Dateline: Atlanta, Georgia
I should have written this last night but by the time I came in and got myself settled, I just wasn’t in the mood for some reason. I had a lot to say but the actual physical act of getting out the laptop and letting my fingers dance across the keyboard just didn’t appeal for some reason. Writing when I am out of town is good discipline but I have a feeling that my psyche needed to turn that part of me off last night, at least temporarily, for some reason.
The cooler weather began to descend on the Southeast yesterday with a light breeze full of the promise of fall so I did some walking through this section of Atlanta. Atlanta has never been one of my favorite cities. It has no real sense of place or purpose and everything feels like it was created out of whole cloth starting in the Reagan 80s and exists primarily as a gathering spot for people to make money. Buckhead is full of shiny upscale buildings and hotels and shops but it’s missing a soul.
I ended up at Lenox Square mall and hit the Apple Store. Back when we were first together, Tommy and I would make pilgrimages here before Birmingham had its own and Tommy would emerge with the latest and greatest iPhone/iPad/Mac and I would emerge with a bill. My phone has had battery problems so I had it replaced while I explored Brooks Brothers, Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales and other quality retailers. I bought nothing. I can’t say much for men’s fashion at the moment. There were a couple of Versace shirts that I liked but for $900, Donatella better be hand delivering to the house and she was not in evidence.
Phone repaired and lunch eaten, off on another walk and then a mid afternoon nap before heading down to midtown for the evening. A shout out to those who suggested a performance of ‘Becoming Nancy’ at the Alliance which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s not quite ready for Broadway (the second act is too long,the whole thing needs to be tightened, the first act climax is not well staged, and the scenic design is uninspired) but it’s got the makings of a good show and has one of the better scores I’ve heard in the last few years.
‘Becoming Nancy’ is based on a British young adult novel of the same name and takes place in East Dulwich, a London suburb that’s a lot like its name. The time is 1979, the disco era is about to give way to Thatcher/Reagan capitalism and we meet young David Starr – a theater kid obsessed with music and musicals who desperately wants the role of Fagin in the school production of Oliver. To his shock, he’s given the role of Nancy as he’s the only student who can sing her big ballad, As Long As He Needs Me, effectively. He decides to rise to the challenge, and finds that unleashing his inner Nancy leads to family complications with his traditional parents, loving aunt, loutish sister… and then there’s the gorgeous footballer Maxie who has been cast as Bill Sikes, the love interest. Anyone with any knowledge of cultural history, the construction of musical comedies, and the current vogue for LGBTQ empowerment stories can see where the show is going to go and it ticks off the plot points one by one but the energetic and talented cast carries us along on a feel good ride. It’s a bit similar to last seasons The Prom (which also originated at The Alliance) and has echoes of Love, Simon (which takes place in Atlanta).
The show connected with me in some unusual ways. Young David, the lead, is played by Zachary Sayle who was a Birmingham theater kid back when Tommy and I were getting our start. I never did a show with him. He was Ralphie in Center Stage’s production of ‘A Christmas Story’ back in the day (one of the few CS productions I wasn’t a part of) and shortly after got the part of Ralphie in the musical version in its pre-Broadway try out and hasn’t looked back. Watching him, made me think back on all of the other theater kids I’ve seen grow up over the last fifteen years, especially the boys who are committed to doing good work in a culture that denigrates performing arts (and elevates football to a religion). David is seventeen in 1979, making us exactly the same age so I found myself reflecting back on my confused and angst ridden and hormonal teen years. Theater ended up saving me the way it saved him; it was finding my tribe, the people with whom I fit and who gave me acceptance. I wasn’t able to be open about myself for some years but I hesitate to think what might have happened had I not had that community giving me constructive support and encouragement. Of course, I was backstage during my youth; the performing didn’t come until much later.
There’s one number partway through the first act where the football (European style) team and the drama kids are both showing themselves and the audience that they aren’t that different. Both activities are about learning to work together as a team to create something more than any of them could do as individuals. I think that was my favorite message moment in the show. Some of the other messages are a bit heavy handed. David’s best friend, a young black woman, has a great power ballad to her childhood friend who has joined a nativist/racist movement lamenting about how all he can see now is the color of her skin. That whole subplot, where neo-Nazis turn on the ‘others’ and there’s a riot at a Rock Against Racism concert, carries a lot of baggage in Trump’s America but I’m not sure that a musical comedy of this nature can carry all that weight. The end of the show, where the school finally performs Oliver (with nods to the original score, and the costumes and staging from the film version) is a hoot, especially to those who have some idea how musical theater actually works. We see it mainly from a backstage perspective and I was giggling throughout.
This is its last weekend, but I think it’s got a future. Give it another try out run or two to tinker and they’ve got a show.