The Fortress of Solitude

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

The Dallas Theater Center has this thing, these “pay what you can” nights. These are opening performances where you can get a ticket for whatever you want. These are great for me, because I couldn’t afford to go to the Wyly otherwise.

So far, I’ve seen King Lear, The Tempest, Red, and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, at the Wyly and enjoyed the hell out of every one. This time it was the premiere of The Fortress of Solitude – a new musical adapted from the bestselling book by Johnathan Lethem. The show will run here in Dallas and then move onto New York.

I have never read the book, so I knew nothing of the story. There was nothing on the web about the musical – which isn’t surprising, because this is the premiere. That was actually sort of exciting – other than workshops and previews and such, this was the first time anyone had seen The Fortress of Solitude.

My son Lee is in town after graduation, staying for a few days before going back to New Orleans to work. We took the DART train downtown and walked over to the Wyly. Before the curtain came up, Lee asked, “Where is the orchestra pit?” I said there wasn’t one and I guessed they would use tape. Once the play started, however, a screen rose to show the musicians up on a scaffold above most of the action. There was a conductor down in front, facing a blank wall, directing into a small video camera – and her image was displayed on several carefully placed screens for the musicians and singers.

The musical was crackerjack. I imagine the source material isn’t the most obvious place to pull song and dance – and that made the story a lot more subtle and complex that the usual “girl meets boy” plot. The songs were great, especially when they were used to give a sense of time passing from the 1970’s to the turn of the century – from rock to soul to folk to rap to punk and finally, even a little Talking Heads thrown in.

It was a good time.

Our original seats were up on the third balcony (all good – there isn’t a bad seat in the Wyly) but a numbering mess-up had us move down into the orchestra level. I noticed a man sitting next to Lee holding a small notepad and scribbling all through the first act. During intermission I looked through the program and realized that the man was Daniel Aukin (I think), who conceived and directed the play. It must have been exciting for him to see his creation in front of a full audience for the first time.

Later, after the ovation died down, he asked Lee, “Well, how did you guys like it?” Lee said it was awesome. And it was.

Now, the next play is Sherlock Holmes and pay what you can tickets will be sold on April 21. Get in quick, they go fast.