Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quote of the Day: "One of the Boys" Edition

The invaluable Janney juggles acerbity and warmth with flair in the Lily Tomlin role. She's no great singer but is frequently buffered by the superior pipes of her co-stars and handles solo duties with assurance and decent pitch. Violet's splashy "One of the Boys" is a knowingly cheesy late-'70s-style showstopper that recalls Lauren Bacall sashaying and barking through numbers in "Woman of the Year."

- Variety on 9 to 5

The comparison seem to make sense... Janney could do well in a series of musical theatre acting roles that require less in the singing department. But does anyone recall the title of Lauren Bacall's act one showstopper in Woman of the Year, which also served as the show's Tony performance? That's right. "One of the Boys." Just thought I'd draw attention to that. Meanwhile, Janney would be a perfect choice to headline a revival of Woman of the Year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Princess Leia & Atticus Finch for the '09-'10 Broadway season?

It's being reported today that Carrie Fisher's autobiographical solo show Wishful Drinking will open on Broadway at Studio 54 this October. Fisher leaves no stone unturned about her life as she delves her razor sharp wit into every aspect: from being the child of two major stars (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher), to pop culture icon/nerd sex symbol as Princess Leia in Star Wars, through her battles with drugs, alcohol and depression. Carrie's evening has also been published in book form, and her story is so hilarious to read, I cannot wait to see it live. The show has been touring various venues throughout the country to considerable success, with the hopes of coming to NY. This will mark Fisher's first appearance on Broadway since a replacement stint as Agnes in Agnes of God back in 1983. Carrie made her Broadway debut as a teenager in the chorus of her mother's revival of Irene in 1973. Flop enthusiasts will remember Fisher from the 5-performance bomb Censored Scenes from King Kong in 1980. Fisher has gone to a stellar career as a writer and actress, including her recent Emmy-nominated guest spot as Liz Lemon's idol on 30 Rock. It looks as though we've got our first serious contender for next year's Theatrical Event awards!

Also, a small item in Playbill on Opening Night's first night account of Desire Under the Elms mentions that Matthew Modine hopes to play Atticus Finch in a Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The article mentions Jeffrey Richards as producer, but there has been no other word about this play. The play itself was originally adapted by Christopher Sergel for use on an academic level; however the writer has frequently revised the work and it is a staple of stock and regional companies throughout the country. It has yet to be performed on a Broadway stage. However, given the definitive nature of the Oscar winning film, it feels as if a stage version isn't entirely necessary. As it is one of my top three favorite books of all time (and one of my favorite films to boot), I'll definitely be there if and when it happens.

Not "Today"

You gotta take the rough with the here goes. We looked at Seth Rudetsky's fantastic deconstruction of Angela Lansbury leading the company in "It's Today" from the original cast album of Mame last week. Well, I just stumbled on this clip of the same number from the notorious film version starring Lucille Ball. The film does everything it can to cater to its highly miscast star, who apparently put up the money for the project. The keys have been dropped, the tempo is erratic and the orchestrations have been muted from their brassy highs. The emotions are forced, the energy lacking, plus Onna White's choreography seems a bit much for such a cramped looking apartment. (I wonder how many people got kicked in the head during rehearsals/shooting). The most criminal thing: there is absolutely no joy. The only thing impressive about this entire mess is Lucy's hitch kick toward the end of the number (well, she was 62 and recuperating from a broken leg...)

While I'll always love Lucy, it will never be for Mame.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"A Little Night Music" Revival Likely This Fall

The import of Trevor Nunn's hit London revival of A Little Night Music looks like it might be back on track for an unspecified opening date in December. According to Playbill, a casting notice has gone out from producers specifying that all roles are open, though it insists that dates are "tentative." The musical was last seen in NY this past January in a gala concert for the Roundabout Theatre Company starring the late Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. Both actresses were poised to star in the planned full-scale revival until Richardson's tragic death last month, when the production was put on hold. No official announcement has been made, but it appears from the casting call one might not be far behind. The article lists as producers: David Babani for Chocolate Factory Productions, Andrew Fell and the Frankel, Viertel, Baruch, Routh Group.

Doris Eaton Travis Still Hoofing at 105

The last living performer from the original Ziegfeld Follies, 105 year old Doris Eaton Travis has become a perennial fixture at the BC/EFA Easter Bonnet competition where she offers a brief tap routine that is one of the highlights of the annual event. Travis, in remarkable health and high spirits, was profiled in Sunday's New York Times by Ralph Blumenthal.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, y’all.

The first time an Edna Ferber novel was adapted into a musical the genre was changed forever with Kern & Hammerstein's Show Boat. The libretto marked a huge departure for Hammerstein, who had written many operettas up to that point. He found a way to tell the story onstage as a musical, while establishing a structure out of the sprawling scope of the original novel. His adaptation of the novel was a major stepping stone for the musical as a serious art form as it marked the first time that darker themes permeated the American musical with characters dealing with miscegenation, alcoholism, failed marriage, etc.

Lightning didn't strike twice, however, when Ferber's novel Saratoga Trunk became the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer-Morton da Costa musical Saratoga in 1959. Starring Howard Keel and Carol Lawrence, fresh from her success in West Side Story, the show received poor notices and closed after 80 performances.

Then there's Giant. The story is probably best remembered in its Oscar-winning film adaptation starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It tells of Jordan Bick Benedict, a Texas cattle baron who brings his Virginia socialite to live on his ranch in Texas and their ongoing battle with jealous handyman turned oil tycoon Jett Rink over several generations. It's got everything you can think of: romance, drama, racial and sexual tensions, etc, all set against the sweeping backdrop of the Texas landscape.

Now fifty years following the failure of Saratoga on Broadway, a musical version of Giant, with a score by the Michael John LaChiusa, book by Sybille Pearson and the direction of Jonathan Butterall, receives its world premiere at the Signature Theatre today. The new work is the first presentation in the American Musical Voices Project sponsored by the Shen Family Foundation and stars Lewis Cleale, Betsy Morgan, Ashley Morgan, Judy Blazer and John Dossett. The show isn't shying away from its status as an epic: the show's website says it runs three and a half hours, divided into three acts (and is also where I got the title for this entry). According to a post on All That Chat, an email is going around letting ticketholders know that the running time is now approximately four hours, with two 15-minute intermissions. Curtain times are nightly at 7PM; matinees at 1PM. The post also says that the the lobby is offering a three course "Taste of Texas" meal. The first course, served preshow, is chowder and corncake. The next course is quesadilla with salsa at first intermission and a pecan tart is served at the second intermission. It may not be a marathon of The Norman Conquests, but it certainly seems like a full event.

It should be interesting to see how the new show is received. Larger scale musicals based on large-scale novels tend to vary in their success. Of course, there has been Show Boat, Les Miserables and Ragtime. But then again there has also been Here's Where I Belong (East of Eden), Ari (Exodus), Gantry (Elmer Gantry), Shogun - the Musical, Angel (Look Homeward Angel), the aforementioned Saratoga, and Jane Eyre. Plus there have been two versions of Gone with the Wind. Harold Rome's adaptation was a major success as Scarlett in Japan and a minor success under the original title in London. However, the American production flopped out of town. The second adaptation by Margaret Martin opened in London last year to blistering reviews and shuttered after 79 performances.

As a fan both the original novel and film adaptation of Giant, I'm looking forward to the reactions of both the audiences and critics and am almost nuts enough to consider traveling down to DC to see it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kritzerland Does It Again!

Following the highly successful limited releases of Anya and Illya, Darling on CD, Kritzerland is bringing us their next offering: the first ever CD issue of the 1968 off-Broadway revival of Harold Arlen and Truman Capote's House of Flowers. The original 1954 Broadway production struck out with critics (mostly over the book, of course) and lasted 165 performances. Saint-Subber, the original producer and Capote felt that the production was too big for such an intimate story, so they reworked the show for a smaller venue. However, this production at the Theatre de Lys in 1968 proved even more shortlived than the original, lasting only 57 performances. The recent concert at Encores! also proved the book was mostly unworkable in spite of the phenomenal Arlen-Capote score (which gave the world such great songs as "One Man (Ain't Quite Enough)," "A Sleeping Bee," "I Never Has Seen Snow," "Two Ladies in de Shade of de Banana Tree," and "Don't Like Goodbyes").

Having never heard this particular recording, I would find it hard to believe it will live up to the essential original Broadway cast album with Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll and Juanita Hall. However, this particular album is essential for my fellow aficionados because it has several songs not present on the original cast recording as well as different, more authentically Caribbean orchestrations from Joe Raposo, who would later find great success for his musical contributions to "Sesame Street." Kudos to Bruce Kimmel and the folks at Kritzerland for giving us yet another long forgotten album (and with this the third United Artists LP being put on CD, I hope it's not long until the London Promises, Promises with Tony Roberts and a sublime Betty Buckley comes to disc). This will be another limited release of 1,000 copies only.

2008-2009 Drama Desk Nominations

Outstanding Play:
Annie Baker, Body Awareness
Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Neil LaBute, reasons to be pretty
Lynn Nottage, Ruined
Michael Weller, Fifty Words
Craig Wright, Lady

Outstanding Musical:
9 to 5
Billy Elliot The Musical
Liza's at the Palace….
Shrek The Musical
The Story of My Life

Outstanding Revival of a Play:
Blithe Spirit
Exit the King
Mary Stuart
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical:
Enter Laughing The Musical
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Actor in a Play:
Simon Russell Beale, The Winter's Tale
Reed Birney, Blasted
Raúl Esparza, Speed-The-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Daniel Radcliffe, Equus
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play:
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Elizabeth Marvel, Fifty Words
Jan Maxwell, Scenes From an Execution
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical:
James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Daniel Breaker, Shrek The Musical
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing The Musical
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!
Will Swenson, Hair

Outstanding Actress in a Musical:
Stephanie J. Block, 9 to 5
Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Allison Janney, 9 to 5
Karen Murphy, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play:
Brian d'Arcy James, Port Authority
Jeremy Davidson, Back Back Back
Peter Friedman, Body Awareness
Ethan Hawke, The Winter's Tale
Pablo Schreiber, reasons to be pretty (Off-Broadway)
Jeremy Shamos, Animals Out of Paper

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play:
Rebecca Hall, The Cherry Orchard
Zoe Kazan, The Seagull
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Carey Mulligan, The Seagull
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical:
Hunter Foster, Happiness
Demond Green, The Toxic Avenger
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5
Bryce Ryness, Hair
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical:
Farah Alvin, The Marvelous Wonderettes
Christina Bianco, Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey

Outstanding Director of a Play:
Sarah Benson, Blasted
Michael Blakemore, Blithe Spirit
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Terry Kinney, reasons to be pretty
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Kate Whoriskey, Ruined

Outstanding Director of a Musical:
Walter Bobbie, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot The Musical
Joe Mantello, 9 to 5
Jason Moore, Shrek The Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Stuart Ross, Enter Laughing The Musical

Outstanding Choreography:
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot The Musical
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Shonn Wiley, My Vaudeville Man!

Outstanding Music:
Neil Bartram, The Story of My Life
Zina Goldrich, Dear Edwina
Elton John, Billy Elliot The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show
Jeanine Tesori, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Lyrics:
Neil Bartram, The Story of My Life
Jason Robert Brown, 13
Marcy Heisler, Dear Edwina
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Dolly Parton, 9 to 5
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show

Outstanding Book of a Musical:
Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, This Beautiful City
Joe DiPietro, The Toxic Avenger
Lee Hall, Billy Elliot The Musical
Brian Hill, The Story of My Life
David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek The Musical
Patricia Resnick, 9 to 5

Outstanding Orchestrations:
Larry Blank, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Bruce Coughlin, 9 to 5
Aaron Johnson and Antibalas, Fela!
Edward B. Kessel, A Tale of Two Cities
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot The Musical
Danny Troob, Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Music in a Play:
Mark Bennett, The Cherry Orchard
Mark Bennett, The Winter's Tale
Dominic Kanza, Ruined
DJ Rekha, Rafta, Rafta…
Richard Woodbury, Desire Under the Elms
Gary Yershon, The Norman Conquests

Outstanding Set Design of a Play:
Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
David Korins, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Neil Patel, Fifty Words
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Set Design of a Musical:
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Anna Louizos, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Thomas Lynch, Happiness
Scott Pask, 9 to 5
Scott Pask, Hair
Basil Twist, Arias With a Twist

Outstanding Costume Design:
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
William Ivey Long, 9 to 5
Michael McDonald, Hair
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Carrie Robbins, Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play:
Marcus Doshi, Hamlet (Theatre for a New Audience)
David Hersey, Equus
Ben Kato, Washing Machine
R. Lee Kennedy, Bury the Dead
Paul Pyant, The Winter's Tale
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical:
Kevin Adams, Hair
Jules Fisher and Kenneth Posner, 9 to 5
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot The Musical
Jason Lyons, Clay
Sinéad McKenna, Improbable Frequency
Richard Pilbrow, A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding Sound Design:
Acme Sound Partners, Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot The Musical
Gregory Clarke, Equus
John Gromada, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)
André J. Pluess, 33 Variations
John H. Shivers, 9 to 5

Outstanding Solo Performance:
Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Frank Blocker, Southern Gothic Novel
Michael Laurence, Krapp, 39
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay
Campbell Scott, The Atheist

Unique Theatrical Experience:
Absinthe (2008 Edition)
Arias With a Twist
Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words
Soul of Shaolin

Outstanding Ensemble Performances
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Norman Conquests

Special Awards
To Liza Minnelli, a "beloved American musical theater icon, for her enduring career of sustained excellence, and her glorious performance in Liza's at the Palace.
To Forbidden Broadway at the end of its nearly three-decade run and "the creators, casts and designers who made it an unparalleled New York institution cherished for its satire and celebration of Broadway."
To Atlantic Theater Company and artistic director Neil Pepe for "exceptional craftsmanship, dedication to excellence and productions that engage, inspire and enlighten."
To TADA! Youth Theater for "providing an invaluable contribution to the future of the theater. The company makes outstanding training and experience accessible and affordable to young people and mounts productions remarkable for their quality and professionalism."

Seth Rudetsky Deconstructs Bea Arthur

He takes a quick look at Bea's work in "Tradition" then settles in for total deconstruction of the perennial showstopper "Bosom Buddies" from the original cast album of Mame.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tovah as Irena

The other evening I went to the Walter Kerr Theatre to see Irena's Vow, which transferred to Broadway after playing downtown at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Tovah Feldshuh's dynamic turn as the unlikely heroine Irena Gut Opdyke is one of the biggest star turns I've seen all season and the reason for the Broadway transfer. Tovah is Irena as an elderly woman and in a drop of a hairpin, is Irena as a teenager. Only onstage could an actress of her incredible range and formidable talent make such a vivid and believable transformation, finding such rich layering to the characterization without ever once losing her endless warmth.

The story of the Polish Catholic housekeeper who successfully hid 12 Jews in the basement of her Nazi employer is a remarkable one, offering a moving portrait of an incredible human being. Irena was born and raised in Poland, and she endured unspeakable cruelties when the Russians made their way into her town. She was later forced to work for the Germans throughout the course of the war, finding herself witnessing atrocities first-hand and feeling helpless to do anything about it. She saves her friends (as she lovingly refers to them all evening) because she once witnessed a newborn baby smashed on the pavement and its mother shot by a Nazi soldier. Finding herself unable to do anything in that moment, she made a vow to herself that she would do whatever she could to save a person's life, which brings us to the play at hand.

The memory play is established as one of Irena's classroom lectures from the late 80s interspersed with a linear flashback recounting her experiences. When Feldshuh talks directly to us, the audience, as her class, is the piece at its most intimate and most riveting. Her sincere portrayal is worthy of many award accolades and nominations from the various parties, commanding the stage for the entire evening. However, the script leaves some to be desired. The play clocks in at an intermissionless ninety minutes, with a questionable structure and an undeniable lack of dimension in the supporting characters. Most frustratingly, the character of Irena's Nazi employer, a most fascinating character, was only marginally given more scope than the rest. There are too many moments when the play feels a bit like paint by numbers history splashed out onstage. Careful rewrites and examining of characters could serve to flesh out the more two-dimensional moments in the play.

However, when it is Irena narrating the story to us, impersonating various characters with such vivid clarity and guiding the audience through the plot that the play finds some strength. It is at these moments that it seems that the story would be best served as a one woman solo show. The script as is would open well into a television movie.

Following the curtain call, Feldshuh took a moment to make a curtain speech on behalf of BC/EFA and also to remind us that it was William Shakespeare's birthday, whom she quoted before introducing Irena's daughter, Janina, who offers a brief question and answer period after most if not all performances. It was during this session we heard incredible stories of what became of Major Rugemer, Irena's life in the US and her reunion with her sisters after about forty years separation from the war.

Irena's Vow is worth seeing for two reasons: its story and its leading lady, giving a transcendent star turn in a play that could be and should be much better than it is. In spite of its flaws, the story still captivates and I could not help but be fascinated with the plot unfolding. There was scarcely a dry eye in the house by the time of the play's conclusion, one celebrating the powers of forgiveness and redemption.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Quote of the Day: Angie Remembers Bea

"Bea Arthur and I first met when we did Mame together in 1965. She became and has remained 'My Bosom Buddy' ever since. I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain. I spoke to Matt, her son, yesterday and I was aware that her time was imminent. She was a rare and unique performer and a dear, dear friend."

- Angela Lansbury on the death of her beloved friend and former costar, Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur (1922-2009)

A legend of Broadway and television (and the master of droll comedy), Bea Arthur has died today at her home in California. The Emmy and Tony winning actress was 86 and the cause was cancer. Arthur, born Bernice Frankel in 1922, was distinctive for her height and bass-baritone voice, not to mention her incisive wit, and found a real niche in playing strong, sardonic women.

Arthur was a staple of NY theatre of the 1950s, appearing in the original off-Broadway cast of Marc Blitzstein's acclaimed production of The Threepenny Opera, standing by for Shirl Conway in Plain and Fancy and appearing in the original casts of Seventh Heaven and The Shoestring Revue. In the mid-60s, Arthur had back to back successes in two smash hit shows: as the original Yente, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof and her Tony-winning triumph as the booze-addled bosom buddy Vera Charles in the original cast of Mame, a role she'd repeat in the disastrous 1974 film adaptation. (I had just commented only the other day that she is the only reason to watch the film, shining where the rest of the production does not).

From her New York stage successes, her friend Norman Lear asked her to come to Los Angeles for a one-off guest spot on All in the Family playing the ultra-liberal cousin of Edith Bunker, named Maude. Her sparring with Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker over the presidency of FDR in that episode alone was enough for CBS executives to offer Bea her own spin-off series. Maude premiered the following season and became a controversial success, even more controversial than its original series in its willingness to tackle every taboo subject under the umbrella. In the sixth episode of the series, her character had an abortion, an entire year before the Roe v. Wade decision marking a television first. There was considerable outrage, which only added to the series's success. Maude had six successful years on CBS, ending only because Bea was ready to move on.

Her other successful series came in 1985 with The Golden Girls, in which Arthur was top-billed as divorced substitute teacher Dorothy Zbornak, living with her two best friends and sassy mother in Miami. The second series broke ground as it took a comic look at older women living in contemporary America, with Arthur playing perfectly off her costars Betty White, Rue McClanahan and the late Estelle Getty. It ran for seven years, again ending when Bea decided to move on. A spin-off series putting the remaining three women in a hotel The Golden Palace lasted one season. Bea was awarded with Emmys for her turns on both series. Arthur also starred in the failed series Amanda, an Americanization of the popular Fawlty Towers series from the UK. (And more obscurely, she also appeared in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special). Her film appearances included Lovers and Other Strangers and The History of the World, Part I.

Bea grew up in Maryland, finding confidence and friends in her ability to make wisecracks. Originally, attended college and got a degree as a medical technician, but hated the work. Arthur signed up for acting classes at the New School for Social Research (where everyone seemed to flock, including the similarly deadpan Elaine Stritch, who tells of a failed Golden Girls audition in her one woman show). She got her stage name from her shortlived marriage to writer Robert Alan Aurthur. Arthur was married to director Gene Saks, with whom they had two sons. Bea was also an ardent animal rights activist and a member of PETA. She continued making appearances well into her eighties, with guest spots on Malcolm in the Middle and Curb Your Enthusiasm. There was also touring one woman show And Then There's Bea which came to New York as Bea Arthur on Broadway, earning her a Tony nomination for Best Theatrical Event. Arthur was also a staple on various awards shows, most notably the TV Land awards spoof of Sex and the City with Arthur playing Carrie Bradshaw, as well as the Pam Anderson roast on Comedy Central where Arthur delivered a deadpan reading of Anderson's ribald novel. Arthur is survived by her two sons and two granddaughters.

Thankfully all seasons of The Golden Girls and her film appearances are available on DVD. However, only the first season of Maude has been issued on DVD - and that was two years ago. Sony should seriously consider bringing the remaining five seasons out on DVD, especially for her fans. Here are a couple videos with which we can celebrate Arthur's life and talent. First up is from her first appearance as Maude on All in the Family:

Maude's telethon has turned into an on-air disaster and she has to save it:

This is from Bea's favorite bit on The Golden Girls where Dorothy and Sophia dressed up as Sonny and Cher for a mother-daughter competition.

And this is the hilarious Sex and the City parody:

And finally, here is Bea and her good friend and costar Angela Lansbury reprising their showstopping "Bosom Buddies" from Mame on the 1987 Tony awards.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Will Barbara Cook star in iSondheim?

The pre-Broadway production of this technologically based Sondheim revue by James Lapine was scrapped this past summer due to a lack of capital. Now it seems that Roundabout is considering it as a part of its season next year, as per Michael Riedel in today's NY Post. The big rumor seems to be that Barbara Cook will headline. Cook has made several appearances on Broadway in her one-woman concerts/cabarets over the years, but has not starred in a musical since The Grass Harp folded in 1971. Riedel also mentions that Cook and Elaine Stritch were being sought, while disclosing the tidbit that the two legends do not get along. He cites an insider who knows both stars: if you put them in the same rehearsal hall, "no one would come out alive." Stritch joined Cook onstage for her Metropolitan debut, duetting on "The Grass is Always Greener" from Woman of the Year, but Stritch's work was left off the CD issue of that evening, with nary a mention of her participation.

While I'm not thrilled about the prospect of yet Sondheim revue (have we not exhausted that yet with Side by Side by Sondheim, You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (A Stephen Sondheim Evening), Putting it Together and Marry Me a Little?), I will jump at the opportunity to see Cook back on a Broadway stage.

The article also discusses some interesting offstage drama regarding Irena's Vow. I will be reporting on my experiences with Tovah Feldhuh at the Walter Kerr Theatre in the near future.

A lyric you probably don't know...

This is the opening number from the woefully unrecorded Broadway disaster 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as I posted earlier one of the few shattered remains of the original theatrical concept of a show-within-a-show... (they went through several tries with this slot before arriving on this one for NY). Now just imagine it with a syncopated, distinctively Bernsteinian sound (the melody was recycled as the second theme for Bernstein's "Slava: A Political Overture").

Seriously, I obsess so much about this one, I should write a book about it... or maybe just unearth press photos of Patricia Routledge mid "Duet for One."

"Rehearse!" - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Alan Jay Lerner (m. Leonard Bernstein)
Let’s start looking alive
When we arrive
It’s gonna be great.
Keep that fervor ablaze
And one of these days
It’s gonna be great.

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.

Grindstone under your nose
Up on your toes,
It’s gonna be great.
Keep that fervor ablaze
And one of these days
It’s gonna be great.

If we all have plenty of grit
And if we don’t fall into the pit
Of gloom and
Rehearse, rehearse and don’t stop
And if we do and if we don’t drop
It’s gonna be great.

Don’t let go of the thread
Way up ahead
It’s gonna be great.
Stitch wipe stitch
And you’ll see eventually
It’s gonna be great.

Pray to God as much as you please
He’ll only say,
“Get off of your knees.”
Rise up and rehearse
Rehearse and don’t stop
And if we do and if we don’t drop
It’s gonna be great!

Let’s start knockin’ them dead
Looking ahead
It’s gonna be great.
Let’s make everything pop
For up at the top
It’s gonna be great.

Pray to God as much as you please
He’ll only say,
“Get off of your knees.”
Rise up and rehearse,
Rehearse and don’t stop
And if we do and if we don’t drop
It’s gonna be great!

Let’s start looking alive
When we arrive
It’s gonna be great
Keep that fervor ablaze
And one of these days
It’s gonna be great.

In the course of human events
There’s only one event that makes sense
Rise up and rehearse,
Rehearse and don’t stop
And if we do and if we don’t drop
It’s gonna be great.
Gonna be great!
Gonna be great!
If we rehearse!
If we rehearse!
It’s gonna be great!

At Large Elsewhere: Kiley vs. Lansbury

I posted a few days ago that Peter Filichia recently pitted the winners of Actor and Actress Tonys against each other after discussing whether or not women should be called actors or actresses. According to Filichia, there was a three to one landslide in favor of Lansbury. Here was my response, which is surprisingly posted in its entirety:

This really IS a tough call! Both were giving career-defining performances. Kiley was anchoring the Best Musical winning juggernaut. Lansbury was a revelation as the star-turn diva carrying the latest Jerry Herman vehicle. Wow, I wouldn't want to have had to choose!

However, I think that the votes would have had to go to Lansbury, as she had the bigger challenge, the bigger star turn, and the most to prove. Kiley was already renowned for his musical theatre work, but Lansbury only had nine performances as the third-billed star in Anyone Can Whistle, which wouldn't have been seen by enough of the populace to make a lasting impression. For Lansbury, it was a total transformation from respected character actress into leading lady. Both roles are hard: Kiley had to enchant an audience while making up for a libretto and lyrics that fall short of the mark, comedy and pathos. Kiley's transformation was incredible, too. However, Lansbury, sliding down the banister with a bugle, became the toast of New York with the magazine covers and spreads, and the incredible press and audience buzz. It was the start of Lansbury's Act Two as a musical theatre star/legend.

Looking back on it, La Mancha was the musical apex for Kiley, who would never have another successful musical performance after it, while Lansbury as Mame was the first of so many diverse star turns. (Even Prettybelle in its out-of-town flopping, was important enough to warrant a cast album, and Lansbury cannot herself be faulted in the least for that show's failure).

From a voting perspective, if you were going to vote Man of La Mancha Best Musical, you might be more inclined to vote for Lansbury in an attempt to honor her hard work, discipline, unexpected total triumph and also not let Mame go home without a major Tony. Thank God it's merely speculation and that there is such a thing as an ‘actress’ or we'd have so much more agita than necessary in choosing the apples and oranges of who is the best of the best.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marilyn Cooper (1936-2009)

"What's so wonderful?"

That's the line most closely associated with character actress Marilyn Cooper. Her distinctive delivery of that line in "The Grass is Always Greener," the eleven o'clock showstopper from Woman of the Year was enough for her to win the Tony award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Cooper, a regular supporting actress in countless shows, died yesterday at the age of 72 in the Actor's Fund Home in New Jersey.

Cooper made her Broadway debut in Mr. Wonderful, a vehicle for Sammy Davis Jr, in 1956. The following year she was part of history as Rosalia in the original cast of West Side Story, or the leader of the pro-Puerto Rican faction in "America." It's been reported that Arthur Laurents liked her so much, he wrote the role of Agnes/Amanda in Gypsy specifically for her. (She would also play a variety of roles in Hallelujah, Baby!) Cooper appeared in I Can Get it for You Wholesale, replaced Jane Connell as Gooch in the original Broadway production of Mame (that must have been nothing short of riotous), standing by for Eydie Gorme in Golden Rainbow and understudying Bernadette Peters in the 1971 revival of On the Town (in which she appeared as Lucy Schmeeler), Two by Two, Working and Ballroom. She also made appearances in the all-female Odd Couple revival and Broadway Bound. Her TV appearances included Lilith's mother on Cheers and Fran's paternal grandmother on The Nanny. She was also Mae Peterson in the Tommy Tune national tour of Bye Bye Birdie.

However, it is really the role of Jan Donovan, the frumpy housewife married to Lauren Bacall's ex-husband in Woman of the Year that garnered her what is probably the biggest critical success of her career. The musical was carried by Bacall throughout the entire evening. However, late in the second act Cooper entered in a bathrobe and curlers, with her entire high pitched nasal deadpan delivery. The hilarity grew out of the incredible dichotomy of the women's lives: one a successful career woman, the other a housewife and mother - and a friendly expression of their envy for each other. Suffice it to say, Cooper walked away with the show. Cooper took home the Drama Desk and Tony awards for her work. To see the scene and song in all its glory, click here.

The cast album performance of the song captures every nuance of humor, making it one of the most enjoyable cuts on a theater album (which is out of print for whatever reason). A comic talent like Ms. Cooper's doesn't come around so often. Though never a star, she was one of the most reliable professionals in the NY theatre scene and her death is definitely a big loss to musical comedy fans.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Amy Morton, Amy Morton, Amy Morton

Amy Morton, the Tony-nominated powerhouse who gave what I think was the greatest performance of any I saw last season, returns to the Broadway company of August: Osage County on May 26. Phylicia Rashad will be donning the teal pajamas of Violet Weston on that same day. Morton left the NY production in October 12, taking a well-deserved rest before shipping off to London for the National Theatre production that opened in November.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

[title of show] celebrates [tony eligibility]

Do you think George Furth ever dressed up like a giant Tony...?

The [tos] kids start their own viral Tony campaign (with special guest star Allison Janney!):

Also, check out the Jeffigibility chart. Jeff has deconstructed the Tony award eligibility for every possible nominee for every single show that has opened this season.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"The Story Goes On"

This song has been popping up a lot on my ipod (as referenced a few days ago in a previous post) and found this in my internet searches. It's Liz Callaway in the original Broadway production of Baby in 1983. Quality is poor, but Callaway is stunning. Enjoy.

And the Pulitzer Prize Goes to...


Congratulations to playwright Lynn Nottage for the prestigious win. The play is running off-Broadway at MTC's City Center Stage I until May 10. Perhaps with the win, an extension might be in order. It's been a mixed year for the Manhattan Theatre Club. Their off-Broadway shows have been met with far more success than anything on-Broadway at the Biltmore this season. Regardless, kudos on the win to all those involved, including Chicago's Goodman Theatre, where the play had its world premiere.

According to Playbill, other finalists for the prize were Second Stage's Becky Shaw and the Tony-winning In the Heights. Interesting selections.

Outer Critics Circle Nominations

Today is a big day for theatre awards: the Outer Critics Circle nominations have been announced and later this afternoon, the Puliter Prize for Drama will be announced.

Outstanding New Broadway Play
God of Carnage
Irena's Vow
reasons to be pretty
33 Variations

Outstanding New Broadway Musical
Billy Elliot: The Musical
Rock of Ages
Shrek the Musical
A Tale of Two Cities

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play
Becky Shaw
Farragut North
Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)
Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical
Rooms: A Rock Romance
The Toxic Avenger
What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding New Score (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Billy Elliot: The Musical
Rooms: A Rock Romance
Shrek The Musical

Outstanding Revival of a Play (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Blithe Spirit
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Enter Laughing
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Outstanding Director of a Play
Garry Hynes, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Anthony Page, Waiting for Godot
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests
Moises Kaufman, 33 Variations

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot the Musical
Arthur Laurents, West Side Story
Jason Moore, Shrek the Musical
Diane Paulus, Hair
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Choreographer
Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot the Musical
Josh Prince, Shrek the Musical
Susan Stroman, Happiness

Outstanding Set Design (Play or Musical)
Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
Santo Loquasto, Waiting for Godot
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot the Musical
Walt Spangler, Desire Under the Elms

Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical)
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot the Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek the Musical
John Napier, Equus
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Catherine Zuber, Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical)
Kevin Adams, Hair
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot the Musical
David Hersey, Equus
Peter Kaczorowski, Ruined
David Lander, 33 Variations

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
Bill Irwin, Waiting for Godot
Nathan Lane, Waiting for Godot
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, reasons to be pretty

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Ruined
Carla Gugino, Desire Under the Elms
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
James Barbour, A Tale of Two Cities
Matt Cavenaugh, West Side Story
Brian d'Arcy James, Shrek the Musical
Josh Grisetti, Enter Laughing
David Pittu, What's That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Shrek the Musical
Megan Hilty, 9 to 5
Leslie Kritzer, Rooms A Rock Romance
Nancy Opel, The Toxic Avenger
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
John Benjamin Hickey, Mary Stuart
Russell G. Jones, Ruined
Patrick Page, A Man for All Seasons
David Pearse, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Andrea Martin, Exit the King
Kristine Nielsen, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Susan Louise O'Connor, Blithe Spirit
Condola Rashad, Ruined

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker, Shrek the Musical
Aaron Simon Gross, 13
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot the Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek the Musical
Wesley Taylor, Rock of Ages

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Kathy Fitzgerald, 9 to 5
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot the Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot the Musical

Outstanding Solo Performance
Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me
Mike Burstyn, Lansky
Mike Daisey, If You See Something, Say Something
Lorenzo Pisoni, Humor Abuse
Matt Sax, Clay

Outstanding Ensemble Performance
The cast of The Norman Conquests: Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter, Amanda Root

John Gassner Award (Presented for an American Play, Preferably by a New Playwright)
Annie Baker, Body Awareness
Gina Gionfriddo, Becky Shaw
Beau Willimon, Farragut North

Special Achievement Award
For their performances in Billy Elliot the Musical: David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, Kiril Kulish

Also: Dividing the Estate, next to normal and [title of show] were previously eligible for the Outer Critics Circle awards when their shows were first presented in their off-Broadway berth. They will, however, turn up come Tony time.

Tharon Musser (1925-2009)

Live Design Online is reporting that Tharon Musser, quite possibly the most revered lighting designer in New York theatre, has passed away at the age of 84 after a long illness. Musser got her start on Broadway with the original Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night in 1956 and worked steadily for over forty years. A mere sampling of her 120-something Broadway credits include: The Entertainer, JB, Once Upon a Mattress, Here's Love, Any Wednesday, Golden Boy, Kelly, Flora the Red Menace, The Lion in Winter, Mame, A Delicate Balance, Hallelujah Baby!, The Birthday Party, Applause, Follies (Tony award), The Prisoner of Second Avenue, A Little Night Music, Candide revival, Mack & Mabel, The Wiz, Same Time Next Year, Pacific Overtures, A Chorus Line (Tony award), 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, The Act, Ballroom, They're Playing Our Song, Children of a Lesser God, 42nd Street, Dreamgirls (Tony award), Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Real Thing, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, Lost in Yonkers, The Secret Garden and Lonesome West. She won three Tonys and was nominated for a total of ten. Her lighting work on A Chorus Line completely revolutionized her art, as it marked the first wholly computerized lighting console. Musser is survived by her partner Marilyn Rennagel.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Did Lionel Bart Write "Oliver"?

A rather surprising item in the London Independent is claiming that Lionel Bart didn't write all of the hit musical Oliver! According to the article, his former collaborator Joan Maitland wrote the book and accepted a 1% sum of royalties in exchange for her silence. There apparently have been other claims that his work was not his own. He got his start as the lyricist of Lock Up Your Daughters and composed his first score Fings Ain't Wot They Used to Be. However, Bart only had one major success with Oliver! He would follow with minor successes in the UK with the WWII era musical Blitz!, a major spectacle that even included a recreation of a London bombing and Maggie May. Afterward, his shows were major failures, including the London flop Twang! and the one performance bomb La Strada in NY. He never wrote another new musical again.

Katharine Hepburn on "The Dick Cavett Show" - Part Two

Here is the second half of the interview. Keep enjoying.

Katharine Hepburn on "The Dick Cavett Show" - Part One

Katharine Hepburn gave her first-ever television interview to Dick Cavett on his show on September 11, 1973. One of the most private people in Hollywood, she decided to do it to help promote the American Film Theatre, an experimental project that was a subscription based series of films based on plays. Hepburn herself appeared in one of the films: Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. The studio taping actually started as a test run to see if the interview is something she would like to do, hence the informality of the event. At a certain point when they were talking, she said they should just go ahead and tape the show right then and there. (It was one of the rare Cavett show's to not have a live audience, only various people who filtered in throughout). For the first few minutes, Hepburn wasn't aware that cameras were rolling and it captured the legend in a candid moment where she criticizes the set decoration, gives common sense advice to the technical crew and then settles into the interview. Favorite quote from that moment: "Don't tell me what's wrong, just fix it." Hepburn was asked and gave total permission for the show to air this footage.

The interview was so lengthy it actually covered two episodes and was one of the most popular episodes of Dick Cavett's show. It is basically what we would have had if Hepburn had ever appeared on "Inside the Actor's Studio," she delves into her career, the technique of acting, her opinions on the industry... well everything you can think of. The interview is long, there's no getting past that, running almost three hours in length and is divided here into fifteen sections on youtube. However, it is completely fascinating. I've watched the entire thing twice myself, so if you want to settle in, be sure you have time!

PS - This is the interview where she gave the famed quote: "Cold sober, I find myself absolutely fascinating."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The I-Pod Shuffle for Today...

I'm suffering big time tonight. It happens every spring like clockwork - even before you see the buds on the trees, I start to feel it. Pollen is a nightmare for me, which belies my incredible enjoyment of the warm spring weather. So as the love-hate relationship continues and since I don't have HBO (hope Grey Gardens is a good one!), here's the first ipod shuffle I've done in a while. As opposed to the last time when I merely used my Broadway playlist, I've gone ahead and hit the full ipod shuffle - so we're up for any of the 32,537 tracks on here...

"I'm Not at All in Love" - The Pajama Game. The introductory song for the fiery union rep Babe Williams, on this particular studio album sung by Judy Kaye. The song pits her against her other female cohorts at the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory, where they subject her denial of a crush on the handsome new foreman with some interoffice teasing. Oh she says she's not in love, but oh she sure as hell is. One of the more infectious character songs of the 50s and one of the more unexpected uses of a waltz in musical theatre.

"Something Wonderful" - The King and I. In many of the big Rodgers and Hammerstein shows there was a character, usually middle aged, who sang a song of inspiration to one or more of the protagonists at a cross-roads in the score. It started with "You'll Never Walk Alone" in Carousel and finished with "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" in The Sound of Music. This particular song is sung by Lady Thiang to persuade Anna to visit with the King after a major fallout, leading to a tentative reconciliation and the amusing first act finale. Terry Saunders, a replacement Thiang in the original Broadway production, sings it on the original motion picture soundtrack.

"A Bell is No Bell" - The Sound of Music. Oscar Hammerstein wrote this specifically for Mary Martin. The intention was to create a full song out of it, but his failing health prevented that from happening and the verse was incorporated into a reprise of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" in the second act. It's a simple and sweet few measures. When the show was revived in London in 1981, changes made for the film were put onstage for the first time. In doing so, they took away "My Favorite Things" away from the Mother Abbess and Maria and to fill the void they used this piece in a minor duet.

"Rehearse! - finale" - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The opening number is reprised at the end to emphasize the theatrical metaphor of the United States as a play in constant rehearsal. The song has a syncopated melody with that Leonard Bernstein, lyric by Alan Jay Lerner. There is an exuberance in the song that belies the weakness of the libretto surrounding it. By the time the show go into New York, the new creative team had stripped away most of the theatrical references. This bookend number plus one or two lines elsewhere through the score are the only allusions to the original concept (the show went into production unfinished and then premiered haphazardly in Philadelphia running four hours).

"The First Lady" - Mr. President. I guess between this and the last one, musicals about presidents don't work out so well... Nanette Fabray sings a comic list song by Irving Berlin in which she grouses about the ardors of life as, you guessed it, the First Lady. It's no "Duet for One," but melody is tuneful and Fabray is game.

"Jeanette's Showbiz Number" - The Full Monty. Kathleen Freeman was one of the great character actresses in film and television; an appearance by her would undoubtedly be followed by laughs. She made her Broadway musical debut as the salty, opinionated rehearsal pianist here, in a role created for the stage show. Freeman performed the show while dying of lung cancer, a fact unknown by most at the time. Her professionalism was incredible - her final performance in the show was only five days before her death. I'm looking forward to the prospect of seeing Elaine Stritch perform this song this spring.

"Don't 'Ah Ma' Me" - The Rink. This fantastic duet between Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli depicts the first meeting of a mother and daughter after a seven year estrangement. Chita as the Mother unleashes a rapid-fire barrage about her daughter and her shortcomings, while Liza tries to respond and rationalize. The comic timing is just spot-on.

"The Story Goes on On" - Baby. This stirring solo marks the act one finale of this Maltby-Shire musical that explores three couples and their three diverse experiences with pregnancy. Liz Callaway played Lizzie, the youngest woman of the couples and in a moment in front of her mirror has felt the baby kick for the first time. This emotional moment spurs the song, a song about her emotional feelings and of the greater chain of human life. I would venture a safe guess Callaway's tour de force delivery of the number is what got her a Tony nomination in 1984.

"Civilized People" - Kean. Alfred Drake, Joan Weldon and Lee Venora are the singers of this amusing musical trio that conveys an awkward and decidedly restrained confrontation between Kean's two love interests while he tries to calm both parties. The inevitable barbs are hurled back and forth between the two women before breaking into chaos. This show has a score strong enough to be a candidate for Encores (especially as its the only truly original Wright & Forrest Broadway score).

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" - Mahalia Jackson; Gospels, Spirituals and Hymns. Taking on the risk of the full i-pod shuffle it makes perfect sense that there would non-theatre related music in the mix. Ms. Jackson may be the greatest gospel singer the world has ever known and though I myself no longer consider myself religious, I always enjoy whenever she pops up on here.

"Overture" - Christine. It's a sumptuous celebration of Sammy Fain's music and Phil Lang's work as an orchestrator that make this overture sound better than it should. Really, it sounds big enough to be underscoring for a motion picture epic about India, however the score that follows it is such a colossal disappointment it's not even funny. The musical reads like an incestual rip-off of The King and I, with so much awkward in its depiction of Indian life, it's no surprise the show lasted a whopping twelve performances (I'm sure the fact it didn't close opening night was based on the above the title billing of the lovely Maureen O'Hara in her only Broadway credit).

I figure that's enough shuffling for now... but while I'm thinking of it, are there any other cast albums you've listened to where you've heard a phenomenal overture that was betrayed by the score that followed?

Seth Rudetsky Deconstructs "It's Today"

Seth has been doing 30 reconstructions in 30 days for, and for April 17, he takes on "It's Today" from the original cast recording of Mame, which introduces the audience and listener to Angela Lansbury as Auntie Mame (with that bugle blast and a slide down the banister). Even though it's actually the second number of the show, I think this does more to establish the tone for the evening and ultimately is more of an opening number than "St. Bridget." The original cast album of Mame is a joy to hear from those opening chords of the overture to the very last "Mame!" during the curtain call/finale. The album is one of my all-time favorites and one that I would cherish as a desert-island top 5.

The Great American Musical Turns 50

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of what Walter Kerr called "The best damn musical I've seen in years." The musical, based on the memoirs of that memorable ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, opened at the Broadway Theatre on May 21, 1959 (after a mere two previews) to great reviews and a memorable star turn from the irrepressible Ethel Merman. Arthur Laurents, in what would be prove to be his last credible success as a musical theatre librettist, contributed arguably the finest book in American musical history. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, and at the insistence of Ms. Merman, Jule Styne wrote the music. Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed. The show, which opened in New York just following the 1958-59 cut-off, would be trounced in the 1959-60 season by The Sound of Music and Fiorello! in what is so far the one and only Best Musical tie in Tony history. Merman famously lost the Tony to Mary Martin, headlining the more crowdpleasing Sound of Music, with the infamous quip from Ethel: "You can't buck a nun." The musical play ran 702 performances in NY before Ethel Merman went out on national tour. This original cast album is a must-have for any musical theater lover. There are a lot of people who insist that Merman's performance is subpar (many of whom didn't actually see it, but I digress); however she delivers an electrifying performance on the album. She is ably supported by Sandra Church, Jack Klugman and Maria Karnilova as Tessie Tura. With all due respect to all other recordings that have come along, I don't think the orchestrations by Robert Ginzler and Sid Ramin have ever sounded better than they do here. (Though let it be said, all recordings of Gypsy are required listening). Also, it's only right to mention Dick Perry, a favorite of Jule Styne's, who rocks out the improv section on the overture like none other. Perry also played on the original cast albums of Subways Are for Sleeping and Funny Girl, serving as soloist for "Cornet Man" and even receiving billing for it. His credits include several other big 60s musicals, as well as trumpet player in the original "Tonight Show" band.

I currently own the 1999 Sony release that cleaned up the album and restored part of "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." The album included previously unreleased demos of songs from the score, including some cut numbers, an early version of "Some People" and a combination of "Mr. Goldstone" and a tender "Little Lamb" sung by Ethel. On May 5, the original cast album will be re-released yet again by Sony Masterworks in a new 50th anniversary edition. This new release includes all material on the 40th anniversary release, but will also include an audio clip of Michael Feinstein interviewing Jule Styne, as well as a track on which Gypsy Rose Lee herself looks back on burlesque. Yes, I'm seriously considering the upgrade. Also, Masterworks is planning a similar 50th anniversary release of The Sound of Music this fall.

"Slaughter on Tenth Avenue"

I doubt we'd get another full scale revival of On Your Toes, an admittedly dated gem from Rodgers and Hart. But perhaps Encores! would give this generation the chance to see George Balanchine's legendary choreography recreated. This is a clip of Lara Teeter and Tony-winner Natalia Makarova performing a large section of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" from the hit 1983 revival. The ballet appears at the climax of the musical, its story that of a hoofer (originally Ray Bolger in 1936) who falls in love with a dance hall girl, in turn shot by her jealous gangster boyfriend, who himself is killed by the hoofer. The musical itself has parallel story going on - two gangsters are waiting to kill the hoofer playing the hoofer when the ballet finishes and he continues to dance after the ballet is over in an attempt to save his own life. The piece was incorporated into the repertoire of the New York City Ballet over forty years ago.

Kiley vs. Lansbury

Peter Filichia was taken to task by some of his readers over the claim that Keith Carradine was the only person to have won a Best Song Oscar and to have been nominated as Best Actor in a Musical. They reminded him that Barbra Streisand is a Tony-nominated, Oscar-winning (for the song "Evergreen") star. However, as he correctly points out that he said "Best Actor in a Musical" but not Best Actress. One reader pulled the PC card on him saying that it's not actress, but "female actor." The article then goes onto speculate which winner of the respective Tony races would take home the award if they were pitted against each other. At the end of the article, he lists what he considers the toughest call: Angela Lansbury as Mame or Richard Kiley as the Man of La Mancha. Be sure to check it out, and drop him a line with your opinion!

I'll withhold my vote until he posts the results, but I'm sure you can guess...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hudson & Holliday

For the Dreamgirls fans out there: Jennifer Hudson surprised fans at her concert last evening in Atlanta with a duet of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" with the song's originator, Jennifer Holliday. This was taken from one of the front rows in the audience, note the crazed fan who goes completely to pieces screaming "Oh my God" ad nauseum. Enjoy

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Elaine's Showbiz Number

According to Playbill, Elaine Stritch will be headlining the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Full Monty this spring. She will be taking on the role of acerbic rehearsal pianist Jeanette Burmeister, originated by the late, great Kathleen Freeman in the original Broadway production. The show runs at the Playhouse in Milburn, NJ from June 10-July 12.


The musical is Bajour. The story is about a woman (Tony-nominee Nancy Dussault) doing a doctoral thesis on a tribe of gypsies in New York City who con old women out of their life-savings. Yes, you read that correctly. Herschel Bernardi, Chita Rivera and Mae Questal round out the cast, with Michael Bennett, Herb Edelman, Paul Sorvino and Leland Palmer in the ensemble. The show played 232 performances during the 1964-65 season at the Shubert and later Lunt-Fontanne Theatres. Here is Rivera leading the title song:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musicals in Mufti Announces its Spring Season

Well it's not the crew at the Shubert Theatre, but we'll be treated to High Spirits in NYC this spring after all. Here's the lineup for Musicals in Mufti:

The Grand Tour (May 29-31),
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
(Based on the play Jacobowski and the Colonel by Franz Werfel)
Directed by Michael Montel; music direction by James Bassi
"A bittersweet comic tale featuring love triangles, mistaken identity and a wedding at sea. At the onset of the Nazi invasion, two strangers with nothing in common travel from France to England and unexpectedly become the best of friends."

High Spirits (June 12-14)
Book, music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray
(Based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward)
Directed by Marc Bruni; music direction by Vadim Feichtner
"A happily re-married widower gets a surprise visit from his first wife when a kooky medium mistakenly awakens her spirit from the dead."

Knickerbocker Holiday (June 26-28)
Book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Music by Kurt Weill
Directed by Michael Unger; music direction by John Bell
"On the eve of the American Revolution, the arrival of a new Governor in New York City (then called New Amsterdam) causes a great deal of chaos amongst his new constituents in this madcap 'romantic-political-musical-comedy.'"

The York Theatre Company plays the Theatre at Saint Peter's, which is located at 54th Street, east of Lexington Avenue. For more information or to purchase tickets, priced $37.50, call (212) 935-5820 or visit

Monday, April 13, 2009

Britain's Got Talent contestant stuns judges

Susan Boyle seemed to be a trainwreck in the making. A 47 year old, unemployed and rather dowdy looking woman, she came onstage with a considerable lack of pretension and earthy charm. The audience (look for the obligatory girl rolling her eyes) and judges were cynical about her, especially when asked who she would like to be compared to and she replied Elaine Paige. Then she opened her mouth to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables and completely floored the entire audience, judges and hosts. This also might be the only time I've ever seen Simon Cowell genuinely smile. Bravo to Susan!

One of My Favorite Things

Waxing nostalgic with Roxie, I was recalling the film adaptation of The Sound of Music and its special place in my memory. The 1965 blockbuster was the third film of which I have a clear memory of enjoying (the first is Mary Poppins - go figure, the second is Lady and the Tramp, which my brother gave me for Christmas when I was three or four).

The Sound of Music was my father's favorite film. He'd never admit it, of course. But when I was a child growing up, every year when it had its annual airing on Easter he would be watching it. For the first couple of years, I wasn't allowed to stay up - each time I got to see a few minutes more and as a commercial came up my mother would declare my bedtime much to my dismay. I was eight when I found out that the Captain and Maria were married. The annual presentation was something of a big television event, even though the film was shown in a heavily edited version (cutting a half hour to fit the three hour timeslot). Then they restored the film to its original length in 1995 for a four hour showing. I now own a VHS and 2 DVD editions of the film, as well as the original sountrack album, 30th, 35th and 40th anniversary CD editions, so needless to say I don't watch it on TV anymore.

Though it took four years for me to see the entire film, I was nonetheless captivated by it - and continue to be to this day. It's a superlative adaptation of the stage show, with screenwriter Ernest Lehman making monumental improvements on the libretto (though interestingly enough, the stage show is much more political than the film). The film floored everyone with its overwhelming international success. It was the first film to topple Gone with the Wind from the top spot as the highest grossing film of all time, took home five Oscars including Best Picture and became something of a phenomenon, running in movie theatres for several years in its initial release. (Of course there was the obligatory Sound of Mucus backlash).

Back in 1996, my parents and I made a trip to Europe to visit my brother who was then going to school in Helsinki, Finland. He had to leave us to go to Oxford, so my father arranged a trip down through the continent of Europe with Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium as major stops on the way. The one thing I really wanted to do the entire trip (and for my coincidentally concurrent 13th birthday) was go to Salzburg so I could see the town where the story took place, and where they shot most of the principal photography. (Note to trivia fans: the famed opening shot was done a couple of miles away from Salzburg across the German border).

My parents and I traveled all over the town over the span of about three days taking in whatever sights we could. We stopped off first at the Nonnberg Abbey on the hillside where I was awestruck to be standing there where both the real Maria von Trapp and Julie Andrews had once stood. We traveled up to the Hohensalzburg, the ancient fortress on the top of the hill in the middle of town. There were the Mirabell Gardens, where they shot a great deal of "Do-Re-Mi" (there is a picture of me on the high Bb step from the end of the song). We even traveled to Leopoldskron, one of the three houses used for the von Trapp villa in the movie. One was used for the front facade, another for its rear facade and this one for the exterior shots of its backyard complete with lake and gazebo. One thing we stopped at and for which I am most grateful is the real von Trapp villa. The villa, which became the headquarters for Himmler during WWII was a monastery at the time, so we didn't go inside. However, I did manage to get a picture in the pouring rain.

It was at this point I decided to really look into the history of the von Trapp family to see how the history differed from the musical play. I won't deny I was a bit upset to find that the more romantic aspects of their exile were exaggerated for the sake of creative license. First of all, Maria first arrived at the von Trapp home in 1926, not 1938. I was okay with that. However there were other things that were more startling. The von Trapps lived near railroad tracks and boarded them, dressed for a hike, and hopped the line to Italy. There was no hiding from the Nazis in a cemetery. It was even more amazing to see the A&E biography on Maria von Trapp to see that it was the Captain who was the warm and affectionate parent, while Maria was prone to tantrums and had a ferocious temper. In fact, the characterization of the Captain was one of few things thing which the Baroness von Trapp didn't like about the stage show. The biggest gaffe is this: if the von Trapps had actually climbed that mountain, they would have crossed right into Germany, only miles away from Hitler's retreat in Berchtesgaden (another stop we took on this trip). So much for finding a dream there... But regardless, it doesn't curb my enjoyment of The Sound of Music at all. (Hey, I still love The King and I and let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that story was entirely fabricated by the real Anna Leonowens).

Walking among my yesterdays, recalling the unprecedented beauty of this Austrian city, I went through pictures from my trip (which I will not repost here, someone who shall remain nameless looks like the fatted calf) and decided to search around google to see what I could find. Here is an interesting article on the legacy of the film and its impact on tourism in Salzburg, a city where, as the author of the article puts it, love for The Sound of Music dare not speak its name. The musical film has never been a major success in Salzburg, with many preferring that people recall it as the city of Mozart and its famed music festival (which I might add, the von Trapps won regularly). In fact, this article relates that the people preferred the 1956 film Die Familie Trapp, a German film that used authentic Austrian folk songs (which was the original intent when adapting it for the stage, until Rodgers and Hammerstein decided they would have to contribute an entire musical score, not just a few new folk songs for Mary Martin).

If you ever get the chance, whether or not you're a fan of the film, go to Salzburg. It's a beautiful European set amidst the breathtaking splendor of the Alps. (The Untersberg, the highest mountain in the vicinity is captivating to look at). There is a great deal of history, especially for music lovers and much to enjoy while staying. The article talks about how the original von Trapp villa was being transformed into a hotel but has had its license revoked as local residents filed complaints - apparently they aren't thrilled at the prospect of busloads of Sound of Music lovers descending on that house (much as it has happened at the von Trapp ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont). The hotel owners had restored the hotel and fixed it up with Sound of Music related memorabilia and information - oh, and get this: the bathrobes are made out of curtains. The website looks as if they might be up and running and for all intent purposes, I hope they are. Panorama Tours offers an engaging tour, but you could always do it yourself, like my parents and I did (it was sure a lot of fun).

Now I want to go back. Who wants to go with me?

Theatre Bloggers of the World Unite!

Well, this is some fun news! Broadway producer and theatre-blog enthusiast Ken Davenport has arranged for the First Theatre Bloggers Social. The event is taking place on April 23rd from 6-8PM at Planet Hollywood in Times Square. Mr. Davenport is enticing us with free food, a talk given by a blogging consultant and here's the real coup de maitre: free tickets to shows that evening (and if that includes Blithe Spirit, I will be a lion pouncing on a gazelle). And for those out-of-town bloggers, be sure to RSVP as well because they are working on ways to include everyone. Hopefully my fellow bloggers who brunch can make it!

The criteria to participate:

-Have a blog devoted primarily to theater
-Post regularly
-Be an independent blogger (not sponsored/paid to blog by any organization)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 8th grade for a book report and the only thing I remembered about it was that Charles Dickens died before he could finish it. Then a few years later in high school I discovered The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the musical and suddenly I became much more interested. With its book and score by Rupert Holmes, the musical was styled after the conventions of the British music hall. With no record as to who (spoiler alert) killed Edwin Drood, it was left to the audience to decide each performance. Then came out Betty Buckley in a pants role (meaning an actress playing a man) as Drood to belt the living daylights out of "The Writing on the Wall," which ends with the famous E note. The sad news is the cast album has been out of print for years (there are two editions that go for monstrous amounts on amazon and e-bay), but if you ever get the chance, you need to hear Ms. B blast that song to high heaven. (Will someone reissue this... please?) The musical first played in Central Park as part of the Public's summer lineup, presented by Joe Papp with direction by Wilford Leach and choreography from Graciela Daniele. As for the casting, the show starred Buckles, as well as George Rose (who won the Best Actor Tony), the sublime Cleo Laine as the Princess Puffer, Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour with Donna Murphy and Judy Kuhn in the ensemble. (Murphy replaced Buckley later in the run). Here is the original cast on the 1986 Tony awards.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Battle Hymn of the Republic

This is an excerpt from The Judy Garland Show in December 1963, the first episode following the assassination of President Kennedy. The episode ended with this performance of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I don't think I've ever heard Julia Ward Howe's words ever expressed with such emotion and feeling.

Quote of the Day: Julie Andrews Edition

The Mark Hellinger Theater on West 51st Street was originally built by Thomas W. Lamb in the 1930s as a movie palace for Warner Bros. Herman Levin, our producer, took a gamble when he chose the venue as a home for My Fair Lady, since, before our occupation, it had been a bit of a white elephant and was situated a few blocks uptown from the main Broadway area. But it was a beautiful theater, especially the front interior of the building, the lobby being exquisite and ideally matching the elegance of our show. Though a little shallow backstage, it was one of the largest and best equipped of the New York theaters, and it had a seating capacity of eighteen hundred people.

Much later, in 1970, the Nederlanders purchased it, but after a string of flops, they leased and eventually sold it to the Times Square Church in 1989. Various parties have tried to reclaim the building as a legitimate theater in the years since, but to no avail - which is truly a shame, since Broadway must and should preserve every great theater it can.

- Julie Andrews in her memoir Home, now available in paperback.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Melina

It was Broadway in the 1960s, so a trip to see Ed Sullivan was obligatory! Here Melina sings "Piraeus My Love" (pretaped). Then she comes out to witness "Illya Darling" yet another one in a long line of big 60s title songs choregraphed by Onna White, with a tag of "Never on Sunday."