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.

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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?

Writing

Daily Prompt: Trademark

Exciting news from your humble author!

My first collection of essays and lyrics, Tragedy Tomorrow, has been published and is now available for purchase! You may recognize some of the writing as posts made right here on Puccini’s Chronicles.

The book is currently being sold through McNally Jackson independent booksellers- based in SoHo- but I am looking for other outlets as well.

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Of course, the essays are themed to the arts and living with autism in the Big Apple (that is my trademark). The lyrics come from my original musical shows and some standalone songs. Tragedy Tomorrow only costs $10 and can be ordered very soon.

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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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.

Writing

Chill Demands Cocoa: The Thespian’s Guide to Hot Chocolate in NYC

Didn’t expect to see me so soon, did you? Well, as it turns out…I’m full of surprises! Although it’s still plenty warm here in New York, we have officially entered the autumn season, so those temperatures are bound to drop soon. And what better way to cope with the cold than by enjoying hot chocolate? Today, I’m going to share some great places for you to drink up. As a bonus, I’ve even hand-picked classic songs to match the mood of each location. Cheers!

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MARIEBELLE: Looking for some old-fashioned ambiance with your confection? Look no further than Mariebelle in SoHo, whose very name oozes class. What’s interesting about their homemade hot chocolate is the amount of flavors you can choose from. These variants range from milk chocolate with hazelnuts all the way to white chocolate with banana! Relevant music– “I Never Do Anything Twice” from The Seven Per-Cent Solution

MADISON & VINE: Nestled in the heart of Midtown is this elegant restaurant embedded within a hotel. Of course, you can have your fill of tasty food here, but there’s something on the drink menu you may not know about. Seasonally served, their hot chocolate is made with brandy, dark crème de cacao, spiced chocolate, and whipped cream on the top. Scrumptious! Relevant music– “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!

MCNALLY JACKSON: Books and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s afternoon are the stuff of dreams for hipsters everywhere. In this indie store, indulge your thoughtful side by sipping a mug of their Italian Agostoni dark chocolate concoction. It is made via melting the good stuff with hot water and then blending it with Hudson Valley milk. Relevant music– “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me

THE CHOCOLATE ROOM: For the environmentally conscious folk, this café places an emphasis on “sustainably sourced chocolate.” It actually has two Brooklyn locations- one in Park Slope and the other in Cobble Hill- and they both work with a fair trade co-op in Madagascar. As far as hot cocoa goes, each cup is topped with a giant marshmallow and may include an espresso or alcohol shot. Relevant music– “In Summer” from Frozen

NUNU: Not many people can say they’ve enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate within a chocolate factory. But pay a visit to Nunu in Brooklyn, and you can say just that! Their flagship location has small chairs and activities perfect for children…but the whole family will enjoy watching sweet treats get made and dipped as they drink. Relevant music– “When the Children Are Asleep” from Carousel

IL BUCO ALIMENTARI: At this NoHo spot, the atmosphere is warm and casual…rather perfect for a cozy date! You and your beloved can enjoy a mug of their signature hot cocoa, brimming with Guanaja goodness. This kind of chocolate is made with 70% dark and 30% white- plus a marshmallow. It comes in flavors ranging from rosemary to cinnamon to burnt orange. Relevant music– “Liza” from An American in Paris

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.

Theatre

Little Theatres in the Big Village

Have you ever been hanging out on Wall Street and thought, “Damn…why is Times Square so far away? I want to catch some quality theatre!” No? Well, too bad. As the “pink elephant phenomenon” teaches us, you’re thinking it now.

Never fear, because I’ve got a secret to share. There are a host of wonderful theatrical venues nestled in the fabulous Village of New York City! They’re not terribly massive, but sometimes a close-knit experience is what you want. As a bonus, many excellent new productions and classic revivals will find a home in these theatres.

The three houses I’m spotlighting were so chosen because they do not belong to a theatre company. Off-Broadway, for example, venues like the Laura Pels (Roundabout), Lucille Lortel (MCC), or Mitzi Newhouse (Lincoln Center) are often owned by bigwig arts institutions. But the three below are typically rented out for independent productions. And sometimes, you’ll get to see a big-name star in their show, up close!

Let’s get to it!

Minetta Lane Theatre. 18 Minetta Lane. Pictured show: Himself and Nora

09himself-master768 The Minetta Lane Theatre opened in the East Village in 1984. It is noteworthy for having two seating levels (orchestra and balcony) that can accommodate 391 total patrons. Fun fact: Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (which has become a cult classic) first premiered at this house!

Cherry Lane Theatre. 38 Commerce Street. Pictured show: Out of the Mouths of Babes

mouth-of-babes-450x300__main The Cherry Lane Theatre opened in the West Village in 1924, making it the oldest operating theatre off-Broadway. It was converted from a warehouse by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Today, it seats 179 people and is mostly known for hosting new and unconventional works.

Barrow Street Theatre. 27 Barrow Street. Pictured show: Sweeney Todd

02sweeneyjp-superjumbo The Barrow Street Theatre opened in the 1990s, but its location (within Greenwich House) has been around since 1902. The venue has a 200-seat capacity. Nowadays, it is getting a great deal of buzz for hosting the lauded immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd!

What is the best production you have seen at one of these little Village theatres?

Theatre

Get You a Man Who Does It All

If you don’t know who this fellow is, you’re probably at the wrong blog. (Just kidding…I welcome all readers who wanna talk about the arts.)

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But seriously- I attended a preview performance of Manhattan Theatre Club’s Prince of Broadway on Friday, and I walked away from it astonished. Astonished that one man could helm so many productions that make for theatrical lore. As the show notes, it takes luck, guts, and hard work. Harold Prince socked away all of these.

Perhaps even better than the crash course in Prince’s career was getting to see the production’s superb cast bring it to life. For me, Tony Yazbeck was the standout. This easy-on-the-eyes triple threat blew the roof off the Friedman Theatre with “The Right Girl” during the Follies segment. Let me tell you something about that song. When I saw Follies on Broadway, I remember feeling that “The Right Girl” was the weakest song in the score. Yazbeck’s rendition of the number changed that. To say he danced the hell out of this song would be the understatement of the year. He also seemed to get the most applause at curtain call.

Chuck Cooper’s Tevye (from Fiddler on the Roof) and Emily Skinner’s Desiree (from A Little Night Music) were also major crowd-pleasers.

Another memorable moment was Janet Dacal’s “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. Yes, there was a superhero musical before Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. And it also did not fare too swiftly. However, I think “You’ve Got Possibilities” is one of the greatest ditties ever written for musical theatre. It’s snappy, it’s funny, and the lyrics are wonderfully written.

Bryonha Marie Parham was particularly impressive, too, because she probably showed the most versatility in the characters she portrayed. After delivering a glorious “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me, she proceeded to belt her way through the title song of Cabaret. This lady’s vocal range must be nuts.

This show reassured me that anything is possible if you’ve got a great support system and are willing to take risks. All in all, I walked away from Prince of Broadway in a very inspired frame of mind. And isn’t that what going to the theatre is all about?

Theatre

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.