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We went to NYC and got snowed on, among other things

Back in January, several of us took a trip to NYC. At the time, we intended to do some articles on the different shows that we saw there. Then, we got snowed on and…well, we forgot about it. After coming across this draft in the archives, I decided to go ahead and flesh it out for posterity.

We went to NYC the same weekend that a couple of big events happened. The first was super storm Jonas and the second was the inaugural Broadway Con. Some members of our party did attend the Con, but the point of this post is to talk about the Broadway shows we saw. I know that it’s not TV, anime or movies but we’re allowed to branch out occasionally.

Allegiance

This was easily the most disappointing show that we say, mostly because of the way that it was billed. The advertising for the show was all about there being Broadway show that starred George Takei. While the Star Trek alum does feature in the show, he’s far from the star of it. That billing should have gone to Lea Salonga (known for being the singing voice for both Jasmine and Mulan as well as starring in several Broadway shows) and Telly Leung. Leung and Takei both play the role of Sam Kimura. Kimura is a first generation Japanese American who chose to fight in the war in order to help prove Japanese allegiance to America while America was putting Japanese people in internment camps during WWII. At the beginning and end of the show, Takei plays the older version of Sam while Leung plays the younger version throughout the bulk of the show. During those portions of the show Takei plays Sam’s grandfather, usually referred to as “Ojii-San”, and is little more than comic relief.

The story of Allegiance is a tragic and gripping one. You see Sam start his life as a young and idealistic man. When WWII begins and Americans become suspicious of the Japanese, Sam and his family are taken to an internment camp. Some of them, including Sam, decide to volunteer to serve in the U.S. Army. They are effectively agreeing to join a suicide regiment, but Sam believes in proving his loyalty. Meanwhile others, including Sam’s sister Kei (Lea Salonga), form a resistance movement against the U.S. government that is unjustly imprisoning and discriminating against them. Even as Sam becomes a war hero, his family members continue the resistance; putting them in direct conflict with one another while both sides suffer loss. Eventually, Sam returns home only to find that this differences in ideals has estranged him from his family. So, he lives in isolation until he reunites with members of his family after hearing about his sister’s death.

Allegiance is a musical, but the music isn’t particularly noteworthy. That’s not to say it’s bad, but I don’t think anyone in our group left with the idea that there was a song they just needed to go find after hearing it. The music and the story rely a lot on Japanese culture and references. From that standpoint it is interesting, but just that. Ironically, the most fun parts of the show are the numbers that happen inside the interment camps (specifically the jazz-swing number that represents a dance). The most potent part of the experience comes in the final act of the show. That’s where you really see the sacrifice and the sadness that pervaded everyone’s lives as a result of the United State’s unfair treatment of its own citizens. It’s a particularly powerful message for anyone, but especially for those of Japanese/Asian descent or minorities in America. Even if the rest of the show isn’t as gripping as it could be, it’s worth it just for the gut punch that comes at the end.

School of Rock

This show is a straight adaptation of the 2003 musical comedy starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn. Finn is a down-and-out middle aged rocker who has been kicked out of his band and is freeloading off his friend Ned Schneebly and his girlfriend Patty. After being emplored to get a job, Dewey impersonates Ned as a substitute teacher at the prestigious Horace Green School. When Dewey finds out that his students have musical talent, he turns the class into a band, with him as the band leader and plans to enter them in a local “Battle of the Bands”. Throughout the show, Dewey infects the children and their principle, Rosalie Mullins, with his enthusiastic spirit and teaches them somethings about themselves and music. The show does do a descent job of rehashing the story but, it’s probably better to watch this after having already seen the movie. Because there are some parts of the story that are glossed over.

When we saw the show Alex Brightman was taking his turn at the role, which would eventually get him nominated for the 2016 Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. Our Rosalie Mullins was also former “Disney Princess”, Sierra Boggess, who played Ariel on Broadway. Bogess’ stratospheric voice and Brightman’s spitfire energy definitely standout in the show, but there was another actress that gave us an unexpected surprise: Mamie Parris as Patty Di Marco. Mamie sang the song “Give up Your Dreams”, which became one of those songs that we’ve now listened to dozens of times since seeing the show.

Of course, it’s impossible to do School of Rock, without the kids. These children aren’t focused on as individuals as much as their counterparts in the movie because this play gives the adults more space to shine. Even so,  the kids are much more powerful as a group and as musicians. The show’s composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, makes a recorded statement before the show that reassures the audience that everything that the kids are playing is actually them playing live. It would be easy to believe that things were being recorded because of how proficient they are at playing the songs. The show also features at least two new songs for the kids: “Stick it to the Man” and “If Only You Would Listen”. While the former isn’t my favorite, the later is outstanding. It’s also a bit of a tearjerker, especially if you can relate to the feeling of a child trying to futilely express themselves to an adult.

This was easily the most fun show that we saw during the weekend.

Les Miserables

This well known musical that follows the life of Jean Valjean aka “prisoner 24601” as he tries to escape capture while living a complicated life in 1800’s France. Les Mis has been around for generations, so it seems silly to rehash the plot. It would also take more time than I’m willing to allot because it’s got a plot that’s got lots of moving parts and characters. A lot of us already knew all of the music for the show despite never having seen a major production of it. Despite our familiarity with the material (music and story), we were still surprised by seeing the performance of the show live. Somehow, with a show that has so much going on, I don’t think any of us realized just how much would actually be going on on stage. The sets, the amazing amount of movement during numbers like “Master of the House” and “One Day More”, and the physical acting of the cast were all way beyond what we were expecting to see.

While the cast was very strong from top to bottom, we took particular note of Brennyn Lark as Eponine. Her rendition of “On My Own” was so powerful that I could literally hear fixtures in the building resonating from the last note. It actually seemed to shock the audience so much that it delayed the applause so much. We also found out that our show had a very special guest as the voice at the Barricade. Apparently, Lin-Manuel Miranda was the voice for our performance, which was captured on his digital Ham-4-Ham series.

Hamilton

Les Mis was actually our 2nd experience with Mr. Miranda that week as the highlight of our trip was a showing of his hit musical, Hamilton. Keep in mind that we saw this show in January of 2016, but we had purchased our tickets back in October of 2015. At that time, I had heard some of the Hamilton recording, but I had no real idea that it would become such a phenomenon. The only reason that I and a couple of others in our group brought tickets was because two of our compatriots (@JadedFanGirl and InvisibleMe) are big Broadway fans. They were going to see the show anyway and invited a group to get tickets while they could. We actually bought our tickets for face value only to come back to Ticketmaster two weeks later and find everything sold out or costing around $500 and up. So, I think that was when the rest of us realized that this was kind of a big deal. It was an even bigger deal that we got to see the show with the original cast (minus Chris Jackson, who was at the doctor for that show).

By now, most of the country (if not the world) has heard of this show. A musical that follows the dramatized life of U.S. founding father, Alexander Hamilton. It starts with him immigrating to America from the Caribbean. While looking to advance his station in life, he meets Aaron Burr, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan and the Marquis de Lafayette. Hamilton eventually becomes the right hand man of George Washington. He also meets the Schuyler sisters; Angelica, Eliza and Peggy and ends up marrying Eliza. Hamilton plays his part in fighting and winning the war along with his compatriots before becoming a lawyer and fighting to help establish the country. Hamilton helps create the postal service, coast guard, constitution, and our financial system all while dealing with the politics of the day. He is opposed by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and even Burr at different points. After Hamilton falls victim to a scandal resulting from a relationship with one Mariah Reynolds, his reputation falls into ruin. Soon his son Philip is killed in a duel over his family’s reputation. After the death Hamilton reunites with his estranged life Eliza and lives a secluded life. That is until Jefferson and Burr face off in a presidential election. When Hamilton is called upon to endorse a candidate he chooses his long time opponent Jefferson over his former partner Burr. The slight enrages Burr to the point where he challenges Hamilton to a duel where he kills Hamilton. The musical ends with a reflective look at Hamilton’s life and the preservation of his legacy through the actions of his wife and the institutions he helped create.

What obviously makes Hamilton unique is that the medium of it’s music is Hip-Hop and R&B. It’s a predominantly minority cast portraying the founding fathers and players in the early construction of the United States. Despite that, it’s not so entrenched in a particular ethnicity or culture that it’s alienating to the general public. Instead, Hamilton is a show that trumpets the importance of different cultures and ideas in the creation of a country.

Beyond it’s message, the show is just special on it’s own. The staging is simple, relying on a monolithic set centered around a stage composed of the concentric circles that rotate like some kind of bizarre treadmill. Almost every number is accompanied by complex choreography that serves to emphasize the music as well as set and reset the staging. I was also surprised, given that most of the lyrics are delivered as rap, that the actors were moving as much as they were. Daveed Diggs, who plays both Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette, manages to deliver some of the shows fastest lines while jumping through the air off of parts of the stage. It’s a captivating combination of elements that can make a stage that’s objectively bare feel like it’s incredibly busy.

The cast of this show was amazing. Miranda is obviously the captain of the ship as the show’s lead and writer. However, he’s almost overshadowed by all the talent around him. I’ve already mentioned Diggs, who has the fastest lines in the show and is clearly a very skilled rapper but also an effervescent energy.  Anthony Ramos and Okieriete Onaodowan shine in small moments as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton and Hercules Mulligan/James Madison respectively. Jonathan Groff steals your attention for the few minutes that he’s on stage as King George III. Philipa Soo’s portrayal of Eliza is, at moments, heartbreaking; especially during her performance of Burn (even when she dropped a burning piece of paper on the stage during our show). Renee Elise Goldsberry is fiery and fierce as Angelica Schuyler, especially when she’s fronting he Destiny’s Child styled trio of sisters. Even Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays a very minor role as Peggy, is impressive as Hamilton’s sultry-voiced mistress, Mariah Reynolds.

However, for me, the show-stealer was Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. Obviously, other people agreed because he won the 2016 Tony for Best Actor in a musical, despite being nominated alongside Miranda for the same show. Aaron Burr drives the entire show as Hamilton’s friend and enemy. He is also the narrator of almost every event. Odom was noteworthy during every moment he was on stage, never losing his presence. Even when he wasn’t speaking, he was providing something to the audience. There’s a small moment when there’s a spotlight on Hamilton as he decides who to endorse for the presidency. Burr isn’t speaking at all, but Odom’s face during that episode is priceless. We even got to see a funny little moment where Odom laughed on stage because off a little improvised dance that Groff did as King George during the “Reynold’s Pamphlet”. That turned out to be just as impressive as it was funny because Odom’s voice and delivery never wavered, even when he broke for a moment. The “pièce de résistance” was his performance of “The Room Where it Happened”. It was a song that I had heard a few times but, in person, it was so much grander than I could’ve possibly imagined. It felt like a Broadway Bollywood number and Burr/Odom was right in the middle, driving the whole thing.

While I realize that writing this almost a year after seeing the shows makes it impossible for me to say, “Go see it”. By nature of how Broadway works, most of these shows will have closes already. At the very least, they would have different cast members by now. Even so, I wanted to do this article in order to capture some of what we experienced while we were in New York. Even though I can’t recommend those specific shows, I can recommend taking a trip to Broadway or to some of the traveling shows that may be coming near you. Make a trip out of it if you can and you may end up with some fun memories to share with friends and family.

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