Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Lambeth Walk in NYC: 'Me & My Girl' at City Center

In terms of classic versus new theatre, I'm of the mindset that something brand new is always better. That of course is not always the case, but you can't argue with the likes of Hamilton or Dear, Evan Hansen. Those completely new and different shows have taken off in ways that have never been seen before, and in doing so have brought new audiences to theaters in droves. On the other hand, one of my very favorite evenings of theatre in the past year was seeing Bette Midler in the revival of Hello, Dolly. It's a classic in every way, and yet I found myself unconsciously smiling throughout the entire show. 

That's the thing about good drama, you just never know what's going to excite. And for this very reason, I recently found myself sitting at New York City Center grinning from ear to ear as I watched Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly command the stage in the Encores! production of Me & My Girl. The show was originally written in the 1940s and had a bit of a revival in the late 1980s, but hasn't been seen on a New York stage since. After seeing the altogether bright, breezy and joyful production, I'd say it's due for a full-scale revival soon. Broadway (and not to mention, the world) could use a sprinkle of happiness and tap-dancing.

Much of the happiness in the production comes from witnessing the master of physical comedy, Christian Borle milk every single line for a belly laugh. He's brilliant and I was in awe just watching for the little asides and toss-away gags he added to the role. Even his British accent was pretty darn believable; not always the case. He was absolutely fantastic as Bill, the brawler from Lambeth who's just been told he's in fact the heir to the Hereford estate - making him the Earl of Hereford, as long as he can impress his new and very British upper-class family members.

The "girl" in the show's title refers to Bill's partner Sally (played by Laura Michelle Kelly.) She's also from Lambeth, and therefore has no business being on the arm of a soon to be Earl. Their relationship on stage was spot-on. Christian and Laura were last seen on Broadway together in Mary Poppins. Their playfulness in playing opposite each other is still very apparent. She's perfectly cast as a sweet girl madly in love with Bill. She is also quite skilled at the comedy, but was upstaged slightly by Christian.

Other standouts in the ensemble included Harriet Harris, as Bill's stuck-up and British aunt Mariah who's goal was to turn Bill into her rightful and aristocratic heir, but seemed to be charmed by her seemingly ne'r do well nephew. Playing her possible love interest and confidant was the always funny Chuck Cooper. His John spent most of the show ever so slightly tipsy, plotting to help Bill and Sally and pining for Mariah. Also appearing was quite possibly the heir to Christian Borle's comedy throne - Mark Evans, on a break from performing in The Play that Goes Wrong. Numbers such as "The Sun has got his Hat on" and "A Weekend in Hereford" were made immensely more enjoyable thanks to his comedic talents. He looked and sounded the part of the perfect English gentleman and tapped his way into the hearts of the audience.

In all of this wonder, it may seem that I've forgotten to mention what made this show so popular in the 1940s when it was first conceived - "The Lambeth Walk." Apparently, the jaunty dance and the hummable song that accompanied it swept the nation after it appeared in the musical. Thankfully the creatives behind this particular production took that to heart, and created a musical number so joyful that it garnered a standing ovation mid-show. It was fun and silly, and if the rest of the audience was anything like me, they were left awash in happiness from the sheer "sparkliness" (a very technical concept if you must know...) of the number.

Shows like these are what makes City Center's dedication to producing these musical classics so admirable. Just a few weeks to create something from the ground-up sounds ridiculous, but NYCC is able to consistently cast actors and creatives that relish the opportunity to do so. Differing from past productions I've seen at the center, this cast had no scripts to assist with lines and and the choreography was some of the most intricate and impressive I've ever seen. In other words, the show was of the same quality (maybe better) than Broadway productions that have months or years to prepare. Because of this, Me & My Girl should be seen as a feather in the cap of City Center and their 25th season. With any luck, this will hopefully prove, once and for all that the classics aren't dead and shows like these should continue to receive the star treatment they deserve! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

April in Review

All the veggies at Reading Terminal Market
In a lot of ways, April seems like it lasted for about 60 days. It was by far the longest and busiest month I've had in a very, very long time. In the span of 30 days, I celebrated Easter, 4 birthdays and an anniversary, had a mid-life crisis about my own birthday, traveled to 2 different cities, saw 10 shows (and reviewed 9 of them), saw and wrote about the Kennedy Center's new season and totaled my car (so I bought a new one).  In all of this time I was also working full time and attempting to have a life as well. Many, many parts of the month were fun, but stress creeps in after a while. And let's just say I'm very much looking forward to a more laid-back May (fingers crossed...)

Birthday fun at Reading Terminal Market
April Reads

Oslo by JT Rogers: I loved this play!  I wanted very much to see it at Lincoln Center last season, but never got around to it. I have high hopes that some small theatre in Maryland will choose to produce it soon, because as good as it is in print, it has to be even better live.

The World Only Spins Forward - The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois: I've been slowly working my way through this book all month. It's a fascinating take on what went in to creating Angels in America. The interviews with many of the original cast as well as those that have been in it over the last 30 years are so fabulous. Everyone knows that Angels in America is a masterpiece now, but it's surprising to hear just how many people also thought that as soon as Kushner wrote it.

Carmer and Grit - Book One by Sarah Jean Horwitz: In between Angels in America, I've also been making my way through this one. It's my young adult pick for the month, that won't be finished until May. It's really, really good but as I mentioned before my mind has gone in many different directions and I had a very hard time focusing. But I'm most definitely going to be finishing this tale that weaves faeries in with steampunk. So great!

Truer words have never been spoken...
April Travels

I had no real plans for my birthday this year - other than not being at work. Because of that, we took a drive up to Philadelphia and ate our way through the Reading Terminal Market. A girl can really do some damage there. Of course, because April Showers are kind of a thing (they wrote a rhyme about it and everything : ), that sort of ruined our plan to also see the Liberty Bell (something I've somehow never seen!) so we went shopping instead at Peddler's Village a bit outside of Philly. Love a good shopping day, but torrential downpours sort of put a damper on it.

Because I'm me, April also included a trip to New York City to see a show. This trip wasn't planned by me, so we only had the chance to eat lunch, see the show and then head home. Toloache, a Mexican place I've been wanting to try, was our lunch location. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly fantastic. But it was good in a pinch. In May, I have two overnight trips planned so I'll hopefully have more fun.

The gorgeous Kennedy Center on a spring morning in April - little did you know it's about 40 degrees in this picture...
April Shows

Like I said at the start of this post, April was chock-full of lots to do. Most of those things to do were theatre. I've gotten to see many, many shows this month in Maryland thanks to writing for the MD Theatre Guide. But I've realized I may have over-extended myself. Yay Theatre! Boo Theatre Hangover!  But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy most of them.

True West at Rep Stage was not what I expected.
Catch me if you Can at Dundalk Community Theatre was amazing!
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Prince George's Little Theatre was fun.
A Chorus Line at Compass Rose Theatre was unbelievable! It was definitely one of the best productions I've seen in Maryland.
Moon over Buffalo at Laurel Mill Playhouse was a funny farce in a super tiny space.
Aubergine at Everyman Theatre was an absolutely beautiful evening of theatre. I cried oh so much. Everything about the production was perfect and I loved having the chance to chat with the cast afterwards.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Vagabond Players was not my favorite, but the actors were fantastic!

Though my favorite event of the MD Theatre Guide assignments was the announcement of the 2018-2019 season at the Kennedy Center. It was a chance to hob-knob with other theatre critics and hear what the Kennedy Center had planned for their upcoming season. We were even treated to a few performances from upcoming shows. I'm more than a little excited about what they have planned!

Also in DC, I saw Let it Be - a tribute to the Beatles. The evening imagined that the Beatles had reunited for one night a decade after their break-up. For a Beatles-lover like me, it was awesome! The day after that, was the quick trip to NYC to see Once on this Island - that I have many, many feelings about that I haven't quite put on paper yet. But will soon, hopefully.

Super amazing staging of Once on this Island
April Moves

In April I was also forced to get comfortable with being reviewed myself. In one of the reviews I posted, a reader wasn't thrilled by my opinion and therefore felt the need to write an angry email to the editor. Ordinarily I would have backed down and apologized, but I'm trying to be better about not apologizing for everything. So I politely said that I would not change the review, and that she's entitled to her opinion, just as I'm entitled to my own. 

I'm not comfortable with these situations at all, and I'm not sure if I handled it correctly. But I do know that my opinion of the show wasn't mean, or judgmental. I even wrote that I enjoyed the show. My issue was with the story itself. And as I'm not writing a thesis, I'm pretty sure I'm entitled to feel the way I feel. 

Though, as logical as that decision seems, I'm still letting this one woman's opinion get in my head. Each time I sit down to write, I hear her annoyance. That so needs to end. I may actually be half way there to sticking up for myself but I'm definitely not all the way there yet, as much as I'd like to be. Progress though is happening.

On the other end of the spectrum, I bought a car. More like I HAD to buy a car when mine had some unfortunate damage. You see, I had a whole plan to buy a car - this time next year. But then an accident occurred and I got thrust into paying money I didn't want to pay on something to drive since that's apparently pretty important to life in Maryland (unfortunately!) The plan was to buy a Honda, but my rental was a Jeep. And you know what? I fell in love with that jeep and managed to find a used one for a great deal. So now I'm a super happy jeep owner - until the bill comes of course...

See how happy (and nerdy) I look in my cute jeep?

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Miscast Miscast

Miscast 2018 Cast - MCC Theatre
Attending MCC's Miscast concert has been a bucket list item for a while now. I'm not ashamed to say that I've watched Aaron Tveit and Gavin Creel sing "Take me for what I am" an inordinate number of times over the last few years. The idea behind the concert is super fun, and the talent the evening attracts is not to be missed. 

After years of missing it, I decided to finally attend this year. That and the fact that Raul Esparza was in the lineup. After seeing him at the Kennedy Center in Chess, it was hard to resist another chance to see him perform. Seeing as I randomly discovered he'd be there one night scrolling through Facebook, and that tickets were still reasonably priced a month out, I decided to go for it. Also, it would require an evening in New York alone, which sounds sad when I say it like that, but I actually quite enjoy it. I can do nerdy things like wander the city looking for street art or walk 10 blocks to eat the perfect egg sandwich, and no one judges me. 

The trip had all the trappings of a perfect night. And yet, that's not exactly what happened...

Arriving at the Wyndham New Yorker (great, reasonably priced, Midtown hotel if you need one!) all was still well.  I had no other plans until my dinner reservation an hour later, so I decided to scroll through Twitter, where MCC had posted a photo of the lineup for the evening's show with no Raul Esparza in sight. I was bummed to say the least. While the other performers were great, he was the real draw for me. But I decided to stay positive (like the weirdo that I am) and assume it was just an oversight.

After a so-so dinner (fab hotel, not so fab restaurant), my grumpiness had not subsided, but I went back to my room to get ready for the late concert. Without sharing too much, in the hour it took me to get dressed, I endured a faulty shower that's only temperature seemed to be molten lava, I stuck my fingernail through not one, but two pairs of nylons and for some reason, even though I don't drink alcohol, my eyes looked like I'd been drinking all day. The gods were really piling it on, it would seem.

Anyway, arriving at the theatre I realized that I was not the only one that would be bummed if Raul Esparza was not in attendace. I heard at least 3 groups excitedly chatting about him. I saw a girl in a Law & Order: SVU sweatshirt gushing. And when I reached mezzanine, my seatmate was a woman who had driven up from Northern Virginia, who had also seen Chess and who was also there mainly to see him. 

My weird positivity lasted until they announced the entire cast - without Raul among them. There was a slight ray of hope when Javier Munoz made a surprise appearance thinking maybe Raul Esparza was also a surprise guest star, but alas it was not to be. Sadly the rest of the evening wasn't much better.  The performers were good, but for the most part sang individually. There were 2 group numbers, but nothing to the level of last year's Dreamgirls showstopper.  

To top it off, from where I was seated because of the overhang, I couldn't see the screen that announced who was singing and what they were singing. Ordinarily not an issue, but I knew almost no-one in the cast, so I had no idea who was performing at any given moment. The three highlights of the evening for me was Casie Levi's rendition of "Shiksa Goddess" from The Last 5 Years, (amazing), Jeremy Jordan's rendition of "She Used to be Mine" from Waitress (beautiful!) and James Monroe Iglehart's rendition of "Satisfied" from Hamilton (so fabulous!) 

Aside from that, I really wish I had saved my money for Broadway Backwards instead - at least that money goes to a charity I believe in. The cap to the evening was Sara Bareilles going up on a song from Ragtime, twice (which has been conveniently scrubbed from all videos of the evening). She's an amazing singer, but really?  To top it all off, I somehow demagnetized my room key so I was forced to stand in the lobby for a good 10 minutes in line to get a new one at 11:00 at night.

It was not the evening I had planned. It wasn't terrible, and there is always something to be happy about in New York. But before I buy tickets again, I will most definitely assure that there is more than one performer I'm interested to see, just in case one randomly falls out of the lineup with no explanation 8 hours before the show starts...

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Stage on Screen: Jesus Christ Superstar Live

Variety Magazine
Jesus Christ Superstar has always been one of my favorites. It was the first musical I ever saw, and has always had a special place in my heart. So when I heard that NBC would be doing a live version, I had mixed feelings.  On one hand, woohoo! There would be a new version to obsess over. On the other hand, NBC has had issues in the past with live musicals. I had high hopes that it would be more Grease Live than Peter Pan Live but I was worried.

I'm happy to say that it was - in my book - it was a runaway success from the first chords. It was so completely fantastic! From the scale of the sets, to the performances of the cast, to the live band on stage - everything just worked! I was thrilled to see the inclusion of a live audience, which is exactly what gives Broadway shows their energy in the first place. It's about time that the powers that be realize that.

Of course I wouldn't be a super fan, without a few minor nitpicks here and there, but for the most part this review is strictly an opportunity to gush about this gorgeous production.

I first have to say that Brandon Victor Dixon was a revelation as Judas. The man is a triple threat. He can dance, sing and act, and he did them all flawlessly in front of millions of people. Those that saw his performance in Hamilton (I'm one of the lucky ones who did) should not be surprised about this at all. His performance was so perfect, that I personally believe that he outshined everyone else on that stage - including John Legend. To say that he blew me away, would be accurate (and also a bit of a Hamilton pun : )

I was less than enthused by John Legend's Jesus. He has a great voice but isn't a trained actor, so his performance wasn't as strong as it could be. Sara Bareilles on the other hand was wonderful as Mary Magdalene. She has a beautiful voice, and handled the acting part sufficiently enough.  The rest of the men and women that made up the ensemble were all pretty fantastic as well. Many of these actors were Broadway-trained, so it was nice to see them perform awesomely (something they do each and every night) on a much larger stage.  

Norm Lewis as Caiphas and  Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate were standouts in this regard. Norm Lewis' deep baritone was a no-brainer. I saw him live in Sweeney Todd, and his voice is equally as deep and terrifying on television as it was in a small venue. Ben Daniels was another in the stellar cast that seemed to outshine many of those around him. His version of "Pilate's Dream" was gorgeous, and is one of the best I've ever seen.  

The costumes on the other hand were another story. I'm not sure I bought into what they were trying to sell. Mary Magdalene's plain yellow dress was simple and worked well. But added to Jesus' over-sized sweater and jean combo (which must have been ridiculously hot), and Judas' leather and grunge, it didn't really work. Then there were Caiphas and Annas' jackets that looked like they were plotting the end of the death star instead of Jesus. And please don't get me started on the white sequined mess that ghost-Judas was forced into at the end of the show. He looked like a disco ball with arms and legs... But questionable costumes are a small price to pay for such awesomeness.  

On the other end of the creative spectrum, I loved the grungy, half-built stage that served as Jerusalem. It was gorgeously lit and served as a perfect way to give actors different entrances and exits. The fact that the fabulous band was able to be on stage on leveled scaffolding with the actors was an added bonus. I also loved the idea of the glitter being used during the temple scene, though I don't envy the poor stagehands that had to clean that up during the commercial break. 

Yet another highlight of this production chock-full of them was the choreography. It was near perfect. The choreographer seemed to use the strengths of their performers to the best of their abilities. Brand Victor Dixon was able to showcase his considerable dancing chops during big numbers, while Alice Cooper who may not be the best dancer, was given smaller but no less powerful choreography. These moves, in conjunction with the performers' interaction with the audience, created a production that was alive and truly felt like you were watching a fully-staged musical in a theatre, which I'm sure wasn't easy to pull off.

In the lead-up to the show, I only wanted this to be as good as Grease Live - the best televised production I've seen. In the end, this beautiful and rocking show went above and beyond it and has set the bar for any and all televised live productions moving forward - which can only be a good thing for us theatre junkies.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March in Review

March Reads

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer: I'd read it before, but I plan to write about it so I thought it deserved another read. It will never not be powerful and terrifying at the same time. 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser: I loved this book so much! I want to live in their brownstone in Harlem and join their family. It's positively perfect for anyone of any age.

Inferno by Dan Brown: He spends 500 pages telling the reader one thing, then switches everything on its head in the last 100 pages. To say I wasn't a fan, is an understatement. "Origin" was so much better!

The Diamond Caper by Peter Mayle: I've loved Peter Mayle's books since I first read A Year in Provence. Seeing as he passed away sadly, last month, this is my last read by this fabulous author. The book is great, which makes it so much sadder that there won't be any more.

March Travels

Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas occurred on February 14, the survivors have come forward and have created the most inspiring movement we've seen in a very long time. Their dedication to fighting for gun control has been amazing. Their fight and resolve has never wavered, even in the face of many in the country calling them merely "actors." So it was an honor to travel to Washington DC on March 24 and take part in the March for Our Lives. 

I had planned to attend in Annapolis, but MD Theatre Guide asked me to cover the DC march, which I'm incredibly happy about. I've never been part of a movement like this, and I came out of it incredibly inspired by the youth of today. It was truly one of the best days I've ever had!

A few days after the march, I headed to New York City to see Miscast 2018. The trip was always going to be a quick one, so there wasn't much extra fun to be had. However, the highlight was of course Sullivan Street Bakery - in my opinion, the best bakery in Manhattan. Their egg sandwiches are the perfect antidote for a not fabulous trip to New York.
Sometimes March in MD looks like this...
March Shows

March has been one of the busiest months for theatre in a while, which is not at all a bad thing. First up was Oklahoma! at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore for BroadwayWorld. I just love seeing shows with them, because they are the nicest people in the theatre!  Then there was Linda and Laura Benanti at the Kennedy Center. It seems we were so lucky to get to see these lovely ladies, because just after our show, Laura's daughter came down with the flu and she cancelled some of her performances.

Then, there was Rock and Roll Revival at Severna Park High School. I didn't write about it this year, though I have in the past. If I had written about it, I'd just repeat the same thing I always say. Unbelievably impressive that a high school can pull off such an enormous undertaking!

The last two shows in Maryland were A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,  and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Both were known to me, but never seen. They were pretty darn fantastic!

It was then off to New York for a bucket list concert - Miscast Gala 2018. I haven't written up a full review yet, because I'm still pretty grumpy about the whole thing. It was so not what I expected to the point that it wasn't even very entertaining. Tune in this week for a few more thoughts.

March Moves

March was the month, after a push from an outside source, that I decided to make a move in writing. After a little more than a year writing for BroadwayWorld, I was asked to write exclusively for MD Theatre Guide. After some research and a few days of hemming and hawing, I decided to take the leap. And so far, it's been wonderful! Thanks to the leap I had the opportunity to attend the March for our Lives in DC and I've booked about a fafillion (ok, maybe 6) writing gigs for April already. Sometimes leaps are worth the worry!

Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, March was also the month I decided to have a mid-life crisis. That's been a little less than wonderful. 35 sounds a lot like an old number, and that Tick - Tick - Boom is getting louder and louder. You (and all of my friends and all of my family) may judge, but in my mind I've accomplished absolutely nothing of merit in my life and I'm going to live the rest of it with only 35 cats to keep me company. But I'm trying to get past it. There are lots of fun things that don't involve my birthday happening this month so I'm choosing to focus on them instead...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Happy World Theatre Day!


Last year on World Theatre Day, I went on (and on and on...) about what theatre meant to me. It was a lot of emotions all in one very long (some might say too long) post. All of those emotions are still so very true. Over the last few years, I've realized exactly what theatre has provided in my life. It's an outlet. It's a happy space that never fails to make me smile. Some friends adore concerts, while others love going to the movies. I on the other hand, can never turn down a day at the theatre. 

And all of these days and nights at the theatre have taught me so many lessons over the years. We all know the saying - Everything I know in life I learned in Kindergarten. Well in my life, I feel some of the most important lessons have been taught seeing shows that are meaningful to me in some way. So instead of rehashing and gushing on my love for the theatre, I thought I'd share some of these lessons and hopefully hear some of your lessons too.

Musical theatre is awesome...

Since Jesus Christ Superstar was the very first show I saw, I'd say it taught me this most important lesson. I mean added to the obvious lessons of the story of Jesus Christ, of course. Watching that movie (I first saw it on VHS, before having the chance to see it live), I was thoroughly in awe of this medium. Telling a story through music is, for some reason, so much more powerful to me than regular storytelling. I was a Catholic School girl, so I had obviously heard the story of Christ's last days many times before, but never had I been more affected by the emotion. It's simply beautiful and heartbreaking.

Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch

Live is always best...

Then of course, I finally got the chance to see a musical live in a Broadway theatre - Phantom of the Opera  - from the third row of the majestic Majestic theatre. Nothing - absolutely nothing - beats a live performance of a show. In this case, I can't imagine not witnessing the opulence and the beauty first hand. Never could I have imagined that a team of designers, actors and stagehands could produce such magic each and every night. 

Shakespeare actually knew what he was talking about...

I read a lot of Shakespeare in high school, and I have to admit I never once understood a single word the man said. My teachers would translate for us what he meant, and I'd sit there dumbfounded by what I was hearing. If he meant that, why didn't he just say that? Then I saw a production of Macbeth at Centerstage. And finally, the words made sense. Shakespeare on the page is incomprehensible. Shakespeare on the stage is breathtaking. That production turned the light on for me, but much later, I saw David Tennant at the RSC in Richard II and officially became a convert. I couldn't take my eyes off of the stage. The words that never made sense, came to life in front of my eyes and I was hooked. I've since seen productions of Hamlet (many times!), A Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure and Much Ado About Nothing, and I sit there just as rapt as I was for Richard II. I now have this weird personal goal to see every play he wrote live. So far, I have a long ways to go...

I want to be in the room where it happens...

Theatre provides a very unique experience. Groups of people - actors, crew and audience members - experience one performance in a way that no other group will experience in the same way again. That's the beauty of it. And when a show comes along like Hamilton, or RENT, you simply must have that experience to really understand the magnitude of the material. I may not have had the pleasure of seeing Lin play Alexander, but I can't imagine never having the chance to see Chris Jackson sing "One Last Time" live on stage. I got goosebumps that stayed put to the end of the show. I know how lucky I am to have these experiences, and that's something I never take for granted.

An add-on to this is that sometimes, off-script is best. Being in the room where it happens, also means that you often witness disasters as well, but those disasters turn into a joyful shared experience. During my evening at The Robber Bridegroom, I witnessed a prop knife flung into the audience, as well as a leading man that could barely keep it together after his cast mate made him laugh. Steven Pasquale has a beautiful voice, and is an extreme talent, but his humor in the face of these moments made the audience love him that much more. That same weekend, in the midst of Jesse Tyler Ferguson playing 42 characters alone on a stage (Fully Committed), he was in the moment enough to make a joke when someone's phone went off in the audience. It was impressive to say the least! These moments are what makes theatre grand - even when it's not perfect, it's still fabulous!

Champions Adjust!

Some of the best experiences I've ever had in the theatre are tied so closely to the people I saw on those stages. The bestie and I have a constant debate on what makes good theatre. She thinks it's always the story. She will see a show based on whether she likes the storyline. I on the other hand, will see a show for a storyline, but even if I'm not crazy for the storyline, I'll see it for the actors playing the roles. Groundhog Day has never been a favorite of mine, but I knew I needed to see it with Andy Karl after his sheer tenacity to come back from what could have been a show-ending injury. I knew nothing about Falsettos but I knew what Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells would bring to those roles, and seeing that heartbreaker allowed me to discover Stephanie Block and Brandon Uranowitz. The Producers was to be wickedly raunchy, but I loved Nathan Lane and needed to see him up on that stage. Sweet Charity was ok but Sutton Foster was her usual amazing self. An Act of God was equally hilarious with Sean Hayes and Jim Parsons, even though both actor brought something different to the role of God.  And recently, Karen Olivo, Ramin Karimloo and Raul Esparza in Chess made the entire show. Without their sheer ability to carry that often confusing material, I would have been lost. Good actors make a show for me, and I'm so happy to live so close to the city, to allow myself the chance to see them blow the roofs off the joints.

The real Captain Beverly Bass outside Come From Away

You found your heart, but left a part of you behind...

And sometimes the lessons are buried in the show themselves. In the case of Come From Away, I knew nothing about the show other than it was brand new, and about the aftermath of September 11. Sitting in that theatre, listening to this cast of characters sing an entire show centered on kindness and opening your heart to others made me cry all the happy tears. As a personal proponent of the kindness above all philosophy (I apparently was paying very close attention during the Golden Rule lesson in grade school) I was elated to hear this message. It's a message that's so needed in today's world, and I think that's why this show has done so well. Most everyone can respond to that message, and anyone who can't should be taught to. It's a beautiful show, and I adore everything about it. And this may be a shocking thing to say, that will surely get me sent to Theatre Jail, but I loved it more than Hamilton.... Let the debates begin!

Everyone deserves a chance to fly...

Wicked taught me to take chances and stand up for what is right. And those around you will affect the choices you make in good ways and bad. Additionally it taught me that nothing beats hearing Idina Menzel belt "Defying Gravity" in person, though "Defying Gravity" is also the perfect song to belt in your car with the windows down if you're having a bad day.

Happy endings happening by happenstance...

While Something Rotten! brought this live of musical theatre back to the surface full force, it was all of the musical theatre moments I've had that have really brought this point home. I have laughed until my stomach hurt and cried until my head ached. I've smiled from ear to ear, and jumped to feet applauding until my hands were sore. And I've enjoyed every moment. The very best lesson of them all is that there's always something good. Even a bad night at the theatre, can be good in some way. And I plan to continue seeking out these good moments for a very, very, long time. Because honestly....

There's nothing as amazing as a musical!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Week in Local Theatre

One of the many fun things to come out of writing for BroadwayWorld is the discovery of all of the wonderful community theatres in Maryland. I had no idea there were so many small theatre companies in my state, let alone in my own backyard. Here are a few I was lucky to see this week: One community theatre company and one high school production. Both of which are shows I've never seen - how is this possible?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - Silhouette Stages

First, I had no idea this small but fairly impressive theatre existed in Howard County. But here I was, excited to see the theatre and this show I've somehow never seen. I know most of the music, thanks to a healthy musical theatre love for Nathan Lane, but I had never had the chance to witness the ridiculousness first hand. And after seeing it, I'm in love with the show and the company.

The production value of this show was visible as soon as the curtain rose. The stage - three intricate house fronts - was beautiful, down to the "marble" bench the actors delighted in moving slowly enough to trick the audience to believing it was real marble. The design team for this show should truly be lauded for their creativity. Then of course, there was this phenomenal cast. Bob Gudauskas as Pseudolus had the perfect blend of shtick and talent that made Nathan Lane's Pseudolus so popular. He never stopped moving and scheming. Another highlight was Matt Scheer as Hysterium. His friendly annoyance with Pseudolus was never not on display thanks to perfectly timed facial expressions. 

I came away from this performance completely impressed, and wondering two things. How in the world did I go this long without seeing this show? And why doesn't everyone in Howard County know about this theatre company?  

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Centennial High School 

I adore Falsettos so I had very high hopes for another William Finn-written musical. And I was not disappointed. I knew it would be weird and quirky, but I wasn't prepared to love it quite so much. It was one of the sweetest shows I've seen in a long time. The message of being who you are in the midst of everyone telling you not to, is one that's so necessary right now. 

The sheer talent on display in this show was also quite impressive. To say the show was in good hands was an understatement. With such a small cast, each cast member needed to really act out to differentiate themselves from the other characters. And each little quirk or nuance that these students added, made those characters that much more special. Whether it was a facial expression, or a side-comment, or just a look to an empty seat, each student made their character most-importantly real. As a former spelling-bee attendee myself, I can almost see any one of these characters attending and doing much better than I had.

My favorite part of the show was the inclusion of audience members into the bee itself. A few attendees were added to round out the cast. I'm not sure if this was done in the original version of the show or if this was just something the director thought would be fun. Either way, it worked. It definitely helped that the participants from the audience were so game and ready to really buy into trying to win the spelling bee. 

In the end, this may be one of my new favorite shows, as well as one of my new favorite schools to see theatre. These students - who also ran buses completely on their own the following day for the March for our Lives - are phenomenal actors and definitely won my heart with their hard work and quirky storytelling. I'll most definitely be back again for whatever show they choose to do next.