College Musicals

What do I mean by college musicals? These are the musicals I fell in love with during my years at college. Some of them come to mind a lot. A good chunk of them are meaningful. I am going to make a list of what musicals they are.

1. Les Mis- this is the most obvious. I fell in love with it in my first year of college and that was in 2012-2013. First saw the movie December 2012 and was confused and shocked due to it being a tragedy and did not what to think of it. So had to give it a second chance until I could fall in love with this musical. By summer, I was obsessed with it. In 2013, I saw my first stage production of it 3x due to being an usher. In 2015, I saw the musical in the West End with my mom with an understudy as Jean Valjean. In 2017, I saw the stage show a 5th time in Greenville with my university with an understudy as Eponine. Les Mis taught me that tragic musicals exist and that I used to be 100% blind to heartbreak in musical. I learned that tragedies are so much more than I once thought.  There are so many wonderful reasons to love Les Mis. All because of Les Mis, I have a passion for musicals.

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2. Rent- I fell in love with it Fall 2012 through music alone. I don’t when it was, but I soon realized the plot. This musical like Les Mis is sad. It took five years till I saw the musical live. Prior, I saw the film of the final broadway cast doing the stage show. But last year really was my first time seeing the stage show. It teaches you how to live life. It teaches you to live in love even in the face of fear and to live in the moment. My favorite couple in Rent is Mimi and Roger. Last year, I was an emotional wreck watching it.

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3. Phantom of the Opera- this musical started to enter my life 2013. My mom told me about Phantom of the Opera, and I automatically requested the song on Pandora. I fell in love with the songs and I wanted to eventually see the stage show. That Christmas I got a ticket in my stocking and so did my mom. In 2014 in May, my mom and I went to Greenville to see Phantom of the Opera. I was spellbound the moment the show began, and in the first act, I did not move until the chandelier fell. I was choked up watching it.

4. Newsies- this is one of the newest musicals of my life. I first heard the songs I think summer 2016, but I only enjoyed them. I first saw the stage show August 2016. Before seeing it, I heard it was Tony Award winning choreography, so I decided to not watch the dance ahead of time. This was the only show I have seen that is all males (well there are a couple females, but not much). I was mind-blown at the dancing: they were flipping, dancing on newspapers, jumping over each other and so many other amazing tricks. The story is so inspiring. The fact that these Newsboys stood up against Pulitzer is incredible. The relationship found between the Newsies is beautiful: they are basically one big family, and the intimate relationship between Jack and Crutchie is special. After seeing it live, I learned to love the songs.  I love how Jack is so protective of his brothers especially of Crutchie. He cannot bear to see his brothers hurt, which eventually leads him to go through an inner conflict.

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5. Music Man- this was a musical I saw at my university my first semester. Music Man was a musical that started my best year of musicals. I just love how light-hearted it is. It is one of the most light-hearted musicals I ever saw. I love how this con-man (Harold Hill) transformed this town. The romance between Harold Hill and Marian helped bring an emotional element to this show since the musical focuses on positive emotions a lot. So the romance helps bring an emotional element that the show needs.

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6. Pippin- I don’t when it was, but my dad had me listen to “Corner of the Sky”. The moment I heard the song, I wanted to see Pippin. Then I wanted to see it more after seeing the trailer. It seemed like they were doing a circus version of the show and I wanted to see it even more. Then I heard it was a Stephen Swartz musical and I knew that Pippin would be amazing because after all, he wrote the music to Wicked. I got my chance in 2015 when I went with my mom and we were lucky because when mom got tickets, there was one day left with seats together. This show had the antagonist as narrator and I loved Lisa Karlin’s portrayal of her. In “Magic to Do”, she was very playful with a small hint of evil. But during “Glory”, her voice represented darkness. She was very playful around Pippin to manipulative him in making the wrong decision so Pippin makes a lot of mistakes throughout the musical. The Leading Player is very crafty, dark, playful, and manipulative and I gained all of this from Lisa Karlin’s portrayal. After just one act, I wanted the soundtrack even after not hearing the act II songs.

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7. South Pacific- when I was still a student at community college, there was school cancelled due to snow days. A friend of my parents leant my family and I about six or so musical movie. South Pacific ended up being one of them. The main story is a love story between Emelie and Nellie during World War. It is a very romantic tale. It is my 2nd best Rodgers and Hammerstein musical: the first is Sound of Music. It songs are fun, romantic, and emotional. Like expected with Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, there is a 2nd love story, which is between Liat and Joe Cable. It does have an underlying story of racism.

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So here are some of my college musicals.

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Dates With my Mom to Musicals

Four very special theatre dates are the ones I went on with my mom. They are Wicked on Broadway, Phantom of the Opera in Greenville, Pippin in Charlotte, and Les Mis in London. On this post I decided to talk about each of these theatre dates.

The earliest date I been to a theatre with my mom was Wicked. My mom and I went on a trip to NYC together. It was just us two and that is what made that trip so special. During the trip, we saw a show on Broadway, and it was Wicked. That was back in 2006, and I was 12 at the time. Little did I know the impact Wicked would have. All I remember was being with my mom, and that “Popular” was my favorite song. However, the impact clearly shows throughout the years. I just cannot believe Wicked has been part of my life for 12 years.

Wicked changed me “for good” and really was the beginning of the journey with musicals.  I wish I remember more about seeing Wicked on Broadway. I was lucky that at the age of 12 I was able to see a show in NYC. Wicked was the earliest theatre date I remember.

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In 2013, Santa gave my mom and I tickets to see Phantom of the Opera in May of 2014. I wanted to see the musical live since falling in love with the songs early 2013. The Peace Center is a gorgeous theatre, and we sat in the orchestra nineteen rows back. I was spellbound once the show began, and I remember during the overture not taking my eyes off the chandelier. I got choked up watching the production. In the first act, I did not move until the chandelier fell, and during that scene I jumped back a bit. That scene was just so thrilling.

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When I first heard “Corner of the Sky”, I wanted to eventually watch Pippin. When it first toured to Charlotte, I did not see it. Pippin was very unexpected. It was 2015, and my mom got tickets the week before. When she bought tickets, there was only one day left with two seats together so I almost didn’t get to go. The tickets had seats with five rows back from the stage. I felt like I was watching a circus during the show, and I loved the moment when they let us sing along to one of the songs. It was filled with illusions and several circus elements. Right after act I, I wanted the soundtrack even though I still had not heard the 2nd act.

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I saw Les Mis in the West End the same summer I saw Pippin. Ever since 2013, it was a dream to see Les Mis in London. I knew my church was going to go to England to be in residence at Bristol Cathedral, and I knew a pilgrimage was planned around that. It just didn’t occur to me my family was going to go up two days early to get more of London. It was 2014 in December I think when I found out my family was going up two days early. That is when I started nagging my mom to take me to see Les Mis. They eventually told me that I was going to see a show in the West End, but I wanted to know which one it was. It just had to be Les Mis and nothing else.

All Spring semester 2015, I was getting impatient about which show it was going to be. June 2015 comes along, and my mom texted me french flags and musical note emojis, but it did not make sense to me at all. My mom then told me to check my email. When I saw the words, Les Misérables, I ran to my mom and started crying. My dream of seeing Les Mis in the West End was coming true. I feel like seeing Les Mis in London with my mom was full circle after seeing Wicked on Broadway. After all, Wicked and Les Mis are neck and neck tied for my favorite musical. To see both of them at a large theatre district is very special.

We saw the musical July 30th, 2015. My mom wanted to make sure I got the best seats possible and they were. We were nine rows back from the stage. When I saw the theatre all the way to seeing the sets, it did not feel like reality at all. I knew I was going to see an understudy (Adam Bayjou) as Jean Valjean. The moment I heard the first couple of notes, I knew this was reality, and that it was going to be more than expected. The cast was epic, passionate and powerful. While Adam was an understudy, he made me forget I was watching an understudy, and that shows just how good he was.

Going to the theatre with my mom is quite special. Part of why I love each of these musicals were the dates I had with my mom. The dates added a meaningful part to each musical. I saw Wicked when I was 12, Phantom of the Opera when I was 20 and I saw Pippin and Les Mis when I was 21. My mom and I both love musicals. I hope I get to go to NYC and experience Broadway again, but this time want it to be a theatre-themed trip. Cannot believe that all four musicals were seen in different cities. Glad I experienced both Broadway and the West End.

What Makes Javert and Valjean Opposites?

For Western Civilization II, my hardest class this semester, we had the choice of two optional papers, which gives us a better chance of passing. I struggled with coming up with an idea for the first paper and I got help from the teacher and he saw that I was having a hard time with it. When I told him I  wanted to focus the next paper on Romanticism, a topic I was strongly familiar with due to loving Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. I decided to talk about how the Enlightenment thinkers and the Romantics view imperfection differently. My teacher decided to let me combine both papers into one, which means I was required to write more, which would be around 2400 words.

I had a Les Misérables section. I kept on seeing references that Javert and Valjean were opposites and I never understood why. My paper brought up how one of these characters  show how the Enlightenments thinkers were flawed in their thinking and how Romantic thinkers look at imperfection. This paper finally made me start to understand why the two are opposites.

Possible Spoilers Ahead: 

In Victor Hugo’s, Les Misérables, he used the contrasting characters of Javert and Jean Valjean to show how the Enlightenment is flawed and how emotions and imperfections are important. These two characters are opposites, and each want to do what is right, but they have different ideas of what that means.

Javert is the antagonist of Les Misérables, and he is a product of the Enlightenment. He has a belief that “once a criminal always a criminal”, and he sees the world in black and white and right and wrong. He does not understand forgiveness, love, compassion or mercy. When Fantine attacks a man in self-defense, Javert plans to arrest her even though she pleads for mercy. After telling him she has a child, he shows no mercy or compassion and sees her as just a prostitute who has broken the law. Also he cannot forgive Jean Valjean even though he has become a better person, nor can he accept Valjean’s forgiveness of him. His ideal of perfection is so extreme that he eventually commits suicide rather than accept human imperfection and celebrate life’s emotions.

Jean Valjean is the protagonist and is in contrast with Javert. He is an ex -convict, who stole to feed his family, and he was unfairly sentenced for nineteen years. While he did break the law, he was harshly judged by an unforgiving society, and being in prison led Valjean to be filled with hate and anger. But when Valjean stole the bishop’s silverware, the bishop said to Valjean, “do not forget, never forget that you have promised to become an honest man” and  “Jean Valjean my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdrew it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God” (Hugo, “Les Misérables”, 99). After the bishop’s actions, Valjean learned how to show compassion and love to others. He ended up showing compassion to Fantine by preventing her from being arrested and agreeing to raise her child as she was dying. Both the bishop and Valjean showed compassion by accepting those with imperfections, and they are willing to let emotions rule their actions. As a result, they expressed a better sense of humanity than Javert.

The Talents of the Actors and Actresses I Have Seen

One thing that really impresses me is seeing the talent I have seen on stage when I have seen musicals. Some of the ones I have seen are understudies and standbys and those can really impress me. I have had understudies for characters such as Eponine, Christine, Jean Valjean, Elphaba, Leading Player and Katherine Plumber. Those actors have to work harder than anyone else. I just cannot believe how talented all of the different actors and actresses I have had over the years. I have seen more actors than actresses mainly because of Newsies. Newsies has a cast of mostly males and that is why I have seen more actors.

Les Mis was the last musical I saw and I loved that cast. You had the very powerful and passionate ensemble with some talented principals. It was lead by Nick Cartell and he was wonderful as Jean Valjean and his “Bring Him Home” was so soulful and truly sounded like a prayer and he quiet enough for what the song required and strong enough for what the song required. Another standout was Joshua Grosso as Marius and he brought this unique nature of awkwardness to the role and of all of the actors in the love triangle, he was the strongest and I never expect Marius to be the strongest actors because I always expect Eponnine to be the strongest actor, but this time it wasn’t the case. Jillian Butler’s Cosette somehow was able to connect to Joshua’s charming but awkward Marius. My Eponine, Talia Simone Robinson (understudy), was impressive. The fact that she was an understudy made her work harder than anybody else. She had some impressive scenes and some scenes needed some work. She was very playful around Marius and was quite strong during “A Heart Full of Love” and she was very believable during “A Little Fall of Rain”.

Matt Shingledecker was my Enjolras and he truly brought the passion and leader side of Enjolras. Even the ensemble was very talented. They were so epic passionate and powerful. The ensemble is very impressive when it comes to musicals and they are a huge part of a show: after all they take up most of the cast.

During Rent, I was impressed with the actors. Kaleb Wells brought out quite an emotional “One Song Glory” and showed his unwillingness to get into a relationship with Mimi. Lyndie Moe, my Maureen brought out her craziness perfectly and she made me laugh during “Over The Moon”.

Newsies was a musical I saw August 2016. It was lead by Joey Barriero, my Jack Kelly. It is hard to describe why I loved Jack. I loved how he showed his bond to Newsies especially his bond to  Crutchie. He brought out the inner conflict that Jack eventually went through. He was able to bring out the emotion felt in “Santa Fe” and the song to me was innocently sad. I don’t know if the innocence felt in the song was how Joey wanted to portray the song or if it was because this was my first time seeing the show. The actors in this show were triple threats. They were very impressive in the dance. They were flipping about two or three times in a row, dancing on newspapers among other amazing tricks and able to act and sing at the same time. The dancing was mind-blowing. The picture below is Joey Barreiro as Jack.

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Highlighting all of the talented actors will take a while. By showing some of the actors, you can tell that I have seen a lot of talented actors over the years. I still have not yet seen the same actor or actress in more than one  lead role. I am glad that each time I see a musical, I am exposed to new actors. I am always thinking how on earth have they memorized everything and they make it seem easy, but in reality it is not easy. It takes a lot of work and acting it much harder than it seems. They are doing the best they can and when you get an understudy or standby, you can get a bit nervous, but I alway regret it.

For example, Mary Kate Morrisey (standby) as Elphaba embodied everything about Elphaba, but brought something new. It felt like she was the main Elphaba. Another understudy that comes to mind to Adam Bayjou as Jean Valjean. He was my West End Jean Valjean, and he played the role so well that I forgot I was actually watching an understudy. So respect the standbys and understudies. You have no idea how much harder they have to work.

Upcoming Blog Series

I have two upcoming blog series I plan to do. I will list the two below.

  1. States- earlier I wrote a list of all the states I been to. Afterwards, I thought it would be fun to talk about what I did in each state.
  2. Mega Character Analysis- I have analyzed musical characters before, but never together. How about if I analyze musical characters as part of one series instead of separating them by musical or just alone.

Making a Decision before Seeing a Musical

What do I mean by making a decision before seeing a musical? That basically means you choose to focus on one thing or you choose not to look up a certain element ahead of time and so on. Below I will give some example.

Wicked and my 4th time- before seeing it a 4th time, I decided to pay extremely close attention to Fiyero. By doing that, I was able to better understand the character and get a better understanding of the love triangle. He throws a gigantic curveball into it. By paying extra close attention to him especially in act I helped me understand why the plot twist even happened. By spending more time exploring the Lion Cub Scene, I came to a realization and that was realizing that he does have a crush on Elphaba but at the same time is not quite aware of it. My actor decided to already have stronger chemistry with Elphaba than Glinda. By spending more time with Fiyero, I was able to get a better grasp.

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Les Mis and my 5th- I decided ahead of time to treat this like it was a new show. That was because I had never seen the 25th anniversary before. Prior, I had already seen the West End show and loved the staging. But the 5th time, I was seeing the 25th so I had to treat it like it was new instead of comparing it to the West End production and saying that the West End staging is better. By doing that, I was able to look at the new production with fresh eyes. What the 25th production does is add a new level of complexity. I love both the 25th and the Original in different ways. Despite missing the revolve in the 25th, the production does make up for it in its own unique way. I love how the new production has a bit more color and love “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” more in the 25th.

Newsies- once I heard it was Tony Award winning choreography. I choose ahead of time not to look up the dance in order to get more out of it. I was mind-blown when I saw the dance. No wonder it won a Tony Award. These boys were flipping, jumping over each other, dancing on newspapers, sliding underneath each other, and so on. The talent I saw in these boys was incredible. I just couldn’t believe they could dance that well. The fact that they danced so well together actually helped show the relationship the Newsies have. All of those tricks were incredible. It just worked and I am glad I did not look up the dance ahead of time.

Choosing some of these things before seeing the show can have a huge impact on your experience.

What makes me love a Musical

There are several factors that make me love a musical and my vision of what should be in a musical is part of that.

1. Songs- this is the most obvious. They help with the emotions of a characters. The songs have to be good in order to love a musical. If they are terrible, loving a musical is not possible. The songs have to all sound like they belong in that musical. They have to want you care about the character. To love both positive and negative emotions, the songs have to be amazing.

2. Characters- you have to love the characters and love them. You have to find an emotional connection. They have to be “real” and the emotional connection to them allows you to want to feel their emotions.

3. Plot- just like songs and characters, you have to love the plot. The plot plays a role into your love for the characters. I want a plot to be complex, which has comic elements, romance among other things.

4. Spectacle or dance- this is an important aspect. My vision includes spectacle or dance. Musicals like Newsies or Wicked have spectacle or dance. Dance just like songs add something special to a musical.