« One From Column A...
Mr. Mark Bakalor gave me some interesting stats this week. What are stats you ask? Well, Stat's was a restaurant I went to as a youngster. They had cheeseburgers in which they would melt the cheese inside the burger, so that when you cut into said burger it would erupt with an excess of cheese. Oops, there's that naughty word "excess" again. This erupting of the burger was very peculiar but somewhat amusing. I have never seen such a thing before or since. Was I talking about something? Oh, yes, stats. As in statistics. He tells me that we are read by some mighty interesting folks. Like someone from the U.S. Senate is reading this column. Well, I guess they are always on the lookout for excess drivel and what better place to find said drivel than right here? Also, someone from Dreamworks reads the column. Now, listen up, you Dreamworks people: Let's turn One From Column A into a tv series! What are you waiting for? You need a hit, for God's sake, and here it is, staring you right in the face. And Sony, and Playbill, and the New York Times, and lots of other interesting types. What are the meaning of these stats? Well, for one thing it means that this column is spreading, like a fungus. And a spreading column, like the spreading chestnut tree, is a good thing. And just what the hell is a spreading chestnut tree? I have never seen an actual spreading chestnut tree, although I've read about them. And let's examine the word "chestnut" for a moment, shall we? I understand someone can be a chest nut, in other words a lover of chests. Like the chest of a person, or a chest of drawers (why anyone would want a chest solely filled with underwear is another story), or a treasure chest. And who came up with drawers as a synonym for underwear? Of course, underwear brings up a whole slew of amusing words, like panties. Which I suppose means "little pants" but if that's true how come only ladies' underwear are called "panties"? How come boys don't get to wear panties? Well, some boys wear the panties but that is a whole other column in itself. You know, I know I was talking about something but I simply can't remember what the hell it was. Oh, yes, "chestnut". This, you see, is the joy of free association. "Chestnut" to "panties". Makes sense to me. Anyway, why is a chestnut named chestnut? The nut doesn't come from the chest, does it? Does a walnut come from a wall? And how about the peanut? Certainly the nut doesn't come from a pea. Does the cashew come from cash? I understand if you keep money in your loafers that that's a "cash shoe", but who gave this fershluganah name to a nut? A nut, that's who. Chestnut. Walnut. Pecan. Praline. Hazelnut. These are a list of the stupidest words ever invented. But the worst of the nut names is almond. Now, I happen to like almonds, but what idiot came up with the name? Al Mond? I just cannot fathom someone looking at that particular nut and saying "I think I'll call that an almond". You're all thinking The Real A has turned into a nutcase, aren't you? We have obviously had an excess of palaver on the subject of nut names. And all because of the spreading chestnut. That's right, blame the fershluganah chestnut, blame the erupting cheeseburger, but don't blame me, dear readers.
Goodness, that was an exhilarating diatribe, wasn't it? I'm sure you all had no idea where that whole thing was going, and I hope that the fact that it went absolutely nowhere lived up to all your expectations. The bird outside is singing Soon It's Gonna Rain (in an interesting bossa nova arrangement) and guess what? It's started to rain. Damn prescient bird, if you ask me.
Oh, the palaver quotient has been especially high thus far. We have had a plethora of palaver. The rain is beating a tattoo on the roof. What a tattoo is doing on the roof I have no idea. But, I suppose if there can be a fiddler on the roof, there can be a tattoo on the roof. Now would probably be a good time to end this section of the column, but like the producers The Dodgers, I just don't know when to end something. But enough about me.
Dear reader Tiffany reminded me that I could not possibly have crossed the line in regards to synonyms for genitalia, when that fine fellow, Mr. Stephen Sondheim had paved the way for me in his show Sweeney Todd. The character of the beggar woman has some choice synonyms for genitalia, including squiff, bush and crumpet. Nothing as choice as zubrick and yoni, which remain the highwater marks of genitalia synonyms. In any case, all this talk of genitalia got me to thinking about Sweeney Todd.
There is no adequate way to describe one's reaction to seeing this show on Broadway, in its original production. As with most of the Sondheim/Prince collaborations, there had never been anything quite like it. It was shocking, violent, funny, moving, frequently all within the space of a few minutes. Sweeney Todd is an astonishing piece of theater, and Sondheim's score is a true masterpiece.
Obviously, as always is the case with a Harold Prince show, the musical was stunning to look at. The sets and costumes of Eugene and Franne Lee and the lighting of Ken Billington were nothing short of brilliant. When you entered the theater there were already things happening on stage, including two gravediggers digging a fresh grave. Then, an organist sat down and started playing, the house lights dimmed, and that horrifyingly shrill factory whistle screamed and the audience was off on a musical theater roller coaster ride. The opening number was wonderfully evocative, set the scene perfectly, and gave one of the theater's greatest entrances to Sweeney, who rose up from the freshly dug grave. But when the show toured it didn't have that chilling effect and Sweeney's entrance didn't have nearly the same power. Such a shame that the touring production was taped for broadcast and video rather than the Broadway production.
The cast I saw on Broadway was pretty perfect. It was just a couple of months into the run, so all the original people were there with the exception of Victor Garber, who'd already left and been replaced by Cris Groenendaal. Everyone did a terrific job. And as for Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, they simply gave two of the greatest performances in the history of the musical theater. Both were unforgettable true star turns. There has been much debate and much talk about whether Len Cariou or George Hearn was better as Sweeney. Most seem to side with Hearn, but I think this is simply because it is he who is in the video and who people remember. Hearn did a fine job in the role, but to my mind Sweeney will always belong to Len Cariou. Hearn was very much in your face right from the get go. Cariou gave Sweeney many more colors and shadings and so his eruptive moments were much more powerful. His was one of the most intense performances I've ever seen. He was madness itself, but a madness in layers, not all on one level. His rage was so frightening, that in Epiphany you could literally see the audience shrink back in their seats. Lansbury brought the needed comic relief to the show, and she was a delight throughout, in a very complexly drawn performance. I think that the show that was taped for posterity was only a pale shadow of what was on Broadway. The set wasn't nearly as elaborate, the spurting blood had been toned way down, and Lansbury, by the time they'd taped it, had gotten a little shticky and hammy.
I cannot say enough about Sondheim's score. It has everything. Beautiful ballads, great comedy numbers, illuminating character pieces, and shocking atonal outbursts for the tortured Mr. Todd. My only criticism is that it goes on a bit long every now and then, especially in Pirelli's Miracle Elixir. That minor caveat aside, there isn't a bum note in the score. Jonathan Tunick did his finest work on this show, and his orchestrations are breathtaking. It's just one great musical moment after another: Johanna, Not While I'm Around, A Little Priest, The Worst Pies In London, Green Finch and Linnet Bird, Pretty Women, By The Sea...most musicals would kill to have just one of those songs! One of my personal favorite musical moments in the show is the number Kiss Me, which is the kind of number no one but Sondheim can write. I hate to keep dragging out that old chestnut "breathtaking" but it so aptly describes so much of Sweeney. Did you notice how I slipped in "chestnut" again, but with a whole new meaning? Where was I? Oh, yeah, Sweeney Todd. If you've never seen it, be sure to take a look at the video. Even though it is a compromised version of the Broadway production, it's still the show in its original staging and the score sings forth in all its mesmerizing glory. It's an experience you'll never forget.
You know what my problem is right now? I just ate more garlic than you can shake a stick at. I ate so much garlic that people a block away could smell me coming. That is a lot of garlic let me tell you. I had the famous roasted garlic chicken pizza, only they should just call it the roasted garlic, because the pizza and chicken are totally irrelevant. I'm grossing even myself out. For two days I'm going to smell like this, which means that no one will come near me and I'll just have to sit on my couch like so much fish, reeking and smelling up my own house. I even bought Breath Assure, but the only thing Breath Assure can assure you of is that it does not work if you've eaten roasted garlic chicken pizza.
What section am I in? Oh, yeah, My Favorite Things. At this particular moment, roasted garlic chicken pizza is not high on the list, although it is very tasty while you're actually eating it.
I have recently won a couple of trivial but interesting things over at eBay, all of which have to do with Los Angeles. I've already talked about certain LA things in past My Favorite Things sections. I go on and on about LA because it truly used to be a unique and wonderful city. In the last thirty years or so, they've pretty much taken all the charm out of it. Which brings me to Hollywood. That's right, you heard it here. Hollywood. City of dreams. The magic of Hollywood Boulevard. However, if you were to drive down the boulevard today you wouldn't think it was so magical. Driving down it today, you can only shake your head and think, what is it, fish? But when I was growing up (when Hollywood was merely an orange grove) Hollywood Boulevard was a really magical street, and I spent practically every weekend of my teenage years down there. Even then, it was starting to go downhill, but it still had enough charm that you forgave it. In speaking of Hollywood Boulevard, I speak specifically of the mile-and-a-half stretch between Grauman's Chinese (never Mann's Chinese do you hear me???? I kick people in the shins if they say Mann's Chinese!) and Vine Street.
My usual routine was to sneak into my parent's bedroom early in the morning. My mother would be in the kitchen making breakfast and my father would still be in bed, blissfully snoring away. My father's snoring could be heard for miles and he was justly famous in our neighborhood for it. Nothing could awaken my father, short of an anvil falling on his head, and so one was safe in the knowledge that one could sneak into their bedroom and do anything one wanted without disturbing the snoring father. So, I would sneak in there, stealthily go to the chair where his pants were lying, remove the large wad of cash he always carried, and took a few twenties which I knew he would never miss. Now, before you go getting all moral and outraged, I'll tell you that this kid's allowance (yes, allowance!) was five dollars a week. I simply could not live the lifestyle that I wished to live on five dollars a week. That is just the way it was. There were movies to see, meals to eat, albums to buy. I Was A Teenage Thief. Shoot me.
Anyway, off I'd go to Hollywood Boulevard. I'd always have to see one of the blockbuster movies (always in 70mm, one simply couldn't see 35mm if one could help it). I remember seeing the film of West Side Story every Saturday for fourteen weeks in a row (lyrics by someone named Stephen Sondheim, in case you didn't know). I'd eat a fine meal at Coffee Dan's (their Dodger Burger was especially wonderful) or Musso and Frank's (still open and still the best restaurant around) or Diamond Jim's. Then I'd walk the entire length of the boulevard, from the Chinese to Vine and back, one side of the street going, the other side coming back. There were so many wonderful shops to go in - to browse and even occasionally make a purchase with one of those pilfered twenties. Pickwick Books (the greatest bookshop ever - it eventually was bought by B. Dalton who forever ruined it), Larry Edmunds Cinema Shop (still around, different location), some neat used book shops, Phil Harris Records (where I bought many a cast album), and on and on. Stopping in front of all the great movie theaters, like the Warner Cinerama, the Egyptian, the Paramount, the Pantages. And I always wound up at my favorite of all Hollywood places, my home away from home, C.C. Brown's.
For those who don't know, C.C. Brown's was a Hollywood institution since 1927. They served hot fudge sundaes. Oh, you could get banana splits and other exotic concoctions, but those in the know always had the hot fudge sundae, with an occasional detour for a butterscotch sundae. This was not a big gloppy mess of a sundae. It was one scoop of home made vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of that infamous idiotic thing called almonds. Served on the side was an urn of your very own freshly made hot fudge, which you then poured on top of your ice cream, either in one great big hot fudge fell swoop, or, parceled out over the course of eating the sundae (the preferred way). There is simply no way to describe to you, dear readers, the taste of the hot fudge, except to say you have tasted no more wonderous flavor in your life. I was very close with the family that ran C.C. Brown's, the Schumachers, and I watched their children grow up before my very eyes. The entire family worked in the emporium. Over the years the kids grew older, some of them moved away, some married, and I knew that C.C. Brown's days were numbered. Then, three years ago, Mr. Schumacher died. One year later, the family decided it was time to close C.C Brown's. When they announced the closing, I was in New York. I arrived back in LA on a Friday and had several tearful messages on my machine from other C.C. Brown's lovers. The final day was Saturday, but the closing had been announced on the news, and so everyone was clamoring to get in and have one final sundae. I drove down immediately, but the line was three blocks long. One of the Schumacher kids, Heidi, saw me outside and immediately came out to me and told me they'd desperately tried to get in touch with me to tell me of the closing, but I'd moved and they didn't have my new number. There was no way to get me in (without causing a riot) so she invited me to a "special friends" closing party the next day. About fifty of us gathered and had our final sundaes. It was tearful and nostalgic and sad. Heidi gave me her card (she's now a successful chiropractor) and said they'd still be selling the hot fudge to anyone who called. And with that, the doors closed on both a Hollywood institution and to my mind Hollywood itself. For me, it was the end of an era. Of course, I still have jars of the hot fudge, but it's not the same.
Boy, have I been waxing nostalgic. I do hope I haven't been like a tiresome party guest who just goes on and on about things that no one gives a flying Wallenda about. I do hope you all give a flying Wallenda about my reminiscences because it is so much fun to wax nostalgic. I find if you don't wax nostalgic every now and then you get that waxy buildup and then what? Please, just shoot me before I write another word.
Cripes, I thought I'd never finish waxing nostalgic, did you? But I do hope you gave a flying Wallenda because it is ever so much fun to give a flying Wallenda. It is now five in the morning (different morning than before). I simply could not sleep anymore. Why? I woke myself up three times from the smell of garlic, that's why. Yes, I brushed my teeth ad nauseum before bedtime, popped a few more useless Breath Assure capsules and still, the overpowering smell of garlic actually awakened me. I lie there thinking "Who smells like this?" but since I was the only one there, the answer was sickeningly obvious. Do you know that you can "lie" in bed (prone), you can "lie" in bed (tell a fib to your bed partner if you should happen to have one, if they haven't run off because of the reeking smell of garlic) and you can have "lye" in bed, although I would not recommend the latter. Lie, lie, lye. Surely, that is some wordsmith's idea of comedy.
Goodness me, I just got the most amazing e-mail, which I'll of course share with you now, that is presuming you give a flying Wallenda.
Dear The Real A:
You know, I simply could not lurk anymore, I just had to write and tell you that my beloved Jimmy and I read your column all the time. I get a real kick out of it, and Jimmy just sits there (like so much fish) and doesn't get it at all. If it's not Marcus Welby he doesn't know from it. I have finally found happiness with Jimmy. The other seven hundred and thirty men I've been with were only diversions, I was never really happy, I only thought I was happy, but now that I'm happy I know that I wasn't really happy.
I just love Stephen and his work, even though the guy sometimes doesn't know from a lyric, and I have to ask him to fix them for me. Send In The Clowns...Who could sing that song? It made no sense till he wrote me my own special verse. I'm an actress, I have to be able to play the lyric and the lyric was missing something and I couldn't play it until he wrote me that special verse then I could play it fine. Judy Collins? Sure, she sold a million copies of it, but it didn't make any sense. But what does Judy Collins know about a lyric, she sings folk songs.
I don't want you to worry if people give a flying whatever for your nostalgic waxjobs... Jimmy and I love them. Oh, before I forget, our favorite synonyms for genitalia are muff and dong. We like them so much, that we gave those names to our two dogs. Unfortunately, they're both male, and Muff is very confused. Anyway, I called my friends The Bergmans, and had them write you a special lyric to one of my biggest hit songs, The Way We Were. I'll sing it to you now (we'll fix the high notes later).
Isn't that beeyouteeful? Jimmy is in tears right now. He just loves the way I sing lyrics by the Bergmans. We watch Yentl over and over again for that very reason (I directed it, you know, and those putzes couldn't even give me an Oscar! Putz is a synonym for genitalia, by the way, and is a perfect description of every male in Hollywood, except my beloved Jimmy). Well, I have to run now. We're trying to figure out who the next big thing is in the record business, so that I can go do a duet with them.
(I love that he doesn't mind that my name will always be before his - now that's a secure man!)
This is amazing. I was such a fan of Marcus Welby and to get a letter from James Brolin is incredible. Wow! And thank you Barbra (Babs to her close personal friends) for having the Bergmans write those beautiful words.
Before we get to this week's letters, I now know why everything was so weird this morning. It wasn't really five in the morning after all. It was six in the morning, and no one, but no one had the good taste to tell me it was daylight savings time, that we had to Spring Forward. I was left totally unsprung. My VCR however was smart enough to change its time all by itself. Now it's an hour later than I thought it was and I still reek of garlic. Who made up daylight savings time anyway? I would like that butt cheek to step forward and take a bow. Okay, one, two, three... Butt cheek!
Anyway, on to the letters, which I would have already answered an hour ago if it weren't stupid daylight savings time.
cheshirecat offers these two synonyms for genitalia: Wally and The Beaver. Excellent!
Brad would like to know how my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim's show Saturday Night was received in London. I believe it was received politely by the press, who felt the book was outdated and too long, and that the score had lovely things in it and that it pointed the way for what was to come from Mr. Sondheim. Polite and respectful, but no raves. The show was recorded by First Night Records and will be out someday.
Heather asks what is Stephen Sondheim's favorite color? Well, if Sondheim were a coprophiliac his favorite color would, of course, be brown. I do know that the decor in his home tends to darker hues if that helps. If his shows are any indication, red would be a good bet, as blood makes an appearance in several Sondheim shows. Perhaps one of our Jon's could write a thesis on the recurring blood motif.
Abigail wrote to tell me that she hasn't been writing because her computer had a virus. After feeding it soup and poached eggs and having the hard drive erased, everything was all better, until it completely broke down. I feel Abigail's computer's problems are deeper than a mere virus. I think the computer needs to be in analysis, frankly, as that could help with the breakdown. Frequently computers suffer stress syndrome and just shut down, and then they just need to seek professional help. Sometimes Prozac works wonders. Abigail was sorry to have missed the Live Chat as her computer is Java enabled, that is Java enabled when it is working. Well, we will have another Live Chat soon and hopefully Abigail will be able to join us, as hopefully her computer will be well and normal and living a functional life once again.
Spock wants to know if anyone makes money off this website, and if so, how. I have already disclosed how much money I am paid to write this fershluganah column: $0.00. I don't think Mr. Mark Bakalor makes any money either. I think this is very obvious from looking at his wardrobe (although when he was a woman he had some very nice pantsuits). I do believe it costs Mr. Bakalor money to run this site. Mr. Bakalor does design other websites and I should hope he does earn some money from that. Otherwise, we shall all have to send Mr. Bakalor cheese slices and ham chunks so that he doesn't starve. If Spock knows of a way for Mr. Bakalor to make money off this site, please beam Mr. Bakalor up and tell him. And while you're at it, try to get me a raise.
Tiffany wants to know if there's a difference in how I receive e-mails - if they're sent direct or from the form below. Frankly, I don't know anything at all about how this stuff works, all I know is that they are somehow magically transported to me so that I can read them whilst sitting on my couch like so much fish. Tiffany also wanted me to know that she too cracks her toes. Excellent! There cannot be enough toe cracking in my book (Chapter 14 - Toe Cracking for the Masses).
Jim thankfully wrote to correct my heinous (heinous, do you hear?) mistake in calling the opening number of Evening Primrose "When" instead of its proper title "If You Can Find Me, I'm Here". Hopefully, by the time you read this, Mr. Mark Bakalor will have gone in and fixed my heinous (heinous, do you hear?) mistake so that said mistake will have been totally erased, with no trace, just like in Mr. George Orwell's finest novel Nineteen Eighty Four.
Julia wrote to say that she too cracks her toes. I feel we should have a Live Toe Cracking Party. I will bring the cheese slices and ham chunks. We will drink Diet Coke and crack our toes, while looking at the cheese and ham and asking what is it, fish?
Yves offered his favorite synonyms for genitalia: Tweeter and Snatch. Excellent! Sounds like an Aaron Spelling show from the Seventies.
TC took exception to my little comment about John Michael La Chiusa, of whom TC is a fan. Well, I have to have fun at somebody's expense and it may as well be Mr. La Chiusa. I just don't like his name, frankly. It is just way too much name for one person. That said, I feel he is an interesting writer who hasn't quite found his voice yet.
Brian wants to know where he can get the video of Evening Primrose. The only way you can legally view the show, is to go to the Museum of Television in Los Angeles or New York. However, there are nefarious people (the kinds of people who used to remove twenties from their fathers' pants) who do have bootleg copies of the tape. If you check the classifieds in Show Music there is usually someone advertising such things. Or search "nefarious" on the Internet.
Elan gave me a nice explanation of the derivation of "flying by the seat of your pants". In olden days (The Real A knows all about the olden days) a skilled pilot would know his plane's condition by the vibrations he felt in his butt cheeks. Okay, one, two, three... Butt cheeks! You see, the plane's engine was located directly beneath the seat, hence said vibrations. I will accept that explanation, although I sometimes feel vibrations in my butt cheeks, and I have no engine beneath me. These butt cheek vibrations just happen sometimes. They just come out of nowhere. Suddenly your butt cheeks just vibrate of their own accord. This is a frightening thing.
Only one person got the correct answer to last week's question. That is very unusual for you Sondheim experts. Andrew Milner got it right, and in fact his was the only guess. The 50s album Sondheim wrote the liner notes to was The Columbia Album of Jerome Kern, performed by Paul Weston and his Orchestra.
This week's trivia question:
Sondheim has worked with many talented "behind the scenes" people. Which of them went on to produce a Sondheim show?
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...
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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