Sunday, April 29, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "Dream and Language" (on Massenet's Cendrillon at the Metropolitan Opera)


dream and language
by Douglas Messerli

Henri Cain (libretto, based on the story by Charles Perreault), Jules Massenet (composer) Cendrillon / 1899; the production I saw was the Metropolitan Opera’s live HD production on April 29, 2018

Jules Massenet’s 1899 Cinderalla-based opera, Cendrillon, was a big hit upon its premiere at Paris’ Opéra-Comique; but only this year received a production for the first time at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Tastes changed early in the 20th century, and Massenet’s beautiful scores, with their tributes to everyone from Mendelsohn to Wagner, with a few stops for Mozart and Strauss along the way grew out of favor. But the fact that Cendrillon had never previously made it to Broadway seems to be a particularly sad event.
      Fortunately, the great American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato rediscovered the work (after it had performed by Frederica von Stade) more than a decade ago and warmed up to it playing in a Laurent Pelly production (he also designed the remarkable costumes) in Santa Fe, London, Brussels, and elsewhere. As a regular in MET productions, it was perhaps inevitable that eventually DiDonato would be featured in a production in New York; and we can now hope that, given its great success, it may join the MET repertoire. Certainly, it was visionary of the MET to include it their famed live HD series, which my husband Howard and I saw yesterday in a Los Angeles movie theater, and which may help make it a production which audiences will embrace. The elderly audience with whom we saw it loved it.
      Unlike Rossini’s better known La Cenerentola (in which DiDonato has also performed the Cinderalla role), the Massenet version does not focus as much on the young step-daughter’s ill treatment as much as it does on the fairy-tale elements of the work, going back to the original Perreault story for its source. The mean step-mother is this version, with her two fawning and fairly ignorant daughters, is much closer to the mother and daughters of Beauty and the Beast than the wicked figures of Rossini’s world.
      
      Like Belle, Massenet’s Lucette (Cinderalla’s real name in this version) basically accepts her life as a cleaning woman to the vain stepmother, Madame de la Haltière (the always wonderful Stephanie Blythe) and her almost-idiot like step-sisters, dressed in comical-like balloon-like dresses that evidently stand for the haute-couture of the day. In comparison, at least in the early scenes, Lucette looks like a peasant woman from a Verdi opera. And despite her hard life, she is deeply loved still by her weak-willed father, Pandolfe (Laurent Naouri) who, after his wife’s death, inexplicably chose this monstrous woman of a self-declared royal background. It may be that his little farm in the forest was simply not successful enough to pay the rent. Now the man simply suffers for his horrible mistake, his daughter paying the punishment for the crime.
     
      Most of Lucette’s life, when she isn't busy cleaning up the story-book-like house—set designer Barbara de Limburg has covered the walls of the constantly shifting rooms with phrases from the Perreault tale—is spent sleeping and dreaming, and, in fact, she has a hard time, as we may as well, in knowing whether her experiences are real or simply dreams.
      It is certainly a dream of an opera, with the soaring phrases of beauty, suddenly transforming into more comic passages, and moving back again into glorious romanticism. One, moreover, cannot imagine a more remarkable cast: besides DiDonato, Blythe, and the long-performing Naouri, are the remarkable soprano Kathleen Kim (playing The Fairy Godmother) and another regular MET performer Alice Coote (who performs the “soprano de sentiment” role of Prince Charming). It may be true, as The New York Times reviewer Zachary Wolfe argues, that Coote's "voice is too blunt to expand over the score’s long lines,” but in the production I saw, she came off amazingly real in her trouser role as the unhappy prince who cannot find anyone in his kingdom to love. And when he does meet his love in the form of a surprise guest at the ball, Lucette in a stunningly beautiful sequined white gown which gradually cascades into darker colors at the bottom (all others are dressed in comically outrageous versions of red) she/he sings in quite beautiful awe about the event.
      
      If this Massenet work is about the confusion of dream and reality—there are long periods when Lucette simply believes she has dreamed her entire visit to the ball and her later encounter with the Prince in the forest—this version, at least, is also all about hearing and language, the joy of being told the tale through words. Not only the walls, but chairs, tables, and the wonderful carriage on which Lucette rides to the ball are identified with their linguistic equivalents, the carriage itself made up of the letters spelling “carosse,” the old French word meaning “coach.”
       Quite vindictively, it at first appears, The Fairy God Mother refuses to let the loving couple see one another in the forest, only allowing them to hear each other’s sad pleas. Yet that’s precisely the point. Hearing and reading reality is what truly matters here, not action and adventures. The only incredible actions in this work are Lucette’s flight from the ball at midnight, whereupon she loses her shoe, and the impossible attempts to find the foot that fits her glass slipper. Otherwise, Cendrillon is a work of poetical and musical wonderment, even to the point of having The Fairy Godmother save the day by riding in on a pile of gigantic books. And Pelly’s and De Limburg’s direction and sets put their faith on spectral elements, allowing the Perreault tale to come alive in a way that Verdi or even the later Puccini might never have been able to imagine.
      The opera closes suddenly, since we already know the end, with the chorus announcing that their tale has come to an ending, the most lovely ending one might ever imagine, the char-woman in the Prince’s arms and even the terrible stepmother admitting—now that Lucette has found her own royalty—that she truly loves her. If we don’t believe her one little bit, it doesn’t matter. Cendrillon is a fairy-tale, as the host, Ailyn Pérez announced early on before the opera began, a much needed tonic these days.


Los Angeles, April 29, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "Who Will Buy?" (from Lionel Bart's Oliver!) from My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“Who Will Buy?”

Composer: Lionel Bart
Performers: Chorus, with Mark Lester (from the movie), 1968

Since I had determined from the very beginning to include as many international musicals in English as possible, I felt there was no way leave out the great British musical by Lionel Bart, Oliver!, which premiered in England in 1960 and on Broadway in 1963. But I then faced the quandary of what song to choose.
     There are many great songs in the musical, despite the fact that Bart did not even know how to write music. Perhaps the most charming song is “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” but I had already discussed that as a dance number in My Year 2000; “Where Is Love?” is beautiful, but it’s longing strains are those of a young boy, sung wistfully in the movie version by Mark Lester and in the original London production by Keith Hamshere, both whom are but a cypher of a character. 
      Davy Jones (later of the Monkees), who played the Artful Dodger in both the London and New York productions was quite marvelous in his signature number, “Consider Yourself,” as was Jack Wild in the movie version; yet that number always seems to me to be more of a large chorus anthem than a great musical song. And then, we cannot forget, there was the wonderful Georgia Brown plea for love, “As Long as He Needs Me”; but so is it also a very problematic song given that she is abused and ultimately killed by the man about whom she is singing. “Food, Glorious Food” is a vigorous beginning to a musical, but not a major theater song in my estimation, even as it is a glorious demand to escape starvation.
     One of the very loveliest of the musical’s songs comes late in the work, when Oliver, now living (temporarily) with his legal and wealthy uncle is simply delighted by the sounds of selling outside the windows of the square where he now resides, and pleads, in his frail voice for someone to “buy him 
this beautiful morning.” That song is even more remarkable since it calls up another of musical's painfully beautiful, but absolutely terrifying pieces earlier in the work, “Boy for Sale,” sung in a great tenor operatic voice by Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe in the film version). 
     Buying and selling is at the heart of both Dickens’ work and Bart’s musical version, each character, in turn, trying to bring others into the web of financial transactions in which the entire society seems to be involved. All the frail Oliver wants is the chance to enjoy a morning, and the glorious songs of the sellers and his pleas get mixed together in a joyful celebration of simple morning beauty.
     Obviously, such a chorus-based song of buskers, led by a young singer was doomed not be reinterpreted. Only the original cast recordings of the musical and film contain it, and since I didn’t want to impose the full recordings upon the reader of this piece, I have listed above only the film version of that single, which truly answers Oliver’s question of “Where Is Love?”

Knifegrinder:
Who will buy?

Strawberry-seller:
Who will buy?

Milkmaid:
Who will buy?

Rose-seller:
Who will buy?

Oliver:
Who will buy this wonderful morning?
Such a sky you never did see!

Rose-seller:
Who will buy my sweet red roses?

Oliver:
Who will tie it up with a ribbon, and put it in a box for me?

Strawberry-seller:
Ripe, strawberries ripe!

Oliver:
So I could see it at my leisure,
Whenever things go wrong,
And I would keep it as a treasure,
To last my whole life long.

Los Angeles, April 23, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Douglas Messerli | on George and Ira Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" from My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“I Got Rhythm”

Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performers: Paul Whitman Band, with George Gershwin at the piano, 1928
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Judy Garland, 1943
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Ethel Merman
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Charlie Parker
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Gene Kelly, 1951 from An American in Paris
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Ella Fitzgerald, 1959
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Barbra Streisand
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performers: Marcus Roberts Trio
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Halle Berry, 1998
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Hiromi, 2010
Composers: George and Ira Gershwin
Performer: Nikki Yanofsky, 2010

Legend has it that upon the premiere performance of “I Got Rhythm” from the Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy George Gershwin told its performer, Ethel Merman, to never take a singing lesson (she later did when Lucille Ball attempted to tell her how to sing on I Love Lucy). I suppose if there was ever a song that needed a good “belting,” it was this jazzy number, and it got plenty of full-forced sings, including by Judy Garland (who later played in the film version) and Ella Fitzgerald.
     Over time, however, it became the slightly slower in tempo or orchestrally based jazz interpretations that made this song one of greatest ever, in particular Charlie Parker’s version and later singers such as Barbra Streisand and Nikki Yanofsky.
     In some respects, there’s no easy way to destroy this joyful manifestation of living the simple life in the early years of the Depression, particularly if you’re in love. “Old man trouble” just can’t hang out by any good singer’s or musician’s door.
     Written originally for another musical, the piece was performed by Gershwin himself before the 1930 opening of Girl Crazy (which included jazz musicians Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey in the pit), and it already had become a kind of hit with Paul Whitman’s orchestra radio performances.

I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
I've got daisies in green pastures
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Old man trouble I don't mind him
You won't find him 'round my door
I've got starlight
I've got sweet dreams
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

Old man trouble, I don't mind him
You won't find him 'round my door
I've got starlight
I've got sweet dreams
I've got my man
Who could ask for anything more?

      Strangely, one of the weakest musical presentations of this number appears in the noted Gene Kelly musical, An American in Paris, in which he turns the number into a kind boy chorus, the boys shouting out “I got,” to each of his choruses. But then, this charming number, is really about dance more than the music, which demonstrates the durability of the Gershwin’s music and lyrics.
My only regret is that I could include more the Gershwin’s memorable works. I excluded Porgy and Bess simply because I see it more as a true opera, and I just couldn’t fit in their other important songs. Next time I do such an anthology, you can be sure their songs will be far more prominent.

Los Angeles, April 21, 2018  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Douglas Messerli | on Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" from My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“Send in the Clowns”

Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performers: Glynis Johns and Len Cariou, 1982 (recreation of the original from 1973)
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Barbra Streisand
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Frank Sinatra, 1973
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Julie Andrews
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Judy Collins, 1975
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Glenn Close, 1993
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Angela Lansbury
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer (with Sondheim at the piano) Bernadette Peters
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Patti LaPone, 2002
Composer: Stephen Sondheim
Performer: Judi Dench, 2010

I first saw Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s (it was revived there again in 2002). I can’t at all recall who say the lead role of Desiree Armfeldt, but I did respond to several of its excellent songs, particularly “Every Day a Little Death,” which usher-friend Don Duncan was rather shocked to hear me humming as I excited the theater. But, of course, the far most memorable son from this less-than-perfect musical (although the original Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night is one my very favorites), is “Send in the Clowns,” created by Sondheim especially for the original Desiree, Glynis Jones.
      Jones’ raspy voice and her slow tempo performance of the song is truly wonderful, especially when she reprise’s it with Len Cariou near the end of the musical. The lyrics and rhythms create one of the most ironic and age-weary songs ever performed.
   
Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

      And over the years, numerous great performers have sung the same work in various ways, including Frank Sinatra—whose immediate embracement of it brought the song immediate renown—Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury, and the always brilliant Bernadette Peters. Yet, for all that, I think the song is best sung by altos, who shift the tonal registers a bit from higher registers to the powerful lower (perhaps aging) menopausal-influenced voices. For me, Judy Collins and Glenn Close are my favorites. They simply nail the song in a way that the others, all singing wonderfully, simply can’t.
     I also must admit that, for some years, I could hardly bear this song, hating clowns as much as I do; but then I realized upon rehearing the song endlessly, that the sad actress was not calling forth “real clowns,” but simply farcical fools, representations of her own and her lover’s failures in love. It often happens that love for two lovers simply doesn’t happen at the same time, and that is their dilemma. They belong together, and they are clearly the perfect pairing, but he wasn’t right for her early in her acting career, and she is not right for him after he as seemingly found the young woman for who he has long been looking. Fortunately, fate—the loss of his young, still virginal wife to his own son—my bring them back together at the near-end of their lives. They have been fools, clowns so to speak, figures right out of the Shakespeare comedy from which Bergman’s film emanated.
      Listeners might dive in anywhere they want, even to marvelous Judi Dench version. But, in this case, I suggest listening from beginning to end, and if desired, adding in a few others such as Placido Domingo, Cher, or Shirley Bassey.



Los Angeles, April 19, 2018

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "Going Crazy" (on Sebastian Galvez, performing An Afternoon with Tennessee Williams, directed by Paul Sand)

Going Crazy
by Douglas Messerli

Sebastian Galvez An Afternoon with Tennessee Williams, directed by Paul Sand / the performance Pablo and I saw was at the Robinson Gardens mansion in Beverly Hills on March 14, 2018

Yesterday, with Pablo, I visited the lovely mansion, Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills, where Sebastian Galvez presented his one-man show “An Afternoon with Tennessee Williams,” directed by our mutual friend Paul Sand. The Spanish born Galvez looks amazingly like a thinner-faced and younger Williams, and managed a fairly convincing Southern accent, without overdoing it. Certainly, he is a far better version of Williams than the rather effeminate portrait in the Los Angeles Taper Forum’s production of The Glass Menagerie of a few years ago.
 
     The gracious greetings and introductions of the Robinson head-of-staff who greeted the small audience of about 30 individuals from the entry room to the small library where the play was presented, was a near-perfect prelude to the rather suave and dapper Williams who Galvez portrayed.
      Bringing out the hidden actor through a few knocks on a nearby door, Galvez centered his one-man play basically on Williams’ gay sexual relationships, which, although widely known, has been somewhat ignored. The actor describes his relationship, first, with Pancho Rodríguez y González with whom he traveled to Provincetown, there to finish his play, A Streetcar Named Desire, where he was also visited by the then-young actor, Marlon Brando, for a read through of what Williams had written—evidently so impressive that his agent and he both immediately agreed to cast him in the role of Stanley.
     
     The jealous Poncho, however, stormed out and began a crisis in their relationship (although the playwright argued that he never had sex with his actors).
     Although Gavez’s version—based evidently on Williams’ own memoirs—suggests that soon after in Provincetown, the playwright met his long-time lover, the Sicilian would-be actor, Frank Merlo, a recent biography of lyricist John Latouche suggests that Latouche had previously introduced Williams to that lyricist’s former lover (see my essay on Latouche in this volume). In any event, it is apparent in this production that Merlo was central to Williams’ most successful years (1948-1963), the lover serving, as well, as the playwright’s personal secretary, organizing his correspondence, finances, and much else besides peacefully enduring Williams’ storms of drunkenness, drug addition, and sexual straying. The two lived both in Manhattan and in a small home in Key West.
     Galvez makes it evident, through numerous swigs of bourbon or Johnnie Walkers and even, at one point, a few stage-prop Seconals, that Merlo was the true of love of his lifetime, and when his lover was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, he returned after their breakup, to care for the dying man. Merlo’s death put Williams into a nearly catatonic state at a time his own career, primarily due to Williams’ shift to writing what can now be perceived as almost post-modern plays, was waning.
      I love many of these late plays, and have published one of them, The Gnädiges Fraülein, in my and Mac Wellman’s anthology, From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Dram 1960-1965. But audiences simply didn’t take to them at the time, and the scathing reviews helped further to bring down a suffering and fearful-of-death Williams.
      The one other major love of his life was his sister Rose, who, as it put it in the poem, “The Paper Lantern,” was always quicker than him in everything—until she fell in love and became, so it was diagnosed, schizophrenic. A failed lobotomy sentenced her to a life in a mental institution, and the love and sorrow the playwright feels about her is revealed not only in the character of Laura in his The Glass Menagerie, but through his life-long devotion to her, visiting her regularly in an upstate New York private institution for which he paid. The failures of his family life, Williams’ determined hatred of his own mother, and his own ghost and addictions—to gay, young lovers, alcohol and drugs—becomes a major theme in Galvez’s rendition of Williams’ life.
      The actor even does a remarkable version of the playwright’s death, with a plastic bottle-top lodged in his mouth as he, attempting to apply eye-drops, collapsed and died in his suite in Hotel Elysée in New York at the age of 71.
       One might long to hear more about Williams’ writing, which clearly was at the center of his survival. Yet Galvez’s and Sand’s “Afternoon” is a fascinating look at aspects of Tennessee Williams that are often overlooked. The small, but truly enthusiastic audience—many friends of either the actor or the director—felt, I believe, like they were sharing an afternoon with the ghost of a beloved playwright in his own living room.
     I love all things Tennessee Williams, so this performance was a true pleasure, even if I might have wished for a little deeper view of the man who I think is definitely the greatest of US playwrights.
      What I particularly loved about the author I have grown to know was his great sense of humor. It is rumored—and I believe it—that he laughed throughout the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire, as well he should have, Blanche being clearly a “hoot” out of a world few of us have ever known, but which is Williams’ special territory, a haunted, spooky, Southern past in which people never behaved as they might have been expected to. She, like Rose, was already moving toward insanity, even as she tried to escape.

Los Angeles, March 15, 2018
Reprinted from USTheater, Opera, and Performance (March 2018).


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Douglas Messerli | on Leonard Bernstein's, Betty Comden's and Adolph Green's song "Ohio" from Wonderful Town (from "My Favorite Musical Theater Songs")


“Ohio”
by Douglas Messerli

Composer: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Performers: Rosalind Russell and Jacqueline McKeever, 1958
Composers: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Performers: Bea Arthur and June Anderson, 1991
Composers: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Performers: Kim Criswell and Audra McDonald, 2002
Composers: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Performers: Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt, 2003
Composer: Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Performers: Elizabeth Stanley and Amy Spanger, 2015

The whining plaints of the Ohio song in Leonard Bernstein’s version of My Sister Eileen in the musical by him, Betty Comden and Adolph Green in Wonderful Town (1953) is one of the most emotional responses to simple homesickness that has ever been presented on the stage. The marvelous Sherwood sisters come to New York, like all of us did, with complete belief in the possibilities of self-discovery and the excitement that the city had to offer, and encounter precisely those tantalizing possibilities. Yet, of course, the challenges the city offers—then and now, today it would be impossibly unaffordable for these to immigrants from Ohio—create fear and confusion.
     
      There is no better song to express those fears than in Bernstein’s and lyricist’s Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s plaint, “Ohio,” where the two sisters wonder why they have left their home in Ohio to try to make it in the big city. It expresses everyone’s fear of being in a new, impossible to perceive world, despite their needed dismissals of their own limited past.
      Bernstein puts it literally into a lovely whine, with the “Ohio” calling out to the two galls, at the very moment they still reject their limited lives of the past. Even if the newly constructed subways over their heads and the open windows of their dusky basement arouse the attentions of local carousers, they will remain, we perceive after this heartfelt plea, they will remain to become true New Yorkers. If they doubt their decisions about moving to Greenwich Village, we also know they have escaped the world in which they previously felt constricted.
      I couldn’t find a version from the musical with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams, but I did find a good version from the 1958 television version with Russell and Jacqueline McKeever. I saw the 2003 revival with Donna Murphy and Jennifer Westfeldt and loved it. But I’ve also included a Berlin production with Kim Criswell and Audra McDonald from 2002 and another revival song with Elizabeth Stanley and Amy Spanzer from 2016. But there are far too few versions of this marvelous song.
     Wonderful Town has a great number of memorable songs, including “A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man,” “A Little Bit in Love,” and the infamous “Conga,” but my favorite will always be this early sentimental plea for a world which the sisters have now clearly abandoned:

Why, oh why, oh why, oh
Why did I ever leave Ohio?
Why did I wander to find what lies yonder
When life was so cozy at home?

Wond’ring while I wander,
Why did I fly?
Why did I roam?
Oh, why oh, why oh
Did I leave ohio?
Maybe I’d better go

O -- h -- i -- o.

Maybe I’d better go home

Los Angeles, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Douglas Messerli | "Night and Day" by Cole Porter, from "My Favorite Musical Theater Songs"


“Night and Day”

Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Cole Porter
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Fred Astaire
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Ella Fitzgerald
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Mario Lanzo
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Frank Sinatra, 1957
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Frank Sinatra, 1962
Composer: Cole Porter
Performers: Gulda and Herbie Hancok, 1989
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Dionne Warwick, 1990
Composer: Cole Porter
Performers: John Barrowman and Kevin Kline, 2004
Composer: Cole Porter
Performer: Diana Krall, 2017

Perhaps one of the most difficult songs for performers to sing is Cole Porter’s song from his stage musical of 1932, Gay Divorce, which originally starred Fred Astaire, this time on Broadway, performing a work which is also one of the most remarkable songs ever composed for the musical theater. As John Barrowman reports in the film musical version in De-Lovely, an underrated film about Porter,  “the song goes so high and so long, it’s impossible to sing.” In fact, the tune begins in a strange seventh cord, leading to an F of the major 7th harmonic, and resolving into a B major 7th.  The ranges of this song make it nearly impossible for most male singers to transform from baritone to tenor on a moment’s notice and are equally challenging for female singers who must quickly move from alto to soprano.
     In short, it’s a nearly an impossible song to sing. Astaire, who was the original performer, sings it at an incredibly high, nearly alto pitch, not so very musically effective, although his usual ability to get to the heart of the song through his marvelous enunciations is remarkable. He is certainly one of the song’s best performers.
      Given the numerous heterosexual performers who have made this song central to their oeuvre, it is quite incredible, particularly as represented in the De-Lovely performance, of just how sincerely gay this song is. Perhaps there is no melody and lyric that more expresses the madness of gay intensity, the sudden attraction of another and the ache of that being for endless sex. Surely this is part of the heterosexual world as well, but the madness of that male on male ferocity has never been made clearer than in Porter’s provocative lyrics:

Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
When the summer showers through
A voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you

Night and day you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far it's no matter darling
Where you are
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall
Like the drip, drip drip of the rain drops
When the summer showers through
A voice within me keeps repeating
You, you, you

Night and day you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far it's no matter darling
Where you are
I think of you

This is a song of cruising, of exciting nights out when you simply can’t refuse your sexual desires.
    It’s rather strange, accordingly, when you think back on it, that this number was one of the major works in Frank Sinatra’s repertoire, and he recorded it several times over the years, as did the operatic singer, Mario Lanza. So too did major women performers, most notably Ella Fitzgerald and Dionne Warwick, with rather amazing results. My favorites, other than the so memorable Barrowman/Kline encounter, were jazz renditions such as Gulda’s and Herbie Hancock’s 1989 version and the amazing 2017 version by Diana Krall.
     It’s only on hearing this song perhaps a dozen or more times that you realize just how powerful its incessant “tom-tom” beats, its “drip, drip, drip,” and “tick, tick tock” lyrics make it so truly compelling that you might never get it out of your head. This is the compulsion of a gay man in search of his would-be lover. The song bores into the memory, and won’t allow you to forget the love of the singer/and or composer for whoever is the lover. Love, in this song, is truly obsessive, with no way out, nor possibility of escape, for either of the parties. It is a madness for the other: “you, you, you,” and neither the lover nor its object can possibly escape its impact. The greatness of this song is about compulsion, and there has never quite been a song so intense in its expression of that emotion.

Los Angeles, April 10, 2018
Reprinted from USTheater, Opera, and Performance, (April 2018).