Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Coffee Cup I Think About You- A farewell to Sondheim Part 2A

It's been a week now and there have been many moving tributes. But like many, I can't stop thinking about the legacy and lessons Mr. Sondheim left us. I'm not much for ballads usually but his move me immensely. I've read people explaining about how he's an expert at expressing "longing" and there is definitely some of that on this list. The other category in here that has a formidable presence is creation and all the aches and pains that come along with that. There's also a lot of Sunday on this list and I even left a few off. (If you haven't watched the moving tribute in Time Square from Sunday here's a link to that video). But here we go:

The Moving Emotional Ones (in chronological order so I don't have to stress about which goes where in my heart):

Edit: Oh my gosh. My first category and it's already gonna be a two parter. Let's just call this Part 2A- pre 1980 and the next one will be 2B post 1980.

"Anyone Can Whistle"- Anyone Can Whistle: This is a show I've never seen, being one of his more tremendous flops. This is one of those exceptions that I'll talk more about out of the context of the show. I've never been within spitting distance of a staging although I had a friend in college (another Sondheim fan) who managed to see a staging that she absolutely raved about and to this day I'm jealous. I heard this song for the first time in college, sung by a friend of mine in a musical theatre class. It was emotional moment in my life, my grandmother had just passed, and something about the raw truthfulness of the lyric coupled with the gentle conversational nature of the melody absolutely slayed me that day. "I can dance a tango, I can read Greek-easy/I can slay a dragon any old week-easy" I think for me personally, there's something very profound in the idea that "what's hard is simple, what's natural comes hard" At my most vulnerable it's hard to admit that while I can be extremely capable I've always had a sense that life's simplest moments have been out of my grasp. "Maybe if you whistle, whistle for... me." Lee Remik's "me" there at the end slays me every time. Looking for other absolutely gut wrenching songs from this show be sure to check out "With So Little To Be Sure Of" which has gotten a lot of play this week too.

"Losing My Mind"- Follies: This song is textbook Sondheim longing. Each Loveland number set in such a specific musical moment is a triumph. In many ways it makes Follies the least "Sondheim sounding" of his scores. This torch song, taking its cue directly from the Gershwins, does everything to give Sally the end all be all of "longing" songs. Again, for the most part I much prefer Sondheim's densely packed witty patter songs, but here it is the grace and simplicity that bring home the emotional center of the song. In terms of expressing the kind of love that just won't let you rest this song does it all. You can hear Sally losing her mind just in the sheer repetition of the lyric. Plus nothing beats the precise imagery of "The sun comes up/ I think about you/ The coffee cup/ I think about you" You know that feeling exactly. It's the one that won't go away. And in this haunting melody it simply tugs and tugs. A good delivery of this song is absolutely gut wrenching. There's nothing you can do from dawn to dusk, you think about them. It is the peer of every great standard torch song, but with that extra bit of Sondheim pain. There is nothing more satisfying/unsatisfying. Also, may any one who has ever said Sondheim doesn't write "hummable" tunes have this stuck in their head on repeat. Feh. 

"Everyday a Little Death"-A Little Night Music: I could go on all day about this show which I have seen many many times because luckily people love doing it. Obviously "Send in the Clowns" could have gone on this list but you've all heard it and if you want to hear the definitive version of it look no further than Judi Dench on Cameron Macintosh's birthday concert. I've taught whole classes about that song and love it but it doesn't get to the very core of my being the way "Everyday a Little Death" does. I became aware of the song long before I knew the show. Female duets are less common in the cannon that one would imagine and this one always makes the list. But in the context of the show, even though the scene before it can be played quite comedically, there is nothing at all comedic in the situation and it comes out perfectly in the imagery of the lyrics. Here's a show that is essentially a sex farce and we've had a great deal of comedic and light hearted numbers up until this point and then bam. Both women reeling from the pain of losing love and/or dignity by losing control of their husbands comes to a head in this lilting yet driving number. When the two vocal lines come together they tumble over each other and are left in a heap of emotions, "Ah, well" is all that Charlotte can muster at the end of it. The B section absolutely kills me. I can't pick a favorite line, they are all a perfect combination of hopeless devotion and complete frustration. "He smiles sweetly/ Strokes my hair says he misses me/ I would murder him right there/ But first I die" Ughhhh. I can't. A good Charlotte gets me every time. 

Stay Tuned for Merrily and too many songs from Sunday.



Saturday, November 27, 2021

Children and Art- A farewell to Sondheim Part 1

This will probably take many days to write. But tonight I will begin with thoughts on the end of an era of musical theatre. Stephen Sondheim (3/22/1930-11/26/2021) made history in our world by always moving forward. The great mind mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II pushed boundaries just like his second father did. Sondheim in return became a mentor to so many of the next generation and I think that is what makes him a great artist. There are many songs of his to mark the grief of his passing but I can't stop thinking about "Children and Art" the song that Marie sings to George in Act 2 of Sunday in the Park with George. A song about the most important things we leave behind in this world. Children and Art. He left no biological children but even beyond the countless theatre artists he mentored he inspired even more he never met. We are all his children. He is our musical theatre father (which makes Oscar our grandfather which feels about right to me honestly). He left both children and art. Children of his own art. And I am forever grateful. 

There are already many lists indicating favorite scores and songs of his. This one by Linda Holmes from NPR is lovely. As with most things in this blog my list is more for my own emotional release than anything else but if anyone else enjoys it that's always good too. Again, this isn't gonna be your average list. Because if you read my blog you may have already noticed that my favorites are not always everyone else's favorites. But these are the songs that make me the happiest for whatever reason whether that is his incredible gift of wit and rhyme or his completely heart wrenching melodies. 

Edit: Nope this is gonna be several lists. Sorry. In fact let's just call this the table of contents post for a few posts to follow. I will come back and do a post about each list. Like I don't have enough to do. But let's call this my mourning process. I mean, if you're here reading my blog you can probably handle a few more Sondheim posts right? I may come back and edit this table of contents but for tonight it is good enough.

The Moving Emotional Ones:

"Children and Art"-Sunday in the Park With George

"Everyday a Little Death"-A Little Night Music

"Anyone Can Whistle"- Anyone Can Whistle

"Losing My Mind"- Follies

"Move On"- Sunday in the Park With George

"Finishing the Hat"- Sunday in the Park With George

"Not a Day Goes By"- Merrily We Roll Along

Group Numbers That Make Me Giddy:

"Please Hello"- Pacific Overtures

"A Weekend in the Country"- A Little Night Music

"The Frogs"- The Frogs

"Opening Doors"- Merrily We Roll Along

"Getting Married Today"- Company

"Someone in a Tree"- Pacific Overtures

Funny/Witty (this list might get longer):

"A Little Priest"- Sweeney Todd

"A Country House" - Follies

"Agony" - Into the Woods

"Mr. Goldstone, I Love You"- Gypsy*

"Officer Krupke"- West Side Story*

"Pretty Little Picture"- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

"I'm Calm"- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

"Chrysanthemum Tea"- Pacific Overtures

Unsettling yet Beautiful:

"Unworthy of Your Love"- Assassins

"Not While I'm Around"- Sweeney Todd

"Pretty Lady"- Pacific Overtures

"I Remember"- Evening Primrose

"Johanna (Quartet)"- Sweeney Todd 

"Loving You"- Passion


Monday, October 18, 2021

"I like your style" or These are a few of my favorite Jazz Waltzes

 So the real reason I wrote the last post, was to explain this one. Basically, while listening to my vinyl "find" $1.95 copy of Applause I turned to my husband and said, "you know what my favorite song in this score is right?" Which lead me to spend the rest of the evening collecting my favorite jazz waltz showtunes. I'm not convinced I can rank them effectively so I'm gonna have to go chronologically.  I'm no musicologist, I just love these songs. So here we go, the ultimate feel good list of songs that make you want to get up and do a waltz clog with the person you love.  

"Wait Till We're Sixty Five" from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965): First of all, this score is a winner. The story completely falls apart past the initial premise, woman with ESP falls in love with psychiatrist who falls in love with her past life. Alan Jay Lerner was a lot of things, including a fan of the clairvoyant, but it wasn't the stuff of a hit musical.  A hit song for Barbra and others sure, but not a permanent member of the cannon of classic musicals. I love A LOT of songs in this score (also Trude worked on the show as vocal arranger and musical continuity) so it actually took me till recently to see that this particular gem of a song fit perfectly into my jazz waltz obsession. Burton Lane wrote terrific melodies and this is certainly more of a charm song than anything else but this playful duet between Daisy (the one with ESP) and her fiancee-she's-no-longer-in-love-with Warren, gives a kick up your heals to embracing life's securities. The vocal selections give the tempo of the refrain as "in strong rhythm and vigorously" so it's not your average Rodgers waltz. With marvelously hilarious rhymes like "Safe from disaster/ No one haster take care of ma and pa./ All brown and rosy/ Living cozy down there in Tampa Fla." and "Life will be gala/ Every malady all completely paid. / And we've a plot a/ Terra cotta in which we'll both be laid" what's not to love. Oh Alan. But it's Lane's tuneful bounce that makes you want to skip all over the living room when you here it. Betty Walberg's excellent dance break with Robert Russel Bennett's orchestrations make a joyful boisterous carefree tune out of this completely practical subject matter. It could only have been made more hilarious by the wonderful straight man William Daniels (the way he hits the "v" the first time he says "sixty-five") and the comedic brilliance of Barbara Harris (the way she throws off "pa") I love them both soooooooooo much. Listen to it here

"One of a Kind" from Applause (1970). I talked some about Applause in my last post, but basically all my love for the 70's comes from this show (and the dance break of "The Music and the Mirror"). It's a 70s retelling of All About Eve with Lauren Bacall in the Bette Davis role. Music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams, epic orchestrations by Philip Lang. This delightful duet (again) between Margo and Bill (Bacall and Len Cariou) is true love at its finest. They're a bit of an odd couple, there's tension between them throughout the play, but this is one of those perfectly honest and playful charm songs that just makes you smile from ear to ear. The score calls for the song to be played "moderately in 1" but I feel the 3 of the waltz so strongly. In fact of all the jazz waltzes on this list this is the one I'd call the waltziest. Maybe because it's such a deeply romantic sentiment masquerading as a charm song. Lyrics like "you always grind your teeth at night/ Your snoring is a real delight/ It's noisy but we sleep alright" is what the young people used to call "relationship goals" in my book. There is not a dance break here but you can feel the dance all the way through. I'm also a sucker for the harmony, something about Cariou taking the high notes while Bacall sings the melody in the basement just tickles me. But it's the drive of that "in 1" that moves the song along and makes it one of the most delightful numbers in the score. I love it so much.

"I Like Your Style" from Barnum (1980): Cy Coleman being the great jazz man he was gives this song the marking "jazz waltz" and it couldn't be more accurate. With lyrics by Michael Stewart and orchestrations by Hershey Kay this song is another love song in charm song clothing, heavy on the charm. Like "One of a Kind" this troubled couple is coming to grips with their differences (which are many) and do it in this super cutesy catching tune. It doesn't hurt that it's Jim Dale as Barnum who exudes charm in his very pronunciation. And lovely young charming and not-yet-recognized-for-her-maniacal-roles Glenn Close as Charity. The two of them together bring forth a warm understanding of working through a relationship in this chipper toe tapping driving waltz. It feels like a direct descendent of "One of Kind" but with a vocal complexity you couldn't give Lauren Bacall.  Oh and this dance break. Cy Coleman was an absolute master of his craft and this break is delightful (and are those spoons Hershey Kay? I think they are). I literally cannot sit still writing this right now. Ahhhhh I love it so much!!! It just makes me happy. What can I say? I dare you not to dance along listening to this.

Honorable mention goes to:

"She Likes Basketball" from Promises, Promises (1968): Another "moderately fast in 1" this song is once again, an endearing love song parading as a comic masterpiece. Not unlike the title number of She Loves Me, Chuck here is getting good news about a girl and letting the whole world know about it. Not a duet, but still extremely charming for multiple reasons including that it's a Burt Bacharach and Hal David song but the number one most important reason is: Jerry Orbach. I mean who doesn't love Jerry Orbach. And could he be anymore adorable? In his overcoat and his perpetually hunched shoulders. Few things in life make me happier than his run jump bit in this number (thank you Michael Bennett). Anyway, it's a cute song to listen to but if you want the full experience you'll want to watch him do it on the Tony's here: You're welcome.

So there you have it. Now you know exactly what kind of a sucker I am. The romantic-jazz-waltz-duet kind of sucker. 


Saturday, October 16, 2021

What is it that we're living for....

My husband recently began a vinyl collection, complete with new turntable. He's got a very specific taste in music, his current collection ranges from Fleetwood Mac to Tuck and Patti to Japanese 70s rock band Happy End). Thankfully his taste has a musical theatre crossover, so he's encouraging my interest in collecting some of my favorite OBCs as well as some that never made the digital. (I love my CD collection and I'm never getting rid of it so there). 

The fun thing about this new hobby is the great "find." Today we opened a sealed Merrily We Roll Along OBC and I couldn't help getting chills. Here's this historic album that has a fairly big cult following but you can still find a mint copy from 1981 and we just opened it up today. Wild.

Besides this Merrily (which we listened to tonight) my greatest find was a few weeks back at a Rasputin in Pleasant Hill. I haven't allowed myself much in-person shopping during the pandemic but I had a few minutes before I had to pick up daughter #1 and daughter # 2 was with grandparents so I stopped in just to see what they had. I started fingering through the "Broadway A-G" and I found an Applause!

Side not about Applause: The regional theatre I basically grew up at did Applause when I was a fairly impressionable youth and it starred my hero and mentor as Margo Channing. It was my first real exposure to a real 70's aesthetic and I loved it. From the bright colors to the wild orchestrations I was hooked. Basically, I had an unhealthy obsession with the show from the time I was 13? Lauren Bacall, Len Cariou, a song called "Fasten Your Seatbelts" what's not to love? So I was excited to find it.

I took the vinyl gingerly out of the sleeve and noticed that I didn't think it looked too bad? My husband is already very discerning and I knew that if it wasn't good enough he wouldn't even let me play it on his fancy dancy turntable. Optimistically I put it back in the sleeve and held it in my lap as I continued my search. I saw some interesting titles and then happened on another Applause! Now I had to take this one out and look at it. It appeared to be cleaner than the first? I took it instead. Flip flip flip. A third Applause appears. What?! Pleasant Hill Rasputin for the win. This one had a gatefold and I almost just took it because of that, but then when I looked at the "media" (as the pros call it) it didn't look quite as nice as Applause #2. I should mention, these are all marked $1.95. A voice in my head said "just buy all three, $6 for 3 copies of Applause" but then I imagined the face of the poor employee checking me out and how I only had my half my masked face to explain what crazy thing I was doing... So I settled with copy #2. I also picked up a copy of Salad Days just because I liked the cover art...and it was also $1.95. 

I get home and a few days go by till we can sit down and listen to my Applause find. Turned out it was a fantastic copy. Sound is incredible. Probably barely played. I was pretty pleased with myself and I now fancy myself a first rate collector. 

It occurs to me that I set out to write one blog post and wrote another one stay tuned for part two of this exciting saga. Where I share my favorite Applause song as well as a list of my favorite songs from my favorite genre of musical theatre number: the Jazz Waltz. 

Pins... to be continued.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Think of....the Tony!

It's been a good six years since I've touched this blog but I've recently found that writing is a good outlet for me. And since I'm not teaching right now and I have two very loud children to contest with during the day it's nice to have some quiet moments to reflect. So I'm starting it back up!

But now that we're here, let's be honest. I just have some things I need to get off my chest about the Tony Awards coming up this week so this is essence just gonna be a rant. That said, I'll probably try to not just rant on here but I did call it "Softly John, your voice is hurting my foot" for a reason....

Begin Tony Awards Rant:

First of all, I started watching the Tony’s in 1996. At the time, my adorable middle school self viewed it as a major moment of connection when I felt recognized and not alone in thinking other people liked musicals too. And here were these really amazing performances I got to watch on TV! But it wasn’t just that. From 1997-2002 PBS hosted the first hour of the Tony’s. Technical awards and backstage looks at some of the shows. I loved that. When they went back to being broadcast exclusively on CBS and just not showing many of those awards I wrote impassioned letters to whoever I thought would listen requesting the program be reinstated (these were the things that were important to me my senior year of high school). Cut to 2016 and I became the sole adopter of the #BroadcastBookandScore because I wanted CBS to show those awards so badly! We got one of them, not bad. But ever since no one replied to me emails about bringing back the PBS hour, I knew that the broadcast of the Tony awards was not meant to be an informative program, it’s a big commercial for the tourist industry that is Broadway shows. I get that. I appreciate it. I moved on. I always complain about it when something I really wanted to see gets cut or a particularly unnecessary performance or performer is featured to try to boost ratings but c’est la vie. I’m mostly over it. 

This year there is a similar split up that’s been causing quite the commotion. Paramount+ is doing the first two hours with most of the awards, the CBS is broadcasting a second 2 hour program with the big three awards and lots of performances, “Broadway’s Back” they’re calling it. Great. That fact that I’m still very anxious about live indoor theatre returning anywhere in the country right now (given the almost weekly announcements of cancellations going on in the West End since this summer when they opened up) is my own thing. I’m happy people are working again and I’m hoping everyone stays safe. I’m most likely not going to any indoor theatre events till my kids are fully vaccinated. (A whole other post is how much more theatre I got to see during the pandemic in the comfort of my own home after the kids' bedtime and how I’m genuinely going to miss that part of the pandemic). But great, Broadway’s Back and that’s the part that CBS wants to advertise on the network. Fantastic. The big complaints I’ve seen is that the first part on Paramount+ is behind a paywall, but as a 30 something who hasn’t paid for network television since I moved out of my parents house this argument troubles me less. I actually have Paramount+ because I kept getting streaming CBS free for the month of June to watch the Tony’s and then finally stopped canceling it when I got addicted to watching Colbert every night (p.s. I would like very much for him to host or at least co-host one year please) so while I completely get paywalls as an issue, to me their decision to go halfsies again makes perfect sense. They want people to go see the shows that are just reopening and need an audience, that’s what that part is gonna be about. Fine. Good. Don’t really think of it as the Tony’s, think of it as an advertisement for an industry in need. 

Speaking of industry in need: the rest of the theatre community is in a whole lot of need too and doesn’t get 2 hours on CBS Sunday night. If you’re going out and about (like I’m not quite yet) go see a show in your community. They are already back open and need your support and doing great work. I say this not knowing where you are or what you’re seeing. They just are. 

Back to the Tony Awards broadcast. This year is obviously not a typical year. A great many shows (including all the musical revivals) that would have been eligible did not open before the shut down. It was a tricky and pretty much unprecedented situation, so of course this year is out of the ordinary. I think my biggest complaint is that they went ahead and nominated the few shows that had opened. Of course those performances deserved credit but the arbitrariness of “oh well Six was gonna open the night ALL OF NEW YORK SHUT DOWN I guess it doesn’t get nominated this year” felt weird. Also, no musicals are nominated for best score and Aaron Tveit will win best actor in a musical (because he was the only one nominated) unless enough people just refuse to vote for him (but common he was so perfect in Schmigadoon!) Suffice it to say, this year is gonna be weird. Some awesome stuff for sure. There were some serious plays that had opened and some serious representation that had been missing honored with nominations (let's get Jeremy O. Harris and Adrienne Warren some Tonys at least). But again, still just weird. I mean, we’re not “post-pandemic” but this feels like it’s celebrating moments another world ago, “pre-pandemic” which is very much another world ago, to me at least. 

Anyway, after all that, of course I’m watching. Hoping since we have 2 house with Audra on Paramount+ (which she is already the queen of thanks to The Good Fight) that in the spirit of the old PBS hour we might get to watch all the technical awards and fun things like orchestration! And book! But with so few new musicals that had opened it also already feels like a let down. 

Oh and last but not least, as a west coaster I’m pretty sure we get this first 2 hours on Paramount+ live (4pm PT) but then because the next part is the CBS network part it’s gonna be tape delayed and we’ll have to wait till 9pmPT…..Bahahahaha! But zero people will confirm this for me on Twitter. What a mess. What a year. 


p.s. for a full list of nominees check out the official Tony Awards page

Friday, June 19, 2015

Finishing the Hat

Don't want to say too much at the present but I'm finally at the place in my life where I'm writing a musical and it's an exciting fulfilling process and I'm totally stoked! Many more details to follow. Specifically about multiple intelligences, giving equal voice to kids, and how the heck one structures a musical. Whee!


Friday, January 2, 2015

It's gonna be a happy new year....

New Year's Resolutions are not really my thing but I wouldn't mind getting in the habit of writing more. I'm 30 now. I think I know something. Or at least I'm trying to figure more things out. So I think that's worth keeping track of on the internet. Not with the intention of anyone really reading it but just for the sack of writing it and if someone happens to see it and wants to have a discussion then woho!

I'm mid school year so there's that. Loved directing The Clean House. I think it's the single piece of theatre I've directed that I'm most proud of. Probably up there in the pieces-of-theatre-I've-been-a-part-of too. It just seems like a blessing to have wonderful students, a beautiful play, great support from parent volunteers and incredible student designers and then bam see it come to life on stage and people really love it as much as you do.

It also got me thinking about what I can do to change theatre through the students I teach. I already teach plays and give scenes to students written by woman playwrights but I'm kinda on a mission now to make that a real thing. After directing Ruhl (and reading her amazing book of essays she doesn't have time to write) I want to expose my students to more female playwrights and tell them why that's important. I want them to know about the Bechdel test. I want them to challenge what they are seeing in the theatre and what they traditionally think of as important theatre. I am in the remarkable position to be able to tell young people that are as passionate about theatre as I am, that they are the ones that are going to make a difference and they are gonna do that by changing the work, demanding female playwrights voices are heard, that women of color have their voices heard. My kids are the ones who can do that and I can encourage them to do it. That's maybe the most important part about teaching I've come up with so far.

So as far as I'm able I want to direct shows written by women. Since I have choice and I can make that happen. Where I don't have choice (musicals cough cough) I can at least be vocal with my students about the future and what we should be looking at and what they can be working toward.

As if they could hear me, Shotgun Players in Berkeley are doing a season of only female playwrights. I'm going to support that initiative of change by buying season tickets (which I never do anywhere because I'm one of those flighty busy 30 somethings now). In case you're interested, check out their website:

Anyway. That's where I am at the start of 2015. And as I have ideas I'd like to keep sharing them here. So here's hoping I can keep up with that.