Friday, July 29, 2016

Bye Bye Birdie

In 2014 I wrote a post on Bring Back Birdie, the dreadful sequel to Bye Bye Birdie. The sequel had the same writers, star and structure but lightning didn't strike twice.

As I attempted to summarize Bye Bye Birdie I was reminded of what a bizarre show it truly is. The libretto juggles 5 principal characters, 2 key supporting roles, 2 romances and the teens vs. parents conflict. The hip rock star, Conrad Birdie, gets the title but the old-fashioned heart of the story is carried by Rosie and her desire to settle down with Albert.

If Dick Van Dyke wasn't playing him Albert would be a very unpleasant character. That's one reason revivals keep flopping. It was made clear in the sequel when he dumps Rosie for a "newer model." It's better to ignore the sequel and let their story end with Bye Bye Birdie's charming finale.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

High Spirits

Last night I saw the new Ghostbusters movie. I loved the cast and their banter. I was disappointed in the ghosts. The designs were generic and they behaved like bosses in a video game. If the franchise continues I'd like to see more interplay between the ghosts and mortals.

This made me think of the musical High Spirits. Noel Coward agreed to direct this adaption of his play Blithe Spirit though he eventually ceded control to Gower Champion. The supporting role of Madam Arcati, the medium, was expanded for comedienne Beatrice Lillie. Sadly Lillie was in ill health and would improvise large portions of her dialogue. This delighted audiences but enraged Coward.

Elvira, the ghostly wife, gets a fun establishing song: You Better Love Me While You May. The rest of the score is pleasant but forgettable. The play gets regular revivals while the musical is largely forgotten.

"As Coward surely meant it, however, it presents a homosexual whose closet marriage is destroyed by the reappearance of an old boy friend." ~ Ethan Mordden, Open a New Window

Even if “High Spirits” had no other attractions—and it has a stageful—it would be cause for celebration. It has brought back Beatrice Lillie. ~ Howard Taubman, New York Times.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha makes a case for optimism in tragic times. Though remembered primarily for the big song it always proves timely. Sadly a poorly sung film and a bland revival have dimmed the shows reputation.

"In its heart, Man of La Mancha is about the 1960s, and by extension, about any time of political unrest – including today – and it is about the responsibility of each of us to make the world a better place than we found it." ~ Scott Miller

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The SpongeBob Musical

Earlier this month I compared The SpongeBob Musical to Lil' Abner. Both involve a collection of cartoon characters fighting to save their town from destruction. There are some key differences. The villains drive the plot in Lil' Abner. Abner himself has little to do. He's mostly along for the ride. In The Spongebob Musical there is no chief antagonist. The threat to the town is an active volcano. Spongebob and Sandy go off on a Lord of the Rings-style journey to drop a machine inside the volcano and stop the eruption.

The SpongeBob Musical recently closed their Chicago tryout. Reviews were positive and a Broadway transfer may be announced soon. Many praised Ethan Slater's lead performance and Gavin Lee's 11'o clock tap number. Others pointed out that the show was too long for the target audience. Any rewrites before the transfer may prove challenging. The score is written by a collection of pop composers. Cutting any superfluous songs would involve removing a composer's name from the marquee.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Company v.2

A recent production of Company inspired me to revise this comic slightly. The original was in pencil and marker. The revised was drawn with digital pen, keeping the same models but cleaning them up and giving Elaine Stritch more prominence (never a bad thing!).

Thursday, July 14, 2016


The title suggests camp. Maybe some tap dancing soldiers and some drag queens dressed as the Andrews Sisters. The tap dancing is there but Yank! has greater ambitions. Stonewall may have launched modern LGBTQIA liberation but the journals that inspired Yank! reveal a healthy gay subculture that thrived during WW2.

The world's at war
Rules are suspended
Whole world's... upended

Yank! had a lengthy development process and a successful run at the York Theatre. A Broadway transfer was scheduled for the 2010-2011 season. When the transfer fell through the York cast recorded an album and the rights were released to regional theaters.

CORRECTION: Stu, the leading man, works as a reporter for Yank magazine. Not a photographer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lil' Abner

So you have an established cartoon franchise. How do you compress them into one story? You can do an origin story, like Annie or Spiderman, or you can put the town in danger. The latter worked for The Simpsons Movie in 2007, its working for Spongebob the Musical in 2016 and in 1956 it fueled the plot for the musical adaptation of Lil'Abner.

The show ran for 693 performances and saved most of the original cast for the film. The show has received concert productions from Encores and Reprise but doesn't merit a full scale revival. Like Annie, the original comic is out of print. The show lacks heart and the Cold War satire has not aged well. The movie is worth catching for Stubby Kaye's performance and Michael Kidd's choreography.