Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Broadway

On a recent trial of Broadway HD, a streaming service, I watched Gypsy (the 2005 West End revival with Imelda Staunton as Rose), She Loves Me (Harnick and Bock, 2016 on Broadway), and The King and I (a sumptuous 2017 revival with Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe). Wonderful works, all of them.
Of course, in the latter two shows, the principals are at such odds with each other that how could they ever get together. But they do, in their fashion.
Re Gypsy. It's often noted that Rose, the driving force of the show (thumbnail: "overbearing mother") is one of the most complex characters in all musical theatre. I suppose because she can't help creating and feeling such pain. In "Rose's Turn," the powerhouse song/soliloquy at the climax of Act Two, she cries out for her share of success in this life, which translates to the star turn she takes, alone on stage and abandoned (she assumes).
Also on Bway HD, I caught an interview with Stephen Sondheim, recorded in London about ten years ago, in which he recalled the Act One climax to Gypsy (he wrote the lyrics, music by Jules Stein), when Rose discovers that her eldest daughter, and the boys in their vaudeville act, have the left to try it on their own.
Sondheim was writing for a star, Ethel Merman. It had been assumed, Sondheim said, that Merman was no actor, so he wrote a song--the famous "Everything's Coming Up Roses"--to suit her brassy style. (All those years before on-stage mics, Merman never had trouble reaching the back of the theatre.) In the scene, she could just belt out the song. The other characters could do the acting. 
In fact, Sondheim learned, Merman, the Vaudeville vet, turned out to be a very fine actor, especially in comedic bits.
I did cancel the streaming service before the end of the trial but might go back to it. 
They're such wonderful shows!

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Host

I caught Globe Theatre's wonderful Chicago again last night. This time I promised myself I'd pay attention particularly to the role of the cabaret host. It's not a role, it's a function shared in this production by whichever actor is available. No need to create the cabaret MC host--here imagine Joel Grey in Cabaret. Just enlist a voice, any voice, to set up the next scene.

If I'm not mistaken (but dedicated readers of this blog--good sunny Sunday to you, uncle Foster and aunt Hewitt--will know I often am), Chicago was originally billed as "a cabaret," though I don't see that billing in the Globe program. Correction: on the vocal score, it's called "a musical Vaudeville." Same thing. A show staged as if the audience is not just implied as usual but is explicitly present just beyond the performance space. If that is so, cabaret must provide the MC function, and may be excused from, or at least take a looser grip on, the task of building that narrative arc a show needs. 

Cabaret as a stage show written by Kander and Ebb, included both scenes in the Kit-Kat club and elsewhere. Bob Fosse, in directing the hit movie, kept the focus on the club, the cabaret. And the slippery, tricky, MC, played by Grey, kept us where Fosse wanted us to be.

Chicago, also by Kander and Ebb (book by Ebb and Fosse), underplays the MC role, as noted above. There's hardly any tease, just straight-ahead intro to what's next.

So, in my Oak Floors, a Heritage Cabaret, I've had my flaneur figure who, in various versions, has ranged from being a hallway spirit (an all-purpose genius loci) who slips here and there as needed, to being your regular ageless, timeless narrator. I've kept him, so far, because he helps undercut the otherwise monumental thematic verities of love and loneliness.

The way I'm thinking now, however, that tease-y function will blend with the straight historical narrator function and the get-me-to-the-next-scene function. Just keep it simple. Get the show before the audience, as those anonymous MC voices do in Chicago.

So I'm back into this show of mine. A new element, pertinent to the above notions, is presenting historical material as a series of captions and projected images. The caption content could be spoken by our MC. The image content could be mimed by a pair of actors in short freezes. 


Monday, 2 September 2019

Doldrums

I was reading today in A Ship Without a Sail, the Gary Marmarstein bio of lyricist Lorenz Hart.
Hart and Rodgers wrote a lot of songs and got their musicals up in a hurry. When they became superstars by the late 1920s, they could have 2 or 3 shows running on Broadway at the same time. Hart, furthermore, was notoriously fast as a lyricist--often, as the story goes, scrawling a new one using for a desk the top of the piano at which his younger, sterner partner, Rodgers, waited impatiently. Often brilliant lyrics, of course. Lined with sharp allusions to American speech, to sex, and to the Classics, all at once.
So what's holding me up. I got home a few days ago but haven't touched my piano. I signed out the Broadway Fake Book from the RPL but haven't opened it. 
Here's the kicker: After I told my sister Fay that I was thinking of taking singing lessons, and that they cost $45 a session, Fay kept saying, "Oh, you've got to do that" and, for my recent birthday, gave me $45 in cash and card saying, "Do it. And send a report!"
So I think I have to. 
One way or another.
Get going.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Love Interest

As I was (not) saying re that love interest in an imagined musical version of The Alchemist . . .
Once we get past the Prologue--containing the business about the writer and his book--we get into the story proper: about a young shepherd boy, tending his flock of sheep. According to his father, the boy's career choices were shepherd or priest, and the boy wanted to travel. So here he is, herding his sheep over the countryside.
They learn his rhythms, more a case of him learning theirs. He tells them about the weather, what's on his mind today, what he's seen. Lately, he's been telling them about the girl, the wool-shearer's daughter, whom he's about to meet again . . .

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A Page of Reading

I got to the end of the first page of The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho, trans. Alan Clarke) and saw a musical. The speaker in the novel expresses the theme: I never "wavered in my vision" and "in the end, I realized . . .". Imagine the musical of which that is the synopsis.
"Well, every musical every made," you might reply, dear Reader. Yes, so it's not the them, it's the details that have to sell the show.
In the case of The Alchemist--to be confirmed once I finish reading it--the details include a writer whose first book, published twenty-five years ago, "no one noticed." Other characters would be a bookseller, a publisher, and the single customer, who buys the book twice.
Somehow the book itself would be the focus of the opening song, a montage involving all who carry it. 
As for love interest . . .

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Song

The more famous the show tune, the less we remember its context in the show. "Cabaret," for instance. Here it is, the wonderful Kander/Ebb song, aced by Liza Minelli in the '72 movie.

In the play, Sally Bowles--the Kit Kat showgirl, I think meant to be far less polished than Minelli--ignores the rise of the Nazis in pre-war Berlin. Let others resist or, like her American (in the play) British (in the movie) boyfriend, flee. She'll stay working at the club. In fact, she's due at a rehearsal right now.

Politics don't matter, she believes, even when the nightmare looms. They're throwing bricks through windows of Jewish sympathizers, lovers are torn apart, Sally's had an abortion . . .

So in the play she comes on stage and does the song and says her piece. More than a call to seize the pleasures of the moment, the song expresses her fear, defiance, hope, cowardice, fate, force, innocence, blindness, strength.

One measure of how big this song became outside of the show is that later productions moved it to the top. In its original spot, near the Act Two climax of the piece, the song takes us to the heart of the character at the moment of greatest crisis.


Saturday, 29 June 2019

Oklahoma!

As millions know, Oklahoma! begins in light: a bright new morning, one never before seen. A woman described as "buxom" and "about 50" pauses over her butter churn to gaze out over the meadow, a "contented look" on her face. We in the audience are the meadow. Thus, I imagine, we're contented too. Expectant. Something good will come, soon.
It's a voice, a young man, from offstage. "There's a bright, golden haze on the meadow," he sings. He repeats the line, then, "The corn is as high as en elephant's eye, / An' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky." 
Now the young man, Curly, saunters on. You know what comes next: 
     Oh, what a beautiful mornin', 
     Oh, what a beautiful day. 
     I got a beautiful feelin'
     Everythin's going my way.
(Here we might observe that one "beautiful" is enough, two are too many, but with the third we're back to enough. Furthermore, re rhyme, note that only the perfect rhyme works here. Try "Everythin's going to be fine.")
Maybe it will go Curly's way, maybe it won't. The play throws complications our way. But an opening like this one beguiles us, picks us up perfectly for the ride.
Here's Hugh Jackman as Curly in a 1998 London revival.