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

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

Follies

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 fa├žade 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.