Friday, June 22, 2012

If you put exciting things out there...they just might come.

When I was in college, I was interning for a Broadway public relations firm. It was my first office job and my first look into the New York City theatre world...which is where I was sure I belonged.

 That summer, I ran around like a maniac. I came home crying many days. I was paid about $5 a week.

However, one thing kept me going that entire summer...I knew that when our show performed at Broadway in Bryant Park, I'd get to go...and stand under the tend with all the Broadway performers.

I knew that tent was going to be a magical experience.

Finally, one day in August, I was under that tent. It was one of the hottest days of the summer. I took a bottle of vitamin water out of the same bin as the Broadway performers.

Thoroughly Modern Millie was on Broadway at the time and it was one of my favorite shows. That day, Sutton Foster's understudy was in her place, belting out "Gimme, Gimme". I said out loud to anybody who would listen, "EVERY time I hear this song, I get so disappointed because I KNOW I'll never be up there doing that!"

Somebody put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Oh, don't say that. It will HAPPEN some day."

I looked-up. Way-up. The guy was very tall.

You know when you meet somebody and somehow get the sense that you're supposed to be friends with them?

That's exactly how I felt at that moment! I talked to this very tall young man for a while. He was an understudy in Thoroughly Modern Millie and was leaving the show to go back to Seattle in a couple of weeks. As I was leaving, turned around and said, "I'm Diana, by the way!" He said, "I'm Cheyenne!"

When I went back to my desk at my internship, I investigated this young Broadway understudy named Cheyenne. I sent him an email through his website and just said, "We just met in the park. For some reason, I got a really great feeling about you and I just wanted to wish you all the best."

After that, the young tall Broadway understudy and I emailed very frequently, and when he came back to New York that winter, it was to play the starring role in my favorite show, AIDA. I've watched him completely skyrocket into superstardom over the years, but I'll always know him as that guy I got a good feeling about in the park that day. I knew he was special, I knew we were meant to become friends, and he is and we did.


I knew something really great was destined to happen in that tent and it DID...I met a wonderful person, who became the older brother I've never had and always wanted.

Fast forward nearly nine years......................

One thing I have been mourning for a while is the fact that I am no longer working on Broadway. I got into a bit of a funk when the Tony nominations came-out, knowing I wouldn't be going as I did in previous years.

I told myself, "Listen. The Tony Awards aren't everything. You never know what's right around the corner and if you just put it out there that you deserve to go to exciting events and to be a part of this community you love so will all happen."

The day after I told myself that (I'm not even kidding), I got a text from my friend Cheyenne (you know, that tall understudy I met in the park who is now a huge star) asking if I wanted to go with him to a Broadway benefit for President Obama. (President Clinton would also be there.) Cheyenne was performing.

Wow, that was fast...that exciting event really DID come-out of nowhere.

I was in the "VIP" lounge, trying to pretend that I belonged there, and after about a half hour, I realized, I DO belong here! I am important. I am exciting. And even though I no longer work in a Broadway office, one day, I'll be a member of the Broadway community again. I'll be a playwright. I'll win awards. I'll have people telling me that Wendy Wasserstein would have loved me and taken me under her wing. Celebrities will be in my plays and come to my plays and everybody will really like me, because aside from being a really funny and inspirational playwright, I am also very very NICE. I'm one of the nicest people in New York City theatre and deserve all of this success!

It makes me smile to think of how I manifested things a bit...I knew that tent would be really great, and it led me to this terrific kindred spirit, who, in turn, led me to this VIP event that reminded me that I deserved to be there and there was so much left out there to live and experience.

You just gotta keep never know when something wonderful is going to happen.

Diana Rissetto

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles and my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet..."

An odd confession coming from a theatre person and also the only person in my university who voluntarily took Shakespeare I and Shakespeare II ("for fun")...

I have never seen a production of Romeo and Juliet on stage.

I read the play, of course, in high school and in college. I'd seen the 1960's version of the film and the 1996 one (I'm from the age group of girls for which it was a requirement to fall in love with Leonardo didn't matter if you didn't like pretty boys with blond hair...Chris O'Donnell was much more my speed during those had to love Leo.) I knew West Side Story by heart, and I remember when I first read Romeo and Juliet comparing it to the musical...instead of the other way around. ("Ohhhhhhh! They had a balcony instead of a fire escape!")

High schools in sitcoms always seem to do Romeo and Juliet, but mine did Woody Allen and Neil Simon plays instead.

I finally saw Romeo and Juliet live on Sunday night at the Hudson River Valley Festival in Garrison, New York and I can't think of a better way to have done so.

How did I end-up all the way up there to see theatre? (And for the girl who doesn't really venture too far from New York City or central NJ...I mean, why would I need to? NYC and Central NJ have everything you could ever possibly need in really IS "all the way up there".) The answer is, simply, because of Romeo. Two years ago, I was casting my first off-Broadway production. My good (and extremely knowledgeable and very very patient) friend was by my side going-through headshot submissions with me and after I opened one email and saw the actor's photo, I said to him, "He's our star." My friend said, "THIS IS WHY YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO CAST THIS SHOW WITHOUT ME. You just think he's cute and like that he talks about Frank Sinatra in his cover letter." "No, no. Well, yeah. But he's definitely our star. Believe me, I know."

The young man, Carl Howell, came-in to audition, nailed it and brought my character to life in the most perfect way. (I was right!) Everybody involved with that play will always have places in my heart because it was such a special experience for me and when Carl told me he was set to play Romeo this summer, I knew I couldn't miss it. In the past year, I've gone-up to Garrison to see Carl do some Chekhov and direct some munchkins in It's a Wonderful Life. I've grown to quite love it up there, and saw a different part of town with Romeo and Juliet, which is staged outside on the grounds of Boscobel.

I don't think it gets much more beautiful than Boscobel. I was half-expecting Mr. Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility to show-up. If I had known it was going to be so fancy, I would have worn my fascinator hat headband. (No, I wouldn't have. But I do need excuse to wear that thing.)

It's just so pretty!  I worked on Broadway for several years...I know Broadway, I love Broadway...but being at a show like this one does something to me that even Broadway can't quite do.

This production was absolutely stunning, gorgeous and lyrical and just enough modernized (I recognized the Nurse's dresses from one of my favorite sites to shop for 1940's-style dresses), the perfect balance between Luhrman and Zeffirelli. The cast openly engaged with the audience, which I honestly haven't really seen much of outside of children's theatre, but it worked...moves like that can seem a bit hokey and like cheating, but it only added to the magical element of being in this tent and watching this story the world has not been able to get enough of for over four hundred years. 

The show uses pop music of the day, including a lovely acoustic version of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody", sung by Juliet, accompanied by Romeo on guitar. (That song as been stuck in my head since. I've been singing it to myself as I walk-up the street instead of my usual Aida and Phantom medleys...I do all the voices, it makes my walks go by faster.)

They put together one stellar cast and I wish I could personally comment on all of them because even the "party guests" were stand-outs. Angela Janas is making her New York debut as Juliet, fresh from college, and gives an absolutely lovely (and adorable and funny when need be) performance. As for Carl's performance,  all I can say is, I KNEW that guy was a star from day one, and he's proved me quite right once again. (Leo WHO?)  Denise Corimer plays the Nurse a bit like Audrey from Little Shop playing the Nurse, and completely delighted the audience. Mercutio, Tybalt and Benvolio are played by Daniel Morgan Shelley, Charlie Francis Murphy and Drew Lewis in such a way that I didn't even miss the Sharks and the Jets. The rest of Romeo and Juliet's circle of family of friends all truly breath spectacular life into these characters which should have been played to death by now...but they haven't...and there's obviously a reason...because it's all just some of the most beautiful and clever writing ever done. (Seriously, that Will was one witty guy.) It's never going to get old, and it shouldn't.

I truly enjoyed my evening at Boscobel, and am recommending it to anybody who will listen. It's well-worth getting lost on the two "roundabouts" on the way-up.

Bravo to all...a truly gorgeous show.

Diana Rissetto