It’s 5:00 in the afternoon and I’m sitting inside a darkened auditorium watching the dress rehearsal for the annual elementary school Variety Show. I’ve got my laptop and a bag full of snacks, because I know I’m in for the long haul–though, thankfully, my daughter’s act is only number 24, out of a possible sixty-something. The show itself lasts a minimum of three hours, so the dress rehearsal takes twice as long. I wish I had a flask of vodka.
It’s called the Variety Show but I would say it’s marked by a distinct lack of variety. A huge majority of the acts consists of a small group of similarly dressed students–usually, but not always, girls–performing a clumsily choreographed and hastily practiced dance to a borderline inappropriate song. (I just watched a refreshingly talented 4th grader sing and dance to “Get Down Tonight,” though I was relieved to hear that he changed the lyric from, “Make a little love” to “Make a little noise.”)
My daughter’s act is no different. She and a friend are dancing to the Jessi J song “Pricetag,” which–as she informed me–had to have the words “damn” and “hos” bleeped out. The show’s theme is “We’ve got character,” so I’m not sure exactly how that fits in, but whatever. For their costumes, they picked black shirts that read “OMG” in sparkly green letters, leggings and little black tutus. A touch of bling dangles from their necks. I’m relieved when they don’t mess up too terribly during dress; they actually have practiced, and it shows. (Another little girl addresses this particular elephant in the theater by prefacing her piano piece with: “I was very responsible and practiced every day….”)
A handful of other kids play piano or violin solos, but they are far outnumbered by the song-and-dance acts. For this, I blame Glee, American Idol, and possibly Dancing with the Stars, which I’ve never actually seen. As far as I can tell, these shows teach kids that anyone with a gifted piano player and sparkly makeup can perform flawlessly before adoring fans after a four-minute rehearsal montage. It must also be where they all learn the move, which appears in most of the dance acts I see, that consists of lying on their bellies on the floor, heads perched adorably in their hands, kicking their legs up and down behind them.
The trouble with the Variety Show is that there are no cuts. I’m not suggesting we install Simon Cowell and force kindergarteners to undergo a rigorous audition process, but I do think it’s reasonable to limit each kid to one act, instead of as many as he or she wants. That would have the twin benefits of shortening the show and ensuring that each kid focuses on mastering one thing, instead of doing a half-assed job on two or three.
I had to pull the plug on my daughter’s second act, another dance routine with two different friends, after they finally got around to scheduling their second practice on the day of the dress rehearsal. Even for a deadline operator like me, that was cutting it close. Frankly, it was a huge relief to lose that number, and not just because the show’s organizer, whom the Kodak Theatre would be wise to consider hiring for next year’s Oscars, kept sending me emails posing questions I couldn’t answer, like, “At what minute do they want the blackout?” I didn’t even know what song they were planning. Now, at least, my daughter can put all remaining time before the 5 pm curtain into coordinating her cartwheels with the bleep where “hos” used to go.