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

February 23, 1998 - #23

Well, dear readers, this is a red letter day. Not a blue or a green letter day. No, a red letter day! Today is the day that The Houseguest is leaving to go to on their merry way. Now, remember, I like The Houseguest. The Houseguest is very nice. For a few days. Five weeks of The Houseguest is, well, just a little too much Houseguest, in my opinion. But that's all over now. Now The Real A can go back to sitting on the couch like so much fish. Yes, this is a red letter day, all right. That is one expression that I'm glad somebody came up with, because it just describes this day so very well. Of course, when you think about it, it makes no sense whatsoever. I'm sure it had some meaning at some time, but this is not the time, so why is it still part of our lingo? What letter are they talking about? Any letter? Or does it have something to do with Hester and The Scarlet Letter "A"? Wait! If that's true, then how very appropriate! That would make it a red "A" letter day, and what better kind of a day than that for The Real Red Letter A? I knew this paragraph would go somewhere. It was endless, but it got there. Never fear, dear readers, I will always get to the point.

I was flipping around the tv dial the other night (no mean feat - I mean, have you ever flipped around the tv dial? They should have a category for that at the Olympics), and, lo and behold, I came upon the Olympics. I was immediately perturbed that there was no flipping around the tv dial event going on, so I had to settle for the skating. Now, don't get me wrong (as if), I like figure skating (watching, not doing), I find it very pretty and graceful and the music is sometimes nice, too. It's the commentators that I can't stand. They just sit there, droning on and on, taking all the grace and magic out of the imagery. I mean, there is that cutie pie, Tara Lipinski, doing a beautiful thing in the air. And what do they call that beautiful thing she just did in the air? A triple sow cow. How, from that beautiful thing she did in the air, do they come up with triple sow cow? What is that? It sounds like three pigs and a side of beef to me. Either a very warped individual or a person with a wry sense of humor came up with that. And what about a lutz? What kind of name is that? If I were able to execute a beautiful graceful move and someone called it a "lutz" I would find them and choke the very life out of them. "Lutz" is fine as a name in a law firm, like Lutz, Lutz, and Carr, but not to describe a nice move by a skater. And then there is the ubiquitous toe loop. I have tried looping my toe, and it looks nothing like what those skaters are doing. I'm just staring at the word "ubiquitous" and thinking why? That is my only thought when I look at the word "ubiquitous". You know how that word was invented? Someone threw a bunch of letters into the air and that's the way they landed. That is the only explanation that makes sense. Where the hell was I? Oh, yes, triple sow cow, lutz, and toe loop. Sounds like a description of The Three Stooges to me.

Have I said that this was a red letter day? I have a vague memory of it, but the beginning of the column was so long ago I've totally forgotten, and since I'm just sitting here on my couch like so much fish, I'm just not going to go back and look. I went on a cashew nut binge last night. Sometimes one simply must. I ate a whole bag in one fell swoop. Stop. Hold it. Halten zie column. One fell swoop???? Just look at "one fell swoop": It just sits there, defying you to make sense of it. What does it mean??? It sounds stupid, it looks stupid, therefore it must be stupid. And what does that make me? I used it, for heaven's sake. Well, did I really use it for heavens' sake? I've never been to heaven, don't know heaven from Adam, so why did I say "for heaven's sake"? And where does Adam fit into this picture? And what is this picture? I've lost my train of thought. My Amtrak of thought, as it were, has deserted me. Oh, yes, one fell swoop, that's where we were. I think it would read better as "one swell foop" don't you? I don't know. This whole column is starting to feel ubiquitous to me. I look at this column, thus far, and I think, what is it, fish? If I continue in this vein (as opposed to another vein), this column will be just like The Fantasticks: It will never end. But enough about me.


Before we talk about Big, we have to start the countdown to The Houseguest's departure. It's T minus two hours. I hear packing. This is a good sign for a successful exit.

I had occasion to see the touring company of the musical Big. For those of you who don't know, Big was a Big Flop on Broadway, even though its producers managed to eke out a run of a few months. It was a much-hyped show, and its creators thought they had a sure thing. Well, nothing is sure in the world of musical theater, and sure enough, the sure thing turned out not to be a sure thing. The musical version of the hit film just refused to work. The score had very nice things in it, but the production was bloated, and was teeming with far-too-many hyper kids on skateboards, spending meaningless amounts of stage time doing nothing meaningful, and taking the focus from the story. I thought the biggest problems were with the director and choreographer, the husband and wife team of Ockrent and Stroman. Ockrent never found the heart of the piece (which is what Big is all about) and Stroman just brought on those kids everytime she perceived the action flagging.

But the authors of the show were convinced that they had a success buried somewhere within what the show had become. And Pace (the producers of the tour) thought that they could sell the show on the road, given the popularity of the film. They brought in a new director, Eric Schaeffer, who had had some notable successes directing Sondheim shows at the Signature Theater. The authors went back to square one, putting back material that had been cut on the road, or taken out in rehearsal. The book was streamlined and focused. And Schaeffer's goal was to simply make Big smaller.

The show has been touring for around six months now, and has done good to above average business most places. But I'm sorry to say, that despite all the hard work the show still refuses to come alive and work the way it should. There is still a good musical there waiting to get out, in my opinion. Eric Shaeffer's downsizing of the show does focus the story better, but he is a bland director and the show has no life and no sparkle. His choreographer does equally bland staging. The sets are simply the worst I have ever seen in a professional production, worse than some high school efforts I've seen. The reduced orchestrations work just fine, and the show sounds good. The score by my close personal friend Mr. David Shire (yes, he of the coprophiliac joke book and "Tick Tock") and Richard Maltby has lots of different material from the Broadway production, but not always for the better. The cast is just fine, and in the case of its star, Jim Newman, more than fine. He is much better than the Broadway Josh was, and really brings warmth, humor and reality to the role, while never bringing to mind the film's star, Tom Hanks. It's a shame it doesn't work better, but it has its moments and is worth a look if it comes to your town.

T minus ninety minutes. The Loading Of The Car is occuring. I have helped load, this is how I know.

My Favorite Things

Okay, we all have our guilty pleasures. You know it, I know it, the Houseguest knows it. There is no accounting for a guilty pleasure. It just exists. One can't explain it. It's something you shouldn't like, and yet you do. So, here is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's a film musical you've never heard of called Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? Don't look at me, I didn't make the title up. It's a film with music, script and direction by the ubiquitous Anthony Newley. Fresh from his triumph in Stop The World - I Want To Get Off, and the semi-not-so-triumph of The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd. It was released in 1969, played one week, and disappeared without a trace. It had a lot of nudity, and for that reason has never been shown on television. It is a very autobiographical film for Mr. Newley, and how Universal Pictures gave him the money to do it is a mystery that has never been solved. Newley plays a film director, who, for some reason is on a beach with a projector, script writers, and various people and paraphernalia from his past. I think he means this to be Felliniesque ala 8 1/2. In this film, Newley paints such an unsympathetic portrait of himself that you sit there in quiet amazement while he cheats on his wife (played by then real-life wife Joan Collins), ignores his kids and whines incessantly. And he expects you to empathize with him. That is the truly amazing and horrifying thing about the film. The highest moment is when Newley stands atop a hill in a flowing Jesus-like robe and sings a paean to himself entitled I'm All I Need. A sample lyric:

I'm all I need,
If I've got me I've got rainbows...
If I've got me just you see how the rain goes
For I've got somebody who cares,
Someone who shares my company...
Dump anything but pity on my plate,
I'm standing straight
And I'm sitting pretty.
While I've got me
I've got a sky full of bluebirds...

Well, you get the idea. And yet the film is mesmerizing in its awfulness. Just when you think it cannot possibly sink any lower, be more depraved, Newley crosses the line again. Perhaps this is what I like about it, the crossing of the line, because, as you know, dear readers, I too just love to cross the line. The cast is a weird hodgepodge, and includes Stubby Kaye, George Jessell (as Death), Victor Spinetti (the tv director from A Hard Day's Night), Ms. Collins and their real-life children, and a plethora of Playboy Playmates including beautiful Connie Kreski. . It's not available on video (c'mon Universal!), but if you ever have a chance to see it, you must.


T minus one hour. The Houseguest has made one trip already and is coming back to finish packing and loading. I am trying to not look like I'm ready to dance the Hora.

You didn't honestly think I would let the word "hodgepodge" go by without comment, did you? An authentic rhyming word. You simply can't say that that word has no rhyme or reason for existing, because it has a rhyme. Reason is a whole other ball of wax. And just what is a ball of wax? Oh, sometimes I think I shall go mad with all these pointless sayings. I'd like to get rid of all these pointless sayings in one fell swoop, but then this column would only be two lines long and wouldn't that be a fine kettle of what is it, fish?

Now, I don't want you to be jealous, dear readers, but I got a new toy this week. It's a machine that records cds. Yes, you heard it here. A machine that records cds. Or, to put it in the proper technical jargon, a cd recorder. So now I can take my crappy sounding cassettes and make cds out of them! And my scratchy lps, too! This is technology of the highest order. I have recorded several cds this week. They are perfect copies of my crappy cassettes and scratchy lps. Perfect digital clones. And I can now offer for sale crappy cassettes and scratchy lps to anyone who wants them. Am I not a 90s Real A? Am I not hip and with it? I am, and that is that.

Have you realized the heinous thing that's been going on in the column you've been reading? The absolutely heinous thing? We have not talked about my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Heinous, I say. After all, here we are on the Stephen Sondheim Stage Site, and there is no sight of Stephen Sondheim. We must remedy this posthaste. We must talk about Stephen Sondheim. Luckily, this is easier done than said because I have this very minute (T minus 40 minutes) received an e-mail from The Bearded One. Here it is.

Date: Sun, February 22, 1998 19:20:21
To: The Real A (
From: Stephen Sondheim (

Hey there, Real A:

It's been awhile I know, but I've been very busy, writing my new musical in a prone position. I read those e-mails from those nasty boys Frank Wildhorn and Maury Yeston. Don't they know whose site this is? Probably not, if they read your column. I don't have time to chit chat this week (last week I had time to chit chat, but no one asked me), so I'll be brief. Let me just say to the naysayers, if I can read this unmitigated drivel week in and week out, so can you. I don't want to hear any more complaining. Yes, this column is a hodgepodge, yes, this column is like so much fish, but so what? That's the way it is. There is no changing this Real A character. This is obvious in the extreme. So, let it go. I certainly stopped trying to make sense of what I read here long ago. Well, back to more prone writing.


Thanks, Steve, for the words of support. I couldn't have said it better if I'd written it myself!

T minus twenty-two minutes.

Letters... We Get Letters

Oh, but your letters do make me smile large. After a hard day there is nothing better than sitting on my couch like so much fish and reading all your wonderful letters. Well, almost all. Yes, this week we have had yet another disgruntled person write to us. But before we get to that, let's do a nice ones first. Oh, and T minus sixteen minutes and thirty- four seconds.

Pat wonders why in Mr. Maury Yeston's e-mail of last week, he refers to his "two-and-a-half" musicals (presuming he meant Titanic, Nine, and his half of Grand Hotel), and neglects his version of Phantom. I posed this question to Mr. Maury Yeston, and, wait a minute, he's just sending me his response:

Date: Sun, February 22, 1998 21:49:16
To: The Real A (
From: Maury Yeston (

Dear Real A:

The only reason I didn't mention my absolutely superb version of Phantom, is because I was referring to my musicals that have played on Broadway. As you know, that other fellow's version of Phantom is playing on Broadway, and let me tell you, it rankles me. Mine is ever so much more tuneful. I also didn't mention my hugely wonderful concept musical Goya, and my incredibly fantastically wonderful musical 1-2-3-4-5 (aka History Loves Company). So, if you add all those up, I suppose it's really 5 1/2 musicals, unless you count the two different titles of the last one mentioned and then it's 6 1/2 fabulously phenomenal musicals that I have penned. I hope this clears up the confusion, but don't ever write to me again unless you change the name of this site to The Maury Yeston Stage, and the name of your column to One From Maury Yeston.

Maury Yeston
Author of 5 or 6 1/2 musicals.

Well, Pat, there you have it, right from the horse's mouth. Pat also tells me about several dreams he's had, which are too lengthy and strange to print here. In one of them a nearby theater is performing Cy Coleman's Jurassic Park - The Musical. Pat, exactly what are you eating prior to your bedtime?

Okay here's the letter I alluded to before. We can add this to the disgruntled pile, where he/she joins Glen and S.M. (Soft Mattress? Sucky Metabolism? Sky Masterson?). This time it's from someone (Mr. Mark Bakalor informs me this naysayer is at Yale University) named "anonymous" (no last name included) at the following e-mail address: I, of course, print it in its entirety, as is my wont, because I know it is your want, and your want is my wont. I print it exactly as I received it, not one word changed, all typos and misspellings complete. Here it is:

For as muh as you enjoy wallowing in your own self-described "drivel" -- a tendency for which, I assure you, Stephen Sondheim would loathe this site -- I feel obligated to point out a serious error (made countless times) in this week's column. The attached sentence does not, I assure you, include any hypens whatsoever. Yes, believe it or not, there is a difference between a hypen and a dash; I distinctly recall the topic from my seventh grade punctuation exam. If you are going to waste space in what could be an extremely engaging and informative forum, I advice you to do so without such elemantary error.


Anonymous then goes on to quote the sentence he/she refers to: "But the one that combines everything (hyphen coming) - great book," etc.

Okay, Anonymous (no last name included), I see your point. You are correct. The first time I talked about the hyphens in last week's column, they were hyphens. But subsequently I did call certain dashes hyphens and for this I must hang my head in shame, and I apologize to each and every dash. But, if you are going to criticize someone's misuse of the word "hyphen" and you are going to cite (not sight or site) your seventh grade exam, you ought to learn how to spell the word you are talking about ("hypen"). Not to mention that you "advice" me. Frankly, I was sick the day of my seventh grade punctuation exam, hence I always call hyphens dashes and vice versa. As to my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, loathing this site (not cite or sight), I'm sorry to have to disappoint you. Mr. Stephen Sondheim loves this site, and this is the reason he has not finished his new musical yet. He spends all his time here at the Stephen Sondheim Stage. Truth or fiction? You decide.

e.j. (aka kokol) agrees with Tiffany about Len Cariou, and also confesses to a crush on Mr. Cariou and Sweeney Todd.

Abigail also confesses to a crush on Len Cariou and Sweeney Todd. Now girls, there simply isn't enough Cariou to go around. Two of you are going to have to develop other crushes. Might I suggest that one of you have a crush on Bobby Baby (like that would do you any good) and the other can have a crush on Hapgood (he's different, you know).

S. Lee Lewis writes to say that he had tickets to see Bernadette Peters in concert in Wilmington, but that at the last minute, Ms. Peters, for reasons unknown, cancelled the concert. S. Lee wants to know if I can shed any light on this. No. Although Ms. Peters has had her share of vocal problems and that could be the reason. Or perhaps a better gig came up. These things happen. S. Lee wants to know if B. Peters will be back in his area anytime soon, and I have asked our know-it-all (those were hyphens, Mr. Anonymous) host, Mr. Mark Bakalor, to do a little research:

  • February 24, 1998 - Milwaukee, WI - The Wisconsin Center-Bruce Hall
  • March 6 & 7, 1998 - Costa Mesa, CA - Orange County Performing Arts Center
  • March 12, 1998 - Akron OH - E.J. Thomas Hall
  • March 14, 1998 - New Brunswick, NJ - State Theatre
  • March 15, 1998 - Springfield, MA - Symphony Hall
  • March 27 & 28, 1998 - Dayton, OH - Convention Center
  • May 9, 1998 - Knoxville, TN - Knoxville Civic Coliseum
  • October 16-17, 1998 - Akron, OH - Thomas Hall

der Brucer (beloved of S. Woody White) tells me that the real name for water soluble tattoo transfers is "decalcomania" which is perhaps why Jon B's mom called them cockamamies. Thanks for the info, der Brucer.

GeordieMC sent me some zany wacky stuff, an example of which is: Would you like to join The Yoko Club? Oh no. I'll let you imagine the rest. Oh, and by the way, T minus 12 minutes. Oh, and by the way, what's a coprophiliac's favorite kids tv show? Howdy Doody.

Matt was concerned that I had let the naysayers get to me, when the column didn't go up on time last week. Matt, I can assure you, no naysayer will ever get to me. The only reason this column went up late last week was because that bad boy Mr. Mark Bakalor was stuck in some jalopy somewhere with a flat tire, no gas, water, or oil, and a defective clutch. Mr. Mark Bakalor insists it was a fuel injection problem in beautiful (?) downtown (?) Lost Hills, California.

Trivia and Other Useless Knowledge

Several good guesses, but no cigar. Although, in fact there could conceivably be two answers, so I will give points to the people who came up with Betty Buckley as the answer, as she apparently sent a tape of songs to Sondheim with the idea of doing an album, and he was less than enthusiastic with the way she sang them, which was not the way he wrote them. Whew. Now that was a run on sentence, wasn't it. That sentence seemed like it was never going to stop. And then, all of a sudden, in one fell swoop, it did. Where was I? Oh, yeah, the answer to the trivia question. Some people guessed Madonna, but that was totally incorrect. No, the answer I was searching for was the one and only Judy Collins. Her major Sondheim association, of course, was her hugely successful version of Send In The Clowns, which remains the most successful version of a Sondheim song ever recorded. She was planning to do an all-Sondheim album, and Steve had given his blessing to the project. She then began to ask him to sing on the album, to do a duet with her. He demurred. She persisted. He demurred some more. She persisted some more. Finally, he told her unequivically, no, there was no way he would sing on the album. Period. End of story. Well, as legend has it, Ms. Collins freaked out and started berating him on the phone in a most unbecoming manner. Yelling and screaming. This is not a good thing to do with Mr. Sondheim (or anyone else, for that matter). And that was the end of that. You won't find that in your Banfield, no, only here at the Stephen Sondheim Stage will you find that.

This week's trivia question is:

Mr. Sondheim has often been critical of people who use the term "arranger". Why? And what is the difference between an "arranger" and an "orchestrator"?

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



Questions? Comments?

T minus one minute. Well, another column bites the dust. I feel like it's been a triple sow cow column, with a lutz thrown in for good measure. T minus thirty seconds. And please remember the lesson we have learned today, thanks to anonymous (no last name included): A dash is a dash and a hypen is a hyphen. I will rest easier, and I hope you will as well. We simply must not confuse our dashes with our hyphens, because if we do chaos will ensue and then there will be no order and we'll all sit around in a state of confusion like so much fish. T minus zero: The Houseguest is officially on their way! I am alone! Free! Make no mistake, I like The Houseguest, but now I can get back to my routine. I can get back to the way things were. I am a creature of habit, dear readers, let us not forget that. And creatures of habit must be able to sit on their couch like so much fish. Only then can there be order and harmony and a lutz.

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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“I found [the Sondheim Celebration's Company] to be completely delightful. Almost all of the numbers excited and energized me, and most of the scenes were about as pitch-perfect as you can get. I just sat there with a big smile on my face the whole show.

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