Sunday, June 12, 2011
We begin the day with brunch and the Sunday New York Times at a neighborhood café. We can’t figure out why we are the only ones there at 10 a.m., until we order the mimosas that come with the brunch, and find that they can’t serve alcohol until after noon. Oh, yes, the place really fills up fast after noon, our server tells us.
We are running out of clothes—time to make our second visit to the Launderette. (We would have done our laundry first and had brunch afterward, if only we had known about New York’s liquor regulations—one of our very few examples of poor planning for this trip!) The last time we were here was a weekday, and the place was quite peaceful. Today the place is hopping with activity, as students and people who work during the week are doing their laundry today. Sitting next to us waiting for his machine to finish cycling is a man who looks homeless. His load includes a sleeping bag. We try not to think about whose stuff might have been in the washers and dryers before ours. (This picture was taken last time we did laundry when se had the palce pretty much to ourselves.)
Tonight we have tickets to Zarkana, a Cirque du Soleil production at Radio City Music Hall. As Cirque fans from way back, we anticipate this evening has the potential to be the highlight of our trip.
We begin our special evening with an early dinner at Emporium Brasil. Off to a wonderful start, our meal is creatively prepared and beautifully presented for a fine dining experience that puts this meal in contention for designation as our favorite of the trip.
It is just a short walk from the restaurant to Radio City Music Hall, the largest and most famous theater in the United States. After learning of the near demise of Grand Central Station in the 1970s, we are interested to learn that in the 1970s, Radio City was having a hard time making a go of its bread and butter business as a movie theater, due to changing film distribution practices and the theater’s policy of showing G-rated movies almost exclusively. Plans were in the works to convert the theater into office space, but a combination of preservationists and commercial interests saved the day, renovated the theater and reopened it in 1980.
Again, we offer our thanks to the preservationists. Can you imagine the majesty of this theatre being toned down or destroyed to adapt it to use as offices?
We are actually able to take pictures here, as long as we don’t use flash. If only we had known, we would have brought Dick’s camera equipment, in addition to my little camera. All the other theatres venues had strict no camera use policies and our tickets for tonight’s performance clearly say no camera or video use is allowed. But, the guards encourage us to go ahead and take pictures, as long as we don’t use flash, as does the announcer at the beginning of the show. We decide that they really want people to take lots of pictures and post them on their Facebook pages and on the web as free publicity for the show, which, we will soon conclude, needs all the help it can get.
As veteran attendees of quite a few Cirque shows, we thought we had a feel for the Cirque brand. We were happy to pay full price for eighth row tickets to have an up-close Cirque experience in Radio City Music Hall. The headline of the story about the show on the first page of the Arts and Leisure section of this morning’s New York Times is “How Do You Make A Whole Show Fly?” and the subhead states: “The Creators of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Zarkana’ Walk a Tightrope Between Circus and Rock Opera.” For our money (and, did I mention we had a lot of money running on it?), this production fell off the tightrope, with a bad balance of both circus and rock opera (and way too many clowns.)
We love how classic Cirque takes circus acts up a few notches from athletic entertainment to a theatrical art form. The costumes are eye-popping and other-worldly fantasies by top designers, the acts are amazing feats presented with grace and drama more akin to dance than to Olympic competition, the performers are beautiful people. This new take on Cirque features a lot of circus performers from Eastern Europe wearing what could easily have been the same costumes they have worn for the past several years while touring small towns in the Ukraine and Russia. The high wire act men were wearing what looked like 1980s jogging suits. They were definitely not in shape for Cirque’s usual latex body suits—nor were quite a few of the other men who had strength roles in other acts--big bellies have now emigrated from the real world into the fantasy world of Cirque—heaven help us!
As for the rock opera aspect of the show, the review made a big deal about Zarkana having songs with English lyrics, rather than Cirque’s tradition of songs with lots of emotion and drama sung with syllables that are not any particular language. If we could understand more of the lyrics and if they advanced a comprehensible plot, maybe being sung in English would be an advantage, but we don’t buy it tonight.
Objectively, this was a really great circus with a good juggler, a good trapeze act, one totally awesome hoop act (the only act in the show we found truly Cirque-worthy), a choreographed flag-tossing act that was worthy of an Olympics opening ceremony (as the critic for the NYT described it), a team of good balancing/pyramid building athletes that were admittedly a step above your average Big Ten College cheerleaders, and a rope act, plus an amazing sand painter and some weird theatre and clown acts in between all that which filled in the time, but didn’t do much we could tell to advance the plot, if we are to look at this production as a Rock Opera.
We weren’t the only ones in the audience not rising to our feet to give the cast a standing ovation, but we were in the minority. As we were surrounded by gushing patrons in the crowd leaving the theatre, we tried to think of how we would feel about the show if it had not carried the Cirque label, and if we had not paid so much for our tickets. Our conclusion: Good circus, bad musical. Great sets, bad costumes. The show is still in previews. Our seats will cost $50 more when it opens officially in a couple weeks. Woe to the people who can’t buy half price seats for it at the TKTS booth.