And Now For The Answers(2)…

  1.  The Happiest Millionaire, “Valentine Candy or Boxing Gloves”, Cordelia Drexel Biddle. The line given seems a perfect description of adolescence and fits Cordelia as she ponders her future.  Is she going to box with boys or date them?  Up till now she’s been a Daddy’s girl, acquiescing to whatever he has proposed.  However, she’s beginning to wonder who she really is outside of her father’s wishes.  Lesley Ann Warren offers a wistful, yet highly emotional rendition of this difficult stage in her life in Walt Disney’s last film.
  2. Goldilocks, “Shall I Take my Hat and Go?”, George Randolph Brown.  The show was written by the Broadway critic Walter Kerr and his wife Jean.  The title confused the audience as did the mixed up ending.  Fortunately, the charming and tuneful score by miniaturist, Leroy Anderson, is a delight for the ears.  Russell Nype sings this song with an exuberant boyish innocence and a touch of pathos.  A superb rendition of an unduly neglected song.
  3. The Apple Tree, “Eve”, Adam.  By selecting three stories:  “The Diary of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain, “The Lady or the Tiger” by Frank Stockton and “Passionella” by Jules Feiffer, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick wished to show the emotional and often turbulent aspect of male-female relationships. Not always a smooth blend of tales, nevertheless,  the show offers a complex and intriguing score, highlighted by top notch performances by Alan Alda, Barbara Harris and Larry Blyden.  Alan Alda has just the right amount of bewilderment and confusion when confronting the first member of the opposite sex.
  4. Funny Girl, “Henry Street”, chorus of neighbors from Henry Street.  The song is a celebration of Henry Street’s first Ziegfeld star to be:  Fanny Brice.  Errata:  the line should be corrected to:  “…young D.D-esses” and “loony” should be “looney.”
  5. Bloomer Girl, “Evelina”, Evelina Applegate and Jeff Calhoun.  A playful, teasing song that introduces the main characters.  In the original production, Celeste Holm sings the song for comic effect, while Barbara Cook sings for purity of tone in the 1956 TV production.  Even Steven.
  6. On the Twentieth Century, “Repent”, Letitia Primrose.  Imogene Coca sings this song by subjecting her comical voice to some unexpected twists.  Her hypocrisy shines through when she admits that she’s glad she didn’t repent before she did it all!
  7. My Fair Lady, “A Hymn to Him”, Henry Higgins.  Many performers have played the main character, but Rex Harrison remains our favorite misogynist.
  8. Li’l Abner, “Love in a Home”, Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae.  In Act 2, the main characters fantasize about the home they might have had before Abner was caught by Appassionata Von Climax and whisked off to Washington.   Peter Palmer and Edith Adams sing this romantic song.
  9. The Music Man, “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl for me”, Harold Hill.  This song reflects Harold’s penchant for women “who have been around.”  He wants affairs not committed relationships.  As he sings, “I hope and I pray for Hester to win just one more “A”.”  Robert Preston reveals the criminal and the dreamer to perfection.
  10. Babes in Toyland, “I Can’t do the Sum”, Jane.  In the original 1903 production, Jane sings this song in a garden, while the Widow Piper’s children sit on a wall and tap on their slates as if working a problem.  Of course, these non sequiturs have no solution!  Kim Criswell gives a slightly frustrated version in 1978 on New World Records.  This star of Cincinnati University Singer’s and Theater Orchestra became an even bigger star on Broadway!

 

The Radical Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg: Exchanging Thoughts With A Being From Another Planet, Part 2.

Allan:  You seemed quite excited and enervated during our last exchange.  I thought that emotions played a small role where you live.

Tybol:  No, you misunderstand me.  Although reason predominates, emotion plays a significant role in sustaining our well-being.  We gather our emotions under your terms:  E+ and E-, but to understand fully the scope of our emotions, one would need to construct quite an extensive list and even then that is not the same as actually feeling them.

Allan:  Still, in this area you seem quite restricted.  Humans have a vast range of emotions, including OE+ and OE-.

Tybol(laughing):  That is true, Allan.  You’ve got me there.  And because we lack OE+ and OE-, we could not write The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Nor could we compose Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.  But, neither could we have the Inquisition or the Warsaw Ghetto.  However, it is this vast range of emotions that you humans possess that is of such interest to us.  In fact, I have been sent here to investigate these emotions and their possible consequences.  Just a note:  It may interest you to know that we are putting on a show called. “A Dose of Humanity”.

Allan:  Really?  I guess it’s quite an honor to have been selected for interplanetary study.  By the way, what will you include in the show?

Tybol:  It’s far from finished, but as I understand it, it will be presented like one of your American revues with singing, dancing and the like.  The show will begin with a type of overture, composed of parts of anthems from different countries.  I am collecting music that I think will be appropriate–not only for the overture, but for other sections as well.  For instance, we will use Sergei Prokofiev’s “Death of Tybalt(laughing), not Tybol, from his ballet Romeo and Juliet, to indicate the utter banality and emptiness of war.  We feel that this fugue with straining horns and the methodical albeit inexorable marching beats gives an accurate feel for the inanity of war.  To sense the grotesque element of destruction, we borrow another piece from Prokofiev, the “Dance of the Buffoon” from his ballet Chout.  But do not think that America is being left out in our plans for the show.  We plan to use several pieces by Charles Ives, including parts of “America the Beautiful” from the adagio movement of his Second Symphony.  We hope to show humanity in some of its most distinctive guises.

Allan:  But, aren’t you limiting the show’s audience to those that are able to attend and thus creating a restriction and limitation?

Tybol:  Not at all.  You see, we have developed a means of transmitting the program simultaneously to everyone on the planet.  Thus, everyone who wishes, –and they can indicate their desire to see the show by sending an appropriate signal to the performing location, can see the show.  Incidentally, the show is done in the open air in a remote corner of the planet and there will be no audience present.

Allan:  I see.  Not to change the subject, but do you like any of our contemporary songs?

Tybol:  Your world is so different from mine that I’d be making a false statement if I pretended to understand all the pain and struggle your generation is going through.  With lack of understanding, it is difficult to evaluate with any precision.  However, I like many of your generation’s songs, particularly those that emphasize a true kinship with earth.

Allan:  I know you’ve only been here a short while, but do you have a favorite song?

Tybol:  John Lennon’s song, Imagine, resonates within my being.  I like especially the lines:  “Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can.  No need for greed or hunger.  A brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world…”  John Lennon pointed the arrow in the right direction for eventual world peace.  It is up to your people to act on his words and turn this aspect of imagination to achievement.

Allan:  I know.  We have a long way to go and the clock is ticking…

Musicals From The Past, Quiz#2

Musicals from the past, quiz#2.  See if you can identify the musical, the song’s title, and the character who sings the song from the 10 excerpts below.

  1.  “You’re so lost in the middle of in-between.”

2.  “Though a dream lies dying, I’m the only one who’s crying.’

3.  “She keeps filling up the hut with rubbish like flowers and plants.

And not only is it overcrowded, it’s loaded with ants.”

4.  “Messes and messes of young DDS’s; a loony who teaches voice.”

5.  “But what’s the use of smellin’ watermelon, clinging to another fella’s vine?

6.  “There’s a fiery pit for ladies and a fiery pit for gents.”

7.  “Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags.”

8.  “And the clock seems to chime:  ‘Come again any time.

You’ll be welcome wherever you roam’.”

9.  “That kind of child ties knots no sailor ever knew.

10.  “If a steamship weighed ten thousand tons

And sailed five thousand miles

With a cargo large of overshoes

And carving knives and files,

If the mates were almost six feet high

And the bos’n near the same,

Would you subtract or multiply to find the captain’s name?”

 

Answers will be provided in a future post.

 

 

 

Something To Think About: “Would You Pay The Price? What Would You Do?”

The above lines come from the 1966 American musical Cabaret based on writings of Christopher Isherwood and John Van Druten.  The musical focuses on the lives of a few people and their reactions to the growing Nazi threat in 1930s Berlin.  The musical was unusual in that it did not have a happy ending and Americans are used to happy endings.  Thomas Hischak offers his own description of Cabaret in his The Oxford Companion to the American Musical:  “Arguably the most innovative, hard-hitting, and uncompromising musical of the 1960s,…”  What makes this musical so innovative?  It introduces us to decadent Berlin through an MC of the Kit Kat Club, himself a mixture of playfulness, immorality, and darkness.  As the show progresses, the political overtones become ever more ominous and threatening.  The title, which also serves as one of the main songs in the musical, is a celebration of irresponsibility and seediness.  Sally Bowles, one of the chief entertainers at the Kit Kat Club and the girlfriend of Clifford Bradshaw, an American writer, sings the song as a tribute to her late girlfriend Elsie.  Sally’s friend was a prostitute, drug addict and alcoholic who died from too much of the latter.  Sally sings of Elsie’s death, “… But when I saw her laid out like a queen, she was the happiest corpse I’d ever seen.”  Elsie’s memory motivates Sally to return to the cabaret where she will probably end up like Elsie.

A sub-plot concerns the romance between Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish fruit seller, Herr Schultz.  After she accepts Herr Schultz’s proposal of marriage, pressure is put on her by Nazi smuggler, Ernst Ludwig, who had introduced Cliff to Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, to break off the marriage to avoid the repercussions of marrying a Jew.  She decides to comply with Ernst’s demand.  Cliff and Sally are shocked to learn of her decision, so she asks them, “What would you do?”  Although, she emphasizes her status as an old woman, the song that follows could be sung by anyone who is confronted with a despicable regime and the consequences of doing what is ethically right.

In London in 1993, Sara Kestelman gave an intense, harrowing interpretation of the role of Fraulein Schneider for which she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a  Supporting Role in a Musical.  What follows is her version of the song, What Would You Do? My thanks to lluluss for posting this song on youtube.https://youtu.be/dQ3b3JzctWE

Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, Part 3.

Act 2 begins with the sinister time motif, employed in Act 1.  The Depression soon follows.  Ned Brinker becomes a pauper and must rely on his son-in-law for support.  Jennie no longer has the wealth she has grown accustomed to.  She laments this fact with her girlfriends in the sardonic, “Money Isn’t Everything.”  The piece is one of Rodgers’s famous waltzes that culminates in a descriptive dance.

Joe is offered a position in a Chicago hospital by Dr. Digby Denby, Charlie Townsend’s uncle, who also works there.  This is the moment Jennie has been waiting for and she opposes Joe’s plan to be an assistant to his father.  She lures him to her side by explaining how the money could help his father and provide the means for supporting their future child.  So, off to Chicago they go!  Marjorie appears to give her husband comfort:  “You’re hurt.  Don’t let him hurt you.”  She also sings from “A Fellow Needs a Girl.”  This will conclude the rural portion of the play.

Joe learns that Dr. Denby’s hospital is a sanctuary for millionaire Brook Lansdale’s hypochondriacal friends.  Now, the onrush of time becomes specific to city living, and the musical changes its focus.  In “Yatata”,  “The days come fast and are quickly gone, but the talk, talk, talk, goes on and on…”  The eerie time motif occurs, but now it is relegated to the wasteful time of city life.

In Chicago,  Joe appears to lose sight of what he values:  simplicity, trust, loyalty, service and Oscar loses sight of what the musical is about.  His extreme sentimentality for country life, his preachiness, and his corresponding disdain for the speeded up life of the city begin to make themselves felt.  The generalized time of Act 1 becomes time specific in Act 2.  “Allegro”  refers to the mad, chaotic rush of city life:  “Same tempo morning and night !  Allegro!… We spin and we spin,… playing a game no one can win,…”  But generalized time flow characterizes all of Act 1, so Allegro does not seem an appropriate title for this musical.  If Allegro refers to the furious rush of time in all of our lives as race past one another, the title makes sense, but, if not, confusion ensues.

Prior to “Allegro”, we get our one and only character song, “The Gentleman is a Dope.”  Sung by Emily the nurse, it takes a look at her reluctance to admit her growing affection and love for Joe:  “Look at me crying my eyes out as if he belonged to me…  He’ll never belong to me!  The gentleman is a dope…”  In this moving song, we feel an emotional bond to Joe as more than a set-up character, but as a man with real limitations and warmth.  It is one of the few songs sung alone; without benefit of chorus or other people.  It is significant that this is the only song from the musical that continues to be sung.  Strangely, this song is so different from the others, it almost seems out of place.  The song reminds us how different Allegro truly is from all the rest of R and H musicals;  they thrive on often gripping character songs such as “Soliloquy”, “Lonely Room” and so many others.  Is the chorus a valid substitute for the traditional character song in delineating a person in a musical?  This is a question for the audience to decide.

Joe learns that his wife is having an affair with Brook and this makes him realize what a stooge he has been. The voices of his country home pervade his consciousness in “Come Home”, a panegyric to the simple joys of rural life, sung by Marjorie.  It is a beautiful hymn, but it is too idealistic and one-sided:  “You will find a world of honest friends who miss you.  You will shake the hands of men whose hands are strong…”  The implication is that Joe is out of place in the city and needs to return to his roots where honest folk dwell.  The contrast between the evils of the city and the inherent goodness of  the small town becomes too stark.  Also, Oscar seems to have forgotten by the time theme which began the play and what was central to Wilder’s play.  Wilder kept the Webb and Gibbs families in Grover Corners,  but when Hammerstein sent Joe and Jennie to the city, Allegro no longer had the continuity of the first act.

By adhering to Lansdale’s rules, Joe has been appointed successor to Dr. Bigby Denby.  But when Joe describes the doctor as “an ornament”, he becomes aware of the artificial and superficial hospital existence and declines the appointment.  Naturally, the chorus and ghosts of Marjorie and Grandma Taylor appear on stage to applaud his decision.  Emily and Charlie decide to join him in his hometown practice.

A number of caveats arise:  ” Jennie and Ned Brinker originated from Joe’s town, so the country is not as idyllic as Oscar paints it.  Also, the Depression has happened.  Things and circumstances are changing in Joe’s town as elsewhere.  Time does not stand still, and Joe will face a community different than the one he left.  The implication that there are no decent doctors in Chicago or a big city is absurd.  Surely, a large city needs good doctors as much as a small town.  That is why the ending seems too pat, almost too abrupt.  We never see what ensues when Joe, his future wife, Emily, and best friend, Charlie, return to work with Joe’s father.

Allegro is a musical that tried hard, was innovative and dramatic.  However, ultimately, this was a musical that couldn’t.

Note:  The first complete recording of Allegro was issued a few years ago by masterworks broadway.  It contains all the music described in this post, and offers superb performances by Patrick Wilson as Joseph Taylor, Jr.,  who endows his character with warmth and charm. Audra McDonald as Marjorie Taylor sings with compassion and understanding.  Other cast members bring this musical to life as it moves from the rural life to city life.  My only criticism is that Jennie’s character does not come through, so some of the drama is lost.  Inclusion of the confrontation scene between Marjorie and Jennie in Act 1 might have solved that problem.  Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have such an outstanding version of this often bewildering and always challenging musical.

 

 

 

 

 

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 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 at crucial moments 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, even Ned Brinker laments:  “What I’m about to get, I don’t exactly need.  A doctor for a son-in-law, another mouth to feed!”   But the wedding must go on.  And it does!  During the ceremony, Marjorie appears, and her doubts and concerns are voiced.  Grandma Taylor, too, is there.

Act 1 ends with a choir wishing the newlyweds well: at first in soft, encouraging tones, then climaxing in daring, shrieking sounds.  Finally, the orchestra ends in total discord, hinting at what disasters lie ahead.  Grandma Taylor and Marjorie shake 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 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, Brook Lansdale.  Although Brook 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?