I saw Once the Musical, and I’d intended to write just a short post about the show and go to bed. But as I sit here, I realize how many great little moments happened today — and they’re all floating around in my head.
This morning, while I was in a taxicab on the way to the train station, the radio newscaster announced that Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s home had been burglarized during the night, but that Tutu and his wife were both unharmed. The taxi driver chuckled and said, “Burglar better watch out. Burgle good people and it might change your life!” Whereupon he tells me this story about how, a number of years ago, he picked up a passenger who, he realized, intended to rob him. The guy wouldn’t tell him a specific destination, but kept directing the cabbie into rougher and rougher neighborhoods; in the mirror, the cabbie saw a gun in the guy’s lap. So the cabbie just pulled over — before the guy actually demanded anything or made any threats — pulled out his wallet and asked the guy how much money he needed. He handed over all of his cash to the startled would-be robber, and then told the startled would-be robber to get in the front seat of the car. Once face to face with the man, the cabbie proceeded to lecture him — “advise him” were the words he used — about what he was doing; about how taking the money wouldn’t change anything, but that growing up and taking responsibility and seeking out “a father, an uncle, a man to advise him” would change everything. When he’d finished, the robber handed back all the money, except for a twenty, which he needed, and said it was the first time anybody had ever talked to him like that. From that moment, said the cabbie, the guy finished his basic education, got a job and then a promotion, and is now a father of three children and a manager of fifty employees. “And so I’m telling you,” said the cabbie knowingly, “you can’t just run around robbing men of god without it changing your life.”
One of my favorite things about wearing a bow-tie is that I always, always get attention. At parties strangers go out of their way to introduce themselves, in bars people shout across the room to give me a thumbs up, in restaurants and train stations and on the street random people (and by “random,” I mean everyone from teenagers on skateboards to distinguished older gentlemen in three-piece suits) will say that they like the bow-tie. That’s because bow-ties are cool.
Only apparently there may be limits. Today I wore a bow-tie in what I fancied to be a particularly natty outfit — a navy blue bow-tie with small white polka dots, with a white shirt and pocket square (natch), a slim-fitting suit in a light grey summer fabric, and double monk-strap shoes. In all my normal milieus I got all my normal comments on the bow-tie. BUT THEN, I get in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square to buy my theatre ticket, and I hear one of the crowd control guys behind me say, “Hey look! It’s Pee Wee Herman!” And all the other crowd control guys (there were four or five more of them) all chuckled along. I realized they were talking about me. ME! I looked like an uber-nerdy comedian-turned-pedophile. Quelle horreur. I decided to behave as if it were a compliment, so I smiled bravely — and held the smile long enough to realize that it WAS a compliment. Those guys were chuckling along appreciatively. Whew.
So, while I would have preferred some other cultural reference (say, Doctor Who), I guess I’ll take what I can get — and keep my fingers crossed that, among the middle-aged African American male crowd-control demographic, Pee Wee Herman is still more strongly associated with “star of a successful TV show” than “disgraced creepy guy.”
Somewhere in the middle of the elevator ride from my hotel room on the 20th floor to the ground, the elevator stops to pick up three more passengers — a father, mother and teenage daughter. As the three work their way into the elevator amongst the four of us who were already there, the daughter jostles the mother, who happens to be holding a paper cup full of wine (super classy, that), causing the mother to spill wine all over herself. The mother gets upset and starts lecturing the daughter about how horrible it is to have wine all over. At which point a couple of the other passengers chime in:
Guy 1: Well, look, at least it’s just wine, right? Could be way worse!
Guy 2: I dunno . . . not much worse. It is wine.
Guy 1: Yeah, you’re probably right. I mean, I’d be pretty–
Mother: I mean . . . feces would be much worse than wine . . . I’m just saying.
At which point we reached the ground floor and the elevator doors opened. Thank heavens for a mother who knows how to keep things in perspective.
And now, finally, we get to the play. Like I said, I saw Once the Musical (with “the Musical” serving to distinguish it from the 2006 movie by the same title). I hadn’t seen the movie or read anything about the musical, but its signs claim loudly to have won infinity Tony Awards, and Arthur Darvill (from Doctor Who — there seems to be a recurring theme here) was playing the lead, so I bought a ticket.
I liked the musical well enough, but it’s one of those where I suspect the movie is probably much better. I kept wanting it to do what movies do best: intimate close-ups, montages that tell stories without words, and a swelling, crystal clear soundtrack. That’s not to say there weren’t nice moments; there were. I particularly loved an a capella segment during the second act, where all the actors sang in a delicate, shimmery multi-part harmony, very much an ensemble moment.
And the story was good. It’s a love story. Or three love stories. Or a story about two people who meet and fall in love but recognize that they love other people, too, and have the integrity and courage to keep those other commitments. Potentially powerful stuff, I think; certainly there were tears in the audience. But I didn’t really feel it. Possibly because I couldn’t get over Rory’s mediocre singing voice (Darvill may be charming and Britishly good looking, but his voice isn’t up to the role), but perhaps, too, because I’ve never been passionately in love or heartbroken like that, and so I had a hard time relating.
After the play I wandered around Times Square. I realized that I came to New York for the first time 11 years ago. I was with Amanda and we had no money and rode the Greyhound and stayed in a horrible little hostel with bunkbeds, and we saw Thoroughly Modern Millie in the theatre inside the hotel where I’m staying now. I remember thinking how exciting and glamorous it all seemed. So far outside anything I’d experienced before; so much what I wanted my life to be. Now here I am, 11 years later — I’ve lived in the city, I’m sleeping in that “fancy hotel,” and I’ve seen more Broadway shows than I can remember. My love for the energy and vibrancy of the city hasn’t changed. New York never gets old.