Welcome to the Rock

Come From Away is such an amazing show and I thought it would be worth talking about on here! I have seen Come From Away twice now, both times seeing the Toronto company at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and both times I was blown away. I actually missed the show during the inital, pre-Broadway Toronto run but when it came back I knew I couldn’t miss it again! I did have the pleasure of seeing Jenn Colella sing “Me and the Sky” at BroadwayCon and then I saw the Broadway Company perform “Welcome to the Rock” when I went to Stars in the Alley. Both of those performances made me regret even more missing the show the first time it was in Toronto and reaffirmed that I needed to see it when I could! And now I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it twice. If you are not aware, Come From Away is based on the true story of when 38 planes were diverted to the small town of Gander in Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. The actors play multiple characters including those who live in the town as well as people who were on the planes. There’s no denying it is a very emotional show. I found myself on the verge of tears throughout but didn’t let them fall until closer to the end- if you’ve seen the show, you probably know the moment(s) when I couldn’t hold it in anymore (admittedly I do also cry fairly easily at things). But it’s also a very heartwarming story about people from different backgrounds coming together in the face of tragedy, and what happens when this small Newfoundland town of 9000 is doubled in size from the passengers of those planes. The show moves very well between light, humourous moments and the more serious, emotional moments of the situation. The show runs without an intermission which is very much for the best. It never drags and runs so smoothly from start to finish.

The actors move seemlessly between their characters- whether they’re a Newfoundlander or one of the “plane people,” whether a named character we see throughout or someone only present for one scene- with just a slight change of costume (like the addition or subtraction of a piece like a hat or jacket) and/or a change of accent. It could easily be difficult to keep track of the characters and who is who when but it’s really not, it’s always clear, which is a testament to the actors, the direction, and the writing.

I love the simplicity of the show’s design (at least in terms of set and costume). Yes, there is a revolve on the stage, which adds to the technological complexity, but the set mainly consists of some chairs and tables, and a couple of doors in the back wall. The cast are the ones who move the furniture around the stage. I do love when the movement of the set becomes a part of the story, part of the choreography. The costumes too are quite simple each actor wearing one outfit throughout with hats, jackets, sweaters and/or props being used to differentiate the characters. They have to move so quickly between the characters that’s all there’s time for, but more than that, it’s all that’s needed. I love the simplicity of it and all of the actors do such a great job!

Then there’s the music. It’s such a wonderful story and the music they use to tell it is beautiful. (You know a show is emotional when it still gets you when you’re just listening to the cast recording!) The use of the band in the show is really great. The band members themselves are a part of the show being positioned (visibly) at the sides of the stage and being brought into the action on the stage in some scenes. Considering the strong presence of music in East Coast culture it makes sense and is just another significant element of this greatly successful show.

It’s so exciting that there is a Canadian show, a Canadian story written by Canadians, that is doing so well, and doing so well on a global scale. There’s the Tony nominated (and Tony winning for Best Director) Broadway production, the Toronto production which will be transferring from the Royal Alexandra to the Elgin theatre next year to keep the run going (there’s certainly a reason it keeps getting extended), the National Tour that’s about to start, and they just announced the cast for the London production. And there are plans for a movie as well.

If you get the chance to see this show, whichever production you can see, I would highly recommend it!

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Life is Better With Showtunes

On Sept. 22 Tim Federle tweeted “Life is so much better when you unapologetically love and accept showtunes,” and I couldn’t agree more.

It should come as no surprise that the majority of the music that fills my life, and my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod), is from the theatre world. More than half of the songs on my iPod are showtunes, and there are a lot of songs on there. Honestly, if I had to pick one genre of music to listen to for the rest of my life it would be showtunes, but with so many different types of musicals, with shows like Hamilton, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods, SpongeBob (the list goes on and on), there is no shortage of variety within that genre. And that is just one of the great things about musical theatre.

There are songs for every mood. Songs to make you smile, laugh, cry (from happiness, beauty, and/or sadness). There are songs you listen to when you’re feeling down, either to cheer you up or just to match your mood. There are songs to get you fired up, songs to motivate you. There are songs to get you moving, even if that just means dancing around your house when there’s no one else around.

Cast recordings allow you to re-live experiences of seeing show and they allow you to experience shows you have not seen. They allow closed shows to have a longer life and they help to make theatre/musicals accessible to those who don’t live near it or don’t have opportunities to experience it. Cast recordings are how I’ve been able to experience shows like Bonnie and ClydeWonderland, Tuck Everlasting, and more that I didn’t and likely (unfortunately) won’t get to see live.

Cast recordings are a great way to share the shows you like with your friends and family. Even if they can’t actually see the show itself, you can share at least part of the experience with them. And it’s always fun singing showtunes with your friends!

I feel like every musical theatre fan and star has stories and memories of listening to cast recordings. There’s a reason performers are so excited when they get to be part of a recording (I know there are many other reasons too, but I’m sure that’s a big one). There is so much meaning associated with cast recordings. I have my own memories attached to various recordings: remembering when I saw the show(s), remembering the sets, costumes, lights, the actors (sometimes the ones who are actually featured on the recordings). I can picture those scenes being played out as I listen to the songs at home or on my way to work. There are memories from working on productions of those shows. There are memories from when I heard certain recordings for the first time. I remember discovering Wonderland through the cast recording in my 2nd year of university, listening to it and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown while working on an end of year assignment at a time when I was also a sound op for a production of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

Sometimes a show introduces you to a cast recording and sometimes a cast recording introduces you to a show. Sometimes you find it because you are familiar with one or more of the artists involved and sometimes it is the writers/composers with whom you are familiar. Sometimes it starts with an individual song that you hear listening to a playlist or radio-type station (I frequently use Spotify and AccuRadio). You might fall in love with it the way you would any popular song on the radio. You hear it, think, “I like this song,” and then you listen to it on repeat. You may have no idea of the context of the song at first, but it doesn’t really matter. That individual song can then inspire you to listen to the rest of the album and sometimes it just stays with that particular song, which is OK too. Sometimes you see a performance of a song or songs (at a concert, BroadwayCon, Stars in the Alley, awards show, etc) and that’s what inspires you to listen to the full album. And sometimes it’s from actually seeing the show. I’ve found it to be even more exciting when I’ve seen the cast that is featured on the recording, and I love that I’m getting to experience this more and more!

Some shows even have multiple recordings for you to listen to. Between original Broadway casts, revivals (sometimes multiple for one show), West End productions, and movie musical soundtracks there are so many options for your musical theatre listening needs. It can be interesting to compare and contrast, to see what changes were made, if any, from the original production to the revival or any subsequent productions, between Broadway albums and West End recordings, or between stage and movie versions. And now you can throw the live TV musicals into the mix too.

Listening to a cast recording can also change depending on whether or not you’ve seen the show and in which order you experienced them. You may think you know the story/how things will happen from listening to the cast recording but there can still be surprises when you do see it live. And sometimes the song you always skip on the recording can end up being part of your favourite scene in the show. Sometimes something as seemingly small or simple as the harmony during a particular line (not that harmonies are small or simple) can have a greater meaning when you see the live production (I found some of those moments in Rent). Sometimes I do wait to listen to a cast recording until after I’ve seen the show. Sometimes this is a deliberate decision and sometimes it’s just a case of not having gotten around to listening to it, and sometimes it’s a mix of the two. That was the case for me with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I had heard a couple of the songs but hadn’t listened to the full album. Then when I knew I was going to see the show (when the tour came to Toronto) I decided I would wait to listen to the rest. Come From Away was another one I held off listening to in full. Then there are the shows I listened to right away. Even though I still hope to see them some day, I did not want to wait to experience them through their recordings. Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen both fell into this group. Of course there will always be surprises if/when you get to see a show after you’re already familiar with the recording. Sometimes even a full song is left off the recording. Like how you won’t find “The Wicked Witch of the East” on the Wicked cast album (I do wish it was on there though).

What are your cast recording listening habits? Do you listen to them in chronological order or do you play them on shuffle? Do you listen to every song or do you pick and choose? Me, I go back and forth between all of these options depending on my (musical) mood. Sometimes I want to get fully immersed in the recording and listen to the whole thing from start to finish and sometimes I just want to listen (and if I’m home alone sing along) to my favourites. More often than not I’m likely listening to a playlist of my current musical obsessions (a list which currently includes SpongeBob, Once On This Island, Dear Evan Hansen, and Great Comet, to name a few).

I do honestly think some of the best voices belong to people in the theatre world and I love being able to listen to those voices via cast recordings. One of the great things about it is that when you hear someone on a cast recording, you know they will sound just as good in person (something you hope but don’t always know with popular recording artists).

With each new show there is the potential for a new cast album and I love that! It is disappointing that there are some shows that don’t have recordings and won’t get to live on in that way. But I do like that we’re getting to a time when a closing notice doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be a recording. Even a lot of the shorter lived shows in recent years have gotten recordings which is great for the fans, for those who didn’t get to see the shows, and for theatre history. And with each new release I look forward to adding more songs to my playlist!

For any of you reading this, I would love to know what your favourite cast recordings are! Are there any shows or particular casts that you wish had gotten recordings that didn’t?

 

It’s a Community Feeling

Whether in big groups or small the theatre has a way of bringing people together (literally and figuratively).

When you go somewhere like BroadwayCon this impact is is abundantly clear and being there you are smack dab in the middle of the Broadway community, a community made up of professionals and fans alike. But the community isn’t limited to events like this or being in New York City. When you’re sitting in the audience in a darkened theatre, wherever that theatre happens to be, with a few hundred other people, for those two and a half hours you are all seeing the same story playing out before your eyes, reacting to the same things, sharing in that experience. Even when you’re just among friends, theatre and musicals can still bring people together in a room.

I love watching musicals with my friends whether it’s watching and singing along to a show we all know and love, introducing friends to one of my favourites, being introduced to their favourites or watching something none of us have seen. It’s always such a great experience. Just recently I was hanging out with a bunch of friends and we ended up watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (yes, the Donny Osmond movie). Looking at the group who were watching the movie, we’re all at varying levels of musical theatre fandom, and varying knowledge levels with regards to Joseph– some having seen the movie, some knowing the musical but not having seen the movie, and some not knowing the show at all. And it was so much fun! People were singing along, some having previously performed in productions, and talking about the costumes and the cast and the music. It’s no secret that I love watching movie musicals and a lot of the time I’m just watching them at home by myself (not that there is anything wrong with that). But it’s a different experience when you’re watching them with other people. It’s fun to share that experience with your friends. Going to the theatre is such a communal experience, so why not when you watch a musical in the privacy of your own home? Plus when you’re watching it at home, whether alone or in a group, it is perfectly acceptable to sing along and talk through it (as long as everyone one is on board with that), though it can also be a bit intimidating to sing along when your friends are very talented singers and performers and you’re more of a sing in the shower but only when you’re home alone type.

To be honest I’m not even really sure what the “point” of this post is. I just had so much fun watching Joseph with my friends and it reminded me just how much fun it is to watch movie musicals with friends and that you can experience that theatre/Broadway community feeling anywhere. And it’s a lot more fun to sing along to show tunes with other people, whether it’s in a room of hundreds at BroadwayCon or with a group of friends sitting around a TV (or laptop).

It’s That Time of Year

It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting warmer and staying that way. The promise of summer is in the air. For me though, as someone who dreads the heat of summer, my excitement for this time of year falls to a different season: Tony Season! The nominations were announced at the beginning of May (of course I got up to watch the announcement live) and now we’re just a couple of days away from the Awards themselves!

I think this has been a really exciting season on Broadway and I’m so happy that some of my favourites received nominations, namely SpongeBob with 12 nominations and Once On This Island with 8 nominations, and that Ethan Slater and Hailey Kilgore were both nominated for their amazing debuts. And really, I’m just so excited for all of the nominees in every category, whether they be first timers or veterans.

Since I’ve only seen two of the nominated shows this season (SpongeBob and Once On This Island) I can’t really comment too much on the other nominees or what should/shouldn’t have been nominated (or win). I can only go off of what I’ve heard about the shows, what I’ve seen in clips and pictures, what I’ve read or heard on cast recordings. I am a little surprised though that Frozen didn’t get any nominations in and of thethe acting or design categories. I really don’t know who’s going to win this year. Sure I’d be happy if my favourites won but all of the other nominees are good too. And I’m sure if I had seen more of the shows I would have even more favourites in each category and it would be even harder to pick (not that my favourites or picks mean anything anyway).

It’s great that the Sound Design Tony Award has finally been brought back this year. That’s the one category in which I do actually have an idea of who I want to win. I really want Walter Trarbach (Sound Designer) and Mike Dobson (Foley Designer) to win for SpongeBob (and I think it’s great that they were jointly nominated). The use live/Foley sound effects in that show is amazing and I’m glad that at the very least it’s getting recognition through the nomination. Every time I hear someone from the show talk about the Foley work I’m more and more impressed by it.

I was happy to see SpongeBob nominated for Best Score as well, mainly because I wanted to see how it would work with all of the different artists who contributed music for the show. (Did you ever think you’d hear the phrase “Tony Nominee T.I.” or “Tony Nominee Plain White T’s”?!). I think we should also acknowledge the fact that Tina Landau, director of SpongeBob, is the only woman to be nominated in the Best Director of a Musical category and one of only two women to be nominated between the two directing categories.

I like that, at least from what I can tell, there isn’t a clear “big winner” this year.  Two years ago we had Hamilton which was obviously going to be a big winner in the majority of (musical) categories. Last Year wasn’t quite as obvious, but it was pretty clear that Dear Evan Hansen was going to win pretty big. Come From Away was a good contender though. And now this year, there are a lot of shows getting a lot of hype and there is so much variety between the nominated shows. It is interesting to note that in the Best Musical category this year, all of the nominees are based on/inspired by something else (ie a movie or TV show). I can’t wait to see who’s going to come out on top!

I am looking forward to seeing Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban as hosts. I think it’s going to be great and I’m looking forward to the inevitable Great Comet and Waitress references! Maybe Josh will even bust out the accordian! (We can only hope!)

As always I’m really excited for all of the performances. Considering this year’s nominees in the Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical categories, I can’t wait to see what they bring to this year’s broadcast! So far I know which song the SpongeBob cast will be performing and that the Once On This Island cast will be performing at 10:06 (and that the goats and chicken will be there!).

So whether or not you’re excited about the looming summer, there’s no denying it’s an exciting time of year when you’re a Broadway fan!

The Show Will Go On

It’s always exciting when you find out that one of your favourite closed Broadway shows is going to have a continued life. Today it was announced that Bandstand is going to be shown in movie theatres in June. I’m still waiting to find out for sure whether it will be shown in theatres in Canada, but for now I’m going to work with the assumption that since other similar screenings have all been shown in Canada, this one will too (it better be!). And you can bet I will be buying tickets the day I find out for sure. There is no way I’m going to miss this one, if I can help it!

Getting to see this show again, in any capacity, but especially with that (original) cast is pretty much a dream come true. Getting to witness those performances again, particularly “Right This Way” and “Welcome Home (Finale)”- I can’t wait!

Not only am I excited for myself, I’m also about what it will mean for the show and those who were a part of it. I’m excited for people like me who will get to re-experience it through the screening and I’m excited for those who didn’t get to see it before it closed who will now get to experience it for the first time. It’s such a good show with a great story and great music. I’ve always thought it deserved a longer life than it had on Broadway and now it will get that! It must be so exciting for everyone who was a part of the show too, knowing that it has this continuing life and that it will be able to reach so many more people. In everything I saw from and about the show and those in it, they always seemed so proud of the .show and the story they were telling

In previous posts I’ve written about my love for both Bandstand and filmed productions and now I’m so happy that Bandstand will be joining the ranks of shows that have graced the big screen. (Maybe if we all wish hard enough we can get a digital release too!) This is also the kind of Broadway news that is great for us fans outside of the city. There has been a lot of exciting Broadway (and Off-Broadway) news lately and while I always love reading it, it’s always with the knowledge that I may never actually get to see or experience whatever it is. This screening announcement however (and other similar announcements) is great news for the long distance fan. It’s always great when Broadway comes to us. And between the Tony Awards and now Bandstand, June is shaping up to be an excellent month for being a Broadway fan, wherever you are (or at least, wherever you are that will have a Bandstand screening)!

Put On A Happy Face

Do you have a go-to feel-good show or cast recording? One that, even if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it or listened to it, is always guaranteed to bring you joy when you do? One that will always put a smile on your face? For me, that show is Godspell, particularly the revival, but really any version, including the movie.

I’m sure part of it is that Godspell was my 2nd Broadway show and I loved every moment of that experience, so right off the bat it will always hold a special place in my heart. And the fact that I saw pretty much the entire revival cast (except I saw Corey Mach as Jesus instead of Hunter Parrish) makes it all the more exciting listening to that particular cast recording. On top of that there is just so much joy and beauty in the music. Sure the “Finale” hits you and takes you out of the joy for a bit but then it brings you right back to it at the end). My favourite songs include Uzo Aduba’s “By My Side” and the slowed down, revival version of “Beautiful City,” which is just so, well, beautiful. Godspell is just one of the reasons I’m a big Stephen Schwartz fan.

I did grow up in a family that regularly went to church (United Church) so perhaps that impacted the way I took in the musical. Honestly, I don’t know for sure about that but I do know that you don’t have to be religious to like the show or appreciate its story or themes. I think it’s a similar case with a lot of the shows based on Bible stories (Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), it’s about more than the religious aspect or source material. I think a big part of Godspell is about storytelling, and all of the stories presented in it (the parables) present a message, typically about being a good person, that you can enjoy and appreciate whether or not you consider yourself a religious person. There is hope in it too, especially at the end- it comes back to hope and joy.

I’ve watched a lot of Godspell videos on YouTube, and they too always bring a smile to my face. Show clips, TV show performances, recording studio videos, I love them all. There are also some great videos from when they put together a kid cast for the revival (the “Godspell Cast of 2032” they called it) who got to perform some of the songs at Circle in the Square, on the set, wearing costumes that matched their grown-up counterparts. Gaten Matarazzo, better known now as Dustin in Stranger Things, was Jesus in that 2032 cast. Seeing those kids performing those songs once again highlights the joy of the show. All of the videos I’ve watched do.

I would love to someday work on a production of Godspell. I don’t even really care in what capacity I work on it, I just want to be involved with it in some way.

There’s a reason this show is in my top 10 favourite musicals!

What’s the Buzz?

I just watched Jesus Christ Superstar Live for the second time and I have to say, for me,  the buzz is good! I loved this production and I was so glad that I actually got to watch it live! I missed the last few live musicals but I was back home for Easter which meant I had cable and was able to watch this one!

I’ll admit, Jesus Christ Superstar has never really been my favourite musical. I saw the movie from 1973 years ago and I just didn’t really take to it then. There were a few songs from the musical that I liked and would listen to, but as a whole it was never one I knew by heart (I think that is going to be changing soon though). I’ve been getting more into it recently (starting before the live production aired). Not long ago I watched the 2000 movie (Tony Vincent was part of the reason I wanted to watch this particular version) and I was reminded of more of the songs and that I do quite like the score. I’ve also been reading Andrew Lloyd Webber’s memoir, Unmasked, and reading what he has to say about the creation of Jesus Christ Superstar is so interesting (I’m just at the chapter about the show going to Broadway).

Another confession, it was only in the last couple of weeks that I actually got excited about Jesus Christ Superstar Live. It definitely helped when I realized how many amazing Broadway actors were going to be in it! In my opinion, casting done right for these live musicals means casting Broadway actors and thankfully they did with this show! It also helped my excitement when I figured out that I would actually be somewhere with cable when it aired and would be able to watch it live.

I’m going to say this now, I think this was the best of the live TV musicals so far. All of the elements came together so well to make it an excellent production. The cast was amazing (and huge) and the set was really cool (and also huge), along with the rest of the design.

Let’s start by talking about that cast. John Legend was probably the one I was least sure about. I know he’s a great singer but we haven’t seen him in anything like this, and Jesus is quite a demanding role. Overall I thought he did a good job. I really liked Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and thought her voice really suited Mary’s songs. I loved the Act 2 song she sang with Jason Tam, who was great as Peter. Norm Lewis, as Caiaphas, has such a beautiful voice and amazing range- those low notes! Even the casting of Alice Cooper as King Herod worked well for this production. It’s definitely a role that works for celebrity casting. (It did kind of bug me that took the “lead” bow with John, Brandon and Sara though, since he only sings the one song, but I get it- the power of celebrity.) The real standout for me was Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas. He was absolutely amazing. I’m so glad it was a Broadway vet playing Judas, as it is also a demanding role, and Judas sings some of my favourite songs in the show, and Brandon nailed it! This was one of those casting choices that definitely helped to increase my excitement for the production ahead of time.

It was also exciting for me realizing how many people in the cast I’ve actually seen perform live including Norm Lewis (Phantom of the Opera and Once On This Island), Jason Tam (If/Then), Billy Lewis Jr. (Bat Out of Hell) who was in the ensemble, and Brandon Niederauer (School of Rock) who was the kid playing guitar.

The ensemble deserves some recognition too as every person brought so much amazing talent to the production, and even though we only got to hear one or two solo lines from most of them, they were all amazing! Used well I think large ensembles can be really cool, with their physical presence and their voices filling the space. And this is one of those productions in which it worked extremely well! I think the staging of this production was very well done and having such a large cast for it worked in its favour. The overall production value of it is really what made it the best of the live TV musicals. I loved the set and the overall design.  I was impressed by just how big the set really was. It seemed big enough and then there were a couple of times where it extended beyond what you thought was there. The end scene with the cross was a particularly beautiful and effective moment. I liked how the orchestra/band was such a big part of it too.

The addition of the live audience worked well for this production and added an interesting dynamic. It definitely had a positive impact on the energy of the performance. There were a couple of times, especially near the beginning where the sound of the audience almost overpowered the sound of the performance, but really, that happens sometimes when you go to see a live show and that’st part of the experience of seeing a live show, it’s just a little different and takes some getting used to when you’re sitting at home watching it on your TV and are not a part of that audience. (Can you imagine actually being a part of that live audience?!) Let’s see if the next musicals moving forward will follow suit! (I know Grease Live also had a live audience but it did seem different this time around, maybe because it was one set stage for this production.)

I loved the added bits during the commercial breaks when it would show the goings-on backstage and seeing pictures of the crew online changing sets and cleaning up the glitter. It also got me thinking, it must be hard doing these productions and having to stop for commercials, especially with a sung through show like Jesus Christ Superstar, as I imagine it would throw off the flow of performing the piece as opposed to just playing it straight through as would usually be done. But I also thought, with a show as vocally demanding as this, maybe it’s nice for them to actually get those water breaks. Not being a performer myself, I can’t really speak to that too much but I imagine it might things a little more difficult in their own way. It certainly didn’t seem to hinder any of the performances though!

I think this production showed what is possible with these live musicals and set the bar pretty high for any future productions, if they do continue to make them, which I sincerely hope they do, especially if they’re at this level, or better yet, if they keep making them better and better. And it shows how well it works with theatre people in the lead roles (Brandon Victor Dixon) as well as in the ensemble. I’m interested to see where they go from here and I’m excited for more repeat viewings of Jesus Christ Superstar!