This week, I saw “Hello Dolly” at the Woodstock Theater.
I had very little interest in going to see a summer stock production of a shlocky musical. But we were staying with friends, and they wanted to go, and I’m polite, and why no got.
How bad could it be?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I still have no idea what depths of awfulness a summer stock production of an old warhorse could be. Nothing I saw came anywhere near answering that question.
What I do know is that I saw a wonderful, exhilarating, brilliant performed, marvelously played, exuberantly costumed and fantastically staged performance of a silly play with the kind of music that goes right to your happiness nerve and tingles it.
It started me thinking about talent, and also about joy.
There are more genuinely talented performers than there are audiences with the time, money, and interest to provide them all with opportunities to perform. That’s a hard truth. I know that even for writers, who can take great pleasure in making a sentence both parse and sing, the real joy comes in knowing that someone else, someone who isn’t you, is reading that sentence. The reader completes the circuit that begins with the writer.
If that’s true of writing, how much more must it be true of performing, when the audience is so clearly essential.
Because there are so many gifted performers, I assume that those who are able to find work in a summer repertory company are particularly driven, and particularly interested in doing well. And because they love what they do — they have to, because otherwise they’d wouldn’t have the chance to do it, because all this is circular – they are able to have that love come through to the audience.
And because “Hello Dolly” is a musical with absolutely no meaning whatsoever – it’s not about immigration, or social inequities, or creativity, or bad parenting, or mental illness, or getting a job as a performer, or Victorian England, or balancing the evils of slavery with the necessity of freedom from colonial oppression — getting a message across doesn’t matter.
The musicals that do take on those subjects, that can make you cry and think as well as laugh, are wonderful — they’re just in a different category
So the actors were able to focus on the tightness of their dancing and the sparkle of their singing and we were able to look at the cleverness of the staging and the joy of having a live orchestra playing, and to marvel at how songs we’d forgotten decades ago, and never even really realized we ever knew in the first place, sprang back to live in our ears.
And the result of all of this was pure joy.
So I thought about joy. Not in the moment — when you’re feeling it, you just want it to keep on going. But afterward, you think about how good it is to feel it. How cleansing it is to be able to forget about the terrifying world we live in.
We can’t live in a state of perpetual joy. We need more intellectual nourishment, deep feelings, and emotional engagement with other people.
But our lives are so much better when we can let go of everything for just a few hours, and revel in silly, carefully created, happily enacted spectacles that end in actual joy.
So go see an old musical!