“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and the luck I’ll never have again


It’s official. I have the theater bug, and I’m not getting better anytime soon. The week I saw “Hamilton”, I saw FOUR SHOWS, three of them in four days. For a variety of reasons the tickets (besides “Hamilton”) were very reasonable, but still. Four shows.

I’ll get around to talking about all of them in due course, but first I have to tell you about a very special outing to see “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. I’ve been hearing about “Hedwig” since it opened, and while it sounded interesting, it had never made it to the top of my list. But it’s a favorite of my “Cabaret”-loving friend, and when she suggested we try for the lottery together on a Saturday night, I was all in.

Our plan was to try for the lottery for the 7 p.m. show and then come back for the lottery for the 10 p.m. show if we didn’t win – and then, if that failed, we’d just buy discounted tickets for the 10 p.m. show. Secretly, because I am incapable of functioning past midnight, I was hoping we’d get tickets to the 7 p.m.

“Hedwig” marked only the second time I’d entered an in person lottery. (Last night marked the third, when my friend and I unsuccessfully tried to see “Hamilton” again – yes, we’re obsessed.) The first was for “Wicked” at the height of its popularity – no luck. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up at 4:45 for a 5 p.m. drawing. My friend frantically texted me that she was stuck in traffic a little ways away, so I wrote my name down and crossed my fingers that she’d get there before the 5 p.m. cut off.

She made it. She ran up to the table at 4:59 and put her slip in, then came over to wait with me. The girl minding the lotto shook up the entries, put her hand in, and called the first name.

The second name she called was my friend’s.

The fourth name she called was mine.

I was SHOCKED. But I told them to throw mine back in, which got a little cheer from the crowd, and then waited till my friend collected our tickets. They were for the second row, just off from center, for $37 each. Yes, really.


Photo credit @alixinchausti, awesome theater companion and “Cabaret”/”Hedwig” historian. 🙂

After a quick dinner at Olive Garden (I’m a sucker for those breadsticks), we went to the theater. Like our first trip to “Cabaret”, I’d decided not to look up too much about the show before I arrived. I knew it was about Hedwig, an aging German rocker who has had a botched sex change operation (the “angry inch”). My friend gave me a little more context – it’s played as if it’s a one night only, present day show, at the Belasco Theater where it plays, on the set of a musical that’s just closed. When you arrive, peek around the floor of the theater and look for a spoof playbill from the “musical” – I won’t spoil what it is for you, but it’s pretty great.

One of the best part about seeing “Hedwig” right now (and the reason you should try to see it before April 26) is that John Cameron Mitchell is currently playing the title role. Mitchell, who is 52, is the show’s writer (along with composer Stephen Trask) and was the original Hedwig in the off-Broadway production seventeen years ago, as well as in the film adaptation. It was so neat to see him in this role he created. After the show opened last year with Neil Patrick Harris (who won the Tony), Hedwig was played by Andrew Rannells and Michael C. Hall before Mitchell stepped in. Despite an injury (which Mitchell works into the show in wonderful ways), he is full of energy and is fascinating to watch. Darren Criss is up next in the role, and though I LOVE him in the “A Very Potter Musical” shows on Youtube, it will be a very different show.

The music is stunning, the story is fascinating, and I was privileged to see Tony Award-winner Lena Hall as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s husband, before she left the show, and watched with wonder how she made so much out of tiny reactions and facial expressions. And her songs! Wow. Her replacement, Rebecca Naomi Jones, starts on April 14.

As we sat in the front row and the floor vibrated under our feet, we laughed a lot and cried a little and danced in our seats, along with everyone else in the theater. With Hedwig breaking the fourth wall because under the show’s premise, there ISN’T fourth wall, it was a theater experience unlike any other I’ve had. Did I mention the music is amazing?

If you’re interested, check out the show’s website for more information – I wish you our luck with the lotto!

Have you seen “Hedwig”? What did you think?


“Hamilton” the Musical: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry”

Everyone is talking about “Hamilton”, the new musical at the Public Theater, and they should be. Okay, “everyone” might be 1. all my friends who love theater as much as I do and 2. all the people I follow on Twitter, but it really is getting a ton of buzz, and it deserves it. I saw it on Sunday March 22, with my best friend, who was visiting from California. We bought the tickets way back in December, before the show was extended, because we knew that was the weekend she could come out to visit and we both wanted to see it. She’d been excited about it for ages, as had one of my friends here in NYC, since they’re both huge fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and stars in “Hamilton” and is best known for “In the Heights”.

For the record, I’m officially a big fan of Lin-Manuel now too. It doesn’t hurt that I got to see “In the Heights” at the Harlem Repertory Theater the night before (a post about that soon!).

If you’re not quite as tuned into the theater world as we obsessed musical fans are, the brief summary of “Hamilton” is that it follows the short life of Alexander Hamilton, the “ten-dollar founding father without a father”. It’s based on a biography written by Ron Chernow, which my bff bought and started reading as soon as we got back from the show. There’s too much to unpack in “Hamilton” for me to do it justice… at least until I see it again at the end of August. Yes, I already have a ticket for when it transfers to Broadway, purchased before I had even seen it. But without giving too much away, here are some of the thoughts the show spurred in me, tied to some of the amazing lyrics.

 “Immigrants: we get the job done”

The U.S. is and was a nation of immigrants, Hamilton himself was an immigrant, and Miranda has crafted a show that reflects the diversity of the country. “Hamilton” brings together a variety of musical styles, with hip-hop as a huge influence, to tell Hamilton’s story with the music and language of today. Miranda has said that “Hamilton” is the “story of America then, told by America now. It looks like America now”. Almost all of the main players are non-white actors, including Miranda as Hamilton, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton (u/s Alysha Deslorieux, who was amazing), Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, and Daveed Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. King George III, the only major role played by a white actor, was originated by Brian d’Arcy James and is now played by Jonathan Groff.

“My name is Alexander Hamilton. There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait — just you wait…”

Alexander Hamilton is the heart of the show. He is constantly on edge, driven by everything he wants to do and hasn’t done yet. He’s constantly thinking about his legacy, and his family and friends ask him “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” over and over again throughout the show. He does write like something is riding him, like he knows his time is limited. I saw Lin-Manuel play the lead in “tick, tick….BOOM!” at Encores! at the New York City Center last summer, and this recurring line in “Hamilton” reminded me of Jonathan Larson’s show.

“tick, tick… BOOM!” is a three-person musical based on Larson’s autobiographical one man show and follows Jon, a composer who hears the ticking of the clock as he approaches his thirtieth birthday. Larson’s show is made more poignant by the fact that he died at age 35, just before his show, “RENT”, had its first preview off-Broadway. All of “Hamilton” is threaded through for the audience with the knowledge that Hamilton’s story, too, will be cut short by his duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton has a million things to do, and he is running out of time, and somehow, in this production at least, he knows it.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

Hamilton’s story is told by Aaron Burr, the “damn fool who shot him”, in a fantastic performance by Leslie Odom Jr. Burr is narrator, antagonist, and foil, all in one, Hamilton’s opposite and his twin at the same time. Burr weaves a cohesive story out of all the disparate elements, and yet despite the through lines and themes of “Hamilton”, when the show end and Hamilton’s story has been told, it’s still a messy, outsized tale. History, even when it’s turned into a show like “Hamilton”, is not symmetrical the way fiction is. Miranda writes nuanced relationships, and Hamilton himself is full of contradictions; he and the other characters are not idealized here but are instead fully realized and fully human, with all their flaws on display.

The characters in “Hamilton” don’t really need to be told that “history has its eyes on” them, because they all know. They know their fates have a place in the history books and all they can do is try to make sure the story they want told is heard. Eliza Hamilton sings of being part of the narrative, and when she’s betrayed, she takes herself out of the narrative, because she decides she doesn’t owe history – posterity — the story of her pain. And yet here we are, watching an actor sing about it. With my love of stories about story, I am 100% the right audience for this show.

The set for "Hamilton"

The set for “Hamilton”, as viewed from our seats in the second row!

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal—and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ma compel him to include women in the sequel!”

I’ve loved the musical “1776” since high school, so there’s a precedent for me being a fan of shows about the American Revolution. But “1776” is a show about a bunch of white men and two women whose only songs, while lovely, are mostly about their husbands. “Hamilton” has a trio of sisters and two of them play pivotal roles in Hamilton’s life. While I would’ve loved to learn more about each of them, both Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler are strong, fascinating women and the actors who play them have been given some great material to work with.

 “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now”

The Schuyler sisters sing of being lucky to be alive in a time of change, amidst the powder keg of the early days of the revolution. After the war, being lucky to be alive takes on a new meaning when so many have died. There are layers and layers to the show, and if it’s a little long – the editor in me thought the first act could’ve ended closer to the end of the revolution, when Hamilton notes that he still has so much work to do – it’s hard to say what could be cut. While watching everything felt vital to creating the characters and telling the story and making us understand how one person had such an impact on this country in such a short time.

There’s more to say – the set and costumes work well, the choreography is great, the performances are all wonderful – but this is probably too long as it is. Maybe when I go again in August (by which time the cast album should be out!), I can touch on a few more elements. But to wrap things up, let me say this is a show that made me laugh and cry and laugh and cry some more. “Hamilton” has made these people, this period, real for the space of a few hours, and I was totally engrossed. If you get a chance to go, I know you will be too.

The run at the Public is sold out, but a number of tickets are set aside for a virtual lottery through TodayTix and an in-person lottery. I may try to go again, and if you can get in, you should go, for the chance to see it in the intimate Public space. But if you can’t, tickets for the Broadway run are on sale and previews start in July. While you’re waiting, follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter to get your “Hamilton” fix, or watch this interview, or read this fabulous profile.

Do you want to see “Hamilton”? If you’ve seen it already, what did you think?

P.S. My favorite parts (SPOILERS AHEAD): Angelica’s song, “Satisfied”, with its amazing rewind of events; every time King George III was onstage, Burr’s “The Room Where it Happened”, any time Hamilton argued with someone (so, the whole show), and all the sad songs, because that’s apparently who I am. Also, Thomas Jefferson.


After the show, we stuck around to meet some of the cast. We were a little starstruck meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda (and I’m going to say that’s why I look weird in the photos of us with him, which I am not sharing) but kept it together a bit better here with Leslie Odom Jr. —– at least until he asked us if we’d been sitting in the front, and we had. Apparently he’d noticed us from the stage. This definitely didn’t have anything to do with all the laughing and crying we were doing.

Photo credits to @ppyajunebug and the nice women who took photos of us with the actors.

“The Last Five Years”, the movie

The Last Five Years

I think I’ve more than established my love of musical theater on this blog by now, so it will surprise no one when I say that I watched the new “The Last Five Years” movie, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, on its opening night last Friday. My friend and I did not go to see it in the theater as planned (Village East Cinema is the only place in NYC showing it this week) because the showing we wanted to see sold out before I managed to buy a ticket. It was a bummer as Jason Robert Brown, the composer, was doing a Q&A, but it may have worked out for the best that we ended it up buying it on iTunes and watching it at my friend’s apartment.

Why? Because it meant that when we got to one of the few line changes in the musical and it turned out to be the kind of moment where we both started laughing and couldn’t stop, we were able to pause until we could breathe, and then we rewound and watched that bit again. (For fans, I’ll say it was the change to the line “These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical” that cracked us up – you’ll know why when you hear it.)

If you haven’t heard of this movie, let me try to sell it to you. First of all, it’s the new Anna Kendrick movie! Didn’t you love her in “Pitch Perfect”? My mom tells me “Up in the Air” was phenomenal, too, and she got an Oscar nom for that one! She’s a great actress and singer and she really gives a wonderful performance here, so if you’re a fan of hers, it’s worth a look.

Anna Kendrick as Cathy

And since this IS a blog about life in NYC, I can’t neglect to mention that the movie is set (and filmed!) in NYC. Cathy (Anna Kendrick) lives originally in an apartment in Red Hook; we see Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, from the musical “Newsies” and the TV show “SMASH”) hanging out near the water on a boardwalk and it quickly becomes clear he’s right near the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook. The couple end up sharing an apartment (unrealistically, in my opinion!) on 73rd street in Manhattan, and they get engaged and married in Central Park. Jamie even hangs out in Madison Square Park before visiting his publisher, Random House, which is implied to be in the Flatiron Building, where Macmillan actually is. There are other moments that show snippets of NYC, and together they really ground the story here in the city, in a way that the stage show, which usually has a pretty simple set, doesn’t.

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

Jeremy Jordan as Jamie

So for the uninitiated, what is this even about? “The Last Five Years” is the story of a five year relationship between two twenty-somethings, Jamie and Cathy. Jamie is an aspiring novelist who finds enormous success very quickly, while Cathy is a struggling actress whose career never quite takes off. It’s told through alternating songs between the two characters. Cathy’s first song opens the movie, showing the end of their relationship after Jamie has left her, and her numbers work their way back to the beginning of their time together. Jamie’s first song tells of the start of their relationship and continues on until he leaves her. In both the show and the movie, their voices only come together in song twice: once, in the middle, when their timelines meet and they get engaged and married, and again at the end as Cathy sings about saying goodbye until the next time they meet and Jamie sings about saying goodbye forever as he leaves her.

It’s a bit of a complicated conceit, but it works. In the stage show, the actors only connect with each other during the proposal/wedding song, but in the movie the two are in almost every scene together, reacting to the other person’s words and speaking occasional dialogue. It adds a depth to each character that I found fascinating, and my friend and I made new connections between lyrics and events that we hadn’t before, despite the fact that we’ve both been obsessed with this show for about a decade. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the cast recording with Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, and I was thrilled to see a production when I was in college and another one here in NYC two years ago at Second Stage, directed by the composer.

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I’ve been reading reviews in an effort to understand what non-fans might think about this movie, and they’re mixed. If you’re not a musical fan at all, you probably won’t like it, since it’s basically sung through. If you like your narratives to have a traditional narrative structure, you might not like it, since Cathy’s story is told backwards. And if somewhat selfish characters turn you off, as many reviewers seem to have been turned off, you may not like it.

But here’s the thing. It’s a movie about two people in their twenties striving for something they love and falling in and out of love. Yes, they’re selfish, and yes, you come to understand very clearly that these two were not meant for each other. It’s about ambition and jealousy and misunderstanding and being young and moving too quickly. Jamie and Cathy can both be pretty terrible to each other, but their pain is real, and the show paints a picture of why each acts the way they do. Different viewers will come away thinking one or the other is to blame for their relationship falling apart, and that’s okay. I think my opinion changes each time I listen or watch, and that’s what makes it such a great show.

As a teenager I listened to it, loving the hyperbolic outsized emotions of the long songs and dreaming a bit about falling in love. As a twenty-something I see myself and my friends in it as we struggle with careers and love lives and how to fit ourselves into them, or fit them into us. I bet my perspective will change when I’m in my thirties, and I know I’ll be revisiting the movie for years to come. I already half watched, half listened to it again the other night.

The change from stage to movie is a difficult one, as “Into the Woods” made clear. My friends and I have talked recently about how moving to film should add something to the show, something which can’t be achieved in the theater. As good as “Into the Woods” was, nothing exciting was added in translation. But with “The Last Five Years”, the vibrancy of the NYC backdrop made a huge difference, and seeing the characters react to each other made the fact that they weren’t really listening to each other even clearer. My friend pointed out how little true eye contact the two make, despite being together throughout the film, and how much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of their relationship – there’s just as much lust as love to these two, and that’s something that isn’t clear in the stage show.

There are in jokes for fans, like the fact that the two women who played Cathy Off-Broadway, Sherie Rene Scott and Betsy Wolfe, both make cameo appearances, and that the composer, Jason Robert Brown, has a cameo as the audition pianist who “hates” Cathy and screws up her accompaniment. These are grace notes for obsessed people like me and my friend, but the quality of the music, the acting, and the cinematography stands for itself. The story may be a bit confusing for new audiences, but it’s the kind of complex that is ultimately rewarding.

If “The Last Five Years” isn’t playing at a theater near you, you can find on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, or other places on demand. Watch the trailer here.

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“Into the Woods” and out of the woods and home before dark

The blizzard-that-wasn’t messed up my week a little — but also gave me a work-from-home day, so I’m calling it even.  I was supposed to go to a concert on Monday night at Subculture, featuring Jason Robert Brown, Sierra Boggess, and (the real draw for my friend and me, since JRB is doing a whole series there and we can see him another time), the one and only Norbert Leo Butz. I saw him in “Big Fish” (he was great, the show wasn’t memorable), but otherwise haven’t seen him in anything – just fell in love with his voice as Fiyero in “Wicked” and Jamie in “The Last Five Years”. I’m bummed that it got canceled, especially since it’s unclear whether Norbert will be joining JRB in one of his other shows.

But I can’t really complain, because even without a Norbert sighting, this was a two show week for me. Wednesday night I went to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” (more on that soon, probably next week) and on Sunday, after that yummy brunch at Max Brenner, I went to see “Into the Woods”.*


I’ve talked about “Into the Woods” a little bit on this blog before, but not in any depth. It’s an interesting show. I’ve now seen four productions of it, meaning it’s tied with “Camelot” for the show I’ve seen the most times. I’m not sure that makes it my favorite show. In many ways, it should be. As I’ve said before on here, I love stories about story, and “Into the Woods” is certainly that. It’s also about fairy tales, which are some of my very favorite things. The music is sometimes catchy, sometimes beautiful. I haven’t listened to much else by Sondheim, so I can’t say how it compares, but the songs do run through my head after I’ve heard them. It has quirk and charm and hope, but no easy answers. All things I like. But it also has a ton of plotlines that can keep us from caring that much about any given character and a first act that can feel long while the second one can feel rushed. I like the show, but I have problems with it.

The Roundabout production is a unique one, put on by a company called Fiasco Theater. The show consists of a group of ten actors playing all the parts. There’s always doubling in “Into the Woods” – the narrator is sometimes played by the Mysterious Man, the Wolf is usually portrayed by one of the princes, and so forth. But with only ten actors, this production had to get creative. The princes, for instance, also were Cinderella’s stepsisters, and one of them played the Wolf while the other doubled as Milky White, the cow. The costumes were minimal, usually just a base with different props  or items of clothing added or subtracted to indicate character. Jack donned a coat to play the Steward, and the prince, when playing the Wolf, picked up a – well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.


Those surprises were a huge part of the humor of the first act. At the talkback my friend and I attended after the show, one of the actors described a good set as being like a great playground, with lots of great toys. As the show progressed, we never knew exactly what an actor might pick up to convey a certain character or to represent an object or setting. The set is centered on the piano, which is present throughout the show and which is exploded out to become the set itself. Piano harps lined the wings of the stage where curtains usually hang; metal keys formed the proscenium framing the stage; and ropes representing piano strings crisscrossed the back of the stage. From the ceiling of the stage and extending out into the house hung a ton of chandeliers. My friend mentioned that she’d read a review that said the set looked like it had been ordered off Etsy – I’d amend that to say it came from Anthropologie, and I was fine with that!

The actors had great rapport, not surprising considering a core group of them make up the Fiasco Theater company. Most of them did their MFAs together at Brown and they’ve done a number of shows together. They weren’t a diverse bunch, and I’ve heard more polished singing before, but their acting was great and overall the music was as lovely as ever. They left out a few things, including the Midnight bits where fairy tale advice is offered, but the show was left more intact than it was in the recent movie.

For me the most interesting part of this version was the turn from first act to second. It’s always a shift, but in the first act the gimmick of the minimalist casting and staging was always at the center of the joke. In the second half, the doubling loosened a little (partly because several characters die!) but the gimmick was still there – it just didn’t matter as much. Maybe it’s because the second half is so serious compared to the first, but I felt myself get caught up in the story in the second half in a way that I didn’t in the first. Some of that is the story itself – the fairy tales are shallower as they wend their way toward the happily ever afters. But some of it was done through choices by the directors, choices that kept the focus on the action.

If you have an opportunity to see this production, either here before it closes on April 12 or elsewhere if it continues to travel, I recommend it. It has all that I already love about this show, and it’s put on by a creative and talented group of people. I’m interested to see what Fiasco Theater does next!

Have you seen this production, or another one? What do you think about “Into the Woods”?

*I know I’ve probably said it twelve times on this blog by now (and more in person – sorry, friends), but if you live in NYC and you’re under 35 (or have friends who are under 35, which, you all do) and you’re not taking advantage of HIPTIX and HIPTIX Gold already, you are missing out. To recap, HIPTIX is free, signing up to it gets you two $25 balcony tickets to each show put on by Roundabout Theatre Company. HIPTIX Gold involves a $75 that gets you access for a year to two $25 tickets per show – but this time on the floor. I’ve seen five different Roundabout shows since then (and I’ve seen “Cabaret” multiple times, because it stretched across two seasons), and all of them have been really well done.


The Improvised Shakespeare Company

After all the theater and New Year’s celebrating I did the week before last, I decided I needed a quiet week and weekend. Besides a choir rehearsal and a brunch, my evenings and weekend were left wide open, perfect for relaxing. I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I made it to the gym three times last week. If I do it again this week, it’ll be cause for celebration.

Anyway, it was late Sunday afternoon and I had just gotten home from my brunch, with a short stop on the way back from Manhattan to run some errands. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating some cereal and counting down till 6 p.m., when I could pick up my laundry.  Around 5:30, my cell phone buzzed. One of my friends from brunch had told me she was going to see a performance by the Improvised Shakespeare Company that evening, and now she was texting to say one of her friends couldn’t make it and did I want to come along.

The show was at 7 p.m., at Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place, a small theater I’d never heard of before. It was going to be a bit of a rush to get there, and I’d have to wait to pick up my laundry on the way home, but I’d heard about this show from friends before and it sounded like something I would love. Besides, it was only an hour – I wouldn’t even get home all that late.

I’ve said it before, but one of the best things to do when you live in NYC is to be willing to say yes to random opportunities. The only other improv experience I’ve had since moving to NYC was Freestyle Love Supreme, but I knew this was something I shouldn’t miss. I made it to the show with just a few minutes to spare and found out my friend had front row seats. I sat down, met her other friend who was there, had a nice chat about “Downton Abbey” (don’t spoil it, I was coming back from the show when it was on and haven’t watched yet!), and then the lights went down on the house and up on the stage and it was time for improv.

The title of the one hour improvised performance was suggested by an audience member: THE MASK OF MURDER. It was, as one of the players noted, both the opening AND closing night of this very special Shakespearean show. Hee. Five men proceeded to enact a show that was a mishmash in themes of Macbeth, Hamlet, and perhaps King Lear, with some interludes with French soldiers that reminded me of the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Watch from Much Ado About Nothing.

It was over-the-top and absurd, and while I’m not sure their speeches were all in iambic pentameter, the language WAS decently Elizabethan – except when they were quoting song lyrics. There was a long running gag involving references to songs by R.E.M. My friend and I both had a little trouble catching this since neither of us know that many R.E.M. songs, but most of the audience got it. I cracked up when crows became an important plot point, since a group of crows is called a murder, and we all laughed when a character said he hadn’t done something because he’d been too busy counting crows.

Each actor portrayed at least three and sometimes more characters, and by the end of the hour practically everybody was dead, as they should be at the end of a tragedy. The only one left was the mad wife of a duke, who was now queen due to everyone else being dead, in large part because of her machinations. I’ve forgotten her closing speech already, but it was one of many that included great rhyming couplets.

The show was silly, the jokes were dirty, the actors were clearly having a fantastic time – I’m sure Shakespeare would approve!

The Improvised Theater Company is based out of Chicago but they come to New York every few months. Check out their site to join their mailing list and find out when you can see a show. I know I’ll be going back!

Stories in the Theater


I’m on the subway on a local train. It’s Saturday night and even though I’ve just left Times Square, the train isn’t crowded. I spot an express train across the platform and consider switching, to save some time, but decide it’s not worth it.

It’s my third night of theater in a week, my second in a row, and I keep thinking about the shows I’ve seen. I’m listening to the Broadway cast recording of “Into the Woods” to drown out the teenagers – or maybe they’re college students – talking at each other at the other end of the car. But I saw the movie last week, and I’m seeing the stage show soon, and it fits in with the where my thoughts about the other shows are going.

“The Real Thing”, which closed this weekend and starred Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon, is a Tom Stoppard play about a playwright and his complicated relationships. It had me thinking about writing, and storytelling, and the way we talk to one another. If we rehearse something we want to say, or write it down, before we tell it to someone, does that make it less genuine? If words are polished instead of spontaneous, what does that do to their meaning? And what about the stories we tell about our lives? When I’ve told a story so many times that it has its own rhythm when I tell it, does that make it more real or less real? Does a story lose truth when it’s been shaped, or does it gain it?

“Side Show”, which also closed this weekend, is a musical based on a true story about conjoined twins. But it takes liberties with their history, and within the show there are stories shaped around the characters that aren’t always true, stories shaped to achieve certain goals, from freedom from abuse to entertainment and profit. Even though the story isn’t all true, there’s truth there – isn’t there? Even though it’s been molded and retold to provoke a reaction from the audience, the heart is still there – and if some of the themes in “The Real Thing” are to be believed, the shaping of it might be what reveals its truth.

I don’t want to give too much away about “The River”, starring Hugh Jackman, since you can (and should!) go see this well done, thoughtful play before it closes on February 8. Knowing too much about it might spoil it. But I will say it’s about the parts of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the patterns we find ourselves in. How do our histories and baggage impact our present relationships? If we tell someone something about ourselves, something true and special, is it diminished by having been shared with someone else?

“Into the Woods” is about stories too – it takes familiar fairy tale sand subverts them, going beyond the happily ever afters for a glimpse of what happens next. We tell stories to make sense of what happened, to remember and understand – that’s why the Baker’s Wife says that the Baker must tell their son the story of how it all happened. But I think one of the (many) messages of “Into the Woods” is that our stories don’t really have endings. Until you’re killed by a giant, there’s always an after ahead of you.

I’ve talked about stories on this blog before, and it’s obviously a lens through which I view life and theater. This blog itself is made up of stories of mine, some better told than others. Often they’re condensed, refined – I don’t put the raw cut of my life or experiences on display here. Does the fact that they’re polished versions of my life, neatened up around the edges and given a beginning and an end, make them less true? Or is that just what has to happen when you write something down? Writing gives stories a different life and form – maybe it doesn’t have to be a question of better or worse. Maybe it’s just a question of getting the story told.

And of course, all of these pieces of theater which I’ve talked about were themselves shaped, each word carefully chosen and expertly crafted to present the writer’s vision. But “The Real Thing” and “Side Show” and “The River”, and when I see it in a few weeks, “Into the Woods”, are all live theater productions where the interpretation of the writer’s words is found in the dialogue between how the actors choose to live the writer’s words and the impact their actions have on the audience.

I’m not on the subway anymore. I sit on my couch, typing up what I wrote the other night by hand, tweaking and adding and shaping it until it says what I want it to. The thing about spontaneity is that it’s easy to get it wrong the first time, to say something that you don’t actually mean, or forget to say something you desperately wanted to. Once you capture your thoughts in words on a page, it’s up to the reader – or the audience – to decide what you meant. You’ve done your best – now sit back and be ready to be misinterpreted.

Come to the Cabaret… again


I went to see Cabaret again this weekend – my friend who I went with last time had an extra ticket and so I got to go again! We had the same table as last time, except on the other side of the theater. Like I said when I went last time, I thought it was a fascinating show and I was really happy I got to go.

I still feel that way, so why am I writing another entry? Because it was a very different experience, starting from when we were waiting for a friend in the lobby. I looked over and saw a man who looked a little familiar, but didn’t think anything of it. My friend leaned in and said, “Is that Liam Neeson?”


It wasn’t. But her friend quickly realized it was Ralph Fiennes, who we all knew best as Lord Voldemort. We tried not to stare too much, then or the four or five other times we passed by him over the course of the night. Okay, I did crane my neck a little to figure out where he was sitting (same row as us), but that was it.

The celebrity sightings continued at intermission. While waiting in the bathroom line I thought I spotted Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted (not technically a celebrity, but definitely a hero to many women in their twenties whose lives were changed by that book). When I got back to the table, my companions told me that sitting in front of us, in the front section of tables, were two more movie stars: Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. Sure enough, they took their seats right as the second act started. In one night I just about doubled the number of celebrity sightings I’ve had since moving to NYC.

The real celebrities of the night, though, were the stars of the show: Alan Cumming and newcomer Emma Stone. Emma just started last week and was the reason I was so keen to go see the show again. I saw the understudy last time, and she was good, but Emma took the part to a different place. She was funny and over-the-top and warm and heartbreaking.


She’s scheduled to perform through the beginning of February, so if you can, you should go! And Alan Cumming was as fantastic as last time – he is the show. We went to the stage door afterward and saw both of them, as well as Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider (who was also fabulous), and got our play bills signed. They were all lovely and gracious, and totally worth waiting for in the cold!

So I said it already, but let me say it again: If you get a chance to go see Caberet, you should go!

As for me – I may go for a third time, adding Cabaret  to the short list of shows (A Christmas CarolInto the WoodsLes MisPeter and the Starcatcher, Camelot – okay, maybe not that short) I’ve seen three or more times. Because it was worth it! Tell me, what shows have you all seen an embarrassing number of times?


October scary stories and Frankenstein


October is the time for scary stories. Halloween has a lot to do with it, all the way back to its roots in the celebration of Samhain by the Celts. But even without the spirits and specters associated with October 31, October would feel like a time for scary stories, at least here in the northeast.

There’s something about cold weather and stories – people gathering close to tell tall tales around a fire. But scary stories are too much for winter, when the cold and snow outside are dangerous. Better to tell stories with happy endings then, to keep everyone warm and cozy and save the scary ones for October, when the chill in the air is just enough to send a shiver down your spine but not enough to freeze you. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the shadows on your window might just be from the trees… or might not be.

Last night I went to see Frankenstein, the film version of the London National Theatre’s 2011 production starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s showing at a number of movie theaters and performance spaces in NYC this week, undoubtedly because of the holiday, and it’s showing in other places as well. My family went to see it last night, too, and my mom and I compared notes afterward. You can find more information, including venues and show times, here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/16546-frankenstein.

I’ve never read Frankenstein, never seen one of the movies (except Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t quite count); I only knew the basic outline of the story. I knew, for instance, that it’s not a happy story. All does not end well. Perfect, then, for October.

In this production, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature each night. I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature, and it was remarkable. The popular depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is of a hulking, stuttering giant of a man, and there is stuttering, and Cumberbatch was tall and threatening. But his Creature, and apparently the Creature of the novel, can speak, by the end, as well as you or me. He stutters sometimes, but he also recites lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost and talks of his feelings of love and rage. In the end he is more monstrous and yet more human than Victor Frankenstein.

The set and the staging were stunning, the acting by both leads superb, and while some moments went on a little long and some secondary characters felt a little flat, the questions the production raised about creation and morality and love were fascinating. What is our responsibility to something — or someone — we create? What does it mean to love and be loved?

I won’t tell you more specifics, except that the final scene is heart-wrenching. While I can’t quite bring myself to go see it again this week, at some point I’d like to see the version where the roles are reversed. My friend had seen it before and felt Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature had a sweetness missing from Benedict Cumberbatch’s.

If you’re looking for a frightening but thoughtful way to celebrate Halloween and October, check if there’s a screening this week near you! If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? And if you haven’t, what’s your favorite spooky movie?

An afternoon at the “Cabaret”

After going to see a ton of shows in June and July, I didn’t see a single play or musical for all of August and September. It was a long, dry spell that I finally broke this weekend with a trip to Studio 54 to see “Cabaret” with my friend. Studio 54 is gorgeous — it’s a former nightclub and the home of the 1998 “Cabaret” revival, and the orchestra level seating is made up of small tables. As you might be able to tell from this photo (the only one we took inside, since it’s not really allowed), we had a great view — table was in the first row of tiered tables halfway back. There was a walkway in front of us and the actors often used it to go up onstage and off.

Our table at Studio 64, sneakily taken by my friend with her phone.

Our table at Studio 64, sneakily taken by my friend with her phone.

I’m not going to tell you the plot of “Cabaret”. You may already know it, or you can go look it up. Instead, I’ll tell you all that I knew going into it: It’s a cabaret, Alan Cumming plays the Master of Ceremonies, it takes place in Berlin, and it takes place either right before or soon after WWII. (The last one is important: it’s before.)

Usually going into a musical I’ve listened to the music. Going into a play, I may have read it, or googled a synopsis. At the very least I’ll read the summary in the program. But Studio 54 doesn’t give out the programs for “Cabaret” until the end of the show, so I didn’t know anything of the plot, I vaguely knew I’d heard the song “Cabaret” before but had no idea if I’d recognize any of the rest of the songs (I did know a few), and the only spoiler question I asked my friend before was if anyone dies. I don’t like sad surprises.

My friend loves “Cabaret”. She saw it for the first time at fifteen. This outing was her fourth time to see this production – and she lives in DC. At intermission and after the show she told me all about the show’s history, from the book it was based on to the first production in the 1960s to the first revival to this production. She talked about how Alan Cumming expanded the role of the Master of Ceremonies (or MC) and how his portrayal has changed from the first revival to this one. It was all fascinating information – I felt like I was sitting next to a theater historian.

So here’s my review of “Cabaret” – it’s strange, and dark, and sexy, and the music is all that too, but what struck me the most was all the history layered into it, the foreshadowing and the conflict that came just from when and where it was all taking place. It was a really thoughtful show, and a thoughtful production, and I just might have to go back and see Emma Stone in it, especially since Michelle Williams was out the day we went.

It doesn’t hurt that “Cabaret” is a Roundabout Theatre production, which means if you’re under 35 you can get two balcony tickets for $25 each through HIPTIX. Or you can do what we did and buy a HIPTIX Gold membership for $75, which gets you $25 floor seats to Roundabout Theatre shows for a year. I know I’ll use it later in the season (there are a ton of great shows ahead) but it was worth it just for this show.

If you’re looking for an interesting night or afternoon, check out “Cabaret” and let me know what you think!

Lazy writing, or, forgetting the details

Sometimes I write these posts in a bit of a hurry. Life is busy, time gets away from me, and it’s the night I’m supposed to post and I have nothing written yet. When I first started the blog (almost a year ago!), I had a few entries in the bank, which was an excellent plan. I also had a list of topics I might someday write about. The bank is now empty, and while there are a few items still on the list, mostly I come up with new topics on the spot. Often, now, they’re timely: I write about something I just did or just heard about.

But when rushing to get something written, sometimes I summarize instead of really taking time to show what an experience was like. So, without further ado, five details that got left out of recent blog posts!
1.       The Empire State Building. On my recent trip up the Empire State Building, I found that while we didn’t stand around waiting in line for very long, it did take some time to get to the top. This was partly because, in order to accommodate the lines that are usually there, there are some hallways you have to walk through. Some of these hallways have rope barricades that zigzag back and forth. These are surely very practical when there are a bunch of people, but for us they were like low hurdles: after zigzagging a couple times, we just started hopping over them. On the way out, we had almost made it the elevators when someone told us we couldn’t go that way – and pointed us to the gift shop instead. Of course. They did have a pretty neat 4D puzzle of NYC there, though!
2.       Summer Streets. (Coming up this Saturday, 8/9, and next, 8/16) When I went to Summer Streets a couple years ago, my roommate ended up on rollerblades because the bike line was too long. What I didn’t mention was how we procured those rollerblades. Around Astor Place, she hopped on the subway to make her way up to 42nd where we thought there was a skate rental. I biked up to meet her there and along the way happened upon the skate rental, somewhere in the 30s. I guessed (wrongly) at her rollerblade size, checked out a pair, hung them over my handlebars, and met her up at 42nd. It’d been years since she rollerbladed, but she gamely put on the too-large blades and whizzed down the dark Park Ave tunnel ramp at Grand Central – and didn’t get hurt!
3.       Freestyle Love Supreme. Early on in the show, the beatboxer set up the beat in an unusual way. While beatboxing, he started miming out… something. What he was doing, we couldn’t quite tell. At one point he seemed to be pulling a heart out of a body (or maybe he was putting one in?), and then a helicopter came by, and then he seemed to have a soundboard that he was messing with. I honestly have no idea what was supposed to be happening, but the noises and gestures he was making were funny, so we all laughed, despite being confused.
4.       King Lear in Central Park. Lear’s fool was wonderful. He was so angry when Cordelia was sent away, and he chastises the king but also supports him. There was so much thought behind every line of his and every action, and my heart broke a little for him, watching him watch his king fall apart. The show runs till August 17, so if tragedy is up your alley, check it out!
5.       Getting lost in NYC. Easiest way to get lost: Let someone else navigate. If I’ve decided that I’m not making the directional decisions and I stop paying attention to where I am, it’s a lot easier for me to get turned around. I once walked around Prospect Park with a friend, before I’d spent much time there, and when we found ourselves back where we’d started I realized my sense of direction had utterly failed me – but I still had a lovely walk.

Going forward I hope to be a little less lazy and a little more detail-oriented with these posts, but I’m making no promises! Any posts or stories you’d like a few more details about?