Thanks For The Movie Musicals, But I Want Proshots

As you should have read in my Monthly Look Ahead, September brought unto me a lot of musicals, which is wonderful, and honestly, all the other months should step up their game and do the same. Now, I’m not someone who’s great at critiques, but I wanted to talk about some of the content we’ve gotten this month and why some of it hasn’t been as great as I wanted it to be.

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Dear Evan Hansen is a good musical. I’ve seen it on stage and I do love it. The music is great, the story is interesting, and I think Ben Platt was great in the role…six years ago. Ben Platt reprised the awkward teenage role at age 27 for the movie version of the musical that came out this month, and it was not stellar. Even from the trailer, it was clear that this movie was not capturing the magic of the Broadway version. One tweet I think about a lot said it looked like a low-budget Christian movie, and that’s very accurate, despite big names in the cast. Maybe it was poor direction or maybe it was just that such a heavy show couldn’t translate to a movie as well, but the movie was lackluster. From cutting out the opening song to Evan’s constant whispering to the slight plot change at the end, I have some qualms. I’d see the show live again in a heartbeat, but I’m certainly not itching to see the movie anytime soon.

Ben Platt in the Dear Evan Hansen movie gif.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a story similar to Dear Evan Hansen in many ways, but its movie was a lot better. I still missed some of the cut songs, but I think the changes they made to adapt it to a film were mostly well done. Why did Jamie succeed when Evan failed? I can’t say for certain, as again, I am not a critic.

What I do know, though, was a proshot of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie already existed. The movie was good and all, but if you want to see the musical in the way it was intended to be seen (without actually seeing it live), go watch that. Proshots are underrated forms of consuming theater, and I’m mad they’re not more available. The Come From Away proshot came out this month and it’s wonderful. The show is wonderful, and seeing it in HD is great because you still see the magic of the production but close up and without losing aspects to a movie format. The stage allows for a big performance, so it can get more dramatic or silly when it needs to be because we expect and enjoy it on stage.

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There’s this big argument that’s often thrown around when talking about the b-word (bootlegs) and it’s that the reason why proshots aren’t too common is because of all the licensing fees and contracts and stuff that’d be needed for proshots to exist. And I’m sure that’s all true, but—and people are welcome to correct me here—it seems like a more cost-effective way of getting musicals into the world than making a full movie musical. No expensive actors, no building full sets, no rewrites, just filming/editing a show people already love and want to see in the way people already love and want to see it. And it can still be shown in theaters like Newsies was years ago.

At the end of the day, as much as there are some great movie versions of musicals in existence (I will defend Mamma Mia until the day I die), something is always lost in translation, and it’s unfortunate that in some cases, like Dear Evan Hansen‘s, it will ruin the reputation, no matter how good elements may be. Movie musicals should be for the fans and while I can’t speak for all of them, I feel like most of the fans just want to see the musical, not the artsy, stunt-casted watered-down version that we often get from these things. Case in point: Cats.

Cats Movie GIF.
Zero people asked for this. Zero.

What are your thoughts? Are you running to theaters to see Dear Evan Hansen? Are you disappointed with the quality of some movie musicals? Do you not care as long as we’re getting some musical content? Comment below your opinions!

 

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‘Come From Away’ Capitalizes On Humanity, Not Tragedy

Exactly one year ago I saw Come From Away live in person. I had seen a bootleg about two years earlier and listened to the soundtrack many, many, many times, but seeing it live was so much cooler. The musical is so well done and so powerful with its simple sets and energetic cast. I had to stop listening to it at work last year because too often I was tearing up at my desk. If you don’t know what Come From Away is, I’m about to change your life, because it’s a musical about 9/11 and the several thousand people diverted to Newfoundland, Canada when the air space closed. It sounds like a dreadful musical idea, but it’s actually very sweet and uplifting because it covers how all the small-town Canadians rallied together to provide food, housing, clothing, and more to so many scared and confused travellers.

come from away logo and still.

I was in kindergarten when 9/11 happened, so I don’t remember anything about the tragedy. In that sense, I’m kind of disconnected to it because I don’t remember where I was that day or how things changed, but I think Come From Away does such a good job of conveying all the necessary emotions, so even young people can understand the gravity of the event as well as how wonderful the Newfoundlanders were.

Anyway, Come From Away has become a favourite musical of mine. So I was eager last month to get my hands on the behind-the-scenes book called Come From Away: Welcome To The Rock. It gave so much insight into the musical from the interviews the creators did to the costumes the actor wore to the grant the government issued so the show could be made, and I always love learning about stuff like that. I think I cried more times reading the book than I did seeing the show. But there was one part in the book where the mayor of Gander said some townspeople don’t love the attention Newfoundland has gotten and they think it’s a capitalization of not just the tragedy but also their involvement, which shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t think this is a completely unfounded or unpopular opinion. I’m sure there were so many of those Newfoundlanders who didn’t think twice about helping out during that hell week. I’m sure there were many who would have been perfectly fine if they never got any recognition or thanks for their efforts. I’m sure there are New Yorkers or other people directly affected by 9/11 that aren’t thrilled that such a devastating event is being sung about for hefty theatre prices. But that doesn’t mean that Come From Away and the publicity the Canadian towns have gotten isn’t warranted, because I think the musical is so important and it’s so great that people are paying attention.

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Our world is full of garbage and hate and bad news. Even when good things happen, it’s often quiet or overshadowed or soon forgotten. So I’m not mad that this story stands out. This is a story that highlights kindness from strangers in a moment of global tragedy. It’s not just a 9/11 musical, it’s a kindness musical. And, as that book made clear many times, the writers were well aware of the sensitive topic and made many, many edits to ensure anyone who saw it understood that they weren’t glorifying the catastrophe and that they certainly were not in it to make money, as theater productions rarely result in big bucks. They were simply showing the pure side of humanity in the darkest hours. These were real people and real stories and real quotes, and that side should be celebrated. Especially because such kindness may not have happened anywhere else. Canada has a reputation for niceness, but I really can’t imagine my community a few provinces over coming together the way those Newfoundlanders did. I can’t imagine my parents letting strangers come in and take a shower in our house. And, it’s worth noting, this was before social media. So the Newfoundlanders weren’t vlogging it or trying to go viral with their good deeds the way some people do now. This musical is sharing stories that otherwise may never have gotten told.

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Come From Away is a show you need to see. Aside from being so creative and unique as a show, it’s very uplifting and raw. It’s still playing in NYC and Toronto and I know tours have gone to Australia and London and it’s even headed to China this year, which is so wonderful because it means the story is being shared with so many people who also didn’t know what went on in Newfoundland that week.

As a Canadian, this show made me so proud. I’m not saying every act of kindness deserves a musical from now on or that we should focus on the nice people in every tragedy. But what we should do is let this musical be a reminder that there are good people in the world and that maybe this blue and green rock floating in space isn’t as hopeless as it seems. I think the nature of our society has made us have to be a little selfish to survive, but Come From Away made me at least want to be better, tragedy or not.

If you have a chance to go see the musical, please do, because you will not regret it.

it'll change your life gif.

 

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The Good Stuff: Parodybill

If you like musicals and jokes, then this is the post for you. A while ago I came across this Instagram account called Parodybill, and I did not hesitate to click Follow right away (a feeling all of my blog followers felt when they first came to my blog, I’m sure). Parodybill basically takes a Broadway musical/reference and mashes it up with something else—usually another musical, but sometimes it’s a movie or a TV show—to create a parody Playbill. They’re so well done and so funny. I would never even think of these mashups, but they work perfectly.

In the almost two years they’ve been parodying musicals, they’ve done a lot, but I want to share my favourites. (Click to enlarge)

Aren’t these just so fun? I always enjoy seeing them pop up on my feed. And on their Insta stories they also sometimes show their brainstorming and sketching, which I think is neat.

And they do it just for fun, because they love doing it. They do sell Tshirts and mugs and prints and stuff here, and for reasonable prices actually, but otherwise, they just want to make some theatrical art for us to all see. So go follow them on Instagram or Facebook to keep up with their wonderful, entertaining creations!

Though as great as they are, they currently don’t have any Mamma Mia ones, which is a shame. What’s the deal with that, Parodybill?

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‘Be More Chill’ Book Vs Musical

Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Be More Chill would be making its off-Broadway debut this summer, which I found really timely considering that it was only a few weeks before that that I had immersed myself in Be More Chill. On the recommendation of a friend, I looked up a Be More Chill bootleg (though the best one I could find was about 75% black screen) and then listened to the soundtrack on repeat. Be More Chill was first a book by Ned Vizzini, so I also checked out a copy from the library, and I thought it’d be fun to compare the musical and the book so you know a bit more before the show gets super popular on BWay. Warning for light spoilers.

Be More Chill is about a kid in high school named Jeremy who’s so tired of being a loser that he buys an ingestible supercomputer in the form of a pill that lodges in your brain and tells you what to do. This computer is called a Squip, and the story follows Jeremy as he rises through the high school ranks and tries to balance relationships between his best friend Michael, his crush Christine, and the popular kids with the help of his Squip.

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Now, I listened to the musical before I read the book, and I wouldn’t have read it if I didn’t like the music so much. While I don’t think it’s the best musical ever and I could write a whole other post on what I don’t love about it, there are some cool songs and it employs a lot of neat synth/retro techno sounds so it is unique. The music is also very upbeat, and I always appreciate that. The music makes the musical, and I think Be More Chill does a good job taking this cool Squip plot and giving it life through songs.

Because really, if you take out the Squip, it’s just another high school coming of age story that is full of overdone high school tropes. The Squip and its incredibleness is the selling point of the plot. And it’s really needed, especially in the book because the book doesn’t have the music. What the book does have, unfortunately, is just a lot of awkwardness. The musical really toned down Jeremy’s cringey-ness. In the book, he keeps these tally charts of all his dorky interactions with classmates, and then he steals from his aunt to buy the Squip pill. Furthermore, he’s just a walking caricature of a typical high school boy in which he lusts over anything with boobs and is unable to have normal conversations with anyone, so it was a pretty uncomfortable read. Even the other characters had weird dialogue. Christine said weird things, and Michael was pretty underdeveloped and boring, and while Christine was odd in the musical too, she was a lot more likable there. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of Vizzini after this. So I’m glad that the musical changed and improved some of these aspects.

In regards to the Squip, there are some differences in its overall arc in the two mediums. In the book, Jeremy and the Squip just have some miscommunications and mistakes so Jeremy ends up getting rid of him. In the musical, it’s a lot more sinister, as the Squips try to take over. While this plot is a little cliche, at least there’s a problem to solve that keeps us interested, and at least it has a beginning, middle, and end that makes sense. The book’s ending feels very, very abrupt. But what bothered me the most about the Squip is that in both versions, Jeremy didn’t really learn anything. Like, there wasn’t some overarching message about being yourself or respecting women as people or not caring about popularity, and I feel like that would have been useful, especially in the book where Jeremy was just extremely ugh.

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To conclude, I do not suggest reading Be More Chill. The book was just a load of awful awkwardness. The musical is a lot better and far less cringy. I hope it does well on Broadway because it is a fun show, and Will Rolland is playing Jeremy, which I think will be great. And if you can’t get to NYC, go listen to the soundtrack. The best song is ‘Michael In The Bathroom’ (it’s not as weird as it sounds).

Have you read or seen or listened to Be More Chill? What are your thoughts on it?

P.S. The Be More Chill book was also adapted into a play. I know this because when I was looking for a musical bootleg, I found the play, and only realized it was the play when twenty minutes in, there had been no singing. From those twenty minutes, it seemed to be exactly like the book, so I’m glad I exed out of that one real quick.

 

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My Musical List (And Some Bootleg Discussion)

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Three years ago, when I was in high school, I started getting into musicals. I don’t recall why or what drove me to them. If I had to guess, I would say it was likely my love for Glee and Team Starkid, and in the ven-diagram of related subjects that I’d come across on the internet, Broadway musicals is right in the middle.

I decided to go popular (literally) for my first musical and try Wicked. I chose to read the book first, and I enjoyed it. At this time, I wasn’t as familiar with bootlegs, so I settled for listening to the soundtrack. This, I later learned, was a mistake as I assumed that the musical followed the book better than it actually did. Seeing the show live downtown nine months later was awesome but slightly disappointing as the soundtrack didn’t match up to the plot like I had envisioned them to. That bugged me more than it should. (Related: why I hope the Wicked movie is more like the book)

In May of that year, I also went on my school’s arts trip to New York City. I had never been, so it was very exciting. On that trip we saw three Broadway shows (Les Miserables, A Raisin In The Sun, and Aladdin, but the second is just a play) and that was such a great experience. But as we wandered around Times Square and I saw the marquees for all the other musicals playing, I realised that the three we went to see were not ones I would have chosen. So in that grubby hotel room we stayed in, I sat on my bed and opened a note on my phone, and started a list of all the musicals I wanted to see. That list had 11 shows, and I considered that a lot.

But in the past three years, that list grew to 20 and now over 30 musicals. I am now a huge musical theater fan and nine times out of ten, when I listen to music, I’m listening to various show tunes. I wanted to wait to blog about this until I had successfully crossed everything off my list, but I just keep adding musicals on, so the end is not in sight! So instead I figured I’d show my progress, along with a list of musicals I had seen before I started keeping track.

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Some of these I loved, some I liked, and some I wouldn’t watch again, but I am glad I saw them all.

And that brings me to my next topic of discussion: bootlegs. While I was fortunate to see a few of those shows live, and a few were movies that I watched, most of them I saw via bootleg. I have no little shame in this. Sometimes I stream movies, I’ve admitted to occasionally streaming TV, and I download music that I didn’t pay for. Sorry, but I’m a student and I don’t have the money to pay for every bit of entertainment. And you know I’m not the only one who does this. But with Broadway, it’s different, because for me to experience the full, legal thing, I need to go to New York. I’d need a roundtrip plane ticket, a hotel room, food, and then a ticket to the show, which could be pricey itself. That’s very different than the 12 bucks I save by not going to a local movie theater. Not to mention that some of the shows aren’t even running anymore or are sold out, so even if I were to somehow get to New York, I still wouldn’t be able to see them.

There’s the argument that bootlegs take money away from the show, but I disagree. Bootlegs let people who are on the other side of the world see shows they love and experience theater. I’m somewhat lucky because when shows do go on tour, they sometimes stop near me, but that is not true for many people, so bootlegs give them a chance to see it, even if it from someone’s shaky iPhone. Shows aren’t losing money because it’s money that they won’t ever get. But they may get money from the purchase of the soundtrack or other merch. Because if people are like me, they won’t listen to the music until they see the show, so basically, the bootleg is bringing in money.

Bootlegs don’t replace live shows the way that streaming a TV show replaces seeing it when it airs. There’s no comparison at all to the environment and quality. People have said time and time again that if they could pay for a professionally filmed stage musical they would, but there isn’t even an option for that. Broadway caters to people who can get there, and that’s somewhat understandable, but if hockey games can be streamed, why can’t a musical? There IS this new service called BroadwayHD that is trying to give us what we want, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have the new, big-name shows that I personally want to see.

What are your thoughts on the matter? I’d love to hear them, but I beg you to do it politely. I’ve seen many bootleg debates go down on Tumblr and it’s a horrific, rude mess that I want no part of.

I’d also love to hear what musicals you think I should add to my list. What are your favourites?

 

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