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.

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Film and Television

Take Me to Heaven: My Lifelong Ministry of SISTER ACT

I’m not dead! In fact, dear readers, I am feeling great. On Sunday, I gave my own presentation at the 2018 BroadwayCon: being an Aspie in the theatre world. (It was like a restructuring of my 54 Below show.) To my surprise, the panel was a great success- my audience was engaged in the topic and had a really good time. It felt amazing to use my passion and my craft to help people smile and learn. The dream is back!

But, I digress. Today’s post is an ode to a movie that, as a Catholic schoolgirl, has threaded itself in and out of my life. And no matter how many times I watch it, it never fails to be funny and uplifting. I’m talking about Sister Act, folks.

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This 1992 musical comedy, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Najimy, and Mary Wickes, follows Reno lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Goldberg). After witnessing a murder by her gangster boyfriend (Keitel), she is put into Witness Protection and takes refuge in a convent. Deloris butts heads with the Mother Superior (Smith) when she takes over the nuns’ choir and teaches them rockin’ new arrangements of praise to the Lord.

The film has seemed to pop up at the most random moments in my life. In high school, my glee club’s “signature performance” was a medley from Sister Act, complete with stylized hand movements. The nuns at our on-campus convent loved it. In college, I went on a class trip to see the Broadway musical adaptation; I don’t think I’ll ever forget the giant Virgin Mary in the finale, sparkling and spinning like a disco ball.

As a Catholic- or, a member of an organization that gets a lot of grief- I particularly appreciate the movie as a beacon of what my faith is really about. It isn’t about fire and brimstone…but joyful noise and being good to others, no matter who they are.

I read a fascinating (and somewhat sad) article that the original screenwriter of Sister Act envisioned the lead role for Bette Midler, and he went through so much development hell with the studio that he eventually withdrew from the project. To this day, he doesn’t consider the finished piece to be his work and has not watched it.

Writing

“Elton John”

by Amanda DeLalla

I told you once as we lied in bed
A memory that doesn’t leave my head
The fish was seared; there were lights on the tree
And for one night a year
I felt like I had a family
Sharing a laugh with my cousin Helene
Wine flowing free on a snowy scene
The music plays and the candles burn
Then in a week, the loneliness returns
The trouble with me is that I feel too much
Or do not feel enough
Or simply out of touch
Whatever I felt then, don’t worry, it’s gone
I’ve only got Christmastime
And Elton John
Fast forward to the summer and suddenly
You steal my heart, you’re loving me
And your song plays on a crocodile rock
I expected forever
I was in for a shock
To my soul you held the key
And now you wanna be a memory
Never mind, you’re already gone
Leaving me with Christmases
And Elton John
Why can’t things ever stay so simple?
People die, they despair, they have grown
Life won’t promise to be that simple
So I’ll wait and I’ll dream alone
Friday night, he holds me close

Candy canes and a silver bell and it snows
I can smile at him despite what we shared
The time is now; I’ve left it all there
Something’s in the air, could I ever move on?
Taking my Christmases
And Elton John

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Personals

Goodbye, Miss Kathleen: Reflection on a Teacher

“Goodbye Miss Kathleen,

From the young girl in the 22nd row

Who sees you as something more than what we know,

More than just our sophomore hero.”

Knowing the subject of this post in high school taught me some important lessons…and not just the ones I got from her classroom.

Kathleen Nolan taught a few religious studies courses at St. Joseph Hill Academy high school. She was a soft-spoken woman, probably in her sixties, with short mouse-brown hair and spectacles. She was rarely seen not wearing a sweater-and-long-skirt ensemble. This God-fearing educator was also fighting for social justice…as well as a long battle with cancer.

It was she who first told me to “keep things in perspective.” She was also one of the select people who found amusement (rather than annoyance) in my histrionics. At the innocent age of 15, I admired Ms. Nolan’s strength and tact, and yet her existence also confused me greatly. I couldn’t wrap my head around why such a gentle person had to suffer in such a manner. I remember crying over her more than once. Her cancer ultimately went into remission, but she still retired the following year.

Through my fleeting experience here, I learned that bad things would happen to good people. But I also figured out that if we spread charity and decency…and maintain optimism…happiness is still a very tangible goal.

I’ve sadly come to accept that I will never see Ms. Nolan again, at least not in this lifetime. I guess it’s often impossible for teachers to know whether or not they made a difference in their students’ lives. I think everyone fails to recognize just how many people drift in and out of his or her life; that doesn’t diminish their significance, though.

So…do as Ms. Nolan did…and be good to others.

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Personals

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.

Personals

Daily Prompt: Candle (Flashback Friday)

It was like something out of a movie.

We were coworkers, you and I, at an enormous theatrical venue. I’d been there for a few months- you, a few years. Although I loved working there, it was only a part-time job, and I was always hunting for full-time work. Then, finally, at the end of June, the phone call came that I’d been hired. This was also around the time that you and I began to date.

A week before I was set to begin my new job, I received tickets to the New York Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.

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You’d already seen it, so I took my friend Jacqueline. But we had made plans to get together after Jacqueline returned to Staten Island. The show was wonderful from start to finish; as the Rockettes danced around the electrifying lights of “Welcome to New York,” I teared up. Partly with pride at my city, partly with sadness that a new chapter of my life was starting. “What a way to close out my time at this job,” I thought. (Pictured is my favorite number in the Spectacular, “Singin’ in the Rain.”)

And interestingly enough, as Jacqueline boarded her bus, it began to drizzle again. I ran back to Radio City to find you. We hitched a ride on a taxi back to your apartment, holding hands on the way, the candlelight of our hearts flickering in the dark.

I was going to tell you some thrilling news here, my readers, but I think that deserves its own post. So for now, here is a teaser: it involves me, Sondheim, and a one-woman show. Blessings on you all…happy Friday!

Writing

“The Girl Who Never Left”

by Amanda DeLalla

The girl who never left…

At last, I understand.

She is no longer of this world.

But her specter remains on this land.

The girl who never left…

I didn’t want to open a scar,

But it’s a part of who you are.

I don’t even know her name.

But I know who, for her death, you blame.

The girl who never left…

And now I finally realize

You see too much of her when you look into my eyes.

For that, I so apologize.

I never truly believed it till now-

That ending your life only transfers the pain somehow.

But now proof stands before me, it is so real

And I just want to hold you until you heal.

I cry for you, I cry for me, I cry for us- bereft…

In the wake of that girl who never really left.

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If you, or someone you care about, has suicide on their mind: call 1800-273-8255 or otherwise seek help NOW!

Writing

“The Limbo”

by Amanda DeLalla

I’m stuck between two places,

My mind flies through times and spaces.

(Remembering days I spent with you.)

Sadness touches thoughts of you, boy,

Memories that once brought me Joy.

(Like you carrying me into your room.)

This is the limbo, I suppose,

Before you walk down the path you chose.

(Or gazing at the city, under the moon.)

Been crying myself to sleep at night,

And if you just came back, things would be right.

(That time you bought me tiramisu.)

Not even a week since you’ve been gone,

And I avoid Facebook for fear you’ll log on.

(We laughed together at Chekhov’s gloom.)

It’s just like Oscar Hammerstein said,

I may not wanna live but I’m scared of being dead.

(I’ll relive this all again by tomorrow afternoon.)

INSIDE OUT

Theatre

For Your Consideration: a review of Broadway’s WAITRESS

“It’s amazing what baking can do,” sings Jessie Mueller as Jenna the waitress in one of just two non-Hamilton shows surviving from last season. (The other is School of Rock.) And if “baking,” she also means “the theatre,” then she’s absolutely correct. Seeing Waitress on Broadway this week for my birthday affirmed that.

In short: Jenna is a small-town waitress who happens to have a gift for baking pies. The trouble is that she’s stuck in an abusive marriage and unexpectedly pregnant…until a baking competition offers a $20,000 prize and the potential for a new life. Along the way, she is aided by her friends at the diner (Kimiko Glenn, Keala Settle) as well as the new doctor in town (Drew Gehling). Actually, she and the doctor wind up having an affair. The show is based on a 2007 motion picture.

Famously, the score was entirely done by pop singer Sara Bareilles, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work. Her involvement with the show has been a staple of their marketing campaign, and she makes vocal cameos (pre-recorded) at a few points in the musical. I am in love with Bareilles’s music for Waitress; in fact, it’s a big part of why I wanted to see the show onstage. It’s fresh, it’s catchy, and each number is carefully crafted to reflect the personality of its characters. My favorite songs are “Opening Up” and “Bad Idea,” the opener and closer of Act I, respectively. There is also the 11 o’clock song, “She Used to Be Mine,” but I’ll talk about that at the end.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how the ensemble is used: they fill lots of minor roles, but they also serve as a Greek chorus of sorts for the action. The effect works surprisingly well. As for the leading players, they were all perfectly suited to their roles and got great audience reception; at my performance, Kimiko Glenn’s understudy was on, but she did a great job. Another thing Waitress knows how to do is find a balance between comedic and serious moments. You have the ludicrous awkwardness of Ogie (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Becky’s take-no-prisoners attitude…and then a scene later, you see Jenna get hit by her husband (Nick Cordero).

Speaking of which, Jessie Mueller gives another electric performance as the main character. She brings such raw emotion and sincerity that I cried at three different times in Act II. “She Used to Be Mine” spoke to me on a profound level as I thought about my own trials and tribulations. Like Jenna, the girl I once was didn’t ask for bad things to happen to her…and both of them escape (and still do) by immersing themselves in their passions.

With any luck, someday I too can achieve my ultimate happiness- and the ones I care about will be right there with me. Waitress was not only a delightful birthday gift, but a reminder of just how spellbinding the arts are for the soul. They don’t even have to be fundamentally perfect; as I’ve heard, “it only takes a taste.”

Personals

Memories of Alice

So, for starters, I haven’t seen the new Disney Alice movie yet. But I did find this quote from it, and it basically punched me in the heart. “I used to think Time was a thief. But time is a gift. Every minute, every second.” This tore my soul out through my nostrils, not only because it’s relevant and poignant, but because I remembered that Alice Through the Looking Glass is the final film of Alan Rickman. This, my friends, is why I love art so much. In the way it relates to our world, it stirs up such powerful emotions. Those emotions can then cause us to change how we view said world…or even motivate us to do incredible things. No other forum/medium has this sort of power. But…I ramble! This wasn’t meant to be a post about my “feels,” or an analysis of why art matters.

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Back to Alice. The most lauded work of Lewis Carroll has been special to me since I was a little girl. I’ll admit that my first exposure to the story was the 1950s animated Disney movie, but it captivated me so much that when I got a little older, I wanted to read the book as well.

As a child unknowingly growing up under Asperger’s shadow, I related to Alice. Like her, I felt stuck in a world operating very differently from what my brain knew. I would “cast” people in my life as the denizens of Wonderland. My favorite actress was the Rose in the singing garden, Mom was the Gryphon, my mean principal was the Duchess, and my loud math teacher was the Queen of Hearts. (Of course, my pet cat was Dinah.) I have this one vivid memory of being around eleven years old, sitting alone during recess and reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while the other children played as though I didn’t exist. Going to school was like falling down the rabbit hole.

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“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.” This is one of my favorite lines from the book. Although I have changed over the years, and no longer feel quite as akin to Alice, many things have stayed the same for her and me. Like that line. And blue dresses/black hair bows. Or my fascination with the wonderful oddities of life. When I picture myself as a child, I see someone with braids and eyeglasses, wearing a school uniform and reading the story of Alice. If I could speak to her, much like the Cheshire Cat, I’d say that things will get better. That she will build true friendships and find her way.

So, Mr. Carroll and Mr. Disney- I thank you for your unrivaled creativity, and my eleven-year-old self thanks you!