About That Glass Slipper Thing

It’s hard to imagine wearing any article of clothing made from a substance known for its ability to puncture and shred flesh. And yet. Who’s Cinderella without a glass slipper?

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The basic idea of the Cinderella story—young woman, bad circumstances, objects incite a change of fate—dates back thousands of years to many, many cultures spanning the globe. The current givens about Cinderella—fairy godmother, prince, glass slippers—we owe to French author Charles Perrault. Disney’s animated film, of course, seared their adaptation of Perrault’s tale into our collective brains so completely that sometimes it’s hard to imagine the story without talking mice. Perrault added the elements of the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage and the glass slippers, which have become synonymous with the story.

Next weekend, we welcome back Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the musical theater duo’s adaptation of the Perrault-inspired folk tale which has nothing to do with Disney, please note. The show does very well because people love this story, and they never stop loving Perrault’s particular embellishments. If you want to see a crowd of disappointed faces, show them a version of Cinderella with no glass slippers. It would be like going to a version of Ireland with no green fields or Guinness. Just doesn’t compute. Shouldn’t exist.

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(L-R) Sean Ryan, Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The glass slippers, like the fairy godmother and her magic, require a delightful suspension of disbelief to make the story work. It’s myth and folklore at its most enchanting. Naturally, science ruins myth with its evidence-based understanding of the world, and so it goes for our young soot-covered maiden’s infamous footwear.

First, let us give you the good news: the glass slippers could exist. It’s not like arguably-functional glass slippers are impossible. About three years ago, some mechanical engineers got together to determine the feasibility of glass slippers. They deduced that you could wear a pair of soda lime glass (i.e., coke bottle “everyday” glass) shoes if you stood perfectly still and weighed roughly 110 pounds.

Here’s the scientific assessment, though, and it raises the more important question of whether or not glass slippers should exist.

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First, you’d still have to be 110 pounds with a size 6 foot. The heel would have to be less than a half-inch to keep the shoes from shattering once you started walking. That’s roughly the height of nice pair of Florida flip flops which is to say “flats” which is to say who cares about the glass slippers if they don’t have a legit heel? The glass would have to be tempered safety glass, not regular glass. Safety glass seems okay until you start thinking about bending your foot, or slipping on the Prince’s polished ballroom dance floor, or running briskly down several stairs in a heart-pounding race against midnight. Safety glass is just thicker, not unbreakable. So, one step at the wrong angle and crash!, the weight pressure will shatter your instep, sending you to the ER at midnight in your raggedy dress.

The upside, however, is that it would have been much easier for the Prince to find Cinderella by tracking the trail of bloody footprints to the sliding door of the ER, and he never would have had to touch the feet of those odious step-sisters.

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L to R: Jimmy Choo design, Nicolas Kirkwood design, Paul Andrew design.

Back to reality: some of the world’s most high-profile fashion designers took the challenge of creating a glass-slipper shoe in 2015, when Disney released their live-action Cinderella film. Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, Charlotte Olympia and six others whipped up fabulous shoes with enough sparkle and Swarovski to put a fairy godmother to shame. These designs turned into real-life buyable, wearable couture, and you can still get your hands on a pair with minimal Google-work. That same year in Japan, the glass artisans of Nakamura Glass Studio unveiled their hand-blown slippers, made by a process without cutting or molds, that took eight years to perfect and seem to contradict the mathematical findings of our aforementioned engineers. At $697.00 per shoe—that’s $1394.00 per pair—you yourself should probably be in the post-Prince part of the Cinderella story. We have no idea if you can walk or run in them, but you can buy them and put them on your feet. On a scale of 1-10, the comfort level looks to be around an H, indicating that some things may be best left in the realm of the imagination.

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Hand-blown glass slippers from Nakamura Glass Studio.

Come to the realm of imagination when Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays in Morsani Hall July 5-8.

The Julie Andrews Appreciation Blog

We love Julie Andrews. Naturally, she’s on our mind since The Sound of Music opens tonight, June 5, and runs through the weekend.

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No, Ms. Andrews doesn’t make an appearance in the new staging of this masterpiece, but for many of us, we can’t even see the words “the hills are alive” without picturing her sweeping, open-armed twirl atop a picturesque Austrian meadow.

It’s worth noting that some areas of the Alps can receive 78 inches of rainfall a year (for comparison, Tampa averages around 46 inches annually), so capturing a lithe young woman’s pastoral anthem with a stunning blue sky in the background was a bit of a challenge. Couple that obstacle with the fact that the shot, filmed on a camera strapped to a man who was strapped in the doorway of a giant helicopter, required several takes. With each re-set of the scene, the explosive downdraft of the helicopter’s rotor blades knocked Andrews off her feet, toppling her into the grass.

But you’d never know, right?, watching her sail through the sea of grass as Maria von Trapp, her austere postulant’s uniform transforming—for one wait-for-it kind of moment—into a delicate black bell as she swirled into the unforgettable opening words of the title song. Andrews’s voice, itself pitch-perfect and bell-like, rang out across the mountain tops as though Maria von Trapp, not the hills, were alive with the sound of music. It was the kind of iconic filmcraft that changed a Hollywood actor into a Hollywood star.

Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp made an odd Hollywood siren: she was a somewhat androgynous ingenue (see: hair-do) with a wizened sense of selflessness, a waifish warrior comforting children in thunderstorms and during Nazi attempts at world domination. She was, in a phrase, easy to love.

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Yet we loved her already from her turn as another non-traditional Hollywood heroine: the magical nanny with a really cool umbrella and the perfect solution to nasty-tasting medicine. The governess role came naturally to Andrews as she’d nailed the part of Mary Poppins with an Oscar for Best Actress in 1964, the year prior to the release of the film version of The Sound of Music (1965). Both musical films became staples of annual television broadcasts in the late 70s and early 80s, so Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp seared themselves into the pop-culture subconscious of the pre-Information Age generation. Julie Andrews, with her clear, mirthful blue eyes and handsome face with its dainty features, produced a commanding on-screen presence even before her four-octave, crystal-clear voice turned a Richard Rodgers’ tune into gold.

Here’s a fun bit of Broadway-Hollywood history: the other voice-related role Julie Andrews made famous was that of Eliza Doolittle during the Broadway run of My Fair Lady in 1956. In the 1964 Hollywood film, the studio offered the role of Eliza to Audrey Hepburn instead, saying Andrews lacked name recognition. This was, of course, prior to Andrews’ Oscar win with Mary Poppins and Oscar nomination for The Sound of Music. Hepburn, who had earned icon status already with her portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, confessed to Andrews backstage at the 1965 Academy Awards that Julie should have had the movie role of Eliza. Soon after, Hepburn and Andrews became friends. In 1969, Andrews married Blake Edwards, director of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Edwards later directed Andrews in Victor/Victoria (1982), which garnered Andrews a nomination for the Oscar for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Best Actress win.

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Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews at the 37th Academy Awards in 1965.

All of that being said, let’s shine a light on Andrews’ most important work (at least for the generation of children watching Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music on TV): The Muppet Show. Jim Henson’s ground-breaking prime time “show about a show” mixed A-list artists of the day in skits with his cast of wacky puppets—Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Rowlf, Fozzie Bear and countless others. Not many people remember that The Muppet Show owes its success, in part, to an appearance on The Julie Andrews Hour in 1973. The Muppets joined Julie for several song-and-dance skits, including Rowlf’s duet, “Do You Love Me, Julie?” and the hilarious “Flower-Eating Monster” sketch.

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The Muppets landed their own show in 1976 thanks to the influence of British producer Lew Grade, who produced The Julie Andrews Hour. Andrews and the Muppets were a match made in heaven: full of magic, humor, a love for the ridiculous matched by a love of show business and an easy on-screen rapport. Julie and the Muppets worked together several times, creating some excellent comedic spoofs like the “Big Spender” sketch with Cookie Monster and the “Lonely Goatherd” reprise from The Sound of Music featuring a yodeling goat and Miss Piggy. So true was her connection to Kermit that Julie composed the dare-you-not-to-cry love song especially for him, “When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish,” which aired during season two of The Muppet Show.

Here’s a clip of Julie singing the song to Kermit in season two of The Muppet Show.

In 2015, the Hollywood establishment spent the year recognizing the 50th anniversary of the film version of The Sound of Music. Vanity Fair published a darling interview with Andrews and “Captain von Trapp” Christopher Plummer with the requisite high-fashion-art photo by Annie Leibovitz. Lady Gaga paid tribute to Andrews with a special medley of The Sound of Music’s most memorable songs at the Academy Awards that year, training herself to sing in the exact key and pitch performed by Andrews in the original film. Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (who let Andrews stuff his mouth with grapes as part of an elocution acting exercise) hosted Andrews on their shows, neither one hiding his enchantment with her.

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To this day, at 82 years old, Andrew still casts her spell of elegant charm and exquisite comic timing.

If you love Julie Andrews as much as we do and you have 33 million dollars to spare, you can purchase her old house in London’s Chester Square. The palatial townhome, which she shared with husband Blake Edwards during the early years of their marriage, went on the market this spring. The place was also home to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mick Jagger and Margaret Thatcher at various times although after a complete remodel, we’re assuming the renovation can’t be quite as supercalifragilistic as it was in 1972. 

Or, for a lot less money, you can just come see The Sound of Music at The Straz this weekend and appreciate the timelessness of this musical masterpiece. Get your tickets here.

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#Winning

FAME Academy at River Ridge High School won its first ever Critic’s Choice for One Act after students studied with touring Broadway actors from FUN HOME at The Straz.

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River Ridge High School students with cast members from FUN HOME after the post-show talk-back at The Straz.

SETTING: An Army hospital

CHARACTERS: Three Vietnam veterans

SYNOPSIS: The war survivors befriend each other while recuperating from tours in Vietnam. They tease, torment and often console each other as they face the uncertainties of returning to civilian life.

This play, PVT Wars, comes to the TECO Theater March 14 at 10 a.m. as part of the annual State Thespians Festival held next week on The Straz campus and elsewhere downtown. The actors, two seniors and one junior from FAME Academy (Fine Arts and Musical Entertainment) at River Ridge High School won the school’s first-ever Critic’s Choice for One Act for PVT Wars, a distinction that gave them a direct shot at the state level Thespian competition and is a huge deal to be won at the district level.

The young men—Shaun Memmel, Zachary Schumacher and Christopher Cavazza—had been working on PVT Wars when they attended a talk-back with FUN HOME actors at The Straz. Coaching the young actors on the “power of the pause” and using silence to dramatic and comedic effect, the Broadway touring stars made a craft-changing impression on the young men.

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Post-show talk-back with FUN HOME in Morsani Hall.

The RRHS students took this advice to heart and put it to work. Back in the acting lab at FAME Academy, the guys honed their one act and gave a jaw-dropping performance at the district festival, earning the coveted Critic’s Choice nod. “We were able to take what we were taught at and work on the timing,” says Taylor LaRoue, the technical theater teacher for FAME Academy at RRHS. “It was an invaluable experience. My students were able to dive into deeper conversations with professionals in the business and learn from adults outside of the classroom. Our actors were able to go back and focus on more detailed aspects like timing. I fully believe this coaching pushed us to the top.”

The Community Programs Coordinator at the Patel Conservatory at The Straz, Heather Clark, facilitated RHHS’s participation after inviting the group to Teens Take Broadway, a special pre-show party for Straz patrons in their teenage years. This exposure to the welcoming attitude of The Straz and its commitment to encouraging young people to pursue a love of the arts further encouraged the RHHS students to take advantage of what The Straz offers.

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Teens Take Broadway event at The Straz.

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River Ridge High School representing at Teens Take Broadway!

“When I first met the drama students of River Ridge High School this past fall, it was refreshing to see high school students hungry for knowledge and for real-life theater experience,” Clark says. “Because they live in Pasco County, I’m sure a lot of them don’t get the opportunity to come to The Straz as much as they would like. We offered them a fun-filled evening with our Teens Take Broadway event, along with a discounted ticket to that evening’s performance of FUN HOME. Having these opportunities for student actors truly embodies the mission of our community programs department here at the Patel Conservatory. The students were attentive, eager and appreciative of the opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that those young men received a Critic’s Choice for the scene at districts.”

For one whole week, almost 8,000 Thespians—a drama honors society—descend on The Straz and downtown Tampa to compete, meet each other, make friends and enjoy the opportunity to perform in one of The Straz’s gorgeous, state-of-the-art theaters.

We wish the actors of PVT Wars well as they compete in the state festival, as we do for all the talented students coming here for another hectic, exhilarating, fun-filled, madcap week that is Thespians at The Straz.

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If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere

Musicians and actors who make the leap to Broadway

Kill Bill super-assassin Uma Thurman skillfully executed a Broadway debut in The Parisian Woman in November 2017, as did rock ‘n’ roll superstar Bruce Springsteen in September, when he broke box office records and added Boss of Broadway to his long list of artistic credentials with his show Springsteen on Broadway. Michael Moore, political provocateur and filmmaker, took to Broadway in August with The Terms of My Surrender, his one-man limited engagement.

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Fania Borach, known professionally as Fanny Brice, circa 1920. (Photo: George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress)

Local lore has it that the American crossover star phenomenon started around 1910 with Fanny Brice (the “Funny Girl” later played by Barbra Streisand), who made it on Broadway then took to Hollywood and radio. Brice set many precedents in her career, and this notion that performing artists launched a career in one field and conquered the next challenge as they gained success laid the foundation for stars to take the Broadway Challenge: they might be good singers or actors, but can they handle the greatest test of all, the demands of performing live at the epicenter of theater?

Take, for example, multi-platinum crooner Josh Groban, who debuted in the 2017 surprise hit Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and walked away with a Tony nomination for Best Lead Actor in a Musical. Carly “Call Me Maybe” Rae Jepsen donned the glass slippers for Cinderella, and teeny-bopper heartthrob Nick Jonas took over for Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) as the lead in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Probably one of the best musical vehicles for pop singers is Chicago, and that cast has welcomed Ashlee Simpson, Sofia Vergara, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson and R&B superstars Brandy and Usher, among others.

In March, Deborah Cox, the Grammy-winning and multi-platinum recording artist, takes on the role of Rachel Marron in the musical adaptation of the Whitney Houston from diva-to-screen-siren crossover Hollywood hit The Bodyguard. Cox, who made her Broadway debut in Aida, started her career as a backup singer for Celine Dion and eventually made a place for herself on Broadway. She also starred in Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway and at The Straz in 2013.

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Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron, with Jaquez André Sims, Brendon Chan, Willie Dee and Benjamin Rivera in The Bodyguard. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Cox, who proved her versatility on screen, stage and in the recording studio, continues to join the rising ranks of performers blurring the lines between “what kind” of star they want to be. With Springsteen’s success on Broadway in basically a troubadour stint and Kinky Boots inking Panic at the Disco! frontman Brandon Urie and Scissor Sisters rocker Jake Shears to rack up ticket sales, there’s certainly a safe bet for a box office draw of known names and faces in new territory. For Cox, of course, there’s the added pressure of stepping into some mighty big Whitney Houston-sized shoes. “I want to make sure that [Houston is] represented right. I know what the expectations are. …That’s pretty much what I’m going in there to do – give it my all, really make this show a huge success because the show deserves it. She deserves it. Her legacy deserves it,” Cox said in a 2016 interview with app.com.

To catch Cox* as Rachel Marron, get tickets for The Bodyguard playing in Morsani Hall March 20-25 here.

*Deborah Cox is not scheduled to perform at the Saturday matinee or Sunday evening performances.

Feel the Love Tonight

Hot onstage kisses from the land of Broadway in honor of Valentine’s Day

Love is often a many-splendored thing on Broadway. Equally often, it is a non-splendored thing (oh, Alexander Hamilton … but we’ll endure that moment next season). And, not quite as often, love is turned inside-out, upside-down and simultaneously ridiculed and held to lofty heights (anyone seen Edward Albee’s The Goat recently?).

In honor of Cupid’s busy day, we’re looking at the Broadway love scenes to look forward to for the rest of this season.

Alert: spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t already seen the shows.

If you read The Color Purple or saw the Whoopi Goldberg film, you know there’s a delicate, daring and sweet little kiss between Shug and Celie as the women embark upon an exploration of their relationship. In the show, it inspires Celie to start the touching duet, “What About Love?”

There’s hardly a 40-something alive who saw Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the movie The Bodyguard who doesn’t remember the scarf-and-sword scene. The sexual tension, well, you could cut with a knife. *Ahem, sword.* So, there’s plenty of tension to spread throughout a musical featuring Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron, who, as you and her bodyguard Frank Carter must discover, has an irresistible charm.

Ahhhhhh … the hills are alive with the sound of Captain Von Trapp finally kissing Maria in The Sound of Music and Carole King’s romantic encounters in Beautiful—the Carole King Musical.

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Some of our other favorite onstage smooches from shows that have played The Straz before include Cinderella

CinderellaTour3135r_Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein_s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

Hayden Stanes and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

…and, of course, what’s more romantic than The Book of Mormon’s duet “Baptize Me”?

Oh, and we can’t forget Elphaba.

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After all, nothing says “I love you” like a tendency to get a little wicked.

The Family Play

Author Alison Bechdel reveals what it was like to see her very personal graphic memoir Fun Home transformed into a Tony®-winning Broadway musical. An exclusive from the Straz Center’s INSIDE magazine.

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Photo: Elena Seibert

In 2015, an innovative, poignant and bold little musical swept the Tony Awards®, netting Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Direction. Something of a dark horse, Fun Home unfurled no epic celebrity life story, no sweeping revival or rollicking adaptation of a hit movie.

It was, however, an impressive musical adaptation of an acclaimed graphic memoir by an underground lesbian icon, Alison Bechdel. The book, which she laboriously constructed from memories, photos and a painstaking illustration process, lays bare (often to pitch-perfect notes of dry humor) the Bechdel family secret – Dad’s unexplained rage and obsessions had a source, one that was very closely tied to Alison’s own sense of identity.

You would think that a story built around a father’s suicide, a funeral home (the “fun home” of the title), the social torture of being gay in a straight world and a woman’s examination of these family dynamics may be a bit dark and heavy. In the case of the musical Fun Home, you’d be wrong. It’s a sweet story of an earnest person’s role in a complicated family, the misfirings of familial love and the awkward stumbling toward an understanding of our true selves. And, there’s a winning homage to “Partridge Family”-style gumption in the face of life’s often overwhelming realities (“Raincoat of Love”).

The Straz Center’s magazine caught up with Alison by phone at her Vermont farm to talk about her creation of Fun Home and then being the observer to Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s adaptation of the book into the award-winning musical.

INSIDE MAGAZINE: Let’s talk a little about you and your cultural thumbprint. It started with your underground hit comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and continued with “The Bechdel Test” about how to spot gender equality in films that came from the comic. Now, these huge works of literary cartooning, Fun Home and Are You My Mother?. How did you get here, to icon status?

ALISON BECHDEL [laughs]: I often ask myself that question! I don’t know. I guess … a strange thing happened in the world of comics. When I graduated in the ‘80s, cartooning was not about a career path. It was kind of a sketchy thing to be doing with your life. I loved writing cartoons about lesbians, this very marginal culture, but I wasn’t thinking about being a success or making money. I was caught up in being a part of this community – especially as someone who had had a traumatic loss in my family [her closeted father’s suicide], and writing comics for this community became a mission for me. I was doing the comic for fun, then a job came out of it, and things happened from there. The big shift happened when people realized that comics weren’t just for kids, that comics could tell really powerful and complicated stories for adults. Attitudes changed with [Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about his father, a Holocaust survivor] Maus. I was able to continue to work and draw because of this shift.

IM: Do you think you’ve come out of the underground with the success of Fun Home the musical? Do you consider yourself mainstream?

AB: No, I don’t consider myself mainstream. Superman is mainstream, so I’m not mainstream in that sense at all. I’m more mainstream than I was though. Yeah, I was a subcultural phenomenon for a long time, writing this soap opera-like comic strip about lesbian friends. Then, when I moved to tell this story about my family and growing up with my father and his sexuality … for whatever reason, that touched a bigger audience than the comic strip.

IM: There are a lot of children who loved fathers who had major unresolved issues and emotional secrets. Perhaps that’s the universal appeal of Fun Home, that it’s a family story that touches on that confusion. In the time between publishing the book and the book’s success, did you suspect the family relationships would be so relatable?

AB: No! I had no idea that was going to happen! It felt like such a particular, idiosyncratic, unique, weird story. I couldn’t imagine who was going to relate to it. I was trying to envision my audience as you’re supposed to when you’re a writer, and I was thinking about the audience for my comic strip. But, they wouldn’t like it because it was too weird … it was asking something else of my reader. So, I decided to write the book for myself. I was my audience. For whatever reason, that thinking paved the road for other people to relate.

IM: In the graphic memoir, you tackle so many deep philosophical questions – who am I?, what does it mean to be me?, what is the true self and what does that have to do with the people who were my mother and father?. In reading the book, we didn’t know so much was going to be demanded of us intellectually. Do you still consider yourself a cartoonist? You seem like so much more than that.

AB: I’d argue that’s what cartoonists do, what cartoons can do. I feel excited and committed to this process of taking these complex internal experiences and rendering them in comics in words and pictures. I want my work to be accessible, and it’s from an inaccessible place, I acknowledge that. But, it’s a good challenge.

IM: With the success of Fun Home and the book about your relationship with your mother, Are You My Mother?, you’ve done it as the artistic, sensitive child. You fulfilled the impossible emotional needs of your parents: you got your dad out of the closet and we all accept him for who he is, and you got your mom on Broadway [she was an actress in Pennsylvania]. How are you feeling about that? Is it a triumph?

AB [laughs]: I never thought of it that way, that’s so funny! I do feel good about it. But, I think if you went back to Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, and asked that same question, you might run across some objections. I’ve talked with many of my parents’ friends, and mostly they’re supportive, even in spite of the personal tolls the works may have taken. I feel really good about the whole project.

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First appeared in New York Magazine – April 6-19, 2015.

IM: So, your very dense, very literary, very enjoyable and gut-wrenching personal story became a hit Broadway musical. That must have been a surreal experience.

AB: I saw it evolving slowly. It wasn’t a Broadway thing at first. It was happening at The Public Theater downtown. After years of development … I hadn’t seen any of it, and my first experience of it was that Lisa and Jeanine sent me a CD of a workshop and a script. So, it was me in my office listening to the CD and reading a script. I hadn’t known what to expect, but it was so moving to have my family brought to life like that. It was a year after that, I saw a workshop of the play. It was really powerful.

IM: When you saw the actors performing you and your family members, how was that experience for you as the real Alison Bechdel?

AB: In a way, I felt like I was getting a taste of my own medicine. [laughs] I’d written about my family all these years, and here I was being turned into a character. Maybe because I am a writer and that transmutation of life into art is something I understand well, I adjusted pretty quickly to it. It wasn’t exactly me, it wasn’t exactly my family … but, it was, in a strange way. These characters captured the essence of who my family was.

IM: The songs in the musical are fantastic. We love “Ring of Keys” and “Changing My Major.” Do you listen to the cast recording as you work, or do you consider the musical version something that belongs to Lisa and Jeanine and you leave it alone?

AB: I feel both of those things. Clearly, the musical is their creation; it belongs to them. I didn’t have anything to do with making it beyond writing the book. But I do love the musical, the soundtrack. I temporarily can’t listen to it … you know, you reach a certain point [and you just have to step away.]

IM: You’ve reached your super-saturation point?

AB: Yeah, but I listened to it like a million times before I reached that saturation point. And, I listened to so many versions of the songs. There were so many beautiful songs that got cut along the way.

IM: I heard Lisa and Jeanine scrapped song after song. We would have wanted to quit after writing so many songs that didn’t get used. They didn’t seem daunted, though.

AB: I know. I cannot imagine working the way they do, that sort of collaborating with so many different people, so many moving parts. It seems impossible to me. The key is to be ready to scrap your stuff and start over. They could do that over and over again.

IM: Lisa and Janine seem to be as powerful in their milieus as you are in yours. They seem to be the exact right team to have turned your memoir into a musical. One of the great successes of the show is that homosexuality is treated as just a place you come from, like the Midwest. No morality, no agenda. It just is. What do you make of Lisa and Jeanine’s achievement with your text?

AB: We’re all the same basic age, the same generation. Lisa and I grew up as part of that movement that was making that change [regarding homosexuality] happen. So, part of it is that’s where we all came from. I also feel like what made their adaptation so spot on was that they were willing to approach the whole project fresh. They completely made it their own by going through a lot of the same processes I had to go through to tell the story in the first place. To be open to the material, to not make a foregone conclusion as to how it’s supposed to be. They could hold it but not impose a shape on it. That’s part of what took so long developing the musical.

IM: It’s an incredible adaptation. You can’t try to adapt a graphic memoir as a graphic memoir to the stage because musicals require a different set of skills. What you were able to accomplish with images and words, they could do with music and lyrics. The same tension was created.

AB: That’s really good insight. There’s a way comics and the musical form are similar. It’s so rare there’s a good movie adaptation of a book … to have a great movie made from a great book is rare because the needs of a novel and a movie are opposed. Lisa and Jeanine found a way to put the story on to great effect.

IM: We can’t wait for the show to get here. We’re really excited for our community to see it. Is there anything that you would like to say to an audience member who may not be familiar with you or with your work but who likes musicals and is going to be in the audience?

AB: One thing I would say is … I don’t want to step on anyone’s experience of the play before they see it. But, I do want to assure people that this play is about a funeral home, a family that is, in some ways, unhappy, and even though there’s a suicide in it … somehow, it manages to be a very uplifting and often very funny play.

Fun Home plays in Morsani Hall Nov. 28 – Dec. 3.

 

Stage Magic

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens on Broadway on April 22, 2018. But if you want tickets, you must register first (here’s why). Online registration opens this Sunday, Oct. 1.

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The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (Photo: Charlie Gray)

One of the most enduring cultural phenomena of our time is the wizarding world conjured up by British author J.K. Rowling. From the best-selling novels to the blockbuster movies to the beloved theme park attraction, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and the delightful crew of quirky Quidditch-loving characters have captured our hearts, minds and pocketbooks.

As fine purveyors of the performing arts, we are happy to see the eighth installment of the Harry Potter series apparates not on the pages of a book but on the stages of London and New York (and, accio!, on stages all over the world like, say, here—keep the summoning spells happening, Potterfans.) In 2016, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered on London’s West End, transporting audiences to Rowling’s magic world where Harry has a desk job, Hermione is Minister of Magic, Ron owns a shop on Diagon Alley and their children carry the legacy of the fateful turn of events that culminated in the Battle of Hogwarts. But the story isn’t about our favorite trio—not this time. This time, we’re taken on an adventure with Harry and Ginny’s second son, Albus Potter, and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy. Yes: Malfoy.

Albus and Scorpius

Harry’s son, Albus, and his new friend, Scorpius Malfoy. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

What’s it going to be like seeing the Potters, Weasleys and company playing out this epic tale of Albus Severus Potter in real time? Well, if the nine 2017 Olivier Awards the show won after its London premier are any indication, we’re gonna go with bloody brilliant, mate. The Lyric Theater in New York, where the show opens this spring, invested in a complete remodeling to accommodate the specifics of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If that’s not confidence in the return-on-investment, we don’t know what is.

Rowling conceived of the story with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. Thorne wrote the manuscript, and when all was said and done, the tale—like the books—wove in and out of an epic battle of cause-and-effect so tremendous that the whole show is broken into two parts, à la The Deathly Hallows. Both parts run more than two hours with patrons buying consecutive shows, either seeing both parts on the same day or on two consecutive nights.

Without giving too much away, the story takes place 19 years after the final scene in The Deathly Hallows, with Harry and Ginny sending their son Albus Severus off to Hogwarts as a first year. Albus meets one Scorpius Malfoy, and they become buds after the surprise sorting of Albus into Slytherin. To boot, something funky is afoot as Harry’s lightning scar starts a-tingling again after almost 20 years of stillness since the Battle of Hogwarts. The events surrounding the untimely death of Cedric Diggory are involved, as is a Time Turner and the rather realistic, humdrum adult lives of Harry, Hermione and Ron. The father-son tension between Harry and Albus sparks Albus’s rash decision to send their lives into another (unknown at the time, of course) headlong plunge into the plans of He Who Must Not Be Named.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Emma Watson as she described seeing the show and how she felt watching another actor portray Hermione as a full-grown adult:

Since we’re more likely to get tickets to Hamilton than the Cursed Child, we’re happy that the first installment of the Potter empire, The Sorcerer’s Stone, arrives in movie-with-live-music form this weekend at The Straz. The Florida Orchestra plays the score live as we watch the movie, which should be a most wonderful experience in honor of the Potter tales morphing from page to stage.

Predictably, The Sorcerer’s Stone shows are almost sold out, but if you want to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone during the Saturday matinee, there are a few seats available.

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