[As usual, notes to myself to remember shows I've seen but maybe of interest you]
The last 10 or 12 years I've been intending to go to shows at the Barter Theater but whenever I'm heading down that way, Abingdon is either very close to my destination and I don't want to stop or else its too far from my destination and I feel I have to keep driving and not waste time.
There was a choice of two performances: one was a musical comedy at the main theater and one was an Appalachian music play at their annex theater. Since the main theater is the historic one, I decided on the musical comedy which was Singin' in the Rain.
Most of you probably know why the Barter Theater is called the BarterTheater but I've put a little blurb on the side of this letter to explain it.
The theater is relatively small, I'm guessing about 600 seats, but with good lines of sight and -- to my surprise -- no miking, at least not for this show. I had remembered that there was something unusual about the main theater and that it was connected with a Broadway theater. It turned out that the Empire Theater in New York was being ripped down sometime in the 1950s or 1960s; the manager of the Barter Theater heard about it, went with a group of volunteers up the 600 or 700 miles to Manhattan on a weekend the Monday before the theater was being demolished and brought back hundreds of seats, paintings, frescoes, light brackets and also some other decorative odds and ends which were used to refurbish the Barter Theater. There's a story here about the refurbishment of the original theater and the building of an additional one across the street.
The play was a stage version of the classic Donald O'Connor / Debbie Reynolds / Gene Kelly movie musical Singin in the Rain. It used the score from the movie and added in several other songs from the 1920s. Perhaps the most striking thing about the production was the faithfulness to the movie.
All the iconic scenes like Gene Kelly hanging from a lamppost with the umbrella, or Debbie Reynolds in the yellow rain suit, or Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor ending their dance number Good Mornin' by landing on a sofa and tilting it forwards were in the play and followed the movie exactly. I felt a little sorry for the actor playing the Donald O'Connor role because he had to duplicate everything O'Connor did in the Make ‘Em Laugh number from the movie but in real time.
The show was well done and enjoyable but it put me in mind of a question, maybe by Mary Rodgers, what does doing a work of art as a musical add to the original work. Here the question was: what does doing it as a stage play add to the original movie?
Perhaps the production wasn't good enough to appear on Broadway but it was good enough for Washington or Baltimore or Chicago and certainly outstanding for Abingdon Virginia. The production had some odd aspects; in the number Moses Supposes the style was switched from 1920s to 1940s, in the Broadway Melody production number, the style switched yet again to late 1940s hipster [then it went back to the 1920s] and an anachronistic reference to Hurricane Lina.
The cast was about the size of a Broadway show, maybe with two or three fewer chorus members and dancers. The main leads, none of whose names I recognize which doesn't mean anything, were more than good and they pleased the audience. The orchestra was physically small, maybe 7 or 8 members, although most of them doubled. But you didn't notice any smallness during the show.
Katharine Cornell the shell and it about
The audience in the not sold-out house seemed to be [I'm really guessing here] about half from the Tristate area [Bristol, Kingsport, Abingdon] and about half tourists from as far away as Boston, San Francisco and Atlanta [the reason I know that part is that there was a contest that the person who came from furthest away got prizes -- as matter of fact, pretty good prizes].
There was an interesting blurb in the program stating that the Barter Theater was the ninth biggest employer in Abingdon; but even more interesting was that of the 12 biggest employers only 4 were for-profit operations [Cracker Barrel Restaurant, Food City Supermarket, K-Mart and a law firm]; everything else was some variant of government.Theater Reviews Home
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