About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm back!

Apologies for my absence over the holidays! I intended to have some more informative posts before I left to visit my family, but I had less downtime than I anticipated, and then I got caught in the disaster that affected the airports back East (at which point I witnessed the worst of human behavior. Abusing airport personnel doesn't put planes on the ground, folks).

So, what can you expect now that I'm back? Well, I'll soon be posting a new article on Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest, Love Never Dies (the Phantom sequel). Changes were recently made to the London production, apparently major enough that the producers saw fit to invite the critics back to re-review it. So I need to finish some research, but I'll be posting about that soon.

I'm also planning some articles about film versions of musicals vs. the stage productions, choosing between very different cast recordings, and some information pieces on obscure or little-known musicals that I think other people should know about. And I will continue commenting on theatre news and issues that crop up throughout the year.

It's about to be 2011, so now is probably the best time to set some goals for this blog: I would like to increase my readership, and get people commenting more. I love discussing theatre issues, so I'd like to create more of a back-and-forth with my readers, and also just get some feedback on what people like and would like to see more of in the blog. Also, I hope to create a more consistent format, and have post be more regular (instead of just when I think of them).

So there you go. I hope everyone reading this had a great holiday with the people you love, and are enthusiastic about jumping into next year. Do something you've never done before, go after something you've always wanted, and tell your mom you love her. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sweet Jesus They've Done It Again


Another actor injured during Spider-Man. Really hope the guy's okay. Is this just going to keep happening? Perhaps they should start taking the hint; if it's not possible to do the show safely...

EDIT: A subsequent article on Playbill.com has more information, although there is still a lot of speculation at this point. Safety inspectors are being called back to review equipment and practices.

They also posted some publicity pictures that give a better idea of what the show actually looks like

Photo by Jacob Cohl

The masks are very Taymor-esque, and lend to the whole "pop-up comic book" theme.

Spider-Man Turn Off The Marquee

Please excuse my being a little late in this post; Last week I had to finishing rehearsals and then perform It's A Wonderful Life, then finish my Christmas shopping, while squeezing in viewings of Tron: Legacy, Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, and Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. If I can manage to watch Muppet Christmas Carol before heading out of town, the Muppet portion of my holiday viewing will be complete. Although I am a bit irritated that I can't find anyone running a performance of The Nutcracker on TV. PBS usually has this one covered. Ovation TV runs its Battle of The Nutcrackers every year, but I don't get that channel *pout*.

So back to the theatre news: Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark pushed back it's opening from January to February 11. It's not that surprising that a show with huge technical challenges would need extra time to iron things out, but what is surprising is that the delay is in order to work on the book and music.

For a show that the creators say they've been working on for seven years, that's a pretty bad omen. How did they get this far without realizing they had major problems? This is why we workshop new material, people. In a medium that's meant to be performed, sometimes you're not going to find a problem until you're actually running the material. Which is also why out-of-town tryouts are preferred, because sometimes you only discover that a moment doesn't play the way you thought it did when you put it in front of an audience.
Honestly, with a show so based on spectacle and the marquee value of the creators, I'm a little surprised they're even taking time to work on the story.

I was talking with a friend of mine last week who is working on an idea for a show she'd like to produce some day, and is kicking around some staging ideas in her head. But she's worried about the kind of shows that are doing well these days, and that maybe you can't be successful without being visually on the level of Spider-Man or Wicked or something like that. I reminded her that Next To Normal has six actors and basic unit set (and a very personal story about a family dealing with mental illness) and won a Pulitzer and a pile of Tonys.

I'm reminded of a quote I saw with Disney animation legend Glen Keane after the film Tangled was released: ‎"Who cares about all of the icing on the cake, if the cake isn’t tasty?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's A Wonderful Life- Shameless Self-Promotion

So I'm not just a costumer--I actually didn't start costuming until college (although I started dabbling in makeup a few years before)--up until then I was an actor. I've seen the life of an L.A. actor and while it's not for me, I do still enjoy acting from time to time, and I am lucky enough to have found a theatre company that values both my skills equally.

So right now I'm having a lot of fun rehearsing a one-night-only production of It's A Wonderful Life. We're doing it as a fundraiser for the theatre company, and I'm playing Mary Bailey! The production is a staged radio play, set in the 1940's, so it's set as if the audience is attending a live taping of a radio broadcast (like if you went to see a taping of Prairie Home Companion).

The cast is a really fun group, and everyone is doing a great job. One of my favorite things is working with my co-star, Jim, as George Bailey. It's A Wonderful Life is his favorite movie ever, and I don't think we've gone through a single rehearsal without him getting choked up at the end. I just love that he's so moved by the show, it's really sweet!

Ok, first off, some press for the show; if you're in the L.A. area, swing by:

Also, every day I read the theatre pages in the New York Times, LA Times, and Boston Globe online. The other day I noticed in that The Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island is doing the same production. However, the Boston Globe's critic had some issues with it.

For one thing, she wasn't that thrilled with the choice not to have the actor playing George Bailey sound like Jimmy Stewart. "Stewart’s demi-quaver, with its hint of lingering adolescence, perfectly suits George’s rocky path to full maturity. You can’t say the same for Sullivan’s burgher-like delivery: He sounds not only quite settled, but decidedly urban".

I honestly think our George Bailey made the strongest choice, to quote Jim, "everyone has a Jimmy Stewart impression, and they all suck. Including mine". So he channels Stewart rather than impersonating him. The quaver is mostly intact, but the character is entirely Jim's. Actually, I sometimes feel a bit inadequate performing opposite him; he knows the character back-to-front, and I'd only seen the film maybe twice, so I was a little worried our performances wouldn't be consistent. But I've gotten more comfortable with the character since then, and we're very much on the same page about how we want to play each scene.

The Globe reviewer's other issue seemed to be with radio theatre as a concept--"From the outset, though, I was perplexed as to our — the audience’s — role as witness: Are we meant to close our eyes and imagine the scenes as remembered? Or perhaps marvel at the Foley sound effects and the array of gadgets employed to produce them?" Well, the foley is part of the fun of watching radio theatre, as is seeing a group of 8 actors play the roles of 30 or more--you should see one of our actors go back and forth between old man Potter and Uncle Billy in the same scene! And there is still interaction between the performers, we're not just standing there at the microphones. Although the conceit is of recording a radio show, the fact is we're only performing for a live audience, so we have to be interesting to look at.

So maybe radio theatre isn't for everyone (like that critic), but I think we have a good solution for people who don't know whether to look or just listen--we're performing at a restaurant. It makes a good fit for a "dinner and a show" kind of evening--you don't feel like you can't take your eyes off the stage to look at your plate, but the show is more than just background noise.

So I'm ridiculously excited about doing the show tomorrow night--we're actually the only company in Los Angeles that will be performing it this winter, although funnily enough a director who's a friend of the company is mounting it in Pennsylvania. So I think it'll be a great night out for those who come see it here in L.A., and hopefully if it does well, we'll do more shows next year.

Atta boy, Clarence!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Met's Live in HD screening of Don Carlo

Saturday morning, my opera-companion/roommate and I got up early to attend a live transmission of Don Carlo from The Metropolitan opera. I wanted to see this one for two reasons: Verdi and Simon Keenlyside.

Verdi is a favorite of mine--I adore La Traviata, and I wasn't familiar with  Don Carlo, so I wanted to check it out. As I mentioned before in my post about Hamlet, Simon Keenlyside is a great performer (I strongly recommend the Covent Garden recording of The Magic Flute, in which he plays Papageno), and I agree with the assessment in the NY Times review that he brings out the best in others on stage with him.

Ok, enough about him. Don Carlo requires several strong leads, and they were all terrific. Roberto Alagna in the title role is a very appealing leading man; Marina Poplavskaya plays his love Elisabeth, who is a very complicated character--she is engaged to Don Carlo, who arranges to meet her and they hit it off, only to have his father Phillip decide that he will marry her himself, instead. Elisabeth is a very honorable character, in my opinion. She takes one for the team by marrying Phillip to cement a peace treaty, and despite her love for his son, she never betrays him. Nor does she misrepresent her feelings; when Phillip confronts her she doesn't lie to him, either.

Roberto Alagna stars in the title role, opposite Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The other female lead is Princess Eboli, who interferes with the lovers when she thinks she's spotted treachery. Anna Smirnova plays her and she's a bigger girl, and as a costumer I couldn't help noticing how the excellent tailoring of her gowns emphasized her her curves to give her a sensual, Rubenesque quality. Eboli is a passionate creature, and Smirnova knocked it out of the park with her powerful aria in which she curses where her pride and vanity have lead her.

Keenlyside with Anna Smirnova (Princess Eboli)
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera 

One of the strongest performances was given by Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Phillip, who has a gorgeous voice. He has a really interesting character arc, because you have to think "this is the bad guy", until he given his aria where he admits to his doubts and fear of inadequacy. This section is so well-structured because you think he's the villain of the piece, and just as he's starting the create sympathy in you, you realize "this isn't the bad guy, because there's someone much worse". We're in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition, and the monarchy is ruled by the church. Enter the Grand Inquisitor (Eric Halfvarson)--he's old and blind, he walks with shuffly steps and his hand shakes. And he is freaking terrifying.

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Phillip

One of my favorite things about the opera itself was the final aria between Don Carlo and Elisabeth. They meet secretly and admit that though they love each other, they have no future together. So they vow to take this passion that they share, and go out and do something constructive with it. I thought that was really beautiful. In most stories of star-crossed love, the lovers are crushed under the weight of their circumstances. It was so nice then to see these to people say "let's use this for something good instead".

I was also happy with the design elements of the production. It used a simple color palette, mostly black, red, and gold. It was in-period, but everything had a very clean, modern look to it. I saw some complaints from other arts bloggers about the Lego-ey set, but I liked the use of things like the tall walls with small square windows, through which dramatic shafts of light could shine. The costumes were unfussy, with most of the detail in small areas of beading, and otherwise relied on strong fabric choices and tailoring that creates clean silhouettes.

The problems? Well, it's long. Don't start grumbling about modern attention spans, 4 1/2 hours is a long time to sit and watch a show no matter who you are. This is just how things were in Verdi's time, and there was a very narrow set of ideals for opera structure. The singing was glorious, so I didn't mind that much, but after that much sitting your body gets fussy. Also there was some clumsy camera work that would occasionally get lost in the wrong part of the stage, or stuck on an angle of the floor.

It's also worth noting the enjoyable between-act interviews conducted by soprano Deborah Voigt; particularly with her La Fanciulla del West co-star Marcello Giordani--when she asked what his favorite part of the production was (insinuating that the answer should be "Working with you!"), Giordani got a mischievous look in his eyes, and went in for a passionate kiss! The audience (and the soprano) were extremely amused, and being a consummate professional she straightened herself up and continued introducing the next interview!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Probably The Best Thing I Ever Saw- Christmas Edition

I grew up in a small suburb to the Northwest of Boston, and every couple of years around Christmas there would be a trip to see a holiday show. The North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly was very close by, so we would often go see their production of A Christmas Carol.

I always loved this production. The North Shore Music Theatre is a theater in the round, so you would think that sets would have to be very minimal, but they managed to do so much by flying in set elements from the overhead grid, or with changes to the stage lifts and revolve (I swear that stage does something different every time I go there, between revolving and sliding platforms, lifts, stairs, etc) and of course strong lighting and costuming.

There's a couple of things that I think really work about the production: the excellent use of music, including both traditional Christmas carols, and incidental music written for the show. The entrance of the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present (on stilts) singing "The Boar's Head Carol" is always a huge thrill.

Josh Tower as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Photo by Paul Lyden
Although recently they've gone in the direction of the traditional looming, robed figure, the Ghost of Christmas Future used to appear as an ominous version of Young Scrooge, with a creepy slow-motion walk.

Christmas future from the 2007 Production:

Jeff Edgerton as The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Photo by Paul Lyden.

Their Jacob Marley was also super creepy/cool:

Tom Staggs as Jacob Marley. Photo by Paul Lyden

One of the interesting things about seeing this show multiple times over the years was experiencing the changes they made. For example, Marley used to emerge from a trap door in the floor of the stage, surrounded by creepy green light and smoke. Then I saw it again years later, and the trap door opened up and the smoke poured out--and he flew in screaming from the rafters! It was a well-crafted bit of misdirection which absolutely scared the hell out of me.

But this is a blog about my relationship with theatre. And this went from being a show I enjoyed to a show I loved my senior year of high school. I'd been working really hard all fall (no senioritis for me), and had finished applying to colleges and had just been through a really frustrating round of auditions for university drama programs. I was feeling burnt-out and discouraged.

And then my mom won a pair of tickets to A Christmas Carol at a church auction as a surprise for me! I was looking forward to seeing the show, but I really couldn't anticipate the feelings it would stir inside me. We had excellent seats (although there are few bad seats in that house), so I could easily see the actors' expressions, and the detail on the costumes. The show was completely transporting, and I remember this very clearly: it was almost the end of the first act, and Young Scrooge's fiance Belle was tearfully breaking up with him, and I thought to myself:

 "Oh, yes. This is why I want to do this".

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Alternative Holiday Entertainment- Nutcracker Style (Part 2)

WARNING: Contents may be NSFW

If you like your holiday entertainment REALLY naughty, and live in the Northeast, treat yourself to The Slutcracker. This is a burlesque show featuring top-notch talent and choreography, with acts such as pole dancing and hula-hoop.

The story stays pretty close to what we're all familiar with, except that in this version, Clara is given the gift of a pink vibrator who comes to life, turning into a man in a pink suit and little round hat.

I know there are many out there that balk at the idea of stripping as a legitimate art form, but in burlesque, the issue is not how to take your clothes off, it's how to take them off creatively. It creates a sense of mystery and drama--"what's going to happen next?" Burlesque acts are as much about being clever and funny as they are about being sexy.

So if that sounds like the way you'd like to spend your evening, and you're in Boston or Montreal, go check it out. Below is a little video from their website--make sure the kids aren't behind you, then take a look!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Alternative Holiday Entertainment- Nutcracker Style (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my last post, most people love traditional holiday entertainment to get them in the spirit of the season. As my co-worker describe it, people have "Christmas Programs" they go into, the traditional things that they can do to get themselves in the mode--baking cookies, decorating the tree, going ice skating, etc.

But some people are not really the traditional type. Maybe they find conventional holiday fare too schmaltzy or saccharine, or maybe it's just too...well...conventional. Why can't Christmas be edgy and modern?

These are the kind of people who would love Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut". I remember this playing on PBS when I was a kid taking ballet classes in the early 90's (yay, PBS!) I think my father recommended it to me, being a man with an eye for the strange and awesome.

The Hard Nut takes "The Nutcracker" out of an upscale Victorian European parlor, and puts it in a middle-class American living room in the 1960's. It's much more comical than usual, with Barbies and G.I. Joes taking the place of Columbina dolls and toy soldiers. Morris adds a healthy dose of androgyny and cross-dressing with a man playing the family maid (in toe shoes), and men AND women in tutus as the snowflakes.

The show isn't played entirely for laughs, though; the most beautiful pas de deux in the show is danced by Drosselmeyer and his nephew, The Nutcracker, slowly discovering his restoration.

In the second act, most productions head straight to the Land of Sweets and set up camp there. The Hard Nut actually goes into the backstory of Princess Pirlipat, and how the Nutcracker came to be transformed in the first place.

Another interesting stylistic feature is the concept art by American comic artist Charles Burns, who usually falls under the horror genre, and addresses themes such as adolescent sexuality (very appropriate for this tale).

The show is still performed every year, but if you can't get to Brooklyn, the DVD is available on Amazon.com. Now go stuff your stocking!

**EDIT: In an odd moment of synchronicity, the New York Times  posted an interview with Mark Morris on their website a few hours after I posted this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/arts/dance/03hardnut.html

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Probably the Worst Show I Ever Saw- Christmas Edition

Merry December, people! The Holidays are fast upon us, and as I'm furiously knitting Christmas gifts for friends and family (nothing makes up for a lack of money like working really, really hard on something), I'd like to take the month to reflect on Christmas shows.

Christmas shows are the cash cow for many a theatre company, and often rightly so. Few things get you in the holiday spirit like dressing up in a pretty red or green velvet dress, and going out to see a heartwarming, well-known family tale, preferably full of opulence and seasonal music.

I hope to pay tribute to all my favorites over the course of the month, but I thought it might be appropriate to start with a hilarious low point and move up from there.

The year before last, one of my roommates found cheap tickets to see a star-studded production of A Christmas Carol playing a the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. It was their opening night--a soft opening, I believe, but definitely not a preview--and Christopher Lloyd would be playing Scrooge, and John Goodman as the Ghost of Christmas Past, including others. Actually, two well known celebrities who were supposed to have roles dropped out a few weeks before production, but we didn't think much of it at the time.

So, Kodak Theater, right? Big fancy venue, hosts awards shows, so this should be a pretty opulent production. So I was surprised to find, when the curtain rose, that the set was rather...small. Actually the whole show just seemed under-produced. There wasn't much music or dancing, the costumes were bland, and the special effects never went beyond some smoke covering spirits as they snuck in and out of Scrooge's bedroom set.

But other than a slightly disappointing set and some sluggish direction, we didn't anticipate the horror to come until the first set change, from Scrooge's office to his home. Scrooge is supposed to go to open the door, see the face of Jacob Marley in the knocker, and be terrified, but then enter the house.

Well, something went wrong in the set change, and when he reached the door, it was dangling open. There was evidently some bit of pre-recorded narration that was supposed to be playing, so instead Mr. Lloyd stood there for a moment, then walked around the back of the house, and with his microphone still live, said to whoever was back there: "Uhh, the door was open!"

So they changed to the set inside Scrooge's apartments, which took a ridiculously long time, with still no narration playing, so nothing at all happened until smoke started billowing out of the fireplace, and the actor playing Marley crawled out.

The horror continued from there--set changes were sloppy (we noticed white sneakers on several crew members), and the audience was left for several long intervals staring at the scrim of the streets of London, while listening to the narration, which was apparently cribbed from a John Geilgud radio play for the BBC, and not intended for the stage.

Things got really bad in the second act--after an intermission during which we could hear power tools being used on the stage--mostly thanks to that damned scrim. It kept coming and going at the wrong times, at one point even cutting part of the cast off from each other. Christmas Carol enthusiasts will know the scene...Scrooge points out two small children, Ignorance and Want, clinging to Christmas Past's robes. Except that the scrim cut them off from the ghost, so all they could do was stand behind it and paw feebly at the air.

Their was even a point at which the scrim flew in about half-way, paused for a second, and then flew back out!

By this point, the actors were completely fed up. And I have to give them total props, they were real troupers, and gave the best possible performances despite the circumstances. At the end, when Scrooge had returned home, the narration and scrim were about to take over the stage again, so Mr. Lloyd abandoned the stage altogether and hopped into the audience to distribute plastic prop coins and greet people in the aisles (much to everyone's amusement).

A few weeks after the press (and user reviews) finished ripping into the show, we were issued an apology from the production, and an offer to come back and see the show again. I chose to decline, because even if the show was no longer a complete train wreck, it still probably wasn't a very good production, and I've seen several amazing productions, and have high standards. And shouldn't I have high standards? It's an all-star cast at the Kodak Theater. This should've been amazing!

It looks like most of the fault lies with the director/producer/adapter--according to his bio (or like thereof; it read more like a director's note), he didn't appear to have any actual experience.

The next year, I was looking on Playbill's website and saw a headline that said "All-Star Production of A Christmas Carol Cancelled in Chicago". I scrolled to the bottom of the article--yup. Same guy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making The Nerds Nervous

If I'm going to provide commentary on theatre, I'd be remiss at this point in not discussing the most controversial theatrical event of the year, Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark. I'm both a theatre nerd and a comic book-reading, Dungeons & Dragons playing nerd (no joke, I have a weekly game). This show is one that everyone's talking about in both my theatre circles and my regular nerd circle, and dubiously in both cases.

While there's been a lot of buzz about the exciting production team, including music by U2's Bono and The Edge, with direction by Julie Taymor, most of the Spider-man fans I know are wondering, "why?" There have already been the three popular and successful Sam Raimi films in recent years (although they did go a bit off the rails near the end), and now the reboot starring Andrew Garfield, so this isn't a story that's begging for a fresh adaptation.

There's also a concern about lack or reverence for the source material. For example this article in the New York Post references a new villain called "Swiss Miss", who apparently is supposed to resemble a Swiss Army knife, despite sharing the name with a brand of hot cocoa. Spider-man already has a great villain pool to choose from, many of whom will appear in the show, including Carnage, Swarm, and The Green Goblin. Why so many?

The danger level of the show is also a major point of concern. A lot of the buzz about the show lately has been the various injuries incurred by the cast while performing stunts. One performer broke both wrists, and, though I can't confirm it, I've heard rumors that potential ensemble members have left auditions for the show after seeing how risky the choreography is, wary of potentially career-ending injuries.

I located a video with rehearsal footage from the show, which you can check out on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=121115394618089

Ok, so this is what we're looking at: the wirework and fight choreography looks really cool. This issue is if it can be done safely--if appropriate precautions are taken, nothing in theatre should actually be dangerous, but we all know accidents do happen. No matter how impressive, the spectacular stunts aren't worth it if the performers are inherently at risk by doing them.

The creators of the show took a long time to start rolling out images and music from the show, keeping the public's speculation firmly focused on how expensive the show is, the numerous delays, and cast injuries and technical problems. If they can take care of those problems, they could have a great looking show, but I fear they may disappoint those looking for some substance with their style--and comic book fans may be left out in the cold altogether.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Opera That Made Me Yell At My Television

It was a drizzly Saturday afternoon earlier this fall. I was snuggled up with my cat, a snack and some knitting (I sound like an old lady, don't I? I'm 27. I swear), and settled in to watch The Metrpolitan Opera's production of "Hamlet", which they had previously broadcast live in HD, and was running on TV. I'm a fan of Simon Keenlyside, who was playing the title role, and was really looking forward to watching it.

Before long, my roommates started hearing the following exclamations coming from my room:

"What are you doing?"
"That's not what happens!"
"What? WHAT? WHAT??!!!"

Considering my drama education, it's safe to say I'm pretty familiar with Shakespeare's Hamlet, and to quote star Simon Keenlyside in his between-acts interview with Renee Fleming, "it's Hamlet, it's just not Shakespeare's Hamlet". Now, I wasn't expecting them to follow the original to the letter, obviously to translate it between mediums you need to streamline the story and simplify it to its core themes. I'd say what Ambroise Thomas's opera does is pluck subtext from some scenes, stick it onto others, and also grossly rearrange the show.

The change that bothers me the most (if you don't want to know what's different, stop reading here) is the relationships of Polonius and Ophelie (here, in the French) to Hamlet. Polonius barely appears until halfway through the show, at which point he's revealed to be a co-conspirator. Hamlet discovers this, and becomes the reason he rejects Ophelie--because her father helped kill his. She loses her mind and kills herself, then, not because of the torment of her father being murdered by her beloved, but simply because her would-be fiance turned her down. This makes her a weaker, much less complex creature; but very much of-the-time, as this was first performend in 1868. But come on, if I went nuts and killed myself every time a man let me down...I would be dead by now.

Oh, and speaking of death, Polonius doesn't even die! And Hamlet doesn't duel Laertes in the final scene, he kills him in a fight right before Ophelie's funeral, when he doesn't know she's dead yet. And then the ghost shows up at the end to help Hamlet kill Claudius.

There were a few touches I liked--like when Hamlet is waiting on the roof with Bernardo and Horatio, you can hear the sounds of the wedding party going on in the background, and they look at Hamlet as if to say "Sorry, dude." They also include a love duet for Hamlet and Ophelie at the beginning, which is nice because in Shakespeare's play you never actually see them together as a couple before things start going awry (I also like the fact that soprano Marlis Peterson's skirt was so floofy, they both had to smoosh it down so that Keenlyside could lie in her lap).

There's also a great scene for Hamlet at the banquet after the Players put on their show where he actually comes out and accuses Claudius of murder (which did bother me, because that messes up so much of Hamlet's character. He has so many scenes in the play about his self-loathing and lack of courage because he is unwilling or afraid to accuse Claudius openly!), but no one believes him becuase he's drunk, and then he climbs on the table and pours the blood red wine all over himself (see below):

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Speaking of which, Simon Keenlyside's performance was completely terrific. He has a gorgeous voice (I will admit a weakness for baritones-I love that full, rich sound), he's very handsome, and has a down-to-earth, likeable stage presence. And then there's his great acting choices; in moments of fury, he's smashing the furniture with rage, and then and in his frustration at Claudius digs little holes in the wall with his knife.

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Obviously, I'm not very impressed with the translation of the work from play to opera. I'm irritated by the changes to the plot, and the music didn't really linger with me.  However, the overall production elements were quite good. Hamlet is a great part, and Keenlyside performed the heck out of it--the only drawback may have been that he is so interesting to watch, I felt like the air went out of the show when he wasn't on stage.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Missed The Point Much?

Today I was reading the LA Weekly's Theatre Review pages, and I stumbled upon a review of a production of Into The Woods. I'm not going to discuss the review of the production itself, although the company has apparently made some bold and unusual concept decisions, instead my concern is the following comment on Into The Woods itself:

"The good show would be kid-friendly if it didn't clock in at close to three hours, somewhat tortured by the almost superfluous (though psychologically darker) sluggish Act 2."

Part of this is true; if you wanted to do a short & sweet family musical, just perform the first act, and eliminate the final line, "to be continued." It stands on it's own just fine. But it seems to me that this critic has missed the entire point of the second act of the show! As I already discussed in a previous article, the second act takes the neatly wrapped up fairy tale endings of the first act, and shows that "Happily Ever After" does not come with out it's consequences, and the story does not end when the prince marries his princess. It's also not that good for kids, because they spend much of the time arguing, and half the cast dies.

The second act of Into The Woods, while deftly written, is not exactly subtle. And, frankly, it worries me that a critic for a fairly major Los Angeles publication just doesn't seem to undertand an entire half or a fairly mainstream show.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Rocky Horror Show (Not The Film, But The Show)

On Sunday night, I went to see these guys perform The Rocky Horror Show. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been going to see the midnight screenings since I was pretty young; I actually realized recently that I haven't been since I was in high school- so ten years (?!?blurgh!) So I've never actually seen a production of Rocky Horror where the film wasn't being projected by the actors.

I honestly hadn't given much thought to the audience interaction before I got to the theater--I was out with friends that morning, I was meeting people at a restaurant, blah, blah, it never crossed my mind. Then, as my friends and I squeezed into the tiny theater, I noticed the girls in fishnets and lamé sitting behind us discussing their rice and slices of toast. My friend sitting next to me agreed that, while the throwing of stuff is expected at the midnight screenings, also the actors are only pantomiming and lip-synching- I would not want someone throwing playing cards at me while I am trying to sing full-voice.

It quickly became apparrent that throwing stuff was a very bad idea; In the first scene, during "Dammit Janet", the girls behind us hucked a handful of rice at the actors, and one of the phantoms (as the ensemble members are known) looked distinctly displeased. My friends and I started worrying about the actors slipping on the hard, smooth grains, and then we discovered part of their blocking included kneeling on the floor. Have you ever had to kneel on rice? Go ahead and try it. I'll wait here.

At the end of the scene, the aforementioned phantom grabbed a handful of the rice and snarkily threw it back. I really liked that performer, actually--he had great body language, and was hilariously bug-eyed and deadpan. In fact, that same phantom interjected most of the audience responses during the show. I quickly realized that it's been so long since I saw the show that I've forgotten most of the stuff to yell, however I also realized that I didnt' want to. Seeing live performers is very different than watching a film that's been running for 35 years- it's a singular moment in time that can never be repeated. And the show was so inventive, with great performances and engaging original  direction and choreography, I didn't even want to yell things out, because I was too interested in seeing what the performers would do next.

There are two notable exceptions- we yelled out "say it!" during the line "antici......pation!" in  "Sweet Transvestite". Also, the theater was far too small for us to stand up, but we did quietly Time Warp in our seats.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Tempest

A couple of years ago, I designed a production of The Tempest for the theatre company I work with, and therefore I've had an opportunity to become extremely familiar with it. So when I found out that Julie Taymor would be directing a film version of it, I was intrigued; I know that not everyone loves her work, but I'm a big fan. I've really enjoyed her films (Titus, Frida, and Across the Universe), and I've also seen The Lion King and the production of The Magic Flute that she did for the Metropolitan Opera. I don't always love every choice she makes, but the important thing is that she's always doing something interesting.

I still haven't decided how I feel about a female Prospero (Prospera, in this case). I love Helen Mirren and think she can do anything she wants, but I feel like the dynamic between Prospero and Miranda is very specific to the father/daughter relationship, however Prospera is both father and mother to Miranda, so maybe it will work; I'll reserve judgement until I see the film.

Anyway, I stumbled across some production images today, and I wanted to share something interesting I noticed about the costumes. Of course they're beautiful, having been designed by Sandy Powell, one of my idols (she won the Oscar last year for The Young Victoria, and also designed Shakespeare in Love, Interview with the Vampire, and Velvet Goldmine, one of my favorites)

So take a close look a these stills of David Strathairn and Chris Cooper (good cast, eh?)

See the details on those doublets? They look completely period-appropriate, yes?

THOSE ARE ZIPPERS!! Tres contemporary and chic, eh? There is a crazy zipper trend going on right now (which I actually feel is a bit overdone) where you're seeing a lot of exposed zippers on the backs of dresses and skirts, and blouses adorned with zipper rosettes. But this is the best use of them I've seen in garment detailing. The give the doublets an edgy, textured look, but it's really subtle. I bet most people watching the film in theaters won't even notice.
And do you see that belt holding David Strathairn's cloak? I have that belt! It's from H&M!

This film is coming out in December; I hope as the release date comes closer that Sandy Powell will do some interviews about her concepts, because there's some really interesting choices being made here, and I'd love to know what inspired her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On The Fear of Audience Participation

My roommate recently shared this article with me: http://www.theonion.com/articles/oh-no-performers-coming-into-audience,2685/

Which I responded to with this: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/theater-talkback-from-seat-to-stage/#more-133519

As a performer, I like to stay firmly nestled behind the fourth wall. I've certainly done my fair share of audience-participation performance, especially in children's theatre, and it's very risky. Kids will grab the show and run off with it if you let them. Adults often feel uncomfortable, and won't give you much of a response at all.

As a theatregoer I'm not really a fan of audience participation, especially when it's unexpected. I don't want to have to be "on" when I'm unprepared. I feel obligated to entertain the rest of the audience, and I'm afraid I'll never come up with a clever enough reponse, but there's also a little voice inside me that wants to tell the performers "it's ok, I get it! I'm one of you!"

And then there's the moments when you have no idea whether the performers actually want you to respond or not. I was thinking of this while watching a performance of The Magic Flute, in the scene where Papageno decides to kill himself if no one will offer their love, and counts to three, then waits for a response. What would he do if someone actually said something? Not a lot of room for improv in opera, the scores are kind of set in stone.

But I think the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is getting something different from what you expected; like getting Coke when you ordered Dr. Pepper. It just jars you. If I know audience participation will be involved, I can prepare myself emotionally. If I'm anticipating sitting back and observing, I don't like being pulled out of that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Actual 3D: So real, it's like they're right in front of you!

On my drive home from work today, I spotted a billboard stating:

"This Christmas, See The Nutcracker in 3D!"

It was an ad for this mostly live-action children's film, and as I sat at the traffic light staring at it, I came up with a much better idea:

Why not attend an actual live performance of The Nutcracker? Even if you can't afford to attend New York City Ballet or Boston Ballet, there's likely to be a non-professional company in your area that puts on a lavish, high-quality production. If you do see an amateur company, you can be sure the dancers you're watching are passionate about practicing their craft, because they're definitely not doing it for the paycheck.

So, this holiday season, take off the plastic 3-D glasses and go support your local arts community. See some real live talented human beings performing in front of you.

Shows that knock you on your a$$

When I was about 11 years old, my town's high school put on its first musical in several years. My sister is a bassist and was playing in the orchestra, and a couple of her friends who I knew were in the cast. I think someone may have told me that Into the Woods was about fairytales before I went, but that's all I knew.

I laughed hysterically through the playful first act that shows Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk intersecting in various amusing ways. But then in the second act, something terrible happened. Actions began having consequences, characters started having disagreements; mistakes were made, impasses were reached, and everything did not work out the best for everyone in the end.

I remember clapping through the curtain call, trying to dry my tears and wondering, "What just happened to me?"

I had never done something like this before, but the next night I gathered up my allowance, came back to the theater on my own (sans parents), and I saw the show again.

This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but even as a kid I was drawn to stories that had an element of darkness to them; a twinge of complicated, adult emotions. Especially as an adult, I'm bored by stories about moustache-twirling villians who get their comeuppance, and innocent lovers who end up together in the end because, well, that's how things are supposed to work out.

While working on this article I realized that my other two favorite Sondheim musicals, Company and  Sweeney Todd had the same effect on me. I hate when writers play it safe--do you ever get the feeling that they're afraid to see their characters get hurt?--and in Sweeney Todd the characters pay a HUGE price for their actions. Company very intentionally takes the problems that middle class, middle age Americans attend the theatre to run away from, and throw them back in their (our?) faces.

There's a DVD available of the recent Broadway revivial of Company starring Raul Esparza. The plot largely deals with his character's 35th birthday, and I think it really affected me because most of my friends are in their mid-twenties to late thirties, so it really reflects where we are in our lives right now. And similar to my reaction to Into the Woods, after finishing the DVD, I had to go back and start it again...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This is sort of old news, but I've always wanted to know...

What made someone see this:

And think "you know what? This should really be a stage show!"

I would love to have just been in the room when that idea was pitched. The results look really cool, though!

This has been around for a few years, but I still can hardly believe it exists at all.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Inevitable Has Happened

I am in a show which opens tomorrow, and I am getting sick.

I don't get sick a lot, though I used to have a head cold seven months out of the year (for which I blame all the mold and terrible venlitation in my high school), but once I got out of there, problem solved.

 But the thing that always gets you sick is going in and out of the cold all day long, and while in Los Angeles it never gets that cold, it is a desert, and it can get pretty chilly at night. And last weekend I was constantly running in and out of doors at the Interactive Pirate adventure, and then I spent a LOT of time walking outside on Halloween night, when it got quite chilly, plus two of my roommates were sick (although I was only aware of one being so at the time, the other one wouldn't admit to needing help if a bear was gnawing on her leg).

I'm not the only member of the cast who's ill, but I certainly don't want to aggrivate things, so I'm sitting at my desk with a BLAZING hot cup of lemon tea thinking of ways so not sniffle through all my scenes:

-Mucinex. No other decongestant has worked for me as well as this one (and as I said before, I've had a lot of colds).
-Fisherman's Friends, if I can find a place that sells them. I first encountered these in Germany, but I was afraid of them because the family I stayed with gave them to their horses. Turns out the horses just liked them. They're licorice lozenges, and while that's my least favorite of the standard flavors, I have to admit these things really clear out your passages.
-Gargling with salt water. I HATE doing this. Hate it. But it works. Full glass of warm (not hot) water, and dissolve a table spoon of salt water. Then gargle the whole thing, a mouthful at a time. It will be disgusting and horrible, but if you have a sore throat, you will feel ten times better.
-Vitamins. Take a multi-vitamin every day. That will solve half your problem right there.
-Ginger. I love this for upset stomachs, queasiness (especially because I get motion sick). There's a brand called Gin-gins that makes all kinds of ginger treats, but I particularly like their Traveler's Candies--they come individually wrapped in a convenient little box. Mythbusters tested ginger as a seasickness remedy and found it to be the only thing as effective as dramamine, plus you won't fall asleep.
-Anti-bacterial gel and tissue packs. The best way to not infect your castmates. Disinfect everytimes you sneeze/cough/whatever. Luckily, I'm the only member of this cast without a stage kiss (Unfortunately, I'm also the only cast member without a stage kiss)

So that, plus lots of rest and lots of fluids (which results in lots of bathroom trips) should hopefully keep my sniffle and throat tickle from developing into a full-blown coughing-hacking-gross-dripping-nose cold.

I'm going to go get another glacier-melting cup of lemon tea (and try not to spill it over the entire kitchen this time). Let me know what you do when you get a cold right before a show.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It Grew On Me

Today I found out that Jerry Bock, the composer of Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me passed away, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about my relationship with Fiddler.

I was a senior when I found out we were doing it for our high school musical. I was not enthused.

I had seen the movie when I was a kid, and attended a staging at a local family theater (Wheelock?) when I was in middle school, and of course everyone knows "If I Were A Rich Man". But I just did not get the appeal of the show. What was the story arc? It's about a poor milkman with five daughters, three of whom get married to partners he doesn't really approve of, and there's an impending Tsarist threat which never really improves.

Being a senior, I was hoping to get a lead, so I was pretty disappointed to be cast as Fruma Sarah (the  ghost). I only had one scene. Ok, I was also a villager in all the group scenes, but come on...Well, it ended up beind some of the most fun I ever had on stage. The actors playing Tevye and Golda were (and are still) really good friends of mine, so I had a blast terrorizing them. Then I didn't have to stress about my performance for the rest of the show, and I could come out at the curtain call and collect tons of applause. I forgot that the dream sequence is one of the most memorable parts of the show.

But the important thing is that, during the course of rehearsing the show, I came to understand it. I was too young for it when I first saw it, and as a teenager it took living inside it to really get it. While Fiddler is a family show, it's really a show for grown-ups. It's about adult problems and emotions, like realizing your children's paths in life won't be the same as yours, or that you'll probably never achieve financial stability, or that you'll have to leave the home you probably thought you were going to die in.

One more quick note: I recently saw John Williams conduct the Entr'acte from this show at his concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I unfortunately do not have the name of the violin soloist, but she was absolutely entrancing (actually, my friends made fun of me for watching with my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands). I don't get to much live music, so to hear someone play that well was a real treat.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is the most exciting new play in New York...a book?

Any of us who went to drama school probably had the following phrases pounded into our heads: "don't play it safe", "take risks", "try something different", etc. However, risk-taking theatre doesn't tend to put butts in seats. Look at the state of Broadway--after Sept. 11, a ton of shows closed, because it suddenly felt inappropriate to have fun. Then two years ago the stock market crashed, and no one could afford to have fun.

Broadway producers are playing it safe, which is why you're seeing so many musical versions of well-known films and jukebox musicals. This way, it's not a risk for audience members to spend so much money on a ticket to a show they may not like, because they're already familiar with the movie or the music.

So, in this climate, would people want to sit in a room for six hours and watch someone read The Great Gatsby from beginning to end?

Apparently the answer is "yes", because the entire run of Gatz! by the Elevator Repair Service is completely sold out.

I won't bother summarizing the show myself when someone else can do it better: this is from Charles McGrath's Sept. 28 review in the New York Times:

 "A MAN sits down at a gray metal desk one morning and tries to boot up a computer from the Flintstone age, one with a screen that looks like an old cathode-ray TV set. Nothing happens, so he pulls out a paperback and begins to read aloud. ...Slowly, over half an hour or so, the man in the office (Scott Shepherd) starts to become interested in what he’s reading. Pretty soon he’s doing the voices...And then, miraculously, people who have been silently coming in and out of the office, going about their workaday business, begin to imitate the characters, speaking the lines and even acting them out."

"It’s more a dramatization of the act of reading itself — of what happens when you immerse yourself in a book...This, or something like it, is what happens when you get caught up in a book. You hear it in your head, and it takes over your waking existence a little, so you can’t wait to be done with whatever you’re doing and immerse yourself in the pages again."

Obviously, I am not in New York, and can't see the show myself. But it's really caught my attention because:
a) it's a risky concept that not everyone will be able to get behind
b) it's been glowingly reviewed
c) people can't stop talking about it

In regards to the latter point, I'm seeing articles about this show popping up all over the place. Clearly, this show gets people thinking (and talking). If you scroll down to the "comments" at the bottom of the articles (which I should NEVER do, because they usually just make me angry), you'll find audience members who were bored, or couldn't make it all the way through. That's one of the things I love the most about experimental theatre: sometime the experiments work, and sometimes they don't. Some people think it's stupid, some people think it's awesome.

But the existance of the show itself makes a great point about translating something that was meant to be written in to something that's made to be watched. There's a reason why many beloved books are difficult to successfully turn into plays or films (no film version of The Great Gatsby has ever been very well received)--because there's something to be gained in the reading of them. There's more to a book than dialogue, it's the poetry or rythm of the author's voice, the way he or she describes the character's reactions or thought process. If not done well, that magic all gets lost in the translation from written to visual mediums.

So maybe these Elevator Repair Service guys are on to something: the best way to adapt a beloved work is not to adapt it at all.

For Further Gatz! Reading:
The Boston Globe review from last January
Charles McGrath's New York Times Review
Ben Brantley's New York Times Review

Monday, November 1, 2010


I wanted to commemorate two milestone events that took place this past weekend by sharing some of my favorite video clips.

First the tour of Phantom of the Opera ended here in Los Angeles; it's still running in New York and London, of course, but seeing it one last time here was a big deal for me. Also, I've been talking up this actor who was in a production of Beauty and the Beast I worked on to my friends for years. Brad Little has played The Phantom on Broadway and all over the world; here he is singing "Music of the Night" for a Korean TV program.

Also, I promised a friend I would share this picture from the 9,000th Broadway performance back in September.

Jennifer Hope Wills, John Cudia and Ryan Silverman

Photo by Aubrey Reuben/Playbill.com

The other milestone is the 35th anniversary of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I remember going to a midnight screening and being offered a job with the shadow cast; unfortunately I was only 15 at the time, and not old enough to see the movie by myself (my big sister took me).

At the West Hollywood Halloween Parade, people were honoring Rocky Horror with Time Warp marathons and lackluster cover bands; I prefer to do so by showing of one of my favorite Frank-n-furter performances; I just stumbled upon this clip promoting an Australian production on a local talk show (the hosts play Brad and Janet in this performance), featuring Australian performer iOTA as Dr. Frank.

Das Rheingold- addendum

More later today (Hopefully. Possibly?), but first, a quick addendum to my post on Das Rheingold:

The story of the first 1/2 of the Ring Cycle told through professional wrestling.

NYTimes review here: http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/10/26/theater/reviews/26ring.html?ref=theater

To quote critic Steve Smith,  "..this cheeky adaptation...addresses Wagner’s agenda with remarkable sensitivity and insight".

Sounds fun! Maybe someone in NY who's seen this can let me know how it is.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Haunted House As Theatre

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I don't think you'll be surprised to hear that I love Halloween. It's one of the few days a year where us designers actually get to wear the costumes ourselves. Although I do act as well I tend to do more contemporary shows, because on the fancy, high-concept shows, I'm of more use to my company behind the scenes (we have tons of talented actors to pick from).

I'm about to run off to the West Hollywood Parade, but I've spent the last two evenings working on an interactive Pirate Adventure for kids. It's pretty cool; it's a safe, fun thing they can do with their parents that isn't too scary. We have a guide that walks them through the various stations, at which they either complete a challenge, puzzle, or have to defeat the pirates. We're really happy with how it went, and will definitely be doing it again next year.

I mention this because I read the New York Times theatre pages every day to get the latest news, and it's always interesting to see how things are trending, and I'm seeing a lot of interactive walk-through theatre experiences lately.

Here's an articles from the Times on Hotel Savoy, which was a guided Hitchcockian theatre event: http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/theater/reviews/07hotel.html?scp=1&sq=hotel%20savoy&st=cse

The Times then posted a more comprehensive article on the haunted house/theatre crossover (this one has some darker imagery, and may not be good for young readers: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/arts/22haunt.html?ref=theater

These both reminded me of an article I saw in the Boston Globe about an event put on by the Punchdrunk Theater company and produced the the excellent American Repertory Company of Cambridge, MA. They used an abandoned school in Brookline, MA, gave the audience members masks, and let them loose on a production of Macbeth. Rather than being a linear walk-through, the audience could move from room to room at their leisure. I can't imagine the planning and timing involved to make sure that everyone was in the right place at the right time, so that there was no lag, and everyone saw the whole show.
Here's the Globe's review: http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2009/10/04/sleep_no_more_allows_audience_members_to_pick_their_own_show/

Well it's getting late here, so I'd better run out (otherwise this would be a more comprehensive post, but hopefully the links will make up for my lack of commentary). But I'm going to leave you with this rad video clip I found on another site of the Steampunk Haunted House. Enjoy!

Steampunk Haunted House 2010 from Third Rail Projects on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Das Rheingold

A couple weeks ago, my male roommate and I went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD screening of Das Rheingold. It was 10am here in California, and we were watching the opera being performed live in New York City, so that was pretty cool. I was excited about it for weeks beforehand, going to the website and watching all the “making of” videos and reading the articles on it.
Seeing the screening was really interesting; like I said, it was 10am, and we were at a movie theater in Burbank, and it was packed. As we scooched through a row to find the only two free seats available (conveniently smack-dab in the middle and halfway back, just where I like it), it became quickly apparent that we were the youngest people in the theater. By decades. I had stuffed my purse with homemade mini-cookies and fruit leather, because I couldn’t fathom watching an opera while eating popcorn and Junior Mints. Before the show they did a little behind-the scenes featurette on the development of the impressive stage mechanics, which was very funny seeing the Rheinmaiden’s nervousness doing the wirework for the first time. Then they did a live interview with baritone Bryn Terfel, who sang the role of Wotan that night. I was excited to be seeing Mr. Terfel in something, because when I was taking voice lessons in my teens, I watched a short documentary on him on Bravo (back when they aired arts programs) in which he was preparing a production of Don Giovanni. It was right before I left for a lesson, and I remember being really inspired by him.
I loved the opera itself; there’s lots of resources on the stage mechanics online, but to summarize: there’s a huge spine across the stage of seesaw-like planks that spin to form different orientations. The use of light and projections turns it from the Rhein river itself ( I was an exchange student, so I use the German spellings of things) to the river bank, the hall of the gods, or an underground mine. Also, infrared technology allows the projections to interact with the performers, so to quote director Robert LePage “The Rheinmaden who sings the loudest gets the most bubbles”. Also pebbles on the riverbank would be knocked aside as they swished their fishy tails back in forth, or fall in a cascade as the dwarf Alberich tried to climb up to reach them.

Here's a link to the video preview so you can see what I mean: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid610237632001?bctid=615451417001
I thought this production was incredibly successful, because every part of the impressive technical elements was used to help tell the story. Things like putting the two giants up on the platform above the other performers, and giving them costumes with bulky understructures actually made them look like huge, towering creatures. I’m very interesting in theatre as a tool of communication, and what you tell the audience through the choices you make onstage.
The LA Opera recently performed Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle, an event which generated a lot of buzz. Honestly, I can’t afford to go the opera here, so I didn’t see it myself. My roommate and I checked out the ticket prices, and we can’t afford the worst seat in the house. But I found this video preview on their YouTube page, so the production looked a little like this:

Now, some people really like avant-garde theatre, and I have no problem with Regietheater—I really like it if it finds a way to highlight the themes of the show, or amplify an aspect of the characters, or lets me look at it in a new way. Bu the only thing I get from the LA production of Das Rheingold is Giant Puppet People. And I’m not sure what Giant Puppet People says about the story. Apparently neither did many of the performers themselves, who complained of the staging being dangerous, uncomfortable, and inhibiting to their performances. But obviously I didn’t see it myself, so maybe someone who did  could tell me if they thought the choices were effective. (Also, lightsabers?)
Going back to the New York production for a moment, I looked at a couple of other Opera blogs, and saw a lot of people bagging on the costumes, which I really didn’t get. Not that I know better than other people because I’m a designer, but I thought they worked. They looked good with the other production elements, they were attractive and suited the characters, and they had glowy bits! I actually found myself especially attracted to Donner’s costume—I liked the line of it, the details of the armor on his right arm, and the dark silver color with his red hair was a really interesting contrast. He looked really cool.  

From left: Adam Diegel (Froh), Dwayne Croft (Donner), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka)
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The best thing though, about the Met’s production was that right after I saw it, I said “wow, that was a really terrific show”. And then all weekend, it kept popping back up in my head, and I kept saying to my roommate, “hey, you know what else I liked…” I think that’s when you know you’ve gotten a show right.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Phantom of The Opera Tour- closing week

It really seems fitting to start this blog with “The Phantom of the Opera”. When the soundtrack came out in the US, I was barely out of training pants. I’ve been listening to it ever since. My family took long drives on every major holiday from Massachusetts to upstate Maine to see our relatives, and musical theater soundtracks are a REALLY good way to pass the time on a 5-hour drive. The power of the story both overwhelmed and inspired me as a girl—the great passion, the complicated adult emotions, and the beautiful music.

I finally saw “Phantom” on tour when I was 13 years old. I’d been saving up all summer to afford my ticket. Since then I’ve seen it three more times—when I was 16 while on an exchange trip to Hamburg, Germany, again on tour in Boston right after graduating college, and last night at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, on the final week before the tour closes.

I went last night with two close girlfriends of mine (one being my gorgeous roommate, who bought the tickets for me as a birthday treat) who had also seen the show multiple times. A friend of mine who is a theater critic reviewed the show favorably, but complained that the actors seemed slotted in, without much room for individual interpretation of the roles. However, my girlfriends and I had a very interesting time comparing the acting choices of the performer we saw that night in relation to other actors we’ve seen in what might be musical theater’s most iconic role.

Our Phantom was the tremendous Tim Martin Gleason, who blew us away with the exceptionally beautiful  top notes in his voice, and his strong acting, especially in the final scenes. Here’s a couple moments from the final scene I really loved (Um, spoiler alert? But if you don’t know how it ends, honestly, what are you doing here?):

-during the final reprise of “Masquerade”, he sat down next to the cymbal monkey, and clapped along with it. It was just the right mix of sweet and sad.
-When Christine kissed him, even though he put his arms around her, he never touched her with his hands. It was a simple choice that said so much.
-Anyone who’s listened to the CD know that the scene calls for one “Christine, I love you”, before the ingénue and her suitor reprise “All I Ask of You” in the distance. Mr. Gleason, however, kept repeating “I love you” softly, over and over, as the couple rowed away.

It’s interesting, as I’ve seen that show so many times, I assumed that while I still appreciate it, and enjoy it very much, it wouldn’t’ have the power to move me (unlike my former roommate Liz, who would burst into tears when she saw the show, watched the movie, or listened to the soundtrack). I’m happy to say I was very wrong; seeing the show live, it definitely has the power to affect me.

But from my many years working in the theater myself, and having a strong knowledge of what goes on backstage, I sometimes find myself distracted by thinking about the actors own lives (John Brooke in “Little Women” much? Maybe a little). During intermission we were talking about moments we’ve seen in other performances where a performer’s personal life creeps onto the stage. Hey, it’s hard to be in the moment all the time! Especially when you’re doing it 8 times a week for months or years on end. For example, the first time I watched “Point of No Return” live, the actor was clearly somewhere else—grocery shopping, car needs an oil change, whatever. During Christine’s solo, he was just sort of arranging the robe on his knees. It wasn’t until I next saw the show in Germany that I realized how intense and sensual the physical interaction between Christine and the Phantom is during that song, because the actor was actually in the moment. After all, his hands are the only thing visible during that scene. Do something with them!

One of my friends who came to the last show related a story she saw from a performance in New York: at the end of the Phantom’s lair scene (“Damn you, you little lying Delilah!”), the Phantom actually grabbed Christine around the waist, picked her up off her feet, and threw her across the stage.  She bounced twice on her bum and looked at the actor in shock. To quote my friend, “he had red swirlies in his eyes”. When she told me that story, my first thought was “Wow, that actor must’ve had a BIG fight with his girlfriend that day!” My second thought was that the Assistant Stage Manager must’ve been right there with an accident report when she got off the stage.

Well, I’ve probably rambled long enough. But I just wanted to share some of my long relationship with this show, and the fact that when the actors are giving an honest, committed performance, it has the power to move me like I’m seeing it for the first time, and I fall in love all over again.