History is Happening in Manhattan: The Beauty of the Tony Awards

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“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”-William Shakespeare, Ask You Like It

Musicals, to me, are like a love affair. For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with musicals. In spite of all the tragedy and internet debate, I still looked forward to the Tony awards.

Now I know that award shows can get political and the Tonys are no different. But I stand by what James Corden said:

But as my pastor said today in his homily during Daily Mass, we can only overcme evil with good and be loving in the face of hatred. I don’t agree with all the political stuff being talked about. I just want to remind everyone that in spite of everything, there is always good happening in this world.

On with the show!

Everyone on Broadway knew that Hamilton was basically the selling point, the darling, so it’s no surprise that the show opened with a Hamilton-style introduction of James Corden.

However, the real opening number was a beautiful, inspiring song about how theater inspires people to go into acting.  There’s a magic to theater that can’t be completely captured in film or television and the quick changes in this number shows a little glimpse of that magic. And yeah, I was listing off every single musical he referenced. The Doctor would be proud of you, Craig.

Corden described the Tonys in his opening monologue as “The Oscars, but with diversity.” There were more than a few shots taken at Trump and their support for a certain presidential nominee wasn’t exactly subtle either. She was senator of New York, after all. But I love that actors of every age and race was nominated for a major award.

As of now, my latest musical love affair is with Hamilton, which had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations. Due to multiple actors being nominated in the same categories, the musical could only win a total of 13 possible awards. They ended up winning 11, including Best Musical. So before I get to squeeing over that, I want to give attention to the other shows that performed that night. Warning, though, I am very sick with a case of Hamilaria, so forgive all the Hamilton puns I’ll be making throughout this blog post.

The first musical number performed featured the cast of School of Rock: The Musical. I admit that I was kind of skeptical about this adaptation, but watching the performance opened my mind to the idea.”You’re In The Band” shows Dewey assembling his rock band, with the kids getting more excited as the song got more bombastic. I love that the kids played their instruments live (although I’m not sure where the electrical instruments are plugged into). It’s a very-high energy performance that I hope inspires future kids to try and take a shot.

The next number was from Shuffle Along, a musical about the making of a Broadway show in the 1920s. The performance featured a lot of beautiful tap dancing that had me considering taking lessons. Audra McDonald’s voice was as gorgeous as always. The melody of the song and all those tap dancers stirred up pure, undiluted joy in my heart.

She Loves Me, nominated for Best Revival, had a performance that starred Jane Krakowski from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Zachary Levi from Tangled and Laura Benanti aka Alura and Aunt Astra on Supergirl. This musical won the Tony for best set design and I totally get why. I also have to give Jane props for dancing her heart in the first song. She’s absolutely adorable! Zachary Levi is utterly charming, too. But Laura Benanti totally clinched her performance. Never have I ever heard anyone sing so passionately about vanilla ice cream! The romantic comedy role she’s playing is such a huge contrast from her serious role on Supergirl and her role as the Baroness in the NBC live showing of The Sound of Music. I absolutely love it!

Another musical nominated for Best Revival was Fiddler on the Roof. James Corden showed Josh Groban playing Tevye at the age of 17. Josh Groban took it with great stride. (Your face needs to stop, it’s so cute!) The cast of Fiddler performed “Sunrise, Sunset” and the huge wedding reception dance number. You can really see how much work they put into it.

The musical I knew the least about was Bright StarBright Star is a musical set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the 40s with flashbacks to the 20s. The play is written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It was definitely an interesting performance, but I’m not sure if it’s for me.

Two other musicals nominated for Best Revival were The Color Purple and Spring AwakeningThe Color Purple‘s song was perfectly apropos because they sang about how “The Good Lord Works In Mysterious Ways.” It reminded the audience that in spite of the bad things that happen, God will always come through. Then Cynthia Ervio sings a beautiful solo about gratitude and accepting yourself. It’s no wonder that it won Best Revival.

In contrast, Spring Awakening was performed by a cast of deaf teenagers from the Deaf West Theatre. The songs were performed with singers, but most of the actors “sung” the lyrics in American Sign Language. I liked the concept of this revival because, as Marlee Matlin described it, the story of Spring Awakening is “a cautionary tale of lust and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.” The musical is skeptical and confusing, much like adolescence is, and this revival shows that even people who can’t hear have a voice.

My dad, who is a huge fan of Gloria Estefan loved the performance from the cast of On Your Feet. He told me that Ana Villafane went to the same high school as Gloria Estefan. The resemblance between Ana and Gloria is very uncanny! Emilio Esetefan, Gloria’s husband, also announced that everyone in the cast is here in the country legally, papers and all. Gloria and Ana had a vivacious performance

Out of all the original musicals nominated this year, though, Waitress was the one that caught my eye the most. I already knew Jessie Mueller from her role of Carole King in Beautiful. The number started with “Opening Up” and ended with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” featuring Sara Bareilles (who wrote the score and songs for this musical) and Jessie Mueller. The song reminds me of the worst years of my life, when I thought I lost myself. Also, I want Jesse Mueller to be Sara Bareilles in some future biopic.

Now, while musicals were the main feature of the night, a few plays caught my attention. Eclipsed looks into the lives of captive sex slaves living through the Liberian civil war. The Father, a play centering on a man with dementia, stars Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon. King Charles III intrigued me because it’s inspired by Shakespearean tragedy but mixes it with speculative fiction as to what kind of king Prince Charles might be. Other notable plays are the revivals of two Arthur Miller plays: The Crucible and A View from The Bridge. I was also familiar with Noises Off because my college did a production of that during my first year. A View From the Bridge won Best Revival and The Humans (a play set in WWII) won Best Play.

And now, to my favorite parts. Namely, the parts where Hamilton won most of the things! (11/13 ain’t bad as far as I’m concerned.)

It didn’t surprise that Daveed Diggs won Best Featured Actor. I loved Renee Elise Goldsberry‘s acceptance speech. I had no idea that she struggled to have children and I’m so happy that she has two kids now and values them enough to save them for last in her speech. Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s tear-jerking sonnet as he accepted his Tony for Best Score made me want to give him a hug. Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, won Best Direction of A Musical. I tweeted: “Thomas, that was a real nice declaration.” The surprise of the night, though, was Leslie Odom Jr. winning the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance of Aaron Burr.

Then, of course, were the wonderful performances from the cast. The first one, aside from the opening, was a performance of “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “Yorktown.”

Angelhamilfan on tumblr pointed out something interesting about this performance:

I feel like people are missing something really key that happened in the 2016 Tonys performance.

Lin changed one word. But that’s all it took to change the meaning of the performance and the Tonys.

“Weapon with my hands.”

They didn’t just take out the muskets to show solidarity, Lin is trying to teach us that what we do, say and write will change perspective for generations to come. He’s showing us how we don’t need a gun or violence to fight for what we believe in. Like Alexander, we have our hands. Our writing. Our words are immortalized when we write, no matter who takes us away. The massacre in Orlando has devastated our country, but why stay silent? Why give them what they want and silence ourselves? We need to make something that is immortalized. Teach generations that come that you can take away our loved ones, but you can NEVER take our words.

It’s the message of the Schuyler Sisters in the closing number that I love the most, though: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” In spite of all the bad things that are happening, we are lucky to be alive right now. We are blessed.

How To Say Goodbye: The Wisdom of St. JP2, Pope Benedict, and George Washington

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What the heck does the father of our country have in common with a saint and a pope emeritus? You’d be surprised.

I still remember how I felt when I woke up a few years ago on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and heard the news of Pope Benedict choosing to step down as Pope. As someone who grew up in the JP2 Generation, watching a pope choose to step down instead of waiting until God calls him home was unheard of. I was already in an unstable emotional state at the time and Pope Benedict’s announcement was another rug that got pulled out from under my feet.

When I saw Pope Benedict walk through the Doors of Mercy recently, however, I realized that the decision he made three years ago was not an easy one.

There’s a song from Hamilton called “One Last Time,” which recounts George Washington’s decision to step down after two terms of being president. One particular part of the song stood out to me:

[HAMILTON]
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

[WASHINGTON]
No, they will see we’re strong

[HAMILTON]
Your position is so unique

[WASHINGTON]
So I’ll use it to move them along

[HAMILTON]
Why do you have to say goodbye?

[WASHINGTON]
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone

Back in my college days, I had a history professor who joked that the Vatican is one of the last remaining true monarchies in existence. Benedict’s decision to step down made me realize that the papacy is not a monarchy. Like the pope’s Twitter handle @Pontifex, Benedict became a bridge builder, becoming the bridge between the great saint who changed an entire generation and the pope we now have who is spreading God’s love and mercy throughout the world.

Which brings up the question: Why didn’t Pope John Paul II abdicate?

I might be biased because I was born in the 90s, but whenever I see videos or photos of JP2 as he was suffering with Parkinson’s, I don’t see weakness, but strength and courage. To Saint John Paul the Great, the Church was his family. Showing his Parkinson’s to the world opened up opportunities for compassion towards those who were suffering the way he did. I didn’t see weakness in JP2’s last days. I saw a love for the Church and for the world that was stronger than Parkinson’s.

In contrast, seeing Benedict walk through the Doors of Mercy with a cane and an aid broke my heart almost as much as he did three years ago. He wasn’t sick the way that Pope John Paul II was, but he still looked so fragile, it hurt. This is just a guess, but if the world saw this man growing old and frail, it may have validated the secular belief that the church is getting as old and weak as he is right now. Not that Pope Francis is a younger, better model. But Pope Francis is at least young in heart and has a lively spirit that the Church seriously needs.

A Bible verse that George Washington keeps using in his correspondence is from Micah 4:4: “They shall all sit under their own vines, under their own fig trees, undisturbed; for the Lord of hosts has spoken.” This Bible verse gets mentioned in “One Last Time” as George Washington’s motivation for stepping down. I can’t help but think that maybe Benedict wanted the same.

But again, I don’t know for certain why Pope Benedict chose to abdicate. For now, though, I can respect his decision. It takes just as much wisdom to know when to say goodbye as it does to just hold on until the end. 

I still miss ya, Papa B.

Hamilton The Musical: An Album Review

 

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I’m a sucker for American History, especially the Revolution. But I like stories that keep the drama to a realistic perspective. I don’t like Turn because there isn’t as much history as there is drama. I liked Sons of Liberty in spite of the inaccuracies of the love triangle between Joseph Warren, Margaret, and General Gage. On paper, Hamilton shouldn’t work. But it does. It’s jam-packed with 46 musical numbers that establish who everyone is and moves the plot along. It’s basically a hip-hopera that succeeds in a way that previous attempts at hip-hop/opera didn’t. Because the musical has about 46 or so musical numbers that basically flow into each other, I’m not gonna do a track by track review, but talk about the story the songs tell me.

I’ll be honest when I say that I honestly didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton going into this musical. He’s most famous for being involved in the American Revolution, writing most of the Federalist papers, creating the current system of treasury, and dying in a duel. But this musical doesn’t just bring Hamilton to life, but all of his contemporaries as well. It’s best seen in the opening number “Alexander Hamilton.” It acts as the “prologue” of the story and it’s already amazing that Hamilton was able to get out of the Caribbean with nothing but the money people raised to get him out and his writing skills.

What’s most interesting is that even though Aaron Burr is an antagonist, he’s not exactly a villain. He’s shown his sympathetic moments in the second number “Aaron Burr, Sir.” He reminds me of politicians who aim to please without really standing for anything. And yet, he still has love for his daughter Theodosia and has his own ambitions. (Note: Theodosia was originally illegitimate but Leah Libresco told me that Burr ended up marrying Theodosia’s mom after her first husband died.)

Act II introduces Jefferson and Madison, who are also antagonistic figures due to being Hamilton’s political rivals, but the awesome Cabinet Battle numbers show that Jefferson’s desires have some basis in logic. However, reality is more complicated than Jefferson’s ideas. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr have a villain song in “The Room Where it Happens” and “Washington on Your Side,” which shows their jealousy for Hamilton. Both Jefferson and Madison end up paying their respects for Hamilton in the closing number because Hamilton’s financial system turned out to be a good thing in the long run. And Burr realizes the cost of letting his jealousy go too far in “The World Was Wide Enough.” You feel really sorry for Burr at the end.

You could  could argue from “You’ll Be Back,” “What Comes Next,” and “I Know Him” that King George III is the villain in this musical, but he never interacts with Hamilton. He’s just there to be America’s clingy ex-boyfriend, the comic relief in this intense, dramatic musical. Props to Jonathan Groff, btw, because I honestly didn’t recognize his voice when I listened to his tracks.

Hamilton could’ve easily been “Mister Perfect” in this musical, but his flaws are seen in this show as much as all the other characters. He’s definitely extraordinary, brilliant, and innovative, but he’s also shown to be arrogant and short-sighted at times. His short-sightedness shows in “Say No to This” especially and in Hamilton’s decision to publish the Reynolds pamphlet. Hamilton’s dreams of rising up seem to be going down in flames because marital fidelity is still something we value. The whole incident feels Clinton-esque and I want to slap Hamilton upside the head for falling for such a cheap trick and not thinking things through.

The musical also develops historical figures I never knew before, namely the Schuyler sisters. (Pronounced “skylar”) The Schuyler Sisters are forward-thinking intelligent women, especially Angelica who’s looking for a mind at work. Angelica is gunning for feminism two centuries before the first wave feminist movement and yet I find it believable because intellectual revolutions come around in times of war.

“Helpless” and “Satisfied” fully establish the characters of Eliza and Angelica Schuyler. Eliza is more of a hopeless romantic, wanting a quiet, domestic life (as seen in “That Would Be Enough”) while Angelica needs to marry rich and wants to marry someone who could match wits with her. They’re also both in love with Hamilton. Once you realize how similar “Helpless” sounds to “Countdown” by Beyonce, you can never un-hear the similarities. Eliza, being Hamilton’s wife, gets major character development as she deals with Hamilton’s ambitions and mistakes. “Burn” is a tear-jerking number because she’s not gonna stand by her man, and yet “It’s Quiet Uptown” is also tear-jerking because of the way Eliza and Hamilton reconcile. It takes a death to bring them together. It takes Hamilton dying for Eliza to finally stand by her man.

I also learned more of Hamilton’s comrades in arms, John Laurens and the Marquis de Laffayette. Given my bias towards all things French, I have a soft spot for the Marquis in all his over-the-top bravado. Mulligan is the rough-and-tumble Irishman who ends up becoming more of a minor character compared to everyone else.

The musical makes John Adams the butt of the joke in a couple of numbers such as “I Know Him” and “The Adams Administration”. It’s surprising that Adams isn’t even in the musical at all, but the cast is already large enough with a ton of musical numbers. But it’s a good thing John Adams has his own musical anyway. To quote said musical:

“Consider yourselves fortunate that you have John Adams to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!”

And while we’re on the subject of running gags, please leave New Jersey alone. That joke is getting old.

For me, though, the most intriguing character is George Washington. George Washington would usually be the star of a musical, but in this play he plays the role of Hamilton’s mentor. Washington is the main reason Hamilton gets so far up the social ladder, and yet he and Hamilton don’t always agree. It was sweet when I heard Washington refer to Hamilton as “son” because Hamilton never had a father and Washington had no children with Martha. Hamilton wants to defend Washington in the hopes of gaining his own regiment but I feel like Hamilton also loves Washington as much as anyone could love a hero.

Washington seems the most aware of the future, even more so than Hamilton, because he tells Hamilton to always be aware of who tells his story.

To me, the real story of Hamilton is about legacy. I love that Lin Manuel-Miranda chose to make the cast diverse because it shows how anyone from any race or ethnicity can relate to these historical figures. We can understand these characters and their desires. By making no real villains, we can see the complexity of the politics and see our own political atmosphere in this story. I so wish political debates were as cool as the Cabinet Battles!

I can’t wait for the day that high schools create their own productions of this play because it’s educational as much as it is educational. They have to deal with the cussing, though, but seriously. There needs to be a high school version of this hip-hopera. Like now. Also, can someone take me to Broadway so I can watch this live?!

For now, give this album a listen. It’s a seriously good one.