Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Musical Christmas - My Holiday Musical Mixtape 2014

For the musical theater lover, Christmastime has an embarrassment of musical richest to enjoy.  In addition to the many solo albums put out by performers (like Idina Menzel), a number of musicals have Christmas, New Year and winter-related songs.

For your listening enjoyment, here's my personal Musical Christmas Mixtape 2014.  (Please note: the links go to the recordings on Amazon, with the exception of the amazing BC/EFA cds.)
  1. "Snow" from Irving Berlin's White Christmas (2006 Cast Recording) - Because living in Minnesota, this song is perpetually on the tip of my tongue.  Also, Brian D'arcy James.

  2. "Twelve Days to Christmas" from She Loves Me: The New Broadway Cast Recording (1993 Revival) - The quintessential Christmas shopping musical comedy song from a terribly romantic musical.
  3. "Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year" from Catch Me If You Can (2011 Cast Recording) - Sweet duet with an edge sung by Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit in an underrated show.
  4. "New Year's Day" from Side Show (1997 Original Broadway Cast) - Not my favorite song from this show, but I love a little Side Show representation.

  5. "The Schmuel Song" from The Last 5 Years (2002 Off-Broadway Cast) - Hey!  It's Norbert Leo Butz again!  Although whenever I hear this song, I think of the lovely Nautilus production with Bradley Greenwald, and always picture him singing the last few lines.
  6. "Lament/Lonesome Polecat" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954 Film Soundtrack) - So wintry, so lovely, so much dancing with axes.
  7. "Choose to Be Happy" from Grey Gardens: Original Broadway Cast Recording (2006) - I wanted to go for "Another Winter in a Summer Town", but 'tis a bit depressing for the holidays.

  8. "Once Upon a December" from Anastasia: Music from the Motion Picture (1997) - Why is this movie not a Broadway show yet?  Dead people singing!  Always a winner!  Sung by the lovely Liz Callaway.
  9. "Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)" from Anastasia: Music from the Motion Picture (1997) - Maybe not Christmasy but so very fun, with Bernadette Peters and adorable cameos by "Gertrude Stein", "Picasso", and "Isadora Duncan".
  10. "NYC" from Annie (1999 Television Film) - Practically perfect television adaptation.  This song features Victor Garber, Audra McDonald and the original Annie herself: Andrea McArdle.  "Three bucks, two bags, one me!"

  11. "Christmas Bells" from Rent (1996 Original Broadway Cast) - Sacrilege of sacrilege, I listen to the movie soundtrack of Rent far more than my formerly beloved cast recording.  But I still love "Christmas Bells."
  12. "Christmas Is All Around" from Love Actually (2003 Soundtrack) - This one's for my sister who loves Love Actually, and Bill Nighy even more.
  13. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" from Love Actually (2003 Soundtrack) - See above sans Bill Nighy.
  14. "Girl for all Seasons" from Grease 2 (1996 Soundtrack) - Why is this not a Broadway show yet?  Oh yeah, cause I'm one of a very few fans.

  15. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays (2001) - Alan Cumming and Liza Minnelli in an adorable duet--which is a little bit bonkers.
  16. "We Need a Little Christmas" from Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays (2001) - Sung by Patrick Wilson and comprising about a minute and 22 seconds, this is upbeat, peppy Christmas musical fun.
  17. "I Don't Remember Christmas" from Broadway Christmas (1998) - Sung by the very lovely Harry Groener, from the show Starting Here, Starting Now and recently sung at the fabulous local cabaret show Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen.

  18. "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" from Carols for a Cure 2003: Volume 5  - My first Broadway show was Hairspray, and this adorable song is by the original cast, Harvey Fierstein, Dick Latessa, Shoshana Bean, Clarke Thorell and more. Music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Trey Parker.
  19. "Sing Out" from Carols for a Cure 2003: Volume 5  - Another from the Carols for a Cure collection, this done by the cast of Gypsy.  A beautifully moving and funny song, written by M. Heitzman and I. Reid.
  20. "White Christmas" from Irving Berlin's White Christmas (2006 Cast Recording)  - Cause even though it's fairly recent to Broadway, this is a perfectly wonderfully done musical.  And a classic!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Lovely New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Whale - Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Mixed Blood Theatre

Saturday night I went for a jaunt to the West Bank. I went to see The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter.
Wow. I'm not even sure how to start this.

From the Walking Shadow website:

On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a six hundred pound recluse hides away in his apartment, eating himself to death. Hoping to find an honest human connection, he reaches out to his long-estranged daughter, only to discover a viciously sharp-tongued teen. Big-hearted and fiercely funny, The Whale tells the story of a man's last chance at redemption, and of finding beauty in the most unexpected places.

Beyond the recluse and his daughter, throw in an ex-wife, a best friend, and a Mormon boy who may or may not be on his mission and you have an incredible two hours ahead of you. I have to be honest, it is a difficult piece but completely worth seeing. In fact, I am still thinking about the work and have been most of today. There is a lot to think about and I could write more about the work, the plot, etc - but I think the less you know going in, the better.

All you need to know is that I think the small cast is perfect. Zach Curtis, Zach Garcia, Jennifer Maren, Katie Adducci, and Julie Ann Nevill make up this amazing ensemble. The show is thought provoking, moving, funny, and may make you feel a little uncomfortable. The experience though is worth going through. I look forward to seeing more work by Samuel D. Hunter, and I know that I will be back to see more work by Walking Shadow. Check out their website for more info.

Also, if you want to know more about the playwright, Lindsay Barenz from Maxamoo had a wonderful interview with Mr. Hunter. You can check out the podcast here. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

10 Reasons Why You Need to See "A Christmas Story" Now

Here's why A Christmas Story at the Ordway needs to be your holiday show this year:

10.  The 1983 movie, starring Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, is a holiday tradition in many homes (thanks to yearly marathons on TBS). From "You'll shoot your eye out!" to "I can't put my arms down!" every moment of this film is ingrained in our hearts. And now, it's a musical! And it's a good one, with words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who also composed the recent critical fave Dogfight, as well as songs for NBC's Smash.)

9. It's a local production! YAY! This Ordway production, directed and choreographed by James Rocco and Sharon Halley, employs tons of local actors, stagehands, set builders, box office staff, ushers and elves. Support your local theater professionals!

8.  The set, built by Penumbra Theatre's scene shop, feel substantial and evokes the time period perfectly. Refreshingly, projections were kept to a bare minimum, a rarity in today's big theater productions. (I was a little worried about Ralphie on that top bunk bed, but he's a professional; he'll be fine.)

7.  Gorgeous costumes show the time period and bring to mind our own wintery weather. I especially enjoyed that all the kids had strings on their hand-knit mittens. I totally had those!

6.  Lovely score performed by a full 18-piece orchestra and sung beautifully by the entire cast. You gotta love a big chorus that really fills the stage and the theater.

5. Adorable child actors who are cute without being cloying. They sing like children, not like American Idol contestants. Jake Goodman builds on the film's Ralphie Parker, creating wonderful moments all his own. James Ciccarelle is adorable as younger brother Randy, and the boys have a nice fraternal chemistry. But all of the kids are wonderful, whether cowering from bullies or tap-dancing their hearts out.

4. Erin Schwab. Erin. Freaking. Schwab. If the rest of the show were not as consistently fabulous, she would have stolen the show as the teacher, Miss Shields. It's wonderful to see her shine in a role that lets her be the exasperated adult as well as a femme fatale.

3. Can I just say? I see a lot of theater, and I am used to seeing a stage filled with white actors, with a few actors of color in the back row. I love the racially diverse ensemble, and I especially love that the actors of color were not all paired off together. Stage families were not strictly divided along color lines, displaying a casual racial diversity that is rare and refreshing. Yes. Please. More of that.

2. Casting Director Reid Harmsen has done a great job of putting together a mix of local and national talent.  Dieter Bierbrauer and Billie Wildrick are funny and touching as Ralphie's parents--boots that are a challenge to fill. Gary Briggle is a wonderfully understated Jean Shepherd, observing and participating in the story. The ensemble is loaded with MNTheaterLove faves, including Randy Schmeling, Austene Van, Suzie Juul, Aja Parham, Kersten Rodau, Michael Gruber, Jennifer Eckes, Carl Schoenborn, Rudolph Searles III, Tony Vierling and Linda Talcott Lee and many, many more.

1. A Christmas Story is a delightful holiday treat for the whole family.  You should buy tickets and go see it RIGHT NOW. The show runs through December 28, so hurry up! (Seriously. Support your local theater!)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Peter Pan Live

This is just going to be a quick post about Peter Pan Live, on NBC.  First and foremost, I have to write that I, personally, think it is a brilliant notion to get live theatre back on the main stations. Yes, we all know that PBS does some amazing live theatre. However I feel that NBC or another major network station is going to reach a larger audience, which hopefully will create the desire to see more live theatre.

That being written, I'm not certain about Peter Pan as a follow-up to Sound of Music. Sound of Music is so well known, where as Peter Pan (the original with Mary Martin) has a niche following I think. Perhaps I'm wrong but songs like "I'm Flying" just aren't part of the typical theater fan lexicon, let alone the non-theater person. Rumor has it that next year they are looking to do Music Man. I think by choosing a better known property, they would and will get a larger portion of the audience.

Now, what about the production itself?