Written on: 02/12/2006 by visaliaca (1 review written)
The sheer volume of vocal, dramatic and comic elements the three "dynamos" crammed into the November 29th performance of Mamma Mia seemed to have distorted space-time itself.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Mamma Mia Review
Do not try this at home
This review, like many consumer products, comes with a patronizing safety warning for the foolhardy. Serious injury or even death could result from attempting to emulate Lucy Harris. In fact, I have a challenge to issue. If those pathetic post-pubescent morons of "Jackass" fame want to truly humiliate themselves, instead of tumbling down hills in outhouses, they should try to sing or act with 1 thousandth the aplomb shown by the trio of Lucy Harris, Suanne Braun and Joanna Monro during Wednesday's performance. The sheer volume of vocal, dramatic and comic elements the three "dynamos" crammed into the November 29th performance of Mamma Mia seemed to have distorted space-time itself.
Indeed, I had the feeling of a strange kind of time compression mirage, where the absolute best elements of all previous performances were cut and spliced, and hence, compressed together. The amount and quality of expression, both musical and dramatic, combined with the gut-splitting comic elements in Wednesday's performance were almost too much to process. I wanted to film each character separately and view the show in stages.
Lucy in particular is, in my view, so innately talented, that she is incapable of being self-conscious about it. Couch potatoes are not naturally as impressed by monkeys, as they are by Olympic gymnasts; despite the superiority of primate skills over those of even the most skilled of humans, we naturally don't give monkeys the proper credit for doing something they were "born," not "trained," to do. So if Lucy will forgive the primate analogy, I think it is a fair one.
Put simply, Lucy is "naturally" so good; one's expectations are automatically raised to a level that would be unfair to mere humans. So while I apologize once again for the simian reference, I assert that Lucy is, metaphorically, a "different animal." That being said, I understand that Wednesdays can be a little slow and as such, sometimes the audiences are "bussed in" in bulk; in the case of the night in question, the geriatric ward of a local hospital must have been evacuated, making for some interesting audience participation, or lack thereof.
There was awkward laughter at the wrong times, such as the peculiar laughing at the use of dry ice; loud questioning, and even louder answers, by and between those obviously hearing impaired. In the finale, one woman, who was 90 if she was a day, was gyrating to Waterloo in a way that convinced me she was having a seizure. I know that many eyes will glaze over when I start with classical music analogies, but I simply must make this one. Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947) was the most individual violinist ever to record. My violin teacher asked Huberman's wife after a concert, why he sometimes played brilliantly and other times so poorly? She confided in my teacher that Her husband suffered from terrible insomnia. The extreme characterization of his interpretations brought Huberman great fame particularly in Central Europe, but also the label of maverick. His admirers included Brahms, Dvorak, Joachim, Furtw ngler, and Toscanini.
Today, in an age of standardization, his playing constantly challenges our expectations. I kept searching my brain for the kind of highly individualistic yet non-idiosyncratic phrasing that Lucy reminded me of, and it struck me like a thunderbolt during "Money, Money, Money" -- Huberman. If the Huberman analogy is too obscure, I also see many parallels between the naturalistic singing of Lucy Harris and the Portuguese singer Amalia Rodrigues; both of whom give one the feeling that they were not formally taught but rather somehow tapped into some kind of universal aesthetic law, giving them maximum flexibility of expression without sacrificing internal consistency; so even though no two pine cones are identical, the underlying laws governing the germination of seeds never generate a rectangular pinecone. Amalia put it most succinctly when she famously quipped "Fado is not meant to be sung; it simply happens." Lucy, like great Fado, doesn't sing, she too, simply "happens." This is the divine spark that every cell of Lucy's body resonates with, and this is why, no matter how much she seems to vary her performance, she never violates the limits of the very natural laws that simultaneously define, regulate and liberate her.
In short, her "improvisations" are internally consistent, so that every turn of every phrase still comes out "square" no matter how twisted it becomes between beats. I promise this is my last diversion into classical music. The great violinist Fritz Kreisler was the most profound musical genius/violinist of all time. He could memorize music during train rides and then go home and play them on his fiddle. He once had a violin in the shop and showed up to a rehearsal without it. When the conductor asked him how he planned to rehearse, Kreisler calmly said, "fear not" and proceeded to play the violin part on the piano! Kreisler was famous for warping rhythms in ways that were highly individualistic yet impossible to emulate, always landing on the "beat" (like Lucy) at the end of each measure.
I also had the feeling that the pit crew (musicians) were almost trying to act bored so that no one would discover just how much fun they have for fear they may end up donating their time instead of being paid, however little it might be. The music director is clearly a man of very high standards and genuine devotion to the highest quality of each and every performance. His attention to detail did not go unnoticed by me, and I want him to know that he is appreciated. I noticed that many of the transitions from dialogue to music were tightened up, only adding to the overall professionalism of the show.
Not even the IV league audience (intra-venous) could dampen the enthusiasm, impeccable timing and comic hilarity on the night. It was, in a word, surreal. I am not a conspiratorialist, but I find it difficult to believe that the cast was not somehow drugged with stimulants (I wouldn't put it past management). Paul Hawkyard and Joanna Monro were hilarious in "Take a Chance on Me."
Their physical timing and Paul's jacket twirling had me genuinely concerned about re-injuring my umbilical hernia. I have warmed up to Joanna in a way that has me regretting not noticing her talents more; she has excellent comic timing, a very solid voice and an ability to blend seamlessly into any scene. I feel that Suanne Braun is really the glue that has allowed the trio of Donna, Tanya and Rosie to congeal. Suanne is simply a comic thoroughbred with every muscle in her body rippling with instinctive timing. When Donna told Rosie and Tanya to not let the newly arrived ex-boyfriends see them, Tanya (Suanne) dove onto the floor and assumed a frozen position with her arms clasped over her head as if she was diving sideways, lips pursed, and eyes bulging in a stroke of sheer physical comic genius that is on a par with Don Knotts (deputy Barney Fife of Mayberry fame). James Lailey's Harry Bright was very good as the disheveled "closet" boyfriend.
If Suanne is not chosen as the main Tanya, then I wish the knuckleheads who pass her over, no ill will. I won't need to; their wounds will be self-inflicted, like a time-released poison that will have done its damage long before their ability to reverse it. In short, not even 20 Bozo clowns will be able to fill Suanne Braun's metaphorical shoes retroactively.
My message for those who are thinking of passing over Lucy, yet again, is simply this, may you and your ilk, be forced to watch, in a West End Purgatory, a never ending production of Mamma Mia, starring your mediocre and myopic leads. Lucy is Mamma Mia. If Lucy is not a Diva, then why was she showered with flowers during the curtain call? For a moment, I thought I was at La Scala? Lucy's red-faced reaction to the justifiable adulation of her public just goes to show how thankfully out of touch she is with the depth of her own talent, which only deepens the inspired nature of her unique gift. For to be self conscious, is to descend into the banal; it is Lucy's na ve, not false, humility, that symbolizes her divine spark.
Lucy Harris is a gift, not entirely of this world.