A Year Of Theater, Part 2: Changed For Good

2:32 PM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

Part 2 of my year-end review of a particularly outstanding year for this theater-loving girl. The second half of 2015 was marked by three ongoing experiences: two long runs at my local touring venue, and the beginning of my graduate writing program.

I have to start by talking about the funniest time I've ever spent in a theater: the three delightful weeks I spent seeing and working The Book of Mormon on its first-ever stop in my hometown. I don't think I've ever laughed so much or so often, either as a patron or in the four years I've been on house staff. There has never been as much anticipation going into a show, given that the show has existed for four years and was only just now coming to my home theater. And, to put it briefly, the show (and the experience of it) most certainly lived up to every expectation.

Part of the joy of the show was, simply, how much fun it was to work. Coming to work every shift pretty much was a guarantee that there would be a lot of laughing and joking and just smiling. The music was catchy, the jokes landed every single night, and the production values just gleamed. And none of this would have been possible without an excellent cast. Alexandra Ncube shone as Nabulungi: half naive Disney princess, half worldly modern heroine, with the standout ballad "Sal Tlay Ka Siti."

This show particularly rests on the talents and chemistry of the two leading men, and we were lucky on both counts. Billy Harrigan Tighe plays Elder Price with the perfect blend of arrogance, white-bread tenor-boy perkiness (partly thanks to Dutch Bros, I think!), and just the right hint of uncertainty. His soaring "I Believe" stopped the show most nights, and with good reason. Most fans of BoM are familiar with Elder Cunningham as a sloppy, stocky, slightly obnoxious but lovable slob, but A.J. Holmes brings a completely different style to the character, transforming him into a lanky, adorkable nerd with a brash laugh, impeccable comic timing, and a voice that slid easily between a comic rock timbre in "Man Up" and a surprising sweetness in "Baptize Me." When the three weeks were up, this show was very much missed- it's a lot of fun to say "Hello," but not to say goodbye.

Before I touch on the other major tour of the fall, I want to say a few words about the other major theater experience of my year: the beginning of my MFA dramatic writing program. I wrote about my challenges at length in this post, but I do want to say just a few more words about it. This was a major milestone in my life, as corny as it sounds, and it wasn't an easy one, either. It was intimidating for quite a while, hearing the rapid, high-level discussions that I was only half following some days. But I'm grateful, so incredibly grateful, to a couple of professors and, even more, to a few of my classmates who saw the terrified first-year in the corner seat and reached out to bring me into the fold and reassure me that, above all else, I am there to learn.

And yet, during the most difficult, stressful early weeks of grad school, there was a bright, saving spot at the end of every week: Wicked. I wrote an extensive review when the show first began its six-week run, but this is more about what it came to mean to me over the course of those six weeks. As anyone who knows me at all is aware, Wicked has always been my personal favorite and has always meant a lot to me on many levels. What is also true is that, by some chance, the tour has always settled down for a run in my city at a time in my life when I've needed it the most. It's not just the story, or the music, or the visuals that get to me, although the day I don't tear up at "Defying Gravity" or "For Good" is the day I have been replaced by a body-snatching alien. It's the ideas embodied in this show, the ideals of friendship and loyalty and heroism. It's these characters who, especially when embodied by actors like Alyssa Fox, Carrie St. Louis, and Jake Boyd, feel like real, three-dimensional, incredibly relatable people.

And, in this case, it was indeed a bit about the people. It was a joy and a privilege to get to know some of these talented, kind cast members over the course of six weeks. Every weekend, I knew I would get to listen to or watch performances that would draw me in and wrap me in a comforting warmth. Every Wednesday, after my lengthy and often mentally draining writers' workshop, I got to look forward to taking my dinner to my favorite bench and saying hello to these lovely, friendly people. Wicked holds a very special place in my heart, and this particular run with this particular cast became the most exquisite, meaningful experience I've had to date.

I want to end this year-end review with one more set of thanks:

  • -To the professors and colleagues who made my first semester of grad school a lot less intimidating and a lot more enjoyable: it may not have seemed like much, but the little words of encouragement helped me more than you know.

  • -To the hilarious leading man who took the time to have a chat about musical theater and the challenges of creating that art form: it was such a joy getting to talk with you, and I hope very much that you find that passion project to compose someday soon.

  • -To the friends and coworkers with whom I shared some of the funniest, most lighthearted, most memorable moments: I'm so glad we got to share those unforgettable moments :)

  • -To the cheerful leading lady who gave her time and shared with me such insights for my graduate research and who always had a moment to say hello: I am so grateful for your help and for your friendliness that always made me smile- I hope your future is as wonderful as you are!

  • -To the amazing leading man who took the time to give me such thoughtful insights to help with my graduate paper and who was never too busy to say hi or sit and chat for a few minutes: your kindness and spirit of friendship always meant so much to me, and I'm honored to stay in touch!

  • -And lastly, to my mom, who came with me to so many shows and who has constantly encouraged me: it means the world. Truly. 

Because of all these experiences, I have been changed for good. Thank you all. Blessings for a spectacular 2016!