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Mar
24

Blossom Time

Having saluted spring’s arrival last year in part with a playlist of songs about it, I needed a new angle for 2017. Suddenly the 1921 Sigmund Romberg operetta Blossom Time came to mind. A gigantic hit for the Shubert brothers that ran for 516 performances originally, then 592 in a revival that opened in 1924, just over a year after it closed (both at the Ambassador Theatre, current home to the mega-hit revival of Chicago), it gave me my theme: songs that reference particular flowers.

Then last weekend I saw Disney’s new live-action film of Beauty and the Beast, which, surprisingly, I quite liked. I love the original 1991 animated film and didn’t see any reason to do a remake. But if it was to be done, director Bill Condon has accomplished the task very well indeed, and a hit live-action musical of the proportions shaping up for Beauty will surely make it easier to continue the resuscitation of the genre.

The fine Howard Ashman–Alan Menken–Tim Rice score doesn’t have any songs that fit my theme, but the plot does hinge on a magical rose that is slowly dying. I thought, maybe just “rose” songs? There are, indeed, many of them, but the list had a certain sameness. Therefore, though roses may predominate, they are not exclusive. Without further ado, my Broadway/Hollywood bouquet.

“Overture,” from the film of My Fair Lady
I still remember being 10 years old and sitting on the aisle of the Colony Theatre in Shaker Heights, Ohio, anxiously waiting for the film version of my favorite musical to begin. Conductor André Previn led the lush orchestra in the iconic opening chords of the overture as close-ups of luscious flowers began to fill the huge screen. You could almost smell them. Of course, I thought to myself, after all, it’s about a flower girl. To this day I find the opening credit sequence thrilling. And I can’t wait for director Bartlett Sher’s revival next year at Lincoln Center.

“I Won’t Send Roses,” from Mack & Mabel
The minute I heard Jerry Herman’s 1974 character-defining solo for silent film director Mack Sennett, especially as delivered by the great Robert Preston, I knew it was a winner. Then came the touching solo reprise from Bernadette Peters as Sennett star Mabel Normand, to whom Mack sings this anti-ballad, and things got even better. Conductor-musicologist John McGlinn and I used to argue about one line in Herman’s lyric: “Just turn and go.” John thought the “just” was a pad and said that it should have been “Pack up and go.” I didn’t, and still don’t, agree. “Pack up” is too harsh for me, and the use of “just” as a colloquial intensifier is well established.

“I Always Say Hello to a Flower,” revue material
Murray Grand, who wrote this 1958 specialty number, was a frequent contributor to musical revues, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, including the New Faces series on Broadway (check out his best-known songs, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which has a lyric by Elisse Boyd, from New Faces of 1952, and “April in Fairbanks,” from New Faces of 1956). I couldn’t track down a show to go with “Flower,” but the tune was probably intended for one and ended up recorded by a number of famous artists, among them Beatrice Lillie (hear her on YouTube) and Elisabeth Welch. Digitally, you can catch John Lithgow’s and Faith Prince’s versions. Among the blooms catalogued, sometimes in delightful double entendres, are lilacs, hollyhocks, daisies, snowballs, violets, dogwoods, gladioli, pansies, pussy willows, and, of course, roses.

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” from Gypsy
Lyricist Stephen Sondheim and composer Jule Styne added a catch phrase to the American language with this hit song, which, of course, is also sung by a character named Rose. This fact caused Jerome Robbins, the show’s director-choreographer, to ask rather testily, upon first hearing it, “I don’t get it. Everything’s coming up Rose’s what?”

“(I’ll Marry) The Very Next Man,” from Fiorello!
New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s long-suffering secretary, Marie, explodes in this song of romantic frustration late in Act 2, after her clueless boss has lost his wife but still doesn’t see that Marie has been pining for him since before his marriage. The 1959 original had nothing to do with blossoms, but an attempted sarcastic joke about enduring domestic abuse in order to gain the joys of wedlock (“And if he likes me /Who cares how frequently he strikes me? /I’ll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling /Just for the privilege of wearing his ring”) caused Harnick to revise it in 1984. The new lines: “When he proposes,/I'll have him send me tons of roses,/Sweet-scented blossoms I’ll enjoy by the hour./Why should I settle for just one Little Flow’r?” Neat, no? He also did a less-show-specific version for Barbara Cook in 2004, returning the song to non-floral status: “I’m through with moping/Moping from all this pointless hoping/Hoping he’ll notice me and open his heart./Time now to break away and make a new start.” I like 1984 the best.

“Rose of Washington Square,” from Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1919 Edition
The legendary Fanny Brice introduced this famous torch song that became the title of a 1939 Alice Faye–Tyrone Power movie musical about a Ziegfeld Follies star’s unhappy marriage to a con man (shades of Brice and Nicky Arnstein?). The song also shows up in the 1967 Julie Andrews flapper film musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, sung in the background in a restaurant. Though the Rose of the title is a person and not a flower, Ballard Macdonald’s lyric (to James F. Hanley’s tune) employs floral imagery for the character: “They call me Rose of Washington Square/ I’m withering there/In basement air I’m fading.” I couldn’t find a recording of Brice, but you can hear Tammy Grimes’ version on her 1962 eponymously titled album.

“Mean Green Mother From Outer Space,” from the film of Little Shop of Horrors
Levi Stubbs introduced this soulful blast of savagery, in which the man-eating plant from the cosmos, Audrey II, announces plans to take over the Earth. It brought Alan Menken and Howard Ashman an Oscar nomination in 1987 for best original song, but they lost to “Take My Breath Away,” from Top Gun. They would soon make up for that, however, winning in 1990 for “Kiss the Girl,” from The Little Mermaid, and in 1992 for the title song of Beauty and the Beast, though by then the world had lost the immensely gifted Ashman to AIDS.

“Wait,” from Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Mrs. Lovett contemplates brightening up Sweeney’s barbershop with some flowers in an attempt to divert him from his obsession with revenge against the evil Judge Turpin. Composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim makes it a struggle between gillyflowers and daisies. The former is actually an archaic name for several varieties of blossoms, including carnations, stocks, and wallflowers. “Nothing like a nice bowl of gillies” is her ultimate decision. Sondheim once singled out this song as one he would replace if a film version of Sweeney was ever made; I don’t remember his reasons, but ultimately, of course, he didn’t.

“In the Mandarin’s Orchid Garden,” from the unproduced East Is West
George and Ira Gershwin wrote this uncharacteristic slice of exotica in 1929 for an unfinished musical based on a 1918 Broadway play of the same name. It was to be sung by a “Sing-Song Girl” on one side of the stage while a ballet unfolded. It uses the metaphor of a lone buttercup growing in an orchid garden to express the sheltered girl’s unease with the outside world. In his 1959 book of collected lyrics, Ira included it and explained that it was published as a possible art song – but “only sold a few copies.” One night, however, on his first trip to Hollywood, he was at a party in Bel-Air when his hostess pulled him aside and began to recite the lyric. “How did you happen to learn it?” he asked her incredulously. It turned out that she didn’t know the music; her elocution teacher had given it to her as an exercise. Sarah Brightman, fortunately, sings it on her album Encore.

“Be Happy” and “I Never Met a Rose,” from the film The Little Prince
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe reunited after more than a decade to write this 1974 film musical based on Antoine de St. Exupéry’s classic fable. “Be Happy” does not reference flowers at all, but as the character who sings it actually is a rose, I think it qualifies for inclusion here. In her passive-aggressive way, the Rose is trying to stop the Little Prince from leaving his asteroid (and her) to go in search of learning. Donna McKechnie sang and danced the part, but her efforts were cut to ribbons on screen. Fortunately, the full vocal was included on the soundtrack LP, though the pseudo-rock dance break, eerily predictive of “The Music and the Mirror,” wasn’t. Lerner and Loewe envisioned the number as a peppy Broadway uptempo in 4/4, no doubt underlining the Rose’s vanity and insincerity, and were not happy with its reworking by director Stanley Donen (Lerner leaves him unnamed while calling him “some cinematic Bigfoot” in his memoir, The Street Where I Live).

In “I Never Met a Rose,” a middle-aged Pilot, who has crash landed in the Sahara desert, tries to cheer up the Little Prince, who as part of his interplanetary journey has been telling the Pilot of his complicated relationship with the Rose. The change in Richard Kiley’s vocal timbre is due to the Pilot’s occasional use of a megaphone, improvised from a piece of paper, in Rudy Vallee style. The effort leads him unexpectedly to a touching moment of self-discovery. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, as was the film’s gorgeous title song, but both lost to, of all things, “Benji’s Theme (I Feel Love).” Lerner and Loewe, however, took home the trophy for original score.

“In My Garden of Joy,” from the film Star!
Director Robert Wise needed a tacky music hall number for this 1968 biography of the great English stage star Gertrude Lawrence, in which Gertie, still a chorus girl, gets revenge on her fellow chorines for their disapproval of her spotlight-stealing antics. Julie Andrews is a hoot in Michael Kidd’s go-for-broke staging. However, the song is not a period piece. The music department couldn’t find the right tune to satisfy Wise, so Saul Chaplin, the film’s producer and former MGM music man (not to mention Harold Prince’s father-in-law), up and wrote one, and the blossom list is long. It’s not available digitally, so you have to settle for buying the soundtrack CD.

“Under the Sunset Tree,” from Darling of the Day
In typical Yip Harburg fashion, he invents a plant for this touching evocation of late-in-life love, which has music by Jule Styne. The lyric does reference “apple blossoms,” but they are reserved for the young; older people instead watch “in the harvest time of love” as “the bold leaf turns to gold/Under the sunset tree.” If star Vincent Price can at best lightly croon it, his co-star, the incomparable Patricia Routledge, who won a Tony for her performance despite the show only running for 31 performances in 1968, more than makes up for his lack of vocal prowess. The song was written out of town to replace another soaring ballad, “That Stranger in Your Eyes,” which I can only assume was even harder for Price to negotiate. Happily, both are used in my adaptation of the musical.

“Tomorrow Mountain,” from Beggar’s Holiday
Lyricist John Latouche wrote this optimistic siren song for the disenfranchised with composer Duke Ellington as the 1946 show’s first-act closer. As with Harburg, Latouche invents his botanical subjects, referencing “cigarette trees” and “diamond bushes” among the promises of paradise. Alas, no OBCR was made of this ahead-of-its-time, racially integrated adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera, but Lena Horne blazes brightly on her cover version, which also serves as my finale.

But before I go, I’m returning to Beauty and the Beast for what feels like a fitting conclusion for a column saluting the arrival of spring. One of the film’s many pleasures is hearing some previously unused verses by Howard Ashman, written for but cut from the original. In the closing reprise of the title song, Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts sings this gem as the Beast transforms into a handsome prince, the staff becomes human again, and their frozen castle returns to life: “Winter turns to spring./Famine turns to feast./Nature points the way./Nothing left to say./Beauty and the beast.” It brought a tear to my eye. Here’s to you, Howard.

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Mar
24

Spring!

Well, you wouldn’t know it here based on recent weather on the East Coast but Spring has arrived (or so they tell us).

Which got us to thinking of shows (The Day Before Spring) and songs that mention this time of year. Spring is symbolic of new beginnings but Larry Hart’s lyric to Richard Rodgers’ music for the song “Spring Is Here” (from I Married an Angel) is a melancholy one. In typical Hart fashion, the arrival of spring is a disappointment with nothing going right in the romance department. Frank Loesser struck the same tone in the 1944 movie musical Christmas Holiday when he penned, “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” which you can check out in any number of cover versions including Sarah Vaughan's.

E.Y. Harburg was especially attuned to the yin and yang of the seasons and for him Spring meant nature’s sap starting to rise, if you know what we mean. And that brings us to Flahooley’s “The Springtime Cometh.” Lust was also in the breeze for the citizens of Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner was no stranger to love—he was married eight times!. Lerner, with composer Frederick Loewe, celebrated “The Lusty Month of May.”

And Lerner also joined forces with Kurt Weill to celebrate life reborn in “Green-Up Time” in the sadly seldom performed Love Life. It’s tops on many people’s list of most wanted revival or at least concert version, and if you would like to hear this song performed check out a version delivered by Weill's wife Lotte Lenya. Similarly Cole Porter’s plainly named, “I Love You” (Mexican Hayride) is best known for its lyric, “It’s Spring again. And birds on the wing again. Start to sing again. That old melody…” Gene DePaul and Johnny Mercer wrote “Spring, Spring, Spring” for the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and, wouldn’t you know it, after a long winter stuck indoors the seven brides and the seven brothers found themselves tending to babies.

And speaking of new growth, human or otherwise, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific features a novel way to profess love with the song, “Younger Than Springtime.” In the 1921 musical Bombo Al Jolson introduced one of this biggest hits, the Louis Silvers and B.G. DeSylva paean to Spring, “April Showers.”

The one song that we can think of that has Spring in the title but has nothing to do with Spring comes from Mel Brooks' The Producers: “Springtime for Hitler.”

Whether your Spring is renewing, bittersweet, or romantic we hope you have a wonderful Spring.

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Mar
24

Welcome Spring!

Spring arrived officially on March 20, and we're feeling a lift in our steps. Ken and Erik have each penned columns that help to celebrate the change of season.

We're hoping that their work and the anticipated arrival of warmer weather in your area will put a smile on your face and a similar bounce in your walk.

To complement Erik's and Ken's columns, allow me to offer up the following:

  • Cockeyed Optimist: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein - This just-released album from Jenn Gambatese has one of the quintessential seasonal songs on it: "It Might as Well Be Spring" from State Fair. She's sounding great on this classic and more than a dozen others.
  • "Fresh as a Daisy" - from Panama Hattie - While the above R&H tune echoes Ken's look at springtime song, this little-known Cole Porter ditty fits in beautifully with Erik's musical bouquet.

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. 


From roses to orchids and from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Mel Brooks, Erik and Ken have covered the gamut of musical theater gems to celebrate the arrival of spring.

I've put all of the tunes they mention together with a few more to create this week's Spotify playlist, and the result is more than an hour of merriness.


Alan Menken's music seems to be all around us these days, and we're delighted to have one of his newest tunes as our free song download this week, from the new Broadway hit A Bronx Tale.


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

  • A Bronx Tale - Chazz Palmintieri's autobiographical one-man show has returned to Broadway as a full-blown musical replete with a terrific score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.
  • Come From Away - This new cast recording allows listeners to savor the heartwarming tales of the airline passengers who were diverted to Newfoundland on 9/11 and the community that welcomed them.

Among the other albums that are newly arrived here at BwayTunes are a great new album that features Sharon Paige and Keith Ingram, Burke Beautiful: The Songs of Johnny Burke; two debut solo albums, Levi Kreis' invigorating Broadway at the Keys and Jenn Gambatese's swell R&H album Cockeyed Optimist;and an EP that features tunes heard on this week's musical episode of CW's The Flash. On this latter one you'll find Tony nominee Jeremey Jordan and Broadway vet Darren Criss raising their voices together with "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," Melissa Benoist (of Glee fame) offering up the classic "Moon River," and musical vets Victor Garber, Jesse L. Martin, and John Barrowman delivering "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys and Dolls.

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.

  • Spamilton: An American Parody - Gerard Alessandrini (creator of Forbidden Broadway) takes aim at Broadway's mega-hit--and a few other theatrical targets--in this delightful new satire.
  • Beauty and the Beast - "A tale as old as time" indeed, this beguiling animated musical, with a score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, returns to the screen next week in a new live-action version. Of course, there's a soundtrack (both deluxe and regular) featuring all of your/our faves, plus some additional songs with lyrics by Tim Rice. 
  • #ThrowbackThursday - Corey Brunish takes the Facebook/Twitter hashtag in a musical direction with this album of classic tunes by songwriters such as George and Ira Gershwin; Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green; and Bart Howard.
  • Philip Glass: Music for 'The Crucible' - Last season a fascinating revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible hit Broadway and one of its chief assets was an intriguing score by Philip Glass, which you can now savor on this cool new release.
  • Freaky Friday - There's a lot of giddy fun in this new tuner that's based on the movie of the same name. This new album features two great central performances from Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton.
  • Len Cariou Presents These Are My Friends - Tony winner Len Cariou is joined by some incredible folks on this album that revisits some of the hits from his career and then moves on to other favorites from the likes of Liz Callaway, Judy Kaye, Lee Roy Reams, and Anita Gillette.
  • Falsettos - The cast recording for this acclaimed revival of the landmark tuners by William Finn and James Lapine sparkles from beginning to end. It's a must-have for all musical theater fans!
  • Dear Evan Hansen - It's the new musical on Broadway that everyone's talking about! You'll understand why after listening to this terrific new release.
  • Song of Solomon - Ramin Karimloo, who's thrilled audiences in Les Misérables and Love Never Dies, heads up a grand cast on this lavishly produced concept album for a new biblical musical.
  • Bare Naked - A bevy of great singers offer up tunes by songwriter Lynne Shankel on this new release, which includes both material from the revised off-Broadway production of Bare as well as some of her more recent writings.
  • Dream Ago - This remarkable album comes from a remarkable talent: Gabrielle Stravelli. Her voice has power, warmth, and, sometimes, great humor. It's been hard for me to stop playing this one. If you don't know her work, you should certainly sample some now!
  • The Student Prince - This new two disc recording of the classic operetta is sounding pretty darn gorgeous thanks to the careful guidance of conductor John Mauceri.
  • "Edelweiss" - Tony winner Billy Porter offers up this classic R&H song as a hopeful (and sadly cautionary) tune for the times in which we live. If you've not listened, do.
  • Ruthless! - The cast recording for the often hysterical mash-up of The Bad Seed and All About Eve. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Ivanov – A real gem this recording preserves a production of Chekhov's play that starred Sir John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh.
  • Junie B. Jones The Musical - The talented songwriting team of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler have helped bring this kids' favorite to the stage, in an utterly beguiling new tuner.
  • Covenant - I've not listened to it all, but I have enjoyed the pieces I've heard from this recent release. It's a cast recording from California of a show that was written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salvation Army.
  • From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando - Another album that's also a charitable effort is this fantastic release from Broadway Records. This one preserves a concert that featured Broadway's best and whose proceeds supported organizations serving the people affected by the horrific mass shooting at a Florida nightclub earlier this year.

One of the most anticipated non-musicals for the spring is a revival of Noël Coward's Present Laughter, starring Tony Award winner Kevin Kline.

Now, of course, both Coward and Kline have deep roots in musical theater, so I thought it would be fun to ask the guys to write about either or both men.

Kline has starred on stage in shows such as On the Twentieth Century and The Pirates of Penzance and is currently on screen in Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast

Coward's the man behind such tuners as Bitter SweetSail Away, and The Girl Who Came to Supper.

I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing how the guys balance this assignment!

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Mar
10

Kander Pink

Composer John Kander celebrates his 90th birthday a week from tomorrow, and he can certainly look back on a stellar career. But these days he appears only to be looking forward. He has two new musicals in the works with collaborator Greg Pierce, and Kid Victory, his second original musical with Pierce since the death of his longtime lyricist, Fred Ebb (the first is a collection of three flavorful one-acts called The Landing), is currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre after opening to largely favorable, if occasionally perplexed, reviews. Pierce has done the book and lyrics (the original story is credited to both Pierce and Kander), and the very serious subject matter is the recovery of a gay teenage boy from abduction and sexual abuse at the hands of a much older man. I wrote about my love for this show in my recent spring preview column (“Spring Doth Let Her Colors Fly,” see below), so I will confine myself here to saying that anyone who cares about serious musical theatre should not miss it. It closes March 19, so you have 11 performances left. Go!

And speaking of serious musical theatre, I confess that it is what I enjoy the most. It’s not that I don’t like musical comedy—I have more than my share of favorites—but I ultimately prefer musicals with some substance to them. It’s a personal bias. I’ll take Fun Home over Something Rotten! every time. And Kander and Ebb certainly wrote their share in the genre: Cabaret, Zorbá, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Scottsboro Boys, The Visit—not a title there of which I’m not a fan. Nevertheless, that’s not all they wrote.

The French playwright Jean Anouilh was known for dividing his plays into two categories: “rose et noir,” or pink and black, with the two categories very roughly corresponding to comedy and tragedy. It seems to me that Kander has done much the same, especially in his work with Ebb, generally alternating one with the other. So today it’s a few of the pink musicals that I want to discuss, because I love some of them too—or at least their scores.

A Family Affair
This 1962 musical comically chronicling a Jewish wedding not only marked Kander’s Broadway debut as a composer but Harold Prince’s as a director. Prince took over out of town for Word Baker, just off his success with The Fantasticks, and while Prince didn’t make it a hit (the show only ran 65 performances), the general consensus was that he came close. The lyrics are by Kander and brothers James and William Goldman, with all three also being credited for the book. What’s immediately apparent is Kander’s confidence as a composer, traversing a wide range of styles and sometimes coming up with idiosyncratic song forms that nevertheless fit the situation perfectly (such as the groom’s last-minute fed-up rant, “What I Say Goes,” whose unfortunate mining of misogyny for comedy is a function of its time).

Notable songs include the charming introductory “Anything for You” and quirkily romantic “There’s a Room in My House,” both for the putative bride and groom (beautifully sung by Larry Kert and Rita Gardner); the comic quartet “Harmony” (confidently led by the redoubtable Bibi Osterwald as a cynical wedding consultant), which displays Kander’s gift for pastiche; and the groom’s mother’s quiet acknowledgement of mortality, “Summer Is Over” (beautifully delivered by the great actress Eileen Heckart, the original Rosemary in Picnic, in her sole Broadway musical). I was surprised years later when a cut song, the lilting “Mamie in the Afternoon,” for which I have the sheet music, showed up sung and danced libidinously by Liza Minnelli in Kander and Ebb’s score for The Act as “Arthur in the Afternoon,” retooled as a paean to the benefits of casual sex.

The United Artists OBCR of A Family Affair came out on CD from DRG in 2005, but it’s not available digitally. If you want a sample before deciding to buy the hard copy, download “There’s a Room in My House” from Harbinger Records’ invaluable collection John Kander: Hidden Treasures, 1950–2015.

Flora, the Red Menace
Thanks to Harold Prince, who produced, the team of Kander and Ebb debuted on Broadway with this 1965 musical comedy about a young girl in New York City during the Depression who wants to be a graphic artist and falls in love with a Communist. Based on Lester Atwell’s novel Love Is Just Around the Corner, it only managed an 87-performance run, but its star, Liza Minnelli, won the Tony for best actress in a musical in what was also her Broadway debut. Director George Abbott co-wrote the book with Robert Russell, and when years after hearing the LP I finally got to read it, it seemed clear why the show didn’t work: the writing was awfully formulaic and not suited to the source material, probably because the politically conservative Abbott was a bad match for it.

The RCA Victor OBCR, however, sounds like a hit show, especially whenever Minnelli is belting numbers such as “All I Need (Is One Good Break)” and “Sing Happy,” and particularly on the stunning ballad “A Quiet Thing.” Mary Louise Wilson is fun as a committed party member singing “The Flame,” while Bob Dishy shines on the political temptation that is “Sign Here.” A 1987 rewrite by David Thompson, directed by Scott Ellis, choreographed by Susan Stroman, and starring Veanne Cox, served to lift those artists out of theatrical obscurity and was generally considered an improvement over the original, though I didn’t (and don’t) agree.

The Happy Time
From the moment I heard the swirling vamp for the title song, a surging waltz that opens this 1968 musical with a book by N. Richard Nash, “suggested by the characters in stories by Robert L. Fontaine,” I was hooked by this score, the most intimate and romantic I’d yet heard from Kander and Ebb. The story of a family black sheep, a supposedly successful photographer who returns home and is the subject of his teenage nephew’s hero worship, much to the boy’s father’s dismay, it was supposedly overwhelmed by director-choreographer Gower Champion’s massive production, prominently featuring projections that dwarfed the characters and story. It ran only 286 performances; still, Robert Goulet, magnetic on the OBCR, walked off with a Tony for best actor in a musical (catch him in the title song and the nostalgic trio “A Certain Girl” on the 1968 Tony Awards on YouTube), while Michael Rupert (playing the nephew in his Broadway debut) and veteran David Wayne (the original Og in Finian’s Rainbow), as the family patriarch, both got nominations for best supporting actor.

Again, I only read the script years later (in a Samuel French acting edition), and it seemed to me that Nash’s thin writing was what doomed the piece. But then, in 2008, I saw director Michael Unger’s vest-pocket production in the smaller of Signature Theatre’s two spaces in Alexandria, Va. Somewhat revised with material from earlier drafts, it worked like a charm, with David Margulies especially memorable as the grandfather. The story is delicate, the sentimentality a danger, but there is truth at the center, and the Kander and Ebb score deftly set tone, developed character, and provided heart, with Kander excelling at suggesting the French Canadian atmosphere. How I wish it could have transferred to NYC.

Something for Everyone/Funny Lady
Kander hasn’t had an extensive Hollywood career of original projects, though in the 1980s and ’90s he wrote a few orchestral film scores, working mostly with directors Robert Benton and John Erman. His most famous movie gig, of course, is writing (with Ebb) the original songs for Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, but that’s a black musical. I’m particularly fond of his witty debut background score, redolent of Teutonic oom-pah-pah and Viennese schmaltz, for Harold Prince’s 1970 black comedy Something for Everyone. Featuring a screenplay by Hugh Wheeler based on Harry Kressing’s novel The Cook, the film was just recently released on Blu-ray DVD after decades of unavailability. Angela Lansbury stars as an impoverished countess rattling around a decaying castle in post–WWII Austria, with Michael York, two years before Cabaret, flashing great legs as a servant with dreams of nobility and wealth who beds not only the countess but also her son and daughter. It’s devilish and delicious. “To money! Without money there is nothing!”

Writing the score for a sequel to Funny Girl might have seemed like an unenviable job: How do you top Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s iconic work? But Kander and Ebb didn’t really have to try, as their new songs for 1975’s Funny Lady were interspersed with a liberal amount of period material. The two big numbers, “How Lucky Can You Get” and “Let’s Hear It for Me,” hold their own as Streisand showstoppers (though I wish the verse to the latter had been included on the soundtrack recording), but I’m most partial to the rueful ballad “Isn’t This Better,” which has Fanny Brice comparing her sedate second marriage to producer-songwriter Billy Rose with her passionate first one to Nicky Arnstein. I’m also charmed by “I Like Him/Her,” a nifty countermelody to the E.Y. Harburg–Billy Rose–Harold Arlen classic “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” in which Brice and Rose first size each other up. There are also two fun pieces of special material, “Blind Date” and “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie,” that fit Streisand’s Brice and Ben Vereen’s Bert Robbins like a glove, though both numbers are sadly truncated on screen. The Arista CD soundtrack is unavailable digitally, but you can hear “Isn’t This Better” on the OCR of the Kander and Ebb revue And the World Goes ’Round.

70, Girls, 70
I’m saving the favorite for last here. When this 1971 musical comedy, about a group of senior citizens on Manhattan’s Upper West Side who start robbing stores in order to save their retirement home from being sold out from under them, closed after only 35 performances, I became worried about being able to buy the OBCR. That’s because I had already had trouble ordering rare titles out of the Schwann catalogue at my local suburban Ohio record store, Hurst Tune Town, even though the catalogue insisted that they were available. I waited for weeks with bated breath, but it finally arrived—and I loved every note of it. The score is pure musical comedy, from Mildred Natwick, as the prim and proper Ida, and company singing of the virtues of “Home” to waitresses Lillian Hayman and Goldye Shaw confiding that “the trouble with the world today is coffee in a cardboard cup” to Tommy Breslin, the sole young ’un in the company, exhorting us to “Go Visit Your Grandmother” to Natwick’s climactic double whammy of “The Elephant Song,” asking what happens to elephants after they die, and “Yes,” an exhortation to life sung after death while sitting on a moon. The score is pure joy.

I never saw the Broadway production, but I did catch the show’s 1991 West End premiere, starring the great Dora Bryan and featuring a somewhat revised book (by David Thompson) and slightly revised score, and a 2000 York Theatre Company Musicals in Mufti concert presentation of that same version starring a great cast of veterans headed by Jane Powell, both of which worked splendidly. I find the show to be a complete, if admittedly ramshackle, delight, and I don’t understand why it isn’t done more often.

During the Thanksgiving–Christmas holiday stretch of 1976, having only moved to New York a month earlier, I was working at Macy’s as a clerk, shuttling between the stationery and picture frame departments. Who should come in looking for a frame but Fred Ebb! I waited on him, and, just as I was wrapping up the sale, I screwed up the nerve to tell him how much I liked his work. He seemed pleased to be recognized, and so I went a bit further, telling him that 70, Girls, 70, was my favorite Kander and Ebb score. He looked a bit startled, then smiled and said, “Mine too.” I think I spent the rest of my shift vibrating.

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Mar
10

John Kander

John Kander is turning 90 years old, and he’s still at it with a new show at the Vineyard Theatre in New York and working on another new musical. Many of his contemporaries are also refusing to rest on their impressive laurels and are continuing to write new works for the theatre. Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse, Sheldon Harnick, Tom Jones, and others still have the musical theatre bug and are looking forward rather than backward.

But of all these greats who found their first successes in the late ‘50s and early 1960s, John Kander is the most reticent to crow about his past accomplishments. He’s always looking forward to the next project even as the revival of Chicago shows no signs of ever closing. His new work with collaborator Greg Pierce is quite unlike the show biz razzmatazz of his work with lyricist Fred Ebb. His new scores are minimalist jewels with sometimes complete songs and at other times short musical accents to the scenes. It’s even more remarkable than the difference in Richard Rodgers’ music when he transitioned from working with Lorenz Hart to Oscar Hammerstein II. There’s still recognizable Kander motifs running through his new shows like the current Kid Victory, there’s no doubt that he’s the composer. His aesthetic runs through every note but it’s a quieter, more insightful, more character-driven way of composing.

Of course, we all love the Kander and Ebb era, and this newest turn in his talents are an apt coda to one of Broadway’s greatest composers.

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Mar
10

Happy Birthday,, Mr. Kander!

On March 18 John Kander will celebrate his 90th birthday.

We couldn't let this milestone go unnoticed, and so I asked Erik and Ken to share some thoughts on the work of the man who has penned the tunes for such classics as Cabaret and Chicago and the melody for "Theme From 'New York, New York.'"

As if those three things (and there are so many more) weren't enough, Kander is still going strong with a new musical playing off-Broadway, Kid Victory.

Beyond the cast recordings of Kander's musicals, here are a couple of other ways to savor his work:

  • The Musicality of Kander & Ebb - Some great talents are assembled on this album that demonstrates the plethora of hits that Kander, with his longtime partner Fred Ebb, penned over the span of some 40 years.
  • Liza: Live From Radio City Music Hall - Liza Minnelli has been singing Kander's music from the very beginning of her career. This album has some of it and also tunes by a host of others. The reason I've included it is that she delivers a socko piece of specialty material that Kander and Ebb wrote for her: the always-amusing "Sara Lee."

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. 


The only rough thing about putting together a playlist of songs by John Kander is having to figure out what songs not to include. There are just so many grand tunes from which to choose.

Thankfully, Ken and Erik made it pretty easy on me, and using their columns as a starting point I've put together about 45 minutes of music for our current Spotify Playlist that encompasses almost the entirety of Kander's career.

Hope you enjoy. Happy birthday, Mr. Kander!


Performer extraordinaire Karen Mason has a new CD out called It's About Time. She's very generously shared a cut from it this week for our free song download, and we couldn't be happier!


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

  • Spamilton: An American Parody - Gerard Alessandrini (creator of Forbidden Broadway) takes aim at Broadway's mega-hit--and a few other theatrical targets--in this delightful new satire.
  • Beauty and the Beast - "A tale as old as time" indeed, this beguiling animated musical, with a score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, returns to the screen next week in a new live-action version. Of course, there's a soundtrack (both deluxe and regular) featuring all of your/our faves, plus some additional songs with lyrics by Tim Rice. 

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.

  • #ThrowbackThursday - Corey Brunish takes the Facebook/Twitter hashtag in a musical direction with this album of classic tunes by songwriters such as George and Ira Gershwin; Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green; and Bart Howard.
  • Philip Glass: Music for 'The Crucible' - Last season a fascinating revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible hit Broadway and one of its chief assets was an intriguing score by Philip Glass, which you can now savor on this cool new release.
  • Freaky Friday - There's a lot of giddy fun in this new tuner that's based on the movie of the same name. This new album features two great central performances from Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton.
  • Len Cariou Presents These Are My Friends - Tony winner Len Cariou is joined by some incredible folks on this album that revisits some of the hits from his career and then moves on to other favorites from the likes of Liz Callaway, Judy Kaye, Lee Roy Reams, and Anita Gillette.
  • Falsettos - The cast recording for this acclaimed revival of the landmark tuners by William Finn and James Lapine sparkles from beginning to end. It's a must-have for all musical theater fans!
  • Dear Evan Hansen - It's the new musical on Broadway that everyone's talking about! You'll understand why after listening to this terrific new release.
  • Song of Solomon - Ramin Karimloo, who's thrilled audiences in Les Misérables and Love Never Dies, heads up a grand cast on this lavishly produced concept album for a new biblical musical.
  • Bare Naked - A bevy of great singers offer up tunes by songwriter Lynne Shankel on this new release, which includes both material from the revised off-Broadway production of Bare as well as some of her more recent writings.
  • Dream Ago - This remarkable album comes from a remarkable talent: Gabrielle Stravelli. Her voice has power, warmth, and, sometimes, great humor. It's been hard for me to stop playing this one. If you don't know her work, you should certainly sample some now!
  • The Student Prince - This new two disc recording of the classic operetta is sounding pretty darn gorgeous thanks to the careful guidance of conductor John Mauceri.
  • "Edelweiss" - Tony winner Billy Porter offers up this classic R&H song as a hopeful (and sadly cautionary) tune for the times in which we live. If you've not listened, do.
  • Ruthless! - The cast recording for the often hysterical mash-up of The Bad Seed and All About Eve. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Ivanov – A real gem this recording preserves a production of Chekhov's play that starred Sir John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh.
  • Junie B. Jones The Musical - The talented songwriting team of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler have helped bring this kids' favorite to the stage, in an utterly beguiling new tuner.
  • Covenant - I've not listened to it all, but I have enjoyed the pieces I've heard from this recent release. It's a cast recording from California of a show that was written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salvation Army.
  • From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando - Another album that's also a charitable effort is this fantastic release from Broadway Records. This one preserves a concert that featured Broadway's best and whose proceeds supported organizations serving the people affected by the horrific mass shooting at a Florida nightclub earlier this year.
  • Half a Sixpence - This new London cast recording proves to be a charmer, thanks to the winning star turn from 22-year-old Charlie Stemp. Based on a novel by H.G. Wells, this show reminds us that money can't buy happiness.
  • Hairspray LIVE - You really can't stop the beat of this Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman score. It's great to have another recording of it. This one, of course, features the swell performers who were part of NBC's live presentation this week.
  • Schikaneder - Stephen Schwartz's newest musical has premiered in Vienna, and here's the gorgeous sounding new cast recording of that production. The musical's subtitle is "The Turbulent Love Story Behind The Magic Flute." Sort of tells you all you need to know.

While trying to decide what Erik and Ken will write about next, I found myself thinking about the change of seasons, and all of a sudden two lines from The Mikado hit me: "The flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra la/Have nothing to do with the case."

Well, that settled it. We're going to toast the arrival of spring with musical bouquets. I'm asking the guys to think about some of their favorite songs with roses, tulips, daisies, etc. in them.

And should you want to begin shuffling your playlists to the world of blooms, why not start with this week's Free Song Download from Karen Mason's It's About Time?

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Feb
24

A week off...

Recent Grammy Award-winner Ken Bloom (he picked up the prize for the liner notes to the album Sissle & Blake Sing 'Shuffle Along') has been traveling out of the country. He will return with a new column on March 10.

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Feb
24

Spring Doth Let Her Colors Fly

As Charlotte Rae memorably sang in Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ parody of opera singer Helen Traubel’s Las Vegas club act in Ben Bagley’s The Littlest Revue, “Spring Doth Let Her Colors Fly,” and many musical shows are soon to be upon us. The unfortunate fact is that I am not especially excited about the majority of the musicals slated to arrive in NYC this spring. That said, I hope my expectations are disproved by all of them. Here, in any case, are a few projects—about half new and half revivals—that set my heart beating at least a little faster in anticipation. As is usual for me, most are happening off- or off-off-Broadway.

The first is John Kander and Greg Pierce’s Kid Victory, off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, and actually I’ve already seen it, at a press preview this past weekend. The show didn’t open until Wednesday evening, however, too late for me to include the critical response in this piece. Myself, I thought it was wonderful. The subject matter—the recovery of a gay teenage boy in a religiously fundamentalist rural Kansas family who was held in captivity for a year by a man who sexually abused him—is disturbing, but Pierce and Kander, who share credit for the original story, treat it with clarity and compassion, and the result is compelling and moving. Their score is much more traditional in form than that of their first collaboration—a collection of three one-act musicals called The Landing—which fragmented the use of music and proved unsatisfying for some (I was a fan). Songs such as the mother’s “There Was a Boy” (delivered devastatingly by an excellent Karen Ziemba), the abuser’s “You, If Anyone” (chillingly rendered by a superb Jeffrey Denman), and the father’s climactic “Where We Are” (beautifully sung and acted by Daniel Jenkins) are seriously memorable. In the non-singing role of the teenager, Brandon Flynn is captivating and heartrending. Reaction on certain chat boards has already been mixed, and I suspect the critical response may mirror that, but I say don’t miss it.

Next is The View UpStairs, which opens off-Broadway at the Culture Project on Tuesday and tells the story of a gay fashion designer who, in 2017, buys an abandoned New Orleans property that was home in the 1970s to a glam rock gay bar in which a horrible homophobic attack happened. The show looks at 40 years of LGBT history and compares where we were to where we are. Glam rock is generally not my thing, but the cast—including Nathan Lee Graham, Frenchie Davis, Michael Longoria, Nancy Ticotin, and Randy Redd—is promising and the premise intriguing. The young author, Max Vernon, has won a Jonathan Larson grant, worked with Ars Nova (incubator of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) and Goodspeed Musicals (now that’s eclectic), and is a graduate of my alma mater, the NYU masters program for writing musicals. The equally young director, Scott Ebersold, has already amassed impressively varied credits and assisted John Doyle on his excellent re-imagination of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro at Classic Stage Company, which sadly went unrecorded. I will have seen it this past Wednesday night (again, too late to write about that here).

Beginning performances tomorrow off-Broadway is the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti concert version of Jerry Herman’s 1969 flop Dear World, based on Jean Giradoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot and starring Tyne Daly in the role for which Angela Lansbury won a Tony. David Thompson has revised the book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Among the tasty names in the company are Alison Fraser, Ann Harada, Lenny Wolpe, Stephen Mo Hanan, and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, and the director is Mufti veteran Michael Montel (who did a terrific job on my adaptation of Darling of the Day at the York not once but twice). I gather it’s sold very well, so I wouldn’t wait any longer to get a ticket. I’m a big fan of Herman’s score, and I’m seeing the show this coming Thursday afternoon.

Stephen Sondheim is having a busy spring, with three revivals, two of them off-Broadway and one on. The last, of course, would be the transfer of the highly praised Encores! fund-raiser concert version of Sunday in the Park With George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford, which opened just last night and is only playing for 10 weeks to accommodate the film star’s schedule. Upcoming are an acclaimed London staging of Sweeney Todd that was done site-specifically in a real meat pie shop (which is being simulated here at the Barrow Street Theatre in a commercial production opening Wednesday night and featuring the English cast) and director John Doyle’s take on Pacific Overtures at Classic Stage Company, which starts previews April 5. English minimalism meets Kabuki and Noh; that should be interesting.

On Broadway I am most curious about War Paint—from Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, and Doug Wright, the authors of Grey Gardens—which details the rivalry between cosmetic giants Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden and stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. Critics and audiences gave it a mixed reception in Chicago, where it premiered at the Goodman Theatre, but the creators say they have addressed the problems with rewrites. As the work they did on Grey Gardens in between off-Broadway and Broadway was very smart, I am hoping that history will repeat itself.

Also on Broadway is Anastasia, book by Terrence McNally and score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, based on the 1997 animated film. I, quite frankly, couldn’t bear the movie, but McNally has jettisoned the ridiculous subplot featuring Rasputin and his evil bat sidekick, and I’ve always thought the property a good idea for musicalization (despite George Abbott, Guy Bolton, Robert Wright and George Forrest’s failure with it as an operetta in 1965 called Anya), so I’m optimistic. Ahrens and Flaherty have reportedly done a number of new songs as well as rewrites on their film score. Critical response to the show in an engagement at Hartford Stage, where it was directed by A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’s Tony-winning Darko Tresnjak, who repeats the task for Broadway, was promising.

When I was a grad student at NYU, my professor Arthur Laurents and I got into an argument over the staging of “I Am What I Am” at the end of Act 1 of La Cage aux Folles. I felt that it was too muddy; as the music is a real song that Albin sings in the nightclub, is he actually singing his meltdown to the audience, making up perfectly crafted verses on the fly? Or is he speaking to them? And why is he declaring all this to strangers, when he’s angry at his husband and son? Arthur accused me of being too literal and “wanting to write Ibsen musicals.” He had a point, but I never knew there actually was such a thing. On March 2 Fjeldfuglen (The Mountain Bird) arrives off-off-Broadway at La MaMa E.T.C. Ibsen’s unfinished 1859 original opera libretto, “inspired by a medieval Norwegian legend of a woman discovered to be the sole survivor of the Black Death,” has been set to music by Filip Sande; the show will play three performances only in Norwegian with English supertitles. Being one-quarter Norwegian myself, how could I possibly miss such strange music?

May brings the last three projects I’m looking forward to. First, on May 2, is a one-night-only concert presentation of the 1991 flop musical Nick & Nora, with a score by Charles Strouse and Richard Maltby Jr. and a book by the above-mentioned Arthur Laurents. I worked in an unofficial capacity on the original production, learning a lot in the process. Stars Barry Bostwick and Joanna Gleason are returning, along with other members of the original cast such as Chris Sarandon, Yvette Lawrence, and Thom Sesma. Christine Pedi steps into the role of a Rose Kennedy-esque figure, created brilliantly by Debra Monk, and gets to sing the wickedly funny “People Get Hurt.” The form of the presentation will be a radio broadcast, and some cut songs (and there are many!) will also be included. While I don’t think the show ever really worked, it contained a lot of good writing and was much better than its reception indicated. No word yet on whether Faith Prince will return to her first Broadway role, the coked-out Bostonian lesbian secretary Lorraine Bixby, who ends up the murder victim. Prince was a riot in the part, especially excoriating “Men” in a great Maltby-Strouse song, so fingers crossed that she decides to do it again.

(And speaking of Maltby, I’m also excited about Sousatzka, a musical adaptation of Bernice Rubens’ novel Madame Sousatzka, the basis for the 1988 film starring Shirley MacLaine. Maltby has done the lyrics to David Shire’s music, Craig Lucas has written the book, and the powerhouse trio of Victoria Clark, Montego Glover, and Judy Kaye stars. Convicted felon Garth Drabinsky is making a producing comeback with it in Toronto as I write, with an opening slated for March 23. But it’s not part of this spring’s NYC season, alas, and if it does come to Broadway Drabinsky can’t come with it unless he wants to be arrested.)

Second is a revival of Raisin, the seldom-staged 1974 Tony winner for best musical, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama A Raisin in the Sun. It starts performances off-off-Broadway May 4 at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, where I saw a perfectly decent, no-frills production of Allegro a few years back. There are some fine songs in the Judd Woldin–Robert Brittan score, and I’ve always been curious about how the show plays, even if it has been unable to match the original drama in staying power.

Last, but most definitely not least, is Encores! long-requested concert staging, from May 4 to May 10, of John Latouche and Jerome Moross’ The Golden Apple, which I consider to be a shamefully neglected American masterpiece. Over the years I’ve seen one production and one concert version, but neither fully rose to the challenge of presenting this extraordinary work. Michael Berresse directs and Joshua Bergasse choreographs; no casting has yet been announced. With Rob Berman leading the excellent Encores! orchestra in Moross and Hershy Kay’s scintillating original charts for this through-sung musical comedy opera from 1954 (which makes it the same age as I am), perhaps the third time really will be the charm.

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Feb
24

Previewing Spring

You'll get a great sense of how to plan for your next few months of theatergoing courtesy of Erik's column this week. It's a spring preview in which he discusses some of the musicals (both old and new) that he's most looking forward to seeing between now and June.

And don't worry, our Grammy Award-winning writer Ken Bloom hasn't left us! He's just been traveling out of the country and had to take a week off.

Beyond the shows that Erik's discussed in his column, there are a couple of others to bear in mind:

  • Groundhog Day - Songwriter Tim Minchin, who penned the fanciful score for Matilda, will be returning to Broadway this spring with this musical based on the popular Bill Murray movie of the same name.
  • Joan of Arc: Into the Fire - Having written a hit musical about the larger-than-life Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love,  David Byrne turns to French heroine St. Joan with this new musical, currently in previews at the Public Theater.

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


There's roughly an hour's worth of music assembled for your enjoyment this week on Spotify, all related to shows that will be opening this spring.

It's a pretty rich and varied amalgam of tunes, and I'm hoping that it will help inspire your planning for theatergoing in the weeks and months to come.


There's a lot of tunefulness and genuine fun in this week's free song download; it comes from Broadway Records' off-Broadway cast album for Gayla D. Morgan and Eric H. Weinberger's A Dog Story.


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

  • #ThrowbackThursday - Corey Brunish takes the Facebook/Twitter hashtag in a musical direction with this album of classic tunes by songwriters such as George and Ira Gershwin; Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green; and Bart Howard.
  • Philip Glass: Music for 'The Crucible' - Last season a fascinating revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible hit Broadway and one of its chief assets was an intriguing score by Philip Glass, which you can now savor on this cool new release.
  • Freaky Friday - There's a lot of giddy fun in this new tuner that's based on the movie of the same name. This new album features two great central performances from Heidi Blickenstaff and Emma Hunton.
  • Len Cariou Presents These Are My Friends - Tony winner Len Cariou is joined by some incredible folks on this album that revisits some of the hits from his career and then moves on to other favorites from the likes of Liz Callaway, Judy Kaye, Lee Roy Reams, and Anita Gillette.

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.

  • Falsettos - The cast recording for this acclaimed revival of the landmark tuners by William Finn and James Lapine sparkles from beginning to end. It's a must-have for all musical theater fans!
  • Dear Evan Hansen - It's the new musical on Broadway that everyone's talking about! You'll understand why after listening to this terrific new release.
  • Song of Solomon - Ramin Karimloo, who's thrilled audiences in Les Misérables and Love Never Dies, heads up a grand cast on this lavishly produced concept album for a new biblical musical.
  • Bare Naked - A bevy of great singers offer up tunes by songwriter Lynne Shankel on this new release, which includes both material from the revised off-Broadway production of Bare as well as some of her more recent writings.
  • Dream Ago - This remarkable album comes from a remarkable talent: Gabrielle Stravelli. Her voice has power, warmth, and, sometimes, great humor. It's been hard for me to stop playing this one. If you don't know her work, you should certainly sample some now!
  • The Student Prince - This new two disc recording of the classic operetta is sounding pretty darn gorgeous thanks to the careful guidance of conductor John Mauceri.
  • "Edelweiss" - Tony winner Billy Porter offers up this classic R&H song as a hopeful (and sadly cautionary) tune for the times in which we live. If you've not listened, do.
  • Ruthless! - The cast recording for the often hysterical mash-up of The Bad Seed and All About Eve. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Ivanov – A real gem this recording preserves a production of Chekhov's play that starred Sir John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh.
  • Junie B. Jones The Musical - The talented songwriting team of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler have helped bring this kids' favorite to the stage, in an utterly beguiling new tuner.
  • Covenant - I've not listened to it all, but I have enjoyed the pieces I've heard from this recent release. It's a cast recording from California of a show that was written to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salvation Army.
  • From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando - Another album that's also a charitable effort is this fantastic release from Broadway Records. This one preserves a concert that featured Broadway's best and whose proceeds supported organizations serving the people affected by the horrific mass shooting at a Florida nightclub earlier this year.
  • Half a Sixpence - This new London cast recording proves to be a charmer, thanks to the winning star turn from 22-year-old Charlie Stemp. Based on a novel by H.G. Wells, this show reminds us that money can't buy happiness.
  • Hairspray LIVE - You really can't stop the beat of this Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman score. It's great to have another recording of it. This one, of course, features the swell performers who were part of NBC's live presentation this week.
  • La La Land - Broadway's Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have outfitted Grammy Award winner Justin Hurwitz's melodies for the score for this new movie that stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. There's some charming stuff in here.
  • Schikaneder - Stephen Schwartz's newest musical has premiered in Vienna, and here's the gorgeous sounding new cast recording of that production. The musical's subtitle is "The Turbulent Love Story Behind The Magic Flute." Sort of tells you all you need to know.
  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz - Here's the first-ever recording of this show written by Alan Menken, along with David Spencer, in the years between Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid. This cast album preserves a recent Canadian production that featured considerable new material from the creators.
  • If You Knew My Story - Carmen Cusack dazzled in her Broadway debut in Bright Star last season. Here she is in performance with a host of terrific guest stars.
  • Hamilton Mixtape - Here's a new way to savor the genius that is Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton! It's an album that features the show's songs performed by artists such as the Roots, Usher, Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys.Acoustically Speaking - This recording allows you to savor the talents of two of the original stars from Rent—Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal—in performance at 54 BELOW/Feinstein's.

The next BwayTunes newsletter will arrive just about a week before a milestone birthday: composer John Kander's 90th!

We couldn't let such an important moment go by without toasting the man who penned the melodies for CabaretChicago, and the current off-Broadway offering Kid Victory. So Ken and Erik will be dedicating their columns to him and their thoughts on his exceptional career.

To get you in the mood, I point you toward Harbinger Records' fantastic two-disc compilation of Kander rarities: Hidden Treasures.

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Feb
10

From This Day On

In honor of Valentine’s Day the topic is romance in musical theatre. We might as well be discussing the importance of air and water to life on earth. Searching for a handle, the idea of love at first sight popped into my head. It’s certainly ubiquitous in the early days of the genre, both in operetta and musical comedy. But what about once musicals grew up?

I decided to take a look at the work of some of our major musical theatre writers in the post–Oklahoma! world. Did they make use of love at first sight? And if so, how? What follows is by no means exhaustive, but I think it nevertheless instructive.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Let’s start at the very beginning, as it were. What did Rodgers and Hammerstein do? Well, interestingly, they didn’t use the concept very much, a mere three times. It’s there in the TV musical Cinderella, memorably articulated in the song “10 Minutes Ago,” but that, of course, is a fairy tale. It is arguably one of the weaker points of South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable’s sudden, overpowering love for Liat, a young Tonkinese girl with no education who can barely communicate with him, seems awfully convenient (“Younger Than Springtime” is a gorgeous song but hardly a compelling basis for a long-term relationship). However, it is front and center in the dysfunctional coupling of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow in Carousel, and the result is tragic. I would argue that Carousel is a pretty good argument against love at first sight.

Frank Loesser
Loesser makes use of the idea in two shows, and both treatments are memorable. In The Most Happy Fella, middle-aged vintner Tony Esposito is immediately taken with a youngish waitress he meets in a diner. Too shy to speak up, he leaves her a note and his “genuine amethyst tie pin” as a token of his feelings. But when she travels to meet him at his Napa Valley ranch, fantasy quickly runs headlong into reality, and they only make a successful marriage by starting from scratch and getting to know one another. In the satirical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, secretary Rosemary Pilkington falls hard and fast for young go-getting would-be executive J. Pierrepont Finch, though he is initially oblivious. But when she fantasizes about being “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” her love starts to sound awfully transactional.

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
In seven Broadway musicals, Bock and Harnick made use of the device in only two of them. In their final show, The Rothschilds, young Nathan Rothschild falls in love (“it happened in a trice”) in Act 2 with an aristocratic English woman who initially resists his advances. Both authors are on record as considering its inclusion as a subplot a mistake, a sop to the prevailing view in 1970 that a musical needed a heterosexual romantic interest to succeed commercially. Indeed, when Harnick and book writer Sherman Yellen reconceived the piece in 2015 (after Bock’s death), under the title Rothschild and Sons, the romance—along with Hannah—was eliminated. She Loves Me neatly subverted the concept. Parfumerie clerks Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash are at each other’s throats from the moment she is hired, but the real reason is their tremendous romantic attraction, which it takes the whole show for them to discover, though other characters identify it early on. And of course by that time they know each other well enough to embark upon a pretty grounded marriage.

Jerry Herman
As perhaps befits one of the sunniest of musical theatre songwriters, Herman uses love at first sight in several Broadway shows. In his first, Milk and Honey, which I just saw this past weekend in a fine concert presentation at the York Theatre, it happens late in Act 2, when the man-starved widow Clara Weiss (a part created by Molly Picon) meets Israeli widower Sol Horowitz and ends up remarried before you can say mazel tov. My immediate reaction was to hope that he isn’t a serial killer. In his second, Hello, Dolly! (heading back to Broadway this spring starring Bette Midler), lowly store clerks Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker fall for milliner Irene Molloy and her assistant, Minnie Fay, respectively, in the course of a day. Of course, the show is pure fantasy, based on Thornton Wilder’s romantic period farce The Matchmaker. In his third, Mame, the instant love is between a bohemian blueblood aunt and her young orphaned nephew and is the most persuasive bond of the three. It is not, however, romantic love. Herman’s final four Broadway book shows—Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour, and La Cage aux Folles—eschew the notion entirely. A sign of maturation, perhaps?

John Kander and Fred Ebb
In the course of writing 14 Broadway musicals over a period of 50 years, Kander and Ebb rarely resorted to using love at first sight. Only two shows—Zorbá and Steel Pier—traffic in it at all. In Zorbá, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ classic novel Zorbá the Greek, the two central romantic relationships both develop speedily. However, that between Zorbá and the aging prostitute Hortense seems less a product of love and more one of mutual need, while the connection between the young outsider intellectual, Nikos, and a socially ostracized unnamed Cretan widow, is both hesitant and doomed. In Steel Pier we get love at first sight on steroids: Stunt pilot Bill Kelly actually comes back from the dead to pursue his instantaneous feelings for down-on-her-luck performer Rita Racine, though David Thompson’s unwieldy original book withholds his otherworldly status from the audience for most of the show. It’s entirely unpersuasive, which is in part why Steel Pier folded after only 76 performances. In both musicals we’re a long way from Margot and the Red Shadow aching for each other.

Stephen Sondheim
Surprisingly for the musical theatre’s reigning iconoclast, there are a number of examples of variations on love at first sight in his canon, the majority of them early in his career. The most iconic is West Side Story, which is based on Romeo and Juliet, so it came with the territory. Sondheim is, of course, on record as to how uncomfortable he is with the lyrics for the two songs that most dramatize the situation: “Maria” and “Tonight.” In Gypsy Rose and Herbie combine pretty instantaneously in “Small World,” but as with Zorbá and Hortense, it feels more like a seduction of calculated self-interest than love. In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, however, young noble-born Hero goes gaga at the simple sight of the prostitute Philia and explains himself in the charming “Love, I Hear,” one of the most convincing expressions of love at first sight I’ve ever heard. Of course, it helps that the source material is the Roman comedies of Plautus. In Sondheim’s very first professional musical, Saturday Night, which went unproduced for more than 40 years, the romantic leads, Gene and Helen, are attracted quickly due to both of them being con artists. And in the TV musical Evening Primrose, poet Charles, who has taken up refuge living in a department store, sleeping by day and writing at night, is immediately drawn to the lovely Ella, imprisoned there since the age of six by others who had the same idea as Charles. However, she’s the only possible romantic partner for our scribe, so maybe it’s just a case of what’s available. And it doesn’t end well.

Once Sondheim reaches his maturity with Company in 1970, however, incidences of love at first sight decrease. It happens to the juveniles in Sweeney Todd, Anthony and Joanna, but the musical is based on a melodrama and Sondheim doesn’t take their love very seriously, using them mostly for comic relief. Mary Flynn falls for Franklin Shepard the first time she meets him in Merrily We Roll Along, on the rooftop gazing at Sputnik, but all that leads to is frustration, heartache, and alcoholism. The sickly Fosca develops her Passion for Giorgio even before they meet, but the unlikeliness of it being reciprocated coupled with her needy obsessiveness is hardly a traditional take on the situation. In Bounce and Road Show, Addison Mizner is immediately entranced by the young aristocrat Hollis Bessemer, who doesn’t return the feeling until he realizes what Addison can do for him. Ultimately, it dissolves in recriminations, though the relationship does allow for one of Sondheim’s most sincere and touching love songs, “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened,” repurposed most effectively from a slangy and breezy evocation of heterosexual lust in Bounce.

Alan Jay Lerner
I left Lerner for last because he is unquestionably the most starry-eyed romantic of all the writers being discussed. Much to my astonishment, though, he trails Sondheim in his employment of love at first sight. There is Freddy Eynsford-Hill’s attachment to Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, which is a bit of a problem for contemporary productions, as the show simply accepts the situation without explanation. My favorite Freddy was Robert Sella, in director Howard Davies’ otherwise unsatisfying 1993 Broadway revival. Rather than play the expected clear-eyed, apple-cheeked juvenile, Sella rooted his nerdy Freddie’s attraction to Eliza in the realization, caused by her behavior at Ascot, that she is just as much a social misfit as he is. He was like a suffocating man given a sudden hit of oxygen and gasping gratefully. Lise and Gerry combust predictably in An American in Paris, but if your assignment is to write a 1951 MGM film vehicle for Gene Kelly constructed around the Gershwin songbook, isn’t that awfully inevitable? In Carmelina, our titular Italian war widow complains about her inexplicable attraction to the annoyingly importuning Vittorio in “Why Him?,” which is amusing but really doesn’t help the romance. And in Lerner’s final show, Dance a Little Closer, we see a flashback in which cheesy song-and-dance man Harry Aikens implodes like a ton of bricks for a brassy American singer who subsequently reappears years later as the haughty English mistress of a diplomat who denies that she knows him. That, however, is pretty much it for love at first sight and Lerner, with one glaring exception.

That would be Brigadoon, his 1947 musical fantasy about a Scottish town that only comes to life for one day every hundred years. American Tommy Albright meets and is drawn to the lovely Fiona MacLaren, who has earlier told us in “Waitin’ for My Dearie” that she would rather be a spinster than marry the wrong man. Fiona is equally smitten, but once Tommy discovers the truth about Brigadoon, he must decide before day is out whether to commit to the feeling or not. Unsurprisingly, he can’t and must return home to his hard-shelled fiancée before realizing that Fiona is the one and only woman for him. Rushing back to Scotland, he manages to awaken the town through his love, proving that “when ye love someone deeply, anything is possible.” It’s absolutely over-the-top romantic, but when done with conviction it soars. One of the most memorable theatrical moments I’ve experienced in more than 50 years of theatregoing occurred in director Vivian Matalon’s 1980 Broadway revival: As Tommy and Fiona finished singing their song of parting, “From This Day On,” the set split in two and waves of fog rushed in as the lovers were violently separated, hands grasping for each other in vain. It was glorious. In Brigadoon the 29-year-old Lerner set himself the task of making love at first sight believable, and he succeeded. Whenever I get too cynical, I remember that.

Of course, Brigadoon is now 70 years old and seems more a tip of the hat to the operettas that preceded it than a musical theatre innovation. That said, a 2014 production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, which featured a somewhat rewritten book by Brian Hill, charmed even the New York Times’ curmudgeonly Charles Isherwood (who just left the paper this week) and proved that the show can still sway contemporary audiences. And any Broadway season that has Aladdin, Wicked, Waitress, and The Phantom of the Opera still running can hardly be said to disown love at first sight. Nevertheless, the admittedly anecdotal evidence submitted here suggests to me that the Broadway musical is at least a bit more adult than it is often given credit for being.

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