Posted in Theatre

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.

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Posted in Theatre

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!

Posted in Theatre

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.

Posted in Theatre

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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Posted in Theatre

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.

Posted in 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.

Posted in 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?

Posted in 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.

Posted in 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.

Posted in Theatre

Impressions of THE OLDEST BOY

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On one of my always-magical trips to the Drama Book Shop, I picked up a play that I had always been curious about: Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy. This curiosity stemmed from two things- one, the original Lincoln Center production artwork (which I thought was gorgeous). Two, the premise of the piece, which explores an American mother and Tibetan father faced with a Hobson choice about their three-year-old son.

As an aside, I really hoped that the cover of the published play would have the original Lincoln Center artwork. It did not. Nevertheless, I plunked down my cash and planned to tackle it after reading the libretto of Heathers the Musical. Got some serious diversity going on, don’t I?!

Having completed The Oldest Boy in one bus ride home, I’m going to share some thoughts about it with you guys. For starters, the parents’ big choice arises when they are visited by a pair of Buddhist monks. The monks are immediately drawn to Mother and Father’s little son…as it turns out, he is a reincarnated Lama, or high-ranking Buddhist teacher. Interestingly, Sarah Ruhl dispels that mystery early on; she has said that the play is not about “if,” but “now what.”

The Mother (portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger in the original production) is the central character, facing her own spiritual tugs-of-war while deciding whether or not her child should live in an Asian monastery to fulfill his destiny. It’s a meaty, heart-wrenching role, and one I would love to do someday.

The play’s dialogue was surprisingly breezy and easy-to-read…it could have been very lecture-like but was not. And I still learned quite a bit about the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism (I’ve long had an interest in world religions). Despite the heavy subject matter, Ruhl managed to infuse some humorous moments, too.

The staging requirements for the show were very odd to see on paper. Apparently, there is an optional chorus of Tibetan dancers that appears symbolically at pivotal moments in the story. Furthermore, the role of Tenzin (the son) is actually done by an adult speaking his lines while manipulating a child puppet. It’s a curious dramatic device, and one you don’t see very often. I imagine that when this play is performed by smaller companies, these elements get heavily modified.

I don’t have the resources to properly investigate that, but I can tell you that the original Lincoln Center presentation received mixed reviews. Much of the positivity in these reviews was indeed aimed at the unusual staging and direction by Rebecca Taichman (this year’s Tony winner for Indecent). Knowing such facts, I cannot help but wonder if The Oldest Boy will lose a chunk of its power when done on a smaller scale.

Even while reading it, I pondered how the play could translate as a narrative as opposed to a live piece. Could it be that this work fares better as a novella? I don’t know.

I also did not fully understand the final scene, but that might just be my naïveté. The Mother’s struggles were very moving, and I teared up more than once. These themes- loss, parental attachment, and love- are ones that affect us all. In that regard, which is the purpose of all theatre…I find The Oldest Boy to be a success.