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.

IMG_1072

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.

IMG_1088

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…).

IMG_1120

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.

IMG_1162

Advertisements

Something About Sharing, Something About Always: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 4

In this the final installment of my (ten month) fixation with this production, another change in season brought new cast members to the production – Harvey Fierstein, Jeffrey Tambor, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Mike McShane, to replace (respectively) Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Robin de Jesus and Fred Applegate. Cast changes are inevitable, and new actors often bring their own take on the roles while maintaining the status quo of the overall tone of the show. There was a minor kerfuffle with the new cast members, as Jeffrey Tambor, departed after a handful of performances due to his poor performance, with Christopher Sieber coming to the rescue to assume the role of Georges. As I was quite distressed at the departure of the aforementioned cast members (mostly detailed in the previous installment), I took a (very) brief hiatus in my “La-Caging” to recover, so I can’t comment on the quality of Tambor’s performance (as I didn’t see it myself), but friends of mine who did see it confirmed that he was ill-suited for the role. At the time, I thought it was an odd choice to cast Tambor, who (to my knowledge) had no previous musical theatre credits – a fair amount of marketing was sunk into his casting (billboard ads, commercials, etc.) and to have him (essentially) be a dud in the role was a shame. I’m sure someone thought it was a good idea.

replacement cast ad

Also unique among the replacement cast was the fact that Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book for La Cage) was stepping onstage to inhabit the role of Albin/ZaZa. While it was not the first time a writer assumed a role in the show in which he/she had a part in creating, it was certainly an interesting prospect, as Harvey Feinstein has a very distinctive, raspy voice – to be totally candid, I was wary at hearing his voice sing this iconic Jerry Herman score. I need not have worried – I returned to seeing the show after Tambor left but before Sieber assumed the role [in the interim, understudy Chris Hoch went on] – Harvey’s take on the role, while different from Doug’s, was fantastic, and his singing voice got better as the weeks went by. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, perhaps best known for his award-winning performance as Angel in Rent had a different interpretation of Jacob, infusing a more urban vibe to the role than the strictly comic spin previously used. The show as a whole remained the same heartfelt and hilarious show it’s always been, with subtle changes to accommodate the rhythms and sensibilities of the incoming cast.

Replacement cast

Yet all good things do come to an end, as May 1st was announced as the closing date. Once again, I planned to attend all three of the final weekend performances, coordinating with a group of friends I had met while waiting at the stage door – the “Cagettes”. I’m grateful to have made such great friends through this show.  At this point, most of Longacre staff recognized me, from the stage door security guard to the house manager (though not so much the box office staff, as I still obtained my tickets mainly though TKTS). This worked in my favor near the end of the run – I had purchased a mid-orchestra seat via TKTS and as I entered the theater, the house manager looked at my ticket then asked if I was here on my own, to which I responded affirmatively; and thus my seat was upgraded to one of the cabaret seats (which I presumed was unsold, and they wanted to ensure that all the cabaret seats were occupied).

cast list_final

Onward to the second weekend extravaganza of “La Caging” – sat in the left side box seats for the first time, a unique vantage point (as you can see into the wings from that angle) for the matinee performance, then the first row orchestra center for the evening performance. I do believe I’ve sat and seen the show from just about every section of the Longacre, including being seated at each cabaret table – there are four separate tables – at least once. As mentioned in previous entries, I got to know the ensemble quite well, having recognized me at the stage door, so there were occasional winks and acknowledgements from them, especially the Cagelles during the “La Cage aux Folles” number, where they interact with those seated in the cabaret tables and (sometimes those seated in the front row orchestra). It’s always fun waiting at the stage door to greet the cast and chat with them (as well as collecting signed playbills and photos with the cast) – there’s a camaraderie and genuine appreciation from the cast when they saw me (usually standing in my “usual” spot) outside the stage door. In between the final two show day, Lili quite randomly spotted a white stretch limo with a wedding party inside and immediately started to interact with them – even stepping into the limo to sip some wine. It’s always entertaining to watch Lili (Todd Lattimore) improvise with the people gathered outside the Longacre, whether they are theatergoers or just passersby.

Lili Spring 2011

The final performance was another emotional roller coaster, with smatterings of applause and laughter, and an unexpected turn of events, with swing Christophe Caballero going on as Jacob, as Wilson Jermaine Heredia was stuck in traffic somewhere en route and was unable to reach the theater in time. During my (roughly) ten month stint watching La Cage, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen Christophe perform in the most different roles during the run, and had seen understudies go on for all the roles, except for one – for all the performances I attended, Terry Lavell was always at each of those performances (I believe he only missed one performance during the little-over-a-year run). I sat at the cabaret table for the final performance, and during Lili’s usual pre-show banter, she thanked the house management, ushers and gave special shout outs to the Cagettes in the audience.  After the curtain call, there were the usual speeches and outpouring of flowers for the cast and a rousing, heartfelt final reprise of “The Best of Times”. The stage door was crowded with audience members wanting to thank and greet the cast as they exited for the last time from the stage door. There was joy and gratitude from all those gathered outside the Longacre, and delight and hugs from the cast when they spotted me. It was an overwhelming experience; one I wished would never end.

final stage door

Needless to say, this production of La Cage aux Folles made a profound impact in my theatre-going life – the first time I acutely fixated on a musical over such a short period of time. In the succeeding years, I’ve had time to contemplate why I kept on going to see this particular musical (as opposed to the various other musicals and plays I saw before and since this production): the Jerry Herman score is uplifting and heartfelt, and leaves you in a good mood (as most all Jerry Herman scores do), the story is about love, family and being (and staying true) to yourself; and of course this cast was extraordinary, exuberant and exuded joy with every note sung and every step taken. I’ve also met and made the most amazing friends through this fantastic show.

I certainly had the Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles.

all signed playbills

A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers: Thoughts on Romeo and Juliet – August 31, 2013

So as summer comes to a close, so does my (apparent) Summer of Seeing Shakespearean Tragedies, which started (interestingly enough) with the tragicomic pastiche The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady, a show I sincerely hope has a future in an off-Broadway (or even at a Broadway) venue. This inventive musical mash-up soon led to the more serious undertaking of the Bard’s work, first off with the brilliant (nearly) one man Broadway production of Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, followed (quite) closely with an off-off Broadway production of Hamlet at the Seeing Place Theater, which was equally brilliant. Of course, logic would have dictated that in this Shakespeare binge, I should have made an attempt to attend the Shakespeare in the Park productions of The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labor Lost but I hadn’t; nevertheless, I have started to make amends for this lapse in absorbing all things Shakespeare, starting with an early preview of Romeo and Juliet, currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater for a limited run through January 12, 2014.

Romeo and Juliet marquee

This tragedy of a pair of star-crossed lovers from rival families is undoubtedly a familiar tale, having been adapted countless times on film, television, and on stage (most notably West Side Story); I’m also quite sure in saying that this play has been read and studied (and re-read and re-studied) during the course of an academic tenure, so it’s pretty safe to say everyone knows the story, or is at least familiar with the story (and can quote some of the famous lines / monologues). This adaptation is set in modern times and in modern dress (Romeo enters the stage on a real motorcycle), and adds a racial element in its casting, as those in the House of Montague are white and those of the House of Capulet are black, with the exception of Nurse, who is white. This difference in skin color is not commented upon during the production (as the play adheres to the original Shakespearean text) though the difference does add credence to the tension that exists between the two families.

Two Houses

The set design is sparse, with an assemblage of chairs, various prop pieces, and a movable three-piece set that serves as the back wall; of course, there is the levitating set piece that represents Juliet’s balcony. The lighting and sound design (there is ambient music from a lone cello and percussion throughout) is striking and dynamic, and adds urgency to the tension that occurs throughout the play. The cast was astounding, especially leads Orlando Bloom (in his Broadway debut) and Condola Rashad as the titular Romeo and Juliet, who were both passionate and nuanced in their respective roles, and did have a good amount of chemistry together. Other standouts were Brent Carver as Friar Laurence and Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse, both of whom were sympathetic enablers / accomplices (depending on how you interpret their actions) to the young lovers.

Romeo and Juliet cast list

The stage door experience was a good one, and as it was the first matinee performance, and the first two-performance day (the production had started previews earlier in the week), it was not known whether or not Orlando Bloom (who was clearly the box office draw for this production) would be emerging from the stage door to greet the fans who would undoubtedly be waiting. I was mildly surprised that the stage door area was not teeming with people – as there are photos from after the first preview performance when the entire block was closed off due to the phalanx of fans waiting at the stage door (most of whom I suspect had not seen the show and were just waiting outside to see Mr. Bloom). Anyway, the majority of the cast did emerge from the stage door (and I managed to secure a spot near the stage door entrance), and multitudes of cheers erupted when they did, the loudest came when Mr. Bloom came out (which was a lovely gesture, though I’m sure he felt obliged to do so, as he is the most recognizable name in the cast, generally speaking). He was lovely and gracious to those at the stage door, though as he was signing playbills, it was made known by the theater’s security guard that Mr. Bloom would just be signing playbills and not posing with anyone (though we were free to take pictures of him), which is understandable, as everyone (myself included) would want a photo with him. Thankfully everyone at the stage door was well-behaved and courteous to one another (I’ve had experiences when this was not the case, and people behind me would push ahead to get a better glance at the actors).

Orlando Bloom

All in all, it was a good production, though I’m probably not the best judge of such things, as my viewership of Shakespeare on stage is limited. I do recommend seeing this production, as it’s rare (at least to my knowledge) that this play is revived on Broadway. No doubt, I’ll be increasing my Shakespeare viewership this fall, when the upcoming productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III by the Shakespeare’s Globe are set to play in repertory at the Belasco Theater, with an all-male cast (adhering to the tradition set forth in Shakespeare’s time).

For more information about this production can be found on the official site: http://www.romeoandjulietbroadway.com/

Romeo and Juliet signed playbill