Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Postal: I've gone legit

Last year, my dad (author of the award-winning two-volume set: The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity and The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity) asked me to collaborate with him on a proposed article about the growing trend of letter-writing-as-songs in musical theater, and how that device collapses both space and time within a song. I of course said yes because that sounded super fun and cool and if you think I'm being sarcastic, you don't know me very well.

After many many drafts, revisions, killings of our darlings (sorry Daddy Long Legs, we were very proud of what we wrote about you), I am proud to announce that our article, "Going Postal: Collapsing time and space through sung letters in Broadway musicals," is now published in Studies in Musical Theatre.

The article covers the early markers of this trend, She Loves Me and 1776, traveling through Passion and culminating in the more recent examples in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen (with quick drop-ins on Sondheim's frequent indulging of this temporality in Pacific Overtures, Assassins, and others).

Check it out here!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W19: Our Lady of 121st Street, Paradise Blue, Me and My Girl

5/10/18: Our Lady of 121st Street
What: Former students, friends, and relatives gather when beloved but stern teacher Sister Rose dies. However, with a missing body, the mourners must instead face their own ghosts.
And? This was really well done. Excellent cast, particularly Hill Harper, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maki Borden, and Dierdre Friel. Satisfyingly staged and structured; it was fun realizing how the disparate scenes were were seeing interconnected. I think I was ultimately disappointed that the play didn't so much end as stop, with many threads left unresolved. I recognize that that's probably a very deliberate point on the part of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, so it's just a personal preference on my part.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Hill Harper, Dierdre Friel, and Kevin Isola as
Inez, Rooftop, Sonia, and Gail. Photo by Monique Carboni.

5/11/18: Paradise Blue
What: Trumpeteer and club owner Blue is looking for a way out of Paradise (the name of his bar and of his neighborhood in Detroit), while his girlfriend, friends, and newcomer Silver look for a way to keep the club afloat, even if it's without him.
And? Another really finely performed, staged, and designed offering from Signature, by new-to-me playwright Dominique Morisseau. It's a sad story, but Pumpkin's arc of liberation is beautifully rendered.

J. Alphonse Nicholson and Simone Missick as Blue and Silver.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Travesties, The Band's Visit, A Brief History of Women

(note: I saw no shows W17. strange but true)

5/02/18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
What: Three ages of Donna (Ducking, Disco, and Diva) tell the story of Donna Summer's childhood, rise to fame, and the obstacles she met along the way.
And? Long story short: really lazy writing, really excellent performances. The book, such as it is, exists on bare bones, only enough to get us from one song to the next, and consists too frequently of narration rather than action (telling vs. showing). However, one embarrassingly bad fight scene aside, I thought this was very well staged (and of a more consistent quality than Frozen or Carousel), and the three women playing Donna were terrific, with incredible voices. The casting of the ensemble was a bit of a treat, too: only five men, balanced by twelve women (not counting the three Donnas), a reversal of the usual gender disparity. Many of the women played both male and female roles, with one delightful lantern hung on the affair (black actress Jenny Laroche referring to her character, Norman Brokaw, as a white man, as if it were self-evident to all of us). I'm not particularly familiar with Donna Summer's song catalog, but those around me were, and met the beginnings of many numbers with enthusiastic applause. For those looking for a fun (and under two hours!) evening with stellar renditions of her songs, this will be a good fit.

LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever as Diva Donna, Disco Donna,
and Ducking Donna, with the ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.

5/04/18: Travesties
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: The Band's Visit
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: A Brief History of Women
What: Told in four parts at twenty-year intervals, A Brief History of Women follows the unassuming Anthony Spates from 17-year old footman in a 1920s English manor, to retired 77-year old hotel manager in the very same converted house. He and the house remain ever faithful, even as the characters around them change with each new decade.
And? It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement to say the scene changes were my favorite part, but guys, the scene changes were freaking awesome and delightful. The play itself was ultimately eh for me, though it did feature some good performances from the ensemble. And the title is entirely misleading and kind of a mistake.

Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth, Russell Dixon, Frances Marshall, and
Laura Matthews as Tony Spates, Gillian Dunbar, Dennis Dunbar, Pat
Wriggly, and Jenny Tyler. Photo by Sara Krulwich.