PLAYBILL VIP SPOTLIGHT: Bill Russell Shares Elegies of the AIDS Epidemic With College Students at Marymount Manhattan

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23 Jan 2014

Bill Russell

Elegies delves into the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and their tales of struggle, loss and hope. Stories in the song cycle — which premiered at the Ohio Theatre in lower Manhattan in 1989 and also played in the East Village — are told through spoken word, monologues and song.

At a recent rehearsal, Piccinonno sang "Learning to Let Go," a song that, he said, is about "celebrating the lives of the people who passed on."

"It hit home," Piccinonno confessed, "especially with the poems — the monologues… We had one girl, the other day, just break down in tears. It was really emotional, and it was really inspiring. And, everyone is so welcoming here, so it's very easy to become vulnerable in front of people because everybody is so supportive."

"The rehearsal process is extremely collaborative, which I really believe in," added Marymount junior Michael J. Rodd, who plays Paul, a Vietnam war veteran in Elegies. "All of us sitting on those bleachers from day one, watching people discover things about themselves and discover things about their characters… To be able to put the two together — everyday someone else gets to another level, someone else learns something new about their characters, you go up and do your monologue, and I know I feel something different. I elicit different things from the people in the audience. I feel differently. Bill is so supportive, and he lets you do your job as an actor."

Also taking on one of Russell's monologues in Elegies is senior Spencer Wilson, who plays Dwight, who he describes as a "Broadway hopeful who came from [a] bigoted town."

"I think [he] somewhat represents the Broadway community in the 80s-90s — people like Michael Bennett," explained Wilson, "who everyone wonders: Had he not passed away, what would he have done? He was this great talent — what could possibly have happened? Our community was completely destroyed by this."

Cast member Tyler Godden in rehearsal

Rodd, an upperclassman at MMC, added, "It's so important for people to see this right now because there are young people in this city — where this epidemic was so devastating — and I moved here three years ago and really had no idea…at all. I knew how you can transmit the disease, I knew what it does to you and your body, but nobody ever told me that there were emotional repercussions, that your family and your friends — your whole world — were completely destroyed… It's so poignant because [I interpret the characters as taking their] last stand… We will sit back down, and we will never be able to speak ever again — that's how I look at it. This is my last hope to teach somebody, to help somebody with my experiences. There's just so much passion involved in this piece and through Bill — he's been so illuminating on this whole topic."


Patricia Hoag Simon is the musical theatre coordinator at Marymount Manhattan College. Elegies... is musical directed by Emmy Award winner Paul Jacobs.

Performances of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens will be offered Jan. 24 at 7:30 PM and Jan. 25 at 5:30 PM and 8 PM. For more information, click here or here.

Just like the Playbills found on and Off-Broadway and in numerous theatres across the country, the Playbill VIP contains billing features identical to those used by award-winning theatre professionals for decades. Click here to view Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. Visit to explore more exciting productions across the U.S. and to build one of your own.

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( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)


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