There's another thing you won't believe. Certainly, I didn't believe it. In fact, I don't think anyone would believe it. The bird is outside and is singing The Telephone Hour from Bye, Bye, Birdie (the show it was born to do) and it's singing all the parts! This is an amazing bird if you ask me and I know you do so I am of course telling you. I don't mean to go on and on ad nauseum about this bird, but it just deserves so much more than my backyard. This bird deserves to be on Broadway and here it is, stuck doing summer stock in my yard. Oh, well, those are the vagaries of the show business.
I came home the other day and do you know what had happened in my absence? A sprinkler broke, that's what happened in my absence. Now, this may seem like a trivial thing, this sprinkler breaking, but it wreaked havoc, let me tell you. A gusher of water resulted from said broken sprinkler, which was unfortunately aimed at my front door, so unfortunately said water seeped its way into the living room (the room, I suppose, where one lives) and the result was water on the living room wood floor. Now, I don't know about you, but I find it annoying to come home and find water on the living room wood floor. Luckily it did not do any damage to said floor and I cleaned it up hastily. Had it done damage, I would have gone outside and yanked that sprinkler right out of the ground and done damage to it. Is this interesting to anyone??? Why the hell am I talking about a broken sprinkler? Who cares about a broken sprinkler besides me and the wood floor? I can't believe I just wasted an entire paragraph talking about a broken sprinkler and that I've wasted an additional three sentences talking about the fact that I talked about a broken sprinkler. But this sort of thing is what makes this column what it is, I suppose. And just what is it, you might ask, and I, of course, would answer: fish.
I have not seen the motion picture Godzilla yet. Apparently the comedy team of Devlin and Emmerich have really done it this time. They've taken one of the most well known and beloved monsters in film history and made it look like something wholly other. This was not a wise idea and apparently audiences are revolting and I don't mean "revolting" in the sense that the audience is making me want to vomit, no, I mean "revolting" in terms of bad word of mouth and bad reaction to the film. Why am I writing about Godzilla, for God's sake? So far we've had a singing bird, a broken sprinkler and Godzilla. I feel this column is sinking to a new low, and I feel this is all to the good, frankly. I know that you, dear readers, expect no less of me, but this week I am really delivering in spades, don't you think? Is delivering in spades better than delivering in clubs or hearts? And what about diamonds. Isn't it better to deliver in diamonds? I would like to have the person who made up the "delivering in spades" statement to step forward and explain his/her reasoning for said statement. Unless when they said "delivering in spades" they were talking about gardening, in which case why isn't it "delivering in hoes"? Anyway, it appears that you can't muck around with a cultural icon and that Godzilla will not be the summer blockbuster that TriStar was trying to shove down all of our collective throats. I, for one, have always loved Godzilla, and when I heard that they were making it look like an escapee from Jurassic Park I knew it was over. That, coupled with the fact that Godzilla wasn't going to have any musical numbers, well, I ask you. At one time it was rumored that my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, was working on a few songs for Godzilla (when Warren Beatty was going to play the monster), and he actually sent me one of the songs he was working on. To the tune of No One Is Alone:
Something's here to harm you,
So...We've talked about the singing bird, the broken sprinkler, the musical Godzilla... Where can this column possibly go? I know, I forgot to tell you I went bowling. Yes, you heard it here. I was coerced into bowling. I have not been bowling for many years. One of the main reasons that I don't go bowling is that I don't like to rent shoes. The thought of rented shoes just rubs me the wrong way. And as you all know I only like to be rubbed the right way. There is nothing worse than being rubbed the wrong way, frankly. Anyway, I bit the bullet (no mean feat), rented the shoes, and went bowling. I chose a number 14 ball with which to do said bowling. Now, the very fact that some wiseacre actually was sitting around with way too much time on their hands, and said "Ah, I know. I'll take a ball with the consistency of concrete, I'll put three holes in this ball for fingers, I'll get weird looking things and place them at the end of a long lane and I'll throw this three-fingered concrete-like ball at these weird looking things (which I'll call pins for no reason whatsoever) and hope that this three-fingered ball will knock down those pins and from this I'll get a score. And what shall I name this endeavor??? Wait! Of course! I've got it! Bowling!!!" I mean, the mind just reels, doesn't it? Why does this all seem so familiar? I'm having a deja vu moment. Did I write about this in a past column? I'll have to have Mr. Mark Bakalor do a search and see. In any case, I bowled three games with the two people who coerced me. Did they "co" erce me because there were two of them? Had there been only one, would I have been "erced"? Well, I know you're dying to find out how I did. But believe me, it is not worth dying to find out how I did, so I'll tell you and save you the death. The first ball I threw (as opposed to "through", which I knew I was after I threw it) knocked down one pin. This was, however, not a harbinger of things to come, as I quickly recovered, and on the next ball I knocked down five pins. We will not go into the pitiful score of that first game. But I will tell you, and this is no lie, that in the second game I rebounded and bowled 187! I got spares, I got strikes, I was unstoppable! Of course, in the third game I went right back to the pitiful score of the first game. The lesson I learned was an obvious one: Only bowl the second game. I returned the rented shoes and am now happily ensconced in my own shoes once again.
All right, I think we better just end this part of this here column right now. Or I'll start talking about clipping my toenails or something. I mean, enough is enough. This is the kind of thing that gives ammunition to the naysayers, and you know these naysayers will come out at the drop of a hat. Try it sometime and you'll see that I'm right. Just pick up a hat and drop it and you will suddenly find yourself inundated with naysayers. The dropping of the hat is their signal, so let's not play into their hands. Frankly, this column is starting to feel like a show produced by The Dodgers: It just goes on way longer than it has any right to. But enough about me.
It is pretty well acknowledged that my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, is probably the greatest lyricist the theater has ever known. His music, critically at least, has always had its detractors, and audiences have been known to be baffled by it as well. But for me, ever since I first heard a Sondheim "tune" (the show Anyone Can Whistle) I have, for the most part, been totally enamored of his music as well as his lyrics. It seems if you love the usual suspects, Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, and their ilk, that Sondheim's music is just too complex and listener unfriendly. And to that I say "bushwa". Why do I say "bushwa" when a) it is such an unremittingly stupid-sounding word, and b) it is such an unremittingly stupid-sounding word? Let's face it, it's not even a word, it's six letters put together in a happenstance way. Of course, "happenstance" is no great shakes as a word either. And just what is a "great shake" anyway? What the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes, "bushwa". Why would someone put a "wa" on the end of a bush? To what end? Am I dwelling on this too much? Am I dwelling on it in a happenstance way? I know I was talking about Sondheim but I'll be damned if I can remember what the hell I was saying. Oh, yeah, his music. I like it.
There is something in Sondheim's harmonic structure that just "gets" to me. This is something one can't explain, things "get" to you or they don't. Whether you can "hum" a Sondheim tune or not (a source of early criticism) is not relevant. His music is brilliantly structured and harmonically dense, but, to my ear, always pleasing. His score for "Forum" is filled with delightful melodies from start to finish. Fresh, funny and, yes, tuneful too. Whistle has absolutely beautiful things in it. But it's with Company that Sondheim seems to find his musical voice. It is more than astonishing that critics at the time complained about the music while praising the lyrics. Looked at from today's perspective it is a classic Broadway score musically. It's alive with melody, melody which soars, which stings, which lilts, which lingers. Wow, was that poetic or what? Or what. My favorite amongst the score's glories is not one most people would pick, but I find it an absolutely perfect gem: Sorry/ Grateful. To me, it is a tremendously touching song lyrically, but even moreso (a word of my own invention) musically. Simple, direct and perfectly constructed. Follies is filled with brilliant music, in fact every musical number in the score is never less than wonderful. My favorite Follies song: The Road You Didn't Take, again, a tremendously touching song (you are seeing a pattern here) with music that cuts deeply to the heart of the matter. A Little Night Music is, once again, filled with one great number after another and is luminous and distinctively Sondheimian. My favorite: Every Day A Little Death, which is, compositionally, my favorite Sondheim song. It kills me. Pacific Overtures I should think, would cement Sondheim's position as one of the best composers ever to write for the theater, and the same goes for Sweeney Todd.
Then we get to Sunday In The Park With George. And here, I will get into trouble. Because, no matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I force myself, this is a score I have never been able to love. I know that Sondheim was trying to capture the essence of Seurat through music (to find a musical language for pointillism), but it's a little too cerebral for me. That said, how can anyone not love Finishing The Hat, Sunday, and a handful of others. But if I never hear that Dog Song again it will be too soon. Sorry, but that's the way I feel. Maybe someday it will "get" to me, but that day has not arrived yet.
Into The Woods, while not my favorite Sondheim show, has some of his best music. My favorite songs in the score are Agony (a brilliant number, especially musically) and Giants In The Sky (ditto). And, of course, the simple beauty of No One Is Alone, No More, and Children Will Listen. And I'm also quite fond of On The Steps Of The Palace. And then there's the irresistible title tune. Well, you get the point. I really like the score. I'm sure I'd love the show if I liked the book better, but I'll go into that in more depth in another column.
Which brings us to Assassins and Passion. I prefer the former to the latter, even though several things about Assassins are extremely annoying. But musically there are terrific things in Assassins, including the opening number, the Booth song, and, my favorite, Unworthy of Your Love. As to Passion, it has its moments, too, musically, but I remain cool to it.
These are, of course, my opinions, and you'll all have your own differing ones. But I think that Mr. Sondheim has never been given his due as a composer and he deserves as many kudos for his music as for his lyrics. And what do we think of the word "kudos"??? I mean, if a word like this has to exist, couldn't it be spelled "coodoz"? Of course, if we were to anagram kudos we would have "dukos", which, of course is what you'd call a series of John Wayne movies. I believe they are coming to get me and take me away for some electroshock therapy. Anyway, kudos to Sondheim for the years of music that has touched so many people, myself included.
Okay, so this isn't about a favorite favorite thing, but I just have to relate this to you, dear readers, because I know there are some of you who will empathize.
Have you ever seen a movie that embedded itself so deeply into your consciousness that you can remember every single thing about it, even though you may not have seen it in quite a long time? I have several movies that I can say this about, but all save one of them have been available on video. Way back when, I saw a film I really took to called David and Lisa. It was written by Eleanor Perry and directed by her then husband Frank Perry. It was a great low budget black and white film, with wonderful performances (by Keir Dullea, Janet Margolin and Howard da Silva), an excellent score and lovely photography. It was a time when I was very into this type of film (also loved The Miracle Worker around the same time) and it seems I saw all of them either at the Fine Arts Theater or the Lido Theater which were near my home. About a year after David and Lisa was released, I noticed an ad in the paper for a "sneak preview" at my beloved Lido Theater. In those days, they didn't ever tell you what the preview was or anything about it. So, off I went, because I loved sneak previews. I lived for sneak previews. The film turned out to be the second film from Frank and Eleanor Perry, so I was naturally thrilled. It was another low budget black and white film, called Ladybug, Ladybug. It was about a group of kids who are sent home from grammar school when a civil defense buzzer goes off, indicating that a nuclear attack is going to occur, possibly within the hour. The kids are walked home by their teacher. Meanwhile, the school finds out that the alarm was caused by a short circuit, but the kids don't know this as they walk to their homes. One of the girls' family has a bomb shelter and she invites several of the kids down there. There they begin to exhibit the characteristics of dopey adults. Meanwhile, one of the other kids has gone home and finds her parents aren't there. Convinced she is moments away from the nuclear attack, she runs to the girl's house with the bomb shelter. The girl won't let her in (not enough room, she says defiantly) so she runs off in hysterics, not knowing what to do. One of the boys in the shelter leaves to find her. But in her panic she hides in the only place she can find, an abandoned refrigerator, which locks as she closes the door. Meanwhile the boy searches for her. He hears an airplane overhead and assumes that it will be dropping the bomb. As he drops to the ground, he screams "Stop it! Stop it!" and the film ends.
It may sound morbid and depressing and it was. But, you have to remember, at that time (the early sixties) the threat of nuclear war had been drummed into kids for several years. There were bomb shelters in back yards (hard as it is to believe) and civil defense tests were regular occurrences in schools (the film was based on an actual event). So, it had great resonance for me at the time. It was truly frightening and very real. I thought it beautifully done even back then. I managed to see it one more time after it opened, but, as you can imagine, it was a huge flop and only played a week. After that, it disappeared totally. It was never shown on television and never appeared on video. And yet I remembered everything about the film. Dialogue, scenes, the way it was photographed, the fact that the score was written for flute and harp, I mean everything. But you always wonder, are you remembering it correctly, or do you think you're remembering it correctly? Well, after all these years, I finally managed to find someone who had a tape of it, and I purchased it from them and watched it last night. And guess what? My memory was exact. It was as if I'd seen it yesterday. Totally amazing. The performances were as good as I remembered them, but it was interesting to see actors who I didn't know at all then, but who have since gone on to bigger and better things. The nominal adult star was William Daniels (his first film), who would, a mere seven years later, create the role of John Adams in the musical 1776. The irony here is that one of the stars of Frank Perry's David and Lisa, Howard da Silva, would play opposite Daniels as Ben Franklin. Several other notable musical performers were in the film, too, including Jane Connell (Mame, Crazy for You) and the wonderful Alice Playten (Hello, Dolly!, Henry, Sweet Henry). The teacher who accompanies the kids on their walk home was Nancy Marchand, who would later star with Ed Asner in Lou Grant. Anyway, it was incredible to see this film after all this time. Even though it is dated, it's amazing to once again be struck by how powerful its themes are.
By the way, after I would see movies at the Lido or especially the Fine Arts, I would head immediately to Delores Drive-In (which was located directly across the street from the Fine Arts). Delores' was one of my all time favorite things. They were famous for their Double Decker Jumbo Jim burgers (with Z sauce - and whatever the Z sauce was, it was the best) and their Suzie-Q french fries. Not to mention their malts. Delores' was torn down years ago to make way for another all important parking lot, and Los Angeles has never been the same. There's a Delores' in West LA, but it isn't a patch on the butt cheek of the original. Although I have been known to drive over there when I am in desperate need of a Jumbo Jim with extra Z sauce.
Not much stuff this week, other than that I saw the Arthur Kopit/Maury Yeston version of Phantom. I thought it really pretty terrible, and it wasn't helped by a not-so-wonderful production. Poor Maury only knows how to write four numbers and he writes them over and over again. I like two of the four numbers, so I always enjoy something in a Yeston show, but he does get awfully tiresome.
Wait, I'm just getting an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear The Real A:
I have been informed that my soon to be ex- wife has been carrying on about me. This woman is out of her mind, I just want you to know that. She is a kook. How I lived with her all these years I will never know. She's lying through her teeth when she says we only had sex once or twice. I know we had sex on at least four occasions as I was present at those occasions. Do you have any idea what it is like to make love to Carol Channing??? She lies there like a herring, and occasionally says things like "Is it over yet?" and "Why do people do this?" It's hard to keep aroused when she says these things (especially with that voice of hers!). I don't think she ever stopped talking in the forty years we were married. I mean literally she did not stop talking. But I was loyal, I was true. And what did I get for it? Nothing! She leaves me, can you believe it? She says she's going to reinvent herself? As what, a toaster? I'm sorry, but maybe she's just played one too many performances of Hello, Dolly! She has gone over the edge. I just wanted to set the record straight here. I know Miss Channing will want to have the last word, but I felt I had to speak up in defense of myself. Thank you for listening.
All right, I know he wrote you, don't deny it, I do, I really do know he wrote you. I'm sorry, but I'm just going to have to have the last word, I am, I really am. He is such a peckerhead (to use one of your synonyms for genitalia). How dare him write to you. Your my friend. He is trying to come between us, he is, he really is. He's just an old poop (to use one of your coprophiliac words), he is, he's just an old peckerhead poop. Do you have any idea what having sex with him was like? All you could do was lie there like a herring and wait for it to be over. Which wasn't long, let me tell you that. Anyway, I just wanted to have the last word, and now I have, I really have. By the way, why are you telling us about your broken sprinkler? Do we care? And Godzilla, for Godzilla's sake! Having lived with Godzilla for over forty years, I certainly don't need to read about him here! And then you waste all that space writing about Stephen Sondheim who wouldn't know a tune if it hit him in the face! Jerry Herman, now there's someone who knows how to write a tune (he wrote Hello, Dolly! you know, he did, he really did, and I starred in it). Well, I have to get back to my life now. It is not easy reinventing yourself at age 77. But I am trying, I am, I really am. As soon as I have finished reinventing myself I will let you know and then you can write all about it. And if that Charles Lowe writes again just don't even read it.
I just love you, I do, I really do,
Jumping Jehosevah, you people really outdid yourselves this week. I got so many letters from you wonderful dear readers that it just warmed the cockles of my heart. I wasn't aware the my heart had cockles to warm, and yet said cockles were indeed warmed so it must be true. Before I get to the letters, I think we must ask the question: Just who is Jehosevah and why is he Jumping? Let's all ponder that imponderable while I answer your cockle-warming letters.
B. Peters (Barb - not Bernadette) wrote to tell me that a word I'd used in last week's column, "irregardless" was, in fact, not a word. However, irregardless of what she wrote, she then wrote again to tell me that after careful consultation with a book known as the dictionary that the non-existent "irregardless" was indeed existant and indeed a word. Barb also thinks I am boring and lack spontaneity because I go to Joe Allen's so much when I'm in New York. As I've explained, I am a creature of habit, a lover of comfort, a craver of consistency. I am comfortable at Joe Allen's and they treat me like gold there. It's not as if I haven't eaten at other restaurants in New York - I particularly like the vastly overpriced Manhattan Ocean Club where I and a friend once ordered cold shrimps and crab (yes, I of course said "what is it, fish" when it arrived) and the bill came to $173.00 (to which I also said "what is it, fish?"). I have also eaten at the other Broadway hangouts like Sam's and Barrymore's but I don't like them as much. And I've been to several wonderful Italian restaurants in Soho.
Nikki feels that she's discovered my Real Identity! First, though, let's recap: 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, and Mr. Mark Bakalor's word processor. Nikki thinks that The Real A is Really Charlie Sheen, because only someone who's high could come up with this endless supply of drivel. She feels that Charlie's father Martin turned him in to the authorities because he was jealous of this here column. While I can neither confirm nor deny that I am Charlie Sheen I can tell you that I've never been "high" - for my comments on such things see Column 22. So the chances of my being Charlie Sheen are somewhat nonexistent, although anything is possible. Emilio says "hi", by the way.
Matt agrees with me about how enjoyable the current revival of The Sound of Music is, and hence one would have to say that I agree with Matt. Matt also saw Evening Primrose at the Museum of Television and Radio and thought it terrific. If you're in New York or Los Angeles I would really recommend paying a visit to the Museum and viewing the show.
Erin (our delightful new reader) wrote several times (we love that). She's been catching up on all the past columns and is afraid she will go into column withdrawal when she is through. She's afraid she will have a column on her back. Then she'll have to go to Columns Anonymous (Hello, my name is Erin and I'm a columnaholic - Hello, Erin). Erin got caught reading this here column in class and the teacher made her put it away! Teachers are just so annoying sometimes. I remember that I used to read Mad Magazine in class and the teacher didn't take kindly to that either. The trick is you have to hide the column in a book or something. Not that I'm recommending such schoolroom anarchy, oh no, I would never do such a thing (but a spiral notebook is the perfect place). Erin also wants to know if there's a bookstore where she can find the Christopher Bond adaptation of Sweeney Todd. You might try Samuel French in New York or Los Angeles, although I don't know if it was ever published here.
Spock (yes, Spock) is miffed at me (yes, miffed) because I implied that he and Sheila were one and the same. Now, Spock, in all fairness to me, all I did was report what Mr. Mark Bakalor (who is usually off doing shows in Carpenteria or wherever the hell he is but wasn't on that particular day) told me, which is that Spock's e-mail and Sheila's e-mail were written from the same computer in close proximity to each other. I don't know about such things, but Mr. Bakalor does. If you have a bone to pick, pick it with him. Why anyone would pick a bone is a whole other thing. Do they mean choose a bone, or do they actually mean to pick a bone, like with your fingernail or something? Any bone pickers with knowledge about said bone picking, now is the time to pipe up, whatever the hell that means.
kokol writes to say that she's in love! With a boy named Tom! Who is three years younger than she and if anyone has a problem with that then they are a butt cheek! I, for one, have no problem with that whatsoever. I have no bone to pick with that concept. Happiness is happiness and the rest is so much fish.
Mordecai tells me that he's sure that I am not Jewish because I spell f'shluganeh "fershluganah". While I can neither confirm nor deny said Jewishness, does the fact that my grandfather (yes, the stool man and the "what is it, fish?" man) used to order whitefish with the bone in so that he would always have the possibility of choking to death in front of everyone tell you anything? You decide.
Elizabeth feels she will be able to guess my Real Identity if I tell her what my favorite kind of cake is. I love all kinds of cake, which, I suppose, means I could be all kinds of people. I especially like cake with whipped cream on it. Yes, I'll say it here and now, I love the whipped cream. One cannot have enough whipped cream, if you ask me and I know you do so I'm telling you. I'm drooling over said whipped cream even as I write this. It's the only sado-masochism I support (listen, if the cream wants to be whipped who am I to say nay?).
Whitney (my new fifteen year old dear reader and friend to Erin) writes to say she loves the column and is happy Erin introduced her to it. I'm happy, too. Whitney wants to know my opinion of the original production of Sweeney Todd. For my thoughts, I refer you to Column 29. Whitney is cute as a button and we hope she'll continue to read this here column and to write again.
Evan recently saw High Society and agrees that it's a big "why???".
Mikers would like to know if there is a good book available on how to write a good musical. I'm sure there are several books on the subject, but the only one I have in my possession is a swell new book by Tom Jones (he of The Fantasticks) called Making Musicals.
Ed thinks I write the way Mandy Patinkin sings - overindulgently. I am glad of this. I would hate to be merely "indulgent". That would be heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). Ed agrees with me about Merman's performance in Gypsy and finds Bette Midler's version practically unwatchable to which I overindulgently concur.
Louis wants to tell me that he, like me and my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim, likes anagrams. Louis got to meet Mr. Sondheim and discuss said anagrams with him. Steve said one that stumped him when he first looked at it was "racines". Didn't stump me I'm happy to report. I once stumped Mr. Sondheim and I can tell you he was none too happy about it.
Emily asks which version of Shall We Dance the bird was singing. The Rodgers and Hammerstein or the George and Ira Gershwin. It was the R&H. The bird has a propensity for R&H and is currently doing a rather spiffy rendition of Solilquoy from Carousel. This is a very difficult number, but the bird is giving John Raitt a run for his money (no mean feat). Emily has also been saying "what is it, fish?" a lot and recently purchased undergarments with little pink fish on them. By undergarments, I presume Emily means the panties. Panties is one of my favorite words. I just love the sound of panties (not that panties make noise, I mean the sound of the word). I wish that Rodgers and Hammerstein had written The Sound of Panties instead of The Sound of Music. That would please me no end. Panties, panties, panties. It's just such a fun word. But only if they're cotton. If they're nylon or tricot or lace forget it. Not cute, not fun. Barf.
Michael suggests that all the dear readers and myself get together at Joe Allen's for some coconut custard pie and drivel. I'm all for it (although Barb Peters probably won't come). You all show up next time I'm there (table 20, under the buttcheek poster).
Jon B. can't believe I didn't see the new William Finn show A New Brain while I was in New York. The fact is, I have friends in said show who asked me to wait a bit as it had just started previews. Only half the show was orchestrated at that point, so I took their advice. I'll see it on my next trip in at the end of June.
Well, there is just no fooling you people. I suspect some of you out there used an anagram solving computer search, because way too many of you got the answer to Roast Mules. For the ones who didn't, the answer to the anagram is: Somersault.
This week's trivia question is:
Marriage is a theme that runs through many Sondheim lyrics. Name every Sondheim song with an allusion to marriage.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...