Last night I was treated to an evening of British surreal and slapstick humor at the Straz Center’s Jaeb Theatre.
The Jaeb is a laid-back theatre with tables and chairs instead of traditional theatre seating. I had a great center seat about three rows back, and came ready for an evening of laughter. I received two free tickets from The Straz Center in exchange for my honest review as a member of the Tampa Bay Bloggers.
“Hysteria” has a bit of mystery, a dash of song and dance, a spooky mansion, a lot of slapstick comedy and a touch of nudity. It has been running for nearly 20 years in the UK under the name “Cooped,” and the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, is hosting its American premiere.
I thought I knew British humor from the likes of Mr. Bean and Monty Python, but this show was a bit more like the seventh grade hallway my office happens to be located in.
In “Hysteria,” Laura du Lay arrives at a remote mansion in Northumberlandshirehampton and uncovers murder, love and mistaken identity. Is the handsome Forbes Murdston insane? Is his mysterious manservant Klaus who he says he is? Are Laura’s terrible dreams a warning of further tragedy?
The crowd around me often roared with laughter during this show. You can expect crazy costumes, stupid injuries, physical comedy, fart jokes, incongruity, absurd situations and the like.
Chicago is slinky and sexy, it’s funny and brutal, and it makes you think twice about what you hear and what you read. It’s actually all about SEX, CRIMINAL JUSTICE and FAKE NEWS. And I’m not kidding. It is intended for mature audiences, and they should wear their black fishnets. (That said, on Thursday, September 20, deeply discounted tickets are available for teens, plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles and refreshments.)
This jazz-era hit musical is the recipient of 6 Tony Awards®, 2 Olivier Awards, a Grammy®, and is now the No. 1 longest-running American musical in Broadway history. The 2002 film version of the musical won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It must be the hot dance moves from Bob Fosse!
So here’s the setting. Think back to the 1920’s. It was lewd and lascivious for a woman to roll her stockings down. Rouge was the devil. Booze and jazz music were corrupting people right and left. Suddenly there was a string of murders committed by women, and rumor had it that in the city of Chicago a pretty woman would not be convicted. The world was just too bamboozled by the right hair curls, the bat of an eyelash, and some cleavage.
There are real women and real cases the show is based on, and most of the events are very plausible. It makes consumers of journalism (us) think twice. And that’s all I will tell you.
However… there’s more to my story…
I hear only 5% of theatres who ask for the rights to perform Chicago receive those rights. And somehow a few years’ back my kids’ school managed to buy rights and perform Chicago. It is a little odd to see 17 year olds who babysit the little ones suddenly turning cartwheels and cha-cha’ing in fishnets and black lingerie. But it was so well done and very, very FOSSE.
Chicago at Shorecrest, 2014
My son auditioned and came home with his role on a piece of paper. It said, “one actor to play the jury.” We didn’t know what that meant. I said he probably had to sit in a jury box in a courtroom scene and do nothing. Boy was I wrong. He was ONE actor playing all 12 members of the jury! It was pure comic relief… He had little bits of costuming pieces in the jury box and would duck behind the box and pop up real fast as a cowboy, or an old lady, or someone crying into a tissue with a rosary. He played all 12 jury members in succession and the audience never knew what he’d pop up as next. (In addition he was a reporter and an ensemble singer/dancer.)
My favorite part of their production was the opening number, “All That Jazz.” It really sets the tone and shows off the singing and dancing. So when you go see Chicago at the Straz, don’t be late! It would be criminal to miss it! The show runs September 18, 2018 – September 23, 2018 and ticket prices start at $31/ea. (Except the teen special I told you about.) The Thursday, September 20, 7:30pm performance will be American Sign Language interpreted.
Have you had an “Aha” moment? Oprah talks about them all the time. A moment in time – or an experience – when insight or realization hits. It might be about a career or a relationship, but if you are really lucky it’s a moment of self-realization.
Learning something about yourself that changes your path may take strength of character. Often these moments of clarity lead to change – and people fear change. I have friends who have had aha moments about religion, sexual identity, gender identity, adoption – even keeping a vegan lifestyle. And a true AHA moment will give you the courage to maintain that sense of self even in the face of adversity.
Alison Bechdel is a real person. She is a cartoonist who had popular graphic novels and comics in the mid-80s and early 90s. In 2006, she published a graphic memoir of her life called “Fun Home”, which was subsequently adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical (among others) in 2015.
I first learned of Alison Bechdel when some college friends were talking about the Bechdel-Wallace Test. This tongue-in-cheek “test” analyzes portrayal of females in film and other popular media. A movie passes the Bechdel test if it has at least two female characters in it who both have names and who carry on a conversation about something other than a man.
I have been following the musical about her life, “Fun Home,” since its inception and I am thrilled that since its Broadway run has ended it will now be right next door to me in Tampa. I know too much already about the show and music, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it deals with a lot of sensitive family situations – some of which will make me cry a lot from my seat in the audience – and which have also been a part of my family’s recent narrative.
I’m curious to see how the show will be readapted for the Straz Center’s gorgeous stage, because it was performed in the round in NYC. I’m also excited to see the 3 Alisons – three different actresses portray Alison Bechdel at different ages during the show.
If you want a bit of a spoiler, here is an Alison Aha Moment; Small Alison performing Ring of Keys at the 2015 Tony Awards.
For you teenage thespian geeks, check out the “Teens Take Broadway” feature on Thurs., Nov. 30 and receive a deeply discounted ticket plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles, refreshments and a free post-show talk-back with the cast.
Fun Home runs at the Straz Nov 28 – Dec 3, 2017. Regular seats start at $31.I hope you go and your sense of self grows, or your sense of the world grows. I hope it helps you sift through your own clutter and find clarity. And I hope tomorrow night when I see it, I do the same.
I was asked to post about Fun Home in exchange for 2 free tickets due to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers.