STAGEY CHAT WITH MARK JANICELLO


The next interview in our stagey chat series is with Mark Janicello, creator and star of brand new musical, "The Finellis". "The Finellis" is set to open in June at Wonderville in Central London. 

Get yourself comfy and join us for the next segment of Stagey Chat!

Hi Mark, how are you doing? Thanks so much for chatting to Stage to Page today! Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us how you first got into the theatre industry?

Thank you for the invitation to chat! I'm Mark Janicello. I'm an American of Italian heritage, originally from New York, but London is the 13th country I've lived in and I'm now in my 36th apartment! So, I don't really consider myself strictly American, though I do have a US Passport!

I've been singing since I was 4 years old, first as a boy soprano in my Grandfather's Pentecostal church in Brooklyn, NY. I went on to study both acting (I worked with a member of the famed Actor's Studio for more than 10 years), singing and dance starting at age 14 or so. Professionally, quite by accident, I started my career as an opera singer. I sang over 40 leading tenor roles in both opera and operetta, as well as singing numerous World Premiere operas, and oratorios. Through another strange set of circumstances, I ended up playing Elvis Presley in a HUGE musical production in German-speaking Europe, even though I had never been more than a superficial fan of Elvis'. That production was my breakthrough in Europe. In total, I've done over 100 stage productions of plays, musicals, operas, operettas, and big concert touring productions. Through my connection to Ben Weisman, who wrote 57 songs for Elvis, (more than any other composer), I ended up becoming a recording artist as well. So, the old adage "Born in A Trunk" is a pretty accurate description of my life. 

The Finellis Musical (coming to the Wonderville in June 2024) is a fictionalised version of your life story. Can you tell us more about the story and why it's so important to you?

The Finellis is a story of hope. It's the story of a survivor who never gives up and fights for his dreams. We live in a world quite devoid of hope and dreams. There is war, destruction and inhumanity everywhere we look. Political discourse is at an all-time low. People go to the theatre or look to art to be inspired and to help them dream their own dreams. My job as an entertainer is to help my audience forget their problems for a short while to be moved, touched, and inspired. If my work can make you laugh AND cry, what a cathartic experience that will be for an audience member.    

My real-life story is truly stranger than any fiction could be. However, that's the stuff of another, much longer interview. Besides, I told that story in detail in my autobiography "Naked In The Spotlight." Suffice it to say, that I survived what would have killed almost anyone else. Long story short, for 10 years, I was the "Poster Boy" for Scientology in Western Europe. The fallout of that was that I became a target of the Verfassungschutz (the German Equivalent of the American CIA, or the British MI6) and got caught in a public "war" between the Scientology organization and the German Government. They couldn't get to Tom Cruise or John Travolta. They were movie stars. I was a stage actor at that time, and the enemies of Scientology in the German government came after me to make an "example" out of me -- with everything they had. I was arrested. I was blackmailed. My phone was tapped. My mail was opened. I had death threats and everything else. In 2003, was my personal "annus horribilus" where everything came to a head. The sh*t hit the fan with gale force! The protests against SCN were at their worst. I was broke. I hadn't auditioned in nearly 7 years. I was blacklisted and regularly slandered in the media, and I needed police protection to perform. In the middle of all that, Scientology left me to fend for myself.  

That connection to SCN cost me everything -- my career, all my money, my reputation, my family and it nearly cost me my sanity. There were even 2 or 3 situations where I considered suicide because I saw no way out of the situation that I was in. Once I got out of SCN in 2003, I spent 4 1/2 years in court handling the legal fallout of that connection, and started to pay off EURO 250K in debts that were incurred as a result of what had happened. Once I started to rebuild my career -- again another incredible story -- I began to look for a way to turn the disaster that my life had become into a relatable story. Tony Finelli was the solution. I consider The Finellis to be my life's work. Every skill I have accumulated over these many, many years of writing, producing, recording and performing has been used at its utmost to bring this story to life. Truly, "The Finellis" is a story that only I could tell, because I LIVED it, and I survived (more or less) intact.   

There is a saying "Write what you know."  The show is a loosely-based, quite fictionalized version of my Biography. However, instead of Scientology, you have a prison sentence and the Mafia. That's a direct analogy of my years in that cult. Of course, Tony Finelli is based on Mark Janicello, but he's not really me, certainly not anymore. To create "The Finellis", I took my own personality and split the different aspects of it into three very distinct characters. Tony Finelli is the "Good" Mark. J├╝rgen Drahtseil (Tony's manager) is the "Bad" Mark, and Nonna, Tony Finelli's 90-year-old demented Grandmother is the "Crazy/Creative" Mark. Tony and I share some traits, but the longer I have worked on this project, the more Tony Finelli has become a separate, quite individual personality of his own. That said, there are still some scenes that are very, very difficult for me to play -- because they are based on relationships and situations that were quite personal and some of them were very painful. Tony gave me the "mask" to hide behind so I could write as "close to the bone" as I could stand it. I knew that if I did that, the authenticity of the characters and the situations would make a genuine impression on the audience. All the nominations and awards that "The Finellis Movie" won during the pandemic are a testament that my gamble paid off.    

I believe I survived everything I did, because I was meant to tell this story. That is why I've invested EVERYTHING I have in "The Finellis.

The Finellis Musical is based on The Finellis Movie. What inspired you to take the material from screen to stage?

The original idea for "The Finellis" was a 13-Episode Sitcom. I had already written all 13 Episodes of Season One and had outlined the stories for Season Two. We had raised some money and filmed 3 1/2 episodes, when the pandemic hit. Of course, during 2020-2021 it was nearly impossible to finish the sitcom. Once the restrictions lifted, I wrote a new connecting storyline, we went back into production and turned our existing footage into what became "The Finellis Movie." The Sitcom episodes had been quite successful on the Awards circuit during the pandemic. Unfortunately, everything was remote, and we weren't able to network or meet people while winning all these awards. Once the movie came out in 2022, we had a 7/4/10 Rating on IMDb and 5-Star ratings on Amazon Prime and AppleTV in the USA, UK and Germany, so we knew we had something special.    

After the movie came out, we started talking about producing the entire Sitcom again. We had raised a 7-figure sum to film, and even had a big Hollywood actor on board to play Juergen, but something was not sitting right with me. I was neither happy nor comfortable with our partners in Hollywood, so I stopped everything... and put "The Finellis" on the shelf for a while. After a few months, Ulf Weidman (the composer of all the music in "The Finellis") and I started talking and I suggested turning "The Finellis" into a stage musical. The series and film both had music in them, so it wasn't a big stretch to imagine the scenes "sung" instead of spoken. We wrote Act One in a few months, (we had already written a LOT of songs for "The Finellis Sitcom," so it was more a book re-write than writing a lot of new music), and then decided to do a producer's presentation of Act One in May 2023 at the Phoenix Arts Club. We had a great cast. The event was sold out. The audience loved the show, and we raised enough money that day to finish writing the show, and produce the Wonderville Production (which will be the World Premiere) of "The Finellis Musical.

As an actor, singer, writer, producer and director, is there an aspect of the industry you prefer - and why?

I really have no preference. I love to create. I don't care in which capacity. 

My blog is called Stage to Page. But if you could turn any book, from page to stage, what would it be and why?

"The Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela. Mandela is a well-known protagonist. His story is so astounding and inspirational and those are the kind of stories that I want to watch, and would also like to produce.    

And finally, why should people book tickets to The Finellis Musical?

Ulf Weidmann is a phenomenal composer. Forgetting the book, the lyrics and the performances, the songs themselves are MIND-BLOWING! If you love great music, watch "The Finellis Musical." We've got every style of music in the show. If you like to laugh, come and watch Tony and the rest of the Finelli Family go to town. I've seen the film with thousands of audience members all over the world at different screenings. They laugh out loud until they cry. It's character-based comedy and wonderfully drawn, very unique and relatable characters. Lastly, and most importantly, we're an affordable, family-friendly musical (top ticket price is GBP 26.50) that isn't afraid to touch on hot-topic storylines. This is not your ordinary musical, it's "The Finellis" and it's one-of-a-kind!  

You can book tickets to The Finellis Musical at the Wonderville here.

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