A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time.It’s been adapted numerous times—for television, the stage, and the big screen. If you can think of an angle, it’s probably been applied to A Christmas Carol. In that light, I don’t know how novel an idea Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol—someone must have done A Christmas Carol in the style of 1980s pop music—but honestly, I don’t care. A VHS Christmas Carol is exactly the kind of thing I wanted this holiday season. It’s an album (and virtual live visual album) that’s packed with catchy, earwormy tunes, energy, and heart. It’s the perfect holiday pick-me-up. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
A VHS Christmas Carol (written by Clark Baxtresser, directed by Corey Lubowich) Join StarKid for a new holiday tradition blending Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with 80’s music videos into a synth-elating Live Visual Album experience! This reimagining of the classic tale from composer Clark Baxtresser features and all-star(kid) cast serving up vibes from Christmases past, an escape from Christmas present, and a cutting edge blend of live and filmed performances straight out of Christmas future!
Everyone is familiar with Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s been adapted multiple times for the screen—an animated special, a live-action film starring Jim Carrey, and a full length animated film starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the mid-2000s, it was also adapted for the Broadway stage by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin. That production starred Patrick Page (of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Hadestown fame) and quickly became a go-to favorite for regional and community theaters. And now, NBC is giving it the primetime TV treatment. Similar to their ongoing tradition of staging live musicals during the holiday season, NBC has decided to broadcast a newly-filmed production of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical straight from London—this time starring Matthew Morrison as the Grinch. While it isn’t live, like the other NBC musicals, it’s still a fully staged production. And, to be honest, it’s so much worse than I expected it to be. Unlike most of the NBC live musicals, which have been plagued by technical problems and questionable casting choices, The Grinch Musical is plagued by a bafflingly bad script, woefully miscast lead actors, and a score that is almost uniformly boring. (1.5 out of 5 wands.)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (written by Simon Nye and Mel Marvin; composed by Timothy Mason, Albert Hague, and Dr. Seuss; directed by Max Webster and Julia Knowles) Dr. Seuss’ beloved book tells the story of a reclusive Grinch (Matthew Morrison) who plotted from his cave atop snowy Mt. Crumpit to steal Christmas from the Whos in Who-ville. Then on Christmas Eve, disguised as Santa Claus and enlisting his loyal dog Max (Denis O’Hare as Adult Max, Booboo Stewart as Young Max) as a reindeer, the Grinch traveled to Who-ville to scoop up the Whos’ gifts and decorations. Much to his surprise on Christmas morning, the Whos were unfazed and celebrated the holiday with a heartwarming display of joy and love.
This musical version, with book and lyrics by Tim Mason and music by Mel Marvin and featuring the hit songs “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” (by Albert Hague & Dr. Seuss), breathes new life into this timeless story. The lush and whimsical staging by award-winning director Max Webster, directed for television by BAFTA winner Julia Knowles, with additional script material by BAFTA-winning writer Simon Nye and featuring sets by acclaimed designer Peter Bingemann, will set the mood for a beautiful holiday celebration.
It has been a decade since Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark first began previews, accompanied by endless reports about injured actors and workplace safety hazards. With a budget exceeding sixty million dollars, an endless barrage of reported injuries, and suggestions that the plot was nigh incoherent, the musical had all the makings of a colossal train wreck. And, for a while, it delivered on that promise, with continued reports of technical mistakes and feuding creatives. But, eventually, it just fizzled out. After months and months of previews, the ousting of its director, and endless lousy press, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark opened on June 14, 2011. But what happened? Glen Berger, co-writer of the musical’s script, seeks to answer this in his account of the musical’s creation, Song of Spider-Man. While reading as more of a gossipy, biased memoir than an objective, neutral account, Song of Spider-Man is an entertaining and revealing look at how Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark went from being an anticipated Broadway spectacle to a “sixty-five million dollar circus tragedy.” (4 out of 5 wands.)
Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History (by Glen Berger) As you might imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t begin to imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked playwright Glen Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together—along with U2’s Bono and Edge—they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love…and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.
But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety. Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor.
There’s nothing quite like Broadway drama. Between the divas who star in shows and the even bigger ones who write and produce them, there is never a dull moment behind the scenes of a Broadway show. This was especially true during the 1990s and early 2000s—the era of Broadway’s resurgence in American popular culture, which makes this time period the perfect topic for Michael Riedel, longtime theatre columnist for the New York Post, to write about. His latest book, Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway, often reads like more of a gossip column than a historical account, but is a quick, devilishly entertaining read for all Broadway lovers. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.)
Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel The 1990s was a decade of profound change on Broadway. At the dawn of the nineties, the British invasion of Broadway was in full swing, as musical spectacles like Les Miserables, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera dominated the box office. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard soon spelled the end of this era and ushered in a new wave of American musicals, beginning with the ascendance of an unlikely show by a struggling writer who reimagined Puccini’s opera La Bohème as the smash Broadway show Rent. American musical comedy made its grand return, culminating in The Producers, while plays, always an endangered species on Broadway, staged a powerful comeback with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. A different breed of producers rose up to challenge the grip theater owners had long held on Broadway, and corporations began to see how much money could be made from live theater.
And just as Broadway had clawed its way back into the mainstream of American popular culture, the September 11 attacks struck fear into the heart of Americans who thought Times Square might be the next target. But Broadway was back in business just two days later, buoyed by talented theater people intent on bringing New Yorkers together and supporting the economics of an injured city.
Michael Riedel presents the drama behind every mega-hit or shocking flop, bringing readers into high-stakes premieres, fraught rehearsals, tough contract negotiations, intense Tony Award battles, and more. From the bitter feuds to the surprising collaborations, all the intrigue of a revolutionary era in the Theater District is packed into Singular Sensation. Broadway has triumphs and disasters, but the show always goes on.
I don’t normally review music here. From time-to-time, I make exceptions, but on the whole, I don’t feel particularly qualified to review music. I don’t write music, I don’t understand how one comes up with the perfect song. Nonetheless, I love music. And, sometimes, there are weeks where multiple albums that I am excited about all release on the same day. And, on those weeks, I feel the desire to take a listen to those albums and talk about them. This week, The Network (a Green Day side project) released an EP entitled “Trans Am,” Tim Minchin released his debut solo album entitled “Apart Together,” and the original Broadway cast of Hadestown released “If the Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album.” So, let’s talk about all of them.
Who doesn’t love a good Christmas movie musical? I certainly do, as do most others, I think. There’s just something about Christmas and musicals that go very well together. So, when I heard that Netflix was making Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, I was interested to see what they’d pull together. The trailer looked like a whimsical delight, filled with gorgeous sets and an all-star cast. And, having seen the film, that’s precisely what it is. While Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey could stand to be about thirty minutes shorter, it’s a bundle of holiday joy packed with fantastic performances, gorgeous visuals, and some pretty solid songs. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (written and directed by David E. Talbert) A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert and featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, and Davy Nathan, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility.
I love a good, bad movie. Especially ones that aren’t trying to be bad. There’s something deeply enjoyable about a movie taking itself utterly seriously and being incredibly genuine with its material – especially when the results are probably not as objectively “good” as its creators might have intended. This is where Repo! The Genetic Opera enters. Repo! The Genetic Opera is a movie musical in the same vein as The Rocky Horror Picture Show – it’s a sci-fi musical made on a low budget that, in the years after its release, has found a cult following. And, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! The Genetic Opera is just one of those films that have to be seen to be believed. It is all at once confusing, entertaining, delightful, baffling, and grotesque. It’s an experience to behold and it’s a film that I adore. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There are spoilers ahead.)
Repo! The Genetic Opera (written by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman) In the mid-21st century, an epidemic of organ failures leads to the rise of GeneCo., a company providing transplants at a great price. Those who miss their payments become targets of GeneCo. mercenaries, who repossess the organs. In a world of drug addiction and legalized murder, a sheltered youth (Alexa Vega) seeks a cure for her rare disease as well as information about her family’s mysterious history. Her questions are answered at “The Genetic Opera.”
Hadestown is one of my favorite musicals from the last few years. It moved me in a way that many musicals fail to do. I found the whole thing utterly captivating and gorgeous. It’s one of those rare musicals where the entirety of the show is delivered through its music and lyrics. Sure, the staging plays a large part in the deliverance of the story, but there is no spoken dialogue. Everything that’s said on stage comes from the music – all of which came from the mind of Anaïs Mitchell. And that’s what makes Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown so appealing. It’s widely known how difficult writing musicals is. So, when it was announced that a book exploring the lyrics of Hadestown was due to be published, along with extensive commentary from Mitchell, I was immediately curious to see what all she’d talk about in the book. And, man, if you’re looking for insight into how composers and lyricists craft musical, this is the book for you. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
In this book, Anaïs Mitchell takes readers inside her more than decade’s-long process of building the musical from the ground up—detailing her inspiration, breaking down the lyrics, and opening up the process of creation that gave birth to Hadestown. Fans and newcomers alike will love this deeply thoughtful, revealing look at how the songs from “the underground” evolved, and became the songs we sing again and again.
Anyone who knows me knows that I went through a pretty hardcore Hamilton phase when that musical first hit Broadway. I played the album all the time, I knew the vast majority of the lyrics. I adored that show. And I still do, even if I think In the Heights is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superior show. So, naturally, when the news broke that Disney+ would be debuting the live capture of the show, recorded just before the original cast departed, over a year earlier than expected, I was devilishly excited. I’d only seen bits and pieces of the show, having never had a chance to see it in person, and I was so ready to finally see this show that I loved. Well, now that I’ve seen the film, how do I feel? I mean, it’s Hamilton and I love Hamilton. But, to be honest, this capture is a bit of a mixed bag. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda) An unforgettable cinematic stage performance, the filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” combines the best elements of live theater, film and streaming to bring the cultural phenomenon to homes around the world for a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Hamilton” is the story of America then, told by America now. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway, “Hamilton” has taken the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and created a revolutionary moment in theatre—a musical that has had a profound impact on culture, politics, and education. Filmed at The Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June of 2016, the film transports its audience into the world of the Broadway show in a uniquely intimate way.
1955’s Damn Yankees, with a libretto by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, music by Richard Adler, and lyrics by Jerry Ross, is iconic in its own right. It is a retelling of the classic Faust story, with Joe Boyd selling his soul to Mr. Applegate in order to play for his favorite baseball team – the Washington Senators. It marked the first collaboration between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, leading to their multi-decade relationship and partnership. It ran for 1,019 performances on Broadway and spawned a reasonably successful film adaptation in 1958. So, why is Damn Yankees revived so rarely? Aside from a short, but successful, run in 2008 as part of the City Center Encores! Series, the last major American production of the show was its 1994 revival – a revival that ran for over two years, itself. If the show is as popular as it seems, why is it so rarely done outside of schools and other smaller theatres? Perhaps it has something to do with its subject matter and how well it has stood the test of time? That is certainly true for other Golden Age musicals. But is it true for Damn Yankees? Maybe not. In fact, Damn Yankees is one of the rare Golden Age musicals that holds up relatively well. However, there are certainly things that can be done to make it more appealing for a modern audience – most notably an update in its depiction of women. (more…)