Thursday, January 15, 2009

All that Jazz with Boris

Driving by Parliament Square, newly calm scene of yesterday's protests

Boris and Roxanne outside the National Theater

One of the National Theater Cats (the other one looks exactly the same)

Testing the lights before the show

Actors run through a number 

View of the main stage curtain from the balcony

Roxanne and I in our killer seats

"And all that jazz!"

Bow to a Standing Ovation

Amidst the current chaos of Bulgaria - protests against organized crime and corruption turning violent, armored police vehicles driving by, a magically appearing overnight ice sheet causing accidents and school vacations, closed factories and cold homes in the second week of the Russia/Ukraine impasse - tonight I found good reason for hope in Sofia. 

One of the directors at the National Theater, Boris Pankin, invited Roxanne and I on a backstage tour of the theater followed by front center seats to the show he translated and adapted to stage for the world premiere a few years back - All that Jazz. Boris is currently directing the musical at ACS - Hair - and Roxanne is helping him work with the kids on pronunciation. He couldn't have been kinder to us, even picking us up from school and driving us down along the "Sofia Broadway", telling us about all the theaters we were passing. You might be interested to know that one of them, the so-called "Military Theater", was once staffed entirely by acting/directing/lighting military men. Incidentally, we also passed the parliament square where all the protests took place yesterday, but all that was left was a group of about 10 folks hanging out by the main statue, looking highly peaceful.

From the friendly wave of the set designer as we came in to the friendly wave of the parking lot guard as we drove out, we truly received V.I.P. treatment in Boris's hospitable care. He took us backstage before the show and at intermission, introducing us to the sound and lighting designers, the stage manager, the actors (the most popular t.v. stars in Bulgaria as well as an EXTREMELY flexible dance company), the men in charge of props, even the theater cats. 

We learned that in Bulgaria you say "Have a nice trip" instead of "Break a Leg", and that whistling on stage is bad luck. If you whistle from the stage, you are simply inviting the audience to whistle back at you later on. We had a chance to admire chandeliers large and small, rolling red carpet and tiny cupids along the balcony with golden trumpets and, go figure, golden penises. It's true. 

Before the show, we watched rehearsals as we sat and drank mint tea on a big white chair backstage - it later turned out to be a hospital bed in the second act. During the show, we sat in the fifth row in the middle (definitely the best seats in the house, since the fifth row has a big gap in which even Yao Ming would have plenty of leg room). We even had special permission from Boris to take videos and photos of the show, much to the disgruntlement of my nearest neighbor, despite my extreme efforts not to be disruptive.

Needless to say, I enjoyed myself completely, and felt inspired by the crew of hard-working performers, doing their thing while their country rolls with the punches. Though the dialogue was in Bulgarian, it was pretty easy to follow what was going on from the scenery and gestures. I did need Boris's help in the middle to understand that the beautiful lady in yellow who kept appearing to Joe Giddeon - the main character - was actually the angel of death, slowly leading him away from the world of Broadway. The musical numbers blew me away. It was incredible to see the combination: talented dancing singing actors. It will perhaps be the last year of All That Jazz at The National Theater, since the new management is far more conservative than the outgoing one, so I feel particularly lucky to have visited tonight. 

Check out this article about All That Jazz and Boris. He contacted the movie studio and persuaded them to grant him free rights to translate the film to stage and do a world premiere in Bulgarian/English! Talk about a creative inspiration, with the follow through to share it with the world. Plus, he's one of the nicest people I've ever met.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for including all the context for this stellar posting.
Being chauffeured by the director of the national theater is on a par with a Bulgarian TV spot, and Cirque de Soleil debut! You seize remarkable opportunities, that's for sure, and all your fans benefit from the careful documentation. I'm still grateful. love mom