Wednesday, May 21, 2008

So What's All the Fuss?

That was the name of a reply thread to Terry019's enthusiastic post about beloved PR in 1600.

Here's my reply:

Though "Take Care of This House" was the breakaway song from the short-lived "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," the "Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)" creates what is arguably the most memorable onstage moment in the piece.

Routledge, who was playing all successive first ladies in the show, is given the task of portraying both the outgoing Julia Grant and incoming Lucy Hayes in the same scene, each soliloquizing during the Hayes inauguration; sharing their thoughts on the election results and insulting the other. Routledge accomplished this with a trick wig that she would literally flip; with an immediate change in voice and character to delineate between the two. Routledge started off the number as Mrs. Grant, introduced us to Mrs. Hayes, then in a fit of schizophrenic delight, juxtaposed between the earthier beltier Grant and the haughtier treacly-sweet soprano of Hayes. Again, all with the flip of a wig.

The musical number is the most challenging soprano showcase Bernstein had written since "Glitter and Be Gay", a ten minute mini-opera in which Routledge utilized three octaves of her vocal range, which builds to a coloratura climax capped with a D above C. The audience response was overwhelming, as evidenced by Terry and many, many others fortunate enough to be in attendance. (Ken Mandelbaum in 'Not Since Carrie' calls it "one of the most brilliant and least known showstoppers in musical-theatre history"). Routledge, with her impeccable comic timing and glorious voice created an unforgettable tour de force that completely drove the audience wild.

As I wrote below, the individual attending "A White House Cantata" a few weeks ago commented on the "Duet for One" during the talkback. He said, and Routledge's understudy Beth Fowler agreed, that the ovation for the number was unlike any they had ever seen before; the audience would not let the show continue until Routledge gave them an encore. And she did.Unfortunately, there was no official cast album recorded (the endlessly troubled show has enough of a fascinating history it could use its own book), but Judy Kaye performed the song on John McGlinn's "Broadway Showstoppers" CD and June Anderson recorded it for "A White House Cantata."

While I understand that there are many numbers on the boards today which one would consider a showstopper, the sort of ovation that "Duet for One" received (and still receives from those who remember fondly the thrill of that number) is one of considerable uniqueness and rarity, that just doesn't come around too often.


Hell, I figure I give this lecture so much, I should take it on the road like Hal Holbrook on Mark Twain.

PS...From a conversation with Miles:

Miles: PR?
Me: Patricia Routledge
Miles: YES!
Miles: The original Patti

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