Review

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!