She Loves Me – Menier Chocolate Factory

“My kingdom for a revival of She Loves Me!” is a thing I once tweeted. I fell in love with the original Broadway cast recording in high school, but it would be years before I would get to see it onstage. That chance arrived in 2013, when Ted Sterling presented a 50th anniversary concert at Caramoor. Cut to 2016. Exactly four years to the day after sending out this desperate missive, I was at the fourth preview of an enchanting revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory (and the second major production I’d seen this year).

She Loves Me is the ultimate charm show: a perfect confection of musical comedy writing that is romantic without being sentimental, witty without being self-aware, and heartwarming without being cloying. Based on the Miklós László play Parfumerie (source material for the films The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail), it’s about two coworkers are carrying on a profound correspondence by letter, not knowing that they work together — and loathe each other. Bock and Harnick’s score is one of the greatest in musical theatre. The songs are so character specific and integral to the plot that they don’t work as well without the context of Joe Masteroff’s expert libretto. The show is also blessed with one of the strongest second acts of a musical ever, with what I call The 11:00 Stretch from “Vanilla Ice Cream” to “Twelve Days to Christmas.”

She Loves Me has never become a household title, though it remains a cult favorite. Its original production was eclipsed by flashy blockbusters like Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl, running only nine months in spite of good notices and direction by Harold Prince. Every subsequent high-profile production has either been a financial failure or a limited engagement at a non-profit theatre.

My hat is off to director Matthew White, who pitches his production at a perfect pace. First and foremost, he trusts the material (even if saddled with the mostly-inferior 1993 revisions). He emphasizes the humanity of these characters, with profoundly funny and moving results. Secondly, his focus never strays far from the economic and political uncertainty of 1930s Europe. Finally, he uses the space with such economy and invention that it becomes impossible to resist the show’s intoxicating charms.

Mark Umbers and Scarlett Strallen play the feuding co-workers and would-be lovers. These two don’t just bicker, they hurl insults at each other like grenades. Their chemistry is sublime; combusting with euphoria in the one-two punch of “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “She Loves Me” in the second act. Umbers is immensely likable as the bookish and shy clerk, bringing out colors in the text that I’d never noticed before. Strallen, blessed with a lovely soprano, gives what feels like a close approximation of what Julie Andrews might have done with the part.

Katherine Kingsley is quite simply the best Ilona I’ve ever seen, combining expert comic timing with pathos. Kingsley’s real-life husband Dominic Tighe plays her Kodaly, the likable cad. They have a playfulness that most paired in the roles don’t have, and Tighe’s “Grand Knowing You” is an absolute riot. Alistair Brookshaw puts a new spin on weary, reliable Sipos, whose neuroses over job security wreak havoc on Georg’s life. Cory English plays the haughty head waiter with a mix of droll comedy and surprising warmth. Callum Howells is an endearing Arpad (and has the most charming Welsh accent) and Les Dennis (Mr. Maraczek) is particularly moving in his “Days Gone By” reprise. A favorite among the game ensemble: Aimee Hodnett. Ms. Hodnett’s nosy shop customer lived for the workplace drama at Maraczek’s, and I lived for the grace notes she was adding on the periphery.

Jason Carr’s new orchestrations sound better than the synth-heavy charts used in 1993. MTI should consider licensing his treatment for school, amateur and chamber productions. Catherine Jayes leads the band and conducts the show with sensitivity and depth. Paul Farnsworth’s jewel box of a set effectively uses four small turntables for transitions in and out of the shop. Farnsworth’s costumes are even better: his attention to period and character is beyond reproach.

She Loves Me runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory through March 4. No word yet on whether or not there will be a West End transfer. To the powers that be, I can only say: Don’t let it end, dear friends.

The Egregiously Overlooked

While I have seen my fair share of theatre in 2013, work and life managed to get in the way of my blogging. These are three productions that meant a great deal to me, and I felt compelled in these waning days of December (now that work is on the back-burner for a spell) to write about them.

She Loves Me (6/23/13, Caramoor). One of the most charming musicals ever written turned 50 this year. Ideally, this landmark event would have meant a full-scale Broadway revival, but instead it was the classy Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah who did the honors. The celebrated concert venue, which I had never been to before, presented a semi-staged concert of the original ’63 version, with an ideal cast, glorious musicianship and charm to spare. Joe Masteroff’s libretto is a model of economy, taste and charm, and Bock and Harnick’s score is tops – particular the string of second act showstoppers that I call the “eleven o’clock stretch.” Santino Fontana and Alexandra Silber, whom I had seen previously this year in the Collegiate Chorale’s classy concert of the ludicrous Song of Norway, were ideally cast.  Silber brings extraordinary intelligence to her acting, which complements and informs her lovely singing. Fontana should top any and all casting lists if a Broadway revival of this show were to happen; his performance was practically perfect.  The twosome were assisted by all-stars: John Cullum, Ryan Silverman, Brad Oscar, and Jonathan Freeman (reprising his Tony-nominated turn as the droll waiter), to name a few. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s played Don Walker’s delectable period arrangements. It was heaven on earth for 2 1/2 hours. I hope we can expect future delights at Caramoor.

The Assembled Parties (7/23/13, Friedman Theatre). Richard Greenberg’s strong, compelling play about an affluent Jewish family on decline left me with much to contemplate and several performances to savor. We were introduced to a troubled family with many secrets, led by the kind, open-hearted Julie (an astonishing Jessica Hecht) in the first act. Act two fast forwards 20 years with the many family members since deceased, and the matriarch approaching death. Nothing particularly earth-shattering or flashy happens over the course of the play, but the characters are compelling, and Greenberg leaves many questions raised by the first act left unanswered in the second – which adds to the complexity of the family and its members. One of the most striking aspects of the play was the relationship between Julie and her lovably gruff sister-in-law Faye (Tony-winning Judith Light). It feels rare in a contemporary play to see two female characters who share a deep loving bond and genuinely enjoy each other’s company – without feeling cloying, overly sentimental or saccharine.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (7.25 & 8.23.13, Golden Theatre). Hilarious, unexpectedly moving and surprising, this Christopher Durang play contained many delectable references and parallels to Chekhov, but was its own play, brought to life in a vibrant production. I saw this Tony winner twice. The first time with Sigourney Weaver and the second time with her replacement Julie White. Camps have been divided on the two portrayals of narcissistic movie star Masha, and the two performances couldn’t possibly have been more different. I liked both quite a bit. Weaver played her with a madcap Durang-ian sensibility, but grounded her affectingly in the final minutes of the play. White was more naturalistic throughout, with some killer line deliveries. David Hyde Pierce was exceptional as droll, peace-keeping Vanya, who tored the house down with his nostalgia-tinged Chekhovian meltdown in Act Two. Billy Magnussen was fearless as Masha’s dim boy-toy Spike, a would-be actor who is simultaneously endearing and repellent. Shalita Grant stole every scene as pseudo-psychic cleaning lady Cassandra.

However, the best performance in the play and quite possibly of my theatergoing year, was Kristine Nielsen as Sonia, the frumpy, self-pitying adopted sister who is prone to mood swings. Nielsen’s uproarious Maggie Smith impression would have been worth the price of admission were it not for her stunning phone call in the second act. After having spent most of the evening leaving us  from laughter, Nielsen brought about pin-drop silence as she took a phone call from a would-be suitor asking her on a date. We held our collective breath as Sonia awkwardly stumbled through the call; reluctant but eager, trying to say the right thing and working up the courage to say yes, when it would be so characteristic of her to say no. I wish Vanya had been open-ended; I would have been in and out of the Golden many, many more times.

Act One Finale

My musical theatre professor Stephen Kitsakos teaches his classes about various song types heard in musicals. He would start at the very beginning with the overture and progress in sequence through the general structure of a musical. However, my two favorites were always the eleven o’clock number and act one finale. The eleven o’clock number is that last showstopper that galvanizes or energizes the audience just prior to the finale. With the act one finale, Stephen (facetiously) said its most important function is to entice the audience to return after intermission. That is merely one aspect (and truth be told, a valid one). It should also serve to move the story forward and provide a sort of button for what has been seen so far. There are dozens and dozens of different numbers that come to mind, but I’ll keep it to a few examples.

Dreamgirls. Michael Bennett’s staggering finish to act one is the stuff of theatre legend. The Supremes-like trio is on the rise, but everyone is forced to deal with Effie White’s diva temperament. Effie, the overweight lead singer finds herself pushed to back up position for the prettier Deena. The first act ends with her being kicked out of the Dreams, with a volatile confrontation (“It’s All Over”). Effie sings of not feeling well and pains in her stomach, which hint at the pregnancy revealed in the second act when she struggles to make a comeback. The original production’s first act ended with Jennifer Holliday’s impassioned and defiant “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” a force of nature showstopper that earned the star standing ovations mid-song. There are reports of people standing on their chairs and running down the aisles to the stage screaming while she was riffing. Bennett; however, brilliantly cut off Effie’s moment by upstaging her applause with the debut of the new Dreams as the curtain falls.


A Little Night Music. Stephen Sondheim has written phenomenal act one finales for his shows, but this one in particular is quite dazzling. Fredrik and Desiree have reconnected after fifteen years apart. He’s married to an 18 year old virgin. His 19 year old son is in love with his stepmother. Desiree’s lover is insanely jealous, his wife tells the virgin about Fredrik and Desiree having a fling. As the show approaches the end of the first act, Desiree unhatches a plan to win Fredrik back for good by inviting him and his family to her mother’s estate for “A Weekend in the Country.”


South Pacific. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Joshua Logan ended the first act of the show with a musical scene rather than a curtain number. It’s mostly dialogue between the two protagonists, interspersed with reprises of Nellie’s upbeat songs heard so far. The scene takes a serious turn when Emile and the audience discover a new, uglier facet of Nellie’s personality when she reveals her racial prejudices against Emile’s deceased Polynesian wife. The final reprise in the act is Emile’s “Some Enchanted Evening,”  first sung as an expression of love to Nellie, but is now in an entirely new context.


She Loves Me. My favorite musical comedy. The first act ends with Georg realizing that Amalia, his arch nemesis at work, is his lonely-hearts correspondent and soul mate. Knowing this information, he irritates Amalia, who is quite insecure as to whether or not Dear Friend will actually show up. Georg’s teasing leads to an argument between the two and Amalia dismisses him with a withering summation of his character flaws. The quieter-than-usual first act finale is her plaintive plea, “don’t let it end, Dear Friend,” a gentle waltz that brings down the curtain as she becomes quite aware that she has been stood up.


Gypsy. I don’t know that you an have a discussion about act one finales without bringing up Gypsy. Madame Rose dominates the musical and has three major solos that are all at eleven o’clock quality. I look at Rose’s character arc through these three numbers: “Some People” is a defiant expression of her determination, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is her desperation and “Rose’s Turn” is her defeat. As the show approaches the end of the first act, favored daughter Dainty June runs off with Tulsa, the rest of the act walks away while faithful Louise and Herbie want nothing more than to settle down. Rose, ever the pioneer woman without a frontier, sets her sights on bringing stardom to the overlooked Louise, in an incredibly chilling moment where it becomes clear that Rose will stop at nothing.


Bock and Harnick

While reading about the death of composer Jerry Bock this morning, I was simultaneously listening to show music on shuffle. I kept reading through the numerous obituaries and tributes online and suddenly one of his songs would pop up (both with lyricist Sheldon Harnick and without). From “The Sabbath Prayer” to “When Did I Fall in Love?” to “Three Letters” to “Pleasure and Privilege” to “Gorgeous,” etc and so forth; it seemed almost like clockwork that every three or four songs there was someone singing a song written by Mr. Bock.

Bock and Harnick wrote what I consider my favorite musical comedy, She Loves Me, which I only talked about at length only a couple weeks ago. While both men have written many different scores with different people, it is their collaboration for which both will be remembered. When I put together my playlists for itunes, I go through every album of mine and pick the songs I want to hear repeatedly. There are some albums where I find I can’t pick just one, so I put the whole thing into the mix. I didn’t realize it at the time, but today while listening to my music and reading various obituaries and tributes to the composer, I realized that I had put every single original cast album of Bock and Harnick musicals into my “Broadway Favorites” playlist.

It seems so strange to be seeing these names coming up so often in obituaries over the last two weeks. First, the death of Tom Bosley brought Fiorello! back into the forefront as fans – and Bosley’s friend and colleague Henry Winkler – fondly recalled the star’s Tony-winning performance in the show. Then just ten days ago, 98 year Joseph Stein, the librettist of Fiddler on the Roof passed away. I’ve been listening to the Bock and Harnick shows over the last couple of weeks as a result, so I was surprised when I heard the news this morning. Mr. Harnick survives his collaborators.

Fiddler is their ultimate legacy, with world-wide universal appeal and constant revivals, and a beautiful, klezmer-kissed score whose selections live on in the world of the show and also at various weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals. However, for as much as I love that show I am astounded by the entire output of these two men. Every one of their scores is worth hearing again and again, for the craftsmanship and the heart.

Over the course of the day, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on all of their shows and overall contribution to musical theatre. Together, Bock and Harnick were among the best of the best. Their scores were always written with the motivations of plot and character first and foremost. When She Loves Me was playing out of town, Jack Cassidy was hitting a home run in the second act with his farewell number “My American Drugstore.” You’d think that would be the end of it. But Bock and Harnick, along with librettist Joe Masteroff and director Harold Prince, felt that it wasn’t right for that moment. Instead, they wrote a more personal character-based number called “Grand Knowing You” which did ultimately serve the character of Kodaly – and it still brought down the house. Cassidy would win the production’s sole Tony award.

What’s interesting to me is that while it’s easy to identify a Bock and Harnick show, each one has its own distinctive voice. The Apple Tree, in a way, best exemplifies my point: the show is made up of three separate (if thematically linked) musicals- “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” “The Lady and the Tiger” and “Passionella.” Bock and Harnick, along with orchestrator Eddie Sauter, gave each act its own sound. Fiorello! and Tenderloin, both New York musicals, evoke their respective eras (1910-20s, 1890s respectively) without sounding too much alike. While Tenderloin failed, and contained the same creative team as the Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello!, it isn’t without merit (“Artificial Flowers” is a delight and I esp. love the way-of-the-world act one finale “How the Money Changes Hands”).

Another line that has been running through my head all day comes from a more recent musical, [title of show]. In the number “Nine People’s Favorite Thing,” the characters sing “When Bock and Harnick were writing Tenderloin, they were taking a risk to write a show about whores.” They were right. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick may not have revolutionized the musical in the way that Sondheim or Kander and Ebb did with concept shows, but together they were masters of the art, with an undeniable gift for melody, wit and panache.

Their collaboration came to an end during The Rothschilds with a massive falling out over the firing of the original director for Michael Kidd. The duo made amends, but only collaborated one more time – for “Topsy Turvy” which was interpolated into the 2004 revival of Fiddler (replacing “The Rumor”). I have to admit, I do sometimes wonder what sort of charming musicals we’ve missed out on as a result of their rift, but I am most grateful for the high quality of their output.

The team hadn’t written a musical in 40 years, but even in that the decades that have followed, they’re still known mostly for their 13 year collaboration. Somewhere in the world right now, Tevye is having a conversation with God. She Loves Me has never been a major commercial success on Broadway, but it’s a beloved favorite of many and is performed with great frequency (and should come back to Broadway sooner than later). Broadway has seen revivals of these two shows, as well as The Apple Tree. The first musical presented by City Center Encores! was Fiorello! They are immense talents, and for me, the world is a little less cheery today that Bock’s musical voice, with its seemingly unending range, has been silenced.

I’ll tell you one thing – those original cast albums will never leave my playlist.

“She Loves Me”: An Appreciation

When people find out that I’m an avid theatergoer or that I know a lot about musicals, I get asked “So, what’s your favorite?” It’s not the easiest question to be asked, and the same goes for favorite book (East of Eden? To Kill a Mockingbird?) or movie (The Third Man? The Godfather?). I really don’t know and hate having to make a decision. I try whittling it down and leave myself several options as that remains more indicative of range, taste and interest. However, there are my “top three” that I use as a quick answer: The Light in the Piazza, She Loves Me and Sweeney Todd.

Piazza stems from an intensely personal experience with the show, which I saw 12 times in its original Broadway run. Sweeney Todd is one of the most brilliant and audacious ideas I’ve ever seen executed in a musical, and I got to see it on Broadway in its acclaimed 2005 revival. It’s a slightly different story with She Loves Me: I’ve never seen it live. I’ve watched the 1978 BBC-TV version and I own two versions of the libretto – the original 1963 text and 1993 revision. I have the four English language cast albums, the Viennese cast, two instrumentals plus a live recording of the 1977 Town Hall revival with Madeline Kahn and Barry Bostwick and the composer demo. A few weeks ago I picked up an original playbill at the Broadway Flea Market.

The musical, with a sublime score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and a sharp, near-perfect libretto by Joe Masteroff, opened on Broadway in 1963. It was Harold Prince‘s first original directorial project. (He stepped into the troubled A Family Affair after the original director didn’t work out). Officially based on Miklos Laszlo‘s play Parfumerie, you might recognize the plot from the various films inspired by the same source: The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail. A guy and a girl fight and bicker every time they see each other (in all but You’ve Got Mail, they’re coworkers) and unbeknownst to them they are smitten pen pals who meet through a lonely-hearts ad.

For the musical, Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey were hired to play the at-odds lovers Amalia and Georg. Julie Andrews was originally sought, but due to some filming requirements she was unavailable. She told Prince that if he could wait, she’d do it, but he was adamant about getting the show up and moved on. Rounding out the cast were Nathaniel Frey (who was also part of Prince, Bock & Harnick’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning Fiorello! four years prior), Jack Cassidy, Barbara Baxley, Ludwig Donath and Ralph Williams. Carol Haney provided the musical staging.

The jewel box of a show opened to rave reviews at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where it ran for 302 performances and folded at a loss, overshadowed by bigger musicals that year. It was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical, but only took home one award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Cassidy, as the lothario). Its original London staging, which featured some changes for the British audiences, lasted 189 performances. Andrews was set to reclaim the role that was almost hers in a film adaptation opposite Dick Van Dyke. However, when film musicals started falling out of favor toward the end of the 1960s, those plans were scrapped.

In spite of its financial failure, the show remained a favorite of musical enthusiasts. The show was revived by Roundabout in 1993 in a highly acclaimed production starring Boyd Gaines (who won a Tony) and Judy Kuhn. The show was popular enough to warrant a commercial transfer, moving to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for an extended run of 354 performances. However, it once again closed in the red. The Roundabout revival crossed the pond for its first London revival earning Ruthie Henshall an Olivier. The production ran a year, but it too lost money.

So the show doesn’t guarantee coin, but it is, in my estimation, one of the most perfectly constructed musicals ever written and is hugely popular with colleges and regional theatres. I am particularly taken with the characters and how real and three-dimensional they seem, especially George and Amalia. We have a glimpse into two musical theatre characters who aren’t the juvenile and ingenue singing stock platitudes about falling in love. Instead we see two real people, lonely yet lovable, singing of their insecurities and fears and the discovery of falling in love. This charm pervades the other characters; even the cad is somewhat lovable. Out of the numerous variations of Lazslo’s play, this is my favorite (though I enjoy the Lubitsch touch on The Shop Around the Corner).

I first discovered the score in high school, borrowing the original cast CD from the library. In an unusual move for a cast album, MGM Records gave the score a 2-LP set, allowing the entire score to be preserved. This original cast album is one of my all time favorites, with definitive performances and sumptuous original orchestrations by Don Walker, whose charts expertly evoke an Eastern European sound and style. The comic numbers are genuinely funny and honest and Amalia’s ballads are among the best musical theatre material ever written for a soprano. The OBCR is one of those albums I would take with me to that proverbial desert island; one of my holiday traditions is to play the cast album every Christmas Eve (which is the night of the show’s climax). It also preserves one of the most satisfying finales in musical theatre history.

The song that first stood out to me on that first listen turned out to be the most famous song from the score: “Ice Cream.” I’ve cited it before as an example of what I call “Musical Theatre Zen” but it bears repeating that it’s one of the loveliest theatre songs ever written. Amalia, thinking she was jilted by “Dear Friend” (who is naturally Georg, who helped ruin her evening by showing up as himself and antagonizing her), is home sick from work. George comes to apologize, get her to go to work and brings her a carton of vanilla ice cream to cheer her up. Renewed and refreshed, she sets about writing another letter, but is now distracted by this new admiration for her former enemy, culminating on a joyous mock cadenza with high B natural. It came full circle for me in 2003, when I sat third row center at Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Peekskill, NY. Cook, then 76, sang the song and stopped her show with a flawless interpretation – and in the original key too. (This song and “Tell Me I Look Nice” which was cut out of town made Sondheim’s list of songs he wished he had written).

I’d love to see a NY revival of the musical. Even though it was last seen on Broadway in 1994, I think audiences would once again welcome the show with open arms. A current Chicago production once again brought the piece raves. It would be nice to see this charming musical brought back to Broadway for another generation. Or just for me.

Another Snowy-Blowy Christmas

We are expecting a major winter storm here in the NY area tomorrow and Christmas is only one week away. This year the season itself seems to be flying away so rapidly that I can hardly believe it. It’s been a dicey holiday season given the times in which we live. People are worrying about employment, the economy, our, well, everything. Anyway, for the first time in a long time I have been swept up in the season so I thought I’d give a very brief list of some of the my personal favorite musical theatre-related Christmas songs. If there’s anything you think I’ve overlooked, feel free to comment (and no, “I Don’t Remember Christmas” from Starting Here, Starting Now does not count).

“Twelve Days to Christmas” – She Loves Me. This song is a brilliant summation of Christmas in retail – from the perspectives of both the employees and consumers. The advancement of the plot from December 13 through the evening of the 24th is your typical Bock & Harnick – charm, wit and (very importantly) plot and character development. The song starts in a leisurely tempo, with book scenes interspliced showing how the two lead characters are growing fond of each other, but each time we go back to the song the tempo picks up pace until it becomes a full out patter verse complete with malapropisms on Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful way to build the show to its inevitable and breathtakingly simple finale between Amalia and Georg. (And if you recall, I listen to the cast album every Christmas Eve).

“Pine Cones and Holly Berries” – Here’s Love. This musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street opened in late 1963 to less than stellar critical response in spite of a cast that included Janis Paige, Craig Stevens and Laurence Naismith (others included Fred Gwynne, Baayork Lee and Michael Bennett). Written and composed by Meredith Willson, the show wasn’t his best effort, but did feature a showstopping opening – a march overture that segued into an onstage recreation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Willson incorporated his already popular “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” but he turned it into a quodlibet by adding this song as a counterpoint. (Interesting note: many people know that “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Goodnight My Somone” were written to complement each other, but did you know that a contrapuntal reprise of “My White Knight” and “The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl” was originally written for the scene prior to Harold’s arrest?) Apparently, this is a favorite Christmas number for the Osmonds.

“We Need a Little Christmas” – Mame. Nothing like the world’s favorite aunt declaring an early holiday in order to raise everyone’s spirits. However, given our current economic state, the song is as timely as ever. But it is a sheer joy to see and hear; especially as delivered on the original cast album by Angela Lansbury, Jane Connell, Sab Shimino and Frankie Michaels, which remains the definitive recording of this ever-popular holiday favorite. Here is a clip of the replacement cast led by Jane Morgan (Helen Gallagher is Gooch!!) performing the original staging on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Here’s the real thing:

“Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus?” – Flahooley An utterly enchanting little Christmas song from this flop score by Sammy Fain and Yip Harbourg. Jerome Courtland and the effervsescent Barbara Cook in her Broadway debut lead this gem.

“Be a Santa” – Subways Are For Sleeping. Note how many of these Christmas songs have many of our best Jewish composers behind them. Irving Berlin led the way with “White Christmas,” “Happy Holiday”. We also have Sammy Fain and Jerry Herman represented here. Now it’s Jule Styne; with his steady collaborators Comden & Green. The show is most famous now for David Merrick’s publicity stunt and for Phyllis Newman’s Tony-winning tour de force as Miss Martha Vail (particularly in that ‘musical dramatic playlet written and directed by huhself’, “I Was a Shoo-In”). Sydney Chaplin leads this company number (once again we have Michael Kidd staging) in which Salvation Army Santa Claus’ dancing up a storm.

And of course, that perennial favorite from Promises Promises. “Turkey Lurkey Time” I know I posted this video last year, but hell, it’s Christmas and to steal from my friends at [title of show], this is something you want to enjoy 24-7.

Musical Theatre Zen: The Barbara Cook Edition

One of my most indelible theatre memories is from the day Barbara Cook brought Mostly Sondheim to my town. (Can you imagine my surprise? Barbara Cook in my town?!) Anyway, I made a great to-do about it and had many of my friends come with me to see her in action. Cook is known for the way she inhabits a lyric. Her sound has darkened as she’s gotten older, but the tone is still exorbitantly clear and inviting. The atmosphere at a Barbara Cook concert is akin to visiting your favorite grandmother: intimacy, warmth and graciousness pouring out over the footlights.

There she was, one of the definitive musical theatre actresses of all time, interpreting the songs that Sondheim had written – and those he wished he had, at least in part. We had plenty of Harold Arlen, some a touch of Irving Berlin, and of course, the works of Sondheim himself. The highlight for me came toward the end of the concert when she discussed how three of the songs on the list were those which she originally sang in Candide and She Loves Me. The first, of course, being the death-defying coloratura aria “Glitter and Be Gay.” (“I ain’t gonna be singin’ that one tonight… I ain’t been a-goin’ to sing that for a loooong time.”)

The other two were “Tell Me I Look Nice,” a cute 5/4 number that was originally just before “Will He Like Me,” and of course, the one she recreated for us in concert, “Ice Cream.” This piece is one of the most impressive character songs I’ve ever heard, and is something of a signature for Cook. I can still recall the first time I heard the score to She Loves Me, one of my top three shows, and this was the song I played again and again. That night, four and a half years ago, I was nearer to Heaven than I could even realize at the time. And at the age of 75, her climactic high B natural rang out like freedom. Enjoy…

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. A glorious night of the year, where it feels as if things in the world are, albeit briefly, alright. This year, I am home alone for the holidays as my parents are in Malaysia with my brothers. Never fear, I muddle on through. I have continued my wondrous Christmas Eve tradition of listening to the original cast album of She Loves Me, not only one of the most glorious musical comedies written, but a show that finds its incredibly touching finale take place on Christmas Eve. As I type, the “Ice Cream” reprise scene between Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook is playing out, one of those zen moments when you know that a musical can be salve for a weary soul.

Merry Christmas, kids.