Music

Let’s Break It Down: Christmas’s Weirdest Musical Pairing

There are some things that just don’t go together. Two like magnetic poles…Felix Unger and Oscar Madison…or (as some argue) pineapple on pizza. By all accounts, these “odd couples” are so called because they inherently clash. They stand in opposition to one another, whether ideologically or physically. Forcibly bringing them together often leads to disaster.

By all accounts, that’s what should happen during a collaboration between a flamboyant British rockstar and a wholesome American crooner. But by God, David Bowie and Bing Crosby defied those odds. Was it a Christmas miracle?

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“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was recorded in 1977, just five weeks before the death of Bing Crosby. It was to be aired on a Crosby Christmas special, prefaced by dialogue between the two about their holiday traditions. Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” lyrics, sung in counterpoint to Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy,” were written specifically for this collaboration. And, in true virtuoso fashion, the recording was sealed after less than an hour of rehearsing.

Of course, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle without getting zapped a few times. For one, Bing Crosby wasn’t actually fond of the “Little Drummer Boy” song. Producers were also worried that he wouldn’t know who David Bowie was; that concern was later found to be a non-issue.

In the years following this encounter, the record became one of Bowie’s highest-charting singles. Which brings us to the following question: is it really fair to assume the worst about a musical pairing before it actually comes together?

I think the moral of the story is that great art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. There really was no good reason to have Bing Crosby sing with David Bowie, but some innovator out there thought it was worth a shot- and we wound up getting a new holiday classic.

This season, I hope all of us find the courage to break boundaries and make important connections with other people…no matter who they are.

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Puccini Does a Fire Emblem Challenge (and so can you!)

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As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the Fire Emblem video game saga. If video games can be a form of art, then this series takes the cake. It’s got beautiful character designs, epic plots, orchestral soundtracks, and so much more! To honor these wonderful games, I’ve put together my own two-week challenge. And you can do it too- just be sure to credit Puccini’s Chronicles with your post(s). “Pick a god and pray!”

  1. Favorite Male Character
  2. Favorite Female Character
  3. Favorite Class
  4. Best Weapon
  5. Best Piece of Music
  6. OTP
  7. Saddest Moment
  8. Best Hair
  9. Best Outfit
  10. Favorite Villain
  11. Best Non-Canon Appearance
  12. Funniest Quote
  13. Least Favorite Character
  14. Favorite Skill
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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Pop Culture Pondering: Four Reasons Why Kids Should Play Neopets

Okay, this week’s entry might seem a little random. In fact, you may have read the title of this post and thought Amanda had finally cracked her nut. But I insist, hear me out on this one.

Neopets is the original MMORPG for virtual pets, but it is so much more. It’s a whole galaxy to explore. It’s a world of people from across the Earth chatting like they’re best friends. And, of course, it is cute pixel critters that you get to bond with. The company was started by two British folks just before the new millennium. Today, it has millions of users, many of whom have been part of the site for years. I myself began my Neopets adventure when I was just 9 years old. (I’ll be 24 in two weeks.)

And while, yes, the game is highly addictive…it also taught my younger self some great skills. Here are just a few of them, and why I think it is actually beneficial for parents to setup a Neopets account for their children.

queenfyoraHTML. I am not kidding; playing Neopets taught me HTML coding. You see, in order to customize the various pages on your account, you must do all the coding yourself. Oh sure, the site gives you many templates that you can copy and paste to create layouts. But looking at these codes, over time, enabled me to learn which ones triggered such-and-such on the Internet. I still use the foundation from this to date!

kacheekswimFinancial responsibility. Not only does the Neo-world have its own stock market system, you also learn basic money management principles. See, in order to get cool things for your pets and virtual life, you need to save up Neopoints (NP). It was here that I learned how to “haggle” prices, since you can barter with the online shopkeepers to get better deals on stuff. You’ll even open your own store for other users to visit and get a sense of how supply-and-demand works.

illusendollMotor skills. One of the ways you can earn NP is by playing an endless variety of Flash games, for free! These range from arcade-style games to brain-twisting puzzles. Now, I’m not saying that you should let your tykes spend hours trying to beat their high score. But studies have shown that limited video gaming can strengthen cognitive processing and, particularly, hand-eye coordination.

kioskwockySocialization. As I said earlier, Neo-folks have formed a bustling community. Although users cannot write on the message boards until their 13th birthday, they become an invaluable resource. The Neopets staff strictly monitors their forums to ensure that they are safe for everybody. So for someone like me who had trouble interacting in the real world…the online community became a haven. Here, I could see which social protocols worked and which did not.

(Source: Neopets)

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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.

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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?

Fine Arts

Suddenly Surprise!

Good afternoon, my wonderful readers! I’m just writing a quick note to say that, because I have a special post planned for next week, today’s will consist of some favorite musical-themed GIFs. (None of these were created by me.)

We now return to your regularly-scheduled Puccini’s Chronicles programming.

Music

Songs You Probably Didn’t Realize Are About Dark Things

Mind=blown.

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The clock at Grand Central Terminal waits for nobody.

“Blown Away,” Carrie Underwood. What it’s about: In this song from Underwood’s album of the same name, the story centers around a girl with a dead mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. When a tornado hits their Oklahoma home, the girl leaves her passed-out father as she locks herself in the storm shelter. We can assume that he is destroyed when the twister rips through the house. Ouch!

“Unworthy of Your Love,” Stephen Sondheim. What it’s about: At first glance, this number from the Broadway show Assassins sounds like a standard, beautiful love ballad. But it takes on an entirely different tone when you realize it’s being sung by Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley- a wannabe Manson follower and Jodie Foster’s stalker, respectively. These two also attempted to assassinate U.S. Presidents in an effort to win their beloved’s attention. Now that’s what I call tainted love!

“I Don’t Like Mondays,” The Boomtown Rats. What it’s about: This staple rock song is deceptively catchy for such dark lyrical inspiration. The title comes from a quote by Brenda Ann Spencer, a troubled teen who was asked why she sniped ten people in a playground (two died). Though composer Bob Geldof received some flack for allegedly “exploiting a tragedy,” which he denies, the record became the Boomtown Rats’ biggest hit.

“Pumped Up Kicks,” Foster the People. What it’s about: In a similar vein, the earworm-worthy hook of this band’s debut single masks some morbid subject matter. When closely listening to the lyrics, it becomes clear that the song is about a school shooter, in the vein of Columbine. “Pumped up kicks” refer to the designer shoes worn by the narrator’s intended victims. The lead singer, Mark Foster, said that he wrote the piece to raise awareness for teen mental illness.

“Sweet Painted Lady,” Elton John. What it’s about: A majority of the tracks from Elton John’s smash Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album manage to be incredibly fun while telling some grim tales. In this slow, sea-soaked jam, a sailor sings of the prostitute he’s hired for the night and wonders how she feels about the life she leads. With its thoughtful lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the song achieves a certain poignancy.

“At the Ballet,” Marvin Hamlisch. What it’s about: This number from A Chorus Line is a semi-torch song for a trio of women. Typically sung by soubrettes, it conveys three distinct dramas that have something in common: their heroines all found relief when they went to the ballet. Sheila’s parents had a loveless marriage, Bebe’s mother made her feel unattractive, and Maggie’s father was absent entirely. Audiences who get lost in the glitter of the show tend to forget the inherent sadness of this scene.

Personals

It Ain’t Festivus, but I’m Airing Some Grievances

  1. The Broadway.com Awards are the epitome of why “the public” can’t be allowed to vote for anything in the entertainment industry. Why? Because “the public” voting on their smartphones is mostly comprised of close-minded teenagers who are just getting exposed to the theatrical world. Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Hell, my first “gateway show” was Wicked. Everyone’s got to start somewhere. But unless voters adequately acquire the breadth of knowledge required to judge performances…awards turn into a popularity contest. Which is fine, but then it should be touted as such. Call the category “Favorite Working Actress” instead of “Best Performance by an Actress,” so that when Idina Menzel or Laura Osnes win for shows that close in less than 6 months, it’ll make sense.
  2. On that note, the notion of “parody” adaptations being protected from copyright suits is starting to bother me. You make a mockery out of someone else’s work, and it’s totally fine. You lovingly adapt someone else’s work because you respect the material and want to see it anew, and suddenly you’re cutting legal red tape. It hardly seems fair…but as a friend pointed out to me, it’s also hardly about the art when dollar bills start falling into people’s laps.

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…So to speak.

Okay, my rant’s over.

Theatre

A Tale of Two Show Boats

One of my favorite musicals ever is the groundbreaking Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein piece called Show Boat. Although I have never seen it live, I did watch the Papermill Playhouse production that PBS recorded…it was during my high school Musical Theatre class. I remember being blown away by the grand set designs, the gorgeous music, and the heartbreaking story that also managed to be very hopeful.

Anyway, when I was a teenager, I acquired a CD of the 1965 Lincoln Center Show Boat, which starred Barbara Cook, Constance Towers, and William Warfield. I loved this recording because everyone was in fine voice and the orchestra was amazing. I was also annoyed at this recording because it didn’t include the complete score of this phenomenal show. But it was all I had.

And because it was all I had, fast-forward to the premiere BroadwayCon in 2016. There, I got an autograph from Rebecca Luker, who played Magnolia Hawks in the 1994 Broadway staging of the piece. (Magnolia is one of my bucket list roles, incidentally.) Since I only had the Barbara Cook production, I asked her to sign that, which she happily did. So, I have the wrong recording of Show Boat signed by Rebecca Luker.

Picture it: Midtown Manhattan, the last day of February, 2017. I’m on lunch break and decide to stop by the secondhand electronics/bookstore. I browse through the music section and choose the Almost Famous soundtrack for my boyfriend; it’s one of his favorite movies. A few minutes later, I find- wait for it- the 1994 Broadway cast CD of Show Boat, starring…Rebecca Luker!

Both discs cost $5, and you really can’t ask for a better deal than that. So I headed for the cashier, two items in hand and a silly grin on my face. The moral of the story: now I just need this album signed by Barbara Cook and I’ll be in business!

I don’t know…were you able to follow this story? Or are y’all feeling a bit like the secretary in Cagney right now?

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(Thanks to BroadwayBox for creating this magical thing.)

Music

When Bad Lyrics Happen to Good Songs

Disclaimer: Light snark ahead. However, all of the songs on this list are on my iPad. That means I quite like them and enjoy listening to them! Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean they are without flaws. These are musical theatre pieces containing a painful lyric that baffles me when I hear it.

“In your kidney-shaped pool.” (“SMASH!,” SMASH) I know Smash technically is a television show, but some of the original songs have very poor lyrics in them. This is one of them. The word “kidney” does not belong in a song (much like “thrice” and “intrauterine”…brownie points to whoever gets that reference) let alone an entire lyric referring to the shape of a swimming pool.

“Join us, leave your cheese to sour.” (“Magic to Do,” Pippin) Ugh! This is such a wonderful opening number, which makes it all the more painful that Stephen Schwartz couldn’t think of a better lyric than this one. It’s really silly. Who is so worried about souring cheese that they must be persuaded to leave it and come watch the show?

“I believe in looking like my time on Earth is cooking.” (“My Strongest Suit,” AIDA) “My time on Earth is cooking?” What in the world does that even mean? Tim Rice is the mastermind behind “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” so a lyric like this from him is just unacceptable. Giuseppe Verdi would be turning in his grave if he knew that Amneris was singing this.

“The grass is always greener on some new Technicolor stage.” (“Cut, Print… Moving On,” SMASH) Yet another doozy from NBC’s nod to Broadway. Like the AIDA lyric, this is just nonsensical. How could the grass even figuratively be greener on a stage? Even more egregiously, the stage has to be described as “Technicolor.” Add that to the list of words that don’t belong in songs unless you’re talking about Joseph’s Dreamcoat.

“Like a seed dropped by a skybird in a distant wood.” (“For Good,” Wicked) And we close out with some more Stephen Schwartz as well. The imagery associated with this lyric is just not good, no pun intended. Furthermore, if I compared my friendship with someone to being like a seed dropped in the forest, I think they’d be weirded out. “That’s how you describe our meeting each other?” they may wonder. It’s a simile that is too out-of-left-field to work.

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