Bell Ringing Monks

There were three musicals nominated for Best Musical at the Tony Awards in 1959. The winner was the Gwen Verdon vehicle Redhead, which went home with a total of 5 awards. One of the nominees was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. But there was a third nominee that was an even bigger hit than these two shows. It was a French revue imported from London called La Plume de Ma Tante (translated: “The pen of my Aunt.” Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean a thing). The book was written by Robert Dhery with music by Gerard Calvi and English lyrics by Ross Parker (who wrote the words for the WWII standard “We’ll Meet Again). La Plume is pretty much unlike any other show Broadway has seen before or since. David Merrick and Joseph Kipness (who plugged the revue as “a French Hellzapoppin’) brought the show to the Royale (now Jacobs) Theatre, where it a total of three Tony nominations and ran for 835 performances, longer than any other musical nominated that year.

La Plume de Ma Tante was different from other revues in that relied more on visuals (sight gags, leers, double-takes) than text. There were songs and some dialogue, but it was very sparse and could be described from all accounts as Frenglish. Most of the evening was presented in pantomime, with a lot of old-fashioned bits pulled from Dhery’s background in circus and music hall. He and his company (which included his wife and the show’s choreographer Collete Brosset) had fine-tuned their material through many venues in France before bringing this particular show to London.

Though somewhat underwhelmed by the material, critics raved for the company and the staging. One of the things that made the show so successful was its ability to surprise the audience with its Gallic charm, madcap sensibility and utter unpredictability. The cast, which included Pierre Olaf (Carnival) and Yvonne Constant, was rapturously received and awarded a special Tony for “contribution to the theatre.” However, the show didn’t receive an original Broadway cast album and has since slipped into obscurity.

The moment that was mentioned in all reviews and is most talked about was the show’s act one finale. Four monks (in full regalia) came out onstage and started ringing the monastery bells by simply pulling on four long ropes that extended up into the flies. When left unsupervised, they start losing their inhibitions and begin to dance. This builds and builds to a brassy, jive variation on “Freres Jacques” in which the men turn the ropes into a maypole. The last sight the audience saw as the curtain came down for intermission were these four men leaping about fifteen feet into the air on these ropes with reckless abandon. Apparently Dhery originally created this for the Crazy Gang and later interpolated it into the London show.

This scene was recreated for the 1984 Royal Variety Performance and I think is without a doubt one of the rarest and most obscure – and dare I say oddest – things I have ever blogged about. You have to see it to believe it.


Technological Conundrum

Readers, I need your help. When it comes to technology, I feel that I’m half idiot, half savant. Once I feel I’ve mastered something in computer science or home entertainment, it seems that the next new thing comes along. I had no trouble with social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, but it took me a while to get used to Blogger and then WordPress. Ask me to write code and I’ll stare at you blankly, but I can tell you how to successfully embed an amazon associates link in your blog.

It’s that I don’t want to upgrade, it’s just that I’m wary of jumping on a moving carousel. I held onto my disc-men for years. Finally, I caved and bought my first iPod and wondered how I ever lived without it. I figured I would never use my cell phone for anything other than calls. Cut to this past May when I got my first smart phone (Droid). Now I can listen to music, check my email, tweet and update facebook from something the size of my wallet. And I wonder how I ever lived without it. Who knew? I’m now considering a Macbook for Christmas. My first computer was a Mac, but now it might be time for a return as I’ve spent ten years with PCs and am getting frankly a quite tired of them. (A night in the Apple Store in Midtown will do that to a person).

But the big hold out for me has been Blu-ray technology. I figured I had enough DVDs to last me and why would I need to upgrade? Well, as it turns out, (much like Betamax, VHS and now DVD) the new technology is slowly taking over the market. I’ve recently received two review copies in the form of Blu-ray and I currently don’t have the technology on which to play them. Thank God for my best friend who graciously lets me spend as much time as I need in his basement home entertainment center!

This digital technology fascinates me. I was thrilled when TVs expanded from 4×3 to 16×9 (I’ve been a champion of letterboxing since I was in middle school – that’s how much of a nerd I am). 720i 1080i? I didn’t know what any of this meant, nor what was best for my viewing. Plasma? LCD? LED? I’ve been unable to choose, so I haven’t gotten one yet. Then Blu-ray came about; that seems like a package deal. Why would I want to get a Blu-ray player for my 12 year old console that’s starting to die? My big main problem is I never know what brand I should go for. I’ve been buying Sony for years, but that’s mostly been my name recognition factoring into it, but keep an open mind in case I find out there’s something of superior quality.

I wonder if some day we’ll be able to close our eyes and immerse ourselves into Gone with the Wind or Star Wars in our own heads. Fanciful stuff, but at the rate we make these advancements my imagination may not be as outlandish as it may seem. But for now, I’m left with the task of upgrading my technology and I cannot think of a better way to get information than from my bloggers. What do you think of the upgraded digital technology? And what do you think makes for the best home entertainment experience?

“Hard-Hearted Hannah”

My day is filled with adult-like responsibilities (as in getting work) and taking my father to see The Sound of Music at the multiplex this evening. In the meanwhile, here is the inimitable Tony-winning Dorothy Loudon singing the Tin Pan Alley classic “Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah)” with music by Milton Ager and lyrics from Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow and Charles Bates on The Merv Griffin Show. Sondheim fans will recognize this from his list of “Songs I Wished I’d Written (At Least in Part)”. The sound cuts out for a bit in the middle, but it does return and Loudon gives the number her requisite big finish.


"You remind me of a man…"

There’s been some fun banter on Twitter between SarahB, Chelsea and myself about various Cary Grant films. Chels is going to be taking in some of his features which will be shown as part of Washington DC’s National Theatre Summer Cinema 2010.

One of my all-time favorite Cary Grant moments, courtesy of the 1947 classic The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple (all grown up), Harry Davenport and Ray Collins star. Sidney Sheldon won the Oscar for his original screenplay (which has been adapted for stage by F. Andrew Leslie and is licensed by Dramatists Play Service). Enjoy:

"We Will Rock Q"

The folks over at Avenue Q got wind of that Muppets music video turned viral sensation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Not to be outdone, the gang at New World Stages (including Mrs. T!) have made their own music video using “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” This kinda makes me want to go back and visit the Q again. Enjoy.

A Mini Play for Today

At rise: “A Weekend in the Country” is playing in the house. Kevin is looking out living room window at the snow, pausing briefly on his way to the iPod.

Enter left, his Mother, listening attentively.

M: Is that “George in the Park”?
K: No, it’s A Little Night Music.
M: Oh, the one about the barber.
K: Well, at least you’re somewhere in the ballpark.

And scene.