I finally caught up with Titanic (the movie not the musical) and I must say I really liked it. I have not heretofore been a James Cameron fan. I have heretofore thought about James Cameron exactly what I've thought about the word "heretofore": Why? But he did a really good job with Titanic (the movie not the musical), the effects are great, most of the cast is fine, and the picture really does pack an emotional wallop. I like anything that packs a wallop. I tried to pack a wallop once and you know the damn wallop wasn't having any of it. I had to go sans wallop. It simply would not be packed. Damn wallop. Cameron was smart to focus on the love story, because it makes the film immediate in a way that the Broadway musical never is. Because the Broadway musical (despite some nice moments in the score) never really packs an emotional wallop. And damn it, for seventy-five bucks I want my wallop, packed or not. Titanic (the film, aka movie, aka motion picture) is not perfect, but it packs such a wallop that it doesn't matter. When you've got a wallop, you forgive all else. I wish they hadn't made Kate Winslet's fiancee such a melodramatic villain. When, at the end, he goes shooting after Kate and Leo, I thought, what? Two thousand people going to their death is not enough drama? They've got to have this idiot trying to shoot our two lovers? And it took me the entire film to warm up to Miss Kate Winslet. I mean, she was fine (aka okay) but I just kept thinking she looked like someone I'd go bowling with. All right, enough about Titanic (the movie not the musical). Let's just stop and talk about bowling for a minute, shall we? Okay. Let's just try to put ourselves in the mind of the genius who invented the word "bowling". So... We've got this ball with three holes in it for fingers (aka digits). That someone came up with that alone is cause for pause. Then we've got your pins (aka legs, but not in this particular instance). I can't even go into the inane "look" of said pins, other than to say that their shape has always reminded me of Leonard Maltin. Are we clear so far? Then we've got your "lane" and your "gutters". Okay. You step right up, plant your feet (no mean feat), which, by the way, are ensconced (I'm not even going to bother with that word because you can just see how stupid it is) in special shoes which you have had to rent and which have been worn by God-knows-who. You lift the ball with the finger holes (and in which your fingers now reside) and you throw it down the lane toward the pins, all the while hoping that the ball will not decide to visit the gutters, and also hoping that the ball will not rip your very fingers from your hand as you throw it. If you're lucky some pins may fall down. I once pushed Leonard Maltin, but he didn't fall down, which only goes to show you that you can look like a pin and not behave like one. Anyway, my point is this: From all the activity that I have just described, somehow, somewhere, someone decided to name this bowling. Why, I say, with some consternation. I know that now when you say "bowling" everyone knows exactly what it means, but I'm talking about then. How does somebody come up with "bowling". Never in my wildest imaginings would I ever call throwing a three holed ball down a lane at some pins bowling! And yet, someone did. And we sit here and take it. We allow it to be called bowling. Not only do we allow it, we do it. We bowl. I mean, I don't like the word "bowl" to begin with, it's too cramped, it's too claustrophobic. It has no room to breathe. I mean, you could add a letter and it would look much nicer, but then you'd have "bowel" and we just don't want to go there, do we, dear readers? After all, are we coprophiliacs or something?
I can no longer remember what the hell I was talking about. I think I was talking about Titanic (the movie not the musical) and somehow I ended up talking about bowling. As you now know, I am writing this on Saturday morning (is there nothing you people don't know about me?) and I must say as I looked in the mirror shortly after arising, I was shocked at just how unkempt I looked. Normally I am really kempt, but this morning I was unkempt in the extreme. I looked like a dead bush. Totally unkempt. Not kempt in any way, shape, or form. Oh, well. There's something to be said for being unkempt and as soon as I figure out what it is I'll let you know.
So, here we are, our silver anniversary column (aka drivel). It's just like the ad campaign for High Society: What does it have to do with anything? But enough about me.
Well, as you've probably heard by now, The Capeman has announced that it is closing. It is the fourth new musical to shutter this season (the others: Triumph of Love, Street Corner Symphony and Side Show). But at least The Capeman has the good taste to go out with some decorum, unlike some other shows I could name.
I'm coming to realize that every time I do one of these "what's happening" things in the column, that the information is coming so late that it's kind of pointless. I realize that fits right in with the rest of this column, but that darn Ken Mandelbread with his site-within- a-site just comes up with the latest gossip on a daily basis, so who can compete? But I'll tell you what. I'm going to scoop that boy, and scoop him bad. It's in my nature to do this, and no matter how hard we may try, we cannot change our natures. So, stay tuned in upcoming columns for the Ken Scoop Poop.
Girl Scouts Came To My Door. I know that sounds like a headline in The Star, but it really happened. They were selling cookies, and they stood there so hopeful, so doe-eyed, so Girl Scout-y that I just had to buy the damn cookies. I bought one of every type cookie box they had, for a total of eight boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. Yes, you heard it here, eight boxes of said cookies. If Laura (sweet Laura) ever starts up the fan club we're going to give away Girl Scout Cookies to the members. Is that an incentive or is that an incentive? Although, you won't be getting any of the chocolate peanut butter ones because I've already eaten half of that box. Well, not the actual box, but the cookies therein. It's just not any fun to eat the actual box, especially if you don't like the taste of cardboard. And what, you ask, has this to do with Sondheim? Well, he once wrote a major musical number all about Cookies, now didn't he? You see, you see? It's all about Sondheim in one way or another, this being another.
Did anybody see the Grammy's? Was that just too too boring, and too too surreal? I mean, who was that idiot dancing next to Bob Dylan? I was impressed that Dylan kept on singing and didn't seem to let it throw him. Why do people do this? It must be because it is in their natures, and no matter how hard we may try, we cannot change our natures. Although in that dimwit's case, he ought to try real hard. I was surprised that the cast album of Chicago won over Titanic, just because with all the Titanic "fever" going around, I would've thought those nutty Grammy voters would have given the nod to anything called Titanic. Remember, dear readers, these are the same Grammy voters that voted Riverdance Best Cast Album! Now, whatever one may think of Riverdance, it is not a cast album in any sense of that term as I understand that term. To further illustrate the nincompoops known as Grammy voters, several years ago when Beauty and The Beast (the film) came out, there was a nomination for the Theme From Beauty and The Beast, which, of course, given the popularity of the film, won. Only it wasn't from the Menken/Ashman Beauty and The Beast. It was from the television show. But they didn't realize that, and so it won over very stiff competition in its category. And that is why the Grammy's should win an award of their very own - Best Comedy Program of the Year.
This is rapidly (aka quickly) becoming my favorite part of the column. I have so much fun sharing things with you, dear readers, and I do hope you're enjoying it, too.
You may have surmised that I am a fan of comedy. Yes, you heard it here, comedy. Ever since I was a child (in the late 17th century) I have loved when something made me laugh. I remember the joy of discovering Mad Magazine and how funny I thought it was. But that was a magazine. I'm here to talk about my favorite comic person. Ever. To me there is simply no one who will ever be as funny as the gentleman I'm about to mention. Jack Benny. My hero. I, of course, am way too young to have heard Mr. Benny on radio. I discovered him on the television and the minute I saw this man's face and watched him do that slow slow look that he was famous for, I started laughing and could not stop. His timing was absolutely impeccable. Every time I hear someone say how funny Jim Carrey is, or Drew Carey is, or anyone named Cary is, I just want to say "you want funny, watch Mr. Benny". He had a classic persona, that of the cheapest tightwad known to man. One of his most famous bits was being accosted by a robber who said "Your money or your life". To which Benny just stands there doing the "look" while the audience just howls. The robber, frustrated, bellows at him "Well????" And Benny looks him straight in the eye and says "I'm thinking!"
His program was on the air from the early fifties to the mid-sixties. He brought along all his radio regulars, including perennial boy singer Dennis Day, faithful sidekick Rochester, second bananas Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and all the Warner Bros. cartoon gang) and the great Frank Nelson ("yyyyyyesssss?"), and his wonderful 250 pound announcer Don Wilson. Another fond memory: Benny is talking to the audience and tells them he's going to answer some of his fan mail. He asks the stagehand to bring it out. The stagehand then brings out a huge duffelbag and stands it next to Benny. Jack then gets side tracked and never does get around to answering the mail. He tells the audience he'll do it another time and asks the stagehand to remove the duffelbag. As the stagehand removes it he accidentally upends the bag and out spills tons of food - lettuce, a ham, potatos, bread, cake, the works... Benny just stares at it incredulously, then turns to the audience and says, "that's not my fan mail - that's Don Wilson's lunch."
He always mined endless laughter out of his vain attempts to play the violin. And there was always the "look". No matter how many times he did it (and he did it a lot) it always made me roar. And I mean roar, helplessly. It was a sad day when Mr. Benny passed on, but he left the world a legacy of laughter the likes of which we will never see again. At the time of his death he was all set to appear in the film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. He was replaced by one of his best friends, George Burns. Benny loved Burns (Burns was the only man who could ever make Benny break up) so it was only fitting that Burns ended up playing the role. Oh, and there's a Jack Benny connection to Sondheim, did you know that? That's right, dear readers, Mr. Benny appears in a cameo role in the film version of Gypsy, playing a vaudeville comedian named Jack Benny. He has one line, and is, of course, hilarious. Whenever I'm feeling even a little bit blue, all I have to do is pop in a video of his television show (I have over sixty hours of them) and I am instantly cheered up. Wherever he is, I say a big thank you to Jack Benny, for the years of pleasure.
As I write this, there are birds outside chirping like mad. This is known as birdsong, but I could swear that the bird who is right outside the window is singing the tune to "Get Me To The Church On Time". Is it possible that birds do productions of famous musicals, and that this bird once played Alfred Doolittle? If this were true, would the bird playing Johanna in the all-bird production of Sweeney Todd have to be a Green Finch and Linnet Bird, or do they have color blind bird casting? I'm telling you, this bird outside my window is singing show tunes. And singing them well, I must say. Can you imagine if Andrew Lloyd Webber were sitting here instead of me? Instead of Cats we'd have Birds. This is all very intriguing, this notion that singing animals do musicals. I, for one, would like to see the Cow version of Moo Fair Lady. Or the sheep production of The Baah Friend. Oh, just shoot me and get it over with.
Hey, did I mention that it's our silver anniversary? Isn't senility attractive? Well, I've gotten some very nice e-mails about it, which I thought I'd share with you (of course I'll share, that's my nature, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot change our natures).
Just wanted to wish you well on your silver anniversary. I read your column religiously (wearing a prayer shawl) and am always astonished that you have the uncanny ability to say nothing of any importance whatsoever, and that you say it at so great a length. This is a talent you must always nurture. The ability to say nothing at great length is something I have always admired and I encourage you to keep doing it. I have no doubt you will because it seems to be your nature. In any case, I've written you a special silver anniversary lyric (it's to the tune of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, for those who must know these things).
Attend the tale of Column A,
You write whatever things you wish,
Write your Column now,
But don't cave in, you go your way,
Dear Old A:
Just wanted to take a moment from my very busy schedule (pronounced "shedyule" by we Brits) to wish you a happy silver anniversary. It's amazing to me that anyone still reads your column since I stopped contributing, but they do, and the more power to you. I'd like to solicit your dear readers opinion on something. I know it's a strange notion, but I was sitting out in the garden the other morning, and I heard a bird singing, and I suddenly thought, Wait A Minute! How about a sequel to my history making musical Cats, called Birds? Is this not brilliant? Let me know what you think. In any case, I simply must away. Oh, and what is a coprophiliac's favorite Lloyd Webber show? Whistle Down The Wind. Does that count?
Dear The Real A:
We just wanted to drop a line and tell you how much we both enjoy the column. We've written you a little something for your silver anniversary (to the tune of Cabaret, for those who must know such things):
We read your column
Don't be so solemn,
What is it, fish?
We'll keep on reading
Pat tells me that he wrote to my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim regarding a paper he (Pat, not Steve) is writing on Merrily We Roll Along. He was surprised to get a nice supportive note back from Steve. I'll tell you one thing about Sondheim. He always answers letters; short, to the point, but given his schedule, an amazing thing. It's his most gracious trait. Pat also tells me that he's been having to deal with a Dreaded Naysayer at Wheaton North High School. As you may remember, Pat introduced the column to his friends and because of that we now have a nice following at Wheaton North (go Wheaton North!). Anyway, Pat was approached by a fellow who wanted to know what everyone was reading that was apparently causing great mirth. Pat gave this fellow the column to read. Well, let's just say that this fellow's reaction was not exactly enthusiastic. Basically he hated it. He thought it wasn't funny. He did not understand "what is it, fish?" Well, what can you do? You either understand "what is it, fish" or you don't. He don't. But his naysayer also committed two unpardonable sins. To wit: He had the temerity to criticize my punctuation. Now,, what; the-hell: is wrong= with/my (punctuation "I'd like to know.,;:? Everybody's a critic! He also refused to read any other columns on the grounds that Pat was trying to turn him "into an idiot, too". Well, we simply can't have this naysayer talking to my pal Pat that way. I say Beware, O Naysayer! You watch your tongue (no mean feat). Have you ever tried watching your tongue? It's most difficult and really boring, too. Just like the Naysayer.
Larry writes to say he's appalled that LA's all show tunes station KGIL has forsaken the format and changed to "music for life". Apparently KGIL was not getting the ad support they needed, hence the change. They do still play show tunes at certain times of the day, though, so all is not lost. Larry heard a song which he thinks was titled The Money Goes Around and wants to know if I know what it's from. Just to show you that I do occasionally know something, the song he refers to is called How The Money Changes Hands and is from the Bock and Harnick musical Tenderloin.
Unknown (or U.N. Owen as the great Agatha Christie would have it) thinks that in deference to Sondheim I should call my drivel "sweet imbecilities". I like that. It's classy. Something this column always strives for.
Tiffany writes to say that she's too busy to write, what with her damn college exams coming up. She also mentions the brand new Stephen Sondheim Stage live chat feature. I, too, noticed it. But neither Tiffany or The Real A are apparently techno-enabled and so cannot participate in said live chat. I guess that means we can participate in dead chat, but this does not seem nearly as fun. However, because our host, Mr. Mark Bakalor, is techno-enabled, we have decided to do a live Chat With The Real A. This will be happening in the next few weeks, and Mr. Bakalor will post to Finishing The Chat as to exactly when it will happen. I hope you'll all join in, because it will be so much fun to meet all of you "live".
Jon B. tells me that twenty-five years ago he worked as a prop boy on a production of Cabaret in Omaha, Nebraska. In this production, the audience sat at tables and the whole thing was decorated like a night club. He says back then it wasn't called "environmental staging". No, back then it was called "Dinner Theater"! He feels that Sam Mendes has brought this concept back with his revival of Cabaret. Which only goes to show, everything old is new again.
Boy, we got a lot of great answers to last week's question: Anagram Stephen Sondheim. Here are some of my favorites, and thanks to all who contributed.
Do Men Pet His Hens? (Luca)
But, the prize goes to Sean, who sent in all of the following:
Mind Those Phones
This week's trivia question:
Only one actor has the distinction of having played a romantic role in a Sondheim show and playing a world-famous transsexual. Name the actor, the Sondheim show, and the world-famous transsexual.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...