The Small House of Uncle Thomas

Many bloggers, including this one, will start a blogpost and then move on to something else, leaving it in incomplete draft form.

Such was the case of this piece about the two musicals my wife, my daughter and I saw, both in June 2011, at the Mac-Hadyn Theater in Chatham, NY, about a 40-minute drive from our house in Albany.

The first show we viewed was Annie. I’d seen TV productions of it, I’m sure; certainly the one with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. But the stage performance made it more real than I remembered.

So my wife asked if I wanted to go see The King and I. She could hear the ambivalence in my response.

You see, I thought I knew the story well enough that I didn’t need to. I remember seeing the movie, or at least segments of the movie. Moreover, I own the 1977 Broadway cast album, even though I had never seen the musical. And while the hits Hello, Young Lovers and Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance? are strong, the totality of the listening experience of this Rodgers & Hammerstein piece was lacking; this was, to swipe a phrase, “a puzzlement.”

Yet seeing the performance in person brought this chestnut to life for me. Things on the cast album that seemed pedestrian suddenly made sense. In particular, the reprise of I Have Dreamed was a real revelation.

And there is this whole long section in the second act not even hinted at on the cast album: the narrated dance “The Small House of Uncle Thomas.” From the Wikipedia: “Hammerstein found his ‘door in’ to the play in [author Margaret] Landon’s account of a slave in Siam writing about Abraham Lincoln.” At some level, that rewrite of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with its revisionist happy ending, is the core value of the whole musical.

So maybe I only viewed scenes from the movie. Regardless, seeing this production was a revelation. Glad I saw it.

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