Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Wicked's a guilty pleasure for me. There are fun songs but the book's a mess. Nothing Elphaba does in Act Two lives up to her big boast at the end of Act One. The New York Times called the novel“deadly dull” and the musical "bloated." 12 years later it’s still a hit. When the inevitable movie hits will the screenplay fill the plot holes and show us some of Elphaba’s off-stage activism?

"[Glinda's] lie, on top of the Wizard's lies, made me furious as a kid. And of course I grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, when boys I knew were being sent to kill the Wicked Witch of the Vietcong, by Nixon, who wouldn't come out of the White House and who wouldn't answer questions.'' ~ Gregory Maguire

IDINA MENZEL: Wheelchair Sister, I've been told that you've become a bitch and enslaved the Munchkins.
BITTER WHEELCHAIR SISTER: Yes, I did it because I'm angry that I'm in a wheelchair!
~ Broadway Abridged. 

Edit: Check out this gorgeous collection of Wicked fan art at Playbill.com

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Wiz

I'm super late getting this up and much commentary has already been written about NBC's fabulous production of The Wiz Live.

For more info on the show check out:
Playbill's archive of photos from the 1975 Broadway production.
Peter Filichia's recount of 1974's disastrous out of town tryout.
The New York Times' Wesley Ross gives a passionate defense of the troubled 1978 film.
Tom and Lorenzo analyze the costume design for the 2015 Broadcast.

Next on my list: Wicked!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

He's the Wiz!

I was hoping to have a Wiz/Wicked pairing up by The Wiz Live but life is getting in the way. Meanwhile, if you haven't yet seen The Wiz Live you can check it out here. NBC got it right.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Here's Where I Belong

One wonders whether [East of Eden] could ever have been made into a satisfactory musical. It is too serious- and yet in a musical, lightness is always breaking in. As a result, the climax of the play, the big moment between the unloved son and his unbending father, comes strangely after a jolly family song-and-dance number. The mind cannot adjust so easily. ~ Clive Barnes. New York Times. 1968.

When book changes went in that were not his own, McNally asked to have his name removed from the credits.... Miller relented, and the Broadway Playbill listed “Alex Gordon,” a nom de plume for novelist Gordon Cotler, as author of the book. In spite of the rewrites, much of McNally’s original work remained... A ballet and song in the show about the packing and shipping of lettuce was expectedly awful, as were all the production numbers. ~ Ken Mandelbaum. Not Since Carrie.

The song list includes a number called "Pulverize the Kaiser" and seems to keep the doomed brother Abra alive to sing in the finale: "We're a Home." 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Few works symbolize the affection Britons hold for the period more than "Return to the Forbidden Planet." This West End hit, scheduled to open in New York next Sunday at the Variety Arts Theater Off Broadway, is based on the 1956 sci-fi movie "Forbidden Planet" and relocates the plot of "The Tempest" to outer space. But its pulling power derives principally from its exhortation to the audience to sing, clap and dance to vintage hits such as "Great Balls of Fire" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll."... In London, to the disgust of the impresario Cameron Mackintosh, "Forbidden Planet" beat his production of "Miss Saigon" for the 1990 Olivier Award for Best Musical. ~ New York Times. 1991.

When I wrote it, it was the plot that came first and then the songs suggested themselves. I didn’t try and write a scene around Great Balls of Fire. I took Shakespeare’s actual tempest scene in The Tempest and thought “What’s the obvious song?” If you’re in outer space it’s going to be an asteroid storm so therefore it’s obvious to use Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire, which is cut around Shakespeare’s tempest scene. ~ Bob Carlton Interview. 2015.

Friday, November 20, 2015


It's hard to be the Diva, it's hard to be Divine
To live the life of fever with your guts on the line!
It's hard to be the Diva, the stories I could tell
My life may seem like heaven, babe, but boy is it hell!

We follow Skyscraper with another dreaming heroine. Starmites is not a great show but it can a fun guilty pleasure. The best song, DIVA, made a positive impression at the 1989 Tony Awards ceremony and the show makes a family friendly choice for school and community groups. The show received new attention when it was featured in the documentary Guys 'N Divas: Battle of the High School Musicals. 

Monday, November 16, 2015


~ Let's take a movie star and write a musical for her!
~ Sounds great. Can she sing?
~ Not really but we'll write charm songs for her and give the big ballads to the leading man.

It worked for Rosalind Russell and Lauren Bacall. It flopped for Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and many others. They leave behind broken dreams and fascinating cast albums. Take the Julie Harris vehicle Skyscraper. She's charming and the audience wants to root for her but the show won't have it. The music, plot and ultimate victory got to the men

In 1941 Lady in the Dark used dream sequences to psychoanalyze the star. Here they were mostly filler. Peter Marshall's architect makes the feeble argument that skyscrapers are a "way to the stars." He, and Charles Nelson Reilly's clown, somehow persuade her to sell her home and business for the sake of urban development.

Skyscraper qualifies as one of the weakest shows ever to receive favorable reviews... The final version of Skyscraper borrowed only the heroine’s name and the idea of her daydreaming from Rice’s play, and the daydreaming was now just a gimmick to pad out a thin evening.” ~ Ken Mandelbaum. Not Since Carrie

"It stank. A good idea needs more than a good cast and a good choreographer [Michael Kidd]...  The score generally lacked delight." ~ Ethan Mordden. Open a New Window. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Apple

Part Rocky Horror, part biblical allegory and part acid trip. The Apple gets weird fast. Legends say that the premiere audience was given free copies of the soundtrack. Shortly into the film the audience began to boo furiously and throw the records at the screen. Few walked away from this with careers intact. 

As TV Guide wrote: "Making a cult hit is harder than it looks."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shock Treatment

In 1981 the team behind the cult smash The Rocky Horror Show gathered as much of the original cast as they could for a sequel. Tim Curry was unwilling or unavailable to reprise Dr. Frank-N-Furter so a new set of villains were invented to torment Brad and Janet in Shock Treatment. A Screen Actors Guild Strike, limited distribution and mixed reviews plagued the film and it disappeared from memory.

In 2015 Richard O'Brien finally allowed a stage adaptation which premiered at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington, London. This version kept the songs, cut some of the extraneous characters and added more nudity. Reviews were enthusiastic.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Death Takes a Holiday

In 1924 La Morte in Vacanza by Alberto Casella may have resonated with an audience recovering from a war. The film adaptation in 1934 was a hit. The musical had less success in 2011. Dreamy leading man Julian Ovenden had to withdraw due to throat illness and the audience was quick to guess the stories few surprises. Pop culture has been telling us for decades that chicks dig dead guys as long as they're super cute.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ride the Cyclone

Jacob Richmond: The inspiration for the project came from how we read every day in the newspaper that forty people died in a tragedy the idea of someone being a statistic in a mass tragedy—and how hard it is to wrap your head around what their individual lives meant. It’s about humanizing the idea of a mass tragedy, which in truth contains hundreds of stories that are interrupted. We wanted to have each individual be reflected in their own music. There’s a thematic reason for why there’s a tribute to David Bowie, why there’s kind of garage band in there, and French cabaret, hip hop, pop, New Orleans swing.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Happy birthday Angela Lansbury!

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is part Mary Poppins and part Sound of Music. The film is beloved by some, forgotten by others, and managed to win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. When the film was re-released on DVD twenty minutes of cut footage and songs were restored. 

Click the tag for more of Lansbury's musical work.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More Musical Murder Mysteries

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions and put these shows on my radar.

Fun fact! The Marijuana orgy song in Murder at the Vanities inspired the Marijuana orgy song in Reefer Madness! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Murder Mysteries: Curtains

New York Times 2007: The long road to Broadway for “Curtains” has been nearly as fraught as that of “Robbin’ Hood,” the show-within-the-show that keeps losing cast and crew members to untimely ends during an out-of-town tryout in Boston. Its original book writer, Peter Stone, died in 2003, and Mr. Ebb, the lyricist, died in 2004. Enter Rupert Holmes, the writer and composer of the Tony-winning “Mystery of Edwin Drood,” who is now credited with the script and (along with Mr. Kander) additional lyrics for “Curtains.”

New York Times 2011: “Curtains” is not A-list Kander and Ebb. These are the men who wrote “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” after all. Even with its affectionate parodies of musical theater and its endearing hero, who turns out to be as good a play doctor as a crime investigator, the show never completely catches fire. But (Curtains)… is a very pleasant evening of musical theater…. At its core, “Curtains” is not a detective story. It’s a declaration of love, passionate love, for the theater.

Here’s the optimistic number they sang on the Tony’s: Show People

And here’s the cynical number they probably should have sung: It’s a Business

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Goblin Market

New York Times: The new musical version of the poem, as adapted by Peggy Harmon and Polly Pen, runs a brief 70 minutes, but it is no small accomplishment. The two authors, each of whom is better known as an actress, have extracted the juices of the original, the bitter as well as the sweet.

New City Chicago: Sensuous excess comes to life in Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market,” with proliferation of rhymes, synonyms, luscious lists of fruits and “figs to fill your mouth.” ... Like any good Victorian lesson, indulgent Laura nearly perishes while Lizzie saves her with a heroic act of abstinence.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Murder Mysteries: Something's Afoot

"Something's afoot and the butler didn't do it!"

This burlesque of Agatha Christie mysteries is too small for Broadway but sparkles in a black box. The book and score are slight but the set design is a magical puzzle box of low tech death traps.

After a tour, a short Broadway run, and a longer run in London, the show has survived in amateur groups and the occasional regional production. Though no cast recording exists the show was taped for Showtime in 1982 starring Jean Stapleton and Andy Gibb. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Murder Mysteries: Drood

Last fall I led up to Halloween with a series of horror themed musicals. This fall I'll be looking at murder mysteries.

In 1976 Walter Kerr of the New York Times dismissed the genre saying:  "It's never worked. Reason: the music totally relaxes the suspense, and the suspense makes the music seem intrusive."

The successful musical mysteries, like Drood, tend to forgo suspense for comedy. Charles Dickens died before completing The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The suspects are introduced, Drood vanishes, a disguised detective appears and the story ends. Several authors and screenwriters have supplied answers over the years, though the one Dickens foreshadows isn't very interesting. Rupert Holmes shakes things up by letting the audience vote for the identity of the killer and the detective. The audience can then pair off two of the survivors as lovers.

Few of the 8 suspects have actual motives for killing Drood and Holmes acknowledges this. He's set us in the framing device of a music hall. Many of the actors admit they simply want to sing another song.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Triassic Parq

This June I drew a fanfiction comic about the Jurassic World  I  wanted to see. In 2010 the New York Fringe Festival featured a musical retelling of Jurassic Park from the dinosaur’s point of view. Triassic Parq owes less to the Speilberg film than to the political parody Urinetown and the gender bending farces of Charles Ludlam.

New York Times: “Give the authors, Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo, a little time. Their material eventually settles into a contentedly sophomoric vibe, happy to show off here and pander there. There are worse things than seeing clever people try too hard.”

L.A. Times: “Courting laughter with broad physical comedy… the performers convey the pathos in the dinosaurs' struggles to find friendship and love from the prisons of their enormous, hungry, lethal bodies. When Caitlin the T. rex … roars out her jealousy, the sound seems to contain the pain of every scorned lover since evolution began.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


The 1991 film Dogfight was adapted into a musical in 2012. The waitress, Rose, translates easily to the musical realm. She sits right beside Marian Paroo, Fanny Brice, Lizzie Curry and other self-conscious leading ladies dipping their first toes into romance.

Eddie and his Marine buddies are a trickier bunch. Masculinity is hard to portray in musical theater. The stylized angst of West Side Story and the profanity laden camp of Grease put quotation marks around the "macho" male chorus. The angrier rhythms of Full Monty and Billy Elliot reflect men's anger at being "emasculated" by unemployment. Paul and Pasek's songs suggest the bravado of "Greased Lightning" while Duchan's crueler book scenes suggest the psychopaths of Neil Labute's In the Company of Men. 

Eddie may go too far to redeem himself to some audience members but Rose wins our heart with every song.

Up next: Triassic Parq!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Flower Drum Song v.2

In 2002 Flower Drum Song was revived on Broadway with a new book. Mei Lei had a tragic backstory, Linda had a sassy gay assistant, and the roles of showman and conservative father were combined into that of the conflicted theater/club owner. The show received mixed reviews but received a stellar cast album and opportunities for regional licensing.

DAVID HENRY HWANG: "The show, which originally arrived on Broadway in 1958, had fallen off the cultural radar, regarded as quaint, patronizing and old-fashioned. But I had always admired Rodgers and Hammerstein's ambition to write a musical about America through the eyes of Asians, who even today tend to be regarded as perpetual foreigners. And notwithstanding shows like ''Miss Saigon'' and ''Pacific Overtures,'' which are set overseas, ''Flower Drum Song'' has long stood alone as the only Broadway musical ever produced about Asian-Americans....

Over time, we evolved the story of a rundown theater in San Francisco's Chinatown, whose patriarch clings to his dreams of performing Chinese opera despite an ever-shrinking audience. The story of this theater's transformation into a Western-style nightclub became a metaphor for assimilation."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Flower Drum Song v.1

A novel about an older generation of Chinese immigrants became a musical about their children. Themes of assimilation remained but darker subplots were removed to focus on comedy and romance. Reviews were mixed but the show drew audiences and cast the leading lady in an uneven film version.

The show would gain a reputation for being condescending to the non-Americanized characters and would disappear for several decades. David Henry Hwang attempted to update the book in 2002. More on his revision in my next post.

DAVID HENRY HWANG: I think the original FDS ("Flower Drum Song") was demonized during a period in American social history when it was necessary to do so. When APA's (Asian Pacific Americans) began writing our own stories, we needed to draw a distinction between our work and popular examples of these stories which were written by non-Asians. Nowadays, when Asian authors and films are more numerous and popular, we're able to view the original FDS ("Flower Drum Song") in a more balanced and nuanced light.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

One Touch of Venus

Marlene Dietrich dropped out of the show calling it "too sexy and profane." Stage fright seems more likely. She was replaced by Mary Martin. Martin had made a splashy Broadway debut in 1938 singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" in Cole Porter's Leave it To Me. Her legendary moment in Venus came when she sat on a chair on an empty stage and crooned the song "That's Him." The brassy comedy suddenly had a heart and the audience was spell bound.

A film and TV broadcast have faded from memory and the show is seldom revived. Kurt Weill purists have dismissed this slight show for a lack of politics. However if you squint at this gentle  farce there is social commentary to be found. Venus inspires more fear than lust from those around her and is dismayed by the lack of romance in the modern world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

American Idiot

Rolling Stone: The Nineties' irrepressible punk brats grew up with a bang, proving they could take on the kind of gargantuan old-school concept album that nobody else seemed to have the guts to try anymore. Billie Joe Armstrong raged against the political complacency of Bush-era America with ferocity and a Who-size sense of grandeur.

New York Times: Pop on Broadway, sure. But punk? Yes, indeed, and served straight up, with each sneering lyric and snarling riff in place.

Peter Filichia: “If we didn’t have so ugly a society, we wouldn’t have shows as ugly as American Idiot. In the post-9/11 world, everything seemed to be breaking down- including perfect rhymes in lyrics.”

Broadway Abridged:
DIRECTOR MICHAEL MAYER: So what do you think the... Rock opera would be about?
BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: Maybe things don't work out the way you think they'll work out, or maybe that girl you feel like drunk dialing once in awhile... (trails off, smiles weirdly)

Tony Awards clip here.
Chicago premiere clip here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

By Jupiter

A forgotten play starring Katharine Hepburn as an Amazon warrior...
Became a forgotten musical starring Ray Bolger as the unhappy Amazon king. The show was their longest running hit.

New York Times, 1942: “Mr Bolger… can cross the stage like a waif, or a king, he can sing or mug. He can play the unhappy, mincing consort of Hippolyta before the Greeks brought the breath of new thought into the kingdom of the Amazons, and afterwards he can bellow like an injured Senator. There is much for him to do and Mr. Bolger is not one to back away from a part. He is magnificent.”

Larry Hart was not at his best of health in 1942. The comedy based on reverse gender roles (Women acting likemen? Crazy!) was stale in revival and the Rodgers and Hart score was dismissed. 

New York Times, 1967: “This particular score – which always was a second-best in the Rodgers-Hart canon- is full of tunes that are little more than titles. Someone got a bright first idea, jotted it down as it stood, and then never did bother to turn the juice on.”
We won’t be seeing this one at Encores any time soon, but here are some clips of the big numbers.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee

Mark Twain's story was a cynical take down of modern greed. The musical settles for a love triangle. Legends say that Rodgers tried to save his partnership with the alcoholic Larry Hart by pitching a revisal for their Pal Joey star Vivienne Segal. Sadly Hart passed shortly after opening. His last song was a showstopping "To Keep My Love Alive."

The show is not favored for revival due to a dull book that the New York Times called "feeble" in 1943 and "quaint" in 2001. The songs "Thou Swell" and "My Heart Stood Still" were hits and "To Keep My Love Alive" has been recorded by the likes of Mary Testa, Ella Fitzgerald and Elaine Stritch.

The Bing Crosby film in 1949 used the same source story but a different (and in my opinion inferior) score.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Marilyn: An American Fable

The Smash producers are gauging interest for a full production of Bombshell. The Marilyn Monroe bio-musical has no book but some terrific power ballads. This has encouraged the theater blogs to re-examine past Marilyn Monroe musicals including the campy Marilyn: An American Fable.

Frank Rich, New York Times: "If you read all the fine print in the Playbill for ''Marilyn: An American Fable,'' you'll discover that the new musical at the Minskoff has 16 producers and 10 songwriters. If you mistakenly look up from the Playbill to watch the show itself, you may wonder whether those 26 persons were ever in the same rehearsal room - or even the same city - at the same time."

Ken Mandelbaum, Not Since Carrie: "More than ten numbers and forty-five minutes were dropped before opening night... The show seemed to be the work of eight-year-olds assigned to write a musical about Monroe, so dumb it was almost inspired."

Clips from the original production reveal some terrible songs, but the soaring ballad "You Are So Beyond" has been a breakout hit for earnest tenors.

Less footage remains of London's Marilyn! The Musical which opened the same year. Preliminary research suggests it was a sungthrough popera inspired by Evita. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Musical Theater vs. The Outsider

Hilton Als: "Difference is usually synonymous with danger: it’s the outsider or the outcast who introduces sex and violence into the musical’s relatively moral world. (American musicals almost always argue in favor of the status quo.)"

Scott Miller:  This is also a common device in many musicals, in which the protagonist must either assimilate into the community (as in The Music Man, Brigadoon, La Cage aux Folles, Hello, Dolly!) or be removed (as in Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Man of La Mancha, Bat Boy, Urinetown).

Stephen Sondheim: "I remember how everyone goes off to the clambake at the end of Act One and Jigger just follows, and he was the only one walking on stage as the curtain came down. I was sobbing."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Panama Hattie

Class war is a staple of an Ethel Merman musical.

Disposable love interests are another. Poor Nick Bullet, the aristocrat, appears once on the song list in a duet with Hattie titled “MyMother Would Love You.” The featured duet in a Merman musical was  a friendship duet. Here it’s “Let’s Be Buddies” where Merman wins over Nick’s spoiled daughter.

The stakes are briefly raised with a terrorist attack (!?) but no mad bomber stands a chance against Ethel. 

Monday, August 10, 2015


Bob Fosse mocks Pippin's rehearsal process in the movie All ThatJazz. The perky composer has written a cheerful show that Fosse’s surrogate keeps twisting with erotic choreography. Pippin is often the least interesting person Pippin. It’s easy for Fosse's style and the flashy supporting roles to overshadow the Everyman plot. 

Scott Miller argues that there’s more to Pippin’s story than many realize see: “The show deals with the coming of age, the rites of passage, the lack of role models and guidelines for the young adults of today's society, and the hopelessness that has become more and more prevalent among young people. Because of its 1970's pop style score and a somewhat emasculated licensed version which is very different from the original Broadway production, the show has a reputation for being merely cute and harmlessly naughty; but if done the way director Bob Fosse envisioned it, the show is surreal and disturbing."

Friday, August 7, 2015

[title of show]

Me: How do we draw a comic about [title of show]?
Me: Well the show is meta. Maybe a meta comic where the characters complain about how they're drawn?
Me: That could be insufferable.
Me: No more time! That's what we're going with.
Me: We need a writing partner.

[title of show] is a deceptive creature. It starts as a Forbidden Broadway type spoof of musical conventions then morphs into a heartfelt look at the pains of being an artist when you fear no one wants your art. The creators left their characters thinly sketched allowing other artists to step into the roles in future productions. In 2012 they wrote a prequel of sorts, titled Now. Here. This. where they shared some stories from their personal backgrounds that led to the creation of nine people's favorite thing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Happy End

Legends say that Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, sabotaged the opening of their own show to prevent the career of writing partner Elisabeth Hauptmann. Brecht scholars would debate the uncredited role she played in Brecht's prior work and whether she'd meant Happy End to launch an independent career. Helen Weigel staged a political protest in the middle of the performance, audiences booed, and Happy End was temporarily forgotten.

Several songs, including the Bilboa Song and Surabaya Johnny, gained some airplay on their own. The full show would find a new life in 1977 for a short lived Broadway production with Christopher Lloyd and Meryl Streep.

The slight gangsters vs. salvation army plot has been considered a sequel to The Threepenny Opera and a spiritual precursor to Guys and Dolls.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Quick Sketch: Guys and Dolls

Lunch time " work meetings" are cutting into my lunch time art so this will have to be a quick sketch.

Guys and Dolls is regarded by some as a perfect musical. The uneven movie and some poorly received revivals have reminded us that it is not fool proof. You'll notice very little Nathan and Adelaide in the synopsis. They get far too much material to be dismissed as "supporting roles" but Sky and Sarah most definitely carry the plot. 

But then there' s not much plot in act two either. Damon Runyon's original story, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, ended with Sarah rolling the dice for Sky's soul. The dice rolling goes to Sky in the musical leaving Sarah little to do in Act Two but sing "Marry the Man Today." None of this is a negative. It's just interesting to re-examine the "perfect" musical's structure after some time away from it.

Adelaide's Lament remains my favorite showtune and I'll always have a special place in my heart for the 1992 revival cast. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Burrows gave audiences the standard musical comedy treatment in Philadelphia. Audiences snored. Albee  restored the darkness of the source material in Boston. Audiences booed and producer David Merrick shut it all down. The scandal lifted the show to mythical flop status. When the score was  given a recording people were disappointed. We were expecting insanity and got mediocrity.

Edward Albee: "They made a perfectly safe, middlebrow, mediocre and, I thought, extremely boring musical that would have probably run a year on Broadway. I managed to turn it into a disaster that never opened on Broadway.”

A similar thing happened to the Richard Greenberg play in 2013. Truman Capote's stories are better remembered for atmosphere than plot. The film Breakfast at Tiffany's rewrote the story considerably but is remembered for Audrey Hepburn and Moon River. A stage adaptation has neither of those to draw from.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

House of Flowers

Whimsy to the rescue!

Backstage feuds between the star, director and writers led to many rewrites and an aimless plot. The show closed quickly but the score produced the standards "A Sleepin Bee" and "I Never Has Seen Snow." While Pearl Bailey reportedly demanded more songs for her character these ballads both belonged to Diahann Carroll in her Broadway debut.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Grass Harp

Once Truman Capote gets his misfits into the tree house he's not sure what to do with them. So Karen Morrow shows up as a hippie revivalist and sings 12 minutes of white gospel!

The Grass Harp would not be Karen's last Broadway musical but it would be for Barbara Cook. After a string of flops she opted to focus on her concert career, coming back for the occasional Sondheim revue.

The New York Times wrote: “The musical is also folksy and fey, in so far as it has any real character at all, for it is the kind of show that is almost as difficult to dislike as to like…. Mr. Capote’s concept of pastoral innocence and goodness suffers from mawkish sentimentality and dies quietly with scarcely a murmured protest.”

Luckily for fans of the score there was a cast album and a televised concert.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Had a Ball

In a heartbreaking interview with the Phoenix New Times Karen Morrow stated:

"I've analyzed this, trying to think of why I've had so many flops. I keep coming back to my contemporaries ... it was always the ones who could sing but also had something extra, something interesting about themselves ... I think with me, I was just a singer with a big voice and I was pleasant, and that can only take you so far." 

Karen Morrow is known by musical theatre connoisseurs for her thrilling voice and flop shows. She made her debut in the Buddy Hackett musical “I Had a Ball” and supplied the vocal thrills that Hackett could not. Her love interest, Richard Kiley, found greener pastures next year as the “Man of La Mancha.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gwen Verdon Vehicles

The backstage stories are similar too.

Gwen Verdon’s desire to act vs. the producer’s desire for dancing.
Bob Fosse’s desire for dark eroticism vs. the collaborator’s desire to lighten up the source material.

New Girl In Town won Tony’s for Verdon and her co-star, Thelma Ritter, but flopped. Sweet Charity lost Tony’s to Mame and Man of La Mancha but went on to a film and revivals.

It's a shame Verdon didn't get to recreate more of her stage work on film. We're very lucky we got Damn Yankees preserved along with her work on the Ed Sullivan show.

Meanwhile my inspiration at Three Panel Shakespeare has drawn some more musicals of her own including Gwen Verdon's break-out show Can-Can!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has structural similarities to the Sondheim/ Weidman musical Assassins. Both pit their historical characters against a snarky narrator who warns them that history will not remember them fondly. Both start with series of comic sketches before settling down for an extended dialogue scene where the stakes are raised. Jackson sings that his intentions were good. The narrator reminds him, and the audience, that history judges us for our actions.

The show received positive reviews but small audiences and closed after 94 performances on Broadway. Next season the Broadway transfer of Hamilton hopes to find the audience that Jackson could not.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ben Franklin in Paris

More experiments with digital tools. Still not confident drawing with a mouse.

Musical Historian Ethan Mordden praised Michael's book but dismissed the Michael's and Herman score. The New York Times review snubbed the book as well. Robert Preston received mixed reviews for his funny, but very contemporary, Franklin.

Mr. Preston's rapier way with a wisecrack is very much of our time and our theater. When he has to read lines that are as relevant to Ben Franklin as a missile with a nuclear warhead, he gives them so much contemporary snap that the spirit of '76 is instantly dispelled... Not even Mr. Preston's superb salesmanship can con one into thinking that there is magic in this musical's pitch.  ~ Howard Taubman. New York Times. 1964.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Even if we're not familiar with the history we think we know the ending. The success of 1776 owes less to the score than the clever book which manages to generate suspense and leave the ending in doubt.

Being cast in the show is a fun but strange experience. The soloists tend to sing their song then vanish. The congressmen are on stage for most of the show but many stop singing after the opening number.

Edit: Fixed a typo and increased the font size.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pride Series pt 2

Last summer I devoted a week to posting about musicals with GLBT themes and characters. This summer my schedule is less accommodating but I'm putting up a quick sketch of four more. It's an interesting combination as we have two angsty, unrequited romances and two label-bending romantic farces.

If you haven't gotten around to seeing Julie Andrews perform Le Jazz Hot you'll want to click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Three Panel Movie: Jurassic World

And now for something completely different.

Jurassic Fan Fic

Part 1 - Chris Pratt's sensitive animal trainer flirts with B.D. Wong's uptight corporate scientist as they search the park for a missing dinosaur.

Part 2 - The genetically modified dinosaur avoids the humans, searching the park for a herd she can belong to. The audience praises the Frankenstein's monster type sympathy we develop for this surprisingly well developed CGI character.

Part 3 - The intelligent children wisely lock themselves in a secure bunker under the visitor center and stay there till the film is over.

But seriously... the movie is dumb but it's still better than part three.
And there actually is a Jurassic Park parody musical.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Broadway Musicals of 2016

The 2015 Tony's have been awarded and the Broadway theaters have booked new musicals for 2016. Here's a quick look at what's in store. You can read more at Playbill.com.

I'll be slowing down the blog posts this summer but wanted to thank everyone again for reading!

*** Edit: Thanks to the reader who caught my typo!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tony Awards 2015: The nominees

The 2014 Tony nominees for best musical included two jukebox musicals, a Disney cartoon adaptation, and the well deserved winner A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. I'm pleased to see that three of 2015 Tony nominees possess original scores and the fourth, An American In Paris, is primarily a ballet making it more ambitious than most screen to stage adaptations.

You can take a look at this season's non-nominated musicals here. I've devoted longer posts to Fun Home and The Visit in the past during their pre-Broadway incarnations. Thanks again to Tickle-Brain's Three Panel Shakespeare who's style I pay homage to today (and who is now doing musical recaps of their own).

The Tony Awards will be broadcast this Sunday, June 7, on CBS at 8pm ET / 7pm CT.

Friday, May 29, 2015

On The Town

A rough experiment with digital art tools today.

On The Town was a hit in 1944 but the ’59, ‘71 and ‘98 revivals flopped. Audiences remember the song New York, New York, but resist the blend of high and low comedy. The current production has fared better and received a Tony nomination for best revival.

"In social terms, the most fascinating aspect of ''On the Town'' today is that its women are the active romantic partners, a mirror of changing sexual roles in the war years." ~ New York Times, 1998

On the Town” traffics in two kinds of exaggerations, that of the earthy, even dirty cartoon and of the gossamer romance of poets. This reflects the bi-cultural nature of Robbins and Bernstein, who belonged equally to Broadway and the concert hall." ~ New York Times, 2014.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

On The Twentieth Century

The role of Lily Garland was a showcase for the divine Madeline Kahn. Legends say that a combination of health problems and creative differences led to Kahn's departure 9 weeks into the run. She was replaced by the delightful Judy Kaye and the show lasted 449 performances.

On the Twentieth Century won Tony's for book, score, and leading men, but soon disappeared. Without a star leading lady critics felt their wasn't much point in reviving it. Marin Mazzie headlined a concert in 2005 and Kristin Chenoweth is dominating the current revival. She faces steep competition in the Tony race but the new cast recording suggests that her performance is dynamite!

"Some thought of On the Twentieth Century as Kiss Me, Kate on a train. But the earlier show, despite its marvelous score, mixes a messy chowder of Shakespeare, operetta and vaudeville, while the later show is above all consistent. ~ Ethan Mordden. One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The King and I

And now a look at this season's Tony nominated revivals.

A memoir inspired a novel
Which inspired a film
Which inspired Gertrude Lawrence to commission a musical star vehicle
Where she was upstaged by her co-star Yul Brynner
Who ended up playing the role 4,625 times on stage.
The musical has inspired a television sitcom, parodies and a dreadful animated film.

You can read more about the history of the work in Scott Miller’s insightful essay.

I took the zing,
out of the King of Siam!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tony Awards 2015 : The Nominees Aren't...

It's Tony season! Before I look at the nominees for best musical I wanted to take a quick look at the new musicals that weren't nominated in this category.

Were they robbed or was justice served? Sound off in the comments.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Grand Tour

If Jerry Herman’s best score is that to Mame, his greatest hit is Hello, Dolly! And the cult favorites are Dear World and Mack & Mabel. So The Grand Tour is his unappreciated title. ~ Ethan Mordden – One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970's.

With vaudevillian elements rubbing shoulders with the unpleasant spectacle of summary arrests and executions, at times you feel you’re only a few goosesteps away from the bad taste of that spoof Producers musical, Springtime for Hitler. Still, amid a generally pleasing score, there’s one stirring stand-out number of survivors’ defiance, I’ll Be Here Tomorrow, which is up there with “I Am What I Am”, that famous anthem from Herman’s later, greater La Cage Aux Folles. ~ Dominic Cavendish - The Telegraph. 2015.

While the original play Jakobowsky and the Colonel had the two leads evenly matched the musical adaptation was designed as a star vehicle. Joel Gray's Jakobowsky carried the show while Ron Holgate's Colonel was made into a supporting buffoon. Their conflicting worldviews and eventual truce were under served by this shift. The show closed after 61 performances. Jerry Herman added songs to the Marx Brothers pastiche A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine but would not write another full Broadway score till his Tony winning La Cage Aux Folles in 1983.