Gentlemen, be seated!

The last time I attended the final matinee of a show was back in January 2009, when Spring Awakening closed, but attending the second-to-last performance of The Scottsboro Boys, a show that I knew nothing beforehand, was quite a different experience. In the midst of a slew of mid-winter closing notices, I managed to steal away from the cheer of finals week and melting my brain over accounting and theories of mass communication (note: sarcasm) to catch a show that I'd only heard excellent things about before it closed prematurely.

It had been raining all day, so I got to the Lyceum in time to enter the theater at half-hour, and while I wouldn't call the scene outside chaotic, it was kind of unsettling. A group of protesters, all representing the "Freedom Party," lined the sidewalk, handing out fliers and yelling, "Scottsboro Boys ain't no minstrel show! Scottsboro Boys has got to go!" (Which, if you think about it, was kind of a moot point on the day the show was closing...) There was a cop or two watching the scene as ushers directed ticket-holding patrons inside. I've never really experienced anything like that, and it definitely made me consciously consider during the show whether the material and its presentation seemed offensive or not.

First, for some background. The show tells the true story of nine African American boys, all under the age of 20, who hopped a freight train in the spring of 1931, traveling from Chattanooga to Memphis with the intent of finding work. When two white women falsely accused them of rape, the unjust treatment of the Scottsboro Boys, as they came to be known, brought America's emerging civil rights movement into the spotlight.

The musical, one of the last collaborations between John Kander (who was in the audience at the same show I saw - WHAT?!) and the now-deceased Fred Ebb, uses the style of the minstrel show, a popular form of entertainment at the time, as the framework to tell the boys' story. (The minstrel tradition in the United States "began in the 1830s, with working class white men dressing up as plantation slaves. These men imitated black musical and dance forms, combining savage parody of black Americans with genuine fondness for African American cultural forms.") I can honestly see how the show would be viewed as offensive by some, but at the same time, I think people who hold that opinion either haven't seen the show at all, didn't stay for the end of the show, or truly don't understand the juxtaposition that Kander and Ebb used so effectively to critique the treatment of the Scottsboro Boys. When the boys are singing and tap-dancing to a song about their potential fate with the electric chair, for example, or about how most of the boys led troubled lives after finally regaining their freedom (because what could a black man with a criminal record do in the 1940s?) - the contrast is just so stark and so humbling. I was particularly moved by a scene at the very end in which the nine boys sing and dance a rousing final number, dressed in blackface. The Interlocutor, the "ringmaster" of the minstrel show (played by the only white actor in the show, John Cullum) repeatedly instructs the boys to sit down, in the minstrel tradition that the title of this blog takes its name from, only to be ignored for the first time in the show while each of the boys slowly walks to the front of the stage, disgustedly wiping off their makeup. And in a troubling twist, the audience learns at the end of the 90-minute show that, although four of the boys were released initially as a plea bargain, they were put into the vaudeville circuit by their New York lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, in a (failed and humiliating) attempt to keep the five boys who remained in jail in the mind of the public.

The aforementioned fact that John Cullum was the only white member of the cast is another interesting and controversial aspect of the show. As the Interlocutor, Cullum did interact with the rest of the characters, but mostly served as a narrator. The rest of the white characters - Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, the two white Alabama women who accused the boys of rape; the sheriff, lawyers, judge, and governor of Alabama - were all played in a very exaggerated fashion by black actors. But again, in my mind, setting up the show in this way only served to enhance the ridiculous nature of the story's proceedings - nine honest teenagers, who happen to be black, are telling the truth, and nothing they can possibly say will get anyone to believe their innocence. Colman Domingo as a collection of these characters really stood out as a presence on the Lyceum stage, although each seemed to run in the same vein as Mister Franklin, his character in Passing Strange. Jeremy Gumbs, who played Eugene Williams, the youngest of the Boys at only 13, was wonderful as well with his earnest, innocent nature (shown early on in the boys' arrest with the line, "Is that what rape means?") and his incredible dancing during the "Electric Chair" number. There really was not a weak link in the entire ensemble, and it was obvious that every single member of the cast was soaking up the last few moments of a show they loved dearly. The audience also showed their appreciation with thunderous applause after nearly every number.

The hype about Joshua Henry as Haywood Patterson, one of the boys who take the lead in defending the group's innocence, was certainly justified with his breathtaking performance. Mr. Henry made the correct decision to leave American Idiot to take on this role, however short-lived the show's run, because it gave him the chance to show off acting chops that I'd never have guessed he possessed. The monologue in which he reveals the reason he adamantly refuses to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit (*SPOILER - as a boy, he witnessed his own mother being raped by a white man*) brought me and many of the patrons seated around me to tears. And he sang and danced the role with ease; it's truly a travesty that his rendition of the gorgeous "Go Back Home," a clip of which can be seen here, won't be recorded on a Broadway cast recording. (An off-Broadway recording made during the show's run at the Vineyard Theatre, when the role of Patterson was played by Brandon Victor Dixon, is definitely still worth a listen.)

Because many of our readers may not have had the opportunity to catch one of The Scottsboro Boys' mere 49 performances on Broadway, I'd like to reveal the show's concluding scene, and perhaps its most breathtaking moment. The single woman in the cast, Sharon Washington, plays an ambiguous character credited as "The Lady"; she seems to be ever-present during the show, and at one point represents Haywood's mother, sending a care package of sorts to her son in prison in case they never see each other again. But in the show's final scene, The Lady is confronted by an anonymous white man as she sits on a chair in the center of the stage:
"Lady, you can't sit there - move to the back of the bus. Coloreds in the back of the bus!"

"No. Not no more. I'm going to sit here and rest my feet."
As the lighting faded to a blackout, the audience's collective revelation that a young Rosa Parks grew up in the midst of the Scottsboro Boys trial, and was in fact motivated to refuse to move to the back of the bus, just as Haywood Patterson refused to admit to a crime he didn't commit, left the theater completely breathless.

The show's producers have begun a campaign on their website to gauge audience interest in bringing The Scottsboro Boys back to Broadway in the spring, enabling it to be fresh in the minds of Tony committee voters for the 2011 Awards, and I would highly encourage our readers to show support for one of the most innovative and challenging shows on Broadway in years. While the subject matter of the show certainly has no commercialized, Disney-ified happy ending, I have only the highest recommendation for The Scottsboro Boys. Nearly two weeks later, I can say with certainty that the themes presented and critiqued in the show have been on my mind and will be for some time as I continue to wrestle with the mistreatment of the Scottsboro Boys, the relentless moral compass of Haywood Patterson, and the controversy surrounding the presentation of these historical events. The Scottsboro Boys is unarguably an excellent piece of art because it made me THINK. In the end, isn't that the purpose of good theater?

The massive catch-up post

So... we suck. Michelle and I apologize for not updating in for-freaking-ever. College was being totally crazy-cakes. Who knew being a nursing major was so much work? I did. Who thought adding a business minor to a communications major would be a good idea? Michelle did. Who spent the last week and a half studying until our eyes were threatening to fall out of our heads? We both did.

But yeah... the semester is over, we are home for break, and it's time to get crackin' on this blogging business again. Things we've seen since our last post that we haven't covered yet: The Addams FamilyWomen on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Avenue Q, [Title of Show], Next to Normal (shocking, we know), and The Scottsboro Boys. Phew. [Title of Show] and The Scottsboro Boys need their own blog posts to adequately talk about their awesomeness, and we've been blogging about Next to Normal so much, people probably think we get paid every time we do (unfortunately, we don't, but it would be totally awesome if we did.) This post is going to cover The Addams Family, Avenue Q, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, in that order. Get ready.
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Okay, so, The Addams Family. Michelle and I were lucky enough to get free tickets after a friend of ours won a contest on Twitter. Sweet! We were super excited to see this production because, well... let's take a look at the cast, shall we? Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Carolee Carmello, Terrence Mann, Jackie Hoffman, Wesley Taylor, and Krysta Rodriguez. It's like a smorgasbord of awesomeness and talent. And the cast did not disappoint. It was definitely the strongest part of the show. Nathan Lane is the consummate song and dance man, and he and Bebe Neuwirth both got huge applause at their entrances. Mr. Lane's Gomez was charming and fun, even if Mr. Lane did at times struggle with his suave, Latin accent. Ms. Neuwirth, who is perhaps best known for her role as Lilith on the hit sitcom Cheers but is best known to me for her hysterical Musical Madlibs rendition of "All That Jazz" (which can be found here), was fantastic. Her comedic timing and dry delivery made her Morticia a sarcastic delight. Jackie Hoffman was hysterical as the senile Grandma (her ad-lib about Charlie Sheen during the "Full Disclosure" number was amazing). Kevin Chamberlin was wonderful as the crazy Uncle Fester. His asides to the audience, playing with the fourth wall, were some of the funniest moments in the show. Carolee Carmello and Terrence Mann were EPIC in their roles as Alice and Mal Beineke, respectively. Both of their voices are so distinct and classic that hearing them sing together was just incredible. It gave me chills. Wesley Taylor was great as Lucas Beineke in what I thought was an underused role.

But for me, the best part of the show was Krysta Rodriguez as Wednesday Addams. That girl is a star. Of all the songs in the show, "Pulled" and "Crazier Than You" were the most memorable for me, and I think a large part of that was due to Ms. Rodriguez's performance. Her vocals are fantastic. She belts without sounding like she's straining, and her physical performance complements her voice perfectly. Her performance was youthful, teen-angsty without being over-the-top, and fun. And overall, I think that's what The Addams Family was - fun. It wasn't perfect - the scenes and plot were choppy, almost like a series of loosely linked sketches rather than a coherent piece, there wasn't a lot of character development to speak of, and some of it was downright cheesy. Above all that, though, it was just a fun two and a half hours of theater. Coming from a girl who loves crying her eyes out over a piece of theater, it was a nice change of pace to be able to walk out of a show humming a tune and feeling entertained. In that respect, The Addams Family was very successful.
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Avenue Q has been on our must-see list for a while. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 2004 and enjoyed a lengthy Broadway run before relocating to New World Stages and continuing Off-Broadway. New World Stages is composed of a couple of small theaters that are underground, and so it runs a few shows simultaneously. The rush seats for Avenue Q were in the front row of an already intimately small theater, so we were practically three feet from the stage for the entire performance, which allowed us to see the puppetry work from up-close. It was incredible. The actors are incredibly talented. Not only do they perform puppetry, often playing the roles of multiple puppets at the same time and throughout the show, but they also sing and act and have the best facial expressions to accompany their puppets. The entire cast was fantastic, but Howie Michael Smith, Sarah Stiles, and Cullen R. Titmas were particularly amazing in both their puppetry skills and singing abilities. The score is raunchy, to be sure (really, is there any other show out there that's so blatantly about sex and porn?), but it's also hysterical and catchy. Its "immaturity" works because it's a show about raunchy puppets. It's meant to be fun and a little outrageous, and it definitely delivered.
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Last but not least, we saw Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Much like The Addams Family, Michelle and I were incredibly excited to see the show because of its star-studded cast. Months before the show even opened, when it's cast was first announced, we decided that we just had to see it. I mean, when would we next be able to see a show with Sherie Rene Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Beth Piel, Danny Burstein, Laura Benanti, and that diva of all Divas, Patti LuPone? By the time it began previews, we'd read that the show was still working out some kinks. Then the Internet message boards were flooded with what a mess the show was, how it didn't make sense, how there was so much going on you didn't know where to look. Still, for every negative review, there was also a positive one, and so Michelle and I went into the theater with open minds, not knowing what to expect but hoping to be entertained nonetheless.

The show was... a bit chaotic, to say the least. There was certainly a lot going on, and for the first few minutes  of the show, I'll freely admit that I didn't know where to look or what to pay attention to. Having not seen the Pedro Almodovar film on which the show is based, I honestly had no idea what the show was about or what to expect. The show was frenetic, with constant action and multiple plots and subplots being juggled simultaneously. It seemed almost to have a stream-of-consciousness feel about it, as if someone is telling you a story and keeps jumping from point to point and you're left trying to form a coherent picture of events. So, in that spirit, I present my very own stream-of-consciousness review of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown:

Oh look a taxi cab! Danny Burstein! You were so awesome in South Pacific, but I don't know how I feel about you as a blonde. There are so many people on stage... oh look, there's Sherie Rene Scott! I miss Everyday Rapture, but she's fabulous. Oh my goodness, is that Laura Benanti dancing in the wings? It is! But why can I see the wings so easily? Oh, it's because all these massive set pieces have to be able to get on and off stage. Hi, stage crew. Why can I see you? Why are you nonchalantly walking around on stage? Okay, Sherie's singing and her voice is so pretty. So is Brian Stokes Mitchell's disembodied voice. Oh wait, there he is. Wow, his character's kind of a douche. Sing Sherie, sing! Holy shit that's Patti LuPone! On stage. Like twenty feet away. Dear Lord, she's intimidating. Now she's looking over here, like right at me! Am I doing something inappropriate? I don't want to get LuPwned. Phew, she's looking somewhere else now. Tee-hee, it's Justin Guarini. God, that movie he was in was such a catastrophe, but it sounds like he can actually sing. Hahaha Laura Benanti looks hilarious running around in those ridiculous shoes.  She is so awesome. I can't even hear all the words to the song she's singing so fast... how does she not mess up? And so Candela is dating a terrorist, but what does that have to do with Pepa's relationship problems? Whatever, she's a goddess. Love her. Wait... why is Sherie singing next to a bed that's ON FIRE?! Surely that cannot be good for the vocal cords. And why is the damn thing on fire in the first place? I'm so confused. And now Brian Stokes Mitchell and Justin Guarini are singing about microphones. Such pretty voices, but this song is annoying. Not all women are fooled by a pretty voice speaking into a microphone. I'm kind of offended. But wait... what was the point of this song again? Whatever. Laura Benanti is awesome. Why are these women hanging from ropes? Laura Benanti is awesome. Isn't this dangerous? Who lets Patti LuPone swing from this rubber thing over the stage? Laura Benanti is --- INTERMISSION.


Okay, process what just happened. So...much...going on. I have no idea. Pepa is heartbroken and destroyed her answering machine, and is also pregnant. Candela is dating a terrorist. Lucia is suing Ivan, but for what I'm not sure. And Carlos is marrying some bitchy girl that he doesn't even seem to love. And the Taxi Driver is just kind of observing it all and Greek-chorusing the show. Okay, Act II, GO. Damn, Sherie Rene Scott can sing. You know who else can sing? Laura Benanti. Can she just come back and entertain us with her awesomeness for another hour? Brian Stokes Mitchell, you have a pretty voice, but your character is a tool. Why are there so many people on stage? Who are this girl and this guy on the motorcycle and why are they important? Are they important? Oh look, Laura Benanti! She's fierce. Haha, Danny Burstein just sang a line about "feeling like you missed something in the plot." He's got that right... what is going on? Whatever, Laura Benanti is still fantastic. Damn, Patti LuPone is freaking intimidating. Insanely talented, but intimidating as shit. So she's suing Ivan to get years of her life back? Metaphorical, but whatevs. I really like this song, but why did it just end without a big finish. It just kind of trailed off... bummer. Laura Benanti. At least the plot is making more sense this act. Laura Benanti. The farce aspect is actually pretty entertaining. Laura Benanti. Gazpacho can be dangerous. Laura Benanti. Laura Benanti. Laura Benanti taking her clothes off and doing a "sexy dance" is hysterical. Guns? Laura Benanti. Mary Beth Piel is awesome, but her character is pretty superfluous and unnecessary. Laura Benanti. Sherie Rene Scott. Laura Benanti.


And that, dear readers, is the hot mess that is Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It had potential and a freaking amazing cast, but there was just too much going on, and it resulted in an often incoherent story. There were too many set pieces and too many characters, which resulted in some serious talent (like Mary Beth Piel and de'Adre Aziza) to be wasted. There also wasn't all that much character development - I didn't feel all that invested in the outcome. The songs were good if not forgettable, with "Model Behavior" being the highlight for me. Basically, Laura Benanti stole the damn show with her incredible voice and great comedic timing, and her awesomeness was almost enough to redeem a whole lot of "WTF?" moments. Almost, but not enough, though it wasn't for a lack of trying. She gave 130% to her performance and made any time Candela was on stage the best part of the show. Incidentally, she's also a total sweetheart at the stage door, thanking us for coming and saying how "great it is to see young people at the theater. It makes me think it's not dying out." Between that, her performance, and her incredible "It Gets Better" video for The Trevor Project, it may be safe to say that I have a new Broadway idol. Despite the show's many problems, it was entertaining, and you could tell the cast was having a blast performing the material and is proud of the product they're producing, which I guess makes critical reception a moot point. If these people are having fun doing what they love, I'm not going to stop them.

P.S. - Patti LuPone? A one-of-a-kind stage door experience. She just sweeps down the line, signing randomly on your Playbill before getting in her chauffeured car and being driven away. Hilarious.

A comedic tour de force, one verbobo at a time

True confession: it was originally my intention to write this post in verse and rhyme. It didn't take me too long to realize that I do not possess the talent or ability needed to write in metered verse and make things rhyme for anything longer than a few lines. And yet that is exactly what David Hirson accomplished back in 1991 when he first wrote La Bete (please excuse the blog's tragic inability to accent the e. Believe me, I tried), a hilarious play set in 17th century France now enjoying a revival at the Music Box Theatre and starring the delightful Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley.

The main thrust of the play rests on the conflict between Mr. Hyde Pierce's Elomire (a clever anagram of Moliere, who's style is emulated in this work, btw), a playwright and actor in the service of the Princess (the lovely Ms. Lumley), and Mr. Rylance's Valere, a boorish, crass, and generally disgusting street entertainer who the Princess wants to work with Elomire to develop new material for the rest of Elomire's troupe. Elomire is offended and repulsed by Valere's manners as well as everything Valere stands for - the simple, unintelligent, flashy art that is heavy on the entertainment value but light on the substance. His distaste for Valere is evident from the very beginning of the play, as he speaks with his colleague Bejart (ably acted by Stephen Ouimette) about Valere after witnessing a tableau of his less refined traits at dinner. And then the man himself enters the scene... and proceeds to give a rambling monologue for the next 25 minutes.

I'm not even kidding. Mark Rylance spoke uninterrupted for a solid 25 minutes. It was a stunning display of acting, a true masterclass in comedy as Valere spoke on and on about his life story. He rambled, he roared, he questioned, he answered his own questions, he ate, he expectorated food onto the stage in front of a disgusted Elomire and Bejart. He made up words (verbobos and francescas for words and chairs, respectively) and toyed with language masterfully. At one point, he went into an adjoining room off of the set's main library set and "defecated" into an urn. In fact, he did not stop his tirade until he quite literally shut himself into a trunk (at which point, Mr. Hyde Pierce's Elomire hilariously queried, "Is this a pause?") I have honestly not laughed so much over a piece of theater, much less a half hour of it, in my life. I was in tears. Not only was Mr. Rylance's Valere uproariously boorish and cringe-inducingly inappropriate, but Mr. Hyde Pierce and Mr. Ouimette pulled off the difficult feat of reacting purely with their expressions and body language while still conveying their utter distaste for the man. It was amazing.

The rest of the cast was delightful as well. Ms. Lumley was adorably ridiculous as the pampered Princess who demands that Elomire accept Valere into his troupe and, when Elomire balks at her request, commands Valere to put on one of his "famous" (read: pulled out of Valere's ass) works using the rest of Elomire's troupe. They put on an utterly ridiculous performance of a nonsensical work that Valere makes up as he goes along, and it is highly entertaining. My favorite supporting character, however, is the servant/maid Dorine, who speaks only in words that rhyme and otherwise relies on an exaggerated pantomime to get her point across. For instance, her attempt to tell Elomire that the Princess had arrived by shouting "BLUE!" and gesticulating wildly to indicate bleeding (the phrase was "blue blood") was awesome. Greta Lee's portrayal of Dorine's exuberance and later exasperation with Elomire's inability to understand her was wonderfully conveyed.

Despite its seemingly ridiculous plot and gut-busting humor, which could easily relegate the show to being a farce with lots of laughs but little meaning, La Bete still manages to contemplate serious questions about art. In one of the final scenes of the show, Elomire delivers a passionate defense to the Princess of his troupe and his "serious" plays that are, to him, far superior to anything Valere could ever produce. He argues that pieces of theater, or any art for that matter, that rely on the audience's enjoyment of the crass and vulgar to entertain, are dangerous and do a disservice to art as an entity. Art, he maintains, needs substance and meaning. It must have a purpose that is greater than mere entertainment. It must have a message, a moral, a lesson. Listening to Elomire's words, one cannot help but contemplate the issues he is raising. What do we consider to be art? More importantly, what constitutes good art? Does our current culture value entertainment, even of the most crass nature or in its least challenging form, over art with substance?

Given our culture's propensity for the stupidest reality shows (Jersey Shore or Real Housewives of [Insert location here], anyone?) over more substantial entertainment (such as the delightful and powerful drama Parenthood, which is rumored to be on the verge of cancellation), I can't help but think that Elomire has a point. At the same time, I can't begrudge the joys of simplistic entertainment, even if it is vulgar. I love "that's what she said" jokes just as much as the next person (perhaps even more so), so I admit that I'm not always the most high-minded in what I find funny. But all that aside, what is the audience supposed to think of La Bete itself, which simultaneously relies on the highbrow and lowbrow to provide humor? The dichotomy provides such an interesting dynamic and, if an audience member were so inclined, prompts real thought about just what kind of play La Bete is, and just what message it is attempting to convey. And really, isn't that what art is supposed to do?

Also, Michelle and I are calling this now: Mark Rylance - Tony Award winner for Best Leading Actor in a Play 2011. You heard it here first.

And he's not a scary rockstar anymore.

There are a few events that Hillary and I will do ANYTHING to avoid missing. Eating an early Thanksgiving dinner in the dining hall is one; catching the mad sale prices at Old Navy in honor of their 16th birthday is another. And doing everything we can to support the cast members of Next to Normal is a third.

Unfortunately (or fortunately...), neither of the first two items are relevant to this blog. As such, we will ignore that little side note and carry on with the main event.

(Photo credit to BroadwayWorld)

Louis Hobson has been with the cast of Next to Normal since the show played Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage in late 2008. On Wednesday, he made his New York concert debut at Joe's Pub. To put it mildly, we wouldn't have missed it for the world. And what a fantastic night it was! If you've ever listened to or seen Next to Normal (if you haven't, put your life on hold and get on that, please), you've heard the very surface of Mr. Hobson's range in songs like "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling," his section of "Light," and of course, his Doctor Rockstar riffs. While Hillary and I adore his performance in the show, we've been dying to hear him sing material outside of Tom Kitt's gorgeous score, and his show, which lasted just over an hour, satisfied our musical palates and left us wanting to hear more.

Mr. Hobson's set list took the audience through songs that have shaped his life as a performer and a person, which left room for quite a wide variety of styles. I've been trying to narrow down my favorite songs since last night, and as usual, I'm terrible at it. I loved them all! Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" showed off his rockstar voice, while Harry Connick Jr.'s "We Are In Love" honored his love of jazz. "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin, "The Next Ten Minutes" from The Last Five Years (accompanied by the ridiculously talented Meghann Fahy), and "The Riddle Song" from Floyd Collins (with Jason Danieley, who played Homer in the 1996 off-Broadway production) were awesome choices from some perhaps not-so-well-known musical theater pieces that we know and love. I got a sense of what might be on Mr. Hobson's iPod as he sang Iron & Wine's "Naked As We Came," the much-covered "Wonderwall," and Glen Hansard's "When Your Mind's Made Up." His cover of Regina Spektor's "Us" may well be in my top five favorites from the night. And present and former co-stars Adam Chanler-Berat and Alice Ripley stepped in to add their voices to the Beatles' "Help!" and "Blackbird," respectively. Each guest star complemented Mr. Hobson perfectly, and it was clear that the songs he shared with each of his co-stars were meaningful.

And then, there was the encore. By the time Mr. Hobson joined the Next to Normal team, after the show played at Second Stage Theatre, the song that the musical had originally taken its name from had been cut. But after waiting for two years, we finally got to hear what his rendition of "Feeling Electric" sounded like. And damn, it was good.

At the end of the night, Mr. Hobson was a true rockstar (albeit not a scary one) as he captured and charmed the sold-out room with his awesome, awesome voice. Our only criticism would be of the amendments to the Joe's Pub menu since our last visit to the intimate music hall. (Bring back the fries, please! Although the fruit cobbler was quite delicious.) On the day that Next to Normal officially received its closing announcement, there was nowhere else that Hillary and I could have imagined spending our evening - in the company of good friends, good music, and talented performers that we've come to love over the past two years.

"Green Day's in there!" (But actually...)

We know what you must be thinking. "Hillary and Michelle," you ask, "your last post was nearly two weeks ago. How can you possibly have gone that long without seeing a show or two?"

....surprise. We absolutely did not go that long without Broadway in our lives. And now that midterms week is over, we have some time to catch up on the incredible theater we've seen since our last update.

On September 19, we headed back to the St. James (in awesome seats - front row of the mezz! - thanks to a great student discount deal) and had the pleasure of seeing Van Hughes as Will in American Idiot. I had previously seen Mr. Hughes as Johnny, and while he was wonderful as the Jesus of Suburbia, I have to say that I enjoyed his performance as Will so much more because his characterization was completely different from Michael Esper, who usually plays the role. See, here's my problem with Will. To me, he comes off as very whiny and passive - arguably much like the other characters in the show, but while Johnny jumps a Greyhound to the Big City and Tunny turns to the army, Will is the only one who never (or can't) make an effort to rise above his situation. (Exhibit A: throughout the entire 90-minute show, he rarely leaves the couch parked on stage right.) When I saw Mr. Hughes play the role, I felt sympathetic for this lamentable character for the first time. First off, he looks younger than Mr. Esper, which makes Will less pathetic in my eyes because it's easier to connect with the "rebellion of youth" idea. (In a similar example, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to see Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp in the recent national tour of Rent, but even I had to admit that seeing two men in their late 30's playing characters who are supposed to be in their early 20's was a tiny bit odd and disconnected from the heart of the story.)

Secondly, it became very clear to me why Will is stuck in the situation he's in. At the beginning of the show, he's in "love" with his girlfriend, Heather, but completely immersed in the "lust" part of their relationship. When he discovers that she is pregnant, and reality sets in, lust is no longer enough to keep them going, and he just can't understand that. When Mr. Esper plays Will, “Give Me Novocaine” and the “I fell asleep while watching Spike TV…” section of “Homecoming” is sung in a weak little voice that, while beautiful and heartbreaking, tells me that Will is resigned to his situation and has given up trying to get out of the hole he’s in. Mr. Hughes, however, sang with the tiniest bit of edge, determination, and strength, showing anger rather than passiveness. For the first time, I really felt terrible for Will, because he truly didn't know how to move forward with the relationship, or his life - although he desperately wanted to. And by the end of the show, Heather has moved on (see "Rock and Roll Girlfriend"), but Will is still stuck. Suddenly, the metaphor of being a lifelong couch potato didn't seem pathetic any longer - it just seemed sad.

One other minor thing that happened at the show: we sat in the same row as director Michael Mayer, and lead singer of Green Day Billie Joe Armstrong and his wife Adrienne. No big deal. (Right after the ushers instructed everyone in the front row of the mezz not to set anything on the ledge in front of them, Armstrong proceeded to rest his feet on it. Win.)

A talkback, advertised under the title “Idiot University,” was held after the show, but unfortunately it proved to be a bit of a disappointment. While the opportunity would have been perfect to ask questions about the show to Mayer, Armstrong, video and projections designer Darryl Maloney, and actors John Gallagher Jr., Stark Sands, and Tony Vincent, the moderator only allowed time for four “questions,” all of which consisted of hardcore Green Day fans fawning over Mr. Armstrong. Of course, I can’t blame them for freaking out a bit at the chance to speak to their idol…but we couldn’t help thinking that, were we to finally meet someone we had admired our whole lives, we would want to come across as intelligent and level-headed. We also felt badly for the members of the creative team and the cast who took the time to attend the talkback, and were promptly ignored.

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Two weeks later, incredible lotto luck helped us to return to American Idiot and witness one of the first absolutely seamless transitions between musical theater and pop culture. As the pre-show announcement put it, "Oh - and by the way, the role of St. Jimmy, usually played by Tony Vincent, will be played today by Billie Joe Armstrong." The opportunity to see Green Day's lead songwriter and the man credited with the book of the show, let alone one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, perform in the show that he basically wrote, can be described as nothing short of electric. The sheer excitement and energy between the audience and the cast was reciprocal (maybe too reciprocal, seeing that John Gallagher Jr. jumped into the shopping cart as usual during “Jesus of Suburbia,” was spun around with a little too much force, and ended up crashing onto the floor). I have NEVER experienced anything quite like the show that day. During Johnny’s monologue right before St. Jimmy’s entrance, yelling and shouting could be heard from backstage; once the audience collectively realized that it was Mr. Armstrong, the entire theater was BUZZING with excitement – and then St. Jimmy burst onto the scene.

Upon the announcement that Mr. Armstrong would be joining the show for one week only, I honestly expected him to turn the show into a mere spectacle. Wonderful reviews from his first few performances had me intrigued, however, and I am thrilled to say that Mr. Armstrong is not only a true performer, but an actor as well. He seemed to be exactly the same height and stature as Mr. Gallagher, which made St. Jimmy seem more like Johnny’s dark side rather than an actual alter ego – a presence that is not always present, but always threatening to return. Considering who he is, I was particularly impressed with Mr. Armstrong’s ability to fade into the background when he wasn’t the center of the scene. He made St. Jimmy a very vulgar, mocking creature, yet still hilarious to the audience and attractive to Johnny. During several poignant sections of the show where St. Jimmy is sitting in the background, it was hard to tell whether Mr. Armstrong was crying, or shaking with rage. I particularly loved the moment before “21 Guns” when St. Jimmy snatches away Johnny’s guitar – in essence, taking away his voice – because he seemed so determined to reign Johnny back in, and yet so disgusted with himself. Vocally, he was excellent (um….DUH), although he didn’t reach for Mr. Vincent’s usual high screaming note in “Know Your Enemy.” Overall, Mr. Armstrong delivered an extremely raw performance in the best sense of the term, and I hope that he continues to pursue the story-telling side of music, both on and off Broadway.

A very respectful audience, for the most part, only added to the electricity of the show. It was incredible to see the talented cast of American Idiot giving the performance of their lives, energized beyond belief from taking the stage with someone that so many of them must have grown up idolizing, and receiving so much love and appreciation, with and without Mr. Armstrong on stage.

No painting you in a song: Johnny Gallagher at Rockwood.

Up until the fall of 2008, I had only been to New York City twice in my entire life. I'm not one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to see John Gallagher Jr. in his Tony-winning role of Moritz in Spring Awakening. I never got to see an Old Springs Pike show live, nor had I ever been to a small music venue such as Ars Nova or Joe's Pub.

In fact, the first time I ever saw Mr. Gallagher perform live was just six short months ago, when I bought a ticket to the third preview performance of American Idiot. And I really hope that these caveats don't detract from what I'm about to say about him as a performer, and a person. Because I'm not simply jumping on the bandwagon.

Mr. Gallagher's solo songwriting has stunned me ever since the first time I came across a video of his song "Constance," which is still in my top five favorites of his today. From there, I moved on to "Nothing Gold" and "Brittle Bones," "Everybody Loves You" and "Oblivious Blues." And of course, "That Time You Fell." (Those of you who follow me on Twitter will see the connection there.) I can remember sitting on my family's old computer in our basement and listening to these songs over, and over, and over, completely entranced by the honesty of his lyrics and the sound of his guitar.

As time went on and more songs were written, the awesome, awesome people who always seem to be present to film Mr. Gallagher's shows and upload them to YouTube allowed me to follow his career from a distance. When I finally made the move to college, I was closer to New York, but still seemingly eons away from turning 21, the coveted age at which I'd be allowed to enter the venues Mr. Gallagher frequently books for his shows.

But after three years' worth of YouTube videos, I turned 21 two weeks ago, and walked into Rockwood Music Hall last Sunday night for my first live show. Because the night's lineup seemed to be running very behind, Mr. Gallagher, accompanied by Thad DeBrock, didn't take the stage until well after his 11:00pm time slot, and I'm forever in debt to my wonderful, wonderful roommate, who couldn't even get into Rockwood but agreed to hang out outside until the show was over. I can't ever thank you enough, Sarah!

I'm not even sure how to describe the show, which lasted for just over an hour, except to say that it was everything I'd imagined for so long. After having the chance to randomly meet Mr. Gallagher twice in the past few months, I'm even more in awe of his kindness, his humble nature, his talent, and the incredible amount of himself that he infuses into everything he does. Anyone who is only familiar with his performance as Johnny in American Idiot will be floored by the range and vulnerability he offers in his original solo material, which consists of over 40 compositions. I've never seen a performer with as much honesty and frankness about life contained in his songs. They're the kind that go well with a rainy day, a cup of tea, and nothing but time to sit and listen and think. (Read: the best kind.)
I may have insufficient breath
For the words I've got inside my head
If they run out then we can kiss instead
- "The Buried Boy"
And it's tough, so incredibly tough
When you give and it's never enough
When you shiver 'cause you can't stomach the stuff
And you live too close to the cusp
I'm just trying as hard as I can to be what my gut might call a good man
If you have any questions, if you don't understand
Ask me like a person, I'll be happy to answer them
- "Close to the Cusp"

'Cause they say that the truth hurts
And we'll do everything that we can
Not to feel its light
Shine on us so bright
We've got to stay so blissfully unaware
Just to show we don't care
And I know now that you don't
You're too proud
You're too loud
You're too scared
- "Proud, Loud and Scared"

I need a longer fuse
And I need to slow down and choose
Which suit fits me better
Do I keep it all together
Or let loose?
- "Longer Fuse, Stronger Dam"

'Cause I'm crawling up through the dirt
Through the roots, through the wood, through the hurt
That I have bestowed on my friends and the girl of my dreams
I've been caught and crushed and uncleaned
Since I let 'em go
But I'm rising from the grave, rising to be saved
Rising so I can slave away all my debt
Dead for a year
- "Dead For a Year"
In all honesty, I couldn't possibly pick a single favorite song from the night. I could have stood there and listened for hours. A personal highlight was "The Buried Boy," as well as the final two songs of his set, "No Scorn" and "Still Sixteen," simply because I adore the way the former song slides into the latter, as well as a vivid time in my life that all three remind me of. The night also resulted in "Proud, Loud and Scared" being played on repeat this week.

Some fantastic pictures from the night can be found here, courtesy of TheRockNRollPictureShow. And a compilation of Mr. Gallagher's lyrics, courtesy of an anonymous blogger on Tumblr, can be found here.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Gallagher's solo career, I implore you to give some of these songs a listen. They will give you reason to reflect on your life, make your heart ache, lift your spirit, and cleanse your soul. To quote Almost Famous (please, PLEASE tell me you've seen it):
"But what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music."
And Mr. Gallagher, and his music, definitely have "that thing."

A weekend in the country...or another weekend in the city.

Over Labor Day weekend, Hillary and I had the chance to broaden our show horizons and see A Little Night Music at the Walter Kerr Theater.

With Bernadette Peters. And Elaine Stritch.

BERNADETTE. AND ELAINE. Theater royalty, people. Not to mention that I practically grew up on the 1982 movie version of "Annie." (Fun fact - I've now seen two of the three people in this scene live on a Broadway stage.)

Some of my favorite theater experiences take place when I go into a show knowing nothing about it, and seeing ALNM for the first time definitely falls into that category. I was not expecting the themes to be so modern/bordering on risque, which was a nice surprise. I was also not expecting it to be so funny, which was also a nice surprise. We both knew that Sondheim's lyrics would be complex, fast-paced, and generally genius, which they were. At some point, Hillary and I plan on sitting down with a newly-purchased copy of the cast recording and reading through the lyrics as we listen. (Read: we're such cool people.)

ANYWAYS, back to the point at hand. ALNM is a beautiful, beautiful show. The opening Overture/Night Waltz is absolutely haunting, as Hunter Ryan Herdlicka walks to a dimly lit center stage with his cello and plays a single sustained note while various other cast members enter, eventually blending their individual voices together as one. And then the waltz begins...just gorgeous.

It's only after seeing legends of the stage, such as Ms. Peters and Ms. Stritch, perform that it's easy to see WHY they are legends. The complexity of Sondheim, combined with the caliber of actors, makes this production a very special one. Ms. Stritch was absolutely hilarious as Madame Armfeldt, and I think we still have goosebumps from Ms. Peter's rendition of "Send In The Clowns," arguably one of Sondheim's biggest hits. A song about reflecting on the farcical nature and bitter truth of love gone by could easily become overdramatic, but Ms. Peters handled it with ease. (Sidenote: I was overjoyed that the audience allowed the song to come to its natural conclusion before applauding, rather than drowning out the last few delicate bars and ruining the moment.) She also did a wonderful job handling the humor of Desiree Armfeldt, and I wish I could have seen Tony winner Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role, because I feel that her portrayal might have focused more on the celebrity-royalty nature of Desiree as an actress.

Katherine McNamara was on as Fredrika, Desiree's daughter, at the performance we attended, and it's been decided that we're jealous of her life, and also that our accomplishments thus far in life cannot possibly compare to taking a curtain call multiple times a week with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

It's really impossible to single out other highlights in the cast, because each and every actor was so wonderful in their respective roles. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka plays the confused Henrik Egerman well and sings well too, and has one of my favorite lines in the show ("It isn't gloomy...it's profound"). Leigh Ann Larkin took complete command of the stage with her delivery of "The Miller's Son," an especially impressive performance considering the difficulty of the song. Alexander Hanson is the only member of the cast to have come to the Broadway production of ALNM straight from the West End production that closed in March 2009. As Fredrik Egerman, he played opposite Ms. Peters with great chemistry and good humor, and his expressive voice worked very well on "Now." And Ramona Mallory as Anne Egerman toed the line between appropriately naive and irritatingly naive perfectly in her Broadway debut.

I expected to leave ALNM merely glad to have seen such a well-known, well-respected piece of theater, a "museum piece," so to speak...but I'm actually quite taken by the intricacy of it all, and would love to return if given the chance. There's such a magical quality to traditional musical theater. Sondheim's work is still very much alive at the Kerr, even though...

(*SPOILER*)

Madame Armfeldt is not.

A shameless plug for some of our favorite people

All right, listen up, dear readers. This is important. As you may or may not know, Michelle and I are very, very big fans of the musical and songwriting duo of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (and by very, very big fans, I mean we're obsessed). They're amazing. They're fantastic. And they're also in the process of recording an album of their incredible songs. But they need help funding this awesome endeavor. That's where we come in.

If you are so inclined (and we hope you are, because these two are big up and comers in the future of musical theater) feel free to visit their fundraising project here to make a contribution to the funding of their album. If you're reading this thinking I have no clue who the hell these people are - shame on you. Just kidding. But seriously, if you are not hip to the awesomeness that is Kerrigan and Lowdermilk, check out their YouTube page here. It's filled with videos of their songs being sung by super awesome Broadway and indie music talents, many of whom will be singing on their CD. You can also check out their website at www.kerrigan-lowdermilk.com for more information on their work. We highly recommend that you do.

Okay, that's the end of our shameless plug. We will soon return to our regularly scheduled programming. Thanks for reading, and please help fund this amazing project!

The one where Michelle and Hillary finally see Meghann Fahy

So... Michelle and I officially have no willpower.

After seeing Next to Normal last weekend, we told each other that we wouldn't go back and see it for at least a month. But then this past Saturday, we were in the city to see A Little Night Music (which was absolutely wonderful, by the way - expect a post on that in the near future), and we of course had to make a detour past the Booth Theatre. And Brian Crum was on for Henry. And Meghann Fahy was going to be on (who we've been trying to see for over a year without success). And the lotto had been kind of sparse at the matinĂ©e. So we spent about five minutes rationalizing why it would be okay for us to break our week old pact and see the show again (honestly, it's not like it took much rationalizing or persuasion. We're always down to see this show again.) And so that is how we found ourselves putting our names into the ticket lottery for the second time in a week. Lotto was way more busy that night than it had been at the matinĂ©e, and we were kind of nervous about not getting tickets, but then, much to our great surprise and even greater delight, my name was the first name pulled (which never happens, so y'all should recognize this momentous occasion for what it was - epic). Whatever. Michelle and I were in, and we were finally going to see Meghann Fahy go on as Natalie. We were stoked, and I was practically shaking with anticipation (so I'm a total theater geek. Sue me.) It had been such a long time coming, and my expectations, after all I'd read and heard about her performance, were insanely high.

She delivered. Actually, she exceeded my expectations. Jennifer Damiano will probably always rank as my favorite Natalie because of the sheer number of times I have witnessed her performance and the way I watched her grow into that role, but Ms. Fahy is a very, very close second. Her performance was incredible. Her voice was amazing. She belted with ease and never sounded strained. She blew the roof off during "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" and she gave me serious goosebumps when she came in during the finale with her "day after day..." line (which has always been one of my favorite parts of the entire score. There's just something about the lyrics combined with the music that is just awesome.) But beyond her voice, her acting of the role was just phenomenal. Of the three Natalies I've seen - Jennifer Damiano and Mackenzie Mauzy being the others - Ms. Fahy's was probably the best acted. Her Act I was impressive, but her Act II was even better. She delivered her lines with the right amount of sarcasm and humor, but she also tapped into the anger, sadness, and vulnerability that Natalie struggles to hide throughout the show. Her "Song of Forgetting" was particularly awesome, not only because she said "I mean, Portland?" with real incredulity, but because during Dan's line, "we saw the painted desert, the Grand Canyon, and Aunt Rhonda, and Nat learned what her middle finger meant," she subtly gave her father the finger while scratching her nose. Hilarious.

Speaking of her interaction with her on-stage father, Ms. Fahy and Mr. Danieley played so well off each other. There were some light, incredibly realistic father-daughter moments during "It's Gonna Be Good" and "Song of Forgetting" that, in my mind, defined the relationship between Natalie and Dan and really set the stage for their bonding and reliance on one another at the end of the show. I truly felt that they would be okay with it being just the two of them.

The rest of the cast was, as per usual, fantastic. Ms. Mazzie's performance really grew on me the second time around, Mr. Danieley continued to deliver an incredible performance, Louis Hobson continued to be incredibly consistent as the doctors, Brian Crum was adorably stoned and devoted as Henry, and Kyle Dean Massey continued to give me goosebumps with his upper-register notes at the end of "I'm Alive" and "Light." I can't wait to return to the Booth again, although not until October this time. For real.

No seriously, we're waiting a month this time, Michelle. No exceptions.

The new cast of "Next to Normal" - it's gonna be good... again

One of the reasons Michelle and I were so eager to get back to school and, therefore, back to New York City, was so that we could revisit the magic of the Booth Theatre and Next to Normal for the [number redacted for fear of incredulous disbelief and serious eye rolling] time, now with new cast members and real-life married couple Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley as Diana and Dan Goodman, and Meghann Fahy taking over for Jennifer Damiano as Natalie Goodman. It is a rarity to have a replacement cast be just as good as the original, and yet all reviews we had read indicated that this was, in fact, the case. We were so incredibly excited to see the new cast, particularly Meghann Fahy because, despite having been the understudy for Natalie since the show opened, we had yet to see her go on. However, upon winning lotto tickets and entering the box office to purchase them, we read on the understudy board that Mackenzie Mauzy would be going on for Natalie in the place of Meghann Fahy. Our quest to see Ms. Fahy in the role continues, but rest assured we will one day be successful, and Ms. Mauzy was truly wonderful in her portrayal of the youngest Goodman.

But before I get more in depth with Ms. Mauzy's take on the role, I want to first address the two fine actors who play her parents, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. Let's start with Ms. Mazzie, shall we? I had read so many wonderful things about her on message boards and in the New York Times review of the new cast, so I went into the show with high expectations for her performance. While I was impressed and enjoyed her portayal of Diana immensely, I was not as blown away with her performance as I was with Ms. Ripley's and especially Ms. Phillips'. Physically, Ms. Mazzie appears to be the love child of Alice Ripley and Sherie Rene Scott, both in looks and in the tone of her voice. She made some interesting choices in terms of belting notes or using her head voice, and each change brought a different interpretation to the line or song. Her Diana was also a more bitter, angry one than the one embodied by Ms. Ripley or Ms. Phillips. She seemed to be fed up with her illness and the way that it was controlling her life, but at the same time she seemed resigned to the fact that her illness was a permanent part of her life. She was like a ticking time bomb, a slow simmering volcano filled with repressed rage, and it wasn't until "Why Stay?/ A Promise" that her anger and frustration boiled over into an explosive performance. From that song until the end of the show was, in my mind, the strongest part of her performance. Honestly, I loved her voice and acting choices, but there was just one thing about Ms. Mazzie that I did not enjoy; however, it wasn't even really a part of her performance. It's just... she moves her lips and mouth when she's singing. Like a lot. And it was just kind of distracting. Still, I enjoyed her take on the role, and I look forward to seeing her perform again in the future.

As for Mr. Danieley, the only thing I can really say is that I was so incredibly moved by his performance. I haven't felt so much sympathy for the character of Dan since Bobby Spencer was in the role. Besides having an absolutely incredible voice, his depiction of Dan was that of one man's slow descent into despair. His Dan seemed very optimistic at the beginning of the show; he really seemed to believe that Diana's episode in the opening number really was "just a blip." Mr. Danieley's Dan was not as time tested or weary as previous incarnations of the character have been, and that made his struggle to fight Diana's illness and hold his family together all the more heart-wrenching. I really felt he was the consummate family man, trying to do right by his family no matter what the cost. He added so many small, touching moments to the show, particularly right before "Light," when Natalie comes home to find her father sitting alone, her mother having left them both. When Natalie asks her father if her mom has left, Dan replies with a tearful, "yes." What was so tear-jerking about Mr. Danieley was that he then followed that up with an even more tearful "I'm sorry" to his daughter as she sought to comfort him, as if he were apologizing not only for his wife's abandonment but also for his tears, for showing weakness in front of someone he is always supposed to be strong for. I found that moment to be so achingly real, and it really made me love his performance even more.

Last, but most certainly not least, Mackenzie Mauzy was an absolute gem as Natalie. It was the first time I had seen anyone other than Jenn Damiano in the role, and so I was a little unsure of what to expect. I thought it was going to be incredibly weird to see someone else in the role, but as it turns out, I was completely wrong. Ms. Mauzy embodied Natalie as if she had been playing the role for months instead of it being the third time she had actually gone on. She seemed to be very comfortable in the role, and whether that is a testament to her ability or to the fact that this cast meshes seamlessly together no matter who is playing what role, I can't say. What I can say is that I loved her take on Natalie. Whereas Jenn Damiano gave a more muted, even, and emotionally subdued performance, Ms. Mauzy's Natalie was more outwardly emotional, and displayed more of the "teen angst" befitting a sixteen year old girl. Vocally, she was stunning; perhaps a little sharp at times, but I'll just attribute that to residual nerves. But it was her acting that completely made me fall in love with her take on the character. I have always connected with Natalie as a character (not that I have any personal experience of familial mental illness, but I think dysfunctional families, in any capacity, is something that almost all people can relate to), probably because we are roughly the same age and she shares my tendency for snark and sarcasm. Ms. Mauzy brought all that sass to the forefront of Natalie's character, but she also displayed true sadness and frustration with her mother's condition. It is hard to pinpoint one line or part of her performance that really stood out for me acting wise - it was all strong. There was just something about her line delivery, and the inflection in the words, that really struck a chord with me. I feel truly lucky to have seen her go on for this role, as I know it is something I may not be able to experience again.

Having Ms. Mazzie and Mr. Danieley take over the roles of Diana and Dan, respectively, and seeing Ms. Mauzy as Natalie alongside her on-stage brother Kyle Dean Massey as Gabe, I was struck by how physically similar Dan and Gabe, and Diana and Natalie are. In the past, I have always found that the similarities were more between Diana and Gabe, and Dan and Natalie, and that made sense to me because of the similarities of their character and also because Gabe really was a part of Diana's fractured mind and soul. Seeing Gabe bear such a resemblance to his father underscored the rift between the two of them, and the same was true for Diana and her daughter. Whenever people question how I can see the same show so many times (yes, mom, I'm talking about you), I reply that I discover something new about the show every time. This is one of those things. My perception of the show and its characters were different this time than they had in the past purely because of the actors playing the roles, and I think that says a lot about the power and depth of this incredible piece of musical theater.

Lastly, and to sum up this epically long post, I just have to give a shout out to the cramazing new note Kyle Dean Massey reaches at the end of "I'm Alive." Michelle and I have always gotten chills when Mr. Massey belts out "Shine!" during the show's finale, but this note was so unexpected and it completely blew us away (Michelle actually turned to me and exclaimed "Holy shit!" when it happened. I, in turn, busted a gut trying to not to laugh while nodding my head in emphatic agreement. It was unreal.) Mr. Massey has a truly incredible voice, and he has completely taken over the role of Gabe and made it his own. I am never disappointed by his performance, or that of anyone else, and I am once again eagerly anticipating my return to the Booth.

We hella ♥ American Idiot.

We're baackkkkk!

The lazy(ish) days of summer are a thing of the past, and school is back in session. Which means that Hillary and I are once again living only two hours from the Big Apple. Which means....well, you can probably figure it out. Expect a multitude of posts over the coming months as we resume our frequent excursions to the city and catch up on the shows we didn't have a chance to see over the summer!

First, though, we had to pay a visit to some old familiar faces. It was only appropriate that our first trip of the semester included two shows that we had fallen in love with over the course of last year. After spending the afternoon with the new cast of
Next to Normal, we returned to the St. James to see American Idiot from excellent lottery seats in the second row.

We've said it before, and there's no other way to say it -
American Idiot screams its message loud and proud. In a way, sitting so close to the front for the majority of times we've seen the show has spoiled us. Seriously - after having Chase Peacock, Sidney Harcourt, and Miguel Cervantes singing fiercely and punching the air three feet away from you during the title song, well, no other seat in the house can really compare.

Due to the intense physicality of the show, understudies play a key role in the show. We were fortunate to catch Andrew Call as the Favorite Son, as well as Omar Lopez-Cepero in Wallace Smith's usual track, Sidney Harcourt in Declan Bennett's usual track, and Gerard Canonico doing double-duty in Theo Stockman's usual track as well as his own.

I'd already seen
Gerard!Theo once before, and he is truly brilliant. In July, he went on opposite Aspen Vincent in Alysha Umphress's track, which was funny because they both have such small statures. This time, though, we really enjoyed the contrast between Mr. Canonico and Ms. Umphress. Exhibit A: she literally picked him up and threw him off the couch during "Too Much Too Soon." Win. Where Mr. Stockman owns the track in his own right with his intense stares and....well, "Theo-ness," Mr. Canonico takes on the role of a kid riddled with ADD who wants nothing more than to intrude on every conversation and focus it on himself. The humorous side he brings to the track, along with the It Factor that draws your eye to him onstage, solidifies Mr. Canonico as one of our favorite ensemble members.

After one of our
previous reviews of American Idiot mentioned our thoughts on the Favorite Son being played by actors of different races, we were excited to see Andrew Call in the role! It's always great to see ensemble members get their chance to step into the spotlight, and although Hillary still hasn't seen Wallace Smith, Joshua Henry's replacement (fresh from the recent and very-much-missed production of Hair), let's face it - that just gives us another reason to go back. Mr. Call's voice was smooth and slick, and he managed to create a depiction of the "clean-cut All-American" that was unique from those of his predecessors. Instead of drawing a strong connection to President Obama as America's most recent "favorite son," Mr. Call instead emoted the vibe of Mr. Corporate America, which was just as effective and perhaps more generalizable.

And now for something completely different. (No, not Monty Python, although we love that too.) What follows is a tribute to the ladies of American Idiot - the girls who rock out eight times a week, who redefine the somewhat cheesy phrase "girl power," and who truly add a new dimension to a cast in which the girls are outnumbered by the guys by nearly 2:1.

Rebecca Naomi Jones. Please watch Passing Strange, graciously captured on film thanks to PBS Great Performances, and you'll get an idea of what Ms. Jones is capable of. As the leading lady of the show, she exudes strength and purpose while remaining identifiable and appealing to the audience. We have an unbelievable amount of respect for the intensity and consistency she brings to the character of Whatsername.

Christina Sajous. She begins the show suspended upside down, forty feet above the stage. Oh yeah - while head-banging. Enough said.

Mary Faber. Another strong female figure in the show. She brings such a heart to the character of Heather, while staying edgy and refusing to compromise what she wants.

Alysha Umphress. Fierce and made of win for previously mentioned reasons.

Libby Winters. Two words - stage presence. Like Mr. Canonico, she has the It Factor, and it's hard to watch anyone else while Ms. Winters is doing her thing.

"21 Guns" and "Letterbomb." Two songs that proclaim aggressiveness, assertiveness, and general fierceness at the top of their soprano lungs. End of story. Tom Kitt's gorgeous orchestrations add a beautifully feminine side to Green Day's score.

Now that we've paid proper tribute to the girls, we'd also like to give a shout-out to Miguel Cervantes - first, in recognition of his parents, who must have been big fans of Don Quixote, and second, for the way he bursts off the stage with his animated portrayal of the Rock 'N' Roll Boyfriend.

We've successfully kept mention of leading man John Gallagher Jr. in this review to a minimum (that's a first!), but there's no way we could leave out the fun he was having during the encore of "Good Riddance." Not only did he put his stellar guitar skills on display during his solo, but he played the instrument behind his head.

Being two mere guitar amateurs, we can only hope to strum a few simple chords of "Ode to Joy," let alone follow in the footsteps of Mr. Gallagher's musicianship.

And on that note, we'll wrap up this epic saga of a review. We've gotta go learn the opening chords to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

"Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark" to swing into the Foxwoods (?) Theater... for real this time

It's official (again)! Almost a year after it was supposed to open on Broadway, the Julie Taymor directed monstrosity, Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark will make its debut at the recently renamed Foxwoods Theater on December 21, 2010 (I wonder if the fact that the theater was recently renamed means that they've found someone to foot the enormous bill this show is bound to create). To be honest, Michelle and I have been meaning to write about Spider-man ever since we started this blog. In fact, on our list of blog ideas, we actually had, and I quote, "the disaster that is Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark."

For those of you who don't know or who have been kept in the dark (see what I did there?), this show has a somewhat long but definitely sordid history, at least by our standards. When we first heard of this show, it was in passing, as in "oh, Bono is writing songs for a musical?!" At first we were all "say what now?" and immediately googled to find out the story. As it turned out, it was a musical being directed by Julie Taymor, and it was about Spider-man. Then we were all "is this in any way related to Kiss of the Spider Woman?" but it soon became abundantly clear that this was a musical about a comic book superhero, and we were confused. After all, this was supposedly a musical about a comic book superhero who swings around on webs that shoot out from his hands and gets into lots of fights with evil villains, often culminating with lots of explosions and blood and death. So, you know, typical Broadway fare... not. Our quest for enlightenment and understanding led us to discover that Ms. Taymor actually wanted to renovate the then-named Hilton Theater so that Spider-man could, in fact, web his way around the theater. At that point Michelle and I decided that while the idea sounded totally whack and typical of Julie Taymor, we would keep tabs on it.

Then came the rumors of financial trouble, of inexperienced producers misappropriating funds, of Julie Taymor wanting truly outrageous and ridiculously expensive props and set pieces, of bankruptcy looming in the show's near future. Still, development continued. Some dude named Reeve Carney was cast as Peter Parker. Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming signed on to play Mary-Jane Watson and the Green Goblin, respectively. Bono and The Edge were supposedly churning out new songs like the Duggars pop out kids, even though not many people had actually heard any of the music or knew much about the status of the production. It was apparent, however, that the show would not be ready to begin its first preview, much less open in February of 2010, as it was originally supposed to. And so it happened that opening night came and went without the show actually being performed, even though tickets had been sold. The status of the show was up in the air: Was it happening? Was the cast even rehearsing? And maybe even more importantly, what was the show even about?

It was truly a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. It also became an unintentional source of humor for us theater geeks. The show spawned a truly hilarious Broadwayworld.com discussion thread about understudies for the janitor and other construction crews. It also resulted in this, which upon viewing, made Michelle and I laugh so hard we cried:




Basically, this show was a hot damn mess. Months went by without the show opening, and yet the poster remained up in Shubert Alley (which, incidentally, caused Michelle and I to snicker every time we walked past it and say things like "Oh my gosh, can we go see if the understudy for the janitor is on today?"). Spider-man became the punchline of many of our jokes. Then it was revealed that Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming had both been let out of their contracts and had left the show. I began to wonder if this show was ever even going to see the lights of Broadway. After all, so much money had been poured into it that ticket prices were sure to be astronomical just to break even and be able to pay weekly operating costs. It was bound to be flop, if it ever even opened. Honestly, it really just seemed like a lost cause, one of those shows that never were and that, years from now, I would look back on and chuckle at what a disaster the whole thing it had become.

But now... the tides seemed to have changed. Patrick Page has been tapped to take over for the Green Goblin, and one of Michelle and my favorite young performers, Jennifer Damiano (!) has been cast to play Mary-Jane Watson. (Honestly, we're tempted to see the show just to see her, but only if they have a decent rush and/or lotto policy. We're poor college kids here, people). Full casting was recently announced, and the show began rehearsals August 16. Things are definitely looking up, it would appear.

Who knows, maybe the show that almost became one of the biggest snafus in Broadway history will rise from the ashes and become a hit. My bet, however, is that the show will struggle. Ticket prices, from what I have seen, are indeed steep, with premium seats selling for over $130. That's not to say that people won't pay to see the show, merely that the show may have trouble making the money it needs to stay open if people cannot afford or do not wish to pay such hefty ticket prices. While I would be happy if the show were to succeed (mostly, I'll admit, because I want Ms. Damiano to be successful in whatever she does), the odds already seem so stacked against it. It would take a, shall we say "superhuman" effort for the show to succeed, and I'm just not sure if that's feasible at this point.

Still, stranger things have happened on Broadway. Only time will tell if Spider-man will be able to overcome its tumultuous history and have a successful run on the Great White Way. In the interim, I just hope it continues to keep me entertained.

Another summer season come and gone.

A few posts back, I wrote a little bit about my experiences this summer interning for Pittsburgh CLO, one of the country's leading non-profit theaters. Since then, the past two months have flown by, and this past weekend, PCLO's 64th Summer Season came to a close. It's difficult to put into words how much I've learned, how little I've slept, and how much I've enjoyed every second of my internship-from tallying thousands of show surveys, to going out for brunch with a former boyband star, to watching audience members read my articles in their programs.

I've also had the opportunity to watch the performances of the incredibly talented people who came through the doors of the Benedum this summer. The extremely quick rehearsal-room-to-stage transition period creates a fascinating environment in which an actor must develop their portrayal of a character at a rapid pace. Since I just HAPPENED to be at the theater so much anyways (do I need a better excuse?), I managed to catch each of the six summer shows multiple times, and was able to witness the progression of the actors over the week or two that each show ran. In true PCLO fashion, each show had an extremely solid cast. I am truly in awe of each and every performer I watched this summer, and it's hard for me to believe that I won't be reading about each of them on the front page of BroadwayWorld in the near future. That being said, there were countless individual or duo performances that brought down the house every night.

So, without further ado...*drumroll*...I present my Top 10 List of Performers at PCLO This Summer, in no particular order:

1. Madeleine Doherty as Hold-Me Touch-Me in The Producers
Ms. Doherty reprised her role from the original Broadway cast of The Producers, but her performance was anything but stale. Really, any of the characters she played throughout the season popped right off the stage with the wacky mannerisms she embodied them with (see, Gym Teacher in Hairspray, Gretchen in The Student Prince). Look for her in the upcoming first national tour of 9 to 5!

2. Chad Johnson as Prince Karl Franz and Jacquelynne Fontaine as Kathie in The Student Prince
Okay, okay...I'm totally cheating by listing two actors together. Oops. Before rehearsals began for The Student Prince, I wasn't sure what to expect acting-wise from two star opera singers, but Mr. Johnson and Ms. Fontaine brought youthful innocence and refreshing honesty to their characters, and blew me away with their talent. And their voices...let's just say that I have finally begun to appreciate opera and how it is sung.

3. Ma-Anne Dionisio as Kim in Miss Saigon
Ms. Dionisio has literally grown up playing the role of Kim, and the maturity she now lends to her character made for an inspiring performance. She is also capable of conveying such a range of emotions with her voice, which aids in creating a strong female character.

4. Malcolm Gets as Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains
Mr. Gets is a true stage actor, with charisma that shot to the very last row of the Benedum's balcony. The style of his voice reminded me a lot of David Hyde Pierce, who won a Tony Award for the same role in 2007. His work in "A Tough Act to Follow" made the number one of my favorite scenes of the whole summer.

5. Michael Kadin Craig as Link Larkin and Katrina Rose Dideriksen as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray
(Cheating again...sorry!) Ms. Dideriksen brought such a spunkiness to Tracy, and sang the hell out of the score (no wonder she works with Joe Iconis!), especially "I Can Hear The Bells," "Welcome to the 60s" and "Without Love." Mr. Kadin Craig's Link was more toned down than past portrayals of the role, but it totally worked. His acting during the scene when he tells Tracy why he can't join the protest against Negro Day was PERFECT; it's immediately evident that he's not the kid who's popular because he's a stuck-up, football-playing stud, but because he's the hardest-working, focused-on-the-future kid who is also nice as can be to everyone.

6. John Walton West as Carmen Ghia in The Producers
Comedic brilliance. Mr. West's tall, lanky stature, combined with fluid, flamboyant movement across the stage, was perfection as Roger DeBris's assistant. He also nailed the delivery of his ridiculous lines and the interactions he created with other cast members onstage.

7. Jim J. Bullock as Wilbur Turnblad and Paul Vogt as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray
There's no point in apologizing any further-many, and arguably most, performances wouldn't be what they are without another actor or two thrown into the mix! Mr. Vogt and Mr. Bullock completely won the audience over on opening night with their antics during "You're Timeless to Me." Mr. Vogt's inclination for improv and Mr. Bullock's goofiness and honesty really brought Hairspray to life.

8. Kevin Gray as The Engineer in Miss Saigon
Mr. Gray is also a true stage actor, and although I've only seen him in one role, I thought he was wonderful as a character actor, in the best sense of the term. As the Engineer, his hidden allegiance to Uncle Sam, and greed, is so typical of the American way, but endearing at the same time - because he created a character that we as audience members could relate to.

9. Tim Hartman as Herr Lutz and Patrick Richwood as Hubert in The Student Prince
I couldn't have imagined a better comedic pair than Mr. Hartman and Mr. Richwood. With Mr. Hartman's imposing physical presence and Mr. Richwood's lack of height (hey, being short isn't such a bad thing!), they are perfect physical foils. Both men seem to be natural stage actors who project their dialogue and mannerisms to the back of the house, and the transfer of dominance throughout the show from Mr. Hartman's character to Mr. Richwood's was hysterical to watch.

10. Jim Stanek as Leo Bloom and John Treacy Egan as Max Bialystock in The Producers
Again...the perfect pair. (Way to go, CLO casting team!) I can only describe Mr. Egan's performance as dominating, in a good way - during "Betrayed," all I could think was, "How is he doing that?!" seeing that the solo number is quite an expenditure of energy. Mr. Stanek truly embodied Leo Bloom, and part of his charm lay in the fact that his story as a hometown boy who made it to Broadway nearly paralleled that of his character. And despite the hilarity of both performances, the pair managed to create a space for "Til Him" to be completely genuine and honest at the end of a laugh-out-loud extravaganza.

Honorable Mentions: Joseph Serafini as Oliver in Oliver! (reference his performance of "Where is Love" - what a bright future Mr. Serafini has!), Stuart Marland as Christopher Belling in Curtains (when it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing a certain character, you know the actor is doing something right!), and Rob Sutton as Aaron Fox in Curtains (what a stunning delivery of "I Miss The Music").

And that's a wrap! A cookie for you if you read the entire post...and since most of you are not from the Pittsburgh area, two cookies for you if you read the entire thing without having seen any CLO shows.

Pittsburgh is truly lucky to have access to world-class performers right in its backyard. Thanks to EVERYONE involved for a wonderful summer, CLO!