Diana’s 2018 Tony Predictions

Friends, it’s that time of year again. Tony Sunday is just around the corner and it’s time to guess who’s going home with the gold and theatre’s highest honor. As I discussed in my last post, while the season may not look exciting on the outside, it’s of course still worth celebrating, especially when you look at each of the awards individually.

Best Musical
Nominees:
The Band’s Visit
Frozen
Mean Girls
SpongeBob SquarePants

Will win: The Band’s Visit
Upset: Mean Girls

bandsvisit

My favorite of this batch is actually SpongeBob, but I don’t think the Tony voters will actually give it the highest honor because they’re far too snooty. The Band’s Visit, the critical and understated darling, will pick up a handful of awards, including the top spot. Mean Girls is a fine musical and a good adaptation of the beloved movie, and it’s not impossible that it’ll win, but tickets are selling fine with or without any awards.

Best Revival of a Musical
Nominees:
Carousel
My Fair Lady
Once on this Island

Will win: My Fair Lady
Upset: Once on this Island

myfairlady

It’s easy. Voters don’t have to think. A lovely revival, plain and simple. Though My Fair Lady isn’t the most feminist-friendly show, it’s not as bad as Carousel. I would love to see Once on this Island take the trophy, and I can see it happening if voters want to award diversity.

Leading Actor in a Musical
Nominees:
Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady
Joshua Henry, Carousel
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit
Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants

Will win: Ethan Slater
Upset: Joshua Henry

spongebob

Being the titular character is a heavy load to bear, but Ethan Slater as the buff-est SpongeBob imaginable is strong enough to carry the show on his shoulders. SpongeBob is the biggest surprise of the season and a large part of it is because of Slater’s Broadway debut(!). I’m certainly not counting out (Winnipeg-born!) Joshua Henry, making dual history as the first black Billy Bigelow on Broadway and also the first to earn a Tony nomination for that role.

Leading Actress in a Musical
Nominees:
Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Hailey Kilgore, Once on this Island
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls
Jessie Mueller, Carousel

Will win: Katrina Lenk 
Upset: Lauren Ambrose

katrinalenk

If you haven’t listened to Band’s Visit’s gorgeous cast recording, you won’t know the silky magic of Lenk’s voice, namely during “Omar Sharif.” I’m predicting this will be the Band’s only acting win, although musical newcomer Lauren Ambrose could win with the classic role of Eliza Doolittle (but will anyone ever top Julie Andrews? In anything ever?).

Featured Actor in a Musical
Nominees:
Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Alexander Gemignani, Carousel
Grey Henson, Mean Girls
Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit

Will win: Gavin Lee
Upset: Grey Henson

gavinlee

Look at that GIF. Tap. Dancing. On. Four. Legs. If that’s not Tony-worthy, nothing is Tony-worthy.

Featured Actress in a Musical
Nominees:
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Renée Fleming, Carousel
Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Ashley Park, Mean Girls
Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady

Will win: Lindsay Mendez
Upset: Diana Rigg

lindsaymendez

Mendez is a theatre vet and is well-respected and well-liked in the Broadway community. Carrie Pipperidge is a role worth celebrating – it gave Audra McDonald her first Tony and could see Mendez winning her first as well. Of course, Dame Diana Rigg could be riding her Olenna “Tell Cersei it was me” Tyrell train and win for her supporting role in My Fair Lady.

Who are your picks for Tony night?

Advertisements

2018 Tonys: Who Cares?

screen-shot-2018-06-03-at-1-45-42-pm.png
A glimpse of some of the theatre from the 2017-2018 Broadway season (clockwise from top left): Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls, and The Band’s Visit. Image via chicagotribune.com

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a blog post about the “death of the original musical.” Little did I know that in 2018, all four of the Best Musical Tony nominations would be completely unoriginal – the most original show being the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, which has an original story, just not characters. The SpongeBob SquarePants Musical. Am I a sorcerer? Or is this just where we’ve ended up?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually super love the SpongeBob musical. I think it’s joyful and creative and I even think there are some Tony-worthy performances in there. But the most high-profile stage in the world should attract the best stories. Now, here we stand with four musicals up for the big prize, all of them adapted from movies or the aforementioned animated aquatic pals: Frozen, Mean Girls, The Band’s Visit, and SpongeBob. Three-quarters of these shows received mixed reviews, so if we’re going by critics’ praise alone, Band’s Visit is destined to be the winner this year.

Over in the play hemisphere, if the award doesn’t go to Angels in America or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it will be a surprise, with the exception of Glenda Jackson in Three Tall Women, who just won the once-in-a-lifetime Drama League award. Angels even has a best score nomination – that’s how weak the musicals are this year. So why are we even doing this?

On the surface, the batch this year isn’t the greatest or most original. But it’s this season’s performances that are worth celebrating. Those are hard to share if you can’t make it to New York, but all seven musicals up for Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical have received or will receive a cast recording – something that doesn’t happen every season.

The Tonys this year are worth celebrating because of the performances. On the surface, this season’s shows may seem unoriginal and un-innovative as a whole, but we have to peel back the vacuum seal packaging to reveal the feast inside. This season, we celebrate Ethan Slater’s ripped real-life SpongeBob. We celebrate the first black Billy Bigelow on Broadway, Joshua Henry, becoming a father during previews and bringing a whole new spin to the “Soliloquy.” We celebrate Katrina Lenk’s incredible “Omar Sherif” in The Band’s Visit. We celebrate Andrew Garfield screaming his lungs out for a collective six hours in Angels as a hilarious and heartbreaking Prior Walter.

It’s difficult to celebrate these performances when you can’t see them in person – so I predict that this Tonys will be one of the lowest-viewed in recent history (they had a slight uptick in 2016, the Hamilton year, but otherwise, they’re generally low to begin with). Despite this, the theatre community quietly persists, knowing it has well-kept secrets. But will they translate to TV? Unlikely.

Why You Should Care About Your Parents’ Musicals

acl
The original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line. Image via Playbill.

With revivals of classic musicals like Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, and My Fair Lady soon coming to Broadway, there’s lots of buzz about whether or not these productions should be mounted in the first place. Is this really where our worldviews still stand? Is this how we want to portray women? Can they still be relevant without being distracting?

There’s a lot of discussion around “classic” musicals, but there is this glorious pocket that is somehow still so often overlooked – the ’70s. When you start becoming interested in musicals, you usually start one of three ways: you either start with the modern hits (e.g., HamiltonWicked), you start way way back with Rodgers & Hammerstein, or you start in the ’80s, with two of the still most popular musicals of all time: Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Why don’t most of us discover this creative hotspring of a decade until later?

(Stop reading this blog post and check out Playbill’s ’70s playlist to get acquainted with the decade. The rest of the post read better with the funky opening to Company in your head.)

Somehow we jump from the so-called “golden age” of musicals right to Andrew Lloyd Webber. They’re not considered “classic” musicals, yet the ’70s was an incredible time for creation. Why doesn’t this period get a catchy name? Sure, I’m probably saying this because it was Sondheim’s heyday (six musical premieres between ’71 and ’79, including CompanyFolliesSweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music), but the ’70s were also home to The WizChicagoAnnie, Grease, Patti LuPone FINALLY becoming the star she was always born to be, and of course, the one, the only A Chorus Line.

A Chorus Line is so important to musical theatre history I couldn’t exaggerate its significance if I tried. When it opened on Broadway, the New York Times review basically already called it legendary – saying it was a “musical to sing about for years,” and that you’d be telling your grandchildren about it. And indeed, it did not disappoint – it was, at the time, the longest-running show on Broadway, it won nine Tony Awards, and it even won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (only the fifth musical in history to do so, and even now, only nine have won). It was one of the first shows to flip the plot around on theatre dancers and not tell a story with them, but about them. It let the theatre world know that you didn’t need big costumes and sets to tell a real, human, relatable story. It barely has a plot at all, and that’s sort of the genius of it (this seemed to be the trend at the time – Follies, released three years earlier, also about show people, doesn’t really have a plot either).

It’s about dancers, all desperate to get a job. But they’re not begging to break into the business, they’re begging to stay. This is all they’re trained for, and this is their last chance. This is what they live for. It’s do or die.

The two oldest arts companies in Winnipeg, the WSO and Rainbow Stage, are putting on their production of this show in the middle of March. When I saw the cast list, even though only the actors are listed and not the parts they’re playing, I knew immediately that Catherine Wreford had to be Cassie.

Cassie, the heart of this show, is the role that gave Donna McKechnie a Tony Award. McKechnie, who originated the part, came back to Broadway in 1986, after being practically paralyzed by rheumatoid arthritis and was told she’d never walk, much less dance, ever again. (Watch this video of her performing “The Music and the Mirror” in 1986). That story sounds very similiar to Wreford.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Wreford has performed in national tours and on Broadway and has proved herself through and through as a talented performer. But her real story begins in 2013. I’ll let her tell the rest of it:

On June 24th, 2014, exactly a year after my diagnosis of brain cancer I moved home to Winnipeg. I hadn’t danced in 9 years. I had passed and completed my nursing exam right before my diagnosis but could no longer practice. I was given 2-6 years to live. I was still going through treatment at CancerCare so I had a bit of time to figure out what was most important to me. I decided to go back to what I love most – dancing. 
 
I’ve been working with Rainbow Stage in the ensemble (and loving it!) but when the WSO and Rainbow said they were going to be doing A Chorus Line I knew the part I wanted. I am Cassie. I was on Broadway and toured all of the US as leading roles. I then moved to California and somehow lost my way. I did, however, find the love of my life and have 2 beautiful children. 
 
Last April (after the announcement) I hired a trainer at the gym to get into “dancer shape” for the auditions and danced in my living room as much as my husband would let me!!! Ha!
I found out I got the part on Rainbow’s opening night of Mamma Mia. Pretty sure I cried. I’ve been scared to have a role since my diagnosis and all my treatments. When I had an awake craniotomy I had to relearn how to speak and I still say words that are not always correct. The radiation I had on my brain scorched my vocal chords and my voice will never be the same (although I have learned how to get around most issues). The 4 kinds of chemo I took for a year still give me leg cramps and numbness in my hands and my short term memory is pretty much nonexistent. But….I can still DANCE!!!! As Cassie says, “I want to do what I love as much as I can for as long as I can”. That’s me and that’s her and that’s us. We’re dancers. 

Why should you care about 43-year-old musicals? Like I mentioned before: they don’t get a lot of love because they’re not old and they’re not young. But mostly, you should pay attention to them because of stories like Catherine’s – A Chorus Line is real and happening right now.

“Excuse me, where’s the theatre?”

p17h5c4p8dad71bmj1afasmvbed4
The beautiful Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks. Via visitgrandforks.com.

This is the question I’m most likely to ask whenever I visit a new place. Not “Where’s the gas station?” or “Where’s the bathroom?” – I know where my priorities lie. Where the theatre at?

I have a talent of finding theatre no matter where I travel, and that’s because there’s always theatre going on – a tour, a local production, a high school play. Something is always happening all the time. You just have to get good at knowing where to look. I’ve seen theatre in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Vancouver, and of course, in my hometown. No matter where I go, it’s always easiest to go back home. To know that the portals of the Centennial Concert Hall are odd numbers stage left, even numbers stage right. To know that the seats are way comfier (and probably newer) at the Warehouse than at the Mainstage. To know which venues are air conditioned at the Fringe. To know that certain aisle seats at Rainbow don’t have another seat in front of them for optimal leg room. To know which coffee shops are open after 10 so you can sneak in a post-show London Fog.

These warm, comforting feelings, like a pair of sweatpants right out of the dryer, are now over for me. Because I don’t live in Winnipeg anymore.

I didn’t even really “upgrade cities,” per se – I live in Grand Forks, North Dakota now. Don’t get me wrong, Grand Forks is nice – its downtown is beautiful, its walkability and navigation are braggable especially compared to Winnipeg, and the cost of living is crazily low. A smaller city has its advantages, in that I don’t have to take traffic or parking into accomodation when I go anywhere; it also has its disadvantages, in that I can’t rely on transit to take me anywhere, “fine dining” is the local Olive Garden, and I shouldn’t count on any entertainment to tour through my state.

I moved here because this is where my husband is, and we both know that Grand Forks is temporary for us – because Grand Forks is temporary for all people. If you live here, it’s probably because you’re going to school here, you’re an air force reservist here, or you’re a retired farmer and you’ve come to the city for ease of doctor’s appointments and prescriptions. I am none of these people.

Though I am still becoming comfortable in my new home, there is nothing quite more relaxing than the theatre. There is no other medium in the world where I can shut off the world and have a truly human experience than in the theatre. I can slip away, and all the stresses of my life do too.

Thankfully, Grand Forks has a few theatres. And they are saving my sanity.

I’m particularly thankful for the Empire Arts Center and the Empire Theatre Company. Literally the heart of downtown Grand Forks, I fell in love with their sparkling marquee the first time I saw it. No theatre in Winnipeg has a marquee this beautiful. The programming is diverse and innovative, especially for a consistently red state, but my favourite part of the Empire is the 1919 Lounge – an intimate cabaret where they bring in Broadway stars to perform for 40 or 50 people while drinking cocktails onstage. I haven’t even seen anything like this in Winnipeg before, and why not?

My life is different now. I go to a different grocery store, I use a different set of keys, I go to the gym three times a week (which is the most surprising new thing), I have a dog, I pay more bills. But one thing remains constant – I still have a nose for finding theatre everywhere. And when you come to visit, I guarantee there’ll be something going on that we can get tickets for.

Diana’s Christmas in Winnipeg Checklist

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 7.14.43 PMI love Christmastime. There’s not a single thing I don’t love about it: shopping, movies, songs, food, the company, even the weather – I don’t mind a little snow and frost in December. And if there’s one thing that Winnipeggers know how to do better than anyone, it’s how to make the most out of winter. Like all times of year, Winnipeg’s arts scene is jam-packed with things to do. Here’s my top five things to do this holiday season:

Royal MTC’s A Christmas Carol
Runs now until December 16 at the John Hirsch Mainstage

A tried-and-true classic, A Christmas Carol reminds us that it’s not wealth that keeps us warm at night, but the love of others, and that’s what we should keep in mind at this time of year. Robb Paterson delights as Ebenezer Scrooge in this stage adaptation of Dickens’ yuletide tale. You can read my review of this production on ChrisD.ca and get more information at royalmtc.ca.

MTYP’s A Charlie Brown Double Bill
Runs now until December 31, relaxed performance on December 26, at Manitoba Theatre for Young People

This absolutely darling play, made up of selections from You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and the iconic A Charlie Brown Christmas, is made up of a cast of Winnipeg theatre all-stars that bring new life into the classic Peanuts gang. While attending this show, I realized I have A Charlie Brown Christmas completely memorized. I also have to mention how incredible it is to see a play when you’re surrounded by kids who can’t quite figure out how theatre is made – that’s real Christmas magic. You can get more information at MTYP.ca.

WSO’s Messiah
December 15 & 16 at the Centennial Concert Hall

Have you ever heard Messiah’s “Hallelujah” chorus live? It’s nothing short of remarkable. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas tradition continues this year with an all-new, all-Manitoban chorus made up of some of the finest singers from across the province. Paired with the core Baroque orchestra, you’ll be in awe of the musical talent that we have in this city. The WSO’s Resident Conductor Julian Pellicano conducts this masterwork for the very first time. Get more information at wso.ca.

RWB’s Nutcracker
December 21-30 at the Centennial Concert Hall

Can you hear that? Off in the distance? If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of bells playing “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.” This unmistakable melody belongs to The Nutcracker, and our own Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs it with grace and great attention to detail each year. There’s a reason they perform it every year. Go see why! For more information, check out RWB.org.

Die Hard
December 19 at the Park Theatre

Die Hard is the best. And if the aforementioned more traditional holiday things aren’t your speed, John McClane absolutely destroying some terrorists with a machine gun (ho ho ho) just might be. Join your fellow moviegoers in watching this infamous Christmas classic for one night only at the Park. myparktheatre.com for more info.

Non-ticket-requiring things I’ll also recommend: getting a london fog at Espresso Junction and enjoying a skate at The Forks (the canopy is open!), driving through the lights (and the drive-thru mini-donuts) at Canad Inns Winter Wonderland, and being nice to every overworked retail employee you encounter. Happy holidays!

Review: Knavish Hedgehogs’ ‘Macbeth’

I love Shakespeare, I love innovative lighting, and I love weird theatre superstitions. After Knavish Hedgehogs reached out to me on Twitter when I was looking for suggestions, I knew I had to make their production of Macbeth (or as you say in the theatre, The Scottish Play) part of my Fringe schedule.

Here’s the elevator pitch: the original text, condensed to an hour or so, seven actors, and no sets, no costumes, and no lights. The cast is illuminated only by each other’s handheld flashlights.

It’s not hard to see or hard to follow. The cast has been expertly coached by director Ari Weinberg to be in the right place at the right time, moving so swiftly and carefully that they occasionally startled me when they flicked their lights on. Theatre doesn’t scare me a lot – it was a nice change. I actually purposefully moved closer to the stage so I could see faces, and I’m glad I did.

Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play and the Hedgehogs did it well. Daniel McIntyre-Ridd as the titular character was wonderful, not serving up the typical power-hungry-into-paranoid Scotsman, but instead making him anxious all the way through (which, admittedly, reminded me a little of Evan Hansen – which is a great thing; don’t give me an opportunity to talk about how much I love Evan Hansen because I won’t stop), giving new depth to the ancient character.

Lady Macbeth always steals the show, but Miranda Baran slayed. Pun intended. Also portraying one of the witches, she showed why Shakespeare ladies continue to be dream roles for any actor. She commanded the stage, commanded your attention, and got it. Deservedly.

I appreciate Shakespeare much more as an adult, and much more when acted instead of read, like it was intended. When you were first exposed to the Bard, you probably read it aloud in your ninth grade English class with kids who couldn’t pronounce “Fleance” without stumbling. This production is the opposite. The ending left me speechless. It is a masterpiece.

Macbeth and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

5/5 stars

Here’s how I’ll be starring all my Fringe reviews:

  • 5 stars = Astounding. I will physically push you in the direction of this show. Must see.
  • 4 stars = Very good! Highly recommended.
  • 3 stars = Well done. People interested in this genre/subject matter will enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.
  • 2 stars = Only people interested in this genre/subject matter will probably enjoy it.
  • 1 star = Not recommended to anyone.
  • 0 stars = Run in the opposite direction.

Read my other Fringe experiences:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
• Review: The Trump Card
• 
Review: Joe Job
• Recap: SLAM!

Recap: SLAM! at Winnipeg Fringe

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 10.43.00 AMI didn’t want to call this a “review” because I knew it couldn’t be: the poets rotate, the poems are different, the audiences are different – it would be impossible to give my thoughts on any given night because they are all different.

I’d never been to a poetry slam before, although I’ve always appreciated the art, I hadn’t built up the courage to sit in an audience and look performance poets in the eye as they bared their souls. My only exposure to poetry slams was that scene in An Extremely Goofy Movie (which is still an incredible modern-day classic, by the way). I figured that Fringe would be a risk-free opportunity to get exposed to some poetry. It felt excellent to dip my toes in that pool.

Here’s the way it worked: each performance that Winnipeg Poetry Slam has at the Fringe will feature four poets (out of eight, in a round robin tournament). Picked in a random order, they all perform one poem. The judges (picked from the audience) give scores out of 10. At “halftime,” the audience takes turns writing haikus. Here’s mine:

A haiku for Winnipeg Fringe:
Sweet mini donuts
I could eat two buckets, man
Wait, no. Big mistake.

The poets then each perform another poem, and are again scored. Depending on their standings, they each earn points, which determines how they rank. The top four poets will perform in the final, and will earn a real prize – money from ticket sales. You can check out the tournament standings on their website.

It was difficult to take notes during performances, because the rhythm and smoothness and passion that the poets exert is so difficult to describe in a word other than “poetry.” I wrote that down in my notebook: “How do I use a word that isn’t ‘poetry’ to describe poetry?” It’s an artistic expression of the human spirit, combining words and emotions and occasional rhymes and body movements to attempt to convey inside gut reactions that can only ever truly be felt, but the poets came close to portraying them effectively, as close as possible.

They covered topics like love, death, inner demons, and even Batman. It can’t be predicted what could come up next, but take my word for it – I’m hooked on poetry slams.

SLAM! and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival are on now until July 30. For ticket information, show times, and a venue map, visit WinnipegFringe.com.

Read my other Fringe experiences on ChrisD.ca:

• Review: 4.48 Psychosis
Review: The Trump Card
Review: Joe Job