December’s Leftovers and January’s Brainteaser
And now, the end is near of another year. Went fast, didn’t it? And yet, it did afford me to learn some salient facts from readers:
“THE MIRACLE, a 1991 Irish film directed by Neil Jordan, has a scene in which Beverly D’Angelo plays an American actor appearing in a production of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN.” -- Stephen Rutledge
“The commentary on the BluRay of PSYCHO mentions that Anthony Perkins wasn’t available for the shower scene because he was doing GREENWILLOW; a female stand-in actually did the slashing.” – Ryan DeFoe
“After Kurt Weil came to America, he learned that composers didn’t routinely orchestrate their own work, which he had always done with his music in Germany. And how did he take the news? As he said to his wife Lotte Lenya, ‘They want to take away my dessert!’” – Peter Lewis
It was the month we got THE WIZ LIVE! – which got me to watch the reviled 1978 film of the 1974-75 Tony-winner. Diana Ross has taken a tremendous amount of heat for her performance, but I say she’s playing what’s written. The mistake was to change the character from a girl to a woman. A girl can be scared, yes, but she would also have a sense of wonder that would ameliorate it. When you’re older and you run into Ozzian creatures, you’re well within your rights to whimper and cry out of petrified fear.
What I indeed love about THE WIZ film, however, is that it makes my beloved New York represent the Emerald City. However, I WILL admit that in the scene where our heroes go into the subway, I was repulsed to see a rat run across the platform. Oh, I’m inured to seeing them on lines A to Z, but I’d think that they wouldn’t include one in the film.
Then I looked closer. It wasn’t a rat. It was Toto.
It was the month we celebrated Frank Sinatra’s centenary – reminding me once again of my long-held belief that Frank Sinatra, Jr. should have done Broadway musicals -- because his father never did. Thus, Junior would have had less basis for comparison than he encountered whenever he appeared in Vegas or recorded songs in his father’s style. Even if Junior didn’t have the acting chops, Lord knows that his father had the resources to hire the best teachers who could have helped.
Who knows? Maybe there’s still time. Frank Sinatra, Jr. is about to mark his 72nd birthday, which makes him eligible for Mr. Lundie in BRIGADOON, Arvide Abernathy in GUYS AND DOLLS and Cervantes/Don Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA.
Moron of the Month: Stephen Deusner, who wrote in Salon that Frank Loesser’s song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is “icky at best, at worst reprehensible: It describes what may be a date rape. Let’s examine the situation: A woman has stopped by to visit a man, and he connives to keep her from leaving. ‘My answer is no,’ she states, but he pours on the charm: ‘It’s up to your knees out there.’ His seductions become increasingly smarmy (‘What’s the sense of hurting my pride?’) and eventually sinister. At one point she exclaims, ‘Say, what’s in this drink?’ Is he being generous with the alcohol, or has he slipped her something stronger? At this point, the Wolf and Mouse designations are redundant. It’s all too clear that he’s a predator and she’s prey.”
Date-rapers say something stronger than “you’re hurting my pride.” But as for “Say, what’s in this drink?” Deusner doesn’t know that this was an idiom in the ‘40s when Loesser wrote the song. It’s one that people often used when they did something atypical or erratic and wanted to blame it on alcohol – fully joking, knowing there was no alcohol in the drink, but pretending there was so they could ostensibly blame it on something else. On second thought, as time goes by, Deusner has a chance to become “Moron of the Millennium.”
At a performance at the Signature Theatre, I’ve never seen so many people be so quick to turn on their iPhones the moment that a first act ended. But many wanted to know if the medical condition mentioned in Naomi Wallace’s NIGHT IS A ROOM is a real one.
“I’ve never heard of it,” the woman in front of me indignantly said -- and I never had, either. But lo and behold, a quick Googling taught us searchers that this odd and seemingly unbelievable situation is something that happens to people in real life, as it does to the three characters in Wallace’s play.
Soon we saw the Act Two stage reconfigured in a way that told us we’d only see two characters for the rest of the play. But which ones? Wallace kept us guessing, but she was able to make a play that started out in creepy fashion have a reasonably happy ending.
The title, although taken from a poem by William Carlos Williams, is awkward. “Isn’t it NIGHT IN A ROOM?” said the gentleman to my right. Actually, the most apt title of the play would be the name of a Stephen Adly Gurgis play with the word “with” changed to “without.” You do the metaphorical math.
During intermission, I ran into the enchanting Karen Valen who made a characteristically smart observation. “This complex,” she said, “is the closest we have to London’s National Theatre.” She’s right; tables, chairs, a bar, food and drink, a bookshop – and plenty of space for everyone to mill about and enjoy it. Thanks to all the powers-that-be that made the Pershing Square Signature Center happen.
In his new book ON SONDHEIM, Ethan Mordden reports that Steve was incensed at the 2012 revival of PORGY AND BESS that had the audacity to put the words THE GERSHWINS’ before the title. Sondheim argued that equal credit should have gone to DuBose Heyward, for he co-wrote the book with his wife and wrote the play PORGY, without which, of course, there would have been no musical. Mordden is apparently too much of a gentleman to point out that WEST SIDE STORY, Sondheim’s first hit, was adapted from ROMEO AND JULIET, but Shakespeare was never credited in programs, window cards, three-sheets or cast albums.
The Transport Group’s ONCE UPON A MATTRESS is great fun. Jackie Hoffman is a riot as Princess Winnifred as is John “Lypsinka” Epperson as Queen Aggravain, with strong vocal support from Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as The Minstrel. But one thing occurred to me while watching this production that hadn’t hit me the last three times I saw the 1959 hit.
It harkens backs to 1996, when the upcoming Broadway revival gave me the chance to talk to composer Mary Rodgers and co-librettist and lyricist Marshall Barer in separate interviews. Both told me that they’d been an item; Barer even claimed that they’d been engaged, while Rodgers rebutted that the relationship hadn’t got THAT far.
What both did divulge, however, was the marriage broke up because of Mary’s father, better known to us as Richard Rodgers. That he didn’t approve of Barer as a potential son-in-law is compelling in the context of the show they were writing. There we have a queen who doesn’t want her regal son to marry someone who wasn’t a princess; Mr. Rodgers, a King in his field, apparently didn’t want his princess marrying someone who wasn’t regal. As a result, Rodgers and Barer didn’t live happily, happily, happily ever after.
And so, as we enter the New Year, may I say to every theater enthusiast that we all make resolutions to see more of each other this year; if we haven’t yet met, let’s rectify that, too.
In case you ARE interested in shaking hands and chatting over a drink, I’ll be at Birdland on January 18 at 7 p.m. to savor MERMAN’S APPRENTICE once again. Stephen Cole and David Evans’ excellent musical – in which The Merm in her DOLLY days takes a young fan under her wing – will get another and much deserved airing with Klea Blackhurst once again proving she’s this generation’s golden-throated heir to The First Lady of the American Musical Theatre. Co-starring is Elizabeth Teeter, who in June turned in one of the most spectacular performances I’ve ever seen a kid deliver.
You’ll also be able to get the first copies of the cast album, for which I provided the liner notes. See you there!
Last month’s brainteaser asked what eight Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated songs have in common. The answer was that they were all in film adaptations of Broadway musicals, but weren’t in the stage musicals. “The Continental” (THE GAY DIVORCE), “Lovely to Look At” (ROBERTA), “Our Love Affair” (STRIKE UP THE BAND), “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (LADY, BE GOOD), “Pig Foot Pete” (HELLZAPOPPIN’), “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe” (CABIN IN THE SKY), “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” (HIGHER AND HIGHER) and “Pass That Peace Pipe” (GOOD NEWS).
Rick Thompson was the first to get it, followed by Ed Weissman, Arthur Robinson, Bob Burger, Joseph Miller, Joseph Gaken, George Connolly, Tony Janicki and Jack Lechner.
This month’s brainteaser asks what the following songs have in common: “Could I Leave You?” (FOLLIES), “Home, Sweet Heaven” (HIGH SPIRITS), “Is This My Prince?” (A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN), “It’s an Art” (WORKING); “Knock, Knock” (FLORA, THE RED MENACE) and “Liaisons” (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC).
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia