20 Years Later, Rent Cast Remember Auditions, Memories and Mishaps | Playbill

I saw Rent 59 times on Broadway and once on tour. I owe many amazing experiences to my love for this show. 

Today is their anniversary. This is a special read. 

20 Years Later, Rent Cast Remember Auditions, Memories and Mishaps | Playbill

Throwback Thursday: Wicked Edition

Do you remember that time when Idina Menzel had to miss her final performance in Wicked because she fell through the trap door the day before and fractured her ribs? Well, almost, she came on for the last moments of the play in a red Adidas track suit and the audience lost their minds for a good few minutes. 

I was in the house that day and this is a photo from after the curtain call during the speeches. Shoshana Bean went on for Elphaba and crushed it. 

Even though I was never a hardcore Wicked fan, this was a fun moment in musical theatre history that I will never forget. 

American Idiot, at my alma matter; 11.21.15

Matt, my American Idiot and Green Day partner-in-crime for life, alerted me a few weeks ago that Pace University, the school I graduated from, was staging American Idiot this week and we bought tickets. I’m not sure how I missed this bit of information because I’m part of the Pace Performing Arts group on Facebook and maybe I’m on some kind of list serv for the department, but it seems I totally zoned out on this fact.

The Schimmel Theatre at Pace was built to mimic the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center so it’s very large and we made sure to get there when the doors opened to get good seats. We ended up securing seats in the fourth row. We’d kind of wanted to be in the front row, but friends of the cast had commandeered those first. We spotted Leslie McDonel, the director and original cast member, there of course Gerard Canonico, another original cast member, was also in the lobby when we arrived. As you can see, we were excited:

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My friend Andrew and his girlfriend joined us minutes to showtime and we took in the set, which looked like a smaller version of the one designed for Broadway, and took (what are probably illegal) photos and settled in for the next 90 minutes. 

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The short version: We really, really enjoyed ourselves. These guys did an amazing job. I missed the anticipation of the curtain rising at the beginning, for sure. They had some great graphics that they used – stills from the republican debates and the like – and they used a bunch of soundbites from Trump. Ian Fairlee, who played Johnny, had a very strong voice that was totally reminiscent of John Gallagher Jr.’s more often than not. He made a few different choices as far as his portrayal and they all worked. For the first few songs they had him in a sweater and all I could think was “oh god, I hope he gets to take that off soon.” (He did.) David Park, who played Will, also had a really nice voice and made great choices as far as his character. He really pulled off the man-bun spectacularly too. As the much, much more bro-y version of Tunny was Connor Antico. He also had a great voice which started off sounding like a member of a boy band but got grittier as the show went on. McDonel made the decision to make Tunny and total and complete bro was much different than what we’ve seen on Broadway and on tour, but it worked. Matt and I always judge a Tunny by how long and strong he can hold his high note at the end of Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Well, we high-fived each other when Antico held onto it strongly to the point where we were wondering if it was a recording. 

Mary Claire Miskell, an original cast member of Broadway’s short-lived 13, played Whatshername, was really excellent. She embodied the character’s free spiritied-ness in a much younger (obviously) way than Rebecca Naomi Jones did. Marissa O’Donnell, seen on Broadway in Shrek, portrayed a heart broken and frustrated-as-fuck Heather. Her voice is beautiful but for me, in a rock musical, started out a bit too beautiful, but as the show rocked on, she found her vocal grittiness.  The last stand-out was Jamal Christopher Douglas as St. Jimmy. This was an interesting choice that McDonel made for this character, as it’s general played by a strung-out-looking skinny, somewhat jovial white dude. Douglas was anything but – he’s muscular, scary, and imposing. He had the presence of a drag queen, at some moments, but in a way that completely worked. It was just nothing like what we’d ever seen in past incarnations (that would include Berkeley, Broadway, Equity tour, non-Equity tour, etc). It feels silly not to give a shout-out to the last featured actor onstage, Sarah Hamaty, the Extraordinary Girl, who was great, but the character comes in so late that it always seems like barely a featured player.  Hamaty has a great voice and did her best with the movement in the song given that they obviously couldn’t suspend her from the ceiling. 

McDonel borrowed probably 1/3 of the original choreography from Broadway and the new choreography fit in just fine. Her direction is a new and smaller space was effective and visually beautiful. The band was on the top level of the stage and killed it. The lighting was extraordinarily effective and it was great to watch these students masterfully pull off a show that is so near and dear to our hearts. Standing ovations were given at the end and Good Riddance was, of course, the encore. 

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Afterward we stayed around for a bit to tell a bunch of the cast congratulations and they did “our” show proud.  I ran (okay, walked) up to to Connor Antico after, tapped him on the arm, and said, “You fucking killed that high note, man. SO Awesome! Congrats!” or at least it was some iteration of that. He really shattered our expectations and probably even showed Stark Sands up (sorry, Sands). We spoke to Ian Fairlee and Jamal Douglas, too, before I said goodbye to my Idiot friends and headed home.

American Idiot has two shows today (Saturday) and two tomorrow. Click here for more information. If you’re a fan of the show, go check it out. 

Review: ‘The Wild Party,’ With Sutton Foster as a Louche Jazz Baby

I’m supposed to go see this tomorrow but I’m rethinking it now. Is it really worth my $25 to see a show that’s been so massively gutted of arguable important songs? I know The Wild Party from it’s 2000 staging cast recording, which is one of my top 10 favorite scores ever, and from working on it in college. I listened to the score over and over and over. I love it. 

I’ve only scanned this review, but I heard last night from Kristen that they cut Out of the Blue, Queenie Was a Blonde, all of the I Want songs, and Lippa wrote a terrible new song for Foster that, I think according to the New York Times review, was called “Happy Endings.” This sounds like it’s suffering from the same thing that High Fidelity on Broadway suffered: adding a happy ending to a show that’s not supposed to have a happy ending. Kristen has corrected me. This is not the case. Good.

Everyone’s saying Sutton Foster is miscast. No surprise there. It seemed that way from the trailer that came out. I don’t really like Steven Pasquale, as talented as he might be, but people are saying he’s very good. Kate is black – which doesn’t make sense for the songs she sings (the south will rise again? really? you want that?!). And the dude playing Black never stops riffing. 

I have no idea if I want to experience this show without those vital songs. But do I want to miss a trainwreck production of this show? Probably not. I’ll probably go. People are saying they cut those songs because Foster has had bronchitis and can’t sing back-to-back 11′o’clock numbers like that. To that I say: Fire her, or she should’ve stepped down. 

Alternatively: throw Julia Murney some cash to play Queenie. Like god and Andrew Lippa intended. 

Review: ‘The Wild Party,’ With Sutton Foster as a Louche Jazz Baby

What’s thirty? Just, you know, the end of youth.

It was August 24th, 2001, two-ish weeks before 9/11, when I was offered tickets to see the off-broadway production of Jonathan Larson’s tick… tick..BOOM! I was 15 and seeing Rent more often than not. My cousin, who lived on Christopher Street in Sheridan Square at the time, let me stay with her and walked me up West 4th Street, teaching me how to find my way around the crazy maze that is that West Village.

I made a sorta-last minute decision to buy tickets for Kristen and myself to the Encores’ staging of it which opened tonight. And I’m very glad I did. It was a trip down memory lane and I still remembered almost every word. The staging was almost the same as the also very minimalistic production at the Jane Street Theater.

Leslie Odom Jr. (now of Smash fame, though he was actually in Rent long ago) took on the role of Jon’s best friend Michael. He acted the part excellently and sounded great. Karen Olivo absolutely brought the house down with the 11 o’clock number “Come To Your Senses,” although she was primarily playing Jon’s girlfriend Susan.

And then there was Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jon. Sort of a big deal has been made in the theatre world lately about him paying tribute to Jonathan Larson and I get it. They’re both young composers who wrote ground-breaking musicals. Yes, I get it. So I was expecting a stellar performance, and emotionally and acting-wise, it was. Miranda was great on that level. Vocally? He was mediocre (at best). He got through In The Heights because it was mostly rap but how can you take over a role originated by the vocal brilliance of Raul Esparza and have virtually no upper register or any ability to hold notes for any sustained period of time? He was vocally disappointing. He also wore a beanie which was confusing because in all of the photos that I’ve ever seen of Jonathan Larson, he did not, ever wear a beanie. 

ttB! struck a new chord with me because I was 15 last time I saw it and now I’m less than two years away from being 30. It’s also largely about the really tough choice to pursue your dreams or abandon it in favor of a stable and oftentimes boring career. Anyone who works in the arts can tell you that you don’t do it for money, you do it for love, because we don’t make a lot of money (unless you’re Sondheim, Webber, or David Stone, of course). I also didn’t understand this quote when I was 15, but I understand it fully now:

It’s hard for people born after 1960 to be idealistic or original. We know what happens to ideals. They’re assassinated or corrupted or co-opted. It’s 1990 for God’s sake. It is not an exciting period. It is not a period of ferment. It’s fucking stodgy is what it is – conservative, complacent, obtuse and unimaginative. Or, to put it another way: George Bush is president of the United States.”

This was a lovely, emotional trip to an old favorite of mine that resonated with new meaning almost 15 years later. Totally worth the $27. 

It plays through Saturday – get your tickets now!

On Holiday.

Non-equity tours have an admittedly sour reputation of being the poor, red headed younger sibling of equity tours. I saw the first non-equity tour of Rent in 2002 and it was a disaster, to say the least. With that in mind, one can assume my expectations were low for the non-equity tour of American Idiot. The equity tour had been somewhat of a let down last year after the Boston Opera House swallowed up what little energy the half-recycled touring cast had. So, while expectations were low, my friends and I happily headed to Hartford yesterday to see the show we loved that we hasn’t seen in over a year. I picked up two copies of Rolling Stone so we could read about our favorite rockstar on the way up.

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We got Hartford and were thoroughly saddened when the city lacked people and open restaurants. I believe there were a whopping sum of two open restaurants open across Bushnell Park from the theatre. The funny thing was that every Hartford native we came across apologized for their city and its lack of, well, everything. After (way too much) searching we eventually found a lovely little restaurant called Salute and parked ourselves at the bar. Minutes later a sea of suits (WASPS) started filing in. Apparently a new Connecticut Supreme Court justice named Andrew had just been sworn in and we were lunching at the site of his celebratory party. Soon after the suits became overwhelming we paid and went back to meet our friend who’d overslept and missed our bus (no worries, he caught the next one).  We relaxed and charged our phones as we waited for the doors to the Bushnell Theater opened.

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The theatre was large but not as big as the Boston Opera House. We had awesome seats, Row D, though they were still 8 or so rows back, but they were closer than we’d had in Boston. But finally it was fuck time.

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Because the proscenium wasn’t nearly as high as at the St. James, they waited longer before they started to raise the curtain amidst the sound bites. The set was shorter but I knew that was coming. I was excited to see an entirely fresh, new cast perform material that I knew like the back of my hand.

One third of the way through (the song) American Idiot my friend leaned over and gave me a thumbs up. I knew he was referring to Alex Nee as Johnny. We’d heard great things about him from a reliable source and we were both pleased he’d been right. He had an edgy, rock voice but with a lovely vibrator that wasn’t overkill. He added subtle nuances to the character here and there (such as hiding his head under a blanket when Know Your Enemy started) that were incredibly effective. You could really feel that he’d hit rock bottom before Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Casey O’Farrell was great too as Will. His look was a little off for me at first – for some reason – but his voice was really pretty and his acting was solid.

Alyssa DiPalma was GREAT as Whatshername. Her costumes were completely different (and awesome!). Her voice was gorgeous and powerful. And her take on the character was slightly more sympathetic because her look wasn’t as “hard” as previous actresses I’d seen. Letterbomb rocked.

Thomas Hettrick was good as Tunny. His acting was spot on, but his voice alternated between sounding like a member of a boy band and one that was way too naisily (at certain moments he was turning his vowels like it was his job).

There there’s Trent Saunders as St. Jimmy. He was an entirely new (and awesome) look and sound for the character, but his stage presence was a little low. He wasn’t as threatening as other actors have played him in the past. That said: I really enjoyed his performance. Jenna Rubaii sounded great as the Extraordinary Girl, and she did what little she could do in the track, and Kennedy Caughell was an entertaining and fresh take on Heather. 

The ensemble held the company together fantastically. Some looked scarily identical to their original counterparts on Broadway. Carson Higgins was excellent as the Representative of Jingletown (and he looked a crazy amount like Theo Stockman). Aurie Ceylon killed the Too Much Too Soon solo. And Turner Rouse Jr. looked a stupid amount like Gerard Canonico. 

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We left the theatre elated and satisfied. This cast really brought it, despite the huge house and the much older crowd (who really just… didn’t get it). We headed over to the restaurant next to the bus terminal which would now be open. My friend put his Playbill on the bar and the older couple next to us asked if we’d seen the show and if we liked it, which we said we did. After our enthusiastic response, they told us they were Alyssa DiPalma’s parents, which prompted our genuine praise for their daughter’s performance. Shortly after Ms. DiPalma herself walked in. We minded our own business, chatting amongst ourselves. Before we left we chatted with them and shot a quick photo with DiPalma herself.

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I love how they’ve done her hair. I’m tempted to almost do a more muted version of it on myself. (Yes… no?) We caught a Greyhound home at 5 and pulled into Port Authority at 7:30.

It was a good day. 

Ohio High School Fires Director for Staging Legally Blonde Musical; Creators and Parents Comment

I can’t believe this. Really? This is ridiculous. She staged Legally Blonde, not HAIR or Jesus Christ Superstar. And I’m sure SOMEONE approved the choice before she purchased the right using school funds, because adjunct faculty don’t just get handed the school’s credit card to do with as they please. (They did. Those school officials should be sued.)

This is why Ohio is a fly-over state. Any state that has people who throw temper tantrums over a school staging a bubblegum-piece-of-fluff musical is obviously insane. 

Ohio High School Fires Director for Staging Legally Blonde Musical; Creators and Parents Comment