Posted in Personals

Throwback Tuesday: Lou Rawls

Have you ever had a song become inextricably linked to a life event? Of course you have. Now, was that song’s subject matter completely unrelated to the event? That’s probably less common.

Here’s the story of how Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” (1976) connected to one of my earliest life lessons.

As a child, I heard a wide array of opinions about race. Stereotypes, codes of conduct, historical roles…you name it! But one doctrine that was repeatedly drilled into me surrounded interracial marriages- it isn’t right to “mix the blood,” especially since “your kids won’t know what they are.” With no concrete examples for this idea, I took it at face value. But that changed when I was about nine years old.

Bizarrely, my nine-year-old self was to be the only bridesmaid in my aunt’s wedding. (Incidentally, I remember my dress very clearly: it was a spaghetti-strap gown with two shiny tan panels on the side, overlaying white fabric underneath.) As we prepared for the ceremony, I met Mariana, a close friend of my aunt’s; I thought she was very pretty and sweet, so I liked her a lot.

I hate to say it, but I was actually surprised when I realized that she was married to a black man. But…I didn’t know any better.

At the wedding reception, I went to my stepmother and expressed my confusion. To her credit, she debunked my preconceived notion in a way that made sense to a kid: “Mixed babies are often very beautiful. Look at Derek Jeter.” Satisfied with this explanation, I joined Mariana and her husband on the dance floor; the song playing at that moment was “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”

Sixteen years later, whenever it comes on the radio, I’m instantly taken back to the dance floor that day. That day, when I took the first of many subsequent steps toward accepting people just as they are.

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Posted in Music

What Happened on May 14th, 1998?

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by Glena Thade

The Theatre at St. Peter’s was pleased to welcome esteemed American crooner Frank Sinatra tonight, as he premiered his new Afterlife Tour. The excitement in the room was palpable; much of the audience had long admired Old Blue Eyes from afar.

After warming up the crowd with his usual banter, Mr. Sinatra introduced the newest member of his traveling orchestra: Raphael the harpist. In an interesting artistic choice, Sinatra opened with “That’s Life,” perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his former performance locations.

He recalled his encounters with many people in the space between death and the pearly gates, which seamlessly segued into a poignant “Strangers in the Night.” This number was followed by a visually stunning performance of “I’ve Got the World on a String,” in which Sinatra (with the help of some divine power) literally bounced Planet Earth like a yo-yo. Some worldwide seismic movement was reported.

But the definite crowning point of the evening was a special appearance from the Good Lord himself, who restored Sinatra’s youthful vigor before our very eyes. He then joined him for a wonderful rendition of “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

The concert concluded with the Chairman gaining his wings and encouraging the audience to singalong to “Come Fly with Me.”

Originally published in The New York Host and reprinted with permission.

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 Fine Arts

An Art of Their Own

Happy New Year. You know, I’ve had several folks in my life wonder why I advocate so passionately for video games. “They’re a waste of time! They don’t contribute anything to society! They’ll melt your brain!”

And all three of those statements, if I may say so, are wrong.

The way I see it, video games (especially RPGs) can be their own kind of art. They fuse technology, music, and visuals with a story- just like a film- and make them even more interactive. There’s a reason it’s so easy to lose yourself in a virtual world; you feel like you’re a part of it, as your actions affect what happens in that world. I think a little bit of escapism is necessary to survive reality’s curveballs.

Even if that doesn’t interest you, the best games can be a great source of listening and viewing material. You don’t actually have to play to appreciate the lush orchestral numbers on a game soundtrack…or practice your sketching skills with an intricate character design.

I singled out role-playing games because those tend to be the “deepest” in their scope. Since they are designed to take the player on an epic journey, their creators have to literally build a world from the ground up. Do you know how much creativity is required to put the pieces together? Honestly, I’ve been more moved by some video game stories than by many movies. Writing the characters’ dialogue is also an art unto itself, as each must have a unique personality to match their look.

As for physical health concerns, that holds a bit of merit; you should rest your eyes from the screen periodically. As with anything else in life, you must keep it in moderation. However, playing video games is a great way to improve hand-eye coordination as well as social skills (via multiplayer).

The moral of the story: don’t be so quick to disregard video games as a meaningful form of media. They employ artists, bring people joy, and are ingrained in cultures around the world. Who could ask for anything more?!

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Posted in Theatre

Impressions of THE OLDEST BOY

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On one of my always-magical trips to the Drama Book Shop, I picked up a play that I had always been curious about: Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy. This curiosity stemmed from two things- one, the original Lincoln Center production artwork (which I thought was gorgeous). Two, the premise of the piece, which explores an American mother and Tibetan father faced with a Hobson choice about their three-year-old son.

As an aside, I really hoped that the cover of the published play would have the original Lincoln Center artwork. It did not. Nevertheless, I plunked down my cash and planned to tackle it after reading the libretto of Heathers the Musical. Got some serious diversity going on, don’t I?!

Having completed The Oldest Boy in one bus ride home, I’m going to share some thoughts about it with you guys. For starters, the parents’ big choice arises when they are visited by a pair of Buddhist monks. The monks are immediately drawn to Mother and Father’s little son…as it turns out, he is a reincarnated Lama, or high-ranking Buddhist teacher. Interestingly, Sarah Ruhl dispels that mystery early on; she has said that the play is not about “if,” but “now what.”

The Mother (portrayed by Celia Keenan-Bolger in the original production) is the central character, facing her own spiritual tugs-of-war while deciding whether or not her child should live in an Asian monastery to fulfill his destiny. It’s a meaty, heart-wrenching role, and one I would love to do someday.

The play’s dialogue was surprisingly breezy and easy-to-read…it could have been very lecture-like but was not. And I still learned quite a bit about the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism (I’ve long had an interest in world religions). Despite the heavy subject matter, Ruhl managed to infuse some humorous moments, too.

The staging requirements for the show were very odd to see on paper. Apparently, there is an optional chorus of Tibetan dancers that appears symbolically at pivotal moments in the story. Furthermore, the role of Tenzin (the son) is actually done by an adult speaking his lines while manipulating a child puppet. It’s a curious dramatic device, and one you don’t see very often. I imagine that when this play is performed by smaller companies, these elements get heavily modified.

I don’t have the resources to properly investigate that, but I can tell you that the original Lincoln Center presentation received mixed reviews. Much of the positivity in these reviews was indeed aimed at the unusual staging and direction by Rebecca Taichman (this year’s Tony winner for Indecent). Knowing such facts, I cannot help but wonder if The Oldest Boy will lose a chunk of its power when done on a smaller scale.

Even while reading it, I pondered how the play could translate as a narrative as opposed to a live piece. Could it be that this work fares better as a novella? I don’t know.

I also did not fully understand the final scene, but that might just be my naïveté. The Mother’s struggles were very moving, and I teared up more than once. These themes- loss, parental attachment, and love- are ones that affect us all. In that regard, which is the purpose of all theatre…I find The Oldest Boy to be a success.

Posted in 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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Posted in 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.

Posted in Personals

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!

Posted in Writing

Round and Flat Characters, as told by Fire Emblem Fates

When I was a freshman in high school, I learned that all characters (whether from books, movies, etc.) could be grouped into one of two categories: round and flat. Simply put- round characters have a multi-faceted development, while static characters do not. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the latter equates to an unimportant character, but round ones are typically those that readers find more interesting.

I’d like to illustrate this concept with two characters from the Fire Emblem video game series…I haven’t written a gaming-themed entry in a while, so here you go. Furthermore, I believe these two are good examples because they also happen to complement each other: they are twin sisters. Warning…spoilers ahead!

On the left is Felicia; Flora (not to be confused with my blonde doll) is on the right. In the world of Fire Emblem Fates, both girls serve as retainers to the main character (Corrin). Unfortunately, when Corrin is forced to choose between the armies of Hoshido and Nohr, the plot (fate) of everyone in his/her life takes a drastic turn.

Felicia is the twin that we see more of in the game, but Flora (in my opinion) has a far more complex character arc.

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From start to finish, Felicia is the faithful servant- quite clumsy with her work, but always someone with a warm heart. She and Flora live in Nohr, but even if Corrin goes to Hoshido, Felicia follows them. And that’s pretty much it. Flora is a different story.

Flora is revealed over the course of the game to have many underlying personality aspects. For one, she is secretly in love with Jakob, one of Corrin’s other retainers, but she cannot actually marry him…for reasons unknown. Furthermore, although she loves her sister deeply, she is also resentful of her. While Flora is a far more capable maid, Felicia is a stronger warrior.

Flora also feels a strong sense of responsibility for the village where she was born, as the elder daughter of its Chieftain. All of these combined factors determine what happens to Flora after Corrin chooses an alliance. If they fight for Nohr, they actually wind up battling Flora when the latter thinks that Corrin is out to destroy her tribe. Ultimately, however, this confusion is cleared, and Flora later joins Corrin’s front lines.

If he/she stands with Hoshido, the situation becomes more complicated. As Corrin and their friends infiltrate Nohr, they meet up with Flora, who promises to provide sanctuary in her village. In a stunning twist, Flora betrays them when they arrive and sends tribal warriors out to attack. We later learn that Flora did this because the wicked king of Nohr threatened to kill her entire community if she did not.

Corrin tries to convince Flora to join his/her team, but she is overwhelmed with guilt over the betrayal and commits suicide in front of Corrin, Jakob…and Felicia. (This scene is the first truly tearjerking moment in the tale.)

Bottom line? I was able to tell Felicia’s story with one paragraph. It took four paragraphs to adequately summarize Flora. That, my friends, is how you can identify a flat character from a round character!

Posted in 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.)