Toronto Fringe Festival 2017 Review Round Up

The annual Toronto Fringe Festival ended yesterday. For those of you who don’t know, Toronto Fringe is Canada’s largest theatre festival. It showcases new artists and new shows as well as shows by professional companies. There’s 160 shows at 35+ venues over 12 days. I saw 9 of these shows in 2 days. I’ve known about Fringe Toronto for a few years but this was the first time I’d actually attended. I attended as a patron and a volunteer.With Fringe having 160 shows, me working full time hours, and me not actually living in Toronto, there were three shows that I wanted to see but didn’t get to (2 of them sold out once word got out that they were really good and one of them wasn’t playing on the days I was volunteering and I couldn’t make the trip back to see it). So I went into Fringe without much of a plan other than 1) see as many shows as possible and 2) only plan around the timing since no latecomers are admitted and the theatres are all over downtown Toronto. I liked it that way though. I got to see some really interesting shows. These are the shows I saw and just some brief thoughts about them.

MEANT (7/10) – This show was a musical about fate and whether you or the universe decide your destiny. In this case, two people get married and have a child but they were never supposed to end up together according to The Fates. I thought this show had a really interesting concept and I liked that fate was characterized as The Three Fates but I thought the writing was a little weak. If it was me, I would take the idea of fate and apply it to a different situation. Overall, I liked the story, though I think the music could have contributed more to advancing the plot, and the entire cast was super talented, especially given the fact that they’re all recent post-secondary grads. Everything also flowed really nicely and coherently.

Life Records 2: Side B (8/10) – This one-woman show was put on by Rhiannon Archer, two time Canadian comedy award nominee. This was about songs that relate to major events in her life. It was funny, it was sweet, and it made you say “aww”. This was less of a theatre show and more of a comedic storytelling event in a smallish theatre but it was fun nonetheless.

Diddlin’ Bibbles (6/10) – This was a musical duo who told the story of a married couple who did performances and how the celebrity status of Toronto Fringe Artist got to their heads a little bit. It was a fun show. I liked that they tailored the show specifically for the Toronto Fringe Fest. However, I wish they would’ve delved a little deeper into the characters and explained why Toronto Fringe was such a big deal.

Rise/Fall (7.5/10) – This was a political drama commentating on Trump’s wall and the problems it can cause. This show was performed outside and the set was a physical wall, which separated two groups of actors. What was interesting about this show was that you sat on one side of the wall. You didn’t know what was going on on the other side. You could hear bits and pieces of dialogue from the other side so you kind of knew what was going on but not a lot. You almost needed to see the show twice – once on each side of the wall – to fully understand the show but it was enjoyable nonetheless. This show was really unique and it was certainly an interesting way to address politics.

White Wedding (8/10) – This show was really well done. It was about what happens at weddings when you’re still in love with your friends even though they’ve moved on to other people and other parts of their life. I found the show really funny because I think it portrayed the reality of weddings. Weddings seem like all fun and happy but no one ever sees what goes on outside of the church and the reception hall unless you are part of it. The entire cast was wonderful and they created really likeable and relatable characters. You could easily pick out who you would be if that was your friends’ wedding. The only thing I didn’t like that is that it was performed in a hallway. I understand why it was, but it made it squishy and a little hard to see. I think it would have been better in an actual theatre.

Moonlight after Midnight (9/10) – This show was incredible. It was a non-linear story about how two people met and got married and sort of their story. It was dark, it was romantic, and it was really good theatre. Normally, I don’t like non-linear stories because I find them hard to follow but this one made sense and was starting to clean things up by about 2/3 of the way through the show. The script was also smart and repetitive, which kept things connected. The acting was amazing, the plot was intriguing, and the actress, who sang a couple songs, has an amazing voice. There are only two performers, a guy and a girl, and they have really great chemistry on stage.

Who, Me (6/10) – This show targeted a very very very niche audience – theatre and drama nerds who are also Doctor Who nerds, there’s not many of them around. But I happen to be one of them. This was a one-man comedy show by Rob Lloyd about putting the show Doctor Who on trial for ruining his life. This show kind of flip-flopped between that story and personal anecdotes about, which I found kind of confusing. I think it would have been better sticking to one or the other. But I did appreciate the Doctor Who jokes and overall nerdiness of the show.

The “F” Word (9.5/10) – Anyone who says that dance can’t tell stories can literally fight me. This was by far my favourite show I saw at Fringe. This show was about feminism. But rather than telling the audience about feminist issues through dialogue, they told the audience about feminist issues through dance. It was kind of like a dance recital, and all the dancers were amazing, but there was some dialogue and explanations thrown in throughout and the music also helped tell the stories. However, even if the speaking parts had not been included, their message would have come across loud and clear.

Kara Sevda (7/10) – I liked this show. The plot was simple and the acting was great. Two strangers sit on the same bench, waiting for a lottery to see if they will be chosen to go on the last train from Paris to Rome. Throughout the show, there were a series of short monologues from each character about how they ended up on that bench. Again, this show had only two characters, one male and one female, so it was a little predictable that they were going to fall in love at the end but this show still made me feel all the feelings.

While I really enjoyed all the shows I saw, the coolest part of Fringe was just the overall environment and atmosphere in downtown Toronto. People of all ages from small children to grandparents talking about theatre. Getting excited about theatre. Even just waiting in line for shows and talking to people about what shows they’ve seen at Fringe, what they liked, and how they got to be involved with theatre and Fringe was pretty interesting. I’m so grateful that theatre has the power to bring people together the way it does.

If there’s one thing I really took away from attending Fringe Toronto, it’s this: Theatre is more than Broadway plays and musicals. 

Theatre is risky.

Theatre is innovative.

Theatre is experimental.

Theatre is music.

Theatre is acting.

Theatre is comedy.

Theatre is dance.

Theatre is storytelling.

Theatre is fun.

Seeing new theatre being created by artists that are so passionate about their craft was so inspiring and really made my heart happy and excited for the future of theatre.

What’s a new show that you’ve seen and enjoyed recently? Let me know in the comments!

Strictly Ballroom Review

Strictly Ballroom is a new musical based on an Australian movie of the same name. It premiered in Sydney, Australia in 2014, had a run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, England, and is now doing a run in Toronto, Canada until June 25. Baz Luhrmann directed the movie and created and wrote the book for the musical.

The plot of this musical is very simple, which is one of the things I like about this musical. Competitive ballroom dancer, Scott Hastings (Sam Lips), runs into trouble at a major competition because he wants to dance to the beat of his heart and not the beat of the music. This causes his long time partner, Elizabeth Holt (Lauren Stroud), to leave him for a new partner. Thankfully, Fran, Just Fran (Gemma Sutton), who works at Scott’s dance studio, Kendall’s, tells him that she wants to be his new partner. Fran is just a beginner ballroom dancer but she knows he needs a partner and says she is willing to learn and wants to do it. Scott is desperate and needs a partner for the biggest competition in Australia that is only three weeks away and reluctantly agrees. And the rest is history. It’s a classic story of follow the rules or follow your heart, do what you want to do or do what your parents want you to do, and what lengths would you go to win. What really is “winning” anyways?

This show was a heck of a lot of fun to be at. The music was such a bop! There was some ballroom type music (like tango and salsa put to lyrics), some traditional Broadway style songs, and since Fran is Spanish some songs had a Spanish flare. The sets and costumes were also so extravagant. There were sparkles and sequins everywhere and every colour was the brightest you could possibly imagine. Like highlighter pink and bright turquoise. They were beautiful and so detailed and I really thought they captured the world of competitive dance really well. In the world of competitive dance, there are a lot of sparkles, sequins, and extravagant costumes. The set was also really cool. It was like one piece that got moved around and opened and closed and served as many locations from Kendall’s dance studio to Scott’s home to Fran’s home to the dance hall and it was really cool.

Because this is a musical about ballroom dancing, this musical is obviously very dance heavy. This musical made me fall back in love with dance. I mean Newsies did a good job of that too but this is different. This made me fall in love with the art of dance and what it means to be a dancer. I grew up doing ballet, modern, and jazz 3-5 days a week. Scott Hastings has a really beautiful solo early in the show (and Sam Lips is a gorgeous dancer) and it just made me re-realize that dance is a beautiful art form and I wish I had half the talent of everyone in the cast. Dance is powerful. It’s about expressing yourself and there’s a certain freedom to it that non-dancers can’t understand. I think this mentality was something that Scott was struggling with throughout the show and it was just super relatable to someone who is a dancer.

Overall, I enjoyed this show. It wasn’t my favourite show ever, but it was alright. It was not super elaborate or deep and meaningful, it was just a fun afternoon. I liked this show because I think some people forget that musical theatre is about more than just singing an acting. There’s a heck of a lot of dancing involved in it too, especially if you’re in the ensemble. Most musicals have an ensemble doing all kinds of dance elements but I think they are often overlooked because people are paying more attention to the principal actors, which I guess is kind of the point. But still, dance is a powerful storyteller and deserves more recognition in the musical theatre world. If you’re looking for something fun to do for a few hours in the next week or so, go see this show, tickets are cheap and it is a fun show.

Which “triple-threat” activity would you like to do? Sing? Act? Dance? Let me know in the comments!

This week, I made a playlist called Blue (I think I named it that since there’s blue on all the album covers) but it’s just a compilation of songs that I think go really well together. Check out my Mixtapes page and enjoy!

Award Show Season Part 3: The Tonys

 “Don’t waste any time trying to be anyone but yourself. The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” – Ben Platt

The Tonys are Broadway’s biggest night and last night was no exception! After such an incredible 2016/2017 season, it’s no surprise that The Tonys officially ended the season in an incredible way!

The 2016/2017 season was filled with incredible musicals, both new and revivals. I love that there were performances from all the nominees for Best Musical and Best Revival. It gave a little taste of what happens during these shows, even bringing in the sets that are used in the show to make it feel authentic, which I think is pretty cool. How they get all those sets and set up in Radio City Music Hall is beyond me though. My favourite performance of the night was Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. I loved how they made the more traditional stage at Radio City like their immersive staging at the Imperial Theatre and I loved how they did a mashup of songs from the show. Great Comet has such diverse styles of music so the mashup made sense and it worked beautifully. A+ music arranger! Their ensemble is also amazing and it made the performance really enjoyable to watch. The cast of Dear Evan Hansen (or should I say Ben Platt) performed Waving Through a Window. I thought it was really good but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t You Will Be Found. I just think that’s an incredibly powerful song with an important message that should be shared on live television and everyone in the cast has a role in the song. I love Ben Platt and think he’s super talented but I think the rest of the cast was overlooked by just having them singing the background harmonies. Because I’m Canadian, I feel obligated to say that I loved Come From Away’s Performance, which is 100% true. They performed the opening number Welcome to the Rock. I’d hoped they’d perform Screech In, but since this musical is mostly sung through and there’s no overture, Welcome to the Rock gives a good overview and feel for the show, which is great. Falsettos’s performance was also super fun and super cute (Anthony Rosenthal is the cutest human on Broadway). I have to say though, I’m disappointed that Hello, Dolly! did a performance without Dolly (aka Bette Midler). I was really looking forward to seeing her perform. All the performances were amazing and it’s amazing that they can do that for 2.5 hours (not just one song) 8 times a week!

One thing that I really liked about this year’s awards was that there was a lot of love given to plays and playwrights. I don’t know why, but plays always seem to take a back seat to musicals. Writing a play and getting it produced on Broadway is just as impressive as writing a musical and getting it produced on Broadway. However, plays can’t really do “performances” of a song like musicals can. So I appreciated the fact that each of the playwrights for the nominees for Best Play were given the chance to give a brief synopsis and talk about the themes in their play.

With 38 new shows opening on Broadway in the 2016/2017 season, there was bound to be some tough competition for the actual awards. The Best Featured Actress category was one of the toughest I’ve ever seen:

  • Jenn Colella (Come From Away)
  • Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen)
  • Stephanie J. Block (Falsettos)
  • Kate Baldwin (Hello, Dolly!)
  • Mary Beth Piel (Anastasia)

I thought this category would be between Jenn and Stephanie and to be honest, I never thought Rachel had a chance in hell of winning, but yet she did. Not that Rachel didn’t deserve to win (all these women deserved to win), I just really thought that Jenn Colella should’ve won because her performance in Come From Away is just one of the best performances of any actress that I’ve ever seen. On stage, she makes me laugh, she makes me cry, and off stage, she is one of the kindest, humblest human beings.

One of the things I dislike about the Tonys in general is that the “creative” categories like Scenic Design, Choreography, Orchestrations, and Lighting Design are not televised. These artists winning these awards deserve to be recognized just as much as anyone else involved in a production. They matter too. If it weren’t for these people the show would not have the same level of pizazz and impressiveness as they currently do. I was really happy that Alex Lacamoire won Best Orchestrations for Dear Evan Hansen because his strings arrangements just make me sob. That makes back to back Tony wins for Lac after winning last year for Hamilton. Andy Blankenbuehler also collected back to back Tony wins for Best Choreography, again after winning for Hamilton last year. But this year Andy both directed and choreographed Bandstand. From the one number that I’ve seen (called Nobody), I love the choreography and I would love to see this show. For me, it’s definitely a bucket list item to take a dance class from Andy Blankenbuehler. Great Comet obviously won Scenic Design of a musical. This was predictable because of the immersive nature of the show and how they’ve designed the Imperial Theatre. I don’t know about you, but I would happily watch an extra hour of the Tonys if it meant I got to see these people win their awards and their acceptance speeches.

Of course, the big award of the night is Best Musical and this year it so deservingly went to Dear Evan Hansen. I really thought Come From Away might give DEH a run for its money at the Tonys but apparently I was wrong and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed. As soon as Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won for Best Original Score and Steven Levenson won for Best Book, I knew that Dear Evan Hansen had Best Musical locked up, since well the book and the score are what make a musical. The Tony for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical was Ben Platt’s to lose (there was no real competition) and he 10000% earned this award. He puts his heart and soul and emotions into this show 8 times a week and does a beautiful job. I can’t believe he’s only 23! He’s such a talent and will go so far. I haven’t seen DEH but I’ve been listening to the cast album since it came out and it truly is a beautiful story that has such a fitting place in the 21st century and I really do love it. “You have been seen. You matter. You will be found.”

Overall, I have to say, the show itself was severely mediocre. Kevin Spacey was a fine host.The jokes and the food bit were fine.  The awards themselves were fine, if not a little disappointing. I really thought Come From Away deserved more than just Best Direction of a Musical for Christopher Ashley (which was so well deserved). I really thought they should’ve had Best Book, even though it’s mostly sung through and Best Featured Actress for Jenn Colella. Come From Away took home 1 out of 7 nominations, Dear Evan Hansen took home 6 out of 9 nominations, Great Comet took home 2 out of 12 nominations, and Hello, Dolly! took home 4 out of 10 nominations. In terms of plays, there was no clear “winner” but several different shows took home a Tony, which is wonderful.

I just want to say, thank you, Broadway for being a light in the darkness, for giving me things to obsess over, for giving me new stories and music to fall in love with, and reminding me to keep dreaming big and believe in something magical. How lucky I am to love something like the theatre.

What were your favourite moments of the Tonys and the overall 2017/2018 Broadway season? Let me know in the comments!


The Elitism of Broadway

I love theatre and Broadway shows and the theatre community but that doesn’t mean that Broadway is flawless. The theatre community is a wonderful, accepting, fun group of people, however theatre-goers, to a certain extent, are an elite community. Broadway, and theatre in general, is largely inaccessible (for several reasons) to most of the world, which is unfortunate because theatre tells great stories through great music and acting and it’s a chance to connect with like minded people. If we want to change the future of theatre there are some things that need to be fixed or at least addressed.

Problem #1: The Physical Geography
Theatre is very centralized in New York City. This makes sense because this is where Broadway is, which is the ultimate stage and destination for any piece of theatre. If you live in New York City or the Eastern Seaboard of the United States where you can get to NYC in a couple of hours at most, that’s great. But what about the other 6 978 600 000 people in the world? (I got that number by subtracting the population of the world [roughly 7.3 billion] from the population of the USA [about 321 million]). Fortunately, many successful Broadway shows go on National Tours but those are generally contained to the United States. Sometimes Canadian cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver get lucky and the Tours go there. But what about people in say Australia? Or China? Or Brazil? While I understand that theatre is part of North American culture, and might not be common everywhere in the world, I’m 99% sure there are people who love theatre who live in these countries that have NEVER seen a professional live show before. Getting on a plane and going to NYC or even a city where a National Tour is playing and then getting tickets to a 2.5 hour show is expensive and is just not possible for most people. Even people in Canada and the United States have trouble going to see theatre they really want to see because shows on Broadway generally don’t stay open forever (Unless you’re Wicked or Chicago or Phantom of the Opera) since there’s only 41 theatres with new shows being created all the time. Which brings me to problem number 2.

Problem #2: Bootlegs
**Before I get started on this let me say this: I disagree with bootleg culture because a) bootlegs are never good quality and nothing in the world compares to live theatre and b) the artists worked hard to create a piece of theatre that is meant to be seen live and c) it is illegal…HOWEVER, if there is a bootleg out there for a show that I know I will never get to see or has closed or whatever I will most likely watch it (after resisting watching for as long as I can) and just because I’ve seen a bootleg doesn’t mean I don’t want to see the show live because like I said, nothing in the world compares to live theatre.**

Bootleg culture (and by bootleg culture I mean people who actively search for and watch bootlegs and even those who record them) only exists because theatre is so inaccessible and most shows only stay open for so long. It’s a culture around sharing otherwise inaccessible theatre. Last spring, Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway. This was one of my favourite books as a child and some of my favourite actors were starring in it. But the show closed after only 28 previews and 39 performances. This was a show that I really wanted to see and I tried to get to NYC to see it but I couldn’t. But I watched it through a bootleg and I so wish I had seen it live. Think about people who live on the other side of the world who can’t get to NYC but who heard a cast album and the cast album spoke to them, bootlegs might be the only way that they ever get to see the show. I did this with Next to Normal. I understand that bootlegs are disrespectful to the art of theatre but ultimately they do allow people to see the show in some capacity.

Problem #3: Ticket Prices 
I took first year economics so I understand the basics of inelastic supply and demand. Broadway theatres only have so many seats and sometimes the demand for tickets just drives the price up and up and up because it’s all about people’s willingness to pay (which is why shows like Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are so expensive). But there has to be a limit because honestly paying $400-$600 for a single ticket is a little ridiculous (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a broke student). Even the rush and student prices for shows are a little bit ridiculous too. And this isn’t even just Broadway. Any theatre ticket purchased in advance is going to be at least between $80-$120+. I understand a bit about how the business of theatre works (largely thanks to Smash tbh) – producers get people to invest, sometimes millions, in a show who ultimately want to turn a profit and in order to make a profit you have to have a certain minimum ticket price. But still, if you want people to see the show, people have to be able to afford to go to the show. This isn’t even mentioning the travel costs of getting to see theatre, whether it’s in NYC or not if you don’t live near somewhere where there’s theatre regularly. Theatre should not be exclusively for the upper class who have lots of money and disposable income.

So how do we fix these problems and make Broadway more accessible to theatre lovers around the world? There’s no easy answer but there are some things that can be done.

1) Professionally filmed recordings of ALL Broadway showsNewsies did this and released it in movie theatres AROUND THE WORLD and it was a huge success and now it’s even coming to digital copies in a few weeks. Hamilton also did this but the footage has been locked in a Gringotts vault for now. I truly believe that this is the future of theatre and all shows should be preserved like this, regardless of if they ever get shown to the public or not.

2) Expand the licensing rights of shows – If producers could license the shows to creators and creative teams around the world, people in so many other countries would be able to see the shows (and would contribute to the overall revenue of the show).

3) Set a maximum ticket price – I know the evil ticketbots make this hard but the reality is, millennials are the future of theatre. But millennials also aren’t going to have the disposable income and steady jobs that their parents and baby boomers had. Millennials are also going to be in so much debt from school and student loans. We want to be able to see theatre, we really do but right now theatre is too expensive.

The theatre is a wonderful, welcoming, inspiring place but things need to change. The theatre should be a place for everyone because there are so many important stories that are told and shared in the theatre, not just for those who can afford it in a certain part of the world. The world so desperately needs the influence of theatre and the creatives behind it all but if they want it to have global influence (as it should) then we need to work on making theatre more accessible to everyone around the world.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments!

Book of Mormon Review

Warning: This post may change your life!

This is hands down the funniest musical I’ve ever seen! The only tears I cried during this performance were because I was laughing so hard. This musical is a little vulgar, a little inappropriate, a little Jesus-y, and a whole lot of fun. This show was originally created by the creators of South Park and is a satirical mocking of the Mormon religion. This musical tells the story of two Mormon missionaries, Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Pierson), and how they spread the word of “God” in Uganda.

The music in this show is so fun, it’s such a bop. It’s light, fun, and bouncy. What makes it great is the fact that the music is in real contrast to the lyrics in the songs. The lyrics are at least a little bit inappropriate or a little bit heavy but the music kind of glosses over that and makes it even funnier. There are some lyrics that are just kind of shocking that a plunked in the middle of songs like “Don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead” and “I’m going to go rape a baby.” Those really poignant lyrics were just quickly sung and then not really acknowledged (at least not right away), which really made them stand out. The orchestrations of this show was also really good. It’s only a nine-member orchestra but so many different instruments are used from percussion and trumpets, to create the sounds of Africa, to electric guitars and bass, to add a bit of a rock and roll vibe.

The production design of this show was also amazing. Unlike most musicals, which generally only use one main set, The Book of Mormon has two or three main sets that fly in and out throughout the show. There was the beginning set, the Uganda set, and the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream set. The set for the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream scene was especially elaborate. The costumes were also amazing. Because there was a large ensemble, each ensemble member must have had at least four or five costumes and most of them were pretty elaborate and some of those costume changes were really quick! And I’ve had experience with quick changes (like 2-3 minutes). In the Turn it Off number, there’s a great tap part and they do 2 short blackouts. On the second one, I’m going to guess it’s 10-12 seconds and when the lights come back on, they all have sparkly pink vests on! I don’t know how they did it but I want to find out! Also, shout out to Casey Nicholaw for really really entertaining choreography.

This was also kind of an interesting cultural experience. I appreciate the diversity of this show. Black actors were featured and I think that’s really cool and they were super talented. There were also things that were touched on in the show like the prevalence of AIDS and crazy warlords and abuse that occur in Africa that the Mormon missionaries have never experienced. This is part of the reason the missionaries have had such a hard time getting people to join the church. But in the end, the two different worlds (the Mormons and the Africans) come together and realize that religion isn’t necessarily meant to be taken “seriously” but it’s okay to believe things metaphorically and they make a really nice community (even if it is some for ridiculous reason). Sometimes the world needs more stories of different groups of people coming together and everything works out in the end.

After 6 years on Broadway and two national tours, this show continues to entertain audiences around the world (yes I mean around the world, there was a production in Australia and a non-English production in Sweden). If you’re looking for a fun afternoon or evening, and you don’t get offended too easily, this is a great show.

Also, friendly reminder to follow @peacelovearts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Broadway for Those Who Don’t Live in NYC: Original Broadway Cast Recordings

I love theatre. I don’t get to see a lot of live theatre. I don’t live in NYC. Sometimes I wish I lived in New York just so I could go see all the Broadway productions that are running (but then I remember the USA is kind of a scary place and I’m really grateful I live in Canada). I think the best solution would be if Canada adopts New York as it’s 11th province. Now I live in Canada near Toronto so occasionally Broadway National Tours come to the Mirvish theatres, like Newsies and Matilda did recently, which is amazing and I always go to those productions but seeing 2-3 Mirvish shows a year just doesn’t satisfy my craving for musical theatre.

So I turn to Original Broadway Cast Albums as my alternative. I don’t know that they necessarily help my craving, if anything listening to cast albums usually only makes me want to go to NYC more, but they are kind of an alternative. I’ve always loved theatre but ever since I saw Newsies back in 2015 (the show that probably changed my life for good), I’ve wanted to go and experience true New York Broadway theatre. That hasn’t happened yet but one day it will. So in the meantime, I live vicariously though cast albums. Here’s a short run down of my OBCR albums that I have in my iTunes.

  • Catch Me If You Can (some songs)
  • Chicago (some songs)
  • Come From Away
  • Dear Evan Hansen
  • Footloose (some songs)
  • Hairspray (some songs)
  • Hamilton
  • Kinky Boots
  • Les Miserables
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Matilda
  • Newsies
  • Next to Normal (some songs)
  • Once (some songs)
  • Rent
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Wicked

I said short didn’t I? I lied. And I listen to even more on Spotify and Apple Music. I have an addiction to musical theatre, which is why I love soundtracks. Most of the shows on this list I have not seen but I could probably recite the whole plot of the show forwards and backwards. Musicals like Hamilton (which I have not seen) and Come From Away (which I have seen) and Rent (which I have not seen) are great in album form because they are pretty much sung through, giving you all the feels and most of the plot details.

Another reason cast albums are great is because you can experience shows that you never get to see or closed too quickly. When Tuck Everlasting opened last spring I was so excited because that was one of my favourite books as a kid. Unfortunately, the show closed after about a month (which I may or may not be still bitter about…) and I never got to see the beautiful show (from what I saw on social media). Thankfully, the show was preserved in the cast album form and it’s a beautiful one. Another album that I listened to but never saw was Next to Normal. Granted, I only discovered this show because of my obsession with Aaron Tveit…oops. But there was so much critical acclaim for that show and I knew it was about mental health, which I struggle with, I decided I had to listen to it. I cried my way through it.

Cast albums also let you relive the shows you have seen over and over and over again. I had the great privilege of seeing Come From Away in Toronto back in December and the cast album was released last week and I’ve been listening to it (and crying) on repeat. I need to not listen to this album in public. This show was one of my top 3 musical experiences. This show just means so much to me and I’m glad I got to see it and it’s been preserved on an album. I don’t know when or if I’ll get to see it again (but I do know it’s coming back to Toronto in February 2018) but I know I will always be able to put on that album and listen to the show.

Music is the essence of any Broadway show, I guess that’s why their called MUSICals. Everything from the lyrics to the orchestrations helps tell the story, maybe it doesn’t tell the whole story, but it certainly tells a large part of it. Like the perfectly placed violin in the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack. Alex Lacamoire did such a good job with those orchestrations that those moments can just bring me to tears. The Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack just makes me feel everything and the characters seem so relatable and I haven’t even seen this production (yet).

The best thing about cast albums is they make Broadway a little bit more accessible to those of us who don’t live in NYC, can’t get to NYC, can’t afford tickets, can’t see these shows in their hometowns, etc. The music is there, the story (for the most part) is there (which are arguably the biggest parts of the show), all that’s missing is the acting. Now if we could get all Broadway shows professionally recorded like they did with Newsies that’d be great! Then you’d have all the pieces of the puzzle. Cast albums add so much to a theatre experience, whether you’ve seen the show or not and that’s why they will continue to be an important part of the process of opening a show on Broadway.

Do you have a favourite cast album? Let me know in the comments below!

Cabaret Review

Cabaret is one of those musicals that has kind of become a classic. I saw the show in Toronto a few weeks ago as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th Anniversary tour of the show. It was one of the most unique and interesting shows I have ever seen. The show is set in the 1930s between the World Wars and the Nazis are starting to rise to power. The two main plots of the story are a failed romance between Fräulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray) and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson), a Jewish fruit vendor and a failed romance between American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) and cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Leigh Ann Larkin) and the Emcee (Randy Harrison) narrates the story.

In this show, there are some amazing solo numbers that get performed including “Maybe This Time,” sung by Sally and “What Would You Do?” sung by Fräulein Schneider. They are strong and beautiful numbers. Nothing else is happening on stage this time. The characters are frozen in tableau and there’s a spotlight on the singer while the rest of the stage is darker, but the characters are still visible. Either way, all the attention is focused on the soloist and they both did amazing jobs.

As someone with a dance background, the choreography of this show was mesmerizing to me. Because the show set to pretty classic, stereotypical Broadway sounding jazz, which was popular in the ’30s, it’s easy to choreograph something really good. I loved the classical jazz dances and of course the numerous kicklines. Everyone was so in sync and every beat of music had a movement from someone on the stage. Overall, the choreography was just really well done and really fun to watch.

I also liked the overall trajectory of the show. It started off being focused on the fun, nightlife style of the time. The Emcee even has a line that was something along the lines of “leave your worries at the door because we’re just here to have fun.” But like most musicals, it’s all fun and games until you get to act II. The act I finale is actually pretty dark and the story gets darker from there; relationships fall apart, Nazism spreads, shady deals go down, etc. I think it’s important understand that this show is a reflection and commentary on the politics and other things that were happening in Germany at the time. It’s just crazy how people use the theatre for politics (not that that’s a bad thing necessarily, I mean look at The Sound of Music or even Hamilton) and make such bold statements about sensitive topics. But that’s one of the whole reasons I love the theatre is because theatre can do that and somehow people leave remarkably unoffended.

Overall, I thought this was a good production. The sets, lights, and sounds were all wonderful and added so much to the performance, the cast was wonderful, and it sent a strong message. It was definitely one of the more artistic shows I’ve seen rather than narrative, but it was still really well done.