Review: The Secret Society of Leading Ladies, Barn Theatre

 RATING: ★★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Five Books I Read in 2020

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

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

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 

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

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

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

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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

In the Time We Lost by Carrie Hope Fletcher

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

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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

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

Looking Back on a Year of Starry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Goals for 2021

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

1. Watch 100 movies.

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

2. Get a tattoo. 

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

3. See 50 shows.

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

4. Work out at least twice a month. 

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

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

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

6. Read 15 books. 

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

7. Do a salonnières blog series.

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

8. Watch the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

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

9. Make six YouTube videos. 

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

10. Reach 700 followers on TikTok. 

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

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

An Update on My 2020 Goals

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

One. Watch 100 movies.

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

Two. Visit five new historic sites. 

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

Three. Read 12 books. 

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

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

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

Five. Put money aside into my savings. 

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

Six. See 30 shows. 

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

Seven. Work out at least twice a month. 

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

Eight. Earn money from my writing. 

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

Nine. Cook three meals in my Instant Pot. 

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

Ten. Read War and Peace

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

Check back soon for my ten 2021 goals! 

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