Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Why does Patrick Dennis turn on his lovable Auntie Mame?
Why does the open minded Mame immediately reject Patrick's fiance?
If Mame and Patrick had been so close, why do they never discuss his late parents?
Why is Mame's late husband so quickly forgotten?
What happened to Patrick at boarding school that made him feel ashamed of his upbringing?

Many things are left unsaid in Mame. This was true of the original novel and play as well. The Mame/Patrick relationship takes a backseat to Mame's episodic adventures and those of her friends Vera and Gooch.

Mame was a huge success on Broadway running 1508 performances over 4 years. Sadly the movie was a miscast bore and a 1983 revival ran little over a month. Hello Dolly and La Cage Aux Folles have had successful revivals but Mame's magic seems harder to replicate. The star must be a triple threat who can balance comedy, class and pathos. She must also overcome the dated, creaky book.

Tilda Swinton has proposed a new film based on the novel. This may revive interest in the musical. Till then we'll always have the fantastic original cast recording.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret

Midsummer Night's Dream lends itself well to a queer narrative. The fairy potion allows lovers to mix and match in any combination. Directors can paint the show light and spunky or dark and erotic. Still there's only so dark it can go. Midsummer pairs off all the pretty young things. Some of us relate better to the handful of bitter singles at the end of Twelfth Night.

Bite sets the fairies and lovers in a contemporary gay bar, swapping Shakespeare's prose for modern slang and pop hits. It works. Love and lust, requited and unrequited, are universal. Unlike Shakespeare, Bite has Titania take over the narrative midway. She wants the lovers to share her pain and disillusionment. For some love is the sense of being understood. Of being known. It all ends happier than I expected but gave me plenty to ponder.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cole Porter series part 3

Can Can. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Abe Burrows. 1953 Broadway.

Out of this World. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Dwight Taylor and Reginald Lawrence. 1950 Broadway.

In the past 4 shows the leading man pursued a lady. In these 2 shows the leading lady pursues a man. Both Can Can and Out of this World have had concerts at Encores but their books are too weak for Broadway revival. The Paper Mill Playhouse produced Can Can with Kate Baldwin and a new book, but the production did not have legs.

Can Can featured some juicy backstage intrigue. Leading lady Lilo was upstaged by supporting player Gwen Verdon and apparently seethed with diva rage. Both scores have their klunkers but Can Can features "I Love Paris" and "It's All Right With Me." Out of this World has the delightful, if forgotten, "Cherry Pies Ought To Be You."It starts as a compliment duet for the lovers. Then Juno and a gangster enter and turn it into an insult duet.

I know GoodTickleBrain has drawn a Can Can comic as well. It's buried in the archive but if I find it I'll post a link.

Edit: Here it is!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cole Porter Series part 2

Anything Goes. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Original book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. 1934 Broadway.

High Society. (1956 Film) Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Screenplay by John Patrick. Based on The Philadelphia Story by John Barry.

High Society. (1998 Broadway). Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Additional Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. Book by Arthur Kopit.

Poor Hope and Tracy. Their engaged to unsuitable spouses. The supporting cast must unite to reconnect them with their stalkers exes for true happiness.

The leading lady in Anything Goes is Reno Sweeney. She loves Billy but will devote her time to seducing Hopes fiance and setting her up with Billy. But the plot doesn't really matter. It's all an excuse for Ethel Merman (and subsequent divas) to belt some of Cole Porter's best tunes.

Tracy was the lead in Philadelphia Story. Katherine Hepburn commissioned the play, bought the film rights and saved her struggling career. Hepburn often played strong women who needed to be "tamed." She brought such strength to her roles that her leading men never really cowed her. High Society's Tracy is less successful. The film shifted the focus to her suitors, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Grace Kelly was not a singer and she lacked Hepburn's fire. The Broadway version gave Melissa Errico's Tracy more music but the trunk songs never felt right for her character. Critics recommended that audiences stick with the Hepburn film.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cole Porter Series part 1

Kiss Me Kate. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. Basis William Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. 1948 Broadway.

Silk Stockings. Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter. Book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath & Abe Burrows. Basis Melchior Lengyel's story Ninotchka. 1955 Broadway.

This week I'll be looking at six musicals composed by Cole Porter. Two bad films have been made about his life. Both tell us he wrote musicals, had a complicated marriage, and broke his legs in a riding accident. The second film explores his bisexuality. The first film is less honest but features stronger musical performances.

It's been quoted that Cole Porter felt Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical librettos "made it that much harder for everyone else" Kiss Me Kate was Porter's most ambitious and most successful musical to date. The interweaving of Shakespeare's brutal comedy and Spewack's backstage farce inspired a broad range of music from Porter. It also explored a common theme of his: the abusive mismatched couple. Fred and Lilli's first duet, "Wunderbar," is a parody of Viennese opera. The honest song they share is "So In Love."

"Taunt me, and hurt me.
Deceive me, desert me.
I'm yours till I die.
So in love with you am I."

The melody and lyric present their co-dependent relationship as something beautiful and tragic.

Silk Stocking's leading lady gets her liveliest song when she dismisses love as "A Chemical Reaction." When she falls for Steve she sings the dreary "Without Love (What Is a Woman?)" which makes romance sound funereal. Porter's heart was clearly in the brassy comedy and the spiky conflict.

"Though the uninstructed faction
Calls it mutual attraction
it's a chemical reaction, that's all."

Part 2's shows will continue a theme from Kiss Me Kate: hooking up with your ex.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Cult flop film becomes Tony winning Broadway hit!

The story was inspired by a real life news strike but don't look to Newsies for historical accuracy. Do look to Newsies for handsome male dancers. If fit men in tight vests were still delivering "the papes" then print media would be in a better place today!

Jack and David's intense friendship has inspired much fan fiction. Fierstein's libretto mitigates the homo-eroticism a bit by strengthening the leading lady. On film Sarah was "the beard." On stage we get Katherine, a feisty news reporter with career goals.

Underneath the love triangle and athletic dancing is a story about capitalism and the importance of worker's unions. It's simplified and romanticized but there are worse messages for kids than to stand by their co-workers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pete's Dragon

"It's not easy to find someone who cares.
It's not easy to find magic in pairs."

Okay so I stretched the truth a little on this one.

Pete's Dragon was no masterpiece. It stopped Disney from making live musicals for many years but it had some catchy songs. The 2016 remake cuts the songs and apparently improves upon everything else. Disney tends to base their heroes journey around dead parents. In the original film Pete is fleeing from an abusive family bringing things closer to a Roald Dahl narrative.

Today's artwork is loosely inspired by the game Undertale

Monday, August 8, 2016

War Paint

War Paint's Chicago premiere has many things going for it: Two great stars, a score that plays to their strengths, and interesting source material. Reviews have been mostly positive. Unfortunately the current book lacks conflict.

Librettist Doug Wright has several challenges. The real Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein refused to meet with each other. Wright has to give his leads equal stage time while keeping them apart. In this he succeeds. Without a co-star to play off of the leads steamroll the supporting cast. The founders of Revlon get two juicy scenes but vanish before they can develop into true antagonists. Wright will need to beef up the feckless love interests or scheming shop girls so that Patti and Ebersole have someone to play off of.

The Chicago production has been extended through August 21. A Broadway transfer has yet to be confirmed but is certainly in the cards.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Now. Here. This.

Another shout out to Peanuts this week, inspired by Bowen's joke about Linus Van Pelt.

When Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen wrote [title of show] they gave the character arcs to their friends Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell. In the sequel, Now. Here. This., they reveal a little more of themselves. Jeff talks about his closeted youth and Hunter shares the self-loathing logic behind his comic persona. Meanwhile sweet Heidi and salty Susan recall childhood events that shaped their careers.

It helps to have seen [title of show]. The work provides context for these 40-somethings in various states of arrested development. Revues with plots are usually about romance (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change or Putting It Together). Now. Here. This. is focused on families, high school, and mid-life crisis. I hope Now. Here. This. isn't meant as Bowen and Bell's goodbye to musical theater. I'd like to hear what they come up with next.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Plain and Fancy

This week's posts have looked at teen rebellion channeled through rock music. The teens of Plain and Fancy rebel in a milder way. Hilda tries on some "fancy" lingerie and  Ezra drinks a bottle of scotch. They return to the Amish community after a quick visit to a carnival.

Plain and Fancy had a successful Broadway run and could prove a worthy candidate for an Encores concert.  The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres revives the show annually and the York Theatre Company has revised it for a small cast. Barbara Cook's ballad, "This is All Very New to Me," was the closest thing to a breakout ballad but the score has other lovely moments.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

All Shook Up

Since I've posted two Elvis-themed musicals this week, I figured I'd add a third.

All Shook Up didn't bring much new to the table. Twelfth Night has already inspired a rock musical and a jukebox musical. Hairspray handled inter-racial teen dating better two years prior and Broadway critics were tired of jukebox musicals in 2005.

It is refreshing, and still rare, to see a bisexual leading man in a musical comedy. Chad's coming out ballad was played for laughs but the feelings were sincere. Unlike most adaptations his bisexuality didn't vanish when he learned Ed's true identity. The role wasn't great but it launched the career of Cheyenne Jackson. He would go on to better things.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Today's art gives a shout out to Archie comics and the kids of Riverdale High.

Cry-Baby is not John Water's most popular film but it had a point of view. The film sent up the movies of Elvis Presley and Johnny Depp's teen idol reputation.
"It’s a parody. Johnny Depp’s screaming girl fans were confused by the movie. They knew we were making fun of something, but they didn’t realize it was them." ~ John Waters
Divorced from this context the Cry-Baby musical was about... capitalizing on the success of the Hairspray musical. While they shared a book writer the inferior score was by Broadway newcomers Schlesinger and Javerbaum. The show received praise for Harriet Harris's arch line readings and Ali Mauzey's demented torch song. I also enjoyed the cynical finale, "Nothing Bad Is Ever Gonna Happen Again." It was an anti "You Can't Stop the Beat." The rest of the show was bland and it closed after 68 performances.

Schlesinger and Javerbaum went on to write the opening number for the 2011 Tony Awards: Broadway's Not Just for Gays Anymore.

Monday, August 1, 2016


The musical Hairspray has been compared to Bye Bye Birdie. Both shows feature:

  • A teen idol on a 60's television show
  • A mix of adult and teen romance
  • A racist antagonist

But while Rose's struggle with racial prejudice is a small subplot in Birdie the struggle to integrate the Corny Collins show is front and center in Hairspray.

Protagonist Tracy Turnblad has three goals in act one. She wants fame, love and for her unhappy mother to like herself. She achieves all three before the first act finale. Then she pushes for integration and puts her success at risk. When Tracy loses her nerve in Act Two she's called out on it. The exchange is more powerful than anything in Bye Bye Birdie and should never have been cut from the 2007 film.

Maybelle: Hold it. Nobody ever said this was gonna be easy. If something's worth having it's worth fighting for. Tracy, why did you start all this in the first place? Was it just to dance on TV?
Tracy: No.
Maybelle: Was it so you could get the boy?
Tracy: No. I almost lost him because of it.
Maybelle: Then maybe it was just to get yourself famous.
Tracy: No. I just think it's stupid we can't all dance together.
Some have criticized the musical for taking itself more seriously than John Waters' 1988 film. John Waters himself has praised the musical, though he also admits:

I've certainly made more from Hairspray-the musical, not the new movie-than anything I've ever made in my whole life. I'm very thankful to Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who were very fair with me and brought me into the deal from the very beginning. It has been a great experience.