COHORT REPORT: By the power of Celine Dion

It’s a testament to Dan Finnerty’s prodigious talent that when he sings “My Heart Will Go On” at the climax of his autobiographical musical Little Orphan Danny, he makes the most overplayed song of the past two decades feel fresh and triumphant. Celine Dion is a patron saint of sorts in this irreverent and touching story, serving as a catalyst for reuniting Finnerty and his birth mother thanks to a rather amazing coincidence. When he launches into her familiar, cheesy hit, he turns it into a moment of celebratory joy that made me want to cheer.

Finnerty has a way with cheese. The leader of The Dan Band, he’s best known for his covers of songs by female artists–memorably singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at Will Ferell’s character’s wedding in the movie Old School.

In Little Orphan Danny, he narrates his coming of age struggles as a chubby, adopted kid with parents who don’t quite know what to make of him. His adopted mother Pat is there throughout his growing pains, always consulting her reference book What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Orphan for tips on how to handle incidents including the misguided murder mystery party he hosted for his classmates. Although Pat has a solution for everything Dan throws her way–she saved the party with ice cream–his eventual relationship with his birth mother Peg finally pushes this straightlaced Catholic lady to her breaking point. When she swears for the first time, its a wonderful moment of release.

Julie Foldesi plays both Pat and Peg, as well as Finnerty’s wife and several members of his birth parents’ families. Her character switches are signalled with quick costume changes such as the addition of a hair clip or glasses, and it works effortlessly. She is superb in her solo numbers, giving unique and equal voices to both mothers.

The play is another winner in what has proved to be a terrific season at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

–Amy Roeder, Cohort

 
LOD-400x400

Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

SaveSaveSaveSave

Advertisements

COHORT REPORT: Creative Musical Memoir

As an MRT Cohort, I enjoy meeting the actors when they arrive in the rehearsal hall and read the script together. For the Little Orphan Danny reading, it was not obvious to me how Dan Finnerty’s real life story, created with Sean Daniels, would become such an amazing play.

Little Orphan Danny takes us back to a time when family roles and responsibilities were defined by social mores and and religious tenants. A time when our behaviors did not always match what was expected. Dan Finnerty grew up as an adopted child filled with the usual wondering about his birth parents. As he goes from a ten year old boy to a man with his own child, we share early years of chubby boyhood pranks and needs in song and rap-like stories.

Dan is immensely talented in bringing us on the stage with him to share his autobiographical musical, a deeply irreverent take on the family we are given and the family we make. As Danny takes us on his journey to find his birth family we laugh, cry and reflect on our own families. Dan Finnerty is outrageous as he moves on, and off, the stage to tell us his story in words, song and rap-like story telling. He is filled with humor and quiet reverence about how to bring his past into his now, and when it happens he is obviously conflicted and confused.

Julie Foldesi shares the stage playing many roles in telling Danny’s story. She brings amazing character being his adopted and birth mothers, then his wife by merely changing a bit of her style. She is also a very talented performer with Dan and alone on the stage. There is an amazing combo of musicians on the stage providing sounds and original music that enhance the performances.

There are many people who work on a play that you never see, but their talent and creativity are essential. Along with the MRT staff, there is a very talented design team making music, lights and sound to brighten up a very creative set.

I have seen Dan Finnerty, the playwright, and Sean Daniels, the director bring this play from the script to the stage. I assure you this is an amazingly creative personal production done with humor, brought to life by a group of very talented artists.

–Gail Gauthier, Cohort

 

LOD-400x400

Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

SaveSaveSaveSave

Audience Review: Simply brilliant theatre

Little Orphan Danny is simply brilliant theatre. I went to opening night where the show was as fresh as indeed it is: first performance of an extraordinary play born of a confrontation of the truth of one’s life and directed with painful insight by Sean Daniels.

This is a musical and the music is wonderful but sometimes disturbing when it remains upbeat and happy when the lyrics have darkness: both music and words came from the hand of Dan Finnerty writing about his own experience growing up as an orphan, so he must know firsthand of the subtle tragicomic interplay of darkness and light he represents in a very human way. Perhaps the music is a sort of therapy to transcend the pain in many of the words.

Julie Foldesi is astonishing taking on all the female roles, and especially at combining the adoptive and birth mothers and being the girlfriend as well – Freud could have written a book about this! Of course, all three are in fact the same person: a loving caring person demanding that virtue triumph over tragedy and struck with trauma at doing what is right. The birth mother knew she had to give up her baby and suffered until the day or reunion. The adoptive mother, with no biological children of her own, is struck with the fear of losing a son that has become a part of her purely through the exercise of her love. The girlfriend knows she somehow must have a liberating force and reunite Dan with his birth mother without asking him – because were she to ask him, he might say no. Foldesi switches effortly from one character to the other. Sometimes the pain is too great when she does so: but so too is the joy at the ability of this show to reveal all that is best in humanity.

Dan Finnerty is not only author and protagonist but also the subject of the musical. Very brave of him to write this autobiography. And wholly successful in presenting theatre that conveys truth from beginning to end. Is he acting or being himself? Whichever may be the case, he reveals not only the normal difficulties of adolescence but the difficulties of asking who he is as an orphan and to whom his loyalties lie. He held the attention of the audience every second: there was a power to his performance than underlined how lucky we are to have such great live theatre here in Lowell, and in this case the real live presence of an actor revealing his inner soul simply cannot be replicated on other media.

Sean Daniels brought out the humor together with the tragedy with a production that focuses sharply on the principal characters and brings them together with great intimacy but never forgetting the humorous element: for one senses that one of the things that has enabled Dan Finnerty to get through a complex life is an ability to laugh.

I loved the clever projections on a screen above the action. The set was simple but evocative. The music was played with great aplomb led by music director and orchestrator Dan Lipton. And we all emerged from this great, fabulous, rarely striking as well as complex piece of theatre knowing more about ourselves and promising that its lesson can help us all make a better world.

GO SEE IT!
–Jonathan Richmond, audience member

LOD-400x400

Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

SaveSaveSaveSave

Q&A: Dan Finnerty (Co-Creator & Performer)

Co-Creator and Performer Dan Finnerty (Frontman of The Dan Band) answers questions about his new play Little Orphan Danny.

How did you approach telling not only your story but also both of your mothers’ sides of the story?

This was all a mistake.  I’d been invited by New York Stage and Film to try and develop a  new show based on my comedy band, The Dan Band. I met Sean Daniels and invited him to go with me and we sat in a room for five hours and I told him every funny story I have.  I briefly mentioned I was adopted and found my birthmother and then went on to my next funny story and he was like “Wait … go back to the adopted part.”  So here we are.  It’s been a long process of me figuring out how to tell this story from my point of view and then making sure my mom and birthmother were also cool with it being told.  I hope I remembered to ask them.

You’re the lead singer in a band where you make all the decisions. What’s it like working with a director for a musical show?

I’ve actually really enjoyed it.  After so many years of cranking out ideas for my band, I like having someone else be in charge. Sean has been great about letting me still at least think I have the final word.  But I think that comes with the territory when it’s a show you’re writing about your life and your people.  And he’s been very patient as I struggle daily with wanting to be involved in every little aspect of the production.  Even now I want to ask you what font this will be displayed in.

You’re known for hilarious impro-visational moments on stage and in film. Will there be improv in Little Orphan Danny?

I love improv and always try and sneak it into any project I’m working on. Probably because I never want to learn my lines.  I’d hoped to continue my long tradition of planning nothing and just jumping into the crowd to see what happens for this show, but luckily for you, Sean is a professional and made me write actual lines to memorize.  But I’m told the director usually takes off after opening night, so it’ll be a free-for-all once he’s outta here.

The music and lyrics in this show are incredibly moving. How did it all come together with your musical collaborators?

Thanks.  As a guy who is mainly known for singing comedy covers, that makes me like you.  Once we’d locked into which stories I was going to tell, I would go off and write lyrics and melodies for the songs and then come and sing them to Dan Lipton.  He’d arrange them into something that would sound better than just me singing and playing a pair of spoons.  He also composed a lot of the great incidental music that happens throughout the show.

Some audiences will know you from your film and television roles, along with The Dan Band. What’s it like being on a theatre stage and telling such a personal story?

I actually did a show in this very theater back when I was at Emerson College in Boston.  It was a summer show called Lowell: An American Patchwork.  I played an Irishman who worked on the Pawtucket Canal and was in love with a Mill Worker named …Millie.   So it’s crazy to be back on the same stage, all these years later.  As far as telling such a personal story, it’s pretty intense. I’m not really a “share your feelings” kind of guy, so this is all new to me.  And I care a lot about honoring these people I’m talking about in the show.  It’s tricky when they’re real people in your life and actually might be sitting in the audience at some point.  I still can’t even believe I’m doing it. I still know my lines from the Lowell show if it’s not too late to do that one instead?

The show is relevant for every mom and child, but it’s especially relevant for adopted kids and their parents. What do you want them to take away from this show?

I guess just the understanding that most adopted kids have a basic human desire to find out the answer to the secret they’ve been told exists about them, but it’s completely separate from how they feel about their parents who raised them.

Coffee order: I quit coffee after a 10-year Frappuccino addiction that caused a 10lb face-fat addition.

Dog or cat: Dogs forever.  Cats are losers.

Favorite guilty pleasure song: “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”

Favorite way to relieve stress: Cats.

Dinner with one person, dead or alive: Charo

For more Dan Finnerty hilarity, check out The Dan Band on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @TheDanBand.

LOD-400x400

Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15, 2018.

mrt.org/danny

COHORT REPORT: Peeling back the mask

“We like to remember people who go first,” as a character says in the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s new production “Lost Laughs,” a show about comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. He was the first movie actor to rise to stardom, but he’s remembered now, if at all, for the part he played in a young actress named Virginia Rappe’s tragic death.

The play tells the story of Fatty’s rise and fall, moving adeptly between broad, vaudevillian comedy and heartbreaking moments of tragedy. The tropes of silent film are given a nod throughout, to great effect. Particularly striking is the story of Fatty’s first marriage, which is told in a silent routine involving a clothes line.

Much of the action takes place on what looks like a raw film set before the props and backdrops are added. It is eventually pulled back to show first the red curtain of a stage and ultimately, the hotel room where Virginia spent her last night. Once the disheveled room is revealed, it seems to stalk Fatty like a character in its own right, looming behind his attempts to clear his name and move on with his life.
megpix-021318-1615-sm
Kristen Mengelkoch in LOST LAUGHS… Photo by Meghan Moore.
Aaron Muñoz plays Fatty with considerable charm and his lone costar Kristen Mengelkoch is a whirlwind, effortlessly switching between an array of minor characters from Buster Keaton to a fan on the street.

Throughout the play, characters reference the artifice that defines Fatty’s life. The public loves him and gives him the validation he never received as a child–but they don’t love Roscoe. One of the play’s most devastating moments comes when Roscoe is literally stripped, and must stand before us to be judged, without his jovial alter ego to keep him safe.

Mengelkoch gets her own turn to break our hearts in a monologue as Virginia Rappe. And both come together for an ending that is as quiet and beautiful as the opening scene is frantic and funny. I left feeling truly moved by the experience.

–Amy Roeder, Cohort

 

Fatty_Arbuckle_RGB_400px_v3

Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11

www.mrt.org/lostlaughs

SaveSaveSaveSave

COHORT REPORT: Silence and Reality of Film and Stage

The days of vaudeville into silent films was filled with images of actors like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. “Fatty” was a comedian, director and screen writer who earned, and lost, millions during the golden age of jazz and silent films.

The MRT rehearsals for Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle presented an artistic challenge for the crew and actors. There was much involved to bring silent film slapstick into a creative production on the stage. You will see the amazing results by a very talented designer crew, Director Nathan Keepers, playwright Andy Bayiates (born in Lowell) and appreciate the era stunningly performed by playwright and actor Aaron Muñoz, and actor Kristen Mengelkoch.

megpix-021318-1045
Aaron Muñoz and Kristen Mengelkoch in LOST LAUGHS… Photo by Meghan Moore.

 

Slapstick comedy is a fun-filled cascade of stunts and mayhem that require physical endurance. Fatty was portly, which he used as the image for his comedic creativity doing tumbles, jumps, chases with innocent looks and smiles. There are moments of “talking” by background music to reflect the theme and pace of the story. If you know Keystone Kops you know the comedy of Fatty Arbuckle.

Few knew and loved both Roscoe the man and Fatty the actor better than his wife. Yet, it was a wild time so being married was a struggle they lost. Fatty had popularity as a performer and enjoyed the wild lifestyle of the rich and famous. It was the twenties during prohibition, and Fatty and his friends knew how to party. When he held a weekend raucous party in a hotel with large quantities of liquor for his many friends, there was an incident that changed Fatty’s life forever.

You may know, Fatty was accused in the death of a young woman, but not the details of that evening and beyond. The trials depleted his funds then, sadly, he could no longer get anyone to laugh and his career was destroyed. MRT will bring you back to that time when the coverage of the story and public reaction was fierce, and Fatty was seen as a human being with a voice, rather than a silent slapstick on a screen.

–Gail Gauthier, Cohort

Fatty_Arbuckle_RGB_400px_v3

Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11

www.mrt.org/lostlaughs

SaveSaveSaveSave

Playwright Q&A: Aaron Muñoz

Artistic director Sean Daniels sat down with playwright and performer Aaron Muñoz to talk about his new play Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle.

Can you give us a little bit of history? First of all, who was Fatty Arbuckle? Why does he get his own play?

The reason why he gets his own play is because it’s a really cool story. He was pretty much a rival to Charlie Chaplin in the teens and 1920s. At one point, he was the highest paid movie star; he signed a three-year, three million dollar contract, which by today’s standards would just be insane, as far as money, at that time. He was really beloved by kids and families, and people just loved his character of Fatty Arbuckle, and his comedy. And like Chaplin and like Buster Keaton, he directed, he wrote, he starred, he had his own studio; it was a huge thing! That alone is like, “Wow!”

Imagine Paramount/ Arbuckle studios! Who could imagine Paramount, today, working with one guy?

Totally! That alone is interesting. The other interesting thing is that people are like: “Who?” So, to have someone with all of that clout and all of that creative output, and then a hundred years later, we’re like: “Wait, I don’t even know who this dude is.” And the reason is that there was a scandal; it was the first big Hollywood scandal, and he was charged for murder. It was kind of like if Kevin Hart or Will Ferrell was charged for murder. It was pretty crazy! You know, this really funny dude, who everyone really loves, and is genuinely a pretty cool guy, and gets run up on murder charges. To this day…in his story, nobody really knows what happened. That’s kind of the nature of it. There were two people in the room: one of them died and one of them didn’t.

I’m fascinated with the idea that, in America, we have such a complicated relationship with celebrities. We raise them up; we tear them down; we love nothing more than for child stars to become crack addicts later in life. This was kind of the first time that America did this: it raised somebody up and then tore them down and then felt bad about themselves. And then didn’t know what to do afterwards. Now, we do that all the time, right?

Yea, it’s the news cycle every day.

That’s right, what YouTube star must we crush today, for doing something we don’t agree with. Which I think is fascinating. We have a reality TV show host as a President. So, the question is: How did we get here? How did our relationship with celebrities and raising people up and putting all of our expectations or disappointments on them…where did that start?

I think so much of that is also connected to media. Not just journalistic media, but media as a whole; this was the beginning of film. You know, the first time people went to a theatre and saw a film of the ocean, they ran, because they thought the ocean was going to come and get them! That’s how real it was; that’s how mind blowing it was to see moving pictures on a screen. So, now, to see people up there on a screen and then to see them in real life, it’s the adulation! The kind of hero worship of celebrity and the connection to seeing them on a big screen is directly related to how we relate to celebrities today. I mean, our President, not withstanding other Presidents, have to be good on TV. That’s just a requirement of the job. It’s arguable if FDR would be okay right now because he was in a wheelchair. There is a lot of public perception that goes into being leaders and celebrities.

How long have you been working on this?

In earnest, I applied for a grant almost 10 years ago. Before that, I had read biographies, watched films, and stuff like that, but, then when I applied for the grant, I really started to just dig-in, research wise. So, it’s been about a decade of learning about Roscoe Arbuckle and the time. Then once this really kicked into gear, a little over a year ago, I delved deeper and found a lot more stuff, not only about him but about the people in his life. A lot of the play has some direct quotes but also some things that are pretty much what they said about Roscoe, and this is what they said at the time, about things. It’s really cool to unearth that and to find that, and then to put that into a piece of art.

Who are the other people involved? Your co-star? Your director?

Awesome co-star, Kristen Mengelkoch. We all worked together on a play at Geva Theatre [Center] called The Book Club Play, by Karen Zacarias. It was an awesome experience and Kristen and I remained friends. The development for this is interesting, because there was another actor named, John Gregorio, who is an amazing guy and an MRT Patriot, who we were originally working with. But as the story unfolded, it became very clear that we needed another voice and we needed an actress in the role. Both Andy, the other playwright, and I, and Nathan, the director, and John, were like, “Yeah, I think that’s the way to go.” Then we found Kristen and that’s when a lot of the play kind of opened up, in a way, and the story opened up. So, that’s who I’m working with on stage.

Who is Nathan Keepers?

Nathan and I worked together on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Actors Theatre of Louisville, almost 10 years ago. We kept in touch and continually touched base, and talked with each other about various projects. Nothing has really lined up until this. Nathan is an awesome theatre maker. He has spent most of his career acting and is now segueing a little bit into directing and adding that to his theatre-maker palette. He was one of the first people that we thought of when thinking about a director; for someone who could do comedy, but also, we’re making a new play, we’re building something from scratch. So, to have someone with his experience, and his company, The Moving Company (that is what he does, and he was with Theatre de la Jeune Lune, in Minnesota), he has a lot of experience in building new work. Also, he is just a pretty crazy, awesome, human being.

Andy, my co-writer, Andy Bayiates, is a native of this area [he was born at Lowell General Hospital], and he still has family in this area, and went to school at Fitchburg. Andy was one of the writers for 45 Plays for 45 Presidents. He and I have known each other for awhile (and you, Sean, have known him for awhile, working with The Neo-Futurists, in Chicago). We were looking at good people to collaborate and his name really kind of popped to the list. Of course, my wife, who is always the smart one in the relationship, said, “Hey, why don’t you think about one of the 45 Plays peeps?” He and I started talking, and, I shared with him my thoughts about the play and he shared his thoughts, a lot of stuff lined up. And we have just been working, pretty much for the past year to get a solid script together to go into rehearsal and then continue to evolve and make something.

Will you do a little something for us, perhaps a hat piece?

Sure! [Aaron demonstrates several hat tricks.] I’ve been doing some hat stuff…there are some YouTube tutorials that are very good, about hat tossing and flipping. We’re incorporating a little bit of that because we have some vaudeville-type aspect to what we’re doing. It is also about the props, it’s about finding the right hat…what is the right hat that you can manipulate and make something that you can toss around? As you can see [laughing], we’re still in rehearsal; the show doesn’t open for two weeks. There are some old school hat-and-cane routines. A lot of Fatty Arbuckle’s genius was his ability to throw himself around, and to do some classic comedy bits. We have that in the play, as well, because his work was so important and a lot of people haven’t seen that, so, just trying to get that spirit of that and recreate it, is a good challenge to try to live up to.

To view the interview video, visit facebook.com/MerrimackRepertoryTheatre.

Fatty_Arbuckle_RGB_400px_v3

Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11, 2018.

mrt.org/lostlaughs