As I say every time I review an album, I don’t consider myself a music reviewer. I know the basics of what makes a song work, but I do know what I like and I mostly know why I like it. I do consider myself someone who can review musicals, though, which is why I’ll occasionally review the cast album for a musical. A good cast album should be able to stand on its own as a wholly complete piece of music but should also be a good representation of the musical and its plot. This is where The Prince of Egypt enters. I grew up watching the film and absolutely adore it. It’s once of my favorite animated musicals of all time and I’ve long wanted it to be adapted for the stage, much like Disney does with their animated films. And it’s finally happened. A big, grande adaptation opened in London’s West End earlier this year, and its cast album dropped today. Featuring all-but-one of the film’s songs and a whole host of new songs by original lyricist and composer, Stephen Schwartz, can this new musical hold a candle to its iconic source material? In short: more or less.
All of us saw the trailer for this movie, and I’m pretty sure all of us felt the same wave of confusion and borderline-revulsion. Even if you were familiar with the hit Broadway musical that inspired this film, there was something about how uncanny the CGI looked that bordered on the horrifying instead of the cute. Not exactly the best start, yeah? Going into CATS, most of the audience probably expected a train wreck. I certainly did. That being said, whoever cut together the trailers for the film should not edit trailers for a living as the trailers were an awful representation of the movie. At the end of the day, CATS is neither as consistently weird throughout as you want it to be, nor is it as good as the film seems to think it is. There are plenty of weird moments, too, but once you get used to the CGI, it’s basically exactly the stage musical as you remember it. Is it fun? Yeah, most of the time. Is it worth seeing? Sure, at least once. But your overall enjoyment will depend almost entirely on how much you like the musical. I liked the movie a bit more than I liked the musical (for reasons that will become apparent) – but I also really don’t like the musical. (Very mild spoilers ahead.)
CATS (written by Lee Hall & Tom Hooper, directed by Tom Hooper)
Featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.
A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
Over the past ten years, Team Starkid has produced twelve full-length musicals (including their newest, Black Friday), eventually going on to post those shows on their YouTube page and making good, original theatre far more accessible than most theatre-lovers are used to. It’s been a delight to see how Starkid has grown from a group of plucky college kids making silly Harry Potter musical parodies into a full-fledged company that’s gone on multiple nationwide tours and written musicals that could legitimately give more “professional”/Broadway shows a run for their money. Like any group that’s been around for such a length of time, the quality of their work has ebbed and flowed; after all, not every show can be a masterpiece. But their most recent show, The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals, seemed to reignite a fire within the group and their fanbase, leading to unprecedented success in their Kickstarter campaign for their 10th anniversary season – a reunion concert featuring every Starkid performer willing to return and a brand new musical, Black Friday. With Black Friday having opened last week and the digital ticket being released earlier this week, it seemed like an apt opportunity to take a look at Starkid’s newest musical and see just what’s happening in Hatchetfield this time around. The biggest question: how is the show? In short, it’s really good. In fact, it might be one of my favorite shows from Starkid.
(This review is based on the Digital Ticket released earlier this week. As such, none of the technical elements of the show – aside from its set and basic lighting design – will be discussed as it seems unfair to judge them based on a single camera angle. Also, this review will be as spoiler-free as possible.)
Black Friday (music and lyrics by Jeff Blim; book by Matt and Nick Lang; directed by Nick Lang)
Somewhere in the American Midwest, at the crossroads of nightmare and imagination, there is a tiny town where the veil of reality wears thin and eldritch forces threaten to unravel the fabric of the universe… Black Friday is a new horror-comedy musical about the shopping day from hell. When the holiday season’s hottest new toy, the Tickle-Me Wiggly, hits the shelves, the city of Hatchetfield goes mad for it, literally. That’s when Tom Houston, Lex Foster, Becky Barnes and a few familiar faces, must fight through a sea of murderous mall-goers to save humanity from an inter dimensional being with a taste for chaos. When Wiggly comes to town, will the world survive Black Friday?
I say this every time I review any kind of music on this blog but it often bears repeating: I normally don’t review music. I don’t really feel all that qualified to talk about music as the only real knowledge I have of how it’s made comes from a 100-level college Music Appreciation course. So, because of that, I review music infrequently – and I review cast recordings eve less often as they usually comprise roughly 50% of the show and are an unfair representation of the entire quality of any musical. That being said, let’s talk about the Original Broadway Cast Recording for Hadestown – the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best New Musical. The Hadestown cast recording is unusual when compared to other cast recordings as it contains the entirety of the show’s score (most cast recordings leave out some reprises – or, even, entire songs). In that light, I think it’s worth looking at the album as a concept record and examine how it tells the story it’s trying to tell and how the music works to do this. (Spoiler alert: I really love this album a lot.)
Welcome to Hadestown, where a song can change your fate. This acclaimed new musical by celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and innovative director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) is a love story for today… and always. Hadestown intertwines two mythic tales—that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King Hades and his wife Persephone—as it invites you on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Mitchell’s beguiling melodies and Chavkin’s poetic imagination pit industry against nature, doubt against faith, and fear against love. Performed by a vibrant ensemble of actors, dancers and singers, Hadestown is a haunting and hopeful theatrical experience that grabs you and never lets go.
We’re living in a golden age of the Live TV musical. Every year since 2013, we’ve gotten a new live broadcast of a famous musical. There are usually star-studded, filled to the brim with well-known actors from the stage and screen, and no expense is spared when it comes to the set and costumes. Why, then, are these productions usually met with reactions that range from indifference to hatred? Do we live in a society that finds itself too cynical to enjoy a good old musical? I don’t think so. I think the problem lies less with the audience and more with the creative team and the producers of these productions. In general, each of these productions has had at least one of four problems that result in their less-than-stellar reception: the choice of musical was questionable, the cast wasn’t great, the live audience (or lack thereof), or the camerawork. The teams behind each of these productions had their hearts in the right place, but nearly all of them fell into one of those traps, resulting in audience derision. (more…)
Rent. It’s a musical that many people have heard of. It’s a musical that many either passionately love or passionately hate. It’s a musical that had a monumental impact on the Broadway musical. It’s also the newest musical to be adapted for TV as a live broadcast. And, I’ll be honest, when I heard that Fox was gonna do Rent as their next live musical, I didn’t think it was a great idea. Rent isn’t exactly network-TV friendly; it’s filled with lots of explicit language and adult themes and stuff you can’t do or say or network TV, so I assumed it would likely be censored to hell and back in order to make it comply with the standards and practices of Fox. With all that being said, how’d the producers and cast of Rent: Live do? Well, it’s a mixed bag.
A re-imagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” and set in New York City’s gritty East Village, “Rent” tells the unforgettable story of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams during a time of great social and political turmoil. Winner of four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, writer/composer Jonathan Larson’s tour de force continues to offer an inspiring message of hope and friendship.
The star-studded cast includes actress Kiersey Clemons (Joanne Jefferson), Emmy nominee and Tony Award winner Brandon Victor Dixon (Tom Collins), singer/songwriter Jordan Fisher (Mark Cohen), actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens (Maureen Johnson), newcomer and singer/songwriter Brennin Hunt (Roger Davis), R&B/Pop superstar Mario (Benjamin Coffin III), recording artist Tinashe (Mimi Marquez) and performer Valentina (Angel Dumont Schunard). Additionally, Keala Settle will perform the iconic solo from “Seasons of Love” and join the ensemble in the live musical.
It’s the perfect musical for all those who wonder how all of the people in the worlds of musicals always know the complicated song-and-dance numbers that make up musicals! The newest musical from Team Starkid takes inspiration from sci-fi films and musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors as a meteor featuring an alien intelligence known only as the Apotheosis – an intelligence that makes all who encounter it break out into song-and-dance. It’s a whole lot of fun and I quite enjoyed it.
Paul (Jon Matteson) is an average guy. He likes movies, and pizza, and average guy things. He does not like… musicals. But Paul’s small world is about to come crashing down under the weight of unspeakable terror! Now he must run, run for his life, as something sinister spreads, and grows, and sings, and dances! The town of Hatchetfield is plunged into a musical hell in… ‘The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals!’
‘The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals’ is a musical horror-comedy by StarKid Productions. It was funded through Kickstarter and had its premiere run in Los Angeles, CA in October, 2018. It features a book by Nick & Matt Lang, and music & lyrics by Jeff Blim.
It never truly feels like Christmas for me unless there’s some kind of musical event in either the television or film world. Whether it’s a new movie musical for Hollywood or another one of those live musicals on TV (via NBC or FOX), a big part of my Christmas tradition nowadays is a new musical to watch and enjoy right before the big holiday. This year was no exception, bringing two musicals to my eyeballs. FOX just aired A Christmas Story Live! this past weekend (with a book by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins and music and lyrics by the songwriting duo Pasek and Paul) and 20th Century Fox is releasing a new movie musical about P.T. Barnum (of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame) directed by Michael Gracey, with a screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and music and lyrics by Pasek and Paul. You might have noticed a theme there with both of this year’s big, new musical offerings: they both feature the music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Fresh off their recent success with Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Pasek and Paul have written original lyrics and music for The Greatest Showman as well as composing a new song for the live telecast of their 2012 Broadway musical A Christmas Story. (Also of note: one of last year’s big musical offerings, La La Land, also featured the lyrics of Pasek and Paul.) So with Pasek and Paul taking over my screens in both of the big new filmed musical offerings, I thought it worthwhile to give my thoughts on the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman (I haven’t seen the movie yet), FOX’s telecast of A Christmas Story Live!, and my general thoughts on the music of Pasek and Paul. (more…)
We’ve all seen good adaptations of things we love and we’ve all seen bad ones. But what, exactly, makes an adaptation good? For the past… pretty much forever… Hollywood, in particular, has been adapting anything it could get its hands on. From books, to tv, to theatre, to video games, Hollywood loves adaptations. The problem is that the adaptations are often not very good at all. You see this with books, like Eragon and the Percy Jackson series and TV shows like Dark Shadows and Video Games like Assassin’s Creed and musicals like RENT and even anime like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell.
The question becomes, why are there so many lousy adaptations? Especially when most of them are based on properties that are really well made in their original mediums? Where is the disconnect?
Contrary to popular belief, there really is an art to adaptation. There are four key things that a good adaptation must adhere to. Respect for the source material and characters, not being a slave to the source material, knowing what to change and what to keep, and telling a story in the most cohesive and interesting way that utilizes the best of what the specific medium has to offer.
Bad adaptations, usually get at least one of those key things wrong, if not more than one of them. So, let’s explore them more in depth and see if we can’t figure out how to go about making a good adaptation. (more…)
So, I adore The Sound of Music. I grew up on it. When I was three, I used to ride around my house on my tricycle yelling “They’re gone!” like the soldier did at the end of the festival scene when the Von Trapps escaped to the convent. I know most of the words to all of the songs by heart. So, I really adore the film. That being said, some… interesting changes were made when adapting the stage musical into the film. For some reason, the whole thing was made about an hour longer than it was on stage. Several songs were added to the film and a number were taken away. Herein lies my problem with the movie: two of the cut songs were integral to the plotline of the story and ridding the film of them damages the subplot of Captain Von Trapp and Baroness Elsa Schräder’s failed romance. (more…)