Sunday, 1 December 2019


In a few days I'll have ten minutes to pitch my show to a professional theatre company. Let's see how the pitch goes with ten minutes of typing. Go!
It's called Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret. A chamber musical. Scaled down from two acts, 18 songs, now it's about 60 minutes, 10 songs.
The apostrophe is an homage to Oklahoma!
The play is set in the Oak Floors, a heritage apartment building at the edge of downtown. 
Stylistically, it's a cabaret, meaning a series of songs/scenes with a host who comments on, responds to, and occasionally participates in the scenes. I call him the Flaneur. 
Thematically, it's a play about time. How could it not be. Specifically, it's about the life of a building, which began with high hopes in 1929, endured stock market crash, depression, changes in ownership, breakdown and deterioration, renovation, possible condo conversion, etc. 
The other major theme is love in a time of loneliness, or vice versa. The seven characters--an older couple good at aging, a university student on the delayed degree plan, a janitor who loves his machines, a nurse who's a cat-whisperer, a single guy who complains, and the flaneur--try to locate themselves on the love-to-loneliness scale. Where are they? Where do they want to be? Will it change tomorrow? etc.
In terms of tone, the play is seriously playful. That is, it manifests deep respect both for heritage, which despite its occasional institutional silliness does make cities better, and for any individual's search for, or resistance to, connection.
Though written for 7, the show could be done by as few as 3 singer/actors, one of whom would be the on-stage musical director.
The songs exist as simple piano reductions--melodies by me, with harmonic layering by Carter Powley.
The play would be fun, instructive, flexible to stage.
The one set piece would be a door frame, with door, on wheels. Every scene would begin and/or end at/through this doorway. 

That's ten minutes. When I'm actually talking the pitch, I'd work in a note about resolution: a coming together of the two thematic streams, which interact throughout. Characters will accept or not the effects of time and the scars of love and loneliness. Living in the same building, they're separate but linked.
The company would hire the actor/singers, apply its resources of marketing, design and production, stage management. And a director. I'll provide the script, the charts, the images for projection (which I forgot to mention above--twice in the play historical images are projected, as a way of covering the historical narrative) and any help I can with the rest of it. I'd be perfectly happy to hand over the script and disappear until closing night, however.

Monday, 11 November 2019


The play as a whole could be performed by no fewer than three actors, though it’s written for seven. Characters can be voiced by different actors from scene to scene.

So goes the Note I'm composing for my Oak Floors! a Heritage Cabaret. What happens, I wonder, when one character is sung by multiple voices in the course of the whole piece. If that works--and I suspect it would, if performed by pros--than my chamber musical could be done by three actors, one of them the music director, all playing multiple characters.
Or have one character locked to one actor while the rest bounce around as needed. That lock would be settled on the flaneur, as this figure is still called (I'll add that circumflex accent before producing some final version of the script.) Her/His role is to take us from scene to scene in the heritage cabaret. An obvious function, I suppose. But to "take us" is not a straightforward matter. Attitude, tease, degrees of complicity with what we're about to see or have just seen--all of these the flaneur will carry. Thus the story we receive, if I'm not off course here, will land with both conviction and light. Light as in suspension, light as in play.

But give me seven to sing the Chorus role. Play the Chorus off against individuals in scenes.

So, somewhere in the above is the genesis of a Note I want to include. I like thinking about this now--the prospect of only three actors to do the whole piece--instead of later in a rush, should that ever happen.

Monday, 28 October 2019


I just spent an hour with Carousel, Act 2. For an illustration of the now-standard truth that Rodgers and Hammerstein changed musicals forever, note what has happened at the end of Act 1. Billy, the, male lead, has arrived at both his best (devotion to wife and unborn child) and worst (accomplice to a robbery).
The community is intact, having enjoyed "a real nice clambake." But that robbery scene is coming up.
Anyway, not to give any more away or over-dumb the story. My point it, it has one, and it's powerful.
Eventually we get to the famous "You'll Never Walk Alone," here sung gloriously by Renee Fleming in the 2018 revival.

Do not watch the YouTube vid of RF singing this song, unless you can stomach her dedication to "our armed forces overseas."
Instead, for best results, read and listen to the musical to this point. 
Then play the Fleming version, and its built-in pain, elegy, hope, despair, love, vulnerability, refusal, celebration, and the rest of it.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Walt Whitman

Last night I attended a reading at McNally-Robinson in Saskatoon. From my chair, I had an obstructed view of a book cover that said Thoughts of Whitman. Could be interesting, I noted. I'd have a closer look after the reading. Turns out the full title was Thoughts of a White Man. Not so interesting.
This afternoon I took a seat in the corner of Regina Public Library downtown for a bit of reading and writing. First I scanned the nearby shelves, the American Lit section. There I spotted Walt Whitman, by David Reynolds. 
I mention these random events because I'd already begun to track the notion of Walt Whitman, the Musical. I'm sure he could find a reason to sing "his all-embracing persona, his imaginative vocabulary, and his sweeping catalogs that juxtaposed crisp vignettes of people, places and things" (quoting Reynolds).
There's also the matter of the "inner light" he inherited from his Quaker mother.
And he lived in Brooklyn (circa 1830) when it stood half-way from rural Long Island to urban Manhattan. And he covered baseball for a Brooklyn newspaper. And, oh yes, went on to revolutionize poetry in the western world. 
Just for starters. I'd have to account for his sexual peccadilloes, if that's what they were.
I'd want to go to Brooklyn, which I do anyway. 

Thoreau came down to Brooklyn to visit him. He corresponded with Emerson. Was antislavery. During the Civil War volunteered at a hospital. Was a teacher and printer. Admired painters, photographers, actors, singers. Had troubled siblings. Was pan-spiritual. Loved the city and the land. Loved science and machines. Loved sex. Imagined a life-long poetic project both personal and national in scope.
All of which he'd sing.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019


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


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


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.