Spotlight on the Small Ones: Zneefrock Productions

Jonathan Fong

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

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

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

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

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

If Hamilton Never Was: Revisiting the 2016 Tonys

Darren Wildeman

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

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

Best Orchestration Nominees

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

Larry Hochman, She Loves Me

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

Sara Bareilles, Waitress

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


And the winner is: August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

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


Best Choreography Nominees

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

Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof

Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea

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

Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

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

And the winner is: Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

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


Best Direction of a Musical Nominees

Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

John Doyle, The Color Purple

Scott Ells, She Loves Me

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

Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof


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


And the winner is: Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

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


Best Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

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

Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening

Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Japhy Weiderman, Bright Star


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

And the winner is: Justin Townsend, American Psycho

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


Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me

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

Ann Hould-Ward, The Color Purple


And the winner is: Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

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


Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Es Devlin and Finn Ross, American Psycho

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

David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Walt Spangler, Tuck Everlasting


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

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


Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple

Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jennifer Simard, Disaster!

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

Keala Settle, Waitress


And the winner is: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

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


Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

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

Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress

Michael Mulheren, Bright Star

Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof

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


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

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


Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Laura Benati, She Loves Me

Carmen Cusack, Bright Star

Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Jessie Mueller, Waitress

Ana Villafañe, On Your Feet


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

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


Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Nominees

Alex Brightman, School of Rock

Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Zachary Levi, She Loves Me

Benjamin Walker, American Psycho


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

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


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

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


Best Original Score Nominees

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

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

Waitress, Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles

American Psycho, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik


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


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

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


Best Book of a Musical

Bright Star, Steve Martin

School of Rock, Julian Fellowes

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

Waitress, Jessie Nelson


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

And the winner is: Bright Star, Steve Martin


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


Best Musical

Bright Star

School of Rock

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


American Psycho


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


And the winner is: Waitress

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


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


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


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


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

Tripping Over My Own Feet as I Go Fleetingly Down Memory Lane

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

One thing I hate more than seeing bad theatre (and I’ve seen a lot of bad theatre) is moving (one of life’s great traumas, I’m told, along with losing a spouse—which has also happened to me; more about that shortly). Right now, I’m pulling up stakes and leaving my cozy retirement abode in Palm Springs to face life again in New York City (sounds crazy, but I’m not known for my rational, sane moments; if anyone has a lead on an apartment, let me know—please!).

The realtor is on my case to “declutter” my place. I mean, how can you declutter decades of memories—some even older than me (if that’s even possible)? As I write this, I’ve just packed away 60 some odd years’ worth of Playbills and theatre programs. Those are NOT clutter! I swear they are not clutter. You might as well say my right arm is clutter. (Okay, it does get in the way sometimes, but I still need it. I need my programs and Playbills.)


Theatre has always been a part of my life—good, bad, or indifferent, it’s always been there for me. Even in the worst of times. I have had a worst of times: My partner of 23 years died in my arms on Thursday, March 27, 2008. It was all kind of sudden—and devastating (my collapse in the hospital after it happened was something out of a bad Lifetime movie). The worst [expletive deleted] moment of my life. So, what did I do? A week later, I was at New York City Opera seeing a production of Candide directed by an old friend from college. (Artie never could direct comedy, and I walked at intermission—probably because it wasn’t funny, and I just wasn’t in the mood yet for bad theatre.)

Don’t think of this as cold-hearted. If the situation had been reversed, my late partner would have been at the theatre too.

Over the next few weeks, I grew increasingly morose (understandable under the circumstances) yet continued to go to the theatre as often as I could. This was New York City, and you could get tickets to everything from the flashiest and most-expensive Broadway shows to an Off-Off-Broadway show presented in a loft. Tickets could be had for cheap from the seat filler services (Theatermania Gold Club, Play-By-Play, etc.). And in truth, I just couldn’t face the prospect of going home to an empty apartment every night. Could you?

The research psychiatrist in the office next to mine saw me one day (had I been crying?) and said, “You look terrible. I’m sending you to see my friend Bill.” He did. Turns out Bill was the leading psychoanalyst in New York City. He listened to me talk for 45 minutes and then said, “You don’t need me. You just need to remember three words: MAKE NEW MEMORIES.” And so I did—seeing as much theatre as I possibly could. A total of 245 shows in the space of 12 months. Sometimes three shows on weekdays and five on weekends. Making new memories.

Except now, in packing away those Playbills in anticipation for my move home, I discovered I’d lost a lot of those new memories. Yikes. It isn’t Alzheimer’s, I swear. I was tested six months ago and ended up showing the doctor where he was wrong. Okay, I’m still a smartass. But as someone who used to educate doctors (yeah, me with a degree in theatre), I know when I’m right.

I’ve culled several Playbills from the bad years to try to remember something about the shows my memory has lost. Some of them featured well-known names in the cast. Some of them are just not memorable. So, I’m hoping some of you can help. These are from my bad period. Do you know them? And if you were connected to any of them, my apologies in advance.

·         A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick, Playwrights Horizons. It had an interesting set. That’s all I can remember.

·         All New People, Second Stage Theatre. Remember Zach Braff from Scrubs? He branched out into writing, first a movie, Garden State, and then this play. All I can remember about this piece is my friend Dean was the general manager. That’s kind of sad.

·         Antony and Cleopatra, New York City Opera. This piece by Samuel Barber has an interesting history. It was written for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. It received terrible reviews then and was largely forgotten. New York City Opera was having a bad time; it had lost use of its home for a year (while it was being reconstructed). So, it resurrected Antony and Cleopatra in a staged concert at Carnegie Hall. Sometimes, things are better left dead. The first act was painful, which is all I remember of it now. But the most memorable thing about the night was intermission, when half the audience ran in droves for the exits, never to return for the second act. I was right there with them.

·         Boy’s Life, Second Stage Theatre. Featured Jason Biggs, Betty Gilpin. Directed by Michael Greif. No clue.

·         Compulsion, The Public Theater. I don’t remember this at all, despite it starring Mandy Patinkin with direction by Oskar Eustis.

·         Cradle and All, Manhattan Theatre Club. Written by Daniel Goldfarb. I think I vaguely remember something about two parents who can’t handle a screaming baby.

·         Dust at Westside Theatre. I should really be ashamed of myself. I actually saw this opening night. It starred Richard Masur (who was a couple of classes ahead of me in college) and Hunter Foster (post-Urinetown and pre-[title of show]). My friend Hugh was promoting it. Again, I remember nothing about it.

·         Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco. The buzz was super strong about this production. It starred Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon, Lauren Ambrose, and Andrea Martin. What could go wrong? Even my BFF was urging me to go from the other side of the country. I took my friend Jill (a big macher in the Fringe Festival) to see it with me. I don’t remember much about it because the creative team managed to take fascinating Ionesco and make it sleep-inducing.

·         Kin, Playwrights Horizons. Featured Bill Buell. Directed by Sam Gold. I’ve got nothing.

·         Made in Heaven at Soho Playhouse. Nothing. I do know my friend Hugh was promoting it. Maybe I should ask him.

·         Mindgame at Soho Playhouse. One of the lead producers was Michael Butler, the original producer of Hair on Broadway. The lead was Keith Carradine (The Will Rogers Follies). The direction was by Ken Russell—yes, that Ken Russell—in his first break from directing movies. Can’t remember it at all.

·         Romantic Poetry, Manhattan Theatre Club. Actually, I do remember some things about this one, mostly it being one of the most misbegotten ideas for a musical, with book, lyrics, and direction by John Patrick Shanley, and music by Henry Krieger. Mark Linn-Baker was in the cast. It was not a good evening of theatre, sad to say. It was Mr. Shanley’s first—and last—outing with a musical.

·         Séance on a Wet Afternoon, New York City Opera. Libretto, lyrics, music, and orchestration by Stephen Schwartz. Let’s put it this way: this production is what killed New York City Opera. Really. It wasn’t long but felt like it went on for two weeks instead of two hours. It was extremely expensive for City Opera to produce. It just was not good. It just was not memorable. It was the final dagger in the back of City Opera (which had just one good production that entire season, and this wasn’t it). BTW, this is not me being vindictive about Mr. Schwartz (I have plenty of reasons for that); this is about a substandard piece of work.

·         Side Effects, MCC Theatre. For those of us of a certain age (i.e., children of the ’60s), Moonchildren by Michael Weller was an anthem play. It defined us in so many ways. Alas, not even Joely Richardson and Cotter Smith could make this piece by Weller register in our brains.

·         The Book of Grace, The Public Theatre. Written by Suzan-Lori Parks. Nope. Nothing. Completely gone from my memory banks.

·         The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, The Public Theatre. The cast included such notables as Michael Cristofer, Steven Pasquale, and Stephen Spinella. Direction by Michael Greif. Written by Tony Kushner. All I can remember is being incredibly bored and looking at my watch—a lot. Not one of Mr. Kushner’s better efforts (I think I’m being kind but I’m not sure).

·         The Kid, The New Group. I remember the build-up of this musical, based on the book by Dan Savage. It starred Christopher Sieber (pre-Shrek) and Jill Eikenberry. The New Group invited subscribers to a talk-back with the creative team before the show opened. Directed by Scott OMG Elliott. Do I remember anything about it? The set is about it.

·         The Language of Trees, Roundabout Underground. This is embarrassing for me. I received an email from Roundabout thanking me for the lovely comments I made after seeing the show. I don’t remember the comments. I don’t remember the show. Help!

·         The Other Place, MCC Theater. This is one show I really do want to remember better. It starred Laurie Metcalf in a stunning performance as a woman losing her mind. It was directed by Joe Mantello (one of his best efforts). I just wish I could remember it. I do recall walking out of the Lucille Lortel Theatre sobbing.

·         The People in the Picture, Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54. I know it’s a play about the Holocaust. It starred Donna Friggin’ Murphy, and featured Alexander Gemignani, Lewis J. Stadlen, and Joyce Van Patten. It was a musical, but I can’t recall a single song from it. (Some of the songs were in Yiddish, if that helps.)

* * *

And that’s only half of the Playbills I culled. I’ll spare you the rest. It does go to show some talented people can do some terrible things when they try (not intentionally, of course). And if you remember any of these better than I do, please let me know.

I guess this proves there is such a thing as seeing too much theatre. I know there is such a thing as seeing too little. A co-worker of mine during this period boasted how he had only seen three live theatre performances in his life. When I told him I had seen five in one weekend, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. Maybe I was. Maybe I still am. To wit: For four years I took a generic blood pressure medication called valsartan. This generic was manufactured in a Chinese factory and distributed in the United States by three different companies (one of which was an old client of mine).

Last July, I started having horrible spasms, sometimes violent, for no apparent reason. Having done years of medical research for work, I started on a quest to find out the cause. I plowed through tons of medical literature, touching briefly on a study done by Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in 1999. It mentioned a mere 22 cases uncovered in the course of the study, all causing a rare form of Tourette’s Syndrome due to a poisonous substance known as NDMA. It was interesting but of no help to me—or so I thought. Then I received a letter from my pharmacy. The valsartan I had been taking was tainted with NDMA. A doctor on the same campus as La Jolla Playhouse (where a few of us recently saw the premiere of a new musical, Diana) finally diagnosed me as someone living with Tourette.

My biggest fear about having Tourette isn’t the spasms. I don’t do the verbal (so no inappropriate cussing). No, my biggest fear is I wouldn’t be able to go to the theatre anymore because my episodes would be disruptive to the rest of the audience (and I’d be asked to leave). For me not to be able to go to the theatre any more? A fate worse than death. Really. So far, knock on wood, I can control the spasms pretty well (not completely) and I’m still attending. Go figure.


(Grumpy Olde Guy® a/k/a Michael Kape has haunted so many theatres he’s applying for membership in the Theatre Ghost Society. He has been known to use theatre as therapy when his world is at its darkest.)

Musical Adaptation Idea: A Monster Calls

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

A Monster Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm going to convince you it is.

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

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


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

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


Should Phantom of the Opera Close?

Daniel Schorr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race and Representation in Theatre: The Most Commonly Questioned Shows

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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

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

 Once on This Island

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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

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




An Interview with Upcoming Writer and Composer Joseph Purdue

Darren Wildeman

Joseph Prudue is a writer and composer for two musicals. One of which has been out for awhile now, Unfolding Tales, and another one in production which is Legends of Arahma. For the blog I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph and getting some more information about both of these shows and the writing process. His first show, Unfolding Tales, has a cast recording available wherever you get your cast recordings and I strongly recommend giving it a listen. It was quite interesting to get a glimpse at the creative process of these two shows and to hopefully be able to follow their journey from still being written and smaller scale productions to full blown produced musicals. I wish Joseph the best of luck with both of these shows and I hope you enjoy getting a look at these musicals and the process for Joe.

Darren Wildeman: Your first musical Unfolding Tales, based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, has been out for a few years now and it even has a cast recording available on Spotify and other platforms. What has the reception been so far from the people who have seen it?

Joseph Prudue: The reception of the show has been incredible and I'm very honoured to receive so many compliments each month about Unfolding Tales. The thing that surprises me the most is the emotional connection it has with an audience. You can feel it in the room when we perform, there's something gripping about certain songs and certain characters the audience gets attached to.


 DW: As stated previously this musical is based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, what inspired you to write a musical about him and why Tolkien specifically? There are many other authors and other stories that could be told in a musical so what stood out to you about him?

JP: Well first of all I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. I think the size of the world he created, the history of it all, the different languages and cultures he created, it's truly remarkable and possibly unequalled in terms of creation. Some of the languages he created were as complete as any we use in day to day life. He was an such an intelligent and inspiring man.
So when I decided I wanted to write a musical, my first thought was 'what am I truly passionate about?' I've always loved The Lord Of Things, but obviously that musical had already been created, so I decide to look into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and found a very emotional, powerful story, about friendship and courage. The definitive moment for me happened when I was reading the biography by Humphrey Carpenter and found the letter G.B. Smith wrote Tolkien before he died. The whole letter is beautiful, but the line that captured me was, 'may you say the things I have tried to say, long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.' From that moment, I knew I wanted to write about this story.

 DW: When you are doing a biographical musical on a person, how do you decide what aspects of it to cover? He wrote other works as well as LOTR, was good friends with CS Lewis and other authors, fought in both wars, was very involved politically, had a wife and 4 kids among many other things. In such a full life how do you decide what goes into a musical?

JP: That's a good question and one which I still think about, as I'm not sure I've created the final version yet. For me, you have to look at the pivotal and most emotional moments in Tolkien's life. In school he formed a group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, the T.C.B.S. They had great ambition and shared dreams of how they can change the world. Tragically, they were torn apart by The Great War – two of Tolkien's best friends were killed. So, the journey of this friendship became the heart of the show. Also because The Lord Of The Rings is full of similar friendships and the emphasis on courage against overwhelming odds resembled the bravery of those who fought in the war.
So much of Tolkien's story could've been in the musical, but you can't have too many characters in a two hour show or there's not enough time to really know them or emotionally connect to their story. However, I know Tolkien did have a very strong relationship with his mother and so I wanted to include her. I felt a resemblance between her and Galadriel, with the love of nature and so on. I feel the device worked very well and captured the audience. She's one of my favourite characters.

 DW: It’s fairly well noted that Tolkien was a very devout Christian. He also had many talks with his friends including CS Lewis about his Christianity. When writing a biographical musical, how much do you let that person’s personal beliefs influence the material of the show?

JP: I decided early on not to go into much detail there, because like answered in the previous questions, there's just not enough time to cover everything in one story. However, you get a sense of it in terms of his morals, the things he believed in and the relationship with Father Francis, who became the guardian of Tolkien and his younger brother after their mother died. Tolkien loved the stories of Christ and took inspiration from them. But the scenes with C.S. Lewis, I steered more to their discussions about creative writing, myths and legends.

DW: Where and when can audiences expect to see Unfolding Tales in the upcoming months and years? And what are your hopes for it and the next steps going forward?

JP: I'm not too sure at this stage. Of course, I would love to scale up and find a producer who is passionate about the show and has a vision to take it further. But I think the structure may need further edits before that's possible. I'm hoping to do a performance in 2019. No details yet though.

DW: Your next project is an original fantasy musical Legends of Arahma which you have been working on for just over a year. Where are you at in this musical and what are your hopes and prospects going forward for productions?

JP: At the moment I'm finishing the concept album. All the singers have been recorded and now I'm mixing the songs, with hope to release the album within the next few months. Then we'll be looking to do either a concert or rehearsed reading of the show. We're very excited to see what the response is from the concept album. I'm very proud of what we've created. I do believe it's something new and I can't compare the music to any other theatrical piece. Musically, it's more film score inspired, as I have a huge passion for that genre of music. I actually think Legends of Arahma would make a wonderful movie as well as a musical.

 DW: How many people do you have working on Legends of Arahma and do you prefer to work on a musical independently or with a team of people? What are the advantages and challenges to both situations?

JP: At the moment it's pretty much me and the book writer, Dries Janssens. We've had some good help from Nathan Deane with graphics, but apart from that it's only us and of course our fantastic cast. Stephen Schwartz did have a great impact on the show in terms of lyrics. He met with me and taught me a lot about the craft, how the lyrics should match the rise and fall of the melody, where to draw inspiration from, how to make a lyric sound natural and many other things. After that evening, we virtually re-wrote the entire show lyrically.

DW: Legends of Arhama is totally original. What are the challenges of writing something totally original as opposed to having someone’s life or a source to work with?

JP: Great question, and to be honest it's a blessing and a curse. First of all, writing a completely original story is risky, because producers are unsure whether the show will have audience or not. Even if they love the music and the story, can they convince investors to come onboard and also sell it to the public?
However, the rewards of writing an original story and seeing it grow are very, very exciting. We all know the feeling of seeing something new and magical, which lights our imagination, something that we can't wait to tell our friends about. It's the reason any of us became artists, because we wanted to create something new – that's what an artist is. Someone who follows formulas to make money is not an artist in my eyes.
We need original stories right now, I can't stress that enough. We're seeing so many stories in both film and theatre being remade over and over and I find it very sad. It's actually stopping new writers from getting inspired and it takes excitement out of the world. We need original work to inspire the next generation of writers.

I hope audiences can listen to Legends of Arahma and get inspired – make them wanted to create something of their own, the way my idols did for me. Ultimately, that's the dream.

DW: Without giving away more than you’re comfortable what is the premise of Legends of Arahma?

JP: The thing I like about it, is there's more than one story thread. It's partly about a man called Copernicus who finds out who he truly is in another world. He becomes more than he ever thought he could be and saves a beautiful green world from the destruction of the enemy. The importance of protecting nature is a big part of the show and a message we wish to share, as well union between the different people of the world.
However, it was the conflicted villain, Zoran, who drew me to the piece. I had a great image of her when reading the book and I thought it was the perfect character for me to bring to life musically. Zoran has depth and has been sung beautifully by Jodie Steele on our concept album.

DW: When you write music whether it’s Unfolding Tales or Legends of Arahma where do you draw your inspiration from both musically or in storytelling? Which composers, authors or other writers have left an influence on you?

JP: For me, inspiration can come from many different places. Usually, something in the story has an impact on me and instantly I get images of what the scene should look and feel like. I then try and capture that feel, or emotion with music. But sometimes an interesting character is enough to draw inspiration from. Sometimes it's the description of the landscape which paints a picture and then I know what instruments will capture that.
As for my influences, everyone who's worked with me knows I'm a massive Alan Menken fan. His music is infectious, it's dramatic, emotional, full of life and incredibly memorable, it lives inside the audience long after they've heard it. I noticed early on that it was his melodies above anything that made him superior to many writers and I've always kept that in mind. So when I write song, I always start with the melody. If I can make you feel something and paint a beautiful picture with just chords and melody, no words, then I know I'm on the path. Then when we add the words, considering they're good and match the music, the song will bloom.
I'm also a huge admirer of Stephen Schwartz, for his work on Prince of Egypt, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course, Wicked. I love the work of Stiles and Drewe. I also take influence from the great film composers, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard and many more. Once again, their music does magical things without words and further demonstrates the importance of the melody. Then there's J.R.R. Tolkien, who inspires me as an overall creator and perfectionist.

 DW: Joseph, I want to thank you for your time with me and agreeing to do an interview with us for the ATB blog. Is there anything else people should know about either musical or yourself as a writer and composer?

JP: Thank you. Yes, the Legends of Arahma concept album will be available as a free download within the next few months, so please take a listen and share it with your friends. Also, to any other creative artists out there, if you have an idea, put in the work and bring it to life. No dream career is easy to achieve, but if you're keen to learn, you're prepared to work hard, then great things will come of it. Be sure to keep going – you'll only get better and better.

My Personal Year in Review

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

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

Here Lies Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Miss Saigon

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Something Rotten

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

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

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

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

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

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Come from Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Hunger Ga- I Mean Broadway Flea Market

Kelly Ostazeski

I’m a new blogger for All Things Broadway and I love a wide variety of musicals, but mostly classics or classic-sounding musicals. Hello, Dolly changed my life. “The world is full of wonderful things.”


This Sunday, September 30, was my first time at Broadway Flea Market. I have always wanted to go but it always seemed to conflict with something else I had to do. I made it a point not to miss it this year. After years of only casually seeing shows, I still didn’t have a reason to be there. In January I saw the show that got me back into Broadway – Hello, Dolly (which is a story for another time, perhaps appearing in a future blog entry...), and I wanted to see all the friends I’d made through the show, and maybe get some swag. With Dolly’s closing in August, I knew there would be quite a bit of stuff to get. I didn’t know how much. I wasn’t prepared for what Flea Market was actually like.


Since I saw Donna Murphy in the show I have been saying how much I want the signs outside the theatre that said, “At this performance, DONNA MURPHY is DOLLY”, more as a joke than actually believe I would walk away with one of the signs. My friends told me they might sell them at Flea, since the show was over so they probably didn’t need the signs anymore. I didn’t actually believe it.


But a few days before Flea, my friend sent me screenshots of BC/EFA’s insta-story. The signs were going to be sold. Immediately, “Before the Parade Passes By” started playing in my head:


I’ve got a goal again, I’ve got a drive again, I wanna feel my heart coming alive again…


I knew I had to do my best to get the signs. The show means so much to me, and Donna was my Dolly. 


“Get there early,” is what everyone told me. But they weren’t supposed to start selling until 10 AM. But okay, I’d get there early. My friends and I decided on 7:30. Happy Hunger Games, I thought. This sign was going to be hard to get. This sign was the one thing I had to have. I didn’t know how many fans would want it. There were only four. Four lucky fans would walk away with a piece of Broadway history. Talk about stress!


The day of, my alarm went off late, but I still managed to get into the theatre district at 7:30. I walked around for a bit – and there was nothing going on. Unless you want something desperately like I did, I don’t think it’s necessary to get there that early. Volunteers were just starting to set up tables. There were only a few fans lurking around. I found a spot on a stoop in front of the Curtain Call (recently closed shows) table and decided to wait. Soon my friend showed up and after talking to a few nice people on the same stoop, we connected on our love of theatre, shared our stories, and shared what we wanted. We promised to help each other out.


One girl said she’d hold my spot while I scoped around for any sign of the signs. While I was gone – less than five minutes – the Donna signs appeared and I ran back down the block. A line had formed but I was allowed back to the front of the line because I had a friend holding my spot.


The man at the table was growing impatient with the gathering line, and kept asking the crowd to take a few steps back. They didn’t listen. He finally agreed to take cash for the Donna signs, and offered them to the first four people who wanted them. The price doesn’t matter, all I know it was less than what I’d anticipated spending, and I still had a bit of cash to spend and therefore freedom to get a few more things. All that mattered in that moment was I’d gotten my sign. I stepped out while there was a bit of confusion about the order of the line and who was getting one, and within five minutes all four signs were gone.


I won the Broadway Flea Market Hunger Games.

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Stress was gone. Anything else that happened that day was icing on the cake. I imagine if there’s something you desperately want, get there early and Flea Market might be stressful to anyone. Next year I can’t imagine there will be anything I want as much as this sign. I don’t think I’ll have to get there as early.


All day I had people coming up to me and congratulating me on my incredible prize, or just stopping me and asking where I found it. I had to tell them there were only four and sold out. Others wanted pictures with the sign or just to talk about how much they loved Donna as Dolly. The only downside was carrying around a poster sized billboard the entire day. It was awkward and a little heavy but I guarded it with my life and I was proud of what I’d accomplished. Not bad for a first timer?


Everything you could imagine was there – cast recordings, vinyl, playbills from the early 1900s and beyond, window cards from shows past and present, shoes signed by cast members, shirts and hoodies from shows that closed years ago, books and scripts. There was something for everyone.


They were supposed to be selling until 7:00 PM, but staff members were clearly done by 5:30 because at a certain point they were just trying to get rid of stuff.


For the autograph line, you make a donation of $35 per hour and you can go down the line and meet all the stars sitting for the hour. There wasn’t anyone I was desperate to meet. Apparently if you want a photo with someone during that hour, you go to the photo booth and request an actor. There’s a minimum donation of $20, but I heard that the more people come, the price goes up. Apparently one year when Bernadette Peters went, the photo booth started at $40 and went up to at least $80 the more people showed up. Perhaps if there was someone I was desperate to see, I would’ve done that. Perhaps next year.


There was a free selfie line with other different actors per hour and I did that twice – to meet Ben Fankhauser (Newsies) and Kara Lindsay (Newsies and Wicked) and then later for Lesli Margherita (Matilda) and Wesley Taylor (Spongebob).


Toward the end of the day, the prices on items started going down as the volunteers wanted to get rid of things. Three Frozen shirts for $5! Three souvenir cups from various shows for $5! A poster a friend was watching went down to $10 from $20. Three CDs for $15. Souvenir programs for $7. I don’t think anything was overpriced, except some things in the silent auction and some of the Lights of Broadway cards – sorry, I’m not paying $15 for a single trading card.


Recommendations from a first timer:

1.      Get there early if you want something desperately. Otherwise, you can get there around 9 AM.

2.      Bring cash. It’s a lot faster and they do take cards throughout the Flea Market, but instead of putting a bunch of charges on your credit/debit card, cash is so much easier.

3.      Absolutely take advantage of the Selfie Stage and meet Broadway stars

4.      Be kind to fellow fans – don’t be pushy, help each other out, and (I shouldn’t have to say this at all, but) don’t steal – this is all for charity and a good cause so don’t be selfish.

5.      Bring a large, sturdy tote bag to carry all your swag

6.      Have fun!


Overall, Broadway Flea Market was a LOT of fun. It’s always great to be in New York City and among these great shows. There were Broadway stars just walking the Flea Market, and hundreds of Broadway fans. Flea Market is a great way to connect and make friends with people who share the same interests.


As someone who was a weird theatre kid, it’s amazing that we now have events like Flea Market and BroadwayCon where we can meet and connect with other fans. I saw a girl walking around in a hoodie that said, “Warning, Breaks into Showtunes”, and I thought it was great. In the outside world, you don’t see fans who are as passionate about this incredible art form. BC/EFA’s Broadway Flea Market is an event not to miss for any musical theatre fan!



Old Musicals You Don't Know but Probably Should

Michael Kape aka Grumpy Olde Guy
“Burns Mantle Yearbooks”. When I was a mere lad trying to steep myself in as much theatre as I could possibly find, I devoured each and every “Burns Mantle Yearbook” in my school library. Every Broadway opening—and closing. Ten edited scripts from the best plays and musicals of the year. The gossip. The dirt. The dish. Who made money? What ran the longest?

Sorry, we had no Internet back then. No looking up shows on Wikipedia. We just had to learn what had happened before we were born (and contrary to popular belief, I was NOT in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot; I was doing East Lynne in Burlington, Vermont).

I bristle when I see lists (as appeared here a few weeks ago) of “Best Musicals,” and none came from before 1970. Yikes-and-a-half! I swear some people think there was no musical theatre before the first musical they ever saw. Bulletin: musical theatre as we know it has been around since The Black Crook in 1863. Gilbert and Sullivan. The operetta era. The Princess musicals. The Golden Age of Musicals.

So, with little regard for the eras from which they came but in alphabetical order, I’ve compiled my own list of 40 Best Musicals before Hair (1968—Broadway), which helped change everything. If you don’t know these musicals, maybe it’s time you discovered them. And remember, the internet is our friend. So is Burns Mantle.

·         A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: In many ways, this is a smart-ass college boy senior thesis—write a new musical based on the low Roman comedies of Plautus with a highly-sophisticated score. But Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart—both masters of comic writing individually—crafted a truly hilarious book. And Stephen Sondheim’s score is witty, melodic, intricate, and downright funny on its own. The overture alone is one of the best ever written. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight. (An obscure but interesting side note about Forum. It was the first successful modern musical comedy done with a single set. Nothing moved in on wagons or flew in from the flies. Just a single set.) And whatever you do, don’t assume you know the show just based on the horrific and decidedly unfunny movie version.

·         Annie Get Your Gun: Fresh off the success of Oklahoma (more about that later) Rodgers and Hammerstein became producers. The story goes Dorothy and Herb Fields brought their fictionalized story of Annie Oakley—to star Ethel Merman in the title role—to the pair to turn into a musical (Mike Todd had turned them down). R&H had already picked out their next writing project (which became Carousel), so they set out to find someone to write the score. Initially, it was going to be Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. But Kern was hospitalized and died before they could get started. So, R&H tried to persuade one guy who had never written a book musical before (though he’d written plenty of revues, e.g., As Thousands Cheer with Moss Hart) to write the score. He wrote three audition songs: “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”, and a little ditty to be sung in one during a massive set change—"There’s No Business Like Show Business”. The result was a major triumph for Irving Berlin and marked an entirely new direction in his writing. And the show itself became one of the classics of musical theatre. Yeah, some of it is cringe-worthy today (I’m an Indian Too), but it is still a masterpiece.

·         Anything Goes: This was another piece originally intended to star Ethel Merman, with a score by Cole Porter and a book by P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. The basic bones of the story were there—a musical set on an ocean liner—but it was centered around a shipwreck. But a real shipwreck had occurred a few weeks before the show opened (or so legend has it) and it was decided to scrap that story. The original book writers were unavailable, so director Howard Lindsay recruited Russel Crouse to help him rewrite the libretto, thus beginning one of the more successful writing teams in Broadway history. (They would go on to write the long-running Life With Father and the book to The Sound of Music.) No matter. The real story here is a triumphant score by Porter, with plenty of show-stopping gems.

·         Babes in Toyland: Composer Victor Herbert was fresh off a rousing success—a musical version of The Wizard of Oz, featuring a book by L. Frank Baum. Herbert, one of the brightest lights of the operetta era, cast his sights on writing another musical for children, this time incorporating characters from Mother Goose into a story of kidnapping, greed, and ultimate redemption in Toyland. (Do NOT compare this with the horrible Walt Disney movie of the same name with drastically altered Herbert songs and a ridiculous plot. Even Walt ending up hating it.) It has a beautiful score, with the song Toyland being one of the most moving and melodic pieces Herbert ever wrote.

·         Boys From Syracuse: Take William Shakespeare’s first known play, The Comedy of Errors. Throw into the mix the most successful songwriting duo of the 1930s, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Add in wildly funny librettist/director George Abbott. Get George Balanchine to choreograph. The result is Boys From Syracuse, which was actually written, in part, for Hart’s brother Teddy. Classic songs from this uproarious musical comedy include “This Can’t Be Love”, “Sing for Your Supper”, and “Falling in Love With Love”. The show itself, like its source, is just fun, silly, and altogether a great musical comedy.

·         Brigadoon: Lerner and Loewe wrote some classic shows (Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot), but to me, this is their best work. The luscious score by Fritz Loewe can leave you gasping for breath at times (“Come to Me”, “Bend to Me”—a/k/a “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera—oops, did I say that?). The final line (“You must really love her, laddie”) leaves me in tears. A Scottish village magically appears only once every 100 years. Yup, I can thoroughly believe this premise when it’s surrounded by that score.

·         Bye, Bye Birdie: This little-known and rarely-performed piece (okay, being facetious—it’s done in high schools, colleges, and summer camps all the time) was revolutionary in its time. Based loosely on the drafting of Elvis Presley into the Army, it was the first Broadway show to include rock music within its score by Lee Adams (lyrics) and Charles Strauss (music). However, the story really centers around musical producer Albert and long-suffering girlfriend Rosie, his racist mother Mae, and yes, the McAfee family. Do not judge the original, groundbreaking show by the rather awful, truncated, refocused movie. Michael Stewart wrote a rocking book and Gower Champion crafted it into a Tony-winning musical.

·         Cabaret: Kander and Ebb. Joe Masteroff (who we sadly lost over the weekend). Nazis. Nightclubs. A ghostly Emcee. A huge success in its original Broadway run, it’s gone on to be an even bigger one in its many revivals. If you’ve only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to see the stage version. Really.

·         Candide: Okay, this was a flop when it was first produced, but oh, that score, that overture. It took a reimagining of Candide by Hal Prince to bring this show the honor it deserves. Yes, it’s moved into the opera realm, but at heart, it’s still musical comedy based on the classic novel by Voltaire. Perhaps Lillian Hellman was not the ideal person to write the book (think Edward Albee writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s), but Leonard Bernstein’s score is a masterpiece. If you’ve never seen it, there’s a great video available online.

·         Carousel: Richard Rodgers said the best thing he ever wrote with Oscar Hammerstein II was Carousel. A lot of us agree with his assessment. Yes, it has book problems when seen through a contemporary prism (it does, after all, hinge on spousal abuse). It also has a glorious score. Unfortunately (in my opinion), it also set the template for every subsequent R&H musical. They were never really as original and daring again (though Allegro does come close for being different).

·         Damn Yankees: Coming off the success of The Pajama Game, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (score), along with George Abbott and original novel (The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant) author Douglass Wallop (book), put together the quintessential Golden Age musical. Although original producer Hal Prince says he prefers Pajama Game, Damn Yankees is the more moving, heartfelt piece. It’s love, redemption, temptation, and the devil—with some baseball thrown into the mix. And yet there’s great sorrow attached to this piece. Jerry Ross died a few months after it opened, and Richard Adler could never duplicate the team’s success on his own. The movie version is actually slightly better, with Tab Hunter making a better Joe Hardy than Stephen Douglas.

·         Fiddler on the Roof: Come on, do I really need to tell you why this is a masterpiece?

·         Finian’s Rainbow: I confess, I love this show (so much so I invested in the Broadway revival). In its time, the show tackled an array of thorny issues (e.g., racism) in a light-hearted but meaningful way. Yip Harburg (lyrics) and Burton Lane (music) crafted a beautiful and eclectic score. When the strains of “Look to the Rainbow” are played, I start crying and don’t stop until the last notes of the finale. Whatever you do, don’t judge it by the mangled movie version directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

·         Fiorello: Some things I just don’t understand, especially how this brilliant show could be so forgotten today. It won Tonys. It grabbed the Pulitzer Prize. The score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick is one of their best. I know people don’t remember NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia any more (and this show is a highly-fictionalized version of his life). Still, this amazing musical stands on its own. If you’ve never discovered Fiorello, it’s not too late. Interesting side note. This was another situation where the writing team for the score was auditioned (audaciously I believe) before landing the assignment. Bock and Harnick were given the assignment to write two songs over a weekend. They came up with a couple of classics: Politics and Poker as well as Little Tin Box. ‘Nuff said.

·         Funny Girl: To be painfully honest, this highly fictional version of the life and career of Fanny Brice had major problems—like the book by Isobel Lennart is not very good or particularly truthful (omitting her first marriage and her son from the story). But then there’s the score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (I mean, for goodness sake, “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, “I’m the Greatest Star”, “The Music That Makes Me Dance”, and that little ditty, “People”). And that Styne overture—one of his best. The movie is better, but I wish it had not jettisoned so much of the original score.

·         Gypsy: It had Merman. It had Jule Styne’s music. It had Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. It had Arthur Laurents’ book (arguably the best book of a musical ever written). It had that amazing overture (arguably the best overture ever written). Seriously, if you don’t know Gypsy, can you really call yourself a fan of musical theatre?

·         Hello, Dolly: Yes, yes, yes, we should all know this hugely successful show for any number of reasons. So, instead, I going to ask you to consider some back story. Start in 1835, with the one-act farce by John Oxenford, A Day Well Spent made its debut. Fresh off his Pulitzer win for The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder adapts the original farce into The Merchant of Yonkers. It is not a success, but he adapts it again into The Matchmaker, enlarging the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Enter producer David Merrick (a/k/a The Abominable Showman), determined—at all costs—to make this story (then called Dolly, a Damned Exasperating Woman) into a successful musical. Michael Stewart is recruited to write the book (after his success with Bye, Bye Birdie) and Jerry Herman the score (after his modest success with Milk and Honey). Hal Prince, Joe Layton, and Jerome Robbins all turn down the directing gig, which eventually is accepted by Gower Champion. Ethel Merman and Mary Martin both turn down the lead (though both would eventually play it) before Carol Channing makes it her signature role. It opens out of town (Detroit and Washington, DC)—and flops with audiences. Merrick flies in every show doctor he knows. New material is added (and songs jettisoned). Bob Merrill is paid a lot of cash (but not credited) to rewrite Elegance and some of Dancing. New opening numbers are tested and rejected until I Put My Hand in There prevails (but is ultimately cut from the awful movie version). But the Abominable Showman finally got his way and Hello, Dolly became a smash hit, a blockbuster, and a well-loved classic.

·         HMS Pinafore: It’s difficult to pin down a favorite comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, but Pinafore was the most often produced (and loved) and successful among their early works. It’s utter nonsense, but it’s delightful utter nonsense. It set the pattern for all their subsequent works. Is it their best? To some people, yes. To me, the honor goes to The Mikado (despite the inherent and unintended racism of the piece since Gilbert really knew next to nothing about Japan). American audiences took The Pirate of Penzance to heart because its world premiere was in New York City. And then there’s always Patience. Oh, hell, just learn your Gilbert and Sullivan already.

·         How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: In its time, this show was hilarious, irreverent, and inventive. It won a Pulitzer. Today, it’s cringe-worthy, sexist, and horrifying in light of the #MeToo movement.

·         Kiss Me, Kate: Cole Porter tackles William Shakespeare and wrestles him to the ground. Though ostensibly a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew, it’s really the ultimate backstage musical, with two major storylines overlaid on the Shrew story. Why? Because ultimately the Shrew story defied being turned into a musical. Its two leading characters are quite unlikable.

·         Lady in the Dark: Until this 1941 show by Kurt Weill (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics) and Moss Hart (book, based on his own experience), psychoanalysis had never been the fodder for a musical. This brittle, brilliant piece breaks convention everywhere it can (it’s been called a straight play with three musical dream sequences). Alas, the movie version doesn’t do it justice, and the performance rights have been highly restricted, so it isn’t done often.

·         Mame: If you don’t know this show, I can’t help you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the movie version starring the totally miscast Lucille Ball (she bought the film rights). But take heart. Somewhere someone is coming down those stairs, with trumpet in hand, singing It’s Today.

·         Man of La Mancha: Again, if you don’t know this show by now, I’m taking away your Musical Fan Club card. That’s right. Hand it over. Even as you read this, some lousy lounge act singer is crooning “The Impossible Dream” (in any of dozens of languages), even though no one can sing it as Richard Kiley did originally (I speak from experience here; you’d never know it was the same song). Whatever you do, do not view the movie version with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren—both of whom had to be dubbed. (There are some rumors as to whether Mitch Leigh really wrote the music. It’s thought it might have instead been composed by a few music students, with Leigh taking credit and buying them off. This has not been confirmed, but I should note he never had another successful Broadway musical though he sure tried. His last effort, Home Sweet Homer, opened and closed the same night.)

·         Most Happy Fella: This is a show you should know but many of you likely do not know. I think that’s a crying shame, because this is truly Frank Loesser’s (book, music, lyrics) masterpiece above all others. Based loosely on Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted, it tells a story of an old man in love with a young woman (who loves a young man—who gets her pregnant). One of those rare three-act musicals. The story is simple yet infinitely moving. The show has moved into the opera realm, though it’s really still a brilliant musical drama. It’s actor-proof (trust me on this) and even orchestra-proof—it’s been done successfully with just two pianos. (Whatever you do, don’t judge it by that I Love Lucy episode, which is hardly indicative of the show itself. Remember, three acts, not two, which the Lucy episode alludes to as its plot device.)

·         Oklahoma: I wrote my senior thesis in college on Oklahoma—not about the show itself (more about that shortly)—but rather about what it did. First, it brought Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein together again (they had written one song together when Rodgers was still at Columbia). It created the model for the integrated musical—in this case I refer to the integration of music, book, lyrics, and choreography. Most important, it saved the Theatre Guild from extinction. The Theatre Guild was the most daring and inventive producing organization of the 1930s, but it had fallen on hard times until it produced Oklahoma. (The Guild finally did go bust many years later.) So far as the piece itself, it’s way too long (clocking in at nearly three hours), it completely sanitizes the source material, the latently homoerotic Green Grow the Lilacs. It adds a level of unneeded racism (the Persian peddler). And the leading man literally gets away with murder. Really? The show itself did a lot of good, but I personally can’t watch it.

·         On the Town: Once upon a time, choreographer Jerome Robbins created a ballet with music by fledgling composer Leonard Bernstein called Fancy Free. It was about three sailors on a one-day leave in New York City. Everyone loved it and said it should be a Broadway musical. Bernstein called in his pals Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Thus, a classic musical came into being. Even now, decades after its 1940s debut, it’s an amazing piece. Whatever you do, DON’T even think about looking at the Hollywood version, which jettisoned most of the score and starred a woefully miscast Frank Sinatra.

·         On Your Toes: One of my two favorite shows by Rodgers and Hart, this musical about jazz dancers mixing it up with a Russian ballet company has a particular relevance today. It’s détente played out in the title song. It’s some of the best music Richard Rodgers ever wrote (Slaughter on Tenth Avenue). It’s a string of classics in the Great American Songbook (There’s a Small Hotel). You really need to know (and love) this show.

·         Pal Joey: My other favorite Rodgers and Hart show. It’s decidedly different from all their other works, and it was a major departure from typical Broadway shows at the time. The leading character is the ultimate anti-hero. He’s mean, sexist, and thoroughly unlikable—and really is not redeemed at the end. (It still made a star out of Gene Kelly.) But with a score including such standards as Zip as well as Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (if you really listen closely to the lyrics, it’s really a racy song), how can you go wrong?

·         Porgy and Bess: It’s George Gershwin’s greatest Broadway show. It’s Ira Gershwin’s crowning achievement. Even the 1957 movie isn’t bad. If you don’t know Porgy and Bess, once again, I’m taking away your card.

·         Promises, Promises: Why did I include this show from 1968? It’s a likable enough musical, but it subversively broke new ground in its own way. It was the first musical (and only Broadway outing) written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). The producers took a chance on an up-and-coming choreography named Michael Bennett. The orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick included voice parts in the orchestra (something he’d go on to do again with Company). And it’s the best musical book Neil Simon ever wrote. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend time in the theatre.

·         She Loves Me: In the pantheon of perfect musicals (there are a few), She Loves Me is the best. It features the best score ever written by Bock and Harnick, and an extraordinary book by Joe Masteroff. So why wasn’t it a success in its original production? I think part of the problem was director Hal Prince, who at the time lacked the deft hand needed to stage such a light confection of a musical. It’s been revived successfully—without any need to change the score or book. It’s perfect as written. If you’re not crying at the end, you have no heart. Period. Not going to discuss it.

·         Showboat: This landmark musical was the epitome of the operetta era (both Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern came right out of the genre), yet it broke entirely new ground with its integrated storyline of racial prejudice, vaudeville, and a traditional love story in a magnificent score. Integrated might be the operative word here. Until Showboat, racially mixed casts were basically not common on Broadway (there were musicals with strictly African American casts—a practice continuing until the late 1930s). Showboat is significant for another first: it was the first musical cast album ever recorded. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the original Ziegfeld production (ah, to have heard Helen Morgan) but the original London production (so we do get Paul Robeson on record singing Ol’ Man River).

·         Street Scene: Okay, this is strictly in the opera realm now, but its origins are strictly Broadway musical, with music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Langston Hughes, and a book by Elmer Rice, based on his play. My professor in college referred to this as a “slice of life” drama. People come. People go. They love. They laugh. Life goes on. And that’s pretty much the plot. Still, it’s an extraordinary piece.

·         The Boyfriend: It’s fluff. But it’s really good fluff. Another one of those rare three-act musicals. Sandy Wilson took London and then New York by storm with this light-hearted send-up of 1920s musicals. And the original production gave us one special gift: Julie Andrews in her first starring role.

·         The Fantasticks: It’s still the longest-running musical ever (is ALW keeping POTO open just to beat this record?). Based loosely on Rostand’s The Romancers and written in a blindingly fast (by today’s standards) six weeks, it is the epitome of charm.

·         The Merry Widow: Alas, this is another great show, right out of the operetta era, decidedly gone from the Broadway musical scene (actually, the Lehar piece came from Germany) and sent packing to the opera world. But it’s not an opera. It’s light and merry, totally ridiculous, and full of plot twists and comic intrigue. But when the NY Metropolitan Opera has shanghaied a piece, you can bet we’ll never see it on Broadway again. Too bad.

·         The Music Man: Come on, is there a high school, college, or summer musical camp without a production of the Music Man in its past? From its opening rap number (what, you thought rap was relatively recent?), to the final strains (and I do mean painful strains) of Minuet in G (“Think men, think”), it’s a joyous throwback to earlier times in a fictional Iowa town, bamboozled by the ultimate con man.

·         The Pajama Game: The first musical outing of Adler and Ross (see Damn Yankees above), it’s just a fun show with a great score (who wrote the music and who wrote the lyrics is a mystery we’ll never solve).

·         Threepenny Opera: Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill adapted an old English piece, The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, into a socialist tract on oppression—albeit with a jazz score (and a few songs lifted from a French author). Notably in the original production was Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya playing Jenny. She would go on to play the role again years later in the Off-Broadway production (as well as appearing in the original cast of Cabaret). Threepenny Opera is definitely a subversive piece—even by today’s standards (Beggar’s Opera is pretty benign by comparison).

·         West Side Story: Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins wanted to adapt Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into a musical called East Side Story (really). They fussed with it but dropped the project until Robbins suggested moving it across town and changing the warring factions into rival street gangs. And so, they began, with Laurents adapting Romeo and Bernstein writing the score (music AND lyrics—a few of which survived in the final version; remember, Bernstein wrote the lyrics to “I Can Cook Too” from On the Town as well as both music and lyrics to his version of Peter Pan). Then Laurents ran into a young composer/lyricist named Stephen Sondheim, who’d recently completed his first musical, Saturday Night. Laurents had attended a reading of the show. So, when Sondheim inquired as to who was doing the lyrics, Laurents smote his head. He hadn’t liked the music much, but he admired the lyrics to Saturday Night. “You are,” replied Laurents. The result, of course, was West Side Story. Bernstein graciously removed his name as co-lyricist, giving Sondheim sole credit. Currently, West Side Story is being given an entirely new and reimagined production soon to open in London, as well as a new movie version being directed by Steven Spielberg. Is it a great, landmark musical? Of course it is (though Sondheim would like to ignore some of his lyrics, especially the ones in “I Feel Pretty”).

Original Cast of West Side Story singing “I Feel Pretty”

Original Cast of West Side Story singing “I Feel Pretty”

·         Wonderful Town: “Why, oh why, Ohio. Why did we ever leave Ohio?” So sing sisters Ruth and Eileen. Good thing for us they did. Once again, Bernstein teamed up with pals Comden and Green to adapt the play My Sister Eileen into a great musical. It’s worth going out of your way to know this score. Yeah, it’s that good (though somewhat forgotten these days).


Are there others? Of course. I deleted more than 20 from this list even before I got started. I omitted The Black Crook—even though it started everything—because we have only some of it extant today. Still, these are the shows people should know if they want to steep themselves in musical theatre.


Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a good musical. He’s also the administrator for Broadway Remembers, a Facebook group dedicated to theatre old and new—when he’s not telling young whippersnappers to get off his lawn.

All I Really Needed to Know I Learned on Broadway

Way back in the dark ages of the 20th century, in 1986 to be precise, a new musical came out called The Phantom of the Opera. There were others, but that was the most popular new one that year. In the world of books, Robert Fulghum published his classic All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It detailed lessons we all learned in kindergarten that formed us as people. Some were simple, and others were more profound. Since then, I have seen parodies crop up over the years.

Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images


I thought it might be helpful to do a Broadway version. So, without further ado, I give you... “All I Really Need to Know I Learned on Broadway”. 


1. "Any dream will do." 

2. "The difference between a cow and a bean is a bean can begin an adventure." 

3. "You will be found." 

4. "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good." 

5. "Because we come from everywhere, we all come from away." 

6. "To love another person is to see the face of God." 

7. "It's such a fine line between a good man and a bad." 

8. "No more talk of darkness. Forget these wide-eyed fears. I'm here. Nothing can harm you." 

9. "Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay. Love isn't love 'til you give it away." 

10. "The slotted spoon can't hold much milk." 

11. "The things that I prize, like the stars in the skies, are all free!" 

12. "Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around." 

13. "Every year on September 11th, I close my office and give each employee $100 to do random acts of kindness." 

14. "Everything today is thoroughly modern. Check your personality." 

15. "Nothing's wrong with being 50, unless you're acting 20!"

16. "The slotted spoon can catch the potato." 

17. "Don't wait until wrinkles and lines pop out all over my brow! Show me now!" 

18. "They were great men, with huge flaws, and you know what — those flaws almost made them greater." 

19. "Come on in, the door's open!" 

20. "What you've got to do is finish what you've begun. I don't know just how, but it's not over 'til you've won." 

21. "Green Mountain Dew activates you. Red shuts you off." 

22. "Old Man River, he just keeps rolling along." 

23. "I loved you then, and I love you still!" 

24. "There's no business like show business." 

25. "Careful the things you say. Children will listen." 

26. "Give my regards to Broadway!" 

27. "Life is fraughtless when you're thoughtless."

28. "First you gotta read 'em. Then you gotta heed' em. You never know when you're gonna need 'em." 

29. "A cat is not a dog." 

30. "You'll never walk alone." 


*dramatic chord* "Et cetera!" 

*more dramatic chord* "Et cetera!" 

*even more dramatic chord* "ET CETERA!" 


Billy Elliot

SarahLynn Mangan

Nowadays it is normal in musical theatre to see a musical being based on some other work already created. Just this past year's Tony Award season had that shouting right at us, as all the musicals nominated for best musical were not completely new in the sense that there was a movie or a television show about it beforehand. When asked about my favorite musicals, those that are in this category of having a first life before they were a musical, tend to not be on that list except one. That is my favorite overall musical; Billy Elliot.

If you never saw the 2000s movie, why? Furthermore, if you haven’t at least listened to the cast album of the 2005 musical, why?

For those who have no idea what this amazing story is about here is a short summary; A young boy (Billy) finds a love for dancing behind his father and brothers’ (Jackie and Tony) back while they are striking in the 1984 miners strike. Despite the stereotypes of becoming a male dancer and discouragement from his family, Billy’s ballet teacher (Mrs. Wilkinson) and best friend (Michael) encourage him to continue and pursue something that he truly loves.

Billy Elliot is such an inspiring story to hear and see portrayed because having the ability to have something that you can express yourself through is truly the greatest gift that the world can offer. The character of Billy has to go through his own self-deprecation, his families and his peers in order to find who he is.

Five years of West End Billys performing in the 5th Birthday Show on 31 March 2010    by Den P Images on Flickr (account no longer active) is licensed under  CC by 2.0

Five years of West End Billys performing in the 5th Birthday Show on 31 March 2010 by Den P Images on Flickr (account no longer active) is licensed under CC by 2.0

Here is the in-depth reason as to why this show is my favorite upon favorites.

Right when the curtain comes up, you are transformed to 1984 with a radio announcement about the greatness of energy created by mining but followed by a song where the ensemble sings about standing together and standing up against the unfairness that is working in the mines. The title of the song being “The Stars Look Down”, and that line being said multiple times within the song, reminds the audience how minuscule each person is alone and that in order to create a more fair life they must stand together.

In Billy’s society, it is common for the boys to take boxing classes while the girls take ballet classes to differentiate the strength and delicacy of the two. Upon late arrival to class, Billy is instructed to stay and work later than the other boys and is told to give the keys to the ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson where he finds her to be a bit crazy but also fascinated by the dancing even if it is pretty terrible. It is clear that Mrs. Wilkinson is a washed-up dancer who is just trying to make a living off of what she knows but she also still has some spark of passion for it. After class we see Billy begin to experiment with the shapes his body can make and the things it can imitate through dancing but is soon cut off by his discovery of his grandmother going through some things he holds high value to. It is beautiful to see someone discover their love of dance and want to do it whenever they can.

We later get to meet Billy’s best friend Michael a little better through his song, as Billy catches him putting on his sister and mothers clothing and makeup. It is here we learn that Michael just really wants to be himself and show it to the world no matter the consequence and he encourages Billy to do the same. Taking you out of the show for a second, the kids who play these two roles in any production are extremely talented especially in tap and all forms of dance and it amazes me how children have been able to find a passion and love for dance and commit their time to become so amazing at it. I love the song “Expressing Yourself” as it tells the main moral of the story which is just to be yourself no matter whatever anyone else is thinking or feeling about it.

“Cos what the hell is wrong with expressing yourself for wanting to be me?”

Something that I really love about the musical more than the movie is that they give more to the relationship between Billy and his recently deceased mother. In both versions, Billy is given a letter that he is not supposed to read until his eighteenth birthday but instead reads it as soon as possible, and it is from his mother telling him that she will still be there no matter where Billy is in life. The beautiful part of this scene is that Billy has it memorized and is singing it while Mrs. Wilkinson is reading it and behind her is Billy’s mother singing along with them. It is wonderful to see Billy interact even if it is through non-verbal communication with his mother and visually see that Mrs. Wilkinson is becoming another mother figure for Billy. I personally (having dealt with a death of a parent at a young age) can relate to wanting to hold onto the memories of my loved one while also wanting to find someone who could not take their place, but fill their shoes in a way to help me not feel as though I am missing out on something. The way that the screen to stage writers interpreted this scene was simply gorgeous and because I can connect to it, I imagine many others are able to as well and find it as touching as I did.

Mrs. Wilkinson sees Billy’s love for dance and decides to give him private lessons to prevent Billy’s dad and brother from finding out about ballet. She also wants him to audition for the Royal Ballet School, to which Billy doesn’t believe he can do, but she reminds him that it is a school for a reason. She tries to teach him all that she can before the big audition day but once the day finally arrives the strike had gotten extremely intense with the miners running throughout the city and the police searching for them to try and get them to go back to work by force. Because of this Billy was unable to get to the place where Mrs. Wilkinson and he were to meet to go to the school for the audition she goes to his house where they run into Tony and Billy’s father who try and make him dance for them since he loves it so much. After being told not to by Mrs. Wilkinson by tells his dad that his mom would’ve let him dance, to which he replies “Your mams dead.” This sparks the act one closing number and by far the most challenging dance that any performer of this age ever has to perform. Although only just under four minutes of dancing, it is filled with tapping, screaming, and emotional acting that really conveys the rage that Billy is feeling toward the world at the moment. To see someone at such a young age be able to show the audience every single emotion that their character is feeling at each moment is truly miraculous. I would recommend watching the 2009 Tony Awards Billy Elliot performance to even get a grasp of what I am trying to say.

Act two opens with some comedy at a Christmas party but very quickly changes to show the soft side of Jackie (Billy’s dad) as he sings a song that reminds him of his wife. In most shows, we get to know the characters on their outer levels in act one and act two sometimes reveal some more in-depth levels and this is true of Jackie. The audience can tell that he is having a hard time trying to stay strong while he is out of work and supporting two children and his mother and just wishes to have the love of his life back.

As the Christmas party dies down, Billy is left alone in the studio where he is free to dream about what life could be like in the future as a dancer. A beautiful rendition of Swan Lake is created as a duet between himself and his hope for his future self. They dance together to remind the audience of hope for the future. Young Billy gets set up with a fly system so that the duet can leave the ground and take the duet to a new level, literally. Older Billy leads Young Billy across the stage and lets go to set him free but always brings him back to ground him. It is the most beautiful dance of the entire show because you know that eventually all will be alright and this is the moment when things are starting to go correctly for Billy finally.

Jackie goes to Mrs. Wilkinson’s house to ensure that dancing is something that Billy truly has a passion for and that he could actually do it if he and Tony just believed in him. He decides that the only way to get at least one of his sons out of the miners' hell hole would be to break the picket line and go back to work and allow some possibility of a good life for Billy. As Jackie is passing the fence, Tony sees him and tries to stop his father. They sing a beautiful song that shows that Jackie just wants one of his children to succeed in life and to allow Billy to go after his dream unlike what he and Tony did. Tony tries to remind him that they are a group with all the strikers and that if he gives in then it will just mean that others will follow. The other strikers join Tony in trying to get Jackie to continue to stand with the strike and they will find another way for Billy to get to the auditions again and have a successful life. The back and forth between Jackie and Tony is wonderful to see that Jackie has truly turned over and spoken for Billy as Tony has done most of the talking for him. But they all decide that they will find another way to get Billy to the audition which shows that Tony has begun to believe in Billy but also does not want to give up on what they have all been working towards for now over a year. The men try to pull the money together but are unable to as they are out of work and not getting money from their union, however one man comes in who heard about Billy’s story and wants to support it even though he himself has broken the line and gone back to work. Jackie tries to refuse his money but Billy convinces him otherwise because there was a reason that they all came together to try and pull enough funds. To see the change in dynamic between the town and their idea of a boy dancing ballet is quite admirable and makes you wish it still was not such a problem to be a male dancer in today's society.

Billy and Jackie head to the Royal Ballet School for his audition and while there Billy gets into a fight with another boy who has gobs of money and couldn’t care less about where Billy came from. He and his father are pulled into another room to be reminded about the code of conduct of the ballet and such forth but before they leave the room Billy is asked “What does it feel like when you’re dancing?” to which Billy responds in the song “Electricity.” His response is completely genuine and followed by a would-be improvised dance that shows the curiosity and energy that dance brought him the first time he discovered it and shows parallels to the time he was dancing and experimenting with shapes and animals as dance moves. This dance is the epitome of what it means to be a dancer and what it feels like to dance and I hope if I am ever asked this question I could produce an equally well-formed answer. This is also the first time that Jackie truly sees his son dance and it is so heartwarming his response to it which is pure joy and speechlessness.

“I can’t really explain it, I haven't got the words, it's a feeling that you can't control, I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are, and at the same time something makes you whole”

Once home a few days later grandma discovers Billy’s mail and they all wait to hear what the response is about his possible acceptance to the school. When Billy opens it he at first pretends to not have gotten in but then Tony steals it from him and scolds him for not telling them that he had gotten accepted. This is the time when we see Tony truly accept that Billy loves dancing and we see him want to encourage him to continue. At this same moment of joy, the news that the strike has ended and that they lost is delivered.

As Tony and Jackie prepare to return to the mines, Billy thinks of his mother again and sees her. He tells her that he has written a letter in response to hers and it is disclosed that he no longer needs her guidance but will still always have her in his heart. To have this closure with his mother is just about the most heartfelt thing in the entire production and something that was left out of the movie. It is sad to see Tony and Jackie have to go back into the mines but at the same time uplifting to see Billy have something go right in his life and allow him to move on from the wicked of life.

As the curtain comes down before the bows and big finale dance number we see Billy run into the audience and Michael wish him off and good luck.

This story of despite what anyone else says and thinks, pursuing a future in who you are and what you love is a very true one that many folks need to be reminded of every once in a while. Billy Elliot is one of the most challenging roles for any child actor because of the mear magnitude of the role but it is worth it to show the audience what they needed to see. If you ever have the chance to see a live production of this brilliant musical, please do, and if not at least it was recorded in 2014 at the Victoria Palace Theatre and it is such an amazing production of the musical and gives you the full experience as well.

The Magic of Musicals on the Silver Screen

Photo by naumoid/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by naumoid/iStock / Getty Images

Taylor Lockhart
Over the years we’ve seen musical theatre done in just about every format most notably on the stage but also quite frequently crossing over from broadway into hollywood territories. Whether it takes 30 or so years, *cough* *cough* Les Mis, if your musical is popular enough, it’s bound to be made into a movie at some point, but I personally feel that the silver screen musicals are much more entertaining. The majority of these tv musicals serve to parody or play off of typical broadway musicals. Many paying homages and references to popular musicals. Today, I plan to take a look at the many musical episodes of tv shows we’ve gotten over the years and see just what makes the musical episode so fun and popular for long running tv shows. Now a few things before we start: this in no way is a ranked list of episodes. If one of your favorites is not here it may simply be because I had no interest in watching it or I felt like it tied in too heavily to the season plot that I don’t not have time to watch to fully understand. Secondly, in order to be on this list the episode must be done in a musical style format, this means more than one songs and in places characters would not generally sing them and in ways characters would not generally sing them. Shows that feature characters putting on a musical though are fair game. Anyways with that all said, pop some popcorn, sit down on your couch, and lets watch some good old fashioned telly-vision.

Fan Fiction: Supernatural
First up on our list is the season 10 episode of Supernatural, “Fan Fiction”. The episode is about an all girls school that puts on a student written production of the book within the tv show Supernatural while changing a few slight things however a goddess manifests one of the monsters from the story into reality and plans to eventually eat the author. The episode is genius and although it’s pure fan service, it comes off as an excellent addition to the series. The acknowledgement of the Dean and Cas ship is amazing and the “subtext” is incredible as Dean and Sam try to solve the mystery while having to deal with a heavily modified version of their life. However, my favorite part is the hilariously accurate depiction of a high school drama department, granted it’s still somewhat exaggerated but compared to things like high school musical it’s a serious step in the right direction. My favorite thing is at one point Dean picks up a toy gun used in the show and the director immediately scolds him and has him put it down. Overall it was a fun episode that unlike many of this list poked at high school theatre more than it did general broadway. It also had a few references without jamming then down your throat like Sam mentioning he was apart of Oklahoma as a kid. If you are or were a theatre kid at some point and love supernatural I would totally recommend this episode.

“Psych The Musical”
When the team behind hit show Psych, famous for creating a fun mystery filled cop show playing off of serious shows like blue bloods and brooklyn nine nine about a psychic who solves mysteries and murders and get into all kinds of shenanigans in Santa Barbara decided to write a musical episode to end their seventh season, they did not hold back. With many witty and memorable songs such as “Santa Barbara Skies” and “Making Up a Song”, it’s a funny, thrilling, and sometimes even touching, two episode special. The episode sees Gus and Shawn and the Santa Barbara Police Department trying to track down a mental asylum escapee who had previously written a musical based on the Jack the Ripper story. After a critic was going to ruin the show before it even began he burned the theatre to the ground with the critic inside. However as is common with mysteries things are not all they seem and they have to follow the strange clues of another mental asylum patient who Shawn previously had met which she only gives the gang when they perform songs to her in order to stop any more murders from happening and find out just what actually happened the night of the fire. The songs are honestly pretty good, and unlike many other musical episodes despite being set around a show and a theatre, it is still a complete genuine musical and not just a show the characters perform within the episodes. It has a ton of cool, twists, and turns and all the fun and wit of a regular psych episode just this time featuring song and dance. Its led many to clamor for a staged version of the episode and while I don’t think we’ll see Psych the Musical on broadway anytime too I can definitely say I would see and the enjoy the hell out of it.

“Phineas and Ferb: Rollercoaster The Musical”
Most every generation today has a cartoon they watched as a child, for me that cartoon is most notably Phineas and Ferb. I swore I watched the first episode but knowing that the show first aired in 2007 would've made me 5 years old at the time, jesus christ. So maybe I started watching a year or so later, anyways 4 years later they recreated their pilot episode in which the boys with 104 days of summer and school coming along just to end it, the annual problem of their generation being finding a good way to spend it decide to build a rollercoaster spanning the entire tri-state area, outlandish I know, but I can’t imagine the show any other way. In the first few minutes of the episodes they reference Phantom, Cats, Les Mis, and even Oklahoma. Strange they didn’t reference any Disney musicals, but I think that’s just me wanting to see some animated newsies. The musical is pretty great because it features a good amount of songs for a 25 minute run time in a show that is known well for writing a new song for every episode and some of which are actually pretty dang catchy. The theme song, “Ain’t Got Rhythm”, and “There’s a Platypus Controlling Me” are all songs I would still put on a playlist. For me, I’m not a huge fan of many of the episodes songs but it’s still got few catchy ones most notably the opening song and the finale and all the fun of a Phineas and Ferb episode. Oh, and Kenny Ortega makes an animated appearance. It really does make me wish the creators, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and Dan Povenmire really would write a children's musical. I doubt we’ll see them very far away from animation though anytime soon.

The Devil’s Hand Are Idle Playthings: Futurama
I originally was not going to put this one in here since it takes about over halfway into the episode for the music to start but I wanted the entire thing and really did enjoy it. What was originally supposed to be Futurama's finale.  This episode sees Fry trying to learn to play a holophone, a musical instrument similar to a flute or clarinet that projects the players mind on stage creating holographic visuals in tune to music. It’s actually really really cool, anyways after learning Leela loves music fry tries to learn the instrument and ends up making a deal with the devil when he realizes it is physically impossible for his hands to play the thing and also he doesn’t want to practice. The devil attempts to trick fry but fails and ends up losing his own hands to Fry. In the end, Fry becomes extremely successful and ends up being commissioned to write an opera. It goes incredibly well until Leela having gone deaf from an air horn blast caused by bender and the devil robot asks for Leela’s hand in exchange for allowing her to hear the concert. Later, the devil robot reveals Leela has actually signed off her hand in marriage instead of her physical hands and fry has to give the devil his hands back leading to the opera failing and everyone leaving the theatre. In the end fry sits alone onstage as Leela touched by how hard Fry has tried tells him to keep playing despite his talents. He continues to play an out of tune and horribly illustrated holograph of the two kissing and walking away into the sunset. The musical episode is really only musical in the fact that the second half of the episode takes place during the opera which of course is set to music. Even if operatic sounds isn’t really my style I still loved the plot and for an adult comedy show was really pretty touched by the finale.

The Nightman Cometh: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Charlies written a musical and he wants to put it on, what could possibly go wrong? Well in a bar in downtown Philly everything. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is well known for its controversial and often hilarious satire and the season 4 finale is no different. I won’t say much partly because it is so easily seen as offensive and also partly because it’s an absolutely golden episode you have got to see for yourself. However the thing that puts it apart from every other episode on this list and every other episode in tv history and keeps it even after 13 seasons one of Sunnys most popular episodes is that although parts of it aired in the second half of the episode on TV, an entire full length musical was written and performed across america as well as for one day on broadway. Technically making “The Nightman Cometh” a broadway musical. Again, without getting into controversial topics, the episode is hilarious and features some of the most quotable and memorable lines in the series. If you want to dig deeper there’s also substance for a theory that the musical is based around charlies terrible and broken past and his search for happiness that the lunatics around him seem to ruin. The play The Iceman Cometh which the musicals title references although not relating at all to the musical, does draw similarities in underlying themes to Its Always Sunny and just continues to prove that the It’s Always Sunny writers who before the show had no experience writing whatsoever continue to weave subplots into their nonsensical and insane main stories.

The musical episode today is seriously starting to gain traction with recently Riverdale setting an episode around a performance of Carrie and I absolutely welcome it, I believe every long running show should at one point attempt to do an episode set to song and dance and wild circumstances. I mean could you imagine a musical version of Law and- actually maybe that should stay a serious non musical show, but I have no doubt we’ll see the silver screen make reference and homages to the stage much more in the future. So tell me what your favorite show and how would you like to see a musical episode of it done and if you haven’t already seen any of these episodes I would highly encourage you to check them out when you have the time.

Well, that’s it for today, I personally really love stepping out of the norm of talking about broadway or a stage show into non traditional musicals forms like television musicals. I think it gives us a chance to see the outstretches of broadway and musical theatre into every genre and medium. I know I missed a lot so If any of you were planning to watch through these let me add a few more to your list. Once more with feeling: A musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Elementary School Musical”: A parody of High School Musical by South Park, The Riverdale “Carrie” Episode, The musical episode of Community, The Flash musical episode, “SimpsoncalifraglisticexpilaiDOHcious”: The Simpsons parody of Mary Poppins and many more that have aired across the years. That's all I’ve got and I will see you folks next time when I may finally be ready for an article I’ve been doing some heavy research on. Till then take care and have a lovely september everyone.

Write Your Very Own R&H Musical

Steven Sauke
Several years ago, I watched a monologue by Anna Russell giving detailed instructions on writing your very own Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. She had much of the plot worked out for hers, detailing the exploits of the lovely maid Pneumonia. There was a patter song and a contralto involved. She observed that most of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operettas were basically the same, with all the same elements.

You can watch it here:

It got me thinking… Rodgers & Hammerstein were another classic pair of composers. They also had similarities in style and story elements in all or most of their musicals. A few years ago (more recently than when I watched Anna Russell), I wrote some tips on writing your own Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I put it, but I remember enough that I think I can recreate it from memory (all alone in the moonlight… oh wait, wrong composer).

First of all, the music. Your Rodgers & Hammerstein musical must have the same style as every other Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. It can have varieties in instruments (for example, The King & I uses a Thai-sounding style, and The Sound of Music involves yodeling), but the songs from one musical to another must sound like they could easily be from the same musical.

The plot. Your Rodgers & Hammerstein musical must involve a somewhat controversial plot. South Pacific addresses interracial relationships (more controversial at the time than it is now), racism and a “good” character who had to flee for his life because he killed a man. Flower Drum Song involves a mail-order bride. Oklahoma! sees a main character taking a hallucinogen, and also involves abuse and a fight to the death. Carousel also addresses abuse, adding murder and stealing to the mix. The King & I involves slavery, a harem, and violent punishment (although Tuptim being whipped was less violent than the real story, in which she fled the palace, posed as a monk, and was subsequently beheaded). The Sound of Music involves Nazis.

The vocabulary. There are certain words that must be used in your Rodgers & Hammerstein musical:

Cockeyed. This can mean crooked, askew or absurd.
“They call me a cockeyed optimist.” (South Pacific)
“While somersaulting at a cockeyed angle, we make a cockeyed circle round the sun.” (The Sound of Music)

Dope. This is the older definition of the word, as in a silly or stupid person.
“I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope.” (South Pacific)
“I sit around and mope, pretending I am wonderful and knowing I’m a dope.” (State Fair)
“The gentleman is a dope!” (Allegro)
“The world is full of zanies and fools who don't believe in sensible rules, who don't believe what sensible people say, and because those daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day!” (Cinderella)

Gay. Again, this is an older definition of the word, as in happy or fun.
“I feel so gay in a melancholy way that it might as well be spring.” (State Fair)
“Younger than springtime am I. Gayer than laughter am I.” (South Pacific)
“The games they played were bright and gay and loud! They used to shout, ‘Red Rover! Red Rover, please come over!’” (Flower Drum Song)

Louise. It is important for a character to be named Louise or a variant on that. Julie Bigelow names their daughter Louise in Carousel. Anna’s son in The King & I was Louis. When writing The Sound of Music, none of the children’s names were anywhere similar. We can’t have that! The solution was to change the names of all seven children so that one of them could be named Luisa. (I’m more inclined to believe that their names were changed because the real “Luisa” was named Maria, and that could lead to confusion in the storytelling. It caused enough confusion when she died a couple years ago, and a lot of people thought it was a different Maria von Trapp who died. I’m not sure why they changed the names, but that’s my theory.)

The haunting plea. In South Pacific, Bloody Mary decides that Lt. Joe Cable would make a great husband for her daughter Liat, and thus expounds on the virtues of her island “Bali Ha’i” to him. The tune is slow and haunting. In The King & I, Lady Thiang realizes that Anna is the only person who can help the King in his current predicament, but as Anna is currently angry with the King, Lady Thiang sings a haunting ballad about how the King can be infuriating at times, but sometimes he can do “Something Wonderful.”

The advice. In The King & I, Anna advises Louis to “Whistle a Happy Tune” when he is afraid. In The Sound of Music, Maria reveals her strategy in a similar situation is to think about “My Favorite Things.”

The lovers. Their song(s) must start with one lover singing a verse. Then the other lover must repeat back almost verbatim what the first lover sang. Certain adjustments are all right. For example, “You are sixteen going on seventeen” in the first verse becomes “I am sixteen going on seventeen” for the second verse. Sometimes the verses are almost completely identical. For example, “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in a Shadow” from The King & I, “Do I Love You Because You’re Wonderful?” and “Ten Minutes Ago” from Cinderella. The Sound of Music mixes this one up a bit with the song “How Can Love Survive,” as the duet is about the lovers, but only one of the lovers in question is actually singing. Interestingly, that love does not survive, as the Captain later realizes that the Baroness is far too willing to compromise on important matters. Flower Drum Song flips the formula, in which two characters try to convince the other: “Don’t Marry Me!”

Denial. In Oklahoma!, Curly and Laurey give each other advice on how to behave, as they aren’t willing to admit publicly that they’re dating. They worry that “People Will Say We’re in Love,” so they decide to pretend they are not. In Carousel, Billy and Julie (played by the same actors as the previous couple in the classic movies) aren’t willing to admit to each other, let alone publicly, that they’re in love, so they tell each other what they would do “If I Loved You.” It just so happens that what they sing about doing is exactly what they are doing. They end up not verbalizing their love for each other until it’s too late. (“Make Believe” from Show Boat also fits in this category, and that musical was by Oscar Hammerstein, though he composed it with Jerome Kern rather than Richard Rodgers.)

The breakup. At least one of the lovers decides they can’t go forward in this relationship. After learning of his children by a Polynesian woman in South Pacific, Nellie decides she cannot get past that and resolves to “Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair.” Emile quickly manages to help her get over her racist attitude, and that resolution falls flat. In The Sound of Music, Maria counsels Liesl what to do when she realizes that Rolf doesn’t love her as much as she thought, in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen (Reprise).” (Again, Show Boat fits into this category, as Gaylord Ravenal leaves and Magnolia must raise their daughter on her own. He eventually returns, but their daughter has grown up by then.)

The breakup sometimes leads to the women singing about their frustrations with men and marriage. “Give It to ’Em Good, Carrie!”, “Stonecutters Cut It on Stone”, “Many a New Day”. These songs often don’t work to convince her to foreswear her love. Either the lovers get back together, or they never stopped loving each other in the first place and were just in denial or pretending.

The soliloquy. A character should ponder their options, as they have a difficult choice ahead of them. In his “Lonely Room” in Oklahoma!, Jud Fry considers how to proceed in his relationship with Laurey and resulting rivalry with Curly, having just been taunted and threatened by Curly. Jud’s decision ultimately leads to his death. In Carousel, Billy Bigelow walks along the beach singing his “Soliloquy” dreaming about his child and pondering how he is going to provide for him or her. Again, his decision ends up resulting in his death. On the other hand, the “Twin Soliloquys” in South Pacific combine the love song and soliloquy. Nellie and Emile are pondering their options related to their budding romance. They sing nearly verbatim what the other person sings, but they are pondering these things to themselves rather than singing to each other. Unlike the lone soliloquys mentioned above, their decisions do not end up in their deaths. Another variation is near the beginning of the musical, as the character sings a soliloquy about their current situation, such as “In My Own Little Corner” from Cinderella and “It Might as Well Be Spring” from State Fair.

The ballet. Carousel, Oklahoma! and Flower Drum Song have dreamy ballets. The one in Oklahoma! is particularly important to the plot, as it helps Laurey realize the extent of the danger she is in from Jud’s abuse.

Careful, awkward wording. A character is put in an awkward situation where they must word their requests very carefully. In South Pacific, Nellie is set the task of asking Emile why he killed a man. This is a red flag in the mission the US army has in mind for him, and they need to be sure he is trustworthy. But for Nellie, who has feelings for Emile, she doesn’t want to damage their relationship, and she can’t reveal why she is asking. In The King & I, Anna must give the King advice without seeming to. She resorts to “guessing” what the King is going to do, thus preventing an international incident. In Cinderella, the title character tells her stepfamily about the “Lovely Night” she just had at the ball, but can’t reveal that she was actually there. So she acts like she’s dreaming about how it would have been had she gone.

Singing about the location of the musical. Oklahoma! has an enthusiastic song about the virtues of their territory that will soon be “a brand new state!” State Fair has a similarly enthusiastic song about “All I Owe Ioway.” In both of these examples, they spell out the name of their state/territory in the song. When State Fair was revamped and reset in Texas, “All I Owe Ioway” was replaced with “The Little Things in Texas.” The similar tribute in The Sound of Music doesn’t mention Austria by name, but “Edelweiss” does ask to “bless my homeland forever.” Flower Drum Song gets very specific with its song about “Grant Avenue, San Francisco, California, USA!”

The smaller story within the story. Characters tell a story. Sometimes they reenact it. Tuptim composes a play called Small House of Uncle Thomas, based on the classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in The King & I. Maria and the children sing the story of “The Lonely Goatherd” (using marionettes in the movie, but not in the stage version) in The Sound of Music. We learn (very briefly) about “Fan Tan Fanny” in Flower Drum Song.

The big dance. This is different from the ballet. It is much more enthusiastic, and is accompanied by a song sung partially or entirely by the full company. I’m talking “The Farmer and the Cowman” (Oklahoma!) “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” (State Fair), and others

The finale. No matter the subject matter, the title of the song must be “Finale Ultimo.” While not necessary, it is a good idea to have the audience incredibly moved at this point. They could be grieving a lost main character. Maybe the wedding was just that powerful. It could be any variety of reasons.

I hope this gets your creative juices going, and I look forward to seeing everyone’s Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals on Broadway someday!

Steven Sauke grew up watching Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. He has performed in two of them.

Should There be a Shrek 2 Musical

Photo by francescoch/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by francescoch/iStock / Getty Images

Taylor Lockhart
After writing my Top 10 Disney Properties that should have a stage adaptation, I decided I wanted to do one for one of their largest rivals, Dreamworks. However, in the process, I found only a handful of dreamworks musicals I thought could ever actually do well as a stage adaptation. One was obviously the Prince of Egypt and another, El Dorado, but because I’ve never actually seen those I wasn’t comfortable talking fond of them. I set apart my ironic side and realized that The Bee Musical is not a good idea and while How to Train Your Dragon might make for a fun puppet-involved Lion King-esque show with cool viking music, that was really all I found. So I scrapped the idea and decided to write a thing about the Oompa Loompas from Willy Wonka...and after a bit of research I decided it was best to scrap that one too. So, it was back to the drawing board and wait. Wait. Hold on.

Since its broadway debut in 2008, Shrek the Musical has toured all around the world and continues to make boatloads of cash. It was recorded and then sold on dvd, if Shrek ten years later is still running strong, where is Shrek 2?

No, I mean yes, it’s generally a bad idea to make a sequel to a musical, but I believe Shrek 2 honestly could get a pass. It's one of those few movies that if you had to choose between it and the original you may just choose the sequel. I mean, its not like dreamworks to hold back from unnecessary sequels. (Though I will say HTTYD 2 is just as good if not better than the first and I need if just for the hilarity of it a Bee Movie 2. Also I will happily be sitting in my seat opening night to watch Shrek 5. Actually, sorry Dreamworks, I love your sequels and I love your company. Shrek is in my belief, the most important thing humanity has ever conceived  I hope we could clear up this misunderstanding, k, thanks.) Anyways, I tried to do some research to find if anyone has talked about this before or if without me knowing it, Shrek 2 The Musical was already performing somewhere and I would have to scrap this article as well. Luckily no, it is not and surprisingly no one was really talking about it. I did find on the Idea Wiki, a forum dedicated to ideas people have that will never come to fruition. It’s most depressing when some of the ideas are actually good, like (Hi, me again, the explanation voice strikes back. You see, I had planned to put an example of a good idea from the the Idea Wiki but after an hour of searching I could not find one and I realized I was spending too much time of what was essentially a dumb throw away joke, thanks for understanding and now back to your regularly scheduled article) Shrek 2 The Musical was definitely interesting with plans to perform in 9000 countries. Now I’ve never managed a broadway show before but I’d say that sounds just a bit ambitious. So no, there is no actual plans for a sequel to Shrek The Musical but you know what, I honestly do think there should be. Shrek 2 is an incredible film with enough substance and material to hold up incredibly well on broadway quite probably even better than the first. I mean I would go if solely to hear the Fairy Godmother rendition of “I Need a Hero” and because gosh darn it, for the second time around they can’t forget a full cast version of “All Star” by Smash Mouth again.

You know, we had fun here today. I got to talk about Shrek, you got to hear or, well, read my talk about Shrek, but did you all know that International Shrek Day is April 22nd, meaning you only have 8 months to prepare, that’s like no time at all. However do you know what’s before that is the 10 year anniversary of Shrek the Musical opening on broadway which is December 14th. Golly gee that means you only have 4 months till that. So dear readers, I challenge all of you on the 14th of September, October, and November to sit down on your couch pop some popcorn and watch the recorded production of Shrek and even try to sing along if you want. I won’t be doing that but on December 13th, or later, definitely around December 13th a day I am calling Shrek The Musical Eve, we will all watch Shrek films and spinoffs from 1:00pm on December 13th until 1:00 am on December 14th. It’s like Christmas but better! You can also post on All Things Broadway that you are doing the Shrek challenge by showing a picture of the title for the musical playing on your tv on the 14th of every month leading till december. Show your Shrek pride, I know I will and I’ll be putting little reminders in every one of my article leading up to the coveted ten year anniversary of Shrek The Musical so that you will too.

Welp that’s it. I’ll be honest I almost hit a blank this time, but after deciding to sell away 12 hours of my life to a green ogre which I seem to do a bit too often I managed to work it out, I really had a ton of ideas I thought would work out but one by one they each fell through. I promise though I have a few cool blog ideas coming up that aren’t about Shrek, so thank you for baring with me and through an article that came out to be a bit silly, but whoever said silly was bad? I am working on a serious, factual, research driven post though for sometime in the next month if that is more your forte.

Welp, Since this entire article is a shrine to Shrek The Musical, I figured I should probably give you a chance to see the show yourself, so welcome the return of the end segment that never actually went away, The Upcoming Productions! And this time, it’s completely unbiased, so there's none you’ll see in the article that are not in the spreadsheet. Use the spreadsheet  to add your production to this list so that people can come and see your production of Shrek The Musical.

Once again, I want to thank you all for reading my article, I generally put out two every month and other bloggers post their own stories and articles every monday and thursday right here. So stay tuned because if you don’t like me and my articles odds are you will probably like at least one of them. Have a great rest of the day and month and I will see you in a few weeks, goodbye.


Tell It Like It Is

 Darren Wildeman

How many times have you heard someone say something like, “we should acknowledge all shows on Broadway are in some way good; after all, they got to Broadway, so they have to be good. We shouldn’t talk down on any of them”. I’ve seen comments such as this and this type of narrative many times. People seem to think every show is somehow good in its own right and that people should be happy to just be seeing a show and they shouldn’t complain about it being bad or heavily criticize it. I’m not talking about straight up bashing a show, or saying it should close or things like that. That’s downright hateful. However, criticism of theatre and art as a whole is important. Moreover, it’s also important to acknowledge that no, not all shows are equal, not all shows are good, and some are downright dreadful. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that yes you can still like a bad show. Just because you like it doesn’t make it objectively good.


To discuss the first piece. Criticism is important. As I said, I’m not talking about hating on a show or saying things like “it should just close”. That’s just hateful and unnecessary. However, valid criticism of a show is important, I’ll even go so far as to say if there’s nothing to like about a show and it truly has no merits (yes these shows exist), it’s important to say just how bad it was with valid criticism.

If a show doesn’t get bad reviews, or get told it’s bad, then we won’t improve upon future shows. Of course, some critics write solely to flame shows and that isn’t right either. However, if we tell a bad show that it’s bad and it doesn’t sell tickets, we can look to that show as an example of what went wrong, and future producers, directors and other people involved in shows can learn and adjust their own productions. There really isn’t much room to coddle a bad show.

The attitude of “every show deserves love and is in its own merit good” is hurtful to actual good shows and simply not true. Are you really going to sit there and tell me that Amelie is equal to Hamilton? Even if you don’t like Hamilton you have to look at it from an objective standpoint. It checks off so many boxes of what largely constitutes a musical to be good. While Amelie checked off a lot of boxes of how not to put together a musical. As was later proved by the reviews and how quickly it closed. Not that a good show can’t be overlooked and close early because that certainly happens. However, when a show does close early you can usually find a reason; if not that the show was bad, maybe it didn’t advertise enough, maybe it didn’t have enough star power, etc. The point is you can usually find a reason. However, with a show like Amelie, the reason stares you right in the face. It has fun, but unsubstantial music and a book that drags its feet around every turn and is, for lack of a better term, pretty abysmal. To compare a show like this to Hamilton and insist that they somehow have the same merit and are on some level equal is a downright insult to the how innovative and objectively well-done Hamilton is. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t like Amelie. However, just because you like a show doesn’t make it good. You can like a bad show.

This is I think a very important point. I’ll say it again. You liking a show does NOT make it good. Sometimes the bad shows can still do something really well or have a personal appeal to you. I think for me Ghost is a really good example of this. I love the score, and it’s a fascinating story. However, from an objective standpoint, I see a slow-moving book, with songs that don’t move the plot and cause the entire show to stall at times. You see, I like the show as a whole but I’ll acknowledge where it was lacking. I can still look at it critically. My love for the show doesn’t blind me to how painstakingly bad it is in some places. It’s important to distinguish between your love for a show, and how good it is. In fact, it almost makes me mad how disappointing Ghost was at times because without the songs that stop the plot and choppy book it would have been a fantastic show. Instead we get a show that at times completely stops and fails. So rather than letting your love of a show blind you, I encourage you to study the show from an objective standpoint and see if you can find the criticisms that other people see in it. This doesn’t have to take away from your love of the show; however, theatre is always evolving and it’s important to figure out what does and doesn’t work for the purpose of future shows.

For example, up until Showboat and Oklahoma! a few years later, musical theatre was almost unrecognizable by today’s standards. The plots of shows back then were very simple. Back then, a musical was closer to being a cabaret with just a series of songs loosely tied by a simple plot. However, in the 20 years following Oklahoma! where the music told the story this soon became the new standard. Now if the music doesn’t move the plot that’s largely considered a bad thing.

There was also a time when musicals were almost expected to be happy. Oklahoma! dealt with heavier themes and a few years later we’d get another heavier show. Carousel, and then a few years after that South Pacific also, was an early show that dealt deal with dark or challenging themes, and in the years after would follow we would get West Side Story. In this stretch of years and in the years following darker themes in the theatre would become more and more popular. It would take some time but it would happen. Today we aren’t surprised when a show deals with suicide, mental illness, racism, sexism, or other heavy topics. These early shows and the ones that came after it into the 60s, 70s, and 80s helped this happen.

The point is that in both of these instances people found a way to improve theatre. Without criticism and analysis of theatre these changes wouldn’t have happened. If people just took the shows they liked and called them good enough we wouldn’t seen new or revolutionary shows. Without mistakes we’d have no corrections. If you can see what a show- even a show you like- has done poorly, you can also see where it could be improved. Not that you still can’t like that show, but if you can see where improvements can be made, then you can understand how theatre will evolve and it may also help you to appreciate future shows, or what a different show is trying to do. As a whole you can appreciate theatre on a whole other level if you can understand the criticism. It’ll help you to understand where other people are coming from and why a show is largely liked or disliked. Even if you don’t agree with liking or disliking the show it can be helpful to understand why other people do, and why a show is considered a revolution or a flop. Understanding what other people think can lead to further discussion and contribute to the changing shows, which if you think about it is a really cool thing to think about and realize; that your discussion can in some way, even if it’s just a very small way influence theatre. Whether someone sees what you say online for many people to see or you tell a friend who tells a friend and so on and so forth. Either way the word gets out and indirectly has some influence.

The fact that your opinion can have influence is a very cool thing, however, that’s also why it’s important to think about how you’re forming it and understanding what others say. The better you can state your case and fully form your opinion, the more productive your conversation will be. And I don’t think anyone will argue with having a productive discussion.


Hear Those Bells Ring: A Discussion on Hunchback of Notre Dame

Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by straannick/iStock / Getty Images

 Now, ok I hear you all saying, “Hey Taylor didn’t you just do an entire article about Disney?” and to that I say look at the official logo for the musical, not the movie logo. You will notice the standard Disney’s (Insert Animated Classic Here) is absent. Even though it uses the music from the Disney film, it technically is not a Disney Theatricals show in the same way of - Ok, who am I kidding. It totally is. Anyways, if you haven’t been able to tell by now, I love Disney and I love their musicals. The company may show up very frequently in my articles, but hey, they’re slowly taking over the world anyways, so just preparing you to worship your new overlords.

Oh yeah, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, let’s talk about that.

I guess, somehow it is possible that maybe people don’t even know in the slightest what Hunchback actually is, and that’s fair - some of us aren’t as fond of the Disney renaissance as others are. So for many the most popular example of Hunchback is the 1996 Disney movie, but that itself is based on the classic story by Victor Hugo (you know the guy who wrote Les Mis), which in America is known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but in France, the books origin and location it is better known as Notre Dame De Paris. Which for those who need to brush up on their French is...just the name of the Cathedral. Victor Hugo didn’t really care much for fancy titles. That book went on to inspire an opera, several movies (most notably a black and white one in the thirties that came to be used as a huge reference for the Disney movie, the two drawing many visual parallels), the not Disney version musical, (it actually looks really cool and I believe it’s being shown in theatres temporarily soon and you absolutely should go see it), and of course a Disney movie! The story behind the movie is actually really cool because the movie was made after Beauty and the Beast did extremely well on Broadway, and Disney wanted to make a movie specifically to later be able to be turned into a musical and well…

It didn’t go the best. You see the musical was first adapted in Germany under the name Der Glöckner Von Notre Dame, which didn’t adapt much from the 1996 movie, and it actually did really well, there was of course plan for an American adaptation but it took years and years to happen. This is most likely because of the new songs and much closer story to Hugo’s that made this story overall much different than the 1996 movie. The show ran at La Jolla Playhouse and looked as if it was Broadway bound but, in the end, Hunchback got no further than that and was soon placed into licensing territory.

Hunchback tells the story of Quasimodo, the son of Jehan Frollo who, after being cast from the cathedral and dying from disease, gives his son onto Claude Frollo to take care of. Frollo appoints the deformed boy as the bellringer of Notre Dame who, after many years of ringing the bells and only being in the company of statues and gargoyles and his master, wishes to see the world outside of the cathedral and out there among the citizens of Paris. Quasimodo gets his chance to during the Festival of Fools, the one day Romanies, or “gypsies” as they are called, can walk around without being subject to arrest. During this, Quasimodo is decided to be the ugliest man in Paris and crowned the King of Fool, where he is then whipped and mocked by the citizens. He is saved by Esmeralda who, without knowing that the citizens would react so harshly, encouraged Quasimodo to enter the contest. Quasimodo retreats back into the bell tower where Esmeralda runs after him. Phoebus, the captain of the guard. stops her upon entering, but eventually lets her go. She finds Quasimodo and the two share a moment on the top of the world. Frollo who has developed a deep lust for Esmeralda, begins to stalk her, vowing to either maker her love him or burn her at the stake, while Quasimodo has fallen in love with Esmeralda and views her as the one bit of heaven’s light in his cold dark world. Esmeralda is then tried as a witch and arrested. Phoebus defies Frollo and refuses to turn her in and the two flee to the cathedral where Quasimodo is ringing the bells to sound the alarm that Esmeralda is in danger. Phoebus is injured, and left there while Esmeralda goes to seek refuge. She gives Quasimodo a map he must decode to find her, and the two, after much trial and error and almost being hung for entering the court of miracles, find her and warn her than since Esmeralda has fled, Frollo has found the hideout and will attack at dawn. In reality, Frollo has not found the hideout but follows Phoebus and Quasimodo to where it is and arrests Esmeralda and Phoebus while Clopin, the king of the gypsies, manages to escape. Esmeralda imprisoned is cornered and assuaged by Frollo overcome with lust, and then she and Phoebus are granted to spend their last night together, as Quasimodo who is now chained up in the bell tower is hopeless and would rather be made of stone than screw up anything else. When Esmerelda is about to be burned at the stake though, Quasimodo changes his mind and breaks free in order to save her. He swings down to the pyre and fights off the guards declaring sanctuary and climbing back up to the bell tower with an unconscious Esmeralda. Clopin returns and frees Phoebus who both rally the citizens to fight after Frollo breaks the sacred laws of sanctuary that states no one can be arrested inside the holy place. Quasimodo dumps hot lead into the streets below moments after Frollo manages to bust down the doors and make it into the cathedral. He confronts Quasimodo at the tower as Esmeralda dies in his arms. Overcome with rage and grief, he throws Frollo over the edge of the tower to his death. Quasimodo then goes into the streets with Esmerelda where the people who once wanted her to die realize their mistake and paint their faces and distort themselves in order to sympathize with the poor boy. The cast then delivers the final epilogue that Quasimodo would go to die with Esmeralda before closing the show with the question they asked in the beginning, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?”

Now, I absolutely love Hunchback. I mean, makes sense really, I wouldn’t be covering it if I didn’t. I had the chance to see it at Thesfest 2 years ago and I have had the pleasure of being a part of it. The music is incredible and serves to drive forward the message and the overall dark tone of the story. It covers a variety of topics such as racism, disabilities, and class without ever focusing on one specifically.  It covers the age old theme of accepting and embracing others differences in a very meaningful and impactful way. And oh my god did I mention the music. It is absolutely amazing, I mean I love everything Alan Menken, but this is spot on. The lyrics are written by Stephen Schwartz and this duo is absolutely incredible. It leads to already amazing songs like “God Help the Outcasts” and “Out There” being outranked by songs like “Made Of Stone” and the incredible show stopping Act 1 Finale, “Esmeralda”. I mean the soundtrack absolutely deserves a listen and the story as you just saw is compelling, interesting, and very engaging.

So I love it, it’s gained quite a sense of popularity in community theatres and high school, and its many people's favorite musical despite never going on Broadway. So why didn’t it? Well a lot of people would think it’s because of its dark theme. I mean three of the five main characters die by the end so… but actually, it’s an entirely different reason. See, just about every musical has a gimmick and while most are visual, Hunchback’s is an entire choir of 15-30 people who provide background vocals to the songs. Believe me when I say the choir is what makes the show different from any other musical, and Disney said they just simply could not make the show work with the cast and that large of a choir. It’s a shame, but for very reason Hunchback is one of the coolest recent musicals is the same reason we may never see it on Broadway and subsequently never tour, but it, as I mentioned, found success regionally, and recently had a critically acclaimed deaf west version.

I would highly encourage you if you haven’t seen or listened to Hunchback before to give it a try. It is one of my favorite musicals I’ve seen and one of my favorites I have been a part of. This show is truly incredible and I encourage you to see for yourself exactly what makes a monster and what makes a man…

And you can, because once again it’s The Upcoming Production Segment, where I show you where in the world Hunchback is currently or about to play so you have the chance to see the show for yourself…

Stage Door Repertory Theatre in California from August 25th to September 22nd

The New Paradigm Theatre Company in Connecticut from August 18th to August 19th

Music Theatre of Denton in Texas from October 19th to October 28th

And I am starting a new thing this go around, if I missed any local production you would like to list go to this spreadsheet- and add your own. You can also view this list to find a production that may be closer to you!

....And that is all I have for you today. Thank out for reading and please keep checking back in on the blog. We release a new article every Monday and Thursday and they are all just as, if not more entertaining than this one. I hope you enjoyed reading and until next time, have a great week everyone and I will see you later in the month. Goodbye

Come From Away: Stories and Lessons of Those who Lived It

Steven Sauke

The news came as a shock. That morning, I was emerging from my room when my mom met me in the hallway. “Steven!” she said. I could hear in her voice that something serious had happened. I wondered if I was in trouble for some reason. Her voice trembling, she said, “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!”

Surely it must have been an accident. But what a catastrophic accident! We rushed into the living room and watched as they showed the horrifying footage on the news. Someone in a building near the Twin Towers called in to the news and told the anchors that they had seen it from their window. A plane had deliberately flown into the Tower. Deliberately? Who would do such a thing? It occurred to me that this was the “JFK” event of my generation, where everyone remembers where they were when they learned of it. I looked at my watch to take note of the date. September 11, 2001. I needn’t have bothered.

As we watched in horror, a second plane slammed into the other tower, causing a massive fireball. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Two planes crashing into two of the tallest buildings in New York within a few minutes of each other doesn’t just happen by accident. By this time it was getting time for me to start preparing for my work day, as Seattle is 3 hours behind New York due to time zones. I took a small radio into the bathroom to listen while I prepared and prayed desperately. The radio announcer related that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. We later learned that a fourth plane crashed in a field near Pittsburgh, as the passengers tackled the hijackers.

American Airlines Flight, over the North Atlantic

Meanwhile, an American Airlines plane was flying westbound over the Atlantic Ocean, en route from Paris to Dallas. Captain Beverley Bass got word on their air to air radio frequency that the towers had been hit, and New York airspace was closed. The airspace for the entire country was closed soon after. They knew then that they would need to divert to Canada, initially considering Toronto or Montreal. They then got word that a remote area would be wiser in case something happened, so they were ordered to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland.

Air France, over the North Atlantic

The plane bound from Paris to Newark suddenly dropped in elevation, and passenger Kevin Tuerff, accustomed to flying, looked up at the GPS map on the ceiling of their jumbo jet. He wondered why they were suddenly flying due north rather than due west. Were they flying to the North Pole?

Continental Airlines, over the Atlantic

The flight was bound from Gatwick, England to Houston, Texas. Diane was returning home from visiting her son Mike and his family, stationed in the US Air Force in the UK. On the same flight was an oil industry professional named Nick, whose business took him to Houston. Neither of them knew that tragedy would bring together two strangers from opposite sides of the ocean.

Gander, Newfoundland

Gander Academy French immersion teacher Diane Davis heard of the attacks that morning. She went home for lunch and watched live as the towers fell. She would return to school to teach that afternoon. Her colleagues asked her to help mobilize help, possibly preparing food, and she readily volunteered as a point person for staff. With a staff phone list in hand, she registered with the town of Gander, telling them she had about 50 names and could probably count on half of them helping out. They moved desks and set up computers in the front at three schools, starting with the local high school. By the time they got to Gander Academy, they had about 100 volunteers setting up. After being up for 72 hours straight, she was ordered home to rest. She slept three hours and went back to work. By that time, they had 770 people who needed help.

As the people of Gander prepared, so did the nearby towns of Appleton, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gambo. Six towns got ready to welcome thousands of people diverted to Newfoundland. Janice Young, a nurse from Lewisporte, worked 12-hour shifts to help people in need. Members of the local media, including Janice Goudie and Brian Mosher, would work tirelessly over the next few days, splitting their time between reporting the news and bringing aid to those who needed it.

“The world changed today, for the worse. Our flight from Paris to New York missed an international terrorist disaster in New York and Washington, DC. (Hijacked planes crashed into WTC & Pentagon. We’ve been sitting on our plane now for 12 hours (7 now on the ground). All we can do is wait patiently for news about the tragedy, for a place to try to talk to our families. We’ve been told we may have to sleep here overnight (on board). We are fortunate to be alive. Many on the plane cried when we heard the news. Everyone is shell-shocked. No one can imagine what is next regarding our national security. Who can we trust now? Will this heinous crime start a war? All we can do is pray. P.S. Just learned we will soon depart plane and perhaps spend night in school here. At least 30 planes here waiting with stranded passengers aboard.”

So wrote Kevin Tuerff on his in-flight menu, having landed at Gander Airport. He was travelling with his partner, also named Kevin. Very few people had working phones on the plane, though Tuerff was able to attempt making calls from a first-class seat that someone in first class graciously allowed him to use. He didn’t get through because most people in the US were calling each other to make sure everyone was all right. He finally got through to a friend in Amsterdam, who was able to fill him in on what he had heard on the news. He then went back to their seat and told everyone what he had found out. Between trying to call out, watching Shrek twice, and dealing with an upset passenger behind them (Kevin J. offered her some medication for her nerves, which she declined), they passed the long hours. Their plane was on the tarmac for 15 hours before they were finally allowed to deplane, one of the first of the 38 planes, containing a combined total of 6,579 passengers. They had to leave their checked luggage on the plane, so they were only allowed their carry-on items. So Kevin and Kevin had only their bags containing cameras, passports and two bottles of Grey Goose vodka that Kevin J. had managed to procure in Paris.

In his book Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11, Kevin relates what happened when they left the plane. Security at the airport was tight. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were stationed there. (As another character in the musical comments, “There were soldiers everywhere.”) They went through immigration and customs, and Kevin says, “And that’s when the first wave of unconditional love hit us: the terminal was filled with volunteers greeting us as we registered. It was like we had walked into a party!” The people of Gander had stepped up and provided help and food for their thousands of guests. People had homemade baked food, chicken from KFC, and everything in between. Kevin managed to find a pay phone and call his parents, but had to go, as his ride was there. He watched people at the airport put “Out of Order” signs on the phones so they could get people to the places they were to stay.

Captain Bass’s plane deplaned early the morning of September 12, having been on the plane for 28 hours. She tells me that they “walked into the terminal building in Gander. I was shocked to see all of the food that had been prepared for the nearly 7k passengers and crew members. It was evident the folks of Gander and the surrounding communities had stayed up all night preparing and cooking for all of us. It was so heartwarming. During our 5 days there nearly 285,000 meals were served to the come from aways…as they call folks who are not from Newfoundland.”

The come from aways were housed all over Gander and the surrounding communities. Beverley Bass and her crew stayed at Gander’s Comfort Inn. She mainly stayed put at the inn, as she did not have a cell phone at the time and she needed to know right away if they were ready to leave. Kevin and Kevin were among a large group housed at the College of the North Atlantic. A Ganderite teenager gave them an air mattress, and it deflated the first night. The Society of United Fishermen Hall in nearby Gambo welcomed Nick, Diane, and the other passengers from their plane. Janice Young of Lewisporte hosted a couple British women in her home and helped out at a local church. Gander resident Beulah Cooper aided passengers from an Irish Aer Lingus flight, and filled four rooms of her house with passengers. The people of Newfoundland welcomed strangers into their schools, churches, businesses and homes with open arms. As Mayor Claude Elliott points out in his foreword to Kevin Tuerff’s Channel of Peace, they came from over three dozen countries. (Kevin tells me there were people from more than 90 countries.)

Among the passengers on the Aer Lingus flight was a couple named Dennis and Hannah O’Rourke, returning to New York from visiting Ireland. Beulah Cooper helped them as they desperately attempted to contact their son Kevin, a firefighter back home in New York. She developed a friendship with Hannah, which would be invaluable later when the O’Rourkes arrived home and found that their son didn’t make it. His name is inscribed on the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero:

Photo by Jodi Parks Disario. Used with permission.

Photo by Jodi Parks Disario. Used with permission.

Diane Davis tells me, “As one of hundreds who helped at the school, I fell into an organizational role. I helped with general information in the office of the school for passengers. Like others, I helped passengers make international phone calls, I did announcements and took notes for Captain Burgess when he met his flight. I organized bulletin boards for communication for each flight and helped to answer questions. Other teachers organized food and clothing. Some planned games and activities for children. Some took people home for showers, to sleep, or for laundry. We did not do things that were out of our skill set or extraordinary. We did the same thing we would do for anyone needing help. What is remarkable is how many need help and how many came to give it in the most basic of ways. Food, clothing, a drive somewhere, use of a phone.”

Kevin Tuerff relates that wherever they went in Gander, strangers stopped and offered to drive them to their destination. Others had similar experiences.

Stop the World!

On September 13, as Nick and Diane had been getting acquainted, they decided to take a gander (pun intended) at the nearby Dover Fault. Nick brought his camera, which he pulled out at the lookout. Diane suggested getting out of the way so he could photograph the beautiful scenery, but she didn’t realize that he was more interested in her than the scenery. With this single photograph, he “stopped the world” and preserved a memory that would be a turning point in their lives:

Photo by Nick Marson. Used with Permssion

Photo by Nick Marson. Used with Permssion

They would return a year later, on their honeymoon, and again in 2017 when the town of Dover updated the plaque at the lookout with their story:

Photos by Nick and Diane Marson. Used with permission.

“What Was That Ungodly Screech?!”

During that time, some of the come from aways were “screeched in.” Kevin Tuerff would not have this privilege until 2011 at the 10-year celebration, and his (now former) partner would be screeched in later. The musical explained some of the background behind the Screech In ceremony, but I was still curious about it and asked Diane Davis. She tells me, “The Screech In had many variations. A Google search will get you some info but the Screech is a rum based drink that harkens back to when our salt fish was shipped to Jamaica and the ships came back with rum and molasses. It’s a bit of fun and when well done, it’s a good laugh. Kissing the cod is perhaps similar to the effort it takes to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland. You really need to want it bad to do it. I love the Screech In song. Another song of the musical genius of Sankoff and Hein. Folks will be thinking it’s a traditional song.”

Departure, Tributes and Reflection

After five days in Newfoundland, the planes were finally allowed to leave. Kevin’s Air France flight returned to France, and they found themselves stranded once again, this time in Paris. At the airport, they witnessed a deeply moving show of support there and on the TVs as Europe came to a standstill, cars stopping on the road and people getting out of their cars to observe a moment of silence for the people of America. Europeans stopped what they were doing and stood at attention as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.

For Diane Davis, “The most moving experience for me was helping to count money from a donation box to put it in the school safe. We were exhausted and my vice principal and I began to cry. There were so many denominations from 4 aircrafts that we had to sort it by colour first to try to recognize currencies. There were 2 personal cheques for 1000 made to Gander Academy. When I see the scene of the collection on the aircraft and the passenger writes a cheque, I cry. We were overwhelmed with the gratitude of passengers. I still am by the hugs from strangers.”

A grateful American businessman welcomed by the town of Lewisporte took up a collection to fund scholarships for students there. It lasted for years, and both of Janice Young’s daughters benefitted from it.

Come From Away

Years later, the 10-year celebration and the musical Come From Away would serve to bring many people together. Mayor Claude Elliott met Kevin Tuerff at the celebration. Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis met when they learned that they had been combined into a single character named Beulah Davis for the musical. (They laughed about having never met before that.) Sankoff and Hein combined reporters Janice Goudie of the Gander Beacon newspaper and Brian Mosher of Rogers Cable into one person named Janice Mosher.

Kevin Tuerff finds the song “Prayer” from the musical particularly moving. He tells me that the “Most moving part of Come From Away for me is the song, “Prayer”, based in part on the Christian hymn “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”  I’d always loved that hymn. It had played in my head for days after 9/11, and was sometimes the only consolation when I would see the continuous loop of TV footage of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Its lyrics were on my heart when I attended Mass at Notre Dame in Paris on September 16th, 2001. The first time I heard it, I immediately started crying. I never remembered telling the writers about this, Air France lied to us, saying we would leave Gander for New York, but instead they flew us back to Paris. We should’ve just stayed with the kind people in Gander!”

I must say I concur with his assessment of the song. The first time I heard it, I was in tears. I love the combined Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu prayers, in addition to multiple languages in one song, all praying for the same thing: Peace (Shalom in Hebrew, Shaantih in Hindi) and praise to God (Allah in Arabic).


Kevin founded an environmental marketing firm called EnviroMedia in 1997, and after his experiences in Gander, he started a new initiative called Pay It Forward 9/11. You can learn more about it at Basically, as described in the musical, every year on 9/11, he distributes $100 to groups of his employees and sends them out to do random good deeds for strangers. In this way he hopes to remember the horrific acts of 9/11 and the incredible selfless outpouring of love he was shown by strangers in Gander. He describes some of the truly moving deeds his employees have done in his book. In this way he hopes to combat xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia and racism and replace them with compassion. He calls it a “jump start to the heart.” I highly recommend ordering his book Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11 on Amazon. I now own it in audiobook form (read by the author), as well as Kindle and the physical book. In addition to his story in Gander, and that of many of the others mentioned in the musical, he includes practical tips about how you can do good deeds for strangers. (You can also view the tips on the website for free.) It doesn’t have to be expensive, but he has seen lives changed for the better by some of the simple acts performed.

Similarly, since her retirement from teaching, Diane Davis has been instrumental in helping displaced Syrian refugees in Gander. Kevin Tuerff recently moved to New York so he can help his church to welcome immigrants and refugees there. Beverley Bass enjoys picking up the tab for first responders and others at restaurants. She paid airfare for the family of a member of Come from Away’s band when their homes in Dominica were destroyed in Hurricane Maria. Last summer she took her family to Newfoundland and personally thanked every mayor of every town that helped out. According to Nick and Diane Marson, “It has renewed our faith in humanity and given us a new family. It certainly changed Nick’s life, he threw his life up in the air, moved to Texas and married Diane. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t!”

Accuracy and Repeat Viewings

One thing I asked everyone I interviewed was how accurate their characters were represented in the musical Come From Away. The consensus was that they were very accurate. As mentioned above, some characters were combinations of two people. Kevin Tuerff told me that “The Kevins” actually lived in Austin, Texas rather than Los Angeles. Sankoff and Hein made this change so that they wouldn’t have “too many Texans” in the musical. (He also mentions in his book that they did not go to the Legion for a drink while stranded in Gander, and they were not Screeched In until years later). Nick and Diane Marson pointed out that they made some minor changes to put everyone in one airplane and one shelter. Beverley Bass is deeply impressed with the way she is portrayed. She tells me that Jenn Colella is an ideal actress to play her. “First of all, she is adorable and has the most amazing voice. She belts out ‘Me and the Sky’ which is my aviation life compacted into a 4:19 second solo, the only solo in the show. Her body language and everything is just the way that I am. We both have similar haircuts and she used to have blonde hair like me, but has decided to let it go natural and is no longer blonde.” Diane Davis tells me that she personally observed most of what happened in the musical, and it brings back the memories of those events actually happening.

Another thing I asked everyone was how many times they have seen the musical. I believe Beverley Bass holds the record at 106 times as of the time she responded to my questions. Diane Davis hasn’t counted, but she believes it has been at least a dozen times, in Gander, Toronto, New York City and Winnipeg. It makes her cry every time. Kevin Tuerff recently attended his 26th performance over the course of five years, with his nephew and an African friend who was recently granted asylum in the US. Nick and Diane Marson are at second place among the people I interviewed, at 75 times in six cities and two countries. They tell me it is rewarding to show people who are older and yet have not found their “special someone” that there is still hope. Nick and Diane were “both into middle age, not 20 somethings” when they met. They also feel it is like renewing their vows every time they see the musical

Relating to Come From Away

One thing I love about Come From Away is how much I can identify with it. I grew up in the Philippines, but I currently live in the Seattle area. I have also lived in Hong Kong and Montana. Having lived on opposite sides of the Pacific, I often feel like a come from away wherever I go. (“Where are you from?” is a complicated question for me.) In addition, I distinctly remember the events of 9/11. I remember the uncertainty of what would happen. That horrible morning, the hits kept coming. A plane hit one tower. A plane hit the other tower. A plane hit the Pentagon. A plane likely bound for the White House crashed in a field near Pittsburgh. Where would the next plane hit? After I got to work in a Seattle highrise that morning, I wondered if it would hit our building. Would a plane crash into the Space Needle? Our employer gave us the option of going home just in case. I decided that, worst case scenario, a plane would hit our building, and I would be killed and go to heaven. Heaven didn’t sound so bad right then. When I listened to the cast recording of the musical years later, it brought back those memories and left me in tears.

With that in mind, I also asked everyone if there was a way they could relate to the musical like I could.

Diane Davis shared that “9/11 was the hardest I worked ever to do something good, to volunteer, to be a contributing citizen. I am also on Gander Refugee Outreach Committee now and the time and energy involved in welcoming 4 Syrian families to Gander has renewed and polished all those citizen skills. Part of teaching our families was telling them the story of 9/11 and again, David and Irene selected stories that emphasize inclusion, compassion, empathy and community. For me though, the memory that always strikes me is the passengers seeing it on TV for the first time and when I see it on stage I cry. It’s the sense of helplessness, no matter how willing we were, that there was nothing we could do to make this not true or better.”

Nick and Diane Marson tell me, “As we travel to other cities where the show opens, and meet so many new people, we feel like we still are come from aways. One of our favorite aspects of the show is meeting new people and sharing stories with them.”

Kevin Tuerff says, “As a gay Catholic, I know what it’s like to be marginalized. When I see the scene when the Muslim man (Ali) is scared because of how others are treating him simply because of his religion, it makes me sad. No doubt there was tremendous anxiety about who was a terrorist because the ones who hijacked the planes came from Muslim countries. But they were extremists who disobeyed their own religion. Virtually every religion in the world has one common teaching: The Golden Rule­–Treat others as you want to be treated. I hope as Come From Away goes on tour around the world, people are reminded of this, and take their experience in the theater and incorporate it into their daily lives.”

Tips for Visiting Newfoundland

Another question I asked everyone was where they would recommend going when visiting Newfoundland.

In addition to Gander, Beverley Bass recommends visiting Gambo and Lewisporte, as well as the other “adorable little towns” in the area. As far as restaurants in Gander, she recommends Bistro on the Roe, Rosie’s, and The Gander Bread Box Bakery & Café. “Everyone is so incredibly nice that you really never want to leave.”

Diane Davis says, “There is a Beyond Words bus tour that will take visitors to the various sites around Gander and does a great job of telling Gander’s 9/11 and aviation history. I like to make sure people see Gander Heritage Memorial Park and read some of the letters at the town hall in Gander. I also recommend the Peace Park in Appleton and visiting all the town halls in the communities where passengers were housed. Gander, Appleton, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and Gambo. Everyone should visit the Dover Fault and sing “Stop the World” too.”

Kevin Tuerff says, “The best place to start a tour of Gander is at the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. They offer a seasons tour of the Gander International airport and several scenes in Come From Away called Beyond Words. I recently took a self-driving tour of other beautiful town across Newfoundland from Maxxim Vacations, called the Come From Away Experience. The island has absolutely stunning beauty and remarkably kind people.”

Nick and Diane Marson have a rather unsurprising yet exciting suggestion: “Do we ever! Of course we like to see our Newfie families, but ….   Our visit to Dover Fault on Sept. 13th, 2001 highlighted the budding feelings between us…Nick wanted a photo of Diane, not the beautiful scenery, so that meant he was as interested in me as I was in him...  It is the “Stop the world” moment in our lives and is portrayed as such in the play.”

Go See Come From Away!

Come From Away is currently playing on Broadway and Toronto. The musical is kicking off its national tour in Seattle in October. (I can’t wait!) The tour is currently slated for Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Costa Mesa, Las Vegas, Portland (Oregon), Vancouver (British Columbia), Edmonton, Calgary, Omaha, Appleton (Wisconsin), Pittsburgh, Greenville, Baltimore, Hartford, Milwaukee, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago and Ottawa. The show also opens in Melbourne, Australia in July 2019. Tickets are now on sale for the Dublin production, and it runs in London starting January 20, 2019. Tickets are now on sale there as well.

The show lasts 100 minutes, and there is no intermission. It is recommended for ages 10 and up.

You can get more information on the musical’s website, I also highly recommend visiting for ways you can help spread the kindness that the people of Newfoundland showed to strangers.