Review

A Blind Viewing of Hamilton

Kelly Ostazeski
I've been blind-sided, blown away. Until June 29, 2019, sitting in the theatre, I had never heard the score of Hamilton. Okay, before everyone goes and judges me for calling myself a theatre fan and Broadway enthusiast but not listening to Hamilton, perhaps let me explain myself and my unique perspective. What is it like to go see the most-hyped show, possibly ever on Broadway...knowing nothing?

 As someone who likes more traditional musicals and typically dislikes modern popular music (especially rap and hip hop), hearing about Hamilton and its rave reviews, obsessive audience, and the cultural phenomenon surrounding it, I was skeptical. When I hear that non-Broadway fans and those who usually don't seek out musical theatre suddenly have an interest in one musical – in this case Hamilton – I start to wonder what the big deal is. Nothing can be as good as the hype. Especially when these people usually know next to nothing about musical theatre as a genre. (Which is fine, we all start somewhere!) And then there are the Broadway fans who think that Lin-Manuel Miranda is the be all, end all of modern musical theatre. I certainly admire the man's work as a composer, lyricist, librettist, actor, and director – he does it all! But skeptical doesn't even cover it, to be honest. I admit this is one of those situations where I avoided something just because of its overwhelming popularity, unable to believe that something could be as good as they say.

 My first exposure to Hamilton was back in 2016. I knew nothing of the hype, only that I wanted rush tickets to Finding Neverland. The guy at the box office told me to enter the Hamilton lottery, and if I lose, come back and they'd give me a discounted ticket to Finding Neverland. That made absolutely no sense to me. I said, “I don't want to enter a lottery for a show I don't want to see. What if I win?” Foolish.

 I did enter the Hamilton lottery once, and I lost. Just to say I'd tried once.


 I knew of Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking In the Heights, but never saw it or listened to it. I heard it was great, and my dad saw the tour and said it was great. (I was away at college and couldn't make it to the show.) But really my first exposure to Miranda's music was the Disney animated film Moana, which I thought was uniquely brilliant and beautiful. Then he really got my attention as the charming lamplighter Jack in Disney's Mary Poppins Returns, opposite Emily Blunt.

 Meanwhile, loads of friends raved about the musical, proclaiming Hamilton “amazing” and a “work of genius”. We played the cast recording in the background once while sewing a cosplay for a convention, but I didn't pay attention. I remember not hating it but not feeling particularly impressed. At a party, friends played it and sang along and again, I was not impressed.

 My dad and I are season subscribers to the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore and have been for over ten years. Subscribers had first dibs on Hamilton's tickets, and I insisted that whether or not my dad wanted to go (he didn't), I wasn't going to miss out on my only chance – skeptical as I was – to see this show. So, we got the tickets and the show was the last of the 2018-2019 season, capping off an excellent year with the most anticipated event the Hippodrome probably has ever seen.

 I decided to take a friend who had wanted to see it for years and knew the music well, but never thought she'd have the chance to see it live. And then there was me – a regular Broadway theatre-goer. I knew all the inside jokes, from “I'm in the room where it happens!” and “I'm not throwing away my shot” to “young, scrappy, and hungry” and “work, work!”. I knew of the iconic Schuyler sisters’ pose. I didn't know the story or any of the songs – only song titles.

 I went in blind and I was blind-sided. The energy in the Saturday matinee audience was electric. They knew it all too. The cast carried themselves like they know they're involved with something special. I sat back and let Hamilton happen to me.

 I listened to each line, each rhyme, then suddenly found myself enjoying the rap, the rhythms, the internal rhymes that stayed true to the history of America, but made it modern and accessible to a current, young audience. I watched a group of incredibly talented people of color play the [old, white] men who founded our country and found that it told the story in a fresh way. But isn't that the idea? To make history more interesting, make it seem more impactful to modern, diverse audiences. This is what our population looks like now, with people of color and immigrants able to make history as much as the old white men in the history books.

 This isn't just about rap music and history. There's a story here about a man who overcame the odds and the people he impacted, a heart-wrenching look at American history from a different perspective, while looking to the future with the new diverse generation that will lead us. The story wouldn't be told like this and wouldn't be as interesting and accessible without the modern score, without diverse casting. A traditional/classical-style musical about Alexander Hamilton sounds incredibly boring. It had to be done like this.

  What I was worried about most was enjoying the music. Outside of the show, I knew I wasn't interested in just the score, and I needed to see it in context with the characters and the story to get the genius in the words and to get the emotional impact.  It wasn't all rap. There are more traditional musical theatre songs there too, woven in. But whether the cast rapped or sang, the lyrics were good. The music was good. I didn't expect to be so moved by the life of a Founding Father, but it was probably the music and the way the story was told, and this beautiful, passionate cast. 

 I have revisited the music since seeing the show and it's still good, and I'm also glad I went in blind. Going in knowing nothing I think helped me enjoy it more. I honestly thought I wouldn't like the show, but I was told once that even if it's not my cup of tea, it's kind of hard to hate it.  It's kind of hard not to be blown out of the water. My friends were right, it's not my all-time favorite musical, but it's also pretty incredible.

 I don't think it's worth the resell value of the tickets, but I also can't imagine spending $200-$600 or however much tickets are going for these days. I also believe that fans who discover musical theatre through Hamilton should listen to more musicals and learn more about this genre.

 So yes, Hamilton lives up to the hype. I may be the last, but I get it now.

A follow-up comment, several weeks later:

In listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording, I find I like the rap music a little less out of context of the story and the visuals. Some of the songs absolutely are wonderful, obviously. In fact, I honestly believe that every track that is traditionally sung is written better, sounds better, and is much more complex. The beauty of the show is in the complexity and blending of genres, not in the rap – I feel like the show is stronger there. Perhaps I will get used to the whole score, but right now I find myself listening to a few tracks on repeat: “Alexander Hamilton”, “The Schuyler Sisters”, “Helpless”, “Burn”, “It's Quiet Uptown”, and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”. I know that I wouldn't have fallen for the show if I had just previously listened to the whole thing straight through. You need the visuals, the story, not just the music, not just music I find hard to follow and listen to out of context. Maybe this will change in time.

 I still would 100% want to go see the show again and still recommend it. I just think I may be going in blind for more musicals, such as other hyped shows I have tickets to see soon, like Dear Evan Hansen and Hadestown.

This Is Our Story: The Character Development of Shrek

Darren Wildeman
When one thinks about musicals with good character arcs there are probably a few that immediately come to mind for you. However, one musical in particular stands out in particular for me. Shrek. Now I realize opinions on Shrek are semi-polarizing. I understand it. I think Shrek is far from a perfect musical, it certainly has a campy vibe to it, and it definitely has holes in the writing where things don’t mesh. However, one thing it does have is fantastic individual characters with incredible development.

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We’re not even going to start with the main characters. We’re going to start with Shrek’s parents who we see for all of half a song. However, in this limited stage time we see the type of environment Shrek has grown up in. They’ve grown up with this fear, with this idea that ogres have to be reclusive. They basically tell Shrek he needs to live on his own, and if anyone comes near him to scare them away because they’ll kill him if they get the chance and nothing good in the world is for him. This helps serve to establish Shrek’s personality, which we see in what I think is a brilliant introduction of a main character and overall one of the best opening songs in musical theatre.

Over the course of his life Shrek has seen what his parents have told him is true and this has given him a no-nonsense attitude. In out of town tryouts there was actually a scene that showed this even more where young Shrek got mocked and tried to join other people but was always chased away. In pure staying true to the movies Shrek form we see Shrek bursting forth from the outhouse and telling us how life has shaped him. Shrek makes it clear immediately he’s a loner and has followed his parents advice the lyrics “Doing what I can with a one man conga line” shows us he’s quite happy how things are, and “sure I’m fated to be lonely and destined to be hated” tells us he’s accepted this as the soul reason for his existence. He’s accepted that he doesn’t fit in anywhere, and has essentially become what people want him to be. In this sense these themes will tie in nicely to “Build a Wall” where Shrek says he’ll be what people want after he gets burned and that he should have listened. However, that is getting way ahead of the story. For now, Shrek is living the life his parents warned him about and rejects anything that is considered “fun” by others or that even involves other people. He’s not only accepted his fate as a social outcast but has full on embraced as he wants people to “take your fluffy fun and shove it where the sun don’t shine.” I think through all these lyrics, and circumstances it’s safe to say Shrek’s character at the start of this show is very well established, not to mention that the entire song is an absolute bop.

For the sake of writing space, I won’t be focussing too much on the secondary characters of this musical (i.e. Pinocchio and his gang). But I will say this, they’re interesting characters. Sometimes in a musical secondary character can be a bit flat, but book writer David Lindsay-Abaire does a good job of making sure they still serve a purpose. While they don’t even have that much main stage time, their progression from complaining, unhappy fairy tale characters to being proud of who they are is a nice secondary plot that works well with the main story in Shrek and how mean Shrek is initially vs. when he’s more accepting at the end also allows them to serve as a nice device for the main plot. But we have a ways to go before we see that version of Shrek.

After Shrek wanders through the menagerie of fairy tale creatures we now come to meet one of the other main players of this story, and a character that will really show us more of Shrek’s personality. Remember the opening song established that he’s not only accepted who he is, but fully embraced it. What better way to bring this out then to bring out a character who is almost exactly Shrek’s polar opposite- emphasis on almost- Donkey ends up escaping the fairy tale mob and thinks he can tag a long with Shrek to escape being captured and sees Shrek as his salvation. And Donkey is an absolute pain in Shrek’s butt. Shrek has already established he embraces the solitude. He’s embraced the image that no one wants anything to do with him. So not only does Donkey catch Shrek off guard by WANTING to hang out with Shrek, and in “Don’t Let Me Go” thinks they can be best friends, but he does it in the most annoying way possible by never shutting up and even worse, breaking out into random song. Donkey in almost every way possible- despite a similarity that neither of them know about yet- is the perfect foil for Shrek, and despite Shrek’s protests he forces himself into a begrudging “friendship” of sorts.

If the dialogue wasn’t indicative enough of what Shrek thinks of Donkey, it becomes even more clear in “Travel Song” including the brilliant lyric “this ass of mine is asinine.” Throughout this whole song Shrek makes his feelings of Donkey abundantly clear and is already sick of him.

Now we come to the final character introduction of Fiona. She’s the stuck princess who needs rescuing and is waiting for her Prince Charming. She envisions the perfect life where she gets rescued and lives happily ever after. However, it comes into question if this is what she truly wants or if this is just how she thinks it should be. In her introduction song “I Know Its Today”, Fiona says “I know he’ll appear because there are rules and there are strictures.” This brings up the question, does she really want her Prince Charming? Or does she want him because that’s supposed to happen according to her fairy-tale stories. Needless to say, she’s quite shocked when she meets Shrek, and is reluctant to go with him despite his promises of a prince. Not just because Shrek is an ogre, but because as we all know, she’s been cursed to become an ogre at night.  This is why she asks the crew to stop and make camp. She doesn’t want to be seen, and she very likely doesn’t want people to react to her like she reacted when she saw Shrek. Fiona now goes to sleep for the night leaving Shrek and Donkey alone.

Earlier Shrek had insisted to Donkey that there is absolutely nothing else he’d rather be or rather be doing in his life. Remember, we already established in the opening that Shrek has not only accepted who he is, but has full on embraced it. Based on what we know about him so far there really isn’t much reason to question it. However, call it intuition, call it perseverance, or maybe it was because Shrek did imply earlier that he has layers and there might be more under the surface but Donkey now asks Shrek one more time if there is truly nothing else that he’d rather be. This becomes what is man people’s favourite moment and song of the entire show.

Shrek opens “Who I’d Be” by finally revealing that maybe he isn’t as hardened as he’d have us believe. It’s not that he doesn’t wish he could be something else, it’s that he believes doing any of these things is so impossible that he’s better off repressing them and becoming who people want him to be and just embracing that side of him. “Shut out the dreams, don’t give them any airtime in your brain because they’ll never happen” is basically what his life has been. And he expresses as much to Donkey “I’d have a hero’s ending, a perfect happy ending, that’s how it would be, a big bright beautiful world; but not for me” This is a very clever throwback to the very opening song and what Shrek’s parents told him. Nothing in the world is right for him. In the opening song his parents told him “a big bright beautiful world, but not for you.” And told him no one would want anything to do with him. By having Shrek reprise this line we really see how much that message has stuck with him and that he truly believes and has seen the world that nothing is for him, and this is why he hasn’t bothered dreaming about it.

At this point Fiona chimes in from where she’s sleeping also talking about how an ogre has to hide, this blends really nicely with what Shrek has said about how nothing can be for him. Fiona knows that if she is ever found out she’ll be the same way and knows that she’ll have to stay “in the dark and all alone.” Donkey’s part in this song isn’t much but here he says “You’re all alone” I think this whole time Donkey thought Shrek was exaggerating about how much he wants to be alone and how much he hates others. Remember how we said despite how much their personalities clashed there was one thing they had in common? That was being alone. Both of them had been rejected, and neither had any friends. But they both showed that in very different ways and made them appear as polar opposites when they had one thing in common. But now when Shrek finally paints a picture of how far his loneliness stretches and he basically tells Donkey that “yes, I’ve had dreams, but I stopped bothering to think of or wish for them because there is no way I can have them” I think now Donkey finally sees the picture that Shrek is painting. And for the first time he truly and 100% realizes that yes Shrek is all alone, for real. Almost as if to drive home the point even harder for donkey Shrek sings his chorus one more time. Now Fiona jumps in and as a throwback to her introduction song she reiterates the rules and strictures she has from her books. Again, this makes you question, does Fiona in her heart of hearts truly want Prince Charming? Or does she just want him because that’s what her stories have told her should happen? It’s almost as if she’s reconvincing herself that this plan is the right one. Whatever thoughts she might be having about Shrek already aren’t correct because as she already stated earlier ogres are hidden away never to be seen. She has to tell herself again that she can’t even think about Shrek like that because the plan her stories have given her is the correct and only plan. After this Donkey jumps back in once more. He’s digested what Shrek has told him and essentially vows that he is going to be that friend Shrek needs. This is a huge thing for Shrek as he’s never dared to even dream, he could have someone like that. Despite all the characters’ thoughts and ideas that they’re considering they all agree one thing “A perfect happy ending that’s how it should be!”

In the second act is where we really see Fiona and Shrek falling for each other. They sing “I Think I Got You Beat” as a competition as who had a rougher life, but then they end up bonding when they realize they had both been abandoned at a young age and have a competition about bodily functions. They both realize something is happening but neither one can fully admit it or bring themselves. Donkey finally convinces Shrek he needs to “Make a Move” and Shrek finally works up the courage.

Shrek begins rehearsing what he will say “When Words Fail” and here again we see just how ingrained his parents’ messages are to him. He keeps trying to think of what he will say to Fiona and he keeps getting stuck. He even goes as far as to ask himself “when words fail do I fail too?” Even now, part of him is still convinced that the big bright beautiful world, is not for him. He’s partially convinced he is going to fail. In the meantime, Donkey has discovered Fiona’s curse and she says that no one could love such an ugly beast which is why she needs Lord Farquaad. Unfortunately, Shrek only hears part of this and assumes she’s referring to him and shatters any hope he had. Shrek believes now that his parents were right all a long, he was stupid to try and veer off of being anything else and that he needs to just go back to what he was because that’s all he can have in this world.

As stated earlier, “Build a Wall” is a re-emphasis on what he was told as a child. Shrek has been burned, and he truly believes that even people he thought were his friends just see him as an ugly ogre. This is his re-commitment to what his parents always told him, and it’s burning even stronger. “You’re looking for a monster and today’s your lucky day” shows that he’s going to be as nasty as he possibly can. And remember Fiona’s fairy tale stories from earlier? Shrek is well aware of these and is well aware of what they say about him he sings “She wanted Prince Charming, I wanted my home back…” He is well aware that he is not supposed to end up with Fiona but he had that hope anyways. Build a Wall is about that hope being crushed, Shrek thinking the world is right about him, and now he’s going to be as mean and nasty as possible because that’s all can be expected of him.

Remember, how when Donkey was first introduced, he was the most annoying thing that Shrek hated? Well now while Shrek may still be upset with him and still might find the ass to be a pain in the ass, the persistence Donkey has is the best possible thing. Shrek wants Donkey to go away but Donkey flat out refuses. Because despite whatever Shrek is telling him, Donkey truly meant it when he said he’s going to be the friend Shrek needs. No matter how Shrek has treated him, no matter what Shrek has said. Donkey has seen underneath all of Shrek’s oniony layers and he’s going to stick by him because that’s what friends do, even if Shrek doesn’t realize that’s what he needs or deserves. Even more, Donkey knows the truth about Fiona.

While Donkey can’t explicitly tell Shrek who Fiona was talking about, Donkey convinces Shrek, despite Shrek thinking nobody wants him that he needs to go get Fiona. I think we all know the ending, so I won’t spend too much time here. However, one brilliant thing about these final scenes is the “Big Bright Beautiful World” reprise. Remember how we’ve seen multiple times that Shrek is well aware of what the fairy tales say about him? He flat out tells Fiona “You’ve never read a book like this and fairy tales should really be updated” Shrek knows the story, but because of Donkey and Fiona he’s finally discovered that stories don’t need to prove reality true. He’s discovering he can find a happy ending and that he can break the stereotypes. Same for Fiona.

It’s already been stated a couple times that Fiona wanted Prince Charming. However, it always seemed like this might be what she wanted because it’s what she’s supposed to want. As we saw with Shrek realizing that fairy-tale story types don’t necessarily need to be true, Fiona is realizing that maybe she can be happy with an alternate ending. That maybe fairy tale stories are just that and don’t reflect a projection onto reality. This point is further driven home when Farquaad revealed he just wants to be married to be king. Not only is Fiona falling for someone who is not her Prince Charming, but her Prince Charming turned out to be the furthest possible thing from charming.

And finally, Shrek and Fiona live in their own happily ever after with Donkey sticking around because he was the friend Shrek didn’t know he needed. We see Shrek go from angry at the world to thinking nothing is for him, to hopeful, back to jaded and reinforcing his views, to finally being able to break through. Fiona wanted a perfect fairy tale ending, but she learned she could have this as an ogre while loving someone who is furthest from the Prince Charming she envisioned; both of the main characters learned to break stereotypes in very different ways. Finally, while Donkey is the one with the least character change, he and Shrek both finally learned what it means to have a true friend. Really all three characters were isolated and alone in their own unique way, and while they had very different paths to getting there, they all learned that a “Big Bright Beautiful World” can be for them- they sing as much in the reprise, and that it is possible to find someone out there for you. It just won’t happen the way it does in fairy tales, because fairy tales show a perfect life and a perfect way to achieve that. The final song, “This is Our Story” illustrates all this as well that everyone’s tale is unique. When really everyone’s path will be bumpy, and even a “happy ending” will have its darker moments. But what truly matters is not that everything is perfect, but that someone can be there with you always both through the fairy tale moments and the darkness.

Come to My Garden: A Look at Broadway's Little Known Masterpiece

Taylor Lockhart
I recently got the chance to be in a local community theatre production of The Secret Garden and aside from being an overall fantastic experience it opened my eyes to a musical that I probably wouldn’t have listened to at least not for quite a few years otherwise. I’ve mentioned the show quite a few times in the past, especially when talking about my least favorite year for the Tony Awards, 1991, as opposed to my favorite year, 1954. Not the best year, not the year that had the most success but my favorite year... but then again the biggest show that year was Kismet so what's really all that great about it. Oops, my bad. I just offended the one diehard Kismet fan out there. Anyways in 1991, several really stellar shows opened on Broadway such as Miss Saigon, Once On This Island, The Will Rogers Follies, Children Of Eden (Not Broadway but it did open on the West End that year), and The Secret Garden which is obviously the show were going to be talking about.


The Synopsis

The show begins with a solo from Lily who is Archibald’s dead wife but you don’t know that yet so for now she’s just some angelic voice singing about flowers. The show really begins with Mary having a nightmare in her home in India as various people around her sing a version of the nursery rhyme “Mistress Mary” and then die horribly. Once everyone is dead she wakes up to find that the nightmare was real and everyone is actually dead and she as well one black snake are the only living things remaining in her village. She is put in the care of one of her father's fellow british army men who gives her a home until she is adopted by her uncle Archibald. Her uncle’s assistant Mrs. Medlock travels to pick her up and take her to the Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire, England. They travel through the moor, miles and miles of wild land that nothing grows on but heather and gorse, and broom, and nothing lives on but wild ponies and sheep and Dickon because he’s the Johnny Appleseed of Yorkshire. There’s also a terrible whistling that sounds like howling wolves. Truly home sweet home indeed. They arrive and Archibald refuses to see Mary because doesn’t know what to say to hey. Mary is shuffled up to her room where she hears someone crying and wonders along the endless hallways to find them. This will come into play later. In the morning we meet Martha Sowerby a cheerful yorkshire maid who is terrible at everything but they keep on because she sings very nicely. Go listen to “Hold On” and tell me if you’d kick someone who could sing that out. Mary finds herself traveling about Misselwaithe’s many areas of garden. These gardens are not secret. I feel that it's very necessary to make that clear. Mary meets Ben Weatherstaff the gardener who introduces her to her first friend, The Robin. In the distance Dickon is singing about how spring is about to begin and also about how Mary has arrived at Misselwaithe. It’s a metaphor and there will be a lot of those in this show. Mary meets Dickon who immediately is mysterious and hands her a penny's worth of seeds for her garden that she doesn’t have but she could. He’s so mysterious. He then teaches her how to speak to the robins and that she needs to use Yorkshire to talk to them. Mary believes him and Dickon conveniently places the key on the tree for mary to find when she goes to grab her skipping rope and leave...or in some productions, it’s just there in the tree for some reason. It doesn’t really matter but I like the former more. Mary proceeds to return into the manor where she asks her uncle for a bit of earth and he has a full on mental breakdown because Mary wants a garden and Lily loved gardens and Dr. Craven sees that Mary being in the house is making Archibald’s condition worse and they sing the best song in the show about how they both love and miss Lily. Later Mary hears someone crying again and travels to find Archibald’s ill son, Colin who has been crippled his entire life due to a disease that could kill him if he used his heart too much. Colin is a spoiled brat like Mary was in the beginning before meeting The Robin and Yorkshire’s Mysterious Johnny Applessed and Mary has a lovely chat with him before she is reprimanded by Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven who tells her she can never see Colin again. She ends up running outside to the gardens where the ghosts of people she knew in the past attempt to traumatize her for life by reenacting their deaths and attempting to grab her like zombies. In the midst of it all Mary’s father runs to her and shows her the way to Lily who shows her the door to the garden which as the act ends she opens up with the key. Act Two opens up with Mary in a dream where she’s having a birthday party with everyone she’s met and learned to love from India and Yorkshire. The party is cut short though when Colin dies and Mary wakes up. Poor kid just really can’t catch a break. Archibald is in torment and decides to run away to Paris to try and free his mind. Before he leaves he visits his boy as he’s done most nights while he sleeps and reads a bedtime story showing us that Archibald isn’t completely a neglectful father.Though he is still pretty neglectful. Mary returns to Dickon with terrible news that the garden is dead and Dickon lets her know “that it’s not dead, it’s just wick!” and they sing a song about it. Mary meets back up with Colin and promises to take him out to the garden. Later at night, Martha and Dickon wheel Colin out to the garden where they perform spells and chant to “Come Spirt and Come Charm” to make him get well. The spirits do show up but no one sees them and they perform indian chants that are cut in most productions because the song is way too long. Colin musters the ability to stand for the first time and they are caught by Ben Weatherstaff who joins in their secret club and reveals he has been tending after the garden because Lily told him to. Later, Dr. Craven tries to send Mary off to school and she throws a tantrum and invokes the power of witchcraft and the rage of an eleven year old girl to get her to leave. Dr. Craven puts her in time out and scolds Mary who after being told she can’t see Colin anymore again tells him what the audience has been thinking, “You don’t want to see Colin get well. You want him to die so you can have this house for yourself.” Dr. Craven almost hits the child before sending her away and returning to sulk. Upstairs Mary believes she’s going away for good and Martha tells her to “Hold On” and convinces her to write a letter to her uncle telling him to come home. Archibald in Paris has been haunted by the thoughts of Lily and Colin everyday and after receiving Mary’s letter finally comes to terms with wife’s death in a heart wrenching song and builds up the courage to return home and resume his life as a father. The kids come into the garden once again as spring has sprung and they play as Archibald returns to hear their loud noises and comes to find the Secret Garden open and inhabited by the children. Mary and Colin run to him as Archibald sees that Colin is no longer sick and is standing and running and playing along with the other children. The two embrace and Dr. Craven is left with no words as to how they kept this all from him Archibald pretty much fires him and offers to let his brother use his flat in Paris so he can be free of them once and for all and let go of “The enormous weight he has carried on their behalf”. Which come on, he did basically look after your kid for eleven years despite the pain that it caused him due to his unrequited love of Lily and tried to do what he thought was best for you so maybe the guy deserves just a little bit more than a boot out of the show because I honestly think Dr. Craven was always trying to do the right thing even if it ended up hurting people and maybe deserves just a bit better but that’s just my interpretation. Dr. Craven leaves and after a push from Martha, Archibald realizes he’s forgotten about Mary. He tells her she will have a place in the family and this home for as long as she lives and gives her the Secret Garden as all of the dreamers one by one leave until all that’s left is Lily. She leaves Archibald marking the moment he can finally stop grieving her and move on to the rest of his life safe with his family in her garden.

A Bit Of History

Now that you know a bit more about this show let’s take a look at “a bit of history” which is quite possibly the worst pun in the history of the blog. If someone wants to research that for me go ahead but I wouldn’t recommend it. As we previously mentioned the show opened on Broadway in 1991 with music by Lucy Simon and lyrics and book by Marsha Norman. The original cast featured Daisy Eagan as Mary Lennox who would go on to play in the show again in the concert production as Martha. It also featured Mandy Patikin as Archibald Craven, Rebecca Luker, Robert Westenberg and John Cameron Mitchell who went on to write Hedwig And The Angry Inch. So yeah the cast was pretty star studded and is more so now. A version would later open on the West End which changed a lot that nobody needed changed and wasn’t very good so it’s not the one Samuel French sells. Oh, yeah Samuel French owns this show. Why? I have no idea. They own like 15 really good musicals and musicals like Side Show and Heathers I can understand why MTI didn’t buy that, but The Secret Garden is technically a kids show. I mean it’s extremely metal and it’s kinda like if Dr. Suess wrote a musical on existential dread but when I bought the book from some Books A Million it was in the kids section so you’d think MTI (known for its wealth of family friendly musicals) would’ve eaten it up but if they did I wouldn’t be able to keep my script I wrote all my Yorkshire translations in so I guess it’s a good thing in the end. Anyways we got way off topic and I almost missed the best piece of history of all. Let’s talk once again about the worst Tony Awards of all time. Bug off Great Comet fans I don’t care about your tears. In 1991, The Secret Garden was up for pretty much everything alongside Once On This Island, Miss Saigon, and The Will Rogers Follies. It ended up winning nothing except Best Book which could not have been more deserved and we will talk about that in a second. It didn’t win anything else though and Best Musical I can understand and probably in a fair world would’ve just gone to Miss Saigon first instead. I love The Secret Garden but I can say that Miss Saigon was just a bigger and better production overall, but as much as I love Boubil and Schönberg, I mean who doesn’t go ahead and raise your hand because I know you do. Other fans will realize from earlier in the article that I also love Ahrens and Flaherty, and even for how much I dog The Will Rogers Follies, I really love Cy Coleman's work and consider Barnum one of my favorite musicals but The Secret Garden just has a score like I have never heard before and absolutely deserved if nothing else The Best Score win. 

I Heard Someone Crying

It was me. I was the one crying after finishing my first listen through this show. I didn’t cry when I saw Titanic. If dog dies in a movie it’s not fun but it probably won’t get the waterworks going but, this show got me. The only other two shows that has done that are Big Fish and Dear Evan Hansen and I’m convinced the ladder is just because the other two just broke my ability to hold back tears. Big Fish made me cry because of how incredible the story came around in the end and I believe I’ve already talked about that one in the past. I honestly can’t remember. The Secret Garden made me cry in it’s very last song because of how damn gorgeous it is. I already told you to go listen to this musical for yourself but if for some reason you didn’t I mean it, go do it now and then come back and finish this article through your waterfall for eyes. The music itself does it job in always conveying the mood and letting us know how the characters feel but there’s more subtle things in this musical that I don’t notice in any many other musical. For starters, every character has their own different kind of musical style but it all blends together to not be jarring and feel like they come from different musicals. Oliver does a very similar thing but the music doesn’t always fit together. A great example of this is the song “The Letter Song”. The music when Mary sings sounds a little like a xylophone. It’s what one could only describe as childish sounding like children's music and as the music transitions to Archibald’s solos more instruments are added and the music becomes more complex and heavy. It shows us two different characters who feel two different things and have them sing the same song in entirely different ways. Another example is just how different Dickon’s songs sound to everything else in the show. They feature a lot more, what I would describe as country elements and the song feels like it takes place in some sort of nature wonderland. I honestly couldn’t begin to describe how Lucy Simon composed the show. I can only say that every song makes you feel a distinct thing and that's something that's a whole lot harder to describe to if you haven’t listened to the music. It’s honestly nothing short of a masterpiece and I found myself feeling this sense of delight at the simplest things like Simon’s various glissandos that are used in the main motifs. Glissando? Motifs? I’m not a music major. The nice sounding notes at the beginning and end of the show. Yeah, I really like those and the music is very pretty to put it curtly.

It’s A Maze

I would imagine adapting a book like The Secret Garden would be pretty difficult but Marsha Norman does a fantastic job to the point that it does a very rare thing in making an adaptation that in undeniably better than it’s source material. There’s a whole lot of chapters of the book that are mashed together in one scene and so you get some weird lines like Mary just blurting out “Colin, we’re cousins.” The best thing the adaptation does though is bring the characters of Archibald, Lily, and Dr. Craven into the limelight. In the original book the entire story focuses around the kids with the first half of the book being about Mary. The second half of the book being about Colin which is probably why the line “I almost forgot you in all of this” is given to Archibald in the musical because it seems that Burnett completely forgot Mary existed while finishing the book. Oh and I can only assume there was some stipulation that Dickon had to mentioned in every other sentence whether he was in the scene or not because the book is pretty much 90% people just saying how good of a boy Dickon is. I mean he is but it seems kind of unnecessary to the plot. In the musical however, the children are given about half the show and the adults are given the other half. It’s something you never want to see an adaptation without it again. The relationships are so human and the parts with Archibald and Dr. Craven and Archibald and Lily are the most heartbreaking and compelling parts of the show. Another addition are the Dreamers which are ghosts from Mary pasts who aren’t called ghosts for reasons I can’t explain and don’t know. Their character descriptions state they are, “there to follow Mary from her past life until she gets settled in her new one.” which is pretty much right on the money. They show up in most symbolic moments and leave at the end of the show as Archibald welcomes Mary into the family and gives her the garden. There’s also in that part at the end of Act One where they all reenact their incredibly gory and bloody deaths in front of Mary as she wanders around a maze in a thunderstorm. It’s a really great family show make sure to bring the kids. Overall there’s been a whole lot of adaptations of this book. Some that turn Mrs. Medlock and Dr. Craven into Disney villains who just want to kill Colin and inherit the manor but this musical really paints them how I feel they should be as human beings who are selfish and sometimes arrogant but really just are trying to do the best thing even if that varies from character to character. The best example of this Dr. Craven who is sculpted from even less than Archibald and clear love and hatred for Colin combined with his backstory of living his brother's wife, Lily makes him the most fascinating character in the show and one that takes a whole lot of careful thought to do justice. The show ended up winning the Tony Award for Best Book and for how it brings us a new look at previously neglected characters I can say to give that to any other show that year would’ve been absolutely absurd.

The Conclusion

I always get a little carried away in these and maybe lose the point completely along the way but this is honestly a really special show and has been added to a list of my favorites that if it keeps growing the word “favorite” will lose it’s meaning entirely. If you get the chance to see it I absolutely urge you to because most versions of it completely live up to the standard of its music and script with it’s visuals, directing, actor portrayals. Talk of a revival has been ongoing forever and it was confirmed and then subsequently unconfirmed. I have no doubt though that Lucy Simon’s masterpiece will eventually find its way back on Broadway. The show has given me a real appreciation for a hundred plus year old book that I wouldn’t have ever read without it and seriously if you still haven't listened to that soundtrack go do it now. Mandy Patikin, John Cameron Mitchell? What more do I have to say. It’s while maybe not my absolutely favorite one of the best musicals I’ve ever encountered and a 9/10 if not a perfect 10/10. 

Since I talked so much about how great this show is it’s time for you to see it yourself and so it’s time for my favorite ending segment, The Upcoming Productions! Is it called that? It’s honestly been a while since I did an article like this. It might be called, Current Productions or something like that. Who cares!

The Upcoming Productions!

The Secret Garden @ Lake Dillon Theatre Company from 6/30/2020 to 7/26/2020 in Colorado

The Secret Garden @ Missouri State University from 4/2/2020 to 4/5/2020 in Missouri 

The Secret Garden @ The Center For The Arts Inc. from 8/23/2019 to 9/6/2019 in Tennessee

The Secret Garden @ Highland Park Community Theatre from 7/25/2019 to 8/3/2019 in Minnesota

The Secret Garden @ Lake Country Players from 3/20/2020 to 4/6/2020 in Wisconsin

The Secret Garden @ Leon High School from 7/12/2019 to 7/21/2019 in Florida

The Secret Garden @ Santa Clara University from 5/29/2020 to 6/6/2020 in California 

Hey, remember that time I listed a Newsies production from all 50 states. I’m never doing that again! So, you can find all the shows I missed at https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/471/the-secret-garden

Thank you for this article and I encourage you to come back next month because I have what might be my favorite article I’ve done yet cooking up and I’m so excited to put it out there. That’s really all I’ve got. I’ve been Taylor and you’ve been you and I hope you a fantastic rest of your july and I’ll see you sometime in August with that special article. Goodbye.



Fun Home: Why I Had a Not so Fun Experience

Darren Wildeman
For a musical with all the hype and and five Tony Awards I expected to be blown away. I wanted to like it. I was expecting something challenging, and something deep and emotional…I got nothing. I found many songs forgettable and much of the story to fall flat.

I know Alison Bechdel’s story, not inside and out, but I’ve read about her before seeing Fun Home and know who she is and at least had a general idea of her experience. And I thought there was fantastic fodder there for a musical. I was expecting that story to result in something brilliant on stage. And yet I was bored.


One thing that I did enjoy was the transitions between “adult” and “young” Alison. That is a fascinating way to tell a story. However, even this aspect I felt lacked execution. The transitions feel choppy and at times confusing. It’s a fascinating concept, however it doesn’t portray the story very well. I was expecting these to give an emotional punch to the gut, but instead…they don’t. The story continues and even in pivotal moments of the show you know in your head what’s happening is huge to the plot, but it isn’t conveyed. The story telling doesn’t allow for that to happen or for you to fell the significance of what are supposed to be the big, emotional moments about Alison from discovering her sexuality to realizing the death of her father don’t feel like the big emotional moments. It feels like you’re being told the story and not shown it. Sure, an event might have happened on stage but not in a way that makes you feel the full force of it. It feels bland and light, which is not what a musical of this magnitude is supposed to feel. The show seems like it’s trying to make you see what happened, and make absolutely sure you see it, but in making sure you see it, it sacrificed something. I can definitely see what happened, but I didn’t get the storytelling that I’d expect in these big moments for Alison and the major moments of her life. In the moment when the show implies that Alison’s father had a sexual encounter with the much younger boy, the show makes it clear what happened; however, it fails to really stop and acknowledge the significance of it. When her father goes to see a psychiatrist it’s clear that something big should be revealed like this but it feels like the show just told us it’s sunny outside.

While a lot of this hangs on the storytelling the music certainly didn’t do any favours either. There’s a classic saying that you should be able to walk away from the musical being able to hum a song from the show. I don’t believe this saying is totally true, however I should at least be able to know the music from the show. Despite seeing the show and giving the cast albums a couple of listens I can barely even tell you the titles of any of the songs never mind what they sound like. I do talk about some of the better songs later and the score certainly has its moments. I don’t hate the score, but I just don’t think it does the what I find to be bland storytelling any favours. However, as I said the show does have its moments.

That’s not to say the show isn’t totally without emotion. One thing I thought was extremely well done in this show was the last half hour or so. The ending moments of this musical are the heart wrenching, emotional moments that make the type of impact the rest of the show is looking for. First off in the last few scenes we see how strained Alison and her Father’s relationship have been in “Telephone Wire.” It’s the scene where their tense relationship finally comes to a head. From there we see Bruce totally snap. One of my fellow bloggers (thanks David) pointed out what an amazingly well written song “Edge of the World” is. It shows Bruce’s thoughts and his thoughts and psyche totally deteriorating. Almost in a similar style to Javert’s suicide. These ending scenes and the finale of Alison playing Airplane with her father are extremely powerful. Things are shown and not told here and the last third of the show or so is really well told and does give you the emotional punch to the face the rest of the show lacks.

This begs the question, what does the last third of the show do so much better that the majority of the show lacks? I feel like in these last scenes the show finally takes a minute to stop and slow down the action. It isn’t just one scene ending and having the next plot point strolling in before you can swallow it. I said earlier the show doesn’t acknowledge the significance of some of the past events. However, I feel that finally happens here. It’s odd to draw a parallel between Fun Home and Come From Away but the people who I’ve seen that didn’t love Come From Away said the show moves too fast, we don’t get to know the characters extremely well, or feel the emotional impact. That’s what I feel about this show. I feel like the moments earlier on in the show could really do with a longer run time. If the show was longer and had a proper intermission I think chewing on the emotional and impactful moments would go a long way in helping the impactful moments early on in the show.

Overall, I think Fun Home tries to be an emotional punch in the face. However, the moments early on in the show don’t allow for enough room to breathe or scenes to process the sad moments before it hurriedly moves a long to the next scene. It’s not until the final few scenes where the audience is allowed to take a moment and process what is happening. Make no mistake, these final scenes are well done and impactful, but the rest of the show pales in comparison with them. The majority of show could do with that same amount of space and room to breathe rather than the show moving a long quickly to tell rather than show us what happens in a rather vanilla fashion.

ATB Reviews the Tonys

Collective Article, Put Together by Sabrina Wallace

James Corden As Host

By Amelia Brooker

 Still reeling in the success of hosting the 2016 Tonys, James Corden returned on Sunday evening to resume his hosting duties three years later. Many speculated if Corden was involved enough in the Broadway community to serve as host, especially with such a stacked year for both musicals and plays. Clearly, he had his work cut out for him. Would he be able to live up to his past performance? Would he struggle to follow last year’s team of hosts? Or would he flop like Kevin Spacey?

In the end, he prevailed. His opening number, while perhaps not among the greatest of all time, was inventive and exciting. Corden was smart to capitalize on his TV success, comparing live theatre to entertainment through screen in his number “We Do It Live”. Multitudes of cast members were featured, filling the entire stage and leaving Corden with a look of pure joy as it ended. Corden’s segments throughout the show were memorable as well, perhaps the most being his “James in the Bathroom” spoof from the nominated show Be More Chill. Having Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles return was a delight, with a special appearance by fan favorite, four-time host Neil Patrick Harris.

 

James Corden marks the nineteenth person to host the Tonys multiple times, and for good reason. He lived up to his previous experience, made everyone laugh with hilarious segments, and ultimately added his own personal flair to the show. I don’t doubt he’ll return for a third time in the future, having set a standard for years to follow.

 

 A Non-theatre Nerd Response to the 2019 Tony Awards

By Elizabeth Bergmann

 I watched the Tony Awards with my family, and since they haven’t followed the season as closely as a lot of us theatre fans have, here’s a quick look at some of the things that were said during the show, in no particular order:

 “It’s weird that he [James Corden] isn’t singing in a crosswalk.”

“That’s a lot of people raising their hands. Have there really been that many dead people on Law & Order?”

“Oh, Radio City must be happy they’re showing off their hydraulics so much tonight. They talk about that a lot in the tour.”

“That’s a lot of Temptations.”

“Since when is Scout Finch an adult?”

“Kristen Chenoweth’s face doesn’t match her neck. If I were her, I’d have it out for whoever did my makeup.”

“I’ve used that bathroom. It’s a nice bathroom.”

“That’s Neil from White Collar?”

“She’s Ado Annie? She’s got a voice on her.”

“Ooh, I’m glad Bob Mackie won!”

“Catherine O’Hara was in Beetlejuice?”

“Oh, Ado Annie won! That’s exciting!”

“I’m sorry, but he [Santino Fontana] is way too pretty as Dorothy Michaels.”

“Oh, you wanted this actress [Stephanie J. Block]  to win, right? It’s just like watching Cher instead of an actress playing Cher.”

“I thought you said Jeff Daniels was the winner.”

“What’s this play about?”

“What’s this musical about?”

“MRS. MAISEL IS BLONDE?”

“I thought you said this wouldn’t be like last year where one show was winning everything.”

“Wow is that King Kong segment impressive. And the cast of Moulin Rouge! Talking about it fits ‘Spectacular Spectacular’.”

“This is the show [Hadestown] you thought would win, right?”

 

A Night At The Tonys

By Sabrina Wallace 


Sabrina Wallace’s Tony ticket. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

Sabrina Wallace’s Tony ticket. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

 

I’m the jeans and t-shirt kind of gal so wearing a full-length gown and 6” heels was a monument event on its own. When I put on my shinny ball gown and 6” heels on Sunday evening, I walked into a dream. I say a dream, because there is no way, this was all real. Radio City Hall was buzzing with the excitement of everyone involved. We walked around and took pictures at the foot of the stage, peaked at the big celebrities of the hour. Adam Driver (Burn This) in a classic black tux, Lilli Cooper (Tootsie) in a gorgeous blue dress, our dearest Beth Leavel (The Prom) in a gorgeous sparkling gown, and Caitlin Kinnunen (The Prom) in a Kenneth Cole pant suit that was wicked sleek. André De Shields (Hadestown) was a rock star sporting Hermes-type golden shoes with wings! 

 

The event started at 7pm EST. During the non-televised first hour of the show, Aaron Tveit, Danny Burstein, and Karen Olivo presented the Creative Arts Awards that were later shown for TV audiences between takes. Attendees took turns to go get drinks and meet and greet with friends and fellow artists. I got to see Eva Noblezada and Reeve Carney walking down the stairs together. Carney helping Noblezada with her dress (such a cute moment between co-stars). His outfit was something for sure, top hat and all. Eva Noblezada looked lovely and fresh! 

At 8pm James Corden showed up and the live portion of the show started. I personally loved every little bit of it (except not winning of course). All in all, it was a great evening for the industry and the celebration was the reason why we do this thing called theatre! The commercial breaks were so much fun. I don’t think I can watch this from my home ever again and not be there in person enjoying the electricity and the warmth that emanates from each artist or supporter of the arts in that room. It is exhilarating! 

 

During commercial breaks, Ben Platt performed “Tomorrow" from Annie, Anthony Ramos and Chris Jackson sang “96,000” from In the Heights and Billy Porter brought down the house with a spectacular rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. Who wouldn’t love him in that outfit and with that voice!  There was also a silly little stunt about how nice Broadway people are - which is actually true - until Laura Linney and Audra McDonald gave James what he wanted, a fake feud! Corden was on fire, joking with the audience at all levels of appropriateness. Everyone was in a good mood, so it was an entertaining evening. 

 

Tony 2.jpg

James Corden and Ben Platt doing Karaoke. Photo Credit: Sabrina Wallace

My own little secret to share. My partner and I were sandwiched between the production team of Tootsie and Hadestown, but the electricity of the evening was contagious. We held hands during the Best Musical announcement and briefly embraced each other tight when our show wasn’t called. We still stood up and honored the winners. That is how this it’s done. We need to celebrate each other! Not knowing this, our daughters were doing the same up in the Mezzanine. They cried a little bit too. It wasn’t because we didn’t win but because they were so proud of our show and what it brings to this world that they couldn’t hold the emotions any longer.  

 

Empty handed but filled with pride for my cast and crew, we left the event to go to the Gala at the Plaza. We met some of the winners and the rest of the nominees there. The food was amazing, there were people performing at a cabaret style show hosted by Feinstein’s/54 Below, and happiness all around. I got to meet Aaron Tveit, André De Shields, Laura Donnelly and my all-time favorite star Ms. Kelli O’Hara, who is beyond gracious and sweet! 

 

THE PROM at the Gala  From left to right, co-producers James and Sabrina Wallace, composer Matthew Sklar and co-producer Laura Galt. Pc: Sabrina Wallac

THE PROM at the Gala

From left to right, co-producers James and Sabrina Wallace, composer Matthew Sklar and co-producer Laura Galt. Pc: Sabrina Wallac

After the Plaza, we made our way to our own party and celebrated with our lovely cast and co-producers before calling it for the night. The cast was in good spirits and we congratulate them all for having such a great performance. We think The Prom gave one of the best performances of the evening, and hope audiences got to appreciate what our show has to offer “love, understanding, equality, and a place where everyone is accepted no matter who they happen to love!” If you haven’t seen it click here: https://www.cbs.com/shows/tony_awards/video/dhEZWsB___ccJ3vJD6iW66OmHBjR6liY/the-cast-of-the-prom-performs-tonight-belongs-to-you-it-s-time-to-dance-at-the-2019-tony-awards/?fbclid=IwAR1F_79I8kXKsYRNiiiUX17Uj7R9trWFahWN1WIa-amDUkzSbR4v3bL27hE

 

I woke up from my dream Monday morning and went back to reality! Life moves on ….  For my husband and I, this is a business, but we do this because we love theatre, we love putting shows out there that can have an impact on people’s lives. Our cast talks to people at stage door after every show and the stories they hear are heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time. They hear from kids whose parents don’t know they are gay, and the show gives them the courage to open that door. There are adults that never felt they belonged anywhere, but the show makes them feel embraced. Or parents that come to understand that their kids cannot choose who they love, and the show gives them a way to start having an open dialog about their own lives. Overall, this is a show that opens hearts, widens horizons, and embraces the uniqueness in each and every one of us. Even those that don’t like the show, come to appreciate it for what it tries to convey, a message of acceptance.  In the words of our genius lyricist Chad Beguelin, "Build it now, make people see how the world could one day be, it might come true if we take a chance” — (“It’s time to dance!”) Take a chance at The Prom, take a chance at each other. Make the world a better place for everyone!

 

Finally ….

 

“Let Us Entertain You”- Reviewing the performances at the 2019 Tony Awards

By David Culliton

 

Opening - Probably the best way to describe the majority of James Corden’s opening number this year is “cute.” First off, it unfortunately didn’t measure up to his opening at the 2016 Tonys. “That Could Be Me” (as I’m going to slightly carelessly assume its title to be) was one of the best openings the Tonys has ever seen in my opinion. It was tight, it was funny, and it was a beautiful love letter to the theatre and all its participants. This year felt a little more atonal and given some pretty tired jokes and weird amount of shilling for network television and streaming services While “Live!” (see last parenthetical) didn’t pack the same punch how the show opened three years ago, that doesn’t make it a bad number. Corden, of course, gave it his all to some pretty great effect, showing off an acceptable singing voice filled with enthusiasm and some dancing/moving ability that always catches me off guard in how good it is. I appreciated the opening looking pre-recorded only to reveal itself as a set in Radio City, the magically appearing (and very talented) ensemble dancers, and even the little callback to Corden’s “Law and Order” bit from 2016. And, of course, ending the number with another heartfelt address to the world’s greatest art form from Corden while every single cast member from every nominated musical that night AS WELL AS the Tonys’ own hired performers danced and sung up on that Radio City stage was an ending unparalleled by any opening number that’s come before it. That was what really made this opening number- a showcase of ambition that continues to grow on Broadway year after year and of the artists who help that ambition come to life. “Live!” may not have been a perfect opening to the broadcast, but it was a damn good way one; a fun, heartfelt, cute way to start the show!

 

Ain’t Too Proud - Ain’t Too Proud’s medley, for reasons that are no fault of its own, is a performance that I simply don’t have much to say about, likely because I don’t really have any connection with The Temptations. But what I do have to say is good. The medley was tight, providing a brief history of the group and showcasing some of its hits with no unnecessary fluff. The (now Tony-winning) choreography was, of course, awesome, and helped to keep the energy of the number up even for someone who doesn’t know all that much about the group the show is based on. The singers were all phenomenal (special shout-out to that awesome bass who sang the “I can make it rain whenever I want it to” line). The big band playing at the end was the cherry on top. It was generally just a great showcase of the show overall that works for newcomers and Temptations fans alike. A MORE than worthy entry this year, even if I don’t have a whole lot to say about it.

 

Tootsie “Unstoppable”- Another number that I would classify as “cute.” Ultimately, despite a somewhat catchy refrain I find this song kind of unforgettable, which is a condition that you usually can’t fix, no matter how good those performing it are. And these performers are very good. While I do think that Santino Fontana looked a little out of it for a lot of the number, he was still giving as good as a performance as I imagine he possibly could after doing rehearsals, a matinee, and ceremony prep all in the same day after a full week of performances in such (a) demanding role(s) as Michael/Dorothy. He had a SOLID ensemble backing him up, decorating the stage with Tootsie’s relentlessly Broadway choreography. And, of course, the Michael-Dorothy quick change got showed off toward the end of the number, which never ceases to be an impressive feat of costume engineering and backstage wizardry. I had fun watching it once, but once was really all I needed. Good efforts all around, I just wish this performance had more to show for it.

 

Oklahoma! “I Cain’t Say No/Oklahoma”- First of all, Ali Stroker absolutely KILLED IT and showed us all why she deserves the ever-loving goodness out of her Tony. Her sultry belt and defiant attitude are a surprising fit for Ado Annie, but one that works EXCEEDINGLY well for Daniel Fish’s inventive revival. Speaking of defiance and reinvention, the cast’s rendition of the title song in the back half of the performance was a brilliant showcase of how this revival takes a well-known classic and spins it on its head without changing a word: a new attitude. We got to see the intimately staged fighting spirit of this genius revival in all its glory, and it was honestly really cool. Little touches like Ali Hakim spraying beer at the audience members seated onstage for the number, the camera circling around the cast, and the close ups of Rebecca Naomi Jones giving us a face that screams “Not Your Father’s Laurie” just added to what a great performance the cast of Oklahoma! put in on Sunday night. It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi for me to call it the best of the night, but it was up there for me. You’re doing more than fine, Oklahoma! (Okay I’ll see myself out)

 

Mid-show number - I know Be More Chill has been a divisive show this season. I myself don’t particularly care about it one way or the other, but I’m happy that a new generation is getting their own version of the Little Shop of Horrors myth that can speak to their niche experiences in a relatable way. While a performance from a show with only one nomination wasn’t necessary, given that said nomination was for the score, Corden’s mid-broadcast trio with Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban to the tune of “Michael in the Bathroom” was a pretty good compromise. This is another one I don’t have much to say about, other than: yeah, it was a lot of fun. The lyric re-writes were funny and didn’t ever feel forced, last year’s hosts popping up midway through was a fun surprise that gave the number just what it needed to finish out strong (with Neil Patrick Harris’s last second appearance one last little fun Easter egg to top it off), AND it was generally awesome to see the return of a mid-show host song, which hasn’t really happened since NPH’s medley with Andrew Rannels, Megan Hilty, and Laura Benanti several years ago. Everything about the number was a welcome, happy surprise. Not show stopping, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was just fun.

 

Beetlejuice “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)/The Whole Being Dead Thing”- Beetlejuice by FAR wins the award for the most fun performance of the night. It was cool to see the supporting cast get to jam along together to “Day-O” with the Radio City backstage area being littered with props and a couple costumes from the show, and any chance to hear Sophia Anne Caruso sing anything for even a millisecond is an absolute win in my book. And then, here he comes ladies and gentlemen!! Alex Brightman once again showed us what an utter powerhouse of a performer he is when he took over the performance to lead “Welcome to a Show About Death” while surrounded by SOLID ensemble to back him up. The whole number was executed really well, and Brightman’s dynamic take on the show’s title character kept the whole thing anchored in glorious controlled chaos. The lyric changes were even smoother than the earlier “Michael in the Bathroom” parody and made for some pretty laugh-out-loud moments (“Hey, Adam Driver…”). Also, they brought the head and tail of one of their sandworms and for a dork like me who LOVES some quality puppetry, that gets you brownie points! It was nothing but a joyous blast from start to finish, and I’m sure I’ll be finding myself watching the video of it time and time again. It was just so much FUN!!!

 

The Prom “Tonight Belongs to You/It’s Time to Dance”- Another couple individual shout-outs to start this one: Brooks Ashmanskas and Caitlin Kinnunen were awesome in the first part of The Prom’s performance. It’s so much fun seeing such an experienced stage vet and an absolutely elated newcomer play off of each other SO well (I can see why Sabrina loves her cast so much) which made their duet a lot of fun. When it came time for “It’s Time to Dance” the ensemble did a great job pulling off Nicholaw’s energetic choreo, and of COURSE getting a queer kiss on live network TV is A+++ representation so I call it an ABSOLUTE win for the performance. The mashup, while putting together two songs with matching musical themes, had me losing a sense of melody once or twice and, like with Oklahoma!, there’s a certain secret ingredient that keeps The Prom’s entry for the night from being one of my absolute favorites but that should not diminish any of good things I have to say about it. It was a tight, energetic, joyful number pulled off by a very talented cast and I’m very happy I got to see such a great sampling of such a fun show.

 

Choir Boy “Rockin’ Jerusalem”- Choir Boy’s performance was utterly powerful. It’s always cool to get to see a play perform to break up the musical routine, which is made even better when what the play is presenting is really strong material. “Rockin’ Jerusalem” delivered on that front, with an a cappella arrangement and well-done step choreography step choreography to illustrate the strength the young men of color have to find within themselves in this play. This was only bolstered by the little acting bits we got to see that showed off how well rounded and talented the cast of Choir Boy is. While it wasn’t quite the best of the night, it was poignant, and an image that I think will stick with me for a while.

 

Hadestown “Wait for Me”- Call me basic, but in my humble opinion Hadestown gave the best performance of the night, hands down. Their rendition of “Wait for Me” was simply breathtaking (that sounds like a cliché, but I was audibly gasping at several points throughout the song). Everything about the number was perfectly executed, from the blocking adapted to Radio City’s stage, to each performer on that stage giving wonderful samples of the essences of their characters, and with the help of some of the night’s best cinematography to boot. The way so many of those shots were framed, complimented by Hadestown’s stellar aesthetic, is a classic example of the famous phrase “every frame a painting.” All that being said, I still have my minor gripes. Reeve Carney’s yelling “Eurydice!!” sounded like a teenage boy in the throes of his first voice crack, and I wish we had gotten more of Patrick Page, Eva Noblezada, and Amber Gray to get a fuller scope of the show’s four acting nominees. However, they each portrayed so much in so little time onstage, André De Shield’s narration was awesome (always a bonus to see someone perform AFTER they accept their award), Carney gave it 200% (it was even cooler to get to see him really show off his best despite not getting a nom), and the ensemble utterly killed it. The entire performance was a testament to what a worthy winner Hadestown won on Sunday, and that’s the best kind of Tonys performance: the one that looks its viewers in the eyes and shows them exactly why they deserve that coveted trophy.

 

Kiss Me Kate “Too Darn Hot”- I know this isn’t exactly a hot take, but “Too Darn Hot” is kind of stock choice, and that’s kind of lame. It was this year’s “Blow High, Blow Low,” which is far from a bad thing! It’s always cool to have the song every year that serves to show off 5 minutes of pure, exhilarating dance. I just wish they hadn’t picked the one song that anyone could see coming from a mile away to do so with. But I can’t complain too much. Basic choice or no, the choreography, of course, was still impressive. Corbin Bleu and James T. Lane leading the number got to show off their chops (the latter in both dancing AND some pretty solid singing, brief as it was), and the rest of the cast kept up like utter champs. Elizabeth, who’s been in KMK, pointed out to me the impressiveness that the choreography managed to hit every single random beat toward the end of the music, which upon a re-watch or two (and perhaps an attempted recreation), I’ve determined that the song does deserve a fair bit of credit for that, as doing so is A Lot Harder Than It Looks™. Add to it that the cameras did an impressive job at keeping up with the frenetic, stage-wide movement and you have a serviceable song choice that brought a fun, somewhat impressive 4 minutes that showed that this revival has, in fact, taught an old dog some new tricks.

 

The Cher Show “Believe”- Full disclosure, Cher’s not totally my thing, so there may be a part of me going into TCS’ performance on Sunday that just didn’t quite get it. What I did get from Elizabeth is that she and many others concur that Stephanie J. Block’s Cher has transcended imitation and has reached total reincarnation, which I can certainly appreciate, and even as someone who knows next to nothing about this show’s titular “warrior goddess” I could tell just from her opening monologue that Block has utterly stepped outside of herself to recreate this icon of the music industry. As impressive as that is, I have to admit that the performance of “Believe” on the whole felt weirdly low-energy for most of its duration. I know “Believe” isn’t exactly the kind of song designed to get your heart racing, but the performance seemed to be parading itself as this big show-off moment for the neglected musical, but there was a vitality that I felt was missing. The song and movements were just a little too slow to make the performance fully work for me. But I know that ultimately that’s not what The Cher Show was there for on Sunday. Had things been more energetic, there’s a risk they would’ve upstaged the woman herself and the many mind-boggling (which I mean in the BEST possible way) costumes that surrounded her. At which, I must confess, it succeeded brilliantly. Block absolutely shone, and at the end when that low bass beat hits and she stood there, arms spread as if to tell the audience to commence their worship of her, flanked on both sides by the skinned hides of rejected Muppets (which, again, I somehow mean in nothing but a complementary way), I realized that no matter how underwhelmed I was by the number, it still unequivocally succeeded. “Believe” showed off this show’s two greatest, DESERVEDLY Tony-winning assets- Stephanie J. Block in the role of a lifetime, and the most glorious assembly of spandex, sequins, & sparkling accessories any costumer has EVER dreamed up- which is all that this number really needed. I may not have loved it, but damn me if I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

 

And for those of you wondering why I didn’t discuss Cynthia Erivo’s In Memoriam performance: she’s a goddess, I love talking about her, but I felt critiquing what’s effectively a musical eulogy would be in bad taste. My reviews, my rules.

 

Thank you for reading!!

 

 

Now you can watch the show online at https://www.cbs.com/shows/tony_awards/

 

 

 

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.


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.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Shattering the Jukebox Stereotype

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Revisiting Oz

Kelly Ostazeski

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

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

Until this year.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                   

 

 

 

Beetlejuice at the National Theatre

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

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

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

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

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