Heathers the Musical allows audiences to experience the worst parts of high school over and over again through the catchy score and darkly twisted stage adaptation of this 1989 cult classic.

The show starts on the first day of Veronica Sawyer’s [Charissa Hogeland] senior year. Friends with the unpopular chubby girl, Veronica suddenly finds herself hanging out with the uber-popular trio of Heathers [Jessica Keenan Wynn, Elle McLemore, Kristolyn Lloyd] who rule the school and treat just about everyone like crap. Veronica knows the Heathers and their fans are bad people, but popularity trumps morals and she willingly dumps her friend and goes along with them. When new kid JD [Dave Thomas Brown] shows up, Veronica (and the audience, let’s be real) is immediately intrigued with his general badass-ness and they quickly become the audience’s OTP. Until they aren’t.

After confrontation at a party, the Heathers banish Veronica from their little posse and she is marked as a victim of social suicide (“Dead Girl Walking” … sure to be a go-to shower song for angsty girls everywhere). Revenge quickly gets out of hand when accidental homicide starts turning into a series of planned endings. Serious topics like teen violence, sexual desire, suicide and eating disorders are addressed with biting dialogue, delightfully entertaining physical comedy (slow motion fighting sequence, an ode to blue balls), and memorable music numbers. The show is laugh-out-loud funny but also edge-of-your-seat suspenseful (especially if you haven’t seen the movie).

Veronica is a relatable protagonist because you really get why she tolerates hanging out with the Heathers. Being someone people want/respect in high school seems like the most important thing at the time even though years later you’ll realize it’s not. The Heathers are just as flawed as everyone else, except they have money and money means power. (“Candy Store” will be stuck in your head for days.) And JD… oh, JD with his Slurpees and black trench coat. He’s the mysterious new guy and if you aren’t drawn to his charm, well then you probably weren’t watching the same show I was. So when JD starts doing and saying things that are quite questionable, you don’t want to believe he’s really capable of going through with any of it. JD makes your heart race for a number of reasons throughout the show, but his “Meant to Be Yours” performance that is all kinds of intense and really drives the show toward its finale. Electric and scary moments like when Brown owns the stage during his aforementioned solo make seeing the show a necessity. The soundtrack is fun to listen to, but seeing the characters come alive through the music adds to the overall enjoyment of the experience.

Because that’s what Heathers the Musical is – it’s an experience. The costumes reminded me a bit of Cher and her friends from Clueless, but with bigger 80s hair and hair accessories. Because the main characters wear the same outfit for a majority of the show, it’s easier to focus on the lyrics and dialogue. The humor and horror is all there, but it’s all through words and actions rather than superfluous set or costume changes. The set is rather sparse and the props are minimal (but so effective), but you’re never wishing there were more things on stage because the actors do their jobs so well.

Heathers the Musical might be closing at New World Stages on August 4th, but it deserves to find legs elsewhere in the city so more people can lick it up, baby. Lick. It. Up.

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My WiFi was out at my apartment, so I couldn’t stream Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

Instead of sulking about not being able to see what’s up in prison this season, I’ve decided to type up a “shows I’ve seen in the past few weeks” blog while most everything is still fresh in my head.

It’s been busy few months and I’ve seen some AMAZING shows.

Since I last posted about theater, here is what I saw…

The Cradle Will Rock – one night only performance at the Jacobs

So, a few months ago I got an email saying that Patti LuPone and a bunch of the 1981 cast of The Cradle Will Rock (and a few newcomers) would be doing a one night only performance of the show in May. I bought my ticket about 15 minutes after receiving said email. The Cradle Will Rock is a politically-charged musical about unions. The songs are catchy, the jokes are still relevant and PATTI LUPONE. (When you have the opportunity to see LuPone on stage, you take it. Got it?) I saw a staged version of this show at the New York City Center last summer, but was thrilled that I’d get to see it again. (I highly recommend the movie The Cradle Will Rock – Tim Robbins’s 1994 film about how the musical came about in the first place. It’s wonderful.) The show was solid and I was so glad I went. (This was the fourth production I’ve seen LuPone in now… love her.) I was mostly really glad for the kid I was sitting next to. He knew nothing of the show, but was a huge Patti LuPone fan and had just finished his first year of musical theater school. My heart was swelling for him and it was my hope that he enjoyed himself. (He did.)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – presently playing at the Belasco

Holy shit. This was the single most amazing musical theater experience of my life. If NPH didn’t win the Tony, I was going to lose faith in the theater community. (He did win. And rightly so. Same with Lena Hall’s Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Revival. ALL DESERVED.)

I still cannot properly express how blown away I was by this show. I had seen the movie ages ago and knew what the general gist was, but I purposefully didn’t listen to the soundtrack or read any reviews before I saw NPH KILL IT as Hedwig.

The basic plot of the show is that it’s Hedwig’s concert and he explains through/in between songs how he came to have his angry inch and go from a young gay man in East Berlin to the cross-dressing songstress in America. The cast is Hedwig, his present boyfriend/backup singer, and a four-man band. The end. NPH is on stage for pretty much the entire show and he owns that stage and everyone in the audience. As Hedwig, he interacts with the crowd, performs in tall heels, dons some cray cray outfits and wigs, and goes through a beyond gut-wrenching arc all in 100 minutes. NPH is not just a showman, he’s a damn good performer, actor and all-around entertainer. He has mastered the comedy and tragedy of Hedwig’s story and if you aren’t gobsmacked after seeing that show, then you did something wrong.

My jaw was hanging open the entire time and I found myself wishing I could just feel that way forever. I was so moved. So entertained. So enriched. Seeing Hedwig was a defining moment for me and I wish everyone could experience that kind of theater-going magic at least once in his/her life.

NPH is exiting the show in August and will be replaced by Andrew Rannells. I need to see this show again, and I need to see Rannells as Hedwig.

This show is definitely not for everyone. (There’s a lot of swears, references to homosexuality, lap dances, lewd humor and all around not-PC stuff. It’s glorious.) But if you want your cage rattled in the best way possible, I very much urge you to see this show.

Matt Doyle at 54 Below (two nights only)

Awwwww, precious. Matt Doyle is precious. My favorite theater buddy and I bought tickets for this months ago and we were so glad we did because Matt Doyle is a joy to watch in person. This was the first time I saw him perform any of his original music, so that was a lot of fun. The whole evening was just very enjoyable. Matt Doyle (as that is what I’ve called him to his face, so that is what I will forever refer to him as – first and last name, thankyouverymuch) is a very talented singer and he’s just a goofy little dude who seems to really love getting to perform with his friends. My favorite part of the night was when he and another cast member from Jasper in Deadland sang “As Long As You’re Mine” from Wicked. Loved. It.

Rocky – presently playing at the Winter Garden

HOLY SHIT, GO SEE THIS SHOW.

I’m not kidding. You should totally see this show.

And you’re probably thinking, “Rocky? Like, that boxing movie is on Broadway? And it’s a musical?! What the damn hell?”

See, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I was like, “Man, this is probably going to be really dumb and cheesy.” I mean, I saw Rocky when I was younger and was like, “Man, that is really cheesy.”

But guess what? THE MUSICAL IS FRIGGIN’ AWESOME.

I ended up with front row tickets for myself and my sister and they were the greatest seats ever. We were nice and close to the stage, and then we were friggin’ ring-side for the epic fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed that happens for the last 20 minutes of the show. (The ushers literally escort the center orchestra seated people from their seats in Rows A-F [“the Golden Circle” seats] to bleachers on the stage and then they assemble a boxing ring in the middle of the audience! And since we had left orchestra seats, we were ring-side! We got high-5s from Paulie! We were literally right by Rocky’s corner. IT WAS EPIC.)

So the show itself is literally the plot of the first Rocky movie and it totally works as a musical because Rocky is a really vulnerable and likeable character. Throughout the course of the show, I found myself caring a lot about Rocky and literally rooting for him by time his big fight happens. (I was standing and cheering loudly for Rocky. Like, I was actually on my feet and yelling, “COME ON, ROCKY!” like I was at a real fight. I CARED, OKAY?)

For me, the show worked because of Andy Karl (who plays Rocky). I was familiar with Andy Karl from his role in Legally Blonde: The Musical (he played the UPS guy, Kyle), but now he will forever be Rocky to me. He had the low voice going. The shrug-my-shoulders-cuz-I-know-I’m-a-goof-but-I-got-feelings-too. His cute little sweater he wore in the Thanksgiving scene (SWOON). How he talked to his turtles (“Yo, turtles.” SWOOOON). Not to mention him in his wife-beater and boxing shorts. (Damn, son.) Andy Karl definitely has the acting chops and singing chops to lead that great ensemble and his Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical was well deserved. (There was no way in hell he was going to win… let’s be real. But he totally earned that nomination and rightly so.)

After the show, we were able to meet most of the cast at the stage door. We chatted with Margo Seibert (she played Adrian and was really great – I love her voice and she had some really tough ballads that she nailed) and Terence Archie (Apollo Creed). We were also able to talk to Andy Karl and get pictures with him. We told him we were fans since Legally Blonde and he mentioned his stylus line and joked that he was still wearing tight shorts. Everyone was super nice and seemed very appreciative of the good reception they were getting from the audience.

I would love to see this show again and be a part of the Golden Circle. I had the chance to get Golden Circle tickets, but my sister and I would have been separated for the whole show and we wanted to sit together. If I go by myself later on, I’ll take advantage of the special seats.

Rocky turned out to be one of my favorite shows of the season (along with The Bridges of Madison County, Twelfth Night and Hedwig and the Angry Inch). I was just so surprised by the amount of heart and spirit this show had. I seriously thought it was going to be dumb, but I was so, so wrong. Go see Rocky. It’s a lot of fun and a really unique theater-going experience.

(Also, if there ever were going to be an X-Men musical, Andy Karl would make the PERFECT Wolverine. Just sayin’…)

Newsies – playing at the Nederlander

I saw Newsies when I first moved to NYC (when Jeremy Jordan was just finishing up his run as Jack Kelly), so I was glad to see it again with Corey Cott in the lead. My, he gets a bit intense. I still loved the show. Newsies is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time and I love the stage adaptation because it’s a real crowd-pleaser (what with all the dancing, a better female character/love interest who actually serves a purpose to the plot instead of feeling like an afterthought, and how the songs are more powerfully presented). I was grateful to have a balcony seat this time so that I didn’t miss anything (especially during “Once and For All”). Newsies is just super fun and the ensemble is fantastic. So many cute dancing boys. So. Many.

If/Then – playing at the Richard Rogers Theatre

My sister won us lotto tickets for this show, so not only were our tickets $25, but they were FRONT ROW. (For the record, my sister’s name was the first drawn in the lotto, so not all lotto tickets are front row. We just happened to luck out big time.) I was super excited to see this show because I had never seen Idina Menzel perform in person and one of my friends had really hyped up the plot and the music. I walked away feeling blown away by Menzel (holy hell, woman), but completely underwhelmed from the show itself. You know how people have been saying that it’s basically Sliding Doors the Musical? Well, it really is. And though I could relate to the over-arching questions of “What happens if you make this choice over that choice? And how does that affect you in the long run?” I couldn’t really relate to the protagonist because she was nearing 40 (I just turned 30), she was having relationship problems with a boyfriend and best friend (I’m presently very single for reasons), and she was having issues with her career (I don’t have a career right now because I’m still working toward getting my first book published. And dog walking is not a career. Not for me, anyway.) The songs were all right, the ensemble was good, but I just was not super moved by this show. I think my friend hyped it up too much and I walked in with too big of expectations. Menzel deserved a better show than this for her return to the stage. I mean, I’m glad I saw it, but there were a bunch of other shows this season that actually struck a lasting chord with me. I’ll remember this show for seeing Menzel belt out her solos from feet away. I’ll remember stuff like Rocky and Hedwig for how they touched my heart and made me feel the gamut of emotions.

The 68th Annual Tony Awards Dress Rehearsal – Radio City Music Hall

Yes, I was lucky enough to see the Tonys Dress Rehearsal for a second year in a row. (PINCH ME. HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?) This was the reason my sister came to visit me – because I had tickets to watch Hugh Jackman rehearse his hosting duties. And trust me, NO ONE knew what the hell he was getting at when he hopped in. NO ONE. What a waste of an opening. (NPH’s opening last year was epic. EPIC.) And while on a whole this year’s Tonys rehearsal was not as exciting as last year’s, it was still really cool to see. I mean, we got to see performances from all the nominated New Musicals and Revivals. (I was so sad that the Violet performance focused mostly on the church part… that’s, like, not even a majority of the show.) It was cool to see Sting perform, even though I’m not really looking forward to The Last Ship. (We saw Sting perform twice, as they had to run that bit again at the rehearsals. TWICE THE STING, FOLKS.) It was also AMAZING to see Jennifer Hudson. Holy shit. I mean, I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to see Jeremy Jordan, or any of the actual cast from Finding Neverland, but JENNIFER HUDSON. That woman takes you to Church and back every time she sings. I had goosebumps. It was also cool to see Alan Cumming perform with the Cabaret cast even though that show wasn’t really nominated for anything. But, Alan Cumming as the Emcee is iconic, so that was awesome. It was fun to see what presenters actually showed up to practice their lines. I was most excited to see Audra McDonald, Matt Bomer, Zachary Levi, Patricia Clarkson, Bradley Cooper, Zachary Quinto and Vera Farmiga. I was bummed that neither Clint Eastwood nor Tina Fey were at rehearsals.

As much as I love Hugh Jackman, I hope NPH hosts next year.

The Tony Awards Gala – The Plaza

Let me be perfectly clear: I did NOT attend the Tonys Gala. I worked at the Tonys Gala. (I took tickets at one of the entrances.) A friend got me involved with this gig and I will be forever grateful to her because it was so much fun! And while I will not divulge whom I saw and/or took tickets from, I will say that it was a really lovely time. The people I took tickets from were very nice and it was fun answering questions or helping people with directions when needed. If you’ve ever worked at a retail establishment as a greeter that was basically what I was doing. (I would ask people for their tickets and then told them to have a nice night. The end. Regardless who I was taking tickets from, they got the same greeting and smile as everyone else.) In addition to the people attending the gala being friendly, I also got to work with a nice little group of fellow ticket-takers/direction-givers. It’s amazing how much fun you can having while you’re working so long as you’re working with the right people. During our shift, we got to walk around the gala for a few minutes and grab a soda and some snacks. I felt wholly out of place in my $8 dress from Target, but no one treated me like I was less than. When me and the person I was working with left for the night, someone else working at the gala (who was not a part of the group we were working with) offered to hail us a cab like he had been doing for gala guests. I smiled at his offer, but said “No thank you” and crossed the street to wait for the subway to take me back to reality.

I don’t know if I’ll get to do this again next year, but I sure hope so. I very much love and respect the theater community and it was a real privilege to get to help out on a night that celebrates Broadway because Broadway has meant (and still means) so much to me.

Much Ado About Nothing – playing as part of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte in Central Park

Shakespeare in the Park is one of my most favorite things about living in New York City. It’s FREE theater performed by wonderful ensembles of actors. I was fortunate enough to score a pair of virtual lottery tickets for the 6/14 show and it was amazing. My favorite theater buddy and I thoroughly enjoyed the three-hour romp of love, betrayal and shenanigans. (If you think about it, the plot is terribly sexist and a majority of the characters are horrible people, but it’s Shakespeare, so we are groomed to think his work is the bee’s knees.)

I haven’t seen or read Much Ado in about a decade, but vaguely remembered the plot and main characters. Having taken a Shakespearean Comedies course in undergrad, I am very familiar with the “rules” of what makes this story a comedy. And while there were dozens of laugh-out-loud moments (holy shit, Hamish Linklater as Benedick repeatedly made me laugh so hard that there were tears in my eyes), there were also other key aspects of Shakespeare’s comedies… like weddings. And mistaken identities.

It was a real privilege to see this cast. I saw Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe in last year’s performance of The Comedy of Errors and was thrilled to be able to see them on stage again. There were other familiar faces in the cast as well, like John Pankow (Ira from Mad About You), Pedro Pascal (he’s on that Game of Thrones show) and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Yes, you read that right… BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL.

My heart stopped when he first walked out on stage. I knew he was in the show, but there’s a difference between knowing someone is in a show and actually seeing him/her acting right in front of you. Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of those performers who has forever been on my list of people I need to see perform in person at least once in my life.

And, man, did he not disappoint. It was brilliant to see him on stage, and his character even SANG for a few moments throughout the play. I was dying. DYING. (You don’t get it… I’ve listened to him and Audra sing “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime for almost 20 years now and his voice is just so prominent and the epitome of musical theater greatness.) But then… then…

So, we waited around after the show because my friend wanted to meet Pedro Pascal (she watches GOT, but I do not). We did get a chance to chat with him for a few moments and I took a picture of her and him after he signed our programs. We were really hoping to chat with Hamish Linklater, but we saw him quietly duck out with a child in tow, so we didn’t say anything because it is wholly rude and inappropriate to approach an actor when he’s in parent-mode.

The crowd at the stage door dispersed after Pedro Pascal was done taking pictures and whatnot, but my friend and I hung around because we saw Brian Stokes Mitchell behind the gate, meaning that he was still there and hadn’t left yet. I was flummoxed – like, does the younger generation of people not know who Brian Stokes Mitchell is and his importance in the New York theater scene?

One of the ushers asked my friend and I if we were waiting for someone in particular and I said that I saw Mr. Mitchell behind the gate and we were hoping to maybe say Hi. The usher immediately said “Oh! I’ll go tell him! Hold on.” And then the usher disappeared behind the gate and a few minutes later, BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL WALKED TOWARD US.

He was so nice and friendly! He was surprised that my friend and I waited for the chance to speak with him and I nervously rambled that we have been fans for a long time and that it was a real pleasure to see him perform. He talked with us for about five minutes, asking us questions about how we liked the show, where we were from, if we were theater people, etc… He even wrote little messages in our programs and was really just very kind. My heart is still on the verge of explosion because I honestly did not expect to ever get a chance to see Brian Stokes Mitchell in person, let alone talk to him for a few minutes. What a classy dude. And that voice. Dear lord, that voice. All day today I have been whispering “Brian Stokes Mitchell” to myself and laughing because meeting him was a real thing that happened.

But the show – go see the show. The whole cast is really spectacular and the show itself is just so entertaining. Watching Shakespeare being performed is so much more fulfilling than just reading it. It’s so much easier to understand because of the body language being used, and the inflection or peoples’ voices. I am continually amazed by Hamish Linklater’s epic commitment to his role. There’s a reason he was nominated for a Drama Desk award for The Comedy of Errors last year. I would not be surprised if he gets nominated for Much Ado next season. His physical comedy is masterful, but he’s also very skilled at the more vulnerable and heartfelt content.

If you live in NYC, there is no reason for you not to partake in Shakespeare in the Park. Tickets are FREE. If you don’t want to wake up early and stand in line for tickets, then just do the virtual lottery.

So, yeah… that’s what I’ve been up to (theater-wise) the past couple months. I’m seeing tick… tick… BOOM in a couple weeks, but don’t really have solid plans besides that. I do hope to see King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park, and maybe a Broadway show or two. We’ll see!

Have a good one

The weekend before Christmas, my favorite theater buddy and I were trying to decide what Broadway show to go see. She had just seen a couple plays that week, so it was decided we should go see a musical. We opted to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

We chose wisely.

Beautiful chronicles the beginning of Carole King’s songwriting career through her performance at Carnegie Hall after her hugely successful album “Tapestry” won several Grammys. We watched Carole blossom from a beyond talented 16-yr-old to a mid-30s mother of two who somehow managed to write and co-write some of the most popular pop songs in our nation’s history.

Even if you didn’t grow up during the early years of Carole King’s career, you know her songs. Beautiful uses them as a musical timeline to show how King went from “It Might As Well Rain Until September” to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” to “It’s Too Late” to “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” King wrote a number of songs with her ex-husband, Gerry Goffin, and it was an emotional rollercoaster seeing their romantic and working relationships rise and then tumble down.

During their time at the record label, King and Goffin befriended another songwriting team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Though they had a little bit of rivalry to see whose songs stayed at the top of the charts the longest, it was fun to see the pairs supporting each other at work and outside the office.

My parents listened to a lot of Carole King music when I was growing up and I knew she had (co-)written a lot of songs for other artists, but it is nothing short of amazing when you look at the track list for the show. Every song is a toe-tapper. My friend and I had standing room tickets and for the first half of the show, it felt like our own little dance party up in the mezzanine. (For the second act, the ushers seated us in the orchestra… so that was awesome.) I would watch other people in the audience every time the intro to a song played. All the songs are so recognizable and it was fun to see people gasp at the familiar tune and nod their head, as if they were remembering a significant moment in their life where that song played a part. I don’t really remember the first time I heard any of these songs, but the older people in the crowd probably do. It was neat to get to share that with them, even from afar.

The only person in the cast who I had seen on stage before was the man who played Barry Mann – Jarrod Spector. (I saw him in Jersey Boys when it opened in Chicago.) He was awesome, of course. But, the person who really holds the show on her shoulders is Jessie Mueller. Mueller plays Carole King and she plays her to perfection. Her singing voice is not an exact replica of King’s, but it’s pretty damn close and exquisitely captures the tangible emotions of all the songs. King’s music career started off happy and upbeat, (co-)writing love songs and catchy tunes you can never get out of your head. But, as her relationship with her husband grew apart and she branched out on her own, King’s music became more than soulful – it became soul-bearing. Her lyrics punch you in the feels in the best way possible and are still anthems for women everywhere.

There aren’t any huge dance numbers. (Well, Little Eva and the ensemble do do “The Locomotion…”) And some of the performances are simply people singing into a microphone either at a stand or a piano. These songs don’t need huge production value like other musicals. They do help drive the story, but the music and lyrics provide the substance rather than lavish costumes and intricate choreography. It’s not a boring show by any means, but it is one where you need to be ready to appreciate the understatedness of it all. Carole King was not a flashy woman (at least that’s what I gathered from the show…), but her music definitely lit up the charts and that stage.

I really enjoyed this show. Jukebox musicals, when done properly, are a lot of fun. I knew Carole’s music, but now I feel like I know her. And she’s Beautiful.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is currently in previews and opens on January 12, 2014. It’s playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 43rd St in New York, NY.

My roommates weren’t home tonight, so I did something I rarely get to do anymore – I sang really loudly in my apartment.

I used to sing all the time when I lived with my family, but I reel it in now that I live with people I’m not super close with.

Though I don’t sing nearly as much as I used to, music is still very much an important part of my life. I listen to my iPod to and from work and sometimes during the day en route to further away jobs or errands. I tend to listen to the same songs over and over and over again. Music is comforting and it’s also really inspiring. There are certain songs and lyrics that just hit home a little bit harder depending on the given scenario.

Today on Twitter, one of my favorite fellow blogger’s/aspiring YA novelists tweeted “Love Skyscraper so much. It’s the theme song for my books. May be welling up here.” Every Sunday, Vicky also blogs several songs she’s been listening. I’m not always familiar with the songs she posts, or if I am they may not be songs I’m quite partial too, but I still love reading her list every week because it’s basically a weekly soundtrack. (Check out her latest Sunday Songs blog post here!)

My own soundtrack has been kinda focused these past few weeks. I find as I’m writing, I tend to latch on to some of the songs that trigger certain emotions within myself. Though this definitely won’t be a weekly thing like Vicky’s blog, I wanted to share some of the songs that have been inspiring to me.

In no particular order…

Adam Lambert – “Better Than I Know Myself”

I first heard this song while I was working in Macy’s a few years ago. After hearing it multiple times throughout one of my shifts, I quickly realized it was Lambert. His voice is mesmorizing, but it’s the lyrics to this song and the driving chorus that punches me in the feels every time I hear it.

Cause if I wanted to go I would have gone by now
But I really need you near me to
Keep my mind off the edge
If I wanted to leave I would have left by now
But you’re the only one that knows me
Better than I know myself

It’s definitely a dramatic song (and a kinda dumb music video), but his voice is so gorgeous.

Jeremy Jordan – “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” (Smash Season 2)

Smash was a terrible show, but this song is my most favorite thing to come out of it. So, thank you Smash Season 2. I have watched this youtube video more times than I am willing to admit and it’s not only because I have a huge thing for JerJor and the facial expressions he makes throughout (especially at 1:39). No, I love this song because of the line, “Sing to me and I will forgive you for taking my heart in the suitcase you packed.” That’s a beautiful line and my heart hurts every time I hear it.

Norbert Leo Butz – “I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You” (deleted song from The Last 5 Years)

I’ve posted about my love for this song on multiple occasions, but my love for it only increases every time I hear it. I still think this is an infinitely better song than “Shiksa Goddess” and wish it would have stayed in the musical, but I digress. This song is perfect. The way NBL sings it is perfect. And when he sings the line “I don’t know what I’m doing, but come in and ruin me,” my heart stops. That one lyric is basically my standard for potential significant others. I have yet to meet anyone who I am ready and willing to say that line to, but it’s nice to know that when I do find him, I’ll know the exact words to say to express what I’m feeling. This song is always in the back of my mind when I’m writing stuff for characters who have feelings for each other but are terrified of the unknown at the same time. (Which, ironically, is the scene I’m in the middle of writing right now in my own book… Cue Norbert.)

Krysta Roderiguez – “Safer” (First Date)

So I listen to a lot of showtunes. I listen to a lot of showtunes because they are musical dialogue used by characters to express feelings that they can’t just talk about.

When I went and saw First Date and I heard Krysta sing this song, I squirmed in my seat because it was like someone broke into my deepest personal thoughts and then wrote a whole song about them for everyone to hear. In that darkened theater, I felt so exposed while she was singing. It was uncomfortable and freeing all at the same time. Other people obviously feel the same way I do. No one talks about it, but it’s a shared feeling. So, I take this anthem of the fear of being vulnerable and I embrace it. (And belt it out when no one is home…)

Jessica Sanchez – “Clarity” (as sung on Glee)

I was not a huge fan of Jessica when she was on American Idol and I thought it was silly she was on a couple episodes of Glee, but I love her version of this song better than the original. This is another one of those songs about relationships that just sticks with you.

Pink ft. Nate Ruess – “Just Give Me a Reason”

Just a second we’re not broken just bent and we can learn to love again.” BAM – you’ve been sucker punched in the feels by heartbreakingly beautiful music. “We’re not broken just bent.” Seriously that line just begs for a second chance and it hurts to hear, but I cling to it every time the song comes on.

(I’ve also been on a huge One Direction and Demi Lovato kick, but those songs are more fun than inspirational, at least in conjunction with my writing.)

So, yeah… a lot of really emotional songs. They help me work out different emotional situations that I’m making my characters go through. Right now my boys are having the “I really like you but I don’t think we should be boyfriends” discussion and it’s hard to write because I want them to be happy, but they have to be sad first. (Remember, it’s always important to bring the audience down before you lift them back up again. And I have at least another chapter or two of knocking the boys down a few pegs. It’s draining.)

Maybe I’ll move onto some happier songs once I get a few more chapters under my belt. But for now, enjoy the wholly feels-wrecking songs I’ve posted 🙂

Last weekend, I sat/stood outside in the freezing cold and epic windiness for two hours to get Student Rush tickets to see Big Fish. The show is closing at the end of December and I knew I had to see it before its truncated run was over because 1.) It’s a musical based off of one of my favorite books and films   and  2.) Norbert Leo Butz.

 

A lot of people are probably familiar with the movie version of Big Fish (my tied-for-first favorite Tim Burton film [tied with Ed Wood, of course]), but maybe not so much with the book (written by Daniel Wallace). I highly recommend the book – it’s a good read and allows you to use your imagination to picture Edward Bloom’s stories as fanciful as you want. I read the book before the film came out, and then I saw the film twice in theaters. I’m not one to cry at movies, but the ending made me tear up both times. (No tears actually fell, but my eyes were definitely glassy.) I bought the DVD the day it came out and have watched it multiple times since.

 

I love the movie and I really wanted to love the musical.

 

I liked the musical.

 

But believe me when I say (write?) that I CRIED during the last couple scenes.

 

And I was not the only one in the theater to burst into tears. There was audible sniffling all around me. And rightly so.

 

Big Fish is a father/son story for the ages. It’s about a man named William Bloom who is trying to reconcile with his father, Edward Bloom. Edward Bloom was a traveling salesman while William was a boy, so he was not home as much as William wanted him to be – and when he was home, Edward Bloom told these wildly fantastical stories about giants, werewolves, witches and the war in which he himself was always the protagonist. Young William (and later adult William) thought these stories were too ridiculous and he wanted to know the truth about his father and what really happened in his father’s life. When illness strikes the Bloom family, time literally starts running out (as opposed to stopping/slowing down… see what I did there? Wink) and William desperately tries to piece together the truth. Additional stresses pile on as William finds out he is to become a father and he worries about being to able to raise a son when he thinks he doesn’t have a great example from which to lead. There are a lot of scenes of father and son butting heads, but also moments of redemption and forgiveness. Let’s just say a lot of the people crying in the theater were adult men.

 

For some reason, I am more affected by Father/Son stories than Mother/Daughter stories. Actually, I know the reason… it’s because Father/Son stories force the characters to open up and discuss feelings. And watching men talk (and sing) about feelings is not only entertaining, but heartbreaking. Vulnerable male characters are much more interesting to watch than guys who keep all their feelings bottled up inside. This is why I love Big Fish (the movie). This is why I only liked the musical.

 

Yes, the emotions were there in the musical. But I just wanted more. The whole idea behind Edward Blood is that he lived this crazy, almost unimaginably fantastical life… but the stage version just doesn’t quite live up to how big Edward Bloom’s world really was. Yes, there were still a giant and a mermaid and a big fish… but I selfishly still wanted more.

 

There were big musical numbers, but sadly I did not find the songs all that catchy. I can only remember a couple lyrics from a couple songs. I mean, if they have a cast album, I’ll totally get it… but that’s only because I crave anything sung by Norbert Leo Butz. His voice is magical. He was the perfect Edward Bloom… I just wish the musical lived up to his stage presence.

 

I am wholly biased when it comes to Norbert Leo Butz. (Though luckily, a lot of people share my bias.) I have been a fan of his for over a decade. In undergrad, I would watch bootlegs of Wicked and The Last 5 Years on youtube and stare at my computer screen with a look of pure wonder etched across my face. He’s such an animated performer and plays those big moments as huge as they deserve to be… but at the same time, he masterfully pulls back and allows the vulnerable moments to just be. And it breaks your heart.

 

In the musical, NBL plays both the younger and older versions of Edward Bloom (sometimes within mere seconds of each other… his physicality of those two characters is brilliant and impressive). Though his bigger moments definitely play out when he’s young Edward, I was more impacted by both Edwards’ quieter moments. For young Edward, it was the daffodil scene. I was in the fifth row for the show, and this was the only point that I wished my seat were up in the mezzanine so that I could see the daffodils from far away. I don’t consider myself that sappy of a romantic, but I definitely swooned when NBL sang “Daffodils.” His voice is perfection. It goes into your ears and then flows like cocoa throughout the rest of your person, making you feel all warm and protected. You feel safe and smitten at the same time and I honestly could listen to him sing anything. But I digress… Edward’s quieter moments.

 

The end scenes. Oh, lord. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I will not ruin it for you. (Please at least see the movie. Really.) But, William and Edward come to a sort of understanding at the end of the book/movie/musical and William finally gets his dad’s stories and why Edward did what he did and why he was away so much when William was little. There is just so much love and understanding that happens when William achieves clarity about his father and it’s very beautiful and a sucker punch to your feels. It was at this point where my tears started and they did not stop until the finale reprise of “Be The Hero.”

 

Despite the shortcomings with the songs and some of the staging, the cast on a whole is really quite good. It’s an entertaining show and an emotional one at that, but I very much understand why its open-ended run is now drawing to a close at the end of December. If you have the means to see it, I would definitely recommend it. Everyone should have the opportunity to see Norbert Leo Butz in a musical at least once in his/her life. (That’s another reason why I kept crying during the last few scenes… this was a decade-long dream come true for me. I was supposed to see NBL in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels years ago, but his understudy was in the day I had tickets. Yes, I did see him in Dead Accounts last year, but that was a play… and a meh one at that.)

 

Big Fish is a great story. If you can’t/don’t see the musical, at least check out the movie and/or book.

 

Big Fish is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre until the end of December 2013. Student Rush tickets are available at the Box Office ($27/ticket, and up to two tickets per student ID). I was the third person in line and my tickets were E 17 and E 19 (Left Orchestra).

This afternoon, I had a chance to see the Off-Broadway musical Little Miss Sunshine at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre.

 

Based off of the 2006 film of the same name, Little Miss Sunshine is the humorous, and at times heart-breaking, tale of the Hoover family’s weekend trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California so that nine-year-old Olive can compete in a pageant she qualified for while visiting relatives. What’s special about this family is that none of them are special in that they are dysfunctional and unglamorous just like the rest of us. Two parents, two kids, a formerly suicidal gay uncle and grandpa who abuses drugs travel in a barely running VW van on a long road trip. The dad is unemployed and desperate for a book deal for a 10-step motivational plan he keeps using on anyone who will listen. The son has taken a vow of silence until he can get into flight school. The daughter wears glasses, has a bit of a tummy, and is the antithesis of any girl you see on that Toddlers and Tiaras show. We laugh with them because we can relate to them. We laugh at them because it’s easier to laugh at their hardships than deal with our own.

 

Based on the cast and source material, I had high expectations going into this show and can honestly admit that they were met. Little Miss Sunshine wasn’t flawless, but isn’t that the point? With no act breaks or intermission, we are with the Hoovers every step of the way (or every mile they drive, rather), for better or worse.

 

I wondered how they were going to handle the family being in that VW van for a majority of the musical (for if you’ve seen the movie, you know that the van is a major set piece) and was enamored when six yellow chairs on wheels were rolled around the stage in formation to represent the van (said chairs also were used as chairs and beds). The actors basically Flinstoned themselves about the stage, but it didn’t seem silly – it was practical and believable. Those chairs were the van and those actors were the Hoover family.

 

The cast was very strong. I had seen Will Swenson, Rory O’Malley and Wesley Taylor on stage before, but it was great to see them in different roles than I was used to. I was most excited to see Stephanie J. Block, as she is a performer I had always wanted to see in person but had missed out on before.

 

Swenson and Block played Richard and Sheryl Hoover. They looked like parents – hell, they looked like my parents – and it was easy to believe that they had been together for awhile and were dealing with a lot of crap that adults don’t want to be dealing with on top of having two rambunctious children and live-in family members (her brother and his dad). The stress was written all over their faces, but so was the underlying love that ultimately kept the family together. Both Swenson and Block are strong actors with equally powerful vocals and it was a pleasure to see them act opposite each other. (Throughout the show I wondered why Will Swenson and Matt Bomer haven’t been cast as brothers in something. Someone needs to make this happen. Please and Thank You.)

 

O’Malley played Frank, Sheryl’s gay brother who had recently tried to slit his wrists because of relationship problems. This production delves a little deeper into Frank’s story than the movie did (with the addition of a couple scenes between Frank and his former lover, as well as Frank and his nephew) and the audience understands a little more (if not a little better) about why he did what he did and how he’s doing now. O’Malley was great, but I couldn’t help but think that he reminded me an awful lot of Jesse Tyler Ferguson for some reason… (I’ll blame the facial hair and how they have similar dialogue/lyric delivery).

 

David Rasche, an actor who I was not familiar with, played the grandpa (the role that won Alan Arkin a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the film). He got a lot of laughs because the character is so inappropriate, but I also appreciated the bits of scenes where he was able to be serious. (I often say how I think comedic actors/roles are at their best during dramatic moments.)

 

Olive and Dwayne Hoover were played by Hannah Nordberg and Logan Rowland, respectively. Nordberg was a delight as Olive. I thought she projected well and definitely held her own on stage among the more seasoned actors. She had a great handle on the comedic moments, but also shined during Olive’s more dramatic scenes. Rowland was great as Dwayne. As Dwayne is silent for half the show, Rowland’s facial expressions and body language were vital in getting that character across and I thought he pulled it off. Dwayne was always one of (if not) my favorite character in the show and though his freak out was a little less underwhelming on stage, it still made an impact.

 

So, I mentioned Wesley Taylor earlier… he had a small role as Frank’s former boyfriend and as a surfer-esque dude who works at the pageant. Let’s just say my body was not ready to see his abs underneath his neon pink polo shirt, but his voice is just as stunning as I remembered it to be. (I saw him in The Addams Family when it premiered in Chicago a few years ago… “I’m Crazier Than You” was on repeat for awhile.)

 

Sadly the Playbill does not list the songs from the show, so I don’t know any of their names (and I’m too lazy to Google it right now…). BUT, I can say that the music was good and if there happens to be a soundtrack someday, I’d totally get it because the voices of these performers are top notch and the lyrics were solid. The group numbers were great, but I was a little Meh about the song Richard sang about his dad. That was just not the best sounding note for Swenson to end with, you know?

 

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it ends right after the pageant. And if you remember the pageant… well, then you’ll be pleased with how the musical’s pageant ends too. I had a grin on my face that you couldn’t have smacked off.

 

When the show was over, our performance had a moderated Q&A with Stephanie J. Block. (I was unaware of this prior to being seated… there was a note in everyone’s Playbill.) Though she said a lot of “actor-y” things about finding her character and the different productions of the show leading up to this one, I still found it to be wholly enjoyable and informative. It was fun to hear her speak so highly of the show and her cast and it very much seemed that this was a labor of love for everyone involved. (I kind of ran into Block in the lobby after the show. I let her duck out the exit ahead of me and she told me to have a good night, so I told her that the show was great and she thanked me.)

 

If you liked the movie, then you’re sure to enjoy the musical. Little Miss Sunshine is playing at Second Stage Theatre (305 W 43rd St, New York, NY) through December 8, 2013.

Last night, I got to see the first preview performance of Broadway’s latest musical comedy – First Date.

 

I knew the gist of the show before going (it was a “real time” first date between Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez’s characters), but had no idea what kind of music or characters I was going to be exposed to.

 

As someone who usually does not seek out a rom-com, I was pleasantly surprised with the musical and I very much enjoyed First Date.

 

The basic plot is such – Aaron (Levi) is an open-book straight-laced, young Jewish businessman who is set up on a blind date with Casey (Rodriguez), who is an edgy, standoffish, young atheist that works in an art gallery. Opposites butt heads like feuding bulls before they start to attract and the audience is well aware of their connection before they are. We watch them take hugely wrong turns in conversation, ask inappropriate questions, put up walls and change perceptions. It’s an eye-opening 90 minutes of blatant stereotypes, high points of both comedy and drama, and self-reflection.

 

There are seven characters in the show (our blind date couple, an older gay waiter, and two heterosexual couples who serve as a host of other characters during inner monologue-based music numbers) and everyone did a great job. Though the stereotypes were laid on thick (revolving around the Jewish faith, Christianity and gay culture), they served a purpose of allowing the audience to immediately jump to certain conclusions about characters’ relationships without having to mess about with deeper passages. The date couldn’t drag, so obvious (albeit sometimes a bit forced) references were necessary to keep the pace.

 

My biggest concern going into the show was the music. Because this is a brand spankin’ new musical, I had no prior knowledge of any of the songs. My fear was that I wasn’t going to be able to hear/understand what they were singing (especially group numbers with overlapping lyrics) or that the songs were going to be boring or cliché. I am pleased to say that my fears were alleviated right away. From my sixth row seat, I could understand everyone just fine (I have a bit of a hearing problem on a whole, so I spent a lot of time watching the actors’ mouths so as to better understand what they were singing) and the songs were actually pretty catchy. This is a soundtrack I would gladly listen to (if only to pretend that I sang as well as Rodriguez… damn, that girl is talented).

 

The biggest surprise for me, though, was Zachary Levi. Having never seen anything he’s been in, I didn’t know how well he was going to come across vocally when put next to Rodriguez (I saw her in The Addams Family… “Pulled” is my go-to shower song, folks). I also didn’t know if he could command the stage.

 

I am entirely okay with admitting when I am wrong – Zachary Levi was great. (And I’m not just saying this because I had a super fun stagedoor experience with him, which I will talk about later…)

 

As Aaron, Levi came across as nervous, spiteful, kind and heartbreakingly honest throughout different moments of the play. At one point he’s singing about/to an ex-girlfriend and he shimmied his way across the stage and onto furniture – dancing until my smiles hurt. At another point, he tells Casey about a letter his mom wrote to him and it showed a very vulnerable side to his character.

 

But, as impressed as I was with Levi, I will forever tip my hat to Rodriguez. Though her character is the standard “chick with issues who uses deflection to keep her heart guarded,” the arc is fulfilling and you want to root for her after she belts out this gorgeous ballad called “Safer.” It takes place during a therapy session and I almost looked around anxiously wondering how on earth the lyricists hacked into my brain and wrote out in song all the insecure feelings I try to keep trapped up there. Dang – way to make me feel incredibly exposed during a musical comedy, First Date.

 

Though there were obvious little issues (some of the blocking was kinda Meh and parts of the plot was almost too cliché), there was even more to like about the show. Great cast, catchy songs, relatable plot… it was a very enjoyable show that was just really fun to watch. This show isn’t meant to make you think about super deep issues like world peace or curing cancer, but it was a great show to smile and laugh heartily surrounding a few spots of reflection and realization. We laugh at their mistakes because we’ve made them too. We nod our heads at their issues because they are our own. And we can’t help but smile when things go really right because it gives us hope that that could be us.

 

First Date is in previews until it officially opens in early August and is playing at the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street (between Broadway and 8th Ave).

 

 

(Okay – so, stagedoor. All the actors came out and seemed genuinely surprised that there were that many people waiting at the barricades. Everyone signed and posed for pictures. When Zachary and Krysta came out, everyone cheered. Zachary announced that Krysta was on vocal rest, so she didn’t really talk to anyone, though she did smile and nod her head a lot. I took pictures of my friend with the various actors and I got a picture with Krysta and then one with Zachary.

 

Zachary Levi was a joy to watch at the stagedoor. He was smiling from the moment he stepped outside and just kept talking to everyone. He signed Playbills and had conversations with people, taking pictures and offering to take the pictures of him and whoever he was interacting with at the moment.

 

Since he was being so chatty, I decided to talk to him when he got over to my friend and me. I told him I knew who he was, but that I had never seen anything he was in, but that I was glad that the first thing I saw him in was his Broadway debut. He said he was glad about that too and then said that the situation was like our first date together… and then he rambled how he was going to come to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and some other stuff. He was super sweet and extremely friendly. Our picture came out blurry, so a minute later, I tapped him on the arm and told him our first date picture didn’t turn out well and we took a second one. Then my friend and I vacated our prime spot at the front of the barrier to squeal with delight out of eye/earshot. We have since decided that not only is Zachary Levi one of the most adorable people on the face of the planet – his costume during the show was soooooo cute… glasses, folks… he wears glasses – but he’s also one of the nicest and most personable actors we’ve ever encountered. I need to watch Chuck now, obviously.

 

The whole night was super fun and I highly recommend the show and then stagedooring afterward. I don’t know if he will be quite so talkative each time, but it was even just fun watching him smile and bounce around while he was signing stuff. He was just so happy – which is exactly what you should be when working on Broadway.)