A Brief Musing

As I sit here in front of my computer, I check the time and realize that I should have been settling in to the Imperial Theatre for tonight’s preview of August: Osage County. Obviously, that is not the case. The strike continues and where is the end? Fortunately it could be in sight now as it appears that negotiations will resume on Saturday. The strike needs to end in an effort to reap the benefits of the ever-fruitful holiday season. Too many shows may not reopen, or open at all, if things can’t come to a head. All eyes look to this weekend.

Nothing appears to be happening on the WGA front, though there are now some amusing Youtube videos that have been posted over the past few days.

Darling Illya

Melina Mercouri is probably the sexiest thing to happen to Greece since Helen. There I said it. I first watched Mercouri in the delightful 1964 comic caper film Topkapi, a heist film in that delightfully offbeat early ’60s style. Directed by her husband and frequent collaborator Jules Dassin, the film starred Mercouri, Maximilian Schell and Peter Ustinov, who would win his second Oscar for this outing, as an unwilling, bumbling con man/patsy. Topkapi is based on Eric Ambler‘s novel The Light of Day and tells the unabashedly entertaining story of Elizabeth Lipp, an exotic jewel thief who enlists a former lover (Schell) to help her in an incredibly dangerous and seemingly impossible mission to steal the legendary emerald dagger from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. At first, I couldn’t really understand a thing that Mercouri was saying, as her Greek accent was incredibly thick, but I couldn’t get over the sensuality of the actress nor the coy way she had of flirting with the camera. (And I also found that after a few minutes, she was speaking English and I could understand it). I won’t go further in the plot of the film, but it’s one to be seen. It directly inspired Mission: Impossible and was even mentioned and homaged in the 1996 film adaptation of the classic TV series. (The scene where Tom Cruise hangs upside down; watch the original for the inspiration). It’s a product of the 1960s; that is for certain, but its charms and incredibly tense climax (the film was also a spoof of Dassin’s own Rififi, a dark and serious film about a heist that ends badly for all involved) make for a pleasant viewing.

Anyway, my fascination with Melina began with Topkapi. It continued when I watched what is considered her signature role, Illya (Ilia according to IMDb, Illia according to the DVD case…oh well) in Never on Sunday. The film centered on an American academic Homer Thrace (Dassin, who also directed) who becomes obsessed with reforming an incredibly popular and vivacious prostitute in the coastal town of Piraeus, just outside of Athens. Illya is unique because not only is she adored by the men in town, she also commands their respect, and she in return, loves them all platonically (and occasionally a little more). She has no pimp, she sets her own prices and only chooses men she likes for consorting. There is a Pygmalion-esque subtext underlying throughout the film, Homer is trying to recreate the Grecian ideal through Illya, though unbeknownst to her, he is financing her education through the local crime boss, who would much prefer to see Illya retired and not influencing his prostitutes to take their independence (as evidenced by an older prostitute played by Despo, who would also have a brief role in Topkapi). She heartily devours the Greek tragedies, always at dramatic festivals to see them and always retelling them to the men in town who adore her. However, her interpretations of said classics make them, how shall we say?, more upbeat. With all of them ending with a picnic by the sea shore. (One of the film’s funniest scenes is her revisionist Medea). The title stems from the fact that on Sunday, Illya takes the day off and has a party in which she invites all of her friends, mostly men, over to apartment. (Nothing of that sort happens). The film was a critical and popular sensation. Not only did the film make Mercouri a world-wide celebrity, it also managed one of the more impressive feats that I find from the film: it made her, at the film industry’s death knell age of 40, an international sex symbol. Her husky purr of a voice, combined with those devilishly enchanting eyes are enough to captivate even today. The film was nominated for five Academy awards, winning one for its incredibly popular bouzouki flavored song “Never on Sunday,” by Manos Hatzidakis. Melina was nominated, but she lost to Elizabeth Taylor’s tracheotomy.

Never on Sunday became a musical in 1967. Again, it starred our Melina. Again Despo played the older prostitute friend. Again it was directed by Dassin. Again the music was from Hatzidakis. The show was called Illya, Darling; an uninspired and rather poor choice, though one can appreciate the early film to stage adaptations trying to make themselves distinct from the original property, much like Carnival! from 1961 and with Promises, Promises a year after Illya opened. I have to admit, for such an incredibly weak score, it’s a guilty pleasure. The overture is a thrilling Grecian piece entitled “Bouzouki Nights” and may be the most thrilling opening to grace a dud of a score. Many of the character numbers lack sound structure and some lack lyrical finesse. (Particularly, Despo’s annoyingly catchy but truly awful “I Never Lay Down Anymore.” When the title of a song says all there is to be said, it shouldn’t be dragged out for another 2 1/2 minutes). It speaks volumes that “Never on Sunday” was interpolated into the score and it remains the strongest piece. But all of the above and Orson Bean‘s irritating nasal whine aren’t enough to make me stop the record. It has Melina. And God bless her, she really put her all into it. Her singing voice isn’t spectacular. It’s rather gravelly and deteriorated due to years of chain smoking (in the two films you rarely see her without and its a pity, Melina died of lung cancer in 1994). But there she is to lead the troupe through what must have been an interesting evening for 320 performances (given that she was basically the sole attraction, who else would want to fill those shoes?). The back of the LP is filled with love letters the critics wrote for her. My favorite being from Walter Kerr of the NY Times:

“Melina is, of course, something to contemplate. She’s a creature you would be happy to take home to Mother if Mother was out. Leggy and luscious as before, clasping a shy sailor to her very warm breast. Melina stripped down to a minibikini. Melina locked in the muscular embrace of a handsome dockworker without a shirt. Melina propped up in bed on her elbows, crying a little through cigarette smoke over three weeks love lost because of her over-indulgence in virtue. The lady’s smile is as broad as the blaze of noon. she moves as though she had been born a dancer.”

And they say Brantley worships Chenoweth. She’s got nothing on Melina.

On the BlueGobo website, there is an extended clip of Melina and the company. First, she performs her opening “Piraeus, My Love”, then men of the ensemble lead the title song and it ends with an encore of “Never on Sunday,” sung in Greek by Melina and assisted by the chorus.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt like writing about her tonight. Just seemed to be on the mind as I’ve been recommending her recently to friends. Now I only know her via these two roles, but I do intend on checking out Phaedra and Stella. I do hope you check out Melina in the two filmes I mentioned. They are incredibly enjoyable, especially to see a star as lustrous as Mercouri make proverbial love to the camera. (Illya Darling is also worth a listen for the curious).

There are plans to remake Topkapi. I wish they wouldn’t.


Right now, at this very moment, Hollywood and Broadway are effectively in a comatose state. On the film & television angle, we have the strike of the Writer’s Guild of America, in an effort to gain profits from internet and DVD aspects of their work, which are being commercially sponsored on the internet and other venues. The writers, In NY, almost all of Broadway (save for the non-profits, huzzah, and a few select non-union theatres), has been effectively shut down as of today as the IATSE stage hands strike over contractual issues involving an increase in wage as well as certain criteria for the hot-spot issue of load-ins. The Local One has been working without a contract since July 31 of this year.

It’s mindblowing to think that right now most television shows have ceased (or will soon cease) production cutting into the fans’ seasonal expectations. It’s mindblowing to think that as the Thanksgiving-Christmas season approaches, most of the Broadway shows are dark, threatening the economic climate of not only the theatre community of NYC, but also of the surrounding businesses and restaurants (and tourist trade). Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, estimates a direct and indiret loss of $17,000,000 per day as a result. Mid-town thrives on the theatre and for this holiday season, its going to be difficult should this strike be prolonged. Hopefully, it will be resolved in a manner similar to that of the musician’s strike of 2003. (Incidentally, I have a parallel experience here: both times I have had theatre tickets for the Wednesday after the commencement of the strike. Last time, things had cleared up in time, but we shall see what happens here…)

I am also incredibly concerned with the Writer’s Guild Strike as I find it an incredible issue of such importance that the outcome will impact the entertainment industry forever (and hopefully in good ways). The outcome of the WGA strike will influence the pending negotiations for SAG and DGA members, as their current contracts will be expiring in the spring. Not that I don’t sympathize with the current situation in NY, but it seems to me that those who write for television and film (not to mention those actors who don’t make the mega-millions) should reap more of the financial benefits of their work. For instance, The Office had 7,000,000 downloads off of itunes last year. That’s 7,000,000 times $1.99. That is what the show raked in. That’s almost $14,000,000 in revenue of which the actual team of the writers saw very little, if any at all – I think it was more the latter. (There was some rumor that Apple wanted to lower the episodes to $.99 which was why NBC pulled the show from itunes, since they wanted it at $4.99 an episode. Who knows the truth?) Residual benefits from these unwarranted corporate leanings would provide financial security especially for those writers who don’t rake in huge amounts of money like Aaron Sorkin or Tina Fey.

I hope situations are resolved so we’re not forced to sit through more reality spawn in our primetime TV (and that my shows return in triumph) and that I can go down and see August: Osage County this coming Wednesday. For the impact on film, we won’t really see that until some lousy rush-jobs are released next summer and fall.

Note: No Off-Broadway shows are impacted by the stagehand strike. There are also eight Broadway shows still running in NY that will not be affected: Cymbeline @ the Vivian Beaumont; Mauritius @ the Biltmore; The Ritz @ Studio 54; Pygmalion @ the American Airlines; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee @ Circle in the Square; Mary Poppins @ the New Amsterdam; Xanadu @ the Helen Hayes; and Young Frankenstein @ the Hilton. (Mel Brooks should be pleased, this strike will probably overshadow the critical evisceration his new musical received from opening night critics this week). Anyone with tickets for shows darkened by the strike are eligible for refunds and/or exchanges. Playbill has further information on how to get those refunds.

PS: For those fans of The Office, there is only one show left to air this coming Thursday. No new episodes until the strike has ended, kids.

Robert Goulet (1933-2007)

There was a little voice in my mind telling me, “You must go back. You must. You’ve got to see this.” The occasion? Robert Goulet was stepping into the leading role of Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, replacing a fired Daniel Davis in a rather public melee over backstage behavior and nonsense, of which I’m not entirely sure of the truth.

Anyway, the first time I saw the revival happened to be the first Tuesday back after the firing and the understudy, John Hillner, went on and was quite excellent. However, prior to the start of the performance, none other than Mr. Goulet himself exited into the theatre via the side door and proceeded to the rear of the house. And let it be known I said “Oh my God, it’s Robert Goulet!” loud enough to be heard by the actor. I settled in for a phenomenal performance of the show, one that I thought was better than its detractors said, with some of the most joyous choreography to ever stop a show. Just an enjoyable time – and the first time I exited a theatre among people humming the songs. I’ve heard of that notion, but I’d never actually witnessed it before, it was quite a pleasant novelty.

Anyway, I did get back to La Cage for its final performance in June ’05, since it didn’t have the run nor press it deserved it closed within three weeks of winning the Best Revival Tony. All seats were going for the 1983 prices in an effort to fill the theatre for the final weeks of the run, and I jumped at the opportunity mostly because I wanted to say that I saw Robert Goulet live on Broadway. My reasoning being “Who knows if he’ll ever tread these boards again?”

And sadly enough, I was right. The world lost one of the most virile baritones to grace the Broadway stage in the history of recorded musical theatre. His performance as Lancelot in the original Camelot opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews is one for the ages, and his original cast performance of “If Ever I Would Leave You” remains and will likely always remain, the most definitive rendition of that soaring ballad.

From his auspicious debut, it took till 1968 when he starred in the Kander and Ebb adaptation of The Happy Time for him to make a return to Broadway, this time winning a Tony award for his performance as Jacques Bonnard opposite David Wayne and a young Michael Rupert.

When I learned that Mr. Goulet had died, this was the album I played. Though I have Camelot, and also the LP’s of his TV musicals Brigadoon, Carousel and Kiss Me Kate, I’ve always felt that this album showed him at the peak of his musical career, before he became a pop culture joke, though a good sport and one he loved to perpetuate. (His cameo on The Simpsons singing ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells” and his recent commercials come to mind). His voice rings out clarion on such gorgeous melodies, possibly the most beautiful Kander ever composed, as the title song and especially “Walking Among My Yesterdays” and “I Don’t Remember You.”

Mr. Goulet may not have been what one would consider ideal casting for a middle-aged homosexual in St. Tropez (again, Hepburn as Chanel?), but his professionalism and his ease with comic lines were able to help him get through the show without me ever once question his casting. And when he sang – oh that voice could still fill a theatre and I bet without a microphone at that (take that, overamplification). He performed both “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” with such voice and charisma, one wishes they had recorded a cast album when he joined the show.

I am so glad I trusted my instincts and decided to go, since I got to see one of the last of the Golden Age legends perform in a book musical on Broadway. Trust me kids, if the chance ever comes up to see a legend in action, don’t take it for granted. Just go, regardless of the cost, it’ll be something you can proudly tell people in later years. There’s nothing quite like being in the presence of a star.

The guilty pleasures of 1970

Katharine Hepburn in Coco. It’s not an exceptional musical, but it features an amusing score (Andre Previn & Alan Jay Lerner did the honors). Hepburn is, well, I don’t have to tell you how unqualified she was to headline a musical… but there is something about her star quality and the fun in Previn’s score that just makes for an entertaining listen. The book by Lerner is rather irritating, with all the filmed sequences that presented a flashback into Coco’s youth. Then again, when one thinks of Chanel, one would hardly think of Kate. Legendary is the Tony performance which, tasteless laugh track aside, presents a 15 minute sequence from the show’s finale, including one of the legendary fashion promenades staged by Michael Bennett. It remains the longest performance piece in Tony history. Unfortunately, the recording quality of the cast album is as incredibly poor; even in a CD transfer it doesn’t sound like a 1970 stereo effort, but closer to the primitive 40s mono recordings. Perhaps it could use a remaster, but then again, only the curios and the true fans of those involved would be interested. (For comparison’s sake, Rex Harrison sounds like Venetian glass. Hepburn sounds like she swallowed some…) But I can’t not listen, not enjoy the personality and presence of such a star taking on such a daunting task. Critical misgivings not withstanding, audiences came out in droves and the show shuttered two months after she left, though the more character appropriate Danielle Darrieux had taken over in the title role. David Holliday is in fine voice (check out the OLC of Sail Away for more of that glorious tenor); Gale Dixon is a pallid ingenue whose presence, voice and acting ability are so lacking you wonder why she was cast in the first place and secondly, you wonder why Coco would become so invested in her life. Rene Auberjonois won a Tony as the campy rival (with the over-the-top exercise in schadenfreude, “Fiasco” as well as stereotypical scenery-chomping) and George Rose and Jon Cypher also offered support. Kate was fearless and one of a kind, regardless of the medium. I find it endlessly amusing how the Tony race was between her and her non-singing friend Lauren Bacall who was croaking her way (with maybe a slightly better idea of pitch) through the campier mediocrity Applause. (Third nominee Dilys Watling from the four performance debacle Georgy stood absolutely no chance).

Which brings me to my next guilty pleasure: the TV telecast of Applause with Lauren Bacall. The musical, an adaptation of the film All About Eve (and the original story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr) opened in NY in 1970, ran for 895 performances and won a slew of Tony’s in a considerably weak year. The show shortly thereafter made its way to London with Bacall and original NY Eve Penny Fuller, with Larry Hagman (who is pretty good) in the role originated by Len Cariou. It was this production that was filmed (on a soundstage) in an abridged form for telecast in 1973. Now the score to Applause has two kinds of numbers the brilliantly awful and the awfully brilliant, more of the former than latter, truth be told – “One Halloween,” the pastiche “Who’s That Girl?” and the title song are the winners (Strouse and Adams have done worse… Bring Back Birdie anyone?) Anyway, from an opening voice over, Bacall gives her all in one of the worst performances of a musical I’ve ever seen. The audience is immediately subjected to the revolutionary scene (at the time) where Margo Channing skips the opening night party to go to a gay bar. Segueing into her first character song, it quickly becomes one of the unintentionally funny moments ever created for a musical. First of all, the caricatures abound from wall to wall. Then to make matters worse, Bacall cannot dance to save her life and it shows. She gets tossed in the air by a large group of screaming queens extolling “Margo!” repeatedly with all their heart. Her performance stays at that high level and is a marvel for sheer presence, if little else. (I would have loved to have seen how Broadway replacement, Anne Baxter, fared in the role.)

Penny Fuller; however, delivers a nuanced and compelling portrait of the conniving Eve Harrington. Her musical selections are few and far between, but when she sings, you pay attention. Most notably, the ferocious explosion that is “One Hallowe’en” late in the second act. Applause may be the worst score of a Best Musical Tony winner, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun (if not always for the right reasons). There are clips on youtube and I believe the tape is in archives somewhere, should your curiosity bring you to want to see it. You’ll laugh a lot, I promise. And marvel at Ms. Penny Fuller. However, for the real thing, I refer you to the brilliant and highly rewatchable original film, whose dialogue is as sharp and compelling as ever, especially with its terse deliveries by Bette Davis, Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders, not to mention the always-reliable Thelma Ritter. One of the largest problems of the stage musical is the loss of the latter two characters; the sardonic columnist Addison de Witt was replaced by the less interesting Howard Benedict, a producer with sights on Eve. Also in a ploy to modernize the story, the dresser Birdie became the dresser Duane, who memorably mentioned having a date as an excuse for not clubbing with Margo. Bacall shocked the blue-hairs in the audience with the deathless “Bring him along!”

So I enjoy them both in spite of myself. Sue me.

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)

Deborah Kerr, the epitome of poise and elegance in 1950s Hollywood, has died at the age of 86. The actress, one of my personal favorites, had been suffering from Parkinson’s for many years.

I’ll never forget the first time I looked at Ms. Kerr in a film. It was 1995 and I was watching The King and I for the first time with some friends. I was struck by this unfamiliar, yet gorgeous redhead, who possessed such formidable strength in what I would learn was one of her most famous roles. I quickly became fascinated by Kerr, as I watched AMC regularly as a child and never seen her before. So intrigued by this lost movie star, I began to search out her roles, quickly becoming enamored with her presence and humanity onscreen.

Kerr was born in Helensburgh, Scotland, the daughter of naval architect Arthur Kerr-Trimmer. She initially trained for ballet, but soon discovered a desire to act. Kerr rose quickly to prominence at the age of 20, holding her own opposite Wendy Hiller in the film adaptation of Major Barbara. In 1947, MGM brought Kerr to the United States, with her first starring role opposite Clark Gable in The Hucksters. The shift from London to Hollywood is most famous for its legendary publicity campaign that begat the slogan: “DEBORAH KERR! RHYMES WITH STAR!” Well, it worked, didn’t it?

Who could forget her repressive Sister Clodagh in the Technicolor marvel Black Narcissus, or as Terry McKay opposite Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember (one of her four signature costars, the others being Yul Brynner, Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster)? However, she is probably best known for her role in the 1953 Best Picture winner From Here to Eternity as the officer’s wife carrying on an affair with Lancaster (most notable for that romp on the beach that has become cinematic lore).

Other notable films include Separate Tables (as the young spinster excruciatingly dominated by her mother), John Huston’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana (as Hannah Jelkes), Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (as a nun trapped on a Japanese held island with a Marine), The Innocents (as the unhinged governess who thinks her charges are possessed), and a hilarious cameo in the otherwise tepid Casino Royale. Her Broadway credits include the original productions of Tea and Sympathy (Tony nom.) and Edward Albee’s Seascape.

It’s surprising that Ms. Kerr never won a competitive Oscar in her career (and six nominations), though there was subtle justice when she was awarded an honorary award in 1994, which may well have been her final public appearance. Her Academy citation read: “An artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.”

Due to her declining health, Kerr was unable to attend the ceremony in which she was awarded the CBE in 1998.

Ms. Kerr has left behind a legacy of memorable performance in a wide variety of genres; films I hope that you all appreciate as much as I do.

As If There Isn’t Enough Suck in the World…

Given that I have been battling a pretty miserable cold & sinus infection the last week and a half and haven’t really thought of anything to write, I’ve been dormant for quite a few days. However, I just read the rather surprising news that Clay Aiken will be joining the cast of Spamalot as Sir Robin (the role created by the incomparable David Hyde Pierce). Yes. You read that correctly. Aiken is making his Broadway debut in Spamalot. What? Have Rent and Chicago a glut of mediocrity that they couldn’t find space for him?

It is incredibly unfair to judge a performance when the poor thing hasn’t even commenced rehearsals, but can I stop my reticence that this is a less than ideal situation? Granted, I am not a fan of his personality or his singing, so I have no desire to see what he does. But to put someone into a huge musical comedy, that while still doing good business, is nowhere near the sell-out monster it was upon opening. However, there does seem to be a die-hard fan base, so who knows? I’m sure he’ll be fine and sell lots of tickets to those screaming fans (Hell, I’m sure if Hanson took over the three leads, it would be a similar situation, but one nightmare at a time). But seriously, stick a fork in that show.

Could it be a Reba/Fantasia scenario? Perhaps. Or could it be closer to Sheena Easton in Man of La Mancha? Possibly. There is nothing about Spamalot that screams “Revisit!” I wouldn’t even go back for my beloved Marin Mazzie, the third replacement Lady of the Lake. I was there the week of the Tony voting while Sara Ramirez was out with her cold and the late Darlene Wilson was going on in her stead. The show was incredibly amusing and made for a fun, if not great, musical. How it won Best Musical over three higher quality shows is a staggering indictment of the commercial infestation of everything Tony. Enough evidence of the past few years shows that the Best Musical = Most Likely to Tour Successfully. It’s a sad state when the money overwhelmingly and blatantly surpasses artistic concerns. (How many of the recent Best Musical winners were genuinely the best in their league?)

I guess it all comes down to personal taste. Once was enough for me and I’ll cherish the good time I had. No need to revisit this machine, even for an auspicious debut such as his.

In other news, part of the reason I have been away from the internet so long is that I have become acquainted with the HBO series Entourage in the past week. Not having HBO or Showtime makes it hard for me to catch up with these acclaimed shows that have most people going crazy, I am generally a latecomer. However, much like I flipped for Weeds back in March, I went completely to pieces over this show. I could not get enough of it. Bought all the boxed sets and watched them all whenever I could. While I’m equally repulsed and compelled by the excessive lifestyles, I cannot get enough of the characters and especially the exemplary writing of the show. The narrative blends the fictional world of this entourage (inspired by Mark Wahlberg’s experiences) with the reality of Hollywood as a world of celebrity and business. The casting is phenomenal, from the four leads (especially Kevin Dillon) to Jeremy Piven’s acclaimed and awarded tour de force as Ari Gold, the hyperactive and ruthless high profile agent. (Kudos also to Malcolm McDowell and especially Martin Landau for stellar guest appearances). If you haven’t, do. If you have, I hope you love it half as much as I do. Rarely do I shill, but when I do, its not without reason.

“Let’s hug it out, bitch.”

Till next time kids.

Never Forget. Never Forgive.

Though at this point in time I should probably be rehearsing Pachelbel’s “Canon in D major” for a wedding I’m playing tomorrow morning, I had to take a break from the keys for a little while to clear my head. There was simply no escaping those chord progressions (it is the same set of chords repeated in variations for 8 pages). I figure if I know the chords, if I start to zone somewhere in the middle, I can just vamp the same chords and improvise a little. Johann is dead, what’s he going to care? (And from the bridal consultation I had, this girl won’t know the difference. I doubt there have been many brides that have asked ” ‘Here Comes the Bride?’ How does that one go?” I kid you not).

But I digress. I felt it more urgent to express how utterly elated I am at the new theatrical trailer for Sweeney Todd. The first time I saw this, was the 1982 taping starring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn, preserved while the national tour was stopped in LA. While certain things about that taping are on the awkward side (well, mostly Betsy Joslyn’s “Green Finch and Linnet Bird”), I knew I was seeing something extraordinary the first time I witnessed “A Little Priest.” I remember I rewound and rewound the video on that sequence about 20 times that night pushing it so late, that I had to watch the second act the following day. Ever since, I’ve been an ardent admirer of the piece (and “A Little Priest” remains my favorite Sondheim song).

I’ve already read that Sondheim likes it, but warns that it’s its own animal. Clocking in at an apparent 105 minutes, I’m not surprised. (And given the innovations of the recent revival, it’s a piece open for lots of artistic freedom and interpretation). I hear a lot of it is sung, about 70% apparently. There’s just basically a lot of buzz that means nothing until the film is released and reviewed. With the first half sounding ominously like other just another Tim Burton film and not Sweeney Todd, I got a little worried. That’s not to knock Mr. Burton, as I adore Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Big Fish, to name a few. It’s clear that the powers that be want to sell the movie before they sell the musical. Considering the amount of money at risk on a musical, one could see how they would try to showcase the Grand Guignol nature of the plot. But let’s face it, it’s a musical. With a lot of music. Finally halfway through there was some relief to see at least something by Sondheim in there, though not enough to my liking. Most especially, I would have liked to have heard a vocal sampling of Helena Bonham Carter‘s Mrs. Lovett.

Depp’s acting looks exemplary and if his singing lacks the gravitas of many of his predecessors in the role, he’s quite scary in the excerpt from “Epiphany.” (His understated gravelly delivery of many of the shows big lines gave me chills). The trailer manages to (efficiently) set-up the entire backstory sung onstage in “The Barber and His Wife.” Alan Rickman is perpetrates his usual villainy as the lecherous Judge Turpin; and also, how nice to see Mary Poppins herself, Laura Michelle Kelly as Mrs. Benjamin Barker.

One thing I noticed missing (and it makes we wonder if there will be a red band trailer to coincide) is any pointed reference to the cannibalistic nature that the Todd-Lovett meat-pie enterprise takes on towards the end of the first act. Though I smiled when they ended the trailer with Lovett’s “That’s all very well, but what are we going to do about him?” with the camera zooming in on the hand sticking out of the trunk.

BTW – Isn’t that a perfect tagline?


An Open Letter to Arthur Laurents

Dear Mr. Laurents,

It comes to my understanding via Michael Riedel of the New York Post that you wish to see another Gypsy on Broadway within the remainder of your lifetime that will vanquish memories of the 2003 Sam Mendes production. Now, I myself enjoyed that particular production, especially since I had never seen the show live in a theatre before. (You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Laurents, at 24, I’ve missed the Merman, Lansbury and Daly productions that left such indelible marks on theatrical lore). I was in the camp that thought Bernadette Peters was a thrilling Rose, who acted and sang the part with deft aplomb. At the closing performance, I was stunned to see the legendary overture get a standing ovation, thrilled when the audience rose en masse when Ms. Peters made her entrance, and scintillated by the moments which followed, which made for a delightful time at the theatre.

Now, I also became aware of Patti LuPone and her desire to play Rose, but that a begrudged feud between the two of you prevented her from playing any of your roles in New York, where you bear great weight in the casting of your productions. It was gratifying to hear that she was finally have her wish granted at the Ravinia Festival, which sparked enough interest for you to grant her the inestimable privilege of portraying Rose on the New York stage (specifically at the City Center).

It was a wonderful production. Filled with electricity from beginning to end, Patti gave Rose a down-to-earth determination and ferocity that exploded off the stage, particularly in her two showstoppers. (The gutteral scream at the end of the ‘Turn’ left an indelible mark on my experiences as your average theatregoer).

I worry though, that a rush to remount this production at the St. James Theatre in the spring may lead to a less-than-stellar run. In order for this to be successful, perhaps you can allow the entire script and score to be performed. The Kringelein sequence is hilarious and is what makes everything leading into “Mr. Goldstone” memorable. Not only is it a funny bit, but it also is shows how Rose can think and act on her feet. Also, reconsider the reprise of “Small World” in the second act. Rose deserves that brief moment to absorb the loss of Herbie; then bury her emotions. It was sorely missed. And lastly among these minor quibbles. Don’t tamper with the Turn. It’s one of, if not, the greatest eleven o’clock numbers in the history of the musical theatre genre. Cutting even a few bars like you did was jarring to the ear, b/c one expects the full piece. Fortunately it didn’t diminish the impact the number had, but still, Mr. Laurents, was cutting it that necessary?

I know you wouldn’t agree as your opinions and attititudes over the years have remained self-serving and well, megalomaniacal. I figure since Gypsy is the last impressive work you’ve ever written for the theatre, you would want it presented it with the originality and with every word intact. Let’s face it, your books for Gypsy and West Side Story are among the most regarded in the canon, with My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls being only other examples who are as well regarded. Hell, given the reception the show receives every time it is staged, it’s regarded with a reverence generally provided only for Shakespeare.

So put those generous moments back into the show. Regardless of what you may think, Patti is a big girl and knows her stuff and she will acquit every word with eager discipline and creativity. While we’re at it. Don’t think of casting anyone else as Herbie and Louise, as Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti may well be the definitive interpreters of their respective roles.

And while you’re at it, record a cast album. Spring for sets. Costumes. Fill the space. Use the space. If we’re getting a full production, make it worth the $120 a person will pay. And make sure it’s good.

Best of luck to you in this and all other future endeavors (especially your revival of West Side Story).

Theatre Aficionado (At Large)

PS – While we’re on the subject, when may we expect a revival of Nick & Nora?