Thursday, August 26, 2010

Things Are Good

I should have written last weekend. My plan was to sit down and blog as soon as I got home on Saturday night after the show, but for some reason or another, I didn't.

Our rehearsal on Wednesday night went very well. I got to meet the two new people and see the rest of my lovely cast again. I'm not sure if the AC was broken or wasn't on, or it was just too hot for it to even help, but we didn't do costumes because it was nearly sweltering. I appreciate when a director makes sure that there is no marking during a put in rehearsal with new people, especially with it is both their first and last with the whole cast before going up in front of a whole audience. I know if I was being thrown into a mix that was already established I would feel much more comfortable if the whole cast was putting as much into it as I was. So that's just what we did! After humming the tunes a few times a week for almost three weeks, it felt really good to let it all out once again. Everyone sounded better than ever too!

We had a good sized audience for out re-opening on Thursday, with several reviewers in the audience. Since then, we've had some more fantastic reviews pop up. We got a "WOW" from Steven Stanley at, Kevin Taft showed his love of the show and our performance on frontiersweb, LA Weekly gave us a nice shout out, and today when I picked up a copy of Backstage, I saw my name printed in it for the first time. That, for me, is huge! They chose it as one of their "Critic's Pick" selections and really couldn't say enough wonderful things about it. I know I wasn't the only one who wished they had seen what we'd done at the rehearsal on Wednesday instead, but obviously we still had enough spark to impress.

This may sound weird, but I feel like there's only so many times you can say "thank you" before you start getting a little freaked out. Is it just me? It's not like I don't mean it every time I say it, that I'm not thankful that people appreciate something I'm a part of... I guess I'm just not used to all of it! The more "thank you"'s I say, the more I kind of want to go to my room and snuggle up with a sudoku book or some other logic puzzle. On my more introspective days, I'd rather play with logic puzzles or watch terrible reality television about fat people than interact with real live people. Sad, and probably wrong, but true.

Anyway.... My roommate Tom and his friend, plus my friends Quiggs and Sebastion saw the show on Friday and it seemed like they really liked it! *Back to the thank you's for a second, it's much easier to say it more to people I know that people I don't know. So there's that* I was so happy they came, and that they could take advantage of the discount tickets (we're now sold out of those for this weekend). After the show nearly everyone from the cast and crew headed over to The Other Side again for even more singing and good times.

Saturday's performance was a weird one. Perhaps it was from the extra singing the night before, but my voice was a little scratchy. Also, I've been looking at what audience members say about the show on, and one person commented that "the actress playing Florence could have varied her expression more, she wore a mostly pained one throughout". With all of the positive things people have said I shouldn't have let that get to me, but nevertheless it was on my mind. In my second song, I have to hold out a D for about 5 bars at the end. Before this show, I probably would have laughed at the though of belting a D for any length of time. Needless to say, even though I've done it many times now, I still take a huge breath and mentally cross my fingers every night before it happens. This particular night was not my best go at it. Probably my worst.

If you'll remember, during the first part of the run my manager wasn't able to get in to see the show because the website had some sort of glitch and oversold seats, so we had to give priority to they paying patrons. Luckily the problem was fixed and she got in just fine on Saturday night. So here I was, starting out my show on a not so great note (literally) on the night that my manager was in the audience. And on top of that... no one clapped. Not a single smack of the hands after that off note. This happens sometimes, you'll just have a dead audience that sees "in concert" and doesn't know how to treat it. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure they clapped after the first song, but that's happened before because the second pretty much is just the second part of the first. But this, complete lack of applause after the most terrifying note I've ever sang, really threw me for a loop.

Much to my relief, when I got backstage I saw I had a text message from my manager from just after the show started, saying she was stuck in traffic. I let myself believe that it meant she hadn't witnessed that weird weird moment, and I kicked myself back into gear. I feel like I had a couple other not-so-great notes, but only a few, and I felt that I had more control as the show progressed. The cast took a few press photos before we were able to go out and greet people. Unfortunately the casting director that was supposed to come with my manager wasn't able to make it, but she said she was very proud of me and she liked it a lot. She actually saw the original production in London, and she was pleasantly surprised by this production. Even with all the strange stuff that happened in that particular show, I'm also proud of what I got to show her. It's the first time she's ever seen me perform live, and she was impressed! That's all I could have asked for.

While writing all this, I got word from her that I have an audition for an episodic tomorrow morning, and we also have a meeting with a commercial agent in a little over a month. I've been hoping to get a commercial agent because, do you have any idea how much money you can make for a national commercial? A lot. So I'm happy very happy and excited about this meeting.

That's all the updating I can handle for now, hopefully I'll feel up to it again in just a few days!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Interim

Over the past two weeks I've been having dreams about Chess. In the first one, we couldn't get the full orchestra back and we just had a synthesizer which we couldn't hear over our own voices. In the second one I think I was sick and had to send someone (from a show I did over a year ago) to go on and sing my first song. Finally last night, I was about to go on stage when I realized I forgot to bring my costume back to the theater, so we had to find something that would work instead. Funny thing is, I wasn't nervous in any of these dreams. I was just happy to be back on the stage doing the show again!

Jeff hosted a lovely party for Michael on Wednesday. Most of the people involved with the show came by for food and good company, and it was really good to see everyone again. Michael is going to try to get his school to bring the show out to Ohio for a performance or two, perhaps in the spring. I think that's a fantastic idea and I'm all for it. I think he thinks we're joking when we say we're into it, but i don't think any of us are. The chance to see Michael again and take this show literally on the road, if even only for one performance, would be really really fun!

Sooo... I had an audition on Friday. My manager emailed me the day before wondering if I'd be interested in auditioning for the game show "Don't Forget The Lyrics". I said why not. For an opportunity to win a couple thousand dollars? Sure. Plus, you never know who the casting director knows. Maybe this could put me on the illusive path to Glee (pff, right). When I got there I filled out a paper and picked three songs off a list to sing myspace karaoke style. At this point I was feeling kind of indifferent about the audition - I was comfortable there, but my career definitely wasn't riding on this show. I picked songs that I thought would show some character: Tainted Love by Soft Cell, One Week by Barenaked Ladies, and of course the old favorite, The Rose, because I wanted something that showed that I actually can sing. The weird thing was, they had different sheets hanging up for backgrounds and all kinds of props and clothes laying around so you could spice up the "music video" any way you wanted.

The weirdest part was that the office walls were all made of glass, and the room we were to sing in was right next to the elevator door, so when someone else walked in the first thing they would see is you singing your song and dancing around in a costume, or whatever you chose to do. It was a little strange. Obviously not like any other audition I've been to, because I've never auditioned for a game show before. I'm used to things I can prepare for, and feel in the moment, and this almost felt like being encouraged to put on a different personality. I can't say it was for me. If they like me and want me on the show, we'll get there when we get there. For now, I'm kinda glad to be done with it.

There was a rehearsal scheduled for tonight, but since many people were unavailable it has now become unrequired. They'll still be running though blocking with the two new people, but we're not obligated to go. Still, I think I will. I need to pick up some of the postcards with the updated show dates, and I'd like to meet these new people. Also, I want Chess back in my blood! I feel like I have to get used to some of those sky-high notes again. We will have another rehearsal on Wednesday that we'll all attend, which I'm most excited about. I can't wait to be around all those beautiful talented people again. And then Thursday is opening night number two!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Check Mate

Wow, you guys have no idea how readership has boomed since that RENT review! It's pretty exciting to see those high numbers. I'd say at least half of the viewers were because Evan linked to it from his review (thanks Ev!). But now, back to writing about yours truly and the things I'm trying to do with my life.

There's a rehearsal tonight for the Chess featured soloists. As it goes, the cast has pretty much all fallen in love with each other (in a platonic way) and a few other people might show up to just to hang out, maybe sing a little if we have to. Today is also the day when I have a meeting about a very important matter. I've been instructed not to talk much about it, and that's fine with me. It would bore you anyway. But at the moment I'm a bit stressed about it, so I'm not 100% that I'll make it out to rehearsal/hang out time. I may just have to head straight home and have a glass of wine, or 3.

The peak of the Perseid meteor shower is tonight, so that should help calm my nerves too. If you aren't aware, I have a childish fascination with bright things in the sky. Namely fireworks, but also lightening and meteor showers. If I saw a UFO, instead of freaking out I'd probably clap and giggle like a 5 year old. It was either last year or the year before when Evan and I went to a nearby mountain to watch this amazing event. I can't remember exactly how many, but we counted an insane amount of meteors in just two hours. So if tonight is anything like that, it'll be almost as good as Disneyland for me.

Tomorrow night we're having a going away party for our dear Michael, a "chesser" who has to go back east to finish up school. We had a potluck at the theater after our last show to wrap up stage 1 of chess, and that was a success. Food was eaten, speeches were made, and good times were had by all. So tomorrow we're all going to another cast member's place in Santa Monica for more food and good company. Michael is a wonderful, talented, special boy, and he will be missed very much!

As much as I know it would pain Micheal to hear this, I am excited to start this next leg of the show. I know it's impossible for the 2 new people we have coming into the cast to replace anyone, but it will be neat to see what new things they bring to the dynamic of the cast and the show. Plus, my manager will actually be able to see it!! We completely sold out last weekend, over sold actually, so even though we added a few more seats to the house we weren't able to accommodate everyone and priority was given to paying customers. And even though they were aware that my manager and her guest were industry, there were apparently more industry people that got there before them. In any case, she brought me the most delicious cupcake and said she'd come back for the extension. She's the best :) Speaking of her being the best, she's trying to get me an audition for Reprise's upcoming show, They're Playing Our Song. Just for ensemble, but it would be good to get in front of Jason Alexander again just to stay fresh in his mind.

Now, not to toot my own horn - but it must be said that I haven't found a single bad review for Chess. More reason that you should come and enjoy it! Here's what some of the critics are saying:

  • "The beautiful Nicci Claspell plays Florence, the second to American World Champion Frederick (quirky Blake McIver Ewing) with heart and convition - she avoids pop-song yodeling and sticks to character-driven singing. Well done!"
    -Tony Frankel,
  • "The two women were outstanding: Emily Dykas as Svetlana was riveting, and Nicci Claspell was also compelling as Florence. Both of these women had marvelous composure."
    -Robert Machray,
And you should see what they say about the rest of the cast! You can hear a sound clip at, and then purchase your discount tickets at

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thinking About Seeing RENT At The Hollywood Bowl? Read This Instead

I really wanted them to do well. I was so willing to like them - if they were good. As it turns out, I was surprised by most of them, in both good and bad ways.

Lets start with the most obvious character that I would critique: Vanessa Hudgens as Mimi. When I first heard the news that she was cast, I was disappointed. It was obviously a choice based on celebrity and hype. That aside, I found it in myself to give this Disney pop-princess a chance. Maybe the innocent High School Musical thing wasn't her strong point (though I'm sure hordes of juveniles would disagree) and she would surprise us all as the crazy/sexy/lovable Mimi. She sure looks the part, right? Well that's where the similarities ended. She looked great in those blue pants (they looked EXACTLY like the ones I wore in Alabama, I wonder if they were rented from the same company) but no amount of abs and legs could make up for her performance. From the first few notes she sang I was embarrassed for her. Her lack of skill was so painfully evident without the help of auto tune, she was just singing notes and playing a part, instead of being fully invested in the character. It was apparent when she was specifically directed to do something and when she was not. She had no power or confidence in stillness, because she was constantly flailing her arms about trying to look natural, or visually anticipating her next direction.

Although the role may seem easy - sexy drug addict with nothing to lose - it can be very hard to make her as likable as she needs to be. The audience need to know why Roger falls in love with her, they need to understand her conviction about life and why she has it, and they need to actually care that (spoiler) she very nearly dies. I didn't get any of that. Seeing her try to act and sing was too distracting for me to be able to love the character. I just loathed Vanessa the whole time. I've been reading a lot of responses from people in last night's audience, and many applaud her for taking on such an iconic and racy role, but the guts she may have for giving it a shot are no excuse for a lousy, grade school level performance. Perhaps it was a personal best for her but I am confident that it was an all time low for the history of RENT.

Don't worry, the worst is over! I didn't hate everyone that much. Some people actually surprised me for the better. Namely Nicole Scherzinger, known for being the lead singer for the Pussycat Dolls and a judge/host on numerous reality television shows. My biggest problem with her was that I couldn't see her (as Maureen) having dated Skylar Astin (playing Mark). Other than that, she pretty much knocked my socks off. She brought a new kind of sexiness to the character, and was just as crazy and goofy, if not more so, than you'd expect of a Maureen. Her rendition of "Over The Moon", though different than any I've seen, was one of the best I've experienced. As Entertainment Weekly put it, she displayed "not a lick of fame-induced self-consciousness" throughout the whole show.

I had high hopes for Skylar, as I'm a fan of Spring Awakening and thought he was wonderful in the original cast, but right from the get go his portrayal of Mark fell flat in my eyes. His job in the beginning of the show is to introduce us to what's going on with the level of energy we're to expect for the entire show. What we got was a bit lack luster and drawn out. It seemed as if he was playing for the more emotionally intense second act right from the beginning instead of bringing the joy and sarcasm to Mark that is expected. Though the acting wasn't on point, his voice did sound great and blended well with Roger.

On that note, and much to my surprise, Aaron Tveit played a great Roger. Having first seen him as a young congressman on Gossip Girl, I didn't believe he had the grit to portray an convincing Roger. I was very glad that I made the wrong assumption. He had a very natural melancholy about his character, which made the moments that he was actually happy that much more exciting. Aside from looks, I cannot imagine a more ill-fitted pair of him against Vanessa Hudgens. He definitely has the acting chops needed for the role and played it very well.

Evan's biggest worry was in the casting of Wayne Brady as Collins. I personally thought he would have made a much better Benny, but his Collins was fine. I would have hoped for a little more connection to his most emotional song, "I'll Cover You (Reprise)", and he made it very apparent when switching between a bass and baritone register, but the acting was there and in the end so was the voice. Telly Leung (Angel) was fine as well. Having recently found out that one of my current Chess cast mates was originally hand picked to be Angel in this production, I was a little disappointed in Telly's caliber. Both this cast mate of mine and my darling Benjamin Alicea (who played my Angel in the two productions of RENT I did) would have presented a more dynamic character. Alas, Telly was cast and and he wasn't bad.

Tracie Toms stood out as one of the people that felt most comfortable, and really commanded the stage. Her voice as well as acting and connection to the story and other characters was admirable. At least there was one person in the cast I was sure wouldn't let me down, and she was it. I had no expectations for
Collins Pennie as Benny, as I'd never heard of him before. He was, to quote the show like a super geek, "less than brilliant". His voice was fine, his acting was ok, but he just didn't exude the Benny spirit. He seemed too juvenile, and at no point did I see the connection between Benny and Mimi. That's an often overlooked but very integral plot line.

I was unsure of what they were going to do with an extra 10 ensemble members. The show is traditionally done with a cast of 15 people, maybe 16 people, but since the venue is so large I understand the desire to fill the stage more. It is, after all, supposed to be set in the busy streets of New York. The ensemble truly did support the entire show so well.
David Burtka had the great honor of being the "Will I" soloist and made every renthead proud. The rest of the song didn't go as well, with only 2 rounds of voices going at any time rather than 4 as it's written. The end result, as said by my former director, is supposed to be a wall of sound. I'd call this more of a picket fence of sound. It could have been better.

When I did the show in Rancho Cucamonga earlier this year, it was an honor to have Gwen Stewart come to see it and praise it. She revived her role as the "Seasons Of Love" soloist beautifully, and the added soloists didn't bother me much at all. That's one of the songs that, while the original cast recording is well known, it's not set in stone. The soloists have the freedom to make it their own, and it ended up pretty darn cool.

Overall, I'd give the production a C. Some people were really incredible, others were embarrassing, and still others were nearly forgettable. If you believe my opinion is biased because I've performed in the show before, I'd advise you to check out my boyfriend's review at

If you've never seen RENT before, I wouldn't recommend this as your first go around. It's not much better than the movie, but poor miss Hudgens literally ruins the whole thing. There, I said it.