On Pantomimes

Jyothi Cross

Well, not just yet, but I thought I’d get you all into the festive mood to start the day off right… Sadly, only 6 days into December, the Christmas slump has got to me, and I’ve already rewritten this blog 5 times, as Santa has not yet gifted me any worthy ideas.

So, here’s the worst idea I could think of: Why we should ban Pantomimes. Please.

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1. They are, ultimately, incredibly cringy – It’s not fun to watch old men strutting around on stage pretending to be women and looking horrifically ugly. I can’t quite understand why it is so funny, we’re long past the days of mocking women, transgender folk, and Drag Queens, so why do we a continue a tradition of watching a ‘dame’ prance about on stage; simultaneously insulting themselves, the story, and the groups of people I previously mentioned.

2. Nobody ever does them very well – Of course this is a very broad comment, and I’m sure we’ve all seen good pantomimes in our lives, ones that made us laugh even. I’m also equally sure that your theatre group did an absolutely smashing version of Jack and the Beanstalk last year, but you do not account for the general trend. The general trend includes distasteful jokes about racism and gender, as well as some very poor acting on behalf of one person who signed up for a laugh. I don’t have a vendetta against any of the actors of course, just a severe dislike for pantomimes.

3. Audience participation – I’m all for audience participation, in fact I absolutely love it. Watching my peers get picked out and have the time of their lives is absolutely great, but do you know what? I never get picked. I. Never. Get Picked.

4. I never get picked – Now, this blog post wasn’t written to solve a personal vendetta I have against pantomimes. They are an age-old art form, descended from the time of the Greeks and yet there is something fundamentally wrong with them. And that thing, lurking deep in the depths of the sadistic world of pantomime is that I never got any sweets. They were never thrown to me, passed out to me, given as an award to me, and honestly this lack of audience-interaction-involving-myself ruined Christmas.

5. Christmas? Oh, sorry, it can’t come to the phone right now. Why? It’s dead. – Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but maybe I’m not. After all, if I can’t have it, why should anyone else?

This is why I argue that this house should move to ban pantomimes, because I never got picked to get sweets.

Hadestown: E-Town to NYC and a Sense of Pride

Darren Wildeman

With the announcement of Hadestown coming to Broadway, I couldn’t help but feel a certain pride. Which is ironic, because I’m honestly not a huge fan of the show itself; or I’m not of the music anyways it really doesn’t do much for me (although it is growing on me some). The thing that’s really cool is it tried out in my home city. Now some of you might be saying “yeah, so what?” Well here’s the thing. I’m not from Chicago, New York, or one of the bit cities in California or even Florida which frequently get big tours or tryouts of some of these shows pre-Broadway. I’m from Edmonton, Alberta and currently live just outside of it. The theatre scene here is quite limited. We get about six touring shows per season, and the Citadel theatre (which is where Hadestown played and is pictured below) has its own shows and productions featuring local talent. I saw a fantastic production of Once there earlier this year.


  “Citadel Theatre Edmonton”  by Citadeltheatre is licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

“Citadel Theatre Edmonton” by Citadeltheatre is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

I wouldn’t say the theatre scene in my city is dead. However, at the same time it certainly isn’t anything special. Not even for Canada. Toronto has the biggest theatre district in Canada, and the East in general tends to get different tours and have more local shows as well. Theatre here is certainly an afterthought. Being in Canada hockey is the big attraction here (Go Oilers!) that and having one of the biggest malls in the world. Theatre aside my city doesn’t even have a lot going for it culturally.

What few musicians, actors, and other talents that Canada does produce that go big time are almost never from my area. And Canada as a whole doesn’t produce that much for talent in the show business industry. There definitely are some big names but compared to their American counterparts it’s certainly limited. This is also why Come from Away is also kind of a big deal here. Canada not only produced a musical, but a critically acclaimed Tony winning musical; in New York or London this would be just another day, but here that’s kind of big. Which brings me back to Hadestown.

Hadestown itself isn’t Canadian written. The score and book writer Anais Mitchell is from Vermont. But what is significant is Hadestown had its tryout here. In my home city. In my city where hockey king and we’re more well known for being the coldest place on earth for one or two days every few winters (and even colder than Mars one day last year), hitting -40°F in the middle of winter, and typically having snow fall anywhere between September and May (even in June and August on rare occasion) than we are for our theatre scene. When your weather is more well known than your theatre, that is a telling sign. And yet, a soon-to-be Broadway show had its out of town tryout here in the Citadel theatre. Where I can go and see a musical or play.

There is talk that given that Hadestown had a tryout here that maybe Edmonton will become a destination for some other shows to try out. I don’t know if that will happen or not. However, despite not being a huge fan of the show’s music myself, I cannot emphasize enough how darned cool it is that a soon to be Broadway show actually came to my city on a tryout. Not a national tour, but a try out. Pre-Broadway.

Come from Away gives us pride because other than being an incredibly well reviewed and Tony Winning musical, it’s also about us, and how we helped our neighbours to the south on a dark day. It gives our normally humble and nice country a chance to brag a little bit about what we did (although not too much or we’ll have to apologize) and this piece of art a couple of our citizens have created. That in itself is really cool. It’s something else to have a musical written in the USA to come to Canada to try out. They not only came to Canada; they for some reason came to Edmonton. Not Toronto, not Ottawa or even Vancouver. But Edmonton. And that’s a really cool feeling.

Drama School Survival Guide

Drama School or a major in Musical Theatre - a dream for many young performers, for obvious reasons. Being able to make a living from acting, singing and dancing seems like a dream for every musical theatre nerd. And drama school really is a wonderful time, but what many people tend to forget is that after all the college auditions and preparations the real work is just about to begin. So here it is, the Drama School Survival Guide. In every edition we will have a look at a different area, that can improve your experience. This week we will focus on the right starting point - a successful and healthy mindset. 

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After all the initial buzz of stating at a new place, meeting your new classmates and teachers, it is time to polish your technique in all three disciplines. This will at first seem incredibly exposing, not only will you have to sing in front of other incredible strangers who might be harsh, arrogant or simply mean, but also will you notice your own habits and patterns of doing things.
You will probably enter your course quite optimistic and convinced of your talent - I mean you got in, right? And it is true you in fact were maybe the best actor, dancer and singer in your high school or even home town, but suddenly you're around many other talented students and not only that: you will start developing a better understanding of your speaking and singing voice, the anatomy behind dancing, and learn about naturalistic acting. Teachers will remind you of your habits and your default ways of doing things, in order to - later on - provide you with a number of choices. Something that will give you versatility and employability, however, you will notice that a lot of these things you won't be able to change overnight: constantly locked knees, jaw tension, your accent or nasality of your speech (and many more things) that you have developed over years and years, and it will be a very ongoing process to overcome these. 
Still, something in you will change, suddenly you will go from being unconsciously incompetent to being consciously incompetent, so you're now aware how far away from perfect you are, but still not able to improve immediately.
This can feel very disheartening, and you might start to doubt yourself. But be reassured, you're not the only one to feel that way, in fact, everyone who will later on improve will feel that way, because it is the first massive step towards growth. It all starts with your awareness. 
And to give you something to look forward to, it won't be too long until you achieve a state of conscious competence, so a state in which you will notice you're improvements and see how much you are able to get rid of your own habits. And eventually you will enter a state of unconscious competence, where you will no longer have to think about it, and it just all comes naturally to you. Just as you're no longer daily aware of how magical it was to read for the first time, it just happens.
If you're stuck and you almost feel like you haven't made much progress recently, it can help to leave your college bubble. Go out into the "real world" attend your old dance classes or some normal, casual classes outside school, and you will suddenly realise you are a lot better then the majority of people and a lot better then before, even if you're not the best at your course at the moment. Everything might seem so big and overwhelming being around the most talented people of the country, but you getting in already means you've made it to the top and are better than the average human being. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge every tiny thing you've learnt. 

Other than that, you will most likely have other emotional costs, you might have to move away from your safe surrounding. You might not be able to maintain your relationship or get a new one, you might not see any sun anymore, especially when the sun goes down earlier in winter. But just think of your final goal, and keep fighting, in the end, everything will be worth it.

So what can you do to keep you going:

1. Firstly, work as hard as you can but don't overdo it. Make sure you're not pushing yourself too hard and jeopardizing your health, give yourself time. 

2. Eat, Drink and Sleep enough. A healthy lifestyle will enable you to work at your own highest potential and simply function. 

3. Try different methods to keep you balanced and grounded. For some, this might be meditation, yoga, certain music or your favourite TV-Show on Netflix. Or how about a trip to Broadway/London? ;) 

4. Educate yourself about Mental Health. These days, you will find books virtually everywhere, you can find awesome websites, apps or YouTube channels. Or you might choose to see a counsellor or therapist to keep on top of everything that could hold you back psychologically. Maintaining a good physical and mental health is key and the more you understand your feelings, the easier it is to deal with them. As a nice side effect, it will also help you with all your acting.

With that, I wish you a lot of fun in your current or potential future training. Keep healthy, happy and smash it - I believe in you. Feel free to share this with anyone who might want to see it and comment on your own tips and tricks before. I can't wait to discuss your thoughts with you. 
In the next part of this series, we will be looking at a beneficial attitude towards training.

 

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Shattering the Jukebox Stereotype

Darren Wildeman
At the time of this writing it’s been about a week since I saw Beautiful (it’ll be closer to a month when it’s published) and I have just only in the last couple days gotten “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” out of my head (although that may change when I listen to it yet again). However, traditionally for jukebox musicals the music isn’t usually the issue among audiences. It’s the book. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me step back a bit and tell why I even went to see Beautiful here and what I expected.

The only reason I went to see Beautiful is because it was a part of my season’s tickets here. And going in I expected it to be the low point of the season. I’m not a huge fan of Carole King’s music when it comes on the radio. Despite this I did enjoy parts of the cast album but obviously the National Tour didn’t have Jessie Mueller so even that I was skeptical on. And then there was the fact that it’s a jukebox musical. And anyone who’s been in ATB or any musical theatre forum knows the reputation that jukebox musicals tend to have. No book. So, while I was going to go because I had the tickets, I honestly wasn’t expecting much.


  “A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top”  by Angela George is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0

“A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top” by Angela George is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

First of all, my sincerest apologies to Sarah Bockel for thinking this show needed Jessie Mueller singing the songs and otherwise being skeptical because the music isn’t my taste otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, Jessie is a fantastic talent but Sarah Bockel as Carole absolutely killed it. She gave one of the best performances from an actor or actress I’ve seen live everything she did was absolutely flawless. Also, Ben Biggers was on as an understudy for Gerry. You couldn’t tell the difference. He was amazing.

Now let’s get into the actual story. The very first moment that stands out to me is when Carole goes to sell her song. There is a brilliant 4th wall break. She hesitates and when asked what’s wrong she goes “I just didn’t expect there to be so many people.” How Carole sells her first song to Donnie- who would be her eventual boss- is intriguing and the “1650 Broadway Medley” when she first steps into the office shows us what kind of sound is popular at the time. It’s fun, and is good exposition to set the time frame, it also brings out some songs that even the oldest and grumpiest of Broadway fans may have forgotten about. There was some trippy stuff that was popular (“Splish Splash I was Taking a bath” anyone?). Anyways, getting back to Carole her meeting of Gerry and the start of their career together flows seamlessly. From Carole getting pregnant, to Gerry asking her to marry him. These moments lead to an incredibly deep performance of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” The song works incredibly well and is beautiful and perfect for this moment in the show.  It also goes on to be given to the Drifters.

Also, it’s worth noting that while throughout the show he isn’t one of the main characters that gets the focus; Donnie is also a great character. The way he’s presented as the tough boss that no one can get to but then just as quickly will also display a soft side to his song writers is also a very good transition and building of a character. He’s tough and wants to be profitable. However, multiple times we see this exterior break and we see just how much he has cares for his song writers. On multiple occasions we see him as dining or conversing with Carole and her friends socially as well as professionally. And eventually when Carole moves, he 100% supports her and connects her to produce Lou Adler to record her solo album.

Possibly one of the most touching moments of the show comes next when Gerry writes “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” this is a tender and beautiful moment and Carole seeing it and singing it is amazing. As it so happens this is around the same time we meet Berry Mann and Cynthia Wilde who are competing with Gerry and Carole for a big opportunity for a song to be sung by the Shirrelles.  While Donnie loved both songs “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is the song that Carole and Gerry which got picked by Donnie. What follows after this is a brilliant blend of song and book writing by Douglas McGrath. Carole and Gerry are presented as going head to head with Cynthia and Berry as one writing pair writes a song, gets it produced and the other tries to match them. This is almost presented like some sort of boxing match with music. It’s flawlessly executed. Something like this runs the risk of being too repetitive however, Douglas’ book writing prevents that and shows these two pairs cranking out hit after hit in an effective manner. The other thing that comes out that as fierce rivals and competitors that they are to each other they are also becoming good friends. The show focusses on the song writing, yet we see both pairs humanity coming through equally as much. The exposition in this book is brilliant.

At the end of the second act we see that Gerry is cheating. The second act opens with “Chains” which again is amazing placement of this song given how Gerry is fooling around and playing Carole.

 Shortly after he reveals he’s been cheating Gerry has a massive breakdown. He is hospitalized and says he wants to come home. However, it isn’t soon after this that he is revealed to have been cheating again and Carole finally leaves him for good.

Gerry is just a phenomenal character in this show. Not in a morale sense, obviously cheating in a marriage or relationship is not okay. However, I like the writing in that Gerry doesn’t cheat for seemingly no reason. There is clearly something ticking about him and he is most likely mentally ill and what he is experiencing is the result of some sort of inner turmoil. Possibly mania, but regardless it’s clear he’s suffering. When I saw the show, my heart can’t help but hurt for him a little bit. There is no excusing his actions let me make that perfectly clear; however, Gerry appears to have been mentally ill in a time when we knew very little about what being mentally ill meant. He had moments when he wanted to be there for Carole and his daughter, he had moments when he tried, but unfortunately, he went down the wrong path and hurt a lot of people. As we see later in the show, he had a lot of regrets.

Going back to Carole, the other moment I love in this instance is Carole’s mother when Carole tells her it’s over. Throughout the show Carole’s mother is presented as a hard ass who doesn’t at all care about her past or her husband. She’s over him and doesn’t think of him and is harsh towards Carole whenever he is mentioned. However, when Carole tells her, we see the true hurt that her mother has also been masking for years now. Not a day passes when she doesn’t hurt for her lost marriage and lover, and she reveals to Carole just how much hurt is there. Not only does she disclose her hurt to Carole, but she then reminds Carole how much she has done in her career. As Carole was thinking all her song writing and music had been done with Gerry and that she needed him. However, her mother reminded her how young she was when she sold her first song, she shows her that she can carry on without Gerry. In this instance we see who Carole’s mother really is and how strong she has been. She goes from being a necessary but not a large role, to being the parent that Carole once again really needed. In a sense it’s a character reveal how tender and loving she comes across to Carole in this instance as opposed to just being the well-meaning but harsh mother. It’s an incredible flip that is so well written.

From here we see Carole meet Barry and Cynthia in a bar. Barry and Cynthia convince her to sing and she sings what was then a new song “It’s Too Late” this is another brilliant song placement and weaving the already existing song into the score. It reveals the pain that Carole has felt and how she’s trying to move on.

From here we see Carole reveal she’s moving to LA to get a fresh start. Not only is she moving to LA but she tells Donnie she has some songs she wants someone to record and that someone she thinks should be herself. Donnie hugs her and thinks it would be a fantastic idea. She then says goodbye to Donnie, Berry, and Cynthia to start out in LA.

Carole records her album Tapestry and is on the last song. She doesn’t want to record it because it’s one of the songs she wrote with Gerry. Lou Adler convinces her to sing the song because despite all the pain she’s been through which is prominent in a lot of her songs people also need to be reminded of the hope and happiness there can be in love as well. Thus “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is recorded.

This is yet another fantastic song placement. It would have been easy to place this song towards the beginning of the show when Gerry and Carole are falling in love. But instead it gets placed at the end, which would be the least logical place in the story for such a song. However, after so much hurt, and so much pain, it flips that hurt on its head as a subtle but powerful reminder that even in the darkest times there is hope. The album and Carole go on to win many awards

Finally, Carole is about to play on Radio City, we see Gerry appear backstage. He comes to make amends and apologize for everything. For reasons I discussed earlier about Gerry I like how he’s presented here and how friendly this exchange is without excusing everything Gerry did.

In short, this show was fantastic. I think the reason it worked so well is that Carole wrote a lot of these songs to tell her story. And the writers recognized that and Douglas Mcgrath wrote a near flawless book to weave Carole’s story together with her own songs. From Carole’s own heartbreak and triumph, to her and Gerry’s competition and friendship with both Barry and Cynthia, to her starting over. This show flows near flawlessly and there are no moments where the music takes over to stop the story. The book and the score work together, with neither one taking over or fading away for the sake of the other. It’s a fantastic book and it has 100% deserved to do as well as it has done.

 

The (Really) Lower Depths

There once was a king named Oedipus Rex.
You may have heard about his odd complex.
His name appears in Freud’s index
’Cause he loved his mother.
His friends all used to say quite a bit
That as a monarch he was most unfit.
But still in all they had to admit
That he loved his mother.

Tom Lehrer

Michael Kape

Here was the challenge. A recent ATB blog examined the decidedly dark side of some famous musicals. Could I do the same thing with plays (i.e., tragedies)? Well, harrumph. Theatre was created by the Greeks from tragedies. Now, I know many of you prefer discussions about musicals here (and I can discuss them for hours on end), but it’s good to broaden your horizons and get down to the lower depths (more about that later). I’ve done a little time travel to pick and choose some of the great ones for your consideration.

The Greeks invented tragedy (and comedy), as I noted. To me, the “Oedipus Trilogy” by Sophocles is perhaps the greatest extant set of Greek tragedies: Oedipus Rex, which was followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. (I have special affection for Antigone having once played the Grumpy Olde Guy in the show, but Oedipus Rex is the best.) Oedipus accidentally kills his real father (he was adopted), solves the riddle of the Sphinx, marries his mother, has four children, discovers the truth, his mother/wife hangs herself, he plucks out his eyes, his children war on each other and their Uncle Creon, and ultimately kill each other and/or themselves. It’s a devastating story, based on mythology, with no happy ending in sight. And yet it’s great theatre.

In Greek mythology, Electra was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and princess of Argos. She and her brother Orestes plot revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father. She appears in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and, our own great tragedian, Eugene O'Neill (more about his version shortly).

(Just a note for you musical purists: all Greek tragedies were actually sung and danced by the actors and chorus.)

After the Greeks (and their inferior Roman copycat tragedies), theatre came under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church—which pretty much frowned on the artform. It was the age of morality plays (like Everyman), which weren’t really tragic or comic but instead served to keep the unwashed masses in check (really—theatre as political propaganda; ah, well, that’s a subject for another blog which I’m not supposed to write). And then, well, Welcome to the Renaissance, as they sing in Something Rotten.

The greatest tragedian (oh, hell, playwright) of that age (or any other) was, of course, William Shakespeare. His plays have been classified into four categories: the comedies, the histories, the romances, and the tragedies. And what tragedies they were:

·         Hamlet—Arguably the greatest play Shakespeare wrote (and certainly his longest), this is the tragic story of a young Danish prince whose father is killed by his uncle (who then marries Hamlet’s mother). He seeks revenge when challenged to do so by his father’s ghost. He employs a troupe of wandering players to perform a dumb show in front of the new king, who realizes Hamlet is on to what he did and exiles the young prince. In the end, just about everyone dies in the last scene and Denmark is conquered by Norway. Hamlet certainly contains the most exquisite language Shakespeare wrote. I fear you can’t call yourself a true theatre person without knowing Hamlet.


 Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

·         Julius Caesar—It’s about greed. It’s about ambition. It’s about murder. And a funny thing happened to poor Julius on the way to the Forum—he was stabbed multiple times by the Roman senators, including his beloved Brutus (“Et tú, Bruté?”). It’s another Shakespeare play where almost everyone ends up dead, except Mark Anthony (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”), who lives to show up in another tragedy.

·         Anthony and Cleopatra—Middle-aged Will Shakespeare set his sights on mature love in this tragic tale of a beautiful Egyptian queen and the two Romans who come to control her (though she really controls them), love her, and ultimately doom her. In his time, onstage lovers were usually portrayed as comic foils and not tragic characters. In this play, Shakespeare completely turned the tables on the contemporary norms (he had started to do that in an early play discussed below) and made this the stuff of tragedy.

·         Romeo and Juliet—My late, great college Shakespeare professor, Dr. Irving Ribner (of the Ribner-Kittredge acting editions) made us change our thinking about this play. As I noted above, in Shakespeare’s time, love—especially young love—was the stuff of farce. And the first two acts of R&J are some of the funniest material Shakespeare wrote. Romeo is a foolish cad. Juliet is a silly young teenager. The balcony scene is actually very funny (with Juliet trying her damnedest to get Romeo to leave). But when Mercutio dies, the play goes from farce to tragedy in a heartbeat. A series of misunderstandings and miscommunications kills the main characters (ironically in a tomb). And this is the true brilliance of this tragedy. It completely upset the theatre norms of the time, making Shakespeare a truly revolutionary playwright. We don’t consider R&J to be a comedy because Shakespeare so skillfully changed the way we look at young (and foolish) love.

·         King Lear—“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” But nothing could be worse than to have a foolish old king (along with his fool) divide up his kingdom based on which of his daughters professed undying love for him. A great tragedy, yes. Easy to pull off as an actor? I’ve seen Lear many times with great actors and I’ve never liked it.

·         Othello—Someone once described this play (Shakespeare’s shortest) as a lesson in how wives should be careful with their personal linen. Othello is a great but foolish and jealous soldier who loves his wife Desdemona. Iago is his evil lieutenant who hates Othello (racism definitely fuels the engine of this play) and plots his downfall. While Othello and Desdemona die tragically, Iago essentially gets away with his evil doings, which makes this yet another revolutionary moment for Shakespeare.

·         The Scottish Play—If you don’t know what play I mean, then stop reading. Seriously, one of the greatest tragedies ever written, this is another story of greed, ambition, revenge, and a moving forest.

·         And more (Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus).

(Around the time Shakespeare was creating his tragedies, another artform arose, closely akin to the original Greek drama—the opera. Tragic stories sung to beautiful music. But opera is fodder for a different discussion, so I’ll let it go at that.)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to stark realism in the theatre, perhaps to counterbalance the frivolous romanticism of the age. Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths is perhaps the greatest of these tragic plays, depicting a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga. It is stark, humbling, difficult to watch without being moved. Gorky is said to have been inspired by the denizens of a Russian homeless shelter. The play was initially slammed for its pessimistic outlook (not much happens and everyone who starts out poor ends up poor), but still, The Lower Depths is a masterpiece.

Henrik Ibsen plays often bordered on tragedy, though they depicted more political themes than real tragic ones. But one of his plays does stand out, Ghosts. No spectral characters, but the tragedy of the father is visited upon the son, with an underlying story of venereal disease (never stated but firmly implied) making this one of the playwright’s most controversial works.

Two playwrights came to dominate American tragedy in the 20th century—Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.

It has been argued Miller’s greatest play is Death of a Salesman. In this piece, Miller takes the majesty of Greek tragedy and applies it to a humble traveling salesman (He argued strenuously for tragedy not always being about people of noble birth, which I believe to be a correct stance). Willy Loman is one of the great figures of American tragedy. His frustrating life (for both himself and his family) makes for a towering work. Still, it can be hard to like this piece for some of us. It creaks. It’s verbose. But the story itself is infinitely sad. (I would argue The Crucible the better and more tragic piece, and certainly better written.)

O’Neill simply turned tragedy on its ear. He made it compelling. He paid tribute to its Greek roots in plays like Mourning Becomes Electra (based on the Electra plays), moving the Orestes tragedy to 19th century New England. But perhaps his greatest tragedy (one of the rare tragedies where nobody dies) is his most autobiographical one: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This intimate look at the disintegration of a family tells a tale of frustration, drug addiction, serious illness, and alcoholism. And it all plays out in less than one day. It is perhaps the greatest American tragedy ever written.

There are hundreds more tragedies out there and I’ve barely scratched the surface. One of the great joys I had growing up as a theatre nerd was discovering new tragedies written long before I was born. They speak to universal truths beyond their settings—the foibles of human beings and the unfortunate consequences they can cause.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a great tragedy. Lighten up. It’s only a play.

An Open Letter: Highschool Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I thought long and hard about what to write about this week, like I have had no inspiration for anything unique but I was scheduled in so there was no escape. I really wasn't sure what to write about, and then I competed in a band competition at school. A few weeks before that I took part in our school production of Sweeney Todd and I realized something:

School theatre is toxic. 

It's such a nasty environment for young people to grow up in because people are never fully honest.

So here's my open letter, to all the people who tell you to stop being yourself when you do school theatre.

It starts as a little complaint, they tell you to tone it down a bit. Maybe in a jokey way. Then you start seeing scowls behind backs, whispers. They insult you to your face because you're showing them up. A 'flamboyant' personality becomes a threat, and you hear whispers in the Green Room about how someone else deserves that part, or someone else would be better.

I know, I've been one of those whisperers, and I've been one who's been whispered at. But why are we so afraid of simply supporting each other?

And this is why I raise my right finger - because it's taken me a long time to build up my self-confidence to the point where I can make myself look like a fool on stage all for the sake of a show. It has also taken me a long time to realize that the people who were given the parts which I complained about were chosen for a reason, teachers don't simply pick names out of a hat, and it doesn't make sense to question their choices - after they've directed around 20 plays at your school. So, when you call someone 'embarrassing' because they dance about and have fun, remember there is a person on the other end of that line, who was chosen for a specific reason and who has worked their butt off to try and get up there.

I need to remember that too. Because so many have it ingrained in us that other actors are competition, you can't work harmoniously with someone who gets a better part than you, but instead we just need to own it. We need to own our parts, our stories, our fun.

Of course, it feels like such a lie, that the ensemble is just as important as the lead, but ensemble simply means you fit into the puzzle in a different way. You're allowed to go for it, you're allowed to own your role even if you're Villager #24. You just have to raise your right finger, and solemnly swear:

That whatever they say about you, you don’t care.

 

Revisiting Oz

Kelly Ostazeski

I first saw Wicked at the Kennedy Center in the winter of 2005. It was my senior year of high school and I was just starting to see Broadway musicals. My first Elphaba and Glinda duo was Stephanie J. Block and Kendra Kassebaum. I fell in love with the now iconic story of the unlikely friendship of the witches of Oz, made famous by The Wizard of Oz, on film and the page.

 But loves do fade over time, and while I listened to the cast recording numerous times and made two more return trips to Oz, this time twice at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, Maryland, I no longer connected to the story. I no longer cited Wicked as one of my favorite musicals – which is fine, because we all have our favorites and we all see different things in the musicals we connect to.

Until this year.


Perhaps it was the company – a friend who has seen Wicked over fifty times and at least ten green witches, a friend who had never been to New York until that day, a friend who loves the show but hasn’t seen it nearly as much as the first, and another friend who had only seen one previous Broadway show. Perhaps it was the fact that we won the lottery. And perhaps it was the fact that it was my first time seeing the show in the incredible Gershwin Theatre in New York.

The Gershwin certainly helps the atmosphere. Walking into the lobby you see a giant map of Oz, and two staircases off to another lobby, more merchandise for sale, and the lists of legends inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and their headshots on the walls. It was like being in the presence of the greats, the icons, the legends of the American Theatre. We had plenty of time before the show started so it was fun to read through the names and point out our favorites.

 Perhaps it was the current cast – the incredible Jessica Vosk as Elphaba, who brings new life into the green girl that I hadn’t seen in years. Her vocal power, her humanity, and her quirks that she brings to this character made her instantly my new favorite Elphaba. The standby Emily Mechler was on for Glinda instead of Amanda Jane Cooper, and she delivered. Ryan McCartan was an incredible Fiyero. Swing Tess Ferrell was on for Nessarose and brought a fierceness and strength I hadn’t seen before in this character. Isabel Keating and Kevin Chamberlin were Madame Morrible and the Wizard, and both were incredible.

 Perhaps it was also because I saw it several days before the fifteenth anniversary celebration, and several days before the television special that aired on NBC, A Very Wicked Halloween. The special featured performances by the original Elphaba and Glinda, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and appearances by many of the actresses who have played the witches in the past. Menzel sang a pop version of “Defying Gravity” and Chenoweth sang “Popular”. Several pop stars also appeared in the special, including Ariana Grande who returned to her musical theatre roots and sang “The Wizard and I” and Pentatonix, who performed “What Is This Feeling”. All of the Elphabas and Glindas gathered on stage to sing “For Good”. The fact that a Wicked special was even on television, with all of these stars, shows how much the musical is ingrained into popular culture.

 And yet, somehow the show still feels as fresh now as it did when I saw it first almost thirteen years ago. It was like seeing it for the first time. The energy of the cast, the excitement of being in that theatre, seeing it so close to the fifteenth anniversary of the show. It made me realize how ingrained into pop culture Wicked has become. It’s become one of the famous shows that tourists see on their once in a lifetime trip to New York – along with The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, or Chicago. Something about that story, the characters, the score – it’s enjoyable for all ages, and definitely has something for everyone – friendship, romance, and magic. It’s still an incredible experience – let’s just say, Broadway has been changed for good because of the witches of Oz.

 I wasn’t expecting to feel what I did during my fourth time seeing the show, or to get as emotional as I did during “Defying Gravity” or “For Good”. I don’t usually pay too much attention to “The Wizard and I” or “No Good Deed” but Jessica Vosk delivered such an incredibly powerful performance during all of her songs that I saw them in a different light. I was also inspired to keep going in my theatrical career path and to follow my dreams once again. It’s amazing what a powerful piece of theatre can do for your dreams, isn’t it?

 Maybe it’s time to take a return trip to Oz. Even if you’ve seen it before, I highly recommend seeing it again with this cast. Jessica Vosk can make you see Elphaba through new eyes. She’s worth the price of the ticket alone. Or maybe as you’ve grown, you can find something new to appreciate in this iconic show. Perhaps the show has grown with you. I know I found something new to appreciate at this performance. I think I’ll return again sooner rather than later.

                                                                                                   

 

 

 

Beetlejuice at the National Theatre

The National Theatre currently houses the world premier of Beetlejuice, a musicalized version of the 1988 film of the same name. The last time I saw a Pre-Broadway tryout at the National, I had a mixed opinion on Mean Girls. But since then, Mean Girls has made most of the necessary changes to be a well written musical adaptation of a film. I can only hope that Beetlejuice is able to do the same, as it is a fun and entertaining piece of theatre, but not quite ready to hit Broadway just yet. The musical centers around Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman), a demon from the netherworld whose mission is to murder human beings and cause chaos through Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso), a living teenage girl tired of being invisible to her father, who has ignored the death of her mother. Despite this musical being based on a cult classic film, the musical is an entirely different animal. The film focuses on Adam and Barbara Maitland, a recently deceased suburban couple trying to navigate their way in the afterlife. This is the biggest of many differences between the film and its stage adaptation. Most of the changes made work well and enhance the story. If you want to see a musical that impersonates its source material, you can go see Pretty Woman.

The creative team of Beetlejuice includes Eddie Perfect, who wrote the music and lyrics. Perfect, who also wrote the music for this season’s Broadway musical King Kong, delivers a score that explores many genres of music. Each character seems to have their own sound. Despite the music’s lack of memorability, it is still relatively fun and enjoyable, and Perfect does a great job of writing music that fits the style of the characters he is writing for. The show--particularly the first act--includes quite a few short songs that feel unnecessary and could probably work better as dialogue. Scott Brown and Anthony King’s book does a good job of adapting the film to the stage. In the first act the book was nearly where it needs to be for a Broadway run, but the second act deals with a few more problems. The general plot and dialogue of the second act is much more confusing than that of the first act. Alex Timbers’ directional vision is perfect and gets across well, but his staging often fails to make use of the incredible set by David Korins (Hamilton).  Connor Gallagher’s choreography is unique and diverse in style. Unlike the staging, the choreography is full on and large, using the space to full effect.

The material of the show is balanced, and perhaps even surpassed by the stellar cast. Alex Brightman‘s comedic timing is perfect for a part like this, and he creates his own version of Beetlejuice while still sharing similarities to Michael Keaton in the film. Sophia Anne Caruso’s Lydia is an incredibly developed character, and her voice is the perfect balance of innocence and angst. Rob McClure and Kerry Butler are so perfectly cast in their parts that at times the two seem underutilized.The cast’s biggest standout was Leslie Kritzer as Delia, who is perhaps the funniest cast member of the show.

The technical aspects of the show manage to perfectly emulate Tim Burton’s style in the film. David Korins’ spectacular set was perfectly complemented by Kenneth Posner’s lighting, which is amazing from before the show even begins. Peter Hylenski’s sound design is perfectly balanced between the actors and musicians, and it feels unique to the style. The costumes by William Ivey Long are also brilliantly designed and detailed. Other technical highlights include hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and puppet design by Michael Curry.

Will Beetlejuice fulfil its potential and become a fun, big, and spectacular Broadway hit? That is up to the future, but some work on the show by the time it begins Broadway previews in March could make Beetlejuice a brilliant crowd-pleaser. Shake, shake, shake, Senora!



How Kinky Boots Changed My Life

Taylour

In September of 2018, it was announced that the Broadway show, Kinky Boots would be closing after running for 6 years at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. When I saw the news, I was absolutely devastated and didn’t know how to properly handle the news of a musical that I hold so near to me is closing. Now, a few days after the one-year anniversary of me seeing the show I decided to finally write that thank you message and share how the musical turned the worst year of my life into the best. 

 

Kinky Boots is truly a one in a million musical, I’ve never walked out of a show feeling as happy as I did when walking out Kinky Boots. With an amazing score and a heartfelt story to match, Kinky Boots really can turn a gloomy day into the best. When I saw the musical, I was in the worst place I’ve ever been, a devastating life event happened a few months prior to my seeing the show and I was still trying to deal with the emotional consequences, and it was hard to get through and do a lot of daily tasks. But, when I walked into the theatre and the show started, I forgot about everything bad. For those 2 hours, Kinky Boots made me forget everything bad and focus on the pure happiness that was happening in front of me. The pure joy of the music itself is enough to make anyone smile, but by the end of the Act 1 finisher “Everybody Say Yeah”, I was starting to feel a sense of pure happiness surge through me. By the end of the show and during the show’s finale of “Raise You Up”, did I truly start to feel like my old self again. The lyrics of the song still resonate with me to this day, and whenever I need, dare I say, to have a raising up, I’ll play that song and everything is seemingly okay and I know I can move past it. 


 

While the overall message of Kinky Boots is ultimately acceptance, the undertone of happiness and living every day triumphantly is also there, and that’s the message I’m living with now. Because of my Kinky Boots experience, I started to take things by storm and truly become the Lola of my own life. Because hell, if she can do it then anyone can. Kinky Boots came into my life when I needed it most, and because of that, this show will forever remain in my heart and I will forever be eternally grateful to those involved for creating this masterpiece. Get yourselves to the Al Hirschfeld before April 7, 2019 to see this gem before it goes. You can change the world if you change your mind and live your life triumphantly. Because of Kinky Boots, I started to feel like my old self again and start to look up, because of how happy and the pure joy I was feeling from the show, its message and its music. Thank you, Kinky Boots, for existing️.

Darkest Musicals I Know

Theatre isn’t supposed to be comfortable. This is something you have probably seen people say at least a few times. It’s something that has been somewhat commonplace in theatre for a little while now. Many musicals- even those that aren’t really dark have challenging themes. Even Wicked which is for the most part a relatively light-hearted magical family friendly telling of the story before Wizard of Oz. However, even something like Wicked has a bit more happening beneath the surface and some darker moments. While these days more musicals are challenging and have some heavier moments, some musicals go well beyond this and are almost 2.5 hours of straight darkness without a break.



Next to Normal

I have talked about this musical at length on the blog before so I’m not going to go terribly in depth and I don’t want to spoil anything if someone is unfamiliar with it. However, this musical takes the pain of living with mental illness and its challenges and shows them in a raw completely non-sugar-coated way. It’s beautiful.

Blood Brothers

Some of you may know this musical and some may not. To those familiar with it, it may not be something that immediately comes to mind when you think of dark musicals. However, when you give the plot and presentation some thought it really is. From the beginning of the show you know the characters are doomed from the start. The narrator makes sure you 100% know this. However, what puts it over the top is that the narrator is constantly on stage. Even during the character’s happy moments, he never leaves the stage. He is always lingering as a constant reminder that these people are doomed. To me that is really chilling. The doomed characters and the narrator are what put this over the top. It makes seeing the misfortune that the narrator is constantly prophesying play out that much more chilling.

Fun Home

Woof this show. This is another one I won’t go into super detail as it’s fairly well known (winning 5 Tony Awards) and like Next to Normal, I don’t want to spoil it. However, this is a heartbreaking story about a woman, her sexuality, and a heartbreaking tragedy with her father.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This isn’t the Disney movie brought to stage. The stage musical sticks much closer to the Victor Hugo novel. A corrupt, abusive priest and a doomed love. While it’s certainly far from the darkest musical I’m going to mention in this article as it certainly has its lighter moments, the tragic story of all the characters certainly make it worth mentioning.

Kid Victory

Does it get much darker than child abduction and abuse? That’s what Kid Victory is about. It’s about a boy who was lured away online and is the stuff of every parent’s worst nightmare. The score alone is haunting, however in my opinion is certainly worth a listen.

The Boy Who Danced on Air

If it’s possible to get any darker than Kid Victory, The Boy Who Danced on Air managed to do it. This musical covers the issue in Afghanistan of Bacha Bazi which is a form of pedophilia where an older man gets to “own” a boy. They are often dressed in girls’ clothing and made to dance and perform for the older man. This is another musical where just the cast album can give you chills. It’s a heartbreaking show that takes on an obviously heavy subject.

Jekyll and Hyde

Some love it, some hate it; however the gothic and horror undertones of this show cannot be overlooked. I think the darkest part of this musical that often gets overlooked is initially Henry was setting out to do something good. He was trying to make a positive change as insane as it may have seen. And he turns into a literal madman. It’s heartbreaking to see the change take him over and watching his friends and loved ones start to wonder what happens to him and the hopelessness they obviously feel.

Spring Awakening

The dark sexual themes are heavy throughout this show and the things the characters go through are incredibly heavy. Just the subject of teens and sexuality is a touchy one and the presentation of this musical brings it to an incredibly dark place.

Assassins

Even the “lighter” moments in this musical are dark. I mean, it’s a musical about the assassination attempts on various presidents. That alone gives it a much darker context. However, when you dive deeper into the show we see that we don’t even know what is real and what isn’t real to the shooters. Literally every shooter is having their sanity questioned by the audience. That adds another thick layer to an already heavy subject.




Performer Misconceptions

Show business is tough. No one’s denying that. But people tend to say things about performing and Broadway sometimes which just strike me as a bit off. So, without further ado, I’m going to be addressing the issues I have with four common Broadway misconceptions.


Getting on Broadway is about being the most talented.

It is. But there’s so much more than that. It’s about checking the boxes.

Broadway isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ deal. The casting director will have specific – sometimes very specific – preconceptions about what they want and who they want for it. You could put a fresh new spin on old material, and yes, even if you can belt a high A like nobody’s business, sometimes that’s just not what they’re looking for. Maybe they specifically want someone of a certain race (a practice I despise, but that’s beside the point) for the role, or maybe they want the entire ensemble to have a particular ‘look’. Maybe they’re trying to find a replacement for an outgoing actor and they don’t want to pay to re-fit the costume (I’ve actually spoken to a Broadway actor who said that they got turned down at final callbacks for one show, then got cast for the very next show they auditioned for, both for that very reason). If you don’t fit what they already have, both metaphorically and literally, even if you’re a just as (or more) talented actor, singer, or dancer as those waiting in the audition room behind you, you might not get the part. It’s just showbiz.

Changing the key is taboo.

Yes, I know no one ever wants to tell their director that they want to change the key for fear of derision and scorn. But sometimes, it really is necessary – and not only that, it can help so, so much. I will admit that songs are often written with a specific key in mind – different keys do sometimes convey different emotions simply by way of the ‘sound’ they produce, something I’m sure those with perfect pitch often sense either consciously or unconsciously. But I say changing the key doesn’t ruin a song - it just lets a performer put their all into their performance in a way the original key wouldn’t have allowed them to. In Legally Blonde, the key for the ending of So Much Better has been lowered three full times since the first demo recording – originally written in A major, the song was first shifted down to the original Broadway key of G major then all the way down to F-major for all subsequent professional productions (as licensed by MTI). And yet, the sheer power of the song hasn’t been changed at all – most people, quite frankly, haven’t noticed, and I for one am continually impressed by the blonde belters who pull off the number with pizazz. During his tenure in Newsies, Dan Deluca had the key of Something to Believe In shifted down a step from G major down to F major, a key change allowed him to pull off one of the most romantic performances of the song I’ve ever seen.

The lead performer is always the best in the cast.

This one goes along the same lines as the first one about being the most talented. The lead might not have the best voice or acting chops in the cast, but they might have the best work ethic or, dare I say it, the star power and appeal to draw audiences to a show (yes, I’m talking about stunt casting), all things essential to a show’s financial success as a business. In other words, they just happened to tick the right boxes. But that in no way diminishes the talent of the rest of the cast. The supporting character might not have the high G in their repertoire that the lead does and which might be necessary for a certain role, but given the chance maybe they too could make a full audience cry on cue. The understudy might be an up-and-coming talent who simply doesn’t have yet the resume of the established lead actor (Jeremy Jordan, known for his Bonnie & Clyde and his Newsies exploits but lesser well known as a former understudy for the role of Tony in West Side Story on Broadway, comes to mind). Suffice it to say that someone having top billing in a show’s Playbill doesn’t equate to them being the best in the cast



The best performers are those that never fail.

For this last one, I think the following saying conveys my thoughts better than anything else: “Don’t judge a blooper reel by a highlight reel’s standards.” You might have seen a star deliver moving performance after moving performance to an enthralled crowd of thousands leaping to a standing ovation. But you probably haven’t seen them cry after being turned down for the part again or rip up their sheet music in frustration after the tenth vocal crack of the day on that one high note (Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde comes to mind – not vocal cracks specifically, but you can tell from recordings she struggled at times with the ending note in “So Much Better”, even if the rest of the performance was good enough that you were too distracted to notice when she took a breath in the MTV recording of the show). You probably haven’t seen them shudder with nerves in front of an opening night crowd or fall in rehearsal three times in a row. And I know for a fact that some of the best performers in the world have done these very things. Why? Because the best performers aren’t those who never fail. Those don’t exist. The best performers are those who work through and work with their failures, using them to make themselves better and more consistent as performers and stronger as people.

Haunted Theatres

Taylor Lockhart
Ah, October. ‘Tis the season for scary things isn’t it? You may or may not decorate your house with cobwebs and styrofoam gravestones. Perhaps at one point you trick or treated, or like me didn’t have a choice because from freshman year on, Halloween lined up with a run thru or with a tech rehearsal. Despite spending the holiday every year with the Gershwins, in 1889 attire, or costumed as a british schoolboy, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and since it’s this Wednesday, I’m excited to be able to give you one last spooky article before the end of the month.


Whether only slightly through the Phantom Of The Opera or historical documentaries you've probably heard of a haunted theatre before. Perhaps have your own experience of what may or may not have been a spectral encounter or a noisy janitor in a theatre of your own. However the actors and actresses in these theatres all over the world tell you their ghost’s are no joke.



The Real “Phantom Of The Opera” - The Palais Garnier

Odds are you’ve all seen, or at least heard of, the only musical that can give Les Miserables a run for its money. But if the words like Star Wars, Michael Jordan, and Mickey Mouse don’t ring a bell to you, it’s time to get out from out under that rock you’ve been living under. I for one can say that most of the time I should've been busy writing this I spent getting sidetracked watching chandeliers crash. You may or may not be surprised to know that the famous crash may have happened just not quite the way it does in Phantom. No, it didn’t involve a man cutting the chandeliers chains and it ripping through the ceiling before crashing into the stage and making a giant fire that quickly consumes the theatre (though the author has gone on to state the Phantom is and was real). In reality the story is believed to be that a counterweight fell killing someone. Who knows though, maybe a deformed man named Erik dropped that counterweight. Probably not, but if you’ve ever worked Fly Crew for a show, then you know that if those things ever drop from the catwalk or even higher than the catwalk it isn’t pretty and it lead to one person's death. Before we get off Phantom though, I want to address there is really an underground lake of sorts under the theatre. More of a water problem the theatre can’t do anything about, but you probably could possibly ride a gondola through it. Anyways with at least 1 death being confirmed and popularized in the the 143 year history of the theatre that it isn’t surprising the theatre is counted along with other more haunted theatres.



Ghost’s Of The Blaze- The Oriental Theatre

Today it’s called The Ford Center for Performing Arts Oriental Theatre. Once upon a time it was called the Iroquois Theatre, a theatre deemed absolutely fireproof, but as you may know calling anything along the lines of indestructible will almost always lead to its destruction and the fire at the Iroquois Theatre in 1906 claimed at least 602 lives when the doors leading outside of the theatre were barred shut and is the single most devastating fire in any american theatre. Its unsurprising then it’s often considered one of the most haunted theatres in the world. It was torn down years later and replaced with the Oriental theatre. It’s most haunted spot is often considered the alley behind the theatre given the nickname “Death Alley” because of how the dead bodies were stacked up there after the fire. There hasn’t been much more than things that can be chocked up to coincidence and the stories we have received from people apart of the production of Wicked there which have since been stated to be exaggerated. It’s no doubt that a disaster like that if not truly haunted the memories stick around as such.

 The Iroquois theatre before the tragic 1903 fire.

The Iroquois theatre before the tragic 1903 fire.



Cut That Out! -The Huguan Huiguan Opera House

During World War 2 a man nearby the opera house built housing for the poor however in something straight out of a horror movie he destroyed a burial place to do so. You may if you travel to this theatre be able to hear sounds that have been pondered by people to be ghosts and most famously if you decide the throw a stone in the courtyard you may hear someone tell you to, Cut it out! Sounds to me less like the ghost of an ancient native, or of a poor man, but of one of the theatre’s previous stage manager. If anyone ever find gaff tape laying around and no one knows where it came from we’ll know thats true.


Spirits On A Bridge -The Colorado Creede Repertory Theatre

So, I’m just going to say this and you tell me if its stupid or not. You’re performing in a show and you hear the theatre may be haunted so you go out onto the bridge behind the theatre and shout, spirits come join me on stage! Thankfully since then, Annie Butler the actress on the bridge would agree. She hired an exorcist and may or may not still be haunted but the theatre that was built to entertain miners is theorised to be. The director has gone on to state its not a surprise the theatre is haunted and that they’ve observed most of the stuff haunted theatres are known for footsteps when no one’s there, whispering, etc. The real reason I chose to write about this was just to let you all know if something is haunted never ever invite them in. Seriously just don’t try to talk to ghosts. Real or not, why would a Ouija board ever be a good idea.


Bones Under A Music Hall- The Cincinnati Music Hall

Throughout the entire history of this theatre, through excavations and remodels, human bones have been discovered. It is believed the theatre was built over a potter's field. It should be stated building anything over a burial site is always a very bad idea. Those working at the music hall claim that it is in fact very haunted. There have been numerous sightings and experiences but the one that stood out most to me was of an employee who brought his 3 year old boy Charlie in one day. Charlie enjoyed pretending like he was performing. Charlie stopped and asked his dad who was that in box 9. He looked up and the father said no one’s in box 9. The 3 year old then said yes there is, he’s waving at me. They then quickly left. This seems a possible coincident for its only one of many experiences that you can find on the Music Halls own official site and possibly for yourself in one the halls guided ghost tours.


Goodnight Olive Part 2- The New Amsterdam Theatre

The New Amsterdam Theatre, currently home to Disney’s Aladdin is my favorite haunted theatre in America and the entire world and its due entirely to the woman who haunts it, Olive Thomas. Avid readers of the blog may recognize this is not my first time talking about Olive previously including her in my top 13 superstitions article and how cast and crew of the theatre often say goodnight to a picture hanging up of Olive Thomas. However Olive is not a feared spectre or unwanted guest like other theatre ghosts on this list. Olive is akin to New Amsterdam’s Casper. She has been heard replying to conversations in various ways, seen sliding across the stage blowing kisses to the crowd. Historically Olive was a member of the Ziegfeld Follies, the theatres most popular show at a time. She later married Jack Pickford and when the two went on a vacation she was later found having overdosed on mercury bichloride liquid solution, a medicine prescribed for syphilis pain. It is unknown and a matter of controversy whether the death was accidental confused with sleeping pills or drinking water, suicide, or even possibly murder. What is known is that Olive is not resting in peace. Perhaps at peace but like all great actresses never resting. The story of Olive’s ghost is interesting and is very hard to not run into when researching the theatre’s history. You can find a picture of Olive Thomas on the right in the main 42nd Street entrance. I encourage you if you see Aladdin or visit the theatre soon, to either give Olive a compliment or say Mary Pickford her sister in law was the best actress of the silent film actress. Either way, you may get a little reaction.


I want to take a brief minute to tell you about a recent creation around the Olive Thomas story that I think some of you may find interesting. I am talking about, Ghostlight The Musical. Not much has happened with this since 2015 and it even originally starred Phillipa Soo as Olive. It seems like the creators of this musical have since moved since its performances but I’d still love to see the rights available to this musical at some point. There’s not much more I can say just that I thought it important while we talk about Olive Thomas again to inform you of an incredibly interesting musical that I’d love to see more done with.


I had planned to talk about others ghostly theatre experiences here but unfortunately didn't receive enough responses. So here’s my backup.


It’s October 29th, Halloween is, as previously stated, in 2 days and you don’t have a costume. Well let me help you with 10 last minute DIY Halloween costumes.


A Newsie

This one is pretty easy, the most important thing is definitely the hat. You may be able to find one at a thrift shop for cheap but they still sell them at JC Penny’s and other clothing stores. Then a plaid shirt, vest, and perhaps a pair of cargo shorts that are too big and finally some boots. This is all stuff you may be able to find at thrift stores or may just have lying around.


Elphaba

All you need to pull off everyones favorite gravity defying witch is a black cape, some sort of black dress or cloak, a witch’s hat, and green face makeup. All of this can be found at stores that sell Halloween supplies or you may already have.


Enjolras

I’ll be doing the movie version since the broadway version is more complicated. You’re going to need a red jacket preferably suit like and a white button down shirt. Now you need a black tie make sure to leave it loose, Enjolras is rebellious and refuses to wear it properly and black pants and black boots. Bonus points if you can find some red fabric to tie around your waist and use the remainder of that fabric to make a cockade.




Tony

Ok so a tan jacket, white button down shirt, a really skinny tie, and black pants. Congrats you’re now Tony. Now just walk around all night singing Maria and terrifying little kids and you got it. Don’t accidentally stab someone though. Oh hold on, is that spoilers? Is it spoilers if the shows over 50 years old? What if it’s source material is hundreds older than that. Well uh, sorry if I did.



Heather

Which one you ask? That’s up to you. The fun thing about the Heathers is nothing has to be an exact copy just kinda similar. Try to find a green, red, yellow, or blue (if you’re going for Veronica) jacket, It doesn't really matter what you wear under it but the costume looks best with something white and a necklace. Next a skirt, again not all that important as long as the color choice looks good with the jacket. You will also need tall socks preferably with a bit of green, yellow, blue, or red. Finally a pair of stylish shoes, and if you can manage to find one a Croquet mallet. If you’re going as Chandler though the red scrunchie is very important. However if you want to pull off our other lead JD, all black and a black overcoat is really all you need or if you do need a bit of color keep it dark. The edgier the better.



“Ghost Light”

Have to tie it all in somehow. All you need is a white sheet and to cut out three holes for the mouth and eyes. You now have the classic ghost costume but wear a headlamp or hold a flashlight under it and suddenly you’ve become a “ghost light”. Warning: joke may not be very effective around non theatre people/



Well, you have a costume, you know where to, I’d say you’re ready for Halloween. If you’re a kid go out and enjoy yourself, trick or treating is one of man’s greatest achievements after all and if you’re an adult take advantage of the November 1st markdowns. I hope you all learned something today and that sometimes a haunted theatre is just a series of coincidences or a disturbing past and sometimes it’s all completely real. Who knows maybe you’re theatre is haunted. Perhaps it’s the ghost of a harmless actress or maybe its a malignant old director who was murdered and is back for revenge and will bring your entire proscenium crashing down to the stage. Probably not though. Happy Halloween! See you next time.




Getting Ready for College Auditions: Part 1

Henri Tomic


It's almost Halloween and Holiday Season, and what does that mean for high school age theatre kids?

Right: College Auditions, Unifieds, Preparations, getting your book sorted, and oh wait, that's not even everything yet, for many there is this small detail called graduating from High School. It is very easy to get caught up in this jungle of new things, decisions and constantly having to prove yourself. But trust me, in the end, everything will be worth it, and you will look back on everything you learned in this intense time.

But to make it even a tiny bit easier for you, I will answer a few burning frequently asked questions (aka what I wish I had known back then)


When is the right time to (apply/) audition?
In general, there is no right and wrong, and if you're incredibly talented, you might just as well get accepted if you attend the very last audition. However, bear in mind that each school has a certain number of places to fill, and if you therefor the first audition, you might benefit, as they still have all their places available, and they can't really know who else will come up for the other auditions. Meanwhile, you might experience that at certain schools for later auditions either all applicants compete for just one or two remaining places, or even that they are already full before you even enter the audition room. In the end, it's all a matter of luck and who comes in at the right moment (e.g. after a terrible applicant) so go with your gut feeling, but as a general rule of thumb the earlier, the better. (Also you might have less stress with your exams then.)


How to find the right school/college etc. for me?
This is a tough one. First of all, it is important to acknowledge that there is no school that is right for everyone. Some people need a high standard, big groups, and a lot of competitions to thrive; others need a more personal experience with teachers tracking their individual progress. Some want to be close to a theatre to get inspiration in all the hard training; others want to save on accommodation. So really and truly there is no right and wrong, and if you have it in you, you can make it on Broadway or West End, regardless of your school and background. This doesn't mean your choice is irrelevant, though. In fact, it is crucial that you get to the very place you can be. Don't let yourself be fooled, though, by glamorous reputations or big names, acting, singing and dance are about connections, on stage or camera. This means you need to be able to fully connect to your tutors and open up to them, if for some reason a world-renowned college felt wrong for you, and you didn't feel a connection at your audition or research, forget about it, and you might find that your heart leads you to a very different lesser-known school. And fast forward ten years you will be their first big name on their homepage.



What to expect at auditions?
All schools have their very own method of finding their students. Nevertheless, everyone (for MT) will want to hear you sing, they will see you act mostly by using a monologue, and they will see you dance/move.

When it comes to singing they will more often than not ask for two contrasting songs, i.e. a classical one and one that is more contemporary, of which one is more upbeat and uptempo than the other one. Here it is important to make the right choices and choose songs that highlight your talents, but at the same time come very natural to your voice even under pressure and allow you more for storytelling than just forcing these high notes. Keep in mind that you might not have had a sufficient warm up before an audition that might be either very early or very late and you will be very nervous especially in the beginning. The panel is looking for you telling a story and performing in front of an audience rather than you showing off (and potentially failing).

Consult a vocal teacher and experiment with a number of different songs that work for you. Try to surprise the panel and find something that they haven't heard a million times already or reminds them of their last breakup etc.

When it comes to acting, nine times out of ten, they will ask you for at least one monologue. Obviously, I could give you hours worth of advice about posture, diction, intentions, objectives, Stanislavski, pauses and so on, but that's not the point here. Something that helped me a lot to boost my performance and to improve in all of these areas was to drop the idea of it being a monologue. When we think of monologues, we think of somebody delivering over-dramatised lines, standing in front of a panel. But guess what, they weren't written in that way, in fact, did you ever see a (good) show and even noticing a monologue (although they were guaranteed many)? No one writes a monologue (at least no playwright), they are merely part of a play, and we must think of it as a mini-performance (think off-off-off-off-off- Broadway). This idea helps a lot, but there is something about the idea of being on stage, in a play, that automatically makes us slow down, move, and not weirdly wandering of into acting land. In your audition you're performing a one-man play in front of a tiny audience, and you need to behave that way. Think back to some of the great plays (or movies ) you have seen where the character bursts into a very dramatic and emotional or inspiring speech. For once, now, that's you, and you want to make an impression.

Other than the monologues you probably will have to do some kind of improvisation, physical theatre or any other interacting acting exercises. Here they want to see how you can pass energy back and forth. The key here is simply to go with it (as crazy as it might seem) and not be afraid to make yourself a fool. Because if you're doing awesome everyone will admire your performance, if not, you won't see any of them again anyway, so why even care about them. Make sure to be kind and friendly to everyone and collaborate well, communication is key here.

When it comes to dance and movement, there isn't much you can prepare, other than to attend as many jazz dance and ballet classes as you can, preferably by several different teachers, so that you get used to different lesson- and choreography styles.

Make sure, to be honest in the audition room and ask whenever is unclear, if you consider yourself more of a mover, don't try to hide this but work as hard as you can. Dance teachers love it if you're trying to go the extra mile working extra hard to get it right, practice even everyone else is taking a break and ask them for advice if just don't seem to get it right. If they know you are a fighter, they can get you anywhere in three or four years.


How to deal with nervousness/anxiety?
Everyone is nervous at auditions and that is completely fine, the key is to channel your nervousness to give you energy and focus, rather than to hinder your performance.

There are a couple of things to think about that might help with that:

Number one, everyone behind the table is on your side. I know this isn't easy to process, but what I mean by that is, each of them is hoping to get the best students for them, and they are sitting all day there waiting for that to happen. In fact, they might even have higher hopes in you than you in yourself, because if you were this perfectly talented student, they wouldn't need to keep searching and staying there every week/month looking at more and more applicants. This means if you mess up you're beginning or don't hit this important note, don't let it determine the rest of your performance, they want you to be good, and they want to get to know you. Because after all the one thing they are looking for is if they seriously want to continue working with your for all these years, so if you're enthusiastic, open to their feedback and kind they will see that and overlook where you still need training. They are looking for potential and passion and not perfection because it would be incredibly boring to teach a perfect student.

Another image that helped me a lot was to see the whole thing as a performance opportunity:

You want to be on a stage in the middle of hundreds of spotlight, performing in front of thousands of people, many of you will have done some kind of performances before, and I'm almost certain you had more than 2-4 audience members ;) This might just be the most relaxed performance you will ever have, an incredibly tiny audience who are all on your side and haven't paid thousands of dollars to see you perform, they have no expectations and want you to be good, you will never experience such a forgiving audience in a Broadway theatre.

So dive right into you're work from now on, every minute can be used productively, you got this! Fingers crossed and break a leg, and see you on Broadway!!!




Attend a Tale for Halloween

By Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)

It was a frigid February afternoon in New York City. My BFF was dragging me to a seedy cinema uptown to catch a British horror movie from 1936. If I remember correctly (and he can always correct me on here if I’m wrong), a friend of his had suggested seeing it.

In hindsight, it was a strange movie. Very 1930s British horror/melodrama. Greed was the motivation behind the monster doing all the killings. He’s caught in his murderous ways. A string of pearls and other valuable jewels stolen while men come in for a shave are recovered. All is right with the world once again. Or is it?

As we near the holiday of All Hallows Eve (a/k/a Hallowe’en), it’s time to drag out the scariest of scary stories, and certainly this movie—in its cheesy way and hammy performances—is a scary story. It’s based on an urban legend told often in penny dreadfuls, with British children in the 19th century warned if they didn’t behave, this villain was going to swoop down and eat them up—with eat being the operative word here, perhaps.

A successful barber with premises at 152 Fleet Street, this villain would seat his unsuspecting victims into his specially constructed barber's chair while lathering their faces. The trick chair would then flip around, throwing the victims through a trap door into the cellar below. If the fall didn’t kill them, the barber would polish them off with his razor. Then he robbed them and dragged their bodies to the basement of his mistress. In turn, she turned these victims into tasty meat pies, which she sold at her pie shop. The demons would relieve the victims of any valuables, including a string of pearls—which ultimately led to their undoing. A determined judge and a pair of lovers help bring the dastardly duo to justice, and they are put on trial at the Old Bailey.

Was this urban legend based a real person? Probably not (despite claims to the contrary). But it’s a great story. And perhaps indicative of the times; even Dickens refers to popping pussies into pies in Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit.

The movie version starred a British actor named (seriously) Tod Slaughter in the lead role of the lustful, villainous, greedy, demon barber on Fleet Street who slit the throats of his customers. Indeed, Slaughter had changed his first name after playing this role on stage because he became so enamored of the character; once a serious British actor, Slaughter had taken a career turn into British horror. In this film, the murderous barber and his next-door neighbor steal valuables off the dead gentlemen (who never thereafter were heard from again?). The trick barber’s chair is essential to the story, of course.


 Ted Slaughter as Sweeney Todd

Ted Slaughter as Sweeney Todd


I’m hoping some of this is beginning to sound familiar.

Having seen well over 1000 musicals over six decades (including the revised and bloody Carrie), I believe Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (based on the play by Christopher Bond) is probably the scariest and bloodiest thing I’ve ever seen onstage (and I’ve seen plays with onstage simulated leg amputations—don’t ask). So, with Hallowe’en fast approaching, what better time is there to take a fresh look at slimy, vengeful Benjamin Barker, er, Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.

In the 19th century penny dreadfuls and urban legends, Sweeney is just a greedy barber with an evil and equally greedy neighbor. The brilliance of the Christopher Bond play (well worth reading if you can track it down) is giving Sweeney a more human and humane motivation—revenge for the loss of his wife Lucy and daughter Joanna by the truly evil Judge Turpin and his beadle.

Still, as my mother asked when I first described this story to her, “That’s a musical?”

Yes, that’s a musical:

·         A musical featuring an evil dentist/barber (long before Little Shop of Horrors had its own singing and horrifying dentist)

·         A musical with a song of self-flagellation—the Judge’s “Joanna” (Mea Culpa), cut from the original Broadway production but subsequently restored in the opera house version)

·         A musical requiring a gallon or so of stage blood spurting out of a specially-rigged prop razor

·         A musical ending Act I with “A Little Priest” and starting Act II with “God That’s Good” (what, you never made that connection before? It was intentional)

·         A musical ready to rhyme butler (subtler), potter (hotter), but not locksmith; with a “shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top”

·         A musical with more onstage deaths than Hamlet

Well, it’s not Rodgers and Hammerstein (thank goodness).

At heart, it’s kind of a twisted love story. Nellie loves Sweeney, who loves his lost Lucy, while Joanna and Anthony love each other, while the Judge lusts after Joanna, and poor Tobias loves Nellie (until she tries to kill him, that is). And does anyone know whatever happened to Mr. Lovett? Just curious.

I first saw Sweeney Todd in the cavernous Uris (now Gershwin) Theatre two weeks after it opened with Len Cariou as Sweeney and Angela Lansbury as Nellie Lovett. Hal Prince decided it was a story about the grinding down of the working class in Industrial Age London (though there is only one oblique single reference to this in the script: “How gratifying for once to know that those above will serve those down below”), perhaps with the Dickens allusions in mind. Designer Eugene Lee moved a Rhode Island factory to the stage, and every set piece had originated in that factory. It was friggin’ huge.

I returned to the Uris three more times: once with my mother; once to see the last performance with Carious and Lansbury (poor Len had completely lost his singing voice by then, and he had to croak his way through “Epiphany” that night); and once to see George Hearn and Dorothy Loudon as the leads. My BFF and I subsequently traveled to Philadelphia to take in the national tour and to NYC Opera to see the opera house version staged by Prince. Since then, I’ve seen big productions and teeny productions—and they all work no matter what. Sweeney Todd is indestructible.

It is a Grand Guignol-like masterpiece by virtuoso composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. In subsequent productions of Sweeney Todd, Prince’s original indictment of the British class system (and decidedly Dickensian turn) has been swept aside—for the most part—with greater emphasis placed on the twisted humanity of the characters. And I could easily argue it is one of the greatest musicals (not operas, to be sure) ever written, as revolutionary in its own way as Show Boat and Oklahoma (both written by Sondheim’s mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II).

Which brings us back (don’t ask how) to Hallowe’en. There are plenty of Sweeney Todd and Nellie Lovett costumes available online. Sweeney Todd themed parties are a favorite on Pinterest. Haunted houses decorated like a tonsorial establishment in 19th century London are easy to create (with a little imagination and a trick barber’s chair to lure unsuspecting trick-or-treaters to their “doom”—or maybe worse if those damn whippersnappers don’t stay off my lawn). Even cosplay events for Sweeney Todd readings have been staged by regional theatre companies (okay, I suspect they’re just using their costumes from their annual Christmas Carol productions—but these are a lot more fun).

Your good friend Sweeney is waiting for you this Hallowe’en. Are you ready to take up his challenge, bleeders? His chair awaits.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a great musical. He also assiduously avoids horror movies though he’s been called a monster by those damn young whippersnappers when he tells them to get off his lawn.

Showmance: A Study

Jyothi Cross

Rumours run around in every show you do. Secret kisses backstage. Wanting eyes onstage. At least, that’s what everyone says. But is the legendary ‘showmance’ truly real? Welcome to my lecture.


My school did Beauty and the Beast as its show last year, and it was, as the kids say, fun times – lots of bouncy musical numbers, some crazy costumes, and a good old-fashioned romance. This is the setting for my first case study: “Belle and the Beast”. Now I have two friends, let’s called them Oscar and Gertrude (disclaimer: these are not their real names). Oscar and Gertrude had to kiss onstage. It was an exciting moment, Oscar’s first kiss with a girl two years older than him who played the main character in the show – at my school, this makes you a literal celebrity – and we were all very excited. Wooh, first kiss! Oscar was even more excited. In fact, for the next few weeks (aka a good couple of months) Oscar had an impressively large crush on Gertrude, and thus a ‘showmance’ was born.

And then shot down about two minutes later when Gertrude revealed she only had platonic feelings for poor old Oscar.

What does this first case study show? Well, by taking your typical setup for a ‘showmance’, we can see how it doesn’t truly work out as many people claim. Perhaps the rumours we hear are one sided, or just made up to liven up the Green Room halfway through a harrowing Tech Week. According to case study one, ‘showmances’ do not exist because life onstage can be separated from life offstage, at least for some people…

And for the other people, I present case study two: same musical, different setup. We all know what it’s like, preparing for a show. The sweat, the tears, the many, many hours stuck with the same five people. Because you have nothing better to do, you start to form a bond, a family almost. Enter Asterix and Penelope (disclaimer: once again, not real names…). They didn’t play lovers, or anything of the sort, in fact Penelope was one of those incredibly popular, date-every-guy kind of gals. Asterix was (and still is) a complete dork. And yet, though simply trapped in the ensemble together, these two started to become more and more… familiar. Maybe it was the close proximity, or the fact that Asterix had finally finished puberty, but they started to get along in a manner most unexpected. And thus, a ‘showmance’ was born.

And it continued, to this very day, almost a year on and they are so incredibly in love it’s so crazy how people can fall so quickly.

So, what does case study two show? Well, perhaps a ‘showmance’ isn’t exactly what we expect it to be, it doesn’t manifest itself in a traditional way. Whilst it can most definitely happen, it’s maybe the idea of this off- and onstage difference that stops two people who play a romantic pair from actually falling for each other. Instead, a ‘showmance’ happens in unforced conditions, where two people spend so much time in close proximity that they do just fall.

At least, that’s what I can gather from my very limited sample group of the 20 people who always do my school play…

Ever had a ‘showmance’? Prove me wrong in the comments below!

 

Gatekeeping- Why?

Jonathan Fong

Musical theatre is a broad term; underneath its broad umbrella, one finds everything from the classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Sondheim to rock operas like Hair and Rent. There’s something for everyone – from a story of humanity woven from a teenager’s broken arm to life-affirming pieces about great tragedies of recent and not-so-recent history, everyone’s got something to love. For those who prefer to work unseen, there’s lights to run, SFX to cue, and an orchestra to play in or conduct; for those who enjoy the bright lights of the stage, there’s everything from the brusque romantic tenor lead who happens to be absent from every single dance number (read: has two left feet) to the comedic character actor who can’t sing to save their life or the dancer who thrills with great leaps and kicks. I think you get my point – musical theatre is diverse, vibrant, and incredible. After all, that’s why we love it, isn’t it?

So then, I must ask – why do we keep gatekeeping this community from that which we disapprove of?

We’ve all, at some point, laughed at something or someone who, in our eyes, is undeserving of our community. Maybe you’ve snickered at that one video of some high school kid in Legally Blonde having the worst voice crack of their life or maybe that video of an epic technical fail at this or that production, or maybe you’ve scoffed at the news that they’re bringing yet another piece of commercialized of garbage onto Broadway. I know there are people who are reading this who hate the way the Tonys in this or that year turned out (I’m looking at you, my fellow DEH, CFA, Great Comet, Mean Girls, and SpongeBob fans) and have gone online to bash fans of what, in your eyes, stole that award. And I know there’s that one singer or actor who you think doesn’t or didn’t deserve their part in whatever production (amateur or professional) of whatever musical.

Admit it – you’ve done it. I’ll go first and say that I have. While I’m not proud to admit it, I’m not ashamed to either. Let’s just say I had concerns when the announcement was made that SpongeBob Squarepants would be brought to Broadway and that I was irritated when Bandstand barely received a passing glance when it came time for Tony nominations and ‘that Dear Evan Hansen thing swept the bloody thing’. I’ve internally facepalmed upon reading news of various casting decisions for Broadway productions and cringed upon hearing praise for that one musical (good luck guessing which one I’m referring to, by the way).

But here’s the thing. Why do I get the right to say what makes an adequate piece of musical theatre? What makes me the perfect arbitrator of the best and worst casting decisions in the history of theatre? Why should I get any say in what others think is their favorite or most hated musical?

I know I certainly don’t have that power. Just as any other human, I have my opinions, and I respect the right of others to have theirs too. I don’t hold the reigns to the progress of musical theatre, neither are my opinions on anything – a show, a performance/production of a show, the performance of an actor or actress – a matter of absolute, undisputable fact. I like and hate certain things, yes, and I’m sure others do too (often in a way that conflicts with my beliefs). But at the end of the day, there’s no reasonable cause for me to attack or hate anyone who disagrees with me or – dare I say it – call them ‘not a true fan’, is there? It’s not like liking or hating Wicked or Phantom of the Opera makes someone a horrible person – liking or disliking a thing or three in the realm of musical theatre, unlike certain unforgivable acts and people within society, is not morally or ethically wrong and should not deserve the same use of language as such acts, as I see sometimes occurs nowadays.

At the end of the day, musical theatre is musical theatre. Love or hate certain parts of it, the whole of musical theatre is what makes it what we love. And we shouldn’t be telling or imposing our views on which parts of it are good, which are bad, and which should be unworthy of being called ‘musical theatre’ on others no more than we should be telling people to stop loving someone they love. Because we all love and care for musical theatre – and we should all be treating each other as such.

The Leading Ladies of Broadway: Sutton Foster

Kelly Ostazeski

Career highlights:

Many know her rags to riches story, or rather – ensemble to Tony Award winning triple threat leading lady. Foster was born on March 18, 1975, in Georgia, and relocated to Michigan, where she attended Troy High School. She took dance classes as a child, and at her first audition scored her first role as the title character in Annie. She was cast in The Will Rogers Follies tour and completed her high school diploma via correspondence. Foster then attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in their musical theatre program, but dropped out after a year.

 “ Sutton Foster”  by SOwl34 (account not active) is licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Sutton Foster” by SOwl34 (account not active) is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0



 Foster made her Broadway debut in 1996 as Sandy in Grease. She then appeared in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Star-to-Be in Annie, and then as Éponine in Les Misérables. She was then cast in the ensemble in the out of town tryout in the new musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews. When the original Millie left the production, Foster was offered the role. The show transferred to Broadway, opening in April of 2002, to rave reviews for her performance. Foster then won the Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and the Best Leading Actress in a Musical Tony Award.

 Her next Broadway role was Jo March in the short running Little Women the Musical, for which she was nominated for another Tony Award. In 2006, she starred as the bride Janet Van De Graaff in Tony Award Winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone, earning another Tony nomination. Next was the role of Inga in Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein. She played Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical, and was nominated for yet another Tony.

 Foster released her debut album in 2009, called Wish, and did a concert tour across the country, including a stint at Café Carlyle in New York, where she recorded a live album. She appeared in the Encores! Productions of Anyone Can Whistle and The Wild Party, as well as the off-Broadway play called Trust.

 Her next Broadway role was Reno Sweeney in the 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Her powerhouse triple threat performance won her a second Tony Award.

 Kelly meeting Sutton Foster in 2007

Kelly meeting Sutton Foster in 2007


 She was cast in the television series Bunheads on ABC Family, but it was cancelled after one season. She returned to Broadway in Violet, earning yet another Tony Award nomination. She currently plays Liza Miller on the TVLand series Younger, which has been renewed for a sixth season. Her most recent stage role was in an off-Broadway revival of Sweet Charity.

 Foster released her second studio album Take Me to the World in 2018. Also in 2018, she reunited with the original Broadway cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie for a one night only 15th anniversary concert benefiting the Actors Fund, and she will perform in My One and Only, a Roundabout Theatre Company benefit next month.

 

Fun facts:

- Her brother is Tony Award nominated actor Hunter Foster, and her sister-in-law is Broadway actress Jennifer Cody

- She was married to Tony Award winning Christian Borle

- She is good friends with her Little Women sister, Megan McGinnis, who often performs in concerts with Foster, and is featured in a duet on Wish, and on Take Me to the World.

- She received an honorary doctorate at Ball State University, where she also teaches and collaborates with the theatre program

- Other TV appearances include: Johnny and the Sprites, Flight of the Conchords, Law and Order: SVU, Elementary, Royal Pains, and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

- She is married to screenwriter Ted Griffin and together, they adopted a daughter, Emily, in 2017

- Sutton loves dogs!

- She is also an artist and you can find her art for sale on her website

- Foster appears on Broadway cast recordings of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek, Anything Goes, and Violet.

- Foster also appears on several compilation albums: The Maury Yeston Songbook, The Broadway Musicals of 1926, Julie Styne in Hollywood, Keys – The Music of Scott Alan, and Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project

 

Social media:

Verified Facebook Page: Sutton Foster
Twitter: @sfosternyc
Instagram: @suttonlenore
Official Website: SuttonFoster.com

 

Songs to Listen to:
“Gimme Gimme” – Thoroughly Modern Millie

“Astonishing” – Little Women the Musical

“This is How a Dream Comes True” – Shrek the Musical

“Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – Anything Goes

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” – Sutton’s album Wish
“Give Him the Ooh La La” – Sutton’s album Take Me to the World

 

 

Acknowledging the Past While Looking to the Future

Darren Wildeman
Carousel
, Flower Drum Song, My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, South Pacific, etc. The list goes on. Many of these shows are beloved classics by many, yet many other people take issue with these shows. From white washing, to blatant portrayal of domestic abuse, to outright sexism and antiquated themes. We’re living in 2018. We’re living in a time when founding fathers, their spouses, and cohorts are being played by people of colour. We’re living in a time when a Disney princess doesn’t have to find her happily ever after in a prince. We’re living in a time when while theatre still has a long way to go, there are still more roles now for minorities now than there has been, we’re living in a time of #MeToo and when women can share their stories of assault, abuse, and harassment. This begs the question; how can we recognize and enjoy pieces of theatre as being transformative to the art and as an objectively well written piece when it has so many problems? Or can we?

The first aspect of this question becomes what are the big issues of the show? Is it something that’s written into the script? Or is it more of a perception on how a character is presented? The answer to this question goes a long way in how you perceive or take on a piece of musical theatre. To some extent you can do the same thing for both, but there are other answers that go in wildly different directions.

In both instances, whether the offending content is written right into the script or if it’s a perception thing. Directing, lighting, and staging can go a long way. For example, if the issue of the show is domestic assault (i.e. Carousel) where it is obviously right in the script that Billy is abusive a director can put everything around the show in a darker, more reserved context that is more appropriate for domestic abuse today. Kristina Dorsey of theday.com writes about such a production where some modifications have been made. You can read that article here https://www.theday.com/article/20160228/ENT10/160229294. This musical is presented in a light that is more appropriate, and this can be done with more musicals. Direction can go a long way. Another thing you will notice is a script change.

If the issue with the show is written in a script sometimes the rights holders will allow for special changes to be made in a production. In fact, the recent production of Carousel did have one of the songs removed. Whether it’s an offending slur or a song with just a putrid message that is unacceptable by today’s standards sometimes script changes can be made to bring a production up to date. However, this begs the question. What if there’s too much to change in the script or a script change will screw up the story too much? Or what if a simple change isn’t enough and it’s still too problematic?

In this case you need to ask a really important question. Is this piece important enough to musical theatre and its history that it is still worth being watched or even performed today?

Keep in mind that even in these instances the direction of a show can go a long way. However, on the flip side in some circumstances direction can only go so far. There are shows where problematic messages are just woven in. What should be done in this case? Should that piece of theatre just be buried to never see the light of day again?

While some might say yes, I think this view is also problematic. Can we just ignore a piece of theatre history? Some pieces that are now considered problematic are huge pieces of theatre that did wonders for advancing the art. From a historical stand point I’m not sure if we can just ignore something that means a lot to history. Not only this; but ignoring these shows is also ignoring prejudices that used to run rampant and to some degree still exist today.

Is Billy Bigelow being abusive uncomfortable? Good. Is seeing yellowface or blackface done in old shows cringey to see and something you never want to see done ever again? Good. Is the stereotypical portrayal of Asians in Flower Drum Song make you mad? Good. You see to some degree seeing these things done in old shows also serves as a reminder of things that used to exist. A reminder of what we shouldn’t and cannot be, a reminder of a route that we should never travel down with modern theatre.

It’s also worth noting that watching something does not equal supporting it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing if a person likes an old show and appreciates the music, how it’s done, and depending on the show- even the story in some cases. I don’t think it’s wrong to appreciate what a show is and does as long as you also realize and understand the problems the show has and why certain messages are hurtful to some people or why some people can’t or won’t watch the show. For example if someone who has been in an abusive relationship- or for another reason the subject hits close to home- can’t stomach watching Carousel, or if someone with close ties to Vietnam finds Miss Saigon to be offensive or too much; rather than calling the “Snowflake” or some other nasty modern day name we need the be respectful and understanding that not everyone can stomach watching or having an objective view of certain shows. On the flip side I don’t think it’s fair to immediately condemn someone if they enjoy an old show that has some problems. As long as they understand the issues and don’t turn a blind eye to things like abuse, racism and sexism.

Overall these shows can be appreciated as classic pieces. They did some things really well that helped shape musical theatre as we know it. I don’t think that can be ignored. However, if other people struggle with them or for one reason or another can’t stomach them or just find them too problematic to study too much in full that is understandable as well. We need to have a healthy respect for the past, while moving forward and adapting for the future.

 Photo by benjaminec/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by benjaminec/iStock / Getty Images

Happy Hunger Ga- I Mean Broadway Flea Market

Kelly Ostazeski

I’m a new blogger for All Things Broadway and I love a wide variety of musicals, but mostly classics or classic-sounding musicals. Hello, Dolly changed my life. “The world is full of wonderful things.”

 

This Sunday, September 30, was my first time at Broadway Flea Market. I have always wanted to go but it always seemed to conflict with something else I had to do. I made it a point not to miss it this year. After years of only casually seeing shows, I still didn’t have a reason to be there. In January I saw the show that got me back into Broadway – Hello, Dolly (which is a story for another time, perhaps appearing in a future blog entry...), and I wanted to see all the friends I’d made through the show, and maybe get some swag. With Dolly’s closing in August, I knew there would be quite a bit of stuff to get. I didn’t know how much. I wasn’t prepared for what Flea Market was actually like.

 

Since I saw Donna Murphy in the show I have been saying how much I want the signs outside the theatre that said, “At this performance, DONNA MURPHY is DOLLY”, more as a joke than actually believe I would walk away with one of the signs. My friends told me they might sell them at Flea, since the show was over so they probably didn’t need the signs anymore. I didn’t actually believe it.

 

But a few days before Flea, my friend sent me screenshots of BC/EFA’s insta-story. The signs were going to be sold. Immediately, “Before the Parade Passes By” started playing in my head:

 

I’ve got a goal again, I’ve got a drive again, I wanna feel my heart coming alive again…

 

I knew I had to do my best to get the signs. The show means so much to me, and Donna was my Dolly. 

 

“Get there early,” is what everyone told me. But they weren’t supposed to start selling until 10 AM. But okay, I’d get there early. My friends and I decided on 7:30. Happy Hunger Games, I thought. This sign was going to be hard to get. This sign was the one thing I had to have. I didn’t know how many fans would want it. There were only four. Four lucky fans would walk away with a piece of Broadway history. Talk about stress!

 

The day of, my alarm went off late, but I still managed to get into the theatre district at 7:30. I walked around for a bit – and there was nothing going on. Unless you want something desperately like I did, I don’t think it’s necessary to get there that early. Volunteers were just starting to set up tables. There were only a few fans lurking around. I found a spot on a stoop in front of the Curtain Call (recently closed shows) table and decided to wait. Soon my friend showed up and after talking to a few nice people on the same stoop, we connected on our love of theatre, shared our stories, and shared what we wanted. We promised to help each other out.

 

One girl said she’d hold my spot while I scoped around for any sign of the signs. While I was gone – less than five minutes – the Donna signs appeared and I ran back down the block. A line had formed but I was allowed back to the front of the line because I had a friend holding my spot.

 

The man at the table was growing impatient with the gathering line, and kept asking the crowd to take a few steps back. They didn’t listen. He finally agreed to take cash for the Donna signs, and offered them to the first four people who wanted them. The price doesn’t matter, all I know it was less than what I’d anticipated spending, and I still had a bit of cash to spend and therefore freedom to get a few more things. All that mattered in that moment was I’d gotten my sign. I stepped out while there was a bit of confusion about the order of the line and who was getting one, and within five minutes all four signs were gone.

 

I won the Broadway Flea Market Hunger Games.


ATB blog 11.jpg

 

Stress was gone. Anything else that happened that day was icing on the cake. I imagine if there’s something you desperately want, get there early and Flea Market might be stressful to anyone. Next year I can’t imagine there will be anything I want as much as this sign. I don’t think I’ll have to get there as early.

 

All day I had people coming up to me and congratulating me on my incredible prize, or just stopping me and asking where I found it. I had to tell them there were only four and sold out. Others wanted pictures with the sign or just to talk about how much they loved Donna as Dolly. The only downside was carrying around a poster sized billboard the entire day. It was awkward and a little heavy but I guarded it with my life and I was proud of what I’d accomplished. Not bad for a first timer?

 

Everything you could imagine was there – cast recordings, vinyl, playbills from the early 1900s and beyond, window cards from shows past and present, shoes signed by cast members, shirts and hoodies from shows that closed years ago, books and scripts. There was something for everyone.

 

They were supposed to be selling until 7:00 PM, but staff members were clearly done by 5:30 because at a certain point they were just trying to get rid of stuff.

 

For the autograph line, you make a donation of $35 per hour and you can go down the line and meet all the stars sitting for the hour. There wasn’t anyone I was desperate to meet. Apparently if you want a photo with someone during that hour, you go to the photo booth and request an actor. There’s a minimum donation of $20, but I heard that the more people come, the price goes up. Apparently one year when Bernadette Peters went, the photo booth started at $40 and went up to at least $80 the more people showed up. Perhaps if there was someone I was desperate to see, I would’ve done that. Perhaps next year.

 

There was a free selfie line with other different actors per hour and I did that twice – to meet Ben Fankhauser (Newsies) and Kara Lindsay (Newsies and Wicked) and then later for Lesli Margherita (Matilda) and Wesley Taylor (Spongebob).

 

Toward the end of the day, the prices on items started going down as the volunteers wanted to get rid of things. Three Frozen shirts for $5! Three souvenir cups from various shows for $5! A poster a friend was watching went down to $10 from $20. Three CDs for $15. Souvenir programs for $7. I don’t think anything was overpriced, except some things in the silent auction and some of the Lights of Broadway cards – sorry, I’m not paying $15 for a single trading card.

 

Recommendations from a first timer:

1.      Get there early if you want something desperately. Otherwise, you can get there around 9 AM.

2.      Bring cash. It’s a lot faster and they do take cards throughout the Flea Market, but instead of putting a bunch of charges on your credit/debit card, cash is so much easier.

3.      Absolutely take advantage of the Selfie Stage and meet Broadway stars

4.      Be kind to fellow fans – don’t be pushy, help each other out, and (I shouldn’t have to say this at all, but) don’t steal – this is all for charity and a good cause so don’t be selfish.

5.      Bring a large, sturdy tote bag to carry all your swag

6.      Have fun!

                                                                                                                                              

Overall, Broadway Flea Market was a LOT of fun. It’s always great to be in New York City and among these great shows. There were Broadway stars just walking the Flea Market, and hundreds of Broadway fans. Flea Market is a great way to connect and make friends with people who share the same interests.

 

As someone who was a weird theatre kid, it’s amazing that we now have events like Flea Market and BroadwayCon where we can meet and connect with other fans. I saw a girl walking around in a hoodie that said, “Warning, Breaks into Showtunes”, and I thought it was great. In the outside world, you don’t see fans who are as passionate about this incredible art form. BC/EFA’s Broadway Flea Market is an event not to miss for any musical theatre fan!

 

 

Old Musicals You Don't Know but Probably Should

Michael Kape aka Grumpy Olde Guy
“Burns Mantle Yearbooks”. When I was a mere lad trying to steep myself in as much theatre as I could possibly find, I devoured each and every “Burns Mantle Yearbook” in my school library. Every Broadway opening—and closing. Ten edited scripts from the best plays and musicals of the year. The gossip. The dirt. The dish. Who made money? What ran the longest?

Sorry, we had no Internet back then. No looking up shows on Wikipedia. We just had to learn what had happened before we were born (and contrary to popular belief, I was NOT in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot; I was doing East Lynne in Burlington, Vermont).

I bristle when I see lists (as appeared here a few weeks ago) of “Best Musicals,” and none came from before 1970. Yikes-and-a-half! I swear some people think there was no musical theatre before the first musical they ever saw. Bulletin: musical theatre as we know it has been around since The Black Crook in 1863. Gilbert and Sullivan. The operetta era. The Princess musicals. The Golden Age of Musicals.

So, with little regard for the eras from which they came but in alphabetical order, I’ve compiled my own list of 40 Best Musicals before Hair (1968—Broadway), which helped change everything. If you don’t know these musicals, maybe it’s time you discovered them. And remember, the internet is our friend. So is Burns Mantle.

·         A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: In many ways, this is a smart-ass college boy senior thesis—write a new musical based on the low Roman comedies of Plautus with a highly-sophisticated score. But Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart—both masters of comic writing individually—crafted a truly hilarious book. And Stephen Sondheim’s score is witty, melodic, intricate, and downright funny on its own. The overture alone is one of the best ever written. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight. (An obscure but interesting side note about Forum. It was the first successful modern musical comedy done with a single set. Nothing moved in on wagons or flew in from the flies. Just a single set.) And whatever you do, don’t assume you know the show just based on the horrific and decidedly unfunny movie version.

·         Annie Get Your Gun: Fresh off the success of Oklahoma (more about that later) Rodgers and Hammerstein became producers. The story goes Dorothy and Herb Fields brought their fictionalized story of Annie Oakley—to star Ethel Merman in the title role—to the pair to turn into a musical (Mike Todd had turned them down). R&H had already picked out their next writing project (which became Carousel), so they set out to find someone to write the score. Initially, it was going to be Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. But Kern was hospitalized and died before they could get started. So, R&H tried to persuade one guy who had never written a book musical before (though he’d written plenty of revues, e.g., As Thousands Cheer with Moss Hart) to write the score. He wrote three audition songs: “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”, and a little ditty to be sung in one during a massive set change—"There’s No Business Like Show Business”. The result was a major triumph for Irving Berlin and marked an entirely new direction in his writing. And the show itself became one of the classics of musical theatre. Yeah, some of it is cringe-worthy today (I’m an Indian Too), but it is still a masterpiece.

·         Anything Goes: This was another piece originally intended to star Ethel Merman, with a score by Cole Porter and a book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. The basic bones of the story were there—a musical set on an ocean liner—but it was centered around a shipwreck. But a real shipwreck had occurred a few weeks before the show opened (or so legend has it) and it was decided to scrap that story. The original book writers were unavailable, so director Howard Lindsay recruited Russel Crouse to help him rewrite the libretto, thus beginning one of the more successful writing teams in Broadway history. (They would go on to write the long-running Life With Father and the book to The Sound of Music.) No matter. The real story here is a triumphant score by Porter, with plenty of show-stopping gems.

·         Babes in Toyland: Composer Victor Herbert was fresh off a rousing success—a musical version of The Wizard of Oz, featuring a book by L. Frank Baum. Herbert, one of the brightest lights of the operetta era, cast his sights on writing another musical for children, this time incorporating characters from Mother Goose into a story of kidnapping, greed, and ultimate redemption in Toyland. (Do NOT compare this with the horrible Walt Disney movie of the same name with drastically altered Herbert songs and a ridiculous plot. Even Walt ending up hating it.) It has a beautiful score, with the song Toyland being one of the most moving and melodic pieces Herbert ever wrote.

·         Boys From Syracuse: Take William Shakespeare’s first known play, The Comedy of Errors. Throw into the mix the most successful songwriting duo of the 1930s, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Add in wildly funny librettist/director George Abbott. Get George Balanchine to choreograph. The result is Boys From Syracuse, which was actually written, in part, for Hart’s brother Teddy. Classic songs from this uproarious musical comedy include “This Can’t Be Love”, “Sing for Your Supper”, and “Falling in Love With Love”. The show itself, like its source, is just fun, silly, and altogether a great musical comedy.

·         Brigadoon: Lerner and Loewe wrote some classic shows (Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot), but to me, this is their best work. The luscious score by Fritz Loewe can leave you gasping for breath at times (“Come to Me”, “Bend to Me”—a/k/a “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera—oops, did I say that?). The final line (“You must really love her, laddie”) leaves me in tears. A Scottish village magically appears only once every 100 years. Yup, I can thoroughly believe this premise when it’s surrounded by that score.

·         Bye, Bye Birdie: This little-known and rarely-performed piece (okay, being facetious—it’s done in high schools, colleges, and summer camps all the time) was revolutionary in its time. Based loosely on the drafting of Elvis Presley into the Army, it was the first Broadway show to include rock music within its score by Lee Adams (lyrics) and Charles Strauss (music). However, the story really centers around musical producer Albert and long-suffering girlfriend Rosie, his racist mother Mae, and yes, the McAfee family. Do not judge the original, groundbreaking show by the rather awful, truncated, refocused movie. Michael Stewart wrote a rocking book and Gower Champion crafted it into a Tony-winning musical.

·         Cabaret: Kander and Ebb. Joe Masteroff (who we sadly lost over the weekend). Nazis. Nightclubs. A ghostly Emcee. A huge success in its original Broadway run, it’s gone on to be an even bigger one in its many revivals. If you’ve only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to see the stage version. Really.

·         Candide: Okay, this was a flop when it was first produced, but oh, that score, that overture. It took a reimagining of Candide by Hal Prince to bring this show the honor it deserves. Yes, it’s moved into the opera realm, but at heart, it’s still musical comedy based on the classic novel by Voltaire. Perhaps Lillian Hellman was not the ideal person to write the book (think Edward Albee writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s), but Leonard Bernstein’s score is a masterpiece. If you’ve never seen it, there’s a great video available online.

·         Carousel: Richard Rodgers said the best thing he ever wrote with Oscar Hammerstein II was Carousel. A lot of us agree with his assessment. Yes, it has book problems when seen through a contemporary prism (it does, after all, hinge on spousal abuse). It also has a glorious score. Unfortunately (in my opinion), it also set the template for every subsequent R&H musical. They were never really as original and daring again (though Allegro does come close for being different).

·         Damn Yankees: Coming off the success of The Pajama Game, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (score), along with George Abbott and original novel (The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant) author Douglass Wallop (book), put together the quintessential Golden Age musical. Although original producer Hal Prince says he prefers Pajama Game, Damn Yankees is the more moving, heartfelt piece. It’s love, redemption, temptation, and the devil—with some baseball thrown into the mix. And yet there’s great sorrow attached to this piece. Jerry Ross died a few months after it opened, and Richard Adler could never duplicate the team’s success on his own. The movie version is actually slightly better, with Tab Hunter making a better Joe Hardy than Stephen Douglas.

·         Fiddler on the Roof: Come on, do I really need to tell you why this is a masterpiece?

·         Finian’s Rainbow: I confess, I love this show (so much so I invested in the Broadway revival). In its time, the show tackled an array of thorny issues (e.g., racism) in a light-hearted but meaningful way. Yip Harburg (lyrics) and Burton Lane (music) crafted a beautiful and eclectic score. When the strains of “Look to the Rainbow” are played, I start crying and don’t stop until the last notes of the finale. Whatever you do, don’t judge it by the mangled movie version directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

·         Fiorello: Some things I just don’t understand, especially how this brilliant show could be so forgotten today. It won Tonys. It grabbed the Pulitzer Prize. The score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick is one of their best. I know people don’t remember NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia any more (and this show is a highly-fictionalized version of his life). Still, this amazing musical stands on its own. If you’ve never discovered Fiorello, it’s not too late. Interesting side note. This was another situation where the writing team for the score was auditioned (audaciously I believe) before landing the assignment. Bock and Harnick were given the assignment to write two songs over a weekend. They came up with a couple of classics: Politics and Poker as well as Little Tin Box. ‘Nuff said.

·         Funny Girl: To be painfully honest, this highly fictional version of the life and career of Fanny Brice had major problems—like the book by Isobel Lennart is not very good or particularly truthful (omitting her first marriage and her son from the story). But then there’s the score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (I mean, for goodness sake, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, “I’m the Greatest Star”, “The Music That Makes Me Dance”, and that little ditty, “People”). And that Styne overture—one of his best. The movie is better, but I wish it had not jettisoned so much of the original score.

·         Gypsy: It had Merman. It had Jule Styne’s music. It had Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. It had Arthur Laurents’ book (arguably the best book of a musical ever written). It had that amazing overture (arguably the best overture ever written). Seriously, if you don’t know Gypsy, can you really call yourself a fan of musical theatre?

·         Hello, Dolly: Yes, yes, yes, we should all know this hugely successful show for any number of reasons. So, instead, I going to ask you to consider some back story. Start in 1835, with the one-act farce by John Oxenford, A Day Well Spent made its debut. Fresh off his Pulitzer win for The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder adapts the original farce into The Merchant of Yonkers. It is not a success, but he adapts it again into The Matchmaker, enlarging the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Enter producer David Merrick (a/k/a The Abominable Showman), determined—at all costs—to make this story (then called Dolly, a Damned Exasperating Woman) into a successful musical. Michael Stewart is recruited to write the book (after his success with Bye, Bye Birdie) and Jerry Herman the score (after his modest success with Milk and Honey). Hal Prince, Joe Layton, and Jerome Robbins all turn down the directing gig, which eventually is accepted by Gower Champion. Ethel Merman and Mary Martin both turn down the lead (though both would eventually play it) before Carol Channing makes it her signature role. It opens out of town (Detroit and Washington, DC)—and flops with audiences. Merrick flies in every show doctor he knows. New material is added (and songs jettisoned). Bob Merrill is paid a lot of cash (but not credited) to rewrite Elegance and some of Dancing. New opening numbers are tested and rejected until I Put My Hand in There prevails (but is ultimately cut from the awful movie version). But the Abominable Showman finally got his way and Hello, Dolly became a smash hit, a blockbuster, and a well-loved classic.

·         HMS Pinafore: It’s difficult to pin down a favorite comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, but Pinafore was the most often produced (and loved) and successful among their early works. It’s utter nonsense, but it’s delightful utter nonsense. It set the pattern for all their subsequent works. Is it their best? To some people, yes. To me, the honor goes to The Mikado (despite the inherent and unintended racism of the piece since Gilbert really knew next to nothing about Japan). American audiences took The Pirate of Penzance to heart because its world premiere was in New York City. And then there’s always Patience. Oh, hell, just learn your Gilbert and Sullivan already.

·         How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: In its time, this show was hilarious, irreverent, and inventive. It won a Pulitzer. Today, it’s cringe-worthy, sexist, and horrifying in light of the #MeToo movement.

·         Kiss Me, Kate: Cole Porter tackles William Shakespeare and wrestles him to the ground. Though ostensibly a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, it’s really the ultimate backstage musical, with two major storylines overlaid on the Shrew story. Why? Because ultimately the Shrew story defied being turned into a musical. Its two leading characters are quite unlikable.

·         Lady in the Dark: Until this 1941 show by Kurt Weill (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics) and Moss Hart (book, based on his own experience), psychoanalysis had never been the fodder for a musical. This brittle, brilliant piece breaks convention everywhere it can (it’s been called a straight play with three musical dream sequences). Alas, the movie version doesn’t do it justice, and the performance rights have been highly restricted, so it isn’t done often.

·         Mame: If you don’t know this show, I can’t help you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the movie version starring the totally miscast Lucille Ball (she bought the film rights). But take heart. Somewhere someone is coming down those stairs, with trumpet in hand, singing It’s Today.

·         Man of La Mancha: Again, if you don’t know this show by now, I’m taking away your Musical Fan Club card. That’s right. Hand it over. Even as you read this, some lousy lounge act singer is crooning “The Impossible Dream” (in any of dozens of languages), even though no one can sing it as Richard Kiley did originally (I speak from experience here; you’d never know it was the same song). Whatever you do, do not view the movie version with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren—both of whom had to be dubbed. (There are some rumors as to whether Mitch Leigh really wrote the music. It’s thought it might have instead been composed by a few music students, with Leigh taking credit and buying them off. This has not been confirmed, but I should note he never had another successful Broadway musical though he sure tried. His last effort, Home Sweet Homer, opened and closed the same night.)

·         Most Happy Fella: This is a show you should know but many of you likely do not know. I think that’s a crying shame, because this is truly Frank Loesser’s (book, music, lyrics) masterpiece above all others. Based loosely on Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted, it tells a story of an old man in love with a young woman (who loves a young man—who gets her pregnant). One of those rare three-act musicals. The story is simple yet infinitely moving. The show has moved into the opera realm, though it’s really still a brilliant musical drama. It’s actor-proof (trust me on this) and even orchestra-proof—it’s been done successfully with just two pianos. (Whatever you do, don’t judge it by that I Love Lucy episode, which is hardly indicative of the show itself. Remember, three acts, not two, which the Lucy episode alludes to as its plot device.)

·         Oklahoma: I wrote my senior thesis in college on Oklahoma—not about the show itself (more about that shortly)—but rather about what it did. First, it brought Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein together again (they had written one song together when Rodgers was still at Columbia). It created the model for the integrated musical—in this case I refer to the integration of music, book, lyrics, and choreography. Most important, it saved the Theatre Guild from extinction. The Theatre Guild was the most daring and inventive producing organization of the 1930s, but it had fallen on hard times until it produced Oklahoma. (The Guild finally did go bust many years later.) So far as the piece itself, it’s way too long (clocking in at nearly three hours), it completely sanitizes the source material, the latently homoerotic Green Grow the Lilacs. It adds a level of unneeded racism (the Persian peddler). And the leading man literally gets away with murder. Really? The show itself did a lot of good, but I personally can’t watch it.

·         On the Town: Once upon a time, choreographer Jerome Robbins created a ballet with music by fledgling composer Leonard Bernstein called Fancy Free. It was about three sailors on a one-day leave in New York City. Everyone loved it and said it should be a Broadway musical. Bernstein called in his pals Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Thus, a classic musical came into being. Even now, decades after its 1940s debut, it’s an amazing piece. Whatever you do, DON’T even think about looking at the Hollywood version, which jettisoned most of the score and starred a woefully miscast Frank Sinatra.

·         On Your Toes: One of my two favorite shows by Rodgers and Hart, this musical about jazz dancers mixing it up with a Russian ballet company has a particular relevance today. It’s détente played out in the title song. It’s some of the best music Richard Rodgers ever wrote (Slaughter on Tenth Avenue). It’s a string of classics in the Great American Songbook (There’s a Small Hotel). You really need to know (and love) this show.

·         Pal Joey: My other favorite Rodgers and Hart show. It’s decidedly different from all their other works, and it was a major departure from typical Broadway shows at the time. The leading character is the ultimate anti-hero. He’s mean, sexist, and thoroughly unlikable—and really is not redeemed at the end. (It still made a star out of Gene Kelly.) But with a score including such standards as Zip as well as Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (if you really listen closely to the lyrics, it’s really a racy song), how can you go wrong?

·         Porgy and Bess: It’s George Gershwin’s greatest Broadway show. It’s Ira Gershwin’s crowning achievement. Even the 1957 movie isn’t bad. If you don’t know Porgy and Bess, once again, I’m taking away your card.

·         Promises, Promises: Why did I include this show from 1968? It’s a likable enough musical, but it subversively broke new ground in its own way. It was the first musical (and only Broadway outing) written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). The producers took a chance on an up-and-coming choreography named Michael Bennett. The orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick included voice parts in the orchestra (something he’d go on to do again with Company). And it’s the best musical book Neil Simon ever wrote. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend time in the theatre.

·         She Loves Me: In the pantheon of perfect musicals (there are a few), She Loves Me is the best. It features the best score ever written by Bock and Harnick, and an extraordinary book by Joe Masteroff. So why wasn’t it a success in its original production? I think part of the problem was director Hal Prince, who at the time lacked the deft hand needed to stage such a light confection of a musical. It’s been revived successfully—without any need to change the score or book. It’s perfect as written. If you’re not crying at the end, you have no heart. Period. Not going to discuss it.

·         Showboat: This landmark musical was the epitome of the operetta era (both Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern came right out of the genre), yet it broke entirely new ground with its integrated storyline of racial prejudice, vaudeville, and a traditional love story in a magnificent score. Integrated might be the operative word here. Until Showboat, racially mixed casts were basically not common on Broadway (there were musicals with strictly African American casts—a practice continuing until the late 1930s). Showboat is significant for another first: it was the first musical cast album ever recorded. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the original Ziegfeld production (ah, to have heard Helen Morgan) but the original London production (so we do get Paul Robeson on record singing Ol’ Man River).

·         Street Scene: Okay, this is strictly in the opera realm now, but its origins are strictly Broadway musical, with music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Langston Hughes, and a book by Elmer Rice, based on his play. My professor in college referred to this as a “slice of life” drama. People come. People go. They love. They laugh. Life goes on. And that’s pretty much the plot. Still, it’s an extraordinary piece.

·         The Boyfriend: It’s fluff. But it’s really good fluff. Another one of those rare three-act musicals. Sandy Wilson took London and then New York by storm with this light-hearted send-up of 1920s musicals. And the original production gave us one special gift: Julie Andrews in her first starring role.

·         The Fantasticks: It’s still the longest-running musical ever (is ALW keeping POTO open just to beat this record?). Based loosely on Rostand’s The Romancers and written in a blindingly fast (by today’s standards) six weeks, it is the epitome of charm.

·         The Merry Widow: Alas, this is another great show, right out of the operetta era, decidedly gone from the Broadway musical scene (actually, the Lehar piece came from Germany) and sent packing to the opera world. But it’s not an opera. It’s light and merry, totally ridiculous, and full of plot twists and comic intrigue. But when the NY Metropolitan Opera has shanghaied a piece, you can bet we’ll never see it on Broadway again. Too bad.

·         The Music Man: Come on, is there a high school, college, or summer musical camp without a production of the Music Man in its past? From its opening rap number (what, you thought rap was relatively recent?), to the final strains (and I do mean painful strains) of Minuet in G (“Think men, think”), it’s a joyous throwback to earlier times in a fictional Iowa town, bamboozled by the ultimate con man.

·         The Pajama Game: The first musical outing of Adler and Ross (see Damn Yankees above), it’s just a fun show with a great score (who wrote the music and who wrote the lyrics is a mystery we’ll never solve).

·         Threepenny Opera: Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill adapted an old English piece, The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, into a socialist tract on oppression—albeit with a jazz score (and a few songs lifted from a French author). Notably in the original production was Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya playing Jenny. She would go on to play the role again years later in the Off-Broadway production (as well as appearing in the original cast of Cabaret). Threepenny Opera is definitely a subversive piece—even by today’s standards (Beggar’s Opera is pretty benign by comparison).

·         West Side Story: Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins wanted to adapt Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into a musical called East Side Story (really). They fussed with it but dropped the project until Robbins suggested moving it across town and changing the warring factions into rival street gangs. And so, they began, with Laurents adapting Romeo and Bernstein writing the score (music AND lyrics—a few of which survived in the final version; remember, Bernstein wrote the lyrics to “I Can Cook Too” from On the Town as well as both music and lyrics to his version of Peter Pan). Then Laurents ran into a young composer/lyricist named Stephen Sondheim, who’d recently completed his first musical, Saturday Night. Laurents had attended a reading of the show. So, when Sondheim inquired as to who was doing the lyrics, Laurents smote his head. He hadn’t liked the music much, but he admired the lyrics to Saturday Night. “You are,” replied Laurents. The result, of course, was West Side Story. Bernstein graciously removed his name as co-lyricist, giving Sondheim sole credit. Currently, West Side Story is being given an entirely new and reimagined production soon to open in London, as well as a new movie version being directed by Steven Spielberg. Is it a great, landmark musical? Of course it is (though Sondheim would like to ignore some of his lyrics, especially the ones in “I Feel Pretty”).


 Original Cast of West Side Story singing “I Feel Pretty”

Original Cast of West Side Story singing “I Feel Pretty”

·         Wonderful Town: “Why, oh why, Ohio. Why did we ever leave Ohio?” So sing sisters Ruth and Eileen. Good thing for us they did. Once again, Bernstein teamed up with pals Comden and Green to adapt the play My Sister Eileen into a great musical. It’s worth going out of your way to know this score. Yeah, it’s that good (though somewhat forgotten these days).

 

Are there others? Of course. I deleted more than 20 from this list even before I got started. I omitted The Black Crook—even though it started everything—because we have only some of it extant today. Still, these are the shows people should know if they want to steep themselves in musical theatre.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a good musical. He’s also the administrator for Broadway Remembers, a Facebook group dedicated to theatre old and new—when he’s not telling young whippersnappers to get off his lawn.