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July 19, 1999 - #92
Why, I do believe this paragraph is going to have much more clarity than the last. I don't know why I think that, but I just do. My flight to New York took off late. We sat at the gate for one hour. Then we taxied to the runway. Why a plane has to take a taxi just to get to the runway is beyond me. Anyway, as soon as we got to the runway, the plane went right back to the gate. The pilot told us a gauge wasn't working. Workmen boarded the plane and fixed the gauge and then all concerned gauged that the gauge was working again and said workmen departed the plane and we once again taxied to the runway, this time actually managing to take off. So, I arrived in New York one hour late, went directly to my hotel, checked in, and had to run to Joe Allen so as not to keep my friends waiting. I got there in the nick of time. I ate a lovely large Caeser Salad and was content. I saw several shows and did several things which I will talk about later in the column when hopefully the phlegm and the haze have subsided. "The Phlegm and The Haze". That sounds like a Hemingway book.
Do you know what, dear readers? Of course you don't, so I will tell you "what" because you have a right to know "what". "What" is simply this: Here it is, several days later, and I still have phlegm. I have a persistent cough, and every time I cough it produces a sound so retched it is not to be believed, although you'd believe it if you heard it, so retched-sounding is it. I know it is very unseemly to talk of, but how, when you're sick as a dog, can your nose provide so much mucous? Endless mucous? Or, in the vernacular, snot. Tons of snot. Of course, tons of snot is appropriate because, after all, what is "tons" but "snot" spelled backwards? And they say I don't provide useful information. Where else can you find out such effluvia as "tons" is "snot" spelled backwards? Certainly not in the shows of Mr. Stephen Sondheim. All this mucous/snot, haze, and phlegm has made it very difficult to have the energy to write this here column in the lazy hazy crazy days of summer and so I find myself writing all this mere hours before said column must be forwarded to Mr. Mark Bakalor who is up in Carson or wherever the hell he is, singing and dancing and whatnot. I now have to whiz through this here column in order to finish it on time. You know, it just crossed my mind that anyone reading this column for the first time might find it a little odd. I mean, after all, here is a column at the Stephen Sondheim Stage and all it has been about thus far is phlegm and haze with an occasional foray into snot. Perhaps I'd better move on, because frankly this column is starting to feel like the revival of Annie Get Your Gun: Long and pointless. But enough about
The first show I saw on my trip to New York, New York, was the Bernadette Peters revival of Annie Get Your Gun. I attended the Saturday matinee performance. I wish I could report to you, dear readers, that I had a splendid time and that the revival was first rate. Unfortunately, that was simply not the case.
First off, let me just say that I adore the musical entitled Annie Get Your Gun. I have seen it many times. The score is one of my all-time favorites, and I find the book funny and well written. So, the first question one must ask is why do a revival of a show if you don't trust the show you're reviving? Obviously, the creative team thought they could improve Mr. Berlin and the book writers. They brought in Mr. Peter Stone to do one of his rewrite things, and to make the script a bit more politically correct, to which I say phooey. Have you ever said "phooey"? It's a great deal of fun, although given that the word is "phooey" shouldn't it be a great deal of "phun"? Let's all say the word "phooey" together, shall we? One, two, three: Phooey! Where was I? Oh, yes, the politically correct Annie Get Your Gun and the Phooey Phactor. The first thing they've done is give the show a framing device, making it a "show within a show" the Annie/Frank story as presented in the Buffalo Bill Traveling Wild West Show. This is a terrible idea and simply does not work in any way, shape or form. The show now opens with There's No Business Like Show Business, as pointless an opening number as I've ever seen. The show is not about show business it's about Annie and Frank. They've cut the real opening number, Colonel Buffalo Bill, and Frank's first song, I'm A Bad, Bad Man. Because of the artifice of this framing device, one never gets involved in the characters or the plot.
So, that leaves us with the performances. The kids are cute, the Indians are cute (and friendly and politically correct, too), everyone is cute except Dolly, who, in this version, is a racist. And she's the comedy relief. As Frank, Tom Wopat is terrific, charming, funny and his voice well suited to the songs. Which leaves Bernadette Peters. I love Bernadette Peters and have since Dames At Sea. But she is simply going through the paces here, and it's a sadly de-energized performance. Oh, she has moments. Her singing of Moonshine Lullaby is nice, as is I Got Lost In His Arms. But she is the only performer I've ever seen play Annie who gets not one laugh from Doin' What Comes Naturally, a great comedy song. The main problem with her performance of it is that, because of the strange accent she's using, you can't understand a word of it.
The sets by the always-wonderful Tony Walton are swell within the confines of the concept. The costumes are nice, too. The new arrangements and orchestrations are really dreadful and I do believe they would horrify Mr. Irving Berlin. Bruce Coughlin who does most of the reorchestrations for these new revivals is just not good enough. His work on The Sound of Music wasn't good, and his reorchestration of On The Town was one of the worst things I've ever heard, topped only by this revival of Annie Get Your Gun.
After the show, I did get to see Miss Bernadette Peters, who was both very sweet and very short. I also met her brand spanking new husband who was very sweet and very tall. Perhaps those who have never seen Annie Get Your Gun before will enjoy this revival more than I did. The score remains a total delight, even with these horrid arrangements, which just goes to prove that great songs are pretty much indestructible.
Saturday night (the actual night, not the show by my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim) I went to the small York Theater and saw a brand spanking new musical entitled After the Fair, which is based on a story by Thomas Hardy. Like most of these types of shows, the score was serviceable and the production nice but nothing more. The occasional moments when the show soars is due to the excellent talent involved. Michelle Pawk is simply wonderful, her performance is beautifully modulated and her singing terrific. So is Jennifer Piech in the role of her maid. A lovely performance. For those with good memories, you might remember that the roving camera of The Real A snapped Miss Piech while she was dining at Joe Allen. Perhaps Mr. Bakalor can take time out from his singing and dancing and whatnot and reprint said picture here.
James Ludwig gives a nice performance, too. Only David Staller disappoints and it is interesting why he does. His character is a bore with no energy and he plays it right on the money, so that we get a boring performance with no energy. You simply cannot play a character like that without finding a way to play against those characteristics, or a way to compensate for them. For example, something must have made this man tired and boring, some subtext must be going on. But Staller just plays the surface and literally sucks the energy out of the piece every time he's onstage.
On Sunday, I attended a matinee of If Love Were All, a show about Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. It's not much of a show, but it does contain some witty anecdotes and some terrific Coward songs. A whole brace of Coward songs. All delivered with great style and panache by the show's two stars, Twiggy and Harry Groener. Twiggy is lovely, whether singing in her distinctive nasal voice or tap dancing the choreography of Niki Harris, or just looking smashing in the costumes of Tony Walton (who also did the deco decor). Harry Groener is surprisingly good as Noel Coward, deft and charming. A very nice afternoon and the audience ate it up (no mean feat).
No, that's not a female CPA firm, it is two very talented female songwriters who I caught on Monday evening at Don't Tell Mama's. It was an evening of Miss Heisler and Miss Goldrich's songs, which are tuneful and clever, although sometimes a little too clever for their own good. A few more heartfelt ballads would have made the evening more fun. But their comedy songs are what they're known for and most of them are truly funny, something that is not easy to pull off. One of them, The Alto's Lament, a song about a performer who is always stuck in the chorus singing the alto part of famous show tunes, but who longs to sing the melody, is as funny a song as I've ever heard. It's apparently performed quite a bit in cabarets, so perhaps you've already heard it. If not, you're in for a treat. The best thing about Don't Tell Mama's is that it's almost directly across the street from Joe Allen, which is where I went immediately thereafter. I had a lovely bacon and cheese omelet, for those who must know.
Miss Meryle Secrest didn't want to get too close to me this week, as she didn't want to catch any phlegm or haze or snot. But I was telling her that I had recently paid a visit to the Farmer's Market during these lazy hazy crazy days of summer and she immediately wanted to know all about the Farmer's Market and what effect it might have had in making me the person that I am today. She's so arcane sometimes, isn't she?
For those who don't know, the Farmer's Market, located right here in handy-dandy Los Angeles, California, on the corner of Fairfax and Third is a Los Angeles landmark. It has seemingly been there forever. In fact, in next week's column, I'll share some historical pictures with you. It's a charming open-air market, filled with stands selling fresh fruit, vegetables and all manner of things, and food stalls where you can purchase actual food. It is colorful, vibrant and every day it is filled with tourists partaking of its cornucopia of goodies. In past columns I have talked about Gilmore Field and the Gilmore Drive-In, which were both located next to the Farmer's Market, and in fact, the Farmer's Market was owned by the Gilmore Family, too. My parents began taking us kids to the Farmer's Market at an early age and of course we loved it, us kids did. Our favorite food stall was naturally the fish stall. We would gleefully point at the fish we'd want and say "What is it, fish?" to which the vendors had no reply. In addition to lovely fish, the fish stall had the best cole slaw ever. I am somewhat of a cole slaw aficionado, but no cole slaw has ever touched the cole slaw at the Farmer's Market fish stand. Cole slaw, for those who don't know, was invented by a man named Myron Cole, who one fine day took some cabbage, cut it up, but some drippy mayo in it, seasoned to taste, took a bite of the concoction and for some reason known only to himself blurted out, "slaw!". He then attached his surname to his exclamation and the rest is history. Where was I? Oh, yes, the Farmer's Market. The fish stand is still there, by the way, serving what is it, fish. For our non-English speaking friends, I have had "what is it, fish" translated into other languages. Amaze your friends with these translations if you like.
Spanish: Que es esto, pescado?
In a new and horrifying development, they are going to tear down all the surrounding buildings next to the actual Farmer's Market (but which have always been part of it, really) and they are going to build a mall. Those who grew up going to the Farmer's Market are appalled by this. Soon, this city will be one giant mall and have none of the character for which it is justly famous. I would just like to say to the people responsible a hale and hearty "phooey" and I would also like to give them some phlegm to show my appreciation.
While I was at Farmer's Market I purchased some chocolate licorice, one of my favorite taste treats. I also had some beignets at The Gumbo Pot. If you've never had a beignet, they are fried dough with powdered sugar and they are quite excellent, hot and gooey and to things hot and gooey we simply cannot say "phooey". I first had a beignet in New Orleans at Andrew Jackson Park and I fell in love with them. Anyway, if you are in Los Angeles, be sure to visit the Farmer's Market, and preferably before they build the mall. It simply will not be as charming when there's a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) mall next to it.
Oh, yes, we do get letters, but they're from two weeks ago these letters are and frankly they're beginning to get stale so I'd better just answer them right away. There is nothing worse than stale letters. They turn green and they smell bad and then where are you? No, we simply cannot have stale letters, especially not in these lazy hazy crazy days of summer.
Prouvaire asks where on earth I came up with the word "skeeve". I did not come up with the word "skeeve" but where on earth I first heard it was in Mamaroneck, New Jersey. I liked the sound of it and stole it immediately. Prouvaire also asks what I think of the recent influx (as opposed to the outflux) of Disney-fied musicals. I don't much think about them. Beauty and The Beast was merely okay, and The Lion King had a wonderful opening, but quickly grew tiresome. I like real old-fashioned Broadway musicals. And I like musicals which challenge and which are thought provoking, too, while being real old fashioned in a challenging and thought provoking way. Do you ever provoke thought? And how does thought react to said provoking? Just asking.
Pitgirl wanted me to know that she will be in Pittsburgh (a good city for someone named Pitgirl) and will return to reading this column at her earliest convenience. That is very thought provoking information and I am glad pitgirl provided it.
Rafael has finally heard the cast album of The Life by Cy Coleman. Mr. Coleman's Sweet Charity is one of Rafael's favorites, and he merely says that "Sweet Charity this ain't" which is probably a polite way of saying that he doesn't care for The Life, which of course is very thought provoking.
S. Woody White, who will soon be baby sitting an adorable two-year old wants to know why that activity is known as baby sitting, as two year olds are notorious for running, jumping, tripping and various and sundry other activities, very few of them which involve sitting for either child or sitter. I really don't know why they call it baby sitting, as that infers that one is sitting on a baby, which, of course would not do at all, especially if you're the baby. Baby watching would be a much better term, albeit a thought provoking one.
Erin asks if there is any way she can sample some Sondheim musical numbers online without actually buying the CDs. Frequently, amazon.com has samples of songs, so if you type in Sondheim and choose from amongst the albums available, you should be able to hear some things that way.
Alan McCarthy wrote to say he's looking for the lyrics to the song Reviewing The Situation from Oliver, by Mr. Lionel Bart. I'm afraid, after reviewing the situation, that I can be of no help in this quest. Your best bet is to try to find the sheet music to said song.
Sean tells me that he is now officially fifteen years old, which is, I suppose, better than being unofficially fifteen years old. For his birthday he received a plethora of gifts, including the London cast album of Chicago, the London cast album of Passion and the new Broadway cast album of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown as well as the script for Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Furth's Gettting Away With Murder and the vocal selections to Marc Blitzstein's adaptation of Threepenny Opera. Sean has also been enjoying the JAY recording of 110 In The Shade. Sean had a trauma with his community theater group that had to do with the lady who directs there, who, he says, is a tyrannical control-freak. She'd told him that he would play Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie and then reneged and cast someone else. She had all sorts of excuses, none of them acceptable to Sean. Unfortunately, some people who direct community theater are tyrannical control freaks because they feel they can be. Theater is a collaborative medium and it is best for no one to by too tyrannical. If I come up against a tyrannical control freak I kick them in the shins really hard. That gives them pause, let me tell you. In any case, Sean is now auditioning for You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and I trust it is not for the same tyrannical control freak from Bye Bye Birdie.
Alan G. is trying to arrange a get together in New York in a few weeks for some of the locals and he'd like me to be there. Where and when would be my question.
Tom (Oz) has just had a root canal done. Fortunately his dentist and he went through high school together which at least made the canal less painful. If you have ever had a root canal you will know just how hideous it can be whether you attended high school with the dentist or not.
No one guessed the answer to our last trivia question, why doesn't Stephen Sondheim use the Internet. So, I will tell you why. He does not use the Internet because he feels he has an addictive personality and that once he began using said Internet he would never stop, he would be on it all the time and he would never get any work done. That is a true story.
This week's trivia question: Lerner and Loewe wrote one of the musical theater's biggest hits, My Fair Lady. However, they were not the original choice to write the show. No, another team actually began writing My Fair Lady and then bowed out. Who were they?
Breaking news from Mr. Mark Bakalor, who has informed me that he will
not be here next week to put up the column, hence there will be no
column until August 2nd. That is the breaking news. How many of you dear readers
would like to break Mr. Bakalor? In any case, the column will return
in two weeks and everything should be both hunky dorey and dorey hunky
from that point on.
Until next time, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Breaking news from Mr. Mark Bakalor, who has informed me that he will not be here next week to put up the column, hence there will be no column until August 2nd. That is the breaking news. How many of you dear readers would like to break Mr. Bakalor? In any case, the column will return in two weeks and everything should be both hunky dorey and dorey hunky from that point on.
Until next time, 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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