The Sunday Summary | September 8

Happy Sunday! I've decided to do these every other week if I don't have enough content to warrant doing one. I hope that works for you all. x

I finally got around to seeing Blinded by the Light on Memorial Day and it's so absolutely endearing. It's the story of a young Pakistani man living in Luton, England in the 1980s who wants to be a writer against the wishes of his more traditional father. He falls head over heels for the music of Bruce Springsteen and it catapults him into following his dreams and finding his voice.

Even for someone with limited Springsteen knowledge like me, this film is a beautiful love letter to the power of music and art and one generation's relationship with the one before. The cast are phenomenal, particularly Viveik Kalra and Meera Ganatra. I love the 80s fashion, the British slang, and how the main character's love interest Eliza seems like an actual high school girl -- and he's interested in her for her personality and her activism. God bless female directors!

Today, I got to see Theatre Raleigh's production of The Scottsboro Boys which is an incredibly powerful piece of theatre. It's a minstrel show-style musical about the trials of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s and while it's uncomfortable to watch at times, I think it's very important. Check out my full review for BroadwayWorld Raleigh here.

1) If you've recently gone back to school, you might be starting to run out of cute outfits. One of my favorite YouTubers, Ashley (known as bestdressed), has a great video with 30 back to school outfit ideas. Or even if, like me, you're done with school, it's just great autumn outfit inspiration!

2) I love food and I especially love food at Disney parks, so I adored this video of Disney YouTuber Maxwell Glick reviewing the three course prix fixe meal at Epcot's Les Chefs de France.

3) It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Dove Cameron's and while I absolutely can't wait for her to release her original music, I love this beautiful video and cover she made of Kacey Musgraves's "Slow Burn."

What have you been reading, watching, and listening to this week? Let me know in the comments x

The Sunday Summary | August 25

I apologize for completely missing last week's Sunday Summary. Things have been a bit crazy! I decided to roll everything from the past two weeks into one post.

I watched The Big Short for the first time for a Next Best Picture podcast and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I actually liked director Adam McKay's controversial Vice last year, but The Big Short was a cool learning opportunity for me as I didn't know much about how the housing bubble bursting caused the economic crash. You can read my full review for NBP here.

I used my Regal pass for the first time to see Lulu Wang's The Farewell and it blew me away. It replaced Booksmart as my number one film of 2019 thus far. It's a gorgeous tale about identity and different cultures and family and grandparents. It's beautiful in its specificity and yet universal. Wonderfully acted and written, The Farewell is a movie that I recommend that everyone see as soon as possible.

I saw my first Raleigh Little Theatre production last week, with Hannah as my plus one. It was my first introduction to the delightful A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder and even if it isn't one of my favorite musicals, it was a lovely production. You can read my full review for BroadwayWorld here.

Taylor Swift's latest album, Lover, dropped on Thursday at midnight and I've thought about little else since. This is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time (okay seriously..."London Boy"? "I Forgot You Existed"? This album is a gift), but I'm also still formulating my ideas about it. Would you all be interested in me doing a ranking of the songs on the album or a write up about it?

1) I'm so thrilled that my favorite YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher is back to backstage vlogging now that she's in the concert version of Les Mis in London. She put up her first "Follow Me, Fantine!" and I was so excited.

2) I love to see people's morning and nighttime routines and Lucy Moon has a knack for creating super aesthetically pleasing videos. Check out her morning routine for days when she wants to be productive.

3) Sara Bareilles is releasing an album of songs that were cut from Waitress and as part of that, she's been previewing some of the songs. This gorgeous cover by Jeremy Jordan (who I saw earlier this year in Waitress!) is absolutely stunning and sure to tug at your heartstrings.

What have you been reading, watching, and listening to this week? Let me know in the comments x

The Sunday Summary | August 11

I've decided to introduce a new weekly series to my blog. This series, called "The Sunday Summary," will detail all of the art and media I've consumed in the prior week including books, films, theatre, YouTube, podcasts, and albums. I wanted a place that I could talk about films that I didn't want to do a full review of and share links to the theatre reviews that I'm doing for BroadwayWorld Raleigh. I thought it would also be fun to highlight some of my favorite YouTubers and their best content.

I'd also like to say a little thank you to my dear friend Lexi who helped brainstorm names for this series and was the one to eventually hit on "The Sunday Summary." I get by with a little help from my friends (who are more creative than I am). 

It's been a light week for movies for me (expect more next week!). But I did watch the 1984 filmed version of Sunday in the Park with George, which you can actually get on DVD from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It stars Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters and is a real treat. It's my third favorite Sondheim (after Company and Assassins) and Next Best Theatre has a podcast about it coming later this month.

This week, I saw my first show as a reviewer for BroadwayWorld Raleigh. I'm so excited to be reviewing shows in my hometown and I couldn't have had a better start than seeing Theatre Raleigh's The Bridges of Madison County. It's a beautiful show and this production couldn't possibly be any better. You can read my whole review here.
Janine DiVita in The Bridges of Madison County

In preparation for my podcast, I've also been listening to the Sunday in the Park with George albums, namely the Original Broadway Cast and the 2017 Broadway Revival Cast. While the former has the gorgeous Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, the later has the equally gorgeous Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal. Dare I say I might prefer the 2017 version? My favorite songs on both of them are "Color and Light" and "We Do Not Belong Together".

I watch a lot of YouTube so I thought I'd share a few favorite videos every week. I'll try to include a variety of different types of videos.

1) Fellow theatre YouTuber Katherine Steele did a fascinating video looking at why Broadway ticket prices are so expensive and why making filmed versions of shows is so difficult.

2) One of my long-time faves Fashion Mumblr did a video looking at the upcoming Autumn 2019 trends. I'm thrilled to hear that dark florals are going to be in fashion because I wear them all the time!

3) One of the most original videos I've seen this week was bestdressed's video reviewing her middle school outfits based on old photos her mom sent her. What a cool idea and how horrible to be reminded of what fashion was like when I was younger!

Of course, I'm hoping that you all will share the media and art you're consuming in the comments with me! x

Review: Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island

The General Hospital
My friend MaryClaire and I both love going to a historic site (especially one that's likely to be haunted) so for her combined Christmas and birthday present, I bought us tickets for the Hard Hat Tour of Ellis Island. As someone who had been to Ellis Island several times, I was very interested in getting to see some of the hospital that sits across from the immigration station, looking eerily empty and dilapidated. We went in April which turned out to be the perfect time as it was neither too hot nor too cold and we didn't even experience any rain (the tour weaves in and out of buildings and many windows are missing glass).

A peak into the General Hospital
Ellis Island opened in 1892 as a station to filter third class immigrants on their way into the United States. While first and second class passengers had their health checks onboard the boats they sailed on and could immediately enter the country, most of those coming to America had to flow through the new station in between New York and New Jersey for a health check and questioning.

The original structure burnt down in 1897 and a new station was built along with a second island for the hospital to be built upon. Later, a third island was added and the contagious disease hospital was opened in 1907 at which point the other building became a general hospital. As immigrants went through line in the large hall of the immigration station, they were marked with white chalk on their coats if they were suspected of having a physical or mental illness. These evaluations were done so quickly, they were called "six-second examinations."

Most immigrants only spent a few hours at Ellis Island before moving through to their new lives, but some spent days, weeks, or even months at the hospital complex. About nine out of ten people pulled out of line for further examination or treatment later passed through to the United States. The rest died on the island or were sent back to their home country, after failing to be healed by treatment or failing a mental questionnaire. (Anarchists, for example, were refused entry.)

The Ellis Island Hospital saw over a million patients between its opening in 1902 and its closing in 1930. They had about 3,500 deaths -- 1,400 of which were children -- which was a very impressive mortality rate for the time. The 750 bed hospital was the largest Public Health Service facility in the United States in the early twentieth century.

It used methods that were very advanced, based on Florence Nightingale's discoveries, including mattress sterilization and individual air ventilation. People were grouped into wards based on the illness they were suffering from, rather than all put into the same room as was normal at the time. It was also a teaching hospital, which is very obvious from the autopsy theatre which has rows for seating.

The tour starts in the laundry facilities which houses much of its original equipment. While the pressing was done by women, only men worked in the large laundry room because of the intense physical labor it took to launder all of the sheets and clothing for the hospitals. This room also shows the state of "arrested decay" that much of the hospitals are in. This indicates that rather than attempting to restore the buildings to their original state, they are trying to freeze its decay and not allow it to become further dilapidated while also making it safe for visitors to enter.

The tour goes through the kitchen, mortuary, autopsy rooms, and infectious and contagious disease wards. We got a peek at the general hospital as we passed by and it was in a state of complete disrepair. The state of both hospitals is actually rather alarming. They're surrounded by overgrown plants (sometimes spilling inside), most of the windows are missing glass, and rust covers many surfaces. And while the historian in me shudders, there's an otherworldly charm to it. It feels more sinister than the castle ruins I've visited in the UK, but somehow similar.

In the autopsy room, the bodies were stored in this frozen container
The main diseases that the people at Ellis Island were concerned about were trachoma, a very contagious eye disease, and tuberculosis. The tuberculosis wards of the hospital are perhaps the most eerie today and the ones with the most reported ghost sightings. These wards have two sinks: one that had normal running water for washing up and the other for patients to cough up blood or sputum into. This part of the hospital was tightly quarantined to keep the disease from spreading and the nurses who worked in it even had to live in the hospital.

From one of the tuberculosis wards, there is a clear view of the Statue of Liberty. It's heartbreaking to think of the people who had come seeking a better life, only to find themselves isolated from their families and suffering from a terrible disease, often caught onboard the ship during the voyage. Tuberculosis was one of the diseases at Ellis Island that claimed the most victims. Despite translators, many of these people were surely confused and frustrated, being treated by doctors who didn't speak their language and with new and modern techniques that would have been largely unknown to them. And while experiencing all of this, they could see the symbol of the life they had come in search of from their window, a tangible reminder of how close they were. 

The view from one of the TB wards
The psychopathic ward is also rather chilling though it can only be seen from the outside, with the large cage on the front. Our tour guide shared that people were pulled for further psychopathic testing if they seemed dazed, confused, or nervous. They were given a hot meal, a warm bed, and a night's rest before having further questioning where they were asked simple math questions (with a translator if necessary) or to match shapes. Many were disoriented after getting off of a boat they had been on for weeks and were able to easily pass the next day's questioning and enter the United States.

The psychopathic ward
The psychopathic ward was originally the pregnancy ward. I was shocked at first to hear that visibly pregnant women were detained on Ellis Island until their baby was born, but it was actually because the public health service workers knew that immigrant women would receive little healthcare once entering the US. They were thought to be much better off giving birth in a clean and regulated hospital than in the cramped tenement homes that awaited them. There were 350 babies born on Ellis Island and not a single mother or baby lost, which was astounding for that era. It's easy to imagine that the women appreciated the care they received as many of the babies were fondly named after doctors or nurses in the hospital.

The art exhibit by French artist JR called "Unframed - Ellis Island" is dotted throughout the buildings on the interior walls. There are installations on sixteen interior walls of photographs of people at Ellis Island blown up very large. They add to the feeling that there are spirits still very much present in the buildings.

One of the pieces of the art installation
During WWI, wards were dedicated to treating soldiers suffering from what was then termed "shell shock." This may explain the blue paint still visible in some of the wards they were housed in, as it was thought to be calming for patients. After the hospital closed in 1930 as immigration was slowing down, it was used for other purposes including as an FBI center and a treatment center for disabled soldiers returning from war. Ellis Island finally closed as an immigration center in 1954 and it would appear that the buildings have sat mostly empty since then.

It was actually rather jarring to come out of the onsite physician's quarters at the end of the tour and walk back around to see the 'normal' Ellis Island building across the water that I've visited many times. Sometimes that building feels a bit overly restored, with lots of exhibits and glass cases, a stark contrast to the broken-down hospitals nearby. While some of the stories might seem cruel today (looking for trachoma by inverting the eyelid with a buttonhook, for example) and were certainly traumatic for many immigrant families, the hospitals themselves were actually incredibly modern. They were state of the art for the early twentieth century and many immigrants were healed and reunited with their families in America. 

The Hard Hat tours are operated by the non-profit company, Save Ellis Island, which has been giving tours of the hospitals since 2014. Hard Hats are required to be worn by everyone, no children are allowed, and they require a significant amount of walking. The tours last approximately 90 minutes and our guide was very knowledgable and friendly. The cost seems a bit pricey but is actually reasonable as it includes your ferry ticket and admission to the main Ellis Island Museum. For more information, you can visit their website. If you have any questions about the tour or the information we learned on it, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or in the comments. 

In addition to getting a completely different look at Ellis Island and delving deeper into its history, your admission helps fund the restoration and upkeep of the island. I would highly recommend going if you're in New York and look forward to returning at some point in the future. (And maybe having a proper ghostly encounter?) 

LIFE UPDATE: I'm Moving to North Carolina!

I have a very exciting announcement that you may have already seen if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram. I did a post back in October announcing that I had moved to New York City after my year in London.

After eight months in New York, I am moving to Raleigh, North Carolina. It wasn't long after I moved to New York that I realized that it wasn't for me. It's hard to put exactly into words what I dislike about New York (other than the subway and the weather, of course). I've discovered that while I like New York to visit, it's not a good fit for me to live in. New York's not for everyone -- just like any city won't suit everyone. It took lots of talks with my parents and friends, therapy sessions, and journal entries to make this decision but I'm thrilled to have made it.

I do think that part of the problem for me was that I longed for New York to be more like London and was continually disappointed when it wasn't. It's sort of like if you dated Chris Evans and he was perfect and then dated the guy that you had a crush on at university after. Maybe I would have liked New York more if I hadn't fallen head over heels for London first. Who knows?

All of that said, I'm very excited to be moving back to North Carolina where I'm from. I've never lived in Raleigh as an adult so I'm excited to explore more of it. I can't wait to see my family a lot more; my mom's entire family lives in North Carolina, so I'll get to see my aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins' children a lot more. And I'm looking forward to exploring North Carolina's historic sites and theatre scene!

I will be starting a job as a Content Developer and Producer at Relative Scale, a digital studio that creates experiences for spaces, in early July. I move this coming weekend which will give me a week to get settled (and relearn to drive a car!) and a week to spend at the beach for Fourth of July. 

I call these my 'British army commander' shorts because they remind me of old
British army uniforms from the Boer War or WWI so I couldn't resist this pose
I'm keen to get involved in the North Carolina blogging scene so do let me know if you have any NC based blogs or vlogs that you like. I'll have more updates once I'm settled in North Carolina, but for now follow along on my Instagram and Twitter for my move! x

2019 Tony Award Predictions!

With the Tonys just around the corner (I can't believe they're tomorrow!), I thought it was time to share my predictions with you all here. If you'd like to hear a lot more detail about what I'm predicting, you can listen to our Next Best Theatre predictions episode. I've gone out on a limb with a few of these (notably the acting categories for musicals) because I always like to make a couple of risky predictions!

Best Musical 
Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: The Prom

Best Play
Prediction: The Ferryman
Alternate: What the Constitution Means to Me

Best Revival of a Musical
Prediction: The Waverly Gallery
Alternate: The Boys in the Band

Best Revival of a Play
Prediction: Oklahoma!
Alternate: Kiss Me, Kate

Leading Actor in a Musical
Prediction: Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice
Alternate: Santino Fontana, Tootsie

Leading Actor in a Play
Prediction: Bryan Cranston, Network
Alternate: Paddy Considine, The Ferryman

Leading Actress in a Musical
Prediction: Eva Noblezada, Hadestown
Alternate: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

Leading Actress in a Play
Prediction: Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery
Alternate: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

Featured Actor in a Musical
Prediction: André de Shields, Hadestown
Alternate: Patrick Page, Hadestown

Featured Actor in a Play
Prediction: Bertie Carvel, Ink
Alternate: Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

Featured Actress in a Musical
Prediction: Amber Gray, Hadestown
Alternate: Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Featured Actress in a Play
Prediction: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird
Alternate: Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman

Book of a Musical 
Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: Tootsie

Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: The Prom

Scenic Design of a Musical
Prediction: Beetlejuice
Alternate: Hadestown

Scenic Design of a Play
Prediction: The Ferryman
Alternate: Network

Costume Design of a Musical
Prediction: The Cher Show
Alternate: Hadestown

Costume Design of a Play
Prediction: Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Alternate: The Ferryman

Lighting Design of a Musical
Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: Beetlejuice

Lighting Design of a Play
Prediction: Network
Alternate: The Ferryman

Sound Design of a Musical
Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: Beetlejuice

Sound Design of a Play
Prediction: Network
Alternate: The Ferryman

Direction of a Musical 
Prediction: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Alternate: Daniel Fish, Oklahoma!

Direction of a Play
Prediction: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Alternate: Rupert Goold, Ink

Prediction: Kiss Me, Kate
Alternate: Hadestown

Prediction: Hadestown
Alternate: Oklahoma!

Do you agree with my predictions or not? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I'll be watching on Sunday night with my theatre podcast co-host Dan. I'll be live-tweeting, so reach out to me there if you're watching too!

All About: Sophie Germain, Female Mathematician

When my little sister told me that she was doing a paper on a female mathematician from the eighteenth-century, I was surprised as I'd never heard of Sophie Germain. I did my undergraduate degree in history, with a specialization in intellectual and cultural history and focusing on women in particular. I've been working to incorporate more of my love for history into this blog with reviews of historic sites I've visited and thought that a biography series of interesting (and largely forgotten) female historical figures might be a nice addition.

No one could have guessed that Marie-Sophie Germain, born in France in 1776 to a wealthy middle class family, would become a world-famous mathematician. However, her work on the subjects of acoustics, elasticity, and the theory of numbers are considered to be important to the history of mathematics even though she suffered from her lack of a formal education her entire career. She struggled from a lack of resources and access due to her gender that kept her from making the mathematical discoveries she otherwise might have.

Sophie's interest in mathematics began when she was thirteen. When the French Revolution started, she turned to her father's library as she had to stay inside. She was fascinated by Archimedes who inspired her to study mathematics. Her parents disapproved and tried to dissuade her, but eventually relented in the face of her determination.

When Sophie was eighteen years old, in 1794, the École Polytéchnique was founded as a school for science and mathematics. Using the name of M. LeBlanc, she obtained notes from lectures since she couldn't attend them herself. She submitted a paper at the end of term about number theory that impressed Professor Joseph-Louis Lagrange. Even after finding out she was a woman, he agreed to mentor her. He introduced her to other scientists and mathematicians including the German Carl Friedrich Gauss who didn't learn that she was female until several years into their correspondence.

In 1809, the French Academy of Sciences held a contest to explain the law about the vibration of elastic surfaces. Sophie's entry was the only essay the first year, but her lack of formal education was too apparent and she was not awarded the prize. Lagrange aided her and she entered again two years later, earning an honorable mention. She entered one last time after three years and finally won with an essay called "Memoir on the Vibrations of Elastic Plates." The committee noted that there were errors in the essay, but those would not be corrected for decades.

In 1816, Sophie befriended Joseph Fourier who managed to get her tickets to attend the Academy of Science's session, a privilege only normally allowed to the wives of members. She was also invited to attend the Institut de France's session, a great honor for a woman. However, her career was cut short at the age of fifty-five when she died of breast cancer on June 27, 1831. She was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

While she didn't have the opportunities within her lifetime that would have made her name well-remembered after her death, Sophie did receive some recognition. Sophie's nephew published some of her works after her death. She has a prize named after her at the Academy of Sciences, in addition to a street and a girl's school named in her honor. Unfortunately, her gender held her back from achieving what she might have but she still managed to forge a way to become a mathematician despite the odds being against her.

A big thank you to my sister Hannah for introducing me to Sophie Germain!

Source 1Source 2Source 3Source 4 

A Love Letter to Eliza Doolittle and the Lincoln Center My Fair Lady Revival

As a woman living in the current political climate we have in the United States (in which women are losing legal control over their own bodies), sometimes I question whether some Golden Age musicals in their original form are appropriate to revive right now. Often, the women have little agency and the relationships are worryingly unhealthy. Especially as someone with a teenage sister, I worry about the ideas that these shows can give to young girls (and boys) in their formative years.

I'm not against revivals of these shows, but I'm a fan of ones that aren't afraid to update the show a bit to alter problematic lines or to highlight the gender politics that are occurring. For example, the current Roundabout production of Kiss Me Kate hired a female writer, Amanda Green, to make some tweaks to the script to make it more appropriate for a modern audience to great success. Similarly, the 2013 Broadway revival of Cinderella was updated fairly heavily to preserve the general story and score but give the character of Ella more agency (and political awareness) and the prince more of personality.

A shining example of this in my eyes is Bartlett Sher's revival of My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Center. It harkens back to the show's original roots -- George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion -- much more than the musical or the movie based on it traditionally did. The current production plays up the gritty reality of Eliza's former life a Covent Garden flower girl and even tweaks the ending in a beautiful and brilliant way. I wasn't able to see the original Eliza, Lauren Ambrose, but I've seen the new Eliza in the show twice in the past few months.

Much of this is due to Barlett Sher's brilliant direction and some of the glory has to go to Harry Hadden-Paton for his Henry Higgins, a man every bit as changed by Eliza as she is by him. However, one has to laud Laura Benanti for what she has done with the character of Eliza Doolittle. I've loved Laura Benanti's work for years and also have a lot of admiration for her as a working mother and a woman who stands up for causes she believes in. The fact that she's a wickedly funny comedic actress and has an impressively soaring soprano voice is also pretty cool.

On the evening of this Eliza Doolittle Day (so called this for the line in "Just You Wait" which calls out May 20th), I wanted to take some time to appreciate the Eliza of this Lincoln Center revival as played by Ms. Benanti. She is the Eliza that I wished for as a little girl watching the movie and hoping that the flower girl might learn to stand on her own two feet. She's no ingenue, and not because Laura Benanti is older than the 18 years old the character is originally meant to be, but because she's wise to the ways of the world already.

For as much as she wants to learn proper elocution from Higgins, never once does she need him. She is smart and fierce from the first time we see her onstage. In fact, it's him who needs her and the show becomes a powerful statement that you can be right for someone and them not be right for you. Her bond with her young suitor Freddy (played delightfully by Christian Dante White as a Mr. Bingley sort who is utterly lacking in the cold reserve that characterizes most of the upper class characters) is less her searching for someone to take care of her and more the meeting of two outsiders in high society.

The show is a shockingly real glimpse at gender relations at the time, that often feels surprisingly modern. Benanti's scenes with Rosemary Harris's Mrs. Higgins show a connection between two women who are used to putting up with less clever men. There's a recognition of the sort of emotional labor that women often perform for men. Her relationship with her father is also given nuance, with her skittishness with him suggesting the physical and emotional abuse that the script hints at.

This Eliza Doolittle is funny and not just circumstantially. I saw the My Fair Lady panel at BroadwayCon and Laura Benanti discussed that she had done research on the conditions of life that Covent Garden flower girls experienced and decided that Eliza's humor is a coping mechanism for the life she leads. It makes sense that a woman who had survived through such experiences with her courage, wit, and determination intact would have the wit and good humor to laugh at her circumstances. It's best on show in the scene where she finally is able to pronounce her h's which drew raucous laughter from the crowd both times I saw the show.

Essentially in the right hands and with the right director, I think that a Golden Age musical can still have much to say to women today. Laura Benanti's Eliza Doolittle is everything that I could ever hope for in a musical heroine. This revival, in both its revision of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, fixes every issue I can remember having with the show when I watched the movie over and over as a young girl. When Eliza sings "Without You" to Henry Higgins near the end of the show, I honestly believe her that she'll get on fine without him -- just as George Bernard Shaw would have me think.

 If you're going to be in New York before the show closes on June 7, I highly recommend getting a ticket as the Lincoln Center's costumes and sets can't be beat and this is obviously a very special production.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus 

Review: All is True

RATING: ★★★★

Sometimes I feel like I ought to write Kenneth Branagh a thank you note for always making films that are so oriented towards my personal tastes. Branagh is one of my favorite directors and his 2015 Cinderella one of my top five films of all time. I also have a fondness for Branagh's films as he is the president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London which my best friend attends and he has a tendency to cast RADA students and graduates in his films.

When it was first announced that Branagh was directing and starring in a film in which he would play William Shakespeare at the end of his life, I was thrilled. Certainly, Branagh understands Shakespeare better than just about any living person, something proved to me by seeing the Hamlet he directed at RADA last year. Adding Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, and one of my all time favorite stage actors Hadley Fraser to the mix only made me more excited. The film didn't get stellar reviews after its short Oscar qualifying run in LA late last year and its release in the UK earlier this year, but I'm thrilled that it's now finally in select theatres across the United States.

This film is a fascinating look at Shakespeare like we've never seen him before on film. While it's certainly fanciful and takes lots of liberties with the facts that we do know (a bisexual Shakespeare? it's more likely than you think), it's also a far cry from the horrifically-inaccurate-if-wildly-entertaining Shakespeare in Love. Branagh brings a lot to the role of Shakespeare, the great poet and playwright, who is returning to Stratford upon Avon after two decades in London and has to reforge a place for himself in the town that he grew up in and the family he left behind, while finally dealing with the grief of losing his only son and wondering what sort of legacy he will have after his death.

It delighted me to see a Shakespeare who is less concerned about if people will remember him once he's gone and more concerned about where the money he'd spent his life accumulating will go upon his death as he has no son or grandson and doesn't particularly fancy it going to his Puritan theatre-hating son-in-law. Much of this domestic drama is centered around him rebuilding his relationships with his wife and two daughters.

While the film certainly explores gender politics and presents a Shakespeare who has constantly underestimated and pushed away the women in his life, it also doesn't heavy-handidly force modern feminism into places it doesn't fit like many period dramas are prone to doing. I don't think it's a stretch to think that the man who wrote roles like Lady Macbeth and Beatrice could come to respect the women in his life.

While Branagh is clearly the star, the supporting cast are all lovely. Judi Dench is particularly good as the weathered down, elderly, somewhat frumpy wife Anne Hathaway though she is much older than Branagh. It's a far cry from her normal period drama roles playing Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth I or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but she does it beautifully.

For any fellow theatre fans, this movie is particularly exciting as Hadley Fraser plays Shakespeare's annoyingly Puritan son-in-law John. He gets a decent storyline and some really lovely acting moments, in addition to a very cool beard.

Branagh himself is utterly transformed by makeup and prosthetics to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. The production value on the whole movie is wonderful and it really transports you to life in a village in England at this time, without the flashiness of your typical film about this period. There are also some gorgeous scenery shots and the cinematography of the whole film is rather good.

As the film does move at quite a slow pace, it won't be for everyone. But I think that anyone with a fondness for Branagh's work or interest in the life of Shakespeare would enjoy it. It made me think about the way that we handle grief and how even great men (and women) often feel lost in their personal lives despite their success. I can't wait for this film to come out on DVD so I can share it with my mom.

This review is an expanded and edited version of the one written for my Letterboxd account.

My Top Five Musical Theatre Love Triangles

In honor of the Oklahoma! revival opening on Broadway last month, I thought that I would share some of what I consider to be the best love triangles in musicals of all time. I actually think that the Curly-Laurey-Jud love triangle is one of the worst in any musical. I strongly prefer that the person at the center has an actual struggle and that there's some real emotional connection between all three sides.

(That's not a hit against the Oklahoma! revival which I haven't seen yet, but I hear is fantastic but against its original material. I'm sure they've managed to make it compelling!)

When I started making this list, I realized that love triangles abound in musical theatre through the ages: Passion, Wicked, Miss Saigon, The Sound of Music, The Pirate Queen, Follies, Fiddler on the Roof, and even Frozen just to name a handful. Of course, the love triangle trope appears in lots of media but I think that there's something about it that lends itself well to beautiful duets and trios. Narrowing down my favorites was difficult, but here are my top five love triangles in a musical.

Aida, Radames, and Amneris in Aida 
Aida is definitely an under-appreciated musical, especially for its gorgeous duets and three and four part songs. Radames, though betrothed to the royal Amneris, finds himself falling in love with the captured Nubian princess Aida who has been given to Amneris as her handmaiden. Meanwhile, Amneris and Aida bond as Aida encourages the seemingly shallow princess to see herself as more than a vessel for fashion. Act II opens with the trio singing the beautiful song "Not Me," which would earn it a spot on this list alone.
Photo Credit: Aubrey Reuben

Laura, Walter, and Marian in The Woman in White 
When I first saw the musical, The Woman in White, I was a bit disappointed that a love triangle had been written in between sisters Marian and Laura and their drawing teacher Walter Hartright that doesn't exist in the novel. (This is, in addition to the less interesting love triangle between Walter, Laura, and Laura's intended, Sir Walter Glyde, which appears in both.) However, it's difficult to dislike a love triangle that brings about as gorgeous of songs as "Perspective" and "Trying Not to Notice." It also provides for some lovely melodies that weave through the show and is my favorite kind of love triangle in that the love between sisters Marian and Laura is arguably actually the strong side of the triangle.
Photo Credit: Darren Bell

Raoul, Christine, and the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera
This is likely one of the most famous love triangles from a musical of all time. Phantom, when done correctly, is a beautiful coming of age story for young ingenue Christine and I think that her feeling trapped between her mysterious and dangerous music teacher and her childhood sweetheart is a great way of building that. This is one where there's very obviously a correct choice here (and it's Raoul), but both "Wandering Child" and "Finale" are some of my favorite songs from musicals.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Eliza, Alexander, and Angelica in Hamilton
Obviously, I have a thing for love triangles that include sisters. Even if this wasn't one of the most gut-wrenching triangles on the list (when Angelica says, "At least I keep his eyes in my life"? Ow), it would earn its spot just in how it uses "Satisfied" to go back and play Eliza's "Helpless" from Angelica's point of view. And once again, it's the love between Angelica and Eliza that is the strongest at the end of the day (or at least at a pivotal moment in Act II).
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Cosette, Marius, and Eponine in Les Misérables
I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that this is the classic musical theatre love triangle. Not only is it an emblem for teenage girls everywhere who listen to "On My Own" as a coping mechanism for their friend liking another girl instead of them, but it's also used in a really interesting way to show Cosette and Eponine as foils. When we see them as adults for the first time, they have essentially traded places from when we last saw them as children. Cosette is now beautiful and well-dressed and the apple of her parent's eye, while Eponine is dirty, neglected, and forced into work by the Thenardiers. The original London production even does some beautiful blocking that mirrors them to each other. And of course, this trio sings the "A Heart Full of Love" number which in undeniably lovely.

These are just a handful of my faves (I also of course love the Andrey-Natasha-Anatole love triangle of Great Comet and I can't forget that my favorite male duet of all times, "Lily's Eyes," is born from the love triangle in The Secret Garden). What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

Review: Little Woods

RATING: ★★★★

In Little Woods, Nia DaCosta deftly directs Tessa Thompson and Lily James as two sisters struggling to survive in a drab North Dakota town. It's a very respectable directorial debut from DaCosta who manages to capture everyday problems that still feel very high stakes, even though the film can at times feel a bit meandering.

Ollie and Deb are adopted sisters struggling in the aftermath of their mother's death, with foreclosure on her house looming and no money to speak of. While Deb contends with an unwanted pregnancy with her ex, the father of her toddler son, Ollie has only a few days left on her probation for smuggling and selling illegal oxycodone from across the border in Canada. Ollie attempts to find ways to make ends meet legally despite the local drug dealer who wants her as a business partner and the people of the town who continue to ask her what she has, but things get more complicated when her sister tells her of her pregnancy.

Both Thompson and James give career highlight performances. Thompson is great as Ollie, a woman who clearly wants more from life than what she currently has, but is plagued by exhaustion that's apparent in her eyes. James is given grittier stuff to work with here than her normal roles and proves that she's a versatile actress to boot. Several of her scenes in the latter half of the movie should convince viewers that she is one of the best rising actresses working today.

The supporting cast all do their parts well, but it's certainly Thompson and James's movie. The movie is bleak and drab, not just in subject but in color scheme. It's impossible not to feel the oppressive weight of these women's world while watching it. The first part of the movie can feel a bit slow, but the second half speeds up and keeps you on the edge of your seat with fear for what will happen to Ollie, Deb, and Deb's young son.

DaCosta certainly has some interesting commentary on the healthcare system woven in, as people go across the border to Canada to receive treatment, and perhaps opioid addiction too. My favorite thing about the film though is how utterly unglamorous Thompson and James are throughout. This isn't to say that the two of them aren't beautiful women because they are. But I appreciate that this isn't one of those movies where women are trekking through the wilderness and yet have perfect hair and makeup. I'm not sure that there's a scene in the whole film where Thompson isn't dressed in a sweatshirt or hoodie.

To me, this is one of the greatest proofs of female influence in the film -- its understanding that a hard life like Ollie and Deb are living takes a physical toll. This isn't the sort of movie that will be nominated for any Oscars or maybe even be shown in the big movie theatre chains, but it's certainly worth a watch and proves that DaCosta, Thompson, and James are all women to keep your eye on.

I'm not sure what we did to deserve a superstar pairing like this in a female-directed film, but I'd sure love more like it.

Review: The Lightning Thief, US Tour

RATING: ★★★★

If only The Lightning Thief musical had come out when I was in middle school and obsessed with the Percy Jackson series. Was anyone else half-convinced that they were a demi-god? The character of Annabeth Chase was definitely formative for me growing up and my AIM name was even a play on her nickname of "Wise Girl." (Yes, I know that's quite the throwback.)

I missed seeing The Lightning Thief musical, based on Rick Riordan's novel, when it was in New York before so I was thrilled to see that it was coming to the Beacon Theatre in New York City on its US Tour. Some of the creative team from Broadway's Be More Chill also worked on this show including book writer Joe Tracz and director Steven Brackett. The music and lyrics are written by relative newcomer Rob Rokicki.

Perhaps the best thing about the show is its obvious love for the original book. It sticks fairly close to the plot of the novel, while obviously condensing things for the sake of time. It also hints at plot points from the rest of the series, even though there will obviously not be sequels to the musical. If you hated The Lightning Thief film because of its blatant disregard for the book, then you will love this musical.

For anyone not familiar with the Percy Jackson series, this musical tells the story of a young boy who finds out that his dad is actually absent because he's a Greek god. After he's attacked by his substitute teacher (who is actually a monster), he loses his mom to another terrifying creature while on his way to Camp Halfblood -- a camp where demi-gods go to train. However, he's soon accused of a crime by another god and has to travel to the Underworld with his best friend Grover (who is actually a satyr tasked with protecting him) and the spunky daughter of Athena, Annabeth.

The musical's first production was in 2014 in New York before an extended and updated version debuted in 2017 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. It opened its National Tour in April of 2018 and is making its way across the United States.

The production has a homemade feel to it that is somehow charming rather than amateur. The fights are staged creatively by Rod Kinter and the scenic design by Lee Savage is sparse but effective. I love that Sydney Maresca's costume designs for the Half-bloods feel age appropriate while she uses some really cool methods to bring the mythological monsters to life. The lighting design by David Lander and the sound design by Ryan Rumery do a lot to add to the show's atmosphere; it starts with a crack of thunder that made everyone in the audience jump out of their seat, myself included.

This lack of commitment to realistic design actually made the show work a lot better for me; I was much more impressed by how they managed things with less special fancy effects. The design of the show almost makes it feel like something that a child reading the book would dream up (but luckily not like something that a child could accomplish). It feels beautifully theatrical, not like it's trying to be a film.

It's easy to forget that the show has a cast of seven actors because many of them are unrecognizable amongst the roles that they play. James Hayden Rodriguez stands out as the charismatic Luke (and other characters) while Ryan Knowles's Chiron and Medusa are equally delightful. Jorrel Javier is hysterically funny as both Percy's best friend Grover and grumpy camp counselor Mr. D (yes, that's short for Dionysus). While his peppy "Another Terrible Day" is hilarious, he brought me to tears with "The Tree on the Hill."

Kristin Stokes is everything I ever dreamed of for the smart but insecure Annabeth Chase. For anyone who was bothered by Annabeth's characterization in the movie, worry not because Kristin clearly has a strong understanding of the character, both her spark and her hubris. (I'm also thrilled that Annabeth even calls Percy "Seaweed Brain"!) Her big solo "My Grand Plan" made me cry and wonder where this song was when I was a pre-teen girl confident in my own intelligence but not much else.

When they first announced a Percy Jackson musical, I joked that Chris McCarrell (who I had previously seen as Marius in Les Mis) would be the perfect Percy. So imagine my joy when not only was he cast in the role, but he turned out to be the perfect Percy Jackson that I had dreamed of. Chris strikes a perfect balance between a defiant and awkward teen and a charming son of a god and has the audience enthralled every moment he's onstage. His big solo "Good Kid" is an absolute show-stopper and easily my favorite number in the show.

While the solos in the show are amazing, there are also great ensemble numbers. The show opens with "Prologue/The Day I Got Expelled" which sets a great tone for the rest of the musical. "Drive" is one of the numbers between Percy, Annabeth, and Grover that are super fun and also do a beautiful job at building the camaraderie between the three. Another favorite of mine is "Bring on the Monsters," the awesome and uplifting closing number.

Maybe The Lightning Thief isn't groundbreaking musical theatre. It doesn't have the most intricate set design or the best score I've ever heard. But it is the best book to stage adaptation I've ever seen in terms of capturing the feel of a book and is the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time. Most of all, I love it because it brings the characters that I spent so much of my childhood wrapped up in to life with all the love and respect for them that I ever could have hoped for.

The Lightning Thief is currently on tour across the US. 

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel

Review: Six the Musical Album

RATING: ★★★★

When I first heard about a musical about Henry VIII's six wives, I was skeptical. As someone who loves Tudor history and studied European history at university, I'm a bit sensitive to how Henry's wives (especially Anne Boleyn) are portrayed in the media. I've been burned by things like The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the show while I was in London, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much I like the album, even if I do have a few historical issues with it.

Six is a musical by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss that was first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. More pop concert than musical, the six queens compete to prove that each one of them was treated the worst in her lifetime and thus will get to lead the band. After a successful run at the Arts Theatre and a UK tour, it has returned to the Arts Theatre for a second run and has garnered five Olivier Award nominations. It will open in Chicago in May of 2019 and supposedly has its eye on a Broadway run.

The cast is composed of six women who play the feisty, sassy, and empowered queens. While the subject matter sounds like it would be rather depressing, the show itself is surprisingly uplifting. That said, Jane Seymour's ballad "Heart of Stone" (sung on the album by the wonderful Natalie Paris) and Catherine Parr's "I Don't Need Your Love" definitely tug at the heartstrings. The opening number "Ex-Wives" is so catchy, but it's Katherine Howard's absolute bop of a song "All You Wanna Do" that's my favorite. Aimie Atkinson sounds like the best of pop princesses.

The music feels like something that you could hear on the radio, but in a good way. I can definitely sense some Little Mix influence and maybe some Arianna Grande as well. The lyrics are clever even if they do sometimes lean into the modern language to the point of being cringe. One of my favorite lines is a play on "consort"/"concert".

The show definitely simplifies history as one might expect from a musical that only lasts seventy minutes. I will admit that I take serious issue with their presentation of Anne Boleyn, who is very focused on fun in the show while she was a serious politician and religious reformer in actuality. The Anne of the show feels a bit more like the woman shown in Catholic propaganda during her step-daughter Mary I's reign to be honest. I also feel like it's weird that they make a lot out of the fact that she was a lady-in-waiting to Henry's previous wife, Catherine of Aragon, without acknowledging that three of Henry's other wives were ladies-in-waiting for their predecessor.

For all these pretentious-historian issues that I have with the album, it's great fun. Every time I hear the line about the queens having spent "too many years lost in his story," I get chills. I would absolutely love to see this show in Chicago or when it comes to Broadway in the future. If you like pop music and musicals, I'd recommend checking out the album(...and then making reading a good book on Tudor history to learn the more nuanced real story!).

Review: Biltmore Estate's 'A Vanderbilt House Party'

Ever since I was a little girl, my family has been visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. My mom likes to tell stories about how when she first visited when she was in college, you could park around the lawn in front of the house. It was an integral and formative part of my childhood and helped spark my love for history at an early age. So I was thrilled to get to visit while they have this exciting new exhibit on.

The Biltmore Estate is the largest privately owned home in the United States and was built in the 1890s by George Vanderbilt of the illustrious Vanderbilt family. George Vanderbilt was an intellectual who wasn't particularly interested in high society and sought out a place in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to escape from New York City life with his friends and family. There was something sort of beautiful and poetic about heading to Asheville from New York City to celebrate my little sister's birthday a couple of weekends ago.

The Biltmore currently has an exhibit on called "A Vanderbilt House Party" that has placed beautiful recreations of period clothing on mannequins throughout the house. The costumes are based on items from the Vanderbilts' and their friends' wardrobes and accompanied by photos of them in those outfits.

The costumes were designed and recreated by John Bright and Cosprop, London, with the help of Biltmore's curators. Bright is an Oscar-winning costume designer known for his work on A Room with a View (1986), Howards End (1992), and Sense and Sensibility (1995). From elegant suits to stunning dresses to faithfully recreated servants' uniforms, the clothes do a great job of giving you a better idea of what it would have been like to be at the Estate in its prime.

There is also a brand new audio guide created to go along with the exhibition that shares stories from people who attended house parties at the Biltmore in the early 1900s ranging from George and Edith Vanderbilt's family members to friends like author Edith Wharton. It uses 360º sound techniques to give a fully immersive audio-visual experience.

One of the coolest things for me was seeing photos that I had grown up seeing brought to life in front of me through the clothing. A great example is the ensemble above which shows George and Edith's daughter Cornelia and her cousin at play. It's one thing to see a photograph of a historic figure, but seeing a recreation of their clothing somehow makes it easier to grasp the reality of their existence.

I also appreciated that they didn't just include house party guests in fancy outfits. They also have recreations of servants' uniforms and outfits for swimming in the indoor pool and working out in the gymnasium. It gives a beautifully holistic view of life on the Biltmore Estate at the turn of the century.

For those who have visited the Biltmore Estate before, this exhibit gives you a glimpse into life there as you've never had before. The audio guide is definitely worth the additional fee as it gives you a lot of new information including quotes from people who attended the house parties. I almost started to feel as though I could turn a corner and somehow re-enter the world of the Biltmore Estate when it was a bustling private home.

If you've never been before, it's well worth a visit even if you can't make it before the exhibit ends on May 27. In addition to the beautiful house, the Estate boasts a farm area where you can pet animals and see old farm equipment, a winery, and lots of outdoor experiences including horseback riding. The Biltmore is something truly special and the closest thing we have to a European castle here in America.

For more information, visit the Biltmore website.

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter Album

RATING: ★★★★★

When I first heard people on Twitter talking about a new album that was a blend of an Irish fairytale and a Disney musical, I knew I had to check it out. I vaguely remembered hearing about the Off-West End production of The Clockmaker's Daughter back in 2015 and was thrilled to see the names of some of my favorite performers on the cast list for the album. 

Not to be confused with the book of the same name, The Clockmaker's Daughter is an original musical with all new music by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn. It ranges from light comedy to a love story to a tragedy about discrimination. It takes place in a fictional Irish countryside town called Spindlewood and explores the origins of the odd ritual they perform every year. It's a story about love and loss, prejudice and the fear of the unknown. In other words, it's a perfect folk tale with music to match. 

The cast give beautiful vocal performances and really bring the story together so well with just their voices you almost feel like you can see it. The ever-wonderful Ramin Karimloo is great as the Clockmaker, while Christine Allado (well known for Hamilton in the West End) is lovely as his daughter Constance. Hannah Waddingham is absolutely hilarious in an almost Madame Thenardier-like role and Fra Fee shows off his abilities as a romantic lead. 

The music itself blends a more traditional musical theatre sound with influences from Irish music which gives it a really timeless feel. The musical excels at its large ensemble village songs like the opening number, "The Turning of the Key," or my personal favorite, "Spindlewood." "Keep It To Yourself" is my favorite 'gossip song' I've ever heard in a show. 

Ramin Karimloo does what he does best -- beautiful, longing angst -- in "You're Still Here" while Christine Allado's "A Story of My Own" is a ballad worthy of any Disney princess full of that optimistic longing that characterizes a show like Beauty and the Beast. "If You Could See My Heart" is one of the best love song duets I've heard in a musical in some time. The composers did a great job of having a lot of varied songs on the album making it impossible to feel bored while still preserving a cohesive sound. 

If you like Disney musicals, Irish music, fairytales, or traditional musical theatre, I feel confident in saying that you'll love this album. And if you love Irish accents even half as much as I do, you're guaranteed to enjoy it. While I still do have a few questions (and I'm eager to see this musical on stage), it does a great job of guiding you through most of the plot through the songs alone. I have to admit, there's something about walking through a crowd while listening to "Spindlewood" that has me ready to pack up and move to a small village in Ireland. 

Review: Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

New York is full of exciting historical sites, but sometimes it's hard to know what the best ones are. After many, many Google searches, I landed on the Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace, a small and unassuming brownstone in Midtown that is a recreation of the house in which our twenty-sixth president grew up. Last weekend, I made the trip down and spent a couple of hours exploring.

The upstairs period rooms of the house can only be seen via guided tour with a park ranger. These tours last about thirty to forty-five minutes and happen every hour or so (check the website for more details). Make sure to get to the site a bit early to get your name on the list for the next tour, as they are limited to fifteen people. There's plenty to do while you wait for your tour, including a film, exhibit, and bathrooms. The tours, because they're led by rangers, will naturally differ a bit depending on who you get as your guide but mine was a nice balance between being informative enough that it felt worthwhile without going over anyone's heads. 

The Roosevelt family occupied a house at 28 East 20th Street from 1872 until Theodore (or "Teedie" as he was known in his youth) was fourteen years old. His father was a businessman and ardent philanthropist while his mother was a Southern belle from Georgia. Teedie and his three siblings were born and grew up in the house, living a life of comfort as they were one of the leading families of New York City despite the personal tragedies that plagued them. 

While his older sister Anna suffered from spinal issues, Theodore was a sickly and frail child largely due to his severe asthma. When he was eleven years old, upon his father's advice, he began trying to build up his own strength by doing exercises on the back porch. Over time, the scholarly bookish young boy gained the physique and health that we associate today with Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider and robust president who was passionate about national parks. The tour naturally focuses on his youth spent on the site, so it's useful to visit the exhibit first to learn about his career. 

While the house the Theodore actually lived in was demolished in 1916, after his death, his second wife and sisters began the process of rebuilding it. It opened to the public in 1923 and was donated to the National Park Service in 1963. Having been planned and restored by people who had lived in and visited the house themselves (his second wife Edith Carrow was a childhood friend of his sister's), it is surely as close as we can get to knowing exactly what it would have been like when he lived there. Most of the furniture and other items in the house belonged to the Roosevelt family, even if they were not actually in the house itself. 

The exhibit downstairs is a great place to explore after you've checked into the next tour. It mostly consists of quotes from Theodore and photographs of him and his family. However, they also have a handful of very neat artifacts including one of his Rough Riders uniforms and the shirt he was wearing when he was shot in an assassination attempt. There is additionally a little half hour film that is delightfully hokey about his boyhood and how he overcame his sickliness. 

Overall, this free museum is a great place to spend a few hours and learn more about one of the most interesting presidents this country has ever had. After going, I am currently looking into the best biography of Theodore Roosevelt to read! I highly recommend it to anyone living or visiting New York City. For more information, check out the museum's website
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