I want to take a break from my New York and Las Vegas posts and write a bit about experiencing the theater away from the theater. I don’t believe you need to live in or travel to New York or London or another big performing art city to see good theater. Of course, this might sound ironic considering that I just got back from New York and I saw several Broadway shows there. I’m not knocking Broadway…I love it, but I know it’s not always possible for people to go a big show in New York (or London or anywhere else). If you’re reading this blog, and thinking you can’t experience the theater because of where you live or where you’re traveling to then this post is for you. Here are some ways to see the theater away from the theater.
Any Live Show Will Do
Okay slightly cheating on the first entry, but please don’t think theater means “go to New York.” Great theater can be found at small and other local theater productions. I touched on this idea in my Cheap Theater Series. School productions, church productions, community theater, local theater companies – they can all put on some wonderful shows. Don’t get the idea in your head that a lower ticket price equals a lower quality show. You could hate a show you spent $15 on, but you could also hate a show you paid $150 for. There aren’t guarantees in theater or in life, and sometimes it’s worth taking a chance to see a local theater production. You could find a show and a theater company you really enjoy.
Yes, movies can be a form of experiencing the theater. Sometimes stage shows are adapted into movies – just a few examples would be Rent, On Golden Pond, and A Streetcar Named Desire. A movie adaptation can’t capture the energy of a live show, but I enjoy movie adaptions because they help bring theater to more people. Movie adaptions can also change perceptions about theater as well. A friend of mine used to say she hated musicals, but then she watched the musical movie for Chicago and enjoyed it.
Other shows might be filmed live (sometimes as a concert) and then released as a movie. Chess, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods are just a couple of shows I’ve become familiar with because of concert tapings.
In some cases stage productions might be based on movies. In fact long before I fell in love with live theater I loved Disney movie musicals like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. Both of these shows were eventually adapted into live productions. Rumour is that Frozen will be the next Disney musical movie to come to Broadway. Even without considering Disney there are several shows running in New York and London now that are based on movies like Kinky Boots, Billy Elliot, and Matilda.
I bring up TV because The 2014 Tony Awards (Broadway’s version of The Oscars) are happening June 8, and I always enjoy watching the award show on TV. The shows nominated for best musical will perform a number from their show during the Broadcast. A few years ago I went and saw Next to Normal on Broadway because I watched the cast from that show perform a song at the Tony’s. If Broadway is too far from where you live try watching the Tony performances to get a feel for what the shows are about.
Another recent and well known theater inspired TV series would be Glee. I will admit Glee is a bit cheesy, and I lost interest in the High School drama of it after season one. That being said I enjoy watching and listening to the musical numbers in the show. PBS (which is available in the US and Canada) has a series called Great Performances where they will air filmed theater productions – often as a live or concert performance. I saw Company this way. It’s not just musicals though; they also show plays, concerts, opera, and other live recorded performances.
Even the name of this blog Take Me to the World came from a musical that aired on TV. In the 1960’s there apparently was a short-lived series in the US called ABC Stage 67. One episode featured a musical (with music composed by Stephen Sondheim) called Evening Primrose and one of the songs in the show was called Take Me to the World.
I love musicals, but many of the musicals I love are ones I’ve never seen. I have the original Broadway cast recording for Spring Awakening, Tick, Tick… Boom! and The Last 5 Years, but I’ve never seen any of these show. If I get the chance to see them then I will, but it hasn’t happened yet. I love listening to show recordings and sometimes that has even helped me decide on what shows to see. When I went to New York in 2006 I chose to see Hairspray with my mom because I’d heard the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Listening to the songs and reading the synopsis I knew this would be a show we’d both enjoy, and we did. It wasn’t later I realized the musical Hairspray was based off a 1988 non-musical John Waters movie Hairspray.
The downside to listening to a recording before seeing a show is that you know what happens in the show. While I do love listening to new musicals (or old musicals) there are many times when I refuse to listen to a recording until I see the show. The Book of Mormon is coming to Edmonton in March 2015. I know a bit about the show (and I know a couple of songs that were performed on The Tony’s), but I’m not listening to the full cast recording yet. Why? Well, I want there to some surprises when I finally get to see this show.
Edit: I completely forgot to mention Broadway radio stations until my friend messaged me a link about it. If you’re not entirely sure if you want to buy or even listen to the entire recording from one show check out satellite and online radio stations for Broadway or musical channels. Probably the best one out there is AcccuRadio Broadway. They have channels featuring songs from musicals of the stage and screen, and listening to them is free. While they may only have a few songs from any given show, these stations give people a general idea on what a musical is like. It’s a nice sample to help you decide if you want to see the show in person or maybe purchase the full show recording.
Listening To Music Artists Who Have a Jukebox Musical
A jukebox musical is a musical that is based on the songs of particular music artist or band. Some people might lament that jukebox musicals have become too popular recently, but jukebox musicals are popular for a reason, and they aren’t new either. One of most well loved musical movies Singin’ in the Rain is technically a jukebox musical. A jukebox musical can be a nice way to introduce people to musical theater, because they contain songs people know. For instance if you’re a fan of Green Day you might enjoy the musical American Idiot. Fan of The Who? Check out Tommy. Like ABBA? Try Mamma Mia!
I’d also like to point out that jukebox musicals can do the reverse of what they normally do. Instead of being familiar with a music artist or band and then checking out their jukebox musical, you can learn about different music artists and bands by seeing a jukebox musical. I learned about Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti through seeing the musical based on his life and music called FELA!
Scripts and Books
It should be obvious that a lot of shows are based on previously written plays, and for many of these shows it’s not too hard to get a hold of the script to read. I do prefer to watch a play than to read the script for it, but you might be different. You can head to the bookstore, the library or even search in the public domain for play scripts. All of Shakespeare’s work is in the public domain and are available for free. The 1891 German play The Awakened of Spring (basis for the musical Spring Awakening) by Franz Wedekind is also in the public domain.
Books can also be the source of inspiration for a show, and unlike reading scripts I love reading books. When I was a kid my family saw the musical Les Misérables because my dad had once read a condensed version of the Victor Hugo novel the musical is based on. Some other shows originally based on books include Wicked, The Color Purple, and War Horse. It is important to note that a muscial or stage adaption of a book will likely be a bit different than the book itself.
Theater is Everywhere
When I started writing this post I began to realize that the performing arts are not created in a bubble. No, reading a book or play isn’t like seeing a live show. A movie or a TV show can’t replace a live performance. Even a music recording won’t capture the energy of a live show. I’m not saying any of these is a replacement for the theater, but I do want to point out that these things can compliment the theater. If you can’t get out to see a show in New York or London or anywhere else then, you can get a little taste of the theater through these methods.
Sometimes I’m at home and my life and budget dictates I can’t go out and travel somewhere far and exotic. Do I sit around feeling sorry for myself thinking, “I can’t travel, poor me.” No, I save up some money and meanwhile I travel in other ways. I explore my local region. I try a new restaurant. I watch travel inspired movies. I read travel books. I do things to get inspired, and I hope that this post has sparked the idea to approach theater in that way as well.
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How do you experience theater away from the theater?