Personals

How to Be Saved

Howdy! Sorry this post is so delayed…it may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. I’ve been stressed out for a while and finding it difficult to buckle down on what I want/need to do.

There’s a certain line in Hugh Wheeler’s book for A Little Night Music

“I should never have gone to flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved.”

These words are spoken by Fredrik Egerman right before his soulmate, Desiree Armfeldt, sings “Send in the Clowns.” Fredrik and Desiree regret that their paths didn’t cross at the right times; they are now both changed people, and frustrated that their present circumstances will likely keep them apart.

Of course, for those two, the musical comedy world mandates that they overcome this obstacle and get together in the end. In the real world, it’s more complicated.

I often think about myself, and how I’ve always felt a need to “save” people. But I also think about how I occasionally think that I, too, need to be “saved.” What does it all mean? Why do I feel this compulsion to make people happy, to lighten their burdens? It doesn’t fall on me to do it for them, especially if they don’t want to be “rescued” from whatever they’re going through.

But Lord, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be the one who makes it better from them. As for me- to name an example- I look at this one relationship of mine. How one of the things I really like about it is that it enables me to “escape.” But at the same time, I don’t think I am doing all I can to save myself…for reasons both internal and external. And tethering the “escape” to an interpersonal relationship creates unnecessary pressure for the other party, and dependence within myself.

I suppose the point of this whole thing is the following: do I keep trying to rescue others, or know when to stop? And at the end of the day, can I gain a new life for myself?

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Music

Let’s Break It Down: Christmas’s Weirdest Musical Pairing

There are some things that just don’t go together. Two like magnetic poles…Felix Unger and Oscar Madison…or (as some argue) pineapple on pizza. By all accounts, these “odd couples” are so called because they inherently clash. They stand in opposition to one another, whether ideologically or physically. Forcibly bringing them together often leads to disaster.

By all accounts, that’s what should happen during a collaboration between a flamboyant British rockstar and a wholesome American crooner. But by God, David Bowie and Bing Crosby defied those odds. Was it a Christmas miracle?

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“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was recorded in 1977, just five weeks before the death of Bing Crosby. It was to be aired on a Crosby Christmas special, prefaced by dialogue between the two about their holiday traditions. Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” lyrics, sung in counterpoint to Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy,” were written specifically for this collaboration. And, in true virtuoso fashion, the recording was sealed after less than an hour of rehearsing.

Of course, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle without getting zapped a few times. For one, Bing Crosby wasn’t actually fond of the “Little Drummer Boy” song. Producers were also worried that he wouldn’t know who David Bowie was; that concern was later found to be a non-issue.

In the years following this encounter, the record became one of Bowie’s highest-charting singles. Which brings us to the following question: is it really fair to assume the worst about a musical pairing before it actually comes together?

I think the moral of the story is that great art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. There really was no good reason to have Bing Crosby sing with David Bowie, but some innovator out there thought it was worth a shot- and we wound up getting a new holiday classic.

This season, I hope all of us find the courage to break boundaries and make important connections with other people…no matter who they are.

Film and Television

Spotlight: A Talk with Michael Anderson of Purple Cloud Entertainment

Here on the blog, we’ve made it our mission to bring the very best in theatre/film/art to the forefront. That, my dear friends, is why this post exists!

Michael Robert Anderson and I first met during a production of The Heiress on Staten Island. He was Morris Townsend and I was the maid, Mariah. He’s a real Renaissance man: actor, writer, director, filmmaker, singer. And he is also the head honcho of his own company, Purple Cloud Productions.

Their latest project is a short film- Major Key– which is set to premiere at Staten Island’s Atrium Cinema on December 5th. Mike was kind enough to sit down with me over the weekend to talk about his movie and give a little behind-the-scenes info!

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Amanda: So Mike, I know you’ve been into filmmaking for quite some time now, but is Major Key your first feature? If not, what was?

Mike: Major Key is in fact a short film- clocking in at 25 minutes. However, it is NOT my first. My first film was titled The Colors of Perception– which was a 45 minute short about a young man who dealt with disabilities/perceptions of life/love/family/etc.

Amanda: As we know, the “war love story” genre has been done a lot over the years. What makes Major Key different and what inspired you to tell this story?

Mike: I’d like to think this genre hasn’t really been as tackled as many people believe. But regardless, I think Major Key differs from the rest because of the main focus being based around music. Major Key is a story that’s surrounded by love, tension, action, and humility. At its heart, the short is an uplifting story about the power of connection through music during tumultuous times. The film centers on an American band of brothers in the height of WWII who are hosted by a German family. Our lead soldier, John Key connects with the German host’s daughter Ilse Brauhn over their mutual love of jazz music. The rest, as they say, is history.

Amanda: What was it like to both write the screenplay and star in the finished product? Was it a difficult task?

Mike: It was my worst nightmare on top of my biggest dream! I had a blast and wouldn’t trade it for the world… but then again, I could’ve used a lot more coffee and downtime to prepare myself on the acting aspect of things. As you can imagine it’s tough to wear all of the hats at once- especially when you have to switch them instantaneously. But again, I’ll treasure that feeling forever.

Amanda: I’m assuming the film was not shot in a studio lot. Where did you go on-location, and did that factor into the actors you wound up casting?

Mike: The location was actually found by our incredible production manager, Jessica Davies, who recommended the odd idea of AirBNB. But lo and behold, she found us a beautiful early 19th century home in the middle of the woods in Millville, New Jersey- where we shot for a full week with no interruptions, beautiful weather and an incredible cast and crew! In regards to the casting side of it, I cast the best of what I saw. I cast the people who I KNEW could bring it all to the table. Location wasn’t a factor in who I got. In fact, the home was the LAST thing we found in the pre-production days, even after casting it.

Amanda: One more thing! What’s next for Purple Cloud Productions? Are you taking this project further, starting something new, or both?

Mike: Purple Cloud Entertainment is always making work. We just love to create. It’s a passion that drives us fay in and day out. Without this craft, without art, I would be no one! So to answer your question- there’s ALWAYS something going on. We’ve got our webseries out now, “Pipsqueak & Stretch”, which can be found on YouTube. And another project that we shot for a dear friend is in post-production, AND I may or may not have something very special in the works moving into 2018! But you’ll have to keep up with us to see!

Hungry for more? Check out Major Key‘s official webpage.
Theatre

Follow the Money

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What is going on with this most recent Broadway season?

Last year, we got OsloIndecentDear Evan Hansen, and even Come from Away. This time around, it seems we’re getting sub-par play revivals, Margaritaville, and the equivalent of REALITY SHOW: The Musical. More on that later.

Don’t get me wrong…there are a lot of potentially great things on the horizon, namely the revivals arriving in the spring. (Angels in AmericaThe Boys in the BandMy Fair LadyCarousel!)

But it also seems like a truckload of variety acts are landing on stages that were once reserved for theatrical ideas/innovation. As we already know, showbiz is…well…a business, and producers put their money into projects they believe will be successful. Which begs the question- what criteria are they using?

With the deluge of live shows that open during the Christmas season- including the Radio City Christmas SpectacularElf at MSG, and A Christmas Carol on MacDougal Street- who made the decision that a revue starring reality show winners should be playing a coveted Broadway house? (It’s the August Wilson Theatre, to be exact, and they had to take down its Mean Girls marquee.)

I hate to say this, but I almost feel like productions that pander to the non-theatergoing crowd need to struggle at the box office. Perhaps then producers will recognize that they can’t just throw money at anything and have a Broadway smash. Perhaps then they’ll be more inclined to take a chance on fresh, quality material.

I don’t wish bad on Home for the Holidays. I am sure some folks will enjoy it. But to artists who pour their heart into original work and struggle to have it seen, it can feel like a slap in the face. I implore you, producers of the world: try to avoid giving prestigious Broadway credits to Bachelorette contestants and invest more in those who want to use art to change the world.

Theatre

For Your Consideration: I Don’t Know What to Make of Falsettos

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As most arts-minded people know, the seminal Lapine/Finn musical Falsettos had its lauded Broadway revival broadcast on PBS last week. It was part of the station’s Live from Lincoln Center programming…although the production didn’t actually play at the Vivian Beaumont. It was indeed produced by Lincoln Center Theater, but found its home at the Walter Kerr…pre-Amelie.

I DVR’d the broadcast and watched it yesterday during a rainstorm…and, well, I just had a lot of thoughts about it. So many random thoughts, in fact, that I feel it best to present them to you in a bullet-point form. Here goes!

  • Okay, so first off: I actually had no clue that the show was sung-through. And here I call myself a theatre aficionado!
  • Falsettos is usually classified as a “gay story,” or even a “family drama,” but I believe there is another component: the characters’ Jewish identity. This show would read very differently if that element were absent.
  • I enjoyed the 2nd act more than the 1st. Compared to the complications and themes of Act 2, Act 1 felt a bit like extended exposition. The 1st act is also more “theatrical” in its use of fantasy sequence and nonlinear events to tell the story.
  • Speaking of which, it’s too bad that Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe don’t show up until Act 2. I wanted to know more about them.
  • I didn’t know too much about Stephanie J. Block, other than that she was one of Wicked‘s Elphabas, but this show made me a fan. She looked beautiful and has a really versatile voice. Her big solo, “I’m Breaking Down,” was clearly an audience favorite.
  • Anthony Rosenthal, portraying her preteen son, is a star in the making. He was so easy to love, and considering the demands of this show, I’d already call him a consummate actor.
  • “March of the Falsettos” was probably one of the creepiest production numbers I’ve seen in a while. I know it’s not really intended to come off that way.
  • Brandon Uranowitz, as psychologist Mendel, completely stole the show. He was hilarious in his gestures and vocal inflections…and as a bonus, his chemistry with the kid was great. As a result, “Jason’s Therapy” and “Everyone Hates His Parents” were particularly entertaining moments.
  • On the flip side, Marvin’s final song- “What Would I Do?”- was absolutely gut-wrenching, mainly due to Christian Borle’s facial expressiveness. That’s one of the great things about filmed theatre, you know? Closeups enable you to see things you might miss from a high-up venue seat.
  • Weird opinion: I wasn’t in love with Whizzer’s character, though Andrew Rannells was an ideal choice for the part. However, his fate in the show still moved me to tears because of his loved ones’ reactions/how much he meant to them.

Falsettos takes place over two years…1979-1981. I think it is important to note this, as the piece manages to provide a “slice of the past” while still demonstrating how much and how little its issues have changed. That, in my opinion, is crucial for touching people with this art form.

However, the unusual structure and breakneck pace of the musical make me worry that some folks will miss the significance of those issues. And that, dear readers, is why I don’t know how to rate Falsettos.

Do you?

Writing

Daily Prompt: Trademark

Exciting news from your humble author!

My first collection of essays and lyrics, Tragedy Tomorrow, has been published and is now available for purchase! You may recognize some of the writing as posts made right here on Puccini’s Chronicles.

The book is currently being sold through McNally Jackson independent booksellers- based in SoHo- but I am looking for other outlets as well.

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Of course, the essays are themed to the arts and living with autism in the Big Apple (that is my trademark). The lyrics come from my original musical shows and some standalone songs. Tragedy Tomorrow only costs $10 and can be ordered very soon.

Film and Television

Spotlight: “Murder Porn,” Parte Trois

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed, I get along with the voices inside of my head.”

Water we doing here?!

In all seriousness, though, I never thought I’d be writing another “murder porn” piece so soon, but last night’s episode of American Horror Story necessitated it.

But first, a disclaimer: I am a feminist. I believe in equality for men and women. I believe it’s closer than ever before and is still somewhat far off.

What I saw on television last night, I believe, is detrimental to the feminist cause. In a nutshell- from plot convolutions unknown to me, we got Lena Dunham playing Valerie, a deranged man-hater (and real historical figure) looking to suppress the male gender through revolutionary acts of gratuitous violence (shocker).

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It’s clear that this season of American Horror Story is hyperbolically “ripped from the headlines,” addressing topics such as groupthink, racism, and the 2016 Presidential election. Because women’s rights had become a component of this situation, they were bound to make an appearance as well.

I spoke to my boyfriend recently about how to system needs to be “fixed, not overthrown.” As I see it, a coup d’état mandates violence, which is never the answer. And in an age where people seem to be on the brink of “snapping,” so to speak, equating violence with female empowerment- as Dunham’s character is doing- is hugely misguided.

And, frankly, she seemed to be enjoying every minute of acting out this most twisted feminist fantasy: calling men “scum,” reigning over them, physically harming them if they do not submit.

Did I imply that Lena Dunham is a “bad feminist?” I didn’t say that, did I?

Look, I get that a lot of Americans are angry by the current state of our country. I’m upset too. But men aren’t the enemies of feminism, and to present such an idea is dangerous to the true meaning of the cause. And, to present the idea on an extremely popular TV show makes it widely available as fodder for those who don’t outwardly support equality. “Y’all crazy feminists think women should be superior to men; I done saw it on the tube!”

Not good, Ryan Murphy. Not good.

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Writing

“Elton John”

by Amanda DeLalla

I told you once as we lied in bed
A memory that doesn’t leave my head
The fish was seared; there were lights on the tree
And for one night a year
I felt like I had a family
Sharing a laugh with my cousin Helene
Wine flowing free on a snowy scene
The music plays and the candles burn
Then in a week, the loneliness returns
The trouble with me is that I feel too much
Or do not feel enough
Or simply out of touch
Whatever I felt then, don’t worry, it’s gone
I’ve only got Christmastime
And Elton John
Fast forward to the summer and suddenly
You steal my heart, you’re loving me
And your song plays on a crocodile rock
I expected forever
I was in for a shock
To my soul you held the key
And now you wanna be a memory
Never mind, you’re already gone
Leaving me with Christmases
And Elton John
Why can’t things ever stay so simple?
People die, they despair, they have grown
Life won’t promise to be that simple
So I’ll wait and I’ll dream alone
Friday night, he holds me close

Candy canes and a silver bell and it snows
I can smile at him despite what we shared
The time is now; I’ve left it all there
Something’s in the air, could I ever move on?
Taking my Christmases
And Elton John

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Theatre

And the Band plays on

I had lots of adventures this week. Between that viewing of The Star and a job interview and touring the National Arts Club, I was a busy bee. But perhaps the most exciting thing I did was attending the 1st preview of a Broadway show…a little Atlantic Theater transfer known as The Band’s Visit.

There are very few musicals like The Band’s Visit out there today. Ones that don’t project, don’t spiral, don’t flash…but just ARE.

The show doesn’t even follow a consistent plot arc, really. Each character’s thread- from musical conductor Tewfiq (Tony Shalhoub) to the wistful Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor)- is like a vignette comprising the whole. As the opening lines remind us, the events of the story “aren’t very important.” At least, maybe not in the grand scheme of things…but to these characters, they mean the WORLD.

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It might sound like I’m getting philosophical, but you can’t not think about the meaning of The Band’s Visit. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be: simple. Beautifully simple. It cuts through much of the modern musical theatre BS and unearths our shared humanity as only this medium can.

Perhaps that sentiment is best expressed in one of the show’s best numbers, “Omar Sharif,” a haunting solo for Katrina Lenk’s character, Dina. This song is a memory of Dina’s childhood and how music continues to play an important role in her spiritual health. She recaptures that wonderful feeling through her relationship with Tewfiq. Meanwhile, in one of the story’s more comical moments, a charismatic member of the orchestra coaches a young man in the art of talking to girls.

Again- it is all very simple, and yet very real. It reminds me of how an old teacher once described Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “a celebration of the mundane.” But it is there that we often find the interactions that matter most.

Just by nature of its uniqueness, I hope The Band’s Visit is able to find as much success on Broadway as it did during its run in Chelsea. True, its quietness might not be for every theatergoer…but, in my humble opinion, it is still an important piece of the tapestry called the modern American musical.

Film and Television

Catholics in Hollywood

Last night, through a serendipitous reconnection with an old colleague, I was able to nab a ticket to a movie premiere.

Before I get into that, though, I’d like to offer a disclaimer of sorts. I rarely discuss politics or religion on this blog. These are topics that inevitably alienate people. However, I’d be lying if I said that my faith doesn’t inspire my creative work. Being Catholic is part of my identity, and as we know, the best pieces of art are ones that come from that innermost energy. But- back to last night.

The Sheen Center, a Catholic-fueled arts and culture center in the heart of NYC, was lucky enough to host the first full screening of The Star. This is a new animated picture that essentially tells the story of the 1st Christmas from the perspective of the animals. It is directed by Timothy Reckart, will be released in cinemas this November, and features an all-star roster of voice actors.

I made my way to the Sheen Center (it’s located on Bleecker Street) from Midtown Manhattan, arriving at about 6:15pm. As I waited in the lobby for the house to open, tea in hand, I noticed a nun on her smartphone. Welcome to 21-century Catholicism, folks. This event was invite-only, and yet the spread of people in attendance was remarkably diverse…it spanned many ages, races, and laypeople/clergy.

Once inside the theatre, I marveled at how nice the Sheen Center building was. It was polished, clean, and managed to be both classical and modern in its architecture. Behind the house- in another lobby- they had setup a little red carpet in front of a giant poster for The Star

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…so, of course, I couldn’t resist posing for a photo. This was also where I met Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He was being swarmed, but the ten or so words I managed to say to him were still cool. He also gave some opening remarks before the film began.

The Star itself was really cute, and you could tell that everyone involved had a lot of heart. I think it will be a great tool for teaching this seminal story of faith to kids. It was nice that the filmmakers strove to be as Biblically accurate as possible while focusing on the animals’ journeys. I’ll admit it- I got a little misty-eyed at the end.

When the movie was over, its director (Oscar nominee Tim Reckart) was interviewed onstage. He discussed his experiences in Hollywood, his own faith, and how both of these things led to The Star‘s creation. I knew I wanted to talk to Mr. Reckart, too, so I found him in the crowd before I left. I said that I was a playwright, thanking him for making showbiz a little safer for Christian artists.

He then graciously agreed to autograph my postcard featuring the film’s artwork. So now I can say that I own a piece of Hollywood memorabilia. In a nutshell, my 1st experience at a Sheen Center event was certainly one that left me feeling good. I got to meet like-minded people, enjoy a festive film, and learn more about my craft as well as my faith. I hope the Sheen Center has a long and fruitful life as a part of NYC’s cultural fabric. After all, in these troubled times, we need places like that to shine a little light.