Sunday, August 31, 2008

Say "Darling"

Back in 2005, Musicals in Mufti mounted an encore presentation of Darling of the Day with revisions by Erik Haagensen (who also made an attempt to fix the other big Patricia Routledge musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Here is an article on the show by Peter Filichia wrote at that time which I found entertaining and informative.

Yes, records...

I like to browse. I like to rummage through things at most stores. You can put me in a supermarket or Home Depot and I'll keep myself occupied for as long as necessary. But even moreso, I enjoy going through second hand stores, taking a look to see if I can find anything of interest.

For most of my life I've managed to collect a considerable collection of books, films and music. I've take an especial interest in discovering show music, and before I got my first CD player it was mostly in the form of records. Growing up in my house, my parents were a little behind the times on the music technology - it took them to 1995 to get their first CD player. Yeah, seriously. In fact, my father only got a CD player in his car for the first time in 2005. But anyway, for lack of the CD player, we did have a very nice unit that played records, cassette tapes and, get this, 8-tracks (I've never owned one of those). In fact, my first cast album was the original London cast recording of My Fair Lady, in all its lavish Columbia gatefold beauty, which I found in a used book store run by the local public library. I think it cost a quarter, along with several other LPs I picked up.

When I made the switch to CDs, I kept my LPs but didn't give them as much play. It wasn't until college that I started to get back into collecting cast recordings on LP. Looking to see what I could find in terms of releases and sleeves. It's been a rather fun project, because going through a $.25 bin in a college town music store you'll never what sort of surprises you'll be in for. Add to that when I was living in New Paltz, NY (where I attended college), the two music stores would recognize when I came in and would advise me as to where I would find the most recent musical theatre records. (I think they were just grateful that someone was buying as much as I was).

Anyway, I managed to find a lot of treasures, many times 10 for a $1.00, inclusive of many recordings, some of which aren't available on CD, such as Inner City, Illya Darling, Carousel studio cast with Robert Merrill, Patrice Munsel & Florence Henderson, and from the commonplace into the rare, a private label recording made of The Yearling, a disastrous 3 performance flop from 1965. So plain was it, there was no date, authors, labeling - nothing that would point it out that it was a show album.

I write this today because this morning I got up and left the house at 7:00 to drive to Stormville, NY with some friends of mine. Every major summer holiday they have a weekend vendor market in which you walk through an airstrip filled with booths from antiques dealers, retailers, or people just trying to unload their junk. The first time I went to this was in 2003, when elderly neighbors of mine gave me $150 to unload their truck for them and then reload it. I had the rest of the day to wander throughout. In browsing I found the original cast albums of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and High Spirits (both featuring the sublime Tammy Grimes). I immediately picked them up and much to my delight, discovered that they each contained the show's original souvenir program as well.

I've been back several times since, voraciously poring through milk crate and box after milk crate and box just to see if there's anything of use. The downside to this is that there are a lot of terrible things such as Rex Smith, The Bee Gees, countless "never heard of them" artists and such interesting things as "Do the Strip Tease" novelties. But it's usually worth it. Last time I got a few show albums, Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall, It's Better with a Band, The Anna Russell Album? and The Bob Newhart Button Down Album, to name a few. While today wasn't as successful as usual, I happened upon a mint condition LP of the original Broadway cast of 1776 for a $1. It may have been the only thing I bought (my hopes to discover LPs of On the Twentieth Century, A Time for Singing, Donnybrook! and Darling of the Day weren't assuaged, but on the other hand they haven't dashed either. (I know I can always check ebay, but part of the fun is finding them at such incredibly low prices).

While I know I'm going to sound a lot older than my 25 years, I can't help but think about how much is lost in the music experience with downloadable mp3s. Sure, it's the easiest thing to go to i-tunes and enter a search query and have it on your computer right then and there, but there's none of the gratified satisfaction that comes from the effort put in looking for something. It's for that reason I hope that while music stores may become about as hip as the Automat, they will never fully disappear. If you're willing to look, you never know what surprises you may find.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Drew Carey Show - "Brotherhood of Man"

If there was anything about The Drew Carey Show I enjoyed, it was its sense of the absurd. And that would of course include the cast spontaneously breaking into song and dance (much like the opening credits for the series). Here, Drew and the entire cast, along with guest star Hal Linden take on the "Brotherhood of Man" the fool proof showstopping eleven o'clock number from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, even parodying the dialogue lead-in and lines interspersed throughout. Two notes: They are using the original 1961 arrangement and Mimi taking on the Ruth Kobart (the original Miss Jones onstage and onscreen) vocal line is an inspired choice, wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Michael Jeter

Today would have been Michael Jeter's 56th birthday. Jeter, whose career as an actor spanned from his film debut in Hair in 1979 to an Emmy award winning turn on "Evening Shade" to Mr. Noodle on "Sesame Street," was an impressive character actor who made his mark in every medium possible. His greatest career triumph arrived in the role of terminally ill Otto Kringelein the 1989 musical Grand Hotel, a role for which he received the Drama Desk and Tony awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

Grand Hotel, which was one of the big successes of the 1989-90 season, features some of the most profound direction that has been seen in a musical. With Tommy Tune at the helm, the show was culled from the wreckage of the 1958 out of town closer, At the Grand, with a score by Wright & Forrest of Kismet fame, as well as a book by Luther Davis. When Tune came on the scene as the show was struggling in Boston, he also brought in Maury Yeston who added a few songs and helped turn the show into a solid seamless piece. Grand Hotel ran for 1,017 performances,winning additional Tony awards for Tune's staging and choreography, Jules Fisher's lighting and Santo Loquasto's costumes. (The big best musical winner was Cy Coleman's jazz noir musical comedy City of Angels). The original cast starred David James Carroll, Liliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Jane Krakowski, Timothy Jerome, and of course Jeter.

Carroll was forced to leave the show early in its run when he was stricken with AIDS (further sadness came when he passed away in the recording studio, just before they were to record his numbers for the original cast album). Replacing him in the show (and eventually on the album) was Brent Barrett, with whom Jeter performed the show's unabashedly jubilant showstopper - one of the best in the American musical theatre, "We'll Take a Glass Together" on the Tony telecast in 1990.



Moments later, it was time for the Featured Actor in a Musical award. Jeter offered the world one of the most moving acceptance speeches seen on a Tony telecast



Jeter was diagnosed with HIV in 1997, but his tragic death in 2003 came from a epileptic episode combined with asphyxiation. The world lost one of its great talents much too soon. Just thought it would be nice to remember him on his birthday.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

“It’s finishing the hat. You get completely entranced. The world disappears and you’re with your own imagination, and it’s really fun,” he says. “Starting the hat is hard. Finishing the hat is fun.”

- Stephen Sondheim on why he hasn't retired and remains excited about work. Excerpted from Jeremy McCarter's profile on the composer in this week's New York Magazine.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another "Kitty"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Theatre Blogger's Creed

The Theatre Blogger's Creed
From Sister Sarah, with Father Kevin:

I believe in Rodgers & Hammerstein, the almighty, creator of musical theatre heaven. I believe in Stephen Sondheim, their only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the composer and born of the Divas. He suffered under the critics, was crucified, died, and was buried. At the the Tony Awards he rose again. He ascended into theatre heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Fathers. He will come again with a revival and will judge the living and the dead ticket buyers. I believe in the original cast recording, the holy revival cast recording, the Tony Award, the forgiveness of critics, the proliferation of the Divas, and the eleven o’clock number. As it was at the overture and shall be at the exit music, bliss without end. Amen.

Sondheim Responds

Stephen Sondheim responds to Susan Elliot's New York Times piece about Broadway orchestrations in a letter to the editor:

Orchestrations: Who Writes the Songs?
Re “Off the Stage, What’s Behind the Music” by Susan Elliott [Aug. 17]:

Ms. Elliott, in her piece on Broadway orchestrators, claims that Robert Russell Bennett was responsible for the “shifting harmonies and alternating rhythms” (whatever the latter term means) of Richard Rodgers’s score for “South Pacific.”

I can assure you this is not so, and the implication that orchestrators routinely do it is misleading. True, many composers of musicals can neither read nor write music and merely hum their tunes or pound them out on the piano, forcing orchestrators to supply everything from chords to rhythms, but some of us spend long hours working out harmonies and contrapuntal lines, and Rodgers was one of them, as his distinctive harmonic styles — one for Hart, one for Hammerstein — prove.

For those who, like me, write detailed piano copy, the orchestrator’s chief task is to give the dry monochromatic texture of the piano color and atmosphere, which indeed may involve adding additional lines, but the notion that orchestrators do much of the composing for composers who know what they’re doing is inaccurate.

Like everybody else, as Ms. Elliott reports, I deplore the downsizing of orchestras, but I understand the economics. If I had thought for one minute that Roundabout, a nonprofit company, could afford 11 players for the revival of “Sunday in the Park With George,” I’d have asked for them. After reading in Ms. Elliott’s article that Todd Haimes, the company’s artistic director, would have given them to me, I’ll know better the next time we work together (which, I hasten to add, I hope will be soon).

As for Jason Carr, who won the Drama Desk Award for his deft reduction of Michael Starobin’s thrilling 11-player orchestration to an ensemble of five, I’m happy for him, but the atmosphere and most of the extra instrumental lines and decorations were still Michael’s. Six-elevenths of the award, at the very least, belong to him.

Stephen Sondheim
New York
The writer wrote the music and lyrics for “Sunday in the Park With George.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BroadwaySpace

I'm a bit of an internet whore, I'm not going to lie. My first experience with a social networking site was in college when all my friends were on Friendster (anyone?) I was also on Facebook when it was still officially "The Facebook." and caved and got a MySpace account. I haven't accessed the first in years, find the latter user-unfriendly and by default, Facebook has become the site I access most. However, I just discovered the social networking website for theatre fans BroadwaySpace.com this evening. I think I had seen it once previous, but paid no attention to it as I figured it was more for the younger theatre fans, but you know, is one more going to hurt?

Here's where you can find me there....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Exciting News! - aka 'It's About Time!'

It's taken years. Lots of interest on my part has gone unheeded. My mother has dismissed it because she would rather stay local, going anywhere too far from the home like that was too much for her. This from a woman who is already planning a trip to the Philippines to witness the birth of her first grandchild. My father was more indifferent, he really couldn't care less about it unless it was directly related to one of his two favorite interests: The USMC and firefighting, two careers of which he is incredibly proud.

Well, folks, get out your snowsuits and wool caps because we be having a snow ball fight in the seventh depth tonight! Yes. My parents are going to see their very first Broadway show this fall, the acclaimed Lincoln Center Theatre revival of South Pacific. They've actually seen a couple of productions in NY, both off-off Broadway (which to your average John Smith would make them seem a bit theatre-savvy but they're really not) but this will be the very first on the Main Stem.

For years, I asked to see shows for the usual birthday and Christmas presents. My mother would usually laugh it off, saying no way. And unlike the usual surprises you can get from a mother, mine was pretty much a woman of her word. She much preferred seeing community and high school productions saying she can have a good time anywhere, so long as it's cheap. I think that was the moment I learned to arch my eyebrow.

Anyway, my overwhelming enthusiasm for this crystalline revival got my father interested. Now my father LOVES South Pacific, almost as much as he worships the grass Julie Andrews twirls on. He may not be a big musical theatre person, but those are two movie musicals he greatly appreciates (an extension goes out to all other Rodgers and Hammerstein shows in the process). Anyway, he was taken aback at the expense but for once the urge to see the show itself outweighed the expense (he was also encouraged yesterday by a golfing buddy who told him he got his tickets already for February). He asked me to look into it. And here we are.

Much to the excitement of the idle poor here, I am incredibly enthused to be going with them (don't you love it when someone else offers to pay for your theatre?) It's very exciting to be with a person seeing their first Broadway show. I have been a part of the privilege several times, most recently with my good friend Lauren when I got comps for The Lion King. I took her to see her second show Spring Awakening too. There is great joy in sharing the live theatre experience, an inexplicable intimacy of watching a person take in the grandeur and scope and aesthetic in a Broadway house. Here are my parents, my 67 year old mother and 68 year old father are going to venturing down to the Beaumont for an evening of joyous musical theatre. Who could ask for anything more? Wait, I can. I want them to start going more regularly.

Everyone always remembers their first ;)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"100 million voters made a huge impact on the last election.

They didn't vote."

Kenneth Cole, 2004

It's 2008. Leap year = presidential election. I'd say on the whole things are worse than before. We should all get out there and do our part. I don't care who you're voting for; it's none of my business. Just do it! It doesn't take much, and it actually makes you feel good, if only for a brief moment, about the democratic republic in which we live. (Yeah, franchisement!!) Just remember to register on time, if you aren't already.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

(Where, Where, Where, Where) Where Is She?

The interview was actually written in 2002, but it's a fascinating read about one of the most fascinating and most enigmatic Broadway performers we've ever had. She had quite a string of successes on both stage and screen. The quirky comedienne who could act and sing with considerable aplomb, earning several Tony nominations (one win - The Apple Tree) and an Oscar nomination. However, Barbara Harris inexplicably disappeared from the public sector, becoming disinterested in acting and taking refuge in Phoenix, Arizona - far from the lights of either Hollywood or Broadway (and likely to never return to either). Harris spoke with Robert Pela of the Phoenix New Sun in an interesting and candid interview, in which she provides interesting comments about Mike Nichols, Alfred Hitchcock, musical comedy, acting and as you will learn from the interview's title, politics. She seems like she would be a lot of fun to have with a conversation with.

Though Harris' career as a musical theatre diva was rather short-lived, two starring roles back to back in 1965 and 1966, her contribution is enormous. The role of Daisy Gamble in the poorly conceived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Lerner & Lane) is probably to be forever eclipsed by the leaden film adaptation made in 1970 starring Barbra Streisand. While Harris doesn't have the voice Streisand has, her charm, quirkiness and warmth make the Clear Day cast album definitive for all listeners. (Just listen to the self-conscious and shy way she sings the lead-in lines to "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here!" and if you are not enchanted by the end of that song, I may have to question the existence of your soul). Her turn in Apple Tree, three linked one-act musicals by Bock & Harnick, carried the show. As she played a feisty, spirited but loving Eve to Alan Alda's Adam in act one ("What Makes Me Love Him?" will never topped by anyone else) to the raunchy, half-crazed seductress in the second act adaptation of "The Lady and the Tiger, to the third act fairy-tale-turned-on-its-ear "Passionella." Interestingly enough, both shows were built around the uniqueness of Harris, whose comic persona and look, especially in Freaky Friday, is reminiscent of Madeline Kahn. Both shows received revivals at the City Center Encores!, with Kristin Chenoweth taking the reigns both times. All due respect, she's got nothing on the one of a kind Barbara Harris.

One note to the author of the piece: I believe Walter Kerr labeled Miss Harris "the square root of noisy sex" for her incredibly well-received star turn in The Apple Tree, which incidentally was Harris' last turn on Broadway. Sandy Dennis portrayed Barbara Markowitz for the entire original run of A Thousand Clowns; Barbara played the role on screen.

Barbara Harris Knew That Bill Clinton Was White Trash
Robert L. Pela

Thespians, take note: Barbara Harris has moved to town, and she's hung up her teaching shingle. Local acting students could do worse; Harris' brief but notable Broadway career snagged her a Tony Award for The Apple Tree in 1967, and she was nominated for her role in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Her more memorable films include Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976), and a turn as Jodie Foster's mom in Freaky Friday (1977) -- all three performances nominated for a Golden Globe -- and her Oscar-nominated spin in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971).
We met for drinks at Mancuso's at the Borgata, where our sniffy waiter served Miss Harris a whisper of white wine and a whole lot of attitude, and where I tried and failed to convince her that she is some kind of a legend.

New Times: So, what's a famous actress doing in Scottsdale?

Barbara Harris: I knew you'd ask that. I'm teaching acting classes. I had been based in New York, and maybe I should have stayed. I mean, I like it here, but it's very conservative, isn't it? I was talking to this man the other night, and he was ranting about people who come here from the East and wreck the state by voting Democrat. Hey, how would you vote on Prop 202?

NT: That's the Indian gaming prop.

Harris: The commercials are hysterical! All that carrying on about how Indians are being greedy, but the commercials never once tell you anything about the proposition itself. So you end up having to read the Republic or some other piece of nonsense. But since I'm one of those nasty Easterners, I'll probably vote straight Democrat. It's just how it goes. I didn't want to vote for Clinton, but I had to -- even though I figured he was white trash.

NT: You have a pretty distinctive voice and personality. Do you get recognized in the grocery?

Harris: No, thank goodness. I don't usually mention that I have been in movies, because I'm afraid people will say, "Well, I don't watch black-and-white films." Most people don't know who I am.

NT: Come on. You've starred in some pretty well-regarded movies.

Harris: I used to try to get through one film a year, but I always chose movies that I thought would fail, so that I wouldn't have to deal with the fame thing. I turned down Alfred Hitchcock when he first asked me to be in one of his movies.

NT: But you eventually appeared in Hitchcock's Family Plot.

Harris: Yes. Mr. Hitchcock was a wonderful man. He always wanted emotionless people in his movies. There was a scene in our film, where Karen Black was acting, acting, acting -- all that Lee Strasberg human-struggle stuff. And it took her so long to get those tears going, and Mr. Hitchcock turned to the cameraman and said, "We will just photograph the actors' feet in this scene." He wanted a beautiful woman who wasn't showing her life's history in a scene.

NT: In his review of A Thousand Clowns, theater critic Walter Kerr described you as "the square root of noisy sex."

Harris: He did? My goodness, mathematicians are going to be furious! By the way, I called a friend of mine in New York and had him read me some of your reviews. Why did you write that A Thousand Clowns is dated?

NT: Well, a story that condemns socialism was more relevant in the early '60s. And the notion of a single-parent household isn't all that shocking today.

Harris: I wish you'd written that.

NT: So, now you're teaching acting. But I thought all actors wanted to be directors.

Harris: I'm much more interested in what's behind acting, which is the inquiry into the human condition. Everyone gets acting mixed up with the desire to be famous, but some of us really just stumbled into the fame part, while we were really just interested in the process of acting.

NT: I can see the joy of appearing on Broadway or in a big Hollywood film, but where's the joy in teaching people how to cry?

Harris: Who wants to be up on the stage all the time? It isn't easy. You have to be awfully invested in the fame aspect, and I really never was. What I cared about was the discipline of acting, whether I did well or not.

NT: Still, you did pretty well.

Harris: Well, sometimes. People always want to talk about the ones that won you awards, but I have a better memory of my first part, which was Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The critic for the Chicago Tribune wrote, "Will someone please get rid of Peter Rabbit?" I was crushed, and after that I had to be pushed out on stage. Of course, I had made my own costume. That may have been a mistake. But anyway, we weren't up there on that stage for any reason other than the process of acting. We certainly weren't making any money back then, my friends and I. Elaine May was eating grapefruit rinds.

NT: Your friends were a rare group.

Harris: Yes. Mike Nichols was a toughie. He could be very kind, but if you weren't first-rate, watch out. He'd let you know. Elaine May read Molière night and day.

NT: You seem completely unimpressed with your own celebrity.

Harris: I'm a has-been!

NT: Does that mean you've left acting?

Harris: Well, if someone handed me something fantastic for 10 million dollars, I'd work again. But I haven't worked in a long time as an actor. I don't miss it. I think the only thing that drew me to acting in the first place was the group of people I was working with: Ed Asner, Paul Sills, Mike Nichols, Elaine May. And all I really wanted to do back then was rehearsal. I was in it for the process, and I really resented having to go out and do a performance for an audience, because the process stopped; it had to freeze and be the same every night. It wasn't as interesting.

NT: You were also in the Compass Players, the first improvisational theater troupe in America. You're acknowledged as one of the pioneering women in the field of improv, and scenes you created with the Second City and Compass companies are still studied as masterpieces of the form.

Harris: Boy, you really did your homework. Uh, yes. We were the first to do improv, and it was hard, because improv was new and no one had come before us.

NT: You starred in Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad and Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?. Do you enjoy selecting films with long-winded titles?

Harris: That's a very silly question. Well, you writers do like words, don't you? And so those titles must have been written by writers. No, there wasn't a great deal of design to the path of my career. I was a small-town, middle-class girl who wore a cashmere sweater very nicely and ended up on Broadway because that's the way the wind was blowing. I didn't have my sights set there. When I was at Second City, there was a vote about whether we should take our show to Broadway or not. Andrew Duncan and I voted no. I stayed in New York, but only because Richard Rodgers and Alan Jay Lerner came and said, "We want to write a musical for you!" Well, I wasn't big on musical theater. I had seen part of South Pacific in Chicago and I walked out. But it was Richard Rodgers calling!

NT: You stayed, and you ended up with a Tony. Speaking of theater awards, I heard you're a Zonis judge. Say it isn't so!

Harris: I am now. They rejected me, at first. I filled out the application, and they just never called. (Arizona Jewish Theatre artistic director) Janet Arnold, who's a real sweetheart, called and told them, "Hey, it's Barbara Harris! Call her back!"

NT: You're a famous actress living in Scottsdale, so you're probably hanging out with Marshall Mason and Dale Wasserman, our other resident theater legends.

Harris: I wish I knew Marshall Mason. I didn't know Dale Wasserman lives here, too. So, you see? Famous theater people are everywhere in this town. You just don't see us because we're hiding under things.

Addendum: Harris briefly resurfaced on XM Satellite radio in a guest appearance for the Radio Repertory Company of America's broadcast of Anne Manx on Amazonia in 2005. She is still living in a delicious reclusivity, enjoying every minute of it and hasn't taken on any other acting work since (most definitely our loss).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Pirate Jenny" - Lotte Lenya

Lotte Lenya recreates her legendary "Pirate Jenny" from The Threepenny Opera, for which won a Tony in 1956 (which gives her the added distinction of being the only performer honored by the Theater Wing for what was officially an off-Broadway performance). For anyone who didn't see Lovemusik last season, Lenya was married to Weill until his death in 1950. She was one of the great artistic influences in his life, and very quite possibly the definitive interpreter of his songbook. She withdrew from the stage after the poorly received The Firebrand of Florence in 1945, but after Weill's death she was coaxed back to star in a new translation of Threepenny penned by Marc Blitzstein. She starred in the production with Jo Sullivan (Loesser), Beatrice Arthur, Charlotte Rae and others at the Theatre dy Lys, where it would prove a smash hit, racking up 2,707 performances. Lenya's forays into film included an Oscar nominated turn in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and quite memorably as the Bond villain Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love.

This is apparently from a 1966 Boston TV special "The World of Kurt Weill," the same year she added a considerable air of Weillian authenticity to the original production of Cabaret.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy "August: Osage County" Day!

Mayor Bloomberg has officially proclaimed today "August: Osage County Day" in NYC in honor of its 300th performance, being accorded to today's matinee.

As per the proclamation, the play has "yielded tremendous cultural and economic benefits for" New York City and has "reaffirmed New York's proud heritage of welcoming the world's boldest, most powerful works of art."

However, the powers that be are cheating a little. According to the tally at ibdb.com today's matinee is the show's 282nd, meaning they are counting the 18 previews. There is a reason there is an official opening night. Or is there anymore? Oh well. I'm just truth-telling... ;)

Also here is a great profile on the great Amy Morton who is still giving NY audiences her powerhouse performance as Barbara Weston Fordham in the acclaimed hit (but only for a little while longer, folks. Soon the original cast will be off to London for its UK premiere at the National in the fall).

The quote of the day, from Ms. Morton:

"It's like when you open up Long Day's Journey Into Night or some great American play, and you see the original cast listing, and you go, 'Wow, that must have been something.' I get to have my name in there! I'm never going to get a part like this again in my life. I mean this in the most positive way: It's all downhill from here."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Bounce" retitled "Road Show"

The little Sondheim musical that could, Bounce, is being resurrected in a yet another revision that will play the Public Theatre fall under the title Road Show (the book is from the pen of John Weidman). The show (which is on its fourth title; early workshops include Wise Guys and Gold!) is now under the direction of Tony-winner John Doyle and will star Sondheim regulars Michael Cerveris (Assassins, Sweeney Todd) and Alexander Gemignani (Assassins, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George). Tickets go onsale to the general public on October 12, with a first preview date set for October 28 and an opening night of November 18. The show will run at the Public's Newman Theatre through December 28.

In an exclusive commentary with Playbill.com, Mr. Sondheim explains the dramaturgical reasons behind the new title. It sounds very interesting to hear the gestation process of this long-in-development musical. It's also great that New York will be getting its first fully original Sondheim score in 14 years.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

From Charles Isherwood's piece in today's Times about movie musical adaptations (more specifically, his reactions to Mamma Mia!):

"And, most promisingly, a small movie coming out of nowhere managed to make the old-school conventions of musical theater bloom naturally in a strictly realistic, indeed even grungy environment. The indie movie “Once,” which ultimately won an Oscar for best original song this year, depicts a romance between two street musicians in Dublin. The scruffy Irish protagonist and his Czech girlfriend glide into their music with the ease of Fred and Ginger wafting onto the dance floor, reminding us that at its best, onstage or at the movies, the marriage of music and drama feels not just natural but inevitable."

I have to agree. For my money, Once is the best new movie musical I've seen in some time.

"Ethel Mae Potter... we never forgot her"

This is a clip from one of my all-time favorite episodes of "I Love Lucy." The fourth season of the classic sitcom dealt with Ricky getting a movie deal with MGM and driving out west to Hollywood for his big screen debut. The season opened up a great many guest spots to the likes of John Wayne, Van Johnson, Rock Hudson, Harpo Marx and probably most infamously, William Holden (and the legendary burning nose moment). This episode has the gang driving to Ethel's home town of Albequerque, New Mexico (which incidentally was Vivian Vance's real home town). When they arrive, the town believes that Ethel is the one going out to be a movie star. She lets it get to her head, so much so that in a rare moment, Lucy schemes with Ricky and Fred to teach her a lesson during her recital (which also allowed Vance, a Broadway performer with credits including the original productions of Music in the Air, Anything Goes, Red Hot and Blue and Hooray for What!, the opportunity to display her considerable vocal talents). The hilarity follows:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Little Love on the Way

Call me Uncle Lindsay. In one of the happiest posts I think I'll ever make, I am thrilled to announce that I am going to become an uncle for the first time early next year. So come winter time, I hope I can finagle myself into a trip to the Philippines for the joyous event.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chita and Dick Van Dyke in "The Dancer's Life"



After I found "The Shriner Ballet," I found this. Delightful is the word. Enjoy.

The Shriner Ballet

Chita Rivera recreates the original Gower Champion choreography for Bye Bye Birdie for "The Shriner's Ballet" with the American Dance Machine for a special called "That's Singing, The Best of Broadway." Rivera was Tony-nominated for her performance in the original production, in the featured actress category, but lost to Tammy Grimes who was "featured" in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Wasn't that above the title billing nonsense a bit ridiculous?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Upcoming DVDs of Note




Here are some upcoming DVD releases coming this fall. The first two mark long-awaited remastered special editions of An American in Paris and Gigi, two Best Picture Oscar winning classics from legendary director Vincente Minnelli. Then there's the DVD debut of another The Picture of Dorian Gray featuring Angela Lansbury in her second Oscar nominated role. Plus, you've got a new expanded issue of L.A. Confidential, one of the best films of the last fifteen years. And my blog wouldn't be complete without including Keeping Up Appearances: The Full Bouquet, a special edition re-release of the entire series that starred the irrepressible Patricia Routledge. You can click on each one for more info.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quote of the Day

Here's one of the best ideas I've heard in a long time:

'Virtually every theater makes a pre-show announcement about turning off cell phones, beepers and watch alarms. Soon after, the audience delivers the first laugh of the night, after a disembodied voice tells them to unwrap their candies now.

But here, at Ohio Light Opera in Wooster, there’s an announcement I’ve never heard, but one that hits the spot: “And please don’t talk during the overture.”'

Peter Filichia's blog on the Ohio Light Opera's production of Marinka

Random Thoughts on This & That

One of the things I enjoyed best about "It's a Business" from Curtains was that we were getting yet another fantastic auteur vamp from John Kander. It's especially prevalent in the jubilant exit music that was unfortunately not recorded on the original cast album.

The complete cast for the Roundabout revival of A Man For All Seasons was announced today. Over which name do I get the most excitement? Maryann Plunkett!! A Tony-winner for Me and My Girl, she hasn't been on Broadway in fifteen years and it's wonderful to see that she's to make a triumphant return as Alice More. (For those Sondheim-philes out there, she was also a replacement Dot in the original production of Sunday in the Park With George).

There has been much hoopla made over the selection of Bailey to replace Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde. To quote a great literary/cinematic (and occasionally musical theatre) hero: "Frankly, I don't give a damn." I will never align with the ideas of casting professional musical theatre productions on any side of the pond based on a reality show. Thankfully the LB show didn't allow the audience to decide (oh the humanity!), but still, there are too many qualified individuals pounding the pavements looking for a chance that have to audition along with all the rest. The determined ones who are in the closed room with the deadpan (dead?) casting director or assistant, minus the immediate criticism. You know, the old-fashioned way... So let us hope this lunacy is just a trend. (Though sadly it appears to be becoming a West End phenomenon, though you should check out Seth Rudestky's recaps on playbill - they are brilliant, insightful, honest and HILARIOUS).

As promised, I was at The Dark Knight on July 18 at 12:01. The film is one of the most remarkable achievements of its genre, with much-deserved praise for the performance of Heath Ledger. It's one of iconic stature, and not just because of his unfortunate and untimely death this past January. The boldness and bravery of an actor making such fantastic choices, and making them work brilliantly is a testament to the talent we, the world, have lost. Like so many other great artists we've lost at an early age, from George Gershwin to James Dean to Michael Bennett, we lament the greatness we will never know from Ledger's woefully premature death.

And no, I will not be seeing Mamma Mia! Truth be told, I've not seen Hairspray, Dreamgirls, The Phantom of the Opera, or Rent, so it's not really a big surprise that I wouldn't be seeing a big-screen adaptation of a musical. I saw Sweeney Todd, but since that's one of my all-time favorite shows, I was chomping at the bit to get there. For some reason I don't take as well to the stage musical adapted for screen like I once did, though I still appreciate them immensely.

With Daniel Day-Lewis now signed for the role of Guido Contini in Rob Marshall's film adaptation of Nine and rumored for the film remake of My Fair Lady, do you think he's going to become a full-fledged musical theatre star? The only actor I know who has played both of these uniquely different roles is Jonathan Pryce in a London concert of the former and the 2001 Cameron Mackintosh revival of the latter. I only hope the actress cast as Eliza Doolittle will do her own singing, do it well.

Long-rumored negotiations over the film adaptation of August: Osage County are now officially under way. The show has settled in nicely for what appears to be a decent run, with Amy Morton continuing to tear up the stage as Barbara and Estelle "I can stand on my head" Parsons as Violet. Though we've discussed the play here often enough, I can't get enough of it. The experience I've had as an audience member each time has knocked me for an adrenaline-rushed cathartic loop. However, that said, I feel a film adaptation may lessen the impact experienced when seeing the play when its alive with its electric intensity. Ideally, a taped for PBS version with the original cast would have been the best bet, preserving the legend for all-time, but I'm still intrigued at the prospect of the film. And everyone who's anyone in Hollywood is interested - and rightly so. Thank God Tracy Letts is writing the screenplay.

There's been a huge release of Jerry Herman music on itunes, amazon (digital) and at arkivmusic.com (CD issue). Most notably, they are reissuing the 1967 cast recording of Hello, Dolly! with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, which for my money is the best Dolly recording out there. (Pearlie Mae's sass on "So Long, Dearie" is worth the price of the disc alone). But also, the Original London Cast Recording of the show with Mary Martin is getting its first-ever digital release. I've heard the album from an LP rip I received a couple years back. What's most amusing is Martin's yodeling "ole!" on the second pullback in the title song. I practically fell out of my chair laughing. It's a cute album.

I love my blogging. I love the people I've met taking up this little venture of mine and am grateful for their kinship. Too many people have told me I should be a theatre critic as a result. But if anyone recalls my very first post, waaaay back in October of ought-7, I specifically stated that I refuse to be a critic, and I find that I really must stick to that gun. My blog is my hobby and I daresay, I doubt I will ever write an official "review" for anything ever again. In the meanwhile, I'm also finding myself simultaneously pulling back toward the creative individual I was when I was eighteen; dabbling in opera performance, musical theatre, acting, directing, creative writing, etc. Right now I find myself working on a project that came to me over the weekend. I won't elaborate yet as the sperm has yet to penetrate the wall of the egg. (Wow, how's that for graphic imagery?) Hopefully what I come up might be something of interest to all you out here in Blogsville, ;) For the occasion, I've purchased my very first laptop, so I can have my writing and blogging accessible to me wherever I may go. This venture here has been one of the most satisfying things I've undertaken in a long time and am glad that I can continue to share my thoughts and information with you all. Oh, and of course the youtube/bluegobo videos...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mary Martin Goes to Hollywood

Mary Martin made a cameo as herself in the 1946 Warner Bros. musical Night and Day, quite possibly the most factually inaccurate biopic ever made. Cary Grant starred as a suave and debonair - and decidedly heterosexual - Cole Porter, with Alexis Smith, 17 years Grant's junior as Porter's older wife, Linda. Almost every aspect of his life is made up, exaggerated or just extremely far-fetched. Apparently Porter loved every minute of the fiction they created of his life.

Here Martin recreates her 1938 show-stopping, star-making number "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" from Leave it to Me, which accurately places the number in its original setting: Siberia. What? Oh well... here goes! (Doesn't Jane Wyman look like the eager little beaver?).



I also unearthed this gem of Martin singing "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay" from Happy Go Lucky, a starring vehicle for Martin that didn't jumpstart her film career the way I'm sure the suits would have hoped. This number reminded me of the hilarious floor show number from Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth. (Anyone?)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Doubt, A Movie


With my nine years spent in Catholic elementary school, with nuns and all the fixings, I was incredibly intrigued to see this play when it first opened. I had never seen Cherry Jones before and frankly was wondering what the fuss was about. Until I saw the play. Her performances as Sr. Aloysius was one of the more spectacular I have ever seen and consider myself a big fan. Brian F. O'Byrne was her considerable equal, especially when their conflict came to a breaking point towards the end. Myself and many other theatregoers left the play quite stunned; a final revelation shocking us and leaving many of us with uncertainty as whether which one was to be believed.

Now the film. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman pick up where these two great stage actors have left off. They are joined by Angela Bassett and Amy Adams (two rather exciting bits of casting, I must say). I've got to confess that while I'll be seeing the film, I'm less than excited with at the casting of Streep and Hoffman. I hope come December they can change my mind.

"It's simply that who else...?"

Sure, we've seen this before. But what the hell, life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death! With the recent glut of posts on Auntie Mame and Mame in the blogosphere, it just felt like the right thing to add to the mix. Figure it will tide us over 'til we get our revival. Angie and Bea recreated the song on the 1987 Tony telecast, complete with some of the original Onna White choreography, particular the burlesque bump-and-grind rideout from the "Bosom Buddies" reprise that unfortunately didn't make it onto the original cast album.

I dedicate this one to my fellow bloggers...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Patricia Routledge, Patron of the Beatrix Potter Society

Who knew? Here she is on February 3, 2007 opening the kitchen at the House of The Tailor of Gloucester, a gift shop established by the Beatrix Potter Society to help provide income to keep up their museum.

It's been a while since anything has been posted about this site's favorite musical diva, and since there are no more Kitty monologues to be found online, I figured, why not?

Anyone got a cool $250 million lying around?

From Liz Smith in the NY Post:

'I'M AS corny as Kansas in August!" sings Nellie Forbush.

THE FAMED Rodgers & Hammerstein Music Publishing business, run by Ted Chapin, has put itself on the market for a mere $250 million. This seems like as good a time as any, what with R&H a hit again at Lincoln Center in the brilliant revival of just one of their famous musicals, "South Pacific."

But Chapin isn't selling his other gold mine - the music of Irving Berlin.

"Dixit Dominus/Climb Ev'ry Mountain"

Okay, so everyone is well-versed in the blockbuster film adaptation that we've all grown up with. Julie Andrews twirling on a hillside is one of the most visible images of the American musical in our popular culture. However, the popular success of the original 1959 stage version cannot be forgotten in the mix. Directed by Vincent Donehue, the show was a star vehicle for seemingly ageless Mary Martin, who at 46 would be playing the young postulant Maria (and would famously beat out Ethel Merman for the Tony award).

The show proved more significant as Oscar Hammerstein's swan-song to musical, as he would succumb to stomach cancer less than a year into the show's run (and whose health impacted the out of town creative experience). The Sound of Music opened on November 16, 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NY to mixed notices. Many critics took the show to task for being too saccharine and steeped in operetta rather than following in the innovative footsteps that had defined the early era of Rodgers & Hammerstein through the 1940s and early 50s.

However, the appeal of the show was undeniable. Audiences flocked to see the musical adaptation of the von Trapp Family Singers, keeping the show open in NY for 1,443 performance. The London production, which opened in 1961 without any stars, would go on to become the longest running musical in the West End. Florence Henderson went out on the national tour. However, whatever success the musical had onstage was instantly eclipsed by the unparalleled success of the 20th Century Fox film, which would become the highest grossing film of all time, and win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1965.

In composing a musical steeped in Roman Catholicism, Rodgers found himself researching liturgical music at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. My elementary school music teacher was a delightful nun who once told me in the seventh grade that she was one of those who sang for Rodgers. Of course that pushed her up a few stock points in my book. The chant settings he created are so impressive and authentic sounding, you'd have thought they were part of the original Gregorian hymnal. Ed Sullivan had the actresses playing the nuns appear on his 1959 Christmas special to sing a medley of their chorales, followed by a stirring rendition of the show's first act-ending aria "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" by Patricia Neway. Take note of the critical analysis of the show by the reliably awkward Sullivan in his intro. Enjoy!


Quote of the Day

Steven Suskin weighs in on the New Broadway Cast Recording of South Pacific, as well as the archival video of the original London production with Mary Martin:

It can, however, be a dangerous thing to allow modern-day interpreters to restore material that the authors saw fit to cut; these decisions were usually made for a pretty good reason. Consider Hammerstein and Logan's original ending, which appears in their preliminary script of Jan. 11, 1949 (about eight weeks before the first performance). As the Seabees prepare to ship out, Cable comes back from Marie Louise Island — alive! "Jeez, we all thought you was dead!" says Billis. "I have been, dead and buried. But they dug me up again" says Cable — who immediately arranges to go back to Bali Ha'i, with a priest, to marry Liat. Which would make for a rather different South Pacific, don't you think?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Musical Theatre Zen: Jerome Kern Revisited

A couple months ago I first posted about the musical theatre zen, as I call it. You know, when you hear a musical theatre song that is just so resplendent it transports you emotionally. I introduced the term by using "All the Things You Are," which might very well be my favorite song, as an example.

Another glorious Hammerstein-Kern number is "Some Girl is on Your Mind," a showstopper that was first introduced in their musical Sweet Adeline in 1929. The musical, which ran for 234 performances at the Hammerstein Theatre, was written as a vehicle for Helen Morgan, who had only two seasons before made a huge splash as Julie LaVerne in the original cast of Show Boat. The plot is paper thin: it concerns Addie, who sings at her father's beer garden in Hoboken and her journey to Broadway stardom, with the trials and tribulations of romance that she encounters on her rise to fame. The show was a huge critical success and audiences came out in droves, though the musical was short-lived as a result of the onset of the Great Depression.The endlessly melodic score featured the gorgeous standard "Why Was I Born?" (which offered NY audiences another chance to see Morgan singing a torch song atop a piano) among many others, but to me, this particular song is a genuine standout.

The song was recorded on John McGlinn's Broadway Showstoppers album.

From Miles Kreuger in the liner notes:

'By the middle of the second act, Addie has stirred the hearts of three young men: Tom Martin, who has turned his affection towards Addie's younger sister; weather James Day; and the shy and kindly composer Sid. They are drinking at a table at the Hoffman House in the company of James Thornton, a real-life vaudevillian veteran back to the 1880s and composer of several major songs of long ago, including "When You Were Sweet Sixteen." (Thornton played himself in this production).

Tom, Jim, and Sid are all thinking of Addie, whose voice drifts in and out. This quartet with male chorus is surely one of the most original and hauntingly beautiful variations on a drinking song in the entire literature of musical theatre."'

The featured singers included Cris Groenendaal, Brent Barrett, George Dvorsky, Davis Gaines and Judy Kaye as the haunting, offstage voice of Addie (who is actually singing a section from "Why Was I Born?" a song she sings in the presence of all the affected gentlemen). The orchestrations are once again from my favorite orchestrator, Robert Russell Bennett.

Mr. Kreuger isn't wrong. While the show is considered to be considerably creaky (with its roots in soap operetta, its not hard to see why), the strength of the score is still admirable. When this song was performed in the Encores! concert presentation of Adeline in 1996, the audience practically tore the house apart. What's fascinating to me is its idea and structure. You have three men singing of the same individual, each singing his own section, they are constantly brought together (assisted by the chorus) building to a soaring finish. However, the song doesn't end with a musical button, but with a wistful coda that decrescendos to very soft and quiet final chord.

Listening to this and "All the Things You Are" back to back, I can't help but feel that Mr. Kern is the greatest melodist in the history of musical theatre. A bold opinion, I'm certain, especially with the beloved Rodgers, Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, et al, et al, who have all contributed great scores and songs of terrific quality and beauty. However for me there is something extra special in the way Kern builds a phrase or takes you from one note to the next. It's sometimes surprising, sometimes stirring and sometimes moving. You may disagree with me on that thought, and that's okay by me - we all have our opinions for sure, but I do feel there is ample evidence to back me up.

You can hear for yourself. Here is Some Girl is on Your Mind. Enjoy.