Monday, April 28, 2014

The Revised 104 Best Broadway Songs of All Time

So like many of my readers, my twin sister Laura took one look (or rather, listen) at my Best of Broadway playlist on Spotify and could not wait to tell me all the problems with it. Of course I responded with, "Well if you're so smart, you make a list! Wait... Can you though?" So I bring you the first guest blogger on Singular Sensation, #TwitterlessTwin.

Ah! I am so excited that Sally asked me to guest blog! I’ve never blogged before, so obviously I’m super stoked to make my debut on my super famous sister’s awesome blog! Now my sweet sister is pretty smart and VERY pretty, but sometimes she just needs her big sister to come in and save the day... and let's say, I did it again.

I might have to disown her for her virtual snub of THE Stephen Sondheim, but I guess I can forgive that... Anyway, I did a bit of research and came up with obviously a FAR superior list. 

I added in classic shows such as "A Little Night Music," "Anything Goes," "Company," and "Oklahoma!"... and yet I STILL managed to snub Hairspray. It's kind of a weird list, because I did not want it to turn into a "really famous broadway songs" playlist. Thus, I omitted, "The Ladies who Lunch," "Memory," and "Send in the Clowns" just because I wanted to make sure to add songs that I truly loved- not just songs that people would miss if they weren't there. 

I was horrified that Sally omitted "On the Street Where you Live" from "My Fair Lady." Ok, in context it's kind of a creepy song, but out of context, I can't get enough Lerner and Loewe love songs. I also emphasized some "un-love" songs like "Make Believe" from "Show Boat," and "People Will Say We're in Love" from "Oklahoma!". "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight" is cute, but not quite "top 104" calibre. Unfortunately for you readers, Sally and I share the same emotional attachment to that song, so it stays on the list. The "Night Waltz" from "A Little Night Music" must be what dreams sound like. It is so magical, that I'm virtually certain the world stops each time I listen to it. Also, "The Impossible Dream" used to be my favorite song of all time. It ought to be on every list everywhere about anything. This snub from my sister makes me doubt that she's actually my twin. 

"Sobbin' Women" was technically added for the movie version of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," but that version was then beefed up and sent back to Broadway, so it counts, right? "You're the Top" will never lose its charm, because Mr. Porter's lyrics are a masterful work of art. "Another Hundred People" had to be on the list because it is so exciting, just like the city it describes. It perfectly reflects that idea that anyone who has spent a good amount of time in a big city will understand. It is utterly overwhelming to think that everyone you see on the street has a purpose and a life and friends, and this song captures the thought beautifully. 

Obviously, those aren't all of my revisions, but any more commentary would probably become very boring very quickly. Check out the whole list below! (if the embedded playlist doesn't work, try this link)

I like accounting, so slow, tedious tasks are my thing. I obviously had to let Mr. Stephen Sondheim be better represented, as well as some other shows with which Sally and I are less familiar. This list is what I came up with! Notice that although I cut 25 of Sally’s original songs, of the ones I added, only 7 of them were from shows that she had already covered. Basically, this means that she handed me an awesome template and I was able to do outside research to make sure that the list better represented what I considered to be a broader view of “The Best.”

Take out: Where’s the Girl (Reprise); put in “Where’s the girl?” (both from The Scarlet Pimpernel)
Replace Javert’s Suicide with “What have I done?” (both from Les Miserables)

Take out:
1.    The Riddle (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
2.    He’s not Here (Next to Normal)
3.    Confrontation (Les Miserables)
4.    So in Love (Kiss Me, Kate)
5.    The Company Way (H2$)
6.    Been a Long Day (H2$)
7.    Underground (Memphis)
8.    Where is Love? (Oliver!)
9.    Reviewing the Situation (Oliver!)
10.  The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square (Ragtime)
11.  Sarah Brown Eyes (Ragtime)
12.  He Wanted to Say (Ragtime)
13.  Wilkommen (Cabaret)
14.  Mein Herr (Cabaret)
15.  Agony (Into the Woods)
16.  Hello, Little Girl (Into the Woods)
17.  In His Eyes (Jekyll and Hyde)
18.  One (reprise)/Finale (A Chorus Line)
19.  Sue Me (Guys and Dolls)
20.  If I were a Bell (Guys and Dolls)
21.  Prologue (West Side Story)
22.  Jet Song (West Side Story)
23.  Cool (West Side Story)
24.  Bloody Mary (South Pacific)

Add in (from shows already represented in the list):
1.      Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (Les Miserables)
2.      Who will Buy? (Oliver!)
3.      On the Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady)
4.      Tonight (West Side Story)
5.      Cabaret (Cabaret)

Drowsy Chaperone, Big River, The Music Man, and Starlight Express have been left out entirely.

Here’s the breakdown by show:
Miss Saigon: 1
The Scarlet Pimpernel: 3
Jersey Boys: 2
Next to Normal: 6
Wicked: 4
Les Miserables: 7
Catch Me If You Can: 2
Kiss Me Kate: 2
The Last Five Years: 1
How to Succeed…: 1
Memphis: 1
The Phantom of the Opera: 3
Beauty and the Beast: 1
Oliver!: 2
Fiddler on the Roof: 1
Ragtime: 2
Rent: 4
The Sound of Music: 1
Chicago: 2
Urinetown: 1
Into the Woods: 2
Titanic: 1
 Jekyll and Hyde: 3
A Chorus Line: 2
Bonnie and Clyde: 1
Thoroughly Modern Millie: 1
Guys and Dolls: 3
Camelot: 4
My Fair Lady: 3
West Side Story: 4
South Pacific: 5
Billy Elliot: 3
Pippin: 4
A Little Night Music: 2
Company: 2
Oklahoma!: 1
Anything Goes: 1
Show Boat: 3
Man of La Mancha: 1
Little Shop of Horrors: 1
The Lion King: 2
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: 1
Spamalot: 3
The King and I: 1

I could really go around in circles all day on this list! I will probably disagree with myself about it tomorrow because it is so difficult to take a song out of context without bringing along its friends. Despite all of that, I’m pretty confident that I could turn on any song on this list and go “oh my goodness! THAT’S my favorite song!!!”

You’ve got the best of the best here. If you’re not familiar with broadway songs and you’d like to drink from a fire hydrant, this list is a pretty good place to start!
Laura out.

So, of course it's not a contest, but which do you think is better? Just kidding- we're sisters, so of course it's a contest!

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

Laura is an accounting major/theatre minor, so she's one of those rare theatre people who can do math. Her pastimes include freeloading on my +1 tickets to shows, fangirling over Terrence Mann, and groveling at the feet of Stephen Sondheim. Also, she's the only Laura that's cooler than Laura Benanti.

This ultra-attractive picture was taken backstage at Hamlet this semester, in which she played the Player Queen. Her hair cannot be contained.
(bio by Sally Henry, picture selected by Sally Henry)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What's New on Broadway? Spotlight on 2013-2014 New Musicals

Stars in '13-'14 Broadway musicals:
Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig (top), Idina
Menzel in If/Then (middle left), Sutton
Foster in Violet (bottom left), Audra
McDonald in Lady Day (middle right),
Norbert Leo Butz in Big Fish (bottom right)
Photo Credit:
The cut-off date for Broadway shows to open and still be eligible for Tony Awards was yesterday, so this is the perfect time to preview all the new musicals from this season! I looked at the new plays a few weeks ago, but I'm not gonna lie, the musicals are the ones I'm excited about. At a glance, we've got a whopping four completely original shows, six based on movies, six using the non-Broadway music of a certain artist/artists, and you could argue that five of these are featuring Broadway divas, and four are using big name (not primarily Broadway) stars to draw crowds.
(Updated after the Tony nominations came out, which clarified how to categorize some of these shows)

First Date: August 8, 2013-January 5, 2014
Music and lyrics: Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner
Starring: Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (yes, from Smash)
aka: Name That Classic RomCom, the musical!
(totally original, star appeal with Zachary Levi)

Soul Doctor: August 15, 2013-October 13, 2013
Music and lyrics: Shlomo Carlebach and David Schechter
Starring: Eric Anderson
aka: Concert Musical #1: More Jewish Music on Broadway
(using music from a particular artist)

Big Fish: October 6, 2013-December 29, 2013
Music and lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Starring: Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, Kate Baldwin
aka: Another Flop Starring Norbert
(based on a movie, Broadway Diva moment for NLB)

A Night with Janis Joplin: Oct 10, 2013-February 9, 2014
Music and lyrics: Um...
Starring: Jenna Maroney Mary Bridget Davis
aka: Concert Musical #2: A Real Janis Joplin Musical
(using music from a particular artist)

After Midnight: November 3-now
Starring: Dule Hill, Vanessa Williams**
aka: Concert Musical #3: How does Vanessa Williams still look so good?
(using music from a particular artist/artists, star appeal with Dule Hill and Vanessa Williams)

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder: November 17-now
Music and lyrics: Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman
Starring: Jefferson Mays, Bryce Pinkham
aka: Classy Killing, the Musical
(totally new show)

Beautiful, the Carole King Musical: January 12-now
Music and lyrics: Barry Mann, Carole King, Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin
Starring: Jessie Mueller
aka: Jukebox Musical #1: It's CAROLE not CAROL
(this one has a plot a la Jersey Boys, using music from a particular artist)

Musicals based on movies this season
Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz in Big
 (top left), James Monroe Iglehart in
Aladdin (middle left), Cast of Bullets (bottom),
Andy Karl and Margo Seibert in Rocky 
(middle right), Steven Pasquale and Kelli
O'Hara in Bridges (top right)
Bridges of Madison County: February 20-now
Music and lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Starring: Steven Pasquale (Laura Benanti's ex-husband, actually) and Kelli O'Hara
aka: The Steamy Midwest Skit
(based on a movie)

Rocky: March 13-now
Music and lyrics: Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (of from Ragtime and 20th Century Fox's animated movie Anastasia)
Starring: Andy Karl and Margo Seibert
aka: Wait, Really?
(based on a movie)

Aladdin: March 20-now
Music and lyrics: Alan Menken and Howard Ashman/Tim Rice, new lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Starring: Adam Jacobs, Courtney Reed, James Monroe Iglehart
aka: The Genie Steals the Show... Again
(based on the movie)

If/Then: March 30-now
Music and lyrics: Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
Starring: Tony winner IDINA MENZEL, Anthony Rapp
aka: Sliding Doors the musical!
(totally original show, Broadway Diva moment for Idina Menzel)

Bullets Over Broadway: April 10-now
Music and lyrics: (various old songs)
Starring: Zach Braff, Marin Mazzie, Betsy Wolfe, Nick Cordero
aka: Juke Box Musical #2: Zach Braff Can Sing?
(using songs from particular artists, star appeal with Zach Braff, Broadway Diva moment for Marin Mazzie)

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill: April 13-August 10
Starring: Audra McDonald
aka: Concert Musical #4: Audra's Back!
This is a "play with music" so it's nominated in the play rather than musical category in the Tony Awards, but is considered a musical by some other awards organizations.
(using songs from a particular artist, Broadway Diva moment for Audra McDonald)

Violet: April 20-August 10
Music and lyrics: Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley
Starring: Sutton Foster
aka: Welcome back, Sutton Foster!
Though this is its first time on Broadway, it's considered a musical revival rather than new musical, because it has played Off-Broadway before.
(totally original show, Broadway Diva moment for Sutton Foster)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: April 22-August 17
Music and lyrics: Stephen Trask
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris
aka: Concert Musical #5: NPH in Glitter and Drag
This is also considered a revival, just like Violet.
(based on a movie, star appeal with NPH)

Yes, this season we have Tony Award-winners Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, and Sutton Foster, possibly today's best Broadway actresses, all on Broadway at the same time! WHAT IS THIS?! If only Big Fish had run longer, Norbert could have been added to that list. Tony nominations will be announced in less than a week, and I'm hoping it will be nominated for Best Musical so we can see Norbert on the Tonys again.

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

**Vanessa Williams is currently the "special guest star," though the original special guest star was Fantasia (Barrino).

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 104 Best Broadway Songs of All Time

Collage courtesy of Spotify
A few months ago, I finally made a playlist of my favorite Broadway tunes. I really did try to make it concise, with only one or two from each musical I chose to include, but there are some shows that have 7 ridiculously awesome tunes (ahem, Next to Normal). These are in no particular order, and I mean that. It's just in the random order I thought of them. Oh, and you best believe that there are some songs from Broadway flops, like Wildhorn's shows. At a glance, I will just point out that Terrence Mann is in there more than once, and of course all my favorites- Brian d'Arcy James, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Norbert Leo Butz, and J. Robert Spencer- are in the list at least once.

I suppose from the list, I'm essentially making a judgment about the best Broadway shows, so that gauntlet has just been thrown. Whew. Here are the shows included in the list:

  1. Miss Saigon (1)
  2. The Scarlet Pimpernel (4)
  3. Jersey Boys (2)
  4. Next to Normal (7)
  5. Wicked (5)
  6. Les Miserables (7)
  7. Catch Me if You Can (2)
  8. Kiss Me Kate (2009 revival) (3)
  9. The Last 5 Years* (1)
  10. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011 revival) (3)
  11. Memphis (2)
  12. The Phantom of the Opera (3)
  13. Beauty and the Beast (1)- I feel like I should explain myself: having grown up with the movie soundtrack, I don't really love the Original Broadway soundtrack, except for this one song. And no, it has nothing to to with the fact that it's Terrence Mann... Ok, maybe it does.
  14. Oliver! (3)
  15. Fiddler on the Roof (1)
  16. Ragtime (original concept and Broadway) (5)- I also need to explain this one: again, the first Ragtime songs I ever heard happened to be from the concept album, so I like those the best. However, I love the song they added for the Broadway premiere, "Sarah Brown Eyes."
  17. Rent (4) (See which one I left out?)
  18. Sound of Music (1)- One of the only songs not included in the original movie
  19. Chicago (2)
  20. Cabaret (Original Broadway/1998 revival) (3)- I love "Mein Herr" which was added for the 1998 revival, starring Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming his first time around.
  21. Urinetown (1)
  22. Into the Woods (3)
  23. Titanic (1)
  24. Jekyll & Hyde (4)
  25. A Chorus Line (3)
  26. Bonnie and Clyde (1)
  27. Thoroughly Modern Millie (1)- This one feels like a lie, because it's the only one I'm really familiar with from the show, but I really like it!
  28. Guys and Dolls (1992 revival) (5)- The first big musical I ever saw live (a community theatre production), so I have to include lots from it.
  29. Camelot (4)
  30. My Fair Lady (2)
  31. West Side Story (6)- Oh hey! I wrote about that one last week
  32. South Pacific (2008 revival) (6)- Matthew Morrison as Lt. Cable is possibly the best thing to happen to musicals.
  33. Billy Elliot (3)
  34. Pippin (2012 revival) (4)- These are probably the only good songs from the show. Great show, just not great songs overall.
Enjoy the full list through the magic of Spotify! (I've been having trouble getting stuff to stay embedded, so if there's a problem, just click here, and this link should take you there)

So, I realize there are a few glaring snubs. Namely, Hairspray, Music Man (If I have to see another community theatre/high school production of this I might scream. It's so overdone), Oklahoma! (despite the many old Broadway tunes I have on this list, I'm just really not familiar with the show. I know! I'm a disgrace!), not to mention most of Sondheim, which I'm sure my Sondheim-loving sister will be disappointed in. Those are off the top of my head, but what other shows/songs did I leave out? Any on this list that definitely don't belong?

*not Broadway, but Off-Broadway

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Forgotten Revival & the Rest of the West Side Stories

1964 West Side Story Revival
Photo courtesy:
Spielberg has mentioned that he will be directing a remake of the classic movie musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story. You know, the musical version of Romeo and Juliet set in NYC polarizing the Puerto Rican and American gangs as they show off their intimidating finger-snapping, jumping, and eventually knifing (Is that a word? It's Monday. No rules apply) skills. Well, it just so happens that tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the show's first Broadway revival

Despite the success of the original 1957 production, this revival was not very publicized or popular. In fact, I'm finding virtually no information about it at all, not even a review, much less videos. From what I can gather from and a few other places, it was a limited-engagement of 31 performances by The New York City Center Light Opera Company at the New York City Center. Stars included people I've never heard of, who went on to do very little else on Broadway. Julia Migenes (Maria) actually later originated the role of Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof, but that's the extent of this West Side Story revival cast's fame. 

Reading about this sadly overlooked revival made me want to re-examine the production history of this show that Broadway-lovers everywhere consider to be a classic. Was it really as much of a hit as we all consider it to be? Let's check this out together and see how well this legendary show actually fared when it played on Broadway.

Original 1957 Playbill
Photo courtesy:
West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 and ran til 1960. That production starred Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence as Tony and Maria (respectively), and a young Chita Rivera as Anita. The only Tony Awards it won, out of the 6 for which it was nominated, were for Jerome Robbins for choreography (obviously) and Oliver Smith for Scenic Design. Fun fact about this show: It opened at the Winter Garden Theatre just months after the final Ziegfeld Follies closed (having flopped). It changed theatres a few times, running three months at the Broadway theatre in 1959, then moved back to the Winter Garden. Also, West Side Story took a short hiatus between June 1959 and April 1960, for a musical called Juno to have its limited engagement premiere, then WSS returned for 6 months, then closed the last 2 months of its run at the Alvin Theatre. Why any of that made sense is beyond me.

Check out this awesome video of Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence performing "Maria" and "Tonight" live on "The Bell Telephone Hour"! As I described it to a friend, this clip might be the Holy Grail of Broadway videos. Though this was actually filmed 10 years after they were on Broadway, these two are still flawless. (Remember yesterday when I tweeted about being in tears over a new video?)

The following year, the movie was released, which of course won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno as Anita (Starting the semi-tradition of nominating Anita for major awards) and Best Supporting Actor for George Chakiris as Bernardo and also won Golden Globes in all three of those categories. Yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

(Above is probably an example of
what Playbill art to use to guarantee
a flop). 1980 revival
Photo courtesy:
Just three years later, it was revived again, which was way too soon for a revival, even limited engagement (remember how the 2006 Les Mis revival did?). One significant element that makes this revival important to this timeline is that this was the first time that Anita was billed first. The movie made everyone realize how important she is, and had this production been better, the actress would have been nominated for the Tony for Best Featured Actress. As it was, the show was only nominated for Musical Direction and Best Producer, which makes me wonder if it was for some reason ineligible for most awards.

So the world took a break from the racist, snapping teens for a while. In 1980, it was finally revived again. I guess I can't say it was a flop, but since it ran only from February to November, I can't very well say it was a success. I must point out that this revival was in the same season as one of the way too many Peter Pan revivals, as well as the original production of a little show called Evita. It was nominated for Best Featured Actress for both Josie de Guzman as Maria, and Debbie Allen as Anita (oh hey, didn't I say it was a tradition?) I won't post the video from the Tony Awards that year, because it was painful. They performed "America" (obviously to showcase Debbie Allen), but the singing was piercing and over-the-top. Oh, and the choreography (a reproduction of Robbins' original) was fairly lame. If you're morbidly curious, check it out here. Fortunately, not ever number was awful, so check out this compilation below! 

Finally used the movie poster!
2009 Revival
Photo courtesy:
After more than 20 years of absolutely no West Side Story on the Broadway, the show was finally revived in 2009. This time it was totally revamped with a darker twist, and directed by original book-writer Arthur Laurents himself. Laurents said that he realized that gangs like this were serious business, not just some fun dancing kids who accidentally stabbed each other to death. Not only did he throw some actual evil into the characters, but he also changed many of the Puerto Ricans' lines to be spoken/sung in their language rather than English. Of course, after audience members left the theatre royally confused during previews, large portions of the Puerto Rican lines were changed back to English. 

This was the same year as the fairly lame and much less successful Guys and Dolls revival, as well as the Pal Joey revival starring Stockard Channing, but they all lost the Tony for Best Revival to the Hair revival. So the show was nominated for four Tony Awards but only won one, which was- you guessed it- Karen Olivo for Best Featured Actress as Anita. This production made me so happy, because they finally gave Anita this uncontrollable, long hair. I know hair should not be that important, but seriously, you can't be a sassy, independent, dancing Rican with short hair. The length added so much to her character! Check out the video below of Ms. Olivo and the cast performing "America" on Letterman! They're just amazing.

And with that, we have all just had an impromptu West Side Story appreciation day! How about that? More importantly, for the first time this year, I managed to write a blog post that didn't involve Disney, Brian d'Arcy James, Brian Stokes Mitchell, or Audra McDonald. What is this?!

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

Read More:
History of the Winter Garden Theatre
West Side Story Revivals on
West Side Story movie on
West Side Story on Wikipedia (don't hate)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark- But Awesome in the State of Georgia!

Tsiambwom Akuchu as Hamlet
Photo courtesy of Visit Statesboro
Earlier this week, I tweeted that I would be postponing my usual Monday blog post to later in the week. Well, Happy Friday! It's later! I promised that I'd be writing about something special, so it would be worth the wait. Trust me, it is. Rather than posting about Broadway or Disney, I'm bringing y'all down to the low country, where Georgia Southern University students are performing Hamlet this week through next Wednesday, April 9. Note: there are spoilers afoot! But if you don't know the spoilers from a 17th century play by now, you need to go home. Or just examine your life choices. Or brush up your Shakespeare by watching this video SparkNote before proceeding.

Under the direction of GSU professor Lisa Abbott, this version of Hamlet is set in modern day, for a change. Ok, let's be real: everyone and their mother is setting Shakespeare in modern day, but that's how he himself wrote it, right? And you guessed it, there are a couple of gender-benders. Barnardo and Guildenstern are casually played by girls (Katie Pearson and Dani McGee, respectively), because what is a 21st century production of Shakespeare if it's not set in a non-1600s time period with some guy roles changed to girls or vice versa? Besides just being set in 2014, however, this Hamlet has a futuristic twist. Stemming from the fact that Hamlet can't really trust anyone, this production throws in the added stress of being watched. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, so not only can Hamlet trust no one, but he can't keep anything secret. With this 1984-esque spin, the show's main draw is that it is multimedia-heavy.

This set, possibly the biggest set that GSU has ever built, has four screens: a huge one in the center, two medium-sized ones on each side, and then a flat-screen-sized one in what is supposed to be the guards' surveillance room*. The security footage works very well to tell the story, making this show a production masterpiece. Designers Sean DeVine and Kelly Berry should be very proud. During the whole show, the audience can see the security footage on a loop in the guard room, which is shots of the outside of the theatre. Using surveillance shots of the actual building in which the play takes place effectively creates a very immersive atmosphere for the audience.

Besides all of these surveillance cameras, more multimedia elements include iPads, smartphones (and you best believe there's a pre-France Laertes and Ophelia selfie), a news broadcast, and even some live surveillance/news cameras. The news broadcast was an added element which was supposed to be like an E! coverage of the royal wedding, which helped to set the scene at the beginning of the play. What's great about GSU's production of Hamlet is that the ways they have used the multimedia elements- particularly the visual ones-  really help to advance the story, and more importantly, make it more applicable to today. For instance, the letters from Hamlet become video chats, the play-within-a-play becomes a movie, and the players become movie stars who walk the red carpet in another newscast.

Playing the title character, Theatre Major Tsiambwom Akuchu has been studying his lines ever since last August. He says that for the first semester, it was mostly text analysis and that memorization was added later. To say his work paid off would be an understatement. This Georgia Southern Junior delivered a heartfelt performance, making me question why he has not been the lead in every show at GSU ever. The simplicity with which he delivered his most famous monologue, "To be or not to be..." brought Shakespeare down from mystic high-culture literature to simple language to which any audience member could relate.

Laertes, played by Theatre Major Gregory Hernandez (Happy in last year's Death of a Salesman), showed his broad emotional range throughout the whole show, starting with his sweet, brotherly delivery of his speech to Ophelia (played by Jenna Lancaster) towards the beginning. His very fluid speaking style was easy to understand- a hard thing to come by in anything less than professional theatre. Then as he angrily burst on stage holding a gun, shaking, and screaming, "Where is this king?!" in Act V, he was terrifying. This juxtaposed with his heartbroken expression as he then looked at his deranged sister, allowed him to seriously tug at the heartstrings of every single audience member. This brilliant young actor definitely has a future in Shakespeare.

New Georgia Southern transfer student, Jenna Lancaster, has now made her mark on the GSU theatre department. The girlish innocence with which she portrayed Ophelia (who is actually supposed to be very young, though we may think of her as an ingenue) made the end even more powerful as her sanity abandoned her. It was clear that this actress knew exactly what her lines meant, and because of that, she was able to bring her character to the audience's level. I would like to see Lancaster on many more Shakespearean stages as well.

The entire ensemble had obviously been immersed in their lines and the entire script for an extended period of time, which made them all amazing, particularly Sophomore Alex Bowser. As Horatio, he stood out as he delivered his complicated Shakespeare lines conversationally.

The fight choreography by Nicholas Newell incorporated the talents and strength of Hernandez and Akuchu very well. It was a visual feast as the two struggled through conventional knife standoffs (as each pulled out his knife, I kept waiting for someone to say, "Don't push me!" and the West Side Story rumble music to kick in) to some break-dance moves.

There are few things worse than bad Shakespeare, but when done right, it's like a beautiful symphony.

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

*if that description of the set was as complicated as I thought it was, look at these production shots, and that should clear up the confusion.