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Theater Monday: Waiting for Godot

I don’t think it’s possible to study French literature, and therefore by extension French theater, without studying Waiting for Godot. It is the ultimate play of the Absurd school. It is a play that happens nowhere, at no time, and is mostly deep and illogical dialog about, among many things, a guy no one ever sees, written in French by an Irish playwright. A Modern French Theater Study teacher’s wet dream.

Two homeless men, Vladimir and Estragon, are sitting beneath a tree, by the side of a road, waiting for a man named Godot, who is going to change their life, though they’re not sure how. The days pass, we’re not sure how many, and Godot never comes, always sending someone with the message that he will come the next day. It’s very deep and meaningful and everything, though I could probably use a re-read.

My strongest memory of the play is the time I’ve missed seeing it. When I was studying literature in college, the theater class required that every student see, and critic, a live play. The teacher organised a field trip to Montreal, for the whole class to see that play. (I can understand the purpose of the trip; it’s easier to correct the homework if everyone sees and writes about the same play. As for the choice of the play, well, see the first paragraph.) I couldn’t go, and I can’t remember why. I want to say that it’s because I had surgery on my jaw, but I know that’s not it, because it was the fall semester, and I had that surgery in February. Maybe I had a doctor’s appointment, to prep for the surgery?

The point is, I had to go see a different play, and I missed a lot of in-jokes over the next two years.

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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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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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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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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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