Sunday, December 20, 2009

Joeseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2009 SLOC Production)

Last weekend I was treated to another delightful production by the Schenectady Light Opera Company: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Although I had heard the music from it a few times, I had never seen a production of it before. SLOC's production had a young, urban theme to it with a set of scaffolding and graffitied walls. The audience was even younger than the usual sea of gray heads I tend to seen around me. Before the show started I couldn't help noticing some rather obnoxious young people talking on their cell phones. I wasn't too happy about this, and thought they might disrupt the performance. But I convinced myself that it was important for new generations to become acquainted with musical theater. Little did I know that these young people were part of the performance! When the first notes began, the rowdy audience member ran to the stage and revealed themselves to be Joseph's eleven brothers!

Again, I was blown away by the quality of the cast. Everyone truly had an excellent voice, particularly the narrator and Joseph. Like all of the Webber/Rice musicals, it is sung throughout with no dialogue, which seems to me must be challenging for performers. The only slight flaw with the production, which was also true of The Pajama Game, was that the sound mixing was sometimes off. At times the music overwhelmed the voices. It wasn't consistent with any one singer, but affected everyone at one time or another. This was more of an issue in this production since it is all sung and must be heard to understand what's going on. Hopefully this will be alleviated when the company moves to it's new home in a larger theater next year.

Every song in the musical is enjoyable, but here are a couple I especially liked in the SLOC production. These videos are from the 1999 Great Performances production with Donny Osmond.

Joseph's Dream:

Courtesy of OfficalRUG on YouTube

They had corn in Israel then?


Courtesy of OfficialRUG on YouTube

Since I enjoyed The Pajama Game so much, I volunteered to serve as an usher for future performances. So after seeing Saturday night's performance, I was lucky enough to serve as an usher for Sunday's matinee performance. This was a lot of fun, and I could see myself becoming more and more involved in SLOC (culminating with my one-woman production of South Pacific).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Anchors Aweigh (1945)

This past week I watched MGM's 1945 classic Anchors Aweigh featuring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. I know I saw this one a long, long time ago, but I had only a dim recollection of not liking it for some reason. This seemed unlikely, since I like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and many World War II musicals are among my favorites. So it seemed appropriate to give this another try. I still didn't like it.

Joe (Kelly) and Clarence (Sinatra) are two sailors on a 4 day leave. They are coerced into helping little Dean Stockwell return home after he runs away to join the Navy. They meet his beautiful Aunt Susie, an aspiring singer, played by Kathryn Grayson, and Clarence falls for her. Joe tells her they will get her an audition with Jose Iturbi so she will go out with Clarence. They then try to meet Iturbi and set up an audition. In the meantime, Joe and Susie fall for each other and Clarence realizes he's better suited to a sassy waitress from Brooklyn. By chance Susie meets Iturbi, who does give her an audition everything works out in the end.

This two and a half hour musical doesn't contain any memorable songs, isn't very funny, and doesn't even have a lot of good dancing in it. Of course it contains the famous dance with animated Jerry Mouse. Although I know this was very impressive for the time, I didn't particularly like it. I much preferred the Mexican Hat Dance Scene:

Courtesy of SpaceComics on YouTube

This movie did have a few bright spots, though. First was seeing Gene Kelly in his skivvies. Second was Joe and Clarence convincing another suitor that Susie is very friendly with the entire US Navy. And third was Clarence mistaking Jose Iturbi for a piano tuner.

This isn't a bad movie, but if you want to see Kelly and Sinatra as sailors on leave, watch On the Town instead.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pajama Game (2009 SLOC Production)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of The Pajama Game by the Schenectady Light Opera Company. SLOC is devoted to producing four musicals a year. Regrettably, I’ve only seen one previous performance there: the 2000 production of Little Me. This was truly excellent, and I’m not really sure why I haven’t been back in nine years. I’m very sorry to have missed some of their past productions like Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie (even without “The Tapioca”), but I don’t feel too bad about missing Assassins and The Full Monty. Still, I have to give them credit for branching out from the old favorites.

When I saw that The Pajama Game was on the roster, I decided to get tickets. Although I had enjoyed Little Me, I arrived at The Pajama Game with some trepidation. The previous weekend I saw a local dramatic production, and it was less than stellar. I won’t say what it was, but let’s just say that last night I dreamt I went to Schenectady – and it was a nightmare. Thankfully, The Pajama Game left me with only pleasant dreams.

The Pajama Game (music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; book by George Abbott & Richard Bissell) features some well-known songs like "Hey There," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway." I missed the recent Broadway revival with Harry Connick Jr., but I have seen the 1957 Doris Day/John Raitt movie version.

The SLOC version was delightful. Initially I was concerned about the casting of the leads. The Sid Sorokin character seemed to be much younger than the Babe Williams character (although the actors may have been about the same age). Any doubts that I had evaporated when I heard Josh Gray, playing Sid Sorokin, sing. He has a beautiful voice, and I hope he will be in future productions (I'm thinking Joe Cable. They haven't done South Pacific since 1967). Natalie Bain as Babe was also excellent. The supporting cast was also stellar, in particular Kevin X. McNamara as Hines.

The only slight flaws in the production were technical; sometimes the sound mixing wasn't quite right. Other than that, I was blown away by the quality of the performers. Since I can't share this performance, I'll share some of my favorite songs from other productions.

Here's the 2006 Broadway Revival cast performing "There Once was a Man" and "Hernando's Hideaway":

Courtesy of sftMusicals on YouTube.

Here is the great version of "Steam Heat" from the movie:

Courtesy of MarcosCohen on YouTube

Since The Pajama Game was so enjoyable, I'm planning on seeing their next production, Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat in December.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Evita (1996)

I tend to prefer older musicals, probably because that's what I grew up hearing. Anything written after 1970 seems "new" to me, and you won't find Les Miserables, Sunday in the Park with George, or Legally Blonde: The Musical among my collection of recordings. Perhaps the only exception is the one modern musical I did listen to growing up: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. My father had a tape of the 1979 Broadway recording of Evita starring Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin (and Bob Gunton as Juan Peron), and I listened to it often enough to know all the words by heart.

I was very excited to hear about a movie version being made in the 1990s. However, when the casting of Madonna as Eva Peron was announced, I was appalled (as was much of Argentina). I didn't like Madonna's music in the '80s and didn't think she was up to the part (although I now realize her music is far superior to that of Britney Spears and the like). So it was with trepidation that I entered the theater in 1996 to watch the film version of Evita. Let me say I was extremely impressed with Madonna's performance and especially taken with Antonio Banderas as Che.

Fast-forward 13 years to 2009. After seeing Antonio Banderas in the dance film Take the Lead, I put Evita on the Netflix queue and it finally made its way to the top last week. I was interested in seeing how the movie has held up and if I still enjoyed it as much as the first time. And the answer is: Yes! A qualified yes!

Although Madonna was actually five years older than Eva Peron was when she died in 1952, she still was convincing, even as as a young Eva going to the big city for the first time:

Courtesy of Resylan on YouTube.

As good as Madonna was, Antonio Banderas was even better. As much as I like Mandy Patinkin, I think I actually prefer Antonio Banderas' performance. It's hard to pick out one song, since Che is integral to almost every scene, but I think "Oh What a Circus is best":

Courtesy of Resylan on YouTube.

My favorite song of the musical is actually "I'd be Surprisingly Good for You". This is one case where I definitely prefer the Broadway version, but this one featuring Madonna and Jonathan Pryce as Juan Peron is still very good:

Courtesy of mjovic87 on YouTube.

Overall the production was excellent and costumes were also spectacular. One can almost understand how this young woman rose from poverty to become the beloved first lady of Argentina. Although the musical doesn't sugarcoat the reality that the Perons were fascists, it hard not to empathize with Eva and even shed a tear when she sings her last notes.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

South Pacific (2009 Lincoln Center Production)

The one thing better than watching a musical on film is seeing a live performance. And that's even better when it's a performance of the first Broadway revival your favorite musical.

When the first official Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific opened at Lincoln Center (in the Vivian Beaumont Theater) in March of 2008, I didn't even consider going to see it. First, because tickets were very hard to come by, and second, because I figured I would be disappointed by it in some way. Since I have seen at least four other productions and the movie countless times and know every word of the dialogue and songs by heart, I was sure I would find some fault in this production. Perhaps it would be nothing special, or worse, try to change or modernize the story like the dreadful TV version with Glenn Close or the revival of Flower Drum Song a few years back.

When the Lincoln Center production won the 2008 Tony award for best revival and the original limited run was extended, making tickets a possibility, it struck me that I had to see this production. In fact, it literally came to me in a dream. I found that a few local bus companies were offering day trips to see a matinee. However, by this time the original cast had changed with Paulo Szot, who won the 2008 Tony for best actor, being replaced temporarily. By April 2009 he had returned, but female lead Kelli O'Hara left on maternity leave. Not wanting to wait any longer in case they never played the parts together again, I decided to see the show this past Wednesday, April 29, 2009. The original production of South Pacific opened 60 years ago in April 1949.

This production was spectacular. Paulo Szot was phenomenal as Emile de Becque. His voice is beautiful, even better than the original Ezio Pinza in my opinion. Also, it did not hurt that he is extremely handsome. The role of Nellie was played by Laura Osnes. I had never heard of her, but she starred in Grease on Broadway, apparently winning the part in one of those reality TV shows. She was delightful, and at only 24 (10 years younger than Kelli O'Hara), is about the same age as the character is supposed to be. The supporting cast was also excellent. Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre, both nominated for Tonys, were wonderful as Luther Billis and Bloody Mary. Andrew Samonsky as Joe Cable was the the only casting I was not completely happy with. Although he looked right for the part, and his singing voice is beautiful, he spoke in a strange stilted manner. I don't know if this was meant to convey that he was a haughty, Princeton-educated blue blood, but he didn't sound like someone who came from Philadelphia high society to me. Liat was played by the lovely Li Jun Li.

Here's a clip from the 2008 Tony Awards (it's good for a taste, but doesn't do it justice - the songs seem too fast):

Courtesy of LincolnCenterTheater on YouTube

Here's Loretta Ables Sayre singing Bali Ha'i:

Courtesy of LincolnCenterTheater on YouTube

The sets and costumes were also wonderful. I especially liked the Thanksgiving Follies costumes made out of Life magazines! I do have a few tiny criticisms that most people would not pick up on. Lt. Cable is shown wearing aviator's wings, but but he is not a pilot. Lt. Buzz Adams (a major character in the book Tales of the South Pacific, but minor in the musical) is dressed as a Marine Corps pilot, but he was in the Navy. The life-size plane that was on stage for some of the musical numbers does not resemble any plane used by the US - it actually looks more like a Japanese Zero! Also, at one point three Seabees were dancing on the wing - you actually are not supposed to step on the wing.

All in all, this production surpassed my expectations and definitely deserved the Tony award. Now I need to buy the album for my collection of South Pacific recordings.

The Schenectady connection: thankfully there is no mention of Schenectady in South Pacific, but I did see it surrounded by people from Schenectady. It turns out Nellie was not the only "hick from the sticks."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Man of La Mancha (1972)

It seems New Year's resolutions are meant to be broken, even ones as foolproof as spending more time in front of the TV. I guess next year I'll resolve to exercise less and eat more, too.

Anyway, after a month-long hiatus, I watched another musical: 1972's Man of La Mancha by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion. Although I grew up listening to my parent's record of the original Broadway cast, I don't count this one among my special favorites. I don't think I was even aware there was a movie version until I saw it as choice for instant viewing on Netflix. Not having tried the instant download feature before and knowing this was definitely one my husband would not want to watch, I decided to watch it from the discomfort of my own desk. I was pleased with the instant download, but the movie itself was a bit drab. In fact, it was brown. Everything was brown. There was no other colors save for some black and white. I guess that wasn't out of place for the early 70s, but they could have at least used some avocado green or harvest gold.

Cervantes and his faithful servant become prisoners of the Spanish Inquisition (they weren't expecting that). While awaiting their fate in the dungeon, Cervantes tells the other prisoners of his story: Don Quixote de La Mancha, which is acted out with the help of the prisoners. Peter O'Toole plays Cervantes/Don Quixote, James Coco plays Sancho Panza, and Sophia Loren plays Aldonza/Dulcinea. Apparently Peter O'Toole had a voice double, while Sophia Loren did her own singing. I think it would have worked out better the other way around.

Of course the most well-known and memorable song of the movie is considered to be "The Impossible Dream." But this isn't my favorite song. Perhaps inexplicably, my favorite song has always been "I'm Only Thinking of Him." In this song, Don Quixote's niece and housekeeper share their "concerns" about his well-being with their priest. The song is a bit different (and better) in the stage version, but here is the movie version (courtesy of junikid on YouTube):

Unfortunately, I have had this song in my head for 24 hours straight now. Woe-o, Woe-o.

The Schenectady Connection: Since several other movie musicals have mentioned Schenectady, I was expecting a mention in this one, too, but no luck. However, I did see Man of La Mancha at Proctor's Theater in Schenectady a few years back (actually 10 years ago - that can't be right!). And the role of Cervantes/Don Quixote was played by Broadway legend Robert Goulet.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Flying Down to Rio - 1933

Since, I enjoyed Carefree so much, I decided to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' first pairing: RKO's 1933 film Flying Down to Rio. In fact, this movie was Fred Astaire's screen debut, although Ginger had many previous film credits to her name. Fred and Ginger were not the stars of this film, though. The action focused on a love triangle between beautiful Dolores del Rio and her Brazilian fiance (Raul Roulien) and an American bandleader/aviator (Gene Raymond). Fred and Ginger provided some lively singing and dancing in the context of the plot.

The movie features two big production numbers. "The Carioca" is Fred and Ginger's first dance together:

Courtesy of RetroArcaicoRex on YouTube.

The big finale features girls "dancing" on the wings of airplanes:

Courtesy of AnnaMayWongSociety on YouTube.

Both of these productions, and the whole movie, are beautiful, glamorous, and even humorous. This was one movie I really wish could have been in color. Although it was spectacular in black and white, I can only imagine how gorgeous the 1930s costumes would have been in color. This must have been a welcome distraction for the nation at the height of the Great Depression.

Astonishingly, this movie, like It's Always Fair Weather, made mention of Schenectady! A Brazilian bandleader told the American band he had played in Ska-neck-teddy!

This DVD, like the one for Carefree, also included some bonuses: a Three Stooges short and a Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon, "I Like Mountain Music" from 1933 :

Courtesy of ErgoB on YouTube.

I enjoyed this cartoon because it featured characters from magazines in a drugstore coming to life (but be forewarned - it also has the obligatory offensive racial stereotypes).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Carefree (1938)

I've gotten a bit behind with posting, but the last musical I watched was RKO's 1938 offering Carefree. I was perusing the library's large collection of musicals on DVD and this one was the first I picked up. When I saw that the cover exclaimed "See them do 'The Yam'" I was hooked! I have to admit I haven't seen many of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, but this seemed like a good place to start.

Although this musical only had four numbers and there wasn't much bursting into song, two criticisms I had about In the Good Old Summertime, I loved this movie. Of course the dancing was great and the Astaire-Rogers chemistry was fun to watch (if only his head wasn't shaped so strangely...). Fred plays a psychiatrist who agrees to analyze his friend's girlfriend (Ginger) who doesn't want to get married. Of course, Ginger falls in love with Fred instead. The friend is played by Ralph Bellamy. It was interesting for me to see him as a young man as I've only seen him playing FDR in the Winds of War and War and Remembrance miniseries.

The Irving Berlin score was thoroughly enjoyable. "The Yam" did live up to expectations. In fact, I don't understand why it hasn't become a classic like "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." There seem to be some copyright issues with posting the songs from the movie on-line, but I've found a nice performance by Clodagh Rodgers from a BBC special:

Courtesy of schwint on YouTube.

Any yam today?

The DVD featured a number of bonuses including a fantastic Warner Bros. cartoon, "September in the Rain." (Please note that this contains racial stereotypes prevalent in the 1930s/40s that would be considered offensive today - please don't watch if you think you might be offended.)

Courtesy of grannyfone1 on YouTube.

The DVD also included a short from a 1941 called "Public Jitterbug No. 1" with Betty Hutton. Oddly, there was no jitterbugging at all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

This week's musical was 1949's In the Good Old Summertime, another MGM musical I had never seen before. I chose this one because it was available on TCM on Demand. Our normal TCM station was not working properly, so I couldn't watch an old favorite On the Town as I had originally planned.

In the Good Old Summertime stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson. It's a musical version of the 1940 comedy The Shop Around the Corner. For those of you who have not seen this musical, the original movie it was based on, or its latest incarnation as You've Got Mail, the plot is this: Veronica (Judy) and Andy (Van) are anonymous pen pals and have fallen in love through their letters. Unbeknownst to them, they start working at the same music store and hate each other. The pen pals decide to meet, but when Andy sees it's Veronica, he leaves before she sees him. He's horrified, but somehow he begins to fall in love with her - and she with him. Then he reveals the truth and they live happily ever after.

I enjoyed The Shop Around the Corner when I saw it years ago, and I like Judy Garland and Van Johnson, so this seemed like a sure winner. This movie was pleasant enough, but was a lackluster musical, if it can even be called a musical. It did have about half a dozen musical numbers worked into the plot, but no one spontaneously bursts into song. Personally, I prefer musicals where the characters just start singing for no good reason and no one thinks it's strange. In this movie there was a perfectly logical reason for Judy to sing each time she did. That in itself doesn't make it bad, but the songs were not particularly memorable. I did like "Play that Barbershop Chord:"

Courtesy of musicalcomedy11111 on YouTube

Probably the best scene was right at the beginning when Andy and Veronica meet:

Courtesy of SolidHepKitten on YouTube

A few interesting tidbits: The little girl who plays their daughter at the end of the movie is Liza Minelli. The movie takes place almost entirely in winter, despite the name.

The one thing I kept thinking while watching this movie was how old Van Johnson and Judy Garland seemed to be, although they were only 33 and 27, respectively. I guess that was a lot older then than it is now.

While not a standout, this was a pleasant musical, and one I'm happy to add to my life list.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's Always Fair Weather (1955)

My first musical of 2009 was MGM's 1955 offering It's Always Fair Weather. I had never seen this one before, although it stars two of my favorites, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Apparently it marked the end of MGM's great era of movie musicals and didn't do too well in theaters. It was intended to be a sequel to On the Town, but Frank Sinatra wasn't available, so the story was reworked. I think this was a good thing, as it allowed Gene Kelly to break away from being type-cast as a dancing sailor and be a dancing soldier instead.

For a very detailed synopsis, see the TCM site here. Briefly, three GIs (Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd, and Dan Dailey) return from World War II in 1945. They are best friends and vow to meet again in 10 years. They part company to follow their post-war dreams and the years pass. Gene Kelly plans to become a lawyer, Michael Kidd a chef, and Dan Daily an artist. After 10 years they meet again only to find they have nothing in common and have not achieved any of their goals. Gene Kelly has become a gambler and ladies' man in New York. Dan Daily has sold out to corporate America and is creating ads, not art, in Chicago. Michael Kidd is not a chef, but a cook at a hamburger stand - in Schenectady, NY, of all places. Over the course of the day, they go from not remembering why they were friends in the first place, to regaining their self-respect - and friendship - all with the help of TV producer Cyd Charisse.

This was a likable musical with some great dancing, but few memorable songs. My favorite part was the scene when each buddy privately regrets meeting the others again to the tune of The Blue Danube:

Courtesy of marxfan8 on YouTube

The most memorable song (not necessarily in a good way) was Situation-Wise:

Courtesy of marxfan8 on YouTube

There was some impressive dancing including the three buddies dancing with trash can lids and Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller-skates:

Courtesy of Reggieray12 on YouTube

I have to admit these dance routines made me anxious while watching them. I was afraid they would trip on the trash can lids and I didn't see how Gene Kelley could possibly roller skate and tap dance at the same time, since I can't do either separately, let alone together.

I did have some issues with the theme of this musical, though. Initially, it soothed my nagging conscience about all the friends I've lost track of over the years. That's OK, I thought. We've grown apart and wouldn't have anything in common anyway. But then I realized it's because I've sold out to corporate America and I live in Schenectady (well, the suburbs of Schenectady - I guess that's even worse!). Why this Schenectady bashing? It's not that bad (that could be their new slogan). It must have been a very nice town in 1955, and I think it received unfair treatment in the film. Also, I would have been proud to create Miss Klenzrite, the anthropomorphic mop that Dan Dailey is ashamed of drawing. At least I don't gamble.

So the first musical of 2009 didn't turn out to be the uplifting experience I would have hoped for, but I was still happy to see a classic for the first time.

Welcome to the Sound of Musicals

A new year brings new resolutions, and of course, a new blog to document them. This year I have decided not to bother with the typical resolutions of exercising more, eating better, not buying anything made in China. This year I am resolving to do something that I can actually accomplish: watch more musicals.

I grew up listening to and watching musicals. My parents had all the albums of the classic mid-20th century musicals, from Oklahoma! to The Man of La Mancha. I had learned the words to all the songs at an early age and have fond memories of recreating scenes from The Sound of Music and West Side Story with my best friend. Sixteen going on seventeen seemed impossibly old! Of course, I loved movie musicals, too, and never missed a chance to see Singin' in the Rain, On the Town, or Thoroughly Modern Millie. And nothing can beat seeing a live performance, be it my high school's production of Carousel or the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls with Nathan Lane (both of which I've seen).

I loved musicals so much that when my sister was born, I suggested she be named Maria for two of my favorite musical heroines (actually Bloody Mary was my first suggestion, but was rejected). Although I've never stopped watching or listening to musicals, I certainly haven't seen as many in recent years. So on New Year's Eve when I happened upon the That's Entertainment movies on TCM, I was reminded of just how much I enjoy musicals and my resolution to watch more - hopefully one a week - was born. I realize there are still many movie musicals I've never seen and many I haven't seen in quite a few years. So I'll use this blog to document my efforts. As a special treat, my sister Maria, noted pop-culture blogger of Curly Wurly, will also be posting her impressions of musicals she sees this year, too.