By Barry Reszel
I spent Wednesday as a member of the upper crust.
So please forgive me if you happened upon my humming Camelot‘s “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and showing nonspecific condescension toward the hoi polloi polluting the Loop’s sidewalks between the matinee of Lyric Opera’s stunning The King and I and the opening of Joffrey Ballet’s gorgeous Cinderella.
My deserved comeuppance arrived, as expected, at the stroke of midnight (slightly before, if I’m being honest), when my carriage turned back into a Volkswagen and I resumed my plebian existence as a humble scribe.
But my midweek toe dip into the pool of blue blood, more specifically, my reactive dive into Camelot‘s song of commoners (you thought I was kidding?), was every bit as eye opening as the angelic voice of Ali Ewoldt (Lyric’s Tuptim) or Victoria Jaiani‘s (Joffrey’s Cinderella) athletic brilliance.
A quick refresher. In the song, Guenevere asks Arthur, “What do the simple folk do, to help them escape when they’re blue? The shepherd who is ailing, the milkmaid who is glum, the cobbler who is wailing from nailing his thumb. When they’re beset and besieged, the folk not noblessly obliged, however do they manage to shed their weary lot? Oh what do the simple folk do, we do not?”
I admit pondering much the same from my comfortable seat inside Chicago’s grand Civic Opera House on Wacker Drive, awaiting the matinee curtain of Lyric’s now-annual (at least through next year) Rodgers and Hammerstein Spring spectacle. We nobles spend the afternoon away from our troubles being entertained. But what of the commoners? How might they escape the humdrum?
Arthur answers his queen’s (as well as my own aristocrat-for-a-day) questions over three stanzas: “I have been informed by those who know them well they find relief in quite a clever way… they whistle…they sing…they dance.”
So hallowed musical theatre tells us it is the simple folk gracing the stages of Chicagoland’s most opulent venues. Sure enough, there they were Wednesday afternoon, whistling a happy tune and featuring several lads (and lasses) “singing in voices three times their size” (Lerner and Loewe, not Seuss).
And at night, at the Joffrey opening, the riveting performance is perfectly described as “a fiery dance and whirl ’till they’re completely uncontrolled. Soon the mind is blank and all are in a trance. A violent trance astounding to behold.”
While Chicagolandmusicaltheatre’s review of Lyric’s The King and I may be read here, this first attempt to include the Joffreys’ productions among our review offerings is as humbling as a commoner spending the day among aristocrats.
Indeed, this production of Frederick Ashton‘s Cinderella is beautiful. Some might say mesmerizing. It is simple to follow the well-known story solely through movement to Sergei Prokofiev‘s orchestrations. The cast under the guidance of Artistic Director Ashley Wheater includes upwards of 35 of the best athletes in town. They’re all gorgeous. And they can all do things with their bodies that would put most of their adoring lords and ladies in traction for a month.
I suspect ballet, like other professional fine arts particularly savored by society’s nobility, has a learned appreciation curve. As one residing in that curve’s first stage, all my exuberance toward this Cinderella was fully formed in the first of its three acts. Despite Conductor Scott Speck‘s wonderful direction of the Chicago Philharmonic and continued mindblowing contortions by the dancers, I grew restless in acts two and three.
That’s on me. Realize that if you invite me to join in a day at the Art Institute, I’m willing to stare at van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” inarguably among the most famous pieces in the collection, for about a minute. If that’s gauche, so be it.
In no way is this to suggest avoiding this Cinderella. On the contrary, visits to the magnificent Auditorium Theatre to help celebrate Joffrey’s 60th year and to the Civic Opera House for Lyric’s The King and I should be on every arts patron’s springtime short list.
While there, show the proper awe for the whistling, singing, dancing, simple folk onstage.
Because they deserve to know
That when the royals feel blue,
They wish that they were simple folk, too.
Joffrey Ballet Chicago presents “Cinderella” through May 22 at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Joffrey photos by Cheryl Mann. Lyric Opera of Chicago presents “The King and I” through May 22nd at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Lyric Publicity photos by Todd Rosenberg.