To Des Moines for Wicked

The splash page of the Lonely Planet website is elegantly simple: a search box already filled with an exotic destination like “Macedonia,”  on a background photo depicting one of that destination’s amazing attractions (in Macedonia’s case, a castle perched on a hill).

I sighed, and typed in “Des Moines.”

According to Lonely Planet:

Des Moines, meaning ‘of the monks’ not ‘in the corn’ as the surrounding fields might suggest, is Iowa’s snoozy capital. The town really is rather dull, but does have one of the nation’s best state capitols and state fairs. Pause, but then get out and see the state.

This is a typically sneering assessment and yet, quite accurate.

We had tickets for the Broadway tour of the musical Wicked this afternoon. The Des Moines Civic Center was completely packed for it. Wicked, the book by Gregory Maguire, is one of my favorites. I own it and have read it several times, which was a slight distraction from enjoying the musical, but not too much. There are a lot of layers to contend with, though: the musical is based on Maguire’s book, which in turn is alternate perspective on L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 film adaptation The Wizard of Oz.

Even though the show starts out like an parallel-universe Victorian Grease, it  eventually takes on the ominous tone of the novel. The songs were very good, though none were truly catchy. The woman who played Glinda was especially funny (she invoked a lot of Carol Kane). Most impressive about the production was the way they used lighting to create patterns and effects. In the scene that concludes the first act, the character Elphaba floats in the dark at the apex of a cone of light beams which make her look giant and supernatural.

Will Shortz

Maybe I’ll file this under “stuff white people like” but we went to see Will Shortz at the Englert Theater this evening. Lore serendipitously won two tickets for the lecture a couple of days ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect… well, no, I did. When I used to work early on Sundays I listened to his puzzle segment on NPR. He’s a lot of fun. He talked a little bit about what a crossword puzzle editor does (people send him crosswords they made, he chooses them and edits things like the clues, and publishes them in the New York Times; a Sunday crossword is worth $1,000), the history of crosswords, answered some questions, and then played a word game with the audience. I answered one: “Awash (Tacoma, Washington; a word made from the last letters of a city and the first letters of its state),” but a lot of other people got it too.

Wayne Brady

My bachelor party involved going with my father, uncle, and brother to see Wayne Brady at the Venetian. The show was my choice. I liked Wayne Brady from “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” and was always surprised that his career never took off more than it has. It’s clear he would rather not be performing in Vegas, and though he has recorded an album that netted him a Grammy nomination, I think his genius is still in improvisational comedy. The show was great. I hope he makes it.

Santaland Diaries

The weather here stinks but we were itching to get out of the apartment for a while tonight. We decided on a stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ Christmas essay, “Santaland Diaries” (as heard on NPR), presented by the City Circle at the Englert. It’s a one-man, one-act job, with a couple of extras who double as stagehands, rearranging an unattractive set that looked like Superman’s Arctic ice palace.

The play of course is very funny–David Sedaris funny. As usual for Sedaris, the narration dwells on the less attractive aspects of human behavior, but sneaks in some Christmas redemption. Sedaris’ droll, lisping delivery is almost inimitable, but actor Tim Budd does an outstanding job of it.

City Circle Shorts

We saw a bunch of short plays written by local wrights and performed by a local theater group, the City Circle. Seeing something original and creative is fun. Most of the shorts were humorous. The most clever and least humorous was “Four for Prayer”, about four versions of Heloise (of Abelard and Heloise) from different stages in her life who meet in a chapel. They all have different perspectives on her relationship with Abelard.

Avenue Q

Last year my Uncle gave me a copy of the soundtrack to Avenue Q, a Broadway musical. He hasn’t seen it yet, and neither have I despite trying to get tickets during my last two trips to New York. The soundtrack is hilarious (and catchy) but I had to see the show. As it happened, the traveling show came to Des Moines this week.

It’s like a demented adult Sesame Street where puppets and people mingle in a New York neighborhood, except Bert and Ernie are odd couple Rod and Nicky with repressed homosexual issues. There’s a Trekkie Monster and sarcastic former child star Gary Coleman (played by a woman–he has not personally starred in any version of the show that I’m aware of) is the landlord. Gary sings the delightful and ironic number “Schadenfreude”.

The puppeteers are on stage in full view of the audience, and despite their dark stage clothes enrich the puppets with their body language, facial expressions, and dancing. It was very well staged. Not only that, but everyone had great voices. We had a great time, and if it plays near you, it is worth driving a couple of hours to see.

The Full Monty

The Full Monty–the live musical version–is playing at one of the local theaters this weekend, so Susan and I went. She hadn’t seen the movie so it was all new to her. I didn’t realize it was a musical, though it makes sense to make it one since there was lots of music involved in the story. I didn’t care for the score (it was bland jazz rather than the soul soundtrack of the film), but the cast did a great job and a few of the women had great voices. The guys actually did get naked in the end. I wasn’t sure they would.

And before the show I had the best pork chop I’ve ever had at a restaurant that specializes in locally grown and raised food.

Tap City

Back to the stuff I like to write about.

My girlfriend scored tickets to “Tap City” a tap-dance show from New York. We went to see it this weekend. A troup of eight dancers performed a variety of solo, duet, and ensemble routines. I’ve never taken such a good look at tap dancing before. It’s very individualistic: even when they dance together each one moves differently and has hsi or her own style.