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.

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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.

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.

Hamilton: An American Musical

If you asked any American who Alexander Hamilton was, you might get some people who would say he’s that guy on the ten dollar bill or he was shot by Aaron Burr (thanks brilliant milk ad). Yet perhaps in a few year more people will learn more about Hamilton thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant musical. It is inspired by the music that Miranda grew up with rap, hip-hop, R& B, jazz, pop, Tin Pan Alley, and traditional musical theater. The show is a nice blend of all these styles of music. It is a mostly sung through show which has garnered rave reviews from just about everywhere. The cast recording debuted at 12 on the Billboard 200 and has been at the top of the rap charts. Rolling Stone and Billboard both have it as one of the top ten albums in 2015. Hamilton started 2015 Off-Broadway and it garnered many awards for this production, who can say what comes next. Grammy? Pulitzer?

The musical takes the story of Hamilton and gives us a highlighted version of the events and tells us a bit more about one of the forgotten founding father. The musical is unique as it tells a story of the American past with the people of the present take a look at the cast and we’ve got founding fathers not being played by white guys and race doesn’t really matter with the cast.  It’s a nice addition to 1776 as musicals about the founding of the United States. One of the cool things is that the musical has women featured in large roles (Elizabeth and Angelica Schuyler). Just by listening to Hamilton I know a lot more about Hamilton then I did when I began and think that the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow would be something interesting to look at.

Newsies: The Musical

I don’t know how many times I watched this with my older sister growing up it was one of her favorite movies and she watched it so many times that the audio track was off, or so we thought. It turns out that the audio track had been re-dubbed in some parts of the movie. So when the news that it was being made into a stage musical came out I was sure to get here the Cast Recording and the next time I saw her she had listened to it and could go through and say what all was changed. So when the announcement that Newsies was coming to the National Theater in DC we put it on our calendars and noted that we had to go see it.

So the time had come and we finally went to see it and while it was thoroughly enjoyable and is a big youth empowerment musical and is about the Newsboys’ strike of 1899 and is mostly  true story about when they effectively shut down the World and Journal as Pulitzer and Hearst refused to reduced prices for the newsboy bundle back to the 50 cents for 100 papers as it was before the Spanish American War. Theodore Roosevelt doesn’t arrive at the nick of time to save the day and it wasn’t led by Jack Kelly but by Kid Blink who was from Brooklyn. The story ends with a rather draw as the price doesn’t get lowered from 60 cents but Hearst and Pulitzer agree to buy back any unsold papers.

In the musical there were some things that I really liked and other things that I didn’t. In this part there will be spoilers so please read with some caution. I am a huge fan of the set that they used it as it could be twisted and moved and they had a great use of projections, from which we had some cool moments. As for the adaptation from screen to stage there were things that changed for the better and some that seemed completely unnecessary. A big improvement is the character of Medda Larkin is scaled back and the most annoying songs in the movie has been replaced with a new one. The other big change is making the reporter a young female and merging both the reporter and Les and Davey’s sister into one individual, this new character Katherine Plummer is the new love interest as well. Katherine ends up being the daughter of Joseph Pulitzer which just seems like they were shoehorning the character in the story as well as the romance between Katherine and Jack. Of the things that really didn’t change was Davey, he isn’t that great of a character in the movie or the stage version, and that is completely the fault of the book as I am sure they could have made him more likeable. I was joking with my sister before we saw it that they should end it just like the movie with a boy, I think it’s Les, jump up into the air and they freeze it until the credits are all over and then he falls on the ground. That would have been really funny, but holding in the air like that would be impossible in real life.

If you get a chance to go see this musical it is worth the time and money even if you aren’t that big of a fan of the movie as the audience consisted of a bunch of families with young children. This is a nice musical to take your son to see even perhaps as their first stage musical, as are most Disney musicals.  If you are a part of the cult following of the film then you are seeing the stage version no matter what as it was created for them after all their demands for a stage version of the film were heard.

The Last Five Years

I have been a fan of The Last Five Years for it seems ages, I own the Off-Broadway Cast Recording with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott  and it was my first introduction to Jason Robert Brown. So when I heard they were making a film version I was excited. The Last Five Years tells the story of a relationship forwards (Jamie, the male) and backwards (Cathy, the female) at the same time, some people have said this is confusing but I don’t understand this argument. The show was inspired by Jason Robert Brown’s own failed marriage. Over on Unequally Yoked there is a nice post and there is also one at Monique Ocampo Writes. Spoiler to follow so please be careful if you read anymore.

In the film we have Anna Kendrick as Cathy and Jeremy Jordan as Jamie and we get to see a bunch of other characters, on stage it is just the two of them singing songs. The film begins with Cathy at the end of the relationship belting about how she is hurting from everything Jamie has done to her and their divorce. Then the mood changes and we are five year in the past and watching Jamie laments that he is disappointing his mother for finding a shiksa and he claims that Cathy is someone that he thinks he can be in love with. The story then moves back to Cathy we are in Ohio at Summer Stock and she and Jamie are having a fight since he has can only spend one day with Cathy. Jamie is an author on the rise he gets a call and people like his book and want to publish it and he decides to get a place with Cathy. Back with Cathy we hear about Jamie is basically gone writing his book and attending functions  but she still loves his smile and believes that she’s a part of his success. Cathy and Jamie celebrate their first Christmas together and Jamie tells Cathy a story basically saying that he will support her acting career as long as she want to be an actress.  Cathy is in Ohio and she is telling Jamie about how disappointing her summer has been without him. This is followed by the one time in the show when the timelines intersect Jamie and Cathy’s wedding.  After the wedding Jamie isn’t excited since there seems to be a never ending stream of women who now find him interesting since he is unavailable. Cathy goes to an audition and tries to land an acting job, she comes home disappointed and she realizes that she doesn’t want Jamie to be the only one to find success. Jamie accuses Cathy of not supporting him because acting hasn’t panned out well for her, but adds that he is still supportive of her choice.  Cathy tells Jamie about a friend from high school and says that she can do better than them and they move in together. Jamie is in and out of bed with other women and blames this on Cathy somehow and tells the other women that he could be in love with someone like them. We reach the end of the loop Cathy sings a farewell after their first date “Goodbye until tomorrow” and Jamie leaves  he’s packed his bags and closes the bank account their five year relationship is over.   That’s about as simple of a plot outline you can get with this show.

The relationship in this musical is a very modern relationship there is a spark at the beginning and over the years it starts to fade. One of the thing about the musical is that it is hard to pick a winner between the two who has the upper hand at the beginning you really feel sorry for Cathy with Jamie cheating on her but then towards the middle you begin to fall for Jamie and see that he does love Cathy, only to be disappointed when we reach the end. Cathy on the other hand goes from devastated from the divorce to sort of disappearing in the middle bits to complete joy at meeting Jamie. One of the big questions that I leave with is do Cathy and Jamie even love each other before they get married  Cathy says that she doesn’t need any lifetime commitment and Jamie says “I think I could be in love with someone like you”  both of these are early on in the relationship as well.  Is this a one sided relationship, purely based on looks or is there more to their relationship? This is one of the biggest questions that we all face today what makes a relationship and hopefully it is more than a swipe on Tinder or a brief hook up. This  seems to be the extent of Cathy and Jamie’s love it is shallow and it doesn’t go anywhere, like many modern relationships.

Now we’ve come to the should I go see it section, if you haven’t noticed I basically say you should go see all the movies that I talk about. I liked the movie and this makes it two good movie musical since December, although I doubt that this will make Hollywood jump on the musical bandwagon again. The Last Five Years is available on iTunes, streaming and in a small number of theaters, if it is not showing near you rent it or buy it from iTunes or streaming. If you are a fan of the musical, go it is a faithful adaptation and sort of expands the universe. If you like musicals you are bound to have a fun time watching it since it is a good movie musical and fans of romances should enjoy it as well.

 

Musicals and Religion

So this is an idea I’ve been toying with for some time now, for a couple of years that if you look hard enough you can find religious elements in some of the most exciting things, including theatre.  Theater is awesome, from the very beginnings the plays written are crazy, filled with double entendre, and huge phalloi.  I’ve got a large collection of musical theatre cast recording in my music library, I think that theatre and musicals are something that everyone should have some relationship with. I mean even Jack Kennedy liked musicals, Camelot to be precise. The really cool thing is that when we look at theatre today we still see crazy plays that are filled with double entendre, the only thing that we are missing is the huge phalloi used to celebrate Bacchus.

It all began while I was listening to Sweeney Todd several year ago during lent and I was struck by the song Not While I’m Around and how it fits with the season. As you can have Toby’s part being something said to us by Jesus.

Nothing’s gonna harm you, No, sir, Not while I’m around.
Demons are prowling Everywhere  Nowadays.
I’ll send ’em howling, I don’t care — I got ways.
No one’s gonna hurt you, No one’s gonna dare.
Others can desert you —Not to worry —Whistle, I’ll be there.
Demons’ll charm you With a smile For a while, But in time
Nothing can harm you, Not while I’m around.

Since with Jesus not much can harm us, the demons are sent away. Jesus just wants to protect everyone from any problems that fall upon them. From this revelation I started looking at other musicals where I could do this with and realized that anything will do. If you look hard enough at anything you can find some faith. That’s something special about theatre as well as everyone bring their own personal experiences into the show so the same play or musical can have a different meaning to different people.

Should I develop this idea any further and perhaps one day get a book deal for it, or just leave it as is. Since this all could just be me putting to much meaning into musicals where there is no meaning to be had, like the green light in Gatsby.