Tag Archives: Kristen Bell

Hey, Old Friend…Whaddaya Say, Old Friend?

9 Nov

Dear Readers,

Are there any of you left out there? Have I been absent for so long that you’ve given up on me? On a day in which it seems there is little hope to hang onto, I choose to hope that at least one of you has stuck with me. I might even go so far as to say I hope that at least one of you has been looking forward to the day that I write something new. That might be pushing it a bit, but who said hopes had limits?

It’s been a trying few hours, friends. If I’m being completely honest with you – and what would be the purpose of this blog if I weren’t completely honest? – it’s been a trying few months.

It’s been so long since I wrote anything that I truly don’t even remember where I left off. But here’s where we are today: I am struggling to keep my hopes up right now, as many others are, as well. This election has taken its toll on all of us and the results have left me and so many others feeling unsure of our future – scared for it, even. I’ll not go into a political discussion here tonight because, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of politics and debriefings and analyses and pundits, but suffice it to say that my heart is heavy and I am scared. Perhaps a grown man shouldn’t declare that in a public forum, but it’s the truth.

On top of our nation’s current state of affairs, we in Florida, and particularly Orlando, have suffered through a lot this year. Between the shooting at Pulse earlier this year, which directly affected many of my friends and coworkers, and Hurricane Matthew, which thankfully turned out to be little more than a thunderstorm for many of us in Central Florida because of a fortuitous shift in wind, we’ve been through a great deal of stress these last few months.

And on a more personal note, I’ve recently been struggling with something that I never imagined would be an issue for me – my age. Next week I turn 40, and while I don’t think of myself as a 40-year old, my body has slowly started betraying me and has been not-so-gently reminding me through a series of ever-changing aches and pains that, while I may look 28, I am, in fact, not 28 anymore.

Then there’s the weight gain. After the Pulse shooting, I started comfort eating because…well, it’s what I do when I get stressed. Instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, I turn to cakes and cookies and pizza, and since mid-July, I have managed to gain back all 27 pounds that I worked so hard to lose earlier this year. Right now I feel so defeated that I have kind of given up on even trying to lose it again. And that makes me mad at myself and makes me want to tear into a box of Twinkies. I mean, I just want to destroy those snack cakes. It’s a vicious cycle and I wish I could just snap my fingers and have the metabolism I had 10 years ago and the willpower that I’ve always wished I had. And then I get frustrated at myself for complaining about having too much food when there are others who are less fortunate than me.

I’ve also been thinking about where I am professionally at 40 and I’m unhappy with it. I came here with a purpose and, just as in New York, I’ve become so focused on simply surviving that I’ve taken my eye off the prize and I’ve gotten stuck.

Things aren’t all as bad as all that, though. During the time of the Pulse shooting, I had the wonderful opportunity of performing in a production of Ragtime the Musical at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando. Through that show, I met some of the most wonderful people in Orlando, I laughed more than I think I have in a very long time, we cried – no, wept – together and we made some incredible music together. I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience and those people. I’m also performing on a semi-regular basis in the dinner theatre show at the Titanic Artifact Exhibition on International Drive in Orlando. I get to play J. Bruce Ismay and I absolutely love it. Once again, I’ve found a theatre family that I love and it helps bring in a bit more money every month, which is a great help these days. And my parents recently got to see me in the show, which was fun and pushed me out of my comfort zone, because there’s nothing much more terrifying to me than having to interact and improvise with my parents in a British accent and fake moustache. But I did it!

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A very sunburnt J. Bruce Ismay.

Even with those steps toward what I want here for myself, I often find myself wallowing down in the dumps lately, criticizing myself for living what I think is a pretty lackluster life. I sometimes find myself thinking that I haven’t done much with my life…that I’m pretty boring, even. And then every once in a while, people in the break room at work will be talking about Hamilton or New York or Japan and I’ll jump in and add something that, to me, seems insignificant – interesting, but insignificant – and it always surprises me to see the looks of disbelief on my coworkers’ faces. And then I’m reminded that I have, if nothing else, had an interesting life.

I’ve recently become slightly obsessed with storytelling podcasts (The Moth and Snap Judgment are my favorites), and I hear some of the stories people tell and I think, “I could do that!” I mean, isn’t that what I’ve been doing here for years now?

So here’s a story.

Just a few months after I moved to New York, it was announced that the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, would be producing a summer-long celebration of Stephen Sondheim. There would be six shows produced that summer, all featuring big-named theatre stars, running in repertory, meaning the first three shows would be presented on alternating nights for the first half of the summer, and then the second set of shows would follow suit for the last half of the summer. The lineup was incredible – Brian Stokes Mitchell and Christine Baranski in Sweeney Todd, Melissa Errico, Raúl Esparza and Florence Lacey in Sunday in the Park With George, Lynn Redgrave, Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and John Barrowman (yes, that John Barrowman) in Company, Judy “Pocahontas” Kuhn, Michael Cerveris and Rebecca Luker in Passion, Raúl Esparza, Miriam Shor and Emily Skinner in Merrily We Roll Along and Randy Graff, Blair Brown and Kristen “Princess Anna” Bell in A Little Night Music. For a musical theatre nerd like me, this was heaven on Earth. The problem was – it was all the way down in Washington, DC.

sondheimcelebration
Luckily, I had a friend named David, who I’d met in the old Theater chat room on AOL, and he and I had become friends in real life. David was in the original Broadway company of Merrily We Roll Along and, naturally, was forever a Sondheim fan. David was going to see each and every one of those shows and had a spare set of tickets – I just had to get myself down to DC! So I did, of course – twice.

The first show we saw was Sweeney Todd, and honestly, the whole thing was a blur. I remember the sound being a huge issue – during the Joanna trio in the second act, Stokes’ mic went out and suddenly we heard Hugh Panaro backstage vocalizing, and as soon as Hugh stepped onstage, his mic went out and we could hear Celia Keenan Bolger singing scales backstage. And I remember going to dinner at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Watergate Hotel (yes, that Watergate Hotel) and sitting across from Brian Stokes Mitchell, which was a huge thrill for me. I had no idea what was coming next.

David’s friend, Annie, joined us for the second set of shows, which included Merrily. Annie was also an original cast member of the show – in fact, she was the leading lady, and she was sharing a hotel room with us. Ann Morrison is also one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever met in my life. On the train ride over to the theatre, I asked Annie if she would sing something from the show for me and, as we ascended the giant escalator out of the train station, she sang, “Charley…why can’t it be like it was? I liked it the way that it was, Charley – you and me…we were nicer then,” and my head nearly exploded. (Hear her sing it on the Original Broadway Cast Recording here at around 1:42).

But wait…there’s more.

As we entered the huge lobby of the Kennedy Center complex, we were making our way to the theatre doors when someone yelled out, “David!” We all turned to see who it was and, standing there in the flesh was Anthony Rapp. Yes, that Anthony Rapp. I couldn’t believe it. I had never been a Renthead per se, but I loved the show just as much as everyone else, and I had spent countless hours listening to him on the cast recording. And then, after the show, once again at the Watergate, he was sitting across from me and David and Annie, talking about how he’d just returned from opening Rent in Japan. And then he started singing “Seasons of Love” in Japanese! Right there at the table. Annie and I both couldn’t believe what we were experiencing as we shared a caesar salad with sirloin beef (she and I bonded very quickly), and as I went to bed that night, I simply could not wrap my head around everything that had happened that night. It was all so wonderful. I mean, the only way it could possibly get better would be if I actually got to meet Stephen Sondheim himself.

And then I met Stephen Sondheim.

That Sunday night, after the closing performance of A Little Night Music, which was also the closing night of the Celebration, David got us into the closing night party. Sadly, Annie had had to fly back home early that morning – she left us all lovely notes under our pillows before she left, because that’s the kind of woman she is – but because of his involvement with Merrily, David was able to get me and some friends into the party that night. A few minutes into the soiree, we turned a corner and there he was – basking in a halo of heavenly light (well…maybe not) – Stephen Sondheim! David walked up to him and said, “Hi, Steve!” They had kept in touch through the years and they greeted each other as old friends and then David turned and introduced all of us to Sondheim. I shook his hand and we all stood around nervously for a few minutes while he and David chatted a bit more and then someone else walked up to “Steve.” I’m not sure who he was, but “Steve” introduced him to David and then proceeded to introduce each and every one of us to this person. By name.

“And this is Jason…”

Whenever I feel like I’m a nobody…that I’ve led an uninteresting life…that my voice isn’t being heard…I need to remind myself of this:

For one brief, shining moment, Stephen Sondheim knew my name.

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Frozen: En Français

23 Jan
Two versions of artwork for Disney's "La Reine des Neiges" ("Frozen").

Two versions of artwork for Disney’s “La Reine des Neiges” (“Frozen”).

Are you sick of reading about “Frozen” on my blog? Well…sorry…I’m about to write some more.

Tonight I started listening to some of the foreign language recordings of the film’s soundtrack and I was struck by how beautiful the lyrics are in other languages. Foreign language translation of song lyrics is very difficult – you’re restricted by rhythms and rhymes in addition to the gargantuan task of trying to convey the original intent of the original lyricist. That’s a tough job – especially when you’re dealing with an English to [fill in the blank with any Asian language] translation. My friend Koji translates musicals for a living and he works very hard at it. It’s nearly impossible to do a literal translation, meaning word-for-word, so sometimes you have to get a little poetic to make it work. Sometimes it works to the detriment of the piece. Whoever Disney got to do the French translations for “Frozen” (or as it’s titled in French, “La Reine des Neiges” [“The Snow Queen”]) is an absolute wordsmith. Their casting department also did a great job finding vocal matches for Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa). The French singers are Emmylou Homs (Anna) and Anaïs Delva (Elsa).

I have found that most of the translations for the songs are pretty close to literal, but I have noticed that a lot of artistic liberties have been taken with “Let It Go,” including changing the title of the song. In Spanish it’s “Libre Soy,” which means, “I’m Free.” In French it’s “Libérée, Délivrée,” which means, “Liberated, Delivered.” I think the French lyrics are beautiful. I’ve included them below with an English translation so you can see what they’ve done to the song. It’s pretty beautiful.

ELSA:
L’hiver s’installe doucement dans la nuit
La neige est reine à son tour
Un royaume de solitude
Ma place est là pour toujours

Le vent qui hurle en moi ne pense plus à demain
Il est bien trop fort
J’ai lutté, en vain
Cache tes pouvoirs, n’en parle pas
Fais attention, le secret survivra
Pas d’états d’âme, pas de tourments
De sentiments

Libérée, délivrée
Je ne mentirai plus jamais
Libérée, délivrée
C’est décidé, je m’en vais
J’ai laissé mon enfance en été
Perdue dans l’hiver
le froid est pour moi le prix de la liberté

Quand on prend de la hauteur
Tout semble insignifiant
La tristesse, l’angoisse et la peur
M’ont quittée depuis longtemps

Je veux voir ce que je peux faire
De cette magie pleine de mystères
Le bien, le mal, je dis tant pis
Tant pis

Libérée, délivrée
Les étoiles me tendent les bras
Libérée, délivrée
Non, je ne pleure pas
Me voilà, oui
Je suis là

Perdue dans l’hiver

Mon pouvoir vient du ciel
Et envahit l’espace
Mon âme s’exprime
En dessinant et sculptant dans la glace
Et mes pensées sont des fleurs de cristal gelées
Je ne reviendrai pas
Le passé est passé

Libérée, délivrée,
Désormais plus rien ne m’arrête
Libérée, délivrée
Plus de princesse parfaite
Je suis là
Comme je l’ai rêvé
Perdue dans l’hiver

Le froid est pour moi le prix de la liberté
________________________________

Winter is slowly moving into the night
The snow reigns in turn
A kingdom of loneliness
My place is here forever.

The wind howls in me. I won’t think about tomorrow.
It is far too strong,
I struggled in vain
“Hide your powers , do not talk
Be careful, the secret will survive
Not emotional , no torment,
no feelings.”

Liberated! Delivered!
I will not ever lie again!
Liberated! Delivered!
It’s decided , I ‘m going.
I left my childhood in summer.
Lost in Winter,
cold for me is the price of freedom.

When we’re up high
Everything seems insignificant.
Sadness, anxiety and fear
I have long since left.

I want to see what I can do
This magic full of mysteries
The good, the bad , I say too bad
Let it be!

Liberated! Delivered!
The stars tend my arms.
Liberated! Delivered!
No, I do not cry.
Here I am, yes!
I’m here!
Lost in Winter

My power comes from heaven
And invades the space
My soul speaks
Drawing and sculpting in ice
And my thoughts are frozen crystal flowers.
I will not go back.
The past is past.

Liberated! Delivered!
Now nothing can stop me
Liberated! Delivered!
More than a perfect princess,
I’m here
As I’ve dreamed,
Lost in Winter.

Cold for me is the price of freedom.

Here’s the sequence in French as sung by Anaïs Delva. Amusez-vous!

Nicole Never Bothered Me, Anyway

21 Jan
Elsa, the Snow Queen, in Disney's "Frozen"

Elsa, the Snow Queen, in Disney’s “Frozen”

I wonder how long it will be before people start blaming Walt Disney Pictures for the freakishly cold weather we’ve had across the country this year. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these snowstorms and polar vortices have been clearly imagineered  by Disney to help promote “Frozen” and its soundtrack. Heck, the last snowstorm was even named “Hercules,” a Disney feature length animation! It’s no surprise that the storm blowing through the eastern half of the country happened just a few days after “Let It Go,” a Disney anthem unlike any other, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. In lieu of sending gifts to Academy voters to sway decisions, Disney has sent a full-blown blizzard care of Elsa herself. The cold temperatures are also helping to keep Uncle Walt’s head nice and chilled, as well, until it’s time to thaw him out.

But seriously – I am so excited to watch the success of not only the movie which, according to IMDB.com, has grossed nearly $337 million domestically in less than two months, but also the soundtrack. It has consistently outsold even the Queen Bey herself on iTunes for the last four weeks, and I am so thrilled to hear so many Broadway voices on that album, including Kristen Bell, who I love. Yes, Kristen was on Broadway in the early 2000’s in a short-lived musical called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which she played Becky Thatcher before she booked “Veronica Mars” or adorably freaked out over a sloth.

Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Maia Wilson, Alan Tudyk, Josh Gad…all Broadway folks. The songs were written by Robert Lopez, the composer of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez. More Broadway folks. And, of course, Idina Menzel, who basically broke the vocal mold of Disney heroines with this film. There’s some honest-to-goodness screlting going on in this film, and it’s thrilling! I remember sitting in my seat and gasping when I heard her sing, “Tell the guards to open up…the gaaaaaate!” (at 2:48) because I’d never heard singing like that in a Disney film before. Obviously I know how Idina sings – I saw her in Wicked and See What I Wanna See in New York – but I half expected that she would be asked to bring it down a notch for the movie. I’m so glad that she was allowed to do her thing. I like seeing theatre people being recognized for the hard and exceptional work that they do.

And then there’s the song. “Let It Go” has become a sort of cultural phenomenon, spawning thousands of YouTube videos of people screaming their guts out and dozens of Buzzfeed articles featuring foreign language versions of the song, parodies and What If… alternate versions. There’s a reason the song is resonating with so many people, though. It’s a song of self acceptance, self forgiveness and embracing your own uniqueness and seeing where you can go with it. Sung by someone who has been hidden away from the world because she was born different. Locked away out of shame and fear by her parents, the two people who are supposed to love her the most; told to suppress not only what makes her different, but her feelings, as well. And finally, when it all comes out into the open, she realizes that there’s no taking it back and she decides to let go of the shame and fear and be who she really is. I know a lot of people who can relate to that. The sequence is thrilling and cathartic and incredibly moving. I called it as we walked out of the theater that chilly night in Tempe – the Lopezes have won themselves an Oscar. They didn’t win the Golden Globe, unfortunately, but I have high hopes that Oscar night they will win.

As much as I want “Frozen” to do well at the Oscars, I’m still mad about “Saving Mr. Banks” not getting more nominations. Especially Emma Thompson. But I guess I have to let it go.

Did I really just write that?

This video has been trending online today. It’s the “Let It Go” sequence sung in 25 different languages. The Latin American Spanish version is called “Libre Soy,” which means, “I Am Free.” I really love that. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, Back At The Merch Booth…

7 Dec

Last night was rough in Tempe. It was cold – it actually got down to 44 degrees, which is real people cold, not “Oh, it’s 60 degrees – let me pull out my gloves, scarf and floor-length coat” kind of cold that we’ve been seeing out here in the desert for the last few weeks. It really was cold, and apparently that pissed everyone off in Arizona. Sales last night were bad and honestly, I’m not entirely sure why, but two of the women I encountered early on in my walk-in were fairly good indicators of how the rest of the night was going to go.

A well-dressed WOMAN approached my booth with HER HUSBAND. SHE spent a few seconds looking at the shirts with HER elbows on my booth and HER head in her hands.

WOMAN: Are these all the t-shirts you have? You don’t have any for women?
ME: The two fitted t-shirts on the mannequins are both fitted ladies’ tees.
WOMAN: Yeah, but…don’t you have anything SEXY?
ME: Well…the show is not entirely “sexy…”
WOMAN: Yeah, but she a HO!
ME (taken aback): Uh…sure…but just because she’s one in the show doesn’t mean people want to dress like one…
WOMAN: I do!

After several minutes of trying to get her to use her words, I finally figured out that what she meant by “sexy” was actually a spaghetti strap tank top, which we don’t have.

A few minutes later, ANOTHER WOMAN waddled up to the booth with long gray hair which had huge curls cemented with lots of hair spray – it kind of looked like an 18th century judge’s wig. SHE looked about as pleasant as one would expect an 18th century judge to be, as well.

ME: Hi! How are you tonight?
ANOTHER WOMAN (aggressively): I’m just looking at your stuff. Is that OK??
ME: Sure. Of course.
WOMAN: I don’t even want to be here. My daughter dragged me here. I would have given my tickets away if she hadn’t made me come.
ME: Oh…uh huh.
WOMAN: I mean, maybe it’ll be good. I don’t know. I’ve seen other shows here before that I expected to be a waste of time and they were fabulous.
ME: Uh huh. What makes you think this one’s going to be a waste of time?
WOMAN: I already know the story.

Pleasant, huh? Hopefully the next couple of days will be full of happier people with lots of disposable income and no need for “sexy” merchandise.

In other, completely unrelated news – I saw “Frozen” with some friends the other night. I had a few issues with the storytelling, but for the most part, I really liked it. Much more than I expected to, at least, and I loved the score. Christophe Beck wrote the orchestral score, which is stunning, and Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q, Finding Nemo: The Musical and The Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Finding Nemo: The Musical, “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Wonder Pets”) wrote the movie’s musical numbers, including one of the most exhilarating, fantastic songs I’ve heard in a Disney animated feature maybe since “Part of Your World.” “Let It Go” is sung by Idina Menzel (Rent, Wicked and currently If/Then on Broadway) and Idina certainly does let it all go. *Spoilers ahead*: The song is sung by Elsa, one of the two lead female characters in the movie. Since childhood, she has been cursed (or blessed…?) with the ability to freeze anything she touches and the power gets stronger as she grows older, so her parents – the King and Queen – decide it best to seclude her from everyone to protect both her and everyone around her. For years, she is closed up in her room, unable to interact with anyone, including her sister, Anna (voiced brilliantly by Kristen Bell) until she is forced to come out on her coronation day to take over as Queen. Elsa’s curse/gift is exposed in front of the whole kingdom and she is run out of the kingdom because everyone thinks she is a witch. As she climbs a snowy mountain, alone and scared, she sings “Let It Go,” in which she finally accepts herself and her talents and begins to explore what she’s actually capable of now that she no longer has to hide it. It’s an empowering song and Menzel’s vocals are incredibly exciting. I have a feeling the Lopezes have won themselves an Oscar this year.

And thirdly…a friend posted this link to my Facebook page today. It’s a blog called “How May We Hate You” and it’s basically the same idea as what my blog was originally intended to be: ridiculous retellings of the stupid things people say and do, only these are stories from hotel employees and they are hilarious. I hope you’ll visit their page and enjoy their stories. Tell ’em the MerchWhore sent you!