When in doubt what do we do, dear readers? We start a new paragraph (Dr. von Paragraph would be proud), that's what we do. That is our modus operandi. "Modus operandi" of course is Latin, a language I know nothing about whatsoever. Latin is extremely irritating to look at. It's the kind of language that turns people into homicidal maniacs in my book (Chapter 51 - How I Learned Latin and Became A Homicidal Maniac). If you think the English language is stupid, check out Latin sometime. I just came to the shocking realization that I have written an entire paragraph which has no meaning or relevance to anything at all. It takes talent to do this. This is not something that just anyone can do. No, I have a gift. Noel Coward had a "talent to amuse" I have a talent to write totally pointless paragraphs. Which is the greater talent? You decide.
I attempted to jog tonight. I will admit that I haven't jogged in a few months. When you lay off the jogging for two months, it's like you've never jogged before in your entire life. One block into my jog and I thought I was going to die. Yes, die, right there in the street. I thought I will die right here in the street like so much fish, and someone will find me and they won't know who the hell I am. I'll be just another dead jogger lying in the middle of the road like so much fish. By the end of the second block I thought I had died. I had an "out of body" experience. I actually exited my own body and watched myself jogging and it was not a pretty sight dear readers. I barely completed a mile. Pitiful. And now, I am sitting on my couch, breathing heavily, sweating on my keyboard. I am sweating so hard that my glasses have fogged up. Yes, The Real A must wear glasses to see the screen. If I did not wear the glasses, this is what I would be writing: I have nom teken ough mi gallassess an cannt sea a thing. it iz alll a bigg blulr. Wow. I've put my glasses back on. I'm thinking perhaps I should write the rest of the column with my glasses off. There is a flying thing in my house that is tormenting me. It is a gnat or something. It keeps landing on me as if it didn't have a care in the world. I keep trying to squash it and only succeed in slapping myself really hard, leaving a red hand print wherever the gnat formerly was. Why were gnats put on this earth? As some large cosmic joke? They serve no purpose whatsoever, except to be annoying. Even their name is annoying. "Gnat". Why does that word exist? It's one of the stupidest looking words I've ever seen, and as you know has a letter which you don't pronounce, which I abhor. Yes, I abhor it. The word and the creature "gnat" are to be abhorred and I don't care who knows it. The only gnat I have ever liked was Gnat King Cole.
I feel I am close to achieving a new level of meaningless, don't you? Oh, let me just say Stephen Sondheim before some disgruntled person has a hissy fit. That would be a revolting development, wouldn't it? Do you know where that saying came from? "Revolting development"? It came from a radio and tv show called The Life of Riley, which starred both Jackie Gleason (for a very short time) and the great William Bendix. And once in every episode, poor put-upon Chester A. Riley would mutter "what a revoltin' development this is". Did you need to know this? Probably not. But to give it relevance to the Stephen Sondheim Stage (this here site which is run by Mr. Mark Bakalor, who is off doing Into The Woods, or Out Of The Shed or some show in Agoura or Barstow or wherever his souped up crate landed him) I can tell you that The Life of Riley was on tv at the same time as the show Topper, which, of course, was a show which employed a very young neophyte writer named Stephen Sondheim, who, in later life, would go on to become my close personal friend. By the way, I think the word "neophyte" would look much better if it were spelled "kneeofight", don't you? Oh, if only we (you and I, dear readers) were in charge of language and spelling, the world would be a much better place than the fershluganah place it is. We would never have words like "falafel" and "follicle" and "fractious" to name but three "f" words I find particularly heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). I do believe I have lost focus here, and I have my glasses on! I do feel I will find the focus (another stupid "f" word) at some point but that point is obviously not now. But, before I find the focus, I must tell you that I have a canker sore on my tongue. I hate that. Talk about a useless thing. It just shows up without any provocation. Just decides to suddenly be on your tongue. How do you suppose the inventor of the word "canker" came up with that word? Would it occur to you in your wildest imaginings to name that annoying little sore on your tongue a "canker"??? "Canker". That just belongs in the pantheon of inane words. As a matter of fact, "pantheon" belongs in the pantheon of inane words. I do believe I have now written one of the longest paragraphs ever written, and I do believe I should be awarded a Paragraph Prize.
I think I shall put this section of the column to bed. I think I shall also put myself to bed, if I can actually get off the couch. My muscles are already starting to get sore, and that is a revolting development, if you ask me. Frankly, this column is starting to feel like The Life: Who can believe it's lasted this long. But enough about me.
I awoke this morning in fine fettle, whatever the hell that stupid word means. I lay in bed, my fettle simply radiating. Then I got out of bed. This was a mistake. My calf muscle (which had been abused in the jogging excursion) decided that it had enough. It was a revolting development, let me tell you. It's a bit better now, but an angry calf muscle is not something you want, take it from me and I wish you would because I don't need it anymore. The canker sore has subsided too, and I am almost but not quite a normal human being again.
The bird is outside and, amazingly enough, is singing Liaisons. It's not quite the definitive version that Hermoine Gingold did, but it's astonishingly good nonetheless. Someone gave me a box of See's dark chocolate nuts and chews yesterday, so when my calf muscle decided to revolt, I ate a few pieces to alleviate the pain. Well, I ate half the box. One simply cannot eat a few pieces of See's dark chocolate nuts and chews. So I am now bouncing off the walls from the sugar high. Do you know the best way to alleviate pain? I will tell you The Real A's secret for alleviating pain. For example, if someone says, "oh, my head is just killing me" (no mean feat), then what you do is you kick them really hard in the shins. I mean really hard. The reaction is usually a whelp of pain. They usually say "Ouch, that really hurt" and they moan and try to soothe their aching shin. Their head is no longer the issue, pain-wise. I call this Redirecting The Pain. It works every time, although people may choose not to inform you of their aches after a while.
And what about that word "whelp"? You just knew I could not let such a hopelessly fershluganah word go by. "Help" with a "w" thrown in for good measure. Brilliant. A+ for the braniac who thought it up. I was also ruminating on the phrase "my head is killing me". Doesn't that just conjur up a headline in the Star? "Man Killed By Own Head". The imagery is irresistable.
The bird's rendition of Liaisons started me thinking about the show from whence the song came. As was usual practice after Company and Follies, whenever a new Sondheim show opened, I would be at the record store the day the album was released. There was nothing like the anticipation of buying the Cast Recording of a new Sondheim score. I rushed home, put the platter on my stereophonic turntable (a Thorens, for those who care), and prepared to be enthralled as I always was by Sondheim. The first thing I noticed while looking at the album jacket, was that the musical was adapted from a film I knew somewhat well, Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of A Summer Night. I knew instantly that the film would make ideal material for a musical, especially a Sondheim/Wheeler/Prince musical.
After Company and Follies, would it be possible for Sondheim to achieve even loftier heights? As soon as "Now/Later/Soon" came on, I had my answer. And it was an unequivical "yes"! As soon as Len Cariou sang "Now, as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap" I was in Sondheim heaven. I feel his lyrics in Night Music are the finest he's ever written. Each song is a perfect gem. Filled with grace and wit and beauty. The music he created fit his incredible word-play like a glove. One just sat there, astonished that he could keep coming up with one brilliant line after another (just listen and study the lyric to You Must Meet My Wife). And then I got to the song which would become (and remain) my favorite Sondheim song ever. I can't explain to you why. I can't explain to you what it is about the song that gets to me every time I hear it. Every Day A Little Death is the song, and when I heard it for the first time, with the rain pouring down outside, it just floored me. It is not easy to floor me. You can couch me, you can wall me, but I am simply hard to floor. It was the most touching, beautiful, heartfelt song. Perfectly recorded, perfectly realized by Victoria Mallory and Patricia Elliot, perfectly orchestrated by Tunick, and perfectly written by Sondheim. I feel it is the single finest track ever recorded on a cast album. Call it hyperbole on my part (actually, call it something else, "hyperbole" is just too ridiculous) but it's how I feel. There, I've said it and I'm glad. I listened to the rest of the album and loved every minute of it. And then I went back and played Every Day A Little Death at least twenty times in a row. And for the next six months, not a day went by when I didn't play that song. We get moved and touched by what we get moved and touched by, and there is simply no explaining these things.
The cast was sublime in every way. No one has or ever will sing Send In The Clowns with such meaning and subtlety as Glynis Johns (yes, my beloved Glynis, star of my beloved The Court Jester). Len was grand, Mallory was honey- voiced, and Hermoine Gingold... Well, she is a whole column in itself. If you've never heard of Miss Gingold, or seen Miss Gingold, you need to rectify this situation immediately. She was totally unique, and there has never been anyone like her (nor will there ever be). This woman could have read the phone book and you would have been on the floor (floored), howling with laughter. But she could also be wonderfully touching, and her rendition of Liaisons is one of the great moments in musical theater (the bird is good, but it's no Gingold). If you want to see Hermoine at her best, rent the film Gigi. If you can find the video of the film version of Night Music, rent that too, although be warned: Liaisons was deleted from the film. Speaking of the film, it is really bad. It is so interesting that Harold Prince, who would bring so many cinematic techniques to the stage, could have absolutely no aptitude whatsoever for cinema. His direction is practically inept. Otherwise, the film plods along like a limping elephant, but does have some nice moments, which include Miss Gingold and the wonderful film version of The Glamourous Life (very different from the stage version), and also Diana Rigg. Elizabeth Taylor does okay, but Len Cariou is as bad as Prince in adjusting to the camera.
When I finally saw A Little Night Music, it wasn't the Broadway company, it was the touring cast. I was vaguely disappointed in the show, and whether this was the fault of the tour I don't know. Jean Simmons was fine, as was George Lee Andrews. The rest of the cast was really subpar, and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of The West) just had no clue as to what musical she was being asked to perform in.
But that score. It gives the lie to the criticism that Sondheim is cold and analytical. It is a score which is burnished with warmth and insight, with glorious melody, and all in waltz time, too. It's Sondheim at the top of his game, which, in my book (Chapter 86 - Sondheim At The Top of His Game), is as good as it gets.
Oh, and one more thing about Hermoine Gingold. I had the pleasure of seeing her live twice. The first time was in the national tour of Arthur Kopit's wonderfully surreal comedy "Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You In The Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad" (directed by Jerome Robbins, no less). As soon as she made her entrance into a hotel suite, yelling at the bellboys "Where is my fifth? Where is my fifth?" I was on the floor (floored). It wasn't until I bought the play that I realized what she was saying was "Where is my fish?". But that was the unique Gingold delivery, and of course I would have loved to have heard her say, "What is it, fifth?" Then, years later, I saw her in the LA production of Side By Side By Sondheim, in which she functioned as the narrator. But when she finally got to do a song, I Never Do Anything Twice, she brought the house down in a way that very few people ever do. An amazing performer. If you want to see her at her finest, you can also check out the film of The Music Man, in which she plays Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn, the mayor's wife. Oh, yes, that is who she plays, and she almost walks away with the entire film.
Have you ever heard the term "desert island" in regards to what movies, plays, albums you would take to a desert island? As opposed to a "dessert island" of course. A dessert island is easy. I would take See's dark chocolate nuts and chews, Joe Allen's Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, Musso and Frank's Bread Pudding (the latter two must be accompanied by mounds of whipped cream), chocolate dipped Foster Freeze soft vanilla ice cream cone, Cherry nibs licorice, and perhaps a bowl of almond M&Ms. But we're talking about desert island, not dessert island. Whole different ball of wax. And where did that brilliant expression come from? There are a lot of waxy balls to choose from? Oh, shoot me before I continue.
Anyway, since I'm doing three columns at one time, I thought it might be fun to do some desert island lists in this section of this here column. So, I'll start out with desert island movies. Now, understand, these are not necessarily the greatest movies ever made (although several are), they are just films that I can watch over and over again without ever tiring of them. There are many brilliant pieces of cinema that I've seen that I simply have no need of seeing again. So, here's my list, although it could change in five minutes. This is off the top of my head (where it was just sitting, like so much fish). In fact, earlier someone looked at the top of my head and said, "what is it, fish" and I had to clarify that it was my desert island movies list. They looked at me as if I were a fetid wart.
(in no particular order)
That's the list, which of course must be limited to ten. As I said, it would be a different list tomorrow. If you haven't seen all of the above, rent any of them and you'll be in for a Real A treat.
High Society has opened to horrible reviews. But since it is produced by The Dodgers (the never-say-die company) don't look for it to shutter anytime soon.
The Ragtime Original Cast Album (2CD set) is out and getting great reaction. There is a rumor that Triumph of Love will finally be recorded by TER Records. We'll see.
Oops, wait, just got some e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear Mr. or Ms. A:
It has come to our attention that in several of your columns you have made less than flattering comments about the way we produce shows. That we keep things open to give the illusion of success even though the shows are not doing any business. Yeah? So what? If we want to take a bath is that your affair? Leave us alone. So what if High Society got terrible reviews and audiences hate every minute of it. Is that a reason to close a show??? When we keep a show like Once Upon A Mattress running for five months we are doing a service. It allows audiences to see a production that clearly doesn't work. What is wrong with that? It's educational. And look at Titanic. What if we'd closed that, Mr. or Ms. Smarty Pants? It is a huge hit, selling out all the time. Okay, so it may not recoup its investment, but is that all we should care about? In closing (this letter, we're not closing anything else) let us say that your column gives new meaning to the word "pointless".
It occurs to me that the letters I get from this column will have to be split between the next two columns, as I won't be here to get the letters from the third column which will have to get answered in the column when I return. This is all very confusing, this writing three columns at once. This is the nevertheless and whatsoever of column writing. My fingers are killing me (Man Killed By Own Finger!) from all this typing. Oh, well, can't cry over spilled milk. And why not, I ask? If spilled milk upsets you why the hell can't you just have a good cry about it? What was I talking about? Oh, yes, letters.
Carlton (a new dear reader) wants to know if there's a support group for people who constantly hum, whistle and sing show tunes. As you know, this was discussed in an earlier column, and of course if Mr. Mark Bakalor weren't off doing shows in Hemet or wherever the hell he is in his broken down crate, we could link to that column right here, right now. There should be a support group for people who hum, whistle and sing show tunes. It should be right here at the SSS. Every week we could have confessions (Hello, I'm The Real A and I hum show tunes - and so does my bird) and bare our souls (no mean feat). Wouldn't that be exciting. Let's tell Mr. Mark Bakalor, not that he'll be listening as he's off doing shows in Altadena or wherever the hell he is.
der Brucer (beloved of S. Woody White, yes the same S. Woody White who never writes anymore) quotes a bit from my last column, in which I stated "I am sitting here on my couch, at one with myself". He informs me that George Michael just got arrested for doing that.
Vicky tells me that the word mucous is derived from the Latin (yes, the dreaded Latin) word mucus, and is pronounced in Latin (yes, the dreaded Latin) moo-koos. Those darned Romans would come up with a word like mucus, wouldn't they?
Scott (regarding my loathing of the Chorus Line film) mentions his votes for other terrible musical to film adaptations: Camelot, Man of La Mancha, Paint Your Wagon and A Little Night Music. One could subtitle the above list Hollywood Does It To Broadway. And personally I don't think much of the Fiddler On The Roof film version or the My Fair Lady film adaptation, which are both far too lethargic for my taste.
e (yes, e... not f, or q) has asked me not to publish his/her "e"-mail address. Why would I do such a thing? That would not be cricket and we never do things that would not be cricket, because we are a friend to the cricket even though they won't shut their trap. e just found the SSS while doing a search on "viewmaster". e has just inherited an old viewer and some odd reels. I have been trying unsuccessfully for the last hour to figure out the point of this letter, but it has thus far eluded me. Certainly the letter is worthy of Ionesco, but what does it mean? Doing a search on "viewmaster" gets you to the Stephen Sondheim Stage? Am I missing something? That said, I like viewmasters, and even won one at eBay, and it came with odd reels. "Won one". That's like a tie score, wordwise, isn't it?
Otto (Otto spelled backwards) informs me that Otto spelled inside out is "Toot". And don't forget "Toto", too.
Erzulie writes to say that they saw Follies at the Papermill Playhouse and thought it amazing. I'll be seeing it in a week and a half, and am really looking forward to it. And you, dear readers, will be the first to know my reaction.
Pat (Tap spelled backwards) suggests that instead of linking the phrases that I use ad nauseum (ad nauseum being a prime example) we should link said phrases to random websites, so that if you press the link for "what is it, fish" you would be taken to the People Who Do Strange Things With Garden Hoses Website. Shame on you, Pat, that is a devious proposition and of course I've passed the suggestion on to Mr. Mark Bakalor, not that he'll do anything with it as he's off doing shows in Pacoima or wherever the hell he is.
kokol wrote to say that in last week's column I said (regarding kokol) "They'll be doing his favorite show". Well, wouldn't you know, kokol is a "she" not a "he". And I called "she" a "he". This is a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) offense on my part, and I shall flog properly. kokol isn't mad though, and sends kisses, and of course I send big kisses right back.
Elizabeth wonders how I write this column every single week. Well, I sometimes wonder the same thing myself. Can you imagine writing three of these here columns in one week? Does the word "lobotomy" come to mind?
Yves says I never answered his query as to which was my favorite version of Send In The Clowns. Well, if you haven't skipped the appropriate section of this here column, you will know that it is Glynis Johns' definitive rendition on the cast album. I'm also quite fond of the Judy Collins version. Now, if Mr. Mark Bakalor were around (instead of being off doing shows in La Crescenta or wherever the hell he is) we could have linked this letter to the appropriate section of the column. Or, using Pat's new idea of linking, you would have been taken to the Rondo Hatton Website (extra points for those who know Rondo Hatton).
William Franklin Orr (not William Mergatroid Orr) tells me the history of the word "behemoth". "Behemoth" is generally thought to connote something big and terrifying, a monster. In reality, a behemoth is a hippopotamus. This is shocking news. Who knew? And who came up with the name "hippopotamus" in the first place? That word is the product of a delusional mind. I don't like the word "connote" either, but it's not a patch on the (coprophiliac alert) behind of "hippopotamus" so I'll just let it slide. William Franklin Orr also tells me that he's still working on my Real Identity. For heaven's sake, please figure it out soon, as I have grown weary of walking around without an identity. Let's recap who I am so far: male, female, gay, straight, Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Gerard Allesandrini, George Clooney, William F. Orr, Rupert Holmes, Young Simba from The Lion King, the Tony-nominated Billy from Big, a cast member from one of Sondheim's shows, Michael Tough the singing janitor, Bruce Kimmel, Richard Christianson of the Chicago Tribune, George Furth, New Line Theatre's Scott Miller, Leigh's father, and Waiting for Guffman's Corky. I'm starting to feel like that tv movie Sybil.
Anita has an interesting little known fact to share, "Did you know that Donna McKechnie played Philia on Broadway in 1964?" Anita is almost right. Donna McKechnie did play Philia but not on Broadway. She played it on tour.
Tiffany wrote to say she was sitting home alone on a Saturday night (so was I, writing this here column) playing with a stray cat who sometimes hangs around. Well, this cat, for no reason whatsoever, attacked Tiffany. Attacked our beloved Tiffany. For whatever stupid cat reason it had. Now, I must tell you I have no love for cats, I am allergic to them and find them weird and aloof. My mother told me they sucked baby's breath, and I have never liked a cat since. But attacking our beloved Tiffany is the last straw! It is the straw that broke the camel's back, whatever the hell that means. I think that cat needs to be taught a lesson. I think that cat needs to be fed some Spam, don't you? Spam would teach that cat a lesson. Spam would muck up that cat's digestive system but good. Then that cat should be forced to watch Speed 2: Cruise Control, with its eyes pried open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. You tell that cat for me, any more of that behavior and the cat will become subject to ridicule in this here column. And I will be merciless on said cat. Tiffany has scratched up arms because of that cat, which makes that cat one thing and one thing only. Okay, one, two, three... Butt Cheek!
Abigail has a new pet bunny. Now, that's much better than a cat. When was the last time you heard of a bunny attack? Except in that awful movie Food Of The Gods where poor drunk Raplh Meeker was attacked by a mutant bunny. Bunnies are cute and adorable. We commend Abigail on her choice of pet.
Thorsten asks these questions: How old am I, and what do I like? As my dear readers know, my age varies from column to column, and I could be anywhere from six to one hundred and thirty-four. As to what I like, if Mr. Mark Bakalor weren't so damned busy doing his shows in Duarte or wherever the hell he is, we could link this question to all the past My Favorite Things sections. Or if we take Pat's lead, to the Armenian Soccer Team Website. Seriously, Thorsten, check out those past Favorite Things and you'll find out all about what I like.
Fred has figured out that if I was born in 1929 that I would now be 87! Which probably explains the way I look when I jog. I'll admit here and now that I am, in fact, younger that 87. In fact, I'm younger than springtime, am I.
Lots of guesses this week, and everyone guessed the exact same names. But the names guessed were not nearly complete. Here is a list of the people who have played Pseudolus on Broadway:
Zero Mostel, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, David Alan Grier, Bob Amaral, Jerry Lester, John Bentley, Tom Poston.
This week's trivia question comes courtesy of Otto (Otto spelled backwards): In the video of Sweeney Todd, at the end of Ladies In Their Sensitivities Judge Turpin is heard singing a few bars of a song as he ascends the stairs leading to his house. What is the song he is singing?
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...