Just a blind squirrel

… hoping to find a nut now and then

Posts Tagged ‘Broadway

Hello, Joey

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When SHN announced its 2011-12 season, I probably topped my circle of friends in my excitement about the seven titles, despite my disappointment at no “Memphis” and the inclusion of Hair, one of my least favorite shows. “Les Miserables” holds a special place in my heart as my first musical and I was unreasonably intrigued by “Bring It On,” due to its “In The Heights“/”Next to Normal” pedigree. But it was one of the two plays that most got me excited, much to the confusion of my less-theater-nerdy friends.

Joey at the Curran Theater preview event

Joey at the Curran Theater preview event

I was in New York on a theater binge when “War Horse” was in previews on Broadway, and it was already a hot ticket. Since I was in a musicals-only frame of mind, it wasn’t a big deal to skip battling for a way to see it. Or perhaps I’m psychic — less than two months later, the national tour was announced, and I fully expected San Francisco to get a stop.

At any rate, I’ve become borderline-obsessed with the show, which features a number of things that put it in my weird little wheelhouse. I’m intrigued by wars, in a scholarly way. My grandfather was a Civil War aficionado, so perhaps it’s genetic. And who doesn’t love English accents?

But first and foremost, I LOVE PUPPETS. I didn’t realize the degree to which this is true until my sister-in-law proclaimed the same thing and the world finally made sense to me. I love funny puppets, serious puppets, the Muppets (my ringtone is the Muppet chickens singing “Forget You”) — if it’s made of fur or wood or felt or paper and operated by a human, LOVE IT. (This also translates to mascots, for some equally strange reason. Stop looking at me like that.)

You don’t even have to be a puppet person to appreciate the stagecraft of “War Horse,” though. What the Handspring Puppet Company has done is astounding — trust me that it’s worth the 18 minutes to watch this TED presentation about the puppets.

OK, enough with the blather. This is just to set up how excited I was when I received an invitation for SHN subscribers to a preview event for “War Horse” that would feature Joey, the title character. As luck would have it, I was already scheduled to be off work that day, thanks to the horse puppet gods. Or something.

The Curran Theater doors were scheduled to open at 5:15, so I arrived a few minutes before 5 and found around 20 or 30 people already lined up.

Audience waiting at Curran Theater

Photo from SHN's Twitter feed

Book of MormonWhen the doors opened, I quickly picked up my tickets, got a free drink from the bar and met a disturbingly high number of SHN staff members who recognized me from Twitter or Facebook. (OK, it was two, but still …) The lobby also featured the big news from the previous day, already plastered eight feet tall (shown at left).

Despite not entering the theater for about 30 minutes after it opened, we still snagged seats in the front row — being accustomed to lottery and rush seating, we didn’t mind sitting on the side if it meant being close.

The event began with some of the beautifully haunting music from the show (check it out here), and then SHN marketing and sales VP Scott Kane introduced Finn Caldwell, the associate puppetry director and one of the puppeteers for the National Theatre production of “War Horse.”

Caldwell discusses "Tall Horse"

Caldwell discusses "Tall Horse"

Caldwell, with the most delicious South African accent, took the audience through a brief history of the Handspring Puppet Company, including an earlier show called “Tall Horse” that featured a giraffe puppet. And then he introduced the star of the show, Joey, operated by three puppeteers (Head, Heart and Hind, as they’re known — better Hind than “Horse’s Ass,” I suppose).

I already knew a lot about the amazing work the War Horse puppeteers do, thanks to a cool video diary series, available on iTunes, done by the puppeteer who plays Joey’s Hind in the West End (not going to touch that one). But to see the horse in the flesh, so to speak, was remarkable. Despite the harsh lighting, which my iPhone camera did not enjoy one bit, the puppeteers still seemed to vanish in the creature and it was barely a reach to imagine it as a living, breathing being. Indeed, the horse “breathing” is one of the movements the puppeteers use to enhance the realism.

Here’s a video I took of Joey’s entrance (with my iPhone, which does not like less-than-optimal lighting, apparently).

The event concluded with SHN’s own Carole Shorenstein Hays getting a ride on Joey (the construction allows the puppeteers to carry actors) and then a raffle for a photo opportunity with the horse. That was a prize I would have paid serious money to get, but alas, I wasn’t a winner.

Though I’d already figured I’d see “War Horse” more than once when it arrives in August, this event sealed that. In fact, I’m hoping to get a ticket for opening night, in addition to my subscriber night of Aug. 16. And hey, a third time might be in the offing, especially if I can somehow get a photo with Joey.

Written by ChrisShut

February 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Name that Glinda

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In preparation for finally hanging up some of my framed Wicked stuff, I took a closer look at the cast-signed poster I got in 2005 when the national tour came to San Francisco. And much to my surprise, even though Kendra Kassebaum played Glinda at that time, I can’t find what for sure is her signature on the poster.

So I’m curious: Did Kendra sign my poster? If not, which Glinda DID sign my poster? Or did NO Glinda sign it? I’m appealing to Wicked fans to help me here, since a look at lists of Glindas hasn’t helped me figure it out.

The poster image is below — click on it for a much larger version. Traditionally, Glindas sign somewhere in the area of the white-clothed witch. The signature on the sleeve near the wrist, between Paul Slade Smith (Witch’s Father) and Jenna Leigh Green (Nessa Rose), could be Kendra, but it doesn’t match up that well with the other Kendra signatures I have. (PHOTO ADDED OF THOSE BELOW.)

UPDATE: I now think the one between Paul Smith and JLG is actually Aaron Albano (ensemble). One person asked about the signature within the K in Wicked, and I think that’s K.W. Miller (ensemble).

I believe the signature on the hat might be Laura Dysarczyk (swing, and since she’s in the SF production now, I can ask her sometime), and the one on her nose could be Maria Eberline (ensemble). Beyond that, I’m kind of stumped, but I see no other signatures that could be Kendra’s. If she didn’t sign it, then presumably somewhere is the signature of a previous Glinda, but I have no clue who to look for.

I’ve also included a photo of the program’s cast listing for cross-referencing. By the way, while I realized earlier that Adam Lambert was in that cast (and signed the poster), I just now noticed Brooke Elliott also was in it. I’ll have to figure out which signature is hers, too.


Yes, it's wrapped in plastic, which I know makes it harder to read

And here’s that program (click to enlarge):

ADDED — photos of other Kendra Kassebaum signatures I have (click to enlarge):

Written by ChrisShut

July 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm

In the Heights: An unexpected delight

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If it’s a Broadway show coming through San Francisco (and it doesn’t star Harvey Fierstein), I’m there, so there wasn’t any question I was going to see “In the Heights.” But I confess I wasn’t particularly excited about the show based on the description and listening to clips from the soundtrack.

A show about the Hispanic immigrant experience in New York City had little resonance for me. For one, New York is one of my least favorite cities in the world and the glorification of it irritates the life out of me. Shows about people struggling to get by also generally aren’t my cup of tea (unless it’s puppets doing the struggling); while I loved “Rent,” that’s a rare exception to the “don’t bum me out” rule I usually bring to my entertainment choices.

And while I’m the daughter of an immigrant, the German-American experience doesn’t really give me the ability to connect readily to the the subject matter of “In the Heights.”

I assumed that the accolades and praise heaped upon this show, which won the Tony Award for best musical in 2008, were in part because in somehow shook up the conventions of Broadway, brought unheard voices to the stage, opened up theater to a new audience, etc. … none of which is primarily what I’m looking for in a musical, being mostly a devotee of Sondheim and Phantom/Les Miz/Lion King-type spectacles.

So I’m very pleased to report that “In the Heights” is a wonderful show. It’s far more traditional a musical than I expected — and that, to me, is a good thing. The plot is barely there, revolving nominally around the fate of several businesses in the Washington Heights neighborhood in which it’s set, but it still feels like a show with substance.

Credit goes to the outstanding cast for giving it that heft. In particular, Kyle Beltran brings charm and appeal in the lead role of Usnavi, making you care about the life-changing decision he faces regarding the bodega he owns and operates. He also handles the challenging rap sections of the score adeptly. (Below is Corbin Bleu as Usnavi from the Broadway cast performing the opening number.)

Also memorable are Shaun Taylor-Corbett as cousin Sonny and Arielle Jacobs as struggling Stanford student Nina. Taylor-Corbett takes a purely comic-relief role and elevates it above the status of jester to something endearing. Jacobs combines the cuteness necessary for the role of a teenager with emotional heft and a beautiful voice. (The entire cast, it probably goes without saying, is ridiculously talented, both vocally and in the lively and intricate dance numbers.)

Below is not the best video, but a fantastic example of the talents of Arielle Jacobs singing “Breathe,” one of my favorite numbers from the show.

I admit to connecting with the character of Nina, who not only attends my alma mater but also is dealing with financial struggles to go there. When  I was at Stanford, I worked year-round to help afford it — my senior year, I had three jobs — and my family made great sacrifices to help foot the bill. To this day, I get particularly irritated when people mock my school as the playground of rich kids; although, yes, many who go there come from affluent families, plenty come from more modest backgrounds.

As a former techie, i also appreciated the multi-level set design and the clever use of phantom doorways that moved out from the physical storefronts to expand the acting space.

It’s hard to say exactly what it was about this show that made me appreciate it more than I ever expected to (though I’ve just spent far too many words trying to do just that). It’s genuinely entertaining, heartfelt and endearing, and I’m very glad I got a chance to see it.

Written by ChrisShut

June 10, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Theater

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Why I’m a fan of SHN

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Going to the theater always involves a bit of an emotional struggle for me. But because of SHN, I simply can’t help going, with the pain outweighed by the joy of seeing the fantastic shows they offer.

An explanation: When I was a freshman in college, I discovered my passion — theater — by both working on shows and discovering SHN’s offerings. I first became enraptured by Lily Tomlin’s “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” which I would eventually see multiple times, and the show’s poster still hangs on my wall. Throughout college, as I eventually earned a degree in drama, I managed to see a number of still-memorable SHN shows, including “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The King and I” (with Rudolf Nureyev!), “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” and others.

After graduating, I became a professional stage manager. But two years, four shows and a total of less than $5,000 earned later (and being the last cut for a stage management internship at ACT), I was forced to give up what I desperately longed to do. I turned to my other degree (journalism), and my attendance at shows dropped off markedly. It was simply too painful to go, for the most part, knowing that I belonged on the other side of the proscenium.

And yet, I still found myself going to the occasional show — always to SHN shows. I couldn’t pass up seeing some of the productions I had always loved and longed to see, like “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Lion King,” or shows that simply intrigued me too much to skip, including “Contact” and “City of Angels.” The waves of regret would subside once the lights dimmed and the performance began.

With “Wicked” in 2005, I discovered a show that would slowly bring me back to being an eager theatergoer — tonight I will see the current production for the 18th time. But it’s not just “Wicked” I adore, it’s SHN and the quality that organization represents.

Many years ago, I saw a community theater production of “South Pacific” and HATED the show. I deemed it an outdated, cornball cheesefest (or whatever county-fair-food metaphor suits your fancy) that only appealed to audiences Of A Certain Age. When I saw SHN’s last season included the Lincoln Center production, I had zero interest in seeing it, but glowing reviews intrigued me and I decided to put my faith in an SHN offering and go. However, the only day free on my schedule was the same day I already had tickets for “Rent.” I noted that it was a Wednesday, though, and — you guessed it — I opted for a doubleheader: matinee of “South Pacific” and evening performance of “Rent.” I was well-rewarded; “South Pacific” was magnificently sublime. It’s amazing what top-quality performers and productions can deliver. My day of gorging on theater was so special, I didn’t even mind that much to discover my car was locked in a closed parking lot and I’d have to go back the next morning to fetch it (and pay the overnight fees).

Don’t get me wrong — I still have enormous pangs of regret whenever I go to a show. I’ve begun to consider the possibility of chucking my successful current career and trying to start over as a stage manager. I even momentarily considered quitting my job and getting a front-of-house position with “Peter Pan,” just on the chance it might get a toe on the path back to what I was truly meant to do.

But as I said, the heartache is not enough to keep me away from the wonderful productions SHN brings to San Francisco. I will be there for “In the Heights” and “Young Frankenstein.” I won’t miss “West Side Story” or “Dreamgirls.” And I plan to take my 6-year-old niece to see “Peter Pan” as her first live theater show.

I also intend to visit New York in the near future to see some shows, but I know I won’t be seeing any shows I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing thanks to SHN. If I’ve seen them here, I’ve already truly seen the Best of Broadway.

A sampling of some of my SHN programs.

Written by ChrisShut

March 19, 2010 at 1:35 am

Posted in Theater

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