Anyway, I will relate to you the tale of Why I Haven't Been Able To Sleep For Two Days. As you all know, I was the happy purchaser of two lawn chairs, which now reside happily on one lawn. Furthermore, you all know that I was sitting on one of said lawn chairs taking the sun. While taking the sun I began reading a book. I became engrossed in said book. Time passed. Suddenly it was two hours later. I was hot, I was thirsty, but above all I appeared to be red. I went and looked in the mirror and actually the red was more of a crimson. Ah, I thought, finally I have some color. Not only am I buff and toned with abs and buns of steel, but now I will be tan and look like a surfer dude or chick. So, I went and did some errands and upon my return I looked in the mirror again. Well, let me just say that no Communist was ever redder than I. I could have been mistaken for a fire engine (and frequently have been), that's how red I was. I was redder than a Candy Apple Red Corvette. In short, I was red. I took a walk to contemplate said redness, and as I walked I noticed people looking at me in shocked horror. Anyway, I was hot and sweaty so I came home and took a shower. Now, let me just say here and now that I only like to take nice hot showers. I don't like tepid water, it just bugs me. So, I get the water nice and hot like I like it and I step into the shower. The first thing I noticed was pain. Then I noticed that the pain was painful. Then I realized that I had painful pain and this caused more pain. And I became painfully aware as I was standing there in painful pain that I had sat in the sun too long. I had gotten sunburned. Now, there are many ways in which to treat sunburn, but standing in extremely hot water is not one of them. I turned the cold water up and got it nice and tepid. Somehow tepid was looking and feeling pretty good right about then. Tepid was now my favorite new water temperature. Then I got out of the shower, dried off and looked in the mirror again. And what I saw shocked me. I didn't look like a tan surfer, I looked like a red herring. I put some of my special handy dandy moisturizing cream on and dressed. I put on some shorts, but found I could not button them because the bottom of my stomach was so very red and so very painful. Now, I don't know about you, but when I am as red as borscht and in pain I just can't sleep. Every time I turn or move or breathe it just becomes more impossible to hit the road to dreamland. So, for two days I have just lain in bed like so much burned fish, miserable and awake. Hence, here I am writing this column at five in the morning. I actually had to go out and buy Solarcaine, a spray to help alleviate sunburn, itching, and the heartbreak of psoriasis. One sprays this specious liquid all over (avoiding the eyes and mouth of course) and pretends that it is doing some good.
I am now peeling.
And frankly, I don't find it appealing to be peeling. I just don't like the flaking of the skin. I know I have gone on ad nauseum about this sunburn, but when you are sunburned you tend to go on ad nauseum about it. As a rule of thumb I try never to get sunburned. And just what is a "rule of thumb"? A thumb has a rule? Why? Is there a rule of pinky? A rule of toe? Who decreed it should be a rule of thumb? Oh, and don't tell me there was an Earl of Thumb somewhere because I'm not buying it. I think "rule of thumb" belongs in the Hall of Fame of stupid sayings, don't you, dear readers? Where was I? Oh, yes, as a rule of thumb I don't get sunburned. So much for the rule of thumb because here I sit, sunburned, including my thumb. And let's talk about "thumb" for a minute. There is yet another word with a useless letter in it. What is that "b" doing, hanging around with no point whatsoever? That is just dumb. Whoa, there's that "b" again. Perhaps I'll go have a glass of rumb. And sit on my red bumb. And have some gumb. Well, you get the point - why do some same-sounding words have "b"s and some don't? Someone arbitrarily tacked on a bunch of useless "b"s to words and I would like this person to step forward so we can "b"rate them.
Is this column supposed to be about Stephen Sondheim? Could have fooled me. All I've seen is sunburn, flaking skin and useless "b"s at the end of useless words. I don't know about you, but I'd like a little something about Stephen Sondheim, because this column is part of the Stephen Sondheim Stage. Well, did you know that Stephen Sondheim once got sunburned down on Fire Island? That is a true story, and one you will not find in Miss Meryle Secrest's biography.
Well, it is now seven in the morning. Yes, it took two hours to write this! I must go and spray more Solarcaine on me so that it will numb the itching and pain. "Numb." Need I say more? I need sleep. I am just like Miss Saigon: Tired and beginning to show its age. But enough about me.
Even though I am sitting here on my couch like so much fish (a red lobster) I guess we better talk about Sondheim, or you-know-who will get testy and we just can't have that, now can we?
Several of the finest performances I've ever seen grace a stage have been given in Sondheim shows. He has been very lucky to have had such incredible talent bring his words and music to life, and they have been incredibly lucky to have had such words and music to bring to life. Here are a few of my favorites...
I never saw A Funny Thing Happened To The Way To The Forum on Broadway in its original run, but I did see the much maligned and bastardized film version. The only reason I mention it is, of course, that it contains the performances of the original Broadway Pseudolus and Hysterium, the one and only Zero Mostel, and the other one and only Jack Gilford. Mostel was an original, there hasn't been nor ever will be anybody quite like him. He was a perfect Pseudolus, funny, conniving, graceful (as a grouse) and larger than life. Gilford was also a unique character actor and he was absolutely hysterical as Hysterium. If the film offered nothing else it gives us a chance to see these two brilliant farceurs in action. But it also gives us Phil Silvers as Marcus Lycus, and, for my money, Silvers is one of the greatest comedians who ever lived. So, if you haven't seen said film, rent it, and just forgive it its flaws.
Next up for me Sondheim-wise was Company, which I saw at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. A majority of the Broadway Company company traveled West to do the show, and George Chakiris played Bobby Baby. For me the show contained three unforgettable performances, although everyone else in the show was no less than wonderful. Elaine Stritch, giving one of the best performances I've ever seen, was scary, hilarious, bitchy, scathing and spot on in her portrayal of Joanne. She owns the role and no one will ever be able to give quite what she brought to the part. She was Joanne. Her acerbic way with a one-liner was uniquely her own, and you cringed even as you were howling with laughter. And her performance of The Ladies Who Lunch was terrifying. There wasn't a sound in the audience, not a cough, not a rustle. In Los Angeles it never got the roaring ovation it did in New York, and I think this was because the "ladies" in the audience understood all too well what the song was about. The other two unforgettable performances were given by Pamela Myers as Marta and Donna McKechnie as Kathy. Pamela was sassy as can be and, as with Stritch and Ladies, owns Another Hundred People. Funnily enough, the song works better on the album than it did in the show, where it is done in sections broken up by scenes. Donna McKechnie stopped the show cold with Tick Tock, her big dance number, which was choreographed by Michael Bennett. It was a stunning tour de force, an erotic, orgasmic burst of sexual energy. Unfortunately these days the number frequently gets cut, and to my mind, to the detriment of the show.
Then came Follies. I've already spoken of my love for this show and especially its original production. The cast was exemplary, down to the last chorus person. John McMartin, Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson, Ethel Shutta, well, it just doesn't get better. But for me, the evening belonged to Dorothy Collins, who was so real, so heartbreaking and who gave a performance of such depth that I was literally in tears from the moment she sang Don't Look At Me. And no one, I don't care who, will ever invest In Buddy's Eyes and Losing My Mind with the vocal beauty and emotion Ms. Collins did. That performance is a Hall Of Famer.
I didn't see A Little Night Music on Broadway, and frankly the touring company had competent performances and nothing more. But had I seen Hermoine Gingold do Madame Armfeldt, I know I would have cherished her performance. Certainly I cherish it on the Broadway Cast Album.
I'll continue next week, because as you know I was up at five in the morning and it is now midnight and I simply must to bed. "I simply must to bed". Wasn't that poetic?
That Miss Meryle Secrest is relentless, dear readers. She calls me at all hours, digging digging, digging. More astonishing things from my childhood are coming to light. Did you know, for example, how the cartoon Clutch Cargo freaked me out??? For those of you who don't know, Clutch Cargo was a low-budget cartoon in which the mouths of the cartoon characters were real! That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, cartoon characters with real mouths. This was nightmare-inducing to an impressionable child. I used to think "if the cartoon characters have real mouths then why can't we have cartoon mouths?" Yes, I thought that, dear readers. It was surrealism before I knew what that meant. To see these real lips talking within a drawn face would have done Salvador Dali proud. There are a couple of videos of them available, so if you too want an experience you'll never forget but may want to, go rent them.
Another thing Miss Meryle Secrest has unearthed from the bowels of my memory (wasn't that poetic in a coprophiliac way?) is this horrifying story. When I was in the fourth grade (I believe there was a stock market crash that year) our class was taken on a field trip. I don't know if they still do "field trips" in school, but when we did field trips our parents would have to sign a paper saying we could go on said "field trip" (and didn't my parents sign that paper just a little too fast and a little too willingly - Sondheim wasn't the only one with a strange mother). This particular field trip I speak of was to a tuna canning factory. Now, why would anyone take a fourth grade class to a tuna canning factory? A museum I understand. A planetarium I understand. But a tuna canning factory??? That is just right up there with Clutch Cargo in the surrealism department in my book (Chapter 71 - Clutch Cargo and The Tuna Canning Factory - A Surrealist Bonanza). So, off we went to visit said tuna canning factory. We were taken inside the factory by a tuna canning factory guide. Yes, you heard it here, a tuna canning factory guide! This person made a living by taking people on tours of a tuna canning factory. Once inside the factory, I, of course, said "what is it, fish?". The tuna canning factory guide merely looked at me with a puzzled expression. Then I noticed the smell. The smell wafted its way into my young nostrils with the force of a tidal wave. This smell, to put it in terms I know you'll understand immediately, was heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). It was stultifying. Actually, the word "stultifying" is pretty stultifying all on its own. There is no way to say the word "stultifying" without sounding like Larry of The Three Stooges (ooh, I must tell Miss Meryle Secrest my meeting The Three Stooges story!). Where was I? Oh, yes, in the middle of the tuna canning factory with a smell that could have ended the Korean War. Oh, dear readers, you cannot imagine the smell. It was the smell of dead tuna. Really dead tuna. Bereft of life tuna. They showed us the dead tuna, all lying there like so much fish without a care in the world because they were dead. Couldn't be deader than these tuna were. There were thousands of dead tuna. Now, the smell of one dead tuna is bad enough, so you can imagine what I was smelling. The other kids in my class didn't even seem to notice, so mesmerized were they by the dead tuna and the canning process. I didn't give a cheese slice about the canning process, I just wanted to breathe some fresh air. I told my teacher that if I didn't breathe some fresh air I would vomit over the dead tuna (this was in the days when I still threw up). She said we'd be outside soon enough, in about an hour. I told her that in an hour I would have vomited up an entire week's worth of meals. Anyway, to make a long story long, I somehow managed to make it through the tour. When we got outside again, I breathed the good clean open air, which, unfortunately still smelled like dead tuna. For the next week, everything smelled like dead tuna. Of course, as luck would have it, the very next day when I opened my lunch box there was a tuna sandwich. I traded it to somebody and got a peanut butter and jelly in return. I would not eat tuna again for many years. I am now over the tuna trauma and like it again. Wasn't that an interesting anecdote? You don't get stories like that at Playbill On Line.
Talking earlier of great performances in Sondheim shows suddenly made me think back fondly to the greatest performance I've ever seen in the musical theater. I was blessed to see it. It was one of the greatest theater moments of my life. And I'll never forget it as long as I live.
As I have said before, when I was young I used to go to the record store regularly, at least three or four times a week. Sometimes albums would just catch my eye (no mean feat) and I'd buy them even if I didn't know one thing about them. Such was the case when I saw the Original Broadway Cast album of The Most Happy Fella. The cover art just spoke to me. And this was not the one-disc "highlights" album, either, this was the three lp boxed set, which was expensive, dear readers, but I had a twenty which I'd removed from my father's pants pocket, so what did I care? I bought said box set, took it home and spent the next few hours listening to it. Well, the score by Mr. Frank Loesser just put me away. At my tender age I didn't understand all the story points, but the songs were incredible. I would have thought that at times it was more like an opera, but I didn't know what an opera was. For days I tormented my family by singing Standing On The Corner and the title song and Ooh, My Feet. I played that album over and over and over again. I memorized every note of that album. I fell in love with the voice of Susan Johnson who played Cleo, and I thought the voice of Jo Sullivan as Rosabella was just plain peculiar. I adored Shorty Long as Herman, too, and loved Art Lund's smooth way with Joey, Joey, Joey. But it was the voice of Robert Weede as the titular Happy Fella, Tony, that made me return to the album so many times. I'd never heard a voice as powerful or as sweet or as honest. By that time, I had quite a few cast albums, but Happy Fella was my favorite.
Flash forward. I'm in my first year of college. I see an ad in the paper for one of the many "theater-in-the-rounds" that had proliferated all over Los Angeles and environs. I'm sure you've all heard of theater-in-the-round, in which the audience is literally all around the stage, which was also round. Obviously, set designs were simple and directors had to keep the actors turning a lot, so everyone could see them. They would get "names" to come in and do shows at these venues, and I got to see Ethel Merman do Call Me Madam, Tammy Grimes do The Unsinkable Molly Brown (also saw Nanette Fabray do it, too, which was way too scary), Jane Powell do Peter Pan. Well, you get the idea. Anyway, I see an ad for the San Bernadino Theater-In-The-Round. And they're doing The Most Happy Fella. Last two performances the following day. Well, I'd never seen the show on stage, so I called and got tickets to the matinee. I cut the ad out so I'd have the address, and it was only then that I noticed who was in the show. Robert Weede, and the original Joey, Art Lund. Next day, and off I went to San Bernadino.
I had great seats for the show, very close to the stage. From the minute the house lights dimmed and the orchestra went into the mini-overture, I knew I was in for a treat. I can no longer remember who played Cleo and Rosabella, but they were great. Then, after the first scene was over, Mr. Weede made his entrance, singing the title song. And that was it. I was in tears. I knew I was in the presence of a great star, a magical performer who, despite the fact that he was appearing in San Bernadino in the round in a show he'd starred in on Broadway ten years earlier, was giving his heart and soul to every member of that audience. Such acting, such singing. Mr. Lund was swell, too, and the director, Ernie Sarracino, did a great job keeping everything moving. But it was Mr. Weede's show. When he sung Momma, Momma it was just thrilling. And when Rosabella finally realizes that she loves Tony and they have their big duet (and surely one of the musical theater's most glorious moments) My Heart Is So Full Of You, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. At the end of it, the entire audience rose to its feet, cheering. I'd never seen anything like that happen. This was before Carol Channing's ex-husband would lead the Hello, Dolly! revival audiences to stand as she entered and at the end of the title song. No, this was real, this was deserved. In those days, audiences rarely gave standing ovations to anything, let alone in the middle of a show. Mr. Weede and his Rosabella were visibly moved by the ovation. At the end of the show there was another standing ovation and cheering and shouts of "bravo". As soon as I got out of the theater, I ran to the box-office and purchased tickets for the closing performance, which was two hours away. And which was no less wonderful. The fact that Mr. Weede could give that performance twice in one day was something I'll never forget (he didn't need an "alternate" like whoever plays Jekyll and whoever plays Christine in Phantom). After the second show I knew what I had to do. I am, to this very day, quite shy about going backstage after a show, even when I know people involved. But I found the backstage area, and told the doorman that I would love to meet Mr. Weede and get his autograph. I was taken to him, and I just couldn't stop yabbering about his performance and what it had meant to me. His reaction was interesting. He received my pouring on of the praise as if no one had ever told him how great he was before. He was so gracious and real and kind and human and humble and he was as touched by my praise as I was by his performance. And then do you know what this wonderful person did? He invited me and the person I was with to the cast party! I could not believe it. I went, of course. And he introduced me to everyone in the cast, and the musical director and the director (years later I would recount this story to the director and he remembered me) and everyone else. Needless to say, there aren't many Mr. Weede's left in the world of the theater, and when he died some years later, I pulled out the album of The Most Happy Fella and listened to it and just smiled as I remembered that day and the kindness and brilliance I'd been lucky enough to witness.
Stuff, wherein we discuss various and sundry things. Isn't "sundry" confusing? Especially when you're writing on Saturdry. Shouldn't it be spelled sundreeeee? So as not to confuse us when we order sundried tomatoes not that I ever order sundried tomatoes because frankly they taste like shoe leather not that I've ever tasted shoe leather but I have tasted sundried tomatoes and it is what I imagine shoe leather would taste like. Wasn't that a beautiful run-on sentence with no punctuation? I like to do that every now and then because punctuation is just so tiresome, having to put all those little symbols between and around words just because some cretin made a rule and said we had to. I say revolt! I say it's time for a punctuation war! Down with the comma, kaput with the quote mark, nyet to the exclamation point! Enough is enough. Just look at the period (the dot not the era or the monthly event thank you very much). "." Someone long ago thought, "I have written some words. I would like to write some more words but they have nothing to do with the previous words. Wait! I know, I'll put a dot after the last word I just wrote. Yes, a dot! And I think I'll call that dot a period, just because I can." And was it that very selfsame person who put a line above the dot and said "By George, by putting a line above a dot I've invented an exclamation point!" And let's not even contemplate the mind that would invent the comma. I mean look at it: ",". From that squiggle someone is immortal. Yes, immortal, for it was the great Italian spoon maker Giuseppe Comma who invented the comma, and while no one remembers Mr. Comma's spoon making talent, they all remember the squiggle, now don't they? What in hell am I talking about? Oh, yeah, stuff. Various and sundried tomato stuff.
I heard the New Broadway Cast recording of Cabaret and, much to my surprise, thought it splendid. I love the original, but this is very much its own thing and it is superbly done.
The much rumored transfer of the Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Follies is not happening. All blame is being put on Bobby Goldman, wife of author James Goldman who wrote the book for the show. It is said she personally stopped the transfer from happening, because she felt it was not strong enough. Some cast members have publicly flogged Ms. Goldman, saying all the money was in place and they were ready to go. This is simply not so, and yes, dear readers, you heard it here. The money was not in place, nor was it ever in place. But people just love to say the money was in place, especially when the transfer is dead. But this transfer was dead two weeks before the Bobby Goldman items appeared. The point here is to always remember to not believe everything you read (that rule applies to this column, too - except the part about Giuseppe Comma which, of course, is absolutely true), especially in The Post (the newspaper, not the mail).
And speaking of mail, don't you think it's just time to get to the letters section. I'm sorry to be so antsy, but this is what happens when you are red as a beet and hyperventilating. Not merely "ventilating", mind you, but hyperventilating, which like all "hyper" words is loaded with hyperbole. Not mere "bole", mind you, but hyperbole.
Stephen (not Sondheim) agrees with me about the "tinny" sound of the Saturday Night recording, hence we are in agreement about said recording. But others I've heard from are enjoying it, so be sure to buy it and judge for yourself.
Nettle wrote me a long note about "horniness", the most interesting part of which was that a car horn was called a klaxon but isn't anymore. This is just the kind of thing that I strive to let our dear readers know, so we thank Nettle for this information.
Hannah wants to know where she can get hold of the art materials to authentically produce (I think she means "reproduce") the set for Sunday In The Park With George. While I am not an expert in such matters, I think the original set design is a copyrighted work and cannot be reproduced without permission. She also wants to know if I think doing a concert version of said show would be preferable to putting up an entire production. My answer would depend on the production. A concert would be preferable if the production were to not serve the show well, in other words, look cheap and cheesy, like a Kraft American Cheese Slice.
Robert wrote to say he's also seen Mr. Mark Bakalor's spiffy new design for the site and is very impressed. Apparently, Mr. Mark Bakalor is going to send out this new design to one person at a time. Only kidding. We are all anxiously awaiting the arrival of said design. As Clutch Cargo, and his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot would say (with their real mouths): That'll be swell! Newsflash! Just in from Mr. Mark Bakalor: The redesign is now up like so much fish.
Josh has a trivia question: What Broadway play has as its hero a photographer who specialized in bowel movements? My first question would be did he specialize in actual bowel movements or the photographing of same? My guess would be either Strange Interlude or Cats.
sparkleneelysparkle is thrilled that Tiffany has forsaken Nate, and says there are alternatives to horniness other than the one I offered (to eat a radish). But I must say, every time I eat a radish, I just veer so far away from horniness it's not even funny. Radishes are a preventative to horniness and if you don't believe me eat a radish and find out. Also, my guess as to the Tuesday Weld preview (wouldn't it have been wonderful if the preview took place on a Tuesday? Then we could have had Tuesday on Tuesday) was incorrect. I guessed Lord Love A Duck, but the preview was really the classic The Cincinnati Kid, which not only starred Tuesday, but also one of my other favorites, Ann- Margaret (yes, she of Bye, Bye Birdie, and more importantly, Viva Las Vegas).
Emily asks if I have mashed potatoes. I don't know what this question means. Does it refer to something I wrote last week, because I am senile and don't remember. Or, does Emily simply want to know if I have mashed potatoes. The question then is, do I have them literally, like are they sitting in the other room with various and sundried other things, or have I actually mashed potatoes, as in taken a potato and crushed it to within an inch of its potato existence. I need clarification before I can answer with any clarity. As a child I of course had a Mr. Potato Head. Potato toys were very popular when I was young. Why was this? And does anyone remember the infamous Spud Gun? You would shove the front part of the gun into a potato and then you would shoot the loaded potato bit, in the gun, at someone. Death by spud. What kind of insane person invented this toy? And do you know of any for sale, as there are several people I would like to "spud". Emily also hates milk, just like I do.
Abigail says she inadvertently (rather than advertently) missed one of these here columns because she was cooped up in the car with her two brothers while college hunting. Apparently, said bothers were doing what all brothers were born to do: Annoy their sisters until they reach the point of insanity. Perhaps if Abigail had a spud gun those brothers would be living Mr. Potato Heads by now. Abigail is also going off to Creative Writing Camp and will not be with us for a few weeks. We wish her a swell time.
Tiffany is still horny. She has not eaten a radish, that much is certain, for if she had she would certainly not be horny. She is also still having the occasional Nate thought. Interestingly, there seems to be someone who is interested in Tiffany, you know, interested. But, isn't it always the way, she's not interested in him. You know, not interested. That is the way life works sometimes. Tiffany gave her professor (the one who didn't care for Sweeney Todd) Follies, and he liked that much better, so there is Sondheimian hope for him yet. Finally, Tiffany is taking dance classes and is immersed in the West and East Coast Swing, the Tango, the Hustle and Salsa. The only one of those that I have been immersed in was salsa, which I had the other night with some wonderful chips. Seriously, I too am taking dance lessons. From the bird outside. So far I have learned the original choreography to All That Jazz and The Sadie Hawkins ballet from Li'l Abner.
Erin finally heard the OBC of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and was disappointed by it, compared to the one she's used to hearing, the revival cast album. She did like Hysterium, though, the brilliant Jack Gilford. I find that you usually like and get used to the first recording you hear of something, so that other recordings then seem pale in comparison. I happen to love the original, but it's the first one I heard, so to me the revival seems pale, even though I enjoy it. They're both fine, though, and I'd recommend either.
Rafael asks if Sondheim buffs are buff. As we all know, this Sondheim buff is certainly buff, with abs and buns of red steel. When next you write, dear readers, let me know if you are buff buffs and I will pass that information along.
Bob G. writes to tell me that after twenty years in a dead end profession, at the age of forty he is starting a whole new career. I cannot say strongly enough that this is a good thing. Dead ends are deadly, and we only go around once in life. We wish Bob all good things in his new endeavor. I, too, made significant changes in my life a few years ago, and, while it was scary to do so, I am now happier than I've ever been. Bob G. also tells me that he was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, after years of informal correspondence. My question is, did Mr. Sondheim's then dog Max try to hump Bob's leg as he did mine?
Jon B. wonders if one really "eats" Tums, rather than "takes" Tums or "chews" Tums. I eat Tums. With a knife and fork. They are heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) but eat them I do.
Elizabeth thinks it's obvious that TCarpenter is a fan of The Partridge Family because of the last line of their letter: I think I love you. Which, all us Partridge Family fans know, was a Big David Cassidy Hit.
As always I loved hearing your answers to last week's question, which Sondheim song best describes who you are or how you feel. As I suspected, most votes went to Anyone Can Whistle. Here are your answers:
Stephen (not Sondheim): I Read
This week's trivia question:
Stephen Sondheim has said time and again that the things he writes are not autobiographical (with the exception of Opening Doors). But, knowing what you do about him, if you had to choose one song that you feel represents the person known as Sondheim, what would it be?
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...