I know I have been berating the movies of late, which is terribly unfair to television. Television needs as much berating as the movies. But I'm not here to berate, but to celebrate, because I had occasion to watch two shows from The Golden Age of Television. Now, The Real A is not a nostalgia freak. The Real A doesn't live in the past. The Real A is modern and with it. But watching these two shows was a revelation. Remember when ER did their "bold" experiment recently. The "live" show. As far as I'm concerned, they took the easy way out. They came up with a concept that enabled them to basically shoot the show without coverage. That is, everything was shot by one camera, for a "documentary" someone was shooting. So, while I enjoyed the show, it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. In other words, they could make mistakes and you'd never know it, because of the concept.
The two shows I watched were also done "live". In 1953 and 1956. Shot totally live with full coverage, just like a movie. And they were both brilliant. As good today as they must have been back then. And when you think of the danger inherent in this, they're doubly amazing. Multiple sets, big casts, moving cameras (no steadicam or hand held). But most of all the writing and the acting. Stunning. And shown once. That's right. Once. Because all that there was after the initial showing was a kinescope (a film transcript, shot directly from a television screen!), and these were not shown until 1981 on PBS. I missed them then, but they are now out on laser disc and tape. The first I watched was Rod Serling's Requiem For A Heavyweight starring Jack Palance, Keenyn Wynn, Kim Hunter and Ed Wynn. Palance is magnificent as the washed- up boxer Mountain McKlintock, and Ed Wynn (in his first dramatic role) gives a performance that is so beautiful, so touching, it is worth renting the tape for that alone. But you also get the phenomenal writing of Serling and the terrific direction of Ralph Nelson. The other show was Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, starring Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand and Joe Mantell. Directed by Delbert Mann. Again, wonderful writing, wonderful performances, oh, go rent it right now. It's like being able to travel back in time and see a classic piece of theater that you weren't around to see. And it was like theater: Live. No retakes. No tomorrow. You got what you got. And what you got was as good as it gets.
You know what? I'm still full. It's those damn yams. They just sit there, proudly proclaiming I yam what I yam (groans allowed here). Radish. That's another one that gets my goat. And what does that mean? Gets my goat. I don't even have a goat. I have a coat. It could get my coat. I think Part One of this column has gone on long enough, don't you? I thought it would never end. Just like the run of Miss Saigon. But enough about me.
Side Show is still hanging on by the skin of its teeth, playing to between fifty and sixty percent. It has become a question of how much money the producers are willing to throw at this show, in the hopes that it will somehow turn around. My point has always been, even if it does turn around and runs for a year, they will lose everything. For what? Ego? I remember a movie that came out called The Hot Rock. It was okay, nothing great, although it should have been. It was with Robert Redford and a really top-notch cast, excellent director (Peter Yates), excellent writer (William Goldman based on Donald Westlake). No one came. Empty houses. The studio decided to try something bold: They advertised that you could come see it for free (hoping that that would build word-of-mouth). No one came. Which proves, if they don't want to see it, they will not come.
Triumph of Love is in a weirder situation. They are doing a bit better, and it's a much cheaper show to keep open, but their theater is already committed to another show in February, so if it is to continue running it would have to move. If it moves it will cost another half million dollars. It's one thing to move a hit show after a two year run in its original theater, but to take a show barely four months old that is struggling to find an audience as it is would be a dangerous gamble. Will they roll the dice? We'll know soon enough.
Street Corner Symphony has opened and gotten some pretty terrible reviews. Will those producers throw more money at the show to try to overcome said reviews? I have stopped trying to predict. And I have stopped eating yams.
Yes, it appears we are settling in for a long and winding war. Bombs are dropping. The attitude seems to be "take no prisoners". Earlier today I recieved this e-mail from my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim.
Loved last weeks column. Such mirth. I laughed, I cried, I ate a cheese sandwich. Now, to that bad boy of the World Musical, Mr. (I will not call him Lord, ever!) Webber: Let him write his one-sided oratorio. He says to imagine the brilliant music, which is easy as I'm sure it sounds the same as all his other music. Bad. As to the "lyrics" of Mr. Bricusse, well, the phrase "bowel movement" comes to mind, doesn't it? Actually they are a match made in heaven. Now, if only they could get Anthony Newley to star in it. Even I'd come to the Albert Hall to hear that. In any case, for Mr. Webber (forget the Lord, baby, it is not happening) I have this to say:
Too many Webbers,
Too many Webbers,
I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving, Real A. Mine was swell. Especially the yams.
My dear dear dear Real A:
Oh, your column gets better and better. I don't think there's a person in England who hasn't read it. And all because of me. So, remember, I like you best. In any event, I am sending you more of Andrew Lloyd Webber's How I Won The War, with lyrics by the incandescent Leslie Bricusse. I hope you like it. The music, of course, is simply the best I've ever written.
(A pub in Merry England. Merry Drinkers sit around in colorful costumes with steins of ale. They sing:)
Drinking our stout,
Stephen Sondheim: Intellectual?
Stephen Sondheim: Keeps on boring us.
(They clink their mugs in a toast.)
Here's to the Brit, he's a hit,
Which one will win?
(The colorful pub dwellers make Merry. In New York City, Stephen Sondheim sits in his home and contemplates how it will be to be beaten by the Mighty Lord Webber.)
Oh, I am so excited about this piece. And potentially excellent news (you are the FIRST to know): I think we've got Anthony Newley locked up to star in the premiere performance. More to come, next week.
First of all, The Real A wants to thank Jon for sending The Real A's first "Virtual Flower Bouquet". It was very sweet and made me feel very happy. Now, on to the mail.
Amber writes to remind me that I never answered her question regarding the role of Snow White in Into The Woods. She wanted to know if the part was bigger or if there was a song for the character that was cut. I do promise to answer the question soon. Because, believe me, The Real A knows that not knowing the answer is probably getting her goat.
Cinderella wanted to know what Joanna Gleason was wearing at the Ovation Awards. As I recall, she was wearing a lovely pants suit, but my memory could be faulty here (she looked lovely, whatever she was wearing). Cinderella also wants to know how I got tickets. One of the bigwigs (Bigwigs - oh, never mind) of the event gave me my tickets, which I appreciated very much. She also wants to know if I'm an "insider". I definitely was inside the theater, so I suppose that makes me an insider. And finally, she's worried that The Real A might be a member of the paparazzi. That is a horrifying thought. Rest assured I am not. Nor a member of the press. In fact, both the press and the paparazzi ignored me totally, which did not endear them to me one whit. Now, there's a word I like: Whit. I don't know what the hell it is, but I love the sound of it. It's also the name of one of my favorite character actors, Whit Bissell. Well, you see? Here I've gone off on another tangent. I can't even remember what it is I'm supposed to be answering, and frankly I'm too tired to go back and read what I've written. And to anyone who has a problem with that I have only one word to say: Yams.
Hopeless Romantic feels that I'm awfully cynical about the word love and feels that I don't think it exists. I'm not cynical about love itself, just the word and its misuse. I do feel love exists. Somewhere, somehow. Hopeless Romantic feels that the key to love is to find a partner who feels the same amount of love that you do. And I agree with this. But, easy? No. I do think there's a person out there for all of us. It's just finding them that's the trick.
Jon and Karl both write to say that Three Wishes For Christmas is not on A Cabaret Christmas on DRG (as I told Steve (not Sondheim). It is, in fact, on Cabaret Noel, on the Lockett-Palmer label. The titles are similar, aren't they, hence the confusion.
Jeremy is seeking advice for himself and his fellow cast members who are about to embark on a production of Merrily We Roll Along. Jeremy will be playing Franklin. But rather than take up column space, you'd be better off discussing this at Finishing The Chat, where I'm sure that the good people who post there will have sage advice (and maybe parsley and rosemary advice, too). Stop that groaning right now!
Keep those cards and letters coming...
We recieved a plethora of guesses to last weeks trivia question: Who has Sondheim worked with the most. The most guesses went to the following folks: Jonathan Tunick, Harold Prince, Paul Gemignani, James Lapine, George Furth and Arthur Laurents. Someone even guessed The Real A. But only two people got the right answer. Cheshirecat (who guessed correctly, but also guessed several other candidates), and Jon who got it right first thing. And the answer is: Flora Roberts, Mr. Sondheim's agent of these many years. Runners up would be (it's a close call here, depending on how you look at it) Prince, Tunick and Gemignani.
Here's this weeks trivia question:
Which musical changed the way shows "sounded" on Broadway. Name the show, the composer/lyricist, and the orchestrator.
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...