Monday, January 15, 2018

Hallelujah, Baby!

Being good just won't be good enough
I'll be the best or nothing at all

In 1968 Hallelujah, Baby! won 5 Tony Awards: Best Actress, Best Featured Actress, Best Producer, Best Original Score and Best Musical. So why did it close after 293 performances

Arthur Laurents's libretto had a tricky concept. Leslie Uggams traveled through 50 years of American history while remaining 25. The book is focused the progress of civil rights. The score is focused on Uggams' showbiz career. It's Roots meets Funny Girl and critics found it a tough sell. The New York Times referred to the 1967 production as "Civics One" and a 2004 revisal as "bland and anachronistic." 

In a 2011 interview Arthur Laurents stated that the show was written for Lena Horne. He felt it lost it's edge when the sweet Leslie Uggams replaced her. Edgy or not Uggam's star-making turn is what the show is best remembered for now. You can watch her performances on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tony Awards broadcast to see why.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Arms and the Girl

Nanette Fabray is best remembered today for her supporting role in the 1953 film The Bandwagon. She was a skilled comedienne who starred in a long string of Broadway flops. The cast album for Arms and the Girl is forgettable but Fabray, and supporting comic Pearl Bailey, show considerable charm.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Aspects of Love

"We... we sleep with everyone.
One by one and two by two.
And if you're in the audience
then you'll sleep too."
~ Forbidden Broadway

"Though ''Aspects of Love'' purports to deal with romance in many naughty guises - from rampant promiscuity to cradle-snatching, lesbianism and incest - it generates about as much heated passion as a visit to the bank."
~ Frank Rich, New York Times

Webber's Aspects of Love is not as romantic as it thinks it is. The May-December country house romance drew unfavorable comparisons to Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Sondheim's lovers know they're in a bittersweet comedy. Webber's bores take themselves so seriously that the plot turns to camp. They vow "love will never let you be the same" while repeating the same toxic patterns. The leading lady jerks three lovers around till their attentions turn to an underage girl. Then she sings an angry anthem, "Anything But Lonely," vowing to round up someone new "who'll say how good [she] looks each day." Send in the clowns indeed.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ankles Aweigh

Pastiche is hard. You can't just throw some vapid tunes in a silly plot and call it an "old fashioned musical." The musicals we remember from the 30's and 40's are the ones with stars and composers who elevated the material. Ankles Aweigh closed in 176 performances. It's best remembered for the snarky reviews.

 "Some of us have been campaigning lately for a return to the old-fashioned, slam-bang, gags-and-girls musical comedy. Some of us ought to be shot." ~ Walter Kerr

Happy new year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Christmas Story

In March 2017 Pasek and Paul shared an Oscar with Justin Hurwitz for best original song in La La Land
In June 2017 Pasek and Paul won a Tony Award for Best Score for Dear Evan Hansen
In December 2017 Pasek and Paul received critical pans for the television broadcast of A Christmas Story: The Musical and the film The Greatest Showman

What do these shows have in common? What's different?

Anti-heroes: All four feature protagonists who behave badly. I sympathized with the unstable Evan but couldn't stand the narcissistic jerks in La La Land. Ralphie's youth excuses his obsessions while Showman ignores the unsavory side of P.T. Barnum.

The score: La La and Evan use a modern pop sound in a modern setting. Christmas Story goes "classic Broadway" for the 1940's setting. The Greatest Showman put's the anachronistic modern sound in an 1880's setting... It worked for Moulin Rouge but critics didn't like it here.

The performers: La La Land's movie stars were not skilled singers or dancers. For some that was the point. Their dreams were bigger than their reality. For others it was an ugly Hollywood compromise that sunk the film. Evan, Showman and Christmas Story feature a mix of Broadway vets and new up-n'-comers. Some argued this did not fit the working class families of Christmas Story. The television special dialed up the disconnect with Jane Krakowski's sexy school teacher and Chris Diamantopoulos's smoking hot daddy.

Target Audience: La La Land features 20-somethings and Evan Hansen features teens. They have resonated with audiences inside those groups and beyond. Who is the audience for The Greatest Showman? They hedge their bets by surrounding the middle aged Jackman with younger co-stars. Will Zac Efron and Zendaya draw a family audience over the holiday weekend? Christmas Story aims for the family audience but pits itself against their feelings for the original film. Love the original? You can enjoy the musical on stage but there's no reason for a TV remake. Hate the original? Still no reason for the remake.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

RifTrax gave this laughably bad low budget children's film a new life and brought attention to the creepiness of the sweaty Santa Claus and the creepy animal costumes. A comic really can't do it justice. Check out this clip.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Once On This Island

Promises, Promises, The Fantasticks and Once on this Island fall into the category of romances with pretty songs and ugly stories. Ti Moune's story is told with such glee that it's easy to forget it's a tragedy. The Gods attempts to grant her wishes are comically inept and the gentleman she wants is a garbage person. They are less Romeo and Juliet than Jason and Medea. Still "Mama Will Provide" is a fabulous song.

Gee I really should have saved this series till Valentine's Day. I'll get to Christmas shows eventually.