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."