Celebrating STEEL PIER

Introduction: Life’s a party, why don’t you come to the Steel Pier?!

21 years ago, Steel Pier: A New Musical premiered on Broadway. To celebrate one of my all time favorite shows, this blog will discuss all you need to know about this very special musical. So dip your toes into the ocean, be willing to ride, and welcome to the Marine Ballroom on the world famous, Steel Pier!

Everybody’s Dance

Musical Background: So watch the joy go on and on!

Steel Pier is musical with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It has a book by David Thompson with Direction by Scott Ellis and Choreography by Susan Stroman. It is an original musical based on the concept of the film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and the Orpheus myth. It starred Karen Ziemba, Debora Monk, Casey Nicolaw (who later become the director of such Broadway hits as Drowsy ChaperoneSomething Rotten and MeanGirls) and a young Kristin Chenoweth making her Broadway debut. It opened at the Richard Rogers Theater on April 24, 1997. The show received mixed reviews and ran for only 76 performances.

 

Historical Background: All Atlantic City is proud of the Steel Pier!

Steel Pier is a 1,000 foot long boardwalk built over the ocean of Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is Atlantic City’s oldest theme park and in its heyday featured a diving horse act, water skiing puppies, flagpole sitters, high wire acts and was the place where the Miss America Beauty Pageant took place in the Marine Ballroom. It was particularly popular during the summer seasons as a way of escape the heat and the crowds of the nearby industrial cities.

 

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The Marine Ballroom on Steel Pier

Dance Marathons were a popular form of entertainment during the 1920s and ’30s in which couples danced day and night to big brass bands on end in order to achieve a grand cash prize and publicity. Some of the marthons’ cash prizes went up to $5,000 ($96,282.28 in 2017 inflation). The main rule was to keep dancing, swaying or moving on the dance floor. If a contestant should stop moving, feel asleep or fell on the floor from exhaustion, you were disqualified. Contestants would get one fifteen minute break every hour in addition to food and beds. Spectators threw coins at the marathon dancers and could even sponsor their favorite couple.

Although Dance Marathons supplied contestants food, a roof over their head and gave spectators free entertainment during the time of the Great Depression, there is a dark sadistic side to the marathons. I will later discuss about this later in the blog.     

 

Plot: Here I go again, willing to ride!

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“Cuz if your partner doesn’t show, I’m still available”

ACT ONE

Steel Pier, August 12th 1933. Rita Racine, a charismatic young woman full of life, is waiting for her partner to show up so they can enter Steel Pier’s dance marathon. Rita is known as “Lindy’s Lovebird” for she was the first woman to kiss Lindbergh when he returned from his famous flight. Rita, finding out that her partner never showed up, decides to dance instead with Bill Kelly, a daredevil stunt pilot. He tells her about the time he won a raffle ticket to a kiss and dance with “Lindy’s Lovebird” at the Trenton Air Show but couldn’t make it in time. Although he has two left feet, Bill dances his best for her and has has become very smitten with Rita.

Rita is secretly married to Mick Hamilton, the Master of Ceremonies of Steel Pier’s dance marathon. He organizes, schemes and rigs the contests in insure that his wife will be the winner. Mick promises Rita that this will be her last marathon.

Back at the Marathon, the contestants dance and drop from the Shag to the Two Step. The audience is also introduced to some of the contestants including Shelby Stevens, Johnny Adel, Betty and Buddy Becker in addition to Precious and Happy McGuire just to name a few.

Mick hatches a plan to Rita to promote herself, in spite of her approval. Mick decides to create a fake wedding between Bill and Rita in order to get a taffy sponsor for the marathon. Despite her resentment, she willingly agrees.

Back at the Marathon, Mick decides it’s time for the constants to run The Sprints in order to knock out some of Rita’s competition. However, it is Rita who falls in the sprints. Bill manges to stop time and run time back again so she doesn’t fall. The marathon continues.

ACT TWO

Steel Pier, August 26th, 1933. Rita falls asleep during her fifteen minute break where she dreams of Bill taking her to the skies in his airplane. She wakes up only to find Mick telling her to get back out on the dance floor.

The marathon drags on with contestants dropping out and one, Buddy Becker, having a mental breakdown screaming, “I want a job!”. Another contestant, Happy McGuire, who dropped out of the marathon is confronted by Shelby Stevens who tenderly asks him to take her with him back to Utah. He declines and Shelby is left heartbroken.  

September 2nd, the night of the phony wedding. Mick, suspecting that his wife is beginning to have feelings for Bill, decides to create a break up between them right after their marriage. Rita agrees in order to finish this marathon so she can go home for good but instead finds her world coming apart.

The phony wedding happens with a song sung by Presious McGuire. Bill and Rita are sent to their honeymoon tent. Knowing that this tent will be ripped away for a taundry stunt pulled by Mick, Rita wishes that she could escape. Bill tells her that anything is possible in their dreams and takes her away on his plane telling her not to look back. But Rita does look back when Bill informs her that he has to leave for good. The tent is lifted with Rita and Bill going their separate ways, both hurt and confused.

Later that night, Rita is informed by Mick that not only will she be dancing in the St. Louis Dance Marathon but that her dream to go home is destroyed by Mick who sold the house a long time ago and never told her. In return, Rita disqualifies herself by standing still on the dance floor. Mick, infuriated, reminds her all that he has done for her including her failed act at The Trenton Air Show in which a pilot got killed in a horrible plane crash and took all the publicity from her. “He died”, Rita replies shocked. She realizes that the man she has danced with and fallen in love with, Bill, died in a plane crash and came back from the dead.

Rita slowly begins to realise the loveless trap her marriage has been with Mick. Suddenly, Bill appears and tells her to take a chance on life away from the marathon. He asked for the kiss and dance that he won at the Trenton Air Show raffle. After the dance, he is taken away to the other world while Rita finds herself around the exhausted and used marathon constants. With love in her heart and the determination to create a new dream, she leaves the Steel Pier and Mick for good.

Music: Common boys! Let’s make it hot, sweet and sassy!

The score is created by the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb who have brought some signature tunes as “New York, New York” and “Maybe This Time”, just to name a few in their immense catalog. There musicals are known for the use of pastiche, a song/score that indirectly and flatteringly mimics another song, musical style or performance style. Kander and Ebb use pastiche to help the draw attention to the theatrical or musical setting in which the story is presented.

The pastiche is Steel Pier is a combination of different musical styles of the 1930s. In “The Overture”, we can hear the pastiche of George Gershwin in the piano part.

The song “Dance With Me”, is a pastiche of the kind music heard in the grand sweeping Fred Astaire movies. The lyrics even nods to Astire in the song, “Fred and Adele never gilded as well as we do when you dance with me”.

Here’s Fred Astaire singing “Let’s Face The Music and Dance”

Here’s Kander & Ebb’s pastiche, “Dance With Me”

The lyrics of the song, “Everybody Dance” call back to the songs lyrics of “Shakin’ The Blues Away” and “Forget Your Troubles C’mon Get Happy”. “The Shag”, “Two Step” and “Harmonica Specialty” are all based on the music Big Bands played at Dance Marathons during that time in addition to music that went along with the zany dance steps of the time such as the Suzy-Q, the Turkey Trot and the Moochi.

Shelby Steven’s number, “Everybody’s Girl” is an obvious pastiche of Mae West and Sophie Tucker, famous broads known for their naughty double antrandra.

Here’s Sophie Tucker singing “You’ve Gotta See Your Mama Every Night”

Now here’s Kander & Ebb’s take on Tucker and West with “Everybody’s Girl” 

The song “Wet” I find to be a pastiche of the song “Singing in the Rain”. The song “Two Little Words” is pastiche on European Operetta, a popular form of theater music from the 1880s-the 1940s that featured melodramatic arias sung with operatic gusto.

The music of Steel Pier also contains two musical phrases that are used as the love theme in the show. The first one is Rita’s Theme as shown below.

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Rita’s Theme (Kander, pg.3)

The second is Bill’s Theme. His theme is also the basis of his song, “Second Chance”.

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Bill’s Theme (Kander, pg.13)

Throughout the show these two themes play and whenever Bill helps or shows his love to Rita, such as in “The Sprints” or “Final Dance”, the two themes are intertwined to create the musical love theme.

Themes: First you dream…

When David Thompson, Susan Stroman, John Kander and Fred Ebb came together to create Steel Pier, they wanted to “create a musical that celebrates a uniquely American view of the world” (Thompson, pg.8). The unique American view can be expressed in the three leads, Rita, Bill and Mick.

Bill and Mick both represent the two different sides of the American Dream. Bill represents an optimistic version, where you truly can get a second chance in life, anything is possible and as long as you hold on to your dreams with the courage of your convictions, anything can happen. Mick represents the dark side in which to achieve the American Dream, one must fight tooth and nail to be at the top, “never be an employee, always be the boss” (from Mick’s song, “A Powerful Thing”) even if it comes at the cost of exploiting and humiliating others.  

Rita, represents the audience, who must decide which side of the American Dream they want to pursue in order to find home. In the end, Bill is the man who shows Rita how to achieve her goal.

 

Cynicism: YOU’RE OUT!!!

Kander & Ebb’s most well known shows such as Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spiderwoman deal with dark uncomfortable subjects with a cynical perspective that often ends in one of the characters dying. Steel Pier has been categorized as Kander & Ebb’s least cynical musical and in the same categories as the team’s other lighthearted shows such as Woman of the Year, The Happy Time and Curtains.

This is completely understandable. When one listens to this score, Steel Pier is full of happy, bouncy and romantic tunes piled on top of each other. However, the cynicism in the show can be found libretto and through the history about the darker side of dance marathons.  Steel Pier has a lot of cynicism than it’s given credit for.

Although as previously discussed, dance marathons helped Americans “dance their blues off” in addition to giving a chance for economic opportunity with free food and shelter, the marathons exploited the contestants. Furthermore, it gave the spectators the sadistic pleasure of throwing coins at the dancers in order to watch these constants fight to win in a gurgling contest. Some consider Dance Marathons to be an early version of reality TV that blurred real life with the exploitation of show business. David Thompson, the book writer of Steel Pier, called dance marathons “a place where hope-and hopelessness-blurred”. Furthermore, just like Mick Hamilton in the musical, some of the dance marathons were only used as publicity stunts to promote businesses or celebrities and were rigged.

Here are two examples from Steel Pier that show the dark underbelly of the Dance Marathon:

In Act One, Scene 7A (Thompson, pp.46-47), after the big Shag Dance, a constant drops to the floor of exhaustion. Walker, the floor judge, proclaims “Yoooooou’re Out!”. As Walker goes to help the constant up, Mick turns to Walker, “Hold on, Walker. Let everyone take a good look”. Beat as the constant struggles to get up. “Don’t worry folks”, the boastful Mick says on the mic, “Their dreams may be broken, but tomorrow they’ll be as good as new, ready to try again, somewhere else. Because that’s the spirit of this great nation of ours! Right kids?”. The couple is taken away as Mick sings with a smile, “All Atlantic City is proud of the Steel Pier”!

This scene shows the MC exploiting the pain that the contestant is going through just for her get up off the floor, tells Walker not to help or sympathize, (ironically) tells the crowd that their loss is fostered on the American Dream and then proceeds to sing a bouncy song after the couple’s loss.

In Act Two, Scene 3 (Thompson,pp.86-87), Buddy Becker, one of the constants begins to have a mental breakdown from exhaustion in the marathon. “What’s the matter with me?” Buddy proclaims as he begins to crack up,speaking faster and faster, falling to the floor, “There’s nothing the matter with me! Nothing’s ever been the matter with me! I want a job! I WANT A JOB! I WANT A JOB!” The music stops as Buddy turns to find everyone looking at him on the dance floor stunned. He quietly replies, “I can walk out of here myself, thank you”. Bette, Buddy’s sister and partner in the marathon, watches with pain. She grabs the couple number off her back, throws it at Mick’s feet and walks out. Beat. No one moves. Suddenly coins begin to be thrown by the crowd. None of the contestants move. Walker turns to them and barks, “Pick up the coins”. Everyone dives and starts to grovels at the coins.

This scene shows how Dance Marathons brought out the worst in people’s morality. Thompson shows Buddy screaming, “I WANT A JOB!” in order to show the audience that dancing in a marathon was not a noble profession and the desperation these people went through just to have a chance of winning money in order to survive in the Great Depression. The only person who shows humanity in this scene is Bette, who instead decides to stay in the marathon without her partner, disqualifies herself to be with her brother. The scene then goes to show the crowd’s sadistic pleasure from watching someone have a mental breakdown as form of entertainment by throwing coins on the dance floor. At first the contestants are aupaled but when ordered to, they run to grab the coins and fight each other for it. The underscore for this section is a happy bouncy vamp in G major which makes the scene very unsettling.

 

What happened?: Some hot-dog pilot gets killed in a plane crash and everything falls to shit

When Steel Pier came out 21 years ago, people either loved, hated it or were confused and the musical’s life did not live long enough to find its audience. The musical, although considered to be problematic, was nominated for eleven 1997 Tony Awards, but lost all in year dominated by Titanic and the revival of Chicago. So what went wrong? Well, here is my theory on the matter.

Steel Pier is written in the style an old fashioned musical plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein and departure from their unique style. When people went to go see Steel Pier, they expected Kander &Ebb’s usual style of raunchy provocative material but were thrown off when they instead found a genuine love story. Ben Brantley of The New York Times in his review called Steel Pier, “the anti-”Cabaret”…anti-”Chicago’”(Leve, pg.227). Another problem that could have been was the year Steel Pier was competing in. The season was filled with pop operas with such as Phantom, Miss Saigon, Cats, Jekyll & Hyde and Titanic. Audiences just didn’t want to see that type of old fashioned show with no crashing chandeliers or sinking boats.

Where most critics and scholars put the blame of Steel Pier’s failure was the story’s ending when the audience finds out that Bill was an angel the whole time. Tony Walton said that, “the conclusion of the story begged too many questions and pushed the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the breaking point” (Leve, pg. 227). But here’s what I personally don’t understand. How come a musical theater audience can accept Billy Billglow coming back from the dead with the angels to help his child and wife in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel but won’t accept Bill Kelly coming back from the dead to help Rita in Steel Pier?

John Kander commented that ending of Steel Pier is not supposed to be thought out, “Sometimes you just have to go with your feeling” (Leve, pg.227). I agree with Mr. Kander and just like Bill says to Rita, “Just don’t look back”. Unfortunately a majority of the audience looked back.  

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Bill and Rita

Conclusion: Go on, fly!

Although Steel Pier has been criticized for it’s “problematic” ending and being the odd child in the Kander & Ebb musical family, I find it to be their strongest score. I believe what helps makes this score so lush and romantic is the beautiful Orchestrations by Michael Gibson, Vocal Arrangements by David Loud and Dance Arrangements by Glen Kelly. The combination of these creators in addition to cast, truly shimmer and glow on the cast recodiring. Historian Ethan Moore stated that “Those listening to the cast recoding in the future will find it hard to understand why Steel Pier only lasted two months”. (Famous in NY Video, 1:26-1:33).

For those who haven’t listened to the cast recording, I highly suggest going to your local library or digital store to go listen to this musical, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I hope one day this musical will once again shine in the spotlight and be appreciated for what is. What Steel Pier really needs more than anything else is a second chance…..

 


WORKS CITED 

Famous in NY Video. “”Willing To Ride/ Second Chance” (STEEL PIER).” Online Video

Clip. Youtube. 15 November 2015. Web. 22 April 2018.

 

Kander, John, and Fred Ebb. Steel Pier: A New Musical: Original Broadway Cast

Recording, Hit Factory Studio 1, New York , 4 May 1997.

 

Kander, John, et al. Steel Pier: Vocal Selections. Edited by David Loud, Hal Leonard , 2005.

 

Leve, James. Kander and Ebb. Yale Univ Press, 2015.

 

Thompson, David, et al. Steel Pier. Samuel French, 2005.

 

 

I’m Obbsessed: “Applause”

In this blog, I discuss my obsession with the 1970’s musical Applause! I hope to make future blogs about other shows I’m obsessed with but for now, let’s step into world of 1970’s New York City at the Palace Theater!

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BACKGROUND: “Welcome to the Theater! To the Magic! To the Fun!”
Applause is a 1970 musical based on the film, All About Eve and it’s original story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. The creators are Broadway royalty; Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Annie) and Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, Wonderful Town, On The Twentieth Century). The original Broadway production starred Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing and won four Tony awards including Best Musical.

STORY: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
Super-fan, Eve Harrington is brought backstage to meet Broadway star Margo Channing on her opening night of The Friendly Argument. Eve tells Margo how the actress saved her depressing life after her husband died in the Vietnam War. With Margo’s ego boosted, she welcomes Eve to her life and Eve soon becomes Margo’s shadow. Eve slithers her way into the life of her friends; producer Howard Benedict, playwright Buzz Richards, Buzz’s wife Karen and Margo’s director and lover Bill Sampson, making Margo even more suspicious of Eve. This siltering leads Eve become Margo’s understudy making Margo horrified. “I can’t believe it”, Margo screams, “This little prairie flower has been standing in the wings, studying my every line, my every move for five months and I never knew what she was really up to!”. Margo blames and yells her friends, causing them and her lover Bill, to walk out on her. Planning to backstab Margo and to help Eve, Karen and Buzz empty the gas out of Margo’s car, making her unable to attend the performance and allowing Eve to go on for Margo. At that performance, Eve is a hit and the audience is full with critics. Margo’s hairdresser Duane snipes at Eve, “a birdie must have told ‘em you were on tonight, or maybe a vulture”. Eve tried to seduce Bill but Bill turns her down. She then moves to Buzz, but before their affair can flourish, Howard (the producer) calls her out for the lies she has told Margo and her friends. Her real name is Evelyn Hinkle and her husband never died, he’s still in Vietnam. Howard blackmails Eve for a starring role in an upcoming play and Eve now “belongs” to Howard. Margo finally realizing Eve’s motives, she decides to give up the stage and her own ego for “Something Better”, her love for Bill.
ANALYSIS: “Who’s that girl?”
The musical is an interesting character study between its two leading ladies, Eve Harrington and Margo Channing. Eve represents how far people go and what lines people cross in order to achieve their dreams. Margo’s journey throughout the show deals with coming to grips with the ugly side of ourself- our age. The women also deal with the theme of being alive. Throughout the musical, the characters sing and say what it is to be alive. However, it is up to the audience to decide what makes one truly alive. Both women sing the song “But Alive” at different times of the show. For Eve, being alive is artificial love from hundreds and for Margo being alive is true love from one person.
Much like Sunset Boulevard, the show centers around an aging actress in addition to the story celebrating and criticizing the excitement and backstabbing of show business (Shown through such numbers as “Applause”, “Backstage Babble” and “She’s No Longer A Gypsy”). It’s a show that discusses and deals with the hidden figures of theater business who do not get the applause they deserve such as the supporting characters of Karen, Bert, and Buzz.

GAY CULTURE: “It’s just too groovy to believe”
The show is most notably known for Margo’s “But Alive” which takes place in a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Before Applause, homosexual representation in musical theater had been coded and taboo on Broadway. For example in Damn Yankees, the role of the Devil is subtextually gay with his style, manor and wit in addition to the character ascending from Hell. In Cabaret, the role of Cliff was originally supposed to be gay but his character was changed to be in love with Sally. Applause is significant for having one of it’s character’s (Margo’s hairdresser, Duane) openly gay and for having one of it’s scenes in a gay bar, representing diva worship in the gay community. This is not coded in the show nor does the show make them blatant stereotypes such as future gay musicals such as The Producers or La Cage Aux Folles. Furthermore, Duane is never shamed for being gay, the characters respect him for who is (a MAJOR step considering it came out the year after The Stonewall Riots).

MUSIC AND LYRICS:
Although the music is joyous and the show is commercial, it is the darkest out of all the shows Strouse and Lee have written. Lee’s lyrics in such songs as “One Halloween” and “Welcome to the Theater” have cynical edge to them:
Welcome to the Theater
Welcome to the dirty concrete hallways
Welcome to the friendly roaches, too
Welcome to the pinches from the stagehands;
It’s the only quite thing they do!
Welcome to Philadelphia critics
Welcome to Librium and Nembutal
Welcome to a life of laryngitis
Welcome to dark toilets in the hall
Welcome to the flop you thought would run for years
Welcome to the world of fears and cheers and tears

One Halloween
Remember that Halloween when you were nine?
You wore a fairy queen costume of your own design
Well, look at you now
And you put on rouge and lipstick, though it wasn’t allowed
You were so proud
And Daddy said “Wash your face
You look like a whore”
That’s what he said
No more
……….
Everybody loves the winner
But nobody loves the flop
No one worries how you got there
Once you’re standing on the top

I love this version of the song by the original Broadway Eve, Penny Fuller. You can feel and hear all of Eve’s anger, hurt, vengeance and triumph. 

However, the show balances this cynicism with campy disco theater tunes such as “Fasten Your Seatbelts”, “But Alive” and “Who’s That Girl”. Strouse wrote in his memoir “Put On A Happy Face” that the disco/1970’s-esque tunes came from reading an article in the New York Times stating that in order for a show to be successful on Broadway, it must have an up to date score that aligns with the music of the times, hence why the score is settled in an heavenly dated 70’s feel.

WHY DO I LIKE APPLAUSE?: “What is it that we’re living for?”
For me, I’ve met a lot of Eve Harrington’s in my life and I love this story for telling this tale of this actress who will do anything for a part in a play. We have all met and have been Eve or Margo one time in our lives. We all have crossed lines and prostituted ourselves to achieve our dreams one way or another.

FINALE: “Something Greater”
This gem (like most gems) are swept under the rug. However there are rumors that Audra McDonald is to do a revival of Applause as Margo Channing next year on Broadway! And luckily for you, you can watch Applause now, thanks to the wonders of Youtube! This version is of the 1972 London cast filmed for television. Although there is a time bar at the bottom, the television adaptation is a faithful reproduction of the stage show and is definitely a must watch for any musical theater buff.

Statues and Stories: My Musical Trip to Italia

Written August 4th 2017

OVERTURE

This past July, I had one of the most life changing and wonderful opportunities of my life, performing musical theater in Italy! I have just returned back to the states, and boy am I jetlagged! I wanted to blog about the highlights of my trip, the wonderful people whom I met and what I took away from this surreal experience. So, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!

ACT ONE

In early spring, I was accepted into Music Academy International for Musical Theater Performance, after submitting an audition video. The program would take place in a sleepy mountain town in Italy called Mezzano throughout the whole month of July. Although I was ecstatic I was accepted into the program, I was very apprehensive because it would be my first time internationally, first time in Europe (not to mention I’d be on my own) in addition to being a little nervous about what the program would really be like. Nonetheless, I was willing to take a chance!

My parents also wanted to tag along in the fun! Therefore, we left a week early before the program started to go see the sites of Germany and Austria! In Austria, my mother and I went to go do The Sound of Music Tour, to visit the locations used for the 1965 film. It was EXTREMELY touristy and campy, but my mother and I had a great deal of fun! Some of the sites we saw  included the Mirabell Gardens (where “Do Re Mi” was filmed), Mondsee Chapel (used for the wedding sequence) and the Hellbrunn Palace Gazebo (used for “16 Going On 17”).  However, the most spectacular site we saw no not even in the movie, it in a town called Sankt Gillen which over looked this beautiful lake, so clear and blue, simply breathtaking. After that, my parents dropped me off in Mezzano and I was ready to begin with Music Academy International.  

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I have confidence in sunshine! I have confidence in rain! 

The town of Mezzano, in addition to its neighboring towns of Imer and Fiera di Pimero, was simply spectacular. Everywhere you turned, there was another majestic view to hit you in the face! It truly was a storybook village untouched by time. My friends and I would keep joking that at any moment the town would just start to sing “Belle/Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast. Fortunately for me, I studied italian for two years in high school and for a semester at San Diego State so it was easy for me to decipher and assimilate to this italian culture.

And of course, when in Italy, MANGIARE MOLTO. Every restaurant in town had spectacular food and I loved them all! As a matter of fact, I lost 15 pounds over in Italy on this pizza diet! My favorite dish I had in Italy was Pollo allo Spiedo, a special type of roasted chicken with herbs and spices, so delicious! A special memory I had was every Friday having lunch with my fellow SDSU students and our professor Rob Meffe. I loved getting the opportunity to have a wonderful luncheon where I got to connect more to Rob and the other students who I love very much.

What I loved the most out of this program and what I will take away from this experience the most was the chance to make a lot of friends from this program. It was great to be around students from some of the top musical theater schools in the states who were just like me; had a deep love for musical theater, passionate performers, good head on their shoulders and knew what they wanted out of life and this career. I also got to make an Italian friend, Patrick! Patrick was the son of the landlord of the apartment of where I was residing. A fun memory I had with Partick was when he invited my roommate Stephen, my friend Coleman and I to go to a secluded lake to go swim in called Villa Welsperg. The lake was FRIGID but I made the guys dunk their whole bodies in the cold water. Patrick got to make a lot of friends with the other kids from the program! He even lead some of them on tour of Vienna. Che e bene amico!

Every weekend us students had the opportunity to explore the wonders of Italy! Some of the students hiked the Dolomites, some went to other cities like Verona, Venice or Rome! However, my newly acquainted friend from Pace University, Westley and I went to the enchanted (and tourist trap) city of Florence. It has always been my dream to go to Florence ever since tenth grade when I saw Adam Guettel’s musical The Light in the Piazza (this musical is also the reason why I decided to study italian). So the first stop on our trip was the site where Fabrizio and Clara met, The Piazza della Signorina. And of course, being the annoying American tourist I was, I began to re-enact the show in the piazza. Although I saw the many famous sites of Florence, I think the highlight of the trip to Florence was the opportunity to hang out with my new friend, Westley. I miss him very much and I hope to meet with him again soon in NYC.

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And the beauty is I still met people I know…

ACT TWO

I had the opportunity to work with some of the best professors from the top musical theater schools in the states; From University of Michigan, Linda Goodrich, Jason DeBoard and Logan Jones (who will be in the cast of Spongebob on Broadway this winter, go Logan!), from Pace University, Marishka Wierzbicki and Gillian Berkowitz and from San Diego State, my professor, Rob Meffe! I was extremely fortunate enough to make some wonderful friends over there from performers all over the world! I loved being around these guys because they love musical theater as much as I do, they have so so so talented in addition to being extremely dedicated to their craft and know what they want out of life. I miss them terribly and look forward to the day our paths cross once more.

As part of M.A.I., the musical theater students get to put on two gala concerts and two full length musicals (this year it was Godspell and Chicago). We were split into two groups, the cast of Godspell would be in Gala One and the cast of Chicago would be in Gala Two. Although us students were always separated into two groups, we loved to hang out with each other and always supported each other, it was a very nice camaraderie between the students. The first gala was superb! My fellow classmates from San Diego State killed it with their songs from Guys and Dolls. Also in the first gala had an amazing moment. One of the students Samantha Williams was singing the ultimate 11 o’clock number “I’m Here” from The Color Purple. As she started to sing it started to trickle rain, then as the song progressed it began to rain, then pour (HEAVILY), than THUNDER. It was as if her powerful and beautiful voice commanded the weather, it was truly a memorable night and how lucky I was to be a witness to it! I performed in Gala Two where I sang with my dear friend Coleman Campbell, “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden.

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Gala Two singing “S’Wonderful”

The musical I got to perform in was Chicago! I was very excited to be in this because I absolutely adore Kander & Ebb and anything ala Brecht! I played the role of Amos Hart, Roxie’s funny honey husband who sings the Bert Williams-inspired number “Mister Cellophane”. Now, I had some trouble finding the character of Amos because everyone plays Amos as stupid or one-dimensional, in addition to this show being produced so much,I wanted to find something new with this character so I wasn’t doing a carbon copy of someone else’s performance. But with the help of my wonderful director Linda Goodrich and analysis critique by Scott Miller, I began to understand the character and what he is/represents. As Scott Miller said in his book, Amos represents the unrecognized heroes or “nice guys who don’t win in the real world; sometimes nice guys get dumped on, and the Billy Flynn’s of the world get it all”. Amos and the Hunyak are the only two characters in the show who are not selfish, not “performing” or obsessed with fame and wealth. I decided to make Amos not one dimensionally stupid, but someone who wants to be smart but can’t be, making upset and little frustrated when he can’t be. He wants to be sexy and popular like Billy Flynn but never can. Amos does have moments where he stands up for himself but other people just keep pushing him down. He was the most interesting character I’ve played so far and I loved doing this show with a wonderful creative team and cast. (You can see my performance of “Cellophane” on my website under videos).

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And all that jazz…..

FINALE

This trip to Italy was truly life changing and I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to do this wonderful program! I miss all my friends and wish I could relive this experience all over again just to be with them once more! A huge thank you to the wonderful ladies who organized this program, the amazing faculty who came out to Italy to help teach us students, Patrick and my parents for allowing/ helping me go on this journey! Till next time, arrivadella Italia!

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Love’s a fake, Love’s a fabel 

The Broadway Tag

Several weeks ago, one of my dear friends from Canada, Mr. Taylor Michael, tagged me in the Broadway Tag! It’s a fun internet tag in which if you are tagged, you have to answer questions in relation to musical theater. Here’s Taylor’s video (where I’m mentioned in the end).

Therefore, here are my answers:

  1. What was the first musical you saw live?

Beauty and The Beast

  1. What was the first movie musical you saw live?

Oklahoma

  1. What was the first play you ever saw?

Brighton Beach Memoirs

  1. How many musicals have you seen?

Too many.

  1. What was the first musical you were cast?

HMS Pinafore

  1. What is your favourite musical?

The Visit

  1. What is your favourite movie musical?

Pennies from Heaven

  1. What are your dream roles?

Floyd Collins, Bert, Billy Bigelow, Bud Frump, Nostradamus, Man in the Chair

  1. What is your favourite solo?

The American Dream

  1. Who are your broadway crushes?

Ana Villafane and Josh Segarra from On Your Feet

  1. What shows do you wish would do a revival?

The Rink, Barnum, Parade

  1. What is your dream jukebox musical?

I don’t have one.

  1. What shows do you think should have a televised special?

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, 1776

  1. Name the shows you wish you could see? (any cast past/present)

King & I 1996 Revival, Mack and Mabel, Bring Back Birdie

  1. What would they name the broadway show based on your life?

Now That’s Comedy!

  1. What was the last musical that you performed in?

King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar

  1. Who are your broadway idols?

The hard working equity ensembles of any and any broadway show, Clay Thompson and Chris Rice

  1. What is the show that you have the most memorized?

Passion, Sunset Blvd

For more updates for Taylor, check out his youtube page at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1ig6FSUZ-SJlzCh3XW4fIw/videos

 

 

King Herod Interview

 

cyyk5erukaaqt4uI had the great privilege about two months to perform the role of King Herod for San Diego State University’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar: In Concert. In anticipation for the concert, I was interviewed by our show’s dramaturg, Maya Greenfield Thong. Here is the article discussing about my research for the role of King Herod and what I did to prepare for the role: 

Q: The Herod we see in JCS and the Herod we see in the Bible are very different people. Tell us a little bit about your interpretation of Herod.

A: You are correct, Herod in the Bible and in Superstar are two completely different people. In history, King Herod was a despicable man who killed and tortured many people during his reign and is barely mentioned in the bible. And an interesting fact, HE was actually The King of the Jews until he sold out to the Romans and betrayed his own people. In the rock operetta, Webber and Rice decided to represent this reprehensible sellout as the flamboyant comic relief in the show. Many critics and scholars have issue with the show’s portrayal and music style of Herod therefore label him as a major problem in the show. Because the character comes out of nowhere in the story and never returns, in addition to his song style being unlike anything compared to the rest of the score, it lends its way to many different interpretations. Furthermore, their arguments would not cease since Herod has been played as a full-out drag queen, a Vegas crooner, a smarmy sort of used car salesman, and everything in between. Furthermore, many of my theater friends when I told them I was to play Herod asked me if I was going to play him as a nance (which is a usual stable when actors perform Herod).

The combination of the scholars’ criticisms and the usual interpretations of Herod, made me really question how I was to honor the actual King Herod, Webber/Rice’s Herod, in addition to creating my own vision and trying not to be another actor trying to make the same choice of a flamboyant Herod. I realized that I had to cast all those thoughts aside, create my own interpretation, and bring a little of myself into the character, no matter if it came out flamboyant or how it came across to an audience. I also had the help of Stephen (our terrific director) for his guidance and what he interpreted. He used different references of characters, shows and archetypes for me to understand what his vision was of the character. Examples included a “Let’s Make A Deal” TV Show host (inspired by the 2012 Arena Tour of Superstar), Elton John, Adam Lambert (on which my outfit is based upon), Billy Flynn from Chicago, and even our President elect. In addition to what Stephen wanted from the character, I added inspirations of the Emcee in Cabaret, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman and Terrance Mann. So, Herod is really a melting pot of so many different inspirations combined into one man.

Throughout the song, I try to ringlead Jesus into performing his talked about miracles. My intention is to expose him as the circus freak he really his (changing water into wine, raising from the dead) and it strongly gets on my nerves when he does not say or do anything. In addition, throughout my song I also mock and make fun of him for being a “king”, a superstar, a jew and God himself through my sarcastic tongue and cheek tone.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the audience about Herod? The show?
A: What I love about Superstar is that it’s very much like a Shakespeare play in which each production is different and interpreted. What’s special about San Diego State’s production is THIS is the way Superstar was meant to be seen and the correct way to be done. As a rock concert. This show I think was not very well suited for actual storytelling and suffers for it, as evident of the 1974, 2000, 2012 Broadway productions in addition to the 1974 and 2000 films. Scott Miller in his book “From Assassins to West Side Story: The Director’s Guide To Musical Theatre” furthers this argument my stating, “Because the show was recorded in the studio before it was staged, it was originally written for the ears, not the eyes, and some of the score is very difficult to stage adequately, especially for audiences used to the skillful storytelling of modern pop operas like Les Miz, Rent, and others (Miller, pg.137). Therefore, San Diego State’s concert production perfectly fits the score’s needs.

Another problem that a majority of productions plague from is focusing on the singing the text instead of interpreting the text and letting the music come from the text. Because our cast is from the land of Musical Theater rather than the land of rock, there is more emphasis on the text and the emotions of the characters rather then (no pun intended) wailing to the high heavens. Our amazing music director, Rob Meffe, has given the cast and I musical liberties with the score, helping us create our own characters through the set music Webber wrote. Listening and watching my fellow cast members interpret the songs as they sing through the show is like hearing this show again for the first time.

As for Herod…buckle your seat belts, kids.

For more interviews from my other cast members and  information on SDSU’s JCS, go to https://sdsujcs.wordpress.com/