Merrily We Roll Along at the Wallis

About a week ago I realized that, hey, I don’t necessarily need someone to go to a show with me. Obviously it’s nice to share a moment with someone you know, but when you’re sitting in a theatre, you’re silent and staring at the same thing as the other (insert number of seats in any given theatre) people in that room. After I came to this realization, I went onto GoldStar, bought tickets to see Merrily We Roll Along, and drove myself to Beverly Hills.
What I knew about this show going in is the following:
  • Written by Stephen Sondheim
  • Opened and closed in two weeks
  • Has a reputation of never being properly staged
  • Jason Alexander was in the OBC (yes, I grew up with Seinfeld on every day in my house)
  • Opening Doors  
Naturally, I was hopeful about this show. I always am. I never want a show to do bad or be bad because thats just bad karma. Also, I had the great fortune of seeing Deaf West’s Spring Awakening last summer at the Wallis and absolutely adored Michael Arden’s work with that show. When I heard that he was going to be putting Merrily up at the Wallis I knew I had to see it and see for myself if the show really is impossible to stage.
Because I was by myself, I found myself less worried. Whenever I go to a show with my parents or with a friend that is not necessarily a theatre-goer, I find myself worried that they are not having a good time or understanding the show, making the connection I have to it less intense. But when I sat myself between a couple to my right and a father and son to my left, and the lights went down, I was able to intently focus all of my attention on the action on the stage. Instantly I was swept up in the party thrown in Frank’s honor and felt a part of it all, though that may have been helped in part by the 5th row seats (thank you GoldStar).
Now, my thoughts on the actual show vary. Am I supposed to like Frank? He seems so self involved. He says he wants one thing but goes for another, but that could have to do with the fact that in that first scene he says the one mistake he made over and over was saying yes when he meant to say no. Charlie is the only successful one. He goes after what he wants, eventually winning a Pulitzer for the work he wants to do. He is happily married with a wife and kids and with a successful career. Mary is sadly unsuccessful. She’s developed a drinking problem and is still in love with Frank no matter how many wives he cheats on. She wrote one book that seems to have been very successful but the dissolution of the Mary/Frank/Charlie friendship seems to take a massive toll on her professional life. However, there is some sort of silver lining in the fact that while madly in love with Frank, she never ends up with him. If she had, chances are that he would have cheated on her just as he had Beth and Gussie. 
I think the fact that the show works backwards is such an interesting take. At first I didn’t understand it, but when we hit the finale and you see the excitement these characters have for the future and their potential the point is really hammered in. That basically devastated me, broke my heart, and sent tears down my cheeks. 
These kids have so much hope and knowing how it all ends is heartbreakingly, beautifully devastating. They want to make a difference in the world, create works that matter, and do it all together. I suppose this show shows that you can get what you want, but it all comes with consequences and sacrifices, and sometimes those come in the form of friendships falling apart in the pursuit of those dreams. 
While this is the only production I have seen, I really enjoyed a lot of what could only be personal Arden touches. The set is one that exposes backstage. You can see vanities and clothing racks. I took this to be because the show is about friends and writing for Broadway, this element adds to the behind-the-scenes feel. You never see the musical, but you see what goes into it. 
The transitions are just as important to the show as the scenes themselves. With the three dancers in the transitions chasing dreams, encapsulating the hopes and dreams that Mary, Charlie, and Frank had when they were practically children adds so much to the storytelling. When, during the finale, each of these dancers takes the place of these characters on the rooftop and they talk about what a time it is to be alive, the floodgates burst open. I really enjoyed this show. A lot. More than a lot. I loved this show. 
I didn’t know I could love Wayne Brady more as a performer than I already did, but watching him sing Franklin Shepard Inc. was just pure joy. He is such a charismatic performer with so much depth. We all know he’s great at comedy, but the dramatics this show calls for at times was something I did not expect. Also, Donna Vivino, who just might have the best No Good Deed anyone has ever illegally recorded, was phenomenal. She plays Mary with such hope and sadness and love and I was so drawn into her performance. Aaron Lazar did such a wonderful job with Frank that while he is literally the worst, you are still hoping the best for him. 
I just have so many thoughts and feelings about this show, new opinions come creeping into my brain each time I think about it. I truly loved this show so much that I saw it twice in three days, the second time was with a friend who also loves Michael Arden’s work. To make a bold claim, I think Merrily We Roll Along may just be my favorite musical. 
 
Stray Thoughts:
  • I believe Sondheim created rap
  • I actually found the song “Its a Hit” to be funny because of how much of a hit this show originally was not
  • Kevin McHale and Darren Criss were at the first performance I was at
  • Aaron Lazar forgot the line “I saw My Fair Lady” and stammered it out, the second time

Pence at Hamilton

Last night at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City a performance of Hamilton took place. This should have been just like any other performance of this show, but it was not. As it has been WILDLY reported, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in the audience. As he made his way to his seat, he was greeted with a cacophony, a mixed response of cheers, but also overwhelming boos.
 
To be expected, theaters are full of people with not necessarily conservative views. Theatres are typically full of more liberal minded people. So when the Vice President-elect walks in to a show that praises immigrants like Hamilton and Lafayette and shows that women like Angelica Schuyler are intellectually equal to men. This is a show that doesn’t put the founding fathers or any politicians on pedestals, but paints them in a realistic light. Yes, of course, hip hop, rap, r&b, and jazz weren’t things then and people didn’t break into song, but it is still so realistic. 
 
Apparently throughout the show, when the line “Immigrants, we get the job done” was said, the audience made sure to go EXTRA crazy, in order to solidify the message. The audience wanted to show Pence that this is something they all believed and make sure that he is hearing them as their representative. 
 
Also there were reports of a lot of noise when King George III says, “When your people say they hate you…” for obvious reasons. 
 
Yes, a lot of people at the Rodgers last night hate both Trump and Pence. They stand for a lot of things they do not believe in. I guarantee most of that audience cried the morning of November 9, 2016 when the future was solidified. A lot of them were scared and hurt, and they have every right to feel that way. 
 
These people and likeminded people across the globe felt like finally they were able to show their true feelings towards this man. Trying to make him hear them in the only way they could see fit in the moment. 

Now, the video, seen here


This is the transcript of what President-elect Donald Trump finds to be harassment. Written by Lin Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, and Jeffrey Seller and spoken by Brandon Victor Dixon:

“Thank you so much for joining us tonight. You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you’re walking out but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here, we’re all here sharing a story of love.
We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide, OK?
Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical, we really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.
Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show. This wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men [and] women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”

Donald Trump then tweeted this:
What part of this is rude or harassment? Im serious! How could any of this be considered rude? If anything, this is pure courage. 
This show stars Javier Muñoz as Hamilton, an openly gay man who has shared with the world the health battles he has been through. He has fought cancer in the past year and will forever live with HIV. Yet, he remains positive and motivated to tell stories on stage. Last night, he performed the role of Hamilton for a man who, as governor of Indiana, funded conversion therapy facilities. That takes such courage to stand on that stage as a gay man to do that and defy the future Vice President with just your pure existence. 
 
The man who actually reads the statement, Brandon Victor Dixon is not lacking in the courage department either. He became the face of that statement. Dixon, who just last season starred in Shuffle Along, a show about the first all black Broadway show and the discrimination and racism that company faced, is now in a lead role in one of the biggest musicals Broadway has ever seen. That company shows what America looks like now, whether or not Pence would like to admit it. That show is, as it has been said several times before, America then told by America now. 

 

 
The statement itself is a plea. It pleads with Pence to remember those on stage as he takes office in the coming months. The statement is one of that just asks to be remembered and not be overlooked. There is nothing harassing in it or mean or negative. It is to tell this incoming Vice President that we all hope he is inspired by the acts that happened on that stage, showing just how important all cultures are to the fabric of this country. And it was told from once Vice President to another. 
 
Brandon Victor Dixon thanked VP-elect Pence for coming to the show and listening to what they had to say.
It is clear to see that there is no harassment going on here. These people tell stories for a living. The story they told last night just so happened to be a real story about real politicians and a real Vice President that got a little too upset when things wouldn’t go his way.
 
Since last night several people have weighed in on Twitter. 
Christopher Jackson, formerly George Washington in Hamilton
Gavin Newsom, 49th Lt. Gov. of California
 
Guy Branum, comedian
Ben Siemon, actor
 
Kevin Porter, co-host of Gilmore Guys podcast

This is clearly a very challenging and difficult time for many Americans, but this (Hamilton’s) is the kind of class that needs to be shown in the coming times. I have hope for the theatre community and for America because without hope, we have nothing.

Hedwig on Broadway, Hedwig on Tour

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I was in New York City the day the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. It was Pride Month, Pride Week, and my friends and I already had plans to attend the Pride Parade at the end of the week. The day it happened there was this strange sort of excitement in the city with the give-no-fucks attitude. Obviously, being in New York, I was going to be seeing a Broadway show that night, Something Rotten! It was wonderful, it was great, but its not what this post is about. We are here to discuss Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The day after the Supreme Court decision was made, my friends and I went to TKTS down at the South Street Seaport and, by just a random decision, bought tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was late June of 2015, Darren Criss was Hedwig, Rebecca Naomi Jones was Yitzhak, and the show was strange. It was a 90 minute confusing art piece that made absolutely no sense until the last 10 minutes. And yet, it was perfect. It was such an interesting, different, confusing character that was necessary in the world of theatre, necessary on Broadway. We were forever changed by it. Confused and elated, but changed.
Cut to— November 2016, Los Angeles, California. The Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. It’s few days before this country made that decision that still leaves me befuddled. Across the street they’ve opened a Shake Shack, only adding to the feeling of being back in New York. Things are great. 
As my friend Danielle and I sit down at our table at Shake Shack, we talk about how excited we are to see this show again with an actually have an idea of what is going on. There are two older men sitting next to us, one of whom interrupts us to ask if we are excited about the show. Turns out they are going to the show tonight too. He tells us of the multiple times he’s seen this show, going all the way back to New York in 1998 at the Jane Street Theatre. He assumes we are here for Darren, and in a way, we are. To us, he is Hedwig. Neither of us have seen the movie or any other incarnations since, Darren is all we know as Hedwig, and he is all we need to know. 
Now, the show itself. Like I said earlier, its such a strange, confusing, confounding, brilliant, wonderful, and truly touching show. The show is done like a concert, telling the story from Hansel to Hedwig. Along the way we learn that there is pent up aggression and emotional issues that Hedwig has not had to face until tonight where they are all brought to the surface. You don’t see this happening until the very end and actually get a moment to truly process what you’ve just witnessed. Thats when it hits you. Thats when you feel for Hedwig and are still left with a few questions but are overall satisfied. 
My first venture into this show was after a long day in New York, it was rainy, it was hot, I was with the same girls for 3 days straight without a moment to myself. I was not necessarily in my right mind. The show was not easily digestible, so not having a clear mind is a definite hindrance, but the music was rockin’ and the atmosphere was great. Even without really understanding the show, I knew I loved it. Darren was amazing and Rebecca was terrific. I knew I didn’t know what was going on, and I knew I loved it.
My second venture into this show was much different. I spent the day at home with my family, resting, before driving to pick up Danielle (who had actually seen the show with me in New York) and heading over to the theatre. Also, by pure coincidence, a friend I hadn’t seen since high school was there and we were able to catch up, which was nice (a week later she won a contest and saw the show again with a backstage tour and meet and greet). Having an understanding of the show and the story made it easier to digest and enjoy. The local shout-outs were a blast because we actually understood them this time (I’m talking about you, West Covina). The Saturday night audience was living for this experience just as much as we were. With this better understanding and the audience vibing on the experience, the second time around was so much better. As much as I love New York, as much as I love Broadway, this second experience was pure magic. 
Now, as I’ve written before, I can be a tad impulsive. I’ve talked about my body taking over and buying Hamilton Chicago tickets without my brain even thinking about it. This morning I was talking to Danielle about how much I want to see Hedwig again and my finger slipped. We bought tickets again. I’m so excited! Third time’s the charm, so they say, but first and second were definite charmers. I’ll be sure to post an update next weekend.

 

Sometimes my impulses lead to wonderful, wonderful outcomes.

Another Adaptation: Board Games

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Now, I have made it known across several platforms and in many conversations that I do not condone musical adaptations of other media. Yes, of course, some adaptations are wonderful (I’m talkin’ Legally Blonde, Newsies, Hamilton, etc.) but, to me at lease, they just show a lack of creativity, that people cannot come up with their own stories. Or maybe it’s worse. Maybe it’s just that audiences only want what they already know, a gimmick.

While adaptations are currently running Broadway with no end in sight, more and more announcements of more and more adaptations are happening everyday. Today is no different. Today Hasbro, yes the board game company, announced their intention of adapting Clue for the stage. Technically speaking, this is going to be an adaptation of an adaption as they are using the 1985 movie as its basis.

However, this might lead to an interesting stage show. The film had 3 alternate endings which could lend itself to a sort of create-your-own-adventure stage show, think The Mystery of Edwin Drood. If you remember, The Mystery of Edwin Drood had several alternate musical numbers and the audience would vote for their favorite characters. I believe a style such as this would work well for this type of show.

This all being said, back in June of this year Hasbro announced different plans for a musical adaptation of their other quite popular board game, Monopoly. This one is a bit different, as there is not a film serving as its base. Still, this one might not be terrible, and I actually have high hopes for it.

I’m reminded of a recent Show People interview that Paul Wontorek did with Nick Blaemire. In that interview, Blaemire spoke about his involvement in the Spongebob Squarepants musical, saying that it could so easily just be an episode up on the boards and yet it deals with intense topics like climate change, violence, and racism.

This is something that might work best with Monopoly. That game is the quintessential example of American greed. That game is about owning land, raising prices, and sending your friends to jail if they cannot afford it (where they remain until they can roll doubles in 3 turns, difficult in and of itself, and if they cant, they must pay a fine).

In this era of socially conscious audiences, Hasbro could definitely make a political statement with this new musical. It could star Mr. Monopoly as narrator and speak about the white collar crimes that continue to happen in this country.

Wow, when I decided to write on this I definitely thought I would have a much more cynical view of these adaptations, but it would seem that I am more optimistic than I thought. This all being said, as long as good new works continue to be produced, I will continue to love this wonderful, beautiful art form.