So, tomorrow I will be on my way to New York. I will soon be sitting at my very own table at Joe Allen's. Right now though I am sitting on my very own couch like so much fish, trying to think of what to write about in this third of three columns. I could tell you that tonight I will be seeing a high school production of Crazy For You. A friend's daughter happens to be in it, and it also happens to be playing at the very high school that I attended (prior to my being Michael Tough, the singing janitor). This high school is known as a Magnet School. When I attended it it was not a Magnet School, it was just a plain old ordinary Demagnetized High School. As soon as I left they made it a Magnet School. Should I take this personally? They couldn't have made it a Magnet School while I was still there? I think there was a conspiracy to withhold making it a Magnet School until I was gone. I'm contacting Oliver Stone about this. He will make a film about it. The Magnet Conspiracy. It will run four hours and thirty minutes and will also be about Vietnam and Kennedy. Did any of you see Mr. Stone's latest cinematic assault, U Turn? U Turn was a film of such stupefying badness that I simply could not turn it off, so mesmerizing was its ineptitude. Why am I talking about Oliver Stone, for God's sake? This is the Stephen Sondheim Stage for God's sake.
I have recently rediscovered a food I really like. The English Muffin. Not to be confused with The Danish Pastry or The American Pie. I bought a bag of English Muffins, so I'm feeling veddy British at the moment. Did the Earl of Muffin invent this peculiar looking thing? But it's quite tasty with butter and jam on it. So tasty, in fact, that I just ate four of them in a row. Luckily, they are low in calories and there are practically no fat grams. Of course, the half pound of butter I used might have a few fat grams and calories, but such is life. English Muffins are addictive. It is difficult to stop eating them once you've started. Then suddenly you've got an English Muffin on your back. If you go cold turkey, it causes English Muffin withdrawal. This is a frightening thing. So, be careful, dear readers. These English Muffins are dangerous. Insidious. Heinous (heinous, do you hear me?).
That was a whole paragraph about English Muffins.
That was a sentence about a paragraph about English Muffins.
I think it's time to get off this subject, don't you, dear readers? I think we have exhausted the English Muffin. I think we have run the English Muffin into the ground and it is not good to eat the English Muffin that has been run into the ground as it's much too dirty. New topic: Packing. Luckily, I pack very light. One bag. I have a whole other set of clothes and toiletries in New York. Isn't that smart? East Coast toiletries and West Coast Toiletries. I am covered, toiletries-wise. Isn't this more than you need to know about both the English Muffin and the American Packer? Well, I think this section of the column is like Quentin Tarantino's performance in Wait Until Dark: Questionable. But enough about me.
Soon it'll be Merrily We Pack A Bag and Roll Along to New York, but before we do that I thought I'd ruminate on this, the show that seems to divide Sondheim fans the most. But before I ruminate, I'd like to say one thing about the word "ruminate": Stupid. There, I've said it and I'm glad. Shouldn't it be "roominate" or "rueminate"? If it's the former and you upend it, it would be "ate in room". If it's the latter, it would be "rue minate", whoever and whatever "minate" is. Of course, we could just upend this whole column and things would probably make lots more sense. What the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes, Merrily We Roll Along.
I confess here and now to not having seen the original Broadway production of Merrily. I did, however, as usual, pick up the album the day it came out. Now, before you start hurling epithets at me, I'm going to say that of all the Original Broadway Cast albums of Sondheim shows, this is my least favorite. Hey!!! Who hurled that epithet? Let me explain first before you hurl, as it's hard to type while dodging hurled epithets. This album, moreso (a "two-for-one-word" - what'd they do, cheap out?) than any other Sondheim album, feels like it was recorded in a hurry. It has a "not-quite-together" feel. I felt that at first hearing, and I feel it now. I also feel that several performances are not so wonderful, especially the Jim Walton solo Not A Day Goes By. The album is very metallic and harsh sounding, a product of early digital recording. But really, all that is neither here nor there, because as soon as the Overture started I knew it was going to be a great score.
I also knew by reading the synopsis why the show wasn't a success. I mean, by the time you can like anyone in the show (with the exception of Charlie, and even he is whiny and negative a lot of the time) it's just too late. That is the problem with the show's structure, but more about that in a minute. Sondheim's reverse-order score is wonderful. It's Broadway Brash and exciting, and the ballads are particularly beautiful. His music does make you care about the characters, and several of the songs are amongst the best he's ever written. My favorites on that first hearing were Old Friends/Like It Was (a breathtaking number, had to listen to it several times in a row, and still love it to this day), Not A Day Goes By (I cannot put in words how heartfelt and touching the sad version of this song is - I actually wept when I heard it the first time, despite the less- than-wonderful performance. Someday, someone will record a definitive version, but for now the one that gets to me most for some reason, is Carly Simon's). I'm not through with Not A Day Goes By, but that was becoming the longest inside-a-parens thing ever, so I just put an end to it and am continuing on in what is becoming an endless run-on sentence so I'll put an end to that, too. Whew. Anyway, I've heard all the versions of Not A Day Goes By, and, for some reason, there is always some part of the various performances, whether in orchestration or arrangement, or vocally, where it goes awry. It is a very difficult song to pull off, but that doesn't stop it from being totally gorgeous. I loved Opening Doors, Our Time, and just about everything else. I didn't think Good Thing Going worked the way it should, even though I liked the song. I mean, it's supposed to be a "pop" song and yet it is so not "pop" musically. It's full of Sondheimian dissonances and unpoplike harmonies and it would never have been a hit (and wasn't, even though Frank Sinatra tried).
I finally saw the show when it was revived at the York Theater in New York. This revival was the result of Sondheim and Furth making major revisions in the piece, a process which began in La Jolla some years before. It had a good cast and it was a fairly okay production, small in scale, with three or four musicians working overtime to sound like the big orchestra they so obviously weren't. Even with all the changes, I still felt the show didn't work, and basically feel that it never will, given the nature of its conceit (going backwards). When you meet these characters, they are all so negative and awful, it's really distancing and it's hard to care about them. Ultimately, of course, you do care about them, but, for me anyway, it's just too late in the game. The ending of the show is undeniably moving, and so the structure has paid off in that regard, but it's a long way to that point. Furth's book is funny at times, but frequently lays the drama, pathos, and quips on too thickly. The recording that resulted from that production, while not perfect, is my favorite of the three available ones. Malcolm Gets is really terrific as Frank, Adam Heller does nicely with Charlie, and Anne Marie Bobby does an acceptable Not A Day Goes By. The recording uses the reduced orchestrations (for fourteen players) that Jonathan Tunick (as usual, his orchestrations for both Broadway and this version are brilliant) created for La Jolla. The complete recording from England is my least favorite, with weird performances and terrible tinny sound. It also uses the reduced orchestrations. So, in essence, we don't have the definitive recording of this score. If the York had had the full orchestrations maybe we would have, although I do miss the Broadway Mary of Ann Morrison.
Merrily has never clicked with audiences. The night I saw it at the York, most of the audience was very resistant to it (oh, we had the usual contingent of Sondheim screamers, but I'm talking about the folks who just came to see the show, not the ones who idolize my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim). But, oh, that score. It's pretty damned hunky-dorey, if you ask me and I know you do so I'm telling you. The new songs added for the revised version are fine (although I like Rich and Happy as much as That Frank) and Growing Up is a wonderful addition to the score. I know a lot of people miss The Hills of Tomorrow, but not having seen the original, I don't know how well it worked. Holy moley, look at the time! I've got to finish this fershluganah column. I've got to pack. I've got to sleep. This is the last time I'm writing three columns in a row. And, frankly, I don't need to eat another English Muffin for three years.
Writing three columns in a row would not be one of My Favorite Things, let me tell you that , dear readers. In any case (suitcase? briefcase? violin case?), back to the desert island. I, for one, am getting parched out there on said island, and, in any case, the only relevant case would be a case of Diet Coke. This week I'll talk about my desert island books. And without further ado (unless you want some further ado, in which case, in any case, I can provide it, in case you need me to) here is said list, in no particular order (unless you'd like a particular order, in which case, in any case... enough with the cases already!!!)...
Ms. Lee's only book, and one of the great masterpieces of 20th Century literature. From the day I read it it has remained my favorite book of all time. I vividly remember reading it for the first time. Our house had just been painted, and so all the furniture had been stacked and covered in the living room. I sat on our sheeted couch (like so much fish) and read the book in one long sitting. For some reason, I remember playing the 45 of Days Of Wine and Roses over and over again as I read the book. Don't ask me why. So, whenever I go back and reread this book (every few years) I immediately remember the smell of fresh paint and the Days of Wine and Roses. Sense memory at its finest. I love this book, and if, for some reason, you've never read it, you will be in for one of the great experiences of your life. So human, so compassionate, and the most wonderful book about childhood ever.
I like to think I discovered this book, as I bought it the day it came out, read it, and then bought several copies the next day which I gave to people so they could share in the magical world of Edwin Mullhouse. Why did I buy it? I think it was the subtitle which grabbed me: The Life and Death of an American Writer: 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. Edwin Mullhouse was Mr. Millhauser's first novel and, like Mockingbird, is a wonderful evocation of childhood. In this case (in any case) it's the supposed "biography" of Edwin, written by his childhood friend Jeffrey. It is very funny and very touching, and most of all, totally magical. I've been recommending this book for years, and because Mr. Millhauser won the Pulitzer last year (for his novel Martin Dressler) it has just been reprinted in paperback. Get it. You'll love it.
Even though I know the ending, this is still my favorite Christie, and one simply must have a Christie on a desert island.
Terribly hard to choose just one Chandler, but this book has it all. Great plot, great characters, and that distinctive Chandler prose. But tomorrow I'd take The High Window. And the day after that I'd take The Big Sleep...
George Hopley was the pseudonym of Cornell Woolrich (who also wrote under the name of William Irish). Woolrich is my favorite author of suspense novels, and there has never been anyone quite like him. Very dark, very noir. His plots are fantastic, yet totally believable. His writing is both terse and poetic, and his descriptions of the city after dark have never been topped. Many, many movies have been made from his books, including Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, Black Alibi (filmed as The Leopard Man), Phantom Lady, Black Angel, Nightmare, and many others, including my desert island choice, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (one of the great titles!). This book has everything Woolrich is known for: A doomed, tortured leading character pursued by "destiny", beautiful writing, and suspense that is almost unbearable. But, again, tomorrow I'd choose Phantom Lady or The Black Angel. Once you've read one, you'll want to read them all.
A great book.
You're starting to get the idea that I love the mystery genre, aren't you? Macdonald wrote some of the finest detective books (featuring his sleuth Lew Archer) ever written and none are finer than The Chill, which has one of the great endings of all time. A shocker.
Ms. Millar was married to the above Mr. Macdonald (real name Kenneth Millar) and she, too, is a wonderful writer. This book is pretty terrific and has a great twist ending to boot.
Or any collection by this master humorist.
Just because I love her writing and am totally smitten by the plucky heroine.
Not much stuff, because I've got to pack. Even though I am bicoastal, I still have to bring an overnight bag with some underwear. I simply refuse to have bicoastal underwear.
Oh, wait, I just got an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear Whoever You Are:
We read with some dismay that you don't approve of our single Tony nomination. Well, we do approve of it. We like it. Or, as the great Peggy Lee once wrote:
We are Siamese
In any case (don't go there, you've already beaten it into the ground), we are delighted with the nomination even though we think Natasha Richardson will win, which is vastly unfair as there's only one of her and two of us. We like your column, by the way, even if you don't agree with our nomination. We read it together, every Monday morning, while having breakfast. (Alice's note: I don't eat breakfast, she eats breakfast. I just have tea.) (Emily's note: So? What's her point? I like breakfast, shoot me.) (Lauren Kennedy's note: I don't eat breakfast or lunch.)
Please keep us in your thoughts and wish us luck.
(Alice's addendum: Why is she always first? Shouldn't it be alphabetical?) (Lauren Kennedy's note: Well, if it's alphabetical, I'm first!)
I personally think that it's a close call between Emily and Alice (or Alice and Emily) and Richardson, although Richardson's show (Cabaret) is running and a smash, and Side Show is but a memory. As you know, dear readers, I saw Alice and Lauren (or Lauren and Alice) do the show, and they were terrific. Apparently, Emily was eating breakfast the night I saw the show.
So much column, so little time. But then I have a week to recharge my column batteries, so that upon my return I shall be fully charged and rarin' to go. Meanwhile, let's answer some letters, shall we?
Cat informs me that his girl friend has kicked him out of her apartment and wants to know if he can crash here until he gets his own homepage. Yes, of course he can crash here, as long as he's got a couch to sit on (like so much fish) and as long as he mentions the name Stephen Sondheim every now and then. It is a heinous (heinous , do you hear me?) thing to be kicked out of a loved one's apartment and I commiserate (not ruminate) with Cat.
Mordecai wrote kind words about this here column and especially likes my continuing slugfest with the English language. He, too, likes The Creeping Terror and ranks it right up there with The Horror of Party Beach and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (that's right, you heard it here) in awfulness.
Anita writes to say that she too loves the divine Petula Clark and asks if I've heard the equally divine Cilla Black. But, of course. Anita points out that Cilla was the first to record the Bacharach/David classic Anyone Who Had A Heart. Anita also wants to know what "..." means. The dot, dot, dot is one of my favorite things. It's like trailing off without finishing a sentence. Some might say it is just three periods being redundant, but to Georges Seurat it's Dot, Dot, Dot, and to some scholarly types it would be an ellipses. I would like the word "ellipses" better if it were "ellipso" because then it would remind me of one of my favorite idiotic words "calypso", which I might like even better if it were "calypses". I do believe I have fallen into an abyss. Upon my return from New York I hope to be safely out of said abyss. And if it's "abyss" then why isn't "miss" "myss"? Oh, it's all too mystifying (or should it be Miss Tifying?).
Tricia suggests that while I'm in New York I should journey to Westport, CT to see the Staples High School production of A Chorus Line, which she says is superb. I'm sorry that I won't have time to attend said production, even though I'd like to. Speaking of staples, does anyone else besides me think that Shredded Wheat tastes like staples?
Erzulie thinks the song that Judge Turpin sings while going up the stairs is Johanna, because it's very clear on the CD. But, in case I didn't make it clear, the trivia question was specifically about the video of Sweeney Todd, where the Judge does indeed sing The Girl With The Curious Air.
Otto (Oott spelled some way or another) was happy I mentioned the screaming meemies and offended that I left out the "heebie jeebies" ("For Beebe's Bathysphere"). I didn't mean to omit said jeebies, but I had the meemies on the brain and the jeebies got left out in the cold. Cold jeebies are not something you want to know about.
Carlton wrote to say that he loves Pacific Overtures, loves it, do you hear? Totally. Unequivocally. Love to the nth degree, whatever the hell the "nth" is.
Nikki wants to know why I don't insert the links by myself, instead of relying on Mr. Mark Bakalor (who is always off doing shows in Chula Vista or wherever the hell he is). First of all, have you ever inserted links by yourself? It sounds like it could be painful to insert links. I just don't like the sound of inserting links. Besides, what do I know about inserting links. I'm not computer literate nor Java enabled and I wouldn't know a link from a gigabyte. I wouldn't know a gigabyte from a rom. Nikki also suggests that a bath in epsom salts would relieve my aching calf muscle. But here's the thing: I hate baths. I like showers. Can you shower in epsom salts? Are there epsom peppers? I haven't taken a bath since I was a tyke. I simply do not like (lyke) the thought of lying in one's own dirt. Maybe if I showered first then I could enjoy a bath. Showers are so rejuvenating, with the hot steaming water washing away the tension one feels from writing three columns in a row.
Lots of guesses and some who misunderstood the question. Which was: What actors from West Side Story went on to appear in other Sondheim shows. The most obvious answer is Larry Kert and George Chakiris, who both went on to play Bobby in Company. But the list also includes Marilyn Cooper (Gypsy), David Winters (Gypsy), Tucker Smith (Anyone Can Whistle). This pertains to the original production and film, not the numerous revivals of WSS.
This week's question will be a non-Sondheim trivia question, just because I don't have time to think of a Sondheim one. I talked earlier of my favorite book of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird. The character of Jem and Scout's friend Dill is based on a childhood friend of author Harper Lee's. Who is Dill based on, and what did he go on to become?
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...