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.