Thursday, January 22, 2009

Initial Oscar Reactions

With all the excitement about the new President and inauguration activities (I even watched the Kids Inaugural, which was pretty cute), I almost forgot about the Oscars. You can read the nominations here. I'm a little disappointed that Wall-E wasn't nominated for best picture, a little surprised that Dark Knight wasn't either, and a lot excited that Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for best supporting actor, even though he won't win.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Just The Bitch Of Living

I've never really understood why fans get so upset when shows close. I never like to see people lose their jobs and I certainly don’t like to see so many shows closing at once, but everything has to close sometime (except maybe Phantom), and if shows didn't close, there wouldn't be room for new shows to come in. So I'm surprised at myself for how I'm feeling today, the day of Spring Awakening's closing on Broadway. Yesterday, "The Mirror-Blue Night" (one of my favorite scenes in the show) came up on my iPod, and I got a little emotional. Of all the shows closing this month, it's the only one I feel compelled to write about. Two Sundays ago (January 4), nine shows closed on Broadway. Last Sunday, three more closed. Some were limited runs like White Christmas and All My Sons. Some, though I was surprised to see them go, had pretty healthy runs, like Hairspray and Spamalot. And some, though I’m sorry for all those that lost their jobs, didn’t really deserve to be on Broadway in the first place, like 13 and Young Frankenstein. But Spring Awakening lasted only two years, which is a pretty good run for a show that seemed risky to bring to Broadway, but after all its critical success, it should have lasted longer. In my opinion, it's one of the best new musicals in recent years, and I wish there was still a place for it on Broadway. There will always be teenagers who were too young to see the show before who may not get a chance to see it, depending on how long the tour runs.

I wouldn’t say Spring Awakening is my favorite show, not that I have one, different shows affect me for different reasons, and I don’t think it’s a perfect show by any means, but somehow I’ve seen it more times than any other show on Broadway. Somewhat unintentionally (not that anyone forced me, but I usually try to see everything once, twice at the most), I ended up seeing it six times.

I saw it for the first time a few months after it opened on Broadway. The glowing reviews had already come out, but it wasn’t at the height of its popularity. I had an internship in the city at the time, and one day after work, I walked up to the box office at around 6:30 p.m. and was still able to get a rush ticket (this was before students started camping out at 6 in the morning, and I heard for tonight's show, they started camping out at 5 p.m. last night). I avoid reading reviews before I see a show, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I just sat that in my little box seat and fell in love with the music. The moment that sticks out most in my mind is when John Gallagher Jr. took out his microphone to sing the first words of the rocking anthem of teenage boys "The Bitch of Living." It was a similar experience to the first time I heard RENT, the score was just electric. The choreography was unlike anything I'd seen before--it seemed so representative of what teenagers go through, bursting with energy to experience something, to get out, to grow up. I was also impressed by the cast. When I got back to Syracuse, I read some articles on them and couldn't believe how young they were. I was so excited when I left the theatre that I called my sister to tell her I just saw a new musical that she was going to love and that she would be crushing on some of the actors (she was 15 at the time). I was right on both counts. The second time I saw the show, my mom and sister were visiting for my sister's 16th birthday. It was still as good as I remembered it, but this time I knew what to expect. Seeing it through my sister's eyes was almost as thrilling as seeing it for the first time, in a way, even more so, because she is the right age to really connect with the material. Though I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and am sure that Spring Awakening would have really spoke to me at that time, I have a little bit of a distance from that stage of my life.

As I said, it's a flawed show. There are some cheesy moments, especially when Moritz and Wendla come back and start singing to Melchior. "The Song of Purple Summer" is tacked on as if they didn't know how to end the show. Some of the original Wedekind has been toned down to market the show as more of a love story when it's really a lust story, but then again, the ambiguity of some of the scenes allows for discussion and disagreement, which is a good thing.

My third viewing of the show was about a year after it opened. Some friends were going, so I decided to join them, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. The cast seemed to be growing tired and I didn't find myself as drawn in. But a few months later, we surprised my sister with onstage seats for her birthday, and seeing the show from a different angle brought back that same excitement as the initial viewing. I thought I would feel self-conscious sitting onstage, but seeing the cast jump around, especially during numbers like "Totally Fucked," is an exhilarating experience. Because the cast sits onstage as well, I noticed that the cast, who I thought seemed so tired of the show just a few months earlier, seemed genuinely involved in the material, still crying and laughing even during some of the scenes that they weren't in.

I thought that would be my last visit to the show, until I won a contest to interview Hunter Parrish. Although it was strange to see a new cast, I loved the dynamic between Hunter Parrish and Alexandra Socha and seeing the different interpretations of the characters made it almost like seeing a new show.

I saw the show one last time a few weeks ago, again with my sister, who was visiting (yeah, she's spoiled) and wanted to see it one last time. We got standing room, which actually turned out to offer yet another new perspective. I've never had such a centered view and even noticed some aspects of the set I hadn't before (like a full moon).

In my six viewings, I rarely saw understudies. I went to see the show, and didn't pick dates based on who would be in that day. Spring Awakening fans LOVE their understudies and sometimes camp out if they hear a certain cast member will go on. I'm a little old to be obsessing over cast members, so I never really cared who I saw, but today I find myself regretting not seeing different casts. I wonder whether Matt Doyle's (who was terrific in both the ensemble and as Hanschen) Melchior was really that good or what it would have been like to see Zach Reiner-Harris and Morgan Karr (who I loved at the Spring Awakening holiday show) in any role. But then I realize I don't really need to see every interpretation of every role--I'm sure these cast members will have bright futures ahead and I'll get to see them in other roles. So yes, I'm ready to let the show go personally, but it is too soon for it to close, and will leave the new musical selection on Broadway sadly underwhelming. Looking at the new shows coming in, there are so few new musicals. Shrek was actually much better than I expected and I enjoyed Billy Elliot, but I don't remember much about either score. The Story of My Life, which I don't expect to last very long, and 9 to 5 are coming in, but that's about it. Everything else will be revivals. Avenue Q and In The Heights are just about the only original musicals left (I know Spring Awakening wasn't truly original being based on a centuries-old play, but it did break new ground in other ways). I'm left thinking about the teenager who never liked musical theatre, who might have seen Spring Awakening and loved it, and been tempted to discover other theatre, who now might not get that chance.