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Fancast: Hadestown on Broadway

HADESTOWN ON BROADWAY

Hadestown began as a concept album, way back in 2010.  I fell in love with it immediately, and spent years envisioning how it might be adapted for the stage. In 2016, my dreams came true, and the New York Theater Workshop turned Hadestown into a production which I loved.  Following the successful run at the NYTW, Hadestown went up to the Citadel Theater in Canada in what many are saying is a pre-Broadway run.  I have no doubt that the show will indeed find its way to Broadway soon!

Now, I’m also pretty sure that many of the current cast members will go to Broadway with it, given that some of them are relatively big in theater (Patrick Page, Amber Gray). I do like the current cast, but, as these things always go, I still have a dreamcast in mind, which I will discuss below.  I’ve made sure to embed pertinent videos showcasing the actors’ voices as well, so be sure to check those out! Continue reading “Fancast: Hadestown on Broadway”

end of year: scrapbook

2017 Scrapbook

2017 scrapbook

I used to do this on Livejournal.  Then, not only did Livejournal become a ghost town, Photobucket basically went belly up. So I figured it was way past time for a new home for my annual tradition.

Basically, this is a compilation of all the things that I had enjoyed in my year, like music, books, television, films, and actors. Now that I have an entire blog dedicated to talking about books, I hardly need to include that in the scrapbook, but I still wanted to include my other new discoveries! I’m certainly not including every single thing I watched or listened to, only the things I want to remember.  I always have such great fun doing this virtual scrapbook, and, as I’m going to tag people, I hope you will as well! (Feel free to use my banner if you like!)


Continue reading “2017 Scrapbook”

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Stage Corner: School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play

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Lightly inspired by the cult classic Mean Girls, but with much more depth, School Girls elucidates the tribulations five Ghanian school girls.  Set in an exclusive Ghanian boarding school in 1986, School Girls opens with its characters sauntering on stage runway style to obnoxious pop music.  Quickly enough, it is established that Paulina is Queen Bee, ruling the school and her friends with a toxic mixture of cruelty and camaraderie.  Everyone expects Paulina to be chosen as that year’s Miss Ghana – that is, until new student Ericka arrives.  American-born, biracial, and light-skinned, the spotlight immediately swivels off Paulina and onto her.

There are five school girls. Nabiyah Be portrays Ericka with a charm that quickly turns to barely-concealed fury at the play’s climax, a performance that seemed a little too big for the play but held the audience in absolute rapture with its utter intensity.  Mirirai Sithole and Paige Gilbert as Mercy and Gifty, witty and affable, bring an innocent light-heartedness. Abena Mensah-Bonsu plays Nana, an overweight girl, with a quiet strength and determination.  Nike Kadri plays intelligent Ama with a natural ease.  Last but certainly not least, Maame Yaa Baofo’s performance as Paulina brings forth depth and complexity to what might have otherwise been an irredeemable character.  While Paulina often seems to cross the line into utter, cartoonish villainy, Baofo lends her a simmering self-loathing that makes it difficult not to sympathize with her.  Not to be forgotten are Zainab Jah and Myra Lucretia Taylor as Eloise and Headmistress Francis, both of whom bring their own mean girl days into the fray.  In other words: a stellar cast.

Written by Jocelyn Bioh (an actress herself), School Girls is inspired by a real-life Miss Ghana: Erica Nego, an American-Ghanian biracial woman who embodies the “universal and commercial” look (read: light-skinned and vaguely European looking) that the Miss Universe pageant inevitably succumbs to.  It is with this context in mind that the play interrogates the toxicity of colorism.

Colorism, as defined by Alice Walker, is “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”  Rooted in anti-blackness, colorism is deeply entrenched in almost all communities of color.  In Egypt, where colorism, anti-blackness, and internalized racism run rampant, bleaching creams like Fair & Lovely littered the shelves of pharmacies and grocery stores. My darker-skinned cousins used it all the time, and even I, already pale-skinned for an Egyptian woman, was encouraged to stay out of the sun and use the bleaching cream whenever I developed a tan.

Fair & Lovely seems mild and innocent, however, compared to the more powerful bleaching creams used in School Girls, which have landed dark-skinned Paulina in the hospital multiple times, for burnt and bloodied skin.  Though the incidents are not directly discussed in the play, their obvious insidiousness nevertheless drew gasps from the audience.  The yearning for whiteness is clearly established in a scene where the girls cluster around Ericka and marvel at her light skin, asking her what bleaching cream she uses, and are stunned when she reveals that is her natural skin tone.  Ericka’s ethnically ambiguous looks attract Eloise, Miss Ghana 1966 and current pageant recruiter, and she sets her sights on Ericka as someone who would appeal to the Miss Universe judges more than Paulina, whose features embody West Africa.  Eloise, very dark-skinned herself, has nevertheless learned to play the game of white supremacy to her advantage.

School Girls treads a thin line between humor and horror, with laughs quickly turning to gasps and stunned silence.  Emotional beats are passionate and hard-hitting, while humorous moments are quick and sharp-witted and occasionally bombastic in fantastic way.  In one powerhouse scene, the five girls perform a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” while auditioning for Eloise.  Without giving anything away, I will say that the scene is big and loud and staged in such a way that sets up a fantastic payoff that had the audience applauding wildly.

School Girls packs a big punch in a short 75 minutes that goes by in what feels like minutes.  With humor and heart, it tackles poignant issues of class, colorism, and intracommunity privileges under the cover of pink lights and mean girl nonsense.  School Girls is a breath of fresh air and an absolute delight.

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Stage Corner: Ghost Quartet

a2408801532_10When I was watching Ghost Quartet, the one thing going through my mind was, “This is so fucking weird.” Ghost Quartet is one hell of an avante-garde production, capitalizing on eclectic musical styles and unusual performance.

What is it about? I’m not entirely sure. It’s certainly not the easiest show to follow.  It consists of four intertwined stories, layered upon one another like matryoshka dolls, and told out of order.  The main story is that of two sisters named Pearl and Rose who become enemies.  I’m just gonna copy and paste from the original press notes: “A camera breaks and four friends drink in four interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries: a warped fairy tale about two sisters, a treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear; a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’; a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherazade and the ghost of Thelonious Monk; and a contemporary fable about a subway murder. Throughout these four stories two women cross paths, sometimes as strangers, sometimes as sisters, sometimes as lovers, sometimes as mother and daughter.”

It’s an odd duck of a show.  The entire production takes place in a tiny carpeted room, with some of the audience sitting on cushions on the floor.  Stage decorations are sparse; some lanterns hanging from the ceilings, old-fashioned carpets, and bottles of alcohol. You wouldn’t think that sitting in a small room watching four people sing would be so entertaining, but it is!

For me, what was truly spectacular to me about this show as the performances of the two leading ladies, Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell.  I had previously seen both of them in Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, but in Ghost Quartet they truly have a chance to explore their vocal range.  I had already liked Brittain’s voice, but here she does so many more interesting things with it.  Gelsey Bell left me speechless.  There were moments when Gelsey was singing where I was literally sitting in my seat open-mouthed.

Not only are they both spectacular singers, but they are performers.  Gelsey flitted between various characters, from Pearl to the ancient storyteller Scheherazade to the ill Lady Usher, playing wise and droll and creepy with equal fortitude.  Brittain was equally capable in both her wide-eyed innocence and in her fury.  Together, Brittain and Gelsey make a formidable pair.

The other two performers, Brent Arnold and Dave Malloy, were only “fine” in comparison.  Brent barely featured, but I did enjoy his voice when he sang.  I am still unimpressed by Dave’s voice, but I was very happy to be sitting barely two feet from him as he played piano.

As the show runs through stories spanning seven centuries or more, switching from modern to ancient in a single song, it evokes a feeling of timelessness, like it exists cut out of the normal space-time continuum.  It naturally follows that it feels epic, like the stories of old, and as a creator it inspired me so much I wished I could bottle my feelings from that night and return to them whenever I need creative boost.

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Stage Corner: Sweeney Todd

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Last week, I attended a performance of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theater.  Small and intimate and shedding the matter of the proscenium, the entire show takes place in a recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash, which is a London pie shop that has been in operation for 109 years! The set looks exactly like Harrington’s, with cafeteria style tables and dilapidated tiles.  This makes for an immersive, almost claustrophobic atmosphere that intensifies the performances.

And what performances they were! Pretty much the entire cast was stellar, with standouts for me being Michael James Leslie as Judge Turpin and Eryn Lecroy as Johanna.  Leslie has a deep bass voice that practically made the room quake.  Lecroy has a sweet, high soprano, probably typical of this role, but what made her stand out for me was her acting! She played Johanna with a kind of resigned snark and hidden simmering fury that made the character way more intriguing than she could have been.

Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett was utterly hilarious, and rightfully received most of the laughs.  John-Michael Lyles was a very endearing and flamboyant Tobias.  And Jake Boyd played Anthony with a kind of wild exuberance and barely controlled panic (and his voice was fab!).  Hugh Panero was fine – I didn’t dislike him, and his voice is certainly good, but his acting left much to be desired. Perhaps it’s the direction, perhaps it’s the role, but I found him to be wooden and somewhat removed from the performance, as though he were a dimension away from all the other actors.

The show itself was so, so creepy! It made great use of the small room to play around with various lighting effects that enhanced the creep factor.  The actors totally gave in to camp, joining together in intense chorus that sounded nearly hymnal, a brilliant contrast given the show’s subject matter.  There was black humor in droves, including a song consisting almost entirely of puns about baking people into pies.

It was such a fun experience! I really felt like I had been transported to Victorian London, that I was a customer in a dingy pie shop.  I even had the pre-show meat pie and mash, which, sadly, were not to my taste.  Spices, people! Have you heard of spices? And why are you putting cheese in mashed potatoes, come on!

My first and only experience with Sweeney Todd was that Johnny Depp movie like ten years ago.  Needless to say, this was definitely an improvement on that, and a perfect show to see during Halloween month!