Category: musicals

A Belated Birthday Present

Denisa’s no longer really big on getting Stuff for her birthday or Christmas. (Not that she ever really was to begin with, but she’s even less now.) This year, she insisted she didn’t really want anything other than a trip to Sugarloaf to ski the day after her birthday. But we were given free tickets to the mountain for that, so how could that really count as a birthday present? So I bought her tickets to the touring Broadway production of Cabaret and promised a fun evening out.

The date of the performance was last night, and we traveled up to Bangor for dinner and then Orono for the show (at the University of Maine’s Collins Center for the Arts.) We ate dinner at Timber, a nice restaurant in Bangor that I’d eaten at a few years ago and wanted to revisit. I first ate there soon after it opened, and it felt to me like it’s really improved since then. (And it was very good the first time I went.) Great atmosphere and staff, and I had this Buckeye Tart for dessert that was one of my most memorable desserts in the last few years. A ball of peanut butter mousse encased in chocolate, on a chocolate tart, with caramel corn sprinkled over it. Worth every calorie, and if you’re up in Bangor for anything, I really recommend the restaurant.

Afterward, we drove up to Orono and walked around the campus for a bit until the musical was to begin. That morning, as I was looking into the final details of the trip, I discovered one key bit of information I’d missed when I’d bought the tickets. In the description of the show was a simple statement: “For mature audiences only.” I’d never actually seen Cabaret. I knew some of the music, I knew it took place in a seedy nightclub, but I didn’t know much more than that. It won the Tony for Best Musical, and this version won for Best Revival. I hadn’t really thought much beyond that.

So seeing that statement made me panic, just a bit. This was supposed to be a nice birthday present for my wife. What, exactly, had I bought tickets for? I researched the production some more and saw some of the costumes. They were definitely . . . seedy. I called Denisa in and showed her, warning her that the evening might be . . . a tad more risque than perhaps she’d been expecting. (Sigh.) But I’d bought the tickets, and how raunchy could a Tony-award winning production be?

Pretty raunchy.

That actually takes you to a chain of videos that contains pretty much the entire production. The televised version, at least. There were quite a few jokes that weren’t in the clips I browsed through just now. Hand gestures, body movements, etc. Someone had brought her three young daughters to the show, and I really wondered right off just how comfortable she was with that decision.

I’m not a prude (I don’t think), but some of this was quite over the top. Denisa wasn’t demanding we walk out, but she also was far from pleased with her birthday present for the first while. The production values were great. Fantastic singing and music. But the content was definitely designed to be as button pushing as possible. I wasn’t ready to give the show up, though. For one thing, I didn’t think a musical would win the Tony for Best Musical based solely on raunch. There had to be a “there” there, and I was catching glimpses of it as the show progressed. Much of it seemed symbolic to me, and there were undertones of larger themes at work. Themes I explained to Denisa at intermission, which helped her see where the show was coming from as well.

(We had seats in the literal front row, which I thought was a great idea when I bought them. The opening number of the second act has the Emcee coming out in the audience to interact with them, however. He came right up to me and almost had me dance with him, until he pulled a last minute switcheroo and danced with a guy three seats to my right. That’s one way to get the pulse pounding.)

The second act really came through for me. It took all that raunch of the first act and twisted it all, having it come together in a way that was quite moving. Very thought provoking in a way I don’t really want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I was glad I didn’t have a full knowledge of the plot and the content going into it, so it could have an impact on me.

Overall, Denisa also enjoyed the show, though she said it could have done without a fair bit of the raunch. No need to push the envelope that far. But then again, sometimes it’s only when we’re put into vulnerable, uncomfortable positions that we actually can have thoughts have an impact on us. I’m still not sure where I come down on it. Not that it matters to locals. The show was there for just one night, and I doubt it’ll be in the area again anytime soon.

In any case, it was definitely a fun, memorable evening. Though I think I’ll screen the shows I buy tickets for Denisa’s birthday a bit more carefully in the future . . .

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Broadway Review: The Band’s Visit

While down in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, Denisa and I made our yearly trek into New York City to go see a show on Broadway. My dream this year was that we’d be able to go catch Groundhog Day before it closed. Alas, it was not meant to be. It ended its run back in September. (But fear not, Woodchuck Chuckers! It’s supposed to go on a national tour next year. Hope is not lost yet!) So I was left to scratch my head as I scanned through the offerings. Should I see something new? A revival? Hamilton? (Spoiler: no. Tickets at Thanksgiving were still through the roof.)

I turned to my intrepid agent, as I usually do on all things Broadway-related. And he had a strong recommendation right away: The Band’s Visit. I’d never even heard of it, but that’s not surprising, as I don’t follow the ins and outs of Broadway too closely. I turned to the Googlewebs to find out what it was all about. A Broadway adaptation of an Israeli movie from 2007, it tells the story of an Egyptian military band that ends up in a tiny town in Israel by accident for one evening. Its one big name star is Tony Shaloub (of Monk and Galaxy Quest fame). Kind of an inauspicious introduction to the musical.

But then I checked out the reviews, which were through the roof excellent. The show had started off-Broadway and had made the move to Broadway, opening November 12th after previews. Critics were gushing, and I was more than intrigued. Ticket prices were higher than some of the other shows I could see, but I liked the idea of seeing something fresh and new, so I went for it.

After a delicious Thai dinner at Yum Yum Too (food was great, naming of the restaurant leaves some to be desired), we saw the show, which is just an hour and a half long, with no intermission.

It was fantastic. So different from the other musicals I’ve seen. It’s got a variety of song-types, mainly Middle-Eastern themed. The musicians in the band on stage are actual musicians. Just amazing at their craft. The acting is spot on. I really don’t go to musicals to get engrossed in character development most of the time, but this musical . . . just incredible at that. I’m still thinking of the songs and characters, a week later. The story is simple, but because of that, it opens up so much room for exploring motivations and personalities. It was a beautiful experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat. So glad we went. It’s an easy 10/10.

Unfortunately it’s too new to even have a cast recording for me to point you to. That’s supposed to be coming soon. There are a few YouTube videos that give snippets of the songs. But for now, if you’re in New York in the next while and are looking for something awesome to see, you should put this right at the top of your list.

Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors

There are some movies I just assume everyone has seen, because I’ve seen them myself so many times. But then I talk to people and mention the movies in casual conversation, and I’m reminded that just isn’t the case. So even though it feels redundant to me to review such an excellent movie musical as Little Shop of Horrors . . .

I’m going to do it anyway.

Because everyone should watch this movie. It’s just so much fun, and so unique. And never mind the fact that when I had Tomas and DC watch it with Denisa and me the other night, their response to the movie was . . . less than enthusiastic. (They couldn’t get over the Audrey’s accent in the movie. Sigh.)

If you didn’t know, the story is simple: normal guy finds alien, man-eating plant. Becomes famous, but at the cost of blood and bodies. He’s in love with a girl who’s dating a sadistic dentist, and he wants to save her from the hellish neighborhood they live in.

Oh, and it’s got songs and music from the same team that brought you The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. (Side note: wouldn’t it be awesome if Disney would do an animated version of this movie? They’re doing all these live-action versions of animated films. Why not flip that around, guys?) It’s got some of my favorite songs from any musicals. I grew up playing the dentist song over and over. (On vinyl. Go ahead. Make fun of me.) The music is funny and smart and beautiful all at once. That ain’t easy to pull off.

The film version gets even better by starring Rick Moranis, with cameos by Bill Murray, John Candy, Jim Belushi, and more. And to top it all off, it was directed by Miss Piggy and Yoda or (as he’s otherwise known), Frank Oz.

Seriously. This is a fun blast of a movie. It’s one that you should watch, and since it’s Halloween time right now, why not watch it between now and the main event?

5/5 Love love love this movie. Even Audrey’s accent.

A Tale of Two Sweeneys

I still have my month subscription to BroadwayHD, so two nights ago I decided to watch Sweeney Todd in Concert with Denisa. Nothing the kids would be interested in, so I picked a time when they were already on their way to bed. Except TRC came in and asked what we were watching. I told him it was a musical, thinking that would turn him off, and he decided to stay.

Okay, I thought, He’s 12. He’s up for a bit of a darkness in a musical. And he probably won’t last through it.

And then DC stopped by to see what everyone else was watching. Denisa said she could stay and watch a bit too, thinking she’d be turned off by the subject matter.

She wasn’t.

So we had a nice family evening watching a musical about a homicidal barber and his cannibalistic downstairs neighbor. And surprisingly, the kids really enjoyed it too. There were a couple of parts they found disgusting or boring, but on the whole, they were riveted. Go figure.

Since that had gone so well, after it was done, I popped in the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton version and we all watched that one.

Just kidding. Well, not kidding that I watched the Hollywood version, but rather that I let the kids watch it with us. Far far far too bloody.

It was really interesting watching the two versions back to back. The concert version was totally stripped down. No props. No big costumes. No sets. The Hollywood version was the exact opposite. Tons of money up on the screen for you to watch. And the concert version blew Johnny Depp out of the water. This surprised me, because I’d remembered really enjoying the film back when I first saw it. This time, however, the differences were stark. Singing was right up there as the main trouble. When you go from Patti LuPone and George Hearn to Helene Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, you take an enormous hit in term of vocal skill. Night and day. This probably wasn’t as obvious to me before because I didn’t do the two viewings back to back.

But more than that, there’s a sort of manic joy inherent in the musical that was on fine display in the concert version but was lost when it went to Hollywood. The film is just too broody and bloody. Depp’s Sweeney is troubled and vicious from start to finish, but the Todd in the musical truly seems to love his work. He relishes it. He comes alive once he can start killing people. Plus, I think there’s a lot to be said for the show’s having a live audience. People you can hear laugh along with you.

The biggest contrast was in the number “A Little Priest.” It was a real show stopper in the concert. Just marvelous and fun. Depp and Carter weren’t able to keep that energy. That joy and sense of fun. And so it was a real let down.

In any case, it was a fun few evenings. Riffing on the scary theme, I then persuaded TRC and DC to watch the first episode of Stranger Things with us. That turned out to be a mistake. I loved it, but they decided that was too far over the scary line. Ah well. Can’t win every time . . .

Watch Broadway Shows at Home

A week or two ago, I heard that they were going to stream a performance of a current Broadway musical live. The musical in question? She Loves Me, a revival of a production that’s based off the same play You’ve Got Mail and The Shop around the Corner were based on. It was one of the shows I’d been thinking about going to this summer, and I had been sad to hear it was closing July 10th, so I wouldn’t be able to see it.

Given the chance to stream it at home for $10? Yes, please. I wasn’t sure it would actually work, but considering going to the show in person would have set me back about $100/person, then it was definitely worth a shot. I marked the date on my calendar and investigated how best to view it.

It turns out that the service (BroadwayHD) has an app for the new AppleTV, which I just happen to own. So I downloaded it and subscribed for a month of the service ($15, non-recurring payment, it appears). I wasn’t sure if I’d have to pay an additional $10 on top of that fee to live stream the show, but again: bargain. (It turned out I didn’t need to, though from what I read, maybe that wasn’t supposed to be the case? Not sure.)

So last night, Denisa, DC, and I watched the whole show in our pajamas. (TRC showed up for the second half, primarily because I’d told the kids that anyone who stayed up to watch the show could stay up past their bedtime, and there was no way TRC was going to let DC stay up later than he could.)

We loved the experience. It was a little bumpy at first (I imagine because it was the first time they were trying to pull this off), as the video and the audio kept glitching, But after restarting the stream once or twice, it kicked in with no further difficulties. (We missed part of the first number, but that was it.) The picture and sound were fantastic, the camera work was great. I was really impressed they were pulling it all off live.

The musical itself was a delight from start to finish, with great music and acting and singing. All of us really enjoyed ourselves, and for $15 for that experience (plus a whole month of streaming other recordings on BroadwayHD), it really is a bargain. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I hope they were super successful with the experiment. Broadway is a long way for most of us to travel, and this would be a great way to see the shows.

Is it as good as seeing it in person? No. And I think that’s to the service’s advantage. I could imagine many people spending $10 on a live stream and then deciding they’d like to see that show in person when they get to Broadway. It must do wonders for the soundtrack as well (I’m always much more likely to want to own a soundtrack if I’ve seen the musical in question.)

In any case, if any of you are even remotely curious about this, I encourage you to check it out. I couldn’t recommend it more, and you can see the recorded version of the live stream this very instant (the actual show starts about 12:30 minutes in.)

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