Thoughts on ‘Artus Excalibur’

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“Artus Excalibur” – a musical by Frank Wildhorn, Ivan Menchell and Robin Lerner, directed by Francesca Zambello

I have to say – I was rather excited to see Artus – Excalibur in St. Gallen and being honest with you guys this probably was the show which made me want to go to St. Gallen in the first place (and I’m still glad about it, because of the first night we spend at Theater St. Gallen!)

Anyway, you don’t always get to see a brand new show in German speakign countries (they keep coming nowadays, but it’s still unusual to have a bigger scale production of a brand new musical). And you don’t always get to see a brand new show written by Frank Wildhorn. I am not the biggest fan of his work, actually I think quite some of his work is a little dull (while I LOVE the score of Bonnie & Clyde I remeber being bored to death by his Count of Monte Christo), I was never drawn to his work because of how great the music is – with the exception of Bonnie & Clyde. When the thought of having to see it found its way into my mind it was more a ‘Gotta catch’em all’-moment than a “Wow…I’m interested in THAT”-thing. In addition to that St. Gallen’s theatre had an amazing moment of star-casting. They cast pretty much the most popular musical theatre actors in Germany/the German speaking countries as the principles – which not only garanteed them an exessive amount of press, but also kept the fans coming (and who doesn’t like that?).

A kind of concept album was released shortly after the premiere, with a number of songs (by far not all, but a decent number…) which gave me the opportunity to have a listen before I went to see it. From the recording alone I wasn’t stunned by any means, but it wasn’t too bad either. It was – once a again – decent music, a little folk-y, a little middle-age-y, a little ‘over the hills of Britannia’-y. As one would expect (from a post of mine over at newmusicaltheatre.com…) I had my issues with the German words which made me wonder what the English original lyrics were like (and I haven’t found out yet, and I think it’ll be a while before I will…) – but over all it kept me excited to see it.

I then saw it on May 30th and to get it out of the way: I wasn’t very fond of it. To be honest it was a moment of “I’m so angry I stayed awake until 2am and woke up at 7am”. By the time intermission came around I knew what was wrong with this show and after a night of thinking-sleeping I’m pretty sure that really was the problem. It wasn’t the music or the way the show was written – while it wasn’t the most mind-blowing thing ever, it wasn’t all too bad. It wasn’t the cast, although each and every one of them played a part in why it just wasn’t good from my point of view. It was the directing.

I usually try to stay away from all too harsh judgements (because: it’s the internet!), but even with all the time since I saw Artus I can’t make it more pleasing.

When I wrote that the problem was the directing I more of less ment: the absence of directing. It was not like “Ooh….what is this supposed to mean?”, it was more like “Eh…did somebody tell the actors what to do?”. Most of the leads I had seen before a number of times, like some of them, then was a little disappointed by them on the next occasion, just as the theatre-wheel goes round and round. One of them, Sabrina Weckerlin, I have been seeing numerous times since she was 19 years old and on stage as Constance in 3 Musketiere in Berlin, I saw her maturing and delivering a superb performance as Natalie Godman in Next to Normal last fall. Because I saw her perform so many times I think I know what she can do acting-wise (once more: Next to Normal) and I think I am able to tell when a director just was doing it wrong. She played evil Morgana (who was given a potencially heart-breaking backstory here) and she was doing just fine during her songs, but when she wasn’t singing it was like she was posing and saying her lines and gesticulating exessively – just as if someone (a director?) had told her: Just do whatever you fancy doing! It was the same with Patrick Stanke, who played Artus and seems to be a kind of go-to-tenor when it comes to heroic young men in German musical theatre. Just doing what he fancied…I could go on and on but I think you get the point, right?

While I wasn’t bored (it was too short to be bored with so much story told, 2.5 hours including intermission), I felt a little insulted soon after intermission when I was able to tell that what happened in the first act just wasn’t a matter of ‘getting started’. It felt so ‘American’ in a way we Europeans tend to say it when something is just scratching the surface of a problem and in a way musical as a genre is seen by so many people in Germany (a fact I’m complaining about in almost each and every post of mine on the newmusicaltheatre.com-blog) and it is just not doing the genre any justice, while people will go and see Artus and those who like ‘musicals’ are gonna keep on liking it while those who have massive prejudices keep having these. But I am so sure that this show (read: this production) would flop on Broadway big times and it so assures me in my thought that ‘American’ and ‘American’ are two different things: While we, and I of course include myself here, sometimes use this adjective to describe a superficial production of a musical (usually like “Oh, this is SO American!” and we mean “Oh, this is so not good!”), real American musical theatre often is SO MUCH BETTER!

Anyway, do these thoughts even make sense?

Have you seen it?

What do YOU think about it?

I’d love to hear!

Music Monday … This World Will Remember Us

I admit, the intro is a bit cut, but this amazing jazzy version of Bonnie and Clyde’s ‘partnering up in crime’-song (literally!) from Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie & Clyde (which is, as I will keep expressing later on this week probably my favourite score written by Wildhorn) is well worth it. I mean: Really.

This world will remember us is the finale of act I and I always see it as a song, that really structures the story of the musical, as well as the story of Bonnie and Clyde (outside of the musical as well?): it sums up what we’ve learned so far and foreshadows what we will be learning about them later on in the show (or: what we already know about them, because their case is kinda known….). In addition to that both Bonnie and Clyde get to reprise their motivation from the first song of the show when their younger selfs sing about their (childhood)dreams and get to stress their points as strong narrators of the show.  And all this in one song.

My thoughts on this song could be so utterly wrong, because I’ve never seen the show – but I will, in September – the European premiere of it in…Bielefeld.

And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the original version and want more of a cast recording vibe, then check out this version:

 

What are you listening to today?

My Week #42, Aug 11th – 17th

what I saw
nothing all too exciting. Youtube, as always, and iTunes keeps uploading one episode of the 2nd season of Mr. Selfridge at a time. So I’m rewatching these. (we’re almost finished though, this past Friday s2ep8 rolled around…)

what I read
I once more had a week ‘locked up’ at the library. Although I took some time to do some work-stuff (my freelance-stuff as well as some assigned work from my job at uni), my reading added up once more.

I finished Christa Wolf’s Ein Tag im Jahr im neuen Jahrhundert in which she describes the 27th’s of each September between 2001 and 2011.
Then I read her last novel (which was published before she dies in 2011) Die Stadt der Engel oder: The Overcoat of Dr. Freud which is set during her time as a scholar of an arts centre in Los Angeles. And then I finally read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem which I meant to read since the Hannah Arendt-biopic came to the movie theatres in early 2013. Now I finally did it!

what I listened to
Oldies but Goldies. In the Heights, If/Then, Bridges of Madison County.

what I did
A lot of reading (as you might have been able to tell already), working, working out (I ran 16k on Wednesday!) and I went to a Breakfast market with my sister today.

What did you do?

The Theaterkind facebook page is only 5 away from 100 likes! Can we make it? That’d be AWESOME. :)

Have a great new week starting tomorrow!

My Week #41,Aug 4th – 10th

what I saw
I went to see the Jersey Boys movie. And I spend one night knitting and (re)watching an episode of House of Cards. (very summer appropriate)

what I read
As I spend most of my time in the library I read quite a lot (it added up to more than 1000 pages):
Hannah Arendt: Über das Böse. (“Some Questions of Moral Philosophy”)
Hannah Arendt: Macht und Gewalt. (“On Violence”)
Christa Wolf: Kindheitsmuster.

And I started to read Christa Wolf’s Ein Tag im Jahr im neuen Jahrhundert.

what I listened to
In the Heights. All the way through the week. It’s summery, isn’t it?

what I did
Reading (a lot), writing (too little), knitting (how on earth?! It’s summer!), meeting people, having my friend F. over for a nerdy Saturday afternoon reading session and spending my Sunday afternoon on a joined birthday party of two friends/colleagues where I met old and new friends and had a good time.

What did you do?

The Theaterkind facebook page is only 5 away from 100 likes! Can we make it? That’d be AWESOME. :)

Have a great new week starting tomorrow!

Anything Goes – Literally

IMG_2174After I have posted all my Broadway-thoughts and my thoughts on Sarg Niemals Nie I can (finally) move on to the three musicals I have seen in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in the end of May when the theatre of St. Gallen showed all three of their currently running musicals in a row. I went there by train with my mother and we had a great time (her first time in Switzerland), after three nights in St. Gallen we went to Zurich and stayed another two nights (which is so expensive the two nights there did cost roughly the same as the three nights in St. Gallen – and the hotel wasn’t that good, actually). Anyways…right now we’re here to talk productions.

I used to be not that much into old musicals, I’m all for innovation and new stuff (hence my contributing to the Greenroom-blog over on newmusicaltheatre.com) – so I was the least excited about the first show of the three which was Anything Goes. When we were sitting in the theatre’s lobby (which is lovely and quite special architectural) after our over-night-travel and my mom was flipping through the pages of the programme she was like: “Oh…it’s one of these comedies in which someone is mistaken for someone and it’s supposed to be funny. I’m not really up to this right now!”

A couple of minutes later a woman joined us where we sat (apparently she is reviewing shows for German musical news-page thatsmusical.de) and she was all like: “I don’t know what this is about and frankly I don’t care. I am tired and I only bought it because it was cheap, more by accident. I really only wanted to see actor X this afternoon! And look, I’ve seen show Y in Stuttgart 40 times!” Sorry if I’m offending some people know, but this attitude pisses me off. Like really! Then my mother repeated her statement before I said: “Well – let’s try to see it this way. If you really don’t want to see something because you don’t feel in the mood and in the end you happen to have enjoyed yourself and it finds its way to your heart, that’d make the production amazing, right?”

Later, when the lights went on for intermission, my mom turned to me, beaming and said: “It was exactly like you said before! It totally found its way to my heart!” And for myself I can definetely say that this evening was not only when I fell in love with Cole Porter’s music (am I late to the party?), but also with this kind of old-ish musical where the narrated story is kind of draped around hit-songs, not in the hideous compilation-musical-Mamma-Mia-kind-of-way (or for more German reference: Hinterm Horizont and its brothers and sisters…), but in a slightly better working one. And eventually: Bettina Mönch.

Let’s start in reverse order. I have the feeling that in almost every post with thoughts on a German production of anything which I remotly liked I state that one of the performers has given a great performance, the “best performance on a German stage I’ve seen in a long while when it comes to musicals”. But after Pia Douwes’ performance as Diana in Next to Normal last fall Bettina Mönch gives a very different (of course, because they are playing different characters) but equally amazing performance as Reno Sweeney. She is tall which stresses her being different from the others just because she is so much taller than all the other (female and even most of the male) actors on that stage and has a very captivating appearance on stage. And boy, she is a dancer! And she can sing. And act. Basically she is this tripple threat we always are talking about, but as I feel not getting to see that much on German (speaking) stages. She owns the stage as Reno’s got to own it.

The thing with Anything Goes seems to be: anything goes. The title already gives a hit of what I think was quite ‘ahead of its time back then’, throughout the story the women – especially Reno, but eventually all the other female characters, too – are winners. They own the (their) men and in the end everyone of them gets what she wants. For me worshipping the female narrative that’s quite a nice thing to have. I remember talking about it when I went to my admission interview in Leipzig only a couple of days after we’d returned from our trip – I just didn’t really expect a female narrative to happen in a musical from the 1930ies. Written by men.

The directing by Josef E. Köpplinger is sometimes very, very silly (the opening of the show, is almost embarrassingly silly), but then it somewhat ‘returns’ to the narrative and gives it a fitting vibe – full of doors opening and closing at the right time. Most of the times it comes to terms very charmingly with the good ol’ Staatstheater-situation: having people that can’t (and don’t have to) dance in big scenes, because they are members of the opera choir – I have seen a lot more embarrassing situations on this department.

In my latest post over on newmusicaltheatre.com I adressed the translating-issue we are faced in German speaking countries when producing shows originally written in another language, mostly English. In this production of Anything Goes they decided to have the dialogue in German and the songs sung in English – which is a weird feeling. Directing-wise you don’t only have to justify your characters breaking into a song, but also breaking into a song in a language different from the one they just spoke – and I can’t deny that it cracks up the narrative. And it causes more than one awkward moment – with only very few songs you can really tell when it starts, there are mixutres of talking and singing, changing from phrase to phrase. Where do you draw the line? But then, I was really glad they didn’t force awkward German translations of these very English (down to their DNA if lyrics had one) lyrics on us – although I’m pretty sure not everybody in the audience was able to understand these (beautiful and if nor beautiful at least funny) lyrics, which is sad.

What I have been trying to tell you in more than 1000 words by now: If you have the opportunity to go or just really want to get to know Anything Goes as a musical or have been thinking about it, but never quite made the decision – I encourage you to do so. You (probably) won’t regret it.

(for more information you can either visit musicalzentrale.de or the theatre’s website)

Music Monday … Breathe

I mentioned reading a quite special book the last week – a book basically explaining diffrent concepts of womanhood and femininity on Broadway over the last six decades. Anyway this is called Music Monday and not Book Monday – so while reading this book I was inspired to dig back into my iTunes library to return to a very loved recording from only a couple of years ago.

I’m talking about In the Heights, winner of multiple Tony Awards in 2008, which is mentioned in the third to last chapter of “Changed for Good. A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical” with a number of other musicals focussing on women of color – reading about it I remembered how much I used to love the very narrative score.

My all time favourite song is ‘Breathe’ (and always was), the first solo of the (female) protagonist Nina. I’ve spent afternoons listening to various versions of it and crying my eyes out on them (one of them being a very mature and distinct performance by then 13-year-old Mallory Bechtel last year) – however when I thought about featuring it here I found a very moving version of it by the original (Broadway) Nina, Mandy Gonzales, sung at a five year reunion concert in 2013.

In addition to the song being Nina’s ‘I want’-number, it opens out up a lot of Nina’s character to the audiences, it’s very emotional and it presents the kind of community the characters and then we as audiences are in right now (or, better: putting even more color into the picture of community drawn in the opening).

 

What are you listening to today?

I’d love to hear!

My Week #40, July 28th – Aug 3rd

what I saw
I went to see ‘Her’ at an open air movie screening. And still: Loads of Youtube going on….

what I read
I finished reading the book I mentioned last week (“Changed for Good. A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical”) – stay tuned for my thoughts on that…and a lot of (vegan) blogs online.

what I listened to
I went back into my iTunes library and dug out some things mentioned in said book. In the Heights for example which I love or Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

what I did
Reading, seeing friends, working out. Feels like I finally turned to ‘enjoy’ summer.

What did you do?

The Theaterkind facebook page is only 5 away from 100 likes! Can we make it? That’d be AWESOME. :)

Have a great new week starting tomorrow!

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….) ;)