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“Dear Evan Hansen”: Thank You

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a musical crush on the writing team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I fell in love with their show Dogfight during my freshman year of college, and my appreciation for their work has only grown since. Their music always manages to strike the emotional chord that I need whenever I listen to it.

Through my love for the Pasek and Paul writing team, I heard about a new musical they were working on a few years back. They released a demo track of “Waving Through a Window” from the show on SoundCloud, and I immediately connected to the music. It became the song I played on repeat for hours. It was a song I related to so strongly. It’s rare to find a song that is able to move a person so profoundly, but Pasek and Paul have a knack for writing music that just does it naturally.

If you haven’t heard “Waving Through a Window,” here’s the track. I highly recommend you listen before going forward.

A while after I heard that first song, Dear Evan Hansen opened on July 30, 2015 on Off-Broadway. Following the Off-Broadway run, it opened on Broadway in November of 2016. Since it’s inaugural performance, the show received a steady growth of recognition, including earning an Obie award and a Drama Desk award.

The story and the music depict a raw look at mental illness and the struggle of not fitting in. The about section on the official website reads this: “A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, a life he never dreamed he could have. Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in.”

Evan Hansen is a high school student struggling with serious anxiety and depression, which is a large part of why the plot develops the way it does. After a death of a classmate who Evan didn’t know very well, a letter leads to the grieving family to believe that Evan was better friends with their son than he was. Through this mistake, Evan gains a family dynamic he never had and a girl he always loved.

The book was written by Steven Levenson, while Pasek and Paul created the story and crafted the beautiful music that frames the plot. The honest look at mental illness that this show provides is empowering. It touches on grief, the drowning feeling of anxiety and depression, and coming back from a seemingly impossible mistake.

Dear Evan Hansen is a beautiful show. I feel as though I owe a thank you into the internet for Pasek and Paul and their amazing work. As a person who has struggled with mental illness, the music is so honest and true and really touches on the pain of a mental illness journey. It shows that good can always come out of dark places, which is incredibly empowering to anyone who has gone through anxiety or depression.

If you have not already listening to the cast album, I (obviously) highly recommend it. It deserves the acclaim it has received. I could talk about every song on the list, but then we would be here forever. All I can say is, if you’re looking for a lifeline, Dear Evan Hansen is a good place to start.

Thank you to everyone involved in this wonderful show. Thank you for demonstrating that everyone can be found.

Here’s the album playlist for you listening enjoyment:

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Don’t Feed the Actors: Weeks Six and Seven

The time finally came. Tech week into opening night. It was stressful and crazy, but so rewarding. Everyone worked so hard at making sure we put on a fantastic show, and (while I may be biased), we succeeded. I’m so proud of everyone involved and I’m so happy we achieved what we did. I hope you enjoy the final installment of “Don’t Feed the Actors”.

Don’t Feed the Actors – Weeks Four and Five

Between spring break and an Aurora University choir tour, much of these two weeks of work had to be combined into one video. These weeks focused on finishing up Act One and Two, and finally running the entire show. Running the show at this point in the rehearsal process is so helpful and reassuring because it gives us so much buffer time before our performances. After these weeks though, tech week will begin, and the real stress will set in. Little Shop has been going very well, and the cast is set to be ready for opening night. But the process getting there hasn’t been entirely easy, and tech week will not make it any easier. The show will be great, and the cast is ready to take on whatever challenge tech week throws.

Anyone for Some Pie?

Given that my spring break was last week, I took the opportunity to go see Sweeney Todd at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL. The Paramount is an excellent place to go see high-quality shows at a bargain price, particularly for students. Rush tickets, at the door on the day of show with a valid student I.D., are only ten dollars. It’s allowed me to see some amazing shows more than once. Without the student rush pricing, tickets typically run about $60, which is still an incredibly low price for excellent theatre.

The Paramount Theatre does a Broadway Series every year with a four show cycle that goes from September to May. The 2016/2017 season entails Mamma Mia, The Little Mermaid, Sweeney Todd, and Jesus Christ Superstar, so it has had a lot of great moments. While Mamma Mia and The Little Mermaid have past, Sweeney Todd is currently running through the 19th of March, and Jesus Christ Superstar will begin April 19th and run through May 28th. I will definitely be in attendance of the next show on the list because while I may not love that particular show, the Paramount always produces such good performances that any show is worth seeing. Here is the montage the Paramount released for the show!

Sweeney Todd, a Sondheim musical, follows (not surprisingly) Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, on his determined path for revenge. Through the macabre subject matter, beautiful and haunting music swells through that leads the audience to feel for the anti-hero that is Todd. Of those helping the demon barber, Mrs. Lovett proves to be a voice of suggestion and love for Todd, and provides much needed comic relief throughout the show. Through Todd’s revenge plot against the Judge who took his wife and daughter from him, as well as his desire to take his daughter back from the Judge, the plot unfolds in a dramatic and dark way.

The Paramount’s production starred Paul Jordan-Jansen as Sweeney and Bri Sudia as Mrs. Lovett. The duo commanded the stage together. Jordan-Jansen was dark and twisted in his portrayal, while Sudia mastered the art of dark comedy. I thoroughly enjoyed watching both of them, particularly Sudia. Mrs. Lovett is an amazing part, but so often it can be overdone. Sudia provided a balanced yet hilarious view of the baker, and she was one of my favorite parts of the show. The duo singing “Have a Little Priest” to end the first act was timed and portrayed to perfection.

The set was incredible. It was three levels with a screen background that changed throughout the show. The levels were made out of metal grate with stairs going between them. The Paramount stage is tall but it does not have a lot of depth, and they really utilized the space in this show. The changing background was intensely important whenever something important occurred, and it set the dark atmosphere to backdrop the story. Between the set and the amazing orchestra, the stage aspects were well executed (no pun intended) and tied everything together extremely well.

Overall, I loved the show. Sweeney Todd is a difficult show and the ensemble put on a wonderful performance. Any qualms that I had were small and not really worth mentioning, as none were a good enough reason to not see this show. The Paramount continuously puts on amazing productions, and as always, I look forward to any and all upcoming seasons.

Don’t Feed the Actors – Week 2

Little Shop Week 2 involved a lot of music rehearsals, and just a little bit of messing around. Parts aren’t perfect, but they are on their way. The rehearsals are going really well. Next: Choreography!

Auditions (“I Hope I Get It”)

This past week, my school’s theatre department auditioned for the spring musical, Little Shop of Horrors. My fellow peers and I stressed about monologues and songs, about who we thought would get cast as what, and about what getting the part we wanted would mean to us.

The audition is a both a loved and hated (but mostly hated) aspect of the theatre world. Stepping out of the room after a good audition can be a euphoric moment, complete with fulfilled potential and an adrenaline high. But a bad audition can leave you with doubt that creeps into every aspect of your character, a doubt that keeps hold until the cast list is released, and follows you to your next audition.

The thing about auditions is that no matter how good you are, an audition can throw you off. So I decided to talk to a few of my peers coming off the audition high from last week and hear their opinions on three things: The best part about auditions, the worst part about auditions, and some tips for auditioning. Here’s what they said.


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Joelle Kasprisin – Senior Social Work Major/Sociology Minor, Knows a lot of Musical Theatre Lyrics

Best part about auditions?  “The best part of auditioning is rehearsing with your friends and helping each other and encouraging each other to do our best.”

Worst part about auditions? “The worst part of auditioning is after the audition happens, when you wait for the cast list to come out and can’t stop thinking about even for a few minutes until it finally gets emailed to you.”

Tips for auditioning? “Choose a song that fits the style of the role that you want, and practice your ENTIRE audition in front of a trusted friend who will tell you the truth about how you did and give you constructing criticism. And I do mean the entire audition, like from when you introduce yourself to when you take your binder back from your collaborative pianist. Because you may forget. Like I have.”

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Ricky Rivera Junior Music Major/Political Science Minor, Music Veteran-Musical Theatre Newbie

Best part about auditions?  “The best part about auditioning is the experience you get. You can learn something from each audition you have, making the process less and less stressful each time you go through it.”

Worst part about auditions? “The worst part of auditioning has to be the wait to see if you made it into the production you auditioned for. The anticipation is ridiculously stressful.”

Tips for auditioning? “When auditioning, pretend that there is no one judging you. Audition like you are in your room, and just be 100% comfortable with what you’re doing.”

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Liza Scheidler Sophomore Musical Theatre Major, Musical Theatre Career Girl

Best part about auditions? “For me, the best part about auditioning is getting the chance to better myself and improve my abilities. I’ve always been the type to get super stressed out for auditions, even more so than actual performances, so the more opportunities I have to audition the better I become at controlling those nerves. Even if an audition doesn’t go as smoothly as I’d like, I try to view it as a growing experience so I know what to do differently next time.”

Worst part about auditions? “My least favorite part about auditioning is how nervous I get. It’s easy for me to lose my focus and forget lines when I’m nervous which is always extremely frustrating. I also tend to start second-guessing my monologue/song choices which only adds to the stress. It gets easier to deal with each time I audition, but it’s still something I often struggle with.”

Tips for auditioning?  “My two main tips for auditioning are to come prepared and relax! It’s important to know your audition material like the back of your hand so even if nerves do get the best of you, you can recover easily. But at the end of the day, it’s just one audition! Worrying and stressing over it will only negatively affect your performance, so try to relax and just have fun!”

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Mackenzie Burke – Freshman Musical Theatre Major, Inhales Music-Exhales Musical Theatre

Best part about auditions? “So I’d have to say some of the best parts of auditions is the excitement of possibly being cast in an amazing show or landing that part you’ve been dreaming of forever. You have prepared so hard to go in front of a panel of strangers and you have maybe 2 minutes or show to give them your best self, and talent!
It’s amazing to go into a cattle call auditions and see a hundreds of people with the same dream as you, and it’s fun to meet new friends and discover other people backgrounds.”

Worst part about auditions? “Worst part of auditions is the waiting game. Or the feeling of regret that your choice of song or monologue wasn’t good enough. Or seeing the cast list and not getting a role you wanted or even a role at all. The nerves can sometimes engulf you and create a bad audition, or even make you sick. You have to literally give your fate into strangers hands and hope they like you.”

Tips for auditioning? “You are not going to fit everyone’s mold. You cannot change who you are to fit a role. Directors sometimes make rash or crazy decisions that you never saw coming. Don’t freak yourself out and give bad energy to those around you, or have the sense of “Oh, I am not gonna get it anyway so why bother” attitude. Go into your auditions strong and smiling, be who you are and if you are meant to be it will happen.”


If these four talented performers display a unifying theme, it’s that as far as auditions go, there’s only so much power you have. Perform to the best of your ability, and fate will take it from there. Good luck on any and all auditions in the future, and between you and me, I really hope you get it.

What I Learned as a First Time Music Director*

*This is in regards to music directing community theatre.

I had the opportunity to music direct the ultimate show of teen angst, Spring Awakening, over winter break this year at a small community theatre in my area. While it was a great experience that taught me a lot, there was plenty about it that was frustrating. These are some things that I learned during my time in Spring Awakening.

1.You can only do so much. 

I lucked out. The kids I worked with were extremely talented and kind. But at some point, there is only so much you can do. You can tell someone to practice all you want, and you can go through the same part over and over, but if that person isn’t willing to put in the extra work, there isn’t much you can do. You can’t practice for them.

2. Don’t be afraid to say “No.”

I’m not sure how often this comes up usually, but I was asked to be in the show in addition to music directing it. My advice if that question ever comes up is to say “no”. While not impossible, it is really hard to music direct a show you’re in. It compromises your ability to direct immensely. Maybe this particular question isn’t the one that you’ll experience, but know when too much is too much. Take a breath, assess what is expected of you already and determine if whatever is being asked of you falls into your job description or will be an overwhelming amount of work. Say “no” if you aren’t 100% for it. Say “yes” if you want a challenge. But don’t be afraid to consider the outcomes and kindly decline if it is too much.

3. Get out of your head. 

I spent a good portion of the first couple music rehearsals obsessing over if I was doing a good job. My piano skills are limited, so sometimes chords are slow-going. I kept thinking I was seeing looks pass between cast members who are used to their efficient high choir directors teaching them music and comparing myself to what I assumed they expected. But it didn’t do me any good to worry about what they thought of me. And it certainly didn’t do them any good when I fumbled over notes because of my nerves. So don’t worry. You can’t please everyone, you can only be satisfied with your own work. Focus on that, and you’ll get through it.

4. Be nice, but be firm.

It is important to remember, especially with community theatre, that the people you are working with are young. They are not professionals. (In my case, neither am I!) In my experience, they responded best to kindness. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pull a firm hand once in a while though. Your job is to keep rehearsals on track and learn the necessary music, while still keeping the ensemble engaged. I would entertain their spurts of distraction for a little, giving them a small mental break, but I would soon gently guide them back to the task at hand. While, of course, all ensembles are different, this particular group reacted well to by firm kindness in getting them back on track. I never had to yell. At most, it was “Guys, come on. We have to focus.” Anger is a powerful tool, but it loses its punch if used consistently.

5. Take your time with those who need it.

Entertain questions about the music. Ask multiple times if there is anything else they want to go over. Always help when a cast member is asking for you to help them improve. In community theatre, they are not only there to perform but also to learn. You are there to teach. Make time for those who need extra help, whether they ask you to help or not. Don’t push them to perfection, but push them towards success. There is a difference. Especially when working with young people, who take criticism so differently from adults, it is important to be a friendly guiding hand and not someone who makes them feel insecure about their mistakes. As a music director, I feel it is important to always encourage, never tear down.

Overall, my experience was a bumpy one. But I learned a lot, and I know I’ll be able to apply what I learned to future endeavors, whether music related or otherwise. If given the opportunity to music direct, take it. It’s a learning experience worth having.

Watch a promo video made by one of the cast members, Madison Rae.

*Warning: Language, Sexual Content*

Hamilton: A Revelation

I saw Hamilton in Chicago a few weeks back, and it was one of the best stage experiences of my life. That sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I have no other way to describe it. It was a stunning work of art and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness it. The use of dance, of verbal poetry, and of engaging storytelling left me speechless.

I had, of course, already listened to the original cast recording countless times, and while some may imagine this would hinder my listening experience, it did anything but that. Because I knew the story so well, I could sit back and watch it unfold without questioning what was happening or what was going to happen next. Because the music is mostly constant and the words go by so fast, I could hardly stop and think, “Hey, that’s not how Lin-Manuel did it in the original!” And either way, I didn’t need to. Each of the members of the Chicago Hamilton cast did a superb job in maintaining the original characters while still giving it their own unique spin.

The title role of Alexander Hamilton is played by Miguel Cervantes, and his portrayal proves that even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s shows can be filled. One could imagine the amount of pressure a role such as that would be, especially following in the footsteps of the creator, Miranda, but if Cervantes ever had any doubts, he doesn’t show it in his confident and engaging performance.

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While it’s easy to talk about how amazing all of the performers were (I certainly could go on at length), it is sometimes forgotten the amazing background work that a show displays. If there is a show that displays obvious attention to background detail, Hamilton is it. Everything from the dancing to the movement of the stage to the transition between scenes was fluid. It flowed seamlessly, carrying the audience from one scene to the next without the viewers every noticing that change was occurring.

The set design is simple, an open standard level wooden stage with entrances from all sides and an upper level walkway that borders the space. After purchasing the program, which has design notes near the end, I realized the stage was set up like a target, with two outer rings, one inside of the other, and a circle at the center. All three of these components rotate individually, which creates the captivating scenes that can be seen in many of the songs, such as in “Hurricane,” where Hamilton stands in the center of the target while the rings rotate slowly around him.

Every aspect of the background was detailed and painstakingly executed to the point that the audience doesn’t even have to think about it. After listening to the album, I knew what to expect from the words. But I did not know what to expect from all the other components that are so often forgotten. All of these components created beautiful moments that I will remember forever. With all these parts working together so perfectly with the ensemble, it creates quite the emotional show for a theater lover like me. I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t cry in the climax of the “Battle of Yorktown” with no other reason except the performance and the perfect marriage of every aspect of the theater in that moment was so overwhelming that I had no choice but to feel it emotionally.

Chicago’s production of Hamilton was an amazing show. It is worth seeing. I feel unbelievably lucky to have been able to experience the best show I have ever seen, even if I am still paying it off on my credit card, and I know I’ll be talking about it for years to come.

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