Category Archives: Musical Theatre

I Have Returned

For the last year, my blog has been very quiet without any explanation to my subscribers and friends. I’ve posted very little, and very rarely. I wasn’t in any space to give notice or reasons, or to give a ballpark when or if I was going to blog again. This is all going to change right now.

Without going into all the gory details, or naming any names, in October 2017 my life fell apart in every single way. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, in just a few moments, everything I was sure of was gone. Just like that.

It’s hard when other people make bad choices. It’s hard not to blame yourself and then come to terms with the fact that you haven’t done anything wrong. Especially when people insert themselves into a situation, thinking they know the truth when they really have no idea. It’s hard when you find out you were lied to and used, for absolutely no reason.
It’s hard when people you thought were your friends, who you would have trusted with your very life, betray you in the worst way. And thanks to social media, escaping it is also next to impossible. My whole identity was brought into question, through no fault of my own.
On top of this, and really because of it, I was battling some serious health issues. Still am, even though I’m a million times better than I was.

I tried to write. But I couldn’t. I was physically incapable of doing it beyond the occasional short review, and I was too afraid to share it around like I normally would.
Writing is something very dependant on mood, emotions, headspace and personal feelings. I don’t know how on earth J.K Rowling wrote the way she did with the kind of pressure she faced.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that everything is perfect now. It’s not. I’m still rebuilding the person I want to be. But I feel I’ve reached a point to bring this blog back, and make it better than ever on top of everything else I’m doing.

I am sorry to all my subscribers and friends who’ve missed my work. I’m truly sorry for dropping off the radar like I did.  But I had to take care of myself first and foremost, and I have plans for my blog.

What’s coming….

  1. My Wanderlust recap of my incredible solo trip to Europe will be completed by the end of the year, as I plan my next overseas adventure. Travel blogging is definitely going to be a new venture for me, but obviously the arts are my number one passion and my site will ALWAYS be about them above all.
  2. As I take on new acting projects, you can expect to be kept in the loop and brought behind the scenes.
  3. My first artist interview is coming very soon, something I am hopeful will become a semi-regular occurrence.
  4. Yes, I have many critiques, reviews, lists and analysing blogs in my backlog. And they will be released as I see fit.

It’s great to be back.

 

Hamilton

Hamilton is the life story of the ‘ten dollar founding father’, the forgotten Alexander Hamilton.  And quite honestly, even that’s too much of a description because this musical needs no introduction. It’s become a Broadway phenomenon, currently sold out until January 2017. The Off-Broadway production won 8 Drama Desk Awards, including Best Musical. The original cast recording won a Grammy. Needless to say, it’s practically guaranteed to sweep the Tony Awards in 2016 and for good reason. It’s a good show. It’s a rich historical period piece with Lin Manuel-Miranda’s brilliant use of hip-hop and rap contrasted with sweeping ballads. The multi-talented composer/lyricist also plays the titular character, as was the case with his last show, In The Heights.
I won’t lie, I’m one of those irritating people who listens to it over and over (on my iPod, to be fair). I love it as much as anyone else.

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Hamilton has recently become the ninth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s now joined the ranks with Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park With George, RENT, and Next to Normal. Looking at the past winners, it’s fairly easy to discern the reasons for them winning the Pulitzer. Of Thee I Sing and Fiorello! were political satires. How to Succeed was social satire of the business world and ambition. South Pacific dared to comment on the roots of racism. A Chorus Line finally acknowledged the harsh reality of being an artist. Sunday in the Park with George delved into the mind of a genius and the choices we make in life. RENT talked about HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ issues at a time when they were rampant but largely ignored. And of course, Next to Normal is a raw and unapologetic piece about grief and mental illness. Nine musicals which I hereby dub The Fellowship of Broadway (patent pending).

While most of these musicals are rightly considered masterworks, there’s one or two that are questionable, like RENT or How to Succeed. And while Hamilton is an excellent show, it’s not perfect. No piece of art is, and that’s not even why it won. It’s dramatic, but not hard-hitting like Next to Normal.  The modern musical score contrasted with the colonial time period is wonderful, but nothing new (Spring Awakening, anyone?).  Overall, it’s not making any philosophical statements or social commentary. So what was it that scooped the Pulitzer Prize? It’s just the stage equivalent of a bio-pic.

And that is precisely why it won.

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The checklist re-emerges….

Hamilton’s subtitle is ‘An American Musical’. Truer words were never spoken. Much like historical films which comment on social norms at the Oscars, Hamilton is so red white and blue American it practically had to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Think about it. It ticks every box the academy likes.

Founding fathers of America? Check.
“Forgotten” Founding Father? Check.
Overcame a lot of hardship? Check.
Self-starter? Check.
Glorious telling of American history? Check.
Not-so-subtle stab at the British monarchy? Double check.
War hero? Check.
Tragic death? Checkmate.

Aside from the characters being historical figures and the story being about the founding fathers, every song is raising the flag. The only way you could make it more patriotic is if there was a giant bald eagle on the set and had curtains made out of the star-spangled banner.

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Can we shoehorn the Statue of Liberty in there somewhere?

I’m not saying this to bash Hamilton in the slightest. It’s a great musical. An excellent musical. I love it to death, I can’t stress that enough.  However, it’s so tied to the American culture and history there’s a question of whether it’s going to be as successful in countries outside the USA. A British production has been announced, as well as a production to open in Australia.

My partner and I were discussing this at length after listening to the soundtrack and he pretty much summed up what makes the story so good.
Hamilton doesn’t show whether characters are right or wrong, they just show you what happened and let you make up your own mind,”
That’s exactly right. The historical accuracy is of course down to creative license and what works on stage. But because they are old historical figures, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly what these people were like in reality. Hamilton is very clever at showing the flaws of everyone and the strengths, giving the audience an objective view of the story.

That is, except for one character. King George III.

Mr Burns is there so you can play Spot the Cartoon Bad Guy.

Poor King George. The lone Caucasian male actor in the show, the lone British character. And he is the most stereotypical Broadway villain in recent memory.
King George only appears three times in all of Hamilton, mainly to comment on America’s newly found independence and to gleefully chuckle over the state of their politics. His songs are catchy and fun, but he’s so cartoonishly evil and insane it’s hard to take seriously. Maybe that was the point. But what they conveniently neglect to mention is that the guy had a severe mental illness while he was in power. He shook hands with oak trees (allegedly), started every sentence with the word ‘peacock’ and adopted Prince Octavius.

“Prince Octavius” was a pillow.

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I remember the day we brought him home….

There’s a legit question of how British audiences will react to this. Although to be fair the Brits are big fans of self-mockery….and maybe if it comes to Australia we Aussies can focus on another political drama that isn’t our own.
If Hamilton is to succeed to the same degree outside of America, audiences will need to be aware that this is American through and through. That this musical is fiercely patriotic and with a very distinct sound.

Hamilton is a breath of fresh air for musical theatre. It’s taken a real story and adapted it for the stage, being true to history but still making it interesting, relatable and accessible for a modern audience. The racial diversity of the cast is inspired and the score is one of the best in modern musical theatre.

If you’re one of the two music theatre people who haven’t listened to Hamilton, go and listen to it. Even if you aren’t a musical theatre fan who somehow stumbled upon my blog, I implore you to give Hamilton a chance. You won’t regret it.

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Go ahead. We’ll wait.

I hope Lin Manuel-Miranda continues to share his gift with the world because I know I’m not alone when I say we want more from him. I’m keen to hear what he comes up with for the new Disney film Moana. He’s shown the truth of impoverished life with In The Heights and now he’s touching on American history with Hamilton. There’s a million things this guy hasn’t done yet, but just you wait.

Little Women vs Sound of Music

In 2013, I was still at acting school working towards my music theatre degree. One task for the 2000s music unit was to write a comparison between two similar musicals to present in class. Now, sadly I never got to present mine because of time constraints. What better way to rectify this than to edit the essay and post it here?

In 2005 the short-lived musical Little Women opened on Broadway, starring Sutton Foster as Jo March, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Based on the classic 1869 novel by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women had a huge responsibility bringing one of the most beloved stories of all time to the stage? Did it succeed? Not really. And why does it bear so many striking similarities to the beloved 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music?

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Little Women opens as Jo, an ‘impassioned girl of 19,’ receives her twenty-second letter of rejection from a prominent publisher. They tell her that her story is ‘tasteless’, ‘vulgar’ and she is advised to go home and have children, as “All women are made to do,”

This could quite possibly be the most half-hearted attempt to shoehorn in the misogyny of the era that I have ever seen. It’s a single line that’s never brought up again or even necessary to begin with. What did sexism have to do with Little Women in the first place? The answer is very little. In fact, I’m spending more time bitching about it on this blog than the show does. Moving on.
Jo reads her Operatic Tragedy to her mentor Professor Bhaer. Truthfully, her story is tasteless and vulgar. The Professor diplomatically suggests she could do better but like any good protagonist (there may be a hint of sarcasm here) Jo is too in love with her own work to take his advice on board.

And this is where the problems with characterisation starts. You see Jo’s most prominent traits. She’s passionate, opinionated and rather argumentative. And that’s pretty much where the character development stops for Little Women. The audience is only ever show the most basic character traits. Meg is romantic. Jo is passionate. Beth is sweet. Amy is pretentious. Marmee is….the mother. None of the characters are given enough expansion to seem human. They’re just stereotypes, if you could even call it that. Don’t believe me? Take Laurie’s introduction as Exhibit A.

The scene flashes back to two years earlier as Jo prepares her sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy, to perform an operatic tragedy that she has written. Now, I may be thinking too hard about it, but it seems even then, Jo had an unhealthy, almost sinister obsession with blood-and-guts in her stories. If I was a publisher receiving manuscripts like this, I wouldn’t publish them either. I’d be seeking a restraining order.
Anyway, feeling sad that their father is away at war, Jo brazenly decides to steal a Christmas tree from next door…because she claims to be full of energy and needs a task to do. We’re off to a great start here. Your main character steals a Christmas tree for literally no reason whatsoever. Is this a charming character trait or should we be emotionally disturbed?

When the rightful owner of the tree comes to give Jo the verbal bashing she deserves, Jo meets Laurie, her first of two love interests. The following dialogue, I kid you not, is far and away the most jarring introduction to a character ever written in the history of musical theatre.

He loves his trees. I’m Theodore Lawrence the Third. But everyone calls me Laurie. I’ve come to live here. In Concord. I play the piccolo. I can sleep standing up. And I won a medal at school for holding my breath for nearly three minutes before passing out. I think it was terrifically daring of you chopping down grandfather’s tree. Well, goodbye.”

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I did NOT just read that.

Call me a serial nitpicker, but this is just straight up badly written.

The whole book is like this. There’s literally never a genuine line of dialogue that doesn’t feel forced, contrived, or simply tell-don’t-show. All the critics generally agreed that the musical was like a speed-read of the novel, having the most obvious emotions and events but without anything that make is feel true or natural. There’s nothing for the audience to connect with. No character apart from Jo is given significant stage time to become anything. I don’t know how actors can work with a script like that. Even a great actress like Sutton Foster would struggle to make this work.
I’m sorry, but I’m struggling to analyse this musical here because there’s little to analyse except how bland it is!!!!

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Hades feels my pain

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s continue.

The Sound of Music obviously by Rogers and Hammerstein has obviously had far more success both on stage and screen, but it bears striking similarities to the story of Little Women. To describe the story from The Sound of Music is almost silly. We all know it. We’ve all seen it and we all love it. Both The Sound of Music and Little Women have a passionate young female lead searching for her place in the world. Both are energetic and outspoken protagonists who fall in love with an unlikely suitor. Both focus on a family, both are adapted from books and are both well-loved stories. Both Jo and Maria are beloved characters in the Western world, but why does Maria feel more human to the audience? And her romance, for that matter?

Julie Andrews in "Sound Of Music" - 20th Century Fox - Released March 2, 1965

The most beautiful sound I ever heard….

Maria is a young woman who wants to be a nun, but her free spirit is deemed unsuitable to the role. She is sent to be the governess to the seven Von Trapp children.Their widowed father has forbidden all happiness and music from their lives, but Maria’s enthusiasm and good heart soon wins him over, transforming their lives under the shadow of Nazi Germany. Maria learns that things do not always turn out the way you expect and is asble to accept that her life changes from the direction she believed it was going to take. She does not fight her mistakes. She accepts them, she learns from them and she does all she can to help people change for the better. Jo fights everything to get her way. She refuses to change or see that maybe, just maybe, she’s wrong.
The other characters in the Sound of Music are also far more developed, whether they are leads or supporting cast. Captain Von Trapp, by contrast with Professor Bhaer, is much more sympathetic and relateable. The Captain is given a legitimate backstory about losing his wife and how his grief has caused him to become cold and distant from his children. But through Maria’s influence he is able to change his ways and become a loving father as meaning is brought back into his life.
Professor Bhaer is given no backstory or any distinct objectives thoughout Little Women and he is not very interesting as a result. This doesn’t necessarily make him a bad character, he’s likeable enough but he’s not explored particularly deeply.

Even the side characters in the Sound of Music are more interesting. There are seven children in the family and yet we all remember them because they’re all given distince, memorable personalities. Liesl of course forms the secondary romance with Rolfe, which also does not end in the typical fashion of happily ever after. Rolfe joins the Nazis, and Liesl has to accept that she can’t be with him, which is a far more realistic outcome than Laurie marrying Amy after being rejected by Jo. Even Elsa Schraeder, who very nearly steals the Captain’s heart, is given some very good scenes to work with. She could very easily have been considered an antagonist, but she has an understable motivation for wanting Maria out of the way. But in the end she realises that she was wrong and leaves of her own accord. How often do you see something like that in a love story? EVER?

As for Little Women, in terms of my most hated writing mistake of all, the dreaded tell-don’t-show, this is a script to behold.
In Act 2, after Beth dies, Marmee says to Jo “Nobody did more for Beth than you did!” Great, what exactly did she do for Beth? All we saw or heard of Jo doing was taking Beth to the beach and at the risk of sounding heartless, Beth seems pretty energetic for someone who’s apparently on their deathbed. The same goes for when Professor Bhaer is apparently falling in love with Jo. He is not seen a great deal and his one solo number is him wondering whether he has feelings for her. There is no real feeling of time passing or the characters developing in new ways. And does Jo develop feelings for the Professor herself? It’s insinuated in their final duet, but not explored in the least.

Look, it’s an adaptation of a very famous and dense book. But there’s adapting a novel to the stage and there’s stripping out anything that gave it substance, which is exactly what the creative minds behind Little Women have done. The stage directions are kind of generic, the dialogue is all over the place and it thinks it’s saying a lot more than it actually is.

Oh, and you can forget about character subtlety or underlying themes. At one point Amy burns Jo’s writing out of sheer spite, because she really doesn’t have a motivation or anything like that. You don’t need to wonder what might happen to their relationship as a result, because it’s obvious that Amy burning Jo’s work is going to cause sparks to fly, pun fully and unashamedly intended.
The little substance that desperately tries to appear just gets whacked over your head. Enthusiasm is important! Family is everything! Jo is a total nightmare at times, but it’s ok because she’s PASSIONATE!

The Sound of Music however devotes time for all the subplots to be fully realised. The main story is of course Maria’s journey towards changing the family for the better and finding romance in the end The moments where Little Women somewhat shines are the scenes where the family interacts, much like in the Sound of Music. It seems the strength of Little Women comes more from the cast, and particularly the actress playing Jo whereas the The Sound of Music is so charming and well written it can stand on its own as a wonderful piece of theatre without relying on talented actors to gloss over the flaws in the script.

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You can still have incredible actors though 🙂

Another aspect of The Sound of Music which cannot be ignored is the near-perfect score. My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and the title number are just some of the songs that are now standards. There’s no denying that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote a score that was far more memorable and enduring. Little Women’s score screams that it was rushed out. The melodies get the job done, although they aren’t all that phenomenal, just sort of bland and generic and the lyrics were very accurately described by the Broadway critics as “uneven”. Granted, I have heard far worse (Love Never Dies springs to mind), but any line which goes I work and I eat/life is muffins and jam is going to make me snicker. Little Women’s score is pleasant enough but the music has not and will not become ingrained in the world’s mind as The Sound of Music has. Another reason for this is that every song in The Sound of Music fits the narrative and drives the emotion and story. Little Women does not. Take for example the scene where Jo and Meg are going to the ball. The resulting musical number is how to respond if they’re asked to dance.
Yeah, um, what’s the point of that? Does it develop the characters? Does it have any bearing on the story at all? You could sum that up in a few sentences! It doesn’t call for a musical number!

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In case you’re wondering, Little Women only ran for 137 performances.

In my opinion, The Sound of Music is the stronger theatrical production overall for several reasons. A stronger protagonist, a more developed cast, a more believable romance and more memorable music.

Little Women‘s failing was in the writing, both script and score, and there was honestly no excuse for this being the case. This isn’t a dumb jukebox musical like Mamma Mia or Moulin Rouge where you shoehorn in every tired cliché known to man. This is a beloved classic story that has meant a lot to five generations of women.
Little Women frustrates me because I KNOW there’s a good musical in there somewhere. It had so much potential with more guided adaptation and dramaturgy. The music could have been something very special if there was more time and effort put into it. It could have been so much more.

Maybe one day Little Women can be given the theatrical treatment it deserves. But if you’re looking for a classic story of family, love and courage done right, I’ll point to The Sound of Music every single time.

Is RENT a Masterpiece?

It’s the show that inspired many and has a devoted cult following of RENT heads. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and is said to be groundbreaking. It’s the show that caused people to camp outside the theatre in the hope of $20 tickets. Jonathan Larson’s RENT.

Opening on Broadway in 1996, RENT is loosely based on the opera La Boheme. Over a year, it follows the lives of  eight Bohemian friends (Mark, Roger, Mimi, Joanne, Maureen, Collins, Angel and Benny) who are living in New York during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mimi, Roger, Angel and Collins are all living with the disease. Mimi battles drug addiction. Roger dreams of writing ‘one great song’ before he goes. Mark works on a film. Angel and Collins are deeply in love. Lawyer Joanne struggles with her girlfriend Maureen’s flirtatious nature. Maureen stages protests and Benny has turned his back on his Bohemian principles.

Of course, what really propels the memory of RENT is composer/lyricist/writer Jonathan Larson’s tragic death the night before the first Off-Broadway preview at the age of 35. But the show must go on, and go on it did. RENT was a huge hit with audiences, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor, as well as 6 Drama Desk Awards. It ran on Broadway til 2008 and has spawned many productions and tours worldwide. A film was released in 2005 starring most of the original cast and the final Broadway performance was pro-shot on DVD. Like I said before, fans of the show (Rent-heads) have been known to literally camp outside the theatre in the hope of getting tickets.
As I said before, RENT won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, becoming one of just eight musicals in history to win the honour. All awards aside though, RENT is usually touted as a masterpiece of theatre and evokes a powerful reaction from RENT-heads. It’s a popular choice for community theatre and just a few days ago a 20th anniversary tour was announced. I myself was involved in a production of RENT while studying my musical theatre degree and had the time of my life.

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By the way, who’s had to sing Seasons of Love in choir singing?

However, is RENT really the masterpiece it’s often proclaimed as? Is it worthy of the pedestal it’s placed upon?

Well, quite honestly, no.

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RENT heads assemble

Wait, RENT heads! Don’t scream for my blood!

I don’t hate RENT. I like it. I think it’s a good show. I just don’t think it’s perfect. I think i has some glaring flaws that people overlook on a phenomenal scale. That doesn’t make RENT a bad musical. It should be watched and celebrated, all aspects acknowledged. Maybe consider this as an acknowledgement of what doesn’t work in RENT, as so much has been said and written about what does work. Maybe it’s time to consider the other side.

The characters aren’t all that well developed

If you read the casting brief/character descriptions, all the characters call for ‘excellent’, ‘strong’ or ‘good’ actors. This struck me as being oddly specific.
On first glance this seems like a no-brainer. Generally speaking, the arts require ‘good’ performers. But I have a theory about this, and some people might not like it. I believe that the reason RENT needs particularly talented actors/singers is not just due to the vocally demanding nature of the show. It’s because the characters are written quite sketchily. There’s little to no backstory given for them, and not many of them change and grow in the story. At least, not in an obvious way. It’s up to the actors to portray these characters and make them real. This requires performers who are exceptionally skilled in their craft working overtime to make these characters into three dimensional personalities. And the character who is the hardest?

Maureen

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I know a lot of people are going to hate me for this, but it has to be said. Maureen is the weakest character in the show. I’m always astounded by how many people love Maureen. I think Benny has more to work with than her.
Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, is Mark’s ex-girlfriend, leaving him for lesbian lawyer Joanne. And that’s pretty much the extent of her characterisation. The only aspect of her personality is how apparently ‘sexy’ she is. She’s irresistible to both genders. Men and women alike fall over themselves to get to her. Apparently. It’s all tell-don’t-show. Sure, she kisses another woman in front of Joanne, but Maureen initiates it all. Never once do you see anyone begging to go to bed with her or flirting with her. It’s all Maureen and the other characters talking about it.
Maureen expects Joanne to be completely ok with this. She has no sense of loyalty or commitment to her partner and revels in her supreme attractiveness. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, she’s a serial cheater. Yet we’re all supposed to be accepting of this as a delightfully quirky character trait.
All this wouldn’t be a problem if this was part of a character arc. But of all the characters, Maureen is the only one to get precisely no development. She doesn’t change, learn anything or develop in any way, shape or form. She just has an on-off relationship with Joanne which eventually becomes permanently on. This is NOT character development, despite what many people think.
To her credit, she’s got some great fun songs, and she does stage protests, but you don’t really get the sense that this is for the good of others. I think there’s a lot of truth to Benny’s statement “Maureen is protesting losing her performance space. Not my attitude,”
MAUREEN IS NOT A WELL WRITTEN CHARACTER. Run, Joanne! Run!

There’s a lot of ‘tell-don’t-show’, and many plot threads don’t add up

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I loathe the dreaded ‘tell-don’t-show’. For those not aware, ‘tell-don’t-show’ is any time the writer decides to state something about a character or story detail while providing no commentary or proof. The Twilight Saga had this in spades.
In RENT, there’s a fair bit of this too, and it starts with the casting brief. The character descriptions gives a lot of details that are not in the show, or are only given the most flimsy of air time. Benny ‘eventually realises his friends are more important’. Only in a single act of paying for Angel’s funeral. And by the way, I never understood why Benny is supposed to be such a douchebag. They never actually say what their problem with him is. Wait, I tell a lie. It’s because he dared to get married. Granted, he isn’t the nicest guy around but is it possible that he became this way because all his friends turned their backs on him? “Ever since our wedding, I’m dirt!” Anyone?
The timelines don’t add up either. Mark says he’s going to fix Maureen’s equipment and then suddenly he’s back with Collins and Angel having not gone!
Then, in a fashion that would make your average Disney Princess shake their heads, Angel and Collins fall in love after a few hours. Yes, it is a few hours. The show opens December 24th, 9pm, Eastern Standard time. There’s a Life Support Meeting at 9:30. Maureen’s protest takes place at midnight. Angel says he’s ‘been hearing violins all night’. No. It’s been two hours MAXIMUM and last I looked that is not all night. This is not love at first sight, which, you know, doesn’t exist in reality. You can have lust, attraction and interest at first sight, but real love takes a lot of time to develop.
And while I’m on the subject, what the hell is Mimi doing with seducing Roger? Let’s think about this logically for a moment. She has HIV, and she’s trying to sleep with a guy who isn’t interested. Yes, he has HIV too, but she doesn’t know that. There’s no way to spin that this is an incredibly selfish thing to do, but it’s totally ok because ‘no day but today’. But don’t worry, once he finds out she has HIV too, boom! They’re in love. At least their love story has conflict and legitimate problems. I can’t justify her actions though. Nobody can. I may like RENT, but these are some pretty serious flaws in both character and story.
Joanne is ‘committed to helping those less fortunate’. When? When do we ever see that happen? Mimi says “Angel was one of my closest friends”. WHEN?!? I don’t think they even share a single line of dialogue. Mimi has ‘lived a lot of life’. How? What information do we get about this in the show? Is it her drug addiction that’s hardly mentioned at all? Speaking of which….

The Movie: Good or Bad?

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Does fan service work?

I’m a lot more forgiving of the 2005 film version than most people are. It’s one of the few movie musicals of this day where all the actors could sing and act effectively. The problem was, with the exception of Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, the actors were all far too old for these characters. They’re meant to be playing 20-somethings while pushing forty. I have nothing against older actors, but this is incredibly distracting. Having the original cast to make the fans happy was a very bad idea. Fan service is not always a good thing.
I loved the way some songs were handled, such as Another Day, One Song Glory and the opening number with the burning eviction notices. But at the risk of being controversial, there is one plot point which I think the film did BETTER than the stage show.
Mimi’s drug addiction.

In the stage show, Mimi apparently struggles with a heroin addiction. We never see her use. She buys it once in front of the audience. She doesn’t have any symptoms, she never tries to quit for real and it’s really not interesting. But in the movie, we see her genuinely struggle. Film has the power of montage and visuals, so we can see a lot more. I really believed Mimi’s battle in the film, because they showed there was one to have. I didn’t in the stage show. There was little sense of actual urgency in the script. It’s all up to the actors and director to try and add some sense into everything.

Despite popular opinion, it’s not groundbreaking

RENT is often professed as groundbreaking. I disagree. Rock musicals had been around since the 70s with shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar. As for the subject matter and characters, it’s pretty similar to HAIR.
Although if someone has a counter claim on how RENT is groundbreaking, I’m all ears.

Now, what DO I like about RENT?

I love the music. The music is undeniably excellent. It’s catchy, melodic, fits the style of the show and really does drive the emotion and story. People say the lyrics are terrible. Well, they’re definitely not Sondheim, but I’ve listened to Love Never Dies and NOTHING could be worse than those.
Not to say that some of the songs aren’t unnecessary or less-than-good. For instance, you’ve got Roger’s big songs. Roger’s driving point is that he wants to write ‘one great song’ before he dies. One Song Glory is the song he sings about his dream, and it’s far better than the great song he ends up writing. Your Eyes is…well, it’s not exactly terrible, but it’s not memorable or engaging and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Mimi’s eyes aren’t a recurring theme or something Roger continually refers to. He only says ‘brown eyes’ in a passing line and that’s not particularly enthralling.
Mimi, if you think this song is worth coming back to life for, it’s really not.

 

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Sorry to disappoint

And then you have Santa Fe, the most pointless song of all. It’s not necessarily a bad song, per se, but it’s just so….meaningless. This is a filler song to behold. Think about it. You could take Santa Fe out of the show and it would make absolutely no difference. I think it’s only there to give Collins something to do other than fawn over Angel.
Whenever I hear a pointless song in a musical, and let’s face it, most musicals have at least one song you could get rid of and lose nothing, I call it the Santa Fe of (musical). In the production I did, our rather brilliant director made Santa Fe a drug trip. He did the impossible. He made Santa Fe interesting.
The musical is also very well paced. There’s action, but there’s enough moments of silence and quietness so there’s time to breathe. And even though it’s flawed, I love the subject matter and what the musical was trying to say.

RENT isn’t a bad show. It’s unfinished. RENT needed another rewrite or two after the road test of previews. I think a lot of the fans see things in the script which are hinted at, tantalisingly close to reality but because Larson died, it was never completed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this COULD have been a pretty spectacular musical. There’s something very special in RENT, it’s just not fully realised.  You can see what Larson was trying to accomplish. If he had lived, we’d probably have a more polished and better show. But would it have been as successful? We’ll never know.

Take RENT for what it is: not a masterpiece, but a work in progress that became a musical phenomenon. And I for one, will enjoy the aspects of the show that I enjoy, relish in the memories of the 2013 production and wonder at what might have been.

Take it or leave it.

Into the Woods: From Stage to Screen

Into the Woods is without doubt my favourite musical of all time. I consider it a masterpiece of story telling. The characters are wonderful, the score is flawless, there’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama and the story is beyond ingenious. It’s also pretty much the only time I will ever admit to being an original cast snob. The DVD recording of the original Broadway cast remains one of my most beloved possessions.

The movie was stuck in development hell for years, but when it was finally announced for a 2014 release, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited at the thought of seeing this show being immortalised in cinematic form. On the other hand, I was apprehensive. With a show this good, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Plus, this is a very hard adaptation to pull of since the musical is so theatrical, and has the advantage of an intermission.

However, the movie had a stellar cast (so I thought) and the director of Chicago at the helm, so I put any preconceived notions behind, and went to see the movie. And what did I get? A mixed bag. There were some elements that were done perfectly, and other elements that didn’t even make it up to bat. It’s definitely not the best musical movie but there was still so much the filmmakers got right. And overall, I quite liked it. So what worked? What didn’t? Let’s take a look.

Oh, by the way, spoilers ahead.

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It’s your last warning!

Into the Woods, for those of you who don’t know, is based on the 1987 Tony Award winning musical composed by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. Into the Woods cleverly interweaves the classic tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel alongside an original story about a childless Baker and his wife. When a Witch reveals she cursed the pair to infertility in vengeance against his father, the Baker and his wife are tasked with finding four magical ingredients. The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. As you can imagine, the characters all cross paths as they go to get their wishes granted, and everything ends happily….for the first act. The second act goes into detail about what happens after ‘happily ever after’ as the characters are forced to face the consequences of their actions in Act One.
This was one of the first examples of twisted fairytales. It brings the stories into the world of reality, by showing how life doesn’t always have a happy ending and what you want isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. It’s really the ultimate ‘be careful what you wish for’ message.
All the characters, main or supporting, have beautifully defined personalities that go beyond the fairytale archetypes. This is a true ensemble piece, and everyone has a realistic and developed character arc.
This story could have been a cluttered mess, and granted it is a rather dense plot, but it’s told in a way that never leaves you confused or lost. The pacing is excellent, and you have an even distribution of comedy and drama. They aren’t afraid to make you laugh and they don’t shy away from raw emotional scenes either. There’s a lot of very clever fourth wall jokes, the best one being the characters feeding the narrator to the Giant in Act 2. The score is absolutely brilliant (come on, it’s Sondheim!) with sweeping instrumentals and clever lyrics that only Sondheim in all his genius can supply.
It’s about as perfect a musical I can think of. If I had to nitpick anything, and I mean really scraping the bottom of the barrel, the ending does drag on just a little bit too long. But that’s honestly the only thing I can think of.

Ok, ok, I’ve sung the show’s praises. Time to compare.

The original cast starred Bernadette Peters (The Witch), Joanna Gleason (Baker’s Wife), Chip Zien (Baker), Danielle Ferland (Little Red), Ben Wright (Jack) and Kim Crosby (Cinderella).
In the film we had Meryl Streep (Witch) James Corden (Baker), Emily Blunt (Baker’s Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince), Lilla Crawford (Little Red), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), and Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel). Generally speaking, this is solid casting, with most of these actors being good choices for the roles and many turning in strong performances. James Corden and Emily Blunt carry the film exceptionally well as two ordinary homemakers thrust into a world they don’t understand. Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, though both too young for the roles imbibe them with youthfulness and energy. None of the supporting cast (Christine Baranski, Billy Magnussen, Johnny Depp, etc) stand out in negative ways, but the actress who really blew me away was Mackenzie Mauzy. Rapunzel isn’t a giant role in the musical and considering how much of her story was cut (which will be discussed later) she created something truly heartfelt and mesmerising.
However, this cast was not without weak links. As I said, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone , while doing a good job, were both too young. Personally, I think Jack comes across as more comical when played older (around 18-20), considering the dynamics with his mother. As for Little Red, she’s always played by an adult who looks young (20-25 or so) for reasons that become dazzlingly clear as soon as the Wolf appears. The sexual tension in that scene just becomes creepy otherwise. I rolled my eyes when the Wolf opened his jacket, revealing an array of lollies. Subtlety? What’s that?
As for Anna Kendrick, her singing sounded lovely (possible autotune?) but her acting was…lacking. Granted, Cinderella is probably the hardest character to play in Into the Woods, but it can definitely be done. Kim Crosby turned this role into something quirky, funny and strong willed. Anna Kendrick let so many lines fall flat and missed a lot of opportunities for comedy and real drama. I don’t know if it was the character choices or the director, but her Cinderella came off as bland and not very interesting.
Then we have Meryl Streep. When I heard she was cast as the Witch, I was hyped. She seemed the perfect choice, no question. So we have the legendary actress of our time…in one of the most confusing performances I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch her, I shake my head and have less idea what she was trying to accomplish. She’s so over the top, but with no focus or reason. She adds all this weird physicality; it’s like she’s incapable of being still. I don’t know what went wrong here. It’s like she was afraid to be grounded and commanding and thought the safest option was to ham it up to 11. To be fair though, her singing has improved miles since Mamma Mia (which I am NOT planning to review any time soon, by the way) and her crowning moment was during Stay With Me. It’s not a bad performance per se, but it’s certainly not what I wanted or thought I was going to see from such talent. And in such an iconic musical theatre role. Bring on Bernadette Peters any day.
The music, however, is the star of the film, and it sounds magnificent with that orchestra. It sounds lush, epic, and majestically carries the plot forward. The staging of the songs is at times extremely clever, such as On the Steps of the Palace freezing time or the visuals in I Know Things Now. My favourite number by far was Agony, which was absolutely perfect. It’s one of the few male duets in modern musical theatre, and one of the funniest. Both Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen work off each other fantastically and the rivalry dynamic works a charm. The waterfall was a creative setting too (actually, the movie was visually stunning and didn’t rely on it either!). I do wish the reprise had been included, but you can’t have everything you want.
The only song I really missed in the film was No More, which is actually my favourite song from the musical. I can kind of see why it was cut though. Without the Mysterious Man, and therefore very little of the Baker’s Father, the song may have felt shoehorned in. But this also created a world of problems. Without the song, the Baker didn’t have much reason to return. His father’s speech made little impact. There was no decision made about whether to keep fighting on. The Baker just walks away, cries for less than ten seconds and suddenly he’s ok. Sense! Please make it!

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There weren’t all that many changes to the story, and most of the changes I can understand and even like, because hey, it’s a movie, not a stage show. Having the Baker narrate the show was an inspired move, although I did miss the Mysterious Man. I’ll also admit I laughed out loud when the Baker’s Wife became pregnant in a microsecond. At least they had the smarts to actually make a joke about it.
But I do have one problem with the movie, and unfortunately it’s kind of a big one.

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Great, good, meh, awkward, good, good, …what?, good, good, hilarious

In my humble opinion, the biggest mistake the movie made was not killing off Rapunzel. Why? Because it pulls the entire second act apart. In the stage show, Rapunzel suffers from Post traumatic stress disorder and post natal depression from her treatment at the hands of the Witch. The Giant’s wife climbs down the second beanstalk looking for revenge on Jack for killing her husband and stealing their things. Fair enough.  In the initial confrontation, the Narrator is fed to the Giant, Jack’s Mother is accidentally killed by the Prince’s Steward, and Rapunzel is trampled to death. The Witch sings Lament over her adoptive daughter’s fate, and spends the rest of the show trying to give Jack over to the Giant in revenge.

In the movie, Rapunzel simply tells the Witch she wants nothing to do with her anymore and rides off with her Prince. And that’s it. We never see her again.

This plot change was revealed prior to release, but the producers assured us that Rapunzel would still have a tragic ending. But this is far from a tragic ending. The Witch singing Lament, while still a beautiful song, has much less impact when sung about a person who has simply released a toxic person from their life. Additionally, because Rapunzel doesn’t die, the Witch has zero motivation to go after Jack. She has no reason to want the Giant dead. This also waters down the Last Midnight, as the Witch’s role as the ironic voice of reason is lessened since she has nothing at stake.

I realise the producers probably didn’t want to upset the kids in the audience by killing off Rapunzel. But here’s my argument: just who do they think this story is aimed at? It is not a children’s story. There’s a number of reasons why there’s a junior version of Into the Woods. Fairytales were originally dark and gruesome. They were cautionary tales. Killing off Rapunzel is one of the many brave choices James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim made in the original. None of the characters are in the right. The things they wished for didn’t bring them true happiness. There have been serious consequences, including death. In most fairytales, the Witch would be the villain, but as I said above, here she’s the voice of reason. The writers of the musical were not afraid of these changes in the pursuit of the message and story they were telling. The movie is another example of Hollywood being terrified of giving audiences the truth.

But at the end of the day, this is still a good film of a very difficult adaptation and it’s not getting out of here without a recommendation. Still, I would also highly recommend checking out the original Broadway cast DVD. Whichever way you choose, Into the Woods is musical theatre at its finest.

CATS

There are some things in life that we as a species will never understand. Why is Family Guy still on? Why are there $2 fees at ATMs? Why do telemarketers always ring during dinner?

For me I will never understand, til the day I die, how on earth CATS ran for 18 years.

It may seem obvious, but I’m not a fan of this show. At all. I don’t think much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contribution to musical theatre is anything to scream about, with a few exceptions. I’ll always love Phantom, and Tell Me On A Sunday will remain a beloved part of my personal vocal repertoire.

But CATS, upon its recent return to Australia, having last played in 2014, seemed to reignite the flames of debate, of whether this is a beloved musical theatre classic or deserves to be shot. The casting of pop star Delta Goodrem in the iconic role of Grizabella caused more than a few raised eyebrows in the music theatre community. Once opening night rolled around and reports of a rapping Rum Tum Tugger appeared, the purists emerged from their ivory towers to cry sacrilege on fixing what was never broken.

Sorry, purists. This show is not only broken, it’s shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the four corners of the earth. It’s an unholy mess. It’s one of those musicals where I just shake my head and ask “How?”
How did this show run for 18 years?
How did it sweep the Tony Awards?
How did it win Best Musical? Best BOOK?!?

So, how did CATS all come about?
Well, the entire show is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by the great T.S Eliot. It’s a collection of very creative poems about, what else, cats! It’s nothing phenomenal but it’s good harmless fun. Apparently, as a child, it was one of Webber’s favourites. And just to get this out of the way, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a childhood classic into a musical (Seussical, anyone?). It’s how you do it that makes or breaks it.
No, this is not a review of the current Sydney production. I suffered through this exercise in egomania once and not a lot could entice me to willingly sit through it again.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that CATS is destroying the source material. It’s not. And the poetry does lend itself to the musical theatre medium, but I’ll get to the music later. What I’m doing here is analysing the musical as part of the genre, and why I don’t think it works as a musical, to say the least.

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Here’s your first hint

CATS is a curious case. It’s so awful, it’s actually kind of fascinating. There are times where I wonder whether it can legally be termed a musical, since most musicals have storylines and characters.
CATS does not possess these. See, T.S Eliot’s estate actually forbade the inclusion of a story and this is where things start to go wrong.
You can pretty much summarise the plot of CATS in five words. Weird creatures dance on junkyard. And that concludes our synopsis. I bet we’re going to be in for a wild ride here.
As the show opens, the audience is introduced to the Jellicle tribe. The cats dance around the stage and sing about all the wonderful and pointless things the Jellicle cats can do. And they’re also not kind enough to explain what the heck they are.
Clearly, these cats are not traditional felines, and they aren’t human. So….what are they? Where did they come from? What is their purpose? No? Nothing? Hello, confused audience here? ….Seriously?

Oh, they’ll happily tell you off as an audience for not knowing what they are. I’m dead serious. The following are actual lyrics from the end of the opening number.

There’s a man over there with a look of surprise
As much as to say well now how about that?
Do I actually see with my own very eyes
A man who’s not heard of a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat? (They repeat this 5 more times)

For a second you think they might actually tell you, but instead they launch into a rather creepy song about how they get their names. I don’t care how you get your names, I want to know what on earth you….things are!
And when they tell you how they get named, they don’t actually single out any cat so they have an identity. No, it’s just a list, a roll call of sorts, and it goes on forever. Actually, all the songs go on forever. WIth no dialogue, no story and nothing to hold your attention, I suppose it’s only fitting that they need to have something to extend the ‘action’ on stage. But there’s extending, and there’s pointless padding, which this musical has in spades. Every single song goes on for well over four minutes. Every. Single. Song. And remember how I said there’s literally no dialogue? I hope you have a comfortable seat, because things get boring fast.

As soon as the estate said a story was not to be included, this SHOULD have been a major red flag. Maybe, just maybe, musical theatre runs best when there is a flowing narrative.
I’ve had some fans try to tell me that the show is a song cycle. NO. Songs for a New World is a song cycle. Edges is a song cycle. CATS is not a song cycle. They’re clearly trying to tell something here, and with the restrictions placed on the production, it’s just not possible to make it the least bit interesting.

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Great, you’re dancing again. Now will you please DO SOMETHING?

So there’s no story. Well, maybe the characters can be fun and bring some life to the proceedings? I think you give this show way too much credit. There’s about a much personality in these characters as a rice cake. The general ensemble of cats don’t even get much of a chance at development or identity so they all sort of blend together, and the cats that do get songs are rarely seen again. They aren’t even that important in the grand scheme of things. And you know what? When the show opened on Broadway, the cast was very confused about what they were doing.
When your own cast has no idea what’s going on, you’ve really run into trouble.

Despite being forbidden to have a storyline, there’s still a few laughable attempts at creating some kind of narrative. Macavity shows up occasionally, and for some reason the cats are disgusted by Grizabella’s presence, though neither “plot threads” are ever actually given any motivation or justification.
Macavity is allegedly the antagonist, though a presence is barely established. Don’t try to tell me that the less you see the better. That only works if there’s a build up to the climax, and there’s ZERO build up here. Macavity isn’t even mentioned until he first appears in the shadows with an evil laugh. They never say why Macavity is so evil or what his problem is with everyone else. He isn’t talked about, foreshadowed, and the song about him tells us very little. The most you glean is “he’s not there!”
*sigh* Two things.
1. What kind of criminal hangs around at the crime scene?  Do you honestly expect that?
2. These “crimes” Macavity is committing are little more than harmless pranks. And frankly he doesn’t seem scary to begin with so I have trouble believing he’d be pulling off anything worth worrying about.
The bottom line is, Macavity is a useless antagonist. He never seems a legitimate threat to anyone. So….WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUY? Just a half baked attempt to put another pointless song in? That’s pretty weak.
Oh, Grizabella. Nice to see you suddenly appear for no reason into the plot. Oh, that’s right. We need to pretend there’s something going on other than dancing. Grizabella is an old grey cat, who was apparently once glamourous, but she isn’t anymore, and for some reason the Jellicle tribe hates her. She only comes on to get ridiculed before singing sadly and leaving. Le sigh. You could take her out of the show and you’d really not have a major difference. But of course, she sings that one song and everyone swoons.
And I’m just going to say this now. Memory can go die. In a fire.

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My face throughout the entire show

This is definitely not a case of the music saving a show, like Chess or RENT. The songs for CATS are sub-par at best, even for Andrew Lloyd Webber. There’s song after song after song with no purpose. Pretty much the only thing you can get from these songs is that these are nominees for the Heavyside Layer. Riveting.
Normally I might not mind this. After all, Spring Awakening‘s score comments on the action rather than driving it forward, but like I said before, these cats are rarely seen again. They are not consequential. And from the second Grizabella staggers onto the stage, you know she’s going to be the one chosen.
By the way, what exactly is the Heavyside Layer? Yeah, they aren’t going to tell you that either.
For me, this is the most fascinating thing about CATS. And by fascinating, I mean fascinatingly bad. This show spends the entire running time explaining everything, and never actually manages to explain anything at all. Grizabella and Macavity are one thing, but what about the other questions that are never answered? What’s the Heavyside Layer? What are these things? What is going on? Why should I care? Can I stop watching now, please?

CATS is a marvel. Truly a gift to bad theatre. There’s just nothing here. Nothing to like. Nothing to be interested in. Nothing to care about, nothing to hold your attention.
I will give the cast a huge amount of credit, because to get through this show you need to be a superhuman. And the choreography is impressive, but after about ten minutes the sheen wears off and you crave something more.
The only reason this show won so many awards is because of Webber’s involvement. It was made at the height of his reign as King of Musical Theatre, so audiences were willing to swallow anything regurgitated onto the stage. It’s a dancer’s show, so it was kind of a new idea, and I’ve heard it referred to as the first ‘concept’ musical, though what ‘concept’ it was I would love to know. I can’t even give it the excuse of being style over substance. This isn’t like Love Never Dies, where I can at least understand people being sucked in by pretty visuals. See what you’ve done, CATS? You nearly made me justify Paint Never Dries. Bad kitty.

If you like CATS, fine. Go ahead and like it. And if you think it has a storyline or legitimate answers to any of the questions raised, then please tell me. I am beyond curious. I’m praying for the day the industry finally wakes up and realises that Australia needs and deserves better quality musical theatre, not just endless revivals of the same dull shows that aren’t even that great to begin with. Until then, and possibly after, I’m tossing this kitty litter out into the cold where it belongs.

 

Being Wendla Bergmann

Warning: Contains spoilers on Spring Awakening

From June 15th -17th 2015 I had the honour of playing one of the greatest female roles in modern musical theatre. Wendla Bergmann in Spring Awakening.
Even though we had a very limited season and the rehearsal period was long and stressful, as I reflect on the journey, I have no regrets on undertaking this character. I’m closing the chapter on the biggest role I have played to date, and I want to share some of my thoughts on Wendla and what she has meant to me.

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Spring Awakening is a 2006 rock musical based on German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name. At the time of its 1906 premiere, Spring Awakening was so controversial in its unapologetic depiction of teenage self-discovery with themes of rape, abortion, sado-masochism, homosexuality, suicide, etc that it was deemed pornographic, and subsequently banned or censored. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s take on the classic resulted in a wonderful juxtaposition of period drama and contemporary rock. With a thrilling score and clever staging (ok, maybe I am a little biased), Spring Awakening swept the 2007 Tony Awards, winning for Best Musical, Book, Original Score, Supporting Actor, Direction, Choreography, Orchestrations and Lighting.

The strangest thing about Spring Awakening and how it is treated in musical form, is that the contemporary influence shouldn’t work at first glance, but it honestly does. And the reason it works is because the story, characters and subject matter have stood the test of time and are instantly relatable. For me, the heart of the story is a cautionary tale about what can happen when people simply don’t communicate effectively. In Spring Awakening, the parents and other authority figures in town refuse to be honest with the teens about life and what they are going through physically, and this results in tragedy.

When I first found out that I had been cast as Wendla, I won’t lie, my first emotion was fear. I was terrified of the enormity of the task set before me. I had so many doubts it was hard to know what to think.

Can I really do this?

Can I carry a show?

How can I do this show, and this character justice?

But I was about to discover a lot about Wendla, and in turn, myself.

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Despite popular opinion in the musical theatre world, Wendla is not a Disney princess (disclaimer: I’m referring to the early age princesses who literally did nothing. Snow White, Aurora etc. Belle, Megara, Jasmine etc are awesome). She’s told she’s a delicate flower, but inside, she’s Black Widow. This is a strong female, and she’s smart. Wendla has a brain, she’s just never been given permission to use it. And this is a big part of the tragedy of Wendla. There is wasted potential in a short life. And finally, she is not a victim. She’s a victim of circumstance, but that doesn’t make her weak.

Once I’d realised that I wouldn’t be playing a fourteen year old Barbie doll, I was able to delve deeper into Wendla’s story and what happens to her throughout the show.

©2010 Andy Snow

This was never going to end well

During the run, we had a matinée performance for schools, because Spring is now on the HSC syllabus. Unfortunately for these poor kids (some were in Year 10), the teachers forgot to advise them on some of the content, and it’s safe to say they were pretty shell-shocked by the end of the performance. We did a Q&A session afterwards to nearly five solid minutes of silence before they finally began asking questions.

Their first question? “Are youse two together?” one asked, referring to myself and Logan, who played Melchior (the looks on their faces when I pointed out that my partner was actually sitting at the drum kit with the rest of the band was beyond priceless). They wondered how I had coped simulating sex onstage with someone who I was not romantically involved with. Quite honestly, the hayloft scene was not the most confronting for me. (Interestingly enough, neither Wendla nor Melchior expresses love during their romance. The only character to say “I love you” is Ernst) I had wondered initially how I would cope with it, but in the end, it was much easier than I had expected. This was due to a few reasons. Firstly, I was very comfortable with Logan (Melchior), since we’d worked together before. Also, I had total faith in the directors, knowing they would never make me do anything I was uncomfortable with or that was distasteful without serving the base story.

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I made my mother so proud in this scene…

Later, some of the students and their teacher approached me to ask more questions. They hated Wendla’s mother for not telling her the truth about where babies come from. Then they were worried that I had gotten hurt during the scene where Wendla gets beaten and seemed genuinely shocked when I explained that I was never actually touched by the stick. But what seemed to upset the students the most was Wendla’s death from a botched abortion. Even though it’s never seen by the audience, the mere thought is enough to make one’s blood turn to ice.
Wendla’s fate is nothing short of horrifying, and worst of all, it’s through no fault of her own. She seeks knowledge, and is denied it. She gets seduced into having sexual intercourse despite having literally no idea about what she’s doing, and ultimately winds up being punished for something beyond her control. With such a huge emotional journey throughout the show, I knew most of all I wanted to play Wendla with dignity and strength.

There’s a brilliant video series on Broadway.com called Character Study, where they film an actor getting doing hair/makeup before a show and discussing what makes their character tick. My favourite of these is stage legend Tony Sheldon discussing his role as Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. “The scariest thing about playing Bernadette I think is letting people down who have actually lived her experience….they have to be honoured,”

(The full video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpIaFH7f0Gs)

His words have resonated with me ever since. I had a responsibility to Wendla and to people who have a similar story. Wendla is a fictional character, but make no mistake, her story is not unique. I did the research on the medical procedures of the day and it was beyond awful. I’ll admit, I even had nightmares about what I uncovered. But I’m still so glad I did my homework, because I don’t think I could have done it justice otherwise. I didn’t take this role lightly either way.

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We didn’t get many reviews for Spring. Some were complimentary, one was rather critical. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The audiences loved what we did, and considering all the difficulties in bringing the show to the stage, I was very proud of my performance and the rest of the cast.

It’s now time for me to say goodbye to Wendla Bergmann. She’s been a good friend to me these past few months and I’ll miss her. She’s taught me so much about justice, life, death, innocence and bravery. I hope I did her story justice.

To sign off, one audience member asked me what my favourite song in the show is. And I would have to say The Guilty Ones, for the lyrics if nothing else.

Something’s started crazy
Sweet and unknown
Something you keep in a box on the street
Now it’s longing for a home
And who can say what dreams are?
Wake me in time to be lonely and sad
And who can say what we are?
This is the season for dreaming
And now our bodies are the guilty ones
Who touch and colour the hours
Night won’t breathe, oh how we
Fall in silence from the sky
Then whisper some silver reply……