Best of Broadway, May, 2008 Part I

I’ve lost count, but I expect that we have done 35-40 Best of Broadway tours to New York in my nearly 26 years. At a theatre conference in St. Paul, in 1983, a community theatre colleague asked if anyone wanted to put together a tour. He had been working with Jim Albrecht, a tour specialist in the Minneapolis area, who packaged tours for small theatres. The deal was: if a minimum number of participants signed up, the theatre director got to go for free. I was all about free.

May, 2008 Best of Broadway

Five participants registered the first year - hardly enough to justify a free trip, but Jim was willing to take a risk that more would come on board the next time. Long before dawn on a Thursday morning in the spring of 1983, five tired but excited Playhouse supporters boarded a bus to Omaha, taking advantage of lower airfares. I wasn’t among them. My 3-year-old daughter, Kristina, was hospitalized with a serious, undiagnosed illness, and I wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve been on every trip since then.

Eat, eat, eat

Nervous tour participants on subway platform

Several years ago, Jim Albrecht, who was an avid, albeit charmingly eccentric, theatre fan and participant fell off the stage while tap dancing in the “Senior Follies,” at the Bloomington, Minnesota, Civic Theatre, hit his head, and died. That’s right, died of a tap-dancing injury. His tour company had no interest in continuing a hard-to-manage long distance relationship with a community theatre in Des Moines, so we took it on ourselves. We often think fondly of Jim. The year he died, we did a special toast to Jim Albrecht in a suite at the Helmsley Windsor Hotel on our very next trip.

In our best years (The Lion King, The Producers) we’ve sent out as many as 7 trips in one season. September 11, 2001, and rising prices on practically everything associated with the tour have caused some ups and downs in past seasons, but we just completed a successful, rewarding and exciting tour, which, in my estimation, may have been the best.

Not on our tour, but really interesting

First up on the tour – Young Frankenstein. The entire group saw the show and I heard only good things about it in response. I recounted my experience with the show in an earlier blog – liked it a lot, with some reservations. Speculation is that it is not living up to expectations. Mel Brooks refuses to release the weekly receipts, and the show is frequently on the half-price ticket board, as well as offering discounts through and other venues. Everybody in the show is good, and the special effects are incredible, but it is not generating nearly as much heat and excitement as The Producers.

I made sure everyone got to the theatre, then made my way to see In the Heights, a prime contender for the Best Musical Tony award this year. The show leads the Tony pack with 13 nominations. Talk about generating heat… This celebration of Latino culture in Washington Heights on the upper west side of Manhattan is warm, engaging, colorful and sexy. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who, as a college sophomore, conceived a musical that would deal with the issues of the barrio – immigrant parents, clash of cultures, being the first generation to go to college, sense of community, etc., has seen his idea fully realized on the Broadway stage. I enjoyed every minute of it. Critics and/or advertising agencies are calling the show “Upper West Side Story.” That’s not exactly accurate. The main difference is that with In the Heights, there are no good vs evil struggles. Even though race is an obvious element of the show, it doesn’t divide – it actually brings them together. The central struggle of the story is how to define success. Usnavi, the owner of a bodega/deli, initially dreams of getting enough money to leave the neighborhood, but when success arrives unexpectedly, he realizes there are other options. I’m sure that I didn’t understand half the words spoken, many in Spanish, some in a version of Spanglish, but I knew exactly what was happening. The only disappointment in the show was Priscilla Lopez, as the mother of the female lead. Famous for being the original “Morales,” in A Chorus Line, who sings the song, “Nothing,” Lopez seems stiff and out of place, the only character who doesn’t have the beat of Latin music in her bones. A friend of mine made me laugh, commenting on Priscilla Lopez’s performance. She said, “Karp was right.” Let me know if you get the joke.

I loved the show, and would see it again, in a heartbeat. Check out the TV commercial for In the Heights.

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More on our recent trip coming soon.

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