# Saturday, October 16, 2021

RENT-1The musical "RENT" debuted 25 years ago in New York City. At the time, it must have caused some people to be uncomfortable. It  included homosexuals and drag queens and drug addicts and interracial relationships and fighting back against capitalist greed and AIDS.

Set in Manhattan's East Village, it paints a bleak picture of life for struggling bohemians of that area.

RENT-2But it also presents a message of hope. Despite the tragedies he suffers, Tom Collins remains optimistic. Despite the pain of a dead girlfriend, Mark attempts to love again. Despite losing his girlfriend to another woman, Mark becomes friends with the lesbian couple. And the cross-dressing Angel inspires us all, despite dying of AIDS.

And, of course, there is the music. RENT is filled with rock songs and ballads and show tunes to lift you up and to pull at your heart.

It took me 25 years to see this classic. But I finally made it to the CIBC Theatre in Chicago last week. I am glad I did.

Saturday, October 16, 2021 9:18:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, September 21, 2019

IMG_5933When my boys were young, I would regularly read to them and their classmates. One of our favourite authors was Roald Dahl, so I spent many Fridays reading chapters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda.

Saturday night, I had the chance to experience Matilda - the Musical live at London' Cambridge Theatre.

It was a delightful interpretation of a delightful book.

Matilda is the story of a young girl who loves books, but is despised, discouraged, and verbally abused by her ignorant and amoral parents. When she goes to school, she finds the other children absurdly ignorant, the older kids callous and teasing and - worst of all - the headmistress Miss Trunchbull is cruel and domineering.

Matilda is bright and mischievous and unafraid. But her life is made miserable by the adults who surround her. The one great exception is her kindly teacher Miss Honey, who cares about Matilda, but is too timid to stand up to Miss Trunchbull.

The Cambridge Theatre production made use of the entire theatre. Actors frequently entered and exited the stage up the center aisle (right next to my seat, as it turned out); and the action sometimes extended up into the balcony. In a break from tradition, the intermission ended without warning with Matilda's father stepping onstage to read a statement on the dangers of excessive reading. People hurried back to their seat when they discovered the play had resumed.

The title character was played perfectly by Tilly-Raye Bayer, a tiny girl with the cherubic face and a precocious attitude.

I saw many children in the audience enjoying the show, but many adults like me also had a great time. It took me back to a simpler time that I shared with my boys.

My second experience in London's famous West End theatre district was a delight.

Saturday, September 21, 2019 3:58:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, March 15, 2019

IMG_3727Not only did I fail to see "Miss Saigon" in the 20 years since its premier in London's West End, I failed to learn anything about the show. I didn't know who wrote it, I haven't heard a song, and I did not know the plot. I didn't even know that it is an adaptation of Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly" opera.

That all changed Thursday night at the Wharton Enter in East Lansing, MI. My niece and I braved a hail storm and flooded streets to grab second-row tickets to see a touring company as it passed through mid-Michigan.

To spoil it for those of you who did as little research as I did: Miss Saigon tells the story of Chris, an American G.I., who falls in love with Kim, a young Vietnamese girl during the Vietnam War. When Saigon falls to the Viet Cong, Chris escapes, but Kim does not. It's a tragic story of war and lost love and what might have been.

The performance at Wharton was wonderful,

Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa moved our hearts as the star-crossed lover.

But the show was stolen by "The Engineer" - a sleazy night club / brothel host/manager, who manipulates Kim and other women, but somehow gains some sympathy from the audience. I believe Thursday night's performance featured understudy Eymard Cabling, rather than the regular Red Concepcion in this role. Regardless, he played the character flawlessly.

Another scene-stealer was the micro-urchin who played Kim's son Tam. He had no lines, but he overwhelmed us with is cuteness every time he stepped on stage.

I didn't hear any hit songs, but he music of "Miss Saigon" always satisfied. Song flowed into song so frequently that there were fewer opportunities to applaud than most shows afford. There were no low points in a lovely musical score, which was carried well by the cast.

The stage setting was very impressive for a small-city touring company. The highlight was a helicopter that loomed over the U.S. Consulate in Saigon to rescue the last of the refugees before the city's fall. One could almost smell the diesel coming off this impressive effect.

The final scene left the audience in tears.

Our attendance was a late decision, but this was an evening very well spent and one I will remember for a long time. It was well worth a trek through the hail and floods.

Friday, March 15, 2019 2:20:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, March 5, 2019

HamiltonCombine a history lesson with great music, great dancing, and a very talented cast and you begin to understand "Hamilton". The extremely popular Broadway musical has been playing continuously at Chicago's CIBC Theater for over two years, and I finally saw a performance Sunday afternoon.

This hype for this show was considerable, but Sunday's performance was up to matching it.

The show's story focuses on the friendship and rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Both were major figures in early American history. Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, who built the U.S. financial system. Burr was a Senator, a state Attorney General, a Vice President and (spoiler alert) the man who killed Hamilton in a duel.

Some actors got the day off for this matinee performance - most notably, JJ Jeter for Miguel Cervantes as Hamilton and Keith Webb for Akron Watson, but I would not have known I was seeing understudies without looking at the program. Jeter and Webb captured the spirit of their characters - Hamilton's idealism and Burr's ambition - perfectly.

A high point of the interpretation was the character of Thomas Jefferson, who was portrayed as a cocky Prince clone, returning from Paris to set the new country afire.

One of the most interesting aspect of the Hamilton musical is that nearly every major part is played by a person of color - African-American or Latinx. George III was the only speaking role is played by a Caucasian. Of course, the leaders of 18th century United States were almost all white. But this change works well and fits the music, features a lot of R&B and Hip-Hop influences.

I bought tickets to treat myself to a birthday present and I invited my son to join me. We both enjoyed it immensely. I would not be surprised to see this show run for another 2 years in Chicago.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 9:45:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)