Posted in Writing

Is Regina George the Real MVP of North Shore High?

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Disclaimer: This is an extended metaphor.

If you’ve seen the hit movie Mean Girls, you know that protagonist Cady Herron collectively refers to the behavior of her female classmates as “Girl World.” At the beginning of the story, Girl World is in a state of chaos- cattiness, backstabbing, manipulation, you name it. But by the end of the film, as Cady says: “Finally, Girl World was at peace.”

You may wonder how Girl World came to that point, and there could be many correct answers. Was it because Cady and her friends decided to take down the main instigator of the problems, Regina George? Perhaps it happened because Ms. Norbury held the mass intervention in the gymnasium, enabling the students to come clean and heal their wounds. But there’s one other possibility- that Regina herself was the unintentional catalyst. Say what?!

Long story short: For the entire movie, everyone was doing terrible things in secret and behind a smiling veneer (Cady included). When Regina spread the contents of her damning Burn Book, the situation’s true severity came to light, and it was only then that it could be fixed for good.

I’ve felt a similar sentiment in my struggle with cliques of smaller theatre communities. To use a hypothetical example, suppose there is a local actress who repeatedly gets cast in major roles with one company. To me, this is problematic because it would appear that the company has her in mind from the start. They will insist in the audition notice that “all roles are open.” So you mean to say that of EVERY young woman that showed up, NONE came even close to the “repeat offender,” so to speak?

Look, if you’re going to use the same closed pool of actors in every production, like a “troupe,” that is totally fine. In fact, this isn’t that uncommon! But at least own up to it. Don’t waste the time and get the hopes up of people who audition for your shows. It’s not transparent and reflects embarrassingly on your organization.

Maybe, in towns across the United States, somebody ought to call this stuff out. Some thespian should take on the role of Regina George.

(Happy Tony Awards week, everyone!)

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Posted in Writing

“Sky Full of Stars” (Theme from…)

by Amanda DeLalla

We were kindred souls
Even with our clearly-set roles
I could tell from your sparkling eyes
How my heart was in for a surprise
In my head
I would remember every word you said
Carved craters on the moon
In my head
Stained like the surface of Mars with red
Giving both life and ruin
(Refrain) And all I see when you’re with me
Is a sky full of stars
Complex as cosmology
And so very far
Maybe one day you’ll understand it
How I might as well be on another planet
Just me where you are in a sky full of stars (End refrain)
Circumstance isn’t kind to me
I know well that this never should be
You’ve got plenty of things to do
I fear nothing when I’m standing with you
All this time
I’ve felt I’m guilty of some awful crime
Floating up on some cloud
All this time
Loving you like this is an endless climb
Loving you ain’t allowed
(Refrain)
Take me on a rocket to fly
So I’ll never have to say goodbye
Take me on a rocket to fly
No I never wanna ever have to say goodbye!

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Posted in Theatre

Daily Prompt: Tide

Oh, and how they are a-changing.

As you know, dear readers, I am (first and foremost) a creative soul. Specifically, I love to express myself with the fine arts- lyricism, playwriting, and acting. In the time I’ve come to take my craft more seriously, I’ve deduced that my strengths lie in “heartfelt dramedies.” As I see it, these are a myriad of story types, but they are all quite sanguine in their evaluation of the human experience.

(The lone exception to this would be the historical drama I’m trying to put together for a graduate-level course, but that’s something for another day…)

Now, enter the article that showed up on Playbill this week. For those who don’t feel like clicking: it’s a brief spread of three female artists whom the author describes as “poised for major career breakthroughs.” She suggests that you “learn their names before their work hits it big.” As I read the trio’s reflections on their goals, I noticed an all-too-familiar trend. This trend is one that has been permeating the subject matter of many new plays, particularly ones that find artistic and/or critical success.

Dear Evan HansenThe HumansEclipsedFun Home…almost anything written by Lynn Nottage or Tracy Letts…the list goes on! And they are all (to paraphrase The New Yorker) “problem shows.” They deal with very serious, socially relevant topics and sometimes feature dismal endings. Even the current projects of the three aforementioned female artists (the women’s suffrage movement, queer POC) fit this bill.

Boy, am I screwed!

Now you could argue that recent hit shows like AnastasiaMean Girls, or even The Play That Goes Wrong don’t fit the mold- and you’d be right. But there’s a difference: those pieces usually have the benefits of being adapted from a beloved property and/or an already-established writer or actor.

What’s a woman like me to do, one who is still trying to make her mark AND cannot bring herself to formulate plots where the main character dies, loses their faith in humanity, or both?! I often wonder if I was born in the wrong “age of theatre,” so to speak. So I’m going to ask an open question.

Friends, when it comes to stage, screen, or otherwise: do you prefer to escape current events, or engross yourself in them? Please answer honestly! How beneficial might it be to step outside my comfort zone as a writer?

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Posted in 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.

Posted in 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.

Posted in 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.

Posted in 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?

Posted in 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.

Posted in 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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Posted in 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.