Monthly Archives: March 2014

Theater Monday: Les Miserables

Quick refresher: Les Miserables is Victor Hugo’s mastodon of a novel, painting the fresco of all humanity. It mostly follows the life of Jean Valjean, recent ex-convict who’s feeling a little savage when he finally gets out of jail after nineteen years (he broke a window and stole the bread inside, got sentenced for five years, tried to escape three times and saw his sentence increase with each attempt) but is restored to humanity by meeting a generous priest, and later by adopting the daughter of a girl he accidentally forced into prostitution and who dies of TB. There are a lot of other people he meets along the way, but except for the adoptive daughter, her future husband and his grandfather, everyone either dies or immigrates to America, and only two people take door number 2.

The only version of Les Miserable I knew, before 2012, was the movie with Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, and Uma Thurman. In hindsight, that movie is terrible and has only the most vague resemblance to the actual novel, and even at the first watch, I don’t think it impressed me that much. (I think I remember a French version, starring Gérard Depardieu, but I think that’s because Gérard Depardieu was starring in every French movie back then.)

The musical adaptation by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg is a completely different story. I felt a connection to the story that the Liam Neeson movie certainly hadn’t brought me. It makes me yearn for a Disney adaptation so bad. Just this once, everybody lives. (yes, I know that’s Doctor Who. Still appropriate.) And I’ve yet to see a really bad actor in that show. (There were one or two disappointing casting choices here and there, but no one was actually bad, imo.)

First, I saw the 25th anniversary concert, filmed at the O2. It played on PBS in either late November or early December, I can’t remember, but I had already made the decision that I was going to go watch the movie. So many amazing performers: Alfie Boe, Norm Lewis, Lea Salonga, Samatha Barks, Katie Hall, Ramin Karimloo, Matt Lucas, not to mention all the great actors in smaller parts!

Then I saw the movie version of the musical, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, and Aaron Tveit, among others, but I’m only naming the ones that made an impression on me. I didn’t hate Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe as much as others seemed to, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were all right but didn’t blow me away, and I fell a little bit more in love with the voices and the talents of Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks.

Then I heard that the musical was returning to Broadway. But first it was coming to Toronto. Ramin Karimloo, whom I remembered from the O2 concert, would be Jean Valjean! I was so psyched! I checked the site every day for weeks, jumped on a ticket the first chance I got.

The music was as great as ever, the actors were brilliant (Melissa O’Neil, Gevenieve Leclerc, Perry Sherman, Mark Urhe, Earl Carpenter; they were all beautiful and amazing!) and I only wish that my seat had been better. I was at the extreme left up in the balcony, so there was a 10% of the stage that I couldn’t see, among other issues.

And now Les Miserables has opened on Broadway. Am I going to see it when I make my Easter trip? Meh, probably not. I still love the show, but it feels like I just saw the show, and those I loved the best in Toronto didn’t make it to Broadway. The ones who did make it, Mr Karimloo, Samantha Hill and Cliff Saunders, they are good, don’t get me wrong, and everyone should see them at least once. Twice in six months, thought, that’s a bit much.

If Alfie Boe, whom I’ve never seen live but loved at the O2 concert, if he’d been Valjean on Broadway, that would be different.

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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Anything goes Friday: more short thoughts

Because it’s one of those days again.

– I started to write about how much I love etymology, but then I realized that it would take too long to qualify as a short thought, so I’ll probably cue up a post on that for next Friday. For now, I’ll only say that language is a wonderful, improbable, amazing thing.

– I was shopping today, and I bought a bunch of movies, including “Frozen” and “Saving Mr. Banks”, which I then proceeded to watch back to back. Disney studios, who gave you the right to do this to my heart? How dare you?!?

– Sometimes I think about the fact that the majority of the Tumblr users I follow are younger then I am, by something close to a decade, and it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Sometimes, I overhear some conversations between co-workers, about how a girl who goes to a club and asks for a friend to help her get away from the creeps is apparently a hypocrite because “she goes on the floor with a big smile on her face” and “she should stop asking for it”, or about how a five foot nothing girl got her ass grabbed by a six foot plus guy and “it’s so funny” because “you know how he is”, and it makes me feels sick a lot. And then I imagine putting this conversation on Tumblr, how the social justice warriors would tear it to shreds if they caught it, and it restores my faith in humanity. Because those co-workers I’m talking about? They’re in their late 30’s early 40’s. In 20-25 years, they’re going to be retired in some trailer park in Florida, while the current teenagers of Tumblr will rule the world. It can only be an improvement.

(Yes, the etymology bit would have been ever longer then that. I have a lot of feelings about etymology, okay?)

I think that’s enough for today.

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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Book Wednesday: The Jane Austen Handbook, by Margaret Sullivan

Aka, my favorite read of the week. A friend of mind grabbed this book for me at the library, and I might just pick up a copy for myself, because I really, really liked it.

Margaret Sullivan evaluates the complete work of Jane Austen, and mines it for information about the daily of the Georgian country gentry, supplemented by other material. Some of the information sounded more like a satire of Austen then like genuine reconstruction of the world of Austen. (The “how to indicate interest in a gentleman without seeming forward” chapter, especially, was entirely pulled from Pride and Prejudice, outlining the techniques used by Caroline Bingley to attract Fitzwilliam Darcy.) And as I’m not a big fan of satire as a genre, that bugged me a little.

Still, overall, it was a very informative and enjoyable read.

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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Theater Monday: Casting couch

Something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, but kept putting off, until today because the day feels right.

Welcome to the casting couch! Where I take some of my favorite musicals and dream up my perfect cast.

Today we are looking at Notre-Dame de Paris, lyrics by Luc Plamondon, music by Riccardo Cocciante, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The show has 7 named signing parts: two females, Esmeralda and Fleur-de-Lys, and five males, Frollo, Gringoire, Quasimodo, Phoebus and Clopin.

This show was played in London for a couple of seasons, and a shorter version was mounted in Las Vegas for about the same amount of time, and if I remember correctly, there was talk of taking it to Broadway, but that never happened.

Say the show was returning to London, and I had a chance to choose the cast. Who would I pick?

For Esmeralda: Samantha Barks. She’s a great singer, she can hit both the high and the low notes (this part is actually really hard, and I can understand that they cut the first part of the Bohemienne song, to remove the really low notes and allow the directors to cast sopranos as Esmeralda, but I don’t have to like it) and she’s really beautiful; I would have no problem believing that three guys fall head over heels over her face.

For Fleur-de-Lys: Katie Hall. This is a soprano part, who’s on stage for a very short amount of time and has to show a great deal of development, going from wide-eyed ingenue to dark and fierce scorned woman. From what I’ve seen of Katie Hall, she can handle it. And I love her voice so much, I want to see her in everything.

For Frollo: Earl Carpenter. This character is a combination of the blind righteousness of Javert and of the obsessive lust/love of a Phantom, and Earl Carpenter happens to be one of my favorite actors to have played both parts.

For Gringoire: Killian Donnelly. This character opens the show, and the actor playing him needs to grab the audience with pretty much nothing but his voice. That voice needs to be extraordinary. Killian Donnelly’s voice is extraordinary.

For Quasimodo: Fra Fee. The role was written for a new singer (at the time, of course, he’s become a superstar since) who was a very strong, powerful baritone, despite his young age. (He also had a very peculiar, gravelly voice, but you can’t ask for everything). Fra is another young singer who is a strong, powerful baritone, and I love his voice.

For Phoebus: Alistair Brammer. This part calls for a Disney Prince kind of voice, and he has it. Also, he’s good-looking, which is helpful when one plays a part who has multiple characters attracted to them.

For Clopin: Ramin Karimloo. The part was created by a rock singer, who brought a lot of raw energy on stage, which Ramin Karimloo can certainly bring. The part is also canonically stated to be a person of color, and this Iranian-born actor qualifies.

I also have a Broadway dream cast for this show, but it needs some work. So that’s enough for tonight.

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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Anything goes Friday: I love Ireland

So … I had a thing planned for today, but it didn’t work. So instead I’m just going to post something real quick.

I love Ireland. I’ve been wanting to go there for almost half my life. (That makes me sound terrifyingly old.) (“terrifyingly” is a word? English language, you are so weird. Anyway.) I blame Nora Roberts; about 15% of her entire body of work is either set in Ireland, or features a predominantly Irish character. To sooth the inner, and possibly outer, hipster, I’ll add that I’ve also read The Princes of Ireland, by Edward Rutherford. I don’t think I’ve read The Rebels of Ireland, though, and I probably should. I probably should re-read the Princes as well.

I also love listening to Irish folk music, and I started collecting albums right around the time I started reading Nora Roberts. Add that to all the photos in Google images, and, well … I’m going there someday. It might not be like the pictures or the books or the songs (in fact I strongly suspect it won’t be) but I’ll see for myself how different it is. Someday.


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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Book Wednesday: A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

I had a bit of a challenge finding a book for this Irish week I’ve created for myself. I wanted a book written by an Irish author, and set in Ireland, and one that I could read in a few weeks, keeping in mind that I’m working full time, which left out Ulysses, and that’s was the only Ireland-set, Irish author book I own. Thankfully, I remembered another author, one I used to have on my shelves (I loaned the book out and never saw it again): Maeve Binchy. I went to the library, and thankfully, they had one on the shelves: A Week in Winter.

A Week in Winter is ostensibly the story of a woman who opens an inn in her small Irish town, and of her first week in business. (I’ll let you guess the season.) It’s more a study of various character then a novel; when I think “novel”, I think “single narrative”, and this didn’t have it. Instead, each chapter told the story of one character, starting in their teenage years, if not in their childhood, and going up to a certain point in time, then the next chapter would go a little further in time, until the book ends, at the end of the week. This means that the strength of the story relied entirely on the characters, which are, for the most part, interesting and even likable in some cases. But even the unlikable characters make for a good read, and that takes talent.

The only downside, and I’ll admit it’s a serious point, was the end of the book. The last two chapters, to be precise. Up until that point, it had been made clear that the stories of the characters only loosely connected to each other, but with those last two chapters, it felt like the author was trying to bring everything back into one narrative, and tie it up in a neat little bow. The last chapter especially gave the impression that she was trying to give each character a magic happily ever after, and since the end point of each chapter already ended the character’s journey on a high note, that last chapter was overkill, in my opinion.

I still enjoyed the book, overall, and recommend it to everyone who wants several good examples of how you set up a character and tell its story in one chapter.

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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Theater Monday: Outside Mullingar

Last year, around Easter time, I took a trip to New York city, mainly to go see Wicked. It was an organized trip, and so a lot of my time was regimented. I’m going back this year, and I’m going to do the things I want to do, and I includes seeing more shows.

I thought it might be nice, while I was there, to see a straight play. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love musicals, but I also really like to see plays, when I get the chance. I did some research, and I found this show: Outside Mullingar, by John Patrick Shanley. The title grabbed my attention, mostly because it reminded me of one of my favorite songs.

Here is the description from the official website:

Tony winner Brían F. O’Byrne (FrozenDoubtMillion Dollar Baby) and Emmy® winner Debra Messing (“Will & Grace,” “Smash,” Collected Stories) play Anthony and Rosemary, two introverted misfits straddling 40. Anthony has spent his entire life on a cattle farm in rural Ireland, a state of affairs that—due to his painful shyness—suits him well. Rosemary lives right next door, determined to have him, watching the years slip away. With Anthony’s father threatening to disinherit him and a land feud simmering between their families, Rosemary has every reason to fear romantic catastrophe. But then, in this very Irish story with a surprising depth of poetic passion, these yearning, eccentric souls fight their way towards solid ground and some kind of happiness. Their journey is heartbreaking, funny as hell, and ultimately deeply moving.

It sounded right up my alley. I got really excited about seeing this play.

It closed yesterday. I’m not going to New York for another month.

So of course, what could I do but buy an e-version of the play and get even more frustrated at what I was missing? I really, really liked the script, it’s very clever, even if it does go on some weird tangents the way modern theater tends to. I’ve seen weirder. And how much of a bummer is it that I won’t get to see the play, to see professional actors reading the lines on a stage? Reading a play is not the same as watching one, I should know, I’ve done plenty of both.

ps: would anyone believe me if I said that, when I planned and drafted and scheduled this post, I didn’t realize that  it would get published on St-Patrick’s day? Because that’s just an amazing coincidence. I’m thinking about making all my posts this week Irish themed, in celebration.

pps: here is the song I was talking about.

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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Anything goes Friday: The ideal week-end length

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before; I have a day job, one I actually enjoy. It’s a clerical job, so I spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer, which is my natural state of being, but it also requires me to walk around quite a bit, so my legs and butt aren’t all numb at the end of the day. As an extra bonus, I am on a friendly basis with my co-workers, especially the two girls who are sitting next to me.

When I see them on Monday morning, I usually ask “how was your week-end?” While one of the girls answers some variation of “good”, the other always answers “too short”. After a regular two day week-end. After a three day week-end. After Easter week-end. The week-end is always too short.

I have to admit, I don’t understand that. A two day week-end works perfectly for me: I can sleep in a little, I have the time to run some errands, to read, or watch some dvd’s, or play some video games, and then it’s back to the routine of work. When I do get a three day week-end, I tend to spend the extra day lounging in my pajamas, doing various computer stuff. Sitting in front of a computer may be my natural state of being, but I still need to move around, and my apartment isn’t as big as the floor at my job, so even if I get the motivation to move around, I don’t have as much space. I always end up spending too much time sitting, so my legs and butt get numb, and at the end of the day I feel lazy and cranky and not that good about myself.

And then there’s the fact that a full week of week-end would not feel like a week of week-end. Even if you don’t have to go to the office five days out of the week, you have to settle into some sort of routine, and drudgery builds up, and you get bored and wish for a change, because that’s how the human brain works.

Maybe I’m the weird one here, but I suspect that I’m also the happier one in the long run: I don’t spend so much time complaining about the length of the week-end.

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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Book Wednesday: Dear Mr Darcy, by Amanda Grange

Jane Austen has only completed six novels, seven if you include Lady Susan, which I guess a lot of people don’t because it’s not often included in the Complete Jane Austen collections, and is more often than not put with the incomplete, Sanditon and The Watsons. And while it may take some time to read all of Austen’s work (I only read Emma last summer, and Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon last December, and I still haven’t read the juvenilia) and the work that is there is very re-readable, most Janeites eventually turn to derivative fiction.

While there are almost as many different kinds of derivative work as there are authors writing them, most of the time they can be grouped in one of three categories; the alternate timeline (the prequels and sequels), the alternate universe (Butterfly Effect stories, modernization, supernatural elements, and so on) or the alternate point of view.

Dear Mr Darcy, however, doesn’t exactly fit in any of those categories. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form. It’s extremely clever and well-written and the new characters created by Ms Grange (the original characters need someone to write TO, after all) feel like a natural addition to the story. I only have one real problem with this book: the letter from Mr Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet, the one that takes most of chapter 35 and turns the story on its ear, is missing. How can you write Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form and not include the letter?!

This one glaring omission notwithstanding (and wow, that is actually a word, the English language is weird), it’s one of the best derivative Pride and Prejudice work out there, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s read P&P and wants more.

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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Theater Monday: next to normal

next to normal (I’m not using capitals here because you’re not supposed to) is another of my favorite shows that I have never seen. I own the cast recording, and I have the script, it’s out in book format and I’ve but an e-copy, which is how I know that they recorded the cast album as they were putting the final touches on the show: some of the lyrics are different. But I’ve never seen it, in part because I didn’t know the show existed (more on that in a minute) and in part because I wouldn’t have been able to afford the trip to New-York even if I had known. Really, if I’d known what I was missing then, it would have broken my heart.

I learned about next to normal about two years ago. I was seeing various Youtube videos defending the casting of the Les Miserables movie adaptation, featuring bits of the actors signing. Aaron Tveit, who played Enjolras in the movie, was represented with the end of this really catchy song: “I’m alive”, from next to normal, in which he originated the character of Gabe. I really liked the song, so I dug around for more songs and clips from the show, and for information. And then I learned something.

I learned that before it went on Broadway, before it went out of town, before it was first played Off-Broadway, before it was called next to normal, there was a workshop for what was then called Feeling Electric. The name sort of sounded familiar when I first read it, and I realized why soon after: at the time, I was following Anthony Rapp on Twitter (on my personal account), and he was talking about Feeling Electric because he was one of the actors in the workshop. So logically speaking, I should have been one of the earliest fans of the show, but at some point before the transition between Feeling Electric and next to normal, I stopped using Twitter, so I missed the transition, and next to normal flew right over my head as a result.

So now I feel a bit stupid about my lack of knowledge. But, as I mentioned earlier, if I had known, I would have been heartbroken because I wouldn’t have been able to see the show. So it’s sort of a lose-lose situation, except that I still win, in a way: I have an amazing cast recording to listen to, and next to normal is a great show with a powerful message that you can still appreciate just by listening to the music. Also, Aaron Tveit has the voice of an angel, and he was great in Les Miserables. So, yay!

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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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