High School Musical, Heathers, Spring Awakening, and Young Broadway

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I recently discovered a Youtube channel called Musical Theater Mash which uploaded a video entitled “The High School Musical Conspiracy” whose thesis was that the High School Musical franchise, love it or hate it, made musical theater “cool” and brought it to a younger audience. I myself am a perfect example of the phenomenon that Musical Theater Mash illustrates. High School Musical came out when I was in elementary school, so I was the perfect age for it. This was around the time when I was getting interested in Broadway musicals and High School Musical was probably how a lot of kids my age became theater fans. We would move onto shows like Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserables which are the gateway drugs of the theater world.

Each age has its edgy and transgressive theater. The turn-of-the-center had Puccini’s La Boheme. The 1950s had Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and the 60s and 70s had Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. The theater kids who were slightly older than me had Rent and Avenue Q. When the High School Musical age bracket hit their teens, the big shows were Next to Normal and America Idiot. We had just about missed Spring Awakening (which would make a brief resurgence in 2015 due to it short-lived revival) and a few holdovers from our predecessors, such as Rent and Wicked were still around along with perennial theater kid staples like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. The theater kid scene during my adolescence, roughly 2007-2014, was a time between times. It was after things like Rent, Avenue Q, and Spring Awakening, which we liked in spite of, perhaps because of, the fact that we were told that they were too adult for us, and before smash hits like Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen, a large portion of whose fan bases are made up of teens and young adults.

The conclusion of “The High School Musical Conspiracy” is that the most noteworthy musicals of the past several decades, such as Rent and Hamilton have been geared towards younger audiences and have themes like rebellion and dissatisfaction with society which resonate with adolescents and young adults and use a more contemporary style of music. I was fortunate enough to a part of the Itunes/Youtube generation and live a world where one can have access to the cast recording of shows they might otherwise never get to experience. It is much easier to search up bootlegs on Youtube than spend several hundred dollars on theater tickets. This has lead to the rise of cult hits like Bonnie and Clyde (which famously closed after a month) and Heathers (which never made it past off-Broadway). Most of their fanbases never got to see them live and only know about them through bootlegs and original cast recordings. Bootlegs are controversial in the theater world but it is strangely appropriate that these tales of youthful criminality be experienced through a technically illegal activity.

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Heathers and Spring Awakening are musicals that I experienced in similar ways. I started off by listening to a few of the songs before finally getting to see a bootleg several years later. They both have a dark tone and deal with the uglier side of being a teen. Spring Awakening is a melodramatic cautionary tale while Heathers finds sardonic humor in even its most messed up moments.

Both musicals take place in the past (Spring Awakening is set in 1891 while  Heathers is set in 1989) and are very much stories of their time yet speak to timeless issues that young people (Spring Awakening specifically focuses on burgeoning sexuality and overly strict parenting while Heathers is about clique and popularity culture and how psychologically damaging it can be). Veronica Sawyer and Melchior Gabor, the snarky, diary writing protagonists respectively, each directly or indirectly cause the deaths of several characters (Veronica and her boyfriend J.D. manage to off Heather Chandler, the head of the Heathers, and jerk jocks Ram and Kurt while Melchior is unable, despite his best efforts, to prevent his best friend Moritz’s suicide and gets his lover Wendla pregnant, leading to her death from a botched abortion). The two stories also share a theme of teenage suicide (Moritz commits suicide and Veronica and J.D.’s m.o is making the deaths of their victims look like suicides). 

The characters of Heathers are fortunate enough to live in a more permissive time (the late 1980s where premarital sex and booze and drug-fueled parties are facts of high school life) than the characters of Spring Awakening (the straight-laced, buttoned-up 1890s where such debauchery would have been unthinkable). But adults in both eras appear to be equally out of touch and hypocritical: the adults in Spring Awakening are cruel (the teachers) or at least overbearing (Frau Bergmann, Wendla’s mother, and Herr Stiefel, Moritz’s father) while their counterparts in Heathers are either abusive (Big Bud, J.D.’s father), self-serving (Miss Fleming, the flaky hippie English teacher), or absent (Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Kelly, Ram and Kurt’s fathers).  The few positive parental figures (Frau Gabor, Melchior’s mother, and the Sawyers, Veronica’s parents) are unable to prevent the tragedies which befall their children.

Both musicals follow High School Musical’s lead: a story about teenagers set in a high school about the pressure to conform to society’s expectations feature recognizable teenage types and un-understanding parents. High School Musical, as insufferable as it is another over the age of twelve, may have contributed something positive to the world: the rise of musicals like Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Heathers, and Dear Evan Hansen.

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Hadestown Album Comparison

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I first discovered the folk opera Hadestown a couple of years ago when I was researching the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one of the favorites, and found that there was a concept album based on this story. The album was available for listening on YouTube and I was instantly obsessed. Unlike your typical concept album, there are different singers playing the different characters in the story. It feels like the cast recording of a musical and my first thought was that there should be a stage production. Sure enough, there was one in New York but it came and went before I had the chance to see it. So I looked up everything I could find of the production online which was tantalizingly little. Then it was announced a few months ago that a cast recording was to be released and I quickly pre-ordered it off of iTunes and waited for the whole thing to be available with a track released every few weeks to wet my appetite.  

For the purpose of comparison, I am going to go through each track on both of the albums, some of which overlap, and give my thoughts on the story and how it plays out in each version. The original concept album will be referred to as “H” while the cast recording will be referred to as “C”.

C begins with a song called Road to Hell which sets up the setting: a vaguely Great Depression era American south or midwest cum mythological Greece. It also introduces some of the divine players in the story about to unfold, Hermes, the messenger god who acts at the show’s narrator, the Fates, who control the destiny of mortals, and Persephone, queen of the underworld and goddess of spring, and how a young mortal named Orpheus will try to cheat death because of love. H gets right into introducing the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice (Anaïs Mitchell, the songwriter behind Hadestown and Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver). It’s first track, aptly titled Wedding Song, tells of how Orpheus and Eurydice wish to get married. Eurydice is concerned about how they are going to support themselves but the happy-go-lucky Orpheus assures her that everything will work out for them.

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Road to Hell introduces the story’s themes such as fate and undying love while Wedding Song sets up the struggles that our sweethearts, Orpheus and Eurydice, will face. As Road to Hell says “It was hard times,” which is bad news for our romantic poet Orpheus, who seems like the kind of guy who is very good at wooing a girl but is perhaps not as good at being a husband and provider.

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The second tracks of H and C paint different pictures of the world up above. Livin’ It Up On Top presents the world outside of Hadestown as fruitful, summery, and idyllic. Persephone feels stifled by her marriage to Hades and her life in Hadestown and only feels like she can be herself during the six months of the year she is allowed to spend with the living, who appear to be enjoying themselves greatly and appreciate nature’s bounty.

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While Epic I, which features in both versions, portrays the mortal world in a much bleaker light. Like Road to Hell, it provides the imagery of a railroad line, acting as a River Styx bringing people to the underworld or Hadestown, built by the lost souls who have come under Hades’s sway. The only alternative to starvation and poverty is body crushing drudgery and soul-crushing conformity in Hadestown. We also see Orpheus’s idealism in Livin’ It Up On Top. He values independence over money and is distrustful of those who take more than their fair share and seek to enrich themselves at the expense of others, an attitude which will later put him in conflict with Hades. Way Down Hadestown, which also appears in each version, shows that the world that characters live in is a tough one, so tough that people are willing to sell their souls to Hades to be able to survive.  We also begin to see a disconnect between Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus wants nothing to do with Hadestown and see it as a literal hell-hole but Eurydice is intrigued by its promise of a better life. 

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An interesting adaptation change is that Eurydice’s verses about how great things must be in Hadestown are sung by the fates in the C version, and Eurydice sings her line “Kinda makes you wonder how it feels” in response as if the fates are influencing her later decisions.

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In All I’ve Ever Known, we see that Eurydice’s life has seen a lot of hardship and her love for Orpheus has made her feel more optimistic. Much like in Wedding Song, Orpheus assures his lover that they can face anything as long as they are together. The world around them may be bleak and tough but their love is one of its few bright spots.

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The song Chant in C tracks the passage of time from idyllic summer to harsh winter as well as the souring of the two relationships we see in the story: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone. Hades tries his hardest to please his wayward wife with elaborate gestures but Persephone misses the simpler times back when they were first married and Eurydice is frustrated with Orpheus’s inability to provide for them.

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The desperate and vulnerable Eurydice is easy prey for Hades who is compared to rattlesnake going after a songbird. The imagery of a songbird paints Eurydice as flighty and unable to handle hardship since birds tend to fly away to a warmer climate during the winter.  Hey, Little Song Bird shows Hades luring Eurydice away from Orpheus and her hand to mouth existence. 

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When the Chips are Down is sung by the fates who are trying to convince Eurydice to accept Hades’s offer. In H they come across as mean girls who are mocking Eurydice for her bad life decisions whereas, in C, they are older and more cynical figures influencing the young and naive Eurydice to put her own survival ahead of everything else.

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The C version of Wait for Me features Orpheus looking for Eurydice and being chastised by Hermes for losing track of her. Orpheus convinces Hermes to give him directions on how to get to Hadestown and rescue Eurydice. Despite the hiccups in their relationship, Orpheus’s love for Eurydice is strong enough to see him through to Hell and back.

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Why We Build the Wall gives a closer look at how things operate in Hadestown. The lost souls who end up there are put to work building a wall that they are made to believe will keep out poverty and hardship. This song is in a call and response format with Hades drilling his followers in the tenants of his ideology: that they must build a wall around Hadestown to keep out those who wish to come in and take what they have. Sounds familiar?  The C version shows Eurydice going into Hades’s office and giving him her soul and possibly more. 

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In Our Lady of the Underground, Persephone undermines her husband’s operation by providing his employees with things that will help them forget about their drab existence at a secret speakeasy. This is set up earlier in Way Down Hadestown when Persephone mentions that she is bringing drugs and alcohol back with her to help her get through the winter. The crack in the wall mentioned by Persephone in Our Lady of the Underground is a representation of the flaws in the system that Persephone and Orpheus try to exploit.

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Eurydice begins to regret her decision to come to Hadestown and describes her journey there in Flowers (Eurydice’s Song), which features in H, using imagery suggestive of drug intoxication and being sexually assaulted. The vague nature of her memories of her previous life with Orpheus shows that they have begun to fade. C shows Eurydice’s realization that things in Hadestown are not all she expected in Way Down Hadestown II. Persephone and the fates mock her for her naivety and for getting conned by Hades out of her freedom and her life.

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The fates similarly mock Orpheus in Nothing Changes in H, by saying that he is foolish for believing he can cheat death and rescue Eurydice. This plays out differently in C, with Chant II, where Hades tells the recently arrived Orpheus that he was once an idealistic and romantic young man like him but learned that women are fickle and need to be placated with expensive things.

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Persephone has a similar talk with Eurydice about how she was once a young girl hungry for wealth but learned that love was more important. Hades asks Orpheus to sing him one last song before he destroys him. In H, this song is called If Its True, where Orpheus tries to gain Hades’s pity by singing of how hopeless he feels without Eurydice. C has him use a different tactic: reminding Hades of how he fell in love with Persephone and how all the wealth he has cannot compare with that love in Epic II, which appears later on in H.

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Each version gives us a scene where Hades pounders what do in the situation: either keep Eurydice and feel bad about it or let her go and look weak and undermine his power. H has a song called How Long where Persephone tries to persuade her husband to free Eurydice and let her be with Orpheus but he fears that doing so will make him lose his authority. In the C version, Word to the Wise, the fates get Hades to come to this conclusion, making them arguably the true villains of the story. Hades has one more trick left to play. He allows Orpheus to leave with Eurydice under the condition that he is not allowed to look back.

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Orpheus and Eurydice get a duet in C called Promises where they decide that despite everything that has happened, they still love each other and want to be together. The frequent use of the phrases “I do” and “I will” are reminiscent of wedding vows. Wait for Me has a reprise in C where Persephone is about to leave again for her spring and summer sojourn outside of Hadestown. She and Hades decide to give their marriage a second chance when she returns in the fall. Hades and Persephone are a foil to Orpheus and Eurydice. The mistakes they have made are ones that the younger couple should learn from. Both couples, despite the ups and downs they have gone through, have a strong love and a strong bond.

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H skips right to Doubt Comes In which appears at roughly the same point in each version. It’s the classic scene where Orpheus leads Eurydice out of the underworld, forbidden to look back upon her. The main difference in C is that part of Orpheus’s verses are sung by the fates, who are making Orpheus suspicious of Eurydice and begin to falter in his determination.

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C ends with a reprise of Road to Hell and H ends with a song called I  Raise My Cup to Him where Eurydice and Persephone toast Orpheus in a reverse eulogy, the dead praise and celebrate the living. Road to Hell II ends the story on a brighter note: spring returns and the love between Orpheus and Eurydice survived despite their separation. Those who are familiar with Greek Mythology will know that they will eventually be reunited in Elysium after Orpheus’s death.

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I would highly recommend both versions. The music is beautiful and poetic and the story is nuanced and compelling. But here’s a warning: it’s ending will destroy you emotionally. I think the stage production sounds very well done with all the performers doing a fantastic job. The actor who plays Orpheus, Damon Daunno, has a gorgeous voice and Amber Grey is hysterical as Persephone. Nabiyah Be, who plays Eurydice, is great as well though I prefer Anaïs Mitchell in the original concept album, whose honey and graham crackers voice gives the character a naive quality. I regret not being able to see this production live.

 

Why I Dislike Annie and The Sound of Music

Several months ago I got in trouble on Facebook for complaining about how most of the students in my writing class either did their film reviews on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, a movie I’ve seen twice and am indifferent too, or The Sound of Music, a movie I also care little about. The most was meant to a be a dig at the conformity and unoriginality of my classmates and my frustration at reading, pretty much, the same review over and over again, but it was taken as a diss of two beloved and well respected movies. Last week, I chose The Sound of Music as a musical that I find overrated. The musical Annie was given as the musical that I hate. All of the comments I got on this post were some variation on “how can you not like Annie!” and my Facebook friends pretty much wanted to crucify me (pun not intended, even though it was Easter).

I am not that type of person who thinks that because I dislike something, there is no reason that anyone else should like it; I try my best to see both sides of an argument. Both Annie and The Sound of Music have their own cutesy, sentimental, and nonthreatening charm and I understand why they are popular. My only real excuse for not liking them is that I simple don’t: I find The Sound of Music bland and Annie annoying but it all comes down to personal taste.

Perhaps part of the reason why I have come to hate Annie is because I performed in two productions of it when I was in elementary and middle school. The first time I was in Annie, I had been previously told that we would do Grease and I was hoping for a chance at the role of the Sandy. When the second time came around, I was in eighth grade and desperate be given a decent part by my middle school drama club after two years of being relegated to the chorus. I was a big fan of Kristin Chenoweth during this time and wanted to play the character of Lily St. Regis (Chenoweth was her in a television version of Annie) and thought I had a fair shot: I was wrong. My enjoyment of the musical is marred by bad memories. The Sound of Music is a musical and movie that I just never got into.

I admit that I like a lot of things that most people do not and I try not to be personally offend when someone does not enjoy a song, movie, etc. as much as I do, even though it can be difficult. People can form a strong personal attachment to their favorite things that if someone insults one of these things, it can hurt them directly.  Everyone is entitled to their own tastes: we can make as good a case as we can for why we like sometimes and why others should feel like wise but this can only go so far.

 

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hamilton: A Comparison

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I recently looked up a show called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on YouTube. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a punk/emo rock musical based on the life of our notorious sixth president, Andrew Jackson. Even though it predates the smash hit, Hamilton, it feels like a follow up piece  and the two musicals beg for a comparison.

Both Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Hamilton seek to do a similar thing: tell a story of a figure from American history using a modern genre of music which highlights specific themes in that person’s life. Hip-hop is used to Hamilton to show Alexander Hamilton’s quick mind and skill with words and how his rise to the top and dramatic fall parallels many of the themes found in rap music. Punk/emo music in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson characterizes the Jacksonian age as America’s angsty adolescence. Bloody Bloody Andrew also bares a lot of similarities to the Green Day rock opera, American Idiot; both are tales about an individual looking to rebel against society, only to have it backfire on them. Andrew Jackson is presented as an angry, chaotic, and rebellious figure (pretty much if St. Jimmy from American Idiot became president) who comes to power by appealing to the anger of America’s underclasses, who eventually turn against him.

Hamilton and Jackson both start off as kids from nowhere with something to prove who get their chance to make something of themselves: the American revolution and the shaky beginnings of American government and politics. But the Hamiltonian world of banks and big government is the world that Jackson believes is screwing the common man over and wishes to dismantle.

The relationship between Jackson and his wife, Rachel, is nearly identical to that of Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. Both men are shown as loving their wives and yet constantly putting their own needs and ambitions before them. But unlike the demure and devoted Eliza Hamilton, Rachel Jackson is an equally angsty Whatsername to her husband’s Jesus of Suburbia. She sings the angry, woman-scorned, breakup song “The Great Compromise” which is reminiscent of Green Day’s “Letterbomb.”  Eliza and Rachel are presented as stabilizing figures who try to keep their husband’s grounded, with little success. Hamilton cheats on Eliza during a moment of weakness and blabs about it to the press to avoid embezzlement charges while Jackson goes against Rachel’s wishes and runs for president, which causes his enemies to rummage through his family’s dirty laundry.

The beautiful Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson was originally married to an abusive jackass named Lewis Robards when she met the dashing frontier lawyer, Andrew Jackson. Rachel wed Andrew in 1791, although their union was technically bigamous due to the fact that she had not yet obtained a divorce from Lewis Robards. She would later get the divorce and remarry Andrew in 1794, though their union was considered by many to be invalid. When Andrew Jackson latter ran for president, this dirty little secret came out and Rachel was ostracized in Washington society as a bigamist and adulteress. She died of a heart attack in 1828 soon after his election as president, possibly due to the stress of such a scandal.

Andrew Jackson, as portrayed in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is many negative things but is an objectively better husband than the more sympathetically portrayed Alexander Hamilton, although both of their marriages suffer from similar problems. The two men put their careers and reputations before their relationships with their wives and bring scandal and heartbreak on their families. But Jackson appears to be too immature to understand the consequences of his actions; Hamilton knows precisely what he is doing and how it could hurt those he claims to love but does it anyway. He jeopardizes a perfectly good marriage by cheating on Eliza and makes the situation worse by leaking the scandal to the press to beat his enemies to the punch. In contrast, Jackson turns down a crazed fan who throws herself at him by saying “my wife is mad enough at me as it is”, and jumps in to defend Rachel’s honor when the public starts calling her a whore. The real life Andrew Jackson famously challenged to a duel  any man and the nearest male relative of any woman who insulted his wife.  

Hamilton paints its protagonist as a flawed but ultimately admirable figure, whereas the central character of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson essentially behaves like a petulant teenager (which is even more hysterical considering the real life Andrew Jackson was in his sixties when he was president). Both musicals deal with how history and posterity remembers important figures. Alexander Hamilton was an unsung founding father with a checkered reputation and dismissed as an elitist jerk, but has re-emerged in recent years as an unlikely pop culture icon and the face of electoral reform. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson was celebrated as a rugged man of the people in his own day and more many generations afterwards but our modern world view has condemned him as a genocidal tyrant. It is easy to deify or vilify historical figures, especially when they represent values which either mesh or clash with or own: a significant number of people despise Thomas Jefferson in particular for being a slaveholder and Andrew Jackson in particular for the treatment of the Native Americans. Reviling a specific individual in an attempt to distance ourselves from negative parts of our history is a lot easier than dealing with them.

A Review of Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

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I feel myself indebted to a YouTube channel called Herodotus MK2 The Father of History for posting a wealth of fascinating historical documentaries. One of the series that was uploaded was called The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History which focuses on the later plays of William Shakespeare and the early years of James I’s reign. In the first episode, it discussed a play of Shakespeare’s that I was unfamiliar with, Measure for Measure. The plot of the play intrigued me, so I decided to pick up a used copy of it at Wicked Good Books in downtown Salem.

Measure for Measure focuses on Duke Vincentio of Vienna, who decides to take a break from governing and mix among his people, disguised as a priest. He leaves authority with Angelo, his harsh and puritanical deputy. Angelo seeks to crack down on sexual immorality by closing down the Viennese brothels and by executing those found guilty of fornication, including a young man named Claudio, who has gotten his fiancee, Juliet or Julietta, pregnant. Claudio enlists the help of his sister, Isabella or Isabel, a novice nun known for being an eloquent and persuasive speaker.

I have noticed that Shakespeare tends to do this weird thing with the names of his characters where he gives two different versions of the name: Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sometimes called Helen, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida is often referred to as Cresside, the name of the titular shrew in The Taming of the Shrew alternates between Katherine and Katerina.

The plot of Measure for Measure thickens when Angelo agrees to spare Claudio’s life if the fiercely chaste Isabella agrees to give herself to him. As you can imagine, she will have none of it. Claudio and Isabella start off as sympathetic characters; Claudio seems like a nice guy who wants to marry his pregnant girlfriend and help raise their child but is condemned to die because of an unjust law; Isabella is a sweet and smart girl who wants to save her life of her brother. But the introduction of Angelo’s ultimatum puts them into a worse light. He originally starts off saying that he would rather die than have his sister degrade herself, but then breaks down into sniveling cowardice and pleads with Isabella to give into Angelo’s demands. She insists that his execution is preferable to the loss of her virginity. A possible interpretation of Isabella is that she is little different than the hypocritical and self serving Angelo and would rather throw her own brother under the bus to save her own saintly reputation.

Measure for Measure describes a world filled with corruption and weakness. Those in charge are unjust (like Angelo) or possibly incompetent (like The Duke), and the lower orders are a vice ridden bunch of madams, pimps, and drunkards. The two main heroic characters, the Duke and Isabella, are pretty morally dubious when you think about it.  The only person in the story who comes across as perfectly noble is Marianna, Angelo’s former fiancee. Marianna still loves Angelo, although he jilted her after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck (this trope of the girl still loving and easily forgiving the guy even though he treated her like garbage has always bothered me) and agrees to go to bed with him in Isabella’s place, which obliges him to marry her. She has an unshakeable, if misguided, devotion to Angelo and makes a sacrifice for someone else, something that the so called heroine, Isabella, refuses to do.

If you are a fan of Shakespeare and do not mind moral greyness, then I would recommend this play.

A Review of Cupid and Psyche by Emily C.A Snyder

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I came across a video of a stage production of a lyric play entitled Cupid and Psyche during my travels through YouTube and watched it along with my study of  Apuleius’s version of the story. The video piqued my interest and I decided search for a copy of it online; I ended up finding a Kindle edition which was difficult to read because it seemed like some parts were missing and other parts were different from what I remembered.

The plot of Cupid and Psyche is difficult to follow. Psyche, the young heroine, offends the goddess, Aphrodite, because she disdains love, despite her legions of admirers. Aphrodite enlists her son, Cupid, in her revenge plot, but Cupid cannot bring himself to kill Psyche because he too has fallen in love with her. This sparks a curse which causes havoc on for both gods and men. The Cupid/Psyche storyline is combined with the Aphrodite-Adonis-Persephone love triangle and a Midsummer Night’s Dream esque romantic mix-up involving Psyche’s two sisters and their husbands.

Psyche’s disdain for love is meant to give some agency to the unfashionably passive character from the original myth. It’s the trope of the pretentious girl who is sniffy about romance but somehow has scores of suitors.  That guys go crazy for the bookish antisocial type is pure wish fulfilment. But Psyche’s case is not the most egregious example of the trope. I found the characterization of Cupid particularly interesting. The boyish, mischievous Cupid of the myth was darkened to a sexy, amoral bad boy tamed by marriage. Snyder makes an interesting point that though Aphrodite and Cupid are gods of love, they are pretty ass-holish.

Cupid and Psyche has a lot of great elements. It takes a lot of influence from Shakespeare (specifically A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, which Cupid jokingly quotes during his first meeting with Psyche) as well as Greco-Roman mythology. There is plenty of beautiful and erotic poetry among the dialogue as well fascinating plot points and characterization by the story is as unpredictable and arbitrary as the whims of the gods. It was hard to follow but I am glad that I gave it a read.

Bag Girl Reviews: Eurydice by Jean Anouilh

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About a year ago, I took a Reading Broadly course in which the theme was Hell and the Underworld. One of the things we read was the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as told in Ovid’s Metamorphose (which is a book on my list to review later). And since then, and my discovery of the Anais Mitchell album Hadestown (something else I could review) I’ve been obsessed with the story.

I recently heard of an adaptation of the myth written by French playwright,  Jean Anouilh called Eurydice.  Using the Barnes and Noble gift card my aunt gave me for Christmas, I bought a copy of the play and gave it a read.

Eurydice takes place in France in the 1930s. Orpheus is a traveling musician who wanders from place to place with his dissolute father. Eurydice is an actress in a low rent theater troupe, lead by her mother and mother’s lover. The two meet, fall madly in love, and decide to run off together. She ditches her previous lover Mathias, which causes his suicide and Orpheus to question her purity because patriarchy.

The bliss of Orpheus and Eurydice is interrupted by the appearance of the mysterious Monsieur Henri and Dulac, the manager of Eurydice’s theater troupe, with whom she was also having an affair.  Orpheus learns that Eurydice died in a bus crash while trying to escape from Dulac when he thought she was out getting groceries. He is devastated.

While reading Eurydice,  I found several comparisons with Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind.  Both plays have a very odd style of dialogue which feels a bit stream of consciousness at points and  the characters have a tendency to  wax poetical and philosophical at times. There is also the character of M. Henri, who is very similar to The Masked Man in Spring Awakening; both are mysterious and possibly supernatural figures who deliver the play’s moral with a healthy serving of glib cynicism.  M. Henri’s scene with the grieving Orpheus at the end of Eurydice reminded me of The Masked Man’s conversation with Melchior, after he has returned home to find that his beloved Wendla has died under questionable circumstances. But while The Masked Man convinces the suicidal Melchior to go on with his life, M. Henri has different plans for Orpheus.

M. Henri resurrects Eurydice from the dead and promises Orpheus that he can have her back if he can sit by her side all night without looking at her. As they sit together, Orpheus questions Eurydice about her affair with Dulac. She explains that their relationship was only because of sexual extortion. He is hesitant to believe her and wants to look into her eyes, the only way he can tell if she is telling the truth or not. His suspicion backfires on him and he looses her again. Mr. Henri tells him that only way for them to be together is for Orpheus to join her in death. Orpheus kills himself off stage and is reunited with his beloved Eurydice.

Eurydice is a exploration of the nature of love and relationships. The love between Orpheus and Eurydice is sudden and overpowering but the play is uncertain about whether or not their relationship will last. M. Henri’s moral at the end of the play is that relationships, like all things, become mundane after a while and even if the couple stays happy and in love, the relationship will lose some of its original magic. Perhaps the beauty of love is that it is fragile and uncertain.

“Orpheus. No!  Her love for me would have lasted forever, until she was old beside me, and I was old beside her. 

M. Henri. No, little man. You’re all the same. You thirst for eternity, and after the first kiss you’re green with fear because you have a vague feeling that it can never last. Vows are soon exhausted, Then you build houses, because stone at least will endure. You have a child. You lightly stake the happiness of that tiny, innocent recruit to this uncertain battle on the most fragile thing in the world-your love of man and woman. And it dissolves and crumbles. It falls to pieces exactly as if you’d made no vows at all.” 

(Jean Anouilh: Five Plays Page 119)

The only way for Orpheus and Eurydice to have the love they want is in death where they will always remain young and beautiful and the circumstances of life will not separate them. As M. Henri puts it “Life would never have allowed you to keep Eurydice” (Page 117).

I would like to see Eurydice performed lived since this is the best way to get a sense of play since that is how it was intended to be experienced. Perhaps that is the best thing you can say after reading a play.

Bag Girl Reviews: West Side Story at the NSMT

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***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

Last summer, my friend, Samantha, and I struck a deal. She made me a chart where I had to write down every mile I walked and a get a signature from a witness to prove that I walked it. The prize for walking fifty miles was a night out at the theater.  Our choices of a play were limited to what was coming to Boston and the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly, since Samantha was not keen on going to New York City.  Luckily for us, one of my favorite musicals was coming to the North Shore Music Theater in November.

On Friday, November 18th, Samantha and I went to see Leonard Bernstein’s perennial classic, West Side Story. Samantha picked me up around 5:30 in the evening and we had a delicious dinner at a Bertucci’s in Beverly before going to the theater.  The North Shore Music Theater is a godsend to theater lovers in the area who do not have the means to go to New York, in that,  they offer Broadway caliber productions at comparatively reasonable prices. Samantha and I had wonderful seats; the North Shore Music Theater is round, with the stage in the center, and the aisles lead  off of the stage and go into the audience. My seat was next to the aisle and I could see the actors up close as they came to and from the stage.

As I have already said, West Side Story is one of my favorite musicals. It is also one of my favorite movies of a musical (hello again Natalie Wood). The story is moving, haunting, and compelling and the music is some of the best in the repertoire of American musical theater. North Shore Music Theater’s production did not disappoint and is being hailed as one of the best they have ever put on.

West Side Story is an update of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in the west side of Manhattan during the 1950s. Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets are reinterpreted as gangs of juvenile delinquents, the Jets ( kids from Irish, Italian, and Polish families who have been in America for a generation or two), and the Sharks (newly arrived Puerto Rican immigrants). The animosity between the Sharks and the Jets is established through West Side Story’s iconic opening dance number which combines classic ballet, modern jazz, and fight choreography.  The Jets plan to confront their rivals at an upcoming dance and Riff, their leader, tries to enlist the help of his best friend Tony, who left the gang scene and has found honest employment. At the dance, Tony meets the beautiful and innocent Maria and their budding romance provokes the ire of  her older brother Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.  Maria is concerned about the repercussions her love affair could have and convinces Tony to try to stop a show down between the Sharks and Jets. But their idealistic plans are thwarted when Bernardo kills Riff during a fight, causing Tony to kill Bernardo in a fit of rage.

With Grease and Rebel Without a Cause fresh in my head, I compared and contrasted them to West Side Story.  Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story are similar in tone; they both somehow manage to successfully combine gritty realism with romantic melodrama. They are both tragic cautionary tales whereas Grease is a light hearted romp. The three stories also differ in the reasons they give for why their characters turned to juvenile delinquency. In Rebel Without a Cause, it is because of bad home lives and dissatisfaction with society; in West Side Story, it is because of poverty and discrimination; in Grease, it is simply a need to be seen as “cool”. I imagine that the Sharks and Jets would wipe the floor with the T-Birds from Grease and Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause would merely scoff at them. West Side Story even seems to mock Rebel Without a Cause a little bit in that one of its best known songs “Gee Officer Krupke,” pokes fun at the psychoanalytic view of juvenile delinquency which is the thesis behind Rebel Without a Cause.

The main difference between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story is the ending, which has been the source of much debate between my room-mate Jasmine and I. Maria’s best friend Anita, who is also Bernardo’s girlfriend, starts a rumor that Maria is dead after she is harassed by the Jets. In the North Shore Music Theater production, this harassment escalates to a rather disturbing rape scene. 

Tony hears that his beloved Maria has been killed and goes to confront Chino, a Shark and Maria’s suitor, who he heard shot her out of jealousy. This misunderstanding leads to Chino shooting Tony, who then dies in Maria’s arms. The grief stricken Maria then chews everyone out and delivers the play’s message: that violence and hatred only lead to more violence and hatred.  The most moving part of the show was when Tony’s body was carried off stage and into one of the aisles, right past my seat.

If West Side Story is a perennial favorite, it is in no small part because its themes are perpetually relevant.