It is now four weeks since I wrote the above paragraph. Why the lag time? Because, dear readers, it is a time of upheaval. Not downheavel, mind you, no, it is a time of upheavel. In the four weeks since I wrote the above paragraph my whole world has been turned topsy-turvy and even turvy-topsy. Things are afoot. Not ahand, nor anose, but afoot. Yes, in a nutshell, my world has become discombobulated. Do you feel "discombobulated" is too big a word for a nutshell? Do you know how the word "discombobulated" came into existence? Well, originally the word was "discomulated", but one fine day some enterprising young man named Bob just decided to insert his name right into the word, willy-nilly and also nilly-willy, and the word people let him get away with it. So now Bob has a word with his very own name in it. What if Rick had gotten the idea first? Then my world would be discomrickulated which is a whole different kettle of drums. What the hell am I talking about? Oh, yes, my world and its discombobulation. I cannot, however, go into detail at this time, but I will be able to go into detail at that time whenever that time may be. Suffice it to say that I have been dealing with many things which have precluded me from delivering this here column in a timely fashion, such as a lovely Donna Karan ensemble with cloche hat, which I look very timely in.
A few weeks ago I was in the lovely and enchanting city of New York. Joe Allen is now open again and serving their delicious meals. I saw several shows which I will discuss later in the column. What I did not see was the workshop of my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim's new show entitled Wise Guys. That is because my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, could not get me into the show, so tight were tickets. He told me that the entire creative team only received ten tickets between them. Why they felt it necessary to put said tickets between the creative team I have no idea. Normally, whilst in New York I stay at the Doubletree or Empire Hotels where one can usually get a nice suite for the price of a room. I like a nice suite because if one is going to spend several days in a hotel a room is simply too claustrophobic. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, I am a claustrophobe. Not a serious claustrophobe, but a claustrophobe nonetheless. But on this particular trip I could not get into the Doubletree or Empire Hotels. Why, you might ask, and I might tell you because why should I keep you in the dark, hotel-wise? You see, it was Marathon Weekend and all the hotels in New York were booked solid. Don't you think if a hotel is "booked solid" that it means it should be filled with books? Just asking. In any case, the only hotel I could get a room in was the Paramount Hotel, a hip and cool hotel on 46th Street, the very same street that houses my beloved Joe Allen. The only problem with the Paramount Hotel is the size of their rooms. To say they are small would not quite tell the tale. The rooms in the Paramount are small, as in minuscule, as in teeny-tiny, as in broom closet. Ninety-percent of the room is taken up by the bed. There is a closet and a bathroom. If you arise from the bed, depending on which direction you go, you are either in the closet, the bathroom or out the door. This is not a good room for a claustrophobic person. I would say that the walls felt like they were closing in on me but there was no room for them to close in on me. Anyway, I spent as little time as I possibly could in the sardine can of a room. Instead I roamed the streets of Manhattan, visiting lovely shops and having a fine time.
Have I mentioned that my world is discombobulated? I feel as if the rug has been pulled from under me and I'm not even on a rug. But hopefully we will persevere and everything will be coming up roses and sunshine and Santa Claus. Did you all have a nice Halloween? Wasn't that a good segue? From discombobulated worlds to Halloween in the blink of an eye. I gave out lots of luscious candies to the various trick or treaters. The winner for best costume were Ben and his friend who both wore a disgusting Scream mask which had dripping blood coursing over it. Here is an activity photo of the bemasked Ben and friend.
Here is a befuddling mystery, dear readers. I call it The Mystery of The Disappearing Forks. Back in 1986 or so I bought some silverware. Inexpensive silverware but nice nonetheless. This silverware included enough forks, knives and spoons to serve sixteen people, although normally the most people I ever served was four. Well, I went into my silverware drawer the other day and saw an interesting sight. Three forks. Somehow, over the past year or two, forks have been disappearing, never to be seen again. The knives and spoons are all there. It's just the forks which have gone missing. Who has been removing my forks and why? I can't even have a dinner party for four now unless two people share a fork. This is heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). Once there were sixteen forks. And Then There Were Three. This is a mystery worthy of the great Hercule Poirot. Perhaps when Mr. Mark Bakalor was visiting last Christmas he inadvertently removed thirteen forks? I think perhaps we'd better give Mr. Bakalor the third degree (I gave him the second and fourth degree but neither of those degrees seemed to have the desired effect). Yes, let's put Mr. Bakalor on the witness stand right this very minute.
The Real A: Mr. Bakalor, is it true you visited the home of The Real A last December 1998.
Mr. Mark Bakalor: Yes, I admit it, I did visit the home of The Real A.
The Real A: And did you, at any time during that visit, remove thirteen forks?
Mr. Mark Bakalor: No, I did not.
The Real A: Mr. Bakalor, you are under oath here. I'd like to point out for the record that Mr. Bakalor is sweating profusely. Witnesses who were also at The Real A's home have sworn they heard a clinking or jingling sound every time you moved.
Mr. Mark Bakalor: Clinking or jingling? Or are they saying they heard clinking and jingling?
The Real A: I'm asking the questions here. What was clinking, Mr. Bakalor? Or, conversely, what was jingling?
Mr. Mark Bakalor: I'm telling you, I didn't steal the thirteen forks! You can't pin this on me!
The Real A: And yet, the very next night you were seen at a dinner party at which there were thirteen forks. How do you explain that, Mr. Bakalor?
Mr. Mark Bakalor: I... I... You're confusing me. You're putting words in my mouth.
The Real A: Just like the thirteen forks you put in your pocket?
Mr. Mark Bakalor: I didn't! I didn't!
The Real A: Oh, you didn't, eh? And yet you were seen looking lovingly at the thirteen forks. You were seen fondling the thirteen forks.
Mr. Mark Bakalor: All right, I admit I looked lovingly and fondled. But that was the extent of it. I never took the thirteen forks. I swear it. I swear on the life of my rubber sheep, I'm innocent!
Did Mr. Bakalor steal the thirteen forks? Has anyone seen Mr. Bakalor's rubber sheep lately? Does anyone know what the hell I'm talking about? Perhaps it's just time to end this section of the column, because frankly it's starting to feel like Kat and The Kings, The Scarlet Pimpernel 3 and It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues: About to close. But enough about me.
As I promised, here are some thoughts on the shows which I saw whilst in the city of New York.
The first show I saw was a brand spanking new off-Broadway show entitled Stars In Your Eyes. I'm sorry to report that it wasn't very good. That said, it was the author's first effort and, as a first effort, there were things to like. Some of the music was pretty, although none of it ever really helped the plot and too much of it was too similar, both musically and lyrically. The production, on the other hand, was quite nice, as were the performances of its talented cast, which included Crista Moore, Barbara Walsh and the young girl who played Mary Phagan in Parade (Christy Canyon Somethingorother).
The second show I saw was entitled Saturday Night Fever. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, I, The Real A, saw Saturday Night Fever, although I did not see it on Saturday night and I did not have a fever. This show received the worst reviews I've ever seen, and yet the house was full (on a Sunday night), and the audience ate it up. There really is no reason for this show to exist other than as a crass money making machine, and as a crass money making machine it's certainly competent. The authors have done nothing whatsoever to attempt to make the show work as a real musical and that is its biggest problem. The characters sing several of the Bee Gees' songs as if they were character songs, which they're blatantly not. The dancing is okay and energetic, and I had no problem at all with the fellow doing the John Travolta role. The first act curtain of this show was as bad a first act curtain as I've ever seen. It gives you absolutely no reason to want to come back to see Act Two. The idea of a first act curtain is to make you want to come back to see Act Two and yet I did not want to come back and see Act Two although I did come back to see Act Two despite the terrible Act One curtain which did not make me want to come back to see Act Two. They simply do a dance at the disco and the curtain falls. Wow, that's drama. Anyway, as with all crass money making machines this show is miked and mixed to within an inch of its life. It's disheartening to think that young theatergoers should think that this is how musicals should sound. It's so processed and equalized that you really get no sense that it's even live. It sounds like one of those Disney touring things where everything is prerecorded and the cast lip synchs. I must say, however, that I do love the songs. Those Bee Gees really know how to craft a pop tune and hearing them once again was a lot of fun. I was never a huge fan of the film (I loved the dancing and the music but thought the story from hunger) and seeing the "film" on stage did nothing to change my opinion.
The third show I saw was entitled It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, which was, as you might imagine, a show about "the blues". Not the reds, mind you, nor the yellows or the browns, no, this show was about the blues. The performers were splendid and included Gretha Boston, Ken Page, Ann Duquesnay and Christiane Noll. I found that two hours of the blues was one hour too many, especially as the band doesn't even come on until the second act (most of the first act is accompanied by just guitar or is sung acapella).
The final show I saw was called Nottingham. Nottingham is a brand spanking new musical based on Robin Hood. This was a first workshop so I don't really want to say too much about it other than the fact that the authors have a lot of work to do. The music is too simple, the lyrics are clunky, and the book never knows what story it wants to tell. Robin Hood is too often relegated to the periphery of the story and there's little in the score that illuminates character or moves the plot forward. The cast was splendid, with Brian d'Arcy James as Robin and Alice Ripley as Marian.
Well, I really must stop being the Ben Brantley and Ken Mandelbaum of this here column. Actually, I would like to meld Ben and Ken together. Then we could have Benken Mandelbrantleybaum.
I finally got around to seeing the brand spanking new television version of the show entitled Annie. If you liked this adaptation, if you thought it was a sparkling evening, if you thought a splendid job was done by all, then you may skip directly to the next section of this here column.
I don't know Craig Zadan or Neil Meron, but I do know they are doing no service to the musical theater by doing these Disneyfied versions of classic Broadway shows. Oh, they think they are, but I think differently. There is one basic question that needs to be asked in regards to Annie. Do you trust the source material? If you don't, then why are you doing it? The film version was a big fat mess. But the television version is worse and for a variety of easy to spot reasons. In having Thomas Meehan's book totally rewritten they simply took the meat out of the musical. This new script makes no sense, really. It's like, Daddy Warbucks comes home, sees Annie, says "Who is this?" we go to commercial and when we come back he's totally in love with this new orphan. He has no journey, we don't see the plucky Annie winning him over, we see nothing. The entire adaptation is plagued by that sort of thing. Then there are Mr. Danny Troob's "new" orchestrations which simply reduce Charles Strouse's bouncy biting score to syrup and mush, making it sound like exactly like any of the Alan Menken song scores for any of the Disney animated films. They've robbed the score of the Strouse "sound". Then there are the performances. Now, I like Kathy Bates as much as the next A, but the one thing Kathy Bates is not is funny. I'd read in advance that her take on Miss Hannigan was to play it more real. Wrong take. Miss Hannigan works as a character because she's larger than life and Dorothy Loudon, the original Broadway Miss Hannigan, played her brilliantly. With Miss Loudon you could laugh but also understand why these orphans were afraid of her and hated her. Miss Bates is just sort of there, which makes for little drama and tension. Mr. Alan Cumming was fair as were the orphans. The little girl who played Annie, Alicia Morton, was terrific, as was Kristin Cheneweth. Which brings us to Audra McDonald. I know this is heresy but I just don't "get" Audra McDonald. I see the adulation thrown at this woman, but having seen her several times, the cause of the adulation simply eludes me. I know I'm in the minority on this but there you are. I found her performance as Grace pretty dreadful. She has no facility for screen acting and the costumer didn't do her any favors. I like Rob Marshall, but unfortunately he is out of his element as a film director. He has done lovely things on the stage, but his film direction is clunky and he has no sense of where and how to place the camera to best shoot a musical number or scene. I find it disheartening that this kind of thing goes through the rating roof, which sends a strong clear message to Mr. Zadan and Mr. Meron that they're doing something right. In my opinion, other than bringing a musical to the screen, they are doing nothing right. At least if they ever do a Sondheim musical for television I don't believe they'd have the nerve or the gall to do what they did to Annie. After I finished watching it, I ran my videotape of the Tony broadcast where they did the selections from Annie and it brought home just how bad the television version was. You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile, Easy Street and Tomorrow were simply brilliant, and the performers superb, and there isn't one person involved in the television version who is a patch on the butt cheeks of any of them.
Yes, the What If Dept. has returned, dear readers. It has been many moons (snoom spelled backwards) since we've had a What If section. If people would moon us more often we'd have more What If sections, wouldn't we? In any case, what if Cole Porter had written Sweeney Todd? And it goes something like this (to the tune of So In Love):
I recently had a visit to my dentist, whose name you may remember is Dr. Chew. I had my teeth x-rayed and cleaned. I had no cavities. But Dr. Chew did find a problem. What problem did he find, you might ask, and I might tell you because frankly I feel you need to know what problem Dr. Chew found, otherwise you would be Chewless. What Dr. Chew found was that one of the fillings in my far back tooth had broken and somehow between the time said filling broke and said visit to Dr. Chew, the tooth had gotten a crack in it. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, my tooth had gotten a crack in it. Not a bad crack, but a crack nonetheless. Dr. Chew's verdict was that to protect the tooth it should have a porcelain cap put on it. This procedure would happen over two, count them, two visits.
And so, I returned one week later to Dr. Chew's office so that he could take an impression of my tooth. I offered to also give him an impression of Humphrey Bogart but he was having none of it, although my impression of Humphrey Bogart is quite marvelous. I sat in the chair, had that bib thing put on me (to protect my nice shirt from the odd bits of flying teeth matter), and waited for Dr. Chew to do his thing. After he took the impression he informed me that he was about to "prepare" the tooth. I asked him what that meant as I thought only the impression was to be done on this first of two visits. He said that he had to file down the tooth and "prepare" it for the porcelain cap. I told him I was not "prepared" to have my tooth "prepared" because I thought he was only taking an impression of my tooth. Had I known he was going to "prepare" the tooth I would have "prepared" myself. Because, when a tooth is "prepared" it means you will have to have a shot of Novocain. I don't know about you, dear readers, but the thought of having a large needle thrust into the inside of my cheek is worse than having a rectal examination (well, maybe not worse). I don't like large needles poking me anywhere, especially in that soft fleshy part of the inside of my cheek. While I was pondering all this, Dr. Chew approached me with a large needle and said, "Open wide". He then said, "You'll feel a little prick" and proceeded to stick this humungous needle into the fleshy part of the inside of my cheek. I did not feel a little prick. I know a little prick when I feel one. I felt a large prick, an epic prick, the mother of all pricks. Dr. Chew then began moving the needle around in the fleshy part of the inside of my cheek. While he did this he shook the cheek with his other hand. I believe he did this to distract me from thinking about the large prick. At this point I began to think Dr. Chew was a large prick. But, soon (not soon enough) he removed the needle from the fleshy part of the inside of my cheek. Five minutes later my mouth felt like it was the size of the Lunt Fontanne Theater. I had no feeling whatsoever on the left side of my mouth. I don't like the feeling of having no feeling. Then Dr. Chew began the drilling of the tooth. He drilled and drilled. Then he drilled some more. I did not feel any of the drilling because of the large prick but I heard the drilling which is in some ways worse than feeling the drilling. I heard the drilling, and I could feel bits of tooth matter flying to and fro and also fro and to and which landed conveniently on the bib thing. On and on he drilled like some insane street maintenance person. He drilled that poor cracked tooth for close to an hour. Then he put on a temporary plastic cap and I was done. He gave me some water to rinse with, which I did. Unfortunately, when the entire left side of your mouth has no feeling the water ends up dribbling out of your mouth though you are not aware of it until you see the big wet spot on your shirt. In two weeks' time I will go back and get my permanent porcelain crown. Dr. Chew has already informed me he will have to give me another shot of Novocain, so I am "prepared" for that and it won't be such a shock when I get the little/big prick.
Wasn't that a lovely story of The Tooth Crack'd? I thought it was piquant and that it had great pith while retaining a bit of mordancy and moment. If anyone knows what the hell I'm talking about please keep it to yourself.
Firstly, let me thank each and every one of you dear readers who sent such lovely words of congratulations for our 100th column. There were simply too too many letters to answer, so I thought what we would do is start with a clean slate and start answering letters again in the next column. So, keep writing, as I love getting your sweet missives. If the mail you sent in had questions please ask them again. For now, we must beat the gongs, dear readers, although what the gongs did to deserve the beating I have no idea. But beat them we must, and ring the bells and fry the eggs. Because we have our 2000th letter writer! Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, we have our 2000th letter writer and that 2000th letter writer is going to get a special handy-dandy prize. Drum roll, please, or at the very least, a kaiser roll:
Our 2000th letter writer is: Alan G.
Mr. Alan G. will be receiving his prize - an authentic World War One poster which pictures a large fish. Then Alan G. will be able to gaze at said poster and say, "What is it, fish?" We will have an activity photo of said poster in our next column.
So, please forgive that I'm not answering any letters in this here column, and know that all will be back to normal letter-wise in the next column.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next time, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...