There are so many things to talk about, I don't even know where to start. I saw shows, I ate every single meal at Joe Allen's, I saw lots of friends. On my return, there were lots of e-mails from you, dear readers, and one in particular (from a naysayer - yes, you heard it here) we will have to address very strongly. Now, I know your urge is to skip down to the letters section right now, but do not do this. Let it come in its own good time. Anticipation, as Carly Simon, mother of Paul, once said, is a good thing. Actually, I don't think she said it was a good thing, but after her Film Noir album, I don't care what she says. I'm sorry, that was a little snotty, wasn't it? Is the word "snotty" derived from the word "snot"? If so, why would anyone derive a word from "snot"? Think about "snot" for a minute. Oh, never mind, who wants to think about "snot", it's quite disgusting and serves no purpose that I can think of. If you know of a purpose for snot, please e-mail Mr. Mark Bakalor, as he is doing a thesis on this topic.
They have a new thing on the street in New York (new to me anyway). You know those stands that sell coated nuts? I don't mean insane people wearing outerwear, I mean those hot candy-coated nutmeats, like peanuts, cashew nuts and almonds. Well, they've added something new... Hot, candy coated coconut. Now, The Real A is a Real Fan of Real Coconut, so I bought this immediately. It was very tasty, but ultimately makes you want to vomit. The combination of the sweet candy-coating and the sweet coconut is wonderful for about three bites. Really yummy. Unfortunately, there are about two hundred bites left if you eat the entire bagful, which, knowing my personality as you do, you know I did. I then spent the rest of the day trying to suck the coconut from between my teeth. This is very annoying for both the person sucking (me) and passersby, who have to listen to said sucking noises. And because you cannot possibly suck all the stray pieces of coconut from between your teeth, you start picking at your teeth with your fingernails. If you've ever seen anyone walking down Broadway picking their teeth with their fingernails, you will know instantly how horrifying looked. But one simply can't have stray pieces of coconut in their teeth, it is just too too annoying. If you have my personality (and you know I do) just knowing that the damn coconut is there is enough to drive you crazy. And so I spent about two hours picking and sucking. I was miffed, let me tell you. The lesson learned here, of course, is to carry dental floss at all times. I know I have gone on about this picking and sucking way too long, and I know there's at least one reader who is tearing his hair out and screaming "What has this to do with Sondheim??!! (Do not skip to the letters section!) Well, my exasperated friend, it has puhlenty to do with Sondheim, and if you don't know that, you have a lot of Sondheim homework to do. My close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim is a notorious picker of teeth. He has been picking his teeth since the early 50s (the decade, not the age). It is said he began this habit because his mentor Oscar Hammerstein picked his teeth. In fact, the entire score of South Pacific was written during a mad tooth picking frenzy. That would have made a really good trivia question, wouldn't it? And I wasted it here. Now I'm miffed. Really, really miffed. Couldn't be more miffed than I am. Miffed, do you hear me. Just like that guy who wrote me the letter (Uh uh, don't even think about it - if you skip down there I shall know and you will be forced to eat five bags of candy-coated coconut - you will be picking and sucking for days). So, shall we get cracking? Shall we get on with it? Because the beginning of this column is starting to resemble the current revival of Grease: It goes on forevor but thank God it's finally over! But enough about me.
Yes, you speakers of French are one step ahead of everyone else. It is now official. After a week of leading everyone on (including cast members, the media, the crew, and the show's fanatical fans (the loyal few), of sending out press releases and anonymous tips to the likes of Ward Morehouse III, the producers have finally admitted that they don't have the money to repoen (after telling everyone they did have the money to reopen) and the show's reopening is now a dead issue. Why do they play these games? Can you imagine how miffed the cast must be? Being strung along like that? These producers should be ashamed of themselves, say I. Will they be? Of course not. So it is up to us, dear readers, to send Vibes of Shame their way. On the count of three, everyone. One, two, three... Wow! I felt it, did you? I felt those Vibes of Shame, they were potent, they were strong. We showed those producers, don't mess with the readers of Column A!!! We are not to be taken lightly! We are heavy! We are not to be taken with a grain of salt, although why that is a bad thing I don't know. I like salt. Most things taste better with a grain of salt, so what was the person who made up that saying thinking? Why not a grain of wheat or farina? Oh, it is too maddening. And if it's maddening it must be miffing, too. There is simply nowhere else to go with this paragraph, thus: The End.
I saw Paul Simon's new musical The Capeman. The buzz on this show has been truly awful since the day it started previewing. The problem was that no one involved in the creative end of the show had really done a Broadway musical before. Finally, sanity prevailed and Jerry Zaks was brought in to help. While I don't think Mr. Zaks is the world's most brilliant director, he has been though the process numerous times, and at least knows how the machinery is supposed to work. The night I saw the show, all of Mr. Zaks' changes had been put in, including the new second act which had gone in the night before.
The Capeman tells the story of Salvador Agron, who, as a teenager, killed two teens on a playground. You can see that this is an odd story to want to tell. The theme of the show is "redemption", only they never really achieve it in a meaningful way, so you never end up caring about him or the story. I don't know that it's a fixable problem, frankly. The show just refuses to work in the way they want it to. From what I hear, the Zaks changes have been very helpful, but since I didn't see it before the changes, I can't really tell you anything meaningful about what he's done.
The first act moves right along (I gather that was not the case pre-Zaks), but the second act is still confused and clunky. But surprisingly, I still found things to enjoy in the show. The set is great, as are the orchestrations and the lighting. Mark Morris' direction and choreography are no help to the proceedings, but the cast does well. Marc Anthony sings beautifully as the young Sal, and his mother is played by a Latin singing star whose name escapes me, and while she is not a great actress, she does have a terrific set of pipes. Reuben Blades is weirdly bland and lacking personality as the older Sal, which is mighty odd given the amount of charisma he projects in the movies he's appeared in.
Which brings us to the score. The Real A has always been a huge Paul Simon fan, and if there's one thing that will save The Capeman, it is his score. It is not a great theater score, and the lyrics never further the action or illuminate character, which is a shame. But his music is terrific. Pulsing, exciting, and beautiful. The orchestrations by Stanley Silverman are wonderful and the show "sounds" great. So, the plusses are Simon's music, the look of the show, and three very big Latino stars. Is this enough to overcome the muddled story and the very nature of the show itself? Before I saw it, I would have thought that would have been an easy call. But it's not an easy call, although I do think the show will receive mixed to negative reviews. Next week will tell the tale. What was a season that held the promise of many hits has produced only two, and they were a fait accompli (latin- meaning fait accompli): The Lion King and Ragtime (which opened last week to surprisingly mixed reviews. But it doesn't matter, the show will be around for a long time). Side Show and Triumph of Love are gone, and I'm sure Street Corner Symphony will be joining them soon. Oh, enough of this. What does this have to do with Sondheim? Who the hell do I think I am, Ken Mandelbaum?
That's right, Sondheim. This column is on the Stephen Sondheim Stage so I just better talk about Sondheim, hadn't I? I just better stick to the point, hadn't I? Maybe I just shouldn't veer from the point. Maybe I really shouldn't. Hadn't, shouldn't. Now, let's just talk about those apostrophes for a minute. Really, what is the point of an apostrophe? How much space are we actually saving by using an apostrophe? Had not. Hadn't. Big deal. Should not. Shouldn't. Man, I feel like I have really cut down on the space, don't you? At this rate, at the end of the column I will have saved at least twenty-three spaces, maybe even a complete line. I am doing my bit to keep cyberspace uncluttered. A cluttered cyberspace causes people to get miffed, don't you think? Shouldn't hadn't we ought to spell "miffed" mift? Doesn't that just make more sense? If not, then shouldn't we ought to spell "lift" liffed? Or "gift" giffed? I simply won't and don't see why we shouldn't couldn't and can't. Look at all that space I just saved. Of course, the fact that this entire paragraph is without any meaning whatsoever is not the point now, is it? Where was I? Oh, yeah, Sondheim. Right.
They've made a couple of casting announcements for the upcoming Paper Mill production of Follies. And they are Phyllis Newman as Stella Deems, and Tony Roberts as Buddy. They have not announced that John Cullum is playing Ben Stone, but John Cullum is playing Ben Stone, so don't ever say I didn't give you a scoop. I find Mr. Roberts a curious choice for Buddy, but who knows, maybe he'll be wonderful. Obviously Buddy won't be dancing the way Gene Nelson did in the original Broadway production, as Mr. Roberts is not exactly known for his dancing. There is some speculation that the cabaret artist known as Mary Cleere Haran will be playing Phyllis. While Ms. Haran is a fine cabaret performer, I find her song interpretations all have a sameness about them, and frankly I don't think she has enough experience to pull off the complex role of Phyllis. But who knows. You will notice that I have used no apostrophes for ages, and look how much unnecessary space I have taken up.
More about Sondheim, because, after all, we are on the Sondheim site. But this comes from my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim himself.
Dear A Plus:
Can you believe that Ben Brantley reviewing that oratorio, which is clearly a work in progress, if you can use the word progress and Lloyd Webber and work in the same sentence, which I just did, so I suppose you can, even though they clearly don't go together. I can't wait to see your answer to the e-mail you've referred to, but I promise I won't peek in advance (and how many of your readers can say the same?). Anyway, I think you have spent far too much time already in this column talking about me. How much is there to say, after all? I mean, we've had endless discussions about the shows, the music, the lyrics, my sexuality, my bad dressing habits, the way I tug at my face all the time, so why don't you go pick on Fred Ebb for awhile? Go question his sexuality, like there's something to question. Go pick on Henry Krieger. Dissect the Hilton Sisters, although then they won't be Siamese twins anymore and Side Show will have no reason to exist. Oh, that's right, apparently it doesn't exist anymore. I don't mean to be ornery, but frankly I've had it with all this talk of me. I have learned way too much about me, and it has to stop. I have too much information. If they asked me I could write a book. So, let's keep the Sondheim chatter to a minimum. Have a pleasant week. Think of me, but don't talk about me.
By now everyone knows that a film version of the longest running musical in history was made over two years ago. Since then it has been sitting on the shelf, with no release in sight. MGM/UA who financed the film, is totally down on it, and will not release it theatrically. But here's the conundrum: (there's that colon again) They can't release it to cable or video either, because the director, Michael Ritchie, has it in his contract that the film must receive a theatrical release. So, Ritchie and the studio are at loggerheads (I can't even begin to go there) and the film sits unseen, in limbo.
Unseen by all, that is, but me. I finally had the opportunity to view a letterboxed (widescreen) tape of the film. It is a very peculiar movie, and I must say I understand MGM/UA'S reticence in releasing it. It simply would not draw an audience.
The idea of the adaptation is not bad: In the depression a carnival, led by El Gallo, comes to a small mid-western town. The story remains the same as the show, but within this new setting. Perhaps with a different director this could have worked, but Ritchie's direction is so lethargic and unmusical that the film just lumbers along. Bad attempts at choreography by Michael Smuin. The cast is a mixed bag. I won't remember everyone's names, because The Real A is growing senile, but the fathers are played by Joel Grey and one of the actors from Greater Tuna. They are adequate, but not funny. The gal who plays Luisa is Julia Louis Kelley and she's terrific, and sings quite pleasantly, although they've taken some of the high notes down the octave in Much More. I didn't much like the boy who played Matt (Joe McIntyre, I think, from New Kids On The Block). I'm not familiar with the fellow who plays El Gallo (a Brit) but he has his moments. Unfortunately, singing is not one of them. They've dropped the "Rape" song (It Depends On What You Pay) and replaced it with the more politically correct Abductions. Politically correct, but not nearly as funny.
Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' fantastic score has gone from piano and harp to an eighty-piece orchestra, and lost some of its simplicity and charm along the way. The orchestrations are by none other than the brilliant Jonathan Tunick (ALERT - Sondheim tie-in), but his work here, while sometimes right on the money (Try To Remember), frequently veers into treacle territory, and for some odd reason he totally misses the jagged dissonances of This Plum Is To Ripe. The widescreen photography is very nice, and I'll say it again, the setting would work just fine with a director with a sense of rhythm and energy, but sadly Ritchie isn't that director. At 100 plus minutes it really drags. But hopefully this will see the light of day, as many will find it interesting to watch. And what can one say about the Schmidt and Jones score that hasn't been said already, except that it is wonderful, tuneful and altogether extraordinary. I have never stopped loving it since the day I first heard it. It is poetry in word and music.
Letters... We Get Letters...
And ooh, we got a doozy this week. Yes, an absolute doozy. But first, let's have a quiz: How many of you, despite my admonishing you, came directly here? C'mon, own up. You know who you are. Well, rather than paraphrase or snip or quote from, I herewith give you the entire e-mail I received. And I quote:
Glen wrote: "What in the world does any of your drivel have to do with the work of Stephen Sondheim. Why are you on this site. Start your own if you need such an outlet. You don't belong on a site dealing with Sondheim when you don't deliver any newsworthy information or intelligent comentary (sic - well, the whole thing is sic) regarding him or his work. Please go away A."
All right, dear readers, I know our first reaction would be to hurl vile epithets but let's not stoop to that. Let us answer this calmly and rationally. Now, the first question that a calm and rational person would ask is: What's wrong with this picture, Glen??? If you hate this column, why are you reading this column??? There. It needed to be asked and I have asked it.
Since Glen obviously can't see what's wrong with this picture, let me make an analogy. Let's say I go to a restaurant I've gone to for years. And let's say that restaurant has added escargot to their menu. Now, I hate escargot. You could not hate escargot more that I hate escargot. Of all the things I would choose never to eat, it would be a snail. They taste like erasers in garlic sauce. They make me want to barf. So. I now have a choice. Do I stop frequenting the restaurant I've been going to for years because they've added the dreaded escargot to their menu? No, that would be silly. Do I eat the escargot even though it is like the equivalent of sticking my finger down my throat? No, of course not. No, what any reasonably sane person would do is not eat the stinking slimy little maggot snails. That would solve all the problems, no?
But let us go through the letter point by point.
One: What does my "drivel" have to do with Stephen Sondheim? First of all, are you casting aspertions on my drivel? My drivel is first class drivel and I will match it against anyone's drivel. As to what it has to do with Stephen Sondheim, I can only leave that to drivel experts to ponder.
Two: (look at all these colons!) Why am I on this site? Well, once upon a time the gentleman who runs this site, Mr. Mark Bakalor, invited me to write a column here. He asked me to write about anything I felt like and the only stipulation was that it had to have a high drivel quotient. I think I have more than attained this goal.
Three: (any more colons and Mr. Sondheim can write a new song for Follies - Too Many Colons) I don't belong on a site about Sondheim when I don't deliver any newsworthy information or intelligent comentary (sic). I am a close personal friend of Mr. Stephen Sondheim, as you well know. But that is neither here or there (or hither and thither). The fact is I do have a column on this site, and that gives you two easy choices: (I'm not mentioning it, but aren't we being inundated by colons?) Read it or don't. You ask for intelligent comentary (sic), there you have it.
Four: Please go away A. While I appreciate the "please", why should I go away? I love (yes! Love, damn it! I love you all!) my dear readers and I simply will not desert them. I'm just looking at "desert" as in "leave" when plainly it could also mean "desert" as in "where there's lots of sand and endless nothingness". Or should I have spelled it "dessert" as that seems to be the pronunciation afixed to "desert" as in "leave", even though if I were to "dessert" my readers, I would be offering them a cheese danish or something. Wait! Could this be the kind of drivel Glen is talking about? Could this be like a perfect example? And he want this to stop????
In any case, if you'd like to send Glen your very own reply, send it to me, The Real A, and I will forward it to him, The Real Glen. Now, onto the other letters. (I could have used a : but frankly I'm giving my colon a rest as its gotten quite a workout in this column).
Jon (not the Jon) has an explanation where the word "horseradish" comes from, but it would mean having to talk about a portion of the horse's anatomy and the size of the radish used in the making of horseradish, and I frankly just don't like to dwell on this type of thing. But thanks for the info, and I have written a note to the authors of the 21 plus volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) so that they can enter this information in the proper place.
Bob writes to say that "columnitis" is not what I, in reality, would wish on my worst enemy. Calumny is what I would wish on my worst enemy. And I say, if we didn't have this here column, we wouldn't have learned about "columnitis/columny", would we have? So, I guess this here column does serve some useful purpose after all.
Paul asks why certain Sondheim shows have overtures and why some don't, and who decides? I should think Sondheim decides, probably with input from the director and most likely the orchestrator. I have always loved overtures, but many of Sondheim's shows don't lend themselves to it. It is inconceivable to imagine Sweeney Todd, Company, Passion or Assassins with overtures, but Forum and Merrily both have wonderful bangup overtures which really suit them. Now you see, this whole thing was about Sondheim, so don't be coming here and saying we never talk about Sondheim.
Steve (not Sondheim, not Steve, not Stephen) wrote to tell me that he too remembers the Helm's Bakery. He says that when he was a kid, his class went on a field trip to Helm's Bakery, but sadly, he missed out as his parents took him to Las Vegas (different kind of field trip). But when he got back, he found his classmates had left him a donut in his mailbox. By the time he got it it was stale, but it was the thought that counted. And he still has that donut today. What a terribly moving story. Only in this column, dear readers.
Erzulie wants to know: If we don't need two "b"s in "babble" why do we need the extra "r" and "n" in Herrmann, since it is pronounced Herman. Well, these are the questions we must ponder for all eternity, and these are the questions which ensure us that our drivel is up to snuff.
Ken has a guess as to The Real A's identity. Now, we've heard many many guesses as to The Real A's identity. We've had male, female, gay, straight, * Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, a cast member from his shows, Michael Tough, the singing janitor, and now we can add Bruce Kimmel. He arrives at this conclusion because I am on the West Coast and once dreamt of Cindy Williams. But couldn't that mean that I'm Penny Marshall? She lives on the West Coast, she dreams of Cindy Williams, and she was slated to direct Into The Woods. I don't mean to confuse the issue here, but really, I do believe I could be all of the people listed above, although frankly I favor Michael Tough, the singing janitor. Keep those guesses coming though, and when someone gets it exactly right, perhaps I'll even 'fess up.
Laura (sweet Laura) tells me that she's glad that I haven't let the "disgruntled few" bug me, because she likes this column. Well, Laura (sweet Laura) you might just want to drop a little missive to our new close personal friend Glen.
As you know, last week I didn't have a trivia question for you, so I asked you to try to stump me, and some of you did. Here are your stumps.
Paul (not the same Paul in the Letters section) has a stumper about Merrily. He says that when Jim Weissenbach was first replaced by Jim Walton, that Mr. Weissenbach played a lesser role for a few nights - what was the role? My guess: Lena Horne
Andrew's stumper is: Sondheim went to summer camp with which Dr. Demento favorite? Too easy: Lena Horne
Joe asks who is the woman from the Sanka commercials with the wide vibrato? Normally, when I hear the term "wide vibrato" I would immediately guess Charlotte Rae, but in this case I'm going to go out on a limb and say: Lena Horne
Yves asks if his eyes are the same color as Stephen Sondheim's. I am not sure of the answer, but I do know for a fact that Yves' eyes are the same color as Lena Horne's.
S. Woody White poses this: (that's my colon, not his - my column, my colon) What do you get if you put a trumpet on a low-fat diet? Lena Horne?
Jon (I have no idea which Jon, there are simply too many Jons around here - not that that's a bad thing - you can't have too many Jons in my opinion - the drivel is really piling up, isn't it?) what makes Pacific Overtures come full circle musically? I really had to run to my Banfield for that one, even though I suspected the answer, which, of course is Lena Horne.
This weeks trivia question (courtesy Brad - blame him if its too simple)
Name the singer who has appeared in a Sondheim show and provided the singing voice in a major animated film. Unfortunately, as I read this question, there could be multiple answers (including Lena Horne), so go ahead and see if you can guess all the people who have appeared in Sondheim shows and provided voices for animated features. There are more than you might imagine.
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...