Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 3 - A song demonstrating how underrated a musical is.

One of Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesser known and touted musicals is a wonderful show called WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND.  Although I have never seen it performed I love the music and the story it tells.  I wonder why it never recieved the recogntion I feel it deserves? This isn't an actual clip from a performance, rather Sarah Brightman singing a selection from the show.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Naked Ladies

I love this time of year when I have naked ladies in pink dresses just outside my gate. 

The 30 Day Musical Theater Song Challenge - Day 1

Well, I have no idea how this happened but my original post from this disappeared off my blog so I will try this again!  GRR.

This challenge is from Facebook.  I thought it would be fun to try it out.  The idea is to choose a song which fills the requirements of a list of questions.  I also decided I didn't want to choose the same musical more than once.

My first exposure to a musical was probably the same as many: THE WIZARD OF OZ movie on TV.  I was about 5 when I saw it and I was so traumatized by the Wicked Witch I don't really remember much else besides being scared of her. 

My next real awareness of musicals was later. When I was in about grade 3 my mom had several sets of Reader's Digest Condensed record albums.  They were sets of several records all on the same theme.  The one I loved was called Operettas.
I can't believe I actually found an image of the cover!

My mom would stack them up and we would listen for hours.  We lived in a town where dark came early and snow was plentiful.  We spent many happy evenings listening to that music.  The song I remember clearest was this one from SHOWBOAT called Old Man River.
Thanks, mom!

Day 2 - A song from your latest musical obsession

I just discovered SIDE SHOW.

I was listening to Sirius radio Broadway station and someone was interviewing Emily Skinner.  She is the current Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot and then they began asking her about this show.  She told some funny anecdotes and said Alice Ripley (of Next To Normal fame) was in it with her.  Then they played a song from it.  That's all I needed.  Ordered it from Amazon and  listened to the cast recording 3 times the first day I got it. A new obsession has begun!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Love Affair With Billy Elliot

My love affair with Billy Elliot began with a little movie I watched in 2000.  It takes place in England in 1984 and stars the incredible Jamie Bell. Billy Elliot tells the story of a young boy with a dream to dance.  With the help of his dance teacher, he overcomes the obstacles of near poverty, an unsupportive family and the death of his mother to win a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School.  Enchanting story aside, the innocence, charm and sheer dancing brilliance of Jamie Bell captured me from the moment the movie began.  Julie Walters and Gary Lewis as his dance teacher and his father are perfect in their roles.  I bought the DVD and have watched the movie 30 or more times.  
As did most theater geeks who saw this movie, I just knew it HAD to be made into a Broadway musical.  Imagine my sheer delight in 2004 or so when I heard it WAS going to be a musical and would be opening in London in 2005.  I was thrilled to death to know that Sir Elton John had written the music and the original screenwriter, Lee Hall, had written the book and lyrics.  Peter Darling, who choreographed the movie, was also the choreographer for the musical. Could it get any better?

From that moment on I scoured the internet for any scraps of info I could find about the show.  I haunted the message boards at Broadway World and sucked up every bit of “Billy” I could.  When the original cast recording became available in November 2005 I bought it for myself for Christmas.  In 2006 I listened to that cast recording at least once a day EVERY day.  By mid-July 2007 I had weaned myself to about once a week or so.  Now, in 2011, I still listen to it several times a month.  Other musicals have tickled my fancy in the meantime, and some I am as passionate about as Billy Elliot, but although I may stray for a time Billy draws me in like an addict to crack.
Liam Mower, the most popular Billy (even to this day) is the Billy on the cast recording. Liam has the voice of an angel and won a Lawrence Olivier award for the role.  His vocals transfer all of the characters actions and emotions in the perfect way. His grumpy and encouraging ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, is played with much gusto by Haydn Gwynne. It’s hard to imagine how a musical about dancing could have any impact at all just by listening to the music.  Yes, it’s about dancing but it’s about so much more than that. And that message comes across loud and clear on the cast recording.

On October 1, 2008 Billy Elliot debuted on Broadway in NYC.  The internet and TV were full of Billy sightings and I gobbled up every one.    The 2009 Tony awards aired on June 7 and Billy Elliot danced away with 10 Tony’s including a Tony for each of the three original Broadway Billy’s!  
David Alvarez, Kiril Kulish, and Trent Kowalik
When I was on my WICKED jag I avoided anything and everything to do with WICKED.  I didn’t want to know anything about the story other than what was on the cast recording.  I wanted the actual story to be a surprise.  With Billy Elliot, I already knew the story so I didn’t see any point in avoiding spoilers.  Also, with WICKED I knew there was a road tour and that it was going to be in San Francisco and that I would get to see it, but with Billy I just didn’t think it would ever go on tour.  I thought finding that many Billy’s (3-5 per production) would be too daunting a task.  And there was no chance I would be getting to New York City anytime soon.  I thought I would have to be happy with what I could glean from media sources and Billy Elliot the movie.

As you can imagine, when I heard there was going to be a Billy tour I was over the moon.  As is often the case, it opened in Chicago first in March of 2010.  It wasn’t until months later that I found out it was coming to San Francisco. 
Tyler was still living at home when the movie came out and he had watched it several times and so was very familiar with the story and loved it as much as I.  Somewhere in all of this I gave Tyler the cast recording and he began to listen as intently and passionately as I.  He’s my “Musical Soul Mate.”  We can talk about musicals for hours, and believe me, we do.  For months we would post random Billy lyrics on one another’s Facebook pages and then expect the other to come up with the lyric immediately following.  He is a letter carrier with USPS and spent many, many hours listening to his Billy Elliot cd at work. 

In April, Norm and I went to Bellingham, where Tyler lives, to watch the grandgirlies for them while they were on Spring Break.  Dusti’s school break didn’t coincide with theirs and we were more than happy to drive up and watch the girls for a week or so.  I wanted to take Tyler to see a show in Seattle while we were there and much to my surprise Billy Elliot was going to be playing a 10 day run which coincided with our visit.  However, when I went online to get tickets they were very expensive and really lousy seats.  I tried several times through several venues to get tickets but I just wasn’t having any luck. I was disappointed in that I really wanted to take Tyler to see it.  I knew, though, that it was going to be playing in San Fran and that I was bound and determined to get tickets for myself at that time.  Then the best news ever…Tyler and his family were going to be taking their vacation in August and would be coming to see us.  After lots of phone calls and getting the schedules of Dusti’s family and friends coordinated I realized it was really going to happen.  

Tyler was going to be able to see Billy Elliot with me in San Francisco in August, 2011!! 

Now we are up to last Thursday and if you all are still reading this at this point you are 1.) a theater geek like me, 2.) a good friend, 3.) have no life or 4.) here for some other random reason.  But I digress.
Tyler even called me before he left Washington to ask me what he should wear to see the show.  Were we a bit obsessed much?  The BOTH of us?  

We left Sebastopol about 4:15 pm to be sure and leave plenty of time to get to the Orpheum and have a chance to eat before the show.  The drive was easy and uneventful although driving over the Golden Gate was a bit scary for Tyler as only a row of plastic posts separated the line of oncoming traffic.  It was his first time on the bridge and we had fun taking pictures and pointing out landmarks.  Well, I was taking the pictures and pointing out landmarks.  He was freaking out a bit.  

Thank goodness for his iphone (thank you Apple).  We arrived in one piece with no problems and  parked in the same lot I have parked in a couple of times before (next to the Chase Bank kitty corner to the Orpheum) and after a stop at the ATM we made our way to Sam’s Diner.  It had many positive reviews and is just mere steps from the theater. 
Notice the SIGNED Billy Elliot poster in the window on the lower left side.

After we ordered our food I mentioned to Ty that he should run over to the theater and take pictures before it got dark.  Nodding his agreement, he was out the door before I finished my sentence.  A few minutes later he came back with these great photos.

After a quick stop at Starbucks, just across the street, we headed to the theater.

  I picked up the tickets at will call and we made a beeline to the merch booth.  We each bought programs and t-shirts (never have I purchased a show shirt but I HAD to have one for this show) then headed to our great seats.  Second row of the Loge.  A bird’s eye view.  Not so close we felt we were on top of the stage but not so far away that we needed binoculars to see what was going on.  Tyler and I just kept pinching ourselves to see if we were really about to watch…BILLY. FREAKING. ELLIOT!!!!  It was Ty’s first time in the Orpheum and he was awestruck at the beautiful ceilings and velvet curtains and all the fresco work.  It was fun to hear him gasp in wonder.  Even a 27 year old grown man can find beauty in the unexpected.  Then the lights began to dim, the recorded announcement finished and the curtain went up!!!
The orchestra began, the music washed over me and I was swept away in the giddy abandon that is this fabulous piece of art.  “Our Billy”, as we called him, was Lex Ishimoto, a tallish, lithe boy of Japanese descent.  And oh man, oh man, oh MAN can that boy dance!!!  And really, the only character who DIDN’T dance much was… Mrs. Wilkinson, the dance teacher.  The Ballet Girls were fabulous; each one a different size and shape, each with their own character and personality.  The miners and policemen’s tap/clogging numbers were incredible and their voices blended to perfection. Tyler and I brushed away tears during “Dear Billy” and grinned ourselves silly during “Expressing Yourself” as Billy and Michael (Griffin Birney)   tapped and sang their way in and out of dresses, skirts and hats.

As each familiar tune began it was as if I was finally meeting an old friend for the first time.  A friend I had been introduced to long, long ago.  Had loved, spoken to, laughed and cried with but had never seen, nor touched.  Tonight I was touching that old friend and he was touching me.  Caressing me with power and caution and passion and awe and courage and indulgence and frugality and lust.   The sheer audacity of the cast to perform for me and to expect me to give back.  The lunging, plunging, flailing, sailing movement carrying me out of myself and into another place.  I gave Billy my heart and he threw it right back at me.  At intermission I was breathless.  I looked at Tyler and said, “There are no adjectives to describe this.” By the end of the show I was a sobbing, blithering mess.  I didn’t want it to end but end it did and Billy Elliot left me shaken and exhilarated and stirred all at once.
-It is an experience I will never, ever, EVER forget and it means so much to have been able to share it with my “musical soul mate.”  My Tyler.