Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It Rains on Stage

The Music Circus (now "Broadway at Music Circus") has been a Sacramento summer tradition since 1951.  Inspired by a similar company in New Jersey, Sacramento's Eleanor McClatchy wanted such an experience for Sacramento-area folks and, in partnership with the New Jersey folks, Sacramento Music Circus, the first professional musical theater in the round west of the Mississippi and only 4th in the entire country made its debut.

They built a >2000 seat circus tent, filled it with a theater in the round and director-type chairs and set about "bringing Broadway production values" to the productions.  The tent came down in August and didn't go up again until the following June.

Sacramento.  Summer.  What could possibly be a problem?  Well, the often 100 degree temps for one thing, no air conditioning, and some of the most uncomfortable chairs around.

But the audiences loved the shows and kept coming, fans in hand, the ice cold drinks at intermission.  Some even brought pillows to sit on.

We rarely went because the prices were just too high, but Jeri worked two summers on the tech crew and I actually got to be part of a production of Annie, when they needed a "local dog" who would have a very brief part in the show (not Annie's dog, Sandy).  They found the perfect dog in Davis, but his owner didn't want to drive the dog to Sacramento every night, so I volunteered to be the doggie chauffeur.  I got to hang backstage with "Sandy" and we became good friends.  As soon as the Davis dog did his bit, I picked him up and brought him home again.  It was great fun.

That was before I became a critic. Now I see all the shows (for free) and, thank goodness, in my second year of critic-ing, they removed the tent and built a real building.  With real seats.  And real air conditioning.  I haven't heard a single person long for the good-old days, as we relax in our comfortable chairs and sometimes shiver at the cold air blowing on us.

In the early years they often had a guest star, someone who had been a star in the movies or on TV but was out of the spotlight and reduced to doing things like...Music Circus.  The first year I reviewed, they were doing one of my favorite shows, Show Boat and the guest star that year was Alan Young who played second banana to Ed, the talking horse in Mister Ed.

It was an embarrassment to watch him.  I swear he played Captain Andy, and appeared to be drunk.  There was a chorus girl attached to him at all times, leading him around to his next scene.  The only "realistic" scene was one in which he was supposed to be drunk.

My cousin Kathy was working for the company at the time, as its bookkeeper and told me they had to send someone to his hotel, across the street from the theater, to bring him to the show each night because otherwise he could not find it.  It was the only show I think I ever gave one star to.
Now they still have imported talented, but rarely someone whose name you recognize.  They are all talented Broadway performers and the quality of the shows is excellent.

The 2018 season began last night with Singin' in the Rain, a fairly accurate recreation of the 1952 movie musical.

And yes, it rained on stage.  

The rain sequence was one of the best and, because I know the movie so well, I recognized that there were probably some tweaks, but the bulk of it was Gene Kelly's original choreography.

Noah Racey, who played Don Lockwood, had great fun kicking rain out into the audience.  The folks in the front row had been supplied with plastic covers to protect their clothes.

The whole cast was wonderful and all of the things you remember most about the movie were in there.  Matt Loehr played Don's best friend Cosmo Brown and did all of those wonderful dance numbers that Donald O'Connor made iconic.
The chorus numbers were great, especially the finale with everyone in colorful rain slickers, carrying umbrellas

I loved everything about this show and had a good time writing the review, even though I was up until after 2 doing it.  Our ride home was very long due to work on the freeway and the causeway between Davis and Sacramento, generally a 10 minute drive, took 45 minutes.

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