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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.

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Matilda

  • 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.”

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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”

 

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Hamilton

  • 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.

Company

  • 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”

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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.

Rent

  • “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!

 

 

 

 

LMezz Guide to Watching Theater On Screen

It’s hard to find filmed theatrical performances! Of course, there’s nothing like being part of a live audience. But when a show is either too expensive or too far away or already ended, it’s nice to know that filmed performances last for us to see. Feel free to comment below with other links or tools you use to watch filmed theatrical performances!

Digital Theatre is amazing for watching shows from across the pond. For a small charge you can rent filmed performances from hot West End tickets and there’s a really wide selection to choose from. I watched last year’s acclaimed production of Merrily We Roll Along, and not only was the show excellent, but the platform was super accessible. Lots of theater companies are featured too, like the RSC, the Menier Chocolate Factory, The Young Vic, and more.

RSC’s Live From Stratford-Upon-Avon broadcasts performances to cinemas around the world. So does Globe On Screen Check their online schedule for participating theaters in your area. DVDs are often released of these tapings.

Because why wouldn’t you want to see Tom Hiddleston take a shower on a 50 ft. screen?

Okay, honestly, the West End is on their game and Broadway needs to take note. National Theater Live is yet another British-based resource for watching hot West End performances. I’ve seen a number of these productions (Coriolanus, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Frankenstein, Habit of Art) and they’re all pretty awesome. The price of the ticket a bit more expensive than a normal movie ticket (usually $20-25), but it’s so worth it!

Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd

Unfortunately PBS is the only legal way that we know of to watch American Broadway productions. Watching fully-staged productions is even harder. Unless you get a magic pass to the New York Public Performing Arts Library, or you find magic bootlegs on Youtube, or your show gets a magic DVD release (like Passing Strange or Memphis) it’s kind of impossible.  New York Philharmonic’s March production of Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson will be aired on PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center series later this year. Great Performances is also amazing for catching filmed performances, and it looks like PBS is also amping up its digital game– you can now watch tons of recent performances, like Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, Sting’s The Last Ship, David Tennant in Hamlet, and about 25 other full episodes (plus many more scenes and clips). Opera lovers have lots more options, since the Met Opera has an On-Demand service.

 

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