“Royal Shakespeare Company: Love’s Labour Won” (2015)

Autumn 1918. A group of soldiers return from the trenches. The world-weary Benedick and his friend Claudio find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero. As memories of conflict give way to a life of parties and masked balls, Claudio and Hero fall madly, deeply in love, while Benedick and Beatrice reignite their own altogether more combative courtship. Set amidst the brittle high spirits of a post-war house party, where youthful passions run riot, lovers are deceived and happiness is threatened – before peace ultimately wins out. -Synopsis

I saw this play on Marquee TV (which is an arts and culture streaming service); I signed up for the free 14-day trial. The play is more commonly known as Much Ado About Nothing; it’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy. This adaptation is set in the time period made famous by the recent PBS drama series and movie Downton Abbey. Hero (Flora Spencer Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim) are the younger/fresh-faced couple. Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett) are the slightly older/jaded pair content to be singletons. By means of “noting” (which sounds similar to “nothing,” meaning gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other; Claudio is tricked (by Don John and his accomplices) into rejecting Hero at the altar thinking she has been unfaithful.

We are in an English village w/ an estate fit for royals. In the living room, there is a tall/elegantly-decorated Christmas tree. In one hilarious scene, Benedick hides inside the tree (while Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio discuss him and Beatrice). There are songs and dances which come from (or are orchestrated to fit) the early 1900s vibe. We hear “Sigh No More” sung by Balthasar; it tells women to accept men’s infidelity and keep on living w/ joy. In the 1993 film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the song is featured prominently in both the opening and finale.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Benedick and Beatrice (“too wise to woo peaceably”) are the main interest of the play; they have some of the best (and most memorable) lines. Terry (who became director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2017) commented in an interview that “Beatrice felt very deeply,” so humor was a “defense mechanism” she used. I loved how this actress played the (pivotal) scene in the church.

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.

Not till God make men of some other metal than earth [would she consider having a husband]

Benedick is a bit disappointed when his best pal (Claudio) has the “intention to turn husband.” Benedick is also adept at using humor. The life of a bachelor suits him best, and only a rare woman would convince him otherwise.

…But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue.

I liked how this production created a balance between the light and serious moments. The humor is played (mostly) w/ subtlety, as would suit Brits from that era. Beatrice, Benedick, and some of the minor characters have scenes w/ physical humor. I was impressed by how light the actors were on their feet (when the scene called for it). You can watch some scenes below!

Beatrice and Benedick meet.
Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio set a trap for Benedick.
Beatrice and Benedick say they love each other, but she wants him to kill Claudio!

“The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” (2011)

In 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera arrived on the West End stage. After 25 years, the musical achieved global success, millions of viewers, a film adaptation in 2004 (which I don’t recommend) and a sequel. Filmed at the Royal Albert Hall, this performance (which you can rent on YouTube) brings the show to a bigger stage and celebrates its role as one of the biggest shows in theater history, w/ speeches, performances, and appearances by the original cast (and some notable Phantoms). Starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, POTO tells the story of a deformed musical genius who lives underneath the Paris Opera House. Shunned by society, the Phantom seeks revenge (w/ cruel and violent acts). He’s in love w/ a chorus girl, Christine Daaé, who he has been secretly training to replace the leading lady.

Karimloo (who is Canadian) is engaging and very effective w/ his gorgeous voice and imposing physical presence. One side of his face looks genuinely scary; this was done by the original makeup artist. Boggess (who is American) is charming and her stage presence is as strong as Karimloo’s. Her soprano voice is bright and clear. She esp. does a terrific job w/ Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. Past of the Point No Return was very compelling; two leads show that they have great chemistry together (even though The Phantom has on a hooded cloak). I learned that Boggess was the original Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid.

The encore featured 4 different Phantoms from around the world and was the debut for one of them: Peter Jöback from Sweden. He was scheduled to play the Phantom after the concert in London. The other 3 Phantoms who sing are: Colm Wilkinson (who is Irish; the original Canadian Phantom and Jean Valjean in Les Mis in London and NYC), John Owen-Jones (London’s longest running Phantom). and Anthony Warlow (Australia’s most famous Phantom). The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, was also there, as was the incomparable Sarah Brightman (the original Christine; former wife of Webber). I remember buying her CDs in HS.

The camera work allows you to admire the production design and does so unobtrusively, often it has a very cinematic look…

Hadley Fraser has a different take on the childhood sweetheart of Christine. Fraser brings an energy and eagerness to the character. I loved Fraser because he brings a new energy and charisma to the character.

[Karimloo] is both very threatening and very vulnerable. He is both aggressor and victim. He captures the fragility of the Phantom’s mind and the strength of the Phantom’s will.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary” (2010)

The story is one we know and very simple: a former convict, Jean Valjean (Alfie Boe), tries to rebuild his life w/ adopted daughter Cosette after the death of her mother, Fantine (Lea Salonga). Valjean is pursued for years by a police inspector, Javert (Norm Lewis). Against the backdrop of student rebellions in Paris, a student named Marius (Nick Jonas) and the grown-up Cosette (Katie Hall) fall in love. The songs are also very memorable, incl. Who Am I? and Bring Him Home (sung by Valjean), I Dreamed a Dream (sung by Fantine), and On My Own (sung by Eponine). In a time when there are protests in cities (around the world) calling for racial equality and justice reform, this story still resonates.

Fans of the musical will notice that Salonga previously played Eponine in Great Performances: Les Misérables in Concert (1995)- the musical’s 10th anniversary. The petite (yet powerful) singer is the first full-blooded Filipina to have won the Olivier (1990), the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards (1991) for Best Actress in a Musical for Miss Saigon. In recent years, she was a guest star on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a comedy w/ musical numbers. Most famously, Salonga was the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in the Disney animated movie Aladdin (1992). Not only is she an amazing singer, she also acts out every moment of her role here!

Samantha Barks (Eponine) played the same role in the 2012 film version. Jenny Galloway previously played Madame Thenardier (a crowd favorite) in 1995 and repeated her role in this production. Ramin Karimloo (Enjolras) went on to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert a year later opposite Hadley Fraser (Grantaire) as Raoul. Karimloo (who fled Iran w/ his parents when the shah was overthrown in the early ’80s) made his Broadway debut as Valjean in the 2014 revival and earned a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. Lewis is perhaps best known as Edison, a senator and one of the ex-boyfriend’s of Olivia Pope on the ABC TV series- Scandal. He became the first Black actor to play the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Unlike most of the other phantoms, he has a baritone voice (which is rich and very impressive).

At the end of the concert, we see the original 1985 cast, the international tour cast, and the current cast. We hear Colm Wilkinson (considered the best singer to portray Valjean), John Owen-Jones, Simon Bowman, and Boe sing Bring Him Home. There is an appearance by Michael Ball (the original Marius in the London production; a big star in the UK), composers, lyricist, and producer (Cameron Mackintosh). You can rent this show on YouTube; it’s a must-see for fans of the theater (esp. since we’re stuck at home)!

The casting of Nick Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, is little more than a casting publicity stunt, and one which almost backfires catastrophically. Quite simply, Jonas is leagues out of his depth, and his voice has not the power nor range to do justice to the role…

So many excellent singers have brought such depth and strength to the character of Jean Valjean and Alfie Boe does an admirable job. His beautiful rendition of “Bring Him Home” really proves he has the chops to handle this role.

Norm Lewis, whose subtle facial expressions and genuine passion commanded the stage/screen, sang Javert with such power and depth that I actually, for the first time, empathized with his character.

No other musical has the power to raise hairs and bring goosebumps throughout, and at the same time bring entire audiences to tears…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 2, Episodes 1-3

Episode 1: The Homecoming

O’Brien: If they think scrawling a few signs is gonna get rid of us, they got another thing coming.

Sisko: Right now, they’re just trying to show us that we’re vulnerable.

Odo: I wouldn’t be overly concerned, Commander; this section is a low security area.

Sisko: As of now, Constable, there are no low security areas on the station.

Season 2 of the sci-fi series has a bigger budget, we see more sets, and more effective lighting is used. Quark receives a Bajoran earring from a smuggler. She says she received it on Cardassia IV; it needs to be delivered to Bajor (as any Bajoran will recognize it). Quark takes it to Kira; the earring belongs to Li Nalas, considered one of the greatest heroes of the Resistance. Kira asks Sisko for a runabout to rescue him. Bajor is on the verge of civil war; a group called The Circle wants to get rid of all aliens on Bajor. Odo finds their logo graffiti-ed on a wall in the space station. Jake is excited about his first date, though Cmdr. Sisko seems nervous. This teleplay was written by Ira Stephen Behr, who would go on to become showrunner in later seasons.

Sisko: I saw you, in front of the crowd on the promenade. They look at you, and they see strength, and honor, and decency. They look at you and they see the best in themselves.

Li Nalas: But it’s all based on a lie.

Sisko: No – it’s based on a legend. And legends are as powerful as any truth.

The scenes in the labor camp were shot in Soledad Canyon, north of LA. It was refreshing to be outdoors (off the station) for a while. The Cardassians said all political prisoners had been released; Gul Dukat apologizes (which is unexpected). Li Nalas (guest star Richard Beymer- Tony in West Side Story) says he became a hero by accident in a fine scene w/ Sisko. Frank Langella’s (Minister Jaro Essa) performances are uncredited (he did the show for his children, not exposure or money.) At the end of this ep, Minister Jaro declares Li Nalas the liaison officer, leaving Kira’s status uncertain.

I liked the frenemy scenes between Odo and Quark, which were a trademark of Behr’s writing. Beymer portrayed the reluctant hero well. I was very impressed w/ Langella (who even has a different posture when playing the politician to the crowd)! Kira and O’Brien made a good team during the rescue.

Episode 2: The Circle

Odo: [incensed] Major, you’ve been breaking one too many for fourteen and a half years! Cardassian rules, Bajoran rules, Federation rules, they’re all meaningless to you. Because you have a personal code, that’s always mattered more. And I’m sorry to say, you’re in slim company.

Major Kira: [softly] I’ll miss you too, Odo.

Jaro explains the reason for Li Nalas on DS9 is unrest on Bajor. Kira goes to have a rest at the monastery, as suggested by Vedek Bareil. She sees one of the Orbs of Prophecy. Sisko wants to get Kira back as his second in command. He sees Krim (Stephen Macht), the leader of the Bajoran military forces. The Circle is planning to overthrow the provisional government; if all non-Bajorans are expelled, they lose Federation protection. Quark tells Odo he knows who is supplying weapons to The Circle. We get a Game of Thrones-type scene (before the HBO show aired) w/ Minster Jaro and Vedek Winn.

Minister Jaro [to Winn]: We’re a match made by the Prophets.

I always thought it was too bad that the casting director didn’t get a better actor to play Bareil. I hadn’t seen this arc of eps before, but saw him over the course of the series. I know Bareil and Kira are supposed to be attracted to each other, but they lack chemistry. There is good (evil) chemistry between Fletcher and Langella; their plotting scene was great! The goodbye scene in Kira’s quarters was well-done (w/ both serious and light moments).

Episode 3: The Siege

Nog: Has there ever been one of your kind and one of my kind who were better friends?

Jake Sisko: Never.

Nog: And if our fathers couldn’t break us up, no stupid coup d’é… coup… coup-coup d’é…

Jake Sisko: Coup d’état. It’s French.

Nog: And no stupid French thing will either!

The Federation must evacuate the station, but Sisko has no intentions of leaving. He’s come to care about what happens to the Bajorans. Sisko, O’Brien, Bashir, Odo, and a few others will try to delay the the takeover as long as possible, until the truth re: who is supplying weapons can be revealed. Kira will take evidence to the Chamber of Ministers, but all the runabouts are in use for the evacuation. Li Nalas thinks there might be raiders intact on the Lunar V base; Kira and Dax set off to find out.

This conclusion was written by Michael Piller, co-creator of the series. Awww, poor Keiko and Molly- O’Brien chose his job over family. Quark gets tricked by his brother Rom (which is quite rare, but good to see). Kira and Dax have some light/fun moments, even while facing danger. Also, look out for Steven Weber (who was then starring in Wings). Hmmm, maybe he was a fan of ST universe also?


[1] This was an excellent episode in terms of building up a sense of DS9 as being more then a space station – a home for these people and they fight to protect it and the potential future it represents for the Federation and Bajor.

[2] I like this side of Sisko and he is much more assertive and interesting in part three!

[3] The action scenes in this episode were pretty good and there were a few fun scenes too…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 19 (“In the Hands of the Prophets”)

I was the like the space Pope. -Actress Louise Fletcher (on how she saw her DS9 character)

[Vedek Winn has asked Keiko O’Brien to refrain from teaching anything that might conflict with Bajoran beliefs]

Keiko O’Brien: I’m a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge, not hide it from them. The answer is no.

Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) is teaching the DS9 kids about the wormhole, when Vedek Winn (veteran actress/Oscar winner Louise Fletcher), one of the most important religious leaders of the Bajorans (and possible candidate to become the next Kai), arrives. She strongly disagrees w/ the scientific way Keiko chooses to explain the phenomenon, calling it “blasphemy.” She convinces the Bajoran parents to remove their kids (who are in the majority) from the school; only Jake and a handful of others remain.

[Jake is questioning the ‘stupidity’ of the Bajoran beliefs, comparing it with the Inquisition during the Middle Ages]

Cmndr. Sisko: You’ve got to realize something, Jake: for over fifty years, the one thing that allowed the Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith. The prophets were their only source of hope and courage.

Jake Sisko: But there were no prophets; they were just aliens that you found in the wormhole.

Cmndr. Sisko: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn’t they be considered prophets?

Jake Sisko: Are you serious?

Cmndr. Sisko: My point is, it’s a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Meanwhile, Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) finds an important item missing from his toolkit. He and his assistant, a young Bajoran named Neela (Robin Christopher), start looking for it. They find the tool in a corridor, together w/ the remains of a young ensign! What was he doing in this area? His death may have been an accident, but it seems suspicious to O’Brien.

[a group of Bajorans have arrived at the station]

Quark: Don’t tell me – there’s a Bajoran convention on this station I didn’t know about? Thanks, Odo! I need to call in more dabo girls.

Odo: It’s not a convention. They’re from an orthodox spiritual order coming to support Vedek Winn’s efforts to keep the Bajoran children out of school.

Quark: Orthodox? In that case I’ll need twice as many dabo girls. The spiritual types love those dabo girls!

This ep relates to the debate in US schools about the teaching of Evolution and Creationism in science classes. Both Keiko and Winn are unwilling to give in; perhaps surprising, Kira (Nana Visitor) agrees with Winn’s position. Kira suggests that there should be two schools on the station. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) travels to Bajor to seek support from a more tolerant leader, Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim). He is also a candidate for Kai, but has a different attitude and philosophy than Winn.

Vedek Bareil: Today I am only a vedek. If the Prophets will it, someday I may be Kai. And I can be a better friend to you then.

Cmdr. Sisko: In other words, being my friend now might hurt your chances?

Vedek Bareil: The Prophets teach us patience.

Cmdr. Sisko: It appears they also teach you politics.

This is the S1 finale of DS9; it circles back to issues/events from the pilot (which we learn occurred 7 mos ago). The matte painting from “Emissary” was modified to show that the damage to the Bajoran city had been repaired. The teleplay is by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (who worked on many eps of TNG). An early idea was a crossover w/ TNG and have Sisko, Picard and their crews work together to fight against an invasion by Cardassians. Instead of that external struggle, we have an internal one between the Bajorans themselves.

[1] …is pretty good, with a tightly interwoven set of story lines, further ugly truths about Bajoran culture (and beautiful faith in the goodness of individuals), and some good performances. 

[2] Real stakes and powerful social commentary. This ep gets mega points for being brave enough to address religion with a bit of honesty…

[3] This episode will be relevant forever. There are so many people in this world who use religion/idea/belief as a sword to achieve hidden agendas.

-Excerpts from IMDB comments