So, we were watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. For a little while, at least. I turned it on, thinking I'd get a brief kid-talk hiatus in which to prepare sweet potatoes in peace. It had worked on me when I was a kid, hadn't it? Lots of floats, huge balloons shaped like cartoon characters, hordes of people, the occasional band marching... at least that was how I recalled it.
Not so these days. We flicked on the television and chose whatever station featured the least vapid and dull-witted commentators. First they blabbed, sharing prepared quips with all the natural flair of a water buffalo passing through a narrow gate. Then, a ridiculously corny cast of Hair performed a song... holy cow, how old is that show? It's still running? I was not amused but it seemed harmless, so I left the costumed fools prancing and crooning their decades-old song and hurried into the kitchen.
Within a few minutes, the kid was calling me into the living room. "What is this, Mom?" I returned. This time, kids were bouncing around the stage alongside a poorly acted dance instructor who rolled her eyes with gusto (part of the performance); the wise, witty commentators informed us that this fine number was from the play Billy Elliott. Huh? That's a play? Movie, yes. Play? News to me.
I scurried back to finish mashing potatoes, but only a few minutes passed before I heard, "Mom, you gotta see this." I peered back in. Where was the parade? I'd seen one Snoopy balloon, and...that's it. One balloon. In all that time. And on the screen now? Why, a bunch of grown people dressed as characters from the movie Shrek. A man decked out as a heavy-haunched donkey was stomping about madly, singing (or pretending to sing) "I'm a Believer." A green-faced fellow—Shrek himself,of course—sang along with his bride. Another guy was dressed as Pinocchio. All of them were shimmying, shaking, twisting and turning, grinning like mad, all while adorned in the most ludicrous costumes.
So, Shrek is now a Broadway play. Say it isn't so! Is nothing sacred? Broadway used to be more serious, didn't it? Wasn't the stage where "real" actors performed? These days, high theatre has fallen to meet the demands of the unschooled. Todd and I watched the costumed animals cavorting to the music and shook our heads. We wondered aloud: Do people who long to perform on stage all start out in such silly works? And if you land the part of Pinnochio, do you say so on your resume? Do you admit to such a role? I'm guessing you would, that any lead would be a step in the right direction. But at what cost to your pride? What is the price when you consider that your own self-image might be at stake?
If these folks are really enjoying what they do, then I guess it's worth it. But on Thanksgiving Day? To be dressed as a fairy tale character that may or may not be a beast? Knowing that you'll be wearing that disguise many, many more times, dancing the same falsely gleeful dance over and over? I don't know if I can buy that it's terribly fulfilling.
I can't remember if the parade was always this sappy and pro-NY culture, but if it was, I have to believe the plays were better when I was a kid. Every time I think the people can't reach a new low, they exceed my expectations. We've passed from the days of Annie into an age when any movie is fair game for stage interpretation—even those that shouldn't be. And the parade itself has all but disappeared, plowed under by dumbed-down commercialization.
Even my 4-year-old declared, "Time to turn it off!" when three sassy, big-haired gals appeared to perform a song from the new stage production of Dreamgirls. Enough is enough. We know when we're being force-fed the stuff of the masses. Give me Arthur Miller, give me August Wilson, give me turkey instead of more stuffing, and for cryin' out loud get some floats and balloons moving through this route, PDQ.