I love me some musical theater. So while I had heard from a friend that Dear Evan Hansen had a deeply unpleasant storyline, when my mom offered to buy me and my brother, who was visiting from my hometown, tickets, I figured I’d give the show the chance to prove itself. I headed into the theater last Saturday night knowing none of the music and with only my friend’s brief synopsis of the plot to go on. What followed was two and a half hours of the most disgustingly tasteless story I have had the misfortune to experience in a theater. I spent the entire first act feeling like I was actually going to be sick to my stomach, and found no real solace in the second act, which was frustratingly absent any repercussions for the title character’s reprehensible behavior.
The first time I saw Wicked, it was 2005, and my high school musical’s cast, crew, and a passel of chaperones had come to New York to see the sights—including the still relatively new show. We sat in the very last row of the very last balcony, and I cried like a baby at the end. (I still do, even just listening to the soundtrack.)
Time passed, and a million fairy tale retellings, Ozian and otherwise, came and went, inundating movies, books, television, and comics. But no matter how these stories ebbed and flowed in popularity, Wicked has stayed strong and stayed open, belting out its loving but revisionist history of L. Frank Baum’s fairytale world eight times a week at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. However, I haven’t seen the show in years, and the last time I saw it was with the national tour, rather than the Broadway version. So when a good friend came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go see the show, her treat, I was delighted to agree. I was surprised to find, however, that despite the show’s age, it seems more relevant now than ever.
Last weekend was my mom’s birthday, and as part of her present we all went to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway. While I certainly wasn’t expecting to hate it, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away either; I didn’t know much about the story except what my mom had told me, and I’m not the biggest fan of jukebox musicals (musicals based on pop music). Despite all that, I’m happy to report that it was actually a beautiful and touching show.
Yes, this article marks the end of Theatre Thursdays as a weekly column here on Lady Geek Girl and Friends. We’ve loved having it as a feature on the site, but the time has come to shift our focus elsewhere. Don’t worry! There will still be the occasional post on various live performing arts! We just won’t be devoting weekly articles to the genre.
With the close of this column, I want to finally write an article that I’ve been playing around with in my head. I’ve had this idea gestating for a few years but never felt quite ready to put it into words. This is the story of the time I saw the musical In the Heights and realized how important representation in entertainment really is.
This month, Keke Palmer will be the first Black actress to take on Cinderella’s glass slippers on Broadway, following in the recent footsteps of the likes of Norm Lewis being the first Black actor to star in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera. We’ve talked a fair amount about colorblindcasting on this blog, and I’d say these are examples of the practice working for its desired benefits: making sure actors of color get a fair chance at playing a variety of roles, including leading roles that have long been considered “whites-only” territory. However, I’m asking the reader to consider: is Broadway seeing its first Black Cinderella, or merely the first Black actress to play Cinderella? What is the distinction and why does it matter? Allow me to elucidate.
Keke Palmer’s debut as Cinderella is September 9, right around the corner!
I had the extreme luck to see a bunch of awesome shows on Broadway last week (thanks, Mom!), one of which was If/Then. I had no idea what the story was going in; rather, we’d picked it based on its starring talent—namely, Idina Menzel, supported by La Chanze and Anthony Rapp.
However, while the performance itself was definitely spectacular and the show’s premise was ambitious, the show itself was kind of unremarkable.
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 →
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”. Continue reading →
As 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 Inchis a 1998 musical written by and starring John Cameron Mitchell. Hedwig 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.
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, 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.