Some Broadway fanatics would argue that we are currently, and have been for the past few years, living in a new golden age of musical theatre. I, for one, would have to agree. The first show I ever saw on Broadway was Hairspray back in 2007. It was my first time visiting New York and I instantly fell in love with the city. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to live within twenty miles of Manhattan — and you bet I took advantage of every opportunity there was when it came to seeing as many of the various shows I could while living within such a close proximity to the home of Broadway.
While I was residing on the east coast I met my good friend Rebecca Michelson, who’s the best Broadway buddy a person could ask for. She loves Broadway, maybe even a little bit more than I do, has seen an innumerable amount of shows, and has tons of opinions about them to boot.
With the end of 2017 approaching, I reached out to Rebecca to discuss some of her favorite shows of the season (and of all time), what she recommends to those interested in seeing a show, and why.
You’ve been a Broadway fanatic for quite some time now. What initially sparked your love of theatre?
It’s funny you ask, because my initial interest in Broadway and musical theater came from Hairspray as well! I grew up outside of Philadelphia with easy access to New York City. My first show was actually Beauty and the Beast and according to my aunt, I talked the entire time so no one wanted to sit next to me after that! I remember coming into the city every few months with my parents and sister to see a Broadway show. I was around 10 or 11 when my parents went to see Hairspray on Broadway with the original cast and mom brought home the Original Broadway Cast Recording and I instantly fell in love. We listened on every road trip, and we still do.
Let’s talk plays on Broadway. For so many, when they think “Broadway,” their minds go straight to musicals, but there have been, and are, some really incredible plays. Can you speak to this?
I have never actually been a play person until this year. I think most people overlook plays because when tourists come, you’re right, they think of musicals. They want to see the touristy shows — Chicago, Wicked, Beautiful, Phantom, etc. All great productions for sure! But my favorite kind of show is 95 minutes, no intermission, and where do you usually find that? In a play! I will say, plays are often harder for myself to follow along with, as the pacing is often much slower than a musical. But two of my favorite productions from the 2016-2017 season were actually plays, both of which I saw twice.
The first is Paula Vogel’s Indecent. It is arguably the best show to have appeared on Broadway in years. It was inspired by Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance and tells the story of the production of the show from the table read in Poland all the way to its 1923 Broadway debut in New York City. It speaks strongly to censorship and highlights the first lesbian kiss on Broadway, all while paralleling the struggles of the Jewish people during World War II. It was actually a play with music, which helped the pacing.
My second favorite play from last season is called Significant Other. As mentioned before, I often find plays to lag with slow pacing and/or to be old school in content. Significant Other was the opposite. With a superb cast it tells the story of Jordan, a single, gay, 20-something-year-old, who’s living in New York City and watching as all of his friends are growing up and getting married. He’s desperate to be in a relationship and share what his friends are experiencing, but he’s struggling with a lot of inner-demons throughout the show. I think the content was relatable to a lot of young people who went to go see it.
In your own opinion, why are Broadway shows important?
Broadway is so important because it’s a form of self-expression that exists nowhere else. While I’m not an actor nor do I have any (reasonable) desires to be on Broadway, I know the opportunity to act has helped so many young people in this city, and around the world, feel like they can be something and do something.
Another special thing about Broadway that you don’t get from film and television is the opportunity to come face to face with your favorite performers. When you go to the stage door, you have the chance to tell your favorite singer, dancer or actor on stage what they mean to you and how their performance changed your life. It’s a beautiful thing, what Broadway affords that other forms of media do not.
With 2018 right around the corner, what shows would you recommend NYC tourists and visits run to go see in the New Year?
We’re lucky to be right at the start of a new Broadway season, in which we will see many new productions opening in the next few months! However, we are also lucky to have many long-running shows still around for us to revisit. If you’re coming to the city for the holidays, I would definitely recommend hitting up the new production of Once on This Island. From last season’s shows, I recommend going to check out Dear Evan Hansen while you’re here. My third recommendation is a tie for what new productions you should go see if you’re coming after March. Out of the new productions (some of which I have yet to see), I recommend seeing Mean Girls: the Musical, which opens for previews on March 12th, or Carousel, which opens for previews on February 28th.
Top 3 shows of 2017, top 3 shows of all time, and why — Ready, go!
Top three productions from the 2016-2017 season, that are still open:
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
My top three favorite shows of all time:
Do you have any tips for seeing Broadway for cheap?
People always ask me how I can afford to see so many shows. I wouldn’t say I can AFFORD to see this many shows, but that’s not stopping me! I have a few recommendations for getting cheap tickets to shows. Most involve your time, but they save you your money. If you’re here for a week, I would recommend picking two or three shows that you can’t leave New York without seeing and buying tickets for those. Then, rank the others you want to see and go from there.
Check out Playbill.com‘s General Rush Policy page to see what shows offer rush, lottery and standing room. Most shows offer a mix of the three for less than $40 a ticket. Some shows require you to line up at 6am for a 10am box office call, while others usually have rush tickets available throughout the day. If you don’t want to stand around in lines, try the TKTS booth in Times Square for discounted tickets. If you just want to see A show, but you don’t really have a preference on which one, this is a GREAT option.
While they can be useful in matters of organization, genre classifications also have pitfalls.
Near the top of the list is the question of scope. No matter how broadly they might apply or how specific they might get, there is always something that lays outside recognized definition. One of the oldest genres of music, what is now called ‘Country,’ is also one of the least understood and most derided. This is largely due to genre confusion.
What most people now think of when they hear the term ‘Country’ is actually what is known as ‘New Country.’ Devised in the early-1990s and propagated by the likes of Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, New Country is an unholy alliance of traditional Country and Rock & Roll; hence the pyrotechnics. While traditional Country, now called ‘Old Country’, has its own conventions that may or may not be enjoyed by all, there are many means of interpretation. There have even been cases of the form being applied to Metal as in the case of Hank Williams III and even Anarcho-Punk such as Blackbird Raum. Another counter-intuitive combination is the blending of Country with elements of the spooky. While there have been elements of the macabre going back to the beginning, it started to gain popularity in the 21st century. Starting slowly with songs such as the title track of Neko Case’s breakout 2000 album Furnace Room Lullaby, the style has gotten more popular as things have gotten worse.
One of the most famous acts to use the style in recent years is The Pierces. Comprised primarily of sisters Allison and Catherine Pierce, with help from a rotating roster of back-up musicians, the duo started performing in 2000. The sisters have had all manner of terms applied to their sound including Psychedelic Rock, Psychedelic Pop, Folk Rock and Indie Pop. While, to be fair, their has been a change in sound between their studio albums to date. Their third, Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge, really only has one term that encompasses it. It is an old, evocative term once used to apply to art: American Gothic. While they vary, sometimes greatly, in terms of tempo and tone there is one factor that remains, which is the combination of Americana and the darker parts of American history and culture, particularly in the South. There is a reason that True Blood was set below the Mason-Dixon. While some might refer to the track ‘Secret’ the best example of this, there is a stronger case to be made for ‘Sticks & Stones.’ ‘Secret’ is creepy, to be sure, and has overtones of familial deceit and murder. There is good reason it was used as the theme song to Pretty Little Liars. ‘Sticks & Stones’ on the other hand, evokes a deeper, more visceral fear of a power greater than one’s self. The first whispers ‘betray me and I will kill you.’ The second shouts ‘There is nowhere to run!’ There is an overall sense of the otherworldly that permeates the entire album. Including, arguably, the gentlest track ‘Three Wishes’. Far more on the ‘love’ side of things, the track has dreamlike quality and a sense that everything will be okay.
While little known outside their native soil, the Canadian band Hank & Lily — the genre does have a tendency for duos — are one of the best and original acts going. Comprised of Hank Pine and Lily Fawn, the band take a D.I.Y. approach, releasing all their material themselves. They also tour extensively though rarely get past the Rockies. Despite their geographical specificity, they really do something special. In addition to music Pine and Fawn also appear in a comic book series, often sold as a package with their albums, which are written and illustrated by Pine himself.
The story is complex, sordid and funny, casting Fawn as a part human, part deer creature and Pine as a member of a cult known as the Acolytes of the Second Sun. Fawn first meets him while he is hitchhiking on the highway with the corpse of his beloved, whom he may or may not have killed, after evading the authorities following a massacre at the trailer park where he lived, which he may or may not have committed. It is unclear whether Pine and Fawn are supposed to be a band with a comic book tie-in or real-life versions of comic book characters who are in a band.
Their music carries on this sense of dark surrealism, adding elements such as cello, singing saw and even choirs to the standard guitar and drums. Particularly on their album North America. Song titles include ‘Alligator Boy’ and ‘Lucifer.’ Which might explain why they do not tend to play gigs in the Bible Belt.
Hey, we went to school together! How have you been since graduation?
Hey, we did! Fuck, it’s weird that we’ve been out of school longer than we’ve been in school at this point. Anyway, I’ve been good! I feel like this is a loaded question. Good as of late because I have a job I love and a life I’m molding into something that I love. Ask me this a couple of years ago, though, and my answer would be very…different. Not bad, just different.
Would you change anything about how you navigated college?
Hmm, I don’t think so. Maybe paid better attention in Spanish class because I should absolutely be bilingual at this point? I do often wonder why I didn’t consider going somewhere warmer for school. Or even abroad! But, overall, I think different things happen for different reasons. You know, destiny and all that. I do wish I visited Canada. That’s something that didn’t even cross my mind while I was there.
Me too— and the Niagara Falls we’re right there. How did you end up working for NYLON?
The short version: My boss now was my colleague while I was at Refinery29. We kept in touch when she left and, one day, a gig opened up for the web editor position and she reached out. I guess I was also qualified.
What’s involved in your day-to-day there?
I’m kind of the overseer of news. So, every morning, I’m in charge of assigning the first news stories of the day and sending out a digest, which basically includes a rundown of what people are talking about on the interweb. Then, I make sure that we’re jumping on those more timely/on-brand stories throughout the day.
MTV was like not only are we incorporating tv shows into this year’s award show, we’re also incorporating wokeness pic.twitter.com/oXAMTy0ZTr
You know when people say everyday’s different? I always thought that was a cop out, but it’s really not. I write two news stories everyday, so that’s consistent, and I’ll either conduct interviews for upcoming stories, work on a feature story, go to a press preview, edit some stories; it really depends. There’s also a lot of tedious email answering and internet browsing thrown in there.
I don’t want to get too in the weeds, but how do you actually go about structuring a story?
Oh! Well, I suppose it first starts with an idea. Then, that will dictate what kind of story it’s going to be — a feature, personal essay, review, interview q+a, etc. Let’s talk feature. I tend to start with doing a shit ton of research, which helps me figure out what direction I want to go in. Then, you do interviews if interviews are necessary. Then, you somehow manage to pull it all together and make something of quality out of it. I don’t know, this the point where I usually blackout.
What kind of things did you do at Refinery29?
I started out as the beauty assistant there, so I did a lot of assisting, writing, some complaining, helped with social media at one point, a lot of beauty product testing, some photo things. I eventually graduated to beauty news editor where I basically did the same things, minus the assisting and double the writing.
What’s the best part about your job now?
I will be forever indebted to the beauty space because going that route is what allowed me to become part of the media world, but my favorite part about my job, now, is that I get to write about basically anything (music, art, fashion, politics). I’m not an expert in everything by any means, but I think that’s a good thing. It allows me to challenge myself creatively and stretch my writing capabilities.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do?
This is always a weird question because I don’t feel like I am in anyway qualified to give out advice. But I’m going to pass along advice that someone once told me which is to take every single interview you’re offered, even if you’re not interested in the job. You don’t know what might come out of it. 83% of the jobs you get are going to be through someone you know or meet. So, go out and meet people. And try not to burn bridges with people. If that doesn’t work, forget I said anything.
Any thoughts on that Pepsi ad?
Wouldn’t have happened if Obama was in office. Kidding. It was incredibly tone deaf and is a prime example of what happens when few to zero people of color work at these bigger companies. Or, when few to zero people are listening to the opinions of people of color at these bigger companies.
I guess it varies by person, but I think how much you can relate to something is key. For something online, the choice of meme is essential. In person, the delivery.
What do you want to do next?
This…is an interesting question that I’ve actually been thinking about a lot. I’m not sure, career wise, but I do know that I want to travel. Like, quit my job for a couple of years travel, not that two weeks mess. And/or, move to a new city. This is all hypothetical though so, boss, if you’re reading this, please don’t hold it against me.
No matter how innovative or original a culture or style might be, it is next to impossible to avoid some degree of stereotype or cliché. Few places is this truer than with Steampunk culture. Once one of the most interesting and original genres going, particular aspects of the Steampunk style have come to define the culture, particularly to those furthest removed from it.
As with the visual art, there is a lot more to the music of Steampunk than might first appear; the general view being epitomized by bands like Abney Park and The Clockwork Quartet. The Quartest is an electronica band with the look of Steampunk but little else and what can best be described as ‘Victorian nostalgia.’ Somewhat more representative are acts such as The Cog Is Dead. One of the more advanced groups in terms of musicianship, The Cog Is Dead has a rock ‘n’ roll attitude to go with their brass goggles and cog gears (one they augment with surprising and invigorating touches from the past). These include big band horns on the track ‘Burn It Down’ and well placed strings in the tragic love ballad ‘A Letter To Michelle’.
On the slightly darker side, closer to Steampunks Goth roots than most, are Unextraordinary Gentlemen. Comprised of vocalist Malcolm, bassist/keyboardist Professor Mangrove and violinist J. Frances, the band has a look — black pin-striped suits that give an impression somewhere between a serial killer and a mortician — and a sound to make Bram Stoker shudder. This comes across most clearly in the tracks ‘Skeleton Goes to Town’ and ‘Black Iron Road.’ It’s a song, with its creepy percussion, prominent plodding bassline and deep, crooning vocals, that owes as much to Bauhaus as anything. They also do not neglect the more literary aspects of the Steampunk culture, being named after the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and their stage personas being based on a fairly elaborate fictional world. One detailed in the Unextraordinary Encyclopedia on the band’s website.
Someone else bucking the trend is Professor Elemental. More associated with the Geek-themed Chap-Hop genre, the Professor does things a bit differently, adding the accoutrements of the mad scientist to the usual ‘what-ho chaps’ Chap-Hop persona. A potent mix that is both original and funny without being overly silly or mocking. One of the best examples is ‘Sir, You Are Being Hunted,’ which is a harrowing yet still silly tale in which the Professor and the listener have time-traveled to the future and are being hunted for sport by robotic huntsmen. The heart-warming all-for-one anthem ‘All In Together’ is a bit gentler.
While much of the Steampunk aesthetic originates in the pre-electrical era, room for electric instruments in the associated music remains. Not only in terms of instruments like guitars and synthesizers, but also digitally based music sources. While bands such as Abney Park catch flack for being electronica bands in disguise, it’s not because their music is mostly electronically based but more how they use the technology. A band who has never had their loyalties questioned is Clockwork Dolls. Best described as either Neo-Classical or Electro-Symphonic, the Dolls composer, arranger and all around mastermind Sam Lee manages to construct massive, epic, shiver-inducing symphonic compositions using only synthesizers and computer playback (at least on their first album Dramatis Personae). Their second album is closer to the Steampunk relative Dieselpunk, based in the Diesel-based technology of the inter-war period through to the 1950s.
Someone else using technology to great effect is Emilie Autumn Liddell, better known to the world as Emilie Autumn. Alternately described as ‘Fairy Pop’, ‘Fantasy Rock’ and ‘Victorian Industrial,’ Autumn’s music can be difficult to pin down. While the ‘Fantasy Rock’ monicker might be tempting, especially considering she shares a surname with the inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, ‘Victorian Industrial’ is most accurate. Despite some nods like the tracks ‘Shalott’ and ‘Castle Down,’ Autumn is very much a hybrid.
Classically trained in violin and piano, Autumn mixes traditional instruments with modern programming like that found on synthesizers, samplers and drum-machines in a way that is all her own. There is seriously little chance of her ever being mistaken for Rufus Wainwright or Nine Inch Nails. The best example of this is the track ‘Misery Loves Company.’ Not only is it among the most accomplished of Autumn’s vocal performances, far from clashing the violin and harpsichord parts blend with the samples and drum-machine beats in way that not only works but seems almost natural. This is particularly true of the drum-machine, set in such a way that it mimics the thump-hiss of a piece of steam-powered machinery. Evoking the past with methods of the future and thereby embracing Steampunk’s core principles.
What’s the toughest part about being a music journalist?
Hip-hop journalism — like all aspects of the music industry — is dominated by men. For women, there’s a constant fight to attain credibility from artists and the industry as a whole. You want to be respected for your pen game. That often means you just have to kick down the door for a seat at the table.
How can publishers be more helpful to freelance writers?
Pay me (and on time!) That sounds pretty basic but you won’t imagine how many publishers believe the adage of ‘paying your dues’ really means working for free. I’m of the mentality that: you get what you pay for. Publishers that value quality journalists get the best work while other outlets rely on interns to write cover stories.
There’s also a larger trend across media of ‘pivoting to video’ that gives me pause. It’s essentially a nice way of saying that a publication is going to fire writers in lieu of YouTube stars. Yes, video is an integral part of media but it isn’t the only piece. I wish more publishers would play to their strengths and be thoughtful in their strategy versus jumping on the clickbait flavor-of-the-week.
Gosh, I know exactly what you mean. I was at a place that pivoted to video three years in a row. When you are interviewing someone, what’s the best way to get them to open up?
Listen. I can’t tell you how many journalists try to make the interview about themselves. Shut the fuck up and listen.You just might learn something.
What’s been the most underrated album of the year?
Action Bronson Blue Chips 7000. If you’re a fan of crazy, weirdo hip-hop sampling, you should listen to this record. Harry Fraud, Alchemist and PartySupplies handle production. Like, cmon bro. People slept on that album.
How has Twitter influenced your career in journalism?
Twitter is a game-changer for me. I can’t tell you the number of gigs I’ve booked because of my social media presence. Nearly every editor (as well as radio and TV producer) I’ve worked with initially connected with me on Twitter. For journalists, it’s a great platform to build your brand and network.
Queen Latifah recently spoke about how consciousness in rap is changing. Do you agree? If so, why might it be evolving?
This battle between consciousness and whatever the opposite of that is — Soundcloud trap at the moment (?) — has been going on forever. Some of the biggest artists of the genre, from Kendrick Lamar to J. Cole, are definitely more conscious but there’s plenty of the converse as well. It’s perhaps more balanced than in recent time; but “money, cash, hoes” rap isn’t going anywhere.
What do you think rap will sound like in 10 years?
Whatever music people listen to on Mars. Earth is pretty much fucked amid our current political climate and well, the climate. I’ll be on Mars streaming sound-waves through my retina.
What makes you laugh?
Classic episodes of The Simpsons. I’m a total nerd. I can pretty much run dialogue line-for-line from seasons 1–9 and I watch all the commentaries. If you’re a Simpsons fan and don’t have the FXX streaming app: Stop reading this interview and get it. I’d probably be some combination of Lisa Simpson, Milhouse and Poochie the Dog.
Why do writers beome writers?
I’ve always believed that I have important shit to say. I had my own column in my hometown newspaper (The Kalamazoo Gazette), and my college paper (The Michigan Daily). In hip-hop, I have a unique perspective that no one else has. Seriously, how many Indian rap journalists do you know? I love being able to use my voice. Plus, seeing my byline is still pretty cool.
Very few bands have worldwide name recognition like Guns N’ Roses (GNR). Not too long ago the phrase, “I’m going to a ‘Guns N’ Roses’ concert” would’ve been met with a wide range of snarky and sarcastic replies (many from the staff of this infernal rag): from the ever optimistic, “Oh! Nice, I hope they show up!” to the financially cynical, “Don’t worry, you will get a full refund.” This was how people talked about GNR.
For a period of 20 years — from 1996 up until their Troubadour warmup show in Los Angeles on April 1, 2016 — GNR was a joke. Slash and Axl Rose had not spoken in years. Band members were known to use drugs, famous for overdosing, skipping out on performances, not releasing new music and, growing old. However, on that faithful night at the Troubadour, this once dominant band that had become the butt of many jokes did something that people thought they would never see, Axl Rose, with original lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan share a stage, and it was magic (except for the whole Axl breaking his foot thing).
Wednesday, November 29, at the Forum in Inglewood, marked the final performance of the 8th and final leg of the Not in This Lifetime Tour. It was probably the best performance of the tour that GNR has played. They laid all rumors to rest and put all jokes aside. They showed up, they rocked out, they lived up to the hype and proved that they are no joke. Not that they hadn’t been kicking ass for the entirety of the tour, but what they did at the Forum on Wednesday, I can guarantee was not done at any other performance of this tour.
For this final leg of the tour there was no opening act. If you were able to show up early you were in for a treat. For those who could not be in their seats when they hit stage, you were forgiven. If you left early, that’s your own fault. That night everyone in attendance got way more than they paid for, a lot more. GNR played past midnight [after the encore and curtain call, my date and I walked out at 12:18am (“She’s not my special lady, she’s my fucking lady friend!”)]. Google it then watch the movie. GNR hit a personal best that night. They almost played a four-hour long set and a total of 37 songs. They even played songs from Chinese Democracy. It felt as if they didn’t want to stop playing. They knew it was the last performance of the tour. They knew that the audience knew it was the last night of the tour. They wanted to do something they knew they were not scheduled to do until next summer in Europe, and that was play their music live to an audience that was rocking out with them.
They played the cover songs with enthusiasm as if they were GNR originals. They played several tributes to recently deceased musicians including tributes to Malcomb Young, Glen Campbell, and they even did a little something for Prince. Bassist Duff McKagan even has Prince’s hieroglyphic symbol on his bass prominently positioned above the pickups.
As for my favorite part of any concert, the merchandise… I’m not saying I was expecting to see the world’s largest merch booth, but I wasn’t surprised to see it at a GNR show. But, to call an 18-wheeler’s trailer in the parking lot a “booth” would be an understatement. Over ten different shirt designs, hats, bandanas, hats, posters, sweatbands, sweatshirts, records, and almost anything from this tour was available in this “booth.” If I could have afforded it, I would have gotten one of each.
I only slept four hours that night, but I can still hear the music playing in my head. So yeah, it was worth it.