Tag Archives: 25th anniversary concert

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!


Filed under Actors, Literature, Movies, Music, Television, The Internet, Theatre

Happy Birthday, Les Mis!

Today, the musical Les Misérables turns 26.  Here’s a toast from Grantaire (Hadley Fraser) at the O2 concert last October.

(Will I ever get tired of posting Les Mis screencaps?  I doubt it!)

Hadley Fraser and cast, Les Miserables, O2 Anniversary concert

"It is better than an opera!"

Note:  I just looked through my old diaries to see exactly when I saw the original Les Misérables in London.  Turns out it was October 2, 1986.  I guess that means I was celebrating two 25th anniversaries last Sunday!

Related post:  My Les Mis


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Hadley Fraser and Some Random Stuff

Rumors are spreading that West End performer (and Ugly Bug Ball favorite) Hadley Fraser will play Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, joining his good friend Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom.  There has been no official confirmation.  Fraser seems to be avoiding twitter, and Karimloo is teasing his followers without revealing anything.  Fraser has been hinting at a big announcement coming up, so perhaps this is what he meant.  Where did the rumor begin?  I don’t know, but Amazon’s UK site lists Fraser as Raoul on the pre-order page for the CD.  Maybe this is an error, hardly the first one at Amazon, but I hope it’s not.  I’m very impatient to know either way, because the tickets at my local cinema go on sale in a day or two.  If Fraser plays Raoul, I will definitely go to the live broadcast, since I would pay to see this guy read (or sing) the phone book.

Fraser is talented and funny, and I’ve enjoyed following his career this year.  It’s given me plenty to blog about.   Wordpress gives me really detailed stats on my visitors, and I have Fraser to thank for much of my traffic.   Sometimes it feels kind of voyeuristic to know exactly what folks have typed into a search engine when they click over to my blog.   It gets pretty bizarre!   Because I have “ugly” in my blog title, people will land here because they are using the search term “ugly” with another name or word.   When I blogged about the royal wedding, I had a lot of visitors who were searching for ugly hats and ugly princesses.  Nobody has searched for “Hadley Fraser ugly” (I’d punch them if they did), but it’s obvious that a lot of people want to know more about his personal life and his relationship status.  Well, that information isn’t here, since I prefer to discuss his work, but this interview will be of interest.

I like to think that blogging about performers like Fraser and Karimloo benefit their careers in some small way.  It may be boasting, but some of the news and links here are more current than on Fraser’s own website.  He’s got a great site, but I suspect he’s too busy to update it often.  Anyway, I’m happy to help spread the word about my favorites.  Do casting directors and producers take note when a performer they’re considering for a role has thousands of followers on twitter and facebook, not to mention blogs devoted to their every move?  Since I blog mostly for my own enjoyment, it doesn’t make a big difference to me personally, but I’d still love to know.

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I was at an improv show recently where the audience was asked, what’s your personal motto?  I have a few.  One is “Sit when you can, stand when you must.”  This comes from years of working on my feet.  Another one is “I get there in the end.”  This one is really just a rationalization for how much I procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing laundry.  Here is the motto I have the most difficulty following: “You’re more likely to find happiness in the center of your own life than around the edges of somebody else’s.”

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I’ve been re-watching due South, one of my favorite series, and I’m sure a longer post about the show is coming soon.  I noticed in the pilot that a stuntman driving a dog sled was a poor match for lead actor Paul Gross.  It made me think about dangerous stunts and the many times I’ve read or heard “the actors do most of their own stunts.”  I have nothing against using stuntmen.  In fact, I’m all for them.  I never want an actor or anybody else to take terrible risks just for my entertainment.  The safety of those involved is the best reason for using for digital special effects.

Speaking of digital effects, I have started to hate how artificially heightened everything looks in films lately.  Even the grass and trees look unreal in I Am Number Four.   When I watched Unstoppable on DVD, the yellow and red trains were so intensely colored, it was like a cartoon.  It was jarring in an otherwise gritty, realistic movie based on a true incident.

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The websites that I visit frequently are really getting annoying.  IMDb has so many ads and unnecessary videos to load, I can’t get quickly to the pages I need.  Zap2it has so many pop-ups, videos and ads, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach when I visit the site.  My earthlink email was freezing up every time a sidebar ad refreshed, so now I’m actually paying an extra dollar a month to NOT SEE ads in my inbox.  How insane is that?

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Filed under Actors, Complaints, Movies, Television, The Internet, Theatre

Les Mis Casting & Phantom Anniversary News

It was just announced officially that Russell Crowe will be playing Javert in the movie version of Les Misérables.  In a recent post, I discussed Hugh Jackman’s suitability for Valjean and the rumors of Paul Bettany being cast as Javert.  I had grown quite used to the idea of Bettany, but now I have to make peace with Russell Crowe in the role. 

It’s difficult to discuss Russell Crowe while sticking to my policy of avoiding celebrity gossip.   There was a time when I’d hear his name and think of his performances in movies like The Sum of Us and LA Confidential.  He was on top of the world with Gladiator.  Then reports in the press of temperamental bad behavior became better known than his film projects.  I don’t know how much his offscreen reputation has affected his box office draw, but I’m sure there are people in Hollywood who spend their time calculating this stuff. 

I can’t help wondering if the producers of the Les Misérables consulted any of these experts when they cast Crowe in their movie.  Was Crowe chosen for his acting ability, his singing ability, his box office draw?  Of course, it’s got to be a combination of these things, but it’s his singing that is the big question for most Les Mis fans.  Crowe has performed in various rock bands over the years, the best known being 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.  (Here’s a sample of his singing.)  The name of the band hardly inspires confidence in his ability to sing as Javert.  I’ve heard that Crowe is getting vocal coaching to prepare himself for the different style of singing needed for a musical.  It’s also clear from reports that he is passionate about taking on the role, after auditioning more than once to get the part.  Certainly his intensity will suit the character of Javert, a dogged police inspector whose rigid beliefs in an Old Testament-style sense of justice drive him to relentlessly pursue parolee Valjean.  

I said it before about Jackman, but I’ll say it again with even more emphasis for Crowe.  The producers of Les Mis should release a couple of songs from the musical well before the movie opens, to alleviate the fears of fans and to build buzz for the movie.  This is assuming the songs are good enough to put our fears to rest!   Speaking of the movie’s opening, a date has already been chosen: December 7, 2012.  

Also announced this week:  The Phantom of The Opera‘s 25th anniversary is being celebrated next month with a weekend of special performances at the Royal Albert Hall.   This is a fully staged musical, unlike the Les Mis anniversary concerts last year.  This week, it was announced that one of the performances will be broadcast live to 500 cinemas around North America on October 2nd.  Here’s the link to the cinemas.  The tickets are about $22, which may vary depending on location. 

Since I live on the west coast, the broadcast begins at 11am, which is awfully early for me.  There are no cinemas in San Francisco participating, so my nearest location is Daly City.  Now, SF is only seven miles by seven miles, and the Daly City cinema is about 8 miles from my home.  This translates into a 20 minute drive (except I don’t drive!) or an hour by bus and BART.  As I get swept up in the excitement of witnessing this special event, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not really a Phantom fan.  I love Ramin Karimloo, who’s performing as the Phantom, but the musical itself?  Not so much.  I also have to keep telling myself that if I don’t go, I will hate missing out.

If I end up skipping the live broadcast, I can always rent or buy the DVD.  It’s definitely going to be released on DVD, and it’s already available to pre-order on several UK sites.  Here’s some information from the official POTO website.  The info on the site is rather badly worded, so be warned.  It gives a date for the DVD release, November 14th, but it doesn’t specify if this includes North America.  I suspect the US release date is later.  I will keep updating this information as I find it.


Filed under Actors, Movies, Theatre

Farewell to Love Never Dies

Today is the last day of Love Never Dies in London.  This sequel to The Phantom of the Opera has had a bumpy ride since it opened in March 2010.   I’ve never seen the musical, and before last spring I wasn’t even aware of it, but my passion for Les Misérables brought lead actor Ramin Karimloo to my attention.  He played Enjolras in the 25th anniversary concert, and since seeing the US television broadcast of the concert, I have been following him on twitter and his facebook page. 

Because I haven’t seen Love Never Dies, I’m somewhat removed from the emotions surrounding today’s closing.   That’s not to say I’m completely unfamiliar with the musical.  I’ve watched official clips on YouTube, visited the official website, and a very generous friend sent me the cast recording.   These are not substitutes for sitting in the Adelphi Theatre and experiencing the actual musical.  I know that, and that makes me sad.   What I will miss after today, though, is following the news about Love Never Dies from Karimloo and his fans.  For the last six months, tracking this drama has been surprisingly interesting.  First Karimloo was leaving the cast after a year as The Phantom, then he stayed on.  Then he was leaving in September.  Then the news leaked to the press, before the cast was told, that the show itself would be closing today.  The emotions surrounding this closing have covered all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and for some, acceptance.

A new production of Love Never Dies opened this summer in Melbourne, and a touring production is planned, so the show goes on.  The Melbourne production is reportedly being filmed for a DVD release, and fans have been vocal about wanting a recording of the London production.  I can’t say I’m too optimistic about that happening.  I have no doubt that some type of recording has been made, but that doesn’t mean it will ever be released to the public.   I have more optimism about the upcoming Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary concert, also starring Ramin Karimloo.   I’m also feeling optimistic about Karimloo performing in other roles in the future where we can see his real face.  It’s a nice face, and I’d like to see more of it.

So, farewell, Love Never Dies.  My best to all the cast, and to the faithful fans who waited at the stage door while Karimloo got out of his Phantom makeup, who tweeted to pass the time, and who posted their stage door photos and shared their stories.  It’s been awfully good fun.


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Les Mis: The Big Opening

Last night in London, the new production of Les Misérables with Alfie Boe, Matt Lucas and Hadley Fraser opened at last.  I’ve been looking forward to this night since the beginning of March, when I first saw the Les Mis 25th Anniversary Concert on television.  By all accounts, the evening was a big success, the new cast was wonderful, and the audience was filled with fans and celebrities who were wildly enthusiastic.   All three performers have been graciously tweeting their thanks to the many fans who sent flowers and best wishes.  Ramin Karimloo, who played Enjolras in the anniversary concert, attended the opening and praised his concert mates.  (It’s a good thing he has Thursday nights off from Love Never Dies, but I suspect he’d have taken the night off anyway!)   Matt Lucas will play Thénardier until 10 September, Alfie Boe will play Valjean until 26 November, and all their performances together are now sold out.  Hadley Fraser plays Javert for a full year.  I wish them all a great summer onstage at the Queen’s Theatre, and I’m looking forward to more tweets, photos, and stage door stories from fans.

I will be adding links here to other blogs, more photos, reviews, and hopefully some videos of Opening Night.  Please help me by adding links in the comment section.

More photos of Opening Night of Les Miserables

Listen to Hadley Fraser sing Stars and Javert’s Suicide

Listen to Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser

A short piece in The Sun about Matt Lucas

A very positive review of the new cast and production

A review from one of my favorite West End bloggers

A review from a fan of Liam Tamne (Enjolras)

A little off-topic, but a fun podcast of Hadley Fraser

An interview with Hadley Fraser


Filed under Actors, Theatre

Your PBS Station May Be Lying

I don’t know why I have it in for PBS!  I’ve complained about the cancellation of EastEnders and the trimming down of Masterpiece.  Tonight, I want to warn all US Les Mis fans about the 2 CD set of Les Misérables that is being offered as a pledge incentive during the 25th Anniversary concert broadcast.  I don’t know about your local station, but KQED in Northern California is claiming that this Dream The Dream CD set is the concert soundtrack.  It’s not.   

The Dream The Dream  CD set is a live recording of the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Misérables.  Valjean is sung by John Owen-Jones, not Alfie Boe. Nick Jonas, Ramin Karimloo, Hadley Fraser, Lea Salonga, and Matt Lucas are NOT on this recording.  A few cast members are the same, like Katie Hall, but the rest of the roles are performed by different actors.  Now, this may still be an excellent CD set, but it’s not what the folks at KQED are claiming.  This could be a simple case of ignorance, except that I called the station and told them the difference.  On the very next pledge break, they continued telling viewers that it was the O2 concert recording.  And that’s just wrong.  Besides, the concert, and these CDs, have been used regularly for the last three months for pledge drives,  so I know I’m not the only person to bring this to their attention.  I urge you to call your station if they are also misinforming viewers.

Unfortunately at this time, there is no CD/mp3 download of the O2 concert.  If it becomes available, I will definitely post that information.

Update:  I received a response from KQED on this issue.   It sounds like they are attempting to fix the situation.  They are adding disclaimers to their fundraising breaks to note that the CDs are “a cast recording rather than a recording of the broadcast” (which I hope they make clear is a different cast), and they say they’re sending letters and emails to those members who requested the CDs “to apologize, to make the distinction, and to determine what additional steps are necessary for those members.”   In addition, I’ve been told they will investigate whether this had happened during national fundraising efforts.   



Filed under Complaints, Music, Television, Theatre