Theatre

ATB Reviews the Tonys

Collective Article, Put Together by Sabrina Wallace

James Corden As Host

By Amelia Brooker

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

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

 

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

 

 A Non-theatre Nerd Response to the 2019 Tony Awards

By Elizabeth Bergmann

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

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

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

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

“That’s a lot of Temptations.”

“Since when is Scout Finch an adult?”

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

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

“That’s Neil from White Collar?”

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

“Ooh, I’m glad Bob Mackie won!”

“Catherine O’Hara was in Beetlejuice?”

“Oh, Ado Annie won! That’s exciting!”

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

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

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

“What’s this play about?”

“What’s this musical about?”

“MRS. MAISEL IS BLONDE?”

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

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

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

 

A Night At The Tonys

By Sabrina Wallace 


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

THE PROM at the Gala

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

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

 

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

 

Finally ….

 

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

By David Culliton

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you for reading!!

 

 

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

 

 

 

A History of the Tony Awards

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

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A “Nicely Nicely” Place To Start

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



Street Gangs vs Marching Bands

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



A Bloody Brilliant Breakthrough

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



Broadway's Biggest Battle

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



The Worst Tony Awards Ever

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



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



Ready set Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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






How to Succeed in Performing Without Really Trying

Elizabeth Bergmann

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

 

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

 

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

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

 


What do I do to get ready for auditions?

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

 

What do I do once I get to auditions?

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

 

What happens after auditions?

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

 

What should I do in rehearsals?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

What should I expect from performances?

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

 

What happens when the show ends?

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

 

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

The Bloggers Vote on the 73rd Tony Awards

Collective Blog; Put together by Darren Wildeman and Erica Jurus

2019 Blogger Tony Awards

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

Tony_Award_Medallion.jpg


Best Orchestrations Nominees

Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown

Simon Hale, Tootsie

Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate

Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!

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

 

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


Best Choreography Nominees

Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy

Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

Denis Jones, Tootsie

David Neumann, Hadestown

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

 

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

 

Sound Design of a Musical Nominees

Peter Hylenski, King Kong

Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice

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

Drew Levy, Oklahoma!

Neil Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown

 

And the bloggers voted: Peter Hylenski, King Kong

 

Sound Design of a Play Nominees

Adam Cork, Ink

Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird

Fitz Patton, Choir Boy

Nick Powell, The Ferryman

Eric Sleichim, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Eric Sleichim, Network

 

Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Kevin Adams, The Cher Show

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

Bradley King, Hadestown

Peter Mumford, King Kong

Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

 

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

 

Lighting Design of a Play Nominees

Neil Austin, Ink

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

Peter Mumford, The Ferryman

Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network

 

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

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Michael Krass, Hadestown

William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

William Ivey Long, Tootsie

Bob Mackie, The Cher Show

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

 

And the bloggers voted: William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

 

Best Costume Design of a Play Nominees

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Clint Ramos, Torch Song

Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Adronicus

 

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

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

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

Peter England, King Kong

Rachel Hauck, Hadestown

Laura Jellineck, Oklahoma!

David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

And the bloggers voted: David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

Best Scenic Design of a Play Nominees

Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird

Bunny Christie, Ink

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Jan Versweyveld, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Rob Howell, The Ferryman

 

Best Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Lilli Cooper, Tootsie

Amber Gray, Hadestown

Sarah Stiles, Tootsie

Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Mary Testa, Oklahoma!

 

And the bloggers voted: Amber Gray, Hadestown

 

Best Featured Actress in a Play Nominees

Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman

Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Ruth Wilson, King Lear

 

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

 

Best Featured Actor in a Play Nominees

Bertie Carvel, Ink

Robin de Jesus, The Boys in the Band

Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

Benjamin Walker, All My Sons

 

And the bloggers voted: Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

 

Best Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Andre De Shields, Hadestown

Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie

Patrick Page, Hadestown

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

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

 

And the bloggers voted: Patrick Page, Hadestown

 

Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominees

Annette Bening, All My Sons

Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery

Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton

Heide Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me

 

And the bloggers voted: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

 

Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom

Beth Leavel, The Prom

Eva Noblezada, Hadestown

Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate

 

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

 

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Nominees

Paddy Considine, The Ferryman

Bryan Cranston, Network

Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

Adam Driver, Burn This

Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy

 

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

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Nominees

Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom

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

Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice

Damon Daunno, Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!

Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

And the bloggers voted: Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

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

 

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

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

 

And the bloggers voted: Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

And the bloggers voted: Torch Song

 

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

 

And the bloggers voted: Kiss Me, Kate

 

 

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

 

And the bloggers voted: The Ferryman

 

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

 

And the bloggers voted: Hadestown

 

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


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

Where Are the Teenagers?

Rachel Hoffman

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



To the Unrecognized Theatre Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.

 

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

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

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

Overrated/Underrated

Zachary Harris
A part of being in the All Things Broadway Facebook group is seeing particular topics rehashed at a much higher percentage than others. Need a thread about bootlegs? Oh, we’ve seen plenty. Race/Gender/Inequality? Another hot button topic. Did I say bootlegs? Race? DID WE TALK ABOUT BOOTLEGS? Sarcasm aside, the introduction of new faces and perspectives in a continuously growing group is a blessing. Ranging from industry professionals to people who have just discovered Broadway and want to discuss their newfound love with thousands of people, there are SO many things to be discussed (especially when it comes to an artform we all adore).

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That being said, there is a particular conversation that happens ad nauseum – “What’s your favorite underrated musical?” or “Most overrated show?” This is posted multiple times a week, and while I’ve mentioned above that this sort of active conversation is wonderful… I’m about to sound Grumpyä. This particular conversation absolutely blows my mind, mostly because of the premise that it is based on. The idea of underrated and overrated then denotes or implies that there is some sort of adjudication or rating system involved with the arts. What I mean by this is that, for example, in most competitions there is some sort of grading systems that are palpable. Broadway, Broadway shows, The Tony Awards, and other large regional awards are not subjected to such a standard in judging. This art in whole is absolutely subjective. There are plenty of INCREDIBLE productions/shows that don’t last long on Broadway, that don’t win a ton of Tony Awards, and don’t make the stupefying amounts of money that some of the other shows do. This does not worsen the quality of the work or the performances or adjudicate the art presented to us, the audience. Is Avenue Q not a good show because it beat Broadway megahit Wicked? No. Why did it beat it? Who knows, and while we can all put up some mightily high amounts of conjecture out about why it did or did not deserve such an award, it’s all subjective. At the end of the day, regardless of if you love or hate a show, its success on Broadway does not then adjudicate the work. Even if I love Ragtime so much, I know people who hate it. Heck, it didn’t even win Best Musical that year at the Tony Awards! Does that make Ragtime less beautiful? No. Does that then make the performances any less iconic? No.

 

You could then say that the success of musicals is the “rating system” of the art, but then how does that factor in the terrible productions of beautiful source material? Beautiful productions of shitty source material? Commercialism and supposed greatness of musicals aren’t really correlated. Are some of the longest running shows hypothetically/subjectively the “best” in the history of theatre? I certainly think so. Under what system do we then hold that infallible? Those categories are already very defined entities. If something made $10 and another thing made $5, the thing (or show) that made $10 objectively made more money. If a show ran for 4852703945872 shows, and another closed on opening night… the former objectively had a longer run (and probably made more money while we are at it). If I like score A more than score B… that doesn’t really objectively mean anything. My personal interests in the score can be coming from a lot of experiences, including but not limited to my upbringing, biases towards certain instrumentation, and so much more. How does any of that make one show better than another, in an objective sense? How does that then create a ranking that is the standard? Well, it doesn’t.

 

At the end of the day, the conversation I think that the people are attempting to have is “What musical do you think is underappreciated? Which of these do you enjoy the most?” All of that is absolutely subjective (to a damn point, let’s not try to explain how Hamilton is underappreciated), and no one would blame you for your opinion.

 

 

The Power of Song

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Sabrina Wallace

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a panel at a SXSW event where two master storytellers spoke candidly about their craft. Their stories inspired me to take a deeper look at the geniuses behind some of my favorite musicals. Today, I’m writing about lyricists in honor of the power couple that, on a very cold Tuesday night in Austin, TX, blew my mind with the most passionate conversation about the power of storytelling through songs. Their combined repertoire includes some of the most provoking songs I had the pleasure to watch perform on stage and they stand among many other writers that unequivocally master the power of the song. 

 A good musical revolves around a main story, a concept that drives the entire book, the songs, the choreography, and everything else you see on stage. It is important that the songs carry the arc of the characters and pull the audience into a transformational journey that accompanies the characters’ evolution throughout the show. For a moment, close your eyes and go back to that theatre where you saw your favorite musical for the first time. Put aside the flashy choreography, the period-appropriate costumes, the intricate set designs and focus on the lyrics alone. Think about how they made you feel, how they affected you personally. Place a hand over your heart and feel it pounding inside you, beating to the tune of the music, racing at the sound of the lyrics that touched your soul. I find myself doing that often, smiling at the memory of a beautiful song or drying up a tear or two more times that I can count. That is the power of the song.

 Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites. 

 Engaging lyrics make us all part of the story. In “All Grown Up” (Bare), Ivy’s cry for help is heartbreaking and emotional. One can only imagine being a seventeen-year-old, whose life is about to be forever changed with an unwanted pregnancy, “dream a dream and end another. Life is there to interrupt. Someone out there tell my mother. Look at me I’m all grown up!”. A lot of songs in this show are emotional but carrying the child of a man that doesn’t love you back clicked with me. Life is about choices, good and bad. Musicals project such reality on stage and convey it through songs like those in Bare

 Even the most hilarious musicals (or dark comedies) have a message for the audience. It is with lyrics like “Seventeen” (Heathers The Musical) that we see hope in the eyes of a teenager with a dark soul, ”fine, we’re damaged, really damaged but that does not make us wise. We’re not special, we’re not different, we don’t choose who lives or dies. Let’s be normal, see bad movies, sneak a beer and watch tv … Can we be seventeen?” This song tells us that even in the darkest of souls, there is recognition of humanity and a ray of hope for the rest of us.

 The lyrics of "He’s My Boy” (Everybody’s talking about Jamie) convey the unconditional love and understanding of a mother for her son, a connection so deep that it overcomes the challenges of single motherhood and embraces, without question, the uniqueness of a child. This song suggests to the audience in a very subtle way, that no matter what happens, Jamie is going to be ok because he has the support of this mother. What mother of a teen hasn’t said at one point or another, “he’s clueless, he’s clever, confusing, whatever. But oh boy, he’s my voice, he’s my chance, he’s my smile, he’s my day, he’s my life! He’s my pain, he’s my joy, he’s my baby, he’s my man, he’s my boy” ? It’s ok to shed a tear, I do it every time! 

 Musicals are capable of exposing us for who we are as human beings while allowing us to embrace our differences and overcome our flaws. The humanity of our imperfections connects us to each other. “Waitress” is a musical with plenty of flaws and a controversial storyline. As a married woman, I don’t find the love story between the doctor and the Jenna to be very appealing. It is hard to accept Jenna’s life choices until she reveals her little secret in the song “She Used to be Mine”. With those beautiful words, she accepts her imperfections, her fears, her pains and in return, we can accept her for who she really is and we can finally connect with her humanity, “she’s imperfect but she tries, she is good but she lies, she is hard on herself. She is broken and won't ask for help. She is messy but she's kind. She is lonely most of the time. She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie. She is gone but she used to be mine.” We are all broken in our own way, we just cope with our reality in different ways. 

Lyrics carry the plot in a musical, they set the tone and the pace in which the characters tell the story. There is a pivotal moment in a musical where the lead character has to take ownership of her or his destiny. A true lead character doesn’t let things happen to him/her but rather drives the change. In the new musical THE PROM, Emma seems like a very passive character letting things happen to her. She faces the criticism of her classmates and the PTA alone because her girlfriend doesn’t want people to know about their relationship. She lets the Broadway stars butt into her life and push her into doing something she is not comfortable with. There is a moment when everything changes and she takes charge of her destiny. She is sitting in her room and decides to do things “her own way”. The lyrics of “Unruly Heart” make it happen with words like And nobody out there ever gets to define, the life I meant to lead with this unruly heart of mine!”. We know in that moment, that no matter how hard life is going to be for this beautiful girl, she is going to be ok because she has the inner strength that gives her and all of us hope.

 

During the panel at SXSW, Laurence O’Keefe said something that caught my attention, "The best musicals have three tenets that engage the audience: a love story, a powerful message of change, survival, or overcoming adversity, and finally a story that starts on earth and ends in the Heavens.” As i look back at some of my favorite musicals, I can see it. The love story, the powerful message, and the feeling that life is about experiences, connections, and the beauty of being human with flaws, hopes, and a huge heart.

 

What are your favorite lyrics and why?

An ode to the lyricists: Bare: A Pop Opera. Lyrics by Jon Hartmere Jr. Heathers, The Musical. Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe; Kevin Murphy Everybody Is Talking About Jamie. Lyrics by Tom MacRae Waitress. Lyrics by Sara Bareilles The Prom. Lyrics by Chad Beguelin

 

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.)


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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.)

My (Not so Good) Thoughts on Community Theatre

Jyothi Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Similar Musicals; Different Successes: The Music Man vs 110 In the Shade

David Culliton

The following is a transcript of a surreptitiously recorded dialogue between rainmaker Bill Starbuck and music man Harold Hill in no particular place during no particular time.

Joan_Weldon-Forrest_Tucker_in_The_Music_Man.jpg


Starbuck: Say, ain’t you that fellow who became a music man for a little town in Iowa without knowing a lick of music?

Hill: That certainly sounds like me! Professor Harold Hill at your service, my friend. Who might you be?

S: The name’s Starbuck, Bill Starbuck. I’m a rainmaker, ending droughts and bringing that sweet water from the sky for only $100 per location!

H: Truly a pleasure, sir. Can’t say I’ve ever met a rainmaker before.

S: Oh no, sir, we’re a rare breed. Though I reckon you might be more familiar with my way of business. We may be of vastly different professions, Mr. Hill, but something tells me we’re in the same line of work. Or at least were, ‘till you settled down with that sweet little librarian.

H: Ohhhh a con man, then! Perhaps I have—

S: I ain’t never said that, my friend.

[Transcription note: a brief pause in the audio followed by a slight chuckle from Hill seems to indicate a wink from Starbuck after his ostensibly coy rebuttal of that label]

H: Oh, yes, you must excuse me, my tongue has the nastiest habit of slipping on occasion.

S: [laughing] Oh it’s quite alright.

H: Now how can it be that I’ve never heard of a man of such unique talents as yourself?

S: You tell me. I’ve had my story told a few times; some northern theaters thought it would be a keen idea to bring my tale to the stage set to some quaint music. I always enjoyed the little show they wrote about me. Now keep in mind, I got a brother with the voice of an angel, so you best believe I grew up with an appreciation for the musical arts; this ain’t no untrained ear’s opinion…

H: I seem to be the king of untrained ears, my friend, I’ll trust your judgment.

S: Well, they gave me some mighty fine songs, some good ones too to the wonderful spinster I met in the southwest, and to her family, too! The script they wrote is nice and simple, accurate to how it all happened, some good performers have been in it over the years, and yet with all that, the good people of the world barely know my name!

H: Fascinating! Now what is this theatrical piece of yours called?

S: 110 in the Shade. Damn accurate title, too. The town I was in when that story of my life took place was about as hot as could be, on account of the drought I had rode in to cure. There was actually a non-musical play about that same story of mine BEFORE my musical, called The Rainmaker, but even fewer people done heard o’ that one.

H: How truly ignorant of them! You know, I’ve had my own stories told in a similar medium…

S: Oh I know, it’s how I heard o’ you in the first place! The Music Man, one of the most popular musicals of all time.

H: [chuckling] Very good! Yes, truly an honor to have such a wonderful piece written about me, and to have it reach such success! It’s won awards, been seen by millions, even brought to the cinema a couple of times.

S: Must be nice…

H: Oh well, yes, don’t mean to brag, another one of those bad habits of mine.

S: Hey, we all got our vices.

H: I thank you for understanding, friend. But you must understand, it is nice to have such a legacy!

S: Well naturally; it’s what we all want from life, really.

H: Exactly! And mine is quite rewarding. When my story was first put on stage, it was heralded as a veritable modern masterpiece! People called it funny and inventive, comparing it to some other popular theatrical piece about gamblers or something.

S: No kidding!

H: You wish I were. I’m telling you, this musical play had everything! I was portrayed by some dashing fellow called Preston, my lovely wife by a gifted soprano whom I believe was named Barbara Cook; she even won an award for it!

S: For playing your wife?

H: Only she!

S: Hell of a world we live in…

H: Well that’s not even the best part! The whole piece itself won some sort of huge award that only the best of the best of these kinds of things do. Erhm… did yours win an award like that?

S: Not as far as I remember.

H: Oh, pardon me, I hope you took no offense at that.

S: None, friend; just the facts of the case. I don’t think we won any such awards, but that doesn’t mean folks didn’t like it.

H: Well I should hope not!

S: No, no, people certainly have said nice things about my story over the years! They seem to enjoy its simplicity, theatrical journalists callin’ it things like charming and sturdy. Almost everyone who knows about it seems to like the music at least. The guys who made the music for it I guess created some other show that holds some sort of fantastick record, like longest running ever somethin’ somethin’, so they’re known for solid tuners.

H: What kind of music, pray tell?

S: Oh, it’s all some sort of simple, rural, classical style. Originally, they wrote it more like one of those operas you always hear about, but they ended up changing it to how it is now. You got your ballads and a showstoppin’ song or two, but it mostly is all straightforward and melodical, a real southern, folks-of-the-land flavor, ya know?

H: I think I follow, yes.

S: How about you? What’s the music in yours like?

H: Well it’s got a flavor for the folks of the land as well, but bear in mind these are northern folks, as you might call them. It’s simple, too, like yours, but they like their music big and brassy! It was written to try to reflect the kind of American band music of which I became the purveyor in River City.

S: Same stew, different spices.

H: My thinking exactly! Makes me wonder then why my spices ended up making my proverbial stew so much more popular than yours.

S: Beats me, seems both the pieces based on our lives have so many similarities.

H: A dashing con man rides into town…

S: [chuckling] Dashing, nice touch.

H: Well I certainly thought so.

S: The charismatic fella promises a miraculous solution to a problem, falls for a skeptical young woman…

H: [gasps] You fell for the spinster, didn’t you?

S: Harder than Icarus when he lost his wings.

H: Ouch.

S: Didn’t end quite as perfectly for me as it did for you, either, but I hear she’s all happy and fulfilled with her town’s sheriff so at least she’s not lonely no more…

H: But regardless, fell for her, changed her mind about the man…

S: …AND the whole town’s minds while he’s at it, even if they don’t find the gentleman’s business practices totally… legitimate.

H: Well it doesn’t matter; he brought joy and excitement to a somber little American town!

S: And the girl…

H: And everyone learned something about themselves in the process.

S: Those sound a hell of a lot alike to me! And yet…

H: Curious, isn’t it? So similar and yet one vastly more well-known than the other! But why?

S: Well, maybe it doesn’t help that my story was first being told around the same time as some much bigger stories about people like some matchmaker and a popular comedienne who came after my time, Fanny something…

H: And the people liked it bigger and flashier than just a simple piece about some folks in the south, didn’t they?

S: I reckon. I think the one about the matchmaker won that award you were talkin’ about. It’s a shame, really. There weren’t all that many worthwhile stories being told when mine first came out, but just a few months down the line those other one overshadowed us. Suddenly no one cared much for the tales of a town in a drought.

H: But I don’t understand! My story is the same simple idea: a small town and a man with a big personality, and no one could get enough of it! It was said to be a “fresh slant on Americana,” a loving send up to a bygone era—just like yours!

S: From what I remember of YOUR story, though, it was first being told at a time that wasn’t as crowded with these mega-tales. The only other theatrical piece I really can recall comin’ across at the same time as yours was some big, sad tale about fighting gangs and starcrossed lovers. It was damn good, but it was far from enough to overpower your story.

H: And mine was big, too. Bigger than yours, at least. I think the first time it was shown, the crafty fellows telling it had an actual smokestack blow onstage at the beginning of each telling.

S: Now you’re gettin’ it! Like you said, the people of the north like it when things are big. You had big, brassy music, my friend. There were probably a lot more people up on that stage than mine had, you even had some impressive technical effect to kick it all off! People remember that, especially when there’s only one other really good story to remember any way.

H: It might have had something to do, too, with that fantastic talente who portrayed me in the first go-round. He had told some other stories in the past but hadn’t had the chance to really tell a good one in a while. Portraying me is what really made him a star, especially as… do you mind if I brag a little more?

S: [laughing] Go on ahead, Hill.

H: Well, especially as someone like me, full of bombast and charisma. People love a man with confidence and swagger, and as I think we both know they LOVE a good success story. With that Preston fellow in the lead, the people who heard my story got both of those things rolled into one!

S: That sounds like it’s got some merit. The guy who played me when MY story premiered was already well known. I’m about as charismatic and memorable as you are, but it was another solid spangle in an already well-decorated belt. Not quite as exciting as your Preston.

H: My word… is it really all down to that? Timing and a single well-placed man is what makes people know who I am and draw a blank on you?

S: Certainly sound like that to me, but it’s hard to draw solid conclusions in such a metaphysical plane of existence...

H: Oh, undoubtedly. Mr. Metaphysical Author, would you kindly conclude for us?

David: Gladly, thanks guys! The Music Man had a lot of things going for it upon its opening: an exceedingly strong cast and creative team, relatable success stories in the form of Preston and Meredith Wilson (himself finding great success on his first big Broadway foray), a nostalgic but still large and impressive homage to an idealized (if not a little silly and puritanical) old Americana, not a lot of overwhelming competition, memorable bombast, technical prowess, the works. It came out at the perfect time with all the right pieces in place to create one of the most iconic American musicals of all time. 110 had some good stuff going for it, too: the composers responsible for New York’s longest-running musical EVER, two powerhouse stars, a solid and emotionally-driven book, but it showed up too late for what it was. It was TOO small and TOO simple in a time when Broadway was coming back from a slump better than ever with musicals that were large and complex. It didn’t have room to breathe and so it petered out, a sweet little gem undeservedly lost to the ages. There are so many little intricacies and details that can’t be covered with a speculative dialogue like this, and I encourage you all to look into both shows (and generally look up and listen to 110 if you never have before) and see if you can draw your own conclusions based on what you find.

S: Neat trick!

H: Oh, that was nothing. The con man’s greatest talent, you know it! When you’re not sure where to go next, you can always pull that extra ace card out of your sleeve.

S: Hell of an ace card, though.

D: Thank you, I take that as a compliment!

S: You gotta teach me how to pull that one, Hill.

H: Well hey, you need to show me how to conjure some rain first, Starbuck.

S: With pleasure! Now, your “think method” ain’t bad, but I find props come in real handy. Let’s see if we can find you a hickory stick…

[the two voices fade away]

[end transcript]



The Aha Moment

SarahLynn Mangan

As someone who was introduced to the concepts of performing at a very young age, I have never really had that Aha moment of “oh my gosh theatre is amazing!”

I am very involved in my school’s performing arts program and yet did not have the time in my schedule to take the drama class until my senior year. Unfortunately, my school does not have enough drama classes to have a beginning class and an advanced class, making the two that they do have all levels. However, the amazing thing that this does create is an opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Something I have learned is that when you experience someone else’s Aha moment it can be magical.

I am currently taking part in a workshop that focuses on the “August Wilson Monologue Competition” which takes place in our region in January. This workshop allows students to stay after school and really delve into the works of August Wilson and become exposed to an amazing playwright. There are about seven students who are regularly taking advantage of this workshop and three of them are students who have never really had anything to do with performing before. On the first day of the workshop, they were given monologues randomly that happened to be the mentor's favorite ones and once they had finished reading their eyes lit up with confusion. Confusion at how the monologues were so relevant to their lives, how the words intrigued them, and how they felt the need to tell them to the world..



Another day at the workshop we had to stack chairs that would visually show our characters burdens and then had to push them across the room as we read the monologues out loud. One of them noticed that a lot of the same burdens the character had, they had as well.

The final day of that week of the workshop we each performed our monologues for the group and got feedback on what could be improved and how we could really push our limits. As the mentor was speaking to one of the students urging them to keep going and take the monologue further into the depths of their own lives, they had their full Aha moment. They couldn’t believe how theatre was pulling emotions out of them that had been dug into a deep hole long ago and how the character that was created three decades ago could relate to them in the modern day and a modern life. After that, they became even more engaged in what was being taught and even commented on how theatre is something like therapy.

To see someone have their own Aha Moment was amazing, and I hope to someday be able to give someone their very own moment of discovery in theatre.

 

 

 

 

Race and Representation in Theatre: Introduction

Zachary Harris


Representation and Theatre

As a group it’s sort of become a meme every time a sure-to-be intense conversation about race comes up, and as it continues to move forward as a society I am sure the conversations will just grow in frequency. As a biracial theatre artist, I often get stuck in the middle of these conversations, but as an African American Studies major (along with theatre!) my opinion has really been shaped by reading about things such as the achievement gap (educational or otherwise) for African Americans and other institutionally based issues.

Here is my attempt at breaking down why accurate representation in theatre is important, if you have questions/comments PLEASE leave them as I will try to respond to them in another article. Hopefully this will be a multi-part sort of thing, and discussion is very important in situations like these. This will be about why race matters and given circumstances in theatre, and hopefully at the beginning of each I will try to redefine why race matters… Either by quoting comments or finding quotes from other sources.

Why Race Matters

You see this argument made more than enough in these discussions, “if the person is the best for the part, who cares!” along with the idealism of “I don’t see color”. While this is fine and dandy, this thought process too is problematic. The meaning behind it is well intentioned, but the idea behind not seeing color is closer to saying that you’re not seeing them or that racial identity is erasable/not important. The suggestion of “I don’t see color” is really more so leaning towards that their experiences aren’t valid or real even though they do. Now obviously, this is not what anyone is usually meaning to say, but this is what that means. The person, usually, is meaning to say “I see you, the person (along with your racial identity), but I’m not going to actively (emphasis on actively, or knowingly) discriminate or have active prejudice against you” which is great. In practice, this common erasure of someone's race in such a way is neutralizing the things that people of all colors/creed/ethnicity go through. There are certain things that particular subsections of the population deal with that most of us will never go through, especially here in America.

 Though I serve as a black body in this country (though I am biracial, which we can unpack that sometime if you’d like) I do not deal with the same thing someone who is Latinx does on a day to day basis. While yes, there are similar institutional things riding against us there are many things that I would just never be exposed to. When you’re not white the ignoring of your race is just not something that can be done (regardless of privilege). The existence of racial identity is linked to a vast amount of experiences and history that is so special, however can also be linked to a painful past. This all needs to kept account when discussing these sorts of things.

 For those looking for another interesting read, I would look up Dr. Osagie Obasogie, a professor at the University of California’s Hasting College of Law and the author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind… Where he researches if the blind can see race. Tl;dr the conclusion was yes.

The Idea of Given Circumstances

 Continuing on though, let’s talk about actual roles in theatre. In Uta Hagen’s teachings there are 9 questions we should ask ourselves as actors:

Who am I?  Filling in as many details here as you can (though I suggest making these things playable) including name/age/likes/dislikes etc.

What time is it? Sometimes this is a big thing, and sometimes it’s not. However, keep in mind general setting and how that may change things for you.

Where am I? Self-explanatory!

What surrounds me? In the literal, in a scene what do you have around you? Does an argument change with the presence of a weapon on stage… etc. etc.

What are the given circumstances of the past, present, and potential future? By answering this question, you can create a progression that is specific. Again, don’t lock yourself in, but this can be helpful!

What are my relationships in the scene? Define for yourself your relationship to the events, other characters, and objects in each scene.

What do I want? Be specific about your character’s needs, immediate and longer term.

What do I do to get what I want? Which is found in rehearsal through the exploration of objectives (what you want) and tactics (how you get them).

With this in mind, many people state “well it’s just acting”. Obviously most of these given circumstances that are evident for a character will never exactly line up for who you are as a person/the time you live in. That is what the art of acting is for, bridging the gap between you and the character you’re playing to create a well-rounded character. However, your body is always on view and in many cases informs performance either through things The Alexander Technique or Viewpoints… So ignoring race isn’t really an option.

Some Examples

Actor: Oh no! A character owns a cat and I’m allergic! I can’t do the show anymore!!!!

This is obviously not something that should be a thing as everyone has the possibility to own a cat, or even another pet. This is a given circumstance that you can figure out, as if your scene is LOVING this cat with your life that can be substituted. This is a universal feeling that can be shared. Looking for plays/musicals with cats that isn’t CATS? Read Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin Martin McDonagh!

Actor: My hair isn’t black, I can’t play Wednesday Addams anymore?

Again, something that can be changed or wigged. This is fine, and another one of those universal things that can be changed. Not only can this be changed, anyone on this earth can experience having black hair if they so choose. These things are fickle and can be adjusted if need be.

Actor: I’m white, but I can act ________… Why can’t I play Coalhouse Walker/Seaweed?

And this is where the issue lies. For those of you who don’t know Ragtime, please listen to the recording as it is beautiful. The issue here is that the only reason that Coalhouse Walker/Seaweed/lots of other people are having the struggle that they are having is because they are of color. If Coalhouse isn’t black, Ragtime doesn’t happen. While you can create a character while not black, it removes the point from the musical. You don’t get called a n-word (yes, hard “er” and all) by another white person if you’re not black. While yes, we are supposed to stretch our imagination and it is the magical world of theatre there is such an importance to this representation. While I understand the want to play roles there are hundreds of other roles that have nothing to do with race (or are assumed white until proven otherwise). Black bodies (as this is what I’m talking about specifically) are placed through these similar instances even today though the show is set in 1906, and the stripping of that importance is ignorant in nature.

Yes, our given circumstances will almost never line up with the characters we play. Yes, it is very important to think about race when looking at people while not discriminating against them or making their value being the color of their skin. But, we have to make sure that we are conscious in the role race plays in society. As artists and fans, this awareness will only make things better while also making our art more authentic in the long run.

Next article I will be addressing some of our favorite shows to bring up while discussing race. If you have suggestions as to shows I should dive into, please comment them in the thread!

On Pantomimes

Jyothi Cross

Well, not just yet, but I thought I’d get you all into the festive mood to start the day off right… Sadly, only 6 days into December, the Christmas slump has got to me, and I’ve already rewritten this blog 5 times, as Santa has not yet gifted me any worthy ideas.

So, here’s the worst idea I could think of: Why we should ban Pantomimes. Please.

Dan_Leno_and_Herbert_Campbell.jpg


1. They are, ultimately, incredibly cringy – It’s not fun to watch old men strutting around on stage pretending to be women and looking horrifically ugly. I can’t quite understand why it is so funny, we’re long past the days of mocking women, transgender folk, and Drag Queens, so why do we a continue a tradition of watching a ‘dame’ prance about on stage; simultaneously insulting themselves, the story, and the groups of people I previously mentioned.

2. Nobody ever does them very well – Of course this is a very broad comment, and I’m sure we’ve all seen good pantomimes in our lives, ones that made us laugh even. I’m also equally sure that your theatre group did an absolutely smashing version of Jack and the Beanstalk last year, but you do not account for the general trend. The general trend includes distasteful jokes about racism and gender, as well as some very poor acting on behalf of one person who signed up for a laugh. I don’t have a vendetta against any of the actors of course, just a severe dislike for pantomimes.

3. Audience participation – I’m all for audience participation, in fact I absolutely love it. Watching my peers get picked out and have the time of their lives is absolutely great, but do you know what? I never get picked. I. Never. Get Picked.

4. I never get picked – Now, this blog post wasn’t written to solve a personal vendetta I have against pantomimes. They are an age-old art form, descended from the time of the Greeks and yet there is something fundamentally wrong with them. And that thing, lurking deep in the depths of the sadistic world of pantomime is that I never got any sweets. They were never thrown to me, passed out to me, given as an award to me, and honestly this lack of audience-interaction-involving-myself ruined Christmas.

5. Christmas? Oh, sorry, it can’t come to the phone right now. Why? It’s dead. – Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but maybe I’m not. After all, if I can’t have it, why should anyone else?

This is why I argue that this house should move to ban pantomimes, because I never got picked to get sweets.

The (Really) Lower Depths

There once was a king named Oedipus Rex.
You may have heard about his odd complex.
His name appears in Freud’s index
’Cause he loved his mother.
His friends all used to say quite a bit
That as a monarch he was most unfit.
But still in all they had to admit
That he loved his mother.

Tom Lehrer

Michael Kape

Here was the challenge. A recent ATB blog examined the decidedly dark side of some famous musicals. Could I do the same thing with plays (i.e., tragedies)? Well, harrumph. Theatre was created by the Greeks from tragedies. Now, I know many of you prefer discussions about musicals here (and I can discuss them for hours on end), but it’s good to broaden your horizons and get down to the lower depths (more about that later). I’ve done a little time travel to pick and choose some of the great ones for your consideration.

The Greeks invented tragedy (and comedy), as I noted. To me, the “Oedipus Trilogy” by Sophocles is perhaps the greatest extant set of Greek tragedies: Oedipus Rex, which was followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. (I have special affection for Antigone having once played the Grumpy Olde Guy in the show, but Oedipus Rex is the best.) Oedipus accidentally kills his real father (he was adopted), solves the riddle of the Sphinx, marries his mother, has four children, discovers the truth, his mother/wife hangs herself, he plucks out his eyes, his children war on each other and their Uncle Creon, and ultimately kill each other and/or themselves. It’s a devastating story, based on mythology, with no happy ending in sight. And yet it’s great theatre.

In Greek mythology, Electra was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and princess of Argos. She and her brother Orestes plot revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father. She appears in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and, our own great tragedian, Eugene O'Neill (more about his version shortly).

(Just a note for you musical purists: all Greek tragedies were actually sung and danced by the actors and chorus.)

After the Greeks (and their inferior Roman copycat tragedies), theatre came under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church—which pretty much frowned on the artform. It was the age of morality plays (like Everyman), which weren’t really tragic or comic but instead served to keep the unwashed masses in check (really—theatre as political propaganda; ah, well, that’s a subject for another blog which I’m not supposed to write). And then, well, Welcome to the Renaissance, as they sing in Something Rotten.

The greatest tragedian (oh, hell, playwright) of that age (or any other) was, of course, William Shakespeare. His plays have been classified into four categories: the comedies, the histories, the romances, and the tragedies. And what tragedies they were:

·         Hamlet—Arguably the greatest play Shakespeare wrote (and certainly his longest), this is the tragic story of a young Danish prince whose father is killed by his uncle (who then marries Hamlet’s mother). He seeks revenge when challenged to do so by his father’s ghost. He employs a troupe of wandering players to perform a dumb show in front of the new king, who realizes Hamlet is on to what he did and exiles the young prince. In the end, just about everyone dies in the last scene and Denmark is conquered by Norway. Hamlet certainly contains the most exquisite language Shakespeare wrote. I fear you can’t call yourself a true theatre person without knowing Hamlet.


Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

·         Julius Caesar—It’s about greed. It’s about ambition. It’s about murder. And a funny thing happened to poor Julius on the way to the Forum—he was stabbed multiple times by the Roman senators, including his beloved Brutus (“Et tú, Bruté?”). It’s another Shakespeare play where almost everyone ends up dead, except Mark Anthony (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”), who lives to show up in another tragedy.

·         Anthony and Cleopatra—Middle-aged Will Shakespeare set his sights on mature love in this tragic tale of a beautiful Egyptian queen and the two Romans who come to control her (though she really controls them), love her, and ultimately doom her. In his time, onstage lovers were usually portrayed as comic foils and not tragic characters. In this play, Shakespeare completely turned the tables on the contemporary norms (he had started to do that in an early play discussed below) and made this the stuff of tragedy.

·         Romeo and Juliet—My late, great college Shakespeare professor, Dr. Irving Ribner (of the Ribner-Kittredge acting editions) made us change our thinking about this play. As I noted above, in Shakespeare’s time, love—especially young love—was the stuff of farce. And the first two acts of R&J are some of the funniest material Shakespeare wrote. Romeo is a foolish cad. Juliet is a silly young teenager. The balcony scene is actually very funny (with Juliet trying her damnedest to get Romeo to leave). But when Mercutio dies, the play goes from farce to tragedy in a heartbeat. A series of misunderstandings and miscommunications kills the main characters (ironically in a tomb). And this is the true brilliance of this tragedy. It completely upset the theatre norms of the time, making Shakespeare a truly revolutionary playwright. We don’t consider R&J to be a comedy because Shakespeare so skillfully changed the way we look at young (and foolish) love.

·         King Lear—“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” But nothing could be worse than to have a foolish old king (along with his fool) divide up his kingdom based on which of his daughters professed undying love for him. A great tragedy, yes. Easy to pull off as an actor? I’ve seen Lear many times with great actors and I’ve never liked it.

·         Othello—Someone once described this play (Shakespeare’s shortest) as a lesson in how wives should be careful with their personal linen. Othello is a great but foolish and jealous soldier who loves his wife Desdemona. Iago is his evil lieutenant who hates Othello (racism definitely fuels the engine of this play) and plots his downfall. While Othello and Desdemona die tragically, Iago essentially gets away with his evil doings, which makes this yet another revolutionary moment for Shakespeare.

·         The Scottish Play—If you don’t know what play I mean, then stop reading. Seriously, one of the greatest tragedies ever written, this is another story of greed, ambition, revenge, and a moving forest.

·         And more (Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus).

(Around the time Shakespeare was creating his tragedies, another artform arose, closely akin to the original Greek drama—the opera. Tragic stories sung to beautiful music. But opera is fodder for a different discussion, so I’ll let it go at that.)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to stark realism in the theatre, perhaps to counterbalance the frivolous romanticism of the age. Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths is perhaps the greatest of these tragic plays, depicting a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga. It is stark, humbling, difficult to watch without being moved. Gorky is said to have been inspired by the denizens of a Russian homeless shelter. The play was initially slammed for its pessimistic outlook (not much happens and everyone who starts out poor ends up poor), but still, The Lower Depths is a masterpiece.

Henrik Ibsen plays often bordered on tragedy, though they depicted more political themes than real tragic ones. But one of his plays does stand out, Ghosts. No spectral characters, but the tragedy of the father is visited upon the son, with an underlying story of venereal disease (never stated but firmly implied) making this one of the playwright’s most controversial works.

Two playwrights came to dominate American tragedy in the 20th century—Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.

It has been argued Miller’s greatest play is Death of a Salesman. In this piece, Miller takes the majesty of Greek tragedy and applies it to a humble traveling salesman (He argued strenuously for tragedy not always being about people of noble birth, which I believe to be a correct stance). Willy Loman is one of the great figures of American tragedy. His frustrating life (for both himself and his family) makes for a towering work. Still, it can be hard to like this piece for some of us. It creaks. It’s verbose. But the story itself is infinitely sad. (I would argue The Crucible the better and more tragic piece, and certainly better written.)

O’Neill simply turned tragedy on its ear. He made it compelling. He paid tribute to its Greek roots in plays like Mourning Becomes Electra (based on the Electra plays), moving the Orestes tragedy to 19th century New England. But perhaps his greatest tragedy (one of the rare tragedies where nobody dies) is his most autobiographical one: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This intimate look at the disintegration of a family tells a tale of frustration, drug addiction, serious illness, and alcoholism. And it all plays out in less than one day. It is perhaps the greatest American tragedy ever written.

There are hundreds more tragedies out there and I’ve barely scratched the surface. One of the great joys I had growing up as a theatre nerd was discovering new tragedies written long before I was born. They speak to universal truths beyond their settings—the foibles of human beings and the unfortunate consequences they can cause.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a great tragedy. Lighten up. It’s only a play.

An Open Letter: Highschool Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I thought long and hard about what to write about this week, like I have had no inspiration for anything unique but I was scheduled in so there was no escape. I really wasn't sure what to write about, and then I competed in a band competition at school. A few weeks before that I took part in our school production of Sweeney Todd and I realized something:

School theatre is toxic. 

It's such a nasty environment for young people to grow up in because people are never fully honest.

So here's my open letter, to all the people who tell you to stop being yourself when you do school theatre.

It starts as a little complaint, they tell you to tone it down a bit. Maybe in a jokey way. Then you start seeing scowls behind backs, whispers. They insult you to your face because you're showing them up. A 'flamboyant' personality becomes a threat, and you hear whispers in the Green Room about how someone else deserves that part, or someone else would be better.

I know, I've been one of those whisperers, and I've been one who's been whispered at. But why are we so afraid of simply supporting each other?

And this is why I raise my right finger - because it's taken me a long time to build up my self-confidence to the point where I can make myself look like a fool on stage all for the sake of a show. It has also taken me a long time to realize that the people who were given the parts which I complained about were chosen for a reason, teachers don't simply pick names out of a hat, and it doesn't make sense to question their choices - after they've directed around 20 plays at your school. So, when you call someone 'embarrassing' because they dance about and have fun, remember there is a person on the other end of that line, who was chosen for a specific reason and who has worked their butt off to try and get up there.

I need to remember that too. Because so many have it ingrained in us that other actors are competition, you can't work harmoniously with someone who gets a better part than you, but instead we just need to own it. We need to own our parts, our stories, our fun.

Of course, it feels like such a lie, that the ensemble is just as important as the lead, but ensemble simply means you fit into the puzzle in a different way. You're allowed to go for it, you're allowed to own your role even if you're Villager #24. You just have to raise your right finger, and solemnly swear:

That whatever they say about you, you don’t care.

 

The Leading Ladies of Broadway: Sutton Foster

Kelly Ostazeski

Career highlights:

Many know her rags to riches story, or rather – ensemble to Tony Award winning triple threat leading lady. Foster was born on March 18, 1975, in Georgia, and relocated to Michigan, where she attended Troy High School. She took dance classes as a child, and at her first audition scored her first role as the title character in Annie. She was cast in The Will Rogers Follies tour and completed her high school diploma via correspondence. Foster then attended the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in their musical theatre program, but dropped out after a year.

“ Sutton Foster”  by SOwl34 (account not active) is licensed under  CC BY-SA 4.0

Sutton Foster” by SOwl34 (account not active) is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0



 Foster made her Broadway debut in 1996 as Sandy in Grease. She then appeared in The Scarlet Pimpernel, as Star-to-Be in Annie, and then as Éponine in Les Misérables. She was then cast in the ensemble in the out of town tryout in the new musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, based on the 1967 film starring Julie Andrews. When the original Millie left the production, Foster was offered the role. The show transferred to Broadway, opening in April of 2002, to rave reviews for her performance. Foster then won the Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and the Best Leading Actress in a Musical Tony Award.

 Her next Broadway role was Jo March in the short running Little Women the Musical, for which she was nominated for another Tony Award. In 2006, she starred as the bride Janet Van De Graaff in Tony Award Winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone, earning another Tony nomination. Next was the role of Inga in Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein. She played Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical, and was nominated for yet another Tony.

 Foster released her debut album in 2009, called Wish, and did a concert tour across the country, including a stint at Café Carlyle in New York, where she recorded a live album. She appeared in the Encores! Productions of Anyone Can Whistle and The Wild Party, as well as the off-Broadway play called Trust.

 Her next Broadway role was Reno Sweeney in the 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Her powerhouse triple threat performance won her a second Tony Award.

Kelly meeting Sutton Foster in 2007

Kelly meeting Sutton Foster in 2007


 She was cast in the television series Bunheads on ABC Family, but it was cancelled after one season. She returned to Broadway in Violet, earning yet another Tony Award nomination. She currently plays Liza Miller on the TVLand series Younger, which has been renewed for a sixth season. Her most recent stage role was in an off-Broadway revival of Sweet Charity.

 Foster released her second studio album Take Me to the World in 2018. Also in 2018, she reunited with the original Broadway cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie for a one night only 15th anniversary concert benefiting the Actors Fund, and she will perform in My One and Only, a Roundabout Theatre Company benefit next month.

 

Fun facts:

- Her brother is Tony Award nominated actor Hunter Foster, and her sister-in-law is Broadway actress Jennifer Cody

- She was married to Tony Award winning Christian Borle

- She is good friends with her Little Women sister, Megan McGinnis, who often performs in concerts with Foster, and is featured in a duet on Wish, and on Take Me to the World.

- She received an honorary doctorate at Ball State University, where she also teaches and collaborates with the theatre program

- Other TV appearances include: Johnny and the Sprites, Flight of the Conchords, Law and Order: SVU, Elementary, Royal Pains, and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

- She is married to screenwriter Ted Griffin and together, they adopted a daughter, Emily, in 2017

- Sutton loves dogs!

- She is also an artist and you can find her art for sale on her website

- Foster appears on Broadway cast recordings of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek, Anything Goes, and Violet.

- Foster also appears on several compilation albums: The Maury Yeston Songbook, The Broadway Musicals of 1926, Julie Styne in Hollywood, Keys – The Music of Scott Alan, and Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project

 

Social media:

Verified Facebook Page: Sutton Foster
Twitter: @sfosternyc
Instagram: @suttonlenore
Official Website: SuttonFoster.com

 

Songs to Listen to:
“Gimme Gimme” – Thoroughly Modern Millie

“Astonishing” – Little Women the Musical

“This is How a Dream Comes True” – Shrek the Musical

“Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – Anything Goes

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” – Sutton’s album Wish
“Give Him the Ooh La La” – Sutton’s album Take Me to the World

 

 

Stunt Casting

Taylour
Stunt casting. We’ve all heard it and have all experienced it in our favorite musicals at one point or another. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, the definition of it is, “the casting of a very famous actor or other celebrity as a guest star in a movie or TV show, in order to garner publicity.” But for our sake, it’s the casting of a celebrity in a Broadway show to gain popularity or to raise ticket sales. In this day, when shows have to compete with the popularity of say Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen, some shows need to bring in a secret weapon, and that’s where celebrities come in. Getting the famous of the famous to star in a Broadway show is an easy way to boost ticket sales and keep the show up and running for an extended period of time. However, I’ve noticed that most of the times, Broadway fans aren’t a huge fan of this practice. While I can understand why, and in the past haven’t been exactly thrilled myself, I’m here to praise those celebrities for taking on such a thrilling and daunting task such as Broadway. Also, as a note, I will be talking about musicals exclusively, considering almost every play on Broadway features a celebrity. 

Photo by natasaadzic/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by natasaadzic/iStock / Getty Images


Broadway isn’t an easy task, there’s so much training and schooling that goes into mastering the art so it’s understandably very hard to get literally thrown into the role. While rehearsals are there to obviously prepare for the role, sometimes the show the celebrity is starring in is more than likely their Broadway musical debut, so naturally they’re nervous. Personally, I tend to forget that point when a stunt casting is announced and assume they know already what to do. While celebrities are prepared to master the art of acting, sometimes it takes them longer to adapt to singing, especially 8 shows a week. On that fact alone, they deserve praise from adapting from a shooting schedule, to doing 8 shows a week, sometimes 2 in one day. 

Another fact I’d like to praise these actors on is adapting to a character. Sometimes when a celeb comes in, the character they’re taking over has been well adapted and taken on by people before, so they then have to take that character that is already known to most and make it their own. Granted that’s kind part of an actor’s job, they still have to adjust a screen role to a stage role. While that may be easy for a screen actor, it may not be so easy for a musician taking on a Broadway role. It’s not easy adjusting an already developed character, so for them to do that is praise worthy. 

While there are so many different factors to praise, I want to praise them again for even doing Broadway. Singing and dancing at the same time isn’t easy, especially when you aren’t trained to do so, so to be able to adjust yourself into doing so in a short amount of time is phenomenal and shows how versatile actors are. So, next time a celebrity is announced to be in your favorite Broadway show, before resorting to an eye roll and a groan, think about the adjustment for them and how they are probably scared crapless about it, while I may not be the first one to warm up to it, in the end I admire and praise a celebrity for doing Broadway. A huge kudos to everyone who has and will do it, if they’re trained or not.

The Magic of Theatre

We all have our reasons for loving theatre, and more often than not, it’s for reasons much more personal to the audience member in particular! It is more than just the spectacle, the score, the choreography, and personally having realized that I love theatre for the spectacle and extravaganza of it all (of course), but I now feel a true connection to theatre and can actually acknowledge what theatre can do for somebody at every level.

You see, it wasn’t until 2013 or 2014 that I really became obsessed with musical theatre and all it encompasses, however I was naive and didn’t bother to investigate any time into what made me love it so much, or why I wanted to go to the theatre so often, and even see the same show over and over again. This is something I never thought I would broadcast publicly but I think it is invaluable that I discuss how theatre has changed my life and the magic that I have found in it.

Photo by nevarpp/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by nevarpp/iStock / Getty Images

Two years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy, which you could quite possibly say it was one of the worst days of my life. I was in a rut, a permanent state of shock, disbelief, and anger. And nothing, I mean NOTHING, could change the way I was feeling. Until a couple of weeks later when my sister (younger but wiser) told me to think back on positive memories I have made in the theatre and from that moment on I listened to songs from all of my favorite musicals, this instantly changed my mood and made me feel giddy and happy, something I hadn’t felt for a while. Once I was given the ok to go to the theatre I didn’t walk I ran! Theatre, musicals, and plays have all impacted my life, when I felt sad there was a song for that, when I was frustrated there was something for that too, every emotion I felt the theatre had a way of making me feel better! The theatre is an escape for me. As soon as I take my seat, I am transported to a completely different world, where my problems don’t exist, where I am just your average teenager. There is nothing as magical as this, and it’s safe to say my life will never be the same again because of how transformative each and every experience I have had since then has been! Through the good days and the bad I know that there will always be something in the theatre realm that will make me feel a million times better! I truly believe that for every problem there is a solution to be found, whether it is through seeing a show live, listening to a cast album or simply thinking back on the memories.

Have you experienced anything that makes you believe in the true magic of Theatre?

 

The "other" Tony Awards

Award season is officially over. Starting in early April with the Lucille Lortel nominations announced on April 3rd, and ending with the 72nd Tony Awards on June 10th, what an interesting season it has been. However, I’m not here to talk about what happened last night at the Tony awards cause honestly, I am not the person to give that review of what happened, and I am writing this before they occur and only wish I could predict the future. Because of this, I am going to talk about the importance and impact of the second most important award season to a seventeen-year-old high schooler…

Photo by blanaru/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by blanaru/iStock / Getty Images

The high school musical theatre awards!
I have been so fortunate to go to a high school that has been involved in these awards that take place all around the country, just to celebrate what young people are doing in the theatre scene. I am going to talk about all the great experiences I have gained by participating in these awards as a member of a nominated production, and why every high schooler should have the opportunity to at least go to these awards as an audience member.

Community
The first time I went to my region’s award ceremony, I was there all day. My older sister was in the opening number, so I didn’t go to it already in costume and prepared to represent my show. This was the case for many other people there, and because the theatre didn’t have enough dressing room to accommodate hundreds of students getting changed at the same time, we all had to walk over to a public outdoor park and use the restrooms there to get ready. This created the ability to learn about what shows people were doing, who they were playing, their background with theatre, and so much more. It was truly amazing to see people just getting to really connect on a more personal level because of theatre.

A few months ago, I was at a college audition and I met people there who I was able to talk about what happened at the awards ceremony and the performances we got to experience, and I knew of them because of this wonderful occasion.

 Gain Knowledge of other Musicals
Many high schoolers are having their first experience with musicals during their years at high school, and so they have limited knowledge about shows other than the ones they have performed in. At the ceremony, you get to see wonderful shows perform a number, wonderful soloists perform a medley of multiple musicals, and it allows people who have a very small pool of knowledge grow. Many people would ask me what the shows were about due to the songs being performed, and then would want to go and listen to them and get to know them better. It is amazing to see someone discover a new musical.

Gain Performance Experience
I have been so fortunate to be able to be a part of a production which was nominated for Best Musical, which gave my entire cast the opportunity to perform in front of 2,000 theatre lovers. People still talk about what it felt like to get a standing ovation from that size of a crowd and know that they had touched some people’s hearts that day. Even people who were in the audience still talk about it. This sort of performance experience, if you’re so lucky to get to have, can make such an impact on a high schooler’s life, that it may even change their course of life. It is truly remarkable.

These are just a few of the amazing things that a student, or anyone, can get from attending or being a part of the “Tony Awards for High Schoolers.” Put aside the competition part and look to see the impact that it is putting on real people who still can take these opportunities. Many people want to get rid of these programs because it creates some tension between the schools that win and don’t win, but I say let them stay for the impact that it allows the students to have.