Always a New Musical

It seems that there is always a new musical.

That is, it seems that there is always a new musical based off of some existing property, where the source is often a non-musical entity. I am a lover of theatre from a young age, taking in my first professional theatre shows as a child of seven years. I’ve been seeing Broadway shows since the single digits, and yet, I find myself pulled in two different directions by musical theatre. There are some shows that I’m unreasonably fond of, like In the Heights, Tim Rice’s Aida, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812Wicked, The Scotsboro Boys, and Spring Awakening. In fact, there’s a good list of the best recent musicals over on Buzzfeed (I deem it good because it includes almost all my favorites).

But there is many a musical that is just bad because it attempts to cover a weak or hackneyed story with music and spectacle. Now, certainly this is doable; it’s possible to include enough high notes and bright lights to distract most audience members from the fact that your show is garbage. Musical theatre however, really requires more, not less. An emphasis on spectacle over content can really be the death of a show, like Spider-Man, where other musicals that are just plain bad, like Leap of FaithThat’s not to say that the success or failure of a show is necessarily tied to its goodness or badness.

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Theatre Thursdays: A Love Letter to Judi Dench

Judi DenchAbout a year ago, I was gifted a copy of With A Crack In Her Voice, which is the biography of Dame Judith Olivia “Judi” Dench. First of all, I absolutely recommend it. It’s lovely reading and clear that the author, John Miller, is rather fond of his subject. Also, it’s rather inexpensive to get your hands on. I can’t find a copy that costs more than twenty dollars, frankly.

Anyway, I cracked (sorry!) it open again today and was reminded how much I adore the woman, and so chose to share those feelings with you, gentle readers.

Pictured: me.

Pictured: me.

My affection for this woman, who has acted in at least fifteen films, more television, and much more theatre, is without bounds. To her credit, she has an Oscar, a Tony, seven Olivier Awards, two SAG awards, and more BAFTAs than I can imagine she knows what to do with. But, her long and storied career begins in the theatre, so I’ll show you that. (Also, it’s my favorite.)

In 1968, a 33-year-old Judi Dench receives rave reviews for her performance as Sally Bowles in the original London run of Cabaret (from which the title of her biography comes), showcasing what turned out to be impressive vocal talents. I say “turned out to be” because anecdotes suggest that she was so embarrassed to sing in public that she auditioned from the wings and got the part.

The late 70s has Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan as the title couple in a production of Macbeth which was widely lauded. Of her performance, critic Michael Billington wrote:

“If this isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is.”

After missing out on a leading role in Cats in 1981, in 1995 she plays Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. For this performance, she won the Laurence Olivier Award.

After this, her film career begins to take off in earnest. You may have seen her being incredible in The Chronicles of Riddick, Chocolat, Quantum of Solace, Pride & Prejudice, Nine, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among others.

judi_dench_chocolatIn any case, all told, she’s an objectively fabulous human being. She came to her magnificent acting career by way of training in set design, and it is always my greatest sadness to repeat the fact she has chosen to begin drawing down her career due to macular degeneration, crediting this with her choice to leave the role of M in the Bond films. In fact, for her most recent films, scripts must be read to her. She has, however, remarked that she has no intentions to retire yet.

Just to say it on more time, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Judi Dench, who has become the First Lady of British Theatre. Although, she does have some interesting feelings about being considered a national treasure. And while it makes me sad that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, she does have an unequivocal belief that she, and all women, “should have their say.” All evidence indicates that she is possessed of the all the grace and fire of her youth.

Judi-Dench-in-1968.-001I’ll leave you with this clip of the Dame signing autographs after a performance of Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade.

Theatre Thursdays: Princess Mononoke, the play?

According to Crunchyroll and a number of other outlets, the classic Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke is being adapted for the stage in London by the Whole Hog Theatre company. In keeping with the ecological themes of the movie, the puppets used to portray the various nature deities will be made of recycled material. Although I’ve pointed out my opinion on the use of puppets in theatre before, hope springs eternal. If I had some way to get to London to see this next April, I’d be all over that.

(Via Crunchyroll)