Three theatre lovers, three bowls of chips and queso, and one terrific Broadway season. BLEEP Editor-in-Chief Ryan Brinson talks with two of Broadway’s biggest fans, TheaterMania photographer Tricia Baron and second baseman for the Matilda softball team Miriam Baron about this season of musicals, who we loved, who you need to see and why we loved Broadway this year.
Ryan: Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Hamilton. The thing I was most impressed with was the staging that kept me interested from point A to point Z. I thought the way the story was told was wildly compelling. It’s become this larger-than-life, culture absorbing thing. I’m fascinated by it.
Tricia: This show was the first time I can remember noticing the lighting and being moved by the lighting. I just recently saw it for the third time, and everywhere I looked, it told me exactly where I needed to be focusing. I also loved the concept of the costumes, how until you became a specific character, you were dressed in white revolutionary clothes. When you became someone else, the coat or the dress came on. I also really loved “The Bullet,” Ariana DeBose. I loved the way she did it.
Miriam: She made this obvious imminent death kinda sexy. It was neat and a well-staged, well-choreographed show.
Ryan: We need to talk about the fandom of this show. Something happened with this show that hasn’t happened since Wicked and before that, Rent, where people who have not seen it and will not see it for years to come are obsessed and know every word of the cast album. Why is that?
Tricia: I was a Rent-head. I had that whole show memorized. Something about the music sucked you in and you couldn’t help but listen to it over and over again. I loved the homages in Hamilton and how he played to every type of musical out there. You get classic musical theatre with the King George character, you get the rap you aren’t used to hearing on Broadway and it plays to every one of your senses.
Miriam: The contemporary style is attractive to young people, but I think the biggest edge this show has over other shows is the social media. Lin is aware of what the fans want and he gives it to them.
Ryan: The Ham-4-Ham stuff goes viral instantly, which I think defines what this show is. It’s a hit for the social media era. It spread not because of celebrity involvement, but because its social media presence is in tune with its potential audience. The rest of the Best Musical category is, for me, split into two different types of shows: School of Rock and Shuffle Along carry with them the name of theatre luminaries while Bright Star and Waitress carry the names of people from outside the Broadway community. With School of Rock, we’ve got Andrew Lloyd Webber’s return to a Broadway hit.
Miriam: When you’ve got kids on stage, you know they have to be talented, but the level of which these kids in School of Rock can multitask is unreal. Playing the music they’re playing, singing, dancing and doing everything else.
Tricia: The kid on the guitar? Forget it, he’s amazing. They are so talented.
Miriam: The energy they bring livened up the show.
Ryan: In Shuffle Along, you’ve got Audra McDonald and the rest of the above-the-title Broadway stars leading the show, but it was tap dancing and a form of movement I’ve never seen. It was at once period and contemporary. I also loved that it didn’t look like the Rockettes. So often, when you see tap dancing, it’s about uniformity and precision, and yes the feet were precise, but the bodies weren’t.
Miriam: The dancing was fascinating. I always worry when there’s a movie or a show with a slew of stars in it, but I think they all played to their strengths. It wasn’t a star vehicle for any of them, but they were bringing this fascinating story and show back.
Ryan: It’s masqueraded as a star vehicle and while they were all great, the things I remembered were the quartet of men, the tap dancing girls, Adrienne Warren’s brilliant performance, and Amber Iman’s scenes.
Tricia: It was such a good ensemble. And I love that Joshua Henry.
Ryan: Isn’t he divinely good? I loved him in Scottsboro Boys too. That was one of the first musicals that made me feel deeply.
Tricia: He was so good in Violet last season too.
Ryan: Speaking about the choreography in Shuffle, I was equally impressed by the choreography in On Your Feet! Maybe even more so. The dancing was so authentic and rapturous. The dancing in Dames at Sea was also extraordinary and it gave me that old Hollywood feeling. There wasn’t a giant cast to distract you.
Miriam: It was stripped down talent.
Ryan: Exactly. Usually when there’s a show that small, it’s loaded with stars, and maybe that lack of name recognition is why it didn’t last, but I thought the cast was incredible. The cast in On Your Feet! was great too. The leads were awesome. They sounded so much like the real life Emilio and Gloria.
Tricia: Jessie Mueller did that with Sara Bareilles in Waitress. I loved Waitress. Loved it. Christopher Fitzgerald is the most amazing thing in the world.
Miriam: He steals the show in whatever he is in. He’s a spitfire who is endearing. And please keep putting Keala Settle in shows people. She’s too good.
Ryan: Waitress is intrinsically connected to Sara. I don’t feel like people are as aware that Steve Martin wrote Bright Star. Maybe they still don’t believe he’s a legit musician? He’s got 5 Grammys for goodness sake. I super loved Bright Star and it was because of the music. It wasn’t musical theatre music with a bluegrass sensibility. It was bluegrass music with a theatre sensibility.
Miriam: It’s the best acted show on Broadway. Hands down. You could feel what every character was going through. That’s a nod to the writing and direction, but these actors, who I didn’t know before this show, were so good.
Ryan: Paul Nolan went from being Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar to being a replacement in Once to doing this and he needs to keep singing and being in shows because he was great in all three of those.
Tricia: He sings his songs with such depth.
Ryan: There is an emotional heftiness to the story they are telling that I wasn’t expecting. And when Carmen Cusack sang…
Tricia: That 11 o’clock number, “At Long Last,” is unbelievable.
Ryan: That song is every bit as empowering as “I Am Here” from The Color Purple. Different tones for sure. Cynthia’s voice pierces your soul and Carmen’s voice fills you with joy.
Miriam: I saw the original The Color Purple and I loved it the first time. It was still so fresh in my mind. I’m so glad I went back to see this one. It was a very well-cast production and Cynthia is amazing.
Ryan: I loved Danielle Brooks and the ensemble. I also liked the minimalist style of the show. I like shows where you get to fill in the gaps with your mind. You’re almost creating it with them so your brain is on the same page as them. Rather than being told the story, you’re a part of the story.
Tricia: The other revival that happened very soon after the original is Spring Awakening. I saw Deaf West’s Big River and it blew my mind. It was beautiful.
Ryan: The way they integrated the sign language, spoken words and the written words on screens was incredibly cool. What I also thought was incredibly old-school cool was She Loves Me.
Miriam: It brought back the Golden Age of musicals. It was everything you wanted it to be.
Ryan: The best set on Broadway this year. If the set changes get audience applause, that’s something special.
Miriam: It’s so detailed too.
Tricia: It’s a gorgeous show and the cast is talented of course. They have great chemistry.
Ryan: There were a lot of great shows this season.
Tricia: A lot.
Miriam: A lot of people were really good this year.
Ryan: Hopefully, that stays the trend for seasons to come.
Tricia Baron is a theater nerd, music director, and freelance photographer for TheaterMania, who sees all the Broadway musicals for as cheap as possible, and had the distinct pleasure of sitting in the recording booth while Lin Manuel Miranda recorded his portion of the Hamiltome audio book.
Miriam Baron is a second baseman in the Broadway Show League, has won the Hamilton lottery twice, and looks forward to the day when she gets to wrap her belt around the waist of the Great White Way.