PIPPIN – Cast & Tech Crew List

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2015 by erikball123

THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who auditioned. We truly had an outpouring of talent and everyone should be very proud of what they offered. Below is the CAST LIST / TECH CREW LIST. Please EMAIL me at ErikBall123@Gmail.com to CONFIRM that you ACCEPT your role / position. 

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2015 by erikball123

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Brilliant Moments in the WOODS

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, REVIEWS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by erikball123

My favorite line in INTO THE WOODS has always been the Witch’s “I was just trying to be a good mother.” It’s widely received (on the stage anyway) as a laugh line to transition a moment. But in Rob Marshall’s version of this story, it’s a poignant, remarkable bookmark that made me almost tear up sitting in the Red Rock Regal Cinema. You see, everyone LOVES Sondheim. (And if you’re a theatre person and don’t…we’ll stone you to death.) But, the thing is…WHY do people love Sondheim? As a patron, is it his release from formulaic musical convention? As an artist, is it the challenge of skillfully crafted material? As a young actor, is it the blood, bad buys and nuances that are so much fun to love of hate? I think the answer is YES on all accounts. But, I would ask you to look past all of this for one moment…and look at the relationship between WORDS and MUSIC.

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Bernadette Peters (the Original Broadway WITCH) rehearses with Stephen Sondheim.

 

I’ve argued with anyone who has ears that Stephen Sondheim is a poet. The words he uses in his songs are cleverly and perfectly set to the moment. High schools across the country have presented INTO THE WOODS…heck, there is even a Tumblr site dedicated to low-budget Milky Whites, that I find most amusing. (https://www.tumblr.com/search/lowbudgetmilkywhites) From a producer’s perspective, INTO THE WOODS has a wonderfully twisted ensemble with parts for skilled vocalists, up-and-growing “green” performers, and optional ensemble parts. It has little dance (which is always a concern for drama groups) and costuming, set and prop elements can be as simple and complex as you’d like. The only tricky element is the source material, which in turn bookmarks this musical as a perfect example for those theatre groups hoping to engage students in lessons about simply telling a good story. (And for those who have a hand for creating transportive theatre, the show is a wealth of opportunity.)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran's INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

Rehearsal for Faith Lutheran’s INTO THE WOODS (2005). Andrew Eddins and Cash Black portrayed the tormented Princes. (Please Note: Kelly Odor and several lunch tables are in the background!)

I’ve seen about a dozen live INTO THE WOODS productions. (Including one I directed in a high school gymnasium.) I’ve seen wild variations. One included a minimalist production told in an aristocratic living room during a thunder storm, as each high-society snob acted out the parts in turn “making up the story” as they went along. Interesting. I’ve seen video projections, puppetry, one told inside a closed book store and even one production where the Witch transformed from beautiful to ugly (instead of the other way around) and they played it off that the Witch preferred it that way. Hm. I’m sure there was an intended creative choice there and an accompanying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message they were trying to send (much in the same light as Violet’s invisible scar, in Violet – The Musical, maybe??) Lots of fun to be had with characters we all know already…which is why I think directors feel magically compelled to “reinvent the wheel” (as snobby critics say) in their artistic vision of this particular musical. (Which is why it is so often regarded as a “good musical to produce.”)

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

The Central Park INTO THE WOODS.

 

The Original Broadway cast was superb…I show the filmed production to my classes…and it served as a springboard for Bernadette Peters to be cast in platinum as the production’s “forever Witch.” (Much in the same way that we’ll compare everyone who plays Elphaba to Idina.) The Broadway Revival, which started out in L.A. and featured a GIGANTIC giant foot that stomped on patrons waiting outside when it transferred to New York was wonderfully bland. I blame Vanessa Williams as unconnectable Witch, but that’s just me. (Loved her in Ugly Betty!) The British version wasn’t really well-received and included the new song “Our Little World.” (I can take it or leave it. I usually disregard it. The show is long anyway. Do we really need to lament more on the Witch and Rapunzel’s relationship and combing her hair?)  The Central Park, free admission production offered about 4 years ago was untraditional and offered a creepy Witch, a jungle-gym of a set and a Little Red in a bicycle helmet! I can hardly wait to see the Roundabout Theatre variation that is slated to head to Broadway very soon. (I’m ga ga over the piano concept in their minimalist design. Wackadoodle!)

Roundabout Theatre's INTO THE WOODS.

Roundabout Theatre’s INTO THE WOODS.

INTO THE WOODS is everywhere, which was why I went into the theatre today curious. I was pleasantly surprised at Marshall’s “CHICAGO” and I liked…not loved…liked, Burton’s “SWEENEY TODD.” What was going to become of another one of my favorites, and arguably a more often produced musical (moreso than CHICAGO and SWEENEY TOOD) at a high school level. I’m always worried how the non-theatre-going demographic is exposed to theatre in general. Live theatre is the most essential storytelling device we have in the world today. Music is the only thing we as a culture universally share as a binding agent. (We all love music.) Put the two together…and we have the opportunity to move mountains. As a director, I have the privilege (and burden) of shaping a production in the manner in which I hope to offer it up to an audience (full of the most critical theatre-loving critics and first-time theatre goers). When you take a musical that already means so much to you, personally…and redevelop it as a movie…the opportunity to loose integrity is great. (I would argue that the elimination of the chorus of pie-eating patrons in the Sweeney movie made the London masses, a collective character and important voice in the story, made the movie more about a monster of man…instead of the fact that we all might have a little bit of a monster inside of us. “Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?” How do we know to think about that, if we don’t have a collective voice telling us? But, I digress.)

The cast of Rob Marshall's movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The cast of Rob Marshall’s movie version of INTO THE WOODS.

The Rob Marshall INTO THE WOODS is quite possibly the best theatre to film adaption I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonderful story, presented thoughtfully without any loss of integrity. Those who love the musical will love the movie. Those who have never seen the musical will not miss out on any “inside jokes” or thematic elements potentially lost int he translation. There aren’t any. It tricks you. It’s not a movie-musical….it’s a musical-movie. On three different occasions I burst into a round of applause after a musical number, forgetting that this was a movie, not a musical. It nips and tucks in all the right places, and while I’ve been hearing a drone of “I wish the song NO MORE was included” among my theatre friends, I would argue it was not needed. The handling of the Mysterious Man was well-done, and the elimination of the physical Narrator (replaced wisely by the voice of the Baker, foreshadowing the tear-jerking final moment…which was BEAUTIFUL) made the song a bit redundant. They covered what they needed to cover…and good news!…you can still sing that song in the musical! Other missing musical elements are minimal, but as you’ll note, they were all connected to theatrical devices within the story that were eliminated in the movie. Nip tuck, nip tuck. (It’s a movie…without an intermission.)

What struck me as the most profound choices in the film were the choices. Allow me to highlight a few. *SPOILER ALERT*

  • The fact that there wasn’t a single title or credit at the beginning of the movie…brilliant. Immediately it plunked us down into this world. Before we could blink an eye…we were 20 minutes into the film and all of the exposition was laid out for us and we were actively engaged.
  • The contemplative “On the Steps of the Palace” was whimsical and perfectly staged as a moment in time. How often have we scrambled our brains to make a decision in a heartbeat…millions of times throughout a day? How wonderfully theatrical of our director to present this song in such a way, and deconstruct the moment that we all know as a simple act of leaving a shoe behind. Fun stuff.
  • The Princes’ song “Agony” (a borderline stereotype portrayal of the rugged and babyfaced Princes we all know from their respective stories) found two very likable characters temper-tantruming through splashy waters as they gaze upon their kingdom. It was thoughtful, well-filmed and hilarious. You INSTANTLY championed these two devise characters.
  • There is a danger in putting Johnny Depp as the Wolf. Who doesn’t love Johnny Depp? Those not familiar with the show may be heart-broken to only see him for ten minutes of screen time and catching stills from the set prior to watching the movie made me nervous. In performance, traditionally the Wolf is either portrayed as a personification of the age-old lesson of “don’t talk to strangers” or as a evil man of some kind, because all men are dogs…or, rather, wolves. The publicity photos saw Depp as a sort of Zoot Suit wearing gigalo. (Aside from the addition of some fun fur…Depp kinda looks like he was taken right off the street in his usual wears and onto the movie set!) I was pleased to see that HOW Depp portrayed the Wolf. It was very wolf-like…darting between trees to catch a glimpse, his trademark sneer when offering a sprig of flowers to the girl….it was VERY fun. I didn’t care how he was dressed…all I cared about was the fact that Depp was “the wolf” and how it was related was acceptable to me. Sometimes I wonder if I analyze stuff too much. HA!

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  • The kids were GREAT. Daniel Huddlestone as Jack and Lilla Crawford as Little Red were perfect fits. (I would have loved a bit more snarkiness from Red…but, I’m being picky.) Emily Blunt is a superstar as the Baker’s Wife. James Cordon is adorable and sympathetic as the Baker. Everybody loves Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick IN Pitch Perfect. They were quick to critique her in this film…but I would argue that she gave Cinderella the exact amount of torment. I was initially worried that she’d be too contemporary, but she was wonderful in the role. Tracy Ullman, Chris Pine….shoot, the entire cast was simply well-suited for their roles. Is there an award for CASTING a movie?
  • Now let’s talk about Meryl Streep. Preface: I’m a huge Bernadette Peters fan. I’ve always thought Streep was a great actress, but I never understood the tidal wave of hype about her. (In the same breathe…what’s up with the torrent love affair with with Barbara Streisand? I like her…but I don’t get the obsession. Another blog post for another day.) With that said…I cannot imagine another actress who could have played the role better. She sang beautifully and extracted from us the perfect about of sentiment and emotion. We loved her…we hated her…we feared her…and (most importantly) we found ourselves feeling sorry for her. In the song “Children Will Listen” (which is a song that could stand-alone as the show’s landmark) we were transported from the world of many characters’ strife to the inner struggle of a would-be mother and her desperate struggle to connect with her child and shield her from the dangers of the world. It’s beautiful. I LOVED “Last Midnight” for the same reason. I love how I can COUNT ON my students getting pissed off when the Witch disappears at the end of the Broadway version. “Did she die?” they ask. Maybe…maybe not. She’s definitely gone. They HATE unresolved. (Remind me to never read them the folk tale “The Lady and the Tiger.”) The Witch is at the center of this story…and Streep connects in every right way. (And I love the blue hair.)

I’m thrilled that another generation of could-be theatre goers will be exposed to this movie variation. It tells a great story and more importantly it relates (through WORDS and MUSIC) that truly no one is alone in their pursuit to communicate, be needed, protect and survive tragedy together. It’s a bedtime story and when the Baker is telling the tale to his son in the final moments…and the camera peels away…you desperately want to remain, a part of the audience. But no…our director takes us out of that world…and then for the first time presents the title: “INTO THE WOODS” reminding us it’s just a story. Wow. Brilliance.

INTO THE WOODS is the story of all of our lives, (whether we’re Bakers, Princes, Witches or Giants) and can effectively remind us that at the end of the day, we’re all going into a world that presents dangers, and only together can we survive and more importantly thrive.

I sit, poised and ready to purchase the Blue Ray upon its release. I have the projector in my classroom warmed up.

39 STEPS – Cast and Tech Crew List

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 by erikball123

 

39 steps directors thank you

39 Steps CAST LIST

39 Steps TECH CREW LIST

Attend…a REALLY GOOD tale.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2014 by erikball123

I believe the role of a Lutheran teacher is to foster a relationship of trust and mutual respect with a student so that they (collectively) can take advantage of academic, social and religious information, skill sets and opportunities to the fullest. It is then the Lutheran teacher’s job to provide an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their understanding of the topic through practical application or performance.

Enter drama teacher, stage left.

The school where I teach and direct will offer SWEENEY TODD as part of next year’s season. The musical by Stephen Sondheim (American theatrical composer, and arguably one of the most influential composers of the last three decades) and Hugh Wheeler (book writer) is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time, garnishing a veritable trunkful of top honors including the Tony Award – Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award – Best Musical, and the Olivier Award – Best Musical (a feat that not even the likes of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or LES MISERABLES could accomplish.) It is a tale of a Victorian-era, London barber, Benjamin Barker, who is incarcerated for life under a false charge, so that a tyrannical judge may covet his wife. Barker, now 15 years later and a pale fragment of the man he once was, escapes back to London hoping to find a loving wife and child, but finds, that the city has changed, in much the same way he has. Finding out through an accomplice Mrs. Lovett, who owns a meat pie shop under his old barber shop, he finds that his wife is now dead and his daughter is being held as a ward in the same Judge’s care. Focused on revenge, Barker, who adopts the alias Sweeney Todd, seeks revenge, and cooks his victims in Lovett’s meat pies…and through a course of sub-plot twists and turns, finds that in the end, love and the cruelties of this world have blinded him. It is a poignant, humorous (oddly enough), telling and relatable tale that audiences love to be a part of. (Much in the same way 13 year-old boys root for the bad guy during a WWE wrestling match. Macho Man Randy Savage was always my favorite.) There is a savageness to the elements of the story….but we all know that wrestling is fake.

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George Hearn and Angela Lansbury in Broadway’s SWEENEY TODD.

 

It’s a ghost story, make no mistake about that. This generation probably won’t be so anxious to sit down to the George Hearn and Angela Lansbury broadway version, because a much more accessible Johnny Depp version (with 3D blood effects) is much more attractive. That particular version is a box-office wonder, no doubt…and I enjoyed it. But Hollywood is not the stage, and movies are not theatre. They can be theatrical…but the human element of creating a stage production is ever present that in order for Sweeney Todd to work, it absolutely must have an audience….like a courtroom full of jurors ready to put to trial this man who will plead for a second chance throughout two acts. I hope the audience judges this show. This is a “musical thriller” that invites audiences to “attend” the tale of Sweeney Todd. Not listen, not observe….”attend.” Become a part of the story. The story itself is masterfully written. I regard it as living, breathing poetry for the stage. It controls, with masterful precision, dark humor and caricatures which would appear to be as superficial as Dicken’s Ghost of Jacob Marley, and yet as real as any neglectful, self-serving icon of today’s media world. Sondheim’s music, which any theatrical scholar or theatre-lover might argue, is nothing short of genius with four-part harmonies (and a one-point, overlapping four-parts of melodies) interweaving themselves into a tapestry of a time we’ve only ever thought about. It’s twisted in the same way our perception of that particular time might be.

So, why, then? Why SWEENEY TODD?

I would argue that the ugliness of this secular world and human nature in general is quite evident in nearly every musical. It’s essential to the conflict and plot resolution. When we presented INTO THE WOODS (another Sondheim classic) we presented questions regarding infidelity, sacrifice, death and greed. In ROMEO & JULIET (another show, well-received by audiences at my school) we examined suicide, betrayal and nearly every other character died a bloody death. In DRACULA (yet another thrilling offering) found us identifying with a monster, who sucks blood and turns into a bat at night. These offerings are not unlike Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS where one theatre patron was moved to comment that the “I Love a Piano” song was all about sexual innuendo. (?!?!?!) I reeled for a bit in disbelief, as I thought WHITE CHRISTMAS to be as innocent as the driven-snow (or in this show’s case, lack of snow) and then remembered that every patron has the right to an opinion.

How theatre is perceived is very interesting to me. There are those that won’t bat an eye at a production of GREASE. (Heck, a year deosn’t go by when our 8th graders don’t perform a lip sync competition to “Greased Lightning!”) One might argue that this seemingly innocent story is a stereotype of a “rebel without a cause” era and therefore “good clean dirt.” I argue, any story “without a cause”, even one that goes against morality, is bad storytelling. Even those hardened atheists out there would have a very hard argument against the fact that the Bible contains brilliant parables about morality.

Perception is often based on an individuals’ relationship to this world. But, you see that’s what’s so glorious about the theatre: people bring their own feelings, relationships and personal insights to the venue. It’s what works within them as they contemplate the story and character’s dilemma. It’s what motivates them to come to conclusions at the end of the show as to whether or not they enjoyed the production. I’m sure there will be some people that won’t categorize Sweeney Todd in their top ten. But it’s this same personal insight that also influences them to choose Fruit Loops over Bran Flakes in the cereal aisle. Fruit Loops are better…and that’s their choice and opinion…and they’re not wrong for feeling that way.

These offerings are essential to the Christian high school student looking to learn more from or make a career in the theatrical arts. I would argue that in the secular works of this Darwinistic world, these are stories worth telling, as they challenge our sensibilities, asking us to decipher good from evil, truth from fallacies and right from wrong. As artists (in design offstage and as performers onstage) it is essential that we find God in our work. As a theatre teacher and director, it is my privilege to put in front of the students productions that I believe will be well-generated examples that would serve this purpose well. Shows like JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, while a wonderful, engaging (and successful) theatrical offering, guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even those who sit in the back pew on Sunday, on the flip side, from a content structure standpoint, it’s a flawed show (in my opinion), as it doesn’t reflect on God’s saving grace, and leaves those who are unchurched little connection to the ultimate goal, which I would assume is to invite an audience to attend the tale of a lost man who is wronged. In that particular story, all ends happily with bright-sparkly jazz hands. Does this make it a show “not worth doing?” Not necessarily. Rather I might argue it is worth the investment, as it provides an opportunity to learn more. As a teacher, it’s a win-win opportunity.

The value of a ghost story about another wronged man that ends tragically and with the villain (which we find ourselves strangely a bit sympathetic with) meeting his end due to his naivety, is equally important. It’s the same reason the Bible story of Job is valuable. (He maintains his love for the Lord regardless of all that happens to him.) In the case of SWEENEY TODD, we challenge the audience to think about what would happen should “Job-y Todd” lose his faith…and instead run from the deliverance of evil in hot pursuit of a revenge he believes he needs.

The world of theatre is an escape from reality and will always be presented as a means by which to discover anew the value of one’s mind, heart, soul and faith. It interrupts the artificial sensibilities we possess, that of a hot-bed media conglomerate, wrought with agenda that interrupts our perception of how and who we should be according to our faith. In the end moments of Sweeney Todd, the ensemble sings “To seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it and seldom as well.”

SWEENEY TODD is not unlike any other theatrical production. It’s a love story about a man who was wronged and hopes only to return to a reality he once new in the comforts of the only love he had. He’s a killer yes. (So is Dexter, Dorothy Gail from Kansas, nearly every Shakespearean protagonist, David, Sampson, Cain, etc.)  These wonderfully relatable characters serve as foils for deeper meaning. In Sweeney’s feverish pursuit, he forgets that sometimes the blessings we so richly are afforded by a loving God, are right in front of our faces. (“Don’t I…know you…mister…?”) *For those of you who know the show…you know what I mean. For those of you who don’t…you’ll see what I mean.

I look forward to producing this musical. But, more importantly, I look forward to providing an opportunity for my students to practice (through their own skill-sets and sensibilities) delivering a thrilling story that will charge an audience to think about the world around them and their station in it. I will ask them to find God within the work and demonstrate an understanding of why there might just be a little bit of Sweeney in all of us. (“Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?”) It is my hope that the audience might be able to relate to elements in the story, much like I hoped that we might relate with two estranged ogres last year (more fictitious characters). The brandishing of a razor…the flouring of a meat pie….the trapped song bird….that’s all beautiful, symbolic elements of a love story set to the stage and served up with a bit of a jolt. (Like the feeling one gets when they ALMOST has a fender-bender in the afternoon traffic.) I hope patrons leave thinking “Thank God.” We should be so lucky to have a loving God that we can trust in when we are awoken to the dangers of the world.

I appreciate, more than words, that I have an administration that trusts that our production of SWEENEY TODD will be presented with artistic and creative integrity and a clear vision that would challenge students to look beyond the opportunity to merely “play a bad guy”. I hope you’ll attend.

WHITE CHRISTMAS Cast & Tech Crew List

Posted in Uncategorized on September 26, 2014 by erikball123

PLEASE EMAIL MR. BALL at ErikBall123@Gmail.com to accept your role.

White Christmas Cast List

 

Please email MRS. BALL to accept your Technical Crew position at BallE@FLHSEmail.org.

White Christmas Tech Crew

 

As always, we are so proud of all of you. The talent represented at auditions was staggering. Everyone did so well. We wish we could have awarded roles to all who auditioned. To those who did not get cast, we hope you’ll consider auditioning again for a role down the road. Blessing to you all. -Mr. Ball

REVIEW: IF/THEN

Posted in REVIEWS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by erikball123

ifthen01

IF / THEN

I didn’t know much about IF/THEN, even after the Idina Menzel post-“Let It Go” media blitz at its incarnation. I had tickets to the show, and I purposely didn’t do any research on the show, avoided over-exposure to photos, clips, news, etc. so that my first impression of the story offered a relatively fresh perspective. With big-time names (and expectations, I would argue) comes big-time opinions. I suppose I didn’t want someone else’s opinion to be my own before I even saw it.

Allow me to try to explain the story. And I do mean, “try.” Frankly, I’m not positive I can after just one viewing.

We meet Elizabeth, a 39 year old transfer to New York from Arizona who has just divorced her husband and is hoping to surround herself in a new life in the bustling city. She’s driven, determined and pissed that she’s wasted the last 15 or so years of her life.  A pissed off character is one Menzel plays best, I guess….because from the first snarky comment, which was indeed funny, the entire theatre exploded in laughter, wrapping Menzel in a welcoming embrace. Have you ever heard a fashion designer say that the model “isn’t wearing the dress” but rather the “dress is wearing the model?” Well, it’s something like that. The story doesn’t feature Idina Menzel….it’s “Idina Menzel” who happens to be doing a show for us tonight. (Make sense?)

Anyway…back to the story. She meets up an old college friend Lucas a bi-sexual one-man army of a zoning and housing activist and outspoken terrier of a man. (Played by Anthony Rapp originally..but he went in for emergency knee surgery the night before. I’m sure there is a “break a leg” joke here somewhere….but I’ll spare you. So we got the understudy Curtis Holbrook who was very good in the role.) Elizabeth befriends Kate, an outspoken, lesbian, kindergarten teacher who lives across the hall (played by Tony winner LaChanze who is the most likable character in the whole show. Perhaps it’s because she the only one I could ever realistically seeing myself having a conversation with, should this truly be a real world.)

Once we establish the basis for these relationships in the exposition, we are introduced to the first in a multitude of “shifts” from one reality to another. Elizabeth is asked to go to a protest with Lucas (who calls her “Beth” because it’s a more sensible name), but she kinda wants to go to an impromptu street concert with her new, crazy buddy (who calls her “Liz” because every sexy, driven New Yorker would be a “Liz” not a “Beth.) Add the addition of a pair of hipster glasses to the “Liz” character and you can see how this whole concept is going to work….flip-flopping the story back and forth, in and out of “Liz” and “Beth’s” worlds, like some grown-up, contemporary Choose Your Own Adventure novel, alternating between what IS and what COULD’VE BEEN. (Although we’re never privy to what reality is the true one. A bummer of a detail that I thought for sure would flesh out in the end…and, unless I missed it, never did.)

The two plots unfold (neither taking a back seat to the other, there is no secondary-plot…so it demands a LOT of the audience’s attention. It’s like watching two mini-series play out by the same actors at the same time.) Liz/Beth meets Josh by chance (or not by chance?) and the one story line finds her marrying, having children and accepting a reasonable but expected outcome to what one might deem a considerate life.  The other story finds her thwarting the tug of her heart….choosing to invest in her career as a city planner (with the help of another old college friend who leverages her into a position of authority, whom she’s attracted to. But of course he’s married.) Twists, turns, complications and decisions that come home to roost all flesh out in front of us while Menzel snaps in and out of the opposing “Liz” and “Beth” storylines. I have to admit…I gave this whole musical my undivided attention, and I was a bit confused at parts. By the time my brain caught up (“oh, this is the ‘Beth’ storyline now”) it was halfway thought he scene and I was having to reorganize myself to regain the information that I had lost while in limbo.

You see, that’s the thing…the story is not a bad one. It’s a strong concept…with equally strong performers who communicate in clever ways. (The book is clever and crisp.) There are three problems with the show:

  • PROBLEM #1: There is not a single song I can put in my pocket and take with me. (And strangely enough…the musical numbers are NOT listed in the playbill. Very odd.) The music is empowering and drives us from moment to moment flawlessly….there’s barely a seam or break to even take an extra breath in the whole show. (And on a funny side note…I was like “dang this sounds like ‘Next to Normal’” before knowing it with the composer and lyricist to “Next to Normal.”) But, unlike NEXT TO NORMAL, it doesn’t bind the story together, like some recognizable hard-cover book that we’ll be able to find on the shelf later. It’s presented and serves the story like long, laborious footnotes on the bottom of every page of this story.
  • PROBLEM #2: The central character (our supposed “hero”) is carved out of sharp marble, with little finesse. Menzel is brilliant with a very distinct personality and voice, that’s why we love her. But, I felt that at every turn, and in every intention, I was hit on the head with the Idina Menzel rubber mallet and “gently” reminded…*BONK*….”you AGREE with this.” *BONK*….”you like this.”….*BONK*….”you are upset about this.” As an audience (an engaged part of the action, but traditionally as a voyeur) I don’t like being pigeon-holed, especially when the show impresses demands upon you. Perhaps they should have employed a device that would give the audience the choice to see what story line they want to see next? (Like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.) It’s a gimmick…for sure…but they applied all the demand on the audience without relinquishing any of the creative control. That’s not risk in my book. I felt held hostage at times.

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  • PROBLEM #3: I’m not sure this show would be as well-received if it lost one of two (or both!) things:
    •  If Idina Menzel left the show…would people still feel passionate about this Elizabeth character? I doubt it…the character seems to be written to portray the actress herself (down to her barefooted moments, which we all know is Menzel’s “thing.”)
    • If it played anywhere else but New York, I don’t think the setting would be welcomed in the same way. I wouldn’t say it’s a love letter to New York, as it sure does call to attention ALL the problem with development in the city, but it beckons you to relate to New York “stuff” at EVERY TURN. (And I mean every turn, poking fun at subway woes, rival cities, sports teams, etc.) I wonder if plays in Las Vegas, for instance, if anyone would care about such things.

With that said…I cannot express how beautiful the show looks. The set design by Mark Wendland successfully creates other worlds in unique ways with a poise and gloss like an upper west side, art deco coffee table. Of this, most impressive is a giant, tipping mirror that reflects the shiny floor. (It sometimes giving us a fun bird’s eye view, sometimes reflecting lights in the floor creating “stars”…even a roadmap of New York, etched out in LEDs on the floor makes for a fun moment.) The turntable set, multi-functional boxes and chairs offer up many locations in New York. (I stopped counting how many scenes we visited after I reached a dozen.) The staging is gorgeous and fluid. The choreography is contemporary and at some points takes itself SO seriously, that it comes across as a bit pretentious, and not “from the heart” as I think they were going for.

The play touches on every relevant buzz topic of today. You may find that hilarious and personal (catching on thorns lodged firmly in your own personal paws) or you may find that really annoying. It depends on your view….but one thing I admired about the show is that the message and it’s champion makes a very loud noise and does so in a practically perfect way. There is no doubt that there is no one in the whole world like Idina Menzel. The one “major tragedy” the authors enlisted…we saw coming a mile away.

The story has tremendous arch and both realities tied things up very neatly in the end…and again, I would have loved to find out which reality was the TRUE reality. (Or maybe they  didn’t want us to know?)

I wonder IF my opinion of this show would have been different, had I read up on the plot structures, reviews and anticipated the production value more? I didn’t take that path….so, I guess we’ll never know.

review if then

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