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.