Six: The Musical – The Tudor Ladies Tell Their Tale

Ladies and Gentlemen, from across the pond in London and currently showing in Chicago, we bring you a musical revue where the wives of Henry VIII take the stage!

I love finding new musicals through the Internet. Even though I don’t have an obsession with medieval history and only a vague knowledge of the Tudors, I fell in love at first listen with this album.

The premise of this show is basic: The six wives of King Henry VIII (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr) are updated into a modern day all-girl group with each of them having a song about their lives and their marriage. It’s basically Hamilton crossed with Chicago.

Since the musical only just came to the US, I’m gonna give y’all a track-by-track review/analysis.

  1. Ex-Wives: It starts with the famous rhyme “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.” This introduces the six ladies and gives everyone a sneak preview of what each lady is like. This is where all the comparisons to Chicago comes from.
  2. No Way: Catherine of Aragon, a woman of integrity. Her track is basically like if Beyonce collaborated with Gloria Estefan to make a break up track. From what little I know about the actual Catherine of Aragon, I think it captures her spirit quite well.
  3. Don’t Lose Ur Head: This track became very popular through the app Tik Tok. It’s a party girl song with a Brit Pop beat. Anne is an opinionated lady, but her opinions and alleged flirtations with other men led to her eventual beheading. But she is #sorrynotsorry.
  4. Heart of Stone: Jane Seymour’s track is very reminiscent of an Adele song, a heartbreaking ballad about how she will be strong no matter what. The fact that she dies after giving birth to Edward just makes this song even more heartbreaking.
  5. House of Holbein: A Eurovision style track about how Anne of Cleves gets a cosmetic makeover for her portrait. It’s a total mood whiplash after Heart of Stone, but it’s also a great commentary on how women got prettied up back in the days before Photoshop and plastic surgery.
  6. Get Down: First of all, Genesis Lynea sounds exactly like Estelle. (In the very slim chance that Estelle reads this…You need to do a cover of this track!) This track gets compared to female hip hop acts. There’s a bit of Beyonce, a bit of Lady Gaga, a bit of Nicki Minaj, Charlie XCX. It’s a very fun track, capturing the vibes of modern day trap mixed with hip hop and techno.
  7. All You Wanna Do: My inner Britney fangirl is in love with this track. But this “Womanizer” track goes tragic fast because you quickly realize that Katherine Howard was used by men throughout her life all she wants is to be loved for her, not for her body. What REALLY hurts is that there are probably a lot of girls out there who can relate to this.
  8. I Don’t Need Your Love: Catherine Parr was in love with someone before she married Henry and she’s been married twice before. But aside from her marriage, Catherine Parr has her own legacy, writing her own reflections on Scripture (which is actually true). This becomes a bridge to the ending, with all the ladies realizing that they can define themselves separate from their marriage to one man.
  9. Six: The title track and my personal favorite. Taking the sound to modern day pop, the six ex-wives rewrite a happy ending for themselves. Catherine joined a nunnery and became a gospel choir singer. Anne Boleyn remixed “Greensleeves” and now collaborates with Shakespeare (Historically inaccurate given their age difference, but if you imagine an afterlife AU, it works). Jane Seymour gets a huge family and makes a band with them. Anne of Cleves takes up with the artist that painted her portrait and goes on tour in Prussia. Catherine Howard becomes a singer, foregoing the musician who took advantage of her. Catherine Parr brings the band together.

Yes, this musical is a feminist revisionist history thing. But it WORKS. It gives you a glimpse of the lives of the wives beyond how their marriage with Henry ended. They deserved a happier ending and in this musical, they finally get it.

If you live in the Chicago area, Six is currently showing until June 30 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. For now, I’m just gonna play this album on repeat!

The Play’s The Thing: How to Let Characters Drive the Story

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

I have heard a lot of conflicting writing advice in my years. But one big conflict that I’m still having trouble getting over is the issue of plot versus character. In the past, I was very character-driven. However, in trying to fix myself, I have now leaned way too hard on plot and keep getting feedback about my characters feeling more like chess pieces.

So how the heck do you resolve this issue? When a character takes over the story, the plot basically becomes like a black hole, revolving all around them and dragging everything else along with it. When the plot is driving the story, the characters feel boring.

As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “The play’s the thing.”

I used to do theater in high school and college. Even though I don’t have a lot of theater experience, I still learned a lot from memorizing monologues and acting out scenes in class. When you’re acting you (quoting Lizzie Bennet Diaries here) “open yourself up to inhabiting another person or letting another person inhabit you.” Actors put a lot of thought into embodying the character they play, no matter how small the role may be.

Emotion is really the driving force behind a good story. The reason why a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have worked is because there are always emotional stakes behind all the action scenes. We care for the characters. The same applies to My Hero Academia. It’s a series with a perfect balance of plot/action and character-driven moments and you slowly start to see the characters develop in between all the fights or even as the action is happening.

Basically, creating a novel is basically like putting on a one-man show where you play all the characters at once. No matter how crazy it may seem, every character you create is a part of you. Some characters will feel more like you than others, but every character comes from something inside you, even if it’s the worst part of you.

What does that all mean when it comes to plotting a story?

Plot is created by decisions the characters make and the consequences that result from those actions. You might have the characters react to things at first, but there needs to be a point where the characters take initiative.

How the heck can we figure out how to make sure our characters drive the story without getting lost?

Aside from taking an acting class, I recommend looking into musicals and studying Shakespeare plays. The most memorable musicals have character-driven moments that still move the plot along. I think of musicals like Hamilton, WickedThe Great Comet of 1812, and even the Heathers musical. Check out this essay as to why:

 

I hope that you take some time to get in touch with your inner actor.

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.

Comedy Tonight: A Review of Galavant

Way back three weeks ago, ABC showed a new promo about a musical named Galavant. With Alan Menken’s songs, how can this girl go wrong by being interested in Galavant? Plus, it had a lot of real cool guest stars. Concept was intriguing by far. Sweet! I tuned in every week. Now here is my critique about the musical called Galavant.

I’ll admit that while I am a sucker for a good musical, I found myself having mixed feelings about Galavant after watching the whole first season. First of all, I thought it was going to be a mini-series. I’ve watched a show where every episode was a musical episode before. The format is a great idea on paper, but there’s one major problem: Musicals eventually have to end at some point. The idea of musicals is to combine storytelling and songs and most of the musicals I love have a wonderful self-contained story. Even musicals like Songs of a New World and Working are considered to be self-contained in spite of the episodic songs because they revolve around a common theme, which you can compare to a short story anthology.

What I liked about Galavant was how it took ideas and concepts that were familiar to fairy tales and lighthearted musicals and turned them on their heads. The titular hero goes from being a self-centered jerk to someone who puts others first. The damsel in distress, Madalena, turns into an opportunistic, Machiavellian woman when she marries King Richard. The evil king gains a lot more sympathy as he is not as ruthless as he seems. The squire is a great source of comic relief and the second princess, who becomes Galavant’s traveling companion, shows that she can hold her own by her wits and cleverness.

I liked some of the episodes I saw more so than others. The problem is that the episodes don’t flow together all that well. I also didn’t like the finale as it was clear that it was more interested in getting a second season than keeping everyone in character or having anything make sense. If you want spoilers, you can find them elsewhere.

What I will say is that I liked the acting overall. Joshua Sasse can’t carry a tune, but he gave his best. Mallory Jensen had the most range in the show overall and she made her character’s transitions fun to watch. I was always surprised at how devious Madalena could be. The same can be said for Timothy Omundson, who you may recognize as Detective Lassiter from Psych. He was always fun to watch and he balanced the transition from seemingly ruthless tyrant to unexpectedly sympathetic villain really well. And as stated before, Luke Youngblood was great at providing comic relief, but also showed Sid’s vulnerability. But, by far, my favorite character is Princess Isabella, played by Karen David. She had the most to work with. She wasn’t just a sidekick. She was the brains of the group, but also hid a lot of feelings. It’s what the writers did to Isabella at the end of the first season that made me disappointed with it.

Overall, I’m glad I gave Galavant a chance, but I wish that they made it a mini-series as opposed to a comedy musical series. I hope that things turn out for the best.

Into the Woods: Things I Know Now

Yesterday, I went with my family to see Into the Woods. I’m a big fan of musicals in general and I was really looking forward to it.

What makes Into the Woods unique is that it starts out with the fairy tales that everyone knows and then turns them all on their heads. The film follows the spirit of the original musical, if not the letter of it.  Spoilers will probably ensue, so proceed with caution.

With that, I’ll talk about the characters. The one who stood out most to me was Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. I found myself relating to her character most of all. Her storyline follows the original Cinderella tale instead of the more well-known Disney version, which includes her stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels to try and fit into the slipper and getting blinded. However, the first half of the movie shows a major flaw with Cinderella: she’s indecisive about what she wants. When she finally gets her dream of dancing with the prince, she runs off three times. I understand why she ran the first time. She was overwhelmed by the new experience. But when she was contemplating what to do when she ran away the third time, I wondered what the heck she was thinking even as she was singing it. Sorry to say, girlie, but choosing not to decide is still a decision, and not a very wise one at that. There was no indication of any sort of “turn into a pumpkin by midnight” clause, since she’s seen putting away the dress she wore.

Later on, though, Cinderella finally learns what she wants…or at least finds a happy medium between the two extremes she experienced. Yes, she was trapped as a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, but she became a princess, she was still trapped. She couldn’t go anywhere without a royal escort. She learned how to hold her own and take care of those in need and learned that not everything was completely black and white.

James Corden was the perfect choice to be the baker. I kept calling him Craig in my head because I knew him from Doctor Who. He had such great chemistry with Emily Blunt that it was hard for me to believe that the Baker’s Wife would cheat on her husband the way she did, let alone try to justify it to herself. However, I put the blame squarely on the prince’s shoulders. After all, he was raised to be charming. And the Baker’s Wife showed hints of wanting to know what being with royalty was like. But to me, it seemed more like she was in love with an idea rather than the reality.

Meryl Streep obviously had a lot of fun being the Witch. I loved her more when she was the scraggly old witch, though, than her more beautiful form. The witch’s motivations are understandable, but unlike what she claimed, saving Jack wouldn’t be the “good” thing to do. Her treatment of Rapunzel was deplorable, wanting her daughter to stay young forever, but the reality of the situation was that Rapunzel was all grown up and needed her questions answered. She was right in the fact that everyone had to stop blaming each other in order, though.

Jack and Red Riding Hood were also great, but Red’s storyline was kind of short compared to everyone else. After the wolf was slain, most of Red Riding Hood’s story arc involved her either motivating other characters or being supported by other characters. Johnny Depp as the wolf was as creepy as was expected. And hey, at least he wasn’t a pirate this time!

My least favorite characters were the princes, although that’s also to be expected. While “Agony” was hilarious, Chris Pine’s Prince Charming was a real sleazeball. Of course, given that Chris Pine’s other most famous character is known for spending time with female characters of every species, the casting was perfect on that end. I also didn’t like Billy Magnussen’s costume. It didn’t look like a prince’s outfit so much as an 80s glam rock outfit. But at least he and Rapunzel got their happily ever after.

The only thing I’d really change about the musical was the way it ended. It doesn’t have to be a total “happily ever after,” but I do want to see the Baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Red Riding Hood living new lives out of the woods. But then again, Sondheim tends to go against expectations.

I definitely recommend this movie to fans of musicals, but I will warn parents that this is not a kid-friendly movie in spite of what the PG rating may say. I would say it’s more for ages 10 and up because of the language, Johnny Depp’s very villainous song, and the implications shown in the second half of the musical.

Isn’t it nice to know a lot? And a little bit…not.