Viva La Vie Boheme

Rent Live aired on January 27, 2019 on Fox (or CityTV in Canada). I’ll admit I was hesitant about this one. From the moment it was announced I was worried I’d be disappointed. (I’ve written before about my love of Rent, which you can read here https://dreamingofthoseneonlights.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/cause-everything-is-rent/) I knew I would still watch it though. And then I was hearing some good things about this production. I did not get to watch Rent Live when it aired on 27th but got the chance to watch it a few days later when it was uploaded to the CityTV website. Somewhat surprisingly to me I was able to go into it with a fairly open mind. Once it started I was able to just let go and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did! It’s actually been a little while since I last watched Rent (either the movie or the Filmed Live on Broadway version) but this was a really nice reminder of how much I love the show. Now I want to go off and watch all of the versions, including rewatching this one.

Let’s get this out of the way first. It’s fair if you didn’t enjoy this production. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But. If your biggest complaint is that it wasn’t “live,” that they aired the dress rehearsal, I don’t feel that is anything worth complaining about. Sure you can be a little disappointed but, unless you were there for the filming, in the end, whether it was filmed on Saturday or Sunday, it doesn’t really matter. I feel bad for Brennin (and the rest of the cast) and I wish him a speedy recovery. It is such a shame that this happened and they didn’t get to do their full final performance but we, the home audience, still got a production that was filmed live. Not broadcast live, but still a filmed live production. I would love it if they released a recording of the concert they did in lieu of the full production (like as a bonus feature on a DVD release or as a bonus with the digital release, like on iTunes) but I am glad we still got to see basically the whole show as they had intended it to be! It’s lucky that at the end of the show it actually works for Roger to stay in one place. I do wonder if now these live musical events will actually have understudies, should anything like this happen again. I guess we’ll see! But like I said before, I enjoyed this production and that is going to be my main focus for the rest of this post (ok, with some minor criticisms here and there)!

Overall I thought the casting was pretty good. Some roles were maybe not as strong as others but overall everyone was effective in their roles. I was particularly a fan of Jordan Fisher as Mark. There were a couple of times when I thought his Mark might just be a bit too cool but I think it worked for him and I really enjoyed his performance. Brandon Victor Dixon was also an excellent Collins (yes, “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” made me cry). I was happy to see Keala Settle in such a featured role too! In general I’m always going to be a fan of the theatre people that are cast in these shows. And I hope they continue to cast more theatre people in these productions, and in the leading roles in these productions. They are getting better with it, so I hope it continues.

It was so nice seeing the original cast back together at the end. I knew they were going to be there- I’d seen all the posts about it so it wasn’t a surprise- but it was still great to see! It would have been nice if there had been a way for them to move Brennin forward to be with everyone else, but I understand why they couldn’t (and it was kind of fun seeing Adam sitting with Brennin on the table).

I was a fan of the larger ensemble for this production of Rent. I knew there was going to be more dance in this version and I had been curious as to how that would work out, since Rent isn’t typically a very “dance-y” show but I think it actually worked really well here and in that space. I loved the moment during “Rent” when the ensemble were all drumming on the scaffolding. I do wish we could have seen more of ensemble (at least in the background) during “Tango Maureen” because the glimpses we did get looked very cool.

I also loved the set for Rent Live. I thought it was really effective and, well, cool, with good reminiscences of the original set (ie the scaffolding and the Christmas tree). I found the use of the space to be quite effective.

I think it’s good that they’re continuing to include live audiences with these live TV productions. There were some times in this production however, that I thought the audience, or rather the audience reactions, might be a bit too much. It might just be that we need to find more of a balance with the audience, a balance between the sort of “rock concert” vibe and a typical theatre audience vibe. I think the loud cheering and screaming worked better for Jesus Christ Superstar with Jesus being the sort of celebrity figure, but Rent is different and it seems a bit more out of place for these characters to be acknowledging the audience. All that being said, maybe it was a bit “more” because it was the dress rehearsal audience- the first real audience for the show, everyone’s excited to be there, it’s a different energy, and no one went in expecting it to be aired. Maybe it would have been more subdued (for lack of a better word) if it had been the “actual performance” (though I’m thinking probably not).

As with each of these live TV musicals I can’t wait to see what happens with the next one(s) as they keep learning and trying different things. Now that Hair has been cancelled, I’m even just interested to see what the next musical will be, let alone how they’ll do it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

 

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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).

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)!

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!

The Woodsman

I just watched The Woodsman on Broadway HD and wow! It. Is. Stunning. If you get a chance to watch it, do. The Woodsman tells the origin story (or a version of the origin story) of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. The staging in beautiful and the use of puppets incredible. It’s done so simply but also so intricately.

The set is quite simple and moved around by the actors. There is a single violin player on stage playing throughout while the performers provide other sound effects, for example clapping to indicate the sound of chopping wood and whistling for birdsong.

The lighting design is beautiful, with the added use of handheld flashlights throughout to great effect. They flashlights are used as an indication of magic and the simple act of shining them on a pair of sparkly shoes shows the power of the slippers. There is also a beautiful moment where flashlights are used as fireflies.

There is no dialogue in the piece, except at the beginning which sets up the story and the location, and one other particular moment. Even so everything, every emotion and thought, is conveyed so clearly through the actions, the sounds, both man-made and from the violin. Even through the puppets. Instrumental and vocal music help to set the scene and the mood and emotion.

Puppets are used in a variety of ways including for the Witch, the Woodsman (once he’s been turned to tin), a very intricate, multi-part tiger, and some very effective crows. Some of the puppets require only one person but some are multi-person use puppets. All are amazing to watch.

It’s great that there are filmed productions like this. Ones that show the variety of what theatre can be and do. I’m a sucker for the traditional musical but I also love to see different types of productions like this and I love that things like BroadwayHD are making these recordings available and more accessible. If you get a chance to watch this production, I would highly recommend it!

 

Theatre & Happiness

As you can tell from the very fact that I have a theatre blog, theatre makes me very happy. Some of my favourite memories or life moments have taken place at the theatre both working on shows and sitting in the audience. Last night was one of those nights!

Last night I went to a screening of Newsies at Cineplex. It. Was. Amazing. As soon as it started and we saw Jeremy Jordan and Andrew Keenan-Bolger on stage and they were singing “Santa Fe (Prologue)” I was just so happy (as embarrassing as it is to admit, I even teared up a little bit, I was so happy). Sitting there in the dark movie theatre watching one of my favourite musicals (which was reaffirmed with this screening) on the big screen, it was the happiest I’d felt for a little while.

I think it’s one of the best feelings, the happiness that accompanies a great theatrical experience (including those theatrical experiences that are filmed). Yes, I’ve had some less-good experiences at the at the theatre but thankfully the really bad have been few and far between.

After a good theatrical experience energized and inspired, in a way. And then some times, like last night, you just need to be reminded of how much you love a show and why. It’s also why I love seeing shows multiple times or rewatching the filmed versions. Each time you get to re-live the excitement and happiness of the experience and sometimes notice new things and new reasons to love it even more.

It’s a form of escapism and last night I got to escape into the world of Newsies.  It’s true that not all great theatrical experiences are “happy” ones and the not happy ones can be just as great. But it is really fun to enjoy those happy moments.

So thank you Newsies for making me very, very happy!

____

A few quick thoughts on the Newsies movie:

  • I love that they brought back Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fanhauser, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Tommy Bracco and others, combining OBC with the touring cast
  • I love that they increased the size of the cast. The numbers were impressive enough and then they add in more cast members, wow!
  • Where were the girlsies?
  • “Once and For All” still gives me chills (if you’ve seen the show, you know which part I’m talking about)
  • Andrew Keenan-Bolger singing “Letter From the Refuge” was great!!
  • I just love this show so much and am hoping for DVD or digital release so I can watch it over and over again!!!

Live in the Comfort of Your Own Home

In the last year there have been two historic live stream events in the theatre world. Both out of NYC. The first was the Off-Broadway musical, Daddy Long Legs, back in December, which became the first ever Off-Broadway production to offer a live stream of a performance (with the bonus of being free of charge). Then on June 30th, the Broadway musical She Loves Me became the first Broadway show to offer a live stream, this time through Broadway HD (with a cost of $9.99 (American)). I was fortunate enough to catch both of these live streams and both experiences were amazing!

I didn’t really know anything about Daddy Long Legs before seeing the live stream. I was home with no plans and there was a live stream of an Off-Broadway musical, so I thought I might as well check it out! And I am so glad I did! I loved the show and the cast (Megan McGinnis and Adam Halpin, who are actually married in real life). Once the stream had ended, I just felt so happy. I got to experience a new musical live, right from my home. For this stream they were showing it a few different times for the benefit of different time zones and there was another showing right after the first finished. I ended up watching the first act again right then. (I was going to watch the whole thing again but it was getting late and I was tired so decided it was best to stop halfway through.) After seeing that live stream I bought the cast recording on iTunes and I even ended up buying the book of the same title on which the musical is based.

Similarly, I didn’t know much about She Loves Me going in to it, though, admittedly, I knew more about it than I did Daddy Long Legs. I had heard “Vanilla Ice Cream,” had seen some show clips and the Tony performance, and I learned from the Tonys that it was based on the same play on which You’ve Got Mail is based (also that You’ve Got Mail is based on a play). Of course I was also familiar with many of the cast members- and what a cast! Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel, Jane Krakowski, Andrew Kober and then the rest of the cast too. So many talented people in one show! Unlike Daddy Long Legs, the live stream of She Loves Me was not free, but I was more than willing to pay the $9.99 (American) for the opportunity to see the (first) live stream of a Broadway musical. It was worth every penny! And thankfully it worked out that I wasn’t working that night!

The She Loves Me stream was available to watch online for 10 days after the initial stream. It was originally only supposed to be 7 days but they extended its availability, which was alright by me! In that time (including the initial stream) I watched the show 3 times in full and also partially watched it a couple times. It was just so good! And again, it was one of those shows that left me feeling so happy! For me, that is honestly one of the best kinds of happy- the happiness that comes from falling in love with a new show, especially one that has a very feel-good way about it.

As someone who is not in NYC and can’t just go see these shows any time I’d like, I think these live streams, as well as other filmed production, offer a great opportunity both to give the shows more exposure and to give us, the distant Broadway fans, the chance to see these shows. After the Daddy Long Legs stream Producer Ken Davenport posted a link with the viewing statistics from the stream. After looking at that and from my own experiences, I don’t really see how you could look at these streams as anything but a good thing.

To be honest, I feel this way about pretty much all of the filmed productions that are available. I love the way they make theatre more accessible. There are the productions that are released on DVD (for example Rent, Billy Elliot, Into the Woods, etc.) and there are those shown in movie theatres (for example the National Theatre Live productions). I have gotten to see and experience a lot of shows that I would not have gotten to see otherwise because of these productions. I know and acknowledge that it’s not the same as seeing a show live, but for me at least, I still feel a similar excitement watching these productions to that which I feel when I’m at the theatre. In a lot of cases these filmed productions are the only chance that I’ll get to see the shows and for those that I have been fortunate enough to see live, if they are available on DVD or Broadway HD or anything like that, it gives me the chance to re-live those experiences. Now that they’ve started with these live streams, I think it really adds to the experience because you get the chance to watch the show live! The same time you are watching it on whatever screen or device you know it is happening right then onstage! I do hope it is something that will continue with other shows. That being said I know it can’t, and frankly shouldn’t, be something that every show does, but every so often, to offer a live Broadway or Off-Broadway show to the world, well, where’s the downside to that? I know in my case seeing these lives streams and filmed productions actually increases my desire to see the shows live in person. Unfortunately Daddy Long Legs and She Loves Me have both now closed (oh how I wish I could have seen both of them!), but if there is ever a production of either playing near me, because I had the opportunity to see and fall in love with them through their live streams, it is very likely that I would attend a performance if I could!

I do hope that the recordings of Daddy Long Legs and She Loves Me have a future. Broadway HD did indicate that She Loves Me would be back on the site after a time, so I really hope it will be (and soon!). There hasn’t been anything official said about the future of Daddy Long Legs but I’m still holding out hope that it will live on! A DVD release of both shows would be ideal! Until I’m given reason to believe otherwise I will continue to look forward to the day I can watch these recordings again (and, preferably, whenever I want)!