Shakespeare alive and well in Alaska

I don’t know why I am still amazed at the vitality of the arts in Anchorage. After all, I was in Barrow when an entire production of the Nutcracker Suite was brought up for Christmas one year.  How can I be surprised that in a state where we can accomplish that, we can sustain a vigorous creative community in our biggest city?

This thought occurs to me as I sit here and review a wonderful night of live theater that I just experienced at Cyrano’s.  It was two plays of Shakespeare – Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew – each done in 50 minutes with three or less players.  It was positively exhilarating. After way too many reruns of the Golden Girls and Friends, and way too many hours seated slack jawed in front of CSI: Somewhere, hearing Shakespeare’s words spoken with such love and command of the language made me realize just how trite most of what passes as culture really is in our world today.  And who would have ever thought that Tim Tucker, formerly of Fly By Night fame, could do Shakespeare?

Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond and will continue my until now secret obsession with Funniest Animal Videos.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see them for what they are – fast food for the tired soul, filling but hardly nutritious.

I arrived in Alaska as somewhat of a theater snob having lived in New York City for five years prior to relocating.  You can’t turn around in New York without running into some new innovation in live theater.  In one day there you can enjoy anything from yet another Fiddler revival to the hardest, edgiest dialog imaginable in a loft in Soho to a delightful version of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.  That last one is a sentimental favorite. It was on its original run at the St. Mark’s Theater in the Village when I brought my mother, sister and aunt to see it.  It was the first time I remembered my mother and I having fun since my long and tortured adolescence had started.

When I was in New York this fall, I took advantage of the opportunity and saw Spamalot with the original cast. It was amazing. By the time these shows get to Anchorage – well, let’s just say they are not first runs. And yet, and yet…. I would have to say that I have seen theater just as fine in Anchorage and the Valley as I have seen on Broadway, proving that being on Broadway doesn’t guarantee you are good.  It just means you found rich angels to back you.

As we head into winter here, we actually head into one of the more active periods of creative life in our city.  I already have tickets to the Nutcracker. A friend and I established that tradition the year we moved down here. I make my pilgrimage to the Fly By Night Club with each changing show to see if they have finally found someone who can replace Alice Welling, who does Murkowski better than Murkowski does. (They are getting very close.) I check out the symphonies that will play here since, in my old age, I’ve developed a passion for classical music that I never knew existed (thank you KLEF).

Sometimes there are so many things happening on the arts scene in Anchorage – Anchorage Community Theater, PAC performances, Cyrano’s, Out North, UAA – that it’s hard to pick and choose.  And I realize that while I may have left the lights of Broadway, I still live within a creative arts community that is constantly pushing the envelope of excellence while providing the training ground for our next great performers, composers, singers and…. well, whatever it is that those people at the Fly By Night are.

So let the dark season of the City of Lights begin.  We have winter sports by day and theater by night.  We have skiing and opera, snow machining and ballet.  We have it all here in Anchorage and what’s best is that we have a population so well rounded that it supports this tremendous diversity of arts.

We may wear Carharts, but we wear them to the best of performances.