It Takes a Woman (Three, actually)

Greetings, readers! Sorry this post is late, but it was a long week and I was also suffering from some writer’s block. (Drat!) Luckily, I found some great subject matter this weekend in the form of a production of Jerry’s Girls.

My doll, Cecily, is on hand to help me with this recap.tumblr_ocyid8cb591thkr0po1_500
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The show was presented at my theatrical home-away-from-home, off-Broadway’s York Theatre Company. It is a breakneck revue of the songs of Jerry Herman, composer/lyricist for such classics as Hello Dolly!Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles. He was also the brain behind some lesser successes, i.e. Mack and Mabel and Dear World. Nevertheless, the fact that a piece of the Jerry Herman songbook is able to fill a 2-hour show…without any dialogue…cements him as one of musical theatre’s literary greats.

I got tickets to this production as a birthday gift for my grandmother, who loves all those old showtunes. It starred “two Stephanies and a Christine,” tasked with singing every number as a solo, duet, or trio- no ensemble required.

What I found particularly interesting was that each actress seemed to have a particular strength. Stephanie #1 (D’Abruzzo) was the physical actress, Christine (Pedi) was the classic comedienne, and Stephanie #2 (Umoh) was the torch singer. There was never a dull moment, thanks also in part to the charismatic (and very animated) pianist, Mr. Eric Svejcar.

Group songs like “Take It All Off” and “Hello Dolly” produced big laughs and inevitably brought the house down. In my opinion, each lady also had a couple of standout solos. I loved Christine’s rendition of “The Man in the Moon” from Mame, originally recorded by the peerless Bea Arthur…heaven rest her soul. Stephanie #1 delivered a simultaneously poignant and rousing “Before the Parade Passes By.” And Stephanie #2 showed off every vocal chop with a knockout performance of “I Am What I Am.”

Also, all three girls sang a number that made me cry. But I’ll let my doll friend cover that. Take it away, Cecily!

Cecily: “Your humble blogger cried first during Stephanie #2’s rendition of ‘I Won’t Send Roses.’ She bawled again during Christine’s ‘If He Walked Into My Life.’ Finally, she teared up with Stephanie #1’s ‘Time Heals Everything (But Loving You).’ She really ought to carry around a water-well when she goes to the theatre.

That’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this trip through history with Jerry’s Girls and little me. Stay tuned for next week’s post. I promise it won’t be as delayed.

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.

Sutton Foster

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?

QUIZ: Which Muse Are You?

Famous paintings over the years are filled with lovely female models. They convey strength, beauty, and- in some cases- mystery. Who is this muse? Why is she portrayed in this light? I can’t give you a definitive answer to those questions, but I can at least offer this quiz to help you determine which portrait you best embody. Be sure to share your results in the comments!

1. If I were an animal, I’d probably be a…

A. Lion B. Squirrel C. Fish D. Domestic house cat

2. My favorite accessory is…

A. Gold chain B. Colored scarf C. Earrings D. Ribbon headband

3. In photos, I often look…

A. Angry B. Relaxed C. Shy D. Bored

4. I could see my muse living in…

A. Italy B. Poland C. The Netherlands D. New York City

5. A lot of my friends are…

A. Dead B. Animals C. Older than me D. Wealthy

RESULTS

If you picked mostly A’s…you’re Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi!

If you picked mostly B’s…you’re Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci!

If you picked mostly C’s…you’re Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer!

If you picked mostly D’s…you’re Countess d’Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres!

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(Source: The Frick Collection App)

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!

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?

SPICEWORLD Appreciation Post

Oh, how the childhood feels flood every cell of my body.

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I know what you’re all thinking. “It’s crap!” “The Spice Girls sucked!” “Is she kidding me with that fluff?!” But that’s okay. Imma block out all you haters. Because this album defined me between the ages of 5 and 8. The Spice Girls were to me what One Direction is to most pre-tweens of today. Back then (wow I feel old), I only had cassette tapes, and I listened to the Spiceworld one religiously. I can still hear every track in my head. There wasn’t a bad piece of fluff to be found.

Oh, my fandom went far beyond the music. I had Spice Girls action figures. I bought bubblegum lollipops simply because their pictures were inside the wrappers. I watched the movie of this album, widely considered one of the worst flicks ever made, several times a week. Posh Spice (Victoria Beckham) was always my favorite, but I really liked Sporty Spice (Melanie Chisholm) too. Looking back and rehearing songs as an adult, I especially have an appreciation for Melanie/Sporty’s gorgeous harmonies and token descant. My favorite example of this (and probably my favorite Spice Girls song overall) appears in the ballad “Too Much.”

But the thing is, you can never have too much of something that reminds you of a simpler time. No matter how much my taste in music has grown, nothing can replace the love I have for the sound of Spiceworld. Is it Stephen Sondheim greatness? No way. But does it make me feel super happy? Oh hail to the yeah. And I think that’s ultimately what propels it to “artistic viability.” It’s meant to be feel-good music, the kind that you gotta dance to…and it’s got plenty of that energy. Many years after the fact, actually, I found this album at a yard sale- as a CD! Needless to say, it is now part of my music library. And a proud part, at that.

I really have zero shame that I always “shake it to the right” when “Spice Up Your Life” plays on my iPad.

For Your Consideration: They Say It’s Wonderful (and it was)

Last night, I was in the audience for the special concert performance of Annie Get Your Gun presented by New York City Center. It was a two-performance event: the first for their big fundraising gala, the second for the common man (i.e. me). Despite the pouring rain and subsequent decimation of my Playbill, it was a really awesome evening.

Annie Oakley is one of those musical theatre roles that can only be played by a pure juggernaut. It’s not easy for an actress to capture the homespun charm, feisty confidence, and transitory arc of the character…all while belting her face off. It makes perfect sense that the great Ethel Merman was the one who originated the part. She was followed by such actresses as Bernadette Peters, Judy Kaye (who was actually in last night’s show), and now Megan Hilty.

Hilty gave a sparkly and sincere performance as the title character- and from the reviews I read by other people, a universally acclaimed one. More than one person believed that if this concert production ever became a full show and ended up on Broadway, she would have a Tony Award in the bag. It was unusual to see a platinum blonde Annie Oakley…I’m so used to the character having darker hair! But that’s a minor thing, as Megan Hilty brought the house down with her sick vocal range and comedic timing.

Her Frank Butler was Andy Karl, who (as you may know) I adored in On the Twentieth Century. He was more of the “straight guy” in this role; that is, Frank’s masculine coolness really contrasts Bruce Granit’s flashy histrionics. But his voice was in prime form, and he and Hilty sounded beautiful during the love duets. Furthermore, one of my favorite moments in the show was their “Anything You Can Do.”

It really is Annie and Frank’s show, but the supporting cast was also very enthusiastic and talented. Ron Raines (who I last saw in Follies) was Buffalo Bill, while Something Rotten‘s Brad Oscar portrayed Charlie Davenport. And the two children playing Annie’s brother and sister were adorable. Some of my other favorite moments in the show, actually, were things that can only be done with NY City Center’s Encores! productions. You see, Encores! shows are done concert-style, so the actors often have their scripts in-hand. City Center is very, very good at incorporating the scripts into the humor of the show; they almost become a bonus prop for the actors to play with.

The bottom line? Although the story is dated, and my companion was quite upset with Lady Oakley’s final decision, you really can’t go wrong with a classic like Annie Get Your Gun. The brilliant, timeless Irving Berlin score is reason enough for that. But when you also have a cast like the one I saw last night, the stage is dynamite!

Apologies, and Int’l Women’s Day Greetings

Hello folks. I’d like to apologize for the late blog entry this week, but what I’d planned to write sort of fell through. Hopefully next week I’ll come up with something even better- and sooner! Anyway, something I didn’t know this morning was that today is International Women’s Day! It’s a wonderful thing to see the accomplishments and rights of women are being recognized on a global scale. In truest Puccini’s Chronicles trend, we’re going to put our own twist on venerating the ladies, both real and fictional, who’ve elevated artistic endeavors throughout history. So sit back, my readers, and let me tell you a story…

As many legends tell us, Woman was created by the Divine to be the completion of Man.

Though supplanted for a long time, it was clear that she was at the controls of the male heart. You can see evidence of it with every muse.

Once opportunity arose for the ladies to come into their own, they did so in a BIG way.

It was time for their voices to be heard…

…and their stories to be told.

More recently, creative minds have realized that it’s just as important to cultivate the future of socially active women with excellent role models.

We still have a ways to go, but together, we can ensure that progress never stops being made!