Friday, January 30, 2015

Football Musicals: All American and Good News

Good News was a hit. It got a film, revivals and revisals. The football hero can't play in the big game unless he passes the big test. His pretty new tutor helps him but his chance at romance is nearly dashed by a clingy ex.

All American was a flop. The football hero got the romantic subplot while the focus went to Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz) as his zany Engineering teacher. Ray nearly loses his love interest and his self respect when he sells out to a corrupt corporate sponsor.

Other singing football players include the washed up Wreck of Wonderful Town and the beefcakey Aggies of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Hey, just realized I finally got a 20's show in here! 

Happy Super-Bowl!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pacific Overtures

But no amount of performing, or of incidental charm, can salvage "Pacific Overtures." The occasion is essentially dull and immobile because we are never properly placed in it, drawn neither East nor West, given no specific emotional or cultural bearings. The evening is a Japanese artifact with a stamp on the back of it that says "Made in America." And perhaps turnabout is fair play. But it does raise a basic question, for us if not for the Japanese. Why tell their story their way, when they'd do it better? ~ Walter Kerr. New York Times. 1976.

Eschewing visual spectacle, director Gary Griffin employs a formal, minimalist approach perfectly suited to the show's key influences, Kabuki and haiku... The result is riveting theater--and a thought-provoking illustration of how a society sure of its own righteousness and invulnerability can be reshaped, even undone in a moment. ~ Albert Williams. Chicago Reader. 2001.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George sits precariously on the edge between traditional plot-driven musicals and the concept musicals developed mostly by Stephen Sondheim and director Hal Prince. Like concept musicals, Sunday explores an idea more than telling a story, and yet it does still tell a story. The difference is that the exposition and conflicts are established in the 1880s but the resolution comes a hundred years later to a protagonist who is a different man and yet the same. ~ Scott Miller

Seurat, the authors remind us, never sold a painting; it's anyone's guess whether the public will be shocked or delighted by ''Sunday in the Park.'' What I do know is that Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine have created an audacious, haunting and, in its own intensely personal way, touching work. Even when it fails - as it does on occasion - ''Sunday in the Park'' is setting the stage for even more sustained theatrical innovations yet to come.' ~ Frank Rich, New York Times, 1984.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Anyone Can Whistle

Anyone Can Whistle is really two musicals, two very different, not entirely compatible musicals. It's part absurdist social satire, breaking the fourth wall, acknowledging itself as theatre, rejecting naturalism and sometimes even logic; and part romantic musical comedy, complete with love songs and a happily ever after for the hero and heroine (and even the villains). So many people have tried to stage the show but have crashed and burned because they couldn't reconcile the two distinct styles. ~ Scott Miller

The idea that it’s the wackos who are sane, and vice versa, was a cornerstone of 1960s counterculture. (That was a decade when “You’re crazy” became the highest of compliments.) And I suppose that it could be argued that “Anyone Can Whistle” was ahead of its time in advancing this notion, given that movies with similar themes, like “King of Hearts” and “The Graduate,” would soon become talismanic favorites of young Americans. ~ Ben Brantley, New York Times.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Road Show

“Sooner or later we’re bound to get it right.”

Stephen Sondheim devoted over a decade to writing a musical about the Mizner brothers. He’d read their story at age 22 and held onto the obsession till the rights were available. The piece went through several collaborators, tones and titles (Wise Guys, Gold!, Bounce) before settling into Road Show. What was once intended to be a vaudeville tinged musical comedy became a somber piece and received mixed reviews.

Some critics felt the brothers were underdeveloped and that Addie’s devotion to Willy remained unexplained. Others saw the characters as archetypes representing conflicting sides of the American dream. Another group saw the beleaguered gay artist Addison as a stand in for Stephen Sondheim battling a lifetime of inner demons.

Will the next revival of Road Show convince critics they finally “understand it?” Will songs like "The Best Thing That Ever Happened," “Talent” and “Isn’t He Something” get the same concert and cabaret attention as Sondheim’s other ballads? Will this be Sondheim’s last musical?

“And doesn't he sparkle?
See how he glides!

Isn't he something!”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Saturday Night

"... his novice professional effort, "Saturday Night," written before "West Side Story" and abandoned when its producer died. The show had been consigned to a trunk for nearly half a century, though the experience of writing it, and of its young author's first efforts to break into the theater, were at the core of "Merrily."

"I don't have any emotional reaction to 'Saturday Night' at all -- except fondness," Sondheim says. "It's not bad stuff for a 23-year-old. There are some things that embarrass me so much in the lyrics -- the missed accents, the obvious jokes. But I decided, Leave it. It's my baby pictures. You don't touch up a baby picture -- you're a baby!""

~ Conversations with Stephen Sondheim

Monday, January 12, 2015

Do I Hear a Waltz?

The fiercest critic of this 1964 American musical is one of its co-creators. It was Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to Richard Rodgers's score, who dubbed it a "Why?" musical, meaning a perfectly respectable show that has no reason for being. Actually, it's rather better than that and, in this rare revival by Charles Court Opera, exudes a pleasant, watery charm...

But it is Sondheim who provides the salt to go with Rodgers's sugar, and although the relationship between the two men was notoriously fraught, you periodically find the young lyricist pushing the old composer into new territory.~  Guardian. 2014.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Merrily We Roll Along

Three artists become friends. One becomes rich and the other two turn on him. Is Frank a villain, a cipher, or a victim of of his clingy friends' unrequited crushes? The 2013 London broadcast made a case for the latter with a surprisingly sympathetic Frank, torn like Company's Bobby between some nasty friends and lovers. However Frank's solo "Growing Up" is spent complaining about his friends. He never gets an "I want" solo to tell us exactly why his career path changes, so we're left to view him through the unreliable lenses of Charley and Mary. 

AS we all should probably have learned by now, to be a Stephen Sondheim fan is to have one's heart broken at regular intervals. ~ Frank Rich, New York Times, 1981. 

In Harold Prince’s original staging the ensemble was notable for its youth and lack of professional experience. Mr. Prince has said he envisioned the show as a sort of “Babes in Arms”-like frolic for fresh-faced performers. But Mr. Sondheim, being Mr. Sondheim, streaked even the show’s sunniest songs with chilling shadows of melancholy. ~ Ben Brantley, New York Times, 2012.

Merrily, for most of its length, chides Frank for "selling out," and this could be the prime reason why audiences don't take to the show. Face it: Most theatergoers must feel as if they've sold out in some capacity. ~ Peter Filichia, 2005

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Frogs

“In Aristophanes' account, Dionysus must choose between Aeschylus and Euripides as the playwright to revitalize rotten old Athens. Shevelove, whose first (nonmusical) version of ''The Frogs'' was performed in 1941 when he was an instructor at Yale, subsituted Shaw and Shakespeare. When the show was resurrected in 1974, Shevelove enlisted Mr. Sondheim, with whom he had collaborated on an earlier, happier slice of singing antiquity, ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”… Though the (1974) production, which starred Larry Blyden, ran only a week, it has since acquired a mythic, Brigadoonish haze in the land of showbiz, thanks in part to its exotic (and acoustically disastrous) aquatic setting and a student chorus that included Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep and the playwright Christopher Durang.” ~ New York Times

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music, which opened at the Shubert Theater last night, is heady, civilized, sophisticated and enchanting. It is Dom Perignon. It is supper at Laserre. It is a mixture of Cole Porter, Gustva Mahler, Antony Tudor and just a little of Ingmar Bergman. And it is more fun than any tango in a Parisian suburb… Good God! – an adult musical!” ~ Clive Barnes. New York Times. 1973.

I was introduced to A Little Night Music by the 1977 film. The cast featured three members of the Broadway company, a game Elizabeth Taylor and a star turn from Diana Rigg. I loved it and was surprised to learn the film is widely despised by fans of the show (which is despised in turn by fans of Bergman’s original film). Looking back on my first visit to the Sweeney Todd film I can sympathize.  Even the popular Into the Woods has caused some to clung to their PBS DVD’s and weep bitter tears. While the Night Music film cut the Greek Chorus and a considerable portion of the score it inspired some lovely new material from Sondheim.