Category: Theater

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

“Don’t tell the Americans.” I sit laughing in the seat of the Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center as I watch actors portraying different leaders discussing how to keep the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians a secret from the Americans. Now certainly, political plays can be a hit or miss, especially because bias can permeate the play, leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth. “Oslo” is far from this. “Oslo” presented the issue completely fairly, allowed for both sides to display their anger and wishes, and truly showed the magnitude of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The play is about the secret meetings that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. Whether you are a history buff, you are active in discussions about the conflict, or you just want to know more, Oslo does the story complete justice, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

The actors were superb — giving every inch of their being to the emotional narratives both sides of the conflict feel. The pain they voice, the struggle they capture through every yell that reverberates through the theater makes you remember how very real and challenging this conflict is — for both sides. In the play, the 3rd party interventions and negotiations were referred to as “Dialogues of the Deaf.” Outsiders are painted as hardly being able to understand or alleviate tension that prolongs attainable peace, which is why Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian Director of the Fafo Institute who was a key figure in the negotiations, claims the method of “gradualism” must be used. This means that both sides are in one room negotiating and then go to the other room as friends, where they talk about their families and lives over food. The parties gradually make progress through human-to-human connection and understanding.

The audience is immersed in both rooms at various points of the play, but more often than not we see the negotiations spill over into the room where they are supposed to be friends. The conflict runs deep and emotions on both sides find their way into the smallest interactions, but at the end of the play you see how the men negotiating not only warm up to each other and recognize the need for peace, but see each other as men and not just an “Israeli” or “Palestinian.” “Oslo” ends with a poignant scene of the actors and actresses listing out some of the events that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, such at Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, several terrorist attacks, the deaths of men involved in the process of the secret negotiations, etc. The audience is left wondering if everything we just witnessed was worth it. Was there ever really a chance for peace? Did those secret negotiations move us forward or backwards? These questions don’t seem to matter. Now matters.

Peace is right through the negotiation door. Do you see it?

 

Tickets to OSLO can be purchased here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Oslo?”

Photo Courtesy of Puffs

“Some people are born with the capacity to do great things. Some people change the world. Some people rise from humble beginnings to defeat the forces of darkness in the face of insurmountable odds. ‘PUFFS’ is the story of the people who sit in class next to those people.”-“PUFFS” Press Release

“Puffs,” “Puff” singular, is the fond shorthand of “Hufflepuffs,” the lovable magical misfits of the Harry Potter world, and also the title of the recent Off-Broadway retelling (for avid fans) of the Harry Potter story from the Hufflepuff House’s perspective. While the familiar story starts with a scarred baby dropped on the doorstep of Number 4 Privet Drive, this adaptation takes another orphan all the way from England to America.

Catchy music and strange (magical) P.A. announcements usher the audience into the richly-curtained, dimly-lit theater; the positive side of Elektra Theater’s small size is that every seat is “a good one,” as one man exclaims. Each member of the audience feels intimately connected with the recessed stage. The closely assembled gallery of spectators  are close enough to gawk over  the 1990’s style slide projecter that opens the set. “PUFFS,” it declares, in sketchy letters cast at an awkward angle across the badger-yellow curtain. The theater is complimented by an equally small, but well-selected, staff of actors and actresses, one of whom throws in an April Fool’s Day joke over the P.A. – using a perfect McGonnagal imitation – to lighten the atmosphere.

This is not the only loving nod to the original series. Just after the set opens, an iconic Harry Potter line, in the style of all things “PUFFS,” is cleverly repurposed:

“You’re a wizard, Wayne.”

The Uncle of our young protagonist declares this in a thick drawl, having regained his wits after the unexpected arrival of a British post owl. Soon enough Wayne is ushered away to Hogwarts, where he contemplates the miracle (and the mess he makes) of magic with his fellow Hufflepuff friends: the previously Oxford-bound eleven-year-old mathematician Oliver (played by Langston Bell) and the angsty Death Eater fangirl Megan Jones (played by Julie Ann Earls). With Harry Potter’s arrival headlining Hogwarts’ gossip chains, however, the good-natured (except, perhaps, for Megan) Hufflepuff clan and their charismatic leader Cedric Diggory, who has wonderful theme music, must fight against the odds to recover the Hogwarts House Cup.

And inevitably fail.

The overbearingly optimistic group continues to strive for success, or at least mediocrity, with the often-chanted phrase “Third [place] or nothing,” fully aware that their final takeaway from the year’s events will likely be fourth place (or nothing) in the House Cup.

Through the (mis)adventures of Wayne, Oliver, and Megan, “PUFFS” follows their attempts to gain house points and a sense of what it means to be a Hufflepuff, with guest appearances from characters like Hannah Abbot, J. Finch, and a marvelously acccurate rendition of Professor Severus Snape.

The vocal dexterity of the cast cannot be denied, as Snape and others take the stage, or even before the play starts, in the half-hour of seating as the actors take turns creating clever and ridiculous school announcements over the P.A.

The chairs are wide and comfortable, and peeking over the edges of the seats, black and yellow scarves and ties make their presence known in every row. Among the Hufflepuff gear, one head stands out in blue and silver. A Ravenclaw sits alone in this out-of-the-way Puff Haven.

…Which takes us to the question: Is “PUFFS or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic” a play for everyone, or just those marginalized and hardcore (or at least as harcore as they can get) Hufflepuffs? After all, we’re not all cut out to be Hufflepuffs, are we?

The main message of this strange Harry Potter sometimes-parody, which bounces between hilarious and heartrending, is what makes a Puff. Gryffindors tout bravery, Ravenclaws treasure intelligence, and Slytherins anthropomorphize snakes, or blonde-haired “assholes,” depending on which “PUFFS” definition you prefer.  But what did Helga Hufflepuff seek out in her students? A Puff is loyal, hardworking, and, when it comes down to the four houses of Hogwarts, the Hufflepuffs are, well, the “everyone else.”

“Lumos!” Dumbledore may be dead, but the Hufflepuff squad appears to all have mastered the first year curriculum. Photo Courtesy of ?

“Lumos!” Dumbledore may be dead, but the Hufflepuff squad appears to all have mastered the first year curriculum. Photo Courtesy of Puffs

But aren’t we all sometimes the “everyone else?” The narrator, played by A.J. Ditty (featured in Hufflepuff colors above), offered a final assessment that yes, everyone can be a Hufflepuff. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Besides rooming closer to the kitchens (and the whole hard-working/loyal aspect of the Puffs), the Puffs have one other major advantage: they all fail, and, as Cedric Diggory reminds us before his untimely death, “Failure is just another form of practice… as long as you just keep trying.”

Ditty, of whom a fellow audience member claimed “[He] deserves his own Oscar. Perfect inflection, delivery, and interaction with [the] audience without feeling cliché,” offered a parallel to a quote from the possibly-Hufflepuff Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, whose career A.J. Ditty also shares.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” –Beckett

Ditty adds to the question of who a Puff is, “Oh, I learned a lot by doing the show. The Puffs are the kind of people you want to be friends with.” Possibly referencing one of the more lighthearted scenes of the play, wherein Butterbeer makes its first appearance, he adds, “the Puffs are the people you want to have an adult modern beverage with.”

A Hogsmeade scene possibly only outmatched in perfect comedic timing by Cedric Diggory in the bathtub. Photo Courtesy of Puffs

A Hogsmeade scene possibly only outmatched in perfect comedic timing by Cedric Diggory in the bathtub. Photo Courtesy of Puffs

When asked what advice he has to share with modern-day muggle (and magical) Puffs, the “extras” and “outcasts” who are increasingly feeling the pressure of today’s society, Ditty offers, “Keep failing— because it only means you’re going to do better. Even if you fail, it is a key part in growing.”

If Ditty sounds a bit like a Hufflepuff himself, it shouldn’t be surprising. The entire cast seemed cheery and approachable in their interactions with the audience attending the show.

Coming forward to greet me and discuss the performance when the play was over, Ditty paused in his tracks at first.

“Did I high-five you during the show?” He sounded both amused and surprised.

Due to fortuitous seating arrangements, my answer was a definite and mirthful “Yes.”

Later, as I was leaving my interview, I passed by some other cast members signing scarves and programs. The enthusiasm of the crowd had left them one pen short. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out my fountain pen and handed it to Eleanor Phillips, who played Hannah Abbott (and Others).

She paused while signing the first program.

“This writes beautifully!”

The waiting fan laughed, leaning toward me. “Good luck getting that back.”

Eleanor looked confused. “I wouldn’t steal a pen.”

In that moment, she was the epitome of Hufflepuff. Something a “normal person” might not think twice about just seemed absolutely impossible to her. She would never steal a pen.

It was my turn to laugh.

Sure the play is often satirical, but the reituration of Harry Potter’s story from the Puff perspective was cleverly genuine to the smallest detail; even the outside of the theater was decorated with contrived Harry Potter posters and references, papers and designs. There is a whole Harry Potter Hufflepuff world within the walls of the Elektra.

The young woman watching beside me offered her opinion on the “Wayne,” or Neville-esque (Hufflepuff) character’s appearance: “the retelling… was very convincing and tasteful… instead of trying to force the whole ‘Neville should’ve gotten a whole 7 volumes, too!’ Puffs instead faithfully reproduced much of the plot of the series without making it an explicitly different story.”

When the “Yellow Trio” (“Golden Trio” was already taken) come in for a hug. Photo Courtesy of Puffs

When the “Yellow Trio” (“Golden Trio” was already taken) come in for a hug. Photo Courtesy of Puffs

The idea that the play was true to the series and yet introduced a new twist – a story within a story – corresponded with what Ditty offered as clarification during his interview:

“I think there’s a misconception about the show that it’s strictly a parody. It may wink at the Harry Potter series, but it really does tell its own story. I think it’s a really good one. It’s about heroes, and how not everyone is one conventionally, but everyone can be a hero to someone.”

Who needs to be just a hero, or just brave, just intelligent, just an “asshole” anyways? As one of the play’s Puffs questions, “Why be one thing when you can be everything?”

That perhaps was the biggest issue that I hold with “PUFFS.” “90-ish” minutes is not enough time for everything.

In only ninety minutes, the quick pacing and clever utilization of fun props and rapid-fire transitions made the play dynamic and drew the audience in as much as the Dementors did in the third act, but they left little time to go deeper into what playwright Matt Cox crafted as incredibly interesting and multi-faceted characters.

Ditty introduces the third year arrival of the dementors, who are really quite terrible school safety officers. Photo Courtesy of???

Ditty introduces the third year arrival of the dementors, who are really quite terrible school safety officers. Photo Courtesy of Puffs.

The play leaves its crowd of Harry Potter fans wanting seven more volumes.

Kristin McCarthy Parker who directed Cox’s “PUFFS” was clearly aware of this. Her spacing and designation take full advantage of the time the actors do have.

Indeed, the whole play seems very self-aware, sometimes crossing the fourth wall, often nodding to the movie series (“I’m telling you guys, the headmaster looks different this year” and “HARRY! Did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?”), and often parodying scenes that otherwise require suspension of disbelief (like the lake-watching in the second task of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” or “The Puffs and the Year They Matter”) in a manner which performing artist and Columbia College student Cindy Liu claimed is “delicious.” With full-grown adults playing eleven year-olds (which Mr. Ditty points out with a quirked brow), these are a necessary and graceful concession to the “magic” of theater.

Altogether, “PUFFS” is the Ferris Bueller of Harry Potter reproductions. It is clever and unexpected, with corny humor and philosophical moments; it is an instant classic and has an endearing cast that leads you to question:

“Am I a Puff?”

And after “PUFFS,” you’ll want to find the Puff in yourself.

The Hufflepuff house comes together (and the “PUFFS” Mac & Finch ship finally draw their wands). Photo Courtesy of ??

The Hufflepuff house comes together (and the “PUFFS” Mac & Finch ship finally draw their wands). Photo Courtesy of Puffs

“PUFFS” is not a sixteen hundred seat “Lion King” style, heart-stopping production, but instead an intimate show built on inside references and energetic acting that at least deserves its motto of #ThirdorNothing on the list of shows for which Harry Potter fans should keep an eye out for tickets in the coming months, notably until the end of its extended run by popular demand (July 30th, 2017).
*As a final note, there is definitely a reason for the PG13 rating, so be cognizant of the “PUFFS” sense of humor when deciding who to bring with you.*
Tickets to Puffs can be purchased here with tickets starting as low as $29.

 

 

 

Made by Meghna Gorrela, SEAS’20

 

If you took Music Hum last year, you likely remember going to the Met Opera to see Madama Butterfly. Currently, “Miss Saigon,” a musical based on this famous opera of Puccini’s, is dazzling audiences on Broadway. The storyline is the same: A doomed romance filled with abandonment and despair. However, Miss Saigon does something a little different — it highlights the harsh realities of the Vietnam War and emphasizes human despair in times of love and war.

Through the heart-wrenching storyline, audiences are immersed in a narrative that is far from happy. An American soldier finds romance in a war-torn country, but he is forced to leave without his lover Kim. He promises to come back, and the woman waits for him while living in shambles for three years. Little does he know that he has a child waiting for him in Vietnam. The soldier, Chris, returns to the U.S. and marries an American woman, only to find out  three years later that Kim is alive and has a son. He goes abroad to Bangkok, where Kim was living after escaping Vietnam, and brings his wife to show her what his nightmares were about. Instead of a happy ending, the audience is left with questions about whether Chris really loved Kim or was trying to find something to keep him going during the war in Vietnam as well as questions regarding the ending. Something to note is that revivals of both Miss Saigon and Madama Butterfly usually include different interpretations of the ending. In this revival, Chris shouts with grief and Kim’s son is wrapped around Chris’s new wife. Does this mean he really loved her? Or was he finally letting go of the past?

The musical highlights choices and how the choices we make shape the rest of our lives, with or without our control. Kim chooses to do something drastic in order for her son to have a better life, something she had hoped would happen with Chris. One is left asking themselves: How far would you go for a better future for someone you love?

“Miss Saigon” not only tells a story of risking it all for love and devotion, but it also explores the naiveté of love and relationships. The incredible staging of the set portrays not only how love can be found in a hopeless place, but also how war destroys any semblance of happiness one can have. Through incredible effects of wind and helicopter sounds, one feels as if they are on stage with the actors who are desperately trying to enter the U.S. embassy. Through a song about the American Dream, humor is slyly incorporated to ease audiences into the difficult ending. The dancers, often times scantily dressed in the “Dream Land” strip club, remind us that everyone just wants to live a good life and have their dreams fulfilled. Unfortunately, this is a reality for few, especially Kim. The stage sets of Vietnam, Bangkok, and America are truly magnificent, and though the story is challenging, “Miss Saigon” is not a show to be missed.

Tickets to “Miss Saigon” can be purchased from here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Miss Saigon?”

Image Courtesy of Clara Apostolatos, CC’20

In this modern climate, times are extremely hard for dreamers. Motion pictures released this past year, such as La La Land, have emphasized a level of escapism that is natural for us  to succumb to in such troubling times. Similarly, Amélie not only resides in a fanciful tale necessitated for this plight of escapism, but it also instills a lasting message of kindness and “doing the right thing”: a message that the cast wishes to impart to their audience and one that is more important than ever.

In this whimsical retelling of the Academy Award nominated motion picture of the same name, the life of the titular Amélie Poulain is catalogued from her secluded childhood in the outskirts of Paris to her eccentric yet isolationist adult life in a small apartment in the heart of the City of Lights. Amélie speaks to the shy introvert in us all who is bursting at the seams to try and make life a little easier each and every day.

Stellar performances are exhibited by Savvy Crawford, who plays Young Amélie, and Adam Chanler-Berat, who plays Nino Quincampoix. Nevertheless, Tony nominee Philippa Soo, who achieved fame through Hamilton and now plays the role of Amélie, stole the show as she delivers a radiant performance as the protagonist of this production. As soon as she runs onstage with the characteristic smirk of Amélie, she mesmerizes the audience member with her bubbly, mischievous portrayal of the character. Although Ms. Soo’s interpretation of Amélie is not as reserved as Audrey Tautou’s in the film, she does not have the luxury of a scene-by-scene narrator to illustrate her inner thoughts like Ms. Tautou did. Therefore, Ms. Soo relies on the company of Amélie to exemplify whatever odd thought strikes her.

In some instances, I found this incorporation of the acting ensemble into the mind of Amélie helped elucidate the scope of her inner motives. For example, the ensemble’s mimicry of heartbeats and their reveal of glittery hearts in dull briefcases gave the audience a taste of the tacit love that Nino and Amélie share. At other times, however, the ensemble’s participation was unnecessary and even awkward. For instance, different supporting characters would lose the identity of their own characters to narrate a life event of Amélie and then resume their individual nuances. I’ve seen some musicals that succeed in this aspect, but Amélie’s use of this tactic was a bit clunky, especially in comparison to the exemplary narration utilized in the movie.

With these differences, fans of the movie might gawk at the artistic liberties taken in regard to how the movie has been adapted for the American audience, including the absence of a narrator as well as the notable omission of the French language. There are some hints of this Romance language on the various set pieces, but barely any of the dialogue possesses any semblance of French. Some of the choices actually complement the musical experience extremely well. For example, the two cabines de télé that adorn the opposite ends of the stage mimic the experience of witnessing the telephone conversations in the movie Amélie perfectly. Nevertheless, the changes Amélie the musical utilizes make the musical its own.

Even with these small critiques, when comparing and contrasting the movie and the musical, the creative licenses the musical takes to tell the story of this eclectic heroine culminate in a pleasurable experience that the audience can enjoy.

Tickets to Amélie can be purchased from here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Amélie?”

Image courtesy of Meghna Gorrela, CC’20

Dear Evan Hansen, TIME magazine’s “#1 New Musical on Broadway,” is at once a sentimental coming-of-age story and a powerful deliberation of social media and mental health. The musical follows the tumultuous life of a high-schooler named Evan Hansen, played by General Studies student Ben Platt, who must navigate his social anxiety in the painful aftermath of a fellow student’s death.

The Lion had the privilege to ask two Dear Evan Hansen stars about their theatrical lives and their thoughts on the musical. Here is what Kristolyn Lloyd (who plays Alana) and Mike Faist (who plays Connor) had to say:

Question: Many of Columbia’s Drama and Theatre Arts majors dream to make it to Broadway someday. Given that you studied drama at another top university (Carnegie Mellon), before becoming a Broadway star, what advice can you personally offer to these particular students?

Lloyd: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that being an artist is more than just knowing every play that’s ever been written. You can know the whole history of theater and still be lacking as an artist. In terms of people who I really admire and their successes, part of what I really admire about them is that they’re human beings with so much life experience. I took a year off of acting in 2009 and did missionary work in Southeast Asia, and afterward my agent said to me, “This was the best decision you’ve ever made as an artist, to go do missionary work.” One thing I always encourage young people who want to go into theater to do is, after high school, go take a year off before going to conservatory doing aid work somewhere, or travelling the world, or just doing something big and scary and adventurous so you can learn more about who you are. That’s going to influence you as an artist.

Question: According to your bio on the musical’s website, your theatrical career actually began offstage, when, at the young age of 17, you sold Broadway tickets on the streets of Manhattan to make a living. What kept you going through those harder times, and allowed you to make it to where you are now?

Faist: I had friends in similar shoes similar shoes as me, who were also scrambling trying to make ends meet. I wasn’t even auditioning; I was too nervous going through whatever I decided I was going through at the time to really put myself out there. But, I had friends who were, and luckily they dragged me places kicking and screaming. They kept saying, “Just shut up and do it!” Those people took me to those auditions and motivated me, and I now feel like you just need to book that first thing. You need to get a confidence boost, essentially. I booked a dinner theater in Springboro, Ohio — it was nothing, and I got paid like $250 a week, but I was a professional performer and that gave me enough of a confidence boost at that age to say, “Well, if I can do this, why can’t I do that?” This led to more regional non-union theaters, which led to me eventually having enough confidence to go in and audition for a Broadway show.

Question: What is it like to be a person of color on Broadway, in a space where people of your background have traditionally faced underrepresentation? How has your identity shaped and affected your experience?

Lloyd: What a huge question. It’s a very convoluted answer because, you know, I can speak from being a black person, but it’s going to be different for someone who is asian, and different for someone who is middle eastern. But as a black woman I’ve found that there are things that you’re going to come head-to-head with that are frustrating. I’ve found that with African American women in theatre, especially in musical theater, our biggest struggle is being seen outside of character roles, or the antagonist. What does it look like to have a black woman on stage who’s a hero? We see that musicals like The Great Comet and Hamilton are allowing women of color to be seen as heroines. The social stance that theater is going to be able to take to communities– and the world– is saying that women of color can be heroes, and that they don’t always have to be the sidekicks. And I’ve found that as an artist it’s only made me more interested in the types of writers, playwrights, and composers who are interested in stories like that, who are interested in complex characters like that. It has inspired me as a writer as well.

Question: What is your favorite scene involving your respective character, and what did you personally add to the scene to make it “uniquely yours?”

Faist: Luckily, I’ve been with the show since the very beginning stages of it, so I’ve been with the show for 3 years. The creative team gave me the maps for these characters, and as writers got more specific about what they wanted, I was able to get more specific — so we were all feeding off of one another. So all of my character is mine, in a way, and that’s something I can say that you do when you’re originating a role or a character: you end up tricking yourself into thinking “I am this person.” And that’s when unique, cool things come alive — when you are able to fool yourself and say “what if?” But, my fave scene is the computer lab scene at the very beginning, before Connor passes away. You get to see Connor and Evan in two parallels and you actually see the similarities more than the differences.

Question: What do you think is the most important lesson we, as students and also world citizens, can learn from the respective character you played?

Faist: When I was doing research for the role, I looked through this website called livethroughthis.org. Basically, it’s a series of interviews with people who are suicide attemptees. They’re all in recovery, and they talk about it. The biggest thing they talk about is stigma, and how they’re portrayed and looked at by society, and how they’re shamed for having those thoughts, and how they’re diminished and marginalized in a way that’s in some ways different — but also not — from others who feel marginalized. What I’ve noticed in how people look at Connor is that they immediately put him in a box as well, because they see a guy wearing all black, and he says “fuck you” a lot, so they think he must be a bad guy or he must be a bully — or he shoves the main character so he must be a bully. But that’s not the case at all. He’s a kid who’s really hurting, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: we’re all similar and we’re all closer than I think we realize.

Question: Part of the significance of Dear Evan Hansen is its candidness about the issue of mental health. Currently, around the nation and especially on college campuses, many people want to see a greater effort to destigmatize mental illnesses. Do you have any suggestions about how we can collectively achieve this goal?

Faist: The first thing you can do is start talking about it. The minute you start regularly talking about bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts or depression, it becomes something that everyone can relate to or listen to or empathize with, and it becomes less of a taboo issue. That’s the biggest thing: a lot of these ppl who’ve attempted suicide want to talk about it because they don’t want other people who might be going through what they went thought to not feel like they’re able to talk about it — because that’s when bad things happen. The minute you start talking about it, you start to see connections with other people. Everyone can empathize with feeling sad or lonely from time to time; that’s just a part of life and some people just feel too deeply. And that’s okay, but we just need to talk about it. That’s really where you need to start: having conversations and dialogue.

Question: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Columbia community?

Faist: Go check out livethroughthis.org.

Lloyd: Come see Dear Evan Hansen! Be a part of the conversation, be a part of the theater community, and see stuff that’s Off-Broadway and stuff that’s on Broadway. That’s where art and ideals are cultivated: within the theater. Let’s see how we can take these wonderful pieces that are being shown in New York City and get them to places where people don’t get to see these kinds of controversial pieces of art!


For tickets and more information about Dear Evan Hansen, visit dearevanhansen.com.