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.

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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.

Writing

Chill Demands Cocoa: The Thespian’s Guide to Hot Chocolate in NYC

Didn’t expect to see me so soon, did you? Well, as it turns out…I’m full of surprises! Although it’s still plenty warm here in New York, we have officially entered the autumn season, so those temperatures are bound to drop soon. And what better way to cope with the cold than by enjoying hot chocolate? Today, I’m going to share some great places for you to drink up. As a bonus, I’ve even hand-picked classic songs to match the mood of each location. Cheers!

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MARIEBELLE: Looking for some old-fashioned ambiance with your confection? Look no further than Mariebelle in SoHo, whose very name oozes class. What’s interesting about their homemade hot chocolate is the amount of flavors you can choose from. These variants range from milk chocolate with hazelnuts all the way to white chocolate with banana! Relevant music– “I Never Do Anything Twice” from The Seven Per-Cent Solution

MADISON & VINE: Nestled in the heart of Midtown is this elegant restaurant embedded within a hotel. Of course, you can have your fill of tasty food here, but there’s something on the drink menu you may not know about. Seasonally served, their hot chocolate is made with brandy, dark crème de cacao, spiced chocolate, and whipped cream on the top. Scrumptious! Relevant music– “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!

MCNALLY JACKSON: Books and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s afternoon are the stuff of dreams for hipsters everywhere. In this indie store, indulge your thoughtful side by sipping a mug of their Italian Agostoni dark chocolate concoction. It is made via melting the good stuff with hot water and then blending it with Hudson Valley milk. Relevant music– “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me

THE CHOCOLATE ROOM: For the environmentally conscious folk, this café places an emphasis on “sustainably sourced chocolate.” It actually has two Brooklyn locations- one in Park Slope and the other in Cobble Hill- and they both work with a fair trade co-op in Madagascar. As far as hot cocoa goes, each cup is topped with a giant marshmallow and may include an espresso or alcohol shot. Relevant music– “In Summer” from Frozen

NUNU: Not many people can say they’ve enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate within a chocolate factory. But pay a visit to Nunu in Brooklyn, and you can say just that! Their flagship location has small chairs and activities perfect for children…but the whole family will enjoy watching sweet treats get made and dipped as they drink. Relevant music– “When the Children Are Asleep” from Carousel

IL BUCO ALIMENTARI: At this NoHo spot, the atmosphere is warm and casual…rather perfect for a cozy date! You and your beloved can enjoy a mug of their signature hot cocoa, brimming with Guanaja goodness. This kind of chocolate is made with 70% dark and 30% white- plus a marshmallow. It comes in flavors ranging from rosemary to cinnamon to burnt orange. Relevant music– “Liza” from An American in Paris

Uncategorized

Puccini Does a Fire Emblem Challenge (and so can you!)

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As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the Fire Emblem video game saga. If video games can be a form of art, then this series takes the cake. It’s got beautiful character designs, epic plots, orchestral soundtracks, and so much more! To honor these wonderful games, I’ve put together my own two-week challenge. And you can do it too- just be sure to credit Puccini’s Chronicles with your post(s). “Pick a god and pray!”

  1. Favorite Male Character
  2. Favorite Female Character
  3. Favorite Class
  4. Best Weapon
  5. Best Piece of Music
  6. OTP
  7. Saddest Moment
  8. Best Hair
  9. Best Outfit
  10. Favorite Villain
  11. Best Non-Canon Appearance
  12. Funniest Quote
  13. Least Favorite Character
  14. Favorite Skill
Theatre

Best Not-So-Secrets of the Theater District

Everyone loves those tours that offer glimpses into NYC’s “hidden” side, the stuff that tourists can’t tell you about. These are often called local secrets…even though, thanks to social media and the like, many of them are badly-kept. This week, I thought it would be fun (for both my readers and me!) to put together my own list of hidden gems.

In keeping with the code of honor for Puccini’s Chronicles, all secrets will center on the performing arts (of course). I apologize in advance if you already know some of these, but I’ve never claimed to be an exclusive source. Either way- here we go!

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The Hidden Mermaid: Disney’s The Little Mermaid may have closed on Broadway quite some time ago, but Ariel seems to be sticking around! If you sneak toward the other side of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (where the show played) near 46th Street, you can see its one marquee that was never taken down. A timeless reminder of how sometimes a “sure thing” on Broadway, doesn’t turn out to be!

One Singular Sensation: Seeing Hello Dolly at the Shubert Theatre? Lucky you! But while you’re there, you shouldn’t forget to check out the bronze plaque in the lobby. What plaque, you ask? The one dedicated to A Chorus Line, honoring its status as one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Caught up in the excitement of Bette Midler fans, this can be easy to miss!

Imperially Miserable: While we’re talking about bronze plaques, there’s another one embedded in the pavement in front of the Imperial Theatre. This circular emblem pays homage to the legendary Les Miserables, which played the majority of its astounding Broadway run at this venue.

Poster Pandemonium: Are you missing your favorite show’s window-card from your merch haul? Consider stopping by Triton Gallery, inconspicuously located in a building on 8th Ave between 43rd and 44th Streets. Nick, the owner, is always happy to help you find the poster of your dreams in his inventory. Prices vary.

Theatre Hall of Fame: This place is easier-to-find than the others on my list, but there’s a catch. You must be seeing the Gershwin Theatre’s current production (Wicked) to access it! That’s right- the Theatre Hall of Fame is housed within the walls of the largest house on Broadway, and they won’t let you in unless you’ve got show tickets. I was only 13 when I saw Wicked, so unfortunately, I only have a faint memory of the performing legends who are immortalized on the walls.