My trip began with my airplane journey. As I've already said (yes, The Real A has been known to be redundant) I took the red-eye. Unfortunately, I have never been able to sleep on airplanes, but it was the only flight I could get an upgrade on (The Real A simply will not fly coach), so there I was, eating a club sandwich at midnight.
A word about the meal. When the plate of food arrived, I beheld a club sandwich, potato salad and a pickle. The food looked just like what you'd expect it to look like. But the amazing thing was, none of it tasted like food. It looked like food. It smelled like food. It resembled food, but it tasted like an eraser. Actually, I've never tasted an eraser, but if I had, I'll bet it would have tasted just like my club sandwich. And the pickle! I can't even describe what the pickle tasted like. You'll be happy to know that I didn't go anywhere near the potato salad.
After my replica of a meal, I settled down to read a classic mystery novel (The Real A is a voracious reader, whatever that is), Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop. Unfortunately, no one else on the plane suffered from sleeplessness. Everyone else on the plane was asleep as soon as they had finished their pretend club sandwiches. And let me tell you, my fellow passengers were not quiet sleepers. Oh no. I have never heard such noise in my life. It was a symphony, a cacophony of snoring the likes of which I have never experienced. All types of snoring. Short bursts. Sustained and elongated growls. Men. Women. I thought the world was coming to an end. Now, I don't know about you, but I find it very hard to concentrate when a planeload of passengers who do not have my best interests at heart, are braying like donkeys who have had cattle prods put up their rectal cavities. This was not pleasant in any sense of the word. This got my dander up. I hate when that happens. Do you have any idea what I look like with my dander up? It's bad enough when my dander is down, but up is a whole other thing. Not pretty let me tell you. So, I sat and seethed the entire trip. I began to take it personally. I began to hate these people. I glared at each and every one of them, thinking that the intensity of my glare would awaken them and make them stop. But, no. On and on they went. How could they sleep through all that noise??? That is the conundrum of snoring. People who snore keep everyone else awake, while they sleep, blissfully ignorent of the fact that their sleeping is keeping people from sleeping.
Finally, the plane arrived in New York, and everyone awoke refreshed and ready for the day. Except me, because a) my dander was up, and b) because I'd been up all night, I looked like a used towelette. Upon my arrival in the city, I immediately went to bed and of course couldn't sleep because it was too quiet.
I know you're all waiting to find out what shows I saw, so let's get to it. I only had time to see two, and they were Triumph of Love and Side Show. Remember, these are only my opinions. So, if you disagree, don't get your dander up.
Triumph of Love is a small musical, which would like to be funny and charming and which occasionally is. It's well constructed, but the humor, while sometimes on target, never rises to sufficient heights to elevate the evening into the kind of hilariousness the show so strives for. It does attain some very giddy moments, though. The score has some very nice things in it, especially Betty Buckley's Serenity number. F. Murray Abraham is delightful. Sadly, Susan Egan was out, but her understudy, Christianne Tisdale, was just fine. The set is clever, the costumes are nice, the direction and choreography are standard. The audience seemed to have a good time, and they ate up Ms. Buckley, who was terrific. Right now, prospects for this show moving or lasting are not wonderful. The advertising campaign has never been able to communicate what kind of show it is, and that's been a big problem. That said, it's the cheapest show on Broadway to run, and most weeks they do break even. But they lose their theater on January 11th and if they can't raise the additional money to move, the show will close.
I know that Side Show has rabid fans and serious groupies, but I am sad to report that I am not going to be one of them. I really wanted to like this show, but it is so misbegotten on so many levels that I just couldn't. To start, when doing a musical about the Hilton Sisters, it would be good to tell us a little about their lives, about who they are. They do this in a very superficial way, but there is no depth and consequently it is very hard to feel anything for them. I feel this is a powerful subject, but in trying to make it a "modern" musical they have left all the power out of it. When the gals consistently break into these pop ballads, it takes all the believability out of the show. Every one of these numbers is constructed exactly the same. They stand center stage, belt like there's no tomorrow, the song reaches its climax, there's a drum fill, a key change, and they do one more chorus and belt even louder until the song reaches its real shameless conclusion with a huge button. The audience, having been prodded shamelessly, of course, bursts into a cheering ovation. Mr. Robert Longbottom, the director and choreographer, who has been praised for his work here, was a big problem for me. He does not seem to have one original idea in his head. It's all Bob Fosse and Harold Prince and others, who have done it better before. The most heinous example of this was in the truly awful Tunnel of Love number, where, at the end, the company comes on and stands in a Pippin line (with the same kind of lighting) for no reason whatsoever. The girls were terrific, although Emily Skinner was out (I gather she is out a lot). But her understudy, Lauren Kennedy was great and I can't imagine Ms. Skinner being better. The two boys, Hugh Panaro and Jeff McCarthy are not very good, but they have no chance, as their characters are undeveloped and their material is not so good. The score is wildly uneven, and not nearly as much fun as Mr. Krieger's Dreamgirls.
And I'm not going off on a tangent here, but I am so tired of recitative in musicals (or "through-sung" as they like to call it). That's why Ragtime works so much better for me (although it's not perfect). It has a book. A real book. By a real writer. And the score evolves out of the book by the real writer. Which is as it should be. Anyway, I felt that Side Show just didn't cut the mustard. And just how do you cut the mustard? What does that mean? Is it possible to cut mustard? Hold on...
No. I can unequivically report that it is not possible to cut the mustard. I have just put some mustard on a plate, and attempted to cut it. Didn't work. Tried and tried. Mustard cannot be cut. Nor can ketchup. So, why isn't the expression "it didn't cut the ketchup"? Or "it didn't cut the salsa"? Why mustard? These are the questions that keep me up at night, while others are snoring contentedly.
Here is a funny only-in-New York story. On my way to Joe Allen's one night (this is The Real A's home away from home, and if you want to know who I really am, you can always find me there on my New York visits), my companion and I were hit up by so many panhandlers it was a joke. Then, coming out of JA's, while waiting for a cab, I was looking down the street and here came these two disheveled bums, dressed in wrinkled clothes, unkempt beards, messy hair. I thought, oh well, here we go again. As they got closer I was certain they would stop, but they didn't, they kept on going past, and as they went past and I looked closely at the bum nearest to me, I realized it was my close personal friend Stephen Sondheim! I was so taken aback by this, I couldn't react in time to say hello, and by the time I could react he and his companion (unknown to me) were halfway down the block. I think it's time for Steve to hire a personal valet.
I saw lots of friends, did some work, and had a good time as I always do in New York. The plane ride home was in the morning, and it was much more peaceful and quiet, so I got to read Mr. Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop and keep my dander down.
Let me just say there seems to be no abatement here, no abatement whatsoever. If there were abatement, I would have noticed. But since there's been no abatement, I'll simply let the warring factions speak for themselves.
Dearest loveliest Real A:
I would say how goes the battle, but that seems to be my province these days. It was so lovely almost seeing you in New York. Had I realized that that was you standing there in front of Joe Allen's, I would have stopped and chatted immediately. But I was ensconced in conversation and you know how intense I am when I am ensconced. I read the latest from the Webber person, and I must say he is deteriorating into madness. I do hope he is intending to have Newley play him, as Newley has always seemed to me a figment of someone's warped imagination, which of course makes him perfect to play the role of Sir Lord Mr. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Or, to paraphrase a good lyricist:
But he's happy,
Well, I have to get back to the work I'm ensconced in. We'll talk soon.
With great affection,
Darling Real A:
I can guarantee you if you'd seen me in front of Joe Allen's, I would not have looked like something the cat dragged in. My hair is always neatly coiffed, and my trousers always perfectly pressed. And, of course, I have no unsightly hair on my face. Perhaps when I'm Mr. Sondheim's age I will feel it necessary to present myself like a wrinkled bedsheet. Until then, however, I will be neatness personified. Certainly that's the British way. Oh, I am very excited about the latest installment of my oratorio, Andrew Lloyd Webber's How I Won The War, with lyrics by Leslie (This Is The Moment) Bricusse. I feel that this number could be a mega-hit for me. I feel it has crossover appeal. I feel it could be covered by one of our great recording artists, such as the Spice Girls or that boy from Boogie Nights. In any event, here it is. As usual, imagine the goose-bump inducing music that accompanies Mr. Bricusse's usual trenchant lyrics.
(While Stephen Sondheim is on a plane to London, Andrew Lloyd Webber prepares for the battle of his life. He is alone, stage center. He sings his big song:)
My nerves are steady now,
And I am here to say,
Can't you hear the Bravo's? Can't you see the ovation? Mr. Bricusse has simply outdone himself. Key change, me change. This is brilliance of the highest order. This cuts the mustard, don't you think? And, of course, when Bricusse uses the lyric "key change" the music changes key! So exciting. Well, I must rest. To be frank (or Andrew, as the case may be) I am exhausted and if I don't get my beauty rest, I fear I will look puffy in the morning. Until next week, be well, my dearest A.
The warmest regards imaginable,
Robert writes to say that he thinks my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim should respond to Mr. Webber's oratorio by writing music for the Jewish liturgy. Well, this is not a bad idea. Perhaps he could go back and rethink his earlier work with a more Jewish feel. Then we could have Company...Who Needs It?, A Little Nosh Music, Pacific Oyveytures, Merrily We Onion Roll Along, not to mention A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Goyim.
Joshua (a new reader of the column) has a quick question: He wants to know if, because of the Betty Buckley reference in Steve's e-mail to me, I don't like Betty or something. Steve wrote that e-mail, not I. You don't think I've been adding my own personal comments in Steve's letters to me, do you? That wouldn't be right. That would be putting words in Steve's mouth, and believe me, he's got more than enough words in there. I think Betty Buckley is fine. No problem with Betty Buckley. Except... maybe she should lighten up on the intensity a little bit. Sometimes her interpretations are so intense I feel like my head will explode like in the movie Scanners.
Bill (a new reader of the column - what was this... new reader week?) is sure that a comment I made about The Ovation Awards has given him a Real Clue to the Real A's Real Identity. He feels if I answer one question which he poses, he will have the answer to who my Real Self is. Well, Bill, I simply can't answer your question, as you could be right, but then again, you could be wrong, and if you were wrong you would feel very bad and you'd have to go in the corner and flog yourself like Judge Turpin, and if you were right, two men named Guido and Clemenza would be waiting at your door, with a horse's head, to make sure you keep your mouth shut.
Beth would like to know what kind of food Mr. Sondheim must eat before tossing off a score like Sweeney Todd. Fatty corned beef or Spam would be my guess.
Beth also wants to know how Steve can write songs that make her cry while using his rhyming dictionary. Here is my feeling on this topic: I would take Steve's comments in interviews with a grain of salt. I'm sorry, but no one can write Not A Day Goes By without it coming from some personal kind of place. It doesn't matter that it's for a character in a story, the song comes out of the person who's writing it, rhyming dictionary notwithstanding.
Emily asks if Titanic really turned around (as I stated in an earlier column), as she'd heard it was really bad. When I said it had "turned around" I meant from a business point of view. The show was doing poorly at the box office, and did not get rave reviews. But Rosie O'Donnell's endless plugging of the show, plus the Tony Awards, turned the show around. I saw it in previews and thought it terrible, and then saw it again after it opened and thought they'd done a lot of really good and helpful work. But, frankly, I still don't like it all that much. I find the score mostly flat (a couple of really nice numbers, though) and the staging atrocious.
Emily also is curious as to what The Real A is doing for New Year's Eve. Well, if I do a pre New Year's column, I will go into detail there. If I don't, I will go into detail in the pre-Christmas column. The Real A does the same thing every New Year's Eve and I'll be sharing it with you.
Cheshirecat wonders why Burt Bacharach has never written another Broadway musical. My understanding is that he didn't have a wonderful experience doing Promises, Promises. That, coupled with the horrifying reaction to the disasterous film musical version of Lost Horizon, probably put him off musicals forever.
Moot wants to know if there will be a CD or video of the recent ITW Reunion concert. Sadly, no. It was not recorded or taped. So, it's a moot point, moot.
Richard asks where Stephen Sondheim is from, and if he ever attended Camp Brunonia. Steve is from New York. As to Camp Brunonia, perhaps he did go there, and perhaps that is where his intense (like Betty Buckley) interest in Jewish liturgical music was formed.
Daniel tell me that he's designed a website for Brian Stokes Mitchell, the terrific star of Ragtime. The address he sent is www.brainstokes.com I went to that address to check out the site, and got pictures of neuro-surgeons at work. Perhaps the address is www.brianstokes.com Let's all try that. You know what it's like to see pictures of neuro-surgeons at work when you're not expecting it? Or when you are expecting it for that matter. Not pretty, let me tell you.
Keep those cards and letters coming...
Well, you people take the cake. I don't really mean you physically take the cake, no, it's just another stupid saying which makes no sense whatsoever, and yet sounds so right. I mean, if you physically took the cake, you would be cake thieves and you would go to jail, because there is simply no leniency for cake thieves in this country. What was I talking about, for God's sake? Oh, yes, the trivia question. Well, you people take the cake. Every single answer I recieved was correct. Some got a couple of points wrong, but basically everyone knew. I commend you all. And you all deserve the cake you took.
The answer (this will be redundant since you all know the answer, but I love being redundant, not to repeat myself too much, which would be redundant) is A Family Affair, with book, music and lyrics credited to William Goldman, James Goldman and John Kander. I think it's a safe bet to say that Kander wrote the music. The director (his first directorial effort) was Harold Prince, who replaced the original director Lore Noto (The Fantasticks).
This weeks question is:
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...