Mean Girls, Puppets, and Lena Hall

Hi I’m Diep. I’m Jose. We’re your Token Theatre Friends. Bringing a POC perspective to the performing
arts. Today we are filming in the wonderful Artist
Co-op in Midtown Manhattan and they provide office rentals and rehearsal rentals at a very
affordable price for working artists. And really good lighting too. And if you sign up on their website, you get
your first day for free. This place is gorgeous so I highly recommend
it. Very comfortable couches. Every two weeks we review 3 shows at 3 different
price points and tell you which ones we would actually pay money for. Because we’re theatre critics so we don’t
pay for shows. Go us….
[laughter] What are we talking about today? Today we’re going to be talking about “Mean
Girls,” which recently opened on Broadway. “Zurich” running at Next Door at New York Theatre
Workshop. And “Symphonie Fantastique” currently running
at HERE Arts. So in “Mean Girls,” based on the 2004 film
written by Tina Fey, 16-year-old Cady Heron has moved from Africa to Chicago, and she’s
embarking on the wildest adventure of her life: high school, where she meets the Plastics,
the most popular girl group in the high school and learns how to become one of them without
losing herself. How many times have you seen “Mean Girls”? Is it too many to count? Way too many. I watched the musical and then I went home
and watched the movie. Is this the first movie, we’re millennials,
is this the first big millennial movie that has been burned into a Broadway musical, because
I couldn’t think of anything else. Yes I think so. I think this is the first movie that was made
after 2000 that has been turned into a musical. So Jose, was it fetch? It was so fetch. We love the movie right? And I think a lot of the people who go see
the show love the movie. But I wonder if this show lands on people
who don’t know the movie. Are there people who don’t love the movie? If so you’re not fetch. No you are not fetch if you haven’t seen the
movie. You can’t sit with us. Yeah, you cannot sit with us. This is the rare musical where the book was
better than the music. I don’t remember any of the songs in the musical
but I remember the lines. And Tina Fey did a really great job updating
her 2004 script to today. There’s the added element of social media
and people posting mean things on the internet. Bullying on the internet is a big problem
so I appreciated the topicality of that in this version. I did love how she gives the side characters,
Damien and Janice, they become the narrators. That was not something that was in the movie. The movie was focused on Lindsay Lohan’s character. And here we get to see high school from the
point of view of the nerds and the losers, which I’m not sure if you were one, but I
was such a loser in high school. I was such a loser. And we don’t get to have our point of view
ever told, so I really loved that about this musical. When Damien went “You go Glen Coco” and the
entire room is cheering, you know you have something special. Yes. And half of the room didn’t know what the hell
was going on! [laughter] Visionary puppeteer Basil Twist’s “Symphonie
Fantastique” is turning 20 this year. And you have a chance to see it again. It’s currently running at HERE Arts and it’s
been extended through mid July. Which is unheard for an Off Broadway puppet
show. Why has it been extended? It’s so incredibly magical. It’s glorious. This sounds really corny, I wish there was
an easy way to put this show into words. There isn’t. It’s something you really have to go see. And all it is, if I explain it in layman terms.
—It’s gonna sound super lame, by the way, but it’s amazing. It’s like a big fish tank filled with water
where Basil and his collaborators do this surreal ballet. And there’s no dialogue and there’s music. Pianist Christopher O’Riley is playing the
entire time, the 50-minute Symphonie Fantastique. So it’s classical music and there’s fabric
dancing in water and it is the most soothing experience I have had in the theatre in the
last season. For me it was one of those times where, just
turn off that part of your brain where you’re like, what is going on? Just turn it off. Just let it wash over you like a blanket. Just enjoy it. It’s like you’re going for a swim, just let
it happen. At the end of the show, audience members are
invited to go backstage and see how the magic was created. So Diep did you go on that tour? —Heck yes I did. Why would I not? And you know what? Those puppeteers, they work so hard. Shoutout out to the 5 puppeteers doing all
of that. There was one mechanism where they have to
move the fabric across the fish tank and they are hanging on rigging doing that. There’s a lot of work to make it look effortless. I feel like there’s not enough appreciation
in the American theatre for puppeteers. And I think one of the reasons Basil Twist
is a genius is because he has turned it into an art form that’s not just for children. It can be used anywhere and enhance any kind
of adult show. In “Zurich,” a group of strangers find themselves
stranded in a Swiss hotel without really knowing each other, without really interacting, without
having any connection to each other. The audience gets to be voyeurs. We’re looking outside the hotel window on
what goes on in several of these guests’ rooms. Basically there’s not much of a plot to this
show. It was more of an experience. I felt like I was spying
all time. There is one thing I will disagree with you
on, that there is no plot. There is a plot, I cannot tell you what it
is because then I will spoil the show. But I think it’s about, so when a big event
happens, people are reduced to a statistic. And so what “Zurich” does is, there’s a big
event that happens, and then you see it from the perspective of each of the people in it,
and you see their lives and what is lost when the thing happens. We cannot spoil the show for you because we
are considerate people. But it was a very poignant experience, especially
considering today’s times, politically. Right, and it also features a really great
performance by Paul Wesley of “The Vampire Diaries,” who I’ve seen onstage, he’s done
three plays back to back to back. He’s so magnetic onstage. I actually didn’t like Paul Wesley as much as I
liked Juliana Canfield, his scene partner. She was in “He Brought Her Heart Back in a
Box,” which we featured in our pilot episode. For me, she’s also very magnetic onstage and
it’s a very trivial circumstance, she brings an intelligence and a vulnerability to her
character that, you don’t meet these people for very long, but you want to know more about
them. So we reviewed the three shows, which of them
would you go see again if you had to pay for it? I think I would see “Symphonie Fantastique”
and I would probably call my weed guy before I do that. [laughter]
Meanwhile I’m going to keep being too gay to function and go for “Mean Girls,” which
I had a blast at. Next up we got to hang out with Tony winner
Lena Hall, in her apartment with her dog, so cute. We talked to Lena about her new series of
EPs called Obsessed, out on Sh-K-Boom Records, where she records famous songs, and some not
very famous, by artists that have inspired her, including Elton John, Peter Gabriel,
Stephen Trask from “Hedwig,” and P!nk! So let’s take a look. Can you tell us about how Obsessed got started? I had this idea for doing these videos, one
video a week for Youtube, and I ended up doing only about 19 of them. And I released 1 a week for the beginning of
the year in 2017, and then at the same time, I was doing these albums that I called Obsessed,
that were related to one single artist. And then I do a show at the end of the month. SKB Records got word that I was going to
release an Obsessed: Hedwig album, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, they looked at everything
I was doing and we all agreed, “Why don’t we try this for a year? What if we did the albums plus videos and
all this stuff?” I was like, “That’s nuts, let’s do it.” So we agreed, and I of course said I could
do it in 3 days, but in reality, we did it in 8 days. We did that, it was a massive amount of singing
in only 8 days, I did about 3-4 takes per song. 3×54 songs we ended up doing. That’s how many songs basically I sang. What I love about the EPs the most, they
made me think about when I was little and I would sing along to the radio. I can’t sing, you obviously can. Is there a part of this project that’s like
that, trying to rekindle that singing on your own in your room. Yeah for sure! A lot of these songs that I picked, a lot
of the artists that I picked, they are people I sang along to in my bedroom, and it influenced
me and inspired me. That was the most important in this first
go-around, this first season, I had to focus on the ones that were the biggest pillars
in my life. How do you make sure you’re not copying what
made those songs so iconic but still putting the Lena-ness into it? There’s kind of a happy balance between, it’s
basically honoring what that original performer did with the song and just making it my own. Like Dolores O’Riordan can do all these amazing
beautiful things with her voice. And I can sort of do them, but if I go full
on, people will be like, well she’s just copying. You get to hear the breaks or the little imperfections
in my voice, which I think is very humanizing, and I think it adds to the performance. How do you pick the songs ’cause you have
this amazing catalogue with all these people? There are a couple of factors that went into
choosing things. Some I wanted to do at least a couple of hits,
so people got that thing that they want, “I want the hits.” And also I like to take them a little deeper
into the catalogue if I can. It takes me into a whole learning curve of
finding all this music. It’s fun, to define what our generations’
songbook is. We have the old standards, which were theirs,
what are our standards, you now? I think that’s really important. Today for our 11 O’Clock Number, we want to
talk about a big bone we have to pick with the Tonys. And it’s a fact that they don’t have an award
for Best Play. I mean they do, but is it really about the
play? Or is it about the production? Those are two different things, because the
production of the play includes not just the script, but the direction. If there’s special effects, it includes that,
it includes the acting, it includes the work as a whole. The Oscars, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes,
they all have separate prizes for script, which recognizes the person who wrote the
words. American theatre prizes the playwright, so
why does the playwright not get his or her own award? And why is it for best play, the producer
comes up and makes the first speech? That is it for our episode, thank you for
watching as always. If you have comments and things that we should
cover, please leave us a comment below. And we’ll see you next time. And remember, theatre is more fun if you take
your friends. Bye. Sit. Good. Stay. Does she have the outfit? No. [laughter]

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