I have now been staring at the space between these paragraphs for ten minutes. This is not a good sign. I can't even talk about the fershluganah bird or the fershluganah cricket because it is pouring down rain and they are nowhere to be heard (although just prior to the rain beginning, I did hear the bird singing a bit of Soon It's Gonna Rain - very prescient, the bird). Today I ate a filet o' fish sandwich. When the McDonald's person brought it to me, I of course asked, what is it, fish? She looked at me as if I were a leper from the motion picture Ben Hur. I will admit it here and now: I like filet o' fish sandwiches. There, I've said it and I'm glad. Do you think they were trying to conserve space with the o'? I think it looks rather inane myself, but that's just me. Then I came home, sat on my couch (like so much o' fish) and fired up the keyboard. Because in the back of my head I know I have to write two columns in the next three days. What this knowledge is doing in the back of my head I have no idea. This knowledge should be in the front of my head, but there it sits, in the back, like so much o' fish.
Have I ever told you about the motion picture entitled The Creeping Terror? This is a film that is beyond repair. This is a film about a creeping terror. And what is the titular title terror? Five men in a rug, that's what the titular terror is. That's right, dear readers, you heard it here. The terror is a large piece of shag carpet. This is supposed to be horrifying. It is, but not in the way the filmmakers intended. Anyway, this carpet does indeed creep. People run in terror from this carpet, but they have to run very slowly because the carpet creeps at a snail's pace. This is one slow carpet. Some people are eaten by the carpet. Yes, death by carpet. The movie has to be seen to be believed and even then you won't believe you are seeing it. It is possibly the most inept movie of all time. Apparently, the producers somehow managed to lose the sound and so the whole picture had to be post-synched (dubbed). It doesn't appear that they had any knowledge of how that process works, however, and so the whole film is wildly out of synch (like a badly dubbed Japanese film) and they forgot to put in sound effects, so everything else but the dialogue and music is totally without sound. So, no footsteps, no door closing, no nothing. The carpet is quite good, however. When it eats the people, the people actually have to do all the work, shoving themselves inside the carpet as if they were being eaten.
I really don't have a clue as to why I needed to tell you about The Creeping Terror. This is what happens when you are writing three columns in a row. You start to hallucinate. You think of things like The Creeping Terror. I hope that none of you have nightmares about your rug attacking you. That would be heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). I would never want to give my dear readers a case of the screaming meemies. Okay, let us halt right here. The "screaming meemies". What in hell is a screaming meemie? And even if we figure out what a meemie is, why is it screaming? Did someone perpetrate a homicide on the meemie? Had the meemie just seen The Creeping Terror? Can the screaming meemies get the willies? Can this column get any more obtuse? Can the word "obtuse" get any more obtuse? I better stop right now before I get a case of the screaming meemies. And do you have to get a whole case, or can you have just one meemie? Oh, the world is a mad universe. A universe in which someone actually thinks they're saving space by saying o' instead o' of. The point o' this here column is starting to resemble Rebecca Luker and Melissa Errico's Tony nominations: nonexistent. But enough about me.
I had the opportunity to catch the East West Players revival of Pacific Overtures and it was a very interesting experience. Pacific Overtures was the first Sondheim score I'd heard that I didn't instantly fall in love with. As per my usual practice, I bought the cast album the day it hit the stores, ran home, put it on and sat down to listen. I loved the "sound" of the score, and I loved many of the numbers, but there were several I just couldn't get with. Of course, I was just listening to the album, not getting the full effect of the show on stage. Of that first listening, I thought the opening number was great and the second song, There Is No Other Way, was just tremendously moving. There were two other songs that really "got" to me. Chrysanthemum Tea, which I thought then and think now is one of the greatest musical sequences ever written, absolutely astonishing in both concept and delivery, and it contains some of Sondheim's greatest wordplay. Just look at this sample:
When the ships came our way
Then I finally got to see the show, when it came to Los Angeles. Most of the Broadway cast came with it. As usual, Harold Prince's production was stunning to look at, and in context I liked some of the score better than I had on record. But it was slow going and while it had brilliant sequences, it just never quite worked as a whole for me. Especially the finale, Now, which I really did not like, not the song, and not the way it was staged. The physical production was absolutely beautiful and the cast was superb. As usual, Tunick's orchestrations were just right, and gave a real transparency and Oriental flavor without hitting you over the head with it. The string writing on There Is No Other Way is simply gorgeous. So, Overtures was not an album I went back to often, certainly not like the repeated plays of Company, Follies, and Night Music. When it was issued on CD I listened again, and again while I admired much it still didn't "get" to me in the way other Sondheim had.
So, off I went to see this little production. East West Players has done this show several times, each with much success. The current production took place in their new and larger theater, a very nice space. I don't tend to like small theater, and I especially tend not to like small versions of big Broadway shows, especially ones that I've seen. So, I did not hold out a lot of hope. Certainly I held little hope for the score, which I could see was going to be all synthesized (with the exception of two percussionists and a drummer). Well you know what? It was terrific. All of it. The more intimate staging brought the show a focus it didn't have in the original production. It moved at a brisker pace, and while synths are synths, the score worked just fine. The cast was pretty terrific and what a treat it was to see Alvin Ing reprise his role and sing Chrysanthemum Tea. The set was lovely and clever, the costumes just what they should have been and even the finale didn't bother me. This was clearly a case of "less is more" really working.
But what was most astonishing about seeing the show, was how much I loved every minute of the score. Everything. Numbers I'd always been apathetic about suddenly came to life for me. I think one of the reasons for this is the passage of time and what has become of the musical theater today. So, if this is a score you aren't that familiar with, take the time to get to know it. It will grow on you like a Creeping Terror. And Chrysanthemum Tea... I just cannot get over that number. It's sheer genius.
Before we go back to the desert island, I have to tell you, dear readers, that I just got back from jogging and I am alive and well and not wheezing like a decrepit old shoe. I ran two miles handily, did fifty sit-ups and I feel buff. I feel toned. I feel I could make my very own exercise tape: The Real A's Like So Much Fish Workout! You'd all buy that, wouldn't you, dear readers? We could then do all our exercises together. We could do this even if we are not Java enabled. We can do jumping jacks (Did someone named Jack invent this excercise? Can only people named Jack do it?), we can get abs of steel, we can make our butt cheeks strong with no trace of the unseemly jiggle. We can build up our deltoids while sucking on Altoids. We can firm up our kneecaps. I love this idea! And we can do all this without ever getting up from the couch like so much fish! I will sell so many units of this video that I will surpass Miss Jane Fonda and Miss Richard Simmons. Yes, we denizens of the Stephen Sondheim Stage will be hardbodies. We will not be ninety-eight pound weaklings with sand kicked in our faces. I don't have a clue as to what the hell I'm talking about. I have gone off the deep end! I have gotten off the track. I have lost the thread. Where was I? Oh, yes, My Favorite Things.
Last week well, (not really last week) I talked about desert island movies. This week we'll talk about desert island music. This is very difficult, this choosing of what you would take to a desert island, but choose I will, because that is the point of this here section of this here column. So, what ten cds would I take? Here's the list, although as you know, it would change depending on my mood.
In no particular order:
1. Conversations With Myself
My favorite jazz album, and one of the greatest albums of all time. I simply could not be without it, and though there are other Bill Evans albums I adore, this one is essential.
I would try to take a disc that had the symphony and some other Rachmaninov selections. This symphony - especially its third movement - coprophiliacs would of course like the second movement better - is simply one of the most astonishingly beautiful pieces of music ever composed. I could not be without it, and listen to it at least once a week
I know this is a controversial choice for a Sondheim disc - and we do have to limit it to one Sondheim - but this is the album I get the most pleasure out of consistently. I like Follies better, and I love practically everything else, but if I have to take one disc, this is it. Sheer beauty and poetry. Never tire of it.
This film score by Hugo Friedhofer, from the great William Wyler film, is my favorite film score ever. Incredibly beautiful and endlessly touching. Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
Nothing makes me smile more than listening to the superb Petula singing one great hit after another - Downtown, I Know A Place, Don't Sleep In The Subway, Color My World, The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener and on and on. Love her, love the songs.
Simply must have a Burt compilation, with lots of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield.
Well, what can one say. This immensely personal work is just astonishing. It will take your breath away. Not an easy work, but filled with such depth and glorious music, it's worth the effort to get to know and love it.
Oh, I know. Don't say it. But I love this score, and it was so much a part of my learning to love the musical theater, that I just couldn't be without it. Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' work never ceases to make me happy.
On a disc which would also have Rhapsody In Blue, a Porgy and Bess orchestral suite, and the George Gershwin Solo Piano Songbook. If you've never heard the Piano Concerto, you must run, and I do mean run, to your nearest record store and buy it. There are many versions, but my favorite is on Sony, conducted by Eugene Oramndy and played by Phillippe Entremont.
Which would include bits of Bells Are Ringing, Bye, Bye Birdie, Smile, Li'l Abner, Rags, Annie Get Your Gun, and about fifty others.
The Tony nominations are out, and there aren't too many surprises. There are some annoying things, but that is to be expected. I must say, I am not thrilled that Betty Buckley got nominated as a leading actress when she played a supporting role (and thereby acing out true leading lady Susan Egan), and I am also not thrilled with the shared nomination for those Side Show twins. What is this nomination trying to say to us? That it was one performance? It wasn't. They were playing separate people who happened to be attached. Separate feelings, separate emotions, separate characters, hence the names Daisy and Violet. It's a nominating committee stunt designed to get publicity. Was I ranting just then? That sounded suspiciously like ranting and I hate to rant, as you all know. Wait, I just got an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dearest Real A:
My name is Melissa Errico and I'm the star of High Society. I was told you had made a catty remark about me a few weeks ago, but I read it and took no offense. What I do take offense at is that stinking lousy creepy sickening Tony nominating committee passing me over for Best Actress. Instead of me they nominate that Natasha Richardson??? Have you heard this woman sing? It's like a Waring Blender with a spoon in it. And what's that about with the Siamese twins??? That show is closed and so is Betty Buckley's. My show is running, and therefore I should be nominated. Can you please have all your readers complain to the Tony committee? And the critics! Don't get me started on the critics! They have been lukewarm. Have you ever read such lukewarm reviews? I am supposed to be The Next Big Thing, don't they know that? I've certainly said it loud enough, God knows. Anyway, I hope you will come and see me in High Society (the show in which I am the leading lady and The Next Big Thing) as I'm sure you will have a fun time. Please come backstage and say hello (wear some fish so I'll know you), but you must get back there quickly as my limousine picks me up and whisks me away before my fans can badger me for autographs which I know they're going to sell for a high price. I love your column and I know you understand me in ways that Christopher Renshaw never did.
Oh, I just love getting celebrity e-mails, don't you, dear readers? I tell you I'm feeling so buff right now. Am I not radiating "buff"? Am I not exuding "buff"? In fact, I'm now going to revel in my buffness, which is the only thing you can do when you are feeling buff. I think we've had enough buff, don't you?
Call me crazy, but I was really feeling my oats, and decided to take another quick jog. First of all, though, do you think the oats appreciated being felt? Are oats tactile? Feeling my oats sounds vaguely pornographic to me, but that's another story. Anyway, because I am all of a sudden buff and a hardbody, off I went to jog for an extra half a mile. This was a mistake. This was a bad mistake. I am now sitting here like a mass of quivering painful flesh, because I overextended myself. My hardbody has revolted and that is a revolting development indeed. This whole jogging thing seems very familiar to me. Oh, of course, I wrote about jogging in last week's column, which I just finished before immediately starting this column so naturally I am totally confused and have begun writing the longest run-on sentence in the history of writing and there seems to be no end in sight unless we all put our hands together and clap really loudly and say "I do believe in periods, I do believe in periods" and then maybe a period will show up and stop the madness. Whew. It worked. Thank you, dear readers.
I will answer as many as I can, and save the rest for next week's column, which I will be writing momentarily.
S. Woody White (beloved of der Brucer) finally wrote and explained that the reason he hasn't written in a while is that nothing that I've written has made him want to write. As Jack Benny (my hero) would say: Well! In any case, he has sent along his desert island movie list, as that is the first thing I've written that has made him want to write. Nothing else I've written has made him want to write, I want to be perfectly clear about this. Here is his list: Singin' In The Rain, The Lion King, Toy Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 2001, The Right Stuff, 1776 and The Music Man. Good list, S. Woody.
Steve (not Sondheim) asks if anyone likes pickles as much as he does. Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I like pickles just fine. My favorite pickle name is gherkin. A perfectly stupid name made even more stupid by the insertion of the useless "h".
Yves writes to say that while my bird sings show tunes (it's out there right now, singing the score to Bajour!), Yves' bird engages in sexual activity outside his window. Yves' bird is a stud and is not shy about it either. Well, we've now had letters about Pickles and The Humping Bird. Sounds like a Roald Dahl story to me.
Matthew took my advice and paid a visit to my favorite New York hangout (I'm counting the hours until I am there), Joe Allen's. He enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, although his waiter apparently was not the best. But he'll go again, and hopefully have a better waiter. In Joe Allen's, like Grand Hotel, waiters come, waiters go. Matthew also recently purchased the OBC of ACW and thinks it AOK, and likes it better than the concert ACW, although he enjoys BP's singing better than LR's.
Art dropped me a line to say that he too loves A Little Night Music and finds its magic spell irresistable some twenty-five years later.
mrsmig (is that Mrs. Mig, Mr. Smig or just plain old mrsmig?), a new dear reader, tells me that those cute furry little bunny rabbits I referred to last week, can also be vicious attackers. Those cute little furry bunny rabbits have left scars on mrsmig (who has worked with said rabbits). So, be warned, Abigail. You are petting a potential killer bunny who will maim you just as soon as look at you.
Carlton wants to know if there's a specific fish I refer to when I say "what is it, fish?" No, I refer to all fishdom. I could never single out just one fish, although if I did it would be finan haddie, just because of the ridiculousness of the name.
William F. Orr (not William A. Orr) wrote another good parody about allergies (to the tune of Stephen Schwartz's Corner Of The Sky) which I hope he'll put up over at Finishing The Chat. Apparently William F. will be in New York at the same time as I will and he wants to know if he'd notice me on the street. I doubt it. But he would notice me if he went into Joe Allen's. I would be at my regular table (20).
Valmont suggests a trivia question: What is the Sondheim song that is playing at the beginning of The Last of Sheila? Valmont is obviously a new reader, or they would know that we asked that very same trivia question way back in Column 4. The answer: Anyone Can Whistle.
Dot writes to say that she is a future member of the fortunate few that perform Sondheim on Broadway. We, of course, wish her the best of luck. She loves the SSS site, and even likes this here column, so she must be a good egg. Also, her voice teacher, like me, is a close personal friend of Mr. Stephen Sondheim (have you heard of him?).
Jer agrees with my feelings about the song Every Day A Little Death, and, conversely, I agree with his feelings about the song Every Day A Little Death. In other words, we are in agreement about the song Every Day A Little Death. There. Have I beaten that sentence into the ground?
Erzulie didn't like the Ben Kingsley cable movie The Tale of Sweeney Todd. From everything I've heard it wasn't very good. Or, as Stephen S. might have written:
Attend the tale of T.V. Todd,
Jake suggests I read Milan Kundera's Identity to see if it helps me with mine. Something has to help me with my Identity, so I may as well give Milan Kundera's Identity a try, although what Milan Kundera's Identity has to do with my Identity is anyone's guess.
No one got the answer to Otto's trivia question. He stumped you all. The song the Judge is singing to himself as he goes up the stairs is The Lass With The Delicate Air. Good job, Otto (Ttoo spelled however).
This week's trivia question: Name the people in the stage and film versions of West Side Story who would later go on to appear in other Sondheim shows.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...