Category: musicals

Spamalot: Then and Now

You wouldn’t think going to a production of Spamalot would be the fodder for much in the way of a blog post, but guess what?

You’d be wrong.

Denisa and I first went to Spamalot back when it was on Broadway in 2006. It had just won the Tony for Best Musical, and we both had a great time. (Except for the French taunting scene, which amused Denisa far less than it amused me.) My memories of the show are that it was very lively and fast paced and funny from start to finish.

Last night, we saw Spamalot for the second time, driving up to Orono to catch the touring production. It was a solid performance, though of course not nearly as good as the Broadway production that lives now in my memory. It’s an unfair comparison to make, but very hard to get around it. Still, it was funny and a great way to spend an evening.

Except for one scene.

It wasn’t the French taunting scene this time. No, in this instance, it was the “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” number:

It’s all about how, to really succeed on Broadway, you need Jews. And when I saw it on Broadway in 2006, I thought it was hilarious. A great in-joke that went over very well with the audience. The ensuing music and dance number, with all the Jewish references, was fantastic.

Last night in Orono, Maine, thirteen years later? I found the whole number quite painful to watch. Not because it was poorly done. The choreography and acting was no different than what I’d seen in 2006 (minus some simple matters of the skill of the dancers and actors), but the content itself was rough.

For one thing, I was in Orono, Maine, where the Jewish population isn’t exactly overwhelming, so it felt much less like I was laughing along with a joke and much more like I was laughing at a particular group of people. But much more significantly, when I saw it in 2006, anti-Semitism seemed like such an outdated mindset. Something only a real imbecile would espouse. Perhaps that was just my naïveté, but certainly the amount of public anti-Semitism in America has gone through the roof in the intervening years.

And how depressing is it to think of that through the entire number? I almost felt like they should have just cut the entire scene, if it were possible. Judging from the laughs (or, rather, the stark absence of them in comparison to the rest of the show), I don’t think I was alone in my feelings. Which then makes me wonder if the scene was all that funny in the first place, back in 2006.

In any case, overall we had a great time, and it provided plenty of conversation fodder for the drive home. What do you all think about it?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Broadway Review: Come From Away

This year’s annual pilgrimage to New York City was another resounding success. It’s been interesting to keep going back to New York as I notch other cities across the world into my belt. Growing up, NYC was really the only city I knew well at all, and so it’s always been “the city” to me. It’s the place I compare all other cities to.

Denisa was commenting as we were walking through the city (with it’s . . . “unique” smells and sounds) that she’s not a big fan of Manhattan. It made me realize that somehow, I really am. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t want to live there, and it’s surprising to think (since I generally don’t like interacting with strangers), but I somehow really love the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. So much energy and action. New Orleans, Paris, London, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, DC, Salt Lake, Prague, Vienna, and the rest are all wonderful in their own way, but New York remains “the City” for me, stinky smells and all.

In any case, this time we walked over to the Hudson and back, exploring some areas I haven’t been in a while. All in all, we walked around 8 miles, which was a bit longer than I was planning on, but there you go.

We met up with my illustrious agents, who took us out to dinner at Tony’s Di Napoli, which had delicious Italian food. It’s served family style, so you get one entree, and it’s big enough for 2-3 hungry adults. Tasty stuff.

Afterward, we hurried over to our show of the year, which was Come from Away, on recommendation from Joshua. It tells the story of the real life event in Newfoundland, where scores of planes were grounded on 9/11 as the world tried to figure out what was going on. A town of 9,000 people ended up with 7,000 visitors from across the globe for 4 days. The musical goes into the logistics and the social interactions. It’s got fantastic music and a moving story, and Denisa and I both loved it. Very worth your while if you have a chance to see it in person at some point. 9/10, with an extra boost for having just a tremendous live performance. It was one of the best crowds I ever remember seeing a show with. “Electric” doesn’t do it justice.

Here’s a performance from the Tonys. Most of the cast is still the same as this performance, which was a nice surprise, this far into the show’s run:

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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.

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