« One From Column A...
Well, it's going to be a late night. I have really painted myself into a corner, haven't I, dear readers? I, who have no art ability whatsoever have nevertheless painted myself into a corner. Now what do I do? I am in a corner (which I painted myself into, I freely admit) and I'm feeling all claustrophobic and the smell of the paint is really starting to get to me. What the hell am I talking about? Is Samuel Beckett writing this column? I sound like I'm hallucinating. This is what happens when you write a column after midnight. It's that "boom, crunch" thing. I mean, you paint yourself into a corner and this is the result.
Anyway, after I ate my pizza with the pepperoni, I had a sweet tooth (one of my bicuspids). But I had no sweets with which to satisfy said tooth. Well, do you have any idea how annoying it is not to have anything with which to satisfy a sweet tooth? I finally found an unopened Pez machine and a thing of Pez candy. I loaded the machine and ate up all the Pez candy, all .000000000002 ounces of it. They were orange flavored. I hate orange flavor. So, now I've got heartburn and I'm also nauseous from the orange Pez. So I decide to watch a movie. I turn on Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster in Japanese with no subtitles. I actually get through twenty minutes of it before I realize I don't know what the hell this movie is about because everyone is speaking Japanese! I mean, I know it's about Godzilla and that there's a Smog Monster, but that is simply not enough. I need to know what the people are saying and what the plot is. Otherwise you just sit their watching the movie, thinking "What is it, fish?" Then I drank three Diet Cokes in a row because the pepperoni makes you really thirsty. Then I have to go to the bathroom every four minutes. On top of that it is both Good Friday and Passover. Do I eat bread or matzoh? Do I eat fish or meat? Confusion is running rampant. So, I have a choice: Do I go to bed, with heartburn and nausea and having to go to the bathroom every four minutes, or do I stay up and start writing my column? I think I made the right decision, don't you, dear readers? Besides, writing this drivel now means I don't have to write it in the morning.
The birds are sleeping (they have two shows tomorrow) but the crickets are out there chirping away madly. I love the sound of a cricket. For thirty seconds I love the sound, then I want to commit mayhem on the cricket. The sound of said cricket is particularly stupid. Do you know how hard it is to type a word like "particularly" after midnight? It is particularly hard. What you people don't know is that I've gone to the bathroom seven times since I started writing this. You see, dear readers, I feel I can share everything with you. I feel we have bonded. Writing this column late at night is just like when I used to hide the phone under my covers when I was a kid and call all my friends and talk until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, I simply cannot type the word "wee" after drinking three cans of Diet Coke. I'll be right back.
I'm back, and to prove it, I'm here. Ooh, that was very Samuel Beckett too, wasn't it? I feel we have a Samuel Beckett thing going on here, don't you, dear readers? Anyway, after I watched the first twenty minutes of the Godzilla movie in Japanese, I decided to watch a movie in a language I could understand. So I ran "I Bury The Living", a classic movie from the 50s. I just love this movie. I have no idea what it's about, really, even though it is in English. There is no Smog Monster in it, but there is a map with glowing pins in it which is very creepy. I'm out of sequence aren't I? That last bit should have followed the Godzilla bit, but it's here instead where it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Did you notice what a bargain the word "whatsoever" is? That's three words for the price of one. Just like "nonetheless". That is a saving on words. I think there should be moreofthose, don't you? I like the way they look, too.
Well, the clock is about to strike one (one is into that sort of thing and doesn't mind it at all). My pepperoni heartburn is subsiding, as is the orange flavored nausea. Perhaps I shall go to bed, where I will undoubtedly have a Japanese language dream, with Smog Monsters and maps with glowing pins. In this dream I will be writing the word "particularly" over and over again, and I will be discovering new threeforthe priceofone words. Perhaps I'm dreaming even now. Perhaps I'll wake up in the morning and this column won't even exist. Hah! No such luck for you, dear readers. Those crickets are really starting to get on my nerves. They are just relentless in their chirping. They just don't stop. What breath control. It's so monotonous for God's sake. I want to go out there and yell at those useless crickets, "Shut your traps! Change the record!" Do you think they'd listen, these crickets? No. They go their own damn way, these crickets. I'd like to know where they go during the day. Do they cease to exist? Are they vampires? Do they have little cricket houses where they sleep all the live-long day? What in the hell good is a cricket? What purpose do they serve? I don't want to know from a cricket. And don't forget... Being Passover, we must ask the four questions: Why is this night different from all others? Because on this night I have heartburn from pepperoni and nausea from orange flavored Pez. I can't remember the other three questions because I am being distracted by crickets. All I know is that we must eat Matzoh (or unleavened bread as it's known by those in the know). If you eat leavened bread instead of Matzoh then your teeth will fall out and you will have the heartbreak of psoriasis. Well, so far this column and Quentin Tarantino should both heed the same advice: Give it a rest. But enough about me.
Good morning, dear readers. Last night is but a memory, the heartburn is gone, no more endless trips to the bathroom, the crickets are doing their vampire sleep routine and the birds are outside singing Drop That Name from Bells Are Ringing (a very difficult song which they are doing with rare perfection). I remember very little of what I wrote last night, other than that the plot of I Bury The Living was about a map with pins. Doesn't that just make you want to rush out and see it? I think I was on a roll last night, although if I was on a roll that is not allowed as we are only supposed to use unleavened bread (religion has nothing to do with it, I believe everyone needs to observe everything).
Do you realize we have gone this entire column so far without one single mention of the titular name that adorns this site? I think it's time we mention that titular name, don't you? We simply cannot go one more second without having that titular name, because that would be heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). And the fact that that titular name belongs to my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, is just the icing on the gravy or whatever the hell that stupid saying is. There, I said his name and I'm glad. I hope he is being a good Jewish boy and eating only unleavened bread today, while prone, of course.
Which brings me to Company. With the recent Sam Mendes revival and the Roundabout revival and the newly published "official" version of the show, Company has had quite a resurgence. I was lucky enough to see the original production and I have to tell you, these revivals are not a patch on the butt cheek of said original. Okay, one, two, three...Butt cheek!
It is somehow fashionable today to look back and think Company had problems. That it is dated. Well, Oklahoma! seems dated, lots of shows seem dated, but does that mean that they should be endlessly revised and rethought? Restaged, sure. New exciting ways to stage, sure. But there was nothing wrong with Company in its original incarnation. In fact, it was one of the most invigorating, exciting, innovative shows I've ever seen. Without it, who knows where the musical theater would be today?
Company, fired by the acerbic book of George Furth, the beyond brilliant score of Sondheim, the incredible staging of Harold Prince and the electric choreography of Michael Bennett, was simply phenomenal. Company took the musical and freed it from the confines of being linear. That may seem like a simple thing but at the time it was really audacious. To basically forego plot and do a series of scenes with musical numbers which usually commented on those scenes, well, it just hadn't been done. Prince was abetted tremendously by the set of Boris Aronson, with its chrome and elevators and projections. You could be anywhere at any time and it allowed Prince the ability to continue his exploration of using "cinematic" techniques on stage.
But the thing that propels Company, the thing that gives the show its life, its heart, its uniqueness is Sondheim's score. It is one of the great theater scores, pefectly capturing the milieu of the show, perfectly bringing to life Robert and his "company" of friends. Every number in the score works beautifully. They are lean, to the point, and dare I say it, extraordinarily melodic. His lyrics, as ever, were complex, illuminating, brittle, funny and very touching. It is a score to be cherished. Of course, one cannot mention the score without mentioning the contribution of Jonathan Tunick, whose great orchestration helped the score achieve its "sound". It was a direct descendent of Tunick's work with Burt Bacharach on Promises, Promises, and the score's rhythm and pulse were given incredible color by Tunick. Just listen to the "sound" of Another Hundred People or the title song with the complexly layered writing by Sondheim and the brilliant way Tunick translated that to the orchestration. And listen to the shimmering subtlety of Sorry/Grateful (one of the great Sondheim songs) and Someone Is Waiting. Incredible. Sondheim and Tunick were/are a match made in musical theater heaven.
There has been much talk about the fact that the "official" version of Company no longer includes Tick Tock. They give various reasons for its exclusion, including the fact that it was written/arranged by David Shire, that the number is dated, that it's hard to find a dancer good enough to justify it. Well, while all those things may be true, the number worked perfectly in the original production. There, I've said it and I'm glad. Donna McKechnie was unbelievable, bringing real erotic fervor to the dance created for her by Bennett. It was amazing and frankly I just don't think the show works as well without it. It may be a minor point, but why fix what isn't broke? I also don't love the inclusion of Marry Me A Little at the end of the first act, as the song (at least placement-wise) slows down the show when it shouldn't. I have always liked the song itself, but just didn't think it worked at all where it was used.
It is hard to believe that Company is just shy of its thirtieth birthday. It is as vibrant and exciting and daring a show today as it was back then, due in large measure to the score by Stephen Sondheim.
There. Do you think I've said the name Stephen Sondheim enough? Do you think I've atoned for my sins of omission? Wait a minute, it's Passover, I don't have to atone for my sins until Yom Kippur.
Last week Hollywood, this week Italy. Not that I've ever been to Italy. But one of My Favorite Things just happens to be Italian, and goes by the name Fellini. Now, we're not talking pasta with sauce here, we're talking one of the great film directors of all time. My favorite Fellini covers the period from his first film (co-directed with Albert Lattuada), Variety Lights, right through 8 1/2. Now I know, dear readers, that your tendency will be to just skip this section, but hang on as it does have relevance to musical theater, and even to Stephen Sondheim. How, you ask? Because three of Maestro Fellini's best films were turned into Broadway musicals, that's how. One of them was a smash hit, one was a respectable hit and one was an unmitigated disaster that should have been a hit.
Fellini's films are wonders of humanity, sensitivity, brutishness, vulgarity, poetry, all unique to their maker. There has never been a director like Fellini and there probably never will be. He loved the circus, small towns, the sea, vaudeville, characters who were dreamers... His movies are dense and complex if you see them that way, but they are also strangely simple and childlike. All during the 50s he made one masterpiece after another, and the few that weren't masterpieces were merely great. Variety Lights, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, I Vitteloni, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2. Most directors would kill to have made just one movie from that astonishing list.
Before we get to my favorite favorite Fellini, I'll mention the musicals that were made from his films. Nights of Cabiria became the smash hit, Sweet Charity. It's amazing to watch the two to see how closely Fosse and Neil Simon followed the Fellini plot and leading character. Of course they totally changed the milieu of the story, but wisely kept what worked in the original. The role of Cabiria was played by Fellini's wife, the great actress Giulietta Masina, who was incredible in the same way that Gwen Verdon and Shirley MacLaine would later be. Masina also starred as the not-all-quite-there-but-lovable waif in La Strada, which was turned into a musical by Lionel Bart and which opened and closed instantly on Broadway in 1969. The troubles the show went through are legendary, with Bart having drug problems and more than half his score being replaced with songs by Martin Charnin and Elliot Lawrence. Had the show succeeded, stardom would have come just a bit sooner for its leading lady, Bernadette Peters, who was ideal for the role. I have a tape of the score and it really has nice things in it (especially Bernadette's opening number "Starfish, Pebble, Seagull") and I think in the world of today's musical theater the show would stand a much better chance. It was just too dark and depressing for audiences of 1969. The third musical was adapted from Fellini's brilliant 8 1/2 by Maury Yeston, who radically retitled the musical Nine. The other radical change was turning the film's Guido Anselmo into Guido Contini. Brilliant.
But my favorite Fellini film is his second (and first solo directorial effort) The White Shiek. It is so winning and funny and wise and is one of my ten favorite films of all time. The cast is flawless, the writing is flawless, the direction is flawless, the score by Nino Rota is flawless. Briefly it's the story of a newlywed couple who come to Rome from their small town to meet the groom's family and to visit the Pope. But the wife has a secret desire. She is madly enamored of the actor who plays The White Shiek in the fumetti. Fumetti was like a daily comic strip in the newspaper, but instead of drawings the panels had photos of actors in staged scenes. These were really popular back then, and her "crush" on The White Shiek would be the equivilent today of someone having a crush on say Harrison Ford. While her husband naps, she runs off to deliver a drawing she's made of The Shiek to the studio that produces the fumetti. Well, through various complications, she ends up going to the location where they are shooting the photos, meets the Shiek himself, learns the difference between fantasy and reality, while the husband madly tries to find his missing wife while not letting on to his family that she's missing. In the end, husband and wife are reunited, the family gets to meet the bride and as they go off to meet the Pope the wife says to the beleagured husband, "Now you are my White Shiek." The look on his befuddled face is priceless. It is a wonderful comedy, and also quite touching. I read a book about Woody Allen recently, in which he said that The White Shiek was his favorite sound comedy. Now, this really bugs my butt cheek, as I'm really tired of Woody copying me. Anyway, the film is available on video and you should rent it. It is, of course, in black and white and it is subtitled.
I happened to catch the opening number of the Cabaret revival on David Letterman. Let me just say that I was not overwhelmed. I frankly was not even whelmed. I have heard so many things about this "innovative" production which "makes the show work like it never has before." Well, the show has always worked, never more so than in its original Harold Prince staging. Ron Field's opening number (Wilkommen) in that original production was one of the best I've ever seen. This was okay, but did nothing to erase the memory of the original. There was much zubrick and yoni grabbing, and a large attempt was made to be really raunchy. Still, in the context of the production, it might work better. I do want to see it and see what the rest of the production is like.
Since it is Passover I feel compelled to ask how many dear readers ate gefilte fish? How many ate chopped liver? How many left an empty place at the table? I left an empty place at the table, but then again I always do as I like to eat while sitting on the couch like so much fish. Have you ever looked at a gefilte fish? It is truly gefilte looking in my book (Chapter 39 - The Look of Fish). Gefulte is a perfect name for that sorry looking mound of pike and whitefish and whatever the hell else they throw in there. Mind you, I've eaten it, with that strange stuff called horseradish. Why is it called horseradish? Did a horse produce this stuff? If so, don't tell me. I've also eaten chopped liver, which, if it's made really well is quite tasty. Unfortunately it's rarely made really well and usually tastes really nasty. And then there's matzoh, that practically flavorless cracker which is akin to eating chalk. It's good in eggs, though, and that dish is called Matzoh Brie for reasons that totally escape me.
Oh, wait a minute, I just got an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear Real A:
My friend Barbra Streisand told me to give your column a read, and so I have. It's very Jewish, just like me. Is it always that way, or just on the holy days? Anyway, I am the composer of many hit songs (in case you didn't know), movie scores and Broadway shows. I was horrified to see that thing where Stephen Sondheim had written A Chorus Line. Oy. Don't give me a heart attack. I'm currently working on the sequel to A Chorus Line entitled A Chorus Line II: The Adventure Continues. It's going to be very exciting. I've already written three hit songs for it. This time the show is about people auditioning for a part in a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. I am so psyched about it. I get to not only write numbers for the characters, but I also get to write songs for the musical Streetcar. I'm doing my own lyrics this time. Here is one I just wrote:
Isn't that good? I've never written lyrics before. It's so easy. I don't even use a rhyming dictionary like that guy you're always going on about. And I write sitting up. What kind of a schmo would write prone? Well, I just thought I'd drop you a line. It's a Jewish holiday you know and I have to go eat some borscht. Talk about me, okay, because I'm really insecure.
Thanks so much for writing, Marvin. Why, I'd forgotten all about borscht. Do you know what borscht is, dear readers? I don't want to nauseate you, but it is cold beet soup in which there is also sour cream. What kind of maniac created borscht? Not to mention kreplach. Who made up kreplach? You just can't eat food with names like that. Chav. Would you have something called Chav? How about Lox? And don't tell me they were named after the Duke of Borscht or the Earl of Kreplach or the Lord of Lox because I'm not buying it.
Lots and lots, so let's get to them.
Spock wrote again to criticize for the second time both Sondheim (in his e-mail to me) and my use of the word "hopefully". He feels this is a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) thing. Well, I know that Vulcans have no emotions, so I know that Spock will react entirely well to the following, which comes from a book called the dictionary:
Now, I know the tendency will be to think the long-winded treatise above was actually written by me, but that just isn't so. That came directly from that book known as the dictionary. Interestingly, it seems to clearly, frankly put this issue to rest, luckily for me, and unfortunately for Spock, and hopefully clears the matter up once and for all.
Pat just returned from a trip to France and reports that he found a lot of Sondheim albums in a CD store there, which leads him to believe that Monsieur Sondheim has le fans in France. Bon. Pat also thinks it would be a good idea to have links in the column, so that when a newcomer reads things like "what is it, fish" and "butt cheek" that they can link to the stories in which they were first used. But isn't it more fun to keep these people in the dark? Isn't it more fun to let them scratch their collective heads in abject wonderment and think "what is it, fish? What butt cheek would write stuff like this?" Pat enjoyed my ruminations on Sweeney and Follies and wants to know if I saw Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway. Sadly, no. I did see the revival at the York which I did not care for much. Pat also wants to know why Marvin Hamlisch hasn't written me. Well, by now you know, in one of those totally strange coincidences Marvin did write me. You must've been sending him powerful vibes. Pat also sent me a little brain teaser in which the answer you're supposed to come up with is "carrot". Apparently if you answer anything other than "carrot" you are one of the 2% of the population whose minds are warped enough to think of something else. Well, Pat, my answer was "tomato" which should tell you all you need to know about me.
Tiffany writes to say she got a video of Sweeney Todd and that she thought George Hearn was "okay" but likes the way Len Cariou sings the songs a lot better. Tiffany also has a new job, in the physics department. She also is interested in a boy she met (I hope she doesn't mind me revealing this to our regular readers which include the NY Times), a geology major. She wants to know if she should be bold and ask him out. Now, Tiffany, you know how boys are. They like to think they are in control, they like to take the initiative, and they like to think that it's their idea (yeah, right). But you know geology majors, they usually have their heads stuck in the sand, so you will have to ask him out. Keep us apprised, and don't be afraid to use a disjunct in asking him out.
Emily sent me some lovely synonyms for genitalia, which she remembers from the movie Naked Gun: Purple-headed warrior and quivering mound of love pudding. She wants to know if those are too graphic. For this column??? She also wants to know if I watch South Park. I'm afraid to say I haven't (although I did see the little Christmas short they made). I'm much too busy watching movies about maps with pins in them.
Monkey (yes, Monkey) writes to tell me that they think they know who I am. Monkey is new to the SSS and having read the column and also having read various posts over at Finishing The Chat, they feel that the answer is clear. To recap: So far people think I'm male, female, gay, straight, Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Gerard Allesandrini, George Clooney, William F. Orr, Rupert Holmes, Young Simba from The Lion King, the Tony-nominated Billy from Big, a cast member from one of Sondheim's shows, Michael Tough the singing janitor, Bruce Kimmel, Richard Christianson of the Chicago Tribune, George Furth, The New Line Theatre's Scott Miller, Leigh's father, and Corky from Waiting For Guffman. Monkey's guess: I'm Ben. That is a good guess, Monkey. I'll go over to Finishing The Chat and read some of Ben's posts, then I'll let you know if I am he, or he is me, or if we are the walrus.
Jon C. wants to know what my feelings are on The Eurhythmics. Well, Jon, this is an entirely surreal question. This makes perfect sense in this week's Samuel Beckett column. I actually know who The Eurhythmics are, that's the amazing thing, because their music was featured in the film remake of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four. I liked their music as I recall, but hated the film.
Joan can't seem to find the video tape of Sweeney Todd. Have you tried Footlight Records in NY? Or various Tower stores? If any dear readers have any info let me know and I'll pass it along.
Evan writes to say he also has fond memories of seeing Sweeney Todd on Broadway. He saw two other Mrs. Lovetts: Dorothy Loudon, who he didn't love, and Angela Lansbury's understudy Marge Redmond, who he did love.
Christina (yes, the beloved Christina of Christina's World over at Talkin' Broadway) sends me her favorite synonyms for genitalia: cookie, coot's place, liver box, monkey (not Monkey), love sceptor, nuni, and kitty. Good ones all.
Not too many answers this week, which leads me to believe I should get rid of this useless section of the column. What do you think, dear readers? Should we cast the trivia to the wind, or would you like me to keep trying to stump you?
Most people guessed Hal Prince, but by the time SS worked with Hal, Hal was already a producer. There were two answers, both interrelated in an interesting way. One is Tony Walton, the set designer for the original Forum, the revival Forum and the revival Company, who produced the original London version of Forum, the other is former stage manager Fritz Holt, who produced the London revival of Gypsy.
This week's trivia question:
The music for several cut songs from Follies found their way into Sondheim's score to Stavisky. Name the cut songs and the film track they became.
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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