Broadway

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! 




Protest Songs

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 Jonathan Fong

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the song of angry men-

It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”

 

Protesting has been part of culture and politics worldwide for centuries, from the days of the storming of the Bastille and the Reign of Terror, to more modern incidences such as the recent Hong Kong extradition bill protests (which, as a local of the region, hit quite close to home, metaphorically and literally). And with protests, there have been protest songs, simple melodies and tunes belted out loud by a choir of the angry and aggrieved to motivate them for just one day more. And it is amongst this impromptu choir that the musical and the showtune have found an unlikely home—as these very protest songs that give people hope that “even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”

Musical theatre has never shied away from political affairs—showtunes have long possessed, or been ascribed, political meanings. It’s only been a few years since the debut of Hamilton, a show whose famous line (“immigrants, we get the job done”) receives such thunderous applause from American audiences living under the Trump administration’s harsh stance on immigration that the pause following said line had to be lengthened considerably. Even unintentionally, songs originating from the stage have been assigned political meanings or contexts that they may not have actually had—"Edelweiss”, the famous tune from The Sound of Music, is often mistakenly attributed as the actual Austrian national anthem or at least a real song from the Austrian nationalist movement of the time (even despite the fact that it was very much written for the show by Rodgers and Hammerstein). And it’s easy to see why—with simple lyrics and a simpler melody, it’s a song that rather easily sticks in one’s head. Toss in a little conflated memory and you get the newly-dubbed Austrian nationalist movement’s theme song—"Edelweiss”.

Of course, there’s more to protest songs and the stage than just conflation and repurposing of showtunes—showtunes have been explicitly written as protest songs, with such songs even moving from the stage to the streets. “Do You Hear the People Sing”, a call to action for the protestors of the ill-fated June Rebellion of 1812 as depicted in the famed musical Les Miserables, is one of the more well-known and commonly used examples out there. Once more, its simple melody and lyrics allow it to be easily remembered and sung impromptu, with its rousing call to “join in the fight that will give you the right to be free” resonating across borders, regions, and political movements. It’s been sung worldwide—from Wisconsin to South Korea, from anti-corruption protests to Trump rallies, the song has been used as a protest song by crowds of angry people seeking justice for perceived wrongs, whatever they may be. From humble origins in a musical initially decried by West End critics as “witless and synthetic entertainment” and “like attempting to pour the entire [English] Channel through a china teapot”, it’s one of the most recognizable protest songs out there; it’s even been translated into different languages and had its lyrics rewritten in the name of specific movements, like this Cantonese translation in support of the recent Hong Kong protests. Indeed, the song has roused millions to action in the hopes that they may succeed (unlike, perhaps, those ill-fated students of the June Rebellion).

And as the digital age settles in, protests and their songs move from the streets to the internet—ingenious protesters take advantage of new means of communication to convey new, yet age-old, messages. Brits, protesting US President Trump’s July visit to the UK, took advantage of online campaigning and music distribution to coordinate and drive Green Day’s 2004 song “American Idiot”—a rousing pop anthem decrying fascism and authoritarianism which separately inspired its own jukebox Broadway musical—to the top of British pop charts. While this isn’t a new tactic—in 2013, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from the well-known musical movie The Wizard of Oz was similarly driven to No. 2 of the UK music charts after controversial British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death, partially to get BBC Radio (who customarily play the Top 10 songs on the UK charts) to play the song on radio—this campaign lasted far longer than any other, an indicator of the true power of the digital age and a connected populace.

It is clear that the showtune will remain a key driving force behind the protests and political movements of today. And as the cogs of the political machines worldwide continue to turn, what we can be certain is that as long as people take to the streets in protest, their hearts will most certainly “echo the beating of the drums” as they sing along to songs that very well may have originated from the stage.

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!

Me, Myself, and Musicals

Chris Lynn
Have you ever been asked, “What is your favorite musical?”  Have you ever been asked to list your top 10 musicals? For me this is a daunting and impossible task.  If you are like me, your favorites change depending on mood and situation. In the past year I tried to dig deeper and identify a common theme shared by some of my favorites which will undoubtedly change even while writing this blog!  What are your favorites? More importantly, what connection or common strand places these musicals at the top of your list? Please share and discuss in the comments below.

All of my favorite musicals in the list below involve rational selfishness.  I enjoy strong characters that think and act for themselves and create opportunities that were previously not within their grasp.  Wait! Did this blogger really say that his favorite shows include “selfish” characters?... Yes, he did. However, please note that I specified characters that display the moral value of “rational selfishness.”  By rational selfishness, I mean to say that these characters earn happiness through hard work, determination, and radical individualism. Typically, people who attempt to make gains at the cost, detriment, or harm of another fall short eventually and never truly find happiness.  Some call it karma,but I don’t believe in mysticism. I call it what most people think when they hear the word selfish: “irrational selfishness.” Bear with me folks, I must differentiate between rational and irrational selfishness. I will wrap this back to musicals. I promise!  

One of the most famous irrationally selfish people was ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.  Prosecutors estimated the Madolf’s fraud amounted to $64.8 billion with his 4,800 clients.  Madoff’s irrational selfishness landed him in prison in 2008 where he remains as an 81 year old man.  Aftermath of the exposure to his fraud included Madoff’s brother imprisoned for 10 years, the suicide of one of his two sons that turned him into authorities, as well as an attempted suicide by both Madoff himself and his wife.  As irony would have it, Madoff admits that he is happier now in prison despite overwhelming guilt and nightmares for destroying his family and the countless lives of others. In his free life, Madoff could never enjoy his exuberant wealth.  Madoff said he realized that his scam would eventually be exposed and he lived his once free life imprisoned by fear and constant cover up.  

On the flipside, typically, people who practice in “rational selfishness”, where others are not preyed upon, end up helping others, intentionally and incidentally, in return. These characters are the focus of my favorite musicals.  As we have all learned from Avenue Q:

“When you help others,

You can’t help helping yourself!

Every time you 

Do good deeds

You’re also serving

Your own needs.”



My Top 10

10. Mame

Jerry Herman, known for his exuberantly happy and joyful shows, brought the character of Mame Dennis to life in song.  Nothing describes Mame’s zeal for life and her own happiness better than the line, 

“Live, Live, Live!  Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death!”  

As a socialite in the roaring 20s, Mame only wanted the best happiness for herself as well as those around her.  She imparts this intellectual freewheeling lifestyle philosophy to her 10 year old nephew, Patrick, who has been entrusted to her care after the death of her brother.  Even during the low times in her life when Mame loses her fortunes in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, she still retains her unyielding Herman-esque optimism:

Mame: “Well, once I taught you all to live each living day.

Fill up the stocking,”

Young Patrick: “But Auntie Man, it's one week from Thanksgiving Day now.

Mame: “But we need a little Christmas

Right this very minute,

Candles in the window,

Carols at the spinet.

Yes, we need a little Christmas now!”

While, Mame later regains fortune as well as love when she marries Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a Southern aristocrat, she does not allow Beauregard’s later untimely death to dampen her spirits.  Mame returns home to impart the joy of individualism and happiness to a new generation: her great nephew (Peter), Patrick’s son.  

We all could learn from the “Mame’s” of the world to live our lives as if “It’s Today” and to

“Open a new window,

Open a new door,

Travel a new highway,

That's never been tried before”...

“Whenever they say you're slightly unconventional,

Just put your thumb up to your nose.

And show 'em how to dance to a new rhythm.”

Dear Auntie Mame, as we “grow a little older, grow a little colder” you remind us that 

“There's a ‘thank you’ you can give life,

If you live life all the way.

Pull the stops out,

Hold the roof down,

Fellows watch out,

It's today.”

9. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Just because you might be at the bottom rung of a ladder, doesn’t mean you cannot “move upwards and onwards.”  Just ask the young, ambitious window washer, J. Pierrepont Finch.  In How to Succeed..., Finch rises from window washer to the mailroom to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company.  Just don’t ask me or anyone else in the company, “what is a wicket?”

I will have to note that this musical, falls more into the category of “irrational selfishness” as Finch uses deception, trickery, and downright sabotage of fellow employees to rise to the top.  Thus, “How to Succeed...” is near the bottom of my top 10. I just cannot resist Finch’s devilish grin and charm as he dupes Mr. Biggley's lazy, arrogant, moocher of a nephew, Bud Frump, who only remains in the company due to nepotism.  If How to Succeed..., were a bit more realistic, we would see the chips eventually fall and Finch’s irrational selfishness would catch up with him.  However, the show is satire at its finest and great escapism. If anything else, Finch is admirable for his drive to ignore Mr. Twimble’s advice to remain status quo in the mailroom near the bottom of the success ladder: 

Finch: “Your brain is a company brain.”

Mr. Twimble: “The company washed it, 

Now I can't complain.”

Finch: “You'll never rise up to the top”

Mr. Twimble:“But there's one thing clear,

Whoever the company fires 

I will still be here!”

Finch “Oh, how can you get anywhere?”

Mr. Twimble: “Junior have no fear. 

Whoever the company fires

I will still be here.

Year, after year, after fiscal,

Never take a risko year!”

I also love Finch’s unwavering ego and laser focus that proves to serve him well with the love song to himself:

“I believe in you

And when my faith in my fellow man

Oh but falls apart,

I've but to feel your hand grasping mine

And I take heart,

I take heart.

To see the cool clear

Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,

Yet with the slam, bang, tang

Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.

Oh, I believe in you,”

We could all use a healthy dose of rational egoism like Finch’s by believing in ourselves.  While How to Succeed... is a delicious satire of corporate office culture and sexism, I cannot help myself to imagine how fun it would be to mount a production where the tables were turned.  Imagine, if the roles of the men and women were reversed with the story set in an alternate universe. Imagine the women gawking and treating the male secretaries as toys (“A Secretary is Not a Toy”) or even a dumb hunky jock in the role of Hedy LaRue.  I imagine seeing the women applying lipstick and makeup as they plot to stop Finch, stiletto heels and all, in the executive boardroom. I know, one would need to obtain permission, nonetheless it is fun to imagine and dream.

8. Book of Mormon

What do you get when you juxtapose atheists and agnostic writers and a satirical musical about faith? You get The Book of Mormon of course!  Matt Stone once said the “Book of Mormon” is

 “an atheist’s love letter to religion... Now, I don’t think that every Mormon will necessarily like what this love letter says, but it’s our version of, ‘Hey, we think religion is really cool, here’s what we think about it.’ And it’s a musical, so it’s gotta have a feel-good end, and it’s gotta have a big heart, a big story. And that’s the only way to really tackle talking about religion in narratives, is treat the people in them like really good people who are trying to do the right thing.”

The Book of Mormon includes a selfish character, not unlike any of us theatre folk that crave the spotlight.  While well intentioned and an overall good guy, Elder Kevin Price desires fame and is only willing to give his sidekick Elder Arnold Cunningham credit in the form of table scraps in the song “You and Me” (But Mostly Me):

“And now we’re seeing eye to eye,

It’s so great we can agree!

That Heavenly Father has chosen

You and me

Just mostly me!

Something incredible…

I’ll do something incredible!

I want to be the Mormon..

That changed all of mankind…

I’m something I’ve forseen...

Now that I’m nineteen,

I’ll do something incredible,

That blows Gods freaking mind!”

By the finale both Elder Price and Elder Cunnigham have learned through their journey, that they both have value and strive for one another’s happiness just a day at a time:

“What happens when we're dead?

We shouldn't think that far ahead

The only latter day that matters is tomorrow.

The skies are clearing and the sun's coming out.

It's a latter day tomorrow.

Put your worries and your sorrows and your cares away

and focus on a latter day.

Tomorrow is a latter day!”

7.  “Fiddler On The Roof”

The beloved Tevye is selfish?  Well, yes. Not in a Bernie Madoff way, but in a good way.  What is it that Tevye selfishly wants more than anything? Does he want to be a rich man?  Does he want social status?

“The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!

They would ask me to advise them,

Like a Solomon the Wise.

If you please, Reb Tevye..

Pardon me, Reb Tevye...

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!

And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.

When you're rich, they think you really know!”

Does Tevye want to have a deeper understanding and relationship with God whom he speaks to throughout the musical?

“If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack

To sit in the synagogue and pray.

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.

And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.

That would be the sweetest thing of all.”

Or does Tevye desire one thing above all others?  Above riches, he gives Tzeitel and Motel his blessing for their marriage.  Tevye chooses to renege on his arranged marriage agreement with the wealthy Lazar Wolf and his daughter.  Tevye does not “sacrifice” riches. That would imply material wealth is more valuable that his daughter’s happiness, which in turn brings him happiness.  Sacrifice? Absolutely not, his love and desire for his daughter’s happiness is just that much greater of a value than Lazar Wolf’s money.

Motel:

“I have wanted to ask you for some time, 

Reb Tevye, but first I wanted to save up for my own sewing machine.”

Tevye : 

“Stop talking nonsense. You're just a poor tailor.”

Motel: 

“That's true, Reb Tevey, but even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness. 

I promise you, Reb Tevye , your daughter will not starve.”

Tevye: 

“He's beginning to talk like a man. 

But what kind of match would that be, with a poor tailor? 

On the other hand, he's an honest, hard worker. 

On the other hand, he has absolutely nothing. On the other hand,

Things could never get worse for him, they could only get better. 

They gave each other a pledge-unheard of, absurd. 

They gave each other a pledge-unthinkable. 

But look at my daughter's face-she loves him, 

She wants him-and look at my daughters’ eyes, so hopeful.”

Tevye continues to place his daughters’ happiness above other values including his Jewish faith and traditions when he says goodbye to Hodel who leaves to join Perchik in Siberia.  Tevye tries to “maintain balance” with his daughter, Chava. After accepting the marriages of two of his daughters, marriage outside the Jewish faith is a line Tevye will not cross… or so we are led to believe.  Toward the end of the musical, Tevye’s defenses are down as his family must leave Anatevka and say their farewells. While he earlier disowned his daughter, Chava, and even said “She is dead to me,” seeing that he has the power to bring happiness to his daughter changes everything.  He gives a stage whisper to Tzeitel as she repeats to Chava, “God be with you.”

The irony of “Fiddler on the Roof” lies in the last words of the opening number: 

“Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as ... as a fiddler on the roof!”

For Tevye, at least, his rational selfishness to abandon his traditions in order to ensure his daughters’ happiness built a stronger foundation and bond than faith could have ever secured. 

6. Big River

In the musical Big River, once again, we see a character (Huckleberry Finn) not so much sacrifice a value, but rather trade a lesser value (Going on more adventures) for a greater value (setting his friend and slave, Jim, free):

“All right, I'll go to hell! 

And I'll take up wickedness again, which is my line, bein' brought up to it. For a starter, I'll steal Jim out of slavery again. And, If I can think of somethin' worse, I'll do that too! Cuz as long as I'm in, and in for good, I might as well go whole hog!”

Jim and Huckleberry sing about their shared value of one another in the unlikeliest of companionships of those times:

“I see the friendship in you eyes

That you see in mine

But we're worlds apart, worlds apart

Together, but worlds apart”

Yes, Huckleberry Finn is delightfully egotistical when he sings about himself.  However, what was unconventional during Huck’s time (the abolition of slavery) is now conventional.  Despite threats of going to hell, Huckleberry bucked the system and announced all that would hear his selfish anthem:

“I, Huckleberry, me

Hereby declare myself to be

Nothin' ever other than

Exactly what I am”

5.  Pippin

Wow! Read the lyrics below and observe what an incredible selfish person Pippin is!

“So many men seem destined 

To settle for something small

But I won't rest until I know I'll have it all”....

I've got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky”

Much like Princeton in Avenue Q who searches for his purpose, so does Pippin!  He tries everything! He joins his father’s Army by going into battle.. Then with the advice of his grandmother, Bertha, he frolics and frocks and frolics with woman after woman!  Pippin soon discovers that even the meaningless and countless sexual encounters leave him as unfulfilled as slaughtering the Visigoths for his father, King Charlemange. Pippin turns back to serious pursuits once again by becoming a revolutionary, a politician, and even king.  Again, Pippin is disappointed by disillusion. He even compromises his high aspirations and tries to settle down and live a humble life with a woman (Catherine) and her child (Theo). With all hope lost, Pippin is tempted by the Leading players and the troupe to make his mark in a burst of flames and glory by committing suicide. Pippin realizes that he has given up his extraordinary purpose for the simplest and most ordinary life of all, and he is finally a happy man. Did Pippin sacrifice for a more humble modest life?  Of course not! All of those previous ambitions and attempts proved to be of lesser value as the one thing with the greatest value that was there all along!

“I'm not a river or a giant bird 

That soars to the sea

And if I'm never tied to anything

I'll never be free

I wanted magic shows and miracles

Mirages to touch

I wanted such a little thing from life

I wanted so much

I never came close, my love

We never came near

It never was there

I think it was here”


4. Sunday In the Park With George

George is a selfish character.  He is actually selfish to the point of cruelty.  Dot knows all of this about George and his quest for self fulfillment with his painting should come as no surprise as she decides to move on and leave him:

“What I feel?

You know exactly how I feel.

Why do you insist

You must hear the words,

When you know I cannot give you words?

Not the ones you need.

There's nothing to say.

I cannot be what you want....

You will not accept who I am.

I am what I do-

Which you knew,

Which you always knew,

Which I thought you were a part of!”

Later in Act 2, a modern day artist struggling to come to terms with his artistic decisions has a vision of his great grandmother, Dot.  She advises him to stop agonizing, just make a decision, and to move on:

“I chose, and my world was shaken-

So what?

The choice may have been mistaken,

The choosing was not

You have to move on”

As the actors from the painting tableau leave, the stage resembles a blank canvas, George in present time reads:

 "White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities."

The most creative and selfish people in the world, George Suerat, Charles Borlung, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, arrogantly took the risk of making choices, moving on, and creating a more beautiful world.  Inevitably, many of these choices were made in favor of lesser values, in their eyes, of sometimes human relationships. Sunday in the Park is not only the story of an obsessed artist’s life, but also that of an entrepreneur, a mover, a relentless innovator.

3. Into the Woods

What do you wish? What do you want, “more than 

anything in the world?”

In her infinite wisdom and striking irony, the witch reminds us that we are all selfish, yet she is the only one that will honestly admit it.  Into the Woods is a cautionary tale which teaches us that having a wish is not nearly as important as reflecting on if that wish is what we truly want and how we go about getting our wish.  For me, the witch, rather than the narrator, is the true storyteller and teacher in the musical Into the Woods.  Even if some of the lyrics and dialogue are not hers, it is “her story” to tell: 

Cinderella's Mother: Do you know what you wish?

Are you certain what you wish 

Is what you want?

Sadly, the baker’s wife, in my opinion is the antithesis of the witch.  I find the witch to be the most rational and thus most moral character. Whereas the baker’s wife is the most irrational and immoral character.  She tells an opposing view from the witch. Actions are justified as long as you get your wish. According to the baker’s wife:

“What matters is that

Everyone tells tiny lies.

What's important, really is, the size.

Only three more tries and we'll have our prize.

When the end's in sight,

You'll realize:

If the en is right,

It justifies

The beans

If you have seen Into the Woods, you will realize that the consequence for irrationality that befell the Baker’s Wife (SPLAT!) The witch culminates her story with the moral that our decisions indeed have consequences that are far reaching even beyond our own lives.  

“Careful the wish you make 

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen”

Blindly stealing, lying, and betrayal in order to get your wish is irrational.  On the other hand, if you are rationally selfish in life, you CAN successfully “go into the woods:

“To mind

To heed

To find

To think

To teach

To join

To go to the Festival!”

2. Children of Eden

Children of Eden is my favorite musical that people have some familiarity.  Much like Into the Woods, we are reminded that a huge part of rational selfishness is to not only the importance of being free to make ones’ own decisions and make ones’ own mistakes, but also to pass down that gift to our own children.  Eve is my all time favorite character. She is heroic in that she looked at life, knowledge, and decided to defy her father and take a bite. She recognized, contrary to notions of good and evil, that all knowledge from the tree was good:

“I see a mountain and I want to climb it

I river and I want to leave shore

Where there was nothing let there be something, something made by me

There's things waiting for me to invent them 

There's things waiting for me to explore

I am an echo of the eternal cry of

Let there be!

The spark of creation, burning bright within me

The spark of creation, won't let me rest at all

Until I discover or build or uncover

A thing that I can call, my celebration

Of the spark creation”

Sometimes forging out on our own as young adults, away from paradise, or even our parents’ basement, is scary.  However good we might have it, doing, achieving, and producing on ones’ own is much better than the dependency offered by a “paradise” before:

ADAM

“And I remember, in someone else's garden long ago

We had all we could eat”

EVE

“But it seems the fruit our own hands grow

Somehow tastes twice as sweet”

Now that I am a parent of two teenagers, one who will be moving to University in a few weeks, I am experiencing a fear from a different perspective.  My daughter has some chronic health issues, and I worry about her getting sick, taking medications, and becoming hospitalized while no longer under our wings.  Below are lyrics about letting go despite my fears. The song is sung by two fathers: God, to his son Noah and Noah, to his son Japeth:

“Oh this son of mine I love so well

And all the toil it takes

I'd give to him a garden and keep clear of snakes

But the one thing he most treasures is to make his own mistakes ohhh

He goes charging on the cliffs of life

A reckless mountaineer

I could help him not to stumble

I could warn him what to fear

I could shout until I'm breathless

And he'd still refuse to hear ohhh

But you cannot close the acorn

Once the oak begins to grow

And you cannot close your heart

To what it fears and needs to know

That the hardest part of love

Is the letting go.”

If we are not careful, our refusal to let go and using guilt will drive our children away. This musical hits “Close To Home” as both my brother and me have been estranged from our own parents.  Teach your children to selfishly pursue their goals. Then stand back and allow then the beauty of experience being their teacher and learning from their own mistakes:

“Fare thee well 

My precious children

In your hands

I place a key

To this prison

Made of gratitude

That has held you close to me

Now I know I cannot hold you

Till at last

I let you be!”


1. Three Questions: A Philosophical Oratorio

My all time favorite musical is one that no one has heard.  Well, I am sure there are some that have heard of it and even love it as much as I do.  If so, we must chat! Three Questions: A Philosophical Oratorio (later retitled Reason in Rhyme: A Philosophical Primer) is a song cycle based on philosophy and self.  Written by pianist and performer Robin Field, the musical is a one man show with a piano, an easel, chart paper, and a few Sharpie markers.  Below is a review of the show from 1979:

“‘What is so? How do you know? So, what should you do?’

These lyrics are from an oratorio, “Three Questions,” written by Robin Field. [...]

Trying to fit the names of Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, Whitehead and Ayn Rand—yes, these names and more, too, mind you—plus their thoughts, into a 45-minute concert of light music … well … Robin actually did the unthinkable. He successfully married classical philosophy to musical comedy. He succeeded in writing beguiling, catchy music (of definite commercial quality) and he married it beautifully with lyrics of intellectual weight …

Robin did it with wit and intelligence. He managed to synthesize complex philosophical thoughts into easily understood fundamentals, wedding them happily with his bouncy, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, music. What’s more, I was delighted to find that Robin is a superb entertainer, accompanying himself on the piano.’

—Richard Buffum, April 19th, 1979, Los Angeles Times

Reading about Robin Field, you will learn that the philsophy of rational egostism or selfishness actually saved his life after a failed suicide attempt as a teenager.  Mr. Field reminds us unabashedly who and what is most important:

“The most important thing to me…. Is me. …

That much is true 

And so, I guess, the most important thing to you is you.”

Toward the end of the show, Field decides to have fun by playing and singing a medley that pokes fun at conventional wisdom found in popular songs that are counter to the philosophy he esouses.  Much of it is clichéd thinking of our age: that love is the answer; that others’ happiness is our responsibility; that passivity is good; that the man-made and the commercial are inferior to the natural; that it is a sin to be rich; that fatalism is sophisticated; that self-pity is acceptable; that confusion and defeat are man’s lot; that you should pretend to be happy if you are not; that everything will be OK as long as you did it “your way.”  His renditions are a tip of the hat to vaudeville, complete with impersonations to gain applause by “milking it” for laughs.

Well, that is all folks!  As I said in the beginning, my favorites can and do change.  Below are a few more “honorable mention” shows and quotes that promote rational selfishness.  One show that I have not seen, that follows this theme is “Shenendoah.” If you have seen “Shenendoah”, give me a shout out as well!

Honorable Mentions

1. Chicago

“I play in a game

Where I make the rules

And rule number one

From here to the end

Is 'I am my own best friend'

Three Musketeers

Who never say die

Are standing here this minute

Me, myself and I”

2. Be More Chill

“There are voices in my head

Of the voices in my head

The loudest one is mine!”

3. La Cage Aux Folles

“I deal my own deck

Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.

There's one life, and there's no return and no deposit;

One life, so it's time to open up your closet.

Life's not worth a damn 'til you can say,

"Hey world, I am what I am!"

4. Avenue Q

(see the “Money Song” lyrics quoted at the beginning of this blog)

Farewell, friends.  

YOLO - You Only live life Once.  Live life abundantly!



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.

How Broadway Changed LGBTQ+ Stories

Amelia Brooker
For decades, kids in high school theatre have been labelled as “gay”. Male singers and dancers have faced the same labels for their often-feminine expression, and musical theatre as a whole is stereotyped as a place for queer people. But this connection between the queer community and musical theatre is more than just a stereotype. It is clear that both of these communities are well integrated. Musical theatre is a cultural staple of the queer community, and vice versa. This begs the question; how has musical theatre revolutionized the LGBTQ+ experience?

People in the LGBTQ+ community are constantly searching for spaces in which they are represented. As a queer woman, I understand this search. Growing up, movies and TV shows rarely, if ever, showed same-sex couples - much less individuals of varying gender identities. Like many others, I never saw myself represented in media as I was (and still continue to be) growing up. Had I known from a younger age that my feelings were not only valid, but shared within a community, I would hold a stronger sense of identity today.

While many young adult TV shows and movies in the last few years have featured queer stories, they are not free of issues. These storylines can feel ingenuine, the product of a marketing team trying to make more money. Queer characters are flat and used as stereotypes, almost never with a happy ending. And most notably, the biggest blockbuster movies that dare to feature an LGBTQ+ character almost always receive backlash. Musical theatre however, exists as a safe space for LGBTQ+ actors and patrons alike. Discrimination definitely still exists in our corner of the world, but the Broadway community shares such a great sense of acceptance and pride that I have yet to find anywhere else. From La Cage Aux Folles to Kinky Boots, from The Color Purple to The Prom, from Angels in America to Falsettos, Broadway shows have a long history of representing people from all across the spectrum.

The difference I see between representation on screen versus the stage is that TV and movies usually treat their queer characters as one-dimensional stereotypes to support the straight characters. Whereas plays and musicals feature imperfect gay characters. LGBTQ+ people with ambitions and flaws that exist outside of their sexuality. People whose stories deserve to be told in a realistic and inspiring way. I believe it is this nature that pulls many members of the queer community into the world of musical theatre. Such an accepting world also allows writers and directors to feel comfortable sharing their stories and bringing their experiences to an audience.


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Broadway not only illustrates queer characters through its shows, but it also recognizes and supports its community of queer actors as well. In June alone, three openly transgender actors made it to Broadway stages. Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS has raised more than three hundred million dollars for people with HIV/AIDS since its inception in 1988. And at its simplest state, kids in high school have a place where their gender and sexual identity is accepted. Down to its core, musical theatre is a place not only welcoming for all, but one that is willing to tell the stories of its community members. The stories that matter, and that represent what the Broadway community stands for; love, acceptance, and pride.

 

 

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.



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.

Saluting Living Legends

Michael Kape

It saddens me, a lot. We honor so many Broadway people during the In Memoriam sequence at the Tonys—after they have passed away. Why the hell are we waiting until they’re gone? I mean, let’s give our LIVING legends their due. Are you with me? Good. Because all these people have dedicated their professional lives to making our lives better through their work.

And not just the performers, either. Let’s not forget the playwrights, the lyricists, the composers, the designers, the producers, all of whom have worked tirelessly over the decades to make theatre a better place.

So, the hell with the In Memoriam crap. We all have favorite memories and special moments. Here are some (and by no means all) of the living legends we should be honoring because of their body of work. By the way, living legend doesn’t necessarily mean so olde they fart dust. Some of these are people who are still vibrant and contributing every single day.

·         Chita Rivera—C’mon, gang, Chita Rivera is a national treasure, a triple-threat actor/singer/dancer who’s still going strong. She’s been gracing the boards since appearing in a touring production of Call Me Madam in 1951. Along the way, she’s done some other work like West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, The Rink, The Visit, and many, many more. If Broadway conferred sainthood, Rivera would have already been canonized long ago. Am I right or am I right?

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·         Jerry Herman—Let’s just look at a partial list of the shows he’s written and/or performed in: Milk and Honey (a favorite of my parents, now pretty much forgotten except for the song Shalom, which is still stunningly beautiful); Hello, Dolly! (I think it can be classified as a mega-hit in its time and today); Mame (because, well, it’s friggin’ Mame); Dear World (an under-appreciated musical today); Mack and Mabel, probably his best score (he says so and I have to agree with him) surrounded by an unfortunate book; The Grand Tour, a kind of mixed bag of a show; La Cage Aux Folles, which is quite the award-winning musical; Jerry’s Girls, his salute to his own leading ladies in which he also appeared onstage; Mrs. Santa Claus, a charming television movie which should be a Yuletide classic; and A Day in Hollywood, a Night in the Ukraine for which he contributed three songs.

·         Angela Lansbury—Forget for a moment she was already a Hollywood star and Oscar-worthy actress before she set foot onstage (and she’s still gracing movies like Mary Poppins Returns). Just look at what she’s done on Broadway to qualify for Living Legend status: Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Dear World, Prettybelle (okay, let’s forget that one), Gypsy, The King and I, Sweeney Todd, Deuce, and Blithe Spirit. Multiple Tony Awards and some time spent doing a little television series, Murder She Wrote, in which she managed to feature many of her Broadway co-stars over eight seasons.

·         Sheldon Harnick—Not only an extraordinary lyricist, but truly one of the funniest and most articulate people you could ever hope to encounter. With late composer Jerry Bock, he managed to earn legendary status with such shows as Fiorello (Pulitzer Prize), She Loves Me (a perfect musical in my opinion), Fiddler on the Roof (currently being performed in Yiddish Off-Broadway), and The Rothschilds (oy, what a great score). He’s just amazing.

·         Andrew Lloyd-Webber—Give the man his due, from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to School of Rock, ALW has managed to eke out a few hits along the way. Do I really need to remind everyone of Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, and the little show still at the Majestic, Phantom of the Opera? ‘Nuff said (as in don’t mention the duds because it’s not nice).

·         Patti LuPone—Is there anything she can’t do or hasn’t already done? There is only one Patti.

·         Mandy Patinkin—Because his voice has been touched by God and he’s been generous to share it with us in Evita, Sunday in the Park With George, and The Secret Garden. I’ll be nice and not mention Follies in Concert.

·         Bernadette Peters—I think the theatre list alone speaks for itself: George M; Dames at Sea; On the Town; Mack and Mabel; Song and Dance; Sunday in the Park With George; Into the Woods; Annie Get Your Gun; The Goodbye Girl; Gypsy; A Little Night Music; Follies; and Hello, Dolly! It can’t be matched.

·         Audra—That’s all I need to say.

There are many, many more I can name and will in a future installment. Two people I’ve intentionally omitted from this list because their careers are amazing separately and together; they deserve more intense examination—Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim.

So, who are your Living Legends? Who are the people who delivered performances so memorable over the years they’ve risen to legendary status? Who do you want to see included in this pantheon of the greats? Let’s not wait until they are gone before we honor the best of the best of Broadway.

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® does his level best to honor the past, present, and future Broadway living legends. Sadly, he remembers when many of them were young up-and-comers. He is also administrator for Broadway Remembered on Facebook, which features a new tribute to a living legend every day.)

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,



Confessions of a Musical Theatre Addict

Chris Lynn

Previously, I wrote a blog about non theatre people who state that they hate musicals.  I gave some advice and suggestions on how to introduce a non theatre person to the wide variety of music and subject matter encompassing musicals via the hater’s personal interests and hobbies. My claim was that there was a musical for everyone and everyone’s interest.

Today’s blog is a similar theme, but instead the focus is on a more insidious hater: the hater within. Before diving in, I have a confession to make. I am a recovering hater.  I loved Be More Chill and hated Rent.  (Oops! I did it again! After reviewing the situation, I think I'd better think it out again!)

Why would a music theatre fanatic expressing hate for a particular show be an insidious act?  Consider the following: (1) Aren’t many of the members on All Things Broadway either very young or very new to the world of music theatre?  (2) Which were the first musicals that swept you into the world of music theatre? Certainly a goal of All Things Broadway as well the goal of many of you readers is to encourage and promote more theatre.  Trashing a specific musical that is the catalyst for a newbie losing their showtune virginity is counterintuitive to this goal. Most of us can remember our firsts! My first loves were Fiddler On the Roof and Phantom of the Opera.  I still have a fondness and reminisce my date with Fiddler.  While I once loved Phantom, I have moved on and feel like Little Red Riding Hood as I have discovered many more musicals: “I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before” (Stephen Sondheim).  

Maybe we all need to leave trash talkin’ to those that dribble a basketball and NBA fans that heckle the opposing team’s players and referees. Music theatre is not a spectator sport, (we no longer live in the times of Shakespeare) however, it is an art that requires a great deal of collaboration from a multitude of disciplines. When a musical is successful and wins, we all win.  Instead of bashing a musical or someone’s personal taste, rejoice in their newly found passion and support that passion by suggesting similar shows or other shows that may be of interest.  See my previous blog:

https://allthingsbroadway.com/blog/2019/6/17/a-musical-for-everyone-according-to-their-hobby?fbclid=IwAR3a8uMweLN6tVFfOPJiGe_-6y0Zr-b4E8VvZwnKVlDpyNhiQ7BBLWNnrCE 

Certainly, you can criticize, debate, critique, give your opinion, and analyze a show.  However, all of this can be done respectfully while also preserving and promoting the artform. The same applies to trash talking a new Broadway show by openly hoping for its financial demise.  As evidenced in the title of this blog, I loved Be More Chill.  I get the argument that Be More Chill was too small for a larger Broadway stage and more appropriate for a house with smaller audiences.  I also understand that many were annoyed by the obnoxious fanbase. Again, I invite debate and dissenting opinion. However, I will NEVER understand rooting for a show to fail.  I don’t understand it in a cliquey community theatre environment, and I certainly don’t get the motive on a larger national scale. If you truly love music and theatre, you do not hedge bets for music and theatre to fail.

Perhaps some shows are more appropriate for the smaller, more intimate Off-Broadway theatre (100-499 seats).  However, by this logic, these smaller more intimate shows will rarely get the recognition that they deserve. Of course, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway shows have their own recognition awards called the Obie’s. On the other hand, how many of you watch the Obie awards? How many posts on the Obie Awards did you see on All Things Broadway? (I get it.  It is not called All Things Off-Broadway). What kind of national attention do the Obie awards receive? I will debate anyone wishing to compare the quality of Broadway shows to some Off-Broadway shows such as The Adding Machine, Bat Boy, Dogfight, Evil Dead, Floyd Collins, Forever Plaid, The Last Five Years, Murder Ballad, A New Brain, Songs for A New World, and many more that this midwesterner has not been offered exposure priviledges. Thankfully, some of the Off-Broadway shows listed above have enjoyed exposure beyond New York City. Sadly, many more deserving shows have not. Most of them are on the other end of the exposure spectrum than the exceptional granddaddy of them all: The Fantasticks. Again, if the goal is to promote and give exposure to great musical theatre, then why not have some of these shows highlighted on a nationally televised awards show like the Tony Awards?  I would like to see Off-Broadway shows having eligibility to win a Tony or an award with an equivalent media exposure. While I agree that many of the Off-Broadway shows that transfer to Broadway are swallowed whole by cavernous spaces and lose their intimacy and charm, many of them still deserve just as much or more exposure than their razzle dazzle big set design counterparts.  Perhaps the award shows should be split into 2 different shows: one for plays and one for musicals. I know that is probably not the answer, but I certainly would love to see performances of some of these Off-Broadway shows. At the very least, I will be anticipating the Obie Awards with as much enthusiasm, if not more, than the Tony Awards! They have also had some incredible hosts including John Leguizamo, David Pierce Hyde, and Rachel Bloom this past season. Here is a link to the Obie Awards. http://www.obieawards.com/

Julie Bovasso, Shelley Winters and Jason Robards at the 1956 Obie Awards

Julie Bovasso, Shelley Winters and Jason Robards at the 1956 Obie Awards

While I love musicals, I will venture to say that I am probably like many of you. Like you, I have strong opinions and discerning tastes. Some people love every single musical, but I don’t think that applies to most of us. Most of us love many shows, cannot stomach many others, or leave the theatre of some shows indifferent  with an unmemorable impression. Granted there are some shows that you love right from the starting gate. I got a horse right here, his name is Into the Woods or Pippin or Big River. Some shows, unlike one’s personal thoroughbreds, are considered more as icky sticky glue. For me, those shows are Cats, Rent, and  (Sondheim fans around the world take a collective GASP!) Passion. Still, there are many other shows I am willing to give a second chance on a different race track (theatre company), managed by a different trainer (director), with different jockeys (leading players). Recently, in the role of hater, I made a snippy comment about a musical that was not one of my favorites. I stated that Spring Awakening was basically a story about sexually frustrated and repressed teens. Of course I was called out on my ridiculous overgeneralization by a Spring Awakening fan. Luckily, I was able to swallow my pride and admit that she was correct and there was much more to the musical than just that. I promised to give the show another chance and actually found a production from a reputable theatre next Spring. Who knows?  After seeing a different production I may change my mind. Then again, I may not. Generally I have an aversion to biopic musicals, jukebox musical, and recent non-musical movie stagings. BUT BUT BUT!!!! I am willing to give some of these shows a try. I am willing to shed my hater ways and be a little more open minded. Certainly, I have not seen many of the musicals in these genes, so there is a good chance that my opinions of them could change. I will be seeing an equity production of The Full Monty next week. I adored the movie. Watching the musical with fresh unbiased eyes and ears will be difficult, but I promise to try.

I am sure I am not the only one, but I used to avoid listening to a new musical or reading about it until I personally saw a production. This has become increasingly difficult due to 1) the temptations found on social media and streaming music and 2) living in the midwest and the need to always hear or see something new. For my non theatre friends, appreciating a show beforehand by simply listening to a cast recording is a near impossible task. For theatre folk like us it is both a welcoming reprieve and a curse. Every once in awhile, however, one cannot judge a musical merely from a cast recording. 

What if you are giving your honest opinion about a musical while being respectful of others, yet people still get offended? Well, welcome to today’s world where some people are addicted to outrage. I am a fairly Pollyanna kind of guy. I choose to believe most of us are good as well as smart enough to see when a fellow theatre aficionado is doing their part in creating an honest, open, dissenting, and respectful climate for public discourse. Having said that, the very few that do not fit this description, tend to be much louder and obnoxious than the mainstream. The sheer volume of their few voices makes their numbers seem greater than what they actually are.  What do these outrage addicts look like? They make take personal offense to any criticism of a show that is close to their heart. Honestly, if you are not one of the writers, producers, actors, creative team members, or anyone else directly involved in Tootsie or Beetlejuice, then respectfully, take it down a notch. There are members on All Things Broadway that are indeed involved in a Broadway show in one or more of these capacities. Some get offended by the discussions followed by the barrage of threads on the topic of overrated vs. underrated musicals. While some took offense, a small cadre of users laughed it off, and playfully poked fun at the ridiculous notion of meaningless terms such as overrated and underrated!  

The most disgusting display of outrage is when people are accused of being racist, homophobic, sexist, etc, simply for having a less than favorable opinion on a particular show.  I’ve seen this on All Things Broadway as well as in person in Play Selection Committees that I have served as a member. I have been called any number of these names, and then I did the unspeakable!  I confessed that I hated Shakespeare! Agghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!! Blasphemy!

Most of the disrespectful speech or speech that is counterintuitive in promoting and encouraging the artform of music theatre are listed below

Overly Produced Musicals

In tne of the community theatres that I participate, the mere mentioning of Oklahoma! on the play selection committee becomes a running joke.  I think the show has been produced there at least 7 times during its 40+ years of existence.  Other musicals that fall into this category include

  • Anything Goes

  • Bye Bye Birdie

  • The Sound of Music

  • Guys and Dolls

Please keep in mind that even though these shows are older and considered classics, there are still some people left on the planet who have never seen them either live or on a screen. Even newer shows are being produced quite a bit as well. I would encourage your local theatres to keep revivals limited to at least 5 or 6 years between productions. There is a plethora of worthy musicals for your local community theatres and high schools to produce. Give your audiences a smorgasbord of variety.

Outdated/Racist/Sexist Musicals

The criticism of some of these shows has merit, yet some criticism is overblown outrage as discussed above. One such example is Carousel, a musical with arguably some of the most lush music ever written by Richard Rogers. These themes of domestic abuse, however, are difficult for most of us to swallow. Carousel, indeed is a difficult show to watch. How can one reconcile such a beautiful score with a show that seems to not only accept but encourage a man striking a woman? The challenging bit of dialogue in question follows: “It is possible for someone to hit you. Hit you hard and not feel it at all”. Julie responds to her daughter that yes, it is possible to love someone so much and never feel the physical slap at all. Was Oscar Hammerstein trying to make a point about the power of forgiveness? For many of us, myself included, some acts such as domestic violence are unforgivable, or in the very least should not be tolerated. For me the message of Carousel, was a cautionary tale - a tragedy. Carousel is very real, raw, and relevant today with the themes of domestic violence and the choices many women make in those types of complicated relationships. I suspect we have many real life examples of Julie Jordans walking amongst us today. We scratch our heads when we see them continue to return to their abusive homes, husbands, and boyfriends. We hear these modern day Julies eerily echo the sentiments of Julie Jordan: “He only hits me because he loves me.  It is my fault that he hits me”. For me, this makes Carousel a challenging, important, and ultimately a heartbreaking piece that was actually ahead of it time, rather than outdated.

A show that I do consider outdated and thus somewhat offensive is My Fair Lady. I personally find very little admirable qualities in Henry Higgins. Falling in love with a woman he treats like dirt does not redeem him. Many may argue otherwise, but personally, I just don’t care for this show, or Learner and Lowe’s other musical (Camelot). Both are very pretentious/snooty in my opinion.

Other musicals considered outdated due to culturally sensitivity issues include the following.  You decide if there are merits to these arguments:

  • Annie Get Your Gun

  • The King and I 

  • Showboat

  • The Robber’s Bridesgroom

Rabid Fanbase

While a rabid fanbase can be annoying, please try not to judge a show based on the obnoxious behaviors of its adorers. Of course, Be More Chill is the most recent and newsworthy of this category. Judge the show on its own merits. Some of the shows you will like and some you will not. Try not to allow meaningless terms like overrated, underrated, over appreciated, or underappreciated sway your opinion. Who cares what others think anyway? What a boring world it would be if everyone’s favorite musical was Wicked. For fun, see if you can give the nickname for fans of each musical below:

Rabid Fan Quiz

Musical ----------------------------------------> Nickname of the Fans

Wicked

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Newsies

Fun Home

American Idiot

Spring Awakening

Phantom of the Opera

Les Miserables

Matilda

Heathers

Jeckle and Hyde

Something Rotten

Passing Strange

 

*Answers at the end of this blog.

Biopic Musicals

I am personally not a fan of Biopic musicals. I would rather just see a music artist in concert or (if deceased) on youtube or a film. I have no interest in seeing an impersonation on stage.  Sounds too much like Elvis in Vegas. If you love this type of musical, then more power to you and the musical theatre artform. There is certainly enough room for this sub-genre. If the subgenre plays a small role in bringing in new fans via an already established fanbase, then I say Bravo!  I would suggest, giving your biopic musical loving friend additional suggestions of both bio and non biopic musicals that would be of interest:


Jersey Boys  ---> Forever Plaid

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical  or Motown ---> Dreamgirls or Memphis

Bat Out of Hell---> Rocky Horror Picture Show

Million Dollar Quartet ---> Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Always...Patsy Cline---. Pump Boys and Dinettes

Personal Favorites

We all have our personal favorite musicals.  If someone else does not like it or hates it, then who cares?  That should not diminish your joy nor the joy of others who love the same show.  No, No, No, they can’t take that away from me. One of my personal favorites is Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden.  As the song goes, the show hits very “Close to Home”. I had once suggested this show in a play committee for an outdoor community theatre. One of the members who had great pull, shot it down with the argument that the show was too long and the story dragged. Of course, the show’s typical running time falls within the average of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Oh well, the show was nixed from our list fairly quickly after that exchange. We all have those shows that seem to have been written specifically for us and our own unique situation in life. Another show that resonates with me and my personal philosophy is a complete unknown late 1970s one man show called Reason and Rhyme or 3 Questions: A Musical Oratorio by Robin Field. See Link below. Funny that my two favorite musicals have never played on a Broadway or Off-Broadway stage. This just goes to show, once again, that great musical theatre is not confined to the Broadway stage, regardless if it has a huge cast and set design or a one man show with only a piano on a bare stage. Link to Reason and Rhyme:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIs9xM7Sac8&t=1698s

Guilty Pleasures

Some of the musicals we love DO NOT have the best music or include corny or contrite dialogue. Yet, we still love them and derive great pleasure from them. You don’t have to remind us! So, don’t poo poo on our parade! One of my favorite guilty pleasures is Evil Dead: The Musical. Yes it is campy, but I think that it is intended to be…. well… stupid. Evil Dead does not take itself seriously. I don’t think the musical mega hit Mamma Mia takes itself seriously as well.  The plot is ridiculous and the song lyrics are woven into the story in a tongue and cheek punfest fashion. Mamma Mia is not my kind of musical, but as evidenced by all the community theatres around the world mounting productions, for many it certainly is their kind of entertainment. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Movie Adaptations

When I mention movie adaptations, I am speaking of non musical big box office hit films that made it to the Broadway stage less than 10 years after its initial movie release.  Again, not my preferred musical brand, but my opinion should not interfere with others who love these shows. I’d rather see a story that is not so fresh in my mind with iconic performances so recently established.  As mentioned earlier, I will still give these shows a chance as I am seeing The Full Monty next week.

Slow Moving Shows

Not all shows are full of razzle dazzle or showstopping numbers. Some musicals play out more like a dramatic play. While the music may or may not be memorable after leaving the theatre, these shows can be appreciated if not loved. Musicals that come to mind include: Fun Home, Grey Gardens, and A Little Night Music. Interestingly, most of the songs from Fun Home and Grey Gardens are personally unmemorable, but their stories and dramatic performances left an indelible mark. Conversely, I know all the songs from A Little Night Music and enjoy listening to them, but the show itself (for me) was slow and pretentious. I love you, Sondheim!  Don’t hunt me down and shoot me one of these weekends in the country. Still, I have immense appreciation and respect for A Little Night Music.

Non linear / Non traditional plots

Some people hate musicals that do not follow a traditional plot. I have directed 6 musical productions. Of those musicals, 3 of them were productions of Godspell. My wife and daughter do not like Godspell.  Ironically, I am an atheist, and Godspell is one of my favorites!  Go figure! Special thanks to Mr. Sondheim for starting the trend and giving us great non linear musicals such as Company and Follies.

Objectionable Plots

Are there some shows that include a plot that are a total turn off? Which shows leave a bitter taste in your vibrato? For me those shows are Rent, Grease, and Passion. Most of the musicals I enjoy include characters with strong traits of individualism and a will to overcome. I love the music in Rent, but I have zero empathy for the cadre of characters that beg us to feel sorry for them. I really wanted to love Grease, another show with great songs.  Why did the writers have to create such a terrible ending where Sandy compromises herself? Did she have to fall prey to peer pressure? In order to fit in, she turns into a slut. No thanks. I totally disagree with the concept of unconditional love as portrayed in Passion. Yes, Fosca was sickly, however, I felt like she was suffocating both the leading man and me the entire show by manipulating both of us with unearned guilt. Love without reason? No thanks.

Jukebox

I think I already covered Jukebox musicals both with its cousin, biopic musicals. Enjoy your show Jukebox fans!

Thank you for reading all. Relax! Let’s all agree to agree and agree to disagree. The most important thing to do is go see a musical…..and don’t forget to bring a friend!  After all, just as we learned in The Book of Mormon.

Happy Musical Theatre Humming all!


*Answers to Rabid Fanbase Quiz:

Rent: “Rentheads”

Wicked: “Wikedites”/”ShizKids”/”Mizzies”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: “Hed-Heads” 

Newsies: “Fansies”

Fun Home: “Fun Homies”

American Idiot: “idiots”

Spring Awakening: “Guilty Ones”

Phantom of the Opera: “Phans”

Les Miserables: “Les MizFits”

Matilda: “Maggots”

Heathers: “Corn Nuts”

Jeckle and Hyde: “Jekkies”

Something Rotten: “Egg-heads”

Passing Strange: “Scaryotypes”



Fun Home: Why I Had a Not so Fun Experience

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


ATB Reviews the Tonys

Collective Article, Put Together by Sabrina Wallace

James Corden As Host

By Amelia Brooker

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

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

 

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

 

 A Non-theatre Nerd Response to the 2019 Tony Awards

By Elizabeth Bergmann

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

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

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

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

“That’s a lot of Temptations.”

“Since when is Scout Finch an adult?”

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

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

“That’s Neil from White Collar?”

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

“Ooh, I’m glad Bob Mackie won!”

“Catherine O’Hara was in Beetlejuice?”

“Oh, Ado Annie won! That’s exciting!”

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

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

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

“What’s this play about?”

“What’s this musical about?”

“MRS. MAISEL IS BLONDE?”

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

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

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

 

A Night At The Tonys

By Sabrina Wallace 


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

THE PROM at the Gala

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

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

 

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

 

Finally ….

 

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

By David Culliton

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you for reading!!

 

 

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

 

 

 

A History of the Tony Awards

At the time you’re reading this it is Tuesday, May 11th two days after the Tony Awards and it’s very possible all hell has broken loose. All pun intended but at the time of writing this the Tony Awards haven’t aired yet, I haven’t seen what opening James Corden has planned, whether the shows chose the right song to use or not (Ahem looking at you Mean Girls), or anything for that matter, all I have to go off of are nominations and the nominations I find most interesting are the nominations for Best Musical. Beetlejuice, Hadestown, The Prom, Ain’t Too Proud, and Tootsie are all great and it’s definitely going to be close. Or for you was close. This whole thing is kinda confusing so if you don’t mind I’d like to rewind from June 9th and June 10th and well 2019 in general to take a look back at some of the Best Musical winners in years past. A.K.A An excuse for me to talk about a lot of shows I’d like to discuss but don’t want to write a full article about.

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A “Nicely Nicely” Place To Start

I wanted to start with something classic. Not controversial or interesting really, It gives us our bearings to go forward. The first Tony Awards I want to look at is 1951 when the winner for Best Musical, or at the time “Outstanding Musical” as it was called, was Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. The “Outstanding Musical” category was actually added in 1949 with Kiss Me, Kate but I’ll be honest I know very little about that show or the winner after it South Pacific. You can call me an ametuer but I just never really liked Shakespeare or Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I do love me some Guys and Dolls. This is a show I want to do a full article about sometime in the future because I find it highly interesting and it’s one of my top 5 favorite musicals so I’ll probably just touch on it here. Guys and Dolls is a highly entertaining comedy about Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit and the situations they find themselves in because of love. The show was adapted from the short story "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” by author Damon Runyon which I promise that I will be reading in the future before that main article comes out because from what I’ve heard characters and plots from his short stories are all mixed together in the musical and if that’s true this makes Guys and Dolls the Runyon equivalent of Seussical and this needs to be elaborated on further in the future. Anyways, the show opened on Broadway in 1950 and obviously was a huge success running for a 1,000+ performances. Guys and Dolls is seen as one of the essential golden age musical and in my opinion one of four defining 50’s musicals. It’s hard to tell what officially was nominated and it ran against for the Tony Award since to my knowledge nominees weren’t made public until the 10th Tony Awards in 1956 but I can make my best guesses at the very least that it’s biggest contender was a Peter Pan musical, most likely not the one you’re familiar with though. There are a lot of Peter Pan adaptations. Guys and Dolls did pretty well over all too winning 5 of the 12 possible categories including Robert Alda as best actor in a musical, George S Kaufman as best director, and Michael Kidd as best choreographer. It’s scenic designer didn’t win which I’d debate for it’s incredible sewer set but the guy who did win is listed for 3 different musicals so I suppose at least one of those was probably jaw-dropping. I honestly can’t lie, I’ve never been too interested in the original production of Guys and Dolls. I mean it’s the focal point since it was the one that won best musical but it’s nowhere near as cool as all of the stuff that came after. Like, four years later MGM (Yikes, remember them?) would release a movie based on the musical starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in the lead roles which for people not adverse in 50’s knowledge, let me tell you that I thought long and hard of what if anything to compare that too or what a movie with that kind of star power would be today and I couldn’t. I just could not. The movie itself is great and it’s held up really well but it probably helps having one of the best singers and actors of all time in the lead roles. Then there was the all black revival in 1976 which I want to know a lot more about than I do, and the 1992 revival that brought the world’s biggest glo up to the logo. I mean go look at the paper cut out one on the album from the 50’s and then the new one with the dice in the logo. It’s gorgeous and I love it and then they tried a new thing in 2009, and it was a nice try but not quite the same. Have I mentioned yet I love Guys and Dolls? You know what, let’s move on before this section becomes any longer than it already is. Oh wait, why did it win best musical? Because it’s Guys and Dolls. It’s great.



Street Gangs vs Marching Bands

Seven years later we finally have knowledge of the official nominations and jeezus beheezus criminy christmas was 1958 one heated year. There’s two musicals you need to know (Oh, Captain, Jamaica, and New Girl In Town are cool I guess) but let’s talk about the fact that Music Man and West Side Story went head to head in the same year. Robert Preston vs no one, because West Side Story’s actors got no nominations, Leonard Bernstein vs Meredith Willson (doesn’t actually matter because Best Original Score still doesn't exist), Jerome Robbins vs Bob Fosse but we already stated that we don’t really care about New Girl In Town and that was the show Fosse was tied to but it’s still a huge battle overall and still easily one of the most controversial decisions in Tony history mainly because nobody knows what should have won. If you look at it there’s a lot of good to look at. Both have stellar scores, good books, great choreography, and are all around very good shows that have earned their place as some of the most important golden age musicals. So if I had to make a decision it would be really hard. West Side Story certainly had better choreography and the Tonys supported that. Robert Preston absolutely sold the show and the Tonys reflected that and so when it comes to everything else, the story and the score. It’s certainly hard. At first thought I wanted to give the music aspect to Berstein but Willson’s marching band-esque score was new and exciting and I personally think the music in The Music Man conveys its messages better than the music in West Side Story but even that is just barely my opinion and would certainly change from day to day. So when it comes down to its book that’s the aspect that makes the winner clear to me. The Music Man certainly has a very interesting and enjoyable story that is still as endearing today as it was then but West Side Story is incomparable. Yes, it is based on Romeo and Juliet which makes it not completely original but I find that brilliant. It uses a conflict in the past in a new way to express a conflict that was serious at the time and it does end up being a slightly subtle and well done look at immigration and racism. I say slightly because it is very clearly there but I feel like it fits into the show in a way that the story merges well with its theme. To talk in full about what West Side Story’s script does right would take a long time and get off of our topic entirely, but the thing that absolutely cements this show book for me is the ending. For those of you who don’t know a spoiler alert is in affect I guess, Romeo and Juliet was written 400+ years ago but whatever. Tony dies and then one of the most ballsy things in musical theatre history happens. Seriously, Les Misérables didn’t even have the gall to do this, they added an upbeat song at the end so the audience can leave on a good note. The show ends with nothing but a funeral procession. No final song to leave the audience with just some music and it’s over. Imagine if Jean Valjean just died and the lights came up, yeah that’s how insane West Side Story is when you really look at it. To give you an idea of how crazy  this would have been, My Fair Lady which opened 2 years prior changed the ending of the show to make it “more happy for the audience” when it wasn’t originally intended to be that way, but these gods came out here and said “No we’re not doing that”. Even Sweeney Todd ends with a reprise of the opening song, but West Side Story ends with nothing at all and is the ultimate spit in the face at the idea that “every musical ends with a happy ending.” It lost to The Music Man. The Music Man won Outstanding Musical in 1958. Bad decision? That’s up to you because I do really love The Music Man and plenty of people have stated they disagree with me. If you do see yourself in my party you can rest with the fact that both West Side Story and The Music Man would go onto be made into a movie in the early 60’s and only one would win The Best Picture at the Oscars...and it wasn’t the marching band one.



A Bloody Brilliant Breakthrough

By this point we’ve talked about Stephen Sondheim a fair bit, probably more than I should have to be honest but I hope you’re not tied because I plan to talk about him more, because we’re going to talk about his best show unless you think the other one is his best show which in that case go ahead and skip down to the next section and if you think I’m talking about Assassins or Company then dial your expertise back a bit because we’re not going that in depth. We’re talking about the 1979 winner for best musical, Sweeney Todd. Now back when I first joined the blog about a year ago, good lord time flies by, I had originally planned on a series discussing the history of Broadway by looking at the most influential musical of decade starting with Oklahoma, the one I did do. Not my best but what can you do. There’s several ones I had planned I’m really sad I never got to write about but the 70’s submission Sweeney Todd is one of the ones I was most excited to write. Now I don’t personally know how influential Sweeney Todd was overall. It didn’t usher in a new age of dance, or rewrite the musical standard, well wait maybe it did do that just a bit. No, the thing that makes Sweeney Todd easily the most important musical of the decade and by that standard one of the most important of all time is that it’s the musical that in my opinion definitively proved that you could have a musical about anything from a horror adaptation to a spelling bee and it could work and be well, kinda successful. It wasn't much at first but there’s absolutely no denying the success of it today and it’s a perfect example of the growth of musicals that we can go from one of Sondheim’s first ever works in 1958 which itself was an important break from a bunch of ritzy musicals that always had happy endings to a musical about a guy who splits people's throats and they show it in full graphic onstage, incredible! Sweeney Todd is easily one of the strangest adaptations and it was a significant first step because I don’t know that anyone but Sondheim and his music which is masterfully composed and deeper than just the face value of the lyrics could have made a show so certain to fail in musical format work to such an astounding degree. Sweeney Todd won Best Musical in 1979 against some competition like The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, but nothing that seriously stood against it and it’s award. It's a brilliant musical that defied all odds to become one of Sondheim’s best if not his best, but there's a camp of people you'll see that disagree.



Broadway's Biggest Battle

About ten years later It’s time for a rivalry to be born with two nominees specifically that are going to clash for Best Musical, one that many would consider the best musical theatre composer of all time’s Magnum Opus, Into The Woods. The other a similarly established composer with some big names under his belt who is about to make his magnum opus as well also known as the single most successful musical of all time that will lead to him becoming the most successful musical theatre composer of all time with his musical, The Phantom Of The Opera. It’s the Broadway battle to end all Broadway battles. Stephen Sondheim vs Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sondheim’s submission, Into The Woods, is an interesting take at fairy tale characters who find themselves tied together with the threat of giants looming overhead. The other an epic about a masked man who lives beneath an opera house and longs for one of the singers. When it comes to music, Sondheim is known for his complex scores and Into The Woods is no different. Webber also creates a great score with Phantom that conveys the dark and heavy mood of the show well. Phantom is a much bigger show overall especially with it’s showstopping scene where a giant chandelier crashes into the audiences and Into The Woods is very minimalistic and relies heavily on its music and story.  In the end despite Sondheim’s tony winning history, Phantom took home the award. One of the first milestones in it’s long line of success. In a way Webber dethroned Sondheim and they’ve never had shows line up to have a rematch to this day. Do I think this decision was right? Well, yeah probably. Into The Woods is a beautiful show that I discover more about every time I see it but Phantom is bigger in just about every way. It doesn’t have the same meaning and depth to it’s music I’ve come to love Sondheim for, but it makes up for it with an epic and overwhelming story and score. There simply was no stopping Phantom once it got rolling, not even by the great Stephen Sondheim and the debate that pins Sondheim against Webber for best musical theatre composer still goes on to this day.



The Worst Tony Awards Ever

Ok, alright let’s just talk about this for a second because holy good lord this is just the worst year, the single worst Tony Awards of all time. I don’t care what you guys think of Dear Evan Hansen vs Great Comet because this one is the worst decision of all time. The year is 1991 and several musicals have just opened on Broadway and are prepared to be adjudicated for the Tony awards. In the end several musicals will get nominations but only 4 will get nominations for the most prestigious award of all, The Best Musical unless you don’t have music then it’s Best Play but also sometimes plays have music like Choir Boy or Peter and the Starcatcher so I mean… It’s the one that ends it so it’s the best, there. That’s a good enough reason. Anyways there were 4 musicals up for this award and odds are you’ve heard of all of them. The first one was Once on This Island by Ahrens and Flaherty. Another one was The Secret Garden based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett with music by Lucy Simon, who didn’t do any other shows but didn’t need to because The Secret Garden is a magnum opus and a musical that was written by a composer known for previous shows and wasn’t his Magnum Opus, Miss Saigon by Boublil and Schonberg. Anyways some seriously good musicals against Will Rogers Follies by Cy Coleman. Now a lot of you probably don’t know that musical. Before researching some things about The Secret Garden I didn’t either. I do know Cy Coleman but better for his musical Barnum so I can say at least that he has good music but nothing that could ever compare to The Secret Garden...oh and the others. Alright, now just listen because you’ve probably heard of The Secret Garden. It’s kinda like Parade in the fact that you may never have listened to it but you’ve heard someone talk about how good it is and it really is. All of the music is gorgeous and it’s orchestrated so that each character has a different type of sound. I don’t have to sell you on Miss Saigon because it’s music is pretty much Les Mis and you are lying to me if you say you haven’t listened to that and then there’s Once on This Island with music by composers who have a lot of other musicals I like a lot more, like My Favorite Year. Underrated classic, no one talks about but some of the songs are amazing. Anyways, the point is to tell you that those 3 musicals are solid and even more so with their music all to lead up to the winner of the 1991 Tony Awards for Best Musical...Will Rogers Follies. Now you’re probably asking the same question I am right now which is how? Well hold on, I’m not done, because even though it beat all of those other way better shows for Best Musical it’s onslaught was greater because it also won Best Score which if you have listened at the very least to The Secret Garden or Miss Saigon you know is absolutely ridiculous. So, back to that question of Why? Well, there’s a lot of speculation but the most popular reasoning is that Will Rogers Follies was bigger with Tony voters because it represented an older age of Broadway. whatever the reason I not agree with it and it just goes to teach the lesson that even when you think a show has no competition, that anything can happen.



Oh man, I don’t really want to end it there because 1991 was so long ago and that’s kind of a sour note but thats really i have Well maybe not everything. Alright, I've got an idea, let’s just do a speed round of a few more history facts…



Ready set Go!

Fact #1 In 1996, four years after their first musical Disney got a Best Musical win with The Lion King.

Fact #2 In 1999 Fosse and Parade fought for Best Musical. Parade being a superior show won Best Book and Best Score but lost Best Musical which is incredibly odd.

Fact #3 In 2001, The Producers won Best Musical and basically everything else leading it to become the musical with the most Tony won. A record it hold to this day.

Fact #4 In 2003 Avenue Q beat Wicked in a surprising turn of events for Best Musical. With Avenue Q recently closing Wicked got the last laugh outlasting it

Fact #5 In 2012 Disney had good odds to get their second Best Musical win with Newsies, However controversially the show lost to Once

...And that basically puts us to today where only a few years ago Hamilton swept, fans cried out when Dear Evan Hansen beat Great Comet, The Band's Visit had zero chance of losing and now it’s time for a brand new battle...for me at least. For you that battle is over and history.


I love the history of the Tony Awards and there is plenty more I’d love to talk about but I think I’ll leave that for another year, As always I’d really like to thank you for reading, It really means a lot to me and I try to write monthly so I hope to see you again the next time i do and even though I’m a day late I would like to wish you a Happy Tony Awards whether you watched it at home or saw it live in person. Me, I'll be just a few blocks away...so close yet so far. Anyways, that is it Thank you again, look for some finishing Tony stuff soon from talented writers on the blog and I hope you all have a fantastic day. Goodbye.






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.

Disney on Broadway

Kelly Ostazeski

The Walt Disney Company has had shows on Broadway for twenty-five years. It's hard to believe that a quarter of a century ago, the first Disney Theatricals production, Beauty and the Beast, opened on Broadway in 1994. Belle, the Beast, and Gaston took Broadway by storm, and started a tradition of adapting animated and live action musicals to the stage.

After Beauty and the Beast, Broadway saw productions of The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Newsies, Aladdin, and Frozen. Disney also created a production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which opened in Germany and has also played regional theatres on this side of the Atlantic. In London, a production of Pinocchio opened in 2017. Original shows such as Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, Peter and the Starcatcher, and On the Record also opened on Broadway or on tour.


“Actress Buyi Zama as Rafiki in Taiwan”  by The Lion King’s Taiwan staff is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0

“Actress Buyi Zama as Rafiki in Taiwan” by The Lion King’s Taiwan staff is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Upcoming productions include Hercules, The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Disney also planned revivals of Beauty and the Beast and Aida, both of which I personally can't wait to see, since I never saw them on Broadway.

As of this writing, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Frozen are still running on Broadway.

Disney on Broadway has launched the careers of many of the stars of these musicals, such as Susan Egan (Belle in Beauty and the Beast), Sierra Boggess (Ariel in The Little Mermaid, which was also her Broadway debut), James Monroe Iglehart (the Genie in Aladdin, which earned him a Tony Award), Laura Michelle Kelly (London's original Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins), Jeremy Jordan (Jack in Newsies), and Kara Lindsay (Katherine in Newsies).

Like many of these established musical theatre stars who got their start on Broadway in Disney musicals, for many audiences a Disney musical is their first Broadway show, or for young artists a Disney musical gives them the inspiration to go after their theatrical dreams, or it's the first show they are in.


A Disney show was not my first Broadway show, or the first show I was in, but Broadway's production of Mary Poppins did inspire me to return to my theatre aspirations, and over the years I was able to see it many times at the New Amsterdam Theatre (current home of Aladdin) and on tour. Through Mary Poppins, I met many friends and many of the cast members, and for a while, the theatre felt like home. I ended up seeing six Marys and six Berts between Broadway and the tour, and then later got to see the Marys that I'd missed in other productions. I also took my friends to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, who were curious about it after I'd raved about for months. It was only their second show in New York, and their first had been a matinee that day!    


I feel that Disney on Broadway is important to our art form for those reasons, and because it's incredible to see these timeless stories and characters come to life. Disney Theatricals pushes the boundaries of set design, special effects, choreography, and costume design to create a truly visually stunning experience that brings these often fairy tale and fantasy worlds to stunning reality. The Beast's transformation to human, Elsa's ice magic and incredible costume change from coronation gown to iconic blue ice dress, Bert tap dancing on the proscenium, Mary Poppins flying over the audience, a magic carpet ride, a cast of animals on stage brought to life through puppetry...Disney always delivers the magic. Then there is the choreography: the stunning spelling of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”; tap dancing chimney sweeps; “Under the Sea” fish and sea creatures; cutlery, plates, and furniture dancing to “Be Our Guest”; and the incredibly energetic dancing newsboys.


Disney often gets criticism from critics and Broadway purists for being too touristy, too kid-oriented – but because of this artistry and the inspiration these stories and performances give, I believe that these shows belong on Broadway. The stories are timeless, the designs are top-notch, the music is iconic, and the performances are great. There is a reason these shows are popular, and a reason that amateur theatres do them for years to come – not just because of the name, but because of the shows themselves. The shows have inspired a generation of young artists, performers, and audiences, and made many dreams come true. I had the chance to talk to several Disney fans who were impacted in some way by these musicals, whether on stage or in the audience. 


Olivia saw Beauty and the Beast when she was only five years old. Imagine being five and seeing your favorite characters live on stage! Imagine, according to her, “feeling so drawn to what was happening on stage. [She] couldn’t look away the entire show. It excited [her] so much and it made [her] want to perform.” She said it's the reason she's studying musical theatre to this day. She was later cast as Jane Banks in Mary Poppins. She said, “I think Disney on Broadway opens up the live theatre to every single age group. It has stories that every single person can connect to and enjoy. Disney on Broadway is important because it can open the door and be the reason someone so young decides they want to do theatre.”


Becky loves Newsies and said that “Newsies inspired me to dream for a better life.” Winchelle also connected to Newsies and said, “they pretty much left me speechless, with tears falling down my cheeks; it was spectacular.” She also wrote that Disney is “very important because it inspires a lot of people. It has the ability to spark some light to that theater-loving person that was hidden behind a dark closet within ourselves.”


Kim was lucky enough to see Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins. She wrote, “I remember being absolutely in awe the entire time. The costumes, the actors, and the music that I loved! It was all right there in front of me…LIVE! I had to try really hard not to sing along. The movie had always been my favorite...I saved all my pennies over the next few months and took my first trip to New York City. The first night I was there I saw Mary Poppins. I had a seat in the very first row of the balcony. It took a lot of self-control not to reach out and touch Mary Poppins’s feet as she flew by. She was so close; I felt the breeze from her dress!”

Emelie wrote, “I think they bring a lot of magic to Broadway that other shows can’t bring. Where else can you see mermaids, a woman with ice powers (and a dress that is literally magic), a flying carpet, and the king of Pride Rock?” She also said, “They are the go-to shows for families with young children. These are the kind of productions, that I think, have the biggest potential to show young children just how magical, and powerful Broadway is. Imagine being that young, and watching your favorite Disney Princess dancing across the stage! That could be the exact moment they find their passion. Disney on Broadway is far from inferior.”
Sarah was in a production of The Little Mermaid while in school and told me about her experience playing Flounder (the fish).  “I was lucky enough to get to play Flounder in my first show ever, and I think that being able to play a Disney character really enhanced my love for theater.  Of course I would have been happy enough to have just been in the ensemble, but being able to take such a well known, loved character and bring it to life on stage was such a life-changing moment.” She then wrote, “When I got to 8th grade we did another Disney show, Beauty and the Beast, and that is where I met two of my closest friends.  I played Cogsworth, and once again getting to step into the role of such a well known character reminded me of why I still did it...”

As far as how Disney shows can inspire new performers, Sarah wrote, “I think especially for younger actors, Disney is such a great way to get involved in theater, as we are often at the age where we aren't really sure how to start developing a character, so going in with a solid outline of what is expected of the character, it becomes so much easier to fill in the gaps and adapt it to yourself...Ensemble or lead, nothing beats getting to sing the iconic songs knowing the crowd won't be able to help but love it.”

Amanda has connected to two Disney shows throughout her theatre-going life: Newsies and Frozen. She wrote to me about how two of the cast members inspired her through their performing and beyond, Kara Lindsay and Patti Murin. “Two ladies who have been involved in Disney Theatrical Productions have inspired me. First, is Kara Lindsay (Katherine in Newsies). The first time I saw Newsies, I didn’t know who she was. I was so incredibly inspired by her and her performance as Katherine. That performance right then and there is what inspired me to get back into musical theater. Patti Murin (current Anna in Frozen) is the other person who has inspired me not only as an actress, but as a person. I am constantly inspired by Patti and everything she does for the mental health community.”

Amanda is passionate about Disney and its impact on audiences. “I think Disney on Broadway is important to our art because it’s timeless. It’s something that everyone, no matter how young or old, knows. People get to see these movies that they grew up watching come to life right in front of their eyes. Disney on Broadway is also important because many kids’ first Broadway shows are Disney productions. I just recently took my 4-year-old cousin to Frozen for her very first Broadway show and it was such a magical experience. Getting to see the excitement on her face as we approached the theater, and the looks on her face while watching the show, was priceless. I hope that she will remember that experience forever and want to keep going back to Broadway shows. Disney on Broadway shows are fun for ALL ages and it’s super important that there are Broadway shows that families can attend together.”

Disney has something for everyone – for a young actor who simply loves Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid and wants to play one of their favorite characters on stage. For a five-year-old girl who's never seen a musical before and sees Mary Poppins fly over the audience, or her favorite princess dancing in her ballgown, or Elsa actually use her ice magic in person. For a family of tourists in New York City who want to see a show but isn't familiar with strictly Broadway musicals and chooses The Lion King or Frozen because they know the story already and know it'll be a good night of entertainment. Perhaps the child in the audience will one day want to perform as well because they got to see Newsies, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, or any of the other of these magical shows. As they say in Frozen, “love is an open door,” and maybe in this case, that love is musical theatre, found through a Disney show. As Mary Poppins says, “anything can happen if you let it”.

 

 

** Thank you to Amanda, Becky, Emelie, Sarah, Winchelle, Olivia, and Kim for your time and your stories. **