Friday, September 17, 2010

God would like us to be joyful

Musical theatre is like any other art form: some people "get it" -- that is, are touched by it -- and some don't/aren't. That said, some shows make the case for the form much better than others, and Fiddler on the Roof (by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein) is one of those representative shows. See Fiddler and you ought to understand why it makes sense, at least sometimes, to tell stories in the "book, song, and dance" format. The show is just about foolproof. I've seen at least one shaggy high-school production and a similarly raggedy dinner-theatre mounting, and both were emotionally powerful in their way. And then there was the 2004 Broadway revival directed by David Leveaux, memorable only because it somehow managed to do away with all the warmth and joy the material offers: it was Fiddler on ice.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (of In the Heights fame) knows all that, which I guess is why he chose a number from Fiddler to liven up his wedding reception. Dave Itzkoff posted the video at the New York Times Arts Beat blog, and it's well worth watching if you're a sucker for musicals (or weddings). I admit, by the time the "Russian" in-laws made their entrance, I was teary at the joyful absurdity of it all.

The wedding (mazel tov, by the way!) was also written up in the "Vows" column last weekend. But I have another little bit of color to add to the story. Last year I was a guest at a gala dinner in support of Symphony Space, and in the course of the evening they presented awards to a number of Broadway personalities, one of whom was Lin-Manuel Miranda. (The other honorees were Brian Stokes Mitchell and Donna Murphy... I was in hog heaven.) Miranda's award was presented by Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics for Fiddler. And, knowing that this would be the case, Miranda had come prepared to tell us all about how he got his start performing in Fiddler back in grade school -- a little Puerto Rican boy playing a Russian Jew ("At three I started Hebrew school, at ten I learned a trade..."). But what he wasn't prepared for was Harnick's presentation: in honor of Miranda's freestyle hip-hop roots, Sheldon Harnick composed and delivered a "rap." It was really more of a patter song (sans music), but it was impeccable and highly entertaining. And it left Miranda speechless: "Sheldon Harnick just rapped for me!" he gasped when he got to the mic.

Just a couple reminders that "Broadway" and "musical theater" are not synonyms -- and the best of the latter often happens in spite of the former.

I made a repeat visit to In the Heights this past weekend, about which more soon (UPDATE: está aquí). In the meantime, enjoy this previous highlight from the Lin-Manuel Miranda archives.

1 comment:

Serg said...

""Broadway" and "musical theater" are not synonyms -- and the best of the latter often happens in spite of the former."

You just found yourself a new and devoted reader. Love your posts!