“Christmas Bells Are Ringing” – Now If Only I Could Hear Them Properly…

img_8104Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to see one of the Broadway shows on my bucket list.  A family member had a ticket to Rent but had already seen it – so I got to go instead! I was already familiar with a few of the songs, and it was a musical I had always hoped I’d get the chance to see, but I really didn’t know too much about the story itself.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but I hoped that since this show was a part of the 20th anniversary tour that it meant this would be a fantastic production.  Although I liked it and I’m glad I got to see it, I don’t think it’s something I ever need to see again.

I feel like this was one of those instances where the hype of the show meant that I ended up being disappointed. Because this musical has been so popular for 20 years, I guess I was expecting to blow me away.  The acting, the costumes, and the set were fantastic, but the story felt lackluster by comparison. And although I’m sure the story may have taken people by surprise 20 years ago by featuring homosexual relationships, homelessness, and conversations about HIV/AIDS, it didn’t feel all that exciting to me.  Plus, I found there really wasn’t much of a plot at all.  The show was mostly about examining the lives of the characters, and the plot loosely bound them all together.  But for a show that is more about the people than the plot, I found that some of the characters were still fairly two-dimensional.  That being said, the cast did a fantastic job at portraying those characters.

The set was spectacular, but I felt that it was underutilized. Given the subject matter, it made sense to have a simpler set that didn’t change, and that was decorated with all sorts of junk and random objects. It was interesting to look at, and the giant “Christmas tree” was the most eye-catching feature.  But most of the action kept happening in the same spots along the front of the stage.  Occasionally, actors climbed halfway up the “tree” or up the set up stairs to a platform in the middle, but there was a platform right above the music pit that was only used for one scene.  There were so many parts of the set that could have been used as performance spaces, so it was disappointing that most of the action took place in the same spots in front of the set.

Probably the biggest issue for me was the sound and music.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the songs and I’m sure many of the tunes will be stuck in my head for years to come.  The problem is that I had a hard time hearing some of them.  Now, I know that the NAC has notoriously bad acoustics in Southam Hall (and supposedly, this has been fixed, but I’m still on the fence about whether the problems have actually been resolved), so I have no idea if the sound problems were caused by the performance or the venue.  For songs that were more intimate, or quieter, or simpler (i.e. less people/instruments involved) I had no problems hearing the lyrics and individual voices/instruments.  The louder, more chaotic, choral songs that involved multiple people/instruments were much more difficult to hear.  For many of those “bigger” songs, I had I hard time hearing the words.  This is a huge problem for a musical that is essentially an opera.  There was barely any dialogue in the show, and when the story is being told entirely through the songs, it’s hard to know exactly what the story is when you can’t hear the words.  And maybe that’s why I ended up being underwhelmed by the story.

Overall, I am glad that I got to see this musical.  I was entertained, and I appreciated the chance to cross a musical off of my Broadway bucket list.  I’ll still continue to love some of those songs for years to come.  But now that I’ve seen this show, I don’t think I ever need to see it again.

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