Every week for weeks now I’ve planned a column, and every week I end up realizing I don’t have room. It takes about 8,000 words to fill an eight-page paper. Every week without fail I try to reign it in so there will be room for a column, and every week I total up about 10,000 words and put off a column another week.
Tonight I’m up to 12,000 words already, and I haven’t even done the Lifestyle page on turkey sandwiches yet. So this will of necessity be brief.
I’ve had theater on the brain lately. Standing backstage a couple weeks ago at Monroe’s delightful Frank Wagner Performing Arts Center, a gem of a theater that Monroe is lucky to have and that I hope gets the support it needs to remain a town asset, I was seized by the sheer romance of a theater. Even a 600-seat theater with mismatching seats and ancient stage machinery is part of one of the world’s oldest traditions.
There’s something about that flat black floor and those heavy curtains that taps into a theme dating back to Shakespeare and his Globe Theater, to passion plays in medieval town squares and to open air stages in Greece around which early intellectuals gathered to critique Aristophanes.
I think part of the reason I was so captured was because about two weeks prior, Howard, the former editor and owner of the Monitor, and his husband Keith, invited me over for dinner and we wound up talking about theater, because they have both been involved in theater for decades.
I knew little about the topic, but they have a big library of everything from classics to obscure experimental pieces from the ’60s, and they gave me an impromptu film festival of their favorite clips.
It was a revelation. Musical theater, when done expertly, can tell a story even better than can a straightforward spoken-word play.
There is a world, a universe, of theater out there that I’ve known very little about. I saw Carol Burnett and Liza Minnelli and finally got why they are such massive names. Hugh Jackman is a whole different entertainer on the stage; I wouldn’t have recognized him in Oklahoma! but I quickly realized that only half of his skills are ever on display in any of his films.
I was really impressed, and I’m looking forward to learning more about that art form.
So when I got a ticket to see Secondhand Lions at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, I was glad to go to opening night Thursday.
It was fabulous for a lot of reasons. For one, I was surrounded by theater critics, and that is a remarkable group of people. Well-dressed and witty, their regular side comments were as droll as they were instructive. I learned that they, at least, consider Seattle one of America’s top three theater cities, alongside New York and Chicago. Apparently we have more theater per capita than any other city. One critic, a writer for Seattle Gay News, attends about 150 shows a year, and she doesn’t even see all that are available.
The theater itself is a gaudy and gorgeous building, built in the 1920s with a Chinese theme that left literally every square foot of wall and soaring ceiling carved and painted to a fare-thee-well.
The show itself I mention because if you are going to introduce a kid to theater, this would be a great way to do it. Secondhand Lions, based on the movie of the same name starring Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, is a feel-good, coming-of-age spectacle with big musical numbers, a lot of laughs and some spectacular scenes. More than that, it has two stars under 14, and both of them are exceedingly competent singers and actors with excellent comic timing.
If you loved Secondhand Lions the movie, try to forget you saw it, or this show is going to let you down a bit; the eponymous lion of the film is entirely absent from the stage and a lot of the darker themes that made the movie so rich have been bleached from the live performance.
But if I’d seen kids doing what those two young actors did on stage when I was in middle school, I might not just be learning about theater now. I believe I might well have gone into theater instead of music.
The show is running through Oct. 6. It’s worth a trip into town.