Not A Hard Knock Life (Stage Thoughts: Annie, The Hollywood Bowl)

30086_show_portrait_largeSeeing ‘Annie’ at The Hollywood Bowl last night was significant for me for a couple of reasons. First, ‘Annie’ was my very first Broadway show at age thirteen, so obviously it holds a special place in my heart. Second, this is my first time at The Hollywood Bowl, an iconic Los Angeles venue, on my six-month anniversary weekend since moving to Southern California. Plus, this show stars Lea Salonga as Grace Farrell, who I remember seeing playing the role of Annie when she was a young girl. So, essentially,  there’s all kinds of intertwined emotions here.

The nineteen piece orchestra (amplified to high heavens) sounded good, and the score sounds glorious in its hands. Kaylin Hedges is a wonderful Annie, with a voice of steel that the role requires (I read she was discovered via YouTube)  Call me an indulgent purist, though, but couldn’t her Annie have worn a curly red wig? That’s a major directorial choice I had a problem with. The rest of the cast worked well, with David Alan Grier a serviceable Daddy Warbucks, and Salonga more than fine Farrell (I wonder if the latter’s mid-century British/New Yawk accent was a directorial choice, though) Ana Gasteyer’s Miss Hannigan was more funny than menacing and that works for me. (I still get nightmares from  Nell Carter’s scary Hannigan from the 1997 revival) But the best performances for me were Roger Bart’s Rooster and Megan Hilty’s Lily St. Regis, both stealing all the scenes they were in. And adorable Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja captured the audience’s hearts as Molly. I love the diversity of the cast, representing the colorful landscape of now. Director Michael Arden manages to not have the venue dwarf the performances, and the book scenes never overstay their welcome.  He really doesn’t do any earth-shattering change in this production, which is most of the times all you need. (cc: James Lapine’s dark humourless take from 2014)

Surely, this is not my most ideal way of seeing this show, but as an experience, I would say this is one satisfied me at that particular moment of my life. A perfect breezy summer evening and overflowing wine contributed to the magical experience.  I went with my three best friends (we have all known each other since we were nine) and the whole time I was there, I kept on telling myself, ‘Life is good,’ because, truly, at times, it is.

Ivy’s Holly (Music Thoughts: A Merry Little Christmas, Megan Hilty)

15048138_700847763424793_4817715711285657600_nI recently saw Megan Hilty perform her cabaret show and was very much impressed. I knew she was going to be good – she has the vocal chops and is a much capable actress, but she also has a sparkling personality live, and if I wasn’t a fan before, I would be more so now. So I was so happy to see she has a Holiday album, called ‘A Merry Little Christmas.’

It’s a good album, though on record her personality is a little muted. She has a great lineup – a mixture of old reliables like ‘Jingle Bells,’ ‘Have Yourself a Mery Little Christmas,’ and mixed are theater songs that evoke Holiday feelings, such as  ‘There’s Always Tomorrow,’ and ‘A Place Called Home’ The arrangements are fine enough, and have an organic ‘cabaret’ feel to them. But none of these versions made me forget the originals, though I did enjoy hearing her renditions. This won’t be my first choice for the holidays but I can see myself pulling them on a moody and cold Friday December evening.

Megan, And More (Music Review: Megan Hilty Live At The Cafe Carlyle, Megan Hilty)

MeganHilty-MeganHiltyLiveattheI am a big Megan Hilty fan. (I was always #TeamIvy when I was watching ‘Smash’) So of course I am first in line listening to her new album “Megan Hilty: Live At The Café Carlyle. I have been waiting for it, but they keep on moving the line (bah-dum-bum. I’ll be here the whole week!) Kidding aside, I wish I had seen her at The Carlyle, but I guess this disc is the next best thing. Hilty is in fine voice here, and it’s full of feeling, though seeing her live I’m sure adds more depth to her renditions. And the show gives insight to a lot of things Megan: we find out before she sings “Bye Bye Baby” that it was her audition song for Smash. Of course, she sings a lot of her Smash songs in here”…moving the line,” “Second Hand White Baby Grand,” and the duet of “That’s Life.” (Matt Cusson takes over Kat McPhee’s duties on that last one)  The rest of the repertoire here are standards like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me,” ‘The Best Is Yet To Come,” and songs associated with her like ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.’ She does great service to these songs, but when I read reviews of her live show, I read she sang more interesting songs like ‘A Place Called Home,” and I had wished they included that here. She even does a (missing here) Rosemary Clooney Medley. I think her personality would shine in these numbers. But I am still thankful for what we get here, like a touching ‘Autumn Leaves/When October Goes’ medlette and torch numbers like ‘The Man That Got Away.’ We even get a wistful ‘Rainbow Connection’ at the end (which I think is a studio version) This is a great Megan Hilty souvenir, and I will keeping it close to my heart.