by Rita Charleston
Premiering in 2013 at Lincoln Center, nominated for three Tony Awards and winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play, “The Nance,” written by Douglas Carter Beane, is currently being presented by The Stagecrafters Theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., through Dec. 9. Directed by Barbara Mills, the play follows the life of Chauncey Mills, a burlesque comedian who specializes in playing the “nance,” a stock character who was a flamingly effeminate homosexual. In fact, Chauncey is gay and looks for men but must be careful not to risk the harsh realities of Depression Era politics and mores.
Then one day Chauncey meets Ned, a young man newly arrived in New York and homeless. Ned confesses he is also gay and has recently left his wife, hoping to find out more about himself. Though Chauncey is hesitant to begin a serious relationship, the two become lovers.
Twenty-five-year-old Joe Fanelli plays Ned. Growing up just outside of New York City, he says he always had a passion for the theater. “Since both my parents worked in the city, I spent a lot of time there,” the young actor recalls. “And I remember when I was just three or four passing a billboard advertising ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and begging my mother to take me to see it. Well, one day she did. I sat in my seat for two hours completely enraptured by what I was seeing, and that was it. My passion was born.”
And it wasn’t long before that passion turned into a profession, as Fanelli was cast in the national tour of “The Music Man” when he was just 8. “Being in that show was a great opportunity for me to learn my craft from so many wonderful people. Later, I studied at the High School for the Performing Arts, now known as the Professional Performing Arts School of New York.”
Over the years, Fanelli has performed in a variety of stage productions and films, including “Into the Woods,” “The Rabbit Hole,” “The Little Mermaid,” “James and the Giant Peach” and others. He has received multiple nominations and awards for his performances, including the Spotlight On Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor for his role in “Eternity, Time Without End.” He’s also worked as a teaching artist for multiple arts and educational organizations, most recently as a Teaching Fellow for Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse, New York.
Fanelli, who now lives in South Philadelphia, moved here just over a year ago to try his hand at acting in a new city and new environment. “Playing Ned is my debut performance in the city. I’m enjoying every minute of it as well as relating to others in this acting community. It’s a joy to play Ned because he’s such a complex character, and his emotions run the gamut, from great joy and happiness to his ultimate downfall.”
In playing any character, Fanelli insists he has to be able to identify with the character in some way. He says, “I have to understand the character, flaws and all. For me, that’s the only way I can portray him truthfully. And what all this means to me is helping the audience identify with a character in a way they might never have thought possible. And at the end, maybe even getting them to inspire others and help change the world around them in some way.”
When he’s not on stage, Fanelli works as a host in a restaurant. “That’s the life of most actors. It helps pay the bills and gives us some flexibility.” And up next? “We shall see,” he answers. “Being an actor is always an adventure, but I hope to continue to work here. This is a great theater community.”
For ticket information to “The Nance,” call 215-247-8881.