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!

Cinderella: A Dream Come True

I have a Cinderella complex.  There, I’ve said it.  Phew!  In all seriousness, my connection to this particular fairy-tale spans decades and has yet to diminish.

By the time I was seven years old my family had made numerous trips to Walt Disney World.  It remains a place that brings me great joy, inspires creativity and fosters imagination.  From a very young age, Cinderella quickly became my favorite Disney movie.  Was it the representation of a character so kind, thoughtful and caring that moved me?  Perhaps it had to do with the beautiful melodies that instilled a deep love of music that has yet to loosen its grip on my soul.  Or, maybe I identified with this film and its title character because she looked like me.  Regardless of the whys, the fact remained that “Cinderella” was my favorite Disney character, and the seven-year old me was about to meet her idol.

Sitting on the Main Street curb in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, I waited with anticipation for the evening’s parade to commence.  The music started, the lights illuminated the night sky, and the crowd erupted in cheers.  I waved with excitement alongside my fellow parade-watchers.  Then finally she arrived!  Strolling down Main Street in her silver carriage, “Cinderella” greeted the onlookers with a wave and a smile.  Then she pointed at me and mouthed “You look like me.”  Me?  Did she really just speak to me?  With my long blond hair and tiny stature.  A girl who would shy away from attention was just recognized by her favorite Disney princess?

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That moment means so much to me, nearly three decades later.  I think about the graciousness of the young lady riding in that carriage.  I wonder if she realized just how much a single moment of kindness and attention mattered.  As an adult I still look for those moments but seldom find them through external means.  When I go to concerts, stand outside Broadway stage doors for a picture and autograph or attend award show red carpets, I do so with an appreciation, respect and connection to those who choose the remarkable power of artistic expression and am inspired to create my own.

For my 36th birthday in a few weeks, I’ll be visiting NYC in the company of dear friends and family with hopes to attend a Broadway show.  There’s still that 7-year-old girl inside who lights up with the mere mention of Disney World and combined with my long-time love of musical theatre here’s hoping that Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be one of the shows we’ll be able to see!

To all those young girls out there who sit on that Main Street curb waiting for their favorite Disney princess, keep dreaming, wishing and believing.

*DISCLAIMERA reminder that the opinions stated above are mine alone and do not reflect any other person, company or entity’s position.  I simply share my appreciation and respect for those stories and characters that helped shaped my childhood.*

What a Smash-ing Idea!

Those of you familiar with my blogging style know that this post isn’t going to focus on the technical merits of NBC’s Smash.  Let’s look instead at what makes this particular television dramusical worthy of its place in the industry.

Here are the Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Smash:

10.  Validation that I was right in voting for Katharine McPhee during American Idol – I missed the episode when Kat initially auditioned but as soon as I heard her sing I knew instantly that this girl had a gift.  Her voice fit many genres and always proved what I believe great talent can accomplish; she made singing look effortless.  I am so happy to see her receive the attention that Smash has brought because it’s rightly earned and warranted.

9.  Introduced the non-theatre world to Megan Hilty and her amazing talent – I first heard about Ms. Hilty from reading the various Broadway news websites.  She had received critical praise for her work as G(a)linda in Wicked and was cast in the new Broadway musical 9 to 5; along with the amazing talents of Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney and Marc Kudish.  Smash introduced Megan to the rest of the entertainment industry and they responded with much praise and excitement.  If nothing more, this show proved that musical theatre performers not only have amazing vocal ability but incredible acting prowess too!

8.  I have to remind myself on a weekly basis that Smash is NOT actually on Broadway – Because I’d pay regular price to see that on stage.  And most likely more than once.  The incredible (and original) songs from composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman balance classic Broadway ballads like “History is Made at Night” with show-stopping  dance numbers like “Public Relations” all the while convincing the viewing public that an actual Broadway musical is being created.  Based on what they’ve brought to fruition, I only hope that one day “Bombshell” actually arrives on Broadway.

7.  “They Just Keep Moving the Line” – Written by the genius team of Shaiman/Wittman and performed by Megan Hilty, this powerhouse song gives me chills every time I hear it.  It’s a song that generations of young people will perform for years to come – at auditions, talent shows, and belting out in their cars on a beautiful summer day.  And I’m not just talking about me!

6.  “Don’t Forget Me” – The most played song on my playlist.  When Katharine McPhee performed this 11th hour number on the season 1 finale I had to re-watch it numerous times.  Because it’s just flat-out amazing!  I could completely see this song performed on stage 8 times a week and succeed in bringing the house to their feet in raucous applause.  Not only was this a fitting close to the premier season but a mantra that so many of us can relate to .  “There are some in this world who have strength of their own/Never broken or in need of repair/But there are some born to shine who can’t do it alone/So protect them and take special care.”

5.  Brings the world of musical theatre into homes across the country – for those who don’t get to travel out to NYC to see a Broadway show this television program brought the show to them.  This is the only television show that I can think of that is specifically theatre-centric.  There are other shows out there that feature music (and I am very thankful and appreciative for them) but Smash gives us incredible talent, entertaining musical numbers and a window into a world that not many get to experience.

4.  Just as the characters’ journeys are developing so too is the show’s – The first season of Smash was honored this past winter with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Television Show – Musical or Comedy.  It was up against some steep competition and didn’t win but the fact that it received a nomination proved what I already knew to be true.  Season one started off great and the story was only going to get better.  I love the premise…that there are two remarkably talented young ladies, both vying for the same role.  Both of them equally talented yet offering something different.  We saw them struggle, hope, dream and ultimately have to face naysayers in order to move ahead.  Whether you’re Team Karen of Team Ivy the point is that these two characters drive the show forward.

3.  It’s not a show about cops, lawyers, hospitals or reality-programming – the closest comparison to Smash is Glee but only because they are both about music.  Other than that they differ in every other way possible, yet are equally needed in television.  As television viewers we’re inundated with the same old stories and unoriginal programming, Smash gives us something unique.  Something fresh.  And something much needed.  Losing that will create a gaping hole in this medium.  So while season 2’s ratings have been significantly lower than expected/hoped I implore NBC and Smash’s fans to support a show that has so much promise.

2.  A love affair with Broadway – set and filmed in New York City, Smash pays tribute to the incredible talent that exists there.  The cast incorporates well-known and beloved actors from the world of Hollywood (Debra Messing, Katharine McPhee, Angelica Huston) with respected Broadway names (Christian Borle, Megan Hilty, Jeremy Jordan, Will Chase, Brian D’Arcy James).  The frequent scenes in Times Square makes me smile and think back to the last time I was there to see a show.  I see a restaurant or deli that looks like a nice place to have lunch next time I visit.  But mostly, it treats the world of musical theatre with respect and appreciation.  It shows both the highlights and the struggles that artists face whether you’re a playwright, producer or cast member.

1.  Amazing vocal talent – If this post leaves you with nothing else, may you remember this…Smash has gifted us with incredible performances from a range of brilliant talent.  Some of which I’ll list off here; Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty, Jeremy Jordan, Leslie Odom Jr., Will Chase, Krysta Rodriguez, Andy Mientus, Wesley Taylor, and Savannah Wise.  They are all phenomenal performers whose sheer talent amazes me.  While I sincerely hope that we continue to see them each week I hope that whatever the future holds for them is bright!

For all of you out there who love Smash as much as I do, please share this post with friends and family.  Please write your own top ten reasons, post video blogs or take to social media.  I’m not ready for Smash’s journey to come to a close quite yet.  They’ve given us so much to treasure so let’s show our support.  They need it now more than ever!

I “Once” and Still Am Irish

*UPDATED 1/8/2015: Once has since closed on Broadway, but the show is currently touring. Visit their website to see the tour schedule and get tickets!*

My dad’s side of the family is Irish and my mom’s got Czech lineage.  That’s not the only reason I went to see “Once” on Broadway.  It was an odd, yet fitting, blend of two interests – genealogy and music!

On the train ride home from NYC yesterday I decided I’d write a blog post about the amazing matinée performance of “Once”.   I’d give a thorough review with praise and compliments for everyone involved.  While that’s still the plan, the method of transporting that message has changed.  A separate blog post will follow with a more typical type of review.   Instead of describing the who, what, when and where of “Once” this post seeks to pay tribute to what I believe the show’s message to be – love.  For country, music and one another.

I woke this morning thinking about how proud I am to be Irish.  How much I love this culture and all the richness it’s brought to my life.  Granted, my third great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland to America in the mid 1860s but I still consider myself Irish.

There’s something so engrained in my spirit that connects me to that part of my ancestry.  Perhaps it’s the mystical element.  The Celtic traditions so steeped in grace, beauty and magic.  But what I truly believe to be the strongest link is…ART.  Music speaks to me in a way nothing else ever has.  The melodies, the harmonies, the fulfillment of sweeping scales and gorgeous vocals.  Irish music tells stories and as a storyteller myself I gravitate to that which does the same.

Nearly ten years ago I traveled with a tour group to the southern points of Ireland.  From places such as Killarney, Kilkenny, Cork and Dublin.  I climbed Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone.

View from Blarney Castle
View from Blarney Castle

I walked from my Dublin hotel, through the park and onto Grafton Street.  I rode on a horse pulled carriage along the streets of Killarney into its National Park.  My brief visit at the Muckross House ultimately being the catalyst for my YA fantasy novel.

Rear view of the Muckross House
Rear view of the Muckross House

In each town that we visited a few of us ventured out to the pubs each evening.  I had some Guinness, enjoyed the company of new friends and listened with intrigue to each band that entertained us.  The ambiance differed from the bar scene back home.  At the Irish pub it was about chatting with one another, dancing and letting the music lead the evening.

And that brings me back to why “Once” moved me so.  It took me back to that wonderful August week in 2004.  To the incredible musicians who shared their love of music with the rest of us.  Artists who used their passions and talents to unite us all in a shared experience.  We came from different places, had different backgrounds and different needs but for a few hours we simply existed in the same time, same place and same moment.

Multi-talented artists grace the stage at the Jacobs Theatre 8 times a week.  Each one of them not only singing but playing a musical instrument as well.  Including an instrument that looked like a cross between a mini piano and clarinet.  Anyway, from the moment you enter the theatre music invites you in; welcomes you into the environment and a shared musical experience.  Even so much as allowing audience members on-stage to get a beer and watch the musicians perform.  I stood at my seat and watched with an artist’s pride at what was unfolding before my eyes.  Music linking us all together.  Respect for the art form and all that’s it’s capable of achieving.

Throughout the next two hours I beamed with pride; knowing that this was a moment I’d remember for a lifetime.  This brilliant theatrical piece may differ from the traditional Broadway musical but it achieves the same goal in a different fashion – sharing passion for art with those who need to hear it.

Now, back to researching the Czech side of my family!

Please check out the following sites..

Once the Musical

Muckross House

Fire & Rain: A Tribute to Eponine

**SPOILER ALERT! – If you have not read the novel, seen the film or know the stage production of Les Miserables and do not wish to know what happens then please do not read on.**

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Design inspired by the character of “Eponine”

My first introduction to Les Miserables occurred while watching a beauty pageant on television.  During the late 80s, early 90s, Les Mis was one of 3 shows that everyone talked about – Cats and Phantom of the Opera being the other two.  But if you didn’t sing soprano and were anywhere near the age of 18 then it was more likely you’d gravitate to Les Mis, and the strong-willed character of Eponine.

I heard “On My Own” while watching said beauty pageant.  Not knowing much of anything about the storyline I asked my older sister to explain it to me.  As she relayed the story and I tried to listen to the words of the song being performed I meshed the two together and came away with an odd understanding.  “So, this young girl is singing about an old blind guy?” Until I actually listened to the soundtrack in full did I understand and appreciate the story as a whole.

Who doesn’t root for the character who loves unrequited?  A fiercely loyal and evidently scarred young lady who’s mistreated by all of the people in her life.  Yet she shows strength and complexity while displaying an unbelievable amount of unconditional love.  Eponine’s love for Marius was, and still is, one of the most beautiful love stories in musical theatre.  It’s heartbreaking, moving and ultimately tragic but when Eponine joins Marius on the barricades (unbeknownst to him) and stands with him as his equal there’s something so poetic and romantic about that moment.

Here’s a girl who grew up without a solid foundation beneath her.  With parents who used their daughter to their own advantage.  In evaluating the lyrics of “On My Own” and “Little Fall of Rain” I’ve come to the conclusion that the references of darkness and rain are actually reminders of the bleak life she led before Marius entered her world.  “Sometimes I walk alone at night when everybody else is sleeping.  I think of him and then I’m happy with the company I’m keeping.”  While she had hoped to have been loved in return it was the mere fact of his presence in her life that brought her joy – gave her something to look forward to in the midst of deplorable conditions.

Eponine’s death gets me every time because despite all of the horror that surrounded her she died in the arms of the man she loved.  She was at peace.  She was home.  And while Marius goes on to live a happy life we don’t truly know the depth of his feelings for his friend.  That definitely peaks my creative mind and in researching Les Mis fan fiction I’ve realized that I’m not the only one intrigued!

There are two significant moments in Les Mis that help develop Eponine’s character journey, yet both occur once she has passed.  Firstly, moments after her death the students sing “We fight here in her name.  She will not die in vain.  She will not be betrayed.” For the first time in Eponine’s brief life she’s valued.  She’s noticed and her presence to be remembered.  Then during the “Epilogue” Eponine appears with Fantine to guide Jean Valjean into the afterlife.  Eponine’s life was filled with as much love as there was sadness and the moment she recognized that she was able to die in peace.  So, it is completely fitting that she stands on that stage and sings “And remember the truth that once was spoken, ‘To love another person is to see the face of God'”.

Unfortunately, due to artistic choices neither of those moments appeared in the recent film adaptation of Les Miserables.  Perhaps the interpretation of Eponine differs from mine but that doesn’t diminish what  makes this character so timeless – unrequited love and perseverance through adversity.  Plus, she gets one of the BEST songs in the show!

A Golden Request

I have no desire of ever attending a Super Bowl but I do have a goal of going to each major award show at least once in my lifetime.  And the Golden Globes are the ones I seek to attend next!  There’s one major problem though…tickets are not made available to the public and I do not hold any kind of press credentials for red carpet reporting. 😉

I’ve learned that you can’t assume that others know what you want.  You have to ask.  I’m asking.  Can you send my sister and I to the Golden Globes this year?

In a time when our country’s worried about issues of immediate significance like falling off a fiscal cliff, hurricanes and disease it’s understandable that this request is abnormal.  I stand behind the belief that the creative arts can heal.  That they offer us the opportunity to reflect upon our own lives and perhaps re-examine our beliefs and/or choices.  I celebrate the entertainment industry and all the hard work from those either in front of or behind the camera.

I grew up thinking that my affection for the entertainment industry was an insignificant and frivolous hobby.  One that wouldn’t lead to a proper destination for my focus and energy.  Yet during times of immense personal struggle it was art that got me through.  And I do not doubt that there are other young girls and boys out there who have a deep love for film, television, music or theatre but that they are told to put those interests secondary in their lives.

It would be an incredible honor for me to have the opportunity to say “Thank You” to those who’ve brought these films and TV shows to fruition.  To stand on the red carpet and ask Tom Hooper why he selected Les Miserables as the musical he wanted to adapt to the big screen.  To congratulate Julian Fellowes on the success of Downton Abbey; a dramatic series that has depth, warmth and regality.  To share in the excitement of Smash’s nomination as it’s well-deserved and hopefully the first of many accolades.

When I’ve had the opportunity to meet actors, writers or other entertainment professionals I’ve chosen to use the chance to say “Thank You” and “Your work meant something to me.”  To separate the performer from the character because in doing so you pay tribute to the passion of a fellow artist.

If  you are able to send my sister and I to the Golden Globes this January, whether as red carpet reporters or sitting in the bleachers, the experience is bound to prompt some interesting blog posts from this fan’s perspective.  Thank you for your time and your consideration!

All the best,

Kelly Deeny

*For more information on the Golden Globe Awards and the nominees mentioned above please visit their websites listed below.*

http://www.goldenglobes.org/

http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/index.html

http://www.nbc.com/smash/

Champion the Arts

Sports fans wear the jerseys of their favorite players, assemble fantasy leagues, and paint their faces to show their team pride.  They can spout off trivia facts and engage in passionate “discussions” as to the success and failures of their hometown teams.

Sports vs arts

A similar group of individuals exist in the entertainment industry.  We can list off random facts about our favorite actor, actress, writer or director.  We write letters of support or complaint to media outlets and/or the particular interested parties.  And like our athletic counterparts, we have in-depth “discussions” about our favorite moments.  Or more precise…we disagree about which character should be romantically paired with another.

We look forward to our favorite TV shows as much as a football fan readies for Sunday night.  While our sporting counterparts gather with friends and family to drink beer, eat wings, and scream at the referees, we take to the internet to re-hash the positives and negatives of the prior night’s episode.

We watch the special features to learn about the casting process, the set design choices, and the adaptation from book/stage to screen.  We read interviews from the screenwriter to gain insight into the finished work he/she created.  We stand at the stage door after a theatrical performance just to get a picture, signature or to manage an “I loved it!”  We find inspiration and motivation from those who’ve chosen the entertainment industry as their mode of creative expression.

While some of us may yearn to one day play a role in front of or behind the camera, there are just as many who merely want to show their appreciation for a job well done.  Who want to say “Thank You” for creating something that made a difference in their lives.  For giving us an opportunity to look at our life from a different point of view.  To pause and reflect upon the choices we’ve made and to perhaps reconsider a path we were headed towards.

So while my friends and family may plan for the big play-off party I’ll be waiting with excitement for the upcoming entertainment award show season.  May the best team win!