Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Not so Happy Days at the Fox Theatre

I give Happy Days 2.5 out of 5 possible paloozas.

Have you ever seen a movie that depicted people at a show getting up and leaving because it was so bad? Last night at the Fox Theatre I experienced it in "real life" for the first time. And yes, I felt horrible knowing the actors in the new musical had poured so much into the play. I can't imagine how it felt to those on stage to see the theater partially empty out while you were singing and acting your heart out.

Fortunately for those on stage the fault was not theirs. Hopefully they didn't take it personally, although how could they not?

During the first act I struggled to hear the words from the stage. I thought it was MY hearing! I would hear some in the audience laugh at a quip I'd missed and it confirmed that I needed to get my hearing checked. I spent a portion of the first act trying to decide how I'd feel about wearing a hearing aide. I thought about the commercials with the earpiece that looked like a bluetooth phone, wondering if that would help me distinguish words.

I kept looking around to see if anyone else seemed to be having difficulty. No, everyone appeared to be politely, intently, listening.

It wasn't until intermission that the irritation of my fellow theater-goers erupted. I wasn't alone. My hearing hadn't deteriorated to the point where I couldn't hear well!

As I walked around I overheard bits and pieces of conversations. Some were, like me, relieved to discover they didn't have a hearing problem. Others were cornering ushers to ask how they could get a refund. Some wanted tickets to another play in exchange. Many headed out the doors.

I happened upon a beleaguered someone I assumed was the Fox Theatre manager surrounded by a small group. He explained that the theatrical group opted to use their own production equipment rather than the Fox Theatre equipment. I felt bad for him, too. I would not have wanted to be the one trying to placate patrons who were used to Fox Theatre quality.

He assured those listening that those backstage had been told. I didn't pick up WHEN they were notified. If it was during rehearsal and they ignored the warning, a pox on them! If they only discovered the problem during the first act, that was a bit more understandable. However, I would have stopped the play at whatever point notified and fixed it. They didn't.

Patrons don't care who created the problem, nor does it help the Fox. People associate bad sound with the play AND the theatre. I hope that the Fox will consider changing their policies to require groups to use their equipment.

We decided to tough it out and watch the remainder of the play, hoping the sound would be fixed. Many didn't stay. Randomly looking around it looked like up to a third of the audience cleared out during intermission.

The problems with the equipment had not been fixed.

As the play continued more and more people got up and left. I saw people texting messages and playing with their phones rather than watching the play. One older gentleman who should have known better rudely answered his phone and started talking. He walked up the aisle with his companion and I overheard him saying "No we're leaving, the play isn't very good."

I shushed him, after all we were trying, trying desperately, to listen to the play.

I imagine they must have been scrambling to fix the equipment during the first part of the second act as toward the end one person's voice after another became clearer. By the end of Happy Days we could all miraculously understand what was happening on stage!

As I discovered, finally, the actors could sing. In some cases, exceptionally well. It's a shame their talents were muffled due to technical problems.

I hate to judge a play that I couldn't hear well as I know it probably colored my overall feelings. Typically good theater grabs you and wraps you into the story and the music. This one didn't. Even without the sound equipment problems I'm not sure it would be a play I would give a palooza about.

None of the songs were the kind you'd remember. Even those designed to engage the audience, inviting clapping along, didn't. In one scene James Dean and Elvis visit the Fonz. A choir of clapping singers join in, swaying with the beat of the music. Typically I'd be the first to start clapping along. No interest. It was as though the audience were sitting on their hands.

I had a tough time with the story line. Bolero dressed tough-guy wrestlers? A Fonz who was only tough for the first part of the show? Yes, I know in the "real" Happy Days series the Fonz ended up changing his ways and teaching school (or so I've been told), but I only remember the "cool" Fonz.

I talked to a few people about the story line since last night and they assured me it was faithful to the Happy Days television series, so chances are it was just me. I'm not a big television watcher so don't take my criticism of the story line to heart or let it keep you from going to see the play if given the opportunity.

It's highly possible that I'd have an entirely different take on the production if I'd been able to hear the quips, had not missed many of the words and had been able to enjoy the superb voices I heard toward the end throughout.

Again, I feel bad for those who shared their wonderful talents with such enthusiasm last night. Have you ever been to a play where the audience didn't give a standing ovation at the end? Only about a third of the audience stood up, and all of those who did were in the back middle area. That's where I heard the laughs coming from during the play, too. It made me wonder if they were the only ones who heard the actors clearly. If so, maybe that group who loved the play is the gauge you should use when considering whether to give Happy Days a try.

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