Amanda LaPergola and Keidra Chaney
A couple of months ago, Keidra and Amanda got together and shared notes about our recent Broadway experiences. It quickly moved on to other topics like stunt casting and Hollywood-izing of live theater, the atrocious Spiderman musical, Sailor Moon, and more. In honor of tonight’s
Audra McDonald Tony Awards, we are sharing this special chat with you today.
Keidra: What play did you see?
Amanda: I saw “All The Way”, or as it is often listed, “Bryan Cranston in ‘All The Way'”. Because Bryan Cranston is in it.
Keidra: I saw “Raisin in the Sun” or DENZEL. It was, I believe technically the second day of previews so there still were some issues, I think, with chemistry.
Amanda: Ah, interesting. I think “Bryan Cranston: The Musical” was well into its run by the time I saw it.
Keidra: I felt like there were times that the actors were trying to feel their way around each other, especially Sophie Okonedo and Denzel. They are supposed to be husband and wife and it felt like she was a bit intimidated.
Amanda: I can say that, having experienced previews as an actor, there is still a lot of gelling and things coming together both artistically and technically that make for a less focused, though interesting experience as an audience member.
Keidra: Do you think previews are helpful in that respect?
Amanda: I think that productions definitely need the preview period to get a feel for the actual run. When you’re rehearsing a play, nine times out of ten, you’re doing so in this studio space, or a church basement, or someone’s living room. You’re not onstage, making choices and exploring the character and relationships in the space you will actually be performing in. A period of adjustment is required.
Keidra: That makes sense, and you’re able to gauge audience response and get a feel for the crowd. I enjoyed the show, but I came out wishing I could see it again later in the run,
Amanda: I remember that’s why there was so much controversy when a critic posted a review of “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” while it was still in previews. The show was not ready, it needed to time adjust, to feel things out, to find what works and what won’t work. Of course, it turned out that nothing worked, so…
Keidra: Hoooo boy.
Amanda: Yeah. That show.
Keidra: I kinda wish I had been able to see it, it seemed like a hot mess from the very beginning though I feel like there were so many crazy expectations with it, too
Amanda: I had a friend who was an usher during the beginning of its run. She has stories.
Keidra: Oh, I bet! I feel like geek culture in general is so crazy critical it probably never had much of a chance
Amanda: There were crazy expectations, and geek culture was, is, and always will be extremely critical, but that show, if I may put it delicately, was an abortion.
Keidra: Did you get to see it?
Amanda: Nope. I never did. A part of me is sorry that I never did, but that show made me angry in so many ways. The excess, the casual disregard for performer safety, the fact that the creative team didn’t really seem to know Spiderman or what made him appealing… Mostly, I just get angry because I feel that “Spiderman” was a symptom of everything that is going wrong with Broadway today.
Keidra: Yes! It seemed like a production created by a marketing team.
Amanda: Oh man, now the angry theater nerd is coming out of me.
Keidra: Yes! Yes!!! Release your anger!!
Amanda: Broadway shows are being made and marketed the same way that blockbuster movies are being made and marketed: to cater to an international audience. Broadway shows, with some exceptions, fall into three categories: jukebox musicals, blockbuster musicals, star vehicles. “Spiderman” does not necessarily fall into any of those categories, but the branding, the marketing, it was all there.
Keidra: I thought of Spiderman as kind of a weird Frankenstein of a musical; the “pop culture event” musical.
Amanda: Yes, Frankenstein is a good word for it.
Keidra: Had it not been a disaster there would have been a whole bunch of bullshit musicals in the same vein. Like “Pokemon: The Musical.”
Amanda: Isn’t there already a Pokemon musical? I feel like Japan would be all over that shit.
Keidra: Ooooh maybe there is? See I could see Japan doing it right, because they had that Sailor Moon stage show back in the day that was pretty goddamn awesome.
Amanda: I fucking love those Sailor Moon shows!
Amanda: That’s what, I think, the Spiderman musical was trying to emulate, actually. It wanted to become the Sailor Moon musical of the West. And it did not. It failed. So hard.
Keidra: Ah… perhaps! It totally didn’t come across that way at all from what little I saw and heard.
Amanda: Oh, you mean how the writers made up villains and a character called “Arachne” and changed the way Uncle Ben died?
Keidra: UGHHHHH! I totally purged that from my memory! Just a total lack of respect for fans and audience members. Blech.
Amanda: Indeed. Like I said, the creators of this show just saw Spiderman as a brand and did not understand what made the character so popular and iconic to begin with. Also, I think that Julie Taymor might have Shyamalaned as a director.
Keidra: I am borrowing that.
Amanda: I give you my blessing! Anyway, the life and death of the Spiderman musical is classic Greek tragedy: warnings were ignored, hubris was rampant, and in the end, people suffered. Also, a fuckton of money was spent.
Keidra: I feel like in big budget Broadway and film in particular, branding comes before ideas every damn time.
Amanda: Dude, yes. Another symptom of that is “star” casting.
Keidra: YES! I love Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella as a musical and I really wanted to see it but not with all the stunt casting.
Amanda: Holy hell, that is stunt casting without a net! Remember “Sound of Music: Live” and how Carrie Underwood was utterly destroyed by Audra MacDonald?
Keidra: Brought the girl to TEARS
Amanda: Imagine that happening to poor Carly Rae Jepsen on a nightly basis.
Keidra: Yes. Totally out of her league. Even Raisin in The Sun was positioned as DENZEL rather than a revival of the play, and that bugged me a bit, though who doesn’t love him?
Amanda: It’s interesting to note that Raisin has had only two Broadway revivals since its original run, and both times they were crazy star-casted. P. Diddy played Denzel’s role in the last revival.
Keidra: I wish you could see me shaking my head.
Amanda: Although, that production also had Phylicia Rashad and Audra Motherfucking McDonald, who both won Tony’s for that show, so the sum of its parts and all that? I didn’t see that production, but something worked.
Keidra: I wish I had seen it. I actually heard Diddy wasn’t awful.
Amanda: Me, too. I think he might have benefited from being surrounded by such amazing talent, but acting onstage is not easy even for people who have been doing it for a long time. Despite the wobbliness of the performance you saw (preview shakes and all that) what were your impressions of the acting?
Keidra: I always love Anika Noni Rose; I thought she was great. LaTanya Richardson Jackson was EXCEPTIONAL. She replaced Diahann Carroll and I honestly feel like she did a better job than Carroll would have done in the role. She was the right choice. Denzel was good but not exceptional. I feel like he’s getting used to the stage. Also, Walter is a thankless role. I feel like no matter what, I never really like him. He honestly doesn’t get the best moments in that play.
Amanda: Very true. Which sucks because Walter is the catalyst for everything that happens in the show. He is the one who goes on this journey, he is the one who messes up and brings chaos, and he is the one who grows and changes the most. It’s not poor Walter’s fault that all the women in his family are just fucking amazing.
Keidra: LOL! So true. Like I said, I wish I could see it again at the end of the run. I feel like some things will be worked out.
Amanda: Well, now my interest is piqued. If I can get to the show as it’s winding down I will give you my thoughts. “All The Way”, by contrast, is not an important part of American Theater history. It’s not a revival of anything. It’s Bryan Cranston being Bryan Cranston being LBJ.
And that was all me and everyone else in the audience wanted. OMG I’M PART OF THE PROBLEM!
Keidra: How was the crowd, did they seem especially starstruck?
Amanda: They seemed appreciative. I mean, this was a role that was clearly written for a star. It’s not like Walter in “Raisin”, where he is part of the fabric of the show, LBJ is the motherfucking show. LBJ IS THE ONE WHO SHOWS.
Keidra: That’s a tagline!
Amanda: Hell yes it is! I just put at least four more asses in the seats!
Keidra: Let’s get you on the payroll!
Amanda: But anyway, the show begins and ends with LBJ talking to the audience, so it is one of those kinds of shows. Which is weird, because the cast is HUGE. There are twenty people in that show!
Keidra: Wow, so who are the other characters?
Amanda: Everyone in LBJ’s life from 1963 to 1964, up to and including J. Edgar Hoover and Martin Luther King. Not JFK, though. He’s dead before the play even begins. The plot of this show is basically everything LBJ does between the death of Kennedy and his reelection the following year. The first act, actually, feels a lot like “Lincoln”. It pretty much exclusively focuses on the passing of the Civil Rights Bill and all the finagling it took to do that.
Keidra: Lots of monologues, I imagine.
Amanda: Lots of political threats, too. Lines like: “I love you more than my own daddy, but if you get in my way, I’ll crush you” But, also, it takes a look at what groups like the NAACP were doing during the fight, too. So, it was like “Lincoln”, but where black people actually do things! It was kind of refreshing to see the fight for the Civil Rights bill from all angles and not just what all the wise white men did.
Keidra: So does this show count as a “stunt casting” show to you?
Amanda: I do believe that this show was stunt-casted, but in a way that works in the show’s favor. The show, as it is written, is not very strong. It’s too long, too preachy, and the second half is a bit of mess. I actually feel like the show should have ended with the passing of the bill, because that first half has a much more complete feel to it. It is also the kind of the show that would not have made it all the way to Broadway without the benefit of star power…or a seriously loaded producer, but anyway… The strength of this show relies HEAVILY on the strength of its LBJ, and Cranston, in addition to being a recognizable face, gives it that power and charisma that that role needs. Without a strong lead, “All The Way” would collapse like a poorly made flan.
Keidra: So you couldn’t see this production taking off with an unknown.
Amanda: Hell no! It’s not a strong enough play to stand on its own merits. Although, and I will give this show credit, “All The Way” is educational. Someone who comes to see the show just hoping to see Heisenberg on Broadway might learn something about that era of history, so there is some benefit in that. I think Kevin Spacey said something like “If some kid sees me in ‘Richard II’ because he saw me in ‘Superman’ and finds out he likes Shakespeare, then mission accomplished.” Then he launched into a rendition of “My Way”. At least he does in my version of events. I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy “All The Way”; I enjoyed it immensely. Getting to a Broadway show always feels special, despite my conflicted feelings about Broadway as an institution. And it was great just basking in that Cranston glow.
Amanda LaPergola threw herself into the desperate, pulsating mass of aspiring New York City actor-writers almost ten years ago and looks back on her choices with only minor regrets. Her shortest held survival job was as a fundraiser for the New York Philharmonic, her tenure coming to a thrilling crescendo when a prospective patroness of the arts cordially invited young Amanda to “go fuck [her]self.” She will also tell you many stories about that one week she worked at The Patriot. Amanda is a contributing writer/crayon archivist/Street Fightologist for The Mary Sue and reviews plays, musicals, and whatever else the kids are doing on stage these days at Theater Is Easy. She is an active member of the New York City indie theater community, and she hangs out a lot (some might say too much) at The Brick. She once tried stand-up comedy, but then she stopped. Tweet her, if you must, @LaPergs.