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

June 14, 1998 - #39

Has this ever happened to you, dear readers? When I woke up on Sunday morning, my throat felt funny. Totally out of the blue. Not out of the red, mind you, but out of the fershluganah blue. Now, why my throat suddenly decided to take up comedy, I have no idea. Suddenly my throat was Henny Youngman? Anyway, there I was, with said funny throat. As the day wore on, my throat got worse and by the time I tuned in the Tony Awards I knew that my throat had moved from funny to irritating. Now, before we go one step further, what you need to know about me is that I am never sick. I simply refuse to get sick. And yet, there I was, sick. That night I could barely sleep because my throat was now scratchy. Of course, the bad thing about a scratchy throat is that there is no logical way to itch it. You can't just stick your fingers down there, can you? At least, not without inducing vomit and you know how I feel about that particular bit of business, don't you? Things got worse over the next few days, but finally it seemed as though it was over because the phlegm had appeared and was breaking up and the breaking up phlegm usually signals the end of said illness. I think we should just stop for a moment, don't you, dear readers? Stop and ponder "phlegm". Look at that word. There are so many useless letters in that word it's not even funny. How do you take a word that's pronounced "flem" and spell it "phlegm"??? And why would you even want to pronounce that word no matter how it's spelled? "Phlegm". Anyway, I had the breaking up phlegm and that should have been the end of it. And yet...

Welcome to Part Two of My Funny Throat and How The Breaking Up Phlegm Was Not Really The End of The Illness Even Though I Thought It Was. So, I hacked and coughed and was totally disgusting all last night. Then I took my dose of NyQuil before bedtime. So, I trundle off to bed, very woozy from the alcohol in said NyQuil. Normally NyQuil puts me away and I sleep soundly through the night. But not last night. I slept for three hours and could sleep no more. So, I got up and sat on my couch like so much fish, sniffling, and hacking and thinking about the breaking up phlegm. I finally went back to bed and slept for a few more hours. Even though I was sick I still had to work. I say this only so you can all go "Awwwwww" right about now. One, two, three... Awwwwwww right about now. Anyway, instead of being better today, I got worse. This thing traveled up to my nose. It wasn't bad enough that I'd already had a heavy chest, a hacking cough and the breaking up phlegm, nooooooo, now I had to have the runny nose, too. Frankly, I just don't look my best with snot running down my chin. I have been miserable all day, dear readers, and now it is evening and I am still miserable. I have taken my NyQuil and am starting to zone out. Hopefully, tomorrow will bring some relief. I know I have been complaining since the first sentence of this column, but let's face it, when I'm sick I'm just a big baby. I complain. I whine. When I was a child people would bring me a coloring book. No one has brought me a coloring book. Someone did bring me chicken soup, but it was not from a Jewish restaurant and therefore it had no healing powers. It did however have a layer of grease an inch thick and fatty bits. Now, I don't know about you, dear readers, but when I see fatty bits in chicken soup I just want to pay a visit to the makers of said soup and say "What are these fatty bits doing in this soup, you big heinous butt cheeks". I ushnting lktjh eit hthejh t... Sorry, I just had a coughing fit, and I am here to tell you it is very difficult to type and have a coughing fit at the same time.

What I am trying to say to you is that I am sick of being sick. I am willing it to be over tomorrow. But I need your help, dear readers. I need you to clap your hands and say "I believe in fairies" really loud. Are you ready? One, two, three...I believe in fairies really loud! Excellent. I will let you know if it worked. If you've ever taken NyQuil you know exactly how hallucinogenic I am feeling right about now. The room is swimming before my very eyes. So, I will continue writing this here column tomorrow when I will, most likely, be more coherent. And, hopefully, my nose will not be like Miss Saigon: Still running. But enough about me.

The Tony Awards

Of course, the Tony's will all be old news by the time you're reading this here column. By the way, I feel a little better after a good night's sleep, and I feel that, between the NyQuil and the continuing breaking up of the phlegm, perhaps I am finally on the road to recovery.

I watched the Tony Awards last Sunday (the day my throat decided it was Henny Youngman). I have little to say on the outcome of the awards, other than congratulations to the winners. There is simply no predicting how the Tony voters will vote sometimes, so there are always surprising things that happen. As to the show itself, I was less than enchanted. I'm sick of them hustling the show along, and what they did to Nathan Lane at the end of the telecast was shameful. And I'm sorry, but they cut to a commercial as Sean Connery is about to speak??? This is James Bond, people, you don't cut away from James Bond. Stupid, stupid, stupid. That is three stupids in a row, and not enough, in my book (Chapter 89- Three Stupids Will Not Do). And what are we to make of Rosie O'Donnell? Now, I like Rosie as much as the next person, but this is the Tony Awards not the Rosie Awards. I don't know, it all seemed a little crass to me (and I'm not talking about the Tampax/Ragtime joke). However, if one looked past the self-serving opening number, one got to see the show's highest moment, the stunning Jennifer Holiday. The last time I saw Jennifer Holiday was in Dreamgirls. At that time Ms. Holiday was, well, let us say it kindly, large. Huge. You could have bumped into her and been across the street at the time. So, it was a shock to see her looking absolutely svelte and gorgeous. But that didn't stop her from putting those other two divas, Miss Betty Buckley and Miss Patti Lupone, to shame. Ms. Holiday shook the rafters (as is her wont) and brought chills. An amazing performer.

I thought Ragtime made a mistake trying to encapsulate a nine-minute opening number into two minutes. Better they should have done Gettin' Ready Rag or something self contained. The Lion King's number came off well, but not nearly as well as it comes off in the show. The Side Show number was, well, the Side Show number. The rest of the show just plodded along, and at about the three quarters mark (not Bakalor) I just thought to myself, what is it, fish?

Sondheim: A Life

Okay, so I haven't finished it yet. This is a long book. And I've been sick. You know I've been sick. I've had the funny throat, I've had the runny nose, I've had the phlegm, I've been taking NyQuil. So, I'm only half way through the book. So, I'll only review the first half, then I'll review the second half next week. This seems inordinately equitable to me. Wow, that was a high falutin' sentence, wasn't it? Can there be a low falutin' sentence? And just what the hell is "falutin'" anyway? Where was I? Oh, yeah, Sondheim: A Life.

I'm not going to spoil it for you, dear readers. I'm not going to give away the plot or anything. Anway, this book, Sondheim: A Life, is about my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Hence, the title of the book. It is written by Meryle Secrest in a very dry manner. It is not "fun" to read. It is very presentational. There is no real style to Ms. Secrest's writing that I could discern. So the book, like the Tony's, just plods along. That said, it does tell the story of Mr. Sondheim, and since this is really the first time that story has been told, it is a must for Sondheim fans. There are some truly shocking revelations in this book. For one, did you know that Stephen Sondheim wrote musicals? For this information alone the book is worth the $30.00 cover price.

The most valuable thing about the book, thus far, is the portrait of Mr. Sondheim's childhood, and the portrait of his mother, known as Foxy. There are plenty of eyebrow raising quotes from Mr. Sondheim about his mother. Otherwise, there were/are times I wish that Secrest would delve into things a little deeper. There are really interesting things that are brought up, then just sort of dropped and forgotten. I'm up to where Sondheim and company are beginning work on Follies.

I hesitate to speak further until I finish the book. I'm sure Ms. Secrest did monumental amounts of research, but since she mentions neither Warren Beatty nor me, how extensive could it really have been?

The Real A: A Life

I figured if my close personal friend Mr. Stephen Sondheim can have a biography out, so can I. Do you like the title? At first I wasn't sure what my biography should be about, but then I thought, well, it should be about me, shouldn't it? I phoned Miss Meryle Secrest and she said she'd be more than happy to write the book. I said to her, "well, how do we begin?", and she answered, "well, a good place to start would be for you to tell me who the hell you are". Well, that got me to thinking, who the hell am I? Miss Secrest and I are hard at work on my biography, and there will be shocking revelations in this book. The portrait of my mother (who was forty-two when she had me - forty-two - if that doesn't explain so much then I don't know what!) is unsparing. Yes! Unsparing, do you hear me? In bowling parlance, if you are unsparing does that mean that you are striking? You will find out that my mother used to put cold compresses soaked with witch hazel on her eyes! Do you know what it's like to be a child whose mother does this? Do you know what it's like to even know what witch hazel is? And what is witch hazel? And no matter what it is, why would anyone call it witch hazel? I think you can see, dear readers, that my biography by Miss Meryle Secrest will be much more interesting than Stephen Sondheim's. You will find out that when I was four years of age my brother bet me that a certain kitchen knife would be able to go through the bottom of my galoshes (rain boots with very thick rubber soles). I said he was full of beans (a true statement as my brother always ate beans), and he proceeded to impale the knife through the thick rubber sole of the right galosh directly into the sole of my foot! Yes, you heard it here, dear readers! I had to be rushed to the bathroom and treated with Bactine and the wound had to be dressed with a Band Aid and my brother was forced to apologize, even though he'd been right. Is it any wonder that I shy away from people who are brandishing knives when in the vicinity of galoshes??? As the next few weeks go by I'll give you some more tantalizing excerpts from this amazing book by Miss Meryle Secrest. She is probing into my life like no one ever has. In the past, when I asked people to probe into my life their response was usually, "life?".

This section of the column was written under the influence of NyQuil.

My Favorite Things

The dear readers who've been reading this column since the beginning know that I am not too fond of motion pictures these days. I rarely see anything I like, so when I do I like to trumpet it loudly. Well, I am happy to tell you, this week I can be a whole brass section, because I saw the best movie I've seen in years. This movie played last year, but I caught up with it on video. Everyone I knew who'd seen it last year had recommended it to me, but I never got around to it, plus I figured it would just be another disappointment. Well, was I wrong. It's the best movie I've seen since My Life As A Dog and Cinema Paradiso, and that, let me tell you, is high praise. Like those two films, it is foreign, in this case Japanese. It's entitled Shall We Dance? I do not want to overpraise it, because it is a film of simple pleasures, small moments and big heart. It's funny, charming, very touching, and beautifully acted and directed. You must go out and rent it and discover this gem, too. I'll admit to you right here and now that when it was over, I went right back to the beginning and watched it all over again. Make sure what you rent is subtitled. I know it's a pain in the butt cheeks for some, but you really want to hear the nuances of the original voices. Take it from me, you will love this film.


Actually, I should call this section STUFFED UP, since that is what I am. Basically I cannot breathe. My nose is clogged (I suppose a result of the breaking up phlegm which has hardened and, oh, it's all two too disgusting) and so is my brain. This column makes that all too clear. Despite my illness, last night I went out to see a Junior High School production of Bye, Bye Birdie. I was invited by my close friends The Jones', whose son was playing the guitar in the band. It was fun seeing the kids put on the show. They did a great job (it's a Magnet School) and as I watched I realized how much I love the score of Bye, Bye Birdie. Charles Strouse was one of my early heroes, and his music is so much fun you just sit there and can't help humming along. They incorporated the title song that was written especially for the film. Now, if you've ever seen the film version of Bye, Bye Birdie, you know it's not the greatest film ever made. However, the first two minutes with Ann Margaret on a treadmill in front of a blue cyclorama with a wind machine, singing that title tune is one of the greatest moments in all of cinema. And it was an afterthought on the part of the director! Anyway, I had a lot of fun, and after the show we went back to their house and had cake. And because the kids have known me such a long time, as the cake was brought to the table we all said, in unison, "what is it, fish?".

When I got home, I immediately took my NyQuil and wrote some more of this here column. Then a strange thing happened. I woke up this morning. In bed. The "strange thing" is that I have no memory whatsoever of getting off the couch and going to said bed. When I arose this morning, all the lights in the house were on, I hadn't turned the porch light out, and there was a three quarters full can of warm Diet Coke where I'd left it. Isn't that weird? It's like there's a segue missing from my life. We call this The NyQuil Factor. Oh, wait a minute, I'm just getting some e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?

Date: Sat, June 13, 1998 17:18:19
To: The Real A (
From: Patti Lupone (

Dear A:

Someone told me that you liked Jennifer Holiday better than me! How can this be? I normally think you have faultless judgment, but you have gone totally awry here. There was only one true diva on that stage and it wasn't Jennifer Holiday (smoke and mirrors - you should have seen her backstage - she was eating a Mars Bar for God's sake) and it wasn't Betty Buckley (don't you think she should find a new makeup person? I mean, she's not that old). No, it was me. I don't say this out of any ego, but clearly they wouldn't have started with me if I wasn't the best, would they? I wish you to reconsider who the best diva was, and I wish you to think it was me.

Patti Lupone

What a diva conundrum! This would be the perfect time for The NyQuil Factor to kick in, wouldn't it?

Letters... We Get Letters

It's a good thing, dear readers, that you cannot hear me while I write this. I am coughing, and said coughing sounds so obnoxious, what with the breaking up phlegm and the congealed phlegm, and just a bunch of phlegm that's hanging around for its own sake, well you get the idea. Perhaps that techno- wizard Mr. Mark Bakalor can put up a sound clip (Real A Audio) of my coughing. Wouldn't that be a wonderful idea? Then you could hear me coughing like a maniac while reading the column and you could all say "Awwwwwwwwwwww" really loud. One, two, three... Awwwwwwwwwwww really loud! Anyway, lots of letters, so to it.

Otto wrote to say that he loves the lyrics of Tom Lehrer, and Otto even quoted me a couple of nifty ones. Mr. Lehrer writes very funny satirical lyrics and if you don't know his work, check him out.

Abigail tells me (and consequently you) that she's alive and well and still reading this here column, but she hasn't written because she's been so busy with the end of the school year. We always miss when you dear readers don't write, but I am an understanding A, especially at the end of the school year. Why, when I was in school (back in the log cabin days of Tom Sawyer) the end of the school year was always a particularly heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) time. But we knew that summer was around the corner (why didn't we stupid kids just go around the corner and then we could have had summer earlier?) and then we kids could go skinny-dipping in the creek. Of course, finding a creek in Los Angeles was the trick. And what if we wanted to go fat dipping in the creek? This is what happens when one has too much congealed phlegm. The drivel just pours out of you like so much fish.

Erin reports that she did indeed sing Not While I'm Around and it went over with a bang.

John points out that I incorrectly quoted the Ira Gershwin lyric to Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, and I'm ashamed to admit that John is correct. I shall now have to pull a Judge Turpin and flog myself mightily. The correct lyric is:

For we know we
Need each other so we
Better call the calling off off...

Still brilliant, but I suppose if Mr. Gershwin had wanted the extra rhyme I attributed to him, he would have put it there.

Joe says that I made a slip by saying that Rupert Holmes' Accomplice was "premiered here at The Pasadena Playhouse". First of all, I have never made a slip. I made socks once, and a serape, but never a slip. In any case, Joe thinks that the purported slip I made means that I have to work, act, or regularly attend The Pasadena Playhouse. But Joe forgets one strong possibility: I could actually be The Pasadena Playhouse! It is no surprise to constant readers of this column that I would say "here at The Pasadena Playhouse" because "here" in this case means Los Angeles, and I have made no secret that I am a Los Angeles native and in fact reside in said Los Angeles (or nearby environs).

Joe also expressed disappointment that Alan Cumming won the Tony over Brian Stokes Mitchell. I must say I agree with this, although I say it without having seen Mr. Cumming's performance (other than what was on the Tony's, and I really didn't care for what I saw, frankly). But Mr. Mitchell is giving what I consider to be a career defining performance and I felt he deserved the award. Joe also doesn't understand how Ragtime could win best book and best score but lose to The Lion King for best musical. I suppose it's because, agree or not, the Tony voters felt that the overall production of The Lion King merited the award. Finally, Joe said I never addressed his question about which Follies recording I would recommend. I did speak about this way back in an earlier column. But to save Mr. Mark Bakalor the trouble of linking to that long ago column, I don't feel there is a definitive recording of Follies, but if I had to recommend one it would be the Original Broadway Cast album, despite the cuts, because the cast will never ever be bettered. The performances are, in a word, breathtaking.

Tiffany tells me that she and one of her professors have exchanged music cds - she gave him Sweeney Todd (as he was not really that familiar with Sondheim's work) and he gave her a Charles Mingus jazz cd (to open her up to jazz). Tiffany has listened to the Mingus and didn't care for it much. I happen to agree with her and I hope Tiffany doesn't let this turn her off to jazz. Mingus is very esoteric and his music is very peculiar and hard to get with. He's also a bass player, and I find too much bass soloing is ultimately extremely monotonous. We don't yet know what the professor thinks of Sweeney. Meanwhile, things are not looking good in the ongoing saga of As The Nate Turns. Tiffany and a friend went dancing and Nate was there. But she didn't get to dance with him because the bounder danced with the same girl all night. What can you do with a boy like that? Well, you could accidentally hock a big phlegmball on him.

Laurie pointed out to me that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now she tells me. After I went and ate seventeen boxes of fershluganah pudding I find out that the proof was in the eating! Well, that is all fine and dandy, but why is the expression "the proof is in the pudding" when it should be "the proof of the pudding's existence is in the eating of said pudding". You see, if you eat the pudding it must exist. This is heavy, and frankly, so was the pudding. And frankly, so am I because I ate the pudding and then had to jog and do situps so that I would retain my abs and buns of steel. Otherwise said abs and buns of steel would become puddingfied. I'll stop now.

Emily also likes the lyrics of Dorothy Fields, Irving Berlin and Ira Gershwin. She is especially fond of Gershwin's wonderful lyric to Blah, Blah, Blah.

Whitney says her father once met a Mr. Stephen Sondheim as a Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Dad is not sure if it was the real Mr. Sondheim (my close personal friend) or his son. Well, if you read Miss Meryle Secrest's new biography you will understand instantly that it could not have been Mr. Sondheim's son, as one of the shocking revelations is that Mr. Sondheim is homosexual. I had no idea of this. Did you, dear readers? And, of course, homosexuals can have sons, but in this particular instance, it isn't the case. So, I think the Mr. Stephen Sondheim that Whitney's father met was an imposter. Or perhaps a doppelganger. And if you think I'm going near that word, think again.

Spock (yes, Spock) wrote yet another semi-meaningless nitpicky note, and I'm afraid I have grown tired of them. I suggest that Dr. or Mr. Spock contribute something other than the picking of said nits or otherwise we will have to make him stand in the corner. Once or twice you can pick nits here. After that, the Nitpicking Patrol is alerted, and they come to your house and make you listen to Carol Channing singing Memory over and over again.

Josh also pointed out about the eating of the pudding being the proof, but I have dealt with this topic ad nauseum and can deal with it no more. Josh also likes corruptions of stock phrases, for example: It's a doggy world, or We'll have to nip it in the butt. To which I would add "cheek" of course. My favorite corrupted stock phrases are, I believe, both written by the great Dorothy Parker. In reviewing an actress' performance, she said: She ran the gamut from A to B. And her other is the brilliant: Time wounds all heels.

S. Woody White and der Brucer dropped by and said "hey". Good to hear from you both. S. Woody told me all about "proofing" being a cooking technique. So when I "proof" this column, I am cooking. Apparently, that is why this column must seem half baked.

Alina tells me that she has seen many celebraties in Central Park, including Joel Grey, Len Cariou, Victor Garber, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Hal Prince and Boyd Gaines. That is quite a list. Here's a mini-trivia question: Which of the above celebrities used to do carpentry work to supplement his acting income?

Erika wants to know if, when I'm comparing Sondheim scores, I'm more into the technical aspect or simply the overall feeling. While the technical aspect is always interesting, I go with the feeling every time. It's always about what "gets" to me.

Stephen (not Sondheim) wrote to say that he feels this column just gets better and better. Thank you Stephen (not Sondheim) and we hope you don't change your opinion after having read this particular phlegm ridden column.

Trivia and Other Useless Knowledge

Well, people certainly came out of the woodwork for this week's trivia question. What those people were doing in the woodwork I couldn't begin to imagine. It's shocking, this coming out of the woodwork. I mean, you're just staring at the woodwork and all of a sudden people start coming out of it. It's like a horror movie. Anyway, here are the results of the question: What is your one favorite Sondheim song. Interestingly, only one song got two votes and that was A Weekend In The Country! Wouldn't you have thought that several people would love a certain title? I was sure there'd be multiple votes for several titles and yet, it just wasn't so.

  • Jimmy: Happily Ever After
  • Bonny Loo: Too Many Mornings
  • Erin: A Little Priest
  • Norm: I Never Do Anything Twice
  • Neil: Sorry/Grateful (he picked three, I used the first of his choices)
  • Singoutlouise: Move On
  • Carlton: Not While I'm Around
  • Kevi: Losing My Mind
  • Mike: Opening Doors
  • Jon B: Finishing The Hat
  • Laurie: A Weekend In The Country
  • Rob K: Now You Know
  • Michael: Everybody Ought To Have A Maid
  • Tiffany: Sunday
  • Jon: In Buddy's Eyes
  • Christopher: Everybody's Got The Right (finale)
  • Sean: Could I Leave You?
  • Lynn: Lesson #8
  • Mordecai: Broadway Baby
  • mrsmig: My Friends
  • Michael: The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues
  • Alina: Being Alive
  • Robert: A Weekend In The Country

Quite an array of great Sondheim songs. Well, that was so much fun, let's do another like it. This week's question is: If you had to choose one Sondheim show to watch over and over, which would it be?

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



Questions? Comments?

I do hope this column wasn't too phlegmatic. This has been a very difficult week, trying to work and be sick at the same time. But I feel the illness is abating, and soon I will have no more stuffiness or congestion or congealing and breaking up phlegm. I feel we have had enough phlegm to last us a lifetime, don't you, dear readers? Can you believe that summer is already here? I know this because the bird outside is singing "Summertime" (a beautiful rendition) and my roses are in bloom. I love roses, but only when they are in bloom. When they are not in bloom, they are just useless stems in the ground, just sitting there like so much fish. Ah, but when they are in bloom, the world is right. Well, time to get back to that Sondheim bio, and more shocking revelations like: Did you know that Stephen Sondheim once wrote a show called Anyone Can Whistle??? I am riveted, I tell you.

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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Elaine Stritch
With three hand-held cameras, one major theatrical milestone and nearly nineteen hours of footage, this rare and intimate look with Original Cast Album - Company is a must for any Sondheim fan.

DVD: $26.96
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All Sondheim completists are sure to now own the first complete recording of The Frogs coupled with Evening Primrose. Do you?

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