Singer, actress, educator and co-founder of Damn the Light Productions, MaryAnne Piccolo wears a lot of hats. This week, and again on Friday the 13th next month, she’ll bust out the veiled black top hat as she pays tribute to one of pop culture’s most recognizable icons. MaryAnne talks to Thotyssey about her rock musical roots, her early job at a Lady Starlight party, and the dark magic of Stevie Nicks.
Thotyssey: Hi MaryAnne! Let’s start with something nice and broad. How much cooler was the NYC nightlife when you were first exploring it?
MaryAnne Piccolo: I don’t know if “cooler” is the correct word… I think it was more theatrical and immersive. Most of the parties I frequented were “experience recreations,” literally from another decade.
Breedlove (my oldest friend in NYC) and I went to undergraduate school together. He met a fabulous gal–the world knows her now as-fabulous-as ever Lady Starlight–from work who started throwing these nostalgic parties that were out of this world–or, at least, time. They collaborated on a party called “Freak Out!”, a sixties psych party hosted by Breedlove, Anna Copa Cabanna and Starlight (then known as Calling All Martians). That particular party was at Rififi (now closed)… a lot of great parties started there My job was running around with a little “Mead marble note book” getting the email lists together… imagine before the birth of social media!
Aw, I miss e-mail lists!
[Laughs] I know, it’s like the art of writing letters and sending thank you cards… I still do those!
And did that experience steer you towards your aesthetic and career today?
Well, I have been performing in the theatre since I was about five, and have been working professionally since I graduated from the Marymount Manhattan College Theatre Program a few moons ago. That is where Breedlove and I attended.
I think my take away as an artist from that nightlife experience in my life was to be fearless and not to try to fit into a mold teachers or coaches or whomever tried to put me into. My passion as a theatre artist lies in that genre for sure, and I wasn’t about to let anyone cram this magical triangle in a boring square hole. I think no matter what you do in life, you need to do You; you’re the only one that can! Everyone is just Everyone Else! That’s what I always tell my students.
Very inspirational! You seem to gravitate towards campier fringe musicals in your acting career. What was your favorite role to play in that genre?
I think it’s just been my journey… and the genre that resonates with me. That is hard question- there is always something special about every role, production, cast and of course the overall experience.
I would say there is a soft spot in my heart for The Full Monty. I have done it twice at lovely regional theaters with lovely folks, both times playing Georgie. It’s a gem of a show. It got lost in the shuffle on Broadway (and at the Tonys) in 2001, as that is the year The Producers swept all the accolades. It’s a great story about the working class, during economic hardship and what efforts people will go to to provide for their families… and that old saying “behind every great man is a great woman.” Sure, that’s something you can take or leave, but true in that particular story.
Are you a trained singer, or self-taught?
I’m trained. Growing up I had a vocal coach and participated in all those all-county and all-state honors choirs. As far and rock and roll, I grew up singing off my uncles’ record collection, which propelled me into finding that part of my voice in a really organic way. I also took classical guitar lessons, which was my sneaky way of having an excuse to learn basic chords so I could sing and play my favorite Beatles songs, or whatever I was obsessing with at the time. I put that on a shelf for a while while I was training in “musical theatre” in college, and slowly started returning to that sound once I found myself wanting to do more edgy work, whether it be in a “rock musical” or in a tribute project.
Quick, what’s the better musical overall: Rocky Horror or Hedwig?
AHHHH! That is a wild question, because I am wild about them both in my own special ways. My answer is Hedwig. It’s a story, and an incredible one, to which you need an incredible storyteller. Rocky Horror was originally written just as a kooky concert, with no book. The actual book “libretto” isn’t that well-written, and interpretations of “fleshed out” productions that really nail it is because of great direction and not making it a wet-look-vinyl-hot-topic nightmare.
Tell me about Damn the Light.
Here is the “About” section from our website. I think this pretty much sums it up:
Damn The Light Productions (DTL) is most definitely what some would call a labor of love. From the very beginning, founders Mike Greco and MaryAnne Piccolo knew the best way to ensure a company’s genuine self is to build, create, and develop projects that are extremely personal and close to the heart. Keeping in line with that ideology, DTL has grown to become an amazing source of entertainment, joy, and unforgettable experiences to their patrons, and ever-growing following.
Crossing paths while out and about on the infamous New York City nightlife scene, Mike Greco and MaryAnne Piccolo instantly bonded over their love of nostalgic music, culture and fashion. Greco being a singer songwriter/session musician and Piccolo a well seasoned theatre artist/vocalist, it became clear there was a strong relation and unique opportunity to bring two magical worlds together. Both knew that somewhere in the giant world of entertainment, there was a place for them and their aspiring brand. They were right.
Over the years this dynamic duo has formed a creative production team that present top- notch, top- billing theatrical live music tributes, curated nightlife parties and corporate events all over NYC and beyond. Together DTL and its founders have worked with many notable artists and visionaries such as: Susanne Bartsch, Breedlove, David Bryan (Bon Jovi), Matt Katz-Bohen (Blondie), Angie Bowie, Cherrie Curry (The Runaways), Mike Garson (David Bowie), Miss Guy (The Toilet Boys), Randy Jones (The Village People), Amanda Lepore, Bernard Purdie (Aretha Franklin), Lady Starlight, Michael T, Jennie Vee (Courtney Love), and a countless cast of Broadway stars.
Whether it be a Hotel Resort, Cruise Ship, Nightclub, Live Music Venue, Private Function or Corporate Event; Damn The Light Productions guarantees a stellar product rooted in authenticity, love, artistry, and expertise!
Right now, we are focusing on creating and marketing our high-end corporate super-group and icon tribute acts. We have been producing tributes here in New York City for the last five years or so, and we are ready to expand our audience. I performed my Stevie Nicks set last year for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line while also performing in their cast of Saturday Night Fever the musical. Mike came on the ship and music-directed my set for me. And we added a third partner, Steven Moore, who will bethe lighting/ effects designer. He builds special effects and magic for David Copperfeild and Criss Angel, and a ton of TV stuff.
And DTL is also branching out into arts education?
Yes. I finished my masters degree in Educational Theatre not too long ago. Michael and I were invited to teach as guest instructors through the the Lerner and Lowe foundation at Marymount Manhattan College this semester. There we piloted a “Pop/Rock” Vocal Lab intensive.
Through the class, students have learned the history and progression of Pop, Rock and R&B ranging from the 1950s through today’s popular artists. They learned how current events, social status and cultural acceptances actively affect storytelling through song. This knowledge, along with healthy pop/rock vocal techniques, were incorporated to approach how to “Rock What You Got” and perform any popular style of music authentically. Today it is imperative, not only for theatre artists [but for everyone], to have a firm grasp on each genre of Pop/ Rock, but approach their work fearlessly.
Let’s talk Damn the Light’s showcase coming up on April 29th at the Cutting Room. You’ll be part of that, covering Stevie Nicks tunes with a full band. This has been a long time in themaking, right?
Iconathon at The Cutting Room April 29 is the first in a showcase series we are launching to share our new tribute projects with the universe. Damn The Light tribute shows are a special blend of musicianship, authenticity, theater, passion and entertainment. These core values are what separate our product from others out there in today’s market. Our tributes are comprised of talented musicians and performers from all over the world! Whether they are fresh off a Broadway stage or just off the tour bus, we know they’re the perfect fit to honor each artist and their legacy. Our goal is to wow the audience not only with musical precision, but with a rich history and knowledge of the stars they know and love.
What is super special about the 29th is our wonderful Marymount students are opening the show, with some very special guests might I add: Matt Katz- Bohen (Blondie) and Shannon Conley (Hedwig/Lez Zeppelin). Andromeda Turre is headlining with our Endless Summer tribute to Donna Summer. She was a backup singer for Ray Charles!
The Stevie Nicks tribute, Night of Nicks, I have been doing for about a year or so. I am, however, super-stoked to finally bring it home to NYC. You can also catch me next month at Night of 1000 Stevies as a returning performer. It is at Irving Plaza on Friday the 13th this year, so it will be extra witchy… I can’t tell you what song I am doing… it is super hush hush. But I can say it’s one of my all time favorites!
I know NOTS used to be closely associated with gay nightlife culture.
Yes,, especially after the movie Gypsy 83.
But it seems like the younger gay generation has not been properly schooled on Stevie and they’ve fallen out of the mix somewhat.
I think “younger-ish people” in general love Fleetwood Mac because of their parents. “The Dance” was released in 1997 and I remember the concert playing on TV when I was in middle school and I was like “Who are those people??? I need them in my life?” Little did I know… The Smashing Pumpkins did not write Landslide (my first time hearing the song).
I think that they are a band. and they have a song catalog that has always kind of been there. They are still here… almost every time I walk into CVS, “Gypsy” is playing. Now, that could just have been my witchy vibe willing the universe to send me the music I know and love at all times.
Then you have even younger folks like teens who know Stevie from American Horror Story, and every weird outfit tweens try to emulate from Urban Outfitters or Free People… it all came from Stevie. “Your secret is out little girl!“ We all know…
What does young gay culture still need to learn about Stevie?
There is a great TEDtalk where a teenage “fashion blogger” gives the advice to teenage girls to “just be Stevie Nicks..” I think this little girl is right on the money.
What’s in the future for Damn the Light?
On the horizon, this summer we have some great things coming up. Mike will be releasing his long awaited EP. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. There have been some amazing folks involved. That’s probably all I’m allowed to say about it, but for sure we will have a big party with a live performance.
We will have the next Iconathon which will feature our Amy Winehouse tribute starring the talents, brains and beauty of Danielle Tyler. And close behind that is an Eagles tribute, with five super talented, sexy guys who bring you straight back to The Hotel California Tour!
And finally… do you think it’s possible for a young artist, musician, etc. to “make it” in this city in its current incarnation?
Yes, I think you can. You for sure won’t start out that way. You have to set goals for yourself, challenge yourself to be the best you can be in every aspect of your life, minimize distractions and keep beautiful, loving friends at the center. I have watched friends and colleagues from my community win Tonys, Grammys and beyond. Whatever you want in life, you must fight for it. It certainly won’t be handed to you in this town.
That’s for sure! Thanks MaryAnne!
MaryAnne Piccolo’s production company Damn the Light’s tribute acts will perform on April 29th at the Cutting Room, including her own Stevie Nicks tribute. She will perform at Irving Plaza for Night of 1000 Stevies on May 13th.
MaryAnne Piccolo has a website, and can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and IMDb. Damn the Light Productions also has a website, and can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.