The Rainbow (Stage) Connection: Winnipeg on Broadway

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Winnipegger Samantha Hill and Ramin Karimloo backstage at Les Misérables on Broadway. Image courtesy the official Les Mis tumblr.

Author’s note: I couldn’t confirm if any of these actors have actually performed at Rainbow Stage since they don’t have an actor archive on their website. If you know one way or the other, leave me a comment!

The distance between Winnipeg and the Great White Way can seem too far a gap sometimes. I often think this when I’m looking at my bank account and the Hamilton Ticketmaster page simultaneously. But not only have people saved enough money to buy a single ticket to a show (it can happen again, I tell myself), but some hard-working, talented people have seen their names published in Playbill.

Len Cariou
Best known for being the original Sweeney Todd (in Sweeney Todd), Cariou is a St. B native and has been inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. He also holds the Order of Manitoba and honourary degrees from the University of Windsor and the University of Winnipeg. He didn’t start his theatre life playing the infamous throat-slasher: his career began at Miles Macdonell, starring in The Pirates of Penzance. Cariou would go on to originate the role of Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music before bringing Sweeney to the stage. Cariou, now 76, stars in the cop drama Blue Bloods.

Jayne Paterson
Paterson began her Broadway career when she took over the role of Fantine in the original Broadway production of Les Mis. Since then, she’s been a member of the company in the original productions of Mary PoppinsBilly Elliot: The Musical, and the revival of A Little Night Music.

Samantha Hill
Hill hasn’t been on Broadway for very long, but both of the roles she’s played have been amongst the most well-known in theatre. She began as the alternate Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera in 2012 before becoming the principal four months later. In 2014, she played Cosette in Les Mis from when the second revival opened to August 30 of this year.

Nyk Bielak
Bielak is currently standby for Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon on Broadway. Before that, he was doing the same role on the first national tour of Mormon, which passed through Winnipeg, ironically, right after he switched over.

So as these winter months wash over us and we begin to see our biggest and brightest hopes get buried under the snow, perhaps Winnipeggers need to remember the famous words from Rocky Horror: “Don’t dream it, be it!”

Virtual Reality and The Future of Broadway

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A screen capture of The Lion King‘s 360 degree “Circle of Life” video.

Last month, the team at the School of Rock musical (now in previews) unveiled the first-ever virtual reality (VR) music video for a musical number. A VR video means that it’s shot in 360 degrees and you can click-and-drag around the video just like you would Google Maps, and if you have the Google Cardboard headset (or you can buy one for about $15), you can put your phone in the headset and you, too, can be in the band.

This week, The Lion King on Broadway borrowed the idea and released a video of their opening number, “Circle of Life,” in VR. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who scored School, wasn’t pleased that Lion King decided to be copy cats. Disney had some choice words for Lloyd Webber too (including the word “commercial” — meow!).

Let’s be honest here — the Lion King video is way cooler, because it’s The Lion King. It’s still one of the highest grossing shows worldwide after opening eighteen years ago. It’s completely live, too. You can see the audience members and all of the puppets, costumes and makeup that would be used in a normal show. The School video gives the viewer more freedom, however, and they can look at whichever angle they choose. The Lion King video cuts to certain angles at certain times, which can leave the viewer feeling dizzy.

The real story here is not the catfight between a knighted ego (see if you can spot the references to two other Lloyd Webber musicals in the video) and one of the largest companies in the world, but is about what’s next for musical theatre. With more VR technologies and videos becoming accessible, will audiences come to expect a more immersive experience at the theatre? Or maybe, this could change the stage altogether. Maybe instead of a touring company hauling trucks and actors across continents to put on a show, they’ll set up an immersive screen and project the recording onto it. No actors needed.

Let’s be honest, though — the latter probably won’t happen. At least, not yet. Pro-shot recordings of Phantom of the Opera didn’t close the show. Theatre nerds are nerds through-and-through, and there’s nothing like experiencing it in person. Just like with any other nerdy fandom — sure, watching Star Wars at home is cool, but that’s not going to stop the diehards from waving their lightsabers around.

Who Tells Your Story?: The Journalism on Hamilton

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton face off in the greatest cabinet meeting/rap battle you’ve ever seen. Photo courtesy ashbydodd.com.

I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: “She’s going to talk about Hamilton yet again?” You bet your sweet cheeks I am. But I’m not going to praise Lin-Manuel’s incredible lyricism or how he was able to score and write and act in a single historical rap musical all at once. In fact, I’m going to talk about how that’s all anyone can talk about.

I get it: there’s not a lot of rap musicals that admit to being rap musicals. Sondheim has written some of the craziest tongue twister showtunes ever (like the line”while her wither withers with her” from Into the Woods? Or “Getting Married Today” from Company? Lay it on me, Steve), but as a whole, his musicals don’t reflect the genre. Even more than that, nobody has thought of the idea of a rap musical based around American history. But Hamilton has been running for almost ten months now, including its Off-Broadway run, and as much as I’m happy for its success, I’m getting sick of the news stories being the same.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll see in every Hamilton feature ever:

  • Okay you guys, okay, you’re not even going to believe this, but there’s a RAP MUSICAL based on ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Whaaaaaaat!
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation and picked up, at random, Ron Chernow’s biography on Hamilton and thus, the legend was born
  • Non-white people playing white people. Outrageous!
  • The word “urban”
  • Celebrities that come to see the show (e.g., POTUS has come twice)
  • The story of Miranda googling if a hip hop musical on Hamilton already existed. Guess what, it didn’t!

Here’s what you won’t see in Hamilton features:

  • Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Schulyer Hamilton, on her Broadway debut and how she’s definitely earning a Tony nom
  • Hamilton’s fluid sexuality, which Miranda openly talks about on Twitter, and his alleged relationship with John Laurens
  • How intricately involved that Hamilton and Aaron Burr were in each other’s lives (even more so than in the musical — Burr was Maria Reynolds’ divorce lawyer after she had an affair with A. Ham!)

As a journalism student, I’m getting sick of the same story over and over again. I love watching features like the one on 60 Minutes this past Sunday, but only because I get to see new footage of the show. I know how it got written. I know how we got here. But it’s time that we take a new perspective.

There’s been little to no press on Allegiance, which just opened on Broadway, starring George Takei and Lea Salonga about Japanese internment camps during the Second World War. There’s been little to no press on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock musical that started previews yesterday. Journalists, take note — you’ve got the world excited about musical theatre for the first time since RENT. Let’s spread the love.