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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘That’s Entertainment’

CRL's John Gray digs into the Capital Region's amazing arts scene.

There’s a cowboy in Saratoga County with a big heart, well-stocked bar and a secret. In his basement lies the most elaborate karaoke setup this side of Memphis. There’s a stage, lights and every song you could possible sing out of key. When the moon is full he’ll invite friends over for some libation and lively conversation, but all paths eventually lead downstairs to that microphone where a rock star is born. Like the movie “Fight Club”, there are only a handful of rules at this ‘karaoke club’, but one of them is that EVERYBODY sings.

There’s something terrifying and wonderful about getting up in front of strangers to perform, but if they connect with you something special happens. That my friends, is theatre.

This month’s magazine tips its hat to the local arts and theatre scene, people who take words on the page and bring them to life on the stage. We are blessed to have an abundance of arts in our Capital Region – from Proctor’s, the Palace and Cap Rep, to the smaller venues where actor and audience can make that connection, such as  Park Playhouse, Curtain Call Theatre and the Ghent Playhouse. We also have musicians and singers as good as any you’d find in New York or L.A.

I didn’t see my first Broadway show until I was 17, but it was love at first sight. The show was “Evita “and to this day I still catch myself singing “Oh What A Circus” when no one is watching. My favorite show hands down is “Rent”. I’ve seen it 10 times from the Big Apple to Boston to the many performances in Schenectady. There’s just something about Roger and Mimi’s love story that gets me every time. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is also one of my favorite scores, although my attraction to that show is more of a spiritual thing. “Les Miserable” is a terrific show if revolution is more your style. When Jean Valjean sings “Bring Him Home” you can hear a tear drop in the last row of the theater. And “Jekyll and Hyde” is a guilty pleasure of mine with the mad doctor wreaking havoc to the music of Frank Wildhorn. You haven’t heard a love song until you’ve heard the character Lucy sing “Someone Like You”.

The best acting performance I’ve ever seen was Brian Dennehy in “Death of a Salesman”. While he was truly amazing, I’d forgotten how dark the theme was in that show. You walk out of the theater into Times Square in anything but a party mood. Julia Roberts sat a few rows in front of me with her boyfriend (at the time) Benjamin Bratt, but refused to turn around no matter how much popcorn I threw at her. I’m kidding. Not about her being there, but about throwing food. Security was watching me.

My closest encounter with a star came in 1999 when I saw the James Joyce play “The Dead” starring Christopher Walken. Glenn Close, a personal friend of Walken’s, was in the audience. My mom had a bad leg so when the play was over we had to sit and wait until everyone cleared out before we could leave. As luck would have it, Ms. Close hung around too, and I had a chance to introduce her to my mom. She could not have been more gracious. I was dying to ask her if her favorite dish was rabbit stew, but I behaved.

My sister and I also had a chance to meet David Hyde Pierce. He did a play a couple of years back called “Curtains” and afterward we hung out by the stage door like a couple of stalkers. He eventually came out to sign autographs and when I said, “We’re from the Capital Region,” he lit right up and chatted for a moment. David was born and raised in Saratoga, so he was happy to meet folks from ‘back home’. What struck me as funny was not 10 minutes later I saw him walk into a Starbucks with a baseball cap on and no one even recognized him.

While we are blessed to live so close to Manhattan, you don’t have to travel there to see talented performers. There are many fine actors honing their skills in local productions. To this day, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen was when John Astin brought “A Christmas Carol” to The Palace in Albany.

Here’s some trivia for you:

Which former Capital Region TV reporter played the sweet Bob Cratchit and held his own acting opposite the very talented Mr. Astin? Answer – John Allen. John proved my point that the size of the stage has nothing to do with the depth of the talent.

Theatre is also a wonderful escape. Perhaps dancer Twyla Tharp put it best, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
Theatre to me is like morning sunshine. You need only throw open the shutters to let it in. I say turn off the computer and TV, grab a friend and make your way to one of our many theatres in and around the region. And while there, realize that you are sharing a moment with those performers that will never happen again. That is the magic of live entertainment.

As for me, I’ll be waiting for a full moon and a call from a certain cowboy telling me the Grey Goose is chilled, the microphone is hot and Jesse’s Girl is just waiting in the wings.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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