It Ain’t Festivus, but I’m Airing Some Grievances

  1. The Broadway.com Awards are the epitome of why “the public” can’t be allowed to vote for anything in the entertainment industry. Why? Because “the public” voting on their smartphones is mostly comprised of close-minded teenagers who are just getting exposed to the theatrical world. Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hell, my first “gateway show” was Wicked. Everyone’s got to start somewhere. But unless voters adequately acquire the breadth of knowledge required to judge performances…awards turn into a popularity contest. Which is fine, but then it should be touted as such. Call the category “Favorite Working Actress” instead of “Best Performance by an Actress,” so that when Idina Menzel or Laura Osnes win for shows that close in less than 6 months, it’ll make sense.
  2. On that note, the notion of “parody” adaptations being protected from copyright suits is starting to bother me. You make a mockery out of someone else’s work, and it’s totally fine. You lovingly adapt someone else’s work because you respect the material and want to see it anew, and suddenly you’re cutting legal red tape. It hardly seems fair…but as a friend pointed out to me, it’s also hardly about the art when dollar bills start falling into people’s laps.

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…So to speak.

Okay, my rant’s over.

A Bronx Tale Vs. Diner: Old America onscreen and onstage

When we hear the phrase “period piece,” our minds tend to conjure up an image of a lady wearing multiple petticoats having romantic problems in Britain. And that would indeed fit the bill. But at the same time, a story about a kid growing up with the mob in 1960s NYC…or one about 20something friends navigating love in 1950s Baltimore…would also fall into this category. The classic films A Bronx Tale and Diner are both pieces of Americana during decades that were quite different from the one we live in. Perhaps that is what can take credit for their lasting appeal; we are fascinated by this somewhat foreign climate, as it stands in stark contrast to the country we have become, for better and for worse. For those who did live through those prior decades, the movies can also be a great source of nostalgia for “a simpler time.”

But how much simpler was it, really?

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At their cores, these two films are about a certain social issue: Diner focuses on male coming-of-age and A Bronx Tale deals with racial strife and Mafia politics. In these eras, it was perfectly acceptable for boys to catcall their girls, and the decimation of black people’s property was a fairly regular occurrence. Both of these movies were made some 20 years after the fact, so it’s clear that such behavior was not necessarily condoned. Rather, the pieces served as portraits of the ever-changing times. And this “snapshot” status is part of what solidified them as classics of cinema.

However, within the last five years, both stories have also found their way onto the stage. And suddenly, they’ve lost their classic status and must be looked at through fresh eyes once more. But live theatre is an entirely different animal than the silver screen.

Seen through today’s progressive filters, and in the flesh, both of these musical adaptations have come under heavy criticism. They’ve been called “dated,” “offensive,” and “no longer relevant.” Granted, A Bronx Tale has found much better commercial footing on Broadway; Diner never even made it out of regional theatre. (I have no good explanation for such a discrepancy.)

But the fact remains- does today’s America need to be reminded of its past imperfections (some of which persist to a degree) in a musical? Or, with the advent of groundbreakers like Hamilton or War Paint, should Broadway only be looking ahead?

Further food for thought: A forum thread on A Bronx Tale‘s adaptation and an interesting article on why Diner really shouldn’t be a musical. What do you think?

Shine…Again?

Thank you to everyone who took an interest in my NYC cabaret debut!

I’m pleased to announce that thanks to this show, I have booked another gig- this time at Don’t Tell Mama. I’ll be singing in the April 4th edition of Seth’s Showcase, emceed by Seth Bisen-Hersh, alongside 5 other performers. We’ll each be doing a set of two songs, and all of the sets will either share a theme or tell a story of our choosing.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here are some clues as to my rep for this show:

  1. Both songs will surround a theme.
  2. Both songs are from modern musicals.
  3. One song is an uptempo and the other is a ballad.

My kingdom for a Tony Award…

Get tickets!

Daily Prompt: Record

We’re halfway through March and it seems that spring should be just around the corner here in New York City. Sadly, we are expecting a foot or more of snowfall tomorrow. But you could argue that a blizzard is the perfect excuse to kick back with a mug of tea and listen to some vinyl records.

Speaking of which, today I’m going to share five of my favorite “morning songs.” These are tunes I most like to crank up when the weather is sunny and warm. For one reason or another, they’re a perfect soundtrack for the crack of dawn.

5. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall: Maybe it’s because of this song’s role in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but “Suddenly I See” practically brims with inspiration and admiration. As you wake up and the sun shines through your window, it’s hard not to imagine Tunstall cheering you on as you chase your dreams in a big city.

4. “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles: The version of this number that Bareilles performs on the What’s Inside album is sure to get you pumped for your day with its rousing drumbeat and infectious chorus. With any luck, it will put you in a good enough mood so that when a Starbucks barista pours your latte, you’ll want to say “Hello, how ya been?”

3. “Another Day of Sun,” La La Land Cast: Sure, everyone talked about what happened to this movie at the Oscars, but it’s hard to deny that its score makes for great listening. This song in particular is full of energy, with an earworm-inducing hook. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to let “Another Day of Sun” brighten the morning.

2. “Beautiful Day,” U2: There are certain songs that I associate with specific mental images. For “Beautiful Day,” I envision driving along an empty highway in the summer, just as the sun is beginning to rise. The song’s three-note riff is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are just as life-affirming.

1. “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO: “Today’s forecast calls for blue skies.” This Jeff Lynne-penned hit song practically had to make my list. Lynne was even inspired to write it by beautiful weather in Switzerland. With its upbeat rhythms and bright vocals, the tune has not only become a radio staple but a popular addition to several Hollywood films.

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Round and Flat Characters, as told by Fire Emblem Fates

When I was a freshman in high school, I learned that all characters (whether from books, movies, etc.) could be grouped into one of two categories: round and flat. Simply put- round characters have a multi-faceted development, while static characters do not. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the latter equates to an unimportant character, but round ones are typically those that readers find more interesting.

I’d like to illustrate this concept with two characters from the Fire Emblem video game series…I haven’t written a gaming-themed entry in a while, so here you go. Furthermore, I believe these two are good examples because they also happen to complement each other: they are twin sisters. Warning…spoilers ahead!

On the left is Felicia; Flora (not to be confused with my blonde doll) is on the right. In the world of Fire Emblem Fates, both girls serve as retainers to the main character (Corrin). Unfortunately, when Corrin is forced to choose between the armies of Hoshido and Nohr, the plot (fate) of everyone in his/her life takes a drastic turn.

Felicia is the twin that we see more of in the game, but Flora (in my opinion) has a far more complex character arc.

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From start to finish, Felicia is the faithful servant- quite clumsy with her work, but always someone with a warm heart. She and Flora live in Nohr, but even if Corrin goes to Hoshido, Felicia follows them. And that’s pretty much it. Flora is a different story.

Flora is revealed over the course of the game to have many underlying personality aspects. For one, she is secretly in love with Jakob, one of Corrin’s other retainers, but she cannot actually marry him…for reasons unknown. Furthermore, although she loves her sister deeply, she is also resentful of her. While Flora is a far more capable maid, Felicia is a stronger warrior.

Flora also feels a strong sense of responsibility for the village where she was born, as the elder daughter of its Chieftain. All of these combined factors determine what happens to Flora after Corrin chooses an alliance. If they fight for Nohr, they actually wind up battling Flora when the latter thinks that Corrin is out to destroy her tribe. Ultimately, however, this confusion is cleared, and Flora later joins Corrin’s front lines.

If he/she stands with Hoshido, the situation becomes more complicated. As Corrin and their friends infiltrate Nohr, they meet up with Flora, who promises to provide sanctuary in her village. In a stunning twist, Flora betrays them when they arrive and sends tribal warriors out to attack. We later learn that Flora did this because the wicked king of Nohr threatened to kill her entire community if she did not.

Corrin tries to convince Flora to join his/her team, but she is overwhelmed with guilt over the betrayal and commits suicide in front of Corrin, Jakob…and Felicia. (This scene is the first truly tearjerking moment in the tale.)

Bottom line? I was able to tell Felicia’s story with one paragraph. It took four paragraphs to adequately summarize Flora. That, my friends, is how you can identify a flat character from a round character!

A Tale of Two Show Boats

One of my favorite musicals ever is the groundbreaking Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein piece called Show Boat. Although I have never seen it live, I did watch the Papermill Playhouse production that PBS recorded…it was during my high school Musical Theatre class. I remember being blown away by the grand set designs, the gorgeous music, and the heartbreaking story that also managed to be very hopeful.

Anyway, when I was a teenager, I acquired a CD of the 1965 Lincoln Center Show Boat, which starred Barbara Cook, Constance Towers, and William Warfield. I loved this recording because everyone was in fine voice and the orchestra was amazing. I was also annoyed at this recording because it didn’t include the complete score of this phenomenal show. But it was all I had.

And because it was all I had, fast-forward to the premiere BroadwayCon in 2016. There, I got an autograph from Rebecca Luker, who played Magnolia Hawks in the 1994 Broadway staging of the piece. (Magnolia is one of my bucket list roles, incidentally.) Since I only had the Barbara Cook production, I asked her to sign that, which she happily did. So, I have the wrong recording of Show Boat signed by Rebecca Luker.

Picture it: Midtown Manhattan, the last day of February, 2017. I’m on lunch break and decide to stop by the secondhand electronics/bookstore. I browse through the music section and choose the Almost Famous soundtrack for my boyfriend; it’s one of his favorite movies. A few minutes later, I find- wait for it- the 1994 Broadway cast CD of Show Boat, starring…Rebecca Luker!

Both discs cost $5, and you really can’t ask for a better deal than that. So I headed for the cashier, two items in hand and a silly grin on my face. The moral of the story: now I just need this album signed by Barbara Cook and I’ll be in business!

I don’t know…were you able to follow this story? Or are y’all feeling a bit like the secretary in Cagney right now?

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(Thanks to BroadwayBox for creating this magical thing.)

Spotlight: My Top 5 Asian-American Performances

New York City’s “Asia Week” kicks off in a short amount of time. This annual festival promotes all manner of Asian visual art…especially at places like the Rubin Museum that specialize in it. So in honor of the event, I’m going to share with you my favorite Asian-American PERFORMING arts turns on the stage and screen.

Ruthie Ann Miles in The King and I

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Many theatergoers were surprised when Miles defeated the three ladies of Fun Home for the Best Supporting Actress Tony two years ago. But that’s hardly to say that the win wasn’t deserved. Quite the contrary- she took the oft-portrayed role of Lady Thiang and breathed new life into it. Her rendition of the showstopper “Something Wonderful” was very much so. (Incidentally, I will be seeing Ms. Miles next week in the current revival of Sunday in the Park with George.)

Ming-Na Wen/Lea Salonga in Mulan

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Mulan is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, partly because of its badass heroine. Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga, as her speaking and singing voice respectively, brought the Chinese warrior to greater heights and a new generation of admirers. Can you show me one 1990s child who hasn’t belted out “Reflection” or “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in the shower? NO!

George Takei in Pacific Overtures

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Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one because it hasn’t actually happened yet. I’m not a Trekkie and I didn’t see Allegiance, but I felt this list would not be complete without an appearance by Takei. He is slated to star in Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway revival of the lauded Sondheim musical later this year. He will be playing the Reciter, and with a voice like his, he’ll no doubt do it well. “Oh myyyy!”

Chiaki Kuriyama in Kill Bill Vol. 1

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What I love about Chiaki Kuriyama in this film is that it is a true example of a “breakout performance.” Despite her relatively short time as the bloodthirsty Gogo Yubari, she managed to turn in a really memorable portrayal…and also did not know a word of English prior to joining the cast. Not to mention that this character has the coolest weapon ever: a “meteor hammer.” (She still meets her demise at the hands of Uma Thurman.)

Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha

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I love so many things about Zhang Ziyi as Sayuri in the silver screen adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel. She infused such a likable sincerity into our young geisha that an already-sympathetic character gained even more depth. Ziyi looked stunningly beautiful in the movie, too; I really wish I could see her in more mainstream works because she obviously deserves the acclaim. In fact, I have her pegged to star as Mulan in Disney’s upcoming live-action film!

Who are some of your favorite Asian-American actors?

Videos to Get You Pumped for NEW WORKS on Broadway This Spring

Okay, okay guys, calm down.

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Yes, I know the news came out today that Sara Bareilles will be succeeding Jessie Mueller as Jenna in the former’s own musical, Waitress. From what I’m seeing, half of the world is super excited and the other half is concerned. With some overlap between the two. The concerned side feels as such because they worry how this show’s almost-certain reappearance on public radar could affect the multitude of brand new musicals that will already be struggling to secure an audience just before Tony Awards time.

Well to these friends I say, “Never fear!” Puccini’s Chronicles is here to help. Today I’m going to share some awesome previews that are sure to entice folks into taking a chance on a new show. You know, along with their already-purchased revival tickets or 900th attempt at the Hamilton lottery. (Click on the name of the musical to watch the video!)

AMELIEWhat you’re seeing: A well-arranged selection of visual highlights from the piece’s pre-Broadway run in Los Angeles, set to a lovely duet from its stars, Philippa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat.

ANASTASIAWhat you’re seeing: Christy Altomare, as Anya, singing the beloved Oscar-nominated song “Journey to the Past” in Columbus Circle.

BANDSTANDWhat you’re seeing: A very cinematic trailer, complete with a bass-baritone narrator and appearances from the original Papermill Playhouse stars, Laura Osnes and Corey Cott. Also, keep an ear open for a Hamilton name-drop.

WAR PAINTWhat you’re seeing: The two leading divas, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, doing what they do best at the Guggenheim Museum.

On Writers and their Dark Sides

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Recently, I read a forum member’s assessment of the new play being presented by MCC Theater: Yen. Their description was as follows:

It’s a stellar production of a disturbing, twisted, and dark play… there are no physical effects or vampires to be found here. It is a raw, animalistic portrayal of 4 characters who cannot love themselves, and are doomed from the start…recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

As I read such an evaluation, I am reminded of works like The Pillowman or even Desire Under the Elms. These are not mere tragedies…these are dark, sword-of-Damocles stories that go beyond the unspeakable side of life. As a reader, I stay away from this kind of lachrymose literature. As a writer, I marvel (is it a form of admiration?) at these other authors’ guts. Where do they come up with these plot points? How is it that they can reach into the darkest depths of their hearts to tell such grim tales?

Jeez Louise. I can’t help but wonder how some playwrights are able to dig into the darkest parts of their souls to come up with such twisted elements. Hell, I had to write a MODERATELY political ONE-ACT last weekend and could barely stand it. I simply do not have the fortitude to stir the pot in this manner. I’m all for making people think and feel through art. But a part of me truly believes that shock value or “wrist-cutting theatre,” as I’ve heard it called, is not the most effective channel to use.

Yes, I know that Shakespeare and Greek tragedians were among the pioneers of this genre. Their plays were chock full of bloodshed and sometimes graphic monologues on how the bloodshed occurred. Shakespeare’s descendants in writing modified these aspects to reflect an ever-evolving world. And they make for compelling, emotional evenings of theatre. I get it.

But at the same time, I surmise that there is a certain “breaking point” of bleakness that nullifies what these playwrights aim to do with their work. We all want to change the world with our art, but audiences can only be pushed so far. They will go from a place of determination to one of despair. And, in many cases, despair manifests as inaction. You get this feeling of, “What is the point?”

When I write, I’m not afraid to include some death or melancholy- of course. Yet I also try to maintain a balance between that stuff and a sentiment of redemption. After all, before anyone can strive for goodness, they must be reminded that goodness still exists. Am I making sense here…?

The Good Witch Evolution

This week’s entry is my in-depth analysis of how Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz, has changed all the way from Baum to Broadway. Buckle up, buttercups!

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(Timeline created by me.)

In L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books, Glinda was the Good Witch of the South. I have never read any of them, but it’s a fair guess to say that she was benevolent and wise. In Baum’s last book, titled Glinda of Oz, Glinda tries to prevent war; the dark nature of this is speculated to be related to Baum’s failing health.

In 1939, cinematic history was made with The Wizard of Oz, considered a classic motion picture; here Glinda was portrayed by Mrs. Ziegfeld herself, Billie Burke. If you compare Burke with the Glinda illustration, you’d see that both have red hair and a tall crown. But in the film, Glinda was made the Good Witch of the North rather than the south.

Glinda’s first trip onto Broadway (I think…) was in the African-American musical The Wiz, where she appears near the end as the Good Witch of the South again. But her most famous Broadway incarnation would be spawned from the Gregory Maguire novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. We’ll talk more about that later, but it marked the beginning of Glinda’s personality change. Whereas she has always been depicted as a kind and helpful soul, Wicked gave her flaws, such as shallowness and a need for power.

Early in 2013, Disney put their own spin on Oz through an (in my opinion) unfairly maligned movie that tells the story of how the Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to be. At the beginning of Glinda’s incarnation, she was depicted with red hair; however, starting with the Wicked musical and continuing in Disney’s Oz flick, she had gone blonde. Her crown also dropped several inches in height. Personality-wise, the Disney interpretation of Glinda is more similar to her original demeanor than the one seen in Wicked, but she is still shown to have a sense of humor.

Where is Glinda today? Well, ask most people, and they’ll probably imagine Billie Burke in the 1939 movie. But the Wicked musical has proven such a success that folks may consider her personality in that story to be a part of who she is as a household name. Chances are, as long as the Land of Oz continues to captivate the world, the character of Glinda the Good will continue to morph in our minds and in the media. So I guess the big question is this: To you, who is Glinda?