Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New York City, Imagine That . . .

Even well-oiled machines need a test-run.

Yesterday afternoon, the cast of the touring company for The Drowsy Chaperone gathered in the cavernous basement theatre at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for a final run--an Undress Rehearsal if you will--without costumes, sets, lights or orchestra before an invited audience that included several of the original cast-members, Joanna Worley and enough good-will and enthusiasm to metaphorically smash some champagne over the hull as it leaves the shipyard.

Perhaps because most everyone in the crowd was in theatre themselves, the show--a musical about a musical disguising a play about why theatre in general and musicals specifically matter--soared in this stripped down, once only version. In the play, a man sits alone in his apartment and listens to a recording of a long-forgotten Broadway hit. With his desperate enthusiasm as guidance, The Drowsy Chaperone (also the title of the musical within the musical) comes to life in his home. Like Slings and Arrows--the television show that also grew out of the life-in-theatre friendships that gave rise to Chaperone--it's all about the blurry line between theatre and lives lived in theatre as metaphors for actual life.

Later that afternoon at Joe's Pub, Michelle Shocked arrived at soundcheck late from LA, due to plane difficulties. The guitarist was waiting for her but the piano player was delayed due to congested traffic.

Michelle and the guys were there to promote an accidental album as a trio that had never performed together as a group. Her new album, which comes out in September, was recorded live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival a couple of years ago, when she played an impromptu gospel set. Without her knowledge, it was recorded in pro-tools--something she discovered only after listening to a rough recording of God Bless The Child earlier this year, which had been taped direct from the soundboard that morning. Despite the fact that she contractually forbids recording of her shows, she and her manager made some inquiries and found the "tapes." She liked the sound so much, she decided to release the show as an album.

During the soundcheck, she ran some of the songs by the guitar-player, who had some recommendations of his own about how to play them. "Thanks for teaching me my song," she smiled with genuine appreciation and good will.

Later that night, at the end of the show, she looked out at the perfectly happy crowd and, with a vulnerable and entirely unwarranted air of apology, said, "Thanks--I'm not even sure if this was a show, but I'll be playing with a rehearsed band at the Delacorte in a couple of weeks."


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