Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

I mean, I listened to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I had no feelings about it because nothing got me interested. I didn't grow up with the original movie, so there wasn't even a tie-in to my emotions there.

The Sherman brothers (look them up) wrote some classic tunes, most of which were for Disney. The songs all sound the same, and although in small doses, that's fine, and even often joyous, in a musical, it's just repetitive.

Also, this show makes no sense. The car is alive? It's a miracle? What is it??

When I was a child I used to have a reoccurring nightmare that I was in a car alone and it would drive off by itself. I think this is a COMMON childhood nightmare. I just can't see ever wanting to see a show where my nightmare essentially came true.

Trivia: the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car is the most expensive prop ever created for the stage!

Chris, who did grow up with the movie, told me this scene with the wonderful Dick Van Dyke, was worth watching, and I agree, so here's a video.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Jerry Sams

Children of Eden

Of all the shows I've been in, Children of Eden is the one I talk about the least. I mean, it's fine, our production was fine, but it's long, and only parts of it are really worth talking about. And I have a lot of questions after revisiting it.

Even some people who are religious often agree that many parts of the old testament were stories, written to teach lessons. Think of the bible as a BOOK to be interpreted, not as a history (I know that if you already don't do this, ASKING to you do this in my musical theatre blog will do nothing). People have always blamed Eve for eating that apple and getting mankind kicked out of Eden. People  are like... still angry about it (as if it actually happened). Then the REALLY hardcore people are in turn mad at ALL women, because they believe that all women are Eve and it's our fault they're not in Eden (forgetting, of course, that if they believe that, that they, too, are descended from Eve, and should be mad at themselves).

This of course makes no sense, but it's even talked about in the Chronicles of Narnia, so it's not like I'm making it up. People are weird. But people should be HAPPY that she ate the apple. Even in this silly musical, Adam or "Father" or whoever asks Eve if she could take back what she did, would she do it... and she says that even though she hates being able to feel pain, she would not take it back. She can see clearly. She is able to gain insight and knowledge.

There is no way to have a perfect life. If you're "in Eden" you're basically living in denial about everything else. You can do that and be happy... but it's not a true happiness, based on experiences and knowledge.

So, whatever, that's my take on this story. I do think the original story set a precedence for women who want answers, though. We are a very curious sex.

So, while listening to Children of Eden you basically have to just hang on until you get to the few good songs. Those are, "Spark of Creation," "Lost in the Wilderness," "Stranger to the Rain," and "Ain't it Good?" (sometimes including "In Whatever Time We Have" if you're feeling sentimental and "Wasteland" is kind of interesting, too). There isn't too much interesting about the rest of the musical, most of which is sung through.

You can REALLY hear Stephen Schwartz in this show. He wrote it, so... duh... I guess.. but you can really hear everything he did and everything that was yet to come in the music.

In conclusion, Children of Eden would probably get a C-.

Children of Eden
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by John Caird


As you read from my entry on the musical about cats, Chicago has a perfect overture. It is one of the best overtures of all time. It makes you want to dance and unless you have no soul, it awakens all your senses (even your sense of SMELL)! Luckily, the overture is not the only good thing about Chicago, because this musical is pretty much perfect.

I was just getting in to musical theatre when the revival of Chicago opened on Broadway (and it's still running today, 20+ years later). I played that CD for hours, not knowing at the time that singing along in my room or car was the closest I would ever get to being in the actual show. I am sadly not a dancer (except in musical improv where I am an incredible dancer) and therefore, this is a show I can never be in. Well, until I am Mama Morton type. And yeah, that'll be FINE, but I'm not looking forward to it.

I would LOVE to play Roxie. I would be so good as Roxie (if I could dance it). I would also be so good at Velma (if I could dance it). If I could dance it, I would be so good as ANY of the "Cellblock Tango" girls.

Sigh. Oh, well. But, look: Chris and I have to move and buy a car soon, so you can catch one of my performances there. I also performed the shit out of "All That Jazz" in my bathroom recently.

I had the revival cast recording growing up, which is great, as is the original cast recording (and I can't BELIEVE the original didn't do better. Stupid audiences of the 70s not knowing what was good). Chita Rivera, who as you know by now, is a GIFT, is the best Velma ever (even though Bebe Neuwirth gives a solid, A+ performance -- Chita is just a better singer). With Roxie, the verdict is more split: Ann Reinking is a better singer, but god almighty, that monologue before the song "Roxie" is delivered with perfection by Gwen Verdon. I like both Jerry Orbach and James Naughton as Billy Flynn. Joel Grey, in my opinion, is the better Amos.

I love so much about Chicago. The music, obviously, is great. The choreography, by the master, Bob Fosse, is great. The book and story are funny and dark (but not TOO dark), and there's no message*, which is GREAT. I tend to like things with a message more, but when you've got a show as good as Chicago, who the F cares?

Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

To see the brilliance of every part of Chicago in one scene, watch this clip from the revival.

*Ok, there's a little bit of a message (you know, about the media and making a show out of people's lives, lawyers who spin things, etc)


So many people I talk to hate Chess. I've never seen it, and honestly, if I did, I would probably hate it too, but it was one of the first musicals I bought myself (I don't know why) and it was the FIRST musical where I found out that a mezzo-soprano could be the female lead... or even the ONLY voice part for women. That was a big thing to a girl who was being forced by her first voice teacher to learn classical soprano but was, and wanted to be, a belter.

There are several recording of Chess and you'll get a different experience by listening to any of them because the play has changed so many times. As we know from the musicals that proceeded this, any time you have to revise the book every time a new production is put on, you know it has a weak book. I grew up with the Broadway cast (starring Judy Kuhn, who is so great, as Florence). I have tried to work all the female songs from Chess into my repertoire at some point but no one ever supports this decision. I think "Nobody's Side" is SUCH a great pop song and the "Mountain Duet"/"Terrace Duet" has these killer harmonies... I don't even mind how overly dramatic the music is to this show.

The London recording, which came first, is surprisingly the better recording (something I'll probably never say again). Elaine Paige is INCREDIBLE as Florence, and, for once in my life, I don't even mind the fact that Murray Head's vocals have so many effects on them. (But HOW does that work in the actual theater??) My favorite part of the entire recording is the guitar solo* at the end of "Pity the Child" -- PLEASE let that have happened on stage! Oh my God, this guy plays the craziest solo in theatre history and it's SO GOOD and all I'm imagining is what could be happening on stage while this solo is happening. I hope it wan't just for the recording, and that they did do the solo during the show, and that there was just highly stylized chess playing happening.

There is a 2009 concert version of Chess that I urge you to never listen to. It's the most complete recording as far as I can tell and it is hilariously bad. I don't know what they were doing. It's full of A+ talent, and yet, somehow, it's just awful.

So, look, if you like legitimate rock music, which I obviously do, you might like some parts of Chess.   It was written by the ABBA guys, so, it's relatively legitimate. I like rock AND I like ABBA, so there was basically no way for me to not like Chess. It's not the best, but at least it was an original story, and I do think it is underrated.

Music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Lyrics by Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus
Book by Tim Rice or Richard Nelson

*listen to this crazy guitar solo. I love it so much.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


I made the mistake of listening to the Overture from Cats for the first time immediately after listening to the excellent and incredible Overture from Chicago. Chris and I were both like "WHAT IS THIS!?!?? NO. GOD. HELP. WHY??"

Have you ever heard that music that was created for real cats? Look it up. It's really weird, but supposedly cats like it. This kind of sounds like that "music." Maybe Cats was created for actual cats? It's certainly not created for human ears.

I listened to all of Cats today. I need to write about it now, because I never want to listen to it again as long as I live.*

There are some people who like Cats. For some, I understand. They are dancers. It's a very intriguing show for a dancer/actor (to me, they are the best actors of all time, because I would not be able to take it seriously). There's no book or story in Cats, so it's "good for families." They are going to the theatre to be entertained, not to think (or, apparently, listen to music). MAYBE it ran for so long on Broadway because people didn't understand what the hell was happening and they needed to keep going back to see if they could figure it out.

I do not understand why MOST people like Cats, though (for those that do like it).

This is literally the worst music I have ever heard. The worst. Have I said ANYTHING is the worst music yet? No. Because deep down, I knew the honor would go to Cats. It is the worst music I have ever heard. It is so pretentious. If you've read any of this, you know already that I hate British musical theatre. It's so shitty. But this really takes the cake. The synthesizers, the dissonance, the fact that it was ever created in the first place. THIS is why I hate Webber.

As I said, Cats has no story. It's basically just about a bunch of asshole cats. Sorry! JELLICLE asshole cats. The cats named themselves and one of them named himself Rum Tum Tugger. What the actual fuck is that?

The ballads are so boring and WEIRD. I was never a fan of "Memory" (I think it's creepy as hell), so even that song makes me angry. Literally the ONLY good part to Cats is the chorus to "Jellicle Cats", which is catchy, but the verses are crazy.

At least I'm done with the worst part of this entire project. Everything is uphill from here.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T.S. Eliot

*Yes, I realize that by saying this, I have basically GUARANTEED that I will play Grizabella in Cats. I will never audition for it specifically. It will be part of a season where they are doing shows that I desperately want to be in and am completely, 100% right for (like Dot in SITPWG or Cathy in L5Y, etc) and I will go to the audition, sing from the show I am perfect for, be amazing, and then only get cast as Grizabella in Cats.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Catch Me if You Can

Ah, movie musicals. There are so many of them. And weirdly, Norbert Leo Butz has been in so many of them.

Catch Me if You Can is so good, and NLB is the perfect person to play Tom Hanks's role, Carl. That doesn't mean it was a good idea to do this, though.

CMiYC reminded me a lot of Big in the fact that it sounded like it was trying way too hard to be traditional musical theatre. Write for the time we're in now or for the time your play is set in (in popular music). Yes, some show tunes were still very popular in the 60s, when this musical takes place, but they are certainly not the musical theme of the 60s.

Anyway, the only songs I even remotely enjoyed were "Seven Wonders" and "Fly, Fly Away" and that was BEFORE I even realized it was Kerry Butler. The most disappointing part was at the very end when Carl asks Frank how he cheated the Bar exam and when Frank says he didn't cheat, he studied, Carl says, joyfully, "You're kidding me! I hate this guy! How does he do it??" WHY'D YA HAVE TO RUIN ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING WITH THAT LINE???? (Listen to this horrible song, "Stuck Together (Strange but True)" to really understand what I am talking about.)

I bet there were some really exciting stage pictures and fantastic, beautiful dancing girls, all of which probably mean the show overall is shitty. I bet it was really fun to watch before you remembered how good the movie was and how this just doesn't live up to it.

Catch Me if You Can
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Carrie: the musical

If you read this, you might be wondering where I went the last month and a half. I've been really busy. I had to go out of town a few times, and I just have a lot of stuff to do.. but I also finally decided to listen to Hamilton and it's SO good that I never want to stop.

I will stop, but it's hard to stop. I won't blog about it until I actually reach it alphabetically, though. Unfortunately, today, I have the sad task of blogging about Carrie.


I, like everyone else, know the story of Carrie, although I've never seen the movie or read the book because I would be too scared. I don't like horror (except ROCKY HORROR!), so there is nothing in it for me. I wanted to like the musical, though (I WANT to like every musical). At one point I had the sheet music to something from this show and I can't even remember what song it was. I think it may have been cut from the revivals.

The original was one of the biggest flops in musical theatre history so OF COURSE, who wouldn't want to revive it??? (They did make improvements to it, it seems.)

My favorite song in the show was "The World According to Chris", who is the antagonist. I really didn't enjoy any of the mom's stuff or Carrie's music.

Really, though, most of the music in this is forgettable. It takes a lot of talent to sing it well, so as usual, props to the performers, but I just didn't enjoy it at all.

Music by Michael Gore
Lyrics by Dean Pitchfork
Book by Lawrence Cohen

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


If you've been reading this, or you've basically met me, you probably know that I love Rodgers and Hammerstein so much, and have since I started getting interested in theatre. Honestly, it might have been Carousel's music that made me love them.

I've needed to think about this for a long time to write anything about this show. WE ALL KNOW THE "BIG PROBLEM" THAT CAROUSEL HAS. Especially in this day and age, how can the actor playing Julie say, "It is possible dear, for someone to hit you, hit you hard, and it not hurt at all" and not be presented with the dilemma of this line?? God, even in 1945 I bet it was hard to do. They talk about it throughout the entire show: how horrible it was that Billy hit Julie. Even the antagonistic characters condemn him for it. So, everyone is saying how awful it is, including R&H, including me. 

Now, this was not R&H's battle, as this musical was adapted closely from the play "Liliom," which would have been VERY fresh in theatre-goers minds. I suppose it's the equivalent to adapting 9 to 5 (or any of the hit movies from the 1980s turned musical) today. Everyone already knew the story.  It wouldn't have been as shocking for them that he hit her. That she forgave him for it. They already knew.

But, look, it's there. It's there in today's world. I had thought about sub-titling this post "Carousel: a 2 hour sit down where I try to justify Billy Bigelow's spousal abuse." No one can JUSTIFY it; it's unforgiven... except to Julie. 

And there's the thing. 

I think Julie Jordan is thought of as this pure, innocent girl who gets mixed up with this ne'er-do-well and then he hits her, gets her pregnant, kills himself, and then comes back as a GHOST and slaps her daughter. Julie is not stupid. She's not like that border-line handicapped girl, Lili from Carnival! -- she KNOWS what she is doing. I feel like if we were to re-adapt this play to modern times, Julie would be like... almost goth (When I think of modern day Julie Jordan, she is very close to Aubrey Plaza). She's certainly unhappy. She's so cool with giving up her previous life that she just quits her job (it seems like they say she was fired... but it was her choice not to go back to the mill) to be with Billy. It is established as love at first sight in the very first scene of the play. Julie is not a push over. She does what she wants. She says no to Billy and anyone else (that's his reasoning behind hitting her -- they argued, he got carried away. What kind of woman was pushing back against her husband in the 1870s? Not a shy, innocent one, that's for sure). She isn't afraid of anyone. She stands up to Billy, stands up to his boss, Mrs. Mullin. She talks about how bored she is at her job; how unfulfilled it makes her. JULIE AND BILLY ARE THE SAME.... they're just... in a different time period and women acted different. They are the Kate and Petruchio of musical theatre, Julie just doesn't have the same temperament as Kate.

And since I mentioned Kate and Petruchio, it's well known, if you read The Taming of the Shrew, that the real shrew is Bianca, and she and Lucentio will end up with the bad marriage, not Kate and Petruchio. The same can be said of Carrie and Mr. Snow. On the surface Mr. Snow is a "upstanding man," but you start to see his true colors even before they are married (at the clam bake, god even on the WAY to the clam bake) and certainly when he's so horrible to Louise and encourages his children to be horrible (to the daughter of his wife's BEST FRIEND!) as well. I mean, he also forces her to have 9 children, which she is clearly uncomfortable with. All of this and more, still under the guise that he is a fine, respectable man. At least with Billy, he wears his flaws on the outside, so you know what you're going to get. Julie obviously knew. 

"If I Love You" (one of Oscar Hammerstein's finest inventions: the conditional love ballad) is probably my favorite song in the R&H cannon, and one of the best songs ever written by anyone, ever. However, it's "Soliloquy" that gets me every single time. I knew when I was 14 years old how special that song was. I mean.. what the actual fuck. Apparently Richard Rodgers wrote the music in 2 hours because he was so moved by the words Hammerstein had written. I wish I could be a male baritone for 3 hours, just to work through this song a few times with a vocal coach. You, of course, see glimpses of Billy's soul in smaller moments, but it isn't until he finds out he's going to be a father that he really bears it... to us. The audience. And no one else. Billy can't show emotion to the other characters. He doesn't know how to do it and stay himself. I guess that's the problem with being a dude in the past: you were definitely not encouraged to have feelings. "Soliloquy" is the finest song for men in the theatre, and possibly the finest song, period. 

Look, there is probably so much out there that is written about these characters. There's so much more I COULD say. Carousel is basically Shakespearean, and certainly as close as any non-Sondheim musical theatre writer ever got. I love this musical. Richard Rodgers got so much right musically in this and Hammerstein.... just... jesus. These characters are DEEP. The stakes are REAL. My god, you know from the first scene that your protagonist is a bad guy. Besides Pal Joey, when had that been done??

Oh, also, I can't end this without talking about Louise (Julie and Billy's daughter). I love her so much.  She is my favorite character in this play, because she fucking says what she needs to say. Hell yeah she's sad. OF COURSE SHE IS. She is the perfect mix of those two, and thank god, ghost Billy comes back to tell her to not be held back from the mistakes of others. I believe Louise has a bright future ahead of her. I also am slightly obsessed with Agnes de Mille (as much as a non-dancer can be) because if there is anyone in the world who can move me just through dance, it is her. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch this video of the original Louise, and the original choreography. She kills. I cried a lot while watching this.

Carousel is so much more than Julie forgiving Billy for hitting her. Look deeper. If anything deserves you to look deeper into it, it's a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II


I forgot about Carnival!, probably because Caroline, or Change was SO good and The Capeman was SO bad. It just got lost in my mind!

Carnival! is one of the weirdest shows that I know anything about, and not really in the good way (just like Finian's Rainbow, which we'll get to in a while, and which I hate. At least as of now). The main story is of Lili, who is comically stupid. I don't know if you guys have taken improv classes, but if you have, you, or one of your classmates, at some point in your early studies, will play a character who knows NOTHING, and for no reason. It's very funny in the moment, but you need to justify WHY they are so stupid and you only have a few options: either they are mentally handicapped (and then you've dug yourself a terrible hole to try to get out of) or they have lived an incredibly sheltered life (and then you need to say WHY their life has been so sheltered -- and again, things can get very sticky and offensive very fast).

So, we don't know why Lili is so stupid. She is, as the main character/disturbing weirdo, Paul, says, "a grown up girl with the mind of a child." Also, he says repeatedly, that that is what he WANTS in a woman... so... there you go.

Anyway, Lili is described by most women who play her as "naive" and "innocent" and "a free spirit" and "full of love" -- which is TRUE, but it doesn't answer the question of WHY and HOW she is like this. Her father just died and she had left the village where she lived -- did something happen to her there? HOW DOES THIS PERSON EXIST?? You can't say that she "just does" because that immediately makes this piece mean nothing.

So, regardless, the music to Carnival! isn't terrible. Lili is an extremely vocally challenging role, and she does have most of the good material in the score. The best song, however, is "Her Face", sung by that misanthrope Paul, which, even out of context, is an excellent stand alone song. There are other characters besides these two (including several puppets which are played by Paul -- and Lili has no idea and thinks they are real), but none of them are very good people and most of their songs are forgettable and/or obnoxious.

Music and Lyrics by Bob Merrill
Book by Michael Stewart

Monday, February 8, 2016

Caroline, or Change

Caroline, or Change is one of those shows that is so good, it reminds you why you like musical theatre. I really didn't know anything about it before listening to it, and I love every single second. It's entirely sung through, but nothing is like... a "song." I need to explain what I mean, yes? Ok, so, in Les Mis everything is sung through, and everything they sing is a song. It's like song after song after song, where everything else stops when they're singing. The song is actually not part of the narrative: maybe it tells their feelings or something, but nothing is happening (with a few exceptions). In Caroline, or Change something is ALWAYS happening. You're getting their feelings, but you're also getting everything else. It's not all structure and rhyming; the end of the song bleeds into the next. This is not the show to look to for your next 16 bar audition cut, basically.

But this IS the show to look for if you want to be seriously moved. If you like stories where every single character is in the wrong, this is the show for you. God, I loved it. It's so conflicting. Everyone thinks they're right and in a way they ARE all right, but they're also all wrong.

This is also the show for you if you are a woman, as 7 of the main roles are woman (with 3(ish) male leading roles and 2 more supporting men and 1 supporting woman). 

With basically the entire play on the cast recording, you can hear the entire story just from the music (which is to be expected, since it's sung through). I also watched a bootleg on youtube, but this just reinforced my previous feelings. I related to Anika Noni Rose's character in so many ways. She is incredible, as is EVERYONE from the cast.

This musical gets an A+ and you should listen to it.

Caroline, or Change
Music by Jeanine Tesoro
Lyrics and Book by Tony Kushner

The Capeman

I thought I would give the Capeman a chance, even though me not hearing anything about it in 15 years seemed like a bad sign... and it's so bad. The story is hard to understand and the songs don't make sense WITH the story. This isn't a jukebox musical, but it might as well be. The music, by itself, is fine, but it does nothing to move the story along.

The Capeman had really bad reviews and didn't run for very long. It was reworked a few years ago and had a short run at the Delacorte Thater, where it was apparently much better... but that's not saying a lot.

The Capeman
Music by Paul Simon
Lyrics by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


15 years ago I worked for a stupid jewelry company in their credit department. The only good thing about this job was the coworkers I sat next to -- not MOST of my coworkers, just the ones in my immediate vicinity. One Christmas I won tickets to a Browns game in a raffle. I had no interest in these tickets at all, but my friend Matt had a HUGE interest in them. He worked for a radio station and could order CDs that were hard to find, so he said if I gave him the tickets, he'd let me on his radio show and buy me 2 CDs of choice. I chose System of a Down and Candide.

I mean... it was 2001. Of course I did.

Anyway, Leonard Bernstein is a gift to our ears.

I am not going to do a lot of operettas because they're not REALLY musical theatre, but Candide is different, because it's Bernstein and it's had a lot of famous Broadway actors, including the  incomparable Barbara Cook as Cunegonde. She is perfect. She is my favorite soprano. Her voice is so clear, it's like she's not even singing in her head voice. God, I dunno... maybe she wasn't. Maybe she has the most incredible mix of all time and mixed that entire score. Regardless, I love her. I love Candide. I know it had a lot of problems when it opened, but so much of the score (especially the first half) is glorious. 

And the overture is possibly the BEST OVERTURE OF ALL TIME. 

I'm glad they re-worked Candide into what is considered a great little operetta, so that it gets performed a lot (in a lot of college vocal programs), because people need to hear this music. I honestly don't even CARE how bad the original moved along, I would have been going bananas in my seat just by every musical note played. The story doesn't even MATTER to me because THAT'S HOW GOOD THE MUSIC IS!!

Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Various
Book by Lillian Hellman and High Wheeler

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I never understood the appeal of Camelot. Did people like it because of the Kennedys? Did they ONLY go to see it because it was on Ed Sullivan?

I still don't get it. I listened to it several times, hoping I would see what others saw. I never did. Besides "If Ever I Would Leave You" (a perfect front-line tag) being literally INSPIRING music, what do we have here? Another story of a woman in a healthy, love-filled relationship running away from her super nice husband. In Bridges SOMEHOW they justified it. They did not in The Baker's Wife and they don't in Camelot.

I listen to Camelot and I am mainly bored with the music. I know this must sound like blasphemy to some people, but I can't help it. It is so boring. The only good thing is that Julie Andrews sounds like a literal angel. Her voice was perfect. I guess people tend to like Robert Goulet a lot, too (not me). SO much happens in this play. I read that the first previews ran for over four hours. Can you imagine!!?! I would have died.

Lerner and Loewe are good, and they deserve their place in the hierarchy of musical theatre, but man, I tried, and I just can't get on board with Camelot.

Music by Frederick Loewe
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Call Me Madam

As I learn more about musical theatre history, composers and styles, and as I hear more work, you would have to expect my tastes and opinions to change (or, "flip flop", if we're two people running for president in 2008). You learn new information, of course you're not going to think the same thing as you did before.

About 2 months ago I saw the end of the PBS documentary on the Roosevelts, and I went to the PBS webpage to see when it would air again (never). While I was there, I saw that they occasionally show a documentary from 2004, Broadway: the American musical. I obviously wanted to see this, so I asked for it for Christmas and watched the entire thing before the end of 2015. It was so great and so interesting. I never cared about Gershwin before I heard "Fascinating Rhythm." I had no idea the "Cinderella musicals" from the 20s-30s existed (and I probably will not be writing about any of them, unless there is a stand out that was revived and has a cast recording). But, more than anything else, I learned about Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin is SO FAMOUS, and yet, he should be so much more famous. He should be mentioned in every discussion of music of ANY kind. And what is truly amazing about Mr. Berlin is that even though he was the one to CHANGE the landscape of popular music (popularizing ragtime, which was basically the equivalent to rap), as he got older he, too, became stuck in his ways and passive aggressively spoke out against changes in musical theatre ("Choreography" from White Christmas). So! What an amazing enigma of a man!

Call Me, Madam is a political satire musical, something I wish there were more of (although it seems SNL took over most political satire duties). It was made for Ethel Merman and was a spoofed story of socialite Perle Mesta (named Sally Adams in the musical). What's interesting about the recordings of Call Me Madam is that because of a contract Merman had with Decca, the full cast recording does not feature her in the leading role, it has Dinah Shore playing Sally. However, Merman still has a recording done with her company ("Ethel Merman sings Call Me, Madam" or something). The full cast recording is of course the better thing to listen to... but it's really amazing how much more exciting Ethel Merman was as a performer. She had such a weird voice, but man is it electric. So, listen to both.

There are some pretty famous songs from this musical, and it IS really interesting. It's not amazing by any degree, but we live in America and have free speech, and I think there should be MORE blatant punches thrown at weird government and social issues.

Call Me Madam
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

Monday, January 4, 2016

La Cage Aux Folles

While watching the PBS documentary "Broadway: the American Musical" I saw Jerry Herman make the following acceptance speech when winning the Tony Award for Best Score in 1984:

One of the shows La Cage beat for most Tony Awards was Sunday in the Park with George --which is, if you didn't know, my favorite musical, by my favorite composer of musicals, Stephen Sondheim, and very much NOT a show of the "simple, hummable show tune." I LOST MY SHIT. I started yelling at the TV, "HOW DARE YOU, JERRY HERMAN?????? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE: IRVING BERLIN!?!?!?!?!?!"

So, naturally, I did NOT want to like La Cage Aux Folles. I even considered NOT listening to it as a Jerry Herman boycott* (Jerry Herman denied that this was a direct dig at Sondheim... but who does he think he's fooling?? Get off your high horse, Jerry!). However, this show did do a lot of good. It helped found the Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids organization, and clearly the message is good (whether you're gay or straight, anyone can get behind "I am what I am.")

Plus, Harvey Fierstein.

So, I begrudgingly started listening to it... and of course I really enjoyed it. Even despite my new cynicism towards Herman, I would still say the book and story are better than the music, but the music IS catchy as hell. It's not particularly special, deep or interesting music, but it's certainly simple and hummable.

I listened to the 2010 revival cast with Kelsey Grammar and Douglas Hodge. If you want to be completely delighted, watch this Tony Award performance of "The Best of Times" with Hodge:

So, Jerry Herman might be a total A-HOLE, but he did help make something really nice.

Plus, Harvey Fierstein!!

La Cage Aux Folles
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein

*I wouldn't have been able to keep the Herman boycott up very long, anyway. I really, really like some of the music from Hello Dolly-- especially, "Put On Your Sunday Clothes."

(On a related Dolly/ Herman note, there is a line in La Cage when Georges says to Albi, "You came *this close* to getting that tour of Dolly!" I know Dolly Levi has been played by a man in drag before, and I believe it's being played by a man in drag RIGHT NOW in Los Angeles. But, in general, I need this to stop. There are so many roles for men in the theatre. There are so many DRAG ROLES for men in the theatre (Look at this show! Look at Kinky Boots! Look at Priscilla!). There are more than enough roles for men in the theatre and WAY less male actors than female actors. I can't take it anymore. To take a show with 3 named female characters and give one of them to a man is unacceptable. For every show you replace a role that was written for a woman and give it to a man in drag, you should have to produce 2 all-female shows.)

Sunday, January 3, 2016


The problem with doing this little project is that when I really grow to love a show -- maybe something new to me, or (in this case) something I was very familiar with but just didn't really appreciate -- it's hard to leave it. I tend to get on these "kicks" where I will listen to one thing nonstop for... weeks... months... years. (I'm sure you Hamilton fans can understand.) But, if I did that, I'd never finish this. And it's not that I have a deadline or something, but there is just clearly more to discover.

I've spent the last several weeks with Cabaret. Remember a few months ago saying how I wasn't the biggest fan of Kander and Ebb? I think Cabaret was why. I had seen the movie when I was a teenager and I did NOT like it. The 1998 revival was happening right when I was really starting to connect with musical theatre and it really.. scared me. It was just too racey for me or something. The raciness of Chicago, which I saw with my family, was nothing compared to this, so it just seemed like a show that I didn't need to know about. We did it in college my senior year (I was not in it) and I remember GASPING at the end of "If You Could See Her," and I certainly was moved, but it wasn't hitting.

But, oh, it HIT the first time I listened to the revival a few weeks ago. I was sitting on the 7 train with my face drawn and my eyes wide open (I caught my reflection at one point in the window). Similar things would continue to happen with every listen. I had to put it on hold for a few days, because of Christmas, but when I came back, I was at Queensboro plaza, ready to transfer to the N train and Natasha Richardson was singing "Cabaret" and I was CRYING and walking and trying to avoid eye contact.

I think it's getting to me now more because of the landscape of the US. Things are not good. And I can't help thinking about refugees, and the Muslims being persecuted and the African Americans being persecuted and the LGBTQ community.... and people like Trump, who IS a modern day Hitler (I don't think he even believes the things he says -- I think he's doing it for attention -- but I don't understand WHY or what his end game is, and either way, he is the worst person currently living). There is so much denial in Cabaret. So many people like Cliff who speak out when they know people agree with them but are quiet when they really need to do something. People like Sally who would rather pretend nothing is wrong at all. People like Fraulein Schneider who feel like they have no choice but to accept whatever comes her way. I guess it'll always be like this. And that's even more upsetting. So, it's been a weird couple of weeks.

But, as far as the actual musical itself is concerned, there are no longer any doubts in my mind about the work of Kander and Ebb because, despite what I had previously refused to see, Cabaret is phenomenal and maybe the most important musical ever written.

I did listen to the original cast and the revival. I liked the revival better 98% of the time, but I do like the Finale better with the original. So much was changed from original to the Sam Mendes revivals and most of it for the better. I wish I could see Joel Grey's (not the movie) original performance so I could compare him with Alan Cumming. I watched the recorded stage version from the 1993 (or so) London revival -- the first with Alan Cumming. I mean, he's fantastic, but I think if you listen to the Broadway revival audio recording, you will hear better performances and acting than what I *saw* from the London cast. Natasha Richardson was insanely good. Sally shouldn't be too good of a singer (and none of these ladies were -- although obviously Liza was, but they were obsessed with Liza, so whatever. It's a movie, I forgive them) and no one was really THAT great, except Alan Cumming, whose voice can be gorgeous. That role is... I don't know. It's THE role. I mean, you think about musical theatre now, and you're asked to name the most iconic roles... the Emcee is in the top 3. Maybe #1.

I had read so much about Cabaret over the past week, and you're welcome to do your own research and go over it. I can't explain it. What I can tell you is that Cabaret has destroyed me, and it's GOOD that I need to stop listening to it and thinking about it, because it's too hard. (Ugh, why is this meta??) However, I am SO THANKFUL it finally "hit" me and that I listened to it during this time in our lives, because it is so, so important to hear these lessons.

Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Joe Masteroff