Monday, January 31, 2005

Valentines Day...a little late!

I watched the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy over the weekend and bust a gut laughing! (Now isn't that a lovely visual...). Maybe it was the seventies schtick, or maybe it was Will Ferrell play-it-straight-so-it's-funny approach to "Ron Burgundy", but I loved it (ah, jazz flute...)

But I was really surprised at how much I liked Christina Applegate's "Veronica Corningstone", the aspiring anchorwoman. She's very funny, charming and doesn't mind being goofy. So this bodes well for her playing Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity which opens for its pre-Broadway run in Chicago on February 23. (Too bad it didn't open on the 14th!). Denis O'Hare also stars.

It's directed by Walter Bobbie (Tony Award winner for Chicago) and choreographed by Wayne Cilento (Wicked, Aida) and if the flyer is any indication it looks like it will be a fun colorful set and costumes. I'm so hoping I'll get down to see it. It's just too bad Cy Coleman couldn't be there for opening night!

Let's hope Christina shows us fun, laughs, and good time!

Reprise! Announces 2006 Season of Musicals in Concert

The Los Angeles Reprise! Broadway's Best series, which presents classic musicals in a semi-staged concert setting, will offer mountings of On the Town, City of Angels and Zorba next season.

Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's On the Town will kick off the new season at Reprise! at the UCLA Freud Playhouse. Previews begin Sept. 20 with an official opening Sept. 21. The musical love letter to Manhattan will run through Oct. 5.

Cy Coleman's City of Angels will follow. The detective-themed musical, which features music by the late Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and a book by Larry Gelbart, will begin previews Jan. 24, 2006, and open Jan. 25, 2006. Featuring such songs as "You're Nothing Without Me" and "You Can Always Count on Me," City of Angels will play through Feb. 5.

The Reprise! season is set to conclude with Kander and Ebb's Zorba. The life-affirming musical will preview May 2, open May 3 and run through May 14, 2006.

The Reprise! series is currently presenting Stephen Schwartz's Pippin through Feb. 6. The production, featuring direction by Gordon Hunt, musical direction by Gerald Sternbach and choreography by Dan Mojica, stars Michael Arden as Pippin with Sam Harris (Leading Player), Jean Louisa Kelly (Catherine), Luba Mason (Fastrada), Mimi Hines (Berthe), Graham Phillips, Conrad John Schuck and Abe Sylvia. The current Reprise! season will conclude with Applause (May 10-22).

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Update on Swing Rosie

Chantelle writes:

"Shannon and I have a show coming up this Sunday called Pop Goes the Diva and the Red Marvel at the Rex Hotel from 7pm-9pm. It's quite different from Swing Rosie. I do an hour of superhero theme songs and Shannon does an hour of pop tunes all with a jazz feel. Come on out with your family if you have time. There's no cover at the Rex and they have pretty good food."
This sounds fantastic. "Superhero theme songs"? How fun is that? I don't know how we'll make it down today, but if we can squeeze it in, we'll try. All you Blogway Baby fans out there go and support Chantelle and Shannon!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Suzy Conn talks about Myrna Conn

I thought it would be fun to talk a little about my daughter, Myrna Conn (that's her in the middle in yellow, with glasses). I'm just so proud of her. She recently played the role of Billy in the City Youth Players production of Honk! She has also just finished her first film project as a Principal in Rebound, which is currently in post-production. Myrna has appeared on stage as Eponine in Les Miserables: The School Edition for Michael Rubinoff Productions, and she has numerous commercial singing and acting credits.

Her training includes frequent trips to New York for Camp Broadway sessions.

Myrna is a big lover of musical theater: She's a big "The Boy From Oz fan" ever since she got a chance to see Hugh Jackman live on the stage on Broadway. Hugh was utterly fantastic, and I think both Myrna and myself fell instantly in love with him. We also had fantastic seats, courtesy of my incredible husband.

Way to go Myrna!

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Pajama-less Game?

In today's National Post (Video Reveals Different Kind Of Pajama Game, National Post Friday January 28, 2005 for a crappy register-blocked version, or the orginal story from the BBC here courtesy of BoingBoing) there is an article about an eldery British, devout Christian couple who discovered a topless woman speaking Italian on their Pajama Game DVD! Instead of the classic musical comedy starring Doris Day and John Raitt the couple found themselves watching Tettone che Passione, or Breasts, What a Passion!

My favorite quote from the article was the husband who said:

"It was a pretty raunchy, explicit film -- it certainly pulled no punches. My wife and I were very shocked but we watched it until the end because we couldn't believe what we were seeing".
That's his story and he's sticking to it! Hey, maybe it was their "Once A Year Day" so they decided to indulge! And maybe they didn't get "Steam Heat" but sounds like they sure got Steamy and Hot!

This is why musicals need to be workshopped first!

Now I can't wait to go out and buy a DVD of Pal Joey! Yeehah!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Coincidence? I think not!

In the last few days I have posted a number of tidbits here at Blogway Baby which have, unwittingly, been connected by Montreal! Here goes...

Earlier today I published a post about the great music at the Montreal Jazz Bistro. Before that I posted about My Best Friend's Wedding Bacharach soundtrack, and Burt Bacharach studied music at McGill University, in Montreal! Before that I posted about a Canadian musical named My Fur Lady, written in 1957 by students at McGill University, one of whom was Galt MacDermot (yes the composer of Hair!) who was born in Montreal! And the post that talked about Charlotte Moore's new Canadian Musical Theatre CD? Well, the picture on the back cover of the CD is Charlotte at Expo 67 which was held in...wait for it...Montreal!

I wonder if any of them are connected to Kevin Bacon?

And where am I going in February? Montreal! Freak me right out.

SUZY CONN REVIEWS: Swing Rosie Swings!

My husband and I went to the Montreal Jazz Bistro last night to see Swing Rosie. I'd heard about this gig from one of the Rosies, Chantelle Wilson, who recently sang on my Plane Crazy demo session. She's the red head in the blond, brunette, redhead Andrews Sisters trio. It was packed! And what a great evening. We had an awesome table right in front of the performers!

The ladies (Kira Callahan, Shannon Butcher, and Chantelle Wilson), who were all dressed in black with long fuscia gloves, black forties pumps and "diamond" bracelets sang Andrews Sisters and The Boswell Sisters classics, backed by a hot swinging band -- Ka Cheong Liu (bass), Glenn Anderson (drums), William Sperandei (trumpet), and piano (I can't remember his name and he wasn't listed on the flyer -- so sorry!!). Some of my favorites included Elmers Tune, Rum and Coca-Cola and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. All this for only $12 cover -- wow!

Swing Rosie is going into the studio next week to record their debut CD "Swing Cool, Swing Hot", set for release Spring 2005. Run out, buy it, and beat me daddy eight to the bar!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My Best Friend's Wedding:The Musical?

Last night I watched My Best Friend's Wedding for the 100th? time. Hey, I had a lot of laundry folding to do...gosh darn, I love that movie! Even though Julia Roberts still didn't end up with Dermot Mulroney at the end, shucks! I'm still waiting for the sequel, where he leaves Cameron Diaz...

It was even more fun now that I've been to Chicago so many times so I could identify various landmarks and the hotel I stay in when I'm there.

As I was watching it occurred to me that maybe this movie would make a fun musical. Lots of silly love triangle stuff, scheming, chases, wedding planning, gay best friend, and they already have a group sing scene at the rehearsal lunch crab shack. I've always loved the Bacharach soundtrack of that movie, and for that reason it has always seemed like a very musical movie to begin with. How about the ending, where she dances with her gay friend, after losing her best friend/lover -- very bittersweet/life goes on ending like Sweet Charity (of course, not as bad) or Flora The Red Menace (Sing Happy).

Now if I could just find a couple of hundred thou' to buy the rights, then I'd really have something...

Oh Canada!: Script Lab Sing and Tell

I had the absolutely funnest (yes funnest!) time last night. My producer friend Michael Rubinoff invited me (and I in turn invited Mitchell Kitz) to a Sing and Tell hosted by ScriptLab's Artistic Director and musical theatre writer, Jim Betts. It was held at Gerald Isaac's warm and inviting new studio. Jim has agreed to become ScriptLab's Artistic Director for the next three years, on the understanding that those three years will be exclusively devoted to the development of Canadian Musical Theatre. As you can tell by Jim's Website, Canadian Musical Theatre is something he holds very near and dear.

Jim stated that the purpose of the labs is to get together with writers, performers, directors and producers etc and catch up on what everyone else is doing, as well as to bring some of the more "senior" writers together (ie. legends like Leslie Arden, David Warrack) with some of the "newer" writers (ie. me, Mitchell Kitz). Jim wants to not only help develop new material, but archive existing Canadian musical theatre shows of which there is plenty but which has been sadly neglected. As David Warrack put it, when a regional theatre wants to do one of his shows (eg. All Stressed Up and Nowhere to Go) he has to go down to the basement and look through the Dominion bags full of old shows! I certainly had my eyes opened to the wealth of shows that have been written and produced all across Canada, but notably not in Toronto (which would explain, but not forgive, my ignorance).

So we all sat around the piano chatting and took turns singing a song from a Canadian musical -- past, present or future. We heard songs from favorite Canadian musicals, shows-in-progress and shows that were produced but not-fully-appreciated. I sang "Listen To My Heart" from Plane Crazy! It was one of the most friendly, supportive and interesting get-togethers to which I'd ever been.

Jim talked about an old show done in 1957 that he is trying to archive called My Fur Lady. Check it out -- the poster is to die for!

I also was lucky enough to buy a CD from Charlotte Moore (daughter of Mavor Moore). Charlotte is an incredibly talented singer who recorded a CD of all Canadian musical theatre songs (maybe Plane Crazy will make it onto Volume 2!). It is just fabulous!

I can't wait until next week's meeting!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Fringe Benefits?

Well I finally did it. I finally put in my application for the Toronto Fringe Festival! Over the past few years I've enjoyed Fringe shows to varying degrees (Top Gun, Sleepless, The Church of Dad, Ouch My Toe) but always admired the people who just went ahead and did it! Unlike the New York Musical Theater Festival, the Toronto Fringe is unjuried. This means shows are picked by lottery. Of course, my inside sources claim it's all politics, it's all who you know, it's all fixed. I would like to believe that I stand as little chance as everyone else, so I'm sticking with the "lottery story". I submitted Plane Crazy for the regular venue, and my kids musical Becky and The Booger for KidsVenue.

The draw is at Februrary 8 at 8pm! Wish me luck!

Chicago Tribune Review: Spamalot

Great review from the Chicago Tribune on changes to Spamalot since I saw it last week. I agree that the cuts mentioned in the review below from today's Chicago Tribune aren't missed. The whole witch burning number was lame. And maybe that's why Hank Azaria seemed bored to me, since he just stands there in his pseudo Peter Allen number...

And yes, I did feel mildly uncomfortable with a bunch of Anglo-Saxons singing "You Won't Succeed on Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews", especially with the large neon Star of David hanging down...and it wasn't even funny...

Oh, one more thing. unlike Michael Phillips, I really did NOT like the Vegas bit...

"By trimming the fat, Spamalot adds flavor

By Michael Phillips
Tribune theater critic
Published January 23, 2005

Five of my favorite words in show business are "out-of-town musical try-out," and one of the reasons is this: With an out-of-town musical tryout, audiences seeing the show mid-run often get a better version than the first-nighters. Having seen the substantially revised and improved Spamalot the other day, 10 days after the musical opened its pre-Broadway tryout at Chicago's Shubert Theatre, I'm here to tell you: Nobody misses the witch-burning number. Nobody misses the singing cow. Nobody misses the missing 15 minutes.

Director Mike Nichols, composer John Du Prez and librettist, lyricist and co-composer Eric Idle haven't been twiddling their respective thumbs, or anyone else's. It was a good time opening night, but as of the Jan. 19 matinee the stage version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is no longer a good time. It is closer to a very good time -- close enough, I think, to transcend its larger, nagging questions of satiric intent and focus.

Helming his first stage musical since LBJ was in office, Nichols realizes he has a popular hit on his highly compensated hands. The national press, at least as represented by the New York Post and Newsweek, has already determined the probable smashdom of Spamalot. Broadway is hungry. Spamalot, which owes so much of its spirit (and too many of its jokes) to The Producers, is likely to become the biggest just-for-laughs Broadway musical since Mel Brooks made crossover hay.

Not only that: The Python musical is a less star-dependent lark than The Producers, a show that owed more of its initial buzz to Nathan Lane than Brooks would care to admit. Spamalot, which may (and should) turn out to be a full 40 minutes shorter than The Producers, is more of an ensemble piece. It requires a few good comics who can sing, and who can "do" Python without being slavish geeks about it.

Paradoxically, however, the cuts in Act 1 have done a helpful thing: They have given King Arthur (Tim Curry) a natural authority over the proceedings. The writers and Nichols haven't beefed up the Arthur role; they've merely cut away the dead wood not involving Arthur. Now, when Curry and the extremely valuable Michael McGrath (Patsy) sing "I'm All Alone," the number registers more strongly. It's the one song that gets at what Nichols, somewhat optimistically, discussed in pre-opening interviews as the class conflict theme -- and it's the right kind of funny, tinged with rue.

Sara Ramirez, who kills, kills, kills as the Lady of the Lake, no longer appears as the witch or the cow. It's better this way. It's too bad the funniest song in the polyglot Spamalot score comes so early: The song called "The Song That Goes Like This," at once a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber's brand of bathetic balladry and, as delivered by Ramirez and Christopher Sieber, wonderful on its own terms. Ramirez's other big number, "The Diva's Lament," is more conventional, though Ramirez could sell the Spamalot audience just about anything. And that includes the special limited-edition "Golden Honey Grail" flavor of Spam, made possible by the good people of Hormel.

Opening night, Act 1 was the act with the biggest dead spots. No more. On the recent Wednesday matinee Act 1 clocked in at a supermodel-skinny 49 minutes, Act 2, about an hour. Idle and Du Prez may yet replace "Burn Her!," the late, unlamented witch number, with something else (and this time, something funny?) to introduce Sir Bedevere. As is, though, the revised Act 1 -- even with a blurry, halfhearted "run away!" scene at the French castle -- played like an act with a mission, holy or otherwise.

Then comes Act 2, which hasn't changed much, and which asks the question: Does Spamalot give too many regards to Broadway?

At one point in what we'll call the "plot," King Arthur meets up with the Knights Who Say Ni, who have more on their minds than merely securing a shrubbery. The king and his men, says the head Ni Knight, must stage a musical on Broadway. (In print two weeks ago I misstated that the put-on-a-musical idea came from Almighty God, not the Knight of Ni. Here is a correction. "In the Jan. 11 review of Spamalot, Almighty God was credited with the notion of King Arthur's knights doing a musical on Broadway. In fact, the idea came from the Knight Who Says Ni. The Tribune regrets the error.")

The best bits of Spamalot don't come entirely from the movie, and they don't come entirely from Brooks or "Forbidden Broadway." Like comic dybbuks, they come from somewhere in between two worlds. In Act 1, when the song "Knights of the Round Table" turns into a jazz-inflected Vegas spectacular, it's hilarious. It's worth it just to watch Ramirez do Liza Minnelli with a side order of Lorna Luft. And if Spamalot doesn't end up playing the Excalibur Hotel someday -- the Vegas resort gets enormous product placement here -- I'm the Chicken of Bristol.

But when Sir Robin (David Hyde Pierce) sings "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (If You Haven't Any Jews)," the joke is tired at best, wince-worthy at worst. I'm sure Idle means to be the right kind of offensive with this one. But the Anglo-Saxon comic perspective leaves the sight gags (a huge Star of David in lights, a Fiddler chorus line of grail dancers instead of bottle dancers) wanting, patronizing, pandering or all three. Similarly, when Sir Lancelot (Hank Azaria) offers a stirring defense of the castle-bound homosexual Prince Herbert (Christian Borle), it's pretty soggy writing. Lancelot's subsequent big coming-out number, "His Name Is Lancelot," is treated as a Peter Allen/Village People tropical bash. That's a start, but Azaria doesn't do much of anything in it. Les boys do all the work.

Now: How much of these issues are, in fact, issues? Idle and company settle for increasingly familiar showbiz targets, especially in Act 2, in terms of its spoofing. Yet Spamalot has too much else in its corner to thwart its lust for Broadway glory. Nichols, Idle, Du Prez and the rest of the company aren't resting on their laurels. The cuts and changes have already made it all more fun.

Meantime, in London, Idle's fellow Python founder Michael Palin recently told a journalist that Life of Brian might make a good comic opera. At this rate, the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" -- written for Life of Brian, but very comfortably interpolated into the Spamalot score -- may become the cheer-up number for the early 21st Century."

Monday, January 24, 2005

It's Naked Week at Blogway Baby!

And speaking of nudie musicals...

I read an interesting article in the New York Sunday Times ("A Pile of Rubble Topped by Nudes. Now That's a Musical!" by James Ulmer, January 23, 2005 about director Stephen Frears latest film Mrs. Henderson Presents.

It's a quirky story about a bored English society woman, (Laura Henderson, played by Dame Judi Dench), in the 1930s who opened the first theater showing nude musical revues -- London's answer to the Moulin Rouge -- and made it a hit, even during the Blitz. The film sounds like great fun, with Dame Judi and Bob Hoskins (playing theater manager Vivian Van Damm). Especially so when Hoskins joins in and bares his behind (and front!) with the rest of the girls. The article quotes Mr. Hoskins, "All these young gorgeous creatures and there was Old Wrinkly in the back".

What I found really interesting was how Frears prepared for the film. Said Frears in the article, "Alan Parker once told me you can wing a movie, but you can't wing a musical." The article goes on to say Frears and his team discovered a book and saw a documentary on the world of Arthur Freed. From the 1940s to the early 1970s Freed's ability to lure top actors, directors, choreographers, and composers to work cheek-by-jowl in his MGM production offices delivered such classic musicals as Singin' in the Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis, and Gigi.

That model gave Mr. Frears the key he for which he had been searching. "Freed had figured out that you must have all these creative people working together in the same room," the director said. "You can't do it right unless they're all present and thinking the same way. So I got everybody into the same place -- the writer, composer, musical director and choreographer -- and worked it all out. Thank God we read that book."

Okay, now I gotta go find that book! And see the film when it comes to the
Toronto Film Festival in September!

R.I.P. Johnny Carson (b. 1925 / d. 2005)

Wow, Johnny Carson is dead. I. Am. So. Sad.

Johnny is part of a lot of special memories for me. As a kid, watching him host the Academy Awards. As a young adult, just married, watching him sign off for the last time. Bette Midler singing "One More For The Road", which left everyone in North America crying.

Oh Johnny, we'll miss you. Thanks for all the great memories.

"And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it," Carson said to close his final show. "I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Bring Back Oh! Calcutta!

Seriously, why hasn't there been an all-nude revival of Oh! Calcutta!?

There have been similar attempts, including The First Nudie Musical (1976) and the more recent Debbie Does Dallas (2002), but nothing has come close to the overall cultural impact. Oh! Calcutta! was a bold, innovative landmark in theater. It included the involvement of luminaries such as John Lennon and Jules Feiffer in its composition.

Called the "The World's Longest Running Erotic Stage Musical!", This famously bawdy review opened Off-Broadway in 1969 before moving to Broadway and then to a revival which ran for a record-setting 13 years. Lyrics and music written by The Open Window (Robert Dennis, Peter Schickele (a.k.a. PDQ Bach), Stanley Walden) who also as the pit band performed and sang most of the music. One of the original actors was Bill Macy, who subsequently hit it big on TV as Beatrice Arthur's malleable hubby on the popular feminist sitcom Maude, and who recently appeared in this year's Surviving Christmas (whoops). Ironically, he also played an uncredited juror in the original 1968 Mel Brooks movie of The Producers starring Zero Mostel (b. 1915 / d. 1977).

It's amazing how much things have changed since the '70s. Back then, Oh! Calcutta! was mainstream, and now ohcalcutta.com points to a skanky pr0n site. Although, ironically, ohcalcutta.com.au points to a what looks like a tasty Indian restaurant in Australia. Bit of a dodgy play by the restaurant on setting their URL to virtually the identically address as a pr0n site, but whatever.

I remember this show being advertised in all the newspapers. It's amazing how much more conservative our society has become...when a nipple can cause a ripple, and where sex has now become dirty.

How did this happen? How did we go backwards in our cultural acceptance of sexuality? One theory, which is interesting, is that the overwhelming mass of Internet pr0n has changed our conceptions of sexuality. Pr0n, as a business requirement, has become increasingly segmented into fetishes. Is pr0n's fetish focus forcing sexuality into the closet, as it appeals to our darker desires, while leaving healthy sexuality behind on the side of the road?

Maybe Oh! Calcutta! could revive the Toronto theater scene, taking advantage of our more relaxed Canadian moral values. Plus it'd be fun to appear naked on stage...

Professional Association of Canadian Theatres

PACT is a member-driven organization that serves as the collective voice of professional Canadian theatres. For the betterment of Canadian theatre, PACT provides leadership, national representation and a variety of programs and practical assistance to member companies, enabling members to do their own creative work.

The PACT Communications Centre (PCC) aims to keep members, partners, government, the theatre community and the general public apprised of theatre related news, provide professional development information and resources, and encourage public appreciation of the art form. To this end, PCC co-organizes World Theatre Day events with the Playwrights Guild of Canada, maintains the PACT website including Canada on Stage, and publishes print and electronic resources.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Practically Perfect in Every Way?

According to the Globe & Mail, Mary Poppins The Musical has garnered the most Olivier nominations (British version of the Tony) EVER.

From what I've heard from my inside sources, it is a show worth seeing. When I first heard about this Disney project I was afraid that despite loving the movie, the stage version might be a tad saccharine and tired (a criticism that has been thrown at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Musical). However, the buzz is that it is a lot darker, a lot truer to the original book, than was the movie. We get to know a bit o' the darker side of Mary (why is she still single?). It sounds intriguing...so how are they going to get those penguins to dance in 8 shows a week?

As for The Woman in White? Well I haven't seen it. I only know one person who saw it and how shall I say this...he loathed it.

London -- Mary Poppins and The Producers led the nominations yesterday for this year's Laurence Olivier Awards, honouring achievement in London theatre, opera, and dance during 2004.

Mary Poppins had nine nominations including best new musical, best actress in a musical for the show's star Laura Michelle Kelly and best actor in a musical for Gavin Lee, who plays Bert the chimneysweep.

The Producers received eight nominations. Co-stars Lee Evans and Nathan Lane are up for best actor in a musical. Leigh Zimmerman, who plays Swedish secretary Ulla, is a nominee in the best-actress category.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest West End show The Woman in White, which has been less well-received, had five Olivier nods."

Fiddler's Re-opening Night a Triumph

Further to my previous post on the new cast for Fiddler on the Roof, it looks like the re-opening was a triumph, according to Playbill:

"Looking as if he could step in for Harvey Fierstein at a moment's notice, Ron Orbach hit the Minskoff lobby at intermission of Fiddler on the Roof Jan. 20 with a decidedly contented look on his puss. "I feel like the show's back," he said. "It went away for a bit."

In that feeling, the actor was not alone. A fair share of the "re-opening night audience" wore a similar expression, and their ovation at the end of the revival's 377th performance seconded the pervading notion that the Joseph Stein-Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick classic was now closer to its heart, humor and roots than what British director David Leveaux opened Feb. 26 with Alfred Molina.

The feeling was mutual on the other side of the footlights, too. "You feel the love coming from the audience," Fierstein admitted at the post-play party, held within the Zhivago-red walls of The Firebird, an elegant Russian eatery a few short blocks west of the Minskoff.

"I know it's a cliche, but it was a dream, and it has come true. To have the audience go insane like that -- and they've done that from the very first performance -- is incredible."
There's no question that they've taken a big gamble with Fierstein and everyone is waiting to see just how hardy Fiddler really is: Can it stand a revolving cast, and sit down permanently like Phantom et al?

"Credit for the off-beat casting director Leveaux passes on to Susan Bristow, who produced the show for The Nederlanders. "I was in Japan at the time this came up," he recalled. "Susan called me and said, 'Look, I'm thinking about life beyond Fred [Alfred Molina]. What do you think about Harvey? He has always been in the back of my mind as somebody who ought to play this.' The instant she said it, I thought, 'Yes, that's it. That's exactly where we need to go.' Harvey touches territory that perhaps was last seen in Fiddler when Zero Mostel played it, meaning you got a great clown on that stage. Fred came at it from the other end of the spectrum. The truth is you gotta be able to do both."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Theater for the Young

When my daughter Myrna came home from rehearsals for Judy and David's musical Pigmania (she plays a foxette) she told me that Mark Terene will be the director (as it turns out he directed last year's Judy and David March break show, Goldirocks).

Mark Terene is a well-known Toronto actor, having originated the role of Pumbaa in The Lion King and also playing Cogsworth in Beauty and The Beast, amongst many other roles. However, I first saw Mark perform in Pirates of Penzance when he was in high school at Earl Haig in the early '70s. He played "the very model of a modern major general" and I still remember that performance and how good and funny he was. I must have been only 10 or so at the time so it made a big impression. I became a staunch Gilbert and Sullivan fan thereafter.

It's interesting how theater experiences when you are young can stick with you for a lifetime. They become seared into your brain in a way that rarely happens when you're older. The other formative theater viewing experience I had was also a show at Earl Haig in the '70s. I remember seeing Jane Johanson, Tom Knowlton and one other guy, whose name I cannot remember, dance Steam Heat in The Pajama Game.

From that moment on I decided I had to play Gladys Hotchkiss at some point in my life. That goal was to be finally and fully realized at university in the Queen's Musical Theatre production of The Pajama Game in 1984.

It really is too bad they've cut so much of the theater arts programs out of the public schools...

SUZY CONN REVIEWS: All Shook Up Has Me Shaken and Stirred

Well, no wonder it is so cold: Hell has frozen over! I like a jukebox musical!

Yes folks, I went to see All Shook Up at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago. I was able to get first row balcony one hour before show time, but the place was pretty much sold out. I didn't like Mamma Mia at all, mostly because they had force-fit my favorite ABBA tunes into a stupid story. Now understand, I'm a HUGE ABBA fan. I was big time into ABBA since I had a Swedish friend in high school, and I went through labor with my first daughter with ABBA tunes pumping out on the stereo.

But in Mamma Mia, every time somebody sang an ABBA tune, I longed to hear ABBA's original version. ABBA wrote goofy songs (and I love 'em), but made awesome recordings. So naturally I assumed I would feel the same way about the Elvis songs used in this musical.

How wrong I was.

This is a charming, funny, musical that is quite happy, thank you very much, just to be a musical comedy. The songs are definitely better integrated into the story (bits of songs are used throughout sometimes) than was the case with Mamma Mia. It's a simple story of a "wild one" aka "roustabout" who motorcycles into a small town in the 1950s and suddenly everyone is falling in love left, right, and center.

The music is fifties so it works with the story. The story has a predictable ending, but who cares? The journey is fun! The cast is just dynamite: To hear those great songs sung by amazing voices, with interesting arrangements was a pleasure. The only disapointment for me was the choreography which I expected to be spectacular, given the music, but wasn't.

And yes, 15 minutes into the show I thought: "I wish I could be in this show!". If they had sold a cast CD I would have bought it. They had some expensive-looking set surprises, but the show could have worked without them.

According to my inside sources, the actors were complaining to the union about some of the raked set pieces (they did look a bit dangerous to me) that the women had to navigate in pumps. However, you'd never know it, the actors were giving 150% all through the show.

The show is a crowd pleaser. The audience loved it, but the people next to me were surprised at how much they enjoyed the whole piece, not just the music, surprised at how much they laughed.

Hmmm, mabye I should give Good Vibrations the benefit of the doubt after all.

On the other hand, here's my hypothesis as to why I didn't like Mamma Mia, why I liked All Shook Up, and why I don't think I'll like Good Vibrations...

Both ABBA and The Beach Boys had goofy songs, but a very distinctive recording technique. All The Beach Boy songs (I'm also a big fan) sound a lot alike, but wow, what a great, unique sound they had. So when I hear them sung on stage, I yearn for the original.

Elvis, on the other hand, sang songs written by a variety of songwriters, and although he sang like no one else, the songs can be sung by other artists. It's like the classic songs that Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby or Rosemary Clooney all sang -- they could be covered by many (competent) artists and still be great. So when I heard those Elvis songs sung by great theater voices, I was satisfied.

And of course, they were better integrated into the story...

It's one of those things that makes you go hmmm...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blue Man Goop?

Has the Blue Man Group already created a mess in Toronto without even putting on a show? As Richard Ouzounian explained in The Toronto Star, the Blue Man Group is going anti-union (woa! bad move in Canada, eh?) Have they taken Toronto for granted, as if it were some low rent version of an American city?

Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star, January 20, 2005:

"Blue is the new gold. That's the message Clear Channel Theatrical Entertainment was sending out yesterday at a media event to announce the imminent arrival in Toronto of that phenomenon known as the Blue Man Group.

The certifiably demented happening, in which three blue-faced performers create their own unique brand of theatrical havoc, now generates annual revenues in excess of $125 million (Canadian) and has been running since 1991. It's currently on view in five cities around the world.

Starting this summer, you can add Toronto this list.

"We always wanted to play here," Matt Goldman, one of the original Blue Men said yesterday. "We just had to wait until the time was right."

[Ed: Right for what? Not theatre, apparently...]

What it didn't have was the right technical requirements to house a show that is seemingly simple but incredibly complex. The Blue Man Group needed a refurbished theatre and now Clear Channel is forking out a reported $15 million to make it happen.

[Ed: That's the old New Yorker theater on Yonge Street]

As previously reported, Panasonic is coming up with a multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal to have its name on the renovated facility and all systems are go for an opening early in June.

[Ed: If the Blue Man Group doesn't fly, the damn theater will be too expensive for anyone to use! At least when it was dangerously disintegrating it was affordable!]

Goldman, Stanton and Wink were street performers (shades of Cirque du Soleil) who developed their "search for a community through art," in Stanton's words, in places as bizarre as the sidewalk outside of Manhattan's once-grand Copacabana nightclub.

In 1991, they set up shop at the seedy Astor Place Theatre on the Lower East Side. The critics raved, the crowds came and the show has been running ever since.

Boston followed in 1995, Chicago in 1997, Las Vegas in 2000 and Berlin in 2004. It's still playing to packed houses in those locations.

No wonder everyone involved is bullish that this will be the vehicle with broad enough appeal to turn around the perception that tourist audiences have abandoned Toronto since the SARS epidemic of 2003.

In Wink's words, "We'd like to think that some indie-techno-pop-musician would take his 7-year-old niece to see us and bring along his grandparents as well."

[Ed: Yeah, and I'd like a solid gold toilet seat, but that's not in the cards, baby!]

The 15-minute excerpt of Blue Man magic that was offered to the press had all the usual ingredients: flashing lights, splashing paint, a four-piece day-glo band and the Blue Men themselves -- fierce, loveable, inquisitive pieces of human dada.

[Ed: Well, that's what I look for in a man!]

The roles in the Toronto production have not been cast, but a group of more than 100 protesters showed up outside the Phoenix for an "informational picket" on behalf of Canadian Actors' Equity, protesting the fact that Blue Man Group is not a signatory to any union.

[Ed: I guess they feel actors should be seen and not heard?]

The two sides are meeting this Friday to try and work things out, but as a token of good faith, the Clear Channel organization sent out coffee to warm the demonstrators shivering in the sub-zero temperatures."

[Ed: What? No donuts?]
Where is Norma Rae when you need her!

Idina Menzel: Take a lickin' and keeps on tickin'

Idina Menzel: You can't keep a Wicked girl down!

From Playbill, January 9, 2005

"Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, who was to play her final performance in Wicked Jan. 9, was injured during the Jan. 8 matinee of the hit Stephen Schwartz musical.

Shoshana Bean, Menzel's standby who was slated to officially take over the role of Elphaba beginning Jan. 11, played the Sunday, Jan. 9 performance.

It had been announced prior to the matinee that Menzel would make an appearance during the musical's final curtain call. The Tony-winning actress, however, surprised the sold-out crowd when she came onstage —- dressed in a red track suit -— to complete the final scene of the musical.

During the curtain call, Menzel was again brought onto the stage so she could take her final bow at what was to be her last performance as the misunderstood Elphaba. Menzel, according to the Associated Press, told the audience, "I love you all. It's been the best year of my life. Thank you."
Let's hope her ribs heal asap so she can begin shooting the movie musical Rent where she will reprise her role as Maureen.

Now, there's a super trooper!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Barenaked Shakespeare

Wow, this is kewl. The Barenakeds themselves getting into musical theater...maybe it really is a new renaissance. If I can think of one pop group that could work in the genre, it would be these guys.

From Playbill:

"If you had a million dollars, would you have ever bet that the Canadian pop group Barenaked Ladies would provide a musical score to a Shakespeare play at the prestigious Stratford Festival?

It would've turned out to be a good bet. The band that gave the world "If I Had a Million Dollars," "Jane," "Be My Yoko Ono" and "One Week" will be writing five song settings and incidental music for the 2005 production of As You Like It, directed by Antoni Cimolino, executive director of the world-renowned Shakespeare festival in Stratford, Ontario.

The group will record the instrumental music and festival actors will sing the songs during performances, which begin April 27 at the flagship Festival Theatre and continue to Oct. 30. Opening is June 4.

Tony Award-winner Santo Loquasto will design the production.

"This offers us an opportunity to present the audience with a marriage between recorded and live music," said Steven Page, lead singer for Barenaked Ladies, in a statement. "As You Like It has more songs built into it than any other of Shakespeare's plays, and they help to propel the plot and characters. More importantly, they serve to create the mood and the setting. It's very exciting to work as a team with Antoni and Santo to make their vision of Arden come to life."

Director Cimolino said, "As You Like It is a play that explores many kinds of love from the viewpoint of the young. In the spirit of youthful rebellion, the characters drop out of the envious and sophisticated world of the court in favor of the peace and simplicity of the country. I felt that a 1960s setting supported and made vivid each one of the play's themes. Barenaked Ladies are ideal collaborators on this project — their wit and energy are positively Shakespearean."

Rant of the Day: Theater etiquette or Theatiquette

Okay, we seem to have this cell phone/pager thing licked. Every show seems to have a funny announcement at the start of the show and it's been a long time since I've heard one go off.

Now, if we could just turn off the audience.

Since when is it okay to talk through a musical? I guess people have gotten used to yapping in the movies...I mean the plots are not that difficult, what exactly do you need to explain to your date??

Since when is it okay to chew gum like a cow chews it's cud during a musical?. During All Shook Up (which I'll review tomorrow) I was seated next to a couple -- rich guy, gorgeous well-dressed younger blonde lady [Ed: Trophy?]. The lady spent the entire show chewing, no not chewing, popping, her gum. Yo, what's up with that?

Since when is it okay to cough up a lung during a musical? If you are in the late stages of the plague, perhaps you should consider coming in a bubble, or staying home!

Since when is it okay to arrive five minutes after curtain time? Why are people arriving so late? Do they think musicals run trailors like in the movies? Coming attractions?? I mean, come early and avoid having the box office double sell your seat to someone else (ie. me) an hour before show time. 'Cuz once I'm settled in my seat I ain't movin!

'Nuff said

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Chivalry isn't dead!

I just wanted to formally thank Craig Wilson, a talented composer who is in my Theater Building Chicago Musical Theater Writers Workshop. I've been having a bit of trouble with collaborators over the first three assignments, and then I found out a week before class that my latest composer had quit the program without doing any of the work! So I was stuck with lyrics and no music, with only a week to go until "Friday at 4" (the line from A Class Act where the BMI workshop writers talk about performing their songs)

Craig jumped right in and volunteered to put my words to music. He had already worked with two other lyricists and written his own song as well, so this was above and beyond the call of duty. But within a week Craig had written great music that totally captured the intent of the lyrics, came early to practise the song with me and then did a great performance in class. Even John Sparks was impressed!

Thanks Craig!

SUZY CONN REVIEWS: Spamalot...or Spam-a-little?

I saw Spamalot on Friday night in Chicago. As you may note from my previous post, I was really, really looking forward to this musical, and I desperately wanted to LOVE it.

If the Chicago crowds enthusiastic love-in reaction is any indication, Spamalot is going to be a huge hit. And if the crowd in the "Shopalot" merchandise store (next door to the Shubert theater) is any indication, Eric Idle won't need to go out on another Greedy Bastard tour for a very long time.

The Chicago Shubert Theater feels like a tall rectangular box with four levels -- an orchestra, balcony, mezzanine and oxygen mask level, all piled on top of each other. My limited visibility ticket wasn't as bad as I feared. Although I was quite far away (last row of mezzanine) I had an aisle seat and unobstructed view. However, the floor of the level above me hung down low and cut of the very top of the set -- those Monty Python clouds. They do come down during the show so I saw them then. I'll admit the energy you get from a show is lessened when you are far away. Having said that...

Was I entertained? Uh huh. Did I laugh? Sure. Was I satisfied with the production values? Of course. Did I absolutely adore it, can't wait to see it again, can't wait to buy the CD and the sheet music, and most importantly did I want to be in it (that is my litmus test for a musical)? No. And I so wanted to love it. I love Monty Python, both the TV shows and movies. But I didn't love the musical.

The sets, and production are fun. The execution of special effects was fun. Not overdone, but just nicely done in keeping with the Monty Python spirit. A lot of the book was lifted straight from the film. But as well delivered as the bits were, I kept wishing I could hear Michael Palin or Eric Idle say the lines. Maybe part of the charm of Python humour are the Pythons themselves [Ed: Duh!]. The changed ending was a bit dodgy (nobody gets arrested) and a bit cheesy. Not Python cheesy-maker, but just cheesy. I won't give away details but the Grail quest takes on a different meaning.

I guess my three biggest bones to pick were as follows:

1. MUSIC: The best song was "Always Look on The Bright Side of Life" which was lifted from the Life of Brian. The other songs had clever lyrics, but pretty forgettable tunes, especially the uptempo ones. "Knights of the Round Table" always had funny lyrics but not the greatest tune. As one song in a film, that was fine. But in a musical they all sort of sounded the same.

2. MUSICAL PARODY: Okay, okay, enough already. Urinetown sort of did it, that whole breaking the fourth wall thing, (go and pee at intermission: Spamalot actually copies that line!) and quite frankly I'm a little tired of musicals that make fun of musicals (especially if it doesn't have the musical chops to back it up). Spamalot felt like it was spending a lot of time making fun of Andrew Lloyd Webber (complete with chandelier), making fun of the big Broadway ballad, making fun of breaking into song. That might have been fresh back when the movie came out in 1975, but it has grown stale in 2005. I for one have never had a problem of people breaking into a song, in a musical. For heaven's sake, I do it all the time just walking down the street! Musicals can/should make fun of society, and morals and stuff, but if you don't like the genre don't do a musical.

3. THE STARS: Tim Curry was great, sounded great and looked like he was having fun. David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria looked like they were phoning it in on their cell phones. They looked bored. Don't get me wrong I love those guys. Maybe 11 years of Frasier just sucked live theater right out of David. The Broadway regulars had much more energy.

I'm sure I'm in the minority. After all, I didn't like Phantom either, and it did OK at the box office...

Monday, January 17, 2005

SF / Musical Theater Mash-up

I'm not usually a big SF fan (except for the fabulous works of Cory Doctorow, of course), and I was shocked when I read The Golden Globe by John Varley. From the jacket:
"All the universe is a stage...and Sparky Valentine is its itinerant thespian. He makes his way from planet to planet as part of a motley theater troupe, bringing Shakespeare--a version of it anyway--to the outer reaches of Earth's solar system. Sparky can transform himself from young to old, fat to thin, even male to female, by altering magnetic implants beneath his skin. Indespensible hardware for a career actor--and an interstellar con man wanted for murder..."
This is simply one of the best books on musical theater that I have ever read. The number of inside references to some of the classics of musical theater are simply too numerous too mention. I kept wondering why this book was published: How many SF fans are into musical theater? I would honestly read a chapter, and quickly flip to the front cover to make sure it was SF. God, what a great book. Go out and buy a copy today.

So How Do We Feel About Disney and Broadway?

Gosh, everyone sure loves to critique the "Disneyfication" of Broadway. Their two big shows: Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, (Aida closed in 2004), have changed the face of Broadway, and in mostly positive ways.

Their most important contribution, long-term, is that the "Disneyfication" of Broadway has cleaned up Times Square and made it "family-friendly". With the burst of construction of hotels and restaurants over the last decade, Times Square is now firmly "cleaned up" and should remain safe at night for many years to come.

I certainly wouldn't want to take my kids to Times Square circa 1980. By cleaning up the area, NY has made Times Square acceptable to families, and it helps make Broadway accessible to everyone.

Of course, everything comes with a mixed blessing.

Although I've seen The Lion King 4 times, and Beauty and the Beast 3 times, this is more a reflection of the fact that I have two Broadway-lovin' kids. These are great starter musicals, and they put on a good show. They've done a wonderful job of restoring two historic theaters. But darn it, they sit down FOREVER...

Broadway's not a theme park, and in order to remain vital there has to be a constant infusion of new major shows. I appreciate everything that Disney's done, but couldn't they rotate the shows a bit more, and create more vibrancy in the line-up? There is a great shot in Broadway: The Golden Age where they scan over the theater listings in the late '50s and it's literally one classic show after another.

Disney perfected the "limited time" marketing technique with their videos (they regularly put classic movies "on moratorium" so that they increase sales in the available period). Do the same on Broadway. Mount more shows, more often, and limit the runs so that each show becomes an event.

Oh yeah, and do The Little Mermaid on Broadway too.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

New Album from Wicked's Chenoweth Due in April

This is good news...Kristen Chenoweth is releasing her second album. It's great to see Broadway stars making the transition to popular music. She has an amazing soprano...the uniqueness of her voice led Stephen Schwartz to custom write the part of Glinda in Wicked for her. Too bad she and Idina Menzel couldn't get along.

I saw them both in Wicked on Broadway and it was a wonderful experience. But you could feel the tension between the two actresses on the stage. I would love to know what was going through Kristen's head when Idina beat her out for the Tony. Ah, Broadway.

Anyway, still some great memories, and everyone's moving on now. Life goes on.

"The second solo recording from Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth is due in stores in April. Chenoweth, most recently on Broadway in Wicked, will sing a tune from the new CD — Diane Warren's "Borrowed Angels" — at a non-televised event for President and Laura Bush the day before the President's Inauguration.

A spokesperson for the actress told Playbill On-Line that the still-untitled disc will be released April 5 on the Sony/Integrity label.

About her upcoming record, Chenoweth had previously told Playbill On-Line, "It's going to be [called] something like 'Songs I Grew Up On.' It's an inspirational record. There will be a couple of Jesus songs on there," Chenoweth laughed at the time, "but mainly it's for anyone who just wants to be uplifted." Among the other songs to be featured on the disc are Faith Hill's "It Will Be Me" and what has become a signature tune for the performer, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich's "Taylor, the Latte Boy."

How Many New Plays Are On Broadway Right Now?

I got an interesting letter in the mail the other day from a new theater group called "Stageplays".

Here's a snippet from the letter.

"How many new plays are on Broadway right now? If you guessed more than two, you are wrong! Look at the number of revivals and resurrections of plays past. And, if we look at the ghosts of the past, the present and the future [Ed: Insert a bizarre reference to A Christmas Carol that is totally confusing], without new play development the future will be very bleak [Ed: Note italics and bold on the word "very", which means it's really serious]

The good news? There is one company that is actively developing new plays. Stageplays Theatre Company (Stageplays) is a small company with a big passion and a strong belief that the theatre needs new plays and new playwrights...and an organization like ours to nurture and develop them.

Our presence in New York City is vital to the success of new play development. We hae a number of projects under development including:

Santa.com, a new musical for families. Santa's elves, pink-slipped by the Internet shopping craze, go on the offensive to save their jobs, and Christmas! [Ed: Oh goody, a dotcom musical. I hear that thems Internets are everywhere now];

Sharks, a tale of love and corruption in the casualty insurance industry [Ed: Ah, casualty insurance. That's what I was going to do if I didn't pick stews in the '60s];

La Llorona (The Crying Woman), a mystical drama with music on cross-cultural misunderstandings and the American multinational invasion of Mexico [Ed: Will this one have a big tap number?].

These new projects will have a significant impact on the fabric of our lives and raise the standard for the next generation of theatre artists to follow."
No Web site unfortunately, but you can contact them by calling "Laura at 212.354.7565"

Now, I'm all for raising money for new plays. But please, let's not do it with so much negativity. First of all, there are 430 theatres in NYC. Believe me, they're not all running revivals. There's a TON of new play and musical development out there...to which anyone who went to the New York Musical Theatre Festival can attest.

Secondly, don't ask me for donations. I'll invest. And I'll buy tickets. Donations are a low-percentage way to raise money: Offer to sell me something, and I might buy. Ask me for a handout, and hey, I'm busy funding my own musical.

I just hate it when theater people go begging. Treat it like a business for crying out loud, and the money will be a lot more excited about coming on board. Let's face it, there are some really compelling reasons to invest in theater. Firstly, the money to investors comes out first, and it comes out fast. Secondly, you retain all sorts of interesting downstream rights, especially on original works. Finally, you usually get to go to opening night, and meet all the actors, which is always a load of fun. Sell me return, sell me potential, sell me sex appeal. Please don't beg.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Great Tortured Stephen Sondheim, Part II

One of my favorite theater DVDs is the documentary of the recording of the cast album for Company.

Called a "monumental achievement" by the Los Angeles Times, Original Cast Album: Company is the "extraordinary documentary of the explosive recording session for Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award winning landmark musical."

The DVD is filmed on May 3, 1970, a few days after opening night. The documentary records an grueling 18.5 hour session, and Elaine Stritch is just too perfect. She is so, gee, Elaine Stritch-y...

Equity rules for cast albums is that the cast gets paid a week for each day of the recording session. If I didn't know better, ol' Stritchy pushes the session to a second day so that the whole cast gets another week. Or maybe not. You take a look and decide.

The documentary is filmed by D.A. Pennebaker, who is most famous for The War Room (the inside story of Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign), but he also did another mind-blowing Broadway documentary called Moon Over Broadway that I'll talk about in the future.

Stephen Sondheim is wonderful in this documentary. He is such a dramatic genius, and so incredibly gifted. It's great to see him in action, at his prime.

It takes to to tango...or foxtrot...or jive...

I would love to put on a show or cabaret night and get all the great talented female singers in Toronto and do a night of musical theater songs: Women duets only! We're going to call it the Great White (North) Way...stay tuned for dates.

So I thought, what are my favorite duets? Hmmm...

1. Class from Chicago (my sentimental favorite: Having played Velma Kelly in Queen's Musical Theatre's production of Chicago, I've always treasured having sung "crotch" on stage)

2. For Good from Wicked

3. Marry the Man Today from Guys and Dolls

4. The Apple Doesn't Fall from The Rink

5. Ohio from Wonderful Town

Okay, maybe we could invite a couple of guys and do:

1. Agony from Into The Woods

Friday, January 14, 2005

My dinner with Anne-dre!

My husband and I had a great dinner last night with Anne Fitzgerald and her husband Ian. Anne is a very talented entertainment lawyer (she just started as in-house counsel at Cineplex: Congrats Anne!). She's from New York (originally North Carolina) but just couldn't resist that legendary Canuck appeal and moved to Canada with her Canadian husband, eh? What fun was had.

Decent wine was drunk (for a change) and the conversation was sparkling (honest!) Anne is also the producer of the Evil Dead 1 & 2 The Musical, which garnered a great Ouzounian (Richard, that is) review when it ran in Montreal at the Just For Laughs festival. When you're talking musical numbers and blood dispensing/clean-up issues, you know you are in for a gory good time. Hopefully it will come to Toronto this summer and I'll be there, front row! (wearing a raincoat...)

A long time ago, in a theater far, far away...

Mark Hamill is currently on the cover of this month's Vanity Fair as a part of a big Star Wars layout (he and the other originals have been relegated to the inside of the inside flap). We all know him as Luke Skywalker, but did you know he can sing 'n' dance? Aside from the obligatory Muppet Show appearance, Mark originated the role of Tony Hart in Harrigan 'n Hart for three days in the early eighties, garnering a Drama Desk nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

He also did several off-Broadway plays.

My connection to Mark Hamill and Broadway was when my husband and I went to see Damn Yankees with Jerry Lewis at the Marquis Theater.

As we were standing around waiting to go in, I spotted Mark also waiting anxiously to go in and hear Jerry Lewis say "Laaadies!!". My husband caught glimpse and proceeded to stare at poor Mark non-stop (I think my husband was under the influence of the dark side of the force) until he got uncomfortable and walked away (Mark, not my husband). So I too can say I've seen Mark Hamill on Broadway...

Husband rebuttal: In my own defense, I spotted Mark Hamill at the theater, and I was unaware of the passage of time as I realized that I was a few feet away from LUKE SKYWALKER, HERO OF MY CHILDHOOD. I just don't see how I can be blamed.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I laughed, I cried, I was horrified!

When I started reading Making It On Broadway (Actors' Tales of Climbing to the Top) by David Wienir and Jodie Langel, I thought "Oh, I've heard this all before". Well let me tell you I hadn't! This book should be required reading for every theater student. There are the ususal "the first time I went to the theatre I was hooked" stories. But there are a lot scary stalking stories (It doesn't seem fair for Broadway actors to be stalked -- if you are going to be stalked and attacked, at least you should be making a ton of money!!), lots of insight into the McShow mentality of today's Broadway, and yes, some incredible emotionally-stirring stories that remind them why they went into the business in the first place.

QUESTION:
I hear a lot of "old timers" talk about how hard they worked, never missing a performance, even if they were in a coma, and how lazy young performers are today. I wonder if the lack of the "hard work" attitude that performers from the "Golden Age" talk about might be fostered by the environment that performers must work in now -- rundown theatres that are basically disintegrating and hazards to health; the revolving door treatment of talent for long running shows like McCats, McMiz, and McPhantom, where the cast coming in don't ever get to work with the Director but are shown their blocking (if they're lucky) by the Stage Manager or the Janitor; the skyrocketing cost of theater even when the talent still can't survive in NYC on what they're paid.

Maybe the "hostile" corporate takeover of Broadway has fostered this demotivated employee mentality. Maybe young performers today are not inherently lazy, as is often suggested. As in most things in life, it usually comes down to mismanagement, not bad raw materials. The fish always rots from the head.

Countdown to Spamalot!

I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail a couple of nights ago to refresh my memory in anticipation of seeing Spamalot this Friday in Chicago. Not only did I laugh my face off, but I also wondered about the transformation of the piece onto the stage.

The movie really lends itself to musicalization, which much isn't a stretch, but what about the special effects? How will the Black Knight lose all four limbs and still tap dance in a big Broadway dance number?

How will they handle the killer bunny darting from throat-to-throat and ripping off the heads of Arthur's knights? Is a flying bunny the next chandelier? How will the knights be ejected when they fail to answer the three questions? Perhaps they will just disappear through a trap door: I mean if they can make a witch fly and melt, anything is possible! Actually I don't really care. I'm just so excited to see Tim Curry on stage (another "must see" crossed off my list ).

Spamalot has turned into the hot ticket in Chicago, but I acted early so I only paid $55 for my ticket! Awesome! However, it's a limited visibility ticket. Dude! On the other hand, even the LV tickets are going for $250 now. Awesome! But I might be parking cars and listening through a drive-in movie speaker. Dude! Or maybe it will be "Suzy Conn, price check, aisle three..."

Hmmm I just got a sudden craving for coconuts...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Did you know?

The wonderfully talented and hilarious actress/singer Joanna Gleason, who won a Tony for Into the Woods and starred on many TV sitcoms (the cancelled Bette Midler Show was her latest, I believe), is Monty Hall's daughter!

Of course, everyone knows Monty Hall is the famous emcee of Let's Make A Deal which ran from 1968 to 1986, and then further in the late '80s and early '90s as a syndicated show. It now runs on the classic TV channels as nostalgia programming. I watched it all the time...

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels The Musical is now waiting for her behind door number three!

Dame Judi Dench starred as Sally Bowles in the first London production of Cabaret in 1968? Take that, 007!

Now you do!

One Great Regret

OK, here's a great regret: I wish that I'd gotten famous in musical theater while Al Hirschfeld was still alive. I always wanted a Hirschfeld of myself in The New York Times, or at least on of those caricatures hanging in Sardi's...

"For almost 75 years in The New York Times, Al Hirschfeld's line drawings captured the vividness of American theater. A self-described "characterist," Hirschfeld (1903 - 2003) said his contribution was to take the character, created by the playwright and portrayed by the actor, and to reinvent it for the reader. His drawings, which often appeared before a show opened, gave many readers their first look at Broadway's newest offerings. This archive is a selection of works published in The Times."
My favorite piece of Hirschfeld trivia is the word "Nina", the name of his daughter, which he hid in the lines of his drawings. To indicate how many Ninas he had hidden in a picture, he would put a number next to his signature. So, "Hirschfeld 4" means that there are 4 Ninas in the picture: The fun is finding them.

"Almost everyone knows that Al Hirschfeld hid his daughter's name, Nina, in the designs of his drawings.

To herald her birth in November 1945, Hirschfeld facetiously included her name in a drawing for a forgettable musical called "Are You With It?" The musical's circus setting allowed him to include among the freak show posters one for "NINA the Wonder Child." He thought that only "close friends and immediate family enjoyed a mild snicker over this infantile prank."

According to the artist he put Ninas "in folds of sleeves, tousled hairdos, eyebrows, wrinkles, backgrounds, shoelaces -- anywhere to make it difficult, but not too difficult, to find." This playful gesture spawned a ritual; readers began looking for Ninas in every Hirschfeld drawing. He discovered that when he left out his daughter's name, he was deluged by mail demanding to know where it was.

Over the years Hirschfeld tried to end what he called "a national insanity." But he said, "I learned, the hard way, to put Nina's name in the drawing before I proudly display my own signature."

In the summer of 1960 Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times, received a letter suggesting that Hirschfeld let readers know how many Ninas they should look for in his drawings. Hirschfeld responded by including a number next to his name for the number of Ninas to be found in a drawing. When there is no number, it means there is only one Nina."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Under the Bridge, Review on Broadway.com

So here's the early word on Under the Bridge, which I blogged about a couple of days ago. Sounds OK...the reviewer is clearly uncomfortable heaping praise on Kathy Lee Gifford, but this could be alright...
"Given that the new musical Under the Bridge is based on a children's book and features book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford, it comes as no surprise that it's unapologetically wholesome and heartwarming. In fact, the show is so wholesome and heartwarming that it will appeal primarily to girls under the age of 10. On the plus side, the musical offers some pleasant songs by composer David Pomeranz and Gifford, as well as fine performances by Broadway veterans Ed Dixon and Florence Lacey.

Dixon plays Armand, a quintessential Parisian hobo who wears ratty clothes and lives, yes, under a bridge. After Armand and the rest of the company sing about the glories of Paris, his gypsy friend Mireli (Lacey) predicts new developments in his life in the song "You Will Meet With Adventure Today." Sure enough, Armand finds three redheaded urchins camped out under his bridge. Their father recently died, and their mother, Madame Calcet (Jacquelyn Piro), can't afford a room.

Best known as Regis Philbin's former co-host, Gifford does prove to be a capable lyricist. And Pomeranz--a successful pop composer who has written for Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, and others--contributes catchy tunes, some of which bring to mind Les Miz. Besides the lively 'This Is the Gypsy Life,' I enjoyed 'The Marriage of Lady Tartine' (sung by the three children), 'This House Where We Live' (sung by the oldest child, played by Maggie Watts), 'He Is With You' (sung by Lacey), and 'A Clean Start' (sung by Dixon).

With 19 numbers packed into 130 minutes, the show moves right along. Director Eric Schaeffer clearly made pacing a priority. He also maneuvers the 13 singing-and-dancing actors around the tiny stage with aplomb."

Song Malfunction

With the movie versions of Urinetown and Rent in process, it was very interesting to read the chapter on Chicago, The Movie in the Kander and Ebb book Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz.

Composer John Kander and the late Lyricist Fred Ebb were the longest running composer-lyricist partnership in Broadway history, so they knew a thing or two about writing songs. When it came to making Chicago into a movie musical, I was surprised to find out they scarcely had any money participation in the project. On top of that they were treated horribly by Harvey Weinstein of Miramax (Wow, that's shocking!).

Kander and Ebb couldn't legally stop Miramax from putting a new song by the artist Anastacia called "Love Is A Crime" on the soundtrack. Apparently, Harvey didn't feel their music would attract enough young 'uns to buy the album...hmmm...how's that workin' for you Harvey? The Chicago soundtrack finished 25 on the Billboard top 100 albums for 2003!

However their contract did specifically prevent Miramax from putting new material (that they hadn't written) in the movie. However that didn't prevent Harvey from hiring Janet Jackson to write a new song for the movie for a fee of $300M! Apparently it too was horrible (is this a Miramax trend?). Kander and Ebb only found this out indirectly and when they objected Harvey suggested they collaborate with Ms. Jackson.

One of my favorite lines in the whole book is Fred Ebb's reaction to this suggestion:

Ebb: (laughing) That might have been fun, huh?

Then they had to actually fight to get their names higher up in the credits: Disgraceful!! I'm not sure why Harvey didn't think Kander and Ebb's music appealed to the younger crowd. Almost every 16-25 female who has auditioned for theater since that movie came out sings "All That Jazz"! Tsk, tsk.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Fiddler me this Batman...

Although I loved the movie musical and listened to the Broadway recording and played the piano vocal selections ad nauseum as a child, why wasn't I more motivated to see Fiddler On The Roof with Alfred Molina? Not to mention my oldest daughter Myrna saw it as part of Camp Broadway last August and raved. I just couldn't work up the enthusiasm.

Well, well, well. I'm motivated now!

Harvey Feinstein and Andrea Martin take over as Tevye and Golde this month. I mean, think about it! I really want to see it now. Hopefully Harvey will be wearing the pants and Andrea the dress...I just can't get the image of Edith Prickley singing "Do you Love Me" out of my head...

Idina Menzel Injured JUST Before Her Finale at Wicked

Wow, talk about timing. Idina Menzel, who won the Tony for Best Actress for her spectacular performance in Wicked, injured herself in a matinee performance on January 8, one day before what was to be her final performance on January 9.

She was taken to hospital, but has been released with broken ribs.

I saw Idina and Kristin Chenoweth in April 2004, my daughter Myrna saw them in March, and my husband and youngest daughter saw Idina in August. This is a great show that was robbed at the Tonys for best score.

The Toronto production begins and will star Stephanie Block as Elphaba. I saw Stephanie in The Boy from Oz where she played Liza Minelli, and she was AMAZING...check out the video clips on The Boy from Oz Web site to get a little taste.

This is a great score...Stephen Schwartz is a God. Not THE God, but definitely A God...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

I'm a Nymf-O-Maniac!

No, no, I'm not divulging any nasty secrets! In this case NYMF stands for the New York Musical Theater Festival. This past September, I attended the very first New York Musical Theater Festival, the brain child of Kris Stewart (another Aussie related to Broadway...hmmm...) and many other theater visionaries.

I went down for the last week of the three week festival to volunteer and help out, see shows and shmooze in hopes of helping Plane Crazy be part of the 2005 festival. I staffed the AMC movie theater on 42nd Street, selling t-shirts, giving out information about the festival, setting up for receptions, and directing people to the washroom, and directing people to the theater where the preview of Ladder 49 was playing (the last two were not in my job description). I had a blast, met some great people and saw some great and not so great shows - which is the point of a new musical festival. Get stuff up and see if it works...or not.

Tickets were only $15 and I got in free a lot since I was a staffer. My absolute favorite was Title of Show, a brilliant show (Book by Hunter Bell, Music by Jeff Bowen, Lyrics by Jeff Bowen) about, wait for it, writing a show for the festival! I laughed until I cried and fell off my chair..er...uncomfortable wooden bench (the venues were small, grungy and wonderfully artsy.)

Kendra Bator, a friend of mine from Toronto who is now taking her Masters In Theater Production at Columbia, was helping out on a show by Bob and Jim Walton called The Eyes Are The First Thing To Go. I got to meet the cast and go backstage which was really underground in this eeiry, damp tunnel with what appeared to be stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The dressing room had flooded and the props were floating away...ah, the thea-tuh!

Anyhoo, I just received a note from Kris Stewart and I thought I'd share his good news with you:

"I wanted to drop a note to folks in my address book, as we recently heard that we are receiving the 2004 Jujamcyn Theaters Award, an amazing achievement, considering how young an organization we still are.

Created in 1984, the Jujamcyn Theaters Award is a $100,000 prize given annually to a theater organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the development of creative talent for the theater. Previous recipients have been The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, American Repertory Theatre, Long Wharf Theatre, The Mark Taper Forum, Second Stage, The Foundation of the Dramatists Guild Young Playwrights Festival, The Guthrie Theater, The New York Shakespeare Festival, Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theatre, The Alliance For New American Musicals, The Market Theatre in South Africa, New York Stage and Film Company, American Conservatory Theatre, City Center Encores!, Atlantic Theater Company, Penumbra Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, Labyrinth Theater Company, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Now entering its second year, The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) presented over 141 events in 26 performance venues across the city during its 2004 Festival, surpassing all expectations and becoming the largest musical theatre event in American history. Aspiring to invigorate the musical theater community by stimulating the production of new and innovative work, NYMF garnered strong reviews and sold-out houses that have led to commercial options for at least seven of its 31 productions. In addition to full productions of new musicals, the festival included improvised musicals, panel discussions, readings, concerts, and cabaret performances, as well as a 39-film new movie musical series."
Canada helped give NYMF an international flair, with showings from Top Gun The Musical and Frankenstein, Do You Dream. I'm hoping that Plane Crazy will continue the tradition next September!

Suspension Bridge of Disbelief

Not too long ago I learned a valuable lesson -- never prejudge. When I was in New York last April attending the Commercial Theater Institute's 3-day producer conference, I could have gone to see The Boy From Oz for $50 - half off at the TKTS booth in Times Square. And great seats to boot. However, I was too skeptical about the star casting: Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen.

Due to my own ignorance, I only knew Hugh as Wolverine and the occasional romantic lead (Kate & Leopold). Don't get me wrong, he was great in X-Men, but I never knew of his musical theater background. So I thought "tsk tsk, I'm sure he is awful...".

By the time I saw him perform on the Tonys it was too late. The tickets were at a premium and hard to get. When I was in New York on holiday with my family in August of last year my husband had to jump through hoops and pay through the nose (sounds like a Cirque du Soleil act...) for tickets for my 10 year old daughter and I to see it. Well, we were blown away, thrilled, entranced, entertained and besotted. Hugh Jackman was amazing.

Not just "good for a movie star". But totally Broadway worthy! The whole cast was phenomenal, but Hugh was thrilling. Although I was a teensy weensy bit weirded out that my daughter and I had a crush on the same guy...It was so great that when I was back in NYC in September I had to see it again, so my husband had to do the same contortions (at even a higher premium) to get me a ticket. But it was well worth it. My only regret was I couldn't be there closing night to see Hugh pull Matt Damon and Barbara Walters onstage for some shenanigans.

Long story short, I have since learned to suspend disbelief, give the benefit of the doubt...you get the idea. So when I heard about the following, I thought, well they could be great. Now I will only pass judgement once I've seen them:

1. Under The Bridge: A new musical with book and lyrics by none other than Kathy Lee Gifford (music by David Pomeranz) that just opened at the Zipper Theater. The Zipper Theater is a way-cool small theater converted from a zipper manufacturer. The seats are old car seats! I was lucky enough to see Bebe Neuwirth in Here Lies Jenny there and had my very own bucket seat -- very comfy. Kathy's musical is based on the book The Family Under The Bridge. It's about a family that has to live under a bridge in 1950s Paris with a helpful bum "Armand". The old me would have scoffed and laughed but the new me will wait and see for myself. It also stars Ed Dixon as Armand, who I saw in Here Lies Jenny and who wrote the musical Fanny Hill.

2. Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity: The buzz on Christina (from my inside sources...) is good. Apparently she has been dancing since she was a mere tot. And she has good comedic timing, my favorite example being when she was a "baby stylist" on Friends. Again, I'll see for myself when it previews in Chicago.

3. Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls: He has been cast as Sky Masterson for a West End production. First of all I love Ewan big time in films ranging from Star Wars to Brassed Off to Down With Love. He is gorgeous, romantic, funny, musically inclined etc.(Sorry I didn't mention Moulin Rouge, but I did see that, so I can judge) But can he do a big musical role on stage?? Will luck be a lady for Ewan???

Well, don't look at me for a prejudgement, I've learned my lesson.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Harry Connick Jr. to Star in Pajama Game

Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes, here I start on the countdown to the revival of The Pajama Game. This is, without question, my mostest favorite musical in the world, ever since I saw Steam Heat with Jane Johansen and Tom Knowlton in the Earl Haig production in 197?, after which I was hooked. In fact, my musical Plane Crazy is, in many respects, an homage to The Pajama Game.

Now they've made the surprise announcement that Harry Connick Jr. will star. I've got Steam Heat...my mostest favorite movie in the world is When Harry Met Sally.

So can it be true? The crooner from my favorite movie, starring in the revival of my favorite musical? Who can say "center orchestra, fourth row"...

Here's a bit from the article on Playbill.com. BTW, I saw Wonderful Town twice (my husband three times) and it was awesome. Of course, the running joke is that Comden, Green, and Bernstein wrote Wonderful Town in a month, which is about the amount of time that Donna Murphy appeared on stage in the first year of the show...

Modern day crooner Harry Connick, Jr., is the ususual choice to star in a long-planned and often-delaying Broadway revival of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' musical, The Pajama Game, the New York Times reported Jan. 8.

The show will be directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, whose Wonderful Town is scheduled to close at the the end of this month after a rocky, one-year-plus run. Pajama Game will open in November.

The announcement is something of a surprise. The production was announced some time ago and has repeatedly pushed back its start date, and producer Jeffrey Richards has been silent on the subject, suggesting to many in the theatre community that the project had stalled for good.

Connick, Jr., who enjoyed his peak fame in the late '80s and early '90s, thanks largely to the success of the soundtrack of "When Harry Met Sally," has never starred in a Broadway musical, though he wrote the score to the short-lived musical Thou Shalt Not. He has also taken occasional film roles. He will play the part of Sid. No one has been announced for the female lead.

Blogway Merchandise Now Available

Finally all you Blogway Baby fans: Our first Blogway Baby merchandise store. Hey, we're just like a real brand now! Maybe our shirts will one day be carried in the Shubert alley merchandise store...wow, that'd be so kewl.

I am also planning to offer CDs of Plane Crazy in the next couple of weeks...hoping to see those sell like hotcakes!

Order now, order often!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Phantom Tops the Charts

Well, I'll be damned. The phans of Phantom have pushed the soundtrack to the top of the charts, on the heels of the critically panned, but phan-loved movie musical of Phantom of the Opera. I must admit to really mixed feelings here. On one hand, pleased as punch to see movie musicals getting made again. On the other...yuck. I really don't like Phantom.

I thought that Eric Idle summed up my perspective perfectly in the Dec 20/27 issue of The New Yorker. He was being interviewed about the upcoming Spamalot, which I'll be seeing in Chicago next week (although the only ticket I could get was "limited visibility", so I may not have many observations on the set...). Here's a bit of the interview:

A prevailing theory among many of those involved in "Spamalot" is that the success of a string of offbeat musicals--"The Producers,""Urinetown,""Avenue Q"--bodes well for a Python extravaganza. It's difficult to imagine investors lining up a decade ago, with "Cats" and "Les Miserables" dominating Broadway.

"To me, 'The Producers' is the punch-back of the comedy musical," Idle said. "For years, there was nothing to laugh at, just Andrew Lloyd Webber and the plates on people's faces. I refuse to believe people really enjoyed it, though they would say, 'Oh, it's wonderful--all that fog!'"

Anyway, everyone I know who's seen the Phantom movie has hated it...but it'll be good for musicals if it does well at the box office. On the other hand, this movie could finally kill Phantom on Broadway, and that'd be a good thing. Put McPhantom out of its McMisery!

Sony Classical and Really Useful Records original motion picture soundtrack recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is #1 on Billboard's Soundtrack Chart and #44 on the Top 200 according to today's Soundscan report. The soundtrack continues to grow in sales as its competition drops significantly after the holiday selling period. The soundtrack is also charting at #2 on Amazon.com and #4 on itunes.

There once was a girl from Nantucket...

I've always loved word play, puns, and rhymes ever since the kids at school called me Ibronyi macaroni (my maiden name is Ibronyi). I felt they must have cared a lot to go to all the trouble to find a decent rhyme for Ibronyi! Maybe that's what first attracted me to Gilbert and Sullivan, Cole Porter, Tom Lehrer and musical theater writing in general. I know, I know, everyone complains that pop and rock songs rely heavily on soft rhymes, not because they are making a creative statement, but because they are lazy (even some of my favorite pop artists like Peter Allen are guilty of the occasional sloppy rhyme).

I don't care for mimes, but these are a few of my favorite rhymes:

"I'm not making promises to all you doubting Thomases", from the movie musical There's No Business Like Show Business

"...you get enough germs to catch pneumonia, after you do he'll never phone ya", from I'll Never Fall in Love Again in Promises, Promises, words by Hal David (music by Burt Baccarach)

The entire set of lyrics for You're the Top, by Cole Porter.

"You can spray her wherever you figure the streptococci lurk, you can give her a shot for whatever's she's got but it just won't work", from Adelaide's Lament in Guys and Dolls, lyrics by Frank Loesser

"Something sweet, something sort of grandish, sweeps my soul when thou art near, my heart feels so sugar candish, my head feels so ginger beer", from Finian's Rainbow, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

"...Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, you gotta understand, it's just our bringin' up-ke that gets us out of hand", from West Side Story, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

" Smut! Give me smut and nothing but... a dirty novel I can't shut, if it's uncut and unsubt - le!", from Smut by Tom Lehrer.

"...Remember mommy I'm off to get a commie so send me a salami....", from So Long, Mom by Tom Lehrer.

"I was alas his nursery maid, and so it fell to my lot, to take and bind this promisng boy apprentice to a pilot" from Pirates of Penzance, lyrics by W.S. Gilbert

New Personal Record Set!

I have just set a new personal record in number of songs recorded in one four hour session -- 17! On December 17 when I found out my musical Plane Crazy was a finalist for the Theatre Building Chicago Stages 2005 (a symposium where they workshop and profile 8 new musicals) I was, at first, thrilled. Then I read the fine print where it said I had to forward for review not only the complete piano score but a complete recording of all the songs from the musical! And all by January 7, 2005! I did have a six song MIDI demo that i've been flogging for the last year, but to do the whole score would mean to record 17 more pieces.

Luckily, I found a terrific arranger/producer, Mitchell Kitz, also a member of the ACLCL, who arranged the final pieces, pulled together the talent, booked the studio and produced the session. Also lucky for me I was able to get Mark Selby to play the piano - he played for the Plane Crazy workshop last March.

We had rehearsal on January 2 and recorded live the evening of January 3. Thanks to the talents of Mitchell Kitz, Michelle Piller, Sam Rosenthal, Chantelle Wilson, Nathalie Daradich, Randy Johnston, Graham Coffeng, and Neil the engineer at Umbrella Sound those 17 cues came to life beautifully. Oh yeah, and I brought the food. We mixed late into the night of January 4 and my husband delivered the whole package to Fedex airport dropoff on Wednesday January 5 seconds before it closed. Whew!

I've got my fingers crossed...

The Great Tortured Stephen Sondheim, Part I

Stephen Sondheim is arguably the greatest lyricist of our generation. He has created two lyrical masterpieces: West Side Story (1957), and Gypsy (1959).

But he was never happy as a lyricist (why is no one happy at what they're best at? Barbra Streisand a Director? Really?!? Sing Barbra, sing!).

Stephen has gone on to create some of the best critically reviewed musicals in the history of Broadway. They've been mixed with audiences, which the elite write off as "too challenging for the masses" and others say "people like happy musicals..."

Anyway, one of Sondheim's master strokes is that he taped most of his shows while they were in preview. So, one of the only archives of live theater from the last 20 years are Sondheim shows...brilliant!

My favorites are Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd -- The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Children's Letters To God

Based on the international-best selling book
A New Musical Book by Stuart Hample
Music by David Evans
Lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen

A good friend of mine and producer extraordinaire, Michael Rubinoff, was kind enough to lend me his Children's Letters To God: A New Musical CD that he bought when he was in New York this past December.

In exchange I lent him my copy of Colored Lights, the Kander and Ebb recollections, a gem of a book which I will discuss in a later post. I recalled having walked by the theater that was playing Children's Letters to God (across from the now closed Dracula, The Musical that really bites. I take that back. I haven't seen Dracula or heard the CD so what the heck do I know??) last August and thinking "Nah, probably too much of a saccharine-sweet, Barney-like show".

Unlike me, Michael was smart enough to see Children's Letter To God when he had the chance, and gave it a thumbs up. I listened to the CD and loved it right away! It is completely cast with kids/tweens and the talent of this group, the original off-Broadway cast, is phenomenal! I recognized a lot of the faces and names from a reading of Steven Schwartz's Captain Louie which I had the pleasure of seeing last September during the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

The topics covered are not wildly controversial, but pretty standard kid stuff: Pet turtles dying, divorce, you know the typical angst of growing up. But it is presented in a really catchy, innocent and true way that makes it endearing and charming, not boring and smarmy. I particulary liked "Arnold" (the aforementioned doomed turtle), "Questions for the rain" and "A Simple Holiday Song". I'd love to see this show done here in Toronto (starring my ten year old daughter (and singer/actress) Myrna.

Myrna and her sister Trinity listened to it and loved it, and they are pretty sophisticated musical theater critics. Some shows are too simple and babyish for some kids, or too adult in theme for others, but Children's Letters to God would have, I think, a great mass kid appeal.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

First Rant of 2005

Well, I've been able to delay my first rant of 2005 for 4 whole days! It has been building up, building up, and now the pressure is just too much and I must unload. Before I begin, I must say it is possible that I have been misinformed about this, as I so often am. If that is the case (and I hope it is!) I would appreciate being set straight.

I've been a member of both SOCAN and SAC since I started writing songs in earnest, over 15 years ago. When I first started writing I turned to Nashville and the NSAI for the nuts and bolts of Tin Pan Alley writing (with a country flair of course). They offered course upon course with actual writers, workshops and symposiums that focused purely on writing and pitching. SOCAN and SAC picked up on that thanks to a lot of cross pollination with NSAI and people like Ralph Murphy.

I have since benefited from SOCAN and SAC's growing body of support for pop/rock/country writers, in the shape of workshops and sponsored events.

However over all this time there was never any mention, in any courses offered, SOCAN publications and magazines or SAC events of support for musical theater writers. I had heard of ASCAP's musical theatre workshops and BMI's Lehman Engel musical theater writing bootcamp. Every time I would browse through my SOCAN magazines I would see listings, happenings, and awards for all musical types: Rock, Alternative, Grunge, Jazz, Classical, Folk, Country, Kids, Pop -- except Musical Theater! Puzzled, I assumed that I was the only person in Canada interested in writing musical theater.

It also baffled me since over the last decade or so musical theater has brought a fair bit of coin into Toronto...remember Phantom? Admittedly the majority were not written by Canadians, (although there are a ton of great Canadian writers, I'll go into that another time) but didn't that suggest that Canadian talent should be nurtured?

So I had to look outside of Canada for training in musical theater writing.

I'm currently travelling to Chicago once a month for Theatre Building Chicago's Musical Theatre Writers Workshop. Also, I have since joined the ACLCL and discovered a huge pool of writing talent, and tons of activity going on in the "musical theater underground". So why are Canadian musical theater writers completely ignored by SOCAN and SAC?

True, musical theater pieces haven't been on the radio in some time (Memories...) but isn't the failure to invest in or at least profile our musical theater writers a self-fulfilling (defeating?) prophecy? Obviously, ASCAP and BMI see the value in it. Am I missing something?

AmaZen: Top 10 Movie Musicals of All Time

For collective discussion and debate:

10: An American in Paris / Gigi because France in the '50s is irrestible;
9: There's No Business Like Show Business because of Ethel Merman...'nuff said?;
8: West Side Story, because even though they dubbed Natalie Wood they retained the energy of the original staging;
7: Guys and Dolls, and not everyone likes this one because of Brando's singing, but I just love the sets, the times, and Frank is simply perfect;
6: Flying Down to Rio / Gay Divorcee / Roberta / Top Hat / Follow the Fleet and Swing Time / Shall We Dance / Carefree / The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle / The Barkleys of Broadway because this list wouldn't be complete without Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who kept me company afternoons that I used to skip out of school to watch these musicals on TV;
5: Oliver! because it had a huge impact on me as a child: It was the first time that I'd seen someone get killed in a musical. And each time I see it, I still think there's a chance she'll get away;
4: Funny Girl because of two words: Barbra Streisand;
3: Jesus Christ Superstar because of Norman Jewison's incredibly inventive filmography, the energy, the '70s...the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience;
2: It's a tie between White Christmas because of "Sisters": One of the most important songs in my life and Holiday Inn because despite the cringe-worthy blackface routines and racist stereotyping, it has one of the best dance numbers ever with Fred Astaire and a pocketful of firecrackers;

...and most importantly...

1: Singin' in the Rain because of Donald O'Connor's "Make 'em Laugh" (even though it was blatantly ripped off of Cole Porter's "Be A Clown") and "Good Morning", our daily refrain in the Conn household.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Who Am I? (...not 24601...)

I divide my time between Toronto, New York, and Chicago, where I am enrolled in the Theatre Building Chicago, Musical Theatre Writer's Workshop. I am also in the workshop and fundraising process with my musical Plane Crazy, which is a fun, upbeat musical about feminism set against the backdrop of glamour and innocent sex appeal of the swinging '60s jet age: A time when the stews were sexy and the world was sexist.

I was drawn to the stories of flight attendants in the early 1960s ("stewardesses" or "stews" in the parlance of the time).

I realized that these stewardesses were the first "lipstick feminists", and they represented the first wave in a changing world. This was an exclusive sorority of women who, for one of the first times in history, had freedom. Freedom to travel (transatlantic jet travel was introduced in 1958); freedom to have sex (the Pill was introduced in 1962); and the freedom to have a career without needing the support of a man.

At the same time, these women were portrayed as "mistresses" in the airline advertising of the time, with Braniff asking "Does your wife know you're flying with us?" and United proudly announcing "Every [passenger] gets warmth, friendliness and extra care. And someone may get a wife." They were dressed in mini-skirts and bodysuits. Daily weigh-ins were mandatory. It's no wonder that many of the leaders of the Women's Movement, including NOW President (1991 to 1997) Patricia Ireland, came from the ranks of stewardesses: It was an explosive combination of opportunity and exploitation.

I am a member of the Association of Canadian Librettists, Composers, and Lyricists (ACLCL), SOCAN, ACTRA, Toronto Musician's Association (Local 149, A.F. of M.), Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), Dramatist's Guild of America, and the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) and I have numerous publishing credits and U.S., international, and Canadian song cuts.

The New Face of Theater Investment

The Scorpio Entertainment/Richard Frankel Productions group is using a unique venture capital-style approach to fund Broadway musicals that allows very small investors ($5K to $10K) to participate in shows like Hairspray and The Producers.

My husband met with Steve Baruch a couple of weeks ago, and came away very impressed. Mr. Baruch has some great perspective on Broadway today (off-Broadway plays are dead) and on the future (they produced Sound of Music, which bombed in NYC, but is doing boffo business in China...the export market for Broadway is shaping up to be HUGE).

This group is similar to Stage One in the UK, which allows small investors to participate in West End musicals. But, differently from the Frankel group, they are run more as a non-profit. Nonetheless, they have some interesting data on the success and grosses of musicals from the West End (which they say is bigger than Broadway).

Sunday, January 02, 2005

How Great Was Victor/Victoria?

One of my great theater experiences, ever, was a visit to NYC in the mid-90s to see Damn Yankees. While we were there, my husband and I had an extra night, and we weren't sure what to do with ourselves. On a whim, we called to see if they had any tickets for Victor/Victoria, which was playing to mixed reviews.

Not only did we get tickets, we were center orchestra, fourth row. Julie Andrews was literally spitting on us. In fact, I'm still wiping bits of phlegm off my clothing, all these years later.

It was a transcendental experience. Although the show was deeply flawed, seeing Julie Andrews on stage was incredible. She was so radiant she lit up the theater. And now that she can't sing anymore, it was our one and only chance to see her in Broadway (until they invent the time machine that we can use to go back and see her in Camelot). The sets were also fantastic. Music: So-so...

We saw it one more time: With Liza Minelli (another use it or lose it chance to see a legend on stage), which was kind of a train wreck, but fun to witness...

That's Entertainment I, II, and III Finally Available

Hi, my name is Suzy Conn and I work in musical theater as a lyricist, composer, and librettist.

When I was a little girl, the first movie that my father took me to was "That's Entertainment". It was an electrifying experience, because sitting there in the dark, watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly narrate stories about the classic days of MGM Musicals, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to work in musical theater.

It's been a long a weird journey, mostly because the Broadway I love has been gone for a long, long time. However, the last few years have seen the return of my classically-driven musical comedy shows like The Producers and Hairspray. And, hopefully one day, Plane Crazy, my musical about the adventures of stews in the 1960s Jet Age.

I was very excited to see that MGM had re-released all three of the That's Entertainment movies on DVD just before Christmas this year. And my lovely husband bought the set for me! I've been revelling in the beauty of these films, the memories of my Dad, and my optimism for the future of musical theater and movie musicals.

You can look forward to highly opinionated, strongly held points of view on musical theater here at Blogway Baby. And I'm not alone, so I'll be blogging pieces from other similar contrarians! Enjoy!

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