Passing Time in Quarantine with Broadway Cast Recordings
By Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
The theaters are closed. Performances are canceled or postponed indefinitely. What’s an arts reviewer to do? In this era of quarantine, I have realized two things: I spend a lot of my time going to the theater and yet there is so much more I want to see! In fact, there is a large catalog of shows I have somehow missed or have failed to become familiar with. Some shows have become such staples on local stages that I am slightly embarrassed to have no excuse for why I have not seen them. Some are just obscure, while others I have tried to avoid. Using show tunes as an escape, I yearn to see these shows in Louisville once the curve is flattened. One can only hope that time will come soon.
The Prom: I started with this musical because it nearly broke the internet. Rightly, so! This show is a light, frothy, and bubbleicious treat. It’s a very funny celebration of equality that clips along at a quick pace. A teenager prepares to ask her girlfriend to prom, the small act gains Hollywood publicity and a normal teenage right of passage alters the views of a community. The concept is wholesome without sentimentality and downright hilarious. I don’t care who puts this show on, Pandora, Minds Eye, Acting Against Cancer, Centerstage, but it must be performed in the next five years.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: It may brim with schtick and bits for Zero Mostel to shine but nowadays the content presents as chauvinistic shlock. While the dated male-driven script might be cringe-worthy, the zippy score by Sondheim definitely makes up for it. Honestly I found myself laughing several times.
If/Then: Seriously. What was happening in this one? I read the synopsis and watched several interviews but can not understand the show’s premise. It overflows with power ballads and not much of anything else. Idina Menzel sings well and holds my attention just long enough to appreciate her talent but not long enough to figure out if I was supposed to care.
Anything Goes: A perfect example of a show I am sad to say I have never seen. I know there are boats and tap dancing. Cole Porter’s music is perfect and optimistic. And how can you not sing “It’s De-Lovely” or “Anything Goes” at the top of your lungs in your chosen social distance quarters? Derby Dinner Playhouse had planned to stage this one before the end of their season and I hope they reschedule it quickly.
In the Heights: Yup. I have Hamilton almost completely memorized but a true fan knows an artist’s other works as well. After spending an afternoon listening to this one, I was angry with how good it is. Lin-Manuel Miranda has crafted a love letter to the neighborhood he grew up in Washington Heights. The music fuses poetry, hip hop, and a Latin vibe with an underlying message of community and connection. I encourage anyone who is feeling down to pump this one to eleven, specifically the title song, “9600” and “Alabanza”.
Mean Girls: I haven’t always been a fan of stage adaptations of movies but I was highly amused by this one. The score is legit and stays true to Tina Fey’s bizarre high school universe. Told from the perspective of Cady, the new girl in town and her interactions with outcasts and Plastics, each song is pumped with clique-ish energy. “Revenge Dance Party” is by far the best number and it will get stuck in your head. I eagerly await for this national tour to visit Whitney Hall.
Hadestown: Within the first few minutes, I instantly knew why this one has gained such acclaim. You can’t beat Andre DeShields as Hermes as he guides us through a jazz-infused mythological journey of the heart. The score is stunning and raw especially “Promises” and “Wait for Me”. After the first listen, I wanted to go back to its mythical, fantasy world New Orleans again and again.
Dogfight: I was intrigued by this show when it was produced by Acting Against Cancer but sadly missed the run. Benji Pasek and Justin Paul are everywhere these days with Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman, so I gave this one a shot. While the story of army buddies who play a mean trick on young women provides interesting lessons about gender roles and equality, the score was so emotional that it came across as heavy-handed at times. In fact, many of the songs seemed to blend together. Although “Give Way” was a pleasant surprise and a gentle reminder to make space in this time of waiting.
Next to Normal: Off the top of my head, I can recall several companies that produced this one. Many years ago, I covered this show at CenterStage and actually liked it a lot. The music syncs up with the main character’s struggle coping with Bipolar disorder in a remarkable way. The sad songs are melancholy and haunting while the manic moments are bold and electrifying. The finale, “Light” is a song we need right now: “day after day, we’ll find the will to find our way knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”
And some honorable mentions…
Six: I did not know I needed a musical about Henry the Eighth’s six wives but alas, here we are. This is a good one for getting out of a quarantine rut, for sure.
Be More Chill: If Dear Evan Hansen was a light-hearted comedy with a gamer slant, it would probably be this show. I would have loved to see The Alley Theater take a stab at this one before they gave up the ghost.
That’s all for now…stay tuned for more shows! Stay healthy!
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!