Review and Thoughts: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! (Quest Theatre Ensemble)

Have you ever experienced the feeling of love in relation to (but not limited to): first dates, sex, marriage, parenthood, divorce, or death? If so, great. 1997’s Off-Broadway hit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! tackles all of these things. Not interesting enough for you? Let me tell you a little bit about how Chicago’s Quest Theatre Ensemble brings it to life.

Firstly, the most notable thing about Quest Theatre Ensemble is that all of their productions are free. Seriously, no tricks. All. Productions. Are. Completely free. Although, at the end of the show, they do ask for give-what-you-can donations. Of course, you by no means are required to this. Because I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I donated $20. I’d recommend giving at least a small dollar amount out of courtesy, but in the end, it’s up to you. No one will force you to pay anything. For theatre lovers, this is incredibly brilliant. We’ve all heard it before: theatre is “elitist” or “for rich people”. This reputation mainly stems from the fact that theatre hasn’t been a traditionally accessible medium. We can all go to a movie theatre and see a film, go to the library and check out a book, but… where do you go for theatre? Quest Theatre Ensemble is aiming to be that place. In the words of a company member after the show, “Once you put a price on a ticket, you’re excluding a lot of people”. And he’s right. No one should be excluded from theatre, even due to price.

For a free show, the quality of Quest’s I Love You is far beyond what you might expect. Now, there are no crazy lighting effects or any local stars with top billing, but that’s the beauty of this production. With a young, twenty-something cast of four, a few chairs and two tables, the vignettes of many different characters in the midst of a struggling relationship are told. Not necessarily all romantic relationships, mind you. A husband only feels at peace and in control in his car, a new dad comes to terms with loving his son, a recently divorced woman learns to love herself again, etc. There’s a situation for everyone. Quest Theatre Ensemble’s version of the show chooses to change some lines and lyrics to fit the location and time period. The mention of fidget spinners, Tinder, Mariano’s, the movie “Frozen”, to name a few examples. This gave the show an added layer of personality, like it was meant just for me in this small little theatre in the basement of a tiny building in Andersonville.

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The environment was a huge factor in my enjoyment of this production, honestly. Think about it. It’s much easier to get sucked into an intimate, sometimes comedic, portrayal of how we view love throughout life in an intimate space rather than a large, 2,000 seat theater where you’re stuck in row J. The theatre for I Love You consisted of about 50 seats (seating is open), and I was lucky enough to snag a front row seat. A connection with the story and music is much more tangible when you can clearly see the emotion and mannerisms of the cast up close.

If you’re looking for a great way to spend two hours. I could not recommend Quest Theatre Ensemble’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Not Change! enough. Mainly because the shows that instill a great sense of magic in you don’t seem all that magical on the outside until you give them a chance.


Quest Theatre Ensemble’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! runs now until October 29th. Visit questensemble.org for more information.

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Why Do Non-Theatre Fans Like Hamilton?

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If you’re reading this I assume you have at least an inkling of knowledge about Hamilton and its massive popularity. Based on Ron Chernow’s biography of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, the smart, innovative, Pulitzer Prize and 11 time Tony winning rap musical has garnered thousands of fans and celebrity visits (as well as launching a sit-down production in Chicago and a national tour in San Francisco) since it’s open in August 2015 – and become infamous for not being able to get a ticket to it.

Personally, I had my eye on Hamilton since it’s Off-Broadway run at The Public Theatre in early 2015. With a score by Tony-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda and coming out of a theatre with such a great track record, I knew I was going to have to learn more once it made its inevitable Broadway transfer. I stayed up until midnight to get the cast album when it came out in September later that year. After that first listen, I couldn’t stop talking about it to friends, begging them to listen so I could have someone to talk about it with. I tried to coerce many of my friends who I’ll describe as “non-theatre people” (for purposes of this post, I’ll define as “people who don’t typically like theatre”) into listening by explaining, “It’s all rap, I swear it’s not boring! You learn about this in APUSH!” to no avail. Fast forward a couple months later – it seems like everybody from classmates, celebrities, and people I’ve never seen get excited about theatre in general, owns a T-shirt with the words “Young, scrappy, and hungry.” printed on it and has captioned at least one Instagram post with a lyric from “Wait For It”. How come no one believed me when I said it was good the first time? More to the point of this post, just how did Hamilton explode in popularity so fast?

I’m not sure if anyone else is dying to know the answer to this like I am. And of course, there’s a ton of factors that contribute to Hamilton‘s success. There can’t be just one definitive answer, as we saw with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Despite this, to aid in my quest of finding a plausible and believable answer at the very least, I created a Google Form that some of you might have taken to see if there’s any correlation between being a theatre fan and a Hamilton fan. The short answer to that is a definite yes. The long answer requires a bit more thought.

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Let’s start here. As you can see, 37.3% of people responded “to an extent” when asked about being a theatre fan in general, but when asked about being a Hamilton fan, there was a significant drop, decreasing to 29.9%. Obviously, way more people enjoy theatre in general compared to enjoying Hamilton specifically – a result which was expected, since no one who likes theatre is bound to like everything. But with the people who answered “yes” and “to any extent” to being a Hamilton fan, that’s 76.2% of people who, at the very least, like the show.

When asked to explain their answer choice, those who said they are, or to an extent, a Hamilton fan, cited things like the shows innovative use of rap and the actual history behind it. This I can understand, as younger people who are my age and never really figured they would enjoy stereotypical musicals (as in, golden age musicals that are “long and boring”), but then are introduced to a musical that not only encapsulates a genre of music they find entertaining as well as subject matter that a lot of high schoolers and young adults have to learn about in school, their views change. What better way to study for your AP U.S. History exam than listening to a musical? From here, teens who are new to theatre can continue learning by getting into more contemporary and relatable musicals, like Dear Evan Hansen or The Book of Mormon.

All this can certainly apply to adults and older fans, too. By presenting musicals as something that’s genuinely entertaining, but are still serious enough to make one reflect on their life, it opens the door for new theatrical discoveries outside of Hamilton.

It’s not all in the numbers, though. I believe Hamilton’s popularity was definitely influenced by timing as well. By analyzing Google Search Trends, we can gain some insight.

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Google Search Trends for the phrase “Hamilton

As shown here, there are three main points in time where Hamilton peaked in interest on the Internet. The first being February 14th to February 20th, 2016. In fact, the 58th Grammy Awards where Hamilton performed and won the award for Best Musical Theatre Album took place on the 15th. Due to this, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that that this mainstream exposure is what catapulted Hamilton to recognition outside the theatre community so quickly. The same can be said about the other two spikes on the chart. The highest peak, in the middle, is shown as June 12th to June 18th, 2016; the 70th Tony Awards where Hamilton performed took home 11 awards were held on the 12th. Again, being apart of a mainstream awards show helped to increase talk surrounding Hamilton. Finally, the last and most recent spike in Hamilton interest happened around November 20th to November 26th, 2016. This, as you might recall, was when then Vice President-Elect Mike Pence paid a visit to the show, being booed by audience members and receiving a message from the cast, to which he later responded to. The controversy hit the media hard, even more so when President-Elect Trump tweeted about the event multiple times, rightfully causing people to research the show. While not a surefire way to justify the popularity of Hamilton to theatre outsiders, I think it’s more than possible to believe that some fans were introduced to the show thanks to its moments outside of solely theatre-based news coverage.

Of course, this analysis was an accumulation of the data I collected (which has the possibility of being biased) and search trends, all of which can be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps Hamilton was just a phase that only briefly raised interest in musicals. Or maybe it did introduce a whole new generation to an underappreciated art form. Whatever you think Hamilton‘s contribution was, there’s no denying it’s a show no one will be able to stop talking about for a long time.


What you do think about Hamilton and its popularity? Did it introduce you or anyone you know to musical theatre? Tell me in the comments!

Composers Who Starred In Their Own Works

Typically, a composer of a musical will leave the task of bringing their music to life to the talented actors and actresses who get cast in their show. But for a few composers, their role in a show goes off the sheet music and onto the stage.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton (left), as “Usnavi” in In the Heights (right)

It’s no secret that Pulitzer Prize-winner and worldwide celebrity Lin-Manuel Miranda is a man of many talents. So much so that he wrote and starred in not one, but two original works: In The Heights and Hamilton. Both performances earned him a Tony nomination in 2008 and 2016, respectively.

Sara Bareilles

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Sara Bareilles as “Jenna” in Waitress

Well-known singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles made her composing debut last season with Waitress, based on the 2007 film of the same name. Tony-winner Jessie Mueller originated the role of Jenna, but on March 31st earlier this year, she replaced Mueller in the role and will be baking pies and belting out her own songs like the iconic “She Used to Be Mine” until July 11th.

Dave Malloy

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Dave Malloy as “Pierre” in Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812

Josh Groban made his Broadway in November 2016 as the “bewildered and awkward” Pierre Bezukhov in the innovative electro-pop musical Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812, which is based on a section of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel War and Peace. But in its earlier Off-Broadway productions in 2012 and 2013, and the subsequent cast album that followed them, composer Dave Malloy and his accordion helped bring to life this complex and beloved character.


Who’s your favorite composer who starred in their own work? Do you have a composer you think should be in their own show? Let me know in the comments!

 

What Went Wrong With Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark?

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“With great power there must also come – great responsibility!” is the infamous quote spoken by the narrator (not Uncle Ben) in the August 1962 issue of the comic book Amazing Fantasy which first chronicled dorky high schooler Peter Parker’s rise to the now instantly recognizable Spider-Man.

This is also the advice that the creative team behind 2010’s rock musical (based on the aforementioned comics) Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark should have taken into consideration during its difficult inception and subsequent reworkings –  that ended up costing $75 million, the most expensive Broadway musical in history.

Is it fair to call Turn Off the Dark a complete and total flop? Well, no. Not in a traditional sense. It did see a few moments of box office success, such in as January 2012 when it made $2,941,790 in ticket sales – the highest single week gross of any Broadway show. And when Turn Off the Dark finally met its demise in early January 2014, it had played 1,066 performances (including it’s 182 performance preview period, the longest in Broadway history). But there’s no denying that somewhere along the way things went very, very wrong.

It’d be impossible to cover everything that led to Turn Off the Dark‘s place in Broadway infamy, because there’s honestly too much to even begin to wrap your head around. Glen Berger, one of Turn Off the Dark’s co-writers has a great memoir out called Song Of Spider-Man that tells his side of the story – it’s where much of the research for this post comes from and I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more.

A glaringly obvious issue with the idea of a Spider-Man musical you don’t need a book to lay out for you is this: it’s a brand. One of the most recognizable brands in the world. And when you’re as big as Spidey, you have some people to please: Marvel execs, the fans, and most importantly, a general Broadway audience. Director of Turn Off the Dark, the acclaimed Julie Taymor (best known for her innovative work on the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King), had a vision – she wanted to break ground with Turn Off the Dark‘s abundance of aerial tricks, all while turning up the edge factor of the traditional Spider-Man story to 11, and throwing in a bit of Greek mythology for good measure. With music by U2’s Bono and The Edge, Taymor was convinced it’d be a hit. Needless to say, Marvel execs didn’t agree with many of the team’s creative choices. When word got out about what the Broadway elite was doing to their beloved Peter Parker and company, neither did the fans. And come the show’s very first preview in November 2010, the Broadway crowd made their thoughts clear – when after the show had to be put on hold for the fifth time due to tech issues (such as an awkward moment near the end of the first act when Reeve Carney (as Spider-Man) was literally left hanging over the audiences’ heads), the crowd erupted into boos.

Poor audience response and technical glitches akin to what happened at the first preview continued to plague the show, so much so that it forced the show’s official opening night to be delayed six times, finally opening on June 14th, 2011. Despite all the external issues of Turn Off the Dark, the internal issues were arguably the root of all its problems. Glen Berger, book writer, and others on the creative team had come to the conclusion that revisions to the story desperately needed to be made. Previews were closed for about a month from April to May of 2011 in an attempt to repair the show. Unhappy with how her vision was coming to life, Julie Taymor left the project altogether sometime in March. This, on top of the five accidents causing injuries to actors and stunt doubles before the show had even opened, created a ton of bad publicity for the show among both critics and fans. The average review rating was a F+, with the revised incarnation of the show getting a slight bump up to a C-. But no matter the revisions or the reviews, Turn Off the Dark‘s fate was sealed before opening night. The unprecedented amount of negativity surrounding the show that had previously been much anticipated had taken a toll, and although the show had played for a solid two and a half years, losses were estimated at $60 million by its closing.

The opening scene from the musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" during a rehearsal in New York.
A scene of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that caused many issues during production.

Did Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark become the next huge Broadway hit like Julie Taylor had wanted? Obviously, no. Was it ambitious? That’s a definite yes. Mostly to its own fault. But you can’t really blame someone like Julie Taymor and her fellow Turn Off the Dark creatives for having that ambition, right? On page 139 of Song of Spider-Man Glen Berger asks: “Really, what wasn’t ridiculous on a stage?”. And he’s right. In 2017, the biggest musical on Broadway features founding father Alexander Hamilton rapping through early American history for a full two hours. Perhaps Turn Off the Dark would have done better if it had ran now, when people could actually accept and respect an idea like it. Maybe it would’ve had consistent ticket sales if the media weren’t so harsh on it. Or maybe comics just don’t translate on stage like books and films do, and nothing could have saved poor Peter Parker and company. It’s hard to come to a definitive answer aside from “It was just doomed from the start”.

Whatever combination of factors that prevented Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to “rise above”, the show (and all its mishaps) has left an impact on theatre. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave up to you – I’m not really sure what I think. You could interpret it as a cautionary tale; a reminder that not all visions need to be fully realized. Or you could think of it the other way; you’ll never know where an idea will take you unless you pitch it.

Later on page 139 of Song of Spider-Man, Berger says, “Art does voodoo, and we buy it. Except for all the times that we don’t”. Whether or not you buy the messy tale that is Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? That’s for you to decide.

Review and Thoughts: Come From Away Cast Album

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On September 11th, 2001, pilots of passenger planes in the sky across the U.S. were delivered the worst possible news: there had been a terrorist hijacking. This caused the FAA to close the U.S. airspace and order all passenger planes to land as soon as reasonably possible, either making an emergency landing or heading back to where they had left from. Pilots had 30 seconds to make a decision otherwise air controllers would do it for them. Thus, Operation Yellow Ribbon was then initiated by Canada to assist in diverting all passenger planes to places away from possible targets in the U.S. Approximately 238 flights were diverted to airports across Canada. 38 of those flights with around 7,000 passengers and 19 animals among them were sent to Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland. Those aboard the 38 planes were stranded in Gander for five days. Despite feeling terrified, hopeless, and helpless, they weren’t alone – for the citizens of Gander responded with hospitality, generosity, and kindness.

This event is the basis for the plot of Come From Away, a new musical that just opened on March 12th at the Schoenfeld Theatre and whose cast album was released digitally on March 10th. Starring Jenn Colella (If/Then) and an ensemble of eleven others, they portray hundreds of characters, from Gander citizens to the come from aways (the people of Gander’s name for those stranded) set to a score written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein that showcases Gaelic, rock, and folk influences.

Every song is sure to give you chills – it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the magnitude of the trauma the come from aways experience, as I’m sure anyone who remembers that day can also relate to. Songs like “28 Hours / Wherever We Are”, “Lead Us Out of the Night”, and “On The Edge” are examples of this – in the previous song mentioned, the come from aways are glued to the news, not willing to sleep or do anything else. Similarly, Jenn Colella as now-retired pilot Beverley Bass may bring a tear to your eye as she belts “Me And The Sky”, which encompasses Bass’ feelings regarding the sexism she faced when becoming the first female American captain and how her – and everyone else’s – world view has changed after 9/11. Contrastingly, the lighter side of the situation is shown in the songs “In The Bar / Heave Away” and “Screech In” when the come from aways are initiated as honorary Newfoundlanders – if they kiss a fish first.

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Jenn Colella and company in Come From Away.

Speaking as someone who was too young to have any memory of the attacks, Come From Away transported me to a different time full of emotions that just aren’t tangible if you read about them in a history book. But if you remember, it’s different. As the come from aways put it, “something’s missing”. Perhaps, if the pain of that day is too much to bear, you’d want steer far away from this cast album – a perfectly valid reason to do so. Although, I’d argue that Come From Away isn’t about 9/11; it’s about the days that followed, and what we all should do for each other in times of strife. It attempts to take tragedy and remind us all that there was some good in the world on that day. If you take one thing from Come From Away to heart, it’s a line from the final song on the cast album: we all come from everywhere, we all come from away.


The Come From Away cast album is now available digitally via Amazon Music, Spotify, and iTunes and will be released physically on March 24th. For more information, go to comefromaway.com.

Off-Broadway and The Public Theatre

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What do musicals like Hamilton, Fun Home, Hair, and A Chorus Line have in common? Nothing, right? Far from it, actually. They’re all considered to be among the greatest theatrical works of our time, and they all originated at The Public Theatre in New York.

Now known as the ultimate Off-Broadway hub for new, upcoming experimental works, The Public Theatre first opened in 1967, boasting the world-premiere of Hair, a rock musical known for its controversial themes rooted in the hippie counterculture of the 60s. After its run at The Public, Hair had a successful Broadway transfer and went on to be a cultural icon internationally as well as domestically; it was Tony and Grammy nominated in 1969. This allowed The Public to continue to grow as they cemented themselves to being committed to “embracing the complexities of contemporary society and nurturing both artists and audiences” – as its founder Joseph Papp wanted.

The next production housed at The Public that proved to be as culturally impactful as Hair came in 1975 – A Chorus Line. The show popularized concept musicals as it explored the complexities of seventeen performers audition for a Broadway show. Similar to Hair, A Chorus Line transferred to Broadway not long after its run at The Public and soon exploded in popularity and was showered with many accolades. It became the fifth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and spawned many international productions across three decades. Without the borrowed $1.6 million from The Public to produce the show, A Chorus Line would mostly certainly not be the quintessential musical we know it as today.

More recently, The Public has produced two back-to-back incredibly successful Tony winners: Fun Home and Hamilton. After The Public, both shows went on to became immediate successes. As mentioned in my Fun Home review, it broke ground in its representation of the LGBT community. In 2016, Hamilton became the ninth musical in history to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has become a nation wide success in a short amount of time.

It’s no secret that most impactful Broadway shows start Off-Broadway – just take a look at shows like Rent and Next to Normal – but history has shown that The Public Theatre is New York’s leader in bringing new, different, and innovative works to life. So if you happen to come across a show you think is the next huge sensation, chances are it came from The Public.


Have you been to The Public Theatre? What’s your favorite work that’s emerged from The Public? Let me know in the comments!

Spotlight On: Page to Stage Adaptations

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If you’ve taken a look at the musicals and plays of the past the few seasons and were surprised to find that you recognized a majority of them because you read the book version, it’s not just you. The 2015 and 2016 Best Musical Tony Award winners – Fun Home and Hamilton, respectively – were both adapted from previously written works. In fact, in recent years, Broadway has been dominated by book to show adaptations. American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, are just a few examples of this phenomenon from past seasons.

The rise of book-to-stage adaptations has resulted in an imbalance of adapted versus original works in modern theatre as of late. It’s arguably easier to improve on an already existing story and transfer it to a different medium rather than create your own. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. Many adaptations like Wicked take the original source material and add new plot points to already existing ones, while other shows like Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 are adaptations of a much longer text like War and Peace and make the story feel fresh by doing something unique and innovative in the staging.

Despite this, the dramatization of books is certainly not a new concept. The concept dates all the way back to beginning of theatre with the satyr plays of the Ancient Greeks, which were based on epic poems or myths. And while literary adaptations of today may not be based on myths or legends, there’s definitely a huge benefit when it comes to show based on works people are already familiar with: a built in audience. Introducing someone who’s never seen a theatre show in their life is hard, but if they become enticed through an adaptation of something they already  have knowledge of, it becomes a little easier.

Although literary adaptations on stage may have a bit of a bad rap in 2017, we should give credit where credit is due. Stage adaptations of books can bring in new audiences and new innovations to theatre as a whole. So the next time you read a great book, don’t be surprised if you see it on stage sometime soon.


What are your favorite shows based on books? Is there a book you want to see a stage adaption of? Let me know in the comments!