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Theater Monday: Rent

Rent is one of the best argument I can think of, in favor of making movies out of musicals. Yes, things will inevitably get lost, choices will have to be made that not everyone will like, but it’s still important to make those movies. Do you know why? Because they help bring those shows and their message to a larger audience.

And I don’t just mean the people who can’t afford to spend 40 bucks on the cheapest ticket on Broadway (let alone the potential hundreds of dollars necessary for a trip to New York, because they don’t live there) but might spend the 10 bucks (or whatever) on a movie ticket. I mean people who don’t live in theater towns, who might not even be aware that a show exists. I mean 2005 me, who didn’t even know that Rent existed until I saw the commercials for the movie on tv. Yes, the musical had existed for 11 years at that point, and had been on Broadway for 9.

(A small aside: my mom was very surprised that I didn’t already know Seasons of Love. She was also surprised when I first told her that I’d never heard Defying Gravity before we went to see Wicked for the first time. It’s not like those songs play on top 40 radio, which is all we get around here. How did she know about those songs? Has she been watching the Tonys all this time?)

A decade later, I’ve still never seen Rent live, and some theater hipsters are probably judging me for that. But I do own a DVD of the movie (and I saw it in theaters, the week-end it came out), and the OBC recording (and i learned it by heart), and a copy of Without You, Anthony Rapp’s autobiography, and I’ve rented the “last on Broadway” DVD though I haven’t bought it. If you are “what you own”, then I guess that makes me a Rent fan.

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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Theater Monday: L’hiver de force

This play was a source of a particular experience in my life, one that still affects how I think about theater and actors to this day.

I was 17 years old, it was my last year of high school, and I had chosen theater as one of my electives. One of the great advantages of that class was that we were given group passes for the French theater season of the National Arts Center. We were going to see four shows over the course of the school year. L’hiver de force was the last of these plays. Based on a novel by Réjean Ducharme, it starred Marie Tifo, who’s kind of a Big Deal actress in Québec. Every one was excited to go.

And then, on the day of the expedition, the teacher tells the class that the performance is cancelled because Marie Tifo is sick. No exchange. (There may have been a refund, we weren’t told, so I guess I’ll never know.)

Most of the students had very similar reactions: “That’s not fair! We’re getting robbed!” “They can’t just cancel like that, because one person is sick. That’s unprofessional. It’s irresponsible.” “Who does she think she is, not even getting an understudy? What a diva!”

Me from the present realizes that the last one is a rather unfair assessment. If anybody is to blame, it is the director: he (or she, I can’t remember nor look it up) should have made sure that there was an understudy. I don’t blame Ms Tifo for getting sick, of course, but you have to have a contingency plan.

To take the most extreme example I can think of, in the first week of January, this year, 12 people in the Matilda the Musical cast were down with the flu. That’s just under half of the cast. That would have been a decent reason to cancel the show. And yet they didn’t. They called the understudies, they called the swings, actors were playing multiple parts (one actor even played five different parts in the same scene), and the show went on.

And yeah, I’m comparing a musical with a straight play and maybe it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I shouldn’t do it, but you know what? If that is the case, then it’s one more reason for me to prefer musicals to plays. At least I’m going to get what I paid for.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Theater Monday: Don Juan

Don Juan is a very popular literary character; the rich, cynical, hedonistic young man who makes a point to flaunt his lack of respect for the rules of religion and society. and his myth has been told and retold at least a hundred times since the 14th century.

The most famous version of the character, in the french-speaking world at least, is most likely the play by Molière: Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre. (Don’t ask me why he spells it with an M.) That was the version I knew best until about a decade ago, and I didn’t know it that well, really. Only the great lines: Don Juan was a libertine, he killed the father of a girl he seduced and then he had dinner with the father’s statue for some reason, and the statue dragged him into hell.

So when I heard that singer-songwriter Félix Gray was adapting Don Juan as a musical, and I began to hear the singles playing on the radio (which was about ten years ago), I wasn’t exactly pumped. I liked the songs, they were good, but I didn’t want to see the show. But I went anyway, because my grandmother got two tickets and invited me to go with her, and I couldn’t think of a way to say no. I’m really glad I did, though. By the end of the show I was crying. I don’t cry easily, so when I do, you know that you’ve done something right.

The Don-Juan-repentant theme of the musical would not have gone over well with the writers of the 15th, 16th and 17th century, but that’s all right. The Don-Juan-deserves-to-burn-in-hell-for-defying-authority-and-enjoying-a-good-time theme that they exploited is a lot harder to fly in this era. I believe that the myth stayed strong, the archetype is still so well-known today because it evolved with the time. There’s always room for re-invention.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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