Now, aren't you glad we are through with my dissertation on the sneeze? I must be honest with you, dear readers, and tell you that while I was writing that endless paragraph I sneezed about forty times. I simply can't imagine what my neighbors must think is going on in my house. I have taken my Actifed and hopefully it will kick in soon. Actifed is the only over-the-counter pill that works for me. I took Sudafed but frankly it didn't hold a candle to Actifed. And why would it? Why would the Sudafed hold a candle to the Actifed? Jealousy? Does the Sudafed have tendencies to pyromania? What did the Actifed ever do to the Sudafed? What the hell am I talking about? Excuse me. (Insert loud sneeze here.)
I had to start a new paragraph because frankly the paragraph above was going nowhere fast and in any case, I sneezed. Perhaps, I'll just start a new paragraph every time I sneeze. (Loud sneeze here.)
Bless me. At this rate, this column will have more paragraphs than you can shake a stick at. (Loud sneeze here.)
This sneezing simply will not stop. But, you know what the real problem is? I normally write this column with absolute silence in the house. Just me (sitting on the couch like so much fish) and the occasional show tune from the bird outside (just this morning we had a lovely rendition of "Dance: 10 Looks: 3). But today I have music on while I'm writing said column. Having music on colors everything. For example, right now the stereo is blasting the Bernard Herrmann score to Journey To The Center Of The Earth. And isn't that exactly where this column has sunk to? The very bowels of the earth? As those Herrmannesque chords descend lower and lower, so this column descends lower and lower. Perhaps if I change the music we can do something about this sinking column.
There. We have put on some pastoral Vaughan Williams music. You see how the whole tenor of this column has changed? Not only the tenor, but the soprano and the alto too. Why should the tenor be the only one to change? Ah, when I hear this music it is like a beautiful spring morning on the mews. I don't know what the mews are, but nevertheless ("nevertheless" - a three-for-the-price-of-one word) that is what it is like. And you know what happens to me on a beautiful spring morning? I start sneezing that's what happens to me. Because I am allergic to beautiful spring mornings. I hate that guy Vaughan Williams, who does he think he is conjuring up a beautiful spring morning? I'm agitated now. I better put on the score to Psycho. (Loud sneeze here.)
There. No music. Blessed silence. Just me and the bird (who is now singing "Besame Mucho" in perfect Spanish!). Now we can get this column back on track. There has been entirely too much mewwwwckous in this column. And unlike High Society, my Actifed has actually started to work. But enough about me.
While I was born during the time of Ben-Hur, I did not see Anyone Can Whistle in its short-lived Broadway engagement. Very few people saw it, as a matter of fact, as it closed after but a few performances. However, that wonderful record producer and friend of the musical theater, Mr. Goddard Lieberson, was good enough, and prescient enough to record the show for posterity.
I bought the cast album the day it came out. I happened to be in my favorite record store, Chesterfield Records in Beverly Hills and when I saw that cover I simply had to have it. It looked interesting, it looked weird and it looked fun. The fact is, I was rarely disappointed whenever I bought a cast album that was on Columbia Records. After all, Columbia Records was brave enough to not only give us the hits, like My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, and Gypsy, but also big beautiful flops like Subways Are For Sleeping (a great score), Mr. President, Bajour, Kean and others. I'll say it here and now: I loved Columbia Records and Goddard Lieberson. Of course, I'd seen the name Stephen Sondheim before (he was not as yet my close personal friend), as a lyricist on West Side Story and Gypsy, and as a composer/lyricist on Forum, and I loved his work, and that, too, was reason enough to buy the album. So, I took said album home, opened it up, plopped the record on my Stereophonic Record Player, turned up the sound nice and loud so as to torment everyone in my house, and sat and listened to Anyone Can Whistle for the first time.
From the first notes of the Overture I knew I would fall in love with it. It was so strange and wonderful sounding. Then on came Angela Lansbury (as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper) and her boys to sing Me and My Town. Well, it was so wildly surreal that I could not move, I just sat there transfixed. Occasionally I would glance at the fold-open album jacket to look at the pictures and try to follow the plot, but mostly I just stared at the record player as if doing so would somehow connect me closer to the music that was issuing forth. Then came The Miracle Song and that was it. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. As soon as it finished, I whipped the needle back (carefully of course) and listened to the song again. It was just so damned infectious and its rhythm was so damned beguiling. When it was over, the second time, I played it again. Probably ten times in a row. I was already staging the number in my mind, and in those days I was given to doing room recitals (just for myself), so I'd get up and start dancing around my room like a maniac. Wow! And when I got to Simple, well, the world changed. My idea of what musicals were forever altered with that single number. It was and is one of the most brilliant showpieces ever written. It was blisteringly funny, it was shocking, it was endlessly clever, and it just put me away. When it was over (it's a long number) I just sat there, numb. The rest of the score was equally as brilliant. Especially the title song, which remains one of Sondheim's simplest and most beautiful. I have to also give special Real A kudos to A Parade In Town (another number I had to stage for my room recital) and Take One Step (And See What It Gets You). The final song could not have been more wonderful (With So Little To Be Sure Of) even with Harry Guardino's gruff voice. I wanted to see this show! I wanted to know everything about it! But it had already closed. Amazingly, though, the script was published (those were the days) so I read it, and conjured up what it must have looked like by looking at the pictures and reading and singing the show out loud. Let's just say this: While I loved other musicals, I empathized with this one. It got under my skin. I understood it. Years later I would become friendly with Arnold Soboloff who played Treasurer Cooly, and he regaled me with stories of the experiences he had doing the show.
That cast album has remained one of my favorites for all these years. It's as fresh today as it was back then. I know there is a lot of discussion about which album is the better one to have, the original cast or the concert version. Well, let me just be Real opinionated for a moment, and say that the concert version is one of the worst albums I've ever heard. It is so badly produced, the sound is so awful, and the performances so uneven, that I feel it's practically worthless. There's not a moment on the album that isn't done better on the original. Even the cut song There's Always A Woman is done better elsewhere. No, if you want Anyone Can Whistle you must have the Original Broadway Cast Album. This score was truly the beginning of my love affair with the music of my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim. And while he has written many brilliant scores since, this one still gets to me every time. In fact, I think I'll go put it on right now. Maybe I'll even try to recreate my room recital staging. (Loud sneeze here.)
One thing that is not one of My Favorite Things is sneezing. I have now sneezed so many times I'm actually seeing double. It appears that I have dislodged my eyeballs or something. With all this sneezing, I'm sure it sounds like someone is being murdered in my house. More Actifed, that's what we need. (Loud sneeze here.)
There. I've taken another Actifed, started a new paragraph, and my sneezing has subsided. So, shall we take another trip down memory lane? As long as I've already brought up the subject of my room recitals, I may as well 'fess up and tell you about my family recitals. Yes, you know, you've been there. The ones where you make all the members of your family sit down and you do a "show" for them. Every Monday night at The Real A's house, we would have a family dinner with my family, my Aunt and Uncle, my grandparents (yes, the stool man and his large wife) and occasionally an assorted cousin or two. We would eat, and then everyone would gather in the den and sit and chat. The men would smoke stogies and the women would sit and kvell over us kids. Then, I would announce that I would be doing a performance. There would be a smattering of applause and an occasional groan from a cousin, but once I announced it, that was it, there was no stopping me. I would aim a lamp at an area by the television set, I'd leave the room to prepare and then, a few minutes later, I'd make my entrance. My grandmother loved these performances. She'd say "Oy, look, vat a meshugah" (different from fershluganah). I'd do impressions of the famous and near famous (I did a deadly accurate impression of our pool man). I'd lip-synch to popular songs of the day. I'd tell jokes. Sometimes I'd bring up a guest star (my mother, who would always sing the same song for everyone, My Yiddeshe Mama). After I'd finished I'd take a bow, and everyone was always very complimentary, except my grandfather, who, of course, would say "what is it, fish?". You'll be happy to know that one of my biggest hits was Gee, Officer Krupke, in which I sang all the roles with great elan (not Elan), and which just happened to have been co-written by none other than Mr. Stephen Sondheim. And where did all those family recitals lead? Why, right here, dear readers. If it weren't for those recitals, I would never have become The Real A, and if I had never become The Real A, none of you would be saying "What is it, fish?" Fate works in strange ways.
What a tumultuous week in the show business world. Michael Ovitz was announced at the new head of Livent, everyone and their mother has had a turn at directing High Society, and a new book about my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim is starting to make the rounds (it comes out in June).
Well, speak of the devil, an e-mail just arrived. Let's see what it says, shall we?
Dear Real Allergic:
I am sorry to hear about your allergies. I was just honored at the William Inge Festival, but all I could think about was you sneezing away. I, too, have allergies. For example, I am allergic to Lord Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whenever I think of him my nose starts to run. So, I commiserate. In fact, while I was sitting there at the Festival, listening to them go on and on about me, I wrote you this little lyric (to part of the tune of Agony):
When I am stuffed up,
My darling A:
Yes, I've heard all about the fact that they're honoring your close personal friend Stephen Sondheim at some Festival. All I have to say is it will not hold a candle to my recent birthday celebration. Now, that was a bash! It was a bash and a half. Everyone was there, including that marvelous international motion picture star Antonio Banderas. He sang songs from POTO. Isn't that exciting? I'm thinking of having him star in my non-existant movie version. Isn't that a great idea? Someone suggested having Dolly Parton in the role of Christine, but I feel Dolly is just a bit too old, don't you? Oh, I know she looks fabulously young with all her facial work, but still, you can't lie to the close-up lens. We do wish you could have been here for my party, everyone was dying to meet you and find out once and for all who you really are. Or maybe you were there! Maybe you are Antonio Banderas! If so, you will be absolutely fabulous in my maybe motion picture version of Phantom.
All love and kisses,
William F. Orr sent me a funny "letter" he received from our very own Carol Channing (which included a funny parody of I'm Just A Little Girl From Little Rock), however it was so long that to reprint it would take up the entire letters section. If I were William F. Orr (and who's to say I'm not?) I would print said letter over at Finishing The Chat so that our dear readers can take a look at it.
Lindsay writes to say that she is in total agreement with me about nauseating orange flavored Pez. She also asks what my favorite Pez dispenser is. Hands down, it's my Daffy Duck one, that I won over at eBay. And why "hands down"? Why not "hands up"? She also mentions that she has an electronic Pez dispenser. What will they think of next? I would, however, distrust an electronic Pez dispenser, because what if it malfunctioned and it kept sending an endless stream of Pez Pellets in your mouth. You could be Pezzed to death. No, we'll stick with the manual ones. Lindsay also mentions an "adult" Pez dispenser which apparently is one that doesn't have a head. I will stop right here in the interest of decorum.
Jim, a new dear reader, just happened to wander into the Stephen Sondheim Stage and unfortunately the first thing he read here was last week's column. His comments: "Crazy absolutely CRAZY! What in the world is your website about? What's up dude?" Firstly, I must clarify that this is not my website. Oh, no, dear readers, this here website belongs to Mr. Mark Bakalor, who is off doing shows or plays or musicals or something and I'm sure his car has broken down again in Petaluma or wherever [Note from Mr. Mark Bakalor: My car never broke down and it was in Lost Hills] because one has simply not heard much from Mr. Bakalor this week. As to what this website is about, I haven't the foggiest. I first came here by mistake. I was looking for information about the SSS (Seriously Sadistic Somnabulists) and this is what I got. Luckily it worked out fine, because as everyone by now knows, Mr. Stephen Sondheim just happens to be my close personal friend. Finally, in answer to "what's up dude?" what makes you think that the Real A is a dude? Might I not be a dudette?
Holly reminds me that Stephen Sondheim is being honored at the William Inge Festival in Independence, Kansas. And frankly, if Holly hadn't reminded me I would have totally forgotten about it (I got Holly's e-mail way before Steve's).
DC writes to say that "horseradish" is named after a root vegetable in the radish family, which just happened to resemble the zubrick of a horse. So, some wiseacre said "horseradish" and voila, suddenly we had an accompaniment to boiled beef, prime rib, and the ever loving gefilte fish. I will tremble in anticipation if DC is able to tell me the derivation of "mucous". DC's favorite synonym for genetalia are: "ding-ding" (for the man) and "who-who" (for the woman). Gee, that sounds like it could be a lyric from The Trolley Song. "Ding-ding ding went the who-who..."
Tiffany is very stressed out right now, trying to handle two jobs at once. She's not getting enough sleep and is worried her grades will start to suffer. She wants to quit Job #1 but doesn't want to be thought of as a quitter. I offer this advice for whatever it's worth (I live by these words): It doesn't matter one whit what people think - you take care of yourself and make yourself happy and if someone has a problem with that it's their tough luck. If you need to quit Job #1 then you quit and if that makes someone perceive you as a quitter then you just go up to that someone and kick them really hard in the shins. This tends to shut people up right away. Tiffany also said she was in the chat room and had a chat (she's Java enabled you know) with the one and only Spock. She tells me that he was very suspicious of me and my column and Tifffany's worried that the result of their chat is why Spock is picking on my usage of the word "hopefully". Well, hopefully that's not the case. Tiffany also wants to know what color hair I have. Brown, with little bits of the blonde highlights thrown in for good measure.
Spock (yes, Spock) continues ad nauseum to berate me for my usage of the word "hopefully", even after I printed that long dissertation from the book known as the dictionary. Spock's dictionary says my dictionary is full of it, and that my usage of the word "hopefully" is only acceptable to 0.0001 percent of the Usage Panel. Can you please get me the names of the people who were on the Usage Panel? Because I take umbrage, do you hear me? Umbrage. What the hell is a Usage Panel anyway? And what are they doing deciding how I should use the word "hopefully" when I wasn't even consulted by said Usage Panel. Well, Spock, my dictionary's Usage Panel says your dictionary's Usage Panel is full of beans. Hopefully, that will put an end to this brouhaha (I can't even begin to imagine the sick mind that came up with that word). Spock also tells me that he was not named after Mr. Spock, but was named in homage of Dr. Spock, who died on the day that young Spock was born. This would be a touching story in my book (Chapter 67 - The Death and Birth of Spock) if I hadn't taken umbrage. But umbrage was taken and so I sit here (like so much fish) unmoved.
Steve (not Sondheim) tells me that he was a bad Jew, and fell off the Passover wagon by eating a leavened bagel before he was supposed to. He will now have to atone for this on Yom Kippur or else he will suffer the Curse of Those Who Eat Bagels Early. Steve's favorite synonym for the female genitalia is "cooter".
Roxy (in keeping with our Passover comments) informs me that I had heartburn because I ate a leavened Pizza and that that was my punishment. She also tells me that she's a big Fellini fan, too, and that her favorites are La Dolce Vita and Amarcord. Roxy also wants to know why Bells Are Ringing hasn't had a revival. First let me say that Bells Are Ringing is one of my favorite scores. I just adore it. There was talk of a revival a couple of years ago, to be directed by Gene Saks, and a reading was done, which starred Twiggy. Nothing came of it, but hopefully (yes, hopefully - you heard it here!) there will be a revival of this wonderful show. And wouldn't Bernadette Peters be a wonderful Ella Peterson?
Fred writes to say that my new close personal friend Marvin Hamlisch is too late in musicalizing A Streetcar Named Desire. They've already done it on The Simpsons. I have passed this information on to Mr. Hamlisch and he is devastated. He is now in seclusion, trying to figure out how to recycle his songs for another show.
Stevie (not Steve, not Sondheim) agrees with me as regards the Cariou vs. Hearn debate. And I agree with Stevie, which means we are both in agreement, as we have agreed with each other. Agreed?
Anita just wanted to point out how heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) Marianne Faithfull's version of I Have A Love from West Side Story is. Not having heard it, I cannot say whether I agree with this or not, hence we are not exactly in the same agreement that Stevie and I are, although I hasten to add that we are not in disagreement either.
Morgan has a Jewish father and a Catholic mother (people in these types of marriages are known as Jewcats), so her refrigerator had both matzoh ball soup and colored Easter eggs. Hopefully (yes, hopefully!) the Easter eggs were not in the matzoh ball soup, as that is a sin and would have to be atoned for on Yom Kippur. Otherwise you would suffer the Curse of Those Who Put Colored Easter Eggs In Matzoh Ball Soup.
Yves adds these synonyms for genitalia to our ever burgeoning list: Stiffy and Stinker. Those also would be good names for a dog and cat.
Michael sent along this information: For those interested in the Sweeney Todd video, you might try www.ccvideo.com, as they have had it, and at a good price, too.
Well, your reaction was overwhelming (not merely whelming) and I guess you all want the trivia section to continue. So, continue it will.
Only a couple of folks got the correct answer to last week's question: The two cut songs from Follies that ended up in Sondheim's score to Stavisky are:
Who Could Be Blue which can be heard on the track Salon At The Claridge #2, and Bring On The Girls, which can be heard on the track Auto Show.
This week's trivia question:
Name the performer who has appeared in more Sondheim shows than any other.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Well, I have to go now, there is much sneezing still to be done and frankly it is hard to type on a moist keyboard. (Loud sneeze here.)
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...