Category Archives: broadway

Stephen Sondheim’s Music

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I’m loving these videos from NY Times critic Anthony Tomassini, including the one explaining counterpoint. The video below made me itch to see Company and Sweeney Todd again. I love the tension in the dissonances in Sweeney Todd, as Tomassini points out.

There was a barber and his wife… and she was beautiful…

Best of 2008

And… I’m back! Apologies for the long absence, but I hope everyone had a great holiday like I did. I did a bit of shuttling back and forth from home (HOME home) and work, but it was all worth it and I managed to keep things up at work at the same time. Can everyone believe it’s already 2009?? It’s hard not to look ahead to the next year without being optimistic. But last year was a good one. On a personal and professional (i.e. non-blogging) level, 2008 was filled with a lot of frustration and struggle, but I ended up a much happier and stronger person. Last year was truly a year I can say that I really grew. That much strife is never fun, but if this year brings the same, I hope I’m ready for it! And what a great year this was for theater! Below are things that impressed me deeply. Let’s get on with it.

Biggest event of the year: San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival. Hands down, this event was probably the most widely written about event of the year. I attended opening night which was a blast being surrounded by critics I’ve read so much about. As advertised, it was an over-the-top, stupendous event that sent reverberations throughout the dance world, all of the world, with its 10 world premieres in three days by the greatest choreographers alive today. In another sense however, it was difficult to ignore a disappointment that no matter what, this festival could not live up to its hype. Crammed into three days, the pieces looked much more alive and urgently present when I saw the company later in the year, on tour. Despite the harriedness and the hype, the festival was simply awesome.

Best performance of the year: Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimet’s Giselle, especially the second act. Heartbreaking, heavenly, transporting, it was a performance that transcended this world. Tan and Helimets seemed to melt into each other, and it’s a performance I’ll never forget.


Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s Giselle. © Erik Tomasson

Honorable mentions:

Breakout stars of the year: two performers that unexpectedly floored me this year (which, as I see more and more great performers, is getting harder to do but these performers are phenomenal) – a tie between pianist Orion Weiss‘ vibrant rendition of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto with the Marin Symphony, and Isaac Hernandez‘s explosive yet brief solo as the Russian in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker who will be one to watch for the upcoming year.



Orion Weiss

Isaac Hernandez

A common theme for this year: the merging of science and art. From opera (John Adams’ Dr. Atomic), to ballet (Wayne McGregor’s Eden/Eden about cloning), and classical music (Turnage’s Three Asteroids) and even a choreographed piece of my own. None of these pieces were even created this year, but I’m slowly starting to see science’s influence emerge repeatedly in the arts.

Best non-ballet, non-classical musical event: Berkeley Rep’s Figaro. Yes, I realize my biases and preferences for ballet and classical music are clear, but there were other events that I thoroughly enjoyed as well, such as the genre-defying play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a company that continues to take risks and always presents something surprising, innovative, and relevant.

A special shoutout to: A great year for TV, especially PBS’ Great Performances. From the startingly poignant performance of Raul Esparza in the revival of Sondheim’s Company, to the magical broadcast of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, to SF Symphony’s opening performance of Carnegie Hall’s season, I’m duly impressed with the arts that are made accessible to audiences all over the US.

Most popular blog entry: Sascha Radetsky’s Last Performance with ABT by FAR - either he’s the most googled ballet dancer or he’s googling himself a million times, with my review of San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker the next popular blog entry with so many people googling it during Nutcracker season that it broke the record on my blog for the most number of hits in one day.

Most anticipated events for 2009:

  • Martha Argerich performs Ravel’s piano concerto with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony
  • the entire 2009 season for San Francisco Ballet which is, believe it or not, better than last year’s (especially the full length Balanchine’s Jewels, Swan Lake, and an evening of Mark Morris) and let’s not forget to savor the final year for Tina LeBlanc with the SF Ballet
  • Julia Adam’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Diablo Ballet.


Martha Argerich


My advice for 2009:

  • Support theater!! Buy tickets, drag friends with you, comment and discuss what you see either on this blog or other blogs, and don’t forget about smaller, local companies that are struggling in this dismal, arts-unfriendly economy
  • Do not buy pre-sale tickets for Wicked but wait it out until the hype dies down (and it will!).

What were your favorite performances for 2008? Anyone think I left something out?

Here’s to a year of innovative theater, unspeakly beautiful dance, and soul-touching music!

Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour

Last night, I moblogged from the frontlines about a protest that was occurring in SF, but it looks like my moblog entry is floating somewhere around cyberspace. I wonder when it’ll appear on my blog.

Anyways, last night I had the pleasure of seeing Dame Edna’s new show currently in previews in San Francisco called “Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour”. Acted by the brilliant Barry Humphries as the Dame, I knew I had to see this show after catching her on Broadway in her Tony nominated show, “Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance”, one of the funniest nights I’d ever spent in a theater. Satire is a delicate art, but Dame Edna fearlessly brings it on in full force. A self proclaimed megastar wrapped in a transparent disregard for the lowliness of others compared to her fabulous self, she’s lovable in her delusion and confidence. Audiences adore her for it, and we all secretly wish we could say things with such direct honesty as she does. With her brand of cheeky insulting humor that crosses far over the line, it’s always delivered so genteely and always “meant in the nicest of ways”. The show soars in the best of moments in her unscripted intimate conversations with people in the audience (and even to an outsider on the phone). As with her previous Broadway show, this show is another chance to see her in all her glory – nothing new perhaps, but she never gets old and the laughs are just as fresh.

Since the show was only on its second night in previews there are a few kinks to be worked out, including the pacing of the show and the running gag with Dame Edna’s unruly jail-uniformed daughter, Valmai (acted by Erin-Kate Whitcomb), that is sometimes squirm-in-your-seat uncomforable, with Dame Edna and her pianist, Andrew Ross, coming off a bit prison guard-ish against her unpredictable behavior to make sure the show runs smoothly. I love to see Dame Edna with her perfect self image with blind spots to her own shortcomings, but here she humanly but not-in-a- Dame-Edna sort of way admits her shortcomings as a mother and occasionally come off as a bit mean to her disappointing daughter. My personal recommendation is to see this show after previews, although even if no changes are made to this show, it is totally worth going to see this show just to see the Dame herself in all her fabulosity. The show also ended in a poignant moment where Barry Humphries himself makes an appearance to take a final bow, that had me briefly panicking that perhaps this really is Dame Edna’s last tour. I REALLY hope not.

My favorite Dame Edna moment of the night outside the theater occurred on our Bart ride home. I was holding a Dame Edna gladiola, and outside through the window, I saw another guy holding a gladiola. We both shared a “trembling gladiola” moment. :) It’s this moment of connection that I’m sure Dame Edna would approve of, as her love and charm continues to get shared to audiences all over the world. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have Dame Edna host the Academy Awards? That would be something – seeing her gently tease all the big celebrities.

Another note – if you don’t want to be singled out and made fun of (or made to kiss a stranger), avoid the first 10 rows like the plague.

Some Dame Edna quotes:

  • “Never be afraid to laugh at yourself; after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”
  • “My show is like an intimate conversation between two friends, one of whom is a lot more interesting than the other.”
  • To Sigourney Weaver: “Actresses of a certain age start to find their parts starting to dry up.”
  • To a pretty young girl: “You are every father’s nightmare, and every uncle’s dream.”

Other links:

Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour continues at the Post Street Theater until January 4.

Proposition 8 and The Color Purple

Everyone knows that I hate talking about politics on this blog but in this instance, I really can’t keep my mouth shut on this one. My friend who’s a Sacramento news anchor just called me to see if I knew anyone who she could quote on the evening news tonight, and I did some research. The artistic director of the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento has donated $1000 in support of Proposition 8. I find this highly ironic/confusing/depressing, considering the current production that is playing there includes a lesbian love storyline in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Read more here and here from one of the writers of Avenue Q who spoke with the artistic director himself, which will be playing at the CMT this spring.

UPDATE: Scott Eckern quits! A bit of a shocking turn of events. I attended The Color Purple last night at the California Musical Theatre, and not only was it a really full house, but there was a small group of protesters almost a block away after the performance with “No on Prop. 8″ signs. I went not to support the artistic director’s actions, but to support the theater community as I always do.

Sondheim’s Assassins, the American Dream, and the recent election

I couldn’t help but to wonder if recent election results dampened the urgency of the message in Sondheim’s Assassins, as I watched the excellent production put on by Sacramento’s Artistic Differences. This musical explores the seedier underworld of American history, focusing on the motivations of people who have attempted, successfully or not, to commit the most egotistical of crimes, to kill the most powerful person in the world. In the land of opportunity, these characters highlight the doubt in the American dream that everyone gets the same chance to be great, and shows that this isn’t accessible to everyone, including immigrants, outcasts, and young people rejected by their family. Obama’s recent election softens this message a bit because he proved that anyone CAN be president. I still found the message to be extremely current especially for a musical written many years ago.

To fight against the creed, “living lives of quiet desperation”, these men and women claw and clamor to make themselves important in their own way. As an audience member, it’s unsettling to be able to relate to these characters at all in their fight to be heard. I am in awe of Sondheim and his courage to even question America’s greatest virtue, freedom, to make the statement that a completely free country includes living with the people who exercise their freedom to kill.

Other links:

  • News Reviews review
  • Sarah Vowell’s excellent book, Assassination Vacation – I’m not much of a history buff myself, but Vowell makes history interesting and very very funny. Find out which assassin was a member of a sex commune who could never get laid. I wish Vowell had been my history teacher.
  • Assassins (2004 Broadway Revival Cast), with Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare, and James Barbour.

Artistic Differences presents Assassins. Runs through November 9. Click here for more info.

Spring Awakening: The National Tour

Blah, Blah, Blah

So much about this show has been written about before; if you haven’t read anything about this show, don’t let this be your only read on the show before you go see it. Based on a 19th century play by Frank Wedekind that was banned due to its controversial content, this Best Musical of the Year is as everyone describes – high energy, electrifying, edgy, sexy, and moving. These adjectives are relevant to the national touring cast as well, mostly because the cast is a strong one. However, watching it again on tour after having seen it on Broadway reminded me that even though this show can be transporting, it can be equally irritating. The saving grace of this show is that it is very very good at one thing, which lies in its ability to overwhelm and to pull the audience in their whirlwind of emotion. The rockin’ score helps, as does the amazingly visceral choreography by Bill T. Jones. Utilizing modern dance for a Broadway show can be perplexing depending on personal taste, but I found that through dance, emotion was embodied to an even deeper level than already told through metaphor and song. (This was already discussed in an earlier blog entry, where Matt had an understandable problem with the nipple circles.) Throw in controversial subject matter such as teen angst, sexual discovery, identity, frustration at being misunderstood, and an oppressive society, and you have a guaranteed a Broadway hit, and a guaranteed obsessive young fan following. The first time I saw this on Broadway, I loved it and felt high off of its energy and waves of emotion.

As time passed however and made more apparent the second time that I saw it, there is an uneven balance of the theatrical heart and brain of this show that lends an incomplete and confusing picture. The heart, or the spectacle, is obvious and good – the sweeping emotion, the music, the dance, the story. This show however, adds highbrow intellectual elements only seen in more esoteric theater, such as microphones taken out of coat pockets, a song playlist scrawled on the chalkboard in full view, and audience members sitting onstage for everyone to see. This Brechtian style adds a certain distance from the show and the audience member, as they serve as constant reminders to the audience that you’re still watching a show. As Wikipedia states, Brechtian theory is based on the idea that “a play should not cause the spectator to emotionally identify with the action before him or her, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the actions on the stage.” This distant style never gels with this show that begs to envelop the audience in its emotional world, and instead, results in a disjointed big picture, and at worst, pretentious.

In addition, the characters and themes stray dangerously to being trite. Characters in the show are simplified to borderline caricatures – the jock, the spaz, the hot girl, in a world where all the boys are horny, all the girls are victims (whether their childhoods have been too hard or way too easy), and all the parents just don’t understand. Themes can be simple and powerful, but these themes – teens being misunderstood, desiring to be understood (“Touch Me”), and all parents are the same – at its heart is an uninspiring cliche that merely tells teens (albeit in a very pretty and powerful way) that other teens are going through the same thing, with no answers or revelations revealed in the process. I rolled my eyes when the term, “parentocracy” was actually said out loud, and had this urge to tell these teens, “The good news is that puberty doesn’t last!” There’s something unsatisfying about this show which ends on an ambiguous yet hopeful note, as an extra step in reasoning should have been included for this show to feel complete.


Kyle Riabko and Blake Bashoff

None of these comments take away anything from the stellar touring cast. As an ensemble they were outstanding, but the two Broadway imports – Kyle Riabko as Melchior, and Blake Bashoff as Moritz – were the strongest performances in the show. Riabko plays the self assured Melchior with a forceful strength that belies his smaller size; original cast member Jonathan Groff had the advantage of a larger more commanding presence, yet Riabko’s take is just as convincing. Bashoff portrays Moritz as a boy going through puberty filled with an unending high strung nervous energy endearing in his confusion and struggles, yet heartbreaking as he fails to come to terms with himself under society’s harsh spotlight. Christy Altomare rounds out the leads with her sweetly curious Wendla. Steffi D is a singing powerhouse, but her hard edged bitter style portrays Ilse as a character more resentful of her abusive childhood, which is very different from the original Ilse, Lauren Pritchard’s free loving commune living character who had absorbed all the hurt in the world. Like most national tours, this cast plays up the more comedic portions, particularly the subplot with the puppy love romance between Andy Mientus as Hanschen and Ben Moss as Ernst. The national tour cast successfully preserves the spirit of the original show.

As I was watching this show, a fellow blogger Patrick’s quote came to mind, which sums up my feeling about this show:

Every performance has a certain appeal to the senses, but once that immediate sensation fades into memory the intellectual underpinnings of a work become more obvious, and when they fail, you can end up feeling more frustrated and angry than you were at first.

This also explains why I loved it the first time that I saw it, and was more bothered by its rational aspects the second time around. It’s not that I don’t love it, and in fact, I would happily recommend it to a lot of people because the good parts about this show is mindblowingly amazing. But there are things about it that are still frustratingly irritating. It wasn’t surprising to see that on SFist, the comments about this show are highly polarized. I know there are going to be a lot of people who love it, and others who will be bothered by it, either at that moment or a year later, such as myself.

Spring Awakening plays at the Curran Theater through October 12


Any thoughts about this show? Opinions? Anyone else think that if Melchior had been 30 years older, uglier, overweight, with a ski mask, everyone would see the sex scene as rape, as he convinces Wendla with phrases such as, “Is it wrong… to love?” and “It’s just me!”?? And who the heck is Marianna Wheelin?

Les Miserables at the Hollywood Bowl

I’m really behind on this, but might as well post it late than never. Last weekend in Los Angeles, I flew down for my two day summer vacation, and I caught the all-star cast of Les Miserables at the Hollywood Bowl. I can’t even remember the last time I was here – it must have been six, seven years ago, but here are a few thoughts. It was a completely sold out show on a Saturday night, and it’s an awesome thing to be inside of a packed stadium that holds over 17,000 people. We were all crammed into our seats but it was cozy, sharing wine bottle openers with our neighbors. I also expected a rowdier crowd, with people eating and socializing, but it was surprisingly very quiet and well behaved – more than a lot of the indoor theaters I’ve been in, in fact. I didn’t hear a single cell phone go off. We also weren’t sitting in the cheap seats but somewhere in the middle, which was perfect. In a big outdoor stadium such as this, I was expecting sound problems but it still caught me off guard. The sound was very tinny, and it took a while to get used to.

In all, it was a breathtaking spectacle. The musical in itself is a wonder, but place it outdoors under the stars with a stellar cast, and it was the can’t-miss event of the year. Directed by Richard-Jay Alexander, even thought it wasn’t, the performance felt fully staged. For instance, the rail that separated the orchestra from the front of the stage served as the barricades, and a fun moment had the students firing their guns directly into the orchestra. The musical was slashed brutally to make it about two hours long which was unfortunate, but I’m assuming that the cuts were necessary.

The cast was made up of a mix of Broadway stars, and typical of many Hollywood Bowl performances, a few famous names from movie/TV/music are mixed in. Melora Hardin (aka “Jan” from NBC’s The Office) was a powerfully dramatic Fantine, where her emotion overpowered her singing even to pitchiness, but a moving portrayal nonetheless. Rosie O’Donnell cancelled her appearance, and an enthusiastic Ruth Williamson took over seamlessly as the very funny Madame Thenardier. Brian Stokes Mitchell as Javert was an intimidating figure, even more so with his awe-inspiring deep voice. He kept on doing these odd slides though in between notes sometimes however, which added an uncharacteristic jarring jazziness to his singing. The standout of the cast was Lea Michele as Eponine – she wasn’t the scrappiest of Eponines that I’ve seen, but Michele emphasized Eponine’s vulnerable side, as a young girl in love. Her “Little Fall of Rain” was sweetly trusting, yet had that heartbreaking desperate air of her impending future without Marius, as she grasped at him with all her strength. John Lloyd Young played the role of Marius with an introverted intelligence and detail in every moment, characterized by a cool stark simplicity that was moving beyond overt emotion. J. Mark McVey as the lead, Jean Valjean, made admirable transitions between Jean Valjean the prisoner, the mayor, to old age, and his “Bring Him Home” brought everyone to tears. The stellar cast served the material well, and the overall effect was magical.

Forgive the quality of these vids.


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My favorite song in Les Mis

If you haven’t gone to the Hollywood Bowl, do so immediately! It’s a Hollywood must-see and a singular experience. Bring a few of your friends, pack lots of wine and food and don’t forget a wine bottle opener. I also learned that two bottles of wine definitely wasn’t enough for five people.

Do you prefer outdoor venues like the Bowl or do you prefer more traditional indoor venues? If you’ve been to the Hollywood Bowl, what was your experience with the audience members sitting around you?

Full cast list here on playbill.com

For some much better video footage, check out broadwayworld

“Bare” is Back!

A cover story in the Sacramento Bee on Artistic Differences’ production of Bare. Ian Cullity as Jason.

Bare is a small musical that seemed unstoppable on its one-track path to Broadway. It had a plot guaranteed to garner a following of Spring Awakening and Rent-like proportions – an edgy modern story of love, sex, identity, forgiveness, and religion about two boys struggle with their love and identities within the backdrop of a Catholic high school. It had a powerful score that rocked, and lyrics to break your heart. It had a superstar cast when in NY, included the unbelievable Michael Arden and stars that later went onto star in big Broadway shows like Wicked and Legally Blonde. Starting in Los Angeles, Bare moved to NY and was slated to go to the New World Stages when the show unexpectedly disappeared. There were Bare posters still left up inside the theater with a sign that said, “Coming Soon”, a hollow promise left unfulfilled. That was in 2004, and now that all that exists is a small but devoted group of fans that have not given up hope, constantly speculating on when and where this show will reappear again. Imagine my surprise when I heard through the grapevine that a local Sacramento theater called Artistic Differences was performing Bare. After experiencing the show through its 11 track sampler (with the AMAZING Michael Arden) and a grainy bootleg video, I grabbed at the chance to be able to see the show live.

Michael Arden in the NY production of Bare

In short, Artistic Differences put on a stirring performance that even moved a finicky heart like mine. This show really calls for the actors to step up to fill the difficult demands of each role and the expectations of Bare‘s fickle fans. This local theater company stepped up and put on one heck of a show. The show relies heavily on the emotion-laden performances of its actors, and this show’s casting was spot-on. Lucas Blair was the boyishly idealistic Peter, and he performed with a subtle yet piercing sensitivity. Ian Cullity played the role of Jason, a confident high schooler who has the world on a string and whose life is slowly derailed as the show progresses because of his love for Peter. Yet in the first act, Cullity plays an almost bewildered Jason lacking a nonchalant confident swagger, surprised and flattered by his popularity with girls. Despite this, Cullity came to soaring life in his songs, and he brought out the darker passionate aspect of the role with a full commitment that gave me chills. Kelly Daniells played the role of the promiscuous yet insecure Ivy who falls for Jason; Daniells sang “All Grown Up” with a sheer raw power that raised the roof. Joelle Wirth most fully embodied her character Nadia, the unattractive girl with a quick quip to cover her insecurity to the world (although it would be more believable if Wirth actually was overweight). Wirth’s performance packed a visceral punch with every line where she pretended not to care. Joshua Glenn Robertson played the role of Matt, the guy hopelessly in love with Ivy and ignored for Jason. Robertson tackled the broad range of emotions that the role requires with ease, from his sweet pursuit of Ivy to jealous rage as he fights with Jason. Natasha Greer as Sister Chantelle gave a rousing rendition of “God Don’t Make No Trash”. Even the minor roles were cast to perfection; a personal standout for me was the priest, acted by Scott Martin, burdened by the sins of the world and his responsibility to tell the world the message of the church that didn’t always make sense, with moments of internalized repressed emotion peeking through. The rest of the cast was just as stellar, with performances that filled the theater with power.

The show is tightly directed by Kevin Caravalho that kept the action moving, peppering the production with interesting personal details such as having Matt accompany himself on the guitar at the beginning of “Are You There?” which added an appropriate lonely, introspective touch. Choreography by Gino Platina added a layer of visual complexity, where I couldn’t help but to wonder if Bare was the precursor for the Broadway hit Spring Awakening, a show which also embodies emotions through dance. Mostly adding depth to the emotions communicated through song, sometimes though, it felt like the movements were too big for a stage of this size, especially in “Portrait of a Girl”. Subtlety and simplicity may have been a better option for this song in a small theater like this one. The beginning of the show was marred by technical sound problems, where it became impossible to hear the actors. This was even more unfortunate because the first three songs immediately throw the audience into the thick of the plot right off the bat. But this is a minor detail that will be fixed I’m sure as the show continues its run.

The success of this show lies in the

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strength of the material and the theater company that was willing to take the risk to put it on and to meet the challenge of presenting it successfully. A forgotten lyric, a missed vocal entrance, and sound problems paled in comparison to the compelling drama that unfolded onstage. Despite its blatant melodrama, there’s something about this show that always brings me to tears. A love despite all odds, a passion that never dies despite a harsh world – it’s a cliche but surely we’re not jaded enough to still buy into this once in a while. In addition, my favorite part of the show was when Peter with heartbreaking pain comes to terms with his religion and sexuality in his conversation with the priest by acknowledging the shortcomings of the church and being honest with himself. The show presents two very different members of the Catholic church, the priest and Sister Chantelle (who even appears as the Virgin Mary in Peter’s dream). One message of the show may be that organized religion and the people who rule it may be imperfect, but God is not. I find this message to be heartbreakingly honest, deeply courageous, and unspeakably moving.

I feel like Bare is a type of show that defines theater companies, and this is no different. It definitely put Artistic Differences on my radar, and am looking forward to seeing the rest of their season, including Sondheim’s Assassins and See What I Wanna See.


The Sacramento cast of Bare on the cover of Outword magazine

Other reviews:

For those of you who don’t have it yet, download the Bare sampler. Michael Arden’s “Role of a Lifetime” is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Artistic Differences. Bare runs on Thurs – Sat on July 31 through Aug 30. Two notes of caution: be careful where you park near the train tracks, and dress appropriately because there’s no air conditioning in the theater and it got pretty hot.

2008 Tony Awards

From the Best Musical winner, In the Heights. From the NY Times.

Katrina reminded me that I should blog about the Tony’s (thanks K!) – The Tony Awards were on last night! I missed it again this year, stranded at the airport on a 3 hour layover – I was planted inside the business class lounge in Phoenix, and I couldn’t interrupt the businessmen’s golf tournament on TV to watch Broadway musicals, I’m afraid. I missed it last year too because I was traveling, but one of these days, I’ll be able to watch it from start to finish…

I didn’t see any shows on Broadway this year, but I’m still keeping an eye on what’s going on over there on the East Coast. Best Play August: Osage County will be coming to SF next year. I was also interested in some of the actors who have been nominated for several years but haven’t won yet – I was pulling for Raul Esparza since he got overlooked last year for his role in Company, but this wasn’t his year either. I’ve also been hearing amazing things about the 28 year old Lin-Manuel Miranda and was hoping he’d win best actor, but he got lots of other awards instead, including Best Musical. Another Tony goes to Boyd Gaines (who should have gotten a Tony last year for his work in Journey’s End, in a quietly stunning performance), and another one for Patti Lupone for her work in Gypsy.

My sources of information:

NY Times Coverage

Matt Murphy with Playbill podcast: it gave a great overview of the year with some insightful comments – Matt, you were awesome and so well spoken! Check out his blog, Ranting Details.

Any thoughts?

The Phantom of the Opera Tour

A shot of the infamous “Phantom of the Opera” chandelier

After a bit of a blogging slump in addition to feeling like I’m drowning at work, I had a chance to return back to my roots of sorts. I went to see the touring production of Phantom of the Opera, the very first musical I ever saw. Although it’s not one of my favorites now, it was one of those shows that planted the seeds that grew into my love for theater.

The most striking thing for me was to watch the show as it mirrored the real life story behind its creation. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but this is how I remember it (and how I like to remember it). Andrew Lloyd Webber married singer Sarah Brightman in 1984, and this was his sweeping Gothic love story that he wrote for her. She starred as Christine in the original cast in 1986. In Phantom of the Opera, it’s painfully clear how Lloyd Webber viewed himself as the disfigured Phantom who entrances Christine, his love interest, with his music and showcases her vocal talents so that another man, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny, falls in love with her. In a random case of art imitating life, [spoiler alert] Lloyd Webber wrote the ending with Christine running off with Raoul instead of the Phantom, foreshadowing Lloyd Webber’s divorce with Brightman in 1990.

Since the moment
I first heard you sing,
I have needed you with me,
To serve me, to sing,
for my music

PHANTOM:
Angel of Music!
You denied me,
turning from true beauty
Do not shun me
Come to your strange Angel

The national tour surged above the faded polish of a show that passed its peak. The dated feel came from the sweeping Gothic melodrama and extravagant orchestration that’s so over the top and so eighties. The limitations of a national tour forced to use portable sets and a thin fog machine struggled to match the overextravagance the show requires. Despite this, the talented cast transcended its limited conditions to resurrect the show to life. Sara Jean Ford as the young Christine Daae brought a nuanced phrasing and subtle momentum that gave new life to the music that I’ve heard a million times.Stephen Tewksbury sang the Phantom with a deep gravitas and soaring power, yet Christine’s attraction to his scary persona didn’t make sense, as he controlled her through brute force rather than hypnotic allure. In the original cast, Phantom’s hold over Christine is supported by Michael Crawford’s eery timbre in his singing voice that entrances the listener, despite his villain moments. Tewksbury lacks the same hypnotic quality which makes it makes it difficult to empathize with his pain as well as making Christine’s draw to him unclear. Despite vague direction, Tewksbury’s powerful voice still drew me into the story in the end of the second act, in the fight when he entraps Christine and Raoul (the appropriately debonair Greg Mills) in his underground lair. In the fight of conflicting passions, I finally found myself getting swept up in the push-pull of passionate strength and vulnerable pain. John Whitney as Piangi was another standout for me, with his crystalline bell-like voice ringing clear.

Although it’s not my favorite, the Phantom of the Opera proved to me that its music of the night still has its charms. I’ll be seeing it again soon just to see Kelly Jeanne Grant sing Christine. She was in one of my favorite recent Broadway shows, the revival of Company, and it’s too hard to keep away from the chance to see Company‘s Kathy sing the role of Christine Daae.

The Phantom of the Opera official website