And the World Will Know (about Musical Mondays)

I’ve been wanting to share some thoughts about my favorite musicals on this blog for a long time, so I’ve finally started doing it. I started out discussing my all-time top two musicals–Les Mis and Cats–but they’re far from the only ones I love. After that, my ranking is a lot wobblier, but these five are definitely ones that I love and that mean a lot to me.

Disney's Newsies the Broadway Musical

Newsies

How I’ve Experienced it: I found Newsies through the Broadway soundtrack, then watched the original 1992 movie with Christian Bale, and then saw the 2017 proshot.

It’s about the newsboy strike of 1899

Why is it so good? The dancing is mindbogglingly fantastic. I have never seen anyone dance the way the newsies dance. I love the choreography so much. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, part ballet, part acro, total awesomeness. That said, I loved the soundtrack even before I saw the dancing. I have forced so many people to watch this show that it’s ridiculous, and I really, really hope I get to see it live someday because I just love it that much. It’s one of the seven soundtracks that I have on my phone, and considering how much I love every musical, that should tell you a little something about how much I adore it.* Also, the song about the writing process is just too accurate.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the proshot. Don’t bother with the original movie. I will never understand the thought process behind casting a musical with people who can’t sing. When the movie got retooled for Broadway, they replaced the bad singers with great ones (special shoutout to Jeremy Jordan and the infinitely charming Andrew Keenan Bolger), added spectacular dancers, and then rounded out the secondary cast so that they have actual personalities.

I could watch the newsies dance all day | Newsies, Musicals ...

My favorite songs: “The World Will Know;” “Santa Fe (Prologue);” and “Watch What Happens”


The Book of Mormon | DPAC Official SiteThe Book of Mormon

How I’ve experienced it: I saw it live and own the OBC recording.*

It’s about: The Book of Mormon is a hilarious satire of organized religion and follows two Mormon boys on their mission trip to Africa.

Why is it so good? The main thing is that it’s side-splittingly hilarious. The lyrics and the choreography are ridiculous in the best possible way, and even though the show lambasts pretty much everything, it has a number of beautiful, moral takeaways at its heart. I write reviews of every show I see live for personal/family use, and BoM inspired me to write what essentially amounted to an essay about the show’s intersections of religion with LGBTQ+ and race issues. Rarely are there shows that are so immediately delightful and so rewarding for deeper thought than The Book of Mormon. I’ve seen a lot of shows, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard an audience laugh harder than they did at this one. I laughed so hard I cried.

Andrew Rannells GIF by The Book of Mormon (Musical) - Find & Share ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The songs are a hoot even without the visuals, and the cast of BoM has performed at the Tony Awards multiple times so there are good recordings of “Hello” and “I Believe” on YouTube. Sadly, only one of those performances has original star Andrew Rannells, but the replacement is also excellent. I really hope someone professionally records this one someday, because it’s heartbreaking to me that there’s no good-quality recording of the pink-vested tap break in “Turn it Off” or the ridiculous dancing in “Two by Two.”

My favorite songs: “Turn it Off;” “You and Me (But Mostly Me);” and “All-American Prophet”


Into the Woods (Musical) Plot & Characters | StageAgentInto the Woods

How I’ve Experienced it: I grew up watching the 1991 proshot with Bernadette Peters. I’ve seen some very good high school and college productions, and—of course—saw the 2014 movie.

It’s about: It’s a sort of fairy tale satire wherein some of the best known fairy tales are combined into a single story and returned to their dark roots.

mygif 1000 musicals Broadway stephen sondheim into the woods gif ...Why is it so good? I love metafiction and metahumor. Love them. Into the Woods uses them in spades, and the clever combinations of familiar stories is intensely creative and darkly humorous. I’ve seen Into the Woods dozens of times over the years, and every time I do something else sticks out to me. The melodies are gorgeous, and there are some absolutely hysterically funny moments mixed into the drama. As an added bonus, there are some profound observations about life in there as well.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the proshot. The movie is good, but cuts for time leave out some of the best bits of the musical (like the narrator!) Also, you can’t beat actors like Bernadette Peters and Chip Zien.

My favorite songs: “Agony;” “Children Will Listen;” and “Giants in the Sky”


The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera tickets | Broadway | reviews, cast and ...

How I’ve Experienced it: I can’t remember a time before I knew PotO, but I’m assuming my first experience was the 2004 movie. I’ve seen it onstage multiple times, watched the anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall, and have read the original novel.

It’s about a mysterious masked man living in the basement of an opera house who wreaks havoc because of his obsession with a young soprano who sings there.

Why is it so good? The songs are fantastic. Some of them are beautiful, and others are delightfully silly. There is not a single weak spot in the entire score, and the visuals are great and absolutely iconic. Chances are that, even if you don’t know anything about musical theatre, you could still recognize the Phantom of the Opera’s mask.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the version at the Royal Albert Hall. Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess are amongst the most popular Phantom stars for a reason, and Hadley Frasier is probably the strongest Raoul I’ve ever seen.

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess - The Phantom of the Opera ...

My favorite songs: “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again;” “Masquerade;” and “Prima Donna”


The SpongeBob Musical" Begins National Tour At Proctors | WAMCThe Spongebob Musical

How I’ve experienced it: I saw this live and then bought the proshot that aired on Nickelodeon.

It’s about: Based on the cartoon, the musical is about Spongebob, an undervalued fry cook, who steps up to save the day when a volcanic eruption threatens his town.

Why is it so good? I will be the first to admit that I did not expect to love Spongebob. Cartoons generally creep me out and I find the animation style for Spongebob Squarepants to be even creepier than the average. However, the musical is surprisingly delightful. Lots of powerhouse songwriters united to make it, there are some incredibly creative visual effects, and the whole thing is unabashedly silly and optimistic. Perhaps the most unexpected thing about this show is how relevant and nuanced it is. It manages to depict a society that descends into chaos and xenophobia at first sight of a crisis… without losing any optimism. It parallels real-world problems while celebrating simple virtues like hanging out with a best friend and marching to the beat of your own drum clarinet. Also, the actor playing Spongebob sings upside down and does backbends and stuff.

80 Gifs From THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL To Up Your Social Media Game

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The proshot is wonderful! Ethan Slater, who plays Spongebob, is absolutely adorable (and bizarrely athletic! I seriously did not expect his level of physicality even after being impressed by the guy I saw playing the role live). If you haven’t already watched this one, you definitely should because it is even more charming and encouraging while under home isolation than it is at any other time.

My favorite songs: “Hero is My Middle Name;” “Just a Simple Sponge;” and “BFF”


In the comments, talk to me about your favorite musicals.. and tell me what you think of these ones!

*On the off chance you’re wondering, the seven cast recordings I own are Cats (original cast), Les Mis (10th anniversary cast), Mamma Mia! (original cast), Hamilton (OBC), The Book of Mormon (OBC), Newsies (OBC), and Dear Evan Hansen (OBC)


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Musical Mondays Kickoff (My Two Favorite Shows!)

Because I spend most of my time on this blog reviewing books, I don’t often talk in depth about musicals. But I LOVE musicals. My parents have taken me to musicals my whole life, and there’s nothing I look forward to more than going to a show. Now, with everything shut down, I’m really missing seeing things live (and I’m terrified I’m going to miss Hamilton, which I am supposed to see in June). I signed up for BroadwayHD and have seen a bunch of shows that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, which has been fantastic, and has really gotten me thinking about the shows that I love. And since I have the extra time right now (like a lot of people, I got furloughed), I decided it was as good a time as any to finally put some musical content on this blog.

So, for the foreseeable future, Mondays are going to become Musical Mondays. This week I’m only going to talk about my two all-time favorite musicals. After that, I’ll talk about five shows a week, starting with ones that I’ve seen in some way or another and ending with the ones that I love sight unseen.

I really hope that you’ll listen to these beautiful musicals if you never have. If you have, though, please talk to me about them in the comments… or tell me about the shows you love most!

LesMisLogoLes Misérables

How I’ve experienced it: I was introduced to Les Mis through the 2012 film, and have since listened to just about every cast recording out there. I was lucky enough to see it live last year, and it is absolutely glorious. Without doubt, it is one of my top five favorite musicals. I’ve also read the novel several times.

It’s about a man who escapes prison and tries to become a better man… and along the way crosses paths with a dogged policeman, the daughter of a prostitute, an unsavory innkeeper, and a group of idealistic revolutionaries.

Why is it so good? The music is stunning and the story, while very sad, carries a sort of hope for a better future. It’s one of the most inspiring pieces of art I have ever experienced. There are very few stories that have stayed with me in the way that this one has, and I honestly think that hearing it for the first time changed me as a person. Also, it has lyrics like “even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise,” which is the kind of thing we need right now. It was physically painful for me to narrow my list of “favorite songs” down to just three, because I adore every word sung in this show. I only rarely cry, but Les Mis has moved me to tears more than any other piece of art.

Enjolras (gif) | Les miserables, Musicals, Complicated relationshipMy recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the 2012 movie and either the 10th or 25th Anniversary Concert. Overall, I prefer the 10th anniversary “Dream Cast.” The leads are, in my opinion, better: Philip Quast as Javert is my personal favorite, but Colm Wilkinson as Valjean, Lea Salonga as Èponine, Michael Ball as Marius, and Ruthie Henshall as Fantine are also amazing. The only reason I can’t 100% say the 10th is better than the 25th is because Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras is spectacular, whereas the actor from the “Dream Cast” is, in my opinion, just okay.  Also watch the movie, because watching something acted is always going to be more compelling than simply seeing actors stand in front of microphones.  If you’re not opposed to long books, you should read it as well, because it is beautiful.

My favorite songs: “Stars;” “One Day More;” and “Do You Hear the People Sing”


Cats

Cats the Musical • Official Website and Tickets

How I’ve experienced it: My whole childhood, basically, was spent obsessively watching and rewatching the glorious 1998 proshot. I’m frankly shocked that I didn’t learn to dance because I adored—and continue to adore—that production and spent hours leaping onto couches, pretending to be the cats. My sister and I literally choreographed a routine to “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” that basically consisted of walking around in circles and occasionally spinning around. I’ve seen Cats live more often than literally any other show. I have Cats merchandise. I’ve read the original T.S. Eliot poetry book so many times that there are only like three pages still attached to the spine. I love, love, love this show. I know it’s popular to hate on Cats these days because of the movie, but I will hear nothing against it.

It’s about cats.

Why is it so good? Literally everything. The dancing and costuming are iconic. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’s double cartwheel! Mr. Mistoffelees’ jump split and fouetté turns! Victoria’s solo dance! If you like dancing even a little bit, Cats is a must-see. Cats singlehandedly ignited my lifelong love of musical theatre. It has no plot, but I don’t even care because every song in it is so fun and joyful. It’s mostly upbeat and energetic, but still manages to have one of the most famous ballads in “Memory.” Just thinking about Cats makes me smile.

jacob brent Tumblr posts - Tumbral.com

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Watch the 1998 version! The dancing is gorgeous. It’s so high energy and fun. I seriously spent half my life singing along to it. Elaine Paige is rightfully held up as one of the best Grizabellas and Jacob Brent is magnetic as Mr. Mistoffelees (my favorite character, if you can’t tell). I haven’t seen the much-maligned movie version yet, but even if it were wonderful, it couldn’t reach the heights of this perfect version. Update: I’ve seen it, and it’s not wonderful.

My favorite songs: “Mr. Mistoffelees;” “The Rum Tum Tugger;” and “Macavity the Mystery Cat”


Please talk to me in the comments about your favorite musicals!


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April 2020 Wrap-Up

I think the insanity of home isolation must finally have gotten to me, because I posted this way, way too early (April is not over yet). Oh, well. Some days are like that. I’ll update this again at the end of the month, when I meant to publish it.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

This was a very funny book, not least because members of my family have referenced the title for years whenever they thought someone was exaggerating something too much. Plus, this is the origin of the “Clean All the Things” meme. I’m not an artist, so books like this–with intentionally simplistic/”bad” art–are fascinating to me, because it’s delightful, but I could never create something like it because I’d overthink too much. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me?: Kaling, Mindy: 9780804138161: Amazon.com: Books

I’ve always liked Mindy Kaling. Kelly is one of my favorite characters on The Office, and I’m always super impressed by people who write for the shows they star in. I’m so jealous of the multitude of talent. That said, I didn’t love this memoir. Part of that is because memoirs generally aren’t my thing (although I do enjoy them occasionally), but mostly it’s because this feels like bonus material that got cut from something else. Some of the chapters read like TV pitches that got passed on rather than something meant to be in a memoir. Maybe that’s because this is Kaling’s second memoir (I haven’t read the first). Maybe it’s just me being too critical. In any case, I had fun with Why Not Me? but I didn’t love it. ⭐⭐


The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

The_Boleyn_Inheritance

I read more historical fiction than usual this month, starting with The Boleyn Inheritance, which follows the stories of Henry VIII’s fourth and fifth wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. It’s well written and turns history into a gossipy soap opera in the best way, but in my opinion it runs a little long and repeats itself too often. I liked it a lot, but I was glad to be done with it by the time I’d finished. If you’re interested in this period of history, definitely give it a shot, but read The Other Boleyn Girl first, as it’s slightly better. ⭐⭐⭐


At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

at the water's edge

This book disappointed me. It took me a very long time to get into it, and by the time I settled in and got interested I was nearly two-thirds of the way through. It didn’t help that the storyline that primarily interested me was one that was buried so deeply in the subtext that it may as well not have been there (and was abandoned entirely by the end), so I ended up frustrated and disappointed by what I didn’t get as well as what I did get. This is a good read for historical romance fans, but I suspect most other readers would rather skip it. If you’re looking for great WWII fiction, I’d suggest Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief instead. ⭐⭐


Solitaire by Alice Oseman

solitaire

Alice Oseman is one of my favorite writers. I only discovered her last year and I’m already going back and rereading her books (and buying the ones I initially got at the library). Solitaire is her first book, and was somehow written when she was still in her teens (how? It’s so good!). Oseman does a fantastic job of approaching unhappy and even mentally ill protagonists with empathy and nuance, and everything she does is populated with delightfully three dimensional characters who are broken but beautiful. I can’t recommend her writing enough. ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

secret life of bees

This is one of my mom’s favorite books. I read it the first forever ago and didn’t really like it, but figured that enough time has passed and I should give it another chance. There are lots of fantastic books that I disliked in my youth because my reading level advanced faster than my maturity. Because my mom loves it so much, I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t changed much. The first time I read The Secret Life of Bees I was a little put off by the idol worshipping. This time, I was less bothered by that than by the way the narrative places a white girl in the middle of a story about racism in 1964. I liked the book fine, but at this point I’m resolved to the fact that I’ll never love it. ⭐⭐


Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: T. S. Eliot, Edward Gorey ...

I am not a fan of poetry, but I am a HUGE fan of musicals. I have a lifelong love of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, and therefore I love the poetry book it originated from. I’ve read this book many, many times over the years and I recently got a new copy of it because mine was so well-read that there was literally not a single page still attached to the spine. The poems are cute, and I can’t read them without singing them. The illustrations, which are by Edward Gorey, and they are precious. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

At the Water’s Edge (Book Review)

at the water's edgeSara Gruen is a relatively well-known author, and her novel Water for Elephants is deservedly popular. It’s been years since I read Water for Elephants, but I remembered that I liked it, so I figured I’d like At the Water’s Edge as well.

What’s it about?

In the middle of WWII, Maddie’s wealthy and irresponsible husband Ellis drags her to the Scottish Highlands to search for the Loch Ness Monster. After Ellis and his best friend Hank were deemed unable to serve in the war, Ellis’ father cuts him off and Ellis determines that finding Nessie is the only way to prove his masculinity and get back into his father’s good graces. While Ellis and Hank search for the beast, Maddie spends her time at a small inn and gets to know the locals.

What’d I think?

spoilers river song doctor who
I discuss several spoilers in depth in this review. I don’t hit every major twist, and I don’t talk about the absolute end, but still… be aware.

Have you ever read a book and been frustrated because, while you’re bored with the book you’re actually reading, you can sense a different story just beneath the surface? That’s how I felt reading At the Water’s Edge. It wants so badly to be a swoony Scottish love story that it bypasses some potentially more rewarding storylines to get there. I’ve seen lots of reviews on Goodreads that compare At the Water’s Edge to Outlander, and while I can’t speak to that (I haven’t read Outlander yet, but it is rapidly approaching the top of my to-read list), I can say that it misses the mark as a romance for one simple but inescapable reason:

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The Boleyn Inheritance (Book Review)

The_Boleyn_InheritanceWhen I was raiding my mom’s bookshelves for something to read while in home isolation, I came across The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. I read its prequel The Other Boleyn Girl about a year ago, and while I liked it, it wasn’t one that sent me sprinting for the sequel. However, in the interim between then and now, I’ve become a big fan of the musical Six (through its soundtrack; I haven’t seen it), which retells the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives through pop music. The Boleyn Inheritance takes a look at the two queens least known by history: Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

LONG POST

Also, there are some spoilers in this review. They’re all minor except a few that are historical facts that most people probably already know.

It’s probably not surprising that The Boleyn Inheritance is very similar to The Other Boleyn Girl. I’m glad I read it when I did: close enough together to remember what happened but far enough apart that I wasn’t defeated by repetition. I enjoyed both books, but they’re both sorely in need of a more ruthless editor. Some of this, admittedly, is not Philippa Gregory’s fault. When you’re writing historical fiction, you have to go where history takes you, and there is no escaping the fact that any woman living in King Henry VIII’s court would suffer through the same cycle of pressure and fear. The men of the court flung their female relations in the path of the king in the hopes that it would bring them wealth and power, and then everyone would panic when the queen didn’t immediately produce an heir and when the king’s favor shifted. By the time Anne of Cleves shows up on the scene, Henry has been doing his thing for a long time, and by that point everyone knows what his thing is. So it makes sense that everyone would lie in fear of his whims and would bend over backwards to lie to him if it meant keeping his favor.

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Kindred (Book Review)

kindredSince I failed to get to the library before everything shut down, I’m making do with books that are already in my house. That means I’m rereading ones I already own and borrowing some from people in my family. My genre ratios are going to be very different in the upcoming weeks.

My sister lent me Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, which is—according to Goodreads—the first science fiction novel written by a Black woman. It’s about Dana, a Black woman from the ’70s who unexpectedly time travels back to the antebellum south in time to save the life of a white boy. Dana discovers that the boy, Rufus, is her ancestor… and a slaveowner. Over the course of a few days, Dana travels to Rufus’ time to save him at various points in his life, and by so doing ends up spending prolonged periods of time as a slave.

When I first started Kindred, I was dubious. While I don’t blanket-statement dislike all books of any genre, I’m not generally a fan of historical fiction. I also don’t have the best track record with sci-fi. Thankfully, Kindred is excellent. It’s very deserving of its classic status.

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