Grieving the Closing of “Sophisticated Ladies”

I found my happy place.  The front row of the Lincoln Theatre on D.C.’s U Street during the recent run of the musical “Sophisticated Ladies,” starring Maurice Hines and the Manzari Brothers, John and Leo, who were discovered and their careers launched (people predict) into the stratosphere by this show.

I’ve been following the Manzaris for a few years as — simply — friends of my son, a former student at D.C.’s Field School (last week’s shout-out subject).  My son was constantly telling me that “these guys can really tap dance,” and I chalked it up to an older kid who’s an encourager simply being supportive of friends.

My favorite son with the Manzari Brothers

Until I read in the Washington Post that tap legend Maurice Hines had discovered the Manzari Brothers at a local master class, asked them to audition for “Sophisticated Ladies,” and then showcased them in the production, predicting that they’d be “big, big stars” and calling them “monumental.”  And then read a feature on them in that same venerable paper.  And then heard an NPR interview.  Each time calling my son and screaming about it into the phone.

So as soon as my son could get home from college, we ran down to see the show, and then we went back again.  And both times we somehow scored the front row (not usually the perfect seats, I know, but pretty great for tap dancing visibility and interaction with the engaging performers).

Hines and his cast, every last one of them, tore up that stage. Blitzing through Duke Ellington’s stellar repertoire, accompanied by amazing old photos of D.C.’s U Street Corridor (Ellington’s haunts) and a visual history of Ellington’s career.

The audience leapt to its feet during the show, not only at the end.  And never more than when the Manzari brothers improvised a wild, flying, physically impossible number with Hines, pushing him into the shadows and emerging as tap’s newest sensations.  Director Charles Randolph-Wright said something to the effect that people will look back and say that they were there when these stars were born.

I’m a sucker for “star is born” narratives unfolding.  I can’t contain myself with the joy I feel for someone when they are recognized for their glorious self-ness.  A lifetime of attending live theater, largely musicals, has given me a great appreciation for dance and for performer-emerging-out-of-nowhere (HA!) stories, one of my favorite genres.

On the last day of the run of “Sophisticated Ladies” (held over twice and the biggest selling show in the history of Arena Stage, which put on the show), I felt so sad knowing that I wasn’t there but — mostly — knowing that that particular combination of magical talent would never exist again in exactly that alignment of the stars.  That’s the beauty and agony of live theater – you have to be there… but then there’s a limit to the chances to be there.  Poof, it’s gone!

I see now that I felt in some deep part of me that I had found an antidote, however temporary, to the pain and suffering of the streets outside of that very Lincoln Theatre, a part of town I love and am drawn to; in fact “Sophisticated Ladies” this last month has felt like an antidote to anything hard, heavy or burdensome.  For two performances, I had the opportunity to slip into the front row of that cool theater, watch an alchemy that thrilled and defied both gravity and imagination, and celebrate two young men who have sweated and practiced and bled to be as good as they are and have found their place in the sun.  It was a happy spot for me.

I wanted to know that it would always be there, welcoming me when the world was too much with me, to fantasy, beauty, incredible costumes, gorgeous people, and to Ellington’s genius.  Never have I seen a show of such pure joy.

So much so that when the crescendo of audience acclamation rose to a fever pitch, and my son shouted out mid-performance, “Holy Shit” (with his grandmother in attendance), I couldn’t chastise him or do anything but agree.

Holy Shit… I’m sad that “Sophisticated Ladies” is gone.

And I’ll watch this video every few days when I need a fix; check it out!

~ by Cary on July 3, 2010.

2 Responses to “Grieving the Closing of “Sophisticated Ladies””

  1. Very cool! My brother is a natural when it comes to the dance floor. He’s especially a talented tapper, so we grew up watching all kinds of tap performances. I love this stuff.

    These brothers are outstanding. I hope their careers continue to blossom.

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