It’s the most wonderful time of the year….

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No, it’s not Christmas yet, but it’s that time of year when all of the ghouls, ghosts, and monsters come out to play. Everything feels a little bit spookier, the air’s a little colder, and everyone wants to hear a good ghost story.

I’m practically a kid in a candy store with a new horror film out every week and all of the fun decorations in stores and in people’s yards. There’s spooky plays, candles, and the beginning of cozy, sweater weather.

To help set the right tone, I’ve added a few fun pictures I took at the employee preview night of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights here into the post. If you’re interested in the event at all, it’s a pretty fun time and the PoltergeistTrick R Treat, and Universal Monster Mazes are a truly great time.

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This year, I’m on a mission to watch 31 films to commemorate this frightfully fun time of year and I’ll be posting about each and every one of them.  So grab your flashlight and your costume and get ready for a month of tricks and treats. I’ll be covering a wide array of genres and many are films I haven’t seen before. To give you just a taste of what’s to come, on the slate are vampires, werewolves, and ghosts (oh, my!). There’s also a musical, some family friendly favorites, and plenty of fierce women (of course).

While there will be a post here every day, for even more fun, check out my official Tumblr page for gifs, photosets, and more from the films I’m watching. It’s gonna be a great month and the fun all starts tomorrow, October 1st.

 

It’s all just so….old!

I’m taking a diversion from posting reviews to reflect back on an amazing trip I took to London, Edinburgh, Largs, and Glasgow.  This was my first time outside of the US which was kind of scary, but luckily, across the pond, I had one of my best friends waiting for me. Cat’s been interning in the UK for about a year now and before she left, I wanted to come out and experience just a taste of that part of the world.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to go to London. You see it in tv shows and movies all the time and it always looks so magical and I’m really glad that I got to see it, but I’ve gotta say Scotland was more my cup of tea.

Let’s jump into it, shall we?

Pro tip. If you want to travel to another country and avoid jet lag, get a red eye flight on the way there. I flew on Virgin Atlantic in Economy Delight (still Economy but more leg room) and when I sat down there were two other people in my row but after we took off they switched to go sit by their friend so I had the whole row to myself. I tend to sleep pretty well on planes so I was excited to stretch out in the now empty row and get some sleep. I barely stayed awake for about three hours of my flight which was long enough to eat dinner and watch a movie (The Greatest Showman, if you were wondering).  The nice thing about the red eye was that when I went to sleep it was dark out but when I woke up at the end of the flight it was light and the afternoon so I was already partially adjusted to the 8 hour time difference. Stay hydrated. Get some sleep and you’ll be good to go.

Cat and I took The Underground and then the train to get to where she’s been living in Borough Green, which is about an hour outside of London by train. What’s really fun about taking the train is that you start out in London so you’re seeing all of this urban enviroment and then suddenly it all just stops and you’re in the countryside. There’s rolling green hills, community gardens, sheep, horses, and deer. It’s such a stark contrast but it’s super cute.

IMG_1439Borough Green is a small, adorable village that reminds me of Privet Drive from Harry Potter but withou the stuffy Dursleys. After we dropped off my little duffel bag at Cat’s place, we went for a walk around the place. There’s not that much more to do there other than walk around and enjoy nature. That was perfectly fine with me since I just wanted to get a feel for the place. Y’know, see where Cat’s been living for a year.

On our walk, we stopped by a church with an old cemetery. What’s funny about the states is that you don’t just go wandering about cemeteries. People think you’re kind of weird if you do (yeah, know that from personal experience), but it’s more acceptable in the UK. For example, in Scotland, Cat and I ran into people having a picnic in a graveyard like it was nothing. If they can’t make me into one of those treepods when I die and everyone insists on burying me, I hope people have raging parties at my grave sight. That seems awesome! Where was I? Oh. Right. Why cemetaries are better in the UK. Graveyards in the states re not nearly as old as the ones you’ll find in the UK. You walk through a place like that and you can feel the history all around. You feel its age. It makes you realize how young America is as a country. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do. Whoa. Got a little deep there.

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

Anyway! The best thing we saw on our walk was easily this precious cat. I’m a big cat person and it shocked me how many cats were just wandering around. I do love me a good, cat-friendly neighborhood. I suppose without coyotes and such, there’s not that much that might get to them if they’re outdoor cats. Despite Cat’s best efforts to tell me that people don’t just walk up to cats and pet and talk to them in the UK, I was gonna pet this cat. We stood there for maybe ten minutes while this adorable cat meowed and nuzzled up to us. It was happy to be pet, I was happy to be petting it. Best way to end my first night there, if you ask me.

Our second day, we trekked out into London to see the sights as best we could in just a day.  We didn’t run by all of the most famous landmarks, but we did see a bunch of them. Cat and I walked about 15 miles in total and I highly recommend seeing the city by foot. It’s a much more immersive experience.

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

Our first stop of the day was Buckingham Palace, of course. When we walked around to the front, there were so many people waiting thatCat and I had to stop and riddle out why that might be. Apparently, there’s a special way the flag is flown when the Queen is there and that didn’t seem to be the case that particular day, but as we started walking we saw like a full entourage heading our way.  It’s impossible to really see through the windows of the cars, but it did look like men in suits. This whole scene culminated in the car driving in through the gates and the gates closing behind them. No one got out of the car. No one announced who was in the car. People just wanted to see the car go by.  It seemed kinda silly to me but it was also kind of fun to be there on accident with this happening.

In the middle of running around, we stopped in at the British Museum to see the Egyptian artifacts which was so cool.  I love mummies and the British Museum has a lot of them. It’s kind of gross, but fascinating too when you realize that those are actual people that were once alive. They’re just part of history now. They’re helping us understand what people were like centuries before us and helping us guess at what our future as humanity may look like. I do have to wonder if removing them from their tombs affected their journeys in the afterlife…I hope not. That’d sure be pretty sad.  Anyway, I’d love to spend a lot more time in this museum just taking it all in. Cat and I ran through just two small sections of a huge museum.

We continued our whirlwhind sightseeing extravaganza past St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe (someday I want to see a production there!), walked across Tower Bridge and headed into The Tower of London! This was really cool! The crown jewels were fun to see but I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I was really intrigued by the darker side of The Tower. The old torture instruments, like the rack, were chilling reminders of how cruel humans can be to one another. The coolest part of that whole place though was this dragon.

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The dragon was constructed of all different kinds of weaponry and armor. The claws are made of pistols which is really clever. There’s chain mail, helmets, muskets, small cannons, and so much more. This was such a unique art piece and so unexpected. When I rounded the corner, I was instantly giddy. Check that out if you’re in the area. It’s worth it.

Of course, if you’ve been following the blog, you know that this night ended with me seeing Heathers. I’ve got a lot to say about that elsewhere but, overall it was a great day in London, only made better a beautiful taste of West End theatre. When I go back, I’ll take a little more time and see some other sights.  I would definitely check out The National Gallery and more West End productions.

After our day in London, we headed over to Scotland and onto my favorite part of the trip.  The train ride from London to Edinburgh takes about eight hours. We departed from Kings Cross which was cool. I got to see Platform 9 3/4 but we didn’t stop to take a picture because the line was just ridiculous. If you do wanna get a souvenir picture there, either go just for that or get there really early for your train.

A quick note about train stations. You show up with your ticket and you join the crowd of people all staring up at these boards, waiting to see what platform your train is on. Once it shows up, everyone rushes off to their platform like a stampede It’s kinda funny to witness the first time.

 

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

When we got to Edinburgh in the afternoon, we stepped out of the train station and it just felt like home. I was so at ease and in awe of everything I was seeing around me.  In one direction there was this ancient looking cathedral, on a hill there was roman columns, and then opposite those was the Edinburgh castle. Everywhere around us was living history. I’ve never really felt that before but it was amazing.

While we were in Edinburgh, we stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel. The cool thing about the hostel is that it’s literally right by the castle. You just walk up some stairs and you’re practically there.  Finding it the first time was a little bit difficult. We had to climb some crazy old stairs that were sketchy and there were a lot easier ways to get there that we’d later figure out but we did get to walk around the city past some bagpipe players and the old buildings of the city. Say what you will, bagpipes, when you’re in Edinburgh, are beautifully atmospheric.

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Cat and I stopped into a pub for a true Scottish meal. I got bangers and mash (which was amazing) and Cat ordered haggis. If you don’t know what haggis is, well, brace yourself. It’s made with sheep heart, liver, and lungs and traditionally cooked while encased in the animal’s stomach. I know, I know, I know. It sounds gross. But the way it was cooked and presented was actually not too bad. I’d eat it again. This pub also actually turned me onto hard ciders too. There’s nothing quite like a hard cider freshly poured from the tap. If I could find Magners in the states, I’d be thrilled. I have, so far, settled for Strongbow (which isn’t really settling at all).

As we were leaving the pub we walked out and saw a very curious looking bus that said “London Necrobus” with a big black banner reading”The Ghost Bus Tours” on it with a little skeleton in one of the windows of this big ol’ double decker.

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

We asked about it and got pulled onto the bus. Cat was handling the business and I sat down by the driver who was telling me that becuase this was an old funeral bus (I guess that’s a thing?!) it’s got a lot of energy on it. He even went so far as to tell me that they’d caught some strange photos just the night before on the top deck; a full silhouette in a picture! Honestly, that’s all I needed to hear. I’ve always wanted to do a ghost tour of any kind so when we bought our tickets I was so giddy with excitement.

The thing about The Ghost Bus Tour is that it’s a theatrical production which means it’s heavily embellished with their own storyline so you’re hearing less about the historical ghosts roaming the area and more about the story they want to add in. I certainly would have loved to hear more of the history of the place and about the hauntings but it was still a really fun time. Next time, I’d take a walking tour I think. There’s a lot of them around the area if you keep your eyes peeled. Some of them seem more hokey than others though so maybe do your research first.

The best part of the tour though was when we got off the bus and walked through this old graveyard. I’m pretty sure it was at St. Giles. Our guide let us know about an orphan girl who haunts the place.

IMG_1597.JPGApparently if she tugs on your jacket or shirt and you turn around she beats you up.

Yeah. You read that right.

Cat was joking with me that I shouldn’t turn around but you can bet that if it had happened that I would have turned around immediately. Imagine the story I could have told had I been attacked by a ghost. Incredible. Alas, it was not meant to be. I did get this nice picture of the castle though from the graveyard so the excursion wasn’t a total bust after all.

After a great first night in Edinburgh, I was really excited to do some more sightseeing in the morning. Naturally, our first order of business was to see the Edinburgh Castle. It’s maybe not as cool as other castles in the UK, but I was thrilled to be there. I’ve actually never been in a castle before so this was a magical moment for me. Though its got its focus on the monarchs that have graced its halls, the castle has a lot of different areas focused on war and the highland soldiers that helped in both World Wars. The national war memorial is also there which is a beautiful tribute the men and women who have fallen in battle (specifically the Great War). It’s also got one of the best views of the city from up on the parapet.

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

The castle was surprisingly crowded though so some of the more cramped areas, like where Mary gave birth to her son, were tricky to get in and out of. Definitely triggered my claustrophobia at times. There were some pretty cool things to see though that were far more open and less crowded. The coolest was the little solitary confinement rooms that you could go into and shut the door. We didn’t get any pictures in there but you just sat down on the bed and there was this heaviness and intense isolation. It’s easy to see how you could lose your mind in there. I wasn’t even in there for five minutes and I was ready to leave. I can’t imagine what it might be like to be locked away for days or months.

One of my favorite things we did at the castle was grab some tea in the tea room. It’s such a beautiful room in and of itself but there was something really elegant about having tea at a castle. I’m not usually a tea drinker but when in Rome, right? Cat helped me picked which tea to drink since I’m not a big black tea fan so I settled on an Elderflower tea that was so good. I also got a cream of cauliflower and potato soup that was so delicious. I highly recommend it if you’ve got a little time and are looking for a different kind of experience at the castle.

To round off our day, because Cat and I don’t know how to stop, we decided we were going to hike up Arthur’s Seat.  It’s usually mentioned in conjunction with Camelot which is kinda fun, but it’s easily the best place to get some really beautiful views of Edinburgh and the surrounding hills and greenery. There’s a couple of ways to get up this. There’s the traditional way that Cat and I took which involves some ancient, shady stairs and a lot of loose rocks and slight bouldering that might leave you wondering why you thought this was a great idea and why you didn’t think to pack the right shoes for this particular excursion. Friendly warning, just because you see locals making the hike in their loafers does not mean your little boat shoes are ideal for this venture.   I recommend taking the pretty way up which is along the backside. It’s grassy and a  smooth hill all the way rather than death trap that awaits you the other way.  Go down the scary way though if you do that since the views are still worth the rougher climb.

I definitely recommend you do the hike though no matter what way you go because it is worth it. It took us about two hours to get to the top (which included me stopping a lot to catch my breath, sometimes pretending to take pictures so I wouldn’t look as out of shape as I am, and reflect on my life decisions up to this point) which isn’t too bad, all things considered. But it took us significantly longer to get down but that was mostly because the aesthetic was amazing. Just look at these photos Cat took….

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We spent a lot of time taking photos and enjoying the view on the way down so in total the whole excursion took us maybe five hours. Five and a half hours?I would do it again in a heartbeat.

On our way back to the hostel we saw a Frankenstein themed restaurant that we stopped in at. The atmosphere was pretty cool and I love that they showed the original film at the bar. The drinks were really good too. It’s not the best food we had, butI’m certainly glad we stopped in. There was a beer garden down on the lower level that I wish we’d checked out just for the fun of it.  Maybe next time!

After that, Cat really wanted to head over to The Elephant House where they proudly boast JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. It was a really cute spot and the more you walk around Edinburgh in particular, the easier it is to see the way the landscape shaped what we now know as Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.

After that it was time to bid adieu to Edinburgh and make our way out to Glasgow. If I were going to compare the two cities, Edinburgh is the old man in the park reading his newspaper that has so many stories to tell and Glasgow is the hip young artist who’s got a lot of spirit.  Though I prefer Edinburgh, Glasgow’s not a bad city at all. It feels young but is still so quiet.

We didn’t hang out too much in Glasgow that first night because we were using it as a launching point to head out to Largs for their annual Viking Festival. The festival itself is free to attend which is awesome. They’ve got carnival rides and food trucks, a craft bizarre, and some fun entertainment.  We knew there was a labyrinth you could go through but we just could not find it. Plugged the address into my Maps app on my phone  and still…couldn’t find it. That was pretty disappointing but we did stop into a little arcade after that to play some games and win some tickets. We even earned enough to buy some playing cards and a little liquid alien (imagine gak but with an alien head floating around).

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That was a pretty awesome couple of hours before we grabbed some bratwurst and cider. Well, Cat got beer again. I had some amazing Strongbow Dark Fruit they had on tap. We ate it right by the ocean while we waited for the festivities of the night to begin and if that’s not magical, I don’t know what else is.

 

 

 

When we were planning this trip we wanted to be sure if we went to the festival we could be there for this night because they do a big Viking parade, a boat burning, a skirmish, a fire dancer show, and then some fireworks. This is the night. 

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

We hopped into the parade route, following the men and women in viking garb who were chanting the whole way. We got kind of lost in the back of the group so when we got to where we were going they had already lit the boat on fire and all the spots near the skirmish area had been taken. We did manage to find a good spot along a fence near the water though so we had an excellent view for the fireworks but a not so great view of the skirmish.  We also caught the tail end of the boat burning which wasn’t too shabby. The boat was certainly not as big as I imagined it might be.

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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli
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Photo Credit: Cat Canestrelli

It was overall a pretty fun night. Until we got to the train station. At that time of night, there were only two more trains and Cat and I wanted to make the first one so we could get back to Glasgow at a decent hour. When we walked up though the train only had three cars which wouldn’t have been a problem until we heard that a country music festival was also happening in Largs and there were hundreds and hundreds of people who needed to get on the train. On our train, specifically.

Train cars aren’t that much bigger than buses so just string three buses together and put them on rails and you’ll have the UK train system that everyone was fighting to get on. Cat and I managed to squeeze into the last car but we were two of the last people to squeeze in. Let me tell you, there were people ready to start fights when they saw they couldn’t get on the train. Alcohol and not enough train cars? Not a particularly winning combination. We made it home safely though. No fights in our car, just some grouchy people who eventually got off a couple of stops later and boy was I glad to be out of that claustrophobic nightmare. Yikes.

We just had one more day of sightseeing left on our trip which was kind of a bummer but we were not going to waste it. Our first stop was The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

IMG_1864This cool looking museum had a lot of really interesting exhibits. We didn’t go into all of them but we, of course, walked through their little Egypt section, saw some of the fossils they’d found in Scotland, and checked out some of the art. There was a whole section devoted just to early Scottish artifacts which was also pretty cool. Well worth an afternoon!

Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens. Would you believe I’ve never actually been to a botanical garden before? It was honestly really cool. Much cooler than I thought it might be since it’s just….plants.  There’s plants and flowers from all over the world and even a whole section just on orchids too which was really unique.  Like usual, Cat and I certainly had our fair share of fun:

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Just as we were heading out, it started to rain for the first time on our whole trip. We’d been pretty lucky thus far to avoid it but what kind of trip would it be to the UK without the slightest bit of rain?  To try and wait it out we stopped into the tea place they had on sight which was pretty cute! I tried a mint tea which is probably favorite tea! It’s a little strong but I like how refreshing it is too. Try it sometime. It’s prety grand.

After tea, we headed back to our hotel, avoiding the rain as best we could until it just dumped on us. As I was taking off my jacket, I noticed my bra strap had slipped down off my shoulder and that it was…oddly blue.  Like turqoise blue in large splotches. When I went to the mirror to inspect, I then noticed that,  not only was my bra strap blue, but my whole shoulder had turned blue. Why? You ask. Turns out the army green shirt I was wearing that had a strange stain on it when I packed it wasn’t really stained at all. It was just holding some blue dye in its delicate little fibers waiting to be flushed out by some water. Like the level of water from a torrential downpour. The good news is that it all came off but we didn’t quite realize that as it came off ,I must have stepped in it because after we got back from dinner, I was sititng on my bed reading some Scooby Doo Apocalypse comics and Cat just started laughing. I’d gone from having a blue splotchy shoulder to splotchy blue feet.  Hey, what can you do though? It makes a pretty fun story I think. The stain came out super easy from my clothes too so everything is all back to normal again now.

That does it, folks.  The rest of the trip was just the journey back to London on the train to catch my plane back home. I somehow got very lucky to have a whole row to myself again so the flight was pretty chill.

While there’s still moments where I’m driving down the freeway, listening to some folk pop playlist on Spotify with the sun shining outside, that makes me feel like I’m in the right place, there’s still part of me that wishes I’d maybe stayed in Scotland.   But, hey, it’s only a 10 hour flight away. I’ll be back soon enough and guess what? Cat’s coming home today! And honestly? There’s no one else I would have wanted to share this trip with. can’t wait to see what adventures we get up to now that she’s back stateside.

 

We’re All Damaged. We’re All Frightened.

If you asked me to choose one show I had never seen but I always wanted to see live, I would choose Heathers. Hands down. No second thoughts or doubts about it. Since I got back into musical theatre in 2016 I have been waiting for a chance to see this show; hoping it might come to The Cucpake Theater (still waiting for that, by the way) or that it might tour or get revived. Never, in a million years, did I think I would get to see this production in the West End.

I actually didn’t go to London to see this show or think that while I was there that I would see it. I was across the pond visiting a friend who’s been interning in England for the last year and she was showing me around the city and I saw a TKTS booth (aka your discount ticket mecca if you’re not familiar) and asked, curiously, if she thought they might have Heathers tickets since it had just opened after its transfer. We saw the name on the board but just as we got in line the tickets sold out. Bummer, right? Thinking that was about my only shot at seeing the show we carried on about our merry way until we saw a discount theater tickets shop and I asked if we could see if they had Heathers tickets. To my incredible surprise, they actually did and only for that night. It was like the stars had aligned. The heavens opened up and a choir of angels sang.

To be honest, for the first time in my life I didn’t even care where the tickets were at, I just wanted to sit in that theater for what I was sure was going to be an exceptional two hours of my life.  As though my luck couldn’t get any better, we got tickets in the orchestra (stalls as they’re known in that neck of the woods) and incredible seats for half the price. The sweet Irish guy who sold us our tickets raved about the show after seeing it during its previews so I was so pumped for 7:30pm to come (well, more than I already was anyway).

Once I got on the excitement train there was no getting off and I was a little nervous that the show might not live up to everything I had ever dreamed it would be. Been there, done that before (looking at you, Dear Evan Hansen) but I am literally so relieved to say that it was everything I wanted and so much more. Heathers opened at Theatre Royal Haymarket on September 3, 2018 for a 12 week run. I saw the show on September 5th for night three of this incredible production so I was really lucky to see the full original London cast and be surrounded by so many people who were so excited to be there and knew the show. It’s true what they say about how audiences influence the show and we had such an amazing group of people filling the seats that the theater felt electrified with so much positive energy. I’m sure the actors got the message we all loved their hard so much.

I bet you actually wanna hear about the show now, right? If you don’t know, Heathers is a musical adaptation of the 1988 cult classic film of the same name which starred Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. The musical is not an exact copy of the original dark comedy, it’s lightened up and a little altered but it highlights the heart of the story more easily. I actually prefer the musical (with a book, music, and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe who gave us the delightful Legally Blonde musical) to the film. Its characters are more relatable and the story unfolds in a more engaging way, but I don’t doubt this surprises anyone. If you’ve never seen the movie, The Other Palace, where this production of Heathers had its record breaking, sold-out workshop run, has an incredible short synopsis I’d like to share with you:

“Greetings, salutations. Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD turns up, the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that it might kill to be a nobody, but it’s murder being a somebody…”

Since the show left Broadway in 2014 it’s gone through a few changes that I think are for the best. Gone is the uncomfortably sexual song “Blue” swapped in for “You’re Welcome” that’s still got the troubling thematic roots of its predecessor but is a much better song. There’s also a new song for Heather Duke that didn’t make the 2014 Broadway recording called “I Will Never Shut Up Again.” But the real talk of the town since the news about the West End transfer is a new song for Veronica called “I Say No” and it is so great. This song comes in the second act as Veronica stand up to JD to try and stop this murder spree he’s been on. I want a new cast album to hear this song over and over and over again. There’s not really any great audio of it yet but perhaps as the run goes on we might get some.

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Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Stepping into the blue blazer as Veronica Sawyer is West End favorite, Carrie Hope Fletcher. Carrie brings a more innocent side to Veronica rather than the more angsty, rebellious teen you find in the film but it makes Veronica’s statement, “I believe I’m a good person. I believe there’s good in everyone” during the stunning opening number, “Beautiful,” the running thematic throughline of the musical. Can you still be a good person when your boyfriend’s a psychopath who’s killing people you’re helping to cover it up with forged suicide notes and if Veronica’s not a good person, which of the characters on stage is? Or are any of them? Ah, I digress. Back to Carrie’s perfomance.

Carrie is a master of comedic timing. She lands every joke whether that’s with dialogue or her reaction. One of my favorite moments was during JD’s big solo, “Freeze Your Brain” which takes place in a 7-Eleven. JD’s been singing about his crappy childhood and Veronica, trying to flirt with him, asks, “Does your mommy know you eat all that crap?” to which JD answers that she doesn’t anymore because she’s dead and Carrie gives the visual equivalent of foot in mouth. It’s priceless.

Carrie’s an incredible actress and her voice is stunning. Easily, Veronica’s most famous number in this musical is “Dead Girl Walking.”

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Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Carrie slayed this song as though it had been written just for her. It was easily my favorite part of the musical. She’s such a treat to watch. If she’s ever over in the states in New York, count me in.

Playing opposite Carrie’s Veronica is Jamie Muscato as James Dean “JD,” her love interest and the musical’s antagonist. Their chemistry together is off the charts. Its natural and easy. Their banter is so smooth and snappy. It’s everything I wanted out of Veronica and JD.

Jamie is a powerhouse in his own right. I’ll admit, at first, just seeing some pictures of him, I wasn’t convinced he was going the best JD. Christian Slater and Ryan McCartan (the original JD on Broadway in 2014) have such a distinct “bad boy” look. Jamie seemed a little scrawny and soft but once he stepped out in that iconic jacket, slow-mo fighting with the Kurt and Ram, that smirk on his face, I was sold and that’s before his aforementioned solo, “Freeze Your Brain.” Jamie captures the charm of JD but is also so perfectly manipulative. He has these little knowing smiles and smirks that he gives both to the audience and to Veronica throughout the show and while you know that he’s a psychopat, you just have to love him. Fight it all you want, Jamie will win you over, I guarantee it.

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As far as JD and Veronica go, they’re excellent throughout the whole show but they really shine during the non-stop, explosive finale where we really get to see the scary parts of JD come out and Veronica stand her ground. Those last thirty minutes are theatre at its finest almost exclusively because of Jamie and Carrie’s perfomances.  I’d say that whole segment alone is easily worth the the money.

How can I talk about Heathers without actually mentionting the titular characters, played here by three stunning women.

Heathers the Musical
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Led by Jodie Steele (Heather Chandler, in red), the Heathers are also comprised of T’Shan Williams (Heather Duke, in green) and Sophie Isaac (Heather McNamara, in yellow).  Jodie Steele’s Heather Chandler lives up to the moniker given to her by Veronica at the top of the show that she is  “a mythic bitch.” Jodie just dominates when she’s on stage as any true queen bee should. Her solos in “Candy Store” were so wonderful and rough. One of the intriguing things about Heather Chandler throughout the show, though, is her cycle from mythic bitch to playful ghost back to mythic bitch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see a softer side of her during “The Me Inside of Me” after she’s dead but it does make you wonder if that’s Veronica’s guilty conscience playing with the memory of her. Either way, Jodie’s a lot of fun to watch.

When we’re first introduced to T’Shan William’s Heather Duke we’re told she has “no indiscernable personality” and up until Heather Chandler’s death that’s pretty true of T’Shan’s perfomance of Heather, not that that’s a bad thing because we consistently see Heather Chandler tamp down anyone who might overshadow her. Once Heather Chandler’s dead though it gives way for Heather Duke to seize the open seat and wear that iconic red scrunchie of power. One of the new songs introduced into the show since its Broadway run is a solo for Heather Duke titled “I Will Never Shut Up Again” and honestly, I think that says a lot about Heather Duke’s arc throughout the show. T’Shan has a really powerful voice and I was so glad to get hear a solo from her. She knocked it out of the park.

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite Heather played by Sophie Isaacs. Heather McNamara has her claws but she’s certainly the softest Heather even despite her sometimes concerning comments to Veronica. To Sophie’s credit, her big solo, “Lifeboat” has never been my favorite song on the cast recording but I really enjoyed Sophie’s perfomance of it. Perhaps her emotional vulnerability during the song as she highlights her isolation and feelings of worthlessness really made it land with me in way that just hearing the recording can’t do.

Honestly, the whole cast is incredible. Some quick shout outs to Dominic Anderson (Ram Sweeney) and Chris Chung (Kurt Kelly) who play Westerburg’s resident idiotic jock bullies and  spend half of the musical stripped down their briefs.

Heathers the Musical
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Their camraderie on stage is great. They’re a lot of fun to watch even though you spend a lot of time thinking “you can’t say things like that to people” but that’s all part of their charm as characters.

Even outside the acting and singing abilities of this worthy cast, Heathers is so well rounded. The lighting is great! The blocking and choreography is great! The costumes are great! My friend who’s not super into musical theatre anymore went with me ’cause she’s a great friend and throughout the week I was visiting her she kept remarking how great this show was. It’s an impressive production, but not without a fault here or there.

There’s been some talk about the way the show seems to make a farce out the suicide “epidemic” plauging Westerburg. I’m not of the same mindset. I think the show approaches it with the same irreverance that the film does but never once glorifies it. Perhaps its more heavy themes could be treated more seriously but that would betray the spirit of the film.It does clearly make its statements about bullying and sexual harrassment so I would disagree that this show doesn’t go to the same places at the film. Take that for what you will.

Heathers is, once again, playing at Theatre Royal Haymarket now until November 24th. You can get tickets at the theatre’s website or take your chance on the lottery, the TKTS booth, or stop into a little store like I did. It’s totally worth it. If you’re in the London area, DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!

You Wish to Have the Curse Reversed?

I’ve got some bad news to start off this post. This particular production of Into the Woods I saw has not only closed since I saw it (sorry about that delay, I had a trip to the UK I was prepping for) but there are also no production photos that are up for use so it’s going to be all words. I’ll try to keep it short so as not to scare anyone away with large blocks of text without anything pretty to look at. I can make no guarantees.

This is actually the third production of Into the Woods I have seen in the last couple of years and I find it really fascinating how different each production of this musical can be just by changing a few things here and there. One of the productions I saw was a more classic take on the show which was performed at the Cupcake Theater and the other was a touring production of Fiasco Theater’s take on the show I saw at the Ahmanson in 2017 during my first year as a season ticket holder. Out of the two, I was completely enamored by Fiasco Theater’s production due to its stripped down nature, bare bones approach to telling this show. The production I saw at the Grove Theater Center in Burbank seemed heavily inspired by Fiasco’s take on the show but couldn’t quite live up to that particular level.

When I tried to find this theater, wandering through the small park with the large plane out front, following my Maps app on my phone, I quickly developed a series of doubts about the show quality that were not assuaged when I finally arrived at the easily missed complex that housed the theater. Maybe I’m just becoming a snob, though you’d think I would have learned that theater size doesn’t negate their ability to put on a quality show from The Cupcake. Regardless, I tried to hold on to some optimism about the show as the meager crowd and I entered into the theater. I wasn’t prepared by what I saw.  Color me humbled, but I was suddenly very impressed.

Walking in through the doors, it immediately felt as though I had been swept away to a small cabin in the woods in the 1800s. There was antique furniture on the small stage, including a large steamer trunk, a scrappy piano, and an old wardrobe. Hanging from the rafters and the support beams were carefully placed cobwebs adding to its old cabin aesthetic. Bits  of greenery were interwoven into the set pieces giving it an almost overgrown, abandoned feeling without being over the top. The lighting was warm and cozy. I was ecstatic to see what was going to come next.

Unfortunately, what followed did not live up to the hype their set instilled in me but it was still an enjoyable night out at the theatre. The cast has been scaled down to eleven actors, the orchestra is composed of the scrappy piano (beautifully tuned, of course), a violinist (who plays expertly), and found objects such as a ukulele and an old metal wash bin to name a couple.  The way the show is performed was imaginative and I give this production its due credit on this front. The show unfolds as though you were putting it on at home in your barn (helped tremendously by the feeling of the set), but of course with a professional cast, lighting, costumes, and set. Its cozy and intimate and feels so inviting and personal. It’s like two and a half hours of visual story time and I haven’t sat through a production that feels like it has captured the fairy tale story aspect of this particular musical before. Many kudos to this team for bringing that to light.

There were times throughout the show where many of the actors reached for notes in songs that they couldn’t hit and the songs fell a little short of greatness except for Jacob Krech (Jack) and Tiffany LaBarbera Palmer (The Witch). Palmer plays a pretty standard approach of The Witch. She’s a bit zany, a bit creepy, but overall commandeers attention when on stage with her sheer presence. She did a beautiful rendition of “Children Will Listen” and “Last Midnight” that I thoroughly enjoyed which, I suppose is a true credit to her talent since those are usually not my favorite songs of the show. Jacob Krech, though. Wow.  It was hard to pay attention to anyone else while he was on stage. He was fascinating to watch even when he wasn’t speaking or singing because I was so intrigued by what he was getting up whether that was the way he peeked out from behind the trunk like he was eavesdropping on The Witch and Rapunzel or having fun with Milky White (his best cow) while The Baker and The Baker’s Wife sorted things out center stage. I’m really looking forward to seeing where his career goes from here and hoping he’ll be in something again soon.

Well, I think that’s all I’ll say on this post since the show has closed. I’m a big fan of Into the Woods as a show due to the versatility of the material so I’m really excited to see more productions of this show and see what else people can do with this material.  Keep your eye out for Domino One Productions, too, the company that put on this version of Into the Woods. They could grow into another Cupcake Theater if they keep this up.

Just My Imagination Runnin’ Away With Me

Shortly before I saw Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations during its pre-Broadway run at The Ahmanson in Los Angeles, I had just seen Dreamgirls a few days before so I was in a Motown mood for sure. Coincidentally, one of the actors from this production of Ain’t Too Proud was in the audience at Dreamgirls and Michael Pettinato (the owner and artistic director of the Cupcake Theater) sang his show’s praises so I was pretty hype to see this show by the time it rolled around.

Before seeing Ain’t Too Proud, I didn’t really know anything about The Temptations. I knew a few songs like “My Girl” and “Get Ready” but was unaware of the history behind the group or most of the songs so I was really looking forward to this biopic musical.

Temptations Lineup Main stage
Photo by: Matthew Murphy

From very early on, Ain’t Too Proud is reminiscent of another all male group focused musical, Jersey Boys. This production deviates from the inevitable comparisons by driving the story through a single narrator — the group’s founding member, Otis Williams portrayed by Derrick Baskin. This is fitting since Otis is the only surviving member of the original group, the owner of the trademark name “The Temptations”, and the author or the book on which this musical is based.

Since the musical has a single narrator rather than allowing each member of the group a chance to tell part of the story, the musical unfolds in a more consistent story. At first I was concerned that I may miss the character building opportunities in allowing each original member a piece of the story, but The Temptations are such larger than life characters it’s easy to distinguish them and they each receive their due time in the spotlight.

Some pieces of the story seems a little unnecessary as Dominique Morisseau tries to tell the full story of The Temptations in a little over two hours. As a result the musical falls into that trap of having a fun, upbeat first act and a wildly dramatic (and traumatic) second act. The story’s huge scope also inevitably create patterns with their frontmen each falling prey to the spotlight first with David Ruffin and then Dennis Edwards as well as Eddie Kendricks that can feel repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, showcasing the toxic nature of fame and its corruption of the aforementioned men is an important part of the story but I would have appreciated a more narrow focus. That being said, it was cool to hear how some of the famous songs came to be and the highlighted differences between Smokey Robinson’s songwriting and Norman Whitfield’s songwriting.

The other bummer about having such a huge story arc to cover is the truncated versions of some of the greatest hits of The Temptations. Rather than a few minute number you would hear normally, there may be half a song or a tiny piece of a song rather than a full number.  While this allows for more songs from the Motown catalogue of music, which is great, small tidbits definitely left me wanting.

Enough about the structure and the story…let’s talk about those Temptations!

dancing gents aint too proud
Photo by: Matthew Murphy

These gentleman were incredible. As previously mentioned, Derrick Baskin helms the whole musical as Otis Williams. He may not have many standout solos but he narrates the show as a whole and he brings such a strong, level head to the group and embodies the motto of putting the group first rather than just an individual. Baskin captures the heart and soul of the group with ease.

Jawan Jackson as Melvin Franklin is mesmerizing. Though he may speak too much throughout the show, when he does he’s usually great comedic relief and the voice of reason. His deep bass  adds such a great layer to the harmonies, I definitely wish there were more occasions to isolate his voice from the others. Jackon’s voice is rare but wonderful.

James Harkness brings a subtle brokenness to Paul Williams whose descent into his depression and alcoholism is truly heartbreaking over the course of the musical. He has a beautiful voice, but his emotional presence throughout really impressed me.

Jeremy Pope as Eddie Kendricks was my second favorite Temptation. His falsetto is angelic. Pope emerges halfway through as a real contender for the frontman spot. From the beginning, it’s easy to tell he’ll be trouble. He doesn’t want to join the group because he and Paul have their own duo going and he’s the star, but there’s also something inherently charming about Pope’s Eddie that you have to forgive him as he recedes into a jealous, dare I say bitter, man.

The real stand out of the production for me was Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin.

David Ruffin - Aint Too Proud
Photo by: Doug Hamilton

Sykes brings the slick dance moves and a huge, dynamic voice. He’s easily the star of the show. His presence on stage demands your attention before he even starts to sing. During the section of the show where they have kicked Ruffin out of the group for missing performances and rehearsals due to his gambling and drug addictions, his presence is sorely missed on stage so you can imagine my excitement to have him back at the end of the show. With a voice like Sykes, it’s easy to imagine why Whitfield would feature Ruffin as the lead in the group’s many singles. Sykes is a truly engaging performer and I’m looking forward to seeing him in many more shows to come.

The show as a whole is a really fun night out so if you’re at all interested in Motown music or The Temptations, you’ll probably really enjoy yourself. One last word of caution though, if you’re going to go try your best to get tickets in the center. I sat off center in my usual tickets and the projections on the set was blurry at parts and difficult to see the full picture. Some if it was really cool, like the Fox Theatre in the first picture of the article, but others were a little more difficult.

Ain’t Too Proud is closing September 30th at The Ahmanson but will be making its Broadway transfer in spring of 2019. Get your tickets while it’s still in town either through the Ahmanson site or through Goldstar. (Please note: as of this writing Goldstar is currently sold out of their discounted tickets for Ain’t Too Proud but they may add more during the duration of its run).

Your Dream’s Just About to Come True

The longer you know me, the more you’re going to hear about this delightful little theater here in North Hollywood, The Cupcake Theater. You might recognize that this was also where I saw an unforgettable production of  my favorite musical, Spring Awakening. Since they moved to this location, I have seen nine of Cupcake’s twelve productions (and two of those I missed were produced for children so I’m not sure that really counts against me here). I’m a huge fan of this company not only for their world class talent but also for their mission to provide affordable tickets so everyone can have a chance to come and see the excellent work they do here.  While nothing is ever going to replace Spring Awakening as my favorite show (both as a Cupcake production and on a general scale), Dreamgirls is a truly phenomenal show.

Cast photo
Photo Credit: Joel D. Castro

Producing a huge show like Dreamgirls, is a challenge even larger than Cupcake’s past endeavor of putting on Hairspray (a feat Cupcake made look so simple it garnered attention even from NBC’s Hairspray Live production crew for their incredible work) and once again they rose to the occasion, opening the door, I’m sure, for more small companies to tackle this legendary show. It doesn’t take a fancy set to make a production like this work. You need the right cast to anchor the show with voices that transcend the space, the right band (led this time around by Darrell Alston whom worked with the national tour of Dreamgirls) to capture that Motown sound, a great choreographer (helmed here by Tor Campbell who also directs) who understands the dance styles of the day, and a costume and makeup department to create those iconic looks and handle say…a hundred or so wigs for the cast.

dreamgirls black my cast
Photo Credit: Joel D. Castro

No production of Dreamgirls would get very far without its titular girl group at the center. For my show, I saw Jania Foxworth as Effie, who perfectly captures her journey from diva to humbled starlet with such powerful vocal range; Foxworth’s “(And I Am Telling You) I’m Not Going” is every bit the showstopper you expect but Foxworth also shines during these more pained and revealing songs such as “Family” and “I Am Changing.” Shaunté Massard as Deena Jones also shines, emerging from her early place in Effie’s shadows to take her place as a diva who can go truly go toe-to-toe with Foxworth’s Effie.  A real standout for me, however, was Courtney Kendall as Lorelle.

Lorelle and her boo
Photo Credit: Joel D. Castro

Lorelle is one of those characters that can get lost in the battle of the divas if not tackled by an actress of Kendall’s talent. I enjoyed her character, portrayed as this sweet bundle of joy who believes in her sisters in this group. It surprised me when we got to Lorelle’s big stand out number, “Ain’t No Party” that inside this bubbly young lady was a voice as large as Foxworth and Massard’s. Her dynamic with Jimmy, played by Chad Ra’Sun was one of my favorite relationships on stage. They’re both such large personalities the way they interact is one of the highlights of the show for me.

The whole company is truly fantastic but I’d be remiss not to mention the incredible people behind the scenes. As you can probably tell from the pictures above and below, Cupcake has found a truly incredible costume designer in La Tanya Louis and a brilliant Hair/Wig designer in Byron Batista.

Dreamgirls2small.jpg
Photo Credit: Joel D. Castro

With such great talent both on stage and off, Dreamgirls is not a production to miss while it’s running, now through September 30th! This is a great show with a heartfelt theme of sisterhood and its exploration of how fame affects people. Cupcake’s production value will make you believe in your local theaters and their ability to tackle even a large show like this one and deliver. Get your tickets now while they last either from the Cupcake Theater’s website or through Goldstar