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musicals

I have a history with Pirates of Penzance. When I was young, around 11/12, I had a TV with cable in my room. I am the seventh child, my parents were tired, the TV raised me. I first saw the movie version very late at night, and never got the name. Every now and then I would ask people about a pirate musical, hoping to find the name out. I wasn’t exposed to that many musical folks so it took me years to find out it was Pirates of Penzance, it got easier once the Animaniacs starting spoofing it. I’ve seen the movie several times now, and finally had a chance to see it a production, although slightly different from how I imagine Gilbert & Sullivan envisioned.

You know how on TV shows and in movies they show neighborhood kids putting on a show? It never happened in my town, but I would like to believe that it does. This production was an awesome version of a backyard musical. Produced by STAGEright, it was a risky venture to do an open so flippantly. When we walked into the Freehold Theater half hour before showtime the cast was already lingering about the stage, like hanging out in the school yard. They played hangman with the crowd, broke out into singalongs, and generally played among themselves. Closer to showtime they sang a couple of more organized songs, Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin”. Quietly a man at a piano started playing the overture,  the cast ran back stage and the lights went dim.

The neighborhood kids theme worked, capes made of blankets, a small porch and an a-frame ladder as sets, and the occasional “forgotten” line made the comedic parts of the opera shine. The ensemble of 11 had a tough job, Pirates is usually performed with a cast four times their size. And don’t count out the Gilbert and Sullivan cult, I noticed a large number of people mouthing along the show, they’re worse than the Sondheimites. With only a couple of people playing duo roles, there was almost always a small chorus on stage. The male and female leads were both stellar singers, they filled the room with a presence big enough for broadway. The rest of the cast was a rotating group of larger than life characters, all vying for their time in the spotlight, and just a tad jealous of the mains. Pirates was never the most serious of operas, STAGEright’s addition of some pop cultures references seemed natural, it was genius to include the Arrested Development chicken dances. This was a great show and a lot of fun, so it’s no surprise that the last couple shows are already sold out. I would recommend going anyway and trying to get in, it’s worth it.

 

Almost a year ago The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic was announced as part of the Manchester International Festival. A show by Robert Wilson about (and starring) performance artist Abramovic featuring songs by Antony and compositions by William BasinkiWillem Dafoe was cast as the narrator, as a member of The Wooster Group he is no stranger to the avant-garde, and he was in Animal Factory with Antony years ago. After they added Matmos to the orchestra pit this turned into my dream team of performance theater.

I flippantly asked Morgan if he would be up to making a trip surrounding this show, and was a bit flabbergasted that he said yes. So I got us tickets and that began the planning of our trip to northern England, this show was on the fourth day of our trip. Before the show we met up with a group of friends from JustOneStar for a couple of drinks. There was a lot of catching up and it was my first time meeting most of them face to face, it was a great time. LADOMA was being performed at The Lowry, a performance art space in the Salford Quays. The theater was on the smaller size and our seats were on the balcony slightly left of center. On the stage already were three women laying in death poses while a few dogs wandered about the stage. They stayed there motionless while people filled the theater and the lights went dark very slowly. The show is a biographical account of Abramovic’s life and performances, while not linear, the show had a storyline. A scene with Abramovic playing her mother punishing a young Marina leads into a live snapshot of a related performance she did. All the transitions were not so obvious, the scenes and pictures were slowly built and created with a subtlety and tension that never strained the beauty. Written by Robert Wilson there was little dialogue on stage, the narrator handled most of the storytelling. Still being alive didn’t stop Wilson from writing Abramovic’s death scene (pictured above). I didn’t take that picture, I found it on the interweb.

The vocals were a knife used to cut thought the sweeping tonal music scored by Basinski. Antony wrote all the songs used in the show except for one, Snowy AngelBaby Dee gets the credit there. Antony only sang a couple of the songs, and they were gorgeous. From where our seats were it was like he was singing directly to us.  Antony is able to get into you and make you feel, Morgan now understands that Antony is something special. I heard him tell someone he loved Antony in it! The other voice in the show was Svetlana Spajic, a Serbian folk singer. Her voice has an elegant shrillness that wrapped around Antony’s. Abramovic and Dafoe both sang one song each, both near the end of the show. They are not strong singers, they sang in a droll manner that worked to convey a fear of the imminent end.

The show was beyond impressive, every moment is completely thought out and executed perfectly. The show sporadically  touring for the next couple years, I would easily see it again.


Every year I watch The Tony Awards to hear at least one song from a couple of the new musicals. The year Next To Normal was on it instantly struck me, going on to win best new musical. The soundtrack easily entered my top ten. Finally getting to see the show I can say that the Next To Normal is one of the best I’ve seen. Next To Normal is a family portrait blurred by a heavily medicated mother with psychotic tendencies. The music is loud and the production is in your face. The stage is a multi-tiered structure with moving panels and lots of lighting, was a mixed bag. The scaffolding used for the bones of the set often seem in the way.While the scene transitions are seamless and the lighting is excellently cued. The score permeated with electric guitar and loud drums, but the songs and melodies are almost classic broadway, and will stick with you for days. This touring production has the leads from the Broadway show, which recently closed. Unfortunately the show I saw was Alice Ripley‘s first night back after being out sick for days. Her voice was great at times, when she had to go loud and big it was hard to listen to. Having the soundtrack I knew what it should have sounded like, the rest of the audience left confused. I still loved the show. The rest of the cast was perfect and the story is so strong, I teared up several times during the second act. I will definitely see it again, and would like to see it made into a movie.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee @ Portland Center Stage

Portland Center Stage is one of the best theaters, I will forever miss living mere blocks away from it.  I was a little nervous about Spelling Bee, I worried that it could be a bit hokey and it was a tad hokey. A musical about a spelling bee has “family” stamped all over it. PCS did a good job of updating the references, that saved it from feeling dated and hokey. The was cast couldn’t have been better. The actors were all quick, witty, and  never took the characters over the top. They also performed the songs with just the right amount of self-awareness to seem natural. This was a great show.

The Yellow Wood @ Seattle Center House

The Yellow Wood, a musical about a teenage boy with ADHD performed by a community theater group, had to be good. To stay focused the kid must take medication, which he’s not happy about. The Yellow Wood centered on a day where he didn’t take his meds and he has to memorize Frosts “The Road Not Taken” for english class, and of course there’s a girl. The songs were good, in the modern emo musical style. The cast gave it their all and  gave solid performances. I’ll be keeping  my eye on the theater troupe, Contemporary Classics, they have potential. I wonder how their version of Spelling Bee was like?

Ruined @ The Intiman Theater

I read about Ruined when it opened in New York and got really excited when I saw that the Itiman Theater‘s production was going to have the original director, who also is the Itiman’s new Artistic Director. Also a lot of the original New York cast made the trip to Seattle. About the complicated relationships formed at a brothel in the wartorn Congo, Ruined was full of life in a dark situation. Violence and fear balanced with the happiness and laughter so that hope never disappeared. Full of tough characters who learn to make the best of any situation, it was a perfect performance, by a talented group of actors.

In The Heights @ The 5th Avenue Theatre

As a gift Morgan got me season tickets to the 5th Avenue Theatre, it is the theater that hosts most to the large touring productions that come through Seattle. In the Heights was the first show of the season. It’s a well-meaning musical about a group of friend in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York dealing with gentrification, poverty, crime, love and death. The story was bland and predictable, saving the show was the music and performances. The music and songs are heavily Puerto-Rican tinged with a bit of hip hop represented. The libretto was very reminiscent of the nuyorican soul movement of the nineties, there were even a couple of spoken word deliveries. The songs were full of energy and life, but was effectively somber and reflective when needed. It also helped that you could tell that the actors all loved their roles. I enjoyed myself, I would go again.

God Of Carnage @ Seattle Repertory Theatre

Like Ruined I read the New York Times review of God of Carnage when it opened it New York, and filed it away in my memory banks as something to keep an eye out for. The story of a pair of upper middle class couples having drinks and talking about how to cope with their kids getting into school yard fight. The production we saw at Seattle Rep was terrible, and I blame the production. It seemed miscast and not directed well, did not enjoy it.

Evil Dead: The Musical @ ArtsWest

This had all the makings of awesome. The production was just too corny for me, it went into a too literal version of camp. I like things a little more subtle. The material itself was good, the songs have potential, it just needs work. Kudos to ArtsWest for trying.

A Christmas Story: The Musical

The second show in m 5th Avenue Theatre season, was a local production. A Christmas Story: The Musical was a good time.  The kid who played Ralphie, is a real talent, and it was his charm that drove the show.  With the story only slightly altered from the movie, and songs that fit right in, the stage translation is a success.

The Brothers Size @ Seattle Repertory Theatre

I knew nothing about the The Brothers Size going into it, and the play was outstanding. About two brothers, one owns an auto repair shop, the other just out of jail and trying to find his way. The one other character is another ex-con friend who often appears to draw the one brother back towards bad things. The play tests the character of the emotionally lost ex-con leading to the inevitable good vs bad decision with a script that often sounds like a Shakespearian tragedy.  The staging would best be described as subtle; the stage was a concrete square with a pile of tires, the lights hardly changed except to dim occasionally, and the back drop clouds and four moving panels. The actors movements were also restrained and necessary. Excellent production.

How I Learned To Drive @ Stone Soup Theatre

This was my first visit to the tiny Stone Soup Theatre. The plays subscription sounded good, so I went for it. How I Learned To Drive is about a women who had a rather inappropriate relationship with her uncle in her teen years. The story was laid out with a gentleness that slowly lets you into the details, and a solid ending that leaves you thinking about your own demons. The acting was better than good, but not amazing. I’m sure I’ll be back to the Stone Soup Theatre.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog by The Balagan Theatre (presented @ ACT)
Last year in Portland I went to a really terrible production of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and it scared me enough to almost not go to this. My love of the original won and I am happy I went. The Balagan Theatre‘s production was smart and punchy. They changed the script a bit, adding in some current references and setting it in Seattle, but you wouldn’t have known, it was seamless. The cast was great and had a lot of fun with it. The set was multi-tiered, dimensional, and involved cameras with several projection screens. Somehow the cast managed to not get lost in it and it worked smashingly well.  The show was exactly what it should be, good fun all around.

there’s a certain excitement when seeing a new musical, an element of “can they pull this off”? gracie and the atom is a musical about a girl sent to catholic school after her father’s death. the problem, gracie is a science loving atheist and wants to find her missing mother. written and produced here in portland at artist repertory theater and staged with the subtle dose of camp. gracie was wholly entertaining, picture but i’m a cheerleader mixed with spring awakening. the storyline is good, just deep enough for a musical and with a couple of twists you don’t see. the dialogue could use a little work, lines are often predictable and too simple for the topics being handled. the songs are good, following the trend of the emo/pop rock soundtrack. i’ve come around to the style, emo anthems do work well in musical theater. the cast was well picked, had excellent chemistry and some really good voices. the weakest aspect of the production was  the choreography, it needed cleaning up. i have high hopes for gracie and the atom, it deserves re-stagings and evolution.


a couple of weeks ago i was trolling netflix for musicals when i found the apple. here’s netflix’s description.

two canadians, alphie and bibi , fight the leaders of a future dystopia (set, interestingly enough, in the now-distant past of 1994) when they test their fate at the worldvision song festival. their sweet and smart lyrics earn them the admiration of many, but corporate giant Boogalow International Music pushes for another team to win. when BIM offers them a contract, however, the pair wonders whether the gift is really a trap.

i immediatly added it to my queue and bumped it to the top. it’s not on the watch it now, so i had to wait a bit. i watched it last night, my mind was blown. the version of 1994 in the movie is hysterical; pointy shoulder pads on everyone, tiny domes on cars, and record companies run the world. the music is disco, glam and new wave influenced and the production numbers could’t sparkle more. here are some of the performances.

the competition for a record contract.

what the world looks like after the contract is signed.

a soft reggae ditty about how to manipulate the public to create a pop sensation.

can’t recommend enough.