I Wanna Be A Producer

Forgive me, all my loyal non-readers out there, as I write a nostalgia-filled post speaking about not Broadway, but the latest show I saw in suburban New York. This weekend was my high school’s musical. They put on The Producers, a bold show in any forum, but especially for a high school production. Major kudos to our director/choreographer/chemistry teacher extraordinaire for sticking to his guns and putting on, to what I can tell, a fully-formed production truthful to the original Broadway show, complete with swastikas, Nazi salutes, and everything else that would be offensive outside a piece of “art.”

My high school has a long and storied history of putting on great productions. In my four years, we were nominated every year for Best Musical by the Helen Hayes Awards (now known as the Metropolitan High School Theater Awards), winning the top prize twice, including one for my first show, On Your Toes. I am proud to say that I went to a public school with very talented individuals, but I also went to a school that recognizes the importance of the arts. When Glee first came out, I never realized how badly arts-education funding was decreasing throughout the country. My high school is a special place. I absolutely loved my high school career. Unlike every character every created by Hollywood, I had no desire to graduate and move on. I wanted to stay forever. My school didn’t have bullying (another trope I thought Hollywood made up), cliques were fluid, and no one really cared for the so-called “popular kids.” Most of the guys who did the shows were also multi-sport athletes, and no one ever got flack for doing a musical or singing in choir. It wasn’t exactly an idyllic high school, but compared to what you see in pop culture, it was the closest thing to a high school paradise.

Like all high schoolers, I had no idea where my life would take me. But I started in the pit, watching rehearsals unfold from the edge of the stage, until they were worked into masterpieces by the time opening night rolled around. I never realized that those moments would be where my life started, eventually working in arts administration, slowly working my way to a job for a Broadway production company (fingers crossed).

This was my first visit back to my high school where I know what I’m trying to work for and have a plan in place to get there. And I knew that there was controversy surrounding the show choice, but I didn’t know much else about the show. Instead, I found myself in awe of the talent on stage, and never felt more well-represented than watching a Asian-American boy play Leo Bloom, bemoaning his life as an accountant while secretly dreaming of becoming a Broadway producer.

The cast was talented, the students went for it, and they were met with raucous howls of laughter throughout the night. But for me, what was the truly impressive feat was watching the actors playing Roger De Bris and Carmen Ghia, two stereotypically flamboyant, campy gay roles, with such aplomb and comic timing. Their classmates behind me howled with laughter and hooted at all the funny lines. The fact that these teenagers could so confidently play these gay roles with to a T with such skill among their classmates was truly special. I am proud to be an alum of a school where high school students can play some of the gayest roles created with such confidence, knowing that they won’t be ridiculed while walking down the hall the following week.

Working at a non-profit arts council, I have fought to keep arts-education fully funded and give students the opportunities to participate in arts programs, opportunities that could be taken for granted in my own high school. It warms my heart that my high school is continuing its strong legacy of great productions. Arts education and arts programs are so important for young people, and I am so proud to be part of a legacy that continues to be so strong. The world begins to open up for you in high school, and though college expands your horizons a hundred-fold, I know I’m where I am today because of what transpired in my high school auditorium.

My Return to Paris

There are always lots of shows that I see and think, “I can’t wait to see this again!” But with the sheer number of options out there, limited time, and of course, the money of it all, I rarely go back to see a Broadway show a second time. I made an exception last night and went to see the dreamboat that Robert Fairchild is in An American in Paris before he departs tomorrow, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I saw the show last year during previews in Row W of the orchestra, which left a lot to be desired. The show was great, and while I got the full scope of the stage and saw all the projections and set pieces clearly, I missed being able to see the actors’ expressions. So learning that Fairchild was leaving, and the overwhelming feeling that I needed to see the show with better seats prompted a last-minute ticket buy. I sat in Row AA of the Front Mezzanine, and was right smack in the middle, with a perfect view of the stage and even into the pit! The show did not disappoint, and ‘s wonderful seeing everyone’s faces having the best time on the Palace’s cavernous stage.

An American in Paris has aged gracefully and was even better the second time around! Certain numbers have changed a bit, but the show was so amazing. I’m so happy that such a dance-heavy show has found success on Broadway. After a brief expository introduction from Brandon Uranowitz’s Adam, the show brings you right into the world of ballet, with a gorgeous dance showing the highs and lows of France after World War II without any dialogue. The movement is so brilliant and it’s absolutely breathtaking. Even the simplicity of dancers carrying chairs onto the stage becomes a beautiful visual. The way that director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon incorporated dancing with the props and set pieces is so innovative and great.

The only problem with a dance-heavy show is that the cast album can’t quite capture the magic of the show. If only it came with videos of the dance numbers! If the show was filmed (legally, of course), I would spend my days watching, “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck,” “Fidgety Feet,” and of course, “An American in Paris.” Fairchild’s spins and turns are revelations, and to see him use up the entire stage with his leaps (forgive my lack of ballet terminology) is nothing less than sensational. Of course, Leanne Cope, who plays Lise, is a beautiful dancer as well and matches Fairchild every step of the way. The rest of the cast is sensational and they were worthy of all their Tony nominations (I thought Max von Essen would win the Tony for Best Featured Actor, and I was sadly wrong). To shake up the casting (and add some much needed diversity to a show that stays true to its historic roots) let’s add So You Think You Can Dance’s Alex Wong and Jim Nowakowski to the cast one day!

I’m so glad that An American in Paris is still running after a year, and representing the world of dance on Broadway. I love the old-school classic musicals, and though An American in Paris is only a year old, it has the feel of the classics, with a big orchestra playing the lush Gershwin score. The first show I ever played in as a cellist was Rodgers and Hart’s On Your Toes, another dance-happy show, so An American in Paris was right up my alley. This is a score that I would love to play and now the cast album will be playing on a loop for the foreseeable future.

While Robert Fairchild only has two performances left (run and see him if you haven’t already!), An American in Paris is the kind of show that is so great that it works despite who’s in the cast. Perhaps another trip to Paris is in my future!

Noises Off: Laughs On

Nine absolutely hilarious performers. Zero people of color. Nonprofit theater at its finest. I’ll leave my cynicism at the door now.

I didn’t know much about Noises Off upon entering the theater, and had my doubts when I realized it was a three-act farce. But it’s one the funniest plays I’ve ever seen and each and every actor was hilarious. What start as a relatively simple concept, a behind the scenes at a terrible play, turns into a rip-roarious, laugh-packed, sharp and somehow witty play. Act I is a look at a terrible dress rehearsal for the show-within-the-show gone horribly wrong. The show Nothing On is in fact horrendous, and each actor is going through their own problems. In what could be banal and repetitive, Act II and III follow the action as the show tours around the country. Act II moves the backstage area to the forefront, and the audience gets to see the madness that is happening backstage as the actors unravel due to various personal issues and misunderstandings (what else?). Act III brings the stage back to the front, where everything that can go wrong does. Despite having the same lines and following the plot of Nothing On as closely as the actors can while improvising through various mishaps, every act elevates the material in zany disasters, and somehow the farce gets funnier and funnier.

Each actor was amazing, and it’s a shame that they’re all so strong and will probably cancel each other out come Awards Season. If I had to make a guess, it seems that Andrea Martin is a Tony darling (though she was great in Pippin, I still don’t understand how she was nominated over Rachel Bay Jones, who did a whole lot more in the show. That’s acrobatics for you, friend) so I can see her squeaking out a nomination. Or Megan Hilty, who greatly elevates the trite”dumb blonde” to new heights and really adds depth to the stereotypical “bad actor.”

I’ve probably never laughed so much in a theater, and don’t expect to have my stomach ache from any other show this year. Go see it while you still have a chance!

Nonprofit Theater Round Up: Winter 2016

I have recently seen three more nonprofit shows since my last post, and once again, not a single person of color graced the stage. In light of last night Oscars and the never-ending debate of race in the entertainment industry, it’s important to keep talking about diversity. Two of the shows I saw, the hilarious Noises Off and the fantastic She Loves Me felt so perfectly cast until you realize that there aren’t any non-white actors featured. (The third show, Our Mother’s Brief Affair is a family drama that deals with a specific historical period, so God forbid you cast anyone but white people). It’s a fine line between casting the best people for the job and ensuring that a production is diverse. I certainly don’t want subpar actors getting roles just to fill a quota, nor would that fix anything. In fact, it would make things worse. It is important to keep diversity in mind though. When you have heads of studios and production companies who are all white, coupled with white writers, directors, and casting directors, what do you think is going to happen? I’m not suggesting that any of these people are racist or insensitive. I just think it’s harder to make people see the need for diversity when they don’t realize the world they are portraying on stage and screen doesn’t look the way many other people’s worlds look.

Imagine being a child and not seeing anyone that looks like you on screen. With the insane number of television shows that exist, it’s hard to believe that all people are not represented. As a small child, it affects you. You start to feel like you don’t matter, that your stories aren’t important, that you aren’t worthy of representation. And then you grow up and realize that change isn’t going to happen overnight. The red carpet was full of white interviewers asking white actors how they felt about the lack of diversity. Here’s a novel idea. Ask a person of color! Have a person of color do the interviewing. Or better yet, have a nonwhite producer that can delve into the issue more, instead of merely scratching the surface to placate the internet.

This year on Broadway is one of the most diverse seasons to date. And it’s truly extraordinary that shows like Hamilton exist, where white roles are portrayed but actors of color. And it’s great that the gone-too-soon-but-not-forgotten show, Allegiance, showed the theater world that Asian-Americans exist, and Asians can appear on stage without living in the East, waiting for Western forces to come to their shores during times of war. And then there are shows like The Color Purple, Eclipsed, and On Your Feet! that continue to represent all the colors of the rainbow. Even plays, where traditionally white roles like those in The Gin Game and Hughie are going to black actors. It’s time for the nonprofit theaters to get in on that action! Sure, Hollywood isn’t any better, but if Broadway is this giant community that is progressive and full of activists, then why is it so hard for a nonprofit theater to cast people of color? To quote Hamilton, “this is not a moment, it’s a movement.” People of color aren’t going anywhere, so you minds well cast us in your shows. Who knows? Maybe we’ll revolutionize the whole scene…