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.

Theatre Etiquette You Need To Know

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The word “etiquette” is defined by Google as “the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group”, which definitely applies to theatre. After all, a night at a theatre is a drastically different environment than a night at the movie theater. But as of late, there have many incidents to suggest that people often forget how to act in a theatre – from a patron trying to charge his phone using a fake outlet on stage, to Patti Lupone famously taking an audience member’s phone and scolding them for texting during a show. So today, I’m going to shed some light on the things you should and shouldn’t do while at the theatre.

Turn off your phone

You saw this one coming. As the cast of An American in Paris says during their Easter Bonnet parody of The Book of Mormon‘s “Turn It Off”, well, audiences seem to be trouble having doing just that. At most shows just before the lights dim, there will typically be an announcement reminding audience members to turn their electronics off, as they can be a distraction to those on stage. A good number of audience members will not take this seriously and completely ignore it, continuing to use their phones up until the overture starts.

What most people don’t realize is that the announcement is right; it is a huge distraction to actors on stage, and other audience members. It’s not just the sound of your default iPhone ringtone if it happens to go off, it’s the light from the screen if you’re texting. Not only can other audience members see it as clear as day, actors can too. The bright stage lights often make things beyond the stage completely dark and difficult to see, helping actors to concentrate on the scene and not so much the audience – but if there’s a phone out, actors can say goodbye to their hyper focus.

This issue has become so common in theaters around the world that a West End theater in London had considered pointing a laser in the faces of those who commit this offense in theater. Even if you’re Snapchatting how you’re at Hamilton and just have to get that last lyric quote in, it can wait. If there’s suddenly an emergency, take it to the lobby. The rest of the audience will thank you.

Don’t leave during the bows

We all understand parking is expensive and you don’t want to get swept up in the rush of people leaving at the same time to get to their cars, or you just have to be first in line to meet your favorite actor at the stage door. But leaving during the bows gives the impression that you are in a rush to get out of there and don’t really have any interest in celebrating the people who entertained you.

You spent just two hours at a show, the least you could do is spend a few more minutes rewarding the actors and band for the their hard work. Plus, pushing past others who are seated around you and want to enjoy the bows in incredible rude. Just calm down and stay put. Your car won’t miss you.

Don’t talk or sing during the show

I don’t care if this is your kid’s 20th time seeing Wicked and just wants to belt out “Defying Gravity” with Elphaba. Singing along with the show while it’s being performed is completely unacceptable in any circumstance. Those who do this take away attention from the actual performers and make it seem as though they aren’t really paying attention to the show in the first place.

The same goes for talking. It’s fine to have an audible reaction to something (like laughing or gasping), but turning to a fellow audience member to ask a question about the show or critique an actor’s looks is inappropriate during the show. If you just have to tell someone, wait until intermission or after the show.

Of course, there is an exception to the no talking/singing rule: if you’re prompted to do so by the actors. The 2013 revival of Pippin is known for its audience participation in the song “No Time At All”. Despite this cases like this, always use your better judgement and remember that there’s a time and a place for everything.


What’s an instance where you saw someone not following theatre etiquette that made you angry? Should I make another post on theatre etiquette in the future? Tell me in the comments!

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.

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!

Review and Thoughts: Fun Home

A mother, a father, two sons and daughter. Sounds like an average American family, right? In Fun Home, not exactly.

In the first national touring production of the 2015 Best Musical Tony Award Winner, based upon lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home explores what it’s like to struggle with sexuality, gender roles, and other sensitive topics while growing up in a dysfunctional family. In the show, performed with no intermission, Alison Bechdel (played by Kate Shindle) reflects on her life during her college years (“Medium Alison” played by Abby Corrigan) and as a ten-year-old (“Small Alison” played by Alessandra Baldacchino) to try and unravel the enigma that was her father, Bruce Bechdel (played by Robert Petkoff) – the director of the Bechdel family funeral home (hence “Fun Home”) and a closeted gay man – and Alison’s belief that her own coming out led to his eventual suicide.

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The captivating true story of Alison Bechdel’s family life is complimented by a gorgeous, emotional score written and composed by Tony Award winning team Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron. Tesori and Kron bring a pivotal moment in 10-year-old Alison’s self discovery – when she spots an “old school butch” looking woman in a diner – to fruition with arguably the show’s most recognizable and catchy tune, “Ring of Keys”. Other shining moments in the score include “Come to the Fun Home”, a high energy, dance-heavy sequence with Small Alison and her younger brothers making a commercial for the Bechdel funeral home, and “Edges of the World”, an incredibly raw and moving scene towards the end of the show when Bruce finally reaches his breaking point in regards to his well kept secrets he has hidden from his family and the people in his small home town in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. Moments such as these would not be nearly as impactful without the supporting cast members – such as Karen Eilbacher as “Joan”, Alison’s college girlfriend, who plays incredibly well to Corrigan’s awkward-yet-relatable Medium Alison.

On Broadway, the show was originally performed in the round at the Circle in the Square Theatre, so major revisions had to be made to Fun Home’s staging for it to work on tour. Without losing any of its ability to deeply connect with an audience, the Fun Home set is simple, yet flexible, with moving walls and furniture items to act in place of the intimacy the Circle in the Square Theatre provided the Broadway production. Even in a larger space like Chicago’s Oriental Theatre, the set works to suck you in and make you feel apart of the family dynamic and Alison’s internal struggles. In fact, for what the physical theatre space lacks in candidness like in the round on Broadway, the aforementioned supporting cast (along with the three Alisons) make up for in full force by way of their transparency, openness, and graceful respect for their real life counterparts when portraying the Bechdels as the family tumbles through the show’s rollercoaster of emotions. Often times, the acting was so powerful myself and a majority of the audience were left breathless during the intense, serious moments that you just can’t not pay attention to and audibly sobbing during the cathartic moments that tug at your heart strings.

Fun Home is no stranger to catharsis in the grand scheme of things, either. At its open in 2015, the show was full of firsts that were like a breath of fresh air to many avid theatre goers: it was, surprisingly, the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist as well as the first musical to win the Tony for Best Musical with an all-female creative team at its helm. In an industry that’s been traditionally favorable to gay men in storytelling, I feel that Fun Home is and will continue to be an invaluable story for not just the theatre community, but also for the queer community for decades to come. Whether you’re apart of the LGBT+ community or not, Fun Home is a relatable coming-of-age journey for anyone and everyone and is without a doubt a must-see.


Fun Home is currently touring across the country. Visit funhomebroadway.com for more info.