Our Dear Diana

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Princess Diana died when I was only 2 years old. I don’t remember anything about it. The only reference I have is what I’ve been told and seen on TV with an agenda. She seems to be deified, gone-too-soon, and beloved. But was that the real her? Diana, the new musical making its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse attempts to answer that question. From the same creative team that brought you the Tony-winning musical Memphis, we are given a look at the lives of Diana, Charles, Elizabeth, and Camilla.

 

Now, keeping in mind that this is a world premiere, this is such a wonderful start. I can’t quite tell you what kind of music I was expecting from this musical, so I don’t know why was I was so shocked to find out it was rock. Starting with the music, as we are already on this topic, I must say that some of these songs are absolutely wonderful, specifically Snap, Click, Princess Di Floating, Diana (the Rage), and Pretty, Pretty Girl from Act 1, and The Words Came Pouring Out, The Dress, and If from Act 2. For most musicals, music is OBVIOUSLY important to the show, but for most of Act 1, I was left wanting something more, something deeper from the music. But when Act 2 started, I was given exactly what I was craving, thank God.

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The book of this show is what I think needs the most work. For the most part, Act 1 needs a serious overhaul. It seemed very superficial like we were just given something that was only slightly better than one of those Lifetime movies: all speculation and no concrete facts about the personal lives. It isn’t until the end of the first act that we actually see some real emotion from the character of Diana. We see the pain that she feels, that she has been putting on a front for so long, trying her hardest to be the wife she has to be but also the woman she wants to be. When Harry is born, we are first given a glimpse into the pain she feels, the self-harm she has done, and the pressure she is under. From the beginning, we see the harassment she has had from the media, being followed by paparazzi and her life becoming the subject of gossip. But now we see the perfect ideals and standards that they put on her (and all women, if we are honest) about not losing enough weight after giving birth and then more judgment when she quickly loses the weight, causing eating disorders.

This is the kind of meaty story I craved. Why was it only given at the end of the first act? The whole beginning was too much fluff, a totally unconvincing love story between Diana and Charles. But was that the point? I mean, did Charles and Diana even love each other or was it just their duty to their country? Were the crown and all in charge telling him it was time to get married and she just happened to be the girl he was seeing at the time so she was it? That’s what this show is trying to tell you. Do we know this for certain? I’m not sure. But whatever it was, the first act just didn’t work until the end.

Act 2 is a completely different story. Almost as if it was written first and they worked backward. We see Diana, now totally putting on a show. While still married to Charles, the two of them are basically living separate lives, only together for the press. Charles is spending all of his private time with Camilla, as he has been the entire time, and Diana has started spending time with James Hewitt. It seems as though they have both made peace with this. It isn’t until a Diana-Camilla showdown at Camilla’s sister’s birthday party, that things really come to a head. There has been too much fighting, but Diana doesn’t want William and Harry to go through what she went through when her parents separated. But this, we are shown, is the true catalyst for the divorce. Well, that along with the fact that Diana went to Andrew Morton aired all the Windsors’ dirty laundry. Then Charles goes to the press to address his infidelity and Diana wears the lovingly-titled “Fuck You Dress”. A truly wonderful song that has the audience laughing and on her side. If the media is going to be harsh to her in the morning, she may as well look great in her latest photos.

Elizabeth grants the divorce, Diana loses everything but gains her independence. In the 11 o’clock number we see Diana dream about everything she can do now that she is free. She dreams of helping people and going to America once her boys are older. We see her dream of realities she’ll never experience. The show ends rather abruptly in her death, something that will definitely need to be fleshed out more if the show moves on.

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The pacing of the show in the first act is reminiscent of Come From Away, which makes sense as the two share a director. The first act moves rather quickly, leaving next to no room for applause, not that the material garners any. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. Act 2, however, leaves breathing room in the transition from song to the next scene, in which applause is welcome and deserving. Christopher Ashley definitely knows what he is doing, he has a Tony Award for God’s sake. He directs this show so beautifully, giving his actors exactly what they need. He has definitely become a favorite director of mine in the past few years.

 

The costumes, my God, the costumes. William Ivey Long did it again. He recreated some of these looks from the ’90s, namely Diana’s wedding dress and “revenge dress”. There are some signature quick changes, at the end of Act 1 Diana is in a sparkling red dress that gets ripped away into a dazzling white gown. His work is tremendous, but we already knew this.

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Jeanna de Waal as Diana is a true dream to see. She takes us from an innocent, timid, 19-year old assistant kindergarten teacher to a fully grown, bold, and hurt woman. Her voice is one of an angel, and she has such heart.

Roe Hartrampf as Charles makes the audience so conflicted. We are shown him to be a man who doesn’t quite stand up for himself but rather lets the women in his life influence his decisions. While he is a flawed character, Roe has such an understanding of this Charles, playing him perfectly

Erin Davie as Camilla is another conflicting character. Obviously, we want Diana to triumph, but does Camilla not deserve happiness as well. While terribly privileged, she and Charles are drawn as star-crossed lovers. Camilla wants to be happy just as much as Charles and Diana. Still, we see her as a villain, but Davie gives her as much heart as she gives bite.

Judy Kay as Queen Elizabeth is a gem. That’s it, she’s just a gem. Getting to see a true Broadway queen as THE queen was something else.

 

So, I suppose, in conclusion, I truly enjoyed Diana. As a world premier, this was wonderful. Some kinks definitely need to be worked out but there is so much good here. I truly cannot wait to see what this show becomes and I look forward to seeing it again one day on a bigger stage. Is Broadway in the future? I think yes, and I cannot wait.

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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.

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.

What’s Going On with the National Endowment for the Arts and What It Means.

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Lets talk about the National Endowment for the Arts and everything thats been going on with it for the past few weeks.Since Donald Trump has taken office on January 20, 2017, the world has been a bit of a mess. There are reports of Fake News, Alternative Facts, and a whole bunch of Executive Orders. I won’t get into that in this, it doesn’t relate to the Arts right now and until it does, I’ll keep my mouth closed. However, something that has been tossed around recently is the possibility of Trump defunding the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Now, this can all seem a little confusing so the point of this post is to break down exactly what this means.

The Facts:

  • Donald Trump reportedly wants to cut cultural programs
  • Privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (according to the Hill)
  • Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities (according to the Hill)
  • All of this is in order to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years
  • Cultural programs make up 0.02% of Federal Funding (according to the Washington Post)

How an Endowment Works

Because I have twice interned in Development, which is the fundraising side of nonprofit organizations, I know a thing or two about endowments and how exactly nonprofits are funded. I am not an expert by any means, but I believe that I know enough to say something.

Essentially an endowment is a sum of money that sits in a bank that the organization cannot touch (unless circumstances are dire, in which case its seen as a bad thing in the org’s books). While they can’t touch the money itself, while it is in the account, it acquires interest which the organization can touch. Over the years the endowment can be added to which will then allow more money to be made off of it. A lot of nonprofit organizations rely on their endowment and the money they are granted by the National Endowment for the Arts. So, the NEA is pretty dang important.

The National Endowment for the Arts

A little information about the NEA

  • Established by Congress in 1965
  • Independent federal agency
  • Government funding—$148million of the $3.9trillion (Washington post)

“Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more about NEA.”

What Does This Mean?

Trump wants to completely eliminate programs that don’t even equal 4/100000 of a percent each year. Now, I’m not an economist or much of a math person, but I know how to do basic multiplication and division. If you multiply $148 million by the 10 years in which Trump wants to reduce spending, you get $1.48 billion. Divide that by the $10.5 trillion he wants to reduce federal spending by and you get 0.0001409, which is 0.01409%, not even two-hundredths of a percent.

Again, I am not an economist, but these numbers seem to do nothing but hurt the NEA and the organizations that they fund, the communities they help throughout the country.

This is really no surprise, though, is it? The arts have always been the first thing to go when discussing budget cuts because our education system’s ideal is for students attending public schools to be more educated in STEM areas in order to keep up with technology and whatnot globally. Completely understandable, I get it. But public high schools have already eliminated so much of their arts programs in the past 10 years which keeps the students in lower income communities from being exposed to the arts in a hands-on setting. Yes, student matinees put on by local theatre communities but not all schools are able to attend, much less those that have already cut their arts programs. By cutting those programs it makes it nearly impossible for students to have a well rounded education. It further hurts children who are just not cut out for STEM subjects by telling them subconsciously that there is nothing out there for them because they do not provide it in school. This is why we need people who understand the public school system to be the Secretary of Education, not Betsy DeVos who has never attended or been employed at a public school and who thinks that the teachers are overpaid. (PS. my AP Lit teacher was full time at my high school and worked part time at two different colleges just to make ends meet, so thats a load of bull)

If this happens, if Trump does in fact cut the funding and completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, organizations that rely on that funding will have to look for other sources.

What You Can Do

Speak Up!

  • Remember, Donald Trump works for us. Contact your local representatives about all issues that concern you, whether it be the Executive Orders, the “Wall”, or the possibility of cutting the funding to the NEA

Donate what you can!

  • You can go to Arts.gov and donate whatever you can to the National Endowment for the arts. Every little penny makes a difference because even a penny can accumulate interest over the years.

Go see art!

  • Go to the theatre, a museum, symphonies. It does not matter. Take a friend who might normally not be exposed to this sort of culture on a regular basis and introduce them to your world. Research the organization before attending to see if it is a nonprofit, and to reiterate the previous point, donate what you can if you enjoy the work they are doing.

 

Thank you so much for reading. If you have any comments or suggestions, please share them in the comments because I would love to hear what you have to say!

xx Katie

La La Land is a Feminist Film!

As I’m sure a lot of people know, the movie La La Land has been surrounded by a lot of buzz in both conversations and award shows for the past couple of weeks. This is all for good reason, because this movie is like nothing I have ever seen.
Movie musicals are something that seem so rare these days, but when you think back to a lot of the classic early Hollywood movies, and even up to the 1960’s, most of them are musicals: Singin’ in the Rain, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Music Man, The Wizard of Oz, and the list goes on. Seeing a brand new musical set in today’s Los Angeles about passionate people trying to achieve their dreams just simply warms my heart. 
From the get-go I was excited about this movie because of the names attached to it. Not Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, we’ll get back to them, but Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the lyricists. I have been a fan of Dogfight since it premiered Off-Broadway years ago, and from what I’v heard of A Christmas Story and Dear Evan Hansen I knew that at least the songs would be good. I was not disappointed. 
The first number “Another Day of Sun” is such a fantastic song. In my opinion, this song sums up living in Los Angeles and trying to remain hopeful in the pursuit of dreams. I am from the Los Angeles area, I go to school in the city, I have interned in the city, and I am constantly seeing theatre in and around the city. I understand why people want to live here, why they move here. We do have wonderful weather, I mean as I write this it is currently 65 degrees in January which apparently is not the norm for most parts of the country. Los Angeles does have a lot of beautiful parts, the skyline, the beaches, and Disneyland. I love being able to surround myself with culture in museums, art, and theatre, I understand and appreciate how lucky I am to be living here. I think that this first number is so much more impactful for those who are here. We just have to keep doing what we need to do to get to where we want to be. Also, as a side note, this song has basically been on repeat in my car for the past three weeks.
I also really enjoy the way this film was shot. I think that Damien Chazelle is such a wonderful director, especially during the song and dance scenes. They all seem to be single-shot scenes which make the talent of those on screen that much more visible. There are no cutaways to other, more trained dancer’s feet pretending to be Mia and Sebastian, they hold on the action in wide shots and makes it feel that much more like a Broadway dance number. In “Another Day of Sun”  the camera follows dancer to dancer as new people come into shot, and it just feels like we are getting a glimpse at each of these dancer’s personalities. It’s different than other movies and media of today where there are jump cuts to avoid pauses in order to maintain attention spans. Its refreshing. 
The use of block colors in the sets and costumes make the film so beautiful and exciting and aesthetically pleasing to watch for two hours. It makes it so simple and easy, not distracting from the story that is going on. 
Something that seems to be an issue for some people is that they believe that this movie is not feminist. I whole-heartedly disagree. I understand where they are getting it from, a man is teaching a woman about music, telling her what she should do, but there are such feminist aspects to this film. For starters, Mia heard the music from the street, was intrigued by it and entered the restaurant by herself because she liked what she heard. Mia worked the job she had to work in order to be able to surround herself with what she loves and audition to be a part of it all. When Mia realized that she wasn’t getting any parts, she wrote her own part, produced it, and performed it. She was so happy with this decision and even though only a few people showed up, there was “Someone in the Crowd” who saw her work, really enjoyed her storytelling, and brought her in to audition for a role that would change her life and allow her to achieve her dreams. Also, there is nothing anti-feminist with following the advice of a man, she clearly didn’t even think to write a play before he brought it up. Sebastian is nothing but supportive of Mia, he believes in her when she was lost and it doesn’t even cross his mind that her gender could even possibly be a hinderance to success in her career and aspirations. If women following the advice and teachings of men is seen as anti-feminist, then people surely do not understand what feminism truly is. 
This film tells such a phenomenal story of following dreams and learning how to forge your own path. This film shows that what some consider to be a “typical” path might not work for everyone, and that lesson is something that can be applied to anyone who feels a little lost in their career path. I just so happen to be one of those people. 
I love getting to watch people who are so passionate about something, especially creative arts, and seeing them work towards achieving those goals. Watching characters that you can relate to go through situations that are similar to yours and working through their tough times can be so inspiring and helpful that your can get through anything. 
Now, to talk about Ryan and Emma’s performances in this film. Emma Stone starred as Sally Bowles in Cabaret a few years back, so I knew that she had to have some singing and dancing chops. I was so impressed with her work, her dancing seemed so natural that I’m surprised we haven’t seen anything like this from her before. Her singing wasn’t Broadway belting, but the role did not require it and I think that she did such a wonderful job doing what was given to her. I think that Emma Stone is such a wonderful, comedic actress and knowing that she is capable of something like this makes me completely ecstatic for what is to come from this. 
Part of me remembers in the way back of my brain the small fact that Ryan Gosling was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club, a TV show just a little before my time in which the members would sing and dance. I knew he was on this show as a kid, meaning he had to have been able to sing and dance a little as a child, but I think the collective American memory has forgotten this over the past twenty years. Clearly, he has brushed up on his skills and put them to use in this film where he danced gracefully.
Seeing these two perform the way they did in this film warms my heart and makes me so happy. I have a feeling that the silver screen will be seeing a couple more movie musicals in the coming years as an answer to this. In the past few years it seems like the American public has been allowing themselves to be open to musicals on a bigger scale than just Broadway. I mean, part of me is still impressed Smash was created, produced, and aired for two seasons. This and the fact that NBC has been doing live musicals for the past 4 years and now Fox has gotten in on the game. I am so excited to see where this leads for the production of musicals not just on Broadway but on film and television. I am inspired, I am hopeful, and I am loving every minute of it. 

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