visitation of the Ushers was not to be the most surreal aspect of the evening, however. As I sat down and began flipping through the program, I saw that Nicely Nicely was to be played by Jeff Dumas, with whom I happen to have done productions in High School. Pal M, quite rightly, pointed out that it needn't necessarily have been the same guy. I flipped to the actor bios and there he was, completely unchanged from his 18-year-old self. Except for the fact that he's completely freaking bald from glabella to inion and from temporal line to temporal line.

I'm completely in touch with the fact that I and my contemporaries have one foot in the grave. I'm well aware that it's been 14 years since I've seen this guy. Nonetheless, his comprehensive hair loss floored me. The thing is, he's a wee little man with a boyish face. The last show I did with him was The Man Who Came to Dinner. It being high school, we had two casts so that more people could participate. Jeff and another guy named Jim played Sheridan Whiteside. Jim was equally wee and boyish, but brunette to Jeff's blonde. They looked nothing alike and yet were a matched set. They were, as my beloved Anna put it, like salt and pepper shakers.

I've seen Jim much more recently (in a truly, TRULY horrible stage adaptation of Steven King's Apt Pupil---anteroom painted in blood red from floor to ceiling, ceiling fans turned into swastikas and that's all just the teaser for on-stage rape, Yay!), and he truly has not changed, which made Jeff's bald, bald head all the more startling. The baldness on such a young-looking guy is just . . . wrong.

Ok, the shallow, snarky portion of the evening is over. The production itself was excellent. Very neat staging. There were two ramps starting from left and right center, where they were probably 4 or 5 feet off the ground, angling downward to a point down center, where they were only maybe 2 feet off the ground (hence the panic about rowdy front rowers hopping up and having a go at humping the pianny). There were also two shorter ramps starting from the same place and angling upward and ending in a level expanse of stage that ran parallel to the back wall of the theatre that was about 7 or 8 feet above the floor. In the center of that was a small, square riser set at an angle to the room.

Inside the ramps, the main part of the stage, which was set about 4 feet below the upstagemost section, was sort of a flat-topped diamond shape (but C, isn't that a trapezoid? Bite me, unruly readers! you wanna hear about the stage or not?). Its sides also came to a point around down center in the crook of the join between the side ramps, but because it was level, rather than angled, it looked like the prow of a boat just arcing over a wave. The whole stage was done in hard wood with big squares stained darker than the surrounding area scattered around. Very nice looking set.

The band members (piano, sax, trumpet, upright bass, and drums) were in costume and on stage for most of the show (and, in fact, were choreographed into the numbers in some instances). Pal M and I were commenting that, having not seen this staged before, we hadn't considered the potential of that strategy. It worked really well in this case. All of them looked completely at ease on stage and faded into the background when they weren't interacting.

The cast was very good to excellent across the board. Benny Southstreet was a stand out, and Harry the Horse cracked me up everytime he came out and mumbled and did his shifty-eyed schtick. Jeff was . . . very Jeff, which happens to work well for Nicely Nicely, and he's got the voice for "Rock the Boat."

Miss Adelaide and Nathan were both funny and dead on with their accents. They also managed to make me believe that there was genuine affection between them and that Adelaide was not a nitwit, Nathan not an utter cad. Adelaide's dances at the Hot Box were funny, if nerve wracking (I was certain she was going to either tumble off the piano or embed a spiked heel in the pianist's forehead).

Sky was handsome in exactly the right way and incredibly charming. His voice wasn't the strongest in the cast, but it wasn't a stretch to believe that Seargent Sarah would fall for him in a heartbeat (and fall for him, she did; I quote Pal M's daughter: "They were totally frenching on stage!"). I had mixed feelings about Sarah hereself. On the one hand, she had a very good look for the part---very dark hair, fair skin, extremely small frame. On the other, she was visibly quite a bit older than Sky and her voice was too operatic in the earlier numbers.

All in all, a terrific production, though my heart bled for the poor stage managers everytime the actors threw shit around the stage. The urge to rule with an iron fist dies hard.

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