Opinion

"I've Had Enough of Just Passing By Life": How One Musical Changed Our Lives

Kelly Ostazeski

Fans of musicals often can cite one musical that changed their lives, whether it's the show that inspired a performer to pursue theatre as a career, the first show we ever saw that got us into theatre, or in this case, how a musical can bring us out of darkness and back to the light.

In this case, it's the musical Hello, Dolly, and how the recent revival impacted so many lives. No matter what actress the audience saw play Dolly, they left the Shubert Theatre transformed. I've interviewed several fans of the show who felt that this one show somehow impacted their lives. Most of the interviewees, including myself, saw actress Donna Murphy as Dolly, but a few here also saw Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler.

Before we proceed, there's something that makes the show even more powerful: both Murphy and Peters share a connection with their character, their own personal loss of their husbands. This makes certain moments, like Dolly's monologues to Ephraim to let her go and let her move on, even more emotional. People often think of Hello, Dolly as a simple, fun musical comedy - and it is, but like so many classics, there is so much depth and emotion at its core. This show is about a woman who wants to move on from the loss of her husband. Yes, she's a matchmaker and she meddles in the lives of the other characters, but while she improves the lives of those around her and helps them, she also needs to find her own happiness again.

Without Dolly Levi, I wouldn't be a writer for this blog. Because of this show, I've found a goal again, a drive again, and I felt my heart coming alive again. Yes, these are lyrics to the famous and inspirational song "Before the Parade Passes By". These are the lyrics that changed me. Before I saw the show (a second time, and it happened to be Murphy's last performance, on January 7, 2018 - a year ago, exactly. Yes, I planned this article for the anniversary of the life-affirming, changing performance).

I knew I was depressed. I'd given up on my career goals and I was settling for a job I had no passion in. I had just lost my grandmother and several other sources of inspiration in early 2016. I felt stuck for two years and filled the void with anything I could distract myself with. There was always a looming feeling of emptiness. I had no reason to carry on. When I saw the show a first time, I loved it, but I guess I wasn't ready to let go. Perhaps the universe was trying to get me to open my heart again.

Something about the energy of the audience, the joy of the show, the optimism of Dolly Levi and her personal journey to "rejoining the human race", and the masterful, emotional performance of Donna Murphy - something woke up inside my heart that day a year ago. I literally "felt my heart coming alive again" as I sat in the theatre. I was changed. Not only could I feel the love of theatre and performing radiating from Murphy on stage, and from the cast members to this insanely talented Broadway legend while she worked her magic, I could feel the audience giving it back.

Maybe it was partially Murphy herself who brought about this change - because I went to BroadwayCon later that month and saw her on a panel about audition stories and the panelists all emphasized our uniqueness, and suddenly I felt like I didn't have to compare myself to others. Suddenly I felt I could start trying again. That's when I realized maybe there's hope for me. Maybe I am enough, maybe I am worth it. Something was missing from my life and I think it was theatre. I saw more Broadway shows last year than since I felt myself sinking futher into depression. Musical theatre completes me - and Hello, Dolly, this panel at BroadwayCon, and meeting and connecting with Murphy and experiencing her kindness - these all helped me realize that. Murphy has told me to be good to myself and to keep doing what I love, and I'm trying. Now I want to take on the world. I want to live life to the fullest and do better, be better, be the best version of me. I want to live those dreams and work toward them.

I started taking voice lessons again. I saw more theatre. I went to New York City (which I've always cited as my happy place, where dreams come true, where I've met most of my inspirations) a lot. I made plans to move there soon, and to no longer take no for an answer, to keep trying. Because really, "I've had enough of just passing by life". Who wants to watch life just pass by and miss out on so much because you don't feel like you're good enough? And just because anxiety and depression tells you you're not worth it? That's not living. That's what I got out of Hello, Dolly.

Murphy returned to the role of Dolly in July and August of 2018, and I got to see her (and talk to her at the stage door) several more times, now with this awareness of what she and Dolly mean to me, and I got to take several friends with me, as well as make several friends through the show. Those were wonderful days I will always remember, and moments I will always cherish.

I wanted to show how we've all been changed by one musical. We've all struggled, we've all been inspired by this magical show. These friends, the people I interviewed for this article, we've all been changed by this extraordinary show.

Before the Parade...

I look back on 2018 with fondness because of all the memories attached to Hello, Dolly, and I honestly don't know where I'd be now if I hadn't found this show when I did. I don't know what I would want out of life; I don't know if I'd have any dreams, or what would keep be going.

Life before Dolly, for all of us, wasn't as bright.

Robbyne had also just lost her grandmother and that loss made her lose hope in her dreams. "I was in a very dark place,"she wrote. Zach was also in a dark place: "I felt trapped, like my life was on autopilot and I was stuck in a rut. Work life was far from perfect, I felt isolated, and was struggling with depression for the first time in many years."

Allie went to see the show with her mother, and noticed a connection between Dolly and her mom. "[My mom] is an incredibly strong inspiring woman who has sacrificed so much for her family. At the time she was in the process of divorcing my dad who had been abusive and terrible to her for my entire life. My mom reached a point where she realized that her marriage was not healthy for her or her children and left her husband of twenty-five years."

Another fan, Kaity, had also experienced loss. "I was floundering. I didn’t know what to do with my life. My dad had passed away about 2.5 years prior, and I felt guilty for feeling joy when I didn’t have him in my life."

Then we all bought a ticket to see this classic, joyous Broadway musical, and were all transported to Yonkers and New York City for a journey to happiness.

In the Theatre

I asked each fan what specifically about the show and the performances that moved us, and so many of the answers were similar, but it was also really interesting to see the differences. Something different captured each of our hearts. The most commonly moving moment was also my favorite, "Before the Parade Passes By". At Murphy's last performance in August, I remember sobbing at intermission after this song, because it was so emotional and so powerful, and I was there sharing it one last time with so many of the friends I'd made through this show.

Rebecca, who also saw Donna Murphy, wrote, "I especially loved her approach to ‘Parade’, the way she went through a whole range of different emotions was very touching and made everybody in the audience connect with the character and her story... I also was very worried that she would start crying during ‘Parade’ in her first performance (I certainly did) because it was so incredibly charged with emotion."

Allie, who saw Bernadette Peters, said, "As we were watching the show...I had a moment of realization during the song 'Before the Parade Passes By' of just how similar my mom was to Dolly. They were both strong talented women who, for different reasons, were coming out of dark periods in their lives. And even though they were older they still had fight left, they still had the ability to get life back into their lives!"

"Dolly reclaiming her heart and her joy from years of grief and sorrow, and I needed that so much," Kaity wrote. "I needed to see Dolly’s heart coming alive again, reclaiming her life before the parade passed her by. I needed the joy of the technicolor Sunday Clothes, of the pastel wonderland of 'Dancing'. I needed it all. I needed this wonderful woman more than I ever knew." She also mentioned an incredible line near the end of the show, as spoken by Cornelius Hackl: "The world is full of wonderful things!" It's amazing how a simple line like that can make you smile and make you see the world a little differently.

Zach, who was lucky enough to see all three Dollys in the Broadway production, mentioned the famous "Oak Leaf Monologue" and Murphy's characterization. "[Donna Murphy] connected with this role in a way I have only rarely seen from any actor or actress in any kind of role, and it was moving from start to finish. Her interpretation of Dolly was one of a woman ready to reclaim her life, to stop living from day-to-day and really savor the feeling of living in the moment and celebrating the big and small things that make life worth living." The Oak Leaf Monologue happens right before "Before the Parade Passes By" and is a monologue to Dolly's late husband Ephraim. Dolly wants to let go of the pain, "rejoin the human race", and carry on. "She claims her own agency in that moment," Zach wrote, "and reclaims her life after years of grieving and trying to avoid moving on out of fear of losing her beloved Ephraim forever."

Robbyne, who also saw all three of the Dollys, was moved by a scene between Dolly and Horace toward the end of the show. Dolly asks Horace, "Am I a somebody?" Robbyne says, "As someone who’s always been very insecure and felt invisible, it always spoke deeply to my heart, and it made me feel like maybe I could matter too."

Others connected to different aspects of Dolly and the performances. Lorraine, who saw Bernadette Peters, wrote, "I love Dolly for the fact the lead is outspoken in a time where women should be meek, that she stands her ground, shows how to make an entrance and how to outwit many a man."

Life After the Parade

Theatre can change our lives even in the smallest way. Rebecca wrote that every Tuesday she thought of Donna Dolly Tuesdays, since in her original run, Murphy was the alternate and performed only on Tuesdays (and during Bette Midler's scheduled vacations).

"I left the theatre feeling more open and joyful than I had felt in years," Kaity said. She also wrote, "Hello, Dolly has connected to me to amazing people, both fans of the show and performers in the show. The show itself gave me a place of refuge while it was running, a safe place to just forget my troubles and be immersed in Dolly’s world for 2.5 hours. I’m a completely different person now than I was before I saw Hello, Dolly, and I’m so much better for it."

"After seeing Hello, Dolly and meeting [Donna Murphy] at the stage door," Christian wrote, "I felt that I could be happy more often. I also felt that I could live my life once more. Dealing with certain things in my private life, that show taught me that I can begin my life again. I can un-pause and continue the chapter I was meant to live and to finish. That we all deserve to be happy and to have seconds chances in all areas in our lives."

Robbyne wrote, "Donna Murphy has taught me so much about the integrity and humility I aspire to have, and the way I hope to make people feel through kindness and caring...She is just captivating to watch. Her authenticity and talent just radiate the entire time she is performing...Seeing her strength, and her ability to keep going through the pain [of loss] and to continue her acting career, made me want to try again in my own. I had given up hope when I lost my Grama. [Donna Murphy] was the one to reignite my acting goals and dreams."

Zach wrote, "I'm a more positive and optimistic person for having experienced this show...Like Dolly, I found a drive to rejoin the human race, to stop wasting away in loneliness, and to seize the day and the opportunities I see right in front of me...Highs are a bit higher now, and the lows last a little less of a long time."  He also said, "Hello, Dolly is one of those shows that from the first note of the overture to the last note of the curtain call is about being positive, about facing challenges, about meeting them head on, about never taking no for an answer when it comes to our own happiness and the happiness of others."

So Long, Dearie

Hello, Dolly closed on Broadway in August 2018, and is now on tour across the country starring Betty Buckley as Dolly. If you have a chance, and especially if you need a little inspiration, go see it. Any show closing on Broadway is sad for its fans, but fans of Dolly are keeping the love and inspiration taught by this wonderful show alive in our hearts. It's not always easy to keep going, after having such a light in our lives. I know I try to carry the messages of Dolly and the journey of this character with me, and always will.

Allie said, "This show and what it helped me learn about my mom helped me see that it really doesn’t matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to grab life by the horns and make a difference."

Zach described his life after Dolly as more positive. "I notice the joy around me more often, and humming the tunes from the show helps me get through some of the tougher times life has thrown at me."

"I am forever changed by the beauty and the heart of this show," Robbyne wrote, "It is filled with memories that I will treasure deeply for the rest of my life. From special moments during the many shows, to my personal interactions and conversations with [Donna Murphy], to meeting some of my dearest friends because of Hello, Dolly. I am permanently changed in some amazing ways."

"I try to live my life how Dolly (and [Donna Murphy]) would want me to, with joy and heart. I take leaps, and I try not to hide behind a cloud of grief. I know my dad would want me to be happy, and that’s what I try to do, always," Kaity said. "The first time I met Donna Murphy at stage door, I told her that I felt true joy for the first time since my dad passed in that theatre. I told her that I felt so guilty feeling that joy previously, but I felt like he would want this for me."

Be positive. Feel joy. Feel the freedom to be happy after a loss or a tragedy in our lives. Never take no for an answer and move forward. Hold your head up high. Live life to the fullest. Keep dancing. Feel you heart coming alive again.

These are just a few things we found through Hello, Dolly. As Dolly sings in the title song, "It's so nice to be back home where I belong."

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Special Thanks

Thanks to all those I interviewed for the article: Robbyne, Zach, Kaity, Rebecca, Allie, Lorraine, Christian. You all deserved your stories to be told. I am sorry I had to condense so many of your wonderful, eloquent, emotional answers. We were all moved by Dolly, so inspired by the magic inside the Shubert Theatre. Let that magic live on forever. To all the friends I found through Dolly, this is for all of us. Happy Dolly-versary to those of you who were there that night.

Special thanks to everyone involved in the 2017-2018 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly, especially those mentioned in interview answers: Donna Murphy (especially), Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel, David Hyde Pierce, Victor Garber, Santino Fontana, Taylor Trensch, and Charlie Stemp.

"Dolly'll never go away again."

Thank you.

Slim Pickings From the Cobwebs of my Mind

Michael Kape

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My Personal Year in Review

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

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

Here Lies Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Miss Saigon

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

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

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

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

Allegiance

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

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

Puffs

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

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

Newsies

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

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

Something Rotten

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

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

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Hamilton

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

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

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Crowns

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

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Come from Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

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

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



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

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

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

The Aha Moment

SarahLynn Mangan

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

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

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



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

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

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

 

 

 

 

On Pantomimes

Jyothi Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Shattering the Jukebox Stereotype

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Revisiting Oz

Kelly Ostazeski

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

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

Until this year.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                   

 

 

 

Beetlejuice at the National Theatre

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

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

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

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

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



How Kinky Boots Changed My Life

Taylour

In September of 2018, it was announced that the Broadway show, Kinky Boots would be closing after running for 6 years at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. When I saw the news, I was absolutely devastated and didn’t know how to properly handle the news of a musical that I hold so near to me is closing. Now, a few days after the one-year anniversary of me seeing the show I decided to finally write that thank you message and share how the musical turned the worst year of my life into the best. 

 

Kinky Boots is truly a one in a million musical, I’ve never walked out of a show feeling as happy as I did when walking out Kinky Boots. With an amazing score and a heartfelt story to match, Kinky Boots really can turn a gloomy day into the best. When I saw the musical, I was in the worst place I’ve ever been, a devastating life event happened a few months prior to my seeing the show and I was still trying to deal with the emotional consequences, and it was hard to get through and do a lot of daily tasks. But, when I walked into the theatre and the show started, I forgot about everything bad. For those 2 hours, Kinky Boots made me forget everything bad and focus on the pure happiness that was happening in front of me. The pure joy of the music itself is enough to make anyone smile, but by the end of the Act 1 finisher “Everybody Say Yeah”, I was starting to feel a sense of pure happiness surge through me. By the end of the show and during the show’s finale of “Raise You Up”, did I truly start to feel like my old self again. The lyrics of the song still resonate with me to this day, and whenever I need, dare I say, to have a raising up, I’ll play that song and everything is seemingly okay and I know I can move past it. 


 

While the overall message of Kinky Boots is ultimately acceptance, the undertone of happiness and living every day triumphantly is also there, and that’s the message I’m living with now. Because of my Kinky Boots experience, I started to take things by storm and truly become the Lola of my own life. Because hell, if she can do it then anyone can. Kinky Boots came into my life when I needed it most, and because of that, this show will forever remain in my heart and I will forever be eternally grateful to those involved for creating this masterpiece. Get yourselves to the Al Hirschfeld before April 7, 2019 to see this gem before it goes. You can change the world if you change your mind and live your life triumphantly. Because of Kinky Boots, I started to feel like my old self again and start to look up, because of how happy and the pure joy I was feeling from the show, its message and its music. Thank you, Kinky Boots, for existing️.

Darkest Musicals I Know

Theatre isn’t supposed to be comfortable. This is something you have probably seen people say at least a few times. It’s something that has been somewhat commonplace in theatre for a little while now. Many musicals- even those that aren’t really dark have challenging themes. Even Wicked which is for the most part a relatively light-hearted magical family friendly telling of the story before Wizard of Oz. However, even something like Wicked has a bit more happening beneath the surface and some darker moments. While these days more musicals are challenging and have some heavier moments, some musicals go well beyond this and are almost 2.5 hours of straight darkness without a break.



Next to Normal

I have talked about this musical at length on the blog before so I’m not going to go terribly in depth and I don’t want to spoil anything if someone is unfamiliar with it. However, this musical takes the pain of living with mental illness and its challenges and shows them in a raw completely non-sugar-coated way. It’s beautiful.

Blood Brothers

Some of you may know this musical and some may not. To those familiar with it, it may not be something that immediately comes to mind when you think of dark musicals. However, when you give the plot and presentation some thought it really is. From the beginning of the show you know the characters are doomed from the start. The narrator makes sure you 100% know this. However, what puts it over the top is that the narrator is constantly on stage. Even during the character’s happy moments, he never leaves the stage. He is always lingering as a constant reminder that these people are doomed. To me that is really chilling. The doomed characters and the narrator are what put this over the top. It makes seeing the misfortune that the narrator is constantly prophesying play out that much more chilling.

Fun Home

Woof this show. This is another one I won’t go into super detail as it’s fairly well known (winning 5 Tony Awards) and like Next to Normal, I don’t want to spoil it. However, this is a heartbreaking story about a woman, her sexuality, and a heartbreaking tragedy with her father.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This isn’t the Disney movie brought to stage. The stage musical sticks much closer to the Victor Hugo novel. A corrupt, abusive priest and a doomed love. While it’s certainly far from the darkest musical I’m going to mention in this article as it certainly has its lighter moments, the tragic story of all the characters certainly make it worth mentioning.

Kid Victory

Does it get much darker than child abduction and abuse? That’s what Kid Victory is about. It’s about a boy who was lured away online and is the stuff of every parent’s worst nightmare. The score alone is haunting, however in my opinion is certainly worth a listen.

The Boy Who Danced on Air

If it’s possible to get any darker than Kid Victory, The Boy Who Danced on Air managed to do it. This musical covers the issue in Afghanistan of Bacha Bazi which is a form of pedophilia where an older man gets to “own” a boy. They are often dressed in girls’ clothing and made to dance and perform for the older man. This is another musical where just the cast album can give you chills. It’s a heartbreaking show that takes on an obviously heavy subject.

Jekyll and Hyde

Some love it, some hate it; however the gothic and horror undertones of this show cannot be overlooked. I think the darkest part of this musical that often gets overlooked is initially Henry was setting out to do something good. He was trying to make a positive change as insane as it may have seen. And he turns into a literal madman. It’s heartbreaking to see the change take him over and watching his friends and loved ones start to wonder what happens to him and the hopelessness they obviously feel.

Spring Awakening

The dark sexual themes are heavy throughout this show and the things the characters go through are incredibly heavy. Just the subject of teens and sexuality is a touchy one and the presentation of this musical brings it to an incredibly dark place.

Assassins

Even the “lighter” moments in this musical are dark. I mean, it’s a musical about the assassination attempts on various presidents. That alone gives it a much darker context. However, when you dive deeper into the show we see that we don’t even know what is real and what isn’t real to the shooters. Literally every shooter is having their sanity questioned by the audience. That adds another thick layer to an already heavy subject.




Performer Misconceptions

Show business is tough. No one’s denying that. But people tend to say things about performing and Broadway sometimes which just strike me as a bit off. So, without further ado, I’m going to be addressing the issues I have with four common Broadway misconceptions.


Getting on Broadway is about being the most talented.

It is. But there’s so much more than that. It’s about checking the boxes.

Broadway isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ deal. The casting director will have specific – sometimes very specific – preconceptions about what they want and who they want for it. You could put a fresh new spin on old material, and yes, even if you can belt a high A like nobody’s business, sometimes that’s just not what they’re looking for. Maybe they specifically want someone of a certain race (a practice I despise, but that’s beside the point) for the role, or maybe they want the entire ensemble to have a particular ‘look’. Maybe they’re trying to find a replacement for an outgoing actor and they don’t want to pay to re-fit the costume (I’ve actually spoken to a Broadway actor who said that they got turned down at final callbacks for one show, then got cast for the very next show they auditioned for, both for that very reason). If you don’t fit what they already have, both metaphorically and literally, even if you’re a just as (or more) talented actor, singer, or dancer as those waiting in the audition room behind you, you might not get the part. It’s just showbiz.

Changing the key is taboo.

Yes, I know no one ever wants to tell their director that they want to change the key for fear of derision and scorn. But sometimes, it really is necessary – and not only that, it can help so, so much. I will admit that songs are often written with a specific key in mind – different keys do sometimes convey different emotions simply by way of the ‘sound’ they produce, something I’m sure those with perfect pitch often sense either consciously or unconsciously. But I say changing the key doesn’t ruin a song - it just lets a performer put their all into their performance in a way the original key wouldn’t have allowed them to. In Legally Blonde, the key for the ending of So Much Better has been lowered three full times since the first demo recording – originally written in A major, the song was first shifted down to the original Broadway key of G major then all the way down to F-major for all subsequent professional productions (as licensed by MTI). And yet, the sheer power of the song hasn’t been changed at all – most people, quite frankly, haven’t noticed, and I for one am continually impressed by the blonde belters who pull off the number with pizazz. During his tenure in Newsies, Dan Deluca had the key of Something to Believe In shifted down a step from G major down to F major, a key change allowed him to pull off one of the most romantic performances of the song I’ve ever seen.

The lead performer is always the best in the cast.

This one goes along the same lines as the first one about being the most talented. The lead might not have the best voice or acting chops in the cast, but they might have the best work ethic or, dare I say it, the star power and appeal to draw audiences to a show (yes, I’m talking about stunt casting), all things essential to a show’s financial success as a business. In other words, they just happened to tick the right boxes. But that in no way diminishes the talent of the rest of the cast. The supporting character might not have the high G in their repertoire that the lead does and which might be necessary for a certain role, but given the chance maybe they too could make a full audience cry on cue. The understudy might be an up-and-coming talent who simply doesn’t have yet the resume of the established lead actor (Jeremy Jordan, known for his Bonnie & Clyde and his Newsies exploits but lesser well known as a former understudy for the role of Tony in West Side Story on Broadway, comes to mind). Suffice it to say that someone having top billing in a show’s Playbill doesn’t equate to them being the best in the cast



The best performers are those that never fail.

For this last one, I think the following saying conveys my thoughts better than anything else: “Don’t judge a blooper reel by a highlight reel’s standards.” You might have seen a star deliver moving performance after moving performance to an enthralled crowd of thousands leaping to a standing ovation. But you probably haven’t seen them cry after being turned down for the part again or rip up their sheet music in frustration after the tenth vocal crack of the day on that one high note (Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde comes to mind – not vocal cracks specifically, but you can tell from recordings she struggled at times with the ending note in “So Much Better”, even if the rest of the performance was good enough that you were too distracted to notice when she took a breath in the MTV recording of the show). You probably haven’t seen them shudder with nerves in front of an opening night crowd or fall in rehearsal three times in a row. And I know for a fact that some of the best performers in the world have done these very things. Why? Because the best performers aren’t those who never fail. Those don’t exist. The best performers are those who work through and work with their failures, using them to make themselves better and more consistent as performers and stronger as people.

Gatekeeping- Why?

Jonathan Fong

Musical theatre is a broad term; underneath its broad umbrella, one finds everything from the classics of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Sondheim to rock operas like Hair and Rent. There’s something for everyone – from a story of humanity woven from a teenager’s broken arm to life-affirming pieces about great tragedies of recent and not-so-recent history, everyone’s got something to love. For those who prefer to work unseen, there’s lights to run, SFX to cue, and an orchestra to play in or conduct; for those who enjoy the bright lights of the stage, there’s everything from the brusque romantic tenor lead who happens to be absent from every single dance number (read: has two left feet) to the comedic character actor who can’t sing to save their life or the dancer who thrills with great leaps and kicks. I think you get my point – musical theatre is diverse, vibrant, and incredible. After all, that’s why we love it, isn’t it?

So then, I must ask – why do we keep gatekeeping this community from that which we disapprove of?

We’ve all, at some point, laughed at something or someone who, in our eyes, is undeserving of our community. Maybe you’ve snickered at that one video of some high school kid in Legally Blonde having the worst voice crack of their life or maybe that video of an epic technical fail at this or that production, or maybe you’ve scoffed at the news that they’re bringing yet another piece of commercialized of garbage onto Broadway. I know there are people who are reading this who hate the way the Tonys in this or that year turned out (I’m looking at you, my fellow DEH, CFA, Great Comet, Mean Girls, and SpongeBob fans) and have gone online to bash fans of what, in your eyes, stole that award. And I know there’s that one singer or actor who you think doesn’t or didn’t deserve their part in whatever production (amateur or professional) of whatever musical.

Admit it – you’ve done it. I’ll go first and say that I have. While I’m not proud to admit it, I’m not ashamed to either. Let’s just say I had concerns when the announcement was made that SpongeBob Squarepants would be brought to Broadway and that I was irritated when Bandstand barely received a passing glance when it came time for Tony nominations and ‘that Dear Evan Hansen thing swept the bloody thing’. I’ve internally facepalmed upon reading news of various casting decisions for Broadway productions and cringed upon hearing praise for that one musical (good luck guessing which one I’m referring to, by the way).

But here’s the thing. Why do I get the right to say what makes an adequate piece of musical theatre? What makes me the perfect arbitrator of the best and worst casting decisions in the history of theatre? Why should I get any say in what others think is their favorite or most hated musical?

I know I certainly don’t have that power. Just as any other human, I have my opinions, and I respect the right of others to have theirs too. I don’t hold the reigns to the progress of musical theatre, neither are my opinions on anything – a show, a performance/production of a show, the performance of an actor or actress – a matter of absolute, undisputable fact. I like and hate certain things, yes, and I’m sure others do too (often in a way that conflicts with my beliefs). But at the end of the day, there’s no reasonable cause for me to attack or hate anyone who disagrees with me or – dare I say it – call them ‘not a true fan’, is there? It’s not like liking or hating Wicked or Phantom of the Opera makes someone a horrible person – liking or disliking a thing or three in the realm of musical theatre, unlike certain unforgivable acts and people within society, is not morally or ethically wrong and should not deserve the same use of language as such acts, as I see sometimes occurs nowadays.

At the end of the day, musical theatre is musical theatre. Love or hate certain parts of it, the whole of musical theatre is what makes it what we love. And we shouldn’t be telling or imposing our views on which parts of it are good, which are bad, and which should be unworthy of being called ‘musical theatre’ on others no more than we should be telling people to stop loving someone they love. Because we all love and care for musical theatre – and we should all be treating each other as such.

Billy Elliot

SarahLynn Mangan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





5 Musicals that Should Get the Hollywood Treatment

With the recent announcement of the beloved musical Cats becoming a motion picture event next year, it really got me thinking which other beloved Broadway musicals should get the Hollywood treatment. Embarrassingly enough, this is a topic I think of quite a bit, down to the cast. With that being said, here are 5 musicals I think would be great with the Hollywood treatment. I based my choices on popularity (meaning with theatre fans on social media and how they’re received in general), the music and story. Of course not, everyone is going to agree with these, but these are a few I’ve seen garner a huge response and gathering for. Without further ado!

Photo by manaemedia/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by manaemedia/iStock / Getty Images

 

5. Spring Awakening (2006)

Spring Awakening is just awesome, truly. Set in Germany in the late 1800’s, it’s a story of teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality, their inner battles and struggles, and what they believe to be, love. It’s set to a rocking (quite literally) score that will have these tunes stuck in your head for days. Spring Awakening is also a story that will stick with you far after you experience it, and with talks of the musical being turned into a film since 2013, there’s no time like the present to do it. In a day and age where sexuality is not only a wonderful and fluid thing, it’s an open discussion and to see a movie musical that could help someone come to terms with it if they are struggling, would be wonderful. It also shows the typical teenage angst that is set to a rock score, it is sure to make us laugh and break our hearts. To see this musical put out on the big screen in such a modern day and age would be as revolutionary as this musical.

 

4. Next to Normal (2009)

Next to Normal, the story of a mother who is currently struggling with bipolar disorder and how it is effecting the lives of her daughter and husband. This show addresses many mental and physical struggles that many people do have to face on a daily basis, and it is done respectfully and beautifully. In the modern day and age, in which topics such as mental illness, suicide, abuse of drugs and many more of the like are being acknowledged more and are being talked about, there’s no time to put this real, raw and beautiful musical up on the big screen. Next to Normal resonates with many fans because they feel they can relate to seeing the struggles displayed on a platform they love and use to deal with their own struggles, so to see this done and up in the public’s eye can keep the conversation going. With beautiful songs such as “Light”, “There’s a World”, and “Maybe”, this adaption will leave no viewer with dry eyes, but will also have them leave with a new outlook on life and these topics. This is also one of the shows I have seen a huge demand for on social media to have some form of a Hollywood film/live showing of, so it would do phenomenally well.

 

3. Miss Saigon (1989)

Oh Miss Saigon, set to the final days of The Vietnam War and the aftermath of one soldier’s decisions while there, this show has garnered its fair share of supporters and haters. While back with the Original London Cast they did very unfortunately do yellow face, but thankfully as they realized their very poor course of action, the show has been done better. With the recent Broadway and London revivals, and current UK and US Tours, an interest among newer audiences is being displayed, so why not put it on the big screen while it’s being toured nationally. Like how they did with the timing of Les Miserables in 2012, with the film being released with a simultaneous US Tour, it could be a huge benefactor in selling it. The newer staging of the show is also so elaborate and beautiful, to see how it’s translated onto film is something I would LOVE to see, especially that helicopter scene! I believe Miss Saigon is one of those rare musicals that would be done so precisely, it could end up being better on the screen than the stage, due to what the magic of bigger Hollywood sets/cameras with it. Miss Saigon could be captured a million different ways, but like the show, I know it will be taken such good care of and it will be done with such care, that any Saigon fans would be proud of it. The music is also hauntingly beautiful and so well crafted, to see the public’s reaction to it and the heart wrenching ending would be a smash hit for the movie musical crowd.

 

2. Kinky Boots (2013)

Kinky Boots being one of the two most modern musicals on this list is, dare I say, very important. Kinky Boots is a musical that is a big bundle of happiness with a side of acceptance, it’s just such a feel-good musical that’s important to our modern society. Kinky Boots is all about feeling good about who you are and accepting yourself, and in a day where that message is so important, and acceptance is a thing we all favor, having this huge hearted musical up on the big screen is very well needed. Shoe salesman Charlie befriends a glamourous drag queen Lola, and they create an unlikely friendship that not only sells shoes, but helps them come to terms with who they both are and creates acceptance from the both of them. Set to amazing tunes, this show will guarantee to make you leave the theatre with a huge smile on your face, good feelings, and songs you’ll guaranteed to be singing for weeks to come. Kinky Boots whole message is literally “Just Be Who You Wanna Be” and to have that message displayed in a Hollywood movie, in a time where we are working towards accepting and acceptance of ourselves without any judgement, this would be what is drastically needed. Plus, I feel everyone can relate to Lauren and her ”History of Wrong Guys”.

 1. Hamilton (2015)

Yes, we all knew this was going to be number 1, but Hamilton is just that important of a musical that it needs to be adapted for a Hollywood musical. Hamilton follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, the ups and downs of his life, and ultimately what he accomplished. It’s also set to the non-traditional style of musical theatre music, but the rap fits in the modern telling of the story. Hamilton is also important as it includes people of color in the roles of the main characters and gives them a voice and prominent role in this blockbuster. The entire world has fallen in love with Hamilton, the music and the message of not only the musical but what the musical and cast represent, so to see it given the big screen adaption is something I, many musical theatre fans, and quite honestly the world can agree on. It has taken the world by storm, so why not dominate Hollywood. For some people, Hamilton was their introduction to the wonderful world of theatre, so this also gives everyone a chance to witness it’s brilliance and importance. Seeing Hamilton on the big screen is something I can see in the near future, but until then, we can only hope we will be seeing it. But when it does get it’s big screen slot, it will be a relief to many fans, and considering how beloved it is, it will be taken care and done so creatively, we know it will be well worth the wait.

 

Feminism Shmeninism

Jyothi CrossB
Disclaimer: This blog post is no reflection on my all-time favourite film Legally Blonde, simply the Broadway production, for ideas regarding the film and feminism, please Google: Dumb Blonde Ambition.

Legally Blonde – the worldwide feminist phenomenon in the film industry tells the story of a rich ‘blonde’ girl named Elle Woods, who gets into Harvard Law to try and take back the love of her life, and then becomes a highly successful lawyer to spite him. Whilst the story in itself is embraced by many as one of the most successful pieces of feminist film of all time (but that may just be my bias talking), the Broadway musical seems to take a slightly different slant on the matter. When I listen to the Broadway cast album, what I expect to be my favourite feminist clapbacks put to music is actually a far more intricate web of women supporting the people they like – not exactly women supporting women.

My first port of call in my (incredibly brief) study of Legally Blonde’s feminism is the iconic “Bend and Snap”, because what’s better than women teaching their peers to embrace their body? Probably not women teaching their peers that the best way to get the guy you like is to thrust various parts of your body in their face. Whilst it makes for a fun and at times funky dance sequence, the message here is that you should always start by enticing men with your body, and in my views at least this doesn’t fit with the feminist ideals of seeing women as people not simply objects for lust. How can I back these claims up, that this “Bend and Snap” has a much more sexual feel than the original film version? Simply look at the beginning lyrics: ‘Look at my ass, my thighs/ I’m catnip to the guys’…. Just saying…

Photo by FotografiaBasica/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by FotografiaBasica/iStock / Getty Images

Next stop? Let’s visit another song: “Take It Like a Man”. Feminism by definition is about equality, for both men and women, which is why I touch on this song in my exploration of this musical’s take on feminism. I mean, talk about toxic masculinity, right? Encouraging a guy to change the way he dresses (from comfy jumpers to manfume etc.) simply to please a girl and ‘become what you’re supposed to be’. By suggesting that changing himself is the only way to become manly, or even that he won’t be fulfilled until he changes enough to impress a girl, the musical kicks the idea of feminism right out of the window in this song. What seems at first like Elle trying to help out her friend (and soon to be crush – aww) actually becomes a deeper exploration into how easy it is to fill our lives with toxic masculinity – and that’s not very feminist of us now, is it?

My final argument for the prosecution is (thank goodness?) a lot shorter, but guys come on this is the most convincing… Can we talk about how these girls talk about each other? Let’s play a drinking game: Take a shot every-time they call someone ‘whore’, ‘skank’ or ‘slut’. That’ll make for one exciting viewing! It’s a bit like Mean Girls in some ways, just without the redemption at the end where Tina Fey tells them all to stop calling each other ‘sluts’ and it simply puts more emphasis on the plot point of trying to take back your man, rather than solidarity amongst women after being dumped for being blonde and later sexually assaulted. If we’re supporting women and owning our identities, then we should not be calling a girl “whore” simply because she’s seen as competition. With this point, I’m referring directly to the song “Positive”, where one of the Greek Chorus suggests ‘as you pull her hair and call her whore’ and what does Elle do? Simply brush off the comment, and as a feminist that is really not the right way to deal with that (at least in my eyes, I have to add). If a musical is really so feminist and supportive why do we have scenes upon scenes where girls call each other derogative names because of who they’re dating? I’m sure Reese Witherspoon wouldn’t stand for this.

In the position of the defence, the only argument I can come up with for this musical is the underlying plot itself. Girls helping girls, girls supporting girls.

1.       Sorority members tutor and support Elle through her L-Sat

2.       Elle helping Paulette regain confidence after her breakup

3.       Elle helping Paulette get her new boyfriend 😉

4.       The Greek chorus helping Elle through every single time Warner upset her

5.       Elle not giving up on Brooke Windham when everyone else did

6.       Elle and Vivian being badass lawyers who don’t need know Warner

And the list goes on. But those are my highlights, of girls helping each other. But a plot doesn’t make a musical, it’s how they fill in those gaps with conversations, songs and dance. Whilst the plot, sticking to the film, has all the makings of a feminist masterpiece, I would say that the musical is not feminist. Feminism doesn’t mean calling girls whore, or supporting toxic masculinity, or only using your body to attract guys, but feminism isn’t made up of moments of female solidarity either, it’s a lifestyle.

Please don’t sue me Reese Witherspoon I love you.

Should There be a Shrek 2 Musical

Photo by francescoch/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by francescoch/iStock / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Welp, Since this entire article is a shrine to Shrek The Musical, I figured I should probably give you a chance to see the show yourself, so welcome the return of the end segment that never actually went away, The Upcoming Productions! And this time, it’s completely unbiased, so there's none you’ll see in the article that are not in the spreadsheet. Use the spreadsheet https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1nzA8_qOgiTMi1pZdMY3gVla6j1AxNf_l8vEp3bNrRmU/edit?usp=sharing  to add your production to this list so that people can come and see your production of Shrek The Musical.

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

 

Tell It Like It Is

 Darren Wildeman

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 9 Disney Movies that Should Get a Stage Adaptation

Taylor Lockhart

 

Photo by xiaomingphotography/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by xiaomingphotography/iStock / Getty Images

Disney has become a household name in books, video games, theme parks, and in the cinema,  it seems to go unrivaled having released 5 out of the 10 highest grossing movies of last year. Their presence in the world of theatre and on Broadway is also something to behold. The Lion King is the third longest running Broadway musical of all time and the pro shot of Newsies is one of the highest grossing Fathom events of all time. Disney Theatricals is constantly brainstorming new ideas and movies to bring to the stage from obvious choices like smash hit Frozen to their latest addition to the catalog, Freaky Friday. Today however, I want to brainstorm my own ideas as I went through every Disney movie ever made and here are the top 9 Disney movies that I think should have a stage adaptation. Movies that already have a current musical adaptation even if it’s not on Broadway or in the Theatrical catalog do not count, so no Tangled or Toy Story or etc. However, musicals that currently only have junior version do… so with that all said. My name is Taylor and let’s begin.

9. Enchanted (2007)
My first choice and the number 9 spot is the 2007 movie Enchanted. It’s such an underrated Disney movie as is, and while I don’t think a musical version would be a huge hit on Broadway, I could see the story along with new and engaging songs from renowned composer Alan Menken who composed the original soundtrack making a popular licensing choice for high schools and community theatres.

8. Fantasia (1940)
So, hear me out on this...clearly a Fantasia musical isn’t a great idea, but a highly theatrical concert may be. The concert would feature tons of dance specifically ballet and large movements in time with the music to tell the story all the while playing instruments. Think similarly to what we saw in the 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd, of course no singing just the instruments. I mean there are a ton of cool ideas that could come out of turning classical music into a live visual event on stage and at the very least if not finding a place on Broadway the concert would be a huge hit in high schools and other venues. To me personally, Fantasia would allow Disney to reach into a more highbrow area they haven’t explored before and create a really cool and entertaining stage production that people would love for all the same reasons the movie was initially a hit.

7. Tall Tale (1995)
I remember watching Tall Tale in 8th grade and the story is essentially a super cool western that involves a young boy meeting Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Paul Bunyan and saving the old west or maybe the world...I honestly don’t remember but the movie is one I’d definitely recommend, and as you watch it pay attention to just how cool of a country style musical it would make. Its obscurity could cause it to do poor on Broadway if it even found itself there at all but as far as I know a musical based on America’s old Tall Tales has never been done before and has quite a lot of potential especially in community theatres and high schools.

6. Mulan (1998)
Mulan already has a strong powerful song that would make an incredible showstopper and maybe even the Act 1 Finale. There already is a Mulan Jr. and while we may never see it on Broadway, I hope at least to see a full length version in the future. There really isn’t much more to say here. Mulan would make a good musical for all the same reasons Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast have.

5. Iron Will (1994)
Iron Will is an unknown Disney movie but has the ability to be an incredibly interesting show on stage. The dog sledding story features a young boy who is put against the toughest and most grueling environments in order to win a bobsledding race and save his family's farm. The movie is actually incredibly down to earth for Disney and could allow a nice realistic musical that strays from many of Disney’s clichés in similar ways to the hit Newsies. Imagine a bobsled in the middle of the stage with fierce snow blowing around it and you have what would turn out to be a very visually engaging musical that would only also need some great music to match the tone of the story to make it what I think would be an unexpected hit.

4. Moana (2016)
One of Disney’s latest musical, Moana, already has the musical backbone of Broadway’s most popular man, Lin Manuel Miranda. With great music and an engaging story, I would say it’s pretty unlikely we won’t see a stage adaptation soon, I just hope it doesn’t get the immediate Frozen treatment and a few other older Disney properties have the time to shine first.

3. Coco (2017)
Coco is incredible, and “Remember Me” is one of the best songs I have ever heard in my life. The background of the land of the dead would come to life beautifully on stage and with a bit more songs and figuring out how to make people look like skeletons in charming and non-frightening ways, Coco on stage and on Broadway would be stunning and I really hope something or another is currently in the works already after the films massive success

2. Hocus Pocus (1993)
Honestly, why hasn’t Hocus Pocus had a musical adaptation yet? The movie is a cult classic and is as popular now as it was when it was released. It would quickly become a favorite for the Halloween season and probably top Little Shop of Horrors and Sweeney Todd for the most common musicals done in October. The few songs in the movie are already extremely well known and just, watch Hocus Pocus and tell me it is not the perfect storm for a Broadway smash hit, from costumes, scenery, music, and well everything. It’s already one that people constantly clamor for an adaptation. I mean the only other musical Disney movie without a stage adaptation more fit for one is...

1. Hercules (1997)
I got to talk to a representative of Disney Theatricals while at ThesFest last month and I asked him, “Is there ever talk of a Hercules Musical”. He responded by telling me that it is brought up at every single meeting. Alan Menken wants Hercules, every friend I know when I asked them what Disney movie should get a musical almost immediately say Hercules. There are hundreds of articles talking about a Hercules musical. Everybody and their mother wants Hercules on Broadway and for good reason. “Zero to Hero” would be an incredible Act 1 Finale and “Go the Distance” is one of Menken’s very best “I want” songs, if maybe just a notch below “Out There” from Hunchback. Imagine show stopping Hades number, I am breaking into a sweat just thinking of everything this musical could pull off and do extremely well. Its popularity is still as you can see through the roof and a Hercules musical at this point isn’t a matter of if, but when. One could hope that it’s the next project after Frozen begins its tour, but who really knows.

Into the Woods (2014)
Just a bit of an extra really quick, remember that 2014 movie, Into the Woods. Yeah, the music is a bit weird and a little unknown, but the story is pretty cool and I just have a feeling it would be a hit on Broadway…

This joke was terrible and I’m sorry.

 

Did you agree with my list? Perhaps you have a musical you think is more destined then any of these, feel free to comment down below and I am trying a new thing with this top 10’s please let me know what you think. I promise you I won’t do these too terribly often. Anyways, thank you for reading and make check back every Monday and Thursday for new theatre related posts and especially make sure to check back this Thursday because I can assure you something very exciting and you will just have to wait to find out what that is… See you in a few weeks and thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Stunt Casting

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

Photo by natasaadzic/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by natasaadzic/iStock / Getty Images


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

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

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