I have mentioned in the past that I am a fan of the theater, and Rapid City, as small as it is, has a fairly active arts community. In general, I would consider myself a patron of the arts. The Church has a long and rich history of helping to provide for the needs of artists, particularly inasmuch as she has historically been one of the primary institutions to commissions great works of art. Significant names such as Michelangelo, Mozart, and Bernini are among the artists whose fame was achieved, in some part, by work they accomplished for the Church. Thus, I feel largely vindicated in paying an outrageous fee for a ticket to a show. Likewise, I strive to support the efforts of students involved in the arts at school.
My patronage, however, has its limits.
My patronage, however, has its limits.
About a week ago, a friend from high school and I decided that we would go to the Black Hills Playhouse to take in their latest production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I had seen a Playhouse interpretation of this musical in the past and was very pleased with it. I expected that, though different in some ways, this production would be similarly satisfying. I managed to maintain this merry sentiment until we arrived in the driveway of the Playhouse. We were greeted by a youthful hippie directing us toward our parking place. Other young hippies were doing similar work. Exiting the vehicle, we discovered that the entire campus of the theater was infested with hippies. Beads and leather and fringe abounded. They were scattered about the lawn playing games with one another, others huddled in small groups chatting and smoking near the restroom door, and still others wandered among the gathering crowd welcoming viewers to the performance.
We acquired our tickets from the box office and were escorted to our seats in the right balcony by a less flamboyant hippie. To my horror, a whole separate group of hippies had taken control of the stage and were regaling the audience with hippie propaganda in the form of some bizarre Mother-earth story. When they had finished, we were treated to an a Capella rendition of I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing. About the time that the singing hippies were pining to buy the world a coke, a wandering minstrel hippie with a guitar arrived to join the fun. He played along with the singing she-hippies until the end of the song. So entranced were they by their own music that they took to dancing on the stage. This was followed by an impromptu acrobatic performance by several other hippies. I cannot be certain, but I think this was intended to be interpreted as an homage to the sexual revolution (after all, everything a hippie does is at least implicitly meant to celebrate the sexual revolution). Having cast their spells over the less wary members of the audience, the hippies then convinced people to join them onstage for dirty hippie games until the beginning of the performance.
By this time I had ascertained that these hippies were all to be in the show. Soon the lights dimmed, the hippies scattered like cockroaches (an apropos metaphor for them, really), the spotlight came up, and one of the she-hippies made her appearance playing the role of the narrator. Other than the hippie stuff, she was excellent. Likewise, some of the dancers in the chorus were quite good. In all, though, the show was mediocre. The man cast as Joseph was apparently chosen less for his ability to sing and act than for his physical approximation of Donny Osmond. The character of Pharaoh was a sad imitation of Elvis, more akin to the broken old man who died on his toilet than the virile white southern boy who could sing like a black man.
In one of his less lucid moments, the director decided that the song Any Dream Will Do was to be cut from the beginning of the show (it is hard to reprise a song at the end which was never sung in the beginning). The Playhouse either cannot afford or cannot find live musicians, leaving them to depend upon a recorded version of the soundtrack for the music accompanying the performance. Better recorded music can be found in a karaoke bar. Other than Dan Workman (who, though a seasoned actor and a theater coach at Augustana College, was extremely disappointing) in his role as Jacob, the whole cast was very young, perhaps too young. This performance was at best, an ok college performance.
As I have said, I am not indisposed to pay for good art. I am, however, indisposed to pay rather steep prices for poor seats at a less than stellar performances of well known and much loved musicals. I appreciate the difficulties the playhouse has encountered in the last several years. If, however, they desire to succeed and even excel in the theatrical arts as they once did, they are going to have to send their hippies backstage and do the hard work necessary to win patrons as once did the venerable artists upon whose shoulders they would presume to stand.