Opinion

Overrated/Underrated

Zachary Harris
A part of being in the All Things Broadway Facebook group is seeing particular topics rehashed at a much higher percentage than others. Need a thread about bootlegs? Oh, we’ve seen plenty. Race/Gender/Inequality? Another hot button topic. Did I say bootlegs? Race? DID WE TALK ABOUT BOOTLEGS? Sarcasm aside, the introduction of new faces and perspectives in a continuously growing group is a blessing. Ranging from industry professionals to people who have just discovered Broadway and want to discuss their newfound love with thousands of people, there are SO many things to be discussed (especially when it comes to an artform we all adore).

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That being said, there is a particular conversation that happens ad nauseum – “What’s your favorite underrated musical?” or “Most overrated show?” This is posted multiple times a week, and while I’ve mentioned above that this sort of active conversation is wonderful… I’m about to sound Grumpyä. This particular conversation absolutely blows my mind, mostly because of the premise that it is based on. The idea of underrated and overrated then denotes or implies that there is some sort of adjudication or rating system involved with the arts. What I mean by this is that, for example, in most competitions there is some sort of grading systems that are palpable. Broadway, Broadway shows, The Tony Awards, and other large regional awards are not subjected to such a standard in judging. This art in whole is absolutely subjective. There are plenty of INCREDIBLE productions/shows that don’t last long on Broadway, that don’t win a ton of Tony Awards, and don’t make the stupefying amounts of money that some of the other shows do. This does not worsen the quality of the work or the performances or adjudicate the art presented to us, the audience. Is Avenue Q not a good show because it beat Broadway megahit Wicked? No. Why did it beat it? Who knows, and while we can all put up some mightily high amounts of conjecture out about why it did or did not deserve such an award, it’s all subjective. At the end of the day, regardless of if you love or hate a show, its success on Broadway does not then adjudicate the work. Even if I love Ragtime so much, I know people who hate it. Heck, it didn’t even win Best Musical that year at the Tony Awards! Does that make Ragtime less beautiful? No. Does that then make the performances any less iconic? No.

 

You could then say that the success of musicals is the “rating system” of the art, but then how does that factor in the terrible productions of beautiful source material? Beautiful productions of shitty source material? Commercialism and supposed greatness of musicals aren’t really correlated. Are some of the longest running shows hypothetically/subjectively the “best” in the history of theatre? I certainly think so. Under what system do we then hold that infallible? Those categories are already very defined entities. If something made $10 and another thing made $5, the thing (or show) that made $10 objectively made more money. If a show ran for 4852703945872 shows, and another closed on opening night… the former objectively had a longer run (and probably made more money while we are at it). If I like score A more than score B… that doesn’t really objectively mean anything. My personal interests in the score can be coming from a lot of experiences, including but not limited to my upbringing, biases towards certain instrumentation, and so much more. How does any of that make one show better than another, in an objective sense? How does that then create a ranking that is the standard? Well, it doesn’t.

 

At the end of the day, the conversation I think that the people are attempting to have is “What musical do you think is underappreciated? Which of these do you enjoy the most?” All of that is absolutely subjective (to a damn point, let’s not try to explain how Hamilton is underappreciated), and no one would blame you for your opinion.

 

 

A Beautiful Dream: Anastasia on Broadway

Kelly Ostazeski
When I was a child, the movie Anastasia was released, and even in the months leading up to seeing the movie, I grew infatuated with the Romanov family and their story. A stage production wasn't even in my thoughts yet, as I had never even been to New York yet. I loved the movie, the score, and the happy ending it imagined for the lost grand duchess, but somehow I longed for more historical accuracy – even as a child.



 I'll never forget years later, when I was in a play production class (technical, business, and marketing aspects of theatre) in high school, we were directed to design a poster for a show to come to Broadway. I took this as an opportunity to imagine what Anastasia would be like on stage. I even started dream-casting people to take the roles from the movie – Bernadette Peters as Sophie and Angela Lansbury as the Dowager Empress, of course reprising their roles from the animated film. The crazy thing was, the poster I designed ended up looking a lot like the original poster for the Broadway production.


 I was overjoyed when it was announced that a stage adaptation was in the works – from the reading in 2012, to the workshop in 2015, and the Hartford premiere in 2016. This was a show I knew I'd have to see. Then they announced the casting for the Broadway production – and this was the first time I saw the name Christy Altomare. Little did I know the impact this show would have on me, and how much of a dream come true it would be, and how perfect Altomare would be as Anya.


 I noticed that they'd removed Rasputin and, I assumed, his song “In the Dark of the Night” from the score. I was actually really excited about that that. I'd always hated the character and his song as a child. I felt like he was unnecessarily gory and too scary for a children's movie. Plus, how would that translate to the stage?


 I was so glad when I found out that Gleb was the new villain, son of the Romanov's executioner, and a Bolshevik leader. They'd taken out the magical aspects and given the show more historical accuracy, just like I'd wanted. Even if recent reports came out and the real Anastasia was found, so it couldn't be completely accurate, I know.


 I got rush tickets one day in November of 2017, and saw the complete original Broadway cast. Altomare was marvelous and captured Anya's strength and sensitivity. Derek Klena was the perfect Broadway leading man. Ramin Karimloo was a perfect mix of alluring and dangerous as Gleb. Caroline O'Connor, whom I've loved since the movie Moulin Rouge!, was absoluely stunning as Countess Lily (Sophie in the movie). John Bolton was hilarious and perfect as Vlad. Mary Beth Peil was a wonderful Dowager and brought so much new depth to her.


 The new songs completely flowed into the story and felt like they'd always been there. When the spirits began to dance around the theatre during “Once Upon a December”, I'll never forget how my friend and I glanced at each other, wide eyed, and then we broke down into tears. The sobs continued to “Journey to the Past”. I never expected this much beauty, and how this show lived up to – and exceeded my expectations.


 Meeting Christy Altomare that first time was incredible. I tried to tell her how much the movie had meant to me and now, seeing it on Broadway was a dream come true. It truly was.


My next experience with this show live was last year at Feinstein’s/54 Below for the “Broadway Princess Party”, where Altomare and the singing voice of Anya in the movie, Liz Callaway, premiered their duet of “Journey to the Past”. It was incredible to hear these two beautiful voices blend, and to witness the shared joy between the two of them. I'm so glad they released the duet as a single.


It took me too long to return to the Broadhurst Theatre, and I don't know why. Somehow, I felt that the show would always be there, and become a staple for Broadway. I thought it would last at least six years or so, and that we'd see many Anyas cycle through the show. But perhaps Altomare was the only Anya meant for Broadway.


 I saw the show next in Baltimore, with the tour cast. It brought back my love for the show and I knew that I'd be seeing the show again soon on Broadway. I finally saw the show in January of 2019, when I was in town for BroadwayCon. Thank goodness Christy Altomare and John Bolton were still in the show, as well as delightful new additions Cody Simpson as Dmitry and Vicki Lewis as Lily.

 

Then they announced closing, and I knew I'd have to be there with the other fans to celebrate this incredible dream of a musical, and to see it one last time.

 

March 31, 2019. It was less than two weeks ago, but the memory still lives in me. The energy and emotions as we approached the theatre, seeing that marquee for the last time. The line was around the block to get in. The audience erupted in cheers and applause during the pre-show announcement. Every single character got entrance applause, usually reserved for “stars”. Standing ovations mid-show are rare, but Altomare earned them for “In My Dreams”, “Once Upon a December”, and “Journey to the Past”, and John Bolton and Vicki Lewis got their own for “The Countess and the Common Man”, which is still probably the funniest song I've ever seen performed. The cast was visibly crying during several moments, especially “Stay I Pray You”, and Altomare cried during “Journey to the Past”. It made it more...real, and more emotional for the audience. I know I cried quite a bit. I can't imagine there was a dry eye in that audience.

 

At the end of the show, the last lines held more weight and more meaning.

 

“The Dowager Empress: As of today, there will be no more Anastasias. The reward for her safe return will be given to charity.
Gleb: There never was an Anastasia. She was a dream.
The Dowager Empress: A beautiful dream.
Gleb:  A dream that only time will fade.
The Dowager Empress: So, no more talk of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov.
Gleb: The new order has no need for fairytales. The case is closed.
The Dowager Empress: Still...

            [Then the entire company joins with one final verse of ‘Once Upon a December.’]

 

Far away, long ago,
Glowing dim as an ember,
Things my heart used to know.
Once upon a December!
 

 

As of that day, there would be no more Anastasias at that theatre for sure, but she was more than a beautiful dream. Once upon a December, there was a beautiful adaptation of a beloved animated film that enchanted the Broadway stage, with an extraordinary cast of inspiring people. There was an actress named Christy Altomare who loved playing this princess and loved her fans and their enthusiasm so much, and touched the hearts of everyone who met her.

 

I couldn't have asked for anything better than this.

Why Your Theatre Should (and Probably Will) Perform Newsies

Taylor Lockhart
Okay it’s been nearly a year since I finished my run with Newsies and nearly two years since it started. I’ve definitely hinted at how much I love this musical in the past and how much my involvement in it meant to me. I now even have an unofficial twitter account promoting regional productions of the show and I look for every chance I get to see it. I’ve really thought hard about writing something about Newsies just about every month since last July but It’s really been hard to find something to write about. The story of the underdog musical that went from Disney flop to cult classic to musical that was only ever made to be licensed and then to of all places Broadway where it became one of Disney’s biggest musical hits is pretty well known at this point and it just doesn’t make sense in 2019 to talk about the history of musical that closed in 2016. I was pretty stumped until I took a look around me at the professional theatres, the community theatres, and the schools in my area many of which have or are going to do a production of Newsies. It came to my attention that this shows story is far from over and there’s a new phenomenon that is sweeping regional theatres all across the nation which I’m going to call Newsies-mania.

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I find it hard to believe at this point that there is absolutely anyone reading this who doesn’t know what Newsies is and/or has seen the show a hundred times. It was on Netflix for over a year and it doesn’t get much more accessible than that, but we here at the All Things Broadway Blog are accommodating to all types of people. So let’s discuss what Newsies is. Newsies is a 1992 movie and a 2012 Broadway musical about seventeen year old Jack Kelly who has dreams of moving out west to Santa Fe, New Mexico with his buddy Crutchie. His dreams are crushed when Joseph Pulitzer raises the price of papers for newsboy forcing them to pay more and sell more to gain any profit. Jack angered by this and inspired by a new boy Davey Jacob’s comments about the trolley strike rallies the newsies to stop selling papers and go on strike. A local upcoming reporter Katherine hears about this and wants to cover the story. The day comes and the Manhattan newsies completely on their own without the help of New York's other newsies teams thinks about calling it off until Davey and Jack inspire the boys to seize the day and go through with the strike. The newsies are successful against Pulitzer’s goons until the cops arrive and arrest crutchie forcing Jack to surrender back to his rooftop where he longs to escape New York and be in Santa Fe. Jack discouraged by the Newsies defeat goes back to raising money for Santa Fe. Meanwhile the newsies receive news from Katherine that their strike made the front page. Jack is confronted by Davey and Katherine who convince him to rejoin the strike and help plan a city wide rally where all the newsies can vote and have their voice heard. Jack takes information of the rally to Pulitzer where he is caught in a trap. He is put under arrest for previous crimes of theft and Katherine is revealed to be Pulitzer's daughter. Pulitzer offers Jack the money to travel to Santa Fe as well as his freedom if he betrays the newsies and speaks out against the strike. Jack is reluctant but agrees fearing if the strike continues that Davey and the other newsies will be arrested just as Crunchie was and they have no hope at all of beating Pulitzer. At the rally Jack speaks out against the strike and is publically handed his cash reward in front of all the other newsies. Jack retreats to his rooftop where Katherine is waiting for him. After confronting him about why he sold out the newsies Jack reveals he did it to protect them from Pulitzer. Katherine reveals her final plan in order to stop her father, a city wide newspaper published by the newsies with one of Pulitzer’s own old printing presses encouraging the children of the city to join in a city wide strike. Jack agrees to help and the two confess their love for each other. Later, In the basement of Pulitzers offices the newsies work together in order to publish and distribute their own newspaper. The children inspired by the paper join in the city wide strike and its success is something Pulitzer cannot ignore. The newsies along with the mayor and the governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt confront Pulitzer to lower the prices of papers once and for all. In the end Jack and Pulitzer come to a compromise that the prices are slightly lowered but newsies can sell back any paper they don’t sell. The deal is enormous and marks a major historical event in which a bunch of orphaned children were able to force something out of the most powerful man in the world. Jack decides to stay in New York with Katherine instead of moving out west and take a job a new job offer from Pulitzer. The strike over, the newsies return to carrying the banner man to man and soakin every sucker that they can. “Here’s the headline, newsies on a mission, kill the competition, sell the next edition. We’ll be out there carrying the banner, see us out there carrying the banner, always out there carrying the banner. *drum build up* Look at me-”

Um, sorry I got a little carried away there. I just really love this show.

So now if you didn’t already, you know what Newsies is and let me vouch that It’s some of the most fun you'll ever have at the theater. It’s probably soon to become beloved to many other people because as I mentioned previously so many people are putting on this show. The fact is Newsies is kinda a perfect show for regional theatres. That’s not saying Newsies itself is a perfect show. I’ll admit as much as the next guy that the Katherine and Jack relationship is very forced and I personally think that Crutchie is underutilized but neither here nor there. What I actually mean is that Newsies checks off just about everything you could want in choosing a show especially one for high schools. The show has a nice historical background that can teach kids important lessons grounded in actual reality. It has good music that isn’t too easy but also isn’t too challenging to learn and do especially if you have girls to fill in on some of the tenor’s ridiculously high parts. It’s family friendly while also not being directed solely at children and It’s has a good chance of selling tickets. While Newsies isn’t a household name the logo right above its own the “Disney’s”one is. It’s a guarantee to audiences that this show is going to be a nice family friendly show with a happy ending and family friendly shows generally sell better than non family friendly shows. That’s the exact reason if you look up the logo for The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical the Disney logo is notably absent. It’s not really in line with Disney’s brand. The only two things that really keep Newsies from being a perfect fit for high schools and community theatres is the choreography and massive need for boys. However following the shows closing both of those things can be tweaked for regional productions. The newsies are now generally played by both boys and girls with the role of Crutchie now able to be played by either gender. MTI officially lists that the main newsies are supposed to be boys but in most every regional production I’ve seen several of the main newsies, especially Specs have been played by girls. It really seems to be very loose with how genders must be portrayed and that leads to the need for boys not being such a big problem. You could probably have an ensemble ratio of 2-3 girls to 1 boy and no one’s going to think any different. It is even historically accurate that there were girl newsies. The other big problem is choreography. Newsies is incredibly well known for its insane dancers and it’s not possible to do the show without dance, however as I’ve seen more and more productions I’ve found it is possible to reduce how much is acquired and how challenging the dancing needs to be. The Newsies have to move in some way no matter how you do it but whether they need to be doing pierrettes or not is up to whoever’s choreographing the show. For example in the number “Carrying The Banner” I’ve seen most schools have smaller groups take center stage with more complex dance moves while the newsies in the background have their own conversations, tussles, swordfights what be it. The newsies would all come together in pivotal unison moments but they wouldn’t be doing anything near as complex. The two very big songs that require choreography are “Seize The Day” and “King Of New York” The two numbers both have long dance breaks so that’s the place where the show could be troubling. “King Of New York” while typically done as a tap number can also be done as a jazz number so that gives a bit more freedom. It’s not like if you tried to turn a tap number into a jazz number in 42nd Street. I personally think at all chances King Of New Yorkshould be a tap number because it gives a good contrast as the act two opener to Seize The Daywhich takes place right before the act one finale but I personally find tap the hardest thing in the world so if you're low on skilled tap dancers I could totally see the change being fit. It’s not essential to the show. Newsies does allow for some wiggle room in some songs  but is still going to be pretty dance intensive no matter how you do it but, I think it fits into a category where that could be seen by many theaters as a good challenge. I think Newsies is the perfect example of a show that offers a challenge while also being achievable by different levels of experience and skill.

With all this in mind it’s really not hard to see why there are so many theater companies and schools doing Newsies. There’s really only one more question to ask. Should your theater do Newsies? Well, I think without even knowing you or your theater I know they totally could and that is what makes this show so interesting to me. In my time running that Newsies account I mentioned I’ve seen pictures and videos from hundreds of productions with varying ages, genders, choreography and sets. I never touched on the sets but there’s so many different ways things could be built for this shows. I’ve seen shows with no towers, one tower, but often three towers. Sometimes those towers move and sometimes there just a unit set. I even saw one production where there were no towers and just one big ramp. I thought it was really cool the different ways people see and interpret this show. Truth be told I could’ve written entire articles on the new portrayal of genders in this show or the interpretation of different settings in a variety of musicals not just Newsies but, I chose to do more of this blanket topic. I think what makes a show perfect for licensing is that it can be done in a variety of ways, by a variety of people, on a variety of budgets. There’s a reason that Newsies is Number 3 on MTI’s trending musicals. It’s only beaten out by Matilda and Mamma Mia which are both newer releases and both similarly good flexible regional shows.. It’s a good family friendly show that could pose as an interesting but achievable challenge to students, a good show that can be done without spending an arm or a leg by community theatres, and a great sure to sell addition to a professional theatre’s season. Newsies may have had a rough start but was a massive hit on broadway and now that it’s hit the public it doesn’t seem to be letting up. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing many more productions of this show for many years to come. They weren't kidding when they said “Newsies Forever”.

With that, the main article is done. You can leave if you want to or if you’re really busy and I’ve been keeping you. My apologies but thanks for reading. I’ve been Taylor you’ve been you and I’ll see you all next month.

Now I want to talk about the Newsies fanbase. I myself am a registered member. I got a little card and everything, but I find it incredible that the fanbase of this show is still so active and strong after about 7 years. It’s kinda hard to tell now because the Newsies tags on Twitter and Facebook are filled with people advertising for their local shows but once upon a long time ago in 2018 these tags we’re still getting a ton of tweets by the hour from the fansies alone. That’s the name of the fans. It’s better than Whovians if you ask me. I honestly could make a whole article on its own discussing the wild world that is Newsies fanfiction and you can probably guarantee that there will still be Jack x Crutchie stories updating in the year 2029. I only hope Beetlejuice gets this popular because I really want to make an article about Beetle-Mania in a few years maybe even around the same time I’ll get to talk about a Newsies revival. Who knows, only time will tell but if you’re reading from the future after you saw me yell in a post about how I predicted a Newsies revival, comment down below “I’m from the future and we don’t have flying cars yet but we do have Cats 2”.

What’s that? You want to join the Newsies fandom? Well have I got a deal for you because for the first time since that Shrek 2 article we don’t talk about it’s the triumphant return of the end segment, “The Upcoming Productions. Catch it now before it disappears for another 4 articles. To show just how many people are doing Newsies I’m going to give you 50 upcoming productions of Newsies for 50 states. Scroll down and find your state unless you’re from Wyoming or Hawaii. Sorry your states hate fun and those only scratch the surface. Visit https://www.mtishows.com/newsies-0 and scroll down to the upcoming tab to find a show near you. There are literally hundreds.

Alabama

Newsies @ Spark Theatre Company May 29th-June 1st https://www.sparktheatercompany.com/

Alaska

Newsies @ Nikiski Middle/High School April 26th-May 4th

https://www.facebook.com/triumviratetheater/app/190322544333196/

Arizona

Newsies @ Mingus Union High School April 12th-14th https://www.mingusperformingarts.com/

Arkansas

Newsies @ Young Actors Guild July 11th-14th

http://weareyag.com/events

California

Newsies @ Roger’s Rocka’s Dinner Theatre   Present-July 14th

https://rogerrockas.com/shows/categories/roger-rockas/

Colorado

Newsies @ Pittsburg Community Theatre July 18th-21st

http://www.pctinfo.org/

Connecticut

Newsies @ Broad Brook Opera House May 3rd-19th

http://www.operahouseplayers.org/

Delaware

Newsies @ Delaware's Children Theatre January 11th-February 2nd 2020

http://www.dechildrenstheatre.org/

Florida

Newsies @ Osceola Arts July 12th-August 4th

http://osceolaarts.org/2018-19-theatre-season.html

Georgia

Newsies @ St. Mary’s Children Theatre October 18th-27th

https://www.stmaryschildrenstheatre.com/past-productions

Idaho

Newsies @ Music Theatre Of Idaho October 24th-26th

https://www.broadwaynampa.org/copy-of-2018-musicals

Illinois

Newsies @ The Little Theatre On The Square July 7th-18th

http://www.thelittletheatre.org/

Indiana

Newsies @ The Civic Theatre April 26th-May 11th

https://www.civictheatre.org/

Iowa

Newsies @ Des Moines Playhouse July 12th- August 4th

https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events-and-shows

Kansas

Newsies @ Salina Theatre  June 7th-30th

http://salinatheatre.com/project/disneysnewsies-the-musical/

Kentucky

Newsies @ Derby Dinner Playhouse   Present-May 19th

https://derbydinner.com/show/newsies/

Louisiana

Newsies @ Baton Rouge Theatre June 14th-30th

http://theatrebr.org/disneysnewsies.html

Maine

Newsies @ Windham Center Stage Theatre May 24th-June 2nd

https://windhamtheater.org/Shows/newsies.htm

Maryland

Newsies @ Children’s Playhouse Of Maryland May 4th-18th

http://www.cpmarts.org/

Massachusetts

Newsies @ Company Theatre April 18th-28th

https://www.companytheatre.com/

Michigan

Newsies @ Grand Rapids Civic Theatre May 31st-June 23rd

https://www.grct.org/plays-box-office/current-season/

Minnesota

Newsies @ Paradise Center For The Arts September 13th-22nd

https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=pcfta

Mississippi

Newsies @ Lynn Meadows Discovery Center July 17th-21st

http://lmdc.org/classes-camps/wings-performing-arts-2/

Missouri

Newsies @ Southeast Missouri June 12th-23rd

https://rivercampus.org/upcoming-events/

Montana

Newsies @ Missoula Children’s Theatre April 25th-May 12th

http://mctinc.org/

Nebraska

Newsies @ Crane River Theater June 25th-August 4th

http://cranerivertheater.org/newsies/

Nevada

Newsies @ Signature Productions April 2nd-27th

http://www.signatureproductions.net/

New Hampshire

Newsies @ Peacock Players May 10th-19th

https://peacockplayers.org/

New Jersey

Newsies @ Algonquin Theatre Arts July 13th-July 28th

https://www.algonquinarts.org/calendar.php?s=5

New Mexico

Newsies @ July 12th-13th

http://waywayoffbroadway.com/box-office/

New York

Newsies @ Plays In The Park July 10th-July 20th

http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/About/ParksRecreation/Pages/PIP/CurrentSeason.aspx

North Carolina

Newsies @ Yadkin Arts Center July 26th-28th

https://www.yadkinarts.org/events-tickets/?_page=2

North Dakota

Newsies @ Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre July 9-18th

http://www.shst.org/productions.php

Ohio

Newsies @ La Comedia Dinner Theatre April 18th-June 6th

http://lacomedia.com/

Oklahoma

Newsies @ Lyric Theatre July 9th-14th

https://lyrictheatreokc.com/shows/newsies/

Oregon

Newsies @ Thoroughly Modern Productions August 16th-25th

http://thoroughlymodernprod.com/productions-auditions/

Pennsylvania

Newsies @ Millbrook Playhouse July 12th-21st

http://www.millbrookplayhouse.net/disneys-newsies/

Rhode Island

Newsies @ Theatre By The Sea July 17th-August 10th

https://www.theatrebythesea.com/2019.html

South Carolina

Newsies @ Village Square Theatre May 1st-17th 2020

http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com/season.html

South Dakota

Newsies @ O’gorman High School April 30th-May 4th

https://ogorman.sfcss.org/activities-athletics/performing-arts/theatre-2

Tennessee

Newsies @ Millenium Rep August 2nd-11th

https://www.millenniumrep.org/2019-season

Texas

Newsies @ San Angelo PAC May 10th-12th

https://www.sanangelopac.org/Online/default.asp

Utah

Newsies @ Hale Theatre  Present-April 20th

http://www.haletheater.org/

Vermont

Newsies @ Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School May 10th-11th

Virginia

Newsies @ SPARC July 26th-28th

https://www.sparcrichmond.org/tickets/

Washington

Newsies @ Numerica PAC May 1st-12th

http://www.numericapac.org/

West Virginia

Newsies @ Robert C Byrd High School April 12th-14th

https://www.facebook.com/RCBTheatre/

Wisconsin

Newsies @ Verona Area Community Theater April 25th-28th

https://www.vact.org/upcoming-schedule-1/2019/4/25/newsies

 

 

 






Be More Chill Has Too Much Chill

Darren Wildeman

One of the shows that has been under the most scrutiny since it announced a Broadway run is the musical Be More Chill with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz. It has a science fiction theme and has a very rabid fan base. However, it has also faced plenty of scrutiny over if the show is appropriate for Broadway, and people not being sure how it is going to do. Many people hope it succeeds; however, it also has a very large number of detractors. I’m not going to be talking about the plot and music of Be More Chill as much. Rather, I’m going to analyze the opinions surrounding this show, how this show will do, and why or why not it might be fit for Broadway. Instead of exploring the show itself I’m going to explore how polarizing this show is, why that might be, and why in general a lot of people see it as a potential flop when so many others think it deserves Best Musical at the Tony Awards this spring. This article isn’t meant to trash Be More Chill or to burn it to the ground. If it can be successful in some capacity the more power to it, and the people working on it. However, there are some major concerns for this show and its life in my opinion.


The first thing to acknowledge is that Be More Chill does have a large fan base. To deny that there aren’t fans and try to say no one likes it is 100% promoting a false dichotomy. However, part of the issue lies with who this fan base is. Be More Chill’s fan base is largely comprised of teenagers, and younger people all around the country. This is fine, in fact a musical that appeals to the younger fans is kind of neat. However, this is also what is hurting Be More Chill. Unlike Dear Evan Hansen (more on the comparisons between these shows later) or Hamilton, Be More Chill almost only appeals to the younger audience at times. And for the most part, young people aren’t the people who can afford to go to the theatre, and obviously the vast majority of America does not live in or near New York City, so the show is not able to be viewed by the many other fans it does have. That’s the problem with appealing to a somewhat limited demographic. There aren’t as many people. And this limited demographic also appeals to my next point.

For some reason Be More Chill gets constant comparisons to Dear Evan Hansen. However, that is an awful comparison in my opinion. The two shows aren’t even in the same area code. Dear Evan Hansen deals with mental illness, and the impact our words and actions can have. Dear Evan Hansen is a much more maturely written musical. I’m not saying that to crap on Be More Chill but I don’t think it can be argued. It’s teaches lessons, and has very well written adult characters. In short, it has more things that would appeal to a more mature audience. The story is also SO different that I don’t think you can even make a fair comparison to Be More Chill. The reason I bring this up is because people will point to Dear Evan Hansen’s success at both the Tony’s and commercially. But these shows are so far different that this isn’t a fair comparison at all.

If we’re going to compare Be More Chill to anything it would probably be Little Shop of Horrors because of the sci-fi camp vibe. However, Little Shop of Horrors while being campy and cheesy at times has the spectacle that some theatre goers look for, while still having characters and moments that will still resonate with a broader audience. Be More Chill, while it does some things well it just doesn’t have that mass appeal. It’s a niche show that while appeals to some, doesn’t have the writing nor the qualities that the larger audience looks for.

Some would look at the minimalistic staging, some might even call it intimate. They might argue that the minimalistic staging works because shows like Once, and last year’s big Tony winner The Band’s Visit have the same minimal staging properties. However, I don’t think I need to tell you the difference here. Those shows have much more mature writing and the staging works with the story in totally different ways. Minimal staging does not immediately mean it’s a really well-done intimate show.

In fact, in many cases it’s much better for an intimate show to stay Off-Broadway. Shows like Once and The Band’s Visit are exceptions. That’s not to say that every small show with a niche audience appeal should stay Off-Broadway; however, Off-Broadway theatres have the type of atmosphere about them where these types of shows tend to do much better. So many shows that are Off-Broadway have the vibe about them that Be More Chill has; and unless a show has superior writing or a quality about it that puts it over the top a show is generally much better suited to stay Off-Broadway. Honestly going to Broadway can absolutely swallow a show like Be More Chill whole and it will get lost.

Also, if the show flops on Broadway that could kill its chance of coming back and having success in an Off-Broadway theatre. Not a lot of shows make the transition back Off-Broadway if it goes to Broadway.  There is a chance that it could have success as a touring show so it could be more accessible to its younger fan base. However, for a show like this going to Broadway is a huge risk and I don’t really see it paying off. A move like this could literally kill the show outright.

One could even argue that Be More Chill could have gone for some spectacle and been successful. The issue is that would greatly change the vision of the show but again I go back to Little Shop of Horrors. That is not a small stage show, it does have some stripped-down qualities but it also has some spectacle. And spectacle can cover a lot of miscues in writing. I don’t think Wicked is an awful musical; however, it certainly has writing flaws that are covered up by the stage presence of the show. Bringing some of that stage presence could have possibly helped Be More Chill in its move to Broadway.

However, it is obvious that Be More Chill wanted to go with the small musical/intimate vibe. However, it just doesn’t have the audience appeal or extreme high-quality writing or story telling that is going to bring it over the edge like the smaller shows such as Once or The Band’s Visit. All in all, I think Be More Chill has bitten off more than it can chew, and I’d be concerned about the ultimate survival of this show in any capacity once it is done on Broadway.

Top 5 Fox Movies That Should Get a Stage Adaptation

Taylor Lockhart



If you’re living under a rock then you might not have heard that Disney has officially acquired Twentieth Century Fox, an acquisition that means the X-Men and Fantastic Four can now join the Avengers, that Anastasia is now technically a Disney princess and that Jekyll and Hyde The Musical is now apart of Disney Theatricals. Yes, I hear you saying right now, “That’s not how producing companies work at all!” You would be right but the prospect of seeing a Fun Home revival helmed by Disney is so incredible that I’m okay with being wrong. With all this being said I thought it was the perfect time to revisit one of my older articles in which I talked about my “Top 9 Disney Movies that Should Get a Stage Adaptation”. Keep in mind that Disney Theatricals is the same company that made an animated movie specifically so it could be adapted for the stage then let it sit in Germany for like 15 years and then finally brought it over to the United States just to decide after two playhouse runs to do absolutely nothing with it but the adaptation of a movie that flopped so hard it won a Razzie and was only ever intended to be made for licensing ended up becoming one of the biggest broadway hits of the last decade. In short, they are absolutely unpredictable. They may not even use any of their new Fox properties or just immediately go ahead with one of them like The Princess Bride or something right out of the gate. I mean who honestly knows. This is all just for fun so if you disagree feel free to let me know but chances are you won’t have to hear about many of these any time soon. So without any further ado here are the Top 5 Fox movies I would live to see made into stage adaptations. Why not 9 you like last time? Sorry, we’ve had some budget cuts. Anyways, Let’s go!



#5 Home Alone

The Number 5 spot on my list goes to the Home Alone series of movies. I can’t personally imagine what a Home Alone musical would sound like and how it would be brought to life but it’s one of those franchises I can look at and see the serious possibility of it happening. Home Alone is something years later people still know and love and probably watch at least once or twice every christmas. It’s kinda surprising as far as I know no one has ever brought up the idea of a musical adaptation. I’m not saying this should happen and personally it’s not one that I think broadway needs to see but with the success of A Christmas Story, Elf, and others like it it’s not hard to see that Home Alone certainly is one of the most adaptable properties on this list that’s sure to turn a profit. I think it could be fun and it would certainly be interesting to see Kevin Mcallister's crazy traps come to life on stage. I think it would need an update to the story in order to bring it up to a two act show but there’s some material for something magical if done correctly. In any case it’s a well known story that would make an excellent children's musical to tour during winter like some of the other musicals I mentioned currently do.



#4 Mrs. Doubtfire

Come on, do I even have to say why the Robin Williams movie would make a perfect show? We’ve seen crossdressing done tons of times before on Broadway like with Mrs. Trunchbull in Matilda, and Mrs. Doubtfire would bring a new version of that which we haven't seen yet. There’s enough material there to adapt into two acts and room for some incredibly heartfelt songs. Luckily for me, I’m not the only one who thinks this as a Mrs. Doubtfire musical is in the making and may be on Broadway very soon.



#3 Alien

No, no no no no no no no...No! I’m not talking about an Alien musical. Good lord, No, that is the single worst idea I’ve ever heard. Instead, I’m talking about a straight play stage adaptation. If you’re invested into the theatre scene than odds are you have seen the school that recently put on a play adaptation of the Alien film, North Bergen High School. It’s really well done and a friendly reminder that high schools are capable of doing some really cool things and that the arts in schools should be given more money to work with!

(Hey a little pause real quick, I do feel the need to acknowledge, though because many other blogs and news articles haven’t, that unauthorized adaptations are illegal and while in this case the creators were cool enough not to take legal action, that’s not always the case. This is an incredibly cool production and you should celebrate it for all it’s worth but I would be wrong to just ignore the fact that if you now want to stage an adaptation of a movie for yourself and sell tickets for it as apart of your school's season it’s against the law and you shouldn’t do that. Thanks! Now back to the article!)

It’s really blown up and has me rewatching the film and considering the possibility of an adaptation coming to life on stage. We’ve seen just how poorly action musicals work like with Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark but the movie has enough really good scenes to make an incredible suspenseful action play. We’ve already seen from shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that plays can have fantasy settings So why not a sci-fi one? If done right it’s possible to do more imaginative concepts with straight plays like Alien really well. I’ll admit fear nothing more than a million movie adaptations filling Broadway …(well maybe wasps. I’m pretty afraid of wasps) but a somewhat interactive experience reliving the Alien films live could be awesome and successful. Musicals have had the chance to get incredibly creative as we can see this year with shows like Beetlejuice but plays are often stuck in the real world with very few plays experimenting with Imaginative concepts like this one. I think if done right and those are the key words, If done right these high schoolers could be on to a pretty good idea and a new live big budget version of Alien could terrify audiences who have now lost the ability to hide behind a screen.


#2 Deadpool

Deadpool is the musical comedy we absolutely need. Deadpool is such a stretchable character you could do literally anything. Any story, any type of music, anything. A Deadpool musical sounds incredibly stupid and that is why it’s a really good idea because Deadpool works best in the exact places you never thought he could. It would be really nice to have a “go get drunk and then see a funny show” type of musical that doesn’t take itself seriously and Deadpool would be right in his element breaking the fourth wall with the audience. You could even have the character call people out for bootlegging the show, this script practically writes itself. I personally think that Deadpool would be a lot like the Beetlejuice musical is right now with him being a fourth wall breaking narrator figure but even crazier and even funnier. Okay, I’m going to pitch you an idea right now and you tell me if it doesn’t sound like the most amazing experience you could possibly have ever. A revival of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark except the “Spiderman” part is crossed out and Deadpool is written in and “Turn Off The Dark” is modified to be some sort of sexual pun. I can’t think of one but just imagine with me for a second. It follows the storyline and songs of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark except narrated by Deadpool who makes fun of the musical while constantly derailing it into directions the entire time. It’s hilarious for broadway fans and the script is written so that anyone out of the loop can still enjoy the hell out deadpools quips. Now that is a show I would pay some good money to see. I’m talking Hamilton money. I would pay Hamilton money to see that show.

#1 The Greatest Showman

It’s really not a question is it. The Greatest Showman was made to be adapted for the stage and is almost certainly going to be at some point. I don’t think I need to spend even a second explaining why it would work so well or if it would be profitable because it would and it has. I think it’s need some adapting to make it work but It’s undeniable that The Greatest Showman would work on Broadway. It would be nice to see a full musical with a story that uses tricks from Cirque du Soleil. Hell, perhaps Cirque du Soleil could be a producer and help make this musical one of the biggest and best broadway has ever seen. Maybe with Hugh Jackman returning to Broadway with The Music Man you could see him once he’s done there reprising his role to do the musical on Broadway. I wouldn’t bet on it but you can certainly bet that The Greatest Showman is coming.

Well, that’s my list. Let me know if I should do another sometime regarding a different studio. At some point I’d like to talk about books that I think should have musical adaptations since those feel so much more original than movie adaptations and while it’s fun to speculate I can say I’d rather more original works appearing on stage in the future. I hope to see you again in about a month but remember that we publish articles every Monday and Thursday. If you didn’t like me then chances are you might like one of the other writers and what they have to say. Thank you for taking your time and reading and I hope you all have wonderful rests of March. I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you and I’ll see all next month, goodbye.






My (Not so Good) Thoughts on Community Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I was born and raised on community theatre, it helped me grow from a tiny 8-year-old with too much energy and no acting skill to what I am now. I will be forever grateful to the gifts of confidence, improvisation and voice projection (it’s never not useful) that community theatre has given me but over the past year I have come to understand the dark underbelly of community theatre and, in some ways, have come to resent it.

This week I directed my first show, a production of Peter Pan for a school competition, with a cast of mostly 13-year-olds and it rocked. The process was hell, but the show itself – which involved Tinkerbell flying in on a fishing rod to the Mission Impossible theme song and around 20 lighting cues – rocked. Nonetheless, one quote stood out just as we were preparing for our second out of three shows that day:

‘Let’s go show them that theatre kids can be cool!’

It’s a nice sentiment, but a sad one too. These 14 kids worked their butts off to produce a 30-minute show in 6 weeks, giving up most of their lunchtimes and spending however much on costumes and make-up. My co-director and I fell out 5 times over the course of the show and had both lost our voices by the end of it. Every single member of our production gave their soul to that show and all the audience would think of them was that these kids were ‘Theatre Nerds’ who weren’t worth their time. This is the first thing I hate about community theatre, the fact that this audience who would spend their weekends idolizing actors like Zac Efron or Zendaya don’t recognize how amazing these people are to even get up on the stage. Community theatre actors don’t want praise or fame, they act because that’s what they enjoy but are considered leagues below the football team who spend 80 minutes faking injuries and kicking a ball – Theatre Kids are cooler than them any day.

My second reason for hating community theatre? It all stems for the downfall of my local theatre group – my lifeline if you will. I had spent 4 years in a cold Church hall watching numbers slowly decrease until eventually, last November, the group kicked the bucket. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried pretty much all that evening, with my childhood gone there was nowhere to go and in a little town like mine, there were no other opportunities. Community theatre is addictive; it draws you in and then, unless you’re lucky, it doesn’t go anywhere. We get addicted to the lights, to the characters, to the rush of adrenaline when you step on stage in front of an audience even if that audience is just your mum and dad. Unfortunately, this addiction isn’t sustainable. 

Of course, my perspective is from one town in the UK and I know in bigger areas or bigger countries like America the opportunities are more common and there is more space for development but, nonetheless, the facts stand. Unless you are the best of the best community theatre doesn’t go anywhere, instead, it simply becomes a fun story you’ll tell your kids one day. However, people get bored of seeing the same crazy show again and again. They get bored of doing the same workshops again and again. In the moment it feels great but from the outside? People start looking for unique and varied theatre which often leads them to larger theatre companies and slowly but surely your local theatre group dies out. 

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps. I hate community theatre because I love it so much. I love the family, the characters, the training, and I hate it because no-one ever seems to realize how cool a person that makes you. Does that make sense? Put your thoughts in the comments!

 

Rodgers and Hammerstein? No Thanks.

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

When I was three years old (yes, I really was—once in 1957), my mother, the late, great Frumah Sara(h), bought me a box of 45 rpm records filled with Rodgers and Hammerstein for Children. And I played those 45s until they wore out—even the songs from Pipe Dream and Me and Juliet and Allegro. No Flower Drum Song or The Sound of Music; those had not been written yet.

Got older, wiser, and learned a thing or two along the way. Played the Professor in South Pacific in my junior (and last) year in high school. Did my senior thesis in college about the impact of Oklahoma! on American musical theatre. Actually saw productions of Allegro, Me and Juliet, and (*gasp*) Pipe Dream. Cringed through the stage version of The Sound of Music (a/k/a Life With Father in Austria). Read the biographies of both men as well as Musical Stages, Richard Rodgers’ autobiography. Was even accused of reporting a wayward production of Oklahoma! to the R&H Library (it was indeed wayward—setting the show in a rehearsal hall on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed; don’t ask but we at Atlanta Theatre Weekly carried the review in 1997).

No one can say what I’m about to discuss comes from a place of ignorance.

R_and_H.jpg


* * *

I was maybe 10 years old; the television remake of Cinderella was airing (with Lesley Ann Warren in the title role). She starts singing, “In my own little corner,” and I remark to my family (gathered around our giant 24-inch RCA color television at the time), “That sounds just like all the other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs!” Same exact music. Same cadence. My 10-year-old self had called it. It’s pretty damn sad when a 10-year-old can see through the miasma and deception now known as Rodgers and Hammerstein.

* * *

The first (and only) time I saw The Sound of Music onstage, I couldn’t help but notice something very odd about the song, Do Re Mi. It’s a song filled with English language puns (“Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun”). So far so good. But here’s the rub. The characters singing it (seven children and their governess) only speak German. They don’t know from English language puns. Just one of the many things I dislike in Austrian Life With Father.

* * *

Richard Rodgers wrote incredible scores with Lorenz Hart. Some stunning work. American Songbook classics. Rodgers wrote the music first, and Hart then supplied the (often-brilliant) lyrics. In Musical Stages, Rodgers spend two-thirds of the book on his collaboration with Hart. It was about the art of creating Broadway musicals and how much it thrilled him. Then he gets to his time with Hammerstein. Just a few scant chapters. It was a business deal. And he got bored after Carousel, which might be why all his subsequent shows with Hammerstein began to sound the same (even the melody to Me and Juliet’s No Other Love, arguably the best song in the musical, was actually a cutout from an earlier effort, just as The King and I’s Something Wonderful sounds so much like Love Look Away from Flower Drum Song). Is it any wonder my 10-year-old self could immediately identify an R&H song? After all, the songs for the “slightly-older-but-wiser” alto they wrote all sounded the same from show to show to show.

* * *

Ever notice how the best music Richard Rodgers wrote had no lyrics? I mean Carousel Waltz. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue Ballet. Victory at Sea scoring. March of the Siamese Children. But when he did his own lyrics in No Strings, they were pretty lame (except the opening number, The Sweetest Sounds).

* * *

There is the matter of R&H racism. Before you start citing South Pacific, let me go further back and cite Oklahoma! Even in my college thesis I called out the racist approach Hammerstein used with the character of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler. I’m not Iranian, but I found the characterization to be extremely offensive and, yes, racist. It was meant to be funny; it was not. Racism is never funny.

Likewise, examine the casting of African American actress Juanita Hall. First in South Pacific, because her skin was darker than others in the show, she played Bloody Mary, a Tonkinese proprietress (and pimp—more about that shortly). A few years later, R&H cast her again, this time as an Asian American in Flower Drum Song. Really? What about the casting of Jewish actor Larry Blyden as Sammy Fong? Another case of “Oh just give them slant-eyed makeup and the audience will think they’re Chinese.” Yeah, not racist at all (bullshit).

Bloody Mary is a character in the short story Fo’ Dollar, one of the pieces in Tales of the South Pacific R&H used as the basis for their show. She also pimps out her 14-year-old daughter Liat to Lt. Joe Cable. Liat’s age is never discussed in South Pacific, but it sure looks like pedophilia to me (not unlike one of the storylines in ALW’s Aspects of Love—but I digress). Can we say this is just oh-so-distasteful? I knew we could.

I even question the pseudo-liberal bent of South Pacific (You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught). I’ve checked and anti-Tonkinese discrimination is not now nor then running rampant. Just me, I guess.

* * *

When the last revival of Carousel (the one R&H show I can stand) was playing, a lot of discussion arose (finally) about the matter of spousal (and child) abuse. Billy strikes Julie. He strikes Louise, his daughter. He’s a sexist pig (Soliloquy) who would much prefer having a song to a daughter. The problem here is simple—what worked in 1945 doesn’t work 70+ years later. It definitely makes an audience uncomfortable—and not in the intended way.

* * *

For 62 of my 65 years, I’ve had Rodgers and Hammerstein drummed into my head. I want them out. Gone. Vamoosed. If I could reach out to my 10-year-old self, I’d say, “Kid, you’re smarter than you realize.” (I’d say smarter than you look, but I was a bespectacled geek back then and I looked pretty damn smart.)

I know people will start raining venom on my head because I just don’t like the work done by these two. “It’s classic American musical theatre,” they’ll cry. It might be classic but it ain’t good. “But I love [fill in the name of any R&H show]. How can you not like it?” After all this time, believe me, it’s very easy.


My Top 5 Least Favorite Musicals

Taylor Lockhart

Hey wow, that title is pure clickbait but I honestly didn’t know what else I could call it because while it comes off like a crappy buzzfeed article, this is truly my opinions on what are my least favorite musicals and why I don’t like them. I mean after all I liked Rent Live, I gushed on Big Fish and Hunchback and I discussed the Tonys without bringing up how they’re probably rigged so I think it’s fair to say things have been too positive for too long. Of course this is just my opinion so if I disagree with you then I disagree with you, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong or your right just that we’re not the same person. Theatre would be really boring if we were, I mean could you imagine a world in which Newsies never left Broadway and ran forever and ever and ever bringing joy to the hearts of the young and old from 2012 to the end of time, that’d be absolutely horrible. Anyways without any further ado here’s my list in no particular order.



5- My Fair Lady

Do you love the boring “masterpiece” that is George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion? No, well maybe you’ll like it with some music slapped in there and I do quite literally mean slapped in the middle. You see Lerner is credited as the writer of My Fair Lady’s book which is very shameless because Shaw should be credited for the book as My Fair Lady is literally just Pygmalion with songs slapped between. Now is that a problem? Today I think so little rewrite of the script for it’s adaptation would be seen as lazy but back then I can give them that it was a standard. Oklahoma!, which came out 13 years earlier had many of its scenes ripped straight from the play “Green Grow The Lilacs”. It made sense that a musical adaptation of a play unless it was something like Shakespeare could just be that play with music added in. So what is my problem. Well, It would seem Mr. Lerner and Lowe in adapting Pygmalion would just leave it be. That they would make it a musical and not change any fundamentals to the original story but this is where Lerner and Lowe decided to cement one of the most horrible cliches in musical theatre history. Let’s take a look at the original ending of Pygmalion the play My Fair Lady is based on. In the ending of the play Shaw decides to make very clear that Higgins and Eliza do not get marry. It was something he stated immensely during his life was very important. Unlike the original myth it was based on Shaw wanted Eliza to become an independent woman. So tell me how this message in which Eliza leaves the man who has been treating her poorly manages to be more empowering in 1913 than its musical counterpart forty years later. I’ll tell you how. It’s because Lerner and Lowe wanted a “happy ending”. I want you take a step back from where you are in your musical knowledge and pretend your being asked a question knowing nothing about musicals and the types of them out there. You would probably say that musicals have upbeat music, big dance numbers, and happy endings. That’s just sad. That musicals are expected to be happy because it was set as the standard that a musical would leave the audience happy no matter what, but what really bugs me is in trying to leave the audience feeling good Lerner and Lowe completely screw up the meaning of Pygmalion. Look at a musical like Les Miserables. Les Mis ends on a happy note allowing us to see all of our barricade boys and girls in heaven finally free before the show ends. It’s a lot more upbeat than if Jean Valjean just died and that was it but it doesn’t lose any of the purpose of the story Les Mis tells. If anything, its improves it. Now look at Hunchback. The Disney version changes the ending drastically and some would complain that it’s similar to My Fair Lady, that it was changed purely to leave audiences on a good note but honestly, I don’t see the problem here. The original Hunchback leaves readers with a feeling of hopelessness for how cruel humanity can be and the disney version doesn’t tell us that humanity isn’t cruel. Instead it shows us how humanity can be good and gives a message of hope and that we can decide to treat people better. This is very clear in the lyrics “What makes a monster and what makes a man” and in the final song that was saved for the credits, “Someday”. I think a musical can change it’s ending to make it happier and it is ballsy for a show to just end on such a sour note but when you ruin the entire point of a show in order to make it happy that is when I have a problem. In My Fair Lady’s ending, Eliza returns to Henry. Luckily West Side Story would come along a year later to say that it’s ending wasn’t happy and it didn’t care whether you liked it or not.  I’m not the first to bring up how terrible this decision was but I might hopefully be the last because the recent Broadway revival of My Fair Lady finally decided to fix the ending making it more so like it originally was and I hope to see that change put into future scripts as well. My Fair Lady still has well written music and while I don’t like the songs I hope you do. I have never liked My Fair Lady at all, as I never liked Pygmalion but I think with an ending restored to the original empowering message Shaw intended I won’t hate it.


4- Cats  

Wow that one show was like a whole mini blog. Welp, guess I gotta speed it along. Of course it’s in here and you’re probably pegging me as being a band wagoner but rest assured I don’t dislike Cats because I think the music is bad or it’s a even a bad show. No, I don’t like Cats because well it’s freaking Cats. Go look up the longest running Broadway shows of all times and look what’s No.4 Cats. 29 highest grossing shows of all time No. 10 Cats. How did a musical based on T.S. Elliots bedtime stories become the face of Broadway? I don’t know. I honestly can’t say anything but good job Mr. Webber.

3- Heathers High School Edition

First of all, do I hate Heathers? No, I can acknowledge that Heathers probably doesn’t have the best message out of every musicals and at the very least doesn’t translate it’s message well but hey neither does Dear Evan Hansen. I rather really like Heathers and it’s very important to realize that so I can express why I hate Heathers: High School Edition.. Heathers is a near perfect example of a musical taking place in high school. As a high schooler I don’t feel like this is an adult trying to write high schoolers but actual high schoolers to some degree. If you don’t know kids cuss a lot, so much so that you stop noticing that it just gets added to your vocabulary like an adjective. High schoolers are mean and don’t call you “dumb” or an “idiot”. The words Heathers throw around in it’s opening number are words I hear in school and are things that help sell the setting. It’s important you understand the hell Veronica lives in because if you don’t than you lose part of the shows narrative. Quite simply put, Heathers isn’t a kids movie and high school isn’t like a kids movie either. It seems like there are people around you who exist purely to bring you misery so to have a musical be so unapologetic and so real, It’s no wonder that Heathers is so popular with the youth. So for a musical that I feel nails the material it’s based on why do I hate it’s high school variant so much. Well, because it does none of that. Heathers High School Edition follows the standard procedure for making most high school editions. Take a show and suck the life out of it so you can sell it’s battered corpse to schools to perform. Now I get it, MTI knows that high schoolers don’t need such strong censorship and won’t track you down if you do the non high school version of Avenue Q and Les Mis High School Edition is a good stand in for a show that never has any chance of leaving the restricted category, but it’s Samuel French’s Heathers: High School Edition most of all that leaves me writhing. It was pushed as though it had such a strong message for kids that they needed to hear but then cut it up so that the message was still there but the show had no resemblance to the original Heathers. I hate censorship and I think you lose something of a piece of work when it’s censored, but I understand sometimes it’s necessary to a degree. I think a high school edition works best when it serves to make a show more doable for schools and carefully snips out what might be unacceptable but it's important that it doesn’t affect the feel of the show. If you take out some of the innuendos in Legally Blonde, I’ll notice but it’s nothing I’ll write the entire show because of. So for a show like Heathers that is littered with things deemed unacceptable to the point if you censor it or take it out entirely I will notice, what was the point? If the version we see is so cut through why did there ever need to be a Heathers: High School Edition. I honestly think a high school version of Heathers could work but more love has to be put into it. The new version of “Candy Store” feels like the writers put down the first thing they thought about. If your looking to do Heathers: High School Edition, I just can’t recommend it but, I love Samuel French even when they make some mistakes, so I’d recommend another one of their shows in its place like The Secret Garden or Rock of Ages or just the full version of Heathers if your school doesn’t care.



2-Sweeney Todd

Woah, why is Sweeney Todd on this list? Do you not like Sondheim's masterpiece? Well, remember something doesn’t have to be bad to be my least favorite musical just one I don’t like. So, do I not like Sweeney Todd? Well, no, not technically at least. See, I’m be an idiot to say Sweeney Todd had unengaging music or a bad script or wasn’t an incredibly revolutionary musical which it totally was. It’s just...I really don’t like blood. I really don’t like being trapped in the middle of an aisle during a school trip and I can’t leave but I feel sick because I just watched someone’s throat get slit live on stage, and yeah in theory you can look away but Sondheim that cheeky bastard made sure you will always know and see it even when you close your eyes that picture of someone’s blood squirting out of their throat after Todd has slowly dragged his razor along their neck. Sondheim put in an organ sound everytime it happens. So, yeah I don’t see Sweeney Todd unless I have a bag on hand and if I do I always sit in the aisles. That’s enough of that, I’m feeling sick just writing about it. It’s a horror musical alright and if that makes it your favorite then more power to you. It’s the only musical on this list I don’t dislike I just can’t physically stand it.


1-Annie

Why do I have such an ungodly hatred for such a sweet little show. Worse than My Fair Lady which has a good reason, worse than Cats which is way more popular and worse than Sweeney which literally makes me feel terrible. Why is this worse than all of them? Is the music bad? No. Is the story bad? No. Are the characters uninteresting? No. Is it uninteresting? Not Really. So why do I hate it? Well, the truth is I don’t know. I can’t make sense of it but know one thing for sure is that I hate Annie. I hate Annie more than any musical on earth. That’s it. There’s no deep analytical message here. No opinions on why this is the perfect example of something else I hate. No really good thoughts. I just really hate Annie.



Okay, that’s enough negativity for one day. I’ve been Taylor and you have been you and I will see you with something much more positive in the future.




Similar Musicals; Different Successes: The Music Man vs 110 In the Shade

David Culliton

The following is a transcript of a surreptitiously recorded dialogue between rainmaker Bill Starbuck and music man Harold Hill in no particular place during no particular time.

Joan_Weldon-Forrest_Tucker_in_The_Music_Man.jpg


Starbuck: Say, ain’t you that fellow who became a music man for a little town in Iowa without knowing a lick of music?

Hill: That certainly sounds like me! Professor Harold Hill at your service, my friend. Who might you be?

S: The name’s Starbuck, Bill Starbuck. I’m a rainmaker, ending droughts and bringing that sweet water from the sky for only $100 per location!

H: Truly a pleasure, sir. Can’t say I’ve ever met a rainmaker before.

S: Oh no, sir, we’re a rare breed. Though I reckon you might be more familiar with my way of business. We may be of vastly different professions, Mr. Hill, but something tells me we’re in the same line of work. Or at least were, ‘till you settled down with that sweet little librarian.

H: Ohhhh a con man, then! Perhaps I have—

S: I ain’t never said that, my friend.

[Transcription note: a brief pause in the audio followed by a slight chuckle from Hill seems to indicate a wink from Starbuck after his ostensibly coy rebuttal of that label]

H: Oh, yes, you must excuse me, my tongue has the nastiest habit of slipping on occasion.

S: [laughing] Oh it’s quite alright.

H: Now how can it be that I’ve never heard of a man of such unique talents as yourself?

S: You tell me. I’ve had my story told a few times; some northern theaters thought it would be a keen idea to bring my tale to the stage set to some quaint music. I always enjoyed the little show they wrote about me. Now keep in mind, I got a brother with the voice of an angel, so you best believe I grew up with an appreciation for the musical arts; this ain’t no untrained ear’s opinion…

H: I seem to be the king of untrained ears, my friend, I’ll trust your judgment.

S: Well, they gave me some mighty fine songs, some good ones too to the wonderful spinster I met in the southwest, and to her family, too! The script they wrote is nice and simple, accurate to how it all happened, some good performers have been in it over the years, and yet with all that, the good people of the world barely know my name!

H: Fascinating! Now what is this theatrical piece of yours called?

S: 110 in the Shade. Damn accurate title, too. The town I was in when that story of my life took place was about as hot as could be, on account of the drought I had rode in to cure. There was actually a non-musical play about that same story of mine BEFORE my musical, called The Rainmaker, but even fewer people done heard o’ that one.

H: How truly ignorant of them! You know, I’ve had my own stories told in a similar medium…

S: Oh I know, it’s how I heard o’ you in the first place! The Music Man, one of the most popular musicals of all time.

H: [chuckling] Very good! Yes, truly an honor to have such a wonderful piece written about me, and to have it reach such success! It’s won awards, been seen by millions, even brought to the cinema a couple of times.

S: Must be nice…

H: Oh well, yes, don’t mean to brag, another one of those bad habits of mine.

S: Hey, we all got our vices.

H: I thank you for understanding, friend. But you must understand, it is nice to have such a legacy!

S: Well naturally; it’s what we all want from life, really.

H: Exactly! And mine is quite rewarding. When my story was first put on stage, it was heralded as a veritable modern masterpiece! People called it funny and inventive, comparing it to some other popular theatrical piece about gamblers or something.

S: No kidding!

H: You wish I were. I’m telling you, this musical play had everything! I was portrayed by some dashing fellow called Preston, my lovely wife by a gifted soprano whom I believe was named Barbara Cook; she even won an award for it!

S: For playing your wife?

H: Only she!

S: Hell of a world we live in…

H: Well that’s not even the best part! The whole piece itself won some sort of huge award that only the best of the best of these kinds of things do. Erhm… did yours win an award like that?

S: Not as far as I remember.

H: Oh, pardon me, I hope you took no offense at that.

S: None, friend; just the facts of the case. I don’t think we won any such awards, but that doesn’t mean folks didn’t like it.

H: Well I should hope not!

S: No, no, people certainly have said nice things about my story over the years! They seem to enjoy its simplicity, theatrical journalists callin’ it things like charming and sturdy. Almost everyone who knows about it seems to like the music at least. The guys who made the music for it I guess created some other show that holds some sort of fantastick record, like longest running ever somethin’ somethin’, so they’re known for solid tuners.

H: What kind of music, pray tell?

S: Oh, it’s all some sort of simple, rural, classical style. Originally, they wrote it more like one of those operas you always hear about, but they ended up changing it to how it is now. You got your ballads and a showstoppin’ song or two, but it mostly is all straightforward and melodical, a real southern, folks-of-the-land flavor, ya know?

H: I think I follow, yes.

S: How about you? What’s the music in yours like?

H: Well it’s got a flavor for the folks of the land as well, but bear in mind these are northern folks, as you might call them. It’s simple, too, like yours, but they like their music big and brassy! It was written to try to reflect the kind of American band music of which I became the purveyor in River City.

S: Same stew, different spices.

H: My thinking exactly! Makes me wonder then why my spices ended up making my proverbial stew so much more popular than yours.

S: Beats me, seems both the pieces based on our lives have so many similarities.

H: A dashing con man rides into town…

S: [chuckling] Dashing, nice touch.

H: Well I certainly thought so.

S: The charismatic fella promises a miraculous solution to a problem, falls for a skeptical young woman…

H: [gasps] You fell for the spinster, didn’t you?

S: Harder than Icarus when he lost his wings.

H: Ouch.

S: Didn’t end quite as perfectly for me as it did for you, either, but I hear she’s all happy and fulfilled with her town’s sheriff so at least she’s not lonely no more…

H: But regardless, fell for her, changed her mind about the man…

S: …AND the whole town’s minds while he’s at it, even if they don’t find the gentleman’s business practices totally… legitimate.

H: Well it doesn’t matter; he brought joy and excitement to a somber little American town!

S: And the girl…

H: And everyone learned something about themselves in the process.

S: Those sound a hell of a lot alike to me! And yet…

H: Curious, isn’t it? So similar and yet one vastly more well-known than the other! But why?

S: Well, maybe it doesn’t help that my story was first being told around the same time as some much bigger stories about people like some matchmaker and a popular comedienne who came after my time, Fanny something…

H: And the people liked it bigger and flashier than just a simple piece about some folks in the south, didn’t they?

S: I reckon. I think the one about the matchmaker won that award you were talkin’ about. It’s a shame, really. There weren’t all that many worthwhile stories being told when mine first came out, but just a few months down the line those other one overshadowed us. Suddenly no one cared much for the tales of a town in a drought.

H: But I don’t understand! My story is the same simple idea: a small town and a man with a big personality, and no one could get enough of it! It was said to be a “fresh slant on Americana,” a loving send up to a bygone era—just like yours!

S: From what I remember of YOUR story, though, it was first being told at a time that wasn’t as crowded with these mega-tales. The only other theatrical piece I really can recall comin’ across at the same time as yours was some big, sad tale about fighting gangs and starcrossed lovers. It was damn good, but it was far from enough to overpower your story.

H: And mine was big, too. Bigger than yours, at least. I think the first time it was shown, the crafty fellows telling it had an actual smokestack blow onstage at the beginning of each telling.

S: Now you’re gettin’ it! Like you said, the people of the north like it when things are big. You had big, brassy music, my friend. There were probably a lot more people up on that stage than mine had, you even had some impressive technical effect to kick it all off! People remember that, especially when there’s only one other really good story to remember any way.

H: It might have had something to do, too, with that fantastic talente who portrayed me in the first go-round. He had told some other stories in the past but hadn’t had the chance to really tell a good one in a while. Portraying me is what really made him a star, especially as… do you mind if I brag a little more?

S: [laughing] Go on ahead, Hill.

H: Well, especially as someone like me, full of bombast and charisma. People love a man with confidence and swagger, and as I think we both know they LOVE a good success story. With that Preston fellow in the lead, the people who heard my story got both of those things rolled into one!

S: That sounds like it’s got some merit. The guy who played me when MY story premiered was already well known. I’m about as charismatic and memorable as you are, but it was another solid spangle in an already well-decorated belt. Not quite as exciting as your Preston.

H: My word… is it really all down to that? Timing and a single well-placed man is what makes people know who I am and draw a blank on you?

S: Certainly sound like that to me, but it’s hard to draw solid conclusions in such a metaphysical plane of existence...

H: Oh, undoubtedly. Mr. Metaphysical Author, would you kindly conclude for us?

David: Gladly, thanks guys! The Music Man had a lot of things going for it upon its opening: an exceedingly strong cast and creative team, relatable success stories in the form of Preston and Meredith Wilson (himself finding great success on his first big Broadway foray), a nostalgic but still large and impressive homage to an idealized (if not a little silly and puritanical) old Americana, not a lot of overwhelming competition, memorable bombast, technical prowess, the works. It came out at the perfect time with all the right pieces in place to create one of the most iconic American musicals of all time. 110 had some good stuff going for it, too: the composers responsible for New York’s longest-running musical EVER, two powerhouse stars, a solid and emotionally-driven book, but it showed up too late for what it was. It was TOO small and TOO simple in a time when Broadway was coming back from a slump better than ever with musicals that were large and complex. It didn’t have room to breathe and so it petered out, a sweet little gem undeservedly lost to the ages. There are so many little intricacies and details that can’t be covered with a speculative dialogue like this, and I encourage you all to look into both shows (and generally look up and listen to 110 if you never have before) and see if you can draw your own conclusions based on what you find.

S: Neat trick!

H: Oh, that was nothing. The con man’s greatest talent, you know it! When you’re not sure where to go next, you can always pull that extra ace card out of your sleeve.

S: Hell of an ace card, though.

D: Thank you, I take that as a compliment!

S: You gotta teach me how to pull that one, Hill.

H: Well hey, you need to show me how to conjure some rain first, Starbuck.

S: With pleasure! Now, your “think method” ain’t bad, but I find props come in real handy. Let’s see if we can find you a hickory stick…

[the two voices fade away]

[end transcript]



Musical Adaptation Idea: A Monster Calls

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


A Monster Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm going to convince you it is.

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

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


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

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

 

Should Phantom of the Opera Close?

Daniel Schorr

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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

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

Taylor Lockhart

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


Race and Representation in Theatre: The Most Commonly Questioned Shows

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evita

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

 

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

 

Aida

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

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

 Once on This Island

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

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

 

Hairspray

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hamilton

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

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

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

 

 

 

Miller and Tysen: Music that Makes a Difference

Rachel Hoffman

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

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



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

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

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

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




Forever Changed

Sabrina Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Prom - now playing at the Longacre Theatre in NYC

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

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

Mean Girls - now playing at August Wilson Theatre in NYC

King Kong - now playing at the Broadway Theatre in NYC

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

 

           

 

 

 

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

Kelly Ostazeski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Parade...

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life After the Parade

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

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

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

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

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

So Long, Dearie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Special Thanks

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

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

"Dolly'll never go away again."

Thank you.

Slim Pickings From the Cobwebs of my Mind

Michael Kape

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My Personal Year in Review

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

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

Here Lies Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Miss Saigon

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

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

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

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

Allegiance

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

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

Puffs

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

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

Newsies

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

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

Something Rotten

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

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

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Hamilton

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

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

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Crowns

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

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Come from Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

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

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



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

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

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