Sara and Mariaisabel wonder why American Psycho didn’t receive more acclaim, and discuss all the ways race, religion, and sexuality intersect in Stew’s new musical ‘The Total Bent.’
Yesterday, Deaf West Theatre began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 to perform at this year’s Tony Awards. Their Broadway production of Spring Awakening garnered a Best Revival of a Musical nomination, as well as a nod for director Michael Arden. The show was critically acclaimed for adapting the original punk-rock musical for a deaf cast and for incorporating sign language into the spoken dialogue and choreography. The cast also performed at the White House as part of a celebration of inclusion in the arts. The show closed in January after a limited run.
The campaign has raised $45k towards its $200k goal, which Deaf West claims will be used to “to fly our cast back to New York, we have to get the costumes and instruments and props out of storage, we have to pay for rehearsal space since we don’t have a theatre…and the actual expense of performing on the broadcast!”
Performing at the Tony Awards means having a nation-wide platform for the latest shows appearing on Broadway. For a currently-running show, this is usually an unquestionably necessary marketing investment for a producer in the hopes of drawing in summer tourists. For a closed show, a Tony Awards performance could mean building hype towards a national tour and other future incarnations of the show, or simply a way to document the show’s successes in front of a (much) wider audience. Spring Awakening falls into the latter category, but already has announced a national tour in 2017. Deaf West, its producers, its cast (even those who may not be in the national tour),and creative team will certainly receive more attention from the broadcast.
Then, there’s the more artistic rationale for the broadcast. A televised performance would widely promote Spring Awakening’s message of inclusivity, acceptance, and integrity, especially towards people with disabilities. D.J. Kurs, artistic director of Deaf West, says, “There’s just one night a year that theater gets this platform. Our performance will be an undeniable statement to the world that theater is for everyone.” While this statement is not entirely true (Spring Awakening and other musicals have multiple opportunities nowadays to appeal to nationwide audiences, including performances on morning and late night shows and the livestream of its White House performance), a Tony performance would definitely be a testament to arts inclusion in a year full of discourse on diversity in theater.
But who should really foot this $200K bill? Many closed shows have tried to find funds for a Tony performance and failed. Honeymoon in Vegas, for example, settled on a reunion concert the days after the ceremony after receiving no nominations. Others somehow found the means to perform– Anyone remember that out-of-nowhere performance from Bring It On, co-written by
some guy Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Yes, Deaf West is a nonprofit theater organization (as it emphasizes in the Kickstarter description), but the company and its producers will undoubtedly profit from nationwide attention. This isn’t a little-known, struggling theater company hoping for a boost in the right direction. This is a show with a launched tour, with one of the most successful Broadway producers backing its revival, with several nationwide performances under its belt, including one in front of the Obamas. Despite the honorable intentions of its inspiring cast and creative team, despite the advances the show has gained from its inclusive practices, we are dealing with a FOR-PROFIT Broadway show. Again, its producers WILL profit from this televised performance.
Producer Ken Davenport blogged about the campaign, stating “the financial books are just about buttoned up now. We don’t have $200,000 to spend, no matter how important it is to all of us that this cast get the chance to appear on the show. And honestly, even if we had the money, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible for us Producers to ask our investors to foot this bill.”
This language is misleading and unethical. Davenport is the leading investor of this show. He famously single-handedly decided to transport the show from L.A. to Broadway. He, his co-producers, and his pool of investors almost certainly can get the $200, 000 to spend. In fact, it’s their job to do so. And if they don’t, well, you lose out on an investment opportunity. For your tour, your production’s legacy, and your cast and creative team. It’s a bit like a corporation asking customers to donate food items for their underpaid actors. That’s an extreme comparison, but one similarly rooted in the language of capitalist venture. It places the burden of charity, and a certain guilt, on anyone other than the people who profit from the inequalities being perpetuated. Davenport’s not Sam Walton, and theatre doesn’t make nearly as much money as bully retailers, but Davenport has everything to gain from your support.
So please, keep your money. This Kickstarter promotes the facade of a grassroots campaign when really, it’s something more of a hoax.
The Frozen sequel was announced over a year ago, and given the typical trajectory of Disney sequels, it’s time for the Arendelle sisters to get married. But let’s give Frozen credit where its due. The first film upended the traditional Disney princess narrative by grounding the story in the sisters’ relationship rather than a romantic one. Frozen is widely seen as a progressive film for this, as well as for Elsa’s released repression, characterized in “Let It Go,” or that-song-you-only-just-stopped-hearing-everywhere. Because they did so in the first film, we can reasonably expect the writers and producers of the upcoming sequel to approach their characters with sensitivity and integrity, and to approach storytelling with an awareness of their place in pop culture and their responsibility to young fans.
So when the Twitterverse created #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, my first reaction was to determine if this a gay Elsa would be a true Elsa– whether the movement would turn Elsa into a face for a movement instead of honoring her as a living, breathing character. As someone who analyzes cultural aesthetics for a living, my instinct is to make sure that the story and the character remain intact.
And yet, I think I need to question that instinct. What’s wrong with making Elsa a face of the LGBT movement? (in many ways, she already is) Why can’t lesbian women find representation in characters other than the few provided to them already? (I dunno, Alison Bechdel? Jessica Jones? Willow from a decade ago?) What’s wrong with tying artistic decisions in social justice, even at the risk of feeling too forced or too preachy or too politically correct? We have to allow our art to root itself in the society of its audience, not force it to exist in some sort of aesthetic bubble.
Besides, the more I think about it, the more Elsa seems like a incredibly natural pick for a queer princess. Shamed into hiding her icey powers from an early age, Elsa runs away from the kingdom at her coronation because she is unnatural, just as she nears adulthood. ‘Let It Go’ is widely seen as an LGBT and/or feminist anthem, as Elsa empowers herself by embracing the parts of herself she once repressed. There’s also a clear link between Elsa’s empowerment to her sexuality: the tightly-pulled hair comes loose, her dress transforms to show more chest and thigh, her hips…become some major hips. Elsa’s release feels like a sexually and emotionally transgressive act, clearly against the norms expected of young women, brimming with self-assurance and hope.
Elsa never expresses romantic interest in anyone of any gender, so she’s still a blank slate in that department. For all we know, Elsa might never need or want a lover. But Disney has a real opportunity here to continue creating a complex, fully-realized character for whom homo- or bisexuality could an option. #GiveElsaAGirlfriend isn’t just a politically correct move. It isn’t about the gay agenda. It is about a clear chance to honor a character’s arc, while also honoring the experiences of fans around the world who identify with her.
Good theatrical songwriting is like tailoring a good custom suit. While it may be easier and cheaper to buy a suit off the rack at a department store, the luxury of going to a tailor is to find a perfect match for your tastes and measurements, uniquely proportioned to your every need or desire. It’s the sensation of walking out of a store with a one-of-a-kind object in your possession. The suit is an extension of yourself, created for you with only you in mind. And yet, it’s also made for other to admire as a work of artistry, perhaps even to imitate. Continue reading “‘Bright Star’ and the Horrible, No Good, Nonspecific Song Lyrics”
“Hamilton has no responsibility to hold colorblind casting. The show itself is not colorblind… it would change a fundamental part of the show’s message. But more importantly, it would show actors of color around the world that white privilege has once again manipulated the industry to feed its own needs.”
We saw the new (new) Roundabout revival of She Loves Me, a classic romantic musical regarded by many as one of the best in the genre. But I’m not going to sit here and gush about its perfect songs (Harnick and Bock might be my favorite songwriting duo), its fantastic cast (Benanti? Levi? Krakowski? Y’all come back now, ya hear?), and its inspired direction (Scott Ellis proving that second chances are not to be wasted). No, you can go read just about any other review of the show for that.
Instead, let’s get deep into this musical’s central questions: What is love?
baby don’t hurt me How do we know when we find it? And why can’t we see it even when it is right in front of our faces. There’s a reason why this story has been adapted so many times, why it has gained such a popular fan following despite its short Broadway runs. These are questions we all ask ourselves at some point or another, and our answers can greatly impact how we perceive ourselves in relationship to others as well as to society.
This is part 1 of my 2-part analysis of true love in She Loves Me and how the characters’ workplace impacts their relationships and identities. Here we go, dear friend!
Amalia Bosch is confident that her date tonight will be the love of her life. The only issue is she’s never met the guy. She doesn’t even know his name. She and her ‘dear friend’ have been corresponding anonymously in letters for months, and are finally meeting for the first time. When Ms. Ritter, her colleague at a local perfume shop, questions Amalia’s hasty judgment of the man, Amalia assures her in song, “I don’t know his name or what he looks like/ but I have a much more certain guide:/ I can tell exactly what he looks like inside.” Amalia and her mystery man bond over their views, their reading interests (Amalia includes a long list of authors they both admire including Flaubert, Dumas, Swift, and Tolstoy) and she insists they are perfect for each other.
Ms. Ritter, on the other hand, has the opposite approach towards love. She seems to fall for men on first sight without knowing much about their personalities. This includes Kodaly, a wily salesman who abuses all of Ritter’s second chances. This relationship ends with Ritter vowing never to trust a man so blindly again.
Are we supposed to believe that Amalia’s approach to finding love is better? That her feelings for ‘dear friend’ are more genuine than Ritter’s naïve love for Kodaly? Perhaps when the show was first performed in 1963, this question could have been answered with a more confident ‘yes.’ Amalia faithfully persists in corresponding with dear friend and seems to be rewarded. She puts aside all doubts about his looks or status, and ends up with a great match: Georg, a co-worker she despises in person, but whose true self comes out through his anonymous writing. At the shop, Amalia and Georg are too burdened by their worries, their job status, and their pride to actually connect as real people. But when they write, they can let their true selves shine forth.
We’ve come a long way from the Lonely Heart’s Club, though. Today, our postmodern experience with social media might have us doubt the whole idea of a ‘true self.’ It is apparent now more than ever how people portray different selves in different situations. Our avatars on Facebook or OkCupid or Linkedin are manipulated to display the best possible versions of ourselves to appeal to a certain type of friend, partner, or employer. What books I list on my dating profile might lead viewers to dismiss me as too conventional, too intellectual, or too avant-garde. And does a shared interest in Flaubert ever really equate true romance? If that were the case, online dating would have solved all our romantic issues a decade ago.
And how is it that two people who claim to know each other so well hate each other upon meeting? Are the characters’ personas obliterated in the workplace because of their anxieties and pride? Or does Amalia not really know her ‘dear friend’ as well as she’d like to think?
Take the musical’s most famous number, “Vanilla Ice Cream.” Amalia, who still does not know the identity of her date, calls in sick after being stood up. She decides to send him a letter to clear up any animosity between them. Georg, meanwhile, knows her identity and guiltily brings a pint of ice cream to her home. Amalia’s song starts with her writing voice: an elegant, prosaic, and romanticized tone as if she were writing in the lofty voice of poet. It’s even typically sung with a bit of a lilting accent (in both Benanti’s and Barbara Cook’s versions).
Then her writing is interrupted by her new surprising interest in Georg. When she thinks about Georg, the lyrics become more genuine, more accessible (‘That Georg…/is not like this Georg,/ This is a new Georg/That I don’t know!”). The tempo picks up, reflecting the unpolished, rambling thoughts bouncing happily in her mind. This is the purest version of Amalia we see.
It is in this song that we see how starkly different love-letter Amalia is from the real Amalia. Love-letter Amalia is a cosmetic, manicured version of herself. She edits herself to become like the romantic heroines of her books. Georg, similarly confesses to Sipos that he lies in his letters to make himself more appealing. In order to find love with each other, Amalia and Georg have to disassemble these pretenses and approach each other as they truly are—an amalgam of all their different selves, even if they contradict each other.
Sara, a ‘Hedwig’ novice, and Norma, an obsessed fan, finally see ‘Hedwig’ together and discuss their thoughts about the show. We talk about Taye Diggs’ performance and the significance of the first black Hedwig, the press’s awkward and insensitive coverage of the show, and the show’s gender and romantic themes.
Warning: We do let the occasional curse slip every now and then.
Links to things discussed in our podcast:
That insensitve NYTimes profile (seriously now)
While Hamilton and Burr duel just a few blocks away, the New York Musical Theatre Festival brings us another infamous, Olympic-sized rivalry set to song. Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera has become a highlight of the summer festival, and it’s easy to see why: it’s gloriously camp and relentlessly energetic with a scandalously good cast bringing home the gold.
Jenna Leigh Green and Tracy McDowell as Nancy and Tonya. Photo by Robert Pushkar
Unless you were born after 1994, you’ll know that the titular competitors refer to figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Their battleground? The 1994 Olympics, where both Harding and Kerrigan compete on Team USA. The two women were from polar opposite American backgrounds. Harding was a Portland-raised, truck-driving, gun-wielding high-school dropout who was perceived as a ‘bad girl’ in the press. Kerrigan was graceful ingenue from middle-class New England, with sweetheart looks enough to cover Time Magazine. Scandal erupted when Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gilloly hired a hit man to whack Kerrigan on the knee shortly before the competition. The rivalry grew only more fierce until neither woman winning the gold in the end. Written by Elizabeth Searle (book and lyrics) and Michael Teoli this new musical tracks the girls’ upbringing, their competition, and the aftermath.
Campy, self-aware comedies thrive in festival environments– the low-budget, makeshift limitations of a festival like NYMF or Fringe do more favors for fast-paced, witty works than serious, realist dramas. Tonya and Nancy, however, manages to give us a thrilling, high-quality production with all the heart and passion of an indie comedy. The ensemble here works their faux-skates off with well-choreographed, dynamic numbers and serve multiple roles. Their energy was astounding. Jenna Leigh Green is a great fit for fresh-faced Nancy, and is reliably graceful in both her defeats and victories. Tracy McDowell is a hilarious Tonya, playing up her naive penchant for bad boys and bathrobes. Liz McCartney plays both mothers (Nancy’s simple and kind mother versus Tonya’s drunk, crude mother)– her quick changes and inventiveness are highlights of the show. And Tony Lepage has powerhouse pipes and charm, even as scumbag villain Gillooly. Yet, Searle and Teoli always treat Nancy and Tonya with good will and perspective. The show may be satirical, but the author’s sympathy for the womens’ situation shines through at all times. The songs are not only entertaining and thoughtful, but also tremendously catchy–my feet couldn’t stop bouncing throughout the entire show (sorry, neighbor!)
If you were enraptured with this saga (along with millions of others around the world), go see this show. You will shout with glee and love for this good-natured, endlessly entertaining show. And if you didn’t, you’ll catch on soon enough, and the work’s ingenuity will be enough to keep you hooked.
Tonya and Nancy: A Rock Opera plays at NYMF through July 16. Tickets here.