Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the next Arrested Development...

Arrested Development is my favorite TV show. If you knew me during its run, you already knew that. I was more than obsessed, I was an activist for this brilliant comedy throughout its three seasons. I didn't catch the pilot, I picked up on the show on its third episode or so and wasn't entirely sure what to make of it on the first go. However, I was compelled to watch it again and I quickly discovered the genius in the writing, in the acting (what impeccable casting), in the direction and in the narration.

Following the Bluth family's exploits became my weekly haven for comedy. It aired on Sunday nights after The Simpsons and was an underdog from the get-go. In spite of critical plaudits and numerous awards, the show couldn't gain an audience. The ratings remained incredibly low for the entire three season run until Fox gave up. Though it seemed more like Fox hadn't a clue as to how to market the show (which probably would have had a definitive popular run had it aired on HBO or Showtime from the beginning). In spite of an Emmy win for Best Comedy Series, the network officials petered out on the final season, switching the show around, pulling it from the air without a moment's notice (which was incredibly unfair to those of us who arranged their entire work schedule around the airing of this show), reducing what would turn out to be the final season to 13 episodes, and in a final burst of glory, aired the last four episodes in a marathon opposite the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

In what is my lone TV obsessive phase, I became ardently supportive of the show. I had AIM and livejournal icons, a post in my AIM profile about it, turned off my phone, and threw the phone at anyone who got between me and the TV screen. I even signed those asinine online petitions that aren't read by anyone just so I could honestly say how much I appreciated and fought for this little show that could. I own all three boxed sets on DVD. Others I know became more interested in the show after it aired as a result of its exposure in the video format. I know I need to replace season 2 as a result (who leaves DVDs out of the case?)

In talking about the show, its catchphrases, its incredible moments of awkward and its penchant for the effectively absurd (it had its own bizarre logic, but boy did that logic work), I still crack up. It's hard to pinpoint what I think is the best part of the show. I adore the characters, their quirks and the performances by the actors who played them. Though special mention to Jessica Walter for the most refreshing take on the overbearing matriarch. (And Jason Bateman as Michael the lone voice of reason, David Cross' sexually ambiguous Tobias, Michael Cera's awkward George Michael, Jeffrey Tambor as George and his twin brother Oscar, Henry Winkler as the clueless family attorney and it goes on and on and on...). Oh and I could go on about the guest characters (Liza Minnell getting the dizzies anyone?), the recurrent plot points ("I may have dabbled in a little light treason"), the thinly veiled incestuous humor, and just the completely random bits (the chicken dances, loose seal, et al), but you're much better off seeing it for yourself than reading about it from here.

I have just read recently that a film is in the works which would update us fans on the Bluth hijinks. I will not say anything more, since the series finale both tied up a surprisingly large amount of loose ends, but all the while opening a whole new floodgate of insanity. It was 53 episodes of sheer genius.

Though I love The Office and 30 Rock (the latter of which is the closest we have to AD today), neither come as close to my regard for Arrested. Here's a very brief clip of one of my all-time favorite moments from this masterpiece:





This is my 100th post. I'm not sure if it's a milestone, but I like to think it's pretty cool.

Oh! And Happy Birthday to our fellow blogger Roxie!!

PS - Who would win - Violet Weston or Lucille Bluth...? I'd have to put my money on Lucille.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Quote of the Day #2

Ms. Smith gets another mention today from her second page:

I DON'T want to get silly here but must confess that seeing the incredible "South Pacific" revival at Lincoln Center is akin to having a true spiritual experience. I was never a big Rodgers/Hammerstein fan, but this time I was felled with emotion and appreciation. Everything about this production is perfect, including Bartlett Sher's direction and the sets of Michael Yeargan. The music is more stunning than ever.

When it became the only musical to win all four Tonys for acting back in 1949 . . . when it was nominated for nine Tonys and won all . . . when it went on to nab the Pulitzer in 1950 . . . when it ran for five years - I was indifferent. Not anymore. This is a masterpiece. It seems to mean much more now, and its evocation of World War II is deeper. The moral lessons of racism seem even more apt. I salute one and all but especially Kelli O'Hara as the navy nurse Nellie Forbush. I also loved the magnificent Paulo Szot as the French planter Emile de Beque; his character is written as being a bit tentative but not his singing.

You may have to wait to see this show because current audiences are mostly upscale, upper-middle-class, middle-aged enthusiasts who support Lincoln Center. But young people and even kids are coming. Get in line! Don't miss it! The revival experience of a lifetime - and with that other revival experience of a lifetime, "Gypsy," also playing right now - well, that's really saying something. Both shows are incomparable. I would hate to have to choose between them.

Quote of the Day

From Liz Smith's gossip columnin today's NY Post:


IN HIS review of "Gypsy" on Broadway, the Times critic Ben Brantley noted that the star Patti LuPone had gotten her role down so brilliantly that "she had made me eat my hat." Previously, he'd given her a lukewarm review.

Indeed, after he saw Patti blow the audience away at the St. James Theatre, Brantley gave her the rave she deserved. The next day she sent him a chocolate cowboy hat in a deluxe hat box, with the note, "I hope you're laughing."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The overture is about to start

One of the reasons I loved the revival of South Pacific was its fearless use of the entire original overture. The overture, designed originally to play before a show to allow late-comers to be seated before the start of the show, has diminished in use these days, with many shows either opening cold or offering a very brief musical prelude before the start.

I love the overtures. They set a tone for the evening; they allow you to be introduced to musical themes and phrases from within the show and to get a feel for the size and scope of the orchestra and orchestrations. It's the foreplay. What follows is the sex. It can be long, short, pleasant, exuberant, boring or just downright awful. It's a part of the experience and I wish that more shows would continue to use them.

My first day of American Musical Theatre class in college, my professor, Stephen Kitsakos, played three as an example to give us a feel for the unending horizons of the musical landscape, as well as use it for a successful introduction to the class. The three he played were The Who's Tommy, A Little Night Music and Guys and Dolls, (though he actually didn't use the original overture for the latter, but "Runyonland" from the revival cast recording). When I became his TA I always wanted to toss in some of the ones listed below, but then again I'm always biased towards the greats. But I knew then that I was going to enjoy his class immensely, which I did.

Many of the great overtures are present on their cast albums. Some are truncated due to due the time contraints of the LP but odds are you can find a complete recording out there somewhere. Other recordings, such as Darling of the Day and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, combined the overture and entr'acte for the cast recording (mostly an RCA practice). The original Mack and Mabel, a Gower Champion-directed production (who rarely used a traditional overture in his musicals) opened with a brief fanfare of "I Won't Send Roses." When they recorded the cast album, the entr'acte was recorded for the overture. The piece became overwhelmingly popular when Torvill and Dean used it for the 1982 World Championships, where they won the gold medal and ever since, the entr'acte is now officially the show's overture.

Some of my favorites (alphabetically):

Candide
Funny Girl
Gypsy
High Spirits
Irma La Douce
Kismet
The Light in the Piazza
A Little Night Music
Mame
My Fair Lady
On the Twentieth Century
110 in the Shade
Pipe Dream
The Rothschilds
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
South Pacific

Yours?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

30 Rock...

Was I the only one who was rolling on the floor when 30 Rock delivered the latter half of tonight's episode as a take on Amadeus?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Another "Coco" article...

Again from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com):

'Coco's' music of chance
Edward Guthmann
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Resurrecting "Coco" from the dead required ingenuity and detective work. According to Greg MacKellan, 42nd Street Moon's co-artistic director, the show was never registered with Samuel French, Inc., or any other company that licenses performing rights for plays and musicals.
"We had to go to (lyricist) Alan Jay Lerner's attorney to acquire the rights," says MacKellan. Lerner died in 1986. "Unfortunately, no orchestrations existed and no piano score. There were a few songs published as sheet music, but they didn't always match the routines in the show. There's also some music in the show that's not on the cast album."

Luckily, the late Hershy Kay, orchestrator for the 1969 Katharine Hepburn production, had bequeathed a lot of piano vocal material to the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University. Michael Horsley, 42nd Street Moon's musical director, patched it all together, in some cases transcribing melodies and orchestrations from the "Coco" CD when he couldn't find them in Kay's papers.

"Fortunately," MacKellan says, "the script was complete. We were also able to get the stage manager's script from Lerner's attorney."

MacKellan says he always wanted Andrea Marcovicci to play Coco. She'd started her cabaret career at the Plush Room in the mid-'80s, played several starring roles at American Conservatory Theater in the early '90s and headed the 42nd Street Moon production of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" in 1999.

When Hepburn sang the score, it was in the talk-singing idiom that Rex Harrison used in "My Fair Lady." "We're bringing the music back to the musical," Marcovicci, 59, said at a recent "Coco" rehearsal. "No offense to Madame Hepburn, (but) there were very few of the melodies that she was able to actually deliver."

Chanel's emotional palette will also change in this production, Marcovicci promises. "From what I'm gathering of the Hepburn performance, she felt the defiance in the character. But the character is rich with pain, loss, ambivalence, joy, flirtatiousness, need, love. Every emotion under the sun. And defiance."

Marcovicci had hoped to wear vintage Chanel onstage, but the Chanel organization declined to loan any clothes for this production. Instead, she says, "I am wearing vintage pieces from my own collection (including Givenchy, Valentino). And I'm wearing very serious pieces of costume jewelry from the '30s through the '50s."

"Coco" receiving San Francisco revival

From the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com):

'Coco' lives on (without Kate)
Edward Guthmann, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Katharine Hepburn had no delusions about her singing voice. When she starred in "Coco," her first and only Broadway musical, the actress was characteristically blunt about her performance. "I sound like Donald Duck," she said when she heard the cast album.

That's the way Rene Auberjonois, Hepburn's co-star in the 1969 musical about French fashion designer Coco Chanel, remembers it. "Singing was not her strong suit," he said in a recent phone interview. "She loved challenges and she trained very hard. But she couldn't really do it."

The critics agreed and yet, because of Hepburn's star power the show became a media event and played to full houses. When Hepburn left the show in summer of 1970, however, and French actress Danielle Darrieux stepped in, "Coco" quickly closed. Apart from a summer stock tour in the early '70s with Ginger Rogers, "Coco" has never been revived and is remembered, if at all, as miscalculated and overblown.

That didn't stop Greg MacKellan, co-artistic director of 42nd Street Moon, a San Francisco stage company that specializes in obscure or little-seen musicals. Convinced that the show's merits had been buried under Hepburn's force of personality - "She was a great Hepburn, but not the ideal person to play Coco Chanel" - MacKellan set out to exhume "Coco" from its long interment.

MacKellan felt there was "a lovely score" by Andre Previn that had been scaled back to accommodate Hepburn's musical limitations; in some cases, the melodies were dropped altogether. He also believed that the lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner ("My Fair Lady"), which situates Chanel in 1953 and 1954, when at 71 she attempts a comeback, were undervalued.

The 42nd Street Moon production, directed by Mark D. Kaufmann and starring Andrea Marcovicci as Chanel, opens Saturday at the Eureka Theatre for a two-week run. It's a different species altogether from the unwieldy leviathan that starred Hepburn. Whereas the Broadway company had 40 performers, including a singing chorus separate from a dancing chorus, MacKellan's "Coco" utilizes 15 cast members. Compared to the Broadway original, which cost $900,000, a Broadway record for its time, this incarnation is an intimate chamber piece. A piano is the only accompaniment, and the performers sing without mikes.

In retrospect, it's stupefying that anyone envisioned Hepburn in a Broadway musical. Listening to the cast album is painful: In order to be heard above the orchestra, Hepburn bleats and shouts and Donald Ducks her way through the songs, obliterating any nuance or trace of pathos.

But Kate isn't totally to blame. "Andre Previn was very, very upset about the way it was being recorded and by how much was being left out of the recording," remembers Auberjonois. "At the time, you could only get a certain amount onto an LP record. In fact, they ended up compressing some of it so that we're all singing faster than we sang in real life."

If Hepburn's musical abilities were deficient - nonexistent, really - her personal style was also a bad fit for her icon-of-glamour character. With her tomboy's stride and her penchant for baggy gabardine trousers, sandals and high-necked shirts, Hepburn was anything but a fashion plate. "What I dread is dressing up," she told Newsweek prior to the show's opening. "I feel like Martha Washington."

In retrospect, Kate-does-Coco makes as much sense as Courtney Love in a revival of "Hello, Dolly!" "When they told Coco Chanel that Hepburn was going to play her, she was thrilled," MacKellan says, "because she thought they were talking about Audrey Hepburn. When she learned that it was Kate Hepburn she actually got very upset and refused to do any more for the show."

It was Lerner who believed Hepburn was a plausible choice for "Coco," and saw in her a defiance and originality that matched Chanel's. "He and Hepburn were very friendly," MacKellan says, "and they'd have parties and he'd convince her to sing a little. He'd say, 'You should do a musical.' And Hepburn would say, 'If you ever get the right part, maybe I'll consider it.' "

During the '50s and '60s, a lot of non-singing actors and actresses were stretching their theatrical limbs in musicals. Vivien Leigh starred in "Tovarich," Robert Ryan did Irving Berlin's "Mr. President" and Anthony Perkins warbled in the short-lived "Greenwillow." Rex Harrison had an enormous success in "My Fair Lady," largely because he didn't sing the role of Henry Higgins, but rather talk-sang it.

"Coco" rehearsals were embattled from the get-go, says Auberjonois. The British director, Michael Benthall, "was a friend of Kate's but he was past his prime and really way over his head. The show was really directed by Michael Bennett, the choreographer.

Auberjonois played Sebastian Baye, a flamboyant costume designer and Coco's nemesis. During rehearsals, he says, "Whenever I would do something outlandish or think up a piece of business, (Benthall) would say, 'No no no, dear boy. You can't do that.' And Kate would say, 'What are you talking about? He's the only amusing thing in the show!'

"Kate would protect me and I give her full credit for allowing the role to become something that could be nominated for a Tony award." In fact, Auberjonois won the award as featured actor in a musical, and was launched on a still-active career. He played in the Broadway musicals "Big River" and "City of Angels" and the TV series "Benson," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Boston Legal."

Hepburn never bullied her fellow actors, Auberjonois says, "but she was a terrible bully to the producers and to (costume designer) Cecil Beaton. If you read his autobiography, it's devastating what he says about Hepburn. They had a real hate on for each other." In his posthumously published diaries, Beaton called Hepburn an "untamed dog," an "egomaniac" and "the most bossy of schoolteachers."

Often, Hepburn gave Auberjonois a lift in her chauffeur-driven car, since he lived close to her East 49th Street house. "She would always make me come in and sit downstairs with her in the kitchen while she ate dinner after the show, and I would have ice cream with her. She was terrific. She was very kind to me.

"It was great to work with her. She set up this thing with me that whoever made a mistake or flubbed a line owed the other person $10. She would come stomping up the stairs to my dressing room with her hair rolled up in little pieces of newspaper and say, 'Rene! Rene!' She would come into my dressing room and pound the table and put a $10 bill down.

"Of course I needed the money and she didn't," Auberjonois says. "So I never made a mistake. It might have been her way of giving me a tip."


Coco:

Previews Thursday and Friday. Opens Saturday and runs through May 11. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. $22-$38. (415) 255-8207. www.42ndstmoon.org.

Hmm...

Roxie has a theory about "Gypsy"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Where in the World is Lee Venora...?

As I listen to my ipod shuffle, Lee Venora's renditions of various songs from the Lincoln Center revivals of Kismet and The King and I keep popping up. I begin to wonder whatever happened to her. Her voice is a thrilling and grand operatic lyric soprano that just somehow manages to surpass that of Doretta Morrow (being a remarkable singer herself, no disrespect is intended), the singing actress that originated the roles of Marsinah and Tuptim. Hearing Venora take on the final ascending line of "My Lord and Master" is nothing short of breathtaking; or listening to how she takes the final solo reprise of "And This is My Beloved" and completely makes you forget anyone else ever in existence ever sang that song.

Her musical theatre record credits aren't many: she recorded these two albums, the OBCR of Kean (on which she sings "Willow, Willow, Willow", Wright and Forrest's haunting musical setting of Othello's "Willow Song") and as Carrie on a studio cast album of Carousel, with Alfred Drake and Patrice Munsel in the leads. (The latter has never been released on CD). There's also an easy-listening album of Show Boat, but I wonder if anyone's ever heard that. My searches online are coming up with absolutely nothing, except that she has sung the role of Mimi in La Boheme and was also a soloist on various classical recordings, most notably Leonard Bernstein's Mahler's Symphonies.

Monday, April 21, 2008

One the Classiest Acts Around...

Tonight, I was browsing around aimlessly when I saw recent headlines about Cate Blanchett insisting on attending the 2020 arts summit in Australia, in spite of the fact she had given birth to her third son only a few days prior. To top it off, she brought little Ignatius along and as the little guy slept, he managed to steal the show (and Cate was given the moniker "Superwoman" by friend Hugh Jackman). It's also a testament to her status as an actress vs. a celebrity. While she still can work a red carpet like the best of them, she's not about to sink to others' levels by hawking overpriced photos of her off-spring for the highest bidder. All the while managing to give superlative performances on film and onstage in varying genres; defying categorization or typing. And all the while doing it brilliantly and making it seem effortless. I kick myself for missing her Hedda at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a couple years back. Hopefully she'll make a Broadway appearance one of these days. Until then, perhaps we should all save our pennies and see her in A Streetcar Named Desire when she plays Blanche in August 2009 at the Sydney Theatre Company.

So in my first count-down...

10 Random Reasons to love Cate Blanchett:

10. She's not pimping out her newborn baby to the tabloids for exorbitant sums.
9. She's in the upcoming Indiana Jones film. And she's a complete bad-ass.
8. She practically fell out of her chair in excitement when Marion Cotillard won the Oscar this year.
7. She made a cameo in Hot Fuzz.
6. She played Bob Dylan. Probably better than anyone else could have.
5. She's played Elizabeth I, Katharine Hepburn and Galadriel.
4. Unlike many others, she has not forsaken the stage.
3. She's one of the most ridiculously talented people ever.
2. She's an ardent supporter of the arts in her native Australia.
1. She's Cate Blanchett. Period.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"La Fille du Regiment"

My unending thanks to Sarah for inviting me to the open house dress rehearsal of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment at the Met this morning. It was only my second time there, but what an extraordinary event (and one I'd like to do again and again). The production built around the French diva Natalie Dessay is nothing short of a vibrant joy. Fast and funny, it was a sheer pleasure from start to finish - and it was a "dress rehearsal." I can only imagine the kind of magic that will emanate through that hallowed hall come opening night on Monday.

I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with the opera prior to today. In fact, I had forgotten what I was seeing as I made a frenzied trip to NY this morning (don't ask, it was too traumatic). I soon found out, and am now officially in love with the piece. A delectable opera comique by Donizetti (whose Lucia was a recent smash for Dessay in the same venue), this production was first done in Vienna and Covent Garden, and is now making (what will be) it's triumphant Met debut. Seriously, the buzz is such that it sold out months ago. They keep it fresh and hilarious. Oh - and Marian Seldes has two marvelous cameos in the second act (non-singing). Who could ask for more?

Peruvian-born tenor Juan Diego Florez tackles the first act aria "Ah, mes amis" with such aplomb that it seemed like no one wanted the opera to continue. There are nine high C's in that aria. Yes NINE. HIGH C'S. And he nailed each and everyone with such ease, you'd have thought he was born singing this. I will never forget hearing that aria for the first time, and how I knew when it was over, the audience was going to go completely nuts. (In reading about it, his performance at La Scala in February 2007 broke the 74 year embargo on encores as he sang the entire aria - and nine high C's for the enraptured audience). Dessay was in top form all around. A tomboyish and playful heroine, she relished in the physical comedy and athleticism in her characterization, tossing off coloratura trills while skipping around the stage, being tossed aloft and even in tantrum. I never thought I'd ever hear a tomboy expressed musically as a coloratura soprano. The match of the two leads was impeccable and find it hard to see or hear anyone else in the roles (all due respect to Pavarotti, Sutherland, Pons, et al). British mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer was the Marquise and you know what? We could use a gem like her in grande dame musical comedy roles.

Afterwards, there was an enjoyable if slightly staid talk back session. Marian was marvelous as ever. Then Sally, Sarah and myself headed to O'Neals for lunch and a few drinks (and hours of endless conversation). A glorious afternoon.

Fortunately this production will be broadcast. This is from an earlier production of the opera (with Dessay & Florez).

UK Television segment on the opera (and its stars):


"Ah! Mes Amis"


"Chacun le Sait, Chacun le Dit"


"Salut a la France"

Friday, April 18, 2008

"It's a New Old World..."


On this day three years ago I attended my first-ever Broadway opening night. It was also the night I fell madly in love with a new musical; a feeling that I had never experienced before nor since. The show: The Light in the Piazza.

It was an interesting progression for me. I was familiar with the film adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer's original novella when it played on TCM a few years before. It starred Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux, respectively, as the mother and her daughter on vacation in Florence, Italy. George Hamilton was Fabrizio, who came off lecherous rather than romantic - to the point where I was actually disappointed the two got together. Rossano Brazzi was his father. It wasn't a spectacular film, but it featured a stellar performance from de Havilland and beautiful CinemaScope cinematography (shot on location).

Anyway, as I heard this was being adapted as a stage musical, I was instantly intrigued at the prospect. I'd never really heard Adam Guettel before. I knew about Floyd Collins and that he was Richard Rodgers' grandson, but that was it. I vaguely followed the musical while it was out of town, my interest piqued because I had recently seen Victoria Clark in performance for the first time in the Broadway production of Urinetown, in which she briefly assumed the role of Penelope Pennywise. Hearing her knock "It's a Privilege to Pee" out of the ballpark remains one of my favorite discoveries of a talent ever. The song is mostly high belting, but it culminates in an operatic high C. From my vantage point mid mezzanine at the old Henry Miller's I could hear her acoustic sound. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

When time came for the show to come into New York, I very calmly yet honestly told everyone it was the musical I was looking forward to the most. The out of town reviews were mixed to positive, but it was a work in progress so I expected continued work. Vicki earned raves for her characterization of Margaret Johnson and was supported by Celia Keenan-Bolger as her daughter, initially in Seattle at the Intiman (where Sher is artistic director) and in Chicago at the Goodman.

It was Lincoln Center Theatre who brought the musical to Broadway as part of their 2005 season. Noah went to a preview and called raving about and I knew that we were onto something special here. I followed his lead and joined the student ticketing program on the Lincoln Center website and proceeded to look for my $20 seat. When performing my search I did a double take when I saw they were offering the opening night performance for sale (While roaming through Lincoln Center on the day of the show, I would discovered the opening night performance was on TKTS). Well, I snatched that up immediately. My seat was in the rear of the Loge, but that didn't matter for that price and the opportunity.

I'd only done the closing of the Bernadette Peters Gypsy prior to this, so my experience with high energy theatrical events was considerably limited. But there in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont I watched as John Lithgow, Helen Hunt, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Adam Guettel, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Frank Rich roamed about while Mary Rodgers Guettel stood receiving people like royalty.

The uniqueness of this experience is pretty much beyond the mere use of words. I can draw out all the adjectives I know: resplendent, ethereal, cathartic, et al. to describe what is was like for me. But none can ever do justice to the emotional impact that was delivered. I made fast friends with an aspiring actress and her friend next to me. There was the hat placed downstage center on the bench with a pin spot. The cell phone announcement wonderfully delivered in Italian by Felicity LaFortune. Then down came the house lights. And that overture started. A simple harp gliss with a hint of tension building from other instruments which released into the main "Light" theme. I knew within seconds - and this is a rare occurrence - that I was going to love this new musical. And I did. I immersed myself in the beauty and grace of the musical's staging and scenography. I am forever a fan of Bartlett Sher. One thing about that opening night performance I will specifically never forget is how "Dividing Day" completely devastated me.

The actors were stellar, such legit singing on Broadway, though I was thrown by the more pop sounding Matthew Morrison as Fabrizio, though admittedly, he grew on me during the run. Kelli O'Hara was the perfect embodiment of the child-like Clara, creating a character of nuance and ambiguity that complemented Vicki Clark's Margaret (her replacement Katie Rose Clarke, embodied the childish aspects of the character as well, but was nowhere near O'Hara on the acting and singing fronts). But the entire performance was centered around Clark's tour de force as Margaret, giving a devastatingly beautiful performance that ranks among the best I have ever seen in my theatregoing life.

The first act ended with the gorgeous "Say it Somehow" with that coda and gasp-inducing black out. The second act ended with "Fable." The audience went wild. I mean we went completely nuts - the entire house was on its feet before a single person re-entered for their curtain call. And another theatrical first: after the actors made their exit, our applause continued and continued. In fact grew louder and we would only cease once Messrs. Guettel, Sher and Lucas made a bow. I had a feeling akin to sailing, I think. A natural high. I had been both moved and affected by this work of art which to me was challenging but accessible.

I like to consider 4.18.05 the night I rediscovered my lost romanticism. As I left the Beaumont, I was already on my cell phone to Noah, proclaiming "Oh my God, this is the best new musical I've ever seen." And he proceeded to read me back a rave review from Broadway.com. I strolled by the fountain at Lincoln Center in a daze, almost walking into Mr. & Mrs. Peter Boyle, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, who were attending a Dustin Hoffman celebration at Avery Fisher Hall. I watched a rather attractive young couple walk by the fountain, also having emerged from Avery Fisher. The gentleman placed his topcoat over the shoulders of his lover with such tenderness and care that I could and only pause and smile. Truth be told, I'd been more likely to roll my eyes and scoff, but then again, it's much easier to be a cynic than a romantic, no?

The score was unlike anything I could have anticipated. Orchestrated with as many strings as there are stars in the skies. (I'm a wee bit prone to hyperbole, sue me). All woodwinds save the flute and piccolo, which added just a tinge of melancholy to the score's sound. And of course there's that harp, that gorgeous harp around which the entire orchestration is built. I would venture a guess that I've listened to this score more times than any other. There were five months where the CD rarely left my player. And the repeat button was on. And repeat listenings/viewings only unraveled more and more depth and skill in the music and lyrics. (I know some people loathed the lyrics, but I admired their dramatic honesty and simplicity). Guettel as a musical composer managed to create a hybrid of the Rodgers & Hammerstein and the Sondheim schools of musical theatre, infused with a neo-classicist stream of consciousness in the flow of the melody.

It was also the night I became an ardent fan and supporter of the Lincoln Center Theatre, a non-profit company that is not afraid to take artistic risks and not afraid to spare any expense when they believe in a work. The show would eventually win six Tony awards - the most of any show that year - including a deserved sweep in the scenographic categories: Lighting, Scenic and Costume Design (the combination of the elements made me feel as though I was actually in Florence). The show was also awarded for its rich orchestrations, score and the coup d'grace: Best Actress in a Musical for Victoria Clark, whose performance in the role will one day be considered legendary. The show may have lost the Best Musical Tony, but it had already won Best Musical of my Heart - sentimental, yes, but I've never given that designation to any other show.

The 2004-05 season became a joyous one with four solid shows opening towards the end of the season, three of which were Spamalot, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the fourth was Piazza, which became a surprise hit for LCT and warranted several extensions past its original June closing date (eventually extending its run by 54 weeks). By the time it closed on June 2, 2006, it had played 504 performances at the Vivian Beaumont. It would shortly thereafter launch a year-long national tour starring Christine Andreas and Elena Shaddow.

For the first time, I was compelled to go back to a Broadway show. Even when I thought of it prior, I had for whatever reason decided not to. But I returned, and returned. By the time of the closing (which, yes, I also attended) I had seen the musical 12 times. Can you believe it? And no, I don't regret spending the money on it at all. If I could have, I would have gone back many, many more times. At this point, I do have to thank my friends who were so wonderful putting up with my year and four months of complete and total obsession. I wanted everyone to see this show, hear this score and could talk of little else. I took my a good friend to the closing performance who had listened to me harp on about the show for well over a year. He soon learned that I was rather calm in comparison to the woman to his left (who shouted "MATT!" at Matthew Morrison, who was in the audience for the last show, until he turned and gave her a quick wave). The only new musical to open since that I have appreciated nearly as much was Grey Gardens. I only hope it won't be too long until a new musical captures my undivided attention.

The Light in the Piazza was a rare experience, and one which will forever hold a special place in my mind and soul. April 18th will always be an incredibly poignant and nostalgic date for me.

Here is Vicki Clark as Margaret Johnson performing the incandescent finale, "Fable."

video

Thursday, April 17, 2008

But what about "Marty"?

With the buzz surrounding the opening night of A Catered Affair (and with the mixed reactions it's bound to receive from the NY critics), I can't help but wonder, whatever happened to the Strouse & Adams musical adaptation of Marty? It played Boston to good notices and was even announced for a Broadway run a few years back. John C. Reilly played the title role, and was apparently supposed to star in NY as well. Given that the Oscar-winning underdog Marty is the more iconic of the two Paddy Chayefsky-teleplay to big-screen adaptations (confusing terminology, no?), you'd think it would have arrived first.

The film, one of only two to have won the Best Picture Oscar and the Palm D'Or at Cannes, is a rather simplistic affair about Marty Piletti, in an Oscar-winning turn by Ernest Borgnine as a good-natured, well-meaning but socially awkward butcher in his 30s who finds romance with a rather shy and homely schoolteacher (Betsy Blair). Chayefsky adapted his teleplay, which starred Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, for the big screen in 1955, with direction by Delbert Mann. (Both Chayefsky and Mann were also Oscar-winners that year). Steiger apparently refused to recreate his TV triumph for movies, allowing Borgnine, who was notable for playing the heavy to triumph in an unlikely leading performance. Burt Lancaster and his producing partner Harold Hecht financed the film, thinking it was going to be a flop, as a tax write-off, only to become one of the most profitable projects in screen history. It's a sweet little film, and I would like to think that the musical adaptation is worthy of our time and attention.

In fact, were it not for the overwhelming success of Marty, it's not unreasonable to assume that The Catered Affair, which also starred Borgnine opposite the unlikely Bette Davis, would have been produced.

I also wonder what impact A Catered Affair, regardless of whether or not it's a success, will have on the fate of Marty.

Arsenic & Old Lace: The E! True Hollywood Story...

Abby and Martha Brewster have nothing on this pair... (at least they were completely deranged)

Elderly 'Ladies' Convicted in Murder Case
By LINDA DEUTSCH,
AP
Posted: 2008-04-17 09:49:30

LOS ANGELES (April 17) - Two elderly women accused of killing two homeless men to collect millions of dollars in insurance payouts were convicted Wednesday of conspiracy to murder, and one of them was convicted of the murders themselves.

Click here for the rest of the story...

"I'm Not Making This Up, You Know..."

"I think Shakespeare summed it up so beautifully in his play Caelius Jusier... (titters at her mistake) I'm sorry... Culius Jaesar... (annoyed at the audience) MACBETH! ....where he said, 'If music be the food of love, play on...' He didn't say on what but I think it's a marvelous idea."

So encants the haughty harridan introducing the guest performer in Anna Russell's "Introduction to the Concert (By the Women's Club President)." I discovered Russell entirely by accident while searching for music in college. I was looking for an aria of some sort. I can't remember exactly which one, but I entered 'coloratura' into the search engine and I saw the listing for "Canto Dolciamente Pipo." Curious, I downloaded it, and then forgot about it for whatever reason. Weeks later I was going through my playlist, and popped up randomly decided to give it a listen. This veddy-veddy British singer with false airs was doing to opera and classical singing what Victor Borge did for the classical piano. I immediately went out and found her first album, The Anna Russell Album?, which quickly became a personal favorite.

The woman fearlessly took on everything from those pretentious musical appreciation societies to coloratura sopranos, to lieder singers, to various folk song styles, etc. Every single parody was her own creation, both in the words and music. She is best known for two pieces. The first is a dead-on parody of Gilbert and Sullivan in "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera," in which she points at that all of the operas are written to a certain formula and you can fill in your own details to make your own. But her ultimate achievement, for which she would receive the most acclaim, was her "The Ring de Nibelungen, An Analysis" in which she does a hilarious dissertation/deconstruction of Wagner's 20 hour opera cycle in 30 minutes, with Russell taking on all major themes and providing wry commentary throughout.

For example:

-- "The scene opens in the River Rhine. IN it. If it were in New York, it would be like the Hudson. And swimming around there are the three Rhinemaidens…a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters. Or sometimes they’re called “nixies.” Mairsie-nix and doesie-nix and little nixie-divie. And they sing their signature tune, which is as follows. [Plays and sings] “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! wagala weia! wallala, weiala weia!” I won’t translate it, because it doesn’t mean anything.

The Rhine maidens are looking after a lump of magic gold. And the magic of this gold consists of the fact that anybody who will renounce love and make a ring out of this gold will become Master of the Universe. This is the gimmick."

-- "Well one day who should turn up but Siegmund, and he falls madly in love with Sieglinde, regardless of the fact that she’s married to Hunding, which is immoral, and she’s his own sister, which is illegal. But that’s the beauty of Grand Opera, you can do anything so long as you sing it."

Russell trained as an opera singer, with intensive music training at the Royal College of Music. Her vocal teachers were pretty much completely unimpressed with her sound and quality. She is quoted as saying: “If you go in there with a tin voice, you’ll come out with a loud tin voice.” She toured England in her early career, making a serious attempt at being an opera singer. However, a devastating onstage mishap nearly ended all that.

Per her NY Times obituary:

-- The main inspirational trauma for her career may have been a British touring company production of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” in which she sang Santuzza as a substitute. The tenor, who was supposed to shove her, did not expect her considerable girth and fell backward. She herself then tripped and literally brought the house down, the sets collapsing to the accompaniment of an audience roaring with laughter.

The performance was brought to an end. “So was my career,” she said. “My life’s work was shattered, after five years of hard preparation . . . But I got over it.”

She performed on the BBC radio before leaving for Canada at the outbreak of WWII. It is here she began her work as a parodist. She made her NY debut in 1948, briefly brought her show to Broadway in 1953 and toured extensively throughout the world, recording her material, and appearing on various television shows including "The Ed Sullivan Show." She also lent her voice to an animated film of Hansel and Gretl, and played the role at the NYCO in 1954 and San Francisco Opera in 1957. She would later come out of retirement, also part of her act, to parody the aging divas of the opera world who did likewise.

The closing paragraph of the Times obit:

-- In the 1970’s and 80’s, Ms. Russell would occasionally come out of retirement, like one of the aging divas she caricatured, for another “farewell tour” and the cheers of fans who did not mind her failing voice. She said that a friend told her: “It doesn’t matter what you sound like. You were no Lily Pons anyway.”

With the satire, came a profound respect and admiration for the art form which she studied for many years. If she wasn't much of an opera singer, she possessed a superlative wit, a down-to-earth charm and a broad scope of musical idiom that transcended genres. She was also very honest about her own musical talents, playing up her vocal limitations in her concerts, where she claimed to have gotten her start as "the prima donna of the Ellis Island Opera Company" and that her teachers "at one time or other, have ruined my voice."

She lived in retirement in a suburb of Toronto on the aptly named Anna Russell Way until moving to Australia to be with her daughter. It is there that Russell died in October 2006 at the age of 94, leaving behind her legacy of humor and wit and that pink chiffon she always wore...

Here she opens her (final) farewell concert with an anecdote about her outfit:

video

And here she advises on how to be a professional singer:
video

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The One Where I Celebrate Dysfunction...

I've only just begun watching the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. The dysfunctional dramedy with the family that runs the funeral home (created by Alan Ball). It's a result of my having gotten obsessed with Weeds and Entourage over the past year; finding these well-written and compelling shows that have the freedom to go where network TV fears to tread. Unfortunately, I don't have HBO or Showtime, so I tend to miss out on these, but thank God for the DVDs (and for specialty retailers who periodically sell them for next to nothing). It took a couple of episodes to adjust to the entire "death" aspect of the series (thankfully they dropped those awkward funereal commercials after the pilot) and I still get unnerved during the opening scene, but regardless, I've become hooked. It's taken in a matter of fact, business-like matter, such as I assume it is in the "death-care" industry. Each episode starts with the death of one of their clients, which range from the random to the absurd to the devastatingly tragic. After which point, we switch back to the Fisher family and their latest foibles. The characters and stories are so well-defined, you can't help but feeling for these people. However, they still manage to find a lot of irony and humor in the macabre and absurd (such as those fantastical elements, with the ghosts and subconscious revelations). But you know me, I love the dysfunction. The Royal Tenenbaums, Arrested Development, Weeds, August: Osage County and now this. And does the awkward come in spades... My goodness. I've only just started the second season, so we'll see where this is going to progress. I already can figure out where certain characters are headed and it should be very interesting, to say the least.

The entire ensemble is stellar: Peter Krause, whom I've enjoyed since Sports Night (anyone?), Lauren Ambrose (has teen rebellion ever been presented in a more attractive guise?), the outstanding Rachel Griffiths (with one of the best American accents I've ever heard from any foreign actor) and Michael C. Hall. (Perhaps Dexter will be next...?) But the highlight to me is Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher. Everytime she is in a scene, she inadvertently steals my focus, my attentions and my emotions. She takes this little moments and turns them into something both incredibly genuine and real; and for that the pay-off is tenfold. Watching this woman perform, I could tell that she must have had some stage experience. Lo and behold, in searching, I discovered she was a graduate of Juilliard and also that she appeared in eleven plays on Broadway, most recently in 2000 in The Ride Down St. Morgan. I would relish the opportunity to see her perform live in NY. I also think she should appear on The Office as Angela's mother. Yes, think about that idea for a moment... I wish I could have seen her Birdie Hubbard in the LCT revival of The Little Foxes (the one that starred Stockard Channing - and again, more dysfunction!)

I can tell you the date I realized how much I enjoyed the darker aspects of familial humor. January 20, 2002. When I saw The Royal Tenenbaums (which remains one of my all-time favorite movies). I realized something was up when afterward I told my friend "I absolutely loved it." And she in turn gave me a look of condescension, "Well, I hated it." She's since seen it again and changed her mind (HA!).

Other shows on the agenda: The West Wing (I've never watched a single episode in my life), The Office (UK), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the fourth season of The Bob Newhart Show. Then there's also the first season of The Sopranos, of which I've only seen one episode. I also am supposed to catch up with the second season of Lost and also take in The Wire, as the list continues to grow and grow and grow...

None of this reality crap for me. Who has the time?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Upcoming releases, plus a thorough wishlist...

Winter's on the wing and the weather has been turning magical and resplendent. But with such resplendency comes the sweet poison of pollen. Flowers, grasses, trees. You name it. It's floating out there. And making evil of me. I know many of you must be suffering as I am. Well, thankfully I'm not as bad I have been thanks to ongoing allergy immunotherapy, lots of pharmaceutical assistance and my neti pot.

Enough about my woes... There are treasures to be had this spring in the guise of DVD and CD product.

On April 29, DRG is releasing two: the CD premiere of the 1967 musical Illya, Darling, a vehicle for Melina Mercouri based on her blockbuster success Never on Sunday. While not a spectacular score by any means, it has some interesting items, most especially "Bouzouki Nights," the show's Grecian-flavored overture. Also coming out on that day is the CD reissue of the Merm's Happy Hunting, which is considerably less exciting, but still, it's good to have it out there. Also, Sh-K-Boom will be releasing the cast recording of William Finn's Make Me a Song.

No word on when the Gypsy cast album will be recorded and released, but the South Pacific cast recording was made yesterday and will be released on May 27. (Kelli O'Hara, who has missed performances for the first time in her career according to Playbill.com, is suffering from a severe cold and will record her tracks at a later date). The same day we also get the original Broadway cast recording of A Catered Affair.

It's nice to hear that DRG is still bringing out the cast recordings. Apparently many of the titles are now only available via Arkiv. I know they're officially licensed with reprinted liner notes and all, but I feel somewhat cheated getting a CD-R of an original CD. For my money, give me an official remastered issue. There are still many older cast albums on LP that have been left on the shelves and in used music stores that should come to CD. Of the New York entries there's The Consul, Cry for Us All, Anya, A Time for Singing, Donnybrook!, Doonesbury, Maggie Flynn, The Threepenny Opera ('76 revival), the NYCO Regina, and the off-Broadway The Cradle Will Rock. There are a lot of original London cast albums that have never been issued on CD: Carnival, The Most Happy Fella, The Music Man (the budget CD issue doesn't count, it's missing 7 or 8 tracks), Camelot, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, I Do! I Do!, Man of La Mancha, 1776, Once Upon a Mattress, Do Re Mi, Promises Promises, and Hello Dolly!. As has been the case, copyright laws in Britain expire after 50 years, sending recordings into the public domain. Look for some of these recordings to be released when that occurs.

And inevitably, those albums previously available on CD that are now out of print: Darling of the Day, Little Me (OBC, OLC & NBC), Sugar Babies, 110 in the Shade (OBC), Woman of the Year, Wish You Were Here, Me and Juliet, Wildcat, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, High Spirits (OBC & OLC), Sugar, Tenderloin, Black & Blue, Mr. Wonderful, Take Me Along, Minnie's Boys, High Button Shoes, Sophisticated Ladies, Hello Dolly! (with Pearl Bailey), Two on the Aisle, Henry Sweet Henry, Milk and Honey, Prettybelle, Do Re Mi, Zorba (OBC), Mr. President, and One Touch of Venus/Lute Song. The original London cast albums of She Loves Me, Flower Drum Song, Forum, Where's Charley?, Cabaret (with Judi Dench as Sally Bowles), Passion Flower Hotel, Company (the OBC with Larry Kert dubbing over Dean Jones), Anne of Green Gables and Charlie Girl; all of the latter were either part of the long-defunct Sony West End series, a London counterpart to the Sony Broadway series of the early 90s or the West End Angel Series. Also, The Good Companions, Little Mary Sunshine (with our beloved Patricia Routledge in the title role), A Little Night Music (OLC & RNT w. Judi Dench), City of Angels, The Card, 70 Girls 70, Anything Goes (with Elaine Paige) and the Donmar Company revival.

We have quite the minimal market, so it makes sense why many titles haven't yet been released, or have been deleted from their respective catalogues. Most of the major labels don't go in for a cast album unless it's one of the major shows. It's up to Ghostlight/Sh-K-Boom, PS Classics and Nonesuch to pick up the slack and integrity. I didn't even bother going into the studio cast albums because there are way too many to be taken into consideration. Anything I missed? Anything you want to see out there? Discuss.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ethel Merman is Rose


You'd be hard-pressed to find a bio quite like this today...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Liaisons" - Regina Resnik



This is from the Live from Lincoln Center telecast of the NYCO A Little Night Music from 1990. Regina Resnik, a former mezzo-soprano with the Met takes on the role of Madame Armfeldt in a delightfully entertaining interpretation. I take great hesitance in putting up this clip merely because whoever put it together strangely chose to place the song (which is in the middle of the first act) after the lead-in to the act one finale, which is misleading and dramatically inaccurate. I'm working on getting a new one... so till then this will have to do... The song starts at 2:45 or so into the clip.

"At the villa of the Baron de Signac..."

As I read through Kari and Sarah's blogs about their field trip to Baltimore this weekend to see A Little Night Music, I've been thinking about their thoughts and reactions, but also on the phenomenal musical itself, one of the most emotionally satisfying musicals in the Sondheim canon (and a rare one with a "happy ending").

It's time. We need a full-scale revival of the show in NY. Given how every Sondheim musical appears to be receiving Broadway revivals, it's almost predetermined that it must happen - and soon. Though it strikes me as bizarre that we are likely to see a revival of the red-headed step-child of the Prince-Sondheim collaborations, Merrily We Roll Along, from Roundabout before this superb critical and financial success. For the past ten years or so there's been rumors of a revival featuring Glenn Close, but thankfully that ship seems to have sailed. (No offense to Close, but there are better choices for the role of Desiree). Aside from the NYCO production that has been seen in 1990 and 2004, Night Music, much like South Pacific, is one of those classics that is continually revived in London, but has yet to come back to Broadway.

Composed in derivatives of 3 (this piece is erroneously called the "Waltz musical"), the score is lush and sophisticated in both its melody and lyrics. I realize I'm talking about Sondheim and this may sound redundant to many of you. However, this specific score aspires to a wistfulness that combines the usual Sondheimian touches of irony and cynicism (especially from Charlotte) with a softer optimism that isn't found in Company, Follies and more recently, Passion. You have the Chekovian mini-opera between Fredrik, Henrik and Anne "Now/Later/Soon." There's the dragoon's brash bragadaccio of "In Praise of Women", Charlotte and Anne giving a discourse on marriage in "Every Day a Little Death." Plus, there's the breathtaking act one finale "A Weekend in the Country" with it's operetta conventions and death-defying intricacy as well as "The Miller's Son" with its practical look at romance and marriage from the lusty Petra, who's spent most of the evening as a bemused observer at the farce going on around her.

However, there are two numbers which stand out not only as the best in this score, but also of anything Mr. Sondheim has ever written. The most obvious is "Send in the Clowns," which is endlessly murdered by oh so many singers who don't get the point of the song AT ALL. In fact, the more it's "sung" the more I tend to dislike it. It's a song of anger, frustration and embarrassment (and an attempt to cover for it). The phrases are purposefully terse and clipped, not just for the limited vocal range of Glynis Johns (the original Tony-winning Desiree), but also for the character's emotional range at that particular moment. (See Kari for more indepth analysis on this song). But I want to focus on another song in the score.

One of the musical's most beautiful and affecting moments comes in the middle of the first act. Desiree and Fredrik have just gone to bed after a rather hilarious musical scene in which he comes to tell her about his young bride - simultaneously praising her youthfulness and venting his frustrations over her continued virginity. As they go into the bedroom for their tryst, Madame Armfeldt enters for her solo, "Liaisons," a flawlessly constructed musical monologue. You have Madame trying to tell a story about one of her former lovers. She keeps getting sidetracked when she thinks about how her daughter is going about her own romantic life. The tangential aspect keeps bringing her back to a reminiscence of a former love, only to be sidetracked yet again, eventually ending with her falling asleep.

In her more philosophical segues onto the current state of how the young carry out their affairs, she looks back on how she loved with her head, not necessarily her heart. Like many people who have gotten older, she remembers how things were better when she was younger. (In this particular aspect we find a parallel between "Liaisons" and the Old Lady's stance on change in "Beautiful" from Sunday). It's the perfect embodiment of the colorful and blunt opinions of the older generation. A dreamlike orchestration, with the celesta and harp arpeggiating while the strings and winds caress and complement the melodic line (in an atypical 3/2 time). The imagery of the lyrics is nothing short of poetic.

Madame offers her thoughts on the lack of taste she sees in these affairs with a series of rhetorical questions:

"Where is style?
Where is skill?
Where is forethought?
Where's discretion of the heart?
Where's passion in the art?
Where's craft?"

Those words tend to make me think of many contemporary musical theatre writers, who seem to fore go many of these traits while either padding out a film for stage just because it's the thing to do, or forgetting that lyrics are supposed to serve character and the story. I'll stop being a digressive and crotchety old dowager now.

Anyway, almost immediately following comes one of my favorite lyrics ever:

"Too many people muddle sex
With mere desire
And when emotion intercedes
The nets descend.
It should on no account perplex,
Or worse, inspire;
It's but a pleasurable means
To a measurable end.
Why does no one comprehend?
Let us hope this lunacy is just a trend."

Oh the sheer, sheer brilliance of that thought. If we had any innate ability to follow it, we'd probably be a lot happier, but unfortunately even when we recognize this in our lives, we tend to toss it off and get ensnared each time. It's usually easier for us, when we're in the position of Mme Armfeldt, observing the follies of others in love, or at least think they are, to have such rational thinking.

There is also a subtle, yet beautiful homage to the Bergman film in the following line:

"In the castle of the King of the Belgians
We would visit through a false chiffonier..."

From a NY Times profile on Regina Resnik in 1990 (by Eleanor Blau):

'Miss Resnik, who was nominated for a Tony Award in 1988 for her portrayal of the landlady in a revival of 'Cabaret, said she loved Hermione Gingold's Mme. Armfeldt in the original Broadway cast of A Little Night Music in 1973. But her own delivery is very different. ''I think I play it more directly, with less eccentricity,'' she said. And Miss Resnik sings the song ''Liaisons,'' instead of talking it as Ms. Gingold and others have done. She said Mr. Sondheim asked her to do so, saying he had never heard it sung.

Mme. Armfeldt is ''taut and acid, not a lady of sentiment,'' Miss Resnick said. ''She has memories, but they are not nostalgic. She thinks what is important is how clever you are and what you've gotten from experience. She was a clever courtesan.'' Mme. Armfeldt tells her daughter (Sally Ann Howes), ''I don't object to the immorality of your life; I object to its sloppiness.'' '

So when we revive this, who could possible take on these two memorable roles? Desiree? I'd like to see Emma Thompson, a person with so many of the correct traits necessary for a successful characterization. Others have suggested Annette Bening, which I think stems more from her Oscar-nominated British variation on Desiree in Being Julia. (Those actresses who have played the part: Glynis Johns, Jean Simmons, Virginia McKenna, Elizabeth Taylor in the woeful film adaptation, Sally Ann Howes and Juliet Stevenson in the two NYCO productions, Betty Buckley for the BBC, Judi Dench in a London revival, Blair Brown at the Kennedy Center, Patti LuPone at Ravinia, Judith Ivey in the LA presentation of the NYCO production and currently Barbara Walsh in Baltimore).

Madame Armfeldt, a delicious part for an older actress was originated by Hermione Gingold on Broadway, in London (where she was replaced by Angela Baddeley) and on film. (A far departure from her usual grande dame comedienne routine). Margaret Hamilton played her in the original national tour, Lila Kedrova in the 1989 London revival, Glynis Johns herself in an early 90s production in LA, Regina Resnik and Claire Bloom for the NYCO, Barbara Bryne at the Kennedy Center and Zoe Caldwell at Ravinia and in LA. My money is on Angela Lansbury. She seems like the perfect choice and hopefully since it requires little in the way of movement (she spends almost the entire show in a wheelchair), it's a role that wouldn't be physically taxing. Though I would love it if they landed Patricia Routledge for the rumored Menier production. We'd be getting on a plane, kids.

Onto another sticking point for me: the orchestrations. It would be a disservice to the piece to give it the ol' John Doyle pseudo-Brechtian One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band treatment. It would also be a disservice for Roundabout to revive it with their stock-in-trade reductions. The score demands a full-scale commercial revival with costumes and orchestration intact, or better yet, the Vivian Beaumont at LCT would be a perfect venue for the show. Their history of staging musicals, as evidenced by The Light in the Piazza and currently the smash hit revival of South Pacific, the organization seems to have the Midas touch these days. Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations can never be bettered by anyone else, and it would foolish for anyone to try to reduce them. Exhibit A: the definitive original Broadway cast recording, as close to perfection as one will find with a music theatre album.

Whatever the case may be, we need A Little Night Music now. Thoughts?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Quote of the Day

Herbert Greene: “The only one to play this Harold Hill part is Ethel Merman.”
Meredith Willson: “And if you think she couldn’t, you’re crazy.”

Greene and Willson on casting The Music Man. Great article by Filichia. Link under "Other People's Stories."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Strike Three, Ball Four...

The Encores! Summer Stars series has taken an interesting turn of events with the casting of my beloved Jane Krakowski as Lola in a revival of Damn Yankees. Trying to find a replacement for the legendary Gwen Verdon is virtually impossible, but I think that Krakowski is an exemplary choice. The only reason I decided to mention this is that 30 Rock came back tonight and she was woefully absent from the hilarious take on reality TV competitions (MILF Island? Oh yes). Sean Hayes will be playing Applegate (the role originated by the incomparable Ray Walston to Tony-winning effect). No word yet on Meg or Joe Hardy.

Also back was a phenomenally awkward and exceptionally written episode of The Office that showcases a dinner party at which George and Martha would balk. It's been months... and such welcome relief amid all those terrible reality shows that, well, just suck. Thank God the writer's strike is over. Now all we have to do is fear the potential actor's strike. Great. Good. Excellent.

"You are! She is! She is the devil! I'm in hell! Blahhh, I'm burning! Help me!"
~Michael Scott

Oh, and I must offer congratulations to Moon Lady on the arrival of her latest little love Camilla!!!

Monday, April 7, 2008

And the Pulitzer for Drama Goes to....

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY!!

Quote of the Day

"Yet surely, Miss Andrews, you have some vices? "Oh, God!" she whoops. "I'm great at Anglo-Saxon four-letter words." And she launches into a story about the last day on the "Mary Poppins" shoot, when she was hanging about, high up in the soundstage on a wire, when all of a sudden, she felt herself drop. "I hit the stage, like you don't believe—I could have broken my leg!—and I did let fly with some Anglo-Saxon words that I don't think the Disney studio had heard before or since." The F word, for one. And this reporter actually heard her utter the S word. Mary Poppins would wash her mouth out with soap.

Julie Andrews, Newsweek

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Most Enchanted Evening

Well my whirlwind week of theatre has come to an end. I have had the unusual privilege of book-ending my week-long extravaganza with two separate opening night performances. Last week it was Patti LuPone's ferocious turn in Gypsy. This time, it's the sumptuous majesty that is South Pacific, one of the greatest and most romantic scores ever composed for the musical theatre, returning in its first ever Broadway revival. In a season of stellar revivals, this one manages to be the crowning achievement. In fact, right here and right now, I say that it deserves the Revival Tony.

You see, I started out appreciating musical theatre in part because of the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. My father, not much for film or television, especially theatre (and their celebrities), made a notable exception in his dislike of the entertainment industry: Rodgers and Hammerstein. Ever year during that annual telecast of The Sound of Music, I would get to watch it. And every year until I was 11, I was sent to bed before it was finished. (Yeah, I own three copies now. One VHS - remember those? - and two DVD releases).

Anyway, my father's favorite film remained SOM, though occasionally I caught a glimpse of another musical on TV... as a very young child, I thought it was a specifically a war film, till I caught a rather ugly island woman who kept changing colors burst into song about a "Valley High" or something. (I was really young, like five, so please forgive me). I would learn with the 1995 release of The Sound of Movies hosted by Shirley Jones on A&E that there was more to this songwriting team than Julie Andrews twirling on an alp. I became fascinated to learn that most were originally stage musicals, something that didn't really hit home till later, and I became obsessed with film musicals, an obsession that would transplant itself into the American musical theatre.

South Pacific would keep it's popularity in my household. My father became a Marine in 1958, the year the film was released - and anything military was de rigeur when it came to his television programming. South Pacific, for me, is what I consider to be the best of the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. Now, I loves me some Dick and Oscar, but this earns the title of best of the best. The film, I approach with more reticence as I realize it's a rather imperfect adaptation; what with those color filters (which didn't bother me till I learned cynicism and naturalism) and some underwhelming performances. That didn't stop me from seeking out Lumahai Beach on Kauai nine years ago when on vacation. And yes, that's where Mitzi Gaynor washed Rossano Brazzi out of her hair.

For whatever it's worth, the show opened April 7, 1949 at the Majestic Theatre. Co-librettist Josh Logan directed. Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza were the stars. They were supported by Juanita Hall, Myron McCormick and William Tabbert. WWII was only four years removed. The show walked away with the hearts of the critics and audiences. Box office success transmuted into a rare Pulitzer Prize win for a musical (only the second up to that point) and 9 Tonys (the original South Pacific is the only production - play or musical - to have swept all four acting categories). The cast album sold. Everyone fell in love with "Some Enchanted Evening," the breakout success of the score. It ran in NY until 1954, racking up 1925 performances. It would play two successful years in London as well, starring Martin and Wilbur Evans. The film would come in 1958 starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi and Ray Walston. Mixed critical reception didn't stop the film from becoming a blockbuster. (Blame the Merm, had she let Fernando Lamas out of his contract for Happy Hunting, he would have starred opposite Doris Day).

The show itself called attention to racial prejudice and injustice with its two parallel love stories, culled from the vibrant short stories of James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific (which, if you haven't read it, do, Mr. Michener has a poetic lyricism in his prose). On one hand you have Emile de Becque, worldly and successful plantation owner romancing the hick Arkansan Nellie Forbush. On the other, the upper class Main Liner Joe Cable finds himself torn between his social station and his undying love for the Tonkinese Liat. Throw in colorful secondary situations, mostly Billis and his laundry, shower and souvenir racket, and the gravity of a country battling one of the most important wars in its history and you've got a full plate.

The show has received numerous revivals in London, a woefully terrible TV remake starring Glenn Close (but no cigar...) and has become a staple of high school and community theatres worldwide. However, the new production that opened tonight at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre marks the first official Broadway revival of this acclaimed masterpiece. Not that the show hasn't been seen in NY: there was an acclaimed Musicals of Lincoln Center engagement in 1967 starring Florence Henderson (recently released on CD) and was presented by the NYCO in 1987 (both productions played the NY State Theatre). I was there in 2005 for the concert at Carnegie Hall, which was released on CD and DVD. (I myself own 8 recordings of the score - soon to be 9 when the revival cast album comes out in May).

This revival is without a doubt one of the most rapturous evenings I've ever spent in a theatre, especially in terms of a musical revival. No expense was spared in transforming the immense stage of the Vivian Beaumont into a tropical paradise. In a vulgar summation, think The Light in the Piazza in a warmer climate, with a better score and stronger book. And what is probably the most effective orchestration in musical theatre (by great Robert Russell Bennett) is on full display here - in a rare departure from the norm, there are 30 players in the pit, with nary a reduction in sight, performing every note as was played in the original production. Never have I been so moved by the thrilling nuance of a Broadway orchestra, the harp, the strings, the brass, the winds, come together for a lush three hour display of emotion and grandeur. (They've added "My Girl Back Home" to the first act letter scene between Nellie and Cable, which actually adds to the character dynamic of both). We are gratefully reminded with this first-rate revival that South Pacific is a musical play, not a musical comedy.

One of the highlights of the show was the presentation of the orchestra itself. During the lengthy overture (where, for once, people didn't talk and paid adamant attention) the stage pulled back to reveal the orchestra conducted by Ted Sperling, in tie and tails, after which the orchestra took their call. The audience went complete nuts over the whole thing. The orchestra was revealed during the act one finale, and each section got a chance to stand for the toe-tapping entr'acte. We were also privileged to see them one more time after the curtain call.

The casting couldn't have been more impeccable. There are forty (yes forty) actors in the production, led by Kelli O'Hara, who it seems as we are learning each year, can do anything. Here she inhabits Nellie Forbush, the cock-eyed optimist and knucklehead, but with more thought and a keen awareness of the sobering nature of her war-time duties. Paulo Szot is Emile de Becque, the enigmatic and virile French planter, with whom she falls in love; equally sizable in voice and presence. (His haunting treatise on the pain of lost love, "This Nearly Was Mine," often woefully overlooked due to the popularity of "Some Enchanted Evening", brought the proceedings to a screeching halt as the audience cheered). Matthew Morrison brings a new shades of darkness and upper class cockiness to Lt. Joe Cable, only to make his tragic romance even more prescient than ever. (He also sounds more legit than I've ever heard him before). Loretta Able Sayres is Bloody Mary, played for character and not for laughs (though she earns them along the way). Never before have I felt that Mary had her daughter's best interest in mind, as opposed to coming across like an unscrupulous madam. Danny Burstein as Luther Billis channeled Bert Lahr. The ladies and gentlemen of the ensemble were all spectacular.

Bartlett Sher has once again proved to be one of the most spectacular theatre directors alive. He keeps his productions honest, naturalistic and never boring. He guides the cinematic nature of the score with precision and depth, moving seamlessly from one scene into the next, all the while raising the expectations of revivals from the Golden Age. The themes are never rammed down our throats, the singing is a natural emotional extension of character and plot and in a departure from what has become the norm, we are not blasted out of our seats by highly ill-advise pop singing and overamplification. There is one notable subtle touch in that the black soldiers are segregated from the white, which creates secondary friction during several of the "in-one" moments that assist the scene changes. It's a testament to Lincoln Center that they trusted the work of Rodgers, Hammerstein and Logan, paying it homage while finding new colors for the 21st century (and not feeling the need to completely overhaul the work, as would have to be the case with the embarrassingly dated Finian's Rainbow). It may be a period piece, but the new revival makes it more timeless than ever before.

I may have shifted in my sensibilities as I've gotten older. My adoration of Rodgers and Hammerstein made way for the rueful irony of Sondheim's sophistication. I've been more akin to complex and occasionally pretentious works that tend to challenge rather than entertain (though usually they do both). I've never been able to completely grasp it when people dismiss the musical, for whatever reason. Granted, the second act may not be as polished as the first (not many Golden Age shows have that going for them), but Sher and his cast have managed to make the issues of racial prejudice and bigotry as real as possible, especially since (unfortunately) these themes still play a major role in our society today. What's more important is that this revival doesn't play as a museum piece. South Pacific, with its music and its lyrics and its everlasting characters are more alive and palpable than ever before. And in this new staging, we are reminded of where we've been, where we are and where we've yet to go.

Peter Filichia responded to my excited e-mail regarding my opening night ticket: "And congrats on that SOUTH PACIFIC ticket. I hope that the writers of today's musicals are all there and then apologize to New York immediately following."

Amen, Brother Peter. They certainly don't write them like they used to...

I may have known South Pacific for years, but never before has it moved me to tears. Long may it run.

On a side note: Angela Lansbury, Henry and Mary Rodgers Guettel, Tommy Tune, Alice Playten, Frank Rich, James Naughton, William Finn, Jack O'Brien, Phyllis Newman and Rebecca Luker were among the first nighters that I saw.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Attack of the Theatre People

Bloggers, if you haven't read it, this is the novel that celebrates you:

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theatre

Marc Acito took his own experiences as a theatre student and came up with this amusing caper about Ed Zanni, the sexually confused star of his high school drama club and his misadventures (and criminal acts) with his motley crew of theatre geeks in achieving his dream of going to Juilliard. It's an amusing quick read with a lot of references for the obscure and lots of laugh out loud moments (particularly anything involving the deviant Nathan, who is my hero - and catalyst for all the scheming). (I do admit, I take some reservations with the author's style sometimes, but there's a lot to be appreciated. Hell, even Marian Seldes shows up!)

Well anyway, there's a sequel being published soon called, appropriately Attack of the Theatre People. It follows Ed through his Juilliard days and into the real world. His gang shows up. Nathan plots (the true hero). More hijinks ensue.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" - a synopsis of sorts

I found this posted by WesternActor on ATC this evening and felt that it was worthy of sharing; it takes a close look at the songs and scenes of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as it played in NY in 1976.

Act I

1. Overture (different from the one played at A White House Cantata, but more on that later), a mixture of "American Dreaming" (see below), "Rehearse!", "Take Care of This House," and "The President Jefferson March."
2. Prologue: A march-and-tambourine opening in which the "actors" playing the four leads introduce themselves, their characters, and what the evening will be about.
3. "Rehearse!": The complete casts sings about the American virtue of trying things over and over agqain until you get them right ("In the course of human events / There's only one event that makes sense / Rehearse and rehearse / Rehearse and don't stop / And if we do / And if we don't drop / It's gonna be great!")
4. "If I Was a Dove": Little Lud, a runaway slave, tries to hide from the people who are trying to track him down in the night.
5. Abigail Adams's carriage, lost en route to Washington, almost runs over Lud. They strike up a friendship when he gives Abigail directions, and she takes him with her. Along the way, she explains how President Washington founded the city ("On Ten Square Miles by the Potamac River").
6. "Welcome Home Miz Adams": The black White House staff greets Abigail and Lud as they begin to get situated in the unfinished White House.
7. President John Adams arrives and immediately begins making plans to leave the house he already hates ("On Ten Square Miles by the Potamac River" reprise, sung by Abigail in Cantata).
8. "Take Care of This House": Abigail, though distressed at the distressed state of the house, is nonetheless enchanted by it, and sees it as a symbol for the freedom the United States represents. She convinces John to give the house a chance, and he agrees; Lud stays on and joins the serving staff.
9. "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue": Adams writes an invitation to Abigail for a house-warming party to christen the new Executive Mansion. ("May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof).
10. When Thomas Jefferson becomes president, he insists that all the serving staff, including Lud, learn to write.
11. "The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March": Lud writes a letter to Abigail telling her of Jefferson's latest innovation: music during brunch. During the number, it becomes clear that Jefferson has been having an affair with one of the servants. (In different lyrics in the "oom-pah-pah" section, the women sing "Father of democracy / And I'm told there is proof."
Lud finishes his letter and time passes).
12. "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" reprise: Dolly Madison writes an invitation to a Presidential reception during the war of 1812. Lud, now an adult, prepares for the celebration with Jefferson's daughter, whom he happens to love: "Seena."
13. "Sonatina": The Madisons escape from Washington when the British invade Washington, afraid that all the city's black residents will defect. Lud alone stays behind in the White House and confronts the British. They burn down the city, but a torrential rain prevents the White House from being completely destroyed.
14. "They Don't Have to Pull It Down": The original White House architect returns to inspect the damage house, and declares it fixable, though it will take three years.
15. "Lud's Wedding (I Love My Wife)": Lud, overjoyed, asks Seena to marry him, and she accepts. The proceedings are overseen by Reverend Bushrod ("Lord look into da window / Where dere's love dere is life / Take de cake from de oven / We got a lovin' / Husband and wife!") and a dance follows.
16. "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" reprise: Eliza Monroe begins writing an invitation to the official reopening of the White House, but can't see to complete it because none of the furniture has arrived.
17. "Auctions": Eliza complains to her husband James about the slave auctions in the streets, which she finds especially detestable because the auctioneers are snatching free people off the streets and selling them into servitude. (This, for the record, is what Lud and Seena are discussing in their duet "This Time," in the Cantata but not in the show on Broadway.) James is afraid to do anything about this, and proposes ending the problem once and for all by sending all black Americans to Liberia—beginning with the White House staff. Outraged, Eliza goes to bed.
18. "Monroviad (The Little White Lie)": James tries to convince Eliza this plan is the best way to make things better for everyone, but she refuses to accept it.
19. "The President Jefferson March" reprise: A parade of presidents leads us to
20. "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" reprise: On the eve of the 1960 election, President James Buchanan writes an invitation to a party celebrating the arrival of the Prince of Wales.
21. "We Must Have a Ball": Buchanan, aware of the troubles brewing in the country, believes a party between representatives of the North and South will reduce tensions.
22. "Take Care of This House" (reprise): It doesn't work. Abraham Lincoln is elected, South Carolina secedes, and the curtain falls.

Act II

1. Entr'acte (not in the Cantata in any form), a combination of "The President Jefferson March," a bit of "Yankee Doodle," and "Rehearse!"
2. "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" reprise: President Andrew Johnson's staff celebrates his impending removal from office.
3. "Forty Acres and a Mule": Johnson's staff holds a mock trial while the real trial is being held in the Senate.
4. "Bright and Black": The staff celebrates the better world that will result from Johnson's absence.
5. Mrs. Johnson, suffering from consumption, worries about her husband's fate. Johnson returns, in high spirits, and sends her to bed. Alone with Seena, he confesses he expects to be found guilty. She's cold to him at first, but he convinces her that he truly has black Americans' best interests in heart, however the opposition may have made it look. He is saved from removal from office by a single vote."Hail": Ulysses Grant is elected.
6. "Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)": Grant leaves office and is replaced by Rutherford B. Hayes, following a complicated and controversial vote recount. Grant's wife, Julia, believes he stole the office, while Hayes's wife Lucy revels in her new role.
7. The servants roil at the results of the election, with Lud saying that Hayes is "repealing the Civil War" all by himself.
8. "American Dreaming": Lud, outraged, screams that Lincoln's advances are being destroyed (this is also not heard in the Cantata).
9. "When We Were Proud": Lud and Seena, in despair at the state of affairs, leave the White House, Lud's promise to Abigail echoing sadly in his ears. (This song uses the same melody as the Cantata's finale, "To Make Us Proud," but has entirely different lyrics.)
10. "Hail" reprise: James A. Garfield is elected and assassinated.
11. Chester Alan Arthur assumes the presidency but finds himself fighting powerful forces of corruption.
12. "The Robber-Baron Minstrel Parade" and "Pity the Poor": These and the two following songs are presented in the form of a minstrel show, complete with tambourines, end men, and blackface. Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York wields much power, and the rich men of America can't stop singing about their impact over the powerless president.
13. "The Mark of a Man": Arthur resists the allure of wealth and power, and stands firm in the face of adversity. (In the Cantata, this song is sung following "The Little White Lie.") He feels good about himself, even if the rest of the country isn't convinced.
14. "The Red White and Blues": The robber-baron minstrels, however, are too powerful, and Arthur can't win against them. He isn't even nominated for reelection, but escapes the White House with his morals intact.
15. "Hail" reprise: Grover Cleveland and William McKinley are elected, and McKinley is shot.
16. Funeral sequence: The music heard as the overture in the cantata serves as the music playing under the country's mourning for McKinley.
17. The actors—or their characters—make speeches about how far they and the country has come since 1800. "A fine old house. I've seen an enemy try to burn it and fail, one part of the nation try to divide it and fail, one branch of the government try to capture it and fail, and a group of men try to buy it and not fail," the president actor says... "Until now." Teddy Roosevelt assumes the presidency.
18. "Rehearse!" reprise: The Roosevelts and the country rejoice in the new opportunities ahead. "1900 is here / Stand up and cheer / It's gonna be great / 1800 adjourned / The corner is turned / It's gonna be great / All of the wrongs we never put right / Can have a happy ending in sight / If we will rehearse / Rehearse and don't stop / And if we do / It's gonna be great!" Everyone continues rehearsing as the curtain falls.
19. Exit music: Several different variations on "The President Jefferson March."