Saturday, February 28, 2009

In Baguio

I've been in Baguio City for four days now, adapting to the time zone change and taking in the local sights amidst family obligations. My nephew is quite something. He's two weeks old, yet looks older. He is already trying to lift up his head and can hold his own bottle. We are staying on the grounds of Camp John Hay, formerly John Hay Air Base, a recreational facility originally built at the turn of the 20th century as a getaway for soldiers. We are situated a mile above sea level, so the climate is rather temperate in comparison to the rest of the country. The highs here have been around 80 degrees with low humidity. When the US military lease on their bases ended here in 1991, all properties reverted back to the Filipino government and they began working on adapting the property for public use. They brought in Jack Nicklaus to redesign the golf course (a sport I don't particularly have any interest in, but am expected to play in the next week) and demolished most of the military buildings and facilities. They have turned it into a prominent tourist attraction for the wealthy in Asia. We are currently renting the private residence of a general who owns the home, but is rarely ever here. The place offers practically every amenity you can think of, so there have been many walks, hikes and time spent out in the sun. (I am a rather startling shade of red at the moment). I've also just started adjusting to the new sleep schedule. Tonight is the first night I've stayed up past 11PM and I've been getting up around 7AM. Who'd have thought it?

I arrived midnight on Wednesday where I met my brother at the Clark International Airport (formerly Clark Airbase, and one of the largest airstrips in the world). There is one thing I really enjoy when I fly and that is disembarking on the tarmac. There's something decidedly old school about that, like in the older films. We got a taxi to take us to the bus station. Fate was on our side and the moment we arrived at the station, a bus to Baguio arrived. It's a four and a half hour ride from Angeles to Baguio. After enduring one of the coldest rides (I had to put my sweater back on and unearth my scarf - my brother, who lives in the incredibly hot Singapore, borrowed my fleece and has yet to actually not wear it). We arrived at Clark at 5 in the morning where we quickly passed out.

Things have been mostly lowkey, trips to town to see the baby and walking around for the most part. My father has been helping my brother paint the in-law's home in the downtown area. We've all had ample time to spend with the baby (one of two newborns currently in the vicinity - my sister-in-law comes from a family of seven children, twenty-five grandchildren and an undecided amount of great-grandchildren - almost all living in town). Loving the exchange rate and iced green tea lattes at Starbucks. There is one in the major mall across the street from my sister-in-law's home and here on the Camp John Hay grounds. The one thing I cannot get over is the politeness of the baristas. They ask for your name on the cup, greet you with the name you've given. The kicker? When you're leaving they wish you a goodbye -by name. I am going to like it here.

The only nightmare? The driving. How I long for the braving of New York City traffic. Every time you cross a street here, you only dare at your own risk and your life is in question. We will be venturing out of town for some day trips and the absorption of the local culture. Will keep you posted on where we go and what we do!

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's Lovely Up Here

It seems hardly possible that only 24 hours ago I was sitting in the terminal at JFK waiting to board. It feels oh so much longer. I have never been able to sleep well on a plane. Comfort (unless traveling in first or business) is impossible, especially if there is a language barrier between yourself and most of the people on board the plane. I am exhausted, to say the least (as I check the time stamp, it says February 23, 2009 @ 11:22PM, however I'm actually fourteen hours ahead of my own blog).

I settled into my window seat for the beginning of my odyssey that will culminate in Baguio City. I normally enjoy the window seat, but only if I'm traveling with people and therefore am less inclined to feel awkward about having to get up to walk around or use the facilities. Adding to this, my seat partners were an elderly special assistance couple over whom I had to climb in order to get to my seat. They were lovely. We only briefly exchanged words once in a while, but it was mostly an unspoken camaraderie. It was an entirely different perspective being on board an Asian-based aircraft where I was, as my half Vietnamese friend Anh put it, the minority.

Settling into the flight, I was eager with anticipation and excitement. No matter the circumstances, I have always loved flying. Everything about the experience has been nothing short of pleasant for me. There is an anticipation in slowly moving toward the runway that overwhelms me. The anticipation builds as the plane accelerates and within seconds there is that brief moment when you are first airborne. You realize you are starting to move higher and higher than anything else in existence.

The last time I flew was four years ago on a trip with my parents to the Changi airport in Singapore. That trip took us across the Atlantic to Frankfurt, then onto our final destination. This trip last night marked the first time I have flown around the North Pole to go anywhere.

After settling in, we were served what the airline deemed a "heavy snack" and then asked to close our window shades. I decided to check out the inflight entertainment. There wasn't much to consider, so I watched the recent Ghost Town which was rather pleasant (and correct me if I'm wrong SarahB, did they film it in your neighborhood?) especially because of the hilarious antics of Ricky Gervais. The film is about an irritable dentist who accidentally dies during a routine colonoscopy and wakes up to find he can see and hear dead people. They want him to help them wrap up unfinished business so they can move on. He is not so cooperative. Greg Kinnear plays a recently deceased man who wants him to help his widow, the lovely Tea Leoni move on with her life, but not marry a total scuzzball like himself (a hilariously heroic Bill Campbell). Among the sightings were the always-dependable Dana Ivey, Alan Ruck, Aaron Tveit, Brad Oscar as a put-upon doorman, Brian d'Arcy James as an excitable dead Irishman, Claire Lautier as an exceedlingly chatty patient (with an unexpectedly profound place in the story), and in a blink and you'll miss it, Broadway couple Lisa Datz and Jimmy Ludwig in a bar scene. (Ludwig, who I had the privilege of meeting after Spamalot through a mutual friend, was one of two standbys in Spamalot, covering for the Historian, Not Dead Fred, Patsy, Prince Herbert, Sir Bedevere, Sir Lancelot and Sir Robin). Another blink and you'll miss was Julia Murney as a Sneezy Lady (sneezing has a clever place in the script). It would be somewhat formulaic if it weren't for the freshness brought to the proceedings by Mr. Gervais, one of the funniest men in the world. Definitely worth checking out.

I failed to sleep after this. Getting an hour here, a few minutes there. Never finding comfort and trying to put myself to sleep in spite of the surroundings. Frustrated I gave up and decided to peek out of my window shade. And that, ladies and gentleman, offered one of the most breathtaking natural sights of the trip. We were near the North Pole at this point. I couldn't see anything below at all. There was some cloud cover and, let's face it, there would be no unnatural light sources in these parts. The sky was filled with the crystalline blaze of stars, yet there was also this eerie translucent glow. After a moment, I realized I was seeing the aurora borealis for the first time. There is something humbling about seeing something pure in our natural world.

After gaping for a few minutes, I tried to sleep again. When that failed, I hopped over to the classics channel on the inflight and watched the brilliant film adaptation of Julius Caesar for the first time. The film starred Marlon Brando as Marc Anthony, James Mason as Brutus and as a standout among giants, John Gielgud as Cassius. All three are just phenomenal. Brando wasn't quite thirty when he took on this role, but it's a powerhouse of a turn, especially when he delivers the stirring "Lend me thine ear" speech after Caesar's death. It's a rather superlative adaptation, produced by John Houseman and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. MGM pulled out the casting stops for this one with appearances by many of their best stock players. Louis Calhern is unexpectedly strong as the ill-fated title character. Edmond O'Brien was Casca. For the brief female cameos, they brought in Greer Garson, looking like a goddess as Calpurnia and Deborah Kerr as Portia. The film was a big success in 1953, with Oscar nominations for Best Picture (lost to From Here to Eternity), Best Actor - Marlon Brando (lost to William Holden in Stalag 17), Best Cinematography - Black & White (lost to From Here to Eternity), Best Score (losing to Lili), but winning for its Art Direction and Set Decoration. Truth be told, I didn't expect this film to be as effective as it was. Let me correct that: I didn't expect it to hold up as well in 2009. I am so glad to be pleasantly surprised.

I await my plane to the Philippines, relaxing (napping) in the airport lounge and taking advantage of all it has to offer (Thank you, Starbucks - and free wifi). I leave in six hours, so I will fill that time with some reading (napping). I will keep you posted on the next leg of this journey. By this time tomorrow I shall be in Baguio City with my family and baby nephew.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bon Voyage!

Well kids, I leave tonight for the Philippines. There will be time spent relaxing, enjoying warmer weather but there will be no vacationing from the blog. The last time I flew out of the country was about four years ago, when I didn't travel with a cell phone, wasn't hooked to Facebook, MySpace and only got to check my email at brief intervals. How far our technology has come in so little time that I will be in constant wifi hotspots wherever I go.

I've been a little absent the last week as I've had a lot to do in order to get ready to go. First stop, the Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul, Korea, where I will endure a 15 hour layover. Then it's off to Clark Airport (formerly Air Base while the US military was around) in Angeles in Luzon, the large island in the Philippine archipelago (you know, I have always liked that word). An overnight and a five hour bus ride and I'll hit my final destination some time mid Wednesday (late Tuesday/early Wednesday for those of you here). Hope you all enjoy great theatre while I'm away and look forward to keeping up with the news while I'm abroad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Patricia Routledge!

The site's resident Britcom favorite turns 80 years old today. Though she never had much success in the NY theatre scene, her performances were always greeted with love letters from the critics and winning her a Tony in the process. In her native England, she found greater success appearing in the original cast of Noises Off! as Dotty Otley and would become internationally known as Hyacinth Bucket in the series Keeping Up Appearances. While I still search for that lost clip of "Not on Your Nellie" from an appearance with Ed Sullivan, here is a brief clip from her last series, the successful but short-lived Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. Her co-star is Dominic Monaghan from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the TV series Lost.

And for old time's sake....

Something you don't see everyday...

Here's Ethel Merman and Susan Watson performing "Mutual Admiration Society" from the former's musical Happy Hunting on the 1963 sitcom pilot episode of Maggie Brown. The series, about a widow trying to raise her daughter while running a nightclub next to a Marine Corps base was never sold. Here's a taste of what the show was like:

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's My Line - "Gypsy" Edition

To think the most high profile of stars made appearances as mystery guests on the long running series "What's My Line?" throughout the 50s and 60s. Do you think a game show of this sort would be popular today?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Here He Is, World

Here's Jack...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's Time for a Love Song

Every Valentine's Day over at, they poll as many theatre luminaries as possible asking them their opinion on the most romantic Broadway song. It's always an eclectic list with several choice repeats and some surprises along the way as well. Special thanks to Sarah for reminding me. Without further ado, I offer mine:

After due consideration (and oh my are there many to consider), I would have to choose "All the Things You Are" from Very Warm for May. The song was initially performed as a double duet with the verse delivered as twin soliloquies by a couple unable to express their love for each other due to their own inhibitions. The more famous chorus section is a couple currently onstage in rehearsal (I failed to mention, this is a backstage musical with a show-within-a-show) expressing unabashedly those yearning emotions (and of course assisted by the full chorus). The haunting melody is from Jerome Kern and the lyric, which paints a poetic picture of romantic yearning, is from Oscar Hammerstein. (Special shout-out to Robert Russell Bennett for his always spectacular orchestration).

Here is that original arrangement from the 1991 album "Broadway Showstoppers" conducted by John McGlinn. Jeanne Lehman, Cris Groenendaal, Rebecca Luker and George Dvorsky are the principal soloists. Enjoy:

The refrain:

You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
Some day my happy arms will hold you,
And some day I'll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine!

Okay. Now it's your turn!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gwen Verdon - "The Pony Dance"

Gwen Verdon recreates "The Pony Dance" from New Girl in Town on a 1962 television special about the American Musical Theatre. Verdon won her third Tony award (in a tie with co-star Thelma Ritter) for this musical adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Here she is assisted by the show's original choreographer, none other than Bob Fosse.

It's Today!

Call me Uncle Lindsay! I'm pleased to announce that my nephew, Jack Ezra Daly, was born around 10AM Philippine time in Baguio City. Son and mother are healthy and resting well. Only less than two weeks 'til I venture out to the other side of the world to get a glimpse.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Katharine Hepburn did it first...

When Katharine Hepburn died in 2003, the executors of her estate donated her personal papers regarding theatre to the NY Library for the Performing Arts and her film related materials to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Among the theatre-related notes is this, which strikes a familiar chord with recent theatregoers (text courtesy of USA Today):

A letter of apology from a woman named Paula Phillips, who had photographed Hepburn during West Side Waltz in Boston. Hepburn stopped midperformance to yell at Phillips to "get out of the theater!" Wrote the chastened shutterbug: "This was the first time I have brought a camera into a theatre. I learned a bitter and very unpleasant lesson."

"Music in the Air" at Encores!

I was stunned walking out after Music in the Air at the City Center that I had completely forgotten the melody to "I've Told Every Little Star." I spent the entire intermission humming the oft-repeated hit song from this lost Kern & Hammerstein show until the lights went down. We were even treated to yet another encore during the second act. But lo and behold, as I was walking down the steps from the gallery the only song that I could recall was the rapturous "The Song is You."

The musical, last seen in NY in a 1985 Town Hall concert revival (with John Reardon, Patrice Munsel, Kurt Peterson and Rebecca Luker), was a moderate success for Kern and Hammerstein in 1932, running for 342 performances and spawning two popular song hits (care to venture a guess there...?). A film version starring Gloria Swanson was released in 1934.

To say Music in the Air has a creaky libretto would be a colossal understatement. The story is highly contrived and was initially meant to be more of a send-up of operetta conventions than anything else. Naive country folks, a doctor, his beloved daughter, her love interest and... brace yourself... their walking club (also the choral singing society) go to Munich. The doctor, an amateur musician, has written a song and the townsfolk insist it is so good that he must have it published. Words are by the love interest. They will take it to his school friend turned music publisher. Of course the daughter will sing it and win over the publisher, as well as the lotharious librettist and his lover-muse-prima donna in residence. Both larger than life characters use the two naive kids as pawns in their romantic battles leading to the young girl starring in a new operetta in Munich. Oh, did I mention there was lederhosen? Yes, it's that kind of show.

Now before you think all "gee willickers, it's just like 42nd Street," it's not. There is an unusual honesty in the second act about the difficulties of show business, with the disagreeable musical director dropping the necessary truth bombs in order for the show to become a hit. He asks if its unfair that the livelihood of seventy or so people be threatened by a rank amateur with dreams of being on the stage. The girl agrees and goes back to Munich, humiliated only in her love life, but eyes opened to cosi fan tutti. Everything about it isn't quite so appealing. But never fear, there are still two numbers and two romantic couplings to be repaired, all accompanied by the orchestra and the necessary plot machinations.

Okay. It isn't much. In fact, it's a bit of a stretch. However, there is much to enjoy in the soaring Kern-Hammerstein score. Romantic, melodic and enough pastoral imagery to get us through until the next revival of The Sound of Music, it's hard to resist. Interestingly, the team had just written the musical Show Boat which was one of the first attempts at progression in the musical as an art form. You had a show that combined elements, took on darker themes and bucked trends to create a powerful theatre experience, with most of the score serving dramatic functions for plot and character with some of the period crowd-pleasers tossed in for good measure. With Music in the Air (which would be Hammerstein's last success until Oklahoma!) the team composed an entirely diegetic score, which is unusual for a musical. Most especially unusual for an operetta. Whenever a musical theatre song is diegetic it means that the character is aware that he or she is singing. For instance, Sally Bowles singing "Cabaret" or the "Parlor Songs" in Sweeney Todd. (This is also where the choral society walking to Munich comes to play. Again, it creaks... but alas that is period convention for you).

The show was given the usual Encores! treatment, with emphasis placed on the score and giving the audience a chance to hear fully restored orchestrations by the great Robert Russell Bennett, the premier orchestrator of the early years of the American musical. Sierra Boggess and Ryan Silverman were the young lovers, vanilla extract and all. It took a few minutes for the show to get jump-started. That happened when stars Douglas Sills and Kristin Chenoweth took the stage as the larger than life divas. They get the funniest moments and some of the better musical numbers (for instance the scenelet where they present the first act of the new show and "The Song is You"). Add to this sight gag of Sills towering over the diminutive Chenoweth, decked out as a brunette and dressed to the nines in period gowns. Dick Latessa and Marni Nixon are on hand to lend some minor support in the second half, the latter stopping the show with a wistful recollection of her hit solo (so many shades of Heidi Schiller in Follies I can't even begin to tell you...)

While the show itself is virtuable unrevivable, I am grateful for the opportunity to see such a lost show. As one who appreciates seeing and hearing musical scores live, I relish in these opportunities - especially if there isn't a cast album available to give the full experience. But I have to say having limited expectations, I was surprisingly charmed by the experience. Encores! tends to mix things up a bit, throwing out titles that aren't as lost as their initial mission statement would lead you to believe, but also allowing us to see a show like the troublesome cult flop Juno, or the 1932 revue Face the Music.

Moving from the hills of Germany to the realm of Missitucky, the City Center's third and final installment for this season will be the satiric Finian's Rainbow from March 26-29. Now, if they would only listen give me Darling of the Day, Donnybrook!, A Time for Singing and Very Warm for May.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: "30 Rock" Edition

"It will be the performance of a lifetime. Like Julie Harris in The Belle of Amherst."

-The Generalissimo, as played by Alec Baldwin

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lisa Kirk - "The Gentleman is a Dope"

The complete studio cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1947 musical Allegro came out this week. While I'm waiting for the chance to hear it, I figured I'd tide myself over with Lisa Kirk lending that rich alto to the score's most famous song, "The Gentleman is a Dope."

Allegro, the team's first wholly original musical, was highly experimental in its form and structure as it told an allegorical tale of an everyman who finds success, corruption and ultimately disillusionment in the "Big City." It was met with mixed reaction by the critics and audiences, running a respectable if disappointing 315 performances. The show's original cast album runs a mere 33 minutes, presenting highlights of what is a very unique score. Allegro was revived for a radio broadcast on NBC radio in 1951 starring John Lund and Jane Powell. It was also the second production of the very first season at Encores! back in 1994 (when it was still more of a concert than a concert staging).

The new album from Sony Classics features every note of the vocal score on two discs with the voices of Patrick Wilson, Audra McDonald, Liz Callaway (in the Lisa Kirk role), Laura Benanti, Judy Blazer, Ashley Brown, opera star Nathan Gunn, Maureen Brennan, Norbert Leo Butz, Marni Nixon (who I'm excited to be seeing this weekend in the Encores! production of Music in the Air) and the master himself, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Long overdue, we now have an officially complete recording of one of the most intriguing scores of the 1940s. Now all we have to do is wait for a complete cast recording of Weill & Lerner's Love Life.

As for Kirk, she went onto originate Lois Lane in Kiss Me Kate and would later replace Janis Paige in Here's Love and offered great support in the original Broadway production of that cult favorite Mack and Mabel. Her final appearance on Broadway was in the 1984 revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living as Grace Torrence. Her most noted work in film was as the vocal double for Rosalind Russell in the 1962 film version of Gypsy. Russell stated in her autobiography that she sang every note heard in the film, which is quite far from the truth. The recent soundtrack album release included the original tracks that Russell laid down in the studio before they decided to bring in Kirk, who sang the score in the lowest keys I've ever heard it sung. Rumor has it that after Ethel Merman died, recordings of Russell's performances of the Gypsy numbers were found in her apartment. One can only imagine...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Get Your Own Tony

Costume designer Florence Klotz's 1985 Tony award for her work on the flop musical Grind has surfaced on E-bay. The starting bid is $10,000.00, and it includes costume sketches for characters played by Ben Vereen and Stubby Kaye. However, in lieu of the bidding, you can buy it now for $20,000.00. Her win was prior to the Tony Medallion Receipt Agreement so this auction is not in violation of any Tony rules. The receipt agreement provides that the Tony Awards have the right of first refusal of any medallions prior to public sale. There is a similar agreement with the Academy Awards that has been in effect there since 1950, where people must sell their statuettes back to the Academy for $1. So if any of you lucky readers have some spare change lying around, you can bid on the late Ms. Klotz's Tony award here. However, I highly doubt it's as rewarding as getting one the old-fashioned way...