My dearest, HAMILTON: A Love Letter from a Really Big Fan

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"Raise a glass....tomorrow there'll be more of us, telling the story...."

My HAMILTON journey has ended. And yet it’s just beginning.

Like most rabid fans I played the White House YouTube clip over and over and over to fully absorb the newness Lin-Manuel Miranda was putting out into the atmosphere. I have followed along with Lin’s every Facebook and Twitter antic and kept up with updates on the writing process, the development journey and the various stagings, being blessed to have attended a few and to have met those involved. I have watched and listened and blogged and shared everything imaginable. I have waxed incessantly to friends about this work and endured many a side eye at my explanation of the concept. I have met and expressed my admiration to many of the performers who have breathed life into this thing (and still have many more to see–I’m looking at you, Javi, Thayne and Ariana!), I have read and shared photo spreads, think pieces and other press to help shine a pinlight from my small corner of the world….all in an effort to make sure the world knows that it’s not overhype, that HAMILTON: An American Musical is THAT special.

And now the curtain has fallen, the dust has settled, and of the 16 record-breaking nominations, our show walks away with 11 trophies. To borrow from Lin’s lyrics, pride is not the word I’m looking for. Lin made a thing, y’all. He made an incredible, inspiring, enduring thing. I don’t have adequate words to thank him or Alex or Tommy or any of the incredible ensemble and creative team for this masterwork that has transformed the Broadway stage, reached into the hearts and minds of people who may never have been exposed to live theater, worked tirelessly to get this staged in as many places as possible and just flat out created magic. I am a mere viewer who was blessed to be in a few special rooms when things happened, and for these and many other reasons makes this my show, too. It’s more than something like Wicked or The Lion King or even In The Heights, that I love and cherish as great shows that I hold in my heart. This really feels like MY show, like I had some small part, some tiny investment in its creative formation. And it won 11 Tony Awards.

I don’t know what else to say. If you can see it without mortgaging vital organs, GO. If you can’t, get the cast album. Get the book. Get the audiobook. Wait for and support the regional and international tours. Get the experience, because it’s more than just a retelling of history. It’s an outpouring of love from the stage. It’s a reminder of our humanity, flaws and all. And it’s an affirmation that we all have a story that deserves to be told, and with any luck those who tell them will be kind and fair.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for turning my world upside down in the best possible way.

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Hamilton/Shuffle: No Way To Choose

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It's gonna be an all-out stand....

So the Tony nominations came out this morning….

I’ve been waiting for the last seven years, through every tweet, concert and staging, for this moment to arrive. And arrive it did–like gangbusters. Just like it burst onto the Great Wide Way, HAMILTON fired into Tony history with a record-breaking SIXTEEN nominations in every category imaginable. If they could have nominated the theater ushers and the #Ham4Ham shows I bet they’d have found a way.

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History has its eyes on you....

I’m very excited, but I’m thoroughly torn. Shuffle Along, or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921, and All That Followed, the George C. Wolfe staged production of the Eubie Blake musical, is also nominated, head-to-head with HAMILTON in several categories. You see, the last bit of news I’d heard was that Shuffle Along was delaying their eligibility for consideration this year. All the powerhouse talent I adore–Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Joshua Allen, Savion Glover–is involved with this show. Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald is in this show. And Adrienne Warren (who ironically has Lin-Manuel ties from her role in Bring It On), is part of the Shuffle Along family as well.

I don’t even know how to feel right now. As far as musical talent and stellar humanity, Lin and Billy are my end-all, be-all. I LOVE them. That old saying about having to choose your favorite child is in full effect. As much as I’ve crowed endlessly about HAMILTON, it was the musical EUBIE! that was my very first exposure to a Broadway style production….so by extension, Shuffle Along birthed the love for musical theater that allowed me to fall ass over tea kettle in love with HAMILTON. Both of these shows are at the core of my being.

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"Fellas, these nominations ain't no parts of right...."

Tony Night will be bittersweet indeed as I wait to see how the votes tallied. The HAMILTON vs. Shuffle battle alone is tense enough (and I’m just going to ignore the Best Musical category altogether, as they just need to make five statues and hand them out NOW)…we have to choose WITHIN categories. There’s a three way scuffle between the Georges, Lafayette and Jefferson, as Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Groff have all been nominated for the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award. I’m leaning most towards Chris because he’s long overdue, but how do you not look at the contrasting dual energies Daveed pours out or all of the emotions Jonathan wrings out of his nine minutes onstage? And in clearly what is someone’s idea of a twisted joke…Hamilton and Burr–in the guise of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.–battle among themselves for Best Lead Actor. You savages.

This is a Tony year like no other. HAMILTON is my clear and biased choice for everything because I feel like it’s MY show…like I’m a part of its development. In a way, Lin lets us feel like we are, so I’ll be mentally standing on stage with the producers as they claim the trophy. But there are so many other variables and connections in play, and I feel like I’ll be happy if either of my loves wins, yet will also weep for the names not called. Even though HAMILTON is the Jacob to Shuffle‘s Esau in my mind, I can’t completely cast off my other child. Maybe I should contact Olivia and Archie Manning to see how they dealt with it……

Either way, whatever happens in the shuffle, come June 12, I’m raising a glass.

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"Tomorrow there'll be more of us, telling the story of tonight...."

Buzz Off, Buzzfeed! My response to their Tony “review”

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So, my very favorite weekend of television just passed…the second Sunday of June, when the Tony Awards airs and the Broadway season is condensed for those of us rabid theater fans with extremely shallow pockets. I never get to watch it the night of, from my conflicting dance recitals in my early VCR days to working a night job in this TiVo Season Pass age…but I do get to delay it a day with little to no spoilage. A blessing and a curse, that–while I’m glad I can usually view it fresh, I’m saddened that everyone doesn’t find theater’s biggest night more newsworthy. So when I saw that Buzzfeed had chronicled all of the performances of the evening, I was tickled pink….until I read it. Their ranking and commentary left me annoyed as a still-aspiring performer and a Broadway fan. So I’m calling them on the carpet.

(I’m responding in the order of their “worst to best” ranking only because it’s easier, and NOT because I agree with their classification. I quite enjoyed the entire evening–so much so that I saved the entire show as opposed to just the numbers like I usually do.)

18. “Rock Island,” The Music Man

“Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it” is the commentary attached to the performance of this tune performed with a hip-hop flair by host Hugh Jackman and rappers T.I. and LL Cool J (with a track assist courtesy of The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove). Look, if Meredith Wilson’s 1957 lyrics carry a cadence that lends itself to hip-hop, I’m all for it, as it might just interest a new audience of people who thought musicals were beyond them…can we say In The Heights, y’all? I bet y’all weren’t saying that when Jay-Z took a little red-haired girl’s stylo and threw some swag on it….

17. “The Last Ship,” Sting

“…the Tonys is not a time to debut a new lush melody that no one has ever heard before.”

We HAVE heard it before. It’s not our fault you don’t watch Great Performances on PBS or didn’t find the soundtrack album in the store, buy it and play it incessantly in your car. Or was that just me?

16. The Opening Number

OK, not gonna lie, I was confused, too. In fact, my exact FB post was “OK, finally getting started….um, what’s the deal with Hugh “Tigger” Jackman? I mean seriously, WTF?” But an homage to a Busby Berkeley number called “Take Me To Broadway” was a good call. Yes, Buzzfeed, an obscure one…but a good one nonetheless. It not only reinforces the importance of and respect for the musical’s life on the big screen, but gives us musical and musical theater geeks something to research and YouTube. (BTW, a friend of mine recognized it right away–even without the video clue provided right in the middle of the broadcast.)

15. Closing Number

Not everything has to be an 11 o’clock number…the Tonys run long as it is. I think an early winners’ celebration on stage lightened things up–a nice warm-up for all those after-parties people were about to attend.

14. “Eye of the Tiger/Undefeated Men/The Fight,” Rocky

“…this incredibly condensed version lost a lot of the WOW factor you get in the theater.” You don’t say….IT’S THE TONYS. Stuff is going to get condensed, and starting with the fight instead of doing the medley is a disservice to the TV viewer. How else are we going to get a decent sample of a musical that shouldn’t make sense but somehow does? There are guys who switched from the NBA Finals just to check this out. That’s huge!

13. “‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” Bullets Over Broadway

“Who doesn’t love a group of tap-dancing mobsters?”, they said. Who would dare challenge a group of tap-dancing mobsters if they didn’t? One less number I have to chew them out over.

12. “Always Starting Over,” If/Then

They liked her–they really liked her. It was good, too–the best live stage performance I’ve seen from Idina Menzel. She had some shaky moments with “Defy Gravity” and “Let It Go”, both of which I chalk up to the harness and, well, the freakin’ Oscars. At home on the Broadway stage and in comfortable clothes, Idina hits a home run. So clearly the elaborate, sparkly dresses are unnecessary. 😉

11. “On My Way/”Raise Me Up,” Violet

BF questioned the decision to use the high-energy, high-powered gospel number that opens Act 2 of the play, but again, a good capsulized version of the entire play in a bite-site, TV viewer morsel. Everybody got a little piece of that, and I’m good with it.

10. “For Good,” Wicked

The 10th anniversary brought this performance of the current stars of the Broadway run, Jenni Barber and Christine Dwyer. And yeah, in a perfect world, a Chenoweth/Menzel duet would have been sublime. But considering a) Wicked is STILL RUNNING ON BROADWAY, and b) Idina is starring in another, totally different show, FOR WHICH SHE JUST PERFORMED, I think this was the best choice.

9. “Never Neverland,” Finding Neverland

Complaining about Jennifer Hudson not being in the show but singing at the Tonys…like no one’s ever done THAT before. Who cares? It’s J-Hud. (A later update to the article puts her as a part of the concept album, so there’s that plate of crow for them.) And add to that the dancing of SYTYCD Season 8 champion Melanie Moore as Peter Pan…well, let’s just say J. LENO could have been singing and we wouldn’t have cared.

8. Um…no 8? Too busy being snarky, I guess…..

7. “One Day More,” Les Miserables

So now we’re coming into the section of stuff they actually liked and had nothing bad to say about. It’s hard to sit unstirred by this number, particularly when voices like Ramin Karimloo, Nikki James, Andy Mientus, Will Swenson and Keala Settle are attached to it.

6. “Friend Like Me,” Aladdin

Hailed as “the best musical moment of the season” but still bitching about condensing. Do you even WANT people to try to see the whole show? We got the gist of it. Besides, James Monroe Iglehart is larger-than-life, and that’s enough to dazzle us right there.

5. “On the Sunny Side/It Don’t Mean A Thing,” After Midnight

More nice things to say–although you could have taken a cue from Hugh Jackman and acknowledged Dulé Hill, who had a featured moment AND is actually in the show. I WOULD like to know how and why Miss Patti missed her end cue, though….

4. “Wilkommen,” Cabaret

Alan Cumming. As the emcee. AGAIN. But this time half-nekkid and BUFF.

Thank you, sweet baby Jesus.

3. “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

This was funny and delightful–very Edwin Drood-y. I’d go see it.

2. “Sugar Daddy,” Hedwig and the Angry Inch

So clearly Billy Porter played fairy godmother to NPH and out popped Hedwig. My only complaint is that this was listed as #2 and not #1. OK, one other complaint…yes, it IS primarily about Hedwig, but how you pass over the clear evidence of why Lena Hall walked away with a Tony as well is completely baffling. As is watching and listening to the bubbly actress earlier in the evening strut around and sing in that deep, gravelly tone. NPH is a beast but dammit, give props where they’re due!

1. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”/”I Feel The Earth Move,” Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Jessie Mueller did that. No lie. She did the HELL out of that, to the point where if Carole King hadn’t walked on stage with her and sang at the same time, I’d have sworn there was lip-dubbing going on for the first time at the Tonys. But I put this at #2 because Jessie clearly had a fangirl moment in the middle of that duet and lost a beat or two. Which, granted, is understandable because, hey, you’re singing a Carole King song…AS Carole King…WITH Carole King. I get that. NPH edges her out mainly because he never dropped character…and I’m sure he could have right at the moment he laid a big, juicy smooch on his husband (planned move, natch, but the subject had to be a thrilling bonus). Since she’s a semi-relative newcomer in comparison, I guess I’ll give it a pass.

The Art of Airing Art, or Setting My Career Back On Fire

This past Sunday the 67th annual Tony Awards were broadcast on CBS with a supersized opening number, penned by lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and composer Thomas Kitt and performed by host Neil Patrick Harris and a host of this Broadway season’s incredible performers.

I’ve been a Broadway fan for most of my life–the advent of the VCR and the DVR recorder made my life much easier, as my dance recitals always found themselves scheduled on Tony Sunday. It always fascinates me to watch the performances on the show from a dancer’s standpoint, and gives me a preview of some of the shows I might get the opportunity to see as they tour the country. I never pursued my professional dance dreams for various reasons, so the Tony Awards are my little vicarious shot at the big stage.

However, thanks to LMM, I got my first peek into what it takes to actually present this larger-than-life spectacle to the rest of the viewing public–those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to secure a ticket to see it live and up close. This is what it looks like to pull off two minutes of breakneck-speed television….

Wow. (My first reaction was a nearly as long drop of the F-bomb, but I’m trying to keep it PG in here.) I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know I could combine my current career dream and my ultimate career dream, but watching it in action is just breathtaking. Having worked on local large-scale productions as a camera operator, a floor director, a sound tech, a video operator (different from the camera op in that they control the picture quality) and a technical director, I know all too well that the final product that hits the airwaves is very much a team effort. But major, MAJOR props have to be given to director Glenn Weiss here. Once he got to the rapid-fire round of just calling camera numbers and snapping his fingers–I couldn’t see those shots fast enough as a VIEWER. I will admit to questioning a couple of choices in my first viewings of this number, such as some shots of the performers in the aisles while Neil was singing something significant…though to be fair, those were tricky calls that didn’t stray too far from the narrative. Watching this clip makes me understand, respect and appreciate the way Mr. Weiss was able to quickly call for all of the shots that were visually stunning and lyrically connected at the same time.

Outside of dancing, THIS is what I’ve always wanted to do. As fast-paced and nerve-wracking as it is, there’s a certain rush you get from driving that metaphoric runaway train and managing to get a decent ride out of it. I’ve got to make some radical moves to get into Mr. Weiss’s orbit…if not his chair.

I wonder if he’s looking for interns…..

The Tony Awards Opening Number, and the Top 5 Moments that Confirm Neil Patrick Harris as a Broadway Legend

This year’s Tony Awards opened with one of the biggest, fastest, most intricately timed song-and-dance extravaganzas ever—earning it nearly a full minute’s of a thunderous standing ovation and a ton of glowing post-show buzz. Naturally I expected brilliance knowing that Thomas Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda were on composition duty with the music and lyrics, and having seen host Neil Patrick Harris’s hosting turns three times before, I knew it would be great. What I did not expect was the phenomenal, nearly flawless execution that permanently cements NPH’s status as a legendary Broadway badass. Here are five pivotal moments that demonstrate why:

5. That costume change from “Once” to full tuxedo

0 to tux in 40 counts--unbelievable!

0 to tux in 40 counts–unbelievable!

Yes, in a previous opening number, Neil (with the help of his backup dancers) was able to pull off the 7-second costume change. That, however, was a simple flip of the jacket from formal to casual. Changing from a casual, no-collared shirt and slacks into a full tux WITH bow tie in 40 counts of music—even with help—and coming in right on cue is nothing short of astounding. Next to that big box, this was the best magic trick he pulled off.

4. Inside nods to his TV selves

Dr. Legendary?  I think so....

Dr. Legendary? I think so….

It takes a combination of a talented lyricist and avid fan to pull off noteworthy and performer-specific zingers, and LMM is one of the greatest mixes of both I’ve ever seen. Starting from the top with the promise of a “legendary show” (highlighted by the wink channeled from our host’s outlandish alter ego from How I Met Your Mother, and leading to a reference to his professional debut as America’s favorite medical prodigy amongst a host of Broadway’s child stars, the symbiosis between songwriter and performer puts a personal stamp on the performance that fits NPH to a tee.

3. General physical and vocal stamina

I mean...he's not even breathing hard....

I mean…he’s not even breathing hard….

The complicated vocal construction of the “Les Miz” section was definitely a special kind of vocal sprint, no question. And that alone would make me give NPH his props…however, that section came after at least 3 ½ to 4 continuous minutes of singing and dancing that included jumps, lifts, tosses and dashes from one side of the stage to the other. True, he had some seconds to inhale while setting up for that pore-defining close-up shot, but I defy anyone to sing at near-John Moschitta pace TWICE with only thirty seconds of breath in between and hit every single word. Go ahead—I dare you.

2. Where in the hell did they hide his mic?

Seriously, where is it?

Seriously, where is it?

I mean seriously. Women with long flowing hair to drape over lip and head mics have come out on stage and I’ve picked it out with my one good eye and no glasses. Unless he had it snitch-taped to his chest with a LOT of insulation to keep it from getting hit, or there was a REALLY talented boom operator in the theater, I couldn’t spot one single, potential location for that microphone to reside and his voice STILL carry like that.

1. The Pippin hoop jump

It's Pippin, pimpin'.....'nuf said.

It’s Pippin, pimpin’…..’nuf said.

There were a lot of incredible moves and sophisticate lyrics in this 8 minute marathon, with more and more layers added on as it went along. None of it would have mattered past the two-minute mark had NPH not nailed that hoop jump. I mean, LOOK at it—a grown man folded up his body and hurled it through what looked like a ten-inch hula hoop in 1 second, landed on his feet and kept on singing. An inch off in either direction would have caused a Bret Michaels-worthy header toward the floor, and that would’ve been a wrap. Many, many decades from now, generations of Broadway enthusiasts will still look on this Herculean feat with awe and admiration.

So, Neil Patrick Harris, for seamlessly performing incredible feats of vocal strength and physical stamina, I dub thee….Legendary Badass.

No need to wait for it.

NPHonTonyAwards

PUBLIC FORUM PODCAST: Lin-Manuel Miranda on Freestyle Rap, Writing for Neil Patrick Harris, and Who Belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of MCs

Dude has surpassed Amazeballs and shot off into the stratosphere in a category all his own. YouTube the opening number of the 2013 Tony Awards if you haven’t seen it–the lyrical gymnastics he dropped on host Neil Patrick Harris was worthy of Olympic gold.

LMMMrWrite

http://publictheater.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/public-forum-podcast-lin-manuel-miranda-on-freestyle-rap-writing-for-neil-patrick-harris-and-who-belongs-on-the-mt-rushmore-of-mcs/