To Build a Home – Thoughts on “The Untold Stories of Broadway, Vol. 1″

the cover of the book on my iPad – because, yes, I'm that 21st century. ;)

the cover of the book on my iPad – because, yes, I’m that 21st century. ;)

short disclaimer: I’m pretty sure I am not able to write a ‘real’ review on books, I feel I don’t know enough about books to be a critic or anything. This is more like ‘feelings’ or short thoughts. Or maybe it’s a small review. Who knows that?

I finished Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s book The Untold Stories of Broadway, Vol 1, the first installment of a multi-volume series, a while ago, actually when I was in New York this past spring – which was almost 4 months ago now.

Anyway, I have the feeling that this book (and most like the following volumes as well) is not so much about EVERY single detail, but more about the big picture – which doesn’t mean that all the details and little stories are not important, they actually are, in order to create the bigger picture of the community, of how Broadway is like, was like, used to be like in its ‘Golden Age’.

Let’s start right at the beginning. For those of you who have read my About me page on this blog, the following fact isn’t really new. Over there I quote one of the first sentences of the book, a sentence that actually brought me to tears when I read it for the very first time. This sentence makes everything to perfectly clear with in very first moments of the book. We know why and we get to know by whom these stories that will follow the intoduction are brought to us.

The introduction is followed by longer or shorter stories, snippets, statements taken from interviews Tepper had conducted with actors, writers, ushers, door (wo)men, managers, producers, stagehands, you name it. These texts, interview-snippets and statements are organized by theatre, the first volume includes eight Broadway theatres – some of which are ‘dead’ by now (demolished one could say…), others are very, very much alive, as well as chronologically: so you get really old, historical statements from actors who have been in multiple shows in a specific theatre or in one of the first ones in it or who have returned after years and years spent in other theatres, and then you get to statements from people you have either seen on stage or listened to on cast recordings (for ages!) from the very recnt past. You come across shows I recognize from what you know about Broadway yourself and then across shows pretty much everyone seems to have forgotten about.

This way you can walk, run or speed (depenting on your reading rate) through the history of these eight theatres going fifty, sixty, seventy years back in time. From time to time Ms. Tepper guides us through, sometimes she let’s (her choices) of stories and statements speak for themselves.

And I actually caught myself crying about some of the theatres and places that either aren’t anymore at all or just not like they were used to be.

One thing that made me really happy though was that I was ‘smart’ enough (or maybe just lazy) to take it with me on my most recent trip to New York, as I stated before. I had owned my (electronical) copy of it for a while and it just chilled out on my iPad and when the trip came along I was like: You know what, I’m gonna read that – so I don’t have to pack another book!

This act of laziness and reaction to limited luggage space (backpack!) turned out to be a very good decision. It made everything to much more alive to read about something and then just having to leave the hotel (I was staying at the Marriot Marquis…) and being right there, right where so many theatres are situated. While wandering through the theatre district I’d (from the girls’ perspective) randomly point at buildings and be like “You see this building? Times Square Church? This used to be a theatre until the early 1980’s!”. It made me so happy to be able to process everything ‘live’, reading about it and seeing it later, passing by the theatre the same day or the following, remembering or looking forward to visiting theatres to see shows I had planned or already experienced.

What I want to express by rambling about how I read it in New York and what kind of impact it had on me is, that this is one of these books that are what you as a reader want them to be. You can read it and be like “Okay, stories!” or you could take time and go through it, go back and forth and really dive into it and into the history of everything so deep it literally will be hard for you to put the book away, get up and do whatever you need to do.

This book builds you a imaginative home in the history of these eight Broadway theatres, it makes history somehow processable and understandable and very much alive through these personal stories and statements all these theatre professionals were so kind to share. I am so glad Jennifer Ashley Tepper decided to ask them and they cared to share.

Theatre history seems to be either really under- or really over-rated, both of the cases are not the best. Especially in an art form that relies on signs and hints and going back to other ways other people have done theatre before you we need to embrace history (in a reflected way) and know about it and maybe history should embrace us. In the first volume of The Untold Stories of Broadway exactly that happens: history creeps up on us and embraces us. At least we can get the feeling of it.

(and I’d so go ahead and try to translate this into my own language (including rights and all the other shenanigans) for (musical) theatre people over here to read it in their language, but somehow I have the impression that sadly only a very small number of people would care to read…)

 

Music Monday … No More Wasted Time

A couple of days ago my Mom told me: “You know what? I think the If/Then recording is truly addictive!” – Although this probably does not work of me the way it works for her, but I can totally see why.

On the recording (and on stage) LaChanze is one of my favourites. I mean – not only her character is so lovely, but also her performance. The song It’s a Sign is so good, but I couldn’t find it on Youtube or somewhere, so I just turned to the next song featuring her fabulously. This is No More Wasted Time how it was performed at Broadway in Bryant Park two weeks ago and I think it is not only a  nice song composition-wise, but it also has a good message (it might be a little bit ‘in your face’ though….) ;)

My Week #37, July 21st – 27th

what I saw
probably I should say too many videos on Youtube…because that’s how I roll these days.

what I read
as I posted on the Theaterkind facebook page I finally started reading Changed for Good. A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical by Stacy Wolf. Let’s see how I like it when I’m a little bit more into it.

what I listened to
just as last week the Broadway recording of Rocky and If/Then and I listened to the new recording of Violet a few times. And I am still amazed by how funny Bullets over Broadway is.

what I did
I did some very serious letter-writing for a private matter which I was very glad to get over with, I wrote a concept for a project-thing with a friend and went to Ikea to get picture frames. :)

What did you do?

The Theaterkind facebook page is only 6 away from 100 likes! Can we make it? That’d be AWESOME. :)

Have a great new week starting tomorrow!

Dealing With Media

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one of the photos I took almost two years ago when I last was in Israel. A jewish boy in front of the Dome of the Rock.

Another Off Topic Post on a Friday, in English this time.

I think we all are aware of the situation in Israel and Gaza and it literally tears up my heart to see this. This sounds soo cheesy, but I don’t what to be on either ‘side’, I really just want everyone to not be extremist and I want people to be aware of the other side.

But this isn’t to be about the conflict and the war itself – I don’t no enough about the the conflict in depth and I don’t know enough about war (and frankly, I hope I’ll never know).
This is about the media. And propaganda and the whole issue of ‘opinions’ and ‘statements’ and snippets we get to see here and there on TV, on social media and via any kind of communication outlet.

From my time in Israel two years ago (gosh, I’m getting old!) I still am connected to people on facebook I now wish I wasn’t. There are things in my news feed I can’t really take, not because they are too violent or too disturbing because of the misery displayed, but they literally SCREAM racism and propaganda. There are racist jokes about ‘Arabs’ shared and things ‘Arabs’ can do or be in Israel, while Israelis can’t do any of the things displayed in any other Arabic country. And then, reading newspaper articles online you get a distrubing image of Hamas using their people as human shields, houses bombed in Gaza and so many people dying. On TV there are pictures of big, teary eyes of children. And below these online articles are really hateful anti-israeli, anti-zionist and antisemitist comments you wouldn’t exactly expect in a country like Germany. I mean…almost 70 years later.
And to round up this chaos when talking about the situation with my friends over in Israel I get an idea of the way they view the situation over there: being ready for the army’s call but at the same time a little bit sad because this call very probably won’t come, being confronted with rockets every day, multiple times and having no real chance to leave the country – or: not wanting to. But when they ask my perspective they usually don’t believe it. A family with German citizenshop killed in Gaza? Well…they probably didn’t do anything to leave Gaza then – right? (Nope, they probably did. All borders are closed.)

I don’t have any idea how to solve all these problems. I don’t even want to argue with my friends about how the dead people (and I’m not talking children only here) in Gaza used to be as human as the dead Israeli soldiers and how some people being as extremist as Hamas is probably does not give any other person the right to be the same.

I don’t know what it is like to be hated by a small and yet armed group of extremists and I am very grateful for that, but eventually I just wish for peace and an ending to the killing.

My BA thesis which I wrote last year was about constructions of identity in performances with participants from the Middle East (Israelis, Palestinians, Iranians) and during my work on that and seeing the productions I was writing about I saw a lot of (‘acted’) hate and misunderstanding. I like to believe that in theses groups they actually were close and they could overcome these things, but I know that there people around (of ANY nationality) thinking that other people (of ANY nationality) don’t have the right to do what they are doing or to be where they are. And it really hurts my actual body to know this. To know that people are like that. And that they are willing to kill other people for that.

I know this post sounds a little whiny and maybe even a little bit ‘The white girl is having trouble with the bad world!’, but really: All I want is peace.

And I’d love to make a statement, leave a sign, whatever.
But that’s hard without making someone else uncomfortable, without being seen as anti-israeli, anti-jewish, anti-whatever and without seeing myself as anti-human. I’m stuck there and here in between things.

But then again, this is not about me, this is about these countries (which is more like one country and one kind of not-occupied, but in the same moment occupied one) and about the people living there. They need to know things and we all need to learn and know things and we all need to support whatever it takes to establish a human way of living for both sides over there in Israel and the Palestinian territories. And not in some pseudo-liberal but segregating arrangement.

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Temple Mount viewed from Mount of Olive, this is not only the ‘most Jerusalem’-y image for me, but also a multi-religious one.

Wenn bestatten deine Arbeit ist … Thoughts on Sarg Niemals Nie

After my very belated posts about The Bridges of Madison County and Jasper in Deadland I have yet another show to write about which is closed already. Yay, Lisanne! This time it’s a German show, a German production, you could also say Berlin-ish – because as far as I am informed this was a whole produced in Berlin: from a reading-workshop-kind of production last summer to a whole (about 90 minutes long) show this spring.

I’m talking about the show Sarg Niemals Nie which I already mentioned in one of my posts over on newmusicaltheatre.com where I also talked about the title. If you just say the title without putting too much pressure on the r, it sounds just as you’d say “Sag niemals nie” which translates to “Never say never!”, but the small additon of the r to the ‘Sag’ makes the word mean ‘coffin’, Sarg = coffin.

And this brings us to the topic of the show. It focusses on a funeral home, a family business – a while after the family’s father died. His younger (?), but very serious and slightly compulsive son has taken the lead along with the Polish maid (what a cliché!) while his brother is somewhere in India. They struggle to keep the business going – mostly because of discount undertaker businesses (like ‘McSarg‘…) and from time to time they keep themselves happy smoking a joint after a long day. Then the brother returns from India, does weird Kamasutra stuff and accidentally drops the ashes of one of their costumers into the secret dope-stash. The dope-stash is smoked and the high is as no high was before and they see an opportunity to earn money, for a small business on the side: Special dope. They kind of get caught by the police, not for the dope-dealing, but for building cheap coffins out of Ikea cupboards – in the end everything’s fine, they stop dealing, the ‘bad brother’ (who turns out to be not that bad in fact) leaves while the compulsive brother and the Polish maid fall in love.

This sounds crazy?
Well…in fact…it is.
And if you are in the mood for some craziness it’s pretty funny as well.

I saw it in one of the smallest venues of musical theatre I’ve ever seen and ever have been to – the Studio of Neuköllner Oper with about 50 seats. The stage was narrow and slightly shallow and putting something like this up in this space is an artform by itself. With a coffin as a centre piece on stage, which worked kind of like one of these magicians boxes where people get parted, a funny moment is happening when we first whitness Dakmar (the Polish maid) and David (the compulsive son) calling it a day and transforming the coffin into a couch.

But now on to the things I like talking about most: the directing. I have the feeling that when you showcase new material, even in a ‘real production’, it is so much about just showcasing the material: showing the people what kind of score we got and what kind of book. Often the directing can be ‘charming’ – but adding in something completely new is hard, or at least it’s hard to realize for audiences, in this case the writers Jörn-Felix Alt and Dominik Wagner also directed. So, for the most part is was sweet and charming – the performance started as soon as we were allowed to enter the studio, with Patrick Cieslik as David standing by the door, shaking hands and welcoming us to a funeral. That gave a nice, immersive touch.

Funnily enough I saw all of the three actors on stage before – Patrick Cieslik and Yvonne Greitzke (as Dakmar) in Stimmen im Kopf (where both of them oddly enough portayed very similar characters) and I saw them a couple of times during the latest Bundeswettbewerb Gesang, while I saw Maximilian Mann in the show his year of UdK musical-students did a while ago (maybe in 2010?), where also Jörn-Felix Alt was in. From that show I knew that Jörn-Felix Alt is a terrific dancer and his choreographies were very much how you expect a good dancer to choreograph: they were dance-y and modern-y and they could easily be spotted as ‘dance’, but sometimes I felt a little bit uneasy watching them because among all this crazy stuff going on, this hilariously crazy plot and the lyrics the dancing added another topping which maybe was too much.

Overall I had a good time seeing it (and I would have hated to not have gone – there were some problems with my reservation, the theatre had lost it…), I liked the characters and the music and eventually I’m like “Yay! Original musical theatre from Germany!” most of the times anyways. So I’m eager to see new things of that team. Or of others.

But if I may make a wish: Maybe not a comedy the next time?

P.S.: For some orientation I’ve found a video snippet of one of the songs. Enjoy.

Is it okay if I touch you? … The Bridges of Madison County

first time I went to see it, I was excited anyways, and then THIS happened!

first time I went to see it, I was excited anyways, and then THIS happened! JRB himself conducting!

 

the Bridges marquee at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

the Bridges marquee at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Well…writing about The Bridges of Madison County so long after it’s closed and even after Jason Robert Brown winning two of his Tony Awards for it seems so wrong and anachronistic, but sometimes I’m a little slow with things and that’s why I really want to do it (because – as I have expressed multiple times already – I loved this show and I love the score so much!) and now is the time I finally get to it. So: Yeah.

First of all – I’m not the biggest fan of romance and romancy types of stuff. Novels, movies, TV shows – as long as it is pure romance there are only very fews ways to get me interested. And many people would put Bridges in the “pure romance” category – just briefly seen it’s just the story of a man and a woman falling in love and ‘finding the love of their lives’ and then need to ‘break up’ because she is married. And of course, cheating is a very sensitive topic to touch and the married one being the woman is even more complicated because woman (still) are expected to give most of what they have for their husband and kids, to their family. The German theatre performance group She She Pop even created a whole evening of theatrical performance about the sacrifices (their) mothers had to make in order to make their family work. Anyway.

Looking deeper into the show itself I find that there are so many ‘paintings’ layered on top of each other. Not only the music is layered in a way you can listen to it a million times and still finding things you never had heard before – I kid you not, I had a situation where I was listening to it non stop and suddenly was like: “Wait. Did that cello just play this? Had it played it before? No way it has – I would have had heard that earlier!” and then, of course, the cello always had played that way because it’s a recording. On a CD. And they don’t tend to change.

When I remember the two performances I was lucky enough to see on Broadway (and I even was lucky enough to have Jason Robert Brown conduct both of them…) I really like to think about it as a layered painting as well. Not only was the biggest part of the set, the backround, a somewhat old-school-ish painted backround. There was the Iowa-ian sky and fields. On that painting the lights painted emotions and day and night and day again. And eventually Francesca and Robert told their story and while telling it they painted pictures of all the other people: Of her husband Bud and her kids, of Marian, Robert’s former wife, of those who live close by Francesca and of her past in Italy and how she first came to America. Not only the script and the music tells everything through them but Kelli O’Hara (why didn’t she win the Tony?? Why didn’t she win ANY of the awards she was nominated for? WHY?) and Steven Pasquale actually spun this story in between their bodies and voices and their pure performances. Seeing it live on stage actually was like agreeing to it and committing to it in the first moments, following this solo cello along on this journey. This sounds very cheesy, but I swear there are theatre experiences like that, you agree, follow along and there’s no way out for you before the curtain call and for me Bridges definitely was one of those. And whenever they stuck to the story as told through Robert and Francesca it worked best for me. I’m still not very sure about the part the elderly couple next door plays in this story (of course they are more like the Bouffo-couple, the ones mirroring and foreshadowing in Francesca’s Iowian life) – they could work as ‘told’ by Francesca as well, actually, but then they do stuff and help her after she couldn’t bring herself to leave along with Robert.
I remember my family having slight problems with the song “When I’m gone” because somehow, if you don’t listen closely (maybe because of language problems, maybe because you are not fully paying attention…) it’s easy to miss that both of the man – Bud and Charlie die over the years. And I think it also might be because of the sudden change of narrator: Suddenly the husbands are telling the (their) story not – but only for one song, because afterwards: They are dead. And afterwards the old narration is re-established, Franscesca and Robert are kind of finishing their painting of their lives.

When I think about that show as a painting, of imagining things together and putting pieces into their places the directing was just that – it made people put together things on stage, building a home (see what I did here?) and a bigger picture.

I have a really bad feeling raving about the mode Bridges is written in and was shown in, and I definitely see some weak spots in the book like so many others pointed out – but I also have the feeling that so many people hard-core loved the show and so many people just thought it was boring and maybe got offended by the story of a woman cheating on her husband.

In the ‘About me’-section of this blog I quote Jennifer Ashley Tepper from her book “The Untold Stories of Broadway”. In this book she talks about Merrily We Roll Along and how much she loves it and how much she wishes she could have seen the original production (so do I after reading about it!) – and thinking about Bridges I feel it could be my Merrily. Only that I was fortunate enough to have seen it.

Music Monday … Raining

If you have read yesterday’s post of my last week in review you may have noticed that I was really getting into the Broadway recording of Rocky over the last week. Besides all this vocal “male-ness” I really enjoy Adrian as a character – although you could REALLY argue about the concept of female existance displayed over there.

I think her most narrative song is Raining and when I found her performing it on the New York Times’ art blog I became obsessed with this song and her performance again.

Please, go and see for yourself – it’s amazing, you’ll see.

Video of Margo Seibert singing ‘Raining’.

What are you listening to today? I’d be happy to hear!
Happy Monday, folks!