Matt Hackmann


The thoughts and goings-on of some programmer dude.

Bloggy Blog 18 - On Broadway

One of the more interesting developments of 2022 was a run of going to see a number Broadway productions. This came about during a visit to New York that February, where we both had our first, second, and third Broadway experiences in the span of a week. It didn't end there, however, as we continued to see travelling shows a much closer to home.

If you were to ask me ten years ago if I'd ever go to a musical production, I'd probably give a shitty remark that would've been offensive to someone instead of a simple "no". But, I'd since gone to and enjoyed a few shows in SF with friends, and then this string with Kayla over the last year. There's definitely something about watching a group of people pull off a real-time professional production that's got a particular feel to it. Appreciation for the craft, perhaps.

But, anyways. The thrust of today's venture will be in writing tiny reviews of the shows that Kayla and I saw together.

Aladdin (10/10) - I think this is the first musical I saw a few years back in SF, and this is the musical that kicked off our run on Broadway. The show hits a lot of the beats of the 1992 movie, but changes things up to really be its own thing (something live action Disney remakes would be good to take note of). "Friend Like Me" is far and away the standout number, and is both a visual and auditory spectacle.

Hamilton (8/10)* - I want to say Hamilton is the thing that got Kayla into the Broadway mood originally. We'd watched the Disney+ version when it came out and were completely confused; so much fast talking. However, she started listening to the recorded version and it began to make sense. The show itself is actually pretty great and most of the songs are bops, and they manage to do a lot with one set and a rotating center stage. We also got a Weird Al polka out of it. That it turns out the real Hamilton was actually the antithesis to how he was portrayed here does kind of taint the experience a bit...

Wicked (6/10) - The final show we saw actually on Broadway, Wicked is a reconfigured telling of the Wizard of Oz taken from the angle "what if the wicked witch wasn't actually the bad guy?". It was... fine? Of all the shows we saw, this one felt like the most classical stage production. None of the songs grabbed me and the story and sets were fine. It was fine.

Dear Evan Hansen (5/10) - Dear Evan Hansen was our first show seen in San Jose and follows the exploits of one Evan Hansen as he gets caught up in an perpetuates a lie about how he was best friends with a rando classmate who offs themselves. We'd actually watched the movie version of this first and came away with a less than stellar impression. The handling of the core conceit was... offputting? I dunno. The stage version fared a little better, but an overall lack of bops and spectacle just made it meh.

Come From Away (9/10) - Come From Away is based off the true story of a small town in Newfoundland who saw an influx of "refugees" after the grounding of aircraft immediately following the 9/11 attacks. A cast of about a dozen people perform the roles of two or three times as many characters, all without costume or set changes, and filled with a delightful array of Irish folksy songs (apparently, Newfoundland had a lot of Irish immigrants). I didn't know what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Lion King (?/10) - We had tickets to see this, but then I got COVID and we had to cancel last minute. Whoops.

Cats (8/10) - Cats and I have a bit of history. I first became aware of it forever ago when it breezed through Tulsa and was being advertised on local TV. I thought it was the dumbest looking shit I'd ever seen. Then (and more specific to me) they released it as a CGI monstrosity of a movie that struck all the right chords for "so bad it breaks my brain" levels of enjoyable entertainment. I made one of my best friends watch it on a visit and it broke his brain so much, that became a cornerstone of his best man speech. With that setup, I had to see the play when it blew through San Jose. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a shockingly enjoyable experience. The plot is nonsensicle and only exists to provide a framework for the musical numbers, but (most of) the musical numbers had their own unique charm in a way that I think only works as a live performance. Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat and his light up, color changing vest was something to behold. I think I'd actually watch Cats again.

Moulin Rouge (6/10) - Kayla had been rotating Moulin Rouge songs through her Broadway playlist and it left me mildly confused and a little curious. The soundtrack consisted of mostly (if not all) medleys of pop songs, hence my intrigue. In the end, that's about all it had going for it. The story was generic and outside of a couple of numbers, I don't remember many of the songs being that spectacular. This was the first show we saw in the city (SF, for outsiders) and it's worth noting that every other show we saw in that theater still had confetti from Moulin Rouge hanging around. Oh, and don't watch the movie version unless you're a really big fan of Dutch angles and fake slow motion...

Book of Mormon (10/10) - It's a musical about Mormons made by the creators of South Park and half of the musical team from Frozen. You're gonna have a great time. The spectacle is there, the hilarity is there, the story is delightfully satiricle. Honestly, to that last point, it draws a lot of parallels to Monty Python's Life of Brian, which is a delightfully satirical look at religion as a whole. This was my second time seeing the show, and it may have delivered even better than the first.

Frozen (7/10) - It's interesting seeing a Broadway show of a movie that stars Broadway singers, namely Idina Menzel (the voice of Elsa, who starred in Wicked) and Jonathan Groff (Kristoff in Frozen, King George in Hamilton)... and the actors portraying those characters not quite nailing it as well. Honestly, it's Frozon; you know more or less what you're getting into. I enjoy the movie well enough, but I don't think this production really brought anything new to the table. Honestly, I think the version that they used to put on multiple times every day at Califirnia Adventure for the price of park admission was a more enjoyable experience. The kid who played young Anna in the Broadway version was fun, though. She was clearly having the time of her life.

Six (6/10) - Rounding everything out is Six, a pop musical about the six wives of King Henry VIII. This was another soundtrack that Kayla had incorporated into regular rotation prior to seeing and... kind of the same issue with Moulin Rouge: seeing it acted out didn't really add a whole lot more. I'm only partial to one or two of the songs, so that didn't really leave a lot left. Also, it just had me remembering all that time spent on European history that I didn't care about :|.

That concludes all the Broadway shows we saw since that journey to New York. A real zero to sixty in a hurry situation, but I'm not against going to more shows. Or the symphony, that's always fun.

With a baby, though, who knows when that'll be.