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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Milk and Honey

Jerry Herman's first Broadway musical laid some interesting groundwork. The operating first couple struck some critics as dull. The most unconventional thing about them is the fact they don't end up together. Molly Picon's supporting comic reads as a sort of proto-Dolly Levi. In Jerry's later hits the big lady/life force would take center stage.

If Milk and Honey didn't come along for you, do you think you would have written your other shows?
JH: I don't think it would have happened as quickly as it happened. Milk and Honey certainly gave me that push, that start. Being nominated for a Tony Award [in 1962, in the category of Best Composer, a category now known as Best Score], I'll never forget the night my name was called out with [Frank Loesser] and Richard Rodgers…to hear my name called out with those guys just put me away. I was still this boy from Jersey City. I hadn't changed. It was an extraordinary adventure, filled with love.
Playbill Interview - 2011

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mack and Mabel

As with Fanny Brice, Gypsy Rose Lee and Maria Von Trapp, Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand have been preserved for future generations in a historically dubious musical. Legends say Mack and Mabel's glorious score was undercut by a gloomy book. There's a little more to it.

Mack and Mabel tells two competing stories. Mabel’s playing the tragic romance. She gets the best songs but most of her character growth happens off stage. Mack’s telling the story of his movie career. He gets 4-5 songs about his movies that start to sound alike. When people say glorious score they're right, but they're usually thinking more Time Heals Everything and less Hit 'Em On the Head.

There’s a large supporting cast with nothing to do because the book was cut to shreds during the out-of-town tryout. Gower Champion thought the key to the show were the re-enactments of Mack Sennet’s films but what’s lasted is Jerry Herman’s score. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Apple Tree

Though tuneful and sweet-tempered, this slender series of comic sketches about those silly but overpowering creatures called women was already looking faded in the 1960s, when writers like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were finding and raising their voices as feminists. But the original “Apple Tree” had the irresistible force of its star, Barbara Harris, on its side. ~ New York Times, Ben Brantley, 2006.

Three short stories made an uneven star vehicle for Barbara Harris but the critics were ready to celebrate her. Sadly she disappeared from Broadway soon after for reasons she kept to herself. When the show was revived with Kristin Chenoweth the critics again felt that the leading lady was grand but the rest of the show was easily forgotten.

The cast album reveals some forgotten gems including “What Makes Me Love Him” and “Gorgeous.”

This concludes my Bock and Harnick series. Next up Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fiddler on the Roof vs. The Rothschilds

With a time crunch this week I've decided to pay homage to (ie steal) the art style of the site that inspired this blog: Three Panel Shakespeare.

Fiddler on the Roof remains Bock and Harnick's biggest hit show. Six years afterwards they would attempt a spiritual successor. Where Tevye fought to hold on to home and tradition Mayer Rothschild wants to break free. He dies with the ghetto walls still standing but his sons carry on the family business and buy their freedom. Losing three quarters through the show bothered some audiences. The show ran a respectable 505 performances but did not capture the international acclaim of Fiddler.

Monday, May 4, 2015

One Year Anniversary

One Year.
160 posts.

Thank you all for reading!

Next on the horizon: More Bock and Harnick, Jerry Herman, and the Broadway musicals of the 2014-2015 season.

Friday, May 1, 2015

She Loves Me

GEORGE: You’ve never really looked at me.

AMALIA: I’m looking at you right now- and shall I tell you what I see? A smug, pompous, petty tyrant-very sure of himself and very ambitious.
But I see him ten years from now- selling shampoo.
And twenty years from now-selling shampoo.
And thirty years from now still selling shampoo!
Because, basically, you know what he is? Just a not-very-bright, not-very-handsome, not-very-young man with balding hair and the personality of a python!

Is this a couple you want to get together? Oddly enough yes. 

She Loves Me is a rare romcom where neither of the sparring lovers has to rewrite their personality to come together at the final curtain. By setting them in a larger workplace drama we see the tensions that are causing them to lash out and the good qualities that will make them compatible when they take the time to really see each other. The show loses money in a large house but delights in a black box.