I’m on a little vacation with my family, but the blog goes on. By happy happenstance, two of my songs just appeared on YouTube, affording me the chance to write a shorter-than-usual post.
They’re from the recent Portland production of The Christmas Bride and I’ve written about these songs before: Fluttering and The French Wheel. I’ve also long ago pointed out that seeing a piece of musical theatre on video ain’t nothing like the real thing. These clips therefore illustrate some things I’ve said before, as well as the severe limitation of the single-camera recording
At Lucid Stage in Maine the playing space is a not very deep rectangle, with seats on three sides. So the live audience understood that Marissa Sheltra had to “play the sweep.” Viewers of the video can’t see where the audience is – they’re not lit, of course – making Marissa seem a little unfocussed, overly animated. But the people in the theatre didn’t perceive her this way. When a musical performance is staged for TV cameras, performers use a different kind of focus, and are far more still. And since most of us spend more hours watching television than watching live theatre, we’re used to something subtler, more sedentary. Most of us? Who are these people who see more live theatre than television? How can I get to be one of them?
If you haven’t seen The Christmas Bride, and are viewing The French Wheel for the first time, out of context, the piquancy of one of MK Wolfe’s dialogue lines will be lost on you. On the video, the police chief says “My eyesight is not what it once was” and then we see that he’s wearing an eyepatch. In the show, we’ve long ago learned why he’s missing an eye, and have gotten rather used to the eyepatch.
The eyepatch exists for at least one reason that isn’t as plain as the nose on his face. Part of the fun of the show is that the same actor must play two brothers (who have a total three eyes between them). The quick change the actor must do to get from meek and mild, two-eyed Thomas to the vindictive villain single-eyed Simon is part of the fun. In Portland, though, I don’t think the audience ever got this. The actor, Bill Vaughan, did such a thorough transformation, metamorphosing his voice and the way he carries himself, viewers didn’t catch on that he wasn’t two different actors. Bill was too good for his own good!
In the video, everyone except the lead, Brian McAloon, is doubling. All those performers around the roulette table have other, larger roles, elsewhere in the show. In context, you’d be impressed with their versatility; here, excerpted in a video, you get no sense of how different they are from the other characters they play. But I love how the clip ends with the tight shot of the distressed heroine. That sort of concentrated focus was not something the thrust-stage production could provide.