Monday, June 30, 2014

Jersey Boys (The Movie)


As someone indifferent to the music of the Four Seasons the movie Jersey Boys was Dreamgirls without the fun.  Frankie Valli is pampered star Deena. Tommy DeVito is bitter cast-off Effie. Nick Massi is goofy, oblivious Lorell. And Bob Gaudio is Michelle, the fourth Dreamgirl who showed up and did her d**n job.

Tommy gets the blame for the groups debts but the film shows Frankie and Nick as equally corrupt. I admired the film for the courage to feature such unpleasant characters till I realized it wanted me to view their criminal behavior as charming. Beyond Gaudio the most sympathetic characters were producer/lyricist Bob Crewe, portrayed here as Sassy Gay Friend, and Frankie’s wife, portrayed here as Patti LuPone in Evita.

The film never bothers to tell a Four Seasons newcomer why exactly their music was special. That seems a wasted opportunity… And the old age makeup at the end is atrocious.




Friday, June 27, 2014

Dance a Little Closer


Dance a Little Closer closed after one performance and a scathing New York Times review. It was quickly dubbed Close a Little Faster. The 1936 play, Idiot’s Delight, paired Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in a romance against a war-torn backdrop. The musical updated the show to the Cold War and ruined the “did she or didn't she” mystery with some ill-advised flashbacks. The modern setting allowed for lyrics like:

Whoever made Atari should be hung by his thumbs.
I’m mad I have to eat so many Rol-Aids and TUMS.


Lerner added a subplot for a gay couple who wanted to get married. Since this drawing I’ve learned that they were airline stewards, not skaters, but they performed a duet on skates. Though more sympathetic than Lerner’s gay villain in Coco they had less personality, despite the efforts of Jeff Keller and the dashing Brent Barrett.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Coco


Who the devil ca-ares!
What a woman wea-ars!

I began the week discussing Alan Jay Lerner’s revised librettos and decided to finish the week with two of his more obscure works. First up Coco in which Katherine Hepburn spoke-sang and sparred with lawyers, rivals and exes while planning a fashion show. Hepburn’s appearance was enough of an event that the show received a 15 minute excerpt on the 1970 Tony Awards in which she is betrayed by her comically awkward protégé. When Hepburn left the show she was replaced by the talented Danielle Darrieux but the show closed soon after.

Rene Auberjonois played Coco’s stereotypical gay nemesis and won a Tony for it. His one song, Fiasco, makes less of an impression than the demonic cackling fit he had in the middle of it on the cast album. He shared some fun backstage gossip with the San Franscisco Gate in 2008 when the show was revived at the 42nd Street moon Theatre.

  "Whenever I would do something outlandish or think up a piece of business, (Benthall) would say, 'No no no, dear boy. You can't do that.' And Kate would say, 'What are you talking about? He's the only amusing thing in the show!'”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Brigadoon



Run an' get 'im! Get 'im!
Run an' get 'im! Get 'im!
Run, ye men, or ye will never see another morning'.

Harry Beaton’s unhappy subplot sends the fairy tale romance of Brigadoon into dark and creepy territory. The town minister “enchanted” the town to protect it from “witches.” The town “wakes” for one day every 100 years and vanishes while the townsfolk sleep. If a local leaves the enchantment is broken and Brigadoon vanishes permanently... So the townsfolk can't let Harry leave...

Chicago’s Goodman Theatre is opening a revised Brigadoon this week. Director Rachel Rockwell discussed the project with New City Stage. The discussion suggests that Brigadoon will now be escaping the Scottish/English wars rather than witches. Time will tell if the revisions minimize the town’s fascist tendencies or embrace the stories darkness.

Unfortunately, Gene wakes up the next day and, realizing that everyone he’s ever known or loved has been dead for 50 years, spends most of the day crying. The day after that, he wakes up and the town has materialized in the middle of a high-speed rail line, killing half the town’s inhabitants. The day after that, they’re all killed by aliens.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On A Clear Day (v.2)



In 1965 Daisy Gamble flashed back to her past life as Melinda Wells. This allowed one actress to play two roles but the plot gave them little to do.

In 2011 Daisy was rewritten as David Gamble, a gay man with a past life as a female jazz singer. Was this a terrible idea? Not necessarily.
  • Is David in the closet at the start of the show? Or at least insecure about his sexuality?
  • Melinda was at one point written for an African American actress. Did the adversity she faced in the 1940’s frighten or inspire David’s life as a gay man in the 1970’s?
  • What journey do these two characters make over the course of the show? What does David learn from his past as Melinda to carry him into his future?


The writers didn’t answer these questions, instead choosing to focus on David’s relationship to Dr. Mark Bruckner, a widower who becomes infatuated with Melinda despite her voice coming from another man. Was this a terrible idea?... Not… necessarily…
  • Is Dr. Bruckner bisexual? If he’s always identified as straight, how does he respond to his feelings for David/Melinda? Does he begin to admire in David the qualities he admired in Melinda?
  • Will a revised libretto have him conduct his “study” of David in a more professional manner? Or keep it as sketchy as it was in the original and call him out for it?


Then Harry Connick Jr. was cast as Dr. Mark Bruckner. This was a terrible idea. The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones wrote: “in order to work, it requires a little sexual complexity on the part of Bruckner (who is now loving a woman through a man), an ambivalence that Connick (unlike the omnisexual Hugh Jackman, playing right across the street in "Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway") does not embody” The show allowed him to croon several ballads but the issues of sexuality were kept as far away from the star as possible.

Jessie Mueller made an impressive Broadway debut as Melinda, and quickly moved to the Tony winning role of Carole King, but the new libretto gave her even less to do than her predecessor. Melinda wants to be a singer, makes a winning debut, then dies young. What does this mean for David? Apparently very little.


After the critical drubbing the show received there is a chance that Peter Parnell’s libretto will vanish. That would be a shame. Encores has already produced On a Clear Day with Kristin Chenoweth but I’d love to see someone produce the two versions in rep and cast some actors who were willing to ramp up the (bi) sexual tension.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On A Clear Day (v.1)



This week Chicago's Goodman Theatre begins previews for a rewritten production of Lerner and Lowe's Brigadoon. Director Rachel Rockwell told the Chicago Tribune that the hope is the new libretto will "freshen up" a show that has fallen out of popularity in recent years. There's a lot of potential there but before I do a post on Brigadoon I thought I'd talk about another Alan Jay Lerner show that was rewritten in 2011.

Barbara Harris received rave reviews for her dual roles in On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) and was nominated for a Tony Award. She would a Tony the following year playing three roles in The Apple Tree. Neither show was a success and she soon left Broadway for Hollywood. The relationship between Daisy and her alter ego, Melinda, is an interesting one but the show was not willing to explore it. The Melinda flashbacks had, reportedly, gorgeous costumes but very little plot and raised more questions than they answered. Melinda was betrayed by a cad and died in a shipwreck. Is that why Daisy has gotten engaged to an uptight killjoy and can predict a plane crash? The libretto isn't sure as we spend more time on the Dr's infatuation with Melinda, his Higgins/Eliza-esque arguments with Daisy, and a subplot for a Tycoon who wants to leave his fortune to his reincarnated new self. The 1970 film version wrote some new songs for star Barbara Streisand but did little to strengthen the plot.

One legend goes that an enthusiastic fan told Alan Jay Lerner "At intermission I didn't know what was going to happen next!" Lerner replied "That was the problem. We didn't either."

YouTube clip of the Broadway Cast performing five songs on television.
Background Reading
Production licensing

What happened to On A Clear Day in 2011? Tune in tomorrow to find out.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Fun Home



My seven part Pride series concludes with Fun Home. Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir was brought to the Public Theatre lab in 2012 and given an official Off-Broadway production in the 2013-2014 season.

Drawing a comic based on a celebrated comic artists' work was intimidating but I was not the first. Check out Hazel Newlevant's fantastic comic summary of the show here.

New Yorker Article: Watching Sondheim Watch Fun Home
New York Times Review
Background Reading

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bad Girls: The Musical



Before Orange Is The New Black the UK prison series Bad Girls ran 8 successful seasons on ITV. In 2006 the first season of the show was adapted into a musical. The musical transferred to the West End in 2007 starring four members of the television cast. It ran two months and was filmed for DVD release.

In Karman Kregloe's article "The Problematic History of Lesbians in Musical Theater" Karman writes: "Bad Girls: The Musical, with its lesbian producers and creative team, has risen above these challenges and excuses that have kept prominent, well-developed lesbian characters offstage throughout the history of musical theater. As Helen and Nikki take their bows, lesbians will be rising from their seats cheering. "

Performance Clips
Independent Review
Background reading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Splendora


Frank-N-Furter sings "Don't dream it. Be it."
Hedwig sings "Try and tear me down."

Miss Jessie has a different goal. Rather than defy the community that rejected her she seeks to subvert them from within. She ingratiates herself with the citizens of Splendora, Texas, teaching new fashions to the women and restoring the crumbling old buildings. There's a subtle revenge playing out. By pretending to conform she's actually making over the town in her image. Only one gossipy neighbor remembers when she left the town as Timothy but that's enough to put her attempts at re-invention in jeopardy.

Trans characters are still rare in musical theater and I was thrilled to learn about Miss Jessie. Novelist Edward Smith introduced her in 1978 in his novel Splendora. The story was adapted into a musical in 1995 where it premiered at the Bay Street Theatre in New York. The work was revised and revived in 1999.

New York Times review of the premiere
Variety review of the premiere
LA Times review of the Celebration Theatre production in 2006
Celebration Theatre Clip of a duet between Jessica and Timothy (one character portrayed by two actors).
Production rights available at Samuel French.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Falsettos


William Finn wrote three short musicals about the bisexual Marvin and his family (In Trousers, March of the Falsettos, Falsettoland), before combining the latter two into the full length Falsettos. While the AIDS crisis had been addressed on stage Falsettos was the first musical to deal with the topic, two years before Rent.

The Broadway production was nominated for 7 Tony Awards. It won best book and best score but lost best musical to the fizzy Gershwin scored Crazy for YouIn Peter Filichia's novel Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award he suggests that it was the adultery, rather than the homosexuality, that upset the Tony voters. The monogamous gay couple in La Cage Aux Folles won best musical in 1984 but Marvin leaves his wife in Falsettos and nobody is punished. In Crazy For You boy leaves upper class girlfriend for cowgirl but no one felt threatened by that.

Falsettos on the Tony Awards.
Scott Miller's Analysis of March of the Falsettos.
Background reading.

Monday, June 16, 2014

La Cage Aux Folles



While some criticize La Cage for being too safe, many agree that safety made it a breakout Tony Award winning hit and opened the door for many GLBTQA shows to follow.

Tony Awards 1984 performance. (George Hearn)
Tony Awards 2005 performance. (Gary Beach)
Tony Awards 2010 performance. (Douglas Hodge)
Background Reading.
Royalties.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Gulp!

The Queer Musical Heritage Library offers a fascinating look at the GLB themed musicals and revues that flourished Off-Broadway... And Off-off-Broadway in the 1970's.

Where as yesterday's entry "Boy Meets Boy" had a cast recording and a successful revival, today's entry "Gulp!" is all but forgotten. I was fascinated by the plot synopsis which turns a closeted lifeguard's suicide attempt into the catalyst for a beach party sex farce.

Read more about Gulp! And other obscure Queer musicals here:
http://queermusicheritage.com/gm-gulp.html

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boy Meets Boy


It's PRIDE month! Let's highlight some gay musicals!

Off-Broadway in the 1970's housed a string of musicals and revues featuring gay men. One of the more successful of these was Boy Meets Boy. Political in it's A-Political nature the show is set at a 1930's screwball romance where gay and straight couples intermingle freely. When American Reporter Casey O'Brien pursues a story on English aristocrat Guy Rose he's expecting a dreamboat. The real Guy is a "frump" who needs a Cinderella makeover. Once he's ditched the ratty hair and over-sized glasses he impresses the oblivious Casey. Guy's jealous ex keeps the pair apart till he has a last minute change of heart. There's also a scene set in a male burlesque club for those who find the Fred and Ginger aesthetic too chaste. The largest straight male role is the wacky best friend who exists mainly for comic relief. How political is that?

The Guide to Musical Theatre claims the original production ran 463 performances!

In 2012 the show was revived at London's Jermyn Street Theatre to positive reviews. The "retro" setting keeps the show from feeling as dated as some of the other shows I'll feature this week.

Background reading.
Photos from the original Off-Broadway production.
Review of the London revival.

Special thanks to this fantastic site on Queer Musical Heritage.
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public



Miss Mona assured us there was "Nothin' Dirty Goin On" in her Whorehouse in Texas. However by the time she got to Vegas her girls are gyrating in phone booths singing about phone sex and overall tone was less coy.

The show opened in 1994 and ran 16 performances.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Doll's Life


She's come a long way baby?

Sequel's to self-contained stories can sound like parodies but A Doll's Life took itself very seriously. Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House ends with the faint hope of a better life for Nora. The musical expands the what-if scenario to implausible degrees having Nora achieve, and sing about, power. While Hal Prince's production was expertly done there was little in the story to interest audiences and the show closed after 5 performances.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Love Never Dies



More musical sequels this week now that the Tony Awards have passed.

One challenge in writing a sequel to Phantom of the Opera is that the Phantom had tarnished has chances as a love interest in Part 1 by going on a killing spree. In order to restore his romantic lead status in Part 2 they had to reboot other characters, retroactively undoing the arc of Part 1. Male ingenue Raul is now a drunken gambler who mistreats Christine. Confidante Meg Giry ("who is this new tutor?") has been turned into Carlotta 2.0 as a homicidally jealous burlesque singer. It's a bit jarring.

Stranger still is the revelation that the Phantom and Christine conceived a child. We saw the extent of their few interactions in Part 1. Did it happen on the boat while they sang the title song? In the bed after she passed out? On stage in front of an audience singing Point of No Return? 


Sunday, June 8, 2014

If/Then



Like Bridges, If/Then has earned adoring fans who were furious the show was not nominated for Best Musical.

The two timeline structure brings to mind Merrily We Roll Along and The Last 5 Years while the ambivalent gay/bi/straight New York Couples and Singles bring to mind Company and Rent. No one knows how long the show will run without Idina Menzel but the recently released cast album will keep this show alive in many hearts.

Nominated for Best Actress and Best Score.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bridges of Madison County


The Broadway run was short and the reviews were mixed but this show has inspired some very passionate admirers.

Nominated for Best Score.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder



Peter Filichia tells us that Avenue Q's upset in 2004 was the exception to the rule that small musicals rarely win the Tony. Will Gentleman's Guide break that trend this Sunday?

Nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bullets Over Broadway



Let's get caught up on the new musicals before Sunday's Tony Awards!

Woody Allen adapted his 1994 film faithfully for the 2014 musical Bullets Over Broadway. Rather than an original score they opted for 1920's standards... a choice that proved controversial.

Background
Reviews
Nominated for 6 Tony Awards including Best Book of a Musical.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Annie Warbucks



Bring Back Birdie didn't dissuade Charles Strouse from attempting another sequel. Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge was going to be a triumphant comeback for Dorothy Loudon. Her Tony Winning Miss Hannigan would break out of jail, replace Annie with a doppleganger, and take on wacky disguises as she attempted to seduce Oliver Warbucks for his money. One disastrous out-of-town try out later the show cancelled its Broadway engagement.

In 1993 Annie Warbucks settled for Off-Broadway. The show replaced Miss Hannigan with two new villains. Donna McKecknie's gold-digger got the best reviews and the show lasted 200 performances.

The cast album has some fun moments, and this wouldn't be the last time Annie would receive a sequel or a re-imagining.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bring Back Birdie


Or just revive him.

Bye Bye Birdie made a lot of money and folks were convinced that a sequel would do the same. Enough time had passed that there was a new generation of pop music to satirize but the show seemed content to simply repeat jokes and plot points from the original. Rose still wants to settle down, Albert still wants to be in showbiz, Mrs. Petersen's racism is still supposedly hilarious, and the new generation of kids are as crazy-mixed-up as the old.

They were awfully luck to have Chita Rivera reprise her role as Rose but she couldn't stop Bring Back Birdie from closing after 4 performances.

Read Frank Rich's review here. "If the first ''Birdie'' was invigorating, the new one is depressing right up until that curtain call...as if everyone involved had abandoned hope."

You'd think that would scare Charles Strouse off of sequels...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pipe Dream



The seventh musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein was adapted from a novel by John Steinbeck. The show ran 245 performances and was not considered a success. When Encores presented a concert version in 2012 the critics agreed that there's still some lovely music and very little plot. Some felt the material intimidated Hammerstein who made the Suzy's prostitution ambiguous.

Steinbeck: "You've turned my prostitute into a visiting nurse!"

The most bizarre legend about Pipe Dream is that a film version was proposed with the Muppets!