Thursday, November 28, 2013

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: First Date

I am so excited that First Date got to perform for this years parade (even if it wasn't at the parade).  I always thought it was a clever show and, while I haven't found a place online to listen to the entire soundtrack, I've liked the music I've heard from it thus far.  It has a pretty great cast (including Krysta Rodriguez [Addams Family] and Zachary Levi [Tangled]), a witty book, and some darn catchy music!  What's more, they chose a really smart group of songs to do for the parade medley.  Not only did they avoid using the song that seems to be on every promo they ever do ("First Impressions"), but they opened it with the opening song of the show and what is my favorite song from the show that I've heard thus far ("The One") which featured the entire ensemble and was catchy, relatively well staged (I could've used a bit more action) and engaging.  Then, they followed that up with what I think is the finale song from the show, a duet from the two main characters.  By doing the first and last songs of the show, they did a good job of encompassing the entire show and the entire experience of a first date.  I also appreciated that I got to hear a new song, "Something That Will Last," which was different but still really sweet (but I did think it was funny that they sang "Something That Will Last" when the show has already been set to close next Spring).  All in all, this was my favorite performance because it was high energy, it used the whole cast, it showed me something I haven't seen before, and they edited out the language that I know was previously in the song, so now there's a clean version on Youtube.  So congrats to the entire company of First Date, I'm sorry that they have to close, but I'm really glad that they got to perform on this year's parade!

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Cinderella

It's not as well publicized, but in addition to the shows that perform in front of Macy's Square, there are always a couple of Broadway shows that perform at a secondary location (aired on CBS as opposed to the more popular NBC).  This year the first of those performances were Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Now, if you read my Sound of Music post, you know that I'm not a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I'm also not a fan of the Cinderella story at all (it's a bit cliche).  So, while I believe the Broadway version of Cinderella to be the best one out there, the show itself still doesn't do much for me.  That being said, my obsession with Larua Osnes has made a fan of at least parts of the show.  And, in fact the Producers were pretty smart in that they chose what is likely the catchiest number of the show ("It's Possible") and the song that used several special effects, took place at a part in the story that is easily recognizable, and showcased Laura Osnes.  Now, they did in fact follow suit with a lot of the other shows this year and perform the same number that they did for the Tony Awards, but it was a little different this time.  For one thing, they performed one full song instead of the medley they did at the Tony's this past year.  Additionally, because they performed in (what I think was) their home theater, They were able to go all out with their special effects (including a flying fairy Godmother and an erupting pumpkin).  This made for the right blend of familiar with new surprises.  Although it certainly wasn't my favorite performance of the morning, I enjoyed watching it and think it was a very good performance.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: The Sound of Music

(This is the last live one, so I get to spend more time on it :) )

This performance took me by surprise (because Wikipedia didn't list this in the Broadway performances).  However, I'm not against the idea of them performing.  While it's no secret that I usually don't care for Rodgers and Hammerstein (and, while Sound of Music is better than most, it's still not great).  However, I'm always a fan of these "one night only" performances because they always get huge talent and the performances are usually pretty spectacular, and this is no different. Even with my disposition against The Sound of Music, this show is featuring Audra MacDonald, Laura Benanti, Christian Borle, Christian Noll, (oh yeah, and Carrie Underwood) and is going to be pretty cool.  However, that being said, their performance was less than invigorating.  I mean, their performance of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" was good, but it just should've have been what they performed.  I mean, there are so many famous, wonderful group numbers in the Sound of Music (So long Goodbye, Doe A Deer, and The Lonely Goatherd come to mind), but they didn't do that...they chose a song with very little dancing that used absolutely no big stars, no cute kids, and...well..just nothing really.  I mean, yes, they didn't do a bad performance (except Ralph was a little old in my opinion) but it was just disappointing.  What made this especially disappointing, was the fact that right after this there was a commercial promoting the show where they all sang Doe a Deer (which looked really good actually).  So, I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that even if you didn't care for this performance (as I didn't) you should really still watch the live Broadcast because, if nothing else....CHRISTIAN BORLE!!!!

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Pippin

Pippin always wins! I always think that one day I might be bored by Pippin, but it hasn't happened yet!  Granted, like many of the performances this year, they took their performance straight from the Tony Awards, however, they've shown some variety on talk shows and stuff, so it's a tad bit more forgivable.  However, even though I've seen this exact medley several times (although, again, a bit shorter), I'm still enchanted every time!  For one thing, they were really smart with the way they shot it.  Having Pippin start in the audience (side note - I don't approve of the blonde hair) and then panning over to the Leading Player (wearing a snappy jacket to cleverly hide her unfairly muscular arms) while still avoiding the rest of the ensemble in the frame (an affect that, in the show, takes a giant curtain) was a really smart idea.  That smart filming, in addition the catchy song, the wonderful performers, and the always spellbinding circus stunts made this the best performance of the year!  As I said, Pippin wins...PIPPIN ALWAYS WINS!!!!!

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Kinky Boots

I actually really did enjoy Kinky Boots' performance.  Their song choice was perfect!  They didn't do "Everybody Say Yeah" which they did on the Tonys, and they chose a song that showcased all of their big stars, had a catchy tune, and showcased the themes and morals of the show really well.  Their song was relatively "family friendly" and I think definitely would've inspired perspective show goers to see Kinky Boots.  I was a little bit disappointed in the dancing....there wasn't any.  Visually, it really wasn't very interesting (except for seeing all the people in the boots, that was kinda fun).  However, I still think it was a really good performance and, while it wasn't as high energy as Matilda and Motown, it was a better song choice and I really enjoyed it.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Matilda The Musical

Matilda is always a cute show.  Whenever they perform, it's always nice and entertaining.  Of course, I'm not going to lie, this wasn't their best performance.  For one thing, we've seen this performance before (it's almost word for word what they did in the Tony Awards.  Only they added the Trunchbul in the last song where she really didn't fit).  Their energy seemed a little bit low and the song in general lost a little bit of the magic without the sets and everything.  Especially because the show has such a strong score all around, I would've really loved to see a song we hadn't seen before (Perhaps the School song).  I still enjoyed the performance....but it wasn't up to my expectations.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Motown The Musical

Motown didn't really give any surprises, using the same song that they've used at just about everything (Tony Awards, Today show, etc.).  However, that being said, that really is a good song for them.  It includes their biggest star (Charl Brown) and one of the more recognizable songs.  It also includes a really healthy balance of singing and dancing.  The performance was high energy and very entertaining.  I'm still not a fan of Motown, and their performance here was really the same thing they did at the Tony Awards (only it was shorter because they did just the one song instead of a medley).  However, in my opinion, Motown, despite being a show I didn't care for, did an ok job in choosing their song and a really great job performing it!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Luke's Reviews: Book of Days

Greetings readers!  I know it's been some time since I've been able to write a review (the past few months have been quite hectic), but the other night I had the pleasure of seeing my first production by the University of Alabama theater department and I just had to write about it.  With the exception of Kennesaw State's Cabaret, and one play that I had the pleasure of seeing while touring colleges, I had never seen a college level production.  Therefore, I really didn't know what to expect from this production, but I knew that UA has a fairly strong drama program so I was expecting something pretty spellbinding - I wasn't disappointed.  I have tons of great things to say about this show so we better get started.  Without further ado, I present to you my review of The University of Alabama's production of:
The Show
As with most non-musicals I attend, I really had no clue what Book of Days was about prior to seeing this production.  Of course, since it was a murder mystery, that lack of knowledge actually made the show all the more enjoyable. Book of Days takes place in Dublin, a small town in Missouri, where the community is full of nice, upstanding citizens.  In the opening scene, we are given plenty of facts about this town, including the fact that it contains a cheese plant (at which the majority of the characters in the show work), a church (which my friends and I guessed to be Pentecostal or Baptist), and a community theater.  Life in this town is already exciting with a big Hollywood director coming in to direct a production of Joan of Arc at the community theater and rumors of infidelity concerning the "all-American-basketball-star-turned-lawyer" son of the wealthiest, most powerful man in town.  But life gets even more exciting when a tornado strikes the town.  When the dust clears, it appears that one of the members of this close-knit town was shot in a hunting accident during the tornado...or was it an accident?  As the play unfolds we see that just about every member of the community is more than meets the eye and that the search for truth concerning this one death could tear the entire town apart.  Even though the show was occasionally shocking (with plenty of rough language and 3 men who managed to strip down to their underwear on stage) it was masterfully told.  It adopted one of my favorite styles of plays which is when the ensemble serves as both characters and narrators in their own story.  And my favorite scenes were when they all completed each others thoughts (much like the opening to Peter and the Starcatcher) and spoke as one voice.  This is definitely an ensemble based show and it was great how just about every character got a monologue and a breakdown.  It's dialogue was sharp and witty and it's plot points, while slightly predictable, still kept the audience on their toes.

The Production Team
  • SET DESIGN -- I don't know if it's fair to say that I particularly enjoyed the set itself (because it was very minimalistic) but I loved the way the actors worked with it (but I'll get to that later).  The set made good use of levels (which I LOVE) and was very versatile.  The one real set piece was a screen far upstage on which various images were projected throughout the show.  Personally, I hardly ever looked at the screen, so I don't have much of an opinion on it. I don't think it was absolutely necessary, but it certainly didn't take away and I suppose if an audience member got lost (which was easy to do in this show) the projections could help them get their bearings.  Aside from that the set was pretty much a cellar door (which was hardly ever used), a few benches (which were used all the time) and a box or two.  As I said, it was a very minimal set, but that's good.  It's good that the set designer didn't try to make it something bigger than it was (which I think would've detracted from the actors).
  • COSTUME DESIGN -- Nothing much of note here.  I think for the most part, the costumes were exactly what they should've been.  I felt like the Sheriff's costume could've been a bit more clear (my friend didn't know he was a sheriff for the whole 1st act) and some of the costume changes were a bit awkward because they had to be done onstage, but for the most part, the costumes were good.  I also want to make note that at least two characters had wigs which really added to their characters and looked very natural.
  • STAGING -- By far the most striking thing about this production is the way it was staged.  If you're familiar with the projects I've gotten to help put together (e.g. Hush Little Celia and You Only Get One) you know that I love the idea of the actors never leaving the stage.  Granted, there was some absences in Book of Days, but for the vast majority of the show (especially in the second act) there were always people on the stage whether or not they were in the scene.  What were they doing?  I think a colleague of mine said it best when she said their purpose was to "add energy to the scene."  They usually surrounded the featured actors (generally sitting, but occasionally standing) and behaved as one body.  When someone was being tempted, they all leaned in to build anticipation, when someone was screaming about how nobody would listen to her, they all turned their backs.  Whatever was happening, they were involved and they were contributing, and that made the show SO much more powerful and engaging for the audience.
  • EVERYTHING ELSE -- The lighting in this show had some cool moments (such as flooding the stage in red light on the line "A night of seduction" and flashing the lights to simulate a tornado) but mostly just didn't do anything to stand out.  As far as sound design, there were a few sound effects that were utilized in this show (the ones that come to mind are a gun shot and tornado) that were certainly well designed but, as with lighting, you really wouldn't notice them unless they were done poorly.  The director also made some really cool decisions when it came to scene changes.  The actors themselves changed the set entirely and did so in such a "choreographed chaos" that was entertaining to watch in its own respect.
The Cast
As an actor, my favorite part of a production to analyze is always the cast.  To any new readers: you should know that I will spend a disproportionate amount of time on this section (I apologize, feel free to skim).  Also, I just want so say that what made this show work was not the individual actors, but the way they worked together as an ensemble.  As amazing as each of these performers were on their own, it's nothing compared to what they became when they were a unit.
  • Miranda R. (Ruth Hoch) - As hard as it is to call any one person in this show a "lead," Ruth is at least the "central character."  At first, I wasn't super impressed with Miranda because I thought she was over playing her character.  She seemed too theatrical (even using what I thought to be a "stage voice")  and that took me out of the story.  However, in hindsight, I think of how theatrical the character really was and I begin to wonder if that was an acting choice instead of an accident.  Despite my first impressions, she really began to shine as she got into the deeper, meatier portions of the show.  She had such a passion (which was also a defining characteristic of her character) and it was clear that she was throwing all she had into the role (someone told me that by the 3rd show she was beginning to lose her voice).  Her role was certainly one of the most dynamic ones and I really enjoyed seeing her character progress.  Certainly a stellar performance.
  • William R. (Len Hoch) - William gave what I think was perhaps the most natural performance of the evening.  His character was very laid back and all of his choices seemed very believable.  He did a good job relating to all of scene-partners (even changing the way he carried himself depending on who was around) and delivered his lines with solid sincerity.  Personally, I didn't think much of his character (he was a bit too perfect for me) so I didn't enjoy many of his scenes all that much, but William definitely played the roll exactly how he was supposed to be played, so bravo Will!
  • Adam V. (Boyd Middleton) - Before I start, this has to be said.  If anybody knows the actor Justin Long (who I know from playing Brandon in Galaxy Quest, but according to IMDb is more known for his work in Live Free or Die Hard and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Adam looks EXACTLY like him.  Ok, now that that's out of the way, I do want to say that I really enjoyed Adam's performance in Book of Days.  There were times when I thought his character was a bit forced (particularly towards the beginning), but by the end of the show, he had become one of my favorite characters.  His character was a very likable guy (which, according to people who had seen other productions of the show, isn't the standard portrayal) and that was, in my opinion, a really good acting choice.  It's also nice that he's one of the few characters who ends the show in a pretty good place; it's nice to have that spark of light in a generally dark show.  Whether this was the acting or the writing I can't say, but Adam's character was, in my opinion, the easiest to connect to and for that I commend him.
  • Naomi P. (Ginger Reed) - Naomi definitely gets the award for Best Supporting Actress in this show.  For the most part her character was a nice comedic break from all the darkness, but she also had one of the most emotional moments in the show (which she absolutely NAILED).  But whether she was playing comedy or tragedy, she always had a wonderful stage presence that drew all eyes towards her.  As an ensemble member, she was always engaged and always supported her scene partners without upstaging them.  She was just a likable character from the moment she stepped on stage and, throughout the show, she could always be counted on to serve as a voice of reason, often in a very sarcastic, witty sort of way.  Brava Naomi!
  • Andrea L. (Martha Hoch) - Andrea's character is one that I don't really know what to do with.  When thinking of her performance I'm reminded of a line from Ocean's Eleven: " He's got to like you then forget you the moment you've left his side."  It's not that I didn't like Andrea's performance, I really did!  Almost every time she was speaking I was laughing, but for some reason, I didn't leave the show with a strong impression of her for good or bad.  I suppose it's possible this was because her role really didn't contribute much to the plot line, but for whatever reason, her performance was solid but not particularly memorable.
  • Anthony H. (Walt Bates) - I have mixed feelings about Anthony's performance.  On the one hand, I really enjoyed everything he did.  He certainly embodied his character with everything from his voice to the way he walked.  His booming Baritone shifted nicely from calm and soothing to fuming with rage.  However, the "character" he played, was fairly one dimensional.  In my opinion, his portrayal of Walt was little more than a classic archetype (some kind of cross between Charlemagne from Pippin and the Allstate guy).  Now, like I said, his acting wasn't bad, and during the show I loved every minute of it.  But as I think back and try to dissect the depth of each of these characters, I realize that his really didn't have much (whether the actor or author is to blame I know not).
  • Taylor S. (Sharon Bates) - Taylor had the misfortune of being casted in the most boring female role of the show (in my opinion).  However, she performed what she had been given masterfully.  She was very strong when it came to giving her character quirks that matched her age/upbringing.  So many of her actions seemed to be very calculated and intentional (of course, only in hindsight, during the performance it seemed natural enough).  Despite the fact that she never really got to break down or show any great emotional range, she always used subtlety to effectively get her point across.  To me, she is one of the finest examples I've seen of adding depth to a fairly flat character.  Taylor, I applaud you.
  • Micheal V. (James Bates) - The character of James is someone who I'm sure I would absolutely detest if ever I met him in real life, and I suppose that means that Micheal gave a pretty strong performance to rouse up in me such disgust. If you've read many of my "Top 10" roles then you know that I love villains and I can really identify and sympathize with the vilest characters (case in point, I've literally played Satan on multiple occasions), however, I feel like Micheal created the opposite effect in me.  His character wasn't a classic "mustache-twirling-villain," yet I spent the majority of the show wishing he'd go tie himself to some railroad tracks.  Once again, this is actually a huge complement to Micheal.  He found a way to make his character very defined, elicited a strong reaction in me, and avoided falling into predictable archetypes.  So, while I despise the character, kudos to Micheal for making him come to life.
  • Alexandra K. (Louann Bates) - I hate to say it, but Alexandra was perhaps the one actress I didn't particularly care for.  It's hard to pick out exactly what it is about her I don't like, but something about her portrayal of Louann just didn't really register with me.  Perhaps it was the fact that the relationship between her and her husband was not particularly "loving," perhaps it was the fact that her character too seemed little more than a cliche, but for whatever reason, her entire character seemed somewhat false to me.  Even in one of my favorite scenes of the show, in which she becomes briefly possessed and starts to speak in tongues, everybody else gave me chills, and she almost made me laugh (although, to be fair, it's hard to randomly start convulsing on the floor without being somewhat comedic).  Like I said, I don't know if I can say definitively what she should've done differently (which makes this the least constructive criticism ever, sorry Alexandra) but whatever she did do, just didn't work for me.
  • Tyler S. (Earl Hill) - Tyler, like many of the actors in the cast, grew on me as the production went on.  I feel like towards the end of act one, and especially in the second act, he really began to hit his stride and come at the audience with his full force.  His role was a fun one, alternating between explosive rage and quiet threatening, and he definitely made full use of it.  Many of my favorite scenes of his were when he didn't say a word, but rather just stood at whoever was talking to him (generally Ruth) in such a threatening manner that I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd suddenly lashed out in some violent outburst (but not the yelling kind, the quietly stabbing someone kind).  It was that intensity that he brought to the role that made it come alive.  And then, his transition from that intensity to his immense vulnerability in the final scene of the play was simply brilliant.  This character that had done nothing but scare us the entire show made us genuinely feel for him and, in that moment, he showed his character's depth.  So all in all, well done Tyler!
  • Samuel H. (Reverend Bobby Groves) - Now, I might be slightly biased towards Sam because he is the one member of the cast that I've had the pleasure of meeting before (I wouldn't say we're super close, but I have seen him in his underwear and in his there's that).  However, even with this admitted bias, I believe that his performance was my favorite of the night.  I love the fact that, like Adam (who played Boyd), Samuel did not follow the standard conventions when it came to this role, but instead decided to give the character a more sinister, devious flair.  However, being simply sinister isn't enough to make him stand out (for, as I said, pretty much every character has some horrible secret).  What made Sam's performance so riveting was the fact that his character wasn't really written that way, therefore he had portray to us his villainous intent without any real "evil" lines.  While this may have deterred most actors, Sam took on the challenge.  When I look back and think of the show, the two images that come quickest to my mind are both of him, saying nothing, but striking a particularly terrifying pose (one is him with an intense anger in his face with hands outstretched as if he was Lord Sidious preparing to fry himself a Jedi; The other is him stepping over the body of a collapsed member of his congregation with his arms out wide and the biggest, creepiest grin on his face).  Through his use of facial expressions and full body movement, Sam was able to show not merely evil, but a hidden evil that only truly shone through in the show's more metaphorical, symbolic moments.  This is not to say that he wasn't also wonderful while speaking lines, whenever his mouth was running, he became the incarnation of sheer sincerity that only occasionally allowed glimpses of his sinister intent peek through.  Throughout the entire show, his character was layered, complex, well played, and full of fun surprises.  So, standing ovation for you Samuel!
  • Matt G. (Sheriff Conroy Atkins) - Although it is an ensemble show, I think it's fair to say that Sheriff Atkins is the smallest role of Book of Days.  He hardly had any lines in the first act and, while his character did pick up somewhat in Act II, it still wasn't given the focus that many of the other characters were.  That being said, I feel like Matt did an excellent job with his role.  His Sheriff character was a very timid, even cowardly fellow, which was not overacted at all (an easy trap to fall into) but instead played with the false courage that always best portrays fear.  He also did a good job of not letting that fear be the one thing that defined his character.  Although it was always there, his character had funny moments, and even some touching ones as well.  This depth of character (which seems to be a theme to this particular blog post) made the character nice and relatable to me.  It should also be noted that Matt was the one Freshman in the cast (with the exception of Mr. Kilian A. who was the understudy for James Bates and, I'm told, gave an excellent performance as well).  Whether or not his age contributed to the Sheriff's "spirit of timidity" I don't know, but in any case, Matt made an excellent UA debut and should be very proud of his performance.
As is the case in many of my reviews, I'm afraid I might've gotten caught up in nitpicking the details.  I want to make it clear that I really did LOVE seeing this production.  For the most part, any flaws or critiques that I gave in this blog only came to me in retrospect, during the show I was completely drawn in and relished every moment of action.  I certainly now see the incredible standard that the UA theater department has set and I can't wait to watch every single show they produce over the course of these next few years (and hopefully participate in a few myself).

Thank you all for reading!  If you have any comments or questions (or suggestions as to what I should write about next) feel free to let me know in the comment section below.  Also, if you haven't yet, be sure to vote in the poll in the top right corner to let me know what kind of posts you want to see more of.  I should be back in just a few days with another review, but until then, Thanks to the UA theater department for putting on a fantastic production, and to you for reading.  Have a good Broadway filled day!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Original Musicals

Original musicals.  Remember those?  Remember when you could go to the theater and be genuinely surprised by the way the plot would progress?  Remember when you could go see a show and be introduced to new characters and find out about their lives and the lives of the people they surrounded themselves with?    It seems those days are in the past.

Let's think about the nominees for Best Musical this past year:

        • Kinky Boots
        • Matilda
        • Bring It On
        • A Christmas Story

Know what they all have in common?  They were all based off of movies.  Not one of them was a truly "original musical."

Now, perhaps all that proves is that the most popular musicals are the ones based off of something.  Ok, let's look at the other musicals this past year:
        • Hands on a Hardbody (based off a documentary)
        • Motown (based loosely off a book, and it's characters were all real people)
        • Chaplin (based off a man's life)
        • Scandalous (based off a woman's life)

Think the Revivals fared any better? Think again:
        • Annie (based off a radio program)
        • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (based off a book)
        • Pippin (based off a man's life)
        • Cinderella (based off a movie...which was based off a fairy tale)
        • Jekyll & Hyde (based off a book).
 Have I made my point?
And, it isn't just movies either.  It seems practically every medium has been eventually turned into a musical.  Musicals have sprung from Books (e.g. The Scarlet Pimpernel), Movies (e.g. Newsies), Operas (e.g. Aida), TV Shows (e.g. Addams Family), Comic-books (e.g. Spiderman), History (e.g. Titanic), Plays (Golden Boy), Fairy Tales (e.g. Into the Woods), Short Stories (e.g. A Year with Frog and Toad), Fan-fictions (e.g. Love Never Dies)...You see where this is going?

Even shows that try to make themselves look really different from their source material (such as RENT or West Side Story) still can't be counted as completely original works because they took their characters and plot line from an older work.
So now the question is, can anybody write an original musical any more?  The answer is yes.  They aren't as common, but there are still a few amazingly talented writers creating genius original works.  In fact, some of the most popular musicals of recent years (Next to Normal, title of Show, Urinetown, Book of Mormon, In the Heights, etc. ) were completely original ideas.

Now, I don't want you to think that I hate all adaptation musicals.  I don't.  Many of my favorite musicals (some of which are listed in this blog) are adaptations.  It's not the number of adaptations that frustrates me, it's the ratio.  Adaptations can be fun, but when Broadway theaters are packed full of nothing but adaptations then that should be a sign that something is very wrong.  I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who have ideas for original Musicals (if you don't, then come talk to me. I've got at least 20), so this is a call to each of them to start writing.  And, what's more, producers need to be willing to take a chance on new musicals.  Granted, they're slightly riskier because they don't come with a guaranteed audience, but I believe the payout of trusting a new musical could be well worth the risk.

What do you think?  Are you equally outraged by the ratio of adaptations to original musicals, or do you think I'm blowing it out of proportion?  And what about plays?  Why do you suppose there are so many more original plays?  I'd love to hear any thoughts you have in the comments section below.  And be sure to vote in the poll about which posts you want to see more of in the future.  As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Luke's Top Ten: Broadway Breakdowns

We've all seen it.  At the beginning of the show the character is happy and enjoying their life...but we know it's just a matter of time before the screws in their head start to loosen.  Sure enough, by the time the curtain falls, they've had a full on Broadway Breakdown!  Sometimes they're sung, sometimes they're spoken, but they're always powerful.  Personally, the breakdown is my favorite part of almost every show!  I love it whenever there is energy, and there's no volcano of energy as cataclysmic as the Broadway Breakdown.  So, without further ado here's my list of my top 10 Broadway (and Off-Broadway) breakdowns:

#10 - Nessa Rose [Wicked]
In most shows, the lead gets the best breakdown (in this case the lead breakdown would probably be "No Good Deed").  However, occasionally a supporting actor/actress gets to be "the crazy one" and blows the audience away with their insanity instead.  That is the case in Wicked.  Out of all of the songs in Wicked, by far the most underrated (it didn't even make the album) is "Wicked Witch of the East".  It's such an epic song and it features Boq (my favorite character in the show) and it really gives Nessa Rose a chance to shine.  Now, there used to be a wonderful video of the West End cast (including two of my favorite British performers, Kerry Ellis and James Gillan), but for some reason it was tragically taken down.  So unfortunately I'll just have to give you this video which is audio only (I think the Australian cast), and you'll just have to kind of imagine what happens.  But if you ever get a chance to see this show live, be waiting for this song, and for Nessa's EPIC breakdown that gives her the position of #10 on this list.

#9 - Mr. Andrews [Titanic]
This was one of the first songs of Titanic that I ever became obsessed with.  It's the last scene of the show that takes place on the boat (the Finale is sung by the few survivors) and it depicts the actual sinking.  The song is sung by Mr. Andrews, the architect who designed the Titanic, as he realizes that the sinking could've been avoided if he had simply made a small modification to the design.  He realizes that this one mistake has killed thousands.  Going even further, he begins to lyrically depict the horrific way they'll die in detail.  I wish there was a good quality video of this produced live, because I've seen groups who, while this song is going on, have the passengers upstage screaming and crying out as they and their loved ones fall into the icy water.  It's really an epic moment!  But what gets me most is Mr. Andrews.  He's so intense!  Even though he doesn't necessarily "freak out," he has a calm, reserved breakdown, which makes it all the more chilling!

#8 - Carrie [Carrie]
Now, for those of you who don't know, Carrie is widely known as one of Broadway's biggest flops.  It ran for 5 performances and was called "the most expensive Broadway quickflop in history."  As it happens, one of the reasons the show failed was because a lot of people were not impressed with the way that Carrie's final breakdown was staged.  Personally, I've never seen the staging, but I know that the song is epic!  It's actually hard to choose one in this show, because Carrie and her mother  each have at least 4-5 breakdowns before the bloodied curtain falls on this show.  You could probably make a song-cycle entitled "Songs of a Crazy Lady" and the majority of this soundtrack would fit in there.  For those of you who don't know the story, it's about a girl named Carrie who has super natural telekinetic powers (like Matilda in Matilda).  Unfortunately she is bullied for being a freak and lives with a crazy "religious" mother (the kind that literally beats her daughter with a bible and is certain that every boy Carrie talks to is sent from hell).  *SPOILER* The show is mostly about her tortured life, but then climaxes at the prom when, as soon as she begins enjoying herself and even begins to be accepted by the others, a bully's cruel prank brings her to her breakdown.  In retaliation, Carrie reacts the same way any psychologically unstable, telekinetic, scorned teen would: She destroys the school and kills everyone at the prom.  Now, while I don't condone Carries actions, I do appreciate that she at least made an epic song about it! And it's that kind of flare in execution that lands her at the #8 spot on my Broadway Breakdown list!  (*NOTE* This song is mostly comprised of short reprises, so if you want to get the most out of it, you kind of need to listen to the rest of the soundtrack which, I should warn you, contains a good bit of foul language (this song is clean though) ).

 #7 - Diana [Next To Normal]
Like with Carrie, this whole show is kind of centered around Diana's 2 1/2 hour breakdown.  Sure there are moments when she can keep it together, but, to be perfectly honest, she begins the show crazy and ends it even more so.  Of course, even though she has several breakdowns throughout the show (and her family gets a couple of doozies too), I don't think any of them can compare to the tantrum she throws in "You Don't Know."  In this song, Diana, having just thrown a birthday party for her son that's been dead for 18 years (but she is still under the delusion that he's alive), confronts her husband and defends her crazy actions.  In this song we get a peek into what it's like to live as a crazy woman, and that plus the pained, crazed expression on Diana's face would earn it a spot on this list.  The fact that it's an epic song sung to perfection by Alice Ripley is just the icing on the cake!  (*NOTE* Because I want you to be able to see this performance I'm going to post N2N's Tony performance which included this song and another.  I would highly recommend watching them both, but the second one does have some language, so if you want to avoid that, stop the video as soon as the guy starts singing).


 #6 - Maria [West Side Story]
This is the first (but not only) breakdown of our list that actually does not take place during a song.  In fact, this moment (which I consider to be the best in West Side Story) is not musicalized at all, but it is a hauntingly intense finale.  When I watched the movie for the first time (alone in my basement, like any good musical fanatic with no friends) I couldn't move after it ended.  I stared at the TV, watching the credits scroll by, numbed by the intensity of the drama.  In fact, even though some people don't like the fact that Maria (the character paralleling Juliet) lives when Juliet dies, I think this ending is so much more intense and makes the show all the more tragic.  Plus, I think it sets a good precedent for people in the future.  If ever you're wondering how to end a show, I think giving a crazy suicidal lady a gun is a wonderful ending!  So now, feast your eyes on #6: Maria's breakdown (*NOTE* I had to use the movie because it was the best quality I could find, but it's pretty darn good).

 #5 - Andy [Glory Days]
Although it doesn't have the fame of Carrie (largely because it wasn't near as expensive to mount), Glory Days was an even bigger flop.  It played exactly 1 performance on Broadway (the cast came home from the Opening night Party to be told that the show was closed).  I find this terribly sad because, while the show was no Les Miz, I thought that it had some great songs, some talented actors, and a relevant message.  The show takes place on a high school football field where four best friends from high school have convenient for a make-shift reunion after their first year of college.  Although all four boys start the show in high spirits, tempers start flying when they realize that they're not all the way they used to be.  Long story short, things get said that shouldn't have been said and people get hurt.  This song is sung by Andy (the most hot-tempered of the bunch) who finally erupts because he feels like nobody's listening to him.  It's big, it's epic, it's filled with passion, and it ends with pretty much everybody storming out, like any good breakdown should! (*NOTE* This song does have some fairly extreme language.  I do NOT recommend it for innocent ears).

#4 - Henry Jekyll [Jekyll & Hyde]
Like several other members of this list, poor Dr. Jekyll's breakdown is pretty much spans the entire show.  From his first breakdown (Board of Governors) to his last (Finale), the good doctor's wits seem to desert him as he descends into a fit of emotion.  In fact, his several breakdowns prompt just about every other character in the show to have a breakdown of their own (a few of whom have gruesomely literal breakdowns).  This particular song has spent a long time on my "favorite song ever" and it has the prestige of being Dr. Jekyll's second to last breakdown.  In it we see a man who is...conflicted at best.  Now some have you might have been exposed to David Hasselhoff's version of this song....I pity you.  I am pleased to present you with my favorite man to play Jekyll/Hyde: the Georgia native Rob Evan. Despite my disapproval for the unnecessary shirt tearing, this is a really solid performance of an epic breakdown!  After watching, you'll see why this was amazing enough to land Henry Jekyll comfortably in #4. (*NOTE* This song does contain some brief, fairly strong language.  You have been warned)

#3 - Sam Byke [Assassins]
Assassins is really a nice compilation of tons of good breakdowns.  If you ever feel like listening to The Ballad of Booth, I am a Terrifying and Imposing Figure, or How I Saved Roosevelt, you would see plenty of fantastic breakdowns!  However, none of them can rival that of old Sammy Byke.  I love this monologue so much!  I have literally sat in my basement and performed it to nobody several times, and I would've used it for an audition piece had not a friend of mine snagged it first (and, let it be noted, that he got the lead role that year).  As for the history behind the piece, Sam Byke was a fairly disturbed man for a long time, but it all erupted while he was driving to the airport.  Why was he going to the airport you ask?  Well, his plan was to hijack the plane, and drive it straight into the white house to kill president Richard Nixon, who he blamed for his losing his job (of course, he was overly paranoid, so once he got on the plane, he shot and killed both of the pilots and, since he couldn't fly himself, never got off the tarmac).  Since he knew that he would be killed in the crash, he needed a way to tell the world his motives behind this assassination.  So Sammy decided to use a cassette recorder to record a message that he wanted to tell President Richard "Dick" Nixon.  Lucky for us, during this message, Sam has one of the best Breakdowns ever to grace the Great White Way.  His tantrum tragically cost several innocent lives, but it did earn him a spot in a musical, and the number #3 spot on this list.  (*NOTE* This Monologue has a good deal of VERY strong language.  It is most certainly not suitable for innocent ears).

#2 - The Leading Player [Pippin]
Like in Sam and Maria The Leading Player does not need a song for his breakdown (which makes it a fun audition monologue, and one that I've used before).  Like most monologues that take place at the end of the show (and this is VERY close to the end of the show), it is really best appreciated after you've seen the rest of the show.  But for those of you who don't have that kind of time, all you really need to know is that the Leading Player has spent the whole show manipulating Pippin and this breakdown is what happens when Pippin suddenly rebels.  Now, the actor who is most associated with this role is certainly Ben Vereen (While Patina Miller is awesome, nobody just can't top this guy) who many might know for another major breakdown he had in Jesus Christ Superstar (which, like a surprising number of these, ended in his own death).  In my opinion, nobody could possibly pull this breakdown off the way that he did!  In fact, when I used it for an audition, I had to make some changes to the script because he made the lines sound epic, and they just sounded weird when I said them.  What I love is the way he just goes back and forth between tactics.  He, unlike most of our list, tries to keep up his outward appearance as he descends into madness, but, especially as the scene progresses, you can see his frustration seeping through.  If you want a master class in subtle acting while keeping high intensity, this is the breakdown you need to see!  It's so good, it has been called by some (namely, me) the number two Broadway Breakdown! (*NOTE* This video has some brief, mild language.  It's hardly even worth mentioning, but I know this blog has some young readers, and I thought that you should be warned).

#1 - Burrs [Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party]
Ok, so technically this is not a Broadway show.  But the meltdown is just so epic that I had to make an exception.  This, the climax of "Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party" (So named because there was another show based off of the same book called "The Wild Party" was not written by Andrew Lippa), is the reason I started this list, and is definitely my favorite Broadway Breakdown ever!  For those of you who were not aware, pretty much this entire show is about infidelity and jealousy.  In a rather confusing love quadrilateral, two men are at a party each with a woman, and by the end of the show they have switched women (either because they wanted the other woman, they wanted to make their woman jealous, or the other woman wanted them, or the other woman wanted to make her man jealous, etc.).  After a "Wild Party" indeed, the show ends, like any good story about infidelity must, with a jealous man in a bed room with his scantily clad wife/girlfriend, her lover, and a revolver.  Sounds exciting, right?  Now, remember who wrote this song.  Andrew Lippa is the brilliant mind who brought us songs like "My New Philosophy" [You're A Good Man Charlie Brown], Crazier than You [The Addams Family], Run and Hide [John & Jen], and is about to stun the world with his newest musical Big Fish.  You want to listen to the song now, don't you?  Just wait.  Now consider the cast in this song: Brian D'Arcy James (Shrek [Shrek: The Musical], Fredrick Barrett [Titanic]) is holding the gun, Julia Murney (Elphaba [Wicked] (replacement), Florence Vassy [Chess] (2003 Concert)) is his woman who was messing around with Taye Diggs (The Bandleader [Chicago] (2002 Movie), Benny [RENT]) who came to the party with his girl Idina Menzel (Elphaba [Wicked], Maureen [RENT]).  Ok, so let's review, this song has the most dramatic set up ever, is written by a musical theater genius, and features a freakishly incredible cast.  Ok, now that you're fully appreciating all of this epic splendor, you can enjoy what is, in my opinion, the number one Broadway Breakdown ever!!!  (*NOTE* While this song is splendid, there is a bit of fairly strong language.  Not as bad as some of the songs on this list, but bad enough that I wouldn't suggest it to any young ears.)

John Jasper [Mystery of Edwin Drood] - Jasper's Confession
The Phantom [Phantom of the Opera]- Stranger than You Dreamt it
Smeagol [Lord of the Rings: The Musical (West End)] - Gollum/Smeagol

Well, there you have it.  Between the tears, screams, shrieks, an maniacal laughter, we get a glimpse into some Broadway brilliance.  Whether it's a neglected sister, a mourning girlfriend, or a cuckolded clown, Broadway is full of characters who get pushed right over the edge of insanity.  These are my favorites, but do you think that I missed some?  Is there a classic breakdown that you think I just jumped right over?  Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.  There's nothing I love more than being exposed to new Broadway shows (especially if it has a good breakdown)!  Also, be sure to vote in the poll on the top right of your screen to tell me what kind of posts you want to see in the future.  Until then, go have a breakdown listen to a Broadway show!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013 Jimmy Awards

Everybody loves the Jimmy Awards.  There's nothing not to love!  The talent of the kids, the cleverness of the arrangements, the opportunity these students are receiving, all of it is just so darn amazing!  As some of you remember, last year we were made to wait some time before these videos were posted because they were releasing a PBS documentary called Broadway or Bust about these amazing talents.  To be honest, I really loved that special and I wish they could've done it again this year (but they should've told us that they were going to wait to release the videos).  But since there was no such special this year, the medleys have actually been released at a fairly reasonable time.  So please enjoy these marvelously talented students as they effectively blow your mind!!!!

*NOTE* For some reason I cannot explain, it's not letting me post most of the videos here on this blog.  If you click the green hyperlinks then you can watch them on youtube, but I'm afraid you can't watch them straight from here.  Sorry :(

If you're not familiar with the Jimmy Award Medleys then you definitely need to go to the NHSMTA Youtube page and watch all of the past years medleys.  These are such an amazing way to showcase each of the performers in the roles that landed them in the Jimmy's and they always find a way to have fun with the blending of the songs while still staying true to the characters.  The night that they were all posted, I stayed up late into the night watching them all and then had to go to my room and create my own improv medleys with my favorite characters (in pantomime of course, because my family was all asleep).  These just look like so much fun you can't help but want to join in!  So, without further ado, the 2013 Jimmy Award Medleys:

I know we're just beginning, but this has to be my favorite guy medley of the bunch.  It has great characters, great actors, good arrangements, and THAT ENDING HARMONY!  One of my favorite things about this medley is the fact that characters we've seen before sang songs we hadn't heard.  In the past all the Jekyll/Hydes sang "Alive Reprise", all Sweeney Todds sang "Epiphany", All Freddy Bensons sang "Great Big Stuff", etc.  But this time we got to hear those familiar voices sing new songs (a theme repeated in most of these medleys) which was great.  I also liked seeing some characters from fairly famous shows that we haven't seen before (namely Frank Cioffi, Adolpho, and Batboy).  The positive highlights of this Medley were definitely Adolpho (that kid was hysterical!) and Dr. Jekyll (What a voice!).  I also want to give a shout out to Valjean for doing a great job on a tough song, and the second Sweeney for having the voice of a 30 year old base.  Some not so nice parts of the medley included Seymour's performance (sorry!), Freddy starting too soon (but he nailed his two big notes after that), and the most awkward transition I've ever heard in one of these (from "My Friends" [Sweeney Todd] to "Let Me Walk Among You" [Batboy] ).  But then Coalhouse did an awesome job pulling things back in, and the entire ensemble ended on the best note(s) I've heard in a long time!  Great job men of Medley #1!!!

I think this is my favorite of the girl's Medleys for a lot of reasons.  I like the fact that we finally have gotten an Eponine (two in fact) as a nominee (I've been shocked that more haven't been nominated in the past).  I also like the fact that we got to see some characters that haven't been nominated ever before (like Kate Monster [Avenue Q] and Marmee [Little Women]).  I also love that they really did handle their "Millie" well in that they put her in a medley without the other one, and gave her a song that WASN'T Gimme Gimme (I've heard that song in these medleys more than I care to remember).  I also just like the staggering amount of talent in this Medley!  I think my favorites were the "bookend performers" of Kate Monster [Avenue Q] and Ariel Moore [Footloose].  But Cinderella [Into the Woods] and Millie Dillmount [Thoroughly Modern Millie] were both close runner ups.  The rest were certainly good, but they just didn't jump out as much.  And I also want to mention that I didn't particularly enjoy the performance of the two Adelaides [Guys and Dolls].  I mean, I know that accent comes with the character, but, for some reason, when these two did it, it got on my nerves more than it has in the past.  I also want to point out the range that Marmee [Little Women] had.  She sang most of that song in a super low register and still managed to tackle the higher falsetto notes.  All in all, all of these ladies were absolutely wonderful!

Once before (in 2011) they had so many of one character (Millie Dillmount in that one) that they gave them their own medley.  If you remember, it wasn't very good.  It was pretty repetitive, didn't have any dynamic, and none of the actresses were particularly incredible.  It was just kind of boring.  Because of this, I was afraid that this Baker Medley would fall under the same category of dullness.  However, there is one truly fascinating thing about the Baker that I hadn't noticed until this song.  He doesn't have a solo.  There is not a single song in the show that the baker has all to his own.  So they couldn't do what they did last time (have all five of them jump in and out of one song), so what did they do?  THEY MADE AN ACTUAL MEDLEY!  This was brilliant!  This means you still got the dynamic and the transition while staying within the same character.  But it gets even better!  They had the foresight to play with some of the lyrics a bit so as to keep the audience laughing (I just about died at "when there's five of you").  Like with the Millies, I can't really pick out any of these bakers above the rest, but this time it was because they were all just so entertaining in the way they worked together.  So congratulations the Jimmy Awards for this clever arrangement, and for all of these wonderfully talented bakers!

Ok, before I get going there is one question that I have.  How the heck is there a highschool in America who is allowed to do Spring Awakening (And before you ask, no, there is no official "cleaned up version".  Any editing that might have happened would've been illegal).  Ok, now that that's out of the way, onto the medley.  I did really like this medley.  From beginning to end it was certainly entertaining to say the least.  All of these girls did a fabulous job, but to me the stand outs were the first Olive Ostrovsky [25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee]and Meredith Parker [Batboy] (I was so disappointed it had to be her mic that cut out).  Honorable mention definitely goes to the Jo March [Little Women] (What an incredible voice!).  As for anything bad about this Medley.  I didn't care for the ending note the girls hit (partially because I don't think Elle [Leagally Blonde] carried it very well), and I REALLY didn't approve of the Audrey [Little Shop of Horrors].  She fell victim to the classic blunder of overdoing the accent and letting the singing suffer.  However, aside from these few cringing moments, I really did love this Medley.  It reminded me of some great songs I hadn't heard in a while and gave me a new new favorites.  Well done ladies :)

You know how they say "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"?  Well the opposite seems true for this medley.  Individually, each of these guys do an excellent job and it's really hard to pick a favorite.  However, I don't really care for the medley as a whole.  True they did have some kind of clever transitions (mostly using Princeton), but for the most part the characters and songs in this medley were just kind of boring.  Of course, this is not to say that individually these guys were bad.  Like I said, all of these guys are awesomely talented and this medley actually includes two of the nights winners (Emmett won "Best Ensemble" and the second J. Pierpont won Best Actor).  It's hard to choose a favorite in this one.  Personally I'd probably say Emmett [Legally Blonde] and Princeton [Avenue Q] , but they were all wonderful!  The only one I didn't particularly care for was Joseph [Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat].  I can't really put my finger on why I didn't like him, I expect most of it is I don't think he was as good as the guy who played Joseph when I was in it (although I am admittedly biased).  He certainly had a good voice, I just didn't like his interpretation of the character.  But, even though this medley wasn't my favorite, it's still really good and worth watching.

Once again, I'm really in awe by all the talent here.  Granted, this medley was mostly made up of very common characters (With Velma Kelly, Annie Oakley, and The Lady of the Lake being the exceptions).  But even with that handicap, I feel like these actress found a way to make their characters their own.  Among all the talented divas singing in this medley were two official winners (Dolly Levi won Best Actress and The Lady of the Lake won for best Junior).  Personally, my favorites were The Lady of the Lake [Spamalot] ( I think she's my favorite girl of the evening.  I loved the way she put the character first but still pulled out a KILLER voice) and Velma Kelly [Chicago] (partially because I love how much her character contrasted the rest of them).  The runner up would have to be Janet van de Graaff [The Drowsy Chaperon].  Although I didn't like her performance the first time I saw it (I thought it was a bit forced), the more I watch it the more I realize that that is exactly how the character should be played.  Of course, this Medley had it's low points too.  I can't say that I liked Millie Dillmount [Thoroughly Modern Millie] or Polly Baker [Crazy for You], and that ending note they all hit made me cringe.  But if you look past these drawbacks, it's a really great group of actresses singing/acting their hearts out, and you can't ask for more than that!

Although this medley wasn't my favorite, it certainly had it's excellent moments.  It was mostly composed of "straight guys" (you can tell by all the suits) but there were a couple of fun characters tastefully thrown in there.  I thin my favorites in this medley were the Man in the Chair [The Drowsy Chaperon] (I've always loved the character, and it was fun to see him throw himself into it) and The Scarecrow [The Wiz] (another favorite character of mine, brilliantly done).  Runner up definitely goes to Billy Crocker [Anything Goes], who had a truly infections energy (and the transition into his song was priceless!).  Of course, there were a few gentlemen I didn't particularly care for.  I thought Bobby Strong [Urinetown] was a little weak on some of his big notes (but, from the looks of things, that may have been an abnormally bad day for him) and I felt like Sky Masterson [Guys and Dolls] was just kind of off.  One of the things I really liked about this medley that I feel like I have to point out are the two Valjeans [Les Miserables].  I love the fact that, although they were the same character, they really couldn't be more different.  You can see a difference in the costumes, their physical appearance, the way they carry themselves, the way they sing, and their acting choices.  What I think it is (and I doubt this was intentional) is the first one looks like a mayor, and the second looks like a convict.  Both are correct, but very different from each other.  It just goes to show how different people can interpret a character different ways.  It was also cool seeing a Usnavi [In The Heights] up there!  I didn't realize that that character really doesn't sing at all in the show (just raps) but I thought this kid did a pretty good job anyway.  All in all, it was a fun one to watch.

So that's the medleys!  I'd say they get better every year, but I think it's more accurate to say they stay perfect every year!!!  We got to see some old familiar characters (Valjean, Millie, The Baker, Belle, etc.), got to see some new ones (Billy Crocker, Meredith Parker, Joseph, Annie Oakley, etc.), and got to be spectacularly entertained!  If I had to pick favorites I think I'd probably choose Mackenzie Kurtz (The Lady of the Lake) and Steven Heller (Jekyll/Hyde), but, as usual, neither of them were finalists.  It's no secret that I'm horrible at picking those out of the medleys.  But lets have a look at the talented young performers who were finalists.

The Solos
In an attempt to diverge from last year, let's begin with the Gentlemen:

This is Austin Crute, (the nominee from Atlanta, Georgia who played The Scarecrow [The Wiz] in Medley #7) singing "Hold Me In Your Heart" from Kinky Boots.  Personally I thought this was the best performance of the guys.  He sang this song with the passion and conviction it required and it was truly fun to watch.  I think it was an excellent song choice (especially considering the comedic nature of his Medley performance) and I'm glad that he made finalist.  Way to go Austin!

This is Micheal Burrell (the nominee from Mission Viejo, California who played the third The Baker [Into the Woods] in Medley #3) singing "This Is Not Over Yet" from Parade.  I don't know why I didn't like this performance so much because I liked Micheal in his Medley and I LOVE this song.  I guess I thought he just didn't look happy enough while he sang.  I mean, this guy just found out that he might not be hung for a crime he didn't commit, so I feel like a massive grin should never leave his face, but Micheal just looks angry for most of the song.  Of course, that acting choice aside, he does have a good voice for this character and he did sing the song well, so I see why he was a finalist.  Well Done Micheal.

This is the 2013 Jimmy Award Winning Best Actor Taylor Varga (the nominee from Norwich Connecticut who played the second J. Pierpont Finch [How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying] in Medley #5) singing "Santa Fe" from Newsies.  I haven't decided yet whether or not I like this kid's voice, but this was a perfect song choice for him.  I like how he didn't even try to add the characters iconic accent (which is traditionally WAY too heavy), he really kind of took the original character out of the song and made it his own, which I honestly approve of.  What's more, he seemed genuinely happy to be there singing, and that always makes it more enjoyable for us watching.  So, congratulations Taylor, you should be proud!

And now, for this year's lovely ladies (for some reason thus far unexplained to me, there were 4 finalists instead of 3):

This is Jillian Caillouette (the nominee from Norwich, Connecticut who played Jo March [Little Women] in Medley #4) singing "Finding Wonderland" from Wonderland: A New Adventure.  I loved Jillian in her Medley and I thought she was great here as well!  I loved the obscure song choice (that's one of my favorite things about the Jimmy Solo's, there's always a couple nice and obscure songs), and I really loved the way she belted it out.  I do feel like once she started singing the bigger notes (especially at the end) she kind of lost the acting and started looking really angry (and this is really a peaceful song lyrically) but aside from that I really don't have a complaint.  Jillian nailed it!

This is Eva Maria Noblezada (the nominee from Charlotte, North Carolina who played Ariel Moore [Footloose] in Medley #2) singing "With You" from Ghost: The Musical.  I think that this is my favorite performance of all of the soloists (guys and girls alike) and I'm honestly a bit surprised she didn't win.  Her emotion was powerful, her voice perfect, and her stare just piercing.  This song had plenty of dynamic and always seemed complete consumed in it.  All in all a really touching, ovation-worthy performance.  Brava Eva Maria!!!

This is Martha Hellerman (the nominee from Madison, Wisconsin who played Wendla [Spring Awakening] in Medley #4) singing "A Part of That" from The Last Five Years.  I really did like Martha's performance.  I thought she did a good job staying in the character, I think the song was a good choice for her, and she definitely sang it well.  I did feel like she was kind of shouting at some of the big notes, but maybe that's just what you have to do in a song like this.  All in all, to me, there really isn't much to make this performance stand out.  It wasn't amazing, but it certainly wasn't bad either.  Of course, it was way better anything that I could hope to do, and so for that, I applaud you Martha!

This is the 2013 Jimmy Award Winning Best Actress Sara Lynn Marion (the nominee from Fullerton, California who played Dolly Levi [Hello Dolly!] in Medley #6) singing "Raunchy" from 110 in the Shade.  Sarah Lynn probably gets the award for the most obscure song of the night (the only one I hadn't heard before) and I'd also wager that she delivered the "most courageous" performance.  It was wonderful to watch her completely let go of all self-consciousness, throw caution to the wind, and just get lost in this confident character.  That being said, I don't love the song choice just because it doesn't fit my personal taste.  However, her voice rocked it, and I think it's the kind of thing that she really had fun with, so I see why she picked it.  Before I finish talking about Sarah Lynn, I have to mention that she attends the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts.  You know why that's noteworthy?  Because Alex Syiek (2009 Nominee), Kyle Selig (2010 Winner), Jacob Gonzalez (2011 Nominee),  and Elizabeth Romero (2011 Nominee & 2012 Winner) also all attended the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts.  That's right, at least one person from this school has made it to the Jimmy's every year it's been in existence and Sarah Lynn is the 3rd one to win it all.  You know what this means?  It's likely that all of these people have performed in shows together!  So if you're ever near Fullerton California, go see a show by HBAPA (as I think they're occasionally known) because it's likely as not the show you see will contain future Jimmy Award nominees and winners, just like the spectacular Sara Lynn!

And...Everything Else
While, in my opinion, they aren't as cool, for continuities sake I figured I should post the rest of the performance videos from this years Jimmy Awards (or at least links).  The first one I'm going to show you is this years opening number.  If you're not familiar with the Jimmy's opening numbers, they always do a parody medley of songs from current long running Broadway shows (like Newsies and Wicked) and some of this years new shows (like Matilda and Pippin).  For some reason or another, they also decided to add in a pop song this year (We Are Young by the non-Broadway group "FUN").  Although I don't like diluting this beautiful Broadway mash up with "other music" I think as a whole this opening is still amazing!  Enjoy:

In the Jimmy's closing numbers, they always do something similar to the Opening, just with less songs.  They usually spend most of the song focusing on one or two songs instead of the several featured in the opening.  This year they chose to build the song around "Ten Minutes Ago" [Cinderella] (which was cool, because the night's hosts, Cinderella stars Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes, got to sing a little with the kids) and "Raise You Up" [Kinky Boots].  I'm sure this was an emotional moment for all of the kids, and, although it isn't my favorite of the Finales, it is really nice.  Take a look:

And that's it for this year's Jimmy Awards.  All the ups and downs, success, and defeat, wins and...well, each of these kids got flown to New York to train for a week with theater professionals, meet some of the other most talented kids in the country, audition in front of professional theater agents, and perform on a Broadway there really were no losses.  As always I am both extremely jealous of and incredibly happy for each and every one of these kids.  Remember some of these names, because there is no doubt in my mind that you'll hear of some of them again!

This is probably my last post for the summer (and when school starts up I slow down a lot).  Seeing as I might not be able to post quite as much over this next school year, I've decided to prioritize.  If you would be so kind as to vote in the top right corner for which kinds of posts you enjoy reading the most then that would greatly help me in my prioritizing.  As always thanks so much for reading, and feel free to leave any comments you like (I will read them).  Now, go listen to some Broadway Music!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013 Tony Awards (Part V: Other Tony Moments)

So, it's no secret that the best part of the Tony Awards are the shows.  Whether it's through performances, or interviews, or the final award tally of the night, the shows are the reason we watch the Tony's.  But that doesn't mean that there are some wonderful moments in the ceremony that really doesn't have much of anything to do with one specific show.  Some of them were the planned performances by guest stars, some of them were touching acceptance Speeches, and most of them involved Neil being awesome!  So, without further Ado, the "other" great parts of the 2013 Tony Awards!

Other Performances

They made it bigger!
The Tony's have some geniuses working on their show.  Like, seriously, this is probably my favorite opening number yet, largely because they made some really smart decisions.  Since injecting Neil into Book of Mormon (the 2011 Winner) worked so well last year, they did the same thing to Once (the 2012 Winner).  Then they incorporated performers from all of the major nominated musicals to show the community of Broadway and remind the audiences who the major characters of the night will be.  They added in some clever jokes about the Shia LaBeouf Scandal, all the kids on Broadway this year, and, yes, even the Les Miserables Movie.  Then they had Neil bust out all of his best stunts including hopping through that Pippin hoop and making himself disappear.  And then they had my favorite line of the night: "There's a kid in the middle of nowhere sitting there, living for Tony performances singin' and flippin' along with the Pippins and Wickeds and Kinkys, Matildas and Mormonses. So we might reassure that kid and do something to spur that kid. Cause I promise you all of us up here tonight.  We were that kid!"  AT LEAST NEIL PATRICK HARRIS GETS US!!!  As soon as that line was said, my whole Party pretty much applauded through the next 30 seconds of the song!  SOMEBODY MAKE THIS A T-SHIRT OR SOMETHING!!

Swingin' in Hitsville U.S.A.
So, as you'll know from my previous posts, I'm not a huge fan of Motown, but they actually did have a really good Tony Performance (better than some of the nominated shows in fact).  They did a good job of highlighting so much of their talented supporting cast, they did memorable songs that everybody would recognize, and they never let the energy die for a moment.  Despite the fact that I didn't like the show, I think they should be proud of their performance.

"Whatever Happened to my Part"?
No, the Lady of the Lake did not appear in this year's Tony Awards, but she may as well have, because we did have some guest appearances from some big Broadway/TV stars that shared her lamentations.  In the middle of the telecast, Andrew Rannells [Broadway: Book of Mormon, TV: The New Normal], Megan Hilty [Broadway: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Tv: Smash], and Laura Benanti [Broadway:Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, TV: Go On] came on with a parody medley of some of our favorite Broadway tunes.  It was a great way to appeal to the audiences who came to see the Tony Awards because of TV and it gave Neil a chance to gloat.  In my opinion, it was one of the more enjoyable portions of the evening.  Take a look:

Aren't you a little old to be performing rock songs on the Tony Awards?
If you're talking about Angela Lansbury, then heck no!  If you're talking about "The Rascals" then yes.  Most definitely.  I don't know whose idea it was to let these guys play at the Tony's, but it wasn't a good idea.  At first it looked like it was going to be a tribute the the plays of the year (which was tragically left out of this year's telecast), but after a minute or two, it was just a video of old guys who didn't seem to know they were old singing songs that weren't show tunes.  And, let's be honest, does anybody really want to see/hear that?
He's There!  The Phantom of the Opera!!!!
That's right, amid the slew of new musicals, the oldest show on Broadway managed to squeeze in a performance and remind the world why it's been running for over 10,000 performances!  In what I think was a recreation of the performance the Phantom cast did all those years ago at their own Tony Awards, the current Broadway cast performed Andrew Lloyd Webber's hauntingly beautiful song for the world to hear.  I loved it!  It was so beautiful and I am so glad that old shows like this get a chance to make it onto the Tony's.  However, I had forgotten how many people had never heard the Broadway version of the show's title song.  I would hope that all of my readers have, but in case you have only heard the movie soundtrack, it's important that you know that they had to lower the Phantom's part A TON for Gerrard Butler to be able to sing it.  Micheal Crawford (and, to my knowledge, all subsequent Broadway Phantoms) have to sing his songs significantly higher than poor Mr. Butler could manage.  I think this higher key makes the character more haunting and beautiful, but if you hadn't heard it sung that way, it can be a shock.  That being said, I am disappointed that a large portion of the attenders at my party accidentally made "ewww" noises instead of saying "Oh my goodness, this guy sings beautifully"!  I even heard one misinformed attendee speak the blasphemous words "Gerrard Butler was better".  Needless to say, I was about to whip our my "magical Lasso" on her, but I showed restraint.  Needless to say, this is the GOOD version of the song, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

Try to Remember
I was glad to see that, after it was tragically forgotten last year, they included an "in Memoriam" song at this years Tony Awards.  I didn't particularly care for Cyndi Lauper's song, but I still enjoyed the moment (which was occasionally spoiled a bit by people applauding when someone they recognized appeared on the screen.  Which made me wonder, is that ok?  To clap for someone's death?  What's the etiquette there?).  As usual, I didn't recognize most of the people featured in the video, but there were a few, most notably Marvin Hamlisch.  His death was truly a tragic event for the Broadway community, and I hope that he's resting in peace secure in the knowledge that he has left a legendary legacy!

Whovians watch the Tony's for ONCE.
Yes, it's true, two groups of "superfans" collide as Arthur Darvill, most well known for playing Rory Williams on the BBC Fantasy show Doctor Who has made his Broadway debut as Steve Kazee's replacement in Once.  Not one to shy away from star power, the Producers decided to feature this new casting on the Tony Awards this year by performing of Guy's songs.  Unfortunately....I didn't like "Rory" as much as "the other Guy".  I mean, not to sound mean, but Arthur just kind of screamed incomprehensibly into a Microphone.  And since there was almost no lyrics and absolutely no dancing, there was nothing to do but sit there and listen to him wail gibberish.  To be honest, I was more entertained by the squealing Whovians we had present than the performance itself (and by the sudden interruption of the performance, which I'll get to later).

NPH and Audra McD "rap" things up
So, it seems that Lin Manuel Miranda has been working overtime to fit a rap into as many Tony Awards as he can!  And, contrary to what I learned from Commentary the Musical, Neil can really rap!  Since they already did a straight rap (2 years ago) this year they spiced up the closing number by parodying an actual (non-Broadway) song called "Empire State of Mind."  This meant they needed a female vocalist to back Neil up and they couldn't have picked anyone better than the youngest 5-time Tony Award Winning Actress Audra MacDonald.  Her voice was beautiful and I felt like the two of them meshed pretty well.  However, that being said, I didn't think this was one of the better closing numbers (in my opinion, none have compared to the first one I saw Neil do back in 2009).  Never the less, it's cool that Neil got to sing again, and it was a great way to end the show.  If nothing else, it's worth watching the video to see Neil hitting a low harmony (possibly the first time in his life), Lin Manuel Miranda playing Piano in the background,  and Audra "out-gangster" Neil in the last second.

I know that, generally speaking, the speeches are the most boring part of the telecast, and, with the exception of the Rascals' performance, that is still true.  However, there are always a few that stand out, and this year was no exception.  Whether it was something really funny like the annual American Theater Wing commercial (which I unfortunately can't find a video for), or really touching like Cicely Tyson's heartwarming speech, these are the ones that I think are worth seeing.

Mr. Microphone guy...YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!

From Dreamgirls to Dreams coming true

Cicely Tyson gives the classiest response to "Wrap it up" in the history of the Tony Awards!


Lions and Spiders and Newsies, Oh My!
For some reason, something snapped in the Tony Award committee and they started making an effort to involve long running shows into the Tony Awards more this year.  The biggest way they did this was by having characters (not actors) from other Broadway shows introduce the performances.  Velma Kelly, Simba, Sandy the Dog, Jack Kelly, and Peter Parker were just a few of the characters that made an appearance at this years awards.  To be honest, I thought it was pretty cheesy, but it was cool to see the old shows getting to do something.  Here's some clips of the Chicago cast making introductions (I think something was amok with the teleprompter on the second one).

Everyone loves a good Playsical in the summer!
NPH does these "suggestions to producers" every year (part of me thinks he writes them himself).  I'd recommend you looking up some of the ones he's done in the past (I'm too lazy to track down links), some of my favorite of his suggestions have included "presidential musicals", and "scratch and sniff playbills"!  But this year I think was one of his finest!  Playsicals!!!!  Enjoy:

Neil gets some puppy love
I don't know why, but this really freaked out everyone at my Tony Party.  Personally, I think it's just one more thing that proves Neil will do anything for the sake of the show.  So here he is "bonding" with Broadway's favorite pooch (sorry the video quality isn't better):

We interrupt this broadcast because...WE HAVE NO SOUL!!!!
Ok, so this only applies to my fellow Georgians.  CBS Atlanta made a MASSIVE mistake and almost caused a riot at my house!  Right in the middle of Once's performance (told you I'd get back to it) and before the Best Musical was announced, the show just stopped.  Out of nowhere everything cuts to a news room and away from our precious TONY Awards!!!!!  We found out later that some human error was made and, for one reason or another, they thought the show was done.  After I, and I'm assuming several hundred others, wrote Emails of complaint to the station, they released a formal apology and said that they would run the final 7 minutes of the Tony's to kick off the news every night that week.  While it was a meager offering, at least they recognized their mistake and tried to fix it.  But I must say, there was a few hours of scrambling where plenty of mistakes were made, like this reporter who obviously knew absolutely nothing about the awards:

And that does it for this years Tony Awards!  It was a phenomenal year and culminated in an equally phenomenal night!  If you've stuck it out and read all five of these posts then I congratulate you!  Feel free to to leave a comment in the box below with any questions or comments you have about my posts or the awards themselves.  And be on the look out for my next post (I have a few "Luke's Top 10's" in the works). Thanks so much for reading!  In the words of the legendary Neil Patrick Harris, "Go see a Broadway show!"