Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Not Since Carrie"

If you like musicals, and are intrigued by the failures, then this is the book for you. Ken Mandelbaum is detailed and concise in recounting the failures of Broadway musicals through the years. I've read it several times over the years; it's engaging, never boring and quite funny to hear some of the anecdotes and some of the horrifying decisions made by creative teams.

By the way, where has Ken Mandelbaum gone? He stopped writing his column almost two years ago and no one seems to have heard anything from him since. I hope he's well and off updating this book so we can get the last twenty years of disasters documented.

Outstanding songs from flop shows, Part 2

Sarah gave me a little iota of hell (teensy) for leaving out Prettybelle in my last post. I apologize to those diehard fans by placing that show at the top of tonight's list...which will include two selections from said score.

"You Never Looked Better"/"When I'm Drunk, I'm Beautiful" - Prettybelle (Jule Styne-Bob Merrill; 1971; closed in Boston) A schizophrenic southern belle with a drinking problem, an now-deceased abusive husband and a penchant for whoring herself out to minorities. And would you believe, Jerry Herman didn't write it! The show was problematic from the beginning, namely the the source material. "You Never Looked Better" was actually cut while the show was out of town; but when they recorded the album (some ten years later) they reinstated this gem Lansbury when her husband dies. There's a chance it'll be sung at my funeral. However, the most glorious moment of the show is the eleven o'clock number "When I'm Drunk, I'm Beautiful." The title says it all, but you need to hear the lead-in, the clever lyrics and the glorious bridge (which is actually quite Hermanesque). A no-holds barred paean to the magic of alcohol, Lansbury sends this one out of the ballpark; a cultist's delight.

"So Much You Loved Me" - Rex (Richard Rodgers-Sheldon Harnick; 1976; Lunt-Fontanne - 48 performances). You'd think Henry VIII would make for great singing; but, alas it didn't. The score is decent, especially whenever Penny Fuller opens her mouth. This ballad, sung by Anne Boleyn to Henry at the end of their relationship, has marvelous lyrics and a gorgeous melodic progression in the A-section from Mr. Rodgers. A gem of a song. (Sarah Brightman recorded this song, the only one from the score to have life outside of it. But, c'mon, who the hell wants to hear that?) (The melody is also used in "From Afar": Henry's soliloquized, yet secretive admiration for his daughter Elizabeth).

"Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" - Sail Away (Noel Coward; Broadhurst - 167 performances). Truth be told, I actually judge this from the original London cast recording of the score, which I really prefer to the Broadway. Most specifically because it doesn't censor the funniest joke in this song. Elaine Stritch starred as a "world-weary" cruise hostess finding romance onboard ship in a role written specifically for her by Noel Coward. Well, this was originally going to be an operetta with Stritch as the comic support; but, out of town the show was overhauled with the original leads fired, their parts cut out entirely and Stritch made the star (she would be above-the-title in London). The show was dismissed as decidedly old-fashioned by critics and had relatively brief runs in NY and London (where it played 262 performances, after an even worse critical reception). The song is a sardonic showcase in the eleven o'clock spot for Stritchie (hmm, "The Ladies Who Lunch" anyone?) in which she lists her grievances about the tourists she encounters. It's pretty riotous and Stritch (naturally) still brought down the house when she reprised it in At Liberty.

"Somehow I Never Could Believe" - Street Scene (Kurt Weill-Langston Hughes; 1947; Adelphi - 148 performances). Elmer Rice's tragedy became the basis for this ambitious "American opera" with some glorious results. Combining legitimate opera with musical comedy (more of the former than the latter), there are a great many aural wonders ("Ain't it Awful the Heat," "Lonely House," "Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed"), but it is this daring seven minute aria that captivated me on the first listen. Weill and Hughes took the traditional character am/want song and used it to tell us the history of the character of ill-fated Anna Maurrant. She sings of her hopes and dreams of her childhood and of how she watched those dreams die trapped in a loveless marriage in the tenements of NYC; a display of her loneliness and eventual optimism that things will be better. The song requires a dramatic soprano - basically something only the truly proficient in opera should attempt. A powerhouse of a showstopper. It would be nice if City Opera could get Victoria Clark for the role of Anna. Perhaps keep it in the Lincoln Center family and cast Kelli O'Hara and Aaron Lazar in the roles of the young lovers.

"All the Things You Are" - Very Warm for May (Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II; 1939; Alvin - 59 performances). The most beautiful song ever written. Well, if not, it's certainly one of them. If you get the chance, you should hear the original orchestration for this number for a baritone and coloratura soprano. Spellbinding is the word. There is a recording of the original cast from a radio broadcast, as well as a recreation on John McGlinn's Broadway Showstoppers CD with Rebecca Luker.

"Children of the Wind,"/"Blame it on the Summer Night"/"Rags" - Rags (Charles Strouse-Stephen Schwartz; 1986; Mark Hellinger - 4 performances). Teresa Stratas was Rebecca, the heroine in this musical about a Jewish immigrant discovering injustice and fighting political corruption on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Consider it a sort of 'post-Fiddler' attempt at the immigrant experience in America. The show had little advance and poor notices and folded quickly. But it has a stunner of a score. The first song is a powerhouse aria in which Rebecca dreams of a home for herself and her son. The second is a delicious bluesy number with a scintillating orchestration and a seductive lyric in which Rebecca realizes she's falling in love. The third is an angry indictment of the social stratifications of the time delivered by the ill-fated Bella, played by Judy Kuhn (who received a Tony nomination). The original cast album, recorded in 1991, features Julia Migenes in the place of Stratas.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gypsy marquee

Why isn't this more exciting?
At least the production inside will be...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Outstanding songs from flop shows

Let it be known, I love my flops. I have been fascinated by them for years, ever since my interest in Broadway musicals became deeply profound in late 2000, early 2001 and I decided I wanted every recording ever made. That was the year I first sampled Sondheim; Bernstein (aside from West Side Story) and I heard my first genuine flop score: Candide. This fascination continued to grow until I wanted to hear every possible score out there. I never realized that I would hear some of the songs on this list, but I have been fortunately blessed to know them.

Here are a few of my favorite flop numbers, perhaps the first in a series of blogs, perhaps not. We'll see. Order is random; just as they come to me.

"One More Walk Around the Garden" - Carmelina (Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner; 1979; St. James: 17 performances) An adaptation of the popular Gina Lollobrigida film, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (one woman; her daughter; the three former WWII GI's who could be the father - elements conspicuously present in Mamma Mia) features this hauntingly simplistic and poignantly nostalgic trio for the three soldiers as they reminisce. Achingly beautiful.

"Sur Le Quais" - Lolita, My Love (John Barry- Alan Jay Lerner; 1971; closed closed out of town in Boston) Dorothy Loudon's performance as Charlotte Haze is perhaps the greatest thing this ill-fated adaptation of Nabokov's extraordinary novel has to offer. In looking at the material as an example of creating an adaptation, it works well; the pederasty is just plain uncomfortable to stomach when dramatized, especially in a musical. Loudon stopped the show with this Gallic-flavored romp with Humbert midway through the first act.

"Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)" - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Leonard Bernstein- Alan Jay Lerner; 1976; Mark Hellinger: 7 performances) A musical covering race relations and the first one hundred years of the White House. Lofty ambitions basically did the show in the from beginning. With a libretto that plays more like a musical revue than a book show; and two actors (Ken Howard and the divine Patricia Routledge) serving as each President and First Lady, the show's strength is in its performers and its score. There is not enough time in a 2 1/2 hour musical to possibly cover all the ground that I'm sure the creative team hoped to. The show never completely gelled; much was changed and revised and the show was a critical and financial disaster in NY, lasting a week; and Bernstein refused to allow the original cast album to be made, which is unfortunate. In this act two showstopper, one of the most daunting and brilliantly conceived in a flop or hit, Patricia Routledge switches between the characters of Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes. For almost nine minutes; we get the history of the election, the end of the era of Reconstruction and racial commentary thrown in among the barbed insults the character hurl at one another. She's a schizophrenic marvel as she created two clearly delineated characters while utilizing a chest resonance for one and a coloratura soprano for the other. Genius.

"Glitter and Be Gay" - Candide (Leonard Bernstein-Richard Wilbur, John LaTouche, & Dorothy Parker; 1956; Martin Beck: 73 performances). Sure, it's gone on to glory in opera repertories and numerous revivals around the world - and its overture is a popular favorite among classical orchestras. But Candide was a pretty hefty flop in 1956, dividing critics (still does) and just not pulling in the business. Barbara Cook, that legend divine, received the most difficult piece for sopranos in the musical theatre canon (hell, and opera) with this demanding coloratura soprano aria. Not only are you expected to hit high Eb's above C, you must also be witty, satiric and hilarious. It goes without saying that Cook's rendition is definitive.

"It's Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love"/"Let's See What Happens"/"Not on Your Nellie" - Darling of the Day (Jules Styne-E.Y. Harburg; 1968; George Abbott: 32 performances). See my previous post.

"He Had Refinement" - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Arthur Schwartz-Dorothy Fields; 1951; Alvin: 267 performances). Speculation to the flop of this problematic yet endearing musical of the Betty Smith novel (brilliant bildungsroman I might add; yes I was an English major) was due to the rearrangement in structure, with the novel's protagonist Francie taking a back seat to the parents (this included her absence from the entire first act as well). Also Shirley Booth, who received top billing for her part as Cissy, a secondary character, seemed to have thrown off the balance of the show because she walked away with it in her pocket. The force that is Booth displayed her requisite earthy charm, gracious down-to-earth humor and effortless star quality throughout the evening. The most memorable of these moments was her loving recollection of her "first Harry" in laugh out loud hilarious "He Had Refinement." (An honorable mention here to the glorious yet underrated act one finale, the soaring "I'll Buy You a Star").

"And I Was Beautiful" - Dear World (Jerry Herman; 1969; Mark Hellinger: 132 performances). There is much to enjoy in Herman's score: the showstopping "I Don't Want to Know," the intricate trio "The Tea Party," "Kiss Her Now" and "I've Never Said I Love You" could all fit the bill here, but for me it is this devastating ballad about the loss of love - and the effects time has on said loss. sung by a resplendent Angela Lansbury as the Madwoman of Chaillot. Listen to it.

"Sez I/If It Isn't Everything" - Donnybrook! (Johnny Burke; 1961; 46th Street: 68 performances) The musical version of the highly popular The Quiet Man did't fare well on Broadway, but possesses a rather delightful score, with performances from Art Lund, Joan Fagan, Eddie Foy Jr and the ever reliable Susan Johnson. Ellen Roe Danaher (Mary Kate in the film), played by Fagan, sings this spirited Celtic jig, one of the liveliest numbers to ever open a musical, in which she explains to her family her philosophies on love - and how she hasn't found the right man. Think of it as a feistily belted Irish cousin to Brigadoon's "Waitin' for My Dearie" and Oklahoma!'s "Many a New Day."

"A Time for Singing" - A Time for Singing (John Morris-Gerald Freedman; 1966; Broadway: 41 performances). Tessie O'Shea leads this exuberant title song here; a musical adaptation of How Green Was My Valley that has a woefully unknown gem of a score. Nothing but sheer joy emanates from this song. Encores!, come on!

"Please Hello" - Pacific Overtures. (Stephen Sondheim; 1976; Winter Garden: 193 performances). Only Sondheim could write a showstopper that effectively told the history of Western imperialism in Japan in the 19th century. He cleverly uses a musical style from each country represented to characterize the national diplomacy (Sousa march for the US, Gilbert and Sullivan patter for England, can-can for France, etc.). It's a nine minute history lesson that works wonders.

If I could, I would post each song on here, but I don't think that's possible.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On this day in 1968...

Darling of the Day opened at the George Abbott Theatre in New York City. The musical by Jule Styne and Yip Harburg was based on the Arnold Bennett novel Buried Alive, a decidedly Anglophilic romp in which a nobleman artist assumes the identity of his deceased manservant "to get out of the world alive." In doing so, he also takes up the deceased's correspondence with a widow from Putney, named Alice Challice. Anyway, a convoluted farce ensues where he paints under his pseudonym and is found out by snobbish art dealers. This leads to a courtroom climax that brings about a conclusion with a decidedly Gilbert & Sullivan-esque flair.

The show's creative process was less than happy. The show went through various directors (4), choreographers (2) and book writers (5), with the show opening in NY without a credited librettist (a death knell for a musical; Nunnally Johnson insisted his name be taken off the show). The revolving door also included Peter Wood, S.N. Behrman, Albert Marre, Stephen Vinaver (who was hired and fired twice) and Peter Gennaro among others. In spite of the mess created by such a tumultuous tryout period, the show managed to allow my effervescent Patricia Routledge to shine in the role of the spirited widow. The cast album is a marvel for the strength of Styne's music and the cleverness of Harburg's lyrics, with Routledge getting the best of the material. Every one of her numbers in the show is worth hearing: "It's Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love," "A Gentleman's Gentleman," the devastatingly beautiful waltz "Let's See What Happens," a lost gem of a ballad "That Extra Something Special," and her rousing piece d'resistance, her eleven o'clocker "Not on Your Nellie." Routledge stole the show from the miscast non-singing Vincent Price, winning the show's general acclaim. The show couldn't withstand the initial critical drubbing it received and shuttered after 32 performances. The show would (fortunately for all) record a cast album; Routledge would win the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical, tying with Leslie Uggams who appeared in Jule Styne's hit-flop/flop-hit Hallelujah, Baby! (Talk about book trouble).

As per Walter Kerr: [Routledge gives] "the most spectacular, most scrumptious, most embraceable musical comedy debut since Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence came to this country … I understand there are some insane people going around this town saying that they didn't care all that much for Darling of the Day. I'd stay away from them if I were you. I warn you: if you don't catch her act now, you'll someday want to kill yourself."

Talk about a notice.

The original cast album is now woefully out of print, though it was issued on CD by RCA Victor in the late 1990s. There are copies available used on amazon and also through (it appears on CD-R with reproductions of the original artwork and liner notes). The show plays on record as a hit, as many flops scores do. (I forgot to mention that Ralph Burns was the orchestrator). There is also a rare recording of the opening night performance, muddied and poor quality, but you'd never believe the show was a disaster from the way Routledge stole it. (Her ovation for "Not on Your Nellie" went on so long, she had to plead with the audience to let the show continue).

And now, my new favorite flop is 40 years old. It's not often revived; though there were recent attempts at revisions, including the version presented at Musicals in Mufti a few year's back (featuring Rebecca Luker). If we're lucky, Encores! will present this delightful obscurity as part of their series starring Victoria Clark as Alice.

Of course, an ideal season would also include the long forgotten A Time for Singing and Donnybrook! (How about it, Encores?)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

'What the eye arranges is what is beautiful..."

It took me years to warm up to Sunday in the Park With George. There I admit it; in fact the first time I saw the taping of the original Broadway production, aside from Bernadette Peters and the end of the first act, I was bored. The jaunty atonal score was initially unmemorable; leaving little to no impression on me. Plus, I have never been a big fan of Mandy Patinkin, so that didn't help any.

However, the more I matured, the more I kept pushing myself back to the score; I always felt like I was missing something important about it; and was intrigued. It took years of listening, and several attempts at viewing the production; reading about it plus reading the libretto that started the thawing process. Not that every musical should have that laborious nature (indeed, while I have come to respect and admire Passion, it's highly likely I will never love it).

Anyway, the clincher was in 2004 when I was asked to work on my college's production as dramaturge. I immersed myself in the information around the show: I read all I could on Sondheim and Sunday from varying texts and sources. Reviews, biographies, intricate analyses, you name it. I also auditioned for the show, merely for fun, since I knew that as an outsider who wasn't a major in the theatre department, I would never be seriously considered for any roles. My audition went very well. I sang the patter section of "It Would Have Been Wonderful" and the last A section of "Love Can't Happen" (in the show key, to toot my own horn) and did a Nicky Silver monologue. It went much better than I (and I think they) expected. I got a callback. Well, that didn't go very well. (The confidence I had at the initial audition was thoroughly depleted when met by the condescending glares of the other actors). And I wasn't cast. So we set about working on the show; I was rarely utilized by the cast and crew for questions throughout the rehearsal period, but was ready to be a source if necessary.

Then I got put into the show (the person playing "Man with Bicycle" and "Man on Shore" opted not to accept his part); mostly to add my voice to the choral numbers, an extra person to hit the high G's in "Sunday." However, getting involved in table work and talking about the productions; and even seeing things in the Lincoln Center archive (which included the original Playwright's Horizon workshop), my eyes were opened to the artistic genius at work. Anyway, I've experienced this feeling of protectiveness whenever I've been involved with a show where I develop a sort of unconditional love for the work; even if it be a red-headed step child of the theatre.

I came to love Sunday in the Park With George.

And I saw it live as an audience member for the first time last night at the first preview of the Broadway revival playing at Studio 54. It's an import of the British production that played the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006 and contains the Olivier-winning stars of that production; Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell (the latter making her Broadway debut). Supporting the two superlative stars are the superb Broadway veterans Michael Cumpsty, Jessica Molaskey, Anne L. Nathan, Ed Dixon and the delightful Mary Beth Peil.

The production affected me in many ways. I was mesmerized at the animation of the scenic design which cleverly altered itself to show a flash of a figure of the painting here and there or even the subtle encroachment of autumn present during "Beautiful." (They even used the animated projections for the multiple George sequence in "Putting it Together"). The twilight effect of the streetlamps on La Grand Jatte 1984 during "Lesson #8 was a sheer marvel of subtlety and of scenography complementing the onstage action.

Evans is particularly stunning as George. Though Mandy has his teeth firmly embedded into the role (which was also aided by the original Broadway cast recording being the only album of the score for 22 years), for the first time I felt I understood George. I saw an artist so dedicated to his work and so close to a breakthrough that he shuns the world and eventually loses the great love of his life as a result. His George wasn't a cryptic brooding mess of nerves; there was a heart to Evans' George that took on new and refreshing dynamics, especially driving home "Finishing the Hat" (which received the Peter Filichia applause: the audience response was huge; it started to dissipate only to re-emerge louder and more pronounced than before). The song "Beautiful" is one of the most quietly poignant moments Mr. Sondheim has created; you have juxtaposing opinions of perspective and change between George and his somewhat senile mother. George finds such promise in change; "Pretty is what changes..." while nostalgia and a dislike of change gets the best of her "How I long for the old view." It's a moment of remarkable depth; especially hearing George find beauty in all that he sees, whether it be old or new, and his commitment to capturing it as an artist. Russell founds ways of both reinventing Dot and yet at times, coming so close to reminding me of Bernadette. She's beautiful, she gets the laughs and while she may not be as warm as the famed originator of the part, she does manage to give Dot a loving heart. She scored especially well as Marie in the second act with a devastating "Children and Art."

What was most surprising was the amount of polish since it was their first performance in front of an audience. The lighting cues are many (the tech rehearsal must have been hell) and so much of the production revolves around the lighting and projections for its full effect. While there could be a little tightening in spots (particularly "Putting it Together" which has always been too long), they have a rich foundation on which they will continue to grow throughout the run.

Speaking of quibbles... the pit. Five pieces, are you kidding me? Why don't you just get Dick Van Dyke to reprise his one-man band Bert from Mary Poppins and save even more money. The loss of the French horn is the most mournful in the instrumentation; the sax substitute is lackluster. It's not Sunday in the Park With Kenny G. Others had quibbled with the use of British accents in the first act, but I was strangely okay with that; which also got me wondering how well the show would translate to French... Another weak spot: Alexander Gemignani is rather annoying onstage. Didn't love him in Sweeney Todd and didn't care for him as the Boatman.

The show has always been plagued by its second act which is necessary to the authors' intent, but doesn't live up to the magic of the first (one review of the original production said act one was the best new musical in town; act two the worst). I have never seen the problematic second act run as smoothly and enjoyably as it did last night. Moment to moment, I was continually impressed; particularly the final 20-30 minutes; rich are the songs "Children and Art" (the lyrics in this song alone are enough to warrant its Pulitzer Prize win, followed by "Lesson #8" and the long-awaited musical release in "Move On" (which no doubt would have brought the house in on itself had it not been directed to move directly into dialogue and leave us without the opportunity to applaud; I'll be quicker next time). It was ethereal.

The moment that has haunted me through the day the most and will likely continue to do so for a long time was the final moment of the show. There is the reprise of the "Sunday" anthem with 1984 George connecting with Dot and the characters of the painting. In the moment following the exit of the characters from the stage, the projections have reversed themselves and gone back to a pure white stage.

George reads: "White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities..."

My breath was drawn and my heart exploded with emotion when he turned upstage and made his breakthrough; gasping with rapture and openness at the white canvas that lay ahead for him as an artist. The words that I have just written can't even begin to explain just how stunning this final flourish was as the lights went out. All I know is that it will stay with me always.

The ovation was extraordinary. As the house lights came up, the audience only increased its roar of approval; and it was clear no one was going anywhere until the cast came out one more time, which they did. Both Evans and Russell were visibly overwhelmed by the reception. I love impromptu moments like that.

Not everyone I was with shared my enthusiastic view, but Sondheim interpretations generally tend to polarize than unite. It's the nature of the beast and that's all right with me. It was just enough to share the night with a slew of classy friends and acquaintances.

I'm already going back. It can't be soon enough for me.

Side note: Miles said observed that Sunday is the MILF of musicals; it gets better with age. Not the classiest observation I've heard, but he's actually not far from the truth (though in his favor, he also referred to it as a fine wine, but I found this reference more amusing). Sweeney Todd is the masterpiece, Follies the cult favorite, and Pacific Overtures the most intriguing; Sunday in the Park With George is probably Sondheim's most fascinating score.

Second side note: I apparently bear a striking resemblance to George Seurat as was pointed out to me by two strangers in the lobby at intermission.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The First Meeting of the Patricia Routledge Appreciation Society

It's pretty well-established among my friends that I adore Patricia Routledge. Her comic timing is a marvel, plus she has a singing voice blessed by the musical theatre gods. Her Tony win came for her portrayal of Alice Challice in the flop Darling of the Day, in which she sang the forgotten Jule Styne gems "It's Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love," "Let's See What Happens" and the rousing barroom eleven o'clock number "Not on Your Nellie." At 31 performances, this was the peak of her Broadway musical career. Two other flops (Love Match and Say Hello to Harvey) both closed out of town; and her last main-stem credit, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ran a whopping seven performances. However, she originated the role of Ruth in the Joe Papp revision of The Pirates of Penzance that proved overwhelmingly popular on Broadway in the early 80s. Unfortunately for theatregoers and cast album aficionados, she didn't make the jump from the Central Park run to the official main-stem run at the Uris Theatre. Replacing her in the role was Estelle Parsons, who was recorded on the album. The 1983 film featured Angela Lansbury. Anyway, Kultur DVD released the archive video recording of the show live in its original outdoor run at the Delacorte. Here is a taste of the Routledge (with Kevin Kline, who would win a Tony for his performance when the show made its transfer and Rex Smith):

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Stream of Consciousness: Tidbits & "Sweeney Todd" the Movie Musical

Okay, so I haven't written in a spell. (Sarah was quick to remind me of that this afternoon, in a strange psychic moment where I had been thinking it myself). Anyway, the holidays were as mindblowingly mediocre as always - at least work didn't get to me this year. Customers were actually nice for a change (I'm a Barnes & Noble head cashier for those not in the know). It amazes me to see people smiling and accommodating and not being complete morons insipidly worrying more about the shopping aspect of Christmas (which overshadows everything else; and is likely to remain so). Plus New Year's. I don't celebrate New Year's Eve. I haven't as a rule. However, I did watch the new documentary on Jerry Herman on PBS. While it doesn't present us with any sort of information that isn't already known, it was fascinating to see all the footage of the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour and La Cage. Wow, the only one lacking footage was Milk and Honey (represented in still photos).

I've not been to NY since I saw the revival of Pygmalion last month (stellar presentation; Claire Danes was good, if shrill; Jefferson Mays, Boyd Gaines and Jay O. Sanders were absolutely brilliant); however, I'm attending my first opera at the Met this Tuesday. The Barber of Seville. I am incredibly psyched for it and will try not to go nuts. To add to the excitement, I will be at the first preview of Sunday in the Park With George on Friday. Oh, let the good times roll.

I saw the film version of Sweeney Todd. As it ranks as one of my favorite musicals, I was incredibly wary of a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration of the project. However, as production stills were made available and then clips leaked online - and then that trailer. I knew it was going to be something special. In spite of those purists I know who lamented the vocal quality, the cuts and adaptations between stage and screen; I was completely devastated by the piece. That in itself is mindblowing as I'm usually the purist who cannot concede to change especially in a piece that's especially close to my heart. I think, too, that part of my enjoyment of the film came from having accepted prior that it was not going to be the stage show but the film version of the stage show. That makes a world of difference from a fan perspective. From the opening Dies Irae on organ to the jovial "A Little Priest" that played out the end of the credits, I was mesmerized and captivated by the stylized direction of Burton and the acting. Depp and Helena Bonham aren't exactly the sturdiest singers I've heard (especially tackling this difficult material). Okay, that's been established. However, both characterizations impressed me. Depp's brooding Sweeney made the more operatic moments especially chilling with a gravelly understatement of his delivery; his singing worked, as the lyrics were from a character perspective; carefully prepared and thoughtfully delivered. Carter has come under considerably scrutiny for her vocal performance and her characterization. I am in the belief that she created a wholly original Mrs. Lovett for the screen, understated as well, but also finding something more realistic and human inside; this was made especially evident in her relationship with Tobias (raising the stakes by being portrayed by an actual boy). Her Lovett is less a Dickensian caricature (which is sure a helluva lot of fun onstage) and more a woman who is indeed tempered by desperate times and desperate emotions. I don't think a performance akin to Angela Lansbury, Dorothy Loudon or Sheila Hancock in the original New York and London companies would transfer well onscreen without some sort of concept or satiric take on the material. Treading new ground, Carter found what little there is of Lovett's heart; though still a manipulative monster who is essentially the true villain of the piece. As for the violence? I loved it. I'm not big on graphic scenes of people getting chopped up or blown up or slashed away or tortured. I don't do the "torture porn" movies like Saw or Hostel (besides, the scariest are the ones like Don't Look Now and Halloween where the director creates sensations of unease and suspense in every shot. Anyway, I digress. The sensationally impressionistic bloodletting had me giggling like a horror fanboy. And though I cringed, I have to say I admired the revision on how the chair disposes the bodies. I sat in the theatre numb after the credits rolled. (An added bonus, the woman behind me got so involved in the story, she gasped an incredibly audible "Oh, no!" when Sweeney threw Johanna into his chair. Anyway, it's a marvel in its production design (particularly the makeup and costumes); for the first time Sweeney has, for me, genuinely looked like something out of mid-Victorian England. I was okay with the cuts; I was okay with the changes. It's an adaptation; not a taping of the original Broadway production. Since we already have that available with the national tour of Lansbury and George Hearn, why would we want that replicated on screen? With its judicious and carefully approached preparations, the director, screenwriter and entire creative team worked diligently on respecting the original while finding their own way about it. (A special kudos for the riotous montages of "By the Sea"). Would this Sweeney work onstage? Maybe in a garage in Soho. Probably not. But does it work as a film? Absolutely.

I've also since discovered what I adore most about the Hal Prince staging: the very last moment where everyone is robotically exiting the stage during the final ballad reprise and Sweeney goes upstage and slams that door. What a way to end it!

Anyway, kids, go see Sweeney Todd.