AISLE SAY Twin Cities


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Marilee Mahler
Starring Derek Prestly, Sara Sawyer and Bruce Rowan
Presented by: Stages Theatre Company
April 25-May 25, 2003
The Hopkins Center for the Arts
1111 Mainstreet, Hopkins, MN

Reviewed by Roxane Sadovsky

I finally understand why my mother never let me get into show business. I was bad. Very bad. Yet, that didn't seem to bother most LA parents who gave in and got their kid an agent. Not only were some of these kids horrible in the talent department, but some were butt ugly. One such guy who we'd torment on the way home from school did commercials for Eggo and–call it coincidence–his face looked like it had been molded by a waffle iron. Needless to say, being that his only line was "leggo my Eggo," it's fair to assume that anyone can be in the "biz."

Horrible as I was, I still pursued anything I could that might put me in the spotlight. From commercial auditions to the school talent show, I flopped hard. Plus, I wasn't shy, so I flopped melodramatically hard. Even so, I now understand why my mother rarely came to the few shows I did make my way into. I was bad and she knew it. Next to watching one's offspring be mauled to death by wolves, I cannot imagine anything more painful for parents than watching their kid bomb on stage. Understandably, Ma couldn't bear to watch me botch the entire show and I can't say I blame her. You know that one kid that was always off key? That was I. Same for the one who tripped herself when trying to side step. Heck, at my own wedding–a production in itself that initially was going to be a musical until our groomsmen all came down with laryngitis–after walking down the aisle, I turned the wrong direction and ended up facing the pool instead of my fiancée.

I don't have kids of my own, but I can imagine that many of the parents felt some anxiety at opening night of Joseph. Of course I dare not compare Stages' youth actors to my Ritalin driven shot at acting. However, whether or not it was because most of the cast were kids (not only that, but kids playing like 30 roles each), but the production made me feel anxious. The whole time I kept anticipating someone to topple from the stage, trip, botch their lines…I recognized the same feeling in myself I get when watching the Olympic skaters.

It is likely that this anxiety arose from the production's early glitches in sound: muffled music, unreliable mics, and–from where I was sitting on the balcony–a very disturbing spotlight, which each time it was turned on, I kept thinking someone was blow drying their hair in the back row. I also noticed that they had either missed or edited one of my favorite lines, "Don't believe everything you read, dear," originally sung by Potiphar to his promiscuous wife, in reference to the bible. Unfortunately, they left out a few more of my faves.

However, asking a clutch of children from Hopkins to live up to the huge demands of this elaborate production is no small challenge. With Andrew Lloyd Weber setting the standards, it really is not fair to compare. Really, asking kids to play biblical figures is like asking a republican accountant to frolic like the Teletubbies. The power demanded of this show could not help but result in an overarching feeling of apathy among the cast.

With that kind of set-up, it's no wonder the production felt like it was trying too hard to do too much. Even though the cast was 20 plus kids sandwiched between 3-4 older kids and adults, the organization of the chaos was simply not doable. The director felt it necessary to entertain the audience with stage filler like chase scenes that repeatedly resembled the intermission sequence between Pac Man and Blinky.

Also to suffer was the original's claim to fame: its music. Midway through, I had to lean into my friend and ask, "so if he's so amazing, why can't we hear him?" Of course, I am particular about Weber musicals. The music does something to me we don't need to go in to. The point here is that while the music was more than familiar and sung quite beautifully, the musical accompaniment piped in muffled Muzak that made the whole thing out of pleasure's reach. Between the poor sound and editing of the best lines, the experience was like having an orgasm on novocaine.

What I kept wondering was if these kids were having any fun. Or were they too concerned with risking their lives by dancing awkward sequences obviously intended for a body thrice their ages? Again, I can understand why they resembled starstruck youth with big dreams of going to Hollywood: their young! For this reason, the performance lacked organic passion, natural flow, and spontaneity and sacrificed them for adult, mature, classic stuff from la theatre. I wonder why they couldn't have made the best use of these kids by making the thing more contemporary. Why not have the thing take place in the arcade? At school? On line? Heck, even at an AA meeting.

I guess it just seemed like Mahler's production had a hard time just being itself.

On the other hand, the show did endear its audience with young Benjamin (Dylan Frederick) and the angelic voice of narrator, Sara Sawyer. As far as entertainment value, it was fun to watch. Plus, it was short, conveyed the story well, and had clever stylistic touches to a few songs, the costumes, and set.

Moreover, the couple I went with adored it, as did the house of packed and excited kids, hanging dreamily on to their Technicolor wands (on sale in the lobby) with all their belief in the magic the show inspired. For me that was the best part of the whole show; if a child can bring about that kind of fantasy life in the life of another child, I morally have no complaints.

Although Ma never let me act, she let me live out my own Technicolor dream by allowing me to color my walls, hair, and jeans in all shades of the rainbow. When I was just being myself, purple hair and all, she was right there beside me. I didn't need to perform for her to see what I could do or who I was. Not that this was the case for these guys. Hardly. It's just nice to realize Ma knew what she was doing. It's just nice to be grateful that it wasn't me up there on stage.

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