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.

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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Goodbye, Amelie: Shows That Could (in theory) Play at the Walter Kerr Theatre

The theatrical industry is kind of a funny animal. You just never know what will catch on and what won’t. Many things factor into this: word-of-mouth, critics, award season, marketing, and pure luck. And for one reason or another, Amelie (a musical adaptation of the beloved 2001 French movie) just couldn’t make enough stars align. The show (which I quite enjoyed) will play its final NYC performance at the Walter Kerr Theatre on May 21st.

This venue is named for Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Kerr and opened in 1929. (Today, it is operated by the Jujamcyn Company.) With a seating capacity of just over 900, it is one of the smaller Broadway houses and therefore well-suited to plays and cozier musicals. Its external marquee, with the bright blue lights, is one of my favorites.

That being said, let’s look at a few shows that might inhabit this theatre as well as a few that won’t…but could, in theory.

heathers5 Heathers (New World Stages, 2014). Many a fangirl wished this show, based on the cult teen movie, would transfer to Broadway after its premiere run. Although that seems unlikely three years after the fact, it would still be hilarious to see a musical of this subject matter stand with the likes of Dear Evan Hansen or Come from Away.

taste0037_orig A Taste of Things to Come (York Theatre Company, 2016). Similarly, this small-scale show about women’s roles from the 1950s-60s probably belonged Off-Broadway. However, one of its calling cards was the fact that it also had an all-female cast and band; we could always use more of that!

cyclone0888r Ride the Cyclone (MCC Theater, 2016). This musical is about a group of teenagers vying for the afterlife in the wake of a horrid rollercoaster accident. It seemed to divide public and critical opinion but still managed to be nominated for several awards.

mbutterfly_content M. Butterfly (Planned for the 2016-2017 Broadway season). Now this production of David Henry Hwang’s classic play, directed by Julie Taymor, is confirmed to come to Broadway this year. The only question is which theatre will be chosen- and the Walter Kerr could be an ideal space.

twood_sg_07 The Secret Garden (Seattle Shakespeare Theatre, 2016). Rumors have been swirling that this acclaimed production of the show, featuring Daisy Eagan in a new role, has its eyes on a Broadway transfer.

Alternately, the powers-that-be could just annoy Lincoln Center Theater enough for them to bring Falsettos back.

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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!

Shine…Again?

Thank you to everyone who took an interest in my NYC cabaret debut!

I’m pleased to announce that thanks to this show, I have booked another gig- this time at Don’t Tell Mama. I’ll be singing in the April 4th edition of Seth’s Showcase, emceed by Seth Bisen-Hersh, alongside 5 other performers. We’ll each be doing a set of two songs, and all of the sets will either share a theme or tell a story of our choosing.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here are some clues as to my rep for this show:

  1. Both songs will surround a theme.
  2. Both songs are from modern musicals.
  3. One song is an uptempo and the other is a ballad.

My kingdom for a Tony Award…

Get tickets!

Daily Prompt: Record

We’re halfway through March and it seems that spring should be just around the corner here in New York City. Sadly, we are expecting a foot or more of snowfall tomorrow. But you could argue that a blizzard is the perfect excuse to kick back with a mug of tea and listen to some vinyl records.

Speaking of which, today I’m going to share five of my favorite “morning songs.” These are tunes I most like to crank up when the weather is sunny and warm. For one reason or another, they’re a perfect soundtrack for the crack of dawn.

5. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall: Maybe it’s because of this song’s role in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, but “Suddenly I See” practically brims with inspiration and admiration. As you wake up and the sun shines through your window, it’s hard not to imagine Tunstall cheering you on as you chase your dreams in a big city.

4. “Opening Up,” Sara Bareilles: The version of this number that Bareilles performs on the What’s Inside album is sure to get you pumped for your day with its rousing drumbeat and infectious chorus. With any luck, it will put you in a good enough mood so that when a Starbucks barista pours your latte, you’ll want to say “Hello, how ya been?”

3. “Another Day of Sun,” La La Land Cast: Sure, everyone talked about what happened to this movie at the Oscars, but it’s hard to deny that its score makes for great listening. This song in particular is full of energy, with an earworm-inducing hook. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to let “Another Day of Sun” brighten the morning.

2. “Beautiful Day,” U2: There are certain songs that I associate with specific mental images. For “Beautiful Day,” I envision driving along an empty highway in the summer, just as the sun is beginning to rise. The song’s three-note riff is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are just as life-affirming.

1. “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO: “Today’s forecast calls for blue skies.” This Jeff Lynne-penned hit song practically had to make my list. Lynne was even inspired to write it by beautiful weather in Switzerland. With its upbeat rhythms and bright vocals, the tune has not only become a radio staple but a popular addition to several Hollywood films.

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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?

For Your Consideration: The Voyage of the S.S. American and all that followed

This weekend, I boarded the S.S. American for a 2nd time by attending Wagner College’s production of Anything Goes. Or did I? You see, Cole Porter’s seaworthy tour-de-force is one of those rare shows that has gone through multiple script alterations over the course of its production history. Originally premiering in 1934, the musical underwent major changes in the book and score for its first revival in 1962…and then again in 1987! The first time I saw Anything Goes, it was the 1987 version. Wagner’s production used the 1962 book and songs, so I thought it’d be interesting to compare the two.

The big standards are all there: “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and the title number. But they are in different spots; for instance, in 1962, “You’re the Top” opened the show, while in 1987, the first number was “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Both songs are sung by Reno Sweeney to Billy Crocker, but the latter arrangement greatly implies the past romantic undertones of their relationship. The former, to me, conveys that they’ve always been just good friends.

Music that appears only in the 1962 version includes “Let’s Misbehave,” “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” “Let’s Step Out,” and “Heaven Hop.” All four are essentially filler songs. The latter two are sung by the gangster’s girlfriend (Bonnie/Erma) and were replaced by a much better character song called “Buddie Beware” in 1987. In Wagner’s production, the actress playing this character (Natalie Schaffer) was a terrific dancer. Almost too good, in fact- she was featured in every big hoofing scene, even ones where she necessarily didn’t need to be.

The plot of both versions follows basically the same premise…madcap things occur on a cruise ship, mistaken identity abounds, lovers divided get coincided. However, I feel that the 1987 script tells the story much more cohesively than this one did. I’m not sure how to explain it; it was just…tighter. As my date put it, the 1962 plot “is slightly unhinged.”

However, Broadway veteran Michele Pawk (who directed the show here) certainly knew her piece and how to play the right moments for laughs. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes” were fantastic to watch, largely due to the perfectly-cast leading lady: Miss Sophia Tzougros. She had all the makings of a good Reno, and I detected notes of Patti LuPone in her performance. (Did I mention her dresses were also to die for?!)

Other standouts in the cast included Lauren Dennis and Rebecca Marlowe as Hope Harcourt and her mother, respectively. Sadly, the 1962 script doesn’t do Hope’s character any favors: she only gets a big solo number in the 1987 version. Marlowe was so committed to Mrs. Harcourt that I’d have never thought she was under the age of 21. Unfortunately, that role also figures more prominently in 1987’s script.

Okay, so you’ve probably guessed it by now…I think 1987 gave us the best scope of how Anything Goes in this world. However, as far as 1962 goes, Wagner College gave us what’s probably the best interpretation of that material. Ironically, the school’s next production will be Maury Yeston’s Titanic…and you can’t expect a happy ending from that ship show!

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