May The Force Be With You: Pablo Hidalgo & Turning Passion into a Profession

Mr. Hidalgo and I after his lecture on Oct. 30. His jacket says “VII” on the sleeve. I’m screaming internally.

Fear not, musical lovers: the normal content will resume soon. I wanted to make a post expressing my feelings about this event and there was no better platform for me to do this than my blog. 

On Friday morning, I had the great fortune of being able to see Lucasfilm Creative Executive Pablo Hidalgo speak. Nineteen years ago, Mr. Hidalgo graduated from the same program that I’m currently in. Four years after his grad, he got a job at Lucasfilm. Now, he’s in the story group. He’s one of the people who decides where the Star Wars storyline goes. What? Could anybody ask for a cooler job?

Mr. Hidalgo spoke on how, as a kid, he gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe playing the roleplaying game. He would be the game master so he would have to know how each character would act as canonically as possible. His Independent Professional Project (IPP) was a Star Wars encyclopedia, since an official one hadn’t been published yet and an online database wasn’t yet established. Eventually, Hidalgo got in touch with the author of the official encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet. Hidalgo proofread it. And made corrections. (In the 2008 revision, Hidalgo was a co-author.) Eventually, a position opened up at Lucasfilm, and Sansweet was on the hiring committee. Since then, Hidalgo worked his way up through the company, starting as a web developer, becoming an on-set blogger for Episode III, and now, deciding where the story gets to go next. Being a giant nerd made his dreams come true.

I began to think about my own career path after this talk. I had always thought that I would get a job at an ad agency or another organization and work at a desk every day, nine to five, get a pension, benefits, and job security. Although that would satisfy monetary costs to cover basic human needs, I never thought about my happiness. My happiness would exist outside of my job, I thought. As long as I never had to struggle with money, I could travel, I could raise children, I could send them to college, and I could rest easy knowing that I had a paycheque coming every week. But Mr. Hidalgo’s talk made me think about my career in a different way. Why should passion and money be mutually exclusive?

I love theatre, of course. For some reason, I always considered a career in theatre as one on stage. I never realized that there are thousands of people who work in marketing teams and who design Playbills and posters and giant ads in Times Square. There are people who work for Broadway Across America and Canada and for the Shubert and Nederlander Organizations, respectively. Why not me?

Mr. Hidalgo, if you ever read this, I want to say thank you. Thank you for unashamedly being yourself. Thank you for loving Star Wars even when it wasn’t cool to like it. Thank you for using the tools you learned in CreComm to the best of your advantage, and thank you for showing me how I could too. Thank you for using your passion and turning it into your profession. Thank you for showing me that I never have to give up on my dreams. I only have to pursue them.


Over at the Frankenstein Place: Musicals for Halloween

Come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab. (L-R) Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien star in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Image courtesy

Halloween is only a few days away, and it’s time to pull out the shows that put us in the mood to be scared. There’s just one problem with this: I’m the world’s biggest scaredy cat. For this list, there will be some musicals featured that I’ve never seen before, mostly because I’m too much of a giant child. For those of you that have the guts, enjoy these spooky shows.

Based on Stephen King’s legendary high school revenge novel, Carrie first opened on Broadway in 1988 and only ran for 21 performances (total, with previews). Since then, it’s been revived in many regional productions, including a new immersive experience currently running in Los Angeles.
Check out the trailer for Carrie: The Killer Musical Experience here.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
It hasn’t been turned into a stage musical just yet, but Jack, The Pumpkin King, has been a staple in the Halloween and underground subcultures since it came out 22 years ago. Although the story revolves around Jack Skellington discovering Christmas and utterly ruining it for children everywhere, director Henry Selick recently said that it was a Halloween movie. No debate. It’s not scary, perhaps only a bit frightening, which makes it perfectly suitable for children (or me).

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The notorious cannibal murderer (oops, spoiler alert!) of Broadway became an instant classic since it opened in 1979. The Best Musical Tony winner has become one of Stephen Sondheim’s most well-known works. Recently, when a high school had to cancel their production of it, Sondheim came to their rescue, writing a letter to the staff and students. He notably said that “What Sweeney Todd is really about is having a good time.” Don’t let the violence and gore scare you away  — it’s not to be missed.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
No October is complete without dancing the Time Warp. The cult classic began as a stage musical in 1973 before the film was released in 1975, featuring much of the same cast (including Tim Curry in his first-ever movie role). Follow young couple Brad and Janet on their journey to inform their former professor that they’re now engaged, but instead, their car breaks down and they end up at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle/laboratory. A parody of classic B-rated horror movies, Rocky Horror is forty years going strong and has no end in sight.

Playbill has a whole list of horror stories made musicals (including Phantom of the Opera… I’m gonna call a bit of a stretch on that one) that you can check out here. Happy and spooky watching!

Here’s to Them and Here’s to You: The EGOT Club

Julie Andrews, queen of my life, with her Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins in 1965. Image courtesy OperaGloves.

The theatre world is filled with tons of awards, more than are even known to the public — the Tony Awards, the Olivier Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Audience Choice Awards, Drama League Awards, Theatre World Awards… the list goes on. But the most-prestigious and least-often-gained award is not just one statue, but four. Less than twenty people are members of the EGOT club.

To become a member, you must win the four most important awards in the North American entertainment industry: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. In the last fifty-three years, only sixteen people have managed to do that (and four of them have honourary awards. Sorry, Babs.) The list, beginning with Richard Rodgers in 1962, has names on it like Audrey Hepburn, Mel Brooks, Whoopi Goldberg, Liza Minnelli, and James Earl Jones. The most recent additions to the list were both in 2014: Harry Belafonte with an honourary humanitarian Oscar, and Robert Lopez, co-composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, and Frozen, who won his Oscar with his wife for the princess tale.

Some artists are close to becoming part of the club. Lin-Manuel Miranda is only an Oscar away (he mentioned it in his BET freestyle) and he’s composing the score for Disney’s latest princess story Moana.

One surprise? Julie Andrews isn’t part of the club yet. She famously turned down her Tony nomination for Victor/Victoria when the rest of the show wasn’t nominated, and since then, she’s only earned the EGO, no T. One can assume she’ll earn an honourary Tony soon, but Playbill thinks she’d be great in a play. Same, Playbill. Same.

Some other people that are close include Cher (yet to earn a Tony), Elton John (no Emmy), Stephen Sondheim (!!!!!!!) (also no Emmy), Dick Van Dyke (no Oscar), and Jeremy Irons (no Grammy). Neil Patrick Harris is two away (no Oscar and no Grammy) and so is Patti Lupone (no Emmy, though she has been nominated, and no Oscar). Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar and a Grammy — but she could add a T to her collection as she gears up to star in The Colour Purple on Broadway next month.

What does the EGOT club actually get you? Bragging rights only. There’s no special trophy or ceremony, but you get the satisfaction knowing that you’re a quadruple threat.

A Beginner’s Companion to Musical Theatre

No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy
No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy

So, you’ve stumbled across this blog. Maybe it’s because you’re genuinely interested in what I have to say. Maybe I’m forcing you to read this because you’re my mom. Maybe you’d like to know what I’m talking about but in reality, you’ve never watched a musical before. Who’s Julie Andrews?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. You’re just like tons of other people who have never experienced the joys of musical theatre before. I have a personal belief that those who don’t like musicals just haven’t discovered their favourite yet. I understand the theatre world is overwhelming — where do I start? What if I don’t have the money to spend on shows? You can be a theatre nerd on a budget too. Let me take you under my wing and recommend some shows for you to begin on your path to musical enlightenment.

Everything is RENT. As soon as it made its Broadway debut in 1996, RENT was a hit. Based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, it follows eight friends living in New York City in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It sounds sad, but RENT tells one of the most important stories ever told on the stage. Plus, baby Idina Menzel in her first Broadway role ever? Come on! RENT ran on Broadway for 12 years before closing in September of 2008. By the time the show is over, I guarantee you will be singing “Seasons of Love” until the wee hours of the night.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Netflix | Amazon | iTunes
Final Broadway Performance: Amazon | iTunes

The Phantom of the Opera
I pick on Phantom a lot, but it’s a musical theatre staple. It’s been running in London almost as long as Les Mis has (almost) and is the longest-running show on Broadway. The show is based on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel about up-and-coming opera singer Christine, whose voice coach is a mysterious voice who she sort of believes to be her dead father but he has romantic feelings for her? Yes, this is a hit, from the same guy who wrote Cats.
It began its London run in 1986 and its Broadway run in 1988 — both are still running to this day. Many movies have been adapted from Leroux but an adaptation of the musical was released in 2004, starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine. I’ve voiced my opinion on this movie before.
Whether you love it or you hate it, it’s a classic and no theatre nerd’s collection is complete without a little Phantom.
Cast Recording (there are many, so this is my favourite): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Live: Amazon | iTunes

Les Miserables
Am I biased? Totally and completely. But no musical-starter-pack is ever complete without Les Mis. The longest-running musical in the world follows newly-released convict Jean Valjean as he escapes parole and takes on a new identity and becomes mayor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there, as Javert, an inspector, discovers that Valjean is still on the loose and chases after him for most of his life. With iconic songs, beautiful production and an unforgettable story, Les Mis proves that some tales never go out of style.
Cast Recording (from the 25th anniversary cast): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Concert: Amazon | iTunes

The Sound of Music
The hills are alive with the sound of Julie Andrews’ four-octave singing voice. This Rogers & Hammerstein staple is often an introduction to musical theatre education because (for some reason) it’s on TV at Christmastime. Although it can be a daunting task (it’s three hours — without commercials), the classic tale of Maria, the nun-to-be, who teaches the seven children of a navy captain how to sing is just as captivating as it was 50 years ago.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
The Sound of Music Live! (watch it for Audra McDonald, queen of my life): Amazon | iTunes

Bonus: Hamilton
There’s no movie or official recording for this show because it just opened, but Broadway’s best and brightest are all rushing to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest smash musical. Ever think that the story of the treasury-secretary Alexander Hamilton would make good material for a rap/hip hop musical? Miranda did. Want to know what makes the highest A-list of celebrities (President Obama saw the show in July, and then bought out an entire performance as a fundraiser) keep buying tickets? The cast recording is out now, and since it’s a complete recording (with only one track missing), you can follow along at home.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

Happy Birthday, Les Mis: An Open Love Letter

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The London cast of Les Miserables celebrates the show’s 30th birthday. Image courtesy

Dear Les Miserables:

Today is your birthday! Not only that, but it’s your 30th birthday. You’re the world’s longest-running and arguably (I’m arguing it) greatest musical of all time. You have an amazing amount to celebrate today.

But let me get real a second. Not only do you continue to astonish audiences around the world in numerous productions, but you also changed my life. I heard your story for the first time three years ago and since then I have dived head-first into musical theatre mania and never looked back. I dragged my fiancé to Broadway on a shoestring budget so I could see your beautiful show. Your music turns naysayers into believers. Your story teaches us that we should forgive and never forget and that nothing is more powerful than love.
But how did you get there? No show starts as a phenomenon.

The original production has been running in London since it opened in 1985. There has been three Broadway productions, including the one currently running, countless touring productions and endless regional shows.

The multitude of stories within the show makes it stand out. Even though all of those stories are threaded together by Valjean’s life, the audience cares about all of the characters (my friend Connor would beg to differ, but this isn’t his blog. His blog is here). There are tons of dedicated Les Mis fans who will tell you that their favourite character is Courfeyrac or Feuilly (who? Exactly). Everyone can find someone to identify with, regardless of the outcome of the characters.

The music of a show, as I’ve learned, is so important to the timelessness that it retains. Shows like Phantom of the Opera are pretty ’80s (listen to the drum machine in the title track). If you listen to the French demo recording of Les Mis from 1980, you’ll hear some pretty awful disco music during “ABC Cafe/Red and Black.” Thankfully, that was changed before your debut. Now, the classic orchestra score not only allows you to transcend generations, but songs like “I Dreamed A Dream” and “Bring Him Home” have become pop hits outside of the show.

The message of Les Mis is what makes it so important. No matter what happens, no matter who dies, tomorrow comes. Tomorrow always comes. And you should be there to be a part of it.

Ramin Karimloo, who was Broadway’s Valjean up until a month ago, tweeted this out today:

@raminkarimloo: Happy Birthday @lesmisofficial … What a wonderful friend you’ve been. Love that we’ve been in each others’ lives. You’re amazing.

Thanks for everything, Les Mis. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am today.



Please Don’t Bring Your Baby to the Theatre and Other Tips & Etiquette

Patti LuPone will kick you out of a theatre without hesitation. Shown here starring in Company in 2011. Image courtesy LA Times.

This summer, a mother with a small baby was denied access to a performance of Sister Act at Rainbow Stage, despite the theatre’s very clear no-babes-in-arms policy listed on their website and their tickets. Most of the online comments I read agreed with my opinion, which is that this is ridiculous and that the baby should stay at home. Being a dedicated theatre patron, I thought I would offer my advice to make your theatre experience the best one possible.

Leave your small children at home.
To begin with a topical and (I hope) most obvious tip, please do not bring your small children to a performance. Some theatres in New York ban all children under 7. A good rule of thumb is that if they don’t receive good school comments about staying in their seat, they’re not ready to sit down for three hours in a row. If your child isn’t in school yet, they better be trained. Do not, under any circumstances, bring a baby to the theatre. Even if it’s The Lion King. Save yourself $90 and watch the movie on repeat at home. They’re not going to remember it anyway. If you’re wondering about the content of the show, check your local theatre’s website or call them to find out their policy. If you really can’t be separated from your child for that long, your mind will not be on the show anyway and you’ve wasted your money.

Dress appropriately.
It’s not necessary to dress up in evening gowns and tuxedos to go to the theatre anymore. You should, however, put some thought into the way that you dress. It shows respect to the theatre and to the actors. A good outfit is usually a pair of dress pants and a nice dress or polo shirt or blouse. A sundress with a cardigan is also nice. Shorts with a nice T-shirt are okay if it’s an outdoor theatre. Think job interview. It’s also important to go easy on the perfume or cologne. Some people have sensitivities to strong scents and this could give them a serious allergic reaction or at the very least, give them a headache and ruin the experience for them.

Put your phone away.
I’ve noticed this more in American theatres, but the glare from the screen of a phone is the most annoying and distracting thing in a performance possible. The audience behind and beside you can see it. The actors can see it. Madonna attended a performance of Hamilton in its run at the Public Theatre and was denied access backstage after the show because she was on her phone the whole time. Actor Jonathan Groff had some choice words to say about that. Please, leave your phone in your pocket or purse for the time that actors are on stage. You don’t want to feel the wrath of Patti.

Don’t sing along.
I’m pretty sure I could get up on a stage and perform the entire songbook from RENT without hesitation. That doesn’t mean I should. Yes, I know you know all the words to “Defying Gravity,” but if I paid to see the actress playing Elphaba to sing it, that’s who I want to hear sing it. Please, unless invited to (such as in Hedwig‘s “Wig in a Box” or “Midnight Radio”), refrain from singing along.

Have compassion for your fellow audience members.
Recently, at a performance of The King and I in New York, an autistic audience member was “yelping” during the show and other theatregoers were getting upset. Kelvin Moon Loh, who stars in the show, came out with a wonderful statement that said: “I ask you — when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?” This is not the same as fussy babies or wearing too much perfume. This individual is a member of our society, the same as anyone else, and has a place in the theatre community.

Enjoy yourself.
I can’t tell you how many humming-and-hawing husbands I’ve sat beside. Listen, buddy. You’re paying some good money to watch some talented people do what they do best. Relax. You can ask my fiancee — who used to dislike theatre — about how I’ve turned him into a convert (sometimes he texts me about how “Music of the Night” has been in his head all day. He knows a way to a girl’s heart). Don’t be stubborn about it, let yourself enjoy it. My father will tell you unashamedly how much he likes The Sound of Music. It’s not emasculating. It’s making you cultured. Sighing throughout the entire performance is not helping anyone.

Follow my tips and I promise that you and all of your fellow theatregoers will have an excellent experience at your next musical or play.