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!

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.

Review: Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s Another Way Home

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The cast of Another Way Home. Keith Levit/Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. 

The Nadelmans, the featured family in Another Way Home, are a pretty typical quartet. They could even be likened to The Simpsons, minus baby – a tall breadwinner father, an overbearing, worrisome mother, a troubled older boy and a genius younger girl. So it would’ve been easy to caricature them. But that’s not at all what playwright Anna Ziegler did.

 

In the Canadian premiere of Another Way Home, Ari Weinberg directs a cast of Winnipeg theatre vets in a heartwarming play about how a family comes to terms with growing up – yes, even the fifty-plus parents come to terms with maturing.

At first, it was difficult for me to slot myself into this play. How do I relate to anyone? I’m not an angsty teenager (anymore) and I’m not a parent (yet), so I didn’t feel immediately connected to any of the characters. But as it went on, I started to empathize with all of them.

Philip and Lillian Nadelman are visiting their son Joey at summer camp, where he’s training to be a counselor. When they show up, Joey has a breakdown because he never asked for them to come or care about him. His father yells at him, and Joey bolts. His family, including his sister Nora back home, and his counselor Mike T. spend the play looking for him.

I was a moody teenager (and a moody eight-year-old). I told my parents I hated them when I of course never did, I thought I could be independent when I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I thought that I had it all figured out – now I know that nobody ever really figures it out. That’s exactly what this play reflected. Philip says that it just hits him that he’s been alive for 54 years and it all seems like it was just yesterday. Does he know how to interact with his moody son so that they don’t constantly quarrel? Of course not. But figuring it out is part of what makes these characters so human.

Cory Wojcik did what he does best – playing an intimidating, howling father. I gotta give it up to the actors that go toe-to-toe with him. If papa bear Wojcik yelled at me like he does some of the characters in this play, I probably would’ve peed myself. He has his tender moments too, which makes the scenes when the claws come out so much more valuable. He just wants what’s best for his family, and he’ll fight for it.

The real standout for me was Darren Martens as Mike T. His collected counselor brings a calming presence to the whole stage, even when he’s not in the scene – a skill usually reserved for actors that are much older. He doesn’t pretend to be wise or have all the answers, but his reserved coolness earns Joey’s respect, the one thing that his parents want the most.

After I left the theatre, I realized that I could see myself in all of the characters. I could see past self in Joey and my future self in Philip. I could see me and my brother in Joey and Nora’s relationship. I could see how no matter what age you are, you never stop growing up and you never stop learning. Audiences of all ages can surely relate to this.

Another Way Home runs until November 6 at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. You can get single tickets, or tickets to this plus a discount on the rest of WJT’s season, here.

4/5 stars

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.