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!

 

I need your help with an upcoming post!

Hi everyone! As the title says, I need some help! I’m currently working on a post that’ll most likely be coming out in two weeks after my spring break – I won’t be posting during that week – and I need to collect some data for it. So I made a Google Form! It’s pretty straightforward (I hope) and shouldn’t take too long. There are a few written questions, but don’t feel pressured to write a whole lot if you don’t want to. I wanna keep the subject of the post this data is for a bit under wraps right now, but I can promise you it’s gonna be great. Make your guesses on what it is in the comments! I’m really excited for it.

Well, that’s all I have. Again, here’s the Google Form link – after you’ve taken it, share it with your friends too! And if you haven’t already, check out Friday’s post on The Public Theatre and how it’s influenced Off-Broadway theatre over the years. Tons of your favorite shows started out there. Of course, I’ll be back on Tuesday with another post as always. It’s a review of the extraordinary “Come From Away” cast album – the show opens tomorrow at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre!

Thanks again and have a great day!

 

Auditions: What You Need to Know

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In the theatre world, auditions are essentially like job interviews. If you don’t do well in the interview, you won’t get the job. And just like with any job interview, people are always seeking out tips to optimize their audition experience. Practically every theatre blog, forum, and actor under the sun have attempted to give their advice in the past, so today I’m going to try my hand at it and cover some audition advice you’ve probably heard before and some you might not have even considered.

Before the audition

If you aren’t given specific audition sides by the director, chances are you’ll need to pick a song and monologue yourself. Generally, it’s best to pick a song and monologue that are similar in style to the show you’re auditioning for. For example, if you’re auditioning for a Sondheim show, it’d be best to pick song from another one of his shows that isn’t the one you’re auditioning for. It’s widely accepted that you should stay away from overdone songs that hail from popular, more recent shows like Wicked, Rent and Les Miserables. Make sure you can cut both your song and monologue to the length specified by the director. Start studying up on the show and your song and monologue to the point where you’re comfortable enough you can show the directors you’re the right choice for the part. Starting practicing at least three weeks before the audition to ensure you have everything memorized and your interpretation of the character you’re auditioning for is solid. Keeping your vocal health in check during the weeks leading up to your audition is also a must.

During the audition

As soon as you enter your audition, you should be aware of yourself. One thing that I feel a lot of people forget but find incredibly beneficial is being nice to everyone you meet, from others who are also auditioning, to the accompanist. If the directors see you’re particularly personable towards everyone, this tells them you’d be easy to work with. If your nerves start to get to you during the lead up to you going in front of the directors, let them. While this seems counterintuitive, feeling nervous can actually contribute to your adrenaline skyrocketing, which can be used to your advantage to channel into your performance. After your performance, make sure to thank everyone before you leave. Don’t stress too much while waiting for the cast list! Just know that you did your best and even if you don’t get the exact part you want that that’s okay. That just means the directors saw something in you that you didn’t! If you don’t get cast, don’t worry. Not every show is meant for everyone. Keep auditioning and practicing. Now get out there and break a leg!


What are your audition tips?  Let me know in the comments!

The Impact of Next to Normal

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In life, I feel that most people eventually come across a piece of art – a musical or otherwise – that they can say definitively changed their life. It can change their world outlook or inspire them to make a change in themselves. In my case it did all of the above and more. I discovered that piece of art when I was thirteen years old: the 2009 rock musical Next to Normal.

In short, Next to Normal, created by composing team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, focuses on the character of Diana Goodman (originated by Alice Ripley), a mother with worsening bipolar disorder due to the loss of her infant son many years ago, and how her family is affected by her actions, her disorder, and their attempts to alleviate it through the help Diana’s doctor (originated by Louis Hobson). Moreover, Dan, her husband (originated by J. Robert Spencer), their teenage daughter, Natalie (originated by Jennifer Damiano), and her boyfriend, Henry (originated by Adam Chanler-Berat) must struggle and comes to terms with their situation all while dealing with their own underlying anxiety and depression, manifested in Diana’s hallucination of her and Dan’s son – now a teenager as well – Gabe (originated by Aaron Tveit).

To say Next to Normal is the first musical to deal with a topic like mental illness is an exaggeration. It’s simply not true; musicals like A Light In The Piazza and Spring Awakening have done it before. But I’d argue that Next to Normal has done it best, leaving audiences with a real, raw, and honest portrayal of what it’s like to be dealing with an illness that is all too often not taken seriously in media, despite the fact it affects so many seemingly “normal” families in real life – about 2.6% of the U.S.

Along with mental illness, dysfunctional families in media akin to the Goodmans in Next to Normal are typically pigeonholed into some kind of stereotype, i.e. “the crazies”. But in Next to Normal, this isn’t the case. Instead of a stereotypical portrayal, it’s a truthful one. Anyone who’s ever experienced a tough family situation – not necessarily in the dysfunctional sense – can relate to the Goodmans way of life, with already teen angst-riddled Natalie feeling like she’s been cast out into the background by her parents who are more focused on Diana’s disorder, and Dan attempting to keep his family together when things are certainly not as they should be.

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Jennifer Damiano (left) as “Natalie” and Alice Ripley as “Diana” in the original Broadway production.

Moreover, the show’s Tony performance in 2009 was introduced by none other than the late actress and writer, Carrie Fisher – who was an active mental health advocate and bipolar disorder sufferer herself. The show has also spawned many, many international productions after its Broadway closing in 2011. The most well known of which is Casi Normales (directly translates to “Almost Normal”), the Argentinian production, which ran from January 2012 to April 2015. The show is so popular in Argentina that original cast members from Casi Normales and Broadway came together in Buenos Aires in 2015 and 2016 to perform songs from the show in both English and Spanish.

At the Tony Awards, Next to Normal walked away with awards for three of its eleven nominations – it’s the opinion of many that it was robbed of the Best Musical award by Billy Elliot. In 2010, Next to Normal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama – a high honor that’s rarely given to musicals, the last of which at the time was in 1996 for Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a show dealing with similar heavy subject matter.

During a lighter moment in the show, Henry asks Natalie to a spring formal dance that’s set for March 1st in the song “Hey #1“. She eventually agrees, showing up late to the dance. Henry claims she looks “like a star, a vision in blue” in the song “Hey #3/ Perfect For You (Reprise)“. The date in real life has become somewhat of a symbol for Next to Normal fans, as many take to wearing blue to signify their connection to the show. And although the fans often remember each year, two original Next to Normal cast members – who have since moved on to bigger and better projects – only acknowledge the date on Twitter. Without fail, every year on March 1st Adam Chanler-Berat (original Henry) tweets Jennifer Damiano (original Natalie) the word “hey”, and within minutes, Jennifer tweets back “hey”, just as things were said in the show.

When viewed at a first glance, Next to Normal is a Broadway show who’s impact might seem insignificant, but in reality is greater than one could ever imagine. To me, the impact of Next to Normal hits you when you truly accept its message: someday, things will be okay. Maybe not now, but someday – with time and support. The March 1st tweets are a sweet, yet subtle reminder of how Next to Normal and its message of mental health awareness have held strong throughout the years, bringing each new listener – and myself – the same words of hope sung in the show’s powerful finale – there will be light.


Do you have a special connection with Next to Normal or another musical or play? Share it with me in the comments!

Spotlight On: Movie Musicals

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The 89th annual Academy Awards are this weekend, and with La La Land – an original musical – being one of the nominated films gaining a whole lot of traction, I figured we should take a look back at movie musicals of the recent past and how they came to be. Some of these films have also been accepted into the Oscar nominated club, and some haven’t. Opinions on these movie musicals vary, from being beloved by people of all ages to being the center of extreme dislike by those who are sticklers for a faithful adaptation. But the truth is, a movie can’t fit the entire two hour or so plot of a musical into its allotted time frame. Film audiences are completely different than theatre audiences in terms of want they want out of their respective medium and the gratification they get from watching it. While we’re on that subject, let me say now that this is a theatre blog, not a film blog. I don’t claim to be incredibly knowledgeable on the craft of film. So let’s dive into some contemporary movie musicals and how they are adapted from their source material.

Les Misérables (2012)

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This beloved musical originating from the West End was already adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name, so the 2012 film adaptation had quite a lot to live up to. Despite the story’s sprawling history, this adaptation, featuring acclaimed actors like Hugh Jackman (Jean ValJean) and Anne Hathaway (Fantine), went over well relatively well with fans and critics alike. The film contains almost every song from the stage production, save for some lyric changes and shorted songs here and there. Director Tom Hooper was commended for his decision to let the cast sing live on set, instead of lip syncing and recording over the take later. This allowed for more emotional and real moments that the audience could connect to. And these efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the Academy, either. The film was nominated for eight Oscar awards in 2013 and ended up taking home four. Musical or not, this goes to show the true testament of Les Misérables‘s cathartic take on hope and the human spirit.

Rent (2005)

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First premiering Off Broadway in 1996, Rent was a musical that changed the game. It is credited for making the pop/rock style musical popular, a sub genre that is certainly no shortage of in musical theatre today. It was provocative enough for people to pay attention to it and its subject matter that dealt with LGBT characters, drugs abuse, and AIDS/HIV. The 2005 film adaptation was able to satiate its legions of fans by bring back almost the entire original Broadway cast to play their same roles. Despite quite a few songs being cut or shortened – such as “Goodbye Love” and “Halloween” – long time “Rentheads” still keep coming back to this one.

The Last Five Years (2015)

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Based on his personal life, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years chronicles five years of the relationship of a young couple: Cathy (played by Anna Kendrick in the film), an aspiring actress, and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), an aspiring writer. In the musical, Cathy’s songs start from the end of her and Jamie’s relationship, and Jamie’s songs are vice versa, allowing for a brief moment in the middle where the two’s respective paths truly cross. This interesting way of storytelling was kept intact for the 2015 film adapation, and it definitely adds another layer of depth to the interactions Cathy and Jamie have. With gorgeous shots and costumes, I’d say this movie musical adaptation is worth a watch.


What are your thoughts on movie musicals? Was there anything I missed? Let me know if I should do a part two on movie musicals in the comments!

Review and Thoughts: War Paint (Pre Broadway Engagement)

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The highly anticipated new musical War Paint, starring Tony award winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, is set to begin Broadway previews in March. But patrons of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre got to see it first, beginning in June 2016 in a limited pre-Broadway engagement. I was lucky enough to be one of those who were able to see the show a bit later in its run at the Goodman, so let’s take a look at what you can expect from the Broadway production based on the first run of the show.

War Paint is a musical rooted in history. It tells the tale of the intense rivalry between two pioneers in the cosmetology business – Helena Rubinstein (Patti Lupone) and Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole). Spanning over 50 years, the rivalry between the two women is showcased through a myriad of songs – composed by Scott Frankel – mainly to show off the immense talents of its two leading players. The style of music is definitely what I’d call traditional musical theatre, with many ballads right off the bat. I personally enjoyed the more upbeat numbers, such as “Fire And Ice”, “War Paint”, and “Step On Out”. LuPone and Ebersole are one hundred percent worth the price of admission to this show. In fact, these two theatre icons are what give the show its heart and depth in terms of acting level. Without them, this show would certainly not be creating the buzz that it is this season.

However, the two stars aren’t the only reason for high praise. The set of the show, primarily designed by David Korins (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen) is stunning. Akin to shows like Next to Normal, the set and lighting change with the character who is being featured in the scene. A great example of how Korins interprets this direction comes throughout the entire show, as Helena and Elizabeth share the stage together each of them have their own “side”, where all the action of their respective lives is contained.

With direction from Michael Greif (Next to Normal, Dear Evan Hansen, If/Then), the design, score, and story fall perfectly into place to create a wonderfully charming masterpiece of theatre. While the plot may not be for everyone, the real life women who are the basis for it are incredibly fascinating to research. If anything, I hope War Paint will bring awareness to how influential women in business can be to impressionable audience members looking to be inspired. Encompassing true theatrical magic and talent in every capacity, War Paint is a long time theatre fan’s dream.


War Paint begins previews at the Nederlander Theatre on March 7th. For more information visit warpaintmusical.com.

The Art of Playbill Collecting and Trading

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You know those yellow-topped, purse-sized magazines you get when you see a play or a musical that give you some insight into who the cast and creatives are? Those are Playbills. In my experience, there are two kinds of theatergoers when it comes to Playbills: those who read the Playbills just as something to do before the show, then just leave them on the floor when they leave, and those who are the exact opposite and cherish every Playbill they own, even going as far to a bit after the show to pick up dropped ones. The latter kind of person is most likely a Playbill collector. Today, we’re going to dive deep into the intricate art of Playbill collecting, trading, and selling – and why people are so addicted to it.

Something about the idea of having a free keepsake from a 2 hour theatre piece is what draws people in to Playbill collecting. Like most collections, it starts small, with just one Playbill. In my personal experience, I just saved every Playbill from the few shows I had seen from the start. Then the rest of my family who had brought their Playbills home pawned them off on me, and from there I made a choice to work on growing my collection. So, if you want to start a Playbill collection just by seeing shows, give it time! Remember that even the largest collections started somewhere.

If waiting isn’t your style, it’s time to do some research into the vast world of Playbill trading and selling. Want a Playbill for a certain show that features a specific cast? Chances are, you can get one by trading one of your Playbills with another Playbill seller. Through negotiation, you can work out which one of your Playbills is of “equal value” to what one you want, payment, and shipment. If you’re looking to trade, make sure you do it through a reputable platform, such as Tumblr, BroadwayWorld Forums, or the Broadway subreddit. On the other hand, if you’re looking to just get of a Playbill or snag a couple extra dollars, you can sell you playbills instead. Ebay is the most common place for this.

Despite all the fun, having a large Playbill collection comes with a literal price: storage. Most hardcore Playbill collectors have one or more official Playbill binders – which are priced from a range of $15-$40 based on Playbill capacity – to keep them safe if they plan on displaying, trading, or selling them. But if you don’t have a large collection or the funds to practically secure your Playbills in a maximum security fortress, fear not! One storage option I used when I first started out Playbill collecting is an item everyone might have laying around the house: a shoe box. It sounds odd, but a regular old shoe box is the perfect size for at least 20 or so Playbills. If you store the box in a dry, room temperature climate, it should work out just fine. Make sure to upgrade your storage once your collection gets bigger, or you decide to sell or trade. Keeping your Playbills in the best condition possible is crucial to making a successful trade.

Whether you’re brand new to Playbill collecting and trading or you’re a seasoned pro, the most important thing to remember is don’t be intimidated. You’ll learn as you go. Have fun and get collecting!


And that’s it! Those are basics when it comes to maintaining a Playbill collection, and trading and selling. Was there anything I missed? What’s your favorite Playbill in your collection? Let me know in the comments!