Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm doing my strong woman number...

So it's been a while but my thesis proposal is almost complete! Huzzah! I don't have much new to say but I am exceedingly proud of my chapter titles for my outline. They start with song lyrics from songs by the ladies I am talking about in that specific chapter...yay!!! Anyway they may still need tweaking but over all I'm very happy so here they are to make your day too!

I. Introduction (I'm still working on that one)
II. “Blazing Trails Along the Byway”: Rida Johnson Young, Dorothy Donnelly and Anne Caldwell
III. “Nobody Does it Like Me”: Dorothy Fields and Betty Comden
IV. “Three To Make Music”: Trude Rittman and Mary Rodgers
V. “Strong Woman Number”: Elizabeth Swados and Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford
VI. “We Can Never Go Back to Before”: Jeanine Tesori and Lynn Ahrens and Others
VII. Conclusion (Clearly that one will get more exciting too)

p.s. the "book" is now titled There is Nothing Like a Dame: Celebrating Women Writers in Musical Theater.


Back to work.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Who's that Girl?

So I was just wandering around the library today...minding my own business in the section with all the musical theatre books...just pickin' them up and checkin' them out when what should I see...? A whole chapter in a book called The Broadway Musical on "Unsung and Hidden Collaborators." Naturally I turn to it in hopes of finding some treasure about my new obsession, Trude Rittman (see the last blog if the name means nothing to you). I am very hopeful because the first section in the chapter is called "Musical Arrangements: The Techne of Arranger and Orchestrator" Perfect right? Well I skimed looking for her name...nothing. Oh well let's try the index maybe I missed her. Not in the index. Ok fine I'll read the section there must be something because while skimming I found Richard Rodgers name and she was one of this only arrangers. There is lots of talk about John Glasel....John Glasel said this about being an arranger John Glasel said that...and of course he's brillant but I'm still looking for Trude. I turn the page, end of this section, we go on to conductors and musical directors...also great but not what I'm looking for. Oh! There is a picture of an orchestra rehearsal for Camelot! I love Camelot! The caption says there is Franz Allers, conductor, Robert Goulet (Robert Goulet my god Robert Goulet!) actor, Frederick Loewe comoposer. Now I'm thinking....hey....didn't Trude Rittman do the arranging for Camelot. Hmmm who is that other person sitting at the table....I look in my other book with the headshot of Rittman....there is absolutly no doubt that that is in this photo. Not in the caption. No mention of her in the chapter.

So basically this just proves my point. Someone needs to save these nameless photos of women and give them their due. Fight for their presence. Show the world what we can do. And that's going to be me...if I have anything to say about it. Look out world. Here comes Becky Potter, musical theatre historian in training, and she's going to save the world! Haha!

p.s. if I were cool like Lena I would have these pictures on this blog entry but I couldn't find them on google image so I'm having my mother look them up for me at the NY public library next week when she's there... hopefully I will be able to show them then.

p.p.s. The authors of the book that neglected to say anything about Ms. Rittman are Bernard Rosenberg and Ernest Harburg. Write them angry letters.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Small House of Uncle Thomas Written By A Woman...

The correct fill in the blank would be "Harriet Beacher Stowe" with an upward inflection of the voice on Stowe. But really I was thinking of someone else.

I put aside the lesbian book when I got my Link+ book in at the library. Women in American Musical Theatre.... is a book of essays on all kinds of women and while I've been reading most of it I've been taking notes on the women writers. There are some very interesting essays but the one I've liked the best so far is about female arrangers.

The name Trude Rittman ring a bell? You rock my socks off if you know who she is. So far that would just be Dennis telling me he's proud that I know who she is. Trude Rittman was the arranger/dance composer/underscoring for pretty much the whole Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe cycles. Richard Rodgers would hand her a song and she would create the music. Not that he couldn't do it. She freely acknowledged he was so busy with other things and if he hadn't been he could have done her job. But he didn't. In fact she wrote the "Small House of Uncle Thomas" Ballet. With the exception of the "Hello Young Lovers" strain in the ice skating sequence all of the melodies are hers. She worked closly with Robbins and created all the percusion and everything. Are you kidding me? She is also responsible for the entiring underscoring of South Pacific and all the vocal harmonies in The Sound of Music (and those Nun parts are so gorgeous).

The kicker is she was paid per show (no royalties), never got her name attached to the works, never belonged to the musician's union and pretty much went without credit in everyones account except Agnes DeMille who loved her. Mary Rodgers had to convince the R&H orginzation to give her name credit and a yearly stipend for all her work after her father died. Even Fredrick Loewe who she worked closely with doesn't really mention her much in writings.

So clearly I am now fascinated by her and outraged by her being overlooked in EVERY book I've ever read about musical theatre.

So yes. Small House of Uncle Thomas was written by a women. Trude Rittman.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Look for the Silver Lining

Ethan Mordden just makes me laugh...either he is spot on and I giggle out loud or I think he's totally wrong and I want to shake him but either way he's funny about it. His book Broadway Babies: The People Who Made The American Musical, breaks up different aspects of the musical into chapters and then examines them in a somewhat chronological fashion.

I scimmed through most of it to make sure I wasn't missing huge insight into what made Dorothy Fields tick (there is a biography of her thank heavens) but really I just stuck to the chapters about the "heroine" as he calls it. The first chapter talking about the early female starts, and how their characters changed as the form moved from comic opera to musical comedy. Most of the first chapter was devoted to Marilyn Miller and Sally examining the Cinderella style innocence which sold over voice.

I liked the second chapter the best because after skimming over Gertrude Lawrence (who is Julie Andrews in my head thank you Star) dealt entirly with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. As much as I'm devoted to these two ladies it had never struck me before exactly how much they shaped the form. They were magnetic performers and as they grew out of sidekick roles a new kind of heroine was created for them. Mordden also points out that through all this time there are no men or even male characters that come close to shaping the artform the way these ladies and their roles did. My favorite quote of his said, "Men run musical comedy, as producers and authors. What on earth are they thinking? Tough dames and trouser roles." Damn striaght. But isn't that interesting. All along I've been trying to figure out what it was the ladies did and how that shaped the ladies roles. But really the men shaped the ladies roles...what do you think would happen if women started creating roles for women the way these men did for all these years. That's an interesting thought.

The last chapter talks about how great Liza is and how Barbara Cook is wonderful but only stared in cult classics so she gave it up to be a cabaret star. There's a chunck on how Gwen Verdon could carry a show the size of Mt. Everest and still do it kicking but we all knew that already too.

Well some cool stuff and lots of funnys. I would like to go back and read the whole thing when I get the chance. I may tackle the lesbian book next....we'll see how that goes.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hooray for Hollywood

I first picked up this book and got really excited because it's called The Musical: Race, Gender and Performance...but I would argue it's a deceptive title because the book is actually about movie musicals which we know is an entirely different ballgame. Susan Smith picks race related movie musicals to discuss in part one (Cabin in the Sky, Show Boat, West Side Story, Fiddler) of the book which I didn't read but looked promising. Chapter 2 of the book was about gender. The emphasis was really on "the female singer." She chose of modge podge of movies, mostly those dealing with female characters who were singers in the context of the movie: Singin' In the Rain, San Francisco, Love Me of Leave Me, A Star is Born, What's Love Got to Do With it? of these things is not like the other.

She starts by looking at Funny Girl and My Fair Lady. Both of these sections were interesting but also frustrating for me because while there are some interesting gender issues in both movies they didn't start out as movies. When she goes back and forth between referring to Eliza and Hepburn I feel like she doesn't always delineate between character and actress. I was a little worried that she wasn't going to mention that Hepburn was dubbed but she did end up talking about that in relation to further female suppression.

The bit on Singin' in the Rain was nice. She talked a lot about Lina's voice and the only way we don't feel really bad for her being dubbed in the film is that she's so nasty to Kathy. Oh Singin' in the Rain. The thing I'd love to look at in this film is the way they treat the women (even decieving Kathy at the end) in relation to Betty Comden's involvment. Since Comden and Green wrote the story, did she not care about how they treated the female characters? Did she just know that that was what sold because she'd already been in the bussiness long enough? I'm really curious but I guess I should just find a Betty Comden biography and figure all that out. Oh and we can't forget the most ironic part of the movie...that they actually dub Debbie Reynolds' voice when she's singing for Lina...just unbelievable...especially since they released the recordings of her singing it and she sounds just fine. Stupid moives.

The rest of the of sections were interesting but because I hadn't seen the movies (bad Becky...must Netflicks) I didn't really get the full affect. They were all about women who sing and whose careers are pushed forward by men who then are boastful of what they created or go drowned themselves in the ocean. C'est la vie. I must confess that I did not read the What's Love Got to Do with It section because I felt that it wasn't really musical enough for me...I'm so snobbish. But yeah...interesting stuff. I don't know how much I'll use in mystery thesis but good stuff to know and good movies to go and rent.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In a week and a half from now this will be art

I'm doing all this reading in hopes that I'll have some divine inspiration hit me about for this paragraph I have to write that just has to be the introduction paragraph to my thesis or a chapter in my book or whatever non-existent thing I'm creating for this class. So far I'm just getting more interested in more varied things and not really coming up with a condensed thought. Oh well. That and I always write my introductions having to write this one first is slightly disconcerting.

So I've sort of gone through Ethan Mordden's The Happiest Corpse I've ever Seen aka the most depressing book I've ever read. Of course he likes a few things but mostly he's down on the whole state of musical theater. You wonder if the sub title "The last 25 years of the Broadway Musical" suggests that it covers the most recent 25 years or the final 25 years....As much as I agree with some of his complaints(can anyone really call Contact a musical?) I refuse to be that pesimistic. The important stuff in this book came out for me in his chapter about new talent. He talks about Lynn Ahrens with Stephen Flaherty noting that their scores are stronger when they have an exotic local or specific period of time to work with. I'd like to note that that's exactly what Rodger's and Hammerstein did...they went out looking for interesting places to set their musicals. Not much biographical about her in there but I'm sure I can find that elsewhere.

Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman get a nod for The Secret Garden. Oh and my favorite funny thing Mordden writes is a parody of some dialogue from the show:

Mary: Does everyone who dies become a ghost?
Archie: Only in concept musicals like this one.

Hehe. I laughed out loud when I read that...especailly because I could hear Mandy saying it in my head. Mostly an examination of SG. Not a lot except that we're sad they haven't written another show (We do have Zhivago but let's not go there).

In a disscussion of country style musical scores he talks about Roger Miller's Big River, Adam Guettle's Flyod Collins, but seems to be most happy with Jeanine Tesori's Violet. He likes her lively score which he describes as being "crafted to make simplicities elequent." He gives a nod to her contributions for Millie but the book's not new enough to cover Caroline or Change, probably her most signifigant contribution to date....oh wait...except for Shrek!!!! Yeah...probably won't make her career.

Thank you Lena (probably the only one actually reading this anyway) for the update on Swados. I also found her in here and did you know that she wrote the music to Doonesbury too? Sort of off her beaten track. Mordden doesn't seem wildly impressed with fact her compares her scores to 5 year olds blowing bubbles in water. See I just think that's harsh but Mordden just eats it up.

It was nice to see a couple of pages devoted to A Man of No Importance, clumped in with Passions and Steel Pier as a good show that didn't do well. The show is a perfect example of an exotic local inspiring a lush score for Flaherty and Ahrens. Just listen to that opening number. Mmmmm and how I love Roger Reese. And the Irish. And Guiness. And we're done for now. More Mordden later.

I've been reading through The Musical: Race, Gender and Performance today. It's about film but it's sort of interesting. Will report on that next.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey Look Me Over!

And by that I mean....look at me I'm doing what I said I would!
I just went through all the chapters involving female lyricists (mostly, only a couple of composers) in Stanley Green's The World of Musical Comedy. I really like the format of the book because it takes a blow by blow of composing teams and individuals in a somewhat chronological fashion. But the most important thing to note here is that this is the fourth edition and it was published in the most current writer he covers is Carol Hall....not exactly a up to date source but sort of super in other ways.

I got some basic background on Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden, and Carolyn Leigh as sort of the big three women contributing in the golden era. I'm most intrigued by Betty Comden mostly because she had such an expansive career and she spent it all with Adolf Green, they are the great Broadway lyric writing team as far as scope and time. Partly because they had so many composing collaboartors with such great success and partly because they were just around for all of it, they seem to exude "Broadway" and she did it all with him in a professional relationship.

The cool thing about dated books is you get a slice of what the up and coming thing was...then...which is often not really what up and came. (On a side note I was also really happy that 2 pages got devoted to Sherman Edwards because the only thing he wrote for the theatre was 1776 but I just think the anomoli of it is such a great thing....back to women). Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford get a couple of pages, notably as the first female lyricsist/composer team. Their great contribution to the art was a little semi-autobiographical piece called I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (1978) in which Cryer orginated the lead role onstage. I saw a reading of the show once, you can tell it was written by women...remind me to come back to that someday....

Carole Bayer Sager gets a nod in the Marvin Hamlish section. Did you know he and Neil Simon were actually working on adapting one of Simon's plays but because Hamlish kept going on about his woman troubles with Sager they dumped the other project and wrote They're Playing Our Song? I didn't know that. I'm glad I do now. They're Playing Our Song has a very dear place in my heart because when I was a freshman in high school and other people were listening to ...umm whatever it was that people were listening to in 1999...I definitley had They're Playing Our Song on repeat in my CD player...which means I probably still know all the lyrics...which means I know more about Carole Bayer Sager than I should.

So the big discovery of the evening for me was Elizabeth Swados, who Green admits in 1980 hadn't had a box office smash yet, but appeared to be an up and coming force. If you could see the picture I'm looking at of her though you'll understand why I'm not entirley surprised she wasn't the next Sondheim. She's got the long hair hippy look...sitting cross legged playing the guitar with striped socks and clogs and a knit sweater. At first I was like...who is this chick writing adaptations of Greek stories...but then she was off with Peter Brook and I was like oh maybe she's got some deep thing going on...then I turn the page. She wrote Runaways! Not a show I'm terribly familiar with but at least I've heard of it...and she did it at the Public so she interviewed lots of kids and had street kids in the show and all that jazz. Go Elizabeth Swados! The show of hers that needs a comeback now would appear to be Dispatches, a piece on the vets from the Vietnam War...sounds like the aftermath of Hair...I would be really interested in finding this piece if anybody knows anything about it. Doesn't look like there's a recording. Sad Panda.

Then we get a little piece on Carol Hall who has been my hero ever since I looked at the title page of Whorehouse and saw that she wrote music and lyrics...and I mean this is some good music and lyrics. That show is just as warm and wholesome as a show about whores can be and that takes care and talent. I admire that show incredibly...and the songs rock. I can't help but think about Dolly Parton in connection to Hall right now. I just heard Parton on NPR talking about how much fun she had working on 9 to 5 and how she's ready to write more musicals but they aren't gonna be adaptations...she's gonna come up with her own ideas.....ummmmmmmm..... that could be the greatest thing that happens to musical theatre in the next few years...we'll see.

Ok that's all for now...I think I might read a chapter from Mordden's cheerful book on the conclusion of musical theatre, The Happiest Corpse I've Ever Seen. There's a whole chapter on new composers and I was glancing through it going...oh yeah after the 80's there are some pretty cool women that come on the scene. Yay!


Let's get down to bussiness...

to defeat....the Huns!
Just kidding. Anyone else still wondering why Donny Osmond sang that song while B.D. Wong was voicing the character....?
Anyway it is time for business. Now that I am a graduate student and actually attempting to put together something that might someday serve as a thesis I have decided it is time to start developing a "voice." After how many years of voice lessons and now I'm starting over getting an entirely new kind of voice...crazy. This blog is just sitting here and I do a very poor job of updating it...and I always say I'm going to and then I don't. The worst is one I come home from a really great piece of theater and I'm like "oh I should write about this in my blog" and then I don't. Well that's about to change and I mean it this time!
Here's the new plan for under utilized brilliantly named blog: I have decided, for the time being that musical theater is my greatest joy in life (besides those people in my life that I love). Therefore my thesis shall be about musical theatre. So far my deduction skills seem reasonable. The next tentative step of my thesis was to narror down that topic slightly. Only slightly mind you I still have a huge topic in mind. At present I wish to examine the role of female composers, lyricists and book writers and how their gender has affected their art and the characters they create. See I told you it was still broad. Ok here comes the plan with the blog part. I am starting to accumulate a pile of books creating a sort of library nesting ground around my desk. As I go through each book looking for clues for my thesis I will come back in here to write about them and disscuss. Doesn't that sound like fun?! It doesn't have to sound like fun to you but you're looking at the girl who is giddy about graduate research...I know it's not everyone's cup of tea but it sure is fact it's like a pumpkin spiced lattee with no points...mmmmmmm wouldn't that be wonderful?
Ok so that's the plan. Here I go. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Good for Marie

So... I just cried watching Daniel Evans sing a clip from "Finishing the Hat"...ummm wow. And then I read the article about him in the The New York Times, which made me love him a little more. He's studying philosophy? And he's from Wales? Does it get much sexier than that?...suddenly this theater season seems a little more interesting.
That and Lena keeps going on about In the Heights so I checked out their opening night video on and that looks incredibly awesome as well. Especially intriguing to me is Pricilla Lopez who is most definitely a hero of mine...I think I've heard her sing "Nothing" a thousand times.
So between those shows, and the promising looking South Pacific revival and the brilliant performance I am sure Patti Lupone is giving this seasons set of musical offers doesn't seem so bad. This is of course coming from one who has seen none of these shows. Living on the West coast is difficult in that regard. I mean...I'm leaving my somewhat stressful job so that I can pursue my dreams right? Most notably the dream of devoting my life to the art form that I love...aka friggin musical theatre. It seems odd to be so far removed from where all the action is but I made that decision long ago.
San Francisco has been home to more and more pre-Broadway tryouts...granted it's not the most original work that's heading to New York it's still new work...and we've had a quite a few in the last few years.
One new musical I am very much looking forward to is Sacagawea. I can safely say the composing team is one of my favorites. Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips capture the environment of the piece with authentic musical sounds and quick clever lyrics. Bohmler's music is rich with the flavors or wherever the show takes place, his orchestrations are full and, I say this with the greatest respect, old fashion. You can appreciate each instruments part in telling the story in a way that a small band musical will never allow. Each voice is heard intelligently and brought together in soaring melodies that fill my soul with light.
Sacagawea gets it's first full staging this summer in Martinez at my place of business, and for me will be the highlight of the summer craziness that is my life.
I think if I was determined enough I would write a musical. I think someday I will. Right now I feel like I have so much more to learn about the form. Some might laugh since I know more than a lot of people but I truly think that I wouldn't want to write something until I was motivated and knew it was going to be the best thing I could possibly create. Now maybe I'll never write it if I keep thinking that way...what do I know about anyway? Musical theatre? Like the world needs another musical about musicals. (Although I have to say, having just seen it, I think Musical of Musicals the Musical was definitely a great advancement to that genre) One day I'll do it. Just so it's out of my system if nothing else. But I think other people will make better musicals. I think people with other stories to tell besides mine will make better musicals. My story has been told (but I'll still make a bundle on my memoirs)
C'est la vie.
Life in the theatre will continue. I'm anxious to see where it goes. I may not have the energy to be part of its movement.
Pins Abigail

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Like a seed dropped by a skybird....?

Steven Swartz.

This will be brief I promise. I just want to give everyone some food for thought. Without going into my own moral qualms with the man and his music: here is an unbiased observation about bird lyrics in his shows.


Wicked- Like a seed dropped by a skybird (umm what is a skybird?)

Pippin- Eagles belong where they can fly

Children of Eden- Have you ever watched the eagle fly toward the sun

Baker's Wife- Fly away Meadowlark

Pocahontas- Or let the eagle tell you where it's been
The heron and the otter are my friends

That's just a sampling I'm sure. I'd love to know more if you got them.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ah Yes, I remember it well...

Oops, so it's been a while. I'm going to assume that nobody feels awkward about that but me since this is a fairly selfish blog to begin with. Now if you want an informative, mouth watering blog try because Lena is a genius and she puts pictures in her blog.

Anyway, I am hoping that writing slowly enters my life again as I am hoping to go back to school in the write about theatre. We'll see how that goes. While we wait for that of hands for who loves Gigi? Every time I watch it I love it more. Maybe because it is so similar in form to My Fair Lady, or maybe because being raised to be a kept woman is just a really intriguing idea that is far to shunned upon now to catch anyones eye. I know there's a little part of me that wants to be Gigi, except when she sings "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight" which was originally written for Eliza to sing but aren't we glad it didn't end up there. I love that she sings the whole song to the cat but other than that...not a song with a lot going for it. While "The Night they Invented Champagne" has the most infectious melody and I cannot help polkaing up and down the stairs in my apartment. I think it might even be safe to say that it makes me downright giddy! As does Maurice Chevalier... who deserves a whole paragraph....

So here we are. I certainly thought I was content with Leslie Howard being my 30s heartthrob but ou la la! I netflixed Love Me Tonight. It's a 1934 movie musical with songs by Rodgers and Hart. I had read about a sequence in Rodgers' autobiography that he was quite proud of, that sounded very fun, where the melody to "Isn't it Romantic" is passed along starting with Maurice Chevalier, a humble tailor, and then from one character to another in Paris, all the way to the countryside where it reaches Jeanette McDonald as the Princess. Maurice Chevalier is nothing sort of charming. And although he looks like a player in his chic little suits he is perfectly adorable and sincere. The French accent doesn't hurt either. He sings a perfectly adorable number called "Mimi" which is now stuck in my head forever (props to RR) and the only problem is I keep singing the melody and inserting Gigi in for Mimi...coincidence...yeah I guess so but still kinda funny. While I had never really fully understood the stereotype around dashing Frenchmen it is clear that what I was missing was seeing young Chevalier. Mmmmmmmmm.

Et maintenant, bon soir and sweet dreams about charming Frenchmen...:)