If you're thinking people are crazy, minds jammed up as the 405 going nowhere but backwards, where are the miracles? What's happened to good news? Then you'll want to see Yesterdays a jazz musical at the Promenade Theatre in Santa Monica. It's only running until May 5.
Theatre By the Blind is the only theatre group in the country composed entirely of blind actors. This is their tenth production.
Yesterdays is magic, however, not because the terrific jazz musicians and performers are blind, but because the story, the music, the lyrics and the people we meet are funny, heartbreaking, lusty originals. The directors, Greg Shane and Lindsay Nyman, keep the story, written by Nyman and Colin Simson, going so fast that it's suddenly over before you've gotten all settled into how much you love the show and its characters.
Yesterdays is one of those small clubs having a hard time. It would have been called a lounge a few decades ago. It's the place you go to be with people who also march to different drummers, who gather in coffee places, church basements, and round campfires where our souls are acceptable and safe. Here you might be up or down, or down and out and feel the sound that keeps your spirit lit any day, your heart beating even as it is breaking.
The feel of the theatre, the set, the characters, becomes that home to the audience. We are watching a show, sure, but we are in this club; we hear them, need no introductions. There's a keyboard piano. I close my eyes. I feel the shifting, the seat-dancing of the audience as we get caught up by Laywood Blocker's keen fingers, all ecstasy expression on his piano.
Then there's Bert Grose, lurking in the corner; there is no more seductive tone than his alto sax -- you inhale his sound, like the arousing flavor of perfume. And then there's Willie Robinson, who lives for the beat of his drums; They are his breath, his soul, his heart.
Candy, snug and snazzy in her spangled scarlet cocktail dress, is the bright and optimistic owner of this jazz spot. This a place "for the old souls of Hollywood to stay alive - sometimes we've been up so long, we close at Sunset."
Any good show needs a villain. Yesterdays has Mr. Herman Thorndike, known as T-dog, played by Ernest Pipoly, fur coat over his double breasted suit, if you please. He wants to close the club. "He's not into real estate," someone says, "he's fake estate." T-Dog's sure Candy's never going to come up with the rent this month. But Candy's clear, "why should facing reality mean giving up on your dreams," and as it has been since the beginning of show biz time, "They'll find a star, put on a show, and save the stage (or the barn) or Yesterday's!"
"We'll make this night spectacular," Candy says, "And I'm even gonna work on my purple martini recipe!"
Young Michael Quinn, played by Sean Gorecki, longs to be a "lounge singer," you sense his tender anxiety, the paradox of the best young talent. He knows he's excellent. Also knows this is too scary. His walk stammers as he approaches the mike to try out. But you're warm; his heat fills the theatre even as he tells Candy, and Vicky his girlfriend, played by Maria Perez, he isn't sure he can sing well enough "If people are watching me."
"What good is a gift," one of the musicians tells him, "if you don't share it with anyone?"
One of the characters tells him "Close your eyes when you sing. That way you won't see any disappointment in their eyes." which he can't see because Sean is, also, blind. But this does not mean his imagination is not providing fear's clear images. So, with his eyes closed, Michael sings -- the show is a triumph. Yesterday's will be here tomorrow.
And Sean Gorecki will be here, too; he is a star, gentle and talented as George Shearing, the pianist and singer who started in America's first all blind jazz band, and was, as Sean will be, a legend in his own time.
Also, a point, the theatre itself is small, original in construction; a couple of us tripped perhaps, because we can see, we make assumptions about how things should be; we don't use all our senses as we move through a dark theatre. One of the many things I learned watching Yesterdays is that vision is far more than sight.