Inside the Worst Musical I’ve Ever Seen

The nightmare begins
The first speculative fiction novel I ever read betrayed me.

I stole The Sky Inside from a friend after watching her read it during math class. “What a unique plot!” I thought. “A colony of people living in a dome? Who engineer their own babies? And build robotic collies? Sounds like a one-of-a-kind reading experience!”

I wasn’t wrong.

After 229 pages, I wished death upon myself, the idiot protagonist, and his stupid robotic collie. The entire experience left me leery of “promising” concepts.

So when my mom told me she’d scored “primo” tickets to a musical version of Persuasion, I should have been suspicious. Instead, I turned off my inner alarm. I had theater, Austen, and one of my favorite people on my side.

Nothing could go wrong.

Everything is wrong, starting with the poster
My stomach twisted as I caught a glimpse of the show’s poster. “Um, Mom?” I said, eyes widening at the picture of a woman whispering into a man’s ear. “The tickets did say Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion,’ right?”

“Why would you ask that?” Mom asked. Her face fell as she looked at the poster. “Oh…”

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“It wasn’t…like, a modern play that happened to be called ‘Persuasion?'”

“Um…” Mom blanched. Though I wasn’t sure how much she’d spent on our “primo seats,” my guess was a lot. “I thought it was…” She looked nauseous and we hadn’t even eaten yet.

I flashed back to watching “Reigen” in Theater 101. “…is this a sex play?”

“LAUREN! This is a CHRISTIAN. THEATRE.”

“Who do they think is persuading who?”

“I don’t know!”

“WHY IS THIS POSTER SO SEXY?”

Mom couldn’t answer.

Based on the Cliffsnotes by Jane Austen
Mom relaxed as we were seated next to women dressed in Regency costumes. “See!? You made me doubt myself! I knew it was Austen!”

“Fine,” I muttered, opening my weirdly sexy program. “You were right and I was wrong.” I scanned the first line of the introduction written by the show’s producer. “‘Most people think of Persuasion as a fairy tale, but-‘” I frowned. “Hmm…”

Mom eyed me. “What?”

I showed her the program. She mouthed the first line to herself. “‘Most people think of Persuasion as a fairy tale-‘” Her face twisted. “WHO?”

“RIGHT? What fairy tale are they talking about?”

“The one where Anne Elliot was an old maid with no prospects?”

“The one where the love of her life despised her for YEARS?”

“The one where she lost her social standing?”

“Seriously, did they even read the book?” I flipped to a different interview featuring the playwright and the composer.

Mom knew my facial expressions too well. “Don’t tell me.”

I pointed to a quote from the playwright. “He says the theme of the musical…is ‘home.'”

Mom reared her head back so fast she hit the man sitting beside her. “Since WHEN?”

“It’s a story about belonging.”

“To what, the NAVY?”

“I don’t know, that’s what he said.”

Mom squirmed in her primo seat. Other audience members filed inside. We overheard a man behind us bragging to his seatmate about how Austen had inspired him. Mom’s eyes widened. “Keep your voice down,” she whispered. “I think the playwright is in the audience.” She gave me a look. “Keep your opinions to yourself, please.”

As if that had ever stopped me.

I am an uncomfortable audience member
After enduring a plea for donations from the artistic director, two actors appeared from the wings. I squinted at them both, unsure which characters they played. Anne? Benwick? Wentworth? Lady Russell? The two commenced with hammy banter involving another plea for donations, as well as a reminder to turn off one’s cellphone, all reworded into “hilarious” Austen-speak.

I slunk in my seat. “Ooooh noooo…”

“Shhh.” Mom jabbed me in the side and pointed behind us.

I imagined cornering the playwright in the parking lot and demanding to know if he’d meant for the intro to suck. It wasn’t a bad fantasy. At any rate, it was funnier than what I’d just witnessed.

The Pride and Prejudice/Persuasion crossover
The play began in earnest. Anne arrived, dancing with Wentworth. After Anne rejected Wentworth’s proposal, the heartbroken sailor screamed, “HOW COULD YOU BETRAY OUR LOVE THIS WAY?”

My mom nodded along. So far, so accurate.

I watched Anne interact with the other characters. The Anne in this play beamed at others and started spirited conversations about (of all things) abolition. The actress, while talented, kept punctuating her speech with delighted laughs.

This was Anne Elliot? Shy Anne Elliot? Hopeless Anne Elliot? Meek, people-pleasing Anne Elliot?

My mom started to frown halfway into the actress’ second monologue. “You know who she reminds me of?”

“Who?”

“Lizzie Bennet.”

Ah. So it wasn’t Anne Elliot after all.

Claustrophobia sets in
Before this, the smallest theater I’d ever been to was the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theater at the University of Washington, a circular performance space with no backstage where the actors changed costumes behind audience members (and sometimes boofed them in the head. Twice.)

As much as I’d hated that theater, I had to admit the actors there had made good use of the space. Even with characters running through the aisles, I never felt like they came too close (except for aforementioned boofing.)

By contrast, I already felt cramped in Taproot’s third row, which was close enough for me to touch the stage. The theater shrunk further as the entire ensemble squeezed themselves onstage for their first song. When one of the Musgroves whipped an arm toward our row, I hurtled out of the way.

Righting myself, I tried to smooth the anxiety from my face. Here were eight more-than-decent singers performing their hearts out, the level of talent impressively high for a small cast of local actors. If only they weren’t screaming banal lyrics in my face…

The cast kept singing, proclaiming, and emoting at top volume, each performance demanding equal attention. My ears ached from all the heartfelt giggling. The cast stamped up a storm during the dance numbers, their slapping feet doing nothing for my already-shot nerves.

1bb77c00-709d-11e7-923c-abb7a684d834-780x557I eyed my mom sideways. “Can we please leave at intermission?”

“No!” she shoutwhispered (though her words were swallowed by Sir Walter Elliot’s solo.) “We haven’t even gotten to the best part!”

I cringed again as the cast broke into another slamdance routine. Was there a best part?

Wentworth the angsty vampire
Mom bit back a squeal as Captain Wentworth swept into the Elliott’s drawing room.

“WOULD YOU CHILL?” I hissed.

She jabbed me in the ribs in reply.

Wentworth’s eyes locked with Anne’s. They walked toward each other in a daze, repeating their dreamlike choreography from the first scene until a “hilarious” interruption from Mary broke them apart. Wentworth addressed the audience: “Her? Now? After all this time?”

Elsewhere in Seattle, Harry Potter fans looked up from their dinners and whispered, “Always.”

Wentworth broke off from the main group to address his insecurity: “Could she accept me? Could she still love me after so many years?”

I rolled my eyes. “You’re rich now, aren’t you?”

“You’re ruining this for me!” Mom seethed.

World Premier Persuasion

I dredged up an image of Wentworth from the book. I remembered him pointedly ignoring Anne, pursuing the wrong girl to make Anne jealous, penning a passionate letter to convey his complex feelings. Was “angsty” really the word for all that? The longer I watched Wentworth brood, the more inaccurate this characterization seemed.

“You know who he reminds me of?” I asked Mom as Wentworth literally bit his fist in agony.

“Benwick?” she asked, recalling our game from earlier.

“No. Edward Cullen.”

I ducked before she could smack me.

Action hits, laughter occurs
We watched Anne/Lizzie follow Wentworth/Edward and Louisa Musgrove through a “field” populated by wooden furniture. Louisa climbed onto a tiny stool and proclaimed, “Oh, Frederick, I do believe I’m going to fall!” Wentworth reached up and lifted Louisa down the perilous twelve inches.

“You caught me, Frederick!” Louisa gushed.

“I caught you,” Wentworth agreed with a smile.

“ARE WE JUST STATING FACTS NOW?” I hissed from my seat. Mom’s next jab caught me in the chest.

Louisa repeated this act several times during the scene, a nifty trick the pros called “foreshadowing.” Mom and I braced ourselves as the actors transitioned into the infamous “Beach at Lyme” sequence. I’d been curious how the company would pull off a fall from great height. I looked around for props and saw only a table. “No…”

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Louisa climbed onto the table. “Frederick! Frederick, come save me!”

Wentworth broke off his solo to scream, “NO, LOUISA, IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!” before lifting her to safety.

Louisa climbed again, shouting, “FREDERICK!” over Anne and Wentworth’s duet. I gripped the arms of my seat. Had she been taught to fall? Would she slam into the stage? Would she suffer a concussion, like her book counterpart?

The rest of the cast trickled onstage. I shook in my seat. Here it comes…

Louisa toppled from her perch. Hoisted by the rest of the cast, she floated through the air in slow motion, jaw stretched in a silent scream. In my head, I heard Darth Vader moaning, “Noooooo,” and had to stifle a snicker. Louisa’s castmates held her aloft for a dramatically long time before laying her on the stage floor.

Mom’s snort nearly shocked the laughs out of me. Looking over, I saw her mouth “Noooooo” before dissolving into giggles.

Great. The play had broken Mom.

A wild moral appears
My leg started bouncing as I ticked off the remaining plot points: Louisa and Benwick married offscreen; Anne visited her friend Mrs. Smith…also off-screen (so much for that subplot); Anne read Wentworth’s fevered letter and rushed to find him. We were almost done…FINALLY.

Anne found Wentworth brooding in a corner while the extras snacked on scenery. Beaming, Anne proclaimed, “I DO love you, Frederick! I’d rather be on an adventure with you than live a life of safety!”

Wentworth’s face melted with relief and the two burst into their final duet, spouting similar promises: “You’re the life of adventure I want.” “The unknown isn’t scary with YOU by my side.” “You’ve always felt like home.”

Stunned, I waited for them to touch on persuasion, redemption, ANYTHING that resembled the original theme. The leads kissed. The audience rose in a standing ovation. I stayed in my seat.

The aftermath
“Did the book have a moral?” I asked Mom as we joined the equally confused audience outside.

“I didn’t think so…” Mom said, unlocking her car door. She sighed as she pulled out of the Safeway parking lot. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.”

“Why did they bother adapting ‘Persuasion’ in the first place? There was literally no persuading! They had to change both characters to make the ‘home’ theme make sense!”

Eyes on the road, Mom considered this. “It’s too bad…”

“That that play was so terrible?”

“No.” She took her eyes off the road long enough to glare at me. “That I sprung for tickets you hated.”

Somewhere in that statement lay a great moral, but I knew better than to mention this.

We kept driving. I watched Greenwood turn into Phinney Ridge. “So…they’re doing Pride and Prejudice at the Rep next fall-” Another glare. “Never mind. Good talk. Oh, by the way…happy birthday.”

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3 thoughts on “Inside the Worst Musical I’ve Ever Seen

  1. I may be a musical fan, but sometimes I come across a musical that I don’t like.

    But I remember when I saw a play, not a musical, that gave me a very negative experience. I saw it at school and it was called #8, a show that takes place during the Holocaust. I was required to see it for class and I just did not want to see it, but had to. I was too uncomfortable from start to finish. At the end of act I, I seriously wanted to leave the theatre, but I wasn’t going to since I was required. They showed pictures from the camps. At the end I left the theatre and called my mom in tears. It was all negative emotions that made me feel uncomfortable and there was no break at all. That is the kind of theatre experience I never want to encounter again.

    Like

      1. A show I saw that year made up for the mess caused by #8.

        In that same year, I saw Les Mis, a very meaningful musical to me, in the West End. Les Mis is an example of a heartbreaking show that makes you feel hopeful and actually has positive emotions and has comic relief.

        I prefer hopefully sad shows over disturbingly sad shows.

        Like

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