I hate to admit it, but I think my standards were unwillingly lowered while working for Cirque du Soleil.
I noticed it a few weeks ago when I went with my friends, Dom and Chris, to see “Dream Girls” at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Both of my friends are avid musical theatre guys, not only versed in what they were seeing, but experienced performers as well. Per usual when I see theatre with my friends, we thanked our ticket donor profusely with smiles and hugs, and then talked bluntly about what we saw once we got in the car.
Dom was very passionate about the show, especially after seeing it on Broadway. And having been in “Titanic” on Broadway himself, his standards are very high. He went on about how after seeing Jennifer Holiday in the role of Effie on Broadway, he just can’t imagine anyone else singing the role. He made me promise to go immediately home and find Ms. Holiday on UTube so he could prove his point. Honestly, I have never seen Dom be so passionate about anything before.
Soon after, Chris chimed in about how bad he thought the acting in the show was. Dom agreed, and in fact added that he did not “believe” any of the actors from this production except for Chester Gregory who played James "Thunder" Early (who we all agreed was the best actor in the show). Granted, Dom was a theatre major at Northwestern University, and Chris got his Masters in acting from Columbia University, so these boys know from which they speak. The scary part for me was that I didn’t think the show was that bad, and found myself defending it. Then it hit me, hard. Somehow my standards have been lowered!
Seriously, I have always been a hard ass when it came to analysis of any theatre production. Don’t get me wrong, I am very supportive of my fellow artists and have great respect for them, but honestly, I rarely enjoy theatre in Los Angeles. The quality can often be low, especially when actors get together and do “showcase” theatre which tends to be narcissistic and self serving. But I have found that since I have been back in Los Angeles, I have liked a lot of theatre. Could my standards have been lowered while I was in Las Vegas working on Cirque du Soleil’s “Viva Elvis”?
Afterall, I spent several months rehearsing one show, which over a course of several weeks, changed drastically. I watched as scenes, monologues and characters that I thought were valuable to the show were cut. Eventually, the entire story line was eliminated, and the show turned into more of a tribute show to Elvis. I think that this process effected me psychologically, in that the kind of art that I felt was valuable, was disregarded. At the time, I thought-“…this is Cirque, so they must know what they are doing….Right?”
You will be happy to hear that I have gotten my standards back. It was a tough six months, but after reading “Angels in America” and "Strange Fruit" (two of my favorite plays) over and over again, I am now back to where I was before. Phew! Special thanks to Tony Kushner and Jon Bastian for reminding me what good writing is!
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM April 2010