When Boo takes it into his head to do something, prepare to buckle your seatbelt. Boo is my partner, companion, spouse, etc. The origins of the Boo moniker are some 13 years old at this point, and frankly, I forget. The main thing to know about Boo is that when he gets an idea in his head, he becomes a force of nature. Resourceful, frighteningly organized, and borderline obsessive, he will have means of execution and likely accomplices lined up before you can say, um, "boo!"
Thus it happens that for the fourth Monday this month, I find myself returning from a trip. This particular trip took shape over a course of weeks, originating on a fateful Monday just a few months ago. Not frequently home on Mondays, Boo was delighted to take the opportunity to watch Antiques Roadshow. As the show closed, he was even more delighted by the announcement that soon the Roadshow would be traveling to Bismarck, North Dakota. As a person who spent his brief college years in remotest Georgia while escaping almost every weekend to Washington DC, New York City, and the like, this is akin to hearing that the Roadshow will be stopping practically next door. What's a six hour drive? And thus a plan is formed, ticket lotteries entered, friends called. And the culmination, to cut this long story shorter than it could be, is a trip to North Dakota this past weekend with two friends of ours, a couple like us, one of whom went to the road show with Boo, while the other drove around with me, looking for something, anything, remotely interesting in the Bismarck area.
North Dakota is neither particularly beautiful nor particularly ugly. The gentle sweep of its rolling hills is both sturdy and plain. However, the scarcity of trees and the long empty vistas criscrossed only by the march of high tension power lines seems both deserted and desolate. Every thing seems measured and sensible and deeply lonely, like a sad-eyed farm wife with red hands and a faded dress.
In such an uninspiring landscape, it should come as no surprise that the two "large" cities we visited, Bismarck and Fargo, are particularly uninspired cities. Both crouch in basic 19th century grids along the Great Northern Railroad Line in broad shallow river basins of the Missouri and Red Rivers respectively. Between the bitter winters, frequent spring floods, and low population and wealth, both cities seem primarily designed out of utility and neglect. Stodgy downtowns cling to life, while the freeway junctions celebrate warehouse architecture - giant block sized buildings housing the usual suspects: Holiday Inns, Home Depots, and Walmarts. The State Capital building is unlike any other I've seen - no romantic celebration of the classical past here, oh no. The Capital is the tallest building in North Dakota and principally evocative of the phrase "All work and no play". Fortunately, the people are nice. Pleasingly plump and overly fond of mullets perhaps, but very nice. Boo was rather bemused at the mall to have a woman young enough to be his daughter call him "honey". As in "Can I help you find something, honey?" Kind of sweet, really.
Boo's sojourn to the Roadshow was uneventful, and untaped, so like much of North Dakota history will probably fade rapidly from memory, but he had a good time. Because all of the Bismarck hotels were full on Saturday night, we went in the direction of home, stopping at Fargo. And it is here that I found North Dakota's redeeming feature, the pearl in the oyster, the jelly in the Jaffa Cake.
There were only two entertainment options listed for Fargo, a gigantic wrestling tournament being option A. Now I'm not opposed to wrestling by any means - sturdy lads grabbing each other in improper ways and forcing each other into uncomfortable positions has a certain resonance for me to be sure. However, the fans and crowds at wrestling events give me the willies, and the complete denial of anything homoerotic amongst the joint-wrenching and blood-letting seems pathological. So that left option B. Option B was to attend a show put on by a local arts school and camp, and with a car containing 3/4 theater geeks and visions of a low rent version of Camp dancing in our heads, the choice was obvious.
So, after scarfing some truly horrid food at a so-called pizza buffet (it was fast, and it met the needs of the pickiest vegetarian I know), we headed off in search of Trollwood Park, and the Trollwood Performing Arts School.
Trollwood. Holy shit. This was no low-rent version of Camp! Rather, Camp is a low-rent version of Trollwood. We paid general admission and were rapidly packed onto bleachers facing an open air stage backlit by the setting sun. The mainstage performance was Disney's Beauty and the Beast, a musical that nicely showcases Alan Mencken's most inventive score, and some of the late Howard Ashman's most witty lyrics.
I freely admit that I'm a sucker for live performance. I can find entertainment and thrills in often seriously flawed shows and concerts. None of that was really relevant here, because this show was, if not flawless, considerably lacking in considerable flaws. It was easily better performed and staged than the London performance of Bombay Dreams that I had the misfortune to attend in 2004. Technically, it soars above the last over-miked and over-amplified road performance of Rent that I saw at the Ordway in 2002. It was one amazement after another, from the beauty of the sets, to the intricate and lovely costumes - not rented but sewn by crews at the school, to the technically amazing puppets used in the prologue and to represent the wolves, to the jaw-dropping Be Our Guest, with flying, singing candles and the athletic choreography and backflips of the terrifically campy Gaston. Aside from the technical aspects, the actors gave committed, professional, vocally on-the-mark performances displaying overwhelming talent and timing. And not one of them is over 18 years old. Absolutely a perfect evening.
It's one of the greater joys in life to have your expectations circumvented, your hopes exceeded. It's also one of the greater joys in life to see a full embodiment of the magic of music and theater. Therefore, it's quite likely that I'll be back to North Dakota at some point. Huh. How'd that happen.