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November 23, 1998 - #61
I also saw Putting It Together at the Mark Taper Forum. For those who don't know, this is a revamped version of the revue which played in New York (the vamped version, presumably). I saw that production with Miss Julie Andrews and company and really didn't care for it at all. So, I'm happy to report that this revamped version of the vamped version is much improved if still problematic. The problematic part is that they still try to have this semblance of a plot which just makes things a bit heavy- handed every now and then. The new director Eric D. Schaffer has done an okay job rethinking the material, and there are lots of changes, song-wise, from the New York version. The performers are almost all excellent. Carol Burnett is in superb form and she looks great in her Bob Mackie outfits. She's funny, she's vulnerable, and she's touching. Susan Egan is terrific and Bronson Pinchot is funny and charming, but he is about as good a dancer as I am, so he always looks clunky doing whatever movement choreographer Bob Avian has given. John Barrowman has a lovely voice and boyish good looks. Which brings us to John McCook, who replaced Michael Nouri a week before previews began. Poor Mr. McCook did not have very long to learn a lot of material, and sadly, he sings it very poorly. And because the others are so strong, it makes him look even weaker. There is talk of moving this to New York, but nothing is firm yet. Also, I am happy to report that Ross, the doorman at the Taper, is still manning his post at the stage door as he has been since the Taper opened in '67.
Did you say something, dear readers? If you did I certainly didn't hear it on account of the fact that I certainly can't hear anything on account of the fact that too many decibels of music have caused my eardrums not to function. I can't even hear the sound of the keyboard as I type. That, let me tell you, is an eerie sensation. Look how many "e"s there are in "eerie". Why, do you know if you took away all those "e"s all you'd be left with is "ri" and wouldn't that be a fine kettle of you-know-what? What kind of a word is "ri"? We need those "e"s, but do we need three of them? Isn't three of them overkill? How can you overkill? Isn't killing like the be all and end all? Isn't overkilling just a little bit pointless? And why isn't it "earee" while we're thinking about it? Or, conversely, why isn't it "eer"? Isn't it interesting (probably not) that "hear" is just "ear" with an "h" tacked on? Isn't that just interesting? That was good shorthand on the word person's part, don't you think? Or should it be "heer"? Oh, it is all too too confusing, this miasma of word differences. Of course, we won't even go into the word "miasma" because just to look at that word is to be bowled over by its sheer inanity. If I could hear I know I would be writing something brilliant about Stephen Sondheim, who, by the way, wrote all the songs contained in Putting It Together. And what songs they are. That is the amazing thing about Putting It Together, to hear all those great Sondheim songs in one show. By the way, Miss Burnett's version of Getting Married Today is brilliant, maybe the best I've ever heard or seen. It's lucky I saw the show prior to the Nancy Sinatra concert, otherwise I would have only seen it and not heard it. Anyway, if you are in the Los Angeles area, I recommend the show to you. I know some have not liked it at all, but for my money it's worth it just for Carol Burnett and the great songs. Not a perfect evening, but an enjoyable one.
I do hope that in the morning I will be able to hear once again. Next time I go to a concert I will know to bring earplugs. I suppose I could have stuffed bits of napkin in my ears, but frankly, I don't think I look good with napkin bits sticking out of my ears. I am now going to bed before people start asking the question about this column that they're asking about the new musical Parade: is it art or is it crap? But enough about me.
Miss Meryle Secrest has been asking the most interesting questions but unfortunately I can't hear them. In fact, I recently had a question for Miss Meryle Secrest, which was, who will read this book you are writing about me? By its very nature it is pointless. So why persist? She pondered this question for many mornings (too many mornings in my book - Chapter 212 - How Many Mornings Can You Possibly Ponder?) and finally she came up with an answer. Her answer was that as an exercise in pointlessness, this book will be a benchmark. So, I asked Mr. Benchmark Bakalor if this was true and he said it was so there you are. Was "benchmark" the correct word? Perhaps "high water mark" would have been more concise, although "benchmark" is more concise, word-wise, although "high water mark" is more concise, meaning-wise. And how did Mark get into all these words? Did he pay someone? Why isn't it "high water Fred" or "benchteddy"? Frankly, I'm fed up with Mark being in all these words. Let some other people be in words, you big word hog. What the hell am I talking about? Speak to me, dear readers, although that, like this book Miss Meryle Secrest is writing, would also be a lesson in pointlessness as I would not be able to hear you. Now I've done it. I've used up almost all of this section talking about words with Mark in them. Well, Mark my words, that is going to stop, here and now, and also now and here. It is the Mark of a good writer to not use the word Mark, and so I simply will not use Mark in any more words. I'm not Marking time here, I mean it. I did a little test Marketing and I learned that this whole thing is an insidious plot on the part of Mark to just take over the whole damn works. Well, as Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer once said, enough is enough. Where was I? Oh, yes, The Real A: A Life by Miss Meryle Secrest.
When I was a child I was obsessed with Colorforms. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, obsessed with Colorforms. I cannot tell you why that was so, but so it was. I would make my mother buy me all the various Colorforms, and she, wanting to shut me up, would do so. Now, if you've ever seen Colorforms you would have to say, what is the big deal here? What is the thrill? I am trying to figure out how to even describe how you play with Colorforms and it is so stupid I can't even do it. But, for whatever reason, I loved Colorforms. I did get a thrill sticking plastic clothing on top of the various drawn people. Maybe it was a power thing. But I also liked sticking the plastic clothes on my arms and face. I would look in the mirror at my handiwork, impressed as all get out. Some people are transformed, I was Colorformed.
The other obsession I had as a child was being on television. I've already written about my childhood heroes, Sherrif John and Engineer Bill, and I wanted to be them. I made a "tv" camera out of cardboard from my father's laundered shirts, and I would put it on a card table, aim it at me, and I would pretend I was hosting a television show. I was pretty good, too. I had a "microphone" (made out of the cardboard from my father's laundered shirts) and I made a little backdrop (out of the cardboard from my father's laundered shirts), too. Then I decided to go on "location" with my camera. I vividly remember walking down 18th St. to Daylight Market, holding my cardboard tv camera in front of me and doing a live broadcast of my journey. I then took my pretend viewers on a tour of Daylight Market. Needless to say, the looks I got from people were most amusing. Can you imagine someone doing that today? No. And why? Because today the kid would have a real digital camcorder, and he could do what I did and then watch it. All my broadcasts are gone with the wind. They exist only in my memory. Some years later, I discovered my father's 16mm Bell and Howell camera. That was a good day for my father, because it meant that I didn't have to steal any more cardboard from his laundered shirts. I made several classic 16mm films. The plots were merely serviceable, but the style was stunning. I even made title cards for the film (using cardboard from my father's laundered shirts - okay, so I lied). Here is the "plot" of one of my films, shot on location at Dodo and Marvin's house, by their pool. Several older women are standing around said pool doing nothing in particular. I wander into the scene (yes, I not only wrote and directed, I starred as well) and join the group of older women (played by my mother, Aunt Lillie, Aunt Yetta and others) for no apparent reason. Suddenly my mother (playing an older woman, which made her none too happy) gestures with her arm, inadvertently knocking said arm into me which sends me flying, fully clothed mind you, into the pool! Have I mentioned that this was a comedy? I called this film "Incident At A Pool" and it was a big hit at its one and only screening. Sadly, that and my other films are lost, probably residing in some thrift shop somewhere. Why, if I had those films now we could convert them into MPEGS and show them right now in this here column. Wouldn't that be fun? It would, because these short films were brilliant little gems. One of them was a short musical. Yes, you heard it here, a short musical. Unfortunately, this was a silent camera and so you couldn't hear the songs or the music, but it was still a worthy effort. It had dancing (I studied dancing with Roland Dupree for three days, and so I knew from dancing) and was very colorful. I even think there may have been a sequence involving Colorforms, but my memory may be faulty on that score.
Did you think I'd forgotten, dear readers? Did you think I'd let this entire column go by without mentioning that next week is Thanksgiving? Next week is Thanksgiving. There, I've said it and I'm glad. In honor of Thanksgiving, I arrived home and found some potato salad at my door. Now, I don't know about you, dear readers, but I just love finding potato salad at my door. This particular potato salad at my door was left by a friend of mine. There is no real point to this story of the potato salad at the door, but I thought I'd share it with you anyway. Not share in the sense that you'll be eating some of the potato salad at the door, but share in the sense of imparting information. It is up to you, dear readers, whether you keep said imparted information or if you cast off said imparted information. Do the realize if you choose the latter then said information will no longer be imparted, it will be departed? I hope and trust that all of you will be having a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you will also eat lots of turkey and all the fixin's. I may eat a yam. Did you know that "may" is "yam" spelled backwards? Did you know that "who" and "how" are the same word spelled differently? Well, I, for one (not two, mind you) am going to sample the potato salad at the door. In closing, let me just say that "potato" spelled backwards is "otatop" which is a much more interesting word, in my book (Chapter 216 - You Say Potato And I Say Otatop).
Can you believe it? We haven't had a "what if" since heaven knows when. I asked heaven if it knew when and heaven said that it does but it isn't talking which is just like heaven. Anyway, in the midst of all the Gluckman and Fitz songs (published by Punemsongs, Inc.) we seem to have forgotten the "what if" section of this here column, and that is simply heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) so here is The Return Of The What If or What If Redux. This week's what if is, what if Frank Loesser had written Sweeney Todd? And it goes something like this (to the tune of Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat):
I dreamed last night that a customer named Turpin,
My hearing is finally on the mend, thus I can now hear the bird singing, and it's a honey of a ditty called When The Red Red Robin (Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along). That is a bird love song if ever there was one. This week's three favorite songs are devoted to one of my favorite lyricists, the divine Dorothy Fields. First up is one of my all-timers, a great song that makes me smile every time I hear it. The music is so catchy you just want to get up and dance, which is precisely what Fred Astaire did when he sang it.
PICK YOURSELF UP
You see? I just got off my couch (where I was sitting like so much fish) and danced around the room, which, if you recall, is a frightening thing. But dance I did because that's how infectious that song is. This next bit of business is from Ms. Fields' and Cy Coleman's brilliant score to Sweet Charity and is a wonderful "dreamer" song with wonderful imagery.
BABY, DREAM YOUR DREAM
"Life could be frozen peaches and cream". That is a lyric, that is a writer who knows how to string words together to make magic. Finally, a song from Ms. Fields' final musical, Seesaw, also written with Mr. Coleman, and a song that is just, well, perfect.
I love Dorothy Fields. If you don't know her other work, go seek it out. She's the berries.
Here are your instructions, dear readers. You will please send your name and address to Mr. Mark Bakalor, yes, the same Mr. Mark Bakalor whose name appears in so many words, but that is the hallmark of Mark. We will earmark the twenty people who've written the most letters this year, and, as I've already stated, those twenty people will all get a special handy dandy Christmas present. Now, to this week's letters.
Elliot says that the weather is awful and he is afraid he will soon be snowed in. He asks for recommendations of Sondheim albums by solo performers. I don't have them all, but to my mind there aren't any totally fulfilling ones. I very much enjoy Cleo Laine's Sondheim album, but her voice is not ideally suited to all the material. The orchestrations on her album are by Jonathan Tunick, so at least the material is presented in treatments similar to the originals, not that that is always an interesting thing to do. Then there's Geraldine Fitzgerald's album. I like her voice very much, but she sings all the songs in a very similar way with very little nuance or shading. No, I'm afraid we haven't had the great soloist album of Sondheim yet. There are beautiful versions of his songs on albums that aren't devoted solely to his work, but it would take much too long to list them here.
Robert tells me that he's very fond of a song by a writer named David Friedman called We Live On Borrowed Time, recorded by the late Nancy LaMott on her What's Good About Goodbye album. I am not as big a fan of Friedman's work, which I find a bit treacly and cabaretish. The particular song cited here is a good one, though.
Tom Guest (he of Oz), like me, likes the score to 110 in the Shade by Schmidt and Jones. He's also very fond of The Happy Time by Kander and Ebb, although he has seen neither it nor 110 in the Shade. I have seen both. 110 is a wonderful show, but The Happy Time was not very good, although it does contain lots of Kander and Ebb gems, especially I Don't Remember You, A Certain Girl, and the title song. Tom also likes the music and words of Paul Simon (as do I) and wants to know when The Capeman cast album will finally be released. My understanding is that the Dreamworks album is on indefinite hold, which is a shame.
annyrose wrote to say that she didn't have much to say. She is currently stage managing a production of A Chorus Line and needs sleep. She did drop this bombshell, however. Grandma does not like the work of my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Grandma cannot get into his work at all. Grandma is apathetic where Stephen Sondheim is concerned. Mr. Sondheim is anathema to Grandma. Grandma would frankly rather choke on a chicken bone than listen to Stephen Sondheim's work. She does, however, like Cats. Grandma just feels all warm and fuzzy about Cats. Cats she could see over and over again. annyrose, however, does not like Cats. She and Grandma differ on the Cats issue and there is nothing that can be done about it.
Orchestra Pit (yes, Orchestra Pit) just got the score to The Secret Garden and wonders why the orchestration is scored for three horns and one trumpet. My guess is, for whatever reasons, that is the way the orchestrator "heard" the score sounding. There is no understanding that process, which is why I love orchestrators so much. No two are the same and they are all so interesting. Why did Bernard Herrmann have fifteen french horns (maybe more) for his discarded Torn Curtain score? Because that's the way he heard it. Why did Mr. Herrmann decide on an all string orchestra for his Psycho score? Because he thought it sounded black & white like the film's photography.
Danny Greenstone, a new dear reader, has happily become a fan of this here column because not only do I occasionally mention Stephen Sondheim, but because I also mention people like Anthony Newley, who Danny also likes. He asks if there's any news of the availability of Mr. Newley's film Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? Sadly, no, it's not available.
Jo feels several of the guesses as to my Real Identity are plausible. But she's confused by the guesses of Young Simba from The Lion King and George Clooney, and wants to know if those were Real Guesses. Yes, all the guesses were actually guessed by an actual dear reader. Jo wants to know if my "quip with a sting" regarding Fosse was in reference to the show itself or to Fosse the choreographer/director. Whatever I had to say was about Fosse, the musical, as Fosse the person had no bigger fan than I. I recall seeing Pippin on Broadway no less than fourteen times, just so I could watch his incredible staging. Finally, Jo wants to know what my religious beliefs are and if I've tried Cinnaburst gum. Well, as certain astute dear readers might have figured out, I am of the Jewish persuasion, that is to say I come from a Jewish family. I don't really practice Judiaism in a serious fashion, but I do believe in God, I truly do. As to Cinnaburst gum, I have never seen it, but I will make an effort to seek it out and give it a try. However, if it's one of those things that "explode" in your mouth, I will not like it, as explosions in the mouth are not something I like from my gum.
Christopher wrote to tell me that he too thinks 110 In The Shade is a masterpiece.
Jon B. thinks that when dear reader Isabella said she was going to see A Sunday Afternoon in Chicago, that what she meant was A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of Grand Jatte, the Seurat painting at the Art Institute. Said painting, as you know, was the subject of a musical by someone named Stephen Sondheim. When the show premiered in Chicago the Old Lady was played by none other than Jon B.'s mother. I hope she was better than my mother was as the Old Lady in my film Incident At A Pool.
Rafael was upset by the sad news that Julie Andrews may never sing again, and offers his prayers to Ms. Andrews. As do we here at the SSS. However, these things have a way of turning around sometimes, and hopefully this will be one of those times.
Only three people got the correct answer to last week's trivia question: Name the 60s tv variety show on which Michael Bennett and Donna McKechnie danced, and name another Broadway gypsy who danced with them. The people who got at least part of the answer were: steve g., Anita, and Bob G. (no relation to steve g. whose wife is related to Barbra S.). The show was Hullabaloo! Everyone guessed that the gypsy was Baayork Lee, but frankly I don't remember if Ms. Lee was on the show or not. I certainly don't remember seeing her. The gypsy I remember was Gene Castle, a wonderful dancer who was in the original cast of Gypsy on Broadway as well as many others, including his show stopping turn in George M!
This week's trivia question: What do the movie Never On Sunday and Stephen Sondheim have in common?
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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