The Past is in the Past: Musings on Frozen – July 28, 2018

Throughout Broadway history, musicals have as its source material derive from other media – literature (Les Miserables), films (Sunset Boulevard) or (in recent years) the song catalog of a singer or band, of which either relates the life story of the singer (Beautiful) or band (Jersey Boys) or creates an original story using the artist’s songs (American Idiot). Another source for Broadway musicals is Disney, both live action and animated films, though the blueprint of the modern Disney animated films are structured like Broadway musicals (so much so that my first impression of Beauty and the Beast film was that it could be adapted to the stage – and it was Disney’s first sojourn on the Great White Way). The degree of success of these adaptations vary – some have a fervent fan base, while (most) critics are less than enthusiastic; some are critically acclaimed but divide the fandom, and sometimes a musical is loved by critics and fans alike (though perhaps not to the same degree). It does seem in the past decade or so, there have been too many film adaptations (of which have a built-in fandom) on Broadway (or coming to Broadway) to the point that it seems to get a show produced on Broadway, one would need to make a film first, build a fan base and (hope) there’s interest in a stage adaptation. Many of the recent film adaptations seemed odd, as they were not necessarily suited to be a stage musical; that commercial theatre has lived up to its name, with art and originality waiting in the wings (often way off-Broadway) struggling to find its way in.

But I digress.

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The focus of this entry is on the latest Disney animated film adaptation of Frozen, which is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen” that tells the story of two sisters and the calamity wrought by suppressing one’s true nature. While I had enjoyed the animated film, I was wary of its stage adaptation, as the magical visual effects displayed in two-dimensional animation would seem tricky to achieve in a three-dimensional real world. Nevertheless, I obtained tickets via a fellow theatergoer whom I met a year earlier through another musical who had won the online lottery and was not able to go. One of my cardinal rules around theatergoing is to never turn down free (or discounted) tickets, and despite my initial reservations, I was still intrigued at how the stage production could capture the essence of the animated film. Disney does it fair share of adapting fairy tales for their animated films, and while the source material for Frozen was “The Snow Queen”, it seemed to me that it took some inspiration from another popular Broadway musical – Wicked.

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The film Frozen ran a little under two hours, and the stage production added about another hour to its run time (to keep with the length of a typical musical, but the new songs and scenes that were added took away from the urgency of the plot and didn’t quite fit the tone of the songs that were in the film. Nevertheless, the staging was spectacular – lighting, costumes and set design had that Disney vibe, though my vantage point was on the far right orchestra, so there were times where my viewpoint was obstructed. The cast was wonderful – Alyssa Fox (understudy for Caissie Levy) was fantastic as Elsa, capturing her conflicted nature, as was Patti Murin as the energetic and impulsive Anna. Their character dynamic did remind me of Elphaba and Glinda (the fact that both women played those roles respectively at some point in their careers, so the impression was not unfounded…).

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The stage door experience was fun, with many young girls dressed up as Elsa waiting at the stage door with their parents (a pair of tiny Elsas sat behind me, enjoying the show). Most of the ensemble came out to sign playbills, take photos and interact with those waiting.

My criticisms have little to do with the cast or production team but more with how (and where) to add to a story that was well constructed as a feature length animated film. I can understand the constructs of a stage musical and that to replicate the film on stage would be unwise (after all “Let It Go” was inevitably destined going to be the Act One closer) but for me, the stage adaptation left me a bit underwhelmed by the overall experience.

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Trending: Musings on Fat Asses: The Musical – May 20, 2018

Fat Asses: The Musical has returned to dish out a second helping of sass with a side of empathy and plenty of hilarity to satisfy any theatergoer’s hunger for an original (!) musical with a message. This production, which closed yesterday afternoon, was an updated version of the production, written by Peter Zachari, music and lyrics by Zachari and Damon Maida, which also played at the Theater for The New City in 2013 (check out my blog about that production here).

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[Usual disclaimer: Regular readers will know that I’m good friends with Peter Zachari and choreographer Joey Mirabile; I’m also credited in the Executive Producer’s Circle for this production in the playbill. I’ve been a fan and supporter of Peter and Joey for many years and believe in their works, which give those often overlooked (and oftentimes ridiculed) a voice, and present them as complex people, and not as stereotypes. The musings are my own, and will most likely not be as objective as expected.]

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The plot remains intact, with new songs and some revisions that comment on current event issues such as gun control, the #metoo movement and the ubiquitous nature of social media. The quartet of Margaux, Candy, Lacey, and Dusty fight for their right to be heard, and to be appreciated as individuals, and while doing so, realize their place in the world. Amid the social commentary are the customary pop culture references (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to another Zachari production). A new aspect of the production design lies in the large projection screen that doubles as a backdrop and a window into the outside world. This production’ cast was astounding, playing their role without falling into stereotypes (at least not without a purpose). Emily Jewell (Margaux), Sydney Blair (Candy), Lori Funk (Dusty) and Itanza Wooden (who reprises her role as Lacey) had great rapport with one another, and held their own against Amandina Altomare, who played Meredith with the right blend of contempt and vulnerability.

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As with the original production, I enjoyed the show’s originality and the updates addressed current event issues with the seriousness it deserves, without making it overly political. I sincerely hope this show makes it uptown (or more importantly Midtown) off-Broadway or perhaps Broadway someday.

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What a Charming Gala – Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera – January 24 & 26, 2018

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Those who follow this blog know that Phantom is one of my favorite musicals, one about which I have strong opinions, and I’ve written several entries about previous milestone performances.

Phantom of the Opera reaches another historic milestone, celebrating 30 years on Broadway. While the official anniversary date is January 26th, the celebration took place two days earlier for reasons unknown (or at least, as far as I’m aware). January 26, 2018 falls on a Friday, which is not a dark night for the show, so I would presume there were scheduling reasons for the celebration to be on the 24th instead of the 26th. Nevertheless, I was able to obtain a ticket for the celebratory performance on the 24th via a special Telecharge promotional code for seats in the rear mezzanine for $30; I had also obtained a ticket for the 26th a few months earlier, before the announcement that the celebration was to be on the 24th. Like the 25th Anniversary performance, the special celebratory performance started at 6:30pm, with the red carpet event inside the lobby, with Imogen Lloyd Webber and Sierra Boggess interviewing alumni cast members, as well as producer Cameron Mackintosh, director Hal Prince and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Of course, I was among the attendees amid the press taking photos and straining to catch a glimpse of the actors and creatives.

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Like the Gala Night, when I got to my seat, there was a complementary 30th Anniversary program, and a special playbill cover commemorating the historic night. The performance began with the usual pre-show disclaimer about silencing cell phones, prohibiting texting and photography during the show. Peter Jöback gave a great performance, which had a more rock quality than the usual lyrical tenor interpretation, Ali Ewoldt was an astounding Christine with her pitch perfect delivery, and Rodney Ingram was fantastic, and has the voice of a future Phantom. Waves of applause and cheers throughout the show, with one notable lyric change (presumably only for this particular performance) – in the Final Lair scene, in the Phantom’s final ultimatum, he sang “do you end this night with me?” (instead of “your days”).

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After the curtain call, the post show celebration began, which was also live streamed on social media. With the stage set up to resemble the Phantom’s lair, the covered set piece of the Phantom’s organ to reveal composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, who spoke about the show’s longevity and waxed lyrical about his own “Angel of Music”, leading to the presumption that Sarah Brightman would appear… only to reveal Cameron Mackintosh.  They bantered for a while (which was highly amusing) , then segues into Lloyd Webber introducing cast members from School of Rock to perform a rock rendition of the Title Song, during which Sarah Brightman does appear to perform along with current Phantom Peter Jöback. The ovation when Brightman sauntered on stage was deafening, and the kids from School of Rock were amazing. More bantering between Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber ensued followed by Hal Prince, reading out statistics about the show’s 30-year history (as he did five years ago), after which some of the original cast members came onstage (later joined by the current cast) to sing a snippet of “Masquerade”. A rousing round of “Happy Birthday” was sung by everyone, to commemorate the anniversary as well as Hal Prince’s impending 90th birthday, ending with steamers and confetti bursting out onto the audience (and onto the chandelier).

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As the after party was invitation only, I ended up taking a few selfies with the chandelier before heading home. There was also a special light show on the Empire State Building, which was also streamed online. I didn’t see it ‘live’ (as I was en route home – after all, it was a work night) and even if I had managed to find a good spot, it’d be a light show. I did watch back the live streamed video, and it was spectacular.

As milestones go, it was fantastic to see former cast members on stage and at the red carpet event, as well as the adorable banter between the Producer and the Composer.

Onward to the official 30th anniversary performance for which I sat second row orchestra, right beneath the chandelier – a first for me; it was equally thrilling and slightly unnerving to watch the chandelier move towards you before ascending above. The cast was as fantastic as they were on the 24th, and after the curtain call the three leads gave a short speech about the monumental anniversary.

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Needless to say Phantom of the Opera has secured its place in Broadway history – congratulations on 30 years, and here’s to the next 30!

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Art Matters: Thoughts on Indecent – July 28, 2017

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Despite the play’s title, Indecent, written by Paula Vogel, is about the purity of the Arts, and the struggle to maintain its integrity in the face of intolerance. Issues of antisemitism, homophobia and censorship in the midst of political and social uncertainty resonate throughout the play, and are as relevant in 2017 as they were in 1923, when much of the play takes place. I’m not as frequent a playgoer as I probably should be, as I tend to gravitate towards musicals (in fact, this is the first Broadway play I’ve seen this year thus far, as my fixation on Sunset Blvd. commandeered my theater going attention for the entirety of its limited run), the word of mouth about Indecent piqued my interest, along with my ongoing endeavor to expand my theatrical experiences.

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This experience far exceeded that objective.

The play recounts the controversy surrounding God of Vengeance written by Sholem Asch in 1907, set in a brothel which included a love scene between two women. While popular and accepted across Europe, its Broadway run in 1923 had been deemed obscene, with all those involved with the production arrested and convicted of obscenity. The play runs under two hours (with no intermission), yet the events within span over several decades across Europe and America, telling the impact one play had within world history.

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The overall set design is sparse, with the cast initially seated on the stage, with a trio of musicians – violin, clarinet and accordion – among the actors. Music is interwoven into the play, as underscoring and as commentary to the events unfolding, which enhance the tension. There are projected stage directions that impart to the audience the passage of time to give context to the scenes, both in English and Yiddish, the original language in which God of Vengeance was written. The framework of Indecent starts off as a play within a play, with Lemml, the stage manager, introducing the cast and setting the scene; the projected narration takes over, and the cast inhabit the role of the actors playing the play within the play. There is a raised platform in the middle of the stage on which the actors depict the play, with the surrounding area of the stage acting as the backstage area. The cast is astounding as a whole, imparting humor and anger with equal passion, as conflict over art and acceptance is debated. Language plays an important role as well – while the bulk of the play is spoken in English, the narrative projections tell in which language the characters are speaking, and the cast adjusted accordingly.

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The stage door experience was low key, as not too many people gathered to meet the actors, which was a blessing, as those who waited were able to chat with the actors (or in my case babble quasi-inarticulately, as the conclusion of the play boggled my mind – in a good way) while signing playbills.

The impact of this play will haunt me for days (and weeks) to come, as a gamut of emotions played within me like a symphony: there were moments of levity, outrage and ultimately sadness, as tears fell uncontrollably as the “blinks in time” passed. I was not the only one – several people around me were equally moved. That oft-used saying that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (I think that’s how the quote goes) rings true, as current events show that there are some who don’t (or refuse to) learn from history.

Change can only happen if people learn to embrace differences, to unlearn the stereotypes imparted by generations that came before them and to accept the fact that there is infinite complexity in the human race.

Indecent had announced its closing date of June 25, 2017, but word of mouth about the play allowed its run to extend to August 6, 2017. I highly recommend seeing this play, as it is a worthwhile examination of why Art Matters more than ever.

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Abuse of Authority: Thoughts on the staged reading of You Don’t Know How It Feels – April 8, 2017

It’s true – I don’t know how it feels.

I can’t even properly process what I felt when I saw the staged reading of Kelley Blessing’s play You Don’t Know How It Feels, which tackles the issue of child sexual abuse from the victim’s perspective – the loss of innocence, the stigma of shame and (eventual) road to recovery. The conflicting, often confusing emotions associated with such a heinous act is unfathomable to comprehend from an outside perspective, yet there are far too many people who know how this feels. Sexual abuse happens and can happen anywhere and to anyone, regardless of race, gender, or age, yet it is often not discussed in public.

This play aims to break that silence.

I was invited to reading by Kelley, which took place at the Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre presented by Darknight Productions. While I’ve read many of her other works (often as a quasi-dramaturge / editor) and attended a staged reading of a musical she co-wrote (The Sounds of Screams), this would be a totally different experience, as You Don’t Know How It Feels is semi-autobiographical.

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[Disclaimer: Kelley has been a friend of mine for many years, with whom I’ve shared many theatrical experiences as audience members, yet I was unaware of this traumatic incident that happened long before I met her. It had not crossed my mind to ask, and I suppose it’s not something she would willingly share. I’m debating whether or not to follow up this entry with an in-depth interview / discussion about the process of writing this play. Our friendship started with our mutual love of musical theatre (and Sherlock Holmes), and remained jovial through the years, so I would not want to inadvertently trigger any additional trauma (if that’s the right term) by having her revisit those memories. Then again, the purpose of writing this play is to give a voice to the voiceless, so this story needs to be told.]

The play takes place in a middle school gymnasium and focuses on the interactions of high school track teacher Nick McCoe with three of his students – Dena, Sara and Devon, as well as with the principal, Frank Stanley. The interactions between McCoe and his students seem harmless at first, then turns sinister, as he targets Dena, and manipulates her into keeping his subsequent assaults a secret. The resolution in the play is fairly optimistic, as Sara and Devon, Dena’s best friend and boyfriend, respectively, discover the root cause of her mood swings, report their findings to Principal Stanley and McCoe is exposed (no pun intended) for his crimes.

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As it was a staged reading, the actors had scripts in hand, and as it was the first reading, much of the dialogue came across as stage dialogue rather than natural speech. Gabriel Morales perhaps had the most difficult role in playing Mr. McCoe, juggling the Jekyll and Hyde personas of the helpful teacher and manipulative predator with subtle stealth so as to break the façade he created. As Dena, Jadelee Vega had an equally difficult task of portraying the range and depth of emotion required to recount this harrowing experience. The overall design was effective – the set design sparse, the lighting design reflective of Dena’s inner turmoil and the sound design jarring as it should be. While the subject matter was disturbing, it was not overt, as the instances of assault occurred off stage.

There was a talk back with the cast and creative team with the invited audience encouraged to give feedback to the piece. Constructive criticism was presented, along with insight from the cast and creative team with regards to the process of developing the play. There is great potential for this play to have a future in a broader venue, as the issue of sexual assault, especially against children, is a crime gaining attention as victims are coming forward to tell their story, bringing awareness so as to (hopefully) prevent them from happening, and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This is a start.

If you are a victim of sexual assault or know someone who may be, please contact RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit www.rainn.org

For more information sexual assault, rape and incest, visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org 

So Many Dreams to Tease the Heart: Musings on the First Preview Performance of Sunset Boulevard – February 2, 2017

Sunset Boulevard has come home at last.

As mentioned early on in this blog, Sunset Boulevard is one of my all-time favorite musicals, based on the 1950 film of the same name about the Hollywood studio system’s treatment of a faded movie star and a jaded writer. I’ve been a fan of the musical since its inception back in the early 1990’s, and followed all the off stage drama that occurred back then (reference in an early blog post here). The initial Broadway production ran a little of three years, closing in 1997, and there had been two touring productions not too long after its closure (I had seen the second touring production in 2000 in Boston). While there had been regional productions across the US and overseas in the ensuing years, the first major revival was in 2016 with a semi-staged production in London at the ENO (English National Opera) starring Glenn Close, who originated the role on Broadway. After its successful run in London, it seemed only a matter of time when that production would find its way to New York, and is now currently playing at the Palace Theatre (a few blocks away from its original home, the Minskoff) for a sixteen week run, with the four leads from London reprising their roles on Broadway.

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As mentioned earlier, I had been fortunate enough to see the original production, (though not with Glenn Close) with Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige on Broadway, and the second US National Tour with Petula Clark. Knowing beforehand that the revival would be semi-staged with a 40-piece orchestra on stage, I was curious to see how it would be done (I had not been able to fly to London last year to see that production), as the original production had opulent sets at its core, and the second US National Tour had a scaled down set design which didn’t quite match the grandeur of the original production. The overall set design for the current production had an industrial feel, with a maze of staircases and balcony landings and furniture brought on and off the set by the cast. Per the press releases and various online interviews with director Lonny Price, this semi-staged production was meant to look more like the backlot of a Hollywood set, wherein Joe Gillis would narrative the events as if it were scenes from a movie. This is emphasized with the use of black and white film clips (I’m not sure if they were from specific films or just old news reel footage) projected onto a scrim. Also, the clever use of lighting to shift from Norma’s house to Paramount Studios, gave the illusion of a multitude of different sets.

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This is the third first preview performance I’ve seen thus far in my theater-going experience, and the third time seeing the revival of a show of which I saw the original production as well (I hope that made sense). The cast was amazing and hearing this Andrew Lloyd Webber score (with new orchestrations) performed by a 40-piece orchestra was thrilling – I sincerely hope a new cast recording is made. Glenn Close received a thunderous entrance ovation and a standing ovation after “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (with another rousing ovation after singing the line “I’ve come home at last”). As this production aimed to be a stripped down version of itself, it worth noting that Ms. Close’s portrayal of Norma Desmond has also been toned down – this Norma Desmond is not as overly melodramatic (through there are moments of melodrama) as before, making her less of a monstrous figure and more of a real person clinging on to her illusions of grandeur. Michael Xavier was brilliant as Joe Gillis narrating his story with equal amounts of charm and cynicism – in this production he also serves as the director of the story, cueing scene transitions and observing almost abstractly at the events of which he experienced as they were unfolding. The story of Sunset Boulevard is more about Joe, and it’s taken me this long to realize that Joe is on stage throughout the entire show up until (spoiler alert) he’s shot dead and falls into the swimming pool (also inventively staged).

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The stage door was packed, and I didn’t stay too long – the crowds were overwhelming and it was a chilly night – but I did manage to see some of the ensemble cast, who were elated by the audience response. Needless to say I’ll be seeing Sunset many, many times in the next sixteen weeks, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to meet the cast. I really hope a new cast recording is made, and perhaps a film adaptation (preferably with this cast). While the ticket prices are steep (but then again, it’s s limited run, so I guess its justified) there are $42 rush tickets available (though not specified in the ads, the rush seats are for the rear mezzanine and balcony), and they won’t be at the TKTS booth (per the box office person with whom I spoke).

Opening night is February 9th.

For more information, visit: http://sunsetboulevardthemusical.com/

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Principles of Uncertainty: Thoughts on Heisenberg – October 8, 2016

Like death and taxes, there is a level of certainty in the existence of uncertainty in all aspects of life. No one really knows how situations will turn out until they unfold, and random encounters can lead to unexpected relationships. The theme of uncertainty is explored in Heisenberg, written by Simon Stephens, currently playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from now until December 11, 2016.  I obtained tickets via my usual source (the TDF Pik-a-Tkt table at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Grand Auction), and were actually the only “real” tickets I won that day (the rest were vouchers); it was also my first time seeing a show at the Friedman, a theater associated with the Manhattan Theatre Club.

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Heisenberg explores the interactions between two people – Georgie and Alex – and how an impetuous, random act binds them together, with unexpected results and unintended revelations. The premise is based upon (and indirectly refers to) the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa” (description pulled from Wikipedia, which had the most straightforward, not-too-technical definition I could find). The notion that there is an inverse relationship of knowing about different aspects of someone (as it is in this play) is interesting in that the honing in on one facet of a person obscures the ability to see the “big picture”. Truth becomes subjective upon the perspective and perception of what is revealed, bringing forth doubts on the validity of the revelations and the motivations behind them. The prospect of the unknown looms throughout, as the interactions between Georgie and Alex play out as expected, until it doesn’t. There are levels of ambiguity about what actually happens throughout the play and how it ends, but in light of the Uncertainty Principle, that’s probably the intention of the play – to spotlight the nature of uncertainty that is life.

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The overall scenic design of the play is inventive and fitting, given the subject of the play – while the theater has a traditional proscenium configuration, there is onstage seating – about ten rows seating 200 people on stage. The actual space from which the actors perform becomes a narrow strip, with minimal set pieces and occasional props; there are no real costume changes per se, aside from the addition of jackets worn at several points during the play. With the onstage seating and small theatre space available for the actors to tell their story, it makes the play all the more intimate, with the ability for the audience to view the story from different perspectives. Mary Louise Parker and Denis Arndt were phenomenal as Georgie and Alex, respectively; their interactions, mostly through quasi-rambling monologues were revelatory as their relationship grew from mild annoyance to a kind of co-dependency. Aside from a brief snippet of music about which the pair conversed, there was silence – awkward pauses in between the verbal exchange which enhanced the scenes between the unlikely pair.

The show is currently in previews (it open on October 13th) and after the matinee performance there was a talk back with the associate director about the themes proposed in the one act, hour and twenty-minute play. During the talk back, the audience members who remained had contrasting opinions about the characters and their motivations, based on their individual perspectives and (probably preconceived notions), which further enhances the impact of the play. With the talk back (which I didn’t know they had until it was announced before the show’s start), I didn’t have an opportunity to stage door (though the security person at the stage door did inform those who did try that the two actors would not be coming out to sign playbills and such – also, it was a rainy afternoon, so I can’ really blame them for not wanting to “brave the elements”, as they had another performance that evening).

In conclusion, Heisenberg is an interesting play that makes you wonder about the essence of uncertainty and examine the consequences to even the most random of actions. Uncertainty will always exist, and the more attention you focus on one aspect of a situation, you might get blind-sighted by something else, which could (and just might) change your perceptions about the situation as a whole. Or at least that’s my own perception of it all. It’s a worthwhile play to see, and the very notion of uncertainty is highly relevant in these uncertain times.

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The Old Razzle Dazzle: Thoughts on Takarazuka Chicago – July 23, 2016

Music is often called the universal language, with its unique ability to invoke emotions and / or memories (good, bad or neutral) shared by a wide cross section of people, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. Musicals have that similar pull, even if the score is sung in a different language that one’s own native tongue; while some of the lyrics might not be exactly the same, the overall theme remains intact. I don’t often get an opportunity to see familiar musical performed in different languages (though I have listened to non-English cast recordings), I was intrigued by the production of Chicago performed by Takarazuka Revue, a Japanese, all female theatrical company, finishing its limited run today at the David H. Koch Theater, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.  More information about Takarauka can be found on their website: https://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/english/

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The overall design was the same as the current Broadway revival, which is now the longest running American revival in Broadway history, celebrating its 20th year on Broadway. Its minimalist set design, limited use of props and practical costumes allows the actors’ performances to shine and the songs to be the centerpiece. The story of Chicago is about the trials and tribulations of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two “merry murderesses” and the hoopla around creating celebrities from known criminals. The show’s themes have a such a timeless quality and omnipresent relevance that it’s revelatory that the original production was four decades ago – John Kander and Fred Ebb were certainly visionaries in that respect (of course, all their collaborations are brilliant).

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The all-female cast of the Takarazuka Revue was astounding, and the choreography meticulously synchronized; stand outs among the leading cast were Natsuki Mizu as Velma Kelly, Yuga Yamato as Roxie Hart and Saki Asaji as Billy Flynn. As the entire show was in Japanese, there were super titles above the stage so the non-Japanese speaking audience could follow along, though I was quite familiar with the songs (and much of the spoken dialogue) that I focused more on the performance and less on reading the super titles. Per their tradition, after the curtain call, there was the “Takarazuka Encore” – a spectacle wherein the cast performs a medley of songs (in English and in Japanese) with lavish costumes and brilliant choreography.

 

Overall, it was a different yet familiar experience of a story that serves as a reflection of society today and reminder of the fleeting nature of celebrity and the power of the press. I would love to see other productions from this amazing troupe of performers, and hope they will return to New York in the near future.

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All About Love – Thoughts on One Love

Love is a complex emotion. Whether it’s platonic, romantic, or something in between, the path to finding love is fraught with misconceptions, both from within and without. The perceptions/illusions one has about themselves relative to those around them is and can be a stumbling block along that path, and the task of letting go of those preconceived notions is its own journey towards  self-discovery. These themes are explored in One Love, the latest play written by Peter Zachari, which recently ended its run at the Theater for the New City.

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[Disclaimer: Those who have followed this blog will know that I’m good friends with Peter Zachari and Joey Mirabile; who I met 5 years ago when Peter’s first show Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey To the End of the Rainbow premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival. Since then, I’ve been a (minor) investor to Peter’s subsequent shows, and have written (independently) my musings for all the shows that have played in NYC.]

The play centers on Hunter, an overweight gay man, and his journey of finding (and accepting) love into his life. Due to the emotional baggage he carries from a relationship gone wrong, mixed with a kind of self loathing stemming from his physical appearance, he denies himself any chance of pleasure – even in his fantasies. His roommate Bryce is the antithesis of Hunter, indulging in pleasure wherever he can, with no (apparent) emotional baggage. An impromptu dinner with friends Brett and Tyler, coupled with the unexpected appearance of Logan (Tyler’s cousin) serves as the catalyst for Hunter to reexamine his self-imposed perceptions. He (eventually) learns to confront the demons keeping him from accepting the fact that he is worthy of love and being loved, with the help of Aftodite, an omnipresent and (seemingly) omniscient presence in Hunter’s life.

While I’ve been quite the fangirl for Peter’s shows, One Love is the first play for which I was an unofficial dramaturge, reading an early draft (originally written a few years ago) and providing some (useful) feedback (and pointing out some spelling/grammatical errors (as an aspiring writer, editing was second nature.) The themes set forth in the play are universal and touch upon the media fixation (obsession?) on perpetuating the image of “perfect” (i.e. thin, “beautiful”) people, and the insecurities faced by those who don’t fit the “socially accepted” definition of beauty.

There’s a quasi-meta aura in the set design, as it was modeled (loosely) on Peter’s own apartment, with the walls dotted with photos of Judy Garland, and glitter pop art pieces (created by cast member Joey Mirabile). Other pop culture (and topical) references are sprinkled throughout as well, with notable pop songs (and an original song written by Peter and his long time collaborator Damon Maida) adding to the overall feel of the play. The cast was fantastic, inhabiting the social stereotypes their characters represented, then gradually stripping away that façade to show their true self and learning to be comfortable in their own skin (so to speak). Kudos to Alex J. Moreno as Hunter and Russell Norris as Bryce for the emotional range they traverse, from comic to dramatic (and back), revealing their insecurities before finding a kind of happy ending.

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One Love is a play about love in all its forms – platonic love between good friends, romantic love for another person, and love for oneself, overcoming obstacles, both real and perceived. Everyone is worthy of love and being loved, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. In a way, love is blind – blind to prejudices of every kind. Or at least real love should be – the trick is to let go of the preconceived assumptions created (and perpetuated to some degree) by what media (social and otherwise) has deemed “normal” and “beautiful”.

Only then can there truly be One Love.

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The Complexities of Love: Thoughts on Burning – February 27, 2016

A modern adaptation of classic plays is a mainstay across all entertainment mediums, and sometimes the subtle changes in the adaptations can bring forth a new interpretation of the original source material as the core themes remain intact. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a familiar one, probably best known in popular culture as the Steve Martin film Roxanne, but while that modern adaptation is a mostly humorous (as was the original play), Burning, the modern adaptation written by Ginger Lazarus and presented by the Resonance Ensemble, is somber and thought provoking. I became aware of this adaptation through a friend of mine, who knew one of the actors in the play (which had its world premiere at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s), and asked if I would be interested in going. While I did not have a chance to see the Resonance Ensemble’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, performed in rep with Burning, I had seen the most recent Broadway production of Cyrano, and so I was already familiar with the nuances of the story.

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Burning is set in an unnamed American town located near an Army base, circa 2008, and the “twist” in this adaptation is the titular character is female, and the external deformity from which the classic Cyrano’s insecurities derived transforms into an internal struggle this modern Cyrano, renamed Cy Burns, carries within her due to her experiences as a gay soldier. Another addition to the adaptation is the discussion and disclosure of the mistreatment of female soldiers in the US Army before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which accentuates the solemnity of an otherwise romantic comedy. Like the original titular character, Cy is adept at using her words (in this case via blog entries) to provoke her enemies and to help the tongue tied soldier Cole woo Rose, a local painter with whom she is also enamored. The antagonist of this adaptation presents itself in the form of Dulac, a high ranking Army officer with a belligerent history with Cy. The overall narrative follows the same story structure of the source material, with unexpected twists at its conclusion.

The set design is minimalist, contained mainly in the general store Cy owns and runs, with the requisite props that entails. The cast of five was amazing, most notably Catherine Curtin as Cy, who balanced her rage at Dulac for disregarding the mistreatment of female soldiers within the Army system with her awkwardness with Rose whenever Rose talks of Cole, as well as her maternal care for Sammy, a young man wishing to escape the small town world in search for a purpose. Also notable was Chris Ceraso as Dulac (parallel to the Comte de Guiche in the original play), whose adherence to duty provides added fuel to Cy’s cause; his interest in Rose comes across subtly and is all the more menacing in context to the action that occurs towards the end of the play.

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There wasn’t so much of a stage door experience, this time ‘round, as there was a talkback moderated by Rachel Reiner, managing director of the Resonance Ensemble with Eric Parness, the play’s director, and the cast after the performance (unbeknownst to me) discussing the origins of the play, its journey from workshop to stage, and the issues imparted within the play. The director and the managing director were alumni of Brandeis University, and there were many other Brandeis alumni in attendance; after the talkback many of the alumni gathered onstage, and I didn’t feel like intruding on that (or waiting afterwards, not knowing how long that would last).

The transformation of a French romantic comedy into an American drama deserves another life after this run, which ends today (February 28, 2016), having performed in rep with Cyrano all this month (yesterday was my only opportunity to see the show). It’s a different yet familiar take on the story of an outspoken yet insecure soldier yearning to find love and acceptance despite the self-perceived obstacles that stand in the way.

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