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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PT is back!

Hi everyone! It’s been a while…

To keep a long story short, my intended hiatus lasted longer than expected as a I had severe medical emergency that ended up throwing off my whole summer. But I’m now healthy and ready to get back into this blog!

So to celebrate the return of Project Theatricality and to thank you all for sticking with this blog, a new review is coming out this Tuesday, October 3rd! It’s one I’m sure you’ll all like.

Unfortunately, I can’t promise weekly posts, as I am a senior high school and juggling college planning and time to engage in the theatre community is tricky. But I will promise to post whenever I can! Hope you all can understand where I’m at right now.

I’m hoping to get the Twitter going again, so make sure you’re following! As for the subject of Tuesday’s post, here’s one of my favorite tracks from it…

See you Tuesday!

 

Review and Thoughts: Dear Evan Hansen Cast Album

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It’s finally here. The show everyone’s talking about this season, Dear Evan Hansen, just released their cast album this past Friday and I’m here to give my thoughts. I’ve got to be honest, I’m pretty biased towards this show – when the cast album was announced I pre-ordered it immediately. I first came across Dear Evan Hansen last spring when it was running Off Broadway at Second Stage Theatre through a few people on social media. The plot holds incredible similarities to something I experienced my freshman year of high school, and the use of social media and Ben Platt in the title role really drew me in. Despite my excitement, I’m going to try my best to take a neutral stance for this review. So, does the cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen truly live up to the hype of the show itself? Let’s find out.

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Ben Platt as the titular character, “Evan Hansen”.

In Dear Evan Hansen, high school senior Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) gets unexpectedly wrapped up in a complicated lie surrounding the suicide of fellow student Connor Murphy (Mike Faist). As the lie spreads through social media, the socially anxious Evan begins to connect with Connor’s sister and his crush, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss), and their parents, Larry (Michael Park) and Cynthia (Jennifer Laura Thompson). Eventually, tensions start to grow between Evan’s mother, Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) and his friends, Jared (Will Roland) and Alana (Kristolyn Lloyd), causing Evan to wonder if he did the right thing for a chance to fit in.

One thing that is apparent the moment you hit play on the cast album, is that every cast member has a moment to shine. Interestingly, the first song of the album, “Anybody Have a Map?” features Heidi and Cynthia and their struggles in parenting in a digital age. The decision to feature the mothers of Dear Evan Hansen versus the titular character in the first song of the show really sets the tone for the rest of the musical and shows the listener that no character will be pushed to the side without getting at least some development.

The most notable performance on the album is Ben Platt (best known for his role as “Benji” in the Pitch Perfect films) in the title role. His breakout song in the musical is “Waving Through a Window“, in which Evan expresses his desire to fit in with his peers and be apart of something bigger. The aforementioned song has been quite popular with listeners even before the cast album release, thanks to its incredibly relatable lyrics (written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and to the Dear Evan Hansen marketing team releasing it as a free download to those whole pre-ordered the cast album. Platt’s impressive tenor vocals that feature a strong belt also take center stage in “For Forever” and “Words Fail” – the latter of which many say is the most emotional song in album thanks to Platt’s talents. Rachel Bay Jones as Heidi has a few similar moments as well – “So Big / So Small” is a number so emotionally draining on Jones that after she comes off stage, one of the stage managers tells her a different joke after every live performance. Her, along with Kristolyn Lloyd as Alana and Will Roland as Jared also give a commendable performance in the intense Act 2 number “Good For You“, in which Evan’s lie is exposed and his friends and family become upset with his choices.

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Ben Platt as Evan, Will Roland as Jared (center), and Mike Faist as Connor in Dear Evan Hansen.

A more comedic song and arguably the most catchy out of the whole track list, is “Sincerely, Me“, which features Platt, Faist, and Roland’s characters trying to write backdated emails to back up Evan’s claim that him and Connor were in fact friends and wrote candid emails to each other. With a toe-tapping, bouncing piano melody, a catchy refrain that’s been stuck in my head all weekend, and lyrics that are just plain absurd when taken out of context such as “You’ll be obsessed with all my forest expertise!”, this song is my personal favorite.

But perhaps the true selling point of the Dear Evan Hansen cast album (at the time of writing this, it currently sits at the number one spot on the iTunes top albums chart), despite its stellar cast, is what its message provides listeners of all ages with – a sense of belonging.  This comes in the form of the show’s powerful Act 1 finale, “You Will Be Found“, where Evan attempts to convince those at a school assembly that there will always be someone there for them. The song’s building chorus comes to fruition with a simple refrain of the phrase “You are not alone.” that practically bursts with hope. The titular mantra of the song has become so popular among fans that the official Dear Evan Hansen social media have taken to using it as a marketing hashtag, which many fans use to share their personal stories, photos, covers, fanart, and more to show what the musical means to them. If you must listen to only one song from Dear Evan Hansen, I’m begging you – make it this one.

The message that “You Will Be Found” and Dear Evan Hansen itself tries to leave its listeners, I feel, is the beauty of Dear Evan Hansen‘s cast album release: everyone – no matter how old you are, where you come from, or the circumstances – can relate to feeling alone, feeling like a burden, feeling like nobody would notice if you just disappeared one day.  What’s difficult to grasp about that feeling – if you’ve ever felt it in any magnitude – is that you can’t really understand the immense weight of that feeling and how so many people are affected by it until you see it manifest in such a large way. Until you truly see it’s not just you. And seeing a entire real, tangible community of people who have once experienced similar struggles and come out the other side intact makes it true that, yes, you are not alone in what you feel. And yes – you will be found, no matter how broken you might be.


Dear Evan Hansen is currently playing on Broadway, and the cast album is available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube. For more information visit dearevanhansen.com.

 

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.