Saturday, March 2, 2013

To love or not to love? That is the question.

Shakespeare.  "I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Glee writers and thee!" (I'm just kidding. I don't hate you, I just had to finish the quote). The statement above is true with one minor adjustment in terms of tense.  In actuality, I hated Shakespeare.  But recently my eyes were opened and I began to have a new perspective on it.  So now I love it...and I hate it.  Let me try to sum up my long history with Shakespeare in a way the bard himself would be proud of (only easier to understand):


Before I knew anything about it, I thought I'd like Billy Shakespeare (how I intend to refer to him henceforth) in the same way I like Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Even if I don't love the work, I can appreciate the artist and recognize him for the pioneer he was.  Just because his works aren't my style doesn't mean they're bad, and he can scratch out a winner now and then.  For the most part, as long as Billy didn't get in my way, I wasn't going to get in his.


My introduction to performing Shakespeare can be credited to a friend of mine who introduced the idea of going to a Shakespeare competition.  Now, I was still trying to stay out of Billy's way but I had always thought a monologue competition would be fun so I put some thought into it.  As luck would have it, I had just seen this AMAZING video of one of my favorite Broadway comedians, Christopher Fitzgerald, performing a Shakespearean monologue  so I went home and looked it up.  I knew I had to do the competition as soon as I saw it, because this video is what proved to me that Shakespeare was real acting.  You could still use inflection, you could still feel what you're saying, and you don't have to sound all proper.  So, I went to work memorizing the monologue and, you know what?  It was actually really fun.  To this day it's one of my favorite pieces ever to have done, and I really did pretty well in the competition (honorable mention with special recognition for energy and physicality...which made me feel good).  When I looked at my score sheets, I discovered that the main reason I didn't do better was because it wasn't "Shakespearean enough."  I suppose this should make sense, I saw that Mr. Fitzgerald did it fairly modern so I did it even more so and, by the end, I forgot that I was even doing Shakespeare (which some of the judges found disrespectful and others inventive).  This lead me to some research concerning how to be more "Shakespearean" and I was horrified by what I found.


My research yielded that Billy wrote in a kind of code to dictate the actor's every move.  Every comma, every exclamation point, every dash, all of it dictates how the actor must pause and what syllables he has to emphasize.  In addition, apparently in Billy's work the actor has to "act on the lines" which completely devalues the dramatic (or comedic) pause, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite devices.  Basically, BILLY TAKES ALL THE FUN OUT OF ACTING!  If any other writer (or director for that mattered) tried to dictate an actor's decisions to that extreme they'd be attacked by a hoard of angry actors!  But old Billy can get away with it?  I don't think so!  At that moment, I vowed my hatred towards Shakespeare and everything that related to him (except West Side love for that never dies).


Despite my hatred, I had been assured that seeing a full Shakespearean show would be different, so I agreed to go to see a production of Macbeth (ironically held at the same place my competition was).  It was just as bad as I thought.  It was so hard to follow and all emotion seemed contrived because the actors weren't allowed to make the parts their own.  The designer also made some really strange choices in mixing modern elements (like machine guns and handheld cameras) with period ones.  All in all I left feeling exhausted because I felt like the production asked too much of the audience.  It didn't draw me in at all!  The language and the stiffness kept me at arm's length trying to decipher the madness.  It was that day that my deploration of Billy's work was confirmed.


Because of my feelings towards Billy's work, I was cautious when, just a few weeks ago, I was invited by a good friend to see a production of Romeo and Juliette at The Shakespeare Tavern.  However, despite my wariness, it turned out to be an absolutely wonderful production.  Once again I was reminded that Shakespeare can be funny and the actors truly can have fun with it and make it their own.  In fact, I came to see Shakespeare as having even more creativity than prose because the actor has to deliver his meaning sometimes without using discernible words.  In this production, the body-language and inflection was by far the best part of the show and made for some truly inspired performances.

Act VI hasn't been written yet, because I am still on the fence about Shakespeare   I know people who adore his work (including one young lady who's goal in life is to play Hamlet) and help me to see the point of it, and others who remind me of how bulky and awkward it can be (unless you have a carrot like Christopher Fitzgerald).  But now instead of staying away from him, I find myself wanting to see any of Billy's productions that I can so that I can eventually have an opinion on the subject.

So Shakespeare, while I don't yet "love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty," I might be getting there...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Luke's Top Ten: Roles That I'd Love to Play....But Never Will

Every actor that I've talked to has at least one role that they would just LOVE to play.  There are some characters that are just so juicy, so captivating, that you can't help but drool at them.  Me?  I have tons of them, pretty much one for every show I've ever listened to or seen.  Of course, most actors, if pressed, will tell you that there are roles that they really want to play one day....but can't.  There are a variety of reasons that someone just "can't" play a role.  Things such as having moral objections, the wrong vocal range, being the wrong skin color, the wrong gender, or wrong body type can disqualify someone who would be otherwise perfect for the role.  So although I'm sure you all have lists of dream roles that are just out of reach, here is mine:

#10 - Henry [Next To Normal]
  • Henry is a great role because he's a sweet guy, a little nerdy but really pulls out the sentiment when it's called for.  Not only that, but he also has some killer songs and some of the funniest lines of the show (not to mention, he was originally  played by the AMAZING Adam Chandler Berat).  What's more, I really feel like a lot of my strengths line up with the character: His songs are in my range, he's mostly funny with some good sentimental moments (something I pride myself on), hes just awkward enough to make his scene partners slightly uncomfortable (another strength of mine), and I can totally pull off the hoodie like he can.
  • For one thing, he's from Next to Normal.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the show, but if I was in it I don't know if I'd be able to invite my friends and family without feeling uncomfortable with them seeing it (it's a bit PG-13 at best).  Of course, it doesn't help that Henry contributes to that rating (he curses in almost every song he sings).  In addition to all of this unpleasantness--he is a drug addict.  But he's not even the kind you get to see when he's really high or something (which would be a blast to act), just the kind that talks about doing drugs all the time. He talks about it lightly so much that you begin to think maybe it's ok, until he gets his girlfriend to try it (SHE gets the cool drug induced hallucinatory scene).  So for all these ethical reasons, it is likely that Henry will, regrettably never happen.
#9 - The Leading Player [Pippin]
  • There's no reason not to want to be The Leading Player.  He has amazing songs, he gets his own dance solos, he's in almost every scene of the show, he gets most of the funny lines, and he has one of the best "Broadway Breakdowns" that I've ever seen.  Of course, the star power that went into this role (music by Stephen Schwartz, Choreography by Bob Fosse, originally played by Ben Vereen) is enough to make any great actor drool.  I also think that there are parts of it I could do really well, I think I'd have the stamina to play the role, the majority of his songs are in my range, and I think most of the scenes he has to act are right up my alley.
  • Unfortunately, many of the very things that make this role attractive are what make it impossible.  People who do Pippin only do it if they know they have an insanely talented Leading Player who can carry the show.  The role has a HUGE responsibility attached to it.  As far  the dancing goes, I'm not really that comfortable dancing "Fosse-style" so I think even if I learned how to do it I might not have the confidence that is absolutely essential to the character.  Also, the singing is not easy.  The easier ones like "Magic to Do" or "Simple Joys" are doable, but songs like "Glory" would stretch me right to the edge.  Morally the role isn't that bad, but the show in general has it's issues.  The average citizen might not see it as particularly immoral, but with my sheltered upbringing, I'm sure that there are several moments of the show (whether the Leading Player is on stage or not) that would make me uncomfortable.  The final (and perhaps biggest) reason I can't do the show is...well.....there's no way to put this delicately.  I'm not black.  I'm not saying that white people haven't played the role, but at least the lines that I saw Ben Vereen deliver just wouldn't look right coming out of a skinny white boy such as myself.  Since I know there have been white Leading Players I suppose it's possible that there's an alternate version of the script, but I aside from that, I don't see how I could pull off the attitude of the character in certain scenes.
#8 - The Emcee [Cabaret]
  • As my little sister once described him, the Emcee is like "a twisted, perverted Cat in the Hat" and that is really the best definition for him I've ever heard.  The Emcee is just a fun guy who is willing to do some crazy stuff.  He is honestly a character with no boundaries and no limits which is always a blast to play.  I feel like I have the energy required to play the Emcee and for the most part I think I have the build for it.  Also, the Emcee is my favorite kind of character in that he is absolutely purely comedic except for one moment when he orchestrates one of the most chillingly dramatic moment I've ever seen on any stage.  As if I needed more reasons, it's also been played by more stars than I care to mention (I think I put the full list on my review of Cabaret).
  • Like Next To Normal, Cabaret is a show I wouldn't be able to invite my family to see.  Not only is there some bad language, but innuendos (both verbal and visual) are rampant throughout the entire show.  The Emcee specifically (while he never curses) has some very suggestive lines and (in every version I've seen) some VERY suggestive movements.  He's a very perverted character and I just don't think that I could ever be comfortable enough with some of his actions to look like I'm enjoying it (which is huge, because he's always enjoying himself).  If nothing else, the costumes he (and most of the rest of the cast) have to wear would make me uncomfortable.  In addition to that, some of the songs he sings are on the tip of my range, so vocally it would be a challenge (not an impossible one, but it'd take some work).  Of course, he doesn't do anything massively objectionable in the actual script, so if I came across a director who decided to stage it in a more family friendly way then I suppose I could play the role, but I HIGHLY doubt any director will decide to take this show that direction.
#7 - Matt [Bare]
  • Matt has the distinction of being the only character on this list that has not actually appeared on Broadway.  In fact, I'm not really a big fan of his off-Broadway incarnation (where this picture came from).  That Matt I'm referring to is the character as it was in the Original Studio Cast recording of Bare.  That Matt is cool for several reasons.  I think what I love most about the character is the way he's so real and conflicted.  He's one of the few characters who fits into neither the ultra-rebellious nor the goody-two-shoes cliche.  I also love his relationship with Ivy (in that, as far as she's concerned, there isn't one).  The whole, "admiring from afar" is a common enough theme, but I kind of like the fact that they never get together, so it adds to the realism and tragedy of the character.  Add on to that he has some of the best songs in the show.  "Are You There" is an AMAZING song (my favorite in the show), and even in the songs that he's not leading (such as "Portrait of a Girl" and "No Voice") his parts are always my favorite.  I also really like the way this show sings Shakespeare, and I think it'd be a blast to try to do that.  Another plus for the character is his role is probably the cleanest in the show.  Now, there are times when the entire ensemble swears as one ("Birthday B*****" comes to mind) and he does throw out one anti-gay slur (which I think I'd be ok with, because it isn't senseless, it's so powerful and important to the story), but aside from that his verbiage is clean.  Perhaps the main reason I like him, is because he might be the one on this list I connect with the most.  I get Matt, and I think it'd be fairly therapeutic to play him.
  • Like most of the characters on this list, the main objection is a moral one.  Despite the fact that Matt is fairly clean, his fellow students are NOT EVEN CLOSE!  There is hardly a song in the entire show that makes it to completion without throwing out a slew of curse words and even the general subject matter of the show would keep me from inviting most of my friends and family to the show.  The shame is aside from that I think I'd be ok with the character.  His songs are mostly in my range, his character is right up my alley, and (with a few tweaks) I think the moral of the show is a strong and important one.  Unfortunately, the writers opted to include completely unnecessary language....shame on you writers.
#6 - Charlie Chaplin [Chaplin]
  • As crazy as it sounds, long before I knew that Chaplin existed (in fact, possibly before it did exist, at least in it's present form) a friend told me that I'd make a good Charlie Chaplin if ever they made a musical about him.  And once (also before I knew of Chaplin) I had a dream that our director decided to write a musical about the man and casted me as the little tramp himself.  For that reason, as soon as the show came out I flocked to the role and prayed that it'd be one I'd be able to play one day.  I still think that, for a lot of reasons, I'd be good for the part.  I consider myself fairly good at physical comedy, and I'm certainly willing to learn a few stunts (granted, he does more than a few in this show) and would happily do whatever it takes to get the role perfect.  And I feel like I really can connect with Chaplin as a character as someone who has the ability to be funny, but really lives his life haunted by the seriousness of it all.
  • Unlike most of the previous entry's in this list, the role of Chaplin really comes with no ethical issues.  Morally I don't think I'd have any trouble taking on the character and inviting even the youngest audiences to see it.  So unfortunately this restriction is more talent based.  For one thing, despite my efforts, I'm having a lot of trouble pulling off the accent he uses throughout the show.  It's not quite a strait British dialect (not that I can do one of those either) and I just can't get a hold on what exactly it is.  Another issue is I just don't sound right singing most of his songs.  I feel like I can hit most of the notes, but when they come out of my mouth they don't sound near as good as when Rob McClure does it.  And of course, most of the stunts I don't currently know how to do (play a violin, walk a tightrope, roller skate backwards, etc.).  On top of that, I get the feeling that Chaplin will not be a very commonly produced show (partially because the reviews haven't been great and partially because it's hard to find someone with the qualifications to play Chaplin) so it's unlikely I'll get many opportunities   Although I think with a lot of work I could make a good Chaplin, the role deserves perfection and I just don't see myself ever reaching that standard.
#5 - Charles Guiteau [Assassins]

  • I'll be honest, my original list simply said "Anyone from Assassins."  Assassins is one of my favorite shows out there because it is hilarious, poignant, smart, historical, and SONDHEIM!!!  Of course, although I'd love to play almost anyone in Assassins, Guiteau is definitely my favorite because he is probably the most unstable (which is always fun), he's rather unknown (I mean, how many of you even knew that President Garfield was assassinated at all?), and he is one of the only characters in the show who (as far as I know) does not swear.  Like Matt, there are some ensemble songs (*cough "Another National Anthem" *cough) where he curses like a sailor with everyone else, but aside from that I don't think Guiteau actually swears in a solo moment (lyrics or lines).  Also, I like Guiteau for the same reason I like Skimbleshanks in CATS (No, he's not in this list because I WILL PLAY HIM someday!!!).  Of course I'm fond of his solo number (in this case, The Ballad of Guiteau) but the best of his character comes in his bits in the other songs (especially The Gun Song).  I just love his character throughout the show which means I can enjoy playing him even when he's not in the spotlight.  Other perks of the role include getting to be hung, doing a Charleston  and (if the production opts for it) sporting a fabulous Amish beard!

  • Once again (as with many on this list) my morality gets in the way.  Although Charlie doesn't cuss much himself, the show is filled with some pretty intense vulgarity and some material certainly not suitable for young audiences.  In addition, it's very rare that anyone ever does Assassins (partially 'cause they haven't made a high-school version...WHICH THEY NEED TO) so the chances that I'll ever even have the opportunity to audition (even if I could get over the moral aspect) is kind of rare.  And, to be perfectly honest, my voice isn't wonderfully suited for Guiteau.  I still think I'd be darn good at it, but I wouldn't be able to bring the operatic quality that Denis O'Hare did so well.  So, once again my ethics gun down this role before it even got a chance to get off the ground (and then dangle from a noose).
#4 Mark Cohen [RENT]
  • For me, RENT is like the manifestation of "forbidden fruit".  There is so much I love about RENT, but unfortunately there's also so much I hate about it (such as the fact I can never be in it).  One of the things I like about it is the character of Mark.  I love mark for several reasons.  One of which is all of my favorite songs in the show ("What You Own" leading the pack) happen to be sung by him.  Another reason is because his character is talented but insecure, which is one of my specialties.  In addition, it's conveniently one of the easiest roles in the show to sing.  I'm not saying it's easy (because it's not) but when compared to Roger's impossible rock tone and Collins's killer songs, it's really not that bad.  It also doesn't hurt that he's been played by some of my favorite all-time Broadway actors over the years (including Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Chandler Berat and the incomparable Anthony Rapp).  Most of all I just connect with Mark in so many ways.  I know what it's like to have a passion but not see how that works in "real life".  I also know what it's like to the nerd in a group of cool people (think about it, just about everyone else in the group is outgoing and charismatic), and I've been "that guy" who's trying to calm everyone down and keep them together when a group begins to break apart.  In fact, Mark is possibly one of the characters I connect with most in all of Broadway, and that makes me think it'd be so much fun to play.
  • .....It's RENT.  Need I say more?  Despite my love for RENT, I rarely recommend it to my friends (especially those just starting their Broadway exploration) because it (along with Avenue Q and Spring Awakening) is notorious for being "morally questionable" at best.  It romanticizes drag-queens, drug addicts, bisexuals, strippers, homosexuals, and people who kill poor little dogs (although I'm not going to lie, the dog had it coming *cue Chicago song*).  It seems like half of the cast is suffering from AIDS and practically all of them are experiencing one sexual crisis or another.  Even though Mark is comparatively clean (in that he doesn't do drugs, he's strait, and the only relationship with a female shown is with his mother), he still utters some words that would get me grounded for life if they ever escaped from my mouth.  That, coupled with the company with which Mark keeps, mean that I can count on one hand the friends/family I could invite to the show that wouldn't be horrified, offended, and somewhat repulsed.  So for their sake, and my own, I don't think Mark is ever going to happen.
#3 - Helen Keller [The Miracle Worker]
  • Helen has the honor of being the only character from a non-musical on this list.  Of course, it should be no surprise that she's on here; to be perfectly honest, there is practically no reason not to want this role.  Granted, it doesn't have as many "lines" as a most roles, but it is the ultimate challenge for any physical actor.  I cannot think of another role (with the possible exception of Gollum) with as many physical complexities as Helen.  Those of us who's strengths lie in physical acting (as apposed to spoken lines) rarely get the opportunity to branch outside of slapstick comedy, so the prospect of a highly physical dramatic role is just a dream come true.  The role of Helen really throws out all kinds of boundaries and allows the actor to wholeheartedly plunge into the role.  In addition, I have always loved Helen Keller as a person (I once wrote a "5-7 page" report on her that spanned 13 pages) so it would be a profound honor to get to play the role on stage.  And, not to sound overly prideful, I think I'd be good at it.  I pride myself in my ability to carry a single physical quirk (usually a twitch or walking pattern) throughout an entire show, and I have actually practiced emulating someone who is blind/deaf and I feel I would be able to treat it with the respect and complexity that the role deserves.
  • Ok, I think this one is a bit's because I'm too old.  I know, I know, there was a time when I could play a young child, but unfortunately that time has passed.  I'd like to say I could've played the role really well when I was that age, but I honestly don't think I could've.  I've grown a lot in the past few years and I feel like I'm just now reaching the caliber necessary to do the role justice....unfortunately just a few years too late.  Aside from that I see absolutely no reason why I can't be a --wait.....what is that you're screaming through the screen?  Oh, that's right....I'm a guy....and Helen is not.  It's true, generally speaking I'm happy with the number of good character roles that guys get, but this coup de grace of acting brilliance has unfortunately fallen to the feminine species.  Cherish it young ladies, because the opportunity to play Helen Keller is a luxury that I envy.
#2 - Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde [Jekyll & Hyde]
  • This role has spent several years in the number 1 spot of "roles I want to play" and just recently have I come to the unhappy realization that I probably shouldn't.  The role is stupendous for so many reasons.  For one thing, I love playing extremes, and it doesn't get any more extreme than Mr. Hyde.  To be pure evil is such an amazing challenge and I'd love to try my hand at it.  In addition to that, there are some really amazing songs that they get to sing ("Dangerous Game" and "Alive" come to mind).  To be perfectly honest, I'd be ok with just playing Mr. Hyde, because his scenes are generally my favorites, but I also love inner turmoil, and that's something that only Dr. Jekyll portrays.  Especially deeper into Act II Dr. Jekyll has some wonderful scenes that show how conflicted he is and I think they'd be really fun to try out.  I don't know that I'd be perfect for Act I Dr. Jekyll and his more "Gentlemanly" scenes/songs, but I know I could bring the intensity that Hyde requires and have an absolute blast doing it!  Not to mention, Confrontation has got to be one of my favorite songs to perform EVER, it gets me fired up in a way that no other song can!
  • Unfortunately this holy grail of roles is just out of my reach for a couple of reasons.  One reason is the language is a bit strong for my taste.  I think that I could edit it just enough to make it still impactful and morally agreeable, but still, writers don't like it when you mess with their words.  The bigger issue is vocally I can't sustain the role.  A lot of the songs are a stretch for me anyway (I tried to sing This is The Moment once....Worst. Audition. Ever.) but experience has shown that my voice would be absolutely shot by the end of Act I.  You see, I have this voice I use when I sing for Hyde that sounds really cool, but unfortunately it scratches my throat up some so I can't sing (or even talk sometimes) normally.  This would be fine if I was just playing Hyde, but when Jekyll sounds all mangled and evil you know something's wrong.  So if the opportunity comes to perform only a couple of songs at a cabaret or get to play only Hyde (which has been done) then I'd jump on it.  But unfortunately my throat just won't let me sustain both powerhouse characters for an entire show.
#1 - Peter Pan [Peter Pan]

  • Ok, to be perfectly honest I'd absolutely love to play any version of Peter Pan (this includes spin offs like Peter and the Starcatcher and Hook, which is unfortunately not yet a musical).  Part of the reason is because I absolutely love playing kids (Huck Finn [Big River], Leaf Coneybear [25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee], Archie [13], Charlie Brown [You're A Good Man Charlie Brown] and Ugly [HONK!] have all spent time on my all-time dream roles list) and nobody captures the spirit of the child like Peter Pan.  Although he is more confident than most of the kids I'd like to play, his childishness is boundless and his energy is just amazing!  Peter's character is defined in that he has no limits and that is exactly what I look for in a character.  Of course, the role of Peter has traditionally been played by a girl, so I thought I'd for sure be out of luck, until I learned that George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (the geniuses who wrote the music for HONK! and Marry Poppins) had written a musical version of Peter Pan that used a guy playing peter (the FABULOUS James Gillan who is pictured above).  I was thrilled that there was a sliver of hope that I could one day play Peter, and even more thrilled when I heard the soundtrack in all of it's glory (in my opinion it is leaps and bounds above the original Broadway show).  Stiles & Drewe's Peter has some super fun songs (and some super sweet ones) and is always energetic and running about.  He never takes much of anything seriously and is automatically in control of everything that happens on stage.  When you tack on the fact that he gets to fly in the show, I can honestly say that, if not for the limitations I'm about to mention, there are very few characters (if any) in the world that I'd rather play than this Peter Pan.
  • Unfortunately, even though I finally found a guy version of Peter Pan, he still sings higher than most girls.  Especially in his softer numbers (e.g. "Build A House" and "There's Always Tomorrow") he hits some super sweet and crazy high notes that I can't even start to try.  He honestly reminds me a lot of Micheal Crawford's Phantom in that he doesn't belt these super high notes, he just glides gracefully into them so you don't even know how high it is until you try to follow him.  He also has the unique ability to shift seamlessly from his chest voice to head voice (falsetto to normal for those of you, like me until just recently, who aren't familiar with that terminology).  I have never seen, or rather heard, anybody transition so seamlessly and so beautifully as Mr. Gillan as Peter.  There are other limiting factors, including the fact that I could never emulate his remarkably charming (and completely genuine) Scottish accent, or that as far as I know there hasn't been a production in the U.S. before, but the main issue is I just don't have the singing chops to play the role.
So there you have it.  10 roles that I'd give almost anything to play....but unfortunately never will for one reason or another.  And might I just tell you that these roles are just the tip of the iceberg.   My "honorable mention" category includes characters such as Burrs [The Wild Party], Igor [Young Frankenstein], Rusty [Starlight Express], P.T. Barnum [Barnum], and Pippin [Pippin].  Unfortunately, these roles are just not in the cards for me so I'll have to be happy with the myriad of fantastic roles that are in my possible spectrum.  

So what about you guys?  I'm sure actors everywhere have roles they want to play but likely won't get to, what are yours?  Are you a pasty white boy (like me) who longs to play Seaweed [Hairspray]?  Or perhaps a devout Christian who refuses to say "heck" but secretly yearns to be Rod [Avenue Q]?  Perhaps there's even a young lady out there who would love to do a gender-bending performance of The Phantom.  Whatever your unattainable dream role is, let me know in the comment section below and we can lament our downfalls together.

Well, I'm off to go cry myself to sleep because of my inadequacy...... Remember to vote in the poll (top left) and thanks for reading! :)