Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It Gives you something to think about...something to drink about!

William Finn says on the Infinite Joy recording something to the extent of "a well made song gives me infinite joy" I think that's pretty spot on. I was listening (well I am now as well) to playbill radio last night and they played "With a Little bit of Luck." Which besides being an awesome song is clever witty crisp and perfectly fitted for the character. If you haven't read On the Street Where I Live and you're reading this blog, stop reading this blog and go find a copy of Alan Jay Lerner's autobiographical account of working on My Fair Lady, Gigi, and Camelot. He was a crazy little man who married like 5 times and was obsessed with ESP (On a clear dayyyyyyyyy) anyway it's an amazing book. And if you're still reading this which means you haven't stopped to find the book then you wont mind if I give away one of the highlight stories. So the song Gigi is nominated for best song for the Oscars. There's Alan Jay Lerner sitting in the audience and whoever they got to sing the song starts to sing and blanks on all the words. He sang, "Gigi lalala dododo lalala dodododo lalalala" For a whole verse!

Speaking of amazing forgetful moments I have three words "Leslie Ugums June" I think that's probably all you have to type into YouTube to see Leslie make one of the biggest flubs taped live.

What I really started to think about today was why I like musicals. Lots of people like lots of things. Why do I like musicals? So many people hate or have no feeling toward them at all. But what is the underlying core that makes it so appealing. Here are some of my ideas:
1) Passion. I'm sort of an emotional person and music is a very emotional experience. It takes a moment in time, a feeling, or any shared experience and extends it to it's most passionate expression.
2) History. I love the history. Maybe for the reasons above or maybe for others but there have been passionate enough to create this art form and they've been doing it for over a century. This is sort of circular, I love history when it's musicalized and I love musical history. It seems there have always been very driven gifted people who have been able to advance the musical to really reach people.
3) Storytelling. Musical Theatre is one of many forms of storytelling, but it is unique in that it songs are infectious. They convey passion but they also can be passed and taught through their lyrics. Kids learn the alphabet by singing. Sometimes we learn other things from songs, I can't help but think that there were songs that got us through times of strife that did so because in their original form they helped characters. They tell a story of people and coping and musical can heal the soul.

Anyway, that's all just musings. Nothing too important. But "To Life" just came on playbill radio and nothing could have made me happier....does that make sense?


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To Sodomy it's Between God and Me To S&M

Today my boss asked me to look up Rent Jr and order a perusal copy. I would have looked at him quizzically but found the question so completely foreign that I decided it would be embarrassing to show him my "what the fuck are you talking about" face. However one does exist, and I wasn't entirely surprised to find this out. My first incline was to look up the license on MTI, because they have made a bundle on these junior and school editions. Sure enough they've got rent but no word on a junior or school edition. Search the web and low and behold the first page to pop up is a yahoo questions page where someone asks about the existence of such things. Apparently it does exist and there are a few high schools that will be premiering it this fall.
I'm still not entirely shocked because about two months ago I got an email announcing the impending Avenue Q Jr. edition. Thrilling but also concerning.
While the well informed high school students on the yahoo page assured us that there are no major songs cut (besides "Contact" thank god) and just small lyric changes and versus have been made to original script. I'm inclined to believe all this because I have to say that MTI's school edition of Les Mis is really well done. No major plot points cut, not even much recitative, just a verse here and there that made the original show too long anyway. It is careful and graceful in it's cuts and we all appreciate it. But Les Mis is not Rent, and Rent is no Avenue Q. And we are faced with a question.
While highly popular, can these school and junior editions of popular shows hold the interest of the kids, maintain their creative integrity, and please parents. It seems to me Rent maybe has more of a chance than Avenue Q. Rent, oddly enough, I believe with a couple of lyric changes and a little less sex onstage that would be a great thing to get the kids of today performing, so their parents can learn something....and maybe that holds true of Rent too. But Rent has become dated (Christopher Columbus seems to think it's even older that it really is) and it's about older people. And we all hope any 19 year olds in the show aren't crack whores in real life. Rent and Avenue Q are entirely different kettles of fish than Les Mis. Les Mis is tried and true and spans the generations, young and old have been so obsessed that even the premature revival is still running in New York. Rent, while ever popular is not a young and old pleaser...it's just a young please, and even those young aren't so young anymore. Spring Awakening is this generations Rent. The baby boomer generation didn't grow up with it, there is no love for it the way their is for Les Mis which they loved in the theatre and will cry when they see their kids perform it. I'm very interested to see how it all turns out. It could be really really good, for the whole theatre community, or it could push us back years...a little like High School Musical....
Avenue Q are so intense in their drama and their stressful lives that , I feel, is a whole other story. Avenue Q is satire for one....which sadly enough high schoolers can't quite get a grips of. My greatest joy was doing Once Upon A Mattress in high school, and my greatest sorrow was that nobody understood how funny it was. High schoolers eat up angsty pieces like Spring Awakening and Rent. While I know Avenue Q is popular amongst almost any young person that hears it, performing it is an entirely separate matter. 1) Puppets 2) Sex 3) Almost every song title. Having also read opinions on the matter of Avenue Q Jr. it seems that the puppets are a large concern. Yes professional puppeteers were originally cast, but all the people I know who have gotten fairly far in the callback process for the show have not been puppeteers, they aren't searching for that they willing to teach. So my opinion is that high schoolers given the challenge of puppetry would rise to the occasion, I can even see them building their own puppets with great effectiveness....it's the major themes of the show that I think will make it more difficult. There is the matter of the satire, but also the shear subject matter wouldn't get past the most lenient school district. I can't imagine how, "The Internet is For Porn," "You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want When You're Making Love," and "Special" will retain any of their original intent and become clean enough for a high school stage.
So those are my main concerns. I don't think they are of much validity seeing as I have not read a perusal, nor can one as I discovered this morning. But believe me, should I get a copy of either of those scripts in my hot little hand, I will tell all!
As a matter of high school shows in general I happened to be at my Alma Marta yesterday when my band teacher asked for suggestions for musicals. It's a small school, with a small black box space and only a small band, no full orchestra. While I went through all my suggestions (many of which I could tell they had never heard of) I felt somewhat heartened that I knew better than they what would serve the school (I'm such a snob). But then I found out today that the show everyone most wants to do is Into the Woods. So I just finished a summer of Into the Woods, and while I originally thought the Junior version was a disgrace for simply cutting the second half of the show.....after seeing the whole thing 10 times....I no longer think just doing act 1 is such a bad idea. Did you know Into the Woods is 3 hours long?! I don't know I had ever really realized that.....it's loooooooooooong, especially when you add "Our Little World" which is a really weird song. Yeah, Act 1 isn't so bad on it's own. Act 2 has some strange messages like, "sleep with another man and you'll get crushed by a giant" and I don't know if I ever really agreed with that, it scared me as a child. So Into the Woods for a high school, with little budget, 2 interested boys, and not orchestra....does that sound right to you? We'll see. They tried to tell me that Urinetown had so much difficult music that it was practically a operetta and that the book was fluff.....ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm WHAT? The music is accessible and fun and full of different styles and vocal types. The book is hysterical, witty and very intelligent. And the band is written to be small.....could they pick a better show, probably not. Will they listen to me, probably not. I'll just have to take that job someday and do something that will really showcase high school students. Maybe it will be Rent. Who knows.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Say Love

I am not a Maury Yeston fan. My favorite song of his, hands down, New Words. I've just been listening to Playbill.com's new radio station. And god bless they finally have one. I've been pretty happy with it up until today. I started listening when they were doing an artist profile or whatever on Mr. Yeston. Who I don't hate, but I don't think a lot of. And it's not a full biography or anything it's just, here are his shows and let's play a couple songs from each. So we start with Nine and I approve of all the choices, Guido's first song, "My Husband Makes Movies" and "A Call From the Vatican." Cool. Next, Phantom, one of the main reasons I'm not a huge fan. So they play "Home" which I will now have stuck in my head for the rest of the week. And then the guy hosting the program says "the Phantom in Yeston's version has a more Gothic love of Christine, here's a song he sings about his love for her." And they play Count Philips duet with Christine....no Phantom involved at all.....what? I mean she even says his name in the song...if the guy had listened to it before playing it he would have known that wasn't what the song was about....heck he could've read a synopsis online. Oh well. We move on.
Placido Domingo sings a popy song from a concept album. Then we get to "In the Beginning" which I knew we would get to and I knew we would only hear one song. "New Words" is really just about the only song of worth in the show, though there are a few others showcased in Yeston's Songbook album. But then this guy who I'm already a little ticked off at says that Liz Callaway is going to sing the song (from the Unsung Musicals recording) and then has the nerve to say that it is Eve singing it to the first baby. Maybe that was the case in 1-2-3-4-5 but it really isn't anywhere near what happens in In The Beginning. For those of you who missed it, and that should be just about everybody in the world, the plot of In the Beginning that's out there being licensed by MTI is about the "other" people in the beginning. Adam and Eve make an unspoken cameo in the opening number but the main characters are people not mentioned anywhere in Genesis. Except for Cain, who goes by a different name and hangs out with the main characters, falls in love with one of them, has a kid and sings this song to the baby. Really more moving I would say. But I'm not trying justify this show in any way....pretty lame. And I should know, I was in it once.
The best part of the presentation though is Betty Buckley's beautiful rendition of "I Had A Dream About You" from his song cycle, December Songs. Props for that, it's a lovely lyric and a moving melody. So yay I approve of that.
I'm starting to think that maybe I should rename this blog "Slightly obnoxious musical theatre snob speaks out" ...anybody?

Friday, September 21, 2007

3 is Company

If I wrote sit coms I would steal this real life converstaion I just had and write it into a very clever scene staring Jennifer Anisten, Debera Messing and David Hyde Pierce:

Girl 1: I don't like going to things with couples it's like 2 against 1.

Boy: The couple is 1 and you are 2?

Girl 1: No. I mean, 3 is a crowd.

Girl 2: No no no, 3 is company!

Boy: How many is a crowd?

Girl 1: 2 is company, 3 is a crowd.

Girl 2: sings 1's impossible, 2 is dreary, 3 is company safe and cheery.

Girl 1: No that's just because it's from that show.

Boy: So how many's a crowd? 3 is a crowd?

Girl 2: 3 is a few. 2 is a couple.

Boy: How many's a crowd?

Girl 2: When it's crowded.

Girl 1: Well it's no fun.


There is now toner in the copier and my life is so much better.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Does Anybody See What I See?

I rather blame Hair. I mean what is it really? I was really into thinking hippies were cool and special and all that, and then I heard Hair. And it sounded nice and all. Very wave your long Hair around which was the desired affect I suppose. Anyway I do bear my own personal grudges against it since it was the undergraduate musical my freshman year of college and I wore my hair down and my roommates bell bottom pants, sang "You are the Light of the World" and didn't even get a callback. But then once I saw it, I was immediately grateful I was not a part of it. Not only was the talk of the school who gets naked at the end of act one each night, but the show didn't thrill me. It only made me wish it wasn't what it was. I mean, yes it's the first big rock musical, but it once again does nothing to advance the form. Yes it gave birth to a couple of hits you could say came from the Broadway stage but is "Aquarius" really something to write home about....actually the lyrics are slightly reminiscent to some of those in Spring Awakening. And what Hair was to that generations Spring Awakening will be to this one, let's not forget Rent, but at least Rent had recitative and songs that made sense.
So Hair, also to my chagrin, was the only musical noted at all in my History of Theatre class in school. It was as if the art form didn't matter if it come directly from the 60s movement. Hello people, do you know what won best musical that year...oh yes, that would be my one and only love, 1776. Oh that's lovely in this font! But seriously, Sherman Edwards knew how to write a song. The period sounds, the delicious rhymes, the shear audacity of rhyming "predicate" with "Connecticut" Larry Hart smiled when he heard that one underground. Hair had a scattered plot and although it talks a lot about drugs and sex, does nothing really to promote them. The war theme is certainly a timeless element, but the acid trip second act is about as rich in story telling as Stephen Swartz. 1776 carries a great burden, it tells a story to which everyone in the country knows the outcome, and yet Peter Stone carries us through a 30 minute book scene uninterrupted by song that sores with action, tension and humor without leaving the congress chamber.
If you're not intimately familiar with these shows you may see me as conservative, especially in our wearily unpatriotic present day life. But I assume you ladies and gentlemen if you take one look at 1776 you will see an immensely liberal show that fights for more freedoms than toking up and knocking up. And while the movie of Hair I cannot recommend as a faithful adaptation of the original play, 1776 in it's new DVD release is quite impressively close to the originally stage production (forgive Blythe Danner, she was never meant to sing like Betty, but John Cullum...mmmmmmm) so yes, it's worth your time to look at. And it won't be the last time I exult it's incredible attributes.
But I'm not done blaming Hair. I was suppose to be into Hair, it's groovy style, it's political importance, but it's not a musical. It is by definition (and more so by definition than any jukebox tony winning trash) but it is not by nature. Rock in the 60s was a different kind of music to that appearing on the stage, and it is not without merit onstage, but it is not without complete confusion either.
My boss wants to direct it for our Summer camp next year, with 12 -19 year olds. 12 year olds? In Hair? Has the world gone mad? "Sodomy Fellatio Cunnilingus Pederasty" whose gonna explain that to the 12 year olds, much less the 12 year olds' parents. Perfect. Won't be me, should he actually go through with it, the day he announces it, I give my two weeks, no joke. I expressed my opinion, by politely pointing out that once you cut the drugs and sex out of Hair, what the fuck is left?! And yet I smile.
So in honor of it's 40th anniversary, being celebrated by a concert version in central park in which my dear friend from college is taking part (you're great!) I just have to say Hair never has been and never will be one of shows that makes me smile. In fact it leaves a little residue in my stomach, if not for the content then at least for the step that it took in making sure that songs that made no sense had a very prominent place in the theatre that great men before had worked so hard to find meaning in.
I just bought a book on Betty Comden's life. Updates on her great contributions later.

Once there was a spot

I never saw this place as an ends. But nobody expects you to want to leave, nobody but the people who know you. When you don't feel right in the room and you feel the walls bowing with the pressure, wouldn't you agree it's time to get out. When I think of other places I want to be there more. Other missions aren't sent out to crush you, other people make art and aren't burnt out. But I think the people that push and shove and never give in are the lucky ones. If you can do that then you will love the product. I am happy to go home and lay on the couch with a glass of cab and my man. It is indeed what makes me the happiest, followed closely by a low key rehearsal process and then here as my least favorite place to be. If I was happier at work would I be less happy at home? If I found a way to devote my daytime hours to something I was really passionate about would it take away from my loves? Possible. But in the here and now of the world you spend the majority of your waking hours at "work." Be it for profit or non, is there a way for an ordinary person, who perhaps lacks the drive to be extraordinary, to be happy? Happy in everything?
Bleh that was gross...could I write more soul numbing drivel?
Here's the burning question in my mind:
Spring Awakening, leap forward or giant step back to the 30s?
The musical theatre is a dying art form if you believe the age old adage that once there's a comprehensive PBS documentary the art form has officially passed on. But I don't believe it, merely because I don't want it to be so. I see plenty of evidence that the art form has come to a startling halt in all things creative but as a whole it seems somewhat commercial successful on some inane level.
The question then to address is are the musicals that are on the rise working toward a future. I'm reading Richard Rodgers autobiography right now and that man had a mission. His mission was to extend the art form into more that a silly play with songs. Musicals, as of 1943 had a benchmark thanks to he and Oscar Hammerstein (and we shan't forget what Show Boat did for the form either). A musical became a show propelled by music, and dance if you were really lucky. Songs flowed seamlessly in and out of dialogue (the Bench Scene, Carousel) to expressed the heightened emotion of the characters. This is where the art seemed to be going, in a direction of higher concept.
Spring Awakening is maybe looking at the whole thing too narrowly but I intend to point it out anyway. The score, utilizing popular sounding music, does almost nothing to propel the plot. Nice music, "pop"y music, but what do the lyrics mean?!!!!!! Anybody? "It's like I'm your lover or more like your ghost/ I spend the day wondering what you do, where you go" Does it rhyme with anything even? Nope. Larry Hart would roll in his grave.
There was a movement once that music would sound like where the show is set, and yes I realize that was not the concept for spring awakening, and maybe the concept was "this is how kids sing now so to make this 18th century German story of adolescence true lets set it to some kind of garage band music" but does it help? I guess some would argue it does. And even those that don't approve will say "at least it's not based on a movie. But in the words of Dorothy Fields "There's gotta be something better than this!"
Or is it that the time of Richard Rodgers has passed us by completely. I understand that nobody thinks Oklahoma is hip but it's more than the shows and the music that is being lost. It is the entire way one tells a story. Is it possible that culture has made it impossible to take the art form seriously. Songs that move the plot along has become passe? If that's what has happened I've outstayed my welcome and I am better off with my ibuds in humming On the Twentieth Century to myself, taking time to discuss music only with middle aged gay men who were there or other rejects of society whom I love more than life.
Even the age of Sondheim seems to have passed with a glimmering sparkle. Don't let it be forgot...oh AJL, I like to pretend I'm on an initial basis with Alan Jay Lerner, I like to think that in my past life I was one of his wives.
So wow, that went from depressing to really depressing and I'm still here wishing this was all. I guess I'm really just a Seth Rudesky want to be and since I'm not gay, middle aged, play the piano well, or in New York, I'm not making my Broadway debut doing one liners in a Terrance McNally play. Sigh.
But maybe one day I will be folks. Maybe one day.
Next one won't be so depressing I promise. Seeing as I think I've said everything sad I've ever thought in this one blog. I just want to get it out so I can start discovering if I really have enough passion to write a masters thesis about what I just established is a dying art form.

Monday, September 17, 2007

That Clinking Clanking Sound

Non-Profit. The phrase exudes goodness, greenness, and everything that is right about the world. If you're out to make a profit the very center of your goal is not to help others, so it you're a non-profit, wouldn't that indicate that you are there to help? It does. It truly does. The only thing in fact that makes my heart is that all I wanted to was to work for a non-profit theatre. To create new theatre that helps people, to create at all really. But I have found precious little of that here. And I am feeling how I am burnt out more everyday. The last thing I want in this world is to have theatre make me feel tired, anxious and depressed. And no I can't blame this on the non-profit status but non-profits need more money and it's money you have to scrap, beg, and plead for. And it's making me old at twice the speed of sound. I gave to KQED last week. But isn't pledge just the same thing. I listen to Forum and Fresh Air and think, wow wouldn't it be great to work for NPR, but they are just as hard up for cash as all of us. And maybe the money isn't what's making me tired. But something is, and I don't want to be tired anymore. I want to sparkle like Barbara Harris in that dress she wears in Gorgeous. I want to find some way to express the love and passion I feel for the art of musical theatre, but is that a job? We will see folks. I don't intend for anyone to read this. But if you do thoughts are encouraged. Especially if you see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. AKA you work for a Non-Profit.