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Dec
07

Seasonal Things 2018

I asked Ken and Erik to go "seasonal" for their columns this week, and they have gone in two entirely different directions. Both are terrific pieces of writing about some swell music, and I think each will make you smile.

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

  • Norm Lewis Christmas Album - This Broadway leading man lends his supple voice to a host of favorites on this just-out album. There are also some clever (and entirely appropriate) surprises. I think you'll enjoy.
  • "All I Want for Christmas"- Telly Leung has recorded this lovely version of a holiday-time favorite to help raise money for the nonprofit ASTEP. The organization's great work centers on bringing the arts into the lives of young people from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world to awaken their imaginations, foster critical thinking, and help them break the cycle of poverty.

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've stuck with traditional for this week's Spotify playlist. It's about one hour of seasonal favorites from stage and screen musicals, along with other songs offered up by some of Broadway's finest performers.


We've got an utterly delightful track for you to listen to as this week's free song download. It's a marvelous tune called "Noël, Noël" that's been curated on the new two-disc set Lost West End: The Revues.


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

  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.

There have also been a host of new holiday albums that have come out in recent weeks, including the two I mentioned above as well as Steve Ross’ It’s Almost Christmas Eve, Michael Longoria’s Merry Christmas Darling, and Gigi Bermingham’s Cabaret Noël.

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.

  • Broadway My Way - Heather Headley, Tony winner for Aida, reinterprets such classics as "Over the Rainbow," "Look to the Rainbow," and "Home" on this lush new recording.
  • The Greatest Showman Reimagined - P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha are just some of the artists featured on this album that brings you new versions of the songs from the hit movie that starred Hugh Jackman.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.
  • Singing You Home - Conceived by Laura Benanti, and featuring artists such as Josh Groban, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Audra McDonald, this bi-lingual children's album is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause. Proceeds from the album sales will go directly to the non-profit organizations RAICES and ASTEP to help reunite and support families separated at the border.
  • Twelfth Night - Songwriter Shaina Taub's songs for the Public Theater's recent production of Shakespeare's romance got some terrific reviews. The production had a very short run, so we're lucky to have this album that allows all of us who missed it to enjoy Taub's exceptional tunefulness.
  • 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.
  • 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!

The holiday season is upon us! And theoretically you'd be getting our next newsletter just two days before Christmas. I wanted to give Erik and Ken a holiday gift, and so I told them they could take the rest of the month off.

This means you'll be getting our next newsletter just as you've started dealing with your New Year's resolutions.

For some people the top of such a list is about eating healthier or dieting, so it seemed only appropriate to have the guys pen columns about songs centered on food as we begin 2019. One of my faves is "I Can Cook Too" from On the Town.

I'll close by wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons and look forward to sharing more great music with you in 2019.

 

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Artists

Dec
07

There’s Something About a War

This week my intentionally vague charge from editor Andy Propst is to write “something seasonal.” I think that’s his way of letting me off the hook this year about writing a Christmas music column. In any event, I’m availing myself of the opportunity. My blog goes live on Dec. 7, which just happens to be Pearl Harbor Day. So I decided to look at musicals that take place during wartime.

I’ve chosen 15, with an eye to including titles that haven’t shown up in past columns, and I am starting off with a quintet of shows by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Their musicals rarely appear here because, frankly, I’m not a fan. However, as they seem incapable of writing any musical without a war in it, I felt it only fair to lead off with their five shows that made it to the West End and/or Broadway. They certainly seem to have taken Stephen Sondheim’s song “There’s Something About a War,” cut from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, to heart.

Les Misérables
This show, based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, famously takes place during a French revolution, though not the French Revolution. I saw it in London in the winter of 1986, accompanied by my first husband, just after it had transferred to a commercial West End run from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Barbican Centre. He wanted to leave at intermission, but I insisted on staying so that I could report back to friends on the show, already a huge hit despite negative reviews. As the house lights came up after the end of Act 1, a flat, male, American voice rang through the theatre: “Well, that’ll set Broadway back 10 years.” I whirled to see if I could identify the source, but no luck. My husband had his own witticism: “Someone should tell Patti LuPone to stop acting with her lips.” Of course, none of our indignant youthful opprobrium made a dent. LuPone won an Olivier Award, and the show is now a classic beloved by millions. I, however, remain not of their number. Can’t speak for the ex, as we don’t.

Miss Saigon
I saw this new version of Madame Butterfly, now set against the backdrop of America’s war with Vietnam, at a matinee during West End previews at the Drury Lane Theatre in September of 1989. I was alone (hubby number one refused to go) and sitting in my friend and mentor lyricist Richard Maltby Jr.’s production seat, having been seriously warned in a phone call to “keep your mouth shut,” as I could be sitting next to one of his collaborators on the musical. I did as I was told, but I didn’t like the show. I didn’t see Richard at all on that London trip, but we eventually encountered each other back in NYC. Asked what I thought, I tried to be diplomatic by saying, “Well, Richard, it’s just not my cup of tea.” He looked at me with a tolerant smile and said, “I don’t think it’s going to matter.” Boy, was he right.

Martin Guerre
On Feb. 28, 1998, my current hubby and I attended the closing West End performance of this epic, based on the story of the titular real-life peasant in early modern France who fled an arranged Catholic marriage to a woman he does not love to fight in a war against the Protestant Huguenots. Word came that he had been killed, but then a man arrives in the village claiming to be Martin Guerre. Intrigue, deception, sex, and religious intolerance ensue. The show had opened to poisonous reviews and only middling business, and producer Cameron Mackintosh had had the authors revise it twice during its 20-month run, but apparently to little avail. I liked it not a whit, but it had its enthusiastic followers and the closing-night audience was, of course, passionately in its favor. We had great orchestra seats and found ourselves not far from Boublil and Schönberg. At intermission I looked at the hubby and said, under my breath, “If only I had a gun, I could save the American musical theatre.” It seemed funny at the time. These days, however, I’d never jest about such a thing. Martin Guerre never reached Broadway, although it did have a tour across America and Canada, which got preserved on disc. Further revisions were done for that tour, and a quick comparison of song titles indicates that not one is shared with the original. That’s some revision!

The Pirate Queen
Who can possibly forget Stephanie J. Block giving birth, then immediately rising to wield her sword and run into battle? As the titular 16th-century heroine leading the Irish in a rebellion against the English, she gave a fine performance amidst much silliness and bombast. Boublil and Schönberg partnered with American writer John Dempsey (Zombie Prom, The Fix, The Witches of Eastwick) and chose to premiere their 2007 musical on Broadway rather than in London. During a severely troubled Chicago tryout engagement, Richard Maltby Jr. was brought in to help with rewrites, but the show couldn’t be saved, folding after only 85 performances in the cavernous Hilton Theatre (now the renovated-to-make-it-more-intimate Lyric, where Harry Potter is playing).

Marguerite
This is the only Boublil-Schönberg show I did not see, though the hubby and I did listen to the OLCR in a rental car while driving home from vacation in New Hampshire. It opened in the West End in 2008 and is notable for having music by Michel Legrand, not Schönberg, who instead gets a co-book credit, along with Boublil and English director Jonathan Kent, who also helmed the production. Boublil did the French lyrics, which Herbert Kretzmer then rendered into English ones. Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias, it is set in German-occupied Paris during World War II. Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) is a former lady of high society reduced to living with Otto, a German officer (Alexander Hanson), when she falls in love with Armand, a musician (Julian Ovenden). The show was not sung-through, as the team’s previous four were, and Legrand’s music is less declamatory than Schönberg’s, with some attractive jazz influences. Still, notices were not good, and the musical closed in four months. And that’s been it for B&S so far. Hmmm. B&S – has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

The Grand Tour
Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and book writers Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble slid right off the rails with this 1979 musical about a Polish-Jewish intellectual, S.L. Jacobowsky, fleeing the Nazis. He has bought a car that he doesn’t know how to drive and ends up being chauffeured by an anti-Semitic Polish colonel trying to get to England to provide Poland’s government-in-exile with a list of undercover agents in his occupied country. It’s based on Franz Werfel’s play Jacobowsky and the Colonel as adapted by American playwright S.N. Behrman, and when I saw The Grand Tour at Broadway’s Palace Theatre it laid there like a lox, despite a few good Herman tunes and a valiant Joel Grey in the lead. A 1988 vest-pocket off-Broadway revisal at Jewish Repertory Theatre featuring Stuart Zagnit had much more charm, but the book problems weren’t solved. That said, I don’t know a single Herman score not worth listening to, and songs such as “Marianne” (about the colonel’s French girlfriend, who is traveling with them and with whom Jacobowsky ends up falling in love), “Mrs. S.L. Jacobowsky” (about the wife he has never had), “You I Like” (when Jacobowsky and the colonel finally bond), and “I’ll Be Here Tomorrow” (Jacobowsky’s anthem of survival) are vintage Herman.

Pins and Needles
Harold Rome wrote most of the material for this 1937 musical revue produced by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and performed by amateurs, all union members. It had a left-wing political view and ran for 1,108 performances, closing in 1940 before America joined World War II but after it began. A studio cast album released in 1962 was billed as a “25th anniversary edition” and featured a young Barbra Streisand, who was then appearing in Rome’s musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Many of the sketches and songs were about union issues, but some of them addressed the war in Europe. One such song was “Four Little Angels of Peace,” which referenced the Anschluss and the Second Sino-Japanese War as it satirized Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini, Emperor Hirohito, and Adolf Hitler. I don’t think Streisand would get away with that Japanese accent today.

Ben Franklin in Paris
Playwright Sidney Michaels had back-to-back Broadway hits with the 1962 comedy Tchin-Tchin and the 1964 drama Dylan. He then wrote two musicals, both set against a war background, with less felicitous results. 1964’s Ben Franklin in Paris managed to run just over six months, thanks mostly to the star power of Robert Preston, who played the inventor of the stove during his days as America’s ambassador to France. It was largely due to Franklin that the French came into the Revolutionary War on our side and stayed there. Michaels also wrote the lyrics, to music by first-time Broadway composer Mark Sandrich Jr., in his sole Broadway outing. While their score has its merits, their inexperience was too great. In particular, Michaels doesn’t put enough dramatic action in the songs, reserving it for his book, which is why the OBCR doesn’t tell the story very well. Jerry Herman was brought in to write what to me are the most memorable songs, “Too Charming” and “To Be Alone With You.”

Goodtime Charley
Michaels ceded the job of writing lyrics to Hal Hackady on this 1975 musical about the relationship between Joan of Arc and the Dauphin of France during Europe’s Hundred Years War. Larry Grossman provided the top-notch music (as orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick, the overture is one of my favorites), but the piece never gelled and the run lasted just under three months. I didn’t see it, but stars Joel Grey and Ann Reinking are engaging on the OBCR, and I gather an Onna White dance number in which Reinking kicked over all the castles of the Loire was something else. Unlike Ben Franklin, this is a flop score that I still listen to. Favorite songs include a forceful Reinking on “Voices and Visions” and “One Little Year,” and Grey, attractively understated, on “I Leave the World” and the title song. And did I tell you about that overture?

Blitz!
Lionel Bart did just about everything on this 1962 original musical set in a London under Nazi bombardment: He wrote the music and lyrics, co-wrote the book (with Joan Maitland), and directed. The story involves quarreling proprietors of a herring stall and a fruit stall in Petticoat Lane. The complication is that their children fall in love. But the show’s real purpose was to re-create history, dramatizing a community and celebrating the British spirit. Bart’s follow-up to his smash hit Oliver! doesn’t have that show’s take-home tunes, but it’s raffish and quirky and attractively redolent of the English music hall. World War II songstress Vera Lynn makes a prerecorded cameo appearance singing “The Day After Tomorrow” on the radio, and the lovely song does its job of evoking her wartime hits such as “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.” Shirley Bassey covered the plaintive “Far Away,” which was on the pop charts for 19 weeks, cresting at number 24. My favorite is the saucily defiant “Who’s This Geezer Hitler?”.

Bloomer Girl
This 1944 Broadway hit is both pro-feminist and anti-war as it tells the tale of Evelina Applegate, the daughter of a hoop-skirt magnate from the North who forsakes her father’s sartorial dictates, preferring to wear newfangled bloomers invented by her forward-thinking Aunt Dolly. Evelina is romanced by the man her father has chosen for her, Jeff Calhoun, from a formerly wealthy Southern family, and against her better judgment, she falls for him, only to see him leave to fight for the Confederacy. All ends happily, of course, but not until Agnes de Mille gets to stage the somber Civil War Ballet, expressing women’s emotions in war, which lyricist E.Y. Harburg called “dreadful” but composer Harold Arlen supported. The critics agreed with Arlen. The lovers were played on Broadway by Celeste Holm, fresh out of Oklahoma!, and David Brooks, soon to originate the role of Tommy Albright in Brigadoon. The first-rate score includes “Evelina,” “It Was Good Enough for Grandma,” “I Got a Song,” and the thrilling “The Eagle and Me,” sung by a runaway slave about his need to be free. There is a good, if considerably shortened, TV version starring Barbara Cook and Keith Andes (which reproduces de Mille’s ballet), and Encores! did an excellent concert version in 2001 featuring Kate Jennings Grant, Michael Park, Kathleen Chalfant (in a musical!), and the redoubtable Philip Bosco, whom we just lost.

Dogfight
Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul made their NYC debut with this 2012 off-Broadway adaptation of Nancy Savoca and Bob Comfort’s 1991 indie drama about a group of teenagers about to ship out for Vietnam in 1963. The night before they leave they stage a “dogfight,” a contest to see who can bring the ugliest girl to their going-away party. Under Joe Mantello’s acute direction, Lindsay Mendez was heartrending as Rose Fenny, a young woman who gets used by Derek Klena’s insensitive Marine. When she eventually catches on and tells him off, he realizes what he’s done and pursues her to make amends. A nascent romance starts to emerge, but what chance will it have under the circumstances? I loved this tough, smart show and said so in my Backstage review. I first saw Annaleigh Ashford here, as a young streetwalker who wises Rose up in the searing title song, and she made quite the impression. Despite all their subsequent success, I think this is still the finest work that Pasek and Paul have done.

Something for the Boys
Cole Porter wrote his last score for Ethel Merman for this 1943 hit about three cousins—each unknown to the other—who inherit an abandoned Texas hacienda only to discover that soldiers from a nearby Army training base want to use it as housing for their wives and girlfriends. The cousins turn it into a boarding house and comic complications abound. Herbert and Dorothy Fields’ slapdash script seeks only to entertain, and they actually resolve what there is of a plot when Merman’s character discovers that she can receive radio signals through fillings in her teeth. Porter’s songs are in the big-band mode popular at the time, and if the romantic tunes are rather generic, some of the comedy songs are gems, especially “The Leader of a Big Time Band” and “By the Mississinewah,” in which an Indian chief’s two sex-starved wives lament his inattention. (There really is a Mississinewah River, in Porter’s hometown of Peru, Ind.) Thanks to a radio broadcast, you can hear Merman and company in a shortened version of the score. For the full version, you can get P.S. Classics’ studio recording, which comes out a week from today, featuring a stellar cast that includes Danny Burstein, Andréa Burns, Elizabeth Stanley, and Edward Hibbert and uses the show’s original orchestrations.

Yank!
I first encountered this musical by the Zellnik brothers—David did the book and lyrics and Joseph the music—as part of a reading series presented by the gay theatre group TOSOS II in 2001. At that point it only consisted of a couple of scenes and songs, but I was immediately intrigued by the material and the idea: two men serving in the U.S. Army in World War II fall in love, done in the style of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The show continued to be developed in a variety of venues, including a 2007 production at Brooklyn’s Gallery Players, before finally landing at the York Theatre Company in 2010. That production did so well that the piece was optioned for Broadway. I saw it at the York and found it tremendously promising but still in need of some work. The producers brought heavyweight Broadway director David Cromer in to oversee that work, and in winter of 2011 Roundabout did a workshop to look at the revisions. Alas, that’s the last I’ve heard of Yank!. It’s a shame, because there is so much in it that’s good, as you can tell by listening to the OCR and the sterling performances of Bobby Steggart, Jeffrey Denman, Ivan Hernandez, and Nancy Anderson.

Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War
Mashall Pailet (book, music, and direction) and A.D. Penedo (book and lyrics) based this sly look at the high cost of hubris on an unproduced screenplay by J.T. Allen about the intelligence mistakes that led to the start of the Iraq War. It got a well-reviewed (New York Times Critic’s Pick) nonprofit off-off-Broadway run at the Actors Temple Theater in Midtown in 2015, which led to a three-month off-Broadway mounting at St. Luke’s Theatre in 2017 featuring a talented cast of unknowns that included a pre-SpongeBob Ethan Slater. Penedo’s lyrics are smartly turned and savvy about character, while Pailet’s music employs a range of styles dictated by both character and situation. Highlights include “Das Man,” sung by a nerdy German intelligence underling who fancies himself a hot shot; “Berry and the Bad Boy,” a rap for a low-rung female CIA operative whose ambition gets the better of her; and “Stay,” an unsettling plea from a creepy Iraqi looking for asylum in Berlin in exchange for secrets about Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program. The satire stings, but so do the ugly truths about human nature. I remember hearing about this and being intrigued. Having listened to the score, I wish I’d made the effort to see it.

 

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Dec
07

Holidays Mixtape

Folks, hope you’re having a Happy Hannukah if that’s your thing. Or no holiday at all of you don’t believe. But we all have to agree that as far as theatre songs go it’s Christmas all the way. Ironically many, if not most of the great Christmas songs were written by writers of the Jewish persuasion. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes America great!!

There’s a plethora of great Christmas songs from musical theatre. Here’s my list of the best known ones listed alphabetically by show. I think it would make a really terrific mix tape (mix CD?) (mix playlist?).

  1. “A New Deal for Christmas” – Annie – Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin
  2. “Hail to Christmas” – Babes in Toyland – Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough
  3. “Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year” – Catch Me If You Can – Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman
  4. “A Christmas Buche” – Charlotte Sweet – Gerald Jay Maroem, Michael Colby
  5. “A Christmas Song” – Elf – Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin
  6. “Tomorrow Is Christmas” – The Gift of the Magi – Peter Eckstrom
  7. “Blissful Christmas” – Gone with the Wind – Harold Rome
  8. “Greenwillow Christmas” – Greenwillow – Frank Loesser
  9. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Here’s Love – Meredith Willson (OK I know he didn’t write this for the show but it’s in the show so it counts). And also “Pine Cones and Holly Berries” (sung in counterpoint to the above).
  10. “White Christmas” – Holiday Inn – Irving Berlin (see above)
  11. “Lovers on Christmas Eve” – I Love My Wife – Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart
  12. “Christmas Child” – Irma La Douce – Margurite Monnot, Julian More, David Heneker
  13. “Christmas 1” and “Christmas 2” – John and Jen – Andrew Lippa
  14. “Xmas Shopping” – Just for Openers – Rod Warren (You’ll have to track down a copy of the LP of this Julius Monk revue…sorry)
  15. “We Need a Little Christmas” – Mame – Jerry Herman
  16. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Meet Me in St. Louis – Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
  17. “Christmas Day in the Cookhouse” – Oh What a Lovely War – Billy Bennett (ibid)
  18. “That’s What I’d Like for Christmas” – Pickwick – Cyril Ornadel, Leslie Bricusse
  19.  “Christmas Day” – Promises, Promises – Burt Bacharach and Hal David
  20. “Christmas at Hampton Court” – Rex – Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick
  21. “Merry Christmas” and “Twelve Days to Christmas” – She Loves Me – Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
  22. “Christmas Eve” – Sherry – Laurence Rosenthal, James Lipton
  23. “At Christmas Time” – Song of Norway – Alexander Borodin, Robert Wright, George Forrest
  24. “I Don’t Remember Christmas” – Starting Here, Starting Now – Richard Maltby and David Shire
  25. “Christmas Carol” – Streets of New York – Richard B. Chodosh, Barry Alan Grael
  26. “White Christmas” – White Christmas – Irving Berlin (see reason above)
  27. “Winter Wonderland” – Ziegfeld Follies of 1934 – Felix Bernard, Dick Smith (ibid)

Well that’s what I could come up with anyway. Please let me know if there’s anything I missed.

And have yourselves a very happy holiday of your choice and a very happy new year!

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Nov
23

By the Decade - The 1950s

This week were throwing one of sporadic backward glances at a particular decade in musical theater history. Ken and Erik are tackling the 1950s, and their lists of favorite shows from the decade include many titles you know and perhaps a few that you don't know or ones that will surprise you.

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

  • Bells Are Ringing - Composer Jule Styne and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green were at the height of their game with this 1956 musical that snagged a Tony Award for its star, Judy Holliday. (She bested My Fair Lady nominee Julie Andrews, if you can believe it!)
  • Two on the Aisle - Styne, Comden, and Green started their collaboration in 1951 with this revue that targeted some of the pop cultural, political, and societal topics of the day, including the big Broadway hits that were running as the 1950s dawned.

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. 


Perhaps you'll feel as if you've taken a time machine back some sixty to seventy years with this week's Spotify playlist. It's a heady compilation of tunes from the musicals of the 1950s and encompasses the shows we all know and love, as well as ones we rarely--if ever--think of.


SimG Records has released a cast album for a delightful family-friendly musical, Imaginary. I'm betting you will be charmed by the free download we have for you this week.


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

  • Broadway My Way - Heather Headley, Tony winner for Aida, reinterprets such classics as "Over the Rainbow," "Look to the Rainbow," and "Home" on this lush new recording.
  • The Greatest Showman Reimagined - P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha are just some of the artists featured on this album that brings you new versions of the songs from the hit movie that starred Hugh Jackman.

There have also been a host of new holiday albums that have come out in recent weeks, including The Norm Lewis Christmas Album, Steve Ross’ It’s Almost Christmas Eve, Michael Longoria’s Merry Christmas Darling, and Gigi Bermingham’s Cabaret Noël, as well as Telly Leung’s single, “All I Want for Christmas,” which benefits a fantastic nonprofit, ASTEP.

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.

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.
  • Singing You Home - Conceived by Laura Benanti, and featuring artists such as Josh Groban, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Audra McDonald, this bi-lingual children's album is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause. Proceeds from the album sales will go directly to the non-profit organizations RAICES and ASTEP to help reunite and support families separated at the border.
  • Twelfth Night - Songwriter Shaina Taub's songs for the Public Theater's recent production of Shakespeare's romance got some terrific reviews. The production had a very short run, so we're lucky to have this album that allows all of us who missed it to enjoy Taub's exceptional tunefulness.
  • 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.
  • 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!

By the time you get our next newsletter we will be a week in December and the holiday season will be underway in earnest.

I've asked Erik and Ken to come up with something season. I've just left it there. They're both clever fellows, so I'm sure they will rise to that vagueness beautifully.

To get a jump-start on all things seasonal, I'll point you toward the just-released It's Almost Christmas Eve, featuring marvelous vocals from cabaret's Steve Ross, along with Suellen Estry, Benjamin Weil, and Ron Spivak.

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Artists

Nov
23

Favorites by Decade – The 1950s

I have to pick only five favorite musicals from this incredibly fruitful decade? Really?! Well, it can’t be done. I winnowed it down to six indispensable Broadway titles, but I just couldn’t get to five. Then, to spice it up a bit, I added five off-Broadway shows, as I did for the 1990s column back in April. As off-Broadway was born in the 1950s, I wondered if I could find five titles, but it wasn’t hard at all.

Interestingly, three of the five were produced by T. Edward Hambleton and Norris Houghton, co-founders of the intrepid Phoenix Theatre, which was located at Second Avenue and 12th Street. Alas, today this historic house, built as a Yiddish theatre, has been chopped up into a multiplex cinema. You can see its interior in the 1981 slasher flick The Fan, starring Lauren Bacall as a Broadway musical star stalked by a murderous admirer. Bacall sings Tim Rice and Marvin Hamlisch’s “Hearts, not Diamonds” on its stage, and the film’s climactic scene takes place in the empty theatre. The admittedly rather cheesy movie can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

In winnowing I had to leave out some major likes, including Guys and Dolls, Wonderful Town, Candide, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Peter Pan, The Boy Friend, Fiorello!, Flower Drum Song, Juno, and The Sound of Music. As I said, it was a fruitful era, the height of Broadway’s Golden Age. Nevertheless, here are my fifties faves, in chronological order by opening date.

The King and I (Opened March 29, 1951 at the St. James Theatre)
I liked this Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II adaptation of Margaret Landon’s autobiographical novel Anna and the King of Siam when I saw its 1956 film version broadcast on TV sometime in the early 1960s, but I fell in love with it at age 12 upon the film’s 1966 re-release, when I could see it widescreen and uninterrupted by commercials. I attended opening night of its 1977 Broadway revival in a borrowed tux and sat a couple of rows behind Rodgers, who I watched almost as much as the stage. (Shockingly, its OBCR is not available digitally, but you can buy used copies of the CD on Amazon.) Most recently, I was transported by director Bartlett Sher’s 2015 Lincoln Center Theater revival starring Kelli O’Hara, who finally won her well-deserved Tony for it after five preceding nominations. While there are many fine King and I recordings, my gold standard remains the film soundtrack featuring the brilliant Yul Brynner, who of course originated the role on stage and won both a Tony and an Oscar for it, and the craftily combined efforts of Deborah Kerr and Marni Nixon. For me, no one has ever bested Brynner or Kerr/Nixon in their roles, and there is no more perfect moment in all of musical theatre than “Shall We Dance?” as executed by the three of them.

The Threepenny Opera (Opened March 10, 1954 at the Theatre de Lys)
Marc Blitzstein’s translation of Bertolt Brecht’s book and lyrics for this slashing account of capitalism’s endemic corruption remains, for me, the best English version I have encountered, despite the bowdlerization of some lyrics on the OCR to allow for radio airplay. In particular, due to Blitzstein’s own gifts as a songwriter, the lyrics fit beautifully with Kurt Weill’s clashing, angular score. And, of course, this off-Broadway production featured Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya, re-creating the role of Jenny, the whore she made famous 26 years earlier in the show’s 1928 Berlin premiere. But the OCR also offers the talents of Jo Sullivan, Charlotte Rae, Beatrice Arthur, John Astin, and Paul Dooley. Scott Merrill, who starred as the sexy but treacherous gangster Macheath, may not have achieved the stardom of his fellow cast members, but his performance is indelible. When he left the production, a young guy named Jerry Orbach took over. The show ran for more than six years and just over 2,700 performances. Oh, how I wish I could have seen it.

The Golden Apple (Opened March 11, 1954 at the Phoenix Theatre)
Off-Broadway was clearly hopping in 1954, with John Latouche and Jerome Moross’ delightful through-sung re-telling of Greek myth opening the night after Threepenny. Blitzstein and Latouche were friends, but I bet Latouche missed Blitzstein’s opening night in this case, as Apple had a preview performance on March 10. Did Blitzstein show up at the Phoenix on March 11 to bask in the glow of his raves? I wonder. As Latouche had once planned to translate Threepenny himself (instead he wrote his own modern adaptation of the story, 1946’s Beggar’s Holiday, with music by Duke Ellington), I’m sure he eventually caught the show. Apple was a critical smash and moved to Broadway’s Alvin Theatre, but it was too artsy for the Main Stem crowd and folded after three-and-a-half months. You need both the heavily cut OBCR, for the iconic performances of its original cast, especially Kaye Ballard as Helen of Troy, and the full-length live recording of a production at Texas’ Lyric Stage, so you can grasp the complete work. The splendid 2017 Encores! concert staging, alas, went unrecorded.

Sandhog (Opened Nov. 23, 1954 at the Phoenix Theatre)
Hambleton and Houghton followed up their off-Broadway success with The Golden Apple with this piece by Waldo Salt (book and lyrics) and Earl Robinson (composer) based on Theodore Dreiser’s short story “St. Columba and the River.” It told the story of the building of the Holland Tunnel. Labeled “a ballad in three acts,” the show blends dialogue and song in highly unusual and dramatic ways, and Robinson’s music is haunting. The cast included David Brooks (the original Tommy Albright of Brigadoon), Jack Cassidy, Alice Ghostley, Michael Kermoyan, and Paul Ukena, plus as three street kids Betty Ageloff (who changed her last name to Aberlin and went on to fame as Lady Aberlin on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), Yuriko, and Eliot Feld. Bernard Gersten, later producer at the Public Theater and Lincoln Center Theater, was the stage manager, Hershy Kay did the orchestrations, and Howard Da Silva directed. An OCR was recorded, though with piano-only accompaniment, but it went unreleased, probably due to some sound problems in its second half that weren’t apparent until after it was finished. So Salt and Robinson made their own recording, a rather elaborate authors’ demo that still aptly conveys the piece. An extremely rare LP for many years, it has recently been released on CD by Stage Door Records and includes selected cuts from the OCR as a bonus. John Latouche, who wrote the hit cantata “Ballad for Americans” with Robinson in 1939, served as dramaturge, and Latouche’s life partner, librettist, lyricist, and poet Kenward Elmslie, funded the making of the OCR. Producer-director-actor Charlotte Moore of the Irish Rep has told me that she wants to do a production of Sandhog there (its main characters are, after all, Irish). Get a move on, Charlotte!

My Fair Lady (Opened March 15, 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre)
What more is there left for me to write about Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s magnum opus? I fell hard for the OBCR when I was four and even harder for the full show when I was 10 and the movie version was released. OK, a story about that. As the opening credits played on screen at Shaker Heights’ Colony Theatre, I was so excited that I started to hum along with the overture. My older brother quickly interrupted me, telling me that I was being rude to my fellow audience members. Embarrassed, I realized immediately that he was right, which was also very annoying. However, never again as an audience member did I act as if I was at home in my living room. I haven’t caught Laura Benanti yet in Lincoln Center Theater’s beautiful revival, but I’m hearing great things about her Eliza Doolittle, and I’ll get there soon.

The Most Happy Fella (Opened May 3, 1956 at the Imperial Theatre)
Frank Loessser’s bounteous musical adaptation of Sidney Howard’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize–winning drama, They Knew What They Wanted, about a middle-aged California vintner and his younger mail-order bride, had the misfortune of opening less than two months after My Fair Lady. In any other season it would have swept the Tonys; instead, it got six nominations and no wins. (Lady had 10 nominations and six wins.) Still, it ran for 676 performances and spawned what I think was the first three-LP original Broadway cast recording, preserving for all time virtually every note of Loesser’s extraordinary score. It was revived at City Center in 1959 and on the Great White Way in 1979 and 1992, and Encores! did very well with it in 2014 starring Shuler Hensley and Laura Benanti, but I think it’s time for Broadway to see it again. The show is much too good to be relegated to concert stagings. Bartlett Sher, are you ready?

West Side Story (Opened Sept. 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre)
If you haven’t been to the Jerome Robbins exhibit currently on display at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, I urge you to hie yourself over there pronto (it runs through March 30). There is some really fascinating material about the creation of this Arthur Laurents–Stephen Sondheim–Leonard Bernstein musical (and its subsequent film adaptation) about warring street gangs on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which Robbins, of course, conceived, directed, and choreographed. In particular, one fascinating tidbit is Robbins’ editing notes about the musical numbers to his co-director on the 1961 movie version, Robert Wise, given long after Robbins was fired from the picture for filming too slowly. There is also a list of all the NYC locations considered for filming, as well as which were finally chosen. I live on 68th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, and I always point out to guests that most of the movie’s location shots were made just down my block, on 68th Street between Amsterdam and West End Avenue, which was one of the few blocks still standing after area demolition to make way for the erection of Lincoln Center. Once the movie finished shooting, the buildings came down, and a large apartment complex was built in their place, causing 68th Street to stop at Amsterdam Avenue. I point to a particularly ugly gray apartment building (of much more recent vintage than the above-mentioned complex, though it still stands as well) and announce, “The Jets and the Sharks danced right over there!”

The Music Man (Opened Dec. 19, 1957 at the Majestic Theatre)
Meredith Willson’s sepia-tinted musical comedy about life in rural Iowa at the start of the 20th century duked it out with West Side Story come awards time, and the more conventionally commercial show won both the Tony and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards for best musical. I would have voted for gang warfare, and yet I would never diss The Music Man as the inferior of the two. It is just about as good as a musical comedy can get. Also, as with West Side, it got a splendid film version, again directed by its original stage director, in this case Morton Da Costa. In choosing which recording to listen to, it’s always a bit of a dilemma: Barbara Cook or Shirley Jones? “My White Knight” or “Being in Love”? As I knew the film first, I tend to go with that more often than not. I always thought it would be great fun to have Cook and Jones play the Brewster sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace. Alas, we’ll never know if I was right.

Once Upon a Mattress (Opened May 11, 1959 at the Phoenix Theatre)
This is the third of the Hambleton-Houghton off-Broadway tuners on the list, and this musical comedy version of the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” unconcerned with anything more than entertainment, is a distinct departure from the artistic ambitions of The Golden Apple and Sandhog. And yet, when it, like Apple, moved to Broadway’s Alvin Theatre, it too only managed a short run, just 244 performances, essentially double the length of Apple’s 125-performance run. I don’t get it. The Mary Rodgers–Marshall Barer score is witty and tuneful, and the Barer–Jay Thompson–Dean Fuller book is a delight. Carol Burnett clowned spectacularly under George Abbott’s direction (something we know for sure because her performance was captured in not one but two TV adaptations in the 1960s). So what was the problem? Perhaps it was the raciness of the premise. No one in the kingdom can get married until the prince is wed, something his possessive mother seems determined to prevent. Alas, one of the ladies in waiting has gotten pregnant. What’s an expectant mother to do without a hubby to do it with? I know this story line KO’d a production at my high school in 1970. The principal told our drama teacher that it would embarrass several students who were in similar straights. We did Little Mary Sunshine instead (see below). Then said drama teacher directed Mattress that summer with a student cast for a local amateur troupe. Mr. Sherlock was always pretty tenacious about getting his way.

Gypsy (Opened May 21, 1959 at the Broadway Theatre)
There is virtually nothing of interest in the Robbins exhibit at Lincoln Center about Gypsy, despite it being possibly the best integrated musical ever written. I think that’s probably because, although Robbins directed and choreographed, the show belongs to book writer Arthur Laurents’ conception of how to tell the tale of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee: by putting her pushy stage mother, Rose, front and center. Even Robbins apparently told Laurents at the time, and not happily, that the show was his show rather than a Robbins show, which he felt occurred because he wasn’t involved enough in the writing process, as he had been on West Side Story. I do think, if one has to choose, that it is probably the best book ever written for a musical, though the Stephen Sondheim–Jule Styne score is pretty nifty too. There have been a lot of great Roses over the years, but I do wish I could have seen the role’s originator, Ethel Merman, play the part. I have heard a live tape of her closing performance, but it’s not the same thing. Just recently, I found a clip on YouTube of Merman singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” “exactly as she does it in the show.” It’s from The Kraft Music Hall program broadcast Oct. 5, 1960, while Merman is still doing Gypsy on Broadway. I’ve seen her perform the song many times, but always out of context as an upbeat anthem. In this clip, even though Merman is not in costume, you can see the desperate, domineering Rose come through. Believe me, it’s something.

Little Mary Sunshine (Opened Nov. 18, 1959, at the Orpheum Theatre)
When Mr. Sherlock told us that our high school musical would be Rick Besoyan’s delicious spoof of operettas, I had never heard of it, or him, and I knew precious little about operetta, except that I didn’t like it much, probably because my parents did. I immediately purchased the OCR and plunked it down on our living room hi-fi player. I was wary, but I ended up very charmed, and I loved being in the show’s chorus as a Forest Ranger. I knew that “Colorado Love Call” spoofed “Indian Love Call” from Rose Marie, because my mom loved Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. But I really didn’t get most of the other references: “Look for a Sky of Blue” twits “Look for the Silver Lining” from Sally, “Tell a Handsome Stranger” sends up “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden,” from Floradora (you can hear the song on Tallulah Bankhead: Give My Regards to Broadway), “The Forest Rangers” comes from “Stouthearted Men” from The New Moon, and, of course, “In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Essenzook Zee” spoofs “In Egern on the Tegern See” from Music in the Air. In the years that followed it was always fun when I heard an operetta song for the first time and realized it had a counterpart in Besoyan’s score. Nobody does this show anymore, probably because audiences no longer have knowledge of operetta. But I came to love the show without knowing the references, so why couldn’t others? I think it would work at Encores! starring Kristin Chenoweth (age be damned), if directed with just the right amount of cheek. By the way, you need the London cast recording as well as the OCR, because only by combining them do you get the complete score. In London Little Mary was played by the redoubtable Patricia Routledge, while off-Broadway she was first created by the equally formidable Eileen Brennan. Both are priceless.

 

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Nov
23

Favorites From the Fifties

The 1950s were a time of transition in musical theater history just as were the 1920s.

In the ‘20s, the old guard of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and other operetta composers were slowing down and being replaced by a new breed of songwriters. Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin led the way to be quickly followed by George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Harold Arlen, and others.

By the time the ‘50s turned to the ‘60s most of the these composers were slowing down (with the sole exception of Rodgers who worked until the day he died). The ‘50s saw the emergence of a new group of musical theater writers including Jones and Schmidt, Kander and Ebb, Strouse and Adams, Bock and Harnick, Jerry Herman, Hugh Martin and others.

Just as in the 1920s, most of these teams honed their skills by writing for revues before tackling full-blown scores. These new writers brought a freshness to the form while still following the basic tenants of music theater writing, especially an emphasis on the skill and craft of writing songs and their purpose of songs within a show. Sadly, that craft is rarely evident in today’s Broadway shows.

But back to the ‘50s. Just as the ‘20s brought a new life to the musical so did the ‘50s. And the shows produced in that decade were a reflection of the optimism that swept America following the Second World War.

Finally, before I give a list of some of my favorite shows of the time, it should be noted that even flop shows often had marvelous scores. Also, absent from today’s musical theater.

In no apparent order:

Li’l Abner
This is certainly an under-appreciated musical that doesn’t get it’s due for its sly agenda. Li’l Abner is a hilariously playful musical that, like Al Capp’s original comic strip, is subtly critical of the political atmosphere of the ’50s especially the whole military industrial complex. The score by Johnny Mercer is just as witty and pointed as the comic strip. Unfortunately, as a not-so-recent Encores! production showed, it’s an extremely difficult show to put on now, as modern sensibilities don’t understand the tone required in performance. Luckily, with most of the original Broadway cast intact, the film version is extremely faithful to the show and includes Michael Kidd’s fantastic choreography.

Wish You Were Here
A number of decades back, Frank Rich bemoaned that we don’t have new Harold Rome musicals, and I second the notion. Rome is sadly under the radar today, but his shows had a wonderful spirit and his music and lyrics celebrated life like no other songwriter. Wish You Were Here is a snapshot of a time long passed. The title song became a huge standard (back when we had standards from Broadway musicals). Compare the heartfelt yearnings of that song with the more playful tunes in the score, and you see a show about regular people, living their lives with all their foibles. Rome made gentle fun of his characters, and the sweetness of the score is a delightful contrast to other shows’ brash qualities.

Fanny
Here’s Harold Rome’s next show in the ‘50s and it couldn’t be more different than Wish You Were Here. This is a warm-hearted show and a bittersweet one also. Sadly, the film only used the songs as underscoring. It’s a marvelous movie under Josh Logan’s direction and an expert cast. It’s fun to watch the movie and pause to play the original cast album in the appropriate spots. This is one of the most beautiful scores whose ballads actually sound like real people’s emotions if they could express them as poetically as Rome does. Not like the typical overblown Broadway ballads of many shows.

Destry Rides Again
All right, all right. So, I really love Harold Rome’s work. Just these three shows show his remarkable versatility. I won’t go on and on about him. Just listen to this original cast recording.

The Girl in Pink Tights
Remember when you used to get a record (or later a CD) and make an immediate judgment and never get to the second side of the recording (Christine anyone?)? Well, I didn’t like Sigmund Romberg and Leo Robin’s score to this show. Decades later I picked it up again and I fell in love with it. There’s the requisite beautiful ballad, “Lost in Loveliness” but also songs with exceptionally funny lyrics by Leo Robin, one of the few lyricists who can actually put a joke into a song. “You’ve Got to Be a Little Crazy” is a love letter to the craziness that is show business. The other full-out comic song is “Love is the Funniest Thing.”  And, another ballad, “My Heart Won’t Say Goodbye,” is lushly romantic. This has turned into one of my favorite scores. Note: If you want a more complete version of the show, Ben Bagley recorded a slightly truncated version of the stunningly beautiful ballet.

The Golden Apple
Here’s another show that can’t be revived again. The score by Jerome Moross and John Latouche is romantic, intelligent and truthful (!). Sadly, today’s audiences don’t know the history of Helen of Troy, and so much of the show goes over their heads. Back when the show opened in 1954, schools still taught history and the classics. That’s one reason yet another Encores! revival bombed. That revival also illustrated another reason a successful revival is almost impossible today: society’s relationship with sex has changed. As originally staged, the song “Lazy Afternoon” was perhaps the sexiest moment in musical theater history. Languid and teasing with a real fire burning under the surface, the song bordered on obscene as originally staged. Today, the sexuality is front and center, no undercurrents, and treated as a joke. Believe me, it wasn’t in the original production.

Jamaica
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg were a perfect songwriting team. Unfortunately, Harburg’s always being right annoyed his collaborators (which is why after the smash hit Finian’s Rainbow, Burton Lane refused to work with him. In fact, Lane and Harburg didn’t speak to each other from rehearsals through opening night. Though Lane did later propose to Harburg that they become an official team (but Harburg turned him down).

Oh yes, we were talking about Jamaica. Well, the libretto is mainly an excuse for Lena Horne to strut her stuff, and the songwriting team gave her songs perfectly crafted to her talents. And, speaking of steamy romance, Horne’s leading man was Ricardo Montalban which led to sparks on stage (and possibly off). In any event, Harburg has never been in better form. And songs like “Push de Button” are tremendously witty and verge on special material much like Kander and Ebb would do with their songs.

Saratoga
Here’s an extremely underrated score. Why? Because the original cast album is lacking the fire and energy of the best cast albums. Therefore, the excellent score by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer isn’t showcased to its fullest. But these songs excel, as you would expect from two masters of the American popular song. My god, they wrote “Blues in the Night!!” I don’t know what to tell you but give a listen to the album.

I’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices (see the list below) but I’d like to have a few words about the following show because I think it’s important to do so.

My Fair Lady
Here’s an obvious choice but a show that’s often taken for granted. And speaking of shows that are difficult to stage now, My Fair Lady is unnecessarily caught up in the “Me Too” movement. This is an almost perfect musical that many consider as the epitome of the art form. Lerner and Loewe, working under Moss Hart’s guidance, examine the foibles of men, women, society, etc. Like other great shows, it revolves around human fallibilities and sometimes today it seems we want all the characters in musicals to be entirely politically correct in every way. And, sad to say perhaps, human’s just aren’t perfect as much as we strive to be.

Not to mention Guys and Dolls, The King and I, The Music Man, Wonderful Town, Kismet, The Pajama Game, Peter Pan, Damn Yankees, Bells Are Ringing, Candide, West Side Story, The Most Happy Fella, Gypsy, The Sound of Music, and Fiorello!

 

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Nov
09

Twixt Twelve and Twenty

This week’s topic is teenagers in musicals, in salute of next week’s Broadway opening of The Prom, about an adolescent girl in small-town Indiana who is forbidden to bring her girlfriend to the titular event. And a quick look at the shows currently on the Great White Way proves that The Prom’s teenagers have plenty of company: Aladdin, Dear Evan Hansen, Frozen, Mean Girls, The Book of Mormon, and Wicked feature a plethora of leading or supporting adolescent characters. Ti Moune’s age in Once on This Island isn’t specified, but Hailey Kilgore, who plays her, was 18 when the revival opened nearly a year ago (though LaChanze, who originated the role in 1990, was 28 at the time). And then there are the kids in School of Rock, who are poised on the puberty precipice, with several members of the original cast even admitting before opening to being, gasp, 13.

I confess that to me, practically doddering at 64, it has started to seem as if Broadway is becoming more juvenile-oriented than ever before. So I decided to make a list of teenage musical theatre characters I find memorable, to see if my assumption is accurate. It was surprisingly easy, so I fear I was just being a curmudgeon. I have winnowed the list to a mere 15, while avoiding the most obvious shows, such as West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Hairspray, and Spring Awakening.

Liesel von Trapp in The Sound of Music
This is hardly avoiding the obvious, but I just had to start with one of musical theatre’s iconic teenagers. I mean, she even gets a Rodgers and Hammerstein song about being one, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Lauri Peters, who originated the role in 1959, was 26 at the time, but period TV footage shows that she looked the part. Charmian Carr, who played Liesel in the 1965 blockbuster movie version, was only 22 when she filmed it. However, despite giving a fine performance, she has always come off to me on screen as 16 going on 30. I think it’s the very ’60s hair they gave her.

Jack Kelly in Newsies
Jeremy Jordan, currently back on Broadway in the new play American Son, leapt from obscurity thanks to his work as Jack Kelly, a brash 17-year-old newsboy in 1899 New York City in this hit Alan Menken–Jack Feldman–Harvey Fierstein tuner based on the flop 1992 Disney film. When I reviewed the show’s 2011 pre-Broadway engagement at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse for Backstage, I said: “The ebullient Jeremy Jordan is giving a breakout star performance as Jack. You know it when you see it, and I saw it.” It’s always nice when history proves you right.

Ottilie in House of Flowers
In Truman Capote’s slender tale of dueling whorehouse madams on an unspecified Caribbean island, 16-year-old Ottilie works for Madame Fleur until she falls for the hunky Royal, a mountain boy new to the city. Even though the show only managed 165 performances in the 1954-1955 season, the role put 19-year-old Diahann Carroll on the map, and with such gorgeous Capote–Harold Arlen songs to sing as “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “I Never Has Seen Snow,” it’s no wonder. Carroll had one more out of town, the plangent “Don’t Like Goodbyes,” but star Pearl Bailey got jealous and appropriated it for Madame Fleur. Didn’t stop Diahann, though, now did it?

Richard Miller in Take Me Along
Robert Morse was 28 and well known on Broadway when he played Richard Miller, teenage son of small-town newspaper editor Nat Miller, in this 1959 musicalization by Bob Merrill (songs) and Joseph Stein and Robert Russell (book) of Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy, 1933’s Ah, Wilderness!. The character is a thinly veiled O’Neill self-portrait, and Morse’s rendition of “I Would Die,” Richard’s fervent declaration of love for his neighbor’s daughter, Muriel Macomber, is as funny as his performance of “Nine O’Clock,” a song of tremulous romantic anticipation, is touching.

Medium Alison in Fun Home
In Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s 2013 musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, the leading role is split into three: Small Alison, Medium Alison, and Alison. Medium Alison is 19 and in the process of coming out of the closet as a lesbian in her freshman year at Ohio’s Oberlin College. Her discovery of sex is wonderfully documented in the song “Changing My Major,” which in this case would be to Joan, her new girlfriend. It’s to Kron’s credit that all three Alisons are memorable, and the interplay among them in her masterful mixing of chronology is one of the show’s great strengths.

Wang San in Flower Drum Song
The thoroughly Americanized younger son of Chinese immigrant Wang Chi Yang isn’t a big role in this 1958 Richard Rodgers–Oscar Hammerstein II–Joseph Fields musical adaptation of C.Y. Lee’s gently comic novel, but 15-year-old Patrick Adiarte, then billed as Pat, made it stand out, both with his brashly athletic dancing and his confident way with then-contemporary teenage American slang. He didn’t get his own song, but Adiarte comes through loud and clear when Wang San and his friends sing a reprise of “The Other Generation,” which in its first iteration is sung by grownups who are trashing the younger set. He repeated the role in the musical’s 1961 film adaptation and is a winning screen presence, which he had also been as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn in the 1956 film version of The King and I.

Lili in Carnival
In 1961 Anna Maria Alberghetti was 24 when she made her one and only Broadway appearance playing the orphaned waif Lili, who joins a tatty traveling European circus to work as an apprentice. The character’s age is never specified, but the plot turns on our belief that she is so innocent that she doesn’t understand that the performing puppets she comes to love are being manipulated by the brooding, unhappy puppeteer who loves her from afar and frightens her up close. The circus impresario calls her “child” when he first meets her, though she is clearly a post-pubescent one. Michael Stewart adapted Helen Deutsch’s screenplay for the 1953 MGM film Lili, which starred Leslie Caron, and was based on Paul Gallico’s short story “The Seven Souls of Clement O’Reilly.” Bob Merrill wrote some wonderful songs for her to sing, including the delicate “Mira,” the soaring “Yes, My Heart,” and the enchanting “Love Makes the World Go Round.”

Evan Goldman in 13
Technically, Evan Goldman is not a teenager in this original 2008 musical by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish and Robert Horn (book). He is “just about to turn 13,” as he sings in Brown’s dynamic scene-setting opening number, “13/Becoming a Man.” But as the whole show is about how kids negotiate turning into teenagers, and he does turn 13 before it ends, I think he qualifies. I thought 13 had equal parts wit, wisdom, and heart and was distressed at its middling notices and short run of only 105 performances. Graham Phillips commanded the stage like a seasoned pro as Evan, who is seriously upset that he is being uprooted from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Appleton, Ind., due to his parents’ divorce. The rest of the cast, which included Ariana Grande in a small role, were every bit as good.

Alexandra “Zan” Giddens in Regina
Zan is the shy, sheltered daughter of one of the great anti-heroines of all time, the grasping, greedy Regina Giddens, whom the world first met in Lillian Hellman’s ironclad 1939 melodrama, The Little Foxes. Marc Blitzstein’s operatic version, which I think deepens the material, debuted on Broadway in 1949 with Zan played by Priscilla Gillette, who would go on to star in Cole Porter’s Out of This World and John Latouche and Jerome Moross’ The Golden Apple. Both the play and the opera turn on the transformation of Zan from insecurity to confidence. Her long-overdue confrontation with her mother, “All in One Day,” is short but shattering, mixing music and dialogue to great effect, making for a stirring conclusion.

The Artful Dodger in Oliver!
I saw director Carol Reed’s brilliant 1968 film version of Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist at a Manhattan cinema the week I turned 15. I left exhilarated by the film and with a serious crush on Jack Wild, who played the thieving Artful Dodger and was also 15 when he filmed the picture. Indeed, I had an erotically charged view of his relationship with the younger Oliver that I’m sure nobody intended, not Reed, Bart, Wild, or Dickens. Charmingly roguish and effortlessly musical, Wild was so good that he got an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. At the time I already had a crush on Davy Jones of the pop band the Monkees, who had played the Artful Dodger on Broadway in 1963, though I didn’t know that, and was 21 when I first encountered him in 1966 on TV. I guess I had a type: Cockney, cute, and rough around the edges.

Katrin in I Remember Mama
This 1979 Richard Rodgers–Martin Charnin–Thomas Meehan musical based on Kathryn Forbes’ stories about a valiant Norwegian mother with a large brood of children (and John Van Druten’s 1944 dramatization of them) had a troubled out-of-town tryout during which director-lyricist Charnin was fired. (He sent a telegram to the company that read, in part, “There are no more fjords in my future.”) Originally, Mama’s eldest, Katrin, was split into Younger Katrin and Older Katrin, who as a successful writer narrates the story in flashback from adulthood. New director Cy Feuer combined the roles and hired Maureen Silliman, who at 29 was nevertheless able to convincingly pass for Katrin’s younger version. I didn’t think the musical worked well on Broadway, despite some lovely songs and a terrific title role performance by Liv Ullmann, but I remember being immediately arrested by Silliman’s emotional lucidity and understated command. Ten years later she would create a role in my first professionally produced musical, A Fine and Private Place, at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn., and she was just as good and a joy to work with. She continues to act steadily today in theatres across the country and NYC. Alas, she is not on the studio recording of I Remember Mama, which wasn’t made until 1985, six years after Rodgers’ death. Ann Morrison, the original Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, does a fine job narrating, singing the title song, and leading her brothers and sisters in “Mama Always Makes It Better.” Still, I remember Silliman.

Luke in Kid Victory
Actor Brandon Flynn had a very difficult assignment in this off-Broadway musical by John Kander and Greg Pierce: His character, 17-year-old Luke, who is the lead, never sang. That’s because Luke, who is gay but closeted, is only just starting to recover from an 11-month ordeal of being kidnapped, held in confinement, and sexually abused by a much older man who initially befriended him. His well-meaning family and neighbors, all born again Christians in a small Kansas town, don’t make his recovery any easier, wanting him to act as if it never happened and get on with his life. Flynn began in serious head-down mode and charted Luke’s almost imperceptible progress with great sensitivity and focused gravity. And he is a strong presence on the OCR as well, without singing a note. That said, the notes that are sung, by people such as Karen Ziemba and Daniel Jenkins as Luke’s parents and Jeffrey Denman as his kidnapper, are impressive in this superb and unusual score. I thought Kid Victory was the best new musical of the 2016-2017 season.

Evangeline Edwards in Nymph Errant
When Gertrude Lawrence played the role of an English girl graduating from a European finishing school, which would make Evangeline 16 or possibly 17 at most, Lawrence was 35. And perhaps that was a good thing for this 1933 musicalization by Romney Brent (book) and Cole Porter (songs) of James Laver’s scandalous hit 1932 novel, because Evangeline is on a quest across Europe to lose her virginity. Disappointingly, she keeps failing, despite what seem robust opportunities. Porter always said that this was his best score, but possibly he did that simply because the show, a hit in the West End, never came to Broadway. Lawrence, however, did record five numbers from it: “Experiment,” “It’s Bad for Me,” “How Could We Be Wrong,” “The Physician,” and the title tune, and each is a honey. You can hear them on Gertrude Lawrence: Star. A star-studded 1989 recording of the full score, made live in concert at London’s Drury Lane Theatre, has never made it to digital download, but you can find used CD copies for reasonable prices on Amazon.com.

Arpad Laszlo in She Loves Me
Book writer Joe Masteroff describes Arpad, a delivery boy for a parfumerie in an unnamed European city in the early 1930s, as “15 or 16.” He has one standout solo, “Try Me,” in which he tries to persuade his boss to promote him from delivery boy to clerk. I encountered She Loves Me while at college and soon knew virtually the entire Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick score by heart. Though by that point I had ceased acting and was focusing on writing musicals, I, for whatever reason, desperately wanted to play Arpad. And Northwestern University’s theatre department did produce She Loves Me, but in 1976, the year after I graduated. I was still living in Evanston, working at McDonald’s to earn enough money to move to Manhattan. I had friends in the cast and, so, of course I caught the show. But it was torture not to be up there doing it. It really is a fun part that offers an opportunity to shine, as both Ralph Williams, in the 1963 original production, and Nicholas Barasch, in Roundabout’s superlative 2016 revival, discovered. Watching Barasch, I realized that a part of me still wanted to be up there in his place, but I fear that ship has sailed.

Bonus: Dolores “Lolita” Haze in Lolita, My Love
I was going to leave this column evenhanded, seven lads and seven lasses, but I have been spending a great deal of time with Dolores Haze recently, and I just couldn’t leave her out. I have been editing together a script for this 1971 Alan Jay Lerner–John Barry adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial 1955 novel from voluminous papers donated by the Lerner estate to the Library of Congress. No fewer than six complete scripts exist, two of them written after the show closed in its out-of-town tryout in Boston. Lerner and Barry continued revising the show for four months, hoping to bring another production to Broadway the following year (Mike Nichols had agreed to direct), before Barry decided to quit the project. As a result, Lolita, My Love never had a fixed text, and I think much of Lerner’s book rewrites post-Boston are better than what came before, no doubt informed by seeing what wasn’t working in performance. In any event, I have drawn from all six scripts to create one that is still all by Lerner, and what will be performed from Feb. 22 to March 3 in the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti concert series will contain both book and musical material never before seen in performance anywhere. In Nabokov’s novel Lolita is age 12 at the beginning; Lerner and Barry, having compressed the time period over which the story takes place, start her at 14. But in both she is still the same cheerful, gum-chewing American girl who is cynical about most things, especially adults, and more aware of her nascent sexuality than she lets on. I look forward to meeting her in person at the York this winter, and I hope audiences do too. The Lerner-Barry score is absolutely top drawer. As a taste, here is a YouTube link to Denise Nickerson’s rendition of “Saturday,” a song in which Lolita meets European literary professor Humbert Humbert for the first time and thoroughly bewitches him. In it she explains that while she would love for him to tutor her in French, with which she is struggling in school, she can’t possibly study on her day off.

 

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Nov
09

“What’s Wrong with These Kids Today?”

‘Twas ever thus through history. And musical history too. Face it, we were all jerks between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. All along the way at every birthday we thought we had it all figured out. The amazing thing is perhaps no matter how old you are you never quite have everything figured out.

And teenagers in past musical theater are mostly delightfully lost. The first stirrings of adulthood. Beginning relationships. Finding out who we are and our place in the world. All themes explored through song and story.

Older musicals of screen and stage tended to romanticize youth. Think of Judy Garland at MGM. Seemingly the eternal teenager, (she even sings Roger Edens’ “In-Between” in the film Love Finds Andy Hardy, which can be heard on a Decca Masters Compilation), Judy romped with Mickey Rooney, never growing up in films or the public’s eyes.

Her most famous film is the classic The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy Gale finds herself in a strange land with a lion, a scarecrow and a tin man. Oh, and a couple of witches. Of course, it’s all a dream. A dream that Freud would have a field day with. In today’s musical, Wicked, Glinda and her arch enemy Elphaba inhabit an Oz that isn’t quite as nice as the “marvelous land of Oz” of the film. Elphaba is horribly teased and ostracized while Glinda just wants to be “Popular.”

Back to Judy Garland, she created the role of Esther Smith in the MGM picture Meet Me in St. Louis. She’s interested in “The Boy Next Door” but he still considers her a child. Of course, he comes to his senses. The flop Broadway version couldn’t capture the spirit or innocence of that time.

Another flop Broadway show based on an MGM musical is also about a boy and a girl who slowly becomes a woman in his eyes. That show is Gigi with a glorious score by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. The male lead Gaston, singing the title song, realizes that he’s in love with the much younger Gigi. In the flop Broadway production Gigi sings, “In This Wide, Wide World” which Lerner used to replace, “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight.” In the song, Gigi tells Gaston that she knows he loves other women but she “would rather be mis’rable with you than without you.” Cheery, no? In the horribly disfigured Broadway revival, “Say a Prayer” was sung by Mamita and the show closed with Gigi singing “In This Wide, Wide World.” “Say a Prayer” (originally written for My Fair Lady) was the better fit as sung in the film version.

Lerner wrote about another young girl edging toward womanhood in the musical Paint Your Wagon, again with Loewe. This time the ingénue is Jennifer who falls in love with an older, romantic young dreamer. But Jennifer doesn’t quite know “What’s Going on Here?” Naturally, the final curtain falls and the two lovers find their way to their own happiness.

Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields’ stunning score for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn finds the young Francie soothed by her father who explains she’s just having “Growing Pains.” But it’s not only girls who have growing pains. Take Me Along, based on Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness, featured a young Robert Morse as Richard Miller, sweetly clueless as he sings the first act closer, “That’s How It Starts.” Songwriter Bob Merrill understood the naïveté of youth and an awakening to adult feelings..

Another show set in approximately the same time as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is 1951’s Seventeen with a sadly underestimated score by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon. Seventeen revolved around the innocent love/romance between 17-year-old Willie Baxter and the cutesy flirt Lola Pratt. Ann Crowley played Lola and in the lead role of Willie was a young Kenneth Nelson. Willie sort of grows up by the end of the show and sings, “I Could Get Married.”

Seven years later Nelson would again play a teenager in a little show titled The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. In that show, Nelson’s Matt falls in love with the girl next door, Luisa played fetchingly by Rita Gardner. But the teenagers’ fathers are confused by the youngsters’ love, and they’re absolutely against it. They don’t know quite what to do about it and sing “Never Say No,” pretending they know exactly what to do to manipulate their children. Needless to say, they have no clue.

Jones and Schmidt revisited two children with Grover’s Corners, their musical version of Our Town.  It’s a true tragedy of the theater that this show suffered a horrible fate with the underlying rights withdrawn. It’s a remarkably beautiful, heartfelt score, perhaps Jones and Schmidt’s best (you can hear four of Jones and Schmidt’s demos on Jones & Schmidt: Hidden Treasures). In the show, like the play, George Webb and Emily Gibbs find themselves in love but think themselves not quite ready for marriage yet married they become. And the second act... well, you’ll have to discover that for yourself.

Eliot Green is the leading character in the underrated musical Bar Mitzvah Boy by Jule Styne and Don Black. It recently had a triumphant production at New York’s York Theatre. Turning thirteen, Eliot is frankly afraid of his responsibilities when he “becomes a man” at his bar mitzvah. By the end of the show he pulls it together and sings “That’s How It’s Done” and Eliot discovers he really is becoming a man.

Speaking of becoming a man not symbolically like Eliot Green but actually waking up to find you are really a man is the entire plot of the musical Big. Okay, technically Josh Baskin is a 12-year-old boy living in New Jersey, one year from being a teenager. He’s confused that whenever he spies13-year-old Cynthia Benson something strange is stirring. He wishes he was a man (a common trope in musicals and plays) and actually becomes one to his delight and later his consternation (another trope). When toward the end of the show he sings, “When You’re Big,” we know he’s ready to become a boy again.

Grease and Hairspray both take a lighthearted, satirical look at teenage life in the 1950s. But both also explore serious subjects. The teenagers at Grease’s Rydell High School deal with teenage pregnancy, rebellion, and sex. And the teenagers in Hairspray's Baltimore take a stand against racism. Both shows are comedies but with a message. It’s a far cry from the teenagers in Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ Bye Bye Birdie where Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio thinks she’s all grown up when she sings, “How Lovely to Be a Woman.”

Speaking of teenagers and sex, some children find themselves in an adult world against their better judgment. In the flop musical by Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry, Lolita, My Love, the character sings “All You Can Do Is Tell Me You Love Me” Her lyric begins:

The kids in this town—
Go out and you’ll see—
They’re all having fun,
Excepting for me.
And I could be, too,
Excepting for you.
‘Cause all you can do
Is tell me you love me.

Not exactly same problem as other musical theatre teenagers face.

And in current musicals teenagers can also have serious problems.

In Dear Evan Hansen the stakes are much higher than musicals of the past. The title character can’t quite fit in with his fellow high school students. When a boy commits suicide Even concocts a story that brings solace to the parents of the dead boy but it becomes a lie that increasingly makes the truth harder and harder for Evan to admit. When he finally owns up to the deceit he sings, “Words Fail” and by the end of the show it seems that Evan’s lies actually did sooth the family of the boy and Evan is taught a valuable lesson.

And the most current show of all is The Prom, still in previews at this writing. Like Grease and Hairspray it’s primarily a comedy but the theme of this modern musical is homophobia by students and faculty alike.

These modern shows are a far cry from Liesl declaring that she is “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Teenagers today are more sophisticated and know a lot more that kids their age did in past decades. Some of their innocence is gone and that’s a bad thing but also they’re more involved in issues of the day and that’s a good thing.

 

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Nov
09

That Awkward Age

The Prom--about a high school fete in Indiana--will soon be opening on Broadway. I wanted to toast the show, and so I thought let's talk about teenagers in musicals. You'll find Ken and Erik have both been very clever in crafting their columns!

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

  • Thrill Me - Two 19 year-olds in 1920s Chicago conspired to murder a 14 year-old boy, just for the "thrill" of it. Stephen Dolginoff turned this chilling, true tale into a fascinating musical.
  • Bat-Boy: The Musical - Teen love meets Greek tragedy and tabloid headlines in this hilariously off-beat musical from Laurence O'Keefe, Keythe Farley, and Brian Flemming.

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've got just about an hour of fantastic, teen-centric music to listen to with this week's Spotify playlist. The selections range from songs from some of our hottest Broadway offerings today to some numbers that are, indeed, forgotten gems from Broadway's Golden Age.


Our free song this week comes from Philip Chaffin's wonderful new album, Will He Like Me?, released by PS Classics. It's a song cycle from the LGBTQ perspective that uses a marvelous array of show tunes.


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

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

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.

  • Singing You Home - Conceived by Laura Benanti, and featuring artists such as Josh Groban, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Audra McDonald, this bi-lingual children's album is a fundraiser for a very worthy cause. Proceeds from the album sales will go directly to the non-profit organizations RAICES and ASTEP to help reunite and support families separated at the border.
  • Twelfth Night - Songwriter Shaina Taub's songs for the Public Theater's recent production of Shakespeare's romance got some terrific reviews. The production had a very short run, so we're lucky to have this album that allows all of us who missed it to enjoy Taub's exceptional tunefulness.
  • 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.
  • 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 - 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.

Erik and Ken will be turning the clock back for one of our periodic glimpses at a specific decade in Broadway history.

They last tackled the 1990s, and so for their next columns, I'm asking them to write about some of their favorite shows from a bit further in the past: 1950s.

It was a great decade for musical theater no doubt. One of my favorite, silly shows from the era is Bells Are Ringing, with a delightfully daffy score by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

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Oct
27

Threnodies for the Season

For my Halloween column I decided to take my hubby’s suggestion to select a list of songs from musicals sung by characters who are dead. But before doing so, I want to say something about a show I just saw that, entirely coincidentally, fits my theme like a glove.

Currently running at the York Theatre Company is a terrific new musical called Midnight at the Never Get. Now, admittedly, I’ve worked a lot at the York, and I am about to do so again as the editor for the script of Lolita, My Love in the upcoming Mufti series celebrating Alan Jay Lerner’s centenary. But as artistic director Jim Morgan knows, my affection for him and his theatre company doesn’t extend to praising shows that I don’t think deserve it. This one does, very much.

It fits this column because, as the musical is set in the afterlife, all 13 of its songs are sung by dead people. Two, to be precise: performer Trevor Copeland and songwriter-accompanist Arthur Brightman. As lovers in 1963 Greenwich Village, they have an act at a gay bar called the Never Get in which Trevor sings Arthur’s songs about male same-sex relationships with the pronouns unchanged, quite a daring thing for the times. Mark Sonnenblick’s imaginative book chronicles Trevor and Arthur’s love affair and what the times they live in do to it (and them) with great affection and piercing understanding. His insinuatingly melodic songs are all written with uncommon craft and discipline in the style of the Great American Songbook, and every one is a keeper. All are actual songs for Trevor’s act, and Sam Bolen (who also co-conceived the musical) delivers them beautifully in a tour de force performance, virtually never leaving the stage for the show’s intermissionless 90-minute duration. (This week’s free song download is the demo track for the sardonic “Wallace Falls,” in which Trevor sings of his experiences growing up gay in rural America.)

The run ends Nov. 4, so see it while you have the chance. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, here is the rave review from the New York Times. Get yourself to the Never Get. You’ll be glad you did.

Plug over. Now here are 13 other songs sung by dead characters, each by different songwriters.

“When You’re an Addams,” from The Addams Family
Andrew Lippa’s catchy opening number for this 2010 musical, based on Charles Addams’ classic cartoon characters, has the sepulchral family singing about its ghoulish proclivities backed up by a chorus line of ghostly ancestors, who popped in and out of the action all night to very little effect. In my less-than-impressed Backstage review I called it “one of the flimsiest excuses for a chorus since Captain Jim romanced Rose Marie.” Still, they’re dead and they sing.

“If I Loved You (reprise),” from Carousel
With a few simple word and tense changes, Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers devastatingly limn Billy Bigelow’s realization of all that he has lost when he killed himself rather than face the consequences of participating in a botched robbery attempt. He sings this reprise late in Act 2 directly after his widow, Julie Jordan Bigelow, has by accident momentarily been allowed to glimpse his ghost. For me, it’s one of the most intensely moving moments in all of musical theatre.

“Oh! Ain’t That Sweet,” from Thou Shalt Not
This David Thompson (book)–Harry Connick Jr. (songs)–Susan Stroman (conception, direction, and choreography) 2001 musicalization of Émile Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin reset the story of adultery that leads to murder in mid–20th century New Orleans. It rather spectacularly didn’t work, but some of Connick’s songs were attractive, if too pop-oriented to function dramatically. Variety critic Charles Isherwood singled this one out, saying that as the ghost of Camille, the murdered husband, Norbert Leo Butz “raises the roof with a Sinatra-style toe-tapper, ‘Oh! Ain’t That Sweet!,’ in which he smoothly insinuates his ghostly presence between the desperately disturbed Laurent and Therese.” The short-lived show was Butz’s Broadway breakthrough, earning him Drama Desk and Tony noms for best featured actor in a musical, but alas the OBCR isn’t available digitally. You can, however, hear Connick on the song on Harry on Broadway: Act 1.

“Home Sweet Heaven,” from High Spirits
Tammy Grimes, as the accidentally summoned ghost of author Charles Condimine’s first wife, Elvira, made this deliciously witty list song detailing her life in heaven into an Act 2 showstopper in Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s1964 musical adaptation of Noël Coward’s classic 1941 comedy, Blithe Spirit. The lyric, however, is not by Gray and Martin but by the Master himself. He wrote it during the show’s out-of-town tryout when Martin and Gray’s version wasn’t working well enough, but he declined to take credit (he was already directing the musical), instead just slipping it under Grimes’ hotel door. The OBCR is, alas, not available digitally, but Steve Ross does a splendid job with it on his CD Most of Ev’ry Day.

“Come to My Garden,” from The Secret Garden
A sickly, wheelchair-bound boy named Colin living in 1911 England is given encouragement to rejoin the world by the spirit of his dead mother, Lily, in Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s 1991 musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel. It must be good to play a ghost, because, as with Norbert Leo Butz’s Camille, Lily put a young and radiant Rebecca Luker on the Broadway map, leading to her starring role as Magnolia in Harold Prince’s production of Show Boat three years later.

“Tevye’s Dream,” from Fiddler on the Roof
Sholom Alecheim’s iconic Jewish-Russian milkman must convince his mercenary wife, Golde, to allow their eldest daughter to marry the penniless Motel Kamzoil, a tailor, rather than the rich butcher Lazar Wolf. So he invents this elaborate dream in which Golde’s Grandmother Tzeitel, for whom the daughter is named, comes all the way from the other world to deliver a deadly warning should her great-grandchild marry the wrong man. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick outdid themselves on this one, while Jerome Robbins’ hilariously scary staging couldn’t be bettered. It’s a hoot.

“What Would I Do?,” from Falsettos
Male lovers Marvin and Whizzer share this final parting duet, sung just after Whizzer has died from AIDS at the very beginning of the epidemic. William Finn wrote it for his and James Lapine’s 1990 one-act musical Falsettoland, a sequel to their 1981 musical March of the Falsettos, which told how Marvin and Whizzer first got together. The two were combined into one show on Broadway in 1992, and Finn won a Tony for his score. Whether you go with Michael Rupert and Stephen Bogardus, who created the roles, or Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells in the splendid 2016 Broadway revival, you can’t go wrong. It gets me every time, especially “Once I was told that good men get better with age/We’re just gonna skip that stage” and the shatteringly simple question, “What would I do if you had not been my friend?”

“Sincerely, Me,” from Dear Evan Hansen
In this surprisingly comic trio by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, two teenage boys in effect summon the ghost of a troubled classmate who committed suicide as they try to create an email trail of correspondence between one of them and the dead boy in order to convince the boy’s grieving family that their severely antisocial son had a friend. What begins as a seemingly harmless attempt to help ends up causing untold pain for all involved in book writer Stephen Levenson’s entirely original story. The 2017 Tony winner for best musical is still regularly selling out at the Music Box Theatre.

“Our Mornings/That Thing,” from Giant
Michael John LaChiusa wrote this arresting eight-minute sequence that opens Act 2 of his and book writer Sybille Pearson’s 2012 adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel about a Texas ranching family. In it family patriarch Bick Benedict has a colloquy with the ghost of his older sister, Luz, telling her of his disappointment with his too-refined teenage son and preference for his wild daughter, named for the equally rugged sister. When, at the end, Luz, who is loving but ultimately not a positive influence, urges her brother to “Keep me alive/Look back/I’m here,” inverting a song from Act 1 called “Look Back/Look Ahead” in which Bick’s uncle challenges him to conquer his paralyzing grief over Luz’s death, things get very unsettling. Brian d’Arcy James and Michele Pawk are spot on.

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” from Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus’ treacherous disciple Judas comes back from the dead with his own backup choir to taunt his former leader during his crucifixion, accusing him of getting too self-important and thus being the architect of his own demise. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera has never been more effectively rendered than in its original record release, where Murray Head is the one doing the screaming. However, you can also check out Ben Vereen’s take on the 1971 OBCR. It’s the third ghost role in this list that brought an actor stardom, in this case leading to Vereen’s Tony-winning role as the Leading Player in Pippin a year later.

“Fear No More,” from The Frogs
Here is a rare example of Stephen Sondheim setting someone else’s lyric (he also set playwright George Furth’s lyric for the song “Hollywood and Vine” in Furth’s 1971 Broadway comedy Twigs). In this case the lyric is by William Shakespeare (putting Furth in very good company), and Shakespeare also sings it to the Greek god of drama and wine, Dionysus, who has journeyed to Hades to bring back George Bernard Shaw to speak to the world and help it to solve its problems. After hearing it, Dionysus changes his mind and takes Shakespeare instead. Sondheim wrote “Fear No More” for the show’s second production, in 1975 at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival (the first was a production in the swimming pool at Yale in 1974). In 2004 Nathan Lane expanded Burt Shevelove’s original book, based on Aristophanes’ comedy, and starred in a Broadway production at Lincoln Center directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman with additional Sondheim songs. The critics were mixed, but I liked it a great deal and found Michael Siberry quite touching as the Bard.

“Song of Hareford,” from Me and My Girl
In the middle of Act 2 of this 1937 English musical romp by Noel Gay (music) and Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose (book and lyrics), Maria, Duchess of Dene, and her ancestors remind the long-lost heir to the family title and fortune, a Cockney from London named Bill Snibson, of his noblesse oblige. The ancestors step out of their portraits and prove to be highly proficient at choral singing and tap dancing. The show took until 1986 to reach Broadway, with a revised book by Stephen Fry, where it played for 1,420 performances and won Tonys for Robert Lindsay and Maryann Plunkett as Bill and his Cockney ladylove, Sally Smith. However, it is the great Jane Connell, who was Tony nominated for her work as best featured actress in a musical, who triumphantly leads this number.

“We’ll Never Tell Them,” from Oh What a Lovely War
English director Joan Littlewood’s highly subversive satirical musical revue surveyed the hypocrisy, futility, and carnage of World War I through song parodies of the day sung (and often created) by the very soldiers who fought it. This was the haunting finale, in which the war dead sang ironically about their experience to the tune of Jerome Kern’s “They Didn’t Believe Me,” a big hit song in 1917. It wasn’t until the 1984 publication of Robert Kimball’s The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter that it was revealed that Porter was the author of the parody lyric. The revue played Broadway for three-and-a-half months in 1964, but no OBCR was recorded, and the London OCR is out of print on CD, but you can hear the lyric on a recording called The Great War (remembered in songs and poems). If you can, check out director Richard Attenborough’s extraordinary 1969 film version. It’s available on DVD and can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video, and the way Attenborough filmed this finale is a stunner.

 

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