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Oct
12

Musical Monologues

Soliloquies and monologues in musicals are the topic this week, and Erik and Ken have scoured hundreds of shows looking for some of the best songs that feature characters talking (singing, really) aloud about their inner thoughts and feelings. They've come up with some genuinely unexpected numbers, and I'm betting you'll have a great time reading their columns.

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

  • Chess - You'll actually find several songs in this show where the characters are singing about their inner lives. I know Chessdoesn't necessarily fall into the category of obscure, but with at least four musical soliloquies it seemed only appropriate to mention.
  • Bring It On - Late in this show about high school cheerleading squads, the seemingly sweet Eva delivers "Killer Instinct," and in doing so reveals her true self in a maliciously gleeful monologue.

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. 


Kelli O'Hara, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, and Patti LuPone are just a few of the performers whom you'll find belting out musical monologues on this week's Spotify playlist. Beyond being over an hour of swell listening (if I do say so myself), it is also a fascinating trip through roughly 75 years of musical theater writing.


Our free track this week comes from Stage Door Records' just-out release of the original London cast of the gorgeous 1950s jazz-infused musical, King Kong. The album and the song are both terrific.


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

  • Head Over Heels - The Go-Go's hits from the early 1980s meet an obscure Renaissance narrative poem in this merry lark of a Broadway musical. It's a giddy and toe-tapping retro listen.
  • Idina: Live - Broadway's original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, sounds pretty fantastic on this recording that features some pop classics and some great musical theater tunes, including a number from the tuners she has starred in.

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.

  • Pretty Woman - The first hit of the new 2018-2019 season is this musical based on the popular 1990 movie. Andy Karl and Samantha Barks tackle the roles originally played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the infectious score comes from Brian Adams and Jim Wallace. Definitely worth a listen!
  • Gettin' the Band Back Together - There's a gleeful rock sound at work in this Broadway cast recording. It's an album that's full of some unexpected pleasures.
  • Hundred Days - The Bengsons’ quirky off-Broadway show comes to compact disc with verve on this new cast recording!
  • Who’s Your Baghdaddy? - It's taken a while but this deliriously silly show has gotten a cast recording. It’s a giddy look back on the United States’ Middle Eastern policy of a time gone by that’s looking darn good these days. This release is just one of many new albums from Broadway Records. Among the label’s other titles you should check out are: Session Girls, Wicked Clone, Tonya and Nancy, and The Boy Who Danced on Air.
  • Beast in the Jungle - John Kander has written a marvelously lush score for this work based on the Henry James short story. It's a richly satisfying listen that you'll probably be savoring for some time to come!
  • Unexpected Joy - Composer Janet Hood and lyricist Bill Russell provided some genuinely infectious pop-theater songs for this tuner about a singer-songwriter who's attempting to move on after the death of her longtime performing--and life--partner.
  • Sunset Boulevard and Evita - This two-fer album from Jay Records finds. Ria Jones and Matt Bogart headliners in the former while Madalena Alberto and Max von Essen are featured for the second. All are sounding quite, quite good, and the album is certainly worth a listen.
  • Sunset Boulevard - Kim Criswell provides the vocals for Norma Desmond on this new release. Her beautiful voice brings a new dimension to songs such as “With One Look,” and the backing from the National Symphony Orchestra is particularly sumptuous.
  • Summer: The Donna Summer Musical - One of Broadway's newest hits, this show takes a whirlwind tour through the fascinating life and electrifying music of pop diva Donna Summer.
  • Desperate Measures - Shakespeare's Measure for Measure gets a contemporary, country-western spin in this musical that's enjoying a highly acclaimed and popular off-Broadway run.

You'll get our next newsletter less than a week before Halloween, and it's that holiday that Erik and Ken will be writing in their next columns.

Yes, I know there aren't a lot of musicals that unfold on this day when we all are focused on ghosts, witches, devils...and candy! So, I've just asked the guys to write about songs that, in some way to them, are appropriate for the day.

No idea where either of them will go with it all. As I was thinking about Halloween and such my mind turned to one recently released album, the new London cast recording of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.

 

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Artists

Oct
12

Musical Monologues

Soliloquies and monologues in musicals are the topic this week, and Erik and Ken have scoured hundreds of shows looking for some of the best songs that feature characters talking (singing, really) aloud about their inner thoughts and feelings. They've come up with some genuinely unexpected numbers, and I'm betting you'll have a great time reading their columns.

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

  • Chess - You'll actually find several songs in this show where the characters are singing about their inner lives. I know Chessdoesn't necessarily fall into the category of obscure, but with at least four musical soliloquies it seemed only appropriate to mention.
  • Bring It On - Late in this show about high school cheerleading squads, the seemingly sweet Eva delivers "Killer Instinct," and in doing so reveals her true self in a maliciously gleeful monologue.

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. 


Kelli O'Hara, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, and Patti LuPone are just a few of the performers whom you'll find belting out musical monologues on this week's Spotify playlist. Beyond being over an hour of swell listening (if I do say so myself), it is also a fascinating trip through roughly 75 years of musical theater writing.


Our free track this week comes from Stage Door Records' just-out release of the original London cast of the gorgeous 1950s jazz-infused musical, King Kong. The album and the song are both terrific.


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

  • Head Over Heels - The Go-Go's hits from the early 1980s meet an obscure Renaissance narrative poem in this merry lark of a Broadway musical. It's a giddy and toe-tapping retro listen.
  • Idina: Live - Broadway's original Elphaba, Idina Menzel, sounds pretty fantastic on this recording that features some pop classics and some great musical theater tunes, including a number from the tuners she has starred in.

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.

  • Pretty Woman - The first hit of the new 2018-2019 season is this musical based on the popular 1990 movie. Andy Karl and Samantha Barks tackle the roles originally played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the infectious score comes from Brian Adams and Jim Wallace. Definitely worth a listen!
  • Gettin' the Band Back Together - There's a gleeful rock sound at work in this Broadway cast recording. It's an album that's full of some unexpected pleasures.
  • Hundred Days - The Bengsons’ quirky off-Broadway show comes to compact disc with verve on this new cast recording!
  • Who’s Your Baghdaddy? - It's taken a while but this deliriously silly show has gotten a cast recording. It’s a giddy look back on the United States’ Middle Eastern policy of a time gone by that’s looking darn good these days. This release is just one of many new albums from Broadway Records. Among the label’s other titles you should check out are: Session Girls, Wicked Clone, Tonya and Nancy, and The Boy Who Danced on Air.
  • Beast in the Jungle - John Kander has written a marvelously lush score for this work based on the Henry James short story. It's a richly satisfying listen that you'll probably be savoring for some time to come!
  • Unexpected Joy - Composer Janet Hood and lyricist Bill Russell provided some genuinely infectious pop-theater songs for this tuner about a singer-songwriter who's attempting to move on after the death of her longtime performing--and life--partner.
  • Sunset Boulevard and Evita - This two-fer album from Jay Records finds. Ria Jones and Matt Bogart headliners in the former while Madalena Alberto and Max von Essen are featured for the second. All are sounding quite, quite good, and the album is certainly worth a listen.
  • Sunset Boulevard - Kim Criswell provides the vocals for Norma Desmond on this new release. Her beautiful voice brings a new dimension to songs such as “With One Look,” and the backing from the National Symphony Orchestra is particularly sumptuous.
  • Summer: The Donna Summer Musical - One of Broadway's newest hits, this show takes a whirlwind tour through the fascinating life and electrifying music of pop diva Donna Summer.
  • Desperate Measures - Shakespeare's Measure for Measure gets a contemporary, country-western spin in this musical that's enjoying a highly acclaimed and popular off-Broadway run.

You'll get our next newsletter less than a week before Halloween, and it's that holiday that Erik and Ken will be writing in their next columns.

Yes, I know there aren't a lot of musicals that unfold on this day when we all are focused on ghosts, witches, devils...and candy! So, I've just asked the guys to write about songs that, in some way to them, are appropriate for the day.

No idea where either of them will go with it all. As I was thinking about Halloween and such my mind turned to one recently released album, the new London cast recording of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.

 

Tags :
Artists

Oct
12

One Alone

I have always been a big fan of soliloquies in musicals. You know, that moment when a character, usually alone on stage, steps to the footlights and unburdens his or her feelings in song, one that is frequently longer and has a more adventurous musical structure than a standard 32-bar tune. They are ideally suited to displaying wide swings of emotion and fascinating shades of character, and they often culminate in important realizations or decisions. More often than not they are dramatic in tone, but comic ones exist as well. Here are 20 favorites, evenly divided between women and men.

“Lonely Room,” from Oklahoma!
I think of the advent of musical theatre soliloquies as synonymous with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s revolution, which made the integration of character and story in song its central goal. This kind of in-depth focus on character simply wasn’t needed for musical comedies. I was going to begin with the mother of all soliloquies, the one Billy Bigelow sings in Carousel, but then I remembered that it has this predecessor. Jud Fry, alone in his smokehouse, marinating in envy, resentment, and sexual frustration, reveals himself all too clearly to us. It’s a shame that Howard Da Silva, the original Jud, never got to record it, and that it wasn’t retained when Hollywood made the movie. I think it’s one of the best things Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote.

“Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?,” from The King and I
For many years I only knew this R&H gem in its shortened form on both the OBCR and soundtrack recordings, though of course I read the complete lyric in the published script. It’s better longer, because the section usually cut, which portrays Anna’s love for her pupils and fervent hope that as a teacher she has made a difference in their lives, is an effective contrast to her anger at the King of Siam’s imperious ways. It shows us how torn she is in her emotions about Siam.

“Mamma, Mamma,” from The Most Happy Fella
Frank Loesser’s 1956 adaptation of Sidney Howard’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize–winning play is, unusually for a musical, structured in three acts. This number ends Act 2 and has middle-aged vintner Tony Esposito singing to his dead mother that he has finally found happiness with a bride, in this case the much younger Rosabella, formerly a diner waitress. What makes it so poignant is that while Tony’s happiness is real and shared by his wife, we in the audience know what Tony does not, that in a moment of intense emotional vulnerability she slept with his handsome young foreman, Joe, and has just learned that she is pregnant by him. Opera star Robert Weede made his Broadway debut with this show, and the joy he expresses here is vivid and heartbreaking.

“Sunday in the Park With George,” from Sunday in the Park With George
In the opening number of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 musical about the life and work of French artist Georges Seurat, we get to hear the inner thoughts of Dot, his mistress and model, as she poses for him in a park on an island in the Seine. So though she is hardly alone on stage, she is alone with us. The moment when Dot’s concentration becomes so formidable that her dress pops open and she steps out of it, momentarily free to scamper about the stage, is always a particular delight for me.

“This Is the Life,” from Love Life
I wrote about this 1948 Kurt Weill–Alan Jay Lerner song a couple of columns back in a tribute to Lerner’s centenary, but I’m including it again so soon because it’s not well known and deserves to be. In it a man, just divorced after a long marriage that produced two children, is exulting in his newfound freedom. That exultation, however, rings more than a bit hollow in this expert depiction of “the lady doth protest too much” psychology. Thomas Hampson hits all the right notes, musical and dramatic, under the baton of John McGlinn on Kurt Weill on Broadway.

“One Halloween,” from Applause
This Charles Strouse–Lee Adams song comes midway in Act 2 of this 1970 musical based on the same short story as the classic film All About Eve. In it the conniving Eve Harrington glories in her success at climbing the ladder to stardom while knifing others to get there. The first half is new material, a bitter, minor-key reminiscence about an unhappy childhood, then the second half is an explosive reprise of Margo Channing’s first song in the show, “But Alive.” Eve is trying to usurp Margo’s place in the world, so usurping her music makes total sense. Penny Fuller’s naked ambition is searing.

“The Call,” from Floyd Collins
An ambitious12-and-a-half-minute sequence, this is the first character song in the 1995 musical at Playwrights Horizons, and it announced the off-Broadway arrival of a composer-lyricist of singular vision and ability, Adam Guettel. The title character is spelunking beneath the frozen earth of 1925 Kentucky, looking to discover a cave that he can open as a tourist attraction and use to make his fortune. The sequence is punctuated with Floyd’s exuberant yodels, which are meant to create echoes that will tell him where a cave might be but also dramatize his enthusiasm and optimism. I still vividly recall Christopher Innvar’s dynamic, highly physical performance of it.

“Glitter and Be Gay,” from Candide
This Leonard Bernstein–Richard Wilbur aria, in which the lady Cunegonde reviews her situation, lamenting her morally fallen state while taking refuge in the precious jewels she has acquired as a result of it, is a parody of “The Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust. Wilbur’s witty lyric (“And yet, of course, these trinkets are endearing/I’m also glad my sapphire is a star./I rather like a 20-carat earring./If I’m not pure, at least my jewels are!” is a particular delight. Many singers have scaled this songwriting Everest, but no one has ever bettered Barbara Cook’s original rendition from 1956.

“I Hate People,” from Scrooge
In this 1970 film musical with a score by Leslie Bricusse, Ebenezer Scrooge sings this as he traverses the crowded streets of London on his way home from the office on Christmas Eve. The song is heard in voiceover, adding to the sense of Scrooge’s separation from the world in which he lives, and Albert Finney gives it a bitter, biting rendition. Alas, the soundtrack to Scrooge has never escaped vinyl (though you can, of course, buy, rent, or stream the DVD), so for digital download you must settle for the OCR of the show’s stage adaptation, produced in Birmingham, England, in 1992. For that Bricusse doubled the song’s length and retitled it “I Hate Christmas.” Scrooge, as played by Anthony Newley, now also hates Christmas, woman, and children, as well as people. Bricusse provides some neat new wordplay, but I prefer the more concentrated original.

“Old Maid,” from 110 in the Shade
Lizzie Curry, a proud young woman of the West who is too smart and not pretty enough for most men and getting past marriageable age, faces a potential future bereft of husband and children in this searing first-act closer by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Inga Swenson sang it on a bare stage with an angry red sun glaring down on her during a punishing drought in this 1963 musical based on N. Richard Nash’s 1954 drama The Rainmaker. Swenson is the gold standard, but Audra McDonald did pretty well by it too in Roundabout’s sterling 2007 revival.

“Gigi,” from Gigi
This 1958 Oscar-winning Alan Jay Lerner–Frederick Loewe title song—which Lerner is on record as calling his favorite of anything he wrote—is structured in two parts: a long, pattery verse in which Gaston alternately rants and reminisces about Gigi, followed by a melodically long-lined, flowing chorus in which he recognizes that he now has romantic feelings for her. Lerner carefully constructs the verse to have a psychological through-line leading to the moment when the light bulb goes on over Gaston’s head. Gigi begins as “a babe, just a babe,” and travels through “tot,” “snip,” “cub,” “papoose,” to progress to “child,” and then, finally, “girl.” There is also a series of adjectives to those nouns, culminating in “silly child,” “clumsy child,” and “growing child,” which leads to the idea of girls “getting older, it is true/Which is what they always do/’Till that unexpected hour/When they blossom like a flower”—and flash! It’s light-bulb time for Gaston. Lerner and Loewe reused the music of “Where’s My Wife,” from their 1945 Broadway musical The Day Before Spring, which was never recorded, for the verse.

“Patterns,” from Baby
Middle-aged Arlene and her husband, Alan, have an unplanned pregnancy on their hands just as the last of their brood has left the nest for college. Alan is overjoyed; Arlene is not. She was looking forward to life with just her husband. In this song she contemplates having an abortion, even though the subject is never mentioned in Richard Maltby Jr.’s lyric. David Shire’s stunning music provides the same restricted patterns that Arlene sees in her life so far and longs to break free of. In previews the song was first in Act 1 and then in Act 2. Finally, Maltby cut it, saying that he want to remove all the “melodrama” from this 1983 musical. When he came to her dressing room to tell her of his decision, Beth Fowler told me that her first thought was “there goes my Tony nomination.” Fortunately, Maltby let her record it for the OBCR and has since restored it to Baby. But because it was cut for a time, that’s why it is also in the Maltby-Shire revue Closer Than Ever.

“Donny Novitski,” from Bandstand
Songwriters Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor provided their leading man, Corey Cott, with this pulsing character-establishing song, and the dynamic Cott took it and ran. In it Donny tells us about his childhood, his experience of serving in World War II, his songwriting talents, and his plans to put together a band made up of war veterans, which he hopes will win a national contest that will establish them beyond the confines of Cleveland clubs. It’s smart songwriting, and it made me sit up and take notice in 2017 at the Jacobs Theatre. The show had gotten underwhelming reviews, and I wasn’t expecting too much. The critics were wrong about this one. Though Bandstand was not without flaws, it deserved a much longer run than 166 performances.

“Meadowlark,” from The Baker’s Wife
Producer David Merrick disliked this long Stephen Schwartz story song so much that he climbed into the orchestra pit and stole the parts, so that it would have to be cut from the pre-Broadway tour of the show. In it young Genevieve tries to justify her desire to leave her unprepossessing middle-aged husband for a sexual dalliance with a young hunk from their rural French village. The Baker’s Wife closed in Washington, D.C., prior to Broadway, but the song soon became a cabaret staple, fueled no doubt by Patti LuPone’s full-throttle performance on the OCR, released on Bruce Yeko’s then very small but scrappy label, Original Cast Records. The musical has also managed to live on, getting more revisions with each subsequent production and even a run in the West End, though it never has made it to Broadway.

“O Tixo, Tixo Help Me,” from Lost in the Stars
Rev. Stephen Kumalo’s son, who is black, has accidentally murdered a white man during a botched robbery attempt in Johannesburg, South Africa. A wayward boy with a penchant for falsehoods, he has been shocked by this event into seeing the error of his ways and has vowed to his father never to lie again. But only lying will get him acquitted. Kumalo’s cynical and secular brother also has a son who was involved and is determined to see him deny the charges no matter what. After all, the South African justice system is hopelessly corrupt and biased against blacks. In this soliloquy by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill, the reverend wrestles with his dilemma: Should he advise his son to lie and live or speak truth and die? Todd Duncan, George Gershwin’s original Porgy, is wrenching in his delivery of this aria from the 1949 musical adaptation of Alan Paton’s classic novel Cry, the Beloved Country.

“Fable,” from The Light in the Piazza
Adam Guettel made good on the promise of Floyd Collins with this 2005 musical adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer’s novel. Due to an accident with a horse in her childhood, Clara Johnson is 26 but has a mental age of about 10. On vacation in Italy with her protective mother, Margaret, Clara falls in love with the young and handsome Fabrizio. Margaret initially does all she can to discourage the romance, but when she comes to believe that Clara and Fabrizio might be happy together, she accedes to their wedding without telling him or his family about her daughter’s condition. This impassioned song, which closes the show, gives us Margaret’s fervent wish for Clara’s happiness as she watches the wedding. Vicki Clark is transcendent. Guettel won a Tony for his score and has not been heard from since. What gives?

“Meditation,” from Shenandoah
Virginia farmer Charlie Anderson justifies refusing to allow his six sons to join the Confederate army to his dead wife in this passionate Act 1 declaration by Gary Geld (music) and Peter Udell (lyric), which returns as a threnody late in Act 2. My friend John McGlinn came back from a trip to New York over Christmas of 1974 with a live tape of the show, an adaptation of the 1965 hit film starring James Stewart, which had just opened. He shared it with me knowing of my penchant for dramatic soliloquies. I saw Shenandoah over the Christmas holiday of 1975, and John Cullum was extraordinary, particularly in this number, though the show was more maudlin and less effective than the film. It’s not sophisticated songwriting, but sometimes blunt force is all that it takes.

“I’m Way Ahead,” from Seesaw
NYC dancer Gittel Mosca brings down the final curtain with this powerful Cy Coleman–Dorothy Fields song at the end of her affair with the WASPy married lawyer Jerry Ryan, in town from the Midwest, in this 1973 musicalization of William Gibson’s two-hander comedy-drama Two for the Seesaw. You can see the great Michele Lee perform it on the 1974 Tony Awards on YouTube. She is something. I, however, only got to see the national tour, starring Lucie Arnaz. It’s a performance burned into my brain. Peerless. Fields was 68 when she wrote this amazingly colloquial and contemporary lyric. How did she do that?

“I’m Talkin’ to My Pal,” cut from Pal Joey
This 1940 Richard Rodgers–Lorenz Hart song is the only pre–Rodgers and Hammerstein one on my list. It’s fairly short, but its introspection serves as a kind of character summation for nightclub hoofer and heel par excellence Joey Evans. In three simple lines Hart proves that he could have flourished in the R&H book musical era: “I can’t be sure of girls./I’m not at home with men./I’m ending up with me again.” Cut prior to Broadway, the song is often reinstated for revivals as Joey’s final number, bringing down the Act 2 curtain. Peter Gallagher did well with it in 1995 at Encores!

“Rose’s Turn,” from Gypsy
Leave it to the self-admittedly competitive Stephen Sondheim to try to top his mentor. Rose Hovick unleashes a lifetime’s worth of pent-up frustration and anger in this sustained outburst that is I think even more psychologically acute than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel “Soliloquy.” The music by Jule Styne is drawn from all the parts of his score that relate to Rose (including “Momma’s Talkin’ Soft,” a cut song that Rose’s young daughters sang as a counterpoint to “Small World”), and the initial road map for the piece was actually made by Sondheim and director-choreographer Jerome Robbins working together at a piano. It’s a feast for actresses, and I’ve seen Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, and Imelda Staunton dine sumptuously on it. I was too young to see Ethel Merman originate it in 1959, and I just missed seeing Angela Lansbury in the 1974 revival. It played Chicago pre-Broadway but left town just a week or so before I was to return to college early to do some late summer work for Northwestern’s Waa-Mu Show. I ended up catching John Payne and Alice Faye in the pre-Broadway tour of a revival of Good News instead. Wasn’t the same.

 

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Oct
12

Hammerstein's Musings

First what is a soliloquy anyway? It’s an internal monologue where someone sings what thoughts are going on in their head. It’s a neat way to clue the audience into what the character is thinking without having to illustrate it through dialogue with another character or dramatized in the plot.

The master of all soliloquies is Oscar Hammerstein. When he joined up with Richard Rodgers, their first show, Oklahoma!, had Jud Fry musing about his “Lonely Room.” It’s a powerful song both from Jud’s point of view and the audience’s, who come to understand through it that Jud isn’t just a villain but a complex person with complex emotions.

That was just a warm-up for what is possibly the greatest of all soliloquies, Carousel’s aptly named, “Soliloquy.” In addition to being a brilliant song it’s right up there with the greatest of first-act curtain numbers. And Hammerstein doubled down on “Soliloquy” with South Pacific, which boasted not one but two soliloquies, again aptly named, “Twin Soliloquies.”

Most soliloquies are sung alone on stage, and for The King and I, he and Rodgers gave Yul Brynner a tour de force with “A Puzzlement.” It’s an important song since it gives the audience and especially the King the realization that he isn’t as omnipotent as he thinks. There’s a whole world beyond Siam that is very, very confusing. It’s at once a profile of the King and a humorous song, unusual for a soliloquy.

Pipe Dream gave us Suzy’s song, “Everybody’s Got a Home but Me.” Like many of Hammerstein’s songs it has a double purpose. It’s a character’s expression of what’s on their mind and also sets the underlying theme of the whole shebang. Pipe Dream is a flawed show, but it also has a lot to recommend it, and Suzy’s song is excellent.

That’s a short roundup of Oscar Hammerstein’s soliloquies written with Richard Rodgers. Listening to these songs one’s appreciation of Hammerstein’s view of the world and his love of his characters is all the more impressive. People may joke about larks learning to pray, but Hammerstein’s talents can’t be overestimated. 

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Sep
28

The Bernstein Centenary

Late in August we paid tribute to playwright-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's centenary. We're now saluting another gentleman who would have turned 100 this year: Leonard Bernstein. In fact the composer would have reached his milestone just a few days before Lerner. Ken and Erik have both written terrific tributes to the man who wrote such shows as On the Town and West Side Story, and I'm betting you'll find some kernels of little-known lore in them both as you read.

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

  • West Side Story Reimagined - Bobby Sanabria's impressive Latin Jazz reworking of this Bernstein score pulses with intensity from start to finish. Beyond being a swell listen, it's also raising money for the citizens of Puerto Rico as they continue to rebound from last year's horrific hurricanes.
  • Wonderful Town - This Bernstein show has had some powerhouse leading ladies, from Rosalind Russell in the original 1953 production to Donna Murphy in a 2003 revival. Thanks to this new concert recording, there's now another name on the list of actors who have shone brightly as Ruth Sherwood: Alysha Umphress. She's pretty darn wonderful as she delivers such songs as "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man" and "Conga!" and makes them her own. 

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. 


You'll find music from original cast recordings of Leonard Bernstein's shows as well as a plethora of cover versions and numbers as performed in revivals of his acclaimed musicals in this week's Spotify playlist. It's over an hour of electrifying musicality.


Our new free song download comes from the just-released Broadway cast recording of Gettin' the Band Back Together. It's a terrific intro to the show and the charms of Mark Allen's score.


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

  • Pretty Woman - The first hit of the new 2018-2019 season is this musical based on the popular 1990 movie. Andy Karl and Samantha Barks tackle the roles originally played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the infectious score comes from Brian Adams and Jim Wallace. Definitely worth a listen!
  • Gettin' the Band Back Together - There's a gleeful rock sound at work in this Broadway cast recording. It's an album that's full of some unexpected pleasures.
  • Hundred Days - The Bengsons’ quirky off-Broadway show comes to compact disc with verve on this new cast recording!
  • Who’s Your Baghdaddy? - It's taken a while but this deliriously silly show has gotten a cast recording. It’s a giddy look back on the United States’ Middle Eastern policy of a time gone by that’s looking darn good these days.

This latter release is just one that’s just arrived courtesy of Broadway Records. Among the label’s other titles you should check out are: Session Girls, Wicked Clone, Tonya and Nancy, and The Boy Who Danced on Air.

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.

  • Beast in the Jungle - John Kander has written a marvelously lush score for this work based on the Henry James short story. It's a richly satisfying listen that you'll probably be savoring for some time to come!
  • Unexpected Joy - Composer Janet Hood and lyricist Bill Russell provided some genuinely infectious pop-theater songs for this tuner about a singer-songwriter who's attempting to move on after the death of her longtime performing--and life--partner.
  • Sunset Boulevard and Evita - This two-fer album from Jay Records finds. Ria Jones and Matt Bogart headliners in the former while Madalena Alberto and Max von Essen are featured for the second. All are sounding quite, quite good, and the album is certainly worth a listen.
  • Sunset Boulevard - Kim Criswell provides the vocals for Norma Desmond on this new release. Her beautiful voice brings a new dimension to songs such as “With One Look,” and the backing from the National Symphony Orchestra is particularly sumptuous.
  • Summer: The Donna Summer Musical - One of Broadway's newest hits, this show takes a whirlwind tour through the fascinating life and electrifying music of pop diva Donna Summer.
  • Desperate Measures - Shakespeare's Measure for Measure gets a contemporary, country-western spin in this musical that's enjoying a highly acclaimed and popular off-Broadway run.

Erik and Ken will be writing about a unique sort of song in their next columns.

I've asked them to think about numbers where characters are engaged in soliloquizing or working through an internal monologue.

I know the guys will come up with a fascinating array of songs on the topic. Will either of them take the one that immediately comes to mind? That, of course, would be "Soliloquy," from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Carousel.

 

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Sep
28

So Many Greats

Has any other major Broadway composer written so many great shows and so few shows?

Let’s have a look at the shows, shall we?

Lenny, as his compatriots called him, hit Broadway with a huge hit, On the Town. Bernstein himself was thrilled with the show’s reception writing, “the reviews are fantastic raves…it’s thrilling!”

The legendary producer/director/author George Abbott wrote the composer, “please don’t let yourself be distressed by minor criticism from some of your pals. It is a wonderful score.” Then Abbot himself gave Lenny a bit of minor criticism about the score, “—a bit to profligate perhaps, too many fresh melodies thrown in where developments of existing ones would have done.”

Following the success of On the Town, book writer–lyricists Comden and Green were anxious to do another show. They got the aforementioned George Abbott on board and asked Lenny to write it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t available and so another musician definitely in the classical camp wrote the score—Morton Gould. And the result was Billion Dollar Baby, a failure.

Abbott approached Lenny in 1949 asking if he would be available to write music for another new musical, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Again, someone else, namely Arthur Schwartz, wrote the score and a glorious score it is.

Bernstein finally returned to the Broadway theatre in 1950 with a production of James M. Barrie’s classic, Peter Pan. Bernstein provided both music and lyrics for few charming songs and the show ran nine months and 321 performances. Marc Blitzstein worked on the production (uncredited) and served as the eyes and ears of the production while Bernstein was off on other projects. In fact, when a reprise of the song, “Who Am I?” was needed for the finale it was Blitzstein who provided the lyrics. Blitzstein wrote Lenny, “two days before the first preview, the production seems generically right (if you like Peter Pan at all), but specifically right almost nowhere.” Blitzstein summed it all up by writing, “Who knows? It will probably turn out to be the hit of the century.”

And in 1952, Bernstein and his Blitzstein considered collaborating on an opera about the life of Eva Peron. Obviously, that also did not come to pass.

Comden and Green still wanted to write with Lenny and in 1950 they had proposed “a kind of modern Boheme—the girl a smart 1950 tramp and the guy a writer or musician.” That one never materialized either, but the team worked wonders again and Wonderful Town opened in February 1953 to raves.

Later that year, playwright Lillian Hellman approached Lenny about making some sort of lyric production out of Candide. Hellman herself admitted, “I think it could make a really wonderful combination of opera—prose—songs. It’s so obviously right that I wonder nobody has done it before, or have they?” And in January of 1954, Lenny decided he would write the music. But the road to Broadway was rocky. In 1954 he wrote, “We have had big lyricist trouble in Candide, and have only now this minute…made a final and utter break with Mr. LaTouche (sic). At the point of the break the show was less than half-finished.”

It took until December of 1956 for Candide to open. Dismissed at the time it has been re-tinkered with trying to make it work on stage.

Only a year later, perhaps his greatest theatrical work, West Side Story, opened on Broadway. Working with the very young, very green Stephen Sondheim was a delight especially after the horrors of Candide. Bernstein had been in touch with librettist Arthur Laurents  and Jerome Robbins beginning in the spring of 1955. Bernstein wrote about a meeting that took place with Laurents in Hollywood in August of ’55. “Had a fine long session with Arthur today, by the pool… We’re fired up again by the Romeo notion, only now we have abandoned the whole Jewish-Catholic premise as not very fresh, and have come up with what I think is going to be it: two tenn-age gangs as the warring factions, one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled ‘Americans.’ Suddenly it all springs to life. I hear rhythms and pulses, and—most of all—I can sort of feel the form.”

West Side Story was to be Bernstein’s last success on Broadway. Along the way was a version of The Skin of Our Teeth in 1964 that never got beyond drafting stages.

Finally, Bernstein was convinced to write a musical for the country’s Bicentennial. The result, written with the peripatetic Alan Jay Lerner was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Lerner was inspired by the horrors of the Watergate scandal and wrote that the piece was about “those moments when people tried to take the White House away from us.” Even that early in the conception of the piece Bernstein and Lerner didn’t see eye-to-eye. The composer responded to Lerner’s idea, “This play has nothing to do with the contemporary scene except in the minds of those who choose to see it there.” But it wasn’t just Lerner’s concept that failed the project. As Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Lenny had a bad case of important-itis.” And so did Lerner. Together as director Frank Corsaro later stated they had such a vaunted feeling about themselves they had “so high-powered their attitude was that they could do no wrong.”

And with the four-performance failure of 1600, Bernstein’s musical theatre career ended.

Of course, there were many revivals and rethinkings of his works. Even 1600’s score is celebrated. And today, as mentioned at the top of this essay, no composer has written so many great shows and so few shows.

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Sep
28

Lenny and Me

I don’t believe in ultimate superlatives. I won’t say that X is the best musical ever written, or that Y is the finest actor of all time. And yet, somehow, I have a favorite theatre composer: Leonard Bernstein. He has taken me on quite the journey.

I knew individual songs before I became acquainted with the man who wrote them and the shows from whence they came. My mother, a feisty New Yorker (by way of England) transplanted by marriage to the arid terrain of suburban Cleveland, used to sing “New York, New York” from On the Town at the drop of a hat. I don’t remember not knowing that song, though Gwen sang the bowdlerized version (“a wonderful town” not “a helluva town”). The 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story came out when I was seven, so my parents deemed me too young to see it. That didn’t stop me from becoming familiar with hit tunes such as “Somewhere,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” and “America,” all of which I heard on the radio. And you couldn’t live in Ohio without knowing “Ohio” (“Why oh why oh why oh?”), though most people probably didn’t know it was from Wonderful Town.

Finally, a favorite recording from the age of four was the Boris Karloff–Jean Arthur Peter Pan. It contained a few songs but was really a spoken word recording that told the story, which was why I listened to it. I really didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the man who wrote the songs was named Leonard Bernstein.

I was first aware of Bernstein the man as a celebrity conductor. Though I was too young to have seen his TV appearances demystifying classical music on Omnibus (I was seven months old when he debuted and two weeks shy of my fourth birthday when he finished), Bernstein was so ubiquitous in American culture that you couldn’t miss him. Also, my mother believed in giving her two boys a decent arts education, so we did things like attend children’s concerts given by the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall (with George Szell conducting). I also took a musical appreciation course in junior high school where we listened to classical compositions, and maestro Bernstein regularly appeared on the curriculum.

I admired classical music more than I liked it. I was, and still am, too much of a words person to be quite as enthralled by a symphony or concerto as I am by a musical or an opera. However, when music steeped in classical composition techniques is successfully wedded to language to tell a story and make theatre, I am a goner. As I once told my English nephew Taylor, who toils as a pop singer-songwriter and record producer, my three Bs are not Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, but Blitzstein, Britten, and Bernstein.

I became serious about forging a career in musical theatre around the age of 14 and started collecting cast recordings with purpose. One of the first I bought, probably because of my love for “New York, New York,” was Bernstein’s 1960 studio recording of On the Town, which reunited most of the show’s original Broadway cast. When the musical premiered in 1944, OBCRs were not standard practice, so only a few selections had been recorded, two of which (“Lonely Town” and “Lucky to Be Me”) were sung by Broadway star Mary Martin, who was not even in it. (You can hear her recording of the latter on Composers on Broadway: Leonard Bernstein.)

The jazzy, complicated (at least to my ears), muscular score floored me, and I enjoyed the ballet music as much as I did the songs. I didn’t know that On the Town’s director, George Abbott, had referred to Bernstein’s music approvingly as “that Prokofi-eff stuff,” but it was immediately clear to me that this music was different from the musical theatre composers I already knew and admired, principally Richard Rodgers and Frederick Loewe. I loved the size of it, the swagger, the unpredictability. Even when it was lighter than air, it had scope and weight.

Not too long after acquiring On the Town I saw a re-release of West Side Story at the Detroit Theatre in Lakewood, Ohio. To say that it devastated me would be an understatement. I think it was probably that one-two punch that sealed the deal for Lenny and me. Naturally, I bought the soundtrack immediately thereafter. I didn’t acquire the OBCR until much later, and while I recognized its quality and iconic performances, I had bonded with the film too closely for it to supplant the soundtrack in my affections.

I soon got around to Wonderful Town, which was a lot of fun but seemed to me a slighter, more conventional work, and finally to Candide. That was thanks to my best friend, Bill Sisson, a violist and classical music buff (who also introduced me to Samuel Barber’s lyric rhapsody “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Aaron Copland’s ballet “Rodeo,” among many others). Candide intimidated me at first, I think because it was the most classically oriented of Bernstein’s musicals, and I knew that I wasn’t getting a lot of the inside jokes. But I persisted, and though I’m sure I still don’t get all the references, I came to embrace it thoroughly. My final Bernstein discovery was his 1952 one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti. I liked it, but even though it did indeed play Broadway in 1955 as part of a triple bill called All in One (alongside a revival of Tennessee Williams’ one-act play “27 Wagons Full of Cotton” and a dance play by and starring Paul Draper), it wasn’t like getting a full-blown Broadway musical.

And that’s where it stopped. It seemed that Bernstein had abandoned Broadway after 1957’s West Side Story. (I didn’t find out until years later that in the 1960s he tried to write two Broadway musicals but gave up on both.) I think perhaps the exclusivity of his output on the Great White Way, and what seemed the unlikeliness of his adding to it, may have factored into his favorite status with me.

Of course, Mass came along in 1971 to open the Kennedy Center, but it wasn’t a book musical with proper characters and it didn’t play Broadway. I enthusiastically bought the recording and liked a lot of the music, but it was a different animal from the one I wanted. There was also director Harold Prince’s revised version of Candide in 1974, which was recorded completely on two LPs and which I caught in its closing weekend on Broadway and went bonkers for. It had musical material I didn’t know in it, including some freshly contributed lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, and I adored Hugh Wheeler’s totally new book and Prince’s freewheeling production, but it wasn’t really a new musical.

And then, amazingly, it was announced that Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner would bring 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Broadway for the bicentennial year of 1976. My favorite theatre composer working with the man whose musicals had made me want to be a playwright-lyricist. And on a piece of political theatre triggered by Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency. I was beside myself with anticipation. I followed the show’s out-of-town tryouts with increasing dismay, as the reviews started out bad in Philadelphia and only got worse in Washington, D.C. The critics annihilated it on Broadway, and it closed in one week in May (I remember hearing the news of its demise over the radio while working the counter taking orders at a McDonald’s in Evanston, Ill.) I moved to NYC in October of 1976, and the marquee was still up at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. I walked by it regularly on my way to work in the theatre district, and I would always stop for a moment, look at it sadly, and wonder what in the hell happened.

It took me a number of years to find out. I acquired whatever script material I could from actors I met (Reid Shelton) or worked with (Lee Winston) who had been in the show. I tracked down live bootleg tapes from Philadelphia and Broadway (a D.C. tape existed too, but I never got a copy until only a few years ago). It was clear from these tantalizing pieces that it had been a serious, somewhat experimental work of great ambition that was fundamentally betrayed by commercialism. The score was sensational, both music and lyrics.

I finally got the full picture when the Bernstein estate hired me not long after his death to reconstruct the authors’ original version of the musical. Bernstein had saved every scrap of paper from the show’s gestation, and I virtually relived the writing of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a little servant’s apartment high in the Dakota with windows overlooking Central Park. It was the room in which Bernstein composed most of the show’s music.

Ultimately, I was asked to direct a workshop of my reconstruction using students from Indiana University’s opera department, which went so well that it was turned into a full production and booked into the Kennedy Center for several performances after its run in Bloomington, Ind. This time audiences and critics reacted largely positively to essentially the same show that had been so reviled in 1976. The production utilized a full orchestra, and staging brilliant Lerner-Bernstein songs supported by those glorious Sid Ramin–Hershy Kay orchestrations was, indeed, the thrill of a lifetime. If Bernstein had ever been in danger of losing his status of favorite with me, that danger vanished forever after that experience.

1600 was not recorded in 1976. Neither Bernstein nor Lerner wanted it memorialized in the form in which it ended up, so the planned OBCR on Capitol Records was canceled. Deutsche Grammophon’s A White House Cantata contains much of the score, but the most political material has been omitted, rendering the story senseless, and the decision to cast opera singers rather than Broadway singer-actors is damaging. The best recorded versions are conductor John McGlinn’s account of “The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March” and “Duet for One,” sung by Davis Gaines and Judy Kaye, respectively, and Bruce Hubbard singing “Seena,” a love song for the leading character of Lud Simmons, a free black servant in the White House. It’s on his CD For You, For Me, no doubt because Hubbard was in the chorus of 1600 and also sang the small role of Reverend Bushrod.

Bernstein’s last theatre hurrah was the opera A Quiet Place, a sequel to Tahiti. It premiered in Houston in 1983 on a double bill with Tahiti, in effect forming the evening’s second act. Poorly received, it was revised with the help of conductor John Mauceri, interspersing Tahiti into the opera as flashbacks and cutting some material for length. This version was recorded in 1986 and finally got its Big Apple premiere in a largely well-reviewed New York City Opera production in 2010. Indeed, as head critic for Back Stage, I was one of the aisle-sitters. It was my first time seeing it (though I had certainly bought and listened to the recording), and reviewing it felt like a coda to my Bernstein journey.

Now A Quiet Place has been revised once more. In 2013 Garth Edwin Sunderland removed all the Tahiti material, restored some discarded character arias, and cut down the orchestration from more than 70 players to a mere 18, creating a chamber opera version. Conductor Kent Nagano’s recording, released in June by Decca, has been getting praise, and it will be on my Kindle as I leave tonight for a two-week vacation in a cabin by a lake in northern New Hampshire. Though the supply is now sadly finite, I can never get me enough Bernstein.

 

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Sep
14

Making Use of Mother Nature

Tomorrow is National Greenpeace Day, so naturally we are making lists of songs that reference the environment and Mother Nature. A few are simply about the lady in question, but most use her as a vehicle for exploring situation and character. Here is my version of a green playlist.

“Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” from Oklahoma!
What better beginning than this beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein opening number from their initial collaboration in 1943? It’s a testament to the vast power that can be unleashed by the wedding of the right words and music. Here it’s done with such simplicity that it even starts offstage. Many have sung it, but nobody beats the great original Curly, Alfred Drake.

“Beautiful, Beautiful World,” from The Apple Tree
Adam is bathing while singing this celebration of the joys of the Garden of Eden by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. What you can’t tell from the 1966 cast album is that at the end of it, he sees a lion suddenly devour a lamb and realizes that Eve has eaten of the forbidden fruit. Out of town in Boston the song was used as an establishing song for Eve, and Alan Alda sings that fuller version for the OBCR, not the shortened one he performed on stage at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre.

“Look Around,” from The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Review
Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman added this gentle lament so late in previews that a program insert had to be included to let opening-night audiences know about it. In 1991 it was about heedless industrialization; in the face of global warming, it has a new resonance. As the titular American humorist Keith Carradine accompanied himself on guitar and gave a beautifully understated account of it.

“I Said Good Morning,” from A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green
This frenzied greeting of all of the lord’s creations was written for but cut from the film It’s Always Fair Weather, so Comden and Green repurposed it as an opening number for their two-person revue of their own songs that played the Golden and Morosco theatres in 1959. Never were good manners so debilitating. The tune is by André Previn.

“What a Lot of Flowers,” from Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Peter O’Toole sang this Leslie Bricusse paean to the beauty of nature with an inspired blend of bewilderment and rapture as his old maid schoolteacher reacted to having married a much younger star of the London musical stage. Alas, the soundtrack of the 1969 film is not available digitally, but you can hear John Mills sing it on the cast recording of the movie’s stage adaptation, which played England’s Chichester Festival Theatre in 1982.

“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Our recent loss of the great Barbara Harris sent me to my video collection to watch her sing this Alan Jay Lerner–Burton Lane classic back in 1965 in character as the psychically gifted Daisy Gamble, who can make flowers grow by talking to them, on the Bell Telephone Hour (catch it on YouTube). I always wish Lerner hadn’t cut the first A of the second AABA chorus: “Bloom buttercup/Buds are better up/Where in case of nuptials you’re handy.”

“Grow for Me,” from Little Shop of Horrors
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken present the dark side of Lerner and Lane’s tune with this lament about a mysterious plant that won’t grow. “I’ve given you sunlight/I’ve given you rain/Looks like you’re not happy/’Less I open a vein!” Sad sack florist assistant Seymour Krelbourn makes the first of many mistakes by sharing his blood with Audrey II. I worked in the Orpheum Theatre box office for this 1982 show and often stuck my head in to watch this number. It always worked.

“Farming,” from Let’s Face It
One would hardly expect to find urban sophisticate Cole Porter extolling the great outdoors, but this devilish list song is a spoof of a 1941 fad for celebrities seeking the simple joys of country living. Danny Kaye introduced it in his first starring role on Broadway. There isn’t an OBCR, alas, but you can hear him sing a pop version on Danny Kaye: 43 of His Essential Songs. Love that the gay joke about George Raft’s bull flew under the radar and onto the radio.

“World Weary,” from This Year of Grace
Noël Coward is another unlikely nature lover, though he did eventually have country homes in Jamaica and Switzerland, which may perhaps explain the lines “I want an ocean blue/Great big trees/A bird’s-eye view/Of the Pyrenees.” However, as this revue song was written in 1928, before those real estate acquisitions, perhaps it inspired them. Of course, the Pyrenees are in France and Spain, not Switzerland. But it’s harder to rhyme “Alps.” You can hear the Master sing it in his club act on Noël Coward at Las Vegas.

“City Lights,” from The Act
Fred Ebb proves that he really was an outdoor misanthrope in this catchy 1977 showstopper, writing a wicked attack on the pleasures of nature in the form of a number from nightclub performer Michelle Craig’s act. These days composer John Kander is pretty dismissive of his work on this Liza Minnelli vehicle, but I’ve always loved this song. “I won’t breath nothin’ I can’t see” indeed!

“It Wonders Me,” from Plain and Fancy
I have a special fondness for this score by Albert Hague (music) and Arnold B. Horwitt for the 1955 Broadway musical set in Pennsylvania’s Amish community, in part because Equity Library Theatre did a fine off-Broadway production of it in 1980 during my last season of employment there as theatre manager. Donna Bullock was a radiant Katie Yoder and sang our virginal heroine’s establishing song praising the autumn countryside beautifully. Oh, and this was the first New York job for one of Broadway’s top musical directors, Kristen Blodgette, who was most recently seen on stage at the Palace Theatre conducting a 40-piece orchestra and Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard. We grew up together in Fairview Park, Ohio, and I got her the gig.

“Penguins Must Sing,” from Birds of Paradise
Winnie Holzman (book and lyrics) and David Evans (book and music) started this 1987 off-Broadway musical about an amateur theatre group producing a musical based on Chekhov’s The Seagull as a master’s thesis at NYU. This nutty number from the musical within the musical opened Act 2 and had Andrew Hill Newman, Donna Murphy, and J.K. Simmons cavorting in penguin suits while lamenting that the world is threatened with extinction “due to the ice age and federal cutbacks.” The score contains one gem after another, and the cast also included Todd Graff, John Cunningham, Christa Moore, Mary Beth Peil, and Barbara Walsh. If you don’t know it, you should go get it.

“The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster, and the Mole,” from Closer Than Ever
Let’s stay with the animal kingdom with this Richard Maltby Jr.–David Shire song, which was written for their 1983 musical Baby but eliminated when the character who sang it was cut from the show. In it a scientist uses the mating habits of various animals to justify single motherhood. Lynne Wintersteller introduced it in 1990, and Christiane Noll inherited it in the York Theatre Company’s 2012 revival. You can’t go wrong with either.

“Heartbreak Country,” from Giant
Making up after their first fight, conservative cattle baron Bick Benedict confesses his love of the Texas land to his liberal new bride from the East, who vows to learn to love it too. Michael John LaChiusa’s majestic, muscular music evokes Aaron Copland and the Texas range in equal measure. This ambitious 2012 adaptation of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel deserved a longer run, but at least we have the OCR.

“I Remember,” from Evening Primrose
The beautiful Ella has lived nocturnally as a prisoner in a department store since she was 6, and in this wistful ballad Stephen Sondheim evokes her dim memories of the outside world—sky, snow, ice, rain, leaves, trees—through indoor similes such as ink, feathers, vinyl, strings, paper, and coat racks. Charmian Carr—Liesl in The Sound of Music—introduced it on TV in 1967, but as that recording is not available digitally, here’s Theresa McCarthy’s take on it.

“Poems,” from Pacific Overtures
In another Sondheim song, two Japanese men, a “samurai of little consequence” and a fisherman, trade haikus about their great loves on a long journey by foot. The former loves his wife and the latter loves America, which he visited accidentally and illegally. In their poems they praise their beloveds using imagery mostly drawn from nature. Pre-Broadway they sang “Leaves,/I love her like the leaves,/Changing winter into spring,/And the change is everything.” Haikus, however, don’t rhyme, and so for Broadway Sondheim replaced his inadvertent one by changing the third line to “Changing green to pink to gold.”

“Sand,” from the unproduced film musical Singing Out Loud
Completing a Sondheim trio, this 1992 song ingeniously compares being in love to the physical properties of sand. It was supposed to be the bad opening number of a movie musical in trouble in the editing room, but I think it’s pretty nifty. Celia Berk does a suitably slinky job with it on her CD You Can’t Rush Spring.

“The Desert Song,” from The Desert Song
In keeping with our arid theme, how about this 1926 Sigmund Romberg–Otto Harbach–Oscar Hammerstein II title song? It doesn’t get swoonier than “Blue heaven and you and I/And sand kissing a moonlit sky/The desert breeze singing a lullaby/Only stars above you/To say I love you.” The dashing Red Shadow, leading the Moroccans in revolt against the occupying French, is by day the nerdy Pierre, son of the French commanding general. See? Superman wasn’t the first hero to hide behind glasses. Wilbur Evans and Kitty Carlisle do the honors here.

“Under the Sunset Tree,” from Darling of the Day
Star Vincent Price didn’t have the pipes to do justice to this gorgeous Jule Styne–E.Y. Harburg ballad from their 1968 flop based on Arnold Bennett’s comic novel Buried Alive. However, when the silver-throated Patricia Routledge joins in, you hear at once the song’s quality. Harburg’s lyric uses nature imagery most affectingly to depict an unlikely middle-aged love affair.

“Make Our Garden Grow,” from Candide
This 1956 Richard Wilbur–Leonard Bernstein chorale is the mother of all finales, so I’m ending with it. I can still remember hearing it for the first time as a junior in high school. When it hit the a cappella section, I went goose bumps all over. And you know what? I still do.

 

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Sep
14

Greenpeace...Musicals...

Well, this was a particularly hard assignment. While there are some songs that celebrate nature most songs deal with the elements of nature symbolically. Happiness, sadness, love, loss all have been connected to emotional moments both high and low using nature symbolically.

Here’s a quick summary of songs that are celebrations of nature in all its glory.

Mountains seem to be popular in songwriting. And notable songs with mountains as their theme includes Rodgers and Hart’s “Mountain Greenery” from The Garrick Gaieties (that show wasn’t recorded so take a listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing it). A flop show with a very good score (and great vocal arrangements) is A Time for Singing (this cast recording isn’t available digitally, but you can buy it here) by John Morris and Gerald Freedman, and it’s perfectly expressed by Ivor Emmanuel when he gives his all in “The Mountains Sing Back.”  Meredith Willson wrote “The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Car’line” for The Music Man but sadly it was cut.

Alan Jay Lerner and Kurt Weill’s Love Life extolled the wonders of spring in “Green Up Time,” which got a swell rendition by Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya. E.Y. Harburg and Sammy Fain also had spring on their minds with Flahooley’s “The Springtime Cometh.” And what’s growing in spring? Flowers and trees.

Flowers are always good subjects for songwriters. Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s superior score for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has Barbara Harris imploring flowers that it can’t be fun subterranean so they should “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here.” “Windflowers” from Jerome Moross and John Latouche’s The Golden Apple sadly is not in more performers’ repertoires. It’s a gorgeous ballad. Albert Hague and Allan Sherman’s The Fig Leaves Are Falling was another flop with pretty good songs. And that show’s “Today I Saw a Rose” is especially meaningful. Diahann Carroll sings so sweetly in House of Flowers, and the title song is particularly beautiful. Its opposite is “The Flower Garden of My Heart,” with typically acerbic lyrics by Lorenz Hart set to a particularly bump and grind style melody by Richard Rodgers for Pal Joey.

Trees get their due in Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon with “I Talk to the Trees” as sung with brio by Tony Bavaar. Protection of said trees was on the mind of Irving Berlin in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911 when Bert Williams sang, “Woodman, Spare That Tree.” An opposite song about protecting trees from men with axes was Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s “Song of the Woodman” in The Show Is On as sung by Bert Lahr when he chopped, chopped, chopped.

And what makes the flowers and trees grow out of the ground? Rain of course. And it’s especially important to the plot of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s 110 in the Shade. The character of Starbuck claims to make the rain fall in torrents from the sky and sings about it in the aptly named “Rain Song.” Ruby Hill and Harold Nicholas shone in the Arlen and Mercer show St. Louis Woman. “Come Rain or Come Shine” became an instant standard from that show’s score. Tommy Steele—in David Heneker’s Half a Sixpence—implored the gods that “If the Rain’s Got to Fall” it shouldn’t fall in Folkstone.

Rain means rainbows, of course. And the late, lamented Danny Fortus gave a tenderly impassioned performance in Minnie’s Boys when he sang Hal Hackady and Larry Grossman’s “Mama, a Rainbow” (you can hear this on a Broadway Boys album) to Shelley Winters. A sweet song that is all the more emotional given Fortus’ death from AIDS. 1918’s Oh, Look! featured “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” by Joseph McCarthy and Harry Carroll. It was performed in that show by the Dolly Sisters but you might know it from the 1973 revival of Irene where it was sung by Debbie Reynolds.

There’s lots more of course but give a listen to the songs mentioned above and I guarantee you’ll find some gems that are worth remembering no matter what the season or what the weather.

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Sep
14

A Musical Environment

September 15 is National Greenpeace Day. It commemorates the founding of the organization that asks us all to focus on the environment and issues that contribute toward us making a better planet.To commemorate this unofficial holiday Erik and Ken have developed lists of some of their favorite songs about the earth, the environment, nature, etc. They're both great reads, filled with some surprising (or at least lesser-known) titles.

Normally this is where you’d find me saying something about take a listen to these albums that complement what the guys have done. I’m going to diverge (just a bit) to make mention of Marin Mazzie's unexpected death yesterday which has saddened us all. In tribute to this grand performer I'd like to recommend a few things that fit with our nature theme today. First, there's the album Opposite You, which she recorded with her husband Jason Danieley. It's got a swell rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose" on it. On her concert album Make Your Own Kind of Music she delivers a stirring rendition of the song "Evergreen. Finally take a listen to the revival cast recording of Kiss Me, Kate, where she starred opposite Brian Stokes Mitchell. They sound terrific throughout but they are particularly glorious when they join forces for "Wunderbar," which has the lyric "Gazing down on the Jungfrau."

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. 


A grand array of music - over an hour's worth - is waiting for you with this week's "green" Spotify playlist. It's filled with songs that we all know by heart and a bunch of not frequently heard gems...all of them celebrating, in their own fashion, the environment.


Our new free song download comes from Broadway Records' Beast in the Jungle, a recording of a theater-dance piece with an exquisite score by John Kander!


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

  • Beast in the Jungle - John Kander has written a marvelously lush score for this work based on the Henry James short story. It's a richly satisfying listen that you'll probably be savoring for some time to come!
  • Unexpected Joy - Composer Janet Hood and lyricist Bill Russell provided some genuinely infectious pop-theater songs for this tuner about a singer-songwriter who's attempting to move on after the death of her longtime performing--and life--partner.

This latter terrific recording is just one of several just out from JAY Records that I’d like to draw your attention to. To begin there are is a lovely “twofer” album that showcase Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music: a compendium of Sunset Boulevard and Evita. Ria Jones and Matt Bogart are the headliners for the first, while Madalena Alberto and Max von Essen are featured for the second. All are sounding quite, quite good, and the albums is certainly worth a listen. You can find more music from Sunset Boulevard on another album where Kim Criswell provides the vocals for Norma Desmond. Criswell’s beautiful voice brings a new dimension to songs such as “With One Look,” and the backing from the National Symphony Orchestra is particularly sumptuous.

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.

  • Summer: The Donna Summer Musical - One of Broadway's newest hits, this show takes a whirlwind tour through the fascinating life and electrifying music of pop diva Donna Summer.
  • Desperate Measures - Shakespeare's Measure for Measure gets a contemporary, country-western spin in this musical that's enjoying a highly acclaimed and popular off-Broadway run.
  • Carousel - Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 classic has gotten a much-discussed revival with a great array of vocalists! Five of them, in fact, are Tony nominated. Listening to this new album will help you understand why.
  • My Fair Lady - Lerner and Loewe's beloved musicalization of Shaw's Pygmalion is delighting audiences at Lincoln Center Theater, and this new cast recording will let you savor the joys of both the writers' work and the lead performances of Harry Hadden-Paton, Lauren Ambrose, and Norbert Leo Butz.
  • Mean Girls - The new musical based on the Tina Fey movie has some bubbly tunes from Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin that prove to be wonderfully infectious! Plus there are some great performers delivering them, notably Tony nominee Taylor Louderman.
  • Hair - 50th Anniversary Cast Recording - It's hard to believe that this rock musical is squarely hitting middle age. This new album from England reminds us of how the tunes are still remarkably vibrant.
  • Frozen - You can enjoy the Broadway incarnation of this hit movie at long last! Caissie Levy and Patti Murin headline this company and are in great voice, and there are also 12 new tunes by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to enjoy.
  • Sing Happy - The amazing Audra McDonald's recent New York Philharmonic concert is captured in all its glory on this release. What makes it particularly exciting are the number of songs on here that she's never recorded before.

At the end of August we celebrated the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner's birth. Just a few days before, another musical theater great, Leonard Bernstein, would also have turned 100.

It seems only fitting that we pay tribute to Bernstein, whose theater work includes On the TownWonderful TownCandide, and, of course, West Side Story. Alas, the one show Lerner and Bernstein wrote together, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, never got a cast recording, but much of its score can be found on A White House Cantata.

I am pretty sure that both Erik and Ken will have a great time penning tributes to this master musician.

 

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