Monday, August 17, 2015

Musicals, musicals, and musicals

I saw three musicals in the last two weeks.  Two were touring productions, and one was an original (although they just announced it's going to make it's way off Broadway.) One of them, I did the thing i usually do with musicals, which is that I listened extensively to the cast album, I had read about the story connecting the songs and really the only thing I didn't do, was give it all a re-listen before the show, because I didn't want to be too attached to the original cast's interpretation. That was "Book of Mormon".  It was fun.  The audience seemed to be really ready for it, and some of the laughter seemed very surprised given how, relatively long this show has been around.  I had been a bit spoiled about the Spooky Mormon Hell, so I sadly did not find it quite as amazing as I think I would have without prior knowledge (still good, just pretty much what I expected). 
I saw "Once" which I knew a little about because, well, I exist in the world, but I had not seen the movie, had heard some of the songs, but had not listened to the cast album, and really just went in to see what it was.  It was interesting.  I am unable to compare it to the movie.  They had clearly done things with the staging to make it very portable and to minimize set change.  Instead of an orchestra, the whole cast just played while on stage.  Some of the songs they went for more of an Irish pub feel (for understandable reasons) and some felt a bit more Broadway, although, since the characters are all musicians, while they are speaking to each other through song, generally, the songs occur where one character has intentionally said, hey, I'm going to play you this thing, rather than the more musical-esque, I will speak to or about you, in song, because I can.  So, some of the choreography seemed a little jarring, because it was a little more unexpected given the setup.  But it was fun, and impressive, given all the orchestra is on stage, it would seem the likelihood of tempo issues would be higher, and well, I didn't spot any. 
"Dear Evan Hansen" turned out to be the perfect ender of my two months with more musicals.  (I'm a little sad that five whole musicals is a lot. I must work on this.)  Interestingly, as I read through the cast and crew, someone who had worked in or on every other musical I had seen this year  - including "Hamilton" and "Fun Home" was part of "Dear Evan Hansen".  At the Kreeger theatre at Arena, the orchestra pit is actually hanging over the edge of the stage.  I don't know if they will keep that layout when they move, but it was interesting.  They also made use of screens since much of the plot revolves around how social media expands and supports our human need to connect to tragedy.  I always have trouble summarizing such musicals in a way that doesn't sound depressing and weird (I think singing and dancing will help you dive into a lot of sad and/or weird topics you may not want to see a straight play about).  But essentially, high schooler Evan Hansen has been advised to write letters to himself about how his day is going.  When one is found on the body of a fellow student who commits suicide, the parents assume that it is a suicide note addressed to Evan who they didn't even realize was so close to their son.  Feeling that telling the truth would hurt them, Evan goes along with this, and then, well, things get a little out of control. The performances were great, we were close enough to see them spit.  And I'm thrilled that they are moving and have hopes that this will do well enough to create a cast album so that I can listen to it over and over.