All I Know is Musical Mondays Live in Me

Amazon.com: Memphis: The Original Broadway Production : Chad Kimball,  Montego Glover, J. Bernard Calloway, Don Roy King, Joseph DiPietro, David  Bryan: Movies & TVMemphis

How I’ve experienced it: There’s a proshot with the original cast!

Why is it so good? I honestly can’t believe that I haven’t heard more people talking about this show, because it’s absolutely amazing. It was not on my radar even a little bit, but I’d subscribed to BroadwayHD for a couple of months and had watched pretty much all the musicals, but I decided to look through them one more time to see if there was anything else that struck me before canceling and saw that there was a Tony-winning show that I’d only barely heard of. I figured… it won Best Musical, so it must be good. It so was. The music in this show is stunning, and the cast in the proshot have absolutely incredible voices, so much so that I’m retroactively upset that neither Chad Kimbell nor Motego Glover won the Tonys they were up for. The show centers around civil rights and racism and takes a slightly more nuanced approach than musicals like Hairspray. It’s based loosely on a real man and tells the story of a white radio DJ and a black nightclub singer who come together to play Black music right at the center of the radio dial. My mom, sister, and I actually ended up watching Memphis twice in three days because the music is just that good.

memphis the musical | Tumblr

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The proshot is absolutely spectacular. Watch it, and then tell other people to watch it. I don’t know why people are sleeping on this one. Why was it so hard to find gifs for it? Why is it not as popular as other semi-recent Tony winners? It should be!

My favorite songs: “She’s My Sister,” “Underground,” and “Memphis Lives in Me”


Miss Saigon - WikipediaMiss Saigon

How I’ve experienced it: I had long been interested in seeing Miss Saigon since I love Les Mis. I got to see a touring production a few months ago and it was good but I wasn’t blown away. There were some sound issues during the first half, so I didn’t quite catch everything, so I watched the proshot with Eva Noblezada so that I could hear the bits I’d missed and retroactively I like the show a lot more.

Why is it so good? I mean, the Les Mis team did Miss Saigon. This one doesn’t get to me in the way that Les Mis does (but, really, what does?), but it tackles some of the same themes and has some lovely songs. It has a dark humor to it at times (“The American Dream” comes particularly to mind, but really everything the Engineer does is darkly humorous) and is at least partially responsible for launching Lea Salonga, which is a plus. Also, the staging for the scene where Chris leaves Saigon is super cool. There’s a helicopter, and Miss Saigon is justifiably famous for it, because it really pushes what I’d expect to be possible onstage.

YouTube Spiral: Miss Saigon Star Eva Noblezada Is Your New ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I very much enjoyed the proshot.

My favorite songs: “I Still Believe,” “Bui Doi,” and “If You Want to Die in Bed”


Musical of the Month: The Last Five Years - Pittsburgh in the RoundThe Last Five Years

How I’ve experienced it: I watched the film with Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick, then went back and listened to the original cast recording and the revival with Betsy Wolfe.

Why is it good? I’m a big fan of narrative creativity, and the way The Last Five Years is told—Cathy’s POV is told from back to front while Jamie’s is traditionally chronological, and they meet only once, in the very center of the show—makes it unlike any other show I’ve seen. It subverts the expectation for a happily ever after by spoiling the painful breakup in its first moments, so the viewers are caught in the uncomfortable position of rooting for a relationship that they know will end badly. The score is varied and interesting, and there’s something slightly addictive about it. I didn’t know much of the music to The Last Five Years before watching the movie (I’ve heard “Still Hurting” and “Shiksa Goddess” through Spotify, but that’s it) but I felt compelled to listen to other recordings almost immediately afterward.

my stuff Anna Kendrick jeremy jordan the last five years the last ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is very good. Like most musical fans, I love Jeremy Jordan’s voice. He’s the reason I sought this movie out. Unlike a lot of movie fans, I’m not a huge Anna Kendrick fan. I like her fine, but I don’t think she has a strong enough voice to be Hollywood’s go-to girl for musicals. Jamie and Cathy are really the only characters of substance in this show (I believe that they’re the only characters period in the stage show, but I can’t swear to that), which means they both have to be played by killer vocalists, and unfortunately in this case I think there’s a slight imbalance because—at least in my opinion—Jordan’s voice is much stronger. The movie is still excellent, but it does feel a little uneven in places.

My favorite songs: “Moving Too Fast,” “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You,” and “I Can Do Better Than That”


Chase Collegiate School to Present 'Gypsy' Musical | Entertainment ...Gypsy

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve listened to various cast recordings and I watched the movie with Bette Middler.

Why is it so good? The characters are so complex! You can see where everyone is coming from, and even though some characters are fairly consistently in the wrong, it’s easy to empathize with all of them. It’s obvious why Rose is such a popular role for big-name stars: she’s a great character that requires vivacity, charisma, and a solid voice and there isn’t a plethora of roles like that for older women.

Bette Midler GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is absolutely worth watching. Apparently there are two other versions out there, one with Natalie Wood and one with Imelda Staunton, but I have not seen either.

My favorite songs: “Some People;” “Rose’s Turn;” “If Momma Was Married”


PETER PANPeter Pan

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen the 2000 version with Cathy Rigby and Peter Pan Live! with Allison Williams.

Why is it good? It’s just a lot of fun. Cathy Rigby is a gymnast, and her flying is really, really cool. Peter walks a fine line between charming youth and belligerence, which is truer to the original book than the Disney version. Captain Hook’s interludes, in which he calls out a musical type for his pirates to provide while he monologues, are consistently funny, and some of the practical effects are really cool. Peter Pan in general (so, not just the musical) doesn’t do a great job with its Indian characters but at least in this version Tiger Lily is graceful and heroic. That one song (you know the one) is not great, but the show overall is still very fun.

Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan- Part 7 on Make a GIF

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): the 2000 version with Cathy Rigby is very good, but I haven’t seen the Mary Martin version, which I know is a classic. I personally enjoyed Peter Pan Live! even though I know it’s not to everyone’s taste. Christopher Walken definitely sleepwalked through it, which gave it a campy humor… but Christian Borle (as Smee) and Lost Boys were very good.

My favorite songs: “Hook’s Tango,” “I’m Flying,” and “Pirate Song”


My next few Musical Mondays are probably going to feature cast recordings of shows that I have not seen. If you have any recommendations for me, let me know!

I am probably also going to knock Musical Mondays to twice a month/every other Monday. That may or may not be true. We’ll see.


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Watchmen (Book Review)

Watchmen : Alan Moore : 9780930289232My family loves Marvel movies, and we’ve seen almost all of them in the theatres. One of those was Captain America: Civil War. It wasn’t my favorite. I have some issues with Captain America that I’m not going to get into on this blog right now (or possibly ever, but who knows). I liked The First Avenger, but since then Captain America and his solo movies have rubbed me the wrong way. The point, though is that when we got home from Civil War, I mentioned that I was bothered that the nuanced setup vis-à-vis the morality/ethics of superheroes was effectively tossed out the window in favor of a more clear-cut Captain-America-is-better-than-everyone-else-so-superheroes-should-not-be-regulated-in-any-way narrative. My brother told me that if I was interested in a story that actually dug into that without simplifying it, I should try Watchmen. Watchmen is a graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons that won a Hugo Award, is one of Time magazine’s 100 best novels, and is widely considered one of the best graphic novels ever written.

It’s been four years since that conversation. I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick up Watchmen, but I’ve finally made my way through it.

What’s it about?

This is a hard one to summarize, so for my own ease, here’s the description from Goodreads:

“This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.

“One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial best-seller, Watchmen has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as V for Vendetta, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Sandman series.”

What’d I think?

Thematically, Watchmen is just what I’d hoped for. Usually, superhero narratives are pretty clean-cut and straightforward. The superhero is superbly heroic, standing for everything that is good and pure, and the supervillain is extremely and cartoonishly villainous: they’re always trying to take over whole cities or blow up stadiums or murder the hero’s girlfriend. Often, there’s some sort of organized law-keeping group—the police, the government, etc.—that tries to stop the hero, but the viewer is always on the hero’s side because the understanding is that, even if he breaks the law, the hero is ambiguously working for the collective good (and sometimes the law is in his way). The modern superhero has gotten a little darker and more damaged, but there’s still a pretty well-defined hero/villain divide.

Not so in Watchmen. The character who aligns most closely with the narrative protagonist role is a violent, homophobic misogynist. We follow Rorschach, a man so warped that he permanently wears a mask that he refers to as his “face”—as he investigates a murder than he quickly spins into a conspiracy with hardly any evidence. Rorschach sees the world as simply good and evil, but his morality is incredibly skewed: he slut-shames every woman he comes across and goes around casually breaking fingers when it suits him.

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Musicals for Pride Month

I thought I’d do something a little different this week. Instead of writing generally about five random musicals, I decided to focus on shows with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. I haven’t actually seen all these shows, but at the bare minimum I have listened to a cast recording and read a synopsis. Unlike in previous musical posts, I have included a few shows that I don’t personally love but fit my criteria anyway because why not?

Falsettos

Queer Rep: This is a show about a gay man’s desire to figure out his family life post coming out. Marvin navigating life as a gay man is literally the main plot, and his boyfriend Whizzer sings more big solo songs than almost anyone else in the musical. There is also a minor pair of lesbians. Only seven characters take the stage in Falsettos, and four of them are gay, making this arguably the gayest musical I’ve ever seen. Falsettos also engages with heteronormativity and gender roles most actively than most media I’ve come across, because it shows Marvin trying to push Whizzer into the same role he once kept his wife Trina in, and also sees Trina making a life with her new husband, Mendel, who is not nearly as inflexible as Marvin. It takes place during the start of the AIDS crisis, which is probably good to know going in (I didn’t).

unlikely lovers. | Christian borle, Andrew rannells, Theatre kid

Brief Review: I love the songs in Falsettos. The first time I hard it, I was absolutely bewildered (it starts with “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” which is one of the weirdest musical theatre songs I’ve ever heard), but it didn’t take long for me to be entirely won over. The songs range from hilarious to heartbreaking. I’ve watched the proshot of Falsettos multiple times, and I am always emotionally affected by the end. The performances are great, it’s thematically very strong, and while it is incredibly sad, it’s also very beautiful.

The gayest song: There are a lot to pick for, but I’m tempted to say “The Thrill of First Love,” just because you don’t often see love songs sung by same-sex couples, but ultimately I have to go with “Unlikely Lovers,” which is sung together by the four gay characters about their relationships with their respective partners but also with each other as a community. Honorable mentions: “What More Can I Say” and “What Would I Do


RENT

Queer Rep: Of the main characters, Maureen is bisexual, Collins is gay, Joanne is a lesbian, and Angel’s gender is ambiguous. Both male and female pronouns are used, so it’s pretty much left up to the viewer if they want to see Angel as a gay drag queen, a transwoman, or gender nonbinary.

How Do I Love a Problem Like Rent – Grappling With the Musical – /Film

Brief Review: RENT gets a lot of flack from people who call out the main characters for being lazy or entitled, and while I don’t think that they’re entirely wrong in seeing it that way, I do feel that RENT celebrates deviation from the norm and living for principals rather than conforming to what is expected. Plus, the soundtrack, aside from the weird protest song, is killer.

The gayest song: Like with Falsettos, there are a lot. “I’ll Cover You” and “Take Me or Leave Me” are both highly memorable songs sung by queer couples and “Today 4 U” is Angel’s introductory I’m a badass song. “La Vie Boheme,” though is RENT’s thesis song, and it’s all about living however you want.


The Prom

What Is The Prom Musical About? | POPSUGAR EntertainmentQueer Rep: Literally the whole plot of this musical is that a teenage lesbian who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom, and the gay Broadway actor (actors? I’ve only listened to this one, so I don’t know if Trent is also gay, or if it’s just Barry) who brings media attention to the situation.

Brief Review: So I’ll be totally honest: it took me a while to get into The Prom. The first few time, I found the music unremarkable, and then I read the novelization and found it horribly, horribly depressing… which surprised me because my understanding is that The Prom is a comedy. I’ve heard that it’s very charming and very funny, but that’s definitely not apparent from the book. I’m excited for the Netflix movie, because it’s going to have Andrew Rannells in it (and also… I’m excited for all movie musicals). I listened to the cast recording again while writing these little blurbs and for whatever reason it struck me more this time around. A few of the songs are a little overwrought for my personal taste, but most of them are silly and upbeat while carrying poignant messages. The ones sung by the adult characters work for me more than those sung by Emma, the lead, but it’s still a sweet musical throughout. Update: This one is a must-see, because when you hear what happens in it without the campy warmheartedness, it doesn’t really work. The show itself does, though. It is extremely funny and affirming, and while I wish that Emma got to sing better songs than the homophobic bullies, as a whole the musical is really good.

The gayest song: Probably “Unruly Heart.” I also like “Love Thy Neighbor” and “The Acceptance Song.”


Billy Elliot

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The Raven Boys (Book Review)

raven boysA friend recommended that I read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater about a year ago, but I largely ignored the suggestion because I’d read Shiver and absolutely hated it. Like, hated it hated it. It’s one of the most sarcastically negative reviews that I’ve ever written. But I was promised that The Raven Boys is good, and one of my coworkers—who likewise disliked Shiver—told me Raven Boys is better. That still wasn’t enough, but then I started seeing people comparing Raven Boys to Six of Crows. I saw enough raves for both books in the same breath that I decided to give Maggie Stiefvater another chance because I figured there had to be more to those comparisons than close knit crew obsessed with black birds.

What’s it about?

Blue comes from a family of psychics, but she doesn’t have any psychic power herself, except that her presence makes psychic readings louder to those who can hear them. One mystical night, when helping her aunt view the spirits of those due to die within the year, Blue sees the spirit of a boy called Gansey. Her ability to see him indicates that he is either her true love or she will be the one to kill him. Since Blue has long known that her kiss will cause the death of her true love, she decides that it’s for the best that she avoid Gansey. Since Gansey attends a snootily rich school that Blue disdains anyway, she doesn’t think this will be difficult. But she didn’t anticipate that Gansey—along with his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah—would rope her into a search across ley lines for a mythological king whose discovery would grant them a wish.

What’d I think?

The Raven Boys is indeed a thousand times better than Shiver. It is, however, nowhere in the league of Six of Crows. My issue with Shiver is that it’s built around  a painfully bland, uninspired hetero love story. It’s that old “he was a boy/ she was a girl/ can I make it any more obvious?” storyline with nothing more significant than mutual attraction. The Raven Boys has more going on, but it is by no means exempt from a lackluster promise of romance. The book opens with Blue lamenting that her as-yet-unknown true love will die after he kisses her and then shortly after she sees Gansey’s spirit on the corpse road and has the whole true love and death combo reiterated. And I’m sorry, but I don’t care. I mean, sure, it’s kinda sad that Blue can’t kiss her true love, or whatever, but that’s not the end of the world. She could focus on other things. And from the reader’s standpoint, it’s blatantly obvious that Gansey is her true love and he will die and she will kill him. If she doesn’t both fall in love with and kill Gansey before the end of the series, I’ll be shocked. And, to be honest, I don’t really care.

Also, she’s sixteen. Does the concept of “true love” usually come up for sixteen-year-olds this often?

I’m also really hoping that this doesn’t devolve into a love triangle. Blue/Gansey is clearly inevitable, and Adam needs to duck out while he still can with his dignity intact.

It’s clear that I am supposed to like Blue and Gansey, but I just… don’t. I always prefer secondary characters to the leads, but I usually care about the protagonists more than I did here. I low key think that The Raven Boys would be a better book if Gansey and Blue had their roles reduced significantly. Gansey’s drive to find Glendower—despite the explanation that comes in the second half of the novel—feels like a snobby rich boy’s hobby. It’s not a high-pressure plotline, and I didn’t care about the search at all except through Adam’s eyes.

Gansey is very much like Sam from Shiver. There’s simply not that much to him. He’s rich and he’s presumably attractive. I think I was supposed to get the impression that he’s a really good friend, but that didn’t come through for me. He’s portrayed as a martyr for keeping Ronan around even though Ronan is a hothead and a terrible friend… but Adam and Noah don’t get that same halo even though they also put up with Ronan. And, like, Ronan is legit traumatized, a fact everyone seems keen to overlook. Yeah, he can be an asshole a lot of the time, but it would’ve been pretty shitty of his friends if they cut him loose for not being the person he was before suffering psychological damage. And Ronan’s not actually as bad as he’s made out to be.

hector white josh crazy ex girlfriend why are my friends in love
Ronan, probably

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There is Nothing Like a Musical Monday

Disney's The Lion King - Broadway San DiegoThe Lion King

How I’ve experienced it: Like the rest of the world, I’ve seen the original animated Disney movie. I haven’t seen the new movie version, but I have seen the musical live. I am not generally an animal-movie person, so unsurprisingly I vastly prefer the stage show.

It’s about: It’s Hamlet with lions

Why is it so good? The costumes are brilliant, and the staging is really cool. There are some cool effects, and the animals roam the aisles in the middle of the show, which is exciting.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Listen to the soundtrack and search YouTube for clips and award show performances.

Broadway GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My favorite songs: “They Live in You;” “I Just Can’t Wait to be King;” and “Circle of Life”


South Pacific

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen both movie versions (1958 and 2001).

It’s about: Love, war, and overcoming prejudice in the pacific during WWII.

Why is it so good? It tackles issues like racism and sexism in between cheerful, catchy songs.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Both movies have their charms. Personally I prefer the newer one with Glenn Close and Harry Connick, Jr., but they’re about equal quality-wise.

South Pacific GIF by Official London Theatre - Find & Share on GIPHY

My favorite songs: “There is Nothing Like a Dame;” “Some Enchanted Evening;” and “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”


Singin' in the Rain (Closed March 30, 2019) | Phoenix | reviews ...Singin’ in the Rain

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen the movie. Also, my high school put on a shockingly good production.

It’s about: Talkies spell trouble for a silent film duo.

Why is it so good? There are some great comedic moments, some extremely classic songs, and some truly excellent tap dancing.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): It’s hard to imagine anyone would read this far into an amateur blog post about musicals without seeing one of the most famous movie musicals ever, but if that is the case… go check it out.

Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain | Gene kelly ...

My favorite songs: “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Make ’em Laugh;” and “Good Morning”


Kinky Boots | Broadway DirectKinky Boots

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen the West End proshot with Killian Donnelly. My first introduction to the show, though, was Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Crutchie from Newsies) hilariously singing “The History of Wrong Guys” for Broadway Backwards.

It’s about: A young man inherits his father’s failing shoe factory and brings it back to life by fulfilling the needs of a niche market: drag queens.

Why is it so good? It’s very high energy and the central message—love yourself for who you are and accept others for who they are—is what we needs right now (and always).

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): the West End proshot with Killian Donnelly. I feel like the answer to this prompt is redundant when I myself have never seen the show live and when there’s a quality proshot out there. Also watch AKB’s performance because it’s adorable.

KINKY BOOTS Complete Outfit GIF | Gfycat

My favorite songs: “The Soul of a Man;” “The History of Wrong Guys;” and “Raise You Up/Just Be”


Jekyll & Hyde: The Complete Work - The Gothic Musical Thriller ...Jekyll and Hyde

How I’ve experienced it: I discovered Jekyll and Hyde in a very random way: Josh Young’s Broadway Backwards performance of “Bring on the Men.” I love Broadway Backwards and watch all the videos from it I can find (I mean, clearly; this is the second time I’ve mentioned it in this post), but this is one of my favorite performances from it, and I was like what show is this from? There’s a filmed version of the show, which is very good. I don’t think that David Hasselhoff is necessarily the best singer/actor, but I don’t think he was terrible like a lot of people seem to.

Why is it so good? Classic literature + musical theatre is a fantastic combination. I’ve read and enjoyed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the musical is just as enjoyable, albeit for different reasons (the book keeps the transformation a mystery until the end, and the show shows it throughout and is less mystery and more thriller). It doesn’t have the most memorable score of all time, but the set is very cool and the transformation scenes are legitimately frightening, so if you’re looking for a thriller/horror musical this is definitely one to look into!

Top 30 Jekyll Hyde GIFs | Find the best GIF on Gfycat

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Proshots are always the way to go. But also watch the Broadway Backwards performance, because it’s great and because the filmed version of the show doesn’t have “Bring on the Men.” It instead swaps it for a very on-the-nose but musically uninspired song called “Good ‘n Evil.”

My favorite songs: “Façade,” “Alive,” and “Bring on the Men”


What musicals should I write about next? What would you recommend?


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Anger is a Gift (Book Review)

anger is a giftI usually try to read a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ books during Pride Month, but since there’s so much going on in the world right now that Pride Month is, at best, the third thing on a person’s mind, I pivoted to find a novel that speaks to issues of police brutality and the reality of Black lives. Then I heard about Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro, which intersects them and comes recommended by Adam Silvera and decided that it was the right book to kick off June.

What’s it about?

Moss, who attends an underfunded and overpoliced high school, has regularly suffered panic attacks since his father was shot by a cop years ago. Even though he’s surrounded by a close crew of supportive friends and has recently met a practically perfect boy he might be falling for, life isn’t going great for Moss: a series of violent incidents at his school force Moss to harness his anger and fuel it into activism.

What’d I think?

There’s a lot to like about Anger is a Gift, but there’s a lot to criticize as well. This is an incredibly powerful, moving story but some of the minutiae of writing gets in the way of it really shining. I’ve seen—on Goodreads primarily—that Anger is a Gift is compared to and read next to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great is Not Okay, and those are some rough comparisons. The Hate U Give and Darius the Great are amongst my favorite books, because they balance discussions of delicate societal issues with beautiful writing and outstanding character work. Anger is a Gift excels with the first, but stumbles with the latter two.

I like how Oshiro approaches Moss’ anger. The Angry Black Man is a racist trope, but as Anger is a Gift reminds us: Black people deserve to be angry, and anger is, by itself, not a bad thing, and expecting people who have been consistently and deliberately mistreated not to be angry is unfair and absurd. Anger is a Gift—clearly, from the title—engages a lot with anger. Moss learns to channel his into productive action, to use it for strength. Anger is a Gift not only explores systematic racism and its effects, but it also reclaims anger. People in positions of power don’t like it when their actions are met with justified rage; they want the oppressed to take their oppression silently, and in Anger is a Gift Moss deliberately says, no. I will not take this silently, and I will not let my grief and rage stop me from being heard.

Anger is a Gift is a painful but painfully relevant book right now. It’s from 2018, but if I didn’t know that, I could’ve been convinced that it had been written specifically to reference the current protests. An early scene has a white cop puts a black student in a chokehold and people yell at him to stop because “she can’t breathe” (83). There’s a particularly good description of the world these Black characters—and, of course, real Black people—experience that is provided, chillingly, in a sort-of-joking-but-actually-serious exchange between Moss and his friend Njemile. Moss remarks that he’s losing faith and feels like the world is ending and Njemile replies, saying,

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Musical Monday is Here at Last

Happy Monday!

The Sound of Music Logo - Broadway Palm Dinner TheatreThe Sound of Music

How I’ve experienced it: Like everyone else in the world, I’ve seen the classic movie with Julie Andrews. I have also seen both live versions (the 2013 one with Carrie Underwood and the 2015 version, which stars Kara Tointon).

Why is it so good? It’s beautifully upbeat despite its time period. The songs are extremely fun, and I love how every character is fully-rounded and even the characters who could easily have been villains are given humanity.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): All three versions that I’ve seen have their charm. The 1965 does a better job with Maria’s relationships: you see her grow to love the children, but there are also more moments between her and Captain Von Trapp, making their love more apparent. “The Lonely Goatherd” is performed with puppets, which makes it a lot more fun, and the song “I Have Confidence” is in it. On the other hand, the 2015 movie builds Captain Von Trapp as an individual more effectively. Max and the baroness are more significant characters—their two songs are cut from the 1965 movie but preserved here—which gives a strong contrast against which to show Georg’s stalwart patriotism. The two versions also have drastically different Rolfs, which is interesting. 1965 Rolf is cheesily lovestruck at the start, only to become a cold-hearted Nazi who betrays Liesl and her family. 2015 Rolf’s dangerous leanings are hinted at earlier on, but when the time comes he pretends not to see the Von Trapps at the convent. The 2013 version gets a lot of hate, which I think is largely undeserved. Admittedly Carrie Underwood’s acting is a bit wooden and Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp has a weak singing voice, but the supporting cast (which includes Christian Borle, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and a very young Sophia Anne Caruso) is excellent.

Sound Of Music GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My favorite songs: “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Maria,” and “How Can Love Survive?”


Pippin (Musical) Plot & Characters | StageAgentPippin

How I’ve experienced it: Fosse/Verdon’s episode “Glory” first introduced me to this show. After that I watched the 1981 made-for-TV movie version. I’ve also listened to the cast recordings for both the original cast and the revival.

Why is it so good? Pretty much every song in this show is excellent. Some are fun and others are beautiful, but they’re all memorable (it’s been hard to pick favorite songs for a lot of these, but this is definitely one that challenged me). It has that classic Bob Fosse choreography. I’m a sucker for cool dancing, and Pippin absolutely has cool dancing. More than anything else, though, I love the nuance and moral quandaries that lie at the center of this show. It’s all about life and how to live it. I don’t think there’s anyone who could watch Pippin and not relate to the title character’s search for meaning, and his journey is grounded in truth despite being over-the-top and theatrical. I love shows that make me think, and Pippin is an impetus to discussions about morality, meaning, love, life, and more.

Pippin GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The filmed version is excellent, and the revival cast performed all over the place so you can find good-quality performances of lots of songs.

My favorite songs: “Corner of the Sky,” “Simple Joys,” and “On the Right Track”


Billy Elliot the Musical – Cape Rep TheatreBilly Elliot

How I’ve experienced it: I watched the nonmusical movie of this a while back and really liked it. Thankfully, there’s also a proshot which I watched as well.

Why is it so good? The dancing! There’s one sequence where Billy dances with his adult self and the choreography is absolutely gorgeous. At one point he lifts up and flies around the stage and it’s amazing. There are tons of musicals with fantastic dancing, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another single piece of ballet to match this one. Also, the themes of self-expression and acceptance are lovely.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Do what I did! Watch the proshot! The movie is also very good, even though it’s not a musical. Without the accompanying dancing, the songs aren’t particularly catchy (like, this isn’t a cast album that would win someone over on its own strength) but it is very much worth the watch.

Billy Elliot the Musical Live | Billy Elliot Animated Gifs | Great ...

My favorite songs: “Electricity,” “Once We Were Kings,” and “Expressing Yourself”


annie logoAnnie

How I’ve experienced it: There are a lot of versions of Annie out there. I’ve seen the 2014 movie starring Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie and the 1999 version that has Alicia Morton.

It’s about: When a wealthy man takes an orphan girl in for Christmas, he doesn’t expect her to become family. Neither of them expects the lengths the corrupt orphanage matron will go to for a payout.

Why is it so good? Stories about found families are always charming and affirming, and Annie is no different. I like this show a lot, but far and away the best song is “Easy Street.” Is it too much to say that Annie is good because “Easy Street” is in its score? Maybe, but it’s not thaaat much of a stretch.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I know that there are earlier movie versions of this musical that people love, but even without seeing them I can say confidently that you can’t beat the 1999 film. Just look at the cast! It has Kristin Chenoweth! It has Audra McDonald! It has Alan Cumming! It has Victor Garber! It has Kathy Bates! Are there any other movie musicals as perfectly cast?

mine alan cumming kristin chenoweth annie So underrated kathy ...

My favorite songs: “Easy Street;” “Little Girls;” and “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”


Man of La Mancha - San Diego Musical TheatreThe Man of La Mancha

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen the movie, but that’s it. I mean, I’ve also read the book, but it’s a very different thing (and not worth it, in my opinion).

It’s about: A crazy old man decides to reignite chivalry and romance in the world by becoming an knight errant.

Why is it so good? The soundtrack, mostly. The musical takes the premise of the original novel and makes it into an actually compelling story (the book is very, very long-winded and repetitive). The story works on multiple levels, as a comedy on the surface but as a kind of dramatic tragedy the farther down you look. It’s actually quite heartbreaking despite the silliness, and it has a lovely outlook on life at the end of the day.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is very good, and it’s hard to find a recording of “The Impossible Dream” that isn’t beautiful.

Man of La Mancha (1972) - I, Don Quixote on Make a GIF

My favorite songs: “The Impossible Dream;” “Aldonza;” and “Golden Helmet of Mambrino”


This post’s lyrically-inspired title is slightly less obvious than previous weeks’… can you tell what it’s referencing?


gif credits here, here, here, here, and here

The Count of Monte Cristo (Book Review)

count of monte cristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite classic novels, but I had only read it once, many years ago, so I figured it was overripe for a reread.

What’s it about?

On the day he seems poised for perfect happiness—he has been promised captaincy of his ship and is engaged to marry the love of his life—sailor Edmond Dantés is arrested for conspiracy and thrown into prison for fourteen years. When he emerges, Dantés takes on the persona of the wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo and vows vengeance on the men who put him in prison for their own gain and made their fortunes from his torment.

What’d I think?

One of the most interesting things about rereading The Count of Monte Cristo as an adult—rather than as a teenager—is that this time I was more able to follow the nuance of the political climate. I had remembered Dantés as having been arrested for a crime he did not commit, and indeed many summaries describe the novel in those terms. The truth, though, is that Dantés 100% did what he was accused and arrested for. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he was doing it out of respect to a dead man, but he definitely did it. That doesn’t change the fact that his enemies had him arrested for personal gain rather than a sense of justice, but it puts an interesting wrinkle in something that might otherwise been clean-cut good vs. evil. In short, Dantés collects a letter from the exiled Napoleon and intends to deliver it to a Bonapartist. He was doing so at the bequest of his dying captain, and would have been an accessory to Napoleon’s attempt at a takeover if he had not been intercepted and arrested.

What follows is a section of the novel that bored me somewhat when I first read it eight years ago but which fascinates me now: Napoleon briefly comes back into power and thus Dantés—who was arrested by royalists for plotting against them—transforms from traitor to patriot. His friends, who are Bonapartists, apply for his freedom but are sidestepped by Villefort, one of Dantés’ enemies, who wants Dantés to stay in prison for personal reasons. When Napoleon falls again a short time afterward, hopes of freeing Dantés—who is once again guilty—vanish. Fortunes are made and broken by these swift political swaps; Villefort, arguably the smartest character in the novel aside from Monte Cristo, is one of the few who is able to manipulate the system enough to stay on top despite the regime.

Tangent TimeSide note: it’s very weird to read a novel that’s so unabashedly pro-Napoleon. I knew he was divisive, but I thought that the general consensus was Napoleon=bad. Reading a pro-Napoleon book is especially funny after War and Peace, which mocked him mercilessly.

When I first read this book, I thought it was a fun revenge story. It is that, but it also explores perspective in interesting ways. Who is right and who is wrong? It depends who you ask, and when. Politics, sex, economic status, and more determine the weight of a person’s opinion. Men are powerful because they are titled, but we are shown repeatedly that titles can be bought or even invented, and that wealth and reputation can be increased or even created simply by looking the part or making friends with the right people.

Continue reading

May 2020 Wrap Up

Well, this month flew by. Surprisingly, I’m actually back at work. I got furloughed in late march and was off for most of April, but I’m back now. My hours are a little cut, but not so drastically that it’s hugely noticeable… and the added stress of working during a pandemic makes a slightly shortened workload as emotionally exhausting as a full one.

I didn’t read many books this month, but it’s not because I haven’t been reading 850. I usually read about 100 books a year, but this year I decided to lower my goal, to accommodate more time spent writing or other non-reading activities and so that I could read longer books without worrying about not hitting my total. This month, I only managed to read four books… but that sounds a little better when I remember that Outlander is 850 pages and The Count of Monte Cristo is 1243 pages.

I’ve been reading…

outlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

Even though I suspected this wouldn’t be my type of book (I’m not generally a huge fan of either romance or historical fiction) I allowed myself to slightly get my hopes up both because I really wanted to get into a new, long series and because Outlander is often touted as an fun, feminist fantasy romp. I wish that were true; I found the book distractingly and upsettingly sexist/misogynist and homophobic. I can ignore the occasional off-color remark in an old piece of fiction (I know the world has changed!) but it is relentless, not occasional, in Outlander, and I could not get past it to enjoy the story. It didn’t help that the story consists primarily of one character or the other getting kidnapped every twenty pages or so. Seriously. Is there no limit to the number of times a couple can get kidnapped? Personally, I cannot recommend this one.


geek's guideThe Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

I reread this right after finishing Outlander because I knew it would be the palate cleaner I needed. It’s a short, sweet ode to fandom about a super nerd and his best friend’s weekend at New York Comic Con. The main character, Graham, is madly in love with his best friend Roxana and plans to confess his feelings to her at some point at the convention. The reason Geek’s Guide is so refreshing especially when compared to books like Outlander is that nonromantic/nonsexual relationships are emphasized and–most importantly–women are not treated like property. While Outlander‘s Claire is continually under threat of rape and is forced to submit to her abusive husband, Roxana’s hopes and dreams are of paramount importance. She is not a trophy to be won, and Graham’s possessive feelings are not romanticized.


A Good Neighborhood: A Novel (Hardcover) | Quail Ridge BooksA Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

This books starts out so, so well. I had barely started it before I was telling people how impressed I was. I refrained from actually telling anyone to read it, because I never make recommendations before finishing something, but I almost recommended it several times right at the start. In retrospect, I’m really glad I held off, because the last third of the book throws out most of the goodwill the beginning built up. The beginning is a subtle portrait of a typical neighborhood with a dark–but not uncommon–underbelly of racism, classism, and sexism. The end decides that sensationalism and unexpected plot twists are the way to go. The beginning is better than the ending is bad, but overall I’d still hesitate to point anyone towards A Good Neighborhood, because it disappointed me so badly.


count of monte cristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (translated by Robin Buss)

This is such a fantastic book. I’ve been meaning to reread The Count of Monte Cristo for years now and I figured that the best opportunity I’d get would be during a time when people are supposed to stay at home and the library is closed. The length of this one is intimidating, but if you can get past that, it’s a thrilling story about love, betrayal, and revenge that has dozens of fascinating characters wound together in a bristling, secret-laden society and a brilliant puppet-master who, depending on your perspective, is either a villainous hero or a heroic villain. I’ll be the first to say that some classic novels leave me cold, but this is the sort of novel that has a reputation for brilliance for a reason. It’s a nail-biting thriller that finds the time to plumb the depths of humanity, and it is absolutely worth the read.


I’ve been watching…

Musicals!

I always love musicals, but they’ve been even more comforting to me than usual. BroadwayHD had a free week-long trial as the COVID-19 mess was starting, and I ended up subscribing because it’s been a blast and sometimes I’ve just gotta watch musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Shows Must Go On has also been great. Being able to view musicals at home has been particularly great considering the Broadway shutdown. When you love musicals as much as I do, the idea that Broadway is dark is upsetting even if you have no plans and no ability to go to Broadway. The suspension of touring musicals is even worse, though, since I do get to see those. I was supposed to see the Hamilton next week, but it’s been delayed until 2022 and I’m afraid that it won’t be the only show I thought I’d get to see that’s delayed or cancelled.

If you follow my blog, you’ve surely seen that I’ve started posting about musicals every Monday. That probably won’t last forever, but right now musicals are really helping me stay positive, because sometimes times are rough and sentiments like Have faith in yourselves and don’t be afraid are much needed.

<img class=" aligncenter" src="https://thumbs.gfycat.com/LimpingSlowGrayling-size_restricted.gif&quot; alt="These Two


Laika Studios Movies

My sister is an amazing artist, and her dream studio is Laika. She just graduated college (at the best possible time, right?) and in this weird period where life is uncertain and no one is hiring, she’s been showing the rest of the family Laika’s movies, and it’s been fun. Laika’s movies are a little creepier than what I normally watch, but they’re really good and the bonus features about how they do their stop motion are honestly mind-blowing. As a non-artist myself, the fact that someone has to individually sculpt and paint blades of grass is fascinating to me in a horrific kind of way.

GIF paranorman - animated GIF on GIFER


Community

My brother recommended Community to me forever ago, because I love meta humor, but I never actually watched it until now because it wasn’t on Netflix. Now it is, and I’m about halfway through the fifth season (I just watched the devastating lava episode). It’s just as funny and bonkers as I hoped and Troy and Abed are everything.

Troy Barnes GIF party! (co-starring Abed, obvs) (With images ...


gif credits here, here, and here

(Ya Got) Musical Mondays!

Every Monday for the past few weeks I take a break from talking about books to blabber about what might possibly be my favorite thing ever: musicals! I always watch them and listen to them compulsively, but I’ve been even more obsessive lately, probably because they’re very comforting during uncertain times. Musicals just make me happy. So here’s another group of five musicals that I’ve seen one way or another and enjoyed.

Is it painful to cut my “favorite songs” list to three? Yes, extremely.

Legally Blonde - The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Legally Blonde

How I’ve experienced it: Proshots are my friend.

It’s about: This musical adaptation of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie keeps the plot of its source material: a young woman attends Harvard Law School to win back the ex-boyfriend who dumped her for not being serious enough.

Why is it so good? Legally Blonde is fiercely feminist in all versions. A lot of the time, people and fiction act like the only way to be a strong woman (or strong in general) is to be masculine, but Legally Blonde cheerfully and stylishly objects. The musical has extremely catchy songs, cute dogs, and a revamped love story. Emmett is a much better developed character in the musical. Actually, now that I think about it, Vivian gets stronger development as well. Also, the jump-roping choreography in “Whipped into Shape” is one of the most impressive feats of athleticism I’ve ever seen.

laura bell bundy | Tumblr | Legally blonde musical, Emmett legally ...

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): I’ve only every seen the proshot and it was enough to make me a big fan. It’s got Christian Borle!

My favorite songs: “Serious;” “Positive;” and “Chip On My Shoulder”


Cabaret – Broadway Musical – 2014 Revival | IBDBCabaret

How I’ve experienced it: Like pretty much every other musical fan in the world, I’ve seen the movie version with Liza Minelli. My sister stage managed the show at her college and says that the stage show and the movie are drastically different plot-wise, so even though I like the movie a lot, I sort of have the feeling that I haven’t actually seen the show.

It’s about: This musical centers on the relationship between a nightclub singer and a writer in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis.

Why is it so good? I love the Emcee. He’s a fascinating character who serves partly as a narrator and who creates a brilliant contrast between the seedy but surface-level cabaret and the real world that is continually descending into darkness. The songs are comical but have a dark, frightening edge and the juxtaposition is pulled off really well. There are some iconic songs in this, and Bob Fosse’s choreography is fascinating.

Cabaret money makes the word go round on Make a GIF

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is good. I’m sad that there’s not a filmed stage version, because I’d love to see how different it is, but the movie is definitely excellent. I’d also recommend watching the show Fosse/Verdon if you like Cabaret (or Chicago, or Pippin, or Sweet Charity, or Damn Yankees) because it’s fascinating to look behind the scenes in an entertaining, fictionalized way.

My favorite songs: “Willkommen;” “Maybe This Time;” and “Money”


Jersey Boys — OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSEJersey Boys

How I’ve experienced it: In addition to seeing the movie multiple times, I have also seen it live once.

It’s about: Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, using their music.

Why is it so good? My favorite thing about Jersey Boys is the narrative structure and the staging. It divides the story into quarters and gives each section to a different character to narrate, so there are narrative biases and inconsistencies built into the show. The characters address the audience directly and use the stage in really excellent, creative ways, occasionally turning their backs to the audience and giving us the feeling we’re up onstage with them. It’s incredibly inventive. I’ve never seen another show use the space on the stage the way Jersey Boys does.

Top 30 Boys Don't Cry GIFs | Find the best GIF on Gfycat

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The movie is very good. Unfortunately it does cut out a lot of the narration, thus removing one of my favorite elements of the stage show, but the songs and story are as good as ever. It also removes a lot of the straightforward musical moments: namely, the guys only sing when they’re performing, and none of the songs are used for strictly narrative purposes. It’s a good movie overall, but without the staging and the narration, it misses a lot of the charm of the onstage version.

My favorite songs: “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night);” “Working My Way Back to You;” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”


Page by Erin James. aussietheatre.com.au | Grease musical ...Grease

How I’ve experienced it: I’ve seen the classic movie with John Travolta as well as the NBC Live version with Aaron Tveit.

It’s about: A summer fling becomes something more when good girl Sandy moves to a new school only to discover that her summer boyfriend Danny goes there, and is a popular jerk.

Why is it so good? It’s kind of over-the-top and cheesy but, to be fair, half the reason I love musicals is that they can be over-the-top and cheesy. Pretty much every song in this is an earworm in the best possible way.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): Both versions are great. Personally I like the version with Aaron Tveit slightly more, but that may be a generational thing (and carryover from the fact that Tveit plays Enjolras in Les Mis, one of my favorite roles in one of my favorite musicals).

Pin on Julianne/Derek Hough

My favorite songs: “Summer Nights;” “Those Magic Changes;” and “Beauty School Dropout”


The Music Man (Musical) Plot & Characters | StageAgentThe Music Man

How I’ve experienced it: There are two movies of The Music Man, one from 1962 and one from 2003. I have seen both.

It’s about: A conman sells an entire town on the idea of a children’s band, cheating them out of their money but earning his way into their hearts.

Why is it so good? This musical is full of classic songs. It’s very funny and has some very charming characters. One of those great characters says “great honk” all the time, and it is the best catchphrase of all time.

My recommendation (if you can’t see it live): The 1962 movie is a classic but the 2003 is way, way better. It has Kristin Chenoweth in it, who is one of my (and everyone’s) favorite Broadway performers, and her character’s storyline is much more charming and developed than it is in the earlier version.

The Music Man AU | Wiki | Be More Chill! Amino

My favorite songs: “(Ya Got) Trouble;” “Seventy-Six Trombones/Goodnight, My Someone;” and “Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little)”


What do you think of these five shows? What cast recordings should I listen to next?


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