« One From Column A...
July 20, 1998 - #43
Nope. Foulness is still running rampant. Why am I in a foul mood, you might ask, and I might tell you even though I am in a foul mood. I am in a foul mood because people are bugging my butt cheeks. Yes, bugging my butt cheeks. Now, I don't know about you, but I do not like to have my butt cheeks bugged. It puts me in a foul mood. I have had it with said butt cheek bugging people. I know I shouldn't let said people bother me, but frankly they bother me. I don't mean to go on ad nauseum about these nauseating people, and yet, I'm going on ad nauseum about them. I just have to let it go and not care. That's what I need to do. Or, I need to put a curse on these people. Yes, a curse. I will put a curse on these people and turn them into mah jong tiles. That will teach them to fool around with me! Have I gone off the deep end? But you see, I feel the punishment must fit the crime. But what if the punishment is two sizes too big for the crime. Can you take the crime back and get a new size punishment? I think you can see what being in a foul mood has done to me. It has turned me into a raving lunatic. A raving lunatic in a foul mood who wants to throw up from the Mike and Ike's Cherry and Bubble Gum flavored candies.
Have I mentioned that I'm in a foul mood? I will do my best to get out of this foul mood apace. It is doing none of us any good. Why, Mr. Mark Bakalor even noticed I was in a foul mood, and he commented "wow, you are in a foul mood". He hit the nail on the head, didn't he? By the way (or BTW as they say in Internet lingo) I think the new forum is nice. You should give it a chance and get used to it, and you'll be happy in no time at all. The one thing I know about you, dear readers, is that, like me, you don't like change. But certain change is good. Quarters are good. I don't like pennies or nickels, so I am resistant to that change. What the hell am I talking about? I feel like I'm free associating here, and frankly I like to pay for my associating. I don't need any damn free associating. I don't need a free ride, I'll pull my weight (no mean feat). Have you ever pulled your weight? It is unseemly to pull weight, presuming you have the weight to pull. But since I am buff and toned with abs and buns of steel, I have very little weight to pull. I am also tan and now have blonde bits in my hair because I've been sitting outside on one of my two lawn chairs squeezing lemon in said hair. Yes, the expression that comes to mind when you see me now is "surf's up".
I realize I have been on a ranting rampage and I simply must stop it. I simply must get out of my foul mood. Perhaps I'll go outside and watch the bird for awhile. It is currently doing a revival of Porgy and Bess, and you haven't lived until you've heard the bird do There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York. Amazing. Better than Sammy Davis, Jr.
I am starting to feel less foul. And in the nick of time, too. Do you know where the expression "nick of time" comes from? Well, once upon a time, in days of olde, there was a monk named Nick, who was in charge of telling all the other monks what time it was. He was known as Nick of Time. He was originally educated in matters of time by Father Time. In fact, when he first met Father Time, Nick said "I didn't know what time it was, then I met you". This is a true story. Years later, in days of not quite so olde, Lorenz Hart heard that story and the rest is history. I do believe I have reached a new plateau of drivel here, dear readers. A new apex of drivel. I must stop now, because frankly this column is starting to feel like the recent Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Follies: It's just not going anywhere. But enough about me.
You'll be happy to know, dear readers, that my foul mood seems to have abated. Ebbed. And if it has Ebbed does that mean that it's also Kandered? But while said mood has Kander and Ebbed, I still wouldn't mind letting some folks have it right between the eyes. Or to be more literary, right between the "i"s. People. Can't live with 'em, can't live with 'em. Oh, well, let's move on with this column. Life is too short and so is this column, which works best when it has heft. That's the problem so far. This column has no heft. It is bereft of heft. No heft left. I'd just better leave this paragraph behind and the sooner the better.
Now that we're in a brand new paragraph, let's talk about Sondheim, shall we? Last week I talked about my favorite Sondheim performers but I was sunburned and I had to stop. So, let's pick up where we left off. And where did we leave "off"? "Off" is always being left somewhere and then we always have to find "off" so we can pick up where we left it. My brain, dear readers, seems to have melted into a gelatinous goo from which is pouring forth a miasma of nothingness. Where was I? Oh, yeah, Sondheim.
While the entire company of Pacific Overtures was fantastic, there wasn't one of those earth shattering once-in-a-lifetime performances like the ones that I've been talking about. So, we move on to Sweeney Todd. And once again, because of Sondheim's brilliance, two performers are able to create two of the finest tour de forces I've ever seen. First, Len Cariou as Sweeney. I've already written about Len vs. George, and there is no contest really, at least in my opinion. Len Cariou was Sweeney. It was one of those incredible actor becomes character things, and Cariou was frightening, funny, horrifying, sad and maniacal. When he turned on the audience in Epiphany it was truly one of the most chilling experiences I've ever had in the theater. But the thing that Cariou was able to do, and the thing that made his performance so phenomenal was that he made you care about Sweeney. You really felt for the guy, even though you knew he was nutty as a fruitcake. Can you be "nutty as a fruitcake"? And if you can, can you be fruity as a nut cake? It's a true shame that Cariou didn't get to immortalize his performance on the video. And then there was Angela Lansbury. Now, Angela was already a legend by the time she did Sweeney Todd. But that didn't stop her from creating one of the most bizarre, wacky, and dare I say, lovable lunatics ever put on the stage. Her Mrs. Lovett was irresistible, whether she was killing bugs while singing The Worst Pies In London, or comforting Tobias with the beautiful Not While I'm Around, or coming up with the idea of what to do with the amassing bodies in A Little Priest. By the time she sang the wonderful By The Sea, it was very clear that this performance would belong in the pantheon of great musical theater performances. What a pair of grisly gruesome and altogether delightful ghouls they made.
I've already stated that I am not the world's biggest Sunday In The Park With George fan. I admire it, I really like a lot of it, but for whatever reasons, it just doesn't "get" to me in the way most Sondheim gets to me. That said, once again the show contains two absolutely luminous performances. It, in fact, is unthinkable to imagine the show without them, even though the show has been done many times with many people. Mandy Patinkin somehow managed to get into the soul of Georges. His performance was so focused and intense, and he embodied so incredibly the artist who must create, it was just magic to watch him. There were times when I thought he appeared to be in a whole other universe. And his performance of Finishing The Hat (surely one of the great Sondheim songs) was simply transcendental, which, of course means that it transcended teeth. And when something transcends teeth, it is truly a moment to be cherished. Bernadette Peters' performance was no less wonderful, and she brought her particular and unique talents to the role of Dot as well. It was fantastic to watch her character go through the myriad changes she goes through, and watch Peters never ever falter. Both performances are the stuff theater legends are made of.
I'll wrap up The Sondheim Performer next week. Yes, we'll pick up right where we left off, wherever the hell that is.
Miss Meryle Secrest is unearthing so many things, I'm beginning to feel pillaged. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, I am feeling pillaged. She is plundering my past, and pillaging my present, and ferreting out my future. Things that were dormant are dormant no more. Like some of the horrifying things I did as a child. Like when my best friend and I would go to this two story office building and we would get in the elevator, stop it between floors, pry the doors open, jump down to the first floor and run away quickly. Our rationale for doing this was that it was really stupid to have an elevator in a two story building. We never got caught, either. Another thing we kids used to do was this: Near my house was the Adohr Farms bottling plant, and in the rear of said plant were all these old Adohr delivery trucks. Well, we sneaky kids used to go back there and pretend we were driving these trucks. We did this a lot. Why you may ask, and I'll tell you. Because we were stupid. What thrill can you get from standing in a broken down old delivery truck, pretending you're driving it? But, one early evening, we're in said trucks having a high old time as only stupid kids can do, when I somehow accidentally started up the engine on the truck I was on. I don't remember how, but start it did. Wow (spell it forward, spell it backwards, it's still "wow")! I was in a truck with a running engine. I was, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, King Of The World (or King of The Broken Down Adohr Trucks)! I then made the (some would say) rather silly error of moving the gearshift. By moving said gearshift the truck went into reverse and I immediately smashed into the truck behind me (slowly, so it wasn't much of a smash, unless you were a kid which I was so it was). I got very nervous and yanked the gearshift in a different direction, which sent me forward where I promptly crashed into the truck in front of me. My friend who was playing in another truck immediately ran over and got in my truck and wanted to take over. This I could not allow. So, back and forth we went, like a bumper car ride. What fun. And of course, from an experience like that you can only do one of two things: Become a truck driver, or a musical comedy fanatic. I chose the latter and I have never looked back, except now and only because Miss Meryle Secrest is pillaging, plundering and ferreting.
In the book she also reveals that my family always ate dinner at five o'clock. No wonder I turned out the way I have! Five o'clock, for God's sake! "Who eats dinner at five o'clock", I would yell at my parents, and the answer was always the same: Jews. And Jews who eat dinner at five o'clock have really large portions so that all you can do after dinner is plotz. Plotzing is very important to the Jewish faith. My parents would eat and plotz, eat and plotz. I, of course, refused to plotz. I simply would not and could not plotz. To this day I will not plotz. Oh, I'll shvitz, and I'll shmooze but I won't plotz. I leave it to others to plotz. I merely sit on my couch like so much fish, which is a whole different thing from plotzing. Next week there will be more tidbits from Miss Meryle Secrest. But there will be no plotzing, of that you can be sure. This column will always be plotz-free.
Before we get to My Favorite Things, I must tell you what I saw this evening, dear readers. You won't believe it. I didn't believe it. And yet, there it was right before my very eyes. Or to be more literary, before my very "i"'s. And just what was before my very eyes? A fish hat. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, a fish hat. That is, a baseball cap with a fish on top. I immediately went into the store that had said cap and demanded to speak to a salesperson. I found one, and held up the hat and asked, "what is it, fish?" to which the salesperson replied "yes". Isn't that a good story? I bought the fish hat and am now the proud owner of it. So, if you see anyone wearing a fish hat and their name is The Real A, you'll know it's me.
This week I thought I'd talk briefly (like I can talk briefly) about one of my favorite genres of film: Film noir. I know this has nothing to do with musicals or Stephen Sondheim, although I believe Mr. Sondheim was/ is a fan of the genre. Film noir began in the early forties (although one could argue it began earlier), and was basically a series of films filled with nihilism and despair and hopelessness...I loved them all. Why, you ask, and I will tell you because you deserve to know. I don't know why. They just always appealed to me. There was usually a wonderful evil femme fatale in these films, none better than the one played by Barbara Stanwyck in one of the greatest noirs of all time: Double Indemnity, written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler from a story by James Cain, and directed by Mr. Wilder. Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, a conniving, sexy, alluring and deadly woman who convinces an insurance salesman, Walter Neff (brilliantly played by Fred MacMurray) to kill her husband. She does this by entangling him in a web of seduction and the promise of hot romance and money. Rent this film. You will never hear better dialogue in your life. The kind of dialogue they just don't know how to write anymore. Snappy, witty, sexy and dripping with cleverness.
Other noir favorites are the great film Gun Crazy (with one of the great noir anti heroines played by Peggy Cummins), the ultra low budget and sleazy-but-brilliant Detour, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep with Bogart and Bacall, the remake of Farewell, My Lovely, also by Chandler, this version starring Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling, I Wake Up Screaming (which actually has some musical things in it, and which stars Betty Grable, Victor Mature and the wonderful Laird Cregar, who was the star of one of Mr. Sondheim's favorite films, Hangover Square, whose music by Bernard Herrmann inspired Sweeney Todd), The Big Heat, directed by Fritz Lang, and an even better Lang, and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Woman In The Window. Some of my most favorite noir actors include, Dick Powell, Fred MacMurray (both of whom started out in lightweight musicals and comedies), Bogart and Bacall, Stanwyck, Jane Greer (ever so deadly in Out Of The Past), the beautiful Ella Raines of Phantom Lady, Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, the sinister and wonderful Dan Duryea, Peter Lorre and Syndey Greenstreet, William Bendix, Alan Ladd, and my favorite Veronica Lake, so sexy with her peek-a-boo hair in The Glass Key and This Gun For Hire. An example of late film noir would be Roman Polanski and Robert Towne's masterpiece, Chinatown. And, an even later noir would of course be last year's L.A. Confidential, a good but not great film, in which the good but not great Kim Basinger plays a look-alike of the great Veronica Lake.
These films were the very definition of atmosphere. Dark mean streets, rain, light and shadow, foreboding alleys, a night world filled with ominous dangerous people and places. The writer who epitomized all that I love about noir is Cornell Woolrich (who also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopley). He was a somewhat twisted and tortured individual who lived with his mother most of his life, in a hotel room. But he created a series of the finest suspense novels ever written. More movies have been made from his books and stories than any other noir writer, and they include Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, The Black Curtain (filmed as Street of Chance), Black Alibi (filmed as The Leopard Man), I Married A Dead Man (filmed as No Man of Her Own, the French I Married A Shadow, and most recently the inspiration for While You Were Sleeping), Nightmare, Phantom Lady, I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes, The Black Angel, The Window, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (if you can find a copy grab it and read it, it's one of the greats), Waltz Into Darkness (filmed by Truffaut as The Mississippi Mermaid) and on and on.
Again, it's hard to know what is so appealing about these films, but appealing they are. The funny thing is that I saw many of these films on television when I was a child and they had a profound effect on my young life. Many times I would be awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of wailing sirens in the distance, and I would just lie awake in my bed, imagining scenarios of cops chasing bad guys down rain slicked streets, fedoras tilted low on their foreheads, guns drawn, wreaking menace on the mean streets of mid-town Los Angeles. Many of these films are classics of American cinema, so, seek some of them out on tape and enter the night world of film noir. When Mr. Woolrich died, they found an unfinished manuscript for his autobiography, the title of which is a perfect summation of all that noir is about: First You Dream, Then You Die.
Wow (wow spelled backwards), I feel like I should go out in the night world and eat at a diner, like an Edward Hopper painting (a noir artist if ever there was one).
Did you see that this column's very own Barbra Streisand and James Brolin were on the cover of People Magazine? A must have issue in my book (Chapter 53 - People, The Must Have Issues).
Oh, wait, I'm just getting some e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear A or Whatever:
My friend Barbra Streisand suggested I write you to vent. And I need to vent. She said you were the one to vent to, so here I am ready to vent. Have you read what they're writing about me? That I'm in, I'm out, I'm in, I'm out of this London production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. I just want all my fans to know one thing: Just because my publicist said I would do it, does that mean I have to do it? I don't want to do it. I thought I wanted to do it, but now I don't want to do it. What's the big deal? Next they'll expect me to actually do the film of Chicago. Just because I said I would. I just said that so Goldie Hawn could get a job. I played Evita, you know. How can I top that? I need a bigger challenge than Chicago. And then they wanted me to take over for that Natasha Richardson in Cabaret. Like I would take over for anyone. I don't replace, I am replaced. What were they thinking asking me to do that? Anyway, I've been reading all your columns, and you know what? I don't care whether you're a man or a woman, I want to sleep with you. I'm really attracted to you. Man, woman, Michael Tough, the singing janitor, whatever. I need you. You are an unknown quantity, and I am attracted to unknown quantities. Will you come over my house later? I'll leave you the address but don't print it in your column. Do your readers know that I am the definitive interpreter of Sondheim? Did they see Dick Tracy? Sooner or Later they're going to have to. And if they see it once they'll want to see it More, and after all, What Can You Lose? Anyway, I Live Alone and Like It, but I'd like you to come over anyway so we can be Back In Business, not that we've been in business before, but I'd like to do the business with you now. Have you read my book Sex? I'll send you a synopsis if you haven't. Anyway, call me, okay. Here's my number, but don't print it in the column, okay? Well, I have to go now because we have to make some more announcements of projects I'm going to do that I'm not going to do.
I want you bad,
You know, if there's anything that can get me out of a foul or fowl mood it is your letters, dear readers. It is simply impossible to stay in a foul mood because your letters always brighten my day. The other reason I am no longer in a foul mood is because I attended a book fair today, and it is impossible for me to be in a foul mood when I'm surrounded by wonderful first editions. So, I have put away the foul mood. I'm just sitting here, neither fish nor foul. Am I supposed to be answering letters here?
Emily writes to explain that in last week's letter she meant do I, The Real A, possess any mashed potatoes? I do not now nor have I ever possessed any mashed potatoes. I am not possessive. Any mashed potatoes that are around me get to be their own potato and free as a spud. Emily also says that if she were horny she wouldn't eat a radish (my remedy) she would eat a cucumber. I can say nothing. And she asks if I've ever had the urge to do the Macarena. I have had the urge many times to do the Macarena, but unfortunately, since I don't know what the Macarena is, those urges have to be squelched. Can you do the Macarena while listening to the music of the Ocarena? Did the Queen Of The Jungle, Sheenah, do the Macarena? Can you do the Macarena while eating macaroni? Did Marconi eat macaroni while doing the Macarena? If someone named Mac owns a large venue, is that a Mac Arena? Have I beaten this into the ground and squashed it into bits? No, because after Marconi ate his macaroni while doing the Macarena he then had a macaroon which had a macadamia nut on top. There, now I've beaten it into the ground and killed it dead.
Rafael tells me that he loves my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim's song Water Under The Bridge. He wonders that if Singing Out Loud (from whence it came or didn't come, depending on your outlook) ever gets filmed if the song will still be eligible for an Academy Award, as it's been recorded twice. That's an interesting question for which I do not have an answer. Perhaps one of you dear readers can find out and let us know.
Roy S. informs me that while he is a Sondheim buff, he is not actually buff, but is suntanned from sunbathing in the buff. Roy S. is from England, so my question would be, what sun?
Josh's trivia question from last week was in fact an Off Broadway play, Jules Feiffer's hilarious black comedy Little Murders, which was also a pretty static but pretty funny movie, too.
Mr. Mark Bakalor (yes, he who is always off doing shows in Gardena or wherever the hell he is) would like to know the derivation of the expression "tough cookie". I would like to know the derivation of the word "derivation", frankly. A tough cookie, I imagine, is a cookie on which you could break a tooth. A tough cookie is a cookie that you need a hammer to break it apart with. Or, a tough cookie is someone who is hard headed and thick skinned - a tough customer. Why one would use the word "cookie" to describe a person is another story. But, we of this forum know what a "cookie" is, don't we? We Sondheim buffs who are buff, not buff, or who sunbathe in the buff just know all about Cookies, don't we? Mr. Mark Bakalor also would like to inform us that as Webmaster of this here site he is in turn the Head Buff.
Jon B. correctly figured out Josh's trivia question, and Jon B. also corrected The Real A (B corrects A) as I inadvertently erred in saying Shorty Rogers played Herman in The Most Happy Fella. It was Shorty Long, of course. Shorty Rogers is a trumpet player, not a Herman player.
DAW (yes, WAD spelled backwards) would like to know why the numeric keypads for calculators and computers are set up inversely from those for fax machines and telephones. I had no idea of this inverseness. This inverseness is heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). Why, I'll bet it's the work of an underground cabal of Inversites. I will find out more or, conversely, I won't.
sparkleneelysparkle, amazing as it may seem, also saw the very same production of The Most Happy Fella that I did, and sparkle loved it, too. sparkle is indeed a Sondheim buff who is not buff but whose hair is buff. sparkle also has more advice for Tiffany - and that is that it's not necessary for Tiffany to be interested in the boy who's interested in her. She could just go have a wild fling and then leave him flat as a pancake. I swear to you I just looked outside my window and the bird is out there doing the Prologue from West Side Story and eating a berry to boot. Where was I? Oh, yes, sparkle's advice to Tiffany. Tiffany herself will have to decide if she can even work up enough interest in the person she's not interested in to have an interest free fling.
kokol loves the new design at the SSS. It appears that Mr. Mark Bakalor has a winner on his hands, as kokol thinks the new design is splendiferous. Also, while kokol loves the new recording of Cabaret, she just wants to state here and now (rather than there and then) that there is no substitute for Joel Grey. kokol, who was considering a long distance romance with her boyfriend, broke up with said boyfriend before said romance could begin. She is very happy about said breakup as she didn't think said long distance romance could work and frankly she was getting bored of the guy. And if you're bored of the guy before he's even gone, absence will definitely not make the heart grow fonder.
Erin tells me she too is a Sondheim buff who is not buff.
Carlton, on the other hand, is buff and says if you don't believe it check the dictionary, where his picture is next to the word "buff".
Tiffany is hot. Not as in horny, but as in hot. 110 degrees worth of hot. That is hot in my book (Chapter 80 - 110 Degrees Is Hot and I Don't Mean Horny). Tiffany looked up the weather here in Los Angeles and found it was 75 degrees. Maybe with the airconditioning on it's 75 degrees, but outside it's been in the high nineties all week. Unbearably hot. Sticky, sweaty hot. Fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. In addition to being hot (not horny) Tiffany also picked up the cd to Assassins by you-know-who, and she likes it.
This week's trivia question:
Lots of interesting answers to last week's trivia question, which Sondheim song would best describe the man himself. Here are your answers:
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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