I would like to take you out somewhere special. Ever been to Broadway? An opera? A vaudeville performance? (Quick… do you know what vaudeville is?) I don’t normally ask much of my readers (all eight of you). But take three minutes and eleven seconds to watch this.
These are the Nicholas Brothers. Beginning their careers as children in
the early 1920’s, they are two of the greatest dancers and entertainers
the world has ever known. They grew up on a diet of vaudeville, their
parents being in the industry, and danced their way from Philadelphia to
Harlem to Hollywood by the time they were in their early twenties. They
debuted on Broadway with the Ziegfeld Follies in the mid-1930’s
alongside stars such as Fannie Brice, Bob Hope, Eve Arden and Josephine
Baker. I don’t care if you’ve never heard of them. You have now. And here you can see them:
I don’t know what you just saw (and I’d love to see your comments in the talkbacks and forum for better or worse), but regardless of the genre of musical accompaniment, the out of focus film, and the bulky clothing, I just saw talent and showmanship. And I realized that dangit… it has been so long since I have seen it. I was blessed enough to grow up going to the symphony, and later to take part in many musical theatre productions, and later operas, crafting intricate costumes that actors wore on monumental moving sets. I know what it is like to feel my stomach flutter as I sit in the audience and see something truly amazing, like the proscenium arch being unwrapped from the inside and disappearing before my very eyes as the Phantom of the Opera opens, or to hear a singer actually send a specific emotion into the audience with the timbre of her voice. I also know what it is like to hear my own clapping before I realize I’m putting my hands together—a performance can just be that good. And this reminded me that I can’t stay away from the stage for long, whether I’m on it or in the audience that sits before it.
I’ve still got my TV and my radio and my iPod, but I haven’t seen anything like THAT in a while. It still exists. Broadway is still a huge business. In fact, it is a billion dollar industry, netting $1.2 billion in its 2009-2010 season. (The Hip Hop music industry grosses over twelve times that yearly.) I guess I just miss showmanship. I see these two men dance, and I crave more. I see a hip hop music video, and I question the preferred diet of my culture. The Hip Hop culture serves its purpose (legitimate genre in its own right, yet with a dwindling social commentary), but it’s mostly a diet for children that don’t know better. Consuming it and enjoying it is like choosing to eat three pixie sticks and a handful of jelly beans instead of chilled tiramisu with an after dinner drink and a cigar. Candy tastes good. No shit. But have you tried crepes? Strawberry rhubarb pie?
Instead of money-throwing, flashing giant dangling diamond-encrusted icons, clapping asses, strange gesturing and crotch grabbing, it’s okay to just. be. talented. Right? Because the Nicholas brothers really are. And they’re backed by real live musicians with just as much showmanship. They’ve got a craft. And it’s all I need. In fact, I’m not sure I could handle seeing a performance like that every day. It’s that special. It’s a true dessert in a cultural cupboard full of empty snacks.
If only I had a time machine so I could go back to the vaudeville and Zeigfeld years. I’d be one of those girls living out of a steam trunk and putting on makeup under the hot dressing room lights. But we have YouTube. Time machine of all time machines that allows us to post millions of videos with anything dubbed over them or spliced together in a postmodern smashup. Enjoy this convergence, folks. Play paper dolls with them in your mind and take off the bow ties and suits and put t-shirts and jeans on them. Now tell me if what you’ve seen lately is really that good. 60+ year old performance and… Mind. Still. Blown.