Shakespeare’s Greatest Characters

The Telegraph offers a list of the 25 greatest Shakespeare characters and it is a rather interesting list. On this list there aren’t many of the brand-name characters like a Romeo, Juliet or a Hamlet and several are from lesser known plays like Comedy of Errors and Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The run the gambit as well some are heroes other villains others are bit parts. Their list is as follows with my comments after each.

Rosalind (As You Like It): Greatest female characters by Shakespeare? I haven’t read or seen.
Prince Hal (Henry IV/V): This is reason to watch/read the Henriad. Prince Hal is the one character who changes the most from when we first meet him.
Richard II: Not that brilliant of a King and he goes mad what’s not to like about that.
Emilia (Othello): Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid servant is one of the most complex characters.
Malvolio (Twelfth Night): The puritanical steward of Olivia who is the butt of the jokes and torments. The greatest tragic character in the comedies.
The Witches (Macbeth): Everyone likes the witches and they’ve been just about everywhere.
Hotspur (Henry IV, part 1): The romantic of the history plays he seems like the better Henry compared to Hal but when it comes to a fight it doesn’t end well.
Viola (Twelfth Night): Sebastian’s twin sister who spends most of the time as Cesario, the most strong willed of Shakespeare’s women.
Shylock (The Merchant of Venice): A difficult character as it really depends on how you want to look at him how to interpret him monster, victim, clown?
Lady Macbeth (Macbeth): We all know she’s one of the most memorable female ever written.
Autolycus (The Winter’s Tale): Never seen or read this one either so I don’t know
Nurse (Romeo & Juliet): She’s the best mother character we see
Falstaff (Henry IV/Merry Wives of Windsor): Perhaps the greatest character in all of Shakespeare to have a drink with. He is my favorite.
Regan and Goneril (King Lear): The bad sisters in this wonderful family drama
Cassius (Julius Caesar): sets the assassination plot a foot and is sort of an early Iago-like character
Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing): Wittiest of all the characters Shakespeare wrote
Tybalt (Romeo & Juliet): This guy really?
Drunken Porter (Macbeth): The strangest item on the list as I don’t even remember him at all
King Lear: “Everest” of acting roles this medieval/modern role that we sort of are living with today.
Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse (Comedy of Errors): Never seen/read before
Lance (Two Gentlemen of Verona): Never seen or read not a clue here
Timon (of Athens):  starts rich goes poor, wants to see cities crumble
Mercutio (R+J): The fun loving, mercurial character who everyone likes the Riff to Romeo’s Tony.
Jaques (As You Like It): He’s got the All the World’s a stage speech
Richard III (Henry IV/Richard III): He’s got to be here the brilliant anti-hero before they were popular

So I need to read/see As Your Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Winter’s Tale, and Comedy of Errors. It’s a fun list and I enjoy that it isn’t the same old Hamlet, Puck, Juliet and Romeo. Shakespeare wrote a lot of characters so it’s nice to see some who would slip your mind on a list.

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Come From Away

Since today is a September 11th it is the perfect time to talk about this little musical about that little town named Gander, Newfoundland where 38 flights were diverted to on September 11, 2001. The musical is a mix of several types of music and it feel grounded. The musical is sort of a love letter to Gander and the people who were stranded there. Sure you can only see it in New York currently but this seems like it will be very popular in the small regional theaters across the country in the years to come.  If you can take some time today take a listen to this show anywhere you find your music and/or read up about Operation Yellow Ribbon. This is a day to remember the capacity for human kindness in even the darkest of times and the triumph of humanity over hate. I know that for some their attention is on Florida and Houston currently but even if we look at these place there are brilliant signs of human kindness. We are truly “One Human Family” and we should care more about each other than most of us do. It would be wonderful if the world didn’t have to be falling apart for this kindness to come out. Let us all try to be more compassionate to one another no matter who they are or where they come from.

Musicals about America

Everyone knows about the stage musicals Hamilton, 1776, and perhaps George M!. Along with the movie adaption of 1776 (with William Daniels) and Yankee Doodle Dandy. These are great musicals to bring out on Independence Day but there are a few others some like the First Lady and Daughter Suites by Michael John LaChuisa you might of heard of since the First Daughter Suite came out in 2015 which sort of revived interest in the First Lady Suite. However there are a couple more musical that I know of one if a Pulitzer Prize winner and the other was a legendary flop.

The Pulitzer Prize winner is Of Thee I Sing from The Gershwin Brothers with a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. This musical is a satirical look at politics in America, it inspired The Marx Brothers classic film Duck Soup. Sure this is from way back in 1931 so the plot is pretty strange in the musical a Presidential candidate Wintergreen runs on a “love platform” and they have a beauty pageant to select the who Wintergreen will fall in love with. This doesn’t turn out as expected as Wintergreen falls for another girl. It is worth looking for to listen to and a version was on television in the 70s so you can see it if you want as well. I found out about this as I was looking up musicals that won a Pulitzer Prize since I was in two of them back in high school.

The flop is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and is from Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner. It ran seven performances on Broadway. The musical tells the story of the White House from 1800-1900 and focuses on race relations. It came out in 1976 and the only time it was revived was in 1992 by the Indiana University Opera Theatre production and it also briefly ran at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. However this has been turned into a Choral that sort of is the only way that you can hear most of the music today in A White House Cantata. Since the Bernstein estate controls the licensing of performances of the cantata version, but refuses to allow the performance, recording, or publication of the original musical. In early versions it was a weird sort of meta-musical where the actors would comment on what was happening at the time when the show moved to Broadway they eventually settled on the idea that “America is a play always in rehearsal full of constant revisions” and dropped the commentary sections. Technically there is no cast recording available to listen to but some of the songs have had a second life notably “Take Care of This House” which was preformed at the Carter Inauguration and has been covered by many others.

Sure there is good chance that the film Independence Day will be on somewhere today so if you are interested take a listen to one of the several musicals listen about or watch some thing the help you celebrate Independence Day.

Theatre and Politics

These are two things that go together and have been since the beginnings. The Ancient Greeks had The Trojan Women and Lysistrata which were commentaries on events that the Greeks faced during the Peloponnesian War. Shakespeare did a great job at working politics into his works as well. This was transformed by the Soviets into Agitprop (Agitation propaganda). Politics have always been an influence to playwrights and still inspires directors today.

So when the news that the New York City’s Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar was using Donald Trump as a model for their Julius Caesar. I didn’t think it was out of line over the year many a President has been taken as a way for the audience to relate with the story. As Michael Kahn, Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, notes in a Time article it is pretty hard to avoid mixing contemporary politics and Shakespeare together. It was a lens for us to look at the story and society has been doing it since at least a 1937 Orson Welles production where Caesar has fascist overtones, and over the years he’s been interpreted into just about every major political figure. Julius Caesar isn’t about the assassination or saying it is a good thing, Caesar even dies halfway through the play making Brutus perhaps the main character in the play.

Now we need to be able to live in a world where we are not walking on egg shells all the time and this seems to be what is happening in the world today. Everyone is on edge and ready to snap at the smallest problem. Yet if we look at other shows and even movies we can get to similar interpretation like how the upcoming film Geostorm, a film coming out this October, is a response to Trump withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

71st Tony Awards recap

First off it’s great that theater gets a night of the year but it would be great if like the local theater awards were televised as you are more likely to see something near you and like PBS could air them. Yes it’s great that NYC gets the top billing and is broadcast on national television so we get a glimpse of what new is happening on Broadway. Secondly, I think I’ve got to see Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin movie Beyond the Sea since who knew Spacey could sing.

This year was sort of like last year with one show winning most of the musical awards this year it was Pasek and Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen. Pasek and Paul are halfway to an EGOT now having also won the Oscar earlier this year. With what looks like a sure bet for a Grammy in the fall the only thing that is up in the air is an Emmy. Only time will tell. I for one would like it if we can get a year when more than one show can win. Evan Hansen is a story of high school, teen life, social media, mental disorder and suicide so it doesn’t interest me all that much perhaps a song or two were good. I didn’t think this was the strongest show of the season but you don’t have to like every Best musical winner. So Evan Hansen took home six awards the top ones musical, book, score, orchestration, Ben Platt, and featured actress. Great Comet took home two of the three design awards (lighting/scenic). Hello Dolly took home three (revival/Bette Midler/costumes), Come From Away took home best director and Bandstand took home one for Choreography. Hopefully, Tim Minchin and Dave Malloy have several more opportunities to take home an award in the coming years.

Tony week/predictions

With the Tony Awards on this upcoming Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to see that Billboard is doing a bunch of Broadway articles this week. The most interesting one so far is on Tim Minchin, who did the music for Groundhog Day this year. previously he did the music for Matilda. It is unique as it look at the composition of one song and what inspired it. Now Minchin’s music in both of his musicals are pretty great. If you have some time and any interest in this topic take a look over on Billboard this week.

It’s a tougher year to pick  what will win the major awards since there isn’t a single monolith like Hamilton this season on Broadway which will sweep everything. Over in the world of plays it’s really a two horse race for Best Play with Oslo or A Doll House Part 2 likely to win. For Revival while it would be great for August Wilson’s Jitney to win but it might be Little Foxes. In Musicals there is a good shot for all the shows nominated to win Best musical, sure Dear Evan Hansen has the most “buzz” about it but Come From Away could win since it’s about 9/11, yet Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is a completely different show, and Groundhog Day is a decent show as well. This is the same for all the writing awards as well. If I had to pick for Best Musical it would be between Come From Away and The Great Comet a show I’ve been a fan of the cast recording from their off-Broadway days. With music I hope that Tim Minchin finally wins but it will be close with Dave Malloy’s …Great Comet, I really hope that Pasek and Paul aren’t given it since they’ve become household names this year with their Oscar win.  As for revival of a musical it’s going to be Hello Dolly.

Strange musical news

So with the success of NBC musical Live! they have two in the works currently with Bye Bye Birdie coming out this December/Holiday season and they have announced that they are going to have Jesus Christ Superstar next Easter. Fox has also been pretty successful with their Grease: Live will be doing two as well with A Christmas Story, based on the movie around Christmas time and they are also going to be doing RENT this seems like something FOX would be able to do as the network skews younger. Not to be left out ABC is putting it’s hat in the ring with one of their own. ABC announced that it will air The Wonderful World of Disney: The Little Mermaid Live!, a two-hour special is set to premiere Oct. 3, and is based  on the 1989 animated Disney film, blended with live musical performances. How this is going to be in anyone’s guess but it sounds like perhaps like a concert version of the musical. Hopefully there is some time between all these Live musical events. CBS is now the only major network without a live musical scheduled, perhaps next year.

All these TV musicals isn’t the strangest news that I read recently about musical  but that there is going to be a King Kong musical which is coming to Broadway. It sounds like a difficult musical as you need a gigantic ape to show up at some time, The show which opened in Australia way back in 2013 had groups of on-stage and off-stage puppeteers work to manipulate the large-scale Ape puppet. It sounds interesting as Jason Robert Brown is working on it but the selling point is the puppet/animatronic/marionette Kong.

Groundhog Day

Today is one of the weirdest traditions that exists. As we rely on a Groundhog to tell us how soon winter will be over.  It goes back to at least 1841 when in a diary a store keeper noted that “according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.” This is similar to other ideas notably poems which come from England, Scotland and Germany which all indicate that if it is sunny winter will be a bit longer as opposed to a cloudy day which would indicate that more spring like weather is to come. This is tied to Imbolc the date between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, It’s  a pagan thing.  There are other traditions from Europe where it’s a bear awakening from hibernation and it seeing it’s shadow which indicates if winter will remain or be over.

There are several Groundhog Day celebrations celebrated across North America, the largest one is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where about 40,000 people attended yearly since around 1886. This is a strange tradition but it did give us one great movie Groundhog Day, which is bound to be on television somewhere today. There also is a musical version as well which got raves in London and is opening on Broadway in March. I haven’t heard anything from the show so I haven’t a clue about how the music is or how much it differs from the movie.

Women’s March

One of the images from this past Saturday’s Women’s March across the nation and around the world that caught my eye was a group of ladies dressed like suffragettes with a sign reading “Same Shit Different Century”, sure a lot has changed in the world but women’s rights are still dragging behind those of men in the United States. Who would have thought that a century after Alice Paul and the other participants of the Woman suffrage parade of 1913 in Washington DC, that we wouldn’t have really gotten that far from what they were fighting for sure Women can vote and even be elected to public office but they haven’t gotten much since. Women are still earning less than a man for the same amount of work and any semblance of the Equal Right Act still hasn’t been passed and approved by the states. However, this seems unlikely to be passed right now with the Republican held Congress, and perhaps the ERA needs to be revived to include all those LGBTQ as well. Let us all work towards bringing this to a reality as we need to become more active citizens by participating in local elections and learning what candidates stand for rather than how much noise they can make.

This march brought up the musical Ragtime set in the early part of the 20th century and tells the stories of three groups of people the Upper-class Whites in New Rochelle, the African Americans in Harlem, and the Eastern European Immigrants.  It is a period piece for today, as all these groups still exist today in different forms The musical touches on race, disparities of class, police violence, immigration, equality and justice for women and minorities.  If you have some time take a listen to the musical or I’m sure you can find some high school production on Youtube. The stand out songs are the from two different points in the show one at the end of Act One “Till We Reach That Day” and the other just before the end of Act Two “Make Them Hear You”. In the Act One Finale we have an unjust murder by the police, which still is relevant today. The song before the Act Two finale “Make Them Hear You” is an anthem for Justice through non-violence.  We hear that “Your sword can be a sermon, or the power of the pen. Teach every child to raise his voice and then, my brothers, then will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men make them hear you.” This is our vehicle for change in the world, and hopefully tomorrow there will be more of us working for the cause where someday gender and race won’t matter when it comes to politics and life in general.

New Musicals

With Anastasia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory already planned to open on Broadway as well as that Spongebob musical the news that they are working on adapting Moulin Rouge! for the stage makes a bunch of sense. Sure when the film came out in 2001 me and my friends would discuss how it would be wonderful if it was adapted for the stage. Something akin to talk of a stage version of Newsies, we were sure that it would eventually happen but hadn’t a clue when. It seems likely that we will continue seeing this idea adapting popular films into stage musicals going forward as it seems to have happened throughout history. I think it would be real cool if like The Prince of Egypt could somehow be adapted for the stage. It would be nice if we could get some new ideas on Broadway and touring the globe but new musicals take time to refine whereas adapting a film is perhaps easier, don’t really have a clue here, but with the story already done you just have to write up song and fit them in some place.