Sunday, March 26, 2023

It’s the rarest of musicals at Prairie Ridge


The book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is often read in English literature classes in US high schools, but the musical based on it is hardly ever performed on the high school stage.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

In a free world, it has been said, the only natural state is irony, a motif Dickens clearly intended in writing the novel. And so it has been with this musical, which was written in 2008 and made its debut in England in 2014, after a premiere a year earlier in Tokyo and the year before that in Korea. Since then, it has had a number of productions in Canada, Germany, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as across the US, but it is largely unknown on the high school musical stage.

The licensing company, Samuel French, lists only three production runs remaining around the world this year, although it’s possible others will be added:

  1. Prairie Ridge High School, Crystal Lake, Illinois (March 3–11) — the only school production
  2. Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society, Shropshire, England (March 22—25)
  3. Centerpoint Legacy Theatre in Centerville, Utah (September 27–October 28)

Such rarity seems ironic in light of an Associated Press characterization of Jill Santoriello’s musical as a “return to the era of big blockbusters such as Les Misérables, Phantom, and Miss Saigon.” But the irony in the story itself—an enduring love story that juxtaposes great love with horrible war during the French Revolution as well as peasants with aristocrats in both Paris and London before it—beats even that.

Now thanks to David Jensen, the musical’s director at Prairie Ridge High School in far-northwest suburban Crystal Lake, Illinois, and a huge cast, maybe that streak of irony will end and maybe, as the song says, “tomorrow is today.”

Irony of a different sort happened at the ceremony for the Academy Awards Sunday, as the movie La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Producers were a little into their speech before the small correction could be made and the real winner, Moonlight, could be announced. Lots of irony these past 12 months, right?

Before that, though, La La Land tied Titanic and All About Eve for the most Oscar nominations of any picture, with 14. Writing in Wolf Prints, the student newspaper at Prairie Ridge, before the Oscars, staff writer Emily Pollock reviewed La La Land, which is also about great love during a troublesome time in our history. With the permission of the paper’s faculty adviser, we reprint her review here and update the statistical information about the film for today’s date.

Director Damien Chazelle brings to life a harmonious blend of music and romance in his critically acclaimed and award-winning movie, La La Land, a movie about following your passions and falling in love.

The musical drama follows Mia (Emma Stone), a young woman trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz musician waiting for his big break in L.A. After running into each other on several occasions, a magical romance blossoms between the duo, and an enticing plot of the ups and downs of their lives in “La La Land” unfolds.

The realistic storyline portrays the many struggles of Mia and Sebastian with realness and raw emotion that audiences can relate to and appreciate, thanks to the admirable acting of Ms Stone and Mr Gosling, which has won each of them a Golden Globe. The dynamic duo bring charm and passion to the movie, along with fantastic singing and dancing skills that make the musical aspect lively and entertaining.

The film is characterized by a jazz-influenced theme that combines retro with modern and appears in the songs, dances, and wardrobes of the characters throughout its entirety.

The musical element is smoothly incorporated into the plot of the drama, delighting audiences with vibrant songs such as “Another Day of Sun” and “Start a Fire” that put a magical modern twist on old jazz and fit in well with each scene. The accompanying dance numbers and bold wardrobe choices, such as Mia’s colorful dresses and Sebastian’s vintage-style suits, work harmoniously to add to the playfulness and fusion of retro and modern.

The music, acting, and overall plot are what make La La Land such an enjoyable movie to watch from start to finish. Mr Chazelle’s creative mind has even won the movie several outstanding awards, including Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and more from the Critics’ Choice Awards, plus a handful of Golden Globes. It is anticipated that La La Land will score a few awards at the upcoming Oscars as well.

The musical has mesmerized moviegoers, finishing in the top 10 at the box office for the last nine weeks in a row and earning a US box office gross, as of February 28, of more than $140 million. It’s a must-see.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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