Cats the Musical

catsOk, this is a strange one.

When I go watch musicals, I usually read the Wikipedia summary beforehand, because I find that I enjoy them better that way – not having to keep trying to figure out the story, and can focus solely on the singing and acting.

I decided to try something different this time, and went to see Cats with a blank slate.

I came out pretty much still with a blank slate.

WHOOSH.

It was almost entirely unlike what I expected it (or any musical) to be! There were some fun pieces and cool dances, but the whole thing felt a lot more like a concert than a musical.

I gave up trying to figure out the story half way through, and decided to focus on the music instead, and I’m glad I did – some of the songs are quite good.

The first act starts fairly light-hearted, and turned a little rock-y towards the intermission.

My personal favourite is the opening of the Jellicle Ball.

The second act is much more romantic and emo (what’s the I-need-to-sound-like-I-know-what-I’m-talking-about word for that?), and most of the songs seem to be centred around a particularly old cat and an evil cat… yeah I had no idea what was going on.

And of course, there were a few numbers based on the melody of Memory, which I thought was quite good. Memory is probably the most famous song from the musical, and for good reasons!

However, I did not find most of the rest of the musical particularly memorable. And it kept reminding me of Pink Panther for some reason…

Miss Saigon

Miss-Saigon

Now as you probably already know, I am no romantic by any stretch of imagination, even if you stretch it along the principal component. Luckily, being a romantic is not a requirement for enjoying this musical – this is quite possibly the best romance I have ever seen.

It’s the story of an American soldier falling in love with a Vietnamese bar girl (prostitute) in Saigon, during the Vietnam War. They were separated for years when Saigon fell into the hands of the communists, and this is their story.

The story is inspired by the opera Madame Butterfly, but transported to a different setting. The opera is now on my list of things to see before I die.

There are musicals with crappy story and amazing music, or amazing story and crappy music, but it’s not often that we come across one that is amazing in both. When an epic gut-wrenching story joins forces with absolutely immaculate numbers that draw the deepest emotions, we get something like Miss Saigon.

I absolutely love all those resonant and drawn-out vibratoly pieces. Ellen’s song after confronting Kim was orgasmic. I didn’t know it’s possible for a song to convey so much sorrow. Kim’s “Finale” is also no less than amazing.

This production is a revival of the original from 1989. The cast is different and the musical itself has been slightly modified at quite a few places.

Kim in this production is played by Eva Noblezada. While it was good, it was also very different from the original by Lea Salonga. Eva’s voice sounds a lot more childish and innocent. I can’t really say I like it over Lea’s, but that’s probably only because I am a huge fan of Lea.

Story-wise… (I always read the synopsis before watching musicals because I find I enjoy musicals more that way, but I know some people treat musicals like movies, so I’ll put a spoiler guard here)

Spoiler (Click to Open)

It’s VERY hard to pick a favourite song from this musical since so many of them are so good.

Though I’d say “Please” stands out, if not just for the lyrics and all the irony in the lyrics.

Interesting trivia – the melody for “Please” was actually originally intended for another number called “Too Much For One Heart”, that was eventually cut from the musical. It’s also very good.

In this production, they actually integrated some of the lyrics from “Too Much For One Heart” into “Please”. That was super cool!

“Sun and Moon”, just for the goose bumps.

You are here like a mystery.

I’m from a world that’s so different from all that you are.

How in the light of one night did we come, so far?

Outside, day starts to dawn.

Your moon still floats on high.

The birds awake,

The stars shine, too.

My hands still shake.

I reach for you.

And we meet in the sky!

You are, sunlight, and I moon,

Joined here, brightening the sky,

With the flame of love.

“How in the light of one night have we come so far?” is sung again at the very end of the musical, but has a very different meaning *melt*.

Go watch it! If you are not in London, fly here and go watch it!

Matilda

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It was pretty good.

What does it feel like to play the lead role on a popular West End musical at the age of 8 or so? I don’t know, but it was amazing! Her acting and singing were incredible.

I looked up the girl who played Matilda (Matilda Shapland – yes, her real first name is actually Matilda), and apparently her only prior stage experience was as little Eponine in Les Miserables. That’s a pretty big jump! I don’t think little Eponine even has any lines!

The children songs in this musical have a lot of words, and some parts are almost like rap.

Another recurring feature is word play and twisty language.

The most iconic of the children’s songs is probably ‘School Song’ –

It’s catchy and fun, but I’m not quite used to it yet. I think I still prefer singing in musicals to be more operatic, as I don’t usually care as much about the lyrics as the melodies.

But that’s purely personal preference, and the musical is still very well done, and if you are a linguist type, you’ll love it!

Story-wise, I really wasn’t expecting much since it’s a children’s book, but there is actually a beautiful story behind all this madness, so I was quite pleasantly surprised!

PS. Cambridge Theatre seats are much easier on the butt.

Next week – The Book of Mormon

First West End Experience – Les Misérables

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The moment you realize the girl who sang little Cosette is only 7 years old…

“Castle On a Cloud” was amazing. There’s this child-like nasal tone, but there’s nothing child-like about the mature, resonant, and well-projected voice. It’s unbelievable. 7 years old!!

Valjean and Javert were also very well done, especially Valjean’s deep voice and engaging vibrato.

Something I found very interesting is how they used the qualities of their voices to reflect their state of mind.

In the story, Valjean and Javert essentially started on opposite ends of the sanity scale, with Valjean on the insane side, and Javert on the sane side. As the story goes on, they eventually swapped places.

Javert’s voice started as resolved and accurate, and as the story went on, and as he started to doubt himself more and more, his voice noticeably became less stable, less powerful, and less pure.

While in Valjean, the opposite happened. His voice started off a little shaky and unsure, but turned into this powerful and resonant monster towards the end.

Similar things happened in Fantine. Her voice was weak and breathy in the factory scene and when she was walking around on the street, defeated and depressed. However, once she starts singing “I Dreamed a Dream”, all that went away, and she is back to this beautiful and strong voice, until she started begging Javert to not arrest her, at which point she returned to the submissive breathy voice. It’s almost like she has 2 personas that she was switching between.

It was very cool. And it’s something I didn’t see in the Youtube version (25th anniversary at Royal Albert Hall, which coincidentally is 2 minutes walk from Imperial!). In that production, everyone sang perfectly all the time. Which version do I prefer? I don’t know, but it’s pretty cool what they did here in this West End production.

Marius and (adult) Cosette were flawless. The scene where they just met (properly met) is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen (I thought they were supposed to talk through the gate… but he hopped over?!).

Highly recommended if you ever come to West End! It doesn’t have an end date yet, and has already been playing for 10 years, so it will probably continue to play for a few years at least?

Before seeing the musical I had already seen the movie, read half the books (they are very long books), listened to all the music about 500 times, and watched the musical 3 times on Youtube. Needlessly to say, I was very excited to finally be able to see it in person after all these years, and it did not disappoint!

I love how they have about 20 musicals on all the time at any given time. No more waiting for tours! Last time Les Mis was on tour in Vancouver, they were there for 2 weeks, and played for every single day except for the second Monday… which happened to be the only day I was in Vancouver. No more of that!

I am also very fortunate to be able to get tickets for cheap thanks to Imperial subsidy. £25 for central Dress Circle!

I’ll probably end up just watching every single musical on West End right now.

Theatre Review

Queen’s Theatre is pretty old. The seats made my butt a little sore.

I got H22 in Dress Circle, and the view was actually pretty good, though I wouldn’t recommend Grand Circle, since it seems really high. You’d be able to see nothing but heads.

The sound system can probably use some improvement, though. Someone needs to look at those Bode plots. Some of the high notes sound a little stretched and broken, and I don’t think it’s the singers, since it happened to all the sopranos. Bass also seems to be relatively weak. Their amplifier has a strange transfer function.

Most of the stage effects were achieved using a big rotating platform thing. That was pretty cool. That’s how they showed both sides of the barricade, etc.

Wish they did something fancier for Javert’s suicide, though! The only thing they did was raising the bridge. I was hoping to see him hanging of cables and stuff… 🙂

Wicked!

Wicked, the Broadway musical by Stephen Schwartz (yes, I just looked that up) is the untold story, and kind of a prequel to the Wizard of Oz. The story of how 2 witches, one green and one blonde, despite having completely opposite personalities and goals in life, eventually worked together to overthrow the corrupt ruler of Oz, the Wizard. In the process, they had to fight over food a common love interest, free caged flying monkeys, defy gravity, and cast magic from the Grimmerie – an ancient book of spells written in a long forgotten language that can only be spoken by the naturally talented.

Wicked-poster

My first encounter with Wicked, I believe, was in my grade 11 year. I played the clarinet in our local youth orchestra (Richmond Youth Orchestra), and somehow we got to play a few pieces from this musical. We were all absolutely thrilled. I don’t remember why we all got hooked, but by the end of the rehearsal, everyone was humming Wicked melodies. I guess it was a nice detour from a lot of the less interesting pieces we played. When I got home, I read the story on Wikipedia, “got” all the original Broadway soundtracks, and they have been on my personal music devices ever since. Every few days, I would go through them all again on the bus. At this point, I can almost sing all the pieces by heart. Yummy!

I love musicals because there are good music just like in operas, except I can actually understand what’s going on.

And 5 years later, we finally got to see the actual musical last weekend!! They have been on tour for a few years now, and they just happened to be in California TWICE while I’m here on my co-op term. We originally planned to see it in Sacramento, but I guess 3 months in advance is not early enough for a show this popular, and we couldn’t get good tickets, without paying arms and legs to ticket brokers (ticket brokers – people who mass buy event tickets and try to sell them at much higher prices, in my not so humble opinion, are a bunch of crooks).

Luckily, we found out soon that they were heading to San Diego (about 8 hours drive from San Jose) next. I bought tickets within 5 minutes of the tickets going on sale, and got some pretty awesome seats! 3 LONG months later, we finally got to join the fun at the San Diego Civic Theatre!

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(http://tourguidetim.com/san-diego-civic-theatre/)

It was… like a big fat dump after 2 months of constipation!!

The music so powerful, the actors so involved, and the story so delicious. I’ve known the story and imagined the scenes over and over for the past couple years, and it’s so cool to finally be able to see the “official interpretation”. Some of the scenes are pretty close to what I imagined, but some, like the Popular scene, made me felt like I’m a dog that was suddenly told I’m actually a cat on my 20th birthday or something. It was an amazing feeling. Literally felt like a dream that came to life. So much more refined. So much more resonant.

My life will never be the same, now that I have this little Oz firmly planted in my head.

Acting-wise, I love how the play is cheerful and funny, almost comedy-like, in the beginning, and gradually become weightier and weightier towards the end. Near the end of the play, it felt like all the hope has been sipped away, and the story was very dark and moody. Love it!

If you plan to go watch it (I think it’s coming to Seattle in a few months), please do grab me! I would love to watch it again!

Defying Gravity, one of the most iconic pieces from the musical, sung by Idina Menzel, from the original Broadway cast (Elphaba) –
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MslDnwerQRA

One more item off the list of things to do before I die!

Las Vegas. Phantom of the Opera.

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Las Vegas is an interesting place.

A city that hibernates during the day, and comes alive at night.

A luxurious city built on people that lost their minds to pulling a lever all day and giving away all their money.

A city where sex is more abundant than hamburgers.

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According to my parents, it’s my third time being here, but I don’t remember the first time, and it still felt exactly like it did second time I was there – very loud streets, a lot of lights, a lot of smoking, and lineups of people handing out cards with a picture of a (usually) naked girl, and a number to call – I have to assume that’s legal here, since I’ve seen them doing it in front of cops. Everywhere you look down, there are 2 things – beer bottles, and the aforementioned cards with naked girls. It’s a city that really shows how infantile people can get – answering nothing but their most primitive desires. It’s like a place where it’s socially acceptable to show your dirtiest side.

On the more positive side, Phantom of the Opera!!

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It’s something I’ve always wanted to watch, and it just happened to be playing at Las Vegas while I’m here! It’s a shortened version, adapted for Las Vegas, instead of the original Broadway. Still magical, though!

The singing and orchestra were absolutely phenomenal. I have heard all the music over and over again on my phone for the past 5 years, and imagined the scenes that go with them countless times, but it was very different hearing it live, and finally see the real thing in all its glory.  All the passion and talent. Ahh. Delicious! Definitely bring tissues if you are the teary type.

The fact that I knew the story already didn’t prevent me from enjoying the show at all. On the other hand, if you have never heard of it, it’s probably a good idea to read up on it first, if you don’t want to spend the whole time epicly confused, because it IS a complicated story. http://www.venetian.com/uploadedFiles/The_Venetian/Content_Blocks/Shows/Resident_Shows/PhantomSyn.pdf#zoom=100

Special effects were pretty awesome, too. Definitely not what I had in mind, but it was all very well done. A lot of surprises, and lot’s of fire. I’m glad they didn’t change the original elements at all, though.

I sat right underneath the iconic chandelier that falls down. That was pretty scary!

Highly recommended if you end up in Las Vegas in the next few months. I believe the last showing is in September this year.
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58CVbvqQvww

The next day, we watched Le Rêve (The Dream) at the Wynn hotel. That was pretty cool, too. A lot of water, fire, thunder, and amazing acrobatics!

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http://www.vegas.com/shows/production/le-reve-las-vegas/

Pretty cool!

1.5 hours flight later, I’m back in Santa Clara, and have to go back to work tomorrow… It’s like alternate reality has ended, and reality just came back from lunch break. Delicious.