Monday, August 6, 2018

Finian's Rainbow

Earlier this summer I wrote about Were The World Mine, a musical in which the homophobic jocks are magically transformed from straight to gay. In Finian's Rainbow a spell transforms the racist Senator from white to black. The Senator tries to undo his cruel policies but as a black man his staff will no longer listen to him. The leprechaun has to restore him to white to save the Sharecroppers. Pretty cutting social commentary for 1947.

A white actor put on blackface makeup on Broadway in 1947 and on film in 1968. When the show was revived in 2009 the switch was made with two actors. Critics praised the production but it only ran 15 weeks. 40's satire wasn't commercial in the 00's.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Glory Days

High school friends Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner wrote the show after their own graduation.  Blaemire called the show "a commemoration of our friendship and the friends we've had and lost between high school and college — and what happens when you're a kid, and then you realize that you're not anymore."

Glory Days premiered at the Signature Theatre in Virginia. It transferred to Broadway where it opened and closed on the same night: May 6, 2008. Blaemire and Gardiner spent some time apart, then re-united to write another show for a smaller venue.

The cast album reveals a spirited cast and a lovely ballad, Open Road, in which Jack comes out to his friends. Shows about angsty teenagers are big in 2018, with Heathers, Mean Girls, Dear Evan Hansen and Be More Chill inspiring passionate fan bases. I hope some of them will give Glory Days another look.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Before Dolly Levi, before the White Queen, Carol Channing's signature role was Lorelei Lee. Her rendition of "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend" is very different than Marilyn Monroe's but no less fantastic.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Subways Are For Sleeping

This jokey show about homeless con artists knew nothing about the realities of being homeless. With very little plot and a mediocre score the show quickly folded. It is best remembered for a publicity stunt. Producer David Merrick found 7 strangers with the names of the New York critics and got them to sign off on positive quotes. The poster said "7 out of 7 are ecstatically unanimous about Subways Are For Sleeping."

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Were the World Mine

This film started off with a great idea. A modern gay remake of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a bullied gay teen, Timothy, serving as a combination of magical Puck and lovelorn Helena. The opening scenes won me to his side and the unleashing of the love potion felt cathartic.

Things fall apart soon after. The film can't agree on tone or internal logic. If the potion makes you fall for the first person you see, it makes sense the all boys school would fill with same sex couples. But why do all couples remain same sex when it spreads to the town? Why does the homophobic coach become a broad gay stereotype? Why do people have selective memories of what occurs during the course of the film? If Tim's point was to make the jocks understand bullying, why leave no straight people left to bully them? Why are the songs so forgettable?

Timothy's primary love interest is a mystery. We aren't supposed to know his true feelings till the end of the film. But we need to learn something about him to invest in the relationship. As is Tim's melancholy is never salved, leaving a streak of pain through the film. A lot of missed opportunities here. It frustrated me as the premise was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Calamity Jane

At first glance Calamity Jane seems like a remake of Annie Get Your Gun. Independent pioneer woman swallows her pride to win Howard Keel. But Jane isn't chasing Howard Keel. She's chasing Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin. You know he's not important because he's in a musical but doesn't sing a note. To win him she needs to learn feminine drag.

Here's where the most interesting character arrives; Katie Brown. Katie is a maid impersonating a famous singer. Jane protects her from bandits, takes her to her first performance, and defends her from the mob when her identity is revealed. Howard Keel's at the performance too... in drag. He lost a bet with Jane. Katie finds the confidence to perform and suddenly... she's a maid no more. She has become the star she pretended to be. Jane is smitten. She wants Katie to teach her how to do drag. In the song "A Woman's Touch" Katie and Jane break out the tools and remodel their cabin. Jane trades her pants for a frilly dress and sings:

Then all at once the cabin that we knew
Becomes a shining castle built for two.
Me and you.

They're getting on fine till Lieutenant Whats-His-Name falls for Kate. Jane is heartbroken, kicking her out of the cabin and challenging her to a duel. The pants are back on. Katie grabs a gun and fights back. She can do drag too. Wild Bill splits them up and tells Jane he loves her. But there's no duet. Instead we cut to Jane alone in the woods singing "Secret Love." She sings the first verse in a dress and the last verse in pants, riding a horse.

Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free

Who is she singing about? Did she love Bill all along? Or has Bill given her the excuse to save her friendship with Katie? She'll spend the last act of the film pursuing Katie and bringing her back home. They hold a double wedding with their forgettable men. 

How intentional was this lesbian subtext? Hard to say. Screenwriter James O'Hanlon also wrote the script for The Harvey Girls, another musical western focused on two strong women. He'd go on to write for the television westerns Maverick and Cheyenne. Whatever his original intention the film has gone on to play at LGBT film fests and was featured in Vitto Russo's fantastic documentary The Celluloid Closet. That's enough for me to feature it here for Pride month. 

Happy Pride!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fellow Travelers

There's a familiar tale in gay fiction. Two men find each other. One is ready to embrace his sexuality. The other burrows deeper into the closet, harming those around him. If they are lucky they both make it out alive. 

Fellow Travelers sets these tropes against the backdrop of Senator Joseph McCarthy's "Lavender Scare." McCarthy was determined to kick all homosexuals out of government jobs. Did McCarthy fear homosexuals would sell state secrets or was he just looking for a scapegoat? McCarthy makes an appearance in Fellow Travelers to defend his gay attorney Roy Cohn. The contradictions aren't deeply examined. They're simply there for the audience to interpret.

The focus of Fellow Travelers is the doomed affair between Timothy Laughlin and Hawkins Fuller. They live under the watchful eye of their co-workers in the Washington, D.C. of the 1950's. Spears's score provides distinctive arias for both men. Timothy's joyous "Last Night" is filled with the liberation of first love. Hawk's guarded "Our Very Own Home" laments the double life he's built. It's not a happy story but there are moments of humor and hope along the way. With luck Timothy's newfound pride will carry him safely to better times.