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?

 

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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).

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!

Broadway Up Close

Broadway Up Close offers 5 different Broadway-related walking tours in New York City: Act I, Act II, Act III, The HamilTour, and The Ghostlight Tour.

I first heard about Broadway Up Close Walking Tours back in 2014 when looking for things to do in NYC and ended up taking both the Act I and Act II tours on that particular trip. We booked our Act I tour for a Sunday morning. We had so much fun on that first tour that, even though we thought it would be a complete long shot, we decided to see if it would be at all possible to book an Act II tour before we left on Monday (yes, the next day). To this day some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced has come from booking these Broadway tours. When we were looking into booking the Act II tour we were sending emails between seeing the matinee of If/Then and the evening show of Rock of Ages to the owner of BUC, Tim Dolan, who was acting in a show at the time and responding during his intermission, and then finalising the details after all of the shows were done that night. In the end we were able to book a last minute Act II tour for the following morning.

Ever since I took those first two tours, every time they’ve announced a new tour (Act II, The HamilTour, The Ghostlight Tour), I knew I wanted to take them! I was really happy when I saw Broadway Up Close was going to have a booth at the BroadwayCon Marketplace this year. It was such a pleasure meeting Tim Dolan in person and that is where I was able to book my third tour with the company, the HamilTour. I was leaving the city the Monday night after BroadwayCon but had time to fill during the day and when I saw that the HamilTour was offered on Mondays, I knew I wanted to take it! At their booth I was also able to pick up a copy of the Act I Souvenir Program, which hadn’t been available when I took the tour. I’m looking forward to reading through it and re-experiencing the stories I heard on that first tour!

All three of the tour I’ve taken have been both extremely interesting and entertaining. I always love learning theatre history and these tours are such a great way to do so. The Act I and II tours take you around to certain theatres and locations in the Broadway area sharing relevant history, ghost stories, fun facts and other stories. The HamilTour takes you to parts of Hamilton’s New York (which was actually an area of New York I had not really explored before), tying in the real life history and locations to the Broadway musical (both with regards to major plot points and smaller details), while also making connections with the design elements of show and sharing other facts and stories about the musical. I’ve learned a lot of American history from Hamilton and from reading about the show (we don’t generally learn much American history here in Canada) and I learned even more on the HamilTour.

Every interaction I’ve had with anyone from BUC has been extremely positive, both when booking the tours and on the tours themselves, and you can tell there is excellent communication between everyone at BUC. At the end of out Act I tour we had spent some time talking to our Green Team Guide, Mikey, and it came up how I am interested in the backstage side of theatre. Then for our Act II tour they organized it so that one of the Guides who is also a stage manager would lead our tour. It was such a nice touch. You can tell they really care about the people who take the tours and the extra touches, like setting up a tour with a specific tour guide or things as simple as just remembering where you’re from and if you’ve taken their tours before, make the experience all the more personal. I was even given hand warmers for the HamilTour. And on top of that they obviously care about the tours themselves. Not only are all of the tour guides extremely knowledgeable, you can tell they care about what they’re talking about.

Both my Act II tour and HamilTour ended up being private tours (Act II was me, my mom and our Guide, Theresa, and the HamilTour was just me and the Guide, Cary) and it made them both really fun experiences and even more personal! It was fun getting all of the information and seeing all of the sights while also being able to go off on tangents and discuss different things as they came up.

If you’re ever looking for something to do in New York and you love theatre and the history that goes with it I can’t recommend these tours enough! I personally can’t wait to go back to New York and cross the other two tours (Act III and The Ghostlight Tour) off my list! (And I would happily take any of the tours again!)

img_3224.jpgThe Act I Souvenir Program & My Lanyard From the HamilTour

 

Theatre Memories: Stage Door Stories

It should come as no surprise that I am someone who goes to the stage door after a show. I didn’t actually start stage dooring (yes, I will be using stage dooring as a verb throughout this post) show until I went to New York for the first time in 2012. Since then I’ve gone to the stage door of every Broadway show I’ve been to, and a few shows in Toronto. I have noticed that while stage dooring is done in Toronto, it is not as big a thing as it is in New York. The following are some of my own personal stage door experiences!

1st Stage Door Experience (also Busiest Stage Door Experience):

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. My first Broadway show was also my first stage door experience! And what an experience! To this day, it is still the busiest stage door I’ve been to. It was Darren Criss’s second day in the show, so it’s not surprising that it was a zoo. I didn’t get anywhere near the front of the group. I didn’t get any autographs. I got a few pictures from a distance where I’m pretty sure you can see parts of heads and sleeves. At one point I was standing on a ledge or barrier or something and did see and hear Darren, so all things considered it was the best I could have gotten from where I was and it was still great. (And, actually my dad, who ended up standing in a different spot from my mom and I, did get one of the actor’s autographs on his Playbill.)

Best Stage Door Experience:

I have had some really great stage door experiences, but I suppose the “best” would probably be after seeing the Godspell revival, also on my first trip to NYC. This time the stage door was nowhere near as busy. There were other people there but it was nothing like How to Succeed. I was right at the barrier right near the doors where the actors came out. I met and got pictures with almost every cast member (except Morgan James and Celisse Henderson). I also had longer conversations with Telly Leung and George Salazar which was really exciting for me! (I had actually seen George in a tour of Spring Awakening that had a one show stop in Kingston.)  My Godspell experience is certainly one I won’t forget!

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Photo collage I made of stage door pictures after seeing Godspell in 2012 (This is still the background on my laptop). Moving clockwise starting at the top left corner the pictures include Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Wallace Smith, George Salazar, Telly Leung, Uzo Aduba, Corey Mach, Nick Blaemire, Lindsay Mendez.

Worst Stage Door Experience:

This one goes to If/Then. I want to state right off the bat, this being the worst experience has nothing to do with any of the cast members. My issues came from the other people waiting at the stage door. And it wasn’t all bad. I got to meet and get pictures with quite a few of the cast members. At one point though, as we were waiting for Idina to come out, a really tall person came up right behind me and with people in front and beside me, I felt closed in on all and couldn’t really move or see . It was overwhelming and pretty uncomfortable. Yes, when it’s a busy stage door there is only so much room and it gets crowded, but this time it was just a bit too much. When Idina came out I did get some pictures of her but I didn’t end up getting her autograph. I just wasn’t close enough/pushy enough I guess (it was nothing to do with Idina herself, who I know can only do so much when there are so many people and in a short amount of time). Like I said, in terms of the actors though, everyone was great! It was just the crowd with which I had an issue.

Least Busy Stage Door Experience:

There have been a few times when I’ve gone to the stage door for shows in Toronto and I’ve been the only one there. This was the case the last time the Phantom of the Opera tour was in Toronto. I may have been the only person there but I got a lot of autographs! When Buyer and Cellar was playing in Toronto I went to the stage door where there were two of us (the other person being my mother who had been at the show with me!). I got to meet Christopher J Hanke though, which had an added bonus because I had also seen him as Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business, but, like I said before, I wasn’t anywhere near enough to get any autographs at that show!

Best Stage Door Experience Not at the Stage Door:

I saw the In the Heights tour twice. Once in Kingston and once in Toronto. After the Toronto performance I ended up meeting the cast when we were on the way back to our hotel. I had seen the show with my parents and best friend and as we were on the subway I looked over and saw people I thought I recognized from the cast. We debated for a while whether or not it was them and whether or not to go over to them but finally we did, asking if they were in fact from the cast. When they confirmed it, I asked them to sign my souvenir program. It was as they began passing it around that I realized how many of them were actually there! I had recognized two of them!) I talked to them for a little while, telling them how I had also seen the show in Kingston. They were all really nice and it was great of them to take the time to talk to us! It was a really cool experience!

Biggest Celebrity I’ve Met at the Stage Door:

In terms of celebrities (beyond the theatre world), I would say there is a tie for this one between Josh Groban, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney, although I had the most interaction with Laura. I got Josh’s autograph after seeing Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. In that instance it was a case of him going along the group quickly signing autographs and not posing for pictures. It was still really cool though! I met Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney after seeing The Little Foxes on the same trip. The stage door for The Little Foxes was not very busy and as well as getting both of their autographs I also got a picture with Laura Linney!

People and Moments that Stand Out From Other Stage Door Experiences:

  • Alex Brightman after seeing School of Rock. He was really nice and such a great Dewey! I talked to him about loving the movie growing up.
  • Laura Osnes after seeing Bandstand. I’ve been a fan of Laura’s for a long time and it was a dream come true to get to see her in a show and then meet her at the stage door afterwards! (I wish now that I had gotten pictures with the rest of the cast too.)
  • Ramin Karimloo, Christy Altomare, & Derek Klena after seeing Anastasia. We talked to Ramin for a bit as fellow Canadians and I’ve seen him perform a few times before. (He’s amazing). We talked to Christy for a while. She was really taking the time to talk to everyone and she was extremely nice. She made sure we met Derek too because he had gone to the next people while we were talking to her. He was also great!
  • Norm Lewis after seeing Phantom of the Opera. He was the last person to come out, quite a while after everyone else, but I remember him being really nice and talking to everyone and posing for pictures. (This was also a bit of a weird experience because we were all waiting in one spot, then, after we’d already been there for a while, were told we couldn’t stand there and had to move to a different spot. It all worked out in the end, but I found it strange that we hadn’t been informed of the “right” place to wait earlier. But I still got to meet Norm Lewis, so it was great!)
  • Andy Karl and the rest of the Rocky cast. I was so excited after seeing that show and meeting the cast was the icing on the cake. I was right near the end of the group that was waiting at the stage door, which worked out really well for getting photos and spending a little time talking to the actors, including Andy.
  • I’ve also had a lot of good experiences with the security at various Broadway stage doors. A lot of the time they have been great about letting everyone know if people are still coming out or if that’s it for the night. The people at the Godspell and Bandstand stage doors were particularly good about keeping us updated. I can only imagine what they have to deal with night after night!
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One of my my more recent stage door highlights: meeting Laura Osnes after Bandstand in 2017.

It’s a common thing in this post that the actors I’ve met at the stage door have been really nice. But it’s true, they have been. I really appreciate everyone I’ve met (talked to, posed for a picture with, had sign my Playbill/souvenir program), knowing that it’s not a part of their job to greet fans at the stage door! And I totally understand and accept when people don’t come out the stage door. I’m so grateful for the excellent experiences I’ve had and look forward to any future stage door experiences!