For theater geeks of a certain age, Which Way to the Stage is as reflective as art gets.
It’s a critical, yet adoring, love letter to us rabid hordes of musical dreamers and doomers, steeped in references that’ll fly over the heads of anyone under-versed in the minutiae of modern musicals; if you don’t recognize—fuck it, if you don’t belt every lyric to all the cult showtunes that comprise the preshow playlist like you’re alone in the shower, then most of the subsequent 110 minutes might fall on uninformed ears.
But is there anything wrong with that? Since MCC is run by industry gatekeepers whose doors the subjects of the play perennially try to bang down, there’s a wicked poetry in these powers-that-be staging an ode to its teeming masses.
While recognition is the name of the production’s game, the mirror it holds up reflects new insights on our lifelong love affair.
Earlier this week, I discussed how reflective art can transport the reflected into their own future, fallibly preparing them for the landmark obstacles ahead. If Montana Story is a macro example, then Which Way to the Stage is rife with micro observations that sustain our macro interest.
Case in point: when one character urges another to reenact their audition performance on the streets of midtown a little after 8pm, he attempts to assuage her fears of public admonishment by reassuring her that absolutely no one else is around to judge…because everyone in the area is inside theaters seeing Broadway shows!
This moment probably won’t resonate as deeply with neutral New Yorkers. But for me? Someone who never felt at home anywhere on Earth until he found a city whose busiest area is partially defined by my favorite thing in life, live theater? Well, the exchange called my attention to a small detail that all but encapsulates my obsession with the topsy-turviness of my adopted hometown.
And isn’t that what art’s about? Finding a micro representation of macro profundity?
In the documentary On Broadway — more propaganda than documentary, but because I agree with the agenda, I’ll let it slide — Ian McKellen (or maybe it was Alec Baldwin? My apologies, it’s been a few years since I watched) remarks at the wonder of what happens at 8pm only in New York and London. You can stand in the middle of these bustling metropolises, close your eyes, and be comforted by the notion that a gaggle of the greatest performances on the planet are all transpiring simultaneously within a minuscule-block radius.
McKellen/Baldwin uses highfalutin phrasing to convey this miraculous fact of life for both cities, while Which Way to the Stage describes a mundane byproduct of this majesty.
Those empty streets might seem like just another night feet away from literally the busiest intersection in the country…but for someone who found his purpose thanks to this everyday anomaly, it means the world to me.