Saturday, May 23, 2009

Off The Wall's Broadway Gold

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The atmosphere at the Off The Wall Theatre is pretty laid-back and relaxed. I’d been there last night to see their Broadway Fundraiser—Broadway Gold. The theatre is black draped in red with some reflective surfaces. As the show washed over me, it began to occur to me just how many Broadway musicals I’d seen these past five years. Being someone not particularly fond of musicals, it was a little unsettling at first . . . seeing the group start into song after song after song and having it remind me of other people performing those same songs live in some tiny little place like . . . Off The Wall (Superman. Gypsy) Carte Blanche (Cabaret) or . . .the Marcus Center (okay, so it wasn’t that small, but it WAS Oklahoma!)

Somewhere around halfway through the show it occurred to me that I was actually enjoying myself at a plot-less program featuring nothing but show tunes. The presentation of Broadway Gold was casual enough not to seem pretentious. . . which really makes all the difference. Dale Gutzman started the show and promptly settled into a very reflective mood that served the show well.

There’s going to be a more concise and comprehensive review of the show in next week’s Shepherd-Express, but I have to admit on a personal note . . . I don’t mind seeing musicals, but I always find it a bit unnerving having the songs rolling through my head the next morning (or the next week.) What was really classy about Broadway Gold was that it ended on what for me is a distinctly un-Broadway show tune—a memorable little piece written for a film by Eric Idle.

At some point in the late ‘70’s—let’s say 1978 or somesuch—the soon to be disbanded British comedy troupe Monty Python were working on what was to become their single most controversial project ever—a satire on organized Christianity called The Life of Brian . Python songsmith Eric Idle had wanted to do a parody of the traditional saccharine Disney musical song—one where Technicolor happiness was rhythmic jammed into the ears . . . (songs like Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah, Give A Little Whistle, Whistle While You Work, Heigh Ho, and later songs like Why Should I Worry? and Hakuna Matata.) The song, sung by a chorus of crucified people, is a deliberately ironic bit of musical comedy . . . wistfully singing a catchy little tune as all present will eventually die anyway . . . very funny stuff.

The song was more of a cultural phenomenon in the U.K. than it was here. (Authentic Brit and Off The Wall tech guy David Roper opens the song for Broadway Gold.) The song was a huge hit on the other side of the Atlantic. During the Falklands War, the crew of the HMS Sheffield sung it while waiting to be rescued from the sinking ship. A few years back, an internet poll suggested that it’s one of the top three songs Brits would like sung at their funeral. They love the song. And hearing its simple refrain, its not difficult to understand why . . . 

In the US, all memory of The Life Of Brian is pretty much gone from everyone who isn’t  a Python fan and the song would’ve been forgotten entirely had it not been included in the recent Idle-penned Broadway hit Spamalot, which is why it makes an appearance as the final song in Broadway Gold. I remember watching The Life of Brian in junior high school and liking the song . . . which appeared on a compilation CD I would sometimes listen to in High School. It felt good to have the show end on something far more familiar to me . . . washing out all the Rodgers and Hammerstein and such  . . .

Broadway Gold runs through Sunday, May 24th at the Off The Wall Theatre. 

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