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Big Hair: A Rad and Wild Love Affair

Big Hair: A Rad and Wild Love Affair comes to NYC as part of United Solo's 2024 season after playing in Los Angeles and Chicago. The solo musical, written and performed by Maegan Mandarino, combines musical numbers, interview footage, and the occasional violin pantomime to illuminate the relationship and romance between comedy giants Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder. 

Mandarino plays both Wilder and Radner, but not in the way one might think. Mandarino opts to take on an iconic role of each actor: Young Frankenstein's Frankenstein and Saturday Night Live! 's Roseanne Roseannadanna, respectively. In choosing such comical characters, Mandarino commits fully to each character's eccentricities, speech patterns, and comedy style when they appear onstage. In the musical, Mandarino stages a romance between the characters Frankenstein and Roseannadanna, who claim they are so wrong for each other that they're perfect together. This also requires some committed costume changes, which occur offstage during interludes where the actual Radner/Wilder interview footage is shown. True to the vaudeville scene, this show keeps the audience in the throes of picture-perfect show business. 

Mandarino brings a presence to the stage, unlike any other solo performance I've seen this season. Her material requires it; after all, channeling the brash and irreverent humor of these two comedic actors in their prime is a lot of work, mainly because the style of comedy is a cultural flashback. Not every joke has the opportunity to land, as sometimes Mandarino jumps the gun and moves to the next one before letting the audience 'get in the groove' for this reverse culture shock. 

Mandarino is also the director and certain moments may have played better with a director who could guide the actor. There was a section where Mandarino, as Frankenstein, teaches a chemistry class on why the chemicals 'Gene' and 'Gilda' are chemically incompatible (Think: explosively incompatible). Frankenstein, over the course of the lecture, progressively talks himself into going to get back his dame, Roseanne Roseannadanna. The scene is written well and plays well, but it could have soared with the help of an outside eye to take the progression of the scene into just the right level of comedic chaos. 

The performance is well researched- Mandarino gives a full account of Wilder and Radner's early lives up to Gilda Radner's experience and ultimate death due to ovarian cancer. It is a rigorous creative exercise that becomes a fascinating experience- the lives of these real people are told in this heightened, vaudeville-style fiction using their career icons as the vehicles of the story. There are a lot of plates in the air and Mandarino is juggling them all. 

Big Hair: A Rad and Wild Love Affair is touring the United States after its run with United Solo. Vaudeville, Wilder, Radner, comedy, and documentary fans are encouraged to attend. A portion of ticket sales is donated to the Gilda Club NYC, now called Red Door Community, a charity founded by Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner to support those receiving cancer treatment. This theatre experience is working to put some good in the world in and out of the performance. 

"Big Hair: A Rad and Wild Love Affair "

Written and Performed by Maegan Mandarino

April 6, 2024

The 16th United Solo Festival

March 4 – April 28, 2024

Theatre Row

410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)


Rita Frances Welch is… Wait, who’s asking? There are a few answers depending on the context. Rita is A) A New York playwright, actor, and director, B) The owner of 5 discrete copies of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, C) A force of nature, controlled by the tides and called to by the wind, disappearing and returning like the seasons. More material than their author, Rita’s plays have been produced by The Tank, Theatre X, Playwrights Performance, and Rogue Theatre Festival. They hold a B.F.A. in Acting from Shenandoah Conservatory, during which they studied under LAByrinth Theater’s Martha Wollner and Padraic Lillis. Rita’s writing functions as an experiment- a combination of characters in the petri dish of their world, their personal challenges and delusions in a vacuum, isolating for every variable but one: Human nature, which reveals itself every time.



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