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!

Why Young People Should be at the Theatre

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Outside of the Royal MTC’s John Hirsch Mainstage. Image via LeifNorman.net.

I spend a lot of time with twenty-something hipsters. I’m probably one of them. We complain when something we like isn’t well-known, and when it gets popular, we jump off that bandwagon because it used to be better. We spend a lot of time in coffee shops and deciding which filter to put on our Instagram photos (Gingham is the standard for all of mine). Last night I was doing some research on the book publishing industry, and I found that people (namely women) between 13-35 buy the most books. I think that millennials are having a book renaissance and enjoy turning pages when enjoying a story instead of just clicking through.

Although we are the first generation to be essentially born into the digital age, we’re also the first to have nostalgia for real experiences. Like going out to the movies and buying popcorn and peeling your shoes off the sticky floor instead of just browsing through Netflix. Digging up grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe and meticulously measuring each ingredient instead of just ordering Starbucks from your app. Going to an indie bookstore and finding that first-edition Feminine Mystique instead of finding it on Google Books. We long for these days.

Theatre is the best part of my cultural life. (It’s probably one of the best parts of my life, period.) There is nothing more real and tangible than actors spilling their hearts out onstage every night while a live orchestra plays the score that sets the tone for the whole show. This is the kind of real experience my generation is begging for. So why don’t I see people my age at these events?

There’s this idea that theatre is expensive. It certainly can be. On the surface, when you first search for tickets, they can be anywhere from $50 to $100. But theatre companies are practically giving students tickets for free. When The Book of Mormon was in town, they offered a $25 student rush policy for every show. Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre has a Theatre Under 30 program, where young adults can sign up and receive an email offering $20 tickets to every show. Smaller theatre companies, like Theatre by the River, offer tickets for as little as $10. There is almost always a student price.

We need to get out there. My generation will jump at the opportunity to go to an art exhibit, but is hesitant to watch art on stage. We are future consumers, future moneymakers, and we need to focus our interest on the arts – all of them.

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. 

Review: Rainbow Stage’s Shrek the Musical

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Carson Nattrass beltin’ the ogre blues. Image courtesy ChrisD.ca.

I’ve been going to Rainbow Stage since I was six years old. My first show was Big – The Musical. In the last few years, I’ve made a point of trying to catch their entire season. When I heard that they were going to perform Shrek, my first thought was: “That is a big show.”

I’d watched the pro-shot version of the Broadway show on Netflix, and it has got to be one of the largest shows of the last decade. Not only are there plethoras of costume changes, set pieces, cast members, and special effects, but there’s also knowing that you have to fill some of the theatre scene’s biggest shoes – Shrek was originally led by Brian D’Arcy James as the titular character and Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona.

But last night, I was reminded that nobody does big better than Rainbow. (I’m gonna stop saying that word now.)

I saw Ring of Fire, the first show Rainbow produced this year, and although I had a good time, it didn’t fulfill my theatre experience. I watched a group of talented musicians perform Johnny Cash songs, but it wasn’t a show. It felt more like a bio-concert. Rainbow’s done a few of these in the previous five seasons: joining Ring of Fire is also Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story and A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline. I’m very aware that most of Winnipeg’s theatre season ticket holders are white-haired, but these bio-musicals are something I can experience by myself, listening to a CD and reading Wikipedia.

Shrek, on the other hand, gave me everything I could hope for in a theatre experience: wonderful actors, a moving story, a laugh every now and then, and performances that made me rise to my feet.

Carson Nattrass was an excellent Shrek, mainly because of his impeccable comedic timing, able to ad-lib and feel out the audience’s reactions. If a Shrek doesn’t know how to do this, the show could ultimately fall flat. The point of the show is to be able to make fun of itself, and Nattrass led by example.

Heather McGuigan was a perfect Princess Fiona, never missing a high-pitched note and never letting her male counterpart steal the spotlight when they had a scene together. The two are balanced in such a way that makes you see them as a pair from the moment they share their first scene together.

The only thing that took me out of the story was the microphone problems that seem to plague Rainbow Stage at every show I attend. Sometimes, I chalk it up to being there early in the run (like missing cues when I saw the preview of Les Mis last season). But this was the sixth (seventh?) performance of Shrek, and there were still mics too loud and young Shrek’s mic wasn’t turned on at all for his first (and longest) appearance at the beginning of the show. The mixing will always be an issue, thanks to its amphitheatre atmosphere, but it’s no excuse for why cues can’t be followed. It was so noticeable that audience members began chatting about it during the show.

When a movie (or book or other source) is made into a musical, I have to ask myself whether it was necessary to transfer it onto the stage. When Shrek was made fifteen years ago, the creators must have thought that a movie was the best medium for this story. Did it need to be lengthened and transformed into what it is now?

Ultimately, I wasn’t able to answer that question. I remember seeing Shrek in the theatre, but there were children there that night that may have been experiencing that story for the first time. People there who weren’t expecting the Donkey = ass jokes, and who don’t quote “you cut me real deep, Shrek” on a regular basis. Whether it was necessary or not might be irrelevant, because this show works. The magic of the story is perfect on stage, and the production values weren’t dimmed at all from the Great White Way. Rainbow Stage is certainly living up to their new mantra, “definitely Broadway, uniquely Winnipeg.”

Shrek the Musical runs at Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park until August 31. You can get tickets at RainbowStage.ca.

Rating: 4.5/5