2016: Top 10 Theatre Shows & Top 10 Concerts

2016: Top 10 Theatre Shows & Top 10 Concerts

So here are my top theatre and concert picks of 2016. To qualify for the theatre round it has to be a brand new show that I haven’t seen before or a new production & casting of an existing show.

Top 10 Theatre Shows:

  1. Hadestown @ New York Theatre Workshop, New York
    There were a few other shows I thought about putting here (The Last 5 Years @ Redmond’s Second Story Rep, Violet @ Seattle’s ArtsWest, and School of Rock @ New York’s Wintergarden). However, Hadestown won out mostly because of the concept. There have been many ways the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been interpreted and this has been the most successful to me. I loved the folksy, New Orleans bluesy vibe of the music. The lighting and staging (in the round) were unique and the intimate atmosphere draws you into the tale.
  1. Assassins @ ACT Theatre, Seattle
    I never thought this show would ever hit my list due to my fear of guns. Well, more the sound of a gun being fired. However, if I had to see it once I wanted it to be done right. This was such a production. The casting, the sets, and the lighting were all great. The shots were loud, but between all of the gunfire there were many songs that got stuck in my head. Although it deals with a lot of heavy subject matter there were parts where a touch of humor was added to help digest everything in.
  1. The Little Mermaid @ The 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle
    I couldn’t deny a spot to this show! The Little Mermaid’s story and songs (from the Disney adaptation) has been a fixture in my childhood. The stage version is not a direct translation from the movie, which added a bit more interest and excitement. It gave a larger understanding to the characters with new songs (that weaved in a bit better than other Disney musicals that had to add in more music to develop the plot). It was overall a fun show with some great staging effects (flying & swimming) and costumes.
  1. The King & I @ Lincoln Center, New York
    I don’t really have too many classic musicals on my list, but I was really impressed by this production of The King & I. It was really bigger than life. I was so shocked to see this huge ship coming out at us in the beginning. The set was beautiful and the cast was amazing. I’m not just saying that because Jin from Lost was in there along with favorites from one of my other favorite shows, Here Lies Love. The show captured my attention from beginning to end.
  1. Waitress @ Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York
    This show was based on one of the few movies that I’ve actually seen in a movie theatre. I had always thought it would make a cute musical. Thanks to Sara Bareilles that thought became a reality. This was Sara’s first venture into making a musical and I think she did really well with catchy songs that resemble those that you would find on her own cds. This was one of the few productions that invited audiences into the theatre with the sweet smell of pies. The presence of female power was also refreshing in these changing times and for the many young girls who come to the theatre. This was one of the few shows that had a mishap during our visit, but it was handled with grace and in character! The biggest issue I had with this show was the fact that I had listened to Sara’s concept album a lot before seeing Waitress so it was weird hearing and seeing the songs that were appropriated to the characters.
  1. Beautiful @ Paramount Theatre, Seattle
    I thought this should would be solely focused on Carole King and the work she and her partner Gerry Goffin created, but it also featured the songwriting duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann quite prominently as their competition. Overall, King’s music highlighted her life events beautifully as we witness her growth from an optimistic young songwriter to a woman who became comfortable in her own skin and being.
  1. She Loves Me @ Studio 54, New York
    I really adored this show. It was so cute and charming. The cast was fantastic in bringing out their characters. Working in retail I found that the main setting, a retail shop specializing in perfume, there would certainly be things brought up that I could relate to. One of the most hilarious parts of the show was the coming of Christmas and in the midst of the chaos one of the customers runs out with their display Christmas tree. The set was amazing! The level of detail that went into it there is no wonder that the show won a Tony for the best scenic design.
  1. Evita @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver BC
    Evita was one of my first musical obsessions (as were most of those in the Andrew Lloyd Webber catalog). When my brother told me that Ramin Karimloo would be Che that sealed the deal. We ended up seeing the show twice making the trip up to Canada, because…why not? I was a little disappointed by the sound quality the first night that we went to see it, but it improved for the second performance. This has been by far the best version of Evita that I have seen. The Broadway revival production had it’s moments and it had some style, but Ramin’s portrayal of Che was better than Ricky Martin’s (he seemed to tap into the darker side of Che and had a stronger belt). The rest of the cast was also greatly talented as it featured two other Phantoms. Oh my!
  1. Pump Boys and Dinettes @ Village Theatre, Issaquah & Everett
    I really had no idea what this show was going to be about and actually thought about skipping out on it. I’m glad that I didn’t though as it turned out to be the show that I frequented the most this year (6 times). Although there is not really much of a plot, the music brought to life by this 6 member cast was astounding and I was blown away by their talent. (Sara Porkalob’s sassiness was totally unexpected! There was also of my theatre crush, Levi Kreis, who was amazing on the keys). You could really tell that they fed off of each other and were really a cohesive collaborative force that complemented each other as they all sang and played a variety of instruments. The last show I went to see featured an understudy for one of the roles and the balance felt a bit off. However, it was still a very strong showing. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously and it was a joy to take in over and over again as a way to escape from the stresses of life. It was fun to see the little things they would change up or try out every night. I get parts of songs stuck in my head, but it’s hard to get it out by listening to the original cast recording because it is SO different. “Be good, or be gone!”
  1. Hamilton @ Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York
    Well, duh. It would be Hamilton at the number one spot wouldn’t it? I admit when I initially saw the show I had really only listed to the cast album no more than 3 times. After seeing the show…I was non-stop. Every song was memorable, even though I might not catch all the lyrics. I’m still learning and finding out new things about this show all the time. The thought that went behind this show is incredible and so unique. I am really thankful that I had the opportunity to see Hamilton with the original cast (with the exception of Anthony Ramos and Jasmine Cephas Jones), as the characters had essentially become a part of their being throughout the development of the musical. I love quoting, acting out scenes, and even the mere mention of Hamilton. Going in I was very skeptical about all the hype over this show (I mean Wicked turned out to be quite a disappointment for me), but now I can’t get enough Hamilton. The mixtape? The television specials? Yes! I need more Hamilton in my life! #Ham4Ham

Top 10 Concerts:

Ratings usually factor in the setlist, venue, audience, and overall experience. It was really hard to rank this year and I kept flip flopping my decisions. Well, here it is for now.

  1. Chris Mann @ Northshore Perf Arts Ctr, Bothell
    I’ve seen Chris’ christmas shows last year and they were a lot of fun. Since then, he released his second full length album Constellations. His beautiful sweeping voice to me had more heart and emotion than the next guy on this list. Plus he makes an amazing Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera. I just wish he could have sung all night.
  1. Eric Hutchinson @ Neptune Theatre, Seattle
    Compared to Eric’s other shows that I’ve been to this one’s setlist was the weakest for me. This could be because I only had a day to get familiar with songs from his latest cd. However, Hutchinson and his band always put 110% out there in their performances. I do miss the days of improvisation from his early days. I was also impressed by the opening act Magic Giant. They were this magnetic force and melting pot of sounds that I was totally unprepared for and they gained me as a fan.
  1. Train @ Washington State Fair, Puyallup
    Train’s musical style has changed quite a bit from their humble beginnings so I was a bit wary when a majority of the band left, as I do prefer their older material. However, with Pat Monahan and Jimmy Stafford they managed to assemble a talented group of musicians to take their place. Yes, they played those newer songs but they also reached into their archives and played many old favorites. They also did several cover songs, which showcase how good their classic rock sound could be. My favorite part of the night was during “Drops of Jupiter” when a shooting star actually graced the sky.
  1. Pete Yorn @ The Showbox, Seattle
    Pete has been one of my longtime favorite musicians. No matter if he goes solo acoustic or with a full band it always ends up being a special night. I have seen Pete plenty of times so generally there aren’t too many surprises to be expected. He also has the best fans making the show going experience such a joy.
  1. Sting & Peter Gabriel @ Key Arena, Seattle
    Two legends for the price of one. This was nice in some respects, but I did with they would each tour here on their own. I own thousands of cds now, but in that original group of 25 was Sting’s “Brand New Day,” which I wore down pretty well. Being brought up on MTV one of the first videos I latched onto was Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” It was a gratifying experience to finally see both of them in concert with the bonus of Eddie Vedder.
  1. Josh Groban @ Chateau Ste Michelle, Woodinville
    There was a time where I despised Josh Groban (being forced to listen to the same cd on a loop for about a month and a half at work). However, I decided to give him a second chance when I realized how versatile he could be (in not just performing his classical popera). His voice is powerful and beautiful and although I was way back in the venue he came through crystal clear. Another bonus of this show was that it comprised of a lot of show tunes to coincide with his latest cd, Stages, and for his future Broadway debut in The Great Comet. He made jokes with the crowd, but that wasn’t enough for some as the man next to me fell asleep and started snoring which ruined things a bit.
  1. Paul McCartney @ Key Arena, Seattle
    Paul’s performance at the Key Arena was a step up from his show at Safeco Field. First of all I could actually see the guy with my own eyes and the sound quality was much better (well, at least in the lower half of Key Arena). He played songs spanning his career, which I had no complaints about. However, during “Live and Let Die” I almost needed new pants as the pyrotechnics scared me so much.
  1. Bruce Springsteen @ Key Arena, Seattle
    This tour was to celebrate The River album so of course he played the whole thing (I particularly enjoyed “Hungry Heart” and “Point Blank.”) I have always wanted to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but had never been able to until now. The Springsteen community was going strong that night. The couple I was sitting next to turned out not to be a couple at all but two strangers who chatted away like old pals with the connection of the Boss’ music. The show went for a long time covering many other aspects of his career. Another highlight was hearing “The Rising.” Having Eddie Vedder come out for “Bobby Jean” was such a surprise, but nothing compares to capping off the whole Bruce Springsteen 2016 experience like meeting him several months later.
  1. The Midtown Men @ Benaroya Hall, Seattle
    I love Jersey Boys and quite frankly a lot of the music from the 50’s and 60’s. When I was told about this show I knew I already loved it from the concept alone. Four guys who are each a fantastic talent coming together to sing some classic songs. It doesn’t get better than that.
  1. Levi Kreis @ Village Theatre, Issaquah & Everett
    Levi makes it to the top of the list again this year. Sometimes when you see the same artist year after year you can expect more of the same. However, this time rather than expressing his journey through his own music he went on to share his journey with showtunes instead exploring his journey of how he became a performer and gave us a sampling of the various shows he had been in. This really connected with the local crowd as he had many local ties to the Seattle area. He was charming, funny, and delivered many heartfelt moments. My favorite moment was when he covered, “One Song Glory.” The night wasn’t all musicals though as he performed some of his solo songs to close out the shows. I can’t wait to hear his musicals album that is coming out soon. The way he rearranges some of those songs really make them his own. Really go out and see him if you get the chance.
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A Night With Janis Joplin

Event: A Night With Janis Joplin
Date: April 5, 2016
Run: March 25-April 17, 2016
Location: Seattle, WA @ 5th Avenue Theatre

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A Night with Janis Joplin was not in the original season lineup for 5th Avenue Theatre. It was a replacement show for Sleeping Beauty Wakes. Both shows have not been seen in Seattle before. For me it wasn’t that big an issue to see Janis instead. I have actually enjoyed a lot of these so called “jukebox musicals.” As a fan of popular music I love it when that collides into my love of theatre. Of course some shows are more successful than others.

I’ll admit it. Being born in the eighties I did not have great exposure to Janis Joplin’s music. Therefore going into this I was only aware of her singles and her untimely death. Luckily, being in the area early I was finally able to attend one of Albert Evans’ pre-show talks that the 5th Avenue theatre provides to audiences free of charge. More information about the days and times these events occur can be found on the 5th Avenue’s official site. Mr. Evans is an artistic associate to the 5th Avenue who often appears at their spotlight nights as well. Whenever he is around you can expect to learn something about music. In this particular session he covered song building, influences (to Janis and her impact on others), and a brief history of her life.

The show was staged as a one-night concert being held in Seattle. I wonder a bit how this works out for some areas of the show as she mentions doing gigs in specific places. The set was decked out with rugs, lamps, and a comfy armchair. Scaffolding held colorful and strobing lights (which caused some minor discomfort to me, but they really built on the atmosphere). The band was onstage for the production. Above and behind them was a catwalk that had video screens behind it. Not really suited for the time period of the concert, but it did provide some visuals to an otherwise static set.

Janis_set


Kacee Clanton
stars as Janis Joplin. She was a member of the original Broadway cast as the alternate Janis (the alternate in this cast is Kristin Piacentile). If you see the amount of singing she has to do you understand why this is needed. It is vocally demanding. Thankfully we were seeing the show Tuesday night so Clanton had time to rest her voice the day before. I was greatly impressed by her vocal performance. It had the same rasp as Janis that gives a strong, raw, and emotional quality to the songs. She really embodied the late singer well. There was one point in the show where she held the microphone away from her face, but you could still hear her in the balcony. She commanded the stage and was charismatic with the audience.

Throughout the show Janis talks about her life and her influences. This is like any stage banter that you may have at any concert. However, in these situations you normally would have to wait to Google or stream the artist in question when you got home. Here they pop out right in front of you to give a live sampling of their repertoire – so this show is not solely showcasing Janis’ music.

The artists featured in the show are The Chantels, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Odetta, and Etta James. The talented cast that bring these women to life are equally amazing vocally and take on more than one character in addition to being one of Joplin’s backup singers.

  • Yvette Cason brought the house down with her Aretha duet with Janis and soothed the soul with her Nina Simone. I was particularly tickled when her coat went up into the fly system.
  • Sylvia MacCalla was Odetta and Bessie Smith. I did find the transition from talking about Bessie’s death awkward. I felt like there should be some gesture or bigger acknowledgement of this blues singer’s tragic death. Perhaps a bigger pause before jumping into the closing number for the first act would be enough?
  • Aurianna Tuttle portrayed Etta James and a Chantel. I kind of wished that you could see the Chantels during their performance rather than looking at shadows via projections.
  • Nova Payton (also dance captain for the show) played an unknown blues singer. However, the way she was signing she really entranced the crowd. Her version of “Summertime” was much better than the one I heard in Porgy & Bess when it came on tour here.

Although all of the voices were lovely, I felt it was a bit too messy to have it all going on at once during Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

There is not really to much to say about the story since it was about Janis’ life and it seemed a little disjointed. For being a “rock concert” I felt that there was a lot of downtime for stories and focusing on the melancholy of the blues. It was a bit difficult for me to get into the show for the first half because I kept looking at the show from a theatre perspective. However, during the second act I approached it more as one of the many concerts that I go to, which aided in my enjoyment. I also felt the audience was more receptive during the second act. I actually think this show might have more success as a shorter one-act performance. I did like how they added in an encore to make things more authentic…like the smell of patchouli when you walked to your seats. Well, at least I think the theatre put that scent in there to add to the atmosphere. It could have been a patron…

The 5th Avenue Theatre was planning to upgrade to a new sound system. Yet a show has never sounded better to me in this theatre than with this performance. Ben Selke was the sound designer making his debut at the 5th Avenue with Janis and I think he did a great job. Everything sounded really clear, which can be a careful balance when trying to work with a “louder” show as the vocals can often get lost.

Personally, as a bio-musical this was not one that I would find myself becoming addicted to nor did not affect me emotionally. However, the stand out performances by all the actors pouring their hearts and souls into the songs was just amazing and worth it alone to see. The show ends on a high, positive note that will delight the audiences.

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Visit the official site at anightwithjanisjoplin.com
For tickets visit the Official 5th Avenue Theatre website at 5thAvenue.org

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The Midtown Men

Event: The Midtown Men
Date: April 1, 2016
Run: April 1-3, 2016
Location: Seattle, WA @ Benaroya Hall

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I have been really into the music from the 1960’s for the past couple of years. This was mostly due to my seeing Jersey Boys and just falling in love with that sound. So uncomplicated without all of the extra sound production that you hear being added to a lot of songs today. When my brother told me that members of the original Jersey Boys cast formed a group called the Midtown Men I already knew I loved them. When he told me they were coming to town I kept demanding, “WE MUST GET TICKETS!!!” I really wanted to go to all of their shows here in Seattle, but it would have been difficult to get that time off from work. My brother came through though and managed to get us tickets front row and center.

The Midtown Men (with some of their credits) are:

  • Christian Hoff – A Tony Winner for originating the role of Tommy DeVito in the Broadway show Jersey Boys. He was also the voice of Richie Rich.
  • Michael Longoria – Originated the role of Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) inJersey Boys and went on to become Frankie Valli. He made his Broadway debut in Hairspray. He will have a cd released in May called “Broadway Brick By Brick.”
  • Daniel Reichard – Originated the role of Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys. He also starred in Candide and the filmed version of the show Forever Plaid.
  • J. Robert Spencer – Originated the role of Nick Massi in Jersey Boys. He also received a Tony nomination for his role as Dan Goodman in one of my favorite shows, Next To Normal. If you’re an avid watcher of HGTV you might also remember him from an episode of House Hunters. He was also a roaming cat.

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There was no opening act, but the guys brought with them a full band.

Setlist:

BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY / SHERRY (The Four Seasons Cover)
CAN’T BUY ME LOVE (The Beatles Cover)
HAPPY TOGETHER (The Turtles Cover)
AIN’T THAT PECULIAR (Marvin Gaye Cover)
WOULDN’T IT BE NICE (The Beach Boys Cover)
DAY DREAM (The Lovin’ Spoonful Cover)
GET TOGETHER (The Youngbloods Cover)
GALVESTON (Glen Campbell Cover)
BE MY BABY (The Ronettes Cover)
BUILD ME UP BUTTERCUP (The Foundations Cover)
GOT TO GET TO YOU
CRY FOR ME (The Four Seasons Cover)
AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH (Marvin Gaye Cover)

[Intermission where vintage commercials were shown]

60’s TV THEMES (Band only)
GET READY (The Temptations Cover)
GOOD LOVIN’ (The Rascals Cover)
TIME OF THE SEASON (The Zombies Cover)
VEHICLE (The Ides Of March Cover)
GROOVIN’ (The Young Rascals Cover)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH (Buffalo Springfield Song)
IN MY LIFE (The Beatles Cover)
MY EYES ADORED YOU (The Four Seasons Cover)
UNCHAINED MELODY (The Righteous Brothers Cover)
MOTOWN (Medley):
– AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG (The Temptations Cover)
– I WANT YOU BACK (Jackson 5 Cover)
– MY GIRL (The Temptations Cover)
– JUST MY IMAGINATION (The Temptations Cover)
– YOU’RE ALL I NEED TO GET BY (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell Cover)
DECEMBER 1963 (OH, WHAT A NIGHT) (The Four Seasons Cover)
BYE BYE BABY (The Four Seasons Cover)

During the show the guys introduced each other and gave a brief biography of how they ended up where they are today. This was done with charming humor, and I found myself laughing so hard at one joke delivered by Hoff about Longoria that my cell phone just clunked out of my pocket. They were quite sociable with the crowd and offered many opportunities to participate.

Being veterans of the stage they all know how to build a presence for themselves and had choreography for their songs (as well as screen projections). Along with performing together as a group each member had a chance to shine in their own songs. The songs they chose really seemed to reflect their own individual personalities. Their chemistry as a group was evident. Many of the songs featured new arrangements, but nothing too out there that would make anyone long for the original versions.

It is really hard to pinpoint a favorite moment in the show since I loved every single minute of it. I appreciate that they are keeping these songs alive and hopefully introducing them to a new generation. Actually we were by a guy in the lobby who admitted that he didn’t know who The Four Seasons were even though he was part of that era. This was good old-fashioned entertainment that you just don’t really find easily. If you do sometimes it seems campy, but the guys keep things fresh. I guess my favorites were any time they did a song from Jersey Boys, the Motown medley, and “Galveston” (which was a surprise since it wasn’t on any of their recorded items and I do enjoy this Glen Campbell tune). At the end I was more than happy to bust a move in my row. Strangely some people left (I think some of the symphony audiences came to the show thinking it was something different), but it gave me more room to dance!

I wasn’t really sure what to think when my brother said they met with fans after the show (since it was April Fools Day), but he was telling the truth as the woman working their merch booth confirmed it. I walked away with both of their cds and a blu-ray of their PBS special. Finding physical copies of their stuff has been difficult (and/or pricey) so I was happy to pick everything up. Well, almost everything. I found out that they had a holiday release so I’ll have to hunt that down. Anyways, they signed items and took photos with fans out in the lobby, which capped off my night. If you are a fan of sixties music I highly recommend checking these guys out.

midtownposter

For tour dates and additional information visit their website at
themidtownmen.com

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ArtsWest AfterHours w/ Matt Owen (host: Mathew Wright)

Event: ArtsWest AfterHours w/Matt Owen (host Mathew Wright)
Date: March 7, 2016
Location: Seattle, WA @ ArtsWest

AfterHours_MattOwen
AfterHours is a series put on by ArtsWest with the intent to showcase local talents of theatre actors. I had always hoped that there would be an outlet for them to just sing showtunes (much like Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York). Sadly, I was unaware this was going on until the current series “Four Gents & A Lady” was announced.

The host of the series is Mathew Wright (the artistic director of ArtsWest) who interviews his guests and serves as their pianist.

Tonight’s guest was Matt Owen. He’s had recently come back from his travels in Bangkok so he did not have much time to rehearse. Matt did grow up in Kirkland, WA though and got into theatre with exposure from his mother and got the acting bug when accompanying his sister to acting class. A sampling of his theatre credits include Anything Goes (his first professional acting gig at the 5th Avenue Theatre), Oklahoma, A Room With A View (which became the source of many jokes between Mathew and Matt due to his having to be nude in the role), Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, and of course Elf where he starred as Buddy.

Matt’s approximated setlist:

  • I REALLY REALLY LOVE YOU (STALKER) – by Paul Loesel & Scott Burkell
  • NEVER NEVER LAND – from Peter Pan
  • RAINBOW CONNECTION – from the Muppet Movie. Matt sung this partially as Kermit the Frog. He also shared that he was a big fan of the Muppets and even named his cars after them.
  • MY BEST GIRL – from Mame. Matt shared a fun factoid that the actor, Nick Robinson, who played the younger version of him in this show went on to star in Jurassic World.
  • IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT – from Hello, Dolly!. I found this fitting to his character mold as he seems to usually play the “lovable idiot” types. Wright mentioned that Michael Crawford was also such a performer before Phantom of the Opera came along. He was even in the film version of Hello, Dolly!.
  • MARY’S A GRAND OLD NAME – from Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • TRAVELIN’ MAN – a Ricky Nelson cover. I have to add that Matt shared the craziest story from his travels, which were a little TMI (Too Much Information) to be mentioned on this blog. It just involved NYC, Time Square, pizza, long flight to London, and new socks.
  • I’LL BE SEEING YOU – a Billie Holiday cover
  • MADELINE – from Jacques Brel
  • BACHELOR’S DANCE – from Jacques Brel
  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS / MOON RIVER – a Bing Crosby / Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer cover
  • RUNAROUND SUE – Dion cover

During the show we also learned that Matt performed the role of Buddy the Elf with a gummy bear under his tongue. Apparently he really loves them (as do I). However, when he had to diet for his role in A Room With A View he could only open the bag and smell them “like a crack addict.”

Mathew borrowed James Lipton’s Inside The Actors Studio Questionnaire. Most of the responses somehow ended up revolving around “poop.”

It’s been awhile since Matt has been on the stage in Seattle, but he does have a project going on called Anywhere But Fargo. It’s a socially driven travel show. Viewers can vote for where Matt and his friends go, what they do, and propose challenges. It’s all fun and hilarious. If you want to see those go visit the Anywhere But Fargo YouTube channel. Matt also has Matt’s Travel Tips to help other wanderlusters get around a variety of cities. To start interacting visit: www.facebook.com/anywherebutfargo/

The evening was hilarious and had many sincere moments as well. This was a nice way to showcase Matt’s singing chops as well as to learn more about him as a performer. One takeaway for budding performers: Acting is the most important, and without it the other skills (singing and dancing) don’t matter as much if you can’t convincingly do it.

There you go kids!

(my Matt Owen dream casting is to have him as anyone in Book of Mormon)

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