It Shoulda Been You at Segal Centre – Montreal

I have a very vague, distant memory of the It Shoulda Been You Tony Awards performance back in 2015, though I was much too wrapped up in my rooting for Fun Home to really be paying attention. I mostly forgot that the show existed until Segal announced its production of it this season.

It Shoulda Been You tells the story of a wedding, told from the point of view of the bride’s sister, which joins together a Jewish and non-Jewish family. But first, some context.

The Segal Centre puts on a couple of Yiddish translations of English plays every season, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing one until tonight. This feat of trilingualism (there were both French and English subtitles) was probably my favourite part of the production. Having never seen one of these translated plays before, I assumed it would be a straight translation, serving the act of translation rather than serving the story, but the translators integrated the Yiddish so seamlessly into the storyline, the characters, and the dialogue. The translation supports the story, and the way the characters weave in and out of different languages is a totally realistic portrayal of bilingual families.

As a choice for the Segal Centre Yiddish repertoire, this show was a total success. Musically, it’s not the most memorable of musicals, with only a few stand-out songs–and perhaps they only stood out to me because of the actors performing them. There were a couple of very strong actors with crazy singing chops, such as the two mothers (Karen Karpman and Joanne Cutler), both of them very much caricatures of the judgemental, manipulative mother figure who the audience loves to hate–and Albert (Marc-André Poulain), the wedding planner who’s a bit of a drama queen, with a big musical number to show for it.

But the star of the show, Rosie Callaghan playing Jenny Steinberg, totally blew me away, and indeed lived up to her title as the star. She’s a powerhouse, both as an actor and singer, and her two big numbers were the highlights of the show. Her emotional range is huge, covering Jenny’s insecurities about her body image and her explosion of confidence when she refuses to be walked on.

The story starts off a bit slowly, giving the illusion of a predictable family comedy, but then steers the audience off into uncharted territory. The twists and turns keep the audience members on the edge of their seats, and though most of the comedy is a bit cheap and some of the jokes fall flat, the show absolutely captured my attention for the full hour and 45 minutes of it.

Also, I always love a good audience plant.

The Segal Centre took a somewhat mediocre musical and, I believe, successfully turned it into a story about a clash of cultures and body positivity, with the trite but nonetheless important underlying moral that it’s always better to be yourself, and that a family that supports you deserves to have you in their lives.

It Shoulda Been You runs at the Segal Centre until June 25th, and you should catch it if you’re in the mood for a fun, light, short musical. Tickets are $24.50 for students, $35 for under 30’s, $54 for seniors, and $60 full price.

Image source: Segal Centre

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Amélie: A New Musical – Original Broadway Cast Recording Review

If you know me, you might know that two of my biggest musical theatre crushes are Samantha Barks (best known for playing Eponine in the Les Mis movie) and Phillipa Soo (who you might recognize from an obscure musical that did poorly and disappeared into oblivion called Hamilton). Sam Barks created the role at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2015, and Pippa Soo took over in LA in 2016 and brought the show to Broadway in 2017. Basically, I’ve had reasons to be watching the trajectory of this musical since its first production. I never did get to see it as it closed soon after it opened after receiving no Tony nominations, but from what I’ve seen it looks visually stunning. So I was excited when the album was released to experience this show.

In case you don’t know, Amélie: A New Musical is based on a 2001 French film called Amélie about an eccentric young woman who takes it on herself to do anonymous good deeds. People have been telling me to watch it for years, and the creation of this musical was the final push for me to see it.

It’s an amazing film, you guys. Like it’s on my short list of my favourite movies ever now. It’s so quaint and colourful and basically everything I like about movies.

But back to the musical and its soundtrack. As much as I loved hearing Pippa record new material, much of the music is somewhat forgettable and underwhelming. There are a couple of standouts: notably “Times Are Hard For Dreamers,” which has been the go-to song for this show. It does a great job of showing Amélie’s endless optimism and her unique view of the world. Some other favourites are Adam Chandler-Berat’s two main songs, “When the Booth Goes Bright” and “Thin Air.” You may know him as Henry from Next to Normal, a role he excelled in. His characterization of Nino in Amélie is super similar to that of Henry. He plays the sensitive, somewhat awkward love interest very well, it seems.

Translating a film like Amélie for the stage must have been a huge undertaking, as it’s such a recognizable film in terms of writing and aesthetics. It’s a story that was made for FILM. Something that dissolved in the creation of the musical was the use of a single narrative voice, which to me is emblematic of the movie. Instead, they turned the ensemble into a collective narrator, all helping to tell Amélie’s story. I had mixed feelings about this at first, but now I think it’s a very interesting and well-executed way to conserve the narration. Amélie becomes the heroine of her own life, which makes the simple story about simple people seem larger than life.

Humour is also a huge part of the show, which isn’t something we’ve really seen Pippa do yet, but she excels at it. She presents her character so playfully, which shows us a side of her that is very new to me. But underneath that humour lies the fear of being alone that is at the core of the show.

Musically, the piece isn’t mind-blowing, but it is playful enough to reflect the eccentricity of the original film, and both Pippa Soo and Adam Chandler-Berat are absolutely brilliant. It’s a good listen if you’re a fan of the movie, or have a huge crush on Pippa, or like bouncy pop scores with lots of ensemble work.

Image source: ameliebroadway.com

Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812: Original Broadway Cast Recording

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Source: amazon.com

I remember one Christmas a few years ago when I specifically asked for a Google Play gift certificate in order to buy and listen to the Off-Broadway cast recording of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Since then, I’ve been hooked on this show and others like it (meaning: weird musicals that probably shouldn’t work as musicals but still do). This is one of the reasons I fell in love with Phillipa Soo and how I was introduced to composer David Malloy. So of course, when this show transferred to Broadway, I knew I had to see it.

When I review cast albums, I like going in blind, as that’s the way that the majority of people in the world will experience Broadway shows if they don’t have a considerable amount of money or live in New York. I was lucky enough to have seen this show (from a balcony seat, no less!), so my judgement is a little skewed, as this production is EXPLOSIVE. But it’s fairly easy for me to separate the incredible visuals from the music, as I originally experienced the show aurally through the Off-Broadway soundtrack.

When I listened to this soundtrack, I was mostly looking for differences between the Off-Broadway production and the Broadway one. And that’s because: the Off-Broadway album is fantastic. I never formally reviewed it, but it is mind-blowing. If you don’t know anything about Great Comet, the show is an electropop opera. YEAH. Basically it’s a work of genius.

So I was really interested in finding differences between the two albums, which doesn’t make this the most accessible review ever, as it kind of assumes you have already listened to the Off-Broadway soundtrack. Which you should.

The major difference between these two productions is the size of the cast. This is a HUGE cast. And you can hear the difference in size when listening to the two albums. The Broadway recording is so rich in terms of sound, and overall it sounds so much fuller. It makes the experience even more invigorating. It sweeps you up and doesn’t slow down until the last few scenes, which end the show so delicately.

Much of the original show was left intact other than a few lyric changes. The most disappointing change for me was in the song “The Private and Intimate Life of the House.” (Brace yourself for some extensive analysis, feel free to skip this part if you aren’t a giant nerd.)

For context, this song is sung by Princess Mary, a very plain and religious young woman, and her abusive father. There’s a repeated verse in this song that was drastically changed from one production to the next, both melodically and lyrically. Melodically, it lost a lot of its power, as the sailing high notes were brought down and became more subdued. In terms of lyrics, this is how the original song goes:

Time is moving
It’s now or never
I’ve abandoned the hope of getting married

And this is the new verse in the Broadway production:

And time moves on
And my fate slips past
And nothing ever happens to me

Later on in the song the lyrics change again:

And time moves on
And my fate slips past
Is this all I’ll ever make of my life?
Will I never be happy?
Will I never be anyone’s wife?

This fear of never getting married appears in both versions, but as it is repeated several times in the original, it becomes emphasized in the Off-Broadway version. One could argue that Mary is shown as more independent in the newer version, as she is less concerned about becoming a wife than she seems to be in the original.

But here’s the thing: the original is more true to the reality of her time and situation. She’s this very plain, shy girl who won’t have many suitors, meaning she’ll be less likely to marry (and marry someone she loves), which is the only way for her (a woman in early 19th century Russia) to advance in life and society. In other words, it makes sense for her to be worried out of her mind about not getting married. And besides the social aspect of it, on a more personal level, Mary is an extremely lonely character. She is left isolated because of her father, and she craves intimacy and friendship, which is another reason for wanting to be married, as it would whisk her away from the abusive household.

TL;DR: The Off-Broadway version of the song is truer to Mary as a character, although I see the reasoning behind the new lyrics, which try to make her seem more independent.

Finally, the biggest change in the show: the addition of the song “Dust and Ashes.” I see the logic behind the placement of this song. They brought in Josh Groban, a Big Star, into the role of Pierre, pretty much guaranteeing him a shot at a Tony nomination. The only problem? The Big Star didn’t have a Big Showstopping Song. Enter: “Dust and Ashes,” the angstiest song in the show, a chance for Pierre to have his big musical monologue.

Being the nerd I am, I have read War and Peace (which Great Comet is based on, if you didn’t know). And Pierre is a hugely psychological character. Throughout the entire novel, there is constantly so much stuff going through his head. And we don’t see a whole lot of that in the Off-Broadway production. The song “Pierre” does a pretty good job of introducing him, but it’s really cool to get to see deeper into his psychology. My issue? “Dust and Ashes” doesn’t really do that. It tries. It tries so hard. But in the end the song uses a fairly weak extended metaphor (i.e. sleep) to explain that the reason why Pierre feels so numb is because he lacks love in his life.

I hate being a purist, but that’s really not the way I interpret Pierre. I’m treading into super subjective territory here, and most of my opinions about this song are a matter of interpretation, so I don’t expect people to agree with me. But the biggest internal battle Pierre experiences in War and Peace is about whether to succumb to earthly desires and pleasures (basically, partying your life away), or to try to make a difference in the world, to do good.

And this makes for fantastic emotional turmoil, which “Dust and Ashes” totally could have been about. As it is now, it’s an extended angsty ballad that can’t decide which direction to move in musically (a full choir? a single piano and voice? a full orchestra? let’s just do it ALL). So besides my issues with the distorted themes presented in the song, I also don’t find it that well-constructed in terms of music and lyrics.

So this is a HUGE post but I’ve been thinking about this album a lot since it dropped May 19th. If you’ve read this far, you rock. If you skipped most of this post, I understand. To sum up and (add on): the new album sounds explosively rich and richly explosive, Denee Benton (Natasha) is a goddess (and so is Pippa Soo), Groban is now a Broadway Star, I’m not a giant fan of the new song “Dust and Ashes,” and I’m a huge nerd and snob and like comparing musical adaptations to the original source material. Basically, I have way too many opinions on everything.

But you should listen to Great Comet, either the Off-Broadway or Broadway version, but preferably both. Nerd on my lovelies.

Groundhog Day The Musical: Original Broadway Cast Recording

This post contains spoilers for Groundhog Day, both the musical and the film.

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Source: amazon.com

Anyone who is a Matilda The Musical fan has probably been watching Tim Minchin (comedian and composer) very closely in the past few years to see what his next project would be. When I heard that he was adapting the film Groundhog Day for the stage, I was perplexed at first (as I tend to be with most movie adaptations), but as I listened to the cast recording , I realized that this story perfectly reflects Minchin’s musical style: comedic, but with an underlying sense of darkness.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Groundhog Day tells the story of Phil Connors, a bitter reporter who travels to small town Punxsutawnee, PA for the Groundhog Day celebrations and for an unexplained reason is forced to relive the same day over and over again. This is the movie that began the familiar trope of the repeating day, which tvtropes.org calls the “‘Groundhog Day’ Loop.” This kind of plot happens a lot in episodic TV shows (think the “International Dateline” episode of Disney Channel’s The Suite Life On Deck).

So clearly, repetition is a huge theme in this story–which, in terms of music, can either fail if overdone or succeed if explored in an interesting way. Repetition is an important and often necessary tool in music, but it’s so easy to take it a step too far. This is what I was looking out for during my first listen of the cast album, and I think Minchin did a great job of handling the repetitive aspect of the score. Andy Karl’s performance as Phil also contributed to the sense of movement the score brings despite the backdrop of a single day. You can hear the evolution of his character in his voice, from the bitterness to the despair to the hope for a happy ending.

In terms of songs, the obvious hit is the (I’m assuming) 11 o’clock number of “If I Had My Time Again,” which contradicts the usual claim that “if I could do it again, I would do it the same.” It’s a rock ballad led by Rita (Phil’s love interest) in which she and the townspeople reflect on their regrets in life and what they would change if they could. The song “Stuck,” in which Phil is seen by a procession of unhelpful health “professionals”, is a reflection of Minchin’s satirical voice, specifically when he talks about pseudoscience (see: Tim Minchin’s Storm: The Animated Movie).

My least favourite moment of the score is the Act 1 finale, titled “One Day.” Though Minchin attempts to use his witty voice to show the complexities and contradictions of female desire (as Rita sees it), it deteriorates into a hackneyed 6/4 ballad about how she fears no man may fulfill all her expectations (spoiler: Phil can). She says: “One day, some day/my prince will come/but it doesn’t seem likely,” all of which we as musical theatre enthusiasts have heard a multitude of times before. We don’t need another female character who claims she’s done with men only to fall in love at the end.

Despite the insipid love story subplot, the album is pretty solid, and you get a good idea of Tim Minchin’s sense of humour and jazzy sound. Since I haven’t seen the show, it’s difficult for me to evaluate the plot and its adaptation from the movie, but I like most of the changes that were made, and it also seems to create more of an arc for Phil’s character than it did in the movie, where his change of heart feels a bit contrived. All in all, it’s a good listen, and I recommend it for people who are fans of the movie or of Minchin’s other work.

A Broadway Running Playlist

I’ve recently started running! And me being me, I’ve started collecting songs from musicals that are running-themed or otherwise appropriate to run to. Hopefully this playlist will help you get up and get moving!

Note: Most of these have professionally recorded versions, but I’ll be posting videos to live performances.

“Reasons to Run” from Fugitive Songs by Miller and Tysen

To get you inspired while you warm up.

“And They’re Off” from A New Brain by William Finn

You get to pretend to be a horse starting a race. And you’re off!

“What I Was Born To Do” from Bring it On: The Musical

GO GO GO CAMPBELL, GO CAMPBELL, GO CAMPBELL, GO GO GO CAMPBELL GO!

“Stronger” from Finding Neverland (The Album)

“You can run now, so much faster!”

“Balaga” from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy

“HEY BALAGA HO BALAGA HEY HEY HO BALAGA HEY HEY BALAGA THE FAMOUS TROIKA DRIVER!” (Can you beat Balaga’s speed of twelve miles per hour? Probably not, but you can try.)

“The World Will Know” from Newsies

Tbh the entire Newsies album makes a great running playlist.

“I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” from Hit List (Smash)

To satisfy your Jeremy Jordan needs. Also this is my personal favourite running song–those strings and that percussion can raise me from the dead.

That’s all I have, folks! Comment with your own favourite Broadway work-out tracks.

Heathers the Musical at McGill University – Montreal

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Photo credit: AUTS

In case you don’t know me personally or are new to this blog, musicals are kind of my jam. Like, I have seen a lot of musicals, and I’ve also seen my fair share of university theatre productions, from a half-assed Rent to a mind-blowing production of Angel in America.

Basically, university theatre can be pretty hit and miss. Luckily for the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society at McGill University, their production of Heathers was a total hit.

Heathers as a movie is way up there in my favourites, and the same goes for the musical. However, it was the first time I saw it live, despite my being very familiar with the show, so it was super exciting for me. If you’re not familiar with the story, I like to say that it starts off looking like your typical John Hughes-esque 80’s high school movie, then MURDER happens and it stops being cute and gets really dark.

Also, it’s hilarious.

It’s quite a tough show to put on, because the roles are super demanding and most major singing parts require huge ranges. Mariel White shone as Veronica, successfully keeping her down-to-earth and intelligent instead of boxing herself into the broody teenager archetype, and she’s a powerhouse vocally. Caroline Portante as Heather Chandler – the so-called “mythic bitch” of the school – totally killed (heh, see what I did there?) the queen bee role. She commanded attention onstage, just as her character does in the cafeteria. Two other stand-outs were Colin McCrossan and Darragh Mcardle as jocks Ram and Kurt respectively, bringing me and the rest of the audience to tears with laughter. Finally, Esmée Cook bulldozed through her small but hilarious role of hippie teacher Ms. Flemming; she stood out to me, particularly in the song “Shine a Light”, which she leads.

Overall, the cast delivered that perfect balance of humour and darkness that can be so difficult to achieve, and they rocked the choreography during big dance numbers. As an ensemble it was obvious how much they clicked, and their movement as a group was so tight. Basically, it was really clear how much work every single person involved with the production put in to the show. If you like pop-rock scores and have a dark sense of humour, you have to see this production.

They only have four performances left: Saturday January 21, then Thursday the 26th through to the 28th, at Moyse Hall on the McGill campus. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for general admission. You can buy tickets at the door or reserve them on their website.

The Watershed at Centaur Theatre – Montreal

I just want to start by saying that this piece is particularly relevant in the wake of a man being elected as US president who doesn’t believe in global warming. This kind of activist theatre has to go on existing if we want to change minds. The Watershed by Annabel Soutar is that kind of theatre.

The first thing you need to know about The Watershed is that it’s a piece of documentary theatre. Documentary theatre is pretty much what it sounds like: a documentary for the stage. In it, playwright Annabel Soutar (played by Liisa Repo-Martell) investigates the cut in federal funding to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a research project examining pollution in lakes, and takes her husband and kids on a road trip to see the oil sands in Fort McMurray.

She uses verbatim text from interviews, news broadcasts, radio programs, and even dialogue at family gatherings to tell her story and examine the complex environmental and economic issues surrounding the event. We see and feel her frustrations, successes, and failures on her investigative journey. Yes, it’s political, but she really took the time to humanize the story, to make it about the characters just as much as it is about the issue. It was particularly interesting to me, as someone who is interested in playwriting, to see her process.

Soutar’s most recent play, Seeds, follows this same concept of her placing herself in the play as a character. Watershed director Chris Abraham (a close collaborator who had the initial idea of inserting the playwright) also featured as a character in this play, and the original production in Toronto had Soutar’s husband playing himself. Just some interesting facts.

This production was simply gorgeous. As someone who grew up in Ottawa with parents working in the government, I’m aware of how slow-moving government can be, but this play turns a subject that wouldn’t normally be exciting into a riveting story. It also manages to stay away from preachiness: despite having some biases, it remains somewhat objective in its journalistic approach.

Sound isreally important in this production, and the sound design really brings each setting alive. Water, of course, is a repeated element, and the noise of a single drop of water is effectively used to highlight an important point or indicate a transition in scene. There was a weird mix of prop use and mime: using props for some things but not for others (holding wine glasses but miming the wine being poured, for example) sometimes came off a little awkward, but that’s pretty nitpicky.

The show is quite long: it clocks in at just over two and a half hours, including an intermission. The two acts are a bit disjointed and almost feel like two separate plays: the first investigating the ELA cuts and the second documenting the family’s road trip.

The Watershed runs until December 4th at Centaur Theatre. Student tickets are $28, under 30 is $36.50, senior tickets are$43.50, and general admission is $51. There’s also a $5 fee.

(Photo credit: Centaur Theatre)