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One From Column A...
by "The Real A"

January 19, 1998 - #18

You know, I have the distinct feeling that I just finished writing a column. That is because I just finished writing a column, and now, because I am going to New York, I am writing a column, even though I just finished writing a column. It's hard writing a brand new column when you've just finished writing a column, because you start to get columnitis. This is a horrendous condition which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Your eyes start to cross, drool starts to come out of your mouth and you have a distinct craving for horseradish. Okay, stop the column. Hold the phone. Horseradish??? It's not bad enough that we have to have all those stupid horse sayings. Noooooo, we have to have stupid horse words too. I know what a radish is (a stupid word all on its own) but what in tarnation does a horse have to do with it? Someone came up with that stuff you put on gefilte fish and prime rib, looked at it and said "horseradish". Why? They ground up a radish, fine, but did they also grind up a horse with it? That's disgusting. Or is it because it tastes like something that the horse left somewhere? Let's get off this topic right now. I mean, what in tarnation are we talking about horseradish for? But wait a minute. Why did they stop there? They could have other animal/vegetable teamings. Like doglettuce. Donkeysquash. Yakpeas. Yes, I'm liking this. I'm liking this fine. What in tarnation was I talking about? I just go off and there is no bringing me back, is there?

Have you ever had this happen to you? You're sitting down with people having a good old time. You get up to leave, only your foot has fallen asleep. Do you know what you look like when you try to walk when your foot is asleep? Don Knotts comes to mind. I just hate that. I hate looking like I'm not in control of my own body. I hate when I try to walk and my foot just folds up like an accordion. And people just look at you like you're an aberration. Like it's never happened to them? How soon they forget. And then the damn foot just doesn't want to wake up. You try shaking it, then you slap it, then you just start pounding on it really hard. Do you have any idea what it looks like when you do that? Like a person who is in serious need of Prozac, that's what. This happened to me the other day, and I was mortified. Simply mortified. I lost my decorum, and I shouted at my foot, "Wake up, you great plodding thing!" Did my foot listen? Of course not. My foot does what it damn well pleases. So, do you think that the people who came to the SSS to read about Sondheim are scratching their heads and thinking "What in hell is this nincompoop talking about??? Sleeping feet. Horseradish. What has this to do with The Master? Well, I'll tell you what it has to do with The Master, smart guys. I happen to know that my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim has eaten horseradish, and I happen to know that his foot has fallen asleep, and on more than one occasion. So don't be coming here and thinking this column isn't about Sondheim, because it is.

I don't know. I've been babbling (why two "b"s in the middle of that word? One would have done just as well. That is the waste of a "b" in my book. Or should that be bbook, as long as we're being so free with the "b"s). You see, this is the result when you write a column after you've just written a column. Total incoherence. Just the way we like it, huh, dear readers. In fact, this whole column so far is like the revival of 1776: It's okay, but haven't we seen it? But enough about me.

On the Town

When I saw On The Town in the Park, I thought it fairly dreadful (with the exception of a few cast members) and when talk started about a move for the production, I pooh-poohed it. Or should that be poo-pooed it. I guess the first way was perhaps inspired by Winnie The Pooh, and the second was inspired by... oh, let's not go there. Anyway, I pooh-pooed it (there... the best of both worlds: childrens books and copraphilia all in one hyphenated word). Have I gone around the bend, or what? How do you go around a bend? I know there was a point here, what was it? Oh, yes, On the Town. So, after poopooing it, imagine my surprise when the move was announced. George C. Wolfe would still be at the helm, but choreographer Eliot Feld was going to step (pun absolutely intended) aside and Christopher d'Amboise was going to create all new dances. Major recasting was going to be done. It was to go into rehearsal at the end of February. But guess what. Mr. Wolfe and Mr. d'Amboise could not see eye to eye, and Mr. d'Amboise has resigned from the show. So it is off. They are saying it might still happen in September, but I, being the poopooer that I am, seriously doubt it. Remember a few sentences ago when I said Wolfe would be at the helm? That has jogged The Real A's memory banks, and I'll discuss why a little later. In the world of television, this is known as a "tease".

The Aftermath of the War

So, the war is over. The oratorio is finished. And frankly, for me, a little postwar depression has set in. No more e-mails from my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim. No more e-mails from the only earthly Lord I know. I feel a part of this column has died in a way. I weep the soft tears of one who has lost something that took up a lot of space. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to talk about now? I have to do all the merrymaking myself? This is vastly unfair and I feel empty and hollow. Wait a second, I'm just getting an e-mail. Wonder who it could be from? Let's see...

Date: Wed, January 14, 1998 20:56:56
To: The Real A (
From: Ben Brantley (

Dear The Real A:

I happened upon your column a few weeks ago (I wish that we had something like it here at The Times!) and I know it's a work-in-progress, but I felt I really had to review the oratorio, Andrew Lloyd Webber's How I Won The War, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. I know people who read this will be saying, but he hasn't even heard the music yet, but as Lord Lloyd Webber said, just knowing it's by him is enough. My review:

Seldom in one's lifetime does a musical piece come along, that is so dynamic, so dramatic, so magical, so spectacular in its execution, that one simply can't put into words the emotions it evokes. Such a work is Andrew Lloyd Webber's new oratorio, with lyrics by one of London and Broadway's finest lyricists, Leslie Bricusse. I did not think the lyrics that Bill Russell wrote for Side Show could ever be topped, but Mr. Bricusse has risen to the task. And Lloyd Webber's music! I'll be able to say more after I've heard it, but just knowing how it will sit so beautifully on the words gives me the greatest pleasure I have had in years. We can only thank the forward thinking Mark Bakalor for allowing The Real A to have a column at the SSS. Even though the rest of the column is without point or merit, it did enable those giants of the musical theater, Lloyd Webber and Bricusse, to collaborate on this astonishing work. Even Mr. Sondheim must be in awe.

Vincent Canby will be doing a followup to this story, in which he too will rave. And even though he is no longer reviewing for this paper, I hear Frank Rich adores it, too (although there is no truth to the rumor that he has invested in the oratorio). Keep up the good work, and please pass my best along to the Lord.

Ben Brantley

My, my. Even the NY Times reads this column! Can you believe it? What a thrill. To have an exclusive review by Mr. Ben Brantley right here in this column. If you'd told me this was going to happen, I would have poooohpoooooed it, that is for sure. Well, I'm feeling less empty and hollow now. I feel I have some sense of purpose again. I might even go bid on ten or twenty items over at eBay.

A Tale of Helm

Remember earlier when I said Wolfe would be at the helm? The word "helm" struck a reverberant chord (F Major) in The Real A. It brought back a magical time from the real A's youth (the late 19th century). It made The Real A feel nostalgic. I'll explain, since nobody has a clue as to what the hell I'm going on about. Did you know you could also spell the word "clue" clew? It's true. Although you cannot spell the word "true" trew. What this has to do with the price of tomatoes, I haven't a clew. And what the price of tomatoes has to do with anything is anybody's guess. I've lost my train of thought. Ah, helm.

When The Real A was just a wee bairn, growing up in the sunkissed land of Los Angeles, California, we had the most wonderful place, which was known as the Helms Bakery. And every day, in neighborhoods all over the city, the Helms Man would arrive in his Helms Truck, and toot his Helms Whistle, and all the little kids, and sometimes even their moms and dads, would run out to the Helms Truck to buy fresh baked goodies. We, of course, left it to the moms and dads to buy the boring bread, but we kids would buy the freshly baked donuts. And what donuts they were. I cannot in any way describe to you, dear readers, the aroma that poured forth from that truck. When you stepped on to the truck and the Helms Man would open the drawers containing the donuts, it was like you'd entered another universe. There in the drawers were endless rows of the most delicious donuts that have ever been made. I am a donut aficionado (a word that only a gay spaniard could have come up with) and when I tell you there has never been a donut like a Helms donut, you are simply going to have to take my word for it. Crispy Creme? Feh. Dunkin' Donuts? A joke. When you bit into a Helms glazed donut, your whole being became glazed... Your eyes, your brain, everything, as you stood there transfixed with the glorious taste and smell running through every inch of you. Hyperbole? Absolutely not. Heaven? Absolutely. And the glazed donuts weren't even the best ones. No, the best ones were the chocolate donuts. Had I been hit by a truck after eating a Helms chocolate donut, I would have died a happy child. The closest we have to what a Helms chocolate donut was is Entenmann's Chocolate Donuts, and, while they are quite wonderful, they don't hold a candle to Helms. There are mornings when I wake up and I swear to you I think I hear the Helms Man coming down the street. But, alas, the Helms Man is no more. The Helms Truck is no more. Helms Bakery (the building) is the home of antique sellers and The Jazz Bakery, a jazz (no kidding) club. But to me it will always be the Helms Bakery. Of course, the saddest part is this: Can you imagine a parent of today letting their child run out to the street and board a truck and buy an unwrapped donut? No, the world is not such a safe and protected place for children as it once was. And we're a little sadder for it.

Okay, I will admit it here and now. You see the space between the last paragraph and this one? Well, in that space I drove to the market and got a box of Entenmann's Chocolate Donuts, and I have eaten three of them already. Such is the power and danger of too much nostalgia. Serves me right for ever using such an inane word as helm. What in tarnation was I thinking of?

Letters... We Get Letters...

Every day when The Real A comes home from a hard day doing whatever it is The Real A does, it is so much fun to read all my lovely e-mail from you, dear readers. It warms the cockles (don't even) of my heart. And here they are.

John (or Hao - John was in the header, but the note was signed Hao - so I'm opting for John even though it could be Hao and if it is Hao, then why does it say John? Who is John if it isn't Hao? Is this the longest parens in the history of writing?) wants to know if I can print the lyrics to Being Alive. John (or Hao) is seventeen and has just discovered the song and loves it (with good reason), but he can't make out two sections of it. Normally I might, but I'm trying to pack and write the answers to the e-mails at the same time, which is more difficult than you might imagine. I've accidentally typed the word "socks" about six times already. But I'm sure if you went over to Finishing The Chat and asked, one of those Sondheim Scholars over there, they'd probably be more than happy to do so for you.

Erzulie has found another stupid horse saying: You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. This is not quite accurate, however. If you lead a horse to water and it won't drink, just kick it in the butt really hard and by yiminee that horse will do just what you want it to. Erzulie also has learned what "you can't look a gift horse in the mouth" means. Basically, it's the thought that counts. So, being a semi-sane person, I ask, why not just say it's the thought that counts? Why go through a whole thing about a horse? I say we get whoever is responsible for all these horse sayings and we make them eat a jar of horseradish.

Evan wrote to tell me he enjoys the column, and I'm writing him back to tell him that I enjoy the fact that he enjoys the column.

Matt asks if I've heard the new Dave Grusin version of West Side Story. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't, although it is sitting near the CD player and I will get to it soon. But I can tell you that I am a huge Grusin fan, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it. Grusin has written some great film scores, including Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Three Days Of The Condor, On Golden Pond, Tootsie, and more recently The Firm and Mulhullond Falls.

J. Michael (in what has to be the most surreal e-mail this week) thinks that my reference to "my close personal friend Guido" coupled with my sign off from 1776 means that I could possibly be his close personal friend Michael Tough, who is a singing janitor. I don't quite know how to answer this, really. Have you heard of the drug Lithium? Only kidding. No, I am happy to report that I am not, nor have I ever been one Michael Tough, singing janitor. However, if I could be any other person but The Real A, I now think I would want to be Michael Tough, singing janitor, just so I could have a card that said: Michael Tough - Singing Janitor.

Jule wants to know if we are related, as we both love the original version of Follies. Yes, Jule, I feel we are related, and I feel we are both better for it.

Brian writes to tell me that he likes the column even if he doesn't always agree with me. Though I hesitate to say it, that's what makes horse racing.

Trivia and Useless Knowledge Department

Well, apparently The Real A's clever trivia question was undone again by that, that, that person known as Banfield. Is there anything that isn't in that book? And you know the little creep got all his real dirt from me, you just know he did. I have poo- pooed this book for years, and will continue to do so, as he is such an easy source of information. And yes, Jon got the correct answer (as did Gary, Mark, Eben, and Josh): One of Sondheim's favorite film composers and a big influence on him was the brilliant Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann (for those who don't know) wrote the classic scores to Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Psycho, The Magnificent Ambersons, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Taxi Driver and many many others. If you don't know his music, get thee to a store and buy some.

Since I don't really have time for a question this week (I'm packing, you know) or if I did come up with a question it would involve underwear or socks, I've decided that you should try to stump The Real A. That's right. You ask this weeks question. However, I warn you right here and now, that whatever you ask, my answer will be Lena Horne.

Send all questions to me at or use the form below...



Questions? Comments?

Two columns in one week. I don't think we'll be trying that again for awhile. I mean, what in tarnation was I thinking of? Of course on my return I will have a full report, which will include my thoughts on The Capeman and whatever else I have time to see. You know, I now have to go back and proof this column, which I think is going to be genuinely frightening. Perhaps I'll just go eat one more Entenmann's chocolate donut.

Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...

Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

The Real A

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