Hamilton in Austin Is Worth the Wait- Playing Through June 16th

Nik Walker - HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2018.jpg(Nik Walker, photo by Joan Marcus)

The long wait is over- Austin fans can finally see Hamilton- one of the top musicals in history -some say the best of all time-winning countless awards around the world including Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prize. Lin-Manuel Miranda is now a household name for bringing modern pop culture into historical theater. It’s broken rules, boundaries and records. For the last few years, people outside of NYC and Broadway couldn’t fathom actually seeing the buzz-worthy show in person. Even in New York, tickets were scarce and often resale prices were in the thousands and out of reach for most. Yes it is worth the price and lives up to all the hype.

Joseph Morales and Nik Walker - HAMILTON National Tour - (C) Joan Marcus 2018.jpg(Joseph Morales photo by Joan Marcus)

The entire ensemble was brilliant in acting and choreography. Morales is flawless and feels like Miranda. Of importance is the fact that the all white founding fathers are played by non-white actors. Fans will be happy to know that many cast members on the touring show in Austin are from the original cast including lead (Alexander Hamilton) Joseph Morales (Chicago) who looks and appears like Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator/actor). The actors were so well cast and such a fit that one would assume Miranda hand picked each of them. The other lead characters are Burr (Nik Walker), then two sisters- Eliza (Erin Clemons) who eventually marries Alexander-and Angelica Schuyler (Ta’Rea Campbell). These actors were phenomenal and believable and worked cohesively to tell the story of Alexander. The actors in the great supporting, almost lead group were actually standouts and included John Laurens/Philip Hamilton (Elijah Malcomb), Lafayette/Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe), James Madison (Fergie L. Philippe), George Washington (Marcus Choi).

There were bits of comedy relief throughout and at times King George (Jon Patrick Walker) stole the show with appearance, facial expressions, and the mannerisms that accompanied the comedic lyrics. He exuded jealousy and anger like an obsessed lover (Great Britain) who is losing his grip on his woman (America) as she slips away from his power and control. He says “You’ll be back-Remember despite our estrangement, I’m your man, You’ll be back, Soon you’ll see, You’ll remember you belong to me, You’ll be back”.Jon Patrick Walker - HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2018.jpg(Jon Patrick Walker photo by Joan Marcus)

The story dives deep into the mastermind of Hamilton who came from nothing as an immigrant from the Caribbean to going to Columbia University (then King’s College) and becoming a lawyer to becoming the president’s right hand man and then the first American Treasury Secretary after proving his worth on many occasions during the great war with Britain. He’s responsible for the financial systems and Wall Street today. The show covers all his flaws including his irrational decisions, stubbornness, and his indiscretions during his marriage and the tragic loss of his son Philip in a duel-perhaps giving him bad advice to attend. Hamilton had 8 kids but Miranda focused on Philip. Sadly the show ends with him losing his life too soon in a duel (repeating the exact tragic end his son went through) via a bullet from Burr. It didn’t have to happen which is what makes it so tragic. Stubborn competitiveness/ego is to blame. The show ends with Hamilton being rowed back to Manhattan lifeless and his wife looking into the light of heaven in despair.

Joseph Morales and Company - HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2018.jpg(cast photo by Joan Marcus)

The star of the show is of course the music- as it’s sung and rapped and seamlessly combines old with modern worlds. It’s a testament to Miranda that millions of young new theater fans have jumped into attending musicals because of him. The blend of hip hop and history has proven to get more people excited to learn and attend. The show has attracted all ages, races, and cultures because of the songs and the relatable lyrics-taking an old topic and making it new and interesting like a good teacher would. Highlights include:  ‘My Shot’, ‘Wait For It’, ‘The Room Where it Happens’, ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the hilarious ‘You’ll Be Back’, ‘Satisfied’, ‘The Schuyler Sisters’, ‘Yorktown’. There are 51 total numbers and it often feels like there’s only a split second between any two songs. The show runs at a quick pace so at times you feel you can’t keep up. It runs through 30 years of history and over 20,000 words so it has to be continuous.

Part of what makes Hamilton so powerful and inspiring is the fact that it’s a political story that includes gun violence, hate, and racism that often mimics what our country is facing today.  Manuel is a genius in how he blends rhyme and wordplay. The lyrics are familiar and powerful. “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”, “How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower somehow defeat a global superpower?”, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, “We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less” and “How you say, no sweat, we’re finally on the field. We’ve had quite a run”- Immigrants: “We get the job done”.  Other modern/relatable (often direct quotes) and often hilarious one liners in the show are highlights: “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry”. “Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!” “Why do you write like it’s going out of style?”.”When I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m’a compel him to include women in the sequel!” “Wait for it”. “Being a self-starter”. “But my God, she looks so helpless, and her body’s saying, “hell, yes”.

The choreography was also superb. Mixes of ballet and hip-hop dominated and often had the ensemble both singing and dancing. Andy Blankenbuehler, choreographer, has talked about the importance of bringing the lyrics to life and slowing down time by creating the appearance of slow-motion sequences throughout. He uses poses and movements from baseball to illustrate important lyrics and emotions. Stopping time to magnify Hamilton’s thoughts was evident while often including modern hip-hop moves with the modern lyrics. There are huge sequences that are repeated over the course of the show due to their importance; you’ll notice these for example during ‘My Shot’, ‘Right Hand Man’, and ‘Room Where it Happens’.

The production is incredible and is the same production that’s on Broadway. It’s a simple set–or appears so at first– made of mostly wood (or faux)- with wood floors- with a rotating circular center-or turntable stage piece that the cast must artfully and carefully dance across and through- massively tall side brick walls and wood scaffolding staircases that move, long beams on the ceiling, second-level catwalk, and loose ropes used in a variety of scenes (apparently designed to resemble the inside of a boat). The lights were important and often single spotlights but many numbers included drop down candle lanterns that created a romantic ambience and are historically accurate due lack of electricity (was invented later).

bronze metal texture with high details; Shutterstock ID 115354759(Joan Marcus)

More about Hamilton: Creator, writer, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Hamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton runs through June 16th at Bass Concert Hall on the UT campus. The show runs about 3 hours total including one intermission. Tickets are available but limited. You can also try the Hamilton app to win $10 tickets.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Review

by Tina Berard
As you enter the Zach Theatre for an evening with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, you realize that you are in for something a bit out of the ordinary. Guests are donning boas, wigs and knee-high boots while a lounge singer croons and a gallery of women and men in drag line the walls. “This is going to be fun!” is my first thought.
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After a glass of wine and chit-chat we are escorted to our seats and a bit confused as to why the set was that of the popular children’s book, Goodnight Moon. We were soon to discover that elements of that juvenile scene were morphed into hilarious visuals for Hedwig, played by Daniel Rowan. And speaking of visuals, the costumes that Hedwig wore were very entertaining and colorful throughout the show. The legs on Hedwig were beyond compare! WOW!
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is based on the life of Hedwig, an East German boy who underwent a botched sex-change operation. Hedwig tells us of her sad and lonely upbringing, her stern mother, and how a marriage to a man brings her to the United States. As a child she loved music and became a rock singer in America among other occupations that forced her to sell her body.
Part of what makes this special is that it’s a cast of only two! Hedwig is accompanied by her band The Angry Inch and her current husband Yitzhak, played by Leslie McDonel, throughout the show. As Hedwig maneuvers through heartbreak and the promise of stardom, she performs wild tunes and dance moves that are sure to stir up a variety of emotions. One of the pleasant surprises of the night was the amazing voice of Yitzhak. The songs he/she sung and beauty of his/her voice were beyond compare during the show.

The show was rather short with no intermission but packed with hilarity and raw emotion. The actors left it all on the stage and put their whole selves into their roles. By the end of the show you feel the message of struggle, hope, and growth very intimately. This production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of many since it’s 1998 debut and the first Broadway appearance in 2014. It’s strong, fun and poignant and I highly recommend seeing it before it leaves Austin on March 3.

Created by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is “the most exciting rock score written for the theatre since, oh, ever” says Time Magazine. Winner of two Obie Awards and four Tony Awards®, Hedwig tells the story of “internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig Schmidt, a fourth-wall-smashing East German rock ‘n’ roll goddess . See “The Angry Inch” for a rock concert and stand-up comedy event that will inspire you.

Band members:

Luke Linsteadt………………….Guitar/Keys
Chris Tondre…………………….Guitar
Beau Moore………………………Bass
Harrell Williams, Jr……………..Percussion

WHAT: Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by Dave Steakley

WHERE: The Topfer at ZACH Theatre

Age Recommendation: 17 and up for strong language and adult themes

For more information and tickets visit Zach Theater

Review: Once Musical at Zach Theater Austin

Once opened September 19, 2018 and is currently running at Zach’s Topfer Theater. We first saw the movie a few years back and when we heard the musical was coming to Zach, we had to check it out. It’s a perfect story for Austin as it’s about a struggling musician who almost gives up on his dreams. It’s set in Ireland and filled with tons of emotion and a great story of love, family, and friendship. The film written and directed by John Carney, was based on the music of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who perform in Swell Season). It was a great little indie movie, a sleeper, that did well. The soundtrack is awesome and the main track, “Falling Slowly” is a highlight.

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‘Based on the 2007 Academy Award®-winning film, Once is an enchanting, modern love story about the complexities of relationships and the power of music to connect us all. Once tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music’ (Zach.org).

5-ZACHTheatre_ONCE_8626_PhotoCredit_KirkTuck.jpgThe male lead. “Guy”, Corbin Mayer, had a powerful voice with a great range- great highs and lows. Very, very difficult and rare. He reminded me of Ethan Hawke-who lives in Austin-and totally mirrors the lead in the movie as well. At times, the female lead, “Girl” Olivia Nice‘ character resembled music legend Carole King (minus the thick Czech accent). They both write and play beautiful songs. When Nice sat at the piano, it was beautiful. There was a full ensemble of musicians with several guitars, strings, accordion, sax, drums, and more. We especially loved all the strings, and the lead violinist also sang and was a standout. Everyone played, acted, and sang.

ONCE ILLUSTRATION-Final-Flat

The set was very simple and the scenes are mostly in the bar where they work, and the roommate-filled apartment, and the shop. We would’ve loved a little more set change but it made sense. The band came out and played and there was a soft open, and for a moment we weren’t sure if the show had started. At times the story was a bit confusing and hard to follow, especially between the two leads. Was it a budding friendship or did they have a relationship in mind? She seemingly saves him from his own demise and depression, pushing him and inspiring him to pursue his dreams. There were times it felt a little slow, or long (but it worked well and followed the film). Adding complexity to their situation was that she had a daughter and the estranged husband lived far away. They both came off bad relationships to find love and adventure (we think) in New York. They recorded an album which we assume, leads to their success and happiness.

It’s obvious now why Once received 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show runs through October 28th. We love that theater in Austin is fantastic and yet affordable. Tickets start at $25. Check out more info at Zach Theater.

CAST

Corbin Mayer – Guy

Olivia Nice – Girl

Ben Hulan – Billy

Scotty Roberts – Da

Christabel Lin – Ex-Girlfriend

Beau Moore – Andrej

Ginna Doyle – Reza

Johnny Newcomb – Svec

Cami Alys – Baruska

Anya Gibian – Bank Manager

Luke Linsteadt – Emcee/Eamon

 

PRODUCTION TEAM

Dave Steakley – Director

Allen Robertson – Music Director

Cassie Abate – Choreographer

Donald Eastman – Scenic Designer

Susan Branch Towne– Costume Designer

Serret Jensen – Hair and Makeup Designer

Sarah Maines – Lighting Designer

Craig Brock – Sound Designer

Scott Groh – Properties Designer

Catherine Anne Tucker – Stage Manager

Megan Smith – Assistant Stage Manager

Diane Irwin – Assistant to the Director

Review: Sunday in the Park with George

by Jerri Starbuck

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With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George plays ZACH’s Topfer Stage from May 30–June 24, 2018 under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley, with musical direction by Allen Robertson. The musical centers around Georges Seurat in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Consumed by his need to “finish the hat,” Seurat alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists, and neglects his lover Dot, not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years.

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There was a stark difference between the first half and the second half of the show. Act I followed the lovebirds Dot and George, on an island on the Seine river, at the gates of Paris-mostly in the park and sometimes in the studio. The two are so in love and spend much time together and admiring each other and his art as he paints his most famous work (while she complains they are working on a Sunday). There were moments of hilarity from the cast and there were some nice scenes with George and his mother as she sits for him in the park. Dot becomes pregnant but George stays stuck in his work. She meets someone and heads off to America to start a new life and family. “George resigns himself to the likelihood that creative fulfillment may always take precedence for him over personal happiness (“Finishing the Hat”)”-Wikipedia.

 

Act II was set forward 100 years to 1984- a fun, modern scene at an American art museum. They are gathered for the unveiling George’s great-grandson George’s (yes, confusing) latest work, a reflection on Seurat’s painting in the form of a light machine called “Chromolume #7”. An energetic strobe/light performance enhanced the scene. They are all sharing memories about George (who died suddenly at 31). Although a little confusing, George’s great grandson George, is there with his mother Marie (Dots daughter) who is now 98 and in a wheelchair. She shares the story of the painting. Marie later dies and the final scene is a reflection. ‘George reads from a book he inherited from his grandmother and ponders the similarities between himself and his great-grandfather. A vision of Dot appears and greets George. He confides his doubts to her and she tells him to stop worrying about whether his choices are right and simply make them (“Move On”).-Wikipedia.

 

The music is of course a huge reason for the popularity of the show. Multi-award-winner, Sondheim (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney  Todd,  and tons more) is masterful and a highlight of the show. We loved the unusual mix of the orchestra live on stage with the musical (not in a pit below the stage).

ZACHTheatre_SundayInThePark_2018_Lobby Slide.jpgAlthough the story is quite side, it does mimic the artist’s life as we know it. One of isolation and dedication to their craft, at the expense of relationships, social lives, family, and love. Washington Jr. (as George) was fantastic and a standout. Jill Blackwood (Dot) was also impressive. On Broadway, Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the Broadway revival.

Cast (in order of appearance)
Cecil Washington, Jr. *George
Jill Blackwood *Dot / Marie
Janis Stinson *Old Lady / Blair Daniels
Amber QuickMrs. / Nurse / Harriet Pawling
Tyler JonesFranz / Dennis
Brian Coughlin *Man / Mr. / Lee Randolph
Bruce BowenBather Boy
Logan MarcumBather Boy
Amy Downing *Yvonne / Naomi Eisen
Jamie Goodwin *Jules / Bob Greenberg
Paul SanchezLouis / Billy Webster
Matthew Treviño *Boatman / Charles Redmond
Amanda CliftonCeleste #2 / Elaine ; Understudy for Dot / Marie
Sarah Marie CurryCeleste #1 / Waiter
Blakeney MahlstedtLouise
Mariela DensonLouise
Lara WrightFrieda / Betty
Connor BarrYoung Man / Soldier #1 / Alex
J. Dylan GibsonSolider #2 / Photographer
Emily VillarrealUnderstudy for Celeste #2 / Elaine