Thursday, August 31, 2017
“Why Do the Wrong People Travel?”
Noel Coward, Sail Away, 1961
Performer: Elaine Stritch, 1961
Today most people know this wonderful Noel Coward song from his musical Sail Away from Elaine Stritch’s wonderful cabaret review At Liberty, where she still sings it most forcibly, but without the slightly more dulcet tones of her original recording.
This being a Coward song, it’s filled with sarcastic jibes at both those “wrong” people who endlessly travel, and the “right” people in Omaha who stay at home. Indeed there is a sort of dismissive attitude of all Americans with their rare steaks smothered in catchup; the right people staying people back home “eat hot donuts.”
But Stritch does the song so well, that we truly do feel all the tourist processions of Houston Texans with all the cameras around their necks seeing Pompeii on the “only day when its up to”—“with molten lava,” while the right people “sit back home with all their Kleenex,” is a kind of important distinction. Stritch, after all, plays a tourist guide, set upon by all those impossible tourists, particularly the totally obnoxious Sweeneys.
Her best song appears very late in the show, but it’s a remarkable show-stopper, worth being included in “My Favorite Musical Theater Songs.”
Stritch began the show in a basically minor role as Mimi Paragon, but proved so popular that Coward and choreographer Joe Layton quickly got rid of their lead, Jean Feen, and gave Stritch the major role. As Stritch admits something to the effect, “That’s the way it is!” And Coward always argued that his choice had been the right one, even though the musical lasted only 167 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. It did slightly better in London, lasting 252 performances. But the song still exists today basically because of Stritch’s wonderful hollering out of its lines in her At Liberty performances.
Los Angeles, August 31, 2017
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Jule Styne, Adolph Green and Betty Comden | "The Party's Over" (from Bells Are Ringing) My Favorite Musical Theater Songs
“The Party’s Over”
Performer: Judy Holliday
Jule Styne, Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Bells Are Ringing,1956
Performer: Doris Day, 1956
Performer: Nat King Cole
Performer: Johnny Matthis, 1960
Performer: Judy Garland, 1962
Performers: Mel Torme and July Garland from her 1963 TV show
Performer: Sammy Davis, Jr.
Performer: Shirley Bassey, 1976
Performer: Peggy Lee
I’ve always been somewhat frustrated when people today call the Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green 1956 musical, “old fashioned” and “out of date,” terms abundantly used to describe its 2001 revival with Faith Prince and Marc Kurdisch. Certainly this charmer of a work, about the great new technology of the day, the telephone and answering services, might be easily be transformed into a piece about meeting through cellphone or Facebook encounters! People still want to find their mysterious callers or on-line admirers, that is at the heart of Bells Are Ringing.
This musical was also about international celebrity fashion and behavior, which seems to me as current today as it was back in 1956. So, what’s the problem? Somebody simply needs to imagine an marvelously updated version, that re-contexualizes its wonderful songs. Maybe not “bells,” but “ring signals” and “emojis.”
Certainly songs such as “It’s a Perfect Relationship” is even more appropriate to today’s on-line Facebook and Instagram relationships; and “Drop That Name” just needs a little dusting off.
But nothing needs to be done to the heart-breaking song, when Ella Petersen believes that her magical relationship with the man of her dreams has ended because of the fibs she has told to help him in his career, needs no alteration whatsoever. “The Party’s Over,” stunningly expresses it all; it’s a song that even Cinderella could have sung after running off from Prince Charming. For the “end of the affair,” a theme is so many musicals that it’s a wonder that the stage genre has ever survived (after all, it’s at the heart of Show Boat, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl, Gypsy, Follies and so many musical theater works that it’s almost become a standard trope). Love generally falls apart on the Broadway stage.
Judy Holliday’s plaintive plea should become a standard of the musical theater genre itself—even though her relationship with pretty-boy Sydney Chaplin does end happily; he wants her all to himself!
The party's over
It's time to call it a day
They've burst your
And taken the moon away
It's time to wind up
Just make your mind up
The piper must be paid
The party's over
The candles flicker and dim
You danced and dreamed
Through the night
It seemed to be right
Just being with him
Now you must wake up
All dreams must end
Take off your makeup
The party's over
It's all over
Holliday sings the song, sung to herself, so brilliantly that she might have, metaphorically speaking, “owned it,” until hundreds of other brilliant interpreters came along, including several male ones. What I find utterly fascinating is that Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis sang it as it was originally written, keeping the male “him” and talking about taking off “your makeup.” Singing with Garland, Mel Tormé (on matching motorcycles) pretended they were at the end of an all-night spree on New Year’s. Eve, in which the “he” became “we.” Sammy Davis, Jr., on the other hand, determined, given his macho “Rat Pack” identification, to turn the male designation to “her” and muttered over the “makeup” line.
So many brilliant women singers, including Doris Day, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, and Peggy Lee, reinterpreted the work to fit their own vocalist stylings. And who might blame them given the simple beauty of its music and lyrics.
Old-fashioned? Well, if such great songs are out of fashion, I’m terrified for the fact.
Los Angeles, August 30, 2017
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Mary Rodgers and Marsall Barer | "Shy" (from Once Upon a Mattress) My Favorite Musical Theater Songs
Performer: Carol Burnett, 1964
Performer: Carol Burnett, 1972
Performer: Sarah Jessica Parker, 1996
Performer: Tracey Ullman, 2005 TV version
Performers: Jackie Hoffman, John Epperson, and many others in the Transport Groups concert
If one ever needed a definition of irony, I might invite young students to listen to Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer’s rendition of the song “Shy” as sung by the original performer, Carol Burnett.
Burnett brilliantly belts out her “Shy” song, proclaiming her demure behavior underneath her absolutely hurricane-like surface, literally, through Joe Layton’s wonderful choreography, blowing the members of Queen Aggravain’s medieval court off their feet. The young Winnifred (who likes her nick-name of Fred), is, of course, anything but shy. She has just swam the moat to apply for the role of princess, and is determined to find a husband, since, as she finally admits she is “shy” of a man if not naturally shy in personality.
Not a single courtier will admit to being Prince Dauntless, and whenever the Prince dares to admit that he is the one, also desperate for a wife, his imperious mother pulls him away. Winnifred takes the entire court on a whirlwind dance in order to discover the Prince’s identity, all the time denying her totally domineering personality.
The song and the musical as a whole is so close to camp that it later was performed by a group of gay and drag performers, including John Epperson as the Queen and the wonderful David Greenspan as the King, with comedian Jackie Hoffman as Winnifred. I’ve included a selection of songs from that Transport Group’s 2013 production.
But then, nearly everybody, including Dody Goodman, Imogene Coca, Buster Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, and numerous other luminaries have appeared in productions of this likeable musical, which, when first appeared Off-Broadway, was given luke-warm reviews, but was loved by audiences, allowing to last a reasonable run of 244 performances before it was revived again and again in theater and in television productions. Tracey Ullman, performing it in 2005 on television, sang beautifully, but far more tamely than Burnett and others, almost convincing her audiences that she might really be a little shy and was just bluffing as the future Princess that couldn’t sleep.
Her son, Adam Guettel, wrote the successful score for the musical, The Light in the Piazza, and previously sang in numerous operas as a child performer before turning to compose many notable classical scores.
Mary went on to write numerous children’s books, playing down her musical gifts, proclaiming that she had neither the talents of her father or son. But, to be honest, her crazy fairy-tale musical was one of my favorites of my youth, and her song “Shy,” I always felt, was a secret satire on her own father’s similar statement in “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from The King and I.
Los Angeles, August 29 2017