The Book of Mormon, more theater

Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd

Book of MormonMy family goes to the theater quite often. Capital Rep in downtown Albany is a “287-seat professional regional theatre [which] operates under regulations dictated by Actors’ Equity Association.” It’ll be moving four blocks away later this year.

Proctors Theatre in downtown Schenectady is an old old vaudeville venue with about 2600 seats. I have an odd attachment to the place, because when the powers that be decided to renovate the building back in 1978, I worked there on the second floor for the Schenectady Arts Council for several months.

Besides being a reminder for ME of what I’ve seen, i’m hoping to drop some information for you, in case you come across these shows.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Cap Rep, December 23: “A sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set two years after the novel ends, MISS BENNET continues the story, only this time with bookish middle-sister Mary as its unlikely heroine.”

If it is a seasonal trifle, it is a very good one, with a lovely assortment of classical music pieces interspersed, played by the actors. There will be a half dozen productions in 2019 in the US and Canada, and it’s worth seeing if it comes to your area.

School of Rock, Proctors, February 10. I never saw the movie with Jack Black. The three of us liked the musical a lot, especially that narrative that you have to really LISTEN to your kids. It was on Broadway for about three years, and has been touring since September 2017, alas, ending in San Jose, CA this week.

High School Musical Theatre Awards, Proctors, May 11. Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd. Our family had its rooting interests.

Sweet Charity from Albany High School got four nominations, getting one, for the orchestra. Beauty and the Beast from Catskill High School, and starring one of my nieces, got one nomination but did not win. Still, the other talent onstage was tremendous and the ceremony was very much worthwhile.

The Book of Mormon, Proctors, May 15. Back story: last time this show played in the area, in 2014, our daughter was sick in the hospital. Since my wife had stayed with our daughter the night before, I suggested that I should stay at the hospital so she could see the performance.

My wife went; she didn’t like it, finding it too coarse. This time, I went by myself, ON OUR ANNIVERSARY, no less. I thought it was quite funny and said a lot about stereotypes, religious imperialism, and the power of myth. The tour is continuing at least through August 2020.

Beauty and the Beast; Sweet Charity

I should note that in Beauty and the Beast, Belle was played by Alexa, my niece – my BIL’s daughter.

Beauty and the BeastMy family saw two high school musicals the last weekend in March, Beauty and the Beast at Catskill HS and Sweet Charity at Albany HS. They both were excellent, so I’ll be rooting for both schools in a competition.

“The School of Performing Arts at Proctors announces the 3rd Annual HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL THEATRE AWARDS for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League. Fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards…”

Our family attended the awards event last year. Caitlin Van Loan was nominated as best supporting actress for playing Marion the Librarian’s mom in Catskill’s The Music Man; she was excellent this year as Mrs. Potts.

Annabelle Duffy WON as best actress in AHS’ Hairspray last year, and got to represent “the Capital Region at The National High School Musical Theatre Awards competition in New York City” last June. She played Charity this year. Albany also won three other awards in 2018, including best choreography.

I should note that in Beauty and the Beast, Belle was played by Alexa, my niece – my BIL’s daughter. She’s been in the CHS productions for seven years – and I believe I’ve seen them all – but this is her first lead. My unbiased opinion is that she was very good.

So was the guy playing the Beast, Magnus Bush; Alexa and Magnus are pictured. The performers playing Lumiere, Gaston, Cogsworth, Madame Bouche and many others were also strong. There are far more decent male singers in the CHS productions than there were even three or four years.

While the Albany HS productions have been solid for a while, there has been a real emphasis on its social relevance in recent years. So they’ve taken the historically sexist play, written by Neil Simon, and attempted to give it a feminist spin.

I was unfamiliar with the story of Sweet Charity, though I knew three songs: Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, and the faux religious The Rhythm of Life.

In any case, we’re making plans to attend the High School Musical Theatre Awards ceremony on May 11 at 7 p.m. at Proctors.

H is for the Alexander Hamilton effect

Eliphalet Nott delivered a “powerful sermon condemning the practice of dueling.”

As a result of the tremendous success of the musical about the United States’ first Treasury Secretary, there have several articles referring to “the Hamilton effect.” This 2016 article in Playbill describes saving the $10 bill, popularizing Hamilton as a first name, and increasing an interest in late 18th century American history. See also here and here, for instance.

In the Albany, NY area, the Hamilton effect is strong. The historic Schuyler Mansion celebrates 100 years as state-run site. It’s a bigger deal than it might be because Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler “in the mansion’s parlor on Dec. 14, 1780. The couple lived in Albany for nearly two years after their marriage and they brought their children on summer vacations to the 32 Catherine St. house. Scholars believe Hamilton wrote three of the 85 articles known as the Federalist Papers in the house.”

My wife finished Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography, all 832 pages of it, this summer. The daughter insists that we listen to the music every time we are in the car. This is actually less than last year when the playing was nonstop.

“Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway musical altered the lives of countless unsuspecting fans with a powerful history lesson embedded in hypnotic, rhyming lyrics and a hip-hop beat.” It won 11 of 16 Tony awards for which it was nominated.

Long before the phenomenon, we were positively disposed toward Hamilton. A. Ham’s wife was a member of First Presbyterian Church, my current church, albeit in a different location.

Upon the death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804, highly-regarded First Presbyterian minister Eliphalet Nott delivered a “powerful sermon condemning the practice of dueling. It had a profound influence in curtailing the custom and has been recognized to this day as a work of great oratory.” I heard the sermon delivered at First Pres in 2004.

The three of us are hoping to finally see Hamilton in the next couple years.

The soundtrack
The soundtrack
The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)
Hamilton’s “rap” still rings true today

Our month of theater, or theatre, if you will

“‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era.”

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks were in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.