First Musical

The Aha Moment

SarahLynn Mangan

As someone who was introduced to the concepts of performing at a very young age, I have never really had that Aha moment of “oh my gosh theatre is amazing!”

I am very involved in my school’s performing arts program and yet did not have the time in my schedule to take the drama class until my senior year. Unfortunately, my school does not have enough drama classes to have a beginning class and an advanced class, making the two that they do have all levels. However, the amazing thing that this does create is an opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Something I have learned is that when you experience someone else’s Aha moment it can be magical.

I am currently taking part in a workshop that focuses on the “August Wilson Monologue Competition” which takes place in our region in January. This workshop allows students to stay after school and really delve into the works of August Wilson and become exposed to an amazing playwright. There are about seven students who are regularly taking advantage of this workshop and three of them are students who have never really had anything to do with performing before. On the first day of the workshop, they were given monologues randomly that happened to be the mentor's favorite ones and once they had finished reading their eyes lit up with confusion. Confusion at how the monologues were so relevant to their lives, how the words intrigued them, and how they felt the need to tell them to the world..



Another day at the workshop we had to stack chairs that would visually show our characters burdens and then had to push them across the room as we read the monologues out loud. One of them noticed that a lot of the same burdens the character had, they had as well.

The final day of that week of the workshop we each performed our monologues for the group and got feedback on what could be improved and how we could really push our limits. As the mentor was speaking to one of the students urging them to keep going and take the monologue further into the depths of their own lives, they had their full Aha moment. They couldn’t believe how theatre was pulling emotions out of them that had been dug into a deep hole long ago and how the character that was created three decades ago could relate to them in the modern day and a modern life. After that, they became even more engaged in what was being taught and even commented on how theatre is something like therapy.

To see someone have their own Aha Moment was amazing, and I hope to someday be able to give someone their very own moment of discovery in theatre.

 

 

 

 

Who's the Fairest of Them All?

Jyothi Cross

They say you never forget your first.

Musical, that is.

And for many people I know their first was something a little irrelevant, merely a gateway drug to unleash them into the crazy and diverse world of theatre. Yet, whilst I'd love to say that my favourite musical is Hamilton, or The Last Five Years, or Miss Saigon I can't help but be held back by something else, something which for so long has been hidden inside of me, the 'Golem' of my musical theatre life, holding me still so I don't stray too far. You never forget your first, and my first is the creature hidden within me - but rather than being dark and weirdly creepy, it's a brightness and a warmth which reminds me time and time again of how wonderful musicals can be and make a person feel. My first is my favourite, my favourite is my first. Because, as they say, we have a special bond, and it began when I was 7.

I was ill. It was raining. My mum worked in the evenings and so when I was ill and trapped indoors she would sit with me and we would watch films. Before she introduced me to Fred & Ginger, or Strictly Ballroom, she initiated me with a timeless classic - My Fair Lady. It was magical. The classic tale of a working-class girl practically turned into a princess but this time she was feisty, and a dreamer, and of course she slowly fell in love with the male protagonist - Henry Higgins. As a 7-year-old girl, it was magical to see a story brought to life with music and dance in a way that made me feel cured of all illness - (Disclaimer: I wasn't cured, I had the swine flu, I was pretty ill). 

When I recovered, the movie went on my chain re-watching list, a list which at the time mostly consisted of the Justice League cartoons and the Beauty and the Beast film. I must have watched it 30 times in the following months, and it never lost its magic. Looking past the music and beauty, here's why: My Fair Lady tells the story of a lady who grew up in a gutter, dreaming of “a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air” which to my younger self was so powerful. As a family who had lived in poverty since I was born this was such a strong sentiment to me, because I always dreamed of one day being able to be whisked away to a life full of money, of fancy parties and of new technology and a house that wasn't a mouldy flat above an off-licence. To 7-year-old me, Eliza Doolittle seemed to have such a similar life (7 year old me was a bit of an exaggerator) and so at that point, it felt nice to have a musical that started off with a girl like me, and finished with a strong, clever woman who also had a very handsome man by her side...

Photo by Jarp/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Jarp/iStock / Getty Images

At this point I would like to make the following note on Rex Harrison: Yes, he was a bit of a hearthrob way back when. No, he can't sing. Neither can Russell Crowe. Did he make a good Professor Henry Higgins though? Yep.

So, this musical, that tiny me adored, why is it still my favourite? 

Let's begin with the sheer intelligence of it - I know some of you may argue, but it is a very clever, and witty book. Just a short quip here and there, as a way to remind us that this girl (Eliza) is incredibly smart, has a real personality, and isn't afraid to fight back. For me this role model is so perfect, because she is smart and still allowed to fall head over heels for a man. Maybe it's my old romantic nature, but I love that concept, and at this moment in time it sometimes feels like you can't fall in love without losing yourself (Grease), My Fair Lady simply tells us that that idea is completely ok.

I no longer live in a mouldy flat above an Off Licence, we have a real house now, but still this musical which focuses around a dreamer is so special to me because it encourages me to dream. My Fair Lady is a musical of dreamers, who could have danced all night and still kept dancing. There is something so gorgeous and inspiring about owning your hopes and dreams without any shame, and now every day I am reminded that I can keep dreaming big - even if some of my dreams are already answered. 

It's a timeless tale of education, romance, and dreams and no, it is nothing like modern musicals, and maybe that's what brings it so close to my old heart. I love rap, angst, and all that jazz but most importantly I love strong stories with strong women wearing beautiful dresses. Women taking hold of their future and owning decisions. 

Yes, My Fair Lady is my favourite musical.  It's old and jazzy and eccentric. And that's ok, because I love it all the same.

I also really love Audrey Hepburn (and Julie Andrews....) What heroes.

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.

 

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.