Stratford 2018 Update #1

It’s here-the first round of Nerd Cactus Stratford reviews for 2018!!!

So far, the verdict is “amazing with a heavy smattering of fun.” Of course, it will get much darker from here…

See, we started with the light, frothy shows, but we’re about to dive into the heavy stuff. Yesterday we saw The Music Man and The Tempest (incidentally, the two shows I covered in our pre-Stratford ramp up). Both were wonderful, high-quality, visually stunning shows (as expected) and both were over too quickly. (Which is probably why we thought today was still Tuesday?)

 

The Music Man

To begin, let’s take a closer look at Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. As I mentioned, this musical is nothing if not charming, and it’s so full of heart, joy, and sticky, sappy nostalgia that even the most miserable of misers can’t help but feel their hearts melt.

Donna Feore’s direction is solid, but it’s her choreography that truly shines. Her high-energy approach to numbers like “Shipoopi,” “76 Trombones,” and even “Marian the Librarian” is breathtaking. As a matter of fact, just watching “76 Trombones,” left me exhausted. I felt winded in the best way ever. Seriously. And kudos to Devon Michel Brown for performing 4 backflips and a front flip over the course of the show.

The cast is led by Daren A. Herbert and Danielle Wade in the roles of Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, but the brilliant supporting cast doesn’t really need to be led. There is so much kinetic energy onstage that it is impossible to pick out a “weak link.” The ensemble of agile dancers consistently hams it up, but if there’s any place for “golly gee” smiles, this is it. And it works.

Herbert is loveable yet sly and Wade’s rich soprano has surprising depth even in her highest register. Steve Ross and Blythe Wilson as Mayor Shinn and his eccentric wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn are the perfect comedic duo, providing unexpected laughs and well-timed schtick that doesn’t actually feel “schticky.”

All told, we were all smiles from start to finish and loved pretty much everything about this production. We were hardpressed to find something that didn’t play well or that we downright disliked. The cast was well-balanced, the costumes were beautiful, the music was brilliant, and the choreography was engaging. Oh, and the horse in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” was a piece of theatre magic that actually confused us into thinking there was a live horse on stage. (Albeit for a very brief minute.)

 

The Tempest

Our Tuesday evening show was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In Stratford’s version, Prospero was presented as a woman, brilliantly performed by Martha Henry. I think Martha Henry is one of the most convincing Shakespearean actors I have ever seen on stage. I understood every line of her dialogue. Beyond Shakespeare’s words, Henry brought deliberate inflection, movement, action, and subtext to the stage in spades.

The other standout in this cast was undeniably Andre Morin’s Ariel. Clad in costuming that alludes to his previous sentence trapped in a tree, his take on the spirit was nimble and efficient. Rather than play the character as mischievous or brooding, Morin tempered his longing for freedom with a genuine concern for his mistress and a need to please.

Beyond the strength of the cast and their excellent execution of Antoni Cimolino’s direction, The Tempest dazzles with its lighting design and costume design. From floating planets to shimmering lights encompassed in the gnarled roots of Prospero’s cell, the lighting in this show is pretty magical. And the costuming was just gorgeous. From Juno’s peacock costume to Caliban’s incredible half-fish deformity and Ariel’s outfit of bark, the stage was filled with the fantastic. But my favorite thing is ever is Prospero’s magic robe which incorporates pieces of the robes worn by every other Prospero in the Stratford Festival’s history. Beyond that, it contains material from the dress Martha Henry wore when she played Miranda during the 1962 festival season as well as pieces of the original tent in which Stratford’s plays were first performed. How cool is that??

That’s all for now! Coriolanus is on the agenda for tonight and we’ll see An Ideal Husband and To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow, so expect more soon!

-A

 

 

 

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Boozy Plays: The Tempest

To thee and thy company I bid a hearty welcome.

-The Tempest

Hello, and welcome! ‘Tis time for a little Shakespeare-inspired boozin’.

So, something just occurred to me: in all our years of Boozy Books/Plays and attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, C and I have never partaken in any of the drinks we recommend during our viewings. We didn’t even play the Hamlet drinking game. (You know the one… Take a shot every time someone dies? Yes, you do.) Anyway, despite being pretty consistent enablers, we are very bad boozers.

The problem is that we want to remember and engage in the experience of the play. Getting drunk is decidedly hindering in that respect. Maybe if we rush a second viewing of Coriolanus we can discuss having a few glasses of Syrah. (Except C isn’t a wine drinker… That’s ok, I’ll drink hers.)

Anyway, tangent aside, it’s time to dive into The Tempest.

I’ve mentioned this before but did you know that Teller (of Penn and Teller) choreographed the magic for a production of The Tempest in 2014? Also, Tom Waits did the music for that production. And the acrobatics were by Pilobolus. I’m not saying I don’t foresee excellence from the Stratford production, but damn. They better step it up, amiright? (I’m so kidding. I just needed a place to create a backlink to one of our older posts. Because SEO.)

So, yes, if it isn’t already apparent, magic and music are a big deal in The Tempest. I covered that in Monday’s post so I won’t linger on that point any longer. By now, you get it. One hopes.

The Tempest opens with a storm – the eponymous tempest – and some quick n’ dirty exposition. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded on an island for 12 years. Why? Because Prospero was a Duke and his brother was a Dick. You know, ye olde jealous sibling trope.

While on his lonely island, Prospero came to command a “spirit” named Ariel and Caliban, the deformed son of an evil (albeit dead) witch. To be honest, most of Prospero’s magic seems to lie in his control of these characters. Ariel, in particular, handles much of the actual hocus pocus (things like creating the storm, putting people to sleep with magical sleepytime music, and scaring said people by appearing as an angry harpy). Both of these characters are locked in servitude to Prospero, and long for freedom. But they’re not portrayed as human, so does anyone care? Yes. Shakespeare cares.

In fact, The Tempest is thought to have been a commentary on colonialism, presenting the complex and problematic relationship of the “well-meaning” and “much advanced” colonizer and the “savage” colonized. Prospero has not only stolen Caliban’s rulership of the island, but he has also leveraged his rescue of Ariel to keep the spirit in his employ with the carrot of freedom always dangling just out of reach. Of course, Ariel is eventually promised his freedom as the play wraps up, but it’s never exactly clear what Caliban’s fate is. Is he left on the island to take his rightful place as ruler, or is he taken back to Naples to become a sideshow novelty? One hopes the former.

As for plot, there are three. Because interweaving stories was Shakespeare’s specialty (and a great way to appeal to as many people in the audience as possible). In one, we have the romantic plotline. Prospero encourages the match between his daughter and Ferdinand, prince of Naples. The goal is to reinstate his daughter into her rightful place as a noble. Plot number two is the rise and fall of Caliban’s doomed coup. He also discovers alcohol and falls in love(?) with Stephano and Trinculo. Plot three is Antonio and Sebastian’s plan to kill King Alonso and his advisor, Gonzalo.

The play ends with an implied wedding, forgiveness, and freedom (for Ariel at least). Prospero, finally on his way back to civilization, has no further need of magic, so he breaks his staff and renounces his powers. I mean, I wouldn’t… but you do you Prospero.

And, now, a drink! I feel that this needs something tropical with a chunk of dry ice. It’s a little on the nose, but I make no apologies. So, the drink to drink in this case is something called “rock out with your conch out,” which is just a crazy ridiculous beautiful-looking cocktail served in a freakin’ conch shell. It’s made with a blend of rums, pineapple, pomegranate, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and falernum. And a chunk of dry ice to create that magical fog.

Enjoy!

A

The Tempest: Magic, Manipulation, and Music

Hey there! Welcome to today’s exploration of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

*But first, let me give you a brief rundown of the filmed versions of The Music Man. (This was supposed to go up on Saturday, but a 9 mile hike kinda put a damper on productivity.)

There’s no more definitive version of The Music Man than the 1962 film starring Robert Preston. I also alluded to the 2003 tv-movie version in my earlier Music Man post, and it’s certainly a gem with stars like Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, and Victor Garber.

You can also watch an absurd animated version of Shipoopi, courtesy of Family Guy.

Ok, that’s done. Now, on to the magic, manipulation, and music of The Tempest.

Written between 1610 and 1611, The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote on his own. It’s also rather different from his earlier works in its overall style. More than any other one of Shakespeare’s works, The Tempest follows a neoclassical structure that is informed by the tradition of tragicomedy and the courtly masque. (Cue Ben Jonson laughing from beyond the grave.)

Interestingly, The Tempest’s use of magic is in complete opposition to the darker tones found in Macbeth and Hamlet, and returns to the whimsy found in the much earlier Midsummer Night’s Dream. Given James I’s propensity for witch hunts and his general paranoia toward the occult at this time, The Tempest is remarkable in that it doesn’t follow the “give the monarchy what they want” mentality that influenced the creation of so many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays.

That aside, the magic of The Tempest is remarkable in its usage because its only purpose is to forward a singular goal for Prospero – manipulating Antonio and Alonso, and restoring Miranda to her rightful place as a Duchess of Milan. Once Prospero sees his daughter married to Ferdinand and forgives his brother, he renounces magic. It’s as though magic is intrinsically tied to life on the island – a mere byproduct of having been deserted and a means to return to civilized life. The mischief and manipulation associated with Prospero’s magic also disperses as the play’s conclusion falls in line with the typical format of a comedy. Everything ends rather neatly as the characters return to realism (and Naples).

I think one of the aspects I’m most excited to see in Stratford’s production is the interpretation of music. The Tempest, as written, incorporates quite a bit of song. From Caliban’s drunken singing to Ariel’s magical sleepytime music, there are lots of moments in which music and magic intermingle. Stratford has always impressed me with their incorporation of music, so I’m excited to see how they handle both music and magic in this production.

That’s all for now! I’ll put together a Boozy Plays post for Friday in which I’ll explore the plot a little more deeply, and provide a pairing that’s nothing short of magical.

A

Stratfest Ramp Up 2018: The Music Man

“Ya got trouble my friends, right here in River City.”

If the above lyric is unfamiliar to you, we simply can’t be friends. Kidding. Not really.

Welcome, cactus friends, to today’s long-delayed post on The Music Man. I’ve been in Colorado for work all week so blogging kinda took a backseat to hiking up mountains and eating Indian food with my CEO. Sorry.

But I’m here now, and that’s what counts!!! And not a moment too soon since Monday is right around the corner again. (How did that happen anyway?)

I’ll be doing my write-up and my boozy pairing all in one post, so please stick around as I delve into Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

This musical has a little of everything: romance, shenanigans, a barbershop quartet, and a con man with a heart of gold at its very center.

Written in 1957, this golden age classic never feels outdated or crusty… Which is impressive given that there’s an entire song about the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon (which is clearly dated).

The thing that keeps The Music Man alive-even in 2018-is its nostalgic Americana. And yet, it is far from being a patriotic romp. More than anything, it leaves audiences yearning for simplicity, small town hominess, and the promise that one stranger can bring an entire town to life. Oh, and that love can turn crooks into band leaders. That’s the American dream, right?

The one and only issue I have with this musical is actually an annoyance that developed after earning my Bachelor of Music. You can’t just “think” the music and suddenly play an instrument. That’s not how it works! Even in the adorable Matthew Broderick version ABC aired in 2003, I just laugh when-in his moment of desperation-he instructs his all-boy marching band to “think.”

But it’s musical theatre, and, of course, “76 Trombones” is the most rousing anthem in the genre, because in America you can do anything.

All that being said, The Music Man is a charming, sweet, and funny musical that I’ve never once tired of. The music bounces between beautiful operatic ballads in “Goodnight My Someone” to the speak-sung patter song that is “Ya Got Trouble.” And everything in between is equally catchy and adorable. From “Pick a Little, Talk a Little” to “Marian the Librarian” and, of course, “Shipoopi,” this musical comes as close to musical perfection as one can get, in my opinion.

I’m so so so excited to see this show in Stratford because it never fails to make me smile. It’s an oldie but a goodie as they say, and I’m sure Stratford’s diverse casting will lend itself to telling a story that has always been meant for everyone-not just crusty white people.

Also, let me just say that one of the few regrets I have when looking back at my musical theatre career is that I never had the opportunity to play Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. “BALZAC.” ‘Nuff said.

Ok, time to pair this sucker. I don’t think this musical pairs well with liquor at all, but rather, lemonade. Soooo like a vodka-infused strawberry lemonade with basil? Yeah… That works. That’s the one.

A