They're Playing Our Song: 40th Anniversary Concert

Kelly Ostazeski
Imagine seeing the original leads, creative team, and some of the opening night orchestra on the anniversary of a classic Broadway musical's opening night...forty years later. Imagine being in an audience full of fans of this musical, as well as other industry professionals associated with this legendary musical. The energy and anticipation for what is about to unfold onstage is crazy.

On February 11, 1979, They're Playing Our Song opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre. On February 11, 2019, the 40th anniversary concert, presented by the Actors Fund, played for one night only at the Music Box Theatre (current home of Dear Evan Hansen), right next door. Original music director Larry Blank returned to conduct, and original costume designer Ann Roth designed dresses for star Lucie Arnaz for the anniversary performance.

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I was there. The only thing was - I'm not a lifelong fan of They're Playing Our Song. I'm ashamed to admit that I only knew of it because my favorite performer, Donna Murphy, made her Broadway debut in the show as a swing. I'd originally bought the ticket because I thought she'd be part of the show. This was also my second Actors Fund benefit concert; last year I was lucky enough to attend the 15th anniversary concert of Thoroughly Modern Millie, again with the original Broadway cast. That night was a dream come true for me, as I imagine this performance of They're Playing Our Song was for longtime fans of the show.

My perspective as an audience member was a little different then, since this reunion show as my first exposure to this witty book by Neil Simon, and incredible songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. The leads, Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, played roles meant for maybe 30-somethings, but there was nothing unbelievable about Klein's portrayal of serious (and successful) composer Vernon Gersch and Arnaz's performance as eccentric lyricist Sonia Walsk, even at their current ages. Forty years ago, this was a cute (although perhaps typical) love story for songwriters in their prime. Forty years later, maybe these two have never found the love that mattered, or the perfect match to their songwriting talents, until now. It made for an interesting dynamic, and also fun to imagine seeing the show on Broadway in 1979, maybe even with future stars Donna Murphy and Debbie Gravitte (who also appeared in this anniversary concert) in the chorus as Vernon and Sonia's alter egos.

Along with Debbie Gravitte, appearing as the "Greek Chorus"-type alter egos, were Ivy Austin and Housso Semon for Sonia, and Andrew Fitch, Hugh Panaro, and Hal Shane for Vernon.

The musical is about Vernon and Sonia's collaboration as songwriters that eventually turns to romance and is based on the real-life relationship between Hamlisch and Sager.

Highlights were Klein's performance of "Workin' It Out", both versions of "They're Playing My Song", "Just for Tonight", and Arnaz's show-stopping "I Still Believe in Love" - which earned her a standing ovation mid-performance. Every song was a show-stopper, though, with raucous applause after each one.

The actors carried scripts, which made sense, because both Vernon and Sonia are songwriters. Lucie Arnaz was clearly more comfortable with dialogue and hilariously, it was Robert Klein who missed a cue. Arnaz handled it perfectly, offered to sing her song again, and when Klein finally appeared on stage, she said, "No bathroom breaks until intermission!" The audience laughed, and Klein exited and re-entered in character. Even this "mistake" was cherished and well-received by this audience, which shows how loved this show truly is. This audience knew every word to the songs, every joke.

For this Broadway enthusiast who didn't know the show before, consider me converted. I am honored I was there to witness such a special performance of a beloved musical, and I'm proud of call myself a They're Playing Our Song fan, not just because my favorite star made her Broadway debut in it.

After I got out of the theatre, I looked into the show more, and it was really interesting to see all the stars who have appeared in They're Playing Our Song throughout its history (and not just on Broadway): Stockard Channing, Victor Garber, Ellen Greene, Lea Salonga, Jason Alexander, and Stephanie J. Block. Seth Rudetsky and Sutton Foster also appeared in Actors Fund benefit a few years ago.

I look forward to future reunion concerts presented by the Actors Fund - perhaps I will see old favorites I never got to see live, or experience new shows in the best possible way.

Musical Adaptation Idea: A Monster Calls

Darren Wildeman
In this day people are sick of seeing Hollywood movies remade for the stage, and of seeing so many direct adaptations. It’s understandable, musicals have almost always been adapted from material but there is something special about seeing a brand-new idea done for the stage. However, that being said I’m going to propose to you an idea for an adaptation. This is a show that I absolutely need to see as a musical because I think it would be beautiful and heart wrenching.


A Monster Calls

The first thing I’m going to point out is this show would not be a typical Hollywood movie to stage adaptation. For one thing, it was also a novel so aspects of it could be based on that. For another it wasn’t even a Hollywood movie; at least not in the traditional sense. It was produced by Universal, but the director is Spanish and its big release dates were in Spain and the UK. Finally, it had a relatively modest budget at just $43M (and brought in $47M) when an average American Hollywood Blockbuster starts at around $100M. This was not your typical big Hollywood American release; and for that reason, would not be a typical Hollywood adaptation. That alone would already make bringing this to Broadway different from other movie adaptations.

That’s all the budget and background info on this movie, but what about it do I think would make it a good musical?

Let’s take a good look at the story. It follows a boy named Connor O’Malley and him having to accept the realities that his mother is sick. He continually assures himself that he will get better. However, throughout this process he meets a monster. However, this monster isn’t just a typical scary monster you get in a fantasy story. This monster was a yew tree in human form. And this tree comes to Connor to tell him three stories and teach him some lessons. These stories are all fables of sorts. Stories where sometimes it’s hard to tell who the good guy is, stories that show not everything is in black and white, and most importantly stories that will directly impact Connor’s life. Connor has his own story to tell, and after the yew tree tells Connor his three stories, he wants to hear Connor’s story. A story that pertains to a recurring nightmare Connor has, a story that pertains to Connor’s sick mother, and a story however painful it might be to tell that might help heal Connor’s soured relationship with his grandmother.

If you haven’t seen the movie it might be hard for you to see what I’m picturing. The reason I think this might work so well is it would be a scaled back, intimate, heartfelt story on stage, that still has some of the spectacle and magic theatre audiences love. The intimate musical has really made a strong case in recent years. Picture a show that’s scaled back and somewhat minimalistic. In a similar style of a musical like Once, Next to Normal, or The Band’s Visit. It’s a tense family, a family that’s experienced, divorce, now a sick mother, and a grandmother who has tense relationships with her daughter and grandson. It’s a story about how when everything falls apart it can still come together. However, it also has some spectacle in a giant monster, and talking yew tree. It’s a musical that could show real human pain and emotion, but also a musical that would have an added dollop of whimsey and magic, in a story telling humanoid tree that really tries to help people and will help teach Connor some lessons he desperately needs to learn.

I think this story hits a lot of the nails on the head of what people look for in a musical. It has a deep story, but also has the potential for some spectacle which people love. Multiple characters go through a full, fascinating character arc, which is also something desirable. Also, it isn’t a story that is too complex either that could be lost on the stage.

I think A Monster Calls would become the musical that many people didn’t know they needed.

Top Five Couples in Love from the Stage

Happy Valentine’s Day fellow ATB members! Today I take you off the normal blog path and taking you down the path of a much...lovelier topic. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I will be celebrating and share with you whom I believe are the Top 5 BEST Musical Couples. Of course almost every couple in a musical is great, but not all of them are...right for each other? Of these couples I feel they are the ones who define “true love” and from what I’ve gathered from their respective arcs, aren’t bad for each other and bring out the best in another. I’ve compiled a list of the 5 couples I believe are the healthiest in all of musical theatre. So grab your honey and enjoy this list.


Angel and Collins- RENT
Angel and Collins aren’t your usual couple, in the sense that their love defies all. Angel and Collins definitely were healthy for each other as they loved each other until the very end. Collins never once looked at Angel any differently and loved her endlessly, and Angel in return gave Collins her love. All of their friends knew how much they loved each other, quoting “I’d be happy to die for a taste of what Angel had”, indicating that Collins loved and supported Angel throughout their time together, through her personality and when she got sick. Collins never once left Angel alone, and that’s why they’re one of the greatest.

Charlie and Lauren- Kinky Boots
Going off of the support statement, when Charlie’s shoe factory was going under, Lauren not only supported Charlie in trying to save it, but also gave him the push he needed. Lauren is a sassy individual who gave Charlie the push and drive he needed to team up with Lola to save the factory. From helping design the shoes all the way to the Milan Fashion Show, Lauren saw Charlie’s potential from day one.

Guy and Girl- Once
Going a bit more humble and realistic, Guy and Girl fell in love so naturally and realistically, hitting home closer to real life.  While not exactly a happily ever after for them, they are a couple of what could be, but because of real life situations can’t be. That’s a situation I’m sure of a few of us can painfully relate too, and even though Guy and Girl both have feelings for another, they never once stopped the other from supporting their dreams and relationships, despite their feelings for another.

Cosette and Marius- Les Miserables
Come on, we ALL knew they were going to make an appearance. When you think of musical couples, they’re the first ones to come to mind. Cosette and Marius, while sometimes cheesy, is super sweet. The whole “fall in love at first glance” trope is epitome to them. Cosette is all Marius can think of at the barricade and her own adopted father believes in their love so much that he interject to ultimately save Marius. While we don’t divulge too far into their relationship, they have a pure, soft and sweet relationship and one I know can stand the test of time.

Penny and Seaweed- Hairspray
Finally our last couple! What can I say, I LOVE Penny and Seaweed. Like Marius and Cosette, they both kind of fall under the “fell in love at first glance” trope, but they stood against the odds of the 1960’s and believed their love to be so strong to go against the “norm” of the time. Seaweed even saved Penny from her crazy mother, truly showing to be a knight in shining armour, and a man us women can truly look for. Penny declaring her love for Seaweed at the Miss Teenage Hairspray pageant is still one of my favorite moments in all of musical theatre, and they’re such a fun, loving and quirky couple with differing personalities that compliment another SO well.



Six: The New Musical About the Wives of King Henry VIII

Jyothi Cross
Across the pond in the UK a new musical is rising to fame on the West End stage: Six. It’s like Hamilton meets Horrible Histories meets the Glastonbury Festival, but can the “UK's answer to Hamilton” really fill the boots of its predecessor? Is it really worth the hype?

I'm going to convince you it is.

 Let’s start easy, from a musical lover's point of view (because if they don’t like it, who else will?) The songs range from strong power ballads (“Heart of Stone”) to fast paced hip hop tracks (“Six”) which allows musical lovers to be welcomed in with the content they love and then brought forward into, dare I say, the modern era. The harmonies are beautiful. Moreover, each song has its own style meaning that lovers of all musicals, whether it's Les Miserables or Rent, have something which suits their taste. Nifty, no?

 And what about the historical content? Accurate as anything. It gives a life and personality to women who were previously known as “divorced, beheaded and died” and that is something to hype about. Furthermore, whilst the facts are all in place and turn the focus away from Henry VIII (finally...) the fusion of Baroque music and modern pop makes sure that we don’t lose sight of its Renaissance setting – something which, just saying, Hamilton doesn’t do.


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 Finally, and this is my top reason for why Six deserves a lot more popularity, it gives a voice to the women who have been silenced for the past 500 years. I would even go so far as to argue that Six is the most feminist musical of this decade. The six wives of King Henry VIII have been silenced, some literally, by his misogynistic reign and the Tudor ideologies that women were just for procreation, but this musical proves how cool, unique, and basically bad-ass these women were. Hype-worthy, right?

 So, dear readers, you know what to do now. I've shown to you why Six deserves your love and how there's n-n-n-n-n-n-no way (that’s a little Six inside joke) you have an excuse not to give it a listen! 

 

Should Phantom of the Opera Close?

Daniel Schorr

The musical The Phantom of the Opera (Phantom) has been on Broadway for over 30 years. And it has been in the West End for even longer. The show has grossed more than Star Wars and has been seen by over 130 million people. But for many years now a question has pegged fans and non-fans of the show. Does Phantom need to close?


Personally, I thought this would be a great piece for me to write because I have no opinion on this. I can see both sides of this argument extremely clearly. I love this show, but it has been open a long time. For one thing, if the show closed it would cause outrage. There are so many huge fans of this show. And I mean, just imagine another show in the Majestic Theatre. There are definitely strong arguments both ways here. Phantom is the longest running Broadway show of all time, and if this show was constantly selling out houses of audiences paying full prices, there wouldn’t really be an argument here.


This show’s ticket sales have definitely gone down noticeably, and discounts are always available last minute for fans and tourists. It seems now that the show is still open because it costs so little to produce now that is has played so long.  In fact, I took a look at the grosses for this show in the past few years. Phantom is considered a currently successful Broadway show, so I am only comparing it to musicals that are not closing and are seen as successful shows. In comparison to Wicked, another successful long-running musical that has fully recouped, Wicked ranges from making around $1.6 to $2 million a week, whereas Phantom ranges from $.7 to $1.1 million weekly. In comparison to Mean Girls, a show that is new but very successful, Mean Girls takes in about $1.5 million weekly and has yet to recoup. Since Phantom has recouped, it only has to pay for actors, musicians, crew, any new costumes, wigs, or makeup, royalties, and other small inexpensive things. Phantom doesn’t necessarily need to be making more than it is.


Although I don’t know how much it costs to put on the show weekly, it is definitely making money or at least breaking even. The most I could imagine this show costing to produce is around $300,000 weekly. The show has about 130 cast, crew, and pit members involved and those people are each  paid about $2000 weekly on average. And that leaves plenty of money to pay for the smaller things. So here’s the question that comes to mind: Are the producers or the Shubert Organization safer keeping this show open that is less costly to put on even if it makes considerably less money than some other shows, or is it worth it for them to take the risk of bringing in a new show that may or may not be a success?


One of the main arguments for why this show shouldn’t close is because it’s become a signature aspect of Broadway, as if the Great White Way wouldn’t be the same if Phantom closed. This show has been open for 30 years now, and when people think of Broadway, Phantom is one of the top things that comes to mind. I would say this show defines classic, except this show has only existed since 1988. In 1988 the main classical musicals era had long since ended. Shows like Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Little Shop of Horrors had already come into existence. And Phantom itself has rock influences in its music. As shows go, it isn’t really old, and yet it is considered to be a classic.


I haven’t ever seen this show on Broadway because it always feels like that show I will always be able to see. A lot of my friends haven’t seen it for the same reason. But I’m still extremely familiar with the Broadway production through pictures, friends, the Royal Albert Hall recording, and sorry but not sorry, bootlegs. I saw the new tour, which I thought did a brilliant job of fixing some of the problems of the show. The tech elements—which the Broadway production has never made any changes to—were more advanced in the new tour. But the primary change I liked was a younger Phantom. I understand that age doesn’t really matter to a lot of people in relationships, but a younger Phantom creates a more real character who is less creepy, more relatable, and more sympathetic. But still, the Broadway production is special because it is the original. If this show closed on Broadway, I think it would be important that the Broadway production begin a tour.


I didn’t want to make any assumptions on the public’s opinion on this show, so I created a google form and posted it on instagram and on BroadwayWorld.com. As to whether Phantom should close, 65.6% of people thought that it should not, 19.7% thought it should, and 14.8% had no opinion. In the same poll I asked how much people would be willing to pay to see Phantom, and the average was $50.87. On average, other Broadway musicals cost an average on $125 to see.


I don’t know if this show should close. There are so many arguments on both sides of the situation. But I wanted to put this information out so you can choose what you think. Is Phantom so touristy and classical that it should stay open forever, or has it had its fair time on Broadway?




The Magic of Carol


Steven Sauke

 Last month, we lost a legend, and the lights of Broadway and Hollywood got a little dimmer. Carol Channing was one of the most beloved of Broadway greats.

 She had me at “Raspberries!”

 I don’t recall when exactly I found out about her, but I learned about the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie in the ’90s. I was excited to see a movie musical starring Julie Andrews, who I grew up watching in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. Carol Channing’s portrayal of Muzzy van Hossmere was the stuff of legends. From her completely random first word in the movie (“Raspberries!”) in that very distinctive voice, seated in a biplane and holding a bottle of wine, I knew I was going to love her. Her willingness to try anything was truly inspirational and hilarious. She had instructors for dancing, piloting (in a musical set 15 years before Amelia Earhart’s legendary flight, and 64 years before Beverley Bass became the first female captain on American Airlines), playing multiple instruments, being shot from a cannon, weaponizing song and dance, giving important life tips, and so much more. Her low notes (in the musical, anyway) could shatter glass.

 Then came the Broadway version. I fell in love with the musical anew with the new casts and songs. I believe that was my introduction to Sutton Foster, and I have been a fan of her ever since. When the show came through Seattle in its national tour, they had a promotional event at the Bon Marché (right around the time it was purchased by Macy’s), and it was perfectly timed during my lunch break. I got to meet and get autographs from Darcie Roberts (Millie) and Pamela Isaacs (Muzzy). Each of them sang a song from the show (“Gimme, Gimme” and “Only in New York”, respectively, if I remember right). I recall Isaacs being particularly friendly and asking me questions. When she found out I loved the movie, she informed me, “I play Carol Channing.” Not Muzzy. Carol Channing.

 I didn’t get the pleasure of meeting Carol, but I know someone who did, and we will be hearing from him later in this blog. In fact, he came up with its title. I have asked some of my fellow bloggers to share their memories and impressions, and they have graciously agreed.

 Kelly Ostazeski

 I never expected to love Hello, Dolly! as much as I do, so naturally I respect Carol Channing as the original, legendary Dolly Gallagher Levi. She set the standard for the rest of the Dollys that followed. Even though I never saw her perform the role live, I can hear her in the score, no matter who sings the role. Her voice is unmistakable. 

 My main memory of Ms. Channing, however, comes from the animated Don Bluth film Thumbelina, where she voiced Mrs. Fieldmouse, and urged Thumbelina to "Marry the Mole" through song. I also enjoyed her performance as Muzzy in the Julie Andrews film Thoroughly Modern Millie. It's kind of fate (and amazing) that two of my favorite stage musicals (Dolly and Millie) have a connection to Carol Channing. 

 Rest in peace, Ms. Channing. Your legendary performances will live on forever. 

 Michael Kape
“So, I’m sure you know Carol Channing is coming to town in Hello, Dolly!” my editor at Southern Voice said to me. “Since you’re our resident theatre person, how would you like to interview her before the show?”

I threatened Devin with bodily harm if he gave that assignment to anyone else. Fortunately, since I was also the newspaper’s lead feature writer at the time (only because I could churn out a full-length story in an hour), I landed the gig.

Interviewing the legendary Carol Channing. Seeing her in Hello, Dolly! thanks to my other theatre post in town as the critic for WABE-FM (which meant running up the aisle at the Fox Theatre, jumping in my car, and writing the review in my head for broadcast the next morning).

I mean, like, what more could you ask for than this?

The thing is, it was much more than I expected—both the interview and the show.

I had seen others in the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, and they had acquitted themselves well. But why was her performance the one people clamored to see, I asked her.

“Well,” she said in that unmistakable growl, “I guess I’ve become identified with Dolly, which is not a bad thing. But maybe I had one small advantage over the other ladies—who were all fine. See, when we were working on Dolly on the road, [Producer] David Merrick called in Thornton Wilder to consult, since he had written the original plays The Merchant of Yonkers and The Matchmaker [the bases for Dolly]. He created Dolly Gallagher Levi.

“Thornton was such a dear. He gave Michael [Stewart, the book writer] and I tremendous insight into Dolly. It really helped me a lot.”

At the time of our interview, Carol was a sprightly 72 years old. And Dolly is a tough role for an actress of any age. Yet here she was, doing eight a week. How?

“It’s simple, Michael,” she told me, “I sleep 20 hours a day and I keep to a strict diet. That’s my secret; don’t tell anyone. I sleep. Get up. Go to the theatre. Do Dolly. Take my final bow. Then go back to sleep. A girl’s gotta keep her energy up, you know.”

We talked at length about the covert anarchy in Dolly, something most people miss. “Oh, that’s Thornton. Such a dear man but very complex.” Yeah, that’s true if you think about his body of work.

Still, there was Carol Channing on a stage performing the role of a lifetime, and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Onstage she wasn’t 72; she was maybe 30—tops. She was funny, touching, energetic, precise, magnificent in her red dress—and magical. That’s the only word I think can adequately describe her performance. Seeing her perform Dolly Gallagher Levi was one of those rare theatre moments you cherish.

After all, she was Miss Carol Channing. Goodbye, Dolly. It was nice to have you here where you belonged. The world has lost something very special.

 

Rent Live: A Positive Influence, or more like Rent Dead?

“Original Broadway cast, 1996”  by JessnKat is licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Taylor Lockhart

So recently, like last Sunday, you might have tuned in for FOX’s latest live musical, Rent. I thought, as we seem to get more of these year after year I’d use Rent to see whether the live show hurts or helps it’s source material. Are they faithful adaptations and are you truly getting the idea of what Rent is from seeing this production? I’ll be talking specifically about Rent Live and live shows rather than Rent’s story, themes or the story of Jonathan Larson because believe that deserves it’s own article that I will get to eventually...maybe like Christmas Eve 2020 eventually.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a Rent-head. There are a lot of people who love and cherish this musical more than I do, though on the flipside this wasn’t my first time seeing the musical either. I make it a tradition to watch the professional recording from Sony’s short lived “Hot Ticket” program every Christmas Eve. So, I do have a standard that the live show should live up to and well, it absolutely did. I’ve seen a lot of people trashing on Rent Live and honestly I just can’t understand why. The set was stunning, a very interesting twist on theatre in the round where sometimes the performers were in front of you and behind you. I admit it would've probably been awful to see such a show in person, but when you have the ability to manipulate perspectives with camera angles for people watching at home it just makes so much more sense than simply recording a production on a proscenium stage. Beyond that Rent Live absolutely feels like Rent, perhaps even more than previous productions have. Rent has always consisted of abstract depictions of New York City and some of the places in it with large amounts of twisting metal making up the scenery, and this New York was much less abstract making it clearer where we were at times and moving from place to place with much clearer distinctions between places like the support center, and Roger and Mark’s apartment. It’s really up to you whether you like this or not. I personally think it’s great and while it doesn’t leave so much up to the imagination like other productions have every part of it still carries the worn down and grunge aesthetic that is integral to Rent’s overall story and something it has become well known for over the years. It’s just massive and there’s so much I’m sure I’m missing that sticks out but its little stuff like American flag graffiti in the background that just shows how much love and respect was put into the look of this show.

Oh and good lord, let’s settle on the set and talk about lighting. Rent is well lit, sometimes it’s blinding. In the beginning of the show after the “power goes out”, Rent comes to life and has a light show compared to a rock concert, and that’s really what Rent is. A rock concert and a musical mixed together. Not only is there literally millions of lights, but they really help convey the mood and are perfectly done. I didn’t feel the lights were ever distracting and helped build a balance between the serious and less serious parts of the show.


As for the actors themselves, superb. Even if in some cases they weren't, these felt like people FOX brought in to sell the show with their talent rather than their name. I loved this depiction of Roger and Mark, god I loved this Mark. Jordan Fisher absolutely killed it bringing a huge amount of humanity and really serious moments that I haven’t seen with other Marks. I thought this cast was stellar and they absolutely did the work to understand and accurately portray the characters they were playing. Vanessa Hudgens is more than just the girl you know from High School Musical, she is undeniably Maureen and absolutely rocked it. Mimi was incredible, Angel was great, Collins was great. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that anyone that was on stage shouldn’t be there and I can’t say I’ve had the same opinion in other live shows.


Rent was fun, it was emotional, and it left me wanting to sing “Seasons Of Love”, “What You Own” and some of its other stand out songs. It left me with the same feeling I remember having when I first saw Rent a few years ago. People have all sorts of opinions about this show and even more so about this Live version. USA Today is saying, “it’s more season of lousy than of love” The Washington Post is criticizing it for, “not truly being live” and well, I just don’t think Rent Live deserves all the criticism it gets. Maybe, it’s because I’m not a Rent-head and I didn’t notice all the changes made at first. I’ll be honest the change in the opening line flowed smoothly so I never noticed it was different and maybe, I don’t have such high expectations for theatre as other people do but I can say in my own opinion, I loved Rent Live. It felt like everything I wanted a Rent adaptation to be and even more I didn’t ask for but got anyways, and I think it absolutely makes an argument for live adaptations just like it. Hell, if FOX decided to do one of my favorite musicals like The Producers Live or Big Fish Live next, I wouldn’t fret because I feel if these musicals are treated like Rent Live has, then we’re for some exciting and very faithful adaptations. I would encourage you if you get the chance to experience Rent Live for yourself and form your own opinion of whether it’s a good Rent production or not.

So what do you think, should NBC, ABC, and FOX continue to do Live shows, and what’s next for the cable giants? Personally, I think Music Man: Live, Guys and Dolls: Live, A Chorus Line: Live, Pippin: Live, and West Side Story: Live are all probably shows we’ll see in the future. Oh, NBC is doing Hair. Well, nevermind then, it might be awhile before another exciting live show comes along. Maybe see a different show live... in person while you wait. I hear Be More Chill and Jagged Little Pill are both coming to broadway.


I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you, thanks for reading and let me know your opinion on Rent Live and what Live shows you would want to see in the future. I publish just about every month so check back in for February to see what I’ve got cooking for then and as always have a great rest of the month. Wait it’s January 31st. So, have a great day then.


Broadway's Leading Ladies: Laura Michelle Kelly

Kelly Ostazeski

Career highlights:

 Laura Michelle Kelly was born on March 4, 1981 and was raised on a farm on the Isle of Wight, England. She took voice lessons as a child and participated in local productions before making her West End debut at the age of 16 in Beauty and the Beast as the understudy for Belle. Her other West End credits include Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind as Swallow, Mamma Mia! as Sophie, Les Misérables as Eponine, and My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle.

 In 2004 she made her Broadway debut as Hodel in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof with Alfred Molina. She is featured on the cast recording. She left the production because she was cast as the title role in the West End premiere of Mary Poppins. Her performance earned her the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

 She next appeared in A Twist of Fate in Singapore, and returned to the West End to play the role of Galadriel in the musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. At this time, she was also cast as the Beggar Woman in Tim Burton’s film version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – yes, the film version starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. She also played a dual role in a television film Miss Marple: Nemesis. Laura then starred with Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacey in Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic Theatre in London.

 In 2009 she returned to Broadway and to the role of Mary Poppins, starring alongside Christian Borle as Bert, and her original London Bert, Gavin Lee until 2011.  She took a brief hiatus from the Broadway production to film a movie in Australia called Goddess.

 At the Muny, she played the roles of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Anna Leonowens in The King and I. Laura performed in the Kennedy Center Gala performances of My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle and Camelot as Guinevere.

 In 2014 she returned to Broadway in the musical Finding Neverland as the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and stayed with the production until its closing in 2016.

 She was cast as Anna Leonowens in the national tour of the Lincoln Center production of The King and I. After leaving the tour in early 2018, she starred alongside her former Bert, Christian Borle in the Encores! production of Me and My Girl. In the summer of 2018 she also performed in the new musical The Royal Family of Broadway at the Berkshires. On February 24, 2019, she will return to London and perform a solo concert at Cadogan Hall.


 Fun facts:

•         Laura has four brothers

•         She released her debut album in 2006, called The Storm Inside, and later, an alternate version with bonus tracks called What’s It All For? Laura wrote three of the songs on the album herself: “There Was a Time”, “Butterflies” (about her late mother), and “The Storm Inside

•         Laura and Gavin Lee performed “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in the television special America Celebrates July 4th in 2010 in front of President Obama.

•         Laura has a dog named Couver

•         She has performed in two solo concerts at 54Below, once in 2016 and once in 2017.

 Social media:

Twitter: @lauramkelly
Instagram: @lauramichellekelly

 Songs to listen to:

“All That Matters” – Finding Neverland: Original Broadway Cast Recording
“Lothlórien” – The Lord of the Rings Musical: Original London Cast Recording

“Wonder” – The Lord of the Rings Musical: Original London Cast Recording

“Feed the Birds” – Mary Poppins: Original London Cast Recording

“The Storm Inside” – Laura’s debut album The Storm Inside

Race and Representation in Theatre: The Most Commonly Questioned Shows

Zachary Harris
On the heels of MLK Day, we start to look a bit closer at some shows that continuously come up in the race debate in our group. Before diving into this I wanted to share an opinion of mine that will be a helpful segue into this dialogue. I will also note that these are all my opinions as a Theatre/African American Studies graduate and I would love a dialogue!

 In many cases these conversations on race, representation, and what that means turns into a very black and white dialogue. It is very important to understand that more people are in the line of fire when it comes to underrepresentation than just black people or African Americans that audition for shows. However, I do truly believe that the idea behind telling authentic stories does then too extend to not having the broad stroke of people of color playing roles they shouldn’t because they are of color or having roles that in actuality should be played by white people. How often does a script actually call for a white person specifically? Not that often, however in an effort to to authentically tell these stories (given circumstances aside) these are all things that we must keep in mind when tackling plays or musicals of any type.

If I’ve missed shows that you think should be discussed, please let me know and down the line I can make another one of these! Before beginning I’m going to define two words that I’ll be tossing around a ton:

 Classism: prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class.

 Colorism: Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

 

Evita

 But Zach, why this show? Recently news broke that a company in the UK was searching for the first ever black Eva Perón. The show does not (to my knowledge) specifically discuss the characters race, which in many cases then becomes the standard of “should this be cast regardless of the color of the actor”, however in the case Eva Perón we hit a cross road - for those of you who don’t know Eva Perón was a real person. You can google her, there are books on her, and she did indeed exist (http://bfy.tw/H0vr for those of you curious). As you can tell, she wasn’t black. Now certainly she wasn’t white in the American sense either, because being from Argentina makes her South American or Hispanic. Historically speaking Eva Perón has been played by a white person, most notably by Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, and Madonna (in the movie!) so what does that then mean? For me personally that then means that we should be casting Hispanic women in the famed role, along with the other roles in the show. However the show isn’t ABOUT race, but more so about the woman. This gives me pause, however I do truly believe that when picking shows to produce we have to be conscious of these decisions/what they then mean. In the same way many argue that Eva Perón is not black, she certainly wasn’t white either. There are HUNDREDS of shows, why pick this one?

 

Now I will note that my opinions on this show do differ than my strong opinions on similar casting decisions discussed later, and very plainly the reason is because the show doesn’t revolve around her race. While again I personally believe the show should be authentically cast, this rubs me less in the wrong way than other shows on this list. By no means does this imply cast the show with people ONLY from Argentina due to a lot of what I had mentioned in the previous article, however this is an opportunity to create a platform in musical theatre that (outside of works by Lin-Manuel Miranda) don’t really exist for Hispanic/Latinx people.

 

Aida

 Oh boy! Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Elton John and Tim Rice wrote a musical depicting this love story between Aida (played by the impeccable Heather Headley) and Radames (played by Adam Pascal!). The focus of this show are the Egyptians and the Nubians, who are longtime foes, and how that comes to head. The show in many cases is about love transcending time and culture, and honestly in many ways this musical is incredible (though, not my favorite). The question I kept asking myself is how Adam Pascal (or any of the Egyptians for that matter) look anything like Egyptians? Well, they don’t. Now this is an interesting thing because in many cases people who are from that region can really range in appearance. However, the stark difference between Nubians (all played by black people) and the Egyptians (you guessed it! White!) is really staggering to me and I think in this case really unnecessary. Why not cast the show with black people? What does stark difference do? In my mind the casting of white people as Egyptians is to create a stark contrast between the cultures and the people by connecting it to modern day race issues… I think the show and the text speak for itself when creating those differences (along with whatever dramaturgy would then be available to them). Is the concern that audiences can’t tell difference between the people onstage? Can people really not tell the difference between black people on stage? Sass aside, a show in Africa should probably have people who could generally look like the people in the story. Though this show differs from Evita in the sense that these people aren’t real historical figures, we should quite definitely be aware as to where the show takes place.

 Again, as artists and creators we are continuously at the helm of a platform, and a lot of the disparity in casting can be fixed with a bit of awareness. Aida, while not in the same spectrum as a historical piece like Evita should be looked at carefully. Why would we cast this show with someone other than people who look like Africans?

 Once on This Island

 I’ll begin this section with this - if you missed the revival you certainly missed some incredible theatre. Now, this show centers on the idealisms of colorism, colonization, and classism. The skin differentiation between Daniel and Ti Moune are incredibly important to the story and to these characters. To quickly quote a line from the song The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes “They despise us for our blackness, It reminds them, Where they’re from”. For those of you who don’t know the show the Beauxhommes are people who descend from France AND the French Antilles. They long for France and French culture, and the peasants are not able to access the same sort of luxury. Daniel is a Beauxhomme and Ti Moune is a peasant, the colorism and classism presented in the show really creates the obstacles that Ti Moune face within this show. White people playing Ti Moune in the original version of the script makes no sense. The whole script is about their struggle and classism created by their blackness, so doing it other ways is really missing the point. In the case of Daniel, he’s supposed to be biracial as the story says, however casting Daniel as white (which Isaac Powell is not, before you go there) really is missing some of the most important parts of the story. Here we should consider a fairer skinned black man before erasing the anchor to the island that the curse of the Beauxhommes gives to Daniel/his people.

 In the alternative version of the script (that apparently exists, however it’s not advertised on the MTI website), they remove all mentions of race and focus on the idealism of class… So problem solved? Not really. The classism here is all great and dandy, there are a ton of love stories that focus JUST on classism. However dramaturgically speaking, have we forgot the show still takes place on an island in the French Antilles? The island would still be inhabited by black people, and the sanitation of the materials inherent blackness is also missing the point. Again, there are LOTS of shows about classism, so why pick one that you don’t have the diversity for?

 

Hairspray

 This one always baffled me as to why this becomes such an argument. The show takes place in the 60s and uses a faux Civil Rights Movement as a platform the integrate a TV show. The obvious points to race being instances such as “though the night is as black as my skin”, “only see the color of my face”, and “the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice”. With this in mind, people always get up in arms about Hairspray when an all-white cast comes along. Now I will note, though I don’t have the copy of this that came in my scripts any longer, that the creators of the show state that disallowing anyone of any color to play any of the roles is racist and the suspension of disbelief should be used when watching (wrongfully) alternatively cast productions of Hairspray. I wholehearted believe that this is incorrect in this instance, and just people a particular majority has had most opportunities to do what they would like to does not then mean that everything needs to be universal. This story isn’t about some sort of universal grief, but of a white girl who gets fat shamed and black people who are facing segregation.

 Many note that their productions have used shirts, hairstyles, and (god forbid) blackface to get around such an issue, which I find odd. Obviously with these adjustments everyone involved then is realizing that they lack the people of color to do the show, so they do what they can to do what they can to fill the gap in a modern minstrel-adjacent way. What I then must bring up is that black and African American people can’t peel their skin off, and have to live with the harsh reality of what society gives to them on a day to day BECAUSE of their skin color. No t-shirt or other concept can really encapsulate what the symbolism of the black body on stage can stand for.

 

Miss Saigon (and other shows involving Asian heritage/culture)

 Admittedly, this is a show I knew far less about than the others mentioned. However first I would like to send you to when it comes to the (now corrected) yellowfacing history of the production.

 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/theater/the-battle-of-miss-saigon-yellowface-art-and-opportunity.html

 Outside of this, let’s talk about Asians/Asian Americans in musical theatre. From The Mikado to Miss Saigon there is a history of yellowface when it comes to shows based in Asian culture. I’m taking this moment to then also note that in many of these cases these shows revolve around a white person either saving or teaching or conquering the people of this area. Outside of the Jonathan Pryce scandal of sorts, Miss Saigon revolves around Chris (an American soldier there for the Vietnam War) and Kim (a prostitute). It has in many instances been protested against for being racist/sexist, and to quote Sarah Bellamy, co-artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre, dedicated to African American theater, states "It gets a lot easier to wrap your head around all of this for folks of color when we remember a key point: this work is not for us. It is by, for, and about white people, using people of color, tropical climes, pseudo-cultural costumes and props, violence, tragedy, and the commodification of people and cultures, to reinforce and re-inscribe a narrative about white supremacy and authority."

 Returning specifically to the point of the importance of casting, though I can discuss the potential problems within works written by white people for Asian Americans, we need to continuously remember that these stories are usually deeply entrenched in a portrayal of their culture and it’s incredibly important to give Asians and Asian Americans that opportunity to tell those that are previously written. Instances like The Mikado (which is historically done in yellowface) don’t have a space in an ever evolving society where authentic storytelling (read: not denying people of color to tell their own stories) should be at the forefront of every conversation. These dialogues are SO important, and in many cases the default is black or white… However the representational struggle of minorities is MUCH more than just that.

 

Lin-Manuel_Miranda,_Phillipa_Soo,_Leslie_Odom,_Jr.,_and_Christopher_Jackson,_White_House,_March_2016.jpg

Hamilton

 When creating works you get to set the rules for your world, in many examples things like race and gender get turned on their head to make a point (such as in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, which I highly suggest) … So why does Hamilton get people all in a rut? Obviously when looking at history books, portraits, etc. of the founding fathers none of them are of color, so why here? Lin-Manuel Miranda through his hip-hop storytelling and the standard created in casting by having everyone (outside of a few ensemble members and King George) being of color to show that they (like the immigrants of yesteryear) can “get the job done”. The link between the present and past creates a really strong image that is a huge part of what makes Hamilton great in my opinion. This then means that any use of Hamilton to backup the reasoning behind not casting people of color in other things is less than supported. Miranda created a unique world that then has no bearing on other things, and any fundamental understanding of the material would bring you to a similar conclusion. The artistic foundation with Hamilton is built is deeply rooted in that idealism, which isn’t present in other shows, is why George Washington can be played by someone like Christopher Jackson. That then doesn’t mean Motormouth Maybelle can be white, because George Washington certainly wasn’t black. While I understand that then means a huge group of people may never get the opportunity to be in a production of what many consider the soon to be (if it isn’t already) biggest hit in the history of Broadway that doesn’t then mean spaces that should be for people of color should disappear.

 For every Hamilton there are hundreds of shows that don’t have a single person of color in them, for every Lion King there are hundreds of shows that are long running that are just now having their first black principles, and while I understand the strife that may be caused by this reality the use of Hamilton to attempt to whitewash other works is very specifically working against what the story is meant to be about.

 Overall, I think theatre has come a long way, however we are chasing ourselves in circles many times in the comment sections of these debates. These dialogues are incredibly important and until we as individuals look at the privilege we each have (or don’t have) we can never really make headway in this department. Theatre is supposed to be accessible to everyone, however cultural appropriation and accessibility are not one in the same. In the same way I would never want to tell a story that wasn’t mine (or like mine, outside of the given circumstances) I hope that we continue to move forward as a community when going about casting. Race in theatre continues to be a hot topic, however we need to continue to work towards listening to our fellow artists on the matter instead of figuratively (or literally, who knows) smashing our heads against a wall. This series is a particular perspective, not the only perspective, and I will be more than to continue the dialogue in the comment section.

 

 

 

Miller and Tysen: Music that Makes a Difference

Rachel Hoffman

When people come to the theater, they often have a purpose for seeing a specific show. Some wish to be entertained, others wish to cry. Some hope to see their favorite stories played out in front of their eyes. While I have gone into shows with a variety of purposes before, I have found that the shows and music that have had the largest impact on my life are those which show me a part of my own life or my own heart in a way that I’ve never seen it before. As Stella Adler said, “The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” For me, I am most at home in the theatre when I’m watching a creation whose purpose is to speak some sort of truth to the audience, to make a difference in their lives.

For me, two of the songwriters that have made some of the biggest difference in my life is the duo of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen- composers and lyricists of Tuck Everlasting and the lesser-known musicals The Burnt Part Boys and Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. Miller and Tysen’s music has accompanied me at some of the most important moments in my life, both good and bad. The stories they compose for possess great lessons on their own, but when combined with Miller and Tysen’s work, the stories are brought to life, and force a person to experience real joy and heartbreak.



Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway in 2016, and received much criticism after closing after just 39 performances. While I’m certain there were many factors that went into this show’s early closing, I also know that this show touched many people’s lives. It left its audiences with a lesson that I think most people today need to hear- “You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.” This show is one of few that I think was actually better than the book it is based off of. (Spoiler alert ahead) You see, in the book, a thunderstorm destroys the tree, along with its immortality-giving spring. Winnie has no choice but to remain mortal. In the musical, however, we watch Winnie pour the water on a toad, and choose to let her life run its course. She wants to stay on ‘the wheel’- not be a boat stuck floating on top of the water forever. Through Tuck Everlastin, we learn that the most important gift we’ve been given- and that we can give others- is our time. The length of our life isn’t what’s important, it’s about what we do while we’re here. Miller and Tysen relate these lessons in beautifully crafted lyrics, as well as the heartbreaking ballet at the end of the show in which we see Winnie’s life play out in her most joyous and devastating moments. Songs like “Time,” “The Wheel,” and “Everlasting,” remind us that our fear isn’t in dying, but in “not being truly alive.”

I was introduced to the show The Burnt Part Boys at a musical theatre showcase my university put on in late 2016. One of the numbers was “Climbing Song,” and as I watched the performance, I made a mental note to go home and listen to the rest of the show. When I found it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been written by the same duo as Tuck Everlasting, which had been in my regular music rotation for several months already. As I listened, I knew I had found a hidden gem. In this story of loss and great expectation, Miller and Tysen remind us that, “The devil’s plan is mighty, his work a piece of art. He has blessed every man with a burnt part.” The characters in this story learn how to work through grief and other people’s expectations of them to become the people that they want to be, not who they are expected to be.

Miller and Tysen had a 100% success rate with me thus far, so I decided to discover what else they had created. The final work I was able to find is called Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. (They’ve also composed a show called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but I’ve never been able to find more than a few songs from this show online.) Fugitive Songs is a series of songs sung by characters who are on the run from something- whether it be a relationship, a dead-end career, or a lifestyle. I was enchanted by the hauntingly beautiful songs like, “Wildflowers,” (which helped me through a breakup,) “Reasons to Run,” and “Lullaby,” (which is the only song I’ve ever found with my name in it,) and laughed my way through “Lost,” and “Spring Cleaning.” While this song cycle doesn’t have a plot, it has a theme- we’re all on the run from something. This series of songs encourages the audience to look at their own life and ask, “What am I running from?”

No matter what critics say about Miller and Tysen, there is one indisputable theme among all of their music- they create stories with a purpose. They have created work that forces us to think, to question, to be human. And as creators, they have succeeded in doing what most artists dream of- making art that matters to someone.




An Ode to the Small Theatres

Jonathan Fong
Here’s an ode to the smaller ones among us.

Here’s to the actors who toil away in closet-sized rehearsal spaces, warm up in public bathrooms, and stretch on odd tables and benches. To the leading lady bursting with excitement to be let loose, even if only on a makeshift ‘stage’ that’s actually a cornered off part of the gym. To the boy cast in his first show, frantically going over each of his ten lines to make sure he nails each and every one of them.

Here’s to the artists who have to make do. Here’s to the painters who paint masterpieces of backdrops with dollar-store paint and decade-old brushes because they don’t have anything left in the budget to use. Here’s to the prop designers who stuff old top hats with underwear to make them stand and painstakingly tape together broken props that just need to last one more show five minutes before curtain. Here’s to the costumers who play Dr. Frankenstein each time a new show’s put on, mixing and matching costume parts and hats and wigs to make something that, in the end, surprisingly looks like it might actually be right.

Here’s to the crew, scurrying about and coordinating with runners and messengers because they can’t afford radios. Here’s to the volunteer stagehands dressed in varying assortments of black, grey, and the odd white sock from the newbie on their first production who didn’t know they were supposed to wear all black for a reason. Here’s to the stage managers, clipboards filled with unintelligible scribbles and minds filled with unintelligible cues they have to call right. Here’s to lighting, to SFX, to the technicians using decade-old mixers and forever entangled rigging, braiding old cables and wires if only to make do for opening.

And here’s to the director, hair in a constant frazzle from telling people where to go and what to do while himself trying to juggle his brilliant creative direction with the demands and limits of what he has now. Here’s to the choreographer struggling to teach the 10-year-olds in the ensemble how to do the finale song’s choreo the night before opening. Here’s to the friends, the family, those loved ones who inevitably come to support all this controlled madness on opening and closing night (sometimes, the same night). Because one day, maybe all of these people might move on, graduate to bigger and better productions, command Broadway stages and garner appreciation, while the next generation fills their place in the wings, waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s to the small theatres and what they bring us all.

Forever Changed

Sabrina Wallace

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for days, trying to figure out what to write about. First blog jitters, I guess. I finally decided that honesty was the best course of action so here we go!

 On a rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires, a group of friends and I had some time to kill when we run into a locally developed production of Dracula, the Musical. It was the nineties and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, was all the rage, so why not see a musical about the prince of the night! After struggling to get seats close together, we sat down as the lights dimmed. The curtains opened at the sound of slow music that told us the show was about to begin. For the next two and half hours, I couldn’t move. The music, the dancing, the singing, the scenery, everything pulled me in. I travelled to Transylvania with Jonathan, fell under Dracula’s spell with Lucy, sympathized with Dracula and his lonely life, and cried when Mina plunged the dagger into her lover’s heart even as she realized that he was not the soulless monster that could not be redeemed by love. I walked into that theatre unaware of emotions that were brewing inside me. That fateful evening, a passion for live theatre awoke in me and changed my heart and soul forever.

 Twenty something years later, the flame is still burning. I have seen my share of shows over the years. Some shows managed to entertain the heck out of me with wonderful scripts, talented performers, and catchy songs. Some, like King Kong, made me feel like a child in an amusement park with the grandiose set design, a fantastic beast and an amazing display of color, music, choreography and talent. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was … well, Harry Potter. I was happily surprised with the show, the casting and the set design. It is always fun to see “what happened next” to those beloved characters we followed along for so many years, but to be honest, a movie would have done the trick (and everyone could have enjoyed it, too). SpongeBob Squarepants was funny, with an intricate set design, sharp choreography and a happy good time, but the most memorable aspects of that musical were Gavin Lee’s Tony Award Nominated performance and Ethan Slater’s flexibility on stage. Matilda tried to tug on my emotional strings when she sang “When I Grow Up” but apart from the fabulous choreography, I remained unchanged. Mean Girls is one of my favorite new musicals. I love the score, the energetic choreography and the unbeatable vocals (those ladies can sing!). However, this movie turned into a Broadway musical is not one of those shows that made me think or feel any different before, during, or after the show. It is not difficult to make the audience laugh, may be a little harder to make them cry, but only a few truly good shows manage to evoke transformation like the one I experienced one rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires.

 I went to see Les Misérables with my daughters a few summers ago. Both girls had been involved in musical theatre as performers in our local community theatre but had not attended a Broadway show. I prepared them beforehand by telling them bits and pieces of the novel that inspired the musical so that they could follow the story along and enjoy the richness of the show. From the moment the curtains went up through the final bows, the girls were not in New York City but in France. They become part of the story, seeking redemption with Jean Valjean, finding family and love with Cosette and Marius, and fighting the revolution with the entire cast. By the time Gavroche died, the tears couldn’t be stopped any longer. We left the theatre in a state of awe, it was such an emotional experience that the girls didn’t even want to go backstage to meet the actors. They needed to process what had happened to them and breathe.

This season is filled with revivals, movies turned into musicals, old pop bands brought to the stage, and a few new stories that open a window into the human condition. Stories that fill us with emotions, that make us think, that make us want to change the world. I was lucky to undergo a few transformations this season. American Son, an intelligent book, masterfully presented by four talented actors, took me on a rollercoaster of feelings starting with hope and ending with a hole in my heart. A real story that could be yours as well as mine, a story that provoked thoughtful conversation, brought a contemporary topic to light, and invited audiences to ponder on the reality of racism and inequality in today’s society. Choir Boy surprised me as I believe that I was witness to one of the best written, best directed, and most beautifully acted plays I’ve seen in years. A painful exposé of intolerance mingled with specks of racism and complex relationships. A powerful script that made me want to give each one of the actors a momma bear hug at the end of the show. Not every show I enjoyed was a play, although most of the plays I’ve seen so far this season left me begging for more. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (West End) is a fast-pace, emotional piece of musical theatre that follows a true story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Singing “He’s My Boy”, Margaret pours her heart to the audience conveying the joy and pain of being the mother of a teenager that lives somewhat outside the norm of society. Once on this Island, a revival that deserves a mention, “tells the story” in a magical array of music, song, and dance, all set in an unconventional circular stage that invites you in. I was sad to see this show close, but I hope it continues to tell the story on tour or through regional theaters. The Prom is an original show that surprises people the most. It’s a musical comedy that makes you want to dance from the moment you walk into the theatre. Based on a true story, The Prom delivers a powerful message of love and acceptance as a means to overcome ignorance and intolerance. I laughed with the ridiculous celebrities, went back to high school with the young cast, wanted to scream at the PTA moms, held my heart in my hand with Emma at the close of the first act (no spoilers), and cried me a river with “Unruly Heart”. It is one of those shows that makes you mad before it brings you back from the brink of rage and in the end shows you a ray of hope for the future of humankind. We need more of those stories in this day and age!

 Art is meant to transform, to inspire, to connect us to our feelings and those of our fellow humans. Art helps us understand each other by seeing the world from their point of view by opening up a window into other people’s lives, feelings, fears. To take in in, we must be open. We must be vulnerable. We must be honest. I want to be transformed every time I sit in the audience so when I walk through the door of a theatre, I leave behind any preconceptions I may have, I open myself to the opportunity to be changed. I listen with my entire being. I watch with my eyes wide open. I let the process happen to me.

 Life is a collection of moments, experiences, connections. I want my experiences to be worth sharing. I hope you will allow me to do so again. Until then, I encourage you to find a show that meddles with your feelings and leaves you forever changed.   


 Everybody’s talking about Jamie - now playing at the Apollo Theatre in London

The Prom - now playing at the Longacre Theatre in NYC

American Son - now playing at the Booth Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)

Choir Boy - now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)

Mean Girls - now playing at August Wilson Theatre in NYC

King Kong - now playing at the Broadway Theatre in NYC

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child - now playing at the Lyric Theatre in NYC and at the Palace Theatre in London

 

           

 

 

 

An Interview with Upcoming Writer and Composer Joseph Purdue

Darren Wildeman

Joseph Prudue is a writer and composer for two musicals. One of which has been out for awhile now, Unfolding Tales, and another one in production which is Legends of Arahma. For the blog I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph and getting some more information about both of these shows and the writing process. His first show, Unfolding Tales, has a cast recording available wherever you get your cast recordings and I strongly recommend giving it a listen. It was quite interesting to get a glimpse at the creative process of these two shows and to hopefully be able to follow their journey from still being written and smaller scale productions to full blown produced musicals. I wish Joseph the best of luck with both of these shows and I hope you enjoy getting a look at these musicals and the process for Joe.

Darren Wildeman: Your first musical Unfolding Tales, based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, has been out for a few years now and it even has a cast recording available on Spotify and other platforms. What has the reception been so far from the people who have seen it?

Joseph Prudue: The reception of the show has been incredible and I'm very honoured to receive so many compliments each month about Unfolding Tales. The thing that surprises me the most is the emotional connection it has with an audience. You can feel it in the room when we perform, there's something gripping about certain songs and certain characters the audience gets attached to.

Unfolding.jpg


 DW: As stated previously this musical is based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, what inspired you to write a musical about him and why Tolkien specifically? There are many other authors and other stories that could be told in a musical so what stood out to you about him?

JP: Well first of all I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. I think the size of the world he created, the history of it all, the different languages and cultures he created, it's truly remarkable and possibly unequalled in terms of creation. Some of the languages he created were as complete as any we use in day to day life. He was an such an intelligent and inspiring man.
So when I decided I wanted to write a musical, my first thought was 'what am I truly passionate about?' I've always loved The Lord Of Things, but obviously that musical had already been created, so I decide to look into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and found a very emotional, powerful story, about friendship and courage. The definitive moment for me happened when I was reading the biography by Humphrey Carpenter and found the letter G.B. Smith wrote Tolkien before he died. The whole letter is beautiful, but the line that captured me was, 'may you say the things I have tried to say, long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.' From that moment, I knew I wanted to write about this story.

 DW: When you are doing a biographical musical on a person, how do you decide what aspects of it to cover? He wrote other works as well as LOTR, was good friends with CS Lewis and other authors, fought in both wars, was very involved politically, had a wife and 4 kids among many other things. In such a full life how do you decide what goes into a musical?

JP: That's a good question and one which I still think about, as I'm not sure I've created the final version yet. For me, you have to look at the pivotal and most emotional moments in Tolkien's life. In school he formed a group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, the T.C.B.S. They had great ambition and shared dreams of how they can change the world. Tragically, they were torn apart by The Great War – two of Tolkien's best friends were killed. So, the journey of this friendship became the heart of the show. Also because The Lord Of The Rings is full of similar friendships and the emphasis on courage against overwhelming odds resembled the bravery of those who fought in the war.
So much of Tolkien's story could've been in the musical, but you can't have too many characters in a two hour show or there's not enough time to really know them or emotionally connect to their story. However, I know Tolkien did have a very strong relationship with his mother and so I wanted to include her. I felt a resemblance between her and Galadriel, with the love of nature and so on. I feel the device worked very well and captured the audience. She's one of my favourite characters.

 DW: It’s fairly well noted that Tolkien was a very devout Christian. He also had many talks with his friends including CS Lewis about his Christianity. When writing a biographical musical, how much do you let that person’s personal beliefs influence the material of the show?

JP: I decided early on not to go into much detail there, because like answered in the previous questions, there's just not enough time to cover everything in one story. However, you get a sense of it in terms of his morals, the things he believed in and the relationship with Father Francis, who became the guardian of Tolkien and his younger brother after their mother died. Tolkien loved the stories of Christ and took inspiration from them. But the scenes with C.S. Lewis, I steered more to their discussions about creative writing, myths and legends.

DW: Where and when can audiences expect to see Unfolding Tales in the upcoming months and years? And what are your hopes for it and the next steps going forward?

JP: I'm not too sure at this stage. Of course, I would love to scale up and find a producer who is passionate about the show and has a vision to take it further. But I think the structure may need further edits before that's possible. I'm hoping to do a performance in 2019. No details yet though.

DW: Your next project is an original fantasy musical Legends of Arahma which you have been working on for just over a year. Where are you at in this musical and what are your hopes and prospects going forward for productions?

JP: At the moment I'm finishing the concept album. All the singers have been recorded and now I'm mixing the songs, with hope to release the album within the next few months. Then we'll be looking to do either a concert or rehearsed reading of the show. We're very excited to see what the response is from the concept album. I'm very proud of what we've created. I do believe it's something new and I can't compare the music to any other theatrical piece. Musically, it's more film score inspired, as I have a huge passion for that genre of music. I actually think Legends of Arahma would make a wonderful movie as well as a musical.

 DW: How many people do you have working on Legends of Arahma and do you prefer to work on a musical independently or with a team of people? What are the advantages and challenges to both situations?

JP: At the moment it's pretty much me and the book writer, Dries Janssens. We've had some good help from Nathan Deane with graphics, but apart from that it's only us and of course our fantastic cast. Stephen Schwartz did have a great impact on the show in terms of lyrics. He met with me and taught me a lot about the craft, how the lyrics should match the rise and fall of the melody, where to draw inspiration from, how to make a lyric sound natural and many other things. After that evening, we virtually re-wrote the entire show lyrically.

DW: Legends of Arhama is totally original. What are the challenges of writing something totally original as opposed to having someone’s life or a source to work with?

JP: Great question, and to be honest it's a blessing and a curse. First of all, writing a completely original story is risky, because producers are unsure whether the show will have audience or not. Even if they love the music and the story, can they convince investors to come onboard and also sell it to the public?
However, the rewards of writing an original story and seeing it grow are very, very exciting. We all know the feeling of seeing something new and magical, which lights our imagination, something that we can't wait to tell our friends about. It's the reason any of us became artists, because we wanted to create something new – that's what an artist is. Someone who follows formulas to make money is not an artist in my eyes.
We need original stories right now, I can't stress that enough. We're seeing so many stories in both film and theatre being remade over and over and I find it very sad. It's actually stopping new writers from getting inspired and it takes excitement out of the world. We need original work to inspire the next generation of writers.

I hope audiences can listen to Legends of Arahma and get inspired – make them wanted to create something of their own, the way my idols did for me. Ultimately, that's the dream.

DW: Without giving away more than you’re comfortable what is the premise of Legends of Arahma?

JP: The thing I like about it, is there's more than one story thread. It's partly about a man called Copernicus who finds out who he truly is in another world. He becomes more than he ever thought he could be and saves a beautiful green world from the destruction of the enemy. The importance of protecting nature is a big part of the show and a message we wish to share, as well union between the different people of the world.
However, it was the conflicted villain, Zoran, who drew me to the piece. I had a great image of her when reading the book and I thought it was the perfect character for me to bring to life musically. Zoran has depth and has been sung beautifully by Jodie Steele on our concept album.

DW: When you write music whether it’s Unfolding Tales or Legends of Arahma where do you draw your inspiration from both musically or in storytelling? Which composers, authors or other writers have left an influence on you?

JP: For me, inspiration can come from many different places. Usually, something in the story has an impact on me and instantly I get images of what the scene should look and feel like. I then try and capture that feel, or emotion with music. But sometimes an interesting character is enough to draw inspiration from. Sometimes it's the description of the landscape which paints a picture and then I know what instruments will capture that.
As for my influences, everyone who's worked with me knows I'm a massive Alan Menken fan. His music is infectious, it's dramatic, emotional, full of life and incredibly memorable, it lives inside the audience long after they've heard it. I noticed early on that it was his melodies above anything that made him superior to many writers and I've always kept that in mind. So when I write song, I always start with the melody. If I can make you feel something and paint a beautiful picture with just chords and melody, no words, then I know I'm on the path. Then when we add the words, considering they're good and match the music, the song will bloom.
I'm also a huge admirer of Stephen Schwartz, for his work on Prince of Egypt, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course, Wicked. I love the work of Stiles and Drewe. I also take influence from the great film composers, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard and many more. Once again, their music does magical things without words and further demonstrates the importance of the melody. Then there's J.R.R. Tolkien, who inspires me as an overall creator and perfectionist.

 DW: Joseph, I want to thank you for your time with me and agreeing to do an interview with us for the ATB blog. Is there anything else people should know about either musical or yourself as a writer and composer?

JP: Thank you. Yes, the Legends of Arahma concept album will be available as a free download within the next few months, so please take a listen and share it with your friends. Also, to any other creative artists out there, if you have an idea, put in the work and bring it to life. No dream career is easy to achieve, but if you're keen to learn, you're prepared to work hard, then great things will come of it. Be sure to keep going – you'll only get better and better.

"I've Had Enough of Just Passing By Life": How One Musical Changed Our Lives

Kelly Ostazeski

Fans of musicals often can cite one musical that changed their lives, whether it's the show that inspired a performer to pursue theatre as a career, the first show we ever saw that got us into theatre, or in this case, how a musical can bring us out of darkness and back to the light.

In this case, it's the musical Hello, Dolly, and how the recent revival impacted so many lives. No matter what actress the audience saw play Dolly, they left the Shubert Theatre transformed. I've interviewed several fans of the show who felt that this one show somehow impacted their lives. Most of the interviewees, including myself, saw actress Donna Murphy as Dolly, but a few here also saw Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler.

Before we proceed, there's something that makes the show even more powerful: both Murphy and Peters share a connection with their character, their own personal loss of their husbands. This makes certain moments, like Dolly's monologues to Ephraim to let her go and let her move on, even more emotional. People often think of Hello, Dolly as a simple, fun musical comedy - and it is, but like so many classics, there is so much depth and emotion at its core. This show is about a woman who wants to move on from the loss of her husband. Yes, she's a matchmaker and she meddles in the lives of the other characters, but while she improves the lives of those around her and helps them, she also needs to find her own happiness again.

Without Dolly Levi, I wouldn't be a writer for this blog. Because of this show, I've found a goal again, a drive again, and I felt my heart coming alive again. Yes, these are lyrics to the famous and inspirational song "Before the Parade Passes By". These are the lyrics that changed me. Before I saw the show (a second time, and it happened to be Murphy's last performance, on January 7, 2018 - a year ago, exactly. Yes, I planned this article for the anniversary of the life-affirming, changing performance).

I knew I was depressed. I'd given up on my career goals and I was settling for a job I had no passion in. I had just lost my grandmother and several other sources of inspiration in early 2016. I felt stuck for two years and filled the void with anything I could distract myself with. There was always a looming feeling of emptiness. I had no reason to carry on. When I saw the show a first time, I loved it, but I guess I wasn't ready to let go. Perhaps the universe was trying to get me to open my heart again.

Something about the energy of the audience, the joy of the show, the optimism of Dolly Levi and her personal journey to "rejoining the human race", and the masterful, emotional performance of Donna Murphy - something woke up inside my heart that day a year ago. I literally "felt my heart coming alive again" as I sat in the theatre. I was changed. Not only could I feel the love of theatre and performing radiating from Murphy on stage, and from the cast members to this insanely talented Broadway legend while she worked her magic, I could feel the audience giving it back.

Maybe it was partially Murphy herself who brought about this change - because I went to BroadwayCon later that month and saw her on a panel about audition stories and the panelists all emphasized our uniqueness, and suddenly I felt like I didn't have to compare myself to others. Suddenly I felt I could start trying again. That's when I realized maybe there's hope for me. Maybe I am enough, maybe I am worth it. Something was missing from my life and I think it was theatre. I saw more Broadway shows last year than since I felt myself sinking futher into depression. Musical theatre completes me - and Hello, Dolly, this panel at BroadwayCon, and meeting and connecting with Murphy and experiencing her kindness - these all helped me realize that. Murphy has told me to be good to myself and to keep doing what I love, and I'm trying. Now I want to take on the world. I want to live life to the fullest and do better, be better, be the best version of me. I want to live those dreams and work toward them.

I started taking voice lessons again. I saw more theatre. I went to New York City (which I've always cited as my happy place, where dreams come true, where I've met most of my inspirations) a lot. I made plans to move there soon, and to no longer take no for an answer, to keep trying. Because really, "I've had enough of just passing by life". Who wants to watch life just pass by and miss out on so much because you don't feel like you're good enough? And just because anxiety and depression tells you you're not worth it? That's not living. That's what I got out of Hello, Dolly.

Murphy returned to the role of Dolly in July and August of 2018, and I got to see her (and talk to her at the stage door) several more times, now with this awareness of what she and Dolly mean to me, and I got to take several friends with me, as well as make several friends through the show. Those were wonderful days I will always remember, and moments I will always cherish.

I wanted to show how we've all been changed by one musical. We've all struggled, we've all been inspired by this magical show. These friends, the people I interviewed for this article, we've all been changed by this extraordinary show.

Before the Parade...

I look back on 2018 with fondness because of all the memories attached to Hello, Dolly, and I honestly don't know where I'd be now if I hadn't found this show when I did. I don't know what I would want out of life; I don't know if I'd have any dreams, or what would keep be going.

Life before Dolly, for all of us, wasn't as bright.

Robbyne had also just lost her grandmother and that loss made her lose hope in her dreams. "I was in a very dark place,"she wrote. Zach was also in a dark place: "I felt trapped, like my life was on autopilot and I was stuck in a rut. Work life was far from perfect, I felt isolated, and was struggling with depression for the first time in many years."

Allie went to see the show with her mother, and noticed a connection between Dolly and her mom. "[My mom] is an incredibly strong inspiring woman who has sacrificed so much for her family. At the time she was in the process of divorcing my dad who had been abusive and terrible to her for my entire life. My mom reached a point where she realized that her marriage was not healthy for her or her children and left her husband of twenty-five years."

Another fan, Kaity, had also experienced loss. "I was floundering. I didn’t know what to do with my life. My dad had passed away about 2.5 years prior, and I felt guilty for feeling joy when I didn’t have him in my life."

Then we all bought a ticket to see this classic, joyous Broadway musical, and were all transported to Yonkers and New York City for a journey to happiness.

In the Theatre

I asked each fan what specifically about the show and the performances that moved us, and so many of the answers were similar, but it was also really interesting to see the differences. Something different captured each of our hearts. The most commonly moving moment was also my favorite, "Before the Parade Passes By". At Murphy's last performance in August, I remember sobbing at intermission after this song, because it was so emotional and so powerful, and I was there sharing it one last time with so many of the friends I'd made through this show.

Rebecca, who also saw Donna Murphy, wrote, "I especially loved her approach to ‘Parade’, the way she went through a whole range of different emotions was very touching and made everybody in the audience connect with the character and her story... I also was very worried that she would start crying during ‘Parade’ in her first performance (I certainly did) because it was so incredibly charged with emotion."

Allie, who saw Bernadette Peters, said, "As we were watching the show...I had a moment of realization during the song 'Before the Parade Passes By' of just how similar my mom was to Dolly. They were both strong talented women who, for different reasons, were coming out of dark periods in their lives. And even though they were older they still had fight left, they still had the ability to get life back into their lives!"

"Dolly reclaiming her heart and her joy from years of grief and sorrow, and I needed that so much," Kaity wrote. "I needed to see Dolly’s heart coming alive again, reclaiming her life before the parade passed her by. I needed the joy of the technicolor Sunday Clothes, of the pastel wonderland of 'Dancing'. I needed it all. I needed this wonderful woman more than I ever knew." She also mentioned an incredible line near the end of the show, as spoken by Cornelius Hackl: "The world is full of wonderful things!" It's amazing how a simple line like that can make you smile and make you see the world a little differently.

Zach, who was lucky enough to see all three Dollys in the Broadway production, mentioned the famous "Oak Leaf Monologue" and Murphy's characterization. "[Donna Murphy] connected with this role in a way I have only rarely seen from any actor or actress in any kind of role, and it was moving from start to finish. Her interpretation of Dolly was one of a woman ready to reclaim her life, to stop living from day-to-day and really savor the feeling of living in the moment and celebrating the big and small things that make life worth living." The Oak Leaf Monologue happens right before "Before the Parade Passes By" and is a monologue to Dolly's late husband Ephraim. Dolly wants to let go of the pain, "rejoin the human race", and carry on. "She claims her own agency in that moment," Zach wrote, "and reclaims her life after years of grieving and trying to avoid moving on out of fear of losing her beloved Ephraim forever."

Robbyne, who also saw all three of the Dollys, was moved by a scene between Dolly and Horace toward the end of the show. Dolly asks Horace, "Am I a somebody?" Robbyne says, "As someone who’s always been very insecure and felt invisible, it always spoke deeply to my heart, and it made me feel like maybe I could matter too."

Others connected to different aspects of Dolly and the performances. Lorraine, who saw Bernadette Peters, wrote, "I love Dolly for the fact the lead is outspoken in a time where women should be meek, that she stands her ground, shows how to make an entrance and how to outwit many a man."

Life After the Parade

Theatre can change our lives even in the smallest way. Rebecca wrote that every Tuesday she thought of Donna Dolly Tuesdays, since in her original run, Murphy was the alternate and performed only on Tuesdays (and during Bette Midler's scheduled vacations).

"I left the theatre feeling more open and joyful than I had felt in years," Kaity said. She also wrote, "Hello, Dolly has connected to me to amazing people, both fans of the show and performers in the show. The show itself gave me a place of refuge while it was running, a safe place to just forget my troubles and be immersed in Dolly’s world for 2.5 hours. I’m a completely different person now than I was before I saw Hello, Dolly, and I’m so much better for it."

"After seeing Hello, Dolly and meeting [Donna Murphy] at the stage door," Christian wrote, "I felt that I could be happy more often. I also felt that I could live my life once more. Dealing with certain things in my private life, that show taught me that I can begin my life again. I can un-pause and continue the chapter I was meant to live and to finish. That we all deserve to be happy and to have seconds chances in all areas in our lives."

Robbyne wrote, "Donna Murphy has taught me so much about the integrity and humility I aspire to have, and the way I hope to make people feel through kindness and caring...She is just captivating to watch. Her authenticity and talent just radiate the entire time she is performing...Seeing her strength, and her ability to keep going through the pain [of loss] and to continue her acting career, made me want to try again in my own. I had given up hope when I lost my Grama. [Donna Murphy] was the one to reignite my acting goals and dreams."

Zach wrote, "I'm a more positive and optimistic person for having experienced this show...Like Dolly, I found a drive to rejoin the human race, to stop wasting away in loneliness, and to seize the day and the opportunities I see right in front of me...Highs are a bit higher now, and the lows last a little less of a long time."  He also said, "Hello, Dolly is one of those shows that from the first note of the overture to the last note of the curtain call is about being positive, about facing challenges, about meeting them head on, about never taking no for an answer when it comes to our own happiness and the happiness of others."

So Long, Dearie

Hello, Dolly closed on Broadway in August 2018, and is now on tour across the country starring Betty Buckley as Dolly. If you have a chance, and especially if you need a little inspiration, go see it. Any show closing on Broadway is sad for its fans, but fans of Dolly are keeping the love and inspiration taught by this wonderful show alive in our hearts. It's not always easy to keep going, after having such a light in our lives. I know I try to carry the messages of Dolly and the journey of this character with me, and always will.

Allie said, "This show and what it helped me learn about my mom helped me see that it really doesn’t matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to grab life by the horns and make a difference."

Zach described his life after Dolly as more positive. "I notice the joy around me more often, and humming the tunes from the show helps me get through some of the tougher times life has thrown at me."

"I am forever changed by the beauty and the heart of this show," Robbyne wrote, "It is filled with memories that I will treasure deeply for the rest of my life. From special moments during the many shows, to my personal interactions and conversations with [Donna Murphy], to meeting some of my dearest friends because of Hello, Dolly. I am permanently changed in some amazing ways."

"I try to live my life how Dolly (and [Donna Murphy]) would want me to, with joy and heart. I take leaps, and I try not to hide behind a cloud of grief. I know my dad would want me to be happy, and that’s what I try to do, always," Kaity said. "The first time I met Donna Murphy at stage door, I told her that I felt true joy for the first time since my dad passed in that theatre. I told her that I felt so guilty feeling that joy previously, but I felt like he would want this for me."

Be positive. Feel joy. Feel the freedom to be happy after a loss or a tragedy in our lives. Never take no for an answer and move forward. Hold your head up high. Live life to the fullest. Keep dancing. Feel you heart coming alive again.

These are just a few things we found through Hello, Dolly. As Dolly sings in the title song, "It's so nice to be back home where I belong."

Carol_Channing_-_1964.jpg



Special Thanks

Thanks to all those I interviewed for the article: Robbyne, Zach, Kaity, Rebecca, Allie, Lorraine, Christian. You all deserved your stories to be told. I am sorry I had to condense so many of your wonderful, eloquent, emotional answers. We were all moved by Dolly, so inspired by the magic inside the Shubert Theatre. Let that magic live on forever. To all the friends I found through Dolly, this is for all of us. Happy Dolly-versary to those of you who were there that night.

Special thanks to everyone involved in the 2017-2018 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly, especially those mentioned in interview answers: Donna Murphy (especially), Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel, David Hyde Pierce, Victor Garber, Santino Fontana, Taylor Trensch, and Charlie Stemp.

"Dolly'll never go away again."

Thank you.

Slim Pickings From the Cobwebs of my Mind

Michael Kape

My first Broadway musical—well, the one in which I was a sapient, walking, talking, singing, dancing human-type person (I know some people question the “human” part)—was What Makes Sammy Run? I was ever-so-close to turning 10. My mother had bought the tickets months in advance—Steve Lawrence! Sally Ann Howe! Robert Alda! How could we miss? Except it was Christmas week. Steve was on vacation with Eydie. Sally Ann had flown to England for the holiday. Robert Alda was still there, looking properly disheveled and grumpy. Even then, the budding critic in me was crying to get out. The show was meh and not very memorable. (I did encounter Steve’s standby many years later when we were both in the same theatre at the same time in Palm Springs, where I now reside in retirement).



My first Broadway musical—really—was the original production of The King and I. Of course, I don’t remember much about it. Mother and I were seated together; she had just become aware of my existence that day because, well, the rabbit died, according to Cousin Eleanor’s OB/GYN (Eleanor was pregnant with my cousin Cheryl, who is three months my senior; Eleanor had urged Mother to go with her because she had been feeling poorly and speculated she had morning sickness). “I hope it’s a boy!” cried the OB/GYN to Mother across a crowded waiting room. It was. “Good times and bum time, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here.” Of course, Mother, being an obsessed Rodgers and Hammerstein fan (don’t get me started, please) chose to celebrate by taking in The King and I. I kicked along to “Shall We Dance”. She hadn’t bothered to inform my father (425 miles away back in Buffalo) of the turn of events yet; she had a show to see. Mother definitely had priorities (plus she was angry at my father).

The second Broadway show I saw (first row mezzanine, 46th Street Theatre) was the one I sat through the next day on my birthday: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. That time, the budding director (as opposed to the critic) took over. “Did you see how the sets coordinated so perfectly with the costumes? The actor playing Finch [by then the late, great Ronnie Welsh, who was also half of a super-couple on As the World Turns] was amazing. The actress playing Rosemary [19-year-old Michelle Lee, actually] was so terrific. Those songs [Frank Loesser]. That orchestra. The choreography [Bob Fosse] I want to do that when I grow up.”

(To be fair, I was already smitten with the stage having played the title character in The Gingerbread Boy at age six—but I digress.)

I sit here typing this blog on the 65th anniversary of my natal day—65 years of being obsessed with doing, watching, and writing about theatre. That’s a couple of thousand times I’ve sat in a darkened room (okay, a few times in bright sunlight when I was seeing or doing shows outdoors), tens of thousands of hours of my life I have spent doing the most worthwhile thing I know. I’ve acted, directed, produced, designed (sets, lighting, costumes), run props, been a dramaturg, been a playwright (The New York Times gave me a good review—does that count?), had a lighting board explode in my face and catch fire (without missing a lighting cue or burning myself). And in that time, I’ve been through some amazing theatrical experiences.

I sat through nearly nine hours of the RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby. It felt like an hour, tops. To see a full Dickens novel come alive on stage in so creative and brilliant a fashion was one of those great theatre moments; it can’t be captured on film.

Not knowing what was going to happen, I was at the opening night of Sunday in the Park with George. At the end of Act I (spoiler alert), when the painting we know so well comes together as a living tableaux, there was this huge, audible gasp from the audience at the Booth. Then dead silence. Then a deafening ovation as we collectively realized and understood what we had just seen.

Dear Evan Hansen. Come from Away. Brilliant. Perfect. ‘Nuff said.

As I recently noted elsewhere, I think She Loves Me is one of those rare properties—the perfect musical, where not a line, not a lyric, not a note of music is out of place. I’ve seen it many times, and I still am left sobbing at the end. C’mon. Unless you have no heart (and I’ve certainly been accused of this, but this belies it), you have to be crying at the end of this gem.

In Spring 1965, my parents took us to spend Passover in the Catskills (if you’ve been binging on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon—which I recommend—you know what those resorts were like). And every second-rate act performing at night was singing some song (out of context) from Fiddler on the Roof. After hearing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man” sung badly night after night, just about the last show I wanted to see was Fiddler. Again, Mother prevailed, and we trudged our way to the Imperial Theatre to see it. I was so wrong. Fiddler is a magical show, it really is. I’m seeing it once again for the umpteenth time in May.

One fine fall afternoon in 1971, I was with my college chums Sally Beddow (if anyone knows where she is now, let me know) and Cleo (Pam) Gurenson (who introduced me to future Tony winner Reid Birney; she’s also MIA). We would regularly go into New York City to see if we could find student discounts at any of the Broadway houses. Someone directed us to the Winter Garden. We got $5 student rush tickets (last row orchestra) for the original production of Follies. Um, uh, well, yeah, it kind of made a lasting impression on us. (Cleo and I had gone a few weeks before to see Company as well; one year later she accompanied me to my first Broadway reviewing gig, the disastrous Hurry Harry.) Sally, Cleo and I also went to see Pippin for my 18th birthday—with the original cast, including Irene Ryan (who sadly passed away a few months later).

Spring semester 1973, our stage management teacher took us to see Irene, followed by a backstage tour. He had helped design the backstage at the newly-opened Minskoff Theatre, so he had lots to show us. While we were there, he took us to meet Debbie Reynolds in her dressing room. She was there with her daughter, Carrie Fisher (this was two years before American Graffiti and four years before that little film Carrie did—I think it was called Star Wars—and six years before I saw Carrie in one of the worst Broadway musicals ever produced, Censored Scenes from King Kong).

Indeed, amongst those many thousands of hours spent in a theatre were many I wished I hadn’t experienced. Lysistrata starring Melina Mecouri (she left acting after this and became a member of the Greek Parliament). The aforementioned Hurry Harry and Censored Scenes. Dude (which I did think had merit, but it was an unholy mess—and a tad uncomfortable since I was seated next to Gerome Ragni, who authored it). The never-ending (seemingly) Tale of Two Cities. Harrigan & Hart (starring another Star Wars alum, Mark Hamill). The calamitous Up from Paradise, which has the distinction of being the only musical ever written (if you can call it actual writing) by famed American playwright Arthur Miller. Voices, starring Julie Harris and Richard Kiley (notable only because its producer, mobster-about-town Joey Gallo, was gunned down in an Italian restaurant the same night I saw it). There were also such gems as Shrew, a musical version of Taming of the Shrew, which was not (unfortunately) Kiss Me Kate, and The Bodyguard, a bad version of the movie. And I shouldn’t omit Amélie.

Along the way, I’ve also found some hidden gems not necessarily huge successes. Inner City, the best directing job Tom O’Horgan ever did. 9 to 5. Enron (I genuinely loved this show—I thought it was brilliant). Finian’s Rainbow (okay, disclaimer here: I was an investor in the Broadway revival, and it deserved a much longer run—damn Marketing department).

Other shows I’ve loved over the years: Fiorello, Falsettos, A Chorus Line. Most Happy Fella, Hairspray, Plain and Fancy, Evita, Next to Normal, The Book of Mormon. City of Angels. Little Me. Brigadoon (I still think it’s the best show Lerner and Loewe ever wrote, or as Sondheim noted, “I saw My Fair Lady, I sorta enjoyed it”). Almost anything by Sondheim (except Do I Hear a Waltz?). Hello Dolly with Carol Channing (so sue me; I thought Bette was doing her typical one-woman show up there, and not playing Thornton Wilder’s Dolly Gallagher Levi). Mame. La Cage. Les Miz (well, before I inadvertently got the entire touring cast fired on the road for giving a fifth-rate performance).

And popular shows I just didn’t like, which I offer with no explanation except I found all of them weak in their own way: Rent, Wicked, Love Never Dies, The Lion King, Cats, August: Osage County, Miss Saigon.

I know I’ve left off hundreds of titles I wanted to include here. Shows like Big River, Little Shop of Horrors (which I saw before it was a monster hit), Smile, Sweet Smell of Success, Bright Star, High Fidelity, Legally Blonde, Peter and the Starcatcher. Maybe when (or if) I turn 70 I can have another go at this. Damn, I’ve seen a lot of theatre. I so need a life. Or maybe this is my life.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® who is in a reflective mood. Contrary to popular opinion (which he might just have fostered himself), he doesn’t hate everything. He just hates bad theatre. It makes him grumpy, which in turn makes him yell at the young whippersnappers to get the hell off his lawn.

My Personal Year in Review

Steven Sauke
As 2018 comes to a close (already?!), I thought it would be nice to look back on the musicals I have seen in the past couple years. Looking at the list, nearly all of them are based on, or at least inspired by, real events. Some were live onstage, while several of them were on Fathom Events in movie theaters.

In no particular order, these are the shows that stand out in my memory.

Here Lies Love

This musical by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim tells the story of Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines. Having grown up in the Philippines in the 80s and early 90s, there were parts of this show that I remember experiencing.

A friend got me a ticket, and I wasn’t sure what to think about the “standing room” tickets that we got. I was particularly surprised to notice in the lobby that the “standing room” tickets were the most expensive at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Having not seen a show at that venue in the past (also where Come from Away performed its pre-Broadway shows, which I missed), I was not quite sure what to expect. I was told we would be onstage, and that people would be directing us where to go as the actors performed. This confused me, as I wasn’t sure if we might be blocking the audience from seeing the show. As we entered the theatre, they handed out glow-in-the-dark earplugs, warning us that it would be very loud, and we would need them. We were ushered into a fairly small rectangular room with a large disco ball in the middle hanging over a long table spanning nearly the width of the room. Spotlights were everywhere, and there was a family portrait of the Marcoses projected on one wall. At first I thought we would go from there into the theatre. Then I realized this room was the stage. The seats are on balconies above the stage, looking down on it.

As the show started, the disco ball rose up to the ceiling, and the DJ introduced the show from his raised box in one corner of the stage. On the opposite end of the stage, a woman said, “Excuse me” and brushed past me as she climbed the steps to that part of the stage to join the young Imelda, already on stage. A tropical downpour was projected on the wall behind the actresses as we got to know Imelda and her childhood friend Estrella on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte. As the story progressed, we saw her growing relationship with Ninoy Aquino, who was more interested in politics while she was interested in fashion. She joined a beauty pageant and became the “Rose of Tacloban.” (Tacloban is the capital of the island province of Leyte.) I was fascinated with the quick costume changes during that song that they didn’t even try to hide, as she went from one beautiful Philippine dress to another, with stagehands donning new costumes on her. Eventually, her relationship with Ninoy was interrupted when she met a certain Ferdinand Marcos and dated and married him in short order. On their honeymoon, they danced on the beach, or in our case, what I initially thought was a long table when entering the theatre. This was also the first time I have seen someone dancing in tsinelas (flipflops). I was fascinated by the interesting footwear, and was then fascinated that I had to stop and think of the English word for it.

As the story continued, we learned about their turbulent marriage and the political rivalry that grew between Marcos and Aquino. Marcos would eventually declare martial law [side note: the period of martial law was when we moved to the Philippines], and Aquino’s outspoken opposition to it got him arrested and imprisoned. (A wheeled stairway was turned backwards and became his cell.) Imelda visited him in prison and encouraged him to move to America to escape all of this. He and his family moved, but he couldn’t stay away. In an emotional farewell on the tarmac in the US, he sang good bye to his wife Corazon and son Ninoy III, and climbed the stairs. The staircase that had been his prison cell was now the stairway to the plane, and then the stairs off the plane in Manila at what would eventually become known as Ninoy Aquino International Airport. As he started to descend the stairs, there was a loud bang, flash, and he slumped over as the lights went dark. His mother Aurora Aquino sang a mournful song, dressed in black and carrying a black umbrella, as the mourners crossed the stage. His assassination in 1983 played a major part in the people rising up in the bloodless 1986 People Power Revolution to elect a new president, Corazon Aquino, and force the Marcos family into exile in Hawaii. Imelda mournfully wondered why the Philippine people no longer loved her, and her estranged friend Estrella wondered the same thing about Imelda.

With the Marcos family gone, the DJ came down to the stage and sang the final song, accompanied on his guitar. The company then returned to close the show.

Throughout the show, the stagehands, wearing glow-in-the-dark pink and holding glowsticks, directed those of us in the onstage audience around the stage as stages, tables, and other set pieces rotated and were otherwise moved. By the end of the show, most of the stage and “long table” had moved to one end of the stage. For Aurora Aquino’s song, she and fellow mourners were on a part of stage that was slowly transported from one end to the other as the song continued. After that, the performance was on the bare floor on the end of the stage that no longer had raised stage pieces. Throughout, the action was all around us and we had to turn around and move to take it all in. The news media was represented by reporters and cameramen, and as the cameramen filmed, their cameras projected the footage on the wall. Throughout, people were identified by their name on the walls, similar to how they would be identified in a news report. The years and locations were similarly projected on the walls.

It was a powerful show, and the staging was unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere. Thus far, it has played in New York, London and Seattle, and last I heard they were hoping it will make it to Broadway. I hope it does. In some ways it reminded me of Miss Saigon and Evita, and was more powerful for me because I remember some of the events in the last few minutes of the show. In 1986, we got a vacation from school during the People Power Revolution because it was too dangerous for us to be out.

 

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Miss Saigon

This show is more familiar to the Broadway community, so I will not go into the plot as much as I did with Here Lies Love. It was inspired by several sources: primarily, a heartbreaking photo of a Vietnamese woman at the airport saying good bye to her child to give them a better life. It is also inspired by Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Crysanthème and the opera that book inspired, Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. I saw the London cast as filmed for Fathom Events to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the musical. It tells the story of Christopher Scott, an American marine stationed in Vietnam at the end of the war, and his relationship with Kim, a Vietnamese teenager who fled an attack on her village and found a less than desirable job in the big city. Chris and Kim spend an eventful night together, and just like that, Saigon falls and he is forced to leave without her. Three years later, Kim finds herself in Bangkok trying to provide for her young son Tam and absolutely certain that Chris will come back for her and their son. Chris, meanwhile, convinced he would never see Kim again, has remarried and is building a life with his new wife Ellen. Ellen is bewildered by Chris’s nightmares, and they are further shocked when they learn that Kim is still alive, and that Chris has a son. Chris and Ellen go to Bangkok, and though a series of unfortunate circumstances, it falls to Ellen to tell Kim that Chris has now remarried. Kim wants to send her son to America with his father, but Ellen feels it would be better for the child to be with his mother. Kim takes decisive measures to ensure that, by her sacrifice, Tam will have a better life in America.

There was an intermission between acts (the first time I have experienced this at a movie theater), and then a second intermission after the second act. After that, they showed the 25th Anniversary celebration. The original cast (as many as could come) were there, and Lea Salonga (the original Kim) sang a duet with the current “Gigi” of “The Movie in My Mind.” Lea also did a duet with Simon Bowman (original Chris). The composers were there as well.

While for the most part I loved the show, I find it sad that the song “Her or Me”, which then morphed into “Now that I’ve Seen Her”, was cut in favor of a completely different song called “Maybe.” The tune was nothing like its predecessors, and it felt out of place, tacked on to a masterpiece. I would have preferred that they keep the powerful “Now that I’ve Seen Her.”

This is an emotional and powerful show, and having grown up in Asia, it also resonated with me with the Asian elements. I have not been to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, but I have been to Bangkok (though not the parts of Bangkok portrayed in the musical). Before moving on to the West End and Broadway, Lea Salonga was popular in the Philippines, so I grew up hearing her. Though I do not recommend this show for children, it is very powerful and moving. My eyes were watering at times watching it.

Allegiance

This has played on Fathom Events in movie theaters several times. I highly recommend it, as it is very educational, and it is about a part of our history that was not taught at length in school. While almost all the characters are fictional, it is inspired by George Takei’s memories of being in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2. The way they were treated was shameful, and I believe everyone needs to watch this to make sure we do not repeat this dark part of our history. It is an inspirational story of never giving up on family and treating all humans with dignity. It teaches the Japanese concept of gaman (我慢), or holding up in tough times in a patient and dignified manner. George Takei, Lea Salonga, Telly Leung and the rest of the cast shone.

The show was followed by a documentary about the internment camps. There’s so much we weren’t taught, so much we need to know. The next time this airs, please do yourself a favor and go see it.

Puffs

This is a parody of the Harry Potter story, following the saga through the events of all seven books from the perspective of the Puffs. (The houses are renamed, probably to avoid copyright issues. They are the Snakes, the Braves, the Smarts and the Puffs.) Wayne lives in the US and is surprised to get an owl telling him that he has been accepted at Hogwarts in the UK. He had no idea his parents, who he never knew, were British. It skims over the highlights of the seven books, as the Puffs are constantly outshone and outdone, but they do their best to make their contributions despite being underappreciated. While this is not Harry Potter canon, I think I will leave the plot description at that, as it is important to #keepthesecrets with all things Harry Potter.

This play was filmed off-Broadway, and I saw it on Fathom Events in a movie theater. It is a fun show, particularly enjoyable for fans of the books that inspired it. I’m not sure how well people who do not know the story would understand what is going on, but I’m sure they would still enjoy it. The cast is small, with most actors playing multiple roles. It’s similar to Come from Away in that respect (though that’s probably the only similarity). The stage is also surprisingly small, considering the sweeping scope of the story. In a way, that kind of highlights how the Puffs are small and underappreciated (underrated?), but their value is much greater than it appears.

Newsies

Disney came out with their movie about the 1899 New York newsboy strike while I was in high school. My freshman year in high school we did a Disney revue and performed “King of New York.” So I was excited years later when they did a Broadway version, and was further excited when I found out they were filming a stage production with the combined touring cast and members of the original Broadway cast. This was an opportunity I could not pass up.

As with all Disney’s Broadway shows based on movies, they added songs and plot elements. For example, the characters of Denton and Sarah (Davey and Les’ sister) were combined into Katherine, daughter of Pulitzer. Medda Larkin, the “Swedish Nightingale” in the movie, was decidedly not Swedish in the Broadway version, but just as amazing. One of my favorite moments in the movie is where they sing near the beginning, “When you’ve got a hundred voices ringing, who can hear a lousy whistle blow?”, and then that changes later on to “When you’ve got a million voices ringing, who can hear a lousy whistle blow?” A stage production can’t replicate the large crowds they can have in a movie, so that didn’t have the same effect on me; however, what did give me similar chills was the new song “Brooklyn’s Here.” Up to that point, the newsies’ attempts to gather support from other groups depended on the response from Spot Conlon and his group of Brooklyn newsies. Once they respond in support, the other boroughs join in. This is a powerful story of what can be accomplished by a unified effort. I also liked the way the Broadway version incorporated Teddy Roosevelt better than the movie.

Something Rotten

This is the show that taught me that it might not be wise to listen to a cast recording of a musical comedy for the first time in the car while driving down the freeway. I tend to shut my eyes when I laugh hard. Yeah, not a good idea while driving. I managed to keep my eyes open, but it was a challenge. “A Musical” was the song that did me in.

So of course, the theatre being a much safer place to be doubled over laughing, I jumped at the opportunity to see the show when it came to Seattle! It was absolutely worth it. The rivalry between Shakespeare and the Bottom Brothers was like no other. Throw in Nostradamus and an attempt at stealing an idea Shakespeare will have in the future, and you get an omelet! The nods to other musicals and constant parodies and puns made for an evening of hilarity. Adam Pascal was brilliant as Shakespeare. I highly recommend this show if you get the opportunity.

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Hamilton

I was initially skeptical of this show. I am not a fan of hip hop and rap, and I also have an aversion to an excess of swearing. I learned early on that this show has both. When I first tried listening to the cast recording a couple years ago, I turned it off during the first track because it just wasn’t my kind of music. More recently, I decided to give it another chance due to its popularity, and I made myself listen to the entire (rather long) cast recording. I found out that, once you get past the style and the swearing, it is actually a powerful, moving show. So, when I learned it was coming to Seattle, I was much more excited about it than I had been in the past. But I didn’t have much hope of seeing it due to the very expensive price tag. My brother’s employer came to the rescue, as they paid for a group of their employees to go see it, with the possibility of bringing a guest. Since I have an awesome brother, I got to go see it! (My coworkers were jealous.)

The show follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, from his early political life, to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr, sometime after his son’s similar death. It follows his romance and marriage to Eliza Schuyler, with twists and turns along the way, as well as his contributions to American politics and history. It is a powerful musical, and I highly recommend it. (“Immigrants: We get the job done!”) I would love to see it again. (King George was probably right. I’ll be back. Da da da da da da da da da da-ya da!) I would also say it is worth it just to see Lafayette rapping in a strong French accent.

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Crowns

Taproot Theatre, one of Seattle’s premiere community theatre groups, put on the lesser-known musical Crowns, which is about the African American experience in the South. Yolanda, a city girl from Brooklyn, visits, and six women (and one man) tell her their stories with the hats (or crowns) they wear to church and elsewhere. It is a joyful and moving celebration of the human spirit, and Yolanda is slowly changed over the course of the show. I recommend it.

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Come from Away

I have gone into detail on the plot and songs of this show in previous blogs, so here I will focus more on my experience, most of which happened after my post in August. Interviewing the people who inspired the show gave me a new perspective on the tragedy that I remember, and the way others responded to it around the world. I now count several of them among my friends.

Our Bible study group from my church decided to go to the show during its run, as there are many lessons in the show that express a biblical view of how to welcome strangers with open arms (that far too many of my fellow Christians seem to have forgotten, but that’s another matter). Our group leader is a subscriber at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and bought tickets for us, that we were going to need to pay back. However, she asked that we wait to pay her back because an anonymous donor had offered to cover part of the cost. She was blown away when said donor ended up paying the ENTIRE cost for our group to see it! I still don’t know who paid for us to see it, but if you’re reading this, thank you!!

Top: With Diane Davis; Middle: with Kevin Tuerff; Bottom: Hannah, Beulah and Bonnie.

Top: With Diane Davis; Middle: with Kevin Tuerff; Bottom: Hannah, Beulah and Bonnie.

Having interviewed several of the people involved over the internet, I wanted to meet them in person. Kevin Tuerff invited me to a special screening of the HBO Canada documentary You Are Here: A Come From Away Story. He said I could invite a guest, so my brother came with me. It was a deeply moving documentary, and I am looking forward to it being available for US and international audiences. The experience was even more powerful sitting down the row from Kevin Jung, right behind Janice Goudie, Brian Mosher, Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke. Kevin Tuerff was a couple rows ahead of me. Before the show, I walked up to Nick and Diane Marson and introduced myself and thanked them for the interview. They then introduced me to Bonnie Harris, who was there with her sister. Afterwards, Beulah Cooper gave me a hug. I was amused that Oz Fudge was wearing an “STFD” t-shirt, as that’s his line in the show. I got to speak with Kevin Tuerff, who recognized me, and I took a picture of Bonnie, Beulah and Hannah. The only people not able to make it were Diane Davis and Claude Elliott, who had a conflict in Newfoundland, and Beverley Bass had to leave Seattle that morning, so couldn’t make it to the showing. The director and producer of the documentary were there. Sankoff and Hein were also there, but I didn’t get to meet them.

The Seattle Public Library hosted an event in which a representative from the 5th Avenue spoke about his research and knowledge of the show and its background. He explained how Come from Away is only the third of a very small subset of musicals, one based on interviews. It is not based on any book, movie or anything else. All research by the composers was done by means of interviews at the 10th anniversary celebration in 2011. They compiled many hours of recordings that they used to build a 100-minute musical. (The other musicals based on interviews are A Chorus Line and Working.) Chelsea LeValley, who workshopped the part of Beverley Bass before the show went to Broadway, sang “Me and the Sky.” Two Seattleites who were stranded in Newfoundland after 9/11 then shared about their experiences. One landed in Gander, and the other in St. John’s. Both were welcomed warmly. One difference was that while they allowed passengers to take their carry-ons off the planes in Gander, they did not allow that in St. John’s. So the passengers there had to make do with even less. One of them remembered that before they were allowed to land, planes were circling, waiting for direction where to land. As far up and as far down as she could see out her window, she could see planes circling, like a tornado of planes. But everyone made it down safely.

Our group from church went to see the show a few days later. Before the show, I attended a pre-show talk telling more of the background. We learned about how Sankoff and Hein met and got married. Their first argument was about whether or not music could change the world. They were Canadians living in New York when 9/11 hit, and that night they gathered around their piano with international friends and sang. It was very traumatic, but music and friendship brought them through it.

The show was everything and more I had dreamed it was. It was deeply moving, and I just had to go again. It just so happened that my previous birthday, my family told me we would go as a family to a show, and I was supposed to name the show. Knowing it was coming and that I would want to see it more than once, I requested Come from Away. So the week following the first showing, I saw it again with my family. I was surprised when Caleb at the merchandise booth recognized me and asked if it was my second or third time. My family was equally moved by the show.

Between showings, I had to go downtown to renew my car tabs. The man at the counter at the Department of Licensing saw my Come from Away shirt and asked me about it. He really wanted to see it, but he said his partner had been in New York at the time, and it was still too raw for him. He told me that his partner recalled being inside while everything outside turned black with the ashes from the fires and the rubble, and every once in a while, pieces of paper would hit the windows and blow away.

Partway through the run in Seattle, I found out that Diane Davis was coming, having missed the opening. While the first two times I saw it were planned, this one was not. She told me ahead of time which shows she would attend, and I decided to try to see one of those shows. It was Canada Night. I arrived at the box office and asked if they had rush tickets, but the show was sold out. They told me to wait and see if any seats opened up. So, I waited outside the theatre while someone dressed in RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) regalia welcomed guests into the theatre. Just before the show was due to start, I returned to the box office, and a seat had opened up! It was even relatively close to the stage. The first time I was in the balcony, and the second time I was in the back of the orchestra level below the balcony overhang. This time I was in row K. It was close enough see the actors’ expressions. After the show, they had a talk-back with Canadian dignitaries, the person who commissioned the show, and others, including Diane Davis. I moved closer to the stage, and when Diane saw me, she mouthed, “Steven?” After the talk-back, Diane gave me a big hug and told me it was nice to see a familiar face.

It was the experience of a lifetime. As my brother so eloquently put it, “So when are we going to Newfoundland?”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a cod to kiss. I don’t know when, but that must happen.

 

These are the shows I have seen in the past couple years. What is next? My brother’s employer is sending a delegation to Dear Evan Hansen next month, and he invited me to come too! I can’t wait! I’m currently listening to the audiobook in preparation. (Well, not as I type, but I listen to it when I get the chance.

2018 has been an amazing year. It’s hard to believe it is almost over! I look forward to future adventures in theatre in 2019 and beyond, and I hope everyone has an amazing New Year!

 

Steven Sauke is a Broadway enthusiast who took all the pictures above, attended all the shows featured in the past couple years, and can get long winded at times.

RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

Jonathan Fong
It introduced thousands to Broadway. Every night it played at the Nederlander Theatre, it touched the souls of hundreds. It did so with one simple message – no day but today.

I am, of course, talking about the rock musical sensation of Rent. Born of Jonathan Larson’s creative ministrations and orphaned just before its first preview by Larson’s unfortunate passing, the musical about a band of young bohemians trying to navigate life riddled with death, bills and AIDS is loved by millions, and for good reason. For its brash, coarse yet utterly real content matter – not many musicals unabashedly yell odes to “mucho masturbation” in their Act 1 finales – it truly touches the heart too. The harsh electric guitar and frenetic energy of “Out Tonight” is tempered by the soft guitar melody and haunting repetition of “Will I”, inspired by one of Larson’s own visits to an AIDS support group, while the lighthearted romance of “I’ll Cover You” is turned on their head by its reprise in the second act. Not to mention, of course, the joyous, life-affirming finale with everyone belting their hearts out to affirm the show’s message and show that all does, indeed, work out in the end and that there truly is no day but today. And that is truly among the show’s biggest flaws.



Thing is, Rent is just too perfect. Everything, all the dramatic tension, the underlying question of “will I lose my dignity” and the ever-present fear of death within all the scenes, is thrown away quite simply on a whim in those last few moments; a true deus ex machina, if I’ve ever seen one. Angel’s death leaves a grim, stark impression on the cowed audience; that one of the most beloved, kindest and most selfless of people the audience sees in the show can so easily be taken away is one of the most grim reminders of the true dangers of AIDS back then, in a time when the epidemic was so widespread and few knew what to truly do to contain it. In light of that, Mimi’s sudden, seemingly magical (or rather, illogical) revival and second wind comes across as a scoff in the face, a ‘whatever’ moment. It makes for a heartwarming ending to the show, sure, but it doesn’t make the touching, heart-wrenching one we as the audience have been led to expect from the show. Not to mention how some parts of the show simply don’t quite make sense – dogs do generally know not to jump off buildings, even when in extreme auditory discomfort from a street drummer’s fierce drumming – while others do feel a tad awkward (“Your Eyes” isn’t the most touching goodbye song, not in the same way “One Song Glory” or “I’ll Cover You Reprise” are heartbreaking ballads setting near-impossible standards to match, at least).

And yet, does that change the perfection of the show one bit? Does it make the tears of joy as Mimi and Roger embrace any less heartfelt or the joyful reunion of the cast – plus Angel – at the end to belt out the final lyric “no day but today” any less beautiful? Does it mean that “One Song Glory” suddenly loses its meaning, ceases to remind one of our inner fears, of death and failure and of making a mark? Does it make the show as a whole any less poignant and coarse and utterly real? The answer, in my opinion, is no.

Sure, Rent’s ending leaves something to be desired. Sure, there are a couple of songs – particularly in the second act – which fall a little flat, perhaps somewhat explainable by the fact that they simply couldn’t be revised or replaced by their original composer between the show’s initial Off-Broadway debut and its inevitable record-breaking run on Broadway. Sure, the show as a whole could have been made more watertight had Larson had more time to work on it or simply written it with another ending in mind (he was, after all, insistent on Mimi living in the end, though who knows if time and additional previews/performances might’ve changed his mind). But nothing changes the fact that the story and message of the show are just so incredibly necessary in a way that one cannot comprehend unless they’ve seen or heard it and so perfect in that they, even in spite of being imperfect and flawed, make you feel a whole rollercoaster of emotions and then some in a mere two and a half hours of runtime (plus the obligatory 10-minute intermission). If you were to ask me to choose between a technically perfect yet bland show and the raw, imperfect truth of Rent – made ever more poignant by the fact that its composer and writer lived, breathed, and died in the same world as the musical he wrote was set in – I’d choose Rent any day as an example of what a truly perfect musical should be. For it, unlike any other show, truly reminds one that there is no day but today.

Merry Christmas

Multiple of the ATB bloggers have put together a special article to celebrate Christmas, and what some of our favourite Christmas themed shows and songs are. We hope you enjoy, and the ATB blog and admin teams wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Holidays, and a prosperous New Year.

Kelly Ostazeski
I think the show that reminds me most of Christmas is Anastasia. I just took one of my best friends to see the tour, and it was sort of a Christmas gift to her because she wouldn't have been able to see the show otherwise. I also turned it into a huge surprise and she had no idea what we were doing until the day of. Also, I just saw the Broadway Princess Holiday Party and Liz Callaway, the original singing voice of Anastasia, sang "Once Upon a December", which is fitting because it's December and it sounds wintery. It's not that the show is even remotely Christmas-y, but I think it's a glitzy enough show that it's perfect, in a way, to see it during this season. I was also considering Little Women, because it's Christmas in one of the first scenes in the musical, and also Mary Poppins, because I saw the Broadway show one December, and the new movie Mary Poppins Returns just came out during this Christmas season.

 

Jonathan Fong
Well, this isn’t a very Broadway pick, but hey, it’s written by Pasek & Paul, so why not. I’m going to go for the song ‘A Million Dreams’ from The Greatest Showman.

 Why? Don’t ask me either, I couldn’t tell you. But the idea of there being a world that could be, one that only a million dreams could bring to us, is one that just fits so well with the warmth and spirit of goodwill of Christmas. There’s a whole world out there that we could bring to ourselves and others, if only we dream for it – that’s how I treat Christmas, as a time for giving and for self-betterment. That’s the sort of joy I get from Christmas and the Christmas spirit, and I feel this song best embodies that. For listening to this song reminds me of that, that over all obstacles we can better ourselves and give others a world we’re all going to make, together.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Steven Sauke
“Prayer”, Come from Away.

Since the first time I listened to the cast recording of Come from Away, it resonated deeply with me. It brought back memories for me of learning of the tragedy and the aftermath. The music alone left me in tears. I grew up internationally, and this was truly an international tragedy. I found the song “Prayer” especially moving and relatable. Having lived in three countries, and having visited several others, the sense of unity in this song is particularly powerful for me. It beautifully weaves the prayer of St. Francis with Jewish, Sanskrit and Arabic prayers, all expressing a desire for peace and praise to God. This is the spirit of Christmas. In the Bible, the angels proclaimed “peace on earth” to the shepherds. St. Francis (and Kevin T. in the musical) prayed that God would “make me a channel of Your peace.” The rabbi and Eddie pray that God, who makes peace on high, make peace on us and all of Israel. Amen. The Sanskrit section of the song prays that they be led from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality, and above all, peace, peace, peace. In Arabic, the character Ali praises Allah for his greatness and glory.

In his book Channel of Peace, and when I was interviewing him for my blog post in August, Kevin Tuerff mentioned that St. Francis’ prayer was in his head while stranded in Gander, but he did not recall mentioning that when Sankoff and Hein interviewed him in preparation for writing the musical. It seemed providential that they included it, and coming from Kevin T., no less. This song and Kevin Tuerff’s book have got me thinking more about how I can be used as a channel of peace. As a Christian, and as a human, I want to be someone who spreads peace. For too long, both Christianity and Islam have given good reasons for their violent stereotypes, exacerbated by the Crusades, terrorism, countless wars, and so much more. But both religions have peace at their hearts. The extremists on both sides have given their respective religions a bad name. We need to end the conflicts and work together to become a channel of “PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN!”

PS. Did I mention I saw Come from Away three times when it came through Seattle in October? It is that good! In fact, it’s so good that even Grumpy Olde Guy liked it when he saw it a few weeks later in LA! A ticket would make a great Christmas present for anyone in your life if you get the chance.

Darren Wildeman

While it takes place over a few different seasons, for me She Loves Me reminds me a lot of Christmas. It’s filled with hope and despite the fights, struggles, and dark times the characters face, they still end up with a good life. I feel like this musical exhibits a lot of the hope people feel around the Christmas season. And fittingly the show wraps up on the Christmas season. It exhibits its festive cheer or lack there of on a hilarious version of “12 Days of Christmas” but then quickly steps back to the main plotline in seeing if two young lovers will indeed realize how long they’ve been in love. And all the characters in the shop end being friendly and warm to each other. I feel like this is a great representation of Christmas. It’s one of the few times of the year where there is little conflict or fighting, and no matter how bad the rest of your year may have been Christmas is a chance to find some cheer and happiness. I feel like the way She Loves Me ends represents this well.

 

Broadway Princess Party

Kelly Ostazeski

Broadway's princesses have been traveling the country for a year now, after sold out engagements in Los Angeles and New York City, these talented singers have begun a tour. I have had the privilege of attending three of their concerts, the most recent of which was the holiday party on December 17 at Sony Hall in New York. I previously attended the concerts at 54 Below in June and New Jersey Performing Arts Center in September.



The Broadway Princess Party was created by Tony Nominee and star of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway, Laura Osnes, with musical director Benjamin Rauhala, and now features Grammy nominee Courtney Reed, original Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway, and Tony Nominee Susan Egan, original Belle on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, as well as the voice of Meg in the animated movie Hercules.

As a lifelong fan of Disney, princesses, and musicals, this concert sounded like a dream come true. Both concerts at 54Below in June sold out in less than an hour. When the princesses perform in New York City, there are often guest stars. Since the 54Below show happened on a Monday, Christy Altomare (star of Anastasia on Broadway), Liz Callaway (the singing voice of Anastasia in the animated film), Adam Jacobs (the original Aladdin on Broadway), Jeremy Jordan (Newsies), Corey Cott (Newsies), and Derek Klena (the original Dimitry in Anastasia on Broadway) were able to join the party.

The tour was joined by guest star Adam J. Levy, who sings the role of prince whenever the princesses want to do a duet. At Monday's concert at Sony Hall, he joined Reed in singing "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, and Osnes in singing "Love Is an Open Door" from Frozen.

Also on Monday in New York, Liz Callaway, Adam J. Levy, Corey Cott, and new guest princess Stephanie Styles joined. Styles will appear in Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Kiss Me, Kate next year.

If you love Disney, doesn't it sound like the greatest night of your life to hear these iconic songs sung by incredible singers and sometimes the original performers? It truly doesn't get any better than Susan Egan singing "I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules or "Home" from Beauty and the Beast. Or Liz Callaway singing "Once Upon a December" and "Journey to the Past" from Anastasia. (Although if you were lucky enough to attend the June concert at 54 Below, you would've heard the "Journey to the Past" duet by Callaway AND Christy Altomare, which was later released a single.) These two amazing singers are worth the price of admission alone; they sound exactly the same as they did in the movies in 1997.

Courtney Reed sings "These Palace Walls" from Aladdin, and treats us with a story about how Jasmine was always her favorite princess and it's a dream come true that she got to originate the role on Broadway. She also sings an incredible rendition of "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas and "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. At the holiday concert, instead of her Aladdin song, she sang "All I Want for Christmas is You".

Laura Osnes sings an incredible medley of songs from every musical version of Cinderella, including "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from the animated film, "In My Own Little Corner" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "On the Steps of the Palace" from Into the Woods, "Lavender's Blue" from Disney's live action movie, and more...all in one epic song.

Another medley was performed at the holiday concert: Susan Egan sang "Something There" from Beauty and the Beast, Osnes sang "Jingle Bells", and Reed sang "Jingle Bell Rock"...it sounds crazy, but somehow it worked.

Other highlights: Stephanie Styles's impression of Snow White while singing "Someday My Prince Will Come", Corey Cott and Laura Osnes singing "Something To Believe In" from Newsies, the three princesses singing "A Million Dreams" from The Greatest Showman and "Let It Go" as the finale, an incredible guest vocalist singing "Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog, Laura Osnes's power medley of every other princess they had to cut to make time for the Christmas songs (in which she plays Rapunzel, Mulan, Esmeralda, Pocahontas, Aurora, and Ariel all in one song), and Liz Callaway singing "My Grown Up Christmas List".

At every concert, they feature the winner of the Unleash Your Inner Princess contest, where they choose a guest vocalist to be the local princess and perform on stage. In New Jersey, a girl sang "How Far I'll Go" from Moana and at Monday's holiday concert, the winner sang "Almost There" from Princess & the Frog. Both girls were excellent. They also hand out prizes for anyone who comes dressed in cosplay - because who wouldn't want to attend a princess party as a princess?

If these talented vocalists are coming to your area in the near future, and if you love Disney at all, I recommend going. It's an incredible night of music and magic, especially for those who love princesses. The performances I attended were some of the theatrical highlights of my year, and I'm already looking forward to the next time I see them. The VIP meet and greet with the princesses is also worth it!

 

The Showtunes of Christmas

Steven Sauke

This time of year, Christmas carols are everywhere you go! In the stores, in restaurants, at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, everywhere! Most of them are actually Christmas carols, but some people seem to have the idea that if it’s Broadway, it must be Christmas. In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be helpful to come up with some suggestions for those wanting to record their very own Broadway Christmas album.

There are many important considerations when selecting songs to include in your Broadway Christmas album. First of all, it is very important to make sure to procure the rights to perform any showtunes. You should also consider your vocal range, as some songs just aren’t for everyone. For the purposes of this blog, I will just focus on the songs themselves, presenting appropriate and inappropriate songs for your consideration.

When selecting your songs, I propose asking some important questions:

1. Is it a showtune? We know not all musicals are Broadway, but for the sake of inclusiveness, I will not differentiate between Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-off Broadway, or that musical you just decided to write that will hopefully someday be Broadway! If it’s a showtune, great!

2. Is it a Christmas song? If the majority of the song is about Christmas or winter, great! But this is one area where many Christmas albums miss the mark. More on that later.

All the songs I will suggest are showtunes. But not all are Christmas songs. In my opinion, only Christmas showtunes should be included in your Broadway Christmas album.

So, without further ado, here we go.


IS IT CHRISTMAS? YES!

“We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame.

This is an obvious, delightful choice. It is also timely in these turbulent times. It reminds us of the joys of Christmas and how it can help in difficult times.

 

“Counting Down to Christmas” from A Christmas Story.

It’s a fun reminder of the childlike joy of anticipation as we look forward to the exciting time of family, gifts, giving, and the occasional Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun under the tree. (Try not to poke an eye out!) Another great choice from that musical would be “Somewhere Hovering over Indiana.”

 

“Merry Almost Christmas” from A Year with Frog and Toad.

This is another fun song about the anticipation of Christmas. It isn’t very often that you are serenaded by amphibians and birds singing Broadway (well, unless you regularly watch A Year with Frog and Toad, and you’d have my full support if so).

 

“White Christmas” from Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

Irving Berlin tended to recycle his songs from one musical to another. This is one of several songs that are in both aforementioned musicals, and it is another delightful reminder of the joy of the season.

 

“Snow” from White Christmas.

Like the song “White Christmas”, this reminds us of the joy of the season, though it doesn’t mention Christmas specifically.

 

Almost anything from A Christmas Carol.

That said, “Jolly, Rich and Fat” and “Dancing on Your Grave” may be a little odd out of context.

 

“A Christmas Song” from Elf.

This is a happy reminder of the magic of the season, and reminds us of Buddy’s mantra that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Actually, almost any song from Elf would be great.

 

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” from Here’s Love.

Show of hands how many people knew this was a showtune? It is from Meredith Willson’s musical based on Miracle on 34th Street. It’s a Christmas classic.

 

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me in St. Louis.

This is another Christmas classic that not everyone knows is a showtune. It would be a great song to include!

 

“Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year” from Catch Me if You Can.

Even notorious fugitives from the law need to remember the joy of the season!                     

 

“Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

This is another Christmas classic. It isn’t technically Broadway, but Charlie Brown has been on Broadway in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Christmas is a show with songs. So in my opinion, it counts.

 

1920px-Bing_Crosby_and_Danny_Kaye_in_White_Christmas_trailer.jpg

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Neptune’s Daughter.

Is it Christmas? Yes. Do I recommend using it in 2018 (or ever)? No. Enough said.




STARTING TO TRANSITION…

“Happy Holiday” from Holiday Inn.

This is typically associated with Christmas, but in the context of the musical, it was actually a New Year song.

 

“This Time Next Year” from Sunset Boulevard.

This is decidedly not Christmas, but it is New Year, which is a week later. This might be a nice choice as the final song on your album.

 

IS IT CHRISTMAS? NO, A THOUSAND TIMES, NO!!

“My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

My theory is that this is commonly included in Christmas albums because it could be misinterpreted as a Christmas wish list, and it includes fleeting mentions of “brown paper packages tied up with strings” and “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.” But the song is not about any holiday, or even a specific season. It’s about thinking happy thoughts when you’re scared, thus distracting your mind from your surroundings. Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote “I Whistle a Happy Tune” for The King & I with a similar aim, but you don’t often hear that song on Christmas albums. It’s also possible that “My Favorite Things” is often included because networks tend to play The Sound of Music on TV around Christmas time.

 

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel.

This is even more baffling. It is an optimistic song, and it falls into a similar category (and by the same composers) as the previous song with its themes of bearing up through tough times with hope. It’s a beautiful song and would be a great addition to your other showtune album that isn’t seasonal or holiday-related, but please do not include it in your Christmas album.

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

I hope you find this helpful and instructive. I always feel it is best for a Christmas album to have Christmas music, and not generic non-holiday-related songs. There are many other Christmas showtunes I didn’t mention. Also, New Years songs might be nice for the end of the album. If you wanted to spice it up further, you could look for showtunes related to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and other winter holidays as well.

Best wishes in your Christmas showtune endeavors, and to quote a song from A Christmas Carol (which takes the words straight out of Charles Dickens’ masterpiece), “God bless us, everyone!”