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Ken Bloom

Producer & Historian

Ken Bloom is a leading authority on American popular song and musical theatre. His books American Song, Hollywood Song, and Tin Pan Alley are seminal works, documenting over 300,000 songs.

His Broadway: An Encyclopedic Guide to the History, People and Places of Times Square was named one of the top reference books of the year by The New York Times and has recently come out in an updated third edition. His Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time, written with Frank Vlastnik, won the American Library Association’s prestigious George Freedley Memorial Award.

Bloom's newest book, Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes, was released by Oxford University Press earlier this fall.

In addition to his work as a writer, Bloom has served as on-air talent for outlets as diverse as Sirius Satellite Radio, WKCR-FM, NPR, and the CBC. And as president of the 33-year-old Harbinger Records, which he co-founded with Bill Rudman, Ken has produced more than fifty albums, including the Grammy-nominated Maxine Sullivan Sings Great Songs of the Cotton Club by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.

Jun
16

Top 10 Musical Theater Dads

Father’s Day is upon us and so we turn to the font of all knowledge, the musical theater. Here’s a highly subjective list of the top ten musical theater dads. It’s not easy but we winnowed down a list that included the dad in Next to Normal, Captain Andy in Show Boat, Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Mr. MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Jasmine’s dad in Aladdin, “The Old Man” in A Christmas Story, Jerry Cohan in George M!, Baron Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Meyer Rothschild in The Rothschilds, Mr. Darling in Peter Pan… well, we could go on and on.

So, after all that here’s the Top Ten Musical Theater dads.

The number one dad in all musicals is Tevye, the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. Although he’s browbeaten by his wife Golde he mostly calls the shots or at least he thinks he does. Tevye’s a great father because he’s aware enough to know that one has to keep up with progress, and there’s a balance of the new and the old traditions. But uppermost in his mind is the happiness of his daughters.

Here’s another favorite musical comedy character who stands up to his wife when enough is enough. Once his patience is at the breaking point he intones the immortal line, “I has spoken!” Of course, that’s Pappy Yokum proud father of Abner Yokum of Dogpatch, U.S.A. Li’l Abner is one of most farcical of all musical comedies, and it also  actually makes a warning against the military industrial complex. Yes, it does! And Johnny Mercer and Gene dePaul’s score is one of the brightest of the 1950s.

Like Tevye, Carousel’s Billy Bigelow also wants the best for his daughter, but he doesn’t quite know how to go about it. He’s not the brightest guy, but his love for his daughter is the real thing. And though he’s lost his life through an incredibly bad decision, he’s allowed to return to Earth for one day to see his daughter all grown-up and graduating from high school. But when his emotions get the best of him he can’t handle it and he invisibly slaps his daughter. Though Billy is actually a spirit she feels the slap, but it doesn’t hurt as much as surprise her for she interprets the slap as a kiss. She somehow understands the truthfulness of emotion behind the slap.

Gregory Jbara played “Dad” in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot. He’s a great dad and an interesting character because he recognizes his son’s talents and steadfastly stands with him no matter how the society at large sees a boy who only wants to dance. Dad’s the one who takes Billy to dance class and allows him to begin to make the future that means the most to him.

Our next father of the year is someone who is not actually the father of the child but a father who vows to forgive and forget past infidelities and take the high road. We’re talking about Tony Esposito, the title character of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella. Tony’s marriage doesn’t start out well. He runs into a waitress and falls in love with her. They haven’t even known each other long enough for her to recognize him when next they meet. Because Tony, decades older than the waitress Rosabella, proposes by mail and, thinking that she’ll reject him if she sees his real photo encloses the photo of his young, handsome foreman, Joey. When Roseabella shows up and discovers the deception she takes solace in Joey’s arms. Joey is the wandering type and decides to follow his dreams. That would be fine except now Rosabella is pregnant with Joey’s baby. But Tony steps up and announces to all that he’s the father and saves Rosabella from shame. That selfless decision makes Rosabella fall in love with Tony.

Here’s a famous musical with not one but two fathers, The Fantasticks. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt give the characters two terrific songs, “Never Say No” and “Plant a Radish” and never in any other musical has a philosophy of raising children been so expertly and humorously explained. Huckabee and Bellomy control the shots while their kids are happily unaware.

Another pair of fathers who stubbornly stand their ground proud of their son and who they are. We’re talking about Georges and Albin, the gay proprietors of the nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles. Though Georges is the biological father Albin has taken an equal role in raising their son Jean-Michel. The drama (and comedy) begins when Jean-Michel announces he’s engaged to the daughter of the head of the anti-gay, ultra-conservative "Tradition, Family and Morality Party." The whole thing’s a farce but in the best Jerry Herman tradition it’s the depth of feelings that give the show its soul. Here’s a show that should be compulsory viewing by every rightwing conservative.

And speaking of a gay parent there’s Marvin and his son Jason in William Finn’s March of the Falsettos.  Marvin is having his own problems with his younger partner, Whizzer as well as trying to be a good father to his son. Jason’s worried that he might grow up to be gay. Through many trials and tribulations, many of which don’t lead to happiness all around, Marvin can finally embrace Jason. And Jason, to his relief finds himself with a newfound appreciation for the curves of the female sex. The show finishes with Marvin telling Jason that he loves him and no matter what happens in the future, he’ll always love and support him.

 Well, that’s our top ten greatest musical theater fathers. They may come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about raising their children, but what it all gets down to is that fathers and their offspring have a strong bond. And if everyone can learn to understand each other happiness can result.

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Jun
02

Tony Predictions 2017

Andy asked Erik and me to come up with some Tony Award predictions. Well, to be honest I haven’t seen all the nominees but why should that stop me from having opinions. I hear lots and lots of criticisms from friends who haven’t seen the shows and don’t know what they’re talking about. And perhaps my taste isn’t the most reliable.

My friend Harry and I saw Les Miz in London right after it transferred from the Barbican, and we knew it was rubbish. Oh, and Marcia Lewis invited me to the dress rehearsal when the revival of Chicago moved to the Richard Rodgers Theatre. I hadn’t seen it at Encores but I knew that no Broadway audience would accept a revival with Victoria’s Secret–inspired costumes, no sets, the orchestra on stage, little fealty to the original concept, and “Fosse-inspired” choreography. It would be a stretch for it to run more than a week.

Got the idea? Of course, ever since those two slight miscalculations, I’ve a perfect record.

Ahem. So, here are my predictions for the upcoming Tony Awards. Gulp!

BEST MUSICAL: Apparently it’s a horse race between Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away. I haven’t seen the latter show but… well, see above. Even Hansen is a very good, intelligent, emotional show. And, as I wrote in my last column here on BwayTunes, it has an excellent book. And I’m a big fan of Pasek and Paul’s work. Their score for A Christmas Story was equally good. That was one of the best musicals of the decade so far.

Come From Away certainly has its supporters. Some of my friends were very affected by the story while others felt manipulated. Both shows are doing extremely well at the box office. And some know-it-alls think that the out-of-town Tony voters want to vote for shows that they think will do well at the box offices of their theatres. Certainly, Come From Away fits the bill with simpler production values. But without the sliding panels and its very busy projections Evan Hansen could be staged for the same smaller budget.

So, all in all, I think that Evan Hansen will take home the Tony.

P.S. I think A Bronx Tale should have been nominated. Not the flashiest musical on the block but it didn’t played it straight without pandering to the audience. Its casting, script, direction, book, and production values were all top-drawer. A well-made audience pleaser that might have been a little old-fashioned for the nominators but certainly not for the enthusiastic audiences that have made it a success.

BEST PLAY: Again, I haven’t seen all the plays but from what I hear the race is between Oslo and A Doll’s House Part 2. I saw both of these plays and both their directing and acting were exemplary. Oslo’s three-hour running time raced by because of the above-mentioned production values and the entertaining and intelligent script by J.T. Rogers, but there wasn’t an overarching message or take-away to the script. It was sort of a staged Wikipedia article (I thought the same of War Paint.)

 

Playwright Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 also contains beautifully rendered performances from the cast of four and excellent directing that seems effortless (not easy to pull off especially since it’s all talk, albeit brilliant talk). Most people know the basics of Ibsen’s original, but this play turns our suppositions upside down. The play gives each of its beautifully realized characters their own moments that perfectly illustrate and deepen the original play. Though it runs a mere 90 minutes or so (and wouldn’t it be great if more plays did that?) it packs a real wallop and gives the audience the satisfaction one seeks when confronted with an intelligent, entertaining, and emotional evening in the theatre.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 will and should win the Tony. But it’s a tough call.

BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL: Duh, Hello, Dolly!

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Here’s another nail-biter. Ben Platt has the title character in Evan Hansen, and he gives a remarkably nuanced performance, which is rare in a musical even one as complex at this. And most impressively, while his character goes on its journey, Platt doesn’t give the ending away with his performance. And he’s basically an unknown, so his performance was a surprise to hard-boiled theatergoers. Plus, he actually cries during one of his numbers!

Andy Karl is always a favorite of audiences even though he seems to be saddled with shows that don’t live up to his impressive talents (think Rocky). And the fact that he’s finally in a successful show makes him a theatre community favorite. Groundhog Day certainly makes him earn his paycheck, and he does so seemingly without effort. And you’ve seen a lot of actors telegraph the audience that they’re working really, really hard for the people out in front. Karl’s constantly running around, down, over and up in a super-charged performance. He’s handsome, sings wonderfully, really connects with the audience, and absolutely has the entire show on his shoulders. But the show doesn’t have much depth beyond its imaginative staging and glib score. Still, his performance shines. And, he suffered an accident early on and, in the best show biz tradition, continued on in wearing a knee brace. So, he deservedly gets extra points for his show-must-go-on spirit.

The best races are those that are the tightest. I think Ben Platt with squeak by to win the Tony.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL seems to be Bette Midler’s to lose. Some have carped on her singing and the Midlerisms in her performance. But that’s what musical comedy is about: making the role fit your strengths. Speaking of Hello, Dolly! when the estimable Phyllis Diller took over the role on Broadway she played it straight. But audiences came to see Phyllis Diller on stage with the role of Dolly secondary. So, Diller’s reception was not what she expected. But at one performance something screwed up on stage and Diller let loose with her patented laugh that sounded like a hyena braying and the audience went crazy. She was smart enough to get the point and from then on she gave the audience what they wanted, the Phyllis Diller characters’ interpretation of Dolly.

BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Gavin Creel will win this. A lot of voters are impressed with his evolution from an energetic, attractive ingénue to a mature performer who knows how to build a character and get both laughs and sympathy from the audience. Andrew Rannells was very effective in a difficult role in Falsettos, and his performance was also a great leap from his previous work in The Book of Mormon. But the revival was not a financial success and closed too long ago. Meanwhile, Dolly! is a current smash and that adds lots of votes to the ballots.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: That Dolly! momentum should carry Kate Baldwin to a Tony. Besides, she’s developed a multi-layered performance and her singing is delightful. Lots of people fell in love with Jennifer Simard’s sweetly comic performance as Ernestina in Dolly! but she wasn’t nominated. I guess the role just wasn’t large enough. Still, it’s great to give her a shout out for her wonderful work.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Like the Best Musical category it’s between Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen. The former is a little too simplistic like the score from Once was. But it can be affecting. Dear Evan Hansen deserves the award for its multi-layered, intelligent, and emotional score. It’s also rare for a modern musical to not have songs that 1) Are declarative rather than illustrative and 2) Work to compliment the libretto and fill in emotions that are best served musically. Oh, also the score is smart and every word scans correctly and the rhymes are true. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but most shows today do not have craft or more than the simplest emotions.

DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL might go the veteran revivalist Jerry Zaks since Dolly! is such a smash. Audiences and Tony voters sometimes think that directing a musical comedy is easy. But it isn’t. I saw early previews of both the revivals of Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing that were directed by Jerry Zaks. And neither show seemed destined to be a success. By opening night each show was working perfectly and gave the audience exactly what they came to see with a bit of unexpected emotion wending through the laughs. Michael Greif deserves a lot of credit for the emotional balancing act in Evan Hansen. It wasn’t easy to get just the right tone in a story that could have been preachy instead of being a downer or an uplifting life lesson that was easy to take by the audience. He did a masterful job. Zaks might get swept along in the Dolly! tsunami that will certainly come. But Grief has earned a Tony and should win.

Well, that’s the major awards for musicals (and Best Play). The costumes, sets, and lighting will deservedly go to Dolly! Denis Jones has a shot at winning Best Choreography for Holiday Inn even though it was a failure. As far as Orchestrations go, Larry Hochman’s fine work on Dolly! retains a lot of the Philip J. Lang’s work on the original as well as Peter Howard’s fantastic and unheralded work on the original’s Dance and Incidental Music that deserved its own special Tony at the time. So, Larry won’t win. Alex Lacamoire provided a rich, emotional orchestration for Evan Hansen and certainly deserves to win.

So, come June 11th see if my predictions come true or if my previous track record proves once again that my crystal ball (souvenir from the musical Big) needs a tune up!

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May
19

Top Ten Books for Musicals

Wow! This is a really tough one. In fact, it’s impossible. But here’s my list of more than ten libretti – some from the far past, some from mid-century and some from today. All of which keep the audience involved and have humor, drama, and realistic characters. Beyond that these shows’ songs and scripts compliment each other perfectly, making a beautiful whole.

First on my list is Show Boat. Yes, it’s ungainly especially at the end when the passage of time has to be sped up to the then-present. Edna Ferber’s book is huge and making the many episodes and characters into a three-hour show is a bitch.  But along the way, Oscar Hammerstein showed how a musical could be perfectly integrated and speak to larger societal issues. Heck, Hammerstein even makes the Mississippi River a character in the show. In the right hands it might just be the most emotional musical ever written. And Hammerstein also deserves credit for the second place musical:

Carousel. Of course, it’s difficult to separate the book from the score they’re so perfectly integrated. But each element, while seemingly simple, speaks to great emotions. And the characters are true and complicated even if sometimes our political correctness demands all edges be sanded down to make us comfortable. But it’s Hammerstein’s point to keep the edges and, like in all his musicals, develop characters that are flawed but have the power to be redeemed.

Speaking of redemption, Gypsy has the most powerful punch; in it a character finds herself stripped bare and acknowledging her own truth and coming to acceptance. It’s often cited as the greatest musical libretto of all time and that may be true. Women who have played the title role like Merman, Lansbury, and others make it look easy, but it’s an incredibly difficult part to do well. A gorgon who reveals the insecurities and needs she has inside.

In the above musicals characters come to a realization and either actually change or consider change and reject it. My Fair Lady probably has the most impressive about-faces in the theatre. Eliza Doolittle is literally changed from a “guttersnipe” into a presentable upper-class woman. But the teacher also changes, and Henry Higgins finds his own humanity, and even though at the end of the show he asks Eliza to fetch his slippers, the audience knows that he has come to terms with himself also.

Prejudices are also overturned in Guys and Dolls, perhaps the second runner-up in the best libretto race. Sister Sarah is prejudiced against gambler Sky Masterson, but each is open enough to slowly see the humanity and even insecurities of each other (even if a few rums help to loosen pre-determined prejudices). This show has abundant humor, true emotions, and leaves the audience in a state of bliss. Come to think of it, Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey’s book for The Music Man has a lot in common with Guys and Dolls. A gambler/conman loosens up a prim Salvation Army girl/librarian.

And for pure humor with no pretension of greater good, no message, characters that don’t change essentially our vote goes to On the Twentieth Century. Especially the original production, which under the direction of genius Harold Prince, roared down the tracks in a barrage of humor. Hand it to the great Betty Comden and Adolph Green for scribing a hilarious farce. And speaking of Betty and Adolph their other scripts for On the Town and Wonderful Town and Bells Are Ringing, etc., etc. are also hilarious, realistic (true!), and emotional.

Before we get to some shows that are currently playing here’s our vote for the most unusual great script – 1776.  Really – a  musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Strong characters, real drama, important issues like slavery, and something no other musical has had in such abundance: suspense. Yes, we already know the outcome but if it’s a really good production we actually have our doubts as the pages on the calendar on the wall slip away.

Now I’m may be an old curmudgeon but there are three terrific libretti currently on Broadway.

Translating the novel Wicked for the musical theatre was, like Show Boat, a humongous task, and Winnie Holzman did yeoman’s work distilling the immense plot into a clear, entertaining musical that still carried a powerful message for the audience. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, it’s one of the few musicals in which the book is better than the score…which is rare.

The Book of Mormon seems to have nothing on its mind but to make us laugh. Yes, it can be somewhat scatological and religiously impertinent and though it’s completely in the South Park mode with plenty of subversive, and often raunchy humor, its greatest accomplishment is its underlying heart, which carries a real emotional punch. To the audience’s surprise they actually care for characters that they thought were only caricatures.

Dear Evan Hansen is the most recent great book of a musical. When was the last time you saw a show and really and truly couldn’t figure out how the heck the authors were going to wrap up the story? That they do so with such skill, logic and audience satisfaction is an admirable thing. And they have a wonderful score, production, and strong cast to carry the remarkable story forward.

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May
05

Betty Comden

During the 1950s and ‘60s the preeminent lyricist-librettists-screenwriters of the musical theatre were Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Their film scripts include what is considered by many to be the greatest film musical, Singin’ in the Rain. They were also responsible for other MGM blockbusters such as On the Town, The Band Wagon, It’s Always Fair Weather, and Good News., and many more MGM blockbusters.

And their Broadway output as authors and lyricists is just as impressive. From their debut with 1944’s On the Town to their last show, The Will Rogers Follies, in 1991, their output is unsurpassed. Wonderful Town, Peter Pan, Bells Are Ringing, Hallelujah, Baby!, Applause, and On the Twentieth Century are just some of the great musicals they wrote. And they wrote with the best songwriters, primarily Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, and Cy Coleman.

Comden and Green met every day in Betty’s apartment whether they had something to work on or not. They also made time to appear on Broadway and in regional theatres in their two-person career retrospective, A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

And their shows spawned many a hit song. Think of “New York, New York,” “If,” “Just in Time,” “The Party’s Over,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Comes Once in a Lifetime,” and “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.”

But they weren’t hit writers per se. They wrote for characters and situations. Which is why the songs that weren’t played on the Hit Parade were every bit as good as their better-known songs.

Their output was marked by humor and heart and that’s why their shows and their songs will be sung and revived for generations to come.

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Apr
21

Jerry Herman

The Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart musical smash hit Hello, Dolly! is opening at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway and that got us thinking about Jerry’s shows and why they have such lasting appeal:

  1. Jerry is in love with the main characters in his shows. There’s no snark or condescension in his treatment of his characters. They’re human like the rest of us; usually looking for their place in the world, which includes finding love and giving love, too. Think of such songs are “I Will Follow You” in Milk and Honey, “If He Walked into My Life” in Mame, and “Ribbons Down My Back” in Hello, Dolly!
  2. He writes humorous songs better than anyone else. One of the musical theatre’s funniest songs is “It Takes a Woman” in Dolly. And not only is every line really funny but it perfectly sums up the character of Horace Vandergelder. “Chin Up Ladies” in Milk and Honey is another example of Jerry’s fondness for his characters  expressed in a funny way.
  3. Jerry’s characters may have obstacles in their search for fulfillment but they have an unswerving optimism and belief that everything will work out in the end. The most iconic of these is when Mame sings, “It’s Today.” There’s a story behind that song that perfectly describes Jerry’s upbringing. One day the young Jerry came home from school only to find the house festively decorated. He asked his mother what was the occasion and she answered, “It’s today!!” That was a remarkably important moment in Jerry’s life and one he never forgot. In fact, throughout his life, Jerry has lived by that philosophy.
  4. The “villains” in Jerry’s shows are treated with bemusement. One thing Jerry has never tolerated with his friends is an overly developed self-importance. From Vandergelder to the Connecticut Uptons in Mame to the homophobic in-laws in La Cage Aux Folles, they’re all treated with an understanding and they all get their comeuppance in hilarious ways.
  5. Jerry is as fine a lyricist as any of the Broadway greats but he never draws attention to either the hard work behind the easy, conversational lyrics or flights of tortured, showoff rhymes that celebrate
  6. The characters in a Herman show have real doubts and insecurities. And much of the drama of his shows comes with insecurities. “If He Walked Into My Life,” “Hymn to Hymie” in Milk and Honey, and “I Don’t Want to Know” in Dear World perfectly illustrates human needs.
  7. His shows are known for their big title songs and splashy set pieces but the things that make these shows classics is the emotion behind the characters. Yes, “Before the Parade Passes By” is both an anthem for Dolly that evolves into a grand production number but it’s songs like “Ribbons Down My Back” that give the shows their heart. And it’s that heart and love of humanity flaws and all that make Jerry’s shows unique in musical theatre history.
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Apr
07

Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline has returned to Broadway in a production of Present Laughter at the St. James Theatre, the same theatre in which he became a star. The show was On the Twentieth Century, and its great artistic success was not a sure thing.

Its star Madeline Kahn was having personal problems, and so right after the opening, she was fired and, in the best tradition of 42nd Street, the understudy moved into the lead role and she herself became a star. Judy Kaye had been in shows before, but this one allowed her to capitalize on all her talents, and she was hailed by audiences and critics alike. Now don’t get us wrong, many people who saw Kahn’s performance preferred her to Judy Kaye. But it was the offstage difficulties that made her continuing in the role impossible.

So, Twentieth Century had not one but two “discoveries,” and with Broadway veterans John Cullum and Imogene Coca to round out the leads, what could have been a disaster became a hot ticket. And the entire cast was ably supported by a superior score by Cy Coleman and Comden and Green as well as fast-paced direction by Harold Prince and one of the greatest and most stylish of all Broadway sets designed by Robert Wagner at the peak of his many talents.

And now, many years later, with successful films and stage appearances behind him, Kevin Kline has proven he’s the real thing and his bravura performance in Present Laughter proves just how  perfectly he balances the verbal and physical demands of Noel Coward’s perfect farce.

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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
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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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
10

LOVE!!

Ah love! Characters both human and otherwise have long sung the glories of love. But it’s a tricky subject for lyricists. Oscar Hammerstein II was a firm believer that one should write the words “I Love You” in a song. That would be too easy and a cliché also. So he wrote songs like, “If I Loved You” from Carousel.

Cole Porter did write a song titled “I Love You” for Mexican Hayride, but he also wrote “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “You’re the Top” for Anything Goes. He also wrote “Do I Love You?” for DuBarry Was a Lady, and audiences knew the answer as soon as the question was asked. (To take a listen to this one, take a listen to Colleen McHugh's Prêt-à-porter). And another list song by Porter, “Let’s Do It” from the musical Paris and sung to great effect at one point by Ella Fitzgerald, suggests that two people can will themselves into falling in love.

It’s the same thing for Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye asks “Do I Love You?” Bock and Harnick and the audience knew what the answer would be. However, in one production, when Zero Mostel couldn’t stop fooling around with the woman playing Golde he asked, “Do You Love Me” and she answered, “I’m not sure” and walked off the stage!

And when someone protests too much about love in a musical comedy you know they’re deluding themselves. In Two Gentlemen of Verona (an underrated score by the way) when Diana Davila’s character sang Galt McDermott and John Guare’s “I Am not Interested in Love,” she wasn’t fooling the audience or herself. The same goes for “I Don’t Think I’ll Fall in Love Today” from the Gershwins’ Treasure Girl. And the same goes for Norman Wisdom and Louise Troy when they sang, “I Don’t Think I’m in Love” in Walking Happy. And who was Babe kidding when she sang “I’m not at All in Love” in The Pajama Game.

But not all characters in musicals are in love with love. Some love other things equally well. The Sound of Music’s Maria Von Trapp loved kittens with whiskers when she listed “My Favorite Things.” And in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown Snoopy loved nothing more than “Suppertime.”

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