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

Review: North Carolina & World War I, NC Museum of History

I went home to North Carolina for President's Day weekend and luckily saw something on social media that reminded me that the North Carolina Museum of History currently has an exhibit on World War I. So when my family was brainstorming something to do on Sunday afternoon, of course I suggested heading down to the museum which I actually hadn't been to since I was in high school. (My sixteenth birthday party actually involved going to an exhibit there before going out to dinner. Yes, I was that big of a history nerd even then.)

The exhibit, called "North Carolina & World War I," is full of artifacts and information related to North Carolinians who were involved in the First World War. They have everything from medals to uniforms to posters to pieces of shells.  My favorite part was how they had bits where they'd set up artifacts with information about and photos of the North Carolinian they belonged to.

The best thing about this exhibit though is that much of it is housed within 'trenches' which are able to both guide the visitor through the exhibit and give a small idea of what it must have been like to be a soldier in the war. Obviously, they're a very sanitized cleaned-up version of trenches (although do keep an eye out for the stuffed rats!), but they really contribute to the atmosphere. And yes, make for some cool photo ops.

I do sort of wish they'd had some mock uniform jacket for people to try on, but I think I'm still a bit spoiled from well-funded London museums.

This exhibit gave an interesting glimpse into the North Carolinian experience of World War I. Obviously, it is only a brief overview into the war itself but one of the great things about it is that it keeps its focus fairly narrow which sets it apart from other large scale World War I exhibits I've seen that take a more nuanced look at the war itself. I learned a lot about the people of my home state, many of whom volunteered to go fight in the war even before the US was officially a part of it.

This exhibit is on at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh through Memorial Day 2019. So definitely be sure to go and see it while you can if you are in the Raleigh area in the next few months. The exhibit, like the rest of the museum, is free and open to the public. For more information, be sure to check out the museum's website.

All photos were taken by me with my iPhone XR. 

2018 in Review

2018 was an insane year for me. The first eight months were spent in London. I saw so many shows and spent six months doing my dream internship at the Donmar Warehouse while also finishing my Master's degree and doing my dissertation. I went to Paris and to Disneyland Paris, in addition to Scotland and some English towns and also had family and friends visit me in London.

In September, I moved back to the States and spent a month at home before moving to New York in October. In perfect honesty, things have been a bit of a struggle since moving to New York as I haven't had the easiest time adjusting. But there have still been some fun times spent with friends and I've seen a couple of amazing shows, in addition to some great time spent back home in North Carolina over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I'm so excited to see what 2019 will hold, but it's hard to see how anything (ever?) could top the first eight months of 2018. x

I started out the year at home trying to finish my essays for the term while battling a horrendous virus. But then I got a little more time at home once I was feeling better because my flight had to be moved because of snow! Once I was back in London, my cousin Kristi came to visit for a week. And on January 22 (yes, I found the exact date), I started an internship in the Development Department at the Donmar Warehouse (and saw Belleville and met James Norton that night!!). 

In February, my wonderful friend Stefanie came to visit and we had so much fun traipsing around London and out to Warwick Castle and Oxford. In February, I was really finding my feet at the Donmar and was so excited to be a part of everything going on with The York Realist, undoubtedly one of the best plays I've ever seen. February 23 was the fateful day that I went to see The Grinning Man (with Rhiannon) for the first time. And if you follow me on social media or on here, you may know I ended up seeing it six times!

March was full of high and lows. After having been gone for much of February traveling in Europe, my best friend Corinne stayed with me for a few days before moving back to Australia. I can honestly say that saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I did this past year. But then, I went to Paris for my spring break with my friend Patrizia which was amazing. I got to see so many sites I've wanted to go to for a long time, like Victor Hugo's house and Voltaire's tomb. 

April was such an exciting month. I went to my first concert by myself and while sit-down small gigs are much more my thing, it was so fun to see dodie perform live. I also got to attend the press launch for the revival of Company and met Patti LuPone and Marianne Elliot which was incredible. Most excitingly, I attended the Oliviers to do social media coverage for BroadwayWorld UK and even though it was chaotic and rainy, it was so amazing to be on the red carpet and in the press room. I met everyone from Imelda Staunton to Carrie Hope Fletcher! Finally April was rounded off with a visit home which definitely refreshed me. 

In May, I went to the final closing performance of The Grinning Man and cried my eyes out. I also went to Louise Pentland's book signing and discovered that a quote from my review (here! on this blog!) was chosen to be amongst the review quotes in the paperback edition. I will never forget the moment that after spending the most fun day with Rhiannon at the Tower of London, we discovered that a quote from my review for Red had gone up on the Wyndham Theatre. May was truly the time that it sunk in that I was a proper writer. 

In June, I saw all three of RADA's summer shows and spent a lot of time there (my best friend Rhiannon studies stage management at RADA; I'm not just a massive groupie). I also got to attend West End Live for the first time which was so amazing especially because Killian Donnelly did a surprise performance with the Barricade Boys. June was also the month of Tartuffe posters everyone...with my quote at the top! 

In July, I traveled up to Scotland to visit my friend Julie who was there for awhile over the summer and we had the best time. Back in England, I fulfilled my dream of seeing Anne Boleyn's childhood home, Hever Castle, thanks to Rhiannon's parents driving us there. (I also spent the nicest weekend at her house.) Perhaps most incredibly, I got to meet my favorite actress Lily James after attending a charity screening of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Sadly, my time at the Donmar ended but my family came for a visit which kind of made up for it. 

After an amazing visit with my family, I left for Disneyland Paris with Rhiannon. I've wanted to go there for so long and we had the best time! Then I came back to attend Summer in the City, the big YouTube convention in London, for the first time which was amazing. (My now roommate) Kimmy came to visit me for a week and a half and we had some great adventures. In August, I also finished and turned in my dissertation! 

After seeing Jeremy Jordan in concert and getting to be at the first night of Heathers in their West End transfer to the Haymarket, I moved home to North Carolina. Luckily, my dad came to help because it was quite the ordeal to get everything all packed up. I got to spend some amazing time at home before going up to New York to apartment hunt. 

I got to attend my first film festival, Film Fest 919, in North Carolina where I saw The Favourite and Boy Erased. Mid-month, with the help of my whole family, I packed up everything and moved to New York City. Much of the later part of the month was spent job hunting and trying to adjust to the city. 

I started working a part-time job selling merchandise at a handful of theatres. After lots more job hunting, I had a couple of successful interviews and was finally offered a job. I spent my last full day of unemployment at the Met Museum. After going home for Thanksgiving, I started my job at Spektrix, a theatre software company. 

In December, my most-anticipated film of the year Mary Queen of Scots (directed by the Donmar Warehouse's artistic director Josie Rourke) was released. I've already seen it not once, but twice. In theatre news, I went to see Clueless the Musical, which I found rather charming, and even got to meet Dove Cameron at the stage door after. Before long it was time to go home for Christmas and we had wonderful celebrations. 

What were the highlights of your 2018? x

Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

I didn't quite meet my reading goal of 25 books in 2018, but I did get through 21 so I'm not too upset. I read some authors for the first time, discovered a couple of new favorites, and read several biographies and memoirs. I also read some books for a new segment of the podcast I'm on called "Next Best Adaptation," which looks at books that have upcoming films versions coming out.

Just like last year's post, I wanted to share my top ten books I read in 2018 in no particular order.

Venus in Fur by David Ives
I started the year by reading the script of one of my favorite plays that I saw in 2017. (I saw it...four times, in fact.) It's a fascinating read especially because it's full of witty lines that I feel like can sometimes go by so fast onstage. Venus in Fur is a really interesting story that raises many questions about gender power dynamics but also the power struggle between a director and an actor. I'd like to try to read more plays in 2019, both of things that I have and haven't seen.

Unmasked: A Memoir by Andrew Lloyd Webber 
I read Andrew Lloyd Webber's memoir to review for BroadwayWorld UK and I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it. It's a massive book (especially considering it only covers up until the opening of Phantom), but if you have any interest in his life or work, it can give you incredible insight. I'm ready for his Part 2 any day now.

Boy Erased by Garrad Conley
From the first few chapters of this memoir, I knew it was something special. Garrard Conley tells about his time attending gay conversion therapy as a young man, but he also gives the story of how he came out -- first to himself and then to his parents -- in thoughtful detail. I cried many times while watching this and it really showed me how far we still have to go in this country alone. I was also very impressed by the stunning film starring Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, and Nicole Kidman that was released this year and highly recommend both the book and movie.

When the Curtain Falls by Carrie Hope Fletcher
Carrie Hope Fletcher is perhaps the person who inspires me the most and I've always enjoyed her whimsical novels. However, her latest book combines two of my favorite things: the theatre and ghosts. You can read my full review here, but I was absolutely enchanted about this double timeline romance and ghost story which filled me with both joy and despair.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Don't tell my teachers, but I had never actually read a full Charles Dickens book before last year. After I started volunteering at the Charles Dickens Museum in London, I realized that had to change so I went out and bought A Tale of Two Cities (it wasn't mammoth-sized like some of Dickens's books and I love the French Revolution) and I was shocked by how much I loved it. I fell in love with all the characters, found the story very engaging, and was surprised at the humor in the novel. I've since bought a few more Dickens novels to read in 2019. 

Young and Damned and Fair by Gareth Russell
I've been an Anne Boleyn fangirl from a young age and have admittedly never given much thought to Henry VIII's other wives (except Anne of Cleves, who I think is fascinating). However, I couldn't resist this well-titled biography of Catherine Howard which I learned so much from. It's a really beautiful depiction of life in Tudor court and holds a wealth of information about the young girl often written off as foolish or even slutty. Perhaps Catherine was one of those things, or even both, but Russell's biography shows that there's more to her story.

Wilde About the Girl by Louise Pentland
I adored Louise Pentland's first novel, Wilde Like Me, so I was thrilled for its sequel to be released. All of your favorite characters from the first novel are back, but with new adventures. I don't read much contemporary fiction but Louise manages to write characters who are relatable but whose problems don't feel trivial or silly. I hope Louise turns the Robin Wilde books into a whole series because I want more!

Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico 
I read this little novella because my friend, Rhiannon, kindly lent me her vintage copy. If you're a fan of British theatre, you might know that there was a musical adaptation of the book staged this past year in Chichester which my best friend worked on hence my reading the original novel. It's a charming story with an almost fairytale-esque air to it that will leave you grinning.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
It's not every year that you read something and it immediately goes into your top five books of all time. But after we fell head over heels for the movie adaptation starring Lily James that was released this year, my friend Rhiannon and I decided we had to read the novel. And I read it within only a few days!

It's a gorgeous story, told through letters, about a young writer named Juliet in post-WWII London who ends up traveling to Guernsey and learning about its occupation by the Nazis during the war. It has romance and friendship and literary references and everything I could ever want.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 
Finally, I ended the year by reading this classic Christmas tale that I had somehow never read in full before. I was shocked by how legitimately funny I found it, but it's also somehow rather chilling even this long after it was first published. It might sound odd, but I'm rather impressed by Charles Dickens. Having volunteered at his former house for a year, I feel much more connected to Dickens the Man than Dickens the Writer, but he really blew me away with this one.

What were your favorite books you've read this year? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. x

Top Ten Shows I Saw in 2018

I can't believe that I saw eighty-three shows this past year. Six of those were in New York, one was a US tour (Bright Star!), and seventy-six were in London. I saw a lot of them through being a reviewer for BroadwayWorld UK and took advantage of London's inexpensive deals for many of the others. I wanted to share my top ten and while it was super hard to pick, I finally narrowed it down to five musicals and five plays.

I didn't include things that I'd seen the same production of in 2017 like some of my all-time favorites The Woman in White, Les Miserables, or Kinky Boots. Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my top ten shows of 2018!

The Grinning Man - Review, Video
If I had to pick a show to be number one on this list, I would likely pick The Grinning Man if for no other reason than that I saw it a crazy six times. This musical based on the Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs, is a blend of Great Comet, Phantom of the Opera, and War Horse. I don't think I've fallen in love with a show so swiftly and so completely since I first fell in love with Les Mis as a teenager. From its insanely talented cast to the impeccable design to the atmosphere like no other I've ever witnessed, this show truly took me on a journey and was exactly what I needed it to be. (Now can I get a Broadway production, please?)

Red - Review
Who knew that a 90 minute play could pack such a punch? This astounding revival directed by Michael Grandage saw Alfred Molina return to the role of Mark Rothko with Alfred Enoch as his assistant. It made me reconsider some of my thoughts on the purpose of art and what art truly means. The moment in which they paint the canvas (those who saw it will know exactly what I mean) was one of the most thrilling things I witnessed in a theatre the whole year.

Heathers - Review, Video
In 2018, I was lucky enough to see cult favorite Heathers both at The Other Palace and at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It was the last show that I saw before moving back to the States and I couldn't have picked a better one. Not only is it both hilarious and very touching, but getting to see Carrie Hope Fletcher in the role of Veronica was like a dream come true. Seeing Carrie, a woman with a similar body type to my own, shown as sexy onstage did wonderful things for my self-confidence.

The York Realist
While my first show while working at the Donmar Warehouse was Belleville, The York Realist was the first that I felt a part of. Now only was I around the cast while they were rehearsing in the building, but I got to attend the first preview and the press night. The York Realist is a beautiful LGBT romance and the performances by Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey will likely stay with me for the rest of my life. (The development team were so lovely and gave me a poster signed by the cast when I left and it's now proudly hanging on the wall of my room here in New York!)

Broken Wings - Review
I fell head over heels with this new musical about the life of Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan. I loved the concept album but after interviewing Nadim, I couldn't wait for its short run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. And it actually exceeded my expectations! I was so happy that it's one of the shows that my family saw together when they visited. We need more diverse stories onstage, in addition to diverse casting, and something like Broken Wings is an amazing example of Middle Eastern representation.

Emilia was one of those plays where you feel like you've had an experience by the end, if you know what I mean. It's more than a show somehow. On the surface, it's a play about a female writer who was a contemporary of Shakespeare, performed by a diverse company of women at the Globe. But somehow, it deals with so many ways that women are both oppressed and uplifted. Not only was I crying by the end, but my friend Kimmy who I'd never seen cry before was shedding tears. I'm so excited that it's getting a West End transfer in 2019.

Titanic (UK Tour) - Video
I've loved Titanic since I first saw it performed at my college, Elon University, but getting to see the UK tour production was such a treat. It's a gorgeous show with soaring music by Maury Yeston and I think something special to say about the human condition as illuminated by a tragedy one night in April of 1912. The tour cast was absolutely outstanding and it was so lovely to get to see Niall Sheehy as Barrett after having missed him when he played the role before.

Lieutenant of Inishmore - Review
I rarely fall head over heels for a comedy so it makes sense that the only one featured on this list is a dark comedy about Irish terrorism. I ended up seeing The Lieutenant of Inishmore three times and I can't remember a time I ever laughed so much in a theatre. Aidan Turner was absolutely stunning as the lead and I wanted to move right into the set. I hope this gets revived on Broadway in the next few years as I think it's such a great show.

The Ferryman (Broadway)
The first of the two Broadway shows that I've included on this list is the recent West End transfer of The Ferryman. This is actually kind of cheating because The Ferryman made my 2017 list for its West End production, but I couldn't leave it out because it's the best play I've ever seen on Broadway. This Irish drama is both a family story and a political one and though I've seen it three times now, it still feels fresh and exciting. The cast currently on Broadway are absolutely incredible and I look forward to this hopefully sweeping the 2019 Tony Awards.

Anastasia (Broadway) - Review
Anastasia was one of my favorite films growing up. It was the first movie I ever saw in the theatre and Dmitri was probably my first crush. So I had high expectations for this show, especially after how much I loved the cast album, and it didn't disappoint in the slightest. I love the changes that were made to the original movie to bring it closer to the historic truth of what occurred (it thrills my history-major heart) and the cast is really something special. Christy Altomare, in particular, is everything that you could ever want from the woman playing Anya.

What were your favorite shows that you saw in 2018? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. x
Blogger Template Created by pipdig