I was reading at lunch today, mostly ignoring the music playing in the background, until my brain latched onto a familiar sequence of notes and started trying to place it. Wait… That couldn’t be a dance/pop version of “Popular” from “Wicked,” could it?

But I’d heard dance mixes of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and the Smurfs theme, and a Techno version of “Phantom of the Opera.” So it might be…

There was too much noise to Shazam it, but a search for “Popular Wicked dance mix” found it on the first try: “Popular Song” by Mika and Ariana Grande.

Jean BonbobYesterday the Les Misérables Broadway page on Facebook linked to a YouTube video of “Les Mousserables,” a Sesame Street sketch in which Cookie Monster, as Jean Bonbon, must learn to recognize other people’s feelings and share his cookies. It was…okay I suppose. It had its moments (like “One Day S’more”), and it was fun to see them take on the movie’s visuals (Snuffleupagus as the Elephant of the Bastille, for instance). Maybe my expectations were too high, or I was in the wrong mood for it. I’ve seen a number of “Elmo the Musical” bits that were quite entertaining, and I loved the “Finishing the Splat” sketch with Oscar the Grouch.

Yes, I have a toddler in the house, in case you’re wondering.

YouTube recommended “Les Miseranimals,” which has long been one of my favorites. It’s the sketch that got me to look at Animaniacs at an age when I was old enough not to be interested in afternoon cartoons (with the exception of Batman: The Animated Series), and it was quickly clear that even if the show was aimed at younger viewers, there was plenty of fun for a teenager to enjoy as well. So we all watched a grainy copy on the tablet even though the crisp DVD was sitting on a shelf across the room. It still holds up, though some of the songs work better than others. I’m not sure how I never noticed before that M. Tristesse (the restaurant owner) is basically one of John Cleese’s French caricatures from Monty Python.

I also found it sad that Rita’s song “There is a Flat in Gay Paree” is no longer shorter than “Castle on a Cloud” in the current version of the show.

From there YouTube recommended a clip from Forbidden Broadway‘s take on the show, which turned out to be someone’s recording from the audience in some production. That sort of thing bugs me, but I watched the whole thing, having discovered a few months ago that my aging audio cassette is no longer playable (and not having gotten around to replacing it). This was hit and miss, partly because a lot of the parody depends on the show being new at the time.

I suppose technically I watched four parodies, because even though we were ready to stop after 30-40 minutes of tiny videos parodying the same show, there was a link to a three-minute clip called “On My Phone.” It’s apparently from a more recent Forbidden Broadway show, and it’s brilliant.

(Cross-posted at Re-Reading Les Misérables.)

Audio Cassette

With all the Les Miserables reading and listening I’ve been doing lately, I decided to dig out an old mix tape of excerpts from Forbidden Broadway. It’s been years since I’ve actually listened to an audio cassette. Most of my music collection was on CDs to begin with, the iPod and my phone have long-since replaced the tapes I kept in the car, and playlists with shuffle have replaced mix tapes.

My two-year old, on seeing it, immediately asked, “What is this?” I tried to explain it was a way they used to record music before CDs, that it has a roll of tape inside, more like a measuring tape than sticky tape, that you have to be careful not to touch the edge (which he promptly did — hooray for leaders). Then I tried to demonstrate how the tape rolled from one side to the other, using the time-honored method of sticking a pencil in and turning it quickly.

And I couldn’t find a pencil.

More accurately, I couldn’t find a hexagonal wooden pencil. A mechanical pencil, sure. A bunch of pens. Some round wooden pencils. But nothing that would actually fit inside the capstan and turn it.

Demo of old technology defeated by…a lack of another old technology!

Defeated, I put the cassette in the tape deck on the stereo and played it. It sounded hollow and distant, with too much noise to actually listen to it. Some media age better than others. I’d bet the CDs I recorded it from (wherever they ended up) still play just fine. I wouldn’t be surprised to find my parents’ vinyl albums still play as well as they did twenty years ago, as long as they’re clean.

It makes me wonder what state the rest of my tapes, both audio and VHS, are in. I was planning to try to sell some of the pre-recorded VHS tapes if I could find someone who wants them, but now I wonder if I should play them first or just send them to e-waste.

Last summer I saw the 25th Anniversary production of Les Misérables on stage. I started reviewing it, but never finished. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I figured it was time to rescue this from the draft folder before writing my thoughts on the film.

For the 25th anniversary of the show, the staging has been completely redone (in part to get rid of the rotating stage). The songs have been adjusted again, and long-standing direction, costume design and characterization has been allowed to change.

Overall I like the new staging. It’s not a stripped-down production at all – in fact, most of the sets are more elaborate than the original, which basically relied on the rotating floor, lighting, two jumbles of boxes, and a bridge. Fortunately they didn’t go overboard: they let the songs carry the show, which leads to an interesting mix of elaborate sets for ensemble numbers and empty stages for the solos.

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We went out to see two plays* last week: The Glass Mendacity in LA and Ordinary Days at SCR.

The Glass Mendacity is a spoof of Tennessee Williams, mashing together The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire into one messed-up family gathering, played as comedy instead of tragedy. There’s Big Daddy and Big Amanda Dubois; their son Brick (played by a mannequin) and his wife Maggie the Cat; their daughter Blanche and her husband Stanley Kowalski; their youngest daughter Laura; and a gentleman caller, who appears in the final sce–okay, he shows up in scene one and never leaves. It’s funny on its own, but absolutely hilarious if you know the plays being parodied.

The production we saw was at the Ark Theatre. It’s a tiny theater upstairs in the historic building that houses the Hayworth Theatre. In the 1920s, even office buildings had character! The lobby is basically entry-level landing to the rear stairway, but they’ve managed to fit in a small bar and a couple of tables.

Ordinary Days is a slice-of-life musical about four people in New York City: a couple just moving in together, a grad student, and an artist. Their stories intersect, and each reaches an epiphany about his or her life over the course of the story. The music reminded me a bit of Stephen Sondheim and a bit of Stephen Schwartz. The cast was good, and the set design did a great job of suggesting various locations in an enormous city.

This was the first show I’d seen at South Coast Repertory’s Julianne Argyros Stage. Somehow I managed to go a whole decade without seeing anything at SCR at all, and the other shows I’ve seen over the last year were all in what used to be the main stage. In my head, I still had the image of the old second stage, a box-shaped studio, up until the point that we walked in the door to see a proscenium stage and a house with a balcony and box seats. I might actually have missed this one, except we ran into one of my music theater teachers from college on the way to Xanadu last month, and he was rehearsing this show as the musical director and accompanist.

Both shows are still running. The Glass Mendacity runs through January 30, and Ordinary Days runs through January 24.

*Hooray for cheap tickets at Goldstar. ← (Darn right, it’s an affiliate link! If you sign up using it, they’ll give me $1 off my next purchase!)