Bandstand on Broadway

It was my last day in New York. I had just left the matinee of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 in utter disbelief of the magic that was made on the stage of the Imperial. My mother and I had gone to dinner and were now waiting in line to enter the Jacobs Theatre to see Bandstand.

Bandstand was the one show that I had actually planned on seeing while in New York. I knew I would see others, but hadn’t bought the tickets, but I wanted to make sure to see Bandstand. Maybe it was a bit of a redemption for the first time I had come to the city to see Cinderella and Laura Osnes was out of the show that week, maybe it was my incessant need for originality on Broadway, or maybe it was both. I knew I wanted to see this show.

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Something that I love doing, and rarely have the opportunity to do, is seeing a show without even an idea of what it is about. I love being able to enter a theatre with a blank pallet and let the actors and musicians take me away. I had an idea of what Bandstand was about. I knew that it was about men who returned home from WWII and started a band, but Lord, I had no idea what I was in for.

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The show starts and you are instantly taken to the war. You are there with Donny and Michael and are faced with the harsh realities of what happened there. They don’t sugar coat it, its real. When you end up in Cleaveland and see the way the war has changed people, it’s an eye opener. Before I saw this show, WWII seemed so far away, so disconnected. I knew that my grandfather had fought, I knew he saw things he never talked about, but this show put it into perspective for me. The way you see these men behave and try to deal with their inner demons is such eye-opening theatre. When the doctor tells Donny to find something quick, that he’s gone to three funerals that month because the men wanted a way to make it stop, I actually wanted to cry. Back then, and even to an extent now, people didn’t talk about what happened. They were expected to get over it, see it as an honor, and get through it. But talking about experiences helps so much, but it just wasn’t seen as an option then, they just had to do what it took to make it like it was before.

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When the 11 o’clock number rolls around and you see that someone is talking about it, that they want every man who served to know that they aren’t alone, I wanted to cry even more. I wish something like that was more readily available to men then, or even now. Sure, TV shows and movies talk about it, but back in the day, they had the MGM movie musicals that were more about the lavish homecomings than the realities of war.

This show has so many amazing aspects to it. It is a swing musical, which isnt common on Broadway, and not just that, but the actors on stage also play their own instruments. This means that not only do these actors have to act, sing, and dance well, but also be able to play swing music amazingly. There are still pit musicians who play the rest of the score, but when the Donny Nova Band is playing, the actors are playing the music.

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Also, Tony winner for Hamilton, Andy Blankenbuehler directs and choreographs the show. I remember that during one particular dance number, there are people sliding with chairs across the stage and the audience went absolutely nuts for it. It was amazing. There is no doubt that this show had the best choreography this season, they won a Tony for it.

But what makes this show even more amazing is that this show is the first Got Your Six certified Broadway musical, meaning it’s the first show to accurately portray veterans stories. These stories need to be told just as much as any other story on Broadway.

The performances by the actors were just so touching. Having been a fan of Laura Osnes for years, finally getting to see her in a show was such an amazing experience. But it was Corey Cott’s performance of Donny that absolutely blew my mind. Why he was not nominated for a Tony still baffles me. He gave his all and left it on the stage during that performance. His performance was one that will honestly stick with me for years to come.

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Whatever your thoughts on the military may be, this show tells the stories of what happens to people who do what they think is the best thing for their country and how they do their best to cope with those experiences.

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Great Comet, Great Birthday

Saturday. Matinee. My 22nd birthday. Great Comet

I left Los Angeles for New York two days before my 22nd birthday with tickets for only one show (Bandstand) and an idea of what other shows I wanted to see. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 was at the top of the list. So when I was able to buy next-day matinee tickets at TKTS I was absolutely beside myself.

I had listened to the Off-Broadway Cast Recording for about a year before leaving for New York and had fallen in love with the story and the show itself. I knew that some changes would be made but I had absolutely no idea about how I would feel during this show.IMG_4309.jpg

We, my mother and myself, rolled up to the Imperial Theatre in an Uber after getting myself a birthday blowout at DryBar, ready for what this show would become. Upon entering the theatre, I was immediately transported and disoriented. This is not what a Broadway theatre typically looks like, I felt cramped and a bit like Kimmy Schmidt, trapped in a bunker. But after following the crowd through the entry, I was once more transported into a lush, lavish, and absolutely beautiful Russian supper club.

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When the lights went down and the actors came out to discuss the rules of the club, I was instantly committed to the show. And then they won me over once more by handing out boxes of potato and onion perogies, which I was lucky enough to find myself in possession of. I was in love.

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The lights dimmed, the chandelier rose, and the show began. The prologue makes me so happy with the repeating verses which are insanely helpful. I find that by repeating the names of who is who, it helps the audience get a better grasp of the characters and their personalities.

I wasn’t a fan of Josh Groban, not that I didn’t like him, I just hadn’t had much exposure to his music. I knew him from the 2008 UK Concert of Chess, and thought he was wonderful in that. But he truly shines as Pierre and I feel lucky to see him make his Broadway debut. I also knew that as a fun fact he attended LACHSA, which is one of the high schools that are basically on my college campus.

As for Denée Benton, I actually saw her 3 years ago in the National Tour of Book of Mormon as Nabulungi. From what I remember, she was great in that. As Natasha, however, she soared. I cannot imagine someone more suited for this role than her. Her performance was so wonderful and she truly embodied that naive, love-struck character that is Natasha. Also, this being her Broadway debut was pretty exciting.

For me, however, the absolute standout of the show was Lucas Steele as Anatole. He was able to exude the charm and stubbornness that the character requires all while singing his little heart out. He was funny and, God, he was so charming.

When I woke up on Tuesday May 2, 2017 to the news that all three of these actors were Tony-nominated for their performances made my heart soar.

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A criticism I have heard about the show is that they speak a lot of their actions and some people do not like that. But I think it’s genius for two reasons. ONE, the show has pretty much redesigned the Imperial Theatre and the actors are performing around you all the time, including up in the mezzanine and at the back of the orchestra so nearly ever seat has some sort of obstruction, and so the actions being narrated is necessary. TWO, the show is based on a 70-page section of War and Peace, a book, by narrating the actions, it stays truer to the book, as if they are reading directly out of it. I think that is brilliant.

I love that the show is interactive, the actors are playing with the audience and toasting with them. I remember that during the song Letters, Anatole sends a letter along a row in the audience to Natasha. The row happened to be comprised of mainly older people and the last in the row was an elderly lady who was supposed to give the letter to Natasha. She, obviously, couldn’t move as well as a younger person might have so it took her a bit longer than anticipated to hand the letter over, but the audience gave a big cheer as she went to sit back down, and my heart swelled.

When the cast members came out with egg shakers for Balaga and the audience couldn’t keep the rhythm of the song, I felt so much joy. I love audience participation so much when no one is singled out.

I love how different and immersive this show is. It doesn’t leave you with a warm feeling in your heart unless the idea of no one being happy or in love makes you feel warm and fuzzy. To each their own. Still, this show is special, it leaves you feeling new and refreshed and like you and these characters are given a new start.

Everything about this show, the actors, the set design, the costumes, the book, and the music come together to form a perfect art piece. Not one day has passed since I saw this show that I have not listened to the cast recordings and spoken about this show. Of the three shows I saw on that trip, this is the one that has left the biggest impact on me. The fearlessness this show has by being different than the others is so promising of the future of Broadway, and that gives me hope.

I know this seems like a rave, but thats because it is. I love Great Comet. I love this show and want nothing but the best for this show and these actors. I want to see this show a million more times and I wonder if ever this could tour. I want everyone to see this show. When my friends tell me about the trips to New York they have planned for the summer, I tell them to see this show. Even when Groban leaves in early July, Oak will come in and kick ass.

Until next time,

Katie

Legends Take the Stage in War Paint

A Broadway fan can only dream of seeing the legends that are Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole take the stage, but can you imagine how utterly overwhelming it can be for that fan to witness them take the stage TOGETHER?! It sure is something, I tell ya.

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On April 21, 2017, I had the most wonderful pleasure of witnessing two of Broadway’s most iconic performers play two of the most iconic women of the makeup industry. Patti Lupone as Helena Rubinstein and Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden.

Upon purchasing tickets from TKTS at Lincoln Center, I was informed that Patti had been out of the show for the past few performances and it wasn’t a guarantee that she would be in the show tonight. Still, I took my chances even though I knew it was a possibility she would not be in because it was her birthday. I had faith and figured that I would at least see a new musical about strong powerful women.

There’s a rule I heard about once or twice, that if a lead will be out of show, two of three things need to happen: a notice must be posted on the board the audience sees upon entering the theatre, a flyer must be put inside the playbills, or an announcement must be made over the PA before curtain. None of these happened, but I would not believe anything until I saw her with my own eyes. And there she was, Patti Lupone in all her glory, commanding a stage like the legend she is.

The audience erupted with applause and cheers when Christine Ebersole and Patti Lupone took the stage. We all must have felt the profound energy they exude upon making their entrance. They were absolutely impossible to take your eyes off of.

Christine Ebersole’s performance was flawless. She portrayed Elizabeth Arden with such poise and class. A strong woman who understood the difficulties she was up against, making makeup a common household item rather than one saved for the stage, film, and prostitutes. When, towards the end of the second act, Arden sings about her board’s desire to step down, Ebersole showed such passion and pain for Arden who was being told subtly that she was only wanted for her name and her signature color, pink. This was the part of the show that made me feel the most emotion. For a woman to work so hard her entire life and only be summed up by a color has got to be the most dreadful experiences a woman can have.

Patti Lupone portrayed a different type of woman that Helena Rubinstein was. She was a woman who came from nothing, who worked hard to get passed the barriers set by society concerning her look and religion, strong in different ways. Both of these women had to break past the gender stereotypes and glass ceilings of the time, persevering through the second World War and helping America in what ways they could to show their alliance. Patti sounded so wonderful in her singing, though it was hard to understand. She spoke with an accent like Helena Rubinstein had, also singing in it which, when mixed with the music, ended up a cacophony. However, Lupone brought humor and wit and power to the stage, that I feel blessed to have witnessed.

The sets were so intricate and the costumes reflecting the time so that the audience could differentiate between the 30 years the show takes place. There’s a definite stylistic difference between the Arden and Rubinstein salons, Arden’s being more feminine and Rubinstein’s being more clinical.

My only critical comment about the show is that the fact that they were women was brought up quite a bit. Hear me out for a second. Obviously, we all know the hurdles women had to go through then and continue to go through, bringing it up over and over again is just redundant. We know these women were powerful and commanded companies successfully, but you can show their power without talking about that gender gap. Personally, I believe that only widens the divide and makes it a bigger issue by enforcing the idea that women were/are not as powerful as men. Clearly, they are and can be.

This show was the epitome of a lavish Broadway musical, the sets, the costumes, the legends on stage are what the show really has going for it.

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

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.