Category Archives: Musical Reviews

Les Misérables Movie Review

les-miserables-movie-image-16Les Mis.” Short for Les Miserables, (French for The Miserable Ones), these two words have provoked such excited reactions from all my friends. The film’s poster of a pale little girl with ethereal blue eyes is all over my Instagram. Statuses about how you should bring a tissue box to the theaters clog up my Facebook feed. Twitter hashtags of #Lesmis are trending quickly.

What is the big deal here?

Adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo and the musical, Les Mis is about a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who is enslaved for nineteen years because he stole a loaf of bread. However, he breaks his parole and tries to start an honest life under a new identity while escaping the clutches of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who considers his moral and civil duties to be the same. When Valjean meets Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a mother looking for work who turns to prostitution, he vows to take care of her daughter Cossette (the poster girl). This all takes place during a boiling post-revolution period in which the poor are revolting against the king. Other characters make their way into this musical as well, each of their stories intertwined as their voices rise above the hardships and the pain.

I went to the theaters with little to no background knowledge of the musical or the novel. As a result, it was a bit hard to follow the story. It was also shocking to see that happy endings were rare in this movie. However, Les Mis is emotionally heart wrenching and the story is rich with themes of redemption, mercy, and forgiveness. Valjean is overcome by the love and mercy a Bishop shows him, and turns his life to God.

The movie’s sentiments boil down to its music – sweet, poignant, beautifully written songs. The score’s recurring motifs are grand and perfect for the movie. It’s a first for a movie of this scope that the cast sang live, allowing them to truly “be in the moment”. Two performances that stood out to me the most were ‪Aaron Tveit’s portrayal of the revolution leader, Enjolras, and Samantha Barks’ Eponine, the daughter of a lowly money-hungry couple. Although not all the actors are pitch-perfect and Hugh Jackman’s first songs sounded a bit rough, director Tom Hooper could have sweetened the vocals, but he chose not to. And that is one of the most important elements of this movie – even though it feels rough and gritty, it’s certainly raw and real.

Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is not just beautiful but it was sung wholeheartedly from the depths of a broken woman, who had given her everything to save her child. In fact, her performance along with the emotional depth makes it a cut higher than Susan Boyle’s take. Samantha Barks’ “On My Own” is moving and remarkably sung, the poetic lyrics speaking true. Barks steals the show and I am so relieved that Taylor Swift did not get the role.

Les Mis has a fantastic story and tells it through fantastic songs. Parents should be aware that it’s rated PG-13 for a reason (prostitution, bar scenes, war). Although I can’t say if it lives up to the musical (having never watched it), all my theater-savvy friends say it does. For those who love musicals, you’ll probably be swept away breathless for 2 hours and 37 minutes – however, for those of you with limited attention spans looking for heart-racing action movies, this is probably not the flick for you. Viewers, be prepared to have your heartstrings tugged. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a box of tissues.

Director: Tom Hooper. Actors: Hugh Jackman: Jean Valjean · Russell Crowe: Javert · Anne Hathaway: Fantine · Amanda Seyfried: Cosette

Published @ DiamondBar-Walnut-Patch




Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao with (from left) Tyler Merna, Camille Mancuso, Talon Ackerman, Nicolas Dromard, Marissa Smoker

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is not a Harry Potter spell. In fact, it comes from the award-winning, “Practically Perfect” musical, Mary Poppins! For the first time, Disney’s Mary Poppins is touring all around the USA. I was thrilled when Mary Poppins flew into LA!

The lights dimmed. The curtains lifted. And the musical began, sweeping me away into the superlative world of Mary Poppins. The show did an unbelievable job capturing my mind and turning the magic of Mary Poppins from page to screen to stage!

How do Disney Theatrical Productions and Cameron Mackintosh set up a three-story house on stage every night? The Banks’ house opens up just like a pop-up dollhouse on Cherry Tree Lane. It is obvious that the creative team works together beautifully; the sound design and quick background changes are most impressive. Mary Poppins flying over the audiences’ heads with her hefty umbrella and handbag is impeccable. My favorite special effect takes place in the kitchen, where a little catastrophe happens – tables break, plates roll, and kitchen utensils clatter to the ground.

The costumes are bright, colorful, eye-catching, and simply gorgeous. With more than 200 costumes (not even counting the props), I guess the ensemble has to change from costume to costume at supersonic speed!

The bizarre dance numbers are complex, outstanding, and make the audience want to join in! The cast’s enthusiasm is extremely contagious, and the whole house buzzed with energy. One of the most amazing stunts of the musical is Nicolas Dromard (Bert), a multitalented actor, tap-dancing upside-down on the ceiling of the theater in “Step in Time!”

Another fantastic number is “Supercalifragilistic.” The entire audience claps along with the beat. It is a wondrous sight to see the entire cast spell out all 34 letters with their precise hand gestures! The lively orchestra and the choreography rejuvenate and communicate the infectious enthusiasm, with the spirit of the cast pulsing and thrumming as if they gulp down “A Spoonful of Sugar!”

There are also new musical numbers added that aren’t in the film – an extra little treat for the audience. “Practically Perfect” and “Anything Can Happen” are two of my favorite newbies.

The acting is superb, and I was delighted to see the kids in the role of Jane and Michael Banks, two spoiled, nasty, and mischievous kids. Camille Mancuso (Jane Banks) and Tyler Merna (Michael Banks) sing their hearts out with excellent voices.

And of course, let’s not forget the phenomenal nanny – Steffanie Leigh as Mary Poppins certainly bring the magic alive from the film! Turning work into play, chores into games, and everyday into a splendiferous escapade – what a high-flying, magical extravaganza!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a world parallel yet so mystical to our own.Mary Poppins is a sprightly musical that is not to be missed!

Mary Poppins Music & Lyrics Composer – Richard M. Sherman
It was such an honor to meet him!

Check out my interview with Nicolas Dromard and the kid stars of Mary Poppins


“Step in Time” with “Supercalifragilistic” Mary Poppins!

The magical Broadway musical hits the road


When you hear the name “Mary Poppins,” it’s impossible not to think “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holliday,” or the classic tongue twister “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The iconic magical nanny began in the pages of author P.L. Travers’ book. She became famous when she came to life on screen in the classic Disney movie starring Julie Andrews. And now she’s at home on stage in the musical Mary Poppins.

The show began on London’s West End in 2004 and moved to Broadway in 2006. Now, it’s touring around the United States. When Mary Poppins came to my hometown of Costa Mesa, California, I spoke with star Nicolas Dromard and the kids in the cast about performing in the show.

Dromard plays Bert, the role originated in the film by Dick Van Dyke. But in the musical, Dromard sets his Bert apart by bringing a little something of his own to the happy-go-lucky chimney sweep.

“Our director is really fantastic, he wants us to bring ourselves to the character, not the copy that Dick Van Dyke or whoever else did the role before,” Dromard told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. “We’re all able to bring our own little quirks of our own personality. I really love bringing myself to the role.

“I’m still true to Bert, the jack of all trades, the narrator throughout the show,” Dromard adds. “But I’m also able to bring this little goofiness that I have in real life to my role. I’m a dork and a goofball.”

Dromard performed in Mary Poppins on Broadway, and going on tour is a different experience.

“In New York on Broadway, you do the same show in the same theater for six months at a time. You get to really know the theater, you know the people there,” said Dromard. “But on tour, the challenge is you go into a new theater every three or four weeks, and adapt to our surroundings, change our routines to accommodate the theater.”

When asked about the challenges of going on tour, the four youngest stars of the show — who are double cast in the roles of Jane and Michael Banks — talked about moving from city to city and traveling without family.

“During the school year, I have to travel with friends of the family because my dad’s a teacher and my mom’s a lawyer. It’s kind of hard, not being with my family all the time,” reflected 13-year-old Marissa Smoker (Jane Banks) who started acting since nine months old.

When not performing or rehearsing on the road, 12-year-old Camille Mancuso (Jane Banks) visits museums and monuments in every city.

“Every day it is something different. You get an education that you won’t get anywhere else,” said Mancuso. “At school you learn about these places, but on tour, you get to visit them. It’s just a really great experience.”

One timeless dance number is “Step in Time,” where Bert tap dances on the ceiling of the theater. Dromard said it’s his favorite part of the show.

“I’m not afraid of heights, and everything is very safe. You walk up the wall, you tap dance upside down, and the next thing you know, you’re coming back down. It’s just an everyday routine. Eight times a week, I can do it in my sleep,” he joked.

As for 10-year-old Tyler Merna (Michael Banks), his favorite number is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“It’s just so high-energy, and even before I got cast it was my favorite song. It’s so much fun to get to do it,” explained Merna. “Mary Poppins and Bert take us on an adventure, and it’s great to do that, night after night.”

The cast all agreed that the best part of performing in Mary Poppins is being together.

“We’re a family on tour. That’s the wonderful thing,” said Dromard. “We become this close-knit family. Everybody supports each other and helps each other up because that’s what we are. Every month we go to a new city and we only have each other.”

©Scholastic Inc, First published @

Disney’s The Lion King Musical

Blogger Cassandra Hsiao in front of a Lion King Poster showing Nala

Lion King Simba

Lion King Logo

You think you know all the characters of the famous Disney’s The Lion King? Well, think again. Get ready for the world’s best musical as Disney presents, The Lion King. It’s a whole new world in the Mandalay Bay Theatre in Las Vegas as a huge and international cast presents the majestic wonders of the savannah.

It was really amazing how Disney Theatrical Productions turned the classic animation The Lion King to stage. The costumes made the animals come alive, and many puppets were used as well (Zazu and Timon). You can still see the person that is carrying the puppet, so it is actually the imagination of the audience that blends the two together.

The movements of the lions are so natural. The actors take natural human movements and blend them with a twitch of a “paw” or the arch of a lion’s back. Simba and Mufasa’s masks are so simple but yet majestic. Scar’s mask communicates his anger and jealousy of Mufasa. The sculptor has only one chance to show the audience what the character’s personality is like, and I felt that the sculptor, the puppeteer, and the designer really communicated their feelings.

The background told me a lot about the surroundings. The scene changes so quick, with staircases rising out of the ground and elephant graveyards eerily floating across the stage. My favorite background change is when Mufasa dies in the stampede. I think it is really creative how Disney put together the image of wildebeests running at Simba – and at us, the audience.

I was really excited to see kids acting as young Simba and young Nala in the show. There are so many talented kids performing all over the world! They seem so full of energy, perfect for the roles of Simba and Nala. The cast’s dancing, acting and singing are superb! The dances are a mix of different cultures around the world, plus a blend of ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and so much more!

There are new musical numbers added to the musical that aren’t in the film, adding depth to many of the characters. “Endless Night” and “They Live in You” are two of my favorite newbies.

I cannot tell you in just a few words how fantastic this show is. You will have to see it for yourself! It is one of those musicals that you will never forget. The Lion King makes a conciliatory gesture towards the audience, transforming the most hesitant viewers into a musical lover. A truly amazing, eye-boggling, must-see musical.

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