When I was a kid growing up, my mother would always buy a few cans of Spam and threaten us kids whenever we were bad with having to eat the thing that was in that can. To us, Spam was like the Boogeyman. We dreaded that can of Spam and whatever heinous, gelatinous thing was in it. We were told there was nothing on Earth more horrifying than having to chow down on a Spam sandwich. If I had been bad, I would always take my brother's lunch bag the following morning, because I was certain there would be a Spam Creation in mine. The name Spam came to symbolize all that was weird and vile and smelly. It was alien glop, it was dog poop, it was used barf.
Now we flashforward. We are living our life. We are happy. We haven't thought of Spam in years. The Real A has kept up with the times. The Real A is a cruiser of the Internet. A WWW wizard. Who would have thought it. What fun. What joy, what happiness. Innocently surfing the net. And then, one miserable day, there is e-mail awaiting The Real A. What joy, what happiness! How The Real A loves e-mail. And what is this wonderful e-mail? It is junk mail! On the Internet! On my screen! Staring me in the face! It says "sorry to bother you" and "if you don't want this simply type remove in the header". I simply type "remove" and send it off, breathing easy, knowing I will never get another because I did as I was asked and simply typed "remove". And my reply came back to me with an error notice saying host unknown. Host unknown? Was this fair? I'd simply typed "remove", just like they told me and I simply got "host unknown" in return. I was hopping mad. But this was only the beginning. Over the next few days I got thirty more junk e-mails. I no longer looked forward to seeing I had e-mail waiting. I mean, these people were not writing me because they liked me. So, I called a friend (yes, The Real A has an actual friend), and I said what is this? This is driving me insane (not a long drive, by the way). And they said, oh, don't you know. That is Spam. My head jerked, my mouth began to twitch and my eyes widened in horror. Spam, said I! Spam??? Spam is the devil. Spam is evil. The "thing" my mother tormented us kids with that I have never forgotten. And then I thought: Of course! What a perfect name for unwanted, unsolicited e-mail. I knew then that Spam had come back to haunt me. That Spam never dies. That Spam will always be there, waiting, watching. There is nothing we can do. As I sit here and write this, I know there is Spam waiting for me, and even though it is illegal and a finable offense to send Spam, there is no way to stop it. It's like Cats. Now and forever. But enough about me.
Oooh, they're flying fast and furious this week. The first rumor is that Side Show was about to post its closing notice. Then it wasn't about to post its closing notice. It was playing to 40% capacity. It was playing to 60% capacity. Fact: Earlier this week, Side Show played to a house in which the orchestra section was less than half full. And that was after they'd moved people down from the balcony. This cannot possibly bode well. Unless the producers find a way to turn this situation around immediately (as The Dodgers did with Titanic), there will be no possible way for them to keep the show running with those kinds of audiences. In olden days if a musical were doing this kind of business it would have closed within the first two weeks. But producers today will do anything to keep something running, including losing millions of dollars of their investor's money. This is not a diatribe against Side Show. I wish Side Show well, as I wish all new musicals well, and would like to see Side Show. But it is interesting that they can keep losing money like this, and keep plugging along despite obvious public disinterest. Let us not forget that this show was the beneficiary of a rave review from the NY Times (two, Brantley and Canby) and multiple articles and tub-thumping at every opportunity. And still they don't come. The next few weeks will tell the tale. Meanwhile, the cast album has been recorded by Sony.
One can only wonder that if that other musical that was formerly known as Side Show and which became Anyone Can Whistle had opened now instead of when it did, if it could've lasted beyond the meager run it had. In this day and age it might have hung on for a few months.
The other rumor (stated as fact, which it may or may not be) is that 1776 will be recorded on Tuesday and Thursday of this week. We will keep you posted on this. For various reasons I remain skeptical.
Mr. Stephen Sondheim happened to peruse my column and had a heated response to Mr. Webber's accusation of him being a slow writer. He fired off this little ditty:
Hey, A. Lloyd,
Dearest Real A: First let me say I simply adore your column. I have decided to write an oratorio based on my war with Stephen. I'm going to call it Andrew Lloyd Webber's How I Won The War. It will have lyrics by the gentleman I consider to be the finest living lyricist working today, Leslie Bricusse. If he had written nothing but Paris Makes Me Horny, he would be in the pantheon of brilliant wordsmiths, right next to the demi-gods Don Black, Hal David, and Tim Rice. Since I thought of the idea for this last Tuesday, I called Bricusse on Wednesday, he'd completed the lyrics for the three hour work by Thursday, and I'm already three-quarters of the way through composing it (it's Saturday here in Sydmonton). I will give you the first preview of anything from this monumental work, possibly even for your next column. So, while Mr. Sondheim sits on his sofa and stares at his piano in hopes of inspiration, I am almost through with what will undoubtedly become one of the most important musical works of the twentieth century. Oh, dear, I must away. Mr. Michael Jackson has just arrived to discuss the possibility of playing Grizzabella in my film of Cats.
I'm just having so much darned fun with doing Rodgers and Hammerstein, (and I'm so darned busy I don't have time to think of anything else at the darned moment) that here's another R&H what if. What if R&H had written Passion. And it goes something like this (to the tune of My Favorite Things):
Sleeping with Clara
The Real A has read lots of comments here at the SSS regarding the Sondheim in Jazz recordings. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about jazz a little. If you haven't had any exposure to jazz, jazz can seem scary (like Spam), can seem foreign, can seem indecipherable. But it's not. If you understand the nature of it, I believe you'll learn not only to appreciate the artform, but to find it a rewarding listening experience, too.
So, how did The Real A discover and fall in love with jazz? Well, I was blessed with having a wonderful music appreciation teacher in Junior High School, who opened up the worlds of classical music, jazz, and theater music to me. With this teacher (whose name I have sadly forgotten) it was all about the music causing an emotional response. He would play various pieces in class, and all we'd have to do was close our eyes and let the music work its magic on us. That is when I first became aware of and enamored of traditional jazz. And such great artists as Bill Evans, George Shearing, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, and Toots Thielmans. The first jazz album the A ever bought was Bill Evans' Conversations With Myself, a solo piano album in which Evans overdubbed two piano tracks on top of his original track. It is one of the most magical albums ever made, and remains a personal favorite to this day. Evans' version of the Love Theme from the film Spartacus is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, poetic evocations of love and all its mysteries ever recorded. I was hooked.
The Terry Trotter Sondheim in Jazz series is very much in the introspective Evans mode. But if you've never listened to a jazz album before, the form of things may take some getting used to. But, really, it's all founded on very simple principles. The most important thing to remember is that while jazz is an improvisitory and freewheeling artform, the harmonic structure of the song stays the same. If, for example, you listen to Happiness from Passion in Jazz, you'll find that it's done as a lilting up-tempo number (which works perfectly with Sondheim's beautiful melody). First the tune is stated as written (even though some of the chord voicings are "jazzized" they are basically what Sondheim wrote). Then there comes a series of improvisations on the tune, where the musicians let the music take them wherever it takes them. But the harmonic structure underneath the improvisation remains the same. In other words, while they are improvising, you could actually sing the melody of the song and it would work. Still with me? If you just go with it, the form will soon become clear.
Now, The Real A does not like all jazz. Some of the more modern experimental stuff drives me to the edge of insanity and sometimes over the edge. Atonal, unpleasant. I feel that way about a lot of modern classical music, too. It makes me hopping mad. So, since everyone here is a Sondheim lover, the Sondheim in Jazz series is a good place to start. But also try the artists I mentioned earlier. They are all wonderful musicians and very rewarding to listen to. Bill Evans (piano), George Shearing (piano), Miles Davis (trumpet - especially his early Columbia albums, the best being Kind Of Blue), Stan Getz (saxophone), Toots Thielmans (harmonica - trust me he's great), and Wes Montgomery (guitar). You really can't go wrong with any of them. And who knows... you may fall in love with a whole new musical language.
Thomas assumed from one of my responses to an e-mail in last week's column that I don't like Bernadette Peters (just because I said she might be a man). Not so at all. I have always liked Bernadette, although there are times when she can be a bit mannered for my taste. He also wanted to know if I had any knews or info on the upcoming Saturday Night production in the UK. I believe it's an amateur theater group that's doing it (or maybe a school) and it currently has Mr. Sondheim's blessing. And if he likes what he sees, there could possibly be a recording of the show, although not one of that production.
Birdwell rightly corrects my mistitling of the song from Titanic, which should have been The Night Was Alive (with a thousand voices, not with music, although I'll take music over a thousand voices anyday).
Abigail writes to say that she's heard that Sondheim's Sweeney Todd will not be made into a film. That certainly is the case at the moment. It was optioned by Tim Burton, and has been announced several times, but now appears to be a dead issue. She also wants to know if the non-musical Sweeney Todd film is happening. Yes, it's been made, and early reports from people who've seen it are that it's very good.
Paul sent an e-mail and I just wanted him to know that I was genuinely touched and appreciative of his kind words.
Wardicus feels that I cannot possibly be Stephen Sondheim because Sondheim owns cats. I wouldn't believe that if I were you. Mr. Sondheim would never own anything associated with Mr. Webber.
Cinderella wants to know if The Real A is a Real Canadian. I don't think so, eh. Although I have been to Canada, eh.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Finally the A came through with trivia questions which weren't answered by every person who read the column. The answer to question number one, what was Sondheim's first professional job: Writing scripts for the early television comedy program "Topper" starring Leo G. Carroll. He wrote about twelve episodes of the show. Only one person guessed correctly.
No one had an answer to the second question, which was: Name the songs that were cut from or written for but not used in Gypsy. So, that question will remain until someone at least takes a stab at it. Hint: Two of the unused songs have been recorded. Come on you know-it-alls, don't disappoint The Real A.
Oh, The Real A just got some last minute e-mail, but I'm out of time so I'll answer it in the next column.
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...