Suddenly Surprise!

Good afternoon, my wonderful readers! I’m just writing a quick note to say that, because I have a special post planned for next week, today’s will consist of some favorite musical-themed GIFs. (None of these were created by me.)

We now return to your regularly-scheduled Puccini’s Chronicles programming.

Daily Prompt: Record

We’re halfway through March and it seems that spring should be just around the corner here in New York City. Sadly, we are expecting a foot or more of snowfall tomorrow. But you could argue that a blizzard is the perfect excuse to kick back with a mug of tea and listen to some vinyl records.

Speaking of which, today I’m going to share five of my favorite “morning songs.” These are tunes I most like to crank up when the weather is sunny and warm. For one reason or another, they’re a perfect soundtrack for the crack of dawn.

5. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall: Maybe it’s because of this song’s role in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but “Suddenly I See” practically brims with inspiration and admiration. As you wake up and the sun shines through your window, it’s hard not to imagine Tunstall cheering you on as you chase your dreams in a big city.

4. “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles: The version of this number that Bareilles performs on the What’s Inside album is sure to get you pumped for your day with its rousing drumbeat and infectious chorus. With any luck, it will put you in a good enough mood so that when a Starbucks barista pours your latte, you’ll want to say “Hello, how ya been?”

3. “Another Day of Sun,” La La Land Cast: Sure, everyone talked about what happened to this movie at the Oscars, but it’s hard to deny that its score makes for great listening. This song in particular is full of energy, with an earworm-inducing hook. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to let “Another Day of Sun” brighten the morning.

2. “Beautiful Day,” U2: There are certain songs that I associate with specific mental images. For “Beautiful Day,” I envision driving along an empty highway in the summer, just as the sun is beginning to rise. The song’s three-note riff is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are just as life-affirming.

1. “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO: “Today’s forecast calls for blue skies.” This Jeff Lynne-penned hit song practically had to make my list. Lynne was even inspired to write it by beautiful weather in Switzerland. With its upbeat rhythms and bright vocals, the tune has not only become a radio staple but a popular addition to several Hollywood films.

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Videos to Get You Pumped for NEW WORKS on Broadway This Spring

Okay, okay guys, calm down.

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Yes, I know the news came out today that Sara Bareilles will be succeeding Jessie Mueller as Jenna in the former’s own musical, Waitress. From what I’m seeing, half of the world is super excited and the other half is concerned. With some overlap between the two. The concerned side feels as such because they worry how this show’s almost-certain reappearance on public radar could affect the multitude of brand new musicals that will already be struggling to secure an audience just before Tony Awards time.

Well to these friends I say, “Never fear!” Puccini’s Chronicles is here to help. Today I’m going to share some awesome previews that are sure to entice folks into taking a chance on a new show. You know, along with their already-purchased revival tickets or 900th attempt at the Hamilton lottery. (Click on the name of the musical to watch the video!)

AMELIEWhat you’re seeing: A well-arranged selection of visual highlights from the piece’s pre-Broadway run in Los Angeles, set to a lovely duet from its stars, Philippa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat.

ANASTASIAWhat you’re seeing: Christy Altomare, as Anya, singing the beloved Oscar-nominated song “Journey to the Past” in Columbus Circle.

BANDSTANDWhat you’re seeing: A very cinematic trailer, complete with a bass-baritone narrator and appearances from the original Papermill Playhouse stars, Laura Osnes and Corey Cott. Also, keep an ear open for a Hamilton name-drop.

WAR PAINTWhat you’re seeing: The two leading divas, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, doing what they do best at the Guggenheim Museum.

For Your Consideration: a review of Broadway’s WAITRESS

“It’s amazing what baking can do,” sings Jessie Mueller as Jenna the waitress in one of just two non-Hamilton shows surviving from last season. (The other is School of Rock.) And if “baking,” she also means “the theatre,” then she’s absolutely correct. Seeing Waitress on Broadway this week for my birthday affirmed that.

In short: Jenna is a small-town waitress who happens to have a gift for baking pies. The trouble is that she’s stuck in an abusive marriage and unexpectedly pregnant…until a baking competition offers a $20,000 prize and the potential for a new life. Along the way, she is aided by her friends at the diner (Kimiko Glenn, Keala Settle) as well as the new doctor in town (Drew Gehling). Actually, she and the doctor wind up having an affair. The show is based on a 2007 motion picture.

Famously, the score was entirely done by pop singer Sara Bareilles, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work. Her involvement with the show has been a staple of their marketing campaign, and she makes vocal cameos (pre-recorded) at a few points in the musical. I am in love with Bareilles’s music for Waitress; in fact, it’s a big part of why I wanted to see the show onstage. It’s fresh, it’s catchy, and each number is carefully crafted to reflect the personality of its characters. My favorite songs are “Opening Up” and “Bad Idea,” the opener and closer of Act I, respectively. There is also the 11 o’clock song, “She Used to Be Mine,” but I’ll talk about that at the end.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how the ensemble is used: they fill lots of minor roles, but they also serve as a Greek chorus of sorts for the action. The effect works surprisingly well. As for the leading players, they were all perfectly suited to their roles and got great audience reception; at my performance, Kimiko Glenn’s understudy was on, but she did a great job. Another thing Waitress knows how to do is find a balance between comedic and serious moments. You have the ludicrous awkwardness of Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Becky’s take-no-prisoners attitude…and then a scene later, you see Jenna get hit by her husband (Nick Cordero).

Speaking of which, Jessie Mueller gives another electric performance as the main character. She brings such raw emotion and sincerity that I cried at three different times in Act II. “She Used to Be Mine” spoke to me on a profound level as I thought about my own trials and tribulations. Like Jenna, the girl I once was didn’t ask for bad things to happen to her…and both of them escape (and still do) by immersing themselves in their passions.

With any luck, someday I too can achieve my ultimate happiness- and the ones I care about will be right there with me. Waitress was not only a delightful birthday gift, but a reminder of just how spellbinding the arts are for the soul. They don’t even have to be fundamentally perfect; as I’ve heard, “it only takes a taste.”

One Song, Two Singers: Who belted it better?

“Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you!” sings Annie Oakley to her future husband Frank near the end of Annie Get Your Gun. For many, competition is the fuel that keeps their blood pumping. Nothing gives them more of an adrenaline rush than the feeling of victory. Myself included, to an extent. As a child, I was ridiculously competitive and a sore loser. Nowadays, I take a stealthier approach to competition…kill them from the inside out, but wear a poker face until the bitter end. Then you can cry into your pillow, if you want.

The world of music and theatre is no stranger to this. For years, great songs have been covered by multiple great artists, and that naturally sparks debate over who provided a better rendition. This one had a prettier voice- but that one felt the emotions so much more! The factors are endless. In this week’s post, I’m gonna present some of my favorite examples of musical competition. Then it’s up to you to decide which songster or songstress struck the right chords.

ROUND I: “She Used to Be Mine.” Jessie Mueller Vs. Sara Bareilles. I suppose this one is a little unfair because both women are key components of Waitress, the musical for which the latter wrote this song. I’ve listened to both of their performances, and although Mueller and Bareilles have very distinct voices, I think they both “got” the emotion of the number- just differently. I think the former’s is raw and tearful, while Bareilles brings a more subdued and contemplative side.

ROUND II: “They All Laughed.” Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga Vs. The Nice Work OBC. In a bizarre twist, I heard the Nice Work interpretation of this classic Gershwin tune first, but it wasn’t until Bennett and Gaga sang it on the Cheek to Cheek album that I realized how brilliantly written it is. It serves as the finale for Nice Work If You Can Get It, so all the principal characters sing lines, which is really fun. By contrast, the cheeky duo offers a more stripped-down interpretation. Both versions, however, incorporate horn sounds generously in the song.

ROUND III: “Reflection.” Jackie Evancho Vs. Christina Aguilera. I’m leaving Lea Salonga’s version of the Mulan power ballad out of the equation because it is quite different (lyrically and musically) from these two. Aguilera performed the song for the movie’s end credits, while Evancho covered it on her Songs from the Silver Screen album. Though both ladies have incredible vocal ranges, their timbres couldn’t be less alike. As “Reflection” calls for more of a pop sound, I do think the latter is better suited to it. The former is more at home with classical styles of music.

ROUND IV: “All I Ask of You.” Josh Groban & Kelly Clarkson Vs. Patrick Wilson & Emmy Rossum. Josh and Kelly dueted on this iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber number for his album Stages. On the flip side, Patrick and Emmy did the song in-character for the film adaptation of Phantom. Surprisingly, the orchestrations for both versions are fairly similar. Then again, this song wouldn’t exactly mesh with an acoustic guitar. Or perhaps it would?! Vocally, Kelly Clarkson is remarkable in a song that would appear out of her range. It calls for legit soprano, and she is more of a belter…but she pulled it off. Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of Christine Daae has its critics, but I do feel this song is one of two (the other being “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”) that she sings exceptionally well in Phantom. The men are on pretty equal footing, I think.

ROUND V: “All I Care About.” Chita Rivera Vs. Every Billy Flynn actor ever. And now for a fun one! Kander and Ebb’s intro song for the greedy Chicago lawyer has been sung many times- notably, by Richard Gere onscreen. But I don’t think there’s been a rendition quite as memorable as the one Chita Rivera nailed at last year’s Broadway Backwards event, benefiting BCEFA. The living legend, clad in a tuxedo and surrounded by showgirls, has more rhythm than performers young enough to be her grandchildren. It’s just amazing. Seriously, folks, go watch the video. You won’t regret it!

The Tony Performances- Take the Poll!

Spotlight: Artpop, Pop Art, it’s all the same right?

I’ve bordered the top and bottom of today’s entry with logos that all have something in common. It’s probably easy for you guys to guess what that is. That’s right; all six of these theatrical works feature a score by a pop or rock-and-roll musician. With, of course, varying degrees of success: there’s the smash hit Mamma Mia! that ran for over a decade and then there’s a show like Holler if Ya Hear Me crashing and burning beyond words. With the advent of Sara Bareilles’s Waitress hitting Broadway this season, it would seem that jukebox and pop-star-penned musicals are becoming ever the more…well, popular.

I am never 100% sure how I feel about this trend. On the one hand, I like that these shows bring non-thespians into the theatre…and some of them are really fun…I remember seeing Mamma Mia! for my 16th birthday and having a blast. Furthermore, more than once, these shows have also been critically acclaimed; John Lloyd Young and Jessie Mueller both won Leading Tony Awards for their parts in Jersey Boys and Beautiful, respectively. (However, of the most recent jukebox/songwriter driven shows, only Once and Jersey Boys snagged the Best Musical Tony.)

On the flip side, I worry that the recent explosion of such productions is a sign of the over-commercialization of live theatre. Others share this view even more strongly- I seem to recall a social media celebration when Rock of Ages finally posted its closing notice. Their animosity toward such shows is not totally unfounded: after all, are not truly great works of art the ones that are wholly original and bring something thoughtful to the table? That’s not to say that jukebox musicals don’t have important stories to tell. But it can be argued that a lot less blood, sweat, tears, and heart go into their development. (Feel free to dispute this generalization in the comments section!)

Interestingly, for all their commercial success and “star” attachments, the pieces in the aforementioned category often fall short to one or two huge original shows (at least from what I’ve observed). Thoroughly Modern Millie was the Best Musical winner of 2003, but it closed long before losing competitor Mamma Mia! did. In a similar vein, Green Day’s American Idiot lost to Memphis but subsequently developed a far more passionate following. I make note of this because the upcoming Waitress is going to have a very tough time, critically and financially, going up against a massive blockbuster: Hamilton. But whether or not Sara Bareilles can beat Lin Manuel-Miranda for Best Score remains to be seen; it is far from impossible. Recall Cyndi Lauper’s big win in this category for Kinky Boots a few years back, which angered many people riding Matilda‘s bandwagon.

These are a lot of “what-ifs.” But, if the past is any indication, we can conclude that anything is possible in the great world of performing arts. And, naturally, that jukebox/songwriter contributions to theatre aren’t going anywhere.