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Kicking off 2017 on a Very, Very High Note at the SF Symphony

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I’ve always believed that, if you can’t guarantee that something is going to be good, you should do your best to make sure it’s at least funny. Thus, my one and only goal for 2017 was: more funny things. So, when I was offered to tickets to see Jane Krakowski (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, Ally McBeal, Broadway) and Tituss Burgess (also of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,) in a New Year’s Eve musical and comedy performance with the SF Symphony. Musical theater! Hilarious, sassy character actors! A quiet, dignified evening on the craziest night of the year! It seemed like fate, and I accepted faster than I had time to wonder, “Do I actually have any friends who would be my +1 for this?”

I contemplated posting a Craigslist ad for “gayest man in San Francisco,” but ultimately decided I’d be better off with a gay man I already knew. As we approached Davies Symphony Hall on December 31st, we were excited about two things: 1) Not being the people in line for the Kascade DJ set at Bill Graham auditorium 2) Finding out what everyone else was wearing. Although it turned out that we were a little underdressed, the overall vibe was a reassuring combination of both classy and playful; nobody – from the women in sequined dresses to the conductor himself – took themselves all that seriously.

The show was divided into two parts: the Symphony performed alone before intermission and was joined by Krakowski and Burgess for the second half. Conductor Edwin Outwater announced that they’d tried to play pieces that would set the right light-hearted tone for the evening, and they delivered seamlessly. Beginning with selections from West Side Story and ending with Turkey in the Straw, they inspired smiles, laughter and a level of close attention we don’t see much at regular concerts these days. While it was a first disorienting not to view the stage through a glowing sea of raised iPhones, I have to say: I highly recommend it.

When Krakowski and Burgess took the stage, the “official” comedy began. But part of the fun was watching the Symphony interact with the two stars, easily meshing in with the onstage dynamic. Krawowski and Burgess bantered, with a mix of self-serving jabs and self-deprecating humor. At one point, Krakowski, recalling her Ally McBeal days, noted to the audience “half of you weren’t born then,” and then after the uproarious laughter, snipped, “I said half of you!”

In reality, a good portion of the audience was a distinctly younger crowd, and the performers did a good job of updating the old timey, musical review format for a modern audience. Krakowski began with a throwback to Ann Margaret and “Cold War Music” (apparently this an actual genre), while Burgess followed with a humorous, but flawlessly executed rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid.

Other highlights included a generously ad-libbed “Baby It’s Cold Outside” duet; Krakowski’s “Santa Baby,” delivered partially from the laps of select audience members; her entirely irreverent rap version of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, and Burgess’ overall immaculate delivery and once-in-a-lifetime tenor hitting its high notes.

But above all, it wasn’t a singular song or performance that made the evening come together, but rather the camaraderie and collaboration between musicians, singers and their rapt audience. As my friend aptly observed, “it was amazing to see that many people coordinated and playing in unison.” It seems like stating the obvious, but in fact, as our world becomes more and more individual-centric, the communal feeling at a place like the Symphony is an even rarer gift. I, for one, couldn’t think of better way to start 2017: not just with humor, but with a little dose of humanity, too.

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Rachel Balik - Low-Brow Luminary

Rachel Balik - Low-Brow Luminary

Rachel has explored a number of badly paying jobs over the years, including nanny, off-Broadway production assistant, philosophy grad student, journalist, teacher and assistant at a yoga studio. She is now in her best paying job as a tech marketer, but retains her broke cred by earning a fraction of what most 23-year-old male engineers do.