The human brain loves binary thinking. The stove is hot or it is cold. You are a republican or you are a democrat. Issues are either black or white. However, despite our innate bias towards simplistic clarity, the world is a complicated place full of shading and a variety of unknowns.
We enter our fall season boldly proclaiming that “The Wait is Over,” implying that COVID has been overcome and we have entered a new normal. It seems, however, that the world sometimes begs to differ. Quantitatively, the news is excellent! Summer weather, highly effective vaccines and people continuing to be careful have dropped infection rates and improved outcomes for people who unfortunately do get sick. Yet, qualitatively, we know that people are returning to different parts of their lives at different rates, and variations of the virus are complicating our decisions as well. Each individual is faced with making health decisions on a personal level by balancing their safety with the latest science and alongside their beliefs.
Recognizing that returning is complicated, we have planned the coming year with the goal to have our whole community return home to the Gallagher Bluedorn in a safe and comfortable way. It is in that spirit that our fall season is made up of greatest hits and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that everyone should be able to immerse themselves in and enjoy together.
Several of the fall shows are new productions of shows we’ve done before – original artists, new music and innovative production elements. I‘m making a few picks that I believe represent the broad audience that we serve: Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville, the Elias String Quartet’s three performances of the Beethoven Quartets and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical.
Escape to Margaritaville is a new musical that features some of Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits, as well as new music he wrote exclusively for this show. The music carries us to Caribbean beaches and the relaxed lifestyle of the islands, something that we all could use right about now. The plot is exactly what one might expect: a story of romance and drama that runs the gamut of an island-destroying volcanic eruption, a buried treasure and a trip to Cincinnati.
Next, the Elias String Quartet will be taking on one of the most challenging programs in classical music – the chronological performance of the sixteen string quartets written by Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses.
Beethoven’s quartets were written across the span of the great Germanic composer’s life and each performance will be a journey through the life and mind of one of the greatest musical artists. Six concerts will be spread over the fall and spring seasons, each one composed of a different combination of his sixteen quartet masterworks. These masterworks reveal his evolution, both as a prolific composer and as a human being. It’s all there: earthy wit (yes, Beethoven could crack a joke), volatile temper (his fury was state-of-the-art), and personal sorrow (he had plenty to weep about).
Referring to one quartet in particular, Richard Wagner called the opening the “saddest thing ever said in notes.” Franz Schubert on his deathbed heard the same piece once more and said, “After this, what is left for us to compose?”
My final pick is rooted in the power of childhood nostalgia. In 1964, the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” premiered and instantly became a Christmas classic. Featuring stop motion animation and one of the first public uses of a new Light Emitting Diode or LED (that served as Rudolph’s nose), this production is considered a true masterpiece. What many might not know is that the special was a collaboration across the world. Animators in Tokyo shot the film, Canadian voice actors recorded the dialogue and music was produced and recorded in England. Featuring unprecedented 24 frame per second animation, it set a standard for stop motion that wasn’t matched for more than 30 years.
The production team for our live version of this remarkable piece sees their work as a homage to this revolutionary film. Characters, costumes, wigs and even noses were painstakingly scaled up from the animated versions. Teams of puppeteers worked in giant costumes and in teams to run all of the beloved characters, from the fifteen-foot Abominable Snowman to the four-foot Charlie-In-the-box. The cast were chosen from national auditions and the resulting production is unforgettable.
The art of this piece is remarkable but the story is what has made it the most watched Christmas show in television history. The story of Hermey the Elf who wants to be a dentist, and Rudolph the reindeer who is left out of all the reindeer games for looking different provides a timely example of the importance of being able to stand apart from the crowd and chase your dreams. The adventure of the journey, and the eventual recognition of difference as strength, was ahead of its time and models courage, which is important still today.
Our world is not binary. We understand that people manage risk and fear individually and this fall will be about providing you countless opportunities to re-engage with great live performances and one another in ways that you feel most comfortable. For our part, we will continue to provide enhanced cleaning and ventilation, as well as no-questions-asked refunds to encourage people to stay home if they are feeling ill. We are moving forward from a long year of being closed and joyfully beginning a year of transition, as we look to the future. I hope you join us.