I am just going to admit it: I am showmanced.
And this is no run of the mill, 8 week and then you are done, showmance. This one will go the distance. The difficulty of this showmance is that it involves more than one artist and I am afraid that when Nixon in China
finishes its run here in San Francisco, I may be thrown into a fit of post-show depression that I can’t climb out of.
OK, to be completely clear on this: I am not sure I agree with the ‘wiki’ definition of a showmance. A real showmance, to my mind, is the experience of not wanting to have the show ever end based on 1) creating something amazing through one’s art and 2) a wonderful, somewhat rare camaraderie between artists who truly love working together. The Nixon in China cast is a fun-loving, boisterous, sometimes irreverent group: rehearsals are punctuated by everyone cracking up and ribbing each other while at once being intensely serious. I extend my crush to our director and conductor who have a commitment to detail, both musically and theatrically which keeps us on our toes and at an interpretive boil.
Now, I won’t go into personal details, but here are some things I watch/listen for in Nixon that made me fall in love with the cast and crew throughout the rehearsal process:
Revolutionary Ballet—one of the most beautiful and brutal dance numbers I’ve ever seen in an operatic setting (and the only one which involves Henry Kissinger to my knowledge).
Keep an ear out for the trio—Jazzy three part secretary-singing that at once evokes the Andrew Sisters, Greek Chorus and Three Ladies from The Magic Flute.
Flesh Rebels chorus—This makes me want to march every time. [Above: Flesh Rebels]
Makeup design of Nixon, Kissinger and Mao. Anyone need some political impersonators?
Now I don’t need to tell you to listen for the orchestra; however, I find it interesting that despite the difficulty of the music (for instrumentalists and vocalists alike), the score weaves these difficult rhythmic/melodic elements into an ultimately ‘listenable’ fabric. You may walk out humming some of the tunes.
Keep an eye out for the pigs. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t know why I love the pig part, but I do. Even more than the elephants.
Moments of singing I wait for:
Nixon—The lovely, red-wood tone and immediacy of Brian’s singing finds the humanity in one of our country’s most vilified presidents—His aria News which devolves into The rats begin to chew the sheets contains an heroic arc that Brian interprets beautifully. [Above: We knew he could play piano, but who knew he could sing?]
Pat Nixon’s aria:Act II: elegant, delicately dark singing (and one of the best decrescendos I have ever heard) will leave you weeping. I tear up every flippin’ time.
[Right: Pat tells all]
Mao Tse Tung - Act 1 scene II: Stentorian, athletic singing throughout: how the heck does he do that? And then he shifts gear into vocally gorgeous sounds on command. Again, how the heck does he do that?
Madame Mao Tse Tung’s rock solid leaps into the stratosphere will make you want to cheer upon finishing her Act II tour de force number.
[Left: The Mao sing off: “The Great Helmsman” vs “The White Boned Demon.” Now that is a battle I’d like to see!]
Kissinger—Lush tone, Meryl Streep chops and holds his own with the ballet corps? Whats not to like? Check out all the vocal color differences between Act 1 and 2.
[Below: "You may have the personality, but I have the dance moves"]
Chou En-Lai—the Bassoon like quality of this guy’s pipes just sends me... I especially wait to hear his final act: “I have no offspring...” lines. Haunting.
Yes, I am showmanced. Any of you who are on the fence: give Nixon a try. You may find yourself showmanced a little, too.
[Left: 2nd Secretary, at attention! Photo by Cory Weaver]