Friday, May 16, 2014

42nd Street on Liberty Street: Finale

TOMORROW! TOMORROW! (Oops, wrong musical.)

This is the fifth and final installment of our week-long piece following a newbie's (my) initiation into musical theater with Ann Arbor in Concert. Our show is at 8 p.m. this Saturday, May 17, at the Michigan Theater. Tickets are available here.

The thing I didn’t realize about being in a show like this is that, though you know the other performers only a short time, you fall a little bit in love with everyone.

There was Sebastian/Billy, who liked to learn the girls’ dancing parts in his down time and named this hybrid character “Billerina.”

There was Grace/Peggy, breaking out of an onstage kiss that went on too long because Monica/Maggie Jones took her sweet time interrupting it.

There was Anna/Lorraine, a fourteen-year-old dancer, who then advised Grace, “You have to breathe through your nose.” Girl, you are fourteen.

There was everything that Monica/Maggie Jones did. (Including giving me a wedgie; Monica is an unholy terror.)

There was Sara, an expert tapper who had to miss a rehearsal to defend her Ph.D. in psychology. We learned "acting" together.

There was Elizabeth, who never once flinched when we called her "Anytime Annie." (Pro.)

There was Mary, who'd rather be singing. Prompted by the passage of the transit millage, she remembered a time she forgot to vote in a local election; she got a manicure the day Rudy Giuliani ran against Ruth Messinger in New York and missed it. This is the exact excuse the Meg Ryan character gives to her boyfriend in You’ve Got Mail.

There was Courtney, who let me push her over.

There was Alex who, when he had to say “toots”--as in “babe” or “honey”--mispronounced it “toots,” as in “farts.” This went on a little too long until finally Sara said something.

There was Jen, a dancer and producer, always practicing in the hallway, her young daughter running around in her own ballet costume.

There was Madison, who, in her long, flowing skirts identifies herself as the only “hippie” in Howell.

There were all the musicians and singers and actors--Katie/Dorothy Brock, whose skin glows like ethereal moonlight against the black night of the theater; Brian/Julian Marsh, whose bottomless charisma forces you to like Julian Marsh--who made the show pop alive in a way I wasn't quite prepared for.

There was Quinn, who convinced me in the first place.

There was Eric the conductor, who just knew everything, could do everything, was on top of everything, everything, everything.

And for everything else, there was Debi, the stage manager, who really knew everything.

There was Mike the director calling us “my darlings, my loves, my sweeties, my most beautiful, talented, wonderful, glorious cast,” just like that, over and over, without a breath. And “Thisismusicaltheaterit’ssupposedtobeorganic!!!!!” And, when we stayed late to finish: “IloveyouIloveyouIloveyoulloveyouIloveyouIloveyou, I love you all.” You had to believe him.

Because you do, you fall a little bit in love--you can’t help it. With people’s talents, with their vulnerability, with their energy, with doing-something-magical-together-all-at-once. You’re in close quarters for such a long time, and you see the part of these people that is the wild, central thing they love to do, that thing that is too raw and unbelievable and unreasonable to expose itself to regular life: you see them sing instead of talk, dance instead of walk, you see their smallest emotions blown up to fill an auditorium-sized cathedral to human pathos. And they see you, you doing that wild, central thing you love to do, and you trying to fill that auditorium-sized cathedral along with them. It is hyper-reality, some kind of otherworldly night circus that only manifests with a group, and it cements a weird sort of bond. Together you laugh and gasp and touch and catch and smell each other, and when you think you’ve seen all there is to see, everyone brings forth more, more, still more. You just see too much of everyone not to fall in love with them all, at least a little bit.

I came into the show deeply ambivalent about participating. Am I not a little old for this kind of thing? Am I wasting my time? Should I be directing this energy elsewhere--toward my job or my house or any of the other trappings of adulthood that I have somehow acquired? Is this too self-indulgent? Shouldn’t this part of my life--the costumes, the rehearsals, the stage makeup, the blisters on the tops of my feet from new tap shoes--shouldn’t this be over now? Am I doing everything wrong?

Honestly, I still don’t have good answers to these questions. What I do have are deliciously sore legs and a neglected house and the thrill of being on stage again. What I do have is an extra cup of coffee every morning to keep my face off my keyboard after three weeks of nightly 7 to 10 p.m. rehearsals (longer on the weekends). What I do have is a smile under hot stage lights and goosebumps on my arms during Julian Marsh’s final, haunting notes.

In short (just kidding--I'm never short), you got me, 42nd Street. Ann Arbor in Concert, you hooked me. Without reason, without argument, you convinced me, you completely won me over. When Maggie Jones tells the dancers over lunch, “You hoofers are the luckiest ones in the whole darn business” -- yes, Maggie, you are totally right. When Julian Marsh calls “musical comedy the two most glorious words in the English language” -- preach, Julian Marsh. I will come and meet those dancing feet. This is the song I love the melody of! What could be better than this feeling, this drama, these people, this collective scooping out of ourselves for the whole world (or at least the whole of Ann Arbor) to see?

If community theater is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

So I come to our show tomorrow the most fervent, frightening kind of believer: the convert. Community theater will cure what ails you; it will soothe your wounded soul. Ann Arbor in Concert has created this space where regular people get to let out the large, strange, lovely depths of their souls, and you--you! every one of you!--get to be enchanted along with the rest of us.

It would be grand, grand, grand of you to come.

Plus, then you’ll get my last reference there.


  1. Erika,

    Your posts are great! Puts into words the magic of community theater. And you're a darn good hoofer!

  2. Erika,
    From all of us at A2IC THANK YOU SO MUCH for not only chronicling your journey but having the grace and courage to share it with all of us! Truly a treat - both on stage and in print!

  3. No, you will never be a little old for this sort of thing! Hang on to that artist in you!