How Do You Measure a Year?

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One of the many ways I “measure a year” is in the shows I see because of my love of theatre. The 2014-2015 season is shaping up to be quite outstanding. With so many shows worth getting excited about, here’s my list about what I’m most eager to see (so far).

Broadway

Near NYC

DC

Touring

West End

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Side Show “Will Never Leave You”

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About three and a half weeks ago, I entered the Eisenhower Theater at The Kennedy Center uncertain of what I’d experience during Side Show. As soon as the opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks”, began, I knew my front row center ticket had been a good investment. By the end of the Act 1, I was already thinking about how many more times I could see this production at The Kennedy Center, for after hearing Emily Padgett’s (Daisy Hilton) and Erin Davie’s (Violet Hilton) stunning rendition of “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”, I was hooked.

Then came Act 2. I thought Act 1 was divine, but Act 2 was perfection. Having seen Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor) perform in the past, I was eager for his character’s soliloquy, “Private Conversation”, and somehow he exceeded my already high expectations with his soaring voice well-translated mixed feelings. When I saw Flashdance on tour last year, Matthew Hydzik was a highlight, and I was excited to see him shine in “1 + 1 = 3” and “Coming Apart at the Seams”. Naturally, he knocked them out of the park.

However, as strong as the entire cast for Side Show is, ultimately, the success of the show rests on the talents of the two leading ladies playing “twins, who are conjoined”, based on the real-life Hilton sisters. Sadly, I never had the good fortune of seeing Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley as Daisy and Violet respectively, but I’m not sure there could be any better choice than Emily Padgett and Erin Davie to lead the way with this reimagined production of Side Show. You would never guess that they didn’t know each other before auditions. While I’d never had the pleasure of seeing Erin Davie in a leading role before Side Show, I was fortunate to see Emily Padgett when she was starring in Flashdance on tour, opposite Matthew. Needless to say, when the 11 o’clock number of Side Show, “I Will Never Leave You”, comes around, you won’t want to leave. Emily and Erin blend seamlessly, and when the song sadly does end, the Eisenhower Theater erupts with more applause than I’ve heard at that theatre for years. The moment truly is a showstopper in every sense of the word.

To bring this show to life, an immensely strong creative team has been assembled. The costumes by Paul Tazewell are to die for, and the staging was ideal. With several tweaks implemented between La Jolla Playhouse and The Kennedy Center, it’s clear that creative team wanted to get the show just right in hopes of a Broadway transfer.

One of the best things about this production is its heart. Not only does the show present a captivating story, backed by a strong score, but it also conveys the struggles and complications of life and love, compelling the audience to feel for the twins and those who knew them. It’s one of those shows that will stay with you, long after the “freaks” exit the stage. Unfortunately, this incredible production closes at The Kennedy Center July 13th, but I am already anticipating my eighth time seeing the show, which I’m hopeful will be on Broadway.

The Time Is Now

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Since several people have been asking me about the first preview of Les Miserables, I thought I would try to put into words last night’s experience. To say I was eagerly anticipating this moment doesn’t really cover it. I first saw Les Mis 21 years ago, and I’ve been a devoted fan since I was five. Despite having seen the show 59 times over more than 20 years, last night, my 60th, was the first time I had the good fortune of seeing Les Mis on Broadway.

After getting to the theatre extremely early to take in every moment of the experience, I ended up being the first patron in the Imperial to see the new production. Once many of the seats were filled, I noticed a few familiar faces in the back, including Cameron Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Schonberg. Thankfully, they were very generous with the show’s fans, and I, like so many others, cherished the opportunity to meet the men behind my favorite musical. Another incredible surprise: a front row seat. I thought I was second row, but some adjustments to the theatre’s layout worked to my benefit last night.

As the “Prologue” began, the crowd roared with applause. This was a frequent occurrence all evening, particularly after key songs, cast entrances, and set reveals. Every person in the theatre last night was thrilled to be there. I’ve never been a part of such an energetic, attentive, and encouraging audience.

As for the cast, Ramin Karimloo didn’t miss a beat. Having seen him several times before, including as Jean Valjean in Toronto, I knew what he could do. With each performance, his take on the character grows. I am convinced he’ll be a contender for the Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award, and he already has my vote (not that it counts!). Interestingly, four years ago I saw him in Love Never Dies, and while he was superb, only two people, including myself, waited for him at the stage door. Let’s just say that will not be the case on Broadway. Even if you don’t know who he is now, you won’t forget him after hearing his beautiful renditions of “What Have I Done”, “Who Am I”, and “Bring Him Home”.

Some people were surprised to learn Will Swenson would be Javert on Broadway, but I was not one of them. I was convinced he was an excellent choice, and he proved himself to be more than worthy last night. This may not be the “Stars” you’re used to, but the show has been thriving for nearly three decades, and his fresh take on the character is enticing. I was lucky to be almost in the action for many of Jean Valjean’s and Javert’s interactions, and his expressions were brilliant. This is a great role for Swenson, who is better known for more contemporary musicals. I wouldn’t be surprised if he scores a Tony nomination.

Then, there’s Caissie Levy as Fantine. What a voice she has! Her facial expressions throughout her short performance were touching. Moreover, Levy and Samantha Hill (Cosette) may be the closest to looking like a real Mother-Daughter duo that I’ve ever seen. I recall thinking that she may just be able to snag Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.

Additionally, I was thrilled to see Andy Mientus as Marius. For such a talented performer, it’s about time he graces The Great White Way. While I think he has room to grow in this role, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Marius is an incredibly important character to me. There is a very detailed chapter in the book regarding this character, and I feel like Mientus captured what Hugo envisioned. His performance conveyed Marius’s struggle between the love of his life and his loyalty to his friends. Moreover, his performance developed as the show went on, and I imagine he will win over more than Cosette’s and Eponine’s heart as the run progresses. There was one key change I noticed to his character, in terms of direction, and I loved it. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but I suspect other fans will notice the change as long as it’s kept in the show.

As for the rest of the cast, I am impressed. Having seen many of them before on tour or in Toronto, I knew I would be. I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed. Samantha Hill’s Cosette was lovely, and Keala Settle’s Madame Thenardier was the perfect mixture of a villain and comedian. The children were well suited for their roles and certainly charmed the audience. I was particularly pleased to see Betsy Morgan in the show again, and I loved that she played the Factory Girl taunting Fantine after a well-received run as Fantine on tour. Other familiar faces from the recent national tour include Jason Forbach, John Rapson, Nathaniel Hackman, Max Quinlan, Erin Clemons, and Aaron Walpole along with swings Ben Gunderson, Rachel Rincione, John Brink, and Weston Wells Olson. If you have an understudy, don’t fret because the supporting cast and swings are more than qualified to fill the big shoes of the leads.

Clearly, Les Miserables is a story that has staying power. So, why does the show evolve? I’m not sure, but I trust the producers and creatives because whatever they’re doing has kept the show alive this long. Are there new lyrics? Yes, well, if you didn’t catch the recent incarnation in Toronto, yes. Is that staging different? It’s mostly what you would have seen on the recent tour, but some of the set and directions have been adapted to better fit the Imperial Theatre and cast. Is the show better than the movie? Do I have to answer this? Live theatre has no comparison to film.

The musical is epic, and its’ themes of love, hope, and redemption have connected with audiences all over the world. Last night, I saw Les Mis for the 60th time, and I suspect no performance will ever compare. Finally back on Broadway, I had the opportunity to watch the first performance of this new version with many other devoted fans and the people who made the show what it is today. Even though I already had seven more tickets to see Les Mis, both on Broadway and in the West End, I immediately bought two more tickets to this new production as soon as I got home. I doubt this show is going anywhere anytime soon, and as a “superfan”, I am grateful. The new production soars, especially with one of the strongest Jean Valjeans I have ever seen.

Top Theatre Experiences in 2013

With the impending new year, there’s a lot of people highlighting the most memorable parts of their year. Theatrically-speaking, 2013 was an incredible year for me. After reflecting on my theatre-going in 2013, here are my top ten theatre experiences from the past year:

  1. Les Miserables – Toronto / Les Miserables – London
    It’s my all-time favorite show. Need I say more? I was fortunate to see the show in three countries over the past year. You can’t beat the original incarnation at the Queen’s Theatre in London, but the new version, starring Ramin Karimloo, comes close.
  2. IF/THEN – DC
    I had the pleasure of seeing this show develop from its very first performance in DC. As a huge Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey fan, I was thrilled to see them hard at work at the theatre on several occasions. Plus, the concept and cast are stellar.
  3. The Phantom of the Opera (with Sierra Boggess as Christine) – Broadway
    I am very lucky to have seen Sierra Boggess in every Broadway and West End role she’s had thus star. Her Christine is the best I’ve ever seen.
  4. A Chorus Line – London
    As a longtime fan of the show, I’m a little biased, especially since I was a fan of much of the cast of this production. You can’t help but leave with a smile on your face.
  5. Matilda – Broadway
    Bertie Carvel was incredible as Miss Trunchbull. The show has such heart and spirit. Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics really got me hooked along with the talented cast, inventive choreography, and fascinating set.
  6. CabaretKeegan Theatre, DC
    This production starred Paul Scanlan and Maria Rizzo. Having seen them around DC before, I suspected this production would be superb. It surpassed my already high expectations. Keegan constantly impresses me with its outstanding productions.
  7. Pippin – Broadway
    I waited many years for the opportunity to see Pippin, and the show was well worth the wait. The cast is full of stars, and each has their moment to shine. Plus, the circus acts and classic Broadway tale add great entertainment value too.
  8. The Laramie ProjectFord’s Theatre, DC
    This was by far the most moving production I’ve seen this year. I eagerly awaited seeing this show amidst a government shutdown, and thankfully, my ticket was late in the run. If it wasn’t for the shutdown, I would have gone multiple times. It’s not an easy show to watch, but it’s incredibly powerful. This cast and creative team put together an amazing production, and I wish more could have seen it.
  9. Miss SaigonSignature Theatre, VA
    For the past five years, I have been praying a DC theatre would produce this show. Signature Theatre answered my call, and I am so happy with the final product. Despite a last minute cast change, the show was phenomenal. This intimate production added a 4D element to the theatre that made you feel like you were in Vietnam during the war.
  10. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumShakespeare Theatre, DC
    I have never laughed so much at a musical. Bruce Dow is an improve genius. He even forced the cast to break character, and no one in the audience seemed to mind.

Honorable Mentions:

Can’t wait to see what 2014 bring! Happy New Year!

Do You Hear the People Sing?

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For those that know me or follow this blog, you know that Les Miserables is important to me. Okay, very important to me. My relationship with the show started over twenty years ago, and through the show, I’ve learned about life, love, pain, talent, and theatre (amongst other things). Needless to say, I’ve been eagerly awaiting today’s casting announcement.

Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean): I was rooting for him to be Jean Valjean on Broadway. I’ve seen him in various musicals, including as JVJ in Les Mis. He has a beautiful voice that eloquently brings to life the music. He is a skilled actor too. I also hoped he’d be JVJ because JVJs improve with age and time. Revisiting the material and performing the show over a period of time tends to lead to a better and better performances. I am excited to see the further evolution of his portrayal of JVJ.

Will Swenson (Javert): Many find this choice particularly unexpected. However, he has an extensive career in theatre and major vocal chops. I’ve never seen him perform a role like this so that will be a new experience. I’m not sure how it will compare to some of the legendary Jean Valjeans I’ve seen in the past, including Earl Carpenter and Andrew Varela. It’s a character that has been interpreted very differently over the years, and I expect he will have a unique take on the role. I’m excited to get a new perspective on this character.

Caissie Levy (Fantine): Some find this choice odd too. Every time I see Caissie live, she impresses me. She has a show-stopping voice, so I look forward to experiencing her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”. Again, I have never seen her in a role like this, but I think she’s ready. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some incredible interpretations of this characters, and despite hoping for an opportunity to see some of those interpretations repeated, I’m eager to see her take on this character’s struggle.

Nikki M. James (Eponine): Again, this choice seems to be surprising to people. Not to me. I expected the casting powers at be to choose someone for this role who was very different from the original interpretation. “On My Own” has perhaps brought in the most fans to Les Mis over the years. The song certainly got me hooked when I was five. Nikki M. James won a Tony for Book of Mormon in part thanks to show-stopping numbers like “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” and “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (Reprise), and consequently, I have reason to believe that she will make the anthem-like “On My Own” a memorable show-stopping moment too. She’s become a familiar face on Broadway. Although I would have love to seen a fresh, unknown actress cast in this role, I do want to see this show stick around on Broadway for a while, which likely means casting established actors, at least for now.

To know exactly what these performers will bring to Les Mis, we’ll have to wait until March of 2014 to see, but I know I will be there, supporting the “people” as I have so many times before.

Here goes…

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Well, it has been a very busy six months on my end. Lots of shows in London, New York, and Washington, D.C. As I continue to contemplate the future of The Theatre Concierge, I’ve decided on a mission that will be the focus of many upcoming posts.

The Mission: Visit Every Professional DC Area Theatre.

There is a Theatre Directory on theatreWashington‘s website. This will serve as my guide. At present, I’ve visited 27 of the 91 theatres listed. These previously visited theatres will serve as posts as well. Ultimately, if I complete this mission, each theatre will have a feature post. I am not setting a time limit to this mission, and I suspect, even a reasonable time limit would take years. One caveat of this mission is that it can only be completed if I continue to live in the DC area, and while I have no plans for that to change, you never know. We’ll see how this goes. Through my graduate courses and thesis, experiences as an audience member, and work in the DC theatre realm, I have come to understand so much about the DC theatre community, and my intention here is to expand that knowledge. Here goes…

The Last Few Months

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Please forgive my absence so far this year. As I embarked on my new theatre adventures this year, it’s been a busy one. While it’s no longer my place to discuss my thoughts on a particular show, I would be happy to share what I’ve been seeing in the DC area:

Admidst my theatre-going, I have been immersing myself with trends in DC theatre and theatre marketing. My observations and research have revealed a few trends of interest:

  • The “tweet seat” debate. It’s a big issue with strong opinions. Here’s a recent article regarding the issue: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/01/27/theater-tweet-seats/1868693/. Personally, I am strongly against “tweet seats.” I understand the desire to attract a younger, hipper theatre-going crowd, but at the end of the day, I think people who want to experience live theatre will be best suited watching the show sans technology.
  • Nudity in live theatre. I read this article recently: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-16/entertainment/ct-ae-0217-jones-20130216_1_lena-dunham-onstage-gift-theatre. Initially, I didn’t think much of it, but then, I had four shows back-to-back that fell under this umbrella, which made me question how necessary the nudity was. While I can see where it’s part of the “art,” I also think a line has to be drawn somewhere. Less is more, and especially for those in the front row, it really can be quite distracting at times.
  • The increasing popularity of subscriptions. Chad Bauman at Arena Stage discussed this issue recently in his blog: http://arts-marketing.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-subscription-equation-and-other.html. In my DC theatre research, I confirmed that subscribers are increasing. I question if this applies to smaller theatres, but it’s nice to see some data that counteracts the common belief that subscriptions are dying.

My theatrical adventures have been largely focused on DC this year, and I am coming to love the DC theatre scene more and more. It’s a great city for theatre, and although many outsiders don’t consider DC a theatre town, my observations and experiences would disagree. If you haven’t heard, the Helen Hayes Awards are coming up, and I’m eager to celebrate the incredible work performed in 2012!

A New Start for a New Year

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This past month has been a busy one between a jammed-pack trip to NYC and a few incredible shows in the DC area. Here’s what made my itinerary.

In NYC:

In the DC area:

Each of these shows brought something different to the table and quenched my thirst to experience theatre. Theatre has the power to change lives, and it certainly has impacted mine. I’ve been presented with an incredible opportunity to have a new sort of effect on the theatre realm starting next year. While this will open new doors, in order to take advantage of this chance, I must close others, at least temporarily. Going forward, my thoughts about shows will remain private. I’ll still be sharing news, shows I’m seeing, and thoughts on theatre but not about specific productions. Additionally, I’ll be concentrating on more topical aspects of theatre, like selling tickets and developing audiences.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the song “A New Life” from Jekyll and Hyde lately. I feel like next year, I’ll have “a new start,” “a new hope,” “a new chance,” and “a new dream,” all of which could lead to “a new world” and “a new life.” I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Dreaming the Dream

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I’ve been dreaming of a film version of the musical Les Miserables for 20 years, and I am excited that my dream is finally a reality. However, now, the debate of Les Miserables (the film) vs. Les Miserables (the musical) is also a reality. I could include the book in my discussion as well, but I’ll only reference it as needed to avoid a never-ending post.

I was impressed by the film’s ability to present the story in a way that a musical never could. Film, as a medium, is able to convey the scenery and misery in a more honest way than a live musical can. Scenes that were particularly well presented include “At the End of the Day” at the factory, “Lovely Ladies” by the docks, and “Do You Hear the People Sing” where the barricade rises spontaneously on the streets of Paris.

Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the casting (for the most part). Many of the smaller and ensemble roles were filled by previous West End cast members of the show. Familiar faces, like Gina Beck, Killian Donnelly, Katie Hall, Alistair Brammer, Fra Fee, Frances Ruffelle, Caroline Sheen, and Jamie Muscato, filled the screen version of the musical phenomenon. Of course, you can’t miss Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop or Samantha Barks as Eponine, two of the wisest casting decisions in my opinion along with Broadway star Aaron Tveit as Enjorlas. Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine is truly award-winning, and she is no doubt the front runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Hugh Jackman was wonderful as Jean Valjean even though my preference lies with some of the past performances I’ve seen on stage. While Russell Crowe can act the role of Javert supremely well, his voice is one of the weakest in the cast, and his “Stars” is not as overwhelming as I’ve heard in the past. In case you are unfamiliar with the show, the song doesn’t typically fade out at the end. I appreciated Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette although I am used to hearing stronger singers in those roles. Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette) were two of my favorites. Daniel captured the spunk and charisma of Gavroche that makes the character so lovable while Isabelle intelligently introduced us to the ingenue of Les Miserables.

I also appreciated seeing aspects of the book left out of the musical included in the film. For instance, Marius’s Grandfather made a few appearances. Additionally, some parts of Fantine’s story that depcits the horror that her life becomes are added, like the selling of her teeth (Ouch!). While presenting every detail in a live musical is impossible, it’s lovely to see some details reinstated in the film version.

The direction of the film is very interesting. Some of the close-ups and scenic shots seemed a little odd at first, especially with the various angles, but I grew accustomed to the style throughout the film. Ultimately, I think the direction aided the presentation of the story.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the music in the film. Nothing can replace seeing and hearing the live show, but the film represented the show’s music beautifully. Voices don’t need to fill a theatre on the screen, and yet, the songs were still inspiring and emotional. Some of my favorite musical moments in the film include “What Have I Done,” “At the End of the Day,” “Who Am I,” “Castle on a Cloud,” “One Day More,” “Do You Hear the People Sing,” “Drink with Me,” and the “Epilogue.” Also, the addition of the song “Suddenly” is incredible. It’s a touching moment that was well-intertwined with the musical’s existing music. I think this song would be a wonderful addition to future productions of Les Miserables.

Overall, I feel like the film captures the essence of the story that has shaped my life. Les Miserables is an epic tale of faith, hope, love, and redemption. All of these themes are clearly conveyed in the film. Although my preference will always be to see the musical live, I’m happy that I finally have a magnificent film to provide a Les Mis fix at any time.

There Are Giants in the Sky

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Reflecting on my last month and half and what’s to come, I feel like Sondheim says it best, “There are big-tall-terrible-awesome-scary-wonderful giants in the sky!” (Into the Woods). With several opportunities and challenges ahead, this lyric comes into my mind. Sondheim’s masterful lyrics exquisitely bring to life emotions that can be difficult to adequately express. Moreover, this lyric also reminds me of the giant musicals touring and playing in regional theatres across the country right now.

Theatrically-speaking, I’ve continued to be busy and blessed. Some of the highlights of my experiences in the D.C. area include:

  • Dying City at Signature Theatre was captivating, thought-provoking, and poignant. If you like shows that make you think and question morality, I recommend you see this play if it comes your way.
  • Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at MetroStage had an all-star cast and was full of grand, show-stopping musical numbers.
  • Wicked (National Tour) was as thrilling as the Broadway production. It’s a fun mega-musical for all ages.
  • War Horse (National Tour) continues to impress and move me. The puppetry is stunning and incredibly well orchestrated while the fantastic performances of the cast bring to life this epic tale.
  • My Fair Lady at Arena Stage reinvents the classic musical in the round. You can’t help but leave the theatre humming the familiar tunes. I was pleased to see a cast that’s largely new to Arena Stage, in particular Manna Nichols, who excellently portrays Eliza Doolittle.
  • Dreamgirls at Signature Theatre features notable cast performances, costumes, music, and choreography. Nova Y. Payton is spectacular as Effie and her performance is not to be missed this season if you’re in D.C.
  • Altar Boyz at 1st Stage has a cast of actors mostly new to the D.C. area. This 90-minute musical includes tight harmonies, exhilarating choreography, and abundant laughs.

With any luck, I’ll be back in New York City soon for the first time since August and able to catch up on some of what’s playing on and off Broadway. With the holidays in full gear, there’s thankfully lots of theatre to see!