40 Days/40 Minutes

This time of year, when it’s cold and dark and slushy outside, I feel kind of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, when someone asks him how long winter’s going to last (“It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be dark, and it’s going to last you the rest of your lives.”). Lent falls right around this time, bridging the gap between the middle of winter and the start of spring (ish). Depending on what I choose to do for Lent, it can recharge my batteries (or make me grumpy, like the time I gave up sweets). My greatest success doesn’t come when I give something up, but when I choose do to do something positive. Last year, I focused a lot on donating–clothes, books, food–and I plan to do the same this year. But I also want to do something personal.

So, this year, I’ve decided to focus on writing. Since November, I’ve been in a funk about my lack of success in the writing world. When I get into this headspace, all I can think is: “why bother writing when no one will ever read it?” So it helps to remember why I write in the first place. It’s not to get published (though that would be nice) or to make money (also nice) but because I love to write. Without it, I feel like something’s missing from my life. I love creating worlds and characters. I love getting my characters into predicaments and trying to get them out. I love the feeling of drafting a really good scene. That’s why I need to get back to the joy of writing.

This is where 40 days/40 minutes comes in. I’ve decided that for the next 40 days, I’m going to commit to 40 minutes a day of fresh writing. It could be anything: writing sprints, character studies, backstory, deleted scenes, short stories, or scenes from a brand new novel. It just has to be new. I’ll still continue to work on my ongoing projects, since I’m the middle of revising a novel I wrote last year, but hopefully this goal will kickstart me into beginning a new project.

Normally, I’m not someone who writes every day, because I tend to go for 2 or 3 days without writing, then do 3-hour writing marathons on my days off. But I thought it might be good to switch things up. 40 minutes a day should be doable, especially if I break it down into two 20 minute sprints. If it means less time on Twitter and Facebook, that’s a good thing.

You’re welcome to join me if you want. No pressure. No prizes. Just the joy of putting words on the page.

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NaNoWriMo Victory (and how I did it)

2016-11-28In my last blog post, I talked about participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the third time, and maybe even attempting the Fast Draft Challenge (20 pages a day for 14 days). Now that November is over, I can happily say I succeeded–my first-ever victory! Not at the Fast Draft Challenge (are you kidding??) but at NaNo, which means I cranked out 50,000 words of a new project in 30 days. Here’s what helped me win:

Accountability: In the past, I’ve had writing buddies through the NaNo website, but this is the first time I participated as part of a team. Although I was the only one on the team not doing the Fast Draft Challenge, I still received the daily emails, in which the team leaders offered support and encouraged us to post our word count totals. These emails helped me stay motivated, especially during the second week of November, when it would have been too easy to waste hours on social media, lamenting the outcome of the election. My CP and I also set up weekly meetings in November, with the sole purpose of brainstorming and working out tricky plot points in our WIPs.

Sunset on Maui. Great place for a destination wedding, right?

Sunset on Maui. Great place for a destination wedding, right?

Choosing a Fun Project: Because I wanted NaNo to be enjoyable, I decided to write something light and fun—the literary equivalent of a Hallmark movie or a rom-com. After brainstorming various ideas, my CP and I decided we’d each write a category-style contemporary romance, set at a destination wedding (she chose Amsterdam, I chose Maui). While writing, I overloaded my plot with well-worn tropes and turned off my internal editor. Sure, I ended up with awkward dialogue, lots of clichés, clunky transitions, and too many instances of the words “just” and “really,” but I got words on the page!

Pre-Planning: Another mistake I made in the past was diving right into my novel with no outline—nothing but the cavalier attitude of “we’ll see where this goes.” In both cases, I couldn’t sustain the momentum and ran out of ideas. Even though I still don’t consider myself a plotter, I made myself plot out all of Act One, with a list of scenes I wanted to write. I also knew what my “dark night of the soul” moment was going to be (the rehearsal dinner, in which my MC almost derails her sister’s wedding), so all I had to do for Act Two was work backwards from there. As part of my prep, I created backstory for my main characters, researched my setting, and created a rough timeline of events—all of which helped me get ready to write in November.

Not Editing: One of the tenets of NaNo is that you write as fast as possible, without constantly going back and editing your work. Normally, when I write, I self-edit a lot, even in the first draft. Because of this, I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time on the first three chapters, and time isn’t a luxury you have in NaNo. So, for the first time ever, I didn’t go back and read anything I’d written. Each day, when I started writing, I’d only read the scene I was working on and proceed from there. As a result, I wrote more quickly and didn’t get caught up in nitpicky edits.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with NaNoWriMo, and I didn’t feel as pressured as I have in previous years. Even though the draft I produced is very rough, I’m looking forward to taking my time and revising it in 2017.


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NaNoWriMo – 3rd Time’s the Charm?

November is approaching, and with it, NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 original words during the month of November. If you’ve read my previous posts on NaNo, you know that I’ve tried and failed twice (in 2012 and 2014). In 2014, I got 95 pages into the story before it fizzled out, because I had no idea where my plot was heading. The main problem was that I hadn’t outlined any of my novel ahead of time. I had the premise, the characters, and the setting, but nothing else. No clue about the main character’s goals or motivation, and I truly didn’t know how I wanted the story to end.

nano2016This year, I’m tempted to try NaNo again because I need a new project. I’m sending a revised MS back out into the query trenches, and I’d rather be immersed in a new story than spend hours obsessing over social media and refreshing my email. Last weekend, my local chapter of RWA (Wisconsin RWA) held a Fall Writing Workshop featuring Candace Havens, who is known for her “Fast Draft” method. At the workshop, she gave the class rules for drafting a novel in two weeks (!!). I couldn’t attend the workshop, but some WisRWA members are going to attempt the Fast Draft method for NaNoWriMo. I can definitely see the appeal—work, non-stop, for two weeks, with the end result being a first draft of about 280 pages!! That’s some super-fast writing (20 pages a day!). I’m sure the end result will be an ugly first draft, full of plot holes, clichés, and stilted dialogue. But it’s a starting point. And as the saying goes, “you can’t revise a blank page.”

kermitHowever, from what I understand, if you’re going to succeed at the Fast Draft method (or at NaNo in general), the key is pre-planning. I’ve never been good at this, because I tend to be a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t even attempt a synopsis until I’ve finished the second draft. But what if I could come up with a fully-realized idea for a novel ahead of time? What if I could actually create a series of beats/scenes, using Save the Cat, or The Writer’s Journey, and come up with a detailed outline? Granted, some things might change during the writing process, especially since my characters don’t always “behave” the way I want them to, but I wouldn’t be staring at a blank page, trying to figure out what happens next.

ratatouilleSo…if I can come up with an outline in time, I might try to draft an entire novel in the month of November. Maybe in two weeks. What have I got to lose?

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My Personal #MSWL

Tomorrow morning, I’m meeting with my CP to do some brainstorming and plotting for my next project. At this point, I’m not sure what to focus on, so I’m hoping I’ll get some clarity, or at least a sense of direction, over coffee and muffins. Thinking of new story ideas makes me think of #MSWL – the hashtag on Twitter where agents and editors post ideas for manuscripts they’d love to see. As a reader, there are books I’d love to read, but I lack the ambition or background to write. Here are a few that have been rattling around in my brain:

  • A steampunk/fantasy novel set in an alternate version of France, during the French Revolution. Paula Volsky’s Illusion is a marvelous example, but it’s incredibly long, and the writing is somewhat dated. I’d love to see a new version, written for the YA market
  • A YA novel set during the Chicago World’s Fair, ideally a mystery or thriller. I toyed with this idea a few years ago, but never felt any spark. I know of one writer who might be working on something like this, so I hope it comes to fruition.
  • A new adult/adult contemporary romance that revolves around Broadway or off-Broadway actors, with a behind-the-scenes look at life on the professional stage (kind of like the Better Nate Than Ever series by Tim Federle, but with romance and steamy backstage shenanigans).
  • A YA fantasy set in a world modeled after Ottoman Turkey. Again, this is another project I attempted, years ago, even going so far as to do the research, but I lacked a decent plot.
  • More YA contemporary novels set in locations other than the U.S., Canada, Australia, or Europe. How about South America or Africa?
  • A MG novel set at the Destination Imagination Global Finals, because that’s a subculture unto itself!
  • An humorous MG epic about the Easter Bunny and his underground faction of rabbits who do battle with evil foxes and wolves; think Watership Down meets The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Okay, I might be pushing things with that last suggestion, but if the muse grabs you, feel free to take any of these ideas and run with them. I should add that there may be published books out there that fit my list, but I may have missed them. Please let me know, and I’ll happily add them to my TBR pile.

How about you? What’s on your personal MSWL?

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Even though I’ve been out of school for a long time, the beginning of a new school year gives me a feeling of starting fresh. Time to get to work, time to start new writing projects, time to make a huge to-do list and dive right in. Anyone else feel this way?

Before I close the door on another summer, I usually like to recap it. In this case, I’m focusing on the pop culture highlights, so here goes:

One thing I love about summers is the blockbuster movies. Say what you will about sequels, reboots, and overloaded action flicks, but I love going to a huge tent pole movie with ridiculously high expectations. Unfortunately, a lot of movies this summer left me cold. My two favorites were the new Ghostbusters and Captain American: Civil War. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Ghostbusters, because I’m a huge fan of the original, and reboots don’t always work for me, but I found it very entertaining. Interestingly enough, my husband, who has never liked the original Ghostbusters (hard to believe, right?), enjoyed this version of the movie. We saw it in a packed theater full of people who cheered for all the cameos (loved Annie Potts as the hotel receptionist!)

As far as Captain America: Civil War goes, it was very enjoyable and I came out of the movie solidly #TeamCap. Yes, RDJ is snarky and delicious, but he has been annoying me since Avengers 2 with his self-righteous delusions, and this time he went over the edge. So, I’m sticking with Captain America until Iron Man redeems himself (My only real complaint about this movie was the lack of Thor, but since Chris Helmsworth was in Ghostbusters, I got my fair dose of him!).

HelmsworthSpeaking of Marvel movies, my two kids decided, toward the end of the summer, that they would attempt a Marvel movie marathon. For reasons of sanity, they opted not to include all the TV shows, like Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, or Jessica Jones. But even so, we’re talking 11 movies, which came out to about 24 hours viewing time! Being the geeky/enabling Mom that I am, I requested all the movies from the library, bought the kids a tub of snacks, and said “Have at it.” They watched the movies, non-stop, with breaks in between. I think both kids hit the wall and dozed off during parts of Thor 2 and Iron Man 3, but they got a second wind during Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of marathons, my son and I wanted to do a 6-movie Hobbit/Lord of the Rings marathon, but we didn’t get the chance. There’s always next summer!

Otherwise, my favorite entertainment this summer wasn’t from a movie – it was from the TV show Stranger Things, which is on Netflix as an 8-episode series. I was drawn to it because of the 1980s nostalgia factor, but I got hooked by the creepy plot and intersecting stories. Interestingly enough, the show is set in 1983, a time when I was about Nancy and Barb’s age, and my brother was the exact same age as the D & D players (and he played D & D too – we had dozens of multi-sided die and character sheets all over the house!). A few people have said the show doesn’t have much appeal beyond the nostalgia factor, but I disagree. My 15-year-old son watched it with me, and he loved it. We both agreed that it would have been a totally different story if the characters had cell phones and the Internet.

strangerthingsWhat about you? Any good pop culture summer fixes?

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Musical Monday: Jesus Christ Superstar

JCSName: Jesus Christ Superstar

 Credits: Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

Summary: A “rock opera” that depicts the last days of Jesus’s life, from his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday leading up to his crucifixion on Good Friday, as told from the perspective of the apostle Judas Iscariot.

Jesus Christ Superstar had its start as a concept album, recorded in London in 1970. Although the album was hugely popular, the Broadway production which followed (in 1971) only ran for 711 performances. The show was better received in London, where it opened in 1972 and ran for eight years. A movie version came out in 1973, directed by Norman Jewison (who also directed the movie of Fiddler on the Roof). Since then, JSC has become a global phenomenon, performed in over 40 countries and grossing more than $190 million dollars!

Awards: Nominated for five Tony Awards in 1972, but it didn’t win any.

Rating: PG

Why This Musical: Although Jesus Christ Superstar can seem dated today, in the 1970s, it was ground-breaking. Unlike most musicals of the time, it was sung-through, with no dialogue, and it mixed a rock score and modern lyrics with an age-old story. As one might expect, a musical based on the Passion of Jesus sparked quite a bit of controversy. Many Christians objected to Judas, who functions as the show’s narrator, because they thought he was portrayed too sympathetically. Others felt the musical was anti-Semitic, given that the villains of the piece included a group of Jewish priests. The Broadway production was such an overblown spectacle that it received scathing reviews; even Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the show, called it a “vulgar travesty.” However, the London version of the show, which was scaled down, was very popular and ran for years. JCS eventually went on to become a part of the musical theatre canon, sparking numerous revivals, touring shows, and arena-style productions.

The 1973 movie was critically well-received, although it also sparked protests from various religious groups. The framing device – a troupe of actors who arrive in Israel via bus – was unique, and it allowed for low-key costumes and a bare-bones set. The decision to shoot the movie on location, in the Israeli dessert, also gave it an authentic feel.

My Connection: In my post on Wicked, I mentioned “gateway musicals,”—a term for certain shows that spark a lifelong passion for musical theatre. For my nineteen-year-old daughter’s generation, that musical was Rent. For today’s younger theatre-goers, it might be Hamilton. But my gateway musical was Jesus Christ Superstar. Although I grew up listening to musicals (particularly the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein), and I often sang along with them, my 14-year-old reaction to JCS was more like an obsession. I listened to the record non-stop, put on mini “performances” of the entire soundtrack with my brother, and often lapsed into daydreams in which our community theatre decided to do the show and cast me in the role of Mary Magdalene. It didn’t hurt that all the kids in my high school theatre class were equally obsessed, and we frequently sang the songs and choreographed the dance numbers in class.

When the revival movie house in my town offered a double bill of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar during Easter break, I was beside myself with excitement. Despite the great score and cool NYC setting, Godspell was a little too weird for me, but I loved JCS. I was a little disappointed at the casting of Jesus; to me, Ted Neeley seemed whiny compared to Ian Gillian, who sang the role on the London concept album. I thought the rest of the casting was marvelous, though. Carl Anderson was powerful and sympathetic as Judas, and Josh Mostel was a perfect, over-the-top King Herod.

Over the years, my passion for JCS has faded somewhat, although I usually try to watch the movie once a year, right before Easter. I had a chance to see a community theatre version of the show in 1996, and it was decent, but by no means memorable. If I’d had the chance, I would have loved to have seen the 2012 Broadway revival, just to see JCS reinterpreted for a 21st century audience.

Where to See It: The movie version is available on DVD (I found it listed at Wal-Mart and Target) and Google Play has it available for streaming. The show is performed a lot by professional and amateur theatre groups, so it’s not hard to find a local production.

Favorite Songs:
“Heaven on Their Minds”
“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”
 “King Herod’s Song”

Final Thoughts: Even though Jesus Christ Superstar doesn’t have the same impact now as it did in the 1970s and 80s, it’s a great example of musical theatre from that era. Definitely give the soundtrack a listen or catch the movie if you have the chance.







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Musical Monday: Hair

CCI03142016Name: Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Credits: Music by Galt McDermot. Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Book by Gerome Ragni and James Rado.

Summary: Set during the turbulent protests of the 1960s, Hair follows a “tribe” of young, politically active hippies living in New York City, whose search for love and sexual freedom is threatened when one of their group is drafted into the Vietnam War.

Broadway: Opened on Broadway in 1968 and ran for 1,750 performances between 1968 and 1972.
Revivals/Tours: Hair has spawned numerous productions around the world, and there have been two major Broadway revivals to date (1977 and 2009).
Movie: A movie version of Hair was released in 1979, directed by Milos Forman.

 Awards: Nominated for two Tonys in 1969, including Best Musical (it lost to 1776). The 2009 Revival was nominated for eight Tonys and won Best Revival of a Musical.

Rating: PG-13/R (for language, nudity, drug use)

 Why This Musical: Hair is probably one of the most ground-breaking shows in musical theatre history. Created at a time when 1960s America was divided over the Vietnam War, it channeled the spirit of the hippie generation—a generation that refused to conform to the notion they should be drafted to fight in a war overseas. The original production stemmed from an experimental work that was created as a Vietnam protest show. When the show opened on Broadway, it marked one of the first times that a mainstream theatre production was so racially integrated. The inclusion of on-stage nudity, profanity, drug-taking, homosexuality, and disrespect for the American flag led to angry protests from the public. Conservative theatre-goers were shocked and upset by the production, and veteran Broadway composers such as Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers were highly critical of the score. However, many critics praised the show for being fresh, young, and defiant. Since then, Hair has been widely acknowledged as a classic, and is performed all over the world. Interestingly enough, the plot and structure of the stage show are fluid and often change, depending on the individual production. When the movie version was released, it differed quite a bit from the show, in that it had a more straightforward plot and the main characters were given more backstory.

My Connection: My connection with this musical goes all the way back, to the 1980s, when my mother brought home a record from Goodwill that contained the greatest hits from Jesus, Christ Superstar on one side and Hair on the other. I fell in love with both musicals, and bought the full cast recordings of each, in order to hear all the songs. I own the movie version of Hair on DVD, and I’ve seen it quite a few times, but I didn’t have a chance to see the musical live until 2011, when a national tour came to Milwaukee. Having grown accustomed to the movie version, I was surprised at how different the stage show was, and how little actual plot it contained. However, even if the show was confusing at times, this didn’t detract from the great performances, the fantastic score, or the powerful ending. As promised, there was full nudity on-stage during the song “Be-In,” but it was partly obscured by fog machine which covered the stage in a smoky haze.

Where to See It: The movie is available on DVD (I found it listed at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble). The show is often performed by professional and amateur theatre groups, so it’s not hard to find a local production. Milwaukee has hosted two different productions (Skylight Music Theatre and Broadway in Milwaukee) in the last five years.

Favorite Songs:
“The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)”

Final Thoughts: The movie version of Hair is a lot of fun, with great music, but try to see the stage show if you have the chance, as it’s a very different experience from the movie.






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Musical Monday: Avenue Q

avenueQpostcardName: Avenue Q

Credits: Music & Lyrics by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx. Book by Jeff Whitty.

Summary: What if the puppets from Sesame Street had to grow up and deal with adult life? That’s the premise behind Avenue Q, a musical focused on a group of 20-something puppets, all searching for purpose, while struggling to make a go of it in an “outer-outer” borough of New York City.

Broadway: Opened on Broadway in July 2003 and ran for six years, then re-opened Off-Broadway at the New World Stages theater complex in 2009, where it is still running.
Tours: Avenue Q also had a limited run in Las Vegas and the West End in London, as well as numerous tours in the U.S. and abroad.

Awards: Nominated for six Tony Awards. Won 3, including Best Book and Best Musical (beating out Wicked, which was favored to win).

Rating: R (for language, puppet nudity & puppet sex)

Why This Musical: When Avenue Q opened, it was praised for its fresh, satirical content and its ground-breaking format. Conceived as a parody of children’s TV shows like Sesame Street, the musical not only presented a dead-on spoof of genre, but also gave the audience a story with a lot of heart. The plot centers on a naïve college grad who moves to a low-rent apartment on Avenue Q and struggles to find his purpose. Along the way, he meets a diverse cast of characters; together they tackle issues like pornography, homelessness, racism, and homosexuality through witty musical numbers. As with Sesame Street, the cast is made up of puppets, but the puppeteers remain on stage throughout the show, clearly visible to the audience. Not only does Avenue Q parody Sesame Street, but four of the puppeteers from the original cast worked on the TV show. Characters such as roommates Rod and Nicky (Bert and Ernie) and Trekkie Monster (who favors online porn, rather than cookies) are clearly modeled on the Sesame Street muppets. The show was so well-received that it made numerous “Best Of” lists for 2003 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

My Connection: I discovered the Cast Recording for Avenue Q about five years ago and loved it. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to see a local production in Milwaukee, performed by the marvelous Skylight Music Theatre. At first, I was afraid I might be distracted by the presence of the human puppeteers, but about fifteen minutes in, I stopped noticing them. The cast did an amazing job, and the funky, colorful set was fantastic.

Where to See It: At the moment, Avenue Q is still playing Off-Broadway, and tickets are often discounted through TKTS. It has also performed by professional theater groups, and there’s even a PG-13 version that has been licensed for high school productions.

Favorite Songs:
“It Sucks To Be Me”
“There’s a Fine, Fine Line”
“For Now”

Final Thoughts: If you’re not offended by the subject matter or the language, then this is a very enjoyable musical, with a lot of heart and humor. The original Cast Recording is available on iTunes.

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Musical Monday: Pippin

Pippin_300Name: Pippin

Credits: Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Roger O. Hirson. Directed by Bob Fosse.

Summary: A musical based on the fictitious life of Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, as he searches for meaning.

Broadway: Opened in 1972 and ran for 1,944 performances; closed in 1977.
Revival: Opened in 2013 and played through 2015. The revival spawned a National Tour, which began in 2014 and is still ongoing.
Film: A stage production of Pippin was videotaped in Toronto in 1981; it can be found on YouTube. In 2003, after the success of the film version of Chicago, Miramax acquired the rights to Pippin, but did nothing with them. Then, in late 2014, it was announced that TV and film producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (known for Chicago, The Sound of Music Live, and Hairspray) would produce the move with the Weinstein company, with a release date TBA.

Broadway: Nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 1973, including Best Musical (it lost to A Little Night Music). It won 5 including Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography (Bob Fosse) and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Ben Vereen as The Leading Player).
Revival: Nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 2013. It won 4, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller, as The Leading Player).

Rating: PG

Why This Musical: Pippin is one of those shows that feels like it has been around forever—at least for me—because numerous high schools and community theaters performed it in the 1980s. The music, which is heavy on pop ballads, definitely has a 1970s vibe, and the choreography features Bob Fosse’s famous “jazz hands.” The story doesn’t have much of a plot—Pippin wanders the countryside, looking for meaning, engaging in warfare, one-night stands, patricide, and romance. Throughout the play, a mysterious figure, known as The Leading Player, directs the action, accompanied by a bizarre circus troupe. The musical opened a year after Godspell (also written by Stephen Schwartz) and it’s not hard to see the similarities between the two shows. The 2013 Broadway revival breathed new life into Pippin, updating it with circus-inspired staging that incorporated the acrobatics of the Montreal-based circus company Les 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers). The new show opened to rave reviews, particularly for the choreography and the casting of Patina Miller as the Leading Player.

My Connection: For years, I dismissed this as a slightly cheesy 1970s musical without much of a story. Watching the 1981 version online, which meanders endlessly, didn’t improve my opinion. However, I heard great buzz about the Broadway revival, and I was impressed by the clip of “Magic To Do” shown at the 2013 Tony Awards. When my daughter’s high school performed the show, they took their cues from the revival, and the result was marvelous. After listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve been converted. The songs are catchy and fun, and “Corner of the Sky,” in particular, is one my favorite “I want” songs in musical theater.

Where to See It: You can find the videotaped 1981 performance on YouTube, but it’s not that good. The revival is currently on tour, so I’m hoping to catch it when it comes to Chicago or Milwaukee. If you’re interested in the soundtrack, make sure to look for the New Broadway Cast Recording.

Favorite Songs:
“Magic to Do”
“Corner of the Sky”
“No Time at All”
“Morning Glow”

Final Thoughts: Give the cast recording a listen, and see if it doesn’t grow on you!

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Musical Monday: Next to Normal

215px-Next_to_NormalName: Next to Normal

Credits: Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Music by Tom Kitt.

Summary: A rock musical about a mother, still grieving the loss of her son, who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effects her illness have on her suburban family.

Dates: Opened on Broadway in April, 2009, where it ran until 2011. The first National Tour our launched in 2010, followed by international productions in Europe, Asia, Australia, Israel, and South America.

 Awards: Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical (it lost to Billy Elliott). Won 3 Tony Awards: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Alice Ripley). Next To Normal also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. Interestingly enough, the last musical to win the Pulitzer was Rent (1996), which had the same director (Michael Greif).

Rating: PG-13/R

Why This Musical: As the summary would suggest, this is a musical that covers some serious topics—suicide, mental illness, drug use, grief, and questionable psychiatric practices. There are songs about medication (“My Psychopharmacologist & I”), electric shock therapy (“Didn’t I See This Movie”), and memory loss (“Better Than Before”). The main character suffers throughout the show, and her family suffers with her. But it’s a powerful story, with brilliant songs that pack an emotional wallop. On stage, it’s a barebones show—the set is a series of interlocking “cubes,” representing different rooms, and the cast is limited to six characters–but this makes the individual performances really stand out. When Next to Normal opened on Broadway, the critical response was favorable, and it made the list for the year’s “10 Best Shows” by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

My Connection: I had the chance to see a local production of Next to Normal, put on by the marvelous Greendale Community Theatre. This is a tough musical to perform, because it has such a small cast, which means they all have to be excellent. Fortunately, this cast was up to the job. One of the features I liked about the production was that the band (guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player) played right on stage, as an integral part of the show, rather than being hidden in the pit. By the end of the night, my daughter and I were in tears from the musical’s devastating finale.

Where to See It: Next to Normal is often performed by community theatre groups. Otherwise, the Original Broadway Cast Recording is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Favorite Songs:
“I Am the One”
“I’m Alive”
“A Light in the Dark”
“Wish I Were Here”

Final Thoughts: If you want a musical with an emotional heft, Next to Normal fits the bill. The Broadway cast recording is excellent, particularly Alice Ripley as Diana and Aaron Tveit as Gabe.

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