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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Miss Saigon Broadway Review

Miss Saigon has been one of my favorite musicals since I discovered it years ago and it's much more than simply the show that shot Lea Salonga to stardom. I saw it last month, on March 24, to celebrate my sister's birthday. Based on the opera Madame Butterfly but set in the Vietnam War, it tells the story of a young American GI and a Vietnamese girl who are separated by the fall of Saigon. Furthermore, it brings light to the situation of the "bui doi" -- the half-American children born to Vietnamese women who had to deal with the stigma of their Western heritage. As a history major, how could I resist a show like this?

The music is written by the team that brought us Les Mis: Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil. It's a sumptuous score, alternating between dance numbers like "American Dream" and "The Heat is On" and soaring ballads like "I'd Give My Life for You" and "Why God Why." You can't leave the theatre without at least one song in your head. (If you'd like to listen, I recommend the recent live West End revival recording.)

This first Broadway revival takes after the recent West End one, even importing some of its cast. It's grittier than the original production and more focused on showing the atrocities of war. The sets are realistic enough to immerse you in the action and the costuming is lovely. Of course, it's the helicopter that many come to see and the effects surrounding it (especially with lighting and sound) are intense and impressive.

I could write whole essays on how fierce and wonderful Eva Noblezada is as Kim. Eva first played the role in London, right after graduating from high school (yes, I feel inferior in every way). Now back in her native United States after finishing up playing Eponine in Les Mis, it's clear that her Kim has only improved. Aside from her stunning vocals and acting that leaves me sobbing every time, I'm always impressed with how naturally she interacts with the young children who play Tam.

You can check out her singing "I'd Give My Life for You" at the Olivier Awards:

Though this was my third time seeing Miss Saigon, I've never seen anyone but Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer and I frankly never want to. It's a character with a tricky line to walk between comedic relief and showing the immorality that flourishes in wartime and Jon Jon executes it perfectly while also providing a humanity to the character. His "American Dream" is a show-stopper; the audience didn't stop applauding for several minutes the night that I saw it!

I truly didn't think that Alistair Brammer's Chris could be improved upon after seeing him in the West End, but Alistair proved me wrong. Alistair has been one of my favorite actors since I was sixteen and I'm so incredibly proud of him for being a leading man on Broadway, especially for a role like Chris which he seems born to play. (Yes, I feel like a proud little sister or something.) His voice is well-suited to the score and his "Why God Why" is the kind of performance that makes you remember why you love live theatre. However, it's his acting that impresses me the most: he truly shows a man broken by war and frustrated by his inability to help the people of a country torn apart. His "Confrontation" in Act II brought me to tears, especially his deliver of the heartbreaking line, "I'm an American, how could I fail to do good?" It's also worth saying that while his American accent was good in his West End performance, it's so impeccable now that I'm sure some are surprised to find out he's English!

If you have the chance, I would highly recommend seeing this beautiful and moving show before it leaves Broadway again in January as it's on a limited engagement. Worth seeing for any one of the three leads alone, it also boasts an impressive ensemble and cast of featured actors. For now, I'm just glad to have my favorite show back on Broadway, living the "American Dream."

Make sure to check out my full review video below x

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812

I never would have guessed that War and Peace would be great material for a musical, but that was before seeing Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812. I was lucky enough to see this masterpiece in March over my spring break at the Imperial Theater on Broadway. This new Tony Awards hopeful was written by Dave Malloy and is an adaption of a small part of Tolstoy's work. It follows Pierre through his existential crisis and Natasha through her anguish over the two men in her life, Andrey and Anatole.

I chose to see the show mostly because I had read so many good things about its immersive experience. They remodeled the Imperial Theater (where I have seen Les Mis three times) to include seating on the stage and ways for the actors to access the orchestra and balcony. With the actors all around you, it's hard not to get swept away in the action of the show. It has such an intimate feeling and if you're lucky, you might get handed a dumpling, shaker, or letter during the course of the musical!

However, even if it weren't one of the coolest theatrical experiences ever, the music itself is worth seeing the show. Dave Malloy has created a show that intermingles haunting melodies like Pierre's "The Great Comet of 1812" and Natasha's "No One Else" with rousing songs like "The Duel" and "Balaga." My sister and I both walked out the the theatre with the chorus of "Letters" stuck firmly in our heads! You can currently buy the Off-Broadway cast album featuring Malloy himself as Pierre and Philippa Soo as Natasha or wait until May when the Broadway cast album is released.

If you've not heard, Josh Groban is currently playing Pierre and I don't think I've ever been so surprised by a performance. Of course, I knew that Josh has a lovely voice but I wasn't prepared for his impressive acting performance. He brings a gravity and a realness to Pierre's struggle...and even made me wish I could play the accordion? If you have a chance to see him before he leaves the show in July, I would highly recommend it. I'm expecting a Tony nomination for this one!

No, I did not leave the lipstick mark on his cheek.
Denée Benton is absolutely stunning as the troubled ingenue Natasha. With a pure beautiful voice and an ability to portray emotion from across a theatre, it's easy to see why she was cast in the role. Natasha is definitely one of my favorite female roles on Broadway right now and Denée makes the audience feel for her.

While sadly I didn't get to see the great Lucas Steele as Anatole, I was lucky enough to see his understudy Blaine Krauss who was absolutely incredible. His charisma onstage was magnetic and he sang the (rather difficult) role wonderfully. Though Anatole is somewhat of a cad (spoilers!), I couldn't help but be drawn to him and found myself watching him in scenes with the ensemble. I also just can't help but be impressed by any understudy or swing in a show with blocking this difficult!

If you only have the chance to see one show from this Broadway season, I would pick Great Comet because there's simply nothing else like it. While the plot is admittedly complicated and perhaps somewhat difficult to follow, the beautiful music, set, and costumes are absolutely a must-see. And who might come away with a War and Peace obsession like I did.

Make sure to check out my video review on my YouTube channel as well! x

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tale as Old as Time: Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Growing up, Belle was always my favorite princess (now that spot belongs to Rapunzel or Anna of course). A bookworm who feels out of place in her village and longs for something could little Nicole not relate? I first saw a bit of the Beauty and the Beast film last January when I got a tour of Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California and they gave us a sneak peek. I've been waiting impatiently ever since! But since Belle has always had a place in my heart and the live action Cinderella is one of my favorite movies ever, I was very nervous that the movie wouldn't live up to my standards...

I am pleased to report that this film is in every way truly stunning and magical. It's a lovely adaption of the original, just changed enough to address all the plot holes that annoyed me as a child and make the Beast infinitely more charming. The CGI is absolutely incredible and the sets and scenery are breathtaking. I'll be surprised if it doesn't at least get Oscar nominations for costuming and sound mixing. I now want every single outfit Emma Watson wears in the film except maybe the yellow dress, which I've never liked.

Of course, one of my favorite parts of the film is the music...I'm so glad Disney decided to keep this one a movie musical! (And I'm sure they are too thanks to how well it's doing at the box office.) You can read my review of the soundtrack here, so I'll keep this short. I adore the new songs and have been listening to and singing "Evermore" almost constantly since I got the album. Emma Watson is no singer, but she does a passable job and I'm admittedly a bit obsessed with how wonderful Dan Stevens's and Luke Evans's voices are. I also love the handful of lyric changes, especially those in "Gaston" and "The Mob Song."

If you had allowed me to cast this movie, I certainly would have picked Emma Watson for Belle (since Laura Michelle Kelly is arguably too old for the part). She didn't disappoint in the least as her Belle was intelligent and spirited, yet still kind and compassionate. I thought that her acting shined most in the Paris scene, which had me crying!

I loved Dan Stevens in Downton Abbey and Summer in February, but I wasn't ready for how much I loved him as the Beast. He managed to act the part superbly despite the amount of CGI and his amazing voice absolutely floored me. I loved the changes to the Beast's character. By making him an intellectual with a great sense of humor, it made it much more believable that Belle would fall in love with him.

No one smirks like Gaston?
Luke Evans as Gaston was the star of the film for me, but the again I have a weakness for a well-trained voice. His Gaston was strangely charming at the beginning of the film, but was disturbingly sinister in a very real way by the end. One of my favorite changes from the original is that Gaston is a Captain and war hero, whose high rank in the town is well secured.

Josh Gad as LeFou was the perfect complement to Evans's Gaston. He was hilarious without being ridiculous and brought a moral complexity to the character that I didn't expect. This LeFou is definitely not the one-dimensional character of the animated film. I personally thought that his sexuality was subtle, but well done. I had initially been afraid it might be an offensively flamboyant portrayal, but it was actually so subtle that I'm wondering why people bothered boycotting it...

A Few of My Favorite Things:

  • Anything and everything to do with Belle's father, Maurice.
  • Audra McDonald as the Wardrobe/Mme Garderobe was hilarious, beautiful, and God that voice!!
  • How well this film grounded the story in location and time period.
  • The Prologue was visually beautiful and set up the story quite well.
  • Not any different from the original, but I'll never be over the cleverness of the last line of the Prologue ("For who could ever learn to love a Beast?") being answered by the song that immediately follows ("Belle")
  • The few bars of "Home" (from the Broadway production) being played when Belle arrived at her room in the castle 

A Few Complaints

  • I wanted to spend more time in Belle's village because it was so picturesque and intriguing.
  • I wanted to see a few more reunions at the end between the townsfolk and former enchanted objects.
  • It made me so sad that we didn't get to hear Luke Evans sing Gaston's solo from the Broadway production, "Me." 
  • I needed a featurette following the film immediately about how they filmed everything with the Beast because I'm so intrigued by the CGI that went into it.
For anyone who made it through this long review, if it's not clear by now, I highly recommend the film. In fact, I can't wait to go back and see it a second time! It's the kind of intricate and enjoyable film that will only get better with every subsequent viewing. While it hasn't surpassed Cinderella as my favorite Disney live action remake, Beauty and the Beast is easily a close second. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Hollister Wish List

It's no surprise that I am obsessed with Hollister, which has certainly changed since my middle school days when it was all low-rise denim and brand name t-shirts. I'm absolutely in love with their new collection for spring and summer and wanted to share some of my faves pieces with you all!

I love this black "Icon Popover" shirt, which would look great tucked into jean shorts or a colorful skirt.

Florals for spring? Groundbreaking, I know, but this romper is absolutely lovely and comes in three different floral prints.

Lately, I have been loving long skirts and the button front is so popular.

This smocked off the shoulder romper is so unique; I actually haven't seen anything like it!

I love this peplum cami, which would pair nicely with jeans now and shorts later in the hot weather.

Are you loving Hollister's latest collection? Let me know in the comments down below and tell me what stores are your favorites! x

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Beauty and the Beast Soundtrack

Ever since it was released, I've been listening to nothing but the Beauty and the Beast live action soundtrack (okay, well that and Ed Sheeran's latest album). After being quite disappointed by the music of La La Land, I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely everyone sounds on this album. I'm so looking forward to seeing how the new songs from Alan Menken are integrated into the storyline!

Emma Watson has a sweet pleasing voice as Belle. Obviously, she's not a trained singer, but she pulls off the songs well and I love her spunky attitude, especially in "Belle (Reprise)." Dan Stevens sounds remarkably like the original voice of the Beast in "Something There" and sounds wonderful in "Evermore." Both of them carry a lot of emotion within their voices and I think that acting through singing is one of the most important things an actor can do in a movie-musical.

I was also especially pleased with Ewan McGregor as Lumière. Of course, I adore Ewan as Christian in Moulin Rouge so he's one of the people I'm most looking forward to seeing in the film. His "Be Our Guest" is hilarious, as is his French accent. Luke Evans sounds wonderful as Gaston, which isn't surprising considering he started out his career in the West End in shows like Miss Saigon and Avenue Q. Naturally, I'm most excited about Audra McDonald as the Wardrobe and she sounds stunning (like always) on the "Aria."

I was skeptical at first about the new songs being added to the film, particularly as I love the songs that they added to the Broadway musical so much, I didn't think I could like others. I was definitely proven wrong! While I love the Enchanted Objects singing "Days in the Sun," "Evermore" is by far my favorite of the new ones. Both Dan Stevens and Josh Groban (on the special track) sound beautiful singing it and I think the story could use a song at that point of the plot. Anyone else a bit confused about how "How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)" fits into the film though?

Overall, I highly recommend checking out this cast album either before or after the film releases this Friday, March 17. It has made me even more excited to see the movie (I already have my tickets to see it Sunday!), which I wasn't sure was possible. The album is available on iTunes and Spotify. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go back to listening to "Evermore" on repeat.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My Ten Favorite Lines from Ed Sheeran's Latest Album

Like everyone else, I've been listening to Ed Sheeran's new album, Divide, almost exclusively since it was released. I was going to write a review of the album, but then realized that a full post of me ranting about how much I love it wouldn't be that interesting to read!

Instead, I decided to share my ten favorite lyrics from the album with you all. Some of these lines are just too relatable and other ones are so absolutely beautiful, they feel more like poetry than song lyrics.What are some of your fave lines? Let me know in the comments!

I'm just keeping it real, still looking at your Instagram and I'll be creeping a little/I'll be trying not to double tap, from way back, 'cause I know that's where the trouble's at | "New Man"

Show me the locked doors, I'll find another use for the key | "Eraser"

So I'll sing Hallelujah, you were an angel in the shape of my mum | "Supermarket Flowers"

She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I'll share her home | "Perfect"

I gave all my oxygen to people that could breathe | "Save Myself"

Had my first kiss on a Friday night, I don't reckon that I did it right | "Castle on a Hill"

You know, she beat me at darts and then she beat me at pool/And then she kissed me like there was nobody else in the room | "Galway Girl"

I'm well aware of certain things that can destroy a man like me | "Eraser"

You know we are made up of love and hate/But both of them are balanced on a razor blade | "What Do I Know"

I guess if you were Lois Lane, I wasn't Superman, just a young boy trying to be loved | "New Man"

I think that Divide's aesthetic has even been creeping into my outfits this week. See?

Monday, March 6, 2017

My New Favorite Foundation

I recently picked up the Rimmel Match Perfection foundation because I had seen Zoe Sugg, Hannah Michelak, and Josie of Fashion Mumblr mention it in their YouTube videos and I wanted to give it a try. I struggle with foundation as I have very pale oily skin so both color matching and the wear of a foundation can be issues.

This Rimmel foundation, however, has both a wide array of shades (particularly for a drug store foundation) and incredible long-lasting power. I use the shade Ivory (110) and it works perfectly. While my nose will get a bit streaky over the course of the da y, I find that this foundation lasts better than my high-street ones.

I also love that this foundation has SPF 20 in it and has a surprisingly lovely smell. It's also an incredibly good bargain as I bought it for under $5 at Walmart. My only complaint about it would be that it comes without a pump which can be annoying especially as you get towards the end of the bottle.

I highly recommend this foundation if you're looking for something new, inexpensive, and with good coverage.

I didn't filter this at all! It's how smoothly
the foundation actually goes onto my face.

*I'm in no way sponsored by Rimmel and I was not gifted this product in any way.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Gagged Chokers Introduces a Princess Collection!

Chokers are incredibly on trend right now and my favorite place to buy them is Gagged Chokers. This small business was started by Courtney Reed, who plays Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin on Broadway, and sells beautiful handmade chokers.

Not only are their chokers incredibly well crafted, but they also have some of the best customer service I've ever experienced. Their collections are unique and exclusive: most of the time, once something is sold out, it's gone for good. I filmed a video with my friend Lexi all about them, which I will put at the end of this post.

Last week, they released their Princess Collection of chokers, each inspired by a different Disney princess. They've been so popular, they're already having to restock them. One of my favorite things about them is that they're modeled by different Broadway actresses! I personally have ordered Blondie (as Rapunzel is my favorite princess), but my other favorites include Muse and Wayfinder. Which ones are your faves?

Check out these images of the Princess Collection from the Gagged Chokers website:

Blondie (Tangled)

Jas (Aladdin)

Muse (Hercules)

Snow (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Wayfinder (Moana)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Five Fave TV Shows

Are listicles all I know how to write now? Apparently. I've never been a TV person, but lately there are so many shows on that I'm absolutely in love with. I wanted to share them with you and get all of your suggestions for TV shows that you love!

I started watching Supergirl because my favorite Broadway actor, Jeremy Jordan, is one of the leads on it, but then I fell in love with the show itself. Kara Danvers (alternatively, Kara Zor-El) is very relatable as she tries to deal with friend-, family-, and love life-drama in addition to saving the world as Supergirl. Plus, Supergirl has a knack for casting incredibly attractive men...

Once Upon a Time
If you love Disney, chances are you'll love Once Upon a Time. It tells the story of classic storybook characters put in the real world and left to try to break a curse set by the evil queen. To be fair, I only started watching because I love Colin O'Donoghue who plays Captain Hook and his relationship with the main character, Emma Swan, is my favorite TV ship of all time.

Z: The Beginning of Everything
Z: The Beginning of Everything was released earlier this year on Amazon and it's absolutely beautiful. It tells the story of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald's relationship with incredible acting and beautiful period costumes. Plus, Corey Cott (of Broadway's Newsies, Gigi, and Bandstand) plays one of Fitzgerald's friends (yes, I fell off the couch the first time he came onscreen).

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been obsessed with Queen Victoria. So when I saw that ITV and Masterpiece were doing a TV series starring the wonderful Jenna Louise Coleman, I was ecstatic. The show is incredibly well-produced with a talented cast, sumptuous costumes, and beautiful script.

The Crown 
If you haven't watched The Crown yet and you have any interest in the British royal family, you are missing out! The series is stunningly beautiful and gives a perspective into the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and her family that's rarely glimpsed. Claire Foy and Matt Smith are particularly impressive as Elizabeth and her husband, Phillip.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Top Ten Movie Musicals

With the Academy Awards coming up on Sunday, there's a lot of buzz around the film, La La Land. While I somehow still haven't seen it, I wanted to reflect on some of my favorite movie musicals. Let me know your favorites in the comments! x

10. Into the Woods (2014)
Into the Woods is undoubtably a beautiful film with a stellar cast of stars. It's not the most faithful of adaptions and I'm not the biggest Sondheim fan (sacrilege, I know), but it's a lovely movie that is great fun to watch even if it misses out on some of the humor of the show.

9. White Christmas (1954)
Growing up, White Christmas was always one of my favorite Christmas movies. With a cast that includes Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Danny Kaye, it's a heartwarming holiday film with beautiful dance scenes.

8. The Sound of Music (1965)
There's nothing more classic than The Sound of Music so I had to include it on this list. Julie Andrews is lovely as the governess Maria and the children of this film are adorable. The original 1965 film version is much superior to The Sound of Music Live! 

7. My Fair Lady (1964)
Despite the controversy that surrounded Audrey Hepburn's casting and voice dubbing in the theatre community, I absolutely love this film. It's visually stunning and Rex Harrison is hilarious as the grumpy Professor Higgins.

6. Dreamgirls (2006)
While I do quite like the show Dreamgirls, the movie had to make this list purely for being one of the objectively best movie musicals in the past few decades. Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson are brilliant in their roles and the movie is appealing to both fans of the show and those who have never heard of it before.

5. Moulin Rouge (2001)
I was absolutely obsessed with Moulin Rouge in my high school years. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are stunning in their roles and I love the soundtrack to this movie so incredibly much. I'm waiting every day for a Broadway production of it.

4. Les Miserables (2012)
While I have many problems with this film (unpopular opinion: I don't like Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean), it's undeniably visually stunning. Eddie Redmayne is an adorable Marius, while Samantha Barks absolutely slays as Eponine. I'll also always have a soft spot for this movie because of Killian Donnelly and Alistair Brammer playing Combeferre and Jean Prouvaire.

3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This is another film that I love because I grew up watching it. I love the music from it, especially "The Boy Next Door" (#relatable). And how can you not love a Judy Garland movie?

2. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is me and my mom's movie. I watched it so much as a child that seeing it now makes me nostalgic. It's also an incredibly well-made film. Plus, my sister is named Hannah after the baby in this movie!

1. The Last Five Years (2014)
This is not only my favorite movie musical, but actually my favorite movie of all time. Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick are perfect in their roles and it's some of the best acting I've ever seen from either one of them. Plus, the cinema nerd in me geeks out over how beautifully this movie was shot. If you've not seen it, I highly recommend it. (It's on Netflix!)

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