Saturday, 31 August 2019

New York, Part II

I was in New York for five full days, and so was able to see four shows while I was there (although three different ones, as I saw Moulin Rouge twice!) The first show I saw after arriving was Wicked which is my favourite musical. I'm a bit of an Oz nerd in general and really love the original L Frank Baum books, and I really love where Wicked has taken these characters and developed them (including the novel by Gregory Maguire, although I confess I've only read the first one as Elphaba and Fiyero aren't in the others...)

Wicked Gershwin Theater
Wicked Gershwin Theater

I was really glad I picked Wicked first as it felt kind of comforting and allowed me to ease in to the differences between Broadway and the West End. It also felt really special seeing my favourite musical in the theatre where it originally opened and as such the original production, or as close to. My first impression of the differences between Broadway and London was mostly just the sheer scale of the theatres themselves. London's theatres are obviously really old buildings, and because of this they're really small and can be really uncomfortable to sit in. The Apollo Victoria where Wicked is played is one of the largest theatres, and yet it's probably about half the size of the Gershwin. I was sitting third row from the stage in the orchestra/stalls and could stretch my legs out in front of me and had plenty of elbow room and it felt like a real novelty. What I do like about the Apollo Victoria though is that it's all green - the carpet, the chairs, it's all green because it's Wicked, and I was mildly disappointed that the Gershwin didn't go to that level of extra. Also from outside the Gershwin is pretty underwhelming - compare that to that, you know?

I was really happy to see that the London production is almost an exact replica. I don't know what I was expecting, but the only differences where things I already knew about. There were some really minor costume differences (Fiyero's collar on his green suit, Madame Morrible's bustle, really minor stuff that only a fanatic would notice), and obviously some minor staging differences just as the Gershwin is so much bigger. In Defying Gravity Elphaba and Glinda come up from a trap door which makes it feel more obvious that they're in an attic, and after Elphaba's levitating spell the broomstick rises up through the stage - I always expected this to be a better effect than London where it floats through the air from the wings, but it just looked like someone lifted it out of a trapdoor and was kind of underwhelming. The one thing I really did like about Broadway was Fiyero's entrance. In London Avaric pulls him in on a cart, whereas on Broadway Avaric is riding the Sawhorse, which probably seems like a small difference but it's pretty huge as it's a reference to Baum and foreshadows Fiyero becoming the Scarecrow and is just a really nice nod to the original Oz lore (and makes Avaric look more like a chauffeur than a man servant).

Frozen The Musical
Frozen The Musical Frozen The Musical

The other show I saw was Frozen, which is a Disney film that really means the world to me and simply calling it 'my favourite movie' sounds too lame for how strongly I feel about it. I never expected to have the opportunity to see this show when it opened, so you can imagine how excited I was!

The set design was really amazing, there was so much detailing in the wood carving around the stage and I loved how the lighting effects made it look like it had been frozen. So much of the design, both stage and costume, was inspired by traditional Norwegian and Sámi designs and I really love the whole vibe it gave the show. Because it's such high fantasy it gives it a grounded sense of realism. The Northern Lights were before the show, and Oaken's Store was during intermission. I sat first row of the mezzanine, right in the centre, which felt perfect as I was close enough to get the detail but far enough away to appreciate all of the lighting and staging effects, of which there are A LOT to create Elsa's powers.

Frozen The Musical

Although I hadn't seen Frozen on stage before, I'm very familiar with the soundtrack as I listen to it more than the movie version (is it some kind of blasphemy to admit I perfer Caissie Levy to Idina Menzel? 😬) and it was such a buzz getting to see something that I know so well and hold so dear to me unfurl on stage in a new but familiar way. When Vuelie started, and for most of Let The Sun Shine On and Do You Want To Build A Snowman? I was actually crying because I just love Frozen so much and hearing and seeing it live just completely overwhelmed me.

Caissie Levy wasn't on that night and Elsa was performed by the understudy Charissa Hogeland. Her Elsa was very timid and soft spoken and it suited her perfectly (she also looked perfect in the costume, which I know isn't super important but I believed she was Elsa). Otherwise it was the regularly billed cast, and it was a real thrill seeing Patti Murin as Anna - she seems so much like Anna in real life and is so perfectly cast. From what I've seen of pictures and videos I wasn't sure how I felt about Olaf and Sven - they work as puppets, and it mostly looks kind of dumb, but I have to say actually seeing it on stage it totally works. Olaf was really endearing and Ryann Redmond completely disappeared, I kept trying to watch her but my eyes kept drifting to the snowman she was operating.

My only gripes were with Kristoff and Hans, which is a shame as I'd had high hopes from listening to their additional songs on the soundtrack that they'd been better developed (and I must add that my disappointment had nothing to do with the actors who were both amazing, but the way the characters have been written for the stage). The reason why the characters in the movie are so popular is because they're so complex and realistic for it. Kristoff is kind of an asshole to Anna when he first meets her and really doesn't care about her plight - and when you consider that he's a indigenous Sámi man who's been ostracized his whole life, why would he? Him gradually learning to care for Anna is his main character development, and so it just felt really out of character in the musical for him to almost force Anna into accepting his help, and they just tried too hard to make him the typical 'Prince-Charming, look-how-helpful-I-am-there's-nothing-bad-about me' character and so he lacked any depth and didn't really develop as a result. He was just boring.

And then there's Hans. Prince Hans, along with Elsa, is my favourite character from Frozen. He is one of the most intriguing yet cheaply used characters Disney have ever created, which is a big part of why he's so polarising to audiences. I could write a whole essay on how complex a character Hans is due to him being morally grey, a victim of abuse, and Elsa's one true equal. I love the song's they've given Hans in the musical which I think is what got me so hopeful he'd had a better treatment than the movie gave him, and I fully accept that there's many subtleties that can be provided in film that just won't come across on stage and so things need to be stripped back. I get that. BUT HE HAD NO GLOVES. I know how absurd that sounds, but it was the first thing I noticed when his character came out on stage. Gloves are HUGE symbolism in Frozen, Elsa is forced to wear them to conceal her powers and true feelings, it's Anna removing her glove that causes her to freak out and freeze Arendelle, and she removes her final glove as she's liberated in Let It Go. All of these details are still in the stage show!! It's still important symbolism!! So why isn't Hans wearing his freaking gloves??? He is the only character other than Elsa to wear gloves, and the only time he removes one is when he reveals his true intentions to Anna and thus shows his true self like Elsa does earlier in the story. His gloves are a major part of the story!! Of his character development!!! Also his lines are so rushed. It's clearly the direction, but during the reveal scene he barely draws breath between saying "True loves kiss!" and "Oh Anna, if only there was someone who loved you" and then he just launches into his spiel unfurling his whole plan, and it's just like, do you wanna let the audience take a moment to let any of this sink in?? Also his coat bothered me too. It's basically the same as the Arendelle guards, just with extra cape layers to single him out from the ensemble. In the movie he wears his own coat in his own colours with his own insignia, which marks him as the outlier. It just felt really lazy from the costume department and direction, and it hurt a lot as he's a character that means so much to me. He deserves better, and it was such a letdown as his additional songs are so awesome. I must stress that it was an amazing show though! The whole cast were fantastic, and if you're not as emotionally invested into the characters as I am I'm sure you won't even understand what I'm upset about.


And the things I collected!

Thursday, 29 August 2019

New York, Part I

Last week I was in New York, which even now feels like a surreal sentence to say and now I'm home it half feels like it was all a dream. I've always wanted to visit New York and see a show on Broadway. I don't know if I've got a 'bucket list' per se, but it's just always been a life goal of mine. I've been a fan of musical theatre for most of my life, since I saw the Oliver! revival on the West End as part of a school trip when I was 7 years old. I grew up just outside London and each year my school would trek into the city centre for a matinee performance, a privilege which I took for granted. I was probably about 16 when it went from being something I casually enjoyed to something I was passionate about, and I had wanted to make it my career but life had other plans (which looking back I'm thankful for as I prefer just being a fan, it keeps the magic alive).

I regularly travel into London to see shows, and of course New York has always seemed like the bigger, brighter option. Last November I decided that I'd had enough dreaming and wanted to put things into action. Moulin Rouge had premiered for a limited run in Boston earlier that year, and I was really excited at the prospect of it being adapted to the stage as it's always been one of my favourite movies, and it was starring some of my favourite American theatre actors such as Aaron Tveit as Christian. I had already felt a little envious watching everything unfold second hand through my computer screen, and decided to turn those negative feelings into something positive. I promised myself that when Moulin Rouge opened on Broadway, I'd be there and would see it with it's original cast. It didn't have a date at that time so I still had the comfort of it feeling a way off. For about a week anyway, and then the dates were announced and panic set in! I realised that I was going to have to buy a ticket on a random date and hope that I could scramble together a trip around it. And that's basically what I did, buying bits of the trip as and when I could afford it and hoping it would all come together. And I did it!

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

I still can't describe the feeling of actually walking down West 45th St and seeing the Al Hirschfeld up ahead and everything I've worked for and the emotional journey I've been on to get that point and the sheer surrealness of I'M ACTUALLY HERE, THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. Seeing Aaron Tveit walk on stage and know that this is actually him, and he looks exactly like he does on my screen but he's real and standing less than 2 metres in front of me was like an out of body experience. I got a face full of confetti from Danny Burstein's cane twice, I got to look up and see Karen Olivo descending from the heavens on her swing, it was all just so amazing and I was just sat there in awe throughout most of the show letting it all wash over me.

So, was it perfect? No. As a fan of the film it fell a bit flat in some areas and I didn't like parts of the soundtrack, but as for the overall experience of the show it's the best I've ever had just for what it meant to me to be there. And it's only after thinking on it afterwards that I realised bits I didn't like so much, I didn't care when I was actually watching it as it didn't matter.

I was nervous about the soundtrack as I knew they'd updated it to include more modern songs, and I was worried that might ruin it. In my view the reason the original movie works so well is because it uses mostly old songs it doesn't date it even though it was released 18 years ago. The new songs did work a lot better into the soundtrack than I expected, but I guess only time will tell how well it will age and how relevant it will still be in 20 years. The set was absolutely stunning, there was so much detail in all of it and you can tell it's a really lavish production with a ton of money being pumped into it. The entire cast were amazing, I loved how the ensemble stalked the stage at the beginning before the show opened and sitting second row in the orchestra made it feel almost foreboding. And because it is so different from the movie it definitely makes it it's own thing and worth seeing so there is definitely that in it's favour.

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

I'd heard horror stories of the stage door, but as I was front of the orchestra I got out quickly and beat the crowds. The cast were fairly quick to come out after the show, and Aaron was actually the first. He doesn't allow photos as it would take too long to get through everybody, which I was a little thankful for really as it meant you could enjoy your time with him without everyone sticking cameras in his face. I gave him my artwork which I was super shy about as no one else was giving anyone anything, but he was really complimentary and he was very gracious and kind. I met a few more from the ensemble cast too, but quite honestly I was just on a high that I'd actually met my favourite actor and he was just as nice as he seems.

Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical
Moulin Rouge The Musical

Because Moulin Rouge was so important to me and I had so many hopes pinned on it, I saw it twice. I knew the first time I'd just be in awe of the whole adaptation, and so the second time around I could take in the details as I knew what to expect. I also sat further back in the orchestra, so I was still close enough to be absorbed into everything but far enough away that I could take in the whole stage this time. I love being close to the stage as it feels so intimate and I get truly lost in it and entirely forget the whole audience behind me, but there's definitely a benefit to being further away too so I liked having both experiences.



And obviously I had to buy a few things to remember it by!

I did see other shows that I'll write about in another post, but as Moulin Rouge was so important to me and my whole reason for going to New York, and special as I met my favourite actor, I wanted to give it it's own post. It also made me think about how I'd like to incorporate more of this kind of thing into my life. I don't want this to be a once in a lifetime experience that's now in my past, I want to be this happy again, I want to make the effort to travel to see my favourite performers instead of wishing they'd come to me. And if that means cutting back in other areas and traveling long distances for just a day or two, then I think it will be worth it. Hopefully I can make the opportunity happen again!
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