I Can Go On For Forever

I LOVE a show that is emotionally devastating and makes me weep. I know that sounds weird, but I find there’s something so beautiful and wonderful about watching something that you know has taken so much work, where every word is manipulated and twisted until the perfect combination comes along, where every scene has been written and rewritten, and yet it still shatters you to your core. It’s pure magic. Dear Evan Hansen is one of those shows. I’ve waited a long time to see the show, and was worried that the hype surrounding the show would somehow lessen the experience, but I saw the show a month ago and I’m still cocooning myself in this Dear Evan Hansen bubble. I don’t want to see another musical. I just want to listen to the gorgeous Pasek and Paul score every second of every day. I have so much to say about it, and yet I still don’t have the proper vocabulary to do the show justice, but I want to talk about the show for forever.

Needless to say, Ben Platt is an absolute revelation and is so deserving of all the recognition he is getting this awards season. He takes a socially anxious, shy kid into a flawed, fully-realized human being just searching for a connection and purpose. Platt obviously has a beautiful voice, and it’s insane how well he can project whilst hunched over and crying. His vocal range is impressive, and I love the guttural noises in his lower register when he’s being self-deprecating. Every tick, every twitch, every movement gives so much insight into his character. It’s a true master class in performing. And those fluids! He can give Viola Davis a run for her money in a snot-off! He takes a fragile human being and turns it into one of the most powerful performances on Broadway, one we will continue to talk about for years to come. He absolutely breaks your heart and leaves you shattered, and somehow manages to do that performance eight times a week. While I cannot imagine another actor as Evan Hansen, and want Platt to stay with the show forever, I am also so excited to see what the future holds for this superstar.

I was a huge fan of Dogfight (and am still hoping for that Broadway transfer!), and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s score does not disappoint. Alex Lacamoire’s orchestrations, particularly in the strings, are absolutely gorgeous and really elevate the emotions, even on the cast album. And Steven Levenson’s book so expertly crafts this world where you completely feel for Evan and his plight, understand his choices even though they make you cringe, wish he makes another decision, and yet are on board with him throughout the show. With tonal shades of Next to Normal (one of my personal all-time favorites), I absolutely love that Michael Greif managed to direct another beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking show with a teenage ghost boy. Praise!

Isolation is everywhere in this show. Even down to the set, every room is its own island, floating alone in space against a black backdrop, surrounded by screens. And yet the show manages to connect every single person in the Music Box Theater. So thank you, Ben Platt, Rachel Bay Jones, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Michael Greif, and the entire cast and crew for providing such a beautiful and somehow enjoyable day of crying in the theater. I hope that everyone who needs to find solace finds this show. #YouWillBeFound

Last Dance

When I first heard that Gideon Glick was going to star in an Off-Broadway play about the twenty-something single experience, I was pumped. A horrific knee injury that left me unable to walk and housebound for weeks put in a crimp in my plan to actually see Significant Other, so I was so excited when it was announced long after that run had finished that the show would transfer to Broadway. Sadly, that run ended today, and it’s a shame.

For those who think theater skews to a older crowd, particularly straight plays, Significant Other was the answer about how to engage millennials in theater. A funny, heartbreaking, and at time, painful, look into the single life, Significant Other perfectly encapsulated so many of my feelings about the dating life today. I truly connected to Jordan Berman, minus being a Jewish, gay, male. It’s hard being single, and it’s hard when you feel like you’re behind all your friends. Jordan’s fantasy sequences, as well as his freak out over whether or not to send an email seemed to be scenes taken out of my own life. And that feeling of being alone, exacerbated when your friends are all partnered of were so searing, yet beautiful.

Gideon Glick was fantastic, and I think he deserves tons of awards recognition for deftlessly carrying the show. He made me laugh, he made me cringe, and he brought me to tears. Whether or not he always is that emotional, or if the end of the run brought out something extra, I do not know, but I do know that my heart continued to break for him, and in a way, for myself. Two of my other favorites, Lindsey Mendez brought great humanity and warmth to the schoolmarm, another character I sadly related to.

Joshua Harmon is a great new voice in the theater, and has written a piece that speaks to every young person that’s seen Significant Other. The haunting ending gave me chills and led me to tears, and I know it’s a lasting image that I’ll be sure to remember as I continue on my single struggle. I need to befriend a real-life Jordan to find my person so I too can dance the night away.

Way Down to Hadestown

Today, Hadestown ended its brilliant extended run down a the New York Theatre Workshop. The show is absolutely beautiful. From the first moments when Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Erica Sweany enter the stage with their lanterns and open their mouths, each Fate with their own beautiful, soulful voice, that all blend together perfectly, I just knew I was in for a treat. Nabiyah Be is a star in the making, and it’s refreshing to see a black lead for a role that doesn’t call for a black actress, and instead is just a fantastic voice and brings a gentle spirit to Eurydice. As Orpheus, Damon Daunno is the perfect mix of adorable, affable, and charming, and is given the sweetest lyrics that would make anyone fall in love with his lovable artist with a goofball grin. Amber Gray was so captivating and magnetic as Persephone, and Patrick Page has the perfect deep voice as a sinister and tantalizing Hades. Rounding out the cast, Matt Saldivar as the narrator looks like a badass Mark Ballas who manages to break your heart by the end of the show. All in all, the show is perfectly cast with a group of phenomenal voices that perfectly blend in Anais Mitchell’s score. The music was fantastic, catchy, eclectic, soulful, and beautiful and is one of the best scores I’ve heard in awhile. And under Rachel Chavkin’s direction, the movement of the show worked so well in NYTW’s space and the show felt organically diverse.

Despite knowing the outcome of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hadestown still manages to be a moving, thoughtful show on the price of love, artistry, and power. I am anxiously awaiting the cast album to be released, but I couldn’t let the run end without shouting my praise for the show out into the universe!

How does Hamilton go on and on and grow into more of a phenomenon?

Warning: As everyone seems to have memorized the cast album, I’m going to assume that there are no spoilers, but read at your own risk.

As the Schuyler sisters sing, “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” And how lucky I am that my parents chose to live in the suburbs of New York City and to have a mother who insisted on taking me to Broadway musicals as a child. I was lucky enough to see Hamilton at the Public Theater last year, and I was finally able to see it on Broadway 362 days later (but who’s counting?). It was worth the wait.

When I first saw the show at the Public, there was nothing out about it besides glowing reviews and the opening number that Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the White House. I had no idea what to expect and my mind was absolutely blown. It’s much different seeing a show a second time when you know what’s going to transpire on that stage and after listening to the cast album ♪NON-STOP♪ for six months. This time, I was able to take in the smaller nuances, to see how much the cast plays with each other in quieter moments, and to pay attention to how certain characters were reacting while on the second level. The interplay between the Schuyler Sisters has really grown, and it’s beautiful to see a strong group of powerful women completely owning it on stage. The love is so apparent between them in the little moments of “The Schuyler Sisters,” “Helpless,” and “Satisfied.” Seeing the whole bridal party walk down the aisle at Alexander and Eliza’s wedding is so charming, especially Okieriete Onaodowan as a flower girl. I also loved the quiet loving moments between Phillipa Soo and, as a superb 9-year-old Philip, Anthony Ramos, during “Take a Break.”

I do not think there will ever be anything as magical as seeing Hamilton for the first time. I know I have a lot of life yet to live, but I doubt anything will ever top that first time, in theater or in life. The second time was still absolutely amazing and while I tried to sear everything to memory, I find myself failing. To start with, I actually prefer the staging at the Public. That’s not to take anything away from the Broadway production because it’s still fantastic, but the stage at the Richard Rodgers Theater is so much more expansive and this is just me being super nit-picky. The brilliant choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler was one of the standouts after my Public viewing, but I felt that its impact was lessened on the larger stage. David Korins’ set is still amazing, but I felt like there was more interplay between the levels at the Public, but that could be a result of having a more limited sightline in comparison to a smaller stage. The idea of the ensemble bringing in set pieces and props as a metaphor to building a nation was much more apparent on a smaller stage. Regardless, it was still brilliant, it just seemed to get overshadowed a bit on a larger stage. It’s hard to know where to look when you have such an expansive stage filled with some of the most talented individuals around!

There were definitely some difference in the staging, and I thought they further incorporated the turntable to great effect. I loved the additional costumes they added from the Public, and really loved the new staging of “The World Was Wide Enough.” They also changed the end with a very small stage direction, but I think it drastically changes the tone of the show. And they added exit music which was FANTASTIC and I wish it was on the album. Exit music is seriously one of my favorite things in the world. Alex Lacamoire has been busy with Dear Evan Hansen so I missed seeing his curly ‘fro sticking up from the pit, but alas.

Howell Binkley’s lighting design is SO BRILLIANT. I’m actually quite obsessed with the light programming and thought it fit every number perfectly. The lighting had it’s own choreography and matched the dancing and music so well. It captured every nuance and mood perfectly and felt so organic to the rest of the piece. It hit every beat and really accented the end of every song. The lighting in this story really elevated the material, and I would be shocked if Binkley doesn’t win a Tony Award for this show. (Can you tell that I love musical theater?) The lighting and movement really come together during the duels in some of the most beautiful stagings I have ever seen. Thomas Kail is a genius. It should not take this long to mention him, but he has staged this production to (near) perfection.

Three of my favorite In the Heights-ers were out (Miranda, Chris Jackson, and Seth Stewart) but I got a heads up about them, so I had time to prepare. I was actually excited to see what Jon Rua would do as Hamilton, and he was absolutely fantastic! It helps knowing that I’ve already seen Miranda as Hamilton, so I was excited to see what another actor (and one who decidedly hasn’t lived in the Hamilton research world as much as Miranda has) would bring to the role. I’ve listened to the cast album so many times that it lives in my head, so hearing new voices definitely broke up the album in my head and forced me to really listen. I thought Rua brought a great dryness and cheekiness to his Hamilton, who was less combative and more emotional. He was endlessly endearing, and I particularly loved his versions of “Hurricane,””It’s Quiet Uptown,” and “The World Was Wide Enough” (*silently weeps just thinking about it*). He has a really silky and soulful singing voice on top of great rap skills, and I just really loved his performance as Hamilton. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he has an amazing non-Hamilton haircut which just somehow makes everything even more wonderful! He was very emotional at the end, even after Jonathan Groff’s plea to donate to BCEFA, and it’s just really beautiful to see someone who’s so overcome by the magnitude of the opportunity and just being grateful. I feel honored that I got to see Rua perform as Hamilton, and I hope that he’ll have a shot to perform as him 8 times a week if he decides to stay with the show. I’m trying to remember everything he’s done and as much as I want to listen to the cast album, I’m trying to sear his performance to memory. I don’t want to lose his voice in my head! As much as I would love to have a recording to Rua’s performance, part of the beauty of live theater is you have to experience it as it happens. Let’s hope my memory can hold up!

Now that they’re on a bigger stage knowing they have a massive hit on their hands, the role of Thomas Jefferson and King George III have both become much more interactive and playful with the audience. Daveed Diggs is amazing as a brash and cocky Jefferson, hamming it up to the full extent, playing to the audience with every line and some great prancing. Jonathan Groff does the most in just three scenes, bringing down the house with some much needed comedy. I expect Tony nominations for both of them, as well as for Ramos, who manages to break my heart as two separate characters. He is so much more expressive live than in the cast album, and he’s truly in the moment every second he’s on stage. He’s great at riling up Hamilton as John Laurens, and is especially great playing a shy and petulant 9 year old. And in his smaller, quieter moments, he brings such weight to emotionally devastate me. I also love his little movement to transition from Laurens to Philip during “The World Was Wide Enough.” It’s the little things that really make this musical soar. Leslie Odom, Jr’s performance as Aaron Burr was the one that stuck out the most to me after seeing it at the Public. He still manages to break my heart during “The Election of 1800” with his face full of hopeful anticipation. It’s a shame that Odom, Jr and Miranda will split votes in the inevitable Best Actor race, but what a star turn for Odom, Jr! I’m still obsessed with Onaodowan’s performance as Hercules Mulligan, and had forgotten how frail he makes his James Madison. His two roles could not be more different. Austin Smith has a deep, booming voice which is great for portraying the powerful General and ultimate President, George Washington. His riffs at the end of “One Last Time” really brought down the house. Sing!

As for the fabulous women, Phillipa Soo is as fantastic as ever and continued to break my heart. Renee Elise Goldsberry (my pick for Best Featured Actress) sounds like a dream and is able to bring the sass and the heart. Jasmine Cephas Jones is great as the spoil-sport Peggy and so sultry as Maria Reynolds. Can everyone be Tony nominated? ♪Please?♪ (Madison voice) It is no small feat to make a show about the Founding Fathers into a feminist show, but somehow it works. All three ladies truly shine and are worthy of Tony nominations. Work!

The ensemble members are all phenomenal, it was great seeing Gregory Haney on stage again (bring back all the Bring It On cast members! p.s. I miss Ariana Debose as the bullet). And a quick shout-out to Paul Tazewell for fantastic costumes and for showing off everyone’s guns! Also, the idea to make Jefferson wear purple as a nod to Prince is ingenious!

There is nothing like a great night at the theater. From the moment the lights went down, you could feel the audience lean forward in their seats in eager anticipation. It is rare for show to be universally praised by everyone and still somehow exceed expectations. I’m already waiting for my April 2017 tickets in my now yearly birthday/treat yo’self tradition. I’ll leave with this: I absolutely love Hamilton. I want to live in the Richard Rodgers Theater and watch the show every day. Please do not bootleg the show. Please do not beg for a movie version. No amount of film will ever truly capture the full magic of the show. See it live. Go to the theater. I know it’s expensive and it’s going to be a wait, but ♪wait for it wait for it wait♪. Believe me, it is well worth the wait!

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!

Spring Awakening: Awake and Sign

When Spring Awakening first came out, I was a teenager in high school. My mom and I heard great things about the show, but as I was at the awkward phase of not wanting to spend a few hours sitting next to my mom while watching actors my own age experience sexual awakenings, we never saw it on Broadway. Two years ago, a production played in a community theater that my mom went to go see with some of her friends. She loved it so much, she saw it a second time with me in tow the following weekend. I bought her the soundtrack, where she complained that the Broadway original cast wasn’t as good as the community theater production we saw. I’ve also made my mom sit through  multiple seasons of Switched at Birth, so when I heard that Deaf West and Michael Arden were bringing Spring Awakening back to Broadway, I knew it was a must-see event in my household.

To say that the revival is brilliant is an understatement. Taking an already great show and adding the world of Deaf culture is inspired and yet seems like such an obvious choice. There are so many moments that using Deaf actors really enhances the show’s material and adds extra layers to the storyline and character arcs. I’ve often remarked how so many of Steven Sater’s lyrics are so poetic, so to see the artistry of Emmy nominated (and future Tony nominee?) Spencer Liff’s choreography mixed with sign language was just extraordinary. The production itself was beautiful. I loved how they incorporated text projections it’s the tiny things like font changes for different characters that make you realize how thought-out every moment of brilliance was. I will be okay if Michael Arden decides never to act again if it means he’ll continue putting on inspired productions like this.

Despite having 25 actors making their Broadway debut with the production, the cast is full of superstars. In particular, the trio of should be award-nominated Melchior, Wendla, and Moritz, Austin McKenize, Sandra Mae Frank/Katie Boeck, and Daniel Durant/Alex Boniello were extraordinary and all left me devastated. It’s a shame that a cast recording will never be able to capture the magic that happens on the Brooks Atkinson stage. While I’m glad the production just announced a two-week extension, I truly hope it moves theaters to become an open-ended run because I need to see the show at least six more times and everyone should see this show to be a better individual. I often think of Broadway as the height of art and culture in New York, even though it’s still a business trying to make money at the end of the day. There are some shows that are a great time at the theater, but it’s true art like this production of Spring Awakening that makes you think and questions things while staying with you long after the show ends. A week later, I’m still thinking about the production, and I’m itching to go back to see it again.

There are so many brilliant little moments in the show that highlight the Deaf world: Ilse’s parting words to Moritz said behind his back, so he doesn’t realize she has left; the white light that envelopes all sound after “Don’t Do Sadness;” hearing actors covering their mouths while singing “blah blahs” during “Totally F****ed;”  the doctor requesting a private word with Frau Bergmann. It are these moments that make it seem like Spring Awakening was written with Deaf actors in mind. I feel like every other production I’ll see of Spring Awakening using just hearing actors will feel empty and incomplete.

I love that the “Voice of X” weren’t just voices for the sake of the hearing audiences, but the character’s internal beings personified. They didn’t just provide the voice, but were a separate character, a friend, confidante, secret-keeper, sounding board, the physical representation of an internal happy dance. And they weren’t just representations of their inner selves, but kick-ass musicians and rock stars at that. And the idea of leaving your voice behind is such a powerful image and concept. Bravo, Michael Arden, bravo. Any time a Deaf actor pushed away their character voice to open their own mouth and real voice was such a powerful punch in the gut.

This is one of the most diverse casts assembled on Broadway. In addition to all the Deaf actors finally getting their chance on the big stage, the cast also includes the most visible plus sized actress in Hollywood, a cancer patient currently undergoing treatment (continue to kick cancer’s ass Krysta Rodriguez, because you slayed me in the role of Ilse), and the first wheelchair-bound actor to appear on Broadway. That statistic absolutely boggles my mind, but congratulations to Ali Stroker for making history and blending in so seamlessly that will hopefully open the doors for more in the future. If that wasn’t enough, I happened to attend TDF’s Audio Described Performance, which meant that many audience members were also vision-impaired, so it was a the most inclusive audience I have ever been a part of.

As for awards season, I know it’s very early in the 2015-2016 season and everyone is betting on a Hamilton sweep, but if there is any justice in the world, Spring Awakening will be a force to be reckoned with, starting with Best Revival. I truly hope Michael Arden gives Thomas Kail a run for his money for Best Director, because this interpretation of Spring Awakening is just utterly brilliant and I fear no other production will ever live up to this one. I would be shocked if Ben Stanton doesn’t win for his Lighting Design. And it’s a shame that Sound Design hasn’t been reinstated because it’s shows like this that make you truly appreciate how integral Sound Design is to a show. To Gareth Owen: you win the Tony of my heart.

I would be remiss if I didn’t single out Andy Mientus for helping to develop the show and for being a hilarious Hanschen. I like this new trend of his character staying  alive at the conclusion of the show!

Finally, to the Deaf actors: Thank you. When the lights go dark or you leave the stage and are unable to see the audience, I hope you all realize how much the audience is cheering for you. Not just a polite clap, but a raucous applause filled with whoops and hollers. It seems unfair that you miss it and are unable to experience just how appreciative and generous the audience is for your performances. I hope that you can all find other projects worthy of all your talents. You’re all superstars in the making. Even if Spring Awakening closes on schedule in January, I hope you’ll all be back soon. Broadway is a better place because of your presence.