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