A Broadway Adventure

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I’ve got my metaphorical dancing shoes on and am ready to celebrate the magnificence that is NYC theatre at the inaugural BroadwayCon event!

Okay, so maybe I’ll be wearing snow boots in lieu of ballet slippers as I flurry from one panel to another. However, the impending storm may cause headaches, schedule adjustments, and canceled sessions, but it won’t lessen my excitement.

I look forward to meeting other theatre fans and gaining insight from those in front of and behind the curtain.

Have you heard about 2016 BroadwayCon?

Calling all Broadway fans! We’re getting our own convention!!!!

As you can tell from my overuse of exclamation points, I’m just “slightly” excited about the announcement of this event. I love theatre and am passionate about it’s ability to entertain, inform, and inspire. I support the art form and have great respect for the gifted artists on stage and behind the scenes who bring these shows to us 8 days a week for months, years, or decades.

Photo credit: Permission from 2016 BroadwayCon helpers!
Photo credit: Permission from 2016 BroadwayCon helpers!

The first-ever convention for Broadway artists and their fans takes place at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel from January 22-24, 2016. Tickets go on sale March 15, 2015 but check out the website to learn more about the ticket package options. Don’t delay or ponder, as you just may miss an opportunity to share in this inaugural event.

The BroadwayCon team just announced the first thirteen guests, which include artists I’ve seen perform live (Gavin Creel in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Jason Tam in A Chorus Line, and Andy Mientus in the recent revival of Les Misérables) and ones whose names I know but haven’t witnessed their talent firsthand. I’ve waited at the stage door after many a performance and saw the mutual admiration between the fans and the artists. The performers stop to sign souvenir books, take selfies, and say “Hello” to theatre-goers of all ages. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to tell them their work is appreciated and that they did a great job.

This conference sets the stage (*wink, wink*) for fans, artists, producers, and more to interact with and learn from one another. What an amazing opportunity for all of us!

Please visit the BroadwayCon website for the full range of details about tickets, special guests, hotel info, and more.

*DISCLAIMER: No endorsement from the BroadwayCon organizers, their affiliates, sponsors, or artists involved is implied.*

Musical Theatre Review: Les Misérables

A haunting re-telling of a Broadway classic, the current staging of Les Misérables embodies all the aspects of the show that fans love with a rawness that adds a new perspective.

Throughout 25+ years and many adaptations, Les Misérables remains a beloved musical. With the newest Broadway revival gracing the Imperial Theatre’s stage, an entirely new generation of theatre-goers get to experience the sweeping music, powerhouse vocals, and moving story.

I was thoroughly impressed and moved to tears during a recent Saturday matinée performance, and here are just a few reasons why:

  • MUSIC AND LYRICS: Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s tremendous score and profound lyrics lives with you long after the curtain closes.  This treasured musical makes in indelible impression on not only the performers but the audience, due in large part to the incredible music.  The melodies float as needed, like during the instrumental “Bring Him Home” reprise in Act Two.  The stunning harmonies of “Turning” echo the voices of not only those lost but of the ones left behind.
  • VOCALS:  The music of Les Misérables demands incredible vocal prowess.  You must be able to do justice to the beautiful yet powerful melodies while infusing emotion into the meaningful story.  Each cast member, principal and ensemble, achieves that and much more.  Just try not to cry during “Bring Him Home” or sympathize with his plight during “Who Am I”.  Bring a sweater, because you’ll get chills when Caissie Levy belts out “I Dreamed a Dream”.  When Will Swenson sings “Stars”, you understand what motivates Javert while also fully aware of his tormented soul.
  • GIFTED ARTISTS: If you are well-versed (pun intended) in musical theatre talent, then you’re already familiar with some of the gifted performers. The following actors excel in their craft, creating performances that are both memorable and heartfelt: On the day I saw this show, the Jean Valjean understudy, Aaron Walpole went on in the starring role and was tremendous. Given Aaron’s phenomenal job, I’m look forward to seeing Les Miz again to experience Ramin Karimloo’s award-winning interpretation of Valjean.  Will Swenson’s Javert embodies anger, righteous determination, and a conflicted soul, all of which this well-respected artist handles with ease and talent.  Caissie Levy breaks your heart as she balances Fantine’s unwavering love for her daughter and determination to keep fighting. Nikki M. James’ exquisite range is on display in her role as Éponine. She grabs hold of Éponine’s fiery personality, infusing fragility, tenderness, and selfless love to this iconic role.  As Marius, Andy Mientus takes us on a journey of self-discovery.  Marius’ youthful energy, adventurous side, and naïveté early on brings home the severity of what’s to follow. When Marius is thrust into situations that require him to re-examine his beliefs and what’s worth fighting for, we believe his plight due to Andy’s adept handling of the role.  Remember the names of Keala Settle (Madame Thénardier) and Samantha Hill (Cosette), as these two talented actresses will both surprise and impress.  The ensemble cast members enrich the production with subtle nuances and powerful moments, adding depth to each scene.  Pay close attention to the student rebel scenes, as these young men are both impressive and heartbreaking.
  • STORY: Based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, this musical is not only a story about forgiveness and redemption but one about love. Whether that love takes shape in the form of friendship (rebels), family (Fantine/Jean Valjean/Cosette), or romantic entanglement (Éponine/Marius/Cosette), love guides the actions and intentions of the characters. As we sit in the audience, we’re invited to examine our own choices and perspective.  Do we choose hate instead of love?  Do we reach out to those in need or pass judgment?  Are our decisions based on a need for power and control, or are they guided by love for ourselves and others?

As soon as the lights dimmed and the familiar opening chords reverberated through the room, I smiled. This amazing theatrical work affects me not only on a musical level but a spiritual one as well.  I venture to guess that many of you would say the same. You may have seen the 2012 film version or saw Les Misérables during an earlier run, but I recommend experiencing this modern stage telling of Victor Hugo’s novel.

*DISCLAIMER: I do not have affiliation with any of the afore-mentioned talent or anyone associated with this production. No endorsement by the artists or musical mentioned is implied! I’m simply singing their praises!*

Musicals to My Ears

I saw my first musical, Annie, when I was four-years-old.  I distinctly remember the elaborate stage, adorned with a massive Christmas tree and a winding staircase.  I don’t remember the music, just the image and the sensation that I wanted to see more. Thirty years later and I’m still in awe of how profound an experience live theatre is in my life.

Artists known for their musical theatre careers are some of the ones I hold in very high regard.  Their musical talent shadows so many other in mainstream music.  Their voices reach the back of the house, leaving me moved to tears and utterly impressed. Despite the overwhelming power of their vocal gifts, it is the sheer spiritual experience of being in a theatre during a show that moves me.  My soul transports to a dimension filled with artistry, passion, and unwavering purpose when the music swells and the vocal talent pierces the room with their abilities.

Given my passionate affinity for Broadway musicals, I made it a priority to buy a ticket to this year’s Tony Award broadcast on Sunday, June 8th.  I had it all planned – watch the nomination announcements online, blog about my thoughts afterward, buy a ticket to the award ceremony, and go to NYC numerous times in May to see the nominated shows.

I got excited as I pictured how amazing it would be to sit in Radio City Music Hall and watch some of the most brilliant talents perform.  “Could you imagine,” I’d say to friends, “how awesome it would be to be in that audience when Ramin Karimloo sings with the Les Miserables cast or see Idina Menzel win another Tony?”  I expect the chances that both will occur to be high, but I won’t be there to see it; the tickets sold out before I even knew they were on sale. (**Yes, there may have actually been some tears.**)

I’ll still go see the shows on my “must-see” list and will likely go to Times Square and watch the award show live on the massive TV screen – surrounded by my fellow theatre aficionados. It wasn’t Plan A, but perhaps an even more exciting option is around the corner.  Now I’ve got the soundtrack to Thoroughly Modern Millie playing in my mind.  (Kudos if you understood that musical theatre connection.) Apropos given Sutton Foster’s nomination for VIOLET this year.

Musical theatre may not be your “thing”, but it’s certainly mine.  And that’s one role I’m proud to play!

If you have not heard of the musical theatre artists I referenced above, stop reading and go download the cast albums.  You’re missing out on incredible talent!!

*DISCLAIMER: No endorsement from any of the above-mentioned artists or corporate entities intended or implied. I seek to share my appreciation of the industry with fellow theatre fans or those who don’t yet know they are one.*

Theatre review: The Cripple of Inishmaan

Go see THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN on Broadway!  If you require more than just my word that it’s a fantastic show, keep reading.

Set on the island of Inishmaan in 1934, this poignant play makes you laugh, cry, and contemplate not only the actions of the characters but your own as well.  As this small village must face their own flaws and struggles, both internal and external, the audience reflects upon their own.  All of the above is possible due to a seamless blend of gifted actors, a talented playwright, and thought-provoking direction.  Let’s look deeper at each, shall we?

ACTING:  Each and every one of the performers who grace the “Inishmaan” stage at the Cort Theatre embody complexity, comedic excellence, and heartfelt performances.  From Broadway newcomers to veteran stage actors, this cast shines individually and as a team. One moment you’re laughing and the next you’re moved to tears.  The gifted acting ensemble weave in and out of comedy and drama with ease, giving their characters dimension and authenticity.  I applaud them all and with pride I list them here – DANIEL RADCLIFFE, INGRID CRAIGIE, PÁDRAIC DELANEY, SARAH GREENE, GILLIAN HANNA, GARY LILBURN, CONOR MacNEILL, PAT SHORTT, JUNE WATSON, HELEN CESPEDES, LESLIE LYLES, AIDAN REDMOND, and JOSH SALT.

WRITING: The talented cast may be the “face” of the play, but Martin McDonagh provided them with richly-layered dialogue and flawed yet immensely human characters from which to work with.  At times he takes you right to edge of offense only to interlace the darkness with witty humor and a reminder that we may not understand the characters’ choices/actions but perhaps have made similar ones ourselves.

DIRECTION:  Taking McDonagh’s words and entrusting them to a talented ensemble of actors, Michael Grandage guides us on a journey we won’t soon forget.  Each action has meaning, purpose, intention.  Every pause adds dimension to an already layered piece.  He’s created an environment where the performers and story are equally impressive.  One can not excel without the other.  He’s to be commended for creating a piece of theatre that will stay with you long after the curtain falls and the house empties.

Experience the multi-faceted dimensions of THE CRIPPLE OF  INISHMAAN sooner rather than later as it’s only at the Cort Theatre for a 14 week engagement.  You’ll be “cow”-ting your blessings that you did! (Wink, wink,  nudge, nudge for those of you who’ve already seen it.)

Please visit their website and connect through social media.

*No endorsement by those involved with THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN intended or implied.*

A Magical Delight: Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA

*UPDATED 1/5/2015 – This fantastic and heartwarming show just closed on Broadway, but is now on tour!*

Showing 8 times a week at the Broadway theatre, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA is designed for theatre-goers of all ages!  With music that gets you humming along, costume changes that leave you puzzled and a stellar cast of brilliant talents, this classic musical exudes charm, elegance, and an overall joyful experience.

I’ll admit that the first time I heard any of the music from this version of the fairy tale princess’ story was from watching the TV movie with Whitney Houston and Brandy.  Since Cinderella was always one of my two favorite princesses I gravitated to this version.  I found the songs enchanting, the costumes stunning and the message as inspiring as ever – that kindness, decency, love and hope can make even the most impossible of dreams quite possible.  In 1997, when I was 20 years old, I watched the movie numerous times – rewinding (yes, this was during the time of VHS tapes) my favorite songs so that I could memorize them and sing them around my house.  I even broke out singing “In My Own Little Corner” while cleaning up the tossed pillow section during my shift at the local bedding store I worked at.  The store was closed, no one was around and the music just came flooding out.

The current Broadway staging of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA provides us with catchy melodies, a beautiful score and an inspiring message.  If you believe in yourself, hold on to your dreams, and fight for them you can overcome even the steepest of mountains.  The music creates the mood and moves the story along, but the set design, lighting and costumes add ambiance to an already stunning show.  The sets are simplistic, mobile and don’t overpower the action or actors on-stage.  They tell us where we are without the necessity of overwhelming us with too much detail.  “Cinderella’s” home features wood construction with subdued accents – a reflection of the simple life in which they live.  That setting works to contrast the vivid colors that “Madame” and her daughters wear.  It hits home to us that while “Cinderella’s” attire blends into the natural tones of the home, her stepmother does all she can to not fit in.  The costumes accent the setting with colors that pop, especially when set against the stark white contrast of the palace setting.  They shimmer, they sparkle and they morph before our eyes with the flick of a wand!  Leaving the audience to “Ooo” and “Ah” then ponder “Wait, how did they do that?”

While the setting reflects the story, and the music creates the mood, the performers put all the pieces together.  This marvelously talented cast includes both well-known stage veterans and newcomers alike.  Yet, each one holds their own – allowing the individual character a range of emotions and vitality.  The hysterical Ann Harada, as “Charlotte”, balances a larger-than-life persona while also giving this self-involved stepsister a layer of depth and conflict.  Marla Mindelle embraces the various layers of “Gabrielle’s” personality.  We see and understand the young girl’s struggle to honor her mother’s wishes even though her dreams and wants differ significantly.

As “Madame”, the brilliant Harriet Harris keeps the stepmother from becoming too one-dimensional.  She adds moments of conflict that you can find believable, despite her characters clearly deplorable treatment of our beloved “Cinderella”.  Her comedic timing is impeccable and her talent continues to impress.  The exceptional Victoria Clark portrays “Marie”, the main character’s confidante and support system.  Her stunningly powerful vocal ability sends chills down your spine while lifting your spirit.

And last, but certainly not least, the show’s power couple – “Cinderella” and her prince.  Laura Osnes owns the title character from the moment she graces the stage.  She moves across it with ease, reflecting “Ella’s” effortless joy despite the girl’s family situation.  She makes you believe, wholeheartedly, that people such as this exist.  That kindness, warmth and a zeal for life have the ability to effect everyone they come into contact with; that doesn’t even begin to include Ms. Osnes’ ethereal voice.  Beauty, regal and joy –  those were the three terms I thought of first as I listened to her sing “In My Own Little Corner”.  A phenomenal talent, Laura has rightly received both critical and popular praise for her work in this show.  She gives “Ella” heart without making her sickly sweet.  You believe that she truly means what she says while yearning for a life that seems out of her reach.

To my delightful surprise, my favorite character was “Topher”.  Newcomer, Santino Fontana, takes us on an enjoyable ride as the prince struggles to figure out who he is and what role he truly wants to play in his own life and that of the villagers.  He’s got charm, charisma and a voice that melts your heart.  Plus, he gives the young prince a playfulness that doesn’t make him appear cocky or dim-witted.  He wants to grow.  Wants to change.  And little by little he comes into his own.  This young man is destined to have a long career on Broadway and I am glad he’s been recognized during this award season!  Together, Laura and Santino complement one another perfectly!  They play off one another’s strengths and they harmonize, not only in music, but in stage presence.

I definitely recommend going to see the current revival of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA at the Broadway Theatre.  Whether you’re a five-year-old girl dressed in her favorite princess gown or a thirty-something birthday girl singing along to one of her favorite shows, it’ll provide you with a delightful experience that children of all ages can enjoy!