Hello Dolly isn’t typically the kind of musical I’d embrace, in my jaded old age – written in the 1960s, it very much embodies the fanciful & superficially wholesome stereotypical thing which kinda irritates me about the entire genre. You know what I’m talking about. As soon as the curtain goes up the scene gets set with a certain presentation of class (in this case, middle-to-upper); a beige backdrop against which the protagonist(s) can introduce their distinction. See Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Fiddler on the Roof, The Producers for more examples. The latter two are somewhat less saccharine and therefore bad examples. It’s the kind of thing that also gives me the willies about Richard Curtis films.
Still, a cheap ticket’s a cheap ticket. Plus the few stage shows I’ve been to at Regent’s Park had been excellent.
In point of fact I wasn’t intending to write too much about Hello Dolly specifically, but as I’ve started a good summary would be that it was as I had expected: a real-life recreation of the big MGM studio production pieces. The story of a meddling busybody marriage broker in New York society, and the unlikely scrapes & hijinks that ensue when a couple of working-class lads stumble into a world above their station, whilst the meddler’s past helps her to fulfil a missing part of her life. The costumes were pristine period-wear, presenting a sterilised version of a caricature of a time. The performances were wholesome and twee, with plenty of “Well golly-gee!”s and the big first half finale featuring the parochial 14th Street Parade, where everyone’s suddenly sporting US flags and rosettes on their breast pockets. The restaurant, where much of the second half’s action takes place, is staffed by eunuch-like tapdancers, capering around in that way that the staff always do.
I don’t want to give you the impression I didn’t enjoy it, of course.
In fact, once you looked past all that – which of course you’d need to, unless you were a pointless twat – there was some good fun stuff in there. The third song in, It Takes A Woman, was the usual kind of chauvanistic anthem that turns up in musicals – I assume to set the scene that the male lead is the sort of hard-nosed, no-nonsense hardass who recognises women only for their utility value and thereby raises the stakes for when he inevitably softens and falls in love with the female. The girl in the seat next to me sighed with exasperation and was quite tense during this song, and I was hoping she might storm out with frustration at the rampant sexism.
So if the point wasn’t to talk about how good the show was, what WAS the point, exactly? Well, Regents Park is located very close to where I live, and so the optimum mode of transport is to walk there. It takes about 15-20 minutes, and this provides an opportunity to have a bit of video playing on the ol’ iPod (the only way I get to watch telly these days).
The show I’m presently making my way through is the gritty, sexy Louisiana-based vampire story, True Blood. Man, if ever there was a stark contrast with the wholesome antics of Hello Dolly…
True Blood is the tale of waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who has telepathic abilities, in the hick-town of Bon Temps. It’s set in a hypothetical reality where science has discovered a synthetic substitute for human blood, and as a result vampires no longer need to hunt people to survive. Vampires have therefore dropped their secrecy and come forward to join mainstream society. You get everything – the mystical awesomeness of vampires, the tension of small-town prejudice against outsiders set against national-level attempts by one group to make peace with the other, a bit of standard romance & drama, a decent-sized bit of violence (cos it’s a show for grownups after all), and they’ve not skimped on pouring in massive lashings of sex & nudity.
Consequently, my evening went: BLOOD SEX VIOLENCE SWEARING BIGOTRY SEX VIOLENCE POLITICS UNDEAD BLOOD NUDITY TURMOIL ANGER DESPAIR BLOOD VIOLENCE SWEARING laa dee daa dee daa You’ll get married, I’ll get married, Big parade, tapdancing waiters, I don’t love you, yes I do, happily ever after, dum dee dum dee doo doo BLOOD SEX VIOLENCE SWEARING FLESHEATING SEX VIOLENCE and BLOOD.
What a trip.
Incidentally (back to bitching about musicals for a second): one of the things which reviews of the Regents Park production all seemed to agree on, and similarly be enthused about by punters, was that the full stage dance routine where the cast formed into a big lump, and then transformed themselves into a steam engine, was a triumph of theatrical imagination. It was pretty cool – the people forming the “wheel-level” section joined some furled umbrellas up and rotated them such that the whole thing had a drive-train feel to it, and somewhat inexplicably the man at the front wearing the stovepipe hat suddenly had smoke issuing forth in a very chimneylike way.
It was pretty neat, but I saw pretty much the same thing carried off (minus smoking hat) in 1986 in the Adelaide Festival Centre when Cats came through (during the song about Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat).
Final analysis: if they can put together a Jane Austen film with zombies in it, then they ought to be able to cook up a version of Hello Dolly featuring vampires.