How To Succeed in Throwing a Tony Party Without Really Trying

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Taylor Lockhart

Warning: Despite what the title says you are probably going to have to try somewhat during this process. Unless you’re the world best party planner than in that case, what are you here for? You probably know more about this than I do.


So, You want to host a grand gala, or maybe a party, or just a get together over drinks for the 72nd Annual Tony Awards! Well you have come to the right place. First of all, I assume you know what the Tony Awards are but I am legally required by my editor to tell you anyways. The Tony Awards are despite what The Olivier Awards twitter bio says, the singular biggest night in theatre all year. It’s the night we see Peggy Sawyers become Broadway stars and then get played off the stage by the unrelenting orchestra. All hosted in New York City at the Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10th 8/7 Central on CBS.

Ok, now that's out of the way. My name is Taylor Lockhart, and I’ll be leading you in this process of becoming the greatest host or hostess possible and what you need to throw the best and most likely only tony party on the block. Let’s get started.

The first thing you need to do is actively decide whether you’d rather just watch the Tony Awards alone on your couch and in your underwear instead of plan and cook and clean and talk to people for several hours. If you decide that this is what you want to do, now you have to convince people to abandon their plans of doing that and come to your house instead. If you plan on making food include that in the text or email. People are 65% more likely to come to a party where food is served and 100% guaranteed not to if you’re not at least serving chips, I mean you’re not a monster right? Oh and if you decide none of this is for you, please keep reading anyways. Most of these plans can be done solo as well.

Now as I mentioned, the singular most important thing to any party is the food. You can never go wrong with finger sandwiches and chips but if you’re feeling a bit more decorative Best Day Ever Toppers on Etsy is offering cupcake toppers with playbills based on this years nominees which would also work really well with sandwiches. Of course if you’re not willing to spend 10$ plus shipping for paper on sticks you could probably make your own with toothpicks and a printer. Once your ready for dessert hop over to Martha Stewart's for a sponge or in the case “sponge-bob” cake but if you want a more personalized cake or Tony themed cake. The Tony Awards site has got your back with a make your own Tony Cake. Be warned, this cake is not for those unskilled at cooking or following any directions at all. Shame, I really wanted a Tony cake.Of course themes can become unnecessary at times and you never can go wrong with a good old fashioned taco bar. Links to all of these items will be at the bottom of the article for you to check out.

Of course, I'm leaving out a HUGE part of food to serve at your party and that is, what do you serve before the food. Well for all of you of age out there, which I assume is at least 75% or higher, the answer is clear, Cocktails. No ordinary Margarita’s or Bloody Marys will do for the Tony Awards though. So here is my list for you of specialty cocktails for the 2018 72nd Tony Awards and how to make them and become the best makeshift bartender of any party you’re friends go to all year


Frozen Frostbite- Disney’s hit musical Frozen is full of icy surprises and snowy situations which may also be how’d you describe your night with this spin on a famous cocktail, inspired by the tony nomination for Best Musical.

What you’ll need: 1 ½ ounces of Tequila.  ½ ounce of white creme de cacao, 1½ ounce of blue curacao, and  ½ ounce of cream. For garnish use Maraschino Cherry

How to Make It: Pour the ingredient into a cocktail shaker with lots of ice (if you’re truly feeling frozen fever that is). Next Shake well and then strain using a slotted spoon or cocktail strainer into a cocktail glass, add your garnish of Cherry and enjoy a cocktail fit for a queen, or an ice queen that is.

On Wednesdays We Drink Pink- Feeling Mean, perhaps ready to spread gossip around about the other nominations if Mean Girls doesn’t win Best Musical. I believe you but before you do that why not try our selection inspired by the famous line from the movie, and I assume the musical. I haven’t seen it and the cast recording doesn’t come out until a day after you read this.

What you’ll need: 2 ounces of Vodka, 1 ounce cranberry juice cocktail, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice, ¾ ounce triple sec, garnish with an orange twist for serving

How To Make It: Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and add ice, shake thoroughly for about 30 seconds until the outside is very cold. Strain your cocktail through a slotted spoon or cocktail strainer into a martini glass and add your orange peel garnish. Now pretend you’re high school girls again despite the fact that you couldn’t drink in high school as you watch the Tonys!

Yellow Sponge: A spin on the classic Yellow Bird this yellow drink is sure to get you into the Bikini Bottom spirits as you shout I’m ready! For the Tony Awards that is.

What You’ll Need: ½ lime juice, 1 ¼ ounces orange juice, 1 ounce light rum, 1 ounce dark rum, ¼ ounce Galliano Liqueur, For garnish use a maraschino cherry and 1 sprig of mint, pineapple in this case is also heavily recommended as a garnish, any tropical fruit could be used.

How To Make It: Squeeze your lime juice into a cocktail shaker with ice, next add all of the other ingredients, Shake well, Strain into a collins glass with crushed ice, and garnish with a cherry and a sprig of mint, and/or tropical fruit of your choice, and enjoy. Don’t drink too much though or you’ll wind up looking like a Goofy Goober as Ethan Slater sings about The Best Day Ever live.

Once On This Island Breeze: I won’t lie, I know nothing about Once On This Island but I saw there was a cocktail named Island Breeze and I leaped at the pun opportunity, so make up your own witty description for this one.

What You’ll Need: 1 ½ ounces light rum, 4 ounces pineapple juice, 1 ounce cranberry juice, 2 dashes Angostura Bitters, and a lemon wedge or cherry to garnish

How To Make It: Fill a highball cocktail glass with ice, pour in your ingredients and add lemon wedge or cherry for garnish and drink till you turn into a tree. That’s it, That is the one thing I know about this musical someone turns into a tree. I’m sorry ok.

My Fair Lady: Originally the drink of choice was going to be a Mimosa for its classy Champagne contents and the pun of course would be, My Fair Mimosa, but then while looking up cocktails I scared just about everybody around me with a high pitched scream as I saw...There is a cocktail named My Fair Lady after the show and it would be a disservice to tell you to make anything other than that.

What You’ll Need: 1 ounce Gin, 1 ounce Lemon Juice, 1 ounce Orange Juice, 1 ounce Strawberry Syrup, and 1 dash of Egg White

How To Make It: Pour the ingredients and ice into a cocktail shaker and shake thoroughly and then strain into a cocktail glass and whether your a cockney mess who can’t english that good or a convincing crown jewel capable of fooling anyone into believing you must be a queen. Enjoy your cocktail fit for a rainy day in Spain or at the Ascot Races or just on the street where you live. As you can see unlike the last entry, I have two many My Fair Lady puns I can make and I’m going to stop now or I never will. Just remember not to drink too much or you might find yourself dancing all night. Alright Sorry, my bad now I’m done.


Now you’re ready to serve drinks to your guest to enjoy while watching the Tony Awards, and as always remember to drink responsibly avoid drinking games like “Take a shot every time the orchestra plays because someone's speech is too long” because you will almost certainly die. If you don’t like any of these choices you can simply find whatever cocktail you would like to serve and title it the, “Insert Show Here- Special” and that’s boring and uncreative but if that’s what you want, You do you. I won’t stop you.

Once you have finished eating and drinking it’s probably about time for the announcer to open you into Radio City Music Hall the same way he does every year and time for you to start keeping track of the show even closer than you already would have with my homemade 2018 Tony Awards Bingo. You know the rules, try to get five in a row and trust me you totally can.

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And if you’re looking to get more competitive, try your shot at predicting the winners before the show starts with my homemade 2018 Tony Awards ballot sheet

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GnymzC6il9LUPBqc7yFId_J0kYVZ0LsAuscFLgYaM-Y/edit?usp=sharing

You are also going to want to give out some reward for whoever can guess the most correct answers and unsurprisingly you can’t buy a replica or plastic Tony Award. But you can head over to Crown Awards which has very nice theatre awards for cheap that someone could actually display and it adds to the room rather than being a cheap piece of plastic garbage no one can do anything with. If you want one that looks like a tony award in shape but for legal reasons contains not many other similarities, The Toni Award might be for you. Yea, I know real subtle. Perhaps you’d rather ditch the idea of trophies and award someone something they can actually use like any of the many officially licensed Tony Awards shirts, hats, mugs, or bags. You could also award them a Tony Awards Playbill commemorating the event. Or finally the thing I would recommend the most, A paperback book by Isabella Stevenson and Roy A Somlyo, containing all of the nominees and winners...up to the year 2001. A perfect coffee table book as long as you stop guests from trying to find Hamilton. Again links to all of the these are at the bottom of the article.

So you have done it, or at least planned to do it which is half the battle you know. With food, drinks, ballots and bingo and prizes to be won your party is bound to be a surefire success.

Of course you don’t have to do any of that. There’s nothing wrong in going all out with themes and decorations and food but a few sandwiches and soda from your fridge surrounded by a few friends to laugh, chat, and overall enjoy the biggest night in theatre all year is really all you need. A party doesn’t need to be anything else than 2 or 3 friends and the most important part is that you enjoy it because it only happens once every 365 days and if to you that’s done in a nonchalant way more power to you, but if you think the best way to celebrate the 72 year old super show is to go all out and make a big and elaborate splash, you’re my kind of person and I hope you learned something that will help you with the future of your Tony Awards party.

So happy Tony Awards everyone and I’ll see you in 3 weeks when we go a bit more in depth at what 72 years really means and how this whole phenomenon all got started with The 2nd installment of The History Of Broadway And The Musical That Call It Home: Tony Awards Special. Until then I hope you have a fantastic thursday and once again be sure to tune into the Tony Awards Sunday June 10th at 8/7 Central. You are not going to want to be anywhere else but in front of your tv when it all goes down live. Also be sure to check back to the blog every Monday and Thursday for Tony related content leading up to to the big day. Well, If that is all I’ve been Taylor and You’ve been you and I will see you later, Goodbye.


Cupcake Toppers-  https://www.etsy.com/listing/598193132/tony-awards-2018-playbill-cupcake?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=tony%20awards%20party&ref=sr_gallery-1-3

Sponge Cake Recipe-

https://www.marthastewart.com/978785/sponge-cake

Tony Award Cake Recipe- https://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/news/articles/2010-06-08/201006081276012829208.html

Crown Theatre Awards-

https://www.crownawards.com/StoreFront/92X.Drama_Trophies_And_Awards.cat?&start=60&sz=30

Toni Award-

https://schoppy.com/products/toni-award?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=googlepla&gclid=Cj0KCQjwre_XBRDVARIsAPf7zZh3QFehcQQczfsa6wvkiONFrWVQnW1NyLS7du_7sCBfQY7h6eZu4UAaAhlZEALw_wcB

Tony Merchandise-

http://tonyawardsstore.com/

Tony Playbill-

https://www.playbillstore.com/the-2018-tony-awards-playbill.aspx

Plastic Theatre Award- https://www.amazon.com/Gold-Award-Trophies-Trophy-Statues/dp/B06XFZ61BV/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1526528135&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=tony+award&psc=1

Tony Book- https://www.amazon.com/Tony-Award-Complete-Nominees-American/dp/0325002940/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1526526349&sr=8-11&keywords=tony+awards

Unmentioned Tony Book- https://www.amazon.com/Tony-Award-Book-Decades-American/dp/0896597717/ref=pd_sbs_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0896597717&pd_rd_r=TX2RX4ANE8BNV58YMXGX&pd_rd_w=ssz53&pd_rd_wg=9mM7M&psc=1&refRID=TX2RX4ANE8BNV58YMXGX




 

Don't Judge a Show by its Tonys

The Tony Awards, it’s the Superbowl for theatre fans. We root for our favorite shows/actors, we indulge in the 5 minute number of those nominated, and we cry when a favorite show wins or ultimately loses. We make joke bets on the nominees. We base a LOT of judgment of a show based on their Tony nominations. But I personally feel that we shouldn’t. Because not every show every season gets nominated for a Tony, and sometimes those shows not nominated are the best ones, and those nominated for a Tony may not be. While the Tony Awards are a great thing to reward shows every season, I think judging a show based solely on how many Tony’s they have or don’t have is kind of silly and we should stop judging a show based on those facts and look at the show as whole (story, music, book, development).

I know not everyone pays attention to a shows Tony nominations, but I know for a lot of fans, that’s a huge basis of whether or not they should see a show (I have seen it a lot recently on twitter). I get it, following what The Tony Committee says is a good show and what they feel deserves to be “show of the year”. Again, I understand. They seem to know what’s the best of the best this season. But sometimes, the shows nominated and the shows NOT nominated may be just as good or not. People are so presumptuous based on these nominations that they often forget those that aren’t nominated. While I personally don’t believe in a “Tony snub” that goes around on social media, I do believe that shows not nominated often get underlooked as they are often outshone by those nominated. Again I’m not saying this is always the case, take Anastasia for example. It wasn’t nominated for a Tony last season but is still one of the most beloved shows on Broadway currently and was more beloved than some of the nominees last season. Perfect example of why I think that a Tony nomination doesn’t give a show its worth. 

I suppose my main point is that because a certain show is nominated for a Tony, that doesn’t mean it is the best, and because a show wasn’t nominated for a Tony, doesn’t mean it’s bad or isn’t awesome, because every show on Broadway is. I mean it made its way on The Great White Way! Especially since we are approaching Tony season, all shows, nominated or not, should be given the love and support they deserve. Us as Broadway fans owe it to them. Whether we are huge fans of the show or not, every show deserves love and praise, nominated or not. Do take what I am saying with a grain of salt, this is all from my personal observation and a personal opinion, but it is something I’ve felt for a while.


-Taylour xx

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No Tonys In the Pit!

By Freya Meredith (A.K.A. Australia’s Ally to Broadway)

It is a well-established fact that the Tony Awards celebrates excellent in theatre. In the lead-up to the nominations, many theatre practitioners, including actors, writers, composers, producers, choreographers, directors and so many more, anxiously hope for their name to be announced as a cut above the rest. These people have dedicated months, most likely years, into making their production the best it can be. And while they are proud to be a part of that show and have already experienced the gratitude of audiences and critics, many say that to be recognized by the American Theatre Wing is the icing on the cake. What an honour it must be to be “a Tony nominee!” Many people in theatre have endless dreams about this - but unfortunately, for some people, this dream may never come true.

Musical Directors and Conductors have been an essential part of theatre since the invention of “the performing arts”. With the help of the rise of orchestras and operas, it is unlikely that you will now go to a musical theatre production that is not accompanied with a musical director and/or a conductor. The role of a musical director/conductor, whose job is to shape and lead a musical performance, is a vital role on the production team. In my personal opinion, this role is just as important (sometimes even more depending on the show) as the choreographer. So my question is: why is there no longer an award recognizing the work of a Musical Director?

The Tony Award for Best Conductor and Musical Director began being presented at the 2nd Annual Tony Awards ceremony in 1948 (the first award being given to Milton Rosenstock for his work on Finian’s Rainbow). The last of this award was presented in 1964 to Shepard Coleman for his “vocal arrangements” (or so it is said) on the original production of Hello Dolly! As Joseph Church writes in his book Music Direction for the Stage: A View from the Podium; “In truth, Mr Coleman had been let go early in the production, and his position was taken over… three months after the show opened.” It is thought that Coleman received the award because it was Hello Dolly! and voters were unaware of his actual contribution to the production. Because of the supposed difficulty of analyzing the work of a musical director/conductor (as opposed to the very evident work of a director and a choreographer), the Award was retired. 30 years later, a committee of music directors (in which A View from the Podium’s author was a founder of) presented a case to bring back the Best Conductor and Musical Director award and to create an award for orchestrations to the Tony committee members. The committee rejected their motion for the Musical Director award, but were compliant in creating the Tony Award for Best Orchestrations. And nothing has really happened since.

Photo by Furtseff/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Furtseff/iStock / Getty Images

Now, I kind of understand why the Award was dumped. I have to agree (sorry musical directors) that it is a little hard to track how a musical director creatively contributes to a production. Other than doing their job and relaying the composer’s intentions from the score, they creatively aren’t giving as much as the director or the choreographer or the costume and set designers and so on. A lot of the time, you don’t see someone’s musical direction live on through other productions of that same show like someone’s direction or choreography does (ala Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line). It’s also known that audiences aren’t as aware of someone’s musical direction as they are with direction or costume design (which is unfortunate).

But besides all these complications, musical direction and conducting is tough work, and the American Theatre Wing should recognize it in an Award. Musical directors, especially in the case of a brand new show, have to take everything that the composers, lyricist and orchestrators have put together and make it work! They are responsible for every aspect of the preparation and the performance of the music. Musical directors have to coordinate with the creative team and designers to make sure that what audiences are hearing is telling the story just as much as what they are seeing. They have to hire and work with different musical personnel to complete scores, and also work with different voice types and vocal skills to achieve a clean and almost perfect sound (which, as a singing teacher, I know can be a nightmare to do). Musical directors have to lead rehearsals with both the cast and the orchestra (double the work) and are the link between both groups. Most musical directors are also the conductor in these productions, and having the ability to lead an entire orchestra AND cast 8 shows a week is astounding. If something goes wrong, they have to immediately improvise and coordinate sometimes over 60 people (example: West Side Story can have 31 orchestra members and 40 cast members on stage) all at once, and they can do that without missing a beat - literally. It is remarkable how much of a genius of music you need to be to become a successful musical director and conductor, especially in musical theatre.

I believe that when good work is presented, it should be awarded. Yes, the job description for a musical director can mean a lot of things and it can be hard for the American Theatre Wing to keep track of, but it is also one of the hardest jobs on Broadway (don’t even get me started on stage technicians and managers. The Tony Award for Best Stage Technician needs to be a thing again). Like I said, I think you need to be a genius (and a little bit insane) to be a musical director, and while this role is obviously very fulfilling, a little recognition on the biggest night for theatre wouldn’t go astray. If my local theatre awards can manage to do it (shout out to the City of Newcastle Drama Association Awards), the Tony’s can too!

Why They Didn't Win: An Analysis of "Robbed" Shows

Darren Wildeman

“________ was robbed!” you will often hear theatre fans exclaim. Whether it be after the most recent Tony Awards, or whether they’re still bitter about a previous awards season almost everyone probably has a favourite show that never won, or even got nominated. But why did some high profile shows lose? Whether you agree with it or not the voters have a reason for voting the way they do for a show. Let’s jump in and take a look at some shows which are perceived to have been robbed and maybe why they didn’t win.

 

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1958 Tony Awards

The Robbed Show: West Side Story, losing to The Music Man.

Thankfully this now beloved show didn’t get totally skunked at the Tony Awards. Jerome Robbins won for best choreography and Oliver Smith won for scenic design. However, this now beloved show not winning the Tony for what was then called “Outstanding Musical” seems baffling. This now begs the question, what went wrong, and why did it not win?

One thing that may have at least played a role in this is the show being covered in controversy. Sara Fishko writes on NPR about how Jerome Robbins was a former Communist Party member and he exposed ten other people as such before court. Of course communism in 1950s America was a huge deal. He was also a secret homosexual, however I’m not sure if this would have played a role in the show being robbed as not many people knew about it. The other thing Sara discusses in the article is how Jerome Robbins intentionally would try to create tension in the cast. The actors of the gangs weren’t allowed to even eat together (for Sara’s full article, click here). Finally, there’s the matter of the content. Race, rape, and general bigotry are something modern day theatre audiences have become somewhat more accustom to being addressed in theatre. However, it’s possible that even though the show was popular that it may have just been too much for the award voters.

We also need to consider the musical that won. The Music Man. The Music Man is largely to be considered a good show in its own right, however most people don’t seem to put it on the level as West Side Story either. By comparison, it’s a much more “safe” musical that includes some comedy, and a romance story, and it didn’t have the controversial for the time subjects of race, and rape brought up. By 1957 standards The Music Man is much more what people were accustom to seeing in the theatre, and this could very well be what gave it the win.

1960 Tony Awards

The Robbed Show: Gypsy, losing to The Sound of Music and Fiorello!

Looking back, this is another show that’s hard to believe didn’t win any Tonys. Not only did it lose Best Musical, but Ethel Merman also lost the Tony for best leading actress for her role in Gypsy. It had eight nominations in total and lost all of them. What happened?

While probably not related it’s interesting that this is the second musical that Robbins and Sondheim worked together on that is now perceived as being robbed.

The Sound of Music was released in 1959. America was only fourteen years out of World War Two and the world as a whole would have still had it in their memory. Something that we will see time and again in theatre, is that something that is relevant to the times, will win. Given that World War Two was quite recent in people’s minds, and that by this time Rodgers and Hammerstein had already built quite the name for themselves it makes sense that this won the Tony. While not directly related to winning the Tony it is also worth noting that this would be their last show together due to Oscar Hammerstein eventually passing away from cancer.

Fiorello! also opened to amazing critical reviews and large audiences. Gypsy is also another example of a show with a bit of a darker and deeper storyline not winning. This combined with the fact that it was up against two other very good shows led to its not winning. One show was really relevant and the other was considered very good. Gypsy turned out to be the odd one out in every category. It was just too competitive of a season for it.

1964 Tony Awards

The Robbed Show: She Loves Me losing to Hello Dolly!

Honestly this one is relatively easy to explain. As beloved as She Loves Me is now, it initially wasn’t that well received. Combine the fact that it was up against a show that was both a powerhouse both in its day and in modern times, and it never really had much of a chance. The same goes for Barbara Cook not even being nominated. She had a fabulous career, but She Loves Me just wasn’t going to be the show to get the big awards.

1972 Tony Awards

The Robbed Show: Follies, Grease, and Jesus Christ Superstar losing to Two Gentlemen of Verona

This one confuses a lot of people. One of the popular opinions on this one is that Two Gentlemen of Verona won because Galt Macdermot lost at the Tonys with Hair a few years prior. It was essentially a “make up” decision to give him the Tony that some people thought he deserved. Also one blogger Pewterbreath, points out that no matter how he is portrayed on stage it is pretty hard for people to argue with anything Shakespeare related (for the full article on this you can click here). It was another year with too many good musicals, and Two Gentlemen of Verona was a semi successful show. Most people think the voters got it wrong, however in some ways it is another case of there being too many good shows in the same year. Jesus Christ Superstar wasn’t even nominated for best Musical (although it was nominated for five other awards) probably just due to being too crowded in the category and it was the odd one out. Between being moderately successful and well received and Galt Macdermot not winning a Tony a previous year, Two Gentlemen of Verona managed to push out many other successful shows and come out on top in a very crowded Tony year.

You could argue that Grease also lost for being too “poppy” and “fun.” The exact opposite problem West Side Story had. You see by this point in theatre history Sondheim had ushered in an era where it was okay for musical theatre to be more serious. It was up against Follies which is a Sondheim creation, and Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death which is another show that goes deeper and explores the African American life in the ghettos. Grease was up against these as well as the eventual winner and really in a season like this it really didn’t have a chance.

It is also worth noting that Follies managed to pick up 4 other Tony including best score and direction. It isn’t as if they were totally ignored.

1976 Tony Awards

The Robbed Show: Chicago losing to A Chorus Line

This is another one that really doesn’t need much of an explanation. What A Chorus Line did for dance was revolutionary. Meanhwile the first run of Chicago was not terribly well received. It didn’t do horribly, but calling it robbed is definitely an overstatement; especially when you look at what the winner did for theatre.

 

1984 Tony Awards

The Robbed show: Sunday in the Park with George losing to La Cage aux Folles

This is a really interesting one. Sunday is an incredible show and Sondheim did something with this show that had never really been seen before in turning a painting into a musical. It’s a very original concept and the show is flawlessly executed.

Not only did Sunday lose best musical, but La Cage pretty much wiped the floor with them leaving Sondheim’s creation with just 2 design awards. It’s hard to point to one single thing as to why Sunday lost. However, one thought is maybe Sunday was just too far out there for the voters. In his Washington Post review of the 1984 Tony Awards David Richards echoes these thoughts calling Sunday “radical and adventurous” and saying it was “experimentation.” Meanwhile he said that La Cage “is right out of Broadway mainstream.” (to read his full 1984 Tony summary click here).

This isn’t to say La Cage was undeserving of the Tony award as it was very well reviewed and the voters themselves obviously loved it. It’s also hard to ignore the storyline of La Cage. From the 1970s onwards many of the States were in the process of decriminalizing homosexuality. While by the 1980s this revolution still had a long ways to go, it was also relevant to the times. Remember, we’re also in 1984 here. We’re just nine years away from the first workshop of Rent.  Not to mention that Broadway has historically been ahead of social issues. Considering these two things, and combining them with the popularity La Cage was getting as a show it starts to seem somewhat obvious why La Cage won.

1991 Tony Awards

The Robbed Shows: Miss Saigon losing to The Will Rodgers Follies

Given that Miss Saigon was drowning in controversy at the time over its casting, I don’t think it’s a huge surprise to see why it lost. Although Lea Salonga did win for her performance, the show as a whole lost all around. From criticism to their portrayal of Asian people, to the “yellow facing” of white people to make them look Asian including one of the lead roles. While being well received the show just couldn’t overcome these mistakes among a few other things. It’s also worth mentioning that by today’s standards, while Miss Saigon is certainly a spectacle to see, a lot of the music and book fall flat. A lot of the reviews of it at the time were positive, there were also some mixed to negative reviews (such as this one by Linda Winer of the LA Times). Between controversy, and some critics not loving it from the get go, it leads to Will Rodgers Follies winning.

1998 Tony Awards

The Robbed show: Ragtime losing to The Lion King

Today Ragtime is a quite well liked show that has aged very well, and has stayed if not become even more relevant. However, it opened to mixed reviews. For the most part it wasn’t completely trashed by the critics, however they weren’t exactly raving about it either. A lot of the criticism the show faced is not unlike the complications Les Miserables had. The nuances of bringing a novel that deep, with that much going on can be difficult, and things can get lost, and to a lot of critics this is what happened.

Furthermore, it was going up against The Lion King. While the Lion King itself isn’t without its flaws, it’s a spectacle. You can hide a lot with spectacle, powerful music, and great vocal performances. Not to mention the cultural influences on this show that give it yet another layer that makes it even more attractive to a lot of people.

Considering all these things I think it’s pretty easy to see why Ragtime lost the Tony this year. It’s also worth noting that Ragtime did win for best score and best book. It wasn’t totally ignored.

1999 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Parade losing to Fosse

Like Ragtime the previous year, Parade picked up the Tonys for best score and best book, however, it failed to win the big award in best musical. The reviews for it were mostly positive, and some of them downright glowing. That really wasn’t the issue here. Tony voters have a bit of a habit of sometimes turning away from dark and heavy material. While the shows get reviewed well and do well at the box office, they don’t always win Best Musical, even if it looks like it might be the best of that season. Maybe the voters aren’t sure how well the show will do post Tonys or even post-Broadway. It might sound crazy to some but as we will see in a bit with Wicked this is something that gets considered. It’s possible they’re concerned if non NYC crowds will go see these heavier shows and receive them as well in other cities. Sometimes it’s possible they’d rather give the Tony to a safer show for touring purposes.

It’s also worth noting that Fosse was a chilling remembrance of one of Broadway’s best composers in Bob Fosse. It was very well received and payed great homage to him. Between Parade possibly being too dark for some and Fosse remembering a Broadway great you wind up with Fosse winning the Best Musical.

2004 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Wicked losing to Avenue Q

This one is somewhat easy to explain as well. Avenue Q was new, innovative, and was really well received. There is also speculation that it needed the Tony win to continue to be successful. Whereas Wicked wasn’t as well received critically, but commercially it would do just fine Tony or not. Ergo, Avenue Q wins the Tony

2009 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Next to Normal losing to Billy Elliot

This is yet another example of a darker show not winning. This isn’t to say a dark show can never win, however the Tony voters tend to prefer the “safer” shows. Not that Billy Elliot is all rainbows and unicorns, but Next to Normal is so heavy and as discussed earlier this can scare Tony voters for a variety of reasons.

That’s not to say the Billy Elliot isn’t a fine show in its own right either. It’s a fabulous show that many people love. This isn’t necessarily a case of an inferior show winning like we’ve seen in other seasons. This was really a heavy weight match which saw Next to Normal win best score, but Billy Elliot took the big award.

The same thing also partially applies with what was discussed in regards to The Lion King about spectacle, beautiful music, and powerful vocals being a winning combination. Billy Elliot doesn’t quite have the same type of music as Lion King but it’s moving nonetheless. Also it is a dance spectacle, whereas Next to Normal is smaller scale, and more intimate.

Between Next to Normal being darker and Billy Elliot being a really good show on its own, and being more of a spectacle this leads to a best musical Tony award for Billy Elliot.

2014 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Big Fish with zero nominations

This one is a bit unusual. It’s odd that a show of Big Fish’s caliber doesn’t at least get some nominations. I’m not sure that it would have won anything but not even getting a nod is weird. So what happened?

It’s hard to say, it did receive some mixed reviews, and it was a very strong season. It probably just got overlooked. Some seasons a show just happens to be the odd one out. That appears to be the case here.

2015 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Finding Neverland with zero nominations

For the sake of length I generally haven’t discussed shows robbed of nominations. However, Big Fish was worth talking about and Finding Neverland was also an interesting case.

In the first place Finding Neverland was not received well by critics. In the second place, it was behind the scenes politics. Harvey Weinstein fired a lot of staff members and left a general distaste in the mouth of a lot of important people (you can read more about this here).

This goes to show that having a good show alone isn’t good enough for nominations. Key members of the show also need to be careful not to upset the wrong people. Otherwise they will find themselves on the outside looking in.

2017 Tony Awards

The robbed show: Everything vs. Dear Evan Hansen

Last year was a really interesting season. I don’t know how many people think something was robbed, but last year no matter which way the voting fell someone was going to be upset. All of these shows could have won the Tony in any other season, but it was a loaded year.

One of the big reasons Dear Evan Hansen won is trendiness and marketability. The show is so popular that it is going to tour well, and get attention no matter where it goes. Slapping that Best Musical title on it is only going to increase the hype. Not to mention that technically speaking it is a very well done show.

It’s not to say that the Tony wouldn’t have helped the other shows, but it was just such a strong season but wherever you go Dear Evan Hansen always stood out among fans as being the top show of the season, and the critics agreed. It by far generated more attention than any other show, was super well done, and stood out just enough more than anything else in a good Tony season.

It’s not that there was anything really wrong with the other shows but Dear Evan Hansen broke away from the pack more than anything else did.

I understand that people aren’t going to always agree with the Tony voters. However, even if you don’t agree with them, or think a show got robbed- I hope this article at least helps you to understand why a show didn’t win. It might help to try and see what the voters look for, and why some shows might not get as much attention from the voters.

 

It's the Tonys. Yawn

Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)

When I was a mere lad of 10 years, CBS broadcast the Tony Awards for the first time. It was 1964, and my family gathered around our big, new RCA color television (a novelty back then) to watch the proceedings. It was an exciting show, with live re-enactments from top Broadway shows—both musicals and plays. I don’t remember too much from the broadcast (c’mon guys, it’s been more than half a century), but I remember saying, “Someday I’m going to be there.”

Well, it took a while, but I did make it a few years ago when two plays in which I was an investor were nominated for four Tonys between them. Didn’t win a single one (we should have won for Best Play, Time Stands Still, and Best Musical Revival Finian’s Rainbow—but I digress). Still, I was able to cross “Go to the Tony Awards” off my bucket list.

In the years before and since, I’ve endeavored to watch the telecasts. I’ve missed some years. When I was in college I didn’t see some of them though I had seen almost all the nominees. After my partner died 10 years ago, I made it a point to be at a theatre (always Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway). We had made such big deal out of watching the telecasts together I couldn’t bear to watch it alone. If you’ve ever been widowed you’d understand.

These days, I’m living out in the desert, 100 miles from Los Angeles. I rely on touring productions. Yes, I still watch the telecasts. No, I don’t really care all that much.

The likelihood of seeing any of the Tony-winning performances in Los Angeles is slim to none (except, of course, when a Tony winner is angling to get noticed by Hollywood producers). Unless a show is going to be sitting for a few months in one theatre (like Hamilton or Aladdin did this season at the Hollywood Pantages), we’re likely to get a scaled-back version of the Broadway production. Most tours are designed to fit a stage depth of no more than 29 feet. Why? Because the Fox Theatre in Atlanta is a major touring house and its depth is, you guessed it, 29 feet. Many Broadway houses are well over 30 feet deep. When they go on the road, they scale the sets back to fit the Fox.  Speaking of touring houses, those producers have an outsized influence on what and who wins the Tonys. They actually make up a large chunk of the Tony voters and their judgment is influenced by what they think would play best in their cities—not necessarily what might be the best shows or the best performances. Oops, did I say this? Yes, I did. It was told to me by one of those touring house producers in a freak moment of candor.

I guess I should get to my point—why I’m no longer particularly excited by the Tony Awards. I’m not going to be able to see any of the scaled-back winners for at least a year or two (or more). In a rare treat (really), I get to see last year’s Best Play, The Humans, next year, a wait of just two years (but not with the Tony-winning cast, which included an old friend from my high school days—who finally won the Tony he so richly deserves). Next year, we’re also getting last year’s Best Musical Revival, Hello Dolly, but of course we don’t get to see the Divine Miss M in her Tony-winning performance.

This year, the big competition in musicals seems to be between Mean Girls and SpongeBob Square Pants. What about Frozen you ask? Heck, Disneyland has been running a scaled-back (surprise) live version of it for many months now. (Yes, I saw it. No, I wasn’t impressed. But I wasn’t impressed by the animated feature, either. I’m the wrong demographic, obviously.) None of these is on the schedule for the 2018-2019 season at any of the four local touring houses. Sadly, neither is The Band’s Visit, the likely winner this year for Best Score. But we’re getting repeat revivals of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon (ugh), Cats (no way I’m wasting any time to see this for a fifth time; four times was bad enough), Fiddler on the Roof (a show I first saw back in 1964—jeez), Something Rotten (it was just here this season, but the bus & truck is out there now), Jersey Boys (for the fourth time), Phantom of the Opera (for the umpteenth time) Spamalot, and Evita. Alas, we will never get to see Groundhog Day or Bandstand.

And this gets me to my biggest gripe. I fully expect Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to win for Best Play and dominate most of the design awards. Will it ever tour? With a cast of 40 and a five-hour running time (spread out over two seatings), not bloody likely. I’ve read the published script (it’s simply incredible, of course). I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and would really like to see it. But it’s sold out years in advance in New York and the sheer, massive logistics make it impossible to tour. Unless there’s a scaled-back (ugh), cut down to three hours (double ugh) production. It just won’t be the same.

So yes, I’m going to be watching the Tonys this year—at home in the desert. Am I going to be all that excited? No, not really. I won’t ever see any of the winning performances live. I won’t see the same show as it’s being done on Broadway when I eventually have it on one of my subscription series.

The Theatre Wing (which presents the Tonys) touts how the telecast promotes live theatre in the hinterlands (you know, places like Los Angeles or Chicago or the place where you live if you’re not in the New York metropolitan area). And touring houses promote some shows as “the Tony-winning production of [show name],” but fail to mention the Tonys were for performances, not the show itself. What, a tour producer over-hype a show? Impossible.

You know something? This frustrates me and makes me grumpy. And you know you should not make me grumpy. It isn’t pretty (but neither am I, so how can anyone tell the difference).

Grumpy Olde Guy® at the 64th Annual Tony Awards.

Grumpy Olde Guy® at the 64th Annual Tony Awards.

A Cut Above the Rest

Photo by stsmhn/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by stsmhn/iStock / Getty Images

Jonathan Fong

As Broadway approaches awards season once more and every Broadway fan performs the obligatory sharpening of the pitchforks for when their favorite show, actor, composer, or designer inevitably, in their opinion, gets snubbed in the nominations or perhaps, later, the wins, I find that all too often we, as thespians, do tend to forget some things. Namely, we forget what makes Broadway theatre so incredible and unlike most anything on this planet.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have frequent exposure to live theatre. Perhaps you live in a big city which often gets equally-big tours and other major professional productions, or perhaps you’re among the lucky few who live in New York or London and have access to Broadway or the West End, respectively, the world’s great hotspots of live theatre.

Or perhaps you’re something like me - hailing from a tiny city in the middle of nowhere with little, if any, exposure to any live theatre, let alone the big tours and Broadway/West End productions ‘everyone else’ seems to get. If you come from somewhere in the middle of nowhere too, you’ll know what I mean.

Suffice it to say that while I’m a Broadway aficionado, I haven’t exactly had the chance to see lots of shows. In fact, I’m probably one of what’s probably a tiny group of people who can say that they’ve been in more shows, whether behind the curtain as stage crew or onstage as a performer, than they’ve seen in the audience.

Last February, my family surprised me with a gift that I’ll treasure my whole life. A week-long trip to New York, with tickets to any Broadway show I wanted.

Now, I’d heard stories of just how incredible Broadway productions and the actors, designers, stage crew, and everything else involved in them were, how they were all ‘a cut above the rest’ and whatnot, but I had no point of reference to guess what that might entail. I’d seen a few professional productions of musicals before; I couldn’t imagine how anything could be better, and honestly, I did have a few doubts about whether Broadway was really as good as everyone made it out to be or whether it was all just mindless hype.

When I stepped into a Broadway theatre for the first time, still riding a caffeine high from the coffees I’d had earlier to make sure my jetlagged self would be able to stay awake for the whole thing, I could just feel that the show would be something special. You could just feel the effort that so many people, seen and unseen, had put into the show. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and I loved every second of it.

I thought I’d seen great performances before, but actually seeing a show on Broadway completely redefined what I thought it meant to act, to sing, and to dance. I thought I’d seen incredible set and costume design, but seeing a Broadway show convinced me otherwise. I thought I’d heard great pit orchestras, but hearing the first notes of the overture convinced me that I must have been deaf before I stepped into that theatre.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention any musical in particular. That’s because there was no single musical I saw that convinced me of the above - it was every show I saw that led me to those conclusions.

Originally, my plan was only to see Dear Evan Hansen (since the show hadn’t yet won all its Tonys in February, I actually managed to snag tickets that didn’t break the bank); in the end, though, I managed to snag cheap tickets to Wicked and Cats too while I was in New York. All three shows were quite different and each incredible in their own ways, but the one thing they convinced me of after seeing them is just how incredibly talented and hardworking Broadway professionals really are. I’d heard it before, but now I believe it - they truly are a cut above the rest.

So, as we head into awards season, please, everyone, remember just how talented each and every person working on Broadway is. Don’t get used to them and their performances, whether on the cast recordings, the clips you might find on YouTube or Broadway.com, or perhaps live if you’re one of the lucky few who get the opportunity to do that, because you may just get used to them and forget how incredible they really are. Every actor and actress, every member of the crew, every set designer and choreographer and composer and director - they all pour their hearts and souls into their work in ways that most of us would find unimaginable. These people are some of the most talented on this planet and they each work their butts off to create some of the finest art eight times a week.

So please - don’t fight or squabble too much over whether or not an actor is worthy of an award or perhaps if a designer or composer was snubbed or not. Because these people - each and every person on Broadway - are all truly a cut above the rest, and that’s something that we should all remember.

 

Very Superstitious (13 Theater Superstitions)

ghost light.JPG

 

Taylor Lockhart

I’d like to start off with a story, It all starts in 1991 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City, New York. When a man named George Isaac Roberto Stevenson The Second was working backstage as stage manager for the play, Lost In Yonkers. George had been with the show since its opening and was a long time worker of the theatre about to retire after this final show. Many of the cast and crew at the time had planned a surprise party for George’s final day with the theatre to bid him goodbye. He walked in prepared to tell the cast to get into their places just when they were about to cut a cake that said, Good Job Getting Out Of Yonkers George! The surprise should have gone great except George and the crew were running late and the show should have already started. Running down the hallways he entered into the green room ready to yell places when the person cutting the cake had the knife positioned in the wrong place at the wrong time and George came bounding into the room. If it hadn’t had been for an askew prop causing him to trip he would have ran face first into the knife. He ended up breaking his left leg in the process but remarked how close the blade was to his face and actually credited the trip for saving his life. He of course had to bring up the safety concerns later but ended up staying another year before retiring, and every night before the cast went on would say, Break a Leg. No one understood why until they heard the story and when he left slowly the story stopped being told but the tradition just stuck, and now it’s highly likely you two have said Break a leg before opening a show

So Now might be a good time to let you know that everything you just read was a lie, but it probably made you think about where the phrase, “Break a Leg” actually comes from and why it’s considered bad luck to say good luck before a show. Well you’re in luck. See what I did there, because today you’ll be learning that and the meaning of 12 other theatre superstitions. Why 13? Well, It’s supposed to be a friday the 13th thing but im like 12 days late so pretend your reading this 2 Fridays ago. Anyways Follow me, read along and we’ll gather round the ghost light and get very superstitious.

#13   No Wearing Blue Or Green On Stage
This is one you probably haven’t heard before and most likely never will, because it would make productions of Wicked, Shrek, Beauty and the Beast, Heathers, and many others near impossible to do. However, there is a very good reason why it was once considered bad luck to wear blue on stage and that is blue dye back in the day was somewhat rare and very expensive and some theatres even went bankrupt putting on a wealthy facade by having actors and actresses adorned in blue clothing. As for green, back when shows were frequently done outside wearing green clothing acted as an accidental camouflage and caused actors to not stick out and be noticeable on the stage. There have also been times yellow clothing has been considered bad luck because of its connection to satan, you may have heard before that a yellow bird means a bad omen, this is because of that connection. Of course today, blue dye is abundant, shows are performed inside, and hardly anybody would associate yellow with the devil.

#12   Bad Dress Rehearsal
This superstition is fairly easy to see where it comes from, It is believed that if you have a bad dress rehearsal before opening night than it is actually a sign of good luck that your show will do well. Obviously this isn’t always the case, and if you’re having severe problems the day before a show they most likely won’t just disappear because there's an audience. When your a director though it can be just as dangerous to go into opening night with fear and uncertainty so with a bit of superstition and white lies, You may give the cast just what they need to believe they can have an incredible opening and then some of the problems may seem to just fix themselves with a bit more confidence. I don’t know, I generally think it’s pretty terrifying to go into opening on a low note so whatever you can do to boost morale is probably the best thing.

#11   No Peacock feathers
This one is rather short but it was once believed that the peacock represented the eye of evil and that using and wearing them on the stage would lead to sets collapsing, fires, and other horrific disasters

#10   No Mirrors
This is one is actually quite practical and less superstitious, it is considered bad luck to use a mirror on stage because breaking one will cause seven years of bad luck for the theatre and while that most likely isn’t true using mirrors on stage can lead to reflections of light shining in the eyes of the audience, and cast and crew member which may not cause the stage to catch fire but can be quite annoying and lead to problems or technical difficulties.

#9   No Real Money
This superstition comes from the fear of cast members stealing props and is still widely used today because why would you even use real money

#8   No Real Jewelry
This holds the same purpose as the former but isn’t as widely used today. Both items being used are said to cause bad luck, and if you consider having a valuable prop stolen bad luck then yeah, I guess you’re right.

#7   No Whistling
It is said to cause bad luck whistling on or off stage and just in a theatre in general, this must make Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle fun to figure out how to perform. In reality like the others this comes from a time when headsets didn’t exist and some crews consisted of sailors due to the similarities of ropework. They would often use whistling as cues and so if an actor or actress whistled at the wrong time it could mean disaster and a possible date with death and sandbags.

#6   Sleep with your script
Have you ever heard someone say sleeping with your textbook under a pillow causes the information to somehow enter your head. Well, that’s just simply stupid and not true but theatre has its own version of that. It is said that sleeping with your script under your pillow can help you learn lines faster, but don’t try this out hoping to learn all your lines the day before your show. You may find it surprising to learn you won’t be able to catch up on practice in your dreams.

#5   Flowers Before a Performance
It's likely everyone who has performed has received or at the very least watched someone else receive flowers once before, and if that’s the case please go out and buy yourselves some flowers you really deserve it. Well, while that’s for some a pivotal part of opening night. Many actors and actresses wouldn’t accept flowers until after curtain call because they believed receiving them before led to a bad performance. I can’t say I disagree, It’s not going to cause your show to go terribly wrong but it’s good to be rewarded after you’ve finished the job. It is also commonly believed you should leads flowers from a graveyard, but don’t do that. Seriously please don’t go steal flowers from someone's grave.

#4   “Break a Leg”
And now maybe one of the most famous sayings and superstitions of all and we have no idea why we say it or where it comes from. I know that’s kinda anticlimactic but its the truth, there is no definite origin. Its believed it may come from understudies jokingly saying to break a leg so that they can go on. It might have its roots in greek theatre, or it might be referring to the actual curtain called the leg, in which breaking the leg meant to go on and perform. These all work pretty well as origins. It could also be rooted in the idea to wish good luck is bad luck and so you wish bad luck in order to receive good luck. That makes about as much sense as it sounds but superstitions aren’t generally smart. All you need to know is never say good luck or you may cause your performance of the worst most disreputable musical in existence to go horribly right and  turn into a fun satire. If you don’t know the reference just look it up something should come up.

#3   Goodnight Olive
These final 3 aren't so much outdated practical rules, or weird beliefs as they are theatre’s ghost stories. I mean one of them will literally have ghost in the name so that might hint to something. Anyways, Goodnight Oliver is a superstition rooted in the New Amsterdam Theatre. That Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas haunts the theatre. There have been numerous occasions of security guards feeling a tap on their back like someone was playing a trick on them but when they turn around no one is there. One security guard ended up calling the president of Disney Theatricals and owner of the New Amsterdam theatre after an encounter. Once while a group of people were talking about Olive backstage, while talking about the film The Artist one person asked what Olive would think about the film causing then several dvd’s to fly off a table. People believe she likes the attention her haunts cause. They now keep a picture of her backstage and say goodnight to it every night as some sort of gesture of respect.

#2  The Ghost Light
Mostly the ghost light is used for safety purposes, and the to keep away from the danger of walking off the stage into the pit. It is one singular light left on in the theatre when the rest are turned off. However, because theatre people are very superstitious the ghost light is said to ward off ghosts, including very famously the mischievous ghost of Thespis a greek actor credited as the first to step out of the chorus. It is also used to help ghosts see in the dark and keep from bumping into scenery. Many theatres use it and The New Amsterdam theatre previously listed actually has a lot more than just a single light because people are very very sure that Olive haunts the place.

#1  The Play That Should Not Be Named
Oh come on, you all knew this would be #1. By far the most famous theatre superstition of all time, the forbidden word, referred to as the Scottish play. Macbeth, now the superstition goes it causes extreme amounts of bad luck to say the words Macbeth on stage or in a theatre. I don’t think it’s bad luck to type it and I’m not in a theatre so it should be fine, but if you’re in a theatre reading this currently you may not want to read this out loud. The origin of the superstition comes from the belief that the spells in the Three Witches scene are real or were real and used by Shakespeare unknowingly until a group of people made him rewrite it. The accidents caused by uttering the forbidden name date back all the way to the shows opening when it was said an actor died when a real dagger was used instead of a prop one. The difference between and the others though is that this one is widely believed and though many myself included simply have fun with the theatre inside joke there are many who believe it ruins shows and curses theatres. Many hardcore believers even make you perform a cleansing ritual that varies but often involves spinning around three times and reciting a line from one of Shakespeare's other plays. Since it is a superstition there is really no way to prove or disprove it and it remains one of theatres unspoken rules, Never say the name of the Scottish play. Just about every theatre can list an instance of accidents happening afterwards or commotion caused by fear of the curse. While it’s fun to watch non theatre people scratch their heads when the room goes silent after its nothing to let get in the way of a show and when working with little ones can cause quite a commotion. So often it’s best to just refer to it as the Scottish play to avoid fear and people making you do a cult like ritual, which to be fair theatre is sort of a cult isn’t it?

Are there any superstitions I missed? Do you have any stories of ghosts or ghost light mishaps in your theatre, and do you believe in the Macbeth superstition? Tell me down below and remember to check back in the future for more history, theatrics, and possibly spooky ghost stories.

 

Oh and don’t turn off that light when you leave, I’d hate to leave our friends alone in the dark.

Remembering Gary

I was at my former high school’s annual school play the other night and memories came flooding back of the shows I did in high school. And, of course, when you think of previous shows you did, you might remember your directors and those who helped put on those shows.       

When I think back to my shows, one person in particular stands out. That person would be Gary.

In grade ten, I wasn’t even considering joining my school’s drama program. I didn’t have anything against the program, a lot of my friends were in it, I just didn’t think it was for me. However, the theatre program was putting on “The Very Great Grandson of Sherlock Holmes”, a hilarious parody on Sherlock Holmes where his grandson is a bumbling idiot.

This show needed a butler and, being my teacher, Gary knew me somewhat well and thought I fit the role very well. The Butler was a character who had every line come out witty, sarcastic, and sharp.

After some thinking, I decided to go for it. I thought the drama program would be “something fun to do.” I did not realize how much it would mean to me throughout the rest of my high school life.

Since I was the only one going directly for The Butler, I got it. However, Gary was right and I fit the role very well -- the snappy comebacks, the hilarious one liners, and the dripping sarcasm is exactly my type of humour. The production was a success and I was hooked on the drama program.       

Me as the Butler

Me as the Butler

I went on to play in two more shows under the direction of Gary. I was Mr. Drysdale in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and Professor Dante in “Get Smart.”

He was also a teacher for a good chunk of my classes from grades 7-10. Sure, he had his fair share of students that didn’t like him but he developed a very strong bond with a lot of his students, and a lot of the grades below me especially came to really like him.

The year after I graduated, which was 2013, Gary moved away to teach at another school. Many of his students were saddened -- he had not only been an amazing teacher, but also even a friend to his students. He had visited a former student when he was in the hospital, and just had a general love for all his students, both current and former.

It was late March of 2015 when he started to have some health concerns, he had something from when he was younger that had never caused issues until that point.

In the coming weeks, he would be admitted to hospital. On April 15, he passed.

The students from school were devastated. I heard from younger students and friends with younger siblings what a weird and scary day of school that was. The halls were eerily silent and people were crying. There was an outpouring of love and support for his mother and fiancé in the coming days and the students and teachers watched a livestream of his memorial service in the gymnasium.

Being at my old high school’s play brought back these memories, and it was there that I realized that not only had it been three years but I missed the actual date. I’m so glad I was reminded of this yet again.

Gary drew me into the school’s theatre program. He was a great director, teacher, and an all-around great person who was easy to connect to. He is still greatly missed by many.

Grief and Depression: How Theatre Pulled Me Through

SarahLynn Mangan

Everyone is told their life is going to be a roller coaster and you won't get anything out of it unless you just keep riding and moving forward, I have found this to be very true.

As a young child life was wonderful, I had four amazing older siblings and two wonderful parents. We were all into performing arts either being on the stage dancing in ballet, singing at school shows or performing in theatre camps. Especially two of my older sisters and I as we are the closest in age, (my brother being twelve years older than me and my other sister eighteen years older than me). Our parents were very supportive and were known to always be willing to get us to rehearsal, give us flowers after performances, provide food for cast members and help backstage. We were known as the family that always wanted to be working in a theatre.

Unfortunately, just twenty days after my tenth birthday my father passed away. He had a disease known as ALS or as I like to tell people “that disease that the ice bucket challenge was for.” He was diagnosed when I was seven and died in his sleep just under two and a half years later. I am grateful that he was no longer a brain trapped inside a paralyzed body- the disease does not affect the brain but rather shuts down every other motor function within the body-so I was happy to see him finally released to serenity but also was reminded of all the things that a daughter typically does with her father.  He will never me down the aisle when I get married to someone I love, never intimidate the people I date, and most importantly to me was that he would never be able to see me nor my other siblings perform again.

I recently stumbled upon my father’s old blog that he used to document his life with the disease and at one point he had written “I really want to beat this thing that is trying to take me before my girls have a chance to grow up” and “I would like to live to see the rest of my daughters and son married, and to see my daughters at least graduate from High School” unfortunately he never even got to see me graduate elementary school.

My entire family had hoped he would have lived just four days longer so he would at least be able to see my sisters and I in our summer ballet performance, but that was not the case. So instead we were told to perform to the best of our abilities and dedicate it to our father. This I did so without delay and wholeheartedly, for I believed he could watch us and that he would be proud to have called me his daughter.

After that performance, we all quit dancing and performing to be able to grief.

That was my first mistake.

I knew that performing was my passion ever since taking my first step out into the lights as a little bon-bon in The Nutcracker and I knew it was an outlet. When something tragic happens to someone so young, they don’t know how to process it and neither did I.

After taking the summer off I jumped back into theatre with being cast as Suzi Spider in Tiny Thumbelina in my fifth-grade musical at my expressive arts elementary school. I continued to participate in theatre camp shows as well, but I knew something was missing from my performances and that I was slowly but surely retracting from my extroverted self who would start singing and dancing musicals anytime I deemed it necessary (which was always).

Almost a year after my father's passing I was given the opportunity to be in my first community theatre production. I was ecstatic because I knew that if I could do this I would be able to show my father he could still be proud of me. I was a part of the youth ensemble for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and in this production, the rehearsal process was quick, we hardly interacted with the adults, and were on stage for the entire show except for “Potiphar.” I remember on opening night I was dancing downstage center in the song “Go Go Go Joseph” and I started to tear up because I felt as though my father was somehow watching me and applauding me on.

After that production, I truly felt as though I would go back to normal, I got confidence back and was ready to continue in life. I had found a way to still feel connected to my father and not feel so alone in my journey of processing my grief.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tacoma Musical Playhouse 2012    Photo courtesy of Kat Dollarhide    

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Tacoma Musical Playhouse 2012

Photo courtesy of Kat Dollarhide

 

Skip forward a few years in life and I had become deeply depressed. I went to a middle school that was promised to be getting a great performing arts program but after my sixth-grade year, dance, theatre, and choir were all taken away because funding for the programs had fallen through. With my mom now being the households only income and still taking care of three children (one soon to go on to college) we didn’t have the money to do all the theatre camps that I had become a regular attendee at.

I was too scared to tell my mother or even my family about my depression which didn’t help me with feeling valid for my emotions. Everyone who states that they have depression are doubted until they have the doctor's diagnosis. I also didn’t want to admit to failure of living the best life I could in honor of my father, but I knew things would just get worse if I didn’t find a way to cope.

When I entered high school, it had gotten so bad that the only ways I would find relief of my depression was from being an unhealthy person, telling myself that it was my fault my father had died, and doing many regrettable and stupid things, (but that is for another day).

My sophomore year had come around and rumors in my family had been spread around about my depression and unhealthy lifestyle, but no one believed it because I only showed who I used to be to the world and not who I had become. No one believed it until my mother found me crying in the bathroom before school one day. She finally made an appointment and brought me to the doctors.

I got diagnosed with clinical depression and was put on antidepressants and encouraged to seek therapy (however therapy did not seem like a feasible thing due to the expense and inability to connect with a therapist). After four weeks when they finally started working, everyone could tell. I was more flamboyant and always singing and dancing to show-tunes just like my younger self.

However, during this time of healing, my grades were suffering and the possibility of graduating in two years was slipping away before my eyes. I failed two classes which meant I had to spend my summer in school to try and get my credits back. Many of my friends I had made in choir and old theatre friends were going to do a summer theatre camp that I used to attend and would have attended if I could have. When I saw their performance, I wanted to cry because all I wanted to do was be on the stage with them.

At that moment, I decided that it was time for me to get back into the theatre scene and make my mark again. I auditioned for the play “Blithe Spirit” which was going to be put on at a local community theatre and directed by someone who had helped first spark my interest in theatre all together. When I got the call that I would be playing the maid Edith I started screaming of happiness before I even hung up (the stage manager and I laughed about it later because she clearly heard me screaming for joy). I was finally going to be back on the stage and with people who are highly thought of in the theatre scene in my county.

When rehearsals started, I knew that those people and that show would be the show to truly bring me out of my depression. I had a schedule, people who relied on me, and a family who believed in me. That theatre experience was what finally helped me achieve my goal of being a healthy person who didn’t have to rely on supplements to be able to live a semi normal life.

The cast of Blithe Spirit at Tacoma Little Theatre 2017

The cast of Blithe Spirit at Tacoma Little Theatre 2017

It has now been five months since that show closed and I am currently performing in my third community theatre production and in rehearsals for my fourth of my junior year of high school. I reconnected with my old drama teacher in elementary school and assistant directed her production of “Charlotte’s Web” at my old school. I have also been accepted into a performing arts college (yet to decide if I will attend due to financial and such), and am exploring other options for college.

Although it may not seem like such a major triumph to some people, I have had the ability to discover myself again and be the person everyone knows I am again because of theatre and it is truly remarkable. It has always been there and will always be there as a reminder of the first time I felt a connection with my father after his death and the first time I felt free to be myself and come back out of depression again.

 

TV Show Musicals: An Exercise in Mediocrity

Darren Wildeman

There I was a few weeks ago, seeing promos for the new TV show Rise -- a show that's both a musical and about theatre. Needless to say ATB caught wind of this as well.

There was buzz of the new show, excitement building up. Then came the big night, I didn't watch. I let a few days pass, read some mostly positive reviews in ATB and still only had a passing interest. A few days later, I hesitantly put on the music from the show, hoping to like it. I wanted my impression of TV show musicals to change. Rather than changing my opinion, it got reinforced.

 Unsurprisingly the music is forced, made for radio, non-plot advancing, low quality tunes that wouldn’t get stuck in your head if you used a crowbar and superglue.

“But, Darren you haven’t watched the show, how do you know the songs don’t advance the plot?” One might say. It’s a very fair point and I do personally argue that someone needs to see something to fully judge it -- However, there are a couple of red flags.

The first red flag is that they use a song that was on the radio in the last year in “Glorious” as well as a piece from the Broadway Musical Spring Awakening. 

I understand that it’s because they’re performing the show, but it is still off-putting to me.  It is so hard to build a plot around a piece of music that already exists. This is why most jukebox musicals are so poorly regarded. Outside of Jersey Boys winning the Tony, a lot of them don’t even last a full year on Broadway such as All Shook Up which is based on the music of Elvis which opened and closed in seven months. Granted, a piece of music doesn’t necessarily have to move the show however, since Showboat, this is what the vast majority of well-regarded pieces of musical theatre have done, and is generally what makes a musical to be considered good.

 As for the songs that are original, they just aren’t memorable. It’s entirely possible that these songs do contribute to the plot of the show, but a rap about playing football? Really? The rhymes in it are so weak and it is extremely hard to take seriously. The other music, while original, sounds like a stereotypical imitation of Glee. Again, it’s nice, but doesn’t stand out. The plot of the show might be great, I’ve seen a lot of posts saying that, and if so, that’s fantastic. I think a show about theatre would be really cool. However, I’m focusing more about the musical aspect of Rise, and the other shows. For the most part, these shows either don’t need to be a musical, or need better original music. Repeatedly reusing music just comes off as lazy.

Speaking of needing original music, let’s jump into Glee. Let me start by saying I have nothing against the performers. Most of them are incredibly talented people and a lot of them had very good careers after the show ended. I’ll also give Glee some credit, they did manage to make some prewritten songs work for the plot. In terms of moving the plot I’d say they did an excellent job when choosing some of the songs they did. They work with the story, but they still don’t work as well as an original song would have. You see, when you pick already existing music, it won’t fit your narrative perfectly. It might be really close but if you write a song you can write it around exactly what’s happening instead of shoehorning a song in.

Photo by JTaI1129/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by JTaI1129/iStock / Getty Images

My next criticism is the music itself. It’s not that it's bad, but it’s that they don’t cover songs well. The vocals don’t stand out and the production value of the performances is bland. If you’re going to cover powerful and well known songs, you have to make them stand out and not make them sound like a mediocre American Idol audition. Glee had some fantastic vocalists on it, but with such amazing vocals they give some really bland performances. Songs like "Don’t Stop Believing", "I Will Always Love You", "Teenage Dream", and "If I Were a Boy" among many others Glee covered are really popular and well known. However, none of these performances really separated themselves from any other covers on the internet or the original versions of the songs. Some of these performances also come off as downright cheesy. There are scenes from Glee that are supposed to be sad and make the audience cry, but I find myself cringing or rolling my eyes at some of these scenes. Rather than having songs that are forced, or are way too well known to be covered well, there could have songs that authentically show what’s been happening, with even more power than a forced pop song.

I understand the whole point of Glee is to be covers, but at times these covers come off as lame at best. They look and feel forced, and don’t always move the plot as well as they should. Sure, some of them do work, but there is still an element of being forced and having the story written around the song rather than having the song telling the story, which is less than ideal. However, even TV shows who use original music don’t often work, an example being Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I honestly have no idea what the music is trying to do. Some of it sounds like classic theatre, while some sounds like modern pop, while having everything in between. In the first place, it has no direction, nothing that links the songs together, and nothing that sets it apart. The songs aren’t recognizable and don’t really separate themselves. It isn’t well written and sounds mediocre at best. This isn’t even the worst part, the lyrics are uninventive and fall completely flat. The lyrics of a musical are supposed to push the musical along and make you think about the show and what’s happening. The lyrics in this show are shallow, insipid, and leave the viewer unable to think on any level. They are a classic example of telling and not showing, there just isn’t any depth at all to these songs and the music seems so unnecessary.

 If you’re going to make something a musical, having music for the sake of it is not the direction to go in. Have the music do something, and add to the story. Don’t just let it be a quirky song. The lyrics of every song should tell you exactly what’s happening while songs in a musical should go deeper than that. For example of this, look at Sondheim. He does this well- his music tells you what’s happening, but so many of his shows also have a much deeper narrative. Sondheim, Alan Menken, and many other successful writers also have a melodic theme throughout the show that keeps reappearing which also helps push the plot.  These songs sound like they were picked at random. Speaking of themes and lines I can follow

Let’s turn to Smash/Bombshell. I honestly expected to put this series on blast. However, I was pleasantly surprised by it, when I listen to the music I can tell it’s trying to tell a story. With Smash and Bombshell, you can tell that the songs have a purpose; they’re trying to point you somewhere. A lot of them are original songs written around the plot and for the plot. I understand that the other musicals had their reasons for using other songs, but you still can’t get the same story telling as if you write something original. The themes in Smash are prominent as well. This show addresses a lot of the criticisms I had of the previous shows. This show still isn’t bulletproof from criticism as some of the music does sound like it’s a bit forced and generic. However, it does this better than anything else I have listened to.

Some of these shows have their strong points, but for the most part TV show musicals just crumble under any sort of analysis. The TV format isn’t meant to handle music. An average stage or movie musical runs two to two and a half hours. A TV show is generally one hour with commercials. The music in a show adds takes up some of that valuable time. I think this is where things can get thrown off. Even if you only have to build around one four or five minute song that’s still five minutes where you have to figure out how the plot is going to move. It can disrupt the entire show. This article looked at four major TV series and only one of them managed to kind of work, which is not a good percentage. If you want music with your story, you’re better off going to the local theatre or turning on a musical movie.


 

I Blame Fruma-Sara(h)

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

Two questions, one answer. How did I become such a theatre maven? How did I become so grumpy? I blame Fruma-Sara(h). More for the former than the latter.

No, not the Fruma-Sarah who visits Tevya in his “dream” during Fiddler on the Roof. She came from beyond the grave to warn him if his daughter married her husband, well, there would be dire consequences. And after this blog entry, I fear my Fruma-Sara(h) is going to be haunting me as well.

My Fruma-Sara(h) is my mother, the late Sara Kape. It wasn’t until after she passed away in 1984 we discovered her name was actually Sarah though she always used Sara. Very typical of her. She was also a terrible driver (don’t ask) and the world’s worst cook (only she could take a catered meal and ruin it—and did).

Fruma-Sara(h) started hitting Broadway in 1932, when she was 20 and ventured to New York City for the first time since her birth on Delancy Street. (I’ve always wanted to turn her story of what happened on that trip—when she rediscovered her “lost” family—into a musical. Who knows, maybe I will someday.) She never stopped going to the theatre once she had her first taste. The last musical she saw was Sweeney Todd (more about that momentarily—when she unabashedly embarrassed her youngest child) and her last movie, appropriately enough, was Bullets Over Broadway.

As soon as she deemed us old enough (circa age 10 or so), she would take us down to New York City from Buffalo for an annual pilgrimage to Broadway. She impressed upon us the need to be on our very best behavior (and be appropriately dressed) when going to the theatre (I wish parents would do that now—but that’s a subject for a different blog). Yes, that lesson stuck; I still dress better to see a show than when I go other places. As Fruma-Sara(h) told us, “It’s the theatre and you always dress to go there.” (There, now you know where I weigh in on that debate. When I was a critic, I always wore a tie and usually a suit. These days, not so much.)

The first Broadway show Fruma-Sara(h) took me to was What Makes Sammy Run? starring Steve Lawrence. But Steve took the night off, so his standby, Richard France, played the title role. (I encountered Richard years later when he was headlining The Palm Springs Follies. His claim to fame was being Steve Lawrence’s understudy. When he asked if anyone in the audience of geriatrics had ever seen him in the role, I alone raised my hand and said, “Yes, Christmas Week 1964.” He was shocked someone remembered him decades later. Insert “small world” cliché here.)

After Sammy on that trip came How to Succeed (original production but with the late, great Ronnie Welsh as Finch, and unknown 19-year-old Michelle Lee as Rosemary), followed by High Spirits (because she loved Noel Coward’s work).

But that’s not how my love for musical theatre started. No, for that we have to once again look to my pusher, Fruma-Sara(h). I was a mere toddler at the tender age of three. The gateway drug? She gave me a boxed set of 45s of Rodgers & Hammerstein for Children—thus indoctrinating me early. I loved those records but grew to thoroughly dislike Rodgers and Hammerstein (but that’s a story for another day).

(To my great shame, I “appropriated” a book from my parents’ library, The Complete Works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Maybe the word I should use is stole. No matter. I still have that book and it’s a prized possession. On the other hand, my father, a huge Damon Runyon fan, gave me his autographed copy of the book Guys and Dolls, from which the musical is derived, after I had been in a production of it.)

Fruma Sara(h) always made sure we had the very latest Broadway original cast recordings in the house (in those days, Broadway had just made the transition from record books—78s with one song on each side bound in a book—to LPs, which were so much more convenient). I still have most of those albums. I even have original sheet music from West Side Story (she also played the piano, badly). That sheet music is particularly valuable for one reason. It listed lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. (Bernstein generously took his name off the lyrics after WSS opened, gave full credit to Sondheim and had the sheet music reprinted, but he had in fact written some of the lyrics. Bernstein as a lyricist is a little known, but he wrote the “I Can Cook, Too” lyrics for On the Town.)

Over the years, we attended several shows together. She took my sister and I to see the original production of Cabaret in 1966. Before the show, we’re browsing through the Playbill. I’m excited because the legendary Lotte Lenya is in the cast. Fruma Sara(h) is excited, too. “Look,” she exclaimed, “Mickey Katz’ son [Joel Gray] is in this!” Mickey Katz was a popular performer in the Yiddish theatre circuit in those days, and Joel Gray’s one claim to fame at that point was being his son (go figure—that was what was in his bio).

Fast forward to 1979. I’m living in New York and my mother is living out west. She decides to come back east and wants to see some shows. I had just seen Sweeney Todd and wanted to take her to see it. I described the plot to her and she was, well, revolted by the very idea. She wanted something a little tamer. So, we compromised. On Tuesday night, we went to the “Neil Simon musical” (They’re Playing Our Song), which we both disliked. I had managed to obtain Sondheim’s house seats for the Wednesday night performance of Sweeney Todd. We were seated in the second row, on the aisle, as close to the action as possible. Instead of being disgusted, Fruma Sara(h) was enthralled. Act II begins. Mrs. Lovett shouts, “Throw the old woman out.” My mother blurts out, loudly, “The beggar woman—is that his wife?” Thus, did my mother managed to thoroughly embarrass her youngest child publicly. All I could do is hiss through my teeth three words I had never said before, “Shut up, Mother.”

My point in telling these stories is simple. We all enter musical theatre fandom in various ways. For some, it’s a release from home strife. For others, it’s a way to express feelings otherwise unexpressed or suppressed. It calms anxiety. It helps the shy emerge from the shadows and into the spotlight. And for some of us, we simply had no choice. We had a parent who thrust musical theatre on us at a tender age and we’ve never looked back—until now, that is.

So, who was your pusher—your Fruma Sara(h)—and what was your gateway drug?

 

Caption: Me and my pusher, er, mother, Fruma Sara(h) in 1979, a month after  Sweeney Todd .

Caption: Me and my pusher, er, mother, Fruma Sara(h) in 1979, a month after Sweeney Todd.

Caption: The gateway drug, Rodgers and Hammerstein for Children.

Caption: The gateway drug, Rodgers and Hammerstein for Children.

 

Community Theatre From the Perspective of a Theatre Kid

It all started when I was six years old. I had been involved in preforming arts for four years by that time since I started dance when I was two, but it was not until then that my parents noticed my flair for dramatics. They then decided to have me audition for the Wizard of Oz at a local theatre and I scored a role as a “principal munchkin” and I fell in love with being on that stage, not as myself like in a dance recital, but as a completely different person.

A photo from the second time I was in the Wizard of OZ (2009)

A photo from the second time I was in the Wizard of OZ (2009)

           

Over the past few years, I have noticed a few people online downing community theatre, which really irks me. One of the most common reasons I have heard for people bashing it is that they aren’t as good as their Broadway/West End counterparts. But here’s the thing: they aren’t supposed to be. The definition of “community theatre” from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is “the activity of acting in or producing a play in a theater for enjoyment and not as a job”. The people who partake in community theatre productions do it because they love it; not because they are getting paid to do it. I drive forty-five minutes to the closest theatre and stay there for many hours because I love the people there with me and the art we create.

So many people around the world have had beautiful experiences within its realm, whether they happen because they were part of the cast and crew or because they were part of the audience. So many performers have left their small-town stage and made their dreams come true by earning a chance to be on Broadway. Although for many, that dream may not become a reality, there are still many incredible features of community theatre that many people overlook when they harshly criticize it. 

First, these theaters create an atmosphere that you would not be able to find on a Broadway stage. Many people who participate community theatre, myself included, have done so since a very young age. Personally, I started when I was six, but I know of people who have been on those stages since they were literal infants. Community theatres tend to have recurring cast members. Especially in my theatre, since we are such a small area it is possible to spend years with the same group of people, which I have done. This in turn causes people to form very close bonds with each other. Because of school, I have not been able to be in shows very often, but most recently I was in Willy Wonka, in which I portrayed Mrs. Gloop. That was in 2016. Still to this day, we have a group chat and we talk regularly. We all keep up with each other’s achievements and support each other in times of hardship, as we recently lost a member of our group unexpectedly. I will be friends with these people for the rest of my days and I am so grateful for that experience because I never would have met some of my absolute best friends if I had not participated in these shows.

A photo from a 2011 production of Bye Bye Birdie

A photo from a 2011 production of Bye Bye Birdie

 

Along the same lines, I love seeing “regulars” in the audience and also being a “regular’ at other theatres in the area. I live in what could be described as a small town, so there is a very tightknit theatre community. There are people who go see every show, no matter what it is. If I am not in the current show, I still try to go see it if I can work it into my schedule. We also try to get groups together and go support other theatres at their shows. It is really uplifting to see people from another theatre come to your show and tell you how much they enjoyed it.

The final thing I'll mention which I love is the opportunity for growth that it bestows upon its participants. Most people start out in the chorus before moving up to supporting roles and then lead roles. However, those are not the only positions that need to be filled. Community theatre is a good way to delve into all aspects of the trade. In the past years, I have not only been on stage but backstage as well. I was the stage manager for a production of Snoopy in 2014. One guy I know started off as a chorus member and has now directed 2 shows. Another guy’s sister dragged him along once and he now does lighting for the majority of shows the theatre puts on.

Amelia photo 3.jpg

 

In closing, do not be so quick to judge a community theatre production of your favorite Broadway show. While they may not have the budget or the extensive training that a professional theatre has, they have just as much passion that they put into the production. These people have taken time out of their busy lives and gone to countless rehearsals so they could put on a show for you. In the end, it does not matter if their sets are perfect, or if the costumes looked a little cheap. All that matters is that everyone involved- the performers, crew, and audience- enjoyed the experience that the art of theatre created.

The History of: Broadway and the Musicals that Call it Home

Consisting of 33 miles, or 55 kilometers the Manhattan road known as Broadway is home to many of New York’s treasures. The area its most known for though is the Theatre District that runs from 42nd Street to 53rd Street and emcompesses Times Square, often reffered to as The Great White Way of Broadway. Musical theatre has become synonymous with Broadway and it’s easy to say the art form holds a ginormous presence in all of New York City. Your clearly here because you love the place or at least the shows it gives home to. Whether you’ve listened to Hamilton once or are one of the 7 people alive who have seen Legs Diamond you’d probably like to know a bit more about this whole broadway thing.  So if you’re as ready as I am let's right into it and talk history, of course not the actual road itself though im sure you’re very interested in reading about how the Wickquasgeck (try pronouncing that right) trail eventually came to be known as Broadway, I’ll give you a clue it involves stealing it from the Native Americans. No, I’m sure you’re much more interested in what’s on the streets- it’s many diverse and entertaining musicals! Also occasionally plays but the history of theatre in general is terrible because it actually starts from almost the beginning of time so we’ll just be crash coursing through the history of musical theatre as we know it today. Going from where I believe is a good place to start and showing you how we got to shows like Dear Evan Hansen and Newsies and the chain of ideas and influences that led to the Broadway we know today. So without any further ado. My names Taylor, There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow. And this is- The History Of: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

But What Is Oklahoma?

I assume most of you know what Oklahoma! Is, but considering I still have friends that shake their heads when I mention The Music Man I guess I can’t be too sure. Nevertheless Oklahoma! Is a 1943 Broadway musical by American composer Richard Rodgers and American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, I’ve noticed nobody really names their children after themselves anymore, probably a good thing. You should probably know these two because they are probably the most famous musical theatre duo of all time, let alone possibly one of the most famous duos of all time and definitely some of the most famous in their respected jobs. Bottom line is Rodgers and Hammerstein is a huge name in musical theatre. One we’ll definitely focus on a ton in this article, and their show Oklahoma! Is about the Oklahoma territory before its become a state and the lives and romances of the people who live there. You can read a full plot synopsis down below. Right there, just scroll down a bit. It’s really long, has a bunch of parenthesis, you can’t miss it.

OklahomA.gif

 

A “Brief” Plot Synopsis of Oklahoma!

Alright, Good you made it. Anyways Its 1906 in the Oklahoma territory and cowman Curly Mclain is just out and about singing about how great a day it’s going to be ("Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'") as he wanders into Laurey Williams yard to kinda sorta if the two can stop teasing each other ask her to the box social dance that night where they’ll be auctioning off picnic baskets to help raise money for the school house. Laurey upon him finally asking her refuses because he’s waited till the literal day of. Curly tries to persuade her claiming he has the best ride money can buy and she should just imagine what it would be like going with him in it ("The Surrey with the Fringe on Top") she continues to tease him though and Curly getting frustrated tells her he made the whole thing up, this upsets Laurey and she forces him away unaware he actually has rented such a ride. When the farm hand Jud Fry asks Laurey out for the social she accepts his offer to spite Curly even though she’s somewhat afraid of Jud. Meanwhile Cowboy Will Parker has recently returned from the city with all sorts of news to share (“Kansas City”) He also has won 50$ in a steel roping contest which is what Ado Annie’s father needs Will to possess in order to marry her. However in a blunder he spent all of it in order to buy gifts for Ado Annie and a tube holding scandalous pictures for Ado Annie's father unaware there’s a hidden blade inside of it. Later, Ado Annie confesses to Luarey that she’s been seeing a persian peddler Ali Hakim. Laurey pushes her friend to choose one of them but Annie claims she can’t choose because she loves them both (“I Cain’t Say No”) Laurey and her friends prepare for the box social and when Gertie Cummings a local girl flirts with Curly. Laurey claims to her friends she doesn’t love him. (“Many A New Day”) Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie’s father finds Annie and Hakim together and forces at gunpoint Hakim to agree to marry her, Hakim and a few other towns men are very outraged by this (“It’s an Scandal! It’s an Outrage”) Then Laurey tries to convince both herself and Curly that the two aren’t in love (“People Will Say We’re In Love”) hurt by Laureys refusal Curly goes off to find the guy she is going with and... convince him to kill himself?!? Wait hold on is that right? Thatt cannot be right. No, No Yeah that’s right. Curly actually tries to convince Jud because he’s not appreciated and no one really likes him he should hang himself and taht way people would care about him after he was dead and the song of course is appropriately titled (“Poor Jud Is Dead”) Like Curly, I get it rejection is hard but isn’t that a bit far. That’s like JD levels of overreaction. Anyways, Laurey not sure whether she should go with Jud or Curly purchases a “magic potion” which is actually a form of opium and has a dream about it. In the dream she is about to marry Curly and when her veil is uncovered Jud is standing in front of her. She realizes Jud would be a terrible husband and then Curly comes back to defend her and then Jud kills him. Laurey wakes up just for Jud to stroll on by and pick her up for the social. There's a fun square dance in which everyone realized the Farmer and the Cowman who tension is high between should just be friends ("The Farmer and the Cowman") Ali Hakim in an effort to rid himself of Ado Annie buys all of Wills souvenirs from him for 50$ and Jud buys the viewer with the hidden blade from him. Will then bids all of his 50$ on Ado Annie’s basket leaving the peddler to have to bid 51$ so Will can marry Ado Annie. Jud and Curly both compete for Laureys basket, Jud bidding his entire life savings and Curly bidding everything he needs to be a cowman, his horse, his saddle, and his gun. Curly wins the auction and later Will and Ado Annie have a conversation about staying faithful to each other (“All Er Nuthin”) Jud tries to discreetly kill him with the hidden blade. Aunt Eller stops this and Jud goes off to see Laurey. They have an unpleasant conversation and when Laurey feels uncomfortable with Jud she fires him and orders him off her property. Jud leaves and Laurey runs to Curly afraid of what Jud might do next but Curly promises to protect her (“People Will Say We’re In Love (Reprise)”) The peddler bids Ado Annie goodbye telling her Will is the man she should marry. Three weeks later, Curly and Laurey are married and the territory finally becomes a state (“Oklahoma!”) Hakim returns with his new wife Gertie who he was once again forced by shotgun to agree to marry and a drunken Jud returns and harasses Laurey. He and Curly get into a fist fight with Jud ultimately falling on his knife and dying. There’s a quick trial where Curly is found “Not Guilty!” by means of self defense.and he and Laurey ride off to their honeymoon in a surrey with fringe on the top (“Finale Ultimo”)

 

Rodgers and Hammerstein before Oklahoma!

Okay, So now if you’re still here you know full well the story of Oklahoma! And obviously that synopsis doesn’t do it justice. I’d still try to go see it for yourself of watch the 1955 movie. Actually you can go do that right now. Go on, you can walk away and watch it and I’ll still be here when you get back. It really is great piece of classic cinema, We’ll talk about it later obviously...Oh are you back? Ok, by now you know full well the story and it might be surprising to you that this was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first show together. They were in now way new to broadway though, not at all. In fact by 1943 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were already veterans to the broadway scene. Rogers having notably worked on Pal Joey in 1940 and Hammerstein having worked on Show Boat in 1927. A show we will definitely talk about later. They weren’t huge world known names  yet either. Because before Rodgers and Hammerstein, they were simply Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, well to be fair Rogers was Rodgers and Hart but that doesn't matter yet. Going back to the very very beginning Richard Rogers was born to Mamie and Dr. William Abrahams Rodgers in Arverne, Queens, New York City. He began piano at age six and composed some of his first songs in his teenage years. He studied at Columbia University where he eventually transferred to the Institute of Musical Art now known as Juliard and in 1919 Rogers met Lorenz Hart, there you see Rodgers and Hart now it matters. The two of them over the next couple of years went on to write several mediocre musical comedies struggling in that field. However eventually they broke out Rogers having said to have believed the song “Manhattan” made their names known. They worked on more broadway shows and also worked in Hollywood looking for greener pastures however their last show, By Jupiter marked the ending of Rodgers and Hart partnership and the beginning of something much bigger. On the other hand Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II was born in New York City, the son of Alice Hammerstein (née Nimmo) and theatrical manager William Hammerstein. His father though a theatrical person was opposed to is son going into the arts and pushed him to study law at Columbia University. When he was 19 his father died of Bright’s disease. After his father's death  he went on to write and star in several shows eventually making it to broadway with first musial, Always, You. Throughout the next 40 years he collaborated with many people doing lyrics and book writing the huge theatrical breakthrough that is often credited as the first book musical, Show Boat which would lead to the creation of Oklahoma! Among all of those collaborations though was his most famous, Richard Rodgers


 

The Dirt Road To Oklahoma!

The idea for Oklahoma came about when The Theatre Guild produced Lynn Rigg’s play Green Grow The Lilacs. The play was rather unsuccessful however ten years later Theresa Helburn co director of the guild saw a production done with folk music and square dances seeing it she had the idea to revive the struggling guild using a musical of the play. She contacted Rodgers and Hart who were interested in doing it. Rodgers asked Hammerstein as well to collaborate in the process who had said a few years earlier in By Jupiters if Hart were unavailable to work he would gladly step in and soon Rogers decided to take Hammerstein up on his offer after Hart overcome by alcoholism and no desire to write anymore forced the two to split paths. Rodgers and Hammerstein was born and the two worked incredibly well together.They both preferred to write lyrics before music and the new risky partnership proved to be a success as the two frequently agreed with each other and decided to an incredibly innovative move that music should dictate the source material, a change from the usual style of the time. They both got to work and soon Lynn Rigg’s Green Grow The Lilacs started to turn into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, Away We Go?

 

From Territory To State

Yes, the show wasn’t given the name, Oklahoma! Until right up into its opening on Broadway.It was originally titled Away We Go. A lot less memorable isn’t it? Once the show had its music layed down and its story ready to be performed the two got to work on casting it and bringing the whole thing to life. Roles in musicals at the time were generally filled by actors who could sing but Rodgers and Hammerstein instead chose to cast singers who would act. Director Theresa Helburn suggested they cast Shirley Temple as Laurey, and Groucho Marx as Ali Hakim. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein pushed for performers more appropriate to the show as a result no stars were cast, a very unusual thing at the time.The show ended up being choreographed by Agnes de Mille a ballet choreographer who never had worked on broadway up until them. Agnes de Mille decided to cast dancers based on talent rather than looks another very unusual and innovative thing for time. She also added in one of the shows most famous features, The act 1 finale or The Dream Ballet. The show opened with out of town tryouts at New Havens, Shubert Theatre on March 11th, 1943, expectations were low with the musical not being a comedy and Hammerstein having worked on 5 flops in a row. After the number, “Oklahoma!” was added which also gave the show opened on March 31st 1943 and despite review initially being just fair. Oklahoma on broadway was an unexpected and unprecedented hit.

 

Oklahoma! To Broadway and Beyond

The musical soon was frequently sold out with enormous lines in order to buy tickets. Never had a musical became so successful as Oklahoma! In a time where the most successful musicals ran 400-500 performances, Oklahoma! By the end of its 5 year run had done 2,212 performances. It wasn’t until My Fair Lady in 1956 a show beat it out for longest running musical. It still stands today as the 31st longest running broadway show of all time. It was safe to say Oklahoma was a smash hit. Originally consisting of Alfred Drake as Curly, Joan Roberts as Laurey, Celeste Holm as Ado Annie, Howard Da Silva as Jud Fry, Betty Garde as Aunt Eller, Lee Dixon as Will Parker, and Joseph Buloff as Ali Hakim. Just one year later the first of several National US Tours began and in 1945 the US sponsored the show to perform for troops in the war, The show had the first of 4 broadway revivals in 1951 and another just two years later in 1953 for the tenth anniversary. A production also opened in the West End in 1947 being the first postwar wave of musicals to reach the West End. There was then another broadway revival in 1979 at The Palace Theatre which was directed by William Hammerstein, Oscars son. The show also had two West End revivals one in 1980 and 1998 this cast featured little known at the time Hugh Jackman as Curly Mclain who would go on to star as The Wolverine and eventually return to musicals with Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman. There have also been many London tours. Another Broadway revival opened in 2002. The show has also been done in Japan as well as in Sand Springs, Oklahoma The Discoveryland theatre would show the musical nightly over summers from 1977 until 2011 eventually causing Mary Rogers and William Hammerstein to designate the theatre the, “National Home of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!”

Oklahoma also had a film adaption in 1955, seven years after the original broadway production though it was produced with Samuel Goldwyn it was the first movie musical of its time where direction was in complete control of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The movie was one of the firsts to be shot in Todd-AO. The film omitted the songs “Lonely Room” and “It's a Scandal! It's an Outrage!” and sensored several lyrics to pass movie ratings. It went on to win 3 oscars for Best Music, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Best Sound.  Between being the first musical to have a record released with the original broadway cast, the incredible success of both the musical and the movie. Oklahoma! Went for a critics choice for failure to the biggest musical of its day but it did a lot more than just acquire fame. It expanded on the previous idea of a book musical set down by shows like Show Boat And created a new standard, a new artform all together- Musical Theatre.

 

The legacy of Oklahoma! 75 year later

I’ve set out to show you the history of musical theatre and to start anywhere else would be silly. Although the credit for the first book musical typically goes to Show Boat, Oklahoma! Is the breakthrough of everything happening in theatre in the 1930-30’s. I’ve mentioned before a lot about war and it should be a friendly reminder that when Oklahoma opened it was only two years past Pearl Harbour and America entering the war. A time marked with The Great Depression and people looking for an escape within the theatre from the struggles of everyday life, was coming to an end and even though these problems and more loomed over people’s head. It was time for America to grow up and face its problems head on and that’s all the same for musical theatre. I know when I mention Oklahoma! It certainly doesn’t come to mind as a serious play, but for the time it was. It came down simply to Oklahoma! wasn’t a comedy. When Jud threatened to kill Curly it wasn’t for laughs it was real. There were real stakes and real drama and the music and dance rather than show off for the audience reflected that. It was used simply to drive forward the plot. When Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to put the source material first and work off of that it was maybe the best decision they ever made. The book musical, a thing that thankfully nowadays doesn’t even need to be said was finally here to stay. Rodgers and Hammerstein would go on to make some of the most well known broadway musicals of all time like Carousel and The Sound Of Music. Hammerstein would go on to mentor another well known composer Stephen Sondheim. They worked on countless shows and helped establish a new artform known as musical theatre. Oscar Hammerstein II died on August 23rd 1960 and Richard Rogers died on December 30th, 1979. There legacy is unfathomable and some would argue they are the best Broadway composers of all time. Oklahoma! though nowadays perceived as an old out of date musical is maybe one of the most inspirational and important musicals of all time. Oklahoma! and definitely Rodgers and Hammerstein helped created musical theatre. It’s possible to argue that without them no musicals today would exist and Broadway would look a lot different. Agnes de Mille helped tear down the chorus line by being one of the first to cast by talent instead of looks. The dream ballet was used quite a bit throughout shows after Oklahoma though isn’t used much anymore. Oklahoma this year is 75 years old. It celebrated the anniversary of its opening night 5 days ago and still 75 years on its frequently performed and a staple of the golden age of Broadway. To most it issued in the golden age of Broadway. The show led to the creation of many others that would go on to inspire those after it and through that line we eventually get to today and what broadway looks like now. We’ll continue down that line by discussing a show that took large amounts of inspiration from Oklahoma! And went on to inspire countless musicals of its own, all that and more Next time on. The History Of: Broadway And The Musicals That Call It Home

 

Heres three quick little Oklahoma facts that I didn’t get the chance to discuss

-The song “Oklahoma!” is in fact the state song of Oklahoma

-There are a lot of parodies of Oklahoma in popular culture, I will leave you to look those up

-For a very long time the peddler Ali Hakim was played by a white man, although its said multiple times he’s persian. That's the 40’s for you and basically every era up until the civil rights movement.

Do you want to go see Oklahoma! now? Not sure where it’s playing? Well luckily for you I might have a solution

The Marriott Theatre in Illinois April 11 - June 10, 2018- http://www.marriotttheatre.com/

Derby Dinner Playhouse in Kentucky April 11th - May 27th, 2018 https://derbydinner.com/show/oklahoma/

Iowa State University April 5th - April 8th http://www.theatre.iastate.edu/

Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota July 13th - July 29th  https://www.blackhillsplayhouse.com/

Bauxite High School in Arizona April 13th - April 15th 2018

Fort Frye High School in Ohio May 10th - May 12th

Even more listed at http://www.rnh.com/more-productions.html?item_id=OK



Hint for the next article:

Our next musical recently had a high school version premier at the International Thespian Festival last year. What musical am I talking about? Hope you can find out, until then shout a yipeekayay! Your doing fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, Oklahoma, Yeow!


 

Picture credits- Courtesy of Rodgers & Hammerstein: A Concord Music Company, www.rnh.com

 

Lost in Translation- The Art of Translating a Musical

Jonathan Fong

As a specimen of the rare breed that is the international Broadway aficionado, the majority of my exposure to musical theatre has been from various international tours and regional productions; I’ve been fortunate enough to have productions of such well-known musicals as Wicked, Evita, Cats, and more swing by my humble abode of Macau (or Hong Kong, which is close enough for me to go, see a show, and be back for dinner). Now, while most of these productions have been English-language replications of the original productions of the musicals in question, quite a few have, in fact, been translations into the native language here where I live - Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese). These translations have intrigued me for as long as I’ve been a thespian; I find the way by which they adapt the source material of a musical for its new audience in a new language to be fascinating. Note that I say adapt, not convert - these translations are never simply a direct conversion of the work into a new language and to describe them as such would be a devaluation of the translation itself. Rather, each translation is the result of a creative process in itself, through which the musical is brought to a new audience in a new light altogether.

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Of course, translations should, obviously, keep the musical itself intact; Elphaba should still defy gravity, while Roger and Mimi should still struggle with AIDS. Well, isn’t the best way to preserve the work to directly translate the work, thus preserving every part of it? While such translations might retain, in a literal sense, the basic traits of the musical, most of the time they do so, sadly, at the cost of the artistic characteristics of a musical - subtle yet powerful things such as wordplay, idioms, rhymes, and more become, at best, ‘just another line’; at worst, completely nonsensical. Indeed, it is not just the literal, but the underlying essence - the intent and meaning - of a work that must be preserved; yet, there is no consensus as to what exactly ‘preserving the essence’ of a work entails. Indeed, when looking at translations, one must remember that languages are not merely generic tools for communication, differing only in, say, how you write words or perhaps where you put them in a sentence; rather, languages are products of the culture they originate from, with the most effective translations being assimilations and acculturations rather than simple conversions.

Of course, there are the basics - for instance, verb tenses may differ (some languages, like Spanish, have several different tenses or verb forms for something expressed using just one tense in English), while words and phrases may exist in one language that have no equivalent in any other language nor that possess the same effect when used in a different cultural context. Effective translations, in this regard, may not be verbatim nor say exactly what the original text does; however, what they do retain is the effective intent and meaning of what is being translated. For instance, the Spanish translation of Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’, used in Wicked’s 2013 Mexican production, rather than directly translating the famous lyric “So if you care to find me, look to the western sky”, instead phrased the lyric as “Voy hacia el horizonte donde se pierde el mar” (in English - “I’m going to the horizon where the sea disappears”), which, while not being an exact translation (and removing the reference to Elphaba being the Wicked Witch of the West), captures the underlying meaning of what the lyric is trying to say, thus allowing the audience to not just hear, but understand what is being said to the same extent as an audience seeing Wicked in English.

There are also, of course, the factors of alliteration, assonance, and rhyme schemes, each powerful literary devices used in song, rap, and more - the effectiveness of these literary and musical characteristics, and the impact should they be lost, should not be underestimated. Rhymes, assonance, and more allow songs and the spoken word to flow fluidly, in a way ‘guiding’ the audience’s ear and mind through a song. I find that in this regard, effective translations will generally aim to either preserve the original rhyme scheme or assonance of the work through clever word choice and/or wordplay or replace the original with a suitable yet different rhyme scheme or assonance which flows with the original melody or rhythm of the work. An example of this can, again, be seen in the Spanish translation of Wicked, with the first two lines of the final verse being translated as:

 

Voy hacia el horizonte donde se pierde el mar

Un mago me predijo llegará tu hora volar

 

(In English:

I’m going to the horizon where the sea disappears

As the magician/wizard predicted, my time to fly has come)

 

If the original English lyric of “look to the western sky” were to be directly translated, the last word of the phrase would likely be ‘oeste’ (Spanish for ‘west’), which, unlike ‘mar’ (Spanish for ‘sea’), doesn’t rhyme with ‘volar’, the Spanish word for ‘fly’ (or ‘to fly’); thus, the use of ‘mar’ not only preserves, as described prior, the meaning of the lyric itself but also the rhythmic flow of the song.

In some cases, even the very pronunciation rules of the language into which a work is translated can be entirely different. For instance, tonal languages such as Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and more, which are common particularly in Asia, use different ‘tones’, or pitch inflections, to determine (combined with context) what is being said - to put it simply, if you get the tones wrong, people won’t be able to understand you due to the sheer number of characters/phrases which share tones but have different meanings; in Mandarin, for example, you could end up gravely insulting someone’s mother instead of simply stating the Chinese term for a type of horse. This has the effect of, to put it lightly, really screwing with translations of musical works written in non-tonal languages like English (as the majority of musicals are) whose melodies don’t take the use of any sort of phrasal tone into consideration. Effective translations of works into such languages will take into consideration the tones being used, choosing words, phrases, and/or characters effectively to not only preserve the rhyming, assonance, and more of the original (as described above), but also allow the tones to ‘flow’ smoothly and aid audience comprehension; this is far easier said than done, of course, as there are only so many ways you can convey an idea or concept through language. Indeed, the best translations of musicals take in consideration not just the literary but also the musical characteristics of the musical, allowing them maintain both meaning and rhyme/assonance without significant loss in comprehension by ensuring the ‘tones’ are not overly disrupted by the melody and rhythm and vice versa. A particularly effective example of this, which I actually saw live myself, would be the Mandarin Chinese translation of Cats, used in the 2012 Chinese tour of the feline musical; for instance, the following lyrics from the song ‘Journey to the Heaviside Layer’ were translated as such:

 

ENGLISH:

Up, up, up, past the Russell Hotel

Up, up, up, up, to the Heaviside Layer

CHINESE:

飛,飛,飛,越過高高山巔 (Fēi, fēi, fēi, yuèguò gāo gāoshān diān)

插上翅膀飛到九重高天 (Chā shàng chìbǎng fēi dào jiǔchóng gāo tiān)

 

While the use of ‘飛’ (pronounced Fēi; meaning ‘fly’) for ‘up’ rather than the equivalent direct translation of ‘up’ (上; pronounced Shàng) may seem like a simple poetic choice of phrasing, it actually allows the melody to be sung more naturally. The vocal melody of the song calls for ‘Up, up, up’, or rather ‘飛, 飛, 飛’, to be sung on the same note without variation; as ‘上’ (Shàng) is pronounced with a falling tone (pitch decreasing as the character is pronounced), it thus conflicts with the melody due to it grammatically requiring a change in pitch. On the other hand, ‘飛’ (Fēi ) is pronounced with a level tone (staying on the same pitch throughout the character’s pronunciation); thus, its use not only retains the original underlying meaning of ‘ascension’ or ‘rising’ of the lyric but also makes comprehension of the phrase easier for the audience.

Last but certainly not least, the cultural appeal of a translation must be considered. To consider any work of musical theatre, and hence any translation of a musical, entirely independent of cultural factors and relevance is, simply, ignorant - every musical has its own cultural references and allusions which may appeal to its original audience but not to the audience of a translated version of itself; the most effective translations I’ve seen are the ones who have managed to successfully account for cultural factors. An example of this is, once again, the aforementioned Mandarin Chinese translation of Cats - for example, in the original English version of Cats, the song ‘Bustopher Jones’ makes reference to several foods typical of English pub fare, such as curry, mutton, and rice pudding. These are, for obvious reasons, quite unfamiliar to a Chinese audience; thus, they were changed in translation to more common staples of typical Chinese cuisine, such as steamed dumplings (小籠包), roast duck (燒鴨), and more. Thus, the audience were able to relate on a personal and cultural level with the translation to the same degree as the original audience could with the original English version of Cats (and laugh along just as hard - the changes brought down the house when I saw it, at least).

Indeed, to effectively translate a musical is to balance the changes and modifications necessary to satisfy and negate each of these factors - underlying meaning, rhyming/assonance, and culture - with the artistic, literary, and musical characteristics of the musical itself, thus making the musical just as effective for its new audience as it was for its old. Only thus can a musical be truly, fully, and completely translated without anything, whether it be meaning, cultural relevance, or literary/musical characteristics, being lost in translation.

Big News: Two Surprise Closings

In a stunning announcement today producers of two of the staple shows on Broadway made a surprise announcement of abrupt closings. Producers of Hamilton announced that they will be closing and having their last show on July 1st. This coincides with Lin announcing he's writing a new musical about the Founding Fathers of Canada. Sources say that the working title of this musical is something a long the lines of "Why are Canadian Politics so Much More Boring; Nobody Can Rap to This." This isn't the only piece of news. Until Lin's new work is ready for production a revival of "Spiderman Turn Off the Dark" will be occupying the Richard Rogers theatre. More details to follow.

Following the Hamilton announcement producers of Phantom of the Opera announced that they will be closing up around the same time as Hamilton. When asked about it Webber said he has a spin off musical of the smash hit Cats which is also partially based off of an Animal Planet docudrama in the works that will be opening this fall. He was close to the vest about this but there's speculation that the show is "MeerCats Manor: The Musical" Until this opens it is believed that there will be a limited engagement of a brand new musical about a man who is missing the right part of his rear end entitled "Left Behind." More details to follow.

We will continue to update you guys on both of these stories and more as more information becomes available.

 

Photo by fabitz/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by fabitz/iStock / Getty Images

Nothing Without You

Rachel Hoffman

One of the most beautiful moments I have experienced is the moment before a show begins. The house goes dark and the audience is holding its breath, anticipating the first note from the orchestra. All eyes are fixed on a stage that is empty, but soon to be full of life.

During this brief moment between silence and song, between darkness and light, I like to glance at the people sitting around me. Gathered in one room are people of all ages, races, political stances, and religions. Yet, in this moment, all have the same desire: to see a beautiful work of art.

This past summer, I auditioned for and was cast as the role of Julie in my community theater’s young adult production of The Theory of Relativity by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. Theory is a mix between a musical and a revue- audience members don’t realize that the seemingly unrelated scenes and songs have actually been connected to each other all along until the very end. The show centers around the theme “I am nothing without you,” a phrase that may seem simple on the outside, but ended up having more meaning to me than I could have imagined.

I was both excited and intimidated when the cast list came out. I knew I was the only cast member who hadn’t done a show at this particular theater before. I recognized a few names from school and other activities, but I wasn’t close friends with any of them. I knew that there were already close bonds and friendships between many of my castmates, and I also knew that I was entering a world where I might be viewed as an outsider. I was worried that my differences would prevent me from feeling like a true part of the cast, and that I’d spend the next two months feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome.

My worries turned out to be incredibly illegitimate. While a love of theatre may have been all I had in common with some of my castmates, I discovered that just like the characters we were portraying, we needed each other. Sure, on the stage, the need may have been surface level- without each of us, the show would cease to exist. But as we dug deeper into the show, I realized that “I am nothing without you,” meant more than just my role as an actor. In the show, many of our characters had never met each other, and yet their lives were changed by the others. In the same way, I began to realize how many people that I haven’t even met have probably impacted my life. I can conjure a picture in my head of a person who I believe is the exact opposite of me. And yet, there’s a good chance that this person, who I have never met, has changed my life in some way. “I am nothing without you,” means that if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be the same as I am today, even if I have never met you.

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The cast of The Theory of Relativity performing at Beatrice Community Players, August 2017

This isn’t to say that I became best friends with the rest of the cast immediately. Rather, I felt that because we all had the same goal- to create and perform art for someone who may need to hear our message- it was easy to look past the things that made us different. Instead of noticing the things that set me apart, I began to notice the things that connected me to the others. Maybe we liked the same bands or books. Maybe we’d played the same sports, or liked the same bad movies. I began to understand that humans are more alike than we are different.

But “I am nothing without you” goes beyond the stage. I believe that this same phenomenon happens between any group of people that come together with a common goal. In the theater, this also applies to the audience members. The actors on stage all need each other to create their art. But in the same way, the members of the audience need each other. Two people from completely different backgrounds can sit next to each other and experience joy or heartbreak simultaneously. When you experience a beautiful work of art, and the person next to you is experiencing the same emotion, for a moment, it doesn’t matter what makes you different from that person. In that moment, all that matters is that you are both human, and you are both able to feel. You may leave the theater not knowing that person’s story. Had you met outside the theater, they may have been your best friend or your worst enemy. But either way, their life impacts yours, just as yours does theirs. Without the person next to you, your life could be completely different.

I truly believe that my love of theatre has helped me grow into a more kind, compassionate, and accepting person. I feel that I’m more slow to judge, and much more quick to think, “I need this person in order to be alive.” Without each other, we would just be a speck on a marble. Without each other, we’re nothing. I am nothing without you.

“You’re a reflection of me: I reverberate; you reply. If I have a purpose, if I count at all, you are why. You measure, compare, you make me aware that I’m neither small nor obscure. I’m alive. You make sure.”

 

 

Les Miserables: A Timeless Treasure

Taylour
 

Everyone remembers seeing their favorite musical for the first time live, for most of us theatre lovers it is honestly the experience of a lifetime. There is something so powerful, so emotional, so special about seeing the show that you care so much for live, and for a variety of reasons. For me, that very special experience was Les Misérables. Les Misérables has very well been my favorite musical since I first became a fan of theatre. I remember randomly coming across the 25th Anniversary Concert on the television channel PBS where they were playing it in December of 2010. I watched it out of pure curiosity, and 8 years later, I am so glad I did. Since then I had always been hoping and dreaming of seeing a production of it live. I wasn’t able to make any of the recent Broadway revival performances, so that desire only grew. Now recently, that dream became a reality. On March 4, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan, my biggest dream had come true. Here I will be talking about the incredible cast of the current 5th National Tour (yes, this is Les Mis’s 5th United States Tour) and why I hope they will touch the lives of people all over the country, just like they touched mine. If you haven’t seen Les Misérables, I, one, invite you to watch the 25th Anniversary Concert and the 2012 Film to gain a better understanding of the show, and two, to read with caution as I will be posting some mentions of the story, which can contain spoilers and character deaths.

Let me first mention, that even though this is the same story as previous tours, the re-staging is different. Back in 2010 Laurence Connor wanted to “re-imagine” Les Misérables for newer audiences for the 25th Anniversary, so the ever famous turning table was taken out of the production (I have heard it said it was easier to tour) and some of the sets were changed around. Being a mega fan of the show, I was very worried. However, having seen it in person that pre-conceived mindset I had was gone. It was done absolutely wonderfully, the choreography to make up for the loss of movement was brilliant. Without boring everyone with the technicalities, I would love to mention the movement of the barricade. It was brought in from both sides of the stage and covered the entire stage of The Fisher Theatre here in Detroit (which is honestly a pretty big theatre with a large stage to match). The choreography of The Final Battle in Act 2 being done so timely, with the barricade boys being shot, and them falling backwards to mark that significance of their death, and with the character of Enjolras falling forward to signify that something indeed happened to him, and it was only made aware to us, as the audience, that he did indeed get shot when one of Javert’s Constables brought around a cart, in which we see Enjolras hanging from it, our worst fears confirmed. Another thing I want to quickly mention, in the song “Turning” which is a song that is some of the females of Paris sing about the lost barricade boys, they lay down candles for the boys (one candle per boy) and during the following song “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” the boys come out and pick up the candles and walk away, a chilling but tear wrenching parallel. Another thing I loved that they did was during “The Epilogue” after Fantine and Eponine introduce Valjean to heaven, The Bishop from the beginning of the show meets him, hugs him, and shows Valjean everyone who is there. To me, that parallel tied the show together perfectly.

At my performance, I had a few understudy and swings on, as some of the cast was off sick (also Joshua Grosso with a minor foot injury, healing power to him), but I cannot praise these understudies enough. Let’s move right along!

I had the immense honor of seeing the Valjean understudy, cleverly nicknamed 24602, Steve Czarnecki. Not only was it, dare I say, awesome, to see an understudy for the main role, it was insanely special to see Steve, as he is from Michigan, so having that hometown represent was amazing to witness. Steve is an incredible Valjean. He carried the show so well, with a powerful voice to match. Whenever the story changed directions, Steve went right along with it and did it in a smooth way. His voice is booming (his Bring Him Home left me absolutely breathless, if I wasn’t already crying him alone would have reduced me to baby tears). His on-stage chemistry with every one of his castmates was wonderful, nothing felt awkward in any scene. He dominated the stage, and everyone went right along with it. He played Valjean as so caring about others, and he made Valjean soft when he needed to be, powerful when he needed to be, and in charge when he needed to be. Something I would love to add, that in The Epilogue, he made Valjean hurting, emotional and soft, he didn’t use the power in his voice for this scene like I have heard previous Valjean’s do in show’s past. That just made the finale so much more sad and beautiful, and I give my hat off to Mr. Czarnecki and his performance as Valjean. He knew exactly what to do and when, all while making it enjoyable.

Photo by DaydreamsGirl/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by DaydreamsGirl/iStock / Getty Images

Josh Davis was on for Javert and he was born for this role. When I read the novel (cleverly nicknamed The Brick by fans), I had this perfect mental image of how Javert acts, looks, and would ultimately sing, and before this nobody has ever come close to that. Josh was the perfect embodiment of Javert. He was passionate, hard, and never went soft like I have heard some Javert’s do. But, he didn’t make him angry. There’s a line between passion and anger with this kind of role, and Josh never crossed it. His voice is once again powerful, and when he was on stage, you listened. He MADE you listen. His “Stars” was absolutely amazing, with that passion right along with it. His scenes with Steve were also enjoyable, as they were such contradictions of another, with Steve’s Valjean having that caring aspect I had mentioned, and Josh having that I’m going to do whatever it takes attitude, and that is why their scenes together were so enjoyable. Their “The Confrontation” was also incredible to witness, with them running over the stage, both of their voices, as powerful as they are, mixing so well together but still being able to hear both. Also a huge round of applause for his final song “Javert’s Soliloquy”, he never once doubted the choice he was going to make, just like he made his Javert noble and confident in his choices, this song wrapped up his portrayal perfectly.

Now, on to Melissa Mitchell as Fantine. You might be familiar with her if you were a fan/were familiar with the recent Broadway revival. From 2014-2015 she was the understudy for Cosette and then from 2015-2016 she was the understudy for Fantine, before ultimately landing the principal spot on Tour. By the time this is published, Melissa would have played her final performance as Fantine (her last performance being March 18, 2018), but enough good things cannot be said about her portrayal. Fantine is my personal favorite character in the novel and musical, and Melissa played her with such perfection, such grace, such determination, I honestly have no words besides beautiful to describe Melissa. Melissa’s Fantine was so determined to do whatever it took for Cosette, much like Josh with Javert, she never once doubted her decisions. Until the very end, her one thought was for her daughter, and that is the true definition of a mother. A quick note of Melissa’s voice, her I Dreamed a Dream is the best rendition of the song I have ever heard. She never once let it drop to a sappy song, she kept it up a power ballad and kept up the fury of what she had happen to her, and she never once was sad or upset about it. Her Fantine was so strong, and she never went down the “giving up” path, until the very end, she never gave up. Her voice and her acting showed that, and that is why I believe Melissa was the epitome of Fantine.

 

Given that Emily Bautista had just started as Eponine two weeks prior to my seeing her and that I haven’t heard much of her before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew she had just left the recent Broadway Revival of Miss Saigon as the understudy to Kim, but to say I was blown away by her performance as Eponine is an understatement. She played her in a way that I personally have never seen or heard. She was very consistent with her emotions all throughout her time on stage, and she had a lot of chemistry with Robert Ariza, who was on for Marius. To show her “flirting” with Marius, she would get physical with Marius (by physical I mean pushing slightly, having that “oh I don’t like you” attitude, etc.) and would be playful with him as well. I have never seen that and was delightfully entertained by it. She played Eponine so even though to Marius she had the previously mentioned “oh no I don’t like YOU” attitude, it was obvious she had some sort of crush on him, whereas Robert played it to the brother/sister extent, so those two parallels were very nice to see. Her “On My Own” was absolutely spectacular, her voice was large and filled up the entire theatre, and she belted her way through the song which I absolutely loved. I know it is up to the individual on how to deliver the line “all my life, I’ve only been pretending” but most Eponine’s riff it, she just belted all the way through it, and it was spectacular. Her last big note was wonderful and she sang it so effortlessly, a huge bravo to her. Something I couldn’t see very well due to distance, but not only was her acting spot on during “A Little Fall of Rain” (she sang the song all while making it known that she was dying and was shot), but as she was about to die, it seemed she went in to kiss Marius as she died. If so, that is something I personally haven’t seen since 2010 in London when Nancy Sullivan did that with Alistair Brammer.

Another use of that understudy magic, is Robert Ariza. Robert was just about the most happy, most excited Marius I have ever heard. In Act 1, he was just filled with SO much joy as Marius, especially with his scenes with Cosette. Something I just loved that he did was during “In My Life” when he went to Cosette’s window and began throwing stones ala Romeo and Juliet style (again thanks to the re-staging). When she came out for a second then popped back in (which we, as an audience, knew she was coming to meet Marius), he was flustered and kind of laughed his line of “I’m doing everything all wrong” and kind of hit his head, it was the small things like that that Robert did that I just loved so much. Then in Act 2, during the barricade scenes, he really made Marius more attentive and focused, even having Enjolras kind of demanding Marius to rest before “Drink with Me.” Then when it came time for “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” you could feel his hurt, his guilt and his regret that he was still alive. Robert absolutely made you feel the emotions that Marius was feeling during that time, and it was not only beautiful, but also haunting. Robert knows how to sing with emotions and he did not once let that talent go to waste. Every time there needed to be something felt, he made you feel it. It wasn’t only resonated in his voice, but felt inside the person. Whether it be joy, happiness, or hurt and pain, Robert made you feel what he was portraying for his Marius to feel. Also something I would love to add, as I had mentioned with the candles during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” towards the end, all of the barricade boys had backed up, except Enjolras, who was holding his candle out still to Marius, so it was Marius singing to his memory of Enjolras, and even though Mike Schwitter was just standing still and Robert singing to him, that was another example of where his sadness was felt in you.

Jillian Butler was absolutely BORN to play Cosette. She sang with such ease, it came so natural for her. She never once overdid any of the notes that were given to her, it was just perfection. A little thing that she did in “In My Life” was when Marius did his thing after Cosette ran down (about him delivering the line and hitting his head) Cosette came up behind up, coughed and went “ahem” in the cutest way, it was a touching moment to see that. Jillian’s Cosette was playful and so filled with joy and life, and was so soft and sweet as well. Jillian just put so much into her portrayal of Cosette, I wish she was on stage more so I could praise Jillian some more. She was just born to play her, and they are truly one in the same.

Another super understudy-by super I mean he covers both Marius AND Enjolras- that I saw for the latter, was Mike Schwitter. Besides Fantine, Enjolras is my absolute favorite character in the show, and Mike just set the bar so high for him. The way Mike plays off of the Les Amis (aka the barricade boys), is so individual to the boys, all while him being in charge of everything. He made for such a passionate Enjolras, his voice commanded the stage whenever every time he was on which is what I love about the character. Mike made you listen to what was happening, and made you want to follow. Personally, I love it when an Enjolras belts more because the passion shines more, and Mike did that really well. I believe Mike was born to play Enjolras somehow, he played him to a tee. He never made his Enjolras defeated at the barricade, even going into The Final Battle, he kept the passion and spirit up, and he literally fought until the last possible second. Mike’s voice combined with his acting makes for the perfect recipe for Enjolras, one in which was such a joy to watch. Such a powerful voice for a powerful role, and he dominated every scene he was in. You would have never known that earlier in the week he debuted his Enjolras, it seemed that he has been playing the role for ages. He understood the character as well as Melissa understood Fantine, and dare I say this, but his Enjolras is truly iconic. I honestly could go on and on about how spot on Mike played Enjolras, it was truly spectacular.

The Thenardier’s were absolutely hilarious. Thenardier being played by J. Anthony Crane, and Madame Thenardier being played by Allison Guinn, they were just so funny and were the best scene partners for another. J. Anthony just made me laugh so much, I love that during “The Bargain” he kept with the “darling Colette” line, the way he said it so confidently was hilarious. He brought so much life into the character, I have never been a fan of Thenardier, but J. Anthony made me love him so much, because he didn’t play him off as silly as some Thenardier’s are played. He played him off as a real person who just didn’t care and had this “I’ll do whatever I want” attitude. Also, right before “Master of the House” he yelled to Madame Thenardier “I should’ve married your sister!” and I have never heard that done, so to have that just made me laugh so much. He really has a blast on stage with his Thenardier, his comedic timing on everything is perfect, and he didn’t try to be funny with his Thenardier. He just WAS funny. Allison as Madame Thenardier was equally as hilarious and her comedic timing was equally as perfect. She ad-libbed a lot throughout, and it worked so well. She made her Madame Thenardier absolutely not give any cares towards Cosette or her husband’s inn, she knew what she was doing however. Also before “The Bargain” when Valjean walked in with Cosette, she was trying to…you know…get Valjean’s “attention”, and her physical comedy in that scene was so funny. She was all over the stage and she just had a blast with the character. These 2 together are a masterpiece and really complete another in the roles.

A quick special shout to The Les Amis aka the barricade boys. Every one of them played their respective roles so well, and with such ease. They absolutely knew what they were doing, and made me really care about The Amis which I was hoping too, as when I watched the concerts and film I always looked forward to them. A quick shoutout to Brett Stoelker for being an awesome Feuilly. He is one of my favorite barricade boys and Brett’s voice was absolutely wonderful for Feuilly’s line in “Drink with Me.” I would have loved to see Brett in the rest of his barricade boy tracks, as I am sure he is equally as wonderful as the rest of the boys, but for now, his Feuilly absolutely nailed it with an equally as spectacular voice to match. Finally a last note to Matthew Moisey as Grantaire. He played him with such an ease and in Act 1, he made his Grantaire so unbothered by the upcoming events, and he really hammed up his Grantaire. Then, his “Drink with Me” was so heartbreaking, you could hear the fear in his voice of the events, and how he was actually scared of what would happen. He was the best Grantaire I have ever heard, he understood the character so incredibly well, and he made you feel his Grantaire emotions as well.

If you made it this far then congrats! In all honesty though, this cast of Les Misérables had made my first time seeing the show live so memorable and so incredible. This show has helped me through some hard times personally, so this meant everything to me. If you are a hardcore fan of Les Mis, then this cast will not disappoint you. They are the strongest cast of the musical I have ever heard, absolutely nobody is a weak link, and they will leave you breathless and speechless like they left me. I hope everyone has the chance to see this amazing company and this beautiful show. It truly is spectacular and should be seen at least once in everyone’s life.

Maintaining Your Vocal health

 

As a singer and performer, your voice is your instrument. If your instrument breaks, you cannot go out and buy a new one so it is incredibly important to protect your voice. In order to give the correct information, I have attended voice health works shops, done my own personal research and also conducted an interview with a professional opera singer (Missie) who had vocal polyps. We will also discuss the most common types of vocal issues, how to prevent this, but also what to do if you happen to have any of these. First of all, how do our voices work?  Above our trachea (the windpipe), we have a fleshy structure known as the vocal folds, sometimes also referred to as vocal cords, except these really aren’t “cords” at all.

Photo by janulla/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by janulla/iStock / Getty Images

The vocal folds vibrate together to create sound. They can vibrate up to 1000 times per second which is what creates the sound we hear when we sing. If we misuse our voice, we can run into to some dehibilitating issues with our voices. There are three common vocal fold injuries that can occur by the simple things we do in our daily life: Polyps, nodes, and hemorrhaging.

The most common causes for these injuries are:

·         Singing/talking way too much

·         Coughing/ sneezing

·         Tension in the voice

·         Stress

·         Yelling

·         Acid reflux

 

HOW TO NOTICE IF YOU MAY HAVE ANY OF THESE ISSUES AND WHEN TO GET CHECKED OUT

·         If you have been hoarse for two weeks or more, it is time to get checked out by a voice specialized laryngologist. If they are certified to work with singers, they will be able to help you regain you voice the CORRECT way. It is important to not leave this untreated. Missie left this untreated from May to October and they did not know if she would ever be able to sing again.

·         If there is a SUDDEN voice change

·         If notes that were once easy for you are either not there, sounding squeaky, or hoarse.

·         If your voice consistantly feel tired.

·         Can’t talk as loud as usual

·         Neck or throat discomfort

The surgeries are often very invasive and can result in the removal of part of your vocal folds. Finding the right physician is the most important part in regaining your voice because not all surgery stories end happily. Missie, after recovery, built her range back up and now floats high B’s and C’s. Broadway’s own Julie Andrews (who had vocal nodes) lost her beautiful voice because of an error made in surgery in 1999. One of the most prestigious vocal heath centers in the country is Emory Vocal Heath Center in Georgia. Most of their staff are also singers and they work primarily with singers.

I know it is such a scary thought to lose your voice, so I am going to give you tips and tricks to protect yourself.

·         Hydration is key! Drink primarily water. You need to drink so much water that your pee is either clear or a pale yellow. (TMI, I know) Because the vocal folds are made up of mucous, this is the only way they stay hydrated.

·         Get enough sleep. If you’re tired, you won’t be able to produce a good sound therefore putting unneeded tension on your throat.

·         If you are in a situation where you are talking constantly to a large room like at work, buy a small microphone set so you can project your voice WITHOUT being fatigued. You can buy these for approximately $30 on Amazon.

·         If you HAVE to shout and project, learn to do them right. Use your diaphragm muscles. Breathe from your stomach instead of from you chest. Imagine your stomach is expanding all the way around even into your lower back. You shouls NEVER  yell from the throat.

·         Avoid unnecessary throat clearing.

·         Do a few vocal warm ups as soon as you wake up. These can be light and simple as you are getting dressed. Just something to wake up your voice.

 

Small Warm Ups To Begin Your Day

·         Lip trills

·         Any five note scale on the vowel “Ya”. Keep your jaw nice and loose and sing lightly. Let your jaw drop. Don’t tighten your jaw because that causes tension.

·         Vocal slides—starting at the bottom of your range and slowly and smoothly going up in pitch. Then, try starting from the top and sliding to the bottom of your range.

 

 

Audition Jitters and How to Beat Them

Shilo Nelson

So you've got an audition coming up. Whether this is your first audition or you've had dozens of them, chances are you still have some pesky butterflies in your stomach. I'm going to start by letting you in on a little secret: no matter what you do, you will probably still be nervous. Let yourself be nervous. You're putting yourself out there, and most likely it's for a role that would mean a lot to you. I'm not going to tell you how to not be nervous, but I'm going to tell you how to remain positive and confident in spite of your nerves.

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

The first step is to be prepared. This one is probably obvious. Practice your song and your monologue as much as you can. The more familiar you are with your material, the more confident you will be. If it's for a pre-existing show, listen to the show. If it's a brand new show, read the character descriptions and come up with some ideas of how you'd like to play it.

Sometimes the only people who see your audition are the people you're auditioning for, but especially for dance auditions you may be auditioning with others. Even if you aren't, you'll probably see people warming up and rehearsing. Remember Cathy in "The Last Five Years"? She notices all of the other girls auditioning and can't help comparing herself to them. Depending on who you are, different things will help different people to not compare themselves with others. You could try not to pay attention to them. Focus on your audition and what you are doing. Everyone has something unique that they can bring to a role, including you. If ignoring them doesn't help, or it can't be avoided, make friends! Sometimes we have a tendency to put other performers on a pedestal, but they're all feeling the same nerves. Talk to the other people in the room. Ask them what part they are auditioning for, what was their favourite role, talk about theatre. You're auditioning for the same show so there's a good chance that you'll have something in common.

Remember that you don't know exactly what the director or casting team is looking for. They may have an idea of what they want the character to be, but sometimes even they don't know what they want until they see it.

When you are rehearsing for the audition, critique yourself (get others to critique as well if you want) but here's the catch: don't just talk about what you want to improve on. It's just as important to recognize what you do well. Often when we're nervous about an audition, we are afraid that we will make a mistake. It can be harder to recognize your strong points, but the more you acknowledge them the more you will start to believe them. Figure out how to highlight these strong points in your audition. Do you have amazing comedic timing? Do you have remarkable range? Maybe you can emote your ballad in ways nobody else can. Find the very best of you, and let the casting team see it.

This may seem silly but smile as much as you can (if you're doing a scene or a song that isn't a happy one, obviously portray that), but while you are waiting and while you are introducing yourself, smile. If you look happy and confident, eventually you'll feel it.

Now, what if you don't get the part you want, or don't get in at all? Let yourself be disappointed, just like you let yourself be nervous for the audition. But don't let sadness take over. Auditions are learning experiences. Once you're through grieving, ask yourself what you have learned and what you can take from this audition for next time. On that note, let there be a next time. What I've found helps me most after not getting a part is finding my next opportunity. Give yourself something else to hope for and don't give up.

This is easier said than done, and it was something that I heard many times before it finally sank in, but it's true that there are several factors that contribute to not getting a part. These factors are often things that you as a performer have no control over. It can be hard not to take it personally but keep reminding yourself that it usually isn't personal. Yes, there are directors who play favourites but that's a different matter. A good director will be encouraging. If they say that they want you to keep trying, believe that they mean it! They may have you in mind as a perfect fit for a future project down the road.

Think of your favourite performers, the ones that inspire you. Remember that they have all been there. They still feel those nerves in the audition room, and they still feel the disappointment of not getting a role. That will always be a part of theatre. It is the hardest part, but it's not the end.

 Break a leg, you can do it!

           
           

 

           
           

The Keys to Success: What Makes a Musical Popular?

Darren Wildeman

I’m an outsider to Musical Theatre. Don’t get me wrong I’m definitely a fan. I’m just a more recent convert only becoming a fan in the last three years or so.  Within that three years though I have learned a lot. Two questions I myself have asked a lot is “why and how do certain musicals explode while others are left by the wayside?” Being newer to musical theatre there were some things I had to come to understand first. Things that a lot of people already in the industry or who are fans know but I had to catch up on. I will be touching on some of these things later in this post, however, one possibly even the most important thing I’ve learned is that despite all the formulas, despite the rules, and despite there being some ways that improve a composer’s chances of writing a good musical nobody still really knows what will make a show explode. Some shows follow all the rules and flop, some shows are even very well written and STILL manage to flop (side eyes Bandstand). Then you get some shows that take the rule book, send it through a paper shredder, load up 500 pounds of TNT into said paper shredder, blow it up, dance on the remaining particles, and have the show be a complete success commercially and critically. Which shows fall into these respective categories? Let’s examine some of the booms and busts of recent Broadway history and see if we can narrow it down. As stated earlier, there are definitely some ways composers can help their case, but as you probably know nothing is a sure thing.
 

Here you see a couple of big Broadway hits. Wicked, Jersey Boys, Phantom, and Chicago. Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images

Here you see a couple of big Broadway hits. Wicked, Jersey Boys, Phantom, and Chicago. Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images


Marketability
The first thing we’re going to look at is marketability. What is something that a lot of smash hits have done? They’ve pandered to a specific audience. That’s not to say that only those people can like these shows, however in general they do have more of an appeal to a certain group of people. For our first example of this we’re going to go back to what some people consider to be one of the first smash hits of recent musical theatre history. Some even go as far as to say it helped to save theatre when theatre was struggling. Of course I’m talking about RENT. RENT could qualify as the type of show where it isn’t particularly well written. Many attribute this to the unfortunate passing of Jonathon Larson and that he didn’t get to finish it. Many would also argue that his passing is what led to its success. However, if for a minute we ignore the writing quality, and we put his death to the side, we will see something else. RENT is a musical that a lot of people will say gave a voice to LGBTQ+ people. It gave hope and it made them cry. No, it wasn’t the first musical to display LGBTQ+ characters on stage but for the reason that it celebrated them it captured a main audience. It captured the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters. We’re talking marketability and RENT captured an audience perfectly. It had a fan base to build upon and a group of people who will watch and pay for their show.
 

RENT isn’t the only example of having an audience base. Wicked also did this really well. While they aren’t Disney one could argue that Wicked has very much went the Disney route with its story, design and music. There are obviously some differences between Wicked and Disney, but they employed a very similar strategy. They’re looking to be a family friendly musical that targets kids within the 8-15ish range. Even more specifically the girls in that age range. If they get more fans beyond that more power to them. However, just being a friendly family musical on its own gives it staying power. It’s a show parents could take the kids to for a night out. Let’s face it. How much kid entertainment is there that doesn’t also drive the parents up the wall? Wicked is one of the few things that can entertain both. This is what has given it incredible staying power.

As for the marketability of some flops. Bandstand was a well written show and a lot of people loved it. However, who is it going to reach out to? People who like big band style of music? Possibly, but that music is so out of style it doesn’t exactly have a massive crowd. People who support the military? These people did love this show; but that’s also a vague group to build a fan base around. As well as the fact that a lot of veterans and their families don’t necessarily have the money to go see a show. What about Great Comet? It probably shouldn’t be considered a flop, however it definitely could have done better. Controversy not withstanding- because let’s face it this show was hurting well before any controversy- this show closed fairly early. Again where is the fan base for a show like this? Fans of complicated Russian novels? That’s oddly specific. Fans of that style of music? That style is so unique it would be hard to find people who actively listen to it outside of this show. A lot of these shows don’t necessarily have a specific target audience. Or any audience they could capture is way too small.  Of course targeting one specific group isn’t necessary but it does give composers a fan base to build off.

Music Style
Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, She Loves Me, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, and Wicked. Aside from being box office smashes and/or critically acclaimed pillars of theatre what do these things have in common? They all do one of two things really well musically, if not both. They either build themes that are repeated throughout the show, or they have big powerful songs that just grab the audience. The latter is easier and more direct to talk about. An example of this is Phantom of the Opera. Think of Me, the title song, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, etc. these songs are all rely on a big orchestra and really catch the audience’s attention through beautiful melodies and powerful vocals. Same goes for a song like Defying Gravity. A big powerful song about independence that requires big vocals and big instrumentation. A lot of really popular shows have songs like these.  However, there is one other thing all these shows do well. They weave themes together throughout the show.
Think about how in Les Mis how often you hear the same orchestration or melody come up at different moments, this is quite often a throwback to a similar previous point in the show and is used as either juxtaposition, or comparison and often raises an important plot point. For example Who Am I and One Day More. In both these situations Val Jean is questioning something. They both raise an important plot point. However, in One Day More it isn’t just an important plot point for Val Jean, it’s an important point for ALL the characters in the show. Another very obvious example of this is in Dear Evan Hansen. There is a throwback to Waving Through a Window in Words Fail. He’s reminding himself why he always used to stop himself, why he sees himself the way he does, and why he thinks he’s a failure. Almost all the shows I mentioned in that list do something like this. Into the Woods has multiple reprises that all prove a point or harken back to a previous point of the show. The finale of She Loves Me is a nod to “Vanilla Ice Cream” to help illustrate that George is “dear friend.” There are many other examples of this in the shows I listed but for the sake of the length of this entry I unfortunately need to stop there.

Is all this to say that bad shows or shows that flop don’t do some of this? Not necessarily. Weaving in themes or having very powerful songs is something that pretty much any show these days does. What- you may ask then- is something that bad shows tend to do? Well there are a couple things you can pick up on. For this example we’re going to turn to Amelie. On the first listen the music to Amelie is beautiful. It truly does have a really nice cast album. However, that’s the problem. It only has a nice cast album. You see the music for Amelie doesn’t do much or go anywhere. Sure it still has themes but they aren’t tightly holding the show together like they do in some of the other shows. The music to Amelie is just sort of there. It does good moments. “Halfway There” is a really witty song. Unfortunately though these moments aren’t that common. A lot of the music is just there because the show is a musical. The music is really nice but when you watch it with the story, it doesn’t really do much for it. A lot of successful musicals have the music push the story, not just stop it for a pretty song. Which brings us to another culprit of this. Ghost.

Ghost is another show that also had potential but was really held back by the lyrics especially. With You is one of my favourite theatre songs, and it is full of wonderful tunes. Unfortunately very similarly to Amelie the show stops for a lot of these songs to happen. They don’t push the show, they don’t really move it forward in any way, and they’re just kind of there. For so many musicals this is the kiss of death. Sure some musicals have gotten away with it, but it’s less common. If a musical does get away with doing this, it’s usually because either the show is very strong somewhere else, or they don’t do it to an extreme extent and still manage to keep the plot moving. One of my favourite examples of this is Jekyll and Hyde.

This is a show that is well loved by many people in the community. However it is equally just as criticized for having songs that don’t move the plot. However, a couple of reasons it might be forgiven is because 1. It has a big powerful ballad which a lot of successful musicals have in This is The Moment. And 2. There are moments where there are songs do push the plot really well. The Confrontation in Jekyll and Hyde is brilliantly written. Also His Work and Nothing More is another song that is well written and sounds amazing. So while it isn’t perfect J&H is an example of a show that while it has issues, can still be forgiven by many people in the community.

Originality

How original is your musical? This can mean a variety of things. From music style to story to choreography and many things in between. Look at Hamilton. When he wrote it Lin did a lot of the things I mentioned earlier about themes, reprises, etc. However, he managed to do something quite rare. His story was unique, told in a unique way, with music not often hear on the stage. This post would be 5 pages longer if I dissected Hamilton alone so I’m not going to do that here. However, Lin did so many things differently and tore up a good chunk of the rule book while still doing certain things well that have always been done. He was revolutionary while still tying his whole musical together really well. What have other successful shows done for originality?

Shows like Next to Normal, Fun Home, and Dear Evan Hansen both did something not often seen on Broadway or in society. With mental illness and suicide being so stigmatized it is refreshing to see these topics brought up on stage. When they are they need to be done well or else it appears to be an insensitive train wreck. However, when it is done well people love it. This also ties into the marketability topic. There is a specific crowd that shows like these attract and they have a built in fan base. All three of those shows are in a similar vein but are still so unique in their own way. Fun Home is the story of a lesbian protagonist, Next to Normal deals with bipolar disorder and psychosis, and Dear Evan Hansen deals with anxiety, depression, and day to day life at a highschool. All these things tapped into a market that was relatively untapped.

This paper hasn’t even started on Sondheim yet. Sondheim’s scores sound so different, but like a lot of the other shows he tied them together so well and kept pushing the story along.  His style is something that so many people were unfamiliar with yet it improved the modern musical so much. He is an example of someone that did away with parts of the rulebook completely.  However, what about shows that don’t appear to be as original and are still successful? For this we turn to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Andrew Lloyd Webber I’d argue hasn’t done anything terribly unique on Broadway. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it just means he does have a lot of similar things that have already been done. However, the things he does do he does really well. He writes big songs with powerful instrumentations, and he makes his shows a spectacle. He might be one of the best at this. Just because he doesn’t do anything terribly inventive isn’t a knock on him, he sticks with what he knows, and what he does know he does really well.

Plain Old Luck                                                        

A lot of people don’t like to talk about this and some might flat out disagree with it. However, I do believe there is a certain amount of luck and fortune that goes into having a successful musical. You can follow all the rules, and still have a flop. You can also push the boundaries like Sondheim did and become one of the most famous composers ever. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that Sondheim just got lucky. He’s obviously a very talented composer as well. All I’m doing is illustrating that either within or outside the rules a person never knows what is going to become big. There are ways a composer can give themselves the best chance to be successful but in the end they just don’t know. Audiences are finicky and there will always be some headscratchers in both the boom and bust category of musicals. You can try and point to some specific reasons, and you may even be right. However, at the end of the day unpredictability is a part of the beast that is Musical Theatre. It’s impossible to say what audiences will flock to or avoid touching with a 50 ft pole.

 

Darren is an admin at ATB. He loves musicals, reading, and sports among a few other things. He is very active in ATB and loves working as an admin.