The Mayor has been trying to close it. The stage hands are threatening to strike. Management is scrambling to fill the void left last month when the Alaska Repertory Theater, the state’s showcase theater group, announced it would close without completing the season.
The scene Richard Mauer described in 1988 was bleak. Oil prices had slid from their high of $110 per barrel in 1980 to just $30 and the State found itself in a situation we can all readily recognize today. Gone were Anchorage mayors George Sullivan and Tony Knowles and, with their exits, the enthusiasm for Project 80s — the large capital projects that provided much of the infrastructure we still enjoy all these years later.
The last of those projects was the Alaska Performing Arts Center (PAC), built on the original Anchorage townsite. And it was horribly over budget. As revenue sharing and municipal budgets tightened, Mayor Tom Fink quickly began losing his taste for the arts.
“In Alaska, when things go sour, they go sour in a big way,” Mauer’s moribund commentary continued. “What was to have been the city’s last major public works project in this decade now threatens to become the biggest mausoleum among the other empty monuments here to past good fortunes.”
The fates smiled and closure was avoided. A sprawling, 2,000 seat concert hall accompanied by two additional theatres, including the Sydney Lawrence (an auditorium with the same namesake predated the PAC).
28 years later, the prospective mausoleum now is a boon to the local economy, putting on hundreds of performances every year. Alaskans are afforded the chance to take in Broadway shows with a hometown discount and an often much more intimate experience than one would be greeted by in the Lower 48. No need to plan that trip to New York around a single show that will cost you a kidney. You just have to be a little patient waiting for your show of choice to get here (Hamilton 2036!).
The Alaska Concert Association pulls the strings on which performances and performers trek up north. This week, they released a survey so that the voting public can weigh in on what they’d like to see.
It’s like calling your legislators, except somebody is listening on the other end. And there are a lot of attractive options. Here are a couple that stand out to me (in no particular order):
1. The Book of Mormon
The New York Times review of The Book of Mormon went with the title: “Missionary Men With Confidence in Sunshine.” There’s nothing really special about that. I just thought it was funny. The nine-time Tony Award winning production was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, as well as co-composed by Robert Lopez, the composer of Avenue Q (which is amazing and teaches audiences about the internet). It’s a religious satire musical that takes aim at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the plot centers around a group of missionaries preaching the gospel in the third world.
Said Ben Brantley in the above mentioned New York Times review:
“The Book of Mormon” achieves something like a miracle. It both makes fun of and ardently embraces the all-American art form of the inspirational book musical. No Broadway show has so successfully had it both ways since Mel Brooks adapted his film “The Producers” for the stage a decade ago.
It would be one of ACA’s bolder moves, but one not out of the realm of possibility. After all, Avenue Q passed muster (much to my delight). Please go for it. Please. I mean, it got a Mel Brooks comparison!
2. The Lion King
I don’t hand out Disney endorsements with any great frequency, so… yeah. This was the most fantastic production I have seen in my life. I first saw it as a teenager in San Francisco. It was at the Orpheum Theatre. My dad bought the tickets, and I was afraid to inquire about the price tag, but we still ended up in seats somewhat akin to making out landmarks out of an airplane window. When it first came to Anchorage in 2009, I rushed to get tickets and take my wife, who had never seen it. The tickets were downright affordable and we ended up only five or six rows back (better seats than the mayor!).
If you’ve seen The Lion King in the Lower 48, you have seen a different production. The smaller sized PAC forced a scaled down version. That sounds like a negative. It is not. It is a beautiful and intimate experience that is best described as full immersion. I’ll let Felicity Huffman explain it:
3. George Takei
He’s an author, actor, political activist, meme creator extraordinaire, social media guru, Japanese American National Museum Medal of Honor recipient, and he saved the USS Enterprise on many occasions.
He also survived three years in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.
Takei is candid and a fascinating person to listen to and the thought of him making the voyage to the actual last frontier is amazing. Here is a TEDTalk he gave about his experience growing up under the United States Government’s “security measures” and what it means to him now, 70 years later. The opportunity to share an evening him in Anchorage would be both enriching and, well, pretty damn timely.
4. Patton Oswalt
In my personal opinion, Patton Oswalt is the not funniest stand up comic. He’s tied. With Bob Newhart. The duo has something in common: Both performed in Anchorage in recent years — Oswalt in 2014 and Newhart in 2015. And both performed on the night of the Anchorage Press Club Awards Dinner, precluding my ability to see the funniest stand up comedians in the world.
I’m not bitter.
Oswalt is known for his acting roles in movies like Ratatoullie, television shows like “King of Queens” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” He won a Daytime Emmy for his stand up Netflix special: Talking While Clapping. The stand up comedy is where he hits his stride. Oswalt — who is also an English Lit graduate from William and Mary College — is engaging, philosophical, and fall-down-ouch-my-sides-are-bleeding-stop-for-a-second-no-keep-going-it’s-worth-it hilarious.
While his comedy has always gravitated around geek culture, he has also taken steps outside to talk about whatever is on his mind and I’m never aware of there being a single filter involved. Recent tragedy has made those steps beyond his comfort zone where he now lives, full time, and what he talks about.
On April 16 of this year, his wife of eleven years passed away in her sleep, leaving Oswalt a widower and a single parent of their seven-year-old daughter. He didn’t shy away from talking about it — and laughing about his grief and this new role as a single dad and how hard it is. It’s the kind of stand up, much like Tig Notaro’s now-infamous set about her battle with cancer (which you really need to watch if you haven’t), that is brutal, honest, and heartbreaking. And then you realize that somehow he’s cracking you up in between crying fits. He inserts the audience into his experience post-everything he knew.
You kind of have to see it to understand it, so check out his appearance on Conan (away from where people can see you laugh-weep:
Once is one of my all time favorite movies and I’m extremely excited about the prospect of seeing the Broadway adaptation. The film and subsequent production center around two remarkably written characters: a washed-up musician turned vacuum repairman in Dublin, Ireland, and a Czech woman who hears him play a song in a local bar and becomes complicatedly twitterpated.
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová played the leading characters in the movie and wrote the music, which is magical — a Mumford and Sons vibe, only from 2007 and vastly superior. Hansard and Irglová do not reprise their roles in the Broadway production, but they still composed all of the music. Unsurprisingly, that landed them eight Tony Awards — including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Book — along with their Academy Award for the movie’s track “Falling Slowly.” Once tacked on an additional 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2013.
Here’s the song that starts it all:
That’s just five options in a survey that offers dozens of possibilities — plus the catch-all luxury option to write in your own suggestions (do not let me catch any of you writing in Jill Stein).
So, take the survey.
But, seriously, please include these five. For me. I’ll owe you.