31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 15

clarkedavis 9/21/00
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony, there is a mistake in the first paragraph of my previous post. I got my plays mixed up. The Pet Clark play was not the one that contained the streetcorner group launching into Gloria. Instead it was a play called Kit and the Kats, which I also saw on Broadway. Somehow I mixed the two up. I think both plays were big in London as well. Cheers!

The play was in fact Kat and the Kings, which I caught when it was revived in 2003 at the Tricycle Theatre in London. I have to say that I was disappointed, although the rest of the audience (and the cast) seemed to be having a great time; me, I slouched off at the interval. Maybe it's because of the weight of my expectations: I was hoping for some ideal doo wop musical, which this certainly wasn't - and the pastiche numbers (not acapella) didn't sound all that authentic to my ears.

But also this was not about the American experience of streetcorner singing; it was set in fifties South Africa. Ample scope there, you'd think, for exploring prejudice as well, but the relentlessly upbeat nature of the show - at least in the production and the half of the performance that I saw - didn't seem to leave much room for it. I feel mean-spirited for saying so, but it felt like an hysterical party into which I, Scroogelike, had stumbled by chance, and where I didn't fit.

I avoid all productions of Grease for a similar reason; the sight of a middle-aged man standing up in the stalls all through a performance of that much-loved entertainment and repeatedly yelling the word "travesty" decorated by a string of expletives would, I accept, mar the enjoyment of those who have elected to be present, in the full knowledge of what is about to transpire.

At least one reviewer shares something of my reservations about Kat - although, in fairness to the show, Terri Paddock, who saw the same revival as me as well as an earlier production, talks here about a second half "which builds and builds to a euphoric crescendo."

But what really pains me is the thought of what might have been. I can't remember the source - possibly Jay Warner's book? - but I'm sure I remember reading (unless it was all publicity flim-flam) that a musical intended as an African American companion piece or retort to Grease was in the planning stages. I even seem to remember the line selling the projected show: "Before Grease there was Conkalene."

And just who was being mooted to star in this extravaganza? Only an exciting young New Jersey act garnering a lot of plaudits in America and Europe called ... 14 Karat Soul.

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