The Strange Case of Merrily We Roll Along

Before I get started, I wanted to note that this is my 300th post! What a feeling! Thanks to all of my readers who share in my crazy performing arts ramblings. In the words of Angelica Schuyler, “May you always be satisfied.”

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I will say this much too- it was a rough week for theatre for me. I didn’t get the role I wanted at an audition, and then I got rejected from a writers’ lab. So, typical artist struggles…got to keep trying. But the one good experience I had, theatrically speaking, was seeing Fiasco Theater’s new production of Merrily We Roll Along off-Broadway!

As soon as I walked into the Laura Pels Theatre, I was immediately struck by Derek McLane’s stunning set design. The afternoon just got more interesting from there, with six (6!) actors playing a ton of roles…and doing them all extremely well. These stripped-down, actor-focused productions of classic shows are the calling card of Fiasco Theater Group. They’re very inspirational to me.

Merrily We Roll Along has a bit of a colorful history. Infamously, it was one of the biggest Broadway flops of all time, playing 16 performances at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) before closing up shop. No one could argue that Stephen Sondheim had, once again, written a knockout score…but its book was considered irreparably problematic. And over the years, Sondheim and his collaborators have seen remountings of the piece, all attempting to repair the irreparable.

What makes the show particularly unique, in case you didn’t know, is that the story is told in reverse, a technique also used by 1/2 of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Because we know the characters will end up unhappily, the hopeful finale (their beginning) is extremely sad to me. Needless to say, I cried.

That being said, while I loved the production, I can understand why it failed to catch on with its earlier audiences. The narrative style is an acquired taste, and no matter how brilliant your songs are, the audience is going to have a bad time if they can’t figure out what the hell is going on. But Merrily We Roll Along is a wonder…those who can appreciate the show have elevated it to cult status.

And that, “Old Friends,” ensures that it shall not be forgotten, and will likely have more “Good Things Going” in the years to come.

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I’m Covering RENT Live, Live, So You Don’t Have To

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8pm- It’s showtime!

8:03- I’m getting JCS Live vibes from the fact that I can see the audience…and scaffolding.

8:09- Brandon Victor Dixon is always fantastic.

8:13- This Mimi is great. Pretty voice and face. I hear she does a terrific job with her solo later. “Light My Candle” is always one of my favorites.

8:23- That’s some applause for Angel. I don’t know if it’s their voice or the mike, but I can’t hear the lyrics too well…

8:30- This is a fun “Tango Maureen!” Vocal’s a little weak, but great interpretation.

8:35- Hey, Keala Settle! Heading up a very moving “Life Support.”

8:47- Can I get those electric blue shorts?

8:49- The chorus sounds lovely on “Another Day.”

8:59- I hope Collins really did open up a restaurant one day. Something like the Nuyorican Cafe here in Manhattan, where he could preach and serve food!

9:03- Now this is a good vocal from Dixon and Valentina. Nice playground equipment from the set designer.

9:09- It’s over an hour in and I never realized how late in the show Maureen appears, considering she’s a main character.

9:20- FOSSE/VERDON commercial!

9:22- The cow print pants on Vanessa Hudgens are a nice touch…I mean, “Over the Moon” is weird enough as is, so why not.

9:25- Mark’s expression is priceless…

9:33- I’m sitting here wondering why so many “La Vie Boheme” lyrics were changed in the motion picture adaptation of RENT back in the 2000s. Anyway, this version had some wonderful visuals during the number. End Act 1!

9:40- Thank you for the amazing “Seasons of Love” solo, Keala!

10:05- The girls sound good together on “Take Me or Leave Me.”

10:10- “Without You” makes me cry no matter what…

10:15- It’s good to see that they didn’t cut “Contact,” at least. It’s so powerful how it segueways into Angel’s funeral.

10:20- God bless Brandon Victor Dixon.

10:35- This presentation is not greater than the sum of its parts…but I never knew Benny had this moment of redemption, and it’s very good.

10:46- I love this voicemail overload. Kind of a random place.

10:48- I’m getting chills just thinking of the RENT original cast returning here.

11pm- A wonderful tribute to Jonathan Larson to finish the night.

Puccini’s Chronicles STYLE: Secret Shopping Destinations for Thespians

I was inspired to write this post after attending this year’s BroadwayCon on Friday (it’s already shaping up to be a better year!) and visiting all the Marketplace vendors. It was interesting to me how many visual artists have put their talents into creating fun merchandise for the performing arts. Crossovers FTW!

Anyway, most of the places I’m featuring probably aren’t well-kept secrets, but I still thought it’d be a good idea to compile my favorites for you guys. A resource, if you will. So what are you waiting for? Get shopping!

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The Broadway Makers’ Alliance
This community of independent artists, podcasters, and niche bloggers teamed up last year to expand their customer base. From coloring pages to Funko Pop-inspired pins to special walking tours, these guys are a great place to check for a unique kind of gift for yourself or someone in your life. Scroll down this page to see everyone involved and visit their individual shops.

The Juilliard Store
It ain’t just for students! Yes, the store at the prestigious Juilliard School may sell all manner of penguin-themed gear, but it’s also a terrific place to find elusive music books and other performing arts knickknacks. It’s also convenient for those who prefer not to shop online; you can always visit the physical store at Lincoln Center.

Triton Gallery
Picture it: you’re strolling through the theatre district when a mysterious hooded figure points you toward 8th Avenue. As you approach what looks to be an industrial building, you get a sudden urge to go to the 6th floor. Behold- a room full of Broadway show windowcards, and vintage programs! Triton is one of those spots that you won’t see unless you know it’s there, so pay owner Nick a visit and hunt for that rare poster you’ve always wanted. Be sure to check his stock online, too!

Lincoln Center Theater Shop
Only available online, LCT’s store is surprisingly well-stocked when it comes to items from shows long gone. Example: their Tony-winning revival of South Pacific was over a decade ago, but you can still buy t-shirts and other items from the production! Same goes for The King and IOslo, and the ever-popular Falsettos. As My Fair Lady and To Kill a Mockingbird continue to take numbers currently, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Lincoln Center Theater merchandise.

Drama Book Shop
It is such a pleasure to still be able to include this wonderful store on my list. After announcing its closure in 2018, the landmark destination was purchased by Lin-Manuel Miranda and some Hamilton collaborators. Although it will still likely change locations, its survival has been assured, and when it does reopen its doors, make a beeline. It is the place in the city for theatrically-themed books, librettos, and plays from any time period imaginable. Read more about its new life here.

There are many other shopping destinations to check out, such as the Met Opera Shop and the 6th Avenue HBO and NBC Stores…as well as some that I probably don’t even know about. The important thing is to never lose your sense of exploration. It’s a big city out there!

Winter Retrospective: GYPSY, 12/8/08

(Retyped from an A+ report from 2009, used with permission.)

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On December 8th, 2008, I travelled with my mom and grandmother to the St. James Theatre in NYC to see the latest Broadway revival of Gypsy, starring veteran musical theatre actress Patti LuPone. The timeless show features music by Jule Styne, a book by Arthur Laurents, and lyrics by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. This particular production, meanwhile, was directed by Laurents himself and choreographed by Bonnie Walker reproducing original choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Gypsy is based on the true story of Rose Thompson Hovick, the mother of famed stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and actress June Havoc. Rose is the epitome of stage mothers; from the very beginning, she had blind aspirations for her daughters in order to fulfill her own desire for the fame she never had. This desire festers from start to finish, resulting in Rose sacrificing nearly everything she holds dear. It is not until the climax of Gypsy, at the very end, that Rose herself realizes why she dragged her children all over the United States with vaudeville companies and why she allowed herself to lose the people she loved later on. As she says in the final scene: “I did it for me.”

The actors who played the main characters in the show all won Tony Awards for their performances. Patti LuPone starred as Rose and she did a fantastic job, a true showstopper. She is but the latest great actress to be Rose in an all-star roster of actresses who have played the famous character, including Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury. Laura Benanti was Louise, Rose’s shy daughter who will eventually make a transformation and become Gypsy Rose Lee; Boyd Gaines played Herbie, Rose’s old friend and eventual fiance. (He made the already-likable character even more likable, and was pretty funny as well.)

The music of Gypsy is extremely popular- and with good reason. Some of my favorite songs from the score include “If Momma Was Married,” “Rose’s Turn,” “You’ll Never Get Away from Me,” and “Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone.” The orchestra used during the show was unique; instead of it being located in a pit in front of the stage, it was on the stage itself, covered at all times by an opaque wall or transparent screen. I loved this…it just looked really cool and also made it more fun to listen to the overture, since I could actually watch the conductor lead it!

The audience reaction to Gypsy was nothing short of amazing. Naturally, many audience members only came to see Patti LuPone, so she made up the bulk of the sensation. The audience exploded in cheers after “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and gave LuPone a standing ovation during curtain call. However, the other performers also received a lot of applause, especially during “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and the Baby June numbers.

All in all, this was a great experience for me. Watching this show not only gave me “a real good time,” but it also reminded me of my own dream to succeed in theatre one day. After all, if Patti LuPone can do it, why can’t I?

Anatomy of a Scene 2-Ways: HEATHERS

Heathers might be the ultimate cult teen flick. After amassing a fanbase in the early 90s and beyond onscreen, it came to New York as a musical a few years back and completely exploded (just check Tumblr).

I read the libretto of the musical, then watched the movie. I noticed that there were quite a few changes made in the stage adaptation- most notably the combining of Veronica’s two friends into one. But the dynamic of her relationship with J.D. also struck me as interesting between the two.

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Spoilers! The scene I’m thinking about is at the very end, when J.D. is trying to blow up the school. Onstage, Veronica decides to stop him, singing a brief reprise of “Dead Girl Walking” as she accepts her fate. She does the same in the film, just without the song. They meet in the boiler room, where Veronica ultimately wins as J.D. implodes the bomb without harming anyone else.

Onscreen, I was puzzled as to why Veronica and J.D. ever were together, as he had next to no redemption. This is actually where I think the stage version triumphs; it manages to humanize him. At the climax, he sings “I Am Damaged,” telling Veronica to do something good with her life.

Movie Veronica obviously loved J.D., but the relationship felt underdeveloped. But I get why stage Veronica fell for J.D., and he becomes a symbol for the complexities of human nature.

Anatomy of a Scene 2-Ways: WAITRESS

Welcome to the second installment of our comparison series! Today, we’re looking at the pregnancy test scene in Waitress– both the film and on Broadway.

The story is kicked off when pie expert Jenna is nagged by her friends, Becky and Dawn, to take a pregnancy test that she’s been putting off. Why, you ask? Because she’s never seen herself as a mom…and certainly not the mom of a kid with her abusive husband.

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Onstage, this scene is done as a song called “The Negative.” Both versions convey Jenna’s desperation, but Dawn and Becky’s behavior is different. In the musical, Dawn is distracted by thoughts of Jenna’s dress and instructions on the test stick; onscreen, she is very serious and prays that Jenna isn’t pregnant. Becky is more boisterous in general in the show, but it’s especially evident opposite movie Becky’s laidback strength.

The dialogue is similar in both scenes, with some key lines not matching. For example, we get a real-time sense of the pregnancy test as the “bad line” appears on Jenna’s stick. At the end of “The Negative,” Jenna merely swears, indicating what the result is. However, both maintain the classic moment of Jenna saying she acts stupidly, such as sleeping with her husband, when drunk.

All in all, I think both scenes are perfect for their adaptation. They can be compared, but there’s really no need to!

Anatomy of a Scene 2-Ways: A BRONX TALE

Welcome to a new series on the blog, “Anatomy of a Scene 2-Ways,” which analyzes the same scene onstage and onscreen to compare and contrast.

Today’s spotlight shines on the infamous Biker bar beatdown from A Bronx Tale.

In the story, gangster Sonny takes his protegee Calogero around their neighborhood. During the walk, they spot a group of bikers heading into a bar, where they proceed to harass the owner. Sonny asks them to leave, and when they refuse, Sonny locks the doors and utters the famed line, “Now you can’t leave.” His posse then proceeds to beat up the motorcyclists and destroy their vehicles.

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This scene is present in the musical adaptation of the movie, but with a few notable differences. Thankfully, it is NOT a song-and-dance number. In the film, the Beatles’ “Come Together” plays to comic effect as the bikers go down. It is merely instrumental music behind the musical scene (damn royalties).

I enjoyed A Bronx Tale onstage, but a few things about this moment made it less effective than its screen counterpart. The main part, for me, was due to the lack of closeups. The ability to watch shots of the bikers getting attacked, in rapid succession, added a dynamic layer that was lost in the static nature of a proscenium stage.

Join me in the next installment of this series, which will focus on a pivotal moment for Jenna Hunterson in Waitress.

Daily Prompt: Tide

Oh, and how they are a-changing.

As you know, dear readers, I am (first and foremost) a creative soul. Specifically, I love to express myself with the fine arts- lyricism, playwriting, and acting. In the time I’ve come to take my craft more seriously, I’ve deduced that my strengths lie in “heartfelt dramedies.” As I see it, these are a myriad of story types, but they are all quite sanguine in their evaluation of the human experience.

(The lone exception to this would be the historical drama I’m trying to put together for a graduate-level course, but that’s something for another day…)

Now, enter the article that showed up on Playbill this week. For those who don’t feel like clicking: it’s a brief spread of three female artists whom the author describes as “poised for major career breakthroughs.” She suggests that you “learn their names before their work hits it big.” As I read the trio’s reflections on their goals, I noticed an all-too-familiar trend. This trend is one that has been permeating the subject matter of many new plays, particularly ones that find artistic and/or critical success.

Dear Evan HansenThe HumansEclipsedFun Home…almost anything written by Lynn Nottage or Tracy Letts…the list goes on! And they are all (to paraphrase The New Yorker) “problem shows.” They deal with very serious, socially relevant topics and sometimes feature dismal endings. Even the current projects of the three aforementioned female artists (the women’s suffrage movement, queer POC) fit this bill.

Boy, am I screwed!

Now you could argue that recent hit shows like AnastasiaMean Girls, or even The Play That Goes Wrong don’t fit the mold- and you’d be right. But there’s a difference: those pieces usually have the benefits of being adapted from a beloved property and/or an already-established writer or actor.

What’s a woman like me to do, one who is still trying to make her mark AND cannot bring herself to formulate plots where the main character dies, loses their faith in humanity, or both?! I often wonder if I was born in the wrong “age of theatre,” so to speak. So I’m going to ask an open question.

Friends, when it comes to stage, screen, or otherwise: do you prefer to escape current events, or engross yourself in them? Please answer honestly! How beneficial might it be to step outside my comfort zone as a writer?

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Her cat, a bed, and a chair…

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The day had finally arrived: my paternal grandmother, Lucie- who I don’t see very often- was giving me my Christmas gift. Two tickets to the Marquis Theatre’s production of the Follies revival. It was to be only the second Sondheim show I’d see live onstage (the first was the revival of A Little Night Music).

The lights went down and I was immediately swept away. All these veteran Broadway actresses- from Jayne Houdyshell to Mary Beth Peil and even Elaine Paige- strutting their stuff in one of the greatest musicals of all time. My favorite number overall was Terri White’s showstopping “Who’s That Woman?”

And, of course, there were the two female leads: the legendary Bernadette Peters as Sally Durant Plummer and elegant, charismatic Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone. Jan Maxwell died this week at the age of 61. Now there seems to be some speculation as to whether the lights on Broadway will be dimmed for her. (For those who don’t know, the theatre community has long had a tradition of briefly dimming the marquees at all the Broadway houses to honor the death of an esteemed colleague.)

I’m writing this to pay tribute to Jan Maxwell, but also to assert my firm hope that they will dim the lights for her. I mean…I have a selfish reason for wanting this done…but I think few would argue with me if I said that Maxwell represents what being a thespian is all about.

Not only was she a great talent, but she made her entire career out of performing onstage. She did dabble in screen work, yet the theatre was always her home. She’s a model for what every artist aspires to become.

Powers-that-be, please consider honoring this true lady of the stage in the best possible way. If you can justify doing it for Joan Rivers, surely you’ll easily make a case for Jan Maxwell. Rest in peace, Beautiful Girl.

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.