Despite being Spring, it has been raining for two days straight. Not two days crooked, mind you, but two days straight. Or, as the newscasters would have it, it's Day Two of rain. This rain is a hard driving rain. Not a hard walking rain, mind you, or even a hard jogging rain, no, this rain is a hard driving rain. All night long the rain beat a loud tattoo on my roof. That poor squirrel up there must have been waterlogged. This morning the bird was outside singing a rain medley consisting of Soon It's Gonna Rain, I Think It's Gonna Rain Today and April Showers. Yes, that bird was Singin' In The Rain. I must say that I sleep like a baby when it rains. Of course, if one really slept like a baby, one would wake up in the middle of the night crying and wanting some milk. So, I didn't really sleep like a baby. I slept like a log. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, I slept like a piece of wood. Tonight if it is raining I may put a log in the fireplace and have a nice warm toasty fire. I may even have some toast while having a toasty fire. I may even make a toast while I'm having toast in front of the toasty fire. In fact, it will be a goldarned toast moment, won't it, dear readers?
Have you ever pondered this, dear readers: Why the hell are we doing all this pondering? I am pondered out, frankly. Has anyone noticed in these eighty-one columns just how often I use the word "frankly"? Frankly I use the word "frankly" an awful lot. What is an "awful lot"? A bad plot of land? But I do use the word "frankly" over and over again, do I not? Perhaps I should change the name in "frankly". Maybe I should start saying "ralphly". Although "ralphly" just doesn't have the same ring, that "frankly" has. And why would "ralphly" have the same ring as "frankly"? "ralphly" has its own ring thank you very much. It's solid gold and has a big "R" on it. What in hell am I talking about? Certainly not Stephen Sondheim. Not that this entire paragraph doesn't have relevance to Stephen Sondheim. Oh, yes, it has relevance. Because it just so happens that my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, has a nice ring, too. I, on the other hand, have no ring or any jewelry whatsoever. While I can admire jewelry from afar, when jewelry gets too anear I get very nervous. I don't like having things on my fingers or wrists or neck or ears or nose. No rings, no watches, no earrings, no noserings, no necklaces or bracelets. Just my very own skin. That's the way we like it and that's the way it is.
Have you ever pondered this, dear readers: How can one person write so much that adds up to so little week in and week out and also week out and week in? I have pondered that very question and yet I have come to the conclusion that it is a question without an answer. Therefore, to ponder this is fruitless. One simply cannot ponder without fruit, in my book (Chapter 451 - When You Ponder It's A Good Idea to Have a Nice Piece of Fruit). And speaking of coming to the conclusion, isn't that a good idea? Shouldn't we just come to the conclusion of this section right this very minute? Shouldn't we just put this section to bed? Because frankly (or ralphly - your choice) this section is starting to resemble the new Gershwin revue, Fascinating Rhythm: It's a shambles, but maybe it can be fixed. But enough about me.
You may remember that back in December, Mr. Mark Bakalor attended my Christmas Eve party. At some point during said party, Mr. Bakalor was off to see The Last Session and was picked up by the composer/lyricist of the show, Mr. Steve Schachlin. In fact, here is an activity photo to remind you of this event. The activity, by the way, is standing.
The Last Session is playing right here in Los Angeles at the Tiffany Theater on world-renowned Sunset Blvd. Prior to the Tiffany Theater being a legit theater it was a motion picture theater that played revivals. I saw many motion pictures there. In fact, they once had a 3-D revival, and I got to see Kiss Me Kate and Dial 'M' For Murder in actual three dimensions. We wore glasses and things seemed like they were coming out of the screen. It was very exciting. I also saw a 3-D short with The Three Stooges. There is nothing quite like having Moe throw a pie at the camera and have it look like it's flying right at you. In any case, the Tiffany went legit quite a few years ago, but every time I'm there I can't help feeling like I should be seeing a movie, especially in three dimensions.
The Last Session is a musical about an HIV positive songwriter. I won't say more about the plot because then I'd have to put a spoiler alert and someone might read the plot despite the alert and then I'd get angry letters from disgruntled people. It is a very enjoyable show, with some nice songs. Bob Stillman is terrific in the leading role and the rest of the company is just fine. I think a little more variety in the songs would help (they're all very similar) and I kept wishing they had a band. The whole show is played on a keyboard (except for a couple that have guitar on them), with the exception of the final song in which the band is prerecorded. It's not a perfect show, but its heart is in the right place (its chest) and the audience response was great (so great, in fact, that Mr. Mark Bakalor is reported to be going back to see it this coming weekend). And of course, it's all three dimensional and you don't even need the glasses. So, if you're in the Los Angeles area, drop on by the Tiffany and see The Last Session. While you're there, see if you can feel the three dimensional ghosts of Larry, Moe and Shemp.
My computer, dear readers, is making noises like it hasn't eaten for two days. It is a very annoying sound, let me tell you. There, finally peace and quiet. I need peace and quiet when I write. Quiet is quite what I need, and of course what is "quiet" but "quite" rearranged? I have recently been on a popcorn kick, dear readers. I make popcorn and then kick it around the room. This is grand fun. Seriously, every night I make a big bowl of no fat gram popcorn. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, no fat grams. Unless you count the half a stick of butter I put on top of said no fat gram popcorn. I just love popcorn with a half a stick of melted butter on top. You must melt the butter, otherwise it just lies on top of the no fat gram popcorn like so much fish. The inventor of popcorn was a unique gentleman by the name of Wilbur "Pop" Wilbur. Wilbur Wilbur, known as "Pop" to his nearest and dearest friends, was a farmer who was known far and wide for having the finest corn. One day he inadvertently dropped a kernel of corn (or is it a cernel of korn? Just asking.) into hot scalding oil and the rest is history. People came from far and wide to sample "Pop's Corn". Over the years his invention came to be known as popcorn. He spent the rest of his life trying to top this invention. Some of his less-than-triumphant attempts were "poptomato" "poptuna" and the particularly inspired "popspud". However, none of those ever caught on with the public. It wasn't until he was going through a mid-life crisis, and was paying frequent visits to the local house of ill repute, that his other most famous invention came to be. He had one favorite lady of the night there by the name of Reba. She came to be known as "Pop's Tart", and this, of course, resulted in everyone's favorite breakfast treat. What the hell am I talking about? What section am I in? Isn't this section supposed to be about me?
That goldarned Miss Meryle Secrest has been bombarding me with her usual endless probing questions. And I have been pondering her questions and then been bombarding her with my usual endless probing answers. I am beginning to wonder, however, if by the time we finish this book anyone reading this column will be left alive to read it. I hate having dead people read about me. I just don't see the point, frankly. There's that goldarned word "frankly" again. I must stop using that word. Perhaps if I have to pay a dollar every time I use it then that will curb my usage of "frankly". Oops, there goes a dollar.
In any case, Miss Meryle Secrest was intrigued by my songwriting bits from my musical comedy entitled A Penny Ain't Worth A Nickel. She asked to see more songwriting bits from when I was a teen. Unfortunately, I don't remember many of those bits. Here's one I do remember:
I see rainbows everywhere,
What is with this weather, dear readers? I mean, ponder this: One day it is pouring down rain, the sky is wracked with thunder, and the downpour is torrential. And the next day it's ninety-five degrees with blindingly blue skies. This is just too goldarned inconsistent, weather-wise. I like consistency in my weather. But you know what? The weather doesn't give a flying Wallenda what I like. The weather is just going to do whatever it damn well pleases, and if it pleases the weather to change its mind in an instant then that's what the weather is going to do and there is nothing you or I can do about it. We can't yell at the weather, we can't shake our fist at the weather, because the weather is all-knowing, all-seeing, and has total autonomy and whatever the weather feels like that's what it's going to do. Oh, you can say "Gee, I hope it's a sunny day today" and maybe if the weather is feeling benificent you'll get the sunny day. But the weather has terrible mood swings and is unpredictable. That is why Prozac was invented and the goldarned weather should maybe think about getting a prescription. That is all I have to say on this subject and so I will say no more.
Have you ever pondered this, dear readers: Why do we find funny what we find funny? I have pondered this, dear readers, and the result of my pondering is a preponderance of pondering with the end result being that I don't have a clue. It's funny, this business of what is funny. Because what is funny to one person may not be funny to another. For example, one person might find this column funny and another person might look at this very same column and say, "What is it, fish?". And neither of them are wrong. That is the comedy conundrum, frankly. Oops, that's three dollars. Speaking of comedy, here are some people who were big influences on me when I was growing up. Steve Allen. Boy, was he funny, and so were his cohorts Louis Nye, Tom Poston, and Don Knotts. The Three Stooges were funny. Soupy Sales was funny. The Marx Brothers were funny. Jack Benny was funny. I bring all this up because I just saw the motion picture There's Something About Mary. I found it somewhat amusing in a crass sort of way, but there were far too many dead spots for it to be a total success. And yet, it was a total success. Isn't that funny? Actually, There's Something About Mary reminded me of the films made by the great Frank Tashlin, who had the same sort of anarchic sense of humor. If you've never seen Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Girl Can't Help It you owe it to yourselves to see them immediately. Tashlin was a masterful comedy director and his sight gags were unbelievably funny. Watching his films is like watching a Warner Bros. cartoon, which is where Mr. Tashlin got his start.
Which brings me to Beyond The Fringe. I recently thought of Beyond The Fringe because of all the reminiscing I've been doing about my beloved Huntington Hartford Theater, which is where I discovered Beyond The Fringe. I'd already fallen in love with the "revue" shows of Billy Barnes, which were hilarious and had great songs to boot (toob spelled backwards). Billy's shows were topical and filled with what I considered to be great wit. And then I saw Beyond The Fringe. Beyond The Fringe had begun life in London, and was created and written by its stars, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The show was in the vein of the wacky British radio comedy The Goon Show, which starred Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Spike Milligan. I was a big fan of The Goon Show and used to listen to it late at night on my transistor radio while huddled under my covers. One of my favorite comedy lines ever written is from that show, "Wait, I hear someone screaming in agony! Fortunately, I speak it fluently." Anyway, back to Beyond the Fringe. The show had taken Broadway by storm, and then went on tour, although without its original stars. I no longer remember who was in it at the Hartford but they were great, whoever they were. This show was, simply put, the funniest thing I'd ever seen. Every sketch was great. It was droll, it was outrageous, it was smart, and above all, it made me guffaw with laughter. I love to guffaw with laughter, don't you, dear readers? I wish there were some way to impart how great this show was. There is a cast album available, and it's very funny (although dated now) but it's not the same. My favorite bits, which I used to imitate ad nauseum were the sketch about the four really fey actors in a tv commercial, who, when the lights come up are flitting around the stage complimenting each other on their costumes and their hair. One of them keeps asking "Do you do vests in mauve?" Then they do the commercial in which these four fey flitting actors suddenly become four macho deep-voiced manly sailor men, singing the jingle:
Stormy days at sea are followed
Last night I was coming home from attending the opening night of something called Always, Patsy Cline and I suddenly had a craving for a Filet o' Fish from McDonald's. This craving hit me like a ton of bricks (no mean feat) and so I pulled into my local McDonald's. Not literally, of course, otherwise my automobile would have been inside McDonald's and then where would we have been? Inside McDonald's all logic would seem to dictate. I purchased a Filet o' Fish and home I went, where I sat on my couch like so much fish and ate my Filet o' Fish. It was quite tasty, and as I ate it I pondered why they felt the need to abbreviate the "of" in Filet Of Fish. I mean, they're saving one letter, for heaven's sake. And no one but me actually says "Filet o' Fish", they say "Filet of Fish" so the whole thing is just an enigma, much like this column. Aren't I in the letters section? Shouldn't I just answer some letters then? What the hell am I talking about Filet o' Fish for? This is the letters section, not the Filet o' Fish section. What was I thinking about? Filet o' Fish, obviously.
Kevin, a new dear reader, asks if there's any chance for an Anyone Can Whistle revival, as it is his favorite Sondheim show. While there are occasional productions every now and then, I do believe Stephen Sondheim has put the kibosh on any full-scale revival, as he feels the show is dated and wouldn't work. Just look at that word "kibosh". Don't you just want to throw a tomato at that word?
Alina tells me that she, like another dear reader, has gone through her life suffering from nosebleeds and therefore has very low iron. Iron pills make Alina sick to her stomach, so she has refused to take them. However, Alina is now pregnant and so she is thinking about taking the iron pills because she's sick to her stomach anyway. Makes sense to me. She tells me that much fuss (or ado as Shakespeare would have said) has been made about the research linking baby brain development to classical music. I had no idea said fuss had been made or that there'd been research of this nature. My mother listened to Sophie Tucker records when she was pregnant with me. Doesn't that explain so much? In any case, Alina would like to know if there have been any studies about the effect of listening to the words and music of Stephen Sondheim on a baby's brain. Yes. First of all, the baby will come out prone. Second, it will have a beard. And when the baby starts speaking, it will speak in internal rhyme.
RLB writes to tell me that he thinks I'm funnier than a barrel of monkeys. Is it a "barrel" of monkeys? Not a "gaggle" or a "flock" or a "quorum"? I will take that as a compliment, as a barrel of monkeys is usually cause for great mirth.
Tiffany asks if I have missed her because she hasn't written recently. I have pondered that question, and the answer is yes, of course I have missed the Tardy Tiffany. Now, I am not one to cast aspertions at people, and yet cast them I must (they're very right for the role) because Tardy Tiffany has never made good on her promise to send an activity photo of her wearing those darned fish socks that she won as the author of our 1,000th letter (prior to her "Tardy" moniker). This is heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) and we hope that Tiffany will rectify this situation now that she has the stigmata of an aspertion. "The Stigmata of an Aspertion". Doesn't that sound like a play by Tennesse Williams? Or a song by Gilbert and Sullivan? By the way, aren't we getting awfully close to our 2,000th letter, Mr. Mark Bakalor? (Not quite, but we're getting close. In the next six months we should achieve this great feat..) Aren't we going to be awarding another big prize to our 2,000th letter writer? Yes, we are, so keep those cards and letters coming.
Emily tells me that she is in a quandry regarding Alan Cumming, star of Cabaret. Emily recently purchased and listened to the new cd of Cabaret and she finds Mr. Cumming both sexy and disgusting. She'd like to be touched by Mr. Cumming but feels she'd like him to be wearing thick rubber gloves at the time. I'm not going anywhere near this, dear readers. I'm not going to touch this with a ten foot pole, whatever the hell that is. Emily is also writing a twenty page paper (not nineteen or twenty-one pages, no, a twenty page paper - period, end of story) on the role mothers play in the work of Stephen Sondheim. I should think a good role for a mother to play in the work of Stephen Sondheim would be the role of a mother. That would seem like a natural. Emily is having trouble finding out who wrote the original fairy tale of Jack and The Beanstalk. That fairy tale was originally written by Herman von Gustenluben and was his only fairy tale. He was a tinker by day and a taler by night. However, his other tales were tales of horror and madness and things that go bump in the night. His most famous tale (other than Jack and The Beanstalk) was entitled The Night Of The Bloody Beanstalk (not related to Jack and The Beanstalk). He was obsessed with beanstalks and he was eventually put away in the Heimlich House For The Insane.
spanky wrote me the following letter, which I print in its entirety:
i like peanuts.....sondheim is nice on with a pickle on rye w/ toast....he who holds no rings has not a single one....
I feel that this is an example of actual gibberish at its finest. I have read this forwards. I have read this backwards. And yet, I feel there is an inexorable logic to it. I feel it is fraught with portent and meaning. I especially am intrigued by the "rings" sentence, since this letter was received prior to the column going up. I mean, right here in this very column I talk about the fact that I have no rings. Is there prescience in the air? ESP? We must ponder this dear readers, whilst eating our popcorn.
Well, dear readers, everyone came out of the woodwork (no mean feat) to answer last week's trivia question, name the Sondheim connection at the Academy Awards. Oh, you were all a bunch of smartypants, you all were. You all knew there were, in fact, multiple Sondheim connections at the Academy Awards. You didn't fall into my cleverly laid trap, did you? However, I am happy to tell you that while all the people who answered got one or most of the connections, there is one person that no one named. First, here are the people who guessed one or most of the connections: crow, mordecai, grehf, Anita, mrsmig, jc, Josh, Elan, Duff (formerly Craig), Gary, Alina, Elliot and Kevin. Their guesses included the following:
Whoopi Goldberg (Forum revival), Judi Dench (London A Little Night Music, etc.), Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy, Reds), and James Coburn (The Last of Sheila). The one person no one guessed? Meryl Streep, who was in The Frogs in the swimming pool at Yale.
This week's trivia question: There were several other people in that swimming pool at Yale, who either had or would go on to have Sondheim connections. Name them.
Trivia answers, questions, comments...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...