Musical Theatre

Rejection

Sarah-Lynn Mangan

 

I got rejected from my dream school.

 

Last year around this time I decided that I wanted to withdrawal my commitment to AMDA New York to pursue Stage Management instead of performing.

 

I had auditioned and been accepted during my junior year of high school, but after working multiple shows over the summer and exploring stage management and other aspects of theatre I decided that it was much better and more sustainable to go behind the scenes.

 

While in the process of withdrawing I was researching schools with great Stage Management programs and stumbled upon Pace University in New York City. This program was exactly what I was looking for - the opportunity to work with professionals who have Broadway credits, at a school that has a pretty high standing and where I could be hired right out of graduation. I thought this school was going to be the best option for me to get my foot in the door and become the greatest stage manager I could be.

 

After many months of waiting and getting to the next stage of the application process and reviewing my stats I thought that I had really great chance of getting in. I got to the skype interview and had to wake up at 5:00am on a snowy Saturday prepped for the interview. I had a very nice conversation with the interviewer (who just happened to be the professor for Stage Management and has stage managed multiple shows on Broadway) and felt pretty confident at the other end of the call.

 

I had also applied to two state schools and two other schools in New York that I wasn’t really that passionate about but just wanted to throw my name into the hat. About a month later and the letters started coming in.

 

Western Washington University – Accepted

Central Washington University – Accepted

Ithaca College – Rejected

Syracuse University – Waitlisted

 

And finally

 

Pace University – Rejected

 

I hadn’t gotten into any of the schools that I thought would be my way out of Washington State. I had wanted to get out so bad I didn’t think about what would happen if I couldn’t get into any of them. Although my grades were not impressive at all I thought that all the work I had previously done, and different companies and experiences would help propel me into these schools. That was not the case.

 

I had a really hard decision to make. Should I try and call Syracuse every week once the summer starts to try and get off the waitlist and still be able to move across country? Or should I just settle for one of the state schools?

 

Ultimately, I decided it would be the best for me to settle.

 

Settling isn’t what I would describe what has happened for me now. This past summer I had the opportunity to watch a wonderful light designer create a show and had the chance to light design a show myself. I also had the opportunity to move to a different city for a week to Stage Manage a show that I classify as one of the best experiences in my life.

 

I “settled” for a school where I can create my pretty much create my own degree and focus and where it is encouraged to learn anything and everything about the theatre you can. Although I am only one month into school, I have already found ways to join clubs, get a job related to theatre, and to involve myself to be completely immersed in what I am trying to become.

 

I am now pursuing a BFATDPSMLD for short. The full name is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Design and Production with a concentration in Stage Management and Lighting Design.

 

I got rejected from my dream school, but right now, I couldn’t be happier.

Broadway Princess Party Part 2

Kelly Ostazeski

Last year I covered the Broadway Princess Party after seeing the enchanting trio several times in various venues in New York City and New Jersey. Now the princesses and their music director Benjamin Rauhala have a new tour, new material, new guest stars. For readers who missed my article last year, or those of you who haven't heard of this group, you may be wondering: What exactly is the Broadway Princess Party? Who exactly is this trio of princesses?

 

            The Broadway Princess Party is a celebration of the princesses of Broadway, especially the princesses adapted from Disney's animated features. The main trio features Laura Osnes, star of Broadway's prodouction of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Susan Egan, the original Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast and the voice of Meg in Disney's animated feature Hercules, and Courtney Reed, the original Princess Jasmine in the Broadway production of Aladdin. It's a night of music, every princess song you can imagine and those you've probably forgotten about as you grew up. It's a night of amazing, empowering, beautiful songs sung by powerhouse vocalists all celebrating princesses, happily ever afters, and dreams come true.

 

            For any Disney fan, that's exactly what the Broadway Princess Party is – a dream come true. It was for me a year ago when I saw the group for the first time at Feinstein's/54 Below. That night it was the main trio plus Anastasia guest stars Christy Altomare (Broadway's Anya) and Liz Callaway (the singing voice of Anya in the animated film). It was when I saw them again on their 2018 tour in New Jersey and did the meet and greet after the show and finally got to meet Susan Egan and tell her how long I'd wanted to meet her – for twenty one years, because then it had been that long since Hercules came out, and how long I'd been a fan of Meg. And it was also amazing to see the trio, plus Stephanie Styles (who then had not yet made her Broadway debut in this season's Kiss Me, Kate) singing Snow White songs and Liz Callaway again.

 

            On Monday, October 7, 2019 at Feinstein's/54 Below, seeing this incredible show once again, another dream came true. The main trio of Laura, Susan, and Courtney returned, plus guest stars Aisha Jackson (the standby for Princess Anna in Frozen), Krysta Rodriguez (Meg from this summer's stage adaptation of Hercules), AND Jodi Benson, the original Ariel from Disney's animated The Little Mermaid. Jodi and Susan were worth the price of the ticket alone.

            My friends and I had had these reservations since July, when both performances sold out within five minutes. We were very very lucky. I don't want to name all of the songs they sing because if any readers are thinking of seeing these ladies on tour, I don't want to spoil the surprises!

            Laura sang songs as Cinderella – in fact, every incarnation of Cinderella you can imagine. Her “Cinder-epic Medley” featured verses from the animated movie, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and even “On the Steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods. She also belted an incredible “Journey to the Past” from Anastasia. Christy Altomare occasionally guest stars on the BPP tour, and would, in those cases, sing her own Anastasia songs.

            Courtney sang songs as Jasmine – and she performed a new medley of Jasmine songs, from the animated movie, the Broadway production (“These Palace Walls” and cut songs), and amazingly, “Speechless” from the new live action movie. She usually sings “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas, but not this time. She did sing a wonderful version of “God Help the Outcasts” from Hunchback of Notre Dame.

            Susan and Krysta have both played Meg now and alternated verses when they sang “I Won't Say I'm in Love” from Hercules. Susan also sang “Home” from Beauty and the Beast, which was the first song I ever heard her sing from that show years ago, and it's amazing that she still sounds exactly the same all these years later.

            Now for our guest artists! Adam J. Levy, fresh from the tour of Waitress, is the prince that tours with the BPP group and fills in, singing the prince roles whenever the girls need a guy to do a duet with. He sang “Far Longer Than Forever” from The Swan Princess with Laura. Broadway's original Kristoff from Frozen, Jelani Alladin appeared on stage with Krysta Rodriguez to recreate their roles as Hercules and Meg from the stage production for a song (I don't actually know the name of the song, but it was amazing!), and then again with Anna standby Aisha Jackson for an incredible duet of “What Do You Know About Love” from the Frozen stage musical. Aisha also sang “For the First Time in Forever”, and Krysta sang “Pulled” from the Broadway musical The Addams Family, in which she appeared as Wednesday Addams.

            The highlight of the evening though, was when Jodi Benson finally took the stage. First, she sang “Soon” from Thumbelina and then she moved everyone to tears when she sang her iconic princess song “Part of Your World”, and then the reprise. I kept thinking, these are the kind of moments you cherish. I grew up with Ariel, as did everyone else in that audience, I assume. So, when you see the voice actress in person and she sounds exactly like she did when she sang it in the movie, it's incredibly overwhelming and moving. (Even Laura and Courtney were tearing up.) Then all of the princesses joined Jodi on stage, and they sang “In Harmony” from The Little Mermaid animated series.

            The closed out the evening with “Let It Go”and “When You Wish Upon a Star” and that was it. What a night! If this sounds like anything you'd like to experience, check out the Broadway Princess Party website for tour dates, and I also recommend purchasing the meet and greet options, if you can. The princesses are all so kind.

Jukebox Musicals

Michael Dinan
Jukebox musicals is known as a musical film or stage presentation featuring the songs of popular acts. A typical jukebox musical often consists of a typical musical formula of someone having a conflict, and through the songs, overcomes any obstacles that stand in the way of the hopes and dreams of the lead, however this time around, the songs are not written exclusively for the show, but rather existed in a different medium. Also this genre of musical theatre may be one of the most despised genres ever to hit musical theatre. The common argument with jukebox musicals is they’re often lazy, using popular songs to draw in crowds. Some people also argue it gets rid of the composer entirely, and original scores should be respected. I can easily see this being an issue with people for certain musicals, but I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame jukebox musicals as a whole. Every genre has its gold, and its coal. I think in order to understand the genre, it’s important to look at its history. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, and find where this genre took such an unloved turn. 



A HISTORY OF ‘JUKEBOX MUSICALS’: Funnily enough, the first known jukebox musical was the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy released in 1942, a movie about the life of the composer George M. Cohan. The movie was written, and released around the time Cohan’s fight with cancer was swiftly ending, and Warner Bros. honored his legacy with a musical biopic based on his written work. The movie was a huge hit with both critics, and audiences, pulling in a box office estimated to be $5,000,000 dollars, which at the time was a ton of money. It also won 3 Academy Awards, including the Oscar for “Best Music and Scoring of a Musical Picture.” Today, the movie, at the time of this being written, still has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%. 

Needless to say, the first jukebox musical was a hit, which when something makes a ton of money, Hollywood will keep doing it until it breaks the bank. Over the next few years, studios would roll out the jukebox musical movie to high acclaim, both critically, and audience-wise, including, but not limited too, Meet Me in St. Louis (1945), An American In Paris (1951), and my personal favorite of the genre, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). 



TAKE ME TO BROADWAY: With a musical genre making bank on film, it would make sense to bring the bankable genre to a Broadway which, while not at the lowest point financially, was having trouble pulling in audiences. It had to work on stage, right? Right???? 

The first time a jukebox musical would hit Broadway was 1975’s The Night That Made America Famous, based off the music of Harry Chapin. It ran for 47 performances, and was nominated for only two Tony Awards. Critical and audience reception was lukewarm, which meant the bankable musical of the movies wasn’t making waves on stage. Throughout the 20th century, even though the jukebox musical would be still remain strong on film, jukebox musicals didn’t see much success on stage… until a little musical would stuff a song into our brains forever, and line producers pockets full of cash.  



MY, MY, HOW COULD I RESIST YA: 2001’s Mamma Mia was a surprise hit on the stage, playing 5,773 performances on Broadway, and was nominated for five Tony Awards. The musical today has grossed over $624,391,693 since it opened. The hype for it was insane! So much so that a movie of the same name was released in 2008 with Meryl Streep in the lead. Then in the same exact year, after Mamma Mia was a hit, Moulin Rouge hit theaters, using various artists to tell a basic love story in a highly stylized way. Do I even need to get into how big this movie was? The movie gained a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, made $57,386,607 in just domestic sales, was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 2 of them, and single handedly brought on a HUGE revival of the musical theatre genre, including guaranteeing Chicago’s movie success, which went on to receive several Oscar wins, including the coveted ‘Best Picture’. So… what happened to jukebox musicals to receive hate amongst the theatre community? Well, much like movies, when something has a massive hit artistically and/or financially (mostly the latter), businesses have an annoying habit of squeezing the life out of the genre for every last drop it has. Jukebox musicals are no exception. 



OVERSATURATION IS A MESS: Due to the success of Mamma Mia and Moulin Rouge, Broadway producers started production on more jukebox musicals, and since these were quick to write, and go into production, there came a lot of them. Like, a lot… 5 jukebox musicals came out in 2003, 8 of them came out in 2005, 10 came out in 2006, 12 came out from 2007-2009, and in the 2010s alone, there has been 45 jukebox musicals! In the 21st century alone, there have been more than 80 musicals in this genre! 

Welcome to the oversaturated market. When anything hits the market and theirs too much of it to go around, i.e. Frozen, it can get pretty old pretty fast. And this can definitely affect a person’s perception of it, and in my opinion, that’s not justified completely. 



DON’T GIVE THEM HATE FOR THEIR OVERSATURATION/WORK: My personal belief is that Jukebox Musical don’t deserve hate they’ve gotten. 

1)  Even though, yes, there isn’t an original score, the music was written for something specific. “The Winner Takes It All” was written about divorce, “Love Of My Life” was written for Freddie Mercury’s love at the time. Saying these songs don’t mean anything is very short sighted. 

2) While the musicals are quick to write with predetermined songs, the characters in these musicals have been recognized as wonderful characters. Sophie, Donna, and Carol Channing have been recognized by theatre fans as characters that deserve to be talked about. 

3) Yes, it’s not hard to have a lazy jukebox musical, but it’s not hard to have a lazy musical in general (There's literally an original musical called Hockey the musical). Jukebox musical writers, like Julie Taymor’s Across The Universe is a prime example of being expertly crafted, taking a lot of time to make.



At the end of the day, it all depends on the story the musical is telling, regardless of where the musical is from. Next time you go to watch a show, don’t focus on the genre it is, but rather the story it is telling. 



Top 10 Musicals to see Live

Taylour Eisinger

I’ve been told many times before from more involved theatre fans to make a list of musicals to see in your lifetime, whether it be on personal merit or critical response. I thought it was silly at first, I always thought “I would see a musical if I wanted too, not due to some stupid list”, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it does some good, and the feeling when you cross off that musical from your list is the most satisfying thing. Now, here I am to share that list with you, the list I made for myself and for anyone who’s asked me. Of course this list is subjective and every list can be different, but I thought it would be neat to share and to maybe give some people some ideas for their own.  



Musical #10: The Rocky Horror Show

You might be thinking why is this wacky, fever dream on this list, and I can assure you that you just answered it. Because Rocky Horror IS a wacky fever dream, and that’s what makes it so fun. It is SO weird that just viewing the film can be enough of an experience. Around Halloween, many local theatre productions will put on a one weekend show, or do a midnight showing of the cult classic film, and when attending, you can dance along to “The Time Warp”, yell cues at the characters, or just enjoy the delicious  atmosphere of the people around you not giving a single care. Rocky Horror is filled with fun and wacky, and must be attended and must be seen to believe, and you’ll walk out your showing wondering when did you get rice down your shirt? 



Musical #9: Wicked

A more modern musical but one that is so beloved by fans, Wicked is one of those musicals that is guiltily a victim of repeat viewings. Wicked is a musical you can take your mom, your sister, or your best friend too and feel yourself wanting to go back. This musical has very enjoyable songs from very familiar characters from our childhood, all with the message of following your heart and your mind and you can be unstoppable. Wicked is a beautiful time, and you will leave the theatre with tears on your face and a handprint on your heart, because Wicked touches all of the emotions in a person. 



Musical #8: The Phantom of the Opera

Another fan favorite, The Phantom of the Opera is one of those musicals you feel you HAVE to see, just based on popularity vote alone. The Phantom of the Opera is so beloved that it’s one of those musicals that you feel just about everyone has seen, and it’s evident why. With it’s beautiful music and compelling story, you need to see Broadway’s longest running musical before the music of the night ends its run (which I can’t see being soon but pretend it is so you will see it faster). Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece of a show is not one to be missed. 




Musical #7: Cabaret 

A total 180° flip from the previous musicals, Cabaret is a delicious piece of theatre. From it’s simple yet creative set, to the orchestra playing right on stage, to the Master of Ceremonies interacting with them and the audience, this classic musical is a bundle of fun with a dark cloud shadowed over it, with the backdrop of one of the darkest times in history, Cabaret will make you laugh and cry with amazing music that will make you see the true form of humanity. 



Musical #6: Chicago 

Another classic that was given a second chance at life on the Great White Way and mustn't be missed is Chicago. Classic tale of woman gets married, woman cheats on husband, woman kills man she cheats with, woman gets arrested. This female led musical is sassy, sultry and sweet to watch and dive into. With iconic dance moves from the late Bob Fosse, the simple yet sultry choreography will make you be wanting to dance along, and if you’ve ever wanted to meet a celebrity seeing Chicago is your best chance! 



Musical #5: Into the Woods 

A Sondheim classic, this musical follows the stories of many of our favorite fairytale characters are they cross paths and try to get their happening endings. With many twists and turns and the classic Sondheim style music, follow these characters as they look to get their happy endings while you laugh and cry along your favorite characters. 



Musical #4: Any Rodgers and Hammerstein

This is a rather broad one but there are SO many to choose from. Sound of Music, Cinderella, South Pacific, Carousel, there’s so many classic musicals this duo has written that it’s so hard to choose simply one. Rodgers and Hammerstein dominates the musical world and seeing any one of them is a guaranteed experience , and one that will leave you smiling from ear to ear. 



Musical #3: Hamilton 

Yeah yeah everyone knew this was going to be on the list, Hamilton is a once in a lifetime experience. The classic theatre musical elements mixed with modern rap that teaches us history along with is (yay education!), Hamilton is guaranteed to blow your mind. The simple choreography mixed with the ups and downs of emotions, Hamilton will leave you walking out of the theatre totally satisfied. 



Musical #2: Any Disney 

Again another broad category, but because there are SO many to choose from. Disney is integral to our childhood and seeing the movies we love on stage filled with lavish costumes and staging, watching a Disney production is going to leave you breathless. Seeing the magic unfold before you will leave you in a complete state of wonder and awe. 



Musical #1: Les Miserables 

What better way to round off the list then by talking about the musical that swept and continues to sweep the world. Les Miserables is a lavish show, a musical that will leave you utterly upset but manages to touch your heart. Les Mis gives people a sense of hope and love, and you will leave any production of Les Miserables with a heart full of love and sadness that will make you want to see it again.



Theatre Etiquette: Puttin on the Ritz

Steven Sauke

“Hello?”

RING RING!!

This is what happens when the person doing the sound effects is so enthralled with the stellar acting in John Olive’s The Voice of the Prairie that he forgets he is supposed to trigger the sound cue for the telephone, causing the actors to have to ad lib until they finally answer the silent phone because the show must go on. It is only then that the sound guy jumps and presses the button to make the phone ring. After the character has answered the phone. Embarrassing? Absolutely! If you haven’t guessed, that sound guy was me. For actors, crew members and everyone else putting on a show, it pays to remember your cues!

When putting on a show, it is important to follow some guidelines that will help to create a memorable experience for the people who will be paying to see your show. I thought it might be useful to include some of those here to help future productions. Some of these may seem obvious to some, but not to others.

 


Directors and Producers

Congratulations! You have chosen a show to put on! Have you secured the rights? Be sure to review the contract carefully and abide by the terms. Shows have been cancelled by the rights holders in the past because people didn’t read the terms and didn’t know the laws well enough.

Don’t make changes to the script without permission from the playwright or rights holders. This includes cutting songs, removing swear words, rearranging scenes, and any other changes you might want to make. Depending on your situation (for example, a school putting on a play that includes swear words in the script), there may be good reason to make minor tweaks, but it is essential to get permission before doing so. The artist wrote it the way they did for a reason, and they need a say in any tweaks in the script. If you don’t want to seek permission, or if the permission is denied and it is important enough to you, you may do better to choose a different show. Arranging videos of the performances also falls under this area. If you want to the show recorded, be sure you have permission from the copyright owners first (and pay any additional royalties if they require that for recording it). This also sometimes includes when you are allowed to announce the show you are doing.

Respect your cast and crew. They are here to bring your vision (and the playwright’s vision) to the stage. As you know, blocking involves telling actors where to step, how to move, etc. Sound and light cues need to come in a precise part of the show and spot on the stage. You need to be able to give more precise instructions than you would in other situations, but it is important that the cast and crew not feel micromanaged. There is a balance between encouraging actors’ creative juices, and overregulating and over-criticizing. When you give stage notes, be sure you aren’t coming across as upset that they did something wrong, or that they are in trouble. The more respectful you are to the actors and crew members, the more they will respect you and be willing to take direction.

Though rehearsals can run late for various reasons, be conscious of the time and needs of your cast and crew. If rehearsal runs too late, it can affect other parts of their lives, and they (and you) may have trouble staying awake the following day! Tiredness can also lead to tempers flaring.

Take into account the dietary needs of everyone in the show. Since it is common to have food at rehearsals and cast parties, it would be a shame for someone to have to leave the show because they accidentally ate something they were allergic to. (For that matter, avoid having messy food backstage during the run of the show. For example, banana peels on a dark floor backstage could be a recipe for disaster.)

 

Cast and Crew

Remember that theatrical communities are often tight-knit, and theatre groups communicate with each other. Don’t get blacklisted with one company, as other companies may find out and blacklist you as well. You may never be told, but you may suddenly find yourself having a lot of difficulty being cast in a show. (Of course, there are plenty of other reasons you might have trouble being cast, but that is an important one.)

Let your creative juices flow, but don’t take it personally when your director tells you to change something in the way you portray your character.

Listen to and do what your director and stage manager tell you. Even if you don’t like a stage direction, be willing to make changes in the way you portray a character if told to do so. Inability to take directions is a surefire way of being blacklisted, and even dismissed from a show on occasion.

Be careful how you talk to and about others in the production. Badmouthing others is another way to be blacklisted.

Remember your cues. This may mean marking up your script with reminders. (If the script doesn’t belong to you, be sure to use pencil!) After my mistake I mentioned earlier, I made notes in my script every page for several pages back, “Phone coming in ten pages”… “Phone coming in nine pages”… etc. I also highlighted and circled the sound cue. (My script belonged to me.) Whatever works for you so that you remember, be sure you do that.

Memorize your lines. There are various techniques for doing this, and it might behoove you to talk to more experienced actors, or your director, if that is an issue. It can be embarrassing when you are standing onstage and you forget your lines. At that point, you don’t have the option of saying, “Line?” I speak from experience.

Do not give stage notes or suggestions to fellow actors. That is the job of the director and stage manager. If you have ideas to improve someone’s performance (or correct an error you notice), by all means talk to the stage manager about it. But do not talk to the actor in question. That said, you will want to keep the suggestions to the stage manager in moderation, because you also don’t want to be a pest. You want others to see you as helpful, not arrogant.

Maintain a certain amount of humility. It is good to be proud of your talent, but you don’t want to come across like Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera, looking down on others in the production and treating them as less than you.

If you see another person’s prop backstage, do not touch it. Props are where they are so they will be handy when the actor who needs it can take it onstage. If a person’s prop isn’t on the prop table at the moment they need it, that could cause serious issues onstage.

Don’t take your props, costumes or makeup home during the run of the show. If you forget to bring it to a performance, you may be out of luck. They need to stay at the theatre so they are there when you need them.

Turn off your phones, or at least put them in airplane mode and make sure they are silenced. Let’s just say your show is set in ancient Greece. Unless archaeologists discover something heretofore unknown, the ancient Greeks did not have cell phones, and it would ruin the ambiance for a phone to start ringing backstage. (Well, I wouldn’t put some shenanigans past Apollo, but that’s another matter.) Even in shows set in modern times, a phone at the wrong time can disrupt a show.

Keep talk backstage to a minimum and as quiet as possible. The audience should not be able to hear it, and depending on the theatre where you are performing, you might be surprised how much the audience can hear. In fact, as a general rule of thumb, if it is typically mentioned in the pre-show instructions to the audience (turn off your phones, don’t talk during the show, don’t open candy wrappers during the show, no filming or photography, etc.), follow those directions backstage as well. This is also important because actors need to be able to hear what is going on onstage, so they don’t miss their cues.

If you make a mistake onstage, just go with it. Making it look like you intended to do that is an important skill to master. Wincing or breaking character is worse than making the mistake in the first place, and if you recover right, the audience may never know you did anything wrong. (When you get offstage, you may want to make a note in your script or take other measures to avoid that mistake in future performances.) If a fellow actor makes a mistake that affects someone else, cover for them. But stay in character!

Remember the fourth wall. You can’t see it, but there is an imaginary wall that separates you from the audience. Unless the script calls for it (such as for certain parts of Into the Woods, Jersey Boys and others), it looks far less convincing when you try to make eye contact with the audience. For the duration of the show, your world is onstage. That said, avoid having your back to the audience, unless the script and/or your director calls for it.

If you have a matinee and evening show in the same day, avoid leaving the theatre or taking unnecessary risks between performances. If the unexpected were to happen (such as a car accident or the like), that could negatively affect the rest of the run, and it wouldn’t be pleasant for you.

If you do stage door or are otherwise able to greet audience members after the show, follow your director’s instructions. Some directors allow the actors to leave the stage and greet their friends, family and fans right away. Others require actors to change and remove makeup before doing so. Since this varies between theatre groups, you will want to clarify that with your director if they don’t mention it before the show.

While pranks can be fun during the final performance, make sure they aren’t noticeable to the audience. They paid to see the same show you’ve done throughout the run, with the same quality. If your director tells you not to do pranks the final performance, don’t do them!

To quote J.K. Rowling, #KeeptheSecrets. Promoting your production is great, but don’t give spoilers to people who aren’t involved, as that can affect how people seeing it for the first time appreciate the show.

Under no circumstances should you say the name of the Scottish Play (unless you are performing said play) or tell anyone “Good luck” in the theatre! It would be a shame to have to delay a show because you had to go outside, spin around 3 times, spit, curse, and then have to knock on the theatre door to be allowed back in! Best to avoid the “M” word and tell everyone to break a leg instead. Theatre superstitions are very important!

 

Most important: Enjoy yourself! Pulling off a show successfully is an exhilarating feeling and something to be intensely proud of. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.

 

Break a leg!

 

 

Adventures of Broadway Flea Market 2019

Kelly Ostazeski

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This was my second year going to Broadway Flea Market, an annual event in September that takes place on 44th and 45th streets and Shubert Alley in New York City. All of the money raised at Broadway Flea goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA).

 

According to their website, “Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS helps men, women and children across the country and across the street receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling and emergency financial assistance. We are one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations.”

 

This year's flea market raised $870,167 at their tables, and BC/EFA claims their top four earning tables were the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers, Beetlejuice, Hadestown and Wicked.

 

If you're planning to attend a Broadway Flea in the future, take my advice, get there early. Study the map. If you want something specific, get there as early as 7:30 AM to get in line. The tables aren't supposed to start selling until 10:00 AM. In the early morning hours, the flea market is extremely crowded, and it can be challenging to get up to the tables. Especially if you want something specific. That's why I suggest getting there early.

 

Last year, I wanted something specific – one of four “Donna Murphy is Dolly Tonight” signs sold at the Curtain Call table, the one for recently closed shows. I was successful. This year, I was just there for fun, to see what I could find, and to see my theatre friends. I got there around 10:15 AM, and the streets were already crowded with people. It took a long time to get up to some of the tables. I never even made it up to the Curtain Call table.

 

Patience is key. A lot of people were very pushy, and some were rude. It was almost cutthroat just to get up to the tables and grab whatever fans could. But most people were very nice and helpful – and if you asked where they found something, they would tell you if there were more and what table. It's also great to come in groups, split up, and text each other if you find something. My friends knew to message me if they found anything Hello Dolly or Anastasia related, and I knew to text them if I found anything from Great Comet or The Cher Show.

 

Around 2:00-3:00 PM, when Sunday matinees began, the crowd started to clear out and it started to get easier to shop. Around 5:00PM, the tables practically started giving things away. Prices started going down, sellers were more willing to negotiate prices, and some were even giving things away. You can get a lot of stuff and not spend a lot of money. Cast recordings were $5, scripts and theatre books were $2. Or you can spend a lot of money and get bigger pieces – like billboards from closed shows, barricade covers, and signed memorabilia. Although around 6:00, I got two autographed pieces from Mean Girls for $1. (I haven't even seen Mean Girls yet, but I still feel like a shopping bag signed by the Plastics and a homework prop signed by Erika Henningsen and Jennifer Simard was worth it for $1.)

 

I still haven't done the autograph and photograph line, but did manage to catch Patti Murin, Princess Anna in Disney's Frozen at her table and got a selfie. Stars only appear in the morning, because many of them have matinees. There is a set price for autographs per hour, and you go in and can get all the stars' autographs per hour. For photos, there is a starting price per star and then it goes up if they're in demand. Apparently it was $100 for Bebe Neuwirth's photo. It's a great way to meet Broadway stars if you're unable to meet them at the stage door, or if they don't stage door at all, or if they're not currently in a show, but it does cost a lot.

 

It was really fun to see so many theatre fans come together in one day to celebrate their love of the performing arts and to collect new memorabilia. I had a lot of friends attending this year and that was the best part. I got some amazing things – like a barricade cover from Anastasia, an old photograph of Sutton Foster in her national tour debut The Will Rogers Follies, playbills featuring Julie Andrews, Carol Channing, and even Nicole Kidman – but seeing everyone was the best part.


Despite crowded streets, Broadway Flea is one of my favorite NYC events and I will certainly not be missing it again. My bank account needs some time to recover, but I already can't wait for next year!

Analyzing Deaf West Spring Awakening

Amelia Brooker

My favourite Broadway show, beyond compare, is Spring Awakening. More specifically, the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. The original Broadway production was beautifully written and staged, and uncomfortable in the sense that it makes you think about yourself and the world around you. The Deaf West version, however, blew away all my preconceived notions surrounding the musical. It is incredibly moving, outstandingly staged, and brought the beauty of the original to a new caliber.

What exactly did this revival do differently? Before it came to Broadway, the musical was adapted and staged at Deaf West Theatre, a company based out of North Hollywood. This production reimagined the original story, where all of the dialogue and lyrics were mirrored in American Sign Language. Not only this, but multiple of the characters in the show were actually portrayed as Deaf individuals. The hearing characters sign along as they speak and sing, and the deaf characters have ‘shadows’ (another actor that acts as their voice while the character acts and signs their way through the show).

Accessibility in live theatre could be an entirely separate topic, however, the representation of Deaf characters being portrayed by real Deaf individuals is refreshing and exciting to watch. Additionally, the show explored Deaf issues that resonated with the community and opened the eyes of those who had not been exposed to Deaf culture.


[I suppose it goes without saying, but spoiler alert for Spring Awakening]

The first Broadway production of Spring Awakening was revolutionary in itself. With the original play written in Germany in the late 1800s, it explored themes of sexuality and sexual exploration in young people, and the repercussions when there is no education on these subjects. The fact that these themes resonated with audiences in the mid-2000s was enough to warrant a musical adaptation. And nearly ten years later, a new revival blew this show out of the water.

In this version, characters such as Wendla and Moritz are portrayed as being Deaf, while Melchior is hearing, but signs to his peers. The rigid school system that leads Moritz to suicide is heartbreaking. But when Moritz is deaf and is marginalized in a school system that looks to make him conform to his hearing peers, it is all the more devastating, especially knowing that there is a real history of schools that oppressed the deaf. It was around this time that there was an educational policy of denying Deaf children access to American Sign Language on an international scale. We also see Moritz struggle to communicate with his hearing father on a more personal scale, which is a real struggle faced by Deaf children. The issues present in this show are not imagined, but are real experiences for many. In the case of both Martha and Ilse (and eventually Wendla), we see new light and background being brought to their stories. The subject of sexual abuse is especially prevalent in the Deaf community, making their stories all the more poignant.

It was no mistake which of the characters were chosen to be represented as Deaf, either. Wendla and Moritz are uneducated in similar ways, face barriers in communication, and are ultimately taken advantage of by a hearing peer, being Melchior. In fact, the overall theme of the show is brought into question. With a lack of communication from parents and teachers, what will the consequences be? But when there is an actual barrier of language and culture between an adult and an adolescent, how much harder is that barrier to cross?

Not only were plot points enhanced by this new aspect, but the language of the show was given new depth and meaning. As a fan of the show as well as an amateur signer, I’ve rewatched scene after scene, finding new meaning in the ASL translations. As an example of what the translations look like, here is an excerpt from the opening song, “Mama Who Bore Me”, with the English lyrics followed by a rough translation ASL done simultaneously.

“Mama who bore me, mama who gave me / No way to handle things, who made me so sad

Mama who bore me, mama who explained / confusion, difficult to understand my body, influenced sadness”

ASL is a visual language, with a grammar structure closer to Mandarin than to English. So the translations can be tricky to grasp, especially with already such figurative language in the lyrics. ASL focuses more on conveying concepts than structured sentences. This musical was made bilingual through not only its spoken words but through choreography as well. Spencer Liff as choreographer and Michael Arden as director imbedded this physical language into the character’s movement in a way that I have never seen onstage before. The whole show was blocked and staged around the incorporation of the language, instead of it being added as an afterthought. Duets are sung with arms and hands overlapping and crossing each other, creating a beautiful image.

Melchior has a recurring motif in the show, being the line “all will know”. It is repeated in the songs “The Bitch of Living”, “Song of Purple Summer”, and “All That’s Known”. In the first two, it is signed as “everyone will mind open”, matching the ideas of progress and learning that are conveyed in these songs. And in the more emotional “All That’s Known”, it is signed as “everyone will understand”, conveying the idea of ignorance and how it has affected him. It is nuances like these that demonstrate just how incredible and thought out the interpretation of this production was, and what makes it so special.

It is important to note however, that I am not a Deaf individual, and my perspective and opinions of the show should be taken as such. Many Deaf individuals have incredibly important views on the matter. There have been criticisms on the show’s translation, their use of ‘simultaneous communication’ in place of traditional ASL, and the inability of some of the hearing actors to convey the same emotions through sign. It is important to recognize my own identity when giving my perspective, as well as listening to the perspectives of others. Regardless of your position on the show, it is undeniable that the revival of Spring Awakening asks important questions and inspires conversations that need to be had. It sets out to, and succeeds in, inspiring social change and bringing an underrepresented culture into the light.

[A note on the use of capitalized ‘Deaf’: This word should be capitalized when used in reference to being a member of the Deaf community, embracing cultural norms, beliefs and values. The non-capitalized version is used in reference to simply the lack of hearing ability.]

 

Broadway's Leading Ladies: Kelli O'Hara

Kelly Ostazeski

800px-Kelli_O'Hara_Memorial_Day_concert.jpg


Kelli O'Hara was born on April 16, 1976 in Oklahoma. She attended Oklahoma City University and majored in vocal performance/opera. She made her Broadway debut in 2000 in Jekyll & Hyde. She next appeared in the 2001 revival of Follies, Sweet Smell of Success in 2002, and as Lucy in the 2004 Broadway musical Dracula.

 

In 2005, she originated the role of Clara in the new Broadway musical The Light in the Piazza, earning her first Tony Award nomination. She earned Tony Award nominations next for the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game, opposite Harry Connick, Jr., the 2008 revival of South Pacific, the new Broadway musical Nice Work If You Can Get It in 2012, and The Bridges of Madison County in 2014.

 

O'Hara also appeared in other productions of My Life With Albertine, Sunday in the Park with George, My Fair Lady, Bells Are Ringing, She Loves Me, and Brigadoon.

 

In 2014, she appeared in the NBC live musical, Peter Pan, as Mrs. Darling and made her Metropolitan Opera debut in The Merry Widow, with opera star Renée Fleming.

 

For her role as Anna Leonowens in the 2015 revival of The King and I, O'Hara finally won her first Tony Award. Following her run on Broadway, she appeared on screen in Masters of Sex, The Accidental Wolf, and 13 Reasons Why.

 

In 2018, she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in Così fan tutte and made her West End debut, reprising her Tony Award winning role in The King and I.

 

O'Hara returned to Broadway in 2019 in the revival of Kiss Me, Kate, opposite Will Chase, and earned yet another Tony Award nomination.

 

 

Fun facts:

-          At Oklahoma City University, her voice teacher was Florence Birdwell, who also taught OCU alum Kristin Chenoweth.

-          She is married to actor James Naughton and they have two children

-          She has released two solo albums, Wonder in the World and Always.

-          O'Hara appears on the recordings: Sweet Smell of Success, My Life With Albertine, The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, Thou Shalt Not (released together as Harry on Broadway, Act1, since both recordings featured Harry Connick Jr.), South Pacific, Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Bridges of Madison County, The King and I, Peter Pan Live!, and Kiss Me, Kate.

-          Starting with The Light in the Piazza, she was nominated for a Tony Award for every role she has played on Broadway

 

Social media:

Verified Twitter: @kelliohara
Verified Instagram: @kelliohara
Official Website: KelliOHara.com

Verified Facebook: Kelli O'Hara

Songs to listen to:

“A Wonderful Guy” - South Pacific

“Hello, Young Lovers” - The King and I

“The Light in the Piazza” - The Light in the Piazza

“So in Love” - Kiss Me, Kate
“I Have Dreamed” - her solo album, Wonder in the World
“This Nearly Was Mine” - her solo album, Always

You Are Here: A Documentary Review

Eighteen years have passed since the horrifying event that ended the lives of so many innocents and left the survivors’ lives forever changed. Fathom Events sponsored the first wide US release of HBO Canada’s documentary You Are Here: A Come from Away Story. It tells the story of the amazing response by several small communities in Newfoundland when thousands of people from around the world were suddenly stranded “somewhere in the middle of nowhere.”

Several of All Things Broadway’s bloggers attended showings of the documentary in different parts of the country. Their thoughts follow.

Taking a Gander at Gander

By Michael Kape

When I arrived home from seeing You Are Here at the local cinema, my house guest asked, “So, how was it?” To which I replied, “I laughed. I cried. I was exhilarated. I was depressed. What more can you ask of a documentary than that?”

What more indeed? For those of us who’ve been blown away (and who hasn’t?) by the perfect musical, Come from Away, the opportunity to see the real people behind the fabulous story was too, too tempting. Onstage, we are charmed and delighted by the generosity of human spirit as exemplified by the people of Gander, Newfoundland. But, it’s a musical. Liberties must be taken with the facts (surprisingly few, actually). Could the real people of Gander be so self-effacing (“All I did was make sandwiches,” one Gander woman says in the film) and so thoroughly delightful at the same time?

Yes, they could. And they are. They are Gander, and it might be one of the most wonderful places on the planet.

We all know the story. On September 11, 2001, 38 planes filled with almost 7,000 scared passengers landed at the Gander airport. And that’s when the 9,000 people of Gander went to work. In five days, as the mayor notes, the Come from Aways (as people not from Newfoundland are called) went from being strangers to being friends to being family. And after seeing the real people behind Come from Away, I truly believe the people of Gander are exactly as portrayed in the musical.

The people of Gander can be uproariously funny as they go about the business of providing (and by providing, I include just about everything humanly possible). They move us to tears at times. Their stories thrill us by just how seemingly ordinary they are (though I would never call the people of Gander ordinary).

Yet, for those of us who remember 9/11, it was one of the most depressing moments in history. For those of us who witnessed the Twin Towers collapse before our eyes (I was stranded in New Jersey looking east from the office patio, and saw the buildings fall), it was horrifying. In a constant battering by bad news, one small story did stand out—the reports of what was happening in Gander. These left us all wanting to know more, but so little information was available at that time, and the efforts got lost in a raging sea of alarm.

No, must never forget what happened on 9/11, but we should always remember that one single spark of bravura humanity lighting the way from a rock in the Atlantic Ocean. Gander. That sums up so much.

 

Returning to Gander and Paying it Forward

By Steven Sauke

We sat there in the movie theater staring at those images. We couldn’t look away. Snow flurries blew over a peaceful waterfall at the 9/11 memorial in New York while the audio from the black box on one of the planes played. It went back to the news footage from that horrible morning 18 years ago. It was like I was standing in my living room once again, aghast and emotional after all these years, even though I knew this time what would happen. Watching that plane fly into the World Trade Center. The ball of fire, the sudden gasp of shock, and then New Yorkers running for their lives.

Over the next hour, we would meet the people of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland and surrounding communities, who welcomed nearly 7000 “come from aways” suddenly stranded in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Many didn’t even know where they were at first. At least one come from away found out where he was when he called home and his family told him they had been tracking his flight. So many Ganderites dropped everything and worked together to provide for the needs of strangers. Teachers helped prepare their schools for guests. Bus drivers broke off their strike to transport everyone, because “our beef is with our employer, not these people.” The local news media broadcast the needs as they became known, and the citizens of Gander and the surrounding towns rose to the occasion. Over the next few days, they would offer rides, provide meals, clothes and other essentials. A couple would meet and fall in love. A mother and father would desperately search for their son, a firefighter in New York, and be helped and comforted by the mother of a firefighter in Gander. One plane was delayed leaving Gander because a passenger’s host had taken him moose hunting and they had to track him down. One line that really struck me was when Mayor Claude Elliott said that they welcomed nearly 7000 strangers on September 11 and 12. Soon they had 7000 guests. After five days, they said goodbye to 7000 family members.

Ten years later, many of the come from aways returned to Newfoundland. Throughout the reunion, visitors and Newfoundlanders alike spoke with a young couple who some took for college students, and were perplexed when they found out this husband and wife were planning to write a musical based on…making sandwiches?

They would be blown away by the result. As one person observed, Come from Away nailed it.

The documentary continued through the workshop and Broadway premiere stages of producing the musical. You Are Here: A Come from Away Story was a beautiful retelling and intimate conversation with the people who made it possible. I felt like they were my friends. Since I met some of them a year ago, some of them are.

Rewind a bit.

A year ago, I interviewed several of the come from aways and Ganderites for an article on what happened those five days and following. When the national tour of Come from Away opened in Seattle, many of the people involved visited, and I was hoping to be able to meet some of them.

After being showing unconditional love and kindness, Kevin Tuerff founded an initiative called “Pay It Forward 9/11.” Every year, he gives his employees $100 to go into the community and do random acts of kindness for strangers. Last year, I was one of his recipients. He told me he was giving me two tickets to a special screening of You Are Here in Ballard, a neighborhood in Seattle. My brother and I arrived at the theater and were welcomed by the owner, who said, “You are here, so you belong.” When he asked who we were connected with, I explained Kevin Tuerff had invited us. (That owner is well connected, as he appears briefly in the documentary at the Broadway debut.) Come to find out, almost everyone at the showing was somehow directly connected with Come from Away. Many of the come from aways and Newfoundlanders were there. I introduced myself to Nick and Diane Marson and thanked them for the interview. They then introduced me to Bonnie Harris and her sister. After the show, we were standing in the lobby next to Beulah Cooper, and she gave us hugs. Complete strangers. Oz Fudge was wearing his “STFD” t-shirt. Kevin Jung sat down the row from me, as did Brian Mosher and Janice Goudie. We sat behind Bonnie Harris, Beulah Cooper and Hannah O’Rourke. David Hein and Irene Sankoff were there, though I unfortunately did not get to meet them. Kevin Tuerff recognized me, and we got to talk and get a picture. Just now looking through my pictures from that day, I noticed Appleton Mayor Derm Flynn was also there. (Claude Elliott, Beverley Bass and Diane Davis were unable to make it to the screening, but I would get to meet Diane Davis a couple weeks later when she came to the show.) It was an unforgettable day, and I wanted to share this experience with others.

Fast forward a year, and Fathom Events was finally hosting the first wide release showing in the US of the documentary. Kevin’s lesson is one I have endeavored to put into practice throughout the year, and this time, the opportunity presented itself again. I arranged for my family and two friends to watch the show. It was only after I ordered the tickets that I found out that one of my friends I ordered tickets for would be out of town and unable to make it. Kevin specifically advises showing kindness to strangers, so I posted in the Come from Away Fans Facebook group that I had a free ticket for anyone in the Seattle area who wanted it. I had exactly one taker, so it worked out perfectly. She brought her husband, who got a ticket at the box office, and when she offered to pay me back for her ticket, I politely declined and changed the subject.

 

A Teacher Remembers

By Rachel Hoffman

I was only four years old on 9/11/2001, yet I still remember so many details about that day. I remember my mom dropping me off for afternoon preschool, and that none of the parents who were there to drop off their kids talked. They were all just silent. I remember that my teacher had the news on the tiny TV in the corner. I remember seeing the front page of the newspaper the next morning, with a huge image of the burning World Trade Center. I was too young to understand what had really happened, but I remember understanding that it was something horrible. 

Although I was alive during 9/11, I don’t remember a life before it. Growing up, I was able to learn more and more about what happened on that day and why it happened. And though I understood the severity of the events, I always felt so far removed from them. I live 1,500 miles from NYC, and I had no connection to anyone there. In a way, it felt as if the events of 9/11 happened in a different world, a world that I was not a part of.

But that all changed my senior year of high school, when I was fortunate enough to take a trip to New York City with my choir. Among an exciting week of sightseeing and going to shows, we had the sobering opportunity to visit Ground Zero and the 9/11 Museum. For the first time in my life, I felt connected to the events of that day. I was able to stand in the very place where nearly 3,000 people died, see firsthand the physical and emotional wreckage, and talk to people who were there on that day. I learned that the story of 9/11 is everyone’s story, and that no matter how insignificant it may feel, each person’s story about that day matters a great deal. 

The first time I listened to the Come from Away cast recording, I was sitting in the living room of my college apartment. My older sister, who I lived with at the time, walked in the door and asked, “Why are you crying?” to which I replied, “You have to listen to this!” I had immediately fallen in love with the beautiful stories and beautiful music portrayed in this show. 

When I learned that the touring company of Come from Away was coming to a theatre only an hour’s drive from me, I knew I had to go. I splurged on an orchestra seat, and for the first time in my life, went to the theatre by myself. Until that point, I had only listened to the cast recording, and I was completely blown away by how beautifully the story and music were put together. After the show the woman sitting next to me turned to me and asked me, “Did you like it?” and I was only able to nod, as tears were streaming down my face. To this day, it is the best show I have ever seen.

When I learned that the Come from Away story had been made into a documentary, and that it would be shown in my town on 9/11, I knew I had to go. I bought my ticket, bought some popcorn, and sat down to relive the heartwarming story that I had seen on stage six months ago. I thought that after seeing the stage production, I would be prepared for the emotions that would be brought out during the documentary. I was surprised then, to have a completely new, yet just as powerful experience in the movie theater as I did at the musical.

The shortest and most accurate review of You Are Here: A Come from Away Story that I can give is this: everyone should see it. While I had fallen in love with the characters on the stage, there was something completely new and raw about seeing the real people portrayed in Come from Away talking about their own stories from that day. Just like when I watched the show on stage, the audience at You Are Here laughed and cried as one, giggling as we watched Nick and Diane flirt, and shedding a tear when we learned that Hannah’s son did not survive. We also were introduced to some new characters and stories that hadn’t made it into the musical. You Are Here really made me feel like I was there, by putting faces to names, and real-life images and videos of Gander. It showed me so many new details that I will never forget- the image of hundreds of people spread out with airplane blankets on a gym floor, the image of plane people from several different countries all cooking in the same kitchen, the image of Captain Bass constantly wearing her adorable Playbill earrings. The experience I had at You Are Here was not much different from the one that I had at Come from Away, but I felt as if I was seeing the stories unfold for the first time. When we left the theater, it seemed as if everyone in the audience was now somehow connected- we had just experienced this beautiful story of human kindness together, and we were better for it.

I believe that these kinds of stories are the most necessary during times of turmoil. Without stories like these, how can we continue to have hope? I think that we all have dates that bring back painful memories- the day we lost a loved one, the day something happened that caused our life to take a turn for the worst. But on these days, it is so important to remember the rays of light that shone through the clouds. The story of the people in Gander is one that needs to be told. 

This year, as a fourth-grade teacher, I decided to take time out of my school day on 9/11 and talk to my students about the events of that day. They have a completely different understanding of that day, because it happened before they were born. Yet, I was completely blown away by how my students were able to discuss the events and talk about why it was necessary that we have those discussions. One of my students said, “We need to study this kind of history because it will help us learn from the mistakes that other people made.” At the end of our discussion, I played a short news clip I found that briefly told the story of the 38 planes diverted to Gander. We talked about how amazing it was that the town was able to take care of the same amount of people that lived there. One student said, “I don’t think that would happen here.” 

I think it’s best summed up in this line from the Finale of Come from Away: “Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.” Toward the end of You Are Here, we see several of the come from aways sitting around a table, talking about why their 9/11 story is so different from other people’s. I don’t remember who, but I remember it being said that the stories of hope are the stories that people need to hear on these days. The stories told in You Are Here and Come from Away have changed my 9/11 story. That day is no longer all about fear and hate; it is a story of unity, kindness, and about how we are stronger when we are together. 

 

(Rachel Hoffman, Steven Sauke and Michael Kape are recurring bloggers for All Things Broadway.)

Flop Sweat

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

My friend Cleo (real name Pam Gurenson—does anyone know where she is now; our mutual friend and Williamsville High School alumnus is Tony-winner Reid Birney) and I are all excited. I’ve received my first assignment to review a Broadway show. Heady stuff for a 17-year-old theatre nerd. Sure, I’d already reviewed college productions (one of my future professors really got pissed off at me when I slammed his godawful production of Everyman). But we were on our way to the final critics’ preview of an exciting new musical—Hurry, Harry.

Then we saw this musical in October 1972 at the Ritz Theatre (now the Walter Kerr). Cleo said it best as we were walking out at the end: “Well, I don’t think you have to worry about whether you agree with The New York Times. That was horrible.” (BTW, Clive Barnes in the New York Times wrote one his best pans ever; Google it.)

Hurry, Harry was a musical about a young man who is searching for his true place in life. His journeys take him to many places, until he finally discovers love in his own backyard. Sound familiar? Two months later, a musical with the same basic plot would open at the Imperial Theatre (albeit with its composer lyricist banned from seeing it—that’s a story for another time). That musical was the brilliantly directed Pippin. It certainly outlasted Hurry, Harry, which closed the night after it opened (which was two nights longer than it should have run).

Hurry, Harry was the brainchild of the same people who had created the then-popular game, Group Therapy. I don’t know what kind of hubris they had to think they had the ability to write a full Broadway musical. They didn’t.

And then there’s Dude. I’ve written about this show before. Again, on assignment as a second-night critic, I took in the wondrous show. Yes, I said wondrous, but bear with me. You need to step back to 1967, when an outrageous (at the time) new musical opened the brand-new Public Theatre. It was called Hair, and it took New York theatre by storm. By 1968, it had moved uptown (after a brief stop at a deserted disco) and took up residence on Broadway. The newest incarnation—with book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, as well as music by Galt McDermot—featured wild direction by Avant Garde director Tom O’Horgan. It was brilliant. It should have won all sorts of awards. Instead, it spawned companies and tours around the globe, as well as a couple of Broadway revivals. (The first time I saw it was in Toronto, actually.)

Ragni and Rado had a falling out (many years later I asked Jimmy Rado about it, but he said it was still painful for him to talk about). So, Ragni forged ahead with a new musical (with him doing lyrics and McDermot doing the music) called Dude.

Dude has gained a certain notoriety in Broadway lore. Remember, this was 1972. It was the first musical to lose $1 million. It played less than a week at the Broadway Theatre, which had seen its interior torn out to create an environmental space, with the main playing area dead center in what would normally be the orchestra.

Here’s the thing. Dude had some wonderful moments, some great songs, and a complete mess of a book. Tom O’Horgan recrafted the material he had into some kind of fluid road show. Still, the sum of things didn’t add up to a great piece of theatre. My best memory of Dude is sitting across the aisle from Gerome Ragni and his son. Jerry spent much of the night with his head in his hands, softly whimpering.

Still, the worst thing I saw as a young (jeez, I was 17 years old—what the hell did I know? Apparently quite a bit) was a musical adaptation of the ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata. The star was Melina Mercouri, famous for her role as a prostitute in the movie Never on Sunday. Did I happen to mention she couldn’t sing? (Think Liv Ullman in I Remember Mama several years later for comparison.) Now, understanding Lysistrata is a pretty bawdy Greek comedy—the women of Athens refuse to have sex with their husbands until they end war—the potential for a musical was certain there (proven by Lysistrata Jones many years later, but I digress). But in this case, the director and designed went overboard, with all the men sporting huge phalluses under their costumes in the second half (one joke carried way too far). A lackluster score and a very unfunny book didn’t help matters. But it was at Lysistrata I learned a valuable lesson I would employ several times over the decades: when signs are up in the theatre saying the show will NOT have an intermission (though one is listed in the program), you can bet you’re in trouble. I was in trouble. It was so bad Melina Mercouri retired from acting altogether and became the Greek Minister of Culture.

And speaking of shows going without an intermission, I can’t leave out one of the more notorious, er, infamous, er well-known flops I’ve endured. Everyone was greatly anticipating the musical version of an infinitely charming French comedy—with a wonderfully talented cast (Oh, Pippa, why did you do this to yourself and tank your career after Hamilton?). The show was the disastrous Amélie. This was the wrong musical to do. The writers were out of their league in adapting a French film (they completely missed the whole charm thing). And the intermission listed in the program? Signs all over the theatre in Los Angeles saying Amélie would be performed without an intermission. Why? Because too many people were walking out (and if there had been one when I saw it, I would have walked out as well).

And speaking of French charm, I would be remiss without mentioning one of my favorite flops—Amour. Based on a French short story and musical, Amour oozed the very kind of French charm we want to see on stage. Perhaps that was its problem. It was too charming. I personally loved it. I don’t think the critics were in the right state of mind, which is a shame, because this tiny story about a man who can walk through walls (yeah, that’s what it’s about) was so touching and moving many of us in the audience were in tears by the end (think the last scene in She Loves Me).

I can think of one show I saw where I definitely left the theatre in tears, but not because I was moved by what I saw on stage. Starring Richard Kiley and Julie Harris, directed by Gilbert Cates, and designed by the legendary Jo Mielziner (sadly, his last Broadway effort), Voices was just as terrible a play as you can ever imagine. My friend Sloan and I stumbled into on a Friday night, just five minutes before the curtain rose. We walked in knowing it was a flop. But Julie Harris! Richard Kiley. We were poor theatre students and the box office was practically giving away student rush seats (like $3—even less than the $5 I paid to see the original Follies, and look how well that turned out). We were seated upstairs for the first act, but the ushers at the Ethel Barrymore asked us to move downstairs for Act II, since there were only a handful of people in the audience. One famous one, though. I recognized him from his appearances on television and in the newspapers. There was definitely a good reason why he was there—and why it would be the last time he ever stepped foot into a theatre.

The famous person was the ever-so-charming Mafia hitman, Joey Gallo. His flamboyant act around town made him the darling of the newspapers (think young Donald Trump, his contemporary in so many ways). Mr. Gallo was at Voices that night because his stepdaughter was a featured young actress in the play. (I’d try to explain the plot, but it wouldn’t be worth the effort.) Sloan and I saw him surrounded by a small group after the show (including his actress stepdaughter, who went on to no fame whatsoever; he had paid for the show so she could be in it). We went back to school and Joey and his entourage went to a restaurant in Little Italy. Joey—you should have come back to Long Island with us! Why? Because Joey met his doom in that Italian restaurant (talk about irate theatre critics). Gunned down because Voices was such a bad show.

“Yangpa as Rachael Marron”   by KBS is licensed under  CC BY 3.0

Speaking of gunned down, I must note The Bodyguard, touring the country but never to appear in New York City. I had the unfortunate experience of see this travesty two years ago. I really don’t want to go there, so I won’t.

Unfortunately, another show I didn’t want to go to see (but was talked into by some members of All Things Broadway) was the sequel (that should never have been written) to The Phantom of the Opera, the ill-advised, boring, unimaginative, playing-loose-with-the-facts musical dubbed Paint Never Dries by critics in the United Kingdom. I refer, of course, to Love Never Dies. There is no good reason for this show to exist except the greed of its creators. ‘Nuff said.

I might be one of the few people to have ever seen both musical versions of I Remember Mama. That’s not a distinction I enjoy. The episodic play upon which they were based does not lend itself to musicalization—even when Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin are writing the score (for the second one). I saw the first one when I was recruited to help backstage at the late, lamented Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo. Again, I was a poor college student and the idea of participating in some way in a musical starring Celeste Holm in the title role was thrilling. Then I saw it on stage. I will say this, Celeste was charming. The score was light and breezy. The book was a disaster (but the same could be said of the Rodgers version). Hint: do not try to turn episodic plays into musicals; they just don’t work.

No, I never saw the original Carrie (though I wish I had). I was supposed to see Dance of the Vampires, but it closed before our tickets were scheduled. Bring Back Birdie closed before I had a chance to buy a ticket (my friend Jeff did see it and he said it was even worse than I thought it could be). But I did see one of the biggest, baddest, most terrible shows ever to grace a Broadway stage: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. There have been reams written about this disaster; nothing can do it justice. It went beyond terrible into new realms of bad musical writing (really—never let Bono and The Edge near a Broadway score ever again). Of course, the night I saw it, the show stopped for 25 minutes because an actor was stuck in midair (a surprisingly common occurrence).

From Dude to SM:TOTD, I witnessed some of the worst Broadway has to offer—expensive flops which should never have seen the light of day. But you know what? I’ve lived to tell the tale.

 

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® has witnessed more bad theatre than anyone should. Is it any wonder he’s so Grumpy? Now get off my lawn, you young whippersnappers.)

The Stuff of Legends and the Two Guys Behind Them

I was sitting in the front row (one seat from the aisle, my reserved seat as a subscriber), waiting for Sheldon Harnick to do his hosting duties that night in 2010 for Lyrics & Lyricists, the wonderful lecture series at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. (If you live in New York and you’re not a subscriber you damn well should be—but I digress.) Little did anyone in the audience realize we were in for a legendary performance by one of the wittiest, most charming, most erudite, most brilliant man to ever have his work grace Broadway stages (and far beyond).

Of course, Sheldon being Sheldon, he made what he thought was an obscure 1953 Broadway reference, and the whole audience understood. “Oy vey,” he kvetched, looking down right at me, “you’re all just a bunch of alta kockers [Yiddish for grumpy old men]!” (BTW, I was actually one of the younger people in that audience—go figure.)

For over two hours, he regaled us with his views on crafting lyrics, how to write funny songs, and insight into working with that other legend, composer Jerry Bock. It was a night for the ages.

I mention all this as a way of introduction to this blog—a total appreciation of the work we’ve enjoyed by Bock and Harnick. (Sorry, no alta kocker kvetching from me today.) Specifically, I want to focus on five of their amazing musicals. (Okay, a little kvetching; if you don’t know these shows already, what is your problem? Get with the program because we’re talking about some of the most legendary shows—evah.)

Fiorello!

The story goes director George Abbott and producer Hal Prince supposedly asked Bock and Harnick to write two songs on spec on a Friday to be delivered on Monday. They only said it was for a show they were considering about a figure from the New York Tammany Hall period. At that time, the guys had only written one show together, a notable flop called The Body Beautiful. So, Bock and Harnick returned on Monday morning with their two political songs—Little Tin Box as well as Politics and Poker. Remember, neither lyric makes any reference to LaGuardia by name. Of course, I’ve heard variations in this story, most with different song titles. But this one seems most appropriate (the truth is the songs were Till Tomorrow and Unfair; Politics and Poker was added on the road). Abbott and Prince hired them to write the score to their show about New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (you know, the guy named after the airport—just kidding). The show had a major impact on Broadway when it debuted in 1959.

Was it a good musical? No, it was a great musical. Sure, it played fast and loose with some of the facts (name a biographical musical that doesn’t). Unfortunately, it’s not performed as much these days as it should be (the last time I saw it was an amazing Encores production in 2013, which featured a new song—the last composition Jerry Bock ever wrote). The original score did contain one very uncomfortable lyric in “The Very Next Man” (“And if he likes me, who cares how frequently he strikes me? I'll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling, just for the privilege of wearing his ring”), which Harnick rewrote at the request of legendary chanteuse Barbara Cook (don’t worry, we’ll be getting to her soon enough).

Was it a good musical? No, it was a legendary musical. It tied with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music for the Best Musical Tony Award (though really, Fiorello is a much better show; The Sound of Music got a lot of sympathy votes due to Hammerstein’s death). It also nailed the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year (something only nine musicals have ever done).

She Loves Me

After their roaring success with Fiorello, Bock and Harnick wrote a now forgotten (but worthy) show about New York corruption in the 1890s called Tenderloin. Good score (including Artificial Flowers, a pop and punny hit in 1960), lousy book (credited to Jerome Weidman [John’s father] and George Abbott but actually by William and James Goldman [Follies]), and it made audiences uncomfortable. It had a modest run.

After Tenderloin, Bock and Harnick turned their attention to the 1937 play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. MGM had already adapted it into the movie The Shop Around the Corner and the musical In the Good Old Summertime. (It would ultimately get yet another adaption, You’ve Got Mail.) Producer Hal Prince decided he would direct it (though he had not yet developed the deft hand the material required, and he often battled his leading lady).

Harnick, in the course of writing She Loves Me, says he screwed up his courage one day and approached legendary Broadway ingenue Barbara Cook. He did not know her at that time. “I’m writing a musical for you,” he told her. She was skeptical. He introduced her to “Vanilla Ice Cream”. She was hooked. (Indeed, it became her signature song as she transitioned into a cabaret star.)

I consider She Loves Me to be the perfect musical (don’t argue with me; you know I’m right). It’s a light confection. It’s also intellectually challenging (besides Great Comet what other musical uses so many references to Russian literature?). It’s funny. And it has the biggest heart of any show. If you’re not in tears by the end, then maybe you’ve had your heart surgically removed.

While not their most successful, She Loves Me is the best musical the duo ever wrote. Every couple of months, I sit down and watch the video of the revival on BroadwayHD.com just because I feel the need to see it again. And again.

Fiddler on the Roof

“You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” —Spamalot

Actually, in 1964, the thinking was you won’t succeed on Broadway if you DO have any Jews. The great fear then was Fiddler on the Roof was too Jewish for others to understand it. At the time of its opening, Bock and Harnick appeared on the Today show to say one of the first preview audiences consisted of a group of nuns. They understood it immediately. The loss of tradition is a universal story. And so, it is still going strong in some high school auditorium or local community theatre (and often in Broadway revivals).

Right after Fiddler opened, my family sojourned to the Catskills. Wouldn’t you know it. Every bad singer felt compelled to sing a song from the show, which left me feeling rather meh about the show. That is, until I actually saw it on Broadway and realized what an incredible feat Bock and Harnick had accomplished.

Nothing more need be said.


800px-Zero_Mostel_-_Fiddler.jpg

The Apple Tree

After the huge success of Fiddler on the Roof, Bock and Harnick took a decidedly different direction with The Apple Tree. It’s actually three one-act musicals focused on the theme of being disappointed when you get what you passionately want. The team also wrote most of the book (with assistance from Jerome Coppersmith)—an adaptation of three different stories. The first and strongest of the three musicals is The Diary of Adam and Eve, based on the Mark Twain short story. It’s funny (Adam is completely clueless) and it’s heartbreaking.

The strength of this show is in its highly literate and melodic score (the book not so much). Alas, it’s mostly forgotten these days (there was an Encores presentation some years back) and it does feel a bit creaky at times. No one is clamoring for a revival, but it’s a score worth hearing, nonetheless.

The Rothschilds

It’s big. It’s lush. It’s a mirror image of Fiddler on the Roof. Here the Jews start poor and end up as one of the wealthiest families in Europe. It should work better than it does. Personally, I love this score. It’s rich in texture (Bock composed some of his finest melodies for the show) and often moving (Mayer’s 11 o’clock number, “In My Own Lifetime”, helped Hal Linden win a Tony in 1970 as Lead performer in a musical over Larry Kert in Company). The book by Sherman Yellen was a complete mess, not only playing fast and loose with the facts, but doing some major time shifting which would have made Mayer over 100 years old by the end—go figure. (Yellen and Harnick would go on to do a similar disservice to history with Rex, the flip side musical to Six—or is it the other way around, since Rex came first?)

Still, it’s one of my favorite scores by Bock and Harnick. It wasn’t one of theirs. The Rothschilds marked the end of their collaboration. Was it this show causing the breakup? There are conflicting reports. One story has it Harnick was jonesing to turn Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life into a musical. Bock wasn’t interested (he might have been right if you’ve ever seen the travesty Harnick did with Joe Raposo many years later). Or it could be they fought over the firing of The Rothschilds original director (he was replaced by an uncredited Hal Prince). There’s no way to verify this.

And Then They Wrote…

After the collapse of The Rothschilds, Sheldon Harnick went on to write the lyrics to Richard Rodgers’ music for the aforementioned Rex, a flop so bad it wasn’t included in the R&H Library for many years. He contributed English lyrics to shows such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for its stage adaptation and Cyrano: The Musical. He also tried his hand at composing (he had studied to be a composer) with Dragon. In 2010, he wrote a new set of lyrics to Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler to be appropriate for same sex marriages (“When did they grow to be so handsome?”).

The two did reunite to write a new song for Fiddler, “Topsy Turvy”, for a revival (it’s since been dropped) and their final effort, a new song for LaGuardia in anticipation of the Encores revival (Bock did not live to see it done).

 

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® a/k/a the resident alta kocker, is an opinionated old theatre nerd. In his opinion, Bock and Harnick are the stuff of legends.)

Marketing: A Reason for Success or Failure on Broadway

Darren Wildeman
Have you ever had that moment where you hear a song from a musical that you totally forgot about? Now this might be understandable if it was a show from five, ten, or twenty years ago, and even more understandable if it was a flop no matter how recently it played. Sometimes musicals that don’t do all that well are forgotten very soon after they close and often times it’s for the best. There are some shows where the less often they’re brought to the light, but I digress. I’m sure everyone who is a musical theatre fan for any extended period of time has had this happen, as there comes a point where you’ve heard of and listened to so many musicals that some things are going to fall to the bottom of your brain filter and just don’t come across your consciousness that often save for when you suddenly hear a song or read something about it. However, while this is understandable in the aforementioned circumstances, sometimes something a bit weirder happens. Sometimes we find ourselves half forgetting about a more recent musical, sometimes even a musical in the last five years that had a success. Now at this point you might be wondering what I’m getting at. This is easily explainable because the human memory is far from perfect, it’s far faultier than most people believe. If we have more pressing issues in our lives and haven’t read Broadway news or listened to that show in awhile it makes sense it will fall off our radar. And of course, all that is true, but this leads into an aspect of the business of Broadway that is talked about far less often than it probably should be. Because to be honest, even for a flop of a show this can make a huge difference. And that thing is marketing.

Go back to that moment I mentioned where you forgot about the existence of a relatively recent musical that isn’t a total flop. Now as I said our memory isn’t perfect. In fact, the human memory is awful. This is why we need to keep being reminded of things, and in fact there are people who work on musicals who’s job it is to keep the musical in the spotlight, get word out, and in a sense try and keep people from forgetting about them. Whether it be through performances, advertising, casting, or even designing the Playbill. All of these are aspects of marketing, to keep the musical remembered, and in the public eye.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of this is advertising. Not only is it important to advertise, it’s also important to know the demographic. For example, if your show’s demographic is young people, it’s important for a musical to advertise on the appropriate platform. A show like Wicked or Be More Chill wouldn’t advertise on a 70s and 80s radio station. That makes no sense. This seems like basic knowledge, but some shows just don’t advertise. Or if they do, they don’t do it properly or make it attention grabbing. Dull advertising also won’t work. I understand that shows have budgets and can’t necessarily do everything, but at least put out something to the appropriate audience that’s at least somewhat catchy on the right platform as well (i.e. YouTube, Facebook, TV, whichever is most appropriate). Some shows literally don’t put themselves out to the public, and then suffer. One immediate example I can think of for this is In Transit. It was a creative, well staged and directed musical. Don’t get me wrong it certainly had its faults, but I don’t remember seeing anything from them while it was running. Even if the budget is somewhat limited it will get only worse with no exposure to the public and to people who might be interested in it.

While I hate to pick on In Transit, they are another poor example for doing performances as well. A search for official performances of it reveals very few public performances for news organizations or any group. A lot of popular shows will perform on morning shows like Good Morning America. Or if it’s a touring show they’ll perform for the morning news of that city. There might be other special performances for media outlets like Playbill and BroadwayWorld. In Transit has almost nothing. These performances on public media can be huge for getting people to see the show and being interested. This is something you see from so many big shows. Even older shows that have been running for longer like Wicked still perform for media outlets on YouTube from their cast or other people giving a new take on one of their songs. Same with Hamilton despite being one of the hottest shows of the last four years they are still continuously introducing new things. For awhile it was the lottery, they had the Hamildrops, they had the Hamilton mixtapes. If even the hottest show and one of the longer running shows on Broadway feels the need to keep putting themselves out there; less popular shows definitely need to keep it fresh. Little public exposure almost never works. This is another thing that can really help or hinder a show.

Casting isn’t necessarily exclusively tied to marketing, but it can go a long way. Either getting a star or making an unknown person a star can be a huge boost to a show’s numbers. Even if the show closes shortly after this person left, they usually at least maintain a strong audience for an extended period of time. Getting talent unless the show is a major flop is almost never a bad thing. Look at Waitress. There have been whispers of its demise off and on for a couple of years now, and only in the last few weeks did it finally announce a closing date. They kept bringing in stars and really talented people to keep the show going. Kinky Boots also did this until close. While casting might not completely save a show and probably shouldn’t be relied on as the only crutch, there are definitely situations where it can go a long way.

The final thing might not be as big of a deal but it can certainly make a difference. Think of all the extremely famous shows you know. Now picture their Playbill. Chances are you have a pretty good idea of what it looks like. I saw an article the other day about the Playbill for Mamma Mia and it talked about how iconic that image is. Brand recognition is a huge thing both within and outside of theatre. If you can have people recognizing your show on sight of a Playbill or the show’s logo that is huge for spreading the word of the show and having people coming back. While a logo design won’t be the determining factor of a show closing its doors, it can also be a huge bonus to keeping a show going.

Of course, these aren’t all the factors and keeping a show open isn’t nearly as simple as following these four steps. Rather it’s an indictment on shows that don’t do some of these very basic things, and don’t grab the public’s attention. Sometimes you’ll wonder why a good show closed so soon and in some cases they didn’t advertise enough. Think of a show that closed recently or even awhile ago and ask yourself how much press you saw out of that show. In some cases, it will have been a lot but there are many cases where the show just didn’t put themselves out there and still expected the public to know about their existence. It doesn’t work that easily. However, even some basic marketing will help a show a ton. Obviously some shows have budgets and can’t do all the flashy things, but even some less flashy things targeted at an appropriate audience that just says “hey we’re here, and this is the type of show we are” can grab some people’s attention and getting those eyes on the ads and promos can be what a show needs.

 

Movie Musicals Needing a Remake

Michael Kape
So, Steven Spielberg is wrapping up the shoot for his new filmed version of West Side Story. Like many people, I thought the first movie would have been the last time the material was approached. Why would Spielberg—a director whose work I generally like (okay, let’s forget about 1942 and the Jurassic Park movies)—want to tackle this project?

I know why now. I hadn’t really watched the film since I saw it in the movie house in 1961. I’m sure I must have a DVD around I intended to watch someday. But it popped up on my Netflix feed and I figured I might as well satisfy my curiosity. OMG! It’s a painful movie to watch now. Indeed, I managed to struggle through half before I just had to turn it off. The direction by Robert Wise (Jerome Robbins only staged five musical numbers before he was fired for cost overruns) was very sloppy (as was most of his work, the exception being The Sound of Music). The cast, while being good actors, couldn’t sing the demanding roles and the dubbing was awful. (As an aside, I’m well over Marni Nixon after learning how terrible a mother she was to the late Andrew [“Lonely Boy”, “Thank You for Being a Friend”] Gold, a singer/songwriter I really liked. She was talented but a real bitch to Andrew, though they reconciled before he died.)

Spielberg cast actors who could sing the demanding roles, and he actually is using Latinx actors in the Puerto Rican parts. Hurrah. I’m looking forward to a great director tackling the material the way it should be tackled.


Then another movie popped up on Netflix, one I hadn’t seen since 1972. I was curious. Would it stand the test of 47 years or not? Turns out, it didn’t. The movie in question is Fiddler on the Roof. Now, being a nice Jewish boy who lived through countless bad renditions of Fiddler songs while staying in the Catskills (oy, don’t ask, please!), and having finally seen countless productions of the musical onstage, I was curious about whether the movie was as good as I remember it being when I was 18 years old. So, I watched the whole, tedious, sloppy (again; this time blame director/producer Norman Jewison; he’ll pop up again), three-plus hour film (the show clocks in at 2:30 with intermission, which should tell you something).

I finally understood why Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerome Robbins (again) had nothing to do with this film except to cash the checks for the rights. (Additional music for the film was composed by John Williams of Star Wars fame; he couldn’t capture Bock’s sound.) Even then, Topol was looking a little too old to play Tevye—especially when the rest of the cast (except Molly Picon as Yenta) looked decades younger (best performance coming from the late, great Leonard Frey as Motel). The real problem is that the film failed to capture the miracle Robbins performed onstage. The suggestive Boris Aronson sets were more realistic (in sparking our imagination) than the realistic film settings (I know, this is required for any movie). The script sounded right (Joseph Stein did both stage and film versions) but came off hollow and forced when opened up on film.

This story could be told so much better now on film. Jewison worked with what he had (I guess), but his work was uneven, dull, and lifeless. Fiddler on the Roof demands a remake, just like West Side Story.

I was recently talking to some of my fellow ATB bloggers, and it sparked an idea. What other movies were done so badly they demand to be remade? What films cut half the original scores (or nearly all in some cases) when there was no good reason? So, I’ve made a little list. Feel free to agree or disagree or add some of your own. (You might note certain names keep cropping up, like Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. I am not surprised.)

·         A Chorus Line—Our ATB bloggers’ fearless leader calls this “Cats with people.” Okay, I get it. But there is no excuse in the world for this movie to be as stultifying bad as it is. Richard Attenborough was clearly the wrong director, the plot devices crammed into the movie to make more of the prior romance between Cassie and Zack was ridiculous, and the dancing took a backseat to the fake plot (which is completely counter to the point of the stage version). Whole swaths of the original were gone. Songs cut. The brilliant monologue by Paul? Not in this movie. Indeed, everything making A Chorus Line a landmark Broadway musical was erased from the movie.

·         A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Take a brilliantly funny, ribald musical farce with a terrific Stephen Sondheim score and reduce it to utter garbage. Cut half the score (why?) and change the intricate plotting. It just wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny at all, even with Zero Mostel and Jack Guilford recreating their roles. We need a good movie version of Forum. No question about it. And since Sondheim now sells more than he did in 1966, it makes sense.

·         A Little Night Music—Do I really need to explain why we need a good movie version of this musical? Okay, you twisted my arm. Here goes:

—   Elizabeth Taylor is lovely to look at but painful to hear singing You Must Meet My Wife and Send in the Clowns

—   Director Hal Prince could not find a way to make this movie look good no matter what he tried

—   Fully one-third of the Sondheim score is missing

—   One-quarter of the plot is gone

—   The stage musical is lively and buoyant; the movie is dull and leaden

—   It’s dull, it drags, it’s boring

—   Why the hell is it set in Austria instead of Sweden? (I know, Prince got money from the Austrian government to fund the film. It still makes no sense since it’s about events of a midsummer’s night when “the sun won’t set,” and everyone still has Swedish names.)

·         Anything Goes—No, there’s nothing wrong with the 1936 black and white version except it’s missing most of the amazing Cole Porter score; thank Bing Crosby for that travesty. And the 1956 color version not only threw out most of the Cole Porter score again but also the whole storyline (except both have scenes on an ocean liner). Again, thank Bing Crosby for this travesty. We need an actual movie version of the original Cole Porter musical once and for all. Thank goodness Crosby isn’t around to mess this up a third time. (Not a fan, not at all.)

·         Brigadoon—My favorite score by Lerner and Loewe was truncated, major roles reduced to bit players, and it was produced entirely on a soundstage instead of offering real Scottish locations (or even suitable substitutes). Gene Kelly danced up a storm but never could find the right hook for the character of Tommy, and much of what made Brigadoon so special was lost because 20th Century Fox tried to produce a lush musical on a shoestring budget. A real movie version (and not that insipid television version with Robert Goulet) is demanded.

·         Bye, Bye Birdie—Ugh, I think this movie is awful compared to the original Broadway musical. Half the plot was jettisoned (along with half the score) to build up the role of Kim—played by Ann-Margret. Why? And please don’t cite the painful to watch television version with Jason Alexander as Albert. The less said about that the better (though Tyne Daly as Albert’s mother was the one bright spot).

·         Cabaret—Okay, let’s start by saying Bob Fosse’s movie is brilliant on its own. But let’s also say it isn’t the stage musical Cabaret by any stretch of the imagination. We should demand a movie version of the original.

·         Camelot—We have to be honest here. The stage version as it originally opened on Broadway was a complete mess. Director Moss Hart had been hospitalized during rehearsals, so Alan Jay Lerner limply tried to direct the show. But part of the problem was his book was just all over the place. (My BFF refers to this show as Cram-a-Lot, because they tried to cram so much stuff into it.) A few weeks after opening, Hart returned, cut three songs, trimmed the book, and voilà, the show as we know it now. So, making a movie out of the material already started with two strikes against it (the second strike being hiring AJL to write the screenplay). Dispirited direction from Joshua Logan (who should have known better) and subdued performances (to the point of rigor mortis) by the leads made this movie painful to watch. A remake done right would be expensive, but it would be worth it.

·         Finian’s Rainbow—Why hire a master realistic director like Francis Ford Coppola to direct a fantasy musical like this? His work (to be kind) was awful. Fred Astaire insisted his mostly non-singing role have more songs. The plot was changed. The whimsy was strained out. As a movie, to be honest (and kind), it sucked. A remake is needed.

·         Guys and Dolls—Word is a new movie remake is in the works (though others have been announced in the past and never come to pass). Good. Of the four leads, only Vivian Blaine recreated her Broadway role in the film. Jean Simmons was passable as Sarah Brown. Then we have the two male leads—Frank Sinatra as Nathan and (gasp) Marlon Brando as Sky. Why? Whose bright idea was this casting? (Answer: Samuel Goldwyn and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.) Sinatra is again miscast as the lead (he actually wanted to play Sky) and Brando couldn’t sing or act the role (he managed to look extremely uncomfortable throughout the movie). Five Frank Loesser songs were tossed out (three lesser Loesser songs were written for the film). It’s time for a remake—please make it happen this time.

·         Grease—I know some people might consider this heresy, but I think the movie version of Grease is an affront. The original Grease was a raunchy, raucous good time at the theatre. Then someone decided it should be more family friendly (why?). So, half the score was replaced by mediocre Bee Gees songs (and really, by comparison, they are mediocre). Sandy was made Australian to accommodate Olivia Newton John. All the fun and the life were sucked out of the original. I hated it in 1978. I hated the godawful live television version (directed by an old friend of mine; I always said he had no business directing musicals and I still believe it). Here’s a clue: Grease is NOT family friendly. Get it? Good.

·         Gypsy—It should have been Merman. It was Rosalind Russell. It should have been someone who could sing Louise. It was Natalie Wood. It should have been great. It wasn’t. We need a definitive version (though we have a few video ones passing muster).

·         Hairspray—John Travolta as Edna? Really? No. Do it right. It should have been Harvey. And everyone knows it, too.

·         Hello, Dolly!—Before all the Barbra Streisand fans chew my head off, this is not about her being way too young and too Brooklyn to play Dolly Gallagher Levi. It’s about the overblown direction by Gene Kelly, who managed to not just open up the Michael Stewart/Jerry Herman original, but blew it up into a huge, monstrous, unholy mess. Most of Hello, Dolly! Is surprisingly small and intimate on stage, with a few big production numbers thrown into the mix. The Thornton Wilder whimsy is completely gone. The movie goes way beyond Gower Champion’s wildest wet dreams. I’d love to see the movie done right, cast right, and directed/choreographed right. As a movie director, subtlety was never Gene Kelly’s strong suit.

·         Jersey Boys—Right material, wrong director. Clint Eastwood? What were they thinking? Those must have been some powerful drugs they were taking when the producers put him at the helm.

·         Jesus Christ Superstar—Norman Jewison strikes again! The director who bungled Fiddler started working on JC Superstar while filming it. He cast the movie mostly with actors who had never been in a film before (though the leads had done the show on Broadway; let’s not talk about what an unholy mess the Tom O’Horgan production was). Instead of a straightforward retelling of the rock opera, it became a story about a busload of traveling players staging a musical passion play. New songs were added, and some original songs were trimmed beyond recognition. This is yet another case of Jewison not really trusting the material enough. He should have stuck with dramas where he excelled.

·         Little Shop of Horrors—Really, this movie shouldn’t be on this list, but yet it’s here? Why? Because the producers tacked on a happy ending which did not belong there. Put it back, the way it was. Period. End of discussion. (Rumor is this is going to happen in a new filmed version, but I’ll believe it when I see it.)

·         Mame—Everybody loved Lucy, that is, until she bought the film rights to Mame and cast herself as the title character. In truth, aside from her voice being wrong for the role and her being 30 years too old to pull it off effectively, she wasn’t that bad. No, the problem with Mame is Gene Saks wasn’t a good movie director. He had brilliantly directed the Broadway version, but he couldn’t find a way to make it work on film. He even made his wife, Bea Arthur, look forlorn and bored on screen. Indeed, the look of the movie is all wrong (the Morton de Costa film of Auntie Mame got it right). And no amount of mayonnaise on the camera lens could make Lucille Ball look like Mame. A movie remake is demanded (or at least a live television version).

·         Man of La Mancha—Okay, let’s take a small musical, ostensibly a one-set show performed in a dungeon, and then open it up with realistic Italian scenery subbing for the plains of Spain. Let’s go through three directors and writing teams (only go back to the original book writer of the stage musical). Let’s cast three well-known actors (Peter O’Toole, Sophia Loren, James Coco) who can’t sing a note and then dub them badly (because you pissed off the actors from the original stage version who had been promised they could recreate their roles in the movie). Let’s cut some of the musical’s better numbers while we’re at it (indeed, if O’Toole had gotten his way, all the songs would have been excised). Man of La Mancha demands a remake. It has angered theatre fans since 1972; it’s time to put them out of their misery with a good movie.

·         Oliver—I know, I know, it won the Oscar for Best Picture. It still sucks. It’s painful to watch. When every song turns into an overblown production number (even the quiet, wistful Where Is Love?), then you know something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

·         On the Town—The original Broadway show, based on Jerome Robbins’ (again) ballet Fancy Free about three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City, was a brilliant piece with an incredible score with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Comden and Green. Not one bad song in the entire piece. (Odd side note: Bernstein also wrote the lyrics to I Can Cook Too, which led him to first tackle all the lyrics to West Side Story. He couldn’t according to his daughter, and Stephen Sondheim came to the rescue.) Successful on Broadway so it had to be made into a movie, right? Well, um, uh, sure. But the producers miscast Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as two of the sailors and jettisoned most of the Bernstein score for mediocre work by Roger Edens (who thought Bernstein sounded “too operatic”). This movie needs to be remade. Not updated (there’s no more Miss Subways, after all). Cast it with people who can sing and dance and actually play the characters as written (sorry, Sinatra and Kelly didn’t cut it so far as I’m concerned).

·         Pal Joey—Sinatra again miscast as the title character, a heel who preys on women until one woman preys on him. The biting Lorenz Hart lyrics were tamed by Hollywood, and it became a mess of a movie. At least Sinatra sang his own songs; Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak were dubbed. The movie has a happy ending; the musical doesn’t. In the movie, Joey is a nice guy; in the musical, he’s a major louse. It’s a crying shame movie for many reasons. The changes to the Rodgers and Hart show were just plain dumb. Worse, Pal Joey on stage made a star of Gene Kelly, and he could have easily recreated his star turn. Sinatra didn’t think bad boy Joey fit his image, so the whole thing was Bowdlerized beyond recognition. It demands to be made—this time using the original score and storyline. In the #MeToo age, it is especially relevant.

·         Porgy and Bess—This movie is so laughingly bad, so deliciously lousy. It’s an affront to the original Gershwin work on every level. Is it any wonder the Gershwin estate wouldn’t allow it to ever come out on DVD? Let’s do it right this time.

·         Show Boat—There are two movie versions of this landmark American musical (actually there was a third, part-talkie one made in 1929). The first complete one from 1936, shot in black and white, is the superior one, sticking closely to the stage version and features (be still my heart) Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson, and Helen Morgan. So, of course, MGM couldn’t leave well enough alone and remade it in color (sometimes I still wonder what Arthur Freed was thinking in his choices). Hammerstein’s original book is mostly gone. The social commentary propelling Show Boat is reduced to a few lines. Ava Gardner’s character is beefed up (she being a big MGM star at the time). It’s a friggin’ nightmare to watch now. It’s MGM lush and MGM lousy at the same time.

·         South Pacific—Just get rid of the tangerine skies and the movie would automatically be 100% better.

·         The Fantasticks—What? You never saw this movie? Consider yourself extremely lucky. Still, try to remember authors Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt were themselves the ones who adapted their work for the movies. Badly. Very badly. So incredibly badly even MGM wouldn’t release it for five years after director Michael Ritchie filmed it—and under duress because of contractual obligations and in only four theatres. Francis Ford Coppola (see Finian’s Rainbow) was brought in to trim it from 109 minutes to a scant 86 minutes. What went wrong? First, the authors opened the tiny show up. Onstage, the musical is performed on a small stage with a platform and a trunk. Total orchestra? Two (a piano and a harp). On that small stage, the audience is transported around the world and in two backyards. Full orchestrations were created. The film tries to emulate the big, splashy 1950s movie musicals, setting the story in the Arizona prairie, yet reducing the whole world to a traveling carnival (don’t ask). While the show opens and closes with Try to Remember, the movie cuts this famous song down to a couple of choruses at the end (huh?). The tiny story is lost in all the extraneous scenery. Hallmark Hall of Fame attempted to do a truncated television version in 1964, but it wasn’t good at all. The Fantasticks is the world’s longest running musical. It’s simple, sweet, and makes you cry at the end. If ever a property is demanding a great movie version, this is it.

Some (dis)honorable mentions not worth remaking: Annie, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, The Wiz, On Your Toes, Rose Marie, Good News, and Evita (I say this reluctantly because I sort of enjoyed it).

There you have it. Movie musicals derived from Broadway shows demanding to be remade as soon as possible. Entirely my opinion, of course, but I don’t think there’s one movie cited anyone could disagree about the need for a better version.

(Michael Kape a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy® grew up watching movie musicals when he couldn’t see live performances. Even as a kid he knew a bad movie musical when he saw one. Now he cringes when watching them.)

Five Musical Roles That Should be Genderbent

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

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

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

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Quasimodo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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

 

Inspector Javert - Les Miserables

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

 

Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett - Sweeney Todd

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

 

Emcee - Cabaret

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

 

Jamie and Cathy - The Last Five Years

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

Why Everyone Should Watch Julie's Greenrom

Elizabeth Bergmann

I think we can all agree that Julie Andrews is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. Whether she’s twirling and singing about hills or being a literal queen on screen, she has touched every theatre person’s heart in unimaginable ways. But what about her more recent pursuits? Sure, we all sat in Aquaman to watch her voice an ancient sea monster, but she’s also been directing stage shows, writing books, and has created the most perfect piece of television that has ever existed. The latter, of course, is the show that inspired this entire blog: Julie’s Greenroom.

 

Julie’s Greenroom was released on Netflix on March 17, 2017. It has 13 episodes, each about half an hour long. Every episode centers around Miss Julie teaching a group of Jim Henson puppets called the “Greenies” about the performing arts. There are celebrity guest stars, original songs, and offstage drama in every episode. It is a truly wonderful and magical show, and today, I’m going to explain why you should watch it from start to finish. “To the stage!”

 

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The Main Characters

Everybody on this show is a delight. Even the irritating characters are incredible. If you think I’m going to generalize why I love them all, think again, because I’ve watched the show all the way through twice and I’m currently on my third time.

 

Miss Julie: Julie Andrews is playing herself, essentially. She is a wonderful, nurturing soul who runs the Wellspring Center for the Performing Arts. She’s been teaching for years, and honestly cares about every single one of her students. She is warm and delightful, and I wish I could be a Greenie so I could learn from her and then come back to visit frequently.

 

Gus: Giullian Yao Gioiello is a delight as Miss Julie’s second-in-command. He stage manages, builds sets, and helps warm up the Greenies. He himself is a former Greenie, and he sings with the Greenies and the guest stars every single day. He is amazing and wonderful, and we need more Guses in the world.

 

Hank: Theatrical treasure John Tartaglia plays this Greenie. Hank is in a wheelchair, but this doesn’t stop him from loving baseball and playing piano. He can write songs, sing, and even proves himself to be a wonderful actor as Prince Harold. He and Spike become fast friends, and the two of them can be the skeptics of the group when called for (such as thinking ballet is only for girls and that dancing can be difficult for those with disabilities).

 

Fizz: Penelope Guadalupe Fitzgerald Sanchez is played by Dorien Davies and she is my favorite Greenie. She loves bandages and is always ready to tackle whatever opportunity she has to try something new. She’s also always willing to ask for help when she needs it, since she seems to be younger than the others and may or may not have a learning disability.

 

Peri: Remember Rachel Berry on Glee? Peri is her in puppet form, with Stephanie D’Abruzzo bringing her to life. Peri has been singing, dancing, acting, and obsessing over theatre since the dawn of time. She sings her feelings, and while she can be a bit of a diva, she does love the chance to help her fellow Greenies learn.

 

Riley: Riley is adorable. Jennifer Barnhart plays this nonbinary inventor, who loves working behind the scenes as much as they love acting, if not more. It's implied at one point that they might be on the autism spectrum, but they still are given the opportunity to learn with the group. Gus makes them Assistant Stage Manager, and they are overjoyed.

 

Spike: This fabulous wordsmith is played by Frankie Cordero. He loves words and writes down new ones he likes in his “Word Bank.” He also has a talent for rhymes, which comes in very handy on the show when he works with Hank on songs.

 

Hugo: Hugo is amazing. Played by Tyler Bunch, this adorable duck shows up in the very first episode. He has a flair for dramatics, especially classical ballet and opera.

 

Toby: Toby is Miss Julie’s dog. Played by John Kennedy, he is beloved by everyone in the Greenroom.

 

As you can tell, this is a beautifully diverse cast of characters (featuring different ethnicities and ability levels), and their love for the performing arts and each other is a wonderful thing to behold. But they are not alone in this show!

 

The Guest Stars

Julie’s Greenroom includes a small army of famous guest stars who help to teach the Greenies, all of whom are former Greenies themselves. Idina Menzel shows up in the first episode, and somehow it only gets better from there. Josh Groban, Chris Colfer, Sara Bareilles, David Hyde Pierce, and Tituss Burgess make up just some of the amazing guests who come in. Also amazing is Julie Andrews’ long-time friend Carol Burnett, who makes a special appearance. They offer guidance to Greenies, sing songs, and generally make learning about the arts a lot of fun.

 

The Featured Groups

Every episode also includes a look at a performing group somewhere in the world that celebrates whatever the topic is that day. Whether it’s backstage at Wicked, a dance troupe for dancers with disabilities, a huge choir, or storytellers, we see these groups at work. Real-world artists get highlighted and the Greenies (plus the audience) can be inspired by the work they do.

 

The Songs

Every episode of the show features an original song. The guest stars sing, Gus sings, the Greenies sing, and even Miss Julie sings (bringing so much happiness that I’m honestly tearing up with sheer joy just thinking about it). The songs teach lessons, bring people together, and make everything about the show shine even brighter.

 

The Lessons

I’ve been involved in theatre pretty steadily for seven years now, so I thought I knew most of what there is to know. Watching this show proved me wrong. Even though these lessons are designed for kids, they are never condescending. They make the topics approachable and generate curiosity so kids will want to learn more. Do you know a kid who thinks they want to be involved with theatre, music, dance, or crew? This is the perfect way to show them what performing is all about.

 

It’s Amazing

Are you ever disappointed in how a TV show ends? Find yourself feeling empty when a series is over? Wishing for something that the show never provided? Not Julie’s Greenroom. Every disaster is handled with grace. Every action and word has meaning. Everything builds to the most beautiful conclusion that leaves you feeling full and happy. Julie Andrews created this show with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton and expert of children’s media Judy Rothman, and you can tell so much love was poured into the series. Every warmup makes you smile, every scene is filled with life, and I can say with 100% certainty that if it doesn’t get more seasons, this will be the biggest crime against entertainment of all time. “The show must go on!”

The Prom's Final Dance

Sabrina Wallace

Final Bows   pc: Sammi Cannold

Final Bows

pc: Sammi Cannold

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

PS: Guess where the cast party took place?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Remembering Hal Prince

Collaborative

From David Culltion: Processing the Loss of a Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Michael Kape: Remembering Hal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




From Sabrina Wallace: To Work and To Experiment

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

 

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

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




Protest Songs

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 Jonathan Fong

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing the song of angry men-

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Swingnation Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, Myself, and Musicals

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

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

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

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

“When you help others,

You can’t help helping yourself!

Every time you 

Do good deeds

You’re also serving

Your own needs.”



My Top 10

10. Mame

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

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

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

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

Fill up the stocking,”

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

Mame: “But we need a little Christmas

Right this very minute,

Candles in the window,

Carols at the spinet.

Yes, we need a little Christmas now!”

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

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

“Open a new window,

Open a new door,

Travel a new highway,

That's never been tried before”...

“Whenever they say you're slightly unconventional,

Just put your thumb up to your nose.

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

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

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

If you live life all the way.

Pull the stops out,

Hold the roof down,

Fellows watch out,

It's today.”

9. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

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

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

Finch: “Your brain is a company brain.”

Mr. Twimble: “The company washed it, 

Now I can't complain.”

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

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

Whoever the company fires 

I will still be here!”

Finch “Oh, how can you get anywhere?”

Mr. Twimble: “Junior have no fear. 

Whoever the company fires

I will still be here.

Year, after year, after fiscal,

Never take a risko year!”

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

“I believe in you

And when my faith in my fellow man

Oh but falls apart,

I've but to feel your hand grasping mine

And I take heart,

I take heart.

To see the cool clear

Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,

Yet with the slam, bang, tang

Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.

Oh, I believe in you,”

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

8. Book of Mormon

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

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

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

“And now we’re seeing eye to eye,

It’s so great we can agree!

That Heavenly Father has chosen

You and me

Just mostly me!

Something incredible…

I’ll do something incredible!

I want to be the Mormon..

That changed all of mankind…

I’m something I’ve forseen...

Now that I’m nineteen,

I’ll do something incredible,

That blows Gods freaking mind!”

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

“What happens when we're dead?

We shouldn't think that far ahead

The only latter day that matters is tomorrow.

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

It's a latter day tomorrow.

Put your worries and your sorrows and your cares away

and focus on a latter day.

Tomorrow is a latter day!”

7.  “Fiddler On The Roof”

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

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

They would ask me to advise them,

Like a Solomon the Wise.

If you please, Reb Tevye..

Pardon me, Reb Tevye...

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eyes!

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

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

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

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

To sit in the synagogue and pray.

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.

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

That would be the sweetest thing of all.”

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

Motel:

“I have wanted to ask you for some time, 

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

Tevye : 

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

Motel: 

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

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

Tevye: 

“He's beginning to talk like a man. 

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

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

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

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

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

They gave each other a pledge-unthinkable. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Big River

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

“All right, I'll go to hell! 

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

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

“I see the friendship in you eyes

That you see in mine

But we're worlds apart, worlds apart

Together, but worlds apart”

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

“I, Huckleberry, me

Hereby declare myself to be

Nothin' ever other than

Exactly what I am”

5.  Pippin

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

“So many men seem destined 

To settle for something small

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

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

Got to find my corner of the sky”

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

“I'm not a river or a giant bird 

That soars to the sea

And if I'm never tied to anything

I'll never be free

I wanted magic shows and miracles

Mirages to touch

I wanted such a little thing from life

I wanted so much

I never came close, my love

We never came near

It never was there

I think it was here”


4. Sunday In the Park With George

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

“What I feel?

You know exactly how I feel.

Why do you insist

You must hear the words,

When you know I cannot give you words?

Not the ones you need.

There's nothing to say.

I cannot be what you want....

You will not accept who I am.

I am what I do-

Which you knew,

Which you always knew,

Which I thought you were a part of!”

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

“I chose, and my world was shaken-

So what?

The choice may have been mistaken,

The choosing was not

You have to move on”

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

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

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

3. Into the Woods

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

anything in the world?”

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

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

Are you certain what you wish 

Is what you want?

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

“What matters is that

Everyone tells tiny lies.

What's important, really is, the size.

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

When the end's in sight,

You'll realize:

If the en is right,

It justifies

The beans

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

“Careful the wish you make 

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen”

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

“To mind

To heed

To find

To think

To teach

To join

To go to the Festival!”

2. Children of Eden

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

“I see a mountain and I want to climb it

I river and I want to leave shore

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

There's things waiting for me to invent them 

There's things waiting for me to explore

I am an echo of the eternal cry of

Let there be!

The spark of creation, burning bright within me

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

Until I discover or build or uncover

A thing that I can call, my celebration

Of the spark creation”

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

ADAM

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

We had all we could eat”

EVE

“But it seems the fruit our own hands grow

Somehow tastes twice as sweet”

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

“Oh this son of mine I love so well

And all the toil it takes

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

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

He goes charging on the cliffs of life

A reckless mountaineer

I could help him not to stumble

I could warn him what to fear

I could shout until I'm breathless

And he'd still refuse to hear ohhh

But you cannot close the acorn

Once the oak begins to grow

And you cannot close your heart

To what it fears and needs to know

That the hardest part of love

Is the letting go.”

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

“Fare thee well 

My precious children

In your hands

I place a key

To this prison

Made of gratitude

That has held you close to me

Now I know I cannot hold you

Till at last

I let you be!”


1. Three Questions: A Philosophical Oratorio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That much is true 

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions

1. Chicago

“I play in a game

Where I make the rules

And rule number one

From here to the end

Is 'I am my own best friend'

Three Musketeers

Who never say die

Are standing here this minute

Me, myself and I”

2. Be More Chill

“There are voices in my head

Of the voices in my head

The loudest one is mine!”

3. La Cage Aux Folles

“I deal my own deck

Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.

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

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

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

"Hey world, I am what I am!"

4. Avenue Q

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

Farewell, friends.  

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