Wuthering Heights Musical Review

Wuthering Heights is one of the most respected and disturbing novels in literary history. Emily Bronte‘s story of soul mates, violence, and strict class distinctions has kept readers coming back for more for multiple generations.

The Off-Broadway musical adaptation of the book is playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. Created and directed by Emma Rice, Liam Tamne plays Heathcliff and Lucy McCormick plays Catherine. As in the original text, Heathcliff and Catherine have an intense connection, but the cultural mores of the 19th century keep them apart.

The best way to describe the show is a Kate Hamill-esque, slightly rockish production. Though it is not completely canon, it is fun, and entertaining and holds close to the text it is based on.

If there was anything that stood out to me, was the highlighting of Heathcliff’s racial ambiguity. Though it is subtle in the book, Rice makes it pertinent and timely.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Wuthering Heights is playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse until November 6th. Check the website for ticket prices and showtimes.

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The Only Way to Describe the Beanie Feldstein/Funny Girl Dustup is a Dumpster Fire

In Hollywood, one of the methods that producers use to fill seats is to hire performers who are well known to the audience. The problem is that this method does not always work. Just because an actor is famous does not guarantee that they are right for the role or that fans will respond in a positive manner.

For the last few months, Beanie Feldstein has been headling in the new revival of Funny Girl. Though most of the reviews were not entirely bad, they were not entirely good either. Though I haven’t seen it, close family members have. What they told me echoed what has been written about the production.

Feldstein was supposed the role of Fanny Brice until the end of September. She is now leaving at the end of this month.

To be fair, this is the first revival of the musical since its premiere in 1964. Given that the only person who has played the title role is Barbra Streisand, the expectations perhaps need to be a little more realistic..

Lea Michele of Glee fame will be taking over from Feldstein in the fall. Though it has only been a few days, the rumor mill in regards to Michele’s supposed diva behavior has not stopped churning.

I’m obviously not in showbusiness. But I have been in the working world for nearly two decades. From my perspective, this is a dumpster fire than can only go one of two ways: Michele can prove her critics wrong and the show will last. Or, it will all go down in flames and the reputation of this beloved Broadway musical will have a tarnish on it that will remain on it forever.

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How to Save Money in NYC

We all know that NYC is an expensive place to live. As much as I love this city, I am fully aware that the cost of everything is higher. But, if you know where the look, there are ways of saving a few dollars.

  1. Take public transportation. Like anyone who lives there, I am fully aware of the downsides of using the MTA to get around. But even with those problems, there is no beating that for one fare, you can go from one end of the city to another, 24/7/365.
  2. The dollar store is your best friend. Not everything is cheaper than the big box stores, but the deals may be surprising.
  3. Not everyone can afford to live alone. Though the roommate experience is sometimes hit or miss (as I painfully remember), it is the most economical way to reside here if you cannot afford an apartment on your own.
  4. If you need furniture, there are multiple options: local stores, Craigslist, various apps, etc. If you must buy new and prefer to go to a name brand store, hit up Target or Ikea. They are a pain in the ass to put together (even if you have to pay someone), but overall, it is worth it. The pieces I bought from Ikea more than a decade ago are still in good condition.
  5. When it comes time to get a haircut, find a local salon. Their work is just as good as the expensive salons and many will throw in a free blowout. In my experience, the ones owned by AAPI owners provide a pretty good service at a price that will not break the bank.
  6. Buy in bulk, large sizes, and store brands. If you do have access to a car, stores like Sam’s Club and Costco are worth the drive and the membership fee.
  7. Take advantage of the opportunities to be outdoors. Most, if not all of the parks and beaches are free to enter.
  8. If you are a bookworm like me, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the public library. If you must buy a book, hit up a local bookstore or 2nd hand store/thrift shop. This is also good if you are looking for a gift for someone. Now granted, you might not find exactly what you are looking for. But you never know what you may find. My favorite bookstores are the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan (great for browsing), Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, and of course, Housing Works.
  9. If you have a New York State driver’s license, you can get into some museums for nothing or almost nothing.
  10. Use Yelp and Time Out. Yelp is great because the reviews come from customers. Time Out has listings for things to do that will please almost anyone.
  11. If you can, purchase your produce from a street vendor. The quality is just as good as a traditional retailer and the price is just a tad cheaper.
  12. Finally, if you want to see a Broadway show, there are ways to have this experience that will not empty your wallet. If you are willing and/or able to climb stairs, seats on the upper levels of the theaters are always cheaper. For me, it’s about the experience. I don’t mind going up a few flights. Organizations like TKTS sell tickets at discounted prices. However, not every show is listed (especially the popular shows) and the desired seats are not always available. There is also the option of going to one of the booths. The primary one is located in Times Square. Just prepared to be waiting in a very long line.
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Thoughts on The Jagged Little Pill Controversy

Art has a way of changing the world as few things can. But that does not mean that the final product is approved of by everyone in the audience.

When the musical Jagged Little Pill (based on the Alanis Morissette album of the same name) hit Broadway opened at the end of 2019, it was met with rave reviews. The story of the Healy family and their struggles spoke to the shit we all go through everyday. With the show re-opening at the end of the month, there has been some issues with the character of Jo, played by Lauren Patten.

If what has been said is true, Jo was supposed to be non binary, but was written as a lesbian. In the statement released by the producers, they will be reworking the role to reflect the criticism.

One of the topics that has come up with this controversy is representation. I completely agree that representation these days is super important. Though there has been a vast improvement in both the image and numbers of non cis-gender heterosexual Caucasian men in the media, the truth is that we have a long way to go in truly reflecting the audience.

Speaking as a writer, one of the aspects of this conversation that is missing is how Jo evolved from the first draft until the premiere. In the process of writing, both characters and narrative change over the course of the creation of the work. What also may have happened is tryouts and previews, she was tweaked by both the actor, the writer(s), and the director until everyone was satisfied with the final product.

I have two concerns with everything that is whirling around Jagged Little Pill. The first concern is that it will ultimately force the show to close. When a scandal erupts over an IP, one of two things happen. The first is that it arouses interest and brings in audiences who otherwise would have passed it by. The second is that the scandal become so overconsuming that the executive team has no choice but to call it quits.

The second concern is that producers will look the scandal and if they see a script that is similar to JLP, it will go into the “no pile”. Not because of the quality of the work, but because of the possibility of negative press.

Only time will tell if JLP survives or closes. My hope and my prayer is that it survives because it proves that there is room for creativity and new concepts on Broadway.

P.S. Lauren won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical last weekend. It is an honor that is well deserved.

Best Books of 2020

  1. Hearts, Strings, and other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins: This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel Mansfield Park is one of the best professionally published fanfictions I’ve read in a long time.
  2. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump: You Know Who’s only niece, Mary Trump tells her uncle’s story as only a close family member can.
  3. Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, by Evan Osnos: This biography tells the President-elect’s story from a human perspective, giving the reader an insight that the news headlines cannot.
  4. Bronte’s Mistress, by Finola Austin: Austin delves into the myth of the affair between Branwell Bronte and Lydia Robinson, his older and married employer. Giving voice to Branwell, his youngest sister Anne and Mrs. Robinson specifically, she introduces the reader to the woman behind the rumor.
  5. Rage, by Bob Woodward: Legendary journalist Bob Woodward takes the reader into the current Presidential administration and the chaos created by you know who.
  6. The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron: Cameron’s book follows the story of Stefania Podgorska, a Polish-Catholic teenage girl who saved thirteen Jews during World War II.
  7. Jagged Little Pill: The reader is taken into the world of the hit musical, Jagged Little Pill: The Musical.
  8. Pretending: A Novel, by Holly Bourne: April believes that she is damaged goods, romantically speaking. When she creates an alter ego named Gretel, the results are surprising.
  9. A Star is Bored: A Novel, by Byron Lane: Lane, a former assistant to the late actress and writer Carrie Fisher, spins his time working for her into a hilarious and entertaining novel.
  10. Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, by Jean Guerrero: This insightful and frankly scary book tells the story of Presidential aide Stephen Miller.

Jagged Little Pill Broadway Musical Review

Family is complicated. Life is complicated. Bring those together and you have a complicated reality.

The new musical, Jagged Little Pill (based on the groundbreaking 1995 album by Alanis Morissette) takes place in suburban Connecticut. The Healy family appears to be picture perfect. Steve Healy (Sean Allan Krill) works long hours in the city, creating an emotional rift between himself and his family. His wife, Mary Jane (Elizabeth Stanley) does everything she can to be the perfect wife and mother. But an off stage car accident and a prescription for post surgery pain killers has led Mary Jane down the road to addiction.

Their son, Nick (Derek Klena) is everything a parent would wish for in a teenage son. His collegiate path seems to be headed straight to the Ivy Leagues, but Derek is not sure if this is the best option for him. Adopted daughter Frankie (Celia Rose Gooding) is unsure about her place in her mostly White community. Focused on social justice and getting into a relationship with her best friend Jo (Lauren Patten) is only the beginning of her struggles.

With a book written by Diablo Cody, Jagged Little Pill is more than the standard jukebox musical. The narrative includes thorny issues such as addiction, sexual assault, finding your sexuality, growing up, etc. But instead of being written as if standing on a soapbox, Cody naturally integrated the issues into a story of a family going through a rough patch.

Though the impression is that one needs to be a fan of Morissette and her music to enjoy the show, that is not necessarily true. It helps to know the songs, but not knowing them is not a deterrent for seeing and enjoying the show. I don’t see Broadway musicals very often, but this (for me at least) is one for the books.

I will warn that some long time Morissette fans might be a little put off by change of some lyrics. The changes were only made to match the narrative and are still the same songs that we have known and loved for 25 years.

I absolutely reccomend it.

Jagged Little Pill is playing at the Broadhurst Theater in New York City. Check the website for showtimes and ticket prices.

The Book Of Mormon Review

Most musicals have the same boy meets girl, boy gets girl narrative.

The Book of Mormon as a far from the traditional Broadway musical as one can get. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (aka the guys behind South Park), The Book of Mormon is about two Mormon missionaries who travel to a village in Uganda to convert the locals. Elder Price (Dave Thomas Brown) is confident and secure that he will be able to complete his mission. Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand) has the required enthusiasm for the job, but his social skills are not quite up to par as his partner.

When they get to Uganda, Elder Price and Cunningham are surprised that the locals are not exactly warming up to their message. In addition to deal with an AIDS crisis, famine and oppression, they also have a local warlord on their tail. Can they convert the locals or will they fail?

I was surprised about this musical. I knew that it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I also knew that the humor can only be described as potty humor. While the first half was a little slow, the second half not only sped up, but also had the audience in stitches at certain moments.

It’s not the traditional Broadway musical, but that’s fine. But it’s also the type of show that certain audience members would find offensive.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Book of Mormon is playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theater (230 W 49th Street in New York City). Check the website for showtimes and tickets. 

 

The Band’s Visit Musical Review

Sometimes, fate surprises us. We learn and grow in the most surprising ways.

In the play The Band’s Visit (based on the film of the same name) a band from Egypt is scheduled to play at the opening of an Arab Cultural Center in Israel. A mistake is made and they take the bus to the wrong city.  The locals take them in for the night. The leader of the band, Tewfiq (DARIUSH KASHANI) beds down for the night with Dina (KATRINA LENK), the owner of a small cafe. What starts out as a night of hospitality turns into a friendship and a conversation about being human and the experiences we have.

I loved this show. It absolutely deserved the 10 Tony Awards that were conferred on the show by the Tony voters. What makes the show interesting is that it has the running time of a play (about 90 minutes), but it has the narrative structure and character arc of a musical (using song and dance to tell the story). I read somewhere that the show stands out because it speaks to the heart and the intelligence of the audience, instead of appealing to the audience’s baser instincts when it comes to Broadway shows.

But what makes the show stand out for me is the fact that it speaks to the idea that even when two groups of people who are known not to like each other, individuals on opposite sides of the conflict can find common ground and perhaps friendship.

I absolutely recommend it.

The Band’s Visit is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater at 243 W 47th Street in New York City. Check the website for ticket prices and showtimes. 

Cruel Intentions The Musical Review

Two thoughts come to mind when it is announced that a musical based on a story that is not a musical will soon be on stage. One thought is that the producers have chosen a known work with a dedicated fan base, who can spread the word and reduce the work of the publicity department. The other thought is that the producers took the easy way out, choosing a known work instead of taking a chance on a work by a writer whose name is not as well-known.

I saw Cruel Intentions: The Musical earlier today. As with the 1999 film of the same name, the story is set in New York City. Sebastian Valmont (Constantine Rousouli, taking over from Ryan Phillipe) and Kathryn Merteuil (Lauren Zarkin, taking over from Sarah Michelle Gellar) are rich step-siblings. They make a bet that Sebastian can seduce Annette Hargrove (Carrie St. Louis, taking over from Reese Witherspoon), the virgin daughter of their school’s new headmaster. If Sebastian wins, he gets to sleep with Kathryn, the one girl who is out of his reach. If Kathryn wins, she can claim ownership of Sebastian’s car, his pride and joy.  It seems like a simple task, but by the time the game of seduction and lies is over, nothing will be the same.

Based on the book Dangerous Liaisons, the show is a ton of fun and extremely enjoyable. True to the film incarnation, with a singable soundtrack straight out of the 1990s, the show is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

I absolutely recommend it.

Cruel Intentions is playing at (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleeker Street, New York City) until March 16th, 2018. 

 

 

Bandstand Review

War is never as simple or clear-cut as it appears to be. Those lucky enough to return home in one piece may appear to be fine, but the reality is often quite different.

In the new Broadway musical, Bandstand, Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) has just returned from World War II. A musician before the war, music is the only thing that quiets the dark memories of his war-time experience. When he hears that NBC is holding a contest to discover unknown bands, he jumps at the chance to enter. But while he is putting his band together, Donny has another task to strike off his to do list: checking on Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) the widow of one of his friends who was killed in the war. Julia is a singer, but only sings in church. Donny convinces her to consider the idea of joining his band. Music maybe the one thing that heals their broken hearts, but do they have the drive and the talent to actually win the contest?

I saw the show the other night and I walked out singing the songs. It’s one of the best new musicals that I’ve seen in a long time. My original impetus to see the show was that I love swing and big band music. I enjoyed it because there was a level of realism, especially when it comes to the agony of war and the PTSD that many soldiers have to deal with then they return home. The show is funny, charming and very entertaining. I also find it impressive that the actors are playing their own instruments instead of pretending to play prerecorded music.

I absolutely recommend it.

Bandstand is at the Bernard B. Jacobs theater at 242 W. 45th Street in New York City.

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