Patti LuPone is a Bitch & That’s Why I Love Her

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Queen of My Life Patti LuPone at the Tony Nominee presser. Image via.

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.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Opera

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Manitoba Opera presents Werther, May 2 and 5.

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 BohemeMiss 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.

Read up
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!).

Stay hydrated
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!

Follow me on Twitter as I live-tweet Manitoba Opera’s Werther tomorrow, May 2, starting at 7 pm!

I Love New York

I really do, you guys.

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The view from just outside our hotel. That’s Times Square down the street.

About a month ago, I went to New York City – my favourite place in the world. And I finally have time to tell you all about it, because holy god, I saw a lot of theatre, and that was the best money I’ve ever spent in my life.

On my wedding blog, I talked about going on a pre-honeymoon, because a honeymoon after your wedding isn’t always an option – sometimes you have to work, or deal with immigration visas, or maybe you just don’t have the money to go on a sweet vacation right after you get married. This trip was sort of those things, but honestly – I just wanted to go to New York. And I had Hamilton tickets. Hello!

Over our six days in the Big Apple, we saw four shows (I entered some lotteries to fill our Wednesday matinee but to no avail, so we spent our afternoon in Central Park instead). Let me talk about them all while showing you semi-related photos.

Tuesday, February 21: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Imperial Theatre
Understudies: None

This show is a trip from the very beginning. I was in this theatre three years ago to see

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Outside the NYPL. Jeremiah called it a “knowledge palace.”

the Les Misérables revival, and it has been completely transformed. You walk in just having been in 2017 New York, and the box office and lobby are communist Soviet Union, coated in anarchist posters and spray paint and exposed concrete and brick. But then you walk into the theatre, and you once more are transformed to 19th century Russia, where dreamy red curtain and tea lit mirrored tables intersperse with the seats. You’ll hear people talk about how interactive this show is, and they’re not wrong – cast members stared into my face and I sat in the very back row. They threw perogies at me and they were incredible. Girls in the rows below me got egg shakers and papers and a front-row seat to some crazy club scene domination. I’m predicting it for the Best Musical Tony already, simply because this is the most interactive, innovative experience I’ve ever had in a theatre ever in my life, and I doubt anything will ever come close again.

I’d listened to the cast recording before, and I knew the story was only so-so, but the incredible set, choreography, and overall spectacle make it worth the trip.

Wednesday, February 22: Sunday in the Park with George
Hudson Theatre
Understudies: None

This show holds a very special place in my heart. As you know, I wrote a book heavily featuring Sunday, and it was an absolute dream to get to see it in person – and not just in person, on Broadway. With Jake Gyllenhaal (who was the PERFECT George) and Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford. What is my life, you guys?

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The Broadway Theatre, where Miss Saigon is currently playing. Eva Noblezada has a shot at a Tony too.

Sunday has always been troubled in its productions, but this one was absolutely perfect. Every time I think about it, I get misty-eyed. It was precise, dreamy, and story-driven, not set-driven like it’s often mistaken for. This production finally gave the story the spotlight it so desperately needs, and it was perfect.

I went last preview, and Sondheim went the next night for opening.  I never saw him in the street or anything but it somehow still gives me chills knowing that we were in the same city at the same time.

Thursday, February 23: Dear Evan Hansen
Music Box Theatre
Understudies: None

Ben Platt is going to win a Tony Award or I’m going to do something dramatic. Everything you’ve heard about his performance is true. He is breathtaking in the title role. So much so that I think once he leaves, this show will suffer.

That’s not to say that it isn’t an incredible show – it completely is. It’s a beautiful story

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Central Park.

that I know I’ll go back to over and over again in my life because I’ll be able to relate to a different character in different stages of my life. But the story is kept secret, and for good reason. It’s better to find out when you’re there. But without his outstanding performance to brag about, I’m not sure it’ll be as big of a sell. But tickets are on sale through March 2018 right now, so I think they’ll be fine.

A totally original show, and totally unmissable. If you can get tickets, go. Don’t hesitate.

Friday, February 24: Hamilton
Richard Rodgers Theatre
Understudies: Jevon McFerrin as Hamilton

You all know how Hamilton goes, so let me talk about the new cast members (new from the cast recording) that I got to see.

Three words: Brandon Victor Dixon. Oh my God. Leslie Odom Jr.’s Tony winning performance is a calm, composed Burr, but BVD is the opposite. He’s sassy, he’s annoyed, and in the second act, he’s ready to get his. He pushes the role vocally and physically, and was undoubtedly the star of the show.

Mandy Gonzalez was a commanding Angelica. She also pushed the role vocally and when she was on stage, all eyes were on her. I started crying during “Schuyler Sisters,” that’s how good she was.

Jevon McFerrin, son of Bobby, gave a new approach on Hamilton. He wasn’t as silly or sly as some interpretations are, but being (probably) one of the youngest people to play the title role, his naïvety came across in the first act, perhaps more than full-time Ham Javier Muñoz (who was out because of a back injury at the time), known as the “sexy Hamilton”, brings to the role.

I spent a lot of money on this trip, but I would do it all over again. New York is my soul city. I feel so renewed when I’m there. After we saw The Great Comet and we were walking back to our hotel room (side note: stay at the Wellington Hotel when you go to NYC if you’re all about location), I told my fiancée that going to theatre to me is like going to the spa – and Broadway is the biggest and best of all.

Finishing the Hat

book_photo_stackofbooksWell, here we are. It’s January 27, which means there is only one day more (har dee har) until my book is officially released. Pretty crazy, hey?

I’ve had a lot of people say that they could ‘never write a book,’ (which isn’t true, if any living human can do it, you, too, can do that thing) and I’ve found myself comparing to my friends who are undergoing massive projects and saying that I ‘just’ wrote a book. But dude, I wrote a book. That’s awesome.

My secret was to find a subject I’m passionate about – which was theatre, of course. If I had forced myself to write about something that I didn’t care deeply enough about to research and nurture, then I wouldn’t have. And my book would be garbage. But my book is not garbage (at least I hope not). I took the time to water it (metaphorically) and watch it grow (not quite as metaphorically) and others that I shared the story with did too. Now they get to see what the final product looks like – which is almost as exciting to me as having a book, period.

It’s scary to put yourself out there and tell everyone, this is the best I can do. What do you think? But it’s also the most artistically rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Nobody who I shared it with laughed at me or gave me comments that discouraged me. Every piece of feedback I got just fuelled me to want to make it better. And that’s what happens when you do something that you love.

One of my beta readers finished his comments with this: “Oh, also, congratulations. You fucking wrote a book. And that’s pretty fucking cool, I think.” And I did. I made a hat.

Tomorrow, my book launches at Books, Beers & Broadway: Son of Sondheim Book Launch at the King’s Head Pub. Sign up to sing some Broadway karaoke and have a good time. RSVP here.

You can pre-order my book here and I’ll personalize the inside with a message just for you.  You can pick it up at event night or I’ll ship them to you after the launch.

Everything is closing and I am very sad

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The cast of Jersey Boys. The show, which has been running for 11 years, announced it’ll be closing in January. Image via BroadwayBox.

I’m not even going to try to think of a pun this week, folks. That’s how serious this issue is.

Fall is the season of change. The leaves change, the weather changes, time seems to change because the sun sets sooner, and the Broadway landscape changes. The summer tourist season is over and it’s a long time before the holiday tourist season begins. So when a new show is looking to open in the spring during Tony season, they need a theatre to make their home. And so old shows are kicked out. Not just bad shows or shows that haven’t been running for years at a time. Just under-performing shows.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Broadway, at the end of the day, is a business. Theatre is a business. And if your show doesn’t keep asses in seats, your ass doesn’t stay in the theatre. I’m obsessed with reading the BroadwayWorld grosses every Monday. Last week, there was only show that met their gross potential: Hamilton. A few others came close, but most shows are sitting at the 50% potential right now. On average, only half of seats on Broadway were filled that week.

That’s just how the biz works, though. Shows run, then new shows take their place. Do you think the people who were sad when Idina Menzel’s If/Then closed after a year at the Richard Rodgers are still sad now? Because Hamilton is there now. I’m certainly not sad about it.

The of the last three Best Musical winners, two of them closed within two years of opening. On the other hand, Phantom of the Opera has been running so long that it’s not even for theatre people anymore. Seeing Phantom is its own New York tourist attraction, like going to Central Park or the Empire State Building. It’s just a thing you do. But even Phantom only brought in 54.2% last week. Shows that have been around for fifty years and are well-known to tourist audiences aren’t even performing well – Fiddler on the Roof brought in a measly 33.5% (and has already announced its closing at the end of the year, which is usually a booster).

I have no doubt these numbers will rebound around Thanksgiving. But for someone like me, who only gets to New York every two or three years and watches every meticulous move that Broadway makes, it’s heartbreaking to see shows open and close without being able to even dream of tickets. I won’t see Fiddler or Matilda or Something Rotten or Jersey Boys or An American in Paris. But you can bet your bottom dollar that Cats will run until the end of time.

Singing out and branching out

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Fools & Horses Coffee on Broadway, the room where it happened. 

Generally, I would describe myself as a confident person. I have no problem making speeches or talking in front of a crowd. In fact, I’m so good at public speaking that I made up the toast I gave at my dad’s wedding off the top of my head. While intoxicated. And I made people cry. But when it comes to theatre, it’s a whole different ball game.

I’m very intimidated by people who work in and are passionate about theatre. When I’m with someone who also likes theatre, I feel the need to appear cool. I’m scared to tell them that my favourite show is Les Mis, because of course it is, and I’m afraid to tell them that I know all the raps in Hamilton, because of course I do. I’m not as familiar with hip Off-Broadway shows or every Jason Robert Brown concert. I’m even more intimidated by people who work in theatre (like when I met Will Swenson at the stage door in New York – he was very tall and had big sideburns and was very nice to me. I felt like a scared baby hamster).

Last year, when I heard that there was a group in Winnipeg that met up once a month just to sing showtunes, I was immediately both excited and nervous. I don’t sing, but being in this environment would be amazing and I would be able to socialize with people with the same interests as me. On the other hand, these people actively participate in musicals. Oh sweet god.

So for the whole last year of its existence, Sing Out, Louise! was like the cool kids’ table to me. But when I was finally able to attend one of their events, my friend took my hand and made me feel welcome. She introduced me to her friends, introduced me to the creators, and found a chair for me so that I could sit with her. I sat there, enthralled with every performance, and I never once felt like an outsider.

I’m going to the next event next month. I’ve never been in a room full of people that actually notice when I drop a subtle Rent reference. And if you like musicals too, you should come. I will take your hand and invite you to sit at my table. We’ll sing songs together.

 

How to Succeed in Writing Without Really Knowing What You’re Doing

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Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette in How to Succeed on Broadway. Image courtesy LA Times.

Was that title pun a stretch? Probably. Anyway…

 

This past summer, I did a lot of nothing, to be honest. I decided at the beginning of the year that I would quit my retail job at the end of July, but I probably would have quit anyway since my availability was wide open and I got no hours. So I worked a little bit, did some freelancing, and – oh yeah. I wrote a book.

Let me say that again, with proper emphasis: I wrote a book!!! My first book ever. Granted, it’s only a novella, but I’m pretty proud that I was able to commit myself to writing 600 words a day, five days a week, to total my 30,000-odd words by the end of the summer. The best part about it was that I got to write about theatre. I got to create characters that get to audition for big shows and I got to study Sondheim as part of my research. Pinch me. If only I had a publishing deal and a big advance to go with it.

But here’s the thing – as I’ve mentioned before, as much as I love absorbing theatre, I’m not an actor. And I wrote about actors. I wrote about struggling actors and the audition process and I made up theatre monarchies that probably don’t actually exist to further the plot of my story. I’m trying to market this book to actors who probably know a lot more than I do. Yikes. 

Right now, I feel like I’m sitting at the kids’ table, ignoring my mashed potatoes and opting to eavesdrop on the adults’ way-more-interesting wine-fuelled conversation instead. How do I graduate to being able to squeeze my little plastic chair in at the big table? Will I know what to say when I get there? Or will I just make a fool of myself?

One day, a few years ago, my mom gave me a piece of advice when I really didn’t want to go to work (that same retail job, in fact). She told me to “fake it ’til you make it.” She told me to just keep smiling and eventually I’ll feel happy. So I’m taking this same approach with my book: I’m just going to keep faking confidence, and maybe eventually I’ll feel confident.

And hey, if someone tells me I have inaccuracies in my book, I’ll tell ’em it’s fiction: maybe it’s an alternate universe of New York.