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For certain productions, once is not nearly enough -- but I have rules for returning
Back in 2015 I remember thinking to myself: I can do without the gym membership this month. Or perhaps walk more and give less of my money to the MTA. I don't really need three meals a day. No, I wasn't trying to lose weight. I was pondering how I could rustle up $189 plus taxes and fees to attend the final performance of The Visit starring Chita Rivera.
As I did mental gymnastics trying to figure out how I'd be able to afford the ticket, another thought kept nagging at me: I'd already seen the show four times. But I wouldn't let that deter me. I promised myself this would truly be the very last time -- which of course it would since the show was closing. And that's precisely why I needed to go again! Despite throwing off my budget for a few weeks, that visit to The Visit was the ultimate in every way.
I actually have rules for seeing a show more than once. My repeat viewings must fall into one of four categories. There's Early Preview/Last Performance -- if I became enamored at the outset, I must return at the end for closure. Not only do I want to say goodbye, I want to see how far the production has come.
That category sometimes overlaps with Cast Changes, as was the case when I went back a third time to The King and I to catch Kelli O'Hara's last performance as Anna at Lincoln Center. I cheered from the second row as she took her final final bow, and when she smiled at me (yes, I'm sure it was at me) I knew I'd made the right decision.
Cast Changes explain why I've seen Chicago so many times I've lost count. Whenever a pop diva, football player, movie star or a childhood idol of mine takes over one of the leading roles, I don't dismiss it as stunt casting. I want to see what fresh spin they'll bring to Roxie, Velma, Billy or Mama Morton.
Sometimes confusion -- not adoration -- entices me to return. I call this category What Am I Missing? If people I respect are raving but I'm less impressed, I want to give the show another chance. That's why I attended The Ferryman three times (that's almost 12 hours of seeing the same show!), crossing my fingers and praying to the theatre gods that I would finally feel that heart-stopping magic everyone was talking about. Watching the replacement cast, especially Brian d'Arcy James doing an Irish accent, gave me a new appreciation for a play I enjoyed more than I initially realized.
My last category is Comfort Culture which, like comfort food, makes me feel good. It's why I was so eager to sit through What the Constitution Means to Me for a second time on the gloomy day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, or why I was desperate to see the revival of Oklahoma! after a breakup. Theatre can provide solace and healing, just like my grandma's cooking. We all need Comfort Culture -- just ask my friend who takes all of her out-of-town friends to see Rock of Ages (she's been 23 times so far) or my other pal who attended Head Over Heels twice in one weekend.
Comfort Culture was another reason I kept going to The Visit. For me, the production became the equivalent of a hot bowl of mac and cheese on a rainy day, and I was happy to savor every bite. I was thrilled when, a few years after it closed, I met Chita Rivera and was able to tell her about all the times I saw her in that final John Kander and Fred Ebb musical. As a theatre lover herself, she understood my obsession. Her expressive eyes widened as she placed her hands on my cheeks and said, "Oh how I love you."
Which shows have you seen multiple times and why? Tell us in the comments.
Jose Solís is a NY-based writer and editor who's been covering theatre and film professionally since 2003. He is a member of the Drama Desk. Follow him at @josesolismayen. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: The author in front of the poster for The King and I at Lincoln Center Theater. Photo courtesy of the author.
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