Sunday, 29 September 2013

To Hamlette and Miss Dashwood...

Because I had so much fun writing for your blog events and reading what you wrote for them I just want to say...

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Some Songs from My Favourite Musicals

This will be my final post of the "Celebrate Musicals Week". It's a big multi-musical fandom post. Basically I'm going to put up one or two or even three videos from each of my favourite musicals today. And yes this will be a LOOOONG post so sit back, click on whatever you want, and enjoy! *Grins* But just to warn any younger readers who might be interested in investigating these musicals further, most of the musicals that I love can't really be described as family-friendly. I'd say that only My Fair Lady, Beauty and the Beast and possibly The Lord of the Rings are really suitable for kids.

1. LES MISERABLES I love many musicals but Les Mis is my absolute number one favourite. Why? Because it has wonderful characters and incredibly beautiful songs and its story is heartbreakingly sad and yet incredibly uplifting and inspiring at the same time. I passionately love both the stage version and the film (and Victor Hugo's book of course)! The last time I got to see the musical live was in November last year. I saw Geronimo Rauch as Valjean, Tam Mutu as Javert and Sierra Boggess as Fantine. It was amazing! They were all so fantastic! :D Danielle Hope's Eponine was really good as well which surprised me. For my Les Mis videos I thought I'd show a couple of YouTube videos of that cast. I also want to include a video of David Thaxton's Enjolras because he's one of my favourites. Tragically I never got to see him live because I wasn't a fan then but I love all of the videos that I've seen/heard of him. Thaxton was so dedicated to the role that he actually read the book twice as preparation for the role and dyed his hair blonde. He would also leap off the barricade night after night and his high note in his video is amazing. No one hits that "is FREEEEE" like him : D And the video has also got Killian Donnelly as the Army Officer.


Bring Him Home

Final Battle

2. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER VERSION) ALW's Phantom is my second favourite musical of all time (only the stage version, not the movie!) The music is absolutely beautiful, it's a visual feast for the eyes, the story is heartbreaking and beautiful, and the Phantom is one of the greatest anti-heroes ever. I've seen the show live three times and I absolutely love the 25th anniversary concert. I'm showing Sierra Boggess's WYWSHA which is now my absolute favourite version of that song. I've heard some really great versions of this song but I've never heard anyone sing it with as much passion and feeling as Sierra Boggess put into it. Also my absolute favourite musical moment in Phantom is the solo violin that plays at the very beginning of the song. It gives me chills.

Wishing You Were Somehow Again

3. PHANTOM (YESTON AND KOPIT VERSION) This is another musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux's book. Yeston and Kopit were working on it in America at around the same time that ALW was working on his Phantom musical in Britain - but ALW finished his musical first. All of the Y&K musical's big financial backers then backed out of the project when they found out that the ALW Phantom musical had become such a big hit. The Y&K musical was over. However they then decided to turn their musical into a TV miniseries and took out all of the songs. This became the much-loved Phantom of the Opera (1990) adaptation. This miniseries made Y&K enough money for them to eventually bring out their musical. The Y&K musical has never been performed on Broadway but it's had some successful regional productions in the US and has had some big-names star in it. Richard White (Gaston from Beauty and the Beast) originated the role of the Phantom and Kristin Chenoweth and Laura Benanti have both played Christine in it. The musical has also had a very successful run in Japan. The Y&K musical is a much looser adaptation of the book than the ALW musical and I often feel that I should dislike it because of that - but I just can't! The music is just so beautiful, and the story still so touching, that I just can't help but love it! This musical is criminally obscure and I think all Phantom fans should listen to it.


You Are Music

4. ELISABETH I've gone on about Elisabeth enough times this week. Do you really need me to tell you why I love this musical so much? :D But this post will tell you why. Anyway, I've putting up two songs from the show here. Unfortunately none of these particular videos have English subtitles so if you don't speak German you won't understand the lyrics. But hopefully you'll still be able to enjoy the music and singing.

Wenn Ich Tanzen Will ("When I Want to Dance") - This is a duet between Elisabeth and Der Tod. Elisabeth insists that she doesn't need Der Tod but he insists otherwise. I'm not much of a fan of Uwe Kroger's Tod but I love Pia.

Milch ("Milk") - This song is a bit like the At the End of the Day song from Les Mis. It's got a bunch of poor people complaining about the lack of milk that's available. Luigi Lucheni then riles the crowd up by announcing that Elisabeth bathes in the stuff as part of her beauty regime.

5. WICKED I love Wicked! It will always have a special place in my heart because it's the musical that made me a fan of musicals : ) The songs are fantastic, the story is very moving and it's visually spectacular. I've seen it live twice and I really want the show to be recorded live on DVD, similar to what they did with the 25th anniversary concerts of Les Mis and POTO. This version of No Good Deed is sung by Eden Espinosa and it's an incredible performance, both in terms of acting and singing. And that "Fiyero" riff that she does is unbelievably powerful!

No Good Deed

6. MY FAIR LADY This is my favourite golden oldie classic musical. I love the film so much! It's got fantastic songs and it's just so charming and witty and funny! And it's got Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle! I know the fact that they didn't get Julie Andrews to star in the film is still controversial to this day but honestly I love Hepburn's performance so much that I really don't care. On the Street Where You Live is my favourite song from the musical. I remember being really upset when I found out that Jeremy Brett was actually dubbed for this song but I still think he acts this scene really well.

On the Street Where You Live

7. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST This is my favourite Disney film and I would LOVE to see the stage version of this some day. I don't love the added songs to the show as much as the songs that were in the film but they're still really good and If I Can't Love Her is beautiful.

If I Can't Love Her

8. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Before Alan Menken and Howard Ashman would go on to write all those amazing songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, they wrote a musical about a homicidal alien plant intent on world domination : D This musical is so funny and sooo much fun! And it's got cameos from Bill Murray and John Candy! And it's got Steve Martin as a psychopathic dentist! What's not to love?! Apparently there's a planned remake of the musical in the works and Joseph Gordon Levitt really wants to play Seymour. As much as I love JGL I'm not keen on the idea.

Little Shop of Horrors

9. SWEENEY TODD My introduction to the Sweeney Todd musical was the Tim Burton film but although that film does have its moments I'm not much of a fan. But I love the stage version - even more so since I saw Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in it! They were both incredible! The Tim Burton film hasn't got the epic and chilling choruses. It ditches the stage version's black humour. It's too focused on Sweeney's character. And it leaves out Kiss Me which is such a cute and funny song! And Sondheim's songs just sound so much better when they're being sung by people who can actually sing them you know?

Kiss Me/Ladies in Their Sensitivities

10. NOTRE DAME DE PARIS This is a French-Canadian musical and an adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel. After the huge success of Les Mis I suppose it was only going to be a matter of time before someone adapted Victor Hugo's other famous novel. NDdP was a huge hit in Quebec and Paris but unfortunately it really didn't do very well on the West End and it never got to Broadway. This is a huge shame because the songs for this show are beautiful. I'm putting the show's lack of success in the English-speaking world down to the translated English lyrics. They're awful! They're completely lacking in the heart and passion of the French lyrics. It's such a shame! Unsurprisingly the songs I've put here are in French and with English subtitles.

Dechire ("Torn")

Tu Vas Me Detruire ("You Will Destroy Me")

11. OLIVER! I love this musical but only the stage version. I think the 1968 film is really overrated. The songs are still great of course but the tone and look of that film is nowhere near as dark and gritty as it should be given the subject matter and the Victorian east-end setting. It's far too family friendly. Also the direction is stagey, Mark Lester's Oliver is really annoying, and Nancy's character is idealised. But I got to see the latest UK tour of the musical last year and it was fantastic! It made me love the musical! The show looked gritty, it had an amazing child ensemble, it had Bill Sykes' song My Name (which is an awesome character-building song) and it had Samantha Barks as Nancy in it! And she was brilliant!

Oom Pah Pah

As Long As He Needs Me

12. LORD OF THE RINGS This musical is my most recent discovery. It came to London several years ago and I remember being very dismissive of it. I thought "That's crazy! How can they expect to turn the whole of Tolkien's book into a 3 hour show?! It took Peter Jackson 9 1/2 hours to tell the story on film!" But then I finally heard the song Lothlorien and I was completely blown away by it. It's such a beautiful song and Laura Michelle Kelly's voice is stunning. She has the voice of an angel! I've been listening to this show's cast recording a lot lately : ) Of course it's a heavily condensed adaptation but the beautiful music goes a long, long way in making up for its faults!


So there you have it, these are the musicals that I love : ) Do you share any of my favourites? If so, which ones? And have I even introduced you to some musicals that you didn't already know?

Friday, 27 September 2013

'Ich Gehör nur Mir' Song Comparison

Below I've embedded four different versions of a song from Elisabeth called Ich Gehör nur Mir ("I Belong to Me"). The song is basically about Elisabeth's fierce yearning for a life of independence and freedom. It's a gorgeous song and one of my favourites from Elisabeth. Mind you, I say that about practically all of the songs from Elisabeth : ) These four versions are performed by Maya Hakvoort, Pia Douwes and Annemieke Van Dam. They've all starred in Elisabeth and all of them are from Holland. A lot of German musical theatre stars seem to be Dutch actually! I'm also thinking of Willemijn Verkaik.

Three of these versions of Ich Gehör nur Mir are in German and one of them is an English translation of the song. I have two questions for my readers. Firstly, do you think the song sounds better in German or English? I think German! Secondly, which of these three women do you think sings the song better? I'll put my own opinions into this post but what do you think?

1. Maya Hakvoort. Maya is the actress who plays Elisabeth on the Vienna 2005 DVD so she was the first one I heard. I love her version! Of all of these three women I think she grasps the melancholy and yearning side of the song the best. Even if you can't speak a word of German you'll feel the passion and emotion that she's putting into this performance. 

2. Pia Douwes. Pia is the one who originated the role of Elisabeth back in 1992. This version is from a performance that she gave on German TV in 2005. I love both Pia Douwes and Maya Hakvoort's Elisabeths. In general I do prefer the tone of Pia's voice to Maya's but Maya puts more emotion into this particular song I think so I like her version more. I still really love Pia's version though. It is beautiful and her finish to the song is pretty amazing as she belts out that E5 and then hits the C6! Pia is a mezzo but she has a huge range. Here's her version of Tu Cosa Fai Stasera if anyone's interested.

3. Annemieke Van Dam. Annemieke is playing Elisabeth in the production that's currently in Vienna. I don't like Annemieke's Elisabeth as much as Pia and Maya's. Does she go off-key at times in this? I think so but I can't tell. I don't have a very good ear for music! Also, although she does go for the C6 at the end (and hits it) her note isn't as powerful as Pia's. Still she does have a lovely voice and I do enjoy this version.

4. Pia Douwes - I Belong to Me. This is the English translation of the song and this video has images from the 1950s Sissi films. Of course the Elisabeth musical is very different to those films but I do enjoy looking at the very impressive colour cinematography that's on display here. The English translation is pretty decent I think, it's easily the best that I've found and it helps that Pia Douwes is singing it. Having said that this version does leave out one of my favourite lines from the German version: "I want to go out on the ice and see for myself how long it will hold me".

Thursday, 26 September 2013

My 'Elisabeth' Dream Cast

So if you've read my review of the Elisabeth musical - it's here if you haven't - then you'll probably remember me saying that I've got a cast in mind for a West End/Broadway transfer. However, before I reveal that cast, I just want to talk about my mixed feelings about an English language production of the show.

It seems very unlikely that Elisabeth will get a West End or Broadway transfer any time soon. Michael Kunze's musical Tanz der Vampire led to the infamous Broadway flop Dance of the Vampires and apparently it's made him very reluctant to allow for any further English-language productions of his shows. Admittedly there was going to be a Broadway adaptation of the Kunze-Levay Rebecca musical which was set to star Sierra Boggess, Tam Mutu and James Barbour. However, the project fell apart due to the investors having financial problems so Sierra and Tam went on to play Fantine and Javert in Les Miserables instead.

Judging from various comments that I've read online, many Elisabeth fans feel that an English-language production of the musical wouldn't work anyway. It's been pointed out that Empress Elisabeth is a far less well-known figure in Britain and America than she is in Austria, Germany and Central Europe. Many Elisabeth fans feel that mass British and American audiences would automatically dismiss the show because they wouldn't understand the historical and cultural references behind it. Now I can see why many Elisabeth fans would think this but hmm... I'm not convinced. Elisabeth was a big hit in Japan after all. It's had some very successful productions of the musical out there. And was Eva Peron really that well-known in the English-speaking world before Evita? There's also the fact that many Americans are absolutely fascinated by European royalty. Maybe I'm being over-optimistic but I think Elisabeth has the potential to do much better in London and New York than many fans think.

That's not to say that I don't have any concerns about a West End/Broadway production of Elisabeth though because I do. There are bound to be people out there who'd dismiss Elisabeth as being an Evita ripoff. And to these people I'd say "Ssh! Elisabeth is better than Evita! It has a far more interesting story!" : D I can also see some West End/Broadway audience members completely missing the point that Death is supposed to be a personification and getting up in arms about the musical, as in "This woman is being tempted to kill herself for a sexy dead guy and being with him would make her happier than being alive!" I can see some people accusing Elisabeth of promoting suicide or some absolute nonsense like that. There are bound to be some people out there who just wouldn't get that Elisabeth's relationship with Der Tod is supposed to be more metaphorical than real. However, my biggest concern about a West End/Broadway production of Elisabeth would be the translated lyrics. The songs from the musical Notre Dame de Paris weren't anywhere near as good as English as they were in French and it killed the show on the West End. I've also heard some very bad fan-made translations of the Elisabeth songs. In my opinion, for Elisabeth to achieve any kind of success on the West End or Broadway, they would need to do an absolutely superb job in translating the lyrics. But if the musical had a really great team behind it who were passionate about the project - and if Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay were both heavily involved in the production - then I really do think that Elisabeth could be a huge hit in the English-speaking world. Ideally I'd want Cameron Mackintosh to oversee the production, John Caird and Trevor Nunn to co-direct it, and Herbert Kretzmer to re-write the lyrics. Basically I'd want the Les Miserables dream team behind the project! If anyone could pull it off then these people could! I would also love for these actors to play the leading roles:

Elisabeth - Sierra Boggess

The role of Elisabeth would be absolutely perfect for Sierra Boggess! She's a great actress and she's beautiful. Elisabeth is a mezzo role - I don't know her exact range but I think it's similar to Fantine's from Les Miserables for the majority of the time. Sierra Boggess has got a fantastic belt and she was a brilliant Fantine! Also, Elisabeth's character has got the option of a C6 note at the end of Ich Gehör nur Mir. Because Sierra is a soprano and a former Christine she should be able to hit that optional C6 note with ease.

Der Tod/Death - Aaron Tveit
This would be amazing! Tveit definitely looks the part. He's a fantastic singer. Even though his voice is quite different to Máté Kamarás's I still think he'd make a fantastic Der Tod. Tveit's a great actor. He's got the stage presence and charisma for the role. I think he and Sierra Boggess would be really well-matched. Der Tod has even got some very basic similarities to Gabe from Next to Normal. Tveit would be perfect for Der Tod : )

Luigi Lucheni - Ramin Karimloo
I was wavering between Ramin Karimloo and Tam Mutu for this one but ultimately I chose, well you can see who I chose! Ramin Karimloo really would make an amazing Lucheni. With his dark looks he could easily pass for an Italian. He's absolutely got the charisma and stage presence for the role. He's got a rock edge to his voice just like Serkan Kaya has. Also casting Sierra and Ramin in this musical would drive the Erik/Christine shippers bonkers because the Phantom would be killing Christine in this! Mwahaha! 

Franz Joseph - Hadley Fraser
I was only going to cast the three major roles for this musical but what the heck! I'm going to cast Hadley Fraser into this! He's awesome and he'd get to work with his best friend Ramin again. Yes having Sierra, Ramin and Hadley in this musical would lead to an endless amount of Elisabeth/Phantom of the Opera comparisons but I can't resist the thought of getting all three of them into another musical. So yeah, if I had my way a Broadway/West End transfer of Elisabeth would be basically the leads of Phantom 25 + Aaron Tveit. Are you feeling the amazing-ness of this? : D 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Elisabeth (Stage Musical)

There's been a slight change of plan. I was originally going to put this blog post up on the 26th but I've decided to move it forward a day because I wanted to make some changes to another post. Anyway, when I decided to take part in this "Celebrate Musicals" blog event I really wanted to write about a musical that I hadn't yet covered, so I decided that I would write about Elisabeth. I passionately love this musical! : D Elisabeth is an Austrian musical that I discovered from reading some comments on an internet forum. This post is going to be my review of Elisabeth and as I'm such a big lover of the show you can expect it to be very gushy. I will also provide the YouTube link for you to watch the show and check it out for yourselves.

The Elisabeth musical is basically a biopic about Elisabeth von Wittelsbach. She was a Bavarian princess and her favourite cousin was King Ludwig II (who built the beautiful Schloss Neuschwanstein near Füssen). Elisabeth eventually married her other cousin Kaiser Franz Joseph I and became the Empress of Austria. Elisabeth was famed for being one of the most beautiful women in Europe, was nicknamed "Sissi", and was later murdered in 1891 by an Italian anarchist called Luigi Lucheni. Although Elisabeth isn't particularly famous in Britain or America she's a beloved historical icon in Austria, Germany and Central Europe. Phantom of the Opera fans might also be interested to know that Christine's Think of Me costume from the 2004 movie is based on a dress that Elisabeth wears in a famous portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Elisabeth's fame led to a trilogy of films being made about her life in the 1950s which starred the actress Romy Schneider. However, these films idealised and sugar-coated Elisabeth's life at court and her relationship with her husband to an absurd degree. Elisabeth's life was in reality far more tragic and dark than these films would have you believe. Elisabeth was miserable at court and she often said that getting married at the age of 15 was the biggest mistake of her life. Elisabeth was never raised to be an Empress. Elisabeth's mother Ludovica was the sister of Sophie, the Crown Princess of Austria. The two of them had always planned that Ludovica's oldest daughter Helene would be the one to marry Franz Joseph, so from a very young age it was Helene that was trained for the position of Empress. However, when Franz Joseph was finally introduced to Helene and her family, he fell passionately in love with Elisabeth instead and proposed to her. Elisabeth was fond of Franz Joseph but she didn't fully reciprocate his feelings for her. However, she didn't dare refuse him. Elisabeth moved away from her family to Vienna, married Franz Joseph and was then crowned the Empress of Austria. Elisabeth was a very sensitive and introverted young woman and was completely unprepared for her new life. She found the strict and rigid protocol of court life suffocating and her new mother-in-law would constantly criticise her and put her down. Elisabeth's marriage to Franz Joseph was not a happy one (and in the later years of their marriage Franz Joseph took a mistress). There would be days in which Elisabeth would get so depressed that she would just sit in her bedroom and cry. Also, when Elisabeth had children she wasn't even allowed to care for them. When Elisabeth's first daughter was born, Sophie took her away from Elisabeth and named the baby after herself without even consulting Elisabeth. She took Elisabeth's second daughter Gisela away from her as well. And then - when Elisabeth finally won a battle with her mother-in-law to be able to take her two young daughters on holiday to Hungary - Elisabeth's infant daughter Sophie contracted Typhus and died. Elisabeth was devastated by this loss. To try to cope with her misery, she became obsessed with her beauty regime and eating because it was one of the few things that she had any control over. She would ride horses for sometimes up to 8 hours a day and suffered from anorexia (she had a 17 inch waist). She did find more positive ways of dealing with her depression though. She read and wrote poetry and was especially fond of the poet Heinrich Heine. She learnt fluent Hungarian, English and Greek. She did charitable work and frequently visited mental asylums and hospitals because she had a great deal of compassion for the mentally ill. She managed to have a small but significant role in Hungary obtaining independence and she also travelled a great deal. However, Elisabeth was once again devastated by loss when her adult son Prince Rudolph killed his mistress and then himself. Two years later Elisabeth herself died.

The Elisabeth musical was intended as a critical response against those sanitised 1950s films that were made about Sissi's life. The musical was written by Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze who are sort of like the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice of German musical theatre (in terms of their popularity). Levay wrote the music for Elisabeth and Kunze wrote the lyrics. Their musical opened in Vienna in the year 1992. Although the critical reviews for the show were mixed Elisabeth was a smash-hit and ran for five years. It was then revived for another two years in 2003, with a live recording of the show being recorded and released on DVD in 2005. Although Elisabeth is a relatively obscure musical in Britain and America it's actually the most popular German language musical of all time and has been seen by over 10 million people. Although there has never been an English language production of the show the musical has been staged all over the world. It's been performed in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, South Korea and Japan. The musical is also currently playing in Vienna again as a celebration of the show's 20th anniversary. I've heard some really good things about this current production so if you speak German and happen to be going to Vienna any time soon then I'd definitely recommend going to see it!

As I've already mentioned, the Elisabeth musical is a more accurate portrayal of Sissi's life by showing her unhappiness, anger and depression with her life at court. This would have made for a very compelling story all by itself but the musical also adds in a fascinating supernatural element to the proceedings. The musical opens with a prologue (see below) in which Elisabeth's assassin Luigi Lucheni is being interrogated by an unseen voice in purgatory. Lucheni has been interrogated night after night for 100 years as part of a Promethean style punishment (if you know your Greek mythology). Lucheni claims that he was actually doing Elisabeth a favour by killing her because she wanted to die and was in love with death. When the unseen voice scoffs at this, Lucheni summons Elisabeth's contemporaries and the Personification of Death (Der Tod) to his trial. Der Tod admits that he was in love with Elisabeth and that he interfered in her life in order to bring them closer. We the audience are then taken back into the past to see Elisabeth's life unfold and Lucheni takes over as the show's narrator. He tries to convince the unseen voice (and us) that Elisabeth was actually a horrible person who got everything that she deserved. In addition to Elisabeth's battles at court we also get to see Elisabeth's relationship with death. In this musical Death is personified as being an alluring and mysterious young man who takes people's lives by kissing them. He's also got his own minions : D Der Tod is in love with Elisabeth and tells her that the only way she will be able to obtain true happiness and freedom is in death. However, Elisabeth is gutsy and defiant to the end and refuses to give into her own private longing for death without a fight. She strives to find freedom and happiness in life. Apparently Michael Kunze had read some of Elisabeth's letters and had been very struck by their suicidal-sounding tone. He came up with the idea of making Death into an attractive man in order to make Elisabeth's obsession with death more tangible and to show the audience her mental state. There is also a long-standing fascination with death and the macabre in Austrian culture that the Elisabeth musical taps into, and in Germanic folklore Der Tod is often depicted in artwork as being a skeletal figure who seduces young maidens with a violin.

There are many reasons why I love the Elisabeth musical but I guess my number one reason would have to be its music. Elisabeth is an almost entirely sung-through musical and its songs are just so soaringly beautiful and atmospheric. The music ranges from power ballads to epic choruses to light-hearted ditties. Some of the songs have a modern rock feel about them and other songs have more of a classical musical theatre sound but somehow it all fits together and nothing is jarring. The musical is packed full of fantastic songs like Prolog, Alle Fragen Sind Gestellt, Der Letzte TanzIch Gehör nur Mir, Milch, Kitsch, Wenn Ich Tanzen Will, Die Schatten Werden Länger (my favourite song in the musical!) and Der Schleier Fällt. I adore the music of this show and I love the language of Elisabeth too. German is such a weirdly beautiful language and it can be very powerful when sung. I'm so annoyed that I've forgotten almost all of the German that I learnt at school! Elisabeth is a show that looks great as well. It has some gorgeous costumes that look as good as anything that you'd see on the West End or Broadway. OK, I hate that white, sparkly shirt with tassels that Der Tod occasionally wears but the rest of the costumes are great!

Another huge reason why I love Elisabeth so much is due to its utterly fascinating and compelling story. As I explained before in my Why I Love Musicals post the musicals that I tend to love best are those dramatic, epic and emotional musicals. Elisabeth is right up my alley then! Also there is actually quite a bit of social commentary in this musical. The rise of fascism and anti-semitism is touched on in the song Hass and you also learn about Hungary's struggle for independence and the declining influence of the Habsburg monarchy. You get a real sense of what was going on in the Austrian Empire in the years leading up to WWI. And then of course there are the characters in this musical. One of the many things that I love about Elisabeth is that there aren't any bad guys in it. All of the characters that are in it are very flawed and complex and human. Elisabeth herself is a very sympathetic heroine for the majority of the time but the musical still isn't afraid to portray her in an unattractive light at times. There are times in Act Two when her character comes across as being cold and selfish. Franz Joseph comes across as a weak-willed mummy's boy for quite a lot of the time because he allows his mother to mistreat and bully his wife - but he's still quite clearly a good man. Even Sophie gets quite a touching song towards the end of the musical about her love for her son! And then there's Der Tod and Luigi Lucheni. In another musical these characters could have been portrayed as one-dimensional villains but that's certainly not the case here. Der Tod genuinely loves Elisabeth and is only trying to make her happy and bring her freedom. Yes, he does some things that we'd class as immoral but then he is literally Death. A personification of Death wouldn't have the same morals as humans. And I happen to really like the fact that Der Tod is such a proud and confident character. I'm getting so tired of angsty, guilt-ridden males in fiction *cough Edward Cullen cough* And Luigi Lucheni's character is so much fun to watch in this musical! Fans of the Elisabeth musical often describe the show as being like a cross between Phantom of the Opera and Evita - but of these two musicals Elisabeth is far closer to the latter. Just like Evita, Elisabeth has an extremely cynical and sardonic narrator who heavily dislikes the person whose story he is telling. Lucheni and Che are both quite similar characters. However, there's still a big difference between the two of them. Che is just venting in Evita. He's angry that everyone is practically worshipping a woman that he considers to be a very flawed and selfish person. Lucheni, on the other hand, is a far more embittered character and is much more biased. He's trying to make Elisabeth out to be a bad person so he can justify his actions and get himself out of purgatory. But I still really like his character in spite of myself. Lucheni is just so much fun to watch in this musical and he can be very funny. Most of the humour in the musical comes from him. He isn't at all a passive narrator either and takes on lots of different personas in the show. He's always a lively and emotional presence and it really helps that Serkan Kaya does such an awesome job at playing him.

As I've already mentioned my introduction to Elisabeth was the 2005 DVD of the Vienna cast revival. Older Elisabeth fans might accuse me of being biased but I absolutely adore this cast. Maya Hakvoort is excellent as Sissi but I prefer Serkan Kaya and Máté Kamarás's performances. Serkan Kaya is just an absolute joy to watch as Lucheni. He has so much charisma and energy and stage presence - he steals every scene he's in. He's obviously having a lot of fun playing the character! And he has one heck of a voice! He's the best singer in the show for me and I love the rocky edge to his voice. Kamarás has got quite a rocky edge to his voice as well and I love his voice almost as much as Kaya's. Kamarás plays Der Tod and is a Hungarian singer. Given that the real-life Elisabeth was such a huge lover of Hungary and the Hungarian people I think it's really cool that they got a Hungarian to play the character! And I just love Máté Kamarás in the role. It was Uwe Kröger who originated the role of Der Tod back in 1992 and he's a big musical theatre star in Europe. He also dubbed Gerard Butler's Phantom in the 2004 movie. However, I'm not a fan of Uwe Kröger's Der Tod. In all of the videos that I've seen of him in the role, his Der Tod seems far too cold and imperious and androgynous. Although this is more along the lines of what I'd imagine a personification of Death to actually be like, Der Tod is also supposed to be in love with Elisabeth. I just don't get that from Kröger's Der Tod. It's the exact opposite with Máté Kamarás's Der Tod. He gives a far more manly and masculine take on the character and Der Tod's love and passion for Sissi is much more obvious. He gets so angry and frustrated with Elisabeth for not listening to him. Also the scene in which he finally embraces and kisses Elisabeth at the end of the musical and here is ridiculously adorable, he's so sweet and tender towards her. And I love the fact that Kamarás's Der Tod is blonde. Not all of the actors who play Der Tod in Elisabeth are blonde but the majority of them tend to be. I love that! They give me David Bowie from Labyrinth vibes! I do have one small complaint about Kamarás's Der Tod though. At times I do think that he's a little bit too hands-on with Maya Hakvoort's Elisabeth in the musical - but then again I would much rather have a Der Tod who shows too much passion for Sissi instead of not enough so it is a small complaint. Also - and please excuse this shameless fangirling - Kamarás is so handsome ; ) There are other Elisabeth performers that I love though. I love Pia Douwes (who originated the role of Elisabeth) just as much as Maya Hakvoort. I also really like Annemieke Van Dam and Jesper Tydén.

So, that's why I love Elisabeth so much : ) I hope you've found this review interesting and informative - and that it's made you want to want to watch the musical. I really hope that you'll love it as much as I do! I must stress though that Elisabeth is a mature musical in its themes and it isn't an all ages appropriate, family-friendly musical. Death plays a role in the story (quite literally) and there are one or two swear words. There's some sexual innuendo and the song Nur Kein Genieren can be completely skipped through since it takes place in a brothel. A character kills someone (although it isn't bloody or graphic) and then kills himself. Although there are some mature younger teenagers out there I'd say that the musical is only appropriate for 15 year olds and over, just to be on the safe side.

If you want to watch Elisabeth then you might be wondering just how exactly you can see it. Well, by far the best way of watching this musical is by watching OiaHavanah's playlist on Youtube because it has English subtitles and it's free. The link is here. Unfortunately the DVD of Elisabeth doesn't have any English subtitles so unless you speak German you probably wouldn't have a clue what was actually going on in the show. For some reason the special features on the DVD have English subtitles but not the performance itself! That is just so... stupid! If you do speak German though, and would like to own the DVD, then I would suggest ordering it from

In tomorrow's post I'm going to talk about my mixed feelings about a West End/Broadway transfer of Elisabeth and what my dream cast for the musical would be. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why I Love Musicals

Apart from Miss Dashwood's tag, this will be my first post for the "Celebrate Musicals Week" blog party. For my first entry I thought I'd explain why I love musicals so much and also give my readers an idea of what my tastes are when it comes to musicals. *Upcoming rant warning!*

I have to admit that I get really annoyed when I hear people saying that they hate musicals because they're all "cheesy" or "silly" or "too happy" or even "gay" (homophobic much?) It made me feel vindicated then when one of my Facebook friends saw the Les Miserables film because he was in complete shock about it. He really enjoyed it! He couldn't get over the fact that it was a "different" musical, that it wasn't like any of those other musicals that he'd seen before. The sad thing is that his former perception of musicals is still much too common. I've met plenty of people with his attitude. Most of the time they've only seen a couple of musicals like Grease! or Mamma Mia! or whatever and have automatically assumed that all musicals must be like this. And it drives me crazy! Musicals aren't all one and the same and if you say that you hate all of them then you're making a massive generalisation. It's like saying that you hate all books or all films just because you've come across a few that you didn't like.

When it comes to musicals the ones that I tend to love the most are awesomely dark, dramatic and epic musicals with serious themes and highly emotional songs. The idea that all musicals are all cheesy and silly really makes me laugh. I mean, really?! What about Les Miserables again? What about Phantom of the Opera? I've seen that show live three times and there are always some people crying at the end! It's a deeply moving story. What about Joseph? Sure it's got some bright and happy songs in it but Joseph still gets sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and thrown in prison for years! Or what about Sweeney Todd? The main character in that is a serial killer! And his accomplice takes the bodies of his victims and puts them into pies! That show is basically Hannibal the Musical! I could also mention West Side Story, Oliver!Cabaret, Jesus Christ SuperstarBlood BrothersMiss Saigon, Next to Normal, Wicked, etc, etc. Heck, even The Sound of Music has got Nazis in it! None of these musicals could be described as cheesy or too happy.

The other criticism of musicals that I often hear is that "They are so unrealistic! People just don't burst out into song when they're randomly walking down the street like that! Where's the music coming from?!" This argument seems like an awful cop-out to me. How can people complain about musicals and yet be completely comfortable with Disney films having talking animals or toys? How can they complain about musicals and yet still be happy to watch superhero films? And as my favourite film critic Mark Kermode pointed out: if people can have a problem with characters bursting out into song then how come they don't have a problem with sci-fi films having the sound of explosions in space? Space is silent!

I'm sure you'll have already worked this out by now but I happen to think that musicals are awesome! : D There's just something about adding songs to stories that allows them to become very powerful, and the fact that the characters sing can allow you to connect very deeply with them and their emotions. Also, the sheer rush that you can get when you see a great stage musical live can be incredible. Even musical films - if they're done really, really well - can be amazing to watch. Also musicals are full of massively talented people, especially stage musicals. The actors do 8 shows a week where they sing, act and dance their hearts out. Also, acting in a stage musical isn't like acting in a film. In a film you can do multiple takes so if you get a line wrong then it's not really a big deal. There's no room for error on stage! They have to get it right every single time.

I hope you enjoyed this post and tomorrow I'll be posting a selection of songs from my favourite musicals. It's a big multi-musical fandom post. From Thursday I'll be writing exclusively on my chosen musical of the week, Elisabeth.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Celebrate Musicals Week Tag!

1.  What musical did you pick to "spotlight" this week and why?

After a little bit of thought I decided that I'd focus on the musical Elisabeth. It's one of my favourite musicals but I haven't written about it on my blog yet, so that was my main reason for focusing on it. Also, because Elisabeth is a relatively obscure musical in the English-speaking world so the more people who find out about it the better! Just to warn younger readers, Elisabeth is by no means an all-ages appropriate, family-friendly musical. It's about a real-life person who had a very dark and tragic life, and the musical reflects that. For example: there's some sexual innuendo going on at times and there are one or two swear words. One of the characters kills someone (although it isn't bloody or graphic) and then hangs himself. I absolutely love Elisabeth but I couldn't recommend it to anyone under the age of 13.

2.  How did you discover the musical you picked (hereinafter referred to as "your musical")?
I can tell you exactly how I found out about this musical. I joined an anti-Love Never Dies group on Facebook called Love Should Die (Ha!), and there was a forum on it with people discussing their favourite musicals. Sadly that forum no longer exists now but a few people mentioned Elisabeth on it. I did a quick Google search and discovered that the musical was about the famous Empress Elisabeth of Austria. At the time I'd only just got back from a trip around the continent and Vienna had been one of the highlights of my trip. I'd actually visited the Hofburg and Schloss Schönbrunn palaces where Elisabeth had lived and I'd loved them. As you can imagine I was very intrigued about the musical. And then I discovered that the musical was up on YouTube with English subtitles. I watched it, loved it, and the rest is history : D I'm so glad that something good came out of my hatred of Love Never Dies!

3.  If you had to pick three favorite songs from your musical, which ones would they be?
Ok, Die Schatten Werden Länger is my favourite song from the musical. It appears twice in the musical and I love both versions of it. It's just such a dramatic and intense and powerful song and I absolutely love it! But what are the other songs that make up my top three?! This is much harder! OK, right now my other favourite songs from Elisabeth are Milch and Wenn Ich Tanzen Will but that's only because of my current mood. I could have an almost completely different top three tomorrow!

4.  What's your least favourite song from your musical?
There aren't really any songs that I vehemently dislike in the musical. The music in Elisabeth is fantastic! Having said that I'm not overly fond of the song Nur kein Genieren. I like the tune but the song itself is set in a brothel. I don't think the song is any worse than the Lovely Ladies song from Les Miserables but if you're uncomfortable with the idea of watching it then please, just skip it! Unlike Lovely Ladies, that song isn't really that essential to the plot so you won't lose anything by not seeing it.

5.  Who are your favourite characters (choose up to three)?
The three major characters so Elisabeth herself, Der Tod and Luigi Lucheni. I'll go into more depth about them when I eventually get to my Elisabeth review.

6.  Which versions of your musical have you seen/listened to, and which is your favourite?
I've only seen the 2005 Vienna cast DVD. Elisabeth doesn't have a film adaptation and it's never been performed in the UK so I've never had the chance to see it live. I've seen a few YouTube videos from other Elisabeth performances though.

7.   Is this your favourite musical of all time?  If not, what is?
No, Les Miserables is my absolute favourite musical (and now film) of all time! Elisabeth is definitely in my top five though along with Wicked and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. My Fair Lady, Beauty and the Beast and Oliver! are battling it out in my head for the number five spot on the list : )

8.   Which cast album/musical soundtrack in your collection do you listen to the most?
The 10th anniversary concert of Les Mis. Without question.

9.   What is your favourite costume from your musical?
Without doubt it's the iconic Elisabeth dress. They did an amazing job recreating it for this musical. It beats the white dress from the Phantom of the Opera 2004 movie any day!

10.  If you could change anything about your musical, what would you change?
I'd get rid of Nur Kein Genieren but apart from that I can't think of anything else! Nothing that I can think of off the top of my head anyway. It's not that I'd say Elisabeth is a flawless musical. I'm sure I could think of other things that I'd like to be changed if I gave it some more thought...

11.  Which role(s) would you most like to play in any musical, if you had the opportunity to do so on stage?
I'm going to leave aside the fact that I wouldn't actually be able to sing any of these roles! I have been told by various people that I can carry a tune - I actually sang alto in a church choir once and I found that I could hit some of the sopranos' notes as well. But I'm still not much of a singer. So for this question I'm going to pretend that I'm an amazing singer with a massive range and that I can also act and dance. There are lots of roles I'd like to play but I'm going to narrow it down to six:

Fantine and Eponine - Les Miserables
Both of these characters get beautiful solos in I Dreamed a Dream and On My Own. They both get heartbreaking death scenes in Come to Me and A Little Fall of Rain. They both get to come back as ghosts at the end. Eponine gets to hang out with the students but Fantine is unquestionably the more challenging and meaty role. They would both be fantastic characters to play. I can't choose between them!

Christine Daae - Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber version)
She gets two terrific solos to sing in Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Again. OK, Raoul gets a few lines to sing in Think of Me as well but come on! That song is still unquestionably Christine's! She gets to show off her E6 note in Phantom of the Opera. She gets to play grief-stricken and emotional in WYWSHA. She gets to have some fun as the Page Boy in the Il Muto scene. And she also gets to wear some fabulous costumes.

Eliza Doolittle - My Fair Lady
She gets lots of great songs to sing. She gets to use two different accents (cockney and RP). She gets to be funny and feisty. She gets to wear some fabulous costumes as well. And she seems like she'd be such a fun character to play.

Belle - Beauty and the Beast
Because I would be getting to play a character that I've loved since childhood and how amazing would that be?!

Nancy - Oliver!
She's surely one of Charles Dickens' greatest ever characters. She gets to sing fun, upbeat songs like A Fine Life and Oom Pah Pah but she also gets to sing the heartbreaking As Long as He Needs Me. She gets a tragic death scene. And she also gets to wear the iconic red dress.

12.  If you could choose one performer to play any part in your musical, who would you choose and which part would you have them play?
I've actually put together a dream West End/Broadway cast for this musical but I'm not going to reveal it here just yet
: D

13.  Do you consider yourself a musical theatre fan in general or do you just like a few musicals?
I'm a musical theatre nerd and proud, people! Of course there are some musicals that aren't really my thing and some musicals that I heavily dislike but then there are certain books and films that I can't stand. I'm still a massive fan of the genre.

14.  Are you tired of the word "musical" yet?

15.  Turn your music playing device on shuffle (or utilize Pandora if you don't have one) and tell us the names of the first three show tunes that come up-- no cheating!  How do these rank on your favourites/most-listened-to list?
  1. Javert's Suicide - Les Miserables (Philip Quast version) This isn't one of my absolute favourite Les Mis songs but I still love it. 
  2. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again - Phantom of the Opera (the Sarah Brightman version unfortunately). This is one of my favourite songs from POTO but I don't like Sarah Brightman's Christine. Her voice is far too operatic for my liking, she sounds like a Carlotta to me. 
  3. Entr-Acte - Phantom of the Opera. This isn't one of my favourites from the musical. I'd usually skip it if I was listening to it on my iPod. 
And just to show my appreciation to Miss Dashwood for deciding to do this "Celebrate Musicals" blog event...

Sunday, 22 September 2013

'A Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence'

A big, happy birthday to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! To acknowledge and celebrate my love of Tolkien I'm taking part in Hamlette's blog party over on the The Edge of the Precipice. Here are my answers to her delightful questions
: )

1.  Have you read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit? If so, how many times?
Of course I've read both of these books! They're two of the greatest books ever written and what kind of Tolkien fan would I be if I hadn't?! I know I've read both of these books at least three times over the course of my life, probably more. I've also read The Silmarillion. I don't enjoy that book as much as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and I wouldn't class it as one of my all-time favourites but it's still an astonishing achievement and all Tolkien fans should read it. Things that are only briefly mentioned in The Hobbit and LOTR are covered in much more depth in The Silmarillion and it makes you appreciate the history and mythology of Middle-earth even more. I'm also currently reading Tolkien's retelling of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight story and I'm really enjoying it so far.

2.  Have you seen any movies based on them?
Yes. I've seen Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films and The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. I dearly love all of these films although they're not perfect adaptations of course. There are certain things about them which annoy me. I don't like how the LOTR films handled Faramir's character, I don't like that they made Aragorn a reluctant hero, and I think a couple of the actors that were in it were miscast (Orlando Bloom, Miranda Otto). But I love everything else about the films! They're incredibly well-made, most of the actors were extremely well-cast, the films were mostly faithful to the book, and Howard Shore's music was fantastic. There was also all of that wonderful New Zealand scenery (see below). One of my major ambitions in life is to go to New Zealand and visit the locations that were used for the films. I also like that they expanded Arwen's role and took out the Old Forest section. Don't get me wrong! I love that section in the book. It's a nice little diversion. I just can't see it working in an adaptation. The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite books and Peter Jackson's film trilogy are some of my favourite films. I also loved The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey. I'm still not sure if the decision to split The Hobbit into three films will ultimately pay off but I was very, very happy with the first film. I'm really excited about the next Hobbit film. It will have Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace and Evangeline Lily in it!

Aside from the Peter Jackson films I've also seen the animated film version of The Lord of the Rings. I'm not a fan. I can't stand the rotoscoping and the way that they animated some of the characters. I can't stand the fact that they call Saruman "Aruman" at times. I hate what they did to Sam!

I'm also a recently converted fan of The Lord of the Rings musical. It's not a movie adaptation of course but I just thought I'd mention it. The music in it is absolutely gorgeous. I especially love Lothlorien and The Cat and the Moon (best drinking song ever!)

3.  Who first introduced you to Middle Earth?
Well... I can't remember anyone specifically introducing me to Middle-Earth. I did start off with the books though which I'm very pleased about. I always aim to read books before I see their adaptations. I guess Tolkien introduced me to Middle-earth : )

4.  Who are your three favourite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on whys.)
Three! Just three! Oh Hamlette how can you be so cruel?! One does not simply pick three favourite characters! It would be easier to say which of the characters I don't like! Answering this question will require some thought...
  1. Aragorn. He's got an awesome entrance in both the book and The Fellowship of the Ring, and I love how mysterious his character is at the beginning. Much like Gandalf, Aragorn knows far more than he's letting on and he keeps his cards close to his chest. And then it turns out that Aragorn is noble and honourable, a badass fighter, a fantastic leader, and has a very interesting backstory. I like Aragorn more in the book because he's much more self-confident but I do really love Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of him in the films as well. I love his "My friends... you bow to no one" line in The Return of the King film. It helps that Viggo Mortensen is so incredibly attractive as well ;) 
  2. Sam. Without Sam, Frodo would have never been able to achieve his quest and complete his mission. Sam is an incredibly brave and loyal friend and is for many the unsung hero of The Lord of the Rings.
  3. Legolas. I really love Legolas but only in the book. Legolas doesn't seem to have any sort of personality in the Peter Jackson films due to Orlando Bloom's bland acting. When I first saw the films I assumed that Bloom was deliberately giving an emotionless performance to try to show the character's otherworldliness. But then I saw Bloom in other films and I was like "Nope! He's just a very wooden actor!" Anyway, I love Legolas in the book. He's a badass Elven Prince and he's very dignified and ethereal, which I find fascinating. But Legolas is also one of the most cheerful and carefree characters in the book and he seems to have quite a sly sense of humour.
  4. Faramir. Faramir is actually tied with Legolas for third place. I really love Faramir but, again, only in the book. He has so much more depth in that. In the films Faramir just comes across as a slightly more strong-willed version of Boromir, whereas Book Faramir is actually much closer to Aragorn in terms of personality. He's about as close to a true Numenorean as someone from Gondor can get. Faramir is badass - have you gathered that I love badassery? - and his romance with Eowyn is very sweet. 
That was really hard! I also love Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, Eowyn, Merry, Pippin, Thorin and Fili and Kili. Smaug, Gollum and Saruman are brilliant antagonists as well of course. My favourite character from The Lord of the Rings that wasn't in the films would be Glorfindel. He almost single-handedly defeated the Witch King of Angmar and his army, it was he who saved Frodo from the Nazgul, it was he who predicted that no mortal man would be able to kill the Witch King. And he also killed a balrog! And unlike Gandalf, Glorfindel didn't even die and get resurrected in the process! Oh, and I also really love Beren and Luthien from The Silmarillion.

5.  What's your favourite Middle Earth location?
This is also really hard! I love different locations for different reasons. I love Hobbiton because it's such a peaceful place. It would be a great place to live. You could go for long walks in the Shire and hang out at the local pub where they'd be a roaring fire. You could eat lots of food over at Bilbo and Frodo's place whilst listening to Bilbo's stories. The only possible downside is that it might be a bit dull which is why I'd also love to live in Lothlorien. It sounds so beautiful and magical and peaceful that I really don't think that I would get bored there. I could also hang out with the Elves, listen to their music and singing, and hear lots of interesting stories from the good people who get to pass through the forest. I would also love to visit the Grey Havens and Valinor. I imagine windswept rocky beaches and mountain views there.

6.  If you could belong to one of the races of Free Folk (Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Ents), which would you choose?
The Elves because I've always found them to be the most interesting and fascinating of the Middle-Earth races.

7.  Would you rather eat lembas or taters?
Lembas! I'm sure Sam cooks taters very well but I'd want to try something I've never eaten before.

8.  If you lived in Middle Earth, what weapon would you prefer wielding?
Ideally I'd want a bow and arrow because that way you can kill your enemies from a distance! I'd keep a sword or a dagger with me as well though just in case I was caught unawares.

9.  What draws you to Tolkien's stories?  (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)
Oh, there are so many things. I love Tolkien's stories because they're so exciting and epic and action-packed. I love that the world of Middle-earth is so incredibly detailed. I love the stories because of Tolkien's amazing imagination and inventiveness. He was a genius and a man who truly understood mythology and language. I love Tolkien's writing-style and his humour. I love the stories because of the brilliantly engaging characters. I love the themes of the stories (bravery, friendship, hope, self-sacrifice, etc). The books and the films have been a major part of my childhood and really helped to make a me a fan of fantasy.

10. List up to five of your favourite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

“A day may come when the courage of men fails… but it is not THIS day!”

“I'm glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee… here at the end of all things.”

“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” 

“Where there's life there's hope.”  

Ok, ok, I put up six quotes! I cheated : D

Sunday, 15 September 2013

'A Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence' (Preview)

When it rains, it pours! I've been waiting ages for a great blog party to come along and now I find that there are two in the same week! How typical : D So not only will I be doing the 'Celebrate Musicals' blog event that Miss Dashwood has created, I'll also be doing a Tolkien-themed blog party that Hamlette has created on her book blog. The link is here but you can also click on the blog button that I've put on my sidebar. The post explains the rules and guidelines but basically Hamlette will be putting 10 questions on her blog like "Which of Tolkien's books have you read?" and "Who is your favourite character?" The participants answer the questions on their blog and then post the link to their answers on Hamlette's page.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A 'Celebrate Musicals' Blog Party

Two blog posts in one day?! I'm on fire! : D Anyway, I've been following a blog called "Yet Another Period Drama" for the last few months. The writer is called Miss Dashwood although her real name is Amy. She's now doing a "Celebrate Musicals" blog party from the 23rd-28th of September. For more details click on this link. You can also click on the blog button that I've added to my sidebar.

I've never been in a blog party before so I'm actually quite excited about this! I've decided that I'm going to be focusing on the German-Austrian musical Elisabeth for this blog party because it's a fairly obscure musical - in Britain and America anyway - and I doubt many people will choose to do it. Don't expect any blog posts from me up until the 23rd of September because I'll be working on the blog posts that I'll be writing for the Musicals week. 

'Beauty' by Robin McKinley (1978)

Synopsis: Beauty is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. The heroine's real name is Honour but when Honour was a little girl she decided that her name was boring and that she'd rather be called "Beauty" instead. The nickname has stuck with her but Beauty has come to dislike it due to her plain (or so she thinks) looks. Beauty lives with her two older sisters, the beautiful Hope and Grace, and her kind and wealthy father. But then all of their lives are suddenly changed forever when Beauty's father, a shipping merchant, loses all of his ships. Their money soon goes with them and Grace's fiancé, who captained one of the ships, is presumed to have died. Hope then marries a poor but worthy country lad and, after selling almost all of their possessions, the family leaves their home in the city to move to a small village in the countryside. Their cottage is next to a mysterious old forest. After spending several years in the country, Beauty's father then goes on a trip and gets lost in the forest. He comes back with a single red rose for Beauty but her father paid a price in taking this rose. He must either die or allow Beauty to go and live at a castle where a mysterious Beast lives. With only her horse to accompany her, Beauty goes to the castle. There she finds invisible servants, a magical library, friendly birds, and a melancholy Beast who asks Beauty to marry him every night...

Like many little girls I grew up with the Disney version of the Beauty and the Beast story and it's still one of my favourite films of all-time. And thanks to the TV show Once Upon a Time I'm also a huge Rumbelle shipper : ) Up until I watched that show I'd never actually come across another retelling of the fairytale before and it made me want to look at others. So after doing a bit of research I decided to read Beauty, Robin McKinley's debut novel. Beauty is not just Robin McKinley's most famous and beloved book, it's also considered to be one of the very best fairytale retellings yet written. Beauty was also a really original book for its time. There's nothing particularly original about fairytale retellings now of course but back when McKinley wrote this book it was something that was relatively unusual.

Beauty isn't one of those retellings that tries to give the original story a new and shocking twist. McKinley simply fleshes out the original fairytale more and gives the characters more depth. And she does this brilliantly. I absolutely loved the way McKinley told this story. The writing in the book is just excellent. The prose is simple and yet it's still highly descriptive and evocative. The book is filled with atmosphere; whether McKinley is writing about Beauty's cosy and homely cottage in the country or whether she's writing about the fantastical and eerie castle. Oh and that scene in the Disney film where the Beast gives Belle his library, you remember that right? Well, that film's library is nothing compared to the library that's in this book! This book has a magical library that contains every single book in the entire world - even books that haven't been written yet! It's the TARDIS of libraries! Another thing that I really loved about the writing was its sense of timelessness. It's really not clear as to which time period the book is actually set in and some readers have complained about this. However, this was actually one of the things that I enjoyed the most about the book.

McKinley's book does stick quite closely to the original fairytale but there is one interesting variation in it. In the original fairytale Beauty's older sisters are cruel and spiteful but in this book they're both lovely and kind. Beauty gets on really well with them. To be honest Hope and Grace's characters are both fairly interchangeable with one another but since I did find them likeable this is only a small nitpick. And I really loved this change that McKinley made to the fairytale because it made it less of a Cinderella type story. That fairytale ends with the good sister getting rewarded and the bad sisters getting punished. But in this book Beauty has a loving family and all of the sisters get rewarded at the end.

My favourite character in this story was - surprise, surprise - Beauty. She's a fantastic heroine. She's clever, kind, strong and brave and she has a wry sense of humour. She loves horses, she's bookish, and she's a keen language student. She isn't at all whiny either. The Beast on the other hand is a more mysterious and shadowy character. And although he does seem to have a slightly sarcastic sense of humour we never really get to know him as much as we get to know Beauty because the book is told entirely from her POV - but then this book is very much Beauty's story.

Please don't be put off by the fact that this book is classed as a YA novel because Beauty is, well, a beautiful book and I loved it. McKinley makes the story her own and her book is full of magic and mystery. It's also a beautiful romance and is an absolutely lovely book. I'll definitely be reading more of McKinley's books in the future. I'm especially looking forward to reading her retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale and her alternate retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Before I wrap up this post I thought I'd include this little review of the book because it sums up everything that I thought about it:

'A love story for teenagers that marries realism and fantasy with satisfying imagination, elegance of prose and thoughtful characterisation. McKinley's Beauty is more than skin-deep' Sunday Times

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Great Expectations (2012)

Very recently we've had not one but two adaptations of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and the BBC have been behind both of them (which is quite weird if you ask me). The BBC produced a miniseries which aired in 2011 and also co-produced a film version which came out in 2012. This film was directed by Mike Newell; who has directed the films Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Prince of Persia. The film was written by the author David Nicchols and it features a very star-studded cast of actors. The film features War Horse actor Jeremy Irvine as Pip, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, David Walliams as Mr Pumblechook, Robbie Coltrane as Mr Jaggers, and Sally Hawkins as Mrs Joe Gargery. Estella is played by the actress Holliday Grainger, who was in an episode of Merlin and has had minor roles in the recent Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina adaptations.

Great Expectations isn't actually one of my favourite Dickens stories so I guess it's not surprising that I wasn't overwhelmingly in love with either of these recent adaptations. However, I do consider the 2012 film to be the better condensed version of the book. Now I suppose that die-hard fans of the book would probably feel more inclined to watch the 2011 miniseries over this film because of its longer running time. Whereas the 2012 film is just over two hours long, the BBC miniseries is a full three hours long. But having said that there are only a couple of occasions when this film felt rushed to me and all of the major scenes from the book are still intact. As an adaptation it's mostly very faithful and David Niccholl's script actually uses quite a bit of Dickens' original dialogue. Apparently Great Expectations is Nicholl's all-time favourite novel and he definitely shows a lot more reverence to it than Sarah Phelps' script does. The 2012 film captures the book's black sense of humour a bit better and I recognised far more book quotes in it than I did in the 2011 miniseries. The script also includes many of the smaller details from the book like Miss Havisham only having one shoe, Herbert Pocket calling Pip "Handel" and humming "The Harmonious Blacksmith", Joe Gargery's song at the Forge, etc. This film even includes Mr Wemmick's elderly father and their home and drawbridge! And we get to see Pip's childhood friend Biddy! Whilst I can't say that I'm a huge fan of Biddy - she's too perfect for my liking - it was still really nice to see her. The younger and older versions of Biddy are played by the sisters Bebe and Jessie Cave and both of them do a lovely job. Some viewers might recognise Jessie from her role as Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films. There are quite a few Harry Potter actors in this film actually. Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and Hagrid are all in it! Of course by accommodating Biddy and the Aged Parent into this two-hour adaptation the script does have to make a few omissions: Pip's sister dies much earlier in this film than she does in the book and the character of Orlick is removed altogether. However, these are the only major changes that the film makes.

Another reason why I rate this film more highly than the miniseries adaptation is due to its cast. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the acting in this film is stronger than the acting in the 2011 miniseries. Ralph Fiennes is excellent and makes for a far better Magwitch than Ray Winstone. I found his later scenes with adult Pip quite moving. Jason Flemyng made for a lovely Joe Gargery and David Walliams made for an entertainingly over-the-top Pumblechook.

I really enjoyed the leading actors in this film too. This Estella is far more gorgeous than the plain Estella of the 2011 version! Unlike the 2011 version I could actually understand why Pip was dazzled by this version's Estella. Holliday Graiger is strikingly beautiful, she looks like a woman from a pre-Raphaelite painting. Her acting is excellent in this film. When I read the book I never got the impression that Estella had any love for Pip at all until possibly the final scene - but with this adaptation it was different. Grainger's Estella is still haughty and supercilious but this time she does seem to have romantic feelings for Pip. It's just that, because of her upbringing, she's confused by these feelings and doesn't really know how to show them. Grainger played this really well. I'm not really sure how true this is to the book but I really enjoyed this interpretation. It makes Estella's character more human and sympathetic. She's not just a one-dimensional ice queen. It also meant that Pip's love for Estella didn't seem quite so ridiculous in this. Also, Grainger and Jeremy Irvine had a really nice chemistry in their scenes and were very well-matched. Even though Pip and Estella don't get quite as many scenes together in this as they do in the 2011 version I definitely preferred their interactions. I'll go for quality over quantity any day. Jeremy Irvine was really well-cast in this film as well. Although Douglas Booth makes for better eye candy, Irvine is still a good-looking guy and gives a far better performance. He made for a far more believable blacksmith than Booth and he did a great job at showing how Pip degenerates. Irvine did make me more feel sympathy for Pip than I did when I read the book though and I loved that the film included Pip's "Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence..." speech to Estella. Helena Barlow and Toby Irvine (Jeremy Irvine's younger brother) were both really good as Young Estella and Pip too.

However even though I feel that the 2012 film has a much better all-round cast, the 2011 version does feature some better performances. Olly Alexander is quite cute as Herbert Pocket but I like Harry Lloyd's performance more. Robbie Coltrane gives a good performance as Mr Jaggers but I prefer David Suchet's more sinister and ruthless take on the role. And as much as I love Helena Bonham Carter, her portrayal of Miss Havisham just can't live up to Gillian Anderson's spectacular performance as that character. It's not that Helena Bonham Carter is bad in this film, far from it. She does a superb job of showing Miss Havisham's madness. If I hadn't seen Gillian Anderson's portrayal I'm sure I'd have been more satisfied with Bonham Carter's performance. But Anderson simply captures the layers and complexities of Miss Havisham's character far better. As wonderfully an actress as Helena Bonham Carter is, Gillian Anderson's portrayal is much more deeply-felt and is truer to the character in Dickens' book.

I know I've compared the 2011 miniseries and the 2012 film very closely in their respective reviews but, since they were both produced by the BBC and had very close release dates, I felt that it was almost necessary. Although I wasn't overwhelmingly in love with this Great Expectations film I really enjoyed it. It's a very fine period drama and I'd definitely recommend it. In addition to everything I've already said this film looks great and has very high production values. It has excellent locations, lighting and costumes. And again, I really do feel that this film is the better adaptation of Dickens' book even though it's shorter. As a literary adaptation I don't rate it as highly as the recent Les Miserables, Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre adaptations but it's much better than the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina.

Rating: 4/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12