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!

Broadway Documentaries

Happy World Theatre Day!!!

I decided to honour this day by watching some Broadway/theatre documentaries that I had not yet seen. It was a great decision!

I started with The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened- which I recently found out was added to Canadian Netflix- about the show Merrily We Roll Along, followed by The Heat Is Back On about the revival of Miss Saigon in London, and as I am writing this I am watching The Standbys which focuses on 3 people who are standbys in Broadway shows.

Watching these documentaries today has gotten me thinking about the other Broadway documentaries I have seen (and ones that I want to see) and how much I enjoy watching and learning from these films. I always love learning about Broadway- whether it’s learning about general Broadway history or show specific history/information and I have found documentaries to be a great and entertaining source of information. I don’t think I’ve seen a Broadway documentary that I haven’t liked. Most of them I will even happily watch multiple times, like I would any movie I like.

There are some really great documentaries about Broadway history and some really great show specific documentaries. The following are some of the ones I’ve seen and enjoyed (in no particular order)

  • The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened– about the musical Merrily We Roll Along, 35 years later
  • Every Little Step– about casting the revival of A Chorus Line with stuff about the history of the show and the original production as well
  • Broadway Idiot– about the musical American Idiot, behind-the-scenes and the process of creating the show
  • Life After Tomorrow– about former Annies and orphans from various productions of Annie; their lives during their respective runs of the show and their lives afterwards
  • Show Business: The Road to Broadway– focusing on the musicals Wicked, Avenue Q, Taboo, and Caroline, or Change
  • Broadway the Golden Age- focuses on Broadway in the 40’s and 50’s
  • Broadway: The American Musical– a documentary in 6 parts, covering Broadway from the late 1800s to 2004
  • The Heat Is Back On– about the revival of Miss Saigon in London in 2014
  • The Standbys– focusing on 3 people who are standbys for Broadway shows, talking about the roles of standbys and understudies and that side of Broadway
  • In the Heights- Chasing Broadway Dreams– about the musical In the Heights (part of Great Performances on PBS)
  • Hamilton’s America– about the musical Hamilton and some of the real history about Alexander Hamilton (part of Great Performances on PBS)
  • Six by Sondheim– looking at the career of Stephen Sondheim (an HBO documentary)

I have learned a lot from these documentaries. So many interesting things come up when you’re hearing from the people who have worked on the shows and been a part of the history, while seeing clips from shows, behind the scenes clips, audition clips and more. I find it all so fascinating. I love seeing the process of creating a show and I love seeing how Broadway has changed over the years (even just hearing how much the price of a ticket has changed is mind-boggling). Documentaries like these can also give you some insight and understanding of a show even if you haven’t actually seen the show itself. I’ve never seen American Idiot but I absolutely love Broadway Idiot as a documentary and now whenever I do get the chance to see it, I’ll already have all this interesting back story and information in my head, which I know will only add to the experience! There are so many interesting bits of information you can get from these documentaries, like Billie Joe Armstrong talking about finding a community in the Broadway world, or hearing how they found a way to hide mike packs in wigs for Miss Saigon so it wasn’t an issue when the girls were in bikinis- I can’t get enough of it!

I can’t wait to see what the future brings for Broadway documentaries- which shows will release making-of documentaries, which eras or Broadway seasons will become the focus of documentaries, or even specific people.

(If anyone has any suggestions of other Broadway-related documentaries, please let me know! I’m always on the lookout for more! And if you would like me to talk about any of these documentaries in more detail let me know and perhaps I can do some more specific posts about them!)

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!!!

Not Your Average Theatrical Production

It’s no secret that when it comes to theatre, my go to is musicals. When I’m going to see a show, it’s usually a musical. That being said it can also be fun to see shows that are more out of the ordinary, shows that aren’t your typical theatrical performance, that aren’t the average play or musical. I have seen a few such shows (a couple within the last few months) which are the inspiration for this particular post.

For the purpose of this post I’m going to focus on 3 particular productions that I have seen: Cuisine and Confessions, Fight Night, and Peter Pan On Ice.

Cuisine and Confessions, by The 7 Fingers, which I saw at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, is a show that combines storytelling, acrobatics and food. I saw the show back in November and I’d never been to a production like it. (Yes, I’m Canadian theatre/arts fan and I’ve never seen Cirque du Soleil). The things the performers could do were incredible! I’ve also always been interested in food-related things (fun fact: growing up I wanted to be a baker/pastry chef). Though my career goals have shifted, I am still interested in food related things and love watching cooking shows and reading and watching food related stories. So you can imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to see a theatrical performance that incorporated food! It wasn’t just that food was an ongoing theme in the production either, there was actual cooking done onstage during the show, including an omelette, pasta, and banana bread, and the audience got the chance to sample the pasta and banana bread at the end of the show! And the theatre smelled great (even with the limited sense of smell I had at the time due to a cold)! I didn’t really know much about the show going into it other than that acrobatics and food were involved but that made it even more fun and I really enjoyed the show!

I also recently saw Fight Night which was playing at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto. Similarly to Cuisine and Confessions, I didn’t really know much about this show going into it other than that there was an election and audience participation involved. Again, I had never seen a production like it. Every audience member was given a little remote style thing which we would use to vote throughout the show. Right at the beginning of the show we found out the demographic of the audience (age, gender, salary, etc.) and from there the “contestants” came out onstage and even before hearing from any of them we had to vote for our favourite and least favourites. From there the audience continued to vote on various things, we’d learn more about the contestants, and more of them would get “voted off” until there was only 1 left. The experience was all the more interesting because I saw it the Thursday after the US election- so thoughts on voting and elections were fresh in my mind. It was also interesting as a theatrical performance because it’s not a show that has a story of any sort. You’re also never really told what you’re voting for or why you’re voting for these people. It’s not a specific position they’re vying for, just to be the one elected, the “winner.” There is a part of me that wishes I saw it more than once to see how it would change with different audiences. It was a really cool experience and I’m really glad I got the chance to see it, even just once!

Thirdly I want to talk a little bit about Peter Pan On Ice which I saw back in 2011 in Eastbourne, when I was studying in the UK in my first year of university. I would say this particular production was probably more in line with a ballet (though I’ve never actually been to the ballet either), they were just skating rather than dancing. What was particularly  interesting and exciting about this production was the stage. When I hear/see the phrase “on ice” I automatically think ice rink/arena. But that was not the case for this production. This Peter Pan was staged in a theatre, a standard proscenium theatre, with the ice on the stage! As is a recurring statement with this post, I had never seen anything like it and even since have not seen anything like it. I’m a big Peter Pan fan, in any of its forms/stories, and seeing it presented in such a way was very exciting and entertaining.

It can be a lot of fun going to see shows that are out of your particular norm. It’s fun seeing the different possibilities of what can happen onstage and experiencing things you might not have thought possible like ice on the stage or banana bread being baked onstage during a show! There are so many possibilities in the theatre. While it’s great going to see more “traditional” theatre it is also great to see something that’s a bit more unique (not that “traditional” theatre can’t also be unique) and be reminded that there really is so much out there, so many ideas and possibilities that can be explored in any number of ways!


It’s Gonna Be a Happy New Year

A new year and back at it!

Hello readers and Broadway lovers!

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while! Things got really busy for me for a while and then I just ended taking an unplanned break from writing this blog. BUT in my time away, aside from being busy with work, I’ve worked on a show, I’ve seen some shows, and I’ve been coming up with new ideas for posts for this blog! One of my resolutions for 2017 is to get back into posting here on a (at least semi) regular basis.

So this is me getting back at it! If you read my blog before and are still around reading this, thank you! If you’re a new reader welcome! Keep an eye out for a new post soon!

Intro: The Broadway Lover’s Guide to Not Living Near Broadway

If you’re taking the time to read this blog 1) Thank you! and 2) You are probably a Broadway (or theatre in general) fan! (If you’re not, you might be in the wrong place, but by all means, continue reading! We might just make a Broadway fan of you yet!)

Now the thing about Broadway is that it is only physically located in one city, in one country, on the whole planet. While there are other theatre “hubs” around the world (London’s West End, for example) there is only 1 Broadway. And I’m sure there are a lot of you who, like me, don’t live in that one city or even that one country. Living in Ontario, Canada, I’m not actually that far from New York City but a lot of the time I feel as though it might as well be on the other side of the world. That being said, Broadway still plays a HUGE role in my life and I’ve decided to use this first post on my new blog to share with you, the readers (if there actually are any of you) a general idea of how this Broadway enthusiast stays enthusiastic away from the Great White Way. (I will likely go into more detail about some, if not all, of these things in future posts, so consider this a general list of sorts!)

  • The Internet/Social Media
    • This is a big one! I keep up with all the Broadway news by following Broadway.com, Broadwayworld.com, Playbill and more on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A lot of my Twitter feed is taken up by various theatre artists, insiders, and specific show accounts. YouTube is also an important source for watching videos posted by the above mentioned sites, past Tony Awards performances, show clips, videos from Broadway events and concerts, etc.
  • Cast Recordings
    • I get most of my cast recordings from iTunes, buy CDs occasionally, and listen to them online (full albums &/or playlists) with Spotify, Accuradio, and 8Tracks. Cast recordings serve multiple purposes for me: they give me the chance to experience shows I have never, and may never see live; and they allow me to relive shows I have been fortunate enough to see. It will probably come as no surprise to hear that more than half my iPod is filled with showtunes (what else would you expect from someone writing a Broadway blog?!)
  • Books (both fiction and non-fiction)
    • I love reading and I love reading books about the theatre. Novels, coffee-table books, history-related books, biographies/autobiographies, etc., I’m interested in it all!
  • Movies & Filmed Productions
    • I love a good movie musical! I also love the number of professionaly filmed productions available now- whether on DVD, at the movie theatre (National Theatre Live I’m looking at you), on TV (the main programming I care about on PBS now, when I have cable that is). Similar to cast recordings they give me the chance to experience shows I may never see otherwise and let me re-experience shows with which I am already familiar
  • Local and Touring Theatre
    • this includes student, community, amateur, professional and touring productions. Due to budgetary restrictions I don’t get to see as much or as much variety of productions as I would like and lately my viewing is mainly focused on the programming offered by Mirvish (the big theatre company in Toronto that is responsible for bringing in the big touring productions as well producing Canadian productions of popular musicals, among other programming)
  • Podcasts
    • right now my podcast listening is mainly focused on the Theater People Podcast and The Ensemblist (both of which are amazing!) though I am always looking to expand my listening options!

Like I said, that’s a general idea of how I get my Broadway fix wherever I am, with or without internet (though it’s certainly a lot better with internet!!) and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts on these and other things on this blog in the future!

Basically my main goal with this whole endeavour is to share and express my love for Broadway, and theatre in general, and to have fun and be creative in the process!

If you’re feeling up to it I would love to bring you on this Broadway-filled journey with me! Join me won’t you?! [insert “Magic to Do” reference here]