Hamilton

Bumping into Jimmy Page at the Strand was cool, but by no means was it the highlight of mine and Sam’s trip to New York. On Saturday, we finally saw Hamilton.

By now you likely know at least two things about Hamilton: it’s the biggest hit (and I don’t think this is an exaggeration) in Broadway history and tickets are both outlandishly expensive and incredibly difficult to procure. It’d become a mini saga for us. I had a chance to see Hamilton a month after its Broadway opening but balked at the asking price ($200; oh, if only I’d known). Later that year Sam and I toyed with the idea of doing the ticket lottery – front row, $10 – before deciding against standing out on 46th Street in the dead of winter for a minuscule chance at getting in (we threw away our shot, as it were). We thought we’d succeeded through Ticketmaster last January, only to have our seats swiped out from under us. In June, finally, we pulled it off. We didn’t pay nearly as much as you might assume, but they were still comfortably the most expensive tickets we’ve ever bought.

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Two people donating their wedding budget to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Also: we ordered them in June, which means we had to wait for it (as it were) for almost a year. And after that build-up…I won’t actually say much about the show, since I know not many of you will have seen it yet. (I’d been in Hamilton blackout since January, when I stopped listening to both the cast recording and The Hamilton Mixtape.) I will, however, say this: as excited as we were, Hamilton blew our expectations away, and it blew them away almost immediately. “My Shot,” which is the second song in the show, is also one of my least-favourites; the line “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry” makes me cringe. When it ended I burst into laughter, uttered a four-letter epithet, and teared up. It was simply overwhelming, and both of us were done for. And that’s how I reacted to a song I didn’t like. You should’ve seen me during “The Room Where it Happened.”

I’ve long maintained that Hamilton might actually be underrated: it’s become such a cultural juggernaut that it’s easy to forget it won the Pulitzer. Seeing the show reinforced that idea. When it was over Sam and I had two immediate reactions. The first was to burst into giggles before wandering, dazed, from the Richard Rogers Theatre. The second was to look at one another and say, “Now what?” Not as in “what do we want to do with the rest of our night?” but “what do we want to do with the rest of our lives?” Only Tommy‘s ever had a similar impact. And that, coming from me, is the ultimate compliment.

Sparks

Twenty years ago today, on Thursday, July 27, 1995, I did something (or at least my mother did) which by that point had become commonplace in our household: bought theatre tickets. The difference is that these tickets were for a musical called Tommy, and nothing was ever the same again.

I wrote about my first time seeing Tommy, not surprisingly, ten years ago today, when I noted how “nothing’s come close to rivaling the effect that seeing…Tommy had on me, not just in terms of theatre but in terms of my actual life.” Yet ironically, I wouldn’t have even seen Tommy that day had we been able to get better seats to another musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was playing at the former O’Keefe Centre. But we couldn’t, and having just spent an hour outside the T.O. Tix office we had the following, fateful exchange:

Mom: “Do you want to see Tommy?

Me: “Yes.”

And so we crossed Yonge Street to the Elgin Theatre, whose southern wall was covered in a massive yellow-and-black Tommy mural. We bought tickets in the third-last row. The transaction changed my life.

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“Sir! There’s more at the door!”

That initial Tommy didn’t actually impact me as much as the second one, which came exactly one year to the second later at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. One part that did, though, was the final song, which made me feel as though my heart was going to burst out through my chest. I’d never heard it before. It went like this:

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet
Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinions
From you, I get the story

The song, of course, is “Listening to You,” and if I could pick the last song I hear on this earth Gaslight Anthem-style it’d be this one. The next day, with “Listening to You” and another song called “Sensation” still ringing in my ears, I went to Sam the Record Man and picked up the highlights of Tommy‘s cast recording. I wore it out, then got the full version for Christmas. I listened to it–no exaggeration–every single day until July 27, 1996, when I couldn’t listen to it because I was on a plane to Calgary and didn’t own a portable CD player (remember them?). Almost exactly one year after that, on July 22, 1997, I saw the Who for the first time.

Today I drove downtown–something I assuredly could not do in 1995–parked on Shuter Street, and walked down to the Elgin, then stood outside the entrance while the memories flooded back. Suddenly I was fourteen years old again, my hair awkwardly pressed against my head in a manner I then considered stylish, handing an usher my ticket and walking into the Elgin’s long main entrance hall. I’d walk out two hours later a completely different person. Two years ago, after seeing Tommy‘s resurrection at the Stratford Festival for a final time, I tweeted: “My new goal in life: create something that moves someone, anyone, as much as Tommy moves me.” I wasn’t in search of a transformative experience twenty years ago today. Yet that’s exactly what I ended up getting.

Stuff I’ve Seen in the West End

My recent trip to England yielded three more nights in West End theatres. Here’s a complete list of what I’ve seen there, along with dates and, where warranted, pithy remarks.

  1. Mar. 31/93: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. London Palladium. My aunt and I were actually on our way to get tickets to see Cats (which at that point I still hadn’t seen) when we passed the Palladium and saw a sign out front announcing “TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR THIS EVENING’S PERFORMANCE.” I spent my first night in the West End in the front row of the Royal Circle of one of the world’s most famous theatres. Regrettably, I was wearing a Joseph t-shirt (bought five months earlier when I saw the show in Minneapolis), which surely made me the first and only “That Guy” ever at a musical.
  2. Apr. 1/93: Les Miserables. Palace Theatre.
  3. Mar. 03: My Fair Lady. Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
  4. Mar. 06: Guys and Dolls. Cambridge Theatre. By some distance the worst thing I’ve seen in the West End.
  5. Mar. 06: The Phantom of the Opera. Her Majesty’s Theatre.
  6. Aug. 07: Les Miserables. Queen’s Theatre.
  7. Aug. 07: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Adelphi Theatre. Lee Mead starred; I had no idea who he was till that night. Incidentally, apart from seeing Tommy again, witnessing Steven Pimlott’s revival of Joseph one more time was my wildest theatregoing dream.
  8. May 10: Love Never Dies. Adelphi Theatre. Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess starred; the following year they were reunited in the twenty-fifth anniversary performance of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about a deformed genius skulking the Paris Opera House. The show was surprisingly good.
  9. May 10: Les Miserables. Queen’s Theatre. Flaming Red and I sat front row for £20.
  10. May 10: The Phantom of the Opera. Her Majesty’s Theatre.
  11. May 10: Hair. Gielgud Theatre. You might’ve read about this one.
  12. Mar. 26/14: Matilda. Cambridge Theatre.
  13. Mar. 27/14: The Phantom of the Opera. Her Majesty’s Theatre. This, incredibly, was Sam’s first time seeing Phantom. It was my twenty-fifth.
  14. Jun. 24/15: Matilda. Cambridge Theatre.
  15. Jun. 25/15: Miss Saigon. Prince Edward Theatre. Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Miss Saigon‘s less revival than full-fledged reimagining, substantial lyrical changes included.
  16. Jun. 30/15: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Gielgud Theatre. The new cast’s press night; we spent the half-hour leading up to the performance standing outside and watching a parade of B-list British celebrities getting their photos taken.

More to come!

Stuff I’ve Seen at the Princess of Wales Theatre

Stolen with the permission of Chris Barker

Stolen with the permission of Chris Barker

Today’s news that the Princess of Wales Theatre’s been salvaged is cause for celebration, and not just because it’s a beautiful building. Since it opened with the Canadian premiere of Miss Saigon in 1993 the Princess of Wales has provided the backdrop for some of my life’s truly memorable moments, including (most recently) mine and Nerd Lobster’s first date. Here’s a (complete?) list of what I’ve seen there. I’m glad to know it’ll be able to keep adding to it for years come.

  1. Miss Saigon 10/1/93
  2. Beauty and the Beast 10/7/95
  3. Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story 11/22/97
  4. Les Miserables 7/25/98
  5. Oliver! 11/99
  6. The Lion King 00
  7. The Lion King
  8. The Lion King
  9. The Lion King 12/18/02
  10. Hairspray 4/24/04
  11. Hairspray 5/20/04
  12. Hairspray 11/17/04
  13. Hairspray 11/27/04
  14. Evita 5/18/05
  15. Les Misérables 9/23/05
  16. Les Misérables 10/19/05
  17. Lord of the Rings 06
  18. The Phantom of the Opera 2/21/07 (first Toronto since performance since the end of its ten-year run at the Pantages Theatre on October 31, 1999)
  19. The Phantom of the Opera 4/7/07
  20. The Phantom of the Opera 5/07
  21. The Phantom of the Opera 6/17/07 (last Toronto performance to date)
  22. The Sound of Music 09
  23. Young Frankenstein
  24. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 10
  25. War Horse 12
  26. The Book of Mormon 5/19/13
  27. Les Misérables 9/13
  28. Les Misérables 12/14/13

In fact, this list will be added to in a couple weeks: Nerd Lobster and I are seeing The Lion King at the Princess of Wales on June 12.

I Get Excitement At Your Feet

Robert Markus as Tommy in Tommy. Photo by Michael Cooper.One year ago today, as Toronto was learning about a video of Rob Ford smoking crack, I got to realize my ultimate fantasy: seeing Tommy again. Everything about that night, from playing the Tommy pinball machine before the show to the standing ovation that began even as the final curtain was falling, still has the immediacy of what I was doing five minutes ago. Afterwards I tweeted, “It’s nice to know that at age thirty-two life, and theatre in particular, still has the capacity to astonish me.”

I saw Tommy six times last year, each visit exhilarating in its own right. The first time was the most special, the fifth time the “best” (I left the Avon Theatre that night feeling as though I could fly). The second, which I saw with the Raptor and the Jerk, was when I bumped into director Des McAnuff, shook his hand, and thanked him for bringing Tommy back to life. The third was sloppy–the regular Mrs. Walker, Kira Guloien, had to be taken off at intermission–but I’ll also remember it for how the entire audience jumped out of their seats when the Overture began unannounced. The fourth was emotional: I thought it was the last one, and yes, I cried during “Listening to You.” The fifth and sixth were unexpected bonuses. At the sixth, during “Cousin Kevin,” I called my office; the subsequent, barely audible recording of “Sensation,” greets me whenever I check my messages. Only in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined seeing McAnuff’s version of Tommy again. That it happened, and at Stratford of all places, suggests that we should keep on having our wildest dreams. Sometimes, they just might come true.

From You, I Get the Story

I don’t know you, Bill Steeves, but you’re my new favourite person for putting this up on YouTube. “Listening to You” is the one piece of music that’s ever made me weep; it happened the first time I saw the Who perform it, and it happened (to varying degrees) six times this summer at Stratford. I’m still waiting for the entire show to wind up online–but until then, here’s Robert Markus and the rest of the Stratford Tommy cast giving 800 people the chills.

As long as I live I will remember this show.

Today

Today was a very good day.

Today I…

  • Got paid to drive through the cornfields of Southwestern Ontario, listening to Gaslight Anthem (Handwritten) and My Morning Jacket (Evil Urges)
  • Drank two great cups of coffee
  • Went book shopping
  • Started reading The Merchant of Venice; I saw Stratford’s outstanding production of Merchant last night with, among others, the Raptor and the Jerk, and it made me want to learn everything there is to know about the play and Shylock and Shakespeare
  • Did sprints on the soccer field underneath the Festival Theatre, and when it was finished the knee was feeling great; then I ran up and down the hill next to the theatre a couple times and, again, the knee held. Forward progress.
  • Made an actual mature decision
  • Saw Tommy again. Would you believe it’s actually improved during the course of the run? I left the theatre smiling so broadly I was tearing up. And that’s before mentioning “Listening To You,” which is the last song I want to hear on this earth. Good music you play at your wedding; truly great music you save for your funeral.
During Act One–specifically, during a heart-stopping version of “Sensation”–I realized what I was feeling. Ecstatic. Full of the spirit. Alive. It’s incredible, isn’t it? Incredible how a piece of music can do things to your insides you didn’t know were possible? Awaken parts of you that you didn’t even know existed? Make you feel like your heart’s at once stationary and ready to burst through your chest? Whatever it was, whatever you wanna call it, tonight Tommy brought me to a higher place.
I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m going to lie down and wrap myself up in today and let the sensations linger.