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March 15, 1999 - #77
Thank goodness (thank you, goodness) we are past the first sentence and the first paragraph. I feel we will be much more lucid and coherent in the second paragraph. I don't know why I feel this, but I do. And yet, a mere perusal of the second paragraph as it exists (not existential) would seem to prove me wrong. Oh, enough of this idle meandering banter (retnab spelled backwards). Do you know that every time I type a word backwards my handy-dandy computer has to let me know that I've misspelled it? Like I didn't know that? Computers are so literal, are they not? Or is that an existential question? Anyway, I am back from New York and I have been fighting jet lag. I got in a few good punches, but frankly jet lag is winning. Jet lag gave me a swift uppercut to the jaw and I've been feeling the after-effects of said uppercut ever since I returned. I had a swell time in New York, though. As you all must know by now, I ate all my meals at Joe Allen. And they were scrumptious, as always. They had my beloved coconut custard pie (with whipped cream) so I was happily contented. But do you know what invariably happens, dear readers? Other diners see me eating my beloved coconut custard pie (with whipped cream) and they feel strangely compelled to order it themselves. You don't believe me? Well, I can prove it, dear readers, because I took an activity picture of a diner who did precisely what I'm talking about. And I caught him in the act of eating it, with whipped cream clearly visible on or about his hungry maw.
I feel this whole column has an existential feel to it. I don't know why, I just do. Well, perhaps I'd just better move on to the next section of the column, because frankly this whole column thus far is starting to feel like the revival of Night Must Fall: Pointless. But enough about me.
The first question (not existential) we have to ask is why I went to see this show. I disliked the movie, am sure I would have disliked the novel, and had read a couple of the scathing reviews the show had gotten. I hate drugs or even the thought of drugs, and I find it difficult to care about characters that are on the fast track to oblivion. Yes, the leading character finally realizes he is doing himself harm, but by the time he does I simply couldn't care less. However, I was invited to see it so see it I did.
It is obvious from the time you enter the theater that the producers and creative team all thought they had another Rent on their hands. After all, it's playing in the same theater where Rent began, and it has the same director and the same set designer as well. Now, keep in mind that Rent held very few pleasures for me, but Rent had a structure that was sound and a score obviously written by someone with talent. Bright Lights, Big City was written by a fellow named Paul Scott Goodman. He not only wrote the score but the "book" as well. He is also in the show, playing someone named Paul Scott Goodman. This is a curious device, to say the least. Mr. Goodman is a long-haired forty-ish "rocker" with a thick almost incomprehensible Scottish accent. He comes out at the beginning of the show with his guitar and informs the audience that he's Paul Scott Goodman and that he wrote the show we're about to see. He then serves as a kind of narrator throughout the show. The big problem with this is that one simply can't understand about half of what he's either saying or singing. I don't think this "author serving as narrator" is a good idea for the musical theater. Why, can you imagine if Stephen Sondheim came out at the beginning of Passion and said, "Hi, I'm Steve Sondheim and I wrote this show" and then proceeded to walk up to the naked Clara and Giorgio and start singing about what we're going to see? In any case, Mr. Goodman's music is servicable but all sounds the same. His lyrics, on the other hand, are inept beyond repair. There is a lot of loud singing in the show, some of it by reasonably talented people. And Patrick Wilson gives his all in the central role of Jamie, but, again, I simply didn't care about him. That said, there were ten or eleven people in the full house who were hooping and hollering and trying to turn the evening into a Rent experience, but the rest of us weren't having any of it. Several people departed at intermission, although I toughed it out until the very end. My prediction is that when Bright Lights, Big City ends its run, that will basically be the end of the show. This has become the single most astonishing thing to me about the current state of the musical theater, the things authors are choosing to musicalize. So unappealing, so unappetizing. I'm telling you here and now and also now and here that the first people who write a truly entertaining old-fashioned musical with a tuneful score are going to have a huge hit. Mark my words, dear readers. Or, perhaps Mr. Mark Bakalor can mark my words, since he is indeed Mark.
Didn't he do a fine job of marking my words? In fact, I venture to say there is no finer marker of words than the marker Mark.
Well, dear readers, the Los Angeles critics have shown their complete incompetentcy once again. They were vicious and horrible to leading lady Teri Hatcher. They should be taken out and drawn and quartered for this. In fact, let's draw and quarter them right here and now.
Dear The Real A:
How thoughtful of you to write me such a nice letter. I was very upset at these Los Angeles critics, I can tell you that. Not one of them mentioned how tall I am. I am the tallest Sally Bowles there has ever been. I am even taller than Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming, although Alan Cumming doesn't play Sally Bowles. He'd like to, though. These critics seemed to have it in for me just because I played Lois Lane. Was that my fault? Did I cast me as Lois Lane? But at least the television critics mentioned how tall I was. I shall treasure your note and will keep it with me always. I shall even bring it on stage with me and show it to the other actors, especially Norbert Leo Butz, who now thinks he's a big cheese. Best of luck to you, whoever you are.
Since the play Art is currently on view in Los Angeles and on Broadway, I thought this would be a fine opportunity to have a section of the column entitled Art. I have not seen said play, but I understand it somehow involves Art, as in painting, not Art as in a person's name. This section of the column will also be about Art as in painting and not as in a person's name. I just thought it would be fun to have show and tell with you, dear readers. So, first here is the famous J.C. Leyendecker painting which I purchased last year. This is not the famous faux Leyendecker, this is the real deal. This painting was used as the cover for the September 3rd, 1921 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. You will notice that the date on the painting says September 12. September 12, 1921 was "back to school" day, which is the subject of the painting. But because the issue came out on the 3rd, they changed the art (one of the few times in the Post's history). They dropped the date entirely, and moved the snail to the bottom left of the cover. It doesn't work nearly as well as the painting. Enough chatter, here it is.
Do you realize that if I was writing this here 77th column on the Sunset Strip that it would be 77 Sunset Strip? Isn't that an interesting bit of effluvia?
I must have no life, dear readers, because despite having written a long and detailed A Life section this morning, Mr. Mark Bakalor tells me that it has disappeared, that it has gone the way of all flesh, whatever the hell that means. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, an entire section of the column has gone missing. Vanished into thin air. Not fat air, mind you, oh no, this here section has vanished into thin air, which I frankly find more annoying. And because of the Way Things Work when I write any of this here column while sitting on my couch like so much fish, there is no way to "save" what I write. No, I send it, I get confirmation that it's been successfully sent, and that's it. Well, I wrote, I sent, I got confirmation, and yet, it did not arrive. It went into a void. We try to our darndest to avoid a void and yet a void is exactly what we haven't avoided. This is very frustrating, this losing of this section. I mean, we've lost A Life here. I think we should all take a moment and mourn our missing section. Now that we've mourned, what is the next step? I just can't be expected to write the whole thing over again. After all, I write these things off the top of my head (no mean feat) and I just can't be expected to do them again at the drop of a hat, now can I? All right, I just dropped a hat from off the top of my head and as I suspected, I can't be expected to write this whole thing over again. I was right, top-of-the-head and hat-wise. Oh, well, what can you do when this new-fangled technology runs amok. I had warned Mr. Bakalor that if this type of thing ever happened again (A Long Time Ago In A Column Far Away we'd lost quite a bit of a column which I'd had to reconstruct from scratch) that it would be the end of the column. Should I be an A of my word, dear readers? Or should we just spank the buttcheeks of Mr. Bakalor? I don't know. I just don't know. So, I'm afraid this will be our first "cliffhanger" column. Will next week be our final column? Was it all a dream? Stay tuned, dear readers. I know you will be waiting on pins and needles. Pins and needles? Don't you think that's just gilding the lily, whatever the hell that means?
I wonder how many letters we're up to now. I wonder if we're getting close to another handy-dandy prize giveaway? Why, in the last three weeks alone I believe this column has received at least ten thousand letters, mostly "e"s and quite a few "i"s as well. Perhaps Mr. Mark Bakalor can tell us how many letters we're up to (Mr. Mark Bakalor, "1,499"). The bird is outside singing Jubilation T. Cornpone from Li'l Abner. What a jaunty tune, and the bird is doing it to a fare-thee-well, whatever the hell that is. I've always been very partial to Li'l Abner. Right around the time I was first being introduced to musical theater ("Rosalie, my darling") I saw the motion picture version of Li'l Abner, which was a very faithful recreation of the stage show. I loved every minute of it, saw it seventeen times in two weeks and wore out at least three copies of the soundtrack album. I used to do the choreography in our den. Why am I talking about Li'l Abner when I'm supposed to be answering letters? And just how do you answer a letter? For example, if the letter is "w" how do you answer it? "q"? Is that the answer? Oh, enough of this shillyshallying. I hate when people shillyshally, don't you? I don't mind it so much when they shallyshilly, but enough with the shillyshally already.
Evan will be directing Pippin at Queen's College in New York and he tells me that Stephen Schwartz has given him a new ending to the show. In this new ending does Pippin actually set himself aflame? Does he torch the duck? Or do he and the Leading Player go off together at the end of the show? Just asking.
Craig informs me that I did not answer his letter ("g") from last week. Perhaps I didn't get said letter as I do answer all that I receive, unless Craig merely sent in an answer to the trivia question. Craig is extremely frustrated with rehearsals for Into The Woods as his director is "beyond inept". I once went beyond inept but I didn't like it and I quickly returned to inept. Perhaps the director will find his way. Otherwise, my advice to Craig is this: The next time The Director From Beyond Inept gives you a direction that you find heinous (heinous , do you hear me?) merely say to him, "What is it, fish?". That will stop him in his tracks and he will most likely look at you askance.
Joe Obenberger, a first amendment lawyer in Chicago (the town, not the musical) paid a visit to this here column, and had a query. In addressing his query, he called me, The Real A, "Steve". Does he mean to imply that I am, in fact, my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim? And would that mean that if I were Mr. Stephen Sondheim, that Mr. Stephen Sondheim would be me? While I can neither confirm nor deny said implication, I just throw out the following question: If it takes Mr. Stephen Sondheim three years to write Wise Guys, do you think he could finish a column a week? Just asking. Anyway, Joe's query has to do with a past column, in which I mentioned one-time Playmate Connie Kreski, who was in the film Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness, playing opposite Mr. Anthony Newley. Joe was in the eighth grade when Ms. Kreski was a Centerfold and he was quite taken with her (as many were - including James Caan, who dated her for many years). Sadly, Joe has found out that Ms. Kreski has recently passed away. He'd like to know if there's any way I can arrange for him to see her film. Unfortunately, it's not available on video, so no, I can't. Since I mentioned in that long ago column that Ms. Kreski had ended up being a makeup person, Joe asks if I actually know that because I knew her. I will answer that question this way: I met her when she was performing her duties as a makeup person. I told her that I'd thought she was swell in Merkin and she seemed delighted that anyone remembered her at all. She worked in makeup for Playboy, by the way, on their photo and video shoots. Like or hate Mr. Hefner (Hef to his friends), he takes care of his own.
Erin feels that this here column is quirky. She asks if I plan said quirkiness or if said quirks just appear of their own volition. I find that this here column works best when I write it off the cuff. First of all, have you ever tried to write a column on the cuff? A cuff is much too small for this size column. I like to just go with the flow and sometimes even flow with the go. In other words, as Doris Day once sang "Que Sera Sera" or "Whatever Will Be Will Be".
Rafael wrote me a long dissertation on Buddha, things he learned from his tour guide Jackie in Bangkok. Apparently Rafael learned all about Buddha when he wasn't watching women shoot darts out of their genitalia.
Elan took exception to a line in last week's column, in which I stated "Teri Hatcher puts the songs over with great elan". Elan informs me that Ms. Hatcher has, in fact, never put anything over on him, great or otherwise.
annyrose hasn't written in two weeks because she's been in rehearsals for Carousel. It seems the show opens in two weeks and yet the choreographer has only choreographed about thirty seconds of dance. Since there has been only thirty seconds of dance choreographed then what has stopped annyrose from writing? Unless she is playing Billy Bigelow there is simply no excuse for not writing.
Anna has finished doing Edwin Drood and apparently the show went well, even the part where they pranced across the stage like horses. Perhaps Anna can lend some of that choreography to annyrose's Carousel, as they seem to be a little short on the dance. Anna also wants me to tell dear reader Sarah, that So Many People is published in the All Sondheim Vol.II music book, on page 105.
mrsmig has worn her special handy-dandy "what is it, fish?" t-shirt to rehearsals of Archy and Mehitabel and even though she's explained it, the people there just don't get it. There is only one thing to say to those people, and that is "What is it, fish?" and if they have the temerity to look at you askance, merely continue with "Is there sauce on it? I wouldn't eat it if there's sauce on it".
kokol writes to tell me she hasn't read this here column in months, but is happy to find it "as witty and refreshing as ever". I am glad that it is witty and refreshing and we simply must insist that kokol take no more hiatuses. Otherwise strange and exotic women may show up at her house with darts, and believe me, it's just better to read this here column, frankly.
I received three e-mails too late to answer, from new reader Joey, from our beloved Emily and from polecat. Never fear, I shall answer your letters next week. Do try to get your letters to me by Friday, otherwise I may not get to them in time for the next column.
Oh, you smartypants people. There is just no fooling you. You are just too smart for your pants. Many of you knew at least part of the answer to last week's question: Name the two people from the 1968 revival of West Side Story who would go on to act in major Sondheim shows on Broadway. The following people got at least half the question right: jon, Anita, Jed, crow, Carlton and Evan. And the answer: Victoria Mallory played Maria and Kurt Peterson Tony, and both went on to play in Follies, and Ms. Mallory also played Anne in A Little Night Music as well as appearing in several Sondheim evenings. Mr. Peterson also co-produced the first of what would become many Sondheim tributes - Sondheim: A Musical Tribute, which had the famous Scrabble cover art.
This week's trivia question: This one is so obscure I would venture to say that no one will get it (although you never cease to amaze me, dear readers). I mentioned the motion picture version of Li'l Abner earlier. The film starred Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish and Stubby Kaye. In the film, which mostly takes place in Al Capp's wonderful Dogpatch, U.S.A. there is a brief cameo appearance by a very well-known celebrity. Name the celebrity. No cheating now.
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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