So, the new semester at The Boston Conservatory has officially begun. Now I get to see how well I'm going to be able to keep up with my posts on About.com, my reviews of the new Broadway and Off-Broadway seasons, and the inevitable mountain of papers to grade. Stay tuned.
Here are my most recent posts for About.com. They've proven very popular on the site, particularly the ones on classic musicals and musicals that changed Broadway. Let me know what you think.
As I mentioned a while back, I picked up a new gig writing for About.com as the Musical and Theater Expert. I was hoping that the gig wouldn't interfere with my blogging, and so far that has actually been the case. As to whether this will continue as the school year starts up, well, stay tuned.
I'll still be publishing most of my reviews here on my blog, while at About.com I'll be posting more evergreen stuff about theatergoing in general. One review that I decided to post on About.com was for my recent revisit to The Phantom of the Opera with its new stars, Norm Lewis and Sierra Boggess. Here's a link to that review, as well as to the rest of my About.com postings for August.
Here are my latest posts for About.com. Lots of fun info here regarding what to see on Broadway this summer, which recent cast recordings to buy, whether you spell in "theater" or "theatre", and how to read the Broadway grosses. (Well, I happen to find reading the grosses to be fun...)
Is there anything you'd like to see me cover for About.com? Please let me know. I've got lots of ideas of my own, but I'm always open to suggestions. So, if you could suggest one article that you would like to read, whether it's about Broadway, Off-Broadway, plays, musicals, or any combination thereof, what would it be?
Here's a roundup of my latest posts on About.com (theater.about.com). I'm supposed to post at least twice a week, which is a bit more frequent than I've been used to in my blogging, but so far, coming up with ideas hasn't been a problem. (I mean, I'm getting paid for writing about theater. Where's the downside there?)
If you have any ideas about articles you'd like to see me pursue, please feel free to give me a shout. I'm going to try to confine most of my reviews to the blog, but if you have any ideas about how-to type articles, or fun lists, or insider info you'd like to know about, by all means give me a holler.
The other takes a peek at some of the movie musicals that are scheduled to be released over the next year or so (including Jersey Boys, Into the Woods, and Annie). The second post includes my own take on the recent Into the Woods plot-changes kerfuffle:
So, the Tonys are over, and another season has come and gone. I've caught up (mostly) on my reviews, but I wanted to alert y'all out there in EIKILFM land that I've picked up a companion writing gig, and that I'll be migrating some of my posts over to this new platform. Don't worry: I'll still be reviewing all the new musicals on Broadway and many of those from Off-Broadway, as well as shows at my regular regional haunts. I'm hoping that, rather than replace any of my efforts here on the blog, the new gig will act as a complement.
The new gig is at About.com. I'll be their new "musicals and theater" experts. (Yeah, I know. Musicals are theater too. But the folks at about think that emphasizing "musicals" will lead to greater traffic.) If you'd like to bookmark my homepage, it's at http://theater.about.com. I've posted three articles so far, all about the Tony Awards. Here they are:
As you can probably tell by the titles, my About.com posts will proabably be more "evergreen" items, as opposed to posts about particular shows and people. But there seems to be plenty of room for attitude, which for me has never been in short supply.
I'll be posting links to my About.com posts here on EIKILFM, so if you're interested you can just click through. Or not. (But I hope you do.)
I started this blog in April of 2006, it was really just an effort to
find an alternate outlet for my theatrical rants and ravings. My friends
were sort of sick of my posturing and pedantry, and my family have
never really been interested in anything theatrical, let alone musically
So I started a blog. I figured it would be
something I would get out of my system and that it would fall by the
wayside, like so many other evanescent passions I've indulged in over
lo, I stuck with it, despite a severe case of adult ADHD, and seven
years later I find myself publishing my 1,000th blog post. That amounts
to about 3 posts a week for the past seven years. (And this from someone
who was once considered the slowest writer on staff at a certain
business magazine.) During that time, this blog has amassed about 1.5
million page views, which ain't all that bad for a part-time gig.
the way, I've met a lot of wonderful people, some of whom have become
very dear to me. (You know who you are.) I've received my share of hate
mail, from both writers and performers, but I've received even more
words of encouragement and appreciation. And I've learned a lot about
what it means to make a meaningful contribution as a self-styled critic.
Hopefully, as I continue on this path, I will continue to receive both
kudos and brickbats. (I happen to feel that, if no one is mad at you,
then you're not being a very incisive critic.)
I recently received an email from a reader asking for advice on how
to get started as a blogger. As I composed my response, I thought that
this might be something worth sharing with my readers as a sort of
encouragement for more of you to enter the critical fray. Because one
thing the Internet has taught us is that more voices is almost always a
benefit. (Except in YouTube comments...) The good voices tend to last,
and the not-so-good voices tend to fade away.
So, here goes.
For those of you who are thinking of starting a blog, and a theater blog
in particular, here are some points to consider:
Which blogging service should I use? There are numerous blogging platforms,
with various levels of flexibility and ease of use. The three I've had
experience with are, in increasing order of complexity, Blogger, Typepad and WordPress.
I currently use Typepad, because Blogger is too inflexible for my
needs, and Word Press is far too complex. But that's just my
perspective. If you don't want to do much in the way of customization,
Blogger might be the way to go. If you really want to have as much
flexibility and opportunities for customization as possible, you're
likely better off with WordPress.
How do I build traffic? Overall, it just takes time, but here are some tips:
Links, links, links. Include
lots of links in your text. Google likes links, and it's all about
Google. Bing, Yahoo, and all the other search engines combined don't even come close to my Google traffic.
Use descriptive titles.
Make the titles to your blog posts as descriptive (i.e. boring) as
possible. Google searches place priority on words in titles and in
links, as opposed to just the text of your posts. Think about what you'd enter into a Google search to find your content ("Review Broadway Matilda Musical," "Worst Musical Ever," "Andrew Lloyd Webber Melody Thief," etc.)
Content content content. The more you post, the more likely you'll rank higher on Google. In some ways, it's really that simple.
"The Best This," "The Worst That," "The Most Overrated/Underrated
Whatever." They're easy to create and people love reading them. My list
of the 100 Best Musicals Ever is my number-one traffic driver. Nothing else even comes close. People love lists.
Connect to social media. Create
a Twitter feed and a Facebook page to drive traffic to your blog and to
promote your posts. You might also create a Tumblr mini-blog for quick
posts of photos and sound clips and video. Again, this can drive traffic
to your main site.
Contact other bloggers in your content area and ask them to include
your blog on their blog roll. A lot of my initial traffic came from my
fellow bloggers, and my blog now drives traffic to a lot of those blogs
in return. What comes around goes around.
Find a niche.
Even if you want to focus on theater, find something that no one else
is doing within the genre. I was surprised to find how few theater blogs
focus specifically on musical theater. Also, since I teach the history
of musical theater at the Boston Conservatory,
I like to bring a sense of historical perspective to my reviews. Maybe
you're particularly interested in political theater, or feminist
theater. Find something that particularly interests you, and chances are
it will interest prospective readers as well.
apologies if any of these sound painfully obvious. (You know what they
say about free advice...) Use some, disregard others, but whatever you
do, find a way to make
yourself heard. Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's, and you
just may discover that you have a knack and decide to stick with it. I
hope to see you on press night.
Dear Reader: My humblest apologies for my extended absence from the blogosphere. I've been caught up in teaching, and the semester has really gone into high gear. But one of the things that has been keeping me busy might be of interest to some of you. Here's the director's note from my staged reading this semester. The shows are Thursday April 4th at 8:15 pm and Saturday April 6th at 8 pm. If you're in the Boston area and are interested in attending, drop me a line. --C.C.
is the ninth in a series of staged readings that I launched in the fall of 2009
as part of my course in the history of musical theater at the Boston
Conservatory. The idea behind the series was to expose students to historically
significant but underperformed musicals as part of their overall introduction
to, and immersion in, the musical-theater form. In the past four years, we’ve
covered a wide range of important yet forgotten musicals, and along the way the
students have been able to roll up their sleeves and delve into the respective
genres that the shows represent.
are the shows from the series so far:Little Johnny Jones, Very Good Eddie, As Thousands Cheer, Allegro, Bloomer Girl, The Cradle Will Rock, Something for the Boys, A Connecticut Yankee, and now Sunny.
we performed A Connecticut Yankee in
the fall, which gave us a glimpse of Rodgers before Hammerstein, I wanted to do
something in the spring that represented Hammerstein before Rodgers. And I knew
that the best show to do that would be Sunny
(1925), Hammerstein’s first
collaboration with composer Jerome Kern, shortly before they would work
together on the ground-breaking show, Show
Boat (1927). Beyond that historic match-up of talent, Sunny also represents a significant subgenre of 1920s musical
comedy: the rags-to-riches Cinderella story.
Sunny cameto Broadway in 1925, a
time when musicals were fast, fun, and forgettable. Creators usually only labored
on these shows for a few months, and were frequently working on more than one
show at the same time. The economics of the time allowed for producers to make
a profit with as few as 100 performances, and then shows would close and make
way for the next disposable musical.
Sunny ran for 507 performances, which is astonishing, at least based on the
criteria of the day. But then, the show pretty much disappeared like most every
other musical from the 1920s, with the exception of Show Boat, Good News, and
No, No, Nanette. And even these shows
have only survivedafter major and
era of frivolous, frothy, ephemeral musicals was undeniably fun while it lasted,
particularly for fans of madcap comedy and high-toned operetta. The same week
that Sunny opened in New York,
Broadway also saw the debuts of the aforementioned No, No, Nanette , Rodgers and Hart’s Dearest Enemy, and Rudolph Friml’s The Vagabond King. These shows joined the already-running Rose-Marie
(Friml, Hammerstein), The Student Prince
(Romberg), The Cocoanuts (Irving
Berlin, writing for The Marx Brothers) and Tip-Toes
Sunny itself represents a case study of sorts that
illuminates how the typical show was cobbled together at the time. Frequently
the shows were cast before they were written, and each of the stars would typically
have his or her demands, putting the writers in the awkward position of trying
to accommodate everybody and still have a workable show.
example, the star of Sunny was the
radiant Marilyn Miller, a major stage star at the time, and a favorite of
Florenz Ziegfeld. Miller had scored a triumph five years earlier with Jerome
Kern’s Sally (1920), and had since
become Broadway’s little darling. Legend
has it that, after Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein played the score to Sunny for Miller, she replied, “Never
mind that, honey, when do I get to do my tap specialty?” (Miller’s dance
numbers were choreographed by a young vaudeville and stage performer named Fred
Astaire. Whatever happened to him?)
contract also called for her to appear in jodhpurs (aka riding pants) at some
point in the show, even before anyone involved knew what the show was going to
be about. Why? Because Miller thought she looked rather fetching in a riding
habit. The authors obliged by inserting a fun but gratuitous fox-hunt scene,
although admittedly the scene does bring about the show’s denouement.
more ridiculous, another performer in Sunny,Cliff Edwards (who many of you may know as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt
Disney’s “Pinocchio”) had a codicil in his contract guaranteeing that he would
be alone on-stage between 10:00 and 10:15 p.m. performing his ukulele
specialty. (In vaudeville, Edwards was also known as “Ukulele Ike.”) So, in the
middle of act two, apropos of nothing whatsoever, Edwards would come on stage
and sing “Paddlin’ Madeline Home,” which was written by Harry W. Woods rather
than the Sunny team. When Edwards
left the show, his bit was replaced by a harmonica specialty with Borrah
Somehow, the Sunny creators were able to fit everything together in workable,
although uninspired, plot: an English circus performer, Sunny, encounters two
American soldiers whom she befriended when she was entraining during World War
I. She has fallen in love with Tom, one of the soldiers, so she stows away on the
ocean liner that Tom and his friends are taking back home to America. When
Sunny gets caught as a stowaway, she marries Tom’s best friend Jim for American
citizenship so she won’t be deported.
And havoc ensues, as they say. In the
American version of the show, Sunny divorces Jim and ends up with Tom at the
end of the show. In other productions, she and Jim decide to stay with each
other. (Which ending will we see tonight, I wonder…)
Sunny’s greatest and lasting significance lies in having
brought about the first collaboration of Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. What’s
more, the experienced Otto Harbach acted as a mentor to the fledgling
Hammerstein, setting the standard for mentorship that Hammerstein would
famously continue with Stephen Sondheim. In fact, Hammerstein became more than
just a mentor to Sondheim. He became a sort of surrogate father. Sondheim would
then continue the cycle with Jonathan Larsen, Jason Robert Brown and others. In
a way, we have Otto Harbach to thank for setting this vital mentorship cycle
Kern and Hammerstein would continue to
collaborate together over the years, both on full-scale Broadway productions (Sweet Adeline, The Cat and The Fiddle, Music in the Air, Very Warm for May) as
well as songs for Hollywood and the hit parade (“I Won’t Dance,” “The Last Time
I Saw Paris,” etc.).
Hearing the lyrics to the songs for Sunny, one gets the impression of a very
promising but still developing young lyricist in Oscar Hammerstein. (Of course,
Harbach and Hammerstein collaborated on the lyrics, so it’s difficult to
discern which words belong to which man.) Some of the songs feature scansion
that is slightly off. The song “D’Ye Love Me” contains a line that goes “Do you
promise to love me always?” with the emphasis on the second syllable of “always.”
(Actually the original lyric features the archaic word “alway,” which we have
changed here for the sake of clarity.)
Similarly, in “When We Get Our Divorce,”
the lyric includes the phrase “interlocutory decree” (which is simply a
temporary judgment from a court of law). The rhythm of the music has the singer
stressing the word as “in-TER-low-cue-TOR-ee,” whereas the actual pronunciation
would be more likely to be “in-ter-LOC-you-tor-ee.” There, is however, a rather
clever trick rhyme in the song, paring “testify” with “best if I,” which together with the above produces a
portrait of an ambitious artist trying new things and finding his feet in the
form that he would eventually revolutionize.
Yet, despite its flaws, Sunny is a delight. It’s all a bit silly,
but it’s really rather fun. The show also contains some of Jerome Kern’s
sprightly yet forgotten tunes, and gives us a glimpse not merely into the
carefree, madcap lifestyle of the 1920s, but also into the way in which that
lifestyle was reflected in the musicals of the time. We can also witness one of
the masters of the form cutting his teeth and moving towards a brand of musical
theater that would bring the form from mere entertainment to actual art.
In the 1920s, neither the fizzy musical
comedies nor the foppish operettas had succeeded in providing relevant, credible
drama beyond the admittedly appealing attributes of each genre. It would take
Oscar Hammerstein, a man who had received his apprenticeship in both musical
comedy and operetta, to fuse the two together and thereby create the modern,
integrated musical play.
Dear Reader: As part of my course on the history of musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, I'm currently directing a staged reading of the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee. What follows is my director's note from the show's program. The performances are this Friday, October 12th and Saturday, October 13th, both at 8 pm. If you're in the Boston area and would like to attend, call 617-912-9222 for reservations. Admission is free, but seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. --C.C.
When the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee first appeared in New York City in 1927, the production ran a thoroughly respectable 421 performances. The economics of putting on musicals in the 1920s allowed shows to make a profit in as little as 100 performances, so this was more than enough of a run for the show to be considered successful. However, when A Connecticut Yankee was revived in 1943, the production was only able to eke out 135 performances, this despite two new Rodgers and Hart songs: “Can’t You Do a Friend a Favor?” and “To Keep My Love Alive.”
Why was the reception for the revival so much less welcoming? It helps to recall that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat made its maiden voyage in 1927, and that 1943 heralded the arrival of Oklahoma!, the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In 1927, A Connecticut Yankee reflected the typical show on Broadway at the time: flippant, frothy, forgettable, but nonetheless fun. Show Boat would, of course, change the course of musical theater, but it would take a good sixteen years for the innovations to fully take hold. By 1943, A Connecticut Yankee was a bit of a dinosaur, a fact made all the more apparent by Oklahoma! and the arrival of the fully integrated musical.
The irony here, of course, is that Richard Rodgers would be largely responsible for making the shows that he created with Lorenz Hart, including A Connecticut Yankee, a thing of the past. When Rodgers changed writing partners, from Hart to Hammerstein, he became part of the single most important partnership in musical-theater history, one that would reinvent the form and lay the foundation for the innovations of the future.
A Connecticut Yankee has since pretty much disappeared from the theatrical landscape, apart from a television production in the 1950s and a 2001 concert staging as part of the Encores! series at New York City Center. On the one hand, it’s a shame: the score represents Richard Rodgers at his most hummably melodic, Larry Hart at his most playfully inventive, and librettist Herbert Fields at his quip-master best.
But the show’s disappearance also makes perfect sense: the book is overly jokey, the songs are only partially integrated into the story, and the script contains numerous references to “specialties,” which in this case were essentially stand-alone dances that were intended to showcase particular performers, not further the plot.
The three men who created A Connecticut Yankee all grew up in the same part of New York City, within blocks of each other, in fact. Hart and Fields were slightly older than Rodgers, but they all went to the same summer camps, where they got their first experience at putting on stage shows and writing songs. Fields, of course, was the brother of now-famed lyricist Dorothy Fields, but he was also the son of Lew Fields, a hugely successful vaudeville performer, comedian, and eventually theater manager and producer. The elder Fields would become instrumental in providing opportunities for the three young men to get their work on stage.
Very early in their association together, the trio had the idea to turn Mark Twain’s satirical novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court into a musical. In fact, the Twain estate gave them the rights free of charge, if only for a year. It would take them years to actually write the show, and by that time they were already established writers and had to pay a premium for the stage rights to the novel.
In the 1920s, the songs for musicals were very often crafted not so much to serve a dramatic purpose as to become hits. A Connecticut Yankee certainly had its share of hits, including “Thou Swell” and “My Heart Stood Still.” The latter song has quite an interesting backstory, although the story of the song’s genesis is possibly apocryphal. The story goes that Rodgers and Hart were working in London and took a side trip to Paris. During a cab ride through the city, the taxi they were riding in was nearly involved in an accident. One of the young women who were riding with them apparently remarked, “Oh, my heart stood still!” Inspiration struck, and – voilà – a hit song.
What was definitely true is that Rodgers and Hart originally wrote “My Heart Stood Still” for London theater impresario C. B. Cochran, who was sort of the British counterpart to America’s Florenz Ziegfeld. Cochran included the song in his London Pavilion Revue in 1927. When Edward, the Prince of Wales (the same Edward who would later become King Edward VII, only to abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson), attended the show, he became an immediate fan of the song, and it went on to become a huge hit in Britain.
In fact, at one point, the legendary Beatrice Lillie wanted to include “My Heart Stood Still” in one of her stage shows. Both Rodgers and Hart felt that Lillie’s ironic performance style would be all wrong for the decidedly un-ironic song, so they claimed that they needed the song for the show that they were currently working on, which happened to be A Connecticut Yankee. However, in order to prevent Lillie from performing their song, they needed to purchase the rights back from C. B. Cochran, which set them back a reported $10,000 (roughly $127,000 in 2012 dollars).
The fact that Rodgers and Hart could take a song that was written for an entirely different production and insert it into A Connecticut Yankee is a fairly strong indication of how marginally integrated most of the songs in the show are. To be fair, this was 1927, and very few musical-theater practitioners were concerned about integration. (Show Boat and Oklahoma!, would change that.) And there are some genuine, albeit fledgling, attempts at integration in A Connecticut Yankee, including the show’s opening sequence, the opening of act 2, as well as a sequence introducing the audience to the court at Camelot.
But most of the remaining numbers in the show are virtually interchangeable. The secondary characters of Sir Galahad and Evelyn, his love interest, sing two songs that bear scant relation to the rest of the goings on in the show: “I Feel at Home With You” and “On a Desert Island With Thee,” although the latter gets points for at least throwing the idiomatic “thee” into the title. In fact, both numbers – and, indeed both characters – were excised from the 1955 television production of the show, without much effect to the plot.
One admittedly integrated song in the show’s score is “Thou Swell,” although the lyric is so dense it can be difficult to understand the song upon first hearing. When Hart was on his game, there were few lyricists who could surpass him in terms of verbal inventiveness (e.g. “I Wish I Were in Love Again” from Babes in Arms) and heartfelt simplicity (e.g. “My Funny Valentine” also from Babes in Arms). But Hart also displayed a strong tendency to write lyrics that were overly clever, calling attention to the wit of the lyricist rather than the plight of the character singing the song.
“Thou Swell” is arguably one of those songs. When A Connecticut Yankee was in production in 1927, many of those working on the show felt that the song’s lyric was perhaps a bit too dense and that the show might benefit from a new song in its place. But the song stayed, the audience response was very positive, and “Thou Swell” eventually made its way into the Great American Songbook, although this could be more due to Rodgers’ jaunty melody that Hart’s impenetrable lyric.
As for the Rodgers and Hart partnership, it was decidedly on the wane in 1943. In fact, while Rodgers and Hart were writing new songs for the revival of A Connecticut Yankee, Rodgers was also working with Oscar Hammerstein on Oklahoma!, the first of 9 stage shows the duo create together. Hart passed on Oklahoma!, reportedly because the rural setting didn’t really suit his writing style, but also because his famously dissolute lifestyle, including a significant dependency on and abuse of alcohol, was catching up with him. The last lyric Hart wrote was that of A Connecticut Yankee’s “To Keep My Love Alive,” a scathingly comic list song that represents Hart at his most clever, playful, and deeply sardonic.
The Independent Theater Bloggers Association (the “ITBA”) is proud to announce the 2012 recipients of the Fourth Annual Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Awards, (the “the Patricks”). Patrick Lee was one of the ITBA's founding members. Patrick passed away suddenly in June 2010, and was an erudite, passionate, and tireless advocate for theater in all its forms. Patrick was also the ITBA's first awards director, and was a regular contributor to Theatermania and TDF Stages.
The 2011-2012 Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Award Winners:
The ITBA comprises bloggers who regularly see live performances in all its forms in New York City and beyond. Members are in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and London, among other places. For further information and a list of our members, our website is www.theaterbloggers.com. If you are interested in learning more about the ITBA, email email@example.com. To invite the members of the ITBA to your show or event, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seventy years ago when Oklahoma! premieredon the New York stage, it singlehandedly changed musical theater forever. Well, I say “singlehandedly,” but in fact composer Richard Rodgers and librettist/lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II didn’t so much innovate as bring the innovations together.
These two gentlemen had worked for decades prior to Oklahoma! to bring dramatic integrity to musical theater, and when they joined up as a team, their work became a culmination of years of experimentation, both in their own work and from the work of others.
Today, however, when some people see Oklahoma!, they often find it quaint, almost hokey, in its seemingly simple tale of a young woman and her momentous decision about who’s going to take her to the box social. People dismiss the show as old-fashioned, the songs as corny, and the creators themselves as hopelessly mired in the picturesque, and consequently of little relevance to our modern sensibilities.
What these people fail to realize is what a genuine revolution Oklahoma! represented to the development of musical theater. All you have to do is look at the typical show of the time – the early 1940s – to see how transformative Oklahoma! truly was.
And that’s why I decided that, as part of the staged-reading series for the musical-theater history course at the Boston Conservatory, I wanted to do Something for the Boys (1943), which was put together by legendary producer Mike Todd, who was famous for a certain kind of Broadway show. That type of show is perhaps best summarized by the famous quote that is often attributed to Todd (but is very likely apocryphal) when he supposedly walked out on Oklahoma! during the show’s intermission when the show was playing its out-of-town tryout engagement in New Haven:
“No legs, no jokes, no chance.”
This quip, whatever its actual source, pretty much sums up the appeal of most Broadway musicals prior to and concurrent with the run of Oklahoma!. The shows were typically empty-headed star vehicles with plenty of pretty girls and lots of corny topical jokes. The score often comprised a random list of songs usually only partially connected to the proceedings at hand. At the time, Broadway music and American popular music were pretty much synonymous, and show songs were often written not so much for character or context but rather to create hit records. Quite frequently, producers would throw in random novelty acts or include a song just to shine a spotlight on an up-and-coming performer (perhaps someone with whom the producer was romantically involved). Whatever dance occurred in the shows was usually mere decoration.
All of this was true of Something for the Boys, which premiered on Broadway in 1943, a mere two months before Oklahoma! hit the stage. The show had everything that was supposed to make a show a hit, at least at the time: a big-name star (Ethel Merman at the height of her box-office power), a score by one of the biggest names in the business (Cole Porter, almost twenty years into a long and successful career), and a book by two of the most reliable quipsters available at the time, brother and sister Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields. The show also had plenty of opportunities for showing off female pulchritude, and a list of random interpolated “specialty” numbers.
Plus, the show took place on and outside an Army base near San Antonio, and thus tapped into the patriotic impulses of the ticket-buying public. The show even ends with a tribute to our fighting boys:
For we’ll all be doing something for the boys While they’re doing so much for us
So, the show had everything, at least by the standards of musical theater in the early 1940s. And it certainly became a modest hit, running for just about a year, which was more than enough in the day for a show to turn a profit. But then, Something for the Boys just disappeared, as did most of the shows prior to and concurrent with Oklahoma! and its Broadway run. Why?
In a word: integration. At the start of my history course, I write that word on the board and tell students that it will essentially become the theme of the entire course. In the context of musical theater, integration essentially means the extent to which the various elements of a show – musical, lyrics, dance, etc. – serve a dramatic purpose in the larger context of the show. Integrated songs progress the plot, reveal character, or establish time and place, with many elements serving a number of or even all of these functions.
Once the critics and the theater-going public got a taste of Oklahoma! and the integrative possibilities that the show reflected, they became less and less patient with the typical Broadway show that Something for the Boys so aptly represented. So the shows that lasted, the shows that we continue to perform and attend today, are mostly the shows that caught on to the Rodgers and Hammerstein revolution.
The plot for Something for the Boys is particularly emblematic of the typical show of its time: three distant cousins jointly inherit a ramshackle Texas ranch. They renovate the house and open it up to servicemen’s wives from the local Army base. A jealous rival insinuates that the place is actually a bordello, so the commanding officer declares the house off limits. All is well at the end when the Blossom Hart, the Ethel Merman character, discovers that she can pick up radio signals through the carborundum in the fillings of her teeth. Yup, her teeth. This creates a classic deus ex machina plot resolution, and all is well with the world.
To hear the score to Something for the Boys by itself, you would have no idea what the story was, which is one of the surest signs of a non-integrated show. My personal favorite in this regard is “By the Mississinewah,” a racially insensitive (by today’s standards) duet in which Blossom and her cousin Chiquita perform a non-contextual number to entertain the troops at a graduation ceremony. Now, admittedly, Rodgers and Hammerstein were certainly capable of including songs in their shows that were there for pure entertainment’s sake. (“Honey Bun” from South Pacificbeing a notable example.)
Don’t get me wrong: the songs for Something for the Boys are terrific, although none of them really became pop standards, as so many of Cole Porter’s other show songs were able to do. But one of the striking things about Something for the Boys is that you could conceivably take all of the songs out of the show, and the story would still work. As musical theater would progress, this would become less and less possible, to the point at which songs and dances have become such an essential part of the story-telling process that we have numerous examples of shows that are all-sung (Les Miserables, Once on This Island) or even all or mostly danced (Movin’ Out, Contact).
Next year, the Boston Conservatory will be putting on a production of Oklahoma!. This production of Something for the Boys is a chance for students and audience members to appreciate that show for the milestone it is.
If you're in the Boston area tonight or tomorrow night, and would like to see Something for the Boys, you can call 617-912-9144 for reservations. The shows are at 8 pm both nights in the Zack Box Theater. Admission is free, and seating is general admission.
Dear Reader: As you may know, I, your humble blogger, teach musical-theater history at The Boston Conservatory. As part of my course, I direct a series of staged readings of historically important but underperformed shows. This weekend, my graduate students are performing The Cradle Will Rock. What follows is an excerpt from the director's note in the show's program. See the poster to the right for performance details. --C.C.
When was the last time a musical made history? The point is no doubt arguable, as there have certainly been many shows over the years that have reflected history and perhaps even influenced the course of human events, as it were.
But to find a show that actually made the history books -- and not just the musical-theater history books -- you'd probably have to go back to 1937 and The Cradle Will Rock. Here's a show that was so angry, so strident, so pointed in its satiric intent that people in high places actually considered it dangerous.
Welles and Houseman, who at the time were in charge of the Federal Theater Project, chose The Cradle Will Rock -- with book music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein -- for its 1937 season, with Houseman producing and Welles directing. Blitzstein's show is a savage satire of big business, as well as those who were all too willing to sell out to the rich and powerful, and showed no mercy in painting a broad and unflattering portrait of industrialists, the press, the clergy, medical professionals, academics, artists, and the military.
When Blitzstein was working on The Cradle Will Rock, he played the song "Nickel Under the Foot" for friend and mentor Bertolt Brecht. The song is sung by Moll, the prostitute and symbolic heart of the show, and is a heartbreaking lament on the caustic effects of poverty:
And if you're sweet, then you'll grow rotten, Your pretty heart covered over with soot.
The song also decries the actions of the supposedly upstanding people who surround Moll, and the ruthlessness with which they pursue personal gain:
Go stand on someone's neck while you're takin' Cut into somebody's throat as you put. For every dream and scheme's depending on whether All through the storm, you've kept it warm. The nickel under your foot.
Upon hearing the song, Brecht urged Blitzstein to use it as the central conceit of the show: prostitution, only not in the literal but rather the figurative sense. The stunning irony at the heart of The Cradle Will Rock is that the prostitute Moll is one of the only characters who doesn't sell out, who hasn't compromised her values, her talent, her dignity.
The Welles production was apparently going to be rather lavish, which was very in keeping with Welles' more-is-more style of directing, but which irked Blitzstein, who feared that his message might get lost amid the hoopla.
What happened next depends on which side you choose to believe. The political dynamic at the time was not unlike the one we see in Washington today, with Democrats pushing for jobs-creating spending initiatives, and Republicans pushing just as hard for spending cuts. When word came from Washington that The Cradle Will Rock would have to shut down, the official line was that Congress had put a freeze on arts spending. But it's also quite possible that even darker forces were at work: specifically the very wealthy industrialists that Blitzstein was attempting to savage in his piece were placing pressure on the government to shut down a production that might prove very embarrassing for a lot of influential people.
When Houseman, Welles, Blitzstein and the cast showed up to work one day, the theater had been padlocked and armed guards were on duty, supposedly to prevent anyone from absconding with the props and sets, which were technically government property.
Undeterred, the production staff secured another theater and a piano, and marched the entire cast and their ticket-bearing audience 20 blocks north in New York City to put on the show in their new location.
Meanwhile, Actors' Equity, the labor union representing actors, issued a ruling barring anyone from the cast from appearing on stage in this production, possibly as a result of pressure from outside forces. (The irony here is that the show essentially deals with attempts to unionize steelworkers in fictional Steeltown, USA and the powerful forces that attempt to stop the union from forming.)
At first, Blitzstein was going to perform the entire show solo, accompanying himself on the piano; since he wasn't an Equity member, the ruling didn't affect him. But as Blitzstein began to sing through the show, something magical and inspiring started to happen: the actors, one by one, began to sing and perform their parts from the audience, thus both defying the Equity edict and adhering to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. (After all, no union member was actually appearing "on stage.")
As for the show itself, the score reflects Blitzstein at his most inventive, with haunting dissonant melodies alongside jaunty anxious anthems. Blitzstein was a serious composer who studied with such notable composers as Nadia Boulanger and Arnold Schoenberg. Although many have compared Blitzstein's compositional style to that of Kurt Weill, Blitzstein was openly critical of Weill, as well as other composers whom he felt were compromising their ambition in order to court popularity.
The characters in The Cradle Will Rock might appear to be no more than straw men and women. And, to a large extent, that's true. Blitzstein wasn't interested in portraying fully fledged humans, but rather exaggerated cartoons decrying the venality and hypocrisy that he saw around him. The show does have its tender moments, particularly those involving Moll and the sad druggist she encounters upon her arrest. And the strident, insolent, angry anthem "Joe Worker" ranks among the most powerful and effective songs in musical-theater history.
Given the modern resonance the show has, what with all this talk about the 99%, efforts on the part of certain billionaires to control the media, to influence policy, to create even more privileges for the privileged, it's really quite surprising that the show hasn't received a major New York production in almost 30 years. (Anyone out there care to remedy the situation?)
Care to discover what all the fuss was about back in 1937? Why some people felt that this show was so provocative that it had to be stopped? I'm directing a staged reading of The Cradle Will Rock this weekend at the Boston Conservatory. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm in the Zack Box Theater. If you'd like to attend, email me for details.
I hated history in high school. At the time, I thought this was simply because the subject didn't interest me, but I eventually came to understand that it was because my history teachers were somewhat perfunctory and uninspired in the way they presented the subject matter.
In college, I was "forced" to take a full year of world history, and wound up being rather pleasantly surprised by this rather delightful professor who related everything in the course to the art and music of the time periods in question. Want to know what Louis XIV was thinking? Take a look at some baroque architecture or listen to some Bach, he said. Interested in what the mindset was after the French Revolution? Check out a Delacroix painting or The Red and the Black.
As a result of that experience, I firmly believe in teaching history, and musical-theater history in particular, not merely as a series of dates and events, but in terms of the progression of ideas and the cultural, social, and political influences on those ideas. One of the most important themes in my musical-theater history course at the Boston Conservatory is the evolution in the portrayal of certain societal subgroups: African Americans, women, and members of the LGBT community. In researching the course syllabus, I was really struck by how many of the shows that I was hoping to cover reflected the changing attitudes toward -- and treatment of -- women, blacks, and gays, and how the shows presented in their way a sort of cultural history of each of those groups.
I was particularly struck when I came across Bloomer Girl, a show that I honestly hadn't really been familiar with prior to researching this course. But as soon as I started reading about the show, I knew I wanted to include it in the course. Bloomer Girl concerns itself with Amelia Bloomer, the inventor, naturally enough, of "bloomers," and her efforts to bring about women's suffrage in particular and women's rights in general. But the show also takes on the parallel struggle to abolish slavery and the workings of the Underground Railroad. Here was a show that addressed, dead on, two of the key themes that were emerging for my course, so two years ago when I initiated the series of staged readings that supplement my course, I knew that Bloomer Girl would be on my short list of shows that I wanted to present. But Bloomer Girl is more than just a history lesson: it's also a delightfully witty and tuneful reminder of musicals from a bygone era.
Given the personnel behind Bloomer Girl, it's really no surprise that the show would have such a strong social conscience. The show features a score by the glorious Harold Arlen, whom many people simply know as the composer of the glorious songs to the 1939 film, "The Wizard of Oz." But Arlen also created the scores to about a dozen Broadway shows, including quite a few shows with all-or-mostly-black casts, including St. Louis Woman, House of Flowers, and Jamaica.E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Arlen's lyricist for Bloomer Girl, not to mention "The Wizard of Oz," had a similar history of contributing shows with inclusive content, including lyrics for the lighthearted sardonic revue Life Begins at 8:40(which he also wrote with Arlen), book and lyrics for the scathingly funny social satireFinian's Rainbow (with Bloomer Girl librettist Fred Saidy), and book and lyrics to the outrageously bizarre but fascinating send-up of big business, Flahooley (also with Fred Saidy).
The original cast of Bloomer Girl (1944) featured Celeste Holm in the lead female role of Evalina. Holm was fresh off her star-making role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma, and Joan McCracken (the future ex-Mrs. Bob Fosse), who practically stole Bloomer Girl out from under Holm as the maid Daisy, was fresh out of Oklahoma as well. Also making the trip from Oklahoma to Cicero Falls, New York, was choreographer Agnes de Mille. The reviews and historical accounts of Bloomer Girl point to de Mille's choreography, in particular her legendary Civil War ballet, as being one of many highlights from the show, which ran an impressive 657 performances, or about 18 months.
Because we have only 4 days of rehearsal for these staged readings, my cast will, alas, not be performing the ballet, or any of the de Mille dances for that matter, but if you click on the link above, you can watch a video of the ballet, which comes from a 1956 television broadcast of Bloomer Girl, starring Barbara Cook and Keith Andes. Bloomer Girl has since all but vanished from view, save for a 2001 concert production by Encores, but the somewhat truncated cast recording serves to remind us of Arlen's eclectic score, Harburg's witty and evocative lyrics, and the dynamic performances of Holm, McCracken, and their able supporting cast.
(An interesting footnote: Bloomer Girl features a dramatically purposeful and symbolic performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin during the second act of the show. This was some six years before the Jerome Robbins ballet, "Small House of Uncle Thomas" in The King and I. As I always say to my students, there's really no such thing as an original idea. What matters is the quality of the execution.)
Bloomer Girl performances at the Boston Conservatory are December 7th and December 8th at 8 pm in the Zack Box Theater. Admission is free. Seating is on a first come-first served basis. Email me for more details.
Patrick Lee was one of the ITBA's founding members, and was the author of the blog Just Shows to Go You. Patrick passed away suddenly last June, and was an erudite, passionate, and tireless advocate for theater in all its forms. Patrick was also the ITBA's first awards director, and was a regular contributor to TheaterMania and TDF Stages.
The 2010-2011 Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Award Winners:
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
OUTSTANDING BROADWAY MUSICAL REVIVAL
OUTSTANDING BROADWAY PLAY REVIVAL
The Normal Heart
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
OUTSTANDING OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL (PLAY OR MUSICAL)
Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches
OUTSTANDING SOLO SHOW/PERFORMANCE (ALL VENUE CATEGORIES)
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
CITATIONS FOR OUTSTANDING OFF-OFF BROADWAY SHOW
Feeder: A Love Story
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Belarus Free Theater's Discover Love
UNIQUE OFF-OFF BROADWAY EXPERIENCE
Sleep No More
OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
The Scottsboro Boys
CITATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE BY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMERS
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Reed Birney, A Small Fire
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherfucker with the Hat
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Hamish Linklater, School for Lies
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Benjamin Walker, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
CITATION FOR EXCELLENCE IN OFF-OFF BROADWAY THEATRE
The list of the 2011 recipients of the Patrick Lee Awards is read by Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen, and Hunter Bell, the cast and creators of the acclaimed [title of show], who are currently collaborating on Now. Here. This., a Developmental Lab Production at the Vineyard Theatre. A video of their reading is on YouTube, which was filmed by ITBA member Jesse North.
The ITBA, is composed of bloggers who regularly attend live theater in all its forms in New York City and beyond. Members live in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, London, and elsewhere. For further information and a list of our members, please visit our website: www.theaterbloggers.com. If you are interested in learning more about the ITBA, email email@example.com. To invite the members of the ITBA to your show or event, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know what's really humbling? Being in a room with a bunch of people who know a lot more than you do, about a subject that you thought you knew a whole lot about. And you know what's even more humbling? When that conversation gets taped for broadcast purposes.
I was deeply impressed by all of my fellow panelists, as well as moderator Howard Sherman, and their rich understanding of both the theatrical landscape as well as the past, present, and future of arts journalism. The panel made some especially incisive comments about the changing economic model for journalism, and what we can expect from the future of theater criticism. Meanwhile, I proceeded to prattle on about my dog Oliver, teaching musical theater, and, for some strange reason, Venn diagrams.
The show should be airing sometime soon in New York City, although I haven't the slightest idea when, but you can watch it online (click here to watch the show online) or fire up iTunes and download the Podcast. The show is an hour long, but you can always skip past the parts when I'm talking.
In all of the hubbub of the end of the Broadway season and the end of the Boston Conservatory semester, it totally slipped my mind that my blog turned five in April.
Five years of blogging. It's really kind of hard to believe, and it's amazing to me to look back and see how much this blog has changed my life. I've met so many wonderful people, and seen so many shows, some of which were quite wonderful. Some.
I won't waste your time with lists of accomplishments and highlights, but I would like to send a shout out to the following people, my beloved fellow theater bloggers, and thank them for their support and friendship over the past five years.
If the only effect this blog had on my life was bringing you lovely people into my life, then I could truly consider myself blessed. Here's to many more years of blogging and friendship.
Patrick Lee was one of the ITBA's founding members. Patrick passed away suddenly last June, and was an erudite, passionate, and tireless advocate for theater in all its forms. He was the author of the popular theater blog, Just Shows to Go You, and was one of the co-founders of the Show Showdown blog. Patrick was also the ITBA's first awards director, and was a regular contributor to Theatermania and TDF Stages.
Conratulations to all of the nominees. The winners will be announced on Friday, May 20th.
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Catch Me If You Can
The Book of Mormon
The Scottsboro Boys
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
OUTSTANDING BROADWAY MUSICAL REVIVAL
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
OUTSTANDING BROADWAY PLAY REVIVAL
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Merchant of Venice
The Normal Heart
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
Other Desert Cities
Peter and the Starcatcher
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
The Metal Children
OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
The Burnt Part Boys
We the People: America Rocks!
OUTSTANDING OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL (PLAY OR MUSICAL)
Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches
Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika
The Little Foxes
OUTSTANDING SOLO SHOW/PERFORMANCE (ALL VENUE CATEGORIES)
Kimberly Faye Greenberg, One Night with Fanny Brice
John Leguizamo, Ghetto Klown
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Tim Watts, Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
OUTSTANDING OFF-OFF-BROADWAY SHOW
Belarus Free Theater's Discover Love
Feeder: A Love Story
Reefer Madness, The Gallery Players
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
There will also be citations for individual performances, but the nominees will not be made public. The winners will be announced along with the rest of the winners on May 20th.
This semester, I wanted to put on a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and I knew that show had to be Allegro (1947). The gentlemen certainly had their share of hits, but they did produce a few not-so-hits along the way, including Pipe Dream and Me & Juliet. These shows are not without their charms, but they can hardly be considered revolutionary. Allegro was.
For the uninitiated, Allegro was R&H's third stage show, after Oklahoma and Carousel, and came out shortly after their only musical written directly for the movies, "State Fair," which won them an Oscar for best song ("It Might as Well Be Spring"). And Allegro is one of the most important musicals that most people have never even heard of.
Allegro is nothing if not ambitious. The show represented a serious attempt on Oscar Hammerstein's part to craft an original story, rather than an adaptation, and reflected numerous innovations in the musical-theater form. Allegro was the first of what we now consider the "concept" musicals, shows that explore a particular idea rather than tell a specific A-to-Z story. (Other concept musicals include Love Life,Cabaret, Chicago, Company, and The Scottsboro Boys.) The concept for Allegro was originally a cradle-to-grave story of a certain earnest everyman, and how modern life presents challenges to his integrity. The birth-to-death idea proved untenable, so Allegro wound up being the cradle-to-midlife-crisis story of one Joseph Taylor, Jr.
Because the story had a rather ambitious temporal arc, Hammerstein made significant use of an omniscient Greek chorus, which comments on the action to both the actors and the audience. The show's physical production concept - an open playing area with a cyclorama for projections, and small set pieces that moved in and out of the playing area - represented a break from the literal realism of musicals at the time. Allegro also heralded the rise of the director/choreographer, in this case, Agnes de Mille. When we think of director/choreographers, we typically think of the men: Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, etc. But Agnes de Mille took on this dual role before any of those guys did.
So, Allegro is unquestionably a significant show. But is it any good?
Despite the biggest advance sale of any musical up to that time, Allegro sharply divided audience members and critics when it premiered in 1947. While some thought it sublime and appreciated the sheer ambition and scope of the show, others found it pretentious, preachy, and boring. Until my experience of actually directing the show, I fell into the latter camp. In his libretto, Hammerstein expresses the dangers of social climbing and rampant materialism, and on the printed page, and on its two extant recordings, the show comes off as cold, humorless, and didactic. But the show really comes alive on stage, thanks in no small part to Oscar Hammerstein's warm and three-dimensional characterizations and Richard Rodgers' thrilling and tuneful score.
Another potential problem with the show is that the central love story seems at first to be cynical and empty. That was by design, but it can make for an unsatisfying experience. Joe grows up to wed his childhood sweetheart, Jenny. Act 1 ends with their wedding, in which everyone onstage seems to question whether this is really a good idea. It's the sort of thing Stephen Sondheim could have pulled off with alacrity, but Hammerstein seems have had a hard time making it compelling. (Sondheim actually served as a production assistant during Allegro's tryout period, and points to Allegro as providing inspiration for much of his later work.) One of the things I've tried to do with this production is make Jenny a believable and sympathetic person, someone who simply has her own ideas about what she wants from life, and not a heartless, calculating monster.
One of most important influences that the shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein had on musical-theater history was the integration of dance into the dramatic fabric of the shows they produced. This began with Oklahoma, which contains numerous examples of dramatically purposeful dance, including "Kansas City," "Many a New Day," "The Farmer and the Cowman," and of course the famous dream ballet, AKA "Laurey Makes up Her Mind." Following this, we had Carousel, which includes a stunning opening pantomime set to some of Rodgers' most compelling and evocative music, the "Carousel Waltz," as well as an alternately raucous and heartfelt ballet that shows the central character, Billy Bigelow, the full extent of the damage he's done to the life of his daughter. And perhaps most thrilling of all is the glorious "Small House of Uncle Thomas" in The King & I, one of the best examples of dance that serves a central and thematic narrative purpose.
Perhaps not surprisingly, since Agnes de Mille was at the helm, Allegro originally had quite a bit of dance, including four separate ballets. Because I only have 5 rehearsals for these staged readings, it's really not possible for me to choreograph any complicated numbers, so I had to cut most, if not all, of the dance. But I think it's really interesting to note that the show's story still works without the dance, which probably means that, with all due respect to Agnes de Mille and her collaborators, the dance for Allegro isn't really all that central to the message of the show. Additive, yes, but not requisite.
Allegro has performances this Monday, April 11th and Tuesday, April 12th, both at 8 PM at The Boston Conservatory's Zack Box Theater. Admission is free, and seating is unreserved, general admission. If you're in the Boston area and would like to attend, shoot me a message. Remember that these are bare-bones productions, produced on less than a shoestring, and designed to showcase the work itself. Come experience some terrific young performers, and the glory of some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best but least-known work.
Just a heads-up to all of you wonderful people out there in the dark. I'll be taking a two-week hiatus from blogging, but thankfully not from theater. From July 5th to the 19th, I'll be participating in the National
Critics Institute, an annual event sponsored by the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. For the next two weeks, I'll be hobnobbing with my fellow wizards, watching shows, discussing same, writing reviews, providing feedback on same, attending rehearsals, and just generally immersing myself in all things theatrical. I'm genuinely thrilled at the prospect.
For those of you unfamiliar with the O'Neill Center, it sits on a lovely spot in New London, Conn. overlooking the ocean, on the site of the actual O'Neill homestead, the spot where Eugene
O'Neill and his family spent many of their summers. Of course, if you're at all familiar with Long Day's
Journey Into Night, you doubtless know that these family summers
were anything but homey and tranquil. The house is now a museum, dubbed Monte Cristo Cottage (see photo below) in honor of the role and the play that made O'Neill's father, James O'Neill, rich and famous.
As part of my preparation for the event, I've been re-reading Long Day's Journey, as well as watching two of the filmed versions of the play: the 1962 version with Katherine Hepburn and Jason Robards, and the 1987 version with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. Each take is stellar in its own way, but, I mean, c'mon Kate Hepburn as Mary Tyrone? To die.
I also watched a filmed version of Ah, Wilderness!, which likewise takes place in New London, but is only autobiographical insomuch as it represented an idealized version of O'Neill's family background, what he in fact would have preferred his family to be like.
Expect a full report when I get back. I'm not allowed to write about any of the workshops that I'll be seeing at the O'Neill, but I'll be sure to report back to you about the experience, as well as on any non-O'Neill shows I may see as part of the bargain. (The critics "boot camp" includes field trips to local theaters, including the Ivoryton Playhouse and the Goodspeed Opera House.) Will I return with my analytical faculties sharpened to a finely honed edge? Or will the entire experience produce a sense of existential angst and ennui, prompting me to throw up my critical hands at the sheer pointlessness of it all? Tune in late July to find out.
This past weekend, I performed with the Boston Gay Men's Chorus, as I do every June as part of Boston's Pride celebrations. Usually, I take part in the dance numbers, and this year was no exception. But I was also approached by the Chorus's artistic director to contribute some material. The focus of the concert was divas, and there was a section devoted to divas of the stage. The idea was that I would be on stage blogging, providing introductions to the various sections of the stage diva segment. Last night, our concert coincided with the Tony Awards telecast, so I added a quick update on the awards that had been announced at that point.
For those of you who couldn't make the concert, here's the stage patter I devised for the segments. I was told to be as bitchy as possible, so this might be slightly more vicious than I would normally be on this blog. Slightly. I've also included the songs that each speech was meant to introduce, as well as commentary as to whether I really believed the bitchery behind the lines or whether I was just going for a laugh or an effect. Enjoy.
of the Stage
Dear Reader: Welcome to Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals, Special Diva
Edition. When I started writing this blog, my intention was to focus on the
musicals themselves. Well, little did I know that my readers would take such
prurient interest in the private lives of their favorite female stars of the
stage. You people are petty and superficial. Fortunately, so am I. So, ask and
you shall receive... [This is a fictive construct I devised purely for the concert. My readers are anything but petty, and I rarely traffic in gossip. Here I was solely trying to set up the rest of the set.]
"There's No Business Like Show Business," Annie Get Your Gun]
[ETHEL MERMAN]: Rumors have been swirling around for years that Ethel Merman
was actually a great big lesbian. But apparently, that was just a rumor started
by “novelist” Jacqueline Susann. It seems that Jackie cooked up a story about
rebuffing Ethel’s amorous advances. When in fact, quite the opposite was true.
Dream on, Jackie. In other news, Ethel was also very close friends with J.
Edgar Hoover. Probably because they wore the same dress size. [While reading Ethel's autobiography and a few biographies, I was distressed to discover that my beloved Ethel was a conservative republican, and cavorted with the likes of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But I did have to chuckle to discover she was so tight with Hoover, who we now know was one of the biggest closet cases in U.S. history.]
[SONG: "Some People," Gypsy]
LUPONE]: When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard premiered in London,
the show starred the fabulous Patti LuPone. Well, the show ran into some
trouble – to say the very least – and Sir Andrew decided to replace La LuPone
with Glenn Close. (Because she’s *such* a great singer...) Hey, Andy: Don’t
blame Patti because you haven’t written anything decent or successful since
1986. But, as we know, Patti cried all the way to the bank. In fact she fondly
recalls the lawsuit settlement every time she’s floating around in her
Olympic-sized swimming pool. Only in this pool, there’s no dead writer floating
face-down. Yet. [Truth be told, I actually enjoy Sunset Boulevard, but I much prefer the Patti LuPone London recording. If I never hear Glenn Close "sing" again, that would be be just fine with me.]
[SONG: "With One Look," Sunset
MINNELLI]: What do I really need to tell you about Liza Minnelli? Well, at
least she’s following in her mother’s footsteps. And we all know where that got
her mother. [I adore Judy Garland, and I mean no disrespect here whatsoever. The night of our first performance was Judy's birthday, and I was worried that this line would start a mini riot. There were a few minor gasps, but I emerged unscathed.]
"Maybe This Time," Cabaret]
PETERS]: And then there’s Bernadette Peters. A gorgeous, talented woman who
didn’t get married until she was almost forty. Hmm... Now, I’m not saying she’s
gay. I’m just saying that she’d probably make some lipstick lesbian a
wonderful husband. There are those who say that, when she did the 2003 revival
of Gypsy, she absolutely triumphed as Mama Rose. And then there are
those of us without any mental handicaps. [They made me change this last
line for fear of getting complaints from the PC set. The new line read, "And then there's
me."Also, I have no reason to believe that Bernadette is gay. I was simply going for a laugh here.]
"Time Heals Everything," Mack and Mabel]
Boston diva LEIGH BARRETT]: Of course, in Boston
we have our own distinctive divas. One glorious example would be the lovely and
talented Ms. Leigh Barrett. Now, I’ve known Leigh for years, and I could certainly
tell you some stories. But unfortunately I’m under a gag order from the Massachusetts
court system. Suffice it to say that, after a few weeks of recuperation, the
goat and the chimpanzee are just fine. And the Boys Scouts of America wound up
dropping all the charges. Well, at least we have the chance to enjoy Leigh’s
sheer fabulousness on stage. In fact, I hear she’s currently singing with the
Boston Gay Men’s Chorus... [Lest anyone get the wrong idea, this section is
entirely fictional, except for the fact that I've know Leigh for years. Well,
at least it's fictional as far as I know...]