The last few weeks have been rather busy for us as we ended March by going to an Alan Menken concert, began April with watching the national tour production of Anastasia, and watched a regional production of Mamma Mia! about two weeks ago.
On March 30, we attended “A Whole New World of Alan Menken” to hear the legendary composer and songwriter―best known for his work with Disney―perform some of his most popular songs at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago. He played a little bit of everything, from “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid to “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors to the skit song Captain America and the dancers perform to in Captain America: The First Avenger. He also told some stories about his career, how he collaborated with other well-known songwriters, how various songs came to be, and how he got to work on certain projects.
A lot of what we already knew about Menken concerned his involvement with various projects, but we didn’t know much about the collaborations he had or much about his personal life. So it was really great to learn more about a person whose music has brought us so much joy throughout the years. It was also cool learning more about his work that were unfamiliar with, such as Sister Act the Musical and the television show Galavant. We’re especially appreciative of the time he took to perform a show in Chicago, because he said his mom had just passed a few days prior.
We were super excited when he performed some of “Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin the Musical, which just made us more excited for the upcoming live action version coming next month! “Proud of Your Boy” was very sentimental and special to see live, because he got emotional performing it given his mother’s recent passing.
When Menken spoke about the disappointment the 1992 Disney movie Newsies was and how he actually won a Razzie Award for one of its songs, we all couldn’t help but laugh. He did not sing the song that people decided was so terrible it should be receive an award for it. Instead, he sang “Carrying the Banner,” but we’re more familiar with the version from the 2012 musical version from the Tony Award-winning stage adaptation Newsies the Musical.
Menken sang through most of his work in chronological order, so when he got to the super successful Broadway show Newsies, we were stoked to hear him try to perform “Watch What Happens”. Menken himself admitted it’s one of the quickest, most difficult of his songs to perform because the tempo is quite fast and Jack Feldman wrote so many lyrics, so he applauds all of the women who have performed it. So when we were silently singing along to “Watch What Happens” and were keeping up with it better than he was, we had to admit we were quite proud of ourselves.
Perhaps the best part of the night, though, was at the very end when he gave us a sneak peek at a song that will be in the upcoming stage adaptation of Hercules, which will be coming to New York City later this year. Overall, it was a fun night full of lots of nostalgic music that brought together people of all ages, showing us the magic of Disney, theatre, and music.
A few days later on April 2, we ventured back into the city to experience the regal journey that is Anastasia the Musical, which is based on the classic 20th Century Fox animated movie. We had never seen the movie prior to seeing the musical, so we only knew the basis of the story. But we were familiar with a few of the songs from the musical, especially “Journey to the Past,” and with the lead actress, Lila Coogan. Coogan was one of the performers we had the pleasure of hearing at last summer’s Broadway in Chicago Concert in Millennium Park. We loved her performance of “Journey to the Past” at the concert, so we were looking forward to seeing her immersed in the role of Anya in the entirety of the show.
After some sustenance at Epic Burger, we headed to the recently-renamed Nederlander Theatre for the second time this year to begin our journey to the past! The national tour production travels with a beautiful curtain design that’s on display before the show begins and is great for pictures, so we were sure to take photos in front of it and show it off in our obligatory Playbill photos. The show itself was so much funnier than we thought it would be, and the production itself was great. The story was compelling, and the music was stunning. The choreography is great and even features a fantastic ballet scene! Coogan is an outstanding lead and carried the show tremendously. Especially now that the Broadway show has closed, the national tour production is definitely a must-see if it comes to a city near you!
As we always do after seeing shows now, we went back to the stage door to meet some of the cast, and we were overwhelmed! The stagedoor line was the longest we’d ever seen here in Chicago. There were probably at least 70 fans waiting at the stage door (we’re not good at estimating amounts of people, so it could’ve been more, and we just didn’t realize it). But every single cast member who came out to greet the fans was so kind, and at least half of the cast came out to the stage door! They all made sure no fan was missed and that everyone got what they wanted, whether it was a photo, an autograph, or both. Even cast members who were done going down the line of fans or weren’t stage-dooring and were just standing on the side talking to fellow castmates were kind enough to talk to fans, sign, or take pictures with anyone who kindly asked. So if you see the national tour production of Anastasia and go to the stage door, say thanks to everyone who goes down the line, because they don’t have to stagedoor, but many of them do and are super nice about it.
Fast forward 10 days, and we were at another musical! This time we went to a regional production of Mamma Mia! at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, Illinois, because our mom wanted to see it. We’d never see a stage production of Mamma Mia!―only the movie years ago―so we didn’t know how different it’d be. We’d also never seen a show at this theater before, so we didn’t know what it would be like in terms of the view or the sound or anything. We’ve only gone to one regional theater production, so we were unsure of how it would compare to the Broadway and Broadway-caliber touring shows we’d seen. But we were not at all disappointed.
The cast and ensemble consisted of a wide range of performers, from veterans with Broadway experience to regional veterans to musical theatre students in college, but they were all great and full of talent and potential. The stage and set weren’t very extravagant and really only had a few things actually change, but they all did well with what they had and could do. We weren’t in the best mood while watching it due to our 20-something grandma status and introversion, especially considering it was a Friday night, but that didn’t detract from our experience of watching the show. The women who portrayed Donna and Sophie, Susie McMonagle and Rebecca Hurd, respectively, were impressive and fantastic leads. The cast, as whole, did a great job at making Mammma Mia! the fun, energetic, charismatic show it’s meant to be. Our only complaint about the show itself were these really bright lights that turned and went into the audience and hit us right in the eye. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long, and our first experience with Mamma Mia! on stage was a quality one.