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.