Saturday, July 14, 2012

ASF: "Nanta"

Spectacular! Spectacular! NANTA, the Korean comedy coking sensation which tickles your every funnybone, was enthusiastically received by Tuesday's audience at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Already in a congenial mood, having been extravagantly feted as only special occasions at ASF can do, the audience was eagerly anticipating a unique entertainment.

Many wondered what to expect. Why bring a show all the way from Seoul, Korea? Well, thank your lucky stars that ASF, Montgomery City & County, and Sweet Home Alabama got together to thank and honor the Hyundai Corporation for their several contributions to the State's economy, society, arts, and culture. -- It gave us an indication of the energy and vitality that fills this ancient country and its people.

Speeches & scrolls were masterfully, respectfully, and quickly exchanged between the celebrities attending, leaving the way open for music and lights to guide us into this rare spectacle. And it was breathtaking.

NANTA began its journey in 1998 and won every possible award at the 1989 Edinburgh International Festival. The Scotsman newspaper [known for its sombre reviews] reviewed it as "one of the best shows you'll ever see." -- Leaving Edinburgh, it toured Britain and Europe, reminding audiences how to let loose and laugh as children. -- In 2004, the show opened on Broadway where it became "the longest running Asian show in the history of the Great White Way." Newsweek raved that NANTA is "a big hit! Spectacular!", and is typical of reviews worldwide.

The word "nanta" means "noise", particularly the noise of chopping. A "cooking show adventure" we were told, and "modern" I expected, so I was surprised when a ritualistic opening wooed me into an awareness of this exotic culture. The audience hushed and settled in to observe. Not for long.

What followed was a magnificent evening of high and low comedy, slapstick, and behavior reminiscent of virtually every well-known comedian: from Chaplin & Keaton to the Three Stooges, from Steve Carell & Ricky Gervaise to Robin Williams and Billy Connolly. Think of your favorite comedian; their humor was there. -- Topics included young love, competition, and even a feud choreographed like a Jackie Chan scene.

Even burlesque and pantomime were included, and I was also reminded of Greek & Roman comedy, medieval pageants, and commedia dell'arte. The audience [some non-threatening audience participation was led by Todd Strange] got some up on the stage and kept everyone mesmerized, and thoroughly entertained.

The four male and one female actors portrayed enchantingly athletic Korean "chefs" preparing a wedding banquet. With the use of pots, pans, dishes, chopping boards, brooms, and knives as rhythmic percussion instruments that led and fueled the action, these young actors delivered skillful magical dynamic performances taking us through from chaos to a climactic ending that had you holding your breath, only to explode in rapturous applause.