NYC to Sparkle With Music With ‘Obama in Naples’ Play

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Claudio Angelini is the well-known Italian TV news anchor known as the Dan Rather of Italy. He has written a funny, romantic play with songs about the dream of Neapolitan people to solve their problems through the “magic” of Barack Obama. An entire city is waiting for him. Will the dream come true? The play, “Obama in Naples,” will be presented April 25 to May 6 in the June Havoc Theater of the Abingdon Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street, directed by Stephan Morrow.

The play is a love poem to Naples with humor, satire and plenty of local color. A journalist who covered the terrible earthquake of 1980 returns after many years to report on whether conditions have improved and ends up getting more involved in saving the city than he reckoned for. The underlying theme is Southern Italy’s never-ending woes, summed up by the question: have things gotten better or worse in the last thirty years? The piece sparkles with music and bears the distinctive influences of Beckett and commedia dell’ arte.

angelini book
Claudio Angelini and his book, Obama: Un Anno di Sfide (Obama: A Year of Challenges).

There are 14 songs, eleven of which are composed by the playwright. Of these, ten are arranged by Simone de Filippis and one by Marco Cappelli. Two songs are composed by Marco Cappelli and one is composed by Diana Tejera. The stage picture features works by Lello Esposito, an abstract expressionist from Naples whose paintings and sculptures incorporate symbols of the city-Pulcinella, the mask, the egg, the skull, the volcano, the horse, San Gennaro and the horn-in various stages of metamorphosis.

The play is translated from the Italian by Angela Carabelli and edited by Olga Cortese and Michael F. Moore (not the documentary film maker). Olga Cortese is the producer.

Obama in Naples
LR: Brian Childers, Lin Tucci, John Fennessey. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

A journalist (Paolo) returns from New York to do an assessment of the reconstruction of Southern Italy since the earthquake. The journalist has been living in the United States for so many years, covering the White House, that he is mistaken for an Obama correspondent. A rumor spreads that the President of the United States wants to visit Naples, bringing his message of peace and hope. When our President coincidentally arrives, miraculously, he is welcomed by the Neapolitans like a new San Gennaro. For a few days Naples becomes the capital of the world and Obama a new patron saint of the city. The host of the evening, Pulcinella, is the “mask of Naples.” Like most Italian comedies, it borrows from commedia dell’ arte but its humor is the genuine kind that stems from the warmth of the characters themselves. These include the journalist (named Paolo), his old flame and her friend John (an undercover CIA man), a hotel concierge, a Neapolitan “Mother Courage” and her nebbishy nephew, a medical researcher who funded medical research through a Mafia loan shark. He must now either face the music or, with the journalist’s help, evade it.

The actors include Beau Allen (Pulcinella), Toby Blackwell (Obama), Brian Childers (Paolo, the journalist), Lin Tucci (the Neapolitan “Mother Courage”), John Fennessy, Elyse Knight, Scott Raymond Johnson (the medical researcher), Lauren Maslanik (his girlfriend), David Goldyn, Jenna Dallacco and Sam Charny. Scenographic paintings are by Lello Esposito. Musical Director is Charles Czarnecki. Set Consultant is Mark Marcante. Lighting Designer is Alexander Bartenieff.

Playwright Claudio Angelini is a well-known television news reporter who started out as a poet but went into broadcast news because it pays better. Among his many assignments, he covered the earthquake in Irpinia, accompanying President Pertini. Angelini was the Director of the RAI office of the Quirinale and the anchorman of Italy’s National newscast Tg1 for over twenty years. He has directed countless RAI shows and offices, such as the Radio newscasts (Gr1-Gr2 and Gr3) and RAI’s headquarters in the United States. On September 11, 2001 he was the first Italian journalist to report the news of the attack on the Twin Towers. He was also Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, where he has been living for fourteen years and where he currently serves as President of the Dante Alighieri Society, and is a columnist for the Italian daily, Il Messaggero.

He has covered Obama since the primaries and published a book with Rizzoli on the first years of his presidency, Obama: Un Anno di Sfide (Obama: A Year of Challenges). Angelini has also written several novels (his latest: “La Foresta di New York” – The Jungle of New York, Rizzoli), essays, poetry and a comedy (“Viaggio di Nozze” – The Honeymoon) which earned him the Fondi prize. He has also recorded a CD of songs and ballads distributed by RCA. His latest book in English is “The Mystery of Simonetta,” translated by Martha King. It is an historical novel about Simonetta Vespucci, the young woman whose likeness is seen in Botticelli’s “La Primavera” and “Birth of Venus,” two of the world’s best-loved and most enigmatic paintings.

Director Stephan Morrow directed two productions by Mario Fratti, “Trio” and “Quartet,” at Theater for the New City and “Triangle – The Shirtwaist Triangle Factory Fire” by J. Gilhooley at 59E59 St. Theaters. He also directed staged readings of “Wall St. Fandango” by Murray Schisgal at The Actor’s Studio and Theater for the New City with casts including Peter Riegert and Rosie Perez. Most recently, he acted in and directed “Dogmouth” by John Steppling at Theater for the New City. He has performed in two plays by Norman Mailer, “Strawhead: Marilyn, A Memory Play” and “The Deer Park.” He can be seen in Mailer’s cult classic film, “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.” In 2007 he acted and directed Mr. Mailer’s play “The Deer Park” and was then invited to co-direct a film of the play with Mr. Mailer and act in it. From 2001 to 2005, as Artistic Director of The Great American Play Series, he directed four public presentations of Arthur Miller’s play “Incident at Vichy” with Mr. Miller’s personal backing. Casts included Richard Dreyfus, F. Murray Abraham, Fritz Weaver, Austin Pendleton, Barry Primus and many others. Morrow was mentored into the Playwright Directing Unit of the Actor’s Studio by Elia Kazan.

Musical Director Charles Czarnecki made his Broadway debut conducting “Jersey Boys” and his Carnegie Hall debut conducting (and orchestrating for) the New York Pops. To-date, he has scored four films and orchestrated seven full-length musicals and several live concert and cabaret acts. This year he composed his first modern ballet. He earned his Bachelor’s in Classical Piano Performance and Psychology from Purchase Conservatory of Music (SUNY), his Master’s in Classical Piano from the Manhattan School of Music, and certificates of completion from the Sarasota Music Festival, Piano Summer at New Paltz, the International Academy of Music (St. Petersburg, Russia), and the Amherst School of Music.

Scenographer Lello Esposito (www.lelloesposito.com) lives and works between Naples and New York.?? His art focuses on the city of Naples and its symbols – Pulcinella, the mask, the egg, the skull, the volcano, the horse, San Gennaro and the horn – in their various stages of metamorphosis.?? In his larger-than-life canvases, he uses basic techniques of abstract expressionism but incorporates into his composition old and new symbols of the city, challenging the interpretation of tradition. He considers himself primarily a sculptor and his three dimensional work encompasses icons and stereotypes of Italian popular culture with messages of life and happiness. His installation “Innocente Italia” was exhibited at Biennial of Venice 2011. His work is well known in Italy and abroad; he has had more than 40 solo exhibitions over 30 years.

Composer/musician Marco Cappelli is a guitarist and founder of the acclaimed Italian contemporary music group “Ensemble Dissonanzen.” He teaches at the Conservatory Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo and at Columbia University. Composer Diana Tejera and composer/arranger Simone Defilippis are members of the music publishing house Bideri Society, which was founded in 1876 in Naples and it is the most important and prestigious publisher of Neapolitan music. Its repertory includes “O sole mio.” These two musical collaborators were chosen for “Obama in Naples” by Silvia Bideri, CEO of Bideri Society.

Performances are April 25 to May 6, 2012 in the June Havoc Theater of Abingdon Theatre Complex, 312 West 36th Street, NYC. (This play is not a production of The Abingdon Theater Company, Inc.) The play is presented by Olga Cortese. The performance schedule is Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $18 general admission. Box office is SMARTTIX (212) 868-4444; www.obamainnaples.com.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.