The King and I on Tour

Seen: December 17, 2016
Because I love Rodgers and Hammerstein, because I love classic musicals, and because I have season tickets to the Pantages, I spent a night in Siam with Anna and the King. Having never seen the movie, but knowing my share of the music, I was expecting a nice, enjoyable night at the theatre, and that is what I got. 
 
The King and I is so very classic Rodgers and Hammerstein. So much so that it made me realize something that I, for some reason, had never noticed before: a lot of R+H shows are essentially the same story. A single, strong, leading lady (Anna, Nelly, Maria) is entering a new and unfamiliar territory where she is put up against a strong, stubborn leading man (the King, Emile, Captain Von Trap) where the two bicker and ultimately bond together and realize they complement each other in a unique way that has never happened before. Something happens with the man that the woman does not like and that causes a rift (The King lashes out, Emile has children of mixed race, and Captain Von Trap is going to marry Elsa). All the while there is an impending sense of doom lingering in the air (European imperialism, WWII, Nazi occupation) and a secondary love plot (Tuptim and Lun Tha, Lt. Cable and Liat, Liesl and Rolf) that does not end well. In some way/shape/form the leading couple reunite and make amends with usually a happy ending. 
 
I realized this about twenty minutes into the first act and therefore, the show was predictable. Because I knew essentially how this show was going to end, the story itself started to lose my attention. I found myself paying closer attention to the set and the costumes and realized just how drop dead beautiful it all was. All of Anna’s costumes were just so gorgeous, so big and classic, Catherine Zuber did such a wonderful job. I so badly wish I could just wear just one of her costumes, not the purple ball gown my best friend Nicole likes, but the final dress, the maroon one. God, that was just so beautiful to me. 
 
I was also able to focus more on the individual actors’ performances. Laura Michelle Kelly’s voice is just so pure and a true blessing. She flawlessly took on this role and disappeared into the character, which is a sign of a true great. In a video of her getting into character for Finding Neverland, she mentioned how much she enjoyed working with children and that definitely seemed to transfer to this show. She seemed to be having such a wonderful time with those talented little actors. Jose Llana was also just so great as the king. He had starred twice in the Lincoln Center production and it truly seems like he has taken this role and made it his own and feels really comfortable in it. That is always great to see. 
 
When it comes to the show itself, aside from the fact that its the same as other R+H shows, I think there are some really shitty things about the facts about the story. This isn’t so much about the show, but just about history in general and imperialism and how just fucked up that is. The fact that the King is seen as being barbaric just because of his culture is just not a great thing that happened. The Europeans thinking that they are morally and societally superior than Eastern cultures is something that I just cannot wrap my mind around. Granted, this is coming from the retrospect of a Southern Californian white girl who is of 3/4 European descent. I just do not like the idea that there are cultures that assume they are better than others just because they do not understand it. In the case of Tuptim, the fact that she was given as a gift and forced to be one of the king’s wives, that is the most barbaric thing about the culture. In this story, the other wives don’t really have any complaints about being one of the many, though maybe that is because their voices just are not heard. 
 
In all, The King and I tour was such a wonderful and beautiful production. The talent on the stage is what is the real draw for me, the voices and acting abilities and set and costume designs as opposed to the story and music. Every show has little things that make it great and had it not been for this particular cast and this direction and this lighting design and this costume design and these musicians all coming together for this production, I may not have had as great of a time as I did that night. 

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.