Theatre

Five Musical Roles That Should be Genderbent

Amelia Brooker
When I look at my “dream roles”, I’ve found that I am drawn to male roles just as much, if not more, than female ones. Is it the curse of a lack of alto roles? Maybe. Is it the male typecast I’ve experienced in the past? Probably. But it has allowed me to think critically about the role that gender plays in the shows we love, and how altering gender can change the entire makeup of a show.

Earlier this year, the revival of Company on West End changed the iconic character of Bobby to Bobbie (portrayed by Rosalie Craig). In this new take on the story, a young bachelorette feels immense social pressure as she watches all her friends settle down and start families. The show was met with immense critical acclaim and gave many of the themes of the show into a new light. At the ripe old age of thirty-five, Bobbie felt more pressure being put on her ‘biological clock’ than her male counterpart did.

In my opinion, some of the most interesting Broadway roles would have an entirely new light shed upon them with a switched gender. I’m not just referring to genderblind casting, where girls play male roles and vice versa. I mean a production that switches the gender of a character entirely, and lets the story run its course with new meaning. As follows, here are the top five musical roles I believe would be excellent candidates for genderbending.

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Quasimodo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s darkest musicals to date. Though it only ever played off-Broadway, the show presents many interesting themes for viewers to think about through the course of a stunning soundtrack. The protagonist, Quasimodo, must deliver a powerful performance amidst themes of classism, lust, and image. While doubting himself due to his “ugly” appearance, Quasimodo finds it within himself to separate lies from reality and to do good in the world. With this role switched to a female one, I would love to see a heavier emphasis on the issue of body image, some toying with the relationship between Quasimodo and Esmerelda, as well as a deeper dive into the relationship between Quasimodo and Claude Frollo, the villain.

 

Inspector Javert - Les Miserables

At the core of the plot of Les Miserables, there is a constant struggle between doing what is lawful and doing what is moral. Inspector Javert hunts down a criminal for the majority of his - or in this case, her - career in law enforcement. Having a woman portray this embodiment of stoic power and determination would not only be refreshing to watch, but also to see how the story changes. For a woman to have that much power in that age, Javert would have to be emotionally stronger than her male counterpart. Having a male/female relationship at the core of this show between Valjean and Javert would be especially interesting as well. The first scene that comes to mind with a female Javert is directly after “Lovely Ladies”, where Javert shows no mercy for Fantine, a young woman forced into prostitution and having to defend herself against predators. It is scenes like this which I believe warrant this opportunity for a fresh take on this classic musical.

 

Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett - Sweeney Todd

Maybe it’s the enthralling score or the gut-wrenching plot, but my dream is to one day be in a production of Sweeney Todd, as the titular character. I’m picturing a completely genderbent production, where a Ms. Sweeney Todd revels after the loss of her husband and daughter, and finds companionship in Mr. Lovett, a comically sadistic pie shop owner. Not only would the haunting music have a fresh mixture of voices, but I think a female Sweeney Todd would change the makeup of the show. The song “Pretty Women” would play quite differently, as well as the bond between an estranged mother and daughter. Not to mention the range of comedic actors that could be chosen from for the role of Mr. Lovett.

 

Emcee - Cabaret

The Emcee drives Cabaret in a narrator-like role with a flamboyant, animated and sensual flair, so it is not difficult to imagine the many incredible actresses who could do this role justice. Cabaret has been through many iterations and rewrites since its original debut in 1966, so a combination of the score from a few different productions combined with some minor reworking would make a phenomenal new show. Little alteration to the book and lyrics would be needed, as the emcee does not interact much with other characters in the show, serving more as a bridge between the world of the show and the world of the audience. The interactions with the girls of the Kit Kat Club (specifically the number “Two Ladies”) have a few different directions in which they could be altered, as well as the ending - specifically the 1998 revival - where the emcee emerges in a concentration camp uniform. This role makes my genderbending list purely for the abundance of opportunity that would come with this change.

 

Jamie and Cathy - The Last Five Years

Like Hunchback, The Last Five Years never quite made it to Broadway, but I adore it nonetheless. The story of a relationship from its beginning to its end is told through two perspectives, Jamie’s starting from the beginning and moving forwards, and Cathy’s starting from the end and moving backwards. They meet in the middle for a single duet, as the audience gets to fill in the pieces of what happened. I would propose a genderbent version in which the two main characters swap genders - Jamie and Kevin, if you will. The reason I feel so strongly about a genderbent version of this show is because of how much discussion the production already warrants. You can talk to any fan about their opinions on why the relationship ended, how it could have been saved, and whose side they are on. I fully believe that by changing the genders of the characters, some of these answers would change. Now, we have a young woman succeeding in her career, and the jealous husband who grows sick of being in her shadow. We have a young man struggling with his own confidence and ability as both an actor and as a lover, and the wife who ends up cheating on him. Every song would read differently and spark new emotions in audience members who might have life experiences to match the ones they are seeing onstage.

The Prom's Final Dance

Sabrina Wallace

Final Bows   pc: Sammi Cannold

Final Bows

pc: Sammi Cannold

It’s 1pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon in New York City and multiple fans are lined up outside the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street. They stand there, hopeful to see their favorite performers on their way to work for one last time. The fans greet them with cheers and words of support and in return they get hugs and tender smiles. I get to see a bittersweet moment between Izzy McCalla and a teenager, who has been waiting for over thirty minutes to get a last glimpse at her favorite gal.

 

By 2:00pm the line to get into the theatre is so long that it curves around the corner of 48th and 8th Ave. People are eager to get into the venue and while they wait in line, they exchange thoughts about the show - most of the attendees have seen the show more than once. They share memories of their favorite promo appearances or the funniest tweet posted by Josh Lamon. They discuss favorite songs, favorite lines, favorite everything.

 

Inside, the Longacre is a madhouse! In attendance are the family and friends of the cast and crew, the team of producers, fellow actors, soon to be new fans, and the super fans that make it all worth it. People like Chasten Buttigieg, who is a super fan, told me “This show means so much to us! I couldn’t miss the last performance” or my friend AJ, who flew in from Austin to see the show for the last time. Everyone is in a weird mood, they are celebrating the magic that is The Prom, while nursing a broken heart because it is, after all, closing night!

 

Behind the curtain, the cast is getting ready to do their thing. It is an intimate moment, but the audience can hear their chant. We can even hear the “Oh Shoot” onto a live mic, when someone in the cast realizes that they are being a bit too loud. The audience plays along and bursts into laughter and a loud applause. In response, one of the cast members peaks under the curtain and waves us hello. We go wild. The excitement is contagious.

 

Curtain goes up and Ms. Beth Leavel is received with a thunderous round of applause. She is very gracious and bows to the audience and kicks off the show with her line. A couple of lines later, Brooks Ashmanskas turns around and another round of applause stops him on his tracks. Angie Schworer is next, followed by Chris Sieber and finally Josh Lamon. All of them are received with equal enthusiasm and love. When Caitlin Kinnunen finally makes her entrance, the audience looses control. It’s all cheers and applauses and she has to stand there, frozen for a couple of minutes, until she can finally say her line. It doesn’t stop there, of course. Izzy McCalla (Alyssa), Michael Genet (Mr. Hawkins) and even my dearest friend Courtenay Collins (Ms. Greene) receive the warmest receptions I’ve ever seen. The madness continues until everyone in the cast gets to feel the love and gratitude they very much deserve.

 

I never felt this much love for a cast and crew of a Broadway show. The cast reciprocated with candid improvisation, honesty, and a performance that will warm our hearts for the rest of our lives. Here are some tidbits of what happened in the last performance of The Prom.

 

•   Opening scene, Barry played a little coy joke with Dee Dee, a totally unscripted and hilarious blocking that showed a candid moment among dear friends

•   Barry did some crazy things with his legs, extra dance moves, after Emma told him that there isn’t a Saks but there is a K-mart in Edgewater, Indiana

•   The ending of the first act is sad and heartbreaking, yet the audience gave the young ensemble a standing ovation. A tender yet celebratory moment for a cast that poured their hearts and souls for the last time

•   Beth Leavel received a standing ovation that stopped the show for five minutes after she delivered her masterpiece “The Lady is Improving”. She burst into tears and the rest of us followed suit

•   Emma wore a cat onesie during the “Zazz” scene. I don’t think the cast expected this change of costume but they decided to play with it. Barry changed a line to “What are you going to do now, Kitty Cat?” - you can imagine the audience response to that!

•   Angie and Emma got a standing ovation after “Zazz” (which is one of my favorite songs in the show)

•   Barry delivered a perfect “Barry is Going to Prom” and delighted the audience with extra energy in his choreography that showed the depth of his performing abilities and comedic genius

•   “Unruly Heart” got another standing ovation and the tears of the audience started flowing free - I’m not crying, who is crying? Not me!

•   “Time to Dance” broke us all into pieces. Ms. Leavel lost it and started crying. She had to turn around and we heard her say into the live mic ‘I’m a mess’. She just said what we were all feeling because by then, we were all a crying mess

•   Alyssa and Emma went off blocking and hugged and held hands while they giggled like the teenagers they portrayed. At that point, uncle Barry said “OK people, let’s get our shit together” and the audience got the cue that we were all in this together and we had to help them finish the show

•   Extra hugs and an extended kiss during the final scene between Emma and Alyssa got the audience up and the standing ovation didn’t end until the curtain went down for the last time

•   Throughout the show, the swings and dance captains sat in the balcony, from where they enjoyed the last performance without taking notes. They danced, they lip-sang along their cast-mates, and they cried like the rest of us. They only left their intimate spot, to walk on stage one more time during final bows. Most people didn't noticed them, but I did. They deserved to be cheered!

 

Casey Nicholaw, Matthew Sklar, Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, and the lead producers Jack Lane, Dori Bernstein, and Bill Damasche got on stage to close the show (watch the video here). Mr. Nicholaw thanked the team, a team that for seven and a half years worked hard to bring this story to Broadway. He recognized the numerous people that worked on this show on and off stage, the musicians, technicians, supporting c


rew, and the team of producers that made the show possible. He also thanked the fans for their love and support for the show. He was emotional but grateful because the story was able to have a moment in history and that is a great accomplishment for all involved.

 

Ms. Kinnunen took her time to recognize her cast, the people that gave it all for over four years - from their workshops in Atlanta to their final bow on August 11, 2019.

 

I left the theatre with a heart full of love, love for my friends in the cast and crew, for my PROM family. We did something special. We told a story that needed to be told. We did what theatre is meant to do, WE CHANGED LIVES. I’m grateful to have met you and honored to call you family for the rest of my life.

 

PS: Guess where the cast party took place?

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Pictures: I took some pictures during the last two performances with my family and friends of The Prom musical. I also included some of the final stage door moments with the super fans of The Prom (pc: @theprommusical) Enjoy!

 

A shout-out to the cast and crew of The Prom musical for a fantastic job! (cast listed in reverse order to final bows):

 

Caitlin Kinnunen (Emma), Brooks Ashmanskas (Barry), Beth Leavel (Dee Dee), Christopher Sieber (Trent), Angie Schworer (Angie), Josh Lamon (Sheldon), Courtenay Collins (Mrs Greene), Isabelle McCalla (Alyssa), Michael Potts (Mr. Hawkins) / Michael Genet (Mr. Hawkins), and the ensemble where each person plays multiple roles (including swings and understudies: Courtney Balan, Josh Franklin, Sheldon Henry, Vasthy Mompoint, Teddy Toye, Becca Lee, Kalyn West, Drew Redington, Mary Antonini, Jerusha Cavazos, Fernell Hogan, Joomin Hwang, Anthony Norman, Shelby Finnie, Nick Eibler, Britany Conigatti, Susie Carroll, Wayne “Juice” Mackins, Brittany Zeinstra. Swings: Cara Cooper, David Josefsbeg, Gabi Campo and Dance Captains: Jack Sippel and Kate Marilley.

 

You can find a full list of cast and crew (including details on roles played by each actor/swing/understudy) in Playbill vault.

 

Remembering Hal Prince

Collaborative

From David Culltion: Processing the Loss of a Legend

I was at work when Hal Prince’s death was announced on the morning of July 31st. At first I couldn’t believe it. “Hal Prince is dead?” I thought to myself. “That’s not right, he’s supposed to be immortal. This is actually impossible.” I know these thoughts sound hyperbolic, but when I first heard of his passing I truly couldn’t fully grasp the idea that he was gone. Hal Prince’s creative handprints are all over many of the musicals that I hold close to my heart, and a world without him means one where no other extremely lucky piece of art will ever get his golden touch again. Almost two weeks later, this is still a concept that’s difficult to grapple with. Perhaps this blog is my way of coping with it this far down the line. Perhaps, dear readers, it might help a few of you as well.

Hal Prince’s projects have always been bold and innovative in some way. He was never the kind of man who simply played it safe, every show he worked on brought us some sort of theatrical innovation straight out of his head. It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that the Hal Prince projects that mean the most to me are his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim. From swooping in at the last second to produce West Side Story (ensuring Sondheim’s launch into his highly successful professional career), to his daring directorial work on shows as experimental as Company and Merrily We Roll Along, and of course his brilliant vision for the original production of Sweeney Todd (my favorite musical of all time for those who haven’t read my blog on the show), I think these projects are some of the best reflections on just how revolutionary Prince was throughout his decades-long career. Of course, that’s not to say that his projects outside of Sondheim were anything to shrug at. Hal Prince was the mastermind behind smash hit megamusicals like The Phantom of the Opera as well as less mainstream thought provokers like Parade. Hal Prince helped shape some of the greatest musicals of all time, each one leaving a mark on the world of theatre in its own unique way. The shows that were produced and/or directed by him in his career are seminal works of art that I and many others find influential in our own work. When I directed The Lion King Jr. last summer, keeping in mind Prince’s bold thematic work helped empower me to give my production a unique aesthetic to try to get at a core meaning of the show. If it hadn’t been for him giving Sweeney Todd a heavy industrial revolution aesthetic to highlight its core message, who knows if the thought would have even occurred to me that I could do The Lion King without making it look like a lame Taymor clone? If he hadn’t taken risks like he did with Merrily We Roll Along, I’m not sure if I would EVER feel like the crazy theatrical ideas that pop into my mind could ever work. Without him to keep leading us into the theatrical future, it’s scary to think what bold moves of him I could be missing out on to bolster my own creative thinking. Now that he’s gone, we’re what’s left…

But… maybe that’s not as bleak a thought as it first feels.

We are now living in a post-Hal-Prince world. As hard as that can be to swallow, that is a reality that we just need to accept. But until society as we know it collapses, we ARE still living in a world where his work will endure long after his passing. West Side Story is getting a widely publicized second film adaptation followed by a Broadway revival, his Sondheim collaborations are still regarded as some of the greatest musicals of all time, and The Phantom of the Opera is still running its original productions on Broadway and in the West End with no end in sight after over 30 years. These are stories that continue to inspire theatregoers long after their inceptions at Prince’s hands. With his work enduring far past his own lifespan, I believe that the best way for us to fully process the loss of such a monumental figure is to make sure that the stories he helped bring to life are preserved, and that the creative inspiration he gave to the modern theatrical scene does not go unutilized. After I got home from work on the day of his death, I immediately started listening to songs from Sweeney Todd and I suddenly felt a little better. I think that’s because a little part of him survives in each show he works on. Now that Hal Prince’s gone, it’s in our hands to ensure that these stories keep getting told in new and exciting ways, just as I’m sure Prince would’ve wanted them to be. Hal Prince left behind the legacy of a visionary, a legend whose brilliance breathed inimitable life into stories that have already become timeless classics. These stories exist to be interpreted and dissected and spun in new directions by the surviving visionaries that Hal Prince left behind, not only on Broadway but all over the world in every city where the spark of theatrical creativity can shine.

Hal Prince’s death is both an occasion to mourn and an event in which to find inspiration. Hal Prince is gone, we’re what’s left, and we have the power to continue to change the face of theatre in its honor, telling timeless stories in bold ways so we can in turn inspire those who come after us to do the same in ours, etc.

A bold theatrical tradition in the making, all thanks to a theatrical Prince who loved to dare to dream.

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From Michael Kape: Remembering Hal

A few weeks ago, I exhorted people to give tribute to the living legends still among us. In passing, I noted the larger-than-life presence of Harold S. Prince—little realizing how prescient that exhortation might have been. On July 31, we lost Hal, a one-of-a-kind-never-to-be-seen-again Broadway legend.

Others have already remarked on his most notable achievements in musical theatre, and they’ve done it better than I ever could. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent watching shows produced and/or directed by Prince (maybe days or weeks might be better than hours when all the time is added up). Shows like A Doll’s Life, Grind, Merrily We Roll Along, Silverlake, Bounce, Diamonds, Parade, or Some of My Best Friends. Legendary. Oh wait, you say, those were all flops. Yes, and that’s notable just as much as his big achievements were. Why? Because he dared to try. He didn’t always choose the safest or most commercial pieces. He defied the expected and explored the surprising. Sometimes, the surprising worked (and those shows are rightly celebrated). Sometimes, they failed. Others have explored the hits in depth. Being contrarian, I’d like to look at the shows others have mostly forgotten.

Yet much has been written about Merrily in particular. The concept behind the show was all Hal Prince’s idea—to have a group of young performers be onstage in a musical version of the Kaufman and Hart play (which itself was not a hit, but I digress). The problem is Prince got lost. In his book, Contradictions, Prince talks about always having a visual image he used to guide his direction (the most famous being the picture of Gloria Swanson amidst the ruins of the Roxy as guidance for Follies). In Merrily, the image was bleachers in a high school gymnasium. It wasn’t good. The production wasn’t good. The direction, frankly, wasn’t good. By opening night (I was there with my BFF), it had all fallen apart. It was a crying shame.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a classic realistic proto-feminist drama, ending with a flourish as Nora slams the door on her conniving and controlling husband. Prince dared to ask what happens after the door slams. The result was A Doll’s Life. It was painful. Poor Betsy Joslyn, who was a notable replacement Joanna in Sweeney Todd, was forced to carry an entire production on her shoulders. She was talented enough to be up to the task, but she was done no favors by the script, the score, or Hal Prince’s visual guide (The Scream by Edward Munch). My BFF and I debated at intermission whether to stay for Act II. We stayed. We were sorry. But the thinking was right—what really did happen to Nora after the door slammed (a concept more successfully explored many years later by Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2). 

(Not long after, I had somehow managed to win tickets to the opening night of the opera house version of Candide. It was Prince’s reimagined version reimagined once again for New York City Opera, and it was brilliant. He and Steve Sondheim were seated directly behind my BFF and I, and we nodded our hellos before the curtain rose.)

And sometimes, Hal Prince just did it for the money—as we’ve all had to do at times. Probably his most out-of-character and least successful Broadway show was a pedestrian drawing room comedy/star vehicle for Ted Knight (coming off his time on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). He didn’t like the material. He wasn’t fond of his leading man. He couldn’t find anything to hold his interest. The show (mercifully) closed after four performances and universally scathing (and richly deserved) reviews for everyone attached.

Not even Hal Prince could save a show—even one by Steve Sondheim—with an inherently flawed problem. Sondheim had wanted for years to write a musical about the Mizner Brothers. At various times, it was called Wise Guys, Gold, Bounce, and finally Road Show. The inherent flaw (and a surprising one since he once told a friend to put this very thing in a show he’d written) was a lack of conflict between the brothers. In Chicago, Prince tried valiantly to fix Bounce. He tried all his best tricks (and every director has a bag of tricks; with Hal you could tell a show was in trouble when the leading lady showed up in a red dress—see A Doll’s Life), but nothing worked. Still, if you ever have the chance, listen to the Bounce cast recording, which is the best version of the Mizner story in my opinion.

At least Hal Prince tried. He was usually successful (let’s face it, without Prince’s sweeping direction, Phantom of the Opera would not be the longest running Broadway show). And sometimes he wasn’t. But he always tried, and for that he deserves all the praise we can give him.




From Sabrina Wallace: To Work and To Experiment

On July 31st, 2019, the lights of Broadway dimmed to honor Hal Prince. That night, the world learned that our community lost a creative genius, an ally to the arts, and a theatrical legend. Mr. Prince gave us masterpieces like West Side Story, Chicago, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Parade, and The Phantom of the Opera, among many many others. His Broadway career spans over several decades in a multitude of roles, from producer and co-conceiver to director. His work will forever inspire generations of producers, directors, writers, and actors, to create and deliver musicals that can be enjoyed by theatre lovers all around the globe. 

 

Hal Prince conceived, directed, or produced some of the best musicals in the history of Broadway, many of which won various Tony Awards. One of the most beloved pieces among his shows is Parade, the tragic, true story of the trial and lynching of a man wrongly accused of murder. When asked by Playbill why he wanted to do a show about such a difficult story, he simply said “What I’ve learned over the years is that the impossibly difficult ideas are the best ideas. The challenge is to unlock them. It’s the easy, can’t-miss ideas that are always a problem for me.” Hal Prince wasn’t afraid to bring to the stage musicals that told stories that mattered. This is evident in his repertoire, his legacy. One of his most famous quotes sums up his approach to Broadway and inspires me to continue to support new content in musical theatre.  “The idea is to work and to experiment. Some things will be creatively successful, some things will succeed at the box office, and some things will only - which is the biggest only - teach you things that see the future. And they're probably as valuable as any of your successes.” — Hal Prince 

Broadway will miss you Hal but Heaven just got a little more theatrical! 




Swingnation Rocks

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Sabrina Wallace
Do any of you know any swings or understudies in your favorite musical? Can you name at least five actors that started as understudies or swings and made it to a lead role? (please no sneaking on google!). Don’t worry, you are not alone. Most regular theatre goers focus on the lead roles and the ensemble as a whole, but often overlook the talented individuals without whom a show cannot go on. 

“Swings have some of the most mentally taxing jobs in theatre as, by definition, they are responsible for understudying multiple ensemble tracks (sometimes ALL of the ensembles tracks) in a show" (Mo Brady for Playbill). Swings need to be ready to step into any given track on short notice. Most times they have a schedule run, covering vacations, days off, or scheduled swing out dates. Most times, however, they have little time to prepare. A swing may get to the theatre one afternoon to find out that a cast member called in sick, or got sick during Act I. These performers need to remain healthy and in a good state of mind to jump into any character and do a kick butt job every single time. They have the added pressure to ensure that the audience doesn’t notice the difference. 

Not everyone wants to be a swing but most importantly, not everyone can do the job. Swings are the most versatile performers you will find on stage. They can sing, act, and dance. True triple threats, swings have to be wicked smart and organized. Any director on Broadway will tell you that swings are the most talented and the most trusted people in the industry. “Anyone who hires swings knows you need them to be true triple threats… You need someone who can lift the girls, carry a scene, dance all the steps, and sing both the high A, the low B. Swings must stay calm under pressure and learn to be in the moment.” (Mo Brady for Playbill)

Two of my favorite swings are Jack Sippel (Gypsy, Newsies, The Prom) and Clay Thomson (Matilda, Newsies, King Kong). I visited NYC with some high school students in April and we had working sessions with these two young performers. They both talked about their roles as swings. They shared with students the importance of the job, the high demands of learning more than one track, and the personal dedication and work ethics required to succeed in the business of being a swing. Both performers agreed that being a swing is not for everyone. It may be a successful career path for those that want to develop the skills because swings go easily from one job to another and can always find work on Broadway. They also dismissed a common fear among aspiring Broadway performers. Being a swing is ABSOLUTELY NOT a career ending role but rather a different path or an entryway into the world of Broadway for those actors that want to put in the work. While directors may choose to replace an actor that leaves the show with a new actor, the job of a swing is in high demand and swings can go to another show as a principal. The main reason why directors may not want to give a principal role to a swing in the cast, is because it is easier to train one person in one track than replace a swing that covers multiple tracks. If you are an upcoming actor that needs to work and wants to make a name for yourself, you should be looking at the role of the swing or understudy as a door to Broadway (if you are good enough for the job, of course). Not to mention that swings and understudies get a base pay plus a swing fee!

Here are a few stories that may help you appreciate some of theatre’s unsung heroes:

  • In 2016, Natasha Barnes (West End’s American Idiot, Funny Girl) had to step into the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Savoy Theatre in London, when the lead took a temporary break from the production. Audiences were upset that they couldn’t see the original cast on stage, but as soon as word got out that Natasha was amazing in the role, people embraced her and she was a total success.

  • Sutton Foster (Violet, Shrek, Anything Goes) got her big break as understudy to Erin Dilly in Thoroughly Modern Millie and went on to win a Tony Award for that performance.

  • Kate Marilley (My Fair Lady, The Prom) covers four principal roles in the adult ensemble of The Prom. Two days after opening night, Ms. Leavel got very sick, so Kate had to step in. She had not yet had a rehearsal at the theatre (swing / understudy rehearsals are sometimes done after the show has settled a little bit) so she had little time to get a refresh on the role before show time. While she was brushing up on her songs and lines, the costume department was fitting her on the clothes, the dance captain was rehearsing the moves with her, and the rest of the cast was cheering her on! She went on and rocked her debut as Dee Dee Allen, mainly because she is a fantastic performer that paid attention to the principals and took her understudy job very seriously.

  • In 2018, Steph Parry (West End’s Wicked, Mamma Mia, 42nd Street) was working as an understudy in 42nd Street when she was called to fill in for Donna in Mamma Mia at a different theatre in London’s West End. She had played the role of Donna five years prior so she only needed a refresher, but she only had about 15 minutes to get ready. For some reason, nobody else could step into the role in that short notice. The stage manager remembered that Parry had played the role five years prior, so they called her up. “The production was forced to grind to a halt for 18 minutes, but Steph says the audience were ‘completely on her side’ when the stage manager announced what was happening and she took to the stage.” (Metro UK). As many other swings have done in many shows throughout the history of Broadway and the West End, Parry saved the show from cancelling that evening!

  • Bernadette Peters (Hello Dolly!, Follies, Gypsy, Annie Get Your Gun) begun as a standby in The Girls in Freudian Slip in the late 60s and won her first Tony Award in the late 80s for Song and Dance. I saw Peters in Hello Dolly! and she blew my mind. I’m sure her humble beginnings as a standby had a positive impact in her life and career and not the opposite as most of today’s young performers may assume about not being a lead from day one.

  • Gabi Campo (The Prom), a swing and understudy for the role of Emma, had to step into the role half way thru a performance on a Saturday matinee when Caitlin Kinnunen got sick and couldn’t go on. If you have seen the show, you know that Emma is on stage most of the time, so there was little time for Campo to get ready. She seamlessly took on the role and the audience loved her! I’ve seen Campo on stage multiple times and that girl can play any role she is given. She is a true triple threat. You can see Campo next in the revival of West Side Story on Broadway.

  • Andrew Rannells (Jersey Boys, The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, The Boys in The Band) had his Broadway debut as an understudy for the role of Link in Hairspray. You probably saw him this year during the Tony Awards, he is a fabulous performer that has been in several lead and ensemble roles in his young career.

So now you know and because you do, next time you go the theatre and there is a little paper calling out cast replacements, be happy that you get to see one of these wonderful performers shine on stage. Go ahead and appreciate the swings and understudies because these actors are often the ones that save the show! 

Click here for a tribute to swings and understudies because SWINGNATION ROCKS!

Spotlight on the Small Ones: National Theatre of the Deaf

Jonathan Fong
When we talk about the ‘small ones’ in theatre, we must never forget those among us who may, by some metrics, be considered less fortunate, whom are often silenced and left without a voice. And yet, in a world which may seem so cruel to them, there is always a silver lining, a microphone left to those who wish to sing out.



The National Theatre of the Deaf, or NTD for short, is one of the oldest theatre companies in America—not only relative to theatre companies that cater to the deaf, but outright too. Based in Connecticut, they’ve been performing since the 1960s and, while operating somewhat out of the limelight relative to the able-bodied dominated theatrical establishment, they’ve had a massive influence on theatre not just in the US, but worldwide.

Conceived by Edna Levine and with the support of various influential people within the theatre and deaf communities, including Helen Keller’s teacher Anne Sullivan, actress Anne Bancroft, and Broadway set designer David Hays, the company was founded in 1967 with just 12 actors, 11 of which lacked formal training. The theatre company, whose first performances were at Wesleyan University, initially got off to a rocky start with the deaf community—the ASL used was hard-to-understand, while the material (mostly existing works translated into ASL) failed to explore issues relating to the deaf community itself, concerns which still sound familiar to those working in deaf theatre and theatre with disabilities even today.

However, as the theatre company matured, deaf artists moved into leadership roles and the company began producing not just translations, but entirely original works too focusing on the deaf community and deaf culture. Recognizing the aesthetic and visual qualities of sign language, the company left behind the traditions of realism and naturalistic theatre, moving towards a performance style dominated by the spatial aspects of communication. They branched out from the theatre too: collaborating with the Children’s Television Workshop, they’ve worked with TV shows such as Sesame Street to bring deaf awareness and understanding to the next generation.

Employing both deaf and hearing artists, the company caters to both the deaf and hearing communities—they often make use of shadowing, where deaf actors portray a role via ASL with a hearing actor standing either close by or off stage to speak or sing lines in English, allowing a diverse audience to understand their onstage art. Via outreach programs, they spread knowledge and encourage a sort of human connection only the theatre can provide. They train countless deaf artists, helping them hone their art; actors and performers who have passed through NTD’s doors have gone on to do truly great things, opening their own deaf theatre companies and spreading understanding of the deaf community further (Deaf West comes to mind).

NTD was, is, and will always be a pioneer in the theatrical industry and the deaf community in bringing together those without a voice and giving them a platform they were once denied. And in a world where people are so often silenced, one can only be glad they’re here.

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.



Spotlight on the Small Ones: Zneefrock Productions

Jonathan Fong


In one of my earlier articles on this blog, I praised the smaller, less-known side of theatre—community theatre, amateur dramatics, high school theatre, etc — and how much they truly bring to the theatrical community as a whole. In line with that, I figured I’d start a little series of articles to do just that—put a spotlight onto the lesser-known theatre companies, organizations and people who make theatre what it is.

Zneefrock Productions, based in Woodmere, New York, is a youth theatre company that embodies everything that youth and the next generation bring to theatre. Founded by (then-12 year old) Andrew Feldman in 2014 (yes, the Andrew Feldman that’s currently starring in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), it has grown from a simple Bar Mitzvah project of a cabaret of showtunes to an established company who’ve performed everything from fully-fledged licensed productions of big musicals like Seussical and Be More Chill to concert performances akin to their first and even original musicals. And it’s run by teenagers.

They have a mission. The company raises money for, among other organizations, NEXT for AUTISM, an organization supporting people with autism across America in societies and communities; Feldman, who has a cousin with autism, explains in an interview on Odyssey that donating to them was “the obvious choice”. Run by teens at the forefront of the social movements of today, the company draws attention to the social dynamics of modern society in their productions. Their aforementioned production of Seussical, in Feldman’s own words, was a “re-imagining…more stripped-down and socially conscious”, while their novel production of The Last Five Years featured a rotating cast with differing gender pairings, with some performances done traditionally and others with one or both of the two main characters of Jamie and Cathy gender-swapped to explore the differences in gender dynamics caused by the flipping of gender roles and expectations on their head, even if within the confines of the same story.

They don’t mess around either. Their first original musical, a Star Wars parody named SW: A New(sical) Hope written by Feldman and Adrian Dickson, is a full hour and forty minutes long with an intermission to boot (an official recording of the full show can be found on YouTube). They’ve professionally recorded cast albums for their shows—their cast recording for A New(sical) Hope can be found on Soundcloud. And as a non-profit theatre company, they’ve raised over $21,000 US in support of autism-supporting organizations; their very first cabaret raised a thousand dollars for the cause, while more recently their production of Seussical raised $5000 and their production of Be More Chill, staged right before the show’s current Broadway run, raised a full $9000.

The point is—Zneefrock is what theatre should be. Not flashiness or money—they, driven not by money nor visual spectacle but by the society and social movements of today, demonstrate the power of youth. Not just within the theatre, but of theatre itself, in helping those among us in need and putting a spotlight on the chasms and gaps in modern society which need addressing. And with members of their company going on to achieve great things already out there in the world of professional theatre, there’s no doubt that they’re a force to be reckoned with, no matter how small they may appear to be.

My Fair Lady's Biggest Problem...Solved

Elizabeth Bergmann

My Fair Lady closed its most recent Broadway revival on July 7. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the Lerner and Loewe masterpiece first opened on Broadway in 1956 starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. This most recent revival received critical acclaim and a Tony Award for Costume Design. It has been revived over and over with many stars of the stage and screen portraying these beloved characters all around the world. The movie (for all its casting controversy) is a breathtaking movie-musical that is so true to the original script that one can honestly run lines WITH THE MOVIE.

Outside these professional settings, amateur theatre groups have done the show over and over. My own Midwestern city saw three productions that all performed within two months of each other. Eliza Doolittle is a beloved role for sopranos everywhere (playing her was a dream come true for me). Higgins is a godsend for the sing-talking men of the world, and Freddy Eynsford-Hill’s song has been sung in auditions billions of times. The point is, the world would be a vastly different place without this amazing musical existing.

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That does not mean that the show does not have its problems. By far, the biggest one is the ending, which differs from Shaw’s ending in a big way: Eliza comes back. We can bring up sexism, adding romance where it doesn’t belong, and a million other criticisms. All of these are valid issues to find within this musical, but the ending is definitely a contentious part of the show, especially with the changes this most recent revival added.

Higgins starves Eliza, threatens her with violence, and takes all the credit for her accomplishments. Eliza returns to him after he treats her horribly. I am by no means defending anything Higgins did, or saying Eliza was right to go back to him. So, how do we solve this problem? Simple: It isn’t a problem at all if you dissect these characters as much as I have.

My Fair Lady is based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, as I said. Pygmalion is named for the man with the same name from Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a man who was fed up and uninterested in women, so he sculpted his idea of a perfect woman out of ivory. When he falls in love with the statue, he prays and makes offerings to Aphrodite for a woman identical to his statue. When he returns home and kisses her, she comes to life and they get married. Many versions of the myth include her name as Galatea, and this story has inspired countless stories of an artist’s creation coming to life.

Shaw refused to give Eliza and Higgins an ending like the one in My Fair Lady because he saw it as opposing the point of the narrative. In a letter to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the first Eliza, he wrote:

“When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on 'consort battleship' you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final 'Buy them yourself.'”

Higgins rants against women because he believes none of them measure up to men in the way he wants. Rather than realizing his scope is limited, or that certain behaviors are forced upon women from a young age, he just sees them as non-intellectuals who don’t appreciate literature and the arts because they’re too stupid and emotional. As much as Eliza changes, Higgins changes even more. The best performances show his growth from a man-child used to getting what he wants to a man who learns to see the humanity in those that are different from him. The only person Higgins likes at the beginning of the show is Colonel Pickering, who is himself an educated linguist and gentleman. By the end of the show, Higgins has actually grown to care for Eliza, and even goes to his mother, a woman, for help when she disappears. He has created this incredibly strong woman out of the flower girl he found, and she is as perfect as any woman could be in his eyes. He exclaims “I like you this way!” when she defies him. Everyone focuses on Eliza’s change, but if we are to call this a coming-of-age story, a stronger case can be made for it being Higgins’s story.

This only works, however, if we are able to see him grow past his arrogance expressed in “You Did It” about Eliza’s progress. He takes all the credit for her, without seeing the admirable qualities that she already possessed, or that she cultivated in herself along the way. He can only grow to see her as a person, rather than a creation, when she stands up to him. The line he says immediately after “Without You” is so critical: “Five minutes ago, you were a millstone around my neck, and now you're a tower of strength, a consort battleship.” He needs to see her as a new, independent person, rather than just his project or pet. The best actors are able to make him see the error of his ways, without allowing him to apologize through words.

Eliza, meanwhile, comes into her own in the world of the gentry. She grows to a point of emotional maturity where she no longer cries when confronted. She learns how to navigate all parts of society, not just the working or lower classes. She finds value in herself and recognizes her abilities beyond being able to sell flowers. As freed as she can be when people don’t look down on her, however, she does also come to realize that upper class women don’t have as many opportunities as men, either. A very powerful moment comes when she’s faced with the dilemma of where she’ll go after the ball. Higgins’s immediate reaction is that she’s too good to work in a shop as planned, so he declares “You could marry, you know.” Eliza’s response to him saying that all she’s worth is marriage is heartbreaking: “We were above that in Covent Garden. ... I sold flowers, I never sold myself. Now that you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else.” The environment she’s in is impossible. So, she decides she will marry Freddy.

Now, Freddy Eynsford-Hill has a far larger role in My Fair Lady than he does in Pymalion. In the original play, he shows up once, is enchanted, and is only ever mentioned when Eliza tells Higgins her plans. His family, while certainly part of the gentility, no longer has the finances they once had, and Higgins tells Eliza that she’ll have to support him since he’s been raised to not work. In My Fair Lady, a lot of effort is put into Freddy’s devotion through “On the Street Where You Live.” He is an impressionable young man, and since many of the Eliza actresses are older, it’s not unreasonable to reach the conclusion that she can exert a certain amount of control over Freddy. She can accomplish a lot more as a respectable married woman than as a single one, and she knows this. While leaving Higgins to marry Freddy may not be financially advantageous, socially, it’s one of her best moves. There’s no reason marrying Freddy would be a terrible idea for her.

If that’s the case, then why am I not bothered by the return in My Fair Lady? Because of that power imbalance with Freddy and Eliza. I can’t think of many people who want a huge imbalance like that in their relationships, and does Eliza really want to spend the rest of her life with a man who says “I spend all my time here. It’s the only place I’m really happy” when she walks out of her house and sees him there? To me, the most important thing in My Fair Lady is the growth of Higgins and Eliza’s relationship. They grow to respect each other, and even to care, and while the script explicitly states there is no romantic attraction, that doesn’t mean that they are incapable of cohabitating. By the time she leaves, Higgins sees her as an equal. He says he doesn’t treat her any differently than he does anyone else, and there is evidence of that (he’s rude to everyone regardless of his relationship to them). In fact, only Eliza seems to remember that he planned for her to move out after the bet was won. Higgins sees no problem with her continuing to live there and go about her life. He even expresses that he’ll miss her companionship in the final song, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” which he has never expressed about anyone.

Okay, so Higgins wants her to come back. But doesn’t it undermine Eliza’s entire arc for her to come back to him instead of going out on her own and marrying Freddy? Well, that depends on why she comes back. There are plenty of bad reasons for her return. Is she coming back because Higgins has manipulated her into it? No. Is she coming back because it’s what he wants and she’s putting his needs first? No. Is she coming back because she can’t support herself in the world? NO (she has a plan to apprentice herself to Higgins’ rival and make money teaching phonetics). While we can’t pinpoint exactly why she comes back, I have several theories. Maybe she comes back because she’s found a home in 27A Wimpole Street. Perhaps she finds that while she doesn’t need Higgins, he seems contrite enough that if she wants to live with him, they could make it work (this especially works if his “Where the devil are my slippers?” is delivered with a smile to indicate a joke). Maybe she understands that manipulating Freddy into a marriage will just continue a sexist cycle that she’s been trying to break free from. Either way, if these are taken into consideration, Eliza can still come into her own and stay there while returning to the Higgins residence.

“But what about the new feminist ending of the revival?” I’ve not seen the revival (I’m a broke college student in the Midwest). I’ve heard various things, including a slap (which I have mixed feelings about), but from what I can gather, the gist is that Eliza does come back, but then leaves again through the audience when Higgins asks her where his slippers are. One post I read included that there is a blue light to indicate that maybe Higgins is imagining her, which I think would speak volumes to his arc. But if this is the real Eliza, her returning and then leaving again can still fit into her arc. Maybe she did come back expecting things to be different, but sees he refuses to change. She could be giving him one last chance to apologize to her. I’m sure each actress in the role presents it differently, and I’m sure each adds their own nuance. I’m interested to see if future productions keep this new ending, and how different directors and actors tackle it.

None of this changes the fact, though, that this ending is not what George Bernard Shaw would have wanted for these characters. After a 1914 production changed the play slightly to give a happier ending, he wrote a whole essay, “What Happened Afterwards,” that has since been attached to published versions of the script. To that, I have to say something that might seem obvious, but still needs to be said: My Fair Lady and Pygmalion are different shows. Yes, the scripts are nearly identical, and Shaw probably should be given a writing credit, but the shows are different. The original play didn’t include the pronunciation exercises we hear in “The Rain in Spain,” those came about in 1938’s Pygmalion film. This same film introduced the concept of a ball, rather than a party, being the test, as well as the idea of a Hungarian villain, and the musical really cemented Zoltan Karpathy as a character. If we are to say My Fair Lady must keep Shaw’s ending, then we must say the same of other adaptations that are not 100% faithful to their source material. Pygmalion alone would mean tackling all the film adaptations, as well as She’s All That, the end of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and even the short-lived television series Selfie. Adaptations require changes, and if Lerner and Lowe wanted to change things, that is their prerogative. It doesn’t destroy Eliza’s arc. Galatea has still come to life.

My 1776 Love, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Film Adaptation

David Culliton

If I’ve learned anything from the countless hours I’ve logged watching extremely nerdy, thirty-minute-plus video essays on YouTube, it’s that the theatre and the cinema are two VERY different beasts. While both share the basic aesthetic of longform entertainment, the creative processes and indeed the appealing aspects of said entertainment varies from form to form. This is relevant to the discussion of adaptations, whereupon the creative products of one medium are translated into another. It is the rule of thumb that, for various reasons, you cannot directly and exactly recreate those creative products between mediums, or else risk many of the best aspects of the original being lost in translation. For example, had the entirety of Victor Hugo’s revolutionary magnum opus been put into that little indie musical adaptation nobody’s probably heard of (something about a bunch of miserable French people?), the audience would be subjected to a 5-hour derge that nobody would ever want to sit through. Excess needed to be trimmed, character beats expanded to fit a more theatrical setting, etc. When it was adapted into a movie, changes were then made to make THIS adaptation fit the silver screen rather than a box stage & a turntable. While I’m aware that how effective these changes were is still up for debate even seven years later, Tom Hooper and crew at least recognized that the show had to be meaningfully transformed to fit the new medium to a point where many viewers were able to concede that the movie felt like more than just a boring retread of the show. Compare this with adaptations like the Phantom of the Opera or Rent movies, who don’t meaningfully change enough of their source material to fit (or even warrant) their cinematic presence, and consequently did NOT fare well critically upon release. I won’t dive into too much detail as to why (if you’re curious, go watch Lindsay Ellis’ videos on the two movies- I cannot recommend her content enough!!), but suffice to say the refusal to make changes to either show that fit the aesthetic and form of film makes their executions feel clunky and lackluster.

If this issue is prevalent in movie-musical adaptations of the last 10 years, it was even more so 50 years ago, and much more thorny to boot. Movie-musical adaptations then are comparable to Marvel movies today. They were the big spectacle blockbuster events of the season, and studios would sink millions of dollars into the production, promotion, and release of these films, even touring some of them on roadshows to build hype before wide releases. The problem was that not all of these big budget cinematic marvels were huge hits, and I’m sure it won’t shock you to know that two of the most infamous flops of this era, Camelot and Hello, Dolly!, were massive, $15-million-plus expensive attempts to recreate the magic of the original shows in order to squeeze as much money out of the prestigious movie musical genre that seemed while refusing to actually engage with the material in a meaningful way. They put the stage shows on screen, and while Camelot cut some things for time & Dolly added a Louis Armstrong cameo, not enough was done to either to make the musicals work as movies and both failed tremendously, both at the box office & with audiences. Dolly was so disastrous, in fact, that it became known as the one that maimed the genre into nonexistence for about 3 decades. There, of course, were still musical adaptations that popped up in the cinemas between 1970 and the late 90s/early 2000s, but they touted much smaller budgets, safer risks, and stories that worked well onscreen and kept up with the sensibilities of the times (as opposed to movies like Camelot and Dolly, both of which were accused of being outdated and out of touch with the prevalent social themes of the day). These films, such as Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, and Hair, performed well and received well and kept the genre alive long enough to see the release of Moulin Rouge! and Chicago, both of which are seen as responsible for putting the movie musical back on the map. (Quick side not before we get to the main attraction that the history I just detailed is a GROSS oversimplification of how all of this went down in the industry and I once again refer you to Lindsay Ellis to give you a better picture in her video “The Death of the Hollywood Movie Musical”).

Amidst all of this came a modest little adaptation of a modest (though award-winning and well-received) musical three years after Dolly crashed and burned its way through its wide release. The musical, and subsequent movie, was, of course, Peter Stone’s 1776. While it didn’t boast the massive budget of the infamous flops that predated it (only clocking in around an estimated $4 million), it did sport some of their other trademarks. For one thing, it was a musical about the founding of America that doesn’t comment all that much on how that creation led to the America we have today/had in 1972. While the musical notably did premiere during the Nixon administration and Vietnam, being lobbied by the administration to remove the song “Cool, Considerate Men” for its less-than-glowing depiction of the American right wing, it didn’t comment all that meaningfully on the world around it, opting instead for traditional sensibilities akin to what got Dolly and Camelot criticised for being out-of-date. Most notably, the adaptation AGGRESSIVELY refused to change the script or score of the show, putting the entirety of what could be seen in the Broadway run on film and even ADDING a few moments to bring the film to a whopping ~180 minute run time. The film also brought a majority of the show’s original Broadway leads onboard to reprise their roles, only adding to the feeling of the movie simply replicating the stage musical. And while the original theatrical release of the movie did cut down the runtime to just over 141 minutes, the spirit of a direct adaptation that makes no significant alterations to the source material was still present, and you should know the punchline already. The movie only earned just over $6 million at the box office, thus obtaining a meager $2 million in profit after breaking even on the budget, and was received pretty tepidly by critics and audiences despite using the same script and score that won the original Broadway production the Tony Award for Best Musical. Once again, a movie-musical adaptation didn’t engage with its source material to consider how it plays on the big screen, and so audiences found themselves bored and not caring a whole lot about the story of the fate of our country. By all accounts this film is an overlong mess that has absolutely no right to exist.

President Richard Nixon with the cast of  1776  after a performance in the East Room of the White House

President Richard Nixon with the cast of 1776 after a performance in the East Room of the White House


So… is it bad that I deeply love the fact that we have this movie in all its near-three-hour glory?

First off, I should lay my cards on the table and say that the reason I have such a strong affection for this movie is due to my love of the musical itself. 1776 is a musical that has some risky elements that pay off gloriously. There’s an infamous 30 minute Continental Congress scene in the play solely dedicated to the goings on in that Pennsylvania meeting hall, both on and off the record. Said scene has absolutely no music, sung or instrumental, which is a tricky thing to pull off smack in the middle of act one of your MUSICAL. And yet, the scene is brilliantly written and really helps immerse the audience in the history their watching and give it personality and stakes with spoken word alone. In fact, the whole show often reads like it should be a straight play, which would make a lot of sense for a realistic retelling of the founding of the United States as jam packed with dry political conversations as this show is. And yet, Stone insisted that this show had to be a musical, giving it songs to add variety and levity to a more serious and dry book. The music that was added has a consistent-ish period feel but can be very bombastic in style. The “Yours, Yours, Yours” scene comes right out of nowhere and sounds like a modern-ish love ballad and “Molasses to Rum” plays like a Scenes-From-An-Italian-Restaurant-style mashup of different motifs. And yet, that gamble pays off, too! Sherman Edwards’ score, though bombastic, IS outstanding, the lyrics are clever-as-all-get-out, the music is powerful, and you’re guaranteed to come out of the show singing at LEAST one of the songs. The antagonist songs are honestly intimidating, the happy songs are thoroughly joyful, you get a fantastic feel for the characters with each song, and John’s power ballad at the end is impressively poignant-- you really feel for his plight. And that score combines well with the book to give us a libretto filled with witty exchanges between our forefathers and some strong characterization for all of the show’s MANY main and supporting characters. I think it also resonates with audiences because (to steal some more from Lindsay Ellis) it’s very assuring of the American experience, showing the resilience of its people to create our great nation from the ground up and fight off the advances of its mother country.

Now, if this all works so well onstage, where did it go wrong on screen? Like I said, perhaps the biggest problem was the people behind the movie not editing a single thing about the original script so as to keep movie audiences engaged, making scenes that are riveting onstage into se quences too long and dry for the average moviegoer. The overall effect of this is a long and often tiresome experience as a LOT of the length is due to the endless dialogue in these drawn out congress congress scenes which onscreen doesn’t always come across as particularly exciting despite some smart comedy and strong drama interspersed into the scenes. It’s a long slog that amounts to what probably doesn’t feel like an impressive payoff. There is no big final song, no mind-blowing final line of dialogue; it simply ends with members of congress coming up and signing the Declaration of Independence one by one as the liberty bell rings.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

There’s also nothing added to the historical ending we already know: the declaration is passed and signed, America officially strives to become the independent nation we know today and it ends exactly how you could picture it ending: a bunch of guys in a room signing a big sheet of paper. Sure, they’re important guys in an important room signing an important sheet of paper, but the imagery wouldn’t be too stirring to your usual audience member in the middle of the Vietnam era. This movie came to us at a time of increased cynicism about the American experience and the movie almost seems to be attempting to reinspire enthusiastic patriotism without showing the audience any sympathy for the political turmoil that so many people felt during the war, which I believe only helped to turn people off to the movie.

Now, when you adapt something to the screen, if you’re not going to change all that much about the material for the screen you should at LEAST try to visually engage with the material in a way that justifies its existence as a movie. Basically, you’ve gotta ask yourself what the medium of film can add to the pre-existing work, and showing off cool cinematography techniques to add to the visual storytelling of the piece is one answer you could have for that. 1776 seems to attempt this, but its cinematography has a bizarre dichotomy between neverending medium shots and weird attempts at different angles and tricks at what feel like arbitrary times. For instance, in the Lees of Old Virginia sequence, there’s this bizarre long take where Ben Franklin is persuading Richard Henry Lee to get a proposition for Independence from Virginia’s delegation. It’s not a shot that directly faces our main characters though, like a lot of long takes in modern cinema. It’s an overhead as they circle around this giant fountain and you can’t help but focus not on the scene, but on how the lines they’re saying HAVE to have been dubbed in because there’s no way the dialogue could be heard from that far away. It’s distracting. There are no other shots in the movie like it and it just strikes you as so out of place. In “Molasses to Rum”, there’s this bizarre edit where we see Rutledge from both the front and the back as he re-enacts a slave auction, both of the shots kind of transparently laid over each other in a slow fade from one to the other. Why do they edit the song like that? Why are his movements in the two shot so out of sync sometimes?? WHAT DOES THAT OVERLAY MEAN??? Who knows, that’s just how the director and cinematographer felt like dealing with this song sequence. These decisions serve to only take the audience out of the experience while they scratch their heads as to why exactly the movie has decided to look like this all of a sudden, so its attempts at interesting visual storytelling isn’t an improvement over the original in any way. This movie reads and acts like a filmed play. Minimal changes to the script means minimal changes to the general tone of the piece means a very theatrical feel persists, which would turn off a lot of moviegoers. 1776 the movie is 1776 flavors of wrong when it comes to stage-screen adaptations. So… why do I love it so much?

For one thing, I’m going to admit here and now that I am a bit of a purist. 9 times out of 10, I’m a proponent of a musical being superior to any movie adaptation that may come of it because there’s a magic to a live stage show that most movies either can’t capture or most Hollywood bigwigs are too afraid to ACTUALLY try to capture, although I think there are some exceptions (I’ll always prefer the movie version of Hairspray to the stage show, for example). But this is a direct translation of the stage musical and honestly? It just works for me. Because the movie has that very stagey feel to it, I find it hugely entertaining EVEN in the drawn-out scenes in the Continental Congress. And moreover, like I said earlier I love how this script is written. The dialogue is fantastic. Unexpectedly raunchy when the show needs some levity (there’s a quip early in the movie when a delegate is missing a vote because he’s gone to the restroom that “Rhode Island passes”), dramatically affecting when a critical moment is at hand (a great moment when Adams and Franklin are fighting over a contentious slavery clause in the Declaration of Independence comes when Franklin yells in Adams’ face that “THE QUESTION HERE IS INDEPENDENCE!”), and overall just intelligent. I don’t know if I’ve EVER seen something as intelligently written yet thoroughly comprehensible as 1776, except perhaps Hamilton which, by all accounts, is its theatrical successor.

Another thing is, even though I was complaining about some of the bizarre cinematographic choices, I personally feel like the medium of film does add some je nais se quoi for the betterment of this material. First of all, the ability to film in different locales gives all the settings of 1776 a very authentic feel, while most productions of the musical, especially the original Broadway production, have a much less diverse feel to their set design. The movie feels like the late 18th century. You feel immersed in the time and place. And the cinematography has some fantastic moments, especially in the songs. The congress scenes do a good job at mimicking the mood of the scene, though it’s more so with the negative moods than the positive, whether it be claustrophobic, chaotic, lonely, tense, or happy & energized. And those songs! “Sit Down, John” has the freezing and unfreezing congress members, the bits with Abigail Addams have the gorgeous veil of a dream sequence, “The Egg” has those great shots of our main trio coming to a conclusion about our future nation, “Mama, Look Sharp” has that dramatic lighting and the fading in backup singers of McNair and the Leather Apron and that harsh fade back to congress at the end, “Molasses to Rum”’s weird half-fade thing, however bizarre I think it is, looks really cool and makes it cinematically memorable, especially when it finally focuses on one shot when Josiah Bartlet jumps up and has his line (“For the love of God, Rutledge, please!”), “Is Anybody There” has those great shots where John Adams is alone in Congress but filling the space with his commanding presence and resolve, “But Mr. Adams” has the staircase, “He Plays the Violin” has the waltz and the playoff, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” (my favorite song in the show if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose), has the minuet while Thompson reads the letter and the shot as they all come out of Independence Hall and board their carriages, the finale has the fade to the painting and the gorgeous long take, OH, it’s all just so darn good! The only song I can think of that has major problems cinematically is Lees of Old Virginia because of its overhead shots feeling weirdly voyeuristic. One could argue the high angle is meant to reflect Lee’s high-soaring optimism (though I somehow doubt that was the point since of all the shots in the song itself that are grounded and standard). That’s just one miss out of close to 20, though. These songs make what should be a 3-hour slog feel like a dynamic look into the birth of our nation.

AND THE ACTING! BY GOD THE ACTING!! This film has no huge names in it, no one you’re going to look at and go “OH I KNOW HIM/HER FROM THAT ONE THING” unless you’re an overly-obsessed broadway buff like me, a fan of watching Prolia commercials, or are one of those 90s kids who never lets us forget about “Boy Meets World” and just loves you some Mr. Feeny (seriously, while William Daniels is known in the TV world mostly as that dude who played Mr. Feeny in “Boy Meets World,” the Broadway community knows him as that dude who played John Adams in 1776). But these actors make up for unrecognizability with LOADS of believability and well-constructed pathos. This is a musical that just feels REAL. Like, sure, Ben Franklin breaking out into song may not be the height of realism, but to a great extent it feels like you’re taking a peek in on congress on those fateful summer days. Not once do I find myself thinking “wow that moment seemed really forced” or “what an awkward line delivery.” These actors are dedicated and invested, and their performances come out as nothing less than organic. THAT, more than anything else, is what keeps me engaged for those 3 hours. I think it actually HELPS that the biggest name in this movie is young Blythe Danner. If they had thrown in random star power, I don’t think I would’ve been as convinced of these characters. If that were… ohhh let’s say MICHAEL DOUGLAS admonishing congress in the opening number I would be too distracted with thinking “wait why did they put Michael Douglas in ANOTHER movie musical” to recognize him as John Adams in the flesh. If Lucille Ball were singing about “violin bow joke here” instead of the woman best known for being Gwenyth Paltrow’s mother, I’d probably be laughing too hard at that vaseline filter over her to be like “oh how cute Martha Jefferson is singing an innuendo song for her dear Tom.” This is a perfectly assembled and perfectly not-famous cast for getting this to feel just right. I think above all, the strong performances across the board are my favourite thing about this movie that keeps me coming back for more. These performances, these flawless embodiments of our country’s historical figures, take an artsy, MUSICAL retelling of America’s founding, and gives it a surprising integrity that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Overall, this movie in its undoctored cut is a bit of an overlong, probably-boring-to-most-people hot mess. But that’s kind of what I love about it. For all its flaws as a cinematic adaptation, 1776 trades that for succeeding in a way that very few movie musicals do- preserving its obscure source material to a tee in ways that feel moving, engaging, and oh so real, with ne’ery a blemish of self-embarrassment or stunt-casting-fueled bad performances in sight. This film is a direct theatrical translation and proud of it, a feat that, in my mind, puts it among my favourites in the movie musical genre. And maybe, if you give it a watch either on DVD, Blu-Ray or Putlocker (sssshhhh you didn’t hear that from me), it will for you too. With the 4th of July coming up, I cannot recommend enough that you find this movie somewhere and give it a watch. While you won’t find any great insights about the America of today packed into this movie, it more than makes up for its refusal to provide relevant commentary with the experience of watching a history teacher’s valiant attempt at breathing humanity into the stuffy John Trumbull paintings and stiff textbook lessons all of us take for granted about the creation of America DECADES before Hamilton made it cool. In my mind, this alone, along with the smart writing, fantastic cast, and brilliant score, make the locating and watching of the mythical, near-three-hour extended director’s cut worth every single second of the time you spend doing so. Happy early 4th of July to all my American readers, and happy watching to everyone willing to give this forgotten little cinematic behemoth a try.

Till then, I am as I ever was and ever shall be: yours, yours, yours truly,



What Highschool Theatre Taught Me

Amelia Brooker

Preparing to graduate high school, I am looking back on the moments that shaped me through the last few years. The most vivid memories, the times that have stuck with me, are those spent with my high school theatre company.

High school theatre taught me to sing, dance, and act, but also taught me so much about myself and my relationship with the world around me. Some of the best lessons do not have to do with theatre specifically, but how to succeed in general. The following are five of the best lessons I learned in high school theatre, which are ideal for both students entering this sphere, as well as anyone entering a new area of life.



1. Do not hold anything back

Looking back on my theatre experience, my biggest regret is not pushing myself further. Whether it comes from self-consciousness or lack of experience, it is easy to hold back in some areas. Giving anything less than one hundred percent will inhibit you as you move forward. You might not have any dance experience but seek help and practice. You might be bad at improv but give it a try and hope for the best. Nothing but good will come of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.


2. Avoid the drama

What do you get when you put a few dozen of the most dramatic kids in school together in one room, for five, ten, fifteen hours a week? And then have them compete for roles? Even the closest and kindest groups of theatre kids will get on each other’s nerves once in a while. The best advice I can give is to stay out of it completely. Do not spread rumors, criticize other performers, or give in to any drama. You’ll be happier if you stay out of it all.


3. Be a team player

Theatre is a team sport. Even a small-scale production requires dozens of people to fulfill all the necessary requirements. You will need to work with all kinds of people who have different ideas, points of view, and levels of experience. Listen to others’ ideas with an open mind, speak with kindness, and treat everyone equally. Trusting the people you work with is of the utmost importance in theatre, whether it be actors, directors, stage managers, or crew. Because in such an unpredictable environment, strong and trusting relationships will take your far.


4. Adaptability is your best asset

To build off the last point, working with others sometimes requires compromise. You might disagree with how a director wants to do something or have a discrepancy with another actor or crew member. The choreography might change the week before the show, or a new rehearsal be added last minute. Live theatre is fast-paced and unpredictable, so going with the flow is always the best option. Being able to adapt to a new situation or rise to the occasion will serve much better than fighting it.


5. Be present and enjoy yourself

It is no secret that doing theatre on top of the regular stresses of high school can be difficult. Like any other class or activity, it requires you to put your best foot forward in order to succeed. However, the memories you make and the relationships you build will make it all worthwhile. Through the early morning and late-night rehearsals, quick trips for food before rehearsals. and bonding over show runs, theatre can be some of the best times of your high school life. Enjoy every burst of laughter, every piece of fun choreography, every song you get to belt out with your friends. Create an atmosphere of positivity and creativity and be your authentic self. Do everything you can so that in the future, you can look back and smile.

 

A Musical for Everyone According to Their Hobby

Chris S Lynn

We have all heard it.

  • “I hate musicals”

  • “Breaking into song and dance is not realistic.”

  • “Musicals are gay.”

  • “I don’t like that opera crap.”

We can all give a rebuttal to each of these platitudes.

  • “You cannot possibly hate all musicals because they are not the same.”

  • ”Breaking into song and dance is just as unrealistic as a Die Hard movie.  Both are escapism.  So Yippi Kay yay, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!”

  • “If you mean, many gays love musicals, then yes, just as gays like football.  If you mean gay as in lame, then I better brace myself for ‘a whole lotta ugly coming from a never ending parade of stupid.’”

  • “You don’t like opera?  Neither do many music theatre fanatics.  There is no single ‘Broadway musical sound’.  For every musical genre, I can give you a musical that contains that style of music.”


Sure, you can argue with these people.  However, if your goal is to share your love of musicals with those that you value, then there is a better way.  If you are reading this blog, chances are that not a day goes by where you do not 1. Listen to a show tune, 2. Rehearse/audition for a show, or 3. randomly break out in song based on mere everyday conversation that has even the most remote connection to a show tune.  Heck, I am guessing you have done just that at least 3 times so far while reading this blog! Your life is better with musicals. Without musicals, life would be like…. (go ahead! Sing it! You know you want to!) Why would you not want to share this same joy with others, even if they will never become quite as obsessed as you?


The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate that there is a musical for virtually all tastes and interests and to share experiences of those we value who have “lived in the darkness for so long” and were “waiting for the light to shine.”


My first challenge was to locate a reliable poll of the most popular hobbies and then match them to musicals of interest.   I found the The Harris Poll, that has measured public opinion in the U.S. since 1963 and used to advise U.S. Presidents such as John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  Below is data of the most popular American hobbies from 2013. Sorry International readers, please play along. 2057 adults were polled in this survey.  



  1. Watching TV (42%)

  2. Reading (37%)

  3. Computer Internet (19%)

  4. Spending Time With Friends/Family (18%)

  5. Watching/Going to Movies (11%)

  6. Exercise/Working Out (10%)

  7. Playing Video/Computer/Internet games (10%)

  8. Walking/Running/Jogging (8%)

  9. Gardening (7%)

  10. Concerts/Listening to/Playing Music (7%)

  11. Hobby Related Activities (5%) Whatever the hell that means!

  12. Eating/Going to Restaurants (4%)

  13. Cooking/Baking (4%)

  14. Sewing/NeedleWork/Quilting (4%)

  15. Shopping (4%)

  16. Attending/Watching Sports (4%)

  17. Resting/Relaxing (3%)

  18. Sleeping/Napping (3%)

  19. Fishing (3%)

  20. Crafts (3%)

  21. Swimming (3%)

  22. Golf (3%)

  23. Playing with/Walking Pets (3%)

I decided to consolidate some of the categories and grouped them as such

  1. TV/Movies

  2. Reading/History Buffs

  3. Computers/Internet/Video Games

  4. Social Time With family/Friends

  5. Exercise/Sports

  6. Gardening

  7. Crafts/Sewing/Quilting

  8. Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating

  9. Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri.

  10. Pets

  • I eliminated resting and sleeping categories unless the goal is to induce a “cat”atonic (oops! Sorry Andrew Lloyd Weber fans) coma like state while attending a musical.

Let’s begin!

TV/Movies - The topic of TV shows and movies being adapted to the stage has been a recently trendy one, both on Broadway stages and in debates on the All Things Broadway Facebook page.  Many question the lack of originality on the Broadway stage today. Some of us point to the fact that Broadway musicals have always been inspired by secondary sources such as movies and books.  Others, such as myself, point out that taking big box office hits or movies with iconic characters that were on the big screen less than 20 years ago, and transferring them onto a musical stage is a fairly recent phenomenon.  The Full Monty, for example, landed on Broadway in 2001, only 5 years after its movie release.  Since then, we have had an innumerable amount of non musical films rewritten for the musical stage.  Regardless of whether you like this trend or not, for many of our showtune virgins, this concept might be the hook for them to start the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  One of the shows that introduced me to musicals was The Phantom of the Opera.  While I cannot stand the show today, I credit it for opening a new window for me.  Then again, introducing your movie geek to these shows can backfire if they are of the “breaking out in song and dance is unrealistic” ilk.  Yes, I do realize, folks, that not all musicals contain happy themed tap shoe numbers.  However, this is a stereotype we must all endure. My advice to introducing your TV/movie mogul friends to musicals via their interests is to know them well and tread lightly.  Certainly, they may love the adaptations. If, however, you get the vibe that these shows would turn them off, then introduce them to those musicals that take themselves a little less seriously and are parodies/satire of their favorite movies and TV shows.  Often, the parodies/satire pay homage to the originals the others simply cannot touch. If your friend is a Disney fan, then he/she should already be in heaven. While I have seen very few adaptations, below are a few of my favorites:

  • A Christmas Carol

  • 42nd Street

  • La Cage Aux Folles

  • Dogfight - For those of you who enjoyed music and lyrics from Pasek/Paul’s The Greatest Showman, LaLa Land, and Dear Evan Hansen, check out their musical based on the Liv Tyler and River Phoenix 1991 film of the same name

  • Evil Dead - Evil Dead is a Canadian rock musical parody based on the cult classic horror movie trilogy.  Nothing is serious in this silly, ridiculous parody about sex crazed college kids that spend a weekend in “A Cabin In the Woods”.  The guilty pleasure musical would not be complete without its unique Splatter Zone seating, reserved for the first several rows where audience members are spewed with onstage blood.  Hey, the extra cost of entering the Splatter Zone includes a freshly blood soaked souvenir t-shirt! Theatre patrons,”This is my boomstick!”

  • Grey Gardens - this musical was based on a documentary of the same name chronicling the lives of Jaqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie") and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie").  Set in a Mansion in East Hampton, New York, the musical follows the lives of the two characters from respected aristocrats to hoarders trapped in their own home by trash and overrun by cats.   The sad story is dramatized by the two leading ladies who play both roles, switching characters after Act 1. I will never forget attending a performance of this show and having to listen to the eerie sound of cats meowing and growling piped in as “pre show music.”  The musical opens with the set presenting a dilapidated mansion with the characters living in squalor. During the first musical number, the set is transformed to its former splendor and grandeur 32 years prior. Act 1 is set in the past, and Act 2 is set 32 years later.  If you are ready for something different and mesmerizing, then give Grey Gardens, a try.

  • Hands on A Hardbody - who would have guessed that a 1997 documentary film centered on a contest where contestants can win a new pick-up truck by being the last man or woman standing (or sitting) with one of their hands on a hardbody?  This musical wins the best title for a musical award, but will also win your hearts as it delves into Americana and the lives of the contestants, the car dealer, and radio announcer.

  • Heathers

  • The Lion King

  • A Little Night Music (based on Inmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of Summer)

  • A Little Shop of Horrors

  • Reefer Madness - Reefer Madness is based on the 1936 propaganda film of the same name.  The musical is a tongue and cheek parody of the “squeaky clean” America of yesteryear, under attack by the evil “demon seed.”  The film was originally financed by a church group and shown to parents to scare them about the dangers of marijuana, under the title Tell Your Children.  Other fantastically ridiculous titles given to this film included The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, and Love Madness.  There is nothing to be afraid of with marijanna, nor the musical Reefer Madness that joyously and hilariously pokes fun at the hysteria over a joint.

  • Spamalot (based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

  • Sweet Charity

Link to Stage musicals based on films:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Musicals_based_on_films

*I noticed StarKid productions were not included on this list.

Link to stage musicals based on TV series

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Musicals_based_on_television_series




Reading and History Buffs - Many musicals produced from great literature as well as historical figures should come as no surprise.  Once again, if you are introducing someone who is new to musicals via this route, you must know the person well.  Additionally, knowing the source material or reading the novel in which the musical is based is not a bad idea either.  Once upon a time, a professor friend and I were going to make a road trip to San Francisco to see the pre Broadway opening of a new musical called Wicked.  I have always loved Stephen Schwartz and my friend loved the dense cerebral novel which he taught in his higher level literature courses.  We both wondered how such a complex story would be staged and set to music. We now know that the musical, like many adaptations, was vastly different from its source material.  Wicked, in fact, was virtually nothing like Gregory Mcguire’s book.  They shared some of the same characters and settings, but little else did the two relate beyond the spectacle.  My friend did not care for the show and I thought it was mediocre to unmemorable. Word to the wise, if you take a bookworm to a musical based on their favorite read, just be careful.  Some of my favorites musicals based on novels include:

  • Big River - Take the wit of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and pair it with Roger Miller whose rockabilly novelty songs that had the penchant for clever and whimsical lyrics and you will have a  combo even better than peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, or ketchup and grits! Wait! What?

  • Be More Chill - I don’t understand the hate with the little show that could.  I usually do not listen to cast recordings prior to seeing a show, but this one was an exception.  I listened to cast recording about a year and a half ago when the music first went viral in Youtube land.  Fearing I would not see the unlicensed show anytime soon, I gave it a listen and instantly loved the show. Go figure!  A 45-year-old loving Be More Chill!

  • Into the Woods - Interestingly, Sondheim’s complex intertwining fairytale musical took inspiration from Bruno Bettleheim’s 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  Bettleheim analyzed the fairytales in terms of Fruedian psychoanalysis for which he was once renowned and then later discredited as a fraud.

  • Mame

  • Mary Poppins

  • Les Miserables

  • Mystery of Edwin Drood - The Charles Dickens inspired musical was based on his last work that remained unfinished after his death in 1870.  Only 6 of the 12 installments were published from the original source material with no evidence or notes left behind by Dickens to solve the mystery. Rupert Holmes, author of the book, music, and lyrics, decided to painstakingly write several short endings to determine every possible solution to the mystery.  The audience is given the ultimate power to vote who killed Drood, with the actors tasked to quickly tally the votes and carry out the ending chosen by the audience.

  • Natasha, Piere, and the Great Comet of 1812 -  Are you kidding me?  A musical based on a 1440 page novel?  Wait a minute. The musical is based on only 70 pages taken from the middle of the novel. Whew! No one would ever think of turning such a large volume of classical fiction into a musical!  That would be like turning Victor Hugo’s 1462 page novel, Les Miserables into a musical.Unheard of? Unthinkable? Unspeakable?”  Nope. “Tradition!”

  • Oliver

  • Once On This Island

  • Peter Pan

  • The Robber Bridegroom

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel

  • A Very Potter Musical

Computers/Internet/Video Games  - Everyone, just Be More Chill.  Remember, life is a “Two Player Game” and while “There are voices in my head, the loudest one is mine!”  Great show, fun songs, and beautiful message of being under your own influence.

Social Time With Family/Friends - The best way to get someone involved who enjoys time with family and friends is to recruit them in the actual production of a musical.  Nothing says family, comradery, and bonding, better than working as a team on a musical. I have been involved in many shows with entire families pitching in as cast and crew members.  The next best thing is to bring your friend to a musical that highlights relationships. Many from the list below includes musicals from religious sources since many people spend a great deal of their social time at church activities. I also included shows that highlight dysfunctional families which is a huge part of life and relationships as well.

  • Avenue Q

  • Baby  - this delightful Shire/Maltby musical revolves around three couples, each at different stages of their lives, who must all uniquely take the journey of experiencing a pregnancy and an impending parenthood.  The 3 couples range from an unmarried college age students, a thirty something couple with a history of failed attempts at conception, and middle aged parents and soon to be empty nesters.

  • Be More Chill

  • Children of Eden - This is a Stephen Schwartz musical based on Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah’s Ark.  The major theme revolves around the universal truth that “the hardest part of love is the letting go” and allowing ones children to make their own mistakes.

  • Company

  • Dreamgirls

  • The Fantasticks - a boy and his father, a girl and her father, and a stick (wall).  Add a bandit and his goofy players, an indian whose expertise is in dying, and an aging Shakesperian actor to help tell the story and teach us lessons.  Result: a charming, intimate, and poetic musical about love and coming of age.

  • Fiddler On The Roof - If you do not cry at least three or four times during this musical about a man who loves his religious traditions, but loves his daughters and their desire for happiness even more, well then, you are just a bunch of heartless sons of bitches.

  • Fun Home - I won’t give away the story of this Best Musical Tony winner based on an autobiographical graphic novel,only to say that it is the most genuine LGBTQ+ musical I have seen.  The scenes are heart wrenching, written and executed in a way that invites audiences to firmly plant their feet in the characters’ shoes without ever succumbing to preaching to their audience. Bravo Fun Home.  You have my heart!

  • Godspell

  • Hair

  • Hairspray

  • Into the Woods

  • La Cage Aux Folles

  • The Secret Garden

  • Mame

  • A New Brain

  • Oliver!

  • 13

  • You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown\

Exercise/Sports -  One of the best sports musicals I have seen never made it to Broadway:  Fantasy Football...the Musical?  Billed as a “Bromantic Comedy”, the musical parodies late 1980s and early 1990s and tells the fictional history of how fantasy football began with a wannabe sports newscaster and a computer geek during the birth of the dial up internet circa 1991.  This is a great show to bring your college football and NFL fans for a great night of laughter and bromance. Other musicals with sports include:

  • The Beautiful Game (football) Andrew Lloyd Weber/Ben Elton musical

  • Damn Yankees (baseball)

  • Rocky...The Musical (boxing)  Anytime you see “[fill in the blank]...the musical” be fair warned.  Yikes!

  • Golden Boy -(boxing) this one actually looks and sounds cool!  The musical opened on Broadway in 1964, starred Sammy Davis Jr., and played a respectable 564 performances.  The opening number contains some fantastic grunts and punching noises that are used as percussion for the music. The title track is “Work Out (Fight Scene)”.  Give it a listen!  The sounds are truly glorious!

  • Bring It On! (cheerleading)

  • Lysistrata (basketball)

  • The First (baseball)

  • Good News (football)

  • All American (football)

6. Gardening

  • The Secret Garden

  • The Fantasticks - Two old farts who are best friends, sing about Planting a Radish and lamenting that sowing seeds is so much less complicated than raising children who you can “Never Say No”.

7. Crafts/Sewing/Quilting

  • Quilters - A Pioneer woman patchwork musical

8. Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating

  • Sweeney Todd  - of course!

  • Waitress

  • Pump Boys and Dinettes

9. Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri!

  • Pump Boys and Dinettes

  • Big Fish

  • Carousel

  • The Ghosts of Celilo - a Native American musical

  • Happy Hunting!

10. Pets

  • Cats

  • Bark! - or DOGS!

  • Honk! - based on The Ugly Duckling

  • Lucky Duck - The Ugly Duckling meets Cinderella.  Music by Dreamgirls, Henry Kriger

  • Just So - based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories

  • A Year With Frog and Toad

Well, that’s all folks!  Let me know what I forgot.  I mentioned a ton of shows, but I know I have neglected to mention some (purposely, accidentally, and some accidentally on purpose!.  Now go take your friend to a musical, the most glorious thing on earth!

* One last thing. You can easily search for specific musical productions in your area if you know the licencing company for each show.  Most licensing websites will have a searchable database to find productions of their shows, with dates, cities, and the name of the theatre.  Below is a link that lists many shows and the company that licenses them. Also includes are the websites of the major licensing companies:

http://www.musicals101.com/alphinde.htm


How to Succeed in Performing Without Really Trying

Elizabeth Bergmann

Three years ago, at the 2016 Tony Awards, James Corden sang about how seeing a show makes us say "That could be me!" When I was a freshman in high school, I was cut from the volleyball team and needed a new activity to fill my fall semester, so my band squad leader suggested the fall play. In the summer of 2018, I talked my whole family (Mom, Dad, and younger brother) into doing The Music Man with my community theatre family. We all have different ways that we find ourselves wanting to enter the world of theatre. Maybe a local group is doing one of your favorite shows, or a friend keeps insisting you should do a show together (I am this friend).

 

Whatever the reason, providence seems determined to get you in a show. If you’re brand-new, from a non-theatre family, and generally haven’t done anything except those school plays about bullying and the seasons, you have no clue what you’re getting into. The idea of auditioning for a big show can be terrifying. People throw out words like “blocking” and “dramaturge” and you have no clue what they’re talking about. With no single source of all this information available up to this point, I’ve decided to become that single source myself. I plan to focus on auditions for musical theatre, mostly because those tend to be the most complicated, but aspects of it will apply to auditioning for plays, as well. So, if you have no clue where to start, why not start here?

 

Where do I find a group to do a show with?

There are lots of Facebook groups for different theatrical groups and communities. I’m lucky enough to currently be in two groups that cater to my area, but local news sources and postings can let you know what is in your area. There may even be smaller groups that you rarely hear about looking for fresh talent! I found my community theatre family pretty much by accident: they rehearse in the same community center where I was taking dance classes. If you know people who perform, ask them where. If you’re a student, look for your school’s program. Find out which shows these groups are doing, and check when they rehearse. What’s the cast size? Can you be at rehearsals? If it looks like you’d be able to be in this show, audition!

 


What do I do to get ready for auditions?

The first thing I like to do when considering auditioning for a show is research. Who wrote the show? What is the basic story? What style of music is it? Are there any characters you’d like to play? I tend to accidentally memorize shows, but general familiarity will be your best friend. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into (a girl quit a Guys and Dolls production I was in because she suddenly discovered it could be a little sexist), and this will also give you a baseline for your audition. The audition description will tell you if you need to prepare a monologue, a song, or anything else. Monologues should fit the tone and time period of the show you’re auditioning for. Pick a song that you know you can sing well no matter what condition your voice is in. I personally don’t recommend a song you don’t know too well, but also try to avoid cliché audition songs (that’s a whole other article, ask theatre friends and/or Google if you aren’t sure). The song should ideally be in the style of the show, so do a pop song for a pop show, a classical song for a classical show, etc. Be sure to have sheet music, or a karaoke track, or whatever else they might say you need to supply. Plan out an audition outfit (again, a whole other article), and make sure it’s not too specific and you can move in it.

 

What do I do once I get to auditions?

Show up a little early so you can fill out any forms, turn in sheet music, whatever you need to do before you get up and sing. As you fill out the form, be honest about any conflicts so they can make a rehearsal schedule. If they ask if you want a specific role, put it down. Since you’re just starting out, I highly suggest putting that you’d be willing to play any role and that you’ll take an ensemble role. Ensemble is a great place to start, and directors often like to see that you’re not just here for the one role you specifically auditioned for. After you turn in the form, you’ll usually be singing. You might sing in front of just those casting, you might be in a small group, or you might be singing in front of everybody. If you have an accompanist (pianist), let them know what sections you’re singing and the tempo you’d like to sing it at. You might be asked to introduce yourself, usually by giving your name and the song you’re singing. As you sing, try to act while you perform your song. If it’s a happy song, show that you’re happy, if it’s sad, be sad-- you get the idea. Once everyone has sung, you may be asked to dance a little, or to do “cold reads” from the script (perform a scene with little to no practice time). Take whatever they throw at you and give it 100% effort. You might get called back, you might not, but make sure they’ve seen that you can do a lot with whatever you’re given.

 

What happens after auditions?

The cast can be announced in a number of ways. You might receive a phone call or an email, there could be a website, a Facebook page might be set up, etc. A lot of groups may ask that you respond to accept or decline a role (I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be prompt in responding).You’ll likely receive a date for a read-through and a rehearsal schedule, which you’ll want to put in your calendar as soon as possible. You’ll receive either a separate script and score or a full libretto. You’ll want to check and ask if you can use highlighters or if it’s pencils only for marking it. GUARD YOUR SCRIPT. Bare minimum, write your name in the front cover so people know it’s yours. Script thieves are everywhere, and your name in it means you can get it back.

 

What should I do in rehearsals?

Up until tech week, rehearsals will be just about learning and perfecting the material. You may or may not be rehearsing in the space you’re performing in. You’ll take this time to learn music, dances, and any lines or blocking you’ll need to know. Show up to rehearsal on-time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Your fellow actors, your director, and especially your stage manager are all there to help and support you. Write notes for blocking (movement while acting), choreography, and music so you don’t forget them. If someone asks a question about costumes, shoes, hair, or makeup, listen for the answer (and I’ll tell you more later).

 

What’s this “tech week” people talk about all the time?

“Tech week” is the last week of rehearsals before the show opens. It’s dedicated to incorporating the technical elements into the show, hence “tech week.” You’ll be in the performance space, and these will be the longest rehearsals you’ll ever experience. You’ll likely be called earlier and kept later. In addition to technical elements (lights, sound effects, microphones, etcetera), your show’s band/orchestra will appear (if there is one) and you’ll be in costume with hair and makeup done. These rehearsals are meant to perfect runs of the show so it’s ready by opening. You’ll likely get notes each night, and you’ll want to write these down and implement them. Everybody will be stressed and tired, so make sure to take care of yourself and have patience. Maybe give something nice to your stage manager so they don’t go insane.

 

You keep talking about costumes, hair, and makeup. What do I need to do for that?

Each theatre group is different. You might be supplying your own costume, or they might have them for you. You should learn what you need to supply from the production team, but don’t be afraid to ask. As a good base, it might be wise to invest in character shoes if you play lady roles, black dress shoes if you play man roles, and jazz shoes either way. Each production has different visions, but these shoes usually work no matter what time period you’re in. As for hair, you might be doing your own or someone might be doing it for you. This depends on the group. If you are doing it yourself, ask for what it should look like for the show. Wigs might be involved depending on the show.

 

Now, makeup. I know some groups will have other people doing your makeup, but I’ve always done it for myself. If you are doing it yourself, everybody has their own preferences for how they do it. Some shows will require bright colors or wrinkles or something drastic, but a lot of shows are fairly simple. My advice: Your face, but bigger. I recommend foundation to even out your skin, concealer for under your eyes, blush to give you some color, and eyeliner & mascara to bring your eyes out. If you’re an eyeshadow and lipstick person, use nude browns on the eyes and pick a lipstick that looks natural (unless this is a time period where red was the color of choice). Apply a little more of everything than you would for every day. The whole purpose of stage makeup is to ensure your face looks good from the back row of the theatre. Ask your castmates for help if you’re not sure how much is too much.

 

What should I expect from performances?

Things will go right, and things will go wrong. The whole atmosphere of a show is different when there is an audience there with you. The important thing is to not add things once the show opens. You’ll be tempted to push for laughs or try something new, but don’t do it. Make sure you’re paying attention to the show so you don’t miss your cues. Enjoy the applause and feed off the audience to keep your energy up. There is nothing more thrilling than performing for a great audience. You’ll likely get to greet the audience after curtain call, so take that opportunity to thank everyone who came to see you.

 

What happens when the show ends?

A lot of groups need help striking the show after, so be sure to stay and help with that. There will likely be a cast party that you should definitely attend. You’ll probably be sad, and your time will feel a lot emptier without rehearsals in there. But that just means you can look forward to the next show! Not many people can stop after just one.

 

I hope you’ll find your home in the theatre. It has been the best family I could ever ask for, and it really will fill you with a joy that nothing else can create. Welcome home! We're glad to have you!

The Bloggers Vote on the 73rd Tony Awards

Collective Blog; Put together by Darren Wildeman and Erica Jurus

2019 Blogger Tony Awards

 For the 2019 Tony Awards, the All Things Broadway blog team voted on each award based on who we think should win each award. And these are the results of said voting.

Tony_Award_Medallion.jpg


Best Orchestrations Nominees

Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown

Simon Hale, Tootsie

Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate

Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!

Harold Wheeler, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown


Best Choreography Nominees

Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy

Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

Denis Jones, Tootsie

David Neumann, Hadestown

Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

 

Sound Design of a Musical Nominees

Peter Hylenski, King Kong

Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice

Steve Canyon Kennedy, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Drew Levy, Oklahoma!

Neil Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown

 

And the bloggers voted: Peter Hylenski, King Kong

 

Sound Design of a Play Nominees

Adam Cork, Ink

Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird

Fitz Patton, Choir Boy

Nick Powell, The Ferryman

Eric Sleichim, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Eric Sleichim, Network

 

Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Kevin Adams, The Cher Show

Howell Blinkley, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Bradley King, Hadestown

Peter Mumford, King Kong

Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

 

And the bloggers voted: Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

 

Lighting Design of a Play Nominees

Neil Austin, Ink

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Peter Mumford, The Ferryman

Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Michael Krass, Hadestown

William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

William Ivey Long, Tootsie

Bob Mackie, The Cher Show

Paul Tazewell, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

 

Best Costume Design of a Play Nominees

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Clint Ramos, Torch Song

Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Adronicus

 

And the bloggers voted: Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Robert Brill and Peter Nagrini, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Peter England, King Kong

Rachel Hauck, Hadestown

Laura Jellineck, Oklahoma!

David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

And the bloggers voted: David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

Best Scenic Design of a Play Nominees

Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird

Bunny Christie, Ink

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Jan Versweyveld, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Rob Howell, The Ferryman

 

Best Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Lilli Cooper, Tootsie

Amber Gray, Hadestown

Sarah Stiles, Tootsie

Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Mary Testa, Oklahoma!

 

And the bloggers voted: Amber Gray, Hadestown

 

Best Featured Actress in a Play Nominees

Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman

Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Ruth Wilson, King Lear

 

And the bloggers voted: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Featured Actor in a Play Nominees

Bertie Carvel, Ink

Robin de Jesus, The Boys in the Band

Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

Benjamin Walker, All My Sons

 

And the bloggers voted: Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

 

Best Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Andre De Shields, Hadestown

Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie

Patrick Page, Hadestown

Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Patrick Page, Hadestown

 

Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominees

Annette Bening, All My Sons

Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery

Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton

Heide Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me

 

And the bloggers voted: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

 

Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom

Beth Leavel, The Prom

Eva Noblezada, Hadestown

Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate

 

And the bloggers voted: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

 

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Nominees

Paddy Considine, The Ferryman

Bryan Cranston, Network

Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

Adam Driver, Burn This

Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy

 

And the bloggers voted: Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Nominees

Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom

Derrick Baskin, Ain't Too Proud -- The Life and Times of the Temptations

Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice

Damon Daunno, Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!

Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

And the bloggers voted: Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

Best Direction of a Play Nominees
Rupert Goold, Ink
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ivo van Hove, Network
George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

 

And the bloggers voted: Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird

Best Direction of a Musical Nominees
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

 

And the bloggers voted: Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

 

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre Nominees
Be More Chill (Music & Lyrics: Joe Iconis)
Beetlejuice (Music & Lyrics: Eddie Perfect)
Hadestown (Music & Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell)
The Prom (Music: Matthew Sklar, Lyrics: Chad Beguelin)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Music: Adam Guettel)
Tootsie (Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek)

 

And the bloggers voted: Hadestown (Music & Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell)

Best Book of a Musical Nominees
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations (Dominique Morisseau)
Beetlejuice (Scott Brown & Anthony King)
Hadestown (Anaïs Mitchell)
The Prom (Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin)
Tootsie (Robert Horn)

 

And the bloggers voted: The Prom (Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin)

 

Best Revival of a Play Nominees
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
The Boys in the Band
Burn This
Torch Song
The Waverly Gallery

 

And the bloggers voted: Torch Song

 

Best Revival of a Musical Nominees
Kiss Me, Kate
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

 

And the bloggers voted: Kiss Me, Kate

 

 

Best Play Nominees
Choir Boy
The Ferryman
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Ink
What the Constitution Means to Me

 

And the bloggers voted: The Ferryman

 

Best Musical Nominees
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Beetlejuice
Hadestown
The Prom
Tootsie

 

And the bloggers voted: Hadestown

 

 Final Tally for wins by show
Hadestown: 5
To Kill a Mockingbird: 5
The Ferryman: 3
Beetlejuice: 3
Kiss Me, Kate: 2
The Prom: 2
The Cher Show: 1
Tootsie: 1
Burn This: 1
King Kong: 1
Network: 1


Thanks for reading, let us know your opinion on the vote, and don’t forget to watch the Tony Awards on June 8 at 8/7c on CBS, hosted by James Corden, to find out the winners.

Where Are the Teenagers?

Rachel Hoffman

In the past few years, there has been a surge of new musicals whose stories are centered around teenagers. From shows with serious themes, like Dear Evan Hansen, to shows that are more extravagant and fun, like Mean Girls, to shows that fall into both categories, like The Prom, the teens seem to be taking over Broadway.

But despite the slew of shows set in high schools and with high-school-aged characters, there are very few actors in these shows who are actually the age of the characters they are portraying. While there are some exceptions, it is very difficult to find a professional show about high schoolers with a cast the same age as its characters.

Of course, there are many valid reasons why it is difficult to cast teenagers in Broadway shows. The most obvious reason is that kids under the age of 18 are still considered minors in New York, and are often still attending school. When children and teens are employed as performers in New York, their employers are responsible for ensuring that the child’s work schedule, tutoring schedule, and break time comply with the state’s child labor laws. (For curious minds, these regulations can be found at https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/LS559.pdf.) And aside from the legalistic side of it, it is true that older actors and actresses are often just better choices for the roles. It is much easier to find a performer in their 20s with several Broadway credits and professional training than a teenager with the same qualifications.


Obviously, there are some shows that require children to be cast. Shows like Matilda, School of Rock, and The Sound of Music, among many others, simply cannot be performed in a convincing way without child performers. It is the characters in their late teens that are most often filled with actors and actresses that are older than their onstage counterparts.

While there have been many recent shows set in high school, the casting of adults in teen roles isn’t a new trend. Musicals about high schoolers have been around for decades. From West Side Story, to Grease, to Bring It On, Broadway musicals set in high school have always had casts full of 20- and 30-year-olds.

But at what point does an actor stop being believable as a teenager? Perhaps the most drastic recent example of casting older actors as teenagers is the current Broadway production of Be More Chill. With a cast made almost entirely of actors in their late 20s and early 30s, much of the cast is almost twice as old as the characters they are playing. Living in the midwest, I haven’t had the luxury of seeing this show- or any recent show, for that matter- on Broadway, so I feel that I can’t make a judgement on whether the actors truly appear to be in high school in the show, or if they appear to be adults portraying high schoolers. But I do wonder, what made the casting directors decide to cast multiple actors in their 30s instead of actors closer to the age of the show’s characters? What must be done to make a 30-year-old believable as a high school student? Does anything have to be done at all? Would they have still cast the same actors if they were 35? 40? (But I digress… perhaps this should be a discussion for a later blog.)

Of course, an obvious exception to this trend is Andrew Barth Feldman, who just made his Broadway debut in January as Evan Hansen at just 16 years old. This was a huge shift from the opening of the show three years ago, in which Ben Platt, at 23, was the youngest member of the original cast. Since Platt, several actors in their 20s have played the role of Evan. But now, for five of the eight performances each week, Evan’s shoes are filled by someone who has been walking the halls of a high school himself for the past few years. (Feldman isn’t playing the demanding role full time in order to allow time for training and to build up his stamina. Michael Lee Brown, an actor in his 20s, plays the role for the remaining three shows each week.)

Recently, a friend of mine took a trip to New York City, and was able to see Feldman as Evan. When I asked her about it, she could not stop raving about how amazing he was, and how wonderful it was to see a teenaged role filled by a teenager. When I searched for reviews online, these same remarks kept popping up. Many of the critics talked about how seeing a teen play this role made the experience all the more real and raw. And just last week, a new review came out in The New York Times, claiming that, “At many moments he [Feldman] surprised me, despite my repeat viewings, with new melismas and spins on lyrics that sharpened the story to a slightly different point.”

This got me wondering, should Broadway be giving teens more of a chance? Of course, there is no shortage of incredibly talented adults searching for work in the theatre world. But I also don’t believe that there is a lack of talented teenagers who are capable of impressing audiences on a Broadway stage. After all, there have also been shows on Broadway that required children to hold very large roles (Tuck Everlasting, Finding Neverland, The Secret Garden). Why, then, should there not be a larger number of teenagers playing teen roles?

Whatever the reason, teen actors and actresses will most likely just have to wait their turn to be in the Broadway spotlight. While seeing a teen play a leading role on Broadway is no doubt inspiring, there is no indication that the age of the actors are correlated to the success of the show. And after all, the goal will always be to sell tickets and fill seats. Teenage actors who wish to wish to attend any of Broadway’s most famous high schools may just have to wait until they’re older to do so.



If Hamilton Never Was: Revisiting the 2016 Tonys

Darren Wildeman

Often dubbed “The HamilTonys”, the 2016 Tony Awards were dominated by Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton winning 11 Tonys, just one short of tying the record set by The Producers. And it is still one of the hottest shows on Broadway. However, what if there was a universe where Hamilton was too innovative and too different for its time? What if Hamilton didn’t make it past the out-of-town try outs and faded into obscurity? What would the 2016 Tonys season have looked like? In this article I will be breaking down who may have been nominated in a world without Hamilton and who would have won in its place.

Lin-Manuel_Miranda,_Phillipa_Soo,_Leslie_Odom,_Jr.,_and_Christopher_Jackson,_White_House,_March_2016 (1).jpg



Best Orchestration Nominees

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

Larry Hochman, She Loves Me

Darryl Walters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Sara Bareilles, Waitress

In this scenario you are going to see Waitress come up a lot. And I don’t think anyone will argue against the orchestrations of this show. Sara Bareilles wrote a beautiful score and a nomination for Orchestrations is more than deserved.

 

And the winner is: August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

I think people forget just how good the music in Bright Star is. 2016 was an incredibly strong season. Bright Star has a beautiful blue grass feel to it and the orchestrations go flawlessly with its music. Bright Star may have gotten a bit lost in 2016, but I feel like this would be a nice nod towards what the show did and was.

 

Best Choreography Nominees

Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof

Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea

Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting isn’t remembered for much these days. Unfortunately, its score underwhelmed many and the book wasn’t that highly regarded either. However, one thing it did have is absolutely beautiful choreography. Some people considered it a snub that it wasn’t nominated in the first place, so I think it falls in here pretty naturally.

And the winner is: Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

This choreography choice is incredibly intense. But Tuck Everlasting has a style and beauty about it in the actors’ movements. Also, while people don’t like to admit it, politics certainly plays a role in Tony voting and Nicholaw as highly regarded as he is up to this point has never won a Tony for his choreo. So, between choreo being a strength of Tuck and Nicholaw not having won in this category yet, that he becomes the automatic favourite here.

 

Best Direction of a Musical Nominees

Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

John Doyle, The Color Purple

Scott Ells, She Loves Me

George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof

 

There were a lot of incredibly well directed shows this season. However, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof breathed new life into a timeless show. If it was possible to make that show anymore stunning Bartlett Sher found a way to do it. I think a nomination here is incredibly well deserved.

 

And the winner is: Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

I think in this scenario Michael Arden winning is a no brainer. A fantastic director who has yet to see his Tony who did a beautiful job with the Deaf West Spring Awakening. A well-deserved Tony for a gorgeous job on what is a very heavy musical.

 

Best Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening

Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Japhy Weiderman, Bright Star

 

There isn’t an obvious choice here for what show would be nominated. However, Bright Star did have some very beautiful lighting effects that gave a really nice setting for the show.

And the winner is: Justin Townsend, American Psycho

American Psycho isn’t remembered for much these days although it did get some love. However, one thing it did do well is incredibly intense lighting design. The visual effects are incredible and are certainly worthy of a Tony.

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me

Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ann Hould-Ward, The Color Purple

 

And the winner is: Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Again, the visual beauty of Tuck Everlasting. As I said when they won choreography, there isn’t necessarily a lot that gets loved in terms of music or book. However, it is a very visually appealing show.

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Es Devlin and Finn Ross, American Psycho

Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Walt Spangler, Tuck Everlasting

 

Once again, Tuck Everlasting comes through to pick up another design nomination. Not much I can say here that I haven’t said already. This musical is simply stunning to look at.

Since She Loves Me won we will not be changing the winner of this category.

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple

Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jennifer Simard, Disaster!

Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Keala Settle, Waitress

 

And the winner is: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jane gave a terrific performance in this production of She Loves Me. Everyone else here is amazing but that production was so incredible and Jane played her role so well this is well deserved

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress

Michael Mulheren, Bright Star

Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof

Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

 

And the winner is: Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

This is a very tough category all of a sudden. A lot of fantastic men here. This was incredibly difficult to decide. However, Billy absolutely gave it all in Shuffle Along. And I think his performance really stood out.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Laura Benati, She Loves Me

Carmen Cusack, Bright Star

Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Jessie Mueller, Waitress

Ana Villafañe, On Your Feet

 

On Your Feet is another musical that had a somewhat lukewarm reception. However, playing Gloria Estefan is not an easy task and Villafañe gives a great performance.

Since Cynthia Erivo won this award that year, we will not be changing the result here.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Nominees

Alex Brightman, School of Rock

Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Zachary Levi, She Loves Me

Benjamin Walker, American Psycho

 

Note: For this category we are rolling with four nominees instead of five. All the male nominees from a major show have been nominated and any of the remaining shows did not get enough love from critics or voters in other categories that I feel comfortable adding a fifth nominee.

Benjamin Walker gave a fantastic performance as a serial killer. Some considered it a snub in the first place that he wasn’t nominated so he’s the obvious choice here.

 

And the winner is: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Burstein as Tevye breathed all sorts of new life into the musical. Tevye is not an easy role to play in the first place and Burstein did it flawlessly. In a very tough leading male category, Burstein was the obvious choice here.

 

Best Original Score Nominees

Bright Star, Music by Steve Martin and Eddie Brickell, Lryics by Eddie Brickell

School of Rock, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webver, Lyrics by Glenn Slater

Waitress, Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles

American Psycho, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik

 

The now fourth nominee was a tough one. There isn’t an obvious show that should step in. However, Duncan Sheik wrote a fantastic and very unique score that I think in this scenario would grab the attention of the voters.

 

And the winner is: Waitress, Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Bareilles’s score for Waitress is nothing short of gorgeous. She wrote a very catchy score with songs that hit all the right notes. I think she hands down wins best score in this scenario.

 

Best Book of a Musical

Bright Star, Steve Martin

School of Rock, Julian Fellowes

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, George C. Wolfe

Waitress, Jessie Nelson

 

Waitress being the next big musical of the season that wasn’t nominated I think giving it the nod for book here is a pretty no brainer. However, that being said the book of Waitress is quite a bit weaker than the overall score.

And the winner is: Bright Star, Steve Martin

 

I think Bright Star may have had a chance to win score. However, it also has a very strong book which is something Waitress didn’t have as much. So it makes more sense that Waitress would win where it’s really strong, and Bright Star would win book. And Bright Star definitely deserves this. The story does not have that many flaws in it and is overall a very well put together story

 

Best Musical

Bright Star

School of Rock

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Waitress

American Psycho

 

I don’t think it’s too insane for American Psycho to be the next show up in this scenario. It already got acknowledged for its unique score and it collected a decent amount of nominations elsewhere. It would only have an outside chance of winning but to be the next show nominated I think is quite reasonable.

 

And the winner is: Waitress

Despite the shortcomings I mentioned earlier, I think Waitress is what would win. It seems like after Hamilton, Waitress was the baby of both fans and critics alike and this would lead to it getting the favour for Best Musical.

 

Well that’s the Tonys without Hamilton. Before I totally wrap this up though I’m going to crunch some numbers and breakdown which shows did well in an absence of Hamilton.

 

Hamilton article.png



Please note that a couple of shows won awards and were nominated for awards pertaining to Revivals so there are some awards here won not seen in the actual article. As you can see this season becomes very spread out if Hamilton was not a thing.

 

American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, and Waitress become the big winners. Each one picks up 3 more nominations and each picked up some wins as well. Bright Star also gets its recognition for awards.

 

Let me know what you think of these nominations and awards? Do you agree or do you think some shows should have won more?

To the Unrecognized Theatre Workers

SarahLynn Mangan
A thank you letter to all those not recognized or hardly recognized for their work in the theater. Many times, the people who get the least thanks are those who do the most.

To the costumers to dressers to set builders to painters, to the stage managers and their tech-operators and their running crews, thank you. To the casting directors to the choreographers to the dance captains, thank you. To the laundromats to the wigmakers to the curtain cleaners, thank you. To the conductor to the pit to the assistant music directors, thank you. To the people who came up with the original vision of the production to the ones who decided to take a chance on it, thank you. To the marketers to the poster making companies to the web design fanatics, thank you. To the ushers to the program folders to the kiosk tenders, thank you. To the house manager to the production manager to the assistant stage manager to the interns to the box office manager, thank you.

 Thank you for creating theatre and always being willing to sacrifice your time, your energy and frankly your sanity to put on a wonderful show that is reflected through the actors on stage.

 Actors are consistently receiving flowers, food, and praise for their performances and connection with the audience, but I believe that the most praise should go to you people and even all the people I didn’t list. The actors would not be receiving this praise if it was not for you.

 I know you know this and you say it in your own head before the curtain opens or whenever someone gets hissy at you asking “Well what did you even do for this show?” but I am going to recognize it anyway, here in writing.

 For many of you on this list, your talents could be used in many different areas in the world, but you choose to spend them on something that can truly make an impact on either the teenagers seeing their first show or the elders seeing their last. Without you willing to spend a fraction of your talent in this industry, actors would not have anything to work for.

 Thank you for putting up with stuck up actors and people who really have no idea what your job entails but still being willing to continue to work with them.

 From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.

 

 Now for those actors who don’t always say thank you to the costumer every time they repair your costume or your dresser who helps you during the fastest quick change of your life, start thanking them. For those who don’t come in early to see what they can help with during tech week whether that being painting the set, sewing some hems, or even folding some programs, start doing that. For those who might have some extra cash to order an underappreciated crew member some coffee or a donut, start doing that. Start taking the time to really appreciate the people who help your job run smoothly, cause without them, you would be naked in an empty theatre with no lights on except for the ghost light.

Finally, for those audience members who get grumpy at the house manager or ushers when you arrive late and can’t be seated, take a deep breath and relish in the fact that you have made it to a theatre where all your troubles are supposed to melt away. For those who never shake the hands of the orchestra or stay until the end of the exit music, start doing so because they tend to do more work than the actors on stage, and applause for them after the exit music. For those who stare at the crew when you see them for a quick second in confusion for wearing all black, ask them what they did for the show and congratulate them on a smooth show. For those who aren’t patient with the box office start doing so and maybe they can figure out how the dates on your tickets were actually for a week ago instead of tonight.

 If everyone took the time to thank the people we don’t think of when we think of theatre production, everyone would have a grander time at the most amazing place in the world, the stage.

Be More Chill Has Too Much Chill

Darren Wildeman

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My (Not so Good) Thoughts on Community Theatre

Jyothi Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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