Thursday, February 03, 2011

I have a question.

So it's high school musical/dance theater season, which means I'm covering a lot of dress rehearsals and preview performances and what not. Forgive me while I wax poetic for a second, and then I'll get to my question.

One of the things that I personally find fascinating is the universality of American experience, particularly in terms of high school, teenage years, coming-of-age rituals, etc. Things like Homecoming, the prom, the overdramatic backstage pre-show "energy" circle. There are some things that are universal, and obviously, I tend to see these things that reflect my own personal experience, which... for readers just joining the Chunky Photojournalist Barbie Show, already in progress, involved stage managing the spring musical and doing school plays and marching band and various other Gleek-y pursuits.

So. My question. What's the deal with the sparkly top hats? Why is it that EVERY dance theater recital/variety type show- high school people, think "Dance Theater;" college folks, think "Danceworks"- has some sort of Broadway number involving sparkly top hats?

EVERY SINGLE Evening of Dance / Jazz Co / type show I shoot has at least one number like this. The director/choreographers usually call it "The Broadway Number" and the music is almost always either "On Broadway" from Smokey Joe's Cafe or "All That Jazz" from Chicago. The best way to describe it is to show you this YouTube video of the sequence in the movie "American Beauty: where the daughter is performing at a basketball game.

As I look at the video now, I see the hats aren't sparkly. This isn't helping me make my case, but I know my fellow former child performers know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Also, ignore the creepy Lolita fantasy sequence thing that happens between Kevin Spacey and Men Suvari's characters.

Anyway ... a quick google images search for those numbers doesn't yield ANY shots of the original Broadway casts from either of those shows wearing sparkly top hats. In fact, my only knowledge of sparkly top hats in Broadway numbers EVER was in A Chorus Line. Michelle, help me out here.

Is it really possible that ONE number in ONE show (har; get it? get it?) has resulted this omnipresent phenomena of what must be tens of thousands of high school, college and community theater performers all over the country wearing sparkly top hats and doing some sort of jazzy, 1940s, high kicking sparkly top hat-waving choreography? Really? Inquiring minds want to know.


Lauren said...

Although Chorus Line is the most famous top hat moment in Broadway theatre, you have to remember that the show itself was basically a pastiche of the experiences of dancers working in NYC in the 70's. The top hat was a calling card of sorts for chorus dancers -- Fosse, in particular, often incorporated it as part of his choreography. The top hat was included in Chorus Line because it was already part of the dance vocabulary.

Now, as for why high schools across the country insist on bedazzling said top hat? Consider me stumped.

michelle said...

I got it! One! Yes, that is a very popular Broadway number...Involving sparkly top hats...Chicago also comes to mind for having numbers resembling that, but I don't think they ever used top hats in Chicago...I know the when we used them in OBOC (in college) we got them from my attic because I had them from dance recitals...My only thought is that they're cheap, they take away (somewhat) from whatever could be going wrong in the number, the choreography you can pull off with them is relatively easy yet it looks great because of the hats...that's all i got :)

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Alissa said...

Lol. Comment # 3 is hilarious. :) But I was just going to say the same thing Michelle did - that the hat is cheap and easy prop that allows high school (or in my case, I think it was Jr. High) chorus directors to inject a simple visual element into an otherwise stationary performance. I don't even recall what song we used it for, but I do clearly remember the cheap plastic party-store top hat.