Broadway Musicals

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Broadway Musicals

Postby Dan » July 17th, 2014, 12:37 am

I spent the 4th of July weekend up in New York to see some Broadway musicals. The original plan was for it to be a solo trip just for one show, but my folks injected themselves into the mix, convinced to use one of my vacation days at work, and we ended up seeing three shows.

As a condition for his being part of the trip, my dad made sure one of the shows we saw was Jersey Boys, so that was first.



As my brother and I grew up listening to our parents' oldies music on car trips, which we did a lot of, I was quite familiar with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The show, which won numerous Tony Awards in 2006 including Best Musical, was quite alive from start to finish with the songs used to help tell the story as opposed to being the story, as most jukebox musicals are.

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I liked its use of the Rashomon effect, where each member of the Four Seasons told their version of how the group got together, when they started hitting it big, the group falling apart, and Frankie's struggles to balance home life with his rising career. It made for effective story-telling and all around fun throughout.

Quick note, we ended up seeing the film version after we got back from New York. We found the film didn't add much to the story, nor did we think it was anywhere near as good as the show itself. Furthermore, I felt the movie moved very slow whereas the musical moved at just the right pace.

When we were trying to figure out what the third show was going to be months prior to the trip, my mom suddenly marched up to me one evening and demanded, "Why didn't you tell me there was a musical about Carole King?" And thus, the next show we saw was Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.



Again, familiarity with oldies music meant I knew of Carole King. I just didn't know all of the songs she wrote before breaking out as a solo artist, so I was quite surprised to discover what she helped composed. The show starred Jessie Mueller, whose performance as King won her the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. And what a performance it was to see live, not just in her ability to nail King's distinctive voice, but also playing her with truth and believability.

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As mentioned, I was not as familiar with the knowledge of which songs she wrote in the fifties and sixties such as "Take Good Care of My Baby" and "The Loco-Motion", the latter being sung by her babysitter as a matter of fact. The show also covered the rivalry and friendship King and her husband Gerry Goffin had with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the latter duo responsible for such hits as "On Broadway" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling". Once again, we were treated to another really great show that was oodles of fun.

It was the evening of July 4th when we saw our last of three shows and was the whole reason for the conception of the New York trip in the first place, aka my pick. Instead of seeing fireworks go off in the sky, we saw fireworks exploding on stage with If/Then.



Obviously the main reason any one, myself included, would want to see this is because it starred Idina Menzel. In reading up, Menzel hardly ever performed on stage outside of New York except for try-outs and very special occasions. So it was clear to me that if I ever wanted to see her acting on stage, I needed to head to New York. It was so worth the trip.

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(Note: I didn't wear this shirt to the show, I was wearing the Bolt shirt I wore for Beautiful.)

If/Then follows Elizabeth, newly divorced and returning to New York after 12 years in Phoenix. Her friends suggest a name change and a direction for her fresh start in life, but is unsure of which path to take. From there the show jumps back and forth between her life as Liz, engaging in personal experiences, and as Beth, building up the career she's always wanted.

I have no problem with Jessie Mueller winning the Tony for Beautiful, but boy watching Idina perform is an experience. Easily the best performer of the weekend, even when she had a brief series of coughs causing the show to pause ("Every performer's nightmare," she sheepishly commented before drinking some water and starting again), she recovered and actually got better. And when she sang "Always Starting Over", she absolutely killed it. Anthony Rapp was unable to perform (I would later learn because he had torn his ACL and would be out for several weeks), but it was nonetheless a fantastic show.

Now came the intriguing part. I decided to give the whole stage door experience a shot, see if I couldn't get an autograph from someone. And I shot the stars and went for Idina. Before leaving for New York, I made sure to get whatever advice I could about how I could make it work in my favor. What helped was that our hotel, The Paramount, was literally across the street from the theater If/Then was playing at, so I was able to scope the night before just how bad the crowding would get.

And you know what? All that planning worked.

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The crowd on July 4th was worse than the night before as we were spilling onto the streets and then some. I made it to where I was behind and in the middle of two folks who were up against the guardrail. In addition to Idina, who obviously came out last, I managed to get my program autographed by co-stars James Snyder, Jenn Colella, Jason Tam, and Rynn Redmond. The crazy part was right after I had gotten Idina's autograph everyone behind me decided to shove up against me, pinning me to the poor folks in front of me for about a minute or two. Nonetheless, it was a fun little experience since I got to interact with other fans and we got to chat here and there with the actors when we could.

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So there you go. If you're ever in New York over the next few months, I highly recommend checking out these three shows. All were absolutely fantastic in their own way and were just incredibly fun. It's really hard to pick out a favorite from my end, though I think in terms of overall experience I really enjoyed If/Then, not just because I got Idina's autograph, but also because we had the best seats we could hope for in seeing the show. Not to say the other two had bad seats, that had great seats too. But If/Then had the best because it was positioned just right.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby James » July 17th, 2014, 9:29 am

Very nice! Huge musical theatre fan here! Jukebox musicals are definitely not a fave of mine, but that's more because I resent them for crowding out the types of shows I like than because there's actually anything wrong with them!

I didn't know the "stage door experience" was still a thing! I just assumed they somehow got whisked out of there by security these days. That's really cool! Even cooler that it payed off so big!

Wearing the Bolt shirt to meet Adele Dazeem? Subtle joke? ;)

My favorite musical is Evita. About two months ago the original stars of that show, Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin (both of whom won the Tony for their performances in Evita back in the 1970s), were doing a two-man concert show in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I bought second row seats and drove the 700 miles to see it. Getting to see either of them at all was a thrill. Seeing them perform together, even more amazing. Seeing them perform two of the songs from Evita (including Don't Cry for Me Argentina), probably the most mind-blowing experience I'll ever have in a theatre!

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby eddievalient » July 17th, 2014, 11:09 am

I've had some pretty nifty "stage door" experiences myself over the years. When I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, I was able to meet Sebastian Bach (the lead singer of Skid Row who did an AWESOME job as Jesus) and Carl Anderson (who was the original Judas on Broadway and in the film version and reprised the role for that tour), I met Wynton Marsalis after seeing him with the Lincoln Center Orchestra, I met Bob Newheart after seeing one of his stand-up shows and he signed my copy of The Rescuers ( :D ), My uncle and I attended the after-show cast party when we saw Avenue Q, that one was fun. Good times.
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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Dan » July 17th, 2014, 11:57 pm

James wrote:Wearing the Bolt shirt to meet Adele Dazeem? Subtle joke? ;)


I had the feeling Idina was looking right at me, using me as a guide as it were, when she started to sing "Always Starting Over". Perhaps that's way she really played it up when she hit the "And f-word you for making me..." line. :wink:

What's also funny is that the Disney Store (which was only a block away) just restocked the store exclusive Elsa dolls that morning (which I did get, by the way, before they were gone) and a couple of folks did bring their dolls for her to sign.

I understand that the stage door experience is still alive and well, just that people have smarten up and understood how to play nice if they want to successfully land autographs. Throughout the weekend I noticed good size crowds at the stage door for Les Miserable (which happened to be playing right next door to If/Then), Mamma Mia, and Phantom of the Opera.

But If/Then was nutty and when I was scoping it out the night before my chance there was a cop around to make sure folks didn't spill onto the streets. I kinda wondered what happened to him on my night given our crowd was probably three times bigger.

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My understanding is that most jukebox musicals aren't too popular because it seemed like the musicals were constructed around the songs as opposed to the songs being used to support the story (Probably why Holla If Ya Hear Me, the musical using Tupac Shakur songs, just closed after only two months). Jersey Boys and Beautiful seemed like two shows that were exceptions to this, to me, and thus were popular and well-received.
Last edited by Dan on July 17th, 2014, 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Ben » July 20th, 2014, 6:46 pm

I think Jersey Boys working was because it was one of those first kind of jukebox musical shows (I think? I seem to remember it playing for ages), and then others jumped on the bandwagon (no pun intended!).

These shows go for the bottom line: they're not great artistic achievements but they appeal to the less discerning theatergoer because of the recognition factor. With Back To The Future coming next year and similar shows seemingly running forever on Broadway and here in the UK (where a Happy Days musical is touring), it doesn't look like they're going away anytime soon, though I think the two shows that tanked were probably just too narrow in their appeal.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby EricJ » July 20th, 2014, 7:55 pm

One of the appeals of Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia--and why "Rock of Ages" tanked as a movie--was the vaudeville appeal of watching performers on stage sing the old songs. (Like Mamma Mia, where it began to seem like half the point was just the big live "Abba jam session" of every other song that had been left out of the story, for an ending encore.)
Which positive energy you don't get with Tupac, but you maybe get with Carole King.

It's a thing best taken in the right balance: Too much jukebox, and we accuse producers of being "lazy"; too much story, and it summons the Cameron Mackintosh ghosts of Les Miz and Miss Saigon.

(And Lord? I don't mean to be critical, but HAVE you posted anything in the last two months without "Idina Menzel" in it? Animation related or not? And no, "She was in Frozen!" does not in and of itself constitute "related".
There are blogs if you want to diary your Broadway hobby with us personally.)

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Dan » July 20th, 2014, 9:21 pm

EricJ wrote:(And Lord? I don't mean to be critical, but HAVE you posted anything in the last two months without "Idina Menzel" in it?)


Here and there I've posted other things that don't relate to Idina. :wink:

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Jersey Boys wasn't the first jukebox musical, rather I understand it was presented in a way that broke from what the others were doing. I think the utilization of the Rashomon effect helped in that balance of storytelling and music performing you were talking about, Eric. It allowed audiences to really get to know and appreciate the personalities of each member of the Four Seasons and what their mindset in whatever section of the story they're telling. This was somewhat kept in for the movie version, but didn't play out as well I think because of the slow pacing.

What I think was interesting about Beautiful was that it seemed at first to concentrate on the story, but then you start to see that a number of the songs where used as part of enhancements to the story in some fashion, a couple of them even coming off as foreshadowing of what's to come. Still, a fun section was its playing out of the rivalry Carole and her husband Gerry Goffin had with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil with the couples trying to outdo each other in churning out hit songs.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Ben » July 21st, 2014, 2:58 am

James wrote:My favorite musical is Evita.


Good God...how did I miss that!

Nice! Evita is great. It has its moments, it has some style! :)

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby James » July 21st, 2014, 12:35 pm

Ben wrote:...Evita is great. It has its moments, it has some style! :)


It's the best show in town!

;)

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Ben » July 21st, 2014, 6:41 pm

Oh, WHAT a show! ;)

Okay...did we do enough now? We've all gone crazy...

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Randall » July 22nd, 2014, 12:31 am

My wife and I have talked about a NYC trip just to see a few Broadway shows (we live about 3000 miles way from NYC, so it would be a big trip for us). We just love musical theatre too. The touring production of Wicked that came through Canada was actualy awesome, but those touring shows can be really hit-or-miss. Broadway and the West End are really the places to be.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Dan » July 22nd, 2014, 10:16 pm

I plan to catch the tour production for Wicked this November. It was a choice for third show to watch for our New York trip before mom discovered Beautiful. :mrgreen:

I did catch the tour production for Book of Mormon last month and I was rolling with laughter along with everyone else. Absolutely fantastic.

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Ben » July 23rd, 2014, 5:38 am

We were going to go to the West End Book Of Mormon for my birthday last year but I came across the song demos online and just didn't think they were funny. I love Matt and Trey's stuff, but the digs seemed obvious and the humor just not very biting or clever at all - they've done stronger, sharper stuff on South Park.

Then I friend of mine went to see it a few weeks back and actually phoned me from the theatre at the interval, telling me he loved it, it was funnier than Team America (a movie we both love and ran over and over during a stay in NYC once), and that I should see it. I told him I heard the demos and he said that it was all funnier in the show and whatnot.

Anyway...bottom line...he's got us tickets for August 23...and I'm actually really excited to go!

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby Dan » July 23rd, 2014, 12:21 pm

One of the funny stuff is how fine the Mormons are with the show (which Trey knew was going to be the case). To the point that they advertise in the Playbill: "You've seen the show, the book is awesome!"

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Re: Broadway Musicals

Postby AlbertMalky » July 24th, 2014, 2:38 am

Lord Akiyama I hope you enjoyed watching all broadway shows in new york as each broadway show are treat for the eyes and I think you also felt the same.