Friday, June 16, 2017

The Demon Barber of Barrow Street

A few months ago I learned that immersive theater really wasn't my thing.  I barely made it out of HT Darling's Musaeum before collapsing into a nervous fit of giggles. Let's just say, I'm much too awkward to enjoy theatre interacting with me.  But that was before I heard about Barrow Street's immersive production of Sweeney Todd.  This production would have pies to eat - a clever tie in to Ms. Lovett's pie shop - and would be performed in and around the theater-goers.  

It would still be "immersive" per se, but I wouldn't be forced to interact with the performers, and I would get to enjoy a yummy pie, so it couldn't be as scary as HT Darling's Musaeum.  Turns out it wasn't scary at all.  It was positively fantastic!  I can't imagine the work and time it took to transform the space into a pie shop, let alone figure out the choreography for the actors.  The shop itself was tiny - only about 120 seats.  The tight space made the show more intimate, and really made you feel like you were part of the action.

Both Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello were superb as Sweeney Todd, a murderous barber, and Mrs. Lovett, his landlady who had a bit of a crush on her tenant. I've seen Norm Lewis on television, but have never had the chance to see him sing live.  He has a deep tenor voice, that's all together beautiful and terrifying.  At one point, when Sweeney was murdering someone, he screamed at a patron of the pie shop (i.e. a theater-goer) "Move!" directly in her face.  While it was funny, I'm sure if it had been me, I would have burst into tears.  Sure he was in character, but he was also menacing as hell.

Mrs. Lovett was the perfect foil for Sweeney Todd, and Carolee Carmello played that perfectly.  She was hopelessly optimistic, and shamelessly self-serving. She knew Sweeney was a killer, but his murders could help out her pie shop, so why let a few bodies go to waste? You could tell that Ms. Carmello was having a blast playing the battyness of the role. The rest of the small cast was made up of highly talented theater actors that switched back and forth between a few roles flawlessly.

Like I said earlier, the other upside to this show was that there would be food; specifically pie and mash, served from the counter of Mrs. Lovett's Pie Shop.  And as a big fan of food, let me say that these pies were delicious!  I didn't expect much, mostly because dinner theater food isn't always the best.  However, in this instance, the food was a star.  When we purchased the tickets we had the choice of chicken pie or vegetarian.  We both chose chicken and were definitely not sorry.  The mash potatoes were good too, but I gobbled up the pie so quickly that I didn't have any more room for the mash.  
All in all, I left the production feeling much more positively about immersive theater.  If all immersive productions were more like Barrow Street's Sweeney Todd, the immersive theater movement may become a bit more mainstream.  Everything from the cast, to the show to the space to the food, was superb.  And I would go back to see it again in a hearbeat, something I definitely can't say about the Darling Musaeum.  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tony Thoughts

Tony day is tomorrow, and I'm a little too excited.  This past month has been fabulous as just a bystander watching it all happen.  I can't even imagine how fun it's all been for the nominees.  The theater community is a truly special one, and having the chance to see a little of what goes into making these shows has been awesome to see.  I know that with the Tony awards concluding tomorrow, a brand new season will begin.  But this particular season has been chock-full of the biggest and best talent I've seen in years, so it will be sad to see these lovely people go on to other things. 

But until then, we've been treated to tons of great videos and photos that have me super-excited in seeing tomorrow's show.  The most amazing thing has been seeing just how close the different nominees have gotten and just how much they all support each other.  Can you even imagine the best actor or actress Oscar nominees going out for a meal together and taking selfies? I doubt it very much, but that's just what the best featured actor, actress and writers did in the past month.  How sweet is that?  I'm a sucker for lovely people being friends with other lovely people.

And of course, because both shows are nominated, the over-abundance of Falsettos and Come From Away has also been wonderful to see.  There are tons of videos and interviews with the amazing casts of these two shows, which means they've been in the spotlight even more than usual, which is so deserved.  These two shows have the biggest heart and mean the most to me.  I fear they won't win all of the awards but I do hope they know they deserve them all. And as an aside, if you want to spend a wonderful 30 minutes, I highly suggest this video of a lunch date with Jenn Colella of Come From Away, and 4 of the cast members from Falsettos.  It's pretty amazing, and I've told pretty much everyone I know to watch it, so now I'm telling you as well.

Anyway, here we go.  Here are my predictions for tomorrow night.  I'm sure they'll be all wrong, because my predictions are mostly based on what I want to happen, not exactly what I actually think will happen.  Hey, a girl can hope, right?

Best Musical: If Come From Away doesn't win (afterall they won the Drama Desk), I predict that Dear Evan Hansen runs away with the award.  But I honestly think my Come From Away-ers have a really great chance.

Best Actor in a Musical: As much as I'd like to see Christian Borle win, even he's willing to admit this award belongs to Ben Platt.  There's no way anyone but him wins it.

Best Actress in a Musical: This one has Bette Midler's name all over it.  And honestly, after seeing Hello, Dolly, she totally deserves it.

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: I'm predicting what I want to happen, which is a 2-way tie for Andrew Rannells and Brandon Uranowitz. They were both spectacular and deserve the award so much. But the buzz is on Lucas Steele, and Gavin Creel won the Drama Desk so it's anyone's game.  But my fingers and toes are crossed!

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: I want another 2-way tie on this one - Jenn Colella and Stephanie J. Block. Both are unbelievable in their roles.  They blew the roof off the joint each night.  I watched Stephanie get a standing ovation mid-show, twice for her rendition of "I'm Breaking Down."  I actually thinks she deserves it a bit more than Jenn does, however Jenn won the Drama Desk, so I'm taking that into account.

Best Revival: I fear this is going to Hello, Dolly. But I'm hoping for a last minute reprieve for my well-loved Falsettos.  This is its first revival and the material today means so much more to so many people.  And critics and audiences loved it, so it might have a shot. Again, fingers and toes crossed.

As for plays, the only one I saw was Present Laughter - which was very, very funny! However, I'm not sure it has a chance up against Sweat by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage.  

So there we have it, this time tomorrow I'll be at a viewing party in New York cheering on the lovely theatre community and loving every minute of it.  Enjoy Tony day!

Semi-Sweet Wonka

I've never really been a fan of shows that are deemed "kid shows".  I don't know why.  As a former pre-school teacher, I love children's books and movies.  But for some reason, kid-friendly shows on Broadway are really not my thing.  The two biggest examples of this type of show are Matilda and Beauty and the Beast - two shows I've hated for years. However, I did fall in love with School of Rock immediately, so there's really no rhyme or reason.

All of this brings me to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne.  As a kid, the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorites.  It is a sweet and quite quotable movie I've watched dozens of time.  So when I heard that one of the most-talented theater actors of today - Christian Borle - would be donning the top-hat, I knew that I would most definitely need to see it, even though it was a kid-show, that didn't get great reviews when it played the West End.

And while it wasn't terrible, my dislike for kid shows still stands.  At the time, my three word review of the show was "Christian deserves better."  But after a week of mulling it over, I've re-thought my initial reaction.  It wasn't for me, but I can see where it would appeal to many people.  First off, it's just fun.  The story, originally written by Roald Dahl is one full of hi-jinks and scares, that are sure to appeal to kids today, as well as their parents that grew up on his stories.

The staging itself finds a way to really highlight each family and their fate with super creative special effects.  Each child's fate -whether it was Augustus being sucked up the pipe or Violet turning violet (Violet...) - was hilariously sealed by tricks of the eye, and fancy choreography.  And don't even get me started on the Oompa-Loompas.  Each review I've read has stopped short of revealing the how-to of the Oompa-Loompas, therefore I will do the same  But believe me when I tell you, the reveal is so much funnier than I ever thought it could be.  You will not be disappointed.

Then there was Christian Borle himself, as the cantankerous and daffy, but lovable Willy Wonka.  Christian is by far one of the most gifted comedians working today. His eye for subtle nods to movies, or characters, mixed in with his prop-work makes for a mad-cap Wonka.  However, it was a little too mad-cap for me.  The humor was flowing so quickly, that I missed a great deal I'm sure, just trying to keep up with the story.  

I adored his work in Falsettos, and he breaks my heart each time I hear him on that album. I think that's why it was a little hard for me to buy into him in the Wonka context.  His work in Falsettos was so quietly beautiful, that I've grown accustomed to seeing him in that light, instead of the brash comedy, he's been known for.  Though, I can understand his desire to go back to something as airy as Willy Wonka, after the heavy-lifting of Falsettos.  While maybe not as rewarding, I'm sure it's a lot easier on his mental health.

In the end, my problem with kid shows always tends to be the same thing - too big and too loud.  And this show was no different.  Everyone involved was super talented, and I appreciate the design and creativity of the staging completely.  But I would so much rather see a smaller show with a little more heart than a big staging, like this one. As Wonka himself states "the world is full of pure imagination" and some things, rather than relying on tricks and effects,  are just better left to it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Treat Yourself Well

Because it's Tony's week and because YouTube is fabulous, I've been listening to and watching a slew of interviews with Tony nominees.  The shear talent of this year's nominees is staggering.  And the works they've produced are as beautiful and varied, as they themselves are.  Some of the nominated shows like Dear, Evan Hansen, Sweat, Indecent or Falsettos while deeply moving, are difficult to be a part of 8 times a week.  There's a lot of emotion happening each performance. Imagine having to do that type of heavy-lifting each day or even sometimes twice a day.  I'm sure, while it's rewarding in the best way possible, it's also mentally and physically exhausting. Because of this, many of the actors talk at length about self care - basically, the idea of taking care of yourself so that you are able to get through the performances each week.

This idea of self care has been on my mind a lot lately.  As I wrote earlier this week, I've been slightly  worried about traveling to London in a few weeks.  This latest attack has sort of punched me in the gut, and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about traveling so far from home anymore.  I'm a big fan of travel in general, and having international adventures is my favorite thing to do.  While I still feel that these adventures are necessary to discovering all that I can about the world, I also feel anxious about the "what if's?".  

Hearing these actors discuss their own self care regimens for staying sane, I decided to try it for myself.  If small adjustments allowed these creatives to produce these beautiful works, surely they would help me embark on a measly trip to my favorite city in the world.

~ Reading is and always has been my favorite pastime.  I'm a sucker for books and have entirely too many in my home.  However, in the last few weeks I haven't been able to focus. I've started and stopped more books than I can count.  I just haven't been excited to sit down and tuck into any of the books that I've chosen to read.  After some thought, I realized it was because of the books I was choosing.  "The Laramie Project" is beautiful and necessary, but isn't exactly laugh out loud funny. When I'm stressed, I need light-hearted.  So I made a conscious decision to finally read "Seriously, I'm Kidding" by Ellen Degeneres.  It's funny and light, and most importantly, I'm able to tune out the world a bit when I read it.  That's what I needed. 

~ Sleeping.  This is something I apparently have in common with many of the actors I've listened to over the last few days.  I'm giving myself permission to go to bed early.  It may seem like an old lady thing to do, but it's good for me.  I don't know about you but my brain works a lot of overtime when I'm stressed.  I have a very hard time shutting it off when I'm awake.  So I trick it by going to sleep. It's sort of the same theory as the Ostrich sticking its head in the sand, which isn't always the healthiest but it works in the short term.

~ I enjoy chocolate, ice cream and hot tea.  And I'm enjoying them a lot more these days.  I wouldn't necessarily over-indulge.  But my one mini-Milky Way and cup of tea each day isn't really hurting me - just my waist-line.  It's a wonder what a small piece of chocolate can do for your mental health.  

~ Thinking Inward - I'm a quiet person anyway, but stressing makes me even quieter.  I don't talk a lot about my feelings and tend to let my brain run overtime (see Sleeping, above...) So instead of sharing these feelings through talking, I write them down.  Writing them down helps me to share what I may be feeling or thinking about, but gives me a chance to control what I want to say. 

~ Lastly, when everything else seems to be spiraling (politics, the world situation, etc.) I need order in my life. I need something that I can organize or re-arrange.  I have a pretty strict packing list in my head right now for my trip, and know exactly what I plan to wear each day.  I have also gotten to work, left work, eaten dinner, and gone to bed at the same time every day this week. It somehow makes me feel a little more in control.  (Reading this back, I've discovered I just may be a control freak...who knew?) 

Anyway, these are the tiny things that are making me feel better.  I'm still a little anxious, but I have small outlets now for dealing with this anxiety.  Your self care will no doubt be different than mine, but the important thing is to find something that works for you, and just do it.  We all need a little "me time" sometimes.  Why not make your "me time" work for you?

Monday, June 5, 2017

I'm Scared

London is one of my most favorite cities in the world.  I've been 3 times, and loved it more and more with each visit.  During those times in the city I lived through 2 separate tube strikes.  I had my wallet stolen from my bag.  I rode in black cabs at night and chatted with strangers.  On one occasion, during my very first international trip, I found myself wandering the city completely alone just taking in the sights.

In not one of these instances was I afraid.  Even after I was pick-pocketed I was willing to admit it was my own fault for not securing my wallet properly.  I never felt that London was dangerous.  I was never worried for my own safety.  London has always felt more like me than any other city in the world, and therefore I felt safe in my little nest.

Until Saturday.

In a few week's time, I'm due to be in London for a trip I've been waiting months for.  And for the first time in my life I don't want to go.  I'd rather stay in the states.  After the Manchester attack, I was resolute.  I was not going to let terrorists scare me into submission. That's their ploy, and if we buy into it, we've already lost.  However, this weekend's attack on London Bridge and in Borough Market shook me. 

Logically I know that another attack so soon after this one is probably not going to occur.  I know that security will be heightened which will make the city safer.  I also know that I'm letting fear rule my life.  But that doesn't stop this attack from seeming all too real.  And honestly, I'm angry at myself for letting it get to me.  But it has.

In the end, knowing I have a friend that's counting on me, and my sheer panic at losing the money I've already invested into the trip will push me to go.  Yet, I know London won't feel the same this time.  I hope that once I arrive, this nagging fear will leave and the city will sparkle and shine for me like it always has.  But for now, the sheer weight of today's world situation is keeping London at bay...