Deaf West Theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” – Review

Deaf West Theater’s production of “Spring Awakening” – Review

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Last night I went and saw Deaf West Theater’s version of “Spring Awakening.” The idea of using a cast of actors, some of which are deaf, to perform a musical is one that takes a second to get used to. However, “Spring Awakening” is perhaps one of the best shows for it. The show focuses a lot on communication, or the lack thereof, between adults and children. As such, a deaf cast would certainly bring a new level/layer to understanding and being frustrated by a communication barrier. Thankfully, the show does not rely on this as a gimmick. Instead, it uses sign language, projected text, and vocalists who perform songs as a mirror/shadow of the deaf actor to enrich the story. As a major fan of the original Broadway production (which I attended four times) I was very familiar with the material, but this production tells the same story in new and interesting ways. Certain moments in the show that I’d glossed over before, felt much more important because of the performances given by the actors. When Wendla begs Melchior to hit her with switch because she has never felt “anything” (a scene I always found problematic in the original Broadway version) the entire cast signs the word “anything.” By punctuating this word, the scene certainly felt more justified than it had before. There were a thousand tiny moments like this in the show, and the actors all give a full out performance that is truly glorious to behold. This makes the quiet and dark moments in the show extra chilling, and the fun bombastic numbers even more engaging.

Ultimately, I wanted to see this show because I’m a huge fan of the musical, and I thought the idea of using a deaf cast was pitch perfect. The show runs till the end of January and I’m trying to figure out if there is a way for me to go again. I know that there are a ton of amazing shows on Broadway right now, but this gem is truly one that should be seen by all people who believe that theatre has power. The story the kids are telling on the stage, is one that deserves our full attention.

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What Binds Us – A Review

What Binds Us - cover

Until a few weeks ago, I rarely read books labeled as “romance” novels, because I tend to think of them as books featuring a wild haired maiden who stows away on a pirate ship, poses as a cabin boy, and ends up with the captain after a big sword fight. Lately, I’ve read a few books labeled as “romance” specifically “Male/Male Romance” and been happily surprised by the fact that they are generally stories with a lot of passion as well as depth. Of the few I’ve read, I felt that “What Binds Us” deserved a full review.

When I asked for a recommendation my request was a novel with these factors: LGBT, Romance, Contemporary, without a lot of erotica elements. Based on this criteria, “What Binds Us” by Larry Benjamin was recommended to me by Rhonda Helms. It was perhaps the most perfect recommendation based on that criteria I could have ever imagined. Here is a brief outline about the story:

In 1977 with Thomas-Edward (whom is thankfully mainly referred to as T or Thomas throughout), a young man who falls in love with Donovan “Dondi” Whyte, his college roommate, whose beauty seems only to be matched by his familial wealth. The two men have a relationship, but, as with most wealthy/handsome characters, Thomas-Edward is found lacking, but the two remain friends. As T mourns the loss of this romance, and struggles to maintain a friendship with Dondi he finds his true love in Matthew, the brother of his roommate. The story continues past the “Happily Ever After” exploring the pains and struggles of caring for a loved one who eventually succumbs to AIDS, which was heartfelt, but felt like an odd way to resolve what was initially set-up to be more of a  love triangle story. This is probably because I feel like I’ve read/seen a lot of movies about AIDS in the 80’s. However, because we had come to love the characters so much for the first 2\3rds of the book it was very interesting to read. I was especially fond of the fact that there was never a moment of doubt in T’s love with Matthew. This, I felt, was an excellent departure from the conventional love triangles that are so popular in today’s market. I can imagine no reader being on “Team Dondi.” No one with a heart would think T would be happier with him than Matthew.

While the story was very important (the synopsis above is a sketch at best, the story spans many years and features many unforgettable characters not mentioned) what was truly breathtaking about this books was the prose. I am so jealous of Larry Benjamin’s way with words. I especially loved it when he’d spend 3 paragraphs or a page and a half to share a small story, a memory, that felt like a brief aside or footnote. Many of those were some of my favorite parts, because they gave you a real level of intimacy with the character, breaking deep into their mind and experiences. Later down the narrative road, you could feel the emotions coursing through the characters, because you knew them so well.  Benjamin’s skill with description (his art history minor really shows) is also truly breathtaking. For the most part the dialogue was good, and Benjamin excels in giving even ancillary characters truly unique voice. I never once asked “who’s talking?”

I think that I mainly enjoyed that this “romance” novel was more about “love” than anything else. The title says it all. Love is “what binds us.” and while physical love is a big portion of that, it is not as big as the rest. The use of sex in the novel was handled thoughtfully, taking us through both college sex as well as the sex lives of people who are happily coupled ( as well as unhappily).

This book proved to me, once again, that romance novels have more to them than sex and love. Many of them tell stories of whole lives, and the fleeting as well as unforgettable moments of love, loss, and everything inbetween. This novel is a superb read, and the perfect gift for anyone who thinks romance novels only feature maidens on pirate ships!

LGBT Book Review – “Social Skills”

Social Skills

I’ve been trying to read more of my genre lately, so I downloaded a lot of sample chapters on my Kindle. One of them was for the novel “Social Skills” by Sara Alva. I was intrigued that so many reviewers on Amazon and GoodReads kept saying that this was basically a really good version of a “Nerd\Jock Romance.” That so many reviewers harped on this made me believe I wasn’t going to get past the first few pages. Predominately because I wasn’t interested in reading another one of those books. Fortunately, while I would say the main lovers in Social Skills are informed by those stereotypes, neither totally adhere to them.

Connor has nerd qualities, in that he is smart and socially awkward, but his social anxiety isn’t simply a result of being a nerd. It stems from a lot of things. He is also a college freshman, who is short (and insecure about it), closeted, and living in non-freshman dorm. Even the best of us would be/were awkward at that age given that set of circumstances. As for Jared, he is barely a jock. He’s just a conventionally attractive guy who plays sports. Sure he’s on the football team, but he’s not scoring winning touchdowns, he’s warming the bench.

What Sara Alva has managed to do beautifully is write characters who feel much more real than the stereotypes mentioned in the reviews. Perhaps  this is why the book is lauded as being a really excellent version of a Nerd/Jock Romance. I would say it is a romance that takes place in college. Sara Alva’s ability to write about college was actually the reason I bought the book. Unlike so many novels, which pretend college is just a harder version of high school, I felt like Sara really represented the college experience in a realistic way.  I adored that the students complained about the distance and time it took to see one another, because I had the same complaints when I was in college. My college friends and I laugh that we ever thought a 15 minute walk across campus was a burden, now that we travel several hours and hundreds of miles to see one another.

There is a lot more about college she gets right, but I won’t bore you with further examples. The novel is a short and enjoyable read. I encourage you to pick it up, and see for yourself. I think Sara Alva is definitely an author to watch for in the future.

Into the Woods in Central Park 2012

Last night I felt transformed after attending The Public Theatre’s current production of Into the Woods. While I initially thought waiting 7 hours in line for the free ticket was a lot, I can tell you I’d wait a full 24 hours in the baking sun to see it again for the first time.

So I am pretty sure I know what most people want to know about. Amy Adams. Let’s get this out of the way right now. Ms. Adams is very good in the production. Her voice is strong, she is expressive, and although her portrayal is different from Joanna Gleason’s Tony Award winning performance of the same role, Ms. Adam’s is certainly able to hold her own with the cavalcade of talent that is on that stage. This is no small accomplishment, and there are other actors in the show who do not fare quite as well as Ms. Adams so I commend her on her performance. I was skeptical when I entered, but left impressed.

As an actor who has rehearsed and performed in the show, I felt certain I would, at best, be treated to a highly competent production of it, and never felt anything could come close to the video recording made many years ago. Yet, I could not have been more wrong.

The directors Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel were clearly aware that Into the Woods is a modern masterpiece, and therefore understood that to mount a successful production extreme care must be taken. You must keep in mind that fans of the show, are going to want to see what made them fall in love with it in the first place. At the same time, fans are not interested in watching a production which attempts to copy the source material. Even the great Donna Murphy would look bad if she attempted to portray the witch the way Bernadette Peters had so many years ago. Therefore the directors needed to reimagine the show in a way that allowed them, and the actors, to breathe new life into the show, without changing the show to the point that it lost the intrinsic magic that captured the hearts of everyone so many years ago.

I am happy to report that have done so, and done it with such elegance and brilliance, that I was reduced to tears (and in some cases sobs) multiple times throughout the evening. Most of my tears were out of sheer wonder, as the production is at times so beautiful that one cannot be blamed for weeping. Other times, it was a single actor who unlocked a certain truth in a phrase I’d heard hundreds of times, or possibly even sang dozens of times.

I will say that three actors deserve extra special mention. Gideon Glick’s showed such commitment in his portrayal of Jack that I heard “Giant’s in the Sky” with new ears. Just thinking of those few moments on stage still get me choked up. On the other end of that spectrum is Sarah Stiles, who somehow found a way to add even more humor to the already hilarious role of Little Red Riding Hood. Yet she still somehow managed to make “I know Things Now” and “No One Is Alone” emotionally resonant.

Finally there is Donna Murphy who had the seemingly impossible task of reinventing the part of the Witch. Thanks to the clever reimagined staging, Donna Murphy was able to shine new light on the role instead of being swallowed up by the shadow of Bernadette Peters. Murphy’s version of the witch is not without humor, but she seemed more interested in engaging the audience with the harsh realities of life than getting laughs. That said, she is still very funny, but when it comes to “The Last Midnight” the groundwork she laid from her first entrance paid off in an eleven o’clock number that somehow managed to be chilling thrilling, probing, and entertaining all at once. I knew that song was fun and fantastic, but until last night I never knew it had such power. Mrs. Murphy is glorious in the role, to say anything more would be a waste of time.

For those who are going to see this production, and honestly I believe that this is worth flying to New York City to see, this is all I want to write to you. To say anything else would truly ruin the many splendors of the production, and I would be truly evil to ruin the incredible magic that is involved in this production. I will post a more spoilery review later though because honestly, I feel the need to gush.

Hunger Games – Review

Reading the Hunger Games was a big inspiration for me. It helped me believe I could write compelling story in first person present tense. So whenever I felt lost, I often turned to the books to put myself back on track. As a result, I’ve read the series a few times in the past year, and was therefore more than willing to stay up and watch the movie at a midnight premiere.

Leaving the theatre I felt three things very intensely: Entertained, Excited, and Satisfied.

So I think it would save me from overexplaining or even delving into spoilers if I simply explain my review in those three  emotions.

Entertained: There is no doubt this movie is entertaining. While people who have not read the books might find it slow to begin, I was really engrossed from the first few panels of the movie which give reveal what the Hunger Games actually are. In moments where non-fans might think it is getting a bit slow, Elizabeth Banks gives a stellar performance, providing comedy that is not only funny but emotionally evocative. Jennifer Lawrence is a superb Katniss, which is not really that shocking, since she was made famous for playing a similar role in Winter’s Bone. However, she does a remarkable job of keeping the entire movie together. I was especially amazed by many of the other actors in the film. When I heard that Little Rock, AR legend Wes Bentley was playing Seneca Crane, I was confused. The character is barely in the books. But the shift in perspective (the movie is not told simply from Katniss’ perspective) allows these other players to tell the story in a more complete way. While this means certain sacrifices for story purists (most notably, that the gifts Katniss receives now have notes from her mentor) the movie manages to tell a story which never feels like anything but the characters and world of the book. Stanley Tucci is so good, I feel the need to at least mention him in a sentence, but for me the best performance of the evening was a surprise. Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta Mellark is simply spell-binding. I thought Hutcherson would be a good choice, but I was not expecting to like him as much as I did. In brief moments where the writing was weak, he elevated it in such a way that I could feel nothing but admiration for him. My only complaint about the movie is, of course, the unfortunate casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Why they did this, I’ll never know. Cinna and Katniss are supposed to have a special bond, but it was clear that there was zero chemistry between the two actors. Kravitz performance was fine, he doesn’t do anything particularly bad, but Jennifer Lawrence looks exhausted whenever they are on screen together. I assume this is because these scenes probably took much longer to film than they should have. To compensate for this, much of what made Cinna a great character, is distributed amongst the rest of the adult cast. While I think this was wise, if firing Kravitz was not an option, it made me sad. Cinna was always a character I related to, and felt for, so seeing him so diminished was hard for me.

Excited: This movie is exciting, in that it is a fun thrill ride, that is more than just action, but has some actual art to it. It also was so superbly executed, that I left the theater ready for the second film. Of course, that is probably a year away at least, but I have faith it will be incredible. The second book is my favorite, and while I was worried this film could easily ruin a great book, my fears are now abated.

Satisfied: This movie is as true to the book as it should be. Since it is told from multiple perspectives, new things are revealed. This was great for me, as a big fan, as it gave me something new. I wasn’t simply watching the movie in my mind, playing out on the screen. This was something I truly respected. If you want someone to put the movie of your mind on screen….maybe you won’t enjoy this film. However, they get so much exactly right, I can think of no person who would fault them for the tiny adjustment/changes they made. Especially when each of them was made for such a specific and deliberate reason. When they announced Jennifer Lawrence would play Katniss, I will admit, my first thought was….”She’s wrong for it. She’s blonde.” My husband pointed out I was not alone, but that my reaction was crazy, and directed me to an article discussing it. While I agreed with the article, pointing out that fans seemed to ignore that someone could simply dye her hair to the correct color, I didn’t think we were crazy. The issue is, while we fans understood they COULD dye her hair, we assumed they WOULDN’T because fans of many books have been burned by Hollywood before. In short, I felt I could no longer trust Hollywood to tell a story that was based on a popular book, without screwing it up. This movie has restored my faith somewhat, and that made walking out of this incredibly entertaining film, all the sweeter.

Smash – Pilot

So, I don’t really review television on my blog often. I think the last time I reviewed a show, it was the pilot of Glee. However, much like Glee, this new show “Smash” is something I feel compelled to weigh in on. This is especially true, because I have a slight bias to report. This show is not exactly the plot of my novel, but there are a number of similarities. So, I have some interest in it doing well. It would make pitching my book a lot easier.

So, with that bias admitted to, I have to say the pilot interested. Like all pilots it wasn’t exactly subtle, and much of the dialogue felt clunky and trite. I had expected that Megan Hilty (famous for playing the Dolly Parton role in the Broadway flop “9 to 5” as well as her highly lauded performance of taking over for Chenoweth as Glinda in Wicked) to be miles and away better than Katharine McPhee. While McPhee was one of the two contestants of American Idol I ever cared about (and like Adam Lambert she came in second to someone who appealed to people from the south) I was worried that McPhee’s American Idol performance was some sort of fluke. Her two solo albums had nothing of the incredible voice she presented to the world in the singing competition, but from the first second of the show (where she reprises a few seconds of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’) it is clear her voice is still excellent. In addition to having a beautiful instrument, McPhee is better suited to acting on screen than Broadway’s Hilty. It is clear Hilty is wanting to make sure everything she does can be read by even the most visually impaired person, like most stage actors, which makes her come across as slightly cartoonish on screen. However, part of the reason for this is the script.

The script writers use McPhee to embody what actors trying to work in New York City are like. At dinner, she makes it clear that she fully understands she is in an industry that is soul crushing. While she is annoyed that someone answers a phone in her audition, she doesn’t cry about it. Hilty on the other hand, who should be thrilled to be having the level of success she is having, cries when she is rejected after an audition. The writing during Hilty’s pity party where she bemoans that she trained to be an actor made me want to turn the television off. I trained as an actor and a lawyer, I am barely able to get work in either world, and while I find this incredibly frustrating, I don’t really feel the need to cry about it.

To give her training credit, Hilty is a true delight to watch when performing. Although I found the “baseball number” incredibly distasteful, I enjoyed her in it. Hilty shines for me most in the final moments of the pilot where she and Katherine McPhee sing a new song “Let Me Be Your Star” while en route to a call back audition. In these last few moments all of my problems with the show completely melted away. The song flows from both of these women in such unique and delightful ways, that I was finally able to see why Hilty was even competition. Hilty’s voice is fuller, bolder, and when she sings as Marilyn, the very essence of that icon seem to flow out of her. McPhee’s voice is not as big, but as a result, her voice feels more nuanced and intimate. This appeals to the idea that Marilyn was more than an icon, but she was also a woman. In McPhee I see a portrayal of Marilyn Monroe that is less about the big moments we know about (although her incredible impression of the JFK Birthday song is pretty much perfect) and more about the fact that Marilyn was also a person.

The final song brings out that these two women are both primed to be an incredible Marilyn, but there is a difficult road ahead of them. For Hilty, she had the pedigree and experience to really relate to what Marilyn had to go through, but to connect to those experiences, she will have to rip down the walls she has erected to keep herself alive in the business. She has to stop “acting like Marilyn” and find the Marilyn within. McPhee, has the reverse problem. In her we see the woman, but not the icon. Can McPhee, who is as green to television as her character is to Broadway, really convince people she is also able to wear the mantle of Marilyn? Can she show us more than Norma Jean? These are absolutely engaging questions for me, and I look forward to seeing them explore them over the next few moments.

The Magician King

I have to admit, it has been hard not to post this review until now, but today is the day Lev Grossman’s newest book “The Magician King” comes out. This book is a sequel to “The Magicians” which I reviewed some time ago. This time, I was fortunate enough to obtain an advanced copy, so today, while it is fresh on the shelves, I am able to review the book in its entirety. As this book is certainly one that has spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning anything in specifics, and perhaps revisit the subject at a later date. If you would like to comment, please do so, but if there will be spoilers please warn other readers or send me a message personally.

The Magician King picks up generally where the other book left off, the magicians Quentin, Eliot, Janet, & their newest addition Julia, are now kings and queen of Fillory. Fillory is Grossman’s personal Narnia, and while it certainly makes you think of the world C.S. Lewis created, Grossman is clear from the first chapter that Fillory has a much darker forces at work than the lush green fields and clockwork castles might indicate.

Quentin has grown up, and much of his original naiveté is gone. Though still somewhat whiney, his complaints are ones of an adult, and this evolution in his character is welcome as well as earned. Grossman seems to take a note from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” demonstrating that sometimes “Happily Ever After” is somewhat boring, and never all it appears to be. The gang is still relatively young, and not all of them are ready to simply live life in a world where they are mainly an accessory. Specifically, Quentin is torn for his desire for “one last adventure,” as he wonders whether or not asking for this dishonors the memory of the girl who sacrificed herself to give him the life he has.

Alongside Quentin is Julia, who was a character who lived in the shadows of Grossman’s first novel. We saw her a few times, and I was always wishing I had seen more. Grossman appears to have felt this from many of his readers, and although I assumed much of what we learn about Julia’s story, I was still riveted on every page.

Much of what my friends took issue with in “The Magician’s” is dispensed with in the sequel. In particular, all of the characters are older, and don’t fall victim to the follies of college drama as much as they did in their youth. This does not mean, however, that sex is not involved, nor is it always an expression of love. Grossman maintains that sex in life, is not always romantic, and is often messy both physically and emotionally. For this reason, I applaud that Grossman maintains the idea that magicians are still human, and humans with access to magic, can often bring out the worst in humanity.

The book’s central focus is on the idea of the quest. Grossman has often spoken in interviews about his love of T.H. White’s description of the quest for the Holy Grail in “The Once and Future King.” As a huge fan of that particular telling as well, I was keenly aware of Grossman’s adoration of all things that are involved in a Quest, and his ability to balance feats of heroism with the reality of the dangers involved.

In addition to giving us a splendid adventure, Grossman is able flex his in-depth knowledge of all things geeky. From his rather elaborate references to Dungeons and Dragons to in-depth descriptions of tech-heavy enigmas, it is clear that Grossman has a wealth of knowledge in things that the populace has defined as “nerd-culture.” While I consider myself somewhat versed, I was absolutely blown away by his ability to describe what was essentially genius wish fulfillment. To say more, would be to ruin it, but when you read it, and you should, know that Grossman’s ability to describe something so complex with such ease is mark of a true genius.

The Magician King helps Grossman’s characters go beyond the label of “Harry Potter for adults” and enter into a rare gem where characters which would be at home in the genre of literary fiction, are also able to perform amazing things with the help of magic and intellect. If you enjoyed Grossman’s first book at all, this sequel offers you more of what you loved, with less of what readers might have found unpalatable. As a huge fan of his book, I was concerned that without a large section of the book being about the magic college, I would be less entranced. Instead I found every page of this story was so energizing I often had to put it down, as I was literally shaking with excitement. The Magician King is both a poignant story about finding your place in the world, as well as roller coaster ride, and, as such, cannot come more highly recommended by me.

I would like to be sum this up by stating that this review says everything I can think of, and it shocks me that I have basically no criticisms for this novel. While I might have changed one or two things, they are so small and miniscule, that to mention them would be petty and silly; Grossman might be one of the few authors I have ever reviewed in such a positive light.

Company – 2011

Since it has been a long time since I have reviewed anything, I figured I’d give my thoughts on the current broadcast of  the musical “Company” which was performed with a star studded cast at Lincoln Center, and can now be viewed for a limited time at a local movie theater near you.
I’ll be try to be short, but it is Company, and the movie is almost 3 hours long.
It’s a mixed bag. The opening is not great. Patti Lupone visibly, and, more importantly, audibly doesn’t sing in most of it. Leaving us to recognize that she was needed. So it gets off to a really rocky start. Thankfully Stephen Colbert and Martha Plimpton are amazing. I’ve never seen that scene done better.
Unfortunately it is a while before you get to something applause worthy again. “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is kind of a mess vocally, and while Christina Hendricks looks great, but her performance is really uneven. Vocally she is fine, but she isn’t great. The woman who plays Kathy is really pretty, but she has a weak voice. More on her later.
 Marta (the crazy one) is also stunning, but she really can’t handle her “Another hundred people” song. All of her top notes are weak, and she is working so hard, that it just falls apart. I assume it was one of those “better live” moments (like in American Idol) because the audience went crazy, but for me it was excruciating. Normally, I’d think the fact she was less than pitch perfect was what annoyed me, but honestly…it wasn’t that she was flat vocally, it was that she was also flat dramatically, that did it. It was just boring. No one applauded that performance in the theatre.
The highlight of the entire performance has to be the scene leading up to “Not Getting Married”, as well as the song and the scene which follows it.  Again, it was the best I’d ever seen that scene. It really got me jazzed for Act 2.
The cast was a lot better in “Side by Side” at the Tony awards than they were at Lincoln Center. When the number was 1\2 done, I started checking my watch, and was amazed it just kept going and going. The big finish is good, but they go a little to far with it. I find nothing worth mentioning until that strange “Darling. I worry” song. This was really well done, and I felt the best/smartest bit of direction they ever had. the director actually lets us see Bobby seduce April, and it kind is a way to clearly demonstrate that Bobby isn’t quite as sad as they think. I always knew that, but I enjoyed having a side by side comparison.
Then something really strange happens. A big dance number happens while Bobby and April have sex. While this helps justify the casting of Kathy, who is  very pretty and an amazing dancer, it looks like it is out of a bond opener or Charlies Angels. I will say it is well danced, but I wanted it to end about 3 minutes sooner than it did. I also wasn’t sure that the additional lines that they added were alright. They felt a little too perfect, lending itself to be a bit too cliche for a Sondheim musical.
I may be wrong, but I think they added to the scene where Bobby shows up with Marta to hang out with the married couple with the Southern wife which are happily divorced but still together. There is this whole thing where the husband hits on Bobby. It was good, well written, and something I kind of always felt should be there. In fact, all the couples seem to hit on Bobby.
Patti Lupone really slays  “Ladies who Lunch.” Honestly, I’ve always found her interpretation of Sondheim a bit shallow, but she dug down for this one. She really gives Elaine Stritch a run for her money. I would have given her a standing ovation at Lincoln Center. It’s almost worth it to just see that. Everyone in the movie theatre applauded, and the Lincoln center people go nuts. It was nice to see someone really take an emotional song and interpret it. Having not seen that since Colbert early in act one.
Neil Patrick Harris also has a really rough first act. I’ve always been a bit critical of his vocal work, and while I was willing to give him a lot of room for error here, the sad truth is that  the role is too big for him. He does better in act two, but right when you think you love him again, “Being Alive” just doesn’t soar right.  He falters vocally in the beginning of the song, and he tries to get out of it, but the second he starts focusing on his vocals, the whole piece falls apart. With all his energy spent singing, he doesn’t really act, and so the show ends on a note that while technically accurate, is devoid of the real emotion and heart of the song.
What I found most intriguing about this show was that it was a lot darker than the Raul Esparza version. Some of it was that material had been added or modified. Other parts were just that the actors were willing to go there. I really liked that part. On the whole I found the show a lot better acted (with some exceptions) than the other versions I’ve seen. And that really went a long way with me. It is a good production, and definitely worth seeing. I just wanted it to be something more iconic, more perfect. If someone only was going to see it once. I’d say watch the recording of the production starring Raul Esparza. It is a better show. I think it is clear that a production of Company gets better with an ensemble that is heavily rehearsed. The weakest link in the Neil Patrick Harris version are the group numbers. They are really bad. The individual scenes are much better, but with the exception of the 3 scenes I praised, the Raul Esparza production is vastly superior.

The Magicians – A Book Review

I decided to add the blog of the author of this book to my blog roll, because I find it fun to read. So I figured it would be good of me to write a short review of the book which led me to him. Though I will take this moment to give a shout out to TangleThis since she lent me the book, and got me interested in it. To write a concise review, I’m going to try and just discuss the novel, and allow readers, whoever they are, to go ahead and look up the plot on-line. Thus this review contains SPOILERS and you have been warned!

While this book has been crudely described as “Harry Potter for adults” I would argue it is a bit more than that. Though certainly there are some similarities. I have a big love of magic, and anything about magic school. So, the idea of a book about non-children attending a magic school immediately appealed to me. In addition I was told there was a “gay character” and so I was intrigued even more. Both of these hold true, and so it is easy for me to not have been disappointed.

What I think I enjoyed the most about this book, was that the characters felt like college students. College students experiment with sex, whine constantly, have big dramatic fights over trivial things, and so forth. While this list does not sound at all appetizing, it is honest, and Grossman doesn’t let the students circumvent these feelings/experiences just because they are studying magic. In fact, the fact they are magicians, and can have whatever they want, only compounds these issues for the characters. So I was really pleased to read the book, and experience the drunken mistakes that all college youths tend to make.

In particular, once Quentin and Alice join “The Physical Kids” I enjoyed the fact that they became a sort of family. In college, I too found a family like this. We threw parties, drank wine, cooked food, studied, cried, laughed, and danced together. Also like Quentin and Alice, my family was older than me, and when they graduated, I was left alone. Quentin had Alice, but I didn’t really have that, and I was envious of him for having her. Thankfully some people stayed close by, but it was never like the family of “the golden age” of college. I’ve always wanted to write about that experience, and I envied Grossman’s skill in being able to write it so beautifully. I wonder if he had a time like that.

When I tried to talk about this book with TangleThis, I kind of faltered. I focused a lot on the ending, because it was the freshest, but I’ve had some time now, and now I really mainly remember the beginning.

The second thing I really enjoyed about the book was the magic. Big shock I know. But I liked that it explained why magic could exist in our world. Namely being…it is really HARD to do! The way Grossman invented and described the spell casting process was fascinating to me, especially because I am writing about rehearsal, and both require repetition. So I hopefully will be able to take the lessons I gained from reading his book, and incorporate them as I continue to write my own.

My only real complaints would be the supporting cast. Despite their constant presence, some of the supporting cast, seem to never really become real. While I think this is somewhat honest, as you don’t always get to really know some people even if you hang out with them for a long time, I would have appreciated seeing characters at least hint that they had more going on. When he did, he did it very well. The scene where Eliot is engaged in some slave-master fantasy, is eye opening, thrilling, and very real. Even though it is really never brought up again, it lets you know there is a lot more to the character. Eliot is different behind closed doors, and I liked that we got to see it. I felt the rest of the supporting cast needed moments like this.

BBE didn’t love this book as much as me. He couldn’t get over that most of the characters were essentially terrible people. While this didn’t bother me, I could see that it might bother others. Still, it is a read I highly recommend!

Love Never Dies – Review

I had the opportunity to see the current version of “Love Never Dies” the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera (TPOTO). Prior to this, I had purchased the soundtrack that they released, and although I like a few songs I was not impressed. I was not a lone in this, and it appears that the creators of the show decided to listen closely to the critics. As a result, much of the show was changed, and I am happy to report that the changes made a drastic improvement in the show. It would appear that Andrew Lloyd Webber learned that no matter how sweeping and beautiful the score is, it is important to have a decent book to go along with it.

To save myself from attempting to articulate the plot, I suggest you read the synopsis from the website. The main change that people discuss is that the phantom retains his dark manner and is still somewhat manipulative. I agree with this, but I felt the best changes were that Meg, Christine’s friend who sings “Angel of Music” in the TPOTO. In the original version of this show, Meg is seemingly annoyed by Christine the entire time, and hates her for attempting to steal her spotlight. In the new version, Meg is happy to see Christine again, and does not mind sharing the stage with her. Meg’s main desire is simply to be recognized and rewarded by the Phantom in a manner similar to the things he did to turn Christine from chorus girl to a woman with an incredible voice. This change was absolutely necessary, and it really made all the difference in the world. To do this, Meg sings a few different songs, and songs she formerly sang, are sung to different people. I will provide a greater run down of noticeable changes in a list at the end of the post.

What the show gets right, it gets right extremely well. With Ramin Karimloo, as the phantom I was spellbound from the first note he sang. Though I had low expectations for the show on a whole, my ears and eyes were ready to be critique Mr. Karimloo’s performance based on my belief that no one can sing as beautifully as the soundtrack would have you believe. Now I must report that the beautiful tones you hear on the soundtrack barely do the man justice. When he opened the show with, “Till I Hear You Sing Once More” I started crying before the song was even half over. This started a trend, and I found myself brought to tears multiple times when he sang. Even when my brain was thinking “the lyrics he is singing are really stupid.” The voice singing them was absolutely enchanting. It really made me believe that the Phantom had special powers. I was as enchanted with him as Christine was. Only later did I find out that not only does this man have a sexy voice, but he is perhaps the hottest phantom ever:

Speaking of Christine, Sierra Boggess, who plays the role was a bit of a surprise. I thought she would be a better actress, and a weaker singer. Instead, I got to hear her sing far better than I thought she could, but seemingly not be able to act her way out of a paper bag. I don’t think it is completely fair to blame her for her lack of acting ability, however, as Christine has almost no dialogue at all. She seems to show up, and react. The revamped script did make her appear less stupid, as Christine believes she is being invited to America to sing for impresario Oscar Hammerstein, not to be confused with his grandson Oscar Hammerstein, of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, instead of a mysterious benefactor. My main problem on the original soundtrack was that I didn’t feel Ms. Boggess could sing the title song well enough, and, as her decision to sing or not is so pivotal to the plot, the song needed to be amazing. Ms. Boggess seems to have finally mastered the incredibly different parts of the score. Although the fact she was singing it on a set that rotated with varying light effects, and that she was wearing a dazzling gown, helped her sell the performance, she no longer needs that much help to sell it to the audience. If Christine’s role is simply to be there to sing this song beautifully, then Ms. Boggess can claim she did an excellent job.

The rest of cast sang and performed their roles with great professionalism. Even poor Joseph Millson, who has the unfortunate displeasure of having to play Raoul, did the job as best he could. Unfortunately, Raoul is never given a chance to make himself an equally good option to the Phantom. The song he sings “Why does she love me” is silky and smooth, but the range is horribly limited both vocally and emotionally. This same set of notes are repeated when Raoul attempts to persuade Christine to choose him, but compared to the amount of time the Phantom has had to bewitch Christine back to his side, it is not much of a competition. I wish the show had found a way to make Raoul a possibility.

Fortunately, when watching the show, I was not given a lot of time to ruminate on these obvious flaws, as the show has a high spectacle factor that was worth the £35 I paid for my ticket. The phantom’s theme park, Phantasma (a name worthy of an eye roll), has fire jugglers, acrobats, a woman who is styled to look 1\2 woman and 1\2 bird, a crystal clear stage coach driven by a skeleton, a chandelier of golden singing medusa heads, and so much more. Plus, the production includes projected images onto a screen, so that things seem to be even more amazing and layered. While I don’t like to admit that the spectacle helps cover up for the gaping holes in the show….but they kind of do. However, it is what makes the musical simply good, and prevents it from being a masterpiece.

Although I would not have suggested people pay to see the production as it was originally, I don’t feel bad in recommending it to people now. Just don’t pay full price. The show has its flaws, the biggest/most insulting one being that Christine and Phantom sing a ridiculous operatic duet detailing that they had sex before she married Raoul, but if you just go with it, it is easy to get swept away. So long as you have a phantom as darkly enchanting as Ramin Karimloo at the helm.

List of notable changes:

  • “Heaven by the Sea” and the reprise is cut.
  • The show begins with “The Ayrie” wherein a marionette of Christine walks around, followed by “Till I Hear You Sing.” The big show stopping number.
  • Christine believes she is singing for the impresario Oscar Hammerstein
  • Meg is not mean to Christine, and sings a song about how the ship is bringing her friend so close to her, and she hopes they will be reunited.
  • “Only for Him” is cut, and “Only for You” is just sung to introduce Coney Island to the audience.
  • The entire beginning bit where Madame Giry is on Coney Island years later and confronted by Ms. Fleck is cut.
  • The lyrics to “Till I hear You sing” are slightly different
  • There are several small lyrics changes
  • The 3 phantom lackeys don’t refer to the Phantom as “Mr. Y” in the first act, but instead refer to Mr. H (meaning Mr. Hammerstein).
  • Bizarrely, the 3 phantom lackeys DO refer to the Phantom as “Mr. Y” when they say “Mr. Y’s last surprise” during “Ladies…Gents/The Coney Island Waltz (reprise)
  • The phantom is only unmasked fully in Act 1, though his disfigurement is somewhat visible in the scene where he confronts Raoul in act II.
  • The original ending had Christine dying in Meg’s arms after Meg, in the midst of a mental breakdown after kidnapping Gustave, accidentally shot her. Raoul had already fled New York for Paris. Whereas now, the Phantom cradles Christine’s body. Raoul returns with Gustave, who ran off upon learning the Phantom was his father, and sits with the dying Christine. Gustave then embraces his real father, leaving Raoul with nothing.
  • Bit of trivia: The tune to “Love Never Dies” is actually from a song called “Our Kind of Love” which was originally called “The Heart is Slow To Learn” which was in the musical “The Beautiful Game.”

I used to think ALW’s use of previous tunes in this show was kind of lazy, but it appears he has been trying to write this show for 20 years, but he had to do other projects, so he would just stick bits of it into other shows.

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