Stuffed Animals- A Connection

This sounds like a strange post. Yes, I do own a LOT of stuffed animals. However, there is a connection between four of them. What is in common between a snowman, monkey, reindeer, and a bear? The answer is they are musical-theatre themed.

Below are all four stuffed animals that have some musical theme to them.

The monkey is a souvenir from Wicked. I was surprised when I heard I first got that on Broadway. That would mean I had kept that stuffed animal for 14 years. So, I was only 12 when I got that stuffed animal. Wicked is the final musical coming to Blumenthal this year (December-January). Still waiting until I know if that musical will happen or not.

Obviously, the snowman and reindeer are connected. After all, Olaf and Sven are two characters from Frozen. It still was disappointing that I will not see that stage musical this year. A show coming in October got postponed in May. Will eventually make it. But for the time being, I plan to watch Frozen the day I was supposed to.

What in the world does a bear have a musical theatre connection? I will tell the story of how I eventually ended up with her. Every year at Gardner Webb, they have this Candy and Critters event where students make stuffed animals- happen around Valentine’s Day. Well, either the month before or a couple of months before, a staff member actually said- surprised you never once named a stuffed animal after a musical character. I made the decision to do that, but still comes with guidelines. 1) I name stuffed animals after what they look like, 2)had to be from a musical character I love, and 3) had to be from a musical I love. Did not know which character it would be, but once I saw the bear, I was reminded of Eponine from Les Mis. The bear has a brown color scheme and heart-shaped patches with stitch marks around the outside. With Eponine, the costumes she wears are brown shaded and she lives a broken life and dealing with unrequited love (a love triangle)- that bear was so Eponine.

That is how they are connected- Les Mis, Frozen, and Wicked

Unloving/Tragic Families- All Fiction

Well, in fiction I have across a number of families. They have come into two categories: loving and unloving (however sometimes tragedy can happen in a loving family). This time, what if I focused on those type of families. What comes to mind first really shows the relationship between characters and the author?

Sarge’s Family

Sarge is the first one that comes to mind. After all, I created Sarge. I know of his abusive and tragic life. At only four, his mother left him. All Sarge has left now is his abusive and cruel father. That abuse started at age four all the way to thirteen—-then his father left him. While this abuse was happening, Sarge’s father was still the leader of the Toads. Sarge was next in line—so his father was expecting him to lead at only thirteen. The abuse Sarge was facing started with words alone and later it got physical (physical to the point where he got permanent scars). His Uncle (Marge’s father) really wanted to help his nephew, but he cared a lot more about his daughter. Even Marge’s father did not know what was going on with his brother. As a result to Sarge’s abuse, Marge was not even allowed to see her uncle to keep her safe. Another result belongs to Sarge: due to the abuse he faced, he became conflicted, jealous, confused, more lonely than he realized, and all of that made him become the bully he is especially towards his cousin. He couldn’t even see kindness, love, or compassion growing up.

Aurora and Jasmine

While these fraternal twins may have been born with a loving family, tragedy struck. They were born in 1998. They were born into an artsy family who also were big fans of Disney. They always did crafts with their family. Then one day, when their parents and them got into a car wreck, Aurora and Jasmine were the only ones that lived. All they have now is each other- they were best friends before the car crash. Jasmine was more optimistic and felt furiously protective towards Aurora. Now that they are orphans, a lot is gone. All Aurora has, outside of her sister, is the final doll her mom and sister made. However in the car crash, a craft bag with supplies to make the dolls, was saved by Jasmine. This did affect Aurora a lot more- Jasmine knew she had to be with Aurora in the hospital, but many staff did not believe. However, there was only one nurse who did- “Nichole” is my fill-in-name now: she eventually convinced the other staff that Aurora desperately needed her sister.

Emily, Rosie, Paige, and Mollie

Well, while I still don’t know how their parents died, I know some facts about them. Emily and Rosie were born in 1999- the youngest of all the Greatest Discovery characters. Mollie and Paige were actually born in 1997. All the GB girls’ ages had to line up either on or after October 30th, 2003- it had to somehow connect to that date. SPOILERS FOR ALL THE ORPHANS: Greatest Discovery has two meanings in that that story: first it was a scavenger hunt T.V. (which helped all six girls in some way)- it was their caregiver that helped them get on the show. Well, at the end of the novel—-Emily and Rose were 10, Aurora and Jasmine are 11, and Paige and Mollie were 12. The 2nd meaning of GB has to do with the grand prize was: all of them did get adopted, and they ended up seeing Wicked on Broadway. In Aurora/Jasmine’s case, they got adopted by their favorite nurse, who is “Nichole”.

Thenardiers

Now, I can go to the already created unloved families. The complete opposite did happen to Gavroche and Eponine. As in, I have stronger empathy and personal relationship to the characters I created- after all, I know them better than the Thenardier Family. That is where the difference lies- Victor Hugo created the Thenardiers. While I know that the Thenardiers horribly abused, neglected, and showed no love to their children, Gavroche and Eponine had one good thing happen in their life. Gavroche was taken in by the students and with Eponine, it was Marius. Eponine had to deal with horrible abuse, being raised by criminals, unkindness and fell into extreme poverty. Her life seemed like there would be no light. Marius was the only one who treated her kindly leading her to fall in love with him despite the fact that it became unrequited: the love she had for him was so deep that she would do anything for him no matter the cost.

So, while I actually developed such a deep bond with Eponine, it is not her family that comes first in mind. I know a lot about Eponine- the abuse, the poverty, the unkindness, and the unrequited love. I even know just how neglected, unloved, and lonely she became. But I did not create Eponine- that is where the difference lies. She is actually my favorite character in the love triangle, but that does not stop me from loving Marius and Cosette as a couple. I just wouldn’t have fallen in love with Eponine if her horrible living conditions and unrequited love did not exist. Due to her tragic life, I loved her fate: “A Little Fall of Rain”- she sacrificed her life for Marius. It showed Eponine happy for once and showed how much compassion Marius was capable of, but at the same time it showed how much she meant to him: after all he was worried and devastated. Even the ending shows that Marius knew she lived a tough life: “her name was Eponine, her life was cold and dark, yet unafraid”- those lyrics are how I knew Marius was aware she lived a tough life, but also knew how brave she was.

This does might sound odd to some people (but obsessed Les Mis fans might understand): all it took was an entire year for me to understand who Eponine was- from 2013 to 2014, I was spending time trying to figure out who she was due to not knowing why I had this emotional connection and strong love came from. Only saw two Eponine actresses in that time frame- Samantha Barks and Kayla Ferguson. While it was three experiences with Les Mis- the film, Central Piedmont Community College, and 25th concert- two actresses. There is a reason why my favorite Eponine is Samantha Barks: she was most responsible for my love for the character and standout in the film and 25th concert. In addition, she was my first making it hard for other actresses to be better. No matter how close they get to being pretty much just as good, my opinion stays the same. While I don’t know why I gave the film a 2nd chance, Eponine was one of the first characters I emotionally bonded to. I believe the first songs I began to start being an emotional wreck were “I Dreamed a Dream” and “A Little Fall of Rain”- think that’s true but don’t fully remember.

Elphaba’s Family

Another example of a broken family. This time, I am exploring Elphaba’s family-but not quite as much as Eponine’s parents. That is all because Eponine’s parents played a huger role in Les Mis then the role Elphaba’s parents had. Elphaba is the musical character I have the most personal and relatable with- she is my favorite musical character. In Elphaba’s case, her father hated her for being born “green” while putting her disabled younger sister on a pedestal. Elphaba was fiercely protective of Nessa. The only characters who really accepted Elphaba for who she is were Glinda and Fiyero. Let me go next: it might explain something.

DON’T CONTINUE: SPOILERS AHEAD

For whatever reason, I think Elphaba was responsible for my love for Eponine: sounds strange, but look at what’s in common: broken family, taken advantage of: with Elphaba the Wizard and with Eponine her family, and the last thing in common is unrequited love. In Elphaba’s situation, she somehow ended up with Fiyero making the unrequited love shift to Glinda. That love triangle actually shows Elphaba and Glinda’s loyalty to each other: they don’t let Fiyero get in the way: they don’t try to steal him away when they have the unrequited love. See what I mean. Like Elphaba, I am smart, unique, have a big heart and stay true to myself. There is a lot of Elphaba I have in common but at same time have differences. I think Elphaba might be the very reason why I was able to understand both emotions, complexity and emotional connection starting in middle school. I think that was why all four core emotions were at the forefront: excitement, love, joy, and sad. Coincidentally, “On My Own” was key for “I’m Not That Girl” to become heartbreaking. It took over seven years for “I’m Not That Girl” to change from being sad to heartbreaking, but took a year for “On my Own” to change from being sad to heartbreaking.

My favorite Elphaba, Mary Kate Morrissey (standby), actually was the most taken off guard I have been in a musical. She was my 4th- she had everything I already knew about Elphaba, then the way she changed her voice from starting out innocent and then shifting to more mature, her chemistry with both Amanda Jane Copper (Glinda), and Ashley Parker Angel (Fiyero), and for the first time, an emotionless song ended up having emotions. That would be “No Good Deed”- it was the only time frustration, fear, and anger struck: in a way that they would actually stick. This production had my favorite trio, and individually all three were my favorite in those characters.

Conclusion

So, there is a HUGE difference between the characters that already were created versus your own. So, despite my strong bond with Elphaba and Eponine, I don’t think of their families first. It actually belonged to Sarge and my orphans. While the six orphans were born to a loving family, their family eventually became tragic. Sarge was the only one who has an unloving family: it was only found in his extended family where there was a loving family: his uncle and cousin both loved Sarge: his uncle loved him and so did Marge (I believe deep down despite being his easiest target). As an author- we know the MOST about them. No matter how much we know about musical characters, we will always know MORE about the ones we created. After all, we strongly strongly personally know our characters: they in some ways are like your own children. You know pretty much everything. See while I know a lot about Eponine and Elphaba, I know A LOT more about Sarge and the six orphans due to creating them in the first place.

Well, what unloving and tragic families come to mind (that includes the ones we created)? Understand the difference?

Full Circle between Two Musicals

Do you know what it means when a full circle happens? I know that happened, and that was between Wicked and Les Mis. Why do I saw that?

For starters, let’s talk about my first experience with Wicked. That was back in August 2006. I was 12 and my mom went to NYC alone. Part of it included seeing Wicked on Broadway. All I can remember is that I was with mom and that “Popular” was my favorite song. That musical sparked my love for musicals. I was able to understand emotional connection and discover the complex and emotional side to musicals: the core emotions were excitement, love, joy, and sad (which I thought I knew). I had no idea how much one musical would challenge everything I knew about in musical theatre.

Where does Les Mis come into play? While Wicked sparked my love for musicals, Les Mis turned that love into a passion. I believe that if Wicked never entered my life, there is no way Les Mis would have been able to happen.

I think things truly came full circle when I saw Les Mis in the West End. That date was July 30th, 2015. Just like with Wicked, an incredible theater district and once again it was a date with my mom. Those two musicals combined are where my passion truly comes from. By the time I saw Les Mis in the West End, I had already seen the film, the 25h concert, and the stage show three times. It was because of Central Piedmont Community College’s production that made me develop a dream of seeing the show in London.

“I Dreamed a Dream”

There is one other way things came into full circle with Wicked and Les Mis. My university home is Gardner Webb. In January 2016, I ended up seeing Wicked with GWU. The next year, I saw Les Mis on November 5th, 2017. So, I was able to see both with my university, a school that changed me for good.

Respect the Understudies

There is an important thing in musicals that do not get the respect and appreciation. These belong to understudies, and if they did not exist, so many musicals would be cancelled. When the main actor is out for the day, the understudies cover for them, and a swing comes in to play the part that the understudies usually play.

Grace Morgan (Christine), Mary Kate Morrissey (Elphaba), Lisa Karlin (Leading Player), Sam Lips (Pippin), Adam Bayjou (Valjean), Talia Simone Robinson (Eponine), Eymard Cabling (The Engineer), and Andrew Maughan (Valjean) were all understudies. However, only of them was a standby, which was Mary Kate Morrissey- when you have a standby, a swing is not involved since the standby is not part of the ensemble. One of my actresses I saw had an incredible journey to eventually landing the main part.

It belonged to one of my Fantine actresses. I actually saw her in Les Mis twice- 2017 and 2019. Back in 2017, I only saw her in the ensemble, but for the tour she was also cast as 1st cover Fantine. In 2017, Melissa Mitchell, who I saw as Fantine, was the main actress. After she left, Mary Kate Moore ended up becoming the main Fantine. So when 2019 happened, Mary Kate Moore was still Fantine, and still was the main one when I actually saw the show that year. I was hoping I would get her, and I did.

So you see, in the same show, an understudy has the talent to eventually move up to to a lead role. Mary Kate Moore is one of the important ones to bring up. I saw her start as an ensemble member and later the main role. Whenever I think of that character, she is the one I talk about. After all, actors/actresses like her don’t get the respect and appreciation that they deserve.

Even Nick Cartell and Anthony Festa moved up- the difference was not in the same musical. Nick was in the ensemble of Phantom of the Opera, and was also an understudy as Raoul. He was my Valjean in 2017, and he actually ended up being one of top three Valjean actors. With Anthony, I first saw him in Wicked in the ensemble, and was an understudy for Fiyero as well. In 2019, he was my Chris. Both Nick and Anthony moved up from understudy to securing a main role.

So all three actors started out at only in the ensemble and an understudy, but eventually moved up to a lead role. So it is important to respect them even before they were a lead role. Those three are strong examples of why. They had the talent to become the characters they eventually became.

Main Things that Made me the Fan of Musicals today

As musical fanatics know, your love for musicals needs to start somewhere. It can’t just show up out of nowhere. I have three main things that made me the musical fan I am today. What are they?

Family

Yes, I am referring to my Family. They raised me on musicals. We went to both stage shows and musical movies. I am talking about the classic Disney musicals to Wicked to Oliver (which I don’t remember), among a couple of others. In terms of musical movies, I saw a lot more with my family this way: Annie, Sound of Music, Grease, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, and Wizard of OZ- ones I saw in elementary school. Now, I am still seeing musicals with my family. If it wasn’t for them, there is no way I would have loved musicals.

Wicked

My mom and I went on a trip to NYC alone. Part of being in NYC belonged to seeing a musical on Broadway. That was Wicked, and little did I know that when I stepped foot in Gerswhin Theater that I would be changed “for good”. Wicked sparked my love for musicals. I realized what it meant to have an emotional connection and began to understand the emotional and complex side to musicals. It has now been 14 years since I first saw Wicked in August 2006. Wicked in so many ways was the beginning of my musical theatre journey.

Les Mis

I honestly thought I knew musicals, but then one musical truly changed the way I view them. My love does start with the film-which I had to give a second chance. I still do not why I did that due to not really appreciating it when I first saw it. I must have formed some emotional connection that first round without knowing.

Les Mis tested and challenged a lot of things. I thought sad was not that capable when it first came to the forefront through Wicked. Les Mis literally brought out heartbreak. Its’ emotional capabilities is something I had not found in musicals before: they are epic, powerful, passionate, and highly emotional. I believed that death would not be memorable or happen during a song: Les Mis sure proved that wrong. I still can’t believe that in high school, I said I would never love a tragedy. Les Mis went against everything I truly believed existed in musical theatre.

Now, I am more open to musicals. That means I wouldn’t be as surprised when something new enters the musical theatre world. I don’t mind seeing other tragedies. I always hope that each year, I would see at least one musical, which usually ends up being two-four musicals a year.

Conclusion

If it wasn’t for my family, Wicked, or Les Mis-that love for musicals wouldn’t have existed.