Audience

Should Phantom of the Opera Close?

Daniel Schorr

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Miller and Tysen: Music that Makes a Difference

Rachel Hoffman

When people come to the theater, they often have a purpose for seeing a specific show. Some wish to be entertained, others wish to cry. Some hope to see their favorite stories played out in front of their eyes. While I have gone into shows with a variety of purposes before, I have found that the shows and music that have had the largest impact on my life are those which show me a part of my own life or my own heart in a way that I’ve never seen it before. As Stella Adler said, “The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” For me, I am most at home in the theatre when I’m watching a creation whose purpose is to speak some sort of truth to the audience, to make a difference in their lives.

For me, two of the songwriters that have made some of the biggest difference in my life is the duo of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen- composers and lyricists of Tuck Everlasting and the lesser-known musicals The Burnt Part Boys and Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. Miller and Tysen’s music has accompanied me at some of the most important moments in my life, both good and bad. The stories they compose for possess great lessons on their own, but when combined with Miller and Tysen’s work, the stories are brought to life, and force a person to experience real joy and heartbreak.



Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway in 2016, and received much criticism after closing after just 39 performances. While I’m certain there were many factors that went into this show’s early closing, I also know that this show touched many people’s lives. It left its audiences with a lesson that I think most people today need to hear- “You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.” This show is one of few that I think was actually better than the book it is based off of. (Spoiler alert ahead) You see, in the book, a thunderstorm destroys the tree, along with its immortality-giving spring. Winnie has no choice but to remain mortal. In the musical, however, we watch Winnie pour the water on a toad, and choose to let her life run its course. She wants to stay on ‘the wheel’- not be a boat stuck floating on top of the water forever. Through Tuck Everlastin, we learn that the most important gift we’ve been given- and that we can give others- is our time. The length of our life isn’t what’s important, it’s about what we do while we’re here. Miller and Tysen relate these lessons in beautifully crafted lyrics, as well as the heartbreaking ballet at the end of the show in which we see Winnie’s life play out in her most joyous and devastating moments. Songs like “Time,” “The Wheel,” and “Everlasting,” remind us that our fear isn’t in dying, but in “not being truly alive.”

I was introduced to the show The Burnt Part Boys at a musical theatre showcase my university put on in late 2016. One of the numbers was “Climbing Song,” and as I watched the performance, I made a mental note to go home and listen to the rest of the show. When I found it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had been written by the same duo as Tuck Everlasting, which had been in my regular music rotation for several months already. As I listened, I knew I had found a hidden gem. In this story of loss and great expectation, Miller and Tysen remind us that, “The devil’s plan is mighty, his work a piece of art. He has blessed every man with a burnt part.” The characters in this story learn how to work through grief and other people’s expectations of them to become the people that they want to be, not who they are expected to be.

Miller and Tysen had a 100% success rate with me thus far, so I decided to discover what else they had created. The final work I was able to find is called Fugitive Songs- A Song Cycle. (They’ve also composed a show called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but I’ve never been able to find more than a few songs from this show online.) Fugitive Songs is a series of songs sung by characters who are on the run from something- whether it be a relationship, a dead-end career, or a lifestyle. I was enchanted by the hauntingly beautiful songs like, “Wildflowers,” (which helped me through a breakup,) “Reasons to Run,” and “Lullaby,” (which is the only song I’ve ever found with my name in it,) and laughed my way through “Lost,” and “Spring Cleaning.” While this song cycle doesn’t have a plot, it has a theme- we’re all on the run from something. This series of songs encourages the audience to look at their own life and ask, “What am I running from?”

No matter what critics say about Miller and Tysen, there is one indisputable theme among all of their music- they create stories with a purpose. They have created work that forces us to think, to question, to be human. And as creators, they have succeeded in doing what most artists dream of- making art that matters to someone.




Forever Changed

Sabrina Wallace

I’ve been staring at my computer screen for days, trying to figure out what to write about. First blog jitters, I guess. I finally decided that honesty was the best course of action so here we go!

 On a rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires, a group of friends and I had some time to kill when we run into a locally developed production of Dracula, the Musical. It was the nineties and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, was all the rage, so why not see a musical about the prince of the night! After struggling to get seats close together, we sat down as the lights dimmed. The curtains opened at the sound of slow music that told us the show was about to begin. For the next two and half hours, I couldn’t move. The music, the dancing, the singing, the scenery, everything pulled me in. I travelled to Transylvania with Jonathan, fell under Dracula’s spell with Lucy, sympathized with Dracula and his lonely life, and cried when Mina plunged the dagger into her lover’s heart even as she realized that he was not the soulless monster that could not be redeemed by love. I walked into that theatre unaware of emotions that were brewing inside me. That fateful evening, a passion for live theatre awoke in me and changed my heart and soul forever.

 Twenty something years later, the flame is still burning. I have seen my share of shows over the years. Some shows managed to entertain the heck out of me with wonderful scripts, talented performers, and catchy songs. Some, like King Kong, made me feel like a child in an amusement park with the grandiose set design, a fantastic beast and an amazing display of color, music, choreography and talent. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was … well, Harry Potter. I was happily surprised with the show, the casting and the set design. It is always fun to see “what happened next” to those beloved characters we followed along for so many years, but to be honest, a movie would have done the trick (and everyone could have enjoyed it, too). SpongeBob Squarepants was funny, with an intricate set design, sharp choreography and a happy good time, but the most memorable aspects of that musical were Gavin Lee’s Tony Award Nominated performance and Ethan Slater’s flexibility on stage. Matilda tried to tug on my emotional strings when she sang “When I Grow Up” but apart from the fabulous choreography, I remained unchanged. Mean Girls is one of my favorite new musicals. I love the score, the energetic choreography and the unbeatable vocals (those ladies can sing!). However, this movie turned into a Broadway musical is not one of those shows that made me think or feel any different before, during, or after the show. It is not difficult to make the audience laugh, may be a little harder to make them cry, but only a few truly good shows manage to evoke transformation like the one I experienced one rainy autumn evening in Buenos Aires.

 I went to see Les Misérables with my daughters a few summers ago. Both girls had been involved in musical theatre as performers in our local community theatre but had not attended a Broadway show. I prepared them beforehand by telling them bits and pieces of the novel that inspired the musical so that they could follow the story along and enjoy the richness of the show. From the moment the curtains went up through the final bows, the girls were not in New York City but in France. They become part of the story, seeking redemption with Jean Valjean, finding family and love with Cosette and Marius, and fighting the revolution with the entire cast. By the time Gavroche died, the tears couldn’t be stopped any longer. We left the theatre in a state of awe, it was such an emotional experience that the girls didn’t even want to go backstage to meet the actors. They needed to process what had happened to them and breathe.

This season is filled with revivals, movies turned into musicals, old pop bands brought to the stage, and a few new stories that open a window into the human condition. Stories that fill us with emotions, that make us think, that make us want to change the world. I was lucky to undergo a few transformations this season. American Son, an intelligent book, masterfully presented by four talented actors, took me on a rollercoaster of feelings starting with hope and ending with a hole in my heart. A real story that could be yours as well as mine, a story that provoked thoughtful conversation, brought a contemporary topic to light, and invited audiences to ponder on the reality of racism and inequality in today’s society. Choir Boy surprised me as I believe that I was witness to one of the best written, best directed, and most beautifully acted plays I’ve seen in years. A painful exposé of intolerance mingled with specks of racism and complex relationships. A powerful script that made me want to give each one of the actors a momma bear hug at the end of the show. Not every show I enjoyed was a play, although most of the plays I’ve seen so far this season left me begging for more. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (West End) is a fast-pace, emotional piece of musical theatre that follows a true story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Singing “He’s My Boy”, Margaret pours her heart to the audience conveying the joy and pain of being the mother of a teenager that lives somewhat outside the norm of society. Once on this Island, a revival that deserves a mention, “tells the story” in a magical array of music, song, and dance, all set in an unconventional circular stage that invites you in. I was sad to see this show close, but I hope it continues to tell the story on tour or through regional theaters. The Prom is an original show that surprises people the most. It’s a musical comedy that makes you want to dance from the moment you walk into the theatre. Based on a true story, The Prom delivers a powerful message of love and acceptance as a means to overcome ignorance and intolerance. I laughed with the ridiculous celebrities, went back to high school with the young cast, wanted to scream at the PTA moms, held my heart in my hand with Emma at the close of the first act (no spoilers), and cried me a river with “Unruly Heart”. It is one of those shows that makes you mad before it brings you back from the brink of rage and in the end shows you a ray of hope for the future of humankind. We need more of those stories in this day and age!

 Art is meant to transform, to inspire, to connect us to our feelings and those of our fellow humans. Art helps us understand each other by seeing the world from their point of view by opening up a window into other people’s lives, feelings, fears. To take in in, we must be open. We must be vulnerable. We must be honest. I want to be transformed every time I sit in the audience so when I walk through the door of a theatre, I leave behind any preconceptions I may have, I open myself to the opportunity to be changed. I listen with my entire being. I watch with my eyes wide open. I let the process happen to me.

 Life is a collection of moments, experiences, connections. I want my experiences to be worth sharing. I hope you will allow me to do so again. Until then, I encourage you to find a show that meddles with your feelings and leaves you forever changed.   


 Everybody’s talking about Jamie - now playing at the Apollo Theatre in London

The Prom - now playing at the Longacre Theatre in NYC

American Son - now playing at the Booth Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)

Choir Boy - now playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in NYC (limited engagement)

Mean Girls - now playing at August Wilson Theatre in NYC

King Kong - now playing at the Broadway Theatre in NYC

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child - now playing at the Lyric Theatre in NYC and at the Palace Theatre in London

 

           

 

 

 

Slim Pickings From the Cobwebs of my Mind

Michael Kape

My first Broadway musical—well, the one in which I was a sapient, walking, talking, singing, dancing human-type person (I know some people question the “human” part)—was What Makes Sammy Run? I was ever-so-close to turning 10. My mother had bought the tickets months in advance—Steve Lawrence! Sally Ann Howe! Robert Alda! How could we miss? Except it was Christmas week. Steve was on vacation with Eydie. Sally Ann had flown to England for the holiday. Robert Alda was still there, looking properly disheveled and grumpy. Even then, the budding critic in me was crying to get out. The show was meh and not very memorable. (I did encounter Steve’s standby many years later when we were both in the same theatre at the same time in Palm Springs, where I now reside in retirement).



My first Broadway musical—really—was the original production of The King and I. Of course, I don’t remember much about it. Mother and I were seated together; she had just become aware of my existence that day because, well, the rabbit died, according to Cousin Eleanor’s OB/GYN (Eleanor was pregnant with my cousin Cheryl, who is three months my senior; Eleanor had urged Mother to go with her because she had been feeling poorly and speculated she had morning sickness). “I hope it’s a boy!” cried the OB/GYN to Mother across a crowded waiting room. It was. “Good times and bum time, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here.” Of course, Mother, being an obsessed Rodgers and Hammerstein fan (don’t get me started, please) chose to celebrate by taking in The King and I. I kicked along to “Shall We Dance”. She hadn’t bothered to inform my father (425 miles away back in Buffalo) of the turn of events yet; she had a show to see. Mother definitely had priorities (plus she was angry at my father).

The second Broadway show I saw (first row mezzanine, 46th Street Theatre) was the one I sat through the next day on my birthday: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. That time, the budding director (as opposed to the critic) took over. “Did you see how the sets coordinated so perfectly with the costumes? The actor playing Finch [by then the late, great Ronnie Welsh, who was also half of a super-couple on As the World Turns] was amazing. The actress playing Rosemary [19-year-old Michelle Lee, actually] was so terrific. Those songs [Frank Loesser]. That orchestra. The choreography [Bob Fosse] I want to do that when I grow up.”

(To be fair, I was already smitten with the stage having played the title character in The Gingerbread Boy at age six—but I digress.)

I sit here typing this blog on the 65th anniversary of my natal day—65 years of being obsessed with doing, watching, and writing about theatre. That’s a couple of thousand times I’ve sat in a darkened room (okay, a few times in bright sunlight when I was seeing or doing shows outdoors), tens of thousands of hours of my life I have spent doing the most worthwhile thing I know. I’ve acted, directed, produced, designed (sets, lighting, costumes), run props, been a dramaturg, been a playwright (The New York Times gave me a good review—does that count?), had a lighting board explode in my face and catch fire (without missing a lighting cue or burning myself). And in that time, I’ve been through some amazing theatrical experiences.

I sat through nearly nine hours of the RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby. It felt like an hour, tops. To see a full Dickens novel come alive on stage in so creative and brilliant a fashion was one of those great theatre moments; it can’t be captured on film.

Not knowing what was going to happen, I was at the opening night of Sunday in the Park with George. At the end of Act I (spoiler alert), when the painting we know so well comes together as a living tableaux, there was this huge, audible gasp from the audience at the Booth. Then dead silence. Then a deafening ovation as we collectively realized and understood what we had just seen.

Dear Evan Hansen. Come from Away. Brilliant. Perfect. ‘Nuff said.

As I recently noted elsewhere, I think She Loves Me is one of those rare properties—the perfect musical, where not a line, not a lyric, not a note of music is out of place. I’ve seen it many times, and I still am left sobbing at the end. C’mon. Unless you have no heart (and I’ve certainly been accused of this, but this belies it), you have to be crying at the end of this gem.

In Spring 1965, my parents took us to spend Passover in the Catskills (if you’ve been binging on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon—which I recommend—you know what those resorts were like). And every second-rate act performing at night was singing some song (out of context) from Fiddler on the Roof. After hearing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man” sung badly night after night, just about the last show I wanted to see was Fiddler. Again, Mother prevailed, and we trudged our way to the Imperial Theatre to see it. I was so wrong. Fiddler is a magical show, it really is. I’m seeing it once again for the umpteenth time in May.

One fine fall afternoon in 1971, I was with my college chums Sally Beddow (if anyone knows where she is now, let me know) and Cleo (Pam) Gurenson (who introduced me to future Tony winner Reid Birney; she’s also MIA). We would regularly go into New York City to see if we could find student discounts at any of the Broadway houses. Someone directed us to the Winter Garden. We got $5 student rush tickets (last row orchestra) for the original production of Follies. Um, uh, well, yeah, it kind of made a lasting impression on us. (Cleo and I had gone a few weeks before to see Company as well; one year later she accompanied me to my first Broadway reviewing gig, the disastrous Hurry Harry.) Sally, Cleo and I also went to see Pippin for my 18th birthday—with the original cast, including Irene Ryan (who sadly passed away a few months later).

Spring semester 1973, our stage management teacher took us to see Irene, followed by a backstage tour. He had helped design the backstage at the newly-opened Minskoff Theatre, so he had lots to show us. While we were there, he took us to meet Debbie Reynolds in her dressing room. She was there with her daughter, Carrie Fisher (this was two years before American Graffiti and four years before that little film Carrie did—I think it was called Star Wars—and six years before I saw Carrie in one of the worst Broadway musicals ever produced, Censored Scenes from King Kong).

Indeed, amongst those many thousands of hours spent in a theatre were many I wished I hadn’t experienced. Lysistrata starring Melina Mecouri (she left acting after this and became a member of the Greek Parliament). The aforementioned Hurry Harry and Censored Scenes. Dude (which I did think had merit, but it was an unholy mess—and a tad uncomfortable since I was seated next to Gerome Ragni, who authored it). The never-ending (seemingly) Tale of Two Cities. Harrigan & Hart (starring another Star Wars alum, Mark Hamill). The calamitous Up from Paradise, which has the distinction of being the only musical ever written (if you can call it actual writing) by famed American playwright Arthur Miller. Voices, starring Julie Harris and Richard Kiley (notable only because its producer, mobster-about-town Joey Gallo, was gunned down in an Italian restaurant the same night I saw it). There were also such gems as Shrew, a musical version of Taming of the Shrew, which was not (unfortunately) Kiss Me Kate, and The Bodyguard, a bad version of the movie. And I shouldn’t omit Amélie.

Along the way, I’ve also found some hidden gems not necessarily huge successes. Inner City, the best directing job Tom O’Horgan ever did. 9 to 5. Enron (I genuinely loved this show—I thought it was brilliant). Finian’s Rainbow (okay, disclaimer here: I was an investor in the Broadway revival, and it deserved a much longer run—damn Marketing department).

Other shows I’ve loved over the years: Fiorello, Falsettos, A Chorus Line. Most Happy Fella, Hairspray, Plain and Fancy, Evita, Next to Normal, The Book of Mormon. City of Angels. Little Me. Brigadoon (I still think it’s the best show Lerner and Loewe ever wrote, or as Sondheim noted, “I saw My Fair Lady, I sorta enjoyed it”). Almost anything by Sondheim (except Do I Hear a Waltz?). Hello Dolly with Carol Channing (so sue me; I thought Bette was doing her typical one-woman show up there, and not playing Thornton Wilder’s Dolly Gallagher Levi). Mame. La Cage. Les Miz (well, before I inadvertently got the entire touring cast fired on the road for giving a fifth-rate performance).

And popular shows I just didn’t like, which I offer with no explanation except I found all of them weak in their own way: Rent, Wicked, Love Never Dies, The Lion King, Cats, August: Osage County, Miss Saigon.

I know I’ve left off hundreds of titles I wanted to include here. Shows like Big River, Little Shop of Horrors (which I saw before it was a monster hit), Smile, Sweet Smell of Success, Bright Star, High Fidelity, Legally Blonde, Peter and the Starcatcher. Maybe when (or if) I turn 70 I can have another go at this. Damn, I’ve seen a lot of theatre. I so need a life. Or maybe this is my life.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® who is in a reflective mood. Contrary to popular opinion (which he might just have fostered himself), he doesn’t hate everything. He just hates bad theatre. It makes him grumpy, which in turn makes him yell at the young whippersnappers to get the hell off his lawn.

My Personal Year in Review

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

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

Here Lies Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Steven 1.jpg



 

Miss Saigon

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

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

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

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

Allegiance

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

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

Puffs

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

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

Newsies

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

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

Something Rotten

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

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

Steven 2.jpg





Hamilton

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

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

Steven 3.jpg



Crowns

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

Steven 4.jpg

Come from Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Shattering the Jukebox Stereotype

Darren Wildeman
At the time of this writing it’s been about a week since I saw Beautiful (it’ll be closer to a month when it’s published) and I have just only in the last couple days gotten “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” out of my head (although that may change when I listen to it yet again). However, traditionally for jukebox musicals the music isn’t usually the issue among audiences. It’s the book. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me step back a bit and tell why I even went to see Beautiful here and what I expected.

The only reason I went to see Beautiful is because it was a part of my season’s tickets here. And going in I expected it to be the low point of the season. I’m not a huge fan of Carole King’s music when it comes on the radio. Despite this I did enjoy parts of the cast album but obviously the National Tour didn’t have Jessie Mueller so even that I was skeptical on. And then there was the fact that it’s a jukebox musical. And anyone who’s been in ATB or any musical theatre forum knows the reputation that jukebox musicals tend to have. No book. So, while I was going to go because I had the tickets, I honestly wasn’t expecting much.


“A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top”  by Angela George is licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0

“A Smiling Blond Woman in a Blue Top” by Angela George is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

First of all, my sincerest apologies to Sarah Bockel for thinking this show needed Jessie Mueller singing the songs and otherwise being skeptical because the music isn’t my taste otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, Jessie is a fantastic talent but Sarah Bockel as Carole absolutely killed it. She gave one of the best performances from an actor or actress I’ve seen live everything she did was absolutely flawless. Also, Ben Biggers was on as an understudy for Gerry. You couldn’t tell the difference. He was amazing.

Now let’s get into the actual story. The very first moment that stands out to me is when Carole goes to sell her song. There is a brilliant 4th wall break. She hesitates and when asked what’s wrong she goes “I just didn’t expect there to be so many people.” How Carole sells her first song to Donnie- who would be her eventual boss- is intriguing and the “1650 Broadway Medley” when she first steps into the office shows us what kind of sound is popular at the time. It’s fun, and is good exposition to set the time frame, it also brings out some songs that even the oldest and grumpiest of Broadway fans may have forgotten about. There was some trippy stuff that was popular (“Splish Splash I was Taking a bath” anyone?). Anyways, getting back to Carole her meeting of Gerry and the start of their career together flows seamlessly. From Carole getting pregnant, to Gerry asking her to marry him. These moments lead to an incredibly deep performance of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” The song works incredibly well and is beautiful and perfect for this moment in the show.  It also goes on to be given to the Drifters.

Also, it’s worth noting that while throughout the show he isn’t one of the main characters that gets the focus; Donnie is also a great character. The way he’s presented as the tough boss that no one can get to but then just as quickly will also display a soft side to his song writers is also a very good transition and building of a character. He’s tough and wants to be profitable. However, multiple times we see this exterior break and we see just how much he has cares for his song writers. On multiple occasions we see him as dining or conversing with Carole and her friends socially as well as professionally. And eventually when Carole moves, he 100% supports her and connects her to produce Lou Adler to record her solo album.

Possibly one of the most touching moments of the show comes next when Gerry writes “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” this is a tender and beautiful moment and Carole seeing it and singing it is amazing. As it so happens this is around the same time we meet Berry Mann and Cynthia Wilde who are competing with Gerry and Carole for a big opportunity for a song to be sung by the Shirrelles.  While Donnie loved both songs “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is the song that Carole and Gerry which got picked by Donnie. What follows after this is a brilliant blend of song and book writing by Douglas McGrath. Carole and Gerry are presented as going head to head with Cynthia and Berry as one writing pair writes a song, gets it produced and the other tries to match them. This is almost presented like some sort of boxing match with music. It’s flawlessly executed. Something like this runs the risk of being too repetitive however, Douglas’ book writing prevents that and shows these two pairs cranking out hit after hit in an effective manner. The other thing that comes out that as fierce rivals and competitors that they are to each other they are also becoming good friends. The show focusses on the song writing, yet we see both pairs humanity coming through equally as much. The exposition in this book is brilliant.

At the end of the second act we see that Gerry is cheating. The second act opens with “Chains” which again is amazing placement of this song given how Gerry is fooling around and playing Carole.

 Shortly after he reveals he’s been cheating Gerry has a massive breakdown. He is hospitalized and says he wants to come home. However, it isn’t soon after this that he is revealed to have been cheating again and Carole finally leaves him for good.

Gerry is just a phenomenal character in this show. Not in a morale sense, obviously cheating in a marriage or relationship is not okay. However, I like the writing in that Gerry doesn’t cheat for seemingly no reason. There is clearly something ticking about him and he is most likely mentally ill and what he is experiencing is the result of some sort of inner turmoil. Possibly mania, but regardless it’s clear he’s suffering. When I saw the show, my heart can’t help but hurt for him a little bit. There is no excusing his actions let me make that perfectly clear; however, Gerry appears to have been mentally ill in a time when we knew very little about what being mentally ill meant. He had moments when he wanted to be there for Carole and his daughter, he had moments when he tried, but unfortunately, he went down the wrong path and hurt a lot of people. As we see later in the show, he had a lot of regrets.

Going back to Carole, the other moment I love in this instance is Carole’s mother when Carole tells her it’s over. Throughout the show Carole’s mother is presented as a hard ass who doesn’t at all care about her past or her husband. She’s over him and doesn’t think of him and is harsh towards Carole whenever he is mentioned. However, when Carole tells her, we see the true hurt that her mother has also been masking for years now. Not a day passes when she doesn’t hurt for her lost marriage and lover, and she reveals to Carole just how much hurt is there. Not only does she disclose her hurt to Carole, but she then reminds Carole how much she has done in her career. As Carole was thinking all her song writing and music had been done with Gerry and that she needed him. However, her mother reminded her how young she was when she sold her first song, she shows her that she can carry on without Gerry. In this instance we see who Carole’s mother really is and how strong she has been. She goes from being a necessary but not a large role, to being the parent that Carole once again really needed. In a sense it’s a character reveal how tender and loving she comes across to Carole in this instance as opposed to just being the well-meaning but harsh mother. It’s an incredible flip that is so well written.

From here we see Carole meet Barry and Cynthia in a bar. Barry and Cynthia convince her to sing and she sings what was then a new song “It’s Too Late” this is another brilliant song placement and weaving the already existing song into the score. It reveals the pain that Carole has felt and how she’s trying to move on.

From here we see Carole reveal she’s moving to LA to get a fresh start. Not only is she moving to LA but she tells Donnie she has some songs she wants someone to record and that someone she thinks should be herself. Donnie hugs her and thinks it would be a fantastic idea. She then says goodbye to Donnie, Berry, and Cynthia to start out in LA.

Carole records her album Tapestry and is on the last song. She doesn’t want to record it because it’s one of the songs she wrote with Gerry. Lou Adler convinces her to sing the song because despite all the pain she’s been through which is prominent in a lot of her songs people also need to be reminded of the hope and happiness there can be in love as well. Thus “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is recorded.

This is yet another fantastic song placement. It would have been easy to place this song towards the beginning of the show when Gerry and Carole are falling in love. But instead it gets placed at the end, which would be the least logical place in the story for such a song. However, after so much hurt, and so much pain, it flips that hurt on its head as a subtle but powerful reminder that even in the darkest times there is hope. The album and Carole go on to win many awards

Finally, Carole is about to play on Radio City, we see Gerry appear backstage. He comes to make amends and apologize for everything. For reasons I discussed earlier about Gerry I like how he’s presented here and how friendly this exchange is without excusing everything Gerry did.

In short, this show was fantastic. I think the reason it worked so well is that Carole wrote a lot of these songs to tell her story. And the writers recognized that and Douglas Mcgrath wrote a near flawless book to weave Carole’s story together with her own songs. From Carole’s own heartbreak and triumph, to her and Gerry’s competition and friendship with both Barry and Cynthia, to her starting over. This show flows near flawlessly and there are no moments where the music takes over to stop the story. The book and the score work together, with neither one taking over or fading away for the sake of the other. It’s a fantastic book and it has 100% deserved to do as well as it has done.

 

Revisiting Oz

Kelly Ostazeski

I first saw Wicked at the Kennedy Center in the winter of 2005. It was my senior year of high school and I was just starting to see Broadway musicals. My first Elphaba and Glinda duo was Stephanie J. Block and Kendra Kassebaum. I fell in love with the now iconic story of the unlikely friendship of the witches of Oz, made famous by The Wizard of Oz, on film and the page.

 But loves do fade over time, and while I listened to the cast recording numerous times and made two more return trips to Oz, this time twice at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, Maryland, I no longer connected to the story. I no longer cited Wicked as one of my favorite musicals – which is fine, because we all have our favorites and we all see different things in the musicals we connect to.

Until this year.


Perhaps it was the company – a friend who has seen Wicked over fifty times and at least ten green witches, a friend who had never been to New York until that day, a friend who loves the show but hasn’t seen it nearly as much as the first, and another friend who had only seen one previous Broadway show. Perhaps it was the fact that we won the lottery. And perhaps it was the fact that it was my first time seeing the show in the incredible Gershwin Theatre in New York.

The Gershwin certainly helps the atmosphere. Walking into the lobby you see a giant map of Oz, and two staircases off to another lobby, more merchandise for sale, and the lists of legends inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and their headshots on the walls. It was like being in the presence of the greats, the icons, the legends of the American Theatre. We had plenty of time before the show started so it was fun to read through the names and point out our favorites.

 Perhaps it was the current cast – the incredible Jessica Vosk as Elphaba, who brings new life into the green girl that I hadn’t seen in years. Her vocal power, her humanity, and her quirks that she brings to this character made her instantly my new favorite Elphaba. The standby Emily Mechler was on for Glinda instead of Amanda Jane Cooper, and she delivered. Ryan McCartan was an incredible Fiyero. Swing Tess Ferrell was on for Nessarose and brought a fierceness and strength I hadn’t seen before in this character. Isabel Keating and Kevin Chamberlin were Madame Morrible and the Wizard, and both were incredible.

 Perhaps it was also because I saw it several days before the fifteenth anniversary celebration, and several days before the television special that aired on NBC, A Very Wicked Halloween. The special featured performances by the original Elphaba and Glinda, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and appearances by many of the actresses who have played the witches in the past. Menzel sang a pop version of “Defying Gravity” and Chenoweth sang “Popular”. Several pop stars also appeared in the special, including Ariana Grande who returned to her musical theatre roots and sang “The Wizard and I” and Pentatonix, who performed “What Is This Feeling”. All of the Elphabas and Glindas gathered on stage to sing “For Good”. The fact that a Wicked special was even on television, with all of these stars, shows how much the musical is ingrained into popular culture.

 And yet, somehow the show still feels as fresh now as it did when I saw it first almost thirteen years ago. It was like seeing it for the first time. The energy of the cast, the excitement of being in that theatre, seeing it so close to the fifteenth anniversary of the show. It made me realize how ingrained into pop culture Wicked has become. It’s become one of the famous shows that tourists see on their once in a lifetime trip to New York – along with The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, or Chicago. Something about that story, the characters, the score – it’s enjoyable for all ages, and definitely has something for everyone – friendship, romance, and magic. It’s still an incredible experience – let’s just say, Broadway has been changed for good because of the witches of Oz.

 I wasn’t expecting to feel what I did during my fourth time seeing the show, or to get as emotional as I did during “Defying Gravity” or “For Good”. I don’t usually pay too much attention to “The Wizard and I” or “No Good Deed” but Jessica Vosk delivered such an incredibly powerful performance during all of her songs that I saw them in a different light. I was also inspired to keep going in my theatrical career path and to follow my dreams once again. It’s amazing what a powerful piece of theatre can do for your dreams, isn’t it?

 Maybe it’s time to take a return trip to Oz. Even if you’ve seen it before, I highly recommend seeing it again with this cast. Jessica Vosk can make you see Elphaba through new eyes. She’s worth the price of the ticket alone. Or maybe as you’ve grown, you can find something new to appreciate in this iconic show. Perhaps the show has grown with you. I know I found something new to appreciate at this performance. I think I’ll return again sooner rather than later.

                                                                                                   

 

 

 

Beetlejuice at the National Theatre

The National Theatre currently houses the world premier of Beetlejuice, a musicalized version of the 1988 film of the same name. The last time I saw a Pre-Broadway tryout at the National, I had a mixed opinion on Mean Girls. But since then, Mean Girls has made most of the necessary changes to be a well written musical adaptation of a film. I can only hope that Beetlejuice is able to do the same, as it is a fun and entertaining piece of theatre, but not quite ready to hit Broadway just yet. The musical centers around Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman), a demon from the netherworld whose mission is to murder human beings and cause chaos through Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso), a living teenage girl tired of being invisible to her father, who has ignored the death of her mother. Despite this musical being based on a cult classic film, the musical is an entirely different animal. The film focuses on Adam and Barbara Maitland, a recently deceased suburban couple trying to navigate their way in the afterlife. This is the biggest of many differences between the film and its stage adaptation. Most of the changes made work well and enhance the story. If you want to see a musical that impersonates its source material, you can go see Pretty Woman.

The creative team of Beetlejuice includes Eddie Perfect, who wrote the music and lyrics. Perfect, who also wrote the music for this season’s Broadway musical King Kong, delivers a score that explores many genres of music. Each character seems to have their own sound. Despite the music’s lack of memorability, it is still relatively fun and enjoyable, and Perfect does a great job of writing music that fits the style of the characters he is writing for. The show--particularly the first act--includes quite a few short songs that feel unnecessary and could probably work better as dialogue. Scott Brown and Anthony King’s book does a good job of adapting the film to the stage. In the first act the book was nearly where it needs to be for a Broadway run, but the second act deals with a few more problems. The general plot and dialogue of the second act is much more confusing than that of the first act. Alex Timbers’ directional vision is perfect and gets across well, but his staging often fails to make use of the incredible set by David Korins (Hamilton).  Connor Gallagher’s choreography is unique and diverse in style. Unlike the staging, the choreography is full on and large, using the space to full effect.

The material of the show is balanced, and perhaps even surpassed by the stellar cast. Alex Brightman‘s comedic timing is perfect for a part like this, and he creates his own version of Beetlejuice while still sharing similarities to Michael Keaton in the film. Sophia Anne Caruso’s Lydia is an incredibly developed character, and her voice is the perfect balance of innocence and angst. Rob McClure and Kerry Butler are so perfectly cast in their parts that at times the two seem underutilized.The cast’s biggest standout was Leslie Kritzer as Delia, who is perhaps the funniest cast member of the show.

The technical aspects of the show manage to perfectly emulate Tim Burton’s style in the film. David Korins’ spectacular set was perfectly complemented by Kenneth Posner’s lighting, which is amazing from before the show even begins. Peter Hylenski’s sound design is perfectly balanced between the actors and musicians, and it feels unique to the style. The costumes by William Ivey Long are also brilliantly designed and detailed. Other technical highlights include hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and puppet design by Michael Curry.

Will Beetlejuice fulfil its potential and become a fun, big, and spectacular Broadway hit? That is up to the future, but some work on the show by the time it begins Broadway previews in March could make Beetlejuice a brilliant crowd-pleaser. Shake, shake, shake, Senora!



Doing the Dark Side Shuffle

Michael Kape

I spent seven years as one of the most hated, hateful, grumpy, delighted, even-handed, fair, miserable people in theatre. It’s no secret—I was a theatre critic in Atlanta, first for WABE-FM and Southern Voice, and then for Atlanta Theatre Weekly. I refer to this as my time on the Dark Side.

Yet I would never trade the experience, even though it was soul-crushing having to give honest reviews (some good and some bad) to people I liked and respected. Yes, even theatre critics have souls. They might be hard to find (nearly impossible, some would say), but we have them.

Just don’t do something stupid. That can incur our wrath.

Photo by nito100/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by nito100/iStock / Getty Images

* * *

One of my fellow critics at the time had a tendency to go off on tangents, and the tangent would become the main thrust of his reviews. He was a nice guy in real life, but you’d never know it from what he wrote. (As long as I knew him, he was trying to write a biography of actress Piper Laurie; I don’t think it ever was published.)

I tried very hard not to do this, and I succeeded—except once. A local company was doing a production of Pump Boys & Dinettes, a musical I genuinely like. It was going well until the middle of Act II. From out of nowhere, a character holds up a logo and says, “And I buy all my stereo equipment at Hi-Fi Buys,” the local chain serving as a sponsor of the theatre company. Totally broke character. Totally not in keeping with the script or spirit of the show. Just. Plain. Wrong.

I was pissed. I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. I was seeing red. When it came time to deliver my review, I went off on a tangent—and couldn’t come back. Hi-Fi Buys banned me from its stores.

(BTW, not the first or last time I’ve ever been banned. Soap opera actress Deirdre Hall—who hated being called a soap opera actress but that’s what she was—once had me declared persona non grata at NBC for a year. A local theatre company here recently banned Grumpy Olde Guy® because I told the truth about its production of the highly-offensive Jewtopia.)

* * *

The late Robert Goulet was touring in South Pacific (a show I genuinely don’t like) playing Emile. In my review, I referred to him as the “dipsomaniacal Robert Goulet,” because, well, frankly, he was the night I saw him. His wife (and fierce protector) pointed out to him what I meant: he was drunk as a skunk onstage. He decided he liked the other reviewer better. Okay, I pissed him off, but he was really inebriated, and you could tell by his performance.

* * *

Speaking of pissing off famous people, there was the time I reviewed Marla Maples (soon to become Wife #2 to Donald Trump) as Ziegfeld’s Favorite in The Will Rodgers Follies. Okay, so I called her a “celebrity by osmosis.” Sure, I noted how you could see her counting steps to herself when she tried (unsuccessfully) to dance. But was that any reason for Mr. Trump (not POTUS then) to call the station and demand I be fired? (BTW, I wasn’t fired.)

* * *

Sitting next to me right now as I type this is the London cast recording of Hot Mikado, conceived, written, and directed by David H. Bell. It’s a terrific show, and it deserves a Broadway production. Of course, I’ve been saying this for 20 years. Yet before he did Hot Mikado, David wrote a musical loosely based on the history of the Beach Boys. It was awful—a show with no conflict (every minor dispute was resolved by the end of each scene, with no reason to lurch forward to the next one). Yes, I panned it, and David wouldn’t speak to me again until the glowing review of Hot Mikado made it into print. No, I wasn’t surprised. But it was kind of soul-crushing.

* * *

Can a critic really kill a show? I truly do not believe so. Yet I know from first-hand experience a critic can definitely do in a cast. I was seeing Les Misérables for the fourth time. The first time (and not as a critic) I saw it, I thought it was fantastic. So, this was not a matter of me not liking the material. The opposite is true—when it’s done well. The tour of Les Misérables pulls into town, and the cast is clearly tired from being on the road too long. Opening night. Everyone is dragging their collective asses on stage—leads and chorus. Even the orchestra seemed to lack enthusiasm. So, I gave this production a bad review for the reason I cited. The theatre was furious at me (the people there had not seen the show the night before). They decided to go see for themselves how wrong I was—but they concluded I had been justified in what I said. The next morning, they called Cameron McIntosh, who flew in to see for himself that night. After the performance, he gathered the cast together on stage—and fired every single one of them (he subsequently did the same thing to the Broadway cast). Oops. (Yes, I feel badly about this. I keep telling you being a critic can crush your soul.)

* * *

One review landed me and my partner in Atlanta Theatre Weekly in a whole lot of trouble because it was totally accurate—and that was the problem. One of our friends works at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Library and has for many years; he was also a subscriber. For a long time, I had been hearing about this radical idea an artistic director had for Oklahoma, which he finally was able to present. While there were many problems with the production, the main one was he had added a prologue, epilogue, and interpolated dialogue into the musical. He had also reset the show in a rehearsal hall on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed (BTW, Oklahoma opened nearly two years after Pearl Harbor). It was totally going against the spirit of the show (I consulted Rodgers autobiography, Musical Stages, to verify this). The R&H Library saw the review and threatened to shut the show down immediately if the changes weren’t cut. A brouhaha ensued. Our review was at the center of it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution damned us. We were blamed for doing our jobs. Indeed, a few years later, a book about gay theatre came out, and the first chapter blasted us for publishing a review critical of this “daring concept.” More than 20 years later, I stand by that review.

* * *

There are some things a critic may never do. You can’t go to a show drunk (not a problem for me since I never was much of a drinker, and these days not at all). You may never express an opinion about a show until it appears in print or is aired (the producers of the Miss Saigon tour tried to get us to break that rule—and were sorely disappointed as a result). And no matter how bad the show is, you can’t walk at intermission. Well, almost never. I saw over 600 shows during my time as a critic, and I only left at intermission twice. It wasn’t my idea either time. The first time, I had initially been asked to come to dress rehearsal to do my review. Frankly, the show wasn’t ready to be reviewed. At intermission, the producer came up to me and asked if I could come back at a different time, half-expecting me to laugh and turn him down. He forgot I had spent many years on the other side, so I completely understood the dilemma. I told him I would gladly return at a later date to do my review—and I did (I gave the show a good review, too).

The second time I walked I did not return. A theatre company had imported a show—sight unseen—from South Africa. The first act was ghastly (to be kind). Indeed, it was so bad I really did not want to review it because I could see nothing redeeming about it. But I still planned to stay for Act II. Again, the producer came to me and asked me not to review what I had just seen. I couldn’t grab my coat fast enough.

Having now come back from the Dark Side, the ability to walk at intermission of a truly awful show is a luxury. I savor those moments when a show is so bad I don’t want to come back (wish I had done that for Love Never Dies, which I knew was going to be dreadful from the first five minutes; it didn’t get better after that).

* * *

One of life’s great ironies is I studied to be a theatre critic (major in theatre, minor in journalism). Once I did it, I never wanted to do it again. Now I just kibitz from the audience like everyone else. And I’m okay with that. At least my soul is still intact. I think.

 

Michael Kape is an opinionated, miserable, and decidedly grumpy decrepit olde guy. Other than that, he’s a pretty nice person.

 

Never cross a critic. It can get ugly.

Theatre vs. Teens: A Battle for Representation

Jyothi Cross

I know what you're thinking: “Teens? Representation? You have to be kidding me - teens are the most represented people in theatre.” And sure, there are plenty of shows which feature teens: Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers, Mean Girls, but can we really say that these shows truly explore teenage life? Nah.

Sure, high school/secondary school/whatever you call it is one of the biggest parts of being a teen - I know, it's happening right now for me, but are our lives really only based around school? Around what cliques and classes we have? I mean, I guess maybe if you're American... But across the pond our lives are only maybe 20% of this. When every show focuses on simply three girls being mean to another girl, they aren't truly representing teenagers, but instead what adults see of them; perhaps this is where the first problem lies! All the shows that garner attention, that go anywhere, are written by adults - people who understood at one point but whose minds (and, dear adults, I don't mean this badly) have been almost polluted by what they see on films and TV - their memories simply become another spin off of Heathers. Perhaps a first solution, in the battle for representation, would be to encourage more teenagers to write plays and make art about their life; a little extra never hurt anyone!

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Now, I know what you're thinking, “my school experience is/was just like these shows: I was bullied; I joined drama club (I'm writing for a Broadway blog, k?); I fell out with my parents because of my toxic friends and then realized how important they were”. And I know some of these elements are true, but really is that it? Are we stuck to this stereotypical representation of the lives of teens?

Another issue lies around topics covered, because although watching children's cartoons live on stage is so so cool and nostalgic, that's not what teenagers are all about. I spend 3 hours a night doing homework, I do sports, I actually enjoy spending time with my friends (why does nobody in musicals enjoy spending time with their friends?) but when I see or hear musicals they don't talk about topics relevant to me or my peers. Sure, they talk about school - and, like, they really talk about school - but I, as a teenager, want to see shows about coping with stress of life, about going on a mad holiday with my friends, about falling in love and getting rejected (no, not falling in love Spring Awakening style).

I want an Inbetweeners musical.

That's the kind of musical teens need to feel represented. Or, something harder, like Dear Evan Hansen with more risks because teens are tired of being put in a bubble of regularity. At the moment, teenagers are leading the world to change: whether that be March For Our Lives or people like Malala Yousafzai. Teenagers are more than Broadway, or the West End gives them credit for. We are at a turning point where representation is a key topic at any point so why can't we let teenagers voices be heard - but their real voices this time.

I know what you're thinking: “Teens? Representation? You have to be kidding me - teens are the most represented people in theatre.” And sure, there are plenty of shows which feature teens: Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers, Mean Girls, but can we really say that these shows truly explore teenage life? Nah.

Sure, high school/secondary school/whatever you call it is one of the biggest parts of being a teen - I know, it's happening right now for me, but are our lives really only based around school? Around what cliques and classes we have? I mean, I guess maybe if you're American... But across the pond our lives are only maybe 20% of this. When every show focuses on simply three girls being mean to another girl, they aren't truly representing teenagers, but instead what adults see of them; perhaps this is where the first problem lies! All the shows that garner attention, that go anywhere, are written by adults - people who understood at one point but whose minds (and, dear adults, I don't mean this badly) have been almost polluted by what they see on films and TV - their memories simply become another spin off of Heathers. Perhaps a first solution, in the battle for representation, would be to encourage more teenagers to write plays and make art about their life; a little extra never hurt anyone!

Now, I know what you're thinking, “my school experience is/was just like these shows: I was bullied; I joined drama club (I'm writing for a Broadway blog, k?); I fell out with my parents because of my toxic friends and then realized how important they were”. And I know some of these elements are true, but really is that it? Are we stuck to this stereotypical representation of the lives of teens?

Another issue lies around topics covered, because although watching children's cartoons live on stage is so so cool and nostalgic, that's not what teenagers are all about. I spend 3 hours a night doing homework, I do sports, I actually enjoy spending time with my friends (why does nobody in musicals enjoy spending time with their friends?) but when I see or hear musicals they don't talk about topics relevant to me or my peers. Sure, they talk about school - and, like, they really talk about school - but I, as a teenager, want to see shows about coping with stress of life, about going on a mad holiday with my friends, about falling in love and getting rejected (no, not falling in love Spring Awakening style).

I want an Inbetweeners musical.

That's the kind of musical teens need to feel represented. Or, something harder, like Dear Evan Hansen with more risks because teens are tired of being put in a bubble of regularity. At the moment, teenagers are leading the world to change: whether that be March For Our Lives or people like Malala Yousafzai. Teenagers are more than Broadway, or the West End gives them credit for. We are at a turning point where representation is a key topic at any point so why can't we let teenagers voices be heard - but their real voices this time.

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?

 

Don't Tony Worship

Jonathan Fong

In light of the recent Tony Awards, I just thought I’d write something that has been on my mind for a while. I’ve seen this happening a lot, in both community and professional theatre, and I thought it should be addressed

No, it’s not about people judging whether what won should’ve won. There has been enough debate about The Band’s Visit winning everything already, as there always has been and will be when a show sweeps the Tonys, and I’m not going to open that can of worms. In fact, what I’m going to talk about isn’t really something specific to this year nor any year in the past.
I’m going to talk about something else. I call it Tony worship. No, I’m not talking about those who have shrines to Tony from West Side Story in their rooms. I neither confirm nor deny the presence of one in mine. I’m talking about people treating the Tony Awards, and everything associated with or related to them, as the entirety of theatre itself.


Every year, I see dozens of small-scale productions, some community/amateur and some professional, of musicals mimic the Tony-winning set or costume designs of that musical’s original Broadway production. Every year I see other productions attempt to copy the original choreography, with varying degrees of success, of the original Broadway production. Every year, I see, whether online or in person, dozens of performances of the same songs from the musical theatre canon sung in the exact same way - intonation, tone, delivery, you name it. 
And every year, when I ask the person in charge of set design or the performer why, they say the same variations of the same thing - ‘(insert-famous-theatre-person-here) did it and won a Tony for it’.


Let’s ignore for a second the copyright issues which come with copying things such as set designs or costume designs (you don’t get the rights to copy a production’s set design when you get the rights to a musical, in case you were unaware). Let’s also ignore the real risk of doing things like mimicking an actor’s vocal tone in a song without proper vocal training to do so, which can actually do harm to your voice.


Thing is, yes, they won a Tony for it. But do the Tonys define theatre? Do they define your production and what direction it should take? Do they define you as an actor?
Sutton Foster, Patti LuPone, Idina Menzel - they’re all incredibly talented actors. No one’s doubting that Andy Blankenbuehler or Christopher Gattelli are wonderful choreographers, neither is anyone doubting the amazing designs of David Zinn or Mimi Lien. They’re all clearly good at what they do and the fact that they won Tonys for their work is proof of that. But at the end of the day, what they did was take the material given to them - librettos, plot synopses, the like - and interpreted and developed it in their own unique ways. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what everyone’s supposed to do?


As actors, choreographers, directors, designers, or whatever role you might have in the theatre, isn’t it our job to make our own interpretations of what we’re given? To creatively stretch the boundaries and go beyond the text or the libretto? Why are we defining what we should do by what others have done, and not the limits of our own creativity? Why are we copying other’s creative work just to feel secure in what we do?


I’m not saying that you shouldn’t seek inspiration in any way from other sources. Inspiration from others is one of the most valuable things you can get in the arts - it can offer insights you might have never otherwise considered. And I most certainly would be lying if I said I’d never looked at what other artists have done as guidance.


But please, for crying out loud, don’t just copy Sutton Foster’s Tony-winning performance in Anything Goes for your recital, or the minimalist set design of the 2005 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd (yes, that actually happened) for your local community theatre production of the show. Don’t just sing Defying Gravity ‘that way’ because ‘Idina Menzel did it’, and don’t light the stage or design your props ‘that way’ because ‘that Broadway show did it and won a Tony’. That’s not justification for a creative cop-out. Yes, they won a Tony for it, but they won it not for copying what someone else did, but because what they did was original and creative.
Be creative. Be brave. Be theatrical. Stretch the boundaries; don’t be content with being ‘safe’ with what others have successfully done. Make your work as an artist unique and your own, not a mere imitation of what someone won a Tony for.
Don’t let the Tonys alone define what theatre is for you.

2018: The Year of the Adults-But...

Photo by asbe/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by asbe/iStock / Getty Images

Michael Kape
This was the year the adults dominated the Tony Awards. But 16 kids, 16 high school students, took two minutes (out of 525,600 in a year) to steal the show in what was the most emotional moment I can remember in over 50 years of Tony watching.
Musicals
Going into the telecast (or live streaming online), four shows really dominated the nominations: SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and a tiny little musical called The Band’s Visit. The prognosticators expected an all-out duel between SpongeBob and Mean Girls in the various musical categories. Harry Potter faced competition from four shows already shuttered in the play competitions, so it was expected to sweep; it did not disappoint.

So, what went wrong with all the predictions? And why was Frozen essentially shut out?
Remember, a hefty number of Tony voters come from the touring houses across the country. They vote with an eye toward what is going to fill seats in their cities. Yet sometimes, they throw caution to the wind and vote for what they think is actually the best in various categories. This was such a year.

To be honest—and certainly judging from some of the excerpts we saw on the telecast—the voters were simply not all that impressed by much of what they saw. Frankly, neither was I.
How did a tiny little 90-minute show like The Band’s Visit manage to pull off a sweep and take home 10 Tonys? Simple. It was the only musical appealing to the adults in the room.
I have never been much of a fan of Frozen, which could only muster a handful of nominations in the first place. Grant you, I am not the target demographic for this show; neither are the Tony voters. Personally, I found the animated film kind of meh (and the live version running at Disney resorts even more so). It doesn’t rank as Bobby Lopez’s (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) best work. Onstage, it looks like a lot of gimmicks pasted together. Still, it’s already booking its tour dates, and I don’t think anyone needs to lose sleep over it being completely shut out. 

The Theatre Wing fully expected Mean Girls’ Tina Fey to win for Best Book (hence the reason Best Book was telecast, and Best Score wasn’t). And Mean Girls did rack up a lot of nods, so it was reasonable to expect it to pick up several honors ahead of its tour announcement. Surprise (not really), it was completely shut out. Likewise, SpongeBob SquarePants should have taken home (as it was expected) a slew of the creative awards; it won just one, for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. 

Meanwhile, The Band’s Visit kept racking up wins. Quietly. As if it had snuck into the Tonys and just being nominated was supposed to be win enough.

But The Band’s Visit was meant for adult audiences; SpongeBob, Mean Girls, and Frozen were for the kids. The adults dominated the evening, and The Band’s Visit won 10 Tonys as a result.
You would think my argument about the evening being for the adults would fizzle when it came to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Quite the contrary is true. The young readers who devoured the books as they were published are now grown themselves. Harry Potter (and its brilliant script) actually tackles the very real and adult issues of parenting and having one’s youth suddenly take center stage 19 years later, with your children having to bear the brunt of your foolishness. Adult themes and an adult show. Still, it did not take home any acting honors, instead being quite content to earn several creatives and the big prize, Best Play. 

The televised excerpts from the new musicals we viewed were a mixed bag (to be kind). Mean Girls seemed lively enough, but I didn’t feel motivated to see more (let’s just say I wasn’t surprised it didn’t pick up a Best Score win). One thing really did irk me watching it. These are supposed to be high school students and most of them looked their actual ages (ie, well into their twenties). Kind of stretches credulity, and not in the intended way. As I noted earlier, Frozen was not impressive either. Sure, great special effects and quick costume changes dominated, yet it was also kind of jarring to see the full cast singing a number where only half the cast is involved (really, who would let Sven the Reindeer into a palace to sing and dance?). I wish the excerpt from SpongeBob SquarePants had been about the title character (poor Ethan Slater showed up for 15 seconds and then disappeared). Gavin Lee did get to do his big tap dance, which was remarkable to be sure, but it’s not what the show is about. Lest we forget, there was that excerpt from Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. However, now we can forget it with its really mediocre disco choreography (truly disappointing). I personally thought the excerpt from The Band’s Visit was haunting and “Omar Sharif” is a beautiful song. The moment showed a quiet dexterity in using subtle moves to make its point. Subtlety was something all the other musical lacked in what they displayed; subtlety won the night.

Revivals
What about the revivals, both Play and Musical? Even though it had its flaws, the revival of Angels in America was expected to do well—and it didn’t disappoint, with Andrew Garfield (Best Actor), Nathan Lane (Best Featured Actor), and the production itself taking home wins. Three Tall Women won what it was supposed to win—Best Actress (the incomparable and sublime Glenda Jackson) and Best Featured Actress (twice-in-two-years winner Laurie Metcalf; I guess this almost makes up for the sting of the Roseanne debacle). 

With musical revivals, My Fair Lady and Carousel were supposed to dominate. Then look at what we saw in the telecast. I could have easily fallen asleep during My Fair Lady (except for Norbert Leo Butz doing a wild imitation of Stanley Holloway, the original Alfred). Carousel confused and confounded me. On one hand, it was a great way to showcase the Tony-winning choreography of Justin Peck. Great staging for “Blow High, Blow Low” (normally a throwaway number these days but truly a highlight). On the other hand, that is NOT what Carousel is all about. Five leads were nominated in their respective categories (and I was happy to see Lindsay Mendez take Featured Actress in a Musical honors—great acceptance speech, too), and not one of them appeared in the Carousel selection. What were they thinking? I mean, guys, you had opera diva Renée Friggin’ Fleming, whose rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” put a whole new spin on an old chestnut, but she was nowhere to be seen on that stage. A really bad move indeed. Still, I expect the revival is going to make the tour—without any of the nominated leads, of course. Both My Fair Lady and Carousel came off as respectful of the originals but not overly inventive. (One need only look at the Richard Chamberlin revival of My Fair Lady 20 years ago to see a complete rethinking of the piece.) The Once on This Island moment was startling, colorful, and just brilliant. It was a complete reimagining of the original and ultimately proved why it won the award. (The goat helped in his own way.)

Springsteen
Yes, he deserves to be discussed all by himself. He’s been packing in audiences at the Walter Kerr for months (a hotter ticket than Hamilton). He looks terrific, not even close to his 68 years. (Too bad the same couldn’t be said about Billy Joel, his contemporary, who looked like he’s forgotten how to take care of himself.) For much of the broadcast, I thought diversity was going to be the dominant theme of this year’s show. Then Bruce Springsteen came on and proved it was more than that—it was diversity in the context of the American spirit. During the telecast, some of my fellow ATB bloggers were grumbling about how he talked so much and didn’t sing. But I fear they were mistaken. “My Hometown” is a brilliant monologue with a few bars being sung. It celebrated (and bemoaned) a time of lost innocence, of family bonding, and of an unfulfilled longing. Personally, I loved it and thought it was one of the evening’s highlights. 

Acceptances
Just some random thoughts about the various acceptance speeches, which ranged from quietly dignified to exuberant to deeply moving and stirring. Just some notable moments:
Andrew Garfield (Best Actor in a Play) set a lot of the tone for the evening in his heartfelt plea to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community—and to let them have their cake and eat it too (a none-too-subtle dig at the Supreme Court).

The time for the beard at the Tony telecast is finally gone, and gay men can finally thank their husbands and partners openly. Some of those thanks were emotional (Nathan Lane) and some were actually quite funny (Happy birthday, David!). 

Ari’el Stachel (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) was both inspiring and infinitely sad. Sad because he trained to play any ethnicity but his own; inspiring because he just won a Tony for playing his own ethnic background. 

I would have liked to see the full acceptance speeches—live on air—for all those creative awards presented during the commercials. Someone should remind the Theatre Wing and CBS you can’t have a Broadway show without costumes, sets, orchestration, choreography, and sound design. And not showing David Yazbek finally winning a Tony (after three pervious losses) for his score to The Band’s Visit was just plain criminal.

Why the hell cut off Jack Thorne (Best Play) from giving his acceptance speech for his brilliant work on Harry Potter? Really a bad move all around.

Couldn’t help but be moved by the acceptance speech given by David Cromer (Best Director of a Musical). His reaching-out to those in pain, those who feel isolated and alone, and those who (tacitly implied) might be considering suicide was such a wondrous departure yet so fitting with the mood of the event.

I loved Tony Shalhoub’s (Best Actor in a Musical) heartfelt tribute to his father, who came over from Lebanon as an immigrant. (A lot of grumbling online about this win for so quiet a performance as the one he delivered. Best Actor in a Musical doesn’t always have to be about belting out the score, you know.)

Other Observations
Some other notes I have for the telecast:
Three cheers for Josh Grobin and Sara Bareilles for doing a terrific job as co-hosts. You could see and feel the chemistry between them (they are good friends off-camera). They kept things moving. They were just so cute together and alone. And how the hell did they manage all those costume changes? (The cross-dressing bit was a hoot!) I gave up trying to keep count. Kudos to both of them for pulling off a big win for themselves. Now if only someone would put them together in a show, perhaps a re-imagined Nick and Nora.
A note from the Red-Carpet strut. Seems like no one was a chromophobe at the Tonys.
Shout-out to the current cast of Dear Evan Hansen for its rendition of “For Forever” during the very upsetting In Memoriam segment. 
Happy Daddies Day—no double entendre intended there I’m sure.
I’m kind of saddened because there were only three Best Musical Revival entries. 
Who the hell thought presenting the Lifetime Achievement Awards to Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd-Webber off camera was a good idea? That montage was nothing short of ridiculous. They both deserved their own individual moments to shine. Really a bad idea.
Bobby Lopez—a Frozen 2 is in the works? Do we really need this?
Mamma Mia 2 (as seen in the commercials)? Do we really need this (since the first one was so awful)? I don’t if care Cher is featured. Take away my card.
Judging from what we saw, the glam squad was out in full force last night.
That Moment
And a child shall lead them. Well, 16 children, actually. 
It was already a beautiful moment when Melody Herzfeld, a dedicated theatre teacher at Marjorie Stillman-Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, was awarded with Educator of the Year. Then the Tonys surprised everyone in the room and on television as a drop was raised and there stood 16 drama students who had survived the massacre on February 14, in no small part due to the heroic efforts of Ms. Herzfeld. Then they broke into “Seasons of Love” from Rent. Not a dry eye to be found in the house or at home. (No good using allergies as an excuse!)
This kind of special moment can only happen in the theatre. No movie can duplicate it. No book can adequately portray it. It was the children teaching the adults a lesson—and it was beautiful to behold. 
In Conclusion
Yes, the end is near. Not the end of the Fabulous Invalid. This year’s Tony Awards actually came off better than most I’ve ever seen. The right hosts. An undercurrent of diversity and acceptance throughout. And that moment.
Feel free to disagree (you’re wrong in my opinion, of course), but no one and no show was robbed at the ceremonies. The kiddie shows didn’t win but the adults did. And for some of us, that was a very good thing.

Don't Judge a Show by its Tonys

The Tony Awards, it’s the Superbowl for theatre fans. We root for our favorite shows/actors, we indulge in the 5 minute number of those nominated, and we cry when a favorite show wins or ultimately loses. We make joke bets on the nominees. We base a LOT of judgment of a show based on their Tony nominations. But I personally feel that we shouldn’t. Because not every show every season gets nominated for a Tony, and sometimes those shows not nominated are the best ones, and those nominated for a Tony may not be. While the Tony Awards are a great thing to reward shows every season, I think judging a show based solely on how many Tony’s they have or don’t have is kind of silly and we should stop judging a show based on those facts and look at the show as whole (story, music, book, development).

I know not everyone pays attention to a shows Tony nominations, but I know for a lot of fans, that’s a huge basis of whether or not they should see a show (I have seen it a lot recently on twitter). I get it, following what The Tony Committee says is a good show and what they feel deserves to be “show of the year”. Again, I understand. They seem to know what’s the best of the best this season. But sometimes, the shows nominated and the shows NOT nominated may be just as good or not. People are so presumptuous based on these nominations that they often forget those that aren’t nominated. While I personally don’t believe in a “Tony snub” that goes around on social media, I do believe that shows not nominated often get underlooked as they are often outshone by those nominated. Again I’m not saying this is always the case, take Anastasia for example. It wasn’t nominated for a Tony last season but is still one of the most beloved shows on Broadway currently and was more beloved than some of the nominees last season. Perfect example of why I think that a Tony nomination doesn’t give a show its worth. 

I suppose my main point is that because a certain show is nominated for a Tony, that doesn’t mean it is the best, and because a show wasn’t nominated for a Tony, doesn’t mean it’s bad or isn’t awesome, because every show on Broadway is. I mean it made its way on The Great White Way! Especially since we are approaching Tony season, all shows, nominated or not, should be given the love and support they deserve. Us as Broadway fans owe it to them. Whether we are huge fans of the show or not, every show deserves love and praise, nominated or not. Do take what I am saying with a grain of salt, this is all from my personal observation and a personal opinion, but it is something I’ve felt for a while.


-Taylour xx

upload.jpg

Nothing Without You

Rachel Hoffman

One of the most beautiful moments I have experienced is the moment before a show begins. The house goes dark and the audience is holding its breath, anticipating the first note from the orchestra. All eyes are fixed on a stage that is empty, but soon to be full of life.

During this brief moment between silence and song, between darkness and light, I like to glance at the people sitting around me. Gathered in one room are people of all ages, races, political stances, and religions. Yet, in this moment, all have the same desire: to see a beautiful work of art.

This past summer, I auditioned for and was cast as the role of Julie in my community theater’s young adult production of The Theory of Relativity by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill. Theory is a mix between a musical and a revue- audience members don’t realize that the seemingly unrelated scenes and songs have actually been connected to each other all along until the very end. The show centers around the theme “I am nothing without you,” a phrase that may seem simple on the outside, but ended up having more meaning to me than I could have imagined.

I was both excited and intimidated when the cast list came out. I knew I was the only cast member who hadn’t done a show at this particular theater before. I recognized a few names from school and other activities, but I wasn’t close friends with any of them. I knew that there were already close bonds and friendships between many of my castmates, and I also knew that I was entering a world where I might be viewed as an outsider. I was worried that my differences would prevent me from feeling like a true part of the cast, and that I’d spend the next two months feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome.

My worries turned out to be incredibly illegitimate. While a love of theatre may have been all I had in common with some of my castmates, I discovered that just like the characters we were portraying, we needed each other. Sure, on the stage, the need may have been surface level- without each of us, the show would cease to exist. But as we dug deeper into the show, I realized that “I am nothing without you,” meant more than just my role as an actor. In the show, many of our characters had never met each other, and yet their lives were changed by the others. In the same way, I began to realize how many people that I haven’t even met have probably impacted my life. I can conjure a picture in my head of a person who I believe is the exact opposite of me. And yet, there’s a good chance that this person, who I have never met, has changed my life in some way. “I am nothing without you,” means that if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be the same as I am today, even if I have never met you.

Need photo.png

 

The cast of The Theory of Relativity performing at Beatrice Community Players, August 2017

This isn’t to say that I became best friends with the rest of the cast immediately. Rather, I felt that because we all had the same goal- to create and perform art for someone who may need to hear our message- it was easy to look past the things that made us different. Instead of noticing the things that set me apart, I began to notice the things that connected me to the others. Maybe we liked the same bands or books. Maybe we’d played the same sports, or liked the same bad movies. I began to understand that humans are more alike than we are different.

But “I am nothing without you” goes beyond the stage. I believe that this same phenomenon happens between any group of people that come together with a common goal. In the theater, this also applies to the audience members. The actors on stage all need each other to create their art. But in the same way, the members of the audience need each other. Two people from completely different backgrounds can sit next to each other and experience joy or heartbreak simultaneously. When you experience a beautiful work of art, and the person next to you is experiencing the same emotion, for a moment, it doesn’t matter what makes you different from that person. In that moment, all that matters is that you are both human, and you are both able to feel. You may leave the theater not knowing that person’s story. Had you met outside the theater, they may have been your best friend or your worst enemy. But either way, their life impacts yours, just as yours does theirs. Without the person next to you, your life could be completely different.

I truly believe that my love of theatre has helped me grow into a more kind, compassionate, and accepting person. I feel that I’m more slow to judge, and much more quick to think, “I need this person in order to be alive.” Without each other, we would just be a speck on a marble. Without each other, we’re nothing. I am nothing without you.

“You’re a reflection of me: I reverberate; you reply. If I have a purpose, if I count at all, you are why. You measure, compare, you make me aware that I’m neither small nor obscure. I’m alive. You make sure.”

 

 

The Keys to Success: What Makes a Musical Popular?

Darren Wildeman

I’m an outsider to Musical Theatre. Don’t get me wrong I’m definitely a fan. I’m just a more recent convert only becoming a fan in the last three years or so.  Within that three years though I have learned a lot. Two questions I myself have asked a lot is “why and how do certain musicals explode while others are left by the wayside?” Being newer to musical theatre there were some things I had to come to understand first. Things that a lot of people already in the industry or who are fans know but I had to catch up on. I will be touching on some of these things later in this post, however, one possibly even the most important thing I’ve learned is that despite all the formulas, despite the rules, and despite there being some ways that improve a composer’s chances of writing a good musical nobody still really knows what will make a show explode. Some shows follow all the rules and flop, some shows are even very well written and STILL manage to flop (side eyes Bandstand). Then you get some shows that take the rule book, send it through a paper shredder, load up 500 pounds of TNT into said paper shredder, blow it up, dance on the remaining particles, and have the show be a complete success commercially and critically. Which shows fall into these respective categories? Let’s examine some of the booms and busts of recent Broadway history and see if we can narrow it down. As stated earlier, there are definitely some ways composers can help their case, but as you probably know nothing is a sure thing.
 

Here you see a couple of big Broadway hits. Wicked, Jersey Boys, Phantom, and Chicago. Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images

Here you see a couple of big Broadway hits. Wicked, Jersey Boys, Phantom, and Chicago. Photo by aluxum/iStock / Getty Images


Marketability
The first thing we’re going to look at is marketability. What is something that a lot of smash hits have done? They’ve pandered to a specific audience. That’s not to say that only those people can like these shows, however in general they do have more of an appeal to a certain group of people. For our first example of this we’re going to go back to what some people consider to be one of the first smash hits of recent musical theatre history. Some even go as far as to say it helped to save theatre when theatre was struggling. Of course I’m talking about RENT. RENT could qualify as the type of show where it isn’t particularly well written. Many attribute this to the unfortunate passing of Jonathon Larson and that he didn’t get to finish it. Many would also argue that his passing is what led to its success. However, if for a minute we ignore the writing quality, and we put his death to the side, we will see something else. RENT is a musical that a lot of people will say gave a voice to LGBTQ+ people. It gave hope and it made them cry. No, it wasn’t the first musical to display LGBTQ+ characters on stage but for the reason that it celebrated them it captured a main audience. It captured the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters. We’re talking marketability and RENT captured an audience perfectly. It had a fan base to build upon and a group of people who will watch and pay for their show.
 

RENT isn’t the only example of having an audience base. Wicked also did this really well. While they aren’t Disney one could argue that Wicked has very much went the Disney route with its story, design and music. There are obviously some differences between Wicked and Disney, but they employed a very similar strategy. They’re looking to be a family friendly musical that targets kids within the 8-15ish range. Even more specifically the girls in that age range. If they get more fans beyond that more power to them. However, just being a friendly family musical on its own gives it staying power. It’s a show parents could take the kids to for a night out. Let’s face it. How much kid entertainment is there that doesn’t also drive the parents up the wall? Wicked is one of the few things that can entertain both. This is what has given it incredible staying power.

As for the marketability of some flops. Bandstand was a well written show and a lot of people loved it. However, who is it going to reach out to? People who like big band style of music? Possibly, but that music is so out of style it doesn’t exactly have a massive crowd. People who support the military? These people did love this show; but that’s also a vague group to build a fan base around. As well as the fact that a lot of veterans and their families don’t necessarily have the money to go see a show. What about Great Comet? It probably shouldn’t be considered a flop, however it definitely could have done better. Controversy not withstanding- because let’s face it this show was hurting well before any controversy- this show closed fairly early. Again where is the fan base for a show like this? Fans of complicated Russian novels? That’s oddly specific. Fans of that style of music? That style is so unique it would be hard to find people who actively listen to it outside of this show. A lot of these shows don’t necessarily have a specific target audience. Or any audience they could capture is way too small.  Of course targeting one specific group isn’t necessary but it does give composers a fan base to build off.

Music Style
Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, She Loves Me, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, and Wicked. Aside from being box office smashes and/or critically acclaimed pillars of theatre what do these things have in common? They all do one of two things really well musically, if not both. They either build themes that are repeated throughout the show, or they have big powerful songs that just grab the audience. The latter is easier and more direct to talk about. An example of this is Phantom of the Opera. Think of Me, the title song, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, etc. these songs are all rely on a big orchestra and really catch the audience’s attention through beautiful melodies and powerful vocals. Same goes for a song like Defying Gravity. A big powerful song about independence that requires big vocals and big instrumentation. A lot of really popular shows have songs like these.  However, there is one other thing all these shows do well. They weave themes together throughout the show.
Think about how in Les Mis how often you hear the same orchestration or melody come up at different moments, this is quite often a throwback to a similar previous point in the show and is used as either juxtaposition, or comparison and often raises an important plot point. For example Who Am I and One Day More. In both these situations Val Jean is questioning something. They both raise an important plot point. However, in One Day More it isn’t just an important plot point for Val Jean, it’s an important point for ALL the characters in the show. Another very obvious example of this is in Dear Evan Hansen. There is a throwback to Waving Through a Window in Words Fail. He’s reminding himself why he always used to stop himself, why he sees himself the way he does, and why he thinks he’s a failure. Almost all the shows I mentioned in that list do something like this. Into the Woods has multiple reprises that all prove a point or harken back to a previous point of the show. The finale of She Loves Me is a nod to “Vanilla Ice Cream” to help illustrate that George is “dear friend.” There are many other examples of this in the shows I listed but for the sake of the length of this entry I unfortunately need to stop there.

Is all this to say that bad shows or shows that flop don’t do some of this? Not necessarily. Weaving in themes or having very powerful songs is something that pretty much any show these days does. What- you may ask then- is something that bad shows tend to do? Well there are a couple things you can pick up on. For this example we’re going to turn to Amelie. On the first listen the music to Amelie is beautiful. It truly does have a really nice cast album. However, that’s the problem. It only has a nice cast album. You see the music for Amelie doesn’t do much or go anywhere. Sure it still has themes but they aren’t tightly holding the show together like they do in some of the other shows. The music to Amelie is just sort of there. It does good moments. “Halfway There” is a really witty song. Unfortunately though these moments aren’t that common. A lot of the music is just there because the show is a musical. The music is really nice but when you watch it with the story, it doesn’t really do much for it. A lot of successful musicals have the music push the story, not just stop it for a pretty song. Which brings us to another culprit of this. Ghost.

Ghost is another show that also had potential but was really held back by the lyrics especially. With You is one of my favourite theatre songs, and it is full of wonderful tunes. Unfortunately very similarly to Amelie the show stops for a lot of these songs to happen. They don’t push the show, they don’t really move it forward in any way, and they’re just kind of there. For so many musicals this is the kiss of death. Sure some musicals have gotten away with it, but it’s less common. If a musical does get away with doing this, it’s usually because either the show is very strong somewhere else, or they don’t do it to an extreme extent and still manage to keep the plot moving. One of my favourite examples of this is Jekyll and Hyde.

This is a show that is well loved by many people in the community. However it is equally just as criticized for having songs that don’t move the plot. However, a couple of reasons it might be forgiven is because 1. It has a big powerful ballad which a lot of successful musicals have in This is The Moment. And 2. There are moments where there are songs do push the plot really well. The Confrontation in Jekyll and Hyde is brilliantly written. Also His Work and Nothing More is another song that is well written and sounds amazing. So while it isn’t perfect J&H is an example of a show that while it has issues, can still be forgiven by many people in the community.

Originality

How original is your musical? This can mean a variety of things. From music style to story to choreography and many things in between. Look at Hamilton. When he wrote it Lin did a lot of the things I mentioned earlier about themes, reprises, etc. However, he managed to do something quite rare. His story was unique, told in a unique way, with music not often hear on the stage. This post would be 5 pages longer if I dissected Hamilton alone so I’m not going to do that here. However, Lin did so many things differently and tore up a good chunk of the rule book while still doing certain things well that have always been done. He was revolutionary while still tying his whole musical together really well. What have other successful shows done for originality?

Shows like Next to Normal, Fun Home, and Dear Evan Hansen both did something not often seen on Broadway or in society. With mental illness and suicide being so stigmatized it is refreshing to see these topics brought up on stage. When they are they need to be done well or else it appears to be an insensitive train wreck. However, when it is done well people love it. This also ties into the marketability topic. There is a specific crowd that shows like these attract and they have a built in fan base. All three of those shows are in a similar vein but are still so unique in their own way. Fun Home is the story of a lesbian protagonist, Next to Normal deals with bipolar disorder and psychosis, and Dear Evan Hansen deals with anxiety, depression, and day to day life at a highschool. All these things tapped into a market that was relatively untapped.

This paper hasn’t even started on Sondheim yet. Sondheim’s scores sound so different, but like a lot of the other shows he tied them together so well and kept pushing the story along.  His style is something that so many people were unfamiliar with yet it improved the modern musical so much. He is an example of someone that did away with parts of the rulebook completely.  However, what about shows that don’t appear to be as original and are still successful? For this we turn to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Andrew Lloyd Webber I’d argue hasn’t done anything terribly unique on Broadway. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it just means he does have a lot of similar things that have already been done. However, the things he does do he does really well. He writes big songs with powerful instrumentations, and he makes his shows a spectacle. He might be one of the best at this. Just because he doesn’t do anything terribly inventive isn’t a knock on him, he sticks with what he knows, and what he does know he does really well.

Plain Old Luck                                                        

A lot of people don’t like to talk about this and some might flat out disagree with it. However, I do believe there is a certain amount of luck and fortune that goes into having a successful musical. You can follow all the rules, and still have a flop. You can also push the boundaries like Sondheim did and become one of the most famous composers ever. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that Sondheim just got lucky. He’s obviously a very talented composer as well. All I’m doing is illustrating that either within or outside the rules a person never knows what is going to become big. There are ways a composer can give themselves the best chance to be successful but in the end they just don’t know. Audiences are finicky and there will always be some headscratchers in both the boom and bust category of musicals. You can try and point to some specific reasons, and you may even be right. However, at the end of the day unpredictability is a part of the beast that is Musical Theatre. It’s impossible to say what audiences will flock to or avoid touching with a 50 ft pole.

 

Darren is an admin at ATB. He loves musicals, reading, and sports among a few other things. He is very active in ATB and loves working as an admin.

Why I Don't Stand (Usually)

Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)

It was an absolute first for me—seeing a show in Los Angles where the audience didn’t automatically give a standing ovation immediately after a performance (as opposed to rushing to their cars to beat the traffic on the Hollywood Freeway—always a nightmare). The audience had just finished watching a musical (on its pre-Broadway tour) so stultifying bad even the Los Angeles audience couldn’t muster anything more than a smattering of light applause to acknowledge the herculean effort by the actors forced to struggle through the material.

No. One. Stood.

Not even for the popular actress carrying the weight of this misguided musical on her back.

Los Angeles audiences stand for everything, no matter how bad it might be. When I lived in Atlanta, those audiences stood for everything no matter how bad it was. Then, unfortunately, this trend came into New York City from the road, and Broadway audiences (maybe a lot of tourists, perhaps?) and started giving every show—good or bad—a standing ovation.

Well, I don’t stand (usually).

Standing ovations date back to Roman times, when the crowds would stand to acknowledge a less-than-successful effort made by armies marching back into Rome with their collective tails between their legs. It wasn’t about saluting an extraordinary effort. It was essentially saying, “Well, you tried. You failed. Better luck next time.” Hmm, maybe the Romans were onto something (or maybe they had also witnessed that same pre-Broadway tour 2500 years earlier).

Over the centuries, the Standing O has (or had) signified acknowledgement of a stupendous, amazing, extraordinary performance (eg, like seeing Hamilton for the first time or hearing the late Barbara Cook warble Ice Cream from She Loves Me). I stand for such performances. Unfortunately, most audiences have unintentionally devolved to the original meaning of the Standing O. They stand for just about anything.

“Oh, I’m acknowledging the effort made by the cast,” I’ve been told. “They put in all that work and I want them to know how much I appreciate it.”

Bullshit. That’s why you applaud. It should NOT be why you automatically stand.

Usually at the end of a show, I’m sitting, applauding, and waiting while those around me give a Standing O to a mediocre performance. Or I’m rushing out the door to beat the traffic because I have a long drive home.

auditorium-2584269_1920.jpg

 

More often than not, I’ve seen members of the audience immediately jump out of their seats the second the stage lights fade to black on a final scene. They’re already on their feet before the lights come back up again and anyone has taken a bow. What, are they giving the scenery a Standing O? That’s how ridiculous you look to a grumpy guy like me.

Audiences have cheapened the meaning of the Standing O. It’s no longer about acknowledging the superior work. It’s about getting up and heading to the restroom before the line gets too long. It’s about getting some blood flowing to your feet after sitting for nearly three hours (well, that long for interminable musicals without intermissions).

In the past several years, I’ve seen flops on Broadway where the audience immediately rose to its feet at the end, even though the show was truly awful (unfortunately, one of those was a show in which I had invested—and lost—a lot of money). I did not stand. I do not stand. I won’t stand. I acknowledge a good performance with enthusiastic applause. I acknowledge a lousy performance in one of two ways—polite applause or walking out at intermission (wanna ask me about Wicked?).

I don’t stand. If you do, why? Isn’t your applause sufficient? If it isn’t, then you should stand. And if the show is truly awful (don’t even mention CATS—now and forever), then keep your keister planted in the seat and wait for the house lights to come up. Then you can stand … and leave.

Grumpy Olde Guy® over and outta here to remove myself from the stench of the last stinker I witnessed.

Michael Kape, a/k/a the Grumpy Olde Guy® of All Things Broadway, has been involved all aspects of theatre since the age of six. He has acted, designed, worked backstage, produced, and spent seven years on the Dark Side as a theatre critic and 15 years as a television critic. In his spare time, he yells at young whippersnappers to stay off his lawn; they never listen to him.