Hockadoos, Fireworks and Letterbombs!

So, I've been busy. Busy with work, but also busy Megabus-ing myself to New York as many times as possible! Having just returned from my fourth and final trip of Summer 2010, I thought I'd do a post that encompasses three of the shows I've seen recently that I'd like to discuss.

1. Hockadoo! Several weekends ago I bought a rush ticket for Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical. Having seen my first ever Broadway show at the Shubert Theater back in 2005 (the original cast of Spamalot, including the dynamite David Hyde Pierce and Tim Curry), it was a little nostalgic to return to the theater! (And also a tiny bit strange to be in Shubert Alley and not pay a visit the Booth, but that's beside the point.)

I really had no expectations going into Memphis, which was refreshing. I had talked to a few people beforehand who compared it to Hairspray or Dreamgirls, and Memphis is truly a hybrid of those two shows. It sounds harsh to say that it exceeded my expectations in terms of plot, but my only exposure to the show had been through their performance on the Tony Awards, which consisted of an ensemble of energetic dancers singing a rousing chorus of "Nah, nah-nah, nah, nah-nah nah-nah, nah." Fun? Yes. Substantive? No way to tell. In reality, the story surrounds an interracial relationship in the 1950s, which blossoms from a white man who wants to put an African American girl's music on the radio. As the tension builds between various characters - the white man's old-fashioned mother and the African American girl's protective brother, to name a few - I couldn't help but think that there will someday be musicals about the fight for gender equality, marriage equality, and other similar struggles throughout history.

But at its core, the show leaves audiences humming along to its final song ("Steal Your Rock and Roll," performed on the Tonys as mentioned above) and grinning ear-to-ear from its uplifting message. Memphis is such an easy show to root for, and it's easy to see why it won so many awards, especially in comparison to the other nominees this year. Even though the plot is somewhat predictable, and the songs have more or less been done before, the strength of the cast really turns the piece into something special. Montego Glover (who, contrary to popular belief, is in fact a woman! *end inside joke between Hillary and Michelle*) has an incredible voice. A friend who also saw the show thought that Ms. Glover overacted a bit at times (too *musical theater*), but similar to Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, I think that the character calls for a little bit of caricature, and didn't have any issues with her performance. Chad Kimball was a wonderful surprise-I have nothing to reference his Tennessee accent against, but I thought it, along with his acting, showed a great submersion into his character. Other standouts in the supporting cast included Derrick Baskin, J. Bernard Calloway, James Monroe Inglehart and Cass Morgan. And Sergio Trujillo's choreography is done justice by an enthusiastic cast of ensemble members who are riveting to watch, especially from the front row.

2. After several failed attempts to see In The Heights over the past year (things kept getting in the way, okay? Like Hair deciding that it had to close...or important understudy action at Next to Normal....or the Lottery Gods frowning on us), a friend won the lottery for us, and we found ourselves in the center of the front row at the Richard Rodgers Theater. The first and only time I had seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's brilliant work prior to yesterday was back in December of 2008, when my roommate and I bought standing room tickets to see Mr. Miranda himself perform. Two years later, however, I've listened to the cast recording enough times to be able to perform very pathetic versions of "Benny's Dispatch," "96,000" or "Blackout," minus the Spanish. So, it was rather exciting to go back to a show that felt brand-new to me - and to get to sit down this time.

After seeing his performance just a few weeks before he leaves the show, I'm honestly ashamed to remind myself that I seriously doubted Corbin Bleu when he was first cast as Usnavi. (And promptly became known as "Bleusnavi.") In fact, I don't think that Disney-ifying the main character of the show sat well with most fans of In The Heights, at least at first. But after yesterday, I can't wait to see what projects the young and talented Mr. Bleu tackles next, and hope that he'll return to the New York stage soon. The main difference I saw between his performance and Mr. Miranda's was that Usnavi no longer seemed like such an immensely pivotal character through much of the show, which gave other characters the chance to really shine. But by the time "Alabanza" came around, I was reminded of Usnavi's significant place within the world that Mr. Miranda created. He brought me to tears when he stepped out to begin the scene where he explains how Abuela Claudia passed away, as his own eyes welled with tears. And although his Usnavi was characterized as less wacky and more focused than Mr. Miranda's, the change in the way he carried himself after Abuela's death was very evident, and subsequently heartbreaking.

"Finale" remains one of the most significant moments I've had the opportunity to witness on a stage, and the former High School Musical star capped a wonderful show by delivering the poignant lines with style and a renewed confidence in himself, his heritage, and his purpose within his community. Well done, Mr. Bleu - for giving a truly heartfelt performance, as well as fending off fangirl mothers with grace at the stage door.

3. Back in June, I had promised myself that I wouldn't return to American Idiot until the school year began. Two weeks ago, however, we were wandering down 44th Street and happened to run into and chat with John Gallagher Jr., a personal hero of mine who was more humble and kind than I had ever imagined...and my plan of staying away from the St. James was thrown out the window. And although the Lottery Gods did not smile on us this weekend, the Understudy Gods did:

Yup. Understudies for three of the main characters, and five members of the ensemble in different tracks than they usually fill. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with the amount of new performances to take in.

- Van Hughes as Johnny - Since Mr. Gallagher has had a nearly spotless record of never calling out in any of the shows he's done, I knew this was a once-in-a-Broadway-lifetime opportunity to see a different take on the role of Johnny. The thing that I've come to realize about American Idiot is that each of the characters depend SO MUCH on the actors who are portraying them - thus, seeing a different actor play the main character has helped me to create a more focused vision of what I enjoy and what I don't particularly like in the character of Johnny. First off, I enjoyed Mr. Hughes' voice immensely. To my ear, it sounds very similar to Mr. Gallagher's, but a bit cleaner and more rounded. (Which is not to put down Mr. Gallagher's unique sound, however, because I do adore it.) His acting choices, however, did not seem to grab me as deeply. With Mr. Gallagher, Johnny is an obnoxious, whiny, overgrown teenager; with Mr. Hughes, Johnny came off as a bit more level-headed and subdued. While I truly admire Hughes for making the character his own, I just didn't think that his portrayal fit as well within the context of the show, or connect as well with the other characters. At its core, American Idiot is all about stereotypical teenage angst, played out in a larger-than-life manner, and I felt that Mr. Hughes's Johnny was just the slightest bit resigned to his situation, which didn't make sense in my mind. Granted, this was only Mr. Hughes's third performance as Johnny, and I would love to see him again once he's had more time to settle into the character. Based on my initial impressions of him, I also feel that I would enjoy his portrayal of Tunny very much. But for now, I much prefer a more outwardly-angry Johnny.

- Joshua Kobak as St. Jimmy - Terrifies me. Whereas Tony Vincent is startlingly skinny and spider-like, which works well with the drug use aspect of the show, Mr. Kobak is more of a muscular, physical presence, which results in a more crudely sexually manifestation of St. Jimmy. It was almost easier to understand why Johnny would fall under the influence of St. Jimmy, and aspire to take up his lifestyle, because Mr. Kobak's appearance alone suggests both sexual prowess and the image of a rock star. (Nipple rings, anyone?) He also resembles Mr. Hughes in stature more than he resembles Mr. Gallagher, which was a nice correlation. Vocally, I was impressed; at times he seemed to be trying to sound like Mr. Vincent, and while I would have liked to have heard a variation of that, he did sound good. Although I missed each of his entrances due to the partial view from my seat in the right orchestra, the intensity he brought felt like a punch in the face. I would love to see him go on again, once again after he has more time to settle into the role and his relationship with Mr. Hughes's Johnny, because there were times that the twisted connection between the two seemed to be lacking.

- Leslie McDonel as Heather - Although I love Ms. McDonel's energy and vocals in her ensemble track, I was not particularly blown away by her tonight. She seemed to have trouble reaching some of her higher notes, and I did not really pick up on how she chose to characterize Heather, even during "Too Much Too Soon."

Gerard Canonico in Theo Stockman's track was the highlight of the scrambled ensemble for me. Where Mr. Stockman comes off as the creepy guy (and I mean that in the most endearing, adoring way possible), Mr. Canonico in the track was obnoxious, hyper and constantly looking for attention (also said in terms of admiration). As much as I love Mr. Stockman, Mr. Canonico's fiery performance in the "Holiday" solo and "Too Much Too Soon" really wowed me.

Although summer in the city (shout-out to The Lovin' Spoonful) has ended for me, Hillary and I are very close to resuming our trips to the city together! I have to say that I'm proud of myself for managing four trips and seven shows in the past three months, without needing to resuscitate my bank account.

Although, September should take care of that problem shortly.


Hillary D. said...

I just have one thing to say: "save the drama for your mama."

Oh, and also: Montego Glover is a woman. The End.

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