Friday, December 30, 2011

Twitter: Fan Mail For the Future

One of the things I love most about live theatre is the access to the actors and actresses. I got my first taste of this when I waited at my first stage door a few years ago. I’d see very few Broadway shows that that point in my life. But I’d hear the rumors of “close encounters” and after seeing the magic that was the musical Next to Normal, I knew I needed to try to see some of the people who performed such magic on stage.

I went to wait at the stage door of the Booth Theatre. I was a “first timer” and didn’t have a Sharpie for getting autographs (a mistake I’ve only made one other time since). The first actor came out the door (Aaron Tveit). I didn’t push my way through and let him get on down the line.

Ignore the face issues. I'd had a long day & all my make-up had worn off! :)
There was a lady standing behind me that could tell I was a tourist and crazy nervous. With my very…pronounced Southern accent, I’m used to getting attention in New York. She told me to push my way up front (there weren’t many people there anyway) so I could get my autographs. I got all the other casts members autographs (save Jennifer Damiano, who didn’t come out that night), and the lady who encouraged me to “get in there” was kind enough to take a picture of me with Alice Ripley. To this day, I appreciate the lady who gave me the courage to do something out of my comfort zone, and to Alice Ripley, who was one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet at a stage door.

That was my first addictive taste of not only being in the same room watching magic happen on stage, but then getting to personally thank the actors for doing what they do. Sure, they get paid for it, but how often do you get to tell an actor or an actress that you appreciate what they do? If they are a television or film actor…probably never. But you can with those who frequent the stages of New York (and other areas of the country).

It’s rare that I don’t “stage door” a Broadway production. The times that I don’t seem to be the shows with the biggest names (i.e. How to Succeed with Daniel Radcliff and Follies with…well, the entire cast). I don’t like to fight the crowds. But shows like Jerusalem offered me the chance to have an actual conversation with John Gallagher Jr (of Spring Awakening and American Idiot fame). American Idiot offered me the chance to talk with some amazing actors and actresses and let them know how much their work meant to me. And I finally got Aaron Tveit’s autograph at the stage door for Catch Me if You Can (truly an amazingly sweet person).

While I love my times at stage door, one of the coolest tools that I have found to communicate with the actors and actresses that I love so much is Twitter. So many people blow it off as silly and non-effective. I will very strongly disagree with anyone on this. While I have truly mixed feelings on tweeting while watching a performance (I plan on writing a little more about this in the near future), I LOVE the access to the stars that I get.

Not everyone tweets. But some do. And I’ve found that theatre performers are fantastic about tweeting fans back. I won’t lie, it started with American Idiot. I began to follow and tweet cast members of the show. But then I found that I could tweet members of other casts and people were tweeting me back! In fact, Lexi Lawson (who I saw on tour in both Rent and In the Heights) has tweeted me back the few times I’ve tweeted her (or mentioned her in a tweet).

In just the past week, I’ve had tweets from a tour cast member of the American Idiot cast and from a cast member of a tour of Spring Awakening I saw a little over a year ago. Sure, they don’t know me. There’s no reason for them to tweet me back or tweet me at all. But knowing that they take the time to do that means something to a little insignificant person like myself. The Idiot cast member even mentioned my tweet, along with the tweets of several other fans, in a blog post he wrote.

Essentially, twitter turns actors into “real people” for the masses. Not that they aren’t real anyway, but it gives the fans access that was previously unattainable by the general public. And while I feel it helps me to feel validated in my thoughts and opinions, I think it also lets the actors and actresses have a sense of connection with their fans and lets them know first-hand that they are touching hearts and lives with the work that they do. And who doesn’t want that kind of validation?

There are some superstar tweeters out there. Wallace Smith (one of American Idiot’s Favorite Sons) is a gem. He tweets back, re-tweets, AND he is continually tweeting uplifting words of wisdom and things to brighten anyone’s day. Kelvin Moon Loh (ensemble member in the American Idiot tour) has been a great person to answer tweets AND he blogs. As I mentioned before, Lexi Lawson has been great about tweeting back and seems to try to answer as many tweets as possible. Sometimes you get lucky. I sent a reply tweet to something Steffi D (former Canadian Idol contestant and cast member of the equity tour of Spring Awakening) the other night and she tweeted me back. Aspen Vincent (swing on the Broadway run of American Idiot) likes to tweet back occasionally and also tweets for her cat, Miss Kate Vincent.

Does twitter changes lives? Probably not. But I think it’s the wave of the future as far as fan-actor connections go. No more fan letters covered in glitter and stickers. Instead, we vlog, blog, and tweet to let our “heros” know what we think of them. That colored, glittered, sticker covered letter I sent to Joey McEntire from New Kids on the Block when I was 8? I have no clue if he ever got it or read it. But knowing that I have a tweet that was read by an actor I admire, and that they then took a couple of seconds to tweet me back…well, that means the world to me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 in Review

This was my first full year of blogging about theatre. I wanted to share a brief "year in review" of things that I blogged about this year. A "cheat sheet" of my blog this year, if you will.

-I successfully blogged about all but three of the shows I saw.

-I made a resolution to see more new shows (something I did okay with).

-I purchased my first ever season tickets (to Cumberland County Playhouse).

-I saw Spring Awakening on tour (for the second time) and had stage seats!!

-I got the horrible (although not shocking) news that American Idiot would be closing on Broadway.

-I saw In the Heights on tour and fell head over heels in love with that beautiful piece of performance art.

-I saw American Idiot on Broadway for the last time.

-I saw an amazing production of Tuesdays With Morrie at Cumberland County Playhouse.

-I saw The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures and Jerusalem and got a healthy reminder of how amazing a straight play can be (this coming from a girl who adores her musicals) while discovering the amazing talents that are Mark Rylance and Stephen Spinella.

-I got to experience the wonderful production of Chicago at Cumberland County Playhouse. Four times.

-I did a guest post about New York for a friend.

-I blogged about my opinion on censorship in theatre.

-I said goodbye to Chicago at CCP.

-I fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Bernadette Peters on stage when I saw Follies in New York.

-I saw Wicked on tour for the second time and took my younger sister with me this time (her first time seeing a professional tour).

-And I said goodbye to a show I'll never get to see (on Broadway at least).

Now, onto 2012. I already have some shows lined up for the new year. American Idiot on tour and a production of God of Carnage in Nashville are up first.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

I've often liked musicals that weren't beloved by the critics. Don't ask me why. I thought Catch Me If You Can was wonderful. I liked the music, the plot line was familiar. The acting was well done. It made me smile. Catchy tunes? I thought so. Sadly, the critics were not fans and that show closed after 166 performances and 32 previews. From the first preview to the final performance, it was less than six months.

A show I would have loved to have seen was Wonderland. I'd been following it (online, of course) for a couple of years. When I found out it was coming to Broadway, I was very excited. Critics slammed it. It closed after 30 previews and 33 performances. It was there less than two months. The worst part? It closed on May 15th, the very same day I got into New York for a week long trip. I never got to see it. My only hope to see it now is if a tour happens, or in regional and/or community theatre.

Up next? Bonnie & Clyde a New Musical (written by the same person who wrote Wonderland). When I first saw clips of the show, I thought to myself, "this is a show that I will want to see!" They followed up by some songs that were released on their website and facebook page. I loved them all. So there are two for two. The clips were good, the music was fantastic (all my opinion, of course). I knew I'd need to make a trip to New York to see this one. Previews started November 4th. The show opened December 1st. Critics slammed it and an official closing announcement was made today that the show would be concluding it's Broadway run on December 30th. Once again: less than two months total. Once again, a show I'll not get to see.

I have a few opinions about critics AND producers when it comes to Broadway shows. I understand that the point of a Broadway show is to make money. I'm not naive. I get it. I understand that critics review shows for a living. That's their job. They are paid for their opinion. I get that. Once again, I'm not stupid. BUT there are some things that don't make a whole lot of sense to me.

First: critics are not the be all end all of theatre. Sure, they know their stuff. It's why they get paid to do what they do. But I believe that some critics look for things to pick on. Not every Broadway show looks the same. Not every show sounds the same. Not every show is meant for the same audience. I'd rarely take the same people to a showing of RENT or American Idiot as I would a showing of Oklahoma! or Phantom of the Opera (yes, I'm aware that only one of these shows is currently open on Broadway). My point: sometimes critics let their opinions of what they like personally, cloud their view of how well a show is written, directed, staged, etc. Just because you don't like the show Mr. (or Ms.) Critic, doesn't mean someone won't like it.

Critiques should be non-biased. They should look at the quality of the show. They should look at the quality of the talent. They should look at quality of the direction. And they should write about it. Even when I am not a fan of a show, I try to bring out the things about the show that I did like. I try my best to let it be known that while I may not like a story, I am doing my best to look at the show in as unbiased way as possible.

Secondly, producers need to give shows a chance. I understand that money is an issue. But word of mouth is a powerful thing. An audience fan base is an amazing thing. Social media is an amazing thing. And sometimes things just take a little while to catch on. Would Wonderland or Bonnie & Clyde have ever made a turn around? I can't say for sure. But I know the online support for Bonnie & Clyde has been incredible since it was first rumored that the show would be closing. A vast majority of audience goers that I have seen online were saying that they loved the show.

My opinion on that? It is a really crappy time to open a show. Right before Christmas. In an economy like this. Not a smart move. I'm seeing very few shows and doing very little for myself right now. All of my extra money is going toward buying Christmas presents. Period. I think if producers had given Bonnie & Clyde a chance to take off after the holidays, this might be a very different story. But we won't ever know for sure.

All in all, I think critics are too quick to judge a show based on their personal likes and dislikes and producers are too quick to close a show that isn't earning money right away. Either way, let's just hope the world will remember Bonnie & Clyde. Because I don't see any miracles happening to keep the show open. The only positive out of the whole deal is that lead Jeremy Jordan will be free to reprise his role in Disney's Newsies when it makes it's journey to Broadway.

Do you think critics are unjust in their reviews at times? Do you think producers are too quick to pull the plug?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cumberland County Playhouse 2012 Season

The 2012 season at the Cumberland County Playhouse has recently been announced. If you haven't heard about it, or you haven't received your Spotlight newsletter, here is a rundown of what to expect this year:

Driving Miss Daisy (Adventure) January 21 - April 14
The Sound of Music (Mainstage) February 10 - April 6
The Moving of Lilla Barton (Adventure) March 1 - May 25
All Shook Up (Mainstage) March 16 - May 12
Cowboys (Mainstage) April 13 - June 15
Wonderland (Mainstage) April 26 - 28
Smoke On The Mountain (Adventure) May 10 - August 4
Bob Gunton in Walking On Water (Mainstage) May 18 - June 16
See Rock City (Adventure) May 31 - September 1
The Music Man (Mainstage) June 22 - August 17
Backwards In High Heels (Mainstage) July 27 - November 2
TBA - August 23 - September 21
TBA - September 27 - November 9
Five Guys Named Moe (Adventure) September 7 - October 26
Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Mainstage) November 16 - December 23
A Sanders Family Christmas (Adventure) November 1 - December 22

It looks to be an interesting season coming up. My favorite musical of all time is up (Sound of Music!), along with a couple I've been interested to see for a while now (Driving Miss Daisy, and See Rock City). Also a little note: after doing some amazing research on the productions I wasn't as familiar with, I am excited for this coming year, including Bob Gunton in Walking on Water (if you didn't know, Mr. Gunton has been in several Broadway productions, including playing Juan Peron in the original Evita, and playing Sweeny Todd in the 1989-90 revival, both of which earned him Tony nominations).

You can read the release on's Nashville page HERE.

If you're interested in purchasing season tickets, you can call the Cumberland County Playhouse at 931-484-5000. Individual tickets can be purchased by calling or by visiting the website.

Let me know what you're most excited for this season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Insanity Starts With This:

I read an article on Yahoo Shine just a few minutes ago. It has caused me such distress that I had to write about it, even though I should be in bed since I have to work tomorrow. The title of the article was enough to make me cringe:

The article goes on to state how a new theatre is being built in Bellevue, Washington that intends to allow texting and tweeting DURING PERFORMANCES!

This is a quote directly from the article:

John Haynes, the CEO of Tateuchi Center, who is overseeing its design and construction, was given the option of putting a cell phone signal block in the performance space. He thought, "That is exactly the wrong direction to go in." For a tech-savvy audience to feel at home at an arts center, Haynes decided to not just let Wi-Fi into the space but also to allow tweeting and texting during live performances.

I am so appalled by this article that I am not sure how to put it into words, but I plan on trying. I am what I consider a young person. Even if someone might feel that I am too old to be considered "young," but I can say that I do consider myself fairly tech savvy. I maintain two active blogs, two active twitter accounts, I have facebook, I email, I ditched MySpace when it became "uncool," I text more than I talk on the phone.

But I DO NOT think that I can't go an hour without texting or tweeting. When I attend a show I tend to check my phone (email, texts, tweets, fb updates) right before the show starts and then again at intermission. I'm okay with that. In fact, I've seen people attempt to text (or whatever) during a show and I find it distracting. If lights going on and off in the audience during a performance if distracting to me, I can only imagine how annoying and distracting it could be to a performer.

What are we saying if we can't be without contact for an hour (two at most)? And what are you missing while you're looking at your phone? You're missing subtle facial expressions and amazing choreography. You're missing actions that "speak" more than the actual spoken words can convey. And you are saying that the actors and actresses on stage are not important enough for you to give them your undivided attention.

Have we reached the end of "please turn off all cell phones, beepers, and other electrical/noise making devices"? I hope not. Because I can tell you it would ruin my experience each and every time I tried to attend a show. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

My alma mater, Tennessee Technological University, is currently showing their fall musical. This year’s choice happened to be The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. One of the most hilarious (and slightly ironic) things about TTU doing this show is that the college in located in Putnam County in Tennessee. This musical seems to have become wildly popular in community and regional theatres. I’d heard the cast recording a few times and I had a basic idea of what the show was about, so I was excited to get to see a production of it.

A cast of six “kids” play the spellers in the bee. Leaf Coneybear, played by Richard McMahon, is as crazy as his name sounds. Leaf is a homeschooled student who makes his own clothes (his costume consisted of some crazy articles of clothing, including a beach towel and a crash helmet) and finished in 3rd place in his last spelling bee. He only made it to the county bee by default when the winner and second runner up had to attend the same bat mitzvah.

William Barfee, played with great hilarity by Josh Rapp, was a “tragedy” at the previous bee, being disqualified when he succumbed to a peanut allergy. Chip Tolentino, played by Adam Combs, was the previous year’s winner. Marcy Park, played by Lisa Shin, is a perfectionist at heart, and ready to take on anyone. Played by Jessie Nance, Olive Ostrovsky is a sweet girl whose parents are mostly absent from her life and she had quite the self-esteem problem.

Logainne Schwartzandgrubeniere was played by Tori Cannon. Logainne is the youngest speller in the bee, and suffers from quite the adorable lisp. She is also child of two dads (which is where her name Schwartz and Grubeniere becomes Schwartzandgrubeniere) that is being held to incredibly high standards for winning (pushy parents anyone?). Ms. Cannon did a great job despite being surrounded by actors much older than her.

Heading up the spelling bee is former bee winner Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Mary Pashley. Every time I see Mary Pashley, I can’t wait to see her again. Her voice is beautiful and she is very active in the theatre community in Putnam County. The best part about Ms. Pashley is that she is a professor of finance at Tennessee Tech, which totally blows my theory of artsy people (myself included) having zero ability in math and science. Assisting Rona Lisa Perretti in her duties are Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Phil Horn and Mitch Mahoney (who is doing her community service) played by the lovely Nia Kerlegan.

This show was hilarious. Since there are audience volunteer spellers, it seems you never know what’s going to happen. It was a small cast, which was great for the Backdoor Playhouse, and the costuming was adorable. I won’t ruin the story for you by telling you who wins the bee. Or by telling you what happens to each of the spellers. I will suggest you go see this show, which plays through November 12th.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fiddler on the Roof

A beautiful production of Fiddler on the Roof is currently playing at Cumberland County Playhouse. Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a Jewish family in the early 1900s in Russia. Tevye, played by Jim Crabtree, and his wife Golde, played by Carol Irvin, have five daughters. They are a poor family and depend on village matchmaker Yente, played by Weslie Webster, to help them find good men for their daughters to marry since they have nothing to offer for dowry.

As the three oldest of their children reach an age at which they should be marrying, Tevye has to make some serious decisions on how to approach a turbulent and changing time in his country. Tzeitel, played by Emily Wood, wishes to marry for love, instead of money and security. Hodel, played by Lindy Pendzick, finds love with an outsider, come to the village to teach. Both of these matches are grudgingly approved by Tevye, but when his middle child Chava, played by Ali Gritz, falls in love with a man who is not Jewish and who is a Russian soldier, Tevye is devastated.

Meanwhile, unrest in the area is causing many Jewish people to be run out of their homes by the Russian government. The local constable, played by John Fionte, is considered by and considers Tevye a friend, but in the end follows orders that cause Tevye and his family, along with all the other Jewish families in the village of Anatevka, to be forced from the area.

The opening song of the show was probably my favorite ensemble number. “Tradition” is one of the songs that I remember from the few times I saw the movie. It was a great performance, with the entire cast being on stage (at times looking a little crowded for the small CCP stage). The choreography for this number was amazing, considering the number of people involved and the song itself sets up the time, place, and ideals of this little village of Anatevka.

One of the most famous songs from the show (at least the one I think is most recognizable), is Tevye’s song “If I Were a Rich Man.” The song is full of humor and Jim Crabtree did a great job with bringing in the laughs during this number (and throughout the rest of the show). His constant conversations with God were amusing and completely understandable from his viewpoint.

Perhaps the most touching and beautifully choreographed part of the show is “Chava Ballet.” Ali Gritz and Austin Price do a lovely job with this ballet piece. Seeing the pain and heartbreak that Chava goes through after her separation from her father, and in turn, seeing Teyve’s heartbreak and disappointment with his daughter’s decisions was enough that I heard more than one person’s sniffles around me (and some of them might even have been my own).

This show was nothing less than another wonderful production put on by the Cumberland County Playhouse. They never seem to fail in talent, professionalism, and flat out great shows. So how do you write about a show that was well sung, well-acted, and well performed…but that you still don’t really care for? I always hate to speak negatively of a show. So my disclaimer for this post is that anything negative about this show is simply due to the fact that I don’t really care for Fiddler on the Roof. The story and the music just never really seemed to be my cup of tea. I never really liked the movie and hadn’t watched it in years, so when I saw the Cumberland County Playhouse version this weekend, I was simply reminded WHY I never watch the movie (it kind of depresses me).

I can honestly recommend that you see this show, especially if you are a fan of Fiddler on the Roof. I’ll also say that if I have to watch it, I was blessed to see this fantastic production at the Cumberland County Playhouse. If you’re a fan (or think you might be), you can still see Fiddler on the Roof at CCP through December 18th. You can call the box office at 931-484-5000 for tickets, or visit their website HERE to purchase tickets online.

Go see it and let me know what you thought. Or if you’ve seen another production of Fiddler (or are simply a fan of the movie) and would like to debate *cough*argue*cough* with me about all the great things about the show, please comment (respectfully please). I’d love to hear what other people think about the show (this production or others).

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

This weekend I was blessed to get to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Cumberland County Playhouse. It’s a little early for me, considering I usually try to put off all Christmas themed things until after Thanksgiving, but this show was so wonderful that I’m running around with Christmas carols stuck in my head today…and I’m perfectly okay with that.

One of the best things about the Cumberland County Playhouse is their education department. They have a wonderful department and do several shows a year for the children. Most of these shows they double or triple cast to let as many children as possible have roles. I admire CCP for allowing the children to get the taste of being in theatre. The have a “red,” “blue,” and “green” cast for this show. I sought out the “green” cast since a classmate of my younger sister was in the “green” cast.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is what I like to call a play with music rather than a musical. Instead of setting a story to music, this show uses Christmas music at the beginning to set the mood and at the end during the Christmas pageant the kids put on. Throughout the rest of the show there is little to no music at all. Directed by Weslie Webster, this show is perfect thing to get the Christmas spirit going.

The show begins with the entire cast performing several Christmas carols. Being the huge sap that I am, I cried a little. Christmas music makes me cry regularly, and then add to that around 40 people (most of them children) all singing together…yeah, bring on the waterworks.

Bob and Grace Bradley, and their children Beth and Charlie, begin the actual story part of the show arguing about the church Christmas pageant. Grace is insisting that Beth and Charlie be in the show, and that Bob attend, although all of them are fighting it. Bob, played by Greg Pendzick, prefers to stay at home in his bathrobe watching football. Beth and Charlie, played by Molly McKinney and Malachi Banegas, prefer to avoid their overbearing pageant director Mrs. Armstrong, played by Carol Irving.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Armstrong is sidelined by a broken leg and Grace, played by Lindy Pendzick, is roped into directing this year’s Christmas pageant. However, local hoodlum children, the Herdmans, find out that there are refreshments at church and suddenly start to show up. These local bully children have all of the children (and most of the adults) in the neighborhood terrified of them.

The Herdmans have a classically “bad” home life. They talk freely about welfare and child protective services being around. They fight each other, bully the other children, and smoke cigars. Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Molly, and Gladys Herdman certainly add flavor to the practices. And through their bullying tactics, Ralph and Imogene, played by Chaz Sanders and Allie Crain, end up filling the roles of Joseph and Mary in the pageant. Gladys, played perfectly by Emery Smith, ends up being the Angel of the Lord and adds a little….flair to the role. The other Herdman children, Leroy, Claude and Molly, played by Isaiah Banegas, Jacoby Copeland, and Perrianna Evans, become Wise Men.

Needless to say, disaster after disaster happen, right up to the end, including the fire department being called during the final dress rehearsal. In the end, of course, there are some touching moments that show that the Herdman children may have actually been paying attention, and the members of the church congregation learn a lesson about loving people and teaching kindness. While the pageant doesn’t go exactly as planned, the lesson is there, and even more of a special lesson is learned by the congregation by watching the Herdman children learn their lesson.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is heartwarming from start to finish, and done very well. The children are adorable and the story is one to help bring in the season. This is a great show for families and for kids. It is currently playing at Cumberland County Playhouse through December 17th. You can purchase tickets by calling 931-484-5000 or by visiting the WEBSITE.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Broadway World Nashville Awards Voting

This year's BroadwayWorld Nashville nominees are up for awards voting. There is a Nashville category and a Tennessee category. This is a great chance for theatres and actors to be recognized for the work they do. Please take a few minutes to go vote. I voted only in the Tennessee category since I didn't see any shows in Nashville (that weren't tours) last year. Even so, it only took about 10 minutes to get through the voting.

So get to it and support your local theatre!

Remember there are two categories: Tennessee and Nashville.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Secretly Curious

As much as I love theatre, I don't really want to work in theatre. I did some school plays (that weren't very good) in high school and always did drama in my church, but after I got to college, a stagecraft class and one acting class was enough to convince me that I'm not an actor. I'm not a singer. And I'm not a dancer. And I also love WATCHING shows more than I love anything else.

But I won't lie...even as a "grown-up," I sometimes still have that little girl fantasy of being on stage. There is a small (and I do mean SMALL) community theatre about 45 minutes from my house that is holding auditions for a Christmas show to take place in the first part of December. I read the audition post and it crossed my mind to actually do it.

It was fleeting, but there it was. Luckily, there wasn't much to debate; even if I'd decided I'd like to do it, the weekend of the show conflicts with some other things I have going on. But it doesn't stop me from having that brief thought.

I know that it would be stressful and I wouldn't enjoy being in it nearly as much as I would watching it, so I wouldn't do it. But that little girl is still inside me sometimes, telling me to go for it.
Two conflicting sides to myself. I think I'm just lucky enough to know that I'd be more unhappy if I chose to participate instead of observe.

Anyone else have secret thoughts of fame? :) Share your story with me!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Truth...via Cartoon

I've written before about my opinions on the lack of originality in theatre and the fact that I believe it starts in our education system. I don't speak lightly about this. I have a degree in education and I have taught school (though I don't anymore). I saw this cartoon shared the other day on Facebook and felt that it sums up everything that I believe about our education system right now.

Be sure you look at what's out that window!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Wicked is one of those “modern classics” that everyone talks about. Even people who don’t know theatre know about Wicked. You can debate all day long the quality of the writing or the music, but it’s a show that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s so popular that there are NEVER discounts for tickets to see it in New York. On top of no discounts, tickets are ridiculously expensive. Wicked is the show that isn’t in any danger of closing. Because of this, I have never actually seen Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. I have been inside the lobby once, and I can only imagine how amazing it is to see on stage there. However, due to my budgetary constraints, I’ve never purchased actual tickets to see the show there.

In 2009 Wicked came to Nashville on tour. This was the first time I had ever seen the show, even though the cast recording had become a staple in my house. I paid an ungodly amount of money for orchestra seats and went expecting to be blown away. I was.

I am always looking for a deal, but when I heard that Wicked was returning to Nashville this year, I had to get tickets. Since I saw the show the first time, I’ve wanted to take my younger sister. I knew she’d love it and I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see Wicked a second time. When I was researching ticket prices due to the different prices for different show times (for example, mid-week performances are often slightly cheaper than a weekend performance) I discovered that Nashville was having a random Thursday matinee. When I checked on the price, I discovered it drastically cheaper than the weekend shows. By drastically, I’m talking around 40% cheaper. I bought them immediately.

This tour of Wicked was just as fantastic as I remember the other one being. For those of you who don’t know the story of Wicked, their tag line says “So much happened before Dorothy dropped in.” Basically, this is the “true” story of the witches of Oz. It focuses on Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West (whose name, we learn, is Elphaba). These polar opposite girls meet as young people In finishing school and despite their initial misgivings, become good friends.

As the story progresses, you discover how Elphaba becomes “wicked” and how Glinda manages to become Glinda the Good. Along with that, you learn all about the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the flying monkeys, and how the views of the masses can often be clouded by the way that something is portrayed by those in positions of power.

For this tour, Glinda was played by Tiffany Haas. Her Glinda was chipper, hyper and generally lovable, as are most Glindas, but Haas added a level of depth that I didn’t see in the last Glinda I saw. Haas took the time to let you know that she wasn’t all air and bubbles in her head, but was simply trying to keep things in her world in the neat, orderly fashion to which she was accustomed. I loved her interpretation of “Popular.” But her moment of heartfelt pain was the reprise of “I’m Not that Girl.”

Anne Brummel is cast in this tour cast as Elphaba, but I saw Christine Dwyer in her place. Ms. Dwyer was spectacular. I’ve always felt a connection to Elphaba, and I was overjoyed to see Dwyer’s interpretation of one of my favorite characters. Of course, with any Elphaba, her shining moment was “Defying Gravity,” but she was such a likable Elphaba, that it’s hard to pick one moment of her performance that was the best. Vocally, she was superb, and her chemistry with Haas was fantastic. I will say that both times I’ve seen Wicked, I’ve been left physically shaking from the adrenaline that “Defying Gravity” sends through my system (right before intermission, of course).

One of my favorite characters this show was Nessarose. Better known to some of you as the Wicked Witch of the East. Nessarose was played with great gusto by Emily Ferranti. I love her ability to transform Nessarose from the slightly outcast younger sister of Elphaba, to the sad, desperate character that ends up living on in infamy as the Wicked Witch of the East. Nessarose is so desperate to find love that she risks, and loses, everything she loves for someone who doesn’t love her back.

Playing Fiyero, the love interest of both Glinda and Elphaba, Michael McCorry Rose was in for David Nathan Perlow. When Michael McCorry Rose first came out on stage, in Fiyero’s infamous “Dancing Through Life” number, I was a little worried. I thought it was a little shaky (not vocally), but he turned it around quickly. It was a quick change to a confidant, slightly cocky, Fiyero that took over. And I loved seeing the relationship develop between Fiyero and Glinda and Fiyero and Elphaba.

Other notable cast members were Madame Morrible, school matron, and eventually press secretary to the Wizard, played with cunning and spectacular evil by Jody Gelb, and the Wizard himself, played with great matter of fact attitude by Don Amendolia. Gelb and Amendolia made a great team as Madame Morrible and the Wizard on their quest to “keep the peace” and essentially control the citizens of Oz.

The music, as always, was so beautifully written (and performed) that you are sucked in from the first number and you are rooting for both Glinda and Elphaba throughout the entire show. Costuming is top notch (and personally, if you can sit as close as possible, to see the details, you should), and the book is snappy and full of comedy. There are lines in the show that still pop in my head from time to time at random moments (that’s a sure sign that you’ve got a good show on your hands).

Because this story is written so well, it can make perfect sense to a child and teach them about being different, standing up for what you believe in, and friendship, while having a deeper meaning to an adult, showing social injustice, media portrayal, and the way that those who see issues often just sit by and let them happen to avoid causing problems for themselves.

There are so many little things about this show that can touch almost any person. I’d advise almost anyone to go see it. Especially if you have a friend who isn’t exactly a “theatre person.” This show could make almost anyone a fan of theatre. You can still catch Wicked on its Nashville tour stop through November 6th. You can get tickets on the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s website, or by calling the box office at 615-782-4040. And if you are in the area, you can even “lotto” this show. Basically, you show up 2 ½ hour before the show and put your name in. Two hours before, they draw names for $25 orchestra seats. You risk not getting seats if you do this, but if you’re feeling lucky, it’s worth a shot (let me know if you win!).

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Last weekend I was blessed to get to make a very busy, very crazy trip to New York. I was there from Thursday through Saturday, but due to time constraints (and to budget restraints as well) I was only able to see one show. Asking a person who loves theatre as much as I do to pick only ONE show to see in New York is like asking a book lover to pick one book to read for the rest of their lives.

Needless to say, my decision was difficult. There are so many shows that I want to see right now. It helped a little because this seems to be the time of year right after many shows have closed and newer shows haven’t quite opened yet. But there was still the new production of Rent, off-Broadway, Anything Goes (which I’ve been trying to see since it opened), a revival of Godspell (which started previews the Thursday I got into town), and Follies.

When I was a little kid, I loved the movie Annie. With a crazy amount of love. What other child actually knows who Bernadette Peters is? And Carol Burnett? I remember my mom telling me who they were. But the names (at the time) didn’t mean much to me outside of the “Annie” bubble. But since that time I’ve always wanted to see Bernadette Peters on stage. When I found out she was in the Kennedy Center’s production of Follies, I tried to go. I have friends in the area, but time and money got in the way and the chance slipped through my fingers.

But then came the Broadway transfer. It gave me another chance. Out of all of the shows that I had a chance to see in New York on this trip, Follies was the one most likely to close before I could get back to the city. So Follies and Ms. Bernadette ended up being my choice. And I was so glad it was.

There’s not much like a good Sondheim musical. It’s classic. Not always the best thing to take a first timer to see (which I did this trip), but a good, solid musical that makes you feel things.

I’d never seen a show in the Marquis Theatre. Everything I’ve ever wanted to see there closed before I could get back up there. But I have to say, what they had done with the inside of the Marquis was pretty cool. Because Follies takes place in the Weismann Theater, a theatre that is about to be torn down, the inside of the Marquis theater’s walls and ceiling has been draped in brown material. The edge of the stage is uneven, giving it a broken down, old look and feel. Basically, the Marquis went from being what it was, to being the Weismann in all its dilapidated glory.

Set in 1971, the basis is of the story is that an old theatre is getting ready to be destroyed and there is a party of sorts, more like a reunion, of the girls who were in the Follies. The show takes you back and forth between 1971 and the 40s, when best friends Phyllis and Sally were in the follies and dating their future husbands Ben and Buddy.

Surrounded by a huge cast crammed full of talent, Bernadette Peters as Sally and Jan Maxwell as Phyllis, shine brightly. As young girls, Phyllis and Bernadette are on top of their game. They’re beautiful, popular, and have the attention of Ben, played by Ron Raines and Buddy, played by Danny Burnstein. Problems come when Ben begins to play with the affections of both girls, and Sally falls hard for her best friend’s boy. Decisions are made, and in 1971 you see the crumbling façade of an extremely unhappy Sally, married to an equally unhappy Buddy. Sally, still wishing for the past, and Buddy, still in love with his wife, who loves another man. Add to that the unstable marriage of Phyllis and Ben and you have a recipe for disaster.

Jan Maxwell’s performance of “Could I Leave You?” channels all the pain and anger that Phyllis could possibly feel and throws it back at the audience in magnificent fashion. Even from the Mezzanine I could feel her pain and anger radiating through the theatre. Bernadette Peters’ performance of “Losing My Mind” left me losing my composure and shedding tears for her pain and for that pain that I know most women have felt (including me) at some point in their lives.

Because the show slips back and forth in time, you see the beginning and, in a way, the end of the story that has spanned decades. You also see where their other girls who worked in the Follies have ended up. Each story has its regrets and its glories. Each girl turned woman has a need to revel in past glories, and come to terms with their current life.

One shining performance was Elaine Paige as folly girl turned movie star, Carlotta. Her performance of “I’m Still Here” was a show stopper for me. Also making a huge impression on me was Hattie, played by Jayne Houdyshell, and her performance of “Broadway Baby.” That moment in the show was one that brought a huge smile to my face. Even a week later, I catch myself humming along to that tune, playing in my head. Terri White’s Stella was also amazing and the performance of “Who’s That Woman” was one of the best ensemble performances of the entire show.

Each character in the show has a “young” version that we see, like ghosts of the Weismann Theater. Sometimes they simply haunt the upper levels of the stage. Other times, they mirror the women that those girls have become, showing that even as time pass and people change, you are inevitably connected to your youth.

As with most Sondheim musicals I have seen, there isn’t always a happy ending…or at least not your traditional happy ending. But it’s a show that leaves you with your own thoughts about your past, your present, your future and the way that simple decisions can have longstanding effects on your life and the lives of those around you.

*All videos taken from the Follies website*

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saying Goodbye

I can only imagine what it's like for an actor, director, or stage hand to say goodbye to a show they've worked so hard on. Where you've made friends, gotten comfortable, and put so much of yourself into a role. From all the tears I often see at closings (either in person or on YouTube clips), I think I might have somewhat of an idea.

The last show that I was super attached to was (of course) American Idiot. Even though it wasn't closing, the last time I saw the show I sobbed through the last 20 minutes. Saying goodbye is hard when you love something so much.

Somehow over this year I've become extremely attached to Chicago at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I think it started last year when they released the shows for 2011. I had always wanted to see Chicago and the fact that CCP was putting on the production played a major role in my buying season tickets this year.

Of course, it didn't hurt matters any that I got to know the director of this production of Chicago. John Fionte helped me out in my blogging endeavors by letting me interview him, sending me pictures of some of the set pieces, and sending me the cast list. Also, the YouTube page of CCP posted some great videos interviewing the cast and previewing the music before the show every opened. I blogged about those HERE and HERE. And then of course I saw the show. I posted about seeing it the first time. But then I saw it three other times.

Last night was closing and the last night that I saw the show. There have been some cast changes along the way. The original Billy Flynn, Britt Hancock, left to go on tour with Young Frankenstein. After he left, Jason Ross took over the role of Billy. Last night was the first time I'd seen Jason play the role. Mr. Ross was, of course, wonderful. He always is.

But the most amazing thing about closing night of Chicago was the emotion and excitement that I saw. The audience was fantastic. They were yelling, screaming (okay, I might have been doing a little of that myself) and cheering all through the show. The actors were giving 200%, and you could tell they were giving it everything they had plus, just because it was closing.

Sometimes taking a risk is a good thing. Chicago was a risk for the Playhouse. It's out of their typical "comfort zone." But it was by far one of the best productions I've seen there and from what I saw from the audience, it was appreciated and totally worth the risk.

Saying goodbye to Chicago, for me, was kind of sad. It's like I've lost a child, or a pet. I've been thinking about, blogging about, and seeing Chicago for nearly a year now. Heck, that's longer than my last relationship! But, I know that the Playhouse must move on, open new shows and continue to give us wonderful works of art.

Closing Curtain at Chicago: Picture courtesy of Kyle Guth

As a last note, I hope that the Cumberland County Playhouse continues to take risks. Because if they can pull off such a wonderful production of Chicago, I think almost anything is possible.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Friday night was opening night for Dreamgirls at Cumberland County Playhouse. The story of the rise and fall of a 60’s era girl group, it’s another “big” production for CCP this year. I made my way down at the last minute, without a ticket, hoping that I could get in. I was able to. And in fact, I ended up sitting in the first row. A little hard on the neck at times, but a good view, nonetheless.

The original Broadway production opened in 1981 and won 6 Tony Awards in 1982. The 2006 movie starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson won 2 Oscars. Obviously, due to my age, I never saw the Broadway production. And due to my location, I had never seen a staged production of the show at all. But I enjoyed the movie and was looking forward to seeing what the Playhouse could do with such a famous show.

Much of the set are the same pieces as used in Chicago, with enough changes to make it work, including see through walls that allowed the audience to feel the difference between backstage and onstage settings for the actors. Costuming was amazing. Since the show spans a couple of decades, it was interesting to see the change in the costuming from the start of the show to the end. One thing that was very easy to notice (thanks to my front row seat) was the plethora of AMAZING shoes. Oh the glitter.

During the show the setting was often projected in words on the back of the stage. At first it was a little strange to me. It almost didn’t feel right. But the further along the show went, the more thankful I was for it since the show moves at an incredibly fast rate and covers two decades in the span of a few hours.

The Dreamettes are three girls looking for fame by joining a talent contest at the Apollo in New York. Instead of winning the talent contest, Effie, Lorrelle and Deena end up being “discovered” by questionable manager Curtis Taylor Jr who starts then singing back up for the famous James (Jimmy) Thunder Early. Curtis immediately woos Effie sensing that she is the key to getting the group to sign on with him and Lorrelle winds up in a relationship with the very married and very…crazy Jimmy Early.

From the start of the show, Effie, played by Lar’Juanete William (previously seen at CCP as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray) is nearly impossible to like. She’s rude, self-centered, and does almost nothing other than complain. It made it hard to make a connection with the character (though I’m not sure if that was the way the show was written or the way Ms. William’s chose to portray Effie). In fact, the show stopping number “And I Am Telling You” that is done right before intermission…well, it didn’t really stop the show for me. Effie has just been broken up with by her boyfriend/manager and kicked out of the group she helped to start…yet I didn’t feel much for her, other than thinking that she kind of brought it on herself.

However, Ms. Williams totally bought the character of Effie back around in the second act. Her shining moment was “I Am Changing.” It marked the first point in the show that I actually cared about Effie and wanted to see Effie succeed.

Curtis Taylor Jr was played by Keith McCoy. His whole demeanor was perfect for the role. He was rough, mean at times, and totally driven. Curtis Taylor Jr would do whatever it took to see “his” group succeed, no matter the cost to the people around him or any other innocent bystanders.

Deena, played by LaKeta Booker (who was also in Hairspray at CCP as Little Inez). Deena does what she’s told, and while she gets frustrated with Effie before the group split, you can tell that she doesn’t do anything simply to be mean. A fact made apparent in the second act when Curtis releases a song by the Dreams that Effie has recorded as a solo artist. Deena is appalled and tells both Curtis, and eventually Effie that.

There was an amazing supporting cast, as always. It was a large show, having almost 30 cast members. The shining group numbers of the show were “Steppin’ To the Bad Side” in act one and “One Night Only Disco” in the second act. My ensemble member of the show (I always seem to have one that catches my attention) was Donald Frison. He played several roles in the show and is an amazing dancer.

The star of the entire show, however, was Charles Lattimore. Lattimore played the role of Jimmy Early and was hilarious from start to finish. You could feel the audience getting engaged in Jimmy and investing themselves in the show anytime he was on stage.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie, expect a different feel. But you can also expect the staples of the Cumberland County Playhouse of great group numbers, outstanding actors and all the professionalism of a New York stage. Dreamgirls is only playing through October 14th, and on a very limited schedule, so be sure to catch it soon!

Also, for your enjoyment, a video trailer from CCP's YouTube site!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This Should Be On Every Theatre's Website

I've written about Etiquette before. Yet continually I have to deal with people who don't seem to understand the basics of the whole concept. Nothing proves this more than the website of The Fox Theatre in Atlanta. They have a whole page dedicated to etiquette. I'm reposting here. It's so comprehensive and GOOD that I think every theatre should have this on the website. Just a side note: I think it's really sad that ANY theatre should have to have this on the website.

1. Arrive early. If you are late, you may be held out or reseated until an appropriate time for you to get to your assigned seat. People who arrive late disturb the performers on stage and audience members. It is best to arrive about 30 minutes early so that you have time to purchase concessions, find your seat, and read the program before the show starts.

2. Take care of personal needs (drinks of water or restroom) because you should not leave your seat until the intermission or until the performance ends.

3. Please sit in the seat you are assigned so you do not cause confusion for other audience members.

4. Please silence or turn off all electronic devices, including cell phones, beepers, and watch alarms. You’ll be embarrassed if it goes off in the middle of a tense moment of the show and it will break the mood for everyone. We encourage you to share your experience at the Fox via social media, but please refrain from doing so or texting during performances; the glow from your device is distracting.

5. Most shows do not allow photography of any kind. Flash photography inside the theatre is never allowed as it is a distraction to those around you and a danger to the performers.

6. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.

7. The sound system for each show is provided by the touring production. Unfortunately, many variables exist that may occasionally hinder sound quality. Please let an usher know if you are having trouble hearing. Adjustments may be able to be made or an assisted listening device can be provided.

8. Dear Lovebirds, when you lean your heads together, you block the view of the people behind you. Please consider the people that will be seated behind you when choosing whether or not to wear a hat or what hair style you choose.

9. Please refrain from talking, humming, or singing along with the show, except when encouraged to do so by the artist or show.

10. Please wait for an appropriate moment to dig something out of your pocket or bag.

11. Go easy with the perfume and cologne, many people are highly allergic.

12. If you need assistance during the show, please go to your nearest volunteer usher. If additional assistance is needed the usher will get the appropriate person to further help you.

13. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky, but leaving while the show is in progress or before the actors have taken their final bows is discourteous. Wait until it is over and then exit with the rest of the audience.

14. Outside food and beverage is not allowed in the Fox Theatre. Special exceptions will be made on a case by case basis.

15. Just be courteous and everyone will enjoy the show.

Children and Live Theatre

Attending a live theatre performance can be a magical and memorable experience for even young children. Done well, you will be planting the seeds of appreciation in a young patron for a love of live theatre. Done poorly, you can create an awful experience for your child and the people seated around you.

First, take time to select the proper show for your child to see. It would be unfair to ask your child to behave their best if you have selected a show that would bore them or that they do not understand. By order of the Fire Marshall, every child who attends, regardless of age, must have their own ticket. In some cases it might be cheaper to hire a babysitter and make it a date night instead. Infants should always be left at home, as there's no distraction quite like a crying baby.

Here are some general guidelines that should be mentioned prior to attending a live performance to prepare your child to present the proper behavior everyone will be expecting from him or her:

•They will be expected to be quiet, sit still in their own chair, and not disturb others around them by talking or fidgeting.
•They will need to keep their feet on the floor, not on the seats around them. They should not kick the chair in front of them or stand during the performance.   
•They should not leave the theatre except during intermission and only with their parent(s) or guardian.
•They should use the restroom before the performance or during intermission and only with their parent(s) or guardian.
•They may applaud when appropriate.

Also mention to your children that the theatre will be dark at times and sudden bursts of sounds may happen.

If your child becomes restless, frightened, or very loud, please take them to the lobby. Please remember that our lobby is not sound proof and loud noise will travel into the theatre. You may always ask an usher to reseat you towards the back of the theatre/balcony.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Find a Show

So is one of my favorite sites dedicated to theatre. For a while they have had a tool on the site that you could put in what is important to you in a show and it would give you suggestions on what you might like to see. I never used "Pick-a-Show", other than the first time I tried it out because I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to see when I head to New York.

But, BroadwayWorld made an announcement yesterday that I think is pretty amazing. They are expanding the tool to include regional theatre at well! I actually went in and put in my zip code and it pulled up a whole list of shows close to me. Of course, the closest is Cumberland County Playhouse and all of their current shows are listed right at the top (because, from what I can tell, they put them in distance order).

According to the website, it is going to be expanded over time in order to include all of the regions that BroadwayWorld covers. So go in and give it a spin to see if your region is included!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Rest of the 2011 Season at Cumberland County Playhouse

The latest video promotion for the rest of the year at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I'm excited about all of these shows. And I'll admit it, in the 18 seasons that it's been playing at the Cumberland County Playhouse, I've never seen Smoke on the Mountain. I have a feeling this may be the year that I remedy that issue.

As always, tickets can be purchased online HERE or by calling 931-484-5000. You can find CCP's YouTube page, follow them on Facebook, or on Twitter. You can also find their blog HERE.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Over Your Shoulder

I took my first trip to New York City when I was 17 years old. There were sixty-nine of us from a small town in the South that raised enough money to go on our Senior trip. Stops in Washington D.C., Hershey, Pennsylvania, and New York City were on the agenda. Most of us had never traveled much. Some of my classmates had never left our state.

Out of all the things we did, my single most memorable moment of the stop in New York was when we were leaving the city for the final time. It was late at night. As we drove out of New York my high school principal stood up and turned around and said, “Look over your shoulder. This may be the last view you ever have of New York.” I turned around. The unmistakable lights of the city light up the sky. In the distance I saw the World Trade Center buildings. The iconic markers in the skyline of New York. I sighed.

It turns out my principal was right. Many of my classmates would never and will never return to New York. I did. But only after the skyline, and the world, had been changed forever. In many ways the New York I visited in 1999 is nothing like the New York that I know now. It’s strange to me sometimes. When I think of 9/11 my first memory isn’t of the newscasts that played for weeks and months after the attacks. Of the buildings and the smoke and the horror. My first memory is of what I saw when I looked over my shoulder and out that bus window that final time.

The closer and closer that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 has gotten, the more and more I tried to avoid thinking about it. But the truth is that we can’t avoid it. Ten years ago the world changed forever. American changed forever. I changed forever. I didn’t need to know anyone in New York. I didn’t need to live there. I didn’t need to be a frequent visitor. It didn’t stop the unmistakable change in my life.

As horrible as those hours, days and weeks following the attacks were, I saw something that I don’t think many generations have seen. I saw Americans coming together and supporting each other. It didn’t matter what race they were or what nationality. Gender, political affiliation, social status….it all took a backseat to the fact that we needed each other.

I was twenty years old. Not a child. But by no means an actual adult. In that time of life when you are trying to figure out who you are and what you want out of life was a time I also learned that the world can be cruel, and people you’ve never met can be kind. I didn’t need to know anyone who lived there. That day left a mark on my life.

Since that time so many other things have changed in the world. I think we often forget, or try to block out the feelings of companionship and connection that we felt with complete strangers right after the attacks. Remember that. Remember that love you felt for complete strangers. Remember that anger you felt for the horrible things that were happening. Remember it. I know I do.

So let today be a day that we remember these things. Let today be a day that we are reminded of what we lost as a nation. Even if you (or I) didn’t know a single person who perished that September day,
remember the innocence we lost.

But even through all those memories, and all of my memories of my many trips to New York, one of the strongest will always be that last view. That over the shoulder, out the bus window view that would be my last view of the Twin Towers, and one of my most powerful memories of New York.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hopeful Endings

This week has been incredibly stressful for me. For numerous reasons that I won't get into. I have been continually reminding myself of how blessed I am and how much worse off that I could be. But sometimes there's nothing like a Broadway tune to bring you that sense of hope.

Here are some of my favorite songs that bring hope, even in the sadness.

Light- from Next to Normal

Seasons of Love- Rent

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - American Idiot

Song of Purple Summer (full) - Spring Awakening

Finale - In the Heights

Whatsername - American Idiot

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Music Before the Show

Sometimes it's easy to fall in love with a cast recording of a show. From start to finish you're riveted by the lyrics, the music, and the story that it tells. Sometimes you don't even have to see the show first. I fell in love with the Wicked cast recording years before I actually saw the show. Same thing for the RENT cast recording. Ditto for Avenue Q and Spring Awakening.

For some of these cast recordings, it doesn't seem like you need to see the show to love and understand the music. Each of these show have become favorites of mine over the years. Each of them I knew the music before I knew the show.

But sometimes I find it hard to listen to a cast recording before I've seen a show. For instance, I downloaded the cast recording from In the Heights months before I saw the show. While the music was catchy, I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was because my Spanish stops at the local restaurant menu, giving me difficulty understanding all of the lyrics. Maybe it's just because I couldn't get an idea for the story in my head. I'm not sure. But after seeing the show and LOVING it, the cast recording has become one of my favorites. Songs from the show randomly pop in my head (in fact, I woke up with "Blackout" stuck in my head this morning), making me smile.

I had a similar experience with Next to Normal. I had a vacation planed to New York, and pre-purchased tickets to see the show. I also purchased the cast recording. I listened to it a couple of times, but the same thing happened to me that happened with In the Heights. I just couldn't get into it. With Next to Normal, I truly believe that it was seeing the songs in context that helped me. Next to Normal is also a favorite cast recording of mine.

I believe that some of the reason I have different experiences with cast recordings before shows is because of the ways in which the shows were written. Not that any way is bad. But I think some shows have so much of their story in the music that you can imagine the show through the songs. Other shows tell a great deal of their story through the music, but parts of it are not in the songs, making it harder to "see" the story before you actually see the show.

It makes for an interesting study of new cast recordings though. Being so far from New York makes it hard to see shows before the cast recording comes out. So many times I download a cast recording first, and see the show later. There are times I have to remind myself that the show may still be fantastic, even if I have a hard time with the music.

Have you ever listened to a cast recording before a show and been unable to get into the music or get a good feel for the show? Do any of you actually listen to a cast recording before seeing a show?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Falling in Like

Have you ever seen a production that had a lot of potential, but just didn’t quite hit it out of the park in the way that it should? Yesterday I saw a fairly new play called Falling in Like. From what I gathered there have only been a couple of other productions of the show, written by Jerry Sipp and directed by Andrew N. Davis. When I’d first heard about the show, the title alone was enough to catch my attention. It sounds like a great romantic comedy.

The production was done at Cookeville Performing Arts Center, which puts out some great pieces of community theatre. In fact, the entire town of Cookeville has some amazing theatrical opportunities at CPAC, The Wesley Arena Theatre, and Tennessee Technological University’s Backdoor Playhouse.

The basis of the story is all rom-com. A production of a play loses its leading lady to an injury only weeks before opening. An unsuspecting intern ends up stepping into the role and makes it part of her mission in life to use her psychology degree to “shrink” the stand-offish leading man, who has no desire to share any part of his personal life with… anyone.

Surrounding them is a supporting cast of a producer, director/playwright, another cast member, and a stage manager to add to the laughs. Leading lady, intern/understudy Abbie was played by Chessilyn Angel, and her leading man Frank was played by Tony Craighead. Chessilyn did a wonderful job of portraying the innocence and exuberance of a recent college grad ready to make her way in the world. Tony played the standoffish leading actor well.

Stage manager Marge was played by Tracy J. Clark. She was hilarious and the character had some of the best one liners in the entire show. She had, perhaps, the most interesting character in the entire production. You knew, almost immediately, Marge had been doing her job for so long that she had become slightly jaded in her work, but that she still knew how to get things done.

Playwright Arnie was played by Travis Flatt. He was the slightly eccentric writer who was still re-writing parts of the play right to the very end. Travis had the “crazy” down, complete w/ scribbles on legal pads and cup after cup of coffee. Evil leading actress Victoria was played with self-absorbed perfection by Kimberly Frick-Welker. Adam Combs played the other actor in the play, Sonny, who was always getting lines cut from his role and trying his best to get some lines back. Constantly trying to make the peace with everyone was producer Jeffrey played by Lynn England. Lynn portrays such a clam persona as Jeffrey that it works well.

Staged as a “Backstage Production,” all the seats for the audience are on the stage. I’ve seen “Backstage” productions at CPAC before, but unlike other times, Falling in Like has the first row of both sides of seats reserved as part of the show. It works well and gave me a feeling of interaction with the cast a la Spring Awakening. There was very little in the way of props, but that fit the show well since it was all about the rehearsal stage of a play.

Overall, the show was good. It was fairly well acted, well-staged, and had its laughs. My reason for saying that it “wasn’t quite there” yet was simply that I didn’t feel a major connection with any of the characters (Marge, the stage director aside). The bones of the story are the bones of a great romantic comedy, but I think there needs to be some more character development in the writing. I wanted to know why Frank was so unwilling to share his personal life (I never felt like I got an answer). I wanted Abbie to be a little less annoying in her quest to “shrink” Frank. I wanted to know why Frank and Victoria had the strange relationship that they had (were they former lovers?).

Still, this show is more than worth going to see. It’s funny and an enjoyable way to spend an evening. You can still catch Falling in Like at Cookeville Performing Arts Center through September 3rd. You can call 931-28-1313 to buy tickets.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Over the weekend I finally got the chance to go see Oklahoma at the Cumberland County Playhouse. I had been putting it off because I’d planned to take my younger sister, but it never seemed to come about. Since the show closes on September 2nd, I thought I probably needed to go ahead and see it. Oklahoma is typical Cumberland County Playhouse. It’s wholesome, classic, and well done. Its Rodgers and Hammerstein for crying out loud. That being said, I loved this show. As much as I love a more modern show, there’s just something about a classic musical. And one that’s well done is that much better.

Originally, this show had cast Nathaniel Hackmann and Nicole Bégué Hackmann as Curly and Laurey, but they have both left the show and have been replaced by Daniel Black and Lindy Pendzick. I can’t compare them, because I didn’t see Nathaniel and Nicole, but I loved the chemistry between Lindy and Daniel. Lindy played the perfect not-so-girly, slightly stubborn young lady. Daniel was fantastic as a persistent cowboy who knows what (or better yet, who) he wants and won’t give up on it.

Carol Irving as Aunt Eller, was wonderful. Her friendly persona just fit as the lovable aunt that everyone loves. Playhouse funny man, Jason Ross was a no brainer for the roll of traveling peddler Ali Hakim. Oklahoma isn’t really a comedy, though there are plenty of funny moments in the show. But Jason’s Ali Hakim counted for the majority of my fits of laughter throughout the play.
Ado Annie is a character that has always cracked me up. As girl who just “cain’t say no,” Leila Nelson makes the character lovable and hilarious all in the same breath. She spends the whole show trying to decide between Ali Hakim and slightly gullible local, Will Parker, played by Greg Pendzick. These three make for some of the best comedy in the entire show.

Oklahoma has one of my favorite love songs in a musical ever. “People Will Think We’re In Love,” sung by Laurey and Curly, nearly had me in tears. I don’t know what it is about that song, but seeing Lindy and Daniel sing that song was one of the most beautiful moments of the show. After all, Laurey spends a majority of the show trying to fight her attraction for childhood friend Curly, while he chases her relentlessly. This song is the prefect representation of their relationship.

Aunt Eller and Laurey’s farm hand, Jud Fry, was played by Britt Hancock. I’ll admit to having seen Britt in several other productions at Cumberland County Playhouse. Even in his most serious roles, I’ve never seen him play “the bad guy.” I’m used to seeing him in more lighthearted roles. And I’m used to seeing a smile on his face. When Jud Fry walked on stage for the first time, I barely recognized Britt Hancock. And the character was so deliciously dark and dangerous that I was a little freaked out. Even from many rows back in the audience. In fact, I was actually glad to see him smile, for real, at the curtain call. In my opinion, he was the standout of the entire show.

As always, the ensemble cast was wonderful. Familiar faces abound, and it was wonderful to see a young ensemble member from my hometown (who is a classmate of my younger sister). I love that the Cumberland County Playhouse gives a chance for young people to act with such amazing professionals onstage.

This show only runs until September 2nd, but I highly advise that you try to catch it while you still can. It’s a great family show and a wonderful chance for you to enjoy a true classic musical. You can purchase tickets by going HERE.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Censorship in Theatre

A while back there was an uproar about publishers re-releasing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and taking out words like “negro” and “colored” from the writing. Some people felt that these words weren’t appropriate for literature today. Others, like me, felt it was taking away from a time period and a style of writing. Not to mention it is essentially changing the writing of an author with no permission.
I say those things to touch on a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Censorship. Censorship is essentially changing something about a written work for some reason. Most of the time it seems to be the purpose to make it “less offensive” to the general public.

But how does this apply to theatre? Fact of the matter is that there is a lot of censorship that goes on in the theatre. In more conservative areas of the country (i.e. where I live) I believe I see it quite a bit. And I’ve heard stories of people becoming offended with a work. One person I know went to see a touring production of Avenue Q in Indiana. He told me that even though he loved it, that he saw people leave at intermission and never return.

I’ve seen similar things happen myself. Even in New York City. I was seeing American Idiot for the sixth (and final) time. An older lady (probably in her late 50s or early 60s) came in, dressed up way more than most of the younger people in the theatre (after all, it is a rock opera of Green Day music). During the opening, title number the lady left. And didn’t return.

Here are my questions: Why would you purchase tickets to see a show and not research what you are seeing? It seems to me that it could be a total waste of money. And with the prices of shows these days, is it worth it? And what’s the other option? That the show be so censored that it only vaguely resembles the original work? Sure, I may not use “the F word” in every other sentence myself. But some people do. And if a character is written that way by a writer, shouldn’t we assume it’s for a reason and respect the writer’s character as written?

This gets into such a can of worms that I almost don’t want to go there. But I feel like I must. Rent could be considered one of the best (or at least one of the most successful) modern musicals. So much so that a “school edition” was done (presumably with the assistance and permission of the Jonathan Larsen estate) so that it could be safely performed for a school audience. But is a show like that even appropriate for a school (even after editing?). I suppose that is up for debate too. But I like to think that Jonathan Larsen wrote the songs and the characters the way he did for a reason. Songs like “La Vie Boheme” are so inundated with cultural things of the time period that I would be afraid to change the words…yet some of them were changed for the school edition.

The famously “Sesame Street for adults” musical, Avenue Q even did a school edition. Um….with songs like “Loud as the Hell You Want” and “The Internet is for Porn” and a character called Lucy the Slut…let’s just say that I’ll be that one wasn’t an easy job. Again, I question the need to make a notably adult play “suitable” for children and young people. Why? The cast recording for Avenue Q is marked “explicit,” the show was obviously written for adults (it’s about life after college for crying out loud!). So what would make it important to tame it down for children? Why not just write another play?

I guess I just think that some shows are meant for adults. Some can be more “family” oriented. Why should someone try to force an “adult” show to be a “family” show? Is it fair to the author? Is it even fair to the audiences? I don’t think it’s fair to either. The author deserves to have their show performed as written. The audience deserves to see the show as it was intended to be seen. As an audience member, it’s your job to inform yourself about what you are seeing and to determine if you want to see it anyway.

I tried to find a place that I could get ahold of the scripts for the school versions of Avenue Q and Rent and was unable to find either of them. What I heard was changed for both shows was simply what I could find online (i.e. messages boards, etc). I did, however, find a video of “My Social Life is Online” from the school edition of Avenue Q. I’m going to post it, and the song that it replaced, “The Internet is for Porn” below. Simply because I want you to be able to see the difference.

But, I’d really like to know your thoughts on censorship. Do you agree with censorship? When is it important? When is it too much?

"My Social Life is Online" from the school edition of Avenue Q

"The Internet is for Porn" from Avenue Q (adult version)

This is a comment that ended up e-mailed to me instead of posted. I was granted permission to add it to this post. We'll call it a "guest commentary." I felt it was so much along the vein of what I was trying to say that I wanted to share it with all of you.

Great post, Cara! You raise a number of interesting questions. As you know, I'm an outspoken advocate of free speech (and have strong feelings about editing anything), so I'm delighted by the opportunity to join this discussion. While I'm aghast at the idea of editing something like "Huckleberry Finn," I must confess to understanding the impulse. When I played Willie Stark in Vinnette Carroll's brilliant multiracial production of "All The King's Men" in the early 90s, I was VERY uncomfortable with my character's use of a racial epithet in the second act. During a rehearsal, I asked if it could be cut or changed. Her response was, “DAH-ling, you MUST use that word. IT'S WHO HE IS.” She was right, of course. The line spoke to the time, the place and the person. With a brilliant economy of language, it spoke volumes about the soul-deep corruption of that larger-than-life character. I’d LIKE to think that I would have eventually reached the same conclusion on my own. Regardless, I must admit that my naïvely well-intentioned impulse was both misguided and, ultimately, wrong.

That being said, I’m generally of the opinion that censorship has no place in the arts. Any artist (of any stripe) needs the freedom to use all the tools at his or her disposal to create something that is vital, that is kinetic… art can illuminate, calm, alienate, seduce, offend, shock… that’s part of its nature and part of its appeal. The act of EXPERIENCING art has limitless potential for an audience (or viewer, or listener). Theater, specifically, can effect a profound change (and a remarkable connection) in the artist and the audience during a shared moment of exchange. Ages ago, an acting coach once told me that I was doing my job properly if the audience breathed with me. Every moment in a theater has the potential for that kind of shared electricity; that’s why theater has endured. That’s why it’s important. And that’s why we shouldn’t ever censor what a playwright has to say. Without the freedom to express the truth of a scene, character, or moment – with whatever language or action or movement is necessary to create that moment – a playwright is hobbled. Potential is diminished. We settle for a pallid echo of what could have been. And the audience is cheated without even realizing it. You’ve “heard stories of people becoming offended with a work” (God knows, so have I). And that’s their right. They also have the right to walk out, ask for a refund, write angry letters and complain to whomever will listen. (It seems silly, especially in the information age, that someone would choose to spend hard-earned dollars on something they hadn’t researched in the least, but it happens.) But that’s pretty much where their rights end. They don’t have the right to silence artists. Artists have a right to speak through their art. Artists have a RESPONSIBILITY to speak through their art. A play (symphony, opera, oratorio, ballet, painting, sculpture… the list goes on and on) that exists merely to entertain can’t truly be called “art,” can it? Something whose sole purpose is to placate, to pacify, to coddle, to allow people to feel safe and secure in their preconceptions and biases is the antithesis of art. Yet we see it on stages everywhere, all the time. I’ve endured more than a few productions like this as an actor. I desperately hope that I’ve never foisted something like this on an audience as a director. But let’s face it, there are scores of valleys for every “peak experience” in life.

Lastly, I want to address the odd phenomenon of “school versions,” “youth versions,” “JUNIOR versions,” etc., of existing plays. I only have experience (and that’s somewhat indirect) with one such project… the school version of “Les Miserables.” Interestingly, most of the changes to the original were NOT for language or subject matter. The school version is tighter (it’s almost an hour shorter than the original), keys have been changed and vocal arrangements adjusted so that younger singers might approach the piece with more ease. The same appears to be true of the school version of “Rent.” Aside from cutting the song "Contact" from the show, the language changes (from what my limited online research has shown) have been quite minor. And the subject matter is the subject matter. Some schools and other producing organizations have made further alterations (I encountered lots of online comments like, “We did the school version of ‘Rent!’ And once we cut out some of the language and stuff, it was great!”). I paraphrase, but you get the point. Was that the intent of the Larson estate? Perhaps not. But I do know that Music Theater International (the company that handles the performance rights for the play) is fairly lenient about such things if an official request is made. Why do these odd pieces exist? To give young people the chance to perform extraordinary pieces of theater, I’d guess. And to make even more money for the publishers, writers, etc., probably. Are these pieces appropriate for younger audiences? I guess that would depend upon the individual parent (and the individual child). I probably would have let my daughter see the national tour of “Rent” when she was 12 or so. Certainly, by the time she was 14 it wouldn’t even have been a question. (Though her mother might have had a different opinion.) I never questioned her seeing “Les Miz” (or “Miss Saigon”), even at 6 or 7.

But I have to say that the existence of a “school version” of “Avenue Q” is a complete and utter mystery to me. Really? REALLY? WTF??? It seems completely pointless. But I have NO doubt that it’s making money. :/

Again, kudos for a great, thought-provoking post, Cara!