Top 5 Disney Duets

Guys! I’m leaving tomorrow. With a collective 10 hours of holding for cast members (all of whom were super courteous and helpful, and frankly a lot of folks are dealing with bigger fall out from Irma than having to wait a week to ride Flight of Passage) and tonight I’m going to see War Paint, so I though it was a good time to talk about duets.

A duet is, quite simply, a song sung between two people. They are often, but not always, romantic in nature (all of the ones on this list are…) and often they take place in the climax of Act II. Some of classic Broadway duets include, “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma, “Friendship” from assorted Cole Porter projects but mostly Anything Goes, “For Good” from Wicked, “What You Own,” from Rent, and the ultimate Act II duet “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors.

5. “I See The Light” from Rapunzel

I see the light

I remember the first time I heard this song, when Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi sang it at the Oscars. I was already deep into crush land with Zach, because I’d been watching Chuck and learning that he could sing, whoo baby. Anyway, the song, it’s beautiful and illuminates (ha!) the relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn so perfectly, as well as walking through their journey. This is the fulfillment of what they both want more than anything before. And those lanterns.

4. “Once Upon A Dream” from Sleeping Beauty

Once Upon a Dream

There are few things in the world I love the way I love the moment where Aurora and Phillip waltz through the woods together. It’s so lovely, and this perfect little song about feeling like you know some one and being connected by fate and love. Ugh, it’s so beautiful.

3. “Something There” from Beauty And The Beast

Something There

I have deep affection for the music from Beauty And The Beast and “Something There” is certainly up there in the “songs that sometimes get forgotten.” A big function of the duet is often to move us emotionally from one place to another with characters. This does that, almost as clearly as anything.

2. “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters Inc.

Monsters Inc

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how much I love Billy Crystal, and I also love John Goodman, and I love the sort of old school-ness of both of them, which is captured in this delightful bff duet between Mike and Sulley from Monsters Inc.

1. “A Whole New World” from Aladdin

A_Whole_New_World.png

In the intro I described “Suddenly Seymour” as the ultimate Act II duet. It is. It is the best one ever written in my very very unexpert opinion, however, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken also wrote the second best Act II duet ever for Aladdin and it’s “A Whole New World.” Aladdin and Jasmine’s magic carpet ride around the world is delightful, romantic and soaring. Also, Lea Solanga.

Runners Up: “Love is An Open Door” from Frozen, “If I Never Knew You” from Pocohontas

 

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The Great Comet, Digressions, and The Nature of The Epic Novel

natasha

It’s been over two weeks since I saw Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet Of 1812 and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the implications of something like, adapting a few chapters of an epic novel into an Avante Garde rock opera. I was listening to the OBC yesterday and started thinking about how epic novels in general play with subplots.

The digression is a staple of the epic novel, and sometimes they can be a delight, and sometimes they can be a slog, and sometimes completely forgettable.

I’ve never read War And Peace the epic from which the digression that inspired The Great Comet is drawn but I’ve read others. (Les Miserables, Great Expectations, Gone With The Wind, The Lord of The Rings, hell at the moment I’m working through The Stand, which, whether it was Stephen King’s intention to write an old school epic or not, certainly reads like one.) And not all digressions are created equal. I know now that when I read War And Peace that this one will stand out to me, but whether it would have done anything without The Great Comet is hard to know.

Some digressions I love? The extended flashback to Waterloo in Les Mis where Thenardier saves Marius’s father’s life, which leads to Marius becoming the protector of Eponine and Gavroche (oh, did you not know that Gavroche is also a Thenardier child? Well, he is.) and deep guilt at their deaths. Scarlett and Rhett’s trip to New York & Saratoga in Gone With The Wind (Where Scarlett gets pregnant with Bonnie.) Anything where Pip was at school in Great Expectations.

Some digressions I can’t stand? Tom Friggin Bombadil, anything about Marius’s family history not connected to the Thenardiers, anything about Ashley Wilkes that isn’t directly illuminating how Melanie Wilkes is The Bomb Dot Com.

Anyway, that’s been in my head lately. As for actually reviewing the show? I don’t think that I understood enough of it to that. I really enjoyed The Great Comet, it’s a remarkable piece of theater and I’ve fallen very in love with the cast album, but it’s also strange and more than a little bit odd and deeply overwhelming in certain ways.

Top 5 Disney Character Songs

As I get ready for my next trip to Disney World, I’ve been listening to a lot of Disney music and since I spent a large amount of time thinking about my relationship to musical theater this summer, I decided to talk about the way Disney songs fit into the general Musical Theater song categories.

A Character song is a song that basically sets up a character’s thesis statement. Sometimes, an “I Want” song (chronicled here) is a character song, but not all character songs are “I Want” songs. (You know, it’s a squares and rectangles sort of a situation.) So I’m trying to steer clear of “I Wants,” here. Some classic character songs include, “I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No,” “The Worst Pies In London,” ” “Popular,” “Master Of The House,” “I Am What I Am,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

5. “Why Should I Worry” from Oliver And Company

Dodger

Oliver features a couple of great character songs, and one of them is going to be in runners up, but “Why Should I Worry,” got the spot because, I mean, it’s a Billy Joel song, sung by a dog, who then plays piano with his tail. The song introduces us to Dodger, a too cool for school mutt, who recruits adorable kitty Oliver into the life of an animal of the streets. Also, he plays the piano with his tail. 

4. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid

Ursula

I love The Little Mermaid, fiercely, and this song, the introduction of Ursula The Sea Witch is such an integral part of what makes it amazing. Ursula lays out her whole deal on the line in this song, which she still manages to use to trick Ariel into going along with her plan. Also, like every from The Little Mermaid, it is masterfully and brightly performed.

3. “Let It Go” from Frozen

Let it go

One of my favorite things is when the rest of the world catches on to something that subcultures have known for a long time. And “Let It Go,” gave theater people that when the rest of the world realized that Idina Menzel is amazing, and we should listen to her belt high d’s for always and forever. Also, “Let It Go,” gives Elsa her grand moment, the moment where she realizes that her power, while terrifying is also beautiful, and that she can’t hide from what’s inside of her anymore.

2. “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King

timon and pumbaa

We get two character’s life statements in this song, both Timon and Pumbaa lay out their “problem free philosophy,” as they teach Simba about life with “no worries,” and hey, this song introduced us to what would later be one of the greatest song and dance teams ever, as the song finishes up with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick harmonizing.

1. “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin

The-Genie-Aladdin

Not only would my brother stop speaking to me if I didn’t choose this one, (His favorite Disney song from his favorite Disney Movie) I happen to agree that it’s the best in this section. Tailor made to it’s performer, as many character songs are, laying out who the character is and relentlessly catchy. Robin Williams gave us a lifetime of amazing performances, but this is probably my favorite.

Runners Up: “Perfect” from Oliver And Company, “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled, “You’re Welcome” from Moana

Top 5 Disney “I Want” Songs

So, I’m going back to Disney World in a few weeks.

I’m going four times this year.

I know.

I know.

Anyway…because of that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Disney music. And I started thinking about Disney’s place in musical theater canon. Some of the best “showtunes” of the past 30 years have come from the House of Mouse, which is why I’m convinced that Disney is (part of) why I became a theater geek. I instinctively understood how musicals worked by the age of 4 because of how many times I’d watched The Little Mermaid. (A LOT of times, you guys. A LOT)

So, I’m starting with “I Want” songs. An “I Want” song is sung by a protagonist and states what their goal is. It usually takes place in Act 1, after the opening. Some classic “I Wants,” include, “Somewhere That’s Green,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “Something’s Coming,” “One Song Glory,” and “The Wizard And I.” (See, I went modern for a couple!)

5. “Someday My Prince Will Come” – Snow White

Snow White 1

I gave it a spot for being the original, and it really is a lovely piece of music. Snow White’s trilling soprano is dated now, and annoying always but the chirpy bird-like sound is a nice thematic touch. Snow White is dreaming of escape, this is what she wants, it’s clear and pretty and kind of perfect for her.

4. “How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

MoanaPortrait.0

Only this low because it’s new, and we don’t know how we’ll all feel about it in a few decades. (Good, I’m betting on good.) I love this song. Lin-Manuel writes good “I Want.” (“My Shot,” and “It Won’t Be Long Now,” LISTEN TO THEM. I will wait.) But when I heard this song for the first time, I was blown away. We know Moana so perfectly through this song, not just it’s lyrics, but it’s rising and falling melody and pulsing rhythm. So good!

3. “I Can Go The Distance” – Hercules

Hercules-Go-The-Distance

Hercules is my number one most underrated Disney Soundtrack, and this song is another one that gives us such a clear picture of our hero. We know everything that Hercules wants, what drives him, from this song. It’s also a great heroic theme, those soaring horns and strings, so beautiful!

2. “Belle (Reprise)” – Beauty And The Beast

Belle

Look, it LITERALLY has the phrase, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere” in it. We’ve already met Belle before this reprise, but it’s still a good one! This is her thesis statement. Also…Mencken

1. “Part Of Your World” – The Little Mermaid 

Ariel-in-Her-Cave-in-The-Little-Mermaid

Sometimes I think that “Part Of Your World” is the platonic ideal of an “I Want” song, and it’s definitely one of my favorites ever. My eyes and insides have their own reactions to this song. (I cry, a lot, with wild abandon.) Ariel’s greatest desire is to be human, to experience a world she’s only ever caught glimpses of, that she doesn’t really understand, but desperately yearns to. The song also has the secret weapon of Jodi Benson’s voice, which is exceptional. That belt is insane, when she hits, “when’s it my turn?” if your heart doesn’t just melt to that little red haired fish girl, I don’t know if you have a heart.

Runners Up: “For The First Time In Forever” from Frozen, “Almost There,” from The Princess And The Frog, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” from The Lion King, “Out There” from The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

Not Disney But Should Be Mentioned Because It’s One Of The Greatest “I Want” Songs Ever: “Journey To The Past” from Anastasia. 

 

 

No Day But Today

Sometimes I have to make myself very strict rules, when it comes to my media consumption. It’s usually for my own good, sometimes it’s completely arbitrary and it’s often for a reason that would seem nonsensical to an outsider.

A big one, that some people might think is very strange, started a few years ago. “I’m not ever going to encounter Rent on purpose.”

I won’t listen to it.

I won’t watch the movie. (Not that I’d want to, ugh, it’s so awful)

I won’t watch the filmed closing night performance. (Much better than the movie and still includes Tracy Thoms’s transcendent Joanne. With JV Elphaba Eden Espinosa as Maureen no less!)

This rule is in place for a few reasons. It keeps me from swirling down a bizarre hole of nostalgia, disappointment and obsession. It keeps me from poking holes in a piece of art that meant a lot to me once, means less to me now and which I know is DEEPLY, DEEPLY flawed. And mostly, it keeps me from boring the people around me with conversation about Rent. Because, and I mean this kindly, most normal humans ran out of things to say about Rent in either 1998, or when they turned 19. Whichever came first.

I could talk about Rent forever. I could talk about the original cast and how I still clap with raucous joy every time I see any of them in anything. (Remember on Smash when Daphne Ruben Vega and Jesse L. Martin were on it?) I could talk about how the replacement casts shaped Broadway talent for a generation and are still shaping it in certain ways. (Not least of all because of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel’s admitted affection for the show and it’s style.) I could talk about Jonathan Larson, the stranger than fiction circumstances of his death, the good work done by his family in his name, and speculate about what theater would look like if he’d lived. (My guess? A lot fewer revivals & movie adaptations. A lot more rock operas about gay people.)

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that on Friday, I half broke the rule. I was listening to my Spotify “Weekly Discovery Playlist” and the first track off of Anthony Rapp’s Without You: A Musical Memoir, his recreation of his audition for Rent came on. I then spent my lunch hour listening through Without You, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, since the book Without You is one of my all time favorite memoirs. (It’s about his mom dying as much as it’s about Rent and it.is.stunning.) And as Anthony recreated his memories of the show, my own came rushing back and I knew that I needed to at the very least listen to the OBC again.

Since I had a 2 hour drive to Juli’s that night, I had the perfect opportunity.

It’s funny, the things that come back to you with music. Seeing Rent for the first time with my brother. Parking lot and diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with my summer stock friends after rehearsals. Learning the alto line to “Seasons of Love” with at least 3 different choir directors. Screaming with joy as my name got called for the front lottery when Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp were back in the show for a few weeks. My friend Ali and I dressing in our bohemian best to go see the movie on opening night. (Cannot reiterate it enough, DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE. Do however, listen to the movie versions of “Seasons of Love,” “Out Tonight,” and “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” Jesse Martin, Tracy Thoms and Rosario Dawson make those songs worthwhile.)

And then there’s the show and the album itself. The beauty of the music, the emotions of the story, and the urgency and earnestness of the whole thing. Looking at it as an adult, “One Song Glory,” and both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” feel much more at the heart of the whole thing than “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons,” though as an adult, I’ve also come around on “Seasons of Love,” which while overused and misused as it has been, is just a beautifully composed choral number and achingly melancholy in a way that a teenager could never in a hundred years understand.

But there’s also an oddness to the show now. It was written when Idina Menzel’s wailing belt was trangressive and edgy, when thinking about Angel’s gender identity was taboo and confusing, when the New York I know didn’t exist, and gentrification wasn’t yet a foregone conclusion. That gives it a time capsule quality that makes it hard to evaluate outside of it’s moment.

Idina’s probably the most interesting case of the original cast. Rent made her a star theatrically, and Wicked cemented it, and while I love that I now live in a world where she and Lin-Manuel Miranda are household names, it’s weird, and half the time when people talk about Frozen, I really really want them to listen to “Over The Moon.” Not just because making people listen to “Over The Moon” out of context is hilarious, but because the image of Elsa shouting, “NOT IN MY BACKYARD UTENSILS GO BACK TO CHINA!” breaks a lot of people’s brains. The rest of the casts’ evolution makes more sense. Adam Pascal is still a theater guy, Anthony Rapp and Daphne Ruben Vega became working character actors, who it is always a joy to see. Jesse Martin became everyone’s favorite cop/dad (Sometimes both!). Taye Diggs was swallowed into Shondaland. (I actually think Taye should be a much bigger star than he is, but you know…whatever.) But Idina as Disney Supernova still baffling to me, in a very good way.

As you can see, I could keep babbling for ages about this. Which is why I have the don’t listen to Rent rule.

 

There Are Other Worlds Than These

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, which way to Never never land?

Emerald City’s gone to hell, since the Wizard blew off his command.

On the street you hear the voices, lost children, crocodiles.

But you’re not into making choices, Wicked Witches, poppy fields or men behind the curtain.

Tiger lilies, ruby slippers, clock is ticking that’s for certain. – “30/90”, Tick, Tick…Boom, by Jonathan Larson

Because of my foray into The Dark Tower (I’m through The Wastelands now, and it’s amazing, and I love it, and I remember the face of my father.) I’ve been thinking about other worlds in fiction.

I’m not talking about other planets, or even alternate realities. So that leaves out things like Mirror Worlds and Bizzarro Worlds, and even realms like Middle Earth, or Westeros or Tortall.

I’m talking about other worlds, that exist in some space near or in our own, and you access them through some sort of magic. I’m talking about your Narnia, your Wonderland, your Neverland, your Oz.

While I’m not sure if there strange desert world of Roland The Gunslinger is actually another world, and not a far flung future of our own, (NO SPOILERS! I’ve been spending the month restraining myself from Googling more about this series because I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW UNTIL I KNOW!) for the moment I’m treating it as someplace else.

Mainly I’ve been thinking about how you view those worlds as an adult, as opposed to as a child. The lyrics I posted above are from Tick Tick…BOOM, and are technically about anxiety about turning 30, which also, coming, and also, GAH trying so hard not to think about…although if in the next 6 years I can create something as indelliably awesome as Jonathan Larson did with Rent I think I’d be OK…I mean, not the dying at 35, without ever SEEING my creation completed part, but the writing something as resonant as Rent part. So much art about aging anxiety is about the destruction of childhood, and the wish expressed in “30/90” is to trade Oz for Neverland, as if one imploded and the other is just there waiting.

“Go on then,” Jake, the young boy who becomes the closest companion of Roland, says as he falls to his death in The Gunslinger, “there are other worlds than these.” Maybe there’s something about 30 that makes me want to seek out new worlds, or giving up on seeing them altogether, but this year has me being really introspective and kind of wishing I was someplace else. This is a general feeling, not one that I plan to act on and since the places I’m dwelling on don’t really exist, they aren’t really an option.

Emerald City’s gone to hell, since the wizard blew off his command.

 

 

I Didn’t Ask To Be A Half-Blood

LightningThiefPlay-300x300In case you’re new, you may not know that I have a few what I call “baseline” obsessions. They’re not the fundamentals of nerdiness, as deep in my bones as Star Wars, Harry Potter or Les Mis. But they’re things I come back to over and over, with love and joy and excitement, but I can detach myself enough to view them critically. Batman, The Collective Television Work of Aaron Sorkin, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, Game of Thrones. 

A big one, a big big one is the connected mythological work of Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson And The Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase And The Gods of Asgard, and The Trials of Apollo, are semi-annual joys to visit. (One book generally comes out in the spring, another in the fall…) They’re also, one of the earliest bits of nerd bonding that Aless and I came to. (The summer we became besties Sea Of Monsters, the movie, came out. We moaned over it’s disappointments together.) So, when we learned the there was going to be a musical of The Lighting Thief, we got tickets as soon as possible for the first Saturday night performance.  I also reread all of the Greek/Roman books.

The show itself is really great, capturing the sort of cheeky, totally epic fun of the books, and giving fans a lot to grab on to, especially given the various characters on display. At Camp Halfblood, necessary for the plot characters Percy, Annabeth, Grover and Luke are joined by Clarisse LaRue, Silena Beuaregard and Katie Gardner, with a brief mention of Charles Beckindorf. (Though it’s that he’s cheating on Silena, something he would NEVER DO. HE DIED LOVING HER SO MUCH THAT HE WAITED TO ENTER ELYSIUM FOR HER!) Grover sings a whole song about Thalia’s sacrifice, and there’s even a cameo in the Lotus Hotel and Casino of a girl who’s been there since May of 1939. (Yes, demigods, we see, though only for a moment, Bianca DiAngelo! She also mentions her brother. Aless and I spazzed accordingly)

As a musical it’s entertaining, with a few truly good songs, though the theater lover in me, did have to roll my eyes at a few elements. “We get it, you love Rent!” I mumbled at one point, while Chris McCarrell as Percy raged against his bad luck to a pounding drum beat while jumping around a set constructed mostly of scaffolding. But McCarrell really did well with a character I have a great deal of affection towards and said song, “Good Kid,” has been stuck in my head since leaving the theater. I was equally impressed with Kristen Stokes as Annabeth, particularly her big solo song, but my favorite cast member was James Hayden Rodriguez, who played Luke Castellan as well as Ares and a couple of other parts. (Most of the cast doubled or tripled roles.) Luke is definitely in my top 3 favorite Riordan characters (Number 1 is Leo Valdez and the 2 spot rotates between Luke and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, depending on my mood.) And this performance really got what I liked about Luke, the charm, the anger, the sheer heartbreaking grief when this guy you can’t help but like stabs you in the back.

I was really happy with the show and even happier to see it with my best friend. (I came cosplayed as Annabeth, and Aless provided us some blue food.) We then proceeded to drink approximately all of the Tequila in The Village, but overall we had a great night, and now I’m just waiting on the cast album.

And the possibility of a sequel? Maybe? While the escalating weirdness and ballooning cast of Percy Jackson might make for a tough fit on stage, I’d still love to see this group give it a shot.