Hi! I'm Diana Chabai and I'm a 21-year-old student in the Creative Communications program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB. My love for theatre began after seeing Les Miserables for the first time three years ago and the obsession has only grown ever since.
My blog focuses not only on theatre reviews and news, but also on the lessons that the stories of the stage can teach us and how they relate to life.
You can go to any fringe festival in the world, throw a stone, and hit a poster for a comedic show. I promise. Fringe is often a time for improv-ers and sketch-ers to stretch their legs for a ten-day or week-long performance schedule and roll around in audiences looking to have a good time on a weekend. And although that’s all fun and good and you can definitely find quality theatre productions while wading through knee-deep pools of laughs, fringe festivals are about more than that. They’re about experimenting – for both the theatre companies and the audiences. Trying new things, going to something that might make you uncomfortable, or seeing a show on a subject you know nothing about. That’s what Fringe is – getting out there.
I had the joy and privilege to sit down with the luminous Liz Whitbread (and you should too, given the opportunity) about this very thing, regarding her performance in Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, about to begin at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. 4.48 does not have a linear storyline, nor is the script written like a traditional script (“One page is just blank. It’s part of the script, but it’s blank,” she told me). Whitbread performs by herself, with the audience surrounding three-fourths of the “walls,” and – oh, yes, the author of the play killed herself shortly after finishing it. 4.48 is Kane’s swan song.
Whitbread said she “wouldn’t call it [Kane’s] suicide note,” but that kind of thing still carries a lot of weight, especially when you’re alone onstage. “It’s unfortunate that [the play] is in this context, but you can’t ignore it,” said Whitbread. “Because of the way it’s written, it’s easier to separate myself from the words. It’s affecting, but because of the writing, not the context.”
Whitbread is a Winnipegger, but now lives in Toronto, where she just performed in 4.48 (the last performance was Saturday) at the Fringe there. She was last seen in the River City as part of the ensemble in the WSO and Rainbow Stage’s South Pacific in April. She said doing a one-woman show is a little different. “In some ways, it’s really terrifying. If I forget a line, no other actor can save me. I can’t look over and be like, ‘give me the line!’ But it’s also really freeing. If I forget a line, I can go to the next part of the script I know. I’m in control of this.”
The staging is different in Winnipeg than it was in Toronto – with a venue change comes a staging change. The audience will be seated in a horseshoe-shape around Whitbread. “I’m speaking directly to the audience, I can see the audience,” she said. It’s vulnerable being up there alone. “I had to learn to be comfortable with having silence, and be comfortable with having laughter. I have to let them enjoy it, let myself enjoy it.”
I asked her, straight up: why should people come to this likely-depressing show when they could go see some improver make poop jokes instead? “It’s a really important – small, but important – discussion on mental illness and how it’s portrayed,” she said. “It portrays mental illness in a really personal way, an open and blunt way. It doesn’t dance around anything.” That’s a conversation worth having. “This is what it could be like,” for someone with mental illness, she said. But mental health never fits a specific mold. “Not everyone will identify with it, and that’s okay.”
“Sarah Kane had such a revolutionary idea of what theatre should look like,” she said. “If people want to challenge themselves, this is a good show to see.”
Theatre by the River’s 4.48 Psychosis opens on Wednesday, July 19, and runs throughout the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, playing venue #11, Red River College. Check out showtimes and a venue map here. See you at the Fringe.
It’s not an understatement when I say that predicting this year’s Tony Awards is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. After the Year of Hamilton (and its inevitable sweep of awards), this year has produced an incredible number of new musicals and equally incredible talent backing them all. I’m confident in saying that I have no confidence in any of my predictions, because really, anything could happen this year.
Best Musical Nominees:
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Will win: Dear Evan Hansen Upset: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 or Come From Away
Remember when Groundhog Day opened in London and it generated so much buzz about being the next big thing? Me either. It’s a perfectly fine show, and might win any other year, but the other three are far more likely. Now that Come From Away won the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, it might even seem like more of a frontrunner – but then again, its competition for that award was slim to none (out of the five nominees, three of them were Off-Broadway, hence ineligible for Tony nominations, and the other one was Anastasia, which failed to garner a Tony nom. None of its actual competition in the Tony race).
When I left the Imperial after seeing Great Comet, I thought for sure it had Best Musical locked up. It is the definition of a spectacle, and it’s hosting a theatre experience that no other show on Broadway is doing right now. Its lighting, staging, interactive experience, top-tier performances and the most interesting score make it an ideal frontrunner – or at least, so I thought. I would love for Great Comet to win any category, even if I didn’t pick it to win, because that means it’s a step forward for innovative, diverse theatre.
Best Revival of a Musical Nominees:
Will win: Hello, Dolly! Upset: Falsettos
I recently listened to the new Hello, Dolly! cast album and realized that when people say they don’t like musicals, this is the kind of musical they don’t like. Belting divas, a big chorus, feather headpieces, and classic numbers. A.K.A. heaven.
Leading Actor in a Musical Nominees:
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Will win: Ben Platt Upset: If anybody but Ben Platt wins, I will burn this place to the ground.
Christian Borle should be applauded for two leading roles in a single season (he’s currently playing the candy man himself in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a show that garnered 0 nominations), and he’s always a Tony favourite, but this is more a thank-you for doing Falsettos, and he won’t clinch his third trophy this year, although it would be well-deserved.
I love Josh Groban!! That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve been a fan of his music for years, and he’s perfect in Great Comet. He might be the nicest guy on Broadway right now (at least for the next month-or-so until his last performance on July 2), and this nomination is saying thank you for this great performance – please come back soon.
If it weren’t for Ben Platt, Andy Karl would be the favourite. He’s worked hard on Broadway for years, he earned the Olivier for the role of Phil Connors earlier this year, he just won the Drama Desk for the part, and he literally tore his ACL on stage and continued to perform. He’s due to become Broadway’s next Susan Lucci. You’ll get ’em one year, Andy.
David Hyde Pierce already stole Raúl Esparza’s Tony in 2007 (somebody PLEASE explain to me how his Bobby was not Tony-winning. I still don’t understand), and although I haven’t seen the show in person, how could he not be upstaged by Bette?
Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees: Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon
Will win: Bette Midler Upset: Denée Benton
I would love to see my personal Jesus Patti LuPone take home her third, but it’s basically a sure thing that Bette’s taking home the trophy this year. Even if she MIGHT NOT PERFORM.
Even if it wasn’t the Year of Bette, Patti and her War Paint counterpart Christine Ebersole would likely split the votes and it wouldn’t go to either of them.
The youngest Tony nominee this year Eva Noblezada (she is 19!!!!) is absolutely killing it in the titular role of Miss Saigon – her Broadway debut. Denée Benton is also killing it playing opposite two male powerhouses – Josh Groban and Lucas Steele in Great Comet. For supposedly playing a naïve ingenue, Denée’s performance is powerful as hell.
Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees: Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos
Will win: Gavin Creel or Andrew Rannells Upset: Lucas Steele
I’m the most unsure about this category, so I’ll let the two formerly-nominated Elder Prices (with their third and second nominations, respectively) battle it out. I genuinely want this whole category to win a five-way Tony. I’m giving Andrew Rannells the edge because I think the Tony voters want to give Falsettos SOMETHING.
Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees: Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Jen Colella, Come From Away
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
Will win: Rachel Bay Jones Upset: Jenn Colella
Jenn Colella’s been making the press rounds with the Come From Away cast and been performing “Me and the Sky” on every talk show, which might garner up some votes. But is her performance big enough to triumph RBJ’s heartbreaking, phenomenal, truly supportive role?
The creative categories are even harder to choose, and the play categories are even harder still (because I haven’t seen any of them and I don’t pay as much attention to plays as I do musicals). But let’s get real – the real winner on Tony night is me.
I love award shows, and I love trying to predict them. I feel like there’s a science behind getting it right. However, I’ve never looked at the science behind those who pick the nominees and award winners in the first place – until now, that is.
On a lazy afternoon, I read through the 2016-2017 Tony Award guidelines (exciting!) and I figured out exactly what the process was, and I’m here to break it down for you.
Before I went in, I had basically one major question: what differentiates a revival from a transfer? I had always wondered this after Hedwig and the Angry Inch won Best Revival in 2014 even though it was the show’s Broadway premiere.
I also knew that there were separate processes for nominating and then for voting (i.e., the nominees weren’t a shortlist), and that the voters were generally kept a secret. The latter is not necessarily true, but I’ll explain all that now too. Come along, fellow data nerds, and let’s decipher this jargon together.
A Broadway House
For a theatre to be considered “on Broadway” and the shows inside to be eligible for awards, it has to meet the following criteria:
• Be located in the Borough of Manhattan
• Have 500+ seats
• Be used mainly for “legitimate theatrical productions”
• Or be deemed otherwise qualified by the Tony Awards Administration Committee
A list of currently eligible theatres is on page 21 of the rulebook.
Opening Night The Tony Committee set a cutoff date every year (generally late April), and you have to have your opening night on or before that date. You have to all members of the nomination committee to “professional” performances (i.e., not the invited dress rehearsal, but previews and regular performances are fine) before the cutoff date.
In order for any actor to be eligible to be nominated in acting categories, they have to perform in that role on opening night (which is why it was such a big deal when Andy Karl got injured near opening). If the committee determines that the role you’re playing now is too similar to a role you’ve played before, you won’t be eligible – sorry, Glenn Close. Can’t win it twice.
Revivals vs. Transfers
There’s only a Best Revival of a Musical category and a Best Revival of a Play category if there are three or more eligible shows of each to choose from.
A revival is the following:
• Complies with the above rules about a Broadway house and opening night
• A show that’s deemed a “classic”
• Or has not been performed within three years of the eligibility date
That’s the difference between a revival and a transfer. Fun Home, Hamilton, Great Comet, and Dear Evan Hansen, in recent memory, all played Off-Broadway and then transferred. Shows like Hedwig died for years before coming to Broadway.
The Nominating Committee
The nominating committee is made up of anywhere between 15 and 51 people of the theatre community. They must meet the following criteria:
• Have worked in the theatre/theatre education before
• Represent a “range of expertise” in the theatre community, have knowledge of productions past and present
• See every show of the season
• Not be a working member of the press
These people are randomly divided into three groups, and serve for one, two, or three seasons.
Picking the Nominees
A date is picked after the opening night cutoff, and the nomination committee has a meeting (officially titled the “Tony Nomination Meeting”). The members of the committee have two hours to discuss the eligible performances, but they can’t take any informal straw polls or anything like that.
The committee then privately and secretly votes for the nominees. Each member of the committee gets the number of votes that there are nominees. For example, if there are four slots for Best Musical, then each member can give four musicals a checkmark for a Best Musical nomination.
If you’re related to someone in any category, you can’t vote in that category. Duh.
Picking the Winners
Members of the boards from each the Actors’ Equity Association, The Dramatists Guild, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and United Scenic Artists are all voting members. The nomination committee are also voting members. The following organizations also have voting members:
• Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of the American Theatre Wing (up to 75 people)
• Voting Members of The Broadway League
• Theatrical Council of the Casting Society of America (up to 16 people)
• Officers or Executive Board members of Musicians’ Local 802 (up to five people)
• Current governing board of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (up to 15 people)
• New York Drama Critics Circle (up to 25 people)
• Board/Council of the National Association of Talent Representatives (up to 10 people)
These people get free tickets to every show. They get a mail ballot from the accountants 14 days before the Tonys (at the latest), and can vote up to 50 hours before the Tonys. Nobody knows, except the accountants, who wins until the telecast.
Eligible productions can notcampaign for votes. Anymore. This is most likely thanks to Avenue Q’s genius marketing in 2003 – and they won over Wicked. (Both shows are still running, albeit one show Off-Broadway and one show in one of the Broadway largest houses with still some of the highest ticket prices 14 years later, but there were no losers here). Eligible shows also can’t mention the names of other eligible shows in marketing campaigns (e.g., putting a quote like “I loved it more than [this other eligible show]!” on the marquee).
There are a lot more nitpicky rules – like tiebreakers, ho boy – that I’ve highlighted and you can review in the Tony Awards Rules PDF. There are also a lot of rules with the producers – they have to offer free tickets to the voters, sign agreements of eligibility, etc., etc., which you can also read about in the PDF.
I love award shows, and sometimes, I can call them from a mile away. Especially with the Oscars – there are many other smaller award shows leading up to that, and I make a spreadsheet to predict the winners (I’m 75% accurate every year, including technical categories). The Tonys are harder to predict. There are a bunch of smaller award shows leading up to it, but many of them consider Off-Broadway productions too (so shows that transferred from Off-Broadway may have won previously), or they’re fan-chosen, so they don’t matter. But there are usually frontrunners that you can see coming.
This year’s leading actor and actress in a musical are pretty much a sure thing, although surprises can always happen: Ben Platt & Bette Midler will be taking home the top trophies. The real race lies within the featured actors and actresses in a musical this year. They are so divided across fan awards, the NYT critics, and Show-Score experts and voters that there isn’t really a way to call them yet. And they all gave phenomenal performances. So let’s celebrate all the support this year – because as we all know, there are no small parts, only small actors. And small dressing rooms.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical NYT says: Brantley: Will/Should Win: Mary Beth Peil / Green: Will Win: Jenn Colella, Should Win: Rachel Bay Jones Show-Score users say: Rachel Bay Jones Show-Score expert says: Rachel Bay Jones
I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Kate Baldwin play Anna Leonowens last year in the Chicago Lyric Opera’s production of The King and I. She was regal and elegant and I imagine she has similar qualities in Hello, Dolly!
Dolly secured acting noms in all four categories – were they nominated because they deserved it, or are they just on the same Bette hype train?
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Song that earned the nomination: “I’m Breaking Down”, and also check out her “and still the bastard divorced me!” in “This Had Better Come To A Stop” on the cast recording
Musical theatre nerds went apeshit for Falsettos. I hadn’t heard it until this cast album came out, and I am thoroughly obsessed. This show closed in January, yet each of its four leads each earned a nomination, plus the show got a Best Revival nod, even when there are two more revivals still running that weren’t nominated. Its cast recording probably played a huge role in getting nominations, but I’m not sure that it has that much staying power that it can win anything against currently running shows.
I have mixed feelings about Come From Away – mostly because I feel there’s no conflict, therefore no story. I was skeptical to listen to the cast album because I heard everyone talking about it and how heartwarming it is, and since I know that Canadians are an equal mix of polite and the rudest people I’ve ever met, I took it with a grain of salt. It’s charming, yes, definitely, but most of it sounds like Great Big Sea, which I’ve heard enough of in my life, thanks very much. But Jenn Colella’s solo is something I can listen to over and over again.
She’s been in the biz for a while, but I feel like she’s finally getting the attention she deserves for this role. In an ensemble cast, she’s the only actor nominated, which might make her stand out from the others. She’s in the running.
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen Song that earned the nomination: “So Big/So Small”
I’m not sure the general public has the same strong reaction to this song like I do, but even just thinking about it starts to make me cry. When Heidi Hansen, Evan’s mom and the character RBJ plays, sings about Evan’s dad moving out of the house and the moving truck in the driveway, I can see the exact same situation when it happened in my life. This is an amazingly emotional musical, and I cry enough as it is, but this song is, to quote Michael Scott, like somebody dropped my heart into a bucket of boiling tears.
In my opinion, RBJ deserves this win on her first nomination.
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia Song that earned the nomination: Probably more her general legendary-ness
I have no opinion on this nomination, mostly because the cast recording hasn’t been released yet. Some predictions are calling Mary Beth’s nomination more for her body of work than for this performance, since Anastasia only had two nominations – this one, and one for costume design.
Best Featured Actor in a Musical NYT says: Brantley: Will Win: Gavin Creel, Should Win: Lucas Steele/Green: Will Win: Gavin Creel, Should Win: Lucas Steele Show-Score users say: Andrew Rannells Show-Score expert says: Gavin Creel
I haven’t seen Hello, Dolly! (not even the movie, tbh), so I can’t cast judgment here – but Gavin Creel is now a three-time Tony nominee, and I have a feeling it’s time. He wasn’t nominated last year for She Loves Me (which is a goddamn crime if you ask me), and this is probably making up for it. He’s been in the biz for almost twenty years, and people are ready to see him win.
When I walked out of Dear Evan Hansen in February, I told my fiancé that Ben Platt and Mike Faist were going to be Tony nominees. Mike Faist has probably the smallest role in the show, but I could feel it. His acting, more than his songs, stuck with me after the show. It’s a very small role, and he won’t take home a trophy, but the nomination should be considered his win.
Rannells had a recurring role on Girls, he was Hedwig, forever the voice and face of Elder Price, and we haven’t given him a Tony yet. It could happen for playing Whizzer, the boytoy of Falsettos. But I have the same concern with him as I do SJB – the show is closed, which means he has to be that good to stay in the minds of Tony voters for the last five months.
This boy, lemme tell you. Lucas Steele is enchanting in Comet. He has been playing this role since it started – he is the first and only Anatole. Throughout the whole performance he’s got swagger, but it’s his last moments on stage that really seal the deal for you.
I remember he still came out to sign and take photos with everyone for stage door, but he was just mouthing words and nodding instead of talking. This dude needs as much vocal rest as he can get.
Both of the NYT critics say he “should” take it home – so why not? I would love to see him with the trophy.
BranUran, my man. Rounding out the Falsettos noms is Mendel, the psychiatrist that falls in love with his patient’s wife, and then marries her. But he’s not a scoundrel at all! He’s loveable, trustworthy, and comedic. But I’m not sure it’s enough for him to take it. He’s sort of the comic relief in the show, and the punchline of the joke just isn’t going to take it home this year.
So who am I picking to take home the Tony gold? Stay tuned for my pre-Tony predictions!
I thought it was a truth universally known that this is Patti LuPone’s world and we’re just living in it – that is, until recently, when she’s making the rounds doing press for War Paint and her seventh (SEVENTH) Tony nomination when some people on the internet are making comments.
I’m not usually one to feed the trolls, but I have to indulge them just this once. And Patti doesn’t need me to defend her honour, but in defending her, I feel like I’m defending myself.
Patti LuPone, for the uneducated, is a living Broadway legend. She originated the titular role in Evita (Tony #1) and Fantine in Les Miserables (Olivier), and has played countless other iconic characters – Mama Rose in Gypsy (Tony #2), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Maria Callas in Master Class – and I’m not even counting the things she did as part of The Acting Company. The woman has any actor’s dream career.
Patti also has a reputation of saying what’s on her mind. Check out this clip that Broadway.com cut from her recent Show People interview (on another note, why you censoring Patti, Broadway.com?!?! That’s not cool). She’s also famous for stopping her penultimate performance of Gypsy (during Rose’s Turn!!) to yell at an audience member taking photos (I’m getting “Who do you think you are?!” tattooed on my heart).
She recently made comments (after asked in an interview) about what she thought of Madonna’s version of Evita – and she didn’t like it. No shit. She said so. And now I have to deal with uninformed haters saying that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and that they are no longer listening to anything Patti is in because she made those comments.
I’m generally in the same boat – let’s be kind to each other. But she was asked by an interviewer, and she gave her honest opinion. Madonna is not going to suffer because of what Patti said and vice versa. Don’t try to censor this successful, powerful woman because she said something that isn’t nice. Women aren’t nice. Opinions aren’t nice. They don’t have to be. But they should be honest.
It’s not like she talks shit for no reason, or without being able to back it up. Patti said Madonna was good at what she does in pop music, but she wasn’t a good actor. Patti LuPone literally graduated from the first acting class at the Juilliard School and toured around the country earning her stripes before making it to Broadway. She still goes to a vocal coach and she’s 67. She has many acting awards, including the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award, which can only be won once in any actor’s lifetime. She admits that she’s still a student sometimes, but she’s also a theatre badass. She knows good acting from bad.
Let’s not ask women for their opinions and then shame them when they’re honest. Let’s stop saying that they’re hormonal or emotional because maybe, just maybe, they actually know what they’re talking about.
P.S. Patti LuPone could run me over with a car and I would say thank you. It would be an honour.
I have been to dozens of productions of musicals. I have been to “operas” (like how I describe Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 or Les Mis as an “opera” because there isn’t any talking in it) a handful of times. But I have only been to “the opera” (as in the “where’s the Met?”-Moonstruck-type opera) exactly one time: a year and a half ago, for Manitoba Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro.
I’m heading back (finally!) tomorrow, for MO’s production of Werther (which is pronounced “vair-tare,” by the way, don’t make an ass of yourself like I almost did). I’m here to tell you that the opera is not scary! But it does take some preparing. It’s not the kind of lean-back-in-your-chair entertainment you might get from a movie or a jukebox musical. It requires you to be engaged and involved – but that makes it even more fun.
Here are some tips for your first (or second!) time at the opera.
Watch adaptations first RENT is based on La Boheme. Miss Saigon is based on Madam Butterfly. The story is always easier to follow when you have some frame of reference in mind, and since some operas are so influential and classic, lots of other artists have taken inspiration from them. Check out if the opera you’re going to see has any adaptations that you can enjoy first. It’s also fun to see if you can guess which character in the original turned into which character in the adaptation.
In the program of the opera, there’ll be a synopsis of the whole show. Read it. Characters usually introduce themselves when they come on stage, but it won’t necessarily happen. Even if you don’t want to “ruin it” for yourself, it’s better to know what’s going to happen, because you may not be able to follow along, especially if the show is in another language (which it usually is).
Follow the opera company on social media
Last summer, I won a free pair of opera glasses from Manitoba Opera for correctly identifying what a “libretto” is. They have contests and promos all the time, so connect with them on Twitter or Facebook to make the most of your experience (and your wallet!).
This isn’t some 90-minute one-act-and-done show. I’m not going to lie to you – operas are long. Three or four hours. Two intermissions. Get some water at concession beforehand and make sure you eat dinner before you come. It’s worth it, but you won’t be able to enjoy the show if you’re hungry!