Flower Crowns and Revolutionaries

Review: The Secret Society of Leading Ladies, Barn Theatre

 RATING: ★★★★★

The Barn Theatre has been one of the best sources of theatre content during the pandemic as they continue to come up with inventive ways to offer shows online. In perhaps their most creative project yet, their latest show is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure concert: "The Secret Society of Leading Ladies." Conceived of and directed by Ryan Carter, it lets the audience put together their own concert line-up as they go and choose from lots of different types of leading lady characters. 

So how does it work? The audience will see five different "Choose Your Player" screens as they navigate through the concert that allows you to choose a character and song. There are fourteen different performances in the concert lineup, allowing for 150 different combinations, before a finale with all fourteen performers. There are also cute interactions between the characters in between songs. The concert lasts for about a half hour and while I would happily have watched more, it makes sure you never get tired of the format. 

The songs come from shows ranging from "Mean Girls" to "The Wizard of Oz" to "Fame." You can choose to hear some of your favorite songs or discover something new that you've not heard before. (I consider myself a pretty intense musical theatre fan and there were still a couple that I wasn't familiar with.) 

Aisha Jawando's "Last Midnight" from "Into the Woods" absolutely floored me not just with her great vocals, but also her fantastic acting choices. I love Aoife Clesham's rendition of one of my favorite songs, "The History of Wrong Guys" from "Kinky Boots." 

Jarnéia Richard-Noel's "I Didn't Plan It" from "Waitress" was another highlight for me, especially as someone who has seen the show but doesn't listen to the cast album and had sort of forgotten about the song. I also love Jocasta Almgill's absolutely electric "Everybody's Girl" from "Steel Pier," a show that I had never heard of before. 

All in all, there isn't a single bad performance as all the women nail their songs and their characters. The show is also very impressively put together, with each singer performing on a stage with a brick background that really does lend a concert feel. The videography by Jamie Scott-Smith is stellar, as is the editing by Ben Evans and sound engineering by Harry Smith.  I also especially love that each woman wears an outfit inspired by the character she's portraying. 

You can buy a one-show ticket and watch the concert through once or you can buy a multi-show ticket that allows you to watch the concert again and choose different performances. I absolutely love how creative this idea is and I'd love to see the Barn Theatre do a "Secret Society of Leading Men" concert next.  

For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Barn Theatre website. "The Secret Society of Leading Ladies" runs until March 7. 

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

Top Five Books I Read in 2020

My end of year posts are obviously coming a bit late this year, but I still wanted to write them -- for reference for myself next year, if nothing else. I very much failed in my reading goals in 2020, but I enjoyed the nine books that I did read. Plus, I've already read three books in 2021, so things are looking up. 

Here are my five favorite books that I read in 2020, in no particular order. 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 

I've been meaning to read Rebecca for many years, but wanting to read it before the new film adaptation came out finally pushed me to do it. This Gothic romance is incredibly gripping and very haunting. I found the characters to be so intriguing and the way that it essentially crafts a ghost story without any actual ghosts to be so fascinating. I wasn't expecting that it's a very interesting class commentary as well. I also discussed Rebecca on Next Best Picture's Next Best Adaptation podcast, which I managed this past year. 

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

This is exactly the sort of book that I like to read in between more serious books: a cute romance that still has well-developed characters and deals with topics other than just the romance. Our Stop is really adorable and I found the characters easy to relate to. The only issue for me is that it's set in London and it's very English -- which meant that I cried several times while reading it because I miss London so much! 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I was obsessed with The Hunger Games trilogy when I was in high school, but I wasn't too excited about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. However, my little sister insisted that I read it and I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. Suzanne Collins is a very smart writer and I loved how she weaved different (mostly Enlightenment) theories about the nature of humans and society into the book. I think this is my favorite villain backstory book (or movie) that I've ever read. 

In the Time We Lost by Carrie Hope Fletcher

I'm a big fan of Carrie Hope Fletcher's books, especially as someone who enjoys magical realism. In the Time We Lost broke my heart a bit but also was very thought-provoking. I loved the setting of a small Scottish town and felt like I was whisked away despite being in quarantine. Both this and the 2020 movie Palm Springs have plots similar to Groundhog Day, which I think is also more fitting than ever during a pandemic where your days blend together because you can't do much. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I started off the year by rereading one of my favorite books of all time. I've read Little Women so many times that my copy is practically falling apart and revisiting it felt like catching up with an old friend. It gave me an even greater appreciation for Greta Gerwig's 2019 film adaptation (my favorite movie of all time) which I went to see one last time in the movie theater after finishing my reread. So much of who I am as a person comes from me identifying with and idolizing both Jo and Meg March when I was young. 

What were your favorite books you read in 2020? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. You can also follow my book-themed Instagram account. x

Looking Back on a Year of Starry

There are a handful of musical theatre albums that can make me cry even though I've listened to them a hundred times. After listening to it for a year, I can confirm that "Starry" joins the likes of "Les Misèrables" and "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in having a finale that will suddenly make me tear up out of the blue, no matter how many times I've heard it. 

The concept album for the new musical about Vincent and Theo van Gogh was released in January of 2020 and the deluxe physical CD was released just before Christmas. Last March, I wrote a review of the album, but watching the recent listening party on YouTube with the writers and some of the cast made me want to revisit it. 

Revisit writing about it, that is. I can honestly say that a week hasn't passed since the album's release that I haven't listened to it. When my best friend Lexi told me about the album just before it was released, I couldn't have conceptualized how important it would become to me. 

One of the last shows that I saw before coronavirus hit and shut down theatre was the "Mean Girls" national tour with Mariah Rose Faith as Regina. At the time, I was loving her vocals as Jo Bonger and was so excited to see her live. 

In April, I asked Lexi if she'd want to watch a StarKid show together over Skype since she's a fan and I'd never seen any of them. (What was I doing in high school? I have no idea.) Over the next couple of months, I ended up watching all of their shows and it was so exciting to see actors that I was familiar with on the "Starry" album like Dylan Saunders, Jeff Blim, Mariah Rose Faith, and Lauren Lopez in other shows. (I'm even now a patron of Lauren's on Patreon.) 

Matt Dahan and Kelly Lynn D'Angelo's music and lyrics have truly been the saving grace of my quarantine. The album helped pull me out of some quarantine-induced existential crises and was what I comforted myself with when I was in pain from a sudden small surgery I had in November. It's the thing that has encouraged me to continue to push myself as an artist, to dare to actually call myself "a writer," and even to foray back into creative writing after many years. 

The more I listen to this album, the more I find to appreciate in it, from musical motifs to small acting choices I hadn't noticed before. The way in which Kelly managed to weave in so many references to van Gogh's and Gauguin's art is amazing. I got a biography of Vincent and Theo for Christmas and I'm very excited to read it and find out all of the actual historical things that Kelly was able to include. 

In some ways, it's weird to think that there was a time before I knew "Starry." For me, the best shows are the ones that feel both fresh and exciting and somehow impossibly familiar when you discover them. I now consider "Starry" to be one of my top five favorite musicals of all time and I look forward to a day post-quarantine when I hopefully will get to see it onstage. 

My friends and family are likely very tired of hearing me talk about "Starry," but it's one of those shows that I knew was special as soon as I heard it but have only realized after a year with it just how magnificent it is. As a historian and an art history lover, having a musical that recognizes both Vincent van Gogh's brilliance and Theo van Gogh's work as well is so important to me. Despite the current state of theatre, I have high hopes that the show will have a long future and introduce many to its beautiful story, music, and lyrics. As the line goes, "Even in the dark, the road is bright." 

My Goals for 2021

Now that I've provided an update on my 2020 goals, it's time to share my goals for this year. Instead of vague New Year's Resolutions, I like to set concrete goals that can be checked off throughout the year.

1. Watch 100 movies.

This is one of the handful of goals that I'm repeating from last year. For this number, I only count films that I haven't seen before though they can be new releases or older movies.

2. Get a tattoo. 

I wanted to get my first tattoo in 2020, but then Covid happened and I wasn't able to. I'm hoping that things improve enough that I can in 2021! 

3. See 50 shows.

Whether virtually or in person, I'd like to try to see fifty shows this year. It might be a challenge, but I especially want to push myself to watch more of BroadwayHD and National Theatre at Home's offerings. 

4. Work out at least twice a month. 

This is a goal that I set last year that worked for me. It's low enough to account for having weeks where I'm very busy or might not be feeling well, but still pushes me to get moving. And of course, the hope is that I'll do much more. 

5. Watch (and rank) every Saoirse Ronan movie.

A couple of years ago, I watched every Lily James movie in twelve months and last year, I wanted to do the same for Saoirse Ronan. I didn't end up getting around to it, so I thought it would be a fun 2021 project! 

6. Read 15 books. 

This past year, I only read nine books (though I'm halfway through three going into the new year). I definitely want to up my game this year and read more. To inspire me to read more, I've started a book-stagram account, that will also double as a place for me to post history content. 

7. Do a salonnières blog series.

This is another goal that's been hanging around for a few years, but I'm determined to do it this year. Plus, I can do an Instagram series to go along with it on my new account. 

8. Watch the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

I'm ashamed to say that I've never made it all the way through the BBC Pride and Prejudice series. It's something that's on my "30 Before 30" list of goals and I'd like to check it off this year. 

9. Make six YouTube videos. 

I want to get back into making YouTube content this year because I actually really miss it and I have lots of ideas for videos I can make. I don't want to put too much pressure on myself though, so I'm setting a low goal. But I also might be starting a joint YouTube channel with a friend...

10. Reach 700 followers on TikTok. 

This is a little bit of a silly goal, but it's to indicate that I want to continue to make and improve my content on TikTok. I currently have 470 followers, so 700 is ambitious but not unreasonable. 

What are your goals for 2021? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. x

An Update on My 2020 Goals

Now that 2020 has come to a close, it's time to reflect on my goals from this past year and give an update on how I did. I'm actually very proud of what I managed to accomplish in 2020 despite what a strange year it turned out to be. Some of my goals I had to adapt and some of them I utterly failed at. But hey...I can always blame it being a garbage fire year for that. 

One. Watch 100 movies.

I definitely accomplished this one! I watched a lot of movies that came out in 2020 and also caught up on a lot of movies that I hadn't seen before from previous years. I'll do a proper Top Ten list at some point (as well as my personal film awards), but my three favorite new movies this year were Summerland, Promising Young Woman, and Wolfwalkers

Two. Visit five new historic sites. 

This is one that I didn't get to do because of the pandemic. I had great plans to see new historic sites in North Carolina, New York City, England, and Ireland but...alas. I did get to see one new site (the Burgwin-Wright House in Wilmington, NC) and I virtually toured the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. 

Three. Read 12 books. 

I'm ashamed to say that I only read nine books this year, though I do have three books that I'm about halfway through right now. I reread one of my favorites (Little Women) and read some new ones I loved (Rebecca and The Ballad of Songbird and Snakes). I read a lot of articles and reviews and did a lot of writing even if I didn't make it through that many books. 

Four. Do a blog series based on my undergraduate thesis. 

Another year, another failed intention to do this blog series. But I'm determined to make it happen in 2021! I did succeed in making more history content for this blog this year. 

Five. Put money aside into my savings. 

I'm happy that I got started on this early in the year before the world fell apart. I was lucky enough to have a job throughout the year and was able to put money in my savings that made me feel more secure and means I can do some traveling once we're able to again. 

Six. See 30 shows. 

Obviously, I didn't see thirty shows in person because of...the pandemic. I saw six shows before things shut down (my last one was the Les Mis tour), but then I decided to change this goal into seeing twenty-four more filmed productions of plays or musicals or live readings. I saw so many great ones from seeing a filmed production of my beloved The Grinning Man to watching all twelve StarKid musicals for the first time. 

Seven. Work out at least twice a month. 

I'm counting this one as a success because I worked out twice a month for eleven months of the year (and more than that most months). In November, I ended up getting a small surgery that meant that I was pretty sedentary and only got in one workout. In 2020, I rediscovered dance and had the best time doing lots of Broadway 567 and YouTube videos from James Tolbert. 

Eight. Earn money from my writing. 

I managed to achieve this in March! I now write for two paid outlets, which I'm very proud of. I wrote a Twitter thread of my favorite articles that I wrote this year if you'd like to check them out. 

Nine. Cook three meals in my Instant Pot. 

I only cooked three different meals, but I did one of them several times. I made an excellent beef stew, a great Mexican chicken soup, and a very nice chicken & rice. 

Ten. Read War and Peace

Here's another goal that was a complete failure. I'll achieve it one day. 

Check back soon for my ten 2021 goals! 

Review: The Snow Queen, New Wolsey Theatre

One classic British Christmas tradition that we don't have here in the United States is going to see a panto. Pantos (short for pantomimes) are musical comedies aimed at families that are popular during the holiday season. I made a video a few years ago, when I lived in London and saw my first panto, talking about the tradition and what the shows are typically like.  

Obviously, pantos look a little different this year if they're happening at all. The New Wolsey Theatre is having their production of The Snow Queen available both in person and digitally. It's a great way for those in the UK who don't live nearby or can't go out in public to see the show, but it also opens it up to international audiences. If you're an American who's curious about panto, this is a great way to experience it.

The Snow Queen by Peter Rowe is a fairytale story using rock 'n' roll music. It includes lots of older songs that you will recognize like "I'm Gonna Be," "I Can See Clearly Now," and "Ring of Fire." Both costuming and performances are fun and over the top, as is befitting for a panto. 

It's a smaller cast than you would normally expect, but they do a great job of playing multiple roles. The actors also play instruments and double as the band. The show makes the most of a minimal set and uses screens onstage to occasionally show pre-filmed video montages. It's a clever way of giving the in-person audience a full experience while also presenting something to the online audience that feels like more than a traditional livestream. 

The Snow Queen is a story about two young sweethearts, Gerda (Lucy Wells) and Kay (Adam Langstaff). But romance is also brewing for Gerda's father (also played by Adam Langstaff) and Kay's mother, Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord (Steve Simmonds). When the Snow Queen (Natasha Lewis) and her minion Icicle (James Haggie) kidnap Kay, Gerda must find a way to get him back.

While they all have lovely voices, Wells is particularly charming as Gerda. Lewis shines both as the Snow Queen and as Primrose. Simmonds does an excellent job at getting the audience laughing and throwing himself whole-heartedly into the role of Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord. 

As intense as the story sounds, it's really more silly than scary and perfect for younger children despite the somewhat adult humor of Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord (which would likely go over their heads). A large part of the panto experience is audience interaction and the New Wolsey has done a great job of building that in, even for a digital audience. 

On the digital stream, you occasionally are shown the in-person audience, who are wearing masks and distanced within the theater. There is a section towards the beginning in which the Dame talks directly to the audience, cracking jokes and doing shoutouts that have been sent in. They also let you vote online to name the hammer (you have to see it to understand) during the interval. 

While it's not the same as being there in person, it's a great way to adapt it to 2020. The show opens with messages from different panto dames, counting down to the show starting. And once the show starts, they don't dance around Covid either -- addressing it in jokes head-on. 

Whether you watch it by yourself, with your family, or watch it at the same time as a friend or loved one that you're physically separated from, The Snow Queen is a fun way to get into the holiday spirit.

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: Mike Kwasniak

Taking a Look at the Letter Library

It's perhaps not surprising that letters are one of my favorite things considering my love for history. I adore the letters that I send back and forth with my friends, the letters that I used in my thesis research on salonnières, and the letters that inspire musicals like Starry. So when I was contacted to ask if I would like to review the Letter Library, I was so excited. It's a fantastic historical letter subscription service and I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it before. 

If you sign up for the Letter Library, you get two letters per month from interesting historical figures sent straight to your mailbox. There's a lot of variety in the letters chosen as they span different time periods, places, and cultures, but are all from recognizable names. You also receive a synopsis that shares some of the context of the letter. You can sign up for $12 a month or subscribe in packages of three, six, or twelve months. They also have a free email newsletter. 

The letters come in lovely brown envelopes that make it feel like you're actually receiving a letter in the mail. There's also a postcard that accompanies your first letter, as seen above. The letters are designed to match the period that they are from with different fonts and colors of paper. If the letter is printed in a cursive font, there is also a transcript to go with it which is definitely helpful. 

I received four letters for the purposes of review, which ranged from the comical to the historically significant. They were from Albert Einstein, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Abigail Adams letter was the one containing the famous "Remember the ladies" line and it was amazing to get to read it within the context of the full letter. My favorite, however, was the Mozart one in which he discussed his deafness. 

As a primary source, letters are one of the best ways to learn about history. They're able to give you small details that you might not get when reading about a topic and make historical figures seem more relatable and understandable. I've always found that reading letters helps me contextualize historical figures as actual people, rather than just symbols or concepts. 

It's hard to remember to go out of your way to read a new bit of history every month. I certainly often forget to, despite my best intentions. What makes the Letter Library so great is that it delivers history straight to your mailbox in an easily digestible format. I would highly recommend this service to anyone who wants to make sure they're regularly engaging with history and it would also be a great Christmas present if you have a friend or family member who enjoys historical letters. 

For more information or to sign up, visit the Letter Library website.

Review: Peter Pan, Barn Theatre

RATING: ★★★★

In this time of theaters where I live being closed, watching theatre digitally has become more important to me than ever. So I was thrilled when I was offered to review the Barn Theatre's new production of Peter Pan, a new play based on a favorite story of mine. I recently wrote about What a Carve Up!, an online production that the Barn Theatre was part of and it's clear that they are one of the best theaters in the UK right now at creating online content. 

This new version of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan is a one man show starring Waylon Jacobs. Adapted by Alan Pollock and directed by Kirk Jameson, the show follows a man recreating his daughter's favorite bedtime story while on a video call with her from a hotel room. It's a creative way to stage the piece and it's impressive how much of the tale they are able to fit into a runtime of an hour, including direct references to and lines from Barrie's original work. The play does make a few changes to the story, including changing the "Indians" to the more appropriate "Amazons." 

Georgia Dibbs provides the adorable voice of the daughter who goads her father into a more extravagant telling of the tale, insisting, "Aren't you going to do the voices?" As the story unfolds, the staging becomes more elaborate with the hotel room set adapting itself to different places. The projections of drawings, designed by Benjamin Collins, are a very nice touch. The show is recommended for children age six and older and while it might be too intense for younger children, it's definitely perfect for school-age kids. 

Harry Smith's sound design, particularly the blending of the rain sounds in the beginning, is also impressive. If watching online as I did, you'll be seeing a livestream of the show rather than something pre-recorded. While it means that there is less flashy editing than in some filmed theatre productions, there are still multiple camera angles and it better recreates the feeling of being in a theater. 

Jacobs is very engaging and maintains a high energy throughout the show. It's admirable how he manages to carry it, without anyone else onstage. He also has a genuinely moving moment towards the end of the play that stopped me in my tracks.  This is a lovely new version of Peter Pan, sure to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. 

Peter Pan runs until January 3 at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester. Those seeing the show in person will be required to wear a face mask, have their temperature checked, and sit socially distanced. For more information or to buy tickets, visit the Barn Theatre website

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: Eve Dunlap 

Ranking Every Star Wars Movie (A Guest Post by Hannah Ackman)

One of my greatest achievements of 2020 is that it's the year I finally managed to get my 17-year-old sister properly into Star Wars. One of her quarantine projects was watching all of the Star Wars movies (now that they're conveniently on Disney+) and she asked if she could do a ranking of the films on the blog. You might recognize Hannah from her previous guest posts on Amy March and Captain Marvel.  

During quarantine, I decided to watch all of the Star Wars movies, most of them for the first time. As I watched, I took notes and ranked them based on what I consider to be the most important qualities in a movie. Keep in mind that I am only seventeen years old, and while I am an avid movie-watcher, I ultimately just watch them for fun. 

First, you should know that I am clearly a sequels girl and Rey is my favorite character. I try to appreciate the older style and Anakin saves the prequels. The originals don’t hold a nostalgic place in my heart because I didn’t grow up watching them. Also, know that this ranking changes constantly for me, seeing as I watch about one Star Wars movie a week, so this is the most concrete I could make it. 

1) The Force Awakens (2015)

Honestly, this is such a masterpiece from the self-baking bread to the droids to the parallels drawn from the originals. It is Rey’s introduction, but we also meet Finn and Poe who are the single most iconic duo in the entire series. I strongly support Poe and Finn (“Keep it, it looks better on you”) because WHO DOESN’T? The feminism is unmatched with Rey and Leia, yet it isn’t forced. BB8 is my favorite droid (I even have a custom droid I made in Batuu named after him) and he gives this film the edge it needs to be at the top of my list. 

Additionally, this movie was the first Star Wars movie I ever saw, and it is what inspired me to watch all the others. It is my second most-watched Star Wars movie and I cannot imagine putting it anywhere except in first place. 

2) Rogue One (2016)

This is my most-watched Star Wars film and probably second most-watched film ever. Jyn is such an icon, especially when paired with Cassian (the most feminist man in the universe). There is heat, action, droids, and friendship, creating my ideal movie. The group of men (including Cassian) who fly and work on the ship are so iconic; they are just a gang having fun. The scene at the end with Darth Vader deserves a mention because it has such beautiful effects and high tension, but it is the perfect introduction to our villain and ties into the originals. 

3) The Last Jedi (2017)

What needs to be said other than I love Kylo Ren and the "force Skypes" are just so incredible to me. Don’t hate me, but I do not like Luke Skywalker. He has no loyalty, no passion, and quite frankly is rude to Rey. The scene at the end between Rey and Kylo saves the movie and is a large reason it got such a high ranking on my list. 

4) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The best of the originals, this movie has a lot of character building and iconic scenes. I love Lando personally, but the incest between Luke and Leia really bothered me having had that spoiled when I was a child. I have to appreciate the special effects for their timelessness and the vintage feel they give the movie; it might be more impressive than those used today simply because it was harder to execute. 

5) Revenge of the Sith (2005)

While I adore Padme for her resourcefulness and wit, the camaraderie between Obi-Wan and Anakin really shines in this movie. I was clearly emotional during this movie; my notes say things like “where you gonna hide that baby” and “I’m SO SAD”. Chewie’s cameo was a welcome surprise because it added a nice touch to lead into the originals. The worst part of this movie is how Padme’s character is ruined by making her seem so weak and helpless. The Padme from the first two prequels is simply not the same character whatsoever, and she would be embarrassed what they do to her in this one. 

Unpopular opinion: I hate Yoda. I think he ruins the impact of every moment because of the way he talks, his screeching nails SENT ME, and he looks like a kale gnocchi from Trader Joe’s. This animation of Yoda is also at the bottom (puppet Yoda is much better), but the effects overall are the worst out of all the movies (“that lava ain’t it”). 

The real thing that makes this movie stand out is the amazing chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman and between Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. I do have to disagree with the ending though because there is utterly no way Obi-Wan Kenobi would have sent away the twins; he would have become their uncle and raised them as his own. It’s not up for argument. A show of its excellence is that the moment I finished it, I rewinded it and watched it again…I have since seen it four times. 

6) Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Only a few seconds into the movie, I started disliking it over a tiny detail: the weird text. Why is it blue? Why doesn’t it scroll? Anyways, the part with Chewie was my favorite because it is just so cute. I found myself really bothered that it wasn’t Harrison Ford, although I realize that it would have been impossible to use him. My Lando obsession was satisfied, especially with the line “the grown-ups are talking." What. An. Icon. Qi’ra is very pretty and another strong female lead who, honestly, I found boring until the end. L3 takes the place of my second favorite droid because of her snarky comments about women’s rights. Not a movie I would watch every day or even once a month, but will I watch it again someday? Yes, without a doubt. 

7) A New Hope (1977)

I have mixed feelings on this movie because while I realize it is a classic, I find it very boring. However, I do like some of the characters from the originals such as Han and Leia. Han is a classic cocky pilot (do I have a type?) who is too charming to be good. In the originals overall, I hate every single scene with Jabba the Hutt because not only is he a sexist slug thing, but also I have to read subtitles (way too much work). While I would watch it again just for the little moments that are cute, I would never choose this over some of the other Star Wars movies. 

8) Attack of the Clones (2002)

There is so much good in this: the costuming, the iconic line about sand, Padme’s weirdly good climbing skills, but I have so many questions. Why does Anakin have a tiny braid? Why can R2D2 all the sudden fly? Did Padme’s shirt just disappear? Fett’s child really annoyed me, to the point I physically wanted to scream. The battle is far too long, in my opinion, but honestly I liked it. Padme is a strong female lead, she is a good political leader, and she is shown as being very capable. I finally understood everyone’s obsession with Obi-Wan, and I would watch again solely to see the scene where all three of them are tied up in the arena. 

9) The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

I will not deny being a very avid Kylo Ren fan, so it is no wonder that this movie ranked so low on my list. There were so many issues, I don’t think I can even cover them all. The ending lost major points, primarily because the filmmakers revealed that they had a different cut originally. All that pain was for nothing and I blame J.J. Abrams. Pro-tip: just stop the movie with 17:31 minutes left. 

Most of my problems come from bad decisions regarding diversity. Poe Dameron is previously shown as the Han-type of man who is cocky but also charming and sweet, not to mention him being the first major Star Wars Latino character. That being said, does absolutely anyone know why they decided to make him a “spice-runner”, practically the most disrespectful thing they could have done? They didn’t stop at the ruin of one POC character though, they had to also try to erase Rose’s presence and her entire plot line that was built in The Last Jedi. Without a doubt, they went for important fan moments such as the force ghosts in the temple (even including Ahsoka!) and a cameo from Lando Calrissian. Overall, I try to pretend this movie didn’t happen and I have only watched it twice (once in theaters, once for this article). 

10) Return of the Jedi (1983)

I said it already, but I’ll say it again: I HATE JABBA THE HUTT. This movie only heightened my hatred as not only did I have to go through the work of reading subtitles, but he is sexually abusing Leia. Another note on that scene is that I felt very let down by the entire sequence. I had heard about the iconic gold-bikini scene on other TV shows and on social media, but I felt very uncomfortable and underwhelmed. Yes, Leia is beautiful, but she looks awkward and I’m sure Carrie Fisher hated filming it. Han continues to improve, and in this movie, he has total Mamma Mia vibes. I don’t know how to explain it, but he does. They show Luke “turning to the dark side”, but I didn’t believe it for a second because it is so out of character for him. As much as I hate older Luke, young Luke is soft and cute. Overall, I like the bears, but I do not plan on ever watching this again. 

11) The Phantom Menace (1999)

Finally, we have reached the last film on my list. One I hope to never watch again, my apologies to Qui-Gon Jinn who is only featured in this one movie. The effects are terrible, Jar Jar Binks makes me want to slam my head into a wall, and it’s far too political compared to the rest of the franchise. I viewed it as more of a children’s film in the language used, yet it was very boring during their long political discussions. It wasn’t all bad though: tiny Anakin is perfect, my man Darth Maul tries to run over a random child in the desert, and they imply that Anakin is basically Jesus since he was born to a virgin mother. Overall, this film is embodied by one of my notes that I don’t remember even writing: “umm no”. 

These eleven movies are so special to three generations, and it’s insane how important they have become in my life just over the past eight months. I cannot wait to visit Batuu Galaxy’s Edge again and understand everything Disney has done to make it perfectly represent the world from the films. I also plan on watching Clone Wars, The Mandalorian, and other Star Wars content that is produced in the upcoming years. Most excitingly, both Nicole and I are asking for lightsabers for Christmas this year, so expect spinning content coming after December 25th. 

By Hannah Ackman

Interview: TYLER TAFOLLA, Seasons: A New Musical Song-Cycle

Tyler Tafolla is a performer, director, and musical theatre writer with experience working in New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego. He has recently released a concept album for his new song cycle musical, Seasons

To start off, how did you first become interested in musical theatre?

When I was eight years old and they realized I wasn’t doing great in sports, my parents put me into the local youth theatre company. I don’t remember this, but my mom says right after the audition, I told her, “I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.” I grew up doing theatre and watching a healthy diet of Disney and Spielberg and movie musicals. I think we rented out the VHS of Mary Martin’s Peter Pan from the library every week. 

I was never truly trained until I went to college, but I had a huge passion for it growing up. I didn’t really take voice lessons or do the usual stuff that kids who eventually do this do. I was just a sponge and I loved the medium. In high school, I was really into Spielberg and I didn’t know if I wanted to get into movies or if I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to do something within the arts and within the medium of telling stories. I loved storytelling and characters and when you fall in love with a character more than anything. I ended up going to college for musical theatre at AMDA and got my BFA in Musical Theatre. My world kind of led me to this point where now I’m writing and doing stuff full time with musicals which is so awesome. 

What made you start writing?

In high school, I was writing little skits and sketches for my friends to do and making home movies because we were bored. My senior year of high school, they were looking to do a new musical and I, being the ballsy teenager I was back then, asked if they’d do it if someone wrote something original. I had this idea in the back of my head already for a story and I was like, “Yeah I’ll just turn this into a musical.” I was totally fearless! 

I finished the first draft of my first musical and it was really bad, but it was finished. They were like, “We’re going in a different direction,” and I think they did Fiddler or something. But I had this first draft of this musical in my back pocket. The show is called Scott Robbins and the Traveling Show and I’ve produced and done stuff with it since. 

They have a program at AMDA, where I did my four year BFA, called The Student Vision. You can pitch original musicals to this board of faculty and staff. If they like it, they’ll let you put up your musical. It’s all student-led, student-directed, with student actors. So halfway through college, I thought, I have this crappy first draft that has really good potential, I think I should do something with it. I wanted to find a way to stand out from the crowd because a lot of the teachers and staff were working professionals. As those in college for musical theatre know, there’s a lot of us and there were a lot of boys at that time that looked exactly like me, but sang and danced a lot better than me. 

At that point at AMDA, no one had done a fully finished musical; they’d done a song cycle or fifteen minutes of a show. So I thought I’d do the first fully finished totally original musical. A year after I first heard about the program, I’d finished a new draft of the script and all new songs. I pitched it to them and they liked it. I eventually workshopped it all the way to doing a two weekend run at AMDA with this show that had been in my head since high school. 

I kind of fell into becoming a writer. I was originally just going to do the book and get someone else to do the music and lyrics. Then, I thought I would do the music and get someone else to do lyrics. I kept trying to get people to help me work on this and eventually it got to a point where I needed to finish it because no one else was going to do it for me. It became this sort of mission of mine, if you will, just to finish it because I believe in the story and the characters I’ve created. 

Can you share a bit about Seasons

Seasons is a new musical song cycle. It’s about six friends who, within the span of six years, go within all the big milestone seasons of their life: high school, college, marriage, divorce, jobs, careers, kids. It hits all the big marks in their life. A lot of the characters go through spouts of asking, “Why do seasons have to change? Why can’t we just stay the same?” It’s about kids becoming adults, learning why having seasons of their lives is a good thing. They learn throughout the span of it that we as humans don’t always have control over our lives and where our lives go. But after the good and the bad happen, we have the choice of where we can go from there. 

It’s been a fun labor of love. I had little melodies that I’ve written here and there during my time in college that I’d never really used. After pitching the other show, Scott Robbins, over the years to different theaters and venues, I wanted to do something smaller with a smaller cast of three girls and three guys that didn't need a lot of set pieces. 

I’m really inspired by people by Jason Robert Brown and Pasek and Paul and I saw that they started off doing song cycles. So I wanted to dip my feet in that and doing something that was nonlinear was a fun little challenge. We were going to perform it earlier this summer in 2020, but because of everything...that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, around March when all this went down, I thought to myself, I have all of these songs finished and I want to do something with them. I want everyone to have a new musical to listen to this year even though Broadway closed. I thought I’d just turn it into a concept album, stream it online, and make it a fundraiser because Broadway and everyone are struggling right now.

We premiered it on October 15. I got a couple of artists that are pretty well known in the theatre community like Mariah Rose Faith, Desi Oakley, and Adante Carter. They were all totally into it and wanted to be a part of it. I just wanted to give people something to look forward to still within this weird year and something that they can jam out in the car to. 

What were your musical influences for Seasons?

The sound of the show is very inspired by the music I was listening to in high school. You’ve got stuff that sounds like Billy Joel, The Cure, Mumford & Sons, and Green Day. It hits the greatest hits of what Tyler was listening to back then, and I still listen to it now. I think it was Lin Manuel Miranda who said that the music that will be the most important to you is what you were listening to in high school. So if you were to put in Tyler’s mix CD from high school, this is the kind of sound that would come out of it. It’s a nice mix of fun stuff you can rock out to and songs you can get really introspective and heavy with.

What was recording a concept album during a pandemic like? 

It was nuts, but it was awesome though! Most of my contact with people was through either social media or email. I didn’t see anyone in person during that time, except my girlfriend Megan [Kuramoto-Monroe] who is on the album and is living with me. The only other person I saw was Mariah who came down for us to shoot the music video, socially distanced. 

I sent everyone the tracks and told them the feel of the song and the style and said, “Have at it! Go wild with it, be free, have fun.” I sent them the sheet music and let them get creative on their own side of things. They sent me back tracks of their audio and we just dropped it into what we were working on over here. 

I’m in San Diego right now and we were getting people from New York and LA and all over to put this together. It was a fun two to three month time where I was getting tracks from people. My brother Ryan and I were doing the mix in our garage. It sounds way better than the capacity in which we were creating it. That’s a testament to all these artists’ talent and their abilities because they are so good on this. I listen to Desi Oakley and I cry. We were mixing and doing live instruments, drums and guitar. A lot of this, I was Garageband-ing and then we were able to go back and layer in all of the real live stuff. It was so cool to see it all come together. 

How did you assemble this fantastic cast?

It’s a mixture of the people I know, the people who are available, and the people who I’m very inspired by and have wanted to work with over the years. Me and Mariah had wanted to work together and we finally got to work on this. 

A lot of the people, I was just reaching out to. You know the Starry musical. That team is so awesome and I was able to reach out to them and a lot of the people who worked on this worked on Starry. I wanted to reach out to these people because I knew they were available because nothing is going on right now. It was the perfect time to get all these really talented people that I’ve admired from afar together to do this. 

It felt like the right piece to work on for right now too. The feelings we’re singing about are very topical. I never expected the songs to ring this true during this time. I listen back to these lyrics and these songs and I see them with different eyes now. 

Are you hoping to fully stage Seasons when life is back to being a bit more normal? 

I am hopeful for any capacity this could be in. With Seasons, this is a show that can live without big sets and in concert style. If you make it too big, it could lose its charm. The show is meant to feel like you’re opening someone’s photo album or journal or yearbook from their life. 

I’m hopeful for theatre to come back soon, so I would love for that to happen. I’m discovering all of this as I go. I’m looking up bloggers and people to write about it and to talk to because I believe in the story and the characters and the artists that are on this. I want them to be seen and be out there right now. It’s so easy to get lost in the waves of social media and the news. I’ve been doing all my own marketing for the show and my own music and Scott Robbins. I’ve been doing it on my own. I want so desperately to work with people. I want to work in the theatre and be doing stuff on a bigger scale than I am. 

Getting your work out there is a challenge even in good circumstances, but especially right now, I imagine. 

The more talk that it gets, the more people share it on social media and on the internet, that’s how these things stay alive. Starry is the way it is right now because people shared it. I love Starkid and I grew up watching A Very Potter Musical and their popularity is from word of mouth. It’s from people talking about it over blogs and the internet and all of that. Unfortunately for new content right now, that’s the only way it can stay alive. Even this last season of Broadway, there wasn’t a lot of original stuff that wasn’t coming from a movie or an album from a well-known artist. Any original stuff that you want to do now is so difficult which is why i’m so thankful for people like you who are preaching about the good news of original art right now and keeping people like me afloat. It inspires me to see that there’s still an appetite for original new stuff. 

It’s funny that you mention Starkid, because my best friend finally got me into watching their shows during quarantine. 

I was inspired by them too. When I was in high school, AVPM had just come out and it was the first time I saw young people writing new stuff. It was based on Harry Potter, but it was still their creation with their own inside jokes. It gave me the freedom to be like, “Oh I can do that!” You don’t need a big budget. You don’t need the Shubert Organization backing you for people to see new stuff with the help of the Internet. 

So you’re donating part of the proceeds from the album to Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids and Feeding America. Can you tell me a bit about that decision? 

To put it bluntly, the world is on fire. I knew at the beginning of this in March that everyone needs help right now. Then I realized Broadway was slowly dying and the theatre world in general is not surviving. So I thought: how can I, being the little person with my megaphone on my soapbox, do my part during all of this? There’s plenty to be angry about or talking about right now. One time, I heard someone say, “I’m only one but I’m still one.” If I can only do this little amount, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. Even though I cannot save the theatre community as a whole, I can still do everything I can try to make a difference. 

This is a heavy question, I know, but what do you think the importance of art is in the middle of the crisis -- both health crisis but also political crisis -- that we’re currently in? 

I’ve learned this through the two musicals that I’ve put out. I think of it like how the 1970s happened and the Vietnam War was happening and all these terrible things were going on and Star Wars came out and it sort of ignited people’s ideas of fantasy and escapism. On the one hand, theatre is a great place for escapism and escaping your troubles. 

On the other side, you have something like Seasons which is still nostalgic in the sense of music, but is talking about stuff that we are currently going through. But it doesn’t feel heavy handed. It says, let’s sit down and talk about what we’re feeling and what’s going on and that this sucks right now. I think theatre is both sides of that coin: it can be escapism, but also a safe place to feel people with the hope to keep going. It’s not someone yelling at you like on the news, but a place that we can talk about it and heal. Theatre for me has always been a healing place. If I can be that, if I can provide that for somebody, that would be great. 

To find out more about Tyler, you can check out his website or follow him on Instagram. To listen to Seasons, you can stream it on all music platforms or purchase it online. Proceeds will help raise money for Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids and Feeding America.

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