Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Gay Life



Barbara Cook spent the first decade of her career playing ingenues in musical comedies. The Music Man was her biggest hit but even "flops" like Candide and She Loves Me gave her signature songs like "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Today I look at one of her real flops; The Gay Life. 

We start with a set of one act plays about a rouge named Anatole and his many mistresses. In adapting them to a musical a through line was needed. That would be Liesl the young woman who loves him from afar. Like Bobby in Company she observes all his adventures. Like Sandy in Grease she wins him by asserting her own sexuality. The role could have been a cipher or a joke. Instead Barbara Cook made her the beating heart of the show.

Italian film star Walter Chiari couldn't really sing. The mistresses and the sidekick get the comedy numbers but those are mostly uninspired. The good stuff goes to Barbara Cook and her tracks on the cast album are spellbinding.

"Our leading man couldn't act, dance, sing or speak English, which was a handicap." ~ Howard Dietz

"When the show was published for the first time in 1986, it was retitled, for perhaps obvious reasons, The High Life." ~ Kevin Mandelbaum


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Galavant


Galavant never clicked with me. The humor felt too broad and the characters too unpleasant. Ratings never completed with Smash at its best or Glee at its worst. Still it lasted two seasons and the folks who stuck with it adored it.

Some favorite songs include:

A New Season which has a nice Muppet Movie vibe to it.
Kylie Minogue singing Off With His Shirt
The falling out of hatred duet Maybe You're Not the Worst Thing Ever.
The challenge duet I Don't Like You
and the bouncy title song, How Long Can This Go On Galavant!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Smash



"Fade in on a girl with a hunger for fame."

Smash suffered from an identity crisis. Theresa Rebeck wanted a drama about the struggles of balancing her personal and creative life. NBC wanted a soap opera about the sex lives of Broadway artists. I wanted a show about the development of a new Broadway musical. It soon became clear that Bombshell, the fictional musical about Marilyn Monroe, was incomprehensible. I gave up on full episodes once Uma Thurman's smoothies became a plot point. I kept watching the songs from Bombshell. Here are some of my favorites:

Let Me Be Your Star
The 20th Century Fox Mambo
Public Relations
They Just Keep Moving the Line
Don't Forget Me

Oh, and I'm Team Ivy all the way.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season Two



I got nervous around the middle of season two. The story was wandering and I wasn't sure what the stakes were. Everything started to feel less... well... crazy. The season finale had to cram in a lot of plot to ramp things up again. Afterwards I listened to several interviews with the series creators. They described Season Two as having a three act structure. Looking back I can see it. I also respect how the characters can have multiple ups and downs without hitting the "reset button" and forgetting what they've already learned.

Favorite songs this season include:


and my number one favorite: The Math of Love Triangles.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - Season One



"She's so broken insiiide!"

The song that won me over was "Feeling Kinda Naughty" in episode 2. That was the moment I knew this show would be appointment television. Other favorite songs that season include:

A Boy Band Made up of Four Joshes
Settle For Me
I Give Good Parent
I'm the Villain

Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna are writing about mental illness in a way I haven't seen in pop culture. The protagonist is coping with an abusive childhood, depression, anxiety and self-loathing in a mix of healthy and incredibly unhealthy ways. She's tried therapy and over-medication. Now she's diving head first into the fantasy of a romantic relationship and destroying everything around her in the process. The show still doesn't have the ratings it deserves but it has won awards and critical acclaim.

The people who love this show reeeally love it. I'm one of them.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Aida



The Elton John / Tim Rice musical. Not the Verdi opera or the 1952 musical My Darlin' Aida

Revisiting 2000's Aida I see that it laid some groundwork for 2003's Wicked. The serious woman chooses political rebellion over romance. The shallow leading man finds his angsty side. The privileged woman sings a comedy song about fashion in act one and a heartbroken ballad in act two before taking political power.

A key difference is that Wicked focuses on the friendship between the leading ladies while Aida devotes about 7 songs and 2 reprises to the chemistry free romance. Critics were cold but Headley won a well deserved Tony and the show ran 4 years. The score won a Tony too but it was up against two LaChuisa scores which likely cancelled each other's votes.

Now I suppose I'll have to research My Darlin' Aida.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Little Fish



Michael John LaChuisa has been writing musicals non-stop for over two decades. He’s drawn from a wide variety of source material including Greek myth, celebrity biography, French and Spanish drama, Japanese cinema and American poetry. Little Fish was drawn from two short stories Deborah Eisenberg: Days and Flotsam.

The heroines of Days and Flotsam are forced to reinvent themselves. The former after she quits smoking and the latter after she flees an abusive relationship. LaChuisa combines them into the character of Charlotte. The cigarettes had been a coping mechanism for so long that she forgot what she was coping with. Her pain forces her to build a community with those around her instead of swimming upstream on her own.

Tension builds as she passes from person to person, then dissipates in a "don't worry / be happy" ending. The structure has been compared to Company though there's no "Ladies Who Lunch" or "Being Alive" to cap off the night. Instead I held on to the songs for Charlotte's Sorry-Grateful friends, Marco and Kathy, who end up the most fully formed characters on stage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Big Fish



I wasn't the target audience for this story. I side with the practical son whereas a musical comedy has little choice but to side with the wacky father. Reviews were mixed and the run was short but the show has a passionate fan base and has done well in regional productions. Norbert Leo Butz has stolen shows before and deserves another chance at a star vehicle.

Here's Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin performing "Time Stops."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

They're Playing Our Song


Ever hear the one about the manic pixie dream girl who romances the uptight boy?
How 'bout the one where the destructive manic depressive hooks up with her priggish passive-aggressive co-worker?

On paper They're Playing Our Song shouldn't work. Neil Simon's characters are too unpleasant to root for. They should not be together. It's not that he's trying to deconstruct the romantic comedy. He's too busy writing wisecracks to cover up the lack of plot. She's late for work, they argue, her ex calls on the phone, rinse, repeat.

And yet the show was a hit running 1082 performances. Watch the clip from the 1979 Tony Awards and you may see why. Lucie Arnaz oozes carefree sex appeal while Robert Klein transforms his role into a clumsy jittery clown. You may not want Vernon and Sonia to get together but you'll have fun watching Arnaz and Klein.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ragtime



In March of 1540 Hans Kohlhase was executed for leading a gang of raiders through Saxony. They were seeking vengeance against a nobleman who had stolen his horses. The anti-hero would be re-imagined as Coalhouse Walker in E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime.

Ragtime weaves together the stories of three New York families battered by the tides of history in the early 1900’s. Coalhouse crosses paths with Booker T. Washington. The other families meet influential figures like Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and the activist Emma Goldman. Terrence McNally would juggle each story line in his ambitious libretto for the musical adaptation.

Coalhouse and his companions suffer tragedy in their quest for justice but Ragtime is ultimately an optimistic show. Ragtime believes that each generation can learn from the mistakes of the past and slowly build a kinder world.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

9 to 5


In 1973 a group of women founded the 9to5 organization to campaign for the same pay and treatment as their male co-workers. When actress and producer Jane Fonda met with them the idea for a screenplay was inspired. The film Nine to Five went through multiple rewrites before its release in 1980. A drama about workplace harassment became a black comedy about three secretaries attempting to murder their boss. The final product softened the murder to a kidnapping but kept the social commentary.

Singer/songwriter Dolly Parton wrote the award winning title song and made her film debut in the role of Doralee.  When Robert Greenblatt, president of entertainment at Showtime Networks, Inc., pitched the idea of a musical adaptation he secured Ms. Parton to write the score and co-screenwriter Patricia Resnick to write the libretto. Ms. Resnick told reporters she was sad to see how little had changed in the modern workplace. Nine to Five was as relevant in 2009 as it was in 1980.

9 to 5 at the 2009 Tony Awards.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Chicago



On April 3, 1924 Beulah May Annan shot her lover. On May 24 a jury declared her “not guilty.” The Chicago Tribune sent a rookie reporter, Maureen Dallas Watkins, to cover the trial. The jury was told that Annan and her lover had “both grabbed for the gun” after he’d threatened to kill her.  Watkins reminded her readers of the many contradictions in Annan’s story.

Watkins left the Tribune soon after and recounted the trial in her first play. Chicago premiered on Broadway in December of 1926. Beulah May Annan was reborn as Roxie Hart. Watkins declined all requests for the musical rights till her death in 1969. Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon then secured the rights from her estate.

Roxie’s trial is seen through the lens of a vaudeville stage. The libretto makes nods to the likes of Sophie Tucker, Marilyn Miller and Texas Guinan. The Cook County jail is no Palace Theater but Roxie quickly learns that in America anything can become entertainment for the masses.

1976 Tony Awards - Jerry Orbach performs "All I Care About is Love"
1970's Mike Douglas Show - Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera perform "Nowadays" and the "Hot Honey Rag"
1997 Tony Awards - Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking perform "All That Jazz" and the "Hot Honey Rag"
1998 Kennedy Center Honors - Chita Rivera and Bebe Neuwirth perform "All That Jazz"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Caroline, or Change


Tony Kushner did not adapt the libretto for Angels in America the opera. He did, however, provide the libretto for another musical. The show had a lengthy development process and a tragically short Broadway run. It's a marathon of a show with two leading roles that are difficult to cast. The show has lived on through a strong cast album and multiple regional productions. 

It's interesting to compare it to the book and film The Help. Both are set in the American south in 1963. Both concern the relationship between a black maid and a white child. But The Help painted this relationship in a positive light and made a great deal of money. Caroline ends with Caroline reminding Noah that they were "never friends." That doesn't sell as many tickets but it's closer to the truth. 

Panel discussion on the creation of the show.
Tony Kushner interviewed by NPR in 2006.
Tonya Pinkins performing "Gonna Pass Me a Law" at the White House.
Tonya Pinkins performing "Lot's Wife" on the Tony Awards. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Angels in America: The Opera


How do you adapt a 7 hour play cycle into a 2.5 hour opera? Focus on one character’s story and cut the others down ruthlessly. Where the stage play follows five principal characters 6 principals the opera zeroes in on Prior Walter the dying prophet. The other five are there but primarily serve as support to Prior’s story.

Kusner’s play was subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. The opera minimizes the political themes and emphasizes the spiritual. Prior’s debate with the Angels is the centerpiece of the second act as Louis, Harper, Joe and Roy fall to the sides. Poor Belize is barely a cameo. I couldn’t say how the opera functions as a stand-alone work but I found it fascinating as a companion piece to the play.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Victor/ Victoria




Victor/Victoria thrived on film and flopped on stage. Why? Julie was older, yes, but the show didn't work any better with Liza Minnelli, Raquel Welch or Toni Tennille. I think the rewrites did it in. On film the story is a delightful ensemble farce. On stage it's a weak star vehicle. The supporting roles are diminished by bland new songs and a tendency to disappear.

One way the stage show expands upon the film is with Julie's love interest, King Marchand. James Garner determines Julie's a woman before declaring his love while Michael Nouri decided it didn't matter. This feed into the films larger thesis of sexuality as performance. 

Julie Andrews singing Louis Says on stage.
Rachel York singing Chicago, Illinois on stage.
Raquel Welch singing I Guess It's Time on stage.
Liza Minnelli's press reel.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

When Pigs Fly

The costumes were the stars of When Pigs Fly but the cast album makes a good case for the score and the skits. If you haven't heard it yet give it a listen.

Happy Pride month!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Seven Basic Plots of 2017

The 2017 Tony Awards are tonight! They'll be broadcast at 8/7c on CBS. 11 new musicals opened this season in an attempt to avoid last season's juggernaut Hamilton. Only 6 of them will be performing tonight. Of the cast albums I've heard Dear Evan Hansen and War Paint are favorites. Ben Platt, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole's solos are permanent additions to my playlist.

Groundhog Day and The Great Comet have earned raves in the theater but their reliance on the staging makes for dull albums. Day repeats the same underscoring under Andy Karl's physical comedy. The solos are filled with vulgar lyrics as if Minchin was shaking free of the kid-friendly Matilda in a rage. The result is that most of the characters sound alike. Comet is a mix of impressive singing (Lucas Steele in particular) and harsh, untrained voices. The character songs in act one give way to loads of narrative exposition in act two.

After seeing some parallel themes I thought I'd screen this year's musicals through Christopher Booker's "Seven Basic Plots." Booker writes of archetypal struggles that fictional protagonists have faced for centuries. The following seven plots can mixed and matched.

Overcoming the Monster - Protagonist must defeat an antagonistic force to save themselves and/or their homeland. (A common plot in video games and superhero films)

  • Not this season but in the upcoming Spongebob Squarepants Musical. Spongebob must save his town from a volcano.  


Rags to Riches - Protagonist achieves success only to lose it and grow as a person.

  • War Paint. The rise and fall of Arden and Rubinstein's corporations.
  • Dear Evan Hansen somewhat though his journey is closer to "rebirth."
  • A Bronx Tale: The Musical. 


The Quest - Protagonist and companions travel towards a place or object. They overcome obstacles on the way.

  • Anastasia's journey to France in search of her family. 
  • In Transit. The train is a metaphor.
  • Do backstage musicals fit here? When characters are putting on a show does the opening night serve as their destination? In that case Bandstand and Holiday Inn fit the bill.


Voyage and Return - The protagonist travels to a strange land, overcomes adversity, and returns home changed.

  • Groundhog Day. Phil's journey through Punxsutawney.
  • Come From Away. The American tourists in Newfoundland. 
  • Spongebob again. The journey to and from the volcano. 
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie magical visit to the murder factory of doom.


Comedy - A messier definition than the others. Protagonist overcomes adverse circumstances that grow increasingly complex till a "clarifying event" resolves it.

  • Hello Dolly - Dolly complicates other's lives in order to improve her own. 
  • Amelie - Like Dolly she performs good deeds for others. Unlike Dolly she loses control of the narrative. Her friends and her suitor have to band together to supply the happy ending. 


Tragedy - The protagonist is brought down by a fatal flaw.

  • Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Both Natasha and Pierre are brought down by their ideals.
  • War Paint's second act. The women refuse to change with modern trends and are brought down by competitors. 
  • Miss Saigon? Kim flees her village and travels to America, fitting the "quest" narrative, but when she gets there she sees she can't be with Chris and *** spoiler *** kills herself. *** end spoiler *** Her fatal flaw, perhaps, is seeing Chris as the destination. She can't re-invent herself in America the way the Engineer can. 
  • Sunset Blvd. Nora won't let go of the past and Joe won't let go of the wealth... until it's too late.


Rebirth - An important event forces the protagonist to change their ways and become a better person.

  • Dear Evan Hansen
  • Groundhog Day again
  • Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Possibly. It depends on how you interpret the ending. 
  • The revival of Falsettos. Marvin is a scrooge like figure who (arguably) doesn't care for his family till he nearly loses them.
  • Cats... maybe? For Grizabella at least.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Me and My Girl & No, No, Nanette


Me and My Girl. Music by Noel Gay. Lyrics and Book by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose. 1937 West End. 1952 & 1985 West End Revivals. 1986 Broadway.

No, No, Nanette. Music by Vincent Youmans. Lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach. Book by Frank Madel and Otto Harbach. Revival book by Burt Shevelove. 1925 Broadway. 1971 Broadway revival.

Two old fashioned musicals that got revised for modern sensibilities. Though My Fair Lady is the best remembered there were many musicals in the 1930's about crossing class lines.

Meanwhile No, No, Nanette toyed with sexual promiscuity while making sure Nanette and her uncle Jimmy never actually get laid. The men drive the plot but the women get the best songs. Ruby Keeler came out of retirement to dance up a storm in the revival. Helen Gallagher took home a Tony in the role of Lucille. She has the least effect on the plot but the score treats her like a star.

Me and My Girl at the 1987 Tony Awards
No, No, Nanette - A starry medley at the 1972 Tony Awards.
No, No, Nanette - Trailer for the 2011concert at Encores

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Julie Andrews Flops



Julie Andrews attempted to shake off her wholesome image with a pair of sex comedies. It didn't work. You'd think these films would be camp classics. Sadly they are simply boring. Blake Edwards blamed Darling Lili's failure on studio interference but his attempts to mock the studio in S.O.B. proved no less tedious.

Darling Lili. Written by William Peter Blatty & Blake Edwards. Music by Henry Mancini. Lyrics by Johnny Mercer. 1970 film.

S.O.B. Written by Blake Edwards. Music by Henry Mancini.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Flapper Julie Andrews


The Boy Friend. Music, Lyrics and Book by Sandy Wilson. 1953 West End. 1954 Broadway

Thoroughly Modern Millie. 1967 screenplay by Richard Morris. Original music by Elmer Bernstein.  2002 book by Richard Morris. Original music by Jeanine Tesori. Original lyrics by Dick Scanlan.

The Broadway transfer of The Boyfriend featured the New York debut of Julie Andrews! She would don her flapper dresses again for Millie and make her directing debut with a production of The Boyfriend in 2003. Both stories focus on flappers who enjoy their independence till their poor boyfriends confess they are secretly rich and propose. It's telling that the sequel to The Boyfriend was titled Divorce Me, Darling!

The Boy Friend is a fairly conventional musical that was turned into a strange film.
Millie was a weird film that got turned into a conventional musical. Carol Channing and Beatrice Lillie are doing... something... bizarre that the raise the film to new camp levels. Channing's character was toned down when the show transferred to Broadway but Harriet Harris made Lillie's villain her own crazy (and Tony winning) creation.

Trailer for The Boy Friend on film.
Trailer for Thoroughly Modern Millie on film.
Performance from Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Tony's.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sunset Boulevard



Scan the reviews of Sunset Boulevard and you’ll see some common threads. The leading lady gives a star turn but the lyrics are klunky and there was no point adapting the film for the stage. Sondheim declined a chance to adapt after Wilder said the film could only work as an opera. The current revival has been praised for scrapping the giant sets but something else is missing. What exactly? Let’s take a closer look at the libretto.

What is the story about?

May-December romance? The dark side of Hollywood? The horrors of age, death and time? The horrors of being trapped in a big house with a crazy lady?

The characters pursue big dreams and destroy themselves in the process. This lends itself to the musical form. At the same time the characters are static. This does not. Their fatal flaws lie in their denial. Norma isn’t hustling to be a star. She believes she is one. Joe isn’t hustling to be a better writer. He believes the folks rejecting his work are fools and jerks. Halfway through act one the career arc fades. The action shifts to Joe’s attempts to escape the house and Norma’s attempts to keep him there.

Who is the protagonist?

The music thinks Norma is. She gets the “I want” songs (With One Look, The Perfect Year), the “I am” songs (With One Look again, New Ways to Dream) and the “celebration” song when she thinks she’s achieved her goal (As If We Never Said Goodbye).

The plot thinks Joe is. We follow his journey and everything is seen through his eyes. He leaves the house frequently to pursue work at the studio and a relationship with Betty. Norma becomes his antagonist attempting to lure him back with money, threats and violence.

Sadly the score doesn’t have much use for Joe. He’s stuck with recitative and reactive duets. His only solo, Sunset Boulevard, has to serve as his “I want,” “I am,” “I’m becoming” song as well as a takedown of Hollywood culture. It’s more responsibility than the lyrics can handle. (“Beneath the tan the battle rages.”)

What’s missing?


For me it’s a consistent tone. Webber’s romantic score undercuts Wilder’s cynicism. The music buys into her delusion that she’s a dethroned queen. A tragic victim. Is she? Is it really so bad to be a wealthy retiree living in an L.A. mansion with a servant who worships her? A snarkier composer might have played up the contrast between her dreams and her reality. They might have given Joe something interesting to sing while they were at it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly! is a big brassy star vehicle with a hit title song. The libretto is based on a play by Thornton Wilder which lifted generously from French and Austrian farces. Though Dolly is a matchmaker the story isn't necessarily a romance.

Dolly, Horace and Irene have each survived a spouse and settled into unfulfilling lives. Dolly decides to let her memories go and "rejoin the human race." She learns to like herself again and teaches the others to do the same.

Check out Richard Skipper's collection of testimonials on the many, many divas who've played Dolly Gallagher Levi.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Pirate



Vincente Minnelli’s famous musicals—among them Meet Me In St. Louis and An American In Paris—tend to eclipse his 1948 Technicolor flop The Pirate, one of his richest and strangest works. One of his kinkiest, too. ~ The AV Club

It takes this mammoth show some time to generate a full head of steam, but when it gets rolling it's thoroughly delightful. However, the momentum is far from steady and the result is a lopsided entertainment that is wonderfully flamboyant in its high spots and bordering on tedium elsewhere. ~ The New York Times.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Pirates of Penzance



W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan wrote 14 comic operas together within a period of 25 years. Sadly their works were hijacked by “pirates.” Unauthorized American productions could not be halted by British copyright laws. The pair attempted to route this by holding the world premiere of Pirates in New York on December 31, 1879. The show was a hit though “pirated” showings continued.

The Pirates of Penzance remains one of their most produced works alongside H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado. “A Modern Major General” is one of their most referenced and parodied songs. The story and score are accessible to fans of opera and musical theater.

Joseph Papp's musical theater-y Pirates managed to introduce a modern zaniness to the work while remaining (mostly) faithful to the libretto. Some felt it bastardized the source material but it gave me an appreciation for G+S I hadn't held before. If you want to see a bad modernization of G+S watch The Pirate Movie... Actually don't. Don't watch The Pirate Movie. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Holiday Inn & In Transit



I wrap up the musicals of this season with two works about stressed out New Yorkers finding love. And yes Holiday Inn cut the blackface number that was in the film for Lincoln's birthday.

Holiday Inn. Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. Based on the 1942 film. 2014 Goodspeed Opera House. 2016 Broadway.

In Transit. Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. 2010 Off Broadway. 2016 Broadway.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Three Year Anniversary

Musical theater can help us escape or explore our world. The attitudes and song styles capture moments of the past and make us re-evaluate our present.

Here are some of my favorite comics from 2016.

Bright Star
Cabaret
Pete's Dragon
Quick Sketch: Showboat and Carousel
Yank!

Thank you so much for reading.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory & Groundhog Day



And now we have two London to Broadway transfers based on beloved stories about disproportionate retribution.  Groundhog Day's weatherman is trapped in never ending purgatory for his sins. Charlie's naughty peers are brutally killed. They may survive in the book and films but on stage those kids die. Veruca's dismemberment by squirrels is in full Struwwelpeter territory. Is there a commercial audience for that? Time will tell.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Original Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Re-purposed film songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Book by David Greig. 2013 London. 2017 Broadway.

Groundhog Day. Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin. Book by Danny Rubin. 2016 London. 2017 Broadway.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Bronx Tale & Kid Victory



And now two musicals that tell dark stories with jaunty scores. The mobster loving teen of A Bronx Tale gets to sing. The teen protagonist of Kid Victory never does despite some critics' hopes that he'd find his voice by the finale.

A Bronx Tale. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Chazz Palminteri. 2016 Broadway.

Kid Victory. Music by John Kander. Lyrics and Book by Greg Pierce. 2016 Off-Broadway.

300th post?!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Amelie & Anastasia



Several films have been adapted to the stage this season. The following both feature spunky heroines with tragic childhoods who find love and self worth in Paris.

Amelie. Music by Daniel Messé. Lyrics by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen. Book by Craig Lucas. 2015 Berkeley. 2017 Broadway. Based on the 2001 film.

Anastasia. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Book by. Terrence McNally. 2016 Hartford. 2017 Broadway. Based on the 1997 film.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bandstand & Come From Away



The Tony nominations will be announced soon and it's time to catch up on the new musicals of 2017.

Bandstand. Music by Richard Oberacker. Book and Lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor. 2015 Paper Mill Playhouse. 2017 Broadway.

Come From Away. Music, Lyrics and Book by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. 2015 La Jolla & Seattle. 2017 Broadway.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Most Happy Fella



“You ain’t young no more, and you ain’t good-lookin’, and you ain’t smart.”

Thus says Marie to her brother, the unconventional protagonist of The Most Happy Fella. He has proposed to a young woman by letter and sent a photo of his handsome foreman in his stead. This Cyrano set-up could have carried a musical comedy but writer Frank Loesser was more ambitious. He resolves things quickly to focus on Tony’s rocky marriage to his wary new bride.

Loesser is best remembered for the brassy scores of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed. The Most Happy Fella is something different. The brass is mixed with complex arias, quartets and chorales. The title role was originated by operatic baritone Robert Weede though Loesser denied the work was an opera. When asked he said “It’s a musical with a lot of music.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Hedwig and the Angry Inch is 19 years old(?!) The score has aged remarkably well. In that time LGBTQIA+ politics have made great strides and the show has grown from cult classic to Broadway smash. The story takes place at a rock concert by The Angry Inch. Hedwig has decided to confess all sins through cutting humor and brash songs. Hedwig wants to be seen as both victim and survivor. The truth is uglier as Hedwig has gone from being abused by a father and first spouse to the abuser of a young lover and second spouse. 

Tommy Speck was 17 when Hedwig seduced him. The Broadway production cast actors ranging from their late 20's to early 50's in the title role. An older Hedwig seems sadder (and creepier) chasing after the man that got away. 

Is Hedwig's story a redemption arc? The ending is ambiguous but I'd like to think so. Hedwig may feel like a failure but Hedwig is deservedly a hit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Joan Crawford Musicals



Stephen Sondheim based the lyrics to the song I'm Still Here around the career of Joan Crawford

First you're another
Sloe-eyed vamp,
Then someone's mother,
Then you're camp.

The FX show Feud reminds us that Hollywood treats many of their actresses the same way. While she played dancing flappers in the 1920's I'm going to focus on two works from the 1950's.

Johnny Guitar
Music by Martin Silvestri. Lyrics and Music by Joel Higgins. Book by Nicholas van Hoogstraten. 2004 Off Broadway.

The 1954 film is campy because it took itself so seriously. It wants to be a feminist Western about McCarthyism. It's better remembered for Joan Crawford's outfits, Mercedes McCambridge's scenery munching and the barely repressed lesbian subtext. The 2004 musical flopped because it tried to be a zany Forbidden Broadway style spoof. The subtext became text which misses the point.

Torch Song
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes and 
Jan Lustig (de). 
Music by Adolph Deutsch. 1953 film.

Here's another film that didn't need a parody. (Though Carol Burnett made a go of it). Joan Crawford dancing in blackface while lip synching to India Adams is camp enough. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Harvey Girls



“In this day and age girls don’t leave home. But if you get a hankering you wanna roam.”

The railroad allowed Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants and hotels brought civility to the Wild West and independence to single women in the 1870’s. His waitresses, the “Harvey Girls,” are the subject of one of Judy Garland’s most interesting films.

The show had one breakout song, “The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe.” This fantastic number introduces the townsfolk, the Harvey girls, the supporting cast and the plot. Then Garland enters and brings it to a big finish. She’s come to town to get married but the groom is a bust. She joins the Harvey Girls and never looks back.

The disposable love interest doesn’t appear till later. His duet with Garland was cut as the film’s not about him. Instead she shares a trio with Cyd Charisse (dubbed by Betty Russell) Virginia O’Brien’s fellow Harvey Girls as they struggle with the social roles they’ve been assigned. They learned their trades to attract husbands. When none appeared they used the skills to support themselves. The number feels like a template for Sweet Charities There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Their boss, Marjorie Main, and their rival, Angela Lansbury, will get solos as well. Main wants to class up the town. Lansbury… does not.


Lansbury’s “showgirl” is a hoot. Her solos were dubbed but her body language says more about her character than the lyrics. She looks fabulous but she’s bored. Garland’s rivalry brings a spark into Lansbury’s life and helps her find her priorities. At the end she’s happy to hand her boyfriend off to Garland and focus on her career. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Little Me



Patrick Dennis is best remembered for his 1955 novel Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade. Mame could be cruel but she had a big heart. There was no heart to be found in his 1961 novel Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, Belle Poitrine (as told to Patrick Dennis). Belle is ruthless as she sleeps and murders her way to B-movie stardom.

The musical shifted focus to her 7 hapless suitors. All were played by television star Sid Caesar. The show ran 257 performances and received 10 Tony nominations but revivals shutter fast. There’s not much there to work with. If Fosse had collaborated with Kander and Ebb he’d have explored the dark side of Belle’s ambition. Neil Simon’s book isn’t interested in that, or much of anything, beyond broad sketch comedy. Revivals have expanded Belle’s role but rewrites can’t make her sympathetic. The title song, “Little Me,” reminds us that Belle’s greatest love affair is with herself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

La La Land



Is La La Land a forgettable romcom with pretty costumes and miscast stars?
A gorgeous love letter to the musicals of Vincent Minnelli and Jacques Demy?
A sharp dissection of American narcissism?

Critics have argued for all of these and more in the lead up to Oscar night. My guess is that the film will be forgotten after Oscar night and the musical theater fans will move on to debating the merits of the Disney's Beauty and the Beast remake.

Chazelle draws a line in the sand midway through when Ryan Gosling's musician joins John Legend's jazz fusion band. Emma Stone's actress attends the concert and shakes in horror at the high energy performance and the cheering crowds. She seems to be saying "Ugh. Pop music. How tacky. Wouldn't you rather be listening to my breathy head voice or watching Gosling's timid dance steps?" I was team John Legend from that scene on.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grease 2



"There's gotta be more to life than making out... I'm tired of being someone's chick." ~ Grease 2

The little Chicago musical about teen class war became a record breaking film in 1978. Three sequels and a TV series were proposed. A script was hastily written, the film tanked, and the franchise was scrapped. Grease 2 is no gem but Michelle Pfeiffer's solo, “Cool Rider,” is a camp classic. By the end of the film she learns, unlike Danny Zuko, to appreciate her partner’s nerdy side as well as the sexy persona.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert



When the film premiered in 1994 positive portrayals of gay, bisexual and transgendered characters were in short supply. Writer and director Stephan Elliott saw his low budget project become an international success. Elliott had retired by 2004 when he suffered a near fatal accident. Surviving disaster convinced him to return to work and adapt Priscilla for the stage.

Bette Midler agreed to co-produce the Broadway transfer and became a fervent spokesperson for the show. The book underwent extensive rewrites. Kylie Minogue songs were swapped for Madonna’s and the father/son subplot was expanded. The show won Tony Awards for Best Costume Design (Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner) and Best Supporting Actor (Tony Sheldon).

Tim Chappel complained to the New York Times that the Broadway producers censored his designs to make them "safer for Broadway." Despite the tinkering the production ran 526 performances and had a lengthy tour. Productions of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert are currently running in France, Spain, South Africa and the United States.

Posts will be slowing down in 2017 due to other projects. I'll try to get at least one comic up a month.