Posts Tagged ‘musicals’

Maybe “heal” is too soon to call, but I’m confident that when we look back on the reactions of people, nationally and internationally, to the horrific shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, we’ll point to the broadcast of the 70th Annual Tony Awards as an important cultural milestone not only in its celebration of diversity but in its unabashed and sincere display of empathy towards the LGBTQIA community. From host James Cordon’s opening statement to Hamilton‘s win for Best Musical, the ceremony and its participants let their emotions drive their performances and their words. The victims of Orlando were truly in the hearts and minds of those performing in New York as Broadway paid tribute to the community that built it.

So let’s take a look at all of the moments that made this year’s Tonys so significant.

And as a side note, you should check out Carolyn Cox’s article about the Tonys over at The Mary Sue.

 

The Cold Open

Before the ceremony even began, host James Cordon opened the show with little fanfare. Just the camera on him, positioned from the back curtain, so those watching could see the full capacity of the theater; a theater full of the LGBTQIA community and their allies, a theater full of love and support, a theater full of voices crying “you are NOT alone!”

 

The Tonys have always made a priority out of giving it their all as a showcase of performance and passion. For many across the country and around the world the chance to see a Broadway production is slim whether because of geography or for financial reasons. And yet the lifeblood of the theater is made up of young people seeking an outlet for their creativity or a refuge from the world around them, so the broadcast takes on extra special meaning and importance for the theater community as it reaches out to the next generation.

The Hamilton Love Was Non-Stop

With a record setting 16 nominations, it was merely a question of how many awards Hamilton was going to take home at the end of the night. One shy of matching The Producers‘ record-setting 12 wins, Hamilton made an impressive haul, winning in several categories including Best Director (Tommy Kail), Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Daveed Diggs), Best Orchestration (Alex Lacamoire), and Best Book of a Musical (Lin-Manuel Miranda).

The hip-hop musical chronicling the “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” was all over the Tonys. Not only did Lin-Manuel Miranda’s company provide an opening parody of Hamilton‘s first song for James Cordon they also closed out the show with “The Schuyler Sisters,” a love letter to New York City with Angelica, Eliza…and Peggy proclaiming it as “the greatest city in the world.”

It’s not all that surprising how much of a presence Hamilton had; James Cordon is unapologetically Hamilton trash and he used the award ceremony to indulge in that love as well as pay tribute to the efforts of Miranda to provide entertainment for those unable to attend the show during the Ham4Ham lottery outside the Richard Rogers Theater. At each commercial break, the upcoming performers took the stage outside the Beacon Theater, surrounded by fans unable to attend the show, to sing a well-known show tune or a classic Broadway standard. Cordon even aired an edited version of his Carpool Karaoke featuring Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakowski.

But there were two Hamilton related moments that prominently stood out. First, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance sonnet after winning for Best Original Score. A man of compassion and intelligence, Miranda made “love” the word of the night as he paid tribute to his wife and the LGBTQIA community.

After his win for Best Book, Miranda told reporters, “Theater doesn’t exist without the LGBT Community. It’s the cornerstone of our industry and it’s heavy in my heart tonight.”

Secondly, the performance of “History Has It’s Eyes on You” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” showed exactly why Hamilton has become such a significant piece of art. Getting three separate introductions from James Cordon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and Common respectively, the words and intent of the songs, not unlike the actual words of the Founding Fathers, took on new meaning. Out of respect for the victims in Orlando, Miranda and company performed without the prop muskets that would normally be featured, but I can say that their presence was barely noted as somber lyrics like “the world turned upside down” and “history has its eyes on you” reverberated through the Beacon Theater. It was a poignant moment as if the songs were chosen for a reason, sending a message to all those watching. Even the victorious shouts of “We won!” held back barely contained pride, joy, and rage. Hamilton secured its spot as the voice of a generation in that moment.

Frank Langella Pays Tribute to Orlando

After winning the award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in The Father, veteran actor Frank Langella forfeited the typical list of thank yous and instead commented on the Orlando shooting.

People of Color Sweep Major Awards

As mentioned before, Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom, Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Renée Elise Goldsberry took home awards for acting in a musical. Add to that list The Color Purple‘s Cynthia Erivo’s win for Best Lead Actress in a Musical and all four categories for acting in a musical were won by people of color. It’s a bittersweet moment of triumph since it’s the first time in the history of the Tonys that this has happened, but given the plethora of people of color nominated for Tonys this year, Broadway’s biggest night showed far more effort in promoting and encouraging diversity than the Oscars.

Speaking of which…

Diversity Steals the Showerivo

With so many people of color nominated, the plays and musicals nominated were just as diverse in their subject matter and significance to our current culture. Hamilton showed the parallels between modern and Revolutionary America through the lens of postmodern storytelling. Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed brought context to the Jazz Age play; the first to star an entirely black cast and a desegregated orchestra. The Tony performance also featured the incomparable Audra McDonald doing a tap routine while very pregnant! The Color Purple celebrated the hard work, struggle, and drive of black women finding strength in themselves and in the people they love. Worth noting was Cynthia Erivo’s powerhouse performance as Celie during the show. She brought the house down and showed why the Tony was hers to win. Even the revival of Fiddler on the Roof found significance as a celebration of faith through the struggle of the Jewish community in turn of the century Russia.

The most intriguing performance, however, was the revival of Spring Awakening with a cast made up of deaf and hearing as well as differently abled actors. Marlee Matlin, who made her Broadway debut in the Deaf West production, introduced the performance, noting that the themes of the play are universal but the deafness of some of the principal actors gives greater meaning to a musical about the failure of adults to listen to their children.

Of course one night of music and awards can’t erase the tragedy this country, specifically the LGBTQIA community, experienced, but in their own way the Tonys gave us a brief distraction. It was a generous gift and I thank them for that with all of my heart.

If you’d like to help the victims of the Orlando shooting, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund

Kate Leth also posted a roundup of pertinent links for various donations and trauma counseling. You can go here: http://kateordie.tumblr.com/post/145813044112/anyone-in-orlando-or-has-followers-from-the-area

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That’s right, you. You’re the one who’s still obsessed with the greatest musical that ever musicaled. Not me. You. You’re the one who goes to bed singing “The Schuyler Sisters”. You’re the one who wakes up with Washington’s rap from “Right Hand Man” bouncing around your skull. You’re the one who uses the Aaron Burr, Sir rhyming scheme nonstop. You’re the one who referenced another Hamilton song within a sentence about your obsessive need to incorporate the previous song into your daily life.AR-AK469_Theate_P_20150806131612

Okay, that escalated quickly.

But fear not, readers, for I have come here to curate a sampling of Founding Fathers/American Revolution themed media that’s sure to continue enabling my obsession. I mean your obsession.

#Ham4Ham

Let’s start with an easy one. Perhaps this obsession has also become entwined with your love of Broadway and musicals in general. Well, never fear, you can fall down the rabbit hole of Ham4Ham videos on YouTube where the cast and crew, under the direction of Lin-Manuel Miranda, perform for an audience of hundreds participating in a lottery for tickets to the show. A mere ten dollars gets you a five minute performance from the stars of Hamilton or from some of the many familiar faces from Broadway’s past and present.

Drunk History

The one that started it all. Need I say more?

Histeria

As I mentioned in the latest podcast, Histeria was a show created by the same teams responsible for Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. It was a show designed to – get this – make history entertaining for kids and pre-teens. Weird, right? It only aired for two years and it has yet to be released on DVD, but you can watch the episodes on YouTube for free! Best of all, they have several episodes devoted to the American Revolution featuring a very Bob Hope-esque George Washington.

Schoolhouse Rock!

It was a simpler time…

Founding Fathers Rapping

Need more Revolution Era rap? Looks like JibJab might have beat Lin-Manuel Miranda by a few years…

1776

In need of more Founding Fathers singing that isn’t rap? Okay, I guess that’s cool. Well look no further than 1776, a musical about the creation, ratification, and signing of the Declaration of Independence. You won’t find any signs of Hamilton here, but John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin sure now how to…sing about eggs.

HBO’s John Adams Mini-Series

Wondering why Alexander Hamilton had such a problem with John Adams? Well maybe watching a bunch of clips from the miniseries will make clear what’s only glossed over in the musical. Adapted from David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, we see the Revolution and the Early Republic through the eyes of one of the less popular presidents. Paul Giamatti carries the miniseries deftly upon his shoulders, but he’s also surrounded by an impressive cast of amazing actors, including Rufu Sewell as Hamilton.

 

That Time George Washington Totally Fought Robin, the Boy Wonder

You heard me.

Well, hopefully that keeps me you satisfied for the time being. Lord knows it’s hard to say no to this craving for more Hamilton oriented media, but I’ll you’ll just have to hunker down and wait for it to calm down. Then, maybe, we can get some work done around here, people!

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

 

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Intro and Outro music: “Doctor Who Theme” by the Doubleclicks

Check out Jackie’s latest album, This Will Make an Excellent Horcrux

As Labor Day comes to a close, I thought I’d recommend a movie that’s been one of my favorites for quite some time that deals with the highly appropriate themes of worker’s rights, unions, and freedom of expression. I’m talking cradle boxabout 1999’s Cradle Will Rock. Written, directed, and produced by Tim Robbins, Cradle Will Rock is set during the Great Depression, spanning the inception of the eponymous musical to its unorthodox opening performance after budget cuts to the Federal Theater Project (FTP), a branch of President Roosevelt’s Works Projects Administration (WPA), shut down all new productions. Surrounding the main story of the musical’s highs and lows are several interconnecting storylines that flesh out life in the Depression-Era America, including several well-known cultural icons and figures of note.

The movie itself is a semi-fictionalized account of The Cradle Will Rock‘s (Robbins dropped the The) original production and what blows my mind about this movie is the truth embedded in every point of connection. The Cradle Will Rock was a real musical, produced by Orson Welles and John Houseman, that was originally performed by the main cast from the audience of the theater when the show’s writer and composer, Marc Blitzstein, provided 00348w9gnarration and musical accompaniment on stage to sidestep union rules that forbid the actors to participate. Clearly it was a play that the cast and crew believed in, one that was unabashedly pro-union in a time when labor unions were the bane of industrialists looking to capitalize on cheap and disposable labor.

Circling The Cradle Will Rock are a number of stories containing their own measures of truth and fiction. These stories include the notorious Diego Rivera painting, Man at the Crossroads, commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center (recently featured in the Netflix series Sense8), the House Committee on Un-American Activities’ investigation into the FTP, and the complicity of American industrialists in providing funds to dictators like Hitler and Mussolini. All of it is tied together through the common themes of censorship in and of the arts, labor issues, immigration, and the disparity between the wealthy and the poor that does more to fully realize life in America than a typical event-based movie. Though Tim Robbins took some liberties with the various stories, the political and philosophical underpinnings of the script are fully justified by the characters and their actions.

The cast is a veritable who’s-who of character actors who, by now, are most well-known actors in their own right. At the time, though, many members of the cast were still operating below Hollywood’s radar. The cast includes Hank Azaria as Marc Blitzstein, Emily Watson as The Cradle Will Rock actress and singer Olive Stanton, John Cusack as cradle will rockNelson Rockefeller, Angus Macfadyen as Orson Welles, Cary Elwes as John Houseman, Ruben Blades as Diego Rivera, John Turturro as fictional actor Aldo Silvano, and Cherry Jones as FTP producer, director, and playwright Hallie Flanagan. Filling out the cast are Billy Murray, Joan Cusack, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Giamatti, Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Susan Sarandon, and Philip Baker Hall. Robbins also rounded out the cast with veteran Broadway performers for much of the musical scenes as well as minor roles for still-living members of The Cradle Will Rock‘s original cast. With such a massive ensemble it’s amazing that no single member of the company is given an elevated status that might signal them as the main character. Robbins as a writer and director is generous yet fair with the amount of time each character has to shine, assuring us that there are no favorites and that the story is properly served.

If you have the time and have an interest in this time in America’s history, or you’re looking for a good discussion about art and politics, Cradle Will Rock will most definitely give you something to talk about by the film’s end. And you get some pretty sweet Broadway songs to tap your feet to.

TwistedIf you loved their tongue-in-cheek love letters to Harry Potter (A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel, A Very Potter Senior Year), Science Fiction (Starship), and DC Comics (Holy Musical B@tman!), then boy are you in luck because Team Starkid have focused their wonderfully wicked eyes on Disney with Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier. Yes, it’s the beloved Disney classic Aladdin as seen from Jafar’s point of view. In the world of Team Starkid, however, Jafar isn’t as evil as he appears.

Agrabah is on the brink of economic and social collapse due to the incompetence of the Sultan. The only hope the kingdom has is a royal marriage between Princess Jasmine and a wealthy prince. Unfortunately, Jasmine is more concerned with bucking the system, setting her tiger on prospective suitors until one finally misconstrues the attack as an act of war. Jafar has tried everything he can to fix Agrabah, but his only hope lies in a common oil lamp hidden within the Tiger-Head Cave and a sociopathic, horny thief named Aladdin.

Team Starkid has always been very clever about reinterpreting beloved characters of fiction. Harry Potter is a self-involved egotist who eventually mans up to be the Chosen One everyone says he is, virtually all of the characters in Starship are parodies of science fiction tropes, and the heroes of DC Comics are depicted as well-intentioned, yet somewhat incompetent man-children. In Twisted, it’s very clear who writers Matt and Nick Lang side with when it comes to the story of Aladdin. Jafar was once a dreamer, a man with ideas that could fix the kingdom and as he takes his position as the assistant to the royal vizier, he meets the love of his life, Sherrezade, a woman with 1001 stories to tell of fantasy and faith. Jafar, however, is a man of science and reason, but the years begin to take their toll as the decadence of Agrabah’s Sultan robs him of everything he loves, leaving him desperate to save what’s left of the kingdom while guiding Jasmine towards being a thoughtful and just ruler.

JafarTwisted is also an opportunity for Team Starkid to parody most of the Disney Renaissance of films through the lens of Wicked, which provided much of the musical’s beats and story structure. The opening number is a perfect parody of Beauty and the Beast‘s opening and even features a cameo by Belle who treats Jafar about as fairly as the rest of the kingdom. Many Disney characters show up in the story, including a whole slew of Disney villains like Ursula, Maleficent, Gaston, Scar, and Captain Hook who give their own perspectives on the movies that turned them into the bad guys. There are also plenty of call-backs to the actual movie Aladdin with characters speaking lines of dialogue that are actually quotes from the movie’s songs. They even take the opportunity to poke fun at Pixar, naming the rival kingdom of Prince Achmed, the unfortunate recipient of a lashing from the Princess’ tiger, Pik-zahr.

Though Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney movies, it’s just as fun to watch Team Starkid turn him into the ultimate villain of the musical while making Jafar a sympathetic and tragic figure. The Starkids may love their parodies, but their sincerity shines through as well with gut punching songs delivered superbly by Dylan Saunders as Jafar.

If you have the time to spare, spend it getting reacquainted with the royal vizier we all love to hate!