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.