mercredi, février 15, 2006

Watch Out, Ladies and Gentlemen!

There are very few musical productions I know of that try to warn you in advance. But a few weeks ago, I got invited to see a Michel Fougain retrospective at the Folies Bergères, entitled "Watch Out, Ladies and Gentlemen!"

It just doesn't get any clearer than that.

But I was thinking more along the lines of: in company of good-looking guy, free, Folies Bergères. Can you blame me?

I had never really heard of Michel Fougain, but asked around and got some vague answers about him being a singer popular in the seventies. I decided I didn't care.

Like I said, good-looking guy, free, Folies Bergères.

But taking into account the fact that I have a lot of trouble dealing with the kind of music I hear all the time here at weddings, parties, restaurants and clubs precisely because it is mostly composed of things that were popular in the seventies, it did not bode well.

I know what you're thinking. I really should have known from the poster.

I was trying to keep an open mind. I didn't know if it was going to be more of a musical or a concert, but I had no idea it was going to be a pointless two-hour long attempt at dancing to this former star's songs. The result was an endless succession of three-minute long clips of Michel Fugain's most popular has-been ditties (think Barry Manilow in French) sung and danced to by a cast of cute young adults trying really, really hard to make it in the world of showbiz. I mean teeth-clenchingly hard. You could feel just how hard they were trying. Something about it all felt eerily familiar.

The set and costumes were puzzling. The girls wore jeans and horribly early 80's tops. One girl had very badly permed hair, cropped acid-washed jeans, knee-high red patent leather boots, and a ripped tight fitting T-shirt with some fake American logo on it. I swear she looked like she'd just flown in from New Jersey. In 1982. The set had one platform in the middle, connected by two stairs on the sides. A lot of times, the kids would be milling around in their horrendous outfits, singing, propping feet up, sitting on a step with head in hand, and I got to thinking, is this supposed to look like the playground of a New Jersey high school in 1982? And then it occurred to me. Fame. Much peppy walking up and down the set stairs occured. In unison. With arms spread wide. While singing into their headset microphones, which made them look like overly-cheerful singing and dancing customer service operators. From 1982. In New Jersey. Like I said, Fame.

The combination of it all was simply absurd.

For those of you who don't know me well, let me give you an idea of how I react to absurdity. In public. When, despite everything, lots of people have worked their tucheses off to make the thing happen. Just ask my Dad about the time he made the mistake of inviting me to watch an open audition of local actors back home, attended by all the people in his field. People he probably was trying to network and close deals with. Ask him about the slightly plump lady whose unfortunate choice of monologue had her acting the parts of both a man and a woman, so that she was dressed half in a suit, half in a dress. Ask him about when she started to molest herself, and then slap her own male hand away with her gloved female one. Ask him about how I burst out laughing so hard and so loudly that he had to literally pull me by the arm and escort me out of the theatre. But he might not want to talk about it.

About six songs into the Michel Fougain musical production, three of the Fame-esque guys dressed in jeans, white wife-beaters and black leather jackets lined with quilted gold lamé are standing in front of three very large black trashcans. Singing about lord knows what, but I doubt it was about garbage collection. They remove the lids, and out pop three Fame-esque beaming young ladies, holding trash can lids. They step out, dressed in short black raincoats that look like they've been sprayed with drugstore Halloween sparkles. They are joined onstage by their overly cheerful female castmates, identically bedecked in sparkled short raincoats and dancing with trash can lids.

I stole a look at my companion. He had an odd frozen expression on his face. I pinched myself, hard. I tried to think of dead kittens. Then came the last straw. Two very young, very white men came onstage, dressed in what someone thought looked like 'urban hiphop' gear, and began to do their best imitation of some jivey urbany hip-hoppy yo-yo movements. That did it.

I remember the sensation of pounds of pressurized laugh-breath escaping my mouth as I sputtered forth, making a not unelegant arc, aiming directly for my lap. I think it sounded something like "Pfffffffffrrrrrrrgggghh!!!" And then I sat there, convulsing, doubled over, trying not to squeak, trying desperately to hide and wipe away the tears that were streaming down my face. This lasted through to the next number. My good-looking companion leaned down to ask if I was alright. Which sent me into a new round of stifled snorting.

Hysterical laughter eventually gave way to total boredom. Then morphed into scorn. We shifted in our seats. We looked at our watches. When the greaser-wannabe gold lamé jacket dudes were singing a song about how tough they were, challenging the cops to cart them off, my handsome companion muttered, "Yes, please! Lock them up!" I was tempted to add, "Throw 'em in the can!" but no one would have understood.

When I was sure it had been hours, when I began to doubt if it would ever end, I leaned over and asked, "How many songs did this dude write?" Handsome squeezed my hand in reassurance. When it was finally, blissfully over, I felt the audience clapping enthusiastically. Panicked, I grabbed him by the arms and said a little too loudly, my voice breaking in desperation, "Oh god, no, please! If there is an encore, I will die right here!"

We nearly trampled the people in our row in the struggle to leave before another song came on. We ran into the lobby, panting, feeling like we had barely escaped with our lives (and our integrity).

We looked at each other in disbelief at what we had just been through.

"Man, after that, I need a good stiff drink," I said.

"Amen," he said, and we headed straight to the nearest brasserie.