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Nov
10

Character Actors

I was thinking about Hello, Dolly! the other day. There seems to be a revival of the show on Broadway now. Did you hear about that? Anyway, then I thought about Carol Channing, David Burns, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sondra Lee, and Eileen Brennan from the show’s original incarnation. If you think of it, it’s an odd grouping. What they all have in common is that they were all character actors. Both Channing and Burns are certainly eccentric. And the same could be said for the rest of the cast. But what makes this most interesting is that there’s no typical romantic ingénues in the cast.

And staying in the past, there were Judy Holliday (Bells Are Ringing, for instance), Zero Mostel headlined Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing, Once Upon a Mattress Carol Burnett, Ethel Merman (in so many…), and Nanette Fabray in Make a Wish.  Leading roles also went to Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers in Do Re Mi; House of Flowers star was Pearl Bailey; and Jackie Gleason and Tammy Grimes were the draw in Take Me Along and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, respectively. And that’s just a few. Even Angela Lansbury played leading roles (Anyone Can Whistle, anybody?) better suited to a character actor. Hey, Barbra Streisand could easily be in the character actor category.

Today we have Christopher Fitzgerald (Wicked, Young Frankenstein), Mary Testa (Xanadu), and Jackie Hoffman (Hairspray, The Addams Family). Nathan Lane is one of the few character actors of our time to play leading roles. And he’s always terrific even when the vehicle is not. Why can’t Fitzgerald star in How to Succeed? Mary Testa can do everything, and if you don’t believe me listen to her genuine star turn on The Queen of the Mist. She may not be a perfect choice for Eliza or Maria von Trapp (hmmmm?) but she would be a terrific lead in a host of other shows. She has the humor but she can also sell a romantic song and portray vulnerability. This is also exactly a description of Judy Holliday. And Jackie Hoffman is certainly a crowd pleaser in a leading role if she could tone it down a little.

All these people, past and present, lend humor to their roles. And a bit of spice also. None of them are stiff baritones or winsome sopranos. They bring flair and style to their roles. And audiences certainly relate better to them since they seem like us.

So, let’s have some imagination, producers!

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Artists

Nov
10

The Bad Boy of Broadway Is Back

Given the chance to pick my own topic this week, it was an easy decision to decide to write about one of my favorite artists: the lyricist, musical theatre book writer, opera librettist, poet, sometime composer, radio scribe, nonfiction author, filmmaker, occasional actor, and openly gay cultural pot stirrer known as John Latouche. Why? Because the first biography of this still largely unknown but nevertheless crucial American artist was just published on Nov. 2: The Ballad of John Latouche: An American Lyricist’s Life and Work, by Howard Pollack. What’s more, Latouche’s 103rd birthday—he was born on Nov. 13, 1914—falls on this coming Monday. It’s time for Touche—as his friends called him—to have his day again. The bad boy of Broadway is back.

Pollack—a Brooklyn-born-and-raised professor of music at the University of Houston and the award-winning biographer of Marc Blitzstein, George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland, among others—became interested in Latouche because he kept popping up in Blitzstein’s and Copland’s lives in important and intriguing ways. He phoned me out of the blue in early 2012 because I had created a musical revue, Taking a Chance on Love: The Lyrics and Life of John Latouche, for the York Theatre Company in winter of 2000. He wanted to know if I had kept my research. I had, and I shared it with him, acquiring along the way a cherished new friend. So it’s probably true that I can’t be completely objective about his book. However, as my fierce devotion to Latouche predates our acquaintance and remains as strong as ever, I think you can rest assured that if I thought the work wasn’t up to snuff, I wouldn’t be writing this column. The biography is a must read for anyone interested in either the history of the American musical or the story of what it was like to be openly gay in New York City in the first half of the 20th century.

Today Latouche is probably best known as one of the lyricists for Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. Other credits that still have some recognition are his lyrics, to Vernon Duke’s music, for the hit 1940 musical Cabin in the Sky, which starred Ethel Waters and featured Latouche’s most famous song, “Taking a Chance on Love”; his libretto for composer Douglas Moore’s opera The Ballad of Baby Doe, which made a star of Beverly Sills and is one of the few 20th century American operas to enter the standard repertoire; and his book and lyrics, to Jerome Moross’ score, for 1954’s through-sung musical The Golden Apple, a critical hit but a box office flop that reset The Iliad and The Odyssey in turn-of-the-20th-century Washington state and served as a launching pad for Kaye Ballard, who played Helen of Troy, the character who sings Latouche’s second most famous song, “Lazy Afternoon.” The fact that Encores! produced excellent concert versions of Cabin and Apple in the last two years no doubt has helped a bit with their name recognition.

When York Theatre Company’s artistic director, James Morgan, asked me to create a musical revue about Latouche, I knew little about him beyond the above paragraph, though I had written an article in 1995 about The Golden Apple for the Goodspeed Opera House’s Show Music magazine and contributed the liner notes for BMG Classics’ 1997 CD issue of the show’s RCA Victor OBCR. What I discovered through my research, including reading some of his private journals in the small Latouche collection at Columbia University’s Butler Library (he attended Columbia for two years) and going through much material deposited for copyright at the Library of Congress, was startling.

Although he died young, in 1956 at age 41, due to a sudden heart attack, he had contributed book and/or lyrics to more than 25 musicals, many of them trying to push the boundaries of commercial theatre in fascinating ways. He had written scads of wickedly naughty cabaret ditties; contributed songs and scripts for two of the first surrealist motion pictures, Hans Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy and 8 X 8 (as well as acting in Dreams); had his own film production company that produced a critically acclaimed animated short, “The Peppermint Tree,” based on a children’s book he had written, narrated and sung by Carol Channing; and achieved national recognition in 1939 with his patriotic cantata “Ballad for Americans” (music by Earl Robinson), saluting a multicultural America, performed by Paul Robeson and chorus on the radio to great popular success. Indeed, when Latouche died, “Ballad for Americans” was the first credit cited in virtually all his obituaries.

Latouche was famous for running an artistic salon in his penthouse on the Upper East Side. Friends such as Marc Blitzstein, Aaron Copland, Tennessee Williams, Jane and Paul Bowles (whom he introduced), Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Gore Vidal (they were such close friends that Latouche had his own bedroom at Vidal’s home on the Hudson River), Virgil Thomson, Libby Holman, Katherine Dunham, Frank O’Hara, Jack Kerouac, Lena Horne, Man Ray, Jean Paul Sartre, John Cage, Dawn Powell, Charlotte Rae, Ned Rorem, George Balanchine, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Ben Bagley, and Carol Channing would discuss the problems of the world, the vicissitudes of the show business, and the future of art.

Openly gay virtually from his arrival in NYC at the age of 18, Latouche wrote with great candor in his journals about his romantic and sexual life, including a four-year unhappy marriage to an American heiress from Connecticut, Theodora “Teddy” Griffis, herself a lesbian. His advocacy for progressive political causes and his hatred of racism (he grew up a working-class Southern boy in Richmond, Va.), along with his defiant sexuality, no doubt led him to be named in the infamous “Red Channels” report and blacklisted as a Communist (though he never actually was, according to Vidal, as the party didn’t accept gay people).

I was especially taken with the quality of his lyrics. Song after song at the Library of Congress dazzled me with wit, craft, feeling, ingenious rhyming, precise character definition, and general theatrical assurance. I had never before encountered such a wealth of unknown work written at such an almost unbelievably high level—and I haven’t since. How could someone this good, this prolific, and this brave, artistically, politically, and personally, have descended into such obscurity?

One reason is that after his death, his alcoholic and physically abusive younger brother, Louis, swept in and took all his belongings, including the files of his work, from his life partner, poet, lyricist, book writer, and opera librettist Kenward Elmslie, who, of course, had no rights to anything under the law in 1956. Straight and decidedly homophobic, Louis apparently discarded whatever he couldn’t sell. In any event, only a few fragments remained when I journeyed to Richmond to interview two surviving female cousins in the summer of 1999.

Another reason is that so few of Latouche’s shows were recorded. Two early hits, Cabin in the Sky and Banjo Eyes, both written with Vernon Duke, predated the practice of making Broadway cast recordings, and though Ethel Waters did record some of her numbers for Cabin, Banjo Eyes star Eddie Cantor, who quarreled with Latouche so much over his material that the lyricist quit the show pre-Broadway in Boston, did not. Shows such as 1946’s Beggar’s Holiday, an interracial contemporary version of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, written with Duke Ellington, and 1948’s Ballet Ballads, three one-act “dance cantatas” with music by Jerome Moross, were critically praised but too adventurous for commercial success and so didn’t generate OBCRs, a practice then still in its infancy.

1955’s The Vamp, a musical comedy vehicle for Carol Channing loosely based on the story of silent film star Theda Bara, with music by an African-American jazz saxophonist named James Mundy, received a raft of positive reviews on the road but bombed with the Broadway critics, depriving the world of a thoroughly delightful score. Richard Maltby Jr. saw the show pre-Broadway while a college student at Yale and says that though it had problems there was a great deal to admire in the production and he has always remembered it. Kenward Elmslie says that Channing’s misguided insistence on changes intended to better highlight her rather than serve the show—and she had clout both as star and wife of one of the producers—retooled a potential hit into a flop. Despite the show’s failure, Channing was one of only three Tony nominees for best actress in a musical that season; she and Nancy Walker, nominated for the revue Phoenix ’55, lost to Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees.

So, before you settle in to read all about Touche, here are some suggestions for recordings of his work to help you get better acquainted.

Sing for Your Supper – This 1939 musical revue, produced on Broadway by the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project, had a slightly longer version of “Ballad for Americans,” under the title “Ballade of Uncle Sam,” as its finale. Paul Robeson’s iconic rendition is the one to have, though the cantata would also be recorded through the years by Bing Crosby, Odetta, and Brock Peters, among others.

Cabin in the Sky – Ethel Waters recorded four songs from the show during its run, including three she performed on stage—the title song, “Taking a Chance on Love,” and “Love Turned the Light Out,” and one that she didn’t, “Honey in the Honeycomb.” They’re a must. The 1964 off-Broadway revival got a cast recording, and if the performances are uneven, the cuts and interpolations to the score unhelpful, and the orchestrations far too reduced, it’s worth it just to hear (most of) the score. Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 film adaptation jettisoned the bulk of the Broadway score, adding new tunes by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, but you do get Lena Horne singing “Honey in the Honeycomb.”

Ballet Ballads – “Willie the Weeper,” the second of the evening’s three ballads, about the tribulations of a cocaine addict, was recorded in its entirety as played at the Hot Springs Music Festival in 2000 and released by Naxos on a compilation CD simply titled Jerome Moross. It’s not available digitally, but you can get the CD at Amazon.

The Golden Apple – The single LP OBCR had to leave off nearly 90 minutes of music, but its CD release is indispensable as a document of the splendid original performances. The world can finally hear the full show thanks to the recent two-CD cast recording of Lyric Stage’s 2014 production, recorded live in performance in, of all places, Irving, Texas. You really need them both.

The Littlest Revue – Latouche and Elmslie co-wrote the cheeky sketch and lyric, to John Strauss’ music, for the opening number for this Ben Bagley–produced 1956 off-Broadway revue, called “Backers’ Audition,” delivered by the show’s six-person cast, which included Charlotte Rae, Tammy Grimes, and Joel Grey. Also, Latouche and Vernon Duke’s sly satiric medieval ballade “Summer Is a-Comin’ In,” written for the 1941 bomb The Lady Comes Across, gets rescued by the divine Rae, with some new verses added by Latouche. And speaking of Rae, check out her 1955 solo album Songs I Taught My Mother, on which she first sang “Summer” and introduced another Latouche–Strauss collaboration, the hilarious “Nail in the Horseshoe,” written for Rae’s club act, about a vulgar socialite who loves the opera for all the wrong reasons. (Strauss, by the way, was Rae’s husband at the time.) Eddie Korbich, who received an Obie Award for his performance in my Latouche revue, regularly brought the house down doing this number in drag.

Candide – There are so many recordings to choose from, but do make sure you have at least one that includes the original Latouche lyric for “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” which was first restored by director Harold Prince for his 1974 revisal, as well as the “Auto-da-Fe” sequence, unrecorded on the nevertheless exquisite 1956 OBCR starring Barbara Cook. Bernstein conducted the “final revised version, 1989” with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and there you can hear Adolph Green in Latouche’s restored song about Dr. Pangloss’ syphilis, “Ringaroundarosie.”

The Ballad of Baby Doe – The brilliant original and complete recording of New York City Opera’s 1959 production, starring Beverly Sills, Walter Cassell, and Frances Bible, can only be found on CD, but three arias from it are available digitally on Beverly Sills and Friends and The Art of Beverly Sills, if you want to start out with just a taste.

Taking a Chance on Love: The Lyrics and Life of John Latouche – The OCR of my revue is not available digitally, alas, as Original Cast Records’ owner, Bruce Yeko, won’t even reply to my requests to release it that way (though he has digitally released many other titles on his label). It is, I believe, the most comprehensive collection of Latouche material available—30 songs from 10 shows, plus cabaret songs and special material, including 18 songs never recorded at the time of its release—and I immodestly think it’s a pretty good recording too, thanks to a four-person dynamite cast: Terry Burrell, Jerry Dixon, Donna English, and Eddie Korbich. You can buy the CD at Amazon.com.

Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross – This tribute show at Joe’s Pub was performed concurrently with the run of Taking a Chance on Love in winter of 2000. Offering a fine cast—Alice Ripley, Richard Muenz, Jessica Molaskey, Philip Chaffin, and Jenny Giering—and superb musical direction from Eric Stern, it preserves three Latouche-Moross songs from The Golden Apple and five from Ballet Ballads, including the rarity “Come Live With Me,” written for “Riding Hood Revisited,” a fourth ballet ballad done in the style of a fractured fairy tale that was left out of the original Broadway production but included in a 1961 off-Broadway revival. As Into the Woods would do nearly 40 years later, it features a pretty pushy Red.

Take Love Easy: The Lyrics of John Latouche – Film composer Richard Rodney Bennett recorded this jazz-inflected LP in 1984 for Audiophile Records, then added four additional cuts for its CD release in 2001. It contains a number of rarities, including “You Took Me by Surprise,” from The Lady Comes Across, “A Nickel to My Name” from Banjo Eyes, three songs from Beggar’s Holiday—“I’ve Got Me,” “Take Love Easy,” and the cut song “She Makes Me Believe She’s Mine” (though when it was in the show it was “He”)—and the lovely ballad “The Next Time I Care (I’ll Be Careful),” from the 1945 operetta Polonaise, with a score derived from the music of Chopin. This tune, however, has music by film composer Bronislaw Kaper, who was on hand to adapt the Chopin music but wrote a few originals as well. There are also three pop songs: “All of a Sudden It’s You” (music by Rudolf Goehr), “Day Dream” (music by Billy Strayhorn), and “Strange” (music by Marvin Fisher). The last two were both hits, the first covered by such artists as Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis, the second debuted by Nat King Cole.

And speaking of pop songs, unlike most of his fellow Broadway lyricists, Latouche wrote a fair share of them, no doubt in pursuit of cash, which he always needed. However, his biggest success was probably a pop song he took his name off of: “Racing With the Moon,” a giant hit in 1941 for bandleader crooner Vaughn Monroe. A manuscript at the Library of Congress lists Latouche as co-lyricist, but the published sheet music replaces his name with “Pauline Pope.”

There are also some choice covers of his songs from musicals. Lena Horne recorded a swinging version of “Tomorrow Mountain,” the first-act closer in Beggar’s Holiday, on her 1957 album Stormy Weather, as well as “Take Love Easy” and “He Makes Me Believe He’s Mine,” on Lena Horne Sings: The MGM Singles, a compilation of recordings she made in 1947 and 1948. Diahann Carroll included a jubilant rendition of “Do What You Wanna Do,” from Cabin in the Sky, on her 1961 LP Fun Life. And, of course, everybody from Barbra Streisand to Eartha Kitt to Tony Bennett to Brian Stokes Mitchell to Mabel Mercer to Marlene Dietrich has had a go at “Lazy Afternoon.”

To Touche!

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Artists

Nov
10

Something for Everybody...?

I gave the Erik and Ken the chance to write about anything they wanted this week. I sort of hate to spoil the surprise of where they've gone, so I'm just going to suggest you hop over to both of their columns. And before you do, here are a couple of clues: 

  • How's Your Romance? - This album's here because one track on it, "Take Love Easy," beautifully fits in with what Erik's written about this week.
  • Gutenberg! The Musical! - One of the performers in this delightful musical comedy just happens to be the sort of performer that Ken discusses in his column this week.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Given the two different directions Ken and Erik went in their current columns, the Spotify playlist I've assembled is a wonderful mixture of tunes (well known and rarities). Hopefully, I've arranged the selections properly, to create a fun aural playground for you!


Meredith Braun's second studio recording, When Love Is Gone, has just been released by Stage Door Records, and we've got a grand new rendition of a Stephen Sondheim tune as our free song download!


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • The Ballad of Little Jo - The first cast album for this musical by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger preserves its most recent incarnation, the moving production seen at New Jersey's Two River Theater last season.
  • Rearrangements of Shadows - Cheryl Bentyne infuses some Stephen Sondheim favorites ("Send in the Clowns," "Everybody Says Don't") and some of the songwriter's rarities ("Sand," "I Wish I Could Forget You") with a swingin' cool jazz vibe on this terrific new album. 
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • Someone to Watch Over Me  - Ella Fitzgerald and the London Symphony Orchestra exquisitely complement one another on this incredible new release. Just take a listen to the album’s title track or “Bewitched” and you’ll be hooked.
  • Funny Face - To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic film the soundtrack has been re-released and on this incarnation you’ll discover pretty extraordinary bonus tracks!
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.
  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone serves up a grand assortment of songs and anecdotes on this just-out two disc set that’s nothing short of fantastic.
  • Kid Victory - The latest musical from John Kander, working with Greg Pierce, is a fascinating and often wonderful listen.
  • In Full Swing - Seth MacFarlane lends his smooth vocals to a host of American Songbook classics on this new album. Among the recording's niftiest tracks are "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Like Myself," and "Almost Like Being in Love."
  • Gershwin & Wild - Pianist Joanne Polk tackles Earl Wild’s exceptional arrangements of George Gershwin’s melodies, including “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.” This one’s a beaut.
  • Glorious Quest: Hits from the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals - British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke sounds pretty fantastic on this new recording of great songs like “Lonely Town” from On the Town and “This Nearly Was MIne” from South Pacific.
  • Bernstein: The Complete Solo Piano Works - Leann Osterkamp’s grand album collects Leonard Bernstein’s piano compositions. Many of the pieces here are ones that he wrote as gifts for friends such as Stephen Sondheim and Aaron Copland, and some are receiving their first recording here.
  • Abandoned Heart - A terrific array of Broadway performers has been assembled for this new album showcasing the songwriting talents of Michael Mott. Among the artists who have contributed are Jennifer Damiano, Andy Mientus, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Natalie Weiss.
  • Legally Bound - Andy Karl and Orfeh are a married couple with a pair of powerhouse voices. We've gotten to see them share a couple of scenes together in Legally Blonde, and now with this terrific new album they join up for an entire evening of song.
  • Life Is What You Make It - This EP gives you the soundtrack for the poignant documentary from Jhett Tolentino, who's brought shows such as Hand to God to Broadway. Four of the songs come from singer-songwriter Dennis Sy.
  • The View Upstairs - This pop-infused, New Orleans-set tuner bends time to tell an intriguing and moving story about a little-known slice of gay history. For those of you who didn't get to see this one, it's definitely worth a listen.
  • Bubble Boy - There are delights aplenty to be heard on this cast album of a show written by one of the guys responsible for the hit film Despicable Me. It's definitely worth a listen!

The last big musical opening on Broadway in 2017 will be the highly anticipated revival of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' Once on This Island.

It seems fitting to pay tribute to this much-loved show and its return to the Great White Way, and I want to give Erik and Ken a little latitude in how they do it.

They'll have a few options. They could talk about Flaherty and Ahrens' work overall, or they could look at musicals (or Broadway songs) with a Caribbean flavor, or perhaps they could take a look at myths as they crop up in tuners. Wonder where each of them will head....

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Oct
27

They're Flying

In honor of Laura Benanti, an actress who is musical theatre royalty yet also regularly performs in plays, appearing on Broadway in Steve Martin’s new comedy, Meteor Shower, which starts previews this coming Wednesday, we are looking at songs that reference celestial bodies. And what lyricist hasn’t used the stars, the moon, the sun, the clouds, the birds, etc. for poetic effect? For example, in Paint Your Wagon’s “They Call the Wind Maria” Lerner and Loewe’s titular element “blows the stars around and sends the clouds a-flyin’.” In the title song to The Sound of Music, Oscar Hammerstein II famously wrote about that “lark who is learning to pray” (though I have always wondered if he didn’t really mean “prey”). In Annie Get Your Gun, our sharpshooting heroine has “the sun in the morning and the moon at night.”

That way lies madness, so I decided to insist on songs that are actually about or involve a flying object. And just to complicate matters, I also chose to try to vary the objects as much as possible. I think it makes for an intriguing list of 20 songs.

“I’m Flying,” from Peter Pan
How could I not begin with this wonderful Mark Charlap–Carolyn Leigh song that ends Act 1 on an incredible high? Peter blows fairy dust on the Darling children, all think lovely thoughts, and off they go into the night to Neverland as Nana barks below. It’s so magical, and the amazed and delighted looks on the faces of children in the audience are so beautiful, that it always makes me cry. I firmly believe that this moment has instilled a lifetime theatergoing habit in legions of young’uns.

“Tiny,” from 3hree
In 1999 Harold Prince directed this triptych of one-act musicals to inaugurate the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. This charming song by Robert Lindsey Nassif comes from the evening’s closing piece, The Flight of the Lawnchair Man. A young Christopher Fitzgerald, at the start of his career, plays regular guy Jerry, from Passaic, N.J., who attaches 400 helium-filled balloons to his lawnchair and is soon floating above the Garden State. “Tiny” describes what he sees.

“Look Where I Am,” from Man in the Moon
This Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick tune pits the wonder of a child against the comic agitation of a group of crooks. The show in question is a children’s musical written for Bil & Cora Baird’s Marionettes, which played for 22 performances at the Biltmore Theatre in 1963, opening two weeks before She Loves Me. Another hero named Jerry believes that there is a man in the moon, and the boy has been trying to reach him by sending signals from his homemade crystal radio set. Jerry’s steadfast belief powers a beam that lifts him through space to the moon, unknowingly followed by the bumbling group, who are on the lam from the police. It’s an awfully roundabout beam, however, as Jerry seems to go by everything from Mercury and Venus to Neptune and Saturn before reaching his destination. Stage Door Records has just brought this long-out-of-print LP, which includes both dialogue and five Bock and Harnick songs, to CD only in a limited release of 500 copies.

“You’re a Child,” from the film The Little Prince
Antoine de St. Exupéry’s titular lad leaves his own asteroid in a search for wisdom, thanks to a passing flock of birds who throw him a line. The Little Prince visits several other asteroids in this Alan Jay Lerner–Frederick Loewe song from their 1974 film adaptation of the fable, where he meets a general, an historian, a king, and a business man, none of whom prove particularly helpful, before landing on Earth in the Sahara Desert and losing the birds.

“Doomed, Doomed, Doomed,” from The Golden Apple
In Act 2 of John Latouche and Jerome Moross’ 1954 masterwork, Ulysses and his men, having dispatched Helen out of Troy and back to her hometown of Angel’s Roost, go on an all-night celebratory spree in the big city of Rhododendron. In this song they encounter a lady scientist who is working on building a rocket ship to get mankind off the Earth before it becomes unlivable due to climate change and pestilences. A soldier named Doc offers to test fly it, and the damn thing works! Alas, the scientist has forgotten to devise a way to bring it back, so Doc is, to coin a phrase, lost in the stars.

“The Best Christmas of All,” from the TV film Mrs. Santa Claus
Angela Lansbury and Charles Durning played the first couple of the North Pole in this 1996 TV musical. This Jerry Herman finale has Santa inviting his Mrs. to join him in distributing presents for the first time ever, and they sing together while being pulled through the sky by Dasher et al.

“Pow! Bam! Zonk!,” from It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman
The Man of Steel flies about in this Charles Strouse–Lee Adams song as he battles the villainous Flying Lings, a Chinese acrobatic troupe that has tried to destroy him because people who can see Superman fly aren’t interested in watching acrobats. I first saw this 1966 musical in a vest-pocket production in a tiny theatre in Cleveland in 1971. The actor playing Superman swooped down the center aisle hanging from a bar in the ceiling embedded in a track. Very ingenious.

“Do It Again,” from the film Thoroughly Modern Millie
And speaking of acrobats, Carol Channing’s adventurous millionairess Muzzy Van Hossmere joins a troupe on stage for her rendition of this standard by George Gershwin and B.G. “Buddy” DeSylva (written for the 1922 Broadway play The French Doll) after being shot out of a cannon positioned in a theatre box. Channing, or at least her double, spends much of the number airborne.

“Faster Than Sound,” from High Spirits
Tammy Grimes flew all about the stage of the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre as her character, the ghostly Elvira Condimine, tried to lure her surviving husband, Charles, to his death, so that he could join her in the afterlife. Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s musical adaptation of the Noël Coward classic Blithe Spirit was directed by the Master himself on Broadway in 1964. While the CD of the OBCR is long out of print and goes for big bucks on Amazon, you can hear Phyllis Lynd’s fun rendition of this sprightly number on her album When I Fall in Love.

“Icarus,” “Migratory V,” and “Pegasus,” from Myths and Hymns
Adam Guettel’s 1996 spiritually questing song cycle provides a mother lode of three numbers featuring celestial bodies. The first is Guettel’s propulsive account of the Icarus legend, in which an overambitious son uses wings made of feathers and wax to fly too close to the sun in an attempt to outdo his father, ending in catastrophe. The second is a simple contemplation of prayer using a migratory flock of birds as a metaphor, beautifully sung by Theresa McCarthy. The last has a lyric by Ellen Fitzhugh and is a comic scene in which the hero Bellerophon and his flying horse, Pegasus, argue over whose fault it is that Pegasus threw him in midair. The real culprit is a gadfly sent to bite the horse by Zeus, who is displeased with Bellerophon’s hubris. Audra McDonald is a lot of fun as the fly. I saw this show in two of its stage incarnations: a 1998 version without a plot produced by the Public Theater, retitled Saturn Returns: A Concert and directed by Tina Landau, and a 2012 reimagining by director Elizabeth Lucas for the Prospect Theater Company that superimposed an elaborate story about a religious family torn apart by contemporary issues, which I reviewed for Backstage. Neither succeeded as a piece of theatre, but as a collection of art songs the work is remarkable.

“Yes,” from 70, Girls, 70
Mildred Natwick sang this John Kander and Fred Ebb paean to life while perched upon a crescent moon at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1971. Her character, Ida, the ringleader of a band of seniors who turn to crime to save their old folks home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, came back from the dead just to warble it. I love this score and thoroughly enjoyed the somewhat rewritten show in its 1991 London production starring the great Dora Bryan, as well as a York Theatre Company concert rendition starring Jane Powell in 2000. But, oh, how I wish I could have caught the original, which expired after only one month. In 1976, just before Christmas, I sold a picture frame at Macy’s to Fred Ebb, and I managed to stammer that this was my favorite of his scores. He smiled at me and replied, “Me too!”

“Leave the World Behind,” from Steel Pier
Here’s another Kander and Ebb tune from another Kander and Ebb flop, a 1997 show about a rigged dance marathon that I did see and didn’t like nearly as much as 70, Girls, 70. Our heroine, Rita, played by Karen Ziemba, needs to leave her controlling husband and break free into a new life, hence all the imagery in the song. A Busby Berkeley–esque number staged by Susan Stroman that featured chorus people dancing on the wings of an old propeller plane as it soars through the air carrying Rita and her marathon partner, a handsome pilot with a secret, it’s intended as a dream she is having during a 15-minute sleep break in the competition. It rather head-scratchingly opened Act 2 and felt like a stage wait, but considered out of dramatic context it certainly had its charms given the talent of the folks creating it.

“Over the Moon,” from Rent
Let’s face it: I am not and never will be a Renthead, though I certainly recognize Jonathan Larson’s talent. Still, how could I not include Idina Menzel playing a lesbian performance artist angry at corporate greed and soullessness? This is her act, at the end of which she and a cow jump over the moon while the audience is asked to moo. I confess to never being sure whether it was supposed to be good performance art or a satire of the genre. But that’s probably why I’m not a Renthead.

“Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” from the film Mary Poppins
Of course, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins flies via umbrella in this 1964 film classic, but alas she doesn’t sing while doing so. The touching final Sherman Brothers song, however, is pure gold as it dramatizes the reconstitution of a happy Banks family. Mary’s job is done, and the wind has changed.

“American Eagles/With My Head in the Clouds,” from This Is the Army
Irving Berlin’s 1942 bouncy paean to World War II bombardiers is a bit bloodthirsty (“More bombers to attack with/More bombers still the skies are black with/Eagles, American eagles”), but then we were fighting the Nazis, who had already done quite a number on London with their bombers during the Blitz. And the second half gets suitably sentimental as Berlin reveals that the only thing the pilots are thinking of while dropping all those bombs is the little woman back home.

“Giants in the Sky,” from Into the Woods
Well, nobody is flying in this 1987 Stephen Sondheim song, but Jack does go up the beanstalk into the sky, where he most certainly discovers a world of giants. And a giant in the sky definitely qualifies as an unusual celestial body, no?

“Take Flight and Finale,” from Take Flight
I first encountered this musical, which intercuts the stories of the Orville and Wilbur Wright, Amelia Earhart, and Charles Lindbergh, in an early workshop when it had lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and music by David Shire and was essentially a dramatic song cycle, and I was completely enchanted by this celebration of the human need to achieve the impossible. However, it was decided that dialogue was called for, and so first Marsha Norman and then John Weidman was brought in to write a book. I missed the show’s first full production, in 2007 at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, which produced this recording, but I caught a significantly revised version at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in 2010, where I was once again enchanted. Critics were mixed, however, and the show never came in to NYC. All versions ended with the Wright brothers’ first successful flight on a North Carolina beach, something I found extraordinarily moving both times. In London this recapitulated the opening prologue/title song, though that was cut in Princeton in order to get to the story more quickly. In any event, it’s here because I think it’s a score everyone should know (even though some of the best numbers were written for Princeton and can’t be heard here).

“Our Time,” from Merrily We Roll Along
This soaring Sondheim song of youthful hope and ambition has nothing whatsoever do with celestial bodies in its content. However, it is sung on a rooftop by characters who have gathered to catch a glimpse of Russia’s newly launched first satellite, Sputnik. It’s not only a great moment in musical theatre; it’s also a great finale to the show, and now to this column as well.

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Oct
27

Stars

This week’s column is about celestial bodies and no we’re not talking about Broadway Bares. Instead, we’re talking about stars. MGM used to boast that they had “more stars than there are in heaven.” And when you think about it, they did have a ton of stars under contract. And thinking of Broadway at about the same time, mainly the 1950s, there was also loads of stars on the boards.

But if you look at what’s playing today on Broadway in a single season it appears that there aren’t as many stars as there used to be. In fact, the number of true stars on Broadway today can be counted on one hand. And please, there’s a difference between a “star” and “starring in a show.” The former is an actor who can reliably sell tickets without the public knowing what the show is about. At the beginning of the last century it was a true acknowledgement of one’s talents to be allowed to put a star on the door of one’s dressing room. And “starring in” a show really only means you have the leading role whatever your talents are.

What are the reasons there are so few true stars today? First of all, very few performers are dedicated solely to Broadway. Think of Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, and Mary Martin, possibly the greatest musical comedy stars in Broadway history. They all dabbled in movies but they were truly Broadway stars and they reliably showed up on Broadway every few years or so. That seldom happens nowadays. So, theatergoers don’t have the pride of place relationships with the performers.

Another reason for the dearth of stars is movies and television. In days gone by, actors were trained in stage technique. Today, most performers are giving smaller-than-life performances suited to close ups or 50-inch screens. Stage technique meant knowing how to walk and stand upon a stage. How to make an entrance in a show. How to engage the audience without actually playing to them directly. How to project your voice to the farthest part of the theatre without the use of microphones. And believe me, microphones sap a performer’s energy. Just the effort to speak clearly and use your diaphragm to push sound clear up to the second balcony gets the blood moving and that energy comes across the footlights.

Finally, the third reason there aren’t many stars in the Broadway firmament is ticket prices. Again, years ago, when ticket prices were reasonable and producers weren’t all about the greed, you could afford to see your favorite star in a musical or play without breaking the bank. Even going to a show that got so-so reviews but with your favorite star would be all right. If the play wasn’t so hot, you did get to see your favorite actor and you didn’t have to be royally pissed off that you spent your rent money or mortgage for a seat in the back of the first balcony (er, I mean mezzanine) on a really bad show.

Listen, there’s a lot of very good performers on Broadway both in musicals and plays. And it’s a pleasure to see them. As Bette Midler has proven (at the box office at least) a star is something special and the enthusiasm their audience feels toward them is palpable and soon both on stage and in the seats everyone is joined in a wonderful communal feeling.

No, I’m not going to say who I think are the stars of today but I’d like to know your favorites.

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Oct
27

Celestial Bodies

Steve Martin's new play Meteor Shower is just starting up on Broadway, and we'd like to toast this show and its powerhouse cast, which includes Tony-winning musical theatre star Laura Benanti. As it's not a musical, I couldn't ask the guys to consider a composer's body of work or anything like that, so... I asked them to offer up some thoughts about celestial bodies in musical theater. You know, things like meteors. 

Both Erik and Ken have more than risen to the occasion, and you're gonna love both of their columns.

To complement Erik and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • Songs for a New World - This early show from Tony winner Jason Robert Brown contains the haunting ballad "Stars and the Moon," and you can't beat Jessica Molaskey's rendition on the show's original cast album.
  • Hair - The first words you hear in this iconic rock musical are "When the moon is in the seventh house/And Jupiter aligns with Mars." That seems to more than amply fit the theme this week, so I turn your attention to the original cast recording. Also, remember the show has the song "Walking in Space." 

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


There's a lot of stuff flying around in our current Spotify playlist and not just stars, moons, and planets. What's really fun about this one, I think, is that the songs span about 75 years of musical theater songwriting and fall into all sorts of genres, from ballads to up-tempo numbers to ensemble songs.


Musician-performer Kyle Riabko reimagines a host of classic Richard Rodgers tunes on his new album, and this week we've got one of them for you as our Free Song download!


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • Someone to Watch Over Me  - Ella Fitzgerald and the London Symphony Orchestra exquisitely complement one another on this incredible new release. Just take a listen to the album’s title track or “Bewitched” and you’ll be hooked.
  • Funny Face - To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic film the soundtrack has been re-released and on this incarnation you’ll discover pretty extraordinary bonus tracks!
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.
  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone serves up a grand assortment of songs and anecdotes on this just-out two disc set that’s nothing short of fantastic.
  • Kid Victory - The latest musical from John Kander, working with Greg Pierce, is a fascinating and often wonderful listen.
  • In Full Swing - Seth MacFarlane lends his smooth vocals to a host of American Songbook classics on this new album. Among the recording's niftiest tracks are "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Like Myself," and "Almost Like Being in Love."
  • Gershwin & Wild - Pianist Joanne Polk tackles Earl Wild’s exceptional arrangements of George Gershwin’s melodies, including “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.” This one’s a beaut.
  • Glorious Quest: Hits from the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals - British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke sounds pretty fantastic on this new recording of great songs like “Lonely Town” from On the Town and “This Nearly Was MIne” from South Pacific.
  • Bernstein: The Complete Solo Piano Works - Leann Osterkamp’s grand album collects Leonard Bernstein’s piano compositions. Many of the pieces here are ones that he wrote as gifts for friends such as Stephen Sondheim and Aaron Copland, and some are receiving their first recording here.
  • Abandoned Heart - A terrific array of Broadway performers has been assembled for this new album showcasing the songwriting talents of Michael Mott. Among the artists who have contributed are Jennifer Damiano, Andy Mientus, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Natalie Weiss.
  • Legally Bound - Andy Karl and Orfeh are a married couple with a pair of powerhouse voices. We've gotten to see them share a couple of scenes together in Legally Blonde, and now with this terrific new album they join up for an entire evening of song.
  • Life Is What You Make It - This EP gives you the soundtrack for the poignant documentary from Jhett Tolentino, who's brought shows such as Hand to God to Broadway. Four of the songs come from singer-songwriter Dennis Sy.
  • The View Upstairs - This pop-infused, New Orleans-set tuner bends time to tell an intriguing and moving story about a little-known slice of gay history. For those of you who didn't get to see this one, it's definitely worth a listen.
  • Zipperz - Created by Nathaniel Stookey and Dan Harder, this piece started life as a song cycle for orchestra and then became one for two performers. The recording features Manoel Felciano and Robin Coomer, who deliver powerfully on this splendid album.
  • Portraits of Joni – Jessica Molaskey lends her distinctive style and gorgeous voice to a bevy of Joni Mitchell standards.
  • Bubble Boy - There are delights aplenty to be heard on this cast album of a show written by one of the guys responsible for the hit film Despicable Me. It's definitely worth a listen!

When you get our next newsletter, you'll find that I've let Ken and Erik write about whatever they feel like at the time. I figured it was only fair. They so ably rise to the occasion of each assignment I toss at them.

Let a little writers' freedom ring, right?

I have no idea what they might think of for their columns, and as you ponder where they might go, why not take a listen to David Friedman's album A Different Light? It's got the perfect song on it. "Choices."

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Oct
13

Falling and Tripping

You know, I just can't make it easy on myself when working on Andy's assignments. The easy way out would be songs like "Falling in Love," Henry Sullivan and Earle Crooker's song from The Third Little Show, or "Falling in Love With Love" that Rodgers and Hart wrote for The Boys From Syracuse, or "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," which you might know from Miss Liberty but more recently the Irving Berlin tune was interpolated into the Broadway version of White Christmas. Berlin wrote another "falling" song for Annie Get Your Gun: "They Say That Falling in Love Is Wonderful." Also Fats Waller, Harry Link, and Billy Rose wrote the song "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling" for the revue Hot Chocolates. It's now a jazz standard. There's also Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young's "I'm Falling in Love With Someone" that was a hit from Naughty Marietta.

As for "tripping," the only show song I can think of is "Tripping the Light Fantastic." Harold Rome wrote that for Wish You Were Here.

But enough of that. I want to do something else. First I want to list some shows in which people are falling for a con.

In Flora the Red Menace, the title character falls for Harry Toukarian emotionally and with his Communist views.

Thomas Meehan's script for Annie has Daddy Warbucks and his assistant, Grace, fall for the lies of the evil Miss Hannigan who plots to get Warbucks' bucks.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has the protagonist J. Pierpont Finch wheeling and dealing up the corporate ladder with the bosses falling for his scheming.

Now, as for tripping, can you guess what I'm thinking of? Yes, it's marijuana. And interestingly, the late '60s and early '70s were the heyday of shows in which people smoked dope. The earliest show that I can think of that featured smoking dope is Murder at the Vanities by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow. The song was aptly named "Marahuana." And no, when Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach wrote "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" they were talking about even a cigarette.

The librettists of Hair, James Rado and Gerome Ragni along with composer Galt MacDermot concocted a truly revolutionary musical. Never meant for Broadway it had productions at the Public Theater and then at the nightclub Cheetah before arriving on the Great White Way and immediately became a sensation. If you think of the success of Hamilton Hair had more of an impact both at the box office and culturally. In addition to lots of drugs on stage and in the bodies of the cast during performances Hair celebrated black boys, white boys, anti-war demonstrations, the draft, drag, various incarnations of sexuality, the shock of "hippies" and their long hair (very shocking), pollution, the military/industrial complex, and the clueless older generation. And yes, the show has many, many drug references. There's even a long second act LSD trip in which George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Buddhist monks, nuns, Native Americans, Clark Gable, etc. interpret American history. And finally the promise of "The Age of Aquarius."

Broadway inched slowly into some of the more radical themes introduced in Hair. In 1970 the Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical Company explored the relationships of various couples amongst themselves and with their friend, the confirmed bachelor Robert. When he visits one couple, Jenny and David, they share a joint and demand that Robert tell them why he hasn't married. It might be the marijuana that brings to life Robert's depictions of the women that he's dated.

Speaking of couples, the 1977 musical I Love My Wife not only had pot smoking, but the whole idea of the show was two couples having a foursome. Of course, it being Broadway the whole thing was handled with humor and in the end not much happens at all. 

Since then, drugs and drug references have slowed on Broadway. Perhaps because smoking dope, or tripping, isn't controversial anymore. But folks are still falling and in the case of Hamilton, it leaves one character "Helpless."

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Oct
13

I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling

OK, so we are saluting the autumnal season by looking at songs in which the character falls, stumbles, trips etc. This, of course, can be literal, an actual physical event, or metaphorical, as in a decision that leads to negative consequences of some sort. Here are 21 songs from 20 shows, arranged more or less in the order that they came to mind.

“Stumbling,” from the film Thoroughly Modern Millie
Zez Confrey’s 1922 novelty piano solo wasn’t written for the 1967 film but is used in it when Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore must dance to make an ornery elevator function. That background cut is not on the movie soundtrack, but you can hear the tune in the overture, the fourth melody out of five. Confrey, by the way, is also the composer of the more famous “Kitten on the Keys.”

“Someone Woke Up,” from Do I Hear a Waltz?
Thirtysomething single gal Leona Samish arrives in Venice and is suitably ecstatic in this 1965 Richard Rodgers–Stephen Sondheim opening number. During the song she manages to fall into a canal while backing up to take a picture. When Katharine Hepburn played the part in the 1955 film Summertime, based on Arthur Laurents’ 1952 hit play The Time of the Cuckoo, which is also the musical’s basis, she did it on location in Venice and ended up with an eye infection from polluted water that hounded her the rest of her days.

“Cheese Nips,” from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
In the first of three descents into madness on this list, Sylvia, the sophisticated urban wife of philanthropist Eliot Rosewater, doesn’t take to their move from New York City to rural Indiana, where he plans to work to help the downtrodden lower classes. Sylvia throws a party at which the locals reject caviar, brie, and champagne for Cheese Nips and Coca Cola, and it sends her into a mental institution. This unsuccessful 1979 off-Broadway musical, based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, marked the first collaboration of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and the excellent OCR of Encores’s 2016 concert version makes the show sound like a hit.

“Epiphany,” from Sweeney Todd
The demon barber of Fleet Street lurches into insanity and serial killing when his attempt to murder the vicious Judge Turpin, who unjustly imprisoned him in order to rape his wife and acquire his daughter, is accidentally foiled. Len Cariou was seriously scary breaking the fourth wall with this in 1979. Initially, composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim ended it with unresolved wavering chords, indicating the character’s instability, but the aria was so powerful that it demanded an applause button, which was pushed during previews.

“Loveland,” from Follies
Sondheim’s 1971 Irving Berlin–style paean to romantic illusions marks the moment when reality comes apart and James Goldman’s four unhappy leading characters turn on each other and the younger ghosts shadowing them at a reunion of ex-performers. As the drab stage of a decaying theatre suddenly explodes with color and excess, our four leads look on dazedly before staggering off stage. Then they reappear individually in a surreal sequence in which they work out their personal “follies” in a succession of showbiz numbers.

“Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” from Miss Liberty
Speaking of Irving Berlin, Mary McCarty—who 22 years later would bring down the house with “Who’s That Woman?” in Follies—played Maisie Dell, a wisecracking journalist, in Berlin’s 1949 musical about the search for the woman who served as the model for the Statue of Liberty (who’s that woman indeed!). When in Act 2 Maisie loses her guy, the man conducting the search, to the leading lady, who is erroneously labeled the model, she sings this saucy tribute to being single. The show had a book by the distinguished American playwright Robert E. Sherwood and direction by another distinguished American playwright, Moss Hart, but the critics weren’t impressed, and it limped along for a nine-month run due to a large advance sale. Berlin’s score, however, has its charms.

“Fallin’,” from They’re Playing Our Song
Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics) wrote the songs for this Neil Simon comedy about Vernon and Sonia, a neurotic composer and lyricist who get romantically involved. Based on Hamlisch and Sager’s real-life romance, it was a big hit in 1979, though more a play with songs than a full-fledged musical. This, the first song in the show, is Vernon and Sonia’s initial collaboration, and they argue over whether the lyric (exemplified by “Why do I always take a fall/When I fall in love?”) is good enough for the tune (she doesn’t think it is; he does). Sager’s career writing pop lyrics was undoubtedly considered a plus for this show. However, in his posthumously published 1986 history, The American Musical Theatre: A Celebration, Alan Jay Lerner, who had wanted to write with Hamlisch, lamented the composer’s choice to work with “the singing aspirin” instead of a more theatrically savvy collaborator.

“The Fall,” from Queen of the Mist
Michael John LaChiusa’s 2011 off-Broadway musical about Anna Edson Taylor, who at age 63 in 1901 became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and live, was particularly notable for Mary Testa’s blazing performance in the lead. Apparently, Anna always refused to discuss what it was like to go over the falls, which is why her attempt to cash in monetarily on the achievement never took off, and she died alone and penniless. In the show’s mystical finale, however, she finally sings from beyond the grave about what the experience felt like. I think that the reason that the indomitable Anna wouldn’t describe her feelings is because she secretly thought she would die in the attempt. You can check out my Backstage review if you want to know more.

“Bonds,” from The Rothschilds
In this Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick song, the sons of the late Mayer Rothschild scheme to get Prince Metternich to lift restrictions on Jews by selling bonds at a lower price than his peace bonds, betting their fortune in the process. The bond market does indeed take a tumble, and the sons not only succeed but also receive a guarantee that all state bonds will henceforth be handled by the House of Rothschild. In his mixed Sunday review in the New York Times, critic Walter Kerr singled out this number as a problem, carping that “bonds don’t dance, dollars don’t sing.” But then, of course, Kerr wanted the show to be more of a musical comedy. Harnick may have agreed, for he cut the number from his 2015 revisal of this 1970 musical, retitled Rothschild & Sons and produced by the York Theatre Company off-Broadway. Me, I like the song and find it both clever and effective.

“Tripping the Light Fantastic,” from Wish You Were Here
Sung by the denizens of Camp Kare-Free, a summer oasis for young adults in the Catskills, this 1952 Harold Rome song is really about dancing. Still, “tripping” is in the title, and there’s a short but spirited dance section during which somebody must have tripped at one time or another.

“Being Good,” from Hallelujah, Baby!
In this Arthur Laurents (book)–Jule Styne (music)–Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics) 1968 Tony-winning best musical about black America’s struggle for civil rights, heroine Georgina stays in her 20s as she progresses through the first seven decades of the 20th century. In this Act 1 closer a luminous Leslie Uggams screws her courage to the sticking place as she voices the familiar sentiment that blacks must do everything twice as well as whites to be successful: “Being good isn’t good enough/…When I fly/I must fly extra high/…And if I fall/That’s the way it’s gotta be./There’s no other way for me./Being good just won’t be good enough/I’ll be the best or nothing at all.”

“Lazy Afternoon,” from The Golden Apple
Kaye Ballard set the stage sizzling in 1954 with this John Latouche–Jerome Moross standard from their reimagining of The Iliad and The Odyssey in turn-of-the-20th-century Washington State. In it, bored rural housewife Helen seduces lubricious traveling salesman Paris, convincing him to spirit her off to the big city. He most definitely falls into her clutches, and her virtuous status tumbles as well.

“No Thank You,” from War Paint
In Act 2 of this currently running musical about the rivalry between cosmetic giants Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, the titans reject advice to democratize their brands by creating an inexpensive line to appeal to teenagers and by sponsoring TV quiz shows. Their haughty dismissals are directly responsible for their brands’ success nosediving as Max Factor and Revlon take off by cornering the new baby boomer market. Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole turn in bravura performances, and the Michael Korie–Scott Frankel score is impeccably crafted and offers numerous pleasures. Though Doug Wright’s book doesn’t always generate sufficient dramatic tension, due in part to the fact that in real life the two ladies never met, the show is intelligent, intriguing, and well worth a visit before it closes at the end of the year.

“Something Bad Is Happening/More Racquetball,” from Falsettos
As Dr. Charlotte sings about the mysterious appearance of a deadly cancer affecting gay men, lovers Whizzer and Marvin compete at racquetball. Suddenly young, handsome, vital Whizzer collapses on the court. William Finn and James Lapine’s landmark 1992 musical received a stunning revival last season on Broadway, and you can see it on Fri., Oct. 27, on PBS Channel 13 at 9 pm. Don’t miss it!

“Love Me Tomorrow,” from Cabin in the Sky
In Act 2 reformed sinner Li’l Joe resists the advances of his former mistress, Georgia Brown, as he has promised his wife, Petunia, to turn over a new leaf. Joe tells Georgia to “love me tomorrow but leave me alone today,” which isn’t exactly a firm no, and when Petunia catches them together, she assumes that Joe has fallen, even though he hasn’t quite. It’s a crime that the dazzling 2016 concert production at Encores! wasn’t recorded; you’ll have to settle for the OCR of the show’s 1964 off-Broadway revival, which is, I think, the only commercial recording of this John Latouche–Vernon Duke comic duet.

“Many a New Day,” from Oklahoma!
In this Richard Rodgers–Oscar Hammerstein II charm song, feisty farm lass Laurey pretends to her girlfriends not to be upset about a spat with her regular beau, cowboy Curly. I include it because the dance section features a character named “the girl who falls down,” a specialty created by choreographer Agnes de Mille for the incandescent Joan McCracken at the start of her brief but memorable career. For more about McCracken, Bob Fosse’s second wife, who starred on Broadway in Comden and Green’s Billion Dollar Baby and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet and can be seen on screen in MGM’s 1947 remake of Good News leading “The Varsity Drag,” read Lisa Jo Sagolla’s excellent biography The Girl Who Fell Down.

“The Only One” and “I Never Knew,” from Far From Heaven
This 2013 adaptation of Todd Haymes’ 2002 Douglas Sirk–inspired melodrama has a book by Richard Greenberg, lyrics by Michael Korie, and music by Scott Frankel. Though it faltered by being too faithful to its source material, the score has many fine songs, with these two among the best. In “The Only One,” unhappy 1950s suburban Connecticut housewife Cathy Whitaker asks her African-American gardener, for whom she has unacknowledged feelings, what it is like being a black man in a white community. He responds by taking her to a bar frequented by African Americans, where she asks him to dance. A nosy neighbor sees them, and Cathy’s social status takes a precipitous dive as Act 1 ends. In “I Never Knew,” Cathy’s closeted gay husband tells her that his attempt at reparative therapy is over because he has met a man he wants to be with, and their storybook marriage crumbles to bits. Kelli O’Hara, Isaiah Johnson, and Steven Pasquale are all superb.

“The Twenty Dollar Bill,” from Caroline, or Change
In Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s groundbreaking 2004 musical drama, eight-year-old Noah Gellman, growing up Jewish on Lake Charles, La., has a tendency to leave things in his pockets. As a result, his mother has announced that Caroline Thibodeaux, the family’s African-American maid, can keep any spare change she finds there when doing the laundry. Unfortunately, Noah forgets a 20-dollar bill, Hanukah gelt from his grandparents, and, indeed, the struggling Caroline, a single mother with three kids to feed, keeps it. A furious Noah blurts out something racially hateful, Caroline responds with equal cruelty, and their tentative friendship is irreparably hurt. Both stumble badly.

“Imagining You,” from Birds of Paradise
This 1987 off-Broadway musical began life as a 1983 master’s thesis project in the NYU graduate program for writing musicals under the title of Amateurs. Authors Winnie Holzman (book and lyrics) and David Evans (book and music) were mentored by Arthur Laurents, who also directed. The musical is a gloss on Chekhov’s The Seagull, reset in an amateur theatre troupe on Long Island. “Imagining You” closed Act 1, with the eight-person cast positioned across the length of the Promenade Theatre stage. Each character has unrequited feelings for one of the other characters, which means that all eight have made a misstep. Laurents had lighting designer Jules Fisher highlight the mismatched lovers in succession in a sweeping gesture coordinated with the music as the act ended. It was very touching, one of the most effective act closers I’ve seen in all my days of theatergoing. Alas, the book has problems, but the score is a honey, and the cast— Mary Beth Peil, Donna Murphy, J.K. Simmons, Barbara Walsh, Crista Moore, Todd Graff, Andrew Hill Newman, and John Cunningham—was to die for. Holzman, of course, went on to write a little show called Wicked.

“The Ballad of Guiteau,” from Assassins
President James Garfield’s assassin, a delusional, relentlessly optimistic gadfly who killed Garfield because he wasn’t appointed ambassador to France, sings a poem of his own devising, “I Am Going to the Lordy,” to the Balladeer in this Stephen Sondheim song as he repeatedly mounts and dismounts the steps of a gallows. The button, of course, is his hanging, complete with the requisite sound effects. Though director Joe Mantello’s 2004 Broadway revival was, for me, the show’s definitive production, Jonathan Hadary, in its 1990 world premiere off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, remains an indelible Guiteau. And as no fall could be more final than this one, I’ll end here.

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Oct
13

Falling...Falling...

Fall arrived last month, and in many parts of the country it has seemed as if summer just hasn't wanted to leave us. We want to celebrate the passage into autumn in BwayTunes fashion, not by talking about songs that center on the season but rather ones that play with the idea of "falling." Erik and Ken have come up with two terrific lists that trip, tumble, and stumble delightfully.

To complement Erik and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • "As We Stumble Along" - The Drowsy Chaperone - One of the highlights of this award-winning tuner was Beth Leavel's delivery of this paean to making it through life (inebriated or not) just by stumbling through it. 
  • "A Trip to the Library" - She Loves Me - Ilona Ritter takes a trip to a library and stumbles across romance, and she sings about her delight in finding love in this delectable Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick tune. 

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


I'm hoping you don't feel all sorts of jostled with our new playlist for a fun (I hope) salute to "fall". What I do know is that thanks to the guys' incredible selections this Spotify Playlist is over an hour of swell music.


The cast recording for Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin's Hadestown, an adventuresome rethinking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, has just come out, and we've got a track as our current Free Song download!


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • Someone to Watch Over Me  - Ella Fitzgerald and the London Symphony Orchestra exquisitely complement one another on this incredible new release. Just take a listen to the album’s title track or “Bewitched” and you’ll be hooked.
  • Funny Face - To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this classic film the soundtrack has been re-released and on this incarnation you’ll discover pretty extraordinary bonus tracks!

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.
  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone serves up a grand assortment of songs and anecdotes on this just-out two disc set that’s nothing short of fantastic.
  • Kid Victory - The latest musical from John Kander, working with Greg Pierce, is a fascinating and often wonderful listen.
  • In Full Swing - Seth MacFarlane lends his smooth vocals to a host of American Songbook classics on this new album. Among the recording's niftiest tracks are "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Like Myself," and "Almost Like Being in Love."
  • Gershwin & Wild - Pianist Joanne Polk tackles Earl Wild’s exceptional arrangements of George Gershwin’s melodies, including “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.” This one’s a beaut.
  • Glorious Quest: Hits from the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals - British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke sounds pretty fantastic on this new recording of great songs like “Lonely Town” from On the Town and “This Nearly Was MIne” from South Pacific.
  • Bernstein: The Complete Solo Piano Works - Leann Osterkamp’s grand album collects Leonard Bernstein’s piano compositions. Many of the pieces here are ones that he wrote as gifts for friends such as Stephen Sondheim and Aaron Copland, and some are receiving their first recording here.
  • Abandoned Heart - A terrific array of Broadway performers has been assembled for this new album showcasing the songwriting talents of Michael Mott. Among the artists who have contributed are Jennifer Damiano, Andy Mientus, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Natalie Weiss.
  • Legally Bound - Andy Karl and Orfeh are a married couple with a pair of powerhouse voices. We've gotten to see them share a couple of scenes together in Legally Blonde, and now with this terrific new album they join up for an entire evening of song.
  • Life Is What You Make It - This EP gives you the soundtrack for the poignant documentary from Jhett Tolentino, who's brought shows such as Hand to God to Broadway. Four of the songs come from singer-songwriter Dennis Sy.
  • The View Upstairs - This pop-infused, New Orleans-set tuner bends time to tell an intriguing and moving story about a little-known slice of gay history. For those of you who didn't get to see this one, it's definitely worth a listen.
  • Zipperz - Created by Nathaniel Stookey and Dan Harder, this piece started life as a song cycle for orchestra and then became one for two performers. The recording features Manoel Felciano and Robin Coomer, who deliver powerfully on this splendid album.
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - Santino Fontana, Skylar Astin, and Brynn O'Malley are all sounding pretty marvelous on this just-out recording of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's 1979 tuner.
  • Portraits of Joni – Jessica Molaskey lends her distinctive style and gorgeous voice to a bevy of Joni Mitchell standards.
  • Bubble Boy - There are delights aplenty to be heard on this cast album of a show written by one of the guys responsible for the hit film Despicable Me. It's definitely worth a listen!
  • The Lightning Thief - Based on Rick Riordan’s hit novels for young people, this tuner brings Percy Jackson to the realm of musicals. The show picked up an award nomination or two after its run last season; it’s pretty special.
  • The Hamilton Instrumentals - Fans of the phenomenal hit get to sing along and sound like they’re backed by the Broadway orchestra thanks to this release that simply features the show’s score.

One of the fall's most highly anticipated openings isn't a musical but a play: Steve Martin's Meteor Shower.

Given that Martin was one of the writers of the tuner Bright Star, and also given that the show features Laura Benanti (an actress who moves between musicals and non-musicals with ease), it seemed as if we should toast its pending opening.

So when you next hear from us you'll find that I've asked Ken and Erik to consider musicals and songs about celestial bodies (planets, the universe, etc.) as a kind of tribute to Martin's Meteor. One song that came to mind for me right off the bat was "Stars" from Les Misérables. I'll be curious to see where the guys take this one.

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Sep
29

Julie Andrews...Broadway Star

Were she to have offered more Broadway musical performances, Julie Andrews would have been in the pantheon with other women who achieved a kind of immorality through their appearances on the Great White Way. Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing—they all devoted the majority of their careers to Broadway.

It’s funny that with only four Broadway appearances, one off-Broadway revue, and one original musical on television, Julie Andrews is still thought of as a Broadway star.

Most of her fame goes back to astounding performance as Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.  And much of the credit of her performance is due to the show’s director, Moss Hart, who literally locked himself in a room with her and practically beat out a performance from the young woman.

She didn’t have a great deal of stage experience before My Fair Lady. She began her career as a child taking voice lessons and impressing her teachers with her four octave range and clear tones.

She began her professional career at the age of 10 appearing with her parents on stage. Two years later she was “discovered” by impresario Val Parnell who put her on the West End stage in the revue, Starlight Roof.  She stopped the show and three years later she was tapped for a Royal Command Performance. Television and radio followed and her fame grew.

Her first stage appearances were in pantomimes which didn’t require much in the acting department. Then at age 18 she had her first real role in Sandy Wilson’s musical spoof of ‘20s musicals, The Boy Friend. The show was a hit and a year later it transferred to Broadway and she became the toast of Broadway.

With such a slight resume she was cast in My Fair Lady and, as the cliché goes, a star was born. And while starring in that role, Richard Rodgers, who had wanted to cast her in Pipe Dream, instead cast her in the television musical of Cinderella.

Television appearances followed before she was cast in another Lerner and Loewe musical, Camelot. The cast and score were magnificent but the script left much to be desired and Andrews would not appear on the stage for 33 years! Of course, she did star in the largest grossing film musical of all time, The Sound of Music and followed that with a very successful career in Hollywood.

In 1993, a Stephen Sondheim revue, Putting It Together, marked her return to the stage at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The show sold out based on her being cast but it did not receive good reviews.

Two years later, she made a notable appearance in the musical Victor/Victoria but to little acclaim. But the show was not a success despite Andrews’ inclusion in the cast.

Since then she has directed many shows from regional theatres like Goodspeed Opera House to a recent revival of My Fair Lady in Australia.

And yet, despite her small career on Broadway we still think of her as a Broadway star rather than a movie star. And for her two best-known roles in My Fair Lady and Camelot she will always be a Broadway star. It shows the power of Broadway success in the minds of the public.

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