Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve. A glorious night of the year, where it feels as if things in the world are, albeit briefly, alright. This year, I am home alone for the holidays as my parents are in Malaysia with my brothers. Never fear, I muddle on through. I have continued my wondrous Christmas Eve tradition of listening to the original cast album of "She Loves Me," not only one of the most glorious musical comedies written, but a show that finds its incredibly touching finale take place on Christmas Eve. As I type, the "Ice Cream" reprise scene between Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook is playing out, one of those zen moments when you know that a musical can be salve for a weary soul.

Merry Christmas, kids.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The most played songs on my iPod.

It's very late and I'm waiting for my laundry to dry and since I have not yet seen Sweeney Todd (curses), I needed something to fill the void, so I decided to play around with my iPod/itunes. I was curious to see what my top 25 playlist consisted of, so I thought I'd share:

1. "Not on Your Nellie," Darling of the Day, OBCR (Jule Styne-Yip Harburg). Patricia Routledge's rousing music-hall eleven o'clock showstopper. It's a sheer delight from start to finish. In part because of this, and also the next entry, Routledge has become a heroine of mine. And a master class in musical comedy genius. I highly recommend the rest of the cast album. 109 plays (yeah, I've listened to it a lot...).

2. "Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)," 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Leonard Bernstein-Alan Jay Lerner). Patricia Routledge once again snags this spot with her spirited rendition of this nine minute showstopper in which she portrays both Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes while discoursing on the election controversy that led to the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. A complete marvel of craft in both performance and writing. 60 plays.

3. "You've Got Possibilities," It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman, OBCR (Charles Strouse-Lee Adams). Linda Lavin stopped the show with this cleverly written song in which her character tries to seduce Clark Kent. 46 plays.

4. "Sez I/If It Isn't Everything," Donnybrook, OBCR (Johnny Burke). Peter Filichia referred to this in an article as the greatest opening number you've never heard. I will not disagree. The only fitting description I can use would be to consider it a feisty Irish cousin to "Waitin' for My Dearie" and "Many a New Day," Joan Fagan nails this energetic number out of the ballpark. Now if we could only get a CD release. 44 plays.

5. "The Golden Ram," Two by Two, OBCR (Richard Rodgers-Martin Charnin). Okay, so I'm a huge fan of Madeline Kahn. Extraordinarily huge. This brief exercise in coloratura hysterics is the only cast album which showcases Kahn's soprano at its peak (she had vocal problems the day On the Twentieth Century was recorded, though apparently no one in the production team cared). That's a full-out high C with which she caps the number. 44 plays.

6. "Another Hundred People," Company, OBCR (Stephen Sondheim). One of the most ingenious orchestrations ever given a theatre song, Pamela Myers definitive rendition is always something I listen to with earnestness and appreciation. From the melody, to the lyric, to the context, it is one of the most satisfying moments in a musical (and subsequent album) that Stephen Sondheim has given us. 44 plays.

7. "Come You Men," A Time for Singing, OBCR (John Morris-Gerald Freedman). Granted the running time is brief (1:20), which probably led to numerous plays over the previous months; but the song itself is the stirring opening to the cast album of this devastatingly short-lived musical adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. This track is an a capella chorale in the Welsh tradition that is incredibly stirring and melodically gorgeous. 44 plays.

8. "A Time for Singing," A Time for Singing, OBCR. Tessie O'Shea gets great material in this show, but her rousing and spirited rendition of the title song will send you to hit the repeat button again and again. A jubilant waltz, the song also takes on for me, a personal philosophy of what the singing in a musical can do. Hear the words of the first verse, and you'll understand. Another LP album that needs a remastered CD release. 38 plays.

9. "The Girl Who Has Everything," Grey Gardens, OBCR (Scott Frankel-Michael Korie). When I first saw this musical, it was on Broadway, where this number had replaced the song "Toyland" featured on the original cast recording from Playwrights Horizons. When the new album came out, this soaring operetta waltz, which took on considerable gravity within the show's context, was oft repeated, especially for the stunning vocal flourish with which Christine Ebersole ended the number. 37 plays.

10. "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," Grey Gardens, OBCR. I would consider this the finest list song Broadway has had in years, if not decades. The list espoused by Little Edie in this act two opening showstopper is a feat of expository writing in an opening number. (I consider GG two linked one-act musicals, since the styles are so very different). You receive so much about setting, time and character in just the words, and even the amusing "Da-da-da-DA-dummm." which fills the pauses between songs. Genius. 37 plays.

The rest of the top 25: "We Need a Little Christmas," Mame OBCR (Jerry Herman); "Turkey Lurkey Time," Promises, Promises OBCR (Bacharach-Hal David); "I Was a Shoo-In," Subways Are for Sleeping OBCR (Styne-Comden & Green); "It's Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love," Darling of the Day OBCR; "Mame," Mame OBCR; "Home Sweet Heaven," High Spirits OBCR (Hugh Martin-Timothy Gray); "Raunchy," 110 in the Shade, New BCR (Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones); "Let's See What Happens," Darling of the Day, OBCR; "Rehab," Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (not everything is theatre 24/7...); "Ice Cream," She Loves Me, OBCR (Bock & Harnick); "Carnegie Hall (Do-Do-Re-Do)" On the Town, 1960 studio cast (Bernstein-Comden & Green; God, that ride-out!); "Thank God I'm Old, Barnum, OLCR (Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart); "Fable," The Light in the Piazza (Adam Guettel); "For Once in My Life," Stevie Wonder (see Winehouse); "And This is My Beloved," Kismet, Lincoln Center revival CR (Borodin; Wright & Forrest).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Follies. February 12, 2007 @ the City Center. A star-studded, riveting performance of a landmark musical; possibly the ultimate in cult status. Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark were at the top of their game. The rest of cast rose to the occasion, save for Christine Baranski's psychotic and off-key rendition of "I'm Still Here" which still stopped the show. It was a real treat to hear the score unadulterated and with its complete original orchestration. An event that was not to be missed and woefully went unrecorded. Saddest part? The rumored transfer never came to fruition.

2. Coram Boy. May 17, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. A delightfully and unapologetically Dickensian romp through plot machinations and melodrama that made for an inventive evening at the theatre. British actress Xanthe Elbrick successfully played an aristocratic adolescent male in the first act and a cockney orphan of 8 in the second, earning the Theatre World award and nominations from all the awards committees. Jan Maxwell, as a self-preservational feministic accomplice to the villain, delivered a fully layered and realized performance, also worthy of much praise. Ran for 30 performances, becoming one of the most expensive flop plays in history. Deserved better reviews and audience for its theatrical inventions and concept.

3. Deuce. May 22, 2007 @ the Music Box Theatre. Terrence McNally's second rate play wouldn't have made my list save for one exception: it brought Angela Lansbury back to Broadway. For that reason alone it deserves much praise in spite of the inherent weakness of the work itself. Lansbury and co-star Marian Seldes were a marvel of technique (with 110 years of Broadway between them) and a chance to see Lansbury back on Broadway (the last time she was in NY was a flop revival of Mame in 1983 that closed when I was 6 weeks old) was worth the price of admission alone.

4. Journey's End. June 5, 2007 @ the Belasco Theatre. Admittedly, I was severely disengaged with the first act; even to the point of nodding off (though that may have been the free wine from the Theatre World award reception I attended that afternoon). However, the second act put everything into perspective and the last five or ten minutes of the show were among the most harrowing spent in a theatre. The audience was so numb they forgot to applaud. Remarkable work by the ensemble; most notably Boyd Gaines and Stark Sands. Truly an event that should have been seen by more, especially given the inescapable relevance of an 80 year old anti-war play.

5. Grey Gardens. June 12, 2007 @ the Walter Kerr Theatre. Though I'd seen this musical in 2006, this particular performance was the most memorable I attended. It was the first performance following the Tony awards at which Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson took home the Best Actress and Best Featured Actress in the Musical Tony's. The house was abuzz with fans and newcomers; creating that certain palpable energy that comes oh so rarely in the theatre. Never have I witnessed a star receive a standing-ovation on a second act entrance. I doubt we may ever have cause for that again, until London ;)

6. 110 in the Shade. July 23, 2007 @ Studio 54. Christine Ebersole's greatest competition for the Tony award came from star Audra McDonald's nuanced portrayal of the love-lorn, insecure spinster Lizzie Curry in this 1963 musical adaptation of Nash's The Rainmaker (most memorably filmed with Katharine Hepburn in 1956). The score by Jones & Schmidt shone, the cast was outstanding and Audra made your heart feel light from the moment she entered to the moment the inevitable rains came. It's very rare to see a matinee crowd respond with such vigor to a stage musical revival such as I did on this hot July day; but when McDonald finished "Raunchy", the house erupted as though we were attending a rock concert. It was also a treat to see John Cullum performing as Lizzie's father and Bobby Steggart's comic impression as Lizzie's not-so-bright yet tender-hearted little brother.

7. Gypsy. July 25, 2007 @ the City Center. Patti LuPone finally got to tear it up as Rose in NY. In spite of the lack of a complete scenic design and a rather bizarre lamb puppet, the production was everything you would hope for in your presentation of this musical; a stellar Rose, a solid Herbie and a heart-breaking Louise. LuPone maneuvered her way through the role with fiery conviction, earthiness and a determination that could put the fear of God into Patton. Her "Everything's Coming Up Roses" not only foreshadowed the second act "Turn," but could very well be the most definitive delivery of that song. Laura Benanti was the greatest Louise I have ever seen. Someone so attractive could play awkward teen so well - and have a transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee that was nuanced and damn sexy. Boyd Gaines (as usual) went above and beyond the call for what is required of Herbie. Tony Yazbeck was a most convincing Tulsa; and one you would think could elope with June without requiring a true stretch of our willing suspension of disbelief. Excited for the Broadway transfer this spring.

8. August: Osage County. December 4, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. Tracy Letts' new drama is one of the most riveting and enjoyable pieces of theatre to open on Broadway in a few years. A spectacular return to the old-school three-acter, the play explores the dormant volcano that is the Weston family and their myriad of dysfunction. Ferocious performances from Deanna Dunagan as Violet, the combination Mary Tyrone, Regina Giddens and Martha and Amy Morton as her equally volatile daughter anchor this brilliant work. Many people are quick to dismiss the critical plaudits and claim the work is an overrated soap opera variation on Mama's Family. Those people are missing the subtextual boat here, especially when you view the dynamite second act; which has some of the best contemporary writing ever presented on a NY stage. Never mind the naysayers, see this play before it closes.

What I want to see next year: Come Back, Little Sheba, Sunday in the Park With George, The 39 Steps, Les Liaisones Dangereuxes, The Country Girl, November, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In the Heights, A Catered Affair, South Pacific, Gypsy, Show Boat at Carnegie Hall, Billy Elliot, and also Saved! at Playwrights Horizons.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Snowy-Blowy Christmas

Donna McKechnie leads the original cast of Promises Promises in the act one showstopper "Turkey-Lurkey Time" on the 1969 Tony awards. The other two lead dancers are Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington. Choreography by Michael Bennett. Yes the lyrics are rather outrageous and the melody is infectiously 60s, but that's part of the fun (thank you Bacharach and David). And technically, it's a Christmas song. So in the spirit of the season and with the snow coming tomorrow, sit back and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

August: Osage County, or the greatest play ever

Okay, maybe not ever, but one of the most extraordinary in recent memory. Last Tuesday night I had the privilege of attending my second Broadway opening night, special thanks to Noah. It was thrilling to be able to attend; especially given the precarious situation the stagehand's strike thrust upon this unknown play, without a name cast and a recognizable creative team. Thank God, the show is here. And unlikely to ever go away and for that we should be incredibly thankful.

My first ordeal came with the question, "what do I wear?" That was easily assuaged by a trip to the mall, abandoning my usual earth tones for a classier black and charcoal grey combination. Second of all, I had a trimming accident, so off came my beard of four years. Well, regardless, I looked like sex on legs. (Seriously).

Anyway, my point. The opening night was star-studded, much more than I think anyone would have realized: Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, Marian Seldes, Alan Rickman, David Schwimmer, John Krasinski, Anthony Edwards, Christine Ebersole, Tim Daly, Zeljko Ivanek, Duncan Sheik, Ana Gasteyer, Laurie Metcalf, Melina Kanakaredes, Gary Sinise, Kate Walsh, Tom Hulce, Tamara Tunie, Kelli O'Hara, Penny Fuller, Lois Smith, Bobby Cannavale, Marsha Mason, among a slew of others that I'm probably forgetting at this point. Anyway, as exhilarating as it was being a King of the Hill wallflower in the lobby watching the glitterati arrive, the opening night experience itself was overshadowed by the masterwork onstage at the Imperial.

It's hard to describe what is destined to be a contemporary classic. To see a play that returns to an older form (the first original three act play on Broadway in how long?) yet managed to infuse the drama with such a sense of humor and relatability. Every family has its dysfunctions, yet this one manages to pinpoint them all without ever becoming too absurd for its own good. The plot revolves around a family returning to its homestead in Oklahoma after the patriarch goes missing. The reunion unearths a slew of dirty laundry, grudges and secrets, led by the matriarch Violet, suffering from cancer of the mouth (oh how fitting), and in a stunning breakthrough performance (for a grandmother) by the Chicago-based actress Deanna Dunagan. Violet is constantly shifting between her natural no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is persona and her drug-addled incoherence; a volatile combination that helps her to force out family skeletons and lead them in a rousing cakewalk through the second and third act. It's hard to describe what it is about her performance; the command of the stage, the ease at which she's created her character or the fact that Vi is a cross between Mary Tyrone and Martha, with a dash of Regina Giddens thrown in for good measure. Also standing out is Amy Morton as her mother's daughter, Barbara, who ends up trying to strangle her mother when things get out of hand and is slowly turning into her. Watching the two pitted against each other is one of the theatrical highlights of the year. Dunagan dominated the second; Morton, the third. It really feels though, that Barbara is the lead, but boy is Violet a good time. And in that one wonders if they'll compete against each other for the Best Actress awards this season. I think Dunagan's Theatre World award should be engraved today to save the time.

For what it's worth, the entire ensemble is extraordinary. Never once do you question these actors as a family (all but two veterans of the Steppenwolf production that played earlier this year in Chicago). I don't want to give plot points away because the entire arc of the play is filled with little surprises and unexpected revelations. (And hell, if you want to know, see the damned thing). I will say this: the second act possesses some of the finest contemporary writing I've ever seen. The final line of the second act had a reaction unlike any I've ever witnessed at a drama; the audience was still cheering after the lights had come up for intermission. Think of the play as though Eugene O'Neill had been asked to write Arrested Development. (The midwestern setting is more reminiscent of Bill Inge than O'Neill, but that's besides the point). The put-downs and family arguments and incredibly awkward situations that arise are incredibly humorous, but the work ends with an incredibly sobering punch. There is talk of the awards Pulitzer and Antoinette Perry for this esteemed production (which received practically unanimous raves; the lone hold-out was that out of step Jacques Le Sourd from the Journal News), and is currently only scheduled to run through March 9. If you have brains, get your hands on tickets immediately as you will not want to miss this landmark achievement.

I know I probably should have written some brilliant critical commentary on the piece, but we have eternity to judge the piece with that ethereal lens. For now, just see this magnanimous opus. (The fastest three hours and 20 minutes I've spent at a play).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Angela Lansbury is Rose!!

Here is Miss Angela Lansbury in some incredibly rare footage from her revival of Gypsy from the mid-70s. Often considered the best to interpret the character, Angie here gives us a taste of "Some People," some rather impressive choreography in "Together" (those kicks!) and the final half of her "Turn."

Though a question lingers in my mind... If we have these highlights, is there a complete video of her performance out there somewhere....? Something to think about.