I’ve been staring at my computer screen for days, trying to figure out what to write about. First blog jitters, I guess. I finally decided that honesty was the best course of action so here we go!
On a rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires, a group of friends and I had some time to kill when we run into a locally developed production of Dracula, the Musical. It was the nineties and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, was all the rage, so why not see a musical about the prince of the night! After struggling to get seats close together, we sat down as the lights dimmed. The curtains opened at the sound of slow music that told us the show was about to begin. For the next two and half hours, I couldn’t move. The music, the dancing, the singing, the scenery, everything pulled me in. I travelled to Transylvania with Jonathan, fell under Dracula’s spell with Lucy, sympathized with Dracula and his lonely life, and cried when Mina plunged the dagger into her lover’s heart even as she realized that he was not the soulless monster that could not be redeemed by love. I walked into that theatre unaware of emotions that were brewing inside me. That fateful evening, a passion for live theatre awoke in me and changed my heart and soul forever.
Twenty something years later, the flame is still burning. I have seen my share of shows over the years. Some shows managed to entertain the heck out of me with wonderful scripts, talented performers, and catchy songs. Some, like King Kong, made me feel like a child in an amusement park with the grandiose set design, a fantastic beast and an amazing display of color, music, choreography and talent. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was … well, Harry Potter. I was happily surprised with the show, the casting and the set design. It is always fun to see “what happened next” to those beloved characters we followed along for so many years, but to be honest, a movie would have done the trick (and everyone could have enjoyed it, too). SpongeBob Squarepants was funny, with an intricate set design, sharp choreography and a happy good time, but the most memorable aspects of that musical were Gavin Lee’s Tony Award Nominated performance and Ethan Slater’s flexibility on stage. Matilda tried to tug on my emotional strings when she sang “When I Grow Up” but apart from the fabulous choreography, I remained unchanged. Mean Girls is one of my favorite new musicals. I love the score, the energetic choreography and the unbeatable vocals (those ladies can sing!). However, this movie turned into a Broadway musical is not one of those shows that made me think or feel any different before, during, or after the show. It is not difficult to make the audience laugh, may be a little harder to make them cry, but only a few truly good shows manage to evoke transformation like the one I experienced one rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires.
I went to see Les Misérables with my daughters a few summers ago. Both girls had been involved in musical theatre as performers in our local community theatre but had not attended a Broadway show. I prepared them beforehand by telling them bits and pieces of the novel that inspired the musical so that they could follow the story along and enjoy the richness of the show. From the moment the curtains went up through the final bows, the girls were not in New York City but in France. They become part of the story, seeking redemption with Jean Valjean, finding family and love with Cosette and Marius, and fighting the revolution with the entire cast. By the time Gavroche died, the tears couldn’t be stopped any longer. We left the theatre in a state of awe, it was such an emotional experience that the girls didn’t even want to go backstage to meet the actors. They needed to process what had happened to them and breathe.
This season is filled with revivals, movies turned into musicals, old pop bands brought to the stage, and a few new stories that open a window into the human condition. Stories that fill us with emotions, that make us think, that make us want to change the world. I was lucky to undergo a few transformations this season. American Son, an intelligent book, masterfully presented by four talented actors, took me on a rollercoaster of feelings starting with hope and ending with a hole in my heart. A real story that could be yours as well as mine, a story that provoked thoughtful conversation, brought a contemporary topic to light, and invited audiences to ponder on the reality of racism and inequality in today’s society. Choir Boy surprised me as I believe that I was witness to one of the best written, best directed, and most beautifully acted plays I’ve seen in years. A painful exposé of intolerance mingled with specks of racism and complex relationships. A powerful script that made me want to give each one of the actors a momma bear hug at the end of the show. Not every show I enjoyed was a play, although most of the plays I’ve seen so far this season left me begging for more. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (West End) is a fast-pace, emotional piece of musical theatre that follows a true story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Singing “He’s My Boy”, Margaret pours her heart to the audience conveying the joy and pain of being the mother of a teenager that lives somewhat outside the norm of society. Once on this Island, a revival that deserves a mention, “tells the story” in a magical array of music, song, and dance, all set in an unconventional circular stage that invites you in. I was sad to see this show close, but I hope it continues to tell the story on tour or through regional theaters. The Prom is an original show that surprises people the most. It’s a musical comedy that makes you want to dance from the moment you walk into the theatre. Based on a true story, The Prom delivers a powerful message of love and acceptance as a means to overcome ignorance and intolerance. I laughed with the ridiculous celebrities, went back to high school with the young cast, wanted to scream at the PTA moms, held my heart in my hand with Emma at the close of the first act (no spoilers), and cried me a river with “Unruly Heart”. It is one of those shows that makes you mad before it brings you back from the brink of rage and in the end shows you a ray of hope for the future of humankind. We need more of those stories in this day and age!
Art is meant to transform, to inspire, to connect us to our feelings and those of our fellow humans. Art helps us understand each other by seeing the world from their point of view by opening up a window into other people’s lives, feelings, fears. To take in in, we must be open. We must be vulnerable. We must be honest. I want to be transformed every time I sit in the audience so when I walk through the door of a theatre, I leave behind any preconceptions I may have, I open myself to the opportunity to be changed. I listen with my entire being. I watch with my eyes wide open. I let the process happen to me.
Life is a collection of moments, experiences, connections. I want my experiences to be worth sharing. I hope you will allow me to do so again. Until then, I encourage you to find a show that meddles with your feelings and leaves you forever changed.
Everybody’s talking about Jamie - now playing at the Apollo Theatre in London
The Prom - now playing at the Longacre Theatre in NYC
American Son - now playing at the Booth Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)
Choir Boy - now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)
Mean Girls - now playing at August Wilson Theatre in NYC
King Kong - now playing at the Broadway Theatre in NYC
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child - now playing at the Lyric Theatre in NYC and at the Palace Theatre in London