Poems To Read Based on Your Favorite Musical

We’re winding down Poetry Month with recommendations specially tailored for you based on your favorite musical. You’re welcome.



  • Every song in Matilda is a wordsmith’s dream, full of puns and linguistic play. ee cummings is one of the most playful poets out there, working with format, syntax, and suggestion to create provocative and delightful pieces. Here’s Tom Hiddleston reading “May I Feel Said He.”
  • Harryette Mullen is another master wordsmith who explores the resonances and connotations of words in pop culture and politics. See “Elliptical” from her appropriately named book, “Sleeping with the Dictionary.”


Passing Strange

  • James Baldwin would definitely identify with the young protagonist’s quest to live in a country that reflects his principles, and his struggle to stay true to himself. Baldwin explores the intersections of race, religion, and sexuality in his poems, essays, and novels. Check out “The giver”
  • Claude McKay is a prominent Harlem Renaissance writer whose work exposed the contradictions of the American Dream. Check out “America,” and basically everything else he’s written.
  • Rumi’s poetry is all about self-healing and finding authenticity in the noise of consciousness. See these selections.
  • Also, make sure to check out Muriel Rukeyser’s “Orgy” “…that’s right all three of them”




  • Part of Hamilton’s genius is its blend of history and popular music, making the oft-treated history of American independence feel fresh, accessible, and even subversive. But Lin-Manuel’s not the first wordsmith to put politics and cultural sounds together. See poet/activist Amiri Baraka and Yusek Komunyakaa, both fascinating intellectuals concerned with race, American politics, and its effects on daily life.
  • Puerto Rican writer Martin Espada was a tenant lawyer working with largely immigrant communities. His poetry draws on themes of law and activism, historical Latin American rebellion, and what it means to exists on the fringes of society.
  • Make the Schyuler sisters proud with feminist poetry from Dominican author Julia Alvarez and Puerto Rican Julia de Burgos.


  • On the precipice of marriage and adulthood? Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” probably won’t leave you feeling any wiser, but you’ll definitely get a laugh.

Avenue Q

  • Funny, accessible, sprinkled with deep musings on life? Billy Collins makes it happen.

Next to Normal

  • The Goodman family should really sit down together and read some Sylvia Plath, not only because of Plath’s own struggle with mental illness, but because so much of her writing deals with family problems and finding fortitude in ourselves.
  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is one of my personal favorites, a superbly structured meditation on loss that holds no emotional punches.
  • I hear a lot of Muriel Rukeyser’s “Book of the Dead”  in many of Kitt’s and Yorkey’s lyrics, particularly in “I Miss the Mountains”


Sunday in the Park With George

  • Seurat abandoned realism for his signature style of pointillism, preceding even more artistic experimentation in the early 20th century. Check out T.S. Eliot’s “The LoveSong of J Alfred Prufrock,” which is also rife with themes of masculinity, failed relationships, and artistry.
  • Painting complex images with simple dots is similar to what Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Williams Carlos Williams do with perception in their condensed, haiku-like forms.

Sweeney Todd and/or A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

  • A penchant for the dark side, have you? Satisfy your taste for morbidity with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm
  • Edgar Lee Masters wrote a collection of prose/poems called The Spoon River Anthology. Each poem represents one person in the local cemetery. Cheery stuff.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson had a similar approach to his poems “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy,” which whimsically recounts two men’s fateful demise.
  • For a more hopeful look at death, read William Cullen Bryant (what’s with the three-namers in this century?). His “Thanatopsis” got me through many a funeral.

Into the Woods

  • Sondheim’s not the first to love a good, dark, modern take on a classic fantasy. Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallott” is his most well-known, though I tend to go for “Ulysses” more often.
  • More takes on the Ulysses myth: Dorothy Parker’s “Penelope” and Margaret Atwood’s “Siren Song.” Both entrancingly subversive from a woman’s POV.
  • Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a fantastic fairy tale poem about a young princess who competes for her father’s affection with a young, wild forest woman. It’s full of sexual (queer?) innuendo and lots of speculation.


  • “La Vie Boheme” is definitely inspired by Walt Whitman’s ode to Americana “Leaves of Grass,” which in turn inspired “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg.
  • Sonia Sanchez’s “Wounded in the House of a Friend” plays out a spat between two lovers. It’s passionate, often hilarious, like watching your favorite soap.
  • Claudia Rankine is writing extraordinary poetry defining the 21st century. First with a multimedia reflection on post-9/11 America “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” and recently with the much-lauded “Citizen,” a provocative book on race.

This list could go on indefinitely. Feel free to comment with more suggestions!





Here’s How NYC Broadway Characters Would Vote

Congrats! You’ve voted and done your civic duty! But these people haven’t! Because they’re fictional, you say? Sure, okay. But really. Now that we’ve made our decisions, ho would these Broadway characters, all New York residents, vote for? Continue reading “Here’s How NYC Broadway Characters Would Vote”

Where’s the Body Positivity in School of Rock?

Photo: Matthew Murphy

New article up on Onstage Blog from yours truly!  Discusses how the film and musical adaptation of School of Rock differ in one fundamental way…Check it out!

‘210 Amlent Ave’ Has Charm But Little Drama

A young poet uncovers huge family secrets in the melodramatic, often predictable 210 Amlent Avenue. Written by Beck Goldberg (book) and Karl Hinze (music and lyrics) and directed by Samantha Saltzman, this new musical begins with the melancholy number “Here in This House,” in which we begin to unravel the characters’ unique relationships to the titular Hamptons property. For starters, Judah (Zal Owen), has returned to this house shortly after the death of his parents on a mission to learn more about his parents’ relationship to its owners, the Jordan family. Mrs. Jordan (Robin Skye), a well-known actress plotting a return to the stage as a writer, has just been widowed. Judah spent his summers vacationing there, and looks at the house with nostalgia and open-hearted possibility. On the other hand, Mrs. Jordan views it with the resentment of a prisoner. The supporting characters likewise have unique  relationships to the house. Leslie is a mousy, Cinderella-like nanny hoping to break free and finish her education degree. Sarah is Judah’s girlfriend, looking to score an audition with Mrs. Jordan. And neighbors Murphy and Claire have dreams of owning the place themselves.

With more nuance and a deeper exploration of these characters backgrounds and relationships, this musical could succeed as an enticing, character-driven show. As is, there is a lot left unclear. For example, we hardly get a clear picture of why Judah is so obsessed with his parents’ past, or why Leslie feels such an obligation towards Mrs. Jordan. When Judah finally discovers Mrs. Jordan’s secret (you can probably guess it now) and gets in the way of her financial and emotional freedom as a widow, she dangles his girlfriend’s acting career as collateral. However, by this point, Judah has already fought with Sarah and warmed up to Leslie, so we’re not left with much of a balancing act here. And the drastic measures taken by Mrs. Jordan and Leslie in the final scenes are even more outlandish and contrived, leaving us cold to their struggles.

The cast of 210 Amlent Avenue. Photo by Michael Kushner

210 Amlent Avenue succeeds most during character-centric, light-hearted numbers, with much proof to Hinze’s musical ability. Some standout numbers include “Making Sense,” in which Judah and Leslie share their love for clarifying literature, and “How We Stay Together,” when Claire and Murphy blithely celebrate their strong, affectionate marriage. Murphy and Claire are themselves highlights, due in part to Steven Hauck’s amd Nikki Van Cassele’s charismatic ease, as well as the character’s natural optimism. The musical could also easily be developed as a vehicle for the actress playing Mrs. Jordan; Robin Skye does an excellent portrayal here as a vulnerable, hopeful, yet authoritative and cold matriarch. Mrs. Jordan past earns further probing; perhaps time shifts throughout the show can energize the otherwise languid, banal Hamptons drama.

210 Amlent Avenue played at the 2015 New York Musical Theater Festival and ran from July 9-14.

The Perplexing Plots and Performances of “It Shoulda Been You”

It Shoulda Been You, now playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, has all the ingredients to make a Broadway hit for the Discerning Theatergoer™:

  • An original new musical not based on a preexisting film/novel/group of pop songs? Check!
  • A Broadway directorial debut by distinguished actor and Discerning Theatergoer™ fave David Hyde Pierce. Check!
  • A glorious ensemble cast filled with Tony Award winners (Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris), Tony nominees (Montego Glover), and future Tony nominees (Lisa Howard and Sierra Boggess)? Check times a million!
Lisa Howard and Sierra Boggess - Photo by Joan Marcus
Future Tony Award nominees Lisa Howard and Sierra Boggess. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

But sometimes, even the finest ingredients don’t add up to an appetizing dish. Despite its talented creative team, It Shoulda Been You has some issues that makes the production difficult to swallow.

First, the set-up: It Shoulda Been You spans the wedding day of Rebecca (Sierra Boggess) and Brian (David Burtka). Sierra’s older sister Jenny (Lisa Howard) is happy for Rebecca, but she isn’t so happy with her mother’s (Tyne Daly) constant comments on her weight and lack of a boyfriend. When Marty, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend, finds out about the wedding, he’s determined to stop it at any cost. He’s not the only one, as both the mother-of-the-bride and the mother-of-the-groom (Harriet Harris) disapprove of the marriage–and each other. Meanwhile, Rebecca and Brian are hiding a secret that would shock the entire wedding party if it came out.

This all sounds like the plot of a fun musical… if it were the only plot. But there are several other narrative threads in It Shoulda Been You that are begun but never fully developed. Why does Brian’s austere father have random impulses to break out into dance? How does the wedding planner magically anticipate every character’s needs? (And no, his response of having years of experiences working weddings does not cut it.) If all of these story-lines weren’t enough, It Shoulda Been You also hinges on a plot twist that, while certainly jaw-dropping, doesn’t have complexity and specificity.

Sadly, the same can be said for the rest of the musical. The music and lyrics are not particularly memorable and at times sound dated. The set also does not look modern, resembling a hotel that hasn’t updated its decor since 1996. The production’s few references also seem like they were taken from the pop culture archives: Marty admits that one of his weaknesses is watching infomercials, while one of the wedding planning issues centers on including paninis at the reception. Yes, you read that right. Paninis.

Dueling In-Laws. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Dueling In-Laws. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The one aspect of the show that doesn’t falter is its cast. Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris are both scene-stealers as monsters-in-law, while Sierra Boggess and David Burtka make an adorable bride and groom. Montego Glover shines in her only number. And with strong acting and a voice to match, Lisa Howard shows how amazing she is at leading a musical. (I hope we get to see her do it again, and soon.)

It Shoulda Been You definitely should have been better. Still, even with all of its weak elements, it provided an entertaining night at the theatre. But the Discerning Theatergoer may be less than pleased–and they’d be right.

For more info on It Shoulda Been You, click here.

Listen to our podcast for more thoughts on It Shoulda Been You.

Five Ways to Heal After The Sound of Music Live

SOML left a gaping hole in our musical theatre hearts. Here’s how to mend it so we’re all good and happy again.

1) As if watching the Mother Superior singing “My Favorite Things” with Carrie Underwood (right after she tells Carrie Underwood that she shouldn’t sing in the convent BTW) wasn’t bad enough, then NBC had to go ahead and cut “Confidence.” But then again, would we have wanted to add it to the long list of songs Carrie Underwood butchered? Watch she-should-have-been-casted Broadway singer Sierra Boggess sing “Confidence.”

2) Christopher Plummer may not be fond of his role as the original Captain Von Trapp, but we sure are. Let’s just flip through Tumblr and Google photos of young (and old, imho) Christopher Plummer.

Me? Yes? Now? Immediately? OKAY

3) In a similar vein-

Julie Andrews. That’s really all that needs to be said.

But I’ll say more, just in case that name doesn’t strike horniness adoration into your wounded hearts. EVERYTHING this queen has done is FANFRAKKINTASTIC and in case you need a reminder of it, watch the original SoM, or Victor Victoria, or Mary Poppins, or her recent Colbert Report interview, or even the Princess Diaries. Or just enjoy gifs of her throwing shade on everything and anything.

4) Laura Benanti’s and Christian Borle’s Inner Monologue Before the Show Aired: “Yes! NBC has been kind enough to resuscitate our television careers!”

Laura Benanti’s and Christian Borle’s Inner Monologue After the Show Aired: “Never again, NBC! Never again!”

Type either one of those actors names into Youtube, and just watch. There’s a 99% chance that whatever you pull up will be golden.

5) Remember that while the show ultimately stunk, it did pull in over 18.5 million viewers. And hey, NBC decided to air a live musical for three hours in their prime broadcast schedule instead of their usual repeats of The Voice, and that’s a huge plus for culture. Let’s hope the huge ratings convince television networks to take chances on shows like this more often.

Why the NBC’s “The Sound of Music” Won’t Suck (As Told Through Julie Andrews GIFs)

When I first learned that karaoke contest winner Carrie Underwood was going to play Maria in a new televised version of The Sound of Music, I was none too pleased.

Not only is Carrie Underwood a karaoke contest winner pop star, she is a country pop star at that. Her cutesy twang might fly for an Oklahoma revival, but The Sound of Music is a whole ‘nother story. And we’d have to be subjected to a live telecast, with no opportunity for dubbing or a gentle autotune?

I’ll see myself out, thank you.

I mean, network and cable television already air the 1965 film multiple times a year. And no one can sing on the hills better than Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews.

Come to think of it, I’m sure Julie Andrews would be available to reprise her role. She’s been ready to kick Mary Poppins’ ass for years now, so why not tackle The Sound of Music while she’s at it?

Then I saw the new teaser trailer for The Sound of Music, Live!

And found several surprises.

The supporting cast includes Broadway royalty such as Queen Audra Mcdonald, Archduke Christian Borle, Countess Christiane Noll, and Princess Laura Benanti. And then there’s the actor playing Captain Von Trapp: Stephen Moyer.

I have no idea if he can sing, but I am more than willing to find out.

Even Ms. Underwood sounds less twangy than I’d thought she would.

While nothing can compare to the original, I think we are in for a musical treat come December.

Fringe Round-Up Part 2: Petunia

From L-R: Louisa Flaningam, Lisa McMillan, Allison McKay, Ira Denmark

This quirky, but rather meaningful musical is my favorite Fringe show so far. Petunia tells the story of a couple who are long past their honeymoon bliss. Petunia (Flaningam) incessantly nags her husband Buddy (Denmark) to do something around the house for once. She sings, “There once was a man who lived on his sofa.” Petunia also has harsh restrictions on his lifestyle, most notably on his eating habits. One day, in the middle of an angry spat, Petunia keels over and dies. Buddy shows no remorse for his happy exhilaration. One of the first things he does is wrench the lock off the refrigerator.

After some time living an incredibly glutonous lifestyle, Buddy finds that Petunia’s soul has taken up residence in a houseplant, which re-institutes Petunia’s code for household management. Whether or not Petunia’s soul is ACTUALLY in the plant is really not a question; we’re made to believe that Petunia actually lives in the plant, even though Buddy’s family, including his mother, sister, son, and his pregnant daughter-in-law can’t hear her speaking through it.

The show’s music, written by John Levy, is really the best part of the show. Each number is fun, edgy, catchy, and has often unique messages. The songs reflect a wide array of genres, but all of them (okay, maybe minus two or three) left me with a big smile on my face. Its tone feels a little similar to Little Shop of Horrors, not necessarily because they both involve animated plants, but because they combine the right amount of wit, silliness, and heart.

The acting is also top-notch. Flaningam and Denmark are really exciting to watch. McMillan and McKay (playing Buddy’s sister and mother) are also great in their comedic supporting roles and I would have loved to see more of their characters throughout. I would also have liked to see more from Detectives Gomez (Enrique Acevedo) and James (Tyrone Williams), two cops who suspect the Petunia’s death is actually homicide. Their songs are some of the most entertaining in the show.

Now, while the show as a whole is great and I’d love to see it go on to become an expanded production, there’s a lot of little tidbits to clean-up. First off is the overall negative portrayal of women. All of the wives in the play are characterized as cruel nags, but none more so than Buddy’s daughter-in-law, Becky, who doesn’t have any redeemable qualities. Even when her solo song gave the show a chance to humanize her, it only gives her more time to lament the end of her partygoing ways.

There’s also the weird homicide investigation that pops up inconsistently throughout the play. I hope that the show keeps the investigation, but the execution of it needs to be much tighter. For example, every time the detectives presented evidence that Buddy killed his wife, I felt that it actually presented the opposite- that in fact, the death had been an accident. There wasn’t nearly enough attention or credibility in this sub-plot, nor in the final scene, in which, for spoilers’ sake, Buddy’s motivation is a bit unclear.

Some of the relationships between characters are also unclear. I spent 3/4 of the play thinking that Allison McKay’s character was Petunia’s mother only to get a scene where she swaps advice with her son, Buddy. Becky is also apparently married to Buddy’s son even though other points in the play suggest they’ve only been together a short time.

I highly recommend catching this show. Its last Fringe performance is this Saturday at Theatre 80 on St. Mark’s Pl.


NYMF Round-Up Part 3!

NYMF is winding down, but the festival still has some great new musicals performing until it ends Sunday, July 28th. Here are two that brought me back to my school years in all the best ways:


Crossing Swords is a musical retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac set in the fall of 1969, as the boys of St. Mark’s join the girls of St. Anne’s to put on a production of—you guessed it—Cyrano de Bergerac. Sir (Steven Hauck), the stuffy math teacher at St. Mark’s, grudgingly chaperons his students Jeremy (Lyle Colby Mackston) and David (Marrick Smith) over to rehearsals led by Miss Daignault (Linda Balgord). Jeremy wants to play the lead, while David wants to be closer to his “Roxanne,” a girl named Nicky (Ali Gordon). Jeremy offers to be David’s “Cyrano” and help set the pair up, all while hiding his own crush on David. In the process, the teens (and teachers) learn about life, identity, and the different forms that love can take.

At first, I turned a skeptic eye to the Cyrano story being retold through a high school production of the play. But Crossing Swords charmed me much in the same way as the 2008 film Were the World Mine did. (Were the World Mine has a similar premise: just replace Cyrano with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) The musical beautifully captures the awkwardness and innocence of adolescence, especially when David and Nicky practice their stage kiss for the first time. And Jeremy, David, and Nicky, despite their passions, are not the sardonic, alcohol-drinking, heavily sexualized teens that are featured in most teen-centric stories today. Their heartfelt coming-of-age story, while nostalgic, was a refreshing one to see. The teachers, too, have something special to offer, as Sir and Madame Daignault are dedicated to their students’ development, even though they clash on the exact methodology.

Marrick Smith (David), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), and Ali Gordon (Nicky) in Crossing Swords - Photo by Seth Walters.jpg
Marrick Smith (David), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), and Ali Gordon (Nicky) in “Crossing Swords.” Photo by Seth Walters.

Crossing Swords director Igor Goldin gives the production a seamless staging. He also brings wonderful performances out of the cast, who all approach their roles with naturalism and sincerity. The songs, written by Joe Slabe, have a gentle, almost pensive quality to them. The book, also written by Slabe, ties it all together with poignancy and a fair bit of humor. (One choice line, uttered by Sir: “Childhood theatrics are tantamount to child abuse.”)  The piece is so well-crafted that it doesn’t need historical references to the Stonewall riots and the moon landing. Crossing Swords already takes you to a time of its own, where love can be lost—and remade—again.

Favorite songs: “Let Me Be Your Cyrano,” “Heart on My Sleeve” (that has a melody I’m still humming), and “Very Good with Words.”

Steven Hauck (Sir), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), Ali Gordon (Nicky), Marrick Smith (David), and Linda Balgord (Miss Daignault) in Crossing Swords - Photo by Seth Walters
Steven Hauck (Sir), Lyle Colby Mackston (Jeremy), Ali Gordon (Nicky), Marrick Smith (David), and Linda Balgord (Miss Daignault) in “Crossing Swords.” Photo by Seth Walters.


There’s another little orphan with red hair and a similar name singing and dancing in a show a few blocks northeast of the PTC Performance Space. But Bend in the Road‘s source material isn’t a comic strip. Instead, writers Benita Scheckel (book & lyrics) and Michael Upward (music & lyrics) take on the classic children’s book series Anne of Green Gables.

Bend in the Road follows Anne Shirley, an orphan who is adopted by middle-aged siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The Cuthberts had expected a boy to help them on the farm, but Anne captivates the pair. While living with the Cuthberts, Anne gets in (and out) of scrapes, makes friends in the town, and finds her place in the world.

L to R: CJ PAWLIKOWSKI as Gilbert Blythe and ALISON WOODS as Anne Shirley in BEND IN THE ROAD at NYMF (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
L to R: CJ Pawlikowski as Gilbert Blythe and Alison Woods as Anne Shirley. (Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

I loved reading about Anne Shirley and her adventures in Prince Edward Island as a child, and equally I loved seeing Lucy Maud Montgomery’s characters being brought to life. Anne Kanengeiser and Martin Vidnovic bring a wonderful sensibility to Marilla and Matthew, and the fourteen-person cast all handle their parts with great aplomb. But a musical about Anne of Green Gables needs a strong Anne, and Bend in the Road has found it in Alison Woods, who carries the show on her small (but very capable shoulders). Woods, who resembles a younger Amy Adams in her speech (and overall adorableness), plays Anne as a real child and not as a caricature, while still imbuing her with a great deal of energy and precociousness.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Michael Upward’s music captures the timeless essence of Anne of Green Gables in the tradition of “literary” musicals like The Secret Garden and Little Women. The lilting harmonies transport you to the countryside of Prince Edward Island and are a delight to listen to. I hope that Bend in the Road will continue to have audiences of all ages in future productions.

Favorite songs: “The Lord’s Prayer,” a song between Anne and Marilla that instantly put a smile to my face, and “Walk Like Sisters,” a duet between Anne and her friend Diana.

For our other posts about NYMF this year, check out our NYMF 2013 tag.

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