That Would Be Enough

I remember sitting in the theater and watching In The Heights.

I remember loving it.

I remember being blown away by the talent and charisma of it’s star and creator.

I remember realizing that it was like nothing I’d ever seen before and yet so familiar I couldn’t deny it.

I remember it’s connections to my family, the generation of immigrants before the generation who’s stories it told. I remember thinking about circles and cycles and New York and home.

I remember thinking, “this will change everything.” Pop music had been on Broadway for decades. But the pop music on Broadway didn’t sound like the pop music on the radio anymore, if it ever had.

I remember a few years later, when this man came to us again with something that could barely shine. I remember when someone else tried to bring hip hop to Broadway and everyone ignored it and it went away faster than you could realize it was there.

I remember being sad about it. I had thought that the game would change and instead we got a Les Mis revival.

I remember arguing with friends about him. I remember insisting that he was a genius, that he needed to be more famous.

“Of course, ‘Let It Go’ is important, but…”

“The Book of Mormon is great, I’m sure, but…”

“Yeah, we need to preserve our history, and I’m glad The King And I is here, but…”

I remember conversations with my sister, talking about not seeing in teenagers, even artsy ones, we encountered the fervor for this scene and music that we’d had.

“We need a new Rent,” she’d say, “a new Wicked, a new something that speaks to people on a wider popular level.”

Then we started hearing what he was working on.

I remember talking in hushed tones about “that presidential rap musical.” I remember wondering aloud if it would work. Or was this man a one hit wonder?

I remember the rumblings from The Public Theater when it premiered. I remember hearing and reading the word “masterpiece” over and over again. I remember hearing about impossible to get tickets, and color blind casting of historical figures and a move uptown to Broadway delayed.

I remember a month ago seeing Something Rotten! and Mary and I loving it. I remember looking at each other and sighing, “It’s great but, it’s not the one.”

“No,” I said, “but I think Hamilton might be.” She rolled her eyes. Considering she’s the one who sold me on In The Heights I was surprised.

“Just because you want him to change musical theater entirely, doesn’t mean that he will,” she said. “Hamilton is going to be too intellectual and weird. Too idiosyncratic. If In The Heights couldn’t be that show for Lin, it won’t be Hamilton.”

Still, I was sure that it had to be something really special. I was waiting for a chance to see it. I was waiting for a cast album. I wanted a piece of it to prove that my faith hadn’t been misplaced.

And I got it on Friday.

Lin Manuel Miranda has created something amazing. I don’t know about the show itself, I still haven’t seen it. But the album.

Wow.

This isn’t In The Heights.

In the Heights took hip hop and blended it with traditional Broadway, which made it interesting. This is something completely new. This is a hip hop and pop opera. This is rap battles between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. This is the radio ready “My Shot.” This is framing King George as an abusive and oblivious boyfriend to the US.  This was worth waiting almost a decade for.

Hamilton will save us. Hamilton will remind us that this is a medium that is alive and growing. That it’s a medium that can absorb what’s happening around it and evolve and survive. It did it before. It did it when Rock and Roll showed up and pushed it to the side. It did it when Hollywood decide it was no longer a sustainable investment, so it didn’t have to cater to the tastes of a wider world and it could speak a more sophisticated language. It did it when families came back to it’s thoroughfare. It did it when a new generation of divas was born from that time.

It will do it again. Hamilton is the first shot in a new revolution. It’s a reminder that musical theatre isn’t old, isn’t out of touch, or doesn’t have to be.

I’ve been saying for months that I was pretty sure that Hamilton would be the one.

Now that I’ve heard this incredible musical, I know that Hamilton is the one. Or at least it should be.

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Don’t Throw Cats At Shakespeare: Reenie & Aless Hit The Faire

So on Saturday, Aless and I hit what we decided was “the absolute apex of our dorkiness,” put on some gowns and headed up Tuxedo, New York for The New York Renaissance Faire.

Photos by either me or Aless

Photos by either me or Aless

I’d never done Renn Faire and was really excited to check it out. Aless had also never gone, so we had no idea what to expect, but we were thrilled to find that for the four hours that we were there we were never bored, and we have every intention of going back.

Among our Faire adventures, shopping in every clothing stand, seeing Robin Hood marry Maid Marian, watching a joust that had a loose story line we were barely able to grasp, seeing an improvised audience participation version of Macbeth, where each character was murdered by having tiny stuffed kittens thrown at them.

And we drank mead and cider mixed drinks. (Delicious and very sweet!) And then, what I think was our favorite part of the day we shot bows and arrows.

Aless looked awesome shooting!

Aless looked awesome shooting!

Me, not so much!

Me, not so much!

We ended the day at a pub sing, came home thoroughly happy and dehydrated and if you’re in the tristate area and have a free Saturday or Sunday in the next few weeks, I highly recommend checking out the Faire.

I’m definitely going back, though I’m not sure when.

To see all of our pictures check out my facebook! They’re all there!

Time To Get Personal: On Charity

This is a weird one to write for me, because usually even when I do these ones, it’s about me and my relationship to something. This is about that but it’s about something bigger. But last night as my brother and I almost got into a fight over a comment I made (this one was seriously on me. And I rarely take the credit when my brother and I fight.) I decided I should talk about this more.

I come from an exceptional family.

One where the values of our religion were taken above the dogma, although the dogma, not excluded.

One where, I actually once heard one of the more wealthy members say, “when you want to give away billions of dollars, you have to make billions of dollars.”

One where my conservative Catholic grandfather has spent 3 days a week of his well earned retirement  caring for the dying in an AIDS shelter.

I’ve lived a privileged life. But I was also taught that with privilege came an obligation to improve that world at large.

To put it in nerd terms, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I don’t exactly have great power, but compared to most of the world, I have a good thing going. I will not ever go to bed hungry. I am incredibly well educated. I live at home rent free in an incredibly safe suburb.

To quote my new hero, Kelly Sue DeConnick, “I’m not playing the game on the easiest setting, but I’m not far down the ladder, you know?” She was talking about feminism and equality, which feature into what I’m talking about.

I want to talk about charity, about giving, about globalization.

A few years ago a friend of mine called me out for using the word, “charity,” as if it were an implicit good. She stated that charity as a value was condescending, and I cannot disagree with this more.

I really believe that if charity were taken more seriously, particularly in American society, we would all be better off. I run a charity, I’ve done it for five years, and the first time I felt challenged for it, a few months ago, I nearly lost my head. I was, luckily, at the time, too tired to actually lose it.

So last night, when I mentioned that it felt off that the media was talking about the American victims of Ebola and not the 10,000 in Africa who had already died, my brother pointed out that, immediacy causes a reaction. And also, that the doctor who has just been diagnosed in New York contracted the virus while working with patients in Africa who had/have Ebola. Of course, my psyche does not allow for my brother to have a point while he’s in my presence, so I had to fight him about it. (It’s one of the main reasons that we really shouldn’t live together. Like at all.)

But I was raised to think globally and act locally. It’s why cultural feminism always spoke to me, why conservatism always spoke to me. If you let people, give people the resources to take care of themselves, of their neighbors, they will. I believe that, somewhere in me, I believe that.

But them I look at the world. I look at Ferguson, Missouri, I look at the images of the NYPD, men and women I idolized as heroes my whole life, beating people, I look at a woman as harmless and unradical as Felicia Day, who always played the game by the fanboy’s rules, if only because the rules worked for her (I have no doubt that the minute they didn’t she would step up, and she did) getting harassed by Gamer Gaters, and I worry.

But then I remember that the minute I called my best friend and asked her to give away money we could have been pocketing to help the people of Haiti rebuild their country, she said yes without a thought. I remember that my grandfather’s cousin, who is an honored member of a deeply ingrained hierarchy and could have shut himself away years ago, is spending his 80’s pleading for the freedom of Christians in the Middle East and China. I think of other friends who spent precious social and career building years help the less fortunate through the Jesuit Volunteer Corp.

I was raised to believe that you have to give. Not to get, although what you do get is immeasurable. I was raised to believe that when you have more than you need, you have to give back. The world doesn’t work otherwise. The world will never work otherwise.

Give what you can. Catholicism has a thing that other people should adopt too. It’s called Stewardship. You are a steward of your time, talent and treasure, and you owe those things to God, if that’s what you believe, or to the world, if that makes it easier. I have time and talent, not much treasure. So I give those things back. I produce a musical and give it’s proceeds to people who need it more than I every year. That’s what I can give.

My grandpa, who I cannot speak enough of, spends his days working with AIDS patients. Just because it was something he could do.

I proud to come from this legacy. Really, really proud.

Caged Birds and Inspiration: RIP Maya Angelou

There are certain touchstones for, well everyone, and I feel like Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” is one of those. If you ask people about poetry, this, or Robert Frost will probably be the first thing that they quote back to you. It’s one of those transcendent pieces of art that has taken on a life of it’s own.

I’m a really big fan of Dr. Angelou’s, like most incredible poets she was able to speak to humanity in so few and undeniably beautiful words. Her words inspired hope, stirred anger, and gave breath and life to so many ideas for so many people.

That might be why when I heard about her death yesterday I spent the rest of the day in a sort of weird, contemplative, melancholy haze.

Her autobiography, I Know why The Caged Bird Sings, was one of the first pieces of literature that I remember reading and fully understanding how something could speak to you and still be so far outside of your own experience. I didn’t have anything in common with Maya Angelou’s life, but I felt like I could see into her heart, and it was a beautiful thing.

I went to an all girl’s high school, and there wasn’t a day that I walked down the halls that Dr. Angelou’s words weren’t on some bulletin board. When I began my women’s studies curriculum in earnest at 20, I was able to understand a great deal of my reading because of my early exposure to her work, her ideals and her unique ability to make the complicated and personal seem simple and universal.

Universal.

I’m glad that I’ve landed on that word, because I think it’s the right one to describe Dr. Angelou’s work. She was an exceptional woman, an incredible writer, and an inspiration to everyone who encountered her work, whether they studied it or simply let it touch their hearts.

Thank you, for everything, Dr. Angelou.

 The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

How To Fight Presidents And More Crushing

How To Fight Presidents

When I found out that Daniel O’Brien was writing a book about presidents I was really excited, and not just because I think that DOB might be my soulmate, but also because I knew that the book was going to make me laugh and that I’d probably learn something.

I did both. (I also, incidentally fell deeper in love with O’Brien, but that’s not relevant.)

Anyway, How To Fight Presidents had it’s inception when a college professor told O’Brien that neither he nor any of his classmates would ever be president, DOB’s response? “I never wanted to be president, but when that constantly angry profesor told me I couldn’t — even if I want to — something inside of me was triggered and I thought, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you. I’m going to president. I’m going to be president all over this country, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it!” (O’Brien, 2) and he went about learning everything he could about Presidents to become like them.

He concluded that he could never be president, because all of the presidents are insane in a very specific way, and he was not insane that way. Thus, he decided that if he couldn’t be president, he would learn how to beat them all up. How To Fight Presidents is a primer on presidential trivia and a very funny one. And again, cements my eternal nerd crush on this man.

I mean, how do you not fall in love with a guy who paraphrases Thomas Jefferson by saying, “blood is the poop of freedom,” (O’Brien, 20) and describing James K Polk as “The James Browniest President.” (69) and makes a detailed case that Ronald Reagan might have been Wolverine. But also, how do you not just love a book like that?

I come from a generation that likes our education with a healthy dose of humor and entertainment. We were raised on Bill Nye The Science Guy and Wishbone, and that’s why it makes sense that one of us would write a book that when describing JFK says, “Plenty of presidents have been as good as Kennedy, and many have been better, but he is the only president that made the American people, in unison, say, ‘What a cool dude. I’d let him have sex with my girlfriend if she was into it.'” (O’Brien, 215) or when advising you on how to beat James Madison says, “Grab that sucker, lift him up in the air, say, ‘By the away, I’m a big fan of the Constitution, I’m really glad you put that thing together.” (29)

Of course if you don’t have time to read the whole book just read three chapters, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, absolutely worth it.

Ordinary and Great Moments: The Butler

The Butler isn’t like any other movie I’ve gone to see this summer. It’s more serious, more grounded and of course, based on a true story.

Now, that’s a moniker that obviously always has to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t know anything about the real Cecil Gaines, but the portrait of him painted by Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Forrest Whittaker is beyond compelling. His wife Gloria, played incredibly by Oprah Winnfrey is a complicated incredible woman. His two sons, one killed in Vietnam and the other a noted civil rights activist and congressman are also well drawn, as are Cecil’s coworkers in his job at the white house.

The movie is structured phenomenally, as Cecil reflects on his life while he waits to meet with President Obama. He was born on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia, and after a tragic day, where his mother is raped and father killed by the youngest son of the white family that owns their means of making a living (and by extension, them) he’s pulled out of the cotton field by the matriarch of the family and trained to be a servant. He runs away as a teenager and winds up working in a hotel in North Carolina, then at the Excelsior Hotel in DC and then the White House.

He was hired during the Eisenhower administration, and Gaines works until The Reagans are in there. It’s clear that Gaines deeply respects the men he serves and that he believes that they have the country’s best interest at heart.

Even Nixon.

Seriously, this movie is nicer to Richard Nixon than my crazy Republican grandfather, and really hates LBJ. To be fair, Nixon was a power mad paranoid criminal, but I doubt anyone would ever accuse him of being a racist. LBJ was a noted racist.

Saint John of Massachusetts (a sarcastic moniker that my mother and I use for JFK) is still surrounded by that golden glow that will follow him throughout history, although they do talk about his pill popping. (Everyone always talks about the womanizing, never the pills). And (rightfully) his awakening about the Civil Rights movement comes mostly from the unseen voice of Bobby Kennedy.

The performances are outstanding, and like I said, the structure of the movie is intriguing. Rather than follow a straight narrative, it’s told through moments. Cecil has a brief conversation about school integration with Eisenhower (played powerfully and with nuance by Robin Williams) not long before Eisenhower sends the National Guard in to Little Rock. He reads Madeline to Caroline Kennedy as The Freedom Riders burn in Alabama, mixes Nixon a martini the night before he resigns. To be fair, the movie doesn’t make it seem like Cecil Gaines talked these great men into doing the things they did, more like, he happened to be the guy in the room while they were contemplating.

But when that guy in the room is a man like Cecil Gaines, who refused to be broken by the Jim Crowe era south, sent both his sons to college and served his country for fifty years? (Also quietly fought for equal pay in the White House, something not achieved til Reagan.) That’s when it’s something special.

The actors portraying the presidents and first ladies were well chosen, if a bit unexpected. Williams in particular as Eisenhower was fantastic. James Marsden’s JFK was eclipsed my Minka Kelly’s Jackie (I’m a little obsessed with Jackie Kennedy right now, but she did a really good job.) Liev Schrieber as LBJ was intense and funny, John Cusack played Nixon as a man, serious and driven (like I said, the film was kinder to him than I ever expected. I say this not because it was a big part of the movie, just it was shocking. Hollywood is never kind to Nixon.) And the Reagans, while I still think having Jane Fonda play Nancy was a huge gimmick, she can rock the suit and the attitude, and Alan Rickman plays Ronald Reagan as a man conflicted, but by then Cecil no longer is.

WInfrey’s performance as the woman left behind is especially powerful. Gloria Gaines is an alcoholic housewife, who kicks the bottle, has an affair, and stands by her husband and children. Cecil’s fellow butlers Carter Wilson and James Holloway are excellent foils for him. Wilson, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. is a bit of a clown, who comes through for his friends, and Holloway by Lennie Kravitz the first of the three of them to speak up.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and I was captivated by the performances and small moments. Strong also wrote Game Change which I still haven’t seen, and played Jonathan on Buffy, so there’s that. I also didn’t see Precious which was Daniels’s biggest outing. But I enjoyed their work here, so I’m interested in maybe checking out what else it is that they do.

Trailers:

Different batch than I’ve seen before! (Some carry over from Gatsby)

Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney’s acquiring the rights to Mary Poppins from P.L. Travers looks like it’ll be fun, if only to see Jason Scwartzman and B.J. Novak play the Sherman brothers and watch two of my favorite actors ever, Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson play off of one another.

Captain Phillips looks incredible. I’m glad Tom Hanks is doing his thing again.

If Julia Roberts wins anything for August: Osage County and Juliette Lewis gets ignored even I will give up on awards shows. Although probably not.

Rankings: This was a tough one because it was so different from the others, but I think I was fair.

1. Pacific Rim

2. The Great Gatsby

3. Kick Ass 2

4. The Butler

5. Man of Steel

6. The Wolverine

7. Iron Man 3

8. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

9. Despicable Me 2

10. Star Trek Into Darkness

11. Monster’s University

12. After Earth

Lies Musical Theatre Told Me: For God’s Sake John Sit Down!

Welcome back to Lies Musical Theatre Told Me! This is one that I think about frequently this time of year.

With the exception of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson The Continental Congress was a bunch of indecisive idiots (and they were ALL super horny)

The culprit here is of course the amazing 1776.

We're waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp, of an eaglet being born...

We’re waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp, of an eaglet being born…

If you aren’t familiar, 1776 chronicles the week leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s insightful, funny, brilliant and, being that it’s a musical about the founding fathers, totally dorky.

I think it can go without saying that I love 1776. I love it because I love musicals, and I love American history, and I really love The Declaration of Independence. In my early American Lit course in college we read both the Declaration and the Constitution and analyzed them as non fiction literature and it was one of the best experiences of analysis I’ve ever had.

Anyway, my love affair with 1776 began when I was about twelve. Our local high school put on a production of the show, starring now almost famous Brad Weinstock as John Adams.

Brad, as Frankie Valli in the national tour of Jersey Boys, we're all very proud

Brad, as Frankie Valli in the national tour of Jersey Boys, we’re all very proud

I’m pretty sure that Brad was great, but I don’t really remember because my memories of that production are clouded by my friend Joe’s older brother Sean playing Richard Henry Lee. To be fair, “The Lees of Old Virginia,” is a big show stealing number, but Sean was consistently stealing shows from the other kids. The next year he stole Into The Woods from the boy playing The Baker, but that’s a different story.

I was transfixed by this odd little show, which only had a few songs and no women. Well, 2 women. I loved it in fact. I wanted to go right out to Sam Goody or Tower Records and buy the OBC Recording. I didn’t, but that’s only because my mom owned it on vinyl. Because I wasn’t yet a full blown theatre geek, I didn’t quite understand how cool it was that my mother owned a vinyl copy of the 1776 OBC Recording. I did understand how cool it was that William Daniels was the original John Adams.

That's young Mr. Feeney. That's why they went to John Adams High School. It's a joke. Get it?

That’s young Mr. Feeney. That’s why Corey and Co. went to John Adams High School. It’s a joke. Get it?

I also may be using the word “cool” incorrectly here. But I listened to the record over and over again. The reason that my mother owned this record was simple.

To celebrate the bicentenial in 1976, the parish my mom grew up in put on a production of 1776. My grandfather played Thomas Jefferson. Now, there’s a number, “But Mr. Adams,” that is basically John Adams trying to convince various members of the committee of five to write the Declaration of Independence. When he goes to Jefferson, who of course ends up writing it, (if you don’t know this go find your middle school social studies teacher and punch them in the face.) Jefferson simply says “Mr. Adams, leave me alone.” Here’s the thing though, the “alone” is on a high G and the entire phrase is belted. It’s incredibly difficult. So, when my Grampy would practice the song, while his five young children tried to sleep. He would reach that moment, this beautiful dramatic vocal fanfare and miss the note. Now messing up a note is not a big deal in rehearsal but can be quite frustrating. To vent said frustration, Grampy would shout, “God damnit Irene! (My grandmother) I can’t hit that note!” This is a little bit of family lore that my mother spins frequently and always giggles her way through it.

Anyway, this is all a prelude, because 1776, like so many other shows that I love is a big fat liar.

Lie #1, of course is that the congress was super lazy and petty. Except John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The first half of the show is Adams imposing his will on the congress about Independence. He is labeled as “obnoxious and disliked” and no one agrees with him. But no one else even wants to talk about independence. Not John Hancock, no one, except Ben Franklin, and Richard Henry Lee, sort of. Obviously Adams wins and then America becomes a thing.

Here’s the main reason that 1776 decides that the reason the Declaration of Independence almost didn’t happen is because Thomas Jefferson wanted to go home and have sex with his wife.

This is an actual plot point. Thomas Jefferson is asking John Adams to leave him alone, so that he can go home and boink Martha Jefferson. This is resolved when Adams and Franklin bring Martha to Philadelphia, somehow, and then she and Tom have sex in the middle of the day and it’s very scandalous. This also leads to one of the best character songs in the history of theatre, “He Plays The Violin.” It also leads to a really boring duet between John and Abigail Adams where they sing about how they miss having sex.

That’s the only reason there are even women in the show at all. That’s why you don’t see many amateur productions of it anymore. No girl parts.

Katie and I fight about it yearly, because I want to put it on with our company Tom Foolery Theatre so badly it makes my head hurt, and we can’t, because Katie refuses to allow gender blind casting. (She is, by the way mostly right, and I mostly start these fights after a few drinks.) However, if you’re in Allendale, New Jersey tonight and you see a dark blond haired girl and a red haired girl marching drunkenly through the streets shouting, “SOMEONE GO AND OPEN UP A WINDOW!” “WELL FOR GOD’S SAKE JOHN SIT DOWN!” at the top of their lungs, that’s me and Katie.

Happy Fourth of July Everyone!