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
Pete's Dragon
Quick Sketch: Showboat and Carousel

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.