Why Sutton Foster is Resume Goals

Two Tony Awards? Check.

Dance moves better than yours? Check.

A proven record on television? Check.

Well, there’s no doubt about it- Ms. Sutton Lenore Foster has the resume that every performer wants.

As one of Broadway’s most popular leading ladies, Sutton is one of those chameleon actresses, one that can slip in and out of almost any brassy role in the theatre canon. She manages to create portrayals that are both sweet and sassy. This, in turn, has earned her a very devoted fanbase. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about her is that, unlike most stage stars, she’s also managed to transition into the elusive entertainment medium of screen.

Most recently, as if she weren’t enough of a superhero…Sutton added “Mom” to her list of roles by adopting a little girl. In today’s entry- which just happens to be my 250th- I’m going to take you on a little tour of Sutton Foster’s career highlights.

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photo credit: Joan Marcus

In 2002’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, she looked absolutely stunning in this iconic red dress and tap-danced her way to her first Tony Award win. At this year’s Tony Awards ceremony, she presented costar Gavin Creel with his first prize for Hello Dolly! (Don’t you just love full-circle moments?)

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In 2006, Sutton failed to prove she wasn’t a “Show Off” in the beloved, nostalgic romp known as The Drowsy Chaperone. In this musical-within-a-comedy, she played an actress portraying a bride-to-be named Janet. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it makes much more sense when you see it take shape onstage!

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She snagged her 2nd Tony Award for the 2011 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. Sutton played Reno Sweeney, the sexy songstress who actually makes a living as an evangelist. Opposite fellow Broadway heavyweight Joel Grey, she knocked standards like “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Blow Gabriel Blow” out of the park.

"Younger" (Ep. 201- Airs January 13, 2016)

After making her mark on the short-lived ABCFamily show Bunheads, Sutton finally struck oil with TVLand’s hit program Younger. On this show, she portrays Liza, a 40something writer who ever-so-slightly fakes her age to get ahead in her career. The series is now in its 4th season.

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But just because she’s now a television name doesn’t mean that Sutton is abandoning her theatre roots. In fact, just last year, she headlined the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity. Extended multiple times, the show has generated rumors of a Broadway transfer. Is there anything this woman can’t nail?

Do you love him, Loretta?

“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart.”

Dearest Anonymous…we had a good talk last night, I think. It always feels good when you get things out on the table, because then you can work on fixing them. Step by step.

Of course, in our case, that will take quite some time.

It’s easy to fall in love with love. It makes your brain run on all cylinders. It makes your heart race in the best way. You get this stupid grin on your face for no discernible reason. And you feel at peace with your world. In my humble opinion, love is the most important driving force of the human spirit. It’s what keeps us together as a species. When channeled, it can move mountains.

Unfortunately, no matter how powerful love is, sometimes it gets misdirected. When that happens, you get what Nicolas Cage describes in the above quote from one of my favorite movies. Or you get what’s transpired between you and me over the past year.

Neither of us may have regrets, but I will still maintain that leaving me was a mistake on your part. Maybe that’s at the core of why I seem to get pulled into your gravitational field over and over. Because I don’t believe I got a fair chance to prove that I could be what you needed.

Near the beginning of Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis asks Cher if she loves her fiancee. When Cher replies “No,” Olympia says that this is a good thing: “When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can.” Well…I don’t think you are quite that sadistic! But, you will lie in the bed you made.

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For now, Anonymous, have a lovely summer, good luck with your new gig, and may we both find the happiness we deserve. See you on the flip side.

All That Jazz: Seven Things You Didn’t Know About the Chicago Film

Ah, Chicago. One of the greatest stage-to-film adaptations ever made, this Kander and Ebb musical has been playing nonstop on Broadway since the 1990s. Bringing it to the big screen was a considerably daunting task, but director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon pulled it off…and then some. The movie was released just after Christmas of 2002 and proceeded to snag six Oscars, including Best Picture. In celebration of Chicago’s impending 15th anniversary, I’m going to share seven fun facts about this “razzle-dazzle” film that you might not have known.

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  1. Richard Gere was not the first choice for Billy Flynn. Weird but true! The producers originally considered John Travolta for the part.
  1. The original Velma Kelly, Chita Rivera, appears in the movie. The legendary Broadway dancer can be seen greeting Roxie (and smoking a cigarette) when the latter first arrives at the Cook County Jail.

 

  1. The director and screenwriter were later involved in two other major musical films. Rob Marshall directed 2009’s Nine, while Bill Condon did the screenplay for 2006’s Dreamgirls!
  2. Christine Baranski could never play Mary Sunshine on Broadway. Although Baranski is a veteran stage actress, she couldn’t actually play Mary Sunshine because (on Broadway) the role was written for a man!
  3. Lucy Liu wasn’t supposed to play Go-to-Hell-Kitty. They actually had pop diva Britney Spears tapped for this cameo role!
  4. The song “Class” was shot for the movie, but ended up on the cutting room floor. You can still watch the scene on the DVD as a bonus feature.
  5. Of the three main actors, only one has played a leading role on Broadway. That’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, who not only won her Academy Award for Chicago but took home a Tony Award for her performance in A Little Night Music.

In Which I Take the NBC Studios Tour

Note to self: Don’t attempt to take an hourlong tour during a lunch hour. As I should have known from my past tour guide job- it will run long and then you’ll be rushing back to your building in 75-degree heat. But I digress.

As promised, folks, this is a special recap post of my journey through the innards of NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Incidentally, you probably noticed that my blog has a brand new look, too! I didn’t actually plan for these two to coincide. Anyway, entry into my 1:20pm tour cost about $30, which wasn’t too bad for a single person…but I can see how a large family might run into problems with that admission.

After checking in at the gift shop, I was given a really pretty pin to wear for the duration of the tour (and keep after it was over). There were about three different stations of security check as well- understandable. There were 12 of us in the group, and we were then introduced to our guides Ariel and Deborah, both students in the elite NBC Page program.

The tour officially began with a short video (hosted by Al Roker, of all people) that explained some of the history and significance of NBC. After heading up the stairs, we were in the rotunda; this is where audiences for the live broadcasts are corralled. This rotunda is a throwback to the original Art Deco designs of 30 Rock.

The first studio we visited belongs to Nightly News with Lester Holt. It was a cozy, sleek room with wood panel floors and plenty of lights and cameras. Ariel and Deborah explained that this studio is also the one that gets used for breaking news stories, as its technologies are well-suited for change on-the-fly. As we left, we saw a glass casing that memorializes NBC journalists who died in their line of work.

To balance this somber moment, we next rode an elevator to what the girls called “the comedy floor.” Sure enough, they had an entire hallway dedicated to Saturday Night Live, including production stills from past and present seasons. When we entered the studio where the show is filmed, I was surprised at how simple it looked! Indeed, a lot of behind-the-scenes magic occurs on the three parts of the SNL stage. Sets are assembled and taken apart in the span of a commercial break! And did you know that “Weekend Update” is the only sketch that occurs every single week?

As we proceeded, Ariel and Deborah mentioned that we may or may not get to see Jimmy Fallon’s studio for The Tonight Show. But we were lucky enough to catch them on a lunch break, so in we went. Fallon’s desk and his announcer’s podium looked very different than on television; as we learned, this is all due to great camera tricks. The Roots band gets their own “pit” on the opposite side.

After another short elevator ride, we arrived at the control floor, where hardworking production people manipulate the technology. We saw rooms at work with cameras, audio, and music mixing (one guy even waved at us). It was also time for the zenith of the tour: an interactive mock talk show, starring us tour guests.

We were each assigned roles- I volunteered to play the celebrity guest, because it was the only part that wasn’t totally scripted. And, well…let’s just say I hammed it up like a butcher shop. Don’t believe me? Just watch!

All in all, The Tour at NBC Studios was a really cool way to spend my lunch hour. I had fun, I learned some interesting information, and- perhaps best of all- it enabled me to get one more notch on my NYC adventure bedpost. Well, so to speak!

Suddenly Surprise!

Good afternoon, my wonderful readers! I’m just writing a quick note to say that, because I have a special post planned for next week, today’s will consist of some favorite musical-themed GIFs. (None of these were created by me.)

We now return to your regularly-scheduled Puccini’s Chronicles programming.

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?

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?

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?

Spotlight: Il Signoro Scorsese

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Martin Scorsese is widely considered to be one of the greatest directors that Hollywood has ever seen. A Queens native, Scorsese is most closely associated with ensemble gangster as well as gritty “case study” films with a central character. Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio are two of his oft-used actors. (Pictured is Leo with the maestro on the set of 2002’s Gangs of New York.)

As an aside, am I the only one who still (incorrectly) thinks that Scorsese was involved in A Bronx Tale? My stepmother and I are probably going to see its Broadway musical adaptation this spring. But I feel like Martin Scorsese should have had something to do with it. Which, actually, is a testament to how ingrained he is in our minds when it comes to mob movies.

But that is neither here nor there.

As any film buff could tell you, Martin Scorsese (the man himself) did not win a directorial Oscar until his career had been going for some 30 years. The piece that earned him his Best Director prize was The Departed. And, in fact, a majority of his filmography does center on directing- but he also wrote the screenplays for many of his movies and likes to make cameos onscreen.

Regardless of whether a given cinematic work involves gangsters or innovators…or both…it tends to share common themes with his other movies. The Last Temptation of ChristThe Aviator, Raging Bull, and The Wolf of Wall Street all portray a the rise and fall of an “anti-hero” archetype. CasinoGoodfellas, and The Departed are intricate Mafia sagas. Ideals (or distortions) of Catholicism, wealth, and Italian-American heritage are explored in both categories. Then you have the aesthetically astounding Hugo that doesn’t fit into either group…and is probably the only film on his resume that kids can watch.

As a native of the borough, it’s only fitting that Scorsese’s legacy be showcased at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. In this fascinating exhibit, you can see original storyboards, props, and- among other costumes- a dress worn by Cate Blanchett in her Academy Award-winning turn as Katharine Hepburn. There is a great writeup of this display here!

So what’s next for this unstoppable septuagenarian? Silence, a psychological drama set in an exotic location and starring Liam Neeson as a monk on the brink of losing his faith. Let’s start a discussion: what’s your favorite Martin Scorsese picture, and what concepts come to mind when you hear his name?