Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cute Kid Plays

No one yet has asked why I named this "The Young Curmudgeon", so I figure I had better answer anyway. Many years ago, in my twenties, I was a fan of an up-and-coming radio talk host named George Weber . Long before the "revolution", when talk radio was pretty staid, George was doing some pretty wild stuff on the air. Not "shock jock" stuff, but certainly that which roiled the waters of the usual local tax issues, recipes, best selling authors, and whatever else the fodder was for pre-Rush radio. Like the time George devoted an entire hour of his show with call-ins on the "proper" wording for the spider song. Was it "Itsy Bitsy Spider"? Or "Teensy Weensy Spider"? Or any variable thereof. And yes, there was a whole hour's worth of debate on the subject. Or the Saturday night George took his engineer and a mobile unit to interview Saturday night BART patrons as the trains coursed under San Francisco Bay! Maybe not shocking stuff in today's world but again, this was 15-20 years ago, and pretty wild for the time.

George and I became friends after a few call-ins, and we found ourselves in and around San Francisco sampling many of the establishment's brewed beverages. And talking. And both realizing that our conversations were of the attitude our parents had. We were becoming curmudgeons, and we were in our late 20s. Over a clinked glass of some hops and barley mix, we christened "The Young Curmudgeon's Society", and it went out over the air on the next show. Never too organized, but we found ourselves attracting a whole bunch of like minded folks in our age group. Those of us who were not happy with the direction society was going, and yearned for a simpler time when some basic values had not been so upended. (Remember, this was San Francisco!)

George eventually got fired for being "too controversial", and went on to a much better talk gig in San Diego. (Remember also this was pretty much before Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony!)
I think the Young Curmudgeon's Society pretty much died out, although were it to happen today, the power of the Web probably would have kept it going. Last I heard of George was that he was reading news for the morning shift at WABC. Go to his website, linked above for is first person accounts of reporting on 9/11/01. Pretty wild first hand look.

How many of us have had to endure "cute kid plays"? Productions that perhaps the curtain should never have been raise on. Kids forced into "acting", half the lines are prompted from the wings, horrific versions of good songs, the whole lot. Don't get me wrong, everyone is well-intentioned in these pageants, but they are often a death march to endure. But we still hail the kids as the Second Coming of Lawrence Olivier, and praise them for their ability to get up in front of an audience. When public speaking always makes the list of the top ten adult fears, who can blame the tykes for the deer-in-the-headlights look as they see their parents, relatives, family friends, etc. anticipating their big acting break?

Twice in this last year I have been treated to the absolute antithesis of the "cute kid play". Rachel's best friend, Tori, (that's Tory and Rachel the day before our wedding) has two wonderful kids who seem to have found their outlet on a stage. And luckily in an amazing company of other like-minded kids. The Youth Entertainment Stage Company (or YES) gives kids the chance to really work at the craft, learn about stage acting and present some pretty amazing stuff on stage. To a kid, each of the actors was engaged and presenting a play. No questions about lines, or songs, or interacting with the other players. Yes, there was the expected small issues with intonation here and there, but easily forgivable in the grand scheme of things. And well counterbalanced with some of the kids' well developed voices, and the often perfect harmony in some of the duets. But overall, this seemingly near professional production I saw yesterday was a jaw dropper.

"Honk, Jr." is a musical retelling of the story of the Ugly Duckling. Of rejection and acceptance and the beauty that lies within all of us. Essentially the theme song, introduced by the local frog (and his family) was "Someone's gonna love you, warts and all." I sat listening to the lyrics and began to question a whole lot of my own cynicism. In that, there were also some good lessons to be learned by the kids as they played out this tale.

Costuming and staging were awesome. It would have been very easy for the parents and costume director to do a thing with straight ahead faux animal costumes. But each of the kids wore a stylized representation of what each animal or bird was to be. This forced the viewer to really pay attention to what each actor's role was thus really engaging the audience! Some of the costuming was really fun, like the frog and his family coming out in diving flippers and big eyed Oakley-type sunglasses. Or the cat (the villain) who's whiskers were a "Snidely Whiplash" style curly mustache. Or when the Ugly Duckling went from his black frumpy "ducking" to a swan that was a white jump-suited "Elvis". Complete with a curled lip confidently sneered "Honk"! (Remember that one of the "outcasting" issues was that the Ugly Duckling couldn't "quack", he simply honked, to the dismay of his father and siblings.)

Only one of Tori's kids was involved this time, (both were involved in last year's "Cinderella"). I am waiting in joyous anticipation of the next production of "The AristoCats". Should be a blast!

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