…of my upcoming post about the Hamiltrip I took this past weekend. Let’s just say there were four Broadway musicals in three days.
There are some musicals I’ve never seen but would love to, having listened to the music from them. The Secret Garden is one. Ragtime is another. And this is my favorite song from Ragtime: “Back to Before.” It’s so beautiful and has lyrics that apply to so many things besides the specific situation in the show. Back in college, it made my AIM away message quite frequently. Those days are over, but I sing it in the shower quite a bit.
I’ve always loved musical theater—see this post, and all the ones about Les Mis—but lately I’ve been obsessing about it more than usual. I think seeing Les Mis over the summer triggered something in me.
I traveled to New York twice in seventeen days. The day before New Year’s Eve, I just took a day trip there (it’s about a four-hour bus ride if the traffic’s not bad) to see Allegiance on Broadway. I had a feeling it would be closing soon and I wanted to see it before it was gone, and the subject matter—a Japanese-American family in an internment camp during World War II—interested me. Plus, Lea Salonga, who has one of the most gorgeous voices ever, and George Takei! The show had gotten mixed reviews, but I liked it a lot. The music was okay, but the story and performances were what made it really strong. I’m sorry to hear that it’s closing in a few weeks.
Then last weekend, I went down Saturday and Sunday for two shows. One was, for the third time since it’s come to Broadway, Les Mis. I’m quite sure I’ll never see a Jean Valjean better than Ramin Karimloo, but his replacement, Alfie Boe, played Valjean in the 25th Anniversary concert and is also very good. Unfortunately, Alfie ended up being out sick that night, but the understudy, J. Michael Finley, did a good job. Other standouts in the cast—Adam Monley was an excellent Javert and Brennyn Lark was great as Eponine.
The other musical I saw, at the Sunday matinee, was the second-to-last Broadway show for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I didn’t know very much about it before I saw it, other than that the lead role was played by Bryce Pinkham, who graduated from BC a year before me (I don’t know him, though) and that Jefferson Mays played multiple characters. I’m glad now that I didn’t know more, because it turned out to be hilarious and delightful and if I’d been spoiled about much of the plot, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much. The entire cast was excellent, and my head is spinning thinking about the quick costume changes Jefferson Mays, who plays NINE characters, must have had.
I have another trip to New York planned for Memorial Day weekend, which I’m really excited about because I’m going to see…Hamilton! I had to spend a ton of money on StubHub to get the ticket, but I’m dying to see it with the original cast, so I think it will be worth it.
I bought the Hamilton soundtrack recently after several listens on Spotify. Before I listened to it there, I’d heard a lot about it and thought it sounded interesting, but I was hesitant about it because I don’t like rap—like, at all. So when I finally heard the whole thing, I was shocked at how much I liked it, and it gets better with every subsequent listen (partly, I think, because you know the story better). If you’re like I was and think it sounds interesting but don’t like rap, have a listen to this song, “You’ll Be Back,” first. It’s sung by King George in the play (the hilarious Jonathan Groff), and it’s essentially a breakup letter to the colonies:
Now listen to the whole thing:
I’m really excited to see it in May—it’s one of the things to look forward to that I’m giving myself. I hear there’s some awesome choreography in it as well, so even though I’ll know all the music, seeing that will be new.
I’m also hoping to see Waitress on Broadway at some point. It’s moving there after premiering in Cambridge last fall, but unfortunately, it sold out very quickly and I missed it. The music is by Sara Bareilles, whom I LOVE, and she recently released an excellent album where she sings some of the songs from Waitress. Again, listen:
The other show I might see on Broadway this spring is She Loves Me. There are a lot of cool people in it—Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski—but I mostly want to see it because of Andrew Kober, who until recently was in the Les Mis cast and featured heavily in Ramin’s vlogs.
Plus, my friends and I are thinking about seeing The Sound of Music when it’s in Boston in a couple of months. I love the movie but have never seen it on stage.
So this is shaping up to be the year of ALL the theater, and I’m really excited!
Last month, I watched a movie on Netflix that I hadn’t seen since high school. Jon Stewart was, sadly, about to leave The Daily Show and I was remembering how I saw him in the 1998 movie Playing by Heart, which I’d sought out as a teenager because Gillian Anderson, whom I loved on The X-Files, was in it. Pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart plays her love interest. It’s a pretty good movie, although not likely to be anyone’s favorite- an ensemble drama about love with a cast that also includes Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, Ellen Burstyn, and Gena Rowlands, among others. It was trying to do what Love Actually did more successfully a few years later– show a big group of people and their various romantic scenarios, although it’s more of a drama than Love Actually (there’s one storyline about a guy dying of AIDS). In one scene, Angelina Jolie is yelling at someone on a pay phone, which amused me.
The notable thing about this movie, though, is what it was almost titled– Dancing About Architecture. It was only changed because there was a movie out at the same time called Dancing At Lughnasa. But Dancing About Architecture would have been a much better title. It comes from a scene where Angelina Jolie’s character recounts how, when she tried to talk with a musician friend about his music, he told her that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and she countered that talking about love was the same way.
I tend to agree. But for now, let’s focus on talking about music– though it might indeed be like dancing about architecture, I’m going to make an attempt.
I have the hardest time discussing music. When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I wince. There never seems to be a good answer to that question. Back in middle school, people started to define themselves by what music they listened to and would make judgments about you based on your own music taste.
Here’s the thing, though–it never ends. Even as an adult, people judge you by the music you listen to. You might not make fun of someone who’s bad at sports or isn’t into partying, but judgment about music never ends. When I read this post I wrote a long time ago, I cringe at how defensive I sound. But I feel that way because I can’t believe that even as we’ve grown up, we haven’t evolved beyond these petty judgments we made as pre-teens.
There’s much more music that I like than music I dislike and, ironically, I feel like a lot of people would say that means I don’t really love music, as if you can’t love many different things. It’s hard for me to talk about music to the kind of people who consider themselves music lovers by virtue of being picky about what they like, prizing the obscure and wanting to be ahead of the curve with popularity, and making a hobby of seeing live shows. I don’t think I’ll ever be a very picky music consumer, as my tendency is to go with my instinctual like or dislike without thinking too much about why. And while I get how it feels good to like something before it becomes popular, I seem to be missing the disdain-for-popularity chip.
I think I’m coming around on live shows, though.
I wrote about it a bit here and here— how I don’t like most concerts, at least ones in small venues, and how I don’t seem to get the high from live music that so many people seem to. I did go to a concert earlier this summer in a larger venue, and I really enjoyed it. Due to that middle-school judgment factor, I’m hesitant to say who the artist was–it’s a popular artist about whom people tend to have strong opinions, both positive and negative. But I started to understand that high-on-live-music feeling that people have described to me.
Then I got that feeling myself in August when I went to New York to see Les Mis again. Ramin Karimloo was leaving the show at the end of August and I wanted to see the show one last time with him in it. So I did, and it was fantastic. My obsession with Les Mis is well-documented, but this seriously put me in a good mood for the next week. It was actually kind of amazing– I spent way too much of this summer in absolute misery, and not without good reason, and yet the thing that made me happier than I’d been in months was the power of this show’s music. (I was brought out my misery by a show called…Les Miserables. Heh.)
This led to me spending a truly embarrassing amount of time watching clips of Ramin Karimloo on YouTube. I got really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see him in Les Mis again–my new job (which I’m liking so far) started the day after Ramin’s last show, so going down for that was out of the question. But then I remembered that he was playing two concerts at BB King’s in New York the following weekend- and I was pretty sure I could make it down for the Saturday show.
So I did.
I have Ramin’s album and, like I said, have spent a ridiculous amount of time watching him on YouTube. He does these shows in a style he calls “broadgrass”–everything from Broadway to bluegrass, and sometimes Broadway in the style of bluegrass (like singing “Bring Him Home” on a banjo). I love, love, love this guy’s voice, and I was excited to see what he’d do at the show. (And, let’s be honest, also a bit excited to look at him.)
The show was at BB King’s on 42nd Street, which has first-come, first-served seating. It started at 7:30 with doors opening at 6. I got there at 5 and the line was already pretty long. I’d brought a book to read while I stood there. The crowd was, hilariously, about 90% female.
I was standing there in line when suddenly I heard screaming coming from up ahead in line…and the next thing I knew, Ramin was standing right in front of me. Because he’s freaking awesome, he’d decided to come out and say hi to everyone waiting in line. I said hi, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for coming.” I think I started to tell him that I’d come in from Boston, but he’d moved on by then.
So it was a pretty amazing night already. I had not been prepared for Ramin walking right up to me, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone out and didn’t get another picture of me with him, but I did get a shot of him with the people behind me. (Random side note: when I ended up sitting at a table with some random people, whom I talked to, they told me that a minute after Ramin came out, George Takei walked by! I didn’t see him at all and wouldn’t have believed it if they hadn’t shown me the picture they took with George.)
I settled in at the table once they let us in and talked to the people around me. There was an opening act, Jamie Cunningham, who told us about how he became the opener after connecting with Ramin on Twitter. And then it was time for broadgrass!
He sang all kinds of things- songs from his album, songs from shows he’d been in, songs from shows he hasn’t been in, bluegrass, Broadway in the style of bluegrass, original songs, covers, mashups, you name it. He also made me tear up when he sang “Bring Him Home” and dedicated it to Kyle Jean-Baptiste.
Most of the concert ended up on YouTube, and I’ve been rewatching obsessively. A few favorites: here he sings “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, a fantastic song that his voice is perfect for:
I wasn’t familiar with James Bay, but after Ramin covered his song “Scars,” I looked it up and…sorry, James Bay, but I think I like Ramin singing it better: :
And here’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma!, broadgrassed-up. Beautiful morning, beautiful man.
I think I get it now– how people get a high from live music, because while it had happened to me with musical theater before, this was the first time I got it from a concert. I don’t know how many artists could provoke this kind of reaction in me, but I understand now the feeling people get from live shows.
What I understand even less now, though, is looking down on other people because of their taste in music. Ramin’s music does something to me that I can’t even describe, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And there are people out there who have the same kind of experience I just had with music I don’t like or am indifferent to.
I wish I could do a better job explaining the feeling I’ve had since that concert last week. But it’s like dancing about architecture.
A few weeks ago, I was looking at the list of movies expiring from Netflix in March and saw that one of them was Evita. I first saw this movie in middle school and used to listen to the soundtrack (on cassette tape!) all the time. So I decided to watch it while I still could.
It was pretty much exactly how I remembered it, although I’d forgotten how much I love Antonio Banderas’s voice. Dude can SING! But the song that really jumped out to me upon this rewatch was “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” As I’ve mentioned before, I think most good musicals have one really underrated song, and this is Evita‘s.
I’ve never seen it on stage, but as written for it, this song is sung by Peron’s mistress after Peron leaves her for Eva. In the movie, this was changed so that it’s Eva singing it earlier, after the end of her affair with a singer, and there’s a very short reprise where the mistress sings just a few lines of it. (The mistress only has about two minutes of screen time in the movie.) But the fact that it can be used for two different scenarios is one reason why I like the song so much. The best show tunes are the ones that can stand on their own, ones you can understand without knowing the context into which it was written. It’s a breakup song that could really be sung by anyone feeling hurt by the end of a relationship.
Here it is in the movie, but I also found a YouTube clip of a version by the wonderful Samantha Barks, so I’ve included that, too.
Last week, I took a long weekend in New York for a little solo vacation. Aside from forgetting my phone charger and having to buy another one, it was a very successful trip. No hurricanes and I didn’t forget my pants! I also went to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the waitstaff sings to you while you eat, went to Coney Island on Saturday and rode the Cyclone, had some awesome pizza and garlic knots, and went to Central Park, where I went to the zoo and found the sea lions. (Ten years ago, on my pre-GPS first trip to NYC, Christiana Krump and I wandered around the park forever trying to find the zoo, specifically the sea lions, and never did. Mission finally accomplished!)
But none of that is the reason why I went there.
If you know me or have been reading this blog for awhile, you know of my love for and obsession with Les Miserables (and if you’re new, here’s my 3,500-word explanation of why I love it so much), so of course I had to go see it when I heard it was going back on Broadway. And I got even more excited when I heard how amazing Ramin Karimloo, who plays Jean Valjean, is. Listen to him here, singing “Bring Him Home” on Katie Couric’s show.
So on Friday (the 20th), I took the bus down and went to see the show. And Oh. My. God.
I’ve seen Les Mis in Boston a few times, but this was the first time I’d seen it on Broadway. I can say definitively that this was the best production I’ve ever seen, and unquestionably the best portrayal of Valjean. Ramin’s rendition of “Bring Him Home” brought me to tears—and that’s not even my favorite song from Les Mis! I thought that performance on Katie was good, but multiply that times a zillion awesomes and that’s how he sounded in person. I’ve never heard an audience applaud that long after a song not at the end of an act. And of course I was crying again a bit later during the finale. The cast was just wonderful—Caissie Levy, who played Fantine, was particularly impressive. Immediately, I went into my “Les Mis high,” a phenomenon affecting…well, just me, that will put me into an incredibly good mood for about a week after seeing Les Mis onstage. I talked about this a bit in this post, but while I don’t really like concerts and have never gotten the high from live music that so many people seem to, I do get that from musical theater, and that high is much stronger from Les Mis than from any other show.
I wanted to meet the cast at the stage door afterwards, but I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until Sunday that I read online that at this theater, the entrance is on 45th street but the stage door is on 46thstreet. So on Sunday, I grabbed my program and went back to the stage door after the matinee show. I met most of the cast and got their autographs and it was AWESOME! I also got a teeny glimpse of Idina Menzel, aka the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem, since the If/Then stage door was right next door.
Then came the moment I’d been waiting for—Ramin came out and signed my autograph and I told him how incredible he was. Then I asked if I could take a picture with him and he took this one of us.
HOT VALJEAN HAS TOUCHED MY PHONE, YOU GUYS.
The whole trip was fun, but man…this musical.
Sometimes it’s nice to have things to obsess over. It makes me feel alive to have so much passion about something, and my love for this show is now over ten years old. I love it even more now than I did back then, and I hope that never changes.
I’ll do another post about the events of last year, and I’m going to do some more substantial posts later on books, movies, and TV, at least, but I wanted to do this post on some of the things that I enjoyed the most this year. Without further ado:
October was my book month. Two books I’d been anticipating for a long time were published that month—Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Halfbook and The Disaster Artist, a book about the making of The Room by Greg Sestero, who played Mark. I also attended the Boston Book Festival, where I had conversations with J. Courtney Sullivan, Tom Perrotta, and Hallie Ephron. I read many other wonderful books throughout the year, and I’ll blog about them more in a future entry, but some highlights include John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.
The best movie I saw for the first time this year actually came out twenty years ago—Schindler’s List. I don’t know how I made it to this year without ever having seen this movie. And…wow. I have such a hard time talking about this movie because I’m not sure I can in a way that does it justice. It completely deserves the reputation it has—I will say that. And the very end has me in tears every time. (I’ve seen it quite a few times since I first saw it in August, most recently last night at Erin’s. Yep, our super-fun movie night was with a three-hour movie about the Holocaust.) It also motivated me to learn more about the real story behind it, so I’ve now read several books about Oscar Schindler and the Jews on the list- so many that I could tell where writers got their sources from. And there’s so much more I want to say about this movie that I’m not sure how to say, but just know that it profoundly affected me.
Future entry coming about the movies that actually came out in 2013.
The two TV shows I caught up with this year that I loved the most could not be more opposite. Parks and Recreation is this happy, upbeat show about nice people doing good things. Breaking Bad is a dark, tense show about an increasingly evil guy doing increasingly terrible things. They’re at opposite ends of this TV mood scale, but I loved them both so much- Parks and Rec because it’s funny and sweet and I enjoy all the characters, Breaking Bad because it’s incredibly well-written and acted and basically a masterpiece. (Yes, I’ve seen this clip.)
I also started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly for the first time. The week of the marathon bombing, I desperately needed something to make me laugh. Previously, I’d only watched these shows sporadically, but after that week I put them both on my DVR. They keep me sane.
I didn’t listen to much new music this year. I did listen to a LOT of U2. I’ve always liked them, but over the summer I started listening to them kind of obsessively and discovered some songs I hadn’t heard before or re-discovered songs I hadn’t listened to enough. As for new music, I enjoyed Sara Bareilles’s The Blessed Unrest, especially her song “I Choose You.”
Aside from the very welcome news that Les Miserables is coming back to Broadway next year, there was a lot of good theater in my life this year. I traveled to New York to see Lucky Guy on Broadway, which was wonderful and moving and…there’s so much I could say about it and maybe I will in a future post. I saw Wicked for the second time. I saw a local production of Les Mis. I also saw a great play in the fall called The Power of Duff.
Two devices have massively improved my life this year. I bought a Roku, allowing me to stream Netflix and Hulu on my TV, and it’s been fantastic. (Future post about everything I’ve been watching via Roku.) I also finally caved and got my first smartphone, which was a good decision. I’d always been afraid I’d end up spending too much time online if I had the Internet on my phone, but that hasn’t really happened. Plus, now I know when the bus is coming.
My two biggest celebrity crushes this year are both guys on AMC shows- Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul. It’s kind of interesting- with guys in real life, I’ve never been attracted to good-looking jerks, and I realized this year that even with celebrities, there’s a personality element present with everyone I like. Jon Hamm, I am convinced, is a perfect human being. I could look at him all day, and I think it’s a travesty that he doesn’t have an Emmy yet. But even if, for some strange reason, you’re not into his looks or his acting, you have to love him after this. And this. And this.
Aaron Paul (who does have two well-deserved Emmys), is possibly the most adorable person on the planet. I love him on Breaking Bad, where he played one of my favorite TV characters of all time, but he seems like such a sweet person, too. Read this. And this. And watch this clip of him on The Price Is Right before he was famous, because it’s hilarious. And look at his Twitter and his Instagram, from which I have learned that he really loves his wife and he really loves pizza.
Remember that if you take nothing else away from this post.
Happy New Year, all!
(Yeah, yeah, Les Mis again. For those of you reading this on Google Reader, pop over to my blog—I’ve actually started an “obsessing over Les Mis” tag.)
I think most popular musicals have one underrated song—the one that, when you first hear it, makes you wonder why you haven’t heard it before. For Wicked, it’s “The Wizard and I.” For Rent, it’s “Santa Fe.” And for Les Mis, it’s “Who Am I?”
This song comes at a point in the musical where Jean Valjean has learned that another man has been arrested and brought to court for his own crimes. In the song, he ponders what to do—should he say nothing, condemning an innocent man but also ensuring that the lives of the workers in the factory he oversees are not upset and that he will be able to care for Fantine’s daughter when she dies? Or should he go to court to set the man free, remembering the lesson he was taught years ago that set him on the path to reforming his life?
I love this song because it succinctly captures a moral dilemma without sacrificing the complexity of it. Valjean struggles with his identity—is he the mayor and factory owner responsible for the employment of many workers, or is he still the convict with the prison number 24601? Is he someone who can abandon those who depend on him? Is he someone who can let an innocent man suffer for his own crimes? Is he still the man he became after making the promise to the bishop years ago? Is he someone who can face the consequences of whatever decision he makes?
I wish I could find a good YouTube clip of the staging of this song. It starts out with Jean Valjean singing alone on a dark stage, and as it crecendos into the line, “Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean!” the courtroom where the innocent man is on trial appears behind him. When he gets to the last line, “Who am I? 2-4-6-0-1!”* he reveals his prison tattoo. But the brilliant Colm Wilkinson’s version here, at the 10th anniversary concert, is excellent.
IS IT CHRISTMAS DAY YET? AAAAAHHHH!!!!!
*Incidentally, these were the first words I ever wrote on this blog.
I love to sing. Love. To. Sing. It makes me happy like nothing else does. It relieves stress like nothing else does. Case in point: we had a shortened chorus rehearsal on Election Night, and the one-hour break in which I sang Vivaldi’s Gloria rather than watch election coverage was much needed and much welcome.
I love singing in the chorus that I’ve been with since 2008. I love singing karaoke with my friends. When I had a car, I loved singing along with the radio. Now, when I’m home alone, I love singing at the top of my lungs. When my roommate was away for the weekend, I spent the whole weekend singing “All That Jazz,” and “Defying Gravity” and the entirety of Les Mis for Juno’s entertainment.
Yes, this is how cool I am. I SING SHOW TUNES TO A DOG.* Although, I don’t think Juno minds- she’d probably sing herself if she could. My roommate and I are pretty sure that if Juno, who has very high self-esteem, could talk, she’d be singing a song that goes something like, “I’m the cutest! I’m the cutest! I’m the cutest!” (It’s not a very complicated song because she’s not a very complicated dog.)
In this period of gratitude, I felt like I should write about this because it really is something that has consistently brought me great joy. I’m not so sure if this will bring anyone else joy, but if you’ve ever wondered what my singing voice sounds like outside of KROD, here’s me singing “Back to Before” from Ragtime, a lovely song that I included on my “Sad Broadway” playlist. I am definitely not Marin Mazzie or Christiane Noll, and it’s a crappy recording that I did on my computer, but if you want to hear me, listen away. (And if you want to hear me and are reading this in Google Reader, open up my actual blog to hear it.)
*I also sing “The Juno Song,” which is to the tune of “Voicemail #5” from Rent and goes something like, “Juno/You are a puppy/Juno, I love you/You are so cute.” Oh, God, I’m going to regret revealing exactly how weird I am, am I not?
Only three months and about five days until Les Mis! Have you gotten the picture yet about how excited I am for this movie?
Les Mis is a wonderful musical—but not, by any means, a comedy. Except for “Master of the House,” most of its songs are incredibly sad. But I was just thinking about it and realized that a lot of my favorite show tunes are the sad ones. So I decided to make a playlist of the best sad songs from musical theater, bookended with two of my favorite songs from Les Mis. Because sometimes, you just need a bit of “Wasn’t it good? Wasn’t he fine? Isn’t it madness he can’t be mine?” or “There’s a girl I know. He loves her so. I’m not that girl.” Enjoy!
1. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables
2. “I Know Him So Well” from Chess
3. “You Must Love Me” from Evita
4. “The Last Night of the World” from Miss Saigon
5. “Aldonza” from Man of La Mancha
6. “Somewhere” from West Side Story
7. “How Could I Ever Know” from The Secret Garden
8. “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked
9. “Where Is Love” from Oliver!
10. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady
11. “Without You” from Rent
12. “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair
13. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease
14. “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from The Phantom of the Opera
15. “Memory” from Cats
16. “I Still Believe” from Miss Saigon
17. “Send In the Clowns” from A Little Night Music
18. “As Long As He Needs Me” from Oliver!
19. “Back to Before” from Ragtime
20. “On My Own” from Les Miserables