Warning you right now–this is gonna be a long one. Pack a lunch.
Alright boys and girls–we already know from past reading that I am a diehard fan of So You Think You Can Dance and have officially proclaimed this recently finished 8th season the best ever. After this past Wednesday night’s live performance at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, LA (October 19, 2011), I have even more cause to say so.
After trying to convince my husband to come with me to no avail, and after missing the last two tours due to unforeseen circumstances, I decided to look at tickets for this year’s show. Plus #1: the tour was again stopping in New Orleans, thus saving me the 9 hour drive I made to Grand Prairie, TX for the last two shows I went to; Plus #2: the show was on a Wednesday, an off night that meant I didn’t have to burn a vacation day; and Plus #3: I believe I’ve already mentioned the incredible talent of the Top 10 dancers. Since I was going solo, I decided to go for broke and get the VIP package that included floor seats in the center section and a pre-show “meet and greet” with the cast. I was slightly concerned that after getting my purchase confirmation, there was no information about when (or even if) my tickets would be mailed to me (though upon arriving at the Arena that afternoon, I could appreciate them holding my tickets at will call). I got an email two weeks before giving me instructions on picking up my tickets and proceeding to the pre-show event. So I wound my way to the venue, a good 2 1/2 hours before the start of the show, to stand in line with the rest of the lucky ticketholders waiting to meet Melanie, Sasha, Marko, and the rest of the dancers in a nice, cozy setting. I’ve always wondered about the VIP sections of concerts–though I’m sure there’s a little more involved for music concerts, I was about to get a small taste of what I’d been seeing in most of my friends’ Facebook pictures. Mother Nature had picked this lovely sunny day to drop a cold front on us….and did I mention the venue was the LAKEFRONT Arena? That’s not just a scenic name; that bad boy is right next to Lake Pontchartrain. Which meant whatever cool was already in the air was getting a biting assist from all that water. After a while, security took pity on us and ushered us into a hallway in the building so we could get out of the air. (A lucky break for the two girls in front of me wearing miniskirts, strapless tops and NO coats–the wind, as my grandmother would say, was blowing up their go-go.) A little more waiting and casual chit-chat with my line mates, and then we were ushered by small groups into a room where 11 of the 12 performers were seated in two rows of chairs, with the center chairs of the first row reserved for us ticketholders to take a group photo with them. After everyone had taken their turn, the dancers moved around the room talking to everyone, taking personal pictures and signing autographs for a few minutes. Then, after one final group pose for us fans to snap, the dancers move toward the backstage area to get ready for the show. I have to say for the “assembly line” beginnings of it all, it was a pretty fun experience. I got to sit next to Tadd, who I think was in a contest with Jess to see who could be the biggest man flirt in the room…hey, if a cute, 20-something year old guy is gonna sneak his arm around my shoulder for a picture, who am I not to play along? I then went to speak to all of the dancers: first Sasha and Missy (who had been eliminated in the first weeks of competition but was still chosen as a tour alternate), the former to whom I passed a message along to her sister Natalia to try again to get on the show. I then found Jess and Tadd (big huggers–I even kissed Tadd on the cheek. Who knew a baby face like that could carry stubble? Frankly, it was kinda sexy…had to remind myself he was technically jailbait.) I talked to Ricky, who was extremely smiley and friendly but wouldn’t give up the goods about the show, and then to Melanie, who looks short and soft and delicate but is one solid mass of muscle; though to be honest, she and I were head to head and she had on these 3 inch heels, so I still may be taller. I made my way over to Marko, who after taking our picture together I professed my undying love for him and try to convince him to “steal” me away from my husband. (He smiled and hugged me, but he just doesn’t understand that I’m half serious. *wink*) I then weaved around to Clarice, who’s REALLY tall and really sweet; Jordan, who really liked my dance school line jacket I wore for the occasion; and Caitlynn, who was reserved but very nice. It was so overwhelming trying to make sure I talked to all of the castmates I had trouble remembering who I didn’t get to, and when I got to Caitlynn it dawned on me that her show partner, Mitchell, was not in the room. I had really wanted to meet him too, but she told me he wasn’t feeling very well and was sitting it out (he later perform the opening cast number, a duet with Caitlynn and his solo before disappearing for the rest of the evening–I’m guessing the weather change got to him, poor baby). After checking and counting faces on my autographed picture, I noticed one guy I had missed who was in my group shot but not the Top 10. I cornered him and took a picture, then apologetically asked him to remind me who he was, as my short-term memory wasn’t working properly at that moment. He said, “That’s OK–I got voted out the first week, so you probably wouldn’t remember me.” “First week” was all the clue I needed, so I’m guessing he was totally floored that with that small hint, I knew he was Nick–and me excitedly shouting his name, jumping up and down, hugging him and saying how glad I was that he, a tapper, was on the tour probably either shot his ego into the stratosphere or scared the hell out of him. In any case I had a great time, and found my way to my seat–at the corner of the stage to the right on the FRONT ROW. A little more off to the side than I usually try to get, but it was FRONT ROW. As in, close enough to see sweat flying off people (and I did see some fly from Missy and Tadd) front row. No complaints from me. 😀
I had been to a few shows, so I was expecting a similar set-up of favorite numbers from the TV competition interspersed with verbal play and introductions from the cast members. What transpired was one of the most amazing dance productions I have ever seen. Yes, I am a huge SYTYCD and Season 8 fan, so them standing on stage reading the phone book would have wowed me–but this was so seamlessly woven together I couldn’t decide whether to snap photos, clap, cheer or simply watch in open-mouthed awe. Each number had a separate interlude that melded into the next–all of the favorite individual and group routines coupled with these spacers made each act its own giant production number. Add to that the pre-taped anecdotal snippets from Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy, and the dazzling scene changes projected on the LED screen backdrops, and it was much like watching a star-studded Broadway revue. It moved so fluidly and beautifully that by the time the announcement came for intermission you felt slightly let down because they had to stop. Of course, sprinkled among all of the duets and group numbers were the individual solos–and for the first time in my memory, that included the two alternates. Who proceeded to tear up the floor. I knew everyone was capable of greatness from their appearances on TV, but I have to give a special shout-out to Nick Young, whose classical-inspired tap solo made me wish I had a red vinyl boot to throw at the stage–or at least a tap oxford. Somebody on Broadway needs to hire this boy. Somebody needs to hire ALL of them, repeatedly, because they were that damn good: Jess, a Broadway dancer, was killing the jive, contemporary and the hip-hop numbers he was in; Jordan’s high-energy combination of technique and booty-shaking in her “Freakum Dress” solo made me say “Beyoncé WHO?”; Clarice and Caitlynn’s extensions were up to HERE; Tadd proved adept at more than just the hip-hop he came in with (and further made me forget his jailbait status when I saw all the muscles in his back–Lord have mercy….); Missy slaying everything but especially blowing up the samba number like a seasoned ballroom pro; Sasha, Marko and Melanie being their usual magical selves; and even Mitchell performing through his illness with grace and style. But I have to admit my surprise and utter delight at Ricky’s transformation. Not that I didn’t think he was a skilled technician, but there was some magic I thought was missing from him during his TV run that some time and seasoning would develop. I don’t know what kind of work he’s been doing to get ready for this tour, but his strength and versatility were OFF THE CHARTS. His solos are always technically brilliant, but it was his star turns in two iconic All-Star numbers (both with Sasha–the Fool of Me contemporary done by Kent and the Misty Blue hip-hop done by Twitch) that showed he means business. In the latter, he was on a nearly equal par with his predecessor–and for me, a HUGE long-time fan and follower of Stephen “Twitch” Boss, to say that about ANYBODY is a huge thing. The last number was a new high-energy group hip-hop where the dancers encouraged the audience to stand and clap along with them.
I made sure to wait outside in the windy cold (this time minus the sunlight) and tell all of the dancers what I just said above…plus apologize to Missy for not giving her equal time at the meet and greet, AND try to convince Marko one more time to come back for me after the tour. 😉 To say this show was utterly amazing, inspirational and life-changing, for me, would be a gross understatement. I don’t think I have adequate words for how incredibly awesome that entire performance was. I will definitely be either a permanent audience member or will find a way to get on the stage crew–even if I have to sweep up sequins. Those 12 kids–their entire top 20, in fact–have a fan for life, and Nigel Lythgoe–now more than ever–has my undying gratitude.