Theatre Thursdays: Blood Ties (As Seen on Orphan Black!)

I often come to TV shows late, but then I hit ’em hard. I started the first season of Orphan Black about a week before the second season premiered, and was finished by the day after the premiere, upon which I immediately began the current season. (Okay, not that impressive; it was only ten episodes. Still.) The clone saga quickly drew me in, and Tatiana Maslany’s ability to play a large number of completely different women who just happen to have the same genotype is truly extraordinary.

With all the intrigue, sinister mysteries, both scientific and religious extremists, and death, it’s easy to see how the show can be rather dark overall, so it’s nice to get some nice comedic moments now and then. Of course, being Orphan Black, the humor is usually never “hahaha omg so funny” but more like “lolwut”. A golden example of this has been the Season 2 subplot that involves Alison doing the suburban community musical theatre project. Now, community theatre in general can be used for comedic effect (“actors are so weird LOL”), but when you get jaunty melodies about cleaning up blood splatter, it lands squarely in the middle of Orphan Black’s sardonic, tongue-in-cheek style of humor. It was such a perfect fit that I thought the writers had just written a song or two for story purposes, but no: it turns out they were selections from a very real musical named Blood Ties! Let’s find out more after the jump!

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Theatre Thursdays: Broadway in Black

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Gentle Readers,

This is my last post as a regular writer for Lady Geek Girl & Friends. It’s been a wonderful yearlong ride, so big thanks to everyone here at the blog and you all for reading my posts. I hope that I’ve written something in the past twelve months that made you think a little. Now that we’ve gotten all the sappiness out of the way, let’s talk about theatre. More specifically, let’s talk about diversity in theatre. I’m always on the lookout for good, diverse theatre, as well as projects and performances that reach out to non-mainstream audiences. I’ve made argument after argument about the importance of more inclusive theatre. At this stage, to rehash each and every one for you would be redundant. So let me take you somewhere else. Continue reading

Theatre Thursday: Holler if Ya Hear Me Redux

A long time ago, in a galaxy somewhere near South Central Pennsylvania, I promised my gentle readers updates on Holler if Ya Hear Me, the upcoming musical based on the music of Tupac Shakur. The musical, directed by the esteemed Kenny Leon (the director of Broadway’s Raisin in the Sun, currently showing), will not engage with the story of Tupac’s life, but rather will use his music to tell a different story. Songs such as “California Love” and “Keep Ya Head Up” will score the story of two friends growing up in a low-income neighborhood in the Midwest. As the press notes mention, “through the poetry of one of the 20th century’s most influential and culturally prominent voices, [Holler if Ya Hear Me] will give a window into realities of the streets still relevant today”.
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Theatre Thursdays: Villains in Musical Theatre

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to play piano for the annual student-run musical revue at my alma mater. Each year a number of songs are chosen from a variety of musicals, generally with some sort of overarching theme. This year, the theme was “Villains”. While primarily just a showcase of song and dance numbers, there was some element of discussion of the motivations of the characters, and what led them to their villainous ways. The question of why people do bad things felt especially pressing in light of the stabbing attacks at Franklin Regional High School, located a mere forty-some minutes away from my alma mater. As I prepared for rehearsal the night after the attacks, just two nights before opening night, I thought to myself: our show has either become very timely, or completely disrespectful.

It all hinges on just how the villain is portrayed in the musical. Is the villain demonized, humanized, or glorified? Too often, though not always, it is that last option. Sure, lots of other media forms can glorify the villain, but I think musical theatre can more easily take it to another level. Many novels, TV shows, or movies can make being a villain seem understandable or sympathetic or intriguing; others can go a step further and make being evil seem cool, glamorous, and sexy. But few things have the power of musical theatre to make being bad seem downright fun. Take a bad guy that would be glamorous in another context, then add impressive choreography and a catchy song? You’ve just made a rock star. I’m going to look at just a few examples from some musical theatre baddies after the jump.

Being bad never looked so good.

Being bad never looked so good.

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Theatre Thursdays: La bohème

It’s a strange thing to experience the source material when you’re already a fan of the adaptation. Reading Hamlet after watching The Lion King, or The Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins books after watching their respective movies can be really weird. So it was for me when I saw La bohème, the opera on which RENT was based, for the first time last week.

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Theatre Thursdays: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

hedwig_neil_patrick_harrisAs you may or may not know, Neil Patrick Harris is opening a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, performing in the titular role, and he looks fabulous. If you’re not familiar with the material, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a 1998 musical written by and starring John Cameron MitchellHedwig tells the story of an East German singer who goes to great lengths to marry an American soldier and leaves for the United States to pursue her dreams and a better life. Those great lengths include a botched sex-change operation, leaving Hedwig with the titular “angry inch”. Eventually, she makes it to the United States, but in a perfect storm of insult and injury, her husband leaves her on the day she learns that the Berlin Wall has fallen. The real meat of the story is in how she uses love and rock n’ roll to recover from that and pursues her own identity. The Obie Award-winning musical originally ran for 857 performances, and has since seen performances in no fewer than eleven countries.

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Theatre Thursdays: Norm Lewis Set to Star in The Phantom of the Opera

Any Phantom of the Opera phans here? Yes? Good, because I hope you’ve heard this news: in May, Norm Lewis is going to be playing the role of the Phantom on Broadway.

norm lewis javertNorm Lewis, for those of you who don’t know, is a Tony-nominated Broadway veteran (he’s also in Scandal, for TV fans). In the past, he’s played such famous roles as Porgy in Porgy and Bess and Javert in Les Misérables. When he comes to Broadway on May 12th, he’ll be the first African-American to ever play the role of the Phantom on Broadway. (Robert Guillaume, another African-American, had previously played the Phantom in an L.A. production of the show.)

This is notable for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that this is yet another step toward more diversity in our theatre world. In regards to his getting the role, Lewis himself says, “I love the show but also (sic) to have hopefully set a precedent to see more diversity in casting.” This isn’t the first time Lewis has spoken out on the importance of diversity—he certainly recognizes his own position as a role model to aspiring performers of color. Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, he says, “These young, black men from high school and college, they come up to me saying, ‘You’re the reason I’m singing.’ I felt that way about Ben Vereen and Andre DeShields.”

Here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, we’ve often said that having a diverse cast can only add to the meaning of a story, not detract from it, and I think this is a prime example. The Phantom was discriminated against because in every version of the story, his face was disfigured in some sort of horrifying manner. When we add race into the equation, this is probably going to become a little uncomfortable for the audience—and that’s a good thing. This is an excellent opportunity for a discerning audience to examine their own subconscious prejudices towards both people with disabilities and people of color.

And on a lighter note, I personally can’t wait to hear him take on “Music of the Night” or the more emotionally dramatic (and more range-y) “Point of No Return”. Lewis definitely has the vocal chops for this role—just listen to him singing “Stars” from Les Misérables as proof:

What do you all think of this news? Let me know in the comments.

Theatre Thursdays: Life is a Cabaret, and Cabaret is Life

cabaret_logoCabaret is returning to Broadway next month for its ninth major production in one of the two greatest holy cities of theatre: New York and London. That’s right, nine times. Let’s count the ways: Broadway opening in 1966, West End opening in 1968, London 1986 revival, Broadway 1987 revival, London 1993 revival, Broadway 1998 revival, London 2006 revival, London 2012 revival, and the upcoming Broadway 2014 revival (not to mention a 1972 film adaptation). Whew! That’s not an accomplishment many musicals can claim. What is it about this show that makes it so enduring? What makes it a force that keeps popping up again and again, demanding to be seen and heard? Let’s take a closer look.

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Theatre Thursdays: Coriolanus (Again)

A while back we brought you the news that Tom Hiddleston was playing the title role in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, and encouraged you to fly to London to see it (our argument, I believe, was something along the lines of “what argument do you need besides shirtless wet Hiddleston”). I have not flown to London in that interval, sadly, but I did seize on the next best—and significantly cheaper—option: seeing a screening of the production at a local movie theater.

Coriolanus_2013_playBefore I go into any depth on the show, let me just say this: If there is a theater in your area showing this as a movie, get ye hence and check it out. It was amazing.

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Theatre Thursdays: Swan Lake

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to see ballet classic Swan Lake performed by my hometown company, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Swan Lake is easily one of the most well-known ballet stories, with adaptations including animated childhood favorite The Swan Princess, the decidedly not-for-children film Black Swan, a Swan Lake anime, and a Barbie movie. I’ve even seen a live Rocky Horror Show where Frank-n-Furter danced Odette’s swan choreography as he died, and you’ve almost certainly heard a snippet of Tchaikovsky’s score at some point in your life.

I have trouble critiquing particular ballet performances because I’m not an expert or a dancer myself; I can’t look at a jump or watch a pas-de-deux and say how great or terrible the form was. It’s similar to watching the Olympics: you sit there entranced by the miracle that a human body can do any of that stuff—while a professional critic commentates on the myriad of errors the athletes have just made. PBT’s performance was stunning; the costumes were gorgeous and the dancers were amazing. The sets were a bit lackluster, but all in all, it was a tremendous spectacle. So while I can’t really talk about the specifics of this performance, I can talk about the story.

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