Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, part 2.

In 1938, Our Town premiered on the American stage.  Written by Thornton Wilder, it gave a universal outlook to a few lives in Grovers Corners.  The rituals of birth, marriage, and death were commented on by a matter-of-fact Stage Manager, played by Frank Craven.  Suddenly, small town life gained a cosmic significance.  Oscar Hammerstein was influenced by this play, and tried to create a musical that would follow a man from his birth to his death.  He chose for his character the son of a rural doctor, and called him Joseph Taylor, Jr.  He hoped to show how significant and miraculous one human life was by tracing its early influences, obstacles, loves, career struggles, and, ultimately, decline and death.  However, in the middle of his second act, he began to lose focus, so he could not fulfill his goal completely.  Yet, his failure resulted in a dynamic, dramatic, innovative, unforgettable musical that in many ways did accomplish some of Oscar’s goals.

The musical begins with the celebration of Joseph Taylor, Jr.’s birthday.  The mayor has declared the event a legal holiday, so there is no school.  The opening chorus of celebration involves the whole town, from a church choir to drunks, stumbling along to somewhat grotesque rhythms.  And even the children cry out:  “Look what Marjorie Taylor’s done…  Hail him, hail him, everyone!  Joseph Taylor, Jr.!”  So, the simple birth is magnified in importance, and we feel that the country doctor, Joseph Taylor is quite an important man in the minds of the town’s citizens.

Grandma Taylor introduces the theme of time flow that is so critical to the first act:  “The winters go by. The summers fly.  And, all of a sudden you’re a man.  I have seen it happen before, so I know it can happen again.”  Growth is as much a human ritual as birth.  In her generalizing, Grandma Taylor sounds like Wilder’s Stage Manager.  Growth does occur when Joseph Taylor, Jr. takes his first steps in “One Foot, Other Foot.”  Richard Rodgers uses the music from this song as a “growing up” motif, indicating the steps Joe will take throughout the show.  Once Joe can walk, he emerges as a truly living character.  The play concludes with him taking another major step in his life to the same motif.

During Joe’s childhood, Grandma Taylor dies, though she will appear together with his mother as ghosts during his wedding, and final scene of Act 2.  So, now it is time for another childhood rite:  the encounter with the opposite sex.  In an eerie, often grotesque Children’s Dance, punctuated with fragments of nursery rhymes, Jennie Brinker and Joseph Taylor, Jr. are pushed into each other through a children’s game, displaying the inexorability of fate.  Jennie Brinker, the winsome daughter of wealthy lumberman, Ned Brinker, is a beautiful blond with insouciant charm and Joe is smitten immediately.

Soon, it is time for Joe to go to college to study medicine as his father did.  The 1920s college atmosphere is evoked through dance music, college cheers, and excerpts from professors’ lectures.  But Jennie continues to haunt Joe in his thoughts and desires:  “You are lovelier by far, my darling, than I dreamed you could be!”  Joe is obsessed with Jennie’s external beauty, but of her deeper motivations he hasn’t a clue.

While in college, Joe meets fellow student, Charlie Townsend, a more worldly hedonist, without Joe’s hometown values.  All Charlie can think about is girls, and when Jennie is seeing another boy, Bertram, Joe decides to go out with Charlie’s acquaintance, Beulah for a date.  She sings “So Far”, a song about the romantic possibilities of their beginning friendship.  However, upon finishing her song, Beulah notices that “the little louse is asleep!”  No competition for Jennie!

When Joe returns home, Jennie and Joe become engaged.  Shortly before the wedding, Marjorie Taylor and Jennie Brinker have a major argument, and Jennie reveals her true intent by telling Marjorie the plans she has for Joe’s success, and by demonstrating her indomitable will and determination to achieve them.  Marjorie is shattered, realizing that Joe has fallen into the arms of a ruthless schemer, but is helpless to change matters.  In fact, she dies soon after their confrontation.  With her major antagonist out of the way, Jennie is free to control Joe the way she wants.  In Act 2, she does just that.

Another ritual:  the wedding.  “What A Lovely Day For A Wedding!’ is a satirical song, showing how the Brinker relatives and Taylor relatives despise one another as they come from different social milieus and have completely different values and expectations, but the wedding must go on.  Act 1 ends with a choir wishing the newlyweds well in almost daring, shrieking tones, and the orchestra ends in total discord, hinting at what disasters lie ahead.  Grandma Taylor and Marjorie appear on stage, shaking their heads in horror as to the coming future.  And we, as the audience, can only wait for Act 2!

 

 

 

 

Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, part 1.

Rodgers’s and Hammerstein’s musical of 1947, Allegro, has long been one of their most unconventional and problematic musicals.  For in this musical, they turned the concept of “the nice girl next-door” on its head, creating the most unlikeable woman in their repertoire.   Indeed, Jennie Brinker, has few redeeming qualities other than looks and a seductive aura.  She is selfish, grasping and greedy, but manages to hide these character traits by being self’-assured and poised.  Ultimately, she is unfaithful as well.   She even turns against her father, Ned, when he is no longer rich, although he has spoiled her all his life. Jennie remains an enigma among Oscar’s usually sympathetic women who invite our compassion.  Even Hammerstein himself thought of revising her personality, so that Joseph Taylor, Jr.  could become reconciled to her.  Needless to say,  it never happened.

In Allegro, there are no strong male characters.  Joseph Taylor, Jr. is  weak, influenced by the women that pass through his life:  his grandmother, mother, Jennie, and nurse, Emily.  He has difficulty making decisions, and seeing people for what they really are.  Like his father, a country doctor, he is too trusting in his dealings with unsavory personalities, and is taken in by Jennie’s charm and beauty.  His college friend, Charlie Townsend, is a hedonist, who chases girls, but has no strong convictions.  Dr. Bigby Denby is a mere tool of businessman, Brooks Lansdale.  Although Brooks exudes a certain power on account of his wealth, his character is almost a caricature.  Except for Jennie Brinker, none of the characters in Allegro are well-developed, and this is a major weakness of this disturbing musical.

Much has been said about the unusual use of a Greek chorus to comment on the feelings and actions of personalities.  However, Oscar was no Aeschylus, and Allegro is not a Greek tragedy.  Joseph Taylor, Jr. is, indeed, an average Joe, not a man of heroic qualities struggling with the fates.  Also, the chorus becomes tiresome and tedious, and tells us what Joe is thinking, what is going on in his mind, rather than let Joe show us through his actions.

The work has been criticized as a Morality Play with its characters dating from The Middle Ages.  The constant preaching led one critic to call Allegro a sermon.  Indeed, the simplistic contrast between the evils of the city(Chicago) and the inherent goodness of the rural life in the second act, leads one to think of the drama as a Morality Play, with the powers of good fighting the powers of darkness.  But was that what R and H wanted us to believe?  Or did they have another purpose that somehow got lost in the confusion of Act 2?

A Visit to Placerita Canyon State Park

Last Friday, Glenn Malapit and I took a trip to lower Placerita Canyon State Park.  This is the area of the nature center, and a series of short hikes around the canyon.  Placerita Canyon was the site of the first California Gold Rush in 1842 when a hired hand, Francisco Lopez of the Rancho San Francisco, discovered flakes of gold.  But today, that memory has faded, and the canyon is known for its branching trees, boulder formations, and creek beds.  Scrub oak, and huge sprawling oak trees abound, with sycamore and willow where the shade is plentiful.  What struck me were the magnificent patterns of dark branches against a blue sky.  The rocks, mostly quartz, feldspar, and gneiss, with gleaming biotite mica, provided their own wondrous forms.  The area is quite dry and exposed, so a coolish day is recommended for extensive walking.

When Glenn and I arrived, there were bus loads of children with teachers ready to introduce the kids to the natural world.  Most of the children walked around in the nature center to view samples of natural phenomena, and to hear talks on the special features of the park.  It was not quiet, but children add their own qualities to the park experience.  The photos below reveal some aspects of Placerita Canyon, but one needs to go there to appreciate its bounties.IMG_6252IMG_6257IMG_6258IMG_6261IMG_6264IMG_6267 IMG_6272IMG_6280 IMG_6283IMG_6291IMG_6300

Down Memory Lane: My Mom’s 1971 Tour de Force

1971 was a very special year for our family;  my father’s parents(Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny) were to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  For the occasion, Mom did extensive research into the era of the early 1920’s to try to recreate the wedding in the period’s special style.  To do this, she hired a barbershop quartet, set up Johnny’s Speak-Easy for drinks, and created Lil’s Candy Corner.

Cecil Ross with the barbershop quartet

Cecil Ross with the barbershop quartet

Period songs were reinterpreted by Aunt Cecil, the family’s clever lyricist.  For “Frankie and Johnny”, for instance, she made the following change:  “He’s still her man.  For fifty years they can’t be wrong!”  Seven years earlier, Cecile Ross had changed “Hello, Dolly!” to “Hello, David!’ for Grandpa David’s 85th birthday to great acclaim at the El Caballero Country Club.  We all sang her revised lyrics:

from left to right:  Donald Yorkshire, Nancy Weiss, Heidi Yorkshire, me,  and Wendy Yorkshire is in the foreground.  The Yorkshires were the children of my Mom's brother, Buddy, and her daughter-in-law, Analee.

From left to right: Donald Yorkshire, Nancy Weiss, Heidi Yorkshire, me, and Wendy Yorkshire is in the foreground. The Yorkshires were the children of my Mom’s brother, Buddy, and her daughter-in-law, Analee.

Grandma and Grandpa were picked up in a 1920’s Hupmobile, and taken to our backyard where the party commenced.  The first thing they saw was our ten-year-old basset, Peter:

Grandpa Johnny with Peter

Grandpa Johnny with Peter

Then, they approached a board that was covered with events from 1921:

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny in front of a board depicting events from 1921.

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny in front of a board depicting events from 1921, including pictures of Nancy and me.

Among the many guests that came, we were honored and fortunate to have my great-grandfather, Irving Turner:

Great-Grandpa Turner with Nancy Weiss

Great-Grandpa Turner with Nancy Weiss

But the highlight of the party was the reenactment of Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding ceremony.  Cantor Brown was chosen to officiate instead of a Rabbi.  Great-Grandpa Turner made a brief speech about the approaching ceremony:

Dad with Great-Grandpa Turner and Cantor Samuel Brown

Dad with Great-Grandpa Turner and Cantor Samuel Brown

The wedding ceremony followed, and emotions flowed freely:

Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Lillian stand under the chupah(the wedding canopy).

Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Lillian stand under the chupah(the wedding canopy).

“You may now kiss the bride!”:

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny do just that as Mom and Dad look on.

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny do just that as Mom and Dad look on.

Then, a happy meeting with Grandma Lillian’s father and brother:

Grandma Lillian with her father and brother Ralph

Grandma Lillian with her father and brother Ralph

To this day, we are all grateful and astounded by Mom’s Tour de Force:  her special theme-oriented party for Grandma Lillian’s and Grandpa Johnny’s 50th anniversary.

Note:  This blog is not static, and previous posts are often revised,  with photos or videos added.  I welcome your visits and comments!

 

 

Remembering Robin Williams: Mork and Mindy’s Window Scene

Mork and Mindy was a popular American show from the late 1970s.  The opening theme was a series of clear melodies with a soothing harmony.  Quite a contrast to My Favorite Martian’s, disjointed, unsettling theme from the 1960s.  America had changed, and its view of alien beings had changed.  The world of the 1970s was one of unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and the belief in the unlimited potential of a human individual.  Suddenly, discrimination diminished.  All ethnicities, religions, people of various sexual orientation flourished.   Julian Beck’s Living Theater was thriving on the streets, and experimental art became the norm.  To be sure, the 1960s began the reform movement on TV and beyond;  Bewitched(in 1964) was the first TV sitcom to show a couple in the same bed and was redolent of intimacy and passion.  Poetry of Richard Brautigan and others were gaining prominence. The generation gap was getting wider.  But the 60s was an explosive age, an eruption from the stale, too-well role-defined, authoritarian world of the 1950s, while the 1970s was an age where the rebellions, and upheavals settled into a new, but still discernible pattern.

Mork and Mindy took the American audience by storm in 1978 when a young, short, athletic, comic actor cavorted as an alien from the planet Ork.  He was juxtaposed with the more refined, careful, Mindy McConnell(Pam Dawber), who worked in her Dad’s music store in Boulder, Colorado.  Together, their slow evolving relationship of mutual discovery and respect, formed the main subject of the show.

Mork comes from an emotionless planet, and has been sent by leader Orson to observe earth habits.  Mork communicates his observations to Orson through his brain, and these comments usually conclude the show.  They are often quite provocative and thought-provoking.

Through Mindy, Mork gains an appreciation of emotions and their consequences, reaching an apex with the manic “Mork’s Mixed Emotions.”  His first love is a mannikin named Dolly whom he worships and reveres.  However, Mindy teaches him that there is something rather special about a woman’s touch that Dolly does not have.  And so begins the growing intimacy that Mork and Mindy share in their developing awareness of their mutual feelings.  The episode blends slapstick humor, exaggeration, sadness, and wistfulness in a blend that only Robin Williams could deliver in his quiet innocence.  And he provides this special mixture throughout the series.

The famous Window Scene from “A Mommy for Morky” epitomizes Williams’s capacious artistic talents.  Mindy has met an old boyfriend, who once broke off an engagement.  However, she is attracted to him, and agrees to go out with him to various restaurants, causing Mork to blurt out:  “Is this the guy you’ve been eating around with?”  Mindy tells Mork that she’s serious about her boyfriend, with marriage a distinct possibility.  Mork  is jealous and sad, but cannot admit these feelings.  Mindy’s boyfriend is anxious to have children, but Mindy questions what kind of mother she’d be.  Mork has never had a mother, only a Nanny computer that attended to his needs.  Since Mork has a time machine that will transform him into a three-year-old(which he sets for 10 minutes), he decides to use it for such a purpose; so that he can experience a Mommy, and Mindy can experience what it’s like to be a mother.  Before our eyes, Robin becomes a three-year-old with tantrums, irresponsible playfulness, and seemingly inexhaustible energy, and Mindy learns how difficult it is to be a mother.  When Mindy leaves with her boyfriend, the scene turns dark, and we can feel Morky’s despair at being left alone.  With tears in his eyes, he runs toward the window, shouting:  “Mommy!  Mommy!’  As he looks through the window, we see the tear-straked face of a lonely child.  Suddenly, as if by an unseen magic, Mork changes back to a young man, and his:  “Goodbye, Mindy.” is delivered in a subdued, sad, almost resigned manner.  The young boy’s dependent need for his mother has been juxtaposed with a man’s growing dependence on a love he, too, cannot do without.  It is a piece of TV magic that only Robin could have brought off, because throughout his life, the child never departed.  It often raised its head  in its sheer innocence, playful exuberance, and delight in its surroundings.

At the conclusion of the episode, it was usual to hear Mork stating to Orson:  “This is Mork signing off.”  Alas, forever, Robin.

Something to Think About

So begins a series of quotations or sayings that you might ponder over.  The first one comes from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Gondoliers.  Written at a time when both lyricist and composer were at their peak, the opera features soaring choruses and witty dialogue.  The quintet, “Try we life-long” is one of the most famous in the G and S canon.  No less a personage than Isaac Asimov considered the last two lines among the finest Gilbert ever wrote.

All.  “Try we life-long, we can never

Straighten out life’s tangled skein,

Why should we, in vain endeavor.

Guess and guess and guess again?…

Life’s perhaps the only riddle

That we shrink from giving up!”

Some Notes for the Future and a Photo of Tribute

Many of you must realize that I changed the domain of this blog to discovery and wonder.com.  The primary reason was to include audio files and extended video files.  However, I also decided to split the About page into two parts:  one dealing with the purpose and purview of the site itself(a work in progress), and the other dealing with me and my family.  I thought this would be a far more effective way of presenting the site.  I am also introducing two new categories:  Something to Think About, and  Just for the Feel of it.  The former category will offer selected quotes or sayings, which I hope will be of interest.  The latter category will offer brief excerpts from heretofore untranslated Russian children’s stories and novels.  I must say, however, that I have suspended The Writer’s Friend, and the corresponding blog.  I am working on The Fence and The Field:  A Writer’s Gateway to Self, which includes some of the exercises from that blog.

In concluding, I would like to thank my 86 followers for looking at my posts and offering thoughtful comments.  May this be a year of peace and discovery for all.  And thanks, Mom, for the memories.

Mom and I celebrating Mother's Day 1954.

Mom and I celebrating Mother’s Day 1954.

 

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