Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Street Scene

[Producer Theron Bamberger] opened the fly leave and looked at the cast of characters. “Twenty-two characters,” he said. “Too many.” And the play was returned forthwith to Mr. Rice. ~ New York Times, Adele Nathan, 2/2/1947

The play would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize and be adapted into a Tony Award winning Opera. The family tragedy at the center branches off into subplots and vignettes for the neighbors and vendors that visit the central brownstone, expanding the cast from 22 to 30. 

On a side note, I'm realizing that the slice of life structure, and the brownstone set, had an influence on 2004's Avenue Q. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Adding Machine

Elmer Rice's bleak 1923 play was adapted into a musical in 2007. I was impressed with how much humor the work mined while remaining true to the source material. I was also saddened by how timely the themes of destructive capitalism and social alienation remained.

Musical theater protagonists often strive to rewrite their fate, but Mr. Zero seems resigned to his. His most drastic actions occur when change is forced upon him. Rice asks whether Mr. Zero is a victim of society or a willing participant in a corrupt system.

*** Spoiler **** There are a lot of musicals about murderers aren't there? Shortly after watching a production of Adding Machine I listened to the cast album of Duncan Sheik's American Psycho Musical. While Patrick Bateman has reached a level of wealth Mr. Zero could only dream of they are both slowly dying inside. This causes them to make very bad decisions.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Catered Affair

"She never asked for much/
Because we taught her/
Not to expect to much/
Our only Daughter"

Like Far from Heaven, A Catered Affair takes a film about an unhappy 50's housewife and adapts it into a musical drama. While Cathy's situation goes from sunny to somber, Aggie's starts glum, with her son's funeral, and only improves slightly at the end. Comic relief was supposed to come from Cathy's brother, but Harvey Fierstein beefed up the role for himself making the character as angry and somber as the rest of the family.

"A short (90 minutes) but slow depiction of the family-fracturing pressures of planning an expensive wedding, “A Catered Affair” is so low key that it often seems to sink below stage level." ~ Ben Brantley, New York Times

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Far From Heaven

I’ve discussed several musicals that explore the leading lady’s conflict between marriage and career. This month I’ll be looking at a collection of shows whose leads are unfulfilled housewives.

Housewife: a married woman whose main occupation is caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework.

Musicals often explore characters inner thoughts but the lyrics of Far From Heaven mirror the dialogue of Todd Haynes’ 2001 film. This leaves the music itself to explore the subtext of the deeply repressed characters.  Cathy’s opening song, “Autumnin Connecticut,” is less “I want” than “I am.” She won’t begin to question her life till her husband Frank’s infidelity is revealed. Cathy’s music is operatic while Frank and the chorus express themselves through Angry Jazz. Raymond, the gardener, shares Cathy’s musical language signaling their bond. Frank will not adopt this language till he accepts his homosexuality in the tear-jerking ballad “I Never Knew.” By the end the three have much in common but society will force them to part. Two of the stars stars, Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara, would quickly jump to the similarly themed Bridges of Madison County

This is my 200th comic! That's 600 panels of musicals. Thanks to all of you for reading!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Starlight Express

Co-worker: "Why are you drawing gay Transformers?" 
Me: Because Starlight Express!

I'd been told the story was "The Little Engine that Could" on roller skates. It starts that way but goes into much more... interesting places.

Frank Rich of the New York Times noticed as well. In his 1987 review he wrote:

"Andrew Lloyd Webber modestly explains that he conceived his new musical, ''Starlight Express,'' as an entertainment ''event'' for children who love trains. Over two numbing hours later, you may find yourself wondering exactly whose children he has in mind...

All the women are subservient carriages vying for the favors of mostly abusive male locomotives - with only an androgynous male caboose occupying lower social status. This hierarchical scheme is reinforced by Ms. Phillips's muscle-flexing choreography, seemingly inspired by male physical-culture magazines, and by the robotic costumes, which emphasize codpieces for the men and tight corsets and miniskirts for their groupies."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don't You Ever Forget It!)

Tom Eyen would go on to write the libretto for Dreamgirls. Paul Jabara would go on to write the disco hits “Last Dance,” and “The Main Event,” and co-write “It’s Raining Men.” The actors (including Ellen Greene, Anita Morris, Andre De Shields, Kelly Bishop and Wayne Cliento)  would go on to hit shows and Tony Awards.

But on the night of December 1, 1973, they were playing a packed house at the 7th preview and closing night for the disco musical Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don’t You Ever Forget It!). The early closing secured it a place in flop history. The extra 'A' in "Rachael" is the one dropped from Barbra Streisand's name.

“What followed was a musical fantasy of surpassing lavishness that made no sense, at any level, from beginning to end. The majority of the crowd fell into a sullen, open-mouthed stupor like that with which the audience greets the opening scenes of ''Springtime for Hitler,'' the fictitious Broadway flop within Mel Brooks's film ''The Producers.'' But no one walked out: ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom'' became an existential test which everyone was determined to pass. The cast, many of whom were dressed in silver lame g-strings, attacked their tasks as if they were performing ''Guys and Dolls.''