Sunday Night Musings

My 2013 theatergoing started with my first trip to the Metropolitan Opera in about 4 1/2 years. Out of the blue, I got a message from Roxie asking me if I was interested in seeing Turandot and I thought for about a split second before saying yes. Puccini’s music is glorious – ask me some time to tell you about my experiences playing one of Cio-Cio San’s cousins in Madame Butterfly sometime – and this opera intrigued me. I only new the famed “Nessun Dorma,” a showstopper if there ever was one but I was curious since I knew it was Puccini’s final work, and that he died leaving it unfinished. I was captivated by this bizarre piece with its antiquated gender politics, bizarre Asian aesthetic and similarities to The Taming of the Shrew. Also, I was amused that they stopped to sing to the moon for what felt to be fifteen minutes. But, oh those melodies! And that glorious singing! Zeffirelli’s production is first-rate, and that set is to-die-for; however I had forgotten that Met Opera intermissions are longer than the norm. Here, the first intermission was 45 minutes, longer than the first act itself. It didn’t detract as it allowed Roxie and I the chance to catch up on other things, and to plan future visits to the opera, as I don’t intend on staying away another four and a half years.

Walking through Midtown recently, I noticed that the Music Box Theatre has replaced its traditional marquee with a digital one since the closing of One Man, Two Guvnors. It’s not the first one I’ve noticed; I don’t know when it happened but the classy New Amsterdam Theatre now houses one as well. Now, I understand that digital is the way of the future, but there’s an utter charmlessness in these LED screens. Instead of a billboard or sign that stands out, these two theatre marquees become just more billboards for tourists to ignore. And frankly, for being all state of the art, the quality is cheap. Let us hope this lunacy is just a trend.

I recently read Maurice Walsh’s short story “The Quiet Man,” which later became the basis for the eponymous film classic – and one of my all-time favorites starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The 1952 Oscar-winner is receiving its long-overdue Blu-ray release this month (and by all accounts it looks exquisite) so I’ve been paying attention and felt it time to check out the brief, 20-something page story about short boxer Paddy Bawn Enright, his wife Ellen Roe Danaher and his feud with his brother-in-law Red Will Danaher. And as fate would have it, the Irish Repertory Theatre will be presenting the first NY revival of the musical adaptation of the film/short story, called Donnybrook! with a score by Johnny Burke and book by Robert McEnroe, starting in February.

The show ran only 68 performances in 1961, but featured lovely songs and performances from Art Lund, Joan Fagan, Susan Johnson and Eddie Foy, Jr. (Also in the cast was Philip Bosco as Will Danaher). The original cast album has never been officially released digitally (though some rogue labels offer an mp3 for sale on iTunes and Amazon), but I was fortunate to receive a cassette tape copied from the record album. (Side B was the musical version of How Green Was My Valley  – another Maureen O’Hara classic – called A Time for Singing). I later acquired the Kapp Records gatefold LP, which I continue to play every so often. The cast, headed by James Barbour and Jenny Powers looks to be top notch, so I look forward to checking that out soon.

In other flop musical news, both Dear World and Darling of the Day are getting their first UK productions in the next couple of months. The wondrous Betty Buckley will play the Madwoman of Chaillot, which is cause for much excitement, at the Charing Cross Theatre through February and March. The latter, however, interests me more on a personal level. I have long been a champion of Darling of the Day, unavailable for licensing since its 1968 premiere, ever since I first heard the original cast album (which is a must for any show music fan). The Styne-Harburg score is delightful, and Tony-winning star Patricia Routledge is the pinnacle of loveliness as the show’s leading lady. So I am hoping to fly out to see this one, which will star Kate Secombe as Alice Challice (the Routledge role) and Rebecca Caine as Lady Vale. No word on the gents just yet, but the show plays the Union Theatre from March 20 to April 20.

“And Eve Was Weak”

I suppose you can make a case that Carrie is the greatest musical flop in history. I’ll let you decide what I mean by “greatest.” The adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, with a book by Lawrence D. Cohen and score by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England in early 1988. A story of the high school outcast with the crazy religious fanatic mother from hell and telekinetic powers was a popular bestseller and a Oscar-nominated horror film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.

The musical proved to be far less than successful. Reviews were mixed in England, and the show was plagued by considerable technological problems. Yet the show continued to Broadway only two months later where it closed after 5 performances amidst some of the most scathing pans known to theatre. Ken Mandelbaum even called his essential book on flop musicals Not Since Carrie (and I implore to you read it if you haven’t; it’s fascinating, informative and entertaining). The score is something of a legend, and has an ardent group of fans. For more of the dish, read Mandelbaum’s book, you can read about the horror story that was the musical’s tenure on Broadway.

While I don’t care for much of the show (not available on cast album, but there is a sound system recording of the Broadway run that has made it’s way to seemingly everyone), the numbers for Carrie and her mother are actually quite arresting, their duets and Margaret’s solos especially. If the rest of the score had been half as good as these numbers, Carrie’s fate might not have been worse than death.

Linzi Hateley was cast as the title character and with her youthfulness and large belt voice managed she emerged mostly  unscathed from the entire ordeal, even winning a Theatre World Award. More curious: Barbara Cook was cast as Margaret White, in her first book musical appearance since the fast failure of The Grass Harp in 1971. After part of the set  nearly decapitated her, Ms. Cook made the decision not to continue with the production after Stratford. For NY, Betty Buckley (also the gym teacher from the film version) was cast. I can’t think of more of a divergence in styles, from Cook’s soprano to Buckley’s fiery belt, but that’s the way it was.

Here is a glimpse into both performing “And Eve Was Weak,” the first number where we really get to see Margaret White go off the deep end.

Barbara Cook


Betty Buckley (excerpt)


Pretty soon New York will revisit this darker chapter in its history, when MCC Theatre revives the notorious Carrie in a revised version that will address the issues that made it an embarrassing and high profile failure in the 80s. Tickets are hard to come by, and it is one of the more anticipated offerings of the winter, with performances starting January 31. Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson, who did a reading a couple years ago, will star. It’ll be interesting to see if Carrie has a better time at the prom the second time around.

“With One Look”

With the release of Patti LuPone’s memoir, there has been a resurgence in talk about Sunset Boulevard in the message board circuit. The musical of Billy Wilder’s legendary film noir classic was big news and big gossip fodder in the early 90s, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show opened in London with Patti in the iconic role of Norma Desmond, played in the film by silent star Gloria Swanson (in the performance of her career). However, the reviews for the London run – particularly those of the American critics who flew over – were less than enthusiastic. Thus began a series of events that led to LuPone being replaced for the Broadway run by Glenn Close, who was in the Los Angeles company. Lloyd Webber claimed Paramount studios demanded a movie star in the role and well…you’ll have to read Patti’s book for her perspective on the matters.

The show itself became a vehicle for great female stars, with replacements as notable as the originals. This sort of event hadn’t really happened since the original productions of Hello, Dolly! and Mame in the mid to late 60s. Norma Desmond became a role that women wanted to play. LuPone and Close were both replaced by Betty Buckley. Other Normas in the West End included Petula Clark, Elaine Paige and Rita Moreno. Paige made her Broadway debut with this show, closing the NY production. Diahann Carroll opened Garth Drabinsky’s Toronto production. Many other actresses were interested in playing the role, but the show proved a financial disappointment and was not a juggernaut success like POTO. The set was enormous (and temperamental) with the grand staircase coming down from the flies, etc. It was visually stunning, but I don’t think overall it is a good adaptation of the material. There are some interesting songs, particularly the near-arias composed for Norma. (It’s a shame Sondheim didn’t write his version of it).

It’s not quite the Madame Rose argument, but there are many admirers and detractors of the various Normas who power-belted through the show in the mid-90s. Here are five of them:

Patti LuPone (in the original higher key):


Glenn Close:


Betty Buckley:


Elaine Paige:


Petula Clark:


“Promises, Promises” – Original London Cast Recording

Just when it seemed as though there wouldn’t be anything more to say about Promises, Promises cast albums, Bruce Kimmel went ahead and released the long unavailable original London cast album on CD. Kimmel’s label, Kritzerland, recently made a splash with the 2 disc limited edition of the original Broadway album a couple months ago, which was so popular a second single disc edition was pressed. Sony Masterworks released a revival cast album which has been selling well. But for die hard fans, this is one of those rare cast albums that’s been long awaited. I, for one, lived with an mp3 rip of a good quality LP for the last couple of years and was one of those folks crying out for a CD.  The good news is that it’s been entirely worth the wait, the bad news is the limited pressing of 1,000 CDs has sold out (they did in a flash!)

Producers didn’t waste much time in bringing Promises, Promises to London. It opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1969, running a respectable 560 performances. Tony Roberts was Chuck Baxter. He does a decent job, if he’s not nearly as distinctive as Jerry Orbach. Betty Buckley and she sings the hell out of the score as Fran, easily the best sung on record. Her “Knowing When to Leave” is definitive, particularly the way she crescendos from head voice pianissimo to full out belt on the last line. Jack Kruschen, who played the doctor in The Apartment reprised his role in this production. Donna McKechnie flew to London to recreate the showstopping “Turkey Lurkey Time” for six weeks, but apparently this album was recorded after she left. (Her name is credited on the album cover, but inside the credit goes to Alix Kirsta).

Like the Kritzerland release of the OBC, the London album has also been placed in show order. It was produced similarly to the first, but offers an entirely different listening experience. The inherent idiosyncrasies make this London recording required listening. The pit singers are much clearer, especially in the overture. But the thing that really struck me, and it was probably the remix that helped me realize this, was the percussion. I have no idea who the drummer was, but his or her work really just pops on the album, especially in “Turkey Lurkey Time.”

One of my main quibbles with both the original Broadway and London albums is that “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” doesn’t have its dance break or big finish, both recordings repeat the refrain as they fade out. As a sort of consolation, Mr. Kimmel has included the song from the Italian cast album in its entirety as a bonus after the title song. Kimmel once again supplies the liner notes which covers much of the same area as the Broadway Promises, but gives a concise history of the London run.

As I said, the CD is sold out (though you may still be able to snag a copy on Footlight Records) so if you’ve missed out, I hope you’ve got a friend who’ll be nice and let you borrow their copy. You’ll definitely want to give this one a spin.

For the Love of Buckley

I would know that belt anywhere. Its distinctive timbre and resonance is the trademark of a voice that has wowed audiences with its agility for over forty years. Its possessor has always been noted for her ability to sing seemingly unattainable high notes with considerable ease. But up until last Saturday night, I had never had the privilege of seeing Betty Buckley live in performance. I’ve heard such great things from SarahB and Kari over the past few years, as they turn Betty’s annual gigs at Feinstein’s into the event of the season. One year they went twice in the same evening when the Tony-winning legend was performing two different shows. Much to my delight, the ladies asked me to tag along this year, as Betty returned with a brand new show of all material she had never sung before in public titled For the Love of Broadway.

The venue has fast become one of my favorite places to be in the last couple of months, with memorable evenings spent hearing Kate Baldwin and Tyne Daly. Last Saturday night I hit a trifecta with Ms. Buckley, who was once again working with her trio led by her long-time musical director Kenny Werner. Buckley’s new show is all Broadway music (as most people never want to hear her sing anything else), with an eclectic range from standards to cult favorites to a few contemporary numbers thrown into the mix. Aside from a brand new specialty written for her by John McDaniel and Erik Kornfield called, fittingly, “Belting”, I had heard almost every other song she sang before.

A magnanimous presence, she took the stage and launched into a medley of Rodgers and Hart tunes. It was clear to me instantly why my friends have been raving so rapturously. Betty picks up the microphone and immediately radiates warmth. She goes out of her way to include everyone in the venue including those on her periphery, like a hostess making sure every one of her guests is comfortable. Then she lets the music take over. Her patter was spare and concise – she was there to sing and did she ever. The song takes over her body, whether she is dancing along during an instrumental break or she is holding the microphone away from her to rip into a high note.

Betty loves jazz, and alluded tongue in cheek to those folks who want her to sing Broadway and only Broadway. Her response was the aforementioned specialty “When I Belt” which incorporated that full-throttled voice, with references to the many songs that have become her trademarks – and even a nod to that famed Cats gesture. But she got the last laugh as her entire evening was infused with jazz arrangements by Werner (who plays piano; the other two players were Billy Drewes on reeds/percussion and Tony Marino on bass). So she’s giving us Broadway, but on her terms. Now that’s a star.

I fell under her spell the moment she locked eyes with me during this opening set. The song was “This Can’t Be Love” and the lyric was “But still I love to look in your eyes.” I was sitting to her left right by the stage area, and she stood there and just gazed down with a big smile. I was hers for the next hour.

She jumped from Rodgers and Hart to Rodgers and Hammerstein singing a combination of “We Kiss in the Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I. There were many similar combinations from Golden Age shows. Here she paired “Bewitched” from Pal Joey with “Hey There” from The Pajama Game. While she sang the former, I couldn’t help but wonder why she didn’t play the role in the recent revival. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of anyone putting Come to Me, Bend to Me from Brigadoon with “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific, but there it was in seamless combination.

However, there were some contemporary pieces tossed in for good measure. She did quite well by “I’ve Been Here Before” from Closer Than Ever, but it was her funny and sincere rendition of “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q that stood out.

She paid homage to Elaine Stritch with the eleven o’clock number from the forgotten Goldilocks, “I Never Know When to Say When,” an introspective bluesy ballad that allowed Buckley to channel many Stritchisms (and also to celebrate Stritch’s recent 85th birthday). For a novelty, she brought up an audience member to be Clark Kent to her Sydney in “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. The night I attended, she chose her pal Michael Buckley (no relation), an online personality, whose eagerness to ham it up distracted from the set rather than contributed to it. On a side note, her younger brother Norman Buckley, a Hollywood director, was on hand and she deservedly gushed over his achievements.

The dramatic apex of the set appears in “If You Go Away” from Jacques Brel, with a heart-tugging reading that could well be definitive. It was the culmination of the lyrical color she had provided in her interpretations all evening – there was something warm but hard-edge. When she sings one of these songs, she will rip your heart out with her uncompromising honesty, but avoids becoming either overly sentimental or maudlin in doing so. It’s the balance that she finds that transforms Betty into a cabaret superstar.

The last number in the set was “Home” from The Wiz, which was unexpectedly moving. I don’t think that I had ever paid attention to the lyric, or perhaps I have never heard a rendition that highlighted the words quite like hers. For an encore she dipped into West Side Story for an understated rendition of “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story. On her way out to sing it, she clutched our Sarah on the top of her head with affection. It was a sight beyond compare; a diva so much in love with her audience.

Betty’s For the Love of Broadway runs until February 27 at Feinstein’s at the Regency. After that, I can only hope her next stop will be Broadway. Strike that, I hope the next stop is the recording studio because she needs to lay down these tracks as soon as possible. Then Broadway. (How about it, Betty Lynn?)

"Stars and the Moon"

It’s a song that I’ve heard often enough, whether on solo CDs or live in performance or even in acting classes. And it’s a song I’ve grown to despise as a result of all of those encounters. It doesn’t help that I’m not particularly sold on the show it’s from either. However, when traveling with Kari, Roxie and Sarah two months ago to Val-Kill and New Paltz, this rendition of that song popped on the iPod and I found myself rather impressed. Here is Betty Buckley singing “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. This time, the song had the credence of someone who made it seem as though she actually lived every word. I haven’t changed my mind on the song itself, but whenever Buckles is singing it, I will gladly listen.

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 8th grade for a book report and the only thing I remembered about it was that Charles Dickens died before he could finish it. Then a few years later in high school I discovered The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the musical and suddenly I became much more interested. With its book and score by Rupert Holmes, the musical was styled after the conventions of the British music hall. With no record as to who (spoiler alert) killed Edwin Drood, it was left to the audience to decide each performance. Then came out Betty Buckley in a pants role (meaning an actress playing a man) as Drood to belt the living daylights out of “The Writing on the Wall,” which ends with the famous E note. The sad news is the cast album has been out of print for years (there are two editions that go for monstrous amounts on amazon and e-bay), but if you ever get the chance, you need to hear Ms. B blast that song to high heaven. (Will someone reissue this… please?) The musical first played in Central Park as part of the Public’s summer lineup, presented by Joe Papp with direction by Wilford Leach and choreography from Graciela Daniele. As for the casting, the show starred Buckles, as well as George Rose (who won the Best Actor Tony), the sublime Cleo Laine as the Princess Puffer, Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour with Donna Murphy and Judy Kuhn in the ensemble. (Murphy replaced Buckley later in the run). Here is the original cast on the 1986 Tony awards.