When Les Miserables came through town recently, I found out that one of that production’s actors, Felipe Bombonato, was a veteran of a local company, Glow Lyric Theatre. I’ve long enjoyed the work GLOW does (and actually got to appear as Doc in their production of West Side Story a couple of summers ago).
I met up with GLOW’s founding power couple, Jenna Tamisiea and Christian Elser, to talk about their upcoming season and their memories of Felipe. I also talked to Felipe on the phone and then put together this story for the Greenville Journal.
I was thumbing through a notebook just now and saw a note that reminded me of this song.
Back in February, a social media friend lamented that no one had ever written a song for her, so I did. One of her points was that her name is not pronounced in the typical fashion claw-deen. So I tried to pronounce it the way I thought it was pronounced based on what I’d seen. And I think I did it completely wrong. I think, now, that the first syllable is pronounced “cloh” (rhymes with low). But I somehow got it into my dumb head that it was “clow” (rhymes with cow).
So on the plus side, I wrote her a song. On the way big minus side, I — like every other casual acquaintance in her life — screwed up the pronunciation of her name.
(Also I asked my son to hold the camera when I shot this, so, it’s not as steady as your average viewer might like.)
Today I started listening to the book How Music Works by David Byrne.
I was struck by the opening sections, by the thesis he lays out, and am looking forward to hearing how he develops it further.
context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn’t sound like much of an insight, but it’s actually backward from conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion, from an upwelling of passion or feeling, and that the creative urge will brook no accommodation, that it simply must find an outlet to be heard, read, or seen. The classical composer gets a strange look in his or her eye and begins scribbling furiously. The rock-and-roll singer is driven by desire and demons, and out bursts this amazing song. This is the romantic notion of how creative work comes to be, but I think the path of creation is almost 180º from this model. I believe that we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats.
My thoughts immediately drifted to the theatre, and how certain choices – particularly the choice of where you stage your show – determine a lot about the overall shape of the production. I also thought about theatre classes I took in college, and the methods of play analysis I learned. Essentially, the whole point of the classes was learning that the context of the play’s creation – the historical and cultural forces at work when the play was written – are fundamental pieces required to help understand the work itself.
These are just half formed thoughts, typed here while one of my kids babbles to the dog in a very annoyingly distracting singsong voice, so I can barely think at all. So that’s the context of this blog post and the reason why it’s likely not coming together as a coherent piece.
Last night I saw (for – shockingly – the first time), a production of Les Miserables. This was the current North American tour and it was pretty darned good.
One moment, at the opening of act two, Phoenix Best as Eponine sings “On My Own.” At one moment, she holds a note. The music stops. Then she stops and in otherwise utter silence, her last note echoed, resonated, lingered through the Peace Center auditorium. It was quite literally breathtaking.
I can see why people get emotionally attached to Les Miz.
Here’s my review of Les Miserables on BroadwayWorld.
I’m currently reading (listening to, actually) Act One, an autobiography by Moss Hart. It’s both a seminal theatre work and a highly enjoyable read (listen).
Moss Hart co-wrote several classics, including You Can’t Take It With You, a play I did in high school (which reminds me of a line from the New York Times review of a recent revival: “Those who saw, or performed in, You Can’t Take It With You in high school should not let that trauma taint the Broadway revival of that show.”).
Hart also directed the original productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot, so the guy was no slouch.
This is a book that, frankly, I wish I’d read when I was young and impressionable. His drive and ambition, as well as his ability to keep going despite setbacks, is inspirational. I suspect this book resulted in a lot of people moving to NYC over the years, in pursuit of theatrical careers. But few of them had Hart’s talent or – as he would likely be the first to admit – his luck. It’s a wonderful story, well told.
I finished this afternoon and the ending is fantastic. What a story. What a life.
Frank Rich wrote this about Act One, and it encapsulates the book’s appeal: “Hart’s memoir is one of the great American autobiographies because it gives a certain kind of reader hope. It says you can escape a home where you feel you don’t belong, you can escape a town you find suffocating, you can follow a passion (the theater, but not just the theater) that is ridiculed by your peers, you can—with hard work, luck, and stamina—forge a career doing what you love. However modest or traumatic your beginnings, you can find your way to Oz—and you don’t have to go back to Kansas anymore.”
When I found out that Jillian Butler was in Chicago, I immediately had to ask her one important question: “Have you seen Hamilton?”
Butler plays Cosette in the new touring production of Les Miserables that opens at the Peace Center in Greenville on October 31, 2017. I talked to her on the phone last week, when the show was still playing Chicago.
“I did see Hamilton!” she told me. “We got here on a Monday and we had a Tuesday free, so a bunch of us got to see it on Tuesday night the first week we were here. It was amazing.”
How lucky we are to be alive right now.
We chatted about Hamilton for a few moments, then moved on to the real subject of the call, her experience playing an iconic character in an epic musical. Butler’s joy of performing really came through in her voice as well as her words, and I truly enjoyed talking to her. She was a real delight and I can’t wait to see her – and the rest of the cast – perform.
You can read the full interview on BroadwayWorld.
A couple of weeks ago I saw the musical Fun Home and it was terrific.
Quick back story: in early 1999, I went on a Birmingham TV news show to promote a production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile (I played Einstein in the show). In the green room, I met Miss America, Kate Shindle. She was clearly smart and quick-witted as well as friendly and charismatic and I liked her immediately. So when I saw that Kate was starring in Fun Home, I began to really look forward to seeing it. And I was not disappointed. She was fantastic and so was the show.
There are so many things to unpack, so many layers, so much truth. My close personal friend Kate is excellent. I was also impressed with the actress who played young Alison as well as the dad and the mom and the girlfriend, Joan. But more than any of them I really loved Abby Corrigan as the college-aged Alison. There’s something about her that really stands out. A fantastic performance. It’s also got a great set and lighting. It’s the kind of show I want to write a college essay about. If it comes to your town, see it.
Last night I saw a dress rehearsal for Ghost – The Musical, which opens this week at Centre Stage in downtown Greenville, SC.
Since this was technically still a rehearsal, it wouldn’t be fair to write a full review. But I can report that some wonderful performances anchor the production and that the audience absolutely loved it.
Paige Manwaring and David Bean head the ensemble as Molly and Sam (played in the original movie by Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze). I loved their chemistry, their emotion, and their strong, evocative voices. Honestly, they are two of my favorite local performers and they instantly won over this audience, as well. I also loved Gisele Gathings as Oda Mae Brown (the Whoopi Goldberg part) and loved to hate Joshua Thomason as Carl. Because this isn’t a real review, I’ll also share how much I enjoyed seeing Kristofer Parker in the ensemble. I worked with Kristofer in Hairspray years ago (Paige Manwaring was also in that production of Hairspray and she was the PERFECT Amber Von Tussle). I always admire the precision and energy in Kristofer’s dancing, and he demonstrated that again last night.
Last week BroadwayWorld published my interview with Ghost – The Musical‘s director, Glenda Manwaring. In it, she shares her hope that audiences “feel the joy, sadness and uplifting ‘spirits’ in our production and be glad that they came.”
Judging from last night’s performance, audiences are going to be very glad indeed.
One of the best things social media – and particularly Twitter – did for me was introduce me to Lisa Bonchek Adams. She was funny and snarky and wise.
She began most days by sending out this message:
Find a bit of beauty in the world today.
If you can’t find it, create it.
Some days this may be hard to do.
When I met her, she was already a breast cancer survivor. She used her website as well as her presence on Twitter to raise awareness of metastatic breast cancer and help people work through grief. She was tremendously helpful to me when my own father died.
In 2012, she learned her cancer had returned and she chronicled her journey -its highs and lows – for all of us. In 2015, she died.
Last month, her brother and her mother put out a book of Lisa’s writings. It is “a guide for patients, families, friends and caregivers, written in Lisa’s unique writing style—part poetry, journal and memoir.”
A wonderful tribute to a wonderful person, someone I still think about all the time even though, sadly, we never met in person.
Sometimes social media seems to be hastening the rise of hatred and division. But it can also introduce us to people who touch our lives in ways we never could have anticipated.
For a few years now, I’ve been using an app called Happier, and it’s actually helped make me, well, happier. I wrote about Happier on my old blog (and again here) and I am such a fan that a few years ago I wrote a song about it. Eventually, I turned it into a video by soliciting pictures from some of my Happier friends. I am, of course, biased, but I really love the song.
I wrote it, sang it, and played the ukulele on it. My brother, Cash Shurley, produced it. I’m really proud of it.