Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at USNA is a Multi-color Wonder

The lovely set and the uber-talented orchestra at the Naval Academy
Way, way back, many decades ago, I fell in love with a weird little musical called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I'm not entirely sure how it happened. I don't even remember actually seeing it, until long after I had memorized the cast album. But there I was, singing these great (and strange) tunes at the top of my lungs most every day. I did finally see it a few years later, though I have no recollection of where I was. It was somewhere in Maryland and it was most definitely a community theatre production. What I do remember is taking my friend Jen with me. She is an English teacher, but not a lover of theatre, and she was convinced that this musical was going to have some redeeming quality. As if the presence of an underlying thematic quality would make the show somehow better. Other than the theme of destiny - which is inherent in the story, not just the musical - she realized what I had long-since assumed. Musicals don't have to be deep or though-provoking to be fun and fabulous. 

Joseph - full of all of its strange quirks and styles of music - is just that; fun. And from what I can tell, that's the whole point. For that I'm supremely thankful that it exists, because at the time it was written, and in the years since, fun is definitely needed every once in a while to keep our minds away from the dark and depressing. In other words, tell me you can listen to "Benjamin Calypso" without tapping your foot and getting into that island spirit.

However, it's been many decades since that time when I hummed "Any Dream will Do" consistently throughout my day, and in that time I haven't seen Joseph once on stage. That is until I took in the joyous and creative production at the Naval Academy this past weekend. Once again, I was transported back to ancient Egypt and once again I found myself knowing every single word of every single song. It's weird how that works. Sometimes I can't remember what I had for dinner last night, but give me the music to "Jacob and Sons" and I'm set! 

The production led by Joseph and the Narrator was incredibly fun. This was my first show at the Academy, and I was astounded by the sheer size of the production. The costumes and set were impressively designed. I'd say the many, many outfits that transformed the men from 12 brothers, to 12 Frenchmen, to 12 Calypso singers, to a variety of others were definitely a highlight. The Midshipmen seemed to revel in all the colors and designs, as they are all too accustomed to the plain white, black or tan Naval uniforms. 

Then of course, there was the set, which was an Egyptian pyramid that helpfully assisted in the fantastic choreography. The stairs up to the pyramid allowed the cast to run, and jump and dance their way in all sorts of directions which contributed to the movement and the excitement of the piece. Added to the set, the designers also included a few "animals" in the mix. Not real animals mind you, just impressive replicas that I won't spoil in case you're planning to see this incredible show this weekend. Just know that these gags got the biggest laughs of the evening, and those laughs were well-deserved.

Also impressive, was the cast of singers and dancers in the cast. How can I say this delicately? I have a great deal of respect for the Navy and what the Midshipmen have planned for their lives, but I really wasn't expecting much from a school that is most focused on academics and physical fitness. I'm happy to say I have never been more wrong. By means of the show's design, there are plenty of numbers that allow even minor characters to shine. This cast of characters took those moments to heart, and positively nailed their performances. Added to this cast, there were also a few children providing back-up vocals allowing the narrator someone - beside the audience - to talk to, which they seemed to enjoy greatly.

That's the thing with this show. Most everyone I saw in the audience, from the kids seeing it for the first time, to the parents that had seen it dozens of times, to the Admiral sitting front and center in full dress uniform, had enormous smiles on their faces the moment the curtain came up. Joseph has always done that to people, young and old. And this fantastic production was no different.

Word of Warning - My only issue of the evening was the signage at the Academy. If you do not have government ID, you will need to park off base, which is not the big issue. The issue is finding Mahan Hall once you're finally on base. It's not the easiest place to find, and I didn't see its name on a single sign all evening. Don't let that get in the way of you seeing the show, just allow for time, and look out for helpful Midshipmen to point you in the right direction (which is what we did.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Chess is a Few Moves Ahead of its Time

Chess is just one of those shows in the theatre community. Everyone has an opinion on it, but not many people have actually seen it. It has this reputation for having a fabulous score and a crazy mixed up mess of a story line. I've learned the writers have basically been tweaking the story line for the last 20 years, and are still no closer to cracking it than they were when it was first written. As you can imagine, based on these issues, it's not revived very often. But for this same reason, it's the perfect inaugural show for the Broadway CenterStage series - Kennedy Center's answer to New York's City Center Series. Their plan is to revive shows that aren't revived often and give them a concert staging for one short week. It's a win-win for us here in the DMV - Broadway caliber talent, without having to make the trek to NYC (not that I mind doing that at all...)

So how exactly was Chess then? I absolutely loved it, even though I'm not entirely sure what I was seeing. I haven't been able to get the songs out of my head all week, but still what story are they trying to tell? My feelings are complicated, much like the plot of the show...

The staging was supposed to be more of a concert with stand-up microphones and playbooks at the ready, but as it is with City Center, there was enough choreography to satisfy anyone who was expecting a full production. The actors still held tight to their scripts - after all, they had only 2 weeks to prepare - but for some of the bigger numbers, they dropped the scripts and jumped into the action. Some of these numbers worked. "One Night in Bangkok" for instance was a perfect antithesis for the rest of show. It was loud and fun and surprising to say the least. I think my first thought was "What's happening? And my second was, "This is awesome!"  While other numbers, like the interpretive dance number towards the end of the evening which I believe was supposed to implicate the game of chess, were a little less useful to the plot.
Chess Production Photo - Kennedy Center
However, the producer's choice of trained dancers in the ensemble was a perfect addition to this stunning cast. The choreography was definitely a highlight. Then there was the main cast. And oh what a main cast there was! It was full of Broadway powerhouses. I'm not sure I could have cast this performance any better in my dreams. Raul Esparza - the crazy (like a fox?) Trumper - played his part with bravado and flair, and went for it in every one of his numbers. He's just so incredibly talented. I spent most of the show dreaming of a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar with him in the lead, based on his belting of this Tim Rice score. Can't you just see it? Broadway producers, take note!

Ramin Karimloo's Anatoly, was quieter and less in your face, but no less powerful. He was the perfect rival for the insane Trumper. And also, I spent a great deal of time casting him as Judas in Superstar. There's a chance I just really want to see Superstar back on Broadway sometime soon... Karen Olivo as the torn between two lovers Florence was truly a force to be reckoned with. Her solo performance brought the house down. (Maybe she could be Mary Magdalene...Ok I'll stop now) Bryce Pinkham as the arbiter, narrating the action was perfectly cast. His nervousness and humor worked well. He provided some of the funniest lines of the show with flair.  Bradley Dean & Sean Allan Krill, as the KGB and CIA agents respectively brought menace and humor to the piece. Their manipulation of the plot and the characters alike was complicated, much like chess - which I'm assuming was on purpose.

This chess game of a story, centered on two world-champion players, and their love of the same woman, with some added dramatic elements throughout, which may or may not have been needed, depending on who you ask. Added to that, their countries were in the midst of the cold war. It's hard to believe that Russia and the US used Chess as a way to resolve their differences, but I just went with it. It may have been convoluted, but it was also semi-true. So then, you may ask, what wasn't there to like? It can be summed up in two words: sound design.

Chess Production Photo - Kennedy Center
I thought it just may have been me, but it turns out most people in the audience had no idea what was happening because you couldn't understand a word the actors were singing. The sound design was so bad, that I missed pretty much the entire plot just trying to decipher the lyrics. The actors could be heard when they were speaking, but the second the fantastic on-stage orchestra began playing, you lost the thread. Because this is a "rock" show, many of the songs are belted, so that may have affected what we were hearing. But the show has always been a rock show, so the sound designers should have accounted for that. It's just unfortunate that the work of such a talented cast, was minimized by something as technical as microphones.

In the end though, I still loved it. I'm dreaming of seeing it again with this same cast, un-aided by terrible sound issues. And I'm even willing to chalk the sound issues up to growing pains. I can't wait to see where the Kennedy Center is planning to take this series. They've already planned out the next two shows in this season (In the Heights & How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying), which should be amazing, but I'm waiting to see what surprises they have up their sleeves for next season. Maybe, just maybe a fresh revival of Jesus Christ Superstar could be in the works. If so, I already have the perfect cast. A girl can dream...

Friday, February 16, 2018

Street Art in the City

I have this weird fascination with Street Art. I think it may have started in Austin, TX which has murals all over the city. I became so excited each time I'd find a new one, I'd feel the need to yell "Street Art!" It wasn't so bad when I was walking with someone, but when you're alone it's a bit embarrassing. This love affair with the medium continues today, especially in big cities like New York or Washington, DC. 

It's now one of my favorite past times when I'm traveling; trying to find new and exciting forms of street art. Luckily others have this same fascination, because I've learned to use Pinterest to help fuel my love affair. The problem with seeking them out using Pinterest is that the address is not often posted - so I feel the need to randomly wander around cities just searching for specific murals. The positive in this way of travel is that I more times than most, find other pieces of art along the way. However, the negative is that my friends often feel the need to kill me because I've made them walk way too far for no good reason.  

This is why just randomly happening upon the murals is a much better way to find cool things. You get lots of steps in and your friends don't feel the need to murder you. It's a win-win for everyone. 

This is how I fell upon these art pieces throughout Chinatown and Little Italy. After eating some delicious Dim Sum, and ice cream, there wasn't much else to do but wander off the calories. Thankfully, these two neighborhoods are rich with art around each and every corner. Unfortunately, like most people on Pinterest I didn't take the addresses down either. So if you're interested in seeing these masterpieces yourself, you'll just need to wander and happen onto them like I did. I promise you being surprised by them, is the best way to see them!

Monday, February 12, 2018

BroadwayCon in Review - Day 1

It's hard for me to talk about just how lovely BroadwayCon is without thoroughly gushing about everyone and everything. It's just one of those things that you need to experience to really understand what makes it so wonderfully unique. However, I am going to try to give you a sense of its awesomeness by writing small samplings (vignettes if you will...) of each day of the Con, which will hopefully send you head over heels and push you to buy a ticket for next year's event!

Here goes Day 1...

~ Shopping the Vendor Hall: So. Many. Cool. Things. The vendor hall is a Broadway lover's dream. Everything you can think of - tees, prints, jewelry, decals, etc. - are all there for purchasing. Last year I went hog wild, but this year I tried to keep my head. I managed to purchase a super cute Come From Away necklace (that matches my Come From Away Playbill flower headband from last year perfectly), and some decals that will need to wait until I get a new car to reveal their sheer Broadway awesomeness. My favorite vendor is Desiree Nasim. She creates minimalist prints of the casts of Broadway shows. Last year I purchased Falsettos, and this year I couldn't resist the brilliant cast of Come From Away and the originally brilliant cast of RENT.

~ Photos with Lin: You may remember that I'm most terrible with celebrities. TeeRico, the company owned by Lin Manuel Miranda's family must have heard, because a version of Lin was ready and waiting for me at their booth. Lifesize Cutout Lins in 2 different poses were swamped with con-goers all weekend. And of course, I was also one of those people. 

~ In the Heights 10 Year Reunion Panel: Somehow, I've yet to see In the Heights. However, that didn't stop me from wanting to see the panel. Lin was attending this year, in the flesh so you can't blame me for wanting to be in the Room Where it Happened. This cast is so lovely and so like a family, that you couldn't help by smile and laugh at their inside jokes. The panel was moderated by Luis Miranda - Lin's dad - who was funny and warm. You could tell how proud he was of these people and how much the cast loved him and his son. 

~Arts & Advocacy: Now more than ever, advocacy in the arts community is so incredibly important. And the organizers of BroadwayCon seemed to understand that. There were many panels outlining how the arts can highlight certain issues. The attendees at the panel I attended shared how they advocate for issues they feel are important, and provided ideas and examples of how attendees can get motivated to help. It was a very clear representation of how this convention is not strictly about being a fan of Broadway. It's about sharing in something with like-minded people, and empowering those people to get involved. It was truly a beautiful sight to behold. 

Now if all of that hasn't caught the attention of your purse-strings yet, tune in soon to see what Saturday and Sunday brought to the gaggle of Broadway Lovers.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

January in Review

Here in Maryland, January has been a bit rough. With temperatures hovering around the 20s, we are so over winter. However, that hasn't stopped me from exploring some new opportunities and having a bit of fun - though, that fun has been mostly in doors as of late.

January Reads

2017 was a very bad year for reading for me. I started off so well, but then I got a little bored and a little restless - having a ridiculous President and a 24 hour news-cycle will do that. But this year, I'm hoping to find my way back on track by completing a challenge I read about on Adventurous Kate's blog. She is reading one book per month around a certain theme. In her case, she's reading authors from countries she's never traveled to. In my case, I'm reading Young-Adult fiction. There's just so many good books out there that the former Elementary school teacher in me is dying to have an excuse to read. I'll be reading many more books along the way - hopefully. But at least one of those - or in the case of January, two books - will fall in the young adult category.

~ Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Before you say anything, I've read them all before. But each Christmas, I receive the illustrated versions of the books (Gorgeous!) I've been loving re-reading them. I've forgotten so much because I don't watch the movies, and it's sort of like discovering them all again for the first time. 

~ The Sleeping Beauty Killer by Mary Higgins Clark: I'm a sucker for a Mary Higgins Clark mystery, even though they're sort of predictable at this point.

~ Green Glass House by Kate Milford: Oh, how I LOVED this book! It was so well-written that I could picture each scene perfectly in my head. I've heard rumors of them turning the book into a movie, which simultaneously excites me and scares me. I loved Harry Potter too but hated those awful movies!

January Travels

Like I said, January was a very cold month, that was mostly spent hibernating under many, many blankets. But BroadwayCon is also held in January so that meant a weekend getaway to New York City. While there, we explored Chinatown a bit and then pretty much hit the convention for the rest of our trip. Both of which will be posted soon. One of my favorite things is just exploring New York City, so having the chance to do so for a few hours was exciting even if it was a bit chilly.

January Shows

During BroadwayCon, we didn't see a Broadway show - sacrilege I know! - but we did attend Broadway Sings Curtains at 54 Below. Now I've never seen the show Curtains and I know nothing about it. However, the show was still pretty great. Richard Kind and Michael Reidel were the true stars of the event, however, the supporting cast (which was huge!) were just as talented. I always enjoy shows at 54 Below because where else can you eat so well, surrounded by recognizable stars?

After arriving home from New York, I saw Waitress at the Hippodrome. Now, I don't really enjoy seeing shows at the Hippodrome only because the seats were made for teeny-tiny people with very short legs. To say it's uncomfortable is an understatement. But I do enjoy many of their shows. This production specifically was unbelievably good. I was pretty hard on Waitress when I saw it in New York, but I've re-thought my original feelings. I loved the cast, the music and the experience, plain and simple.

January Moves

After a whole month of Yoga, I am enjoying it even more than I thought I would. It's working out the weird kinks I have in my back, and I can almost feel myself getting more and more flexible. Okay, maybe not flexible, but more able to do the moves and stretches that everyone else is seemingly having no issues with. It may not be a hard core workout, but it's good to know that I'm doing something that relaxes me.

I'm also working on learning Spanish again, for no other reason than I thought it might come in handy in the future. Even if I never use it, it fun to realize I can still recall so much of what I was taught in high school. Duolingo is the app I'm using, and if you're interested in learning, I strongly recommend using it. It's amazingly well-formatted and if you keep up with it - you're awarded extra points if you keep up your streak which is a great motivator for some reason - you will most definitely learn.

January Eats

I recently discovered Chuys in Annapolis which is a Tex-Mex chain, but honestly, I'm pretty sure I've become obsessed in a short period of time. The real appeal for me is their happy hour special - unlimited queso, chips, salsa, beans and ground beef. You can pretty much make a meal out of it. It doesn't hurt that their queso is basically made up of unicorns and rainbows - it's so delicious! 

So there you have it, January in a small nutshell. Not all that groundbreaking, but pretty good when you consider I'd rather live as a hermit when the temperature drops below 45...