“Successful people have to be somewhat delusional,” Beth Falcone, composer and lyricist of the musical Wanda’s World, half-jokingly confesses. But if Falcone suffers from any sort of delusion, it’s the perfectly healthy kind that should afflict more of us.
For Falcone, delusion has manifested as Wanda’s World, which has been optioned for Broadway and is scheduled to open in fall 2011. The musical is “spinach in a milkshake”—not only entertaining but also salutary, and perhaps even therapeutic. The production takes on the universally difficult tween years, featuring a title character who must negotiate one of life’s most challenging periods with a highly conspicuous birthmark on her face.
To cope, Wanda turns inward, to her own delusions. Her internal struggles are projected as an external dialogue, which take the form of a call-in talk show (“Wanda’s World”) where she effortlessly doles out facile advice (“Blend equals friend” and “Be perfect in every other way”) to imagined others as a way of dealing with her own troubles. Wanda’s growth in the musical is measured by the extent to which she and the seemingly hostile world can come to more realistic understandings of each other.
Like the main character and adolescents in general, the music and lyrics are irrepressibly witty and complex, even while being wrapped in an age-appropriate and appealing pop-rock form.
Not to take away from the pain those with actual birthmarks unfairly suffer, Falcone still is quick to point out that the birthmark is also metaphor. “Every character,” she says, “has a birthmark,” whether it’s stuttering, as Mr. Spangles does, or having to live with unrealistic expectations to be perfect, as does Ty Belvidere (the show’s heartthrob). These figurative birthmarks belong not just to characters in the show but also to the audience as well. Perhaps this is the reason that although the show features adolescent characters and is geared to general audiences, it resonates so powerfully with adults. The response from all audiences, in fact, has been overwhelming. Falcone has been amazed by the show’s ability to work as a mediator between traditionally taciturn camps: “It opens up channels of communication—between adults and kids, between parents and kids, and between kids.”