Tag Archives: Audience

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What’s Going Down in London Theatre?

After last month’s  2017 Tony Awards in New York, we thought it would be interesting to see what is hot over in the London theatre scene a few  months after the super exciting Olivier Award winners were revealed at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Of course, there is more than enough to fill multiple blog posts but here is a selection of the hottest tickets in town!

The big winners on the night of the Olivers included Amber Riley for Best Actress in a Musical (Dreamgirls)–and a simply phenomenal live performance of “And I Am Telling You” at the awards–and a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, which took home Best Revival and Best Actress for Billie Piper.

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But there was one production that quite simply swept the board and its popularity is reflected in the speed with which tickets are flying out of the box office. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One & Two) won an incredible, record-breaking total of 9 awards, including Best New Play, Best Actor, Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Director. The plays are taking the capital by storm, soon to transfer over to Broadway’s Lyric Theater in Spring 2018. The buzz is already huge!

If we’re going to talk about a huge theatrical buzz, then we have to discuss Angels in America at the National Theatre. I, for one, sat in the online queue for over 2 hours when tickets were first released and was lucky enough to get tickets for this July. The two-part play runs until mid-August and is completely sold out, aside from ballot tickets. With a cast featuring Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Denise Gough, and Andrew Garfield, and very favorable first reviews, this is another play that is dominating London theater headlines.

Sticking to plays for the moment, a new production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter Theater also recently excited the capital’s critics with 5 stars all round. Closing at the end of May, it featured Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill in the lead roles and both actors were praised for their gripping performances. Staunton’s interpretation of the infamous Elizabeth Taylor film role was labelled by The Independent as “one of the greatest feats of acting […] witnessed”.

Indeed Imelda Staunton is working her way through many of the most desirable roles for mature female actors. After winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2013 and 2016 for Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Rose in Gypsy respectively, she has been cast to star as Sally in the new revival of Follies at the National Theatre, opening in August 2017. This blogger has been fortunate enough to secure tickets for this exciting new production and will report back!

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So, what else is hot in the West End musicals world? Well, it’s definitely the year for the dance musicals. After highly praised runs in Paris and on Broadway, An American in Paris opened at the Dominion Theatre in March earlier this year. With a sumptuous score by Ira and George Gershwin, the musical is headed by the original Broadway stars, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. After a series of fantastic reviews and tickets flying out of the doors, it was recently announced that the show will be extended until January 2018.

Another dance-heavy musical recently revived to great praise is the toe-tapping 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You cannot walk through London or take a trip on the tube without spotting a poster or advertisement for this high-energy production. Sheena Easton has been cast as the vain, prima donna Dorothy Brock, and many of the routines promoted on national television have been quite simply stunning. Well worth a watch, by all accounts!

Finally, the latest London revival of a class dance musical is On the Town, featuring the music of the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. Directed and choreographed by the Olivier-Award-winning Drew McOnie, the show has recently opened for a short two-month run at the lovely Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In such a stunning, summer venue, 1949 New York City comes to life in a celebration of dance and song.

With so much to see and admire on London’s West End stages, what else would you want to be doing this summer?!

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Opera 101: What IS Opera, Doc? An Art Form Is Born

Warner Brothers Cartoon, What's Opera, Doc? - 1957
Warner Brothers Cartoon, What’s Opera, Doc? – 1957

What kid doesn’t remember the great Bugs Bunny? We all grew up with good ol’ Looney Tunes, and I used to love how music was used as a vehicle to set up whatever crazy story Bugs was a part of. I can still hear the words “Kill the wabbit” sung to the famous melody from the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”. As a child, however, I had no clue that the music in this cartoon was from an actual opera. I was spellbound by the way the cartoon fused music and drama, and who can forget Bugs always dressing as the heroine, with the wig and the horns? For those of you who haven’t seen these cartoons, read no further until you have watched these clips. I promise you will not be sorry.

These two cartoons are based on two of opera’s most famous pieces: Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Giachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. It is amazing how deeply rooted certain operatic motifs are ingrained in our memories. While not a part of these cartoons, I am sure we have all heard the words “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” that also come from The Barber of Seville. These cartoons are so well known that some operatic productions use carrot jokes as a nod to the beloved Bugs Bunny.  

So, what is opera, really? Opera is a difficult word to define in a larger context, as many things fall under its umbrella, but in simplest form, opera is a theatrical work told through music and singing. Often people will add “without dialogue” to this definition but that opens a door to be discussed in a later post. You may also be wondering, “Isn’t musical theater also a theatrical work told through music and singing?” Well, you are correct. There are many similarities between opera and musical theatre, and the latter would not exist without the former. There is much nuance to discuss about the differences of these two amazing art forms but that, again, will deserve its own post to really do it justice.

Opera has its origin in Europe, most specifically in Florence, Italy. In the 1500s, a group of men gathered in Florence called the Florentine Camerata. These men were poets, musicians, humanists, and intellectuals in the late Renaissance period. Their gatherings began a revival of Greek dramas and their musical experiments led to the development of “stile recitativo”. This singing style adopted the flow of normal speech and allowed for a story to be told, basically speaking on pitch. This became further developed and eventually led to the creation of opera. The first Opera was Dafne written by Jacopo Peri and produced in Florence around 1597. That is over 400 years ago! The libretto (the play, essentially) for this opera still survives, however, much of the musical score (the music) is, unfortunately, lost. The first “complete” opera score that we have dates to 1600 again by Peri and called Euridice. This first opera included dramatically sung moments, and more “half spoken” parts in the “recitativo” style developed by the Camerata.

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An excerpt from the 1600 score of Euridice.

Since the writing of Dafne, countless operas have been composed by composers from many countries and in many languages, and many operas are still being written today! Popular composers you may know include: Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Heggie, and many others.

So that bring us to the end of our first  Opera 101 post. In the future we will explore a few of the topics mentioned previously as well as addressing questions about opera as an art form and/or career. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section, if you have any!

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Tony Awards Night 2017

Tony_Award_MedallionIt’s that time again for the Broadway Super Bowl — otherwise know as the Tony Awards! I have friends getting ready all over the country for viewing parties, and I know a few folks involved with the actual show. I’m going a little more low key this year, but will try to do some live tweeting for StageAgent, so maybe I’ll see some of you on the Twitterverse!

I think I can safely predict two names we will hear A LOT tonight (at least in the musicals categories) — Evan and Dolly. We’ll be treated to performances from current and recent nominated musicals including Bandstand, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Falsettos, Groundhog Day The Musical, Hello, Dolly!, Miss Saigon, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, and War Paint. And who knows what host Kevin Spacey has up his sleeve?

So here’s your official ballot. The live show starts at 8:00PM Eastern on CBS (also streaming, or 7:00 PM Central and tape delay for the West Coast). We’ll check in later in the week for a recap. Who are your favorites?

 

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Dolly staircase

Secretary Hamilton, Have You Met Mrs. Dolly Levi?

Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes
Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes

I hit the Broadway ticket jackpot recently — well, two of my friends did and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits. In one week’s time, I got to see two of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2017: Hamilton, still one of the most in-demand tickets as it approaches two years on Broadway, and the revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, which broke all first-day Broadway ticket sales records last September. Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!–complete opposites of the musical theatre spectrum, one would think. A month or two back, I wouldn’t have thought that I would find correlations in such different shows and relevance in our current political climate, nor would I see how much we need both of them today in the growth and influence of musical theatre itself.

A friend texted me a few weeks back to see if I was busy one evening, telling me he won a ticket lottery for Hamilton. I thought he was kidding. I bailed out on a board meeting that night (though my co-members were all for it — come on, Hamilton!) so I could go. Our seats were in the front row, all the way down to the right. I could hear the actors singing both live and through the monitors; I was almost hit with flying beads of sweat several times, I was that close. Now I am not a Hamilton obsessive. I’ve listened a few times to the Original Cast Recording, watched some YouTube clips, and I have looked through quite a bit of the big HamilTome (look it up). But I haven’t actively memorized any of it. But it didn’t change the fact that that night, I was excited — the spontaneity of getting to go; the proximity to the virtually bare stage; the ground-breaking elements of this musical presenting American history; and finally being in the room, yes, the room where it happened.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

And the show didn’t disappoint. Even though there were at least three understudies on for major roles, and I don’t know how many were even left from the original cast, it didn’t matter. The cast was uniformly excellent, powerhouse performers communicating in fast rap, jazz riffs, and hip hop-infused choreography. The audience members were on the edges of their seats, resisting the urge to snap their fingers along with the opening number, but roused to thunderous applause time and time again as the biting lyrics coincidentally hit points reflected in today’s news, delivered with precision by the cast. The clean simple lines of the off-white knickers and corsets/vests that the ensemble members wore, the bare brick walls and wooden staircases and platform, and the way in which the central turntable kept the scenes transitioning seamlessly let the sung-through music and lyrics tell the story with minimal distraction. The show was an ensemble piece for the most part telling the story of Hamilton AND Burr, often with all actors on stage, many in multiple roles, weaving this story of the founders of our nation. It was a period piece in a most modern fashion.

For Hello, Dolly! a week later, the story was a little different. A friend went (at 4:00 AM) to queue up for standing room tickets for the Wednesday matinee. And she managed to get a pair for us. This time we were in the far back left of the orchestra–most theaters actually have numbered tags along the back wall where you can lean–almost the exact opposite of where I had been seated for Hamilton. A grand red drape with the simple show logo hung across the proscenium arch. Now I’ve listened to both the Broadway and film recordings of the show and have seen Dolly several times since childhood. It’s one of my favorites, and I know pretty much every word. As the more than 50-year-old overture started to play, I could see heads swaying in front of me as familiar strains washed over the excited crowd. Finally the grand drape opened on colorful, vaudevillian backdrops with sets dressed in the cheerful clutter of a hay and feed store or the purples and pinks of a ladies hat shop. Singers and dancers whirled across the stage in bright suits and dresses, or literally galloped around a staircase as actors farcically popped in and out from behind curtained restaurant booths. Subtle and modern, it was not. But it was glorious, and in the center of it all was a mega-watt force of Bette Midler, a leading lady of the highest caliber in a show designed for a star. Standing in the back, I was hard-pressed not to sway and dance myself bouncing on my heels during my favorite number, the brightly hued “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and regretting a little that I was already standing as the audience leapt to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation after the title number. It was magical.

Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But here’s what I realized in the audience that day. We need both the Hamiltons and the Dollys in this world. We need the gems like Hello, Dolly! that stand up through the wear and tear of decades and shine that much brighter when brought into the light and are given glittering new productions, and we need the spare and edgy, forward-thinking modern musicals like Hamilton, because without one, the other cannot exist. Listen to Hamilton and you hear allusions not just to rap artists, but to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific. And it’s not just a matter of building upon what came before, it’s letting the air come back into the older shows and hearing the script and lyrics in the context of today, while celebrating the traditional structure and staging of a Golden Age show. Besides the title tune and Bette Midler’s initial entrance, the most vocal audience response at Hello, Dolly! was to the line, “Money… pardon the expression… is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Cheers, applause, and woots! The reaction was as visceral as if it had been one of the pointed cabinet rap battles in Hamilton, with its witty revolutionary barbs that reflect in today’s politics.

Do I have a type of show I prefer? Sure, I’m a classic Broadway girl all the way, but there is a direct line from classics like Hello, Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof to the mega musicals of the 80s like Miss Saigon or Les Miz to Hamilton or the current Broadway darling, Dear Evan Hansen. I think the big question is where will that line next loop around and where will it lead next? And how will today’s theatre students and future actors, composers/lyricists, and directors look to the past worlds of Jerry Herman, Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Cole Porter to become the next Pasek & Paul or Lin-Manuel Miranda? There’s room, and the need, for all of them. We don’t have to choose–and we shouldn’t.

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Handy Tips for Attending the Theater on a Budget

Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith
Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith

As anyone who goes to the theater on a regular basis knows, it is not always the cheapest pastime to have. You might want to see the latest smash hit, or maybe a fringe production that has received rave reviews. But, unless, you are rolling in money, what are the best ways to visit the theater on a budget?

In 2015, Broadway had 13.32 million* visitors to its theaters, while London’s West End saw 14.7 million† theater-goers coming through its doors. But with ticket prices continually on the increase, audience members are paying more and more. The average ticket price in the West End last year was £42.99, while the average price for a Broadway show was $103.11. However there are several ways to get to the theater regularly on the most modest of budgets and I have compiled some top tips, designed to protect your purse but continue to increase your love of theater!

Don’t Be Put Off by the Cheaper Seats

Of course the cheaper tickets offer good value and the opportunity to see a show we might not otherwise be able to afford. However, they are still expensive, and let’s face it, we’ve all experienced this–a production of Wicked in London almost ten years ago cost me a pretty big sum of money for two tickets, which allowed me to gaze at the top of tiny people’s heads for two hours. Sure, the music is amazing and the experience was brilliant, but I was frustrated by the limited view on the very back row of the Upper Circle (aka, the Balcony) in a particularly large theater.

View from an Upper Circle (aka Balcony). Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia
View from an Upper Circle (aka balcony).
Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia

However, I have since realized that, if you are savvy, the cheaper tickets can work to your advantage and here is how.

  • Check out the size of the theater:

It’s not much to do the math: the cheapest ticket in a large theater will probably result in you being sat in the gods, BUT if you consider the smaller theaters, a cheaper ticket may actually result in a good view and the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t spent the earth. Having figured this out, a birthday trip to see One Man, Two Guvnors in London’s West End two years ago resulted in brilliant front row circle seats (in a small theater) with an excellent view and over half the price of the stalls.

  • Consider what ‘restricted view’ really means

Many seats are cheaper because they are listed as restricted view. However, most of the time, this does not mean that you lose a large proportion of the view. Instead you may lose the very top of an elevated head (case in point: the floating singers in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or lose characters behind a flat two seconds earlier than those in the stalls.

Pay What You Can

In addition to looking at the cheapest tickets available, also keep an eye out for any Pay What You Can (PWYC) schemes. Some theaters run these, normally on a matinee or Sunday, and they offer a limited number of seats for an affordable donation. However, you have to be quick, as these tickets are first come, first sold!

Check Out Local Theater Schools or Drama Schools

If you are fortunate to live near a good drama college or university with a theater course, take a look at their graduate shows. These up and coming performers produce outstanding, professional shows as the culmination of a lot of hard work and training. If they are open to the public, these shows are a great way of seeing a production of quality at a reduced price. One of the best colleges in the UK to offer public graduate shows is the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Their graduate productions of Spring Awakening (my first time seeing it) and Cabaret (definitely not my first time) were not only great shows, but also served as a reminder of what talent there is in the next generation of actors.

Discover the Festivals

Now, of course, going to a performing arts festival is not necessarily a cheap option. Some of the biggest and most well-known festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offer a wide variety of different plays, musicals, comedy etc in differing price brackets. Yes, many productions still cost a large amount but, equally, you can stumble across well-known classics performed affordably as a fringe show. However, if you choose to go to a larger festival, don’t be afraid to put in the research and go in with an open mind. For a couple of dollars, or possibly even for free, you may well discover a piece of performance that astounds the senses and makes you think differently about the theatrical experience. The Rhubarb Festival in the heart of Toronto is a perfect example of the opportunity to experience new writing that aims to explore contemporary theatrical discourse, and produce innovative and exciting pieces of work.

Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London's Theatreland. © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London’s Theatreland.
© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

If You Can, Be Flexible in Your Dates/Times

For the most part, prime seats in the stalls are going to be just as expensive on a Saturday night as on a Wednesday matinee, BUT there are potentially more opportunities to upgrade your ticket when the house is only half full. Now, this will not always happen, particularly if you’re going to a show during peak tourist season, but I have had several experiences where my back row ticket has been exchanged for a much better seat in the middle of the week. Often, if only a couple of tickets have been sold in the upper circle/circle, theaters will close this area off and upgrade you to the next level down. Several years ago, my circle ticket for Oliver! at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, London, was exchanged for a seat in the centre of the stalls, row G. Thank you very much! This also happened during Singin’ in the Rain and La Cage aux Folles, so it definitely was not a fluke, although it is by no means a fool proof method!

Although these tips cannot guarantee a cheaper ticket, every little helps in making a trip to the theater more affordable on a limited budget. Because, after all, we all need more theater in our lives!

*Broadway ticket statistics are taken from www.broadwayleague.com

†West End ticket statistics are taken from www.thestage.com

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