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.