Stars in the Alley

If you saw my last post on this blog, you know that I was in New York City recently on a very theatre-filled trip. What I didn’t include in that post was another theatre related event we attended during our time there and decided to dedicate a separate post to this most Broadway of events: Stars in the Alley!

For those of you who are not aware, Stars in the Alley marks the end of the Broadway season and takes place in Shubert Alley, located beside the Shubert Theatre (the current home of Hello, Dolly!).

As we were planning our trip we found out that Stars in the Alley was happening on the day we were going to be leaving the city. Thankfully we were able to work out our travel plans to accommodate a few hours at Shubert Alley before flying home. I always hear about events like this (and things like the Broadway Flea Market, Broadway Barks, Broadway in Bryant Park, etc) but have never been in the city when they were happening so I was so excited to be able to fit this one in! (It is still a goal of mine to someday be in the city for the Broadway Flea Market!) When we were originally planning our trip we were thinking of going a couple of weeks earlier which would have actually coincided with Broadway Bakes (when Broadway actors are selling cookies at Schmackary’s), which would have also been exciting, so it was nice that the timing change worked out to include a different Broadway event!

We got  to Shubert Alley early for the event, which ended up being a lot of fun because we got to see the sound checks for a lot of the performances which meant we got to see some numbers twice, or in some cases three times if they went through it twice during sound check. Tituss Burgess was hosting Stars in the Alley this year (and yes, I am a Kimmy Schmidt fan) and Brandon Uranowitz was the social media correspondent, so it was really cool seeing both of them! Brandon even walked right by us a few times! It was so cool getting to see performances from so many of the current Broadway shows, most of which I was familiar with already but there were some that I didn’t know very well or at all. Just the fact that so many Broadway shows are featured/take part- both new shows from the current/most recent season and other longer running shows (including some of the longest running like The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago) is amazing.  I liked that plays were also included too, with cast members coming out to talk about their shows. I often don’t know as much about the plays as I do the musicals so I like learning more about them (and really should look into them more on my own) and it is nice to see them getting the attention too because when it comes to Broadway a lot of the focus is on the musicals.

As I’ve gone to New York more often in recent years I’ve gotten to see more shows, and more current shows, and to see performances at Stars in the Alley from some of these shows that I had actually seen, both on this trip and on previous trips, and getting to re-experience those songs/performances was so much fun! Shows like School of Rock (though the cast is mostly different from when I saw it), WaitressBandstandAnastasia, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I got to enjoy encore performances of Corey Cott singing “Donny Novitski,” Christy Altomare singing “Journey to the Past,” and Christopher Fitzgerald singing “You Are Never Getting Rid of Me.” Dave Malloy sang from Great Comet and it’s always so cool seeing composers performing their own songs!

Then there were the performances from shows I have not seen. The Come From Away performance was amazing. They sang “Welcome to the Rock” and it made me regret even more missing it when it was in Toronto! The Dear Evan Hansen performance was also great. I wasn’t sure which song they would perform (and I was not surprised at all that Ben Platt wasn’t there) but it was great seeing Rachel Bay Jones (now Tony winner!), Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd perform “Good For You.” It pretty much goes without saying that I really want to see this show too! (We did try entering the digital lottery for it while we were in New York but, not surprisingly, we did not win.)

With events like this it’s fun to see which songs get performed from each show. There always seem to be some “standard” numbers that get performed, the ones that are sung at every similar event, but it’s still great to see them. It’s also fun to see the current casts of the longer running shows, like Abby Mueller who is currently playing Carole King in Beautiful on Broadway (and you can totally tell she and Jessie are related), and the casts of revivals, when you’re more familiar with previous casts, like Mamie Parris (who I did actually see in School of Rock) who is the current Grizabella in Cats.

The one downside to our experience was when it started getting sunny and a tent/cover was put up just a little ways ahead of us, which I’m pretty sure was to cover some equipment, which is totally understandable in itself BUT they put it up during one of the performances (I think it was the Kinky Boots performance) and then when it was up it was crooked with the front corner angled down, which affected our view of the stage. There was a screen visible to the side of where we were standing and we could see some of the stage, looking between the tent and the crowd, so we could still see what was happening on the stage but it was a bit disappointing. Overall though it was a good day- you can’t really go wrong with an afternoon filled with showtunes! The real downside to the day was having to fly home at the end of it!

I love that events like this exist and that I was able to witness this one! Also the fact that it’s a free event makes it even better! Anything that makes Broadway more accessible is a great thing! Broadway tickets are not always the cheapest things to obtain so it’s great that there are free ways to experience what Broadway has to offer. And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt ticket sales either since it also serves the purpose of introducing people to more shows. If I had been staying in New York longer some of these performances might have influenced which shows I would have bought tickets for. It’s also so great seeing that Broadway events like this (and things like BroadwayCon) can draw such crowds! And crowds of varying ages! It’s great to have these events/places where Broadway fans can go and celebrate Broadway and be surrounded by like minded people, where we can obsess to our hearts’ content! And really it just goes to show the impact that Broadway/theatre can have on anyone and everyone!

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Great Theatre Is Great

I recently returned from a very theatre-filled trip to New York City and wanted to take a moment to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the shows I saw. I was travelling with a friend and we got to New York on a Tuesday morning and left on the Friday. In that time we saw 4 shows (and Stars in the Alley). So all in all a great trip.

*Disclaimer: I loved every show on this trip so the following is just going to be a lot about why I loved them. It’s hard to accurately express all of my thoughts about these shows in a cohesive way so please forgive me if I repeat myself, I just really love these shows!*

Tuesday Night (May 30th): The Little Foxes

First up was Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. This was my first time seeing a play on Broadway (I’d only been to see musicals on past NYC trips). I was not familiar with the play going into it but was very excited. This production stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon and on top of that, they alternate their roles. We saw it with Laura playing Regina and Cynthia playing Birdie (the roles for which they received their respective Tony nominations this year). Both women were excellent in the roles we saw them play. The rest of the cast too were so good! I would also love to see it again though with the women in the alternate roles because they both brought so much to their characters as I saw it and the characters are so distinct that it’s hard to picture them portrayed differently (I have heard that their portrayals are very different). There are actually some clips online of Laura and Cynthia each playing Birdie in the same scene and it’s interesting even in that short clip to see the variations. I do wonder too how the other actors’/characters’ performances change with each role switch (obviously the script and staging would be the same but there would be other nuances that would change/differ).

The set was beautiful too. It was one of those sets of a beautiful interior of a house that doesn’t change physically, aside from doors opening to reveal other rooms but then combined with some excellent lighting design there were some really beautiful moments. At the beginning of Act 2 there was one particular moment when the shutters were opened to let light into the house and the light shone in from the side looking just like sunlight streaming in through a window, it was beautiful.

Then to top it off we had an excellent stage door experience. All of the cast members who came out were incredibly nice and we even got pictures with Laura Linney (probably the most famous person with whom I’ve gotten a photo!)

Wednesday Matinee (May 31st): Bandstand

I went to TKTS to get a ticket for the Wednesday matinee and ended up with a 2nd row, centre orchestra seat for Bandstand. I absolutely loved this show! It’s one of my new favourites! It had been a dream of mine to see Laura Osnes live in a show and that dream was fulfilled on this trip. Her performances as Julia Trojan was beautiful in every way. I watched Grease You’re the One That I Want seeing saw Laura win that and have pretty much been following her career ever since. Now I can finally say I’ve seen her in person, and then meeting her at the stage door was the icing on the cake! I am also a big fan of Corey Cott (who I also saw as Jack Kelly in Newsies) and was so happy to see him in a show again (and from a lot closer this time as I was in the back row of the mezzanine when I saw Newsies!). 

As was the case with most of the shows this trip I didn’t really know much about Bandstand beforehand but I loved every moment of it! The whole cast was amazing- principals and ensemble alike. All of the guys in the Donny Nova Band (Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins & Geoff Packard) gave incredible performances. They brought it all, including playing their own instruments. And Corey and Laura- I don’t even really know what to say! The performance of the song “Welcome Home” in Act 2 is one of those performances I won’t forget. Laura’s vocals combined with the song itself (the music and lyrics), the performance from the band, the staging, it made for a powerful and beautiful moment.

I loved the set too and I really liked the contrast between the main set of the club with set pieces (chairs/table/piano/etc.) moving off and on for different locations and the flashier, “modern,” look of the New York City sets in Act 2. Of course I had forgotten until afterwards that David Korins is the set designer for Bandstand (some of his other shows being Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and War Paint, to name a few), and I was already a fan of his work, so I’m not surprised I liked this set!

The costumes too were beautiful. I would love to wear any of Julia’s outfits! (Also, is it in Laura’s contract that she get a cool costume change in her shows?!)

I was so excited to see them perform on the Tonys this year despite not being nominated for Best Musical! And Andy Blankenbuehler won the Tony for Best Choreography!! Now I just have to wait for the cast recording to be released later this month!

Wednesday Night (May 31st): Anastasia

I grew up loving the movie Anastasia (the cartoon from the 90’s) and in fact, still love that (not Disney) movie. It was actually this show around which our New York trip was planned.

I knew going  in to it that there were changes in the musical from how things happen in the movie (for example, Rasputin is not the bad guy). Even with the changes I really really enjoyed this show. There is something great about hearing/seeing some of your favourite songs from childhood (ie “Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December”) live onstage. I will admit though I do wish “In the Dark of the Night” could still be included in the stage production- that song would be amazing live! I was happy to hear though that some of the music from that particular song was used in a couple of different places in the musical. (It almost made up for it being cut). I can also see why the various changes were made, it does make it all a bit more realistic and all of the changes worked in the show.

The design of the show was beautiful. The costumes were stunning (the blue dress!) and the set was beautiful with extremely well-executed uses of projections. “Once Upon a Decemeber” was particularly great for this, as well as the scene where Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad are on the train. So cool!

The casting for Anastasia was very well done. Christy Altomare and Derek Klena were excellent as Anastasia and Dmitry, respectively. Seriously, these characters are in good hands with these two! And they are both incredibly nice in person!

This show had a lot to live up to in my books and I am so happy to say I was not disappointed!

Thursday Night (June 1st): Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

I have never seen or experienced anything like this show before. It was amazing. I knew that it was based on a very specific section of War and Peace but I have never read the book. I had also only heard a couple of the songs beforehand. Once I knew I was seeing the show I decided to hold off listening to the full cast album.

It’s hard to really explain Great Comet, it’s just such a different show, in basically every way- the design, the staging, the style of the music, it’s so unique, but I loved it for that! I’ve been listening to the cast album on repeat lately and I just keep loving it more and more. I do wonder though how I would feel about it if I hadn’t seen the show first (or at all) because it is so different. As it is though I absolutely love it! (How many times can I say it?!)

The cast. Oh that cast (and band). Amazing. There were so many unique voices too. It’s not you’re typical “musical theatre-y” sounding cast. And there are so many of them! Principals, ensemble, roving musicians, non-roving musicians and whatever other combinations of roles. Denee Benton (I was actually at BroadwayCon when they announced the casting of Denee as Natasha), Brittain Ashford, and Lucas Steele, to name a few, were amazing. And yes, Josh Groban is great!!! A few times I tried to count everyone when it looked like they were all on stage but I don’t think I ever counted them all! It was so impressive to see them all scattered around and/or grouped together in the space. There was always so much to look at between the actors and musicians and the design elements, and that’s just in the places we could see from our seats in the rear mezzanine! (Who knows what we missed happening on the orchestra level!)

All of the design elements came together to create an incredibly visually stunning piece of theatre but it was the set and the lighting design that really stood out to me. If you are not already aware, the set for The Great Comet is everywhere in the theatre. Audience members are also sitting on the stage and in pockets of space throughout the “stage,” with paths moving through the seating on both the orchestra and mezzanine levels, with staircases on either side going from the orchestra to the mezzanine. The performers use all of this playable space and the layout lends itself well to making it a very immersive and interactive experience. If you want to know just how interactive it can be consider that we were sitting in the very last row of the mezzanine (not on an aisle) and during a song in Act 2 one of the performers who was moving along the aisle, saw that I was holding a wine cup and reached over with her cup to “cheers” with me with! (It definitely made the $14 wine more worth it! That, and the souvenir cup!)

The lighting design too was gorgeous. There were multiple, beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling as well as numerous single hanging lightbulbs that could be controlled individually both in terms of brightness and height. These lights created some really beautiful effects. On top of that there were also little tables scattered throughout the audience, each table having a light on it, which were also cued in with the rest of the lighting cues, turning on and off, getting brighter and dimmer, throughout the show. I was not surprised at all to see the Scenic Design and Lighting Design Tonys go to Great Comet last night (to Mimi Lien and Bradley King, respectively)!

At times it’s a bit of a weird show, but in a good way and it’s such an experience. Now I just need to see it again from the orchestra and the stage seating!

Trips like this, filled with great shows (and great stage door experiences!), just make me so happy. It was a nice change for me not knowing a lot about all of the shows I was seeing beforehand. It was also exciting because it is a goal of mine to see a show at every Broadway theatre and because of this trip I’ve added 4 more theatres to the list, bringing me up to 11! I can’t wait to go back to NYC and add more theatres to the list!