Something compels me to go to the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol late in the run. I hear two powerful forces—exhaustion and nostalgia—in the actors. This latest performance had both of these. I sat first near the back of the hall. One could often hear sounds of approval, quiet sounds, surprise after surprise from the children in the audience. These sounds were in the air when the stage was distant. After intermission I sat in the third row, and I could sense palpably the camaraderie of the actors in their last performance. Eric Hill has built a version of the story which tells the tale smoothly, not wading through the usual bumps that adaptations leave. His willingness to listen on stage gave the whole production a flavor.
It has been said that the sign of a good musical is when the audience leaves the theatre humming a tune from the show. Not so with Stephen Sondheim. His ability to dazzle us with his lyrics, his verbal brilliance and wit, causes us to ponder his lyrics on the way up the aisle and wonder how he pulls it all off.
Dr. Johnson was much exercised by John Dryden’s ending his Cecilia’s Day Ode with the line: “Music shall untune the sky.” Ridiculous, said he. How can music untune something? Dryden meant the word to describe music as an apocalyptic agent, but as Johnson’s infallible ear heard clearly enough, the word “untuned” jars. Like many good things, music seems weak in any practical sense. Sometimes the idea of music becomes more interesting to us than the music itself. The idea of Glenn Gould has overtaken the performing of Glenn Gould. Maybe he even did this to himself. We must put music to the ultimate test — a yes or no test — no gray area. This is what happens at the end of Don Giovanni. Mozart constructs his greatest scene on stage out of no music, out of the destruction of music. The secret is, even the no music makes us hear music. The negative capability of it makes us know something immense that is not there but is imminent. In the Colonial Theater’s The Music Man this happens again.