Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Return To The Opera House

Last Friday my wife and I went on an overnight trip to Lexington. The main reason for this quick one night getaway was to go see the road company production of the play "Cats" at the Lexington Opera House.

We were excited about going back to this theater because between us we'd been there twice in the last year. We saw "Beauty & The Beast" together last May. In January I went with my sons to see "Spamalot". Both very enjoyable and memorable experiences.

We left home about 1PM with plenty of time to check into our hotel and get to the theater by 7PM. We stopped at the Cracker Barrel in the town just a few north on I-65 for a quick lunch before starting toward Lexington.  

As with any road trip I take with my wife it was a very enjoyable ride. This in spite of having to drive on my least favorite stretch of road in Kentucky, the Bluegrass Parkway. It's a long and boring stretch of highway that has virtually nothing interesting anywhere near it. But that's a subject for a different post.

We got to our hotel, a Sheraton, with about 90 minutes before we had to be at the theater. It was just a 10 minute drive to West Short street in the downtown area.

We arrived at the door about 6:20. That's when the ticket taker told us that the "house" would open for seating about 7PM.  I realized that the curtain went up at 7:30 not 7PM. We had an hour and ten minutes to wait for the show to start.

I apologized to Paula for my mistake and we took a seat in the lobby to wait. We talked with several of the other patrons as we waited. The conversation included: past theater experiences; visiting New York City; and, the ultimate subject for me, Walt Disney World.

When it came time to be seated I discovered my 2nd mistake of the night. I thought I'd purchased seats in a lodge box on the side of the theater. Instead our seats were in the front row of the left side of the balcony. I was really embarrassed about this mistake. I'd been bragging about the locations of our seats for months.

We passed the time before the play started by chatting with a very friendly older woman sitting next to us. She enjoyed telling us about her experiences as a horse owner. At about 7:30 the 3rd mistake of the evening would come to our attention...the play started.

Now let me step back and state that our experience with "Cats" may very well be mostly our own fault. We decided on seeing the play based on the fact that it's so well known.

Its 18 year run was the 2nd longest run in the history of Broadway when it closed in the year, 2000. We didn't do any research about the plot or the nature of the production. That was our mistake. We had no idea what to expect. We assumed (always a bad thing) that this would be a typical Broadway style play. It wasn't.

As soon as the lights went down we realized there was one big production problem. There was no live orchestra, so the music was played back from a recording. The volume level of the music was much louder than the level of the actors' microphones. You couldn't understand what they were saying, or should I say what they were singing.

The "cats" came on stage and began to sing. There was nothing unusual about a show opening with singing. After the first song, they continued to sing. For the entire first act they sang. There was no dialogue whatsoever. The story was told through the music and the lyrics, which we couldn't hear well enough to understand. When the characters weren't singing they were dancing. Why were they dancing? I had no idea.

From what I was able to surmise from the printed program, and what I was seeing on stage, the show was based on a collection of poems by T.S. Elliot. It was a series of stories of about different types of cats. Out of the cats, whose stories were being told through song and ballet style dance, one would be "chosen" to be reincarnated into a new life.

The first act was a style of theater that's was not what I expected or could possibly enjoy. It was unpleasant and confusing. I was miserable until the first act was over.

Paula was confused as well but understood what was going on a bit better than I did. This helped her get a little more out of it but she still found it difficult to follow.

At intermission we stood in the lobby and discussed how "lost" we were in regard to the story and what an awful time we were having. The couple who sat next to us (the "horse lady" and her husband) left as soon as the house lights came up.

In the 2nd act the story continued in the same style as the first. But the audio levels had been adjusted so the words were a bit easier to hear. My bewilderment continued as I watched actors dressed like cats dressed as pirates and singing operatic style arias.

But after that scene was over the play changed. There was actually some dialogue. It was in the style of poetic recitation but for all intents and purposes it was spoken, not sung.

Next the cast started singing "Magical Mr. Mistoffelees" a song that extols the feats of a cat who is a master magician. Some special effects, purposeful dancing and "tricks" were taking place on stage. Just that quickly the play had changed and became rather entertaining in a way that could be identified as your typical Broadway style.

From then on the show was good. It ended in marvelous way with some drama, a signature ballad ("Memory", which is considered modern musical standard), a transformation of the set, and some special effects.

At the end I was more than willing to stand up and applaud with the rest of the audience. The play had redeemed itself in the last half of the 2nd act. We left the theater with a good feeling.
I didn't completely hate it. I wouldn't want to sit though the first act ever again. But all's well that ends well. "Cats" ended well.

In an effort to try and understand "Cats" a bit better I did do some research about the show online and confirmed its plot. But even after reading the detailed story on Wikipedia I'm still a bit confused.

In a slow drizzle Paula and I drove back to our hotel. There was a Cracker Barrel at the end of the road. We decided to go there and have some breakfast for dinner. As we ate our meal through the windows we saw the drizzle turn into a downpour. We were glad we were inside. Even though it was our 2nd Cracker Barrel meal of the day it was good.

We spent the night in Lexington and drove home the next morning. We were back at our house by 1:30 in the afternoon.

It was a fun trip because we got to spend some time together relaxing and enjoying ourselves; for the most part anyway.

And even though we were back home, the best event of our weekend was still to come. But I'm saving that for the next post. Come back next time to find out what we did on Saturday night. Here's a hint: it was a "magical" evening.

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