theatre

REVIEW: “Hamilton” on Disney+

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.

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Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Should Get; or How to Update the Women of “Damn Yankees” – An Editorial

gwen1955’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…)

REVIEW: “Bandstand: The Broadway Musical”

bandstandAmong the artistic industries suffering the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis is the Broadway community. Unlike with film and TV, Broadway has nearly nothing “in the can” that they can roll out to fill the time all of their theatres are shut down. No shows can be performed while all the theatres are closed and nobody can gather to see them. So, what is Broadway to do? Answer: release some of the musicals they’ve professionally filmed over the years. Which is where Bandstand enters. Directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler and featuring a book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker, Bandstand tells the story of a group of PTSD-suffering World War II veterans who, after returning home from the war, form a band and compete in a nationwide songwriting competition. The show opened on April 26, 2017, and closed on September 17, 2017, playing only 166 performances. The musical was filmed towards the end of its run and shown in movie theaters in November 2018. Yet most of the public, even the theatre-going public, probably haven’t heard of it. With its early closure, its mixed reviews, and its lack of any major Tony nominations, Bandstand would seem to the definition of a flop destined to rot in obscurity. But does it deserve that reputation? From a financial standpoint, sure. But from a creative one? I’d argue the opposite. I’d argue that Bandstand is one of those forgotten treasures that hit Broadway at exactly the wrong time. It’s a show filled with captivating characterizations and excellent music and is well worth a watch. (Spoilers for Bandstand follow.)

Bandstand (directed by Andy Blankenbuehler, lyrics by  Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker)
1945; as America’s soldiers come home to ticker-tape parades and overjoyed families, Private First Class Donny Novitski, singer and songwriter, returns to rebuild his life with only the shirt on his back and a dream in his heart. When NBC announces a national competition to find the nation’s next great musical superstars, inspiration strikes! Donny joins forces with a motley group of fellow veterans, forming a band unlike any the nation has ever seen. Along the way, they discover the power of music to face the impossible, find their voice and finally feel like they have a place to call home.

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REVIEW: “The Prince of Egypt – Original Cast Recording”

prince of egyptAs 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.

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REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Journey” by Jody Revenson

hpcursedI am one of the (seemingly) few people who really liked the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I felt it had a lot of really interesting ideas and it explored some themes that I thought were worthwhile to explore in a Harry Potter story. But more than that, it seemed like the kind of story that could only work on stage; the kind of production that would have taken countless amounts of people and manhours to pull off. As someone who is literally in university studying theatre, the making of a play as huge as this one was always going to be of interest to me, especially as there’s little chance I’ll be able to make it to Broadway anytime soon to actually see this show staged. So, when Scholastic decided to publish this book all about how the play was created and initially staged, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s exactly up my wheelhouse, and I have to say that the book does prove to be a really interesting and informative look at the making of this show – even if I do wish it went into a bit more depth.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey by Jody Revenson
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of the most celebrated stage productions of the past decade. Opening in London’s West End in 2016, on Broadway in 2018, in Melbourne in 2019 — and with more productions worldwide still to come (including San Francisco later this year) — the play has smashed records, collected countless rave reviews and awards, and captivated audiences night after night. Now readers are invited behind the scenes to experience the show’s journey to the stage — from the earliest phases of development with producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, to the crafting of the eighth Harry Potter story with J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany, and playwright Jack Thorne, to the gathering of an extraordinary team of artists and actors together to bring this new part of Harry Potter’s story to life.

With stunning photography, insightful interviews, and never-before-seen sketches, notes, candid backstage photos, and more, this full-color deluxe edition offers readers unparalleled access to this unique production, and is a beautiful gift for Harry Potter fans and theater lovers alike.

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REVIEW: “An Act of God” (Play & Audio Drama) by David Javerbaum

an act of godI read this play, and the “memoir” it was based on, a few years ago, when the Sean Hayes production was making its way (back) to Broadway. It was a delightfully charming play; short, effective, hilarious. As is often the case when I read a good play, I found myself longing for it to be filmed and released in some manner – just so I could see and hear Sean Hayes reading this engaging dialogue. Imagine my surprise when, three years later, I heard Audible was going to turn it into one of their Audible Originals, bringing Sean Hayes back into the fold and finally recording this fantastic play so those who couldn’t make it to Broadway (or LA, where Hayes had previously done the show) could hear his take on it. And, I gotta say, it’s so nice getting to hear these words read aloud. (This review will cover both the script itself and the Audible adaptation.)

An Act of God (by David Javerbaum)
The One with the first and last word on everything has finally arrived to set the record straight. After many millennia, and in just 90 minutes, God (assisted by his devoted angels) answers some of the deepest questions that have plagued mankind since Creation.

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REVIEW – “Black Friday”: A New Musical from Team Starkid (Spoiler Free)

black fridayOver 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?

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REVIEW: “Hadestown” – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)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.

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SCRIPT REVIEW: “Network” by Lee Hall

network lee hall

Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t frequently review the scripts of plays. Most scripts are designed to just be the blueprint of a theatrical production; their main purpose in existing is to aid directors, designers, and actors in the creation of a live performance. So, it’s often unfair to judge a play based solely on its script as there are so many more elements that go into a successful play than just a good script. That being said, I recently read the script for Network – a new adaptation of the classic film – and I have some thoughts on it.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore. Howard Beale, news anchorman, isn’t pulling in the viewers. In his final broadcast he unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV. Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the Paddy Chayefsky film, Network premiered at the National Theatre, London, in November 2017.

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In Defense of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”

cursed child defenseThe Tony Awards aired this past weekend,  and the internet is abuzz about the winner of the Best New Play award: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There’s been a bit of controversy as a result of its win, particularly from the Harry Potter fandom, so, I figured now is as good a time as any to mount a defense for the play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play borne out of a collaboration between Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne, and director John Tiffany. It’s advertised as the official eighth chapter in the Harry Potter series and tells the story of Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus, and his experiences as he attends Hogwarts and fights to escape the shadows of his father’s past glories. The script for the show was initially published in July of 2016, and to say there was some controversy directly afterward would be an understatement. While the majority of critics in London adored the show and praised it for its script, acting, design elements, etc, fans were noticeably more divided, if not downright negative towards it. It’s been criticized as “bad fanfiction with a silly story”, “totally out of character”, “inconsistent with the books and the universe that Rowling wrote”, amongst others. I disagree with most of those points, and I’m gonna explain why. It’s worth noting that there will be total spoilers for the play throughout this. You’ve been warned.  (more…)