Home » music
Category Archives: music
Tragedy and a Deserted Island
Southeast Asia Travel -11/14 – Day Sixteen: We woke up early to the news of the Paris attacks, as they were in progress; and we were instantly glued to the TV. Outside our balcony door, we could see our ship was cruising closer to the peaceful, sparsely populated island of Tioman, Malaysia… our destination for the day.
In the marketing materials for the cruise, Playbill touted (what other sources have as well) that Tioman was the island used to represent Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific but this isn’t true. Those scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii. Nevertheless, this beautiful island was here waiting for us.
The chaos playing out in Paris was diametrically opposed to the serenity before me. It just wasn’t right.
We broke away from the TV and headed to breakfast. Only a few people had started straggling in. Of course we wondered if anyone else knew what was going on in France. Our ship is French—did the crew know yet?
We checked the news again after we ate, and then decided to catch the first tender, figuring it was only going to get more crowded if we waited for a later one. We got down to the deck only to find out it had temporarily been postponed. After an hour, the temporary delay had become a questionable, permanent decision. No Tioman.
The story of what actually happened will probably always be a mystery. We were told that the resort we were supposed to visit (and use their beach)– suddenly went bankrupt overnight. This was odd as we were also told that as of the night before they were excited we were coming. I should also note that the population of Tioman (in 2008) is estimated at 432. So to believe this story, you’d have to believe that a small beach resort, knowing a ship was bringing over two hundred customers for the day– suddenly decided to close shop and not even wait an extra day, collecting whatever income it could. It makes no sense.
Add to this, there were two other resorts visible from our ship and no one could be reached at either of them. From our viewpoint, the coast was completely deserted. A rumor started on our boat, early on, that initially I didn’t give much credence. A few people were suggesting that because of the Paris attacks and because our ship was French; the islanders were afraid to let us come ashore. Later I had no choice but to believe it, especially after seeing movement on shore as soon as our ship started drifting further away. A few small fishing boats also started to appear. It was curious to say the least.
At noon, the crew organized a brief gathering on the rear deck to remember the people of France and lowered the French flag to half-mast. Yes, all over the world- even on a small ship floating in the South Pacific– people were touched and solidarity ruled over despair.
It was announced that at 2 PM the Broadway performers were rallying together to put on a variety show to entertain the ship. This thrown-together event turned out to provide some pretty exciting moments. All the performers (except Liz Callaway whose concert was scheduled for tonight) performed; giving us a wonderful show. For many of us, it was probably a better way to spend the afternoon than basking in the sun anyway.
This was our last night on the ship; tomorrow we’d dock in Singapore.
Liz Callaway’s show was moved up to an hour before dinner. She pulled out all the stops and gave us a terrific show. I was especially thrilled because her final song was, The Story Goes On, from the musical Baby. Particularly poignant for many reasons. Liz is another of the many Broadway performers that gives her whole heart when she sings. It was a perfect last concert among so many great performances we received.
Following the concert, we had the introduction of the ship’s crew and our final toast to the end of a great cruise. Michael and I just happened to be sitting in front of Hunter Foster and Jennifer Cody, so we got to clink our glasses of champagne with them.
I regret not getting to say goodbye to a lot of people after dinner. I really wasn’t thinking about the unlikelihood of seeing many of them in the morning. We were smart enough to get most of the email addresses exchanged early though, so we’d be able to stay in touch.
We spent the last couple of hours before bed packing and dealing with the reception desk. The cruise has gone way too fast and I’m just thankful for all the wonderful memories. Luckily, we have a full day in Singapore tomorrow before we start the long journey home.
Seasick & Show Happy
Southeast Asia Travel -11/13 – Day Fifteen: Breakfast… show… lunch… show… show… dinner… show. That was today’s schedule.
I was really excited about the first event of the day—Seth Rudetsky interviewing Christine Ebersole and Rachel York about their roles in the musical, Grey Gardens. Christine won a Tony Award in 2007 for her dual roles of Edith and Edie Beale. We were fortunate to see her performance on Broadway. Rachael York just finished playing the same role(s) this summer starring opposite Betty Buckley. The highlight of this session was Christine Ebersole singing Around the World from the show.
Here’s a YouTube clip from the Broadway production:
Pat Birch is probably not a name familiar to a lot of people though her work is everywhere. A dancer/choreographer/director with credits a mile long, she has definitely left her mark in many forms of media and entertainment. Film, theatre, TV, music videos… she’s done it all.
Pat entertained us with stories from her career, hosted by John Fahey, in the afternoon.
Patricia Birch started as a dancer and quickly segued in choreography. She played the role of Anybodys in the 1960 revival of West Side Story. Among her many credits she was responsible for choreographing stage and film productions of Grease, Candide, A Little Night Music, Parade and her work was regularly seen on Electric Company, 6 seasons of Saturday Night Live, and the film, The First Wives Club. That’s just a sample. Pat is a friendly, gifted and fascinating artist.
The Playbill Cocktail Hour became The Newlywed Game today. Better stated: The Broadway Newlywed Game. All the questions had some Broadway connection. Three couples married less than a year participated: One older couple, one young gay couple, and one couple I’d guess to be in their late 30’s. The game itself was fun but it was the banter between the hosts that made it the best. Married couple, Jennifer Cody and Hunter Foster were hysterical—much of the time, not trying to be! From making the instructions more confusing than reading the U.S. Tax Code to Jennifer’s constant quick wit—it was a ball.
I have to say I was feeling a little seasick today. At least the constant, slight rocking back and forth wasn’t helping how I was feeling. To say that I was grumpy at dinner was an understatement. Feeling the way I did, the extremely slow service started to make me crazy. Dinner took an hour and 50 minutes to get through—with big breaks between courses. I wanted to pull my hair out. We barely had time to run back to the room before the evening’s show.
Rachel York has a powerhouse voice that doesn’t quit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer do so many big power numbers in one set before– each using the full range of her voice. She loves doing impressions. She gave us Julie Andrew, Liza Minnelli. Cher, Celine and a whole lot more. One example, Rachel sang I Will Always Love You, starting with Whitney, switching to Dolly, throwing in a few others and ending with Whitney’s big ending.
With all the performers there has been a great variety in content and style of performances… Not to mention the contrasts of the different personalities. In spite of the changes in the originally announced list of performers, Playbill has done an excellent job of entertaining us with a wide range of Broadway talent.
Broadway Moms & A Broadway Beauty
Southeast Asia Travel -11/11 – Day Thirteen: We had a much-needed day at sea today. Very few people were up and about during breakfast after yesterday’s whirlwind day in Bangkok. Michael and I tried to catch catnaps in between the scheduled events.
I forgot to mention before that due to a previously scheduled engagement, Norm Lewis left the cruise yesterday in Bangkok while Kerry Butler and Rachel York joined the cruise there.
At 11 AM, the second and last autograph session was held. We got our posters signed and chatted a bit; then enjoyed watching the stars interact with the guests. Today featured Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody, Kerry Butler and Rachel York.
Mid-afternoon, John Fahey hosted a talk called, Being a Broadway Mom with Kerry Butler, Liz Callaway and Christine Ebersole. Towards the end Rachel York was brought in to the conversation. It was interesting to hear how they try to balance family with career and fun hearing how Broadway casts so warmly welcome the children into their show families. There were many touching moments as these moms expressed their love (and a few regrets) for their children.
Kerry Butler and Seth Rudetsky opened the concert tonight with Suddenly from Xanadu. It was the first time I’d heard Seth sing that way – he’s really got a nice voice. Usually when he sings, it’s in his Seth-schtick voice. If you’ve listened to him, you’ll know what I mean.
Together they basically did part of a recent concert they performed at 54 Below. Seth interviewed Kerry and she sang up a storm. One of her songs, A Change In Me, was not in Beauty and the Beast when she was Belle on Broadway. It was added later for Toni Braxton. It was a great concert and many wonderful stories were shared.
Beach & Banter
Southeast Asia Travel Day Eleven: Beach & BBQ day today in Koh Kood, Thailand. It was just what you’d expect of a fairly secluded beach on a tropical island– loads of palm trees and lush foliage. There was a huge sandy clearing with tables and chairs for eating and many beach chairs for sunning, down by the water. The crew from the ship hauled all the food and supplies out early before the rest of were tendered to the island dock. We stayed a couple hours- ate and walked the shoreline; then went back to the ship.
The first of two mingle and autograph sessions were held before dinner. Tommy Tune designed the poster for this year’s cruise. About half of the performers did the signing today: Tommy Tune, Christine Ebersole, Norm Lewis, Lindsay Mendez, Seth Rudetsky and Liz Callaway. It was a good chance to talk with them without feeling like you were imposing on their vacation time. On a day-to-day basis, some were more friendly and accessible than others; and we often found an opportunity to chat in passing.
After dinner, Broadway couple- Hunter Foster and his wife Jennifer Cody performed. They did more of a ‘chat and sing’ style performance, hosted by Seth Rudetsky. This was the perfect format for them. Especially, since most of us were less familiar with Jennifer Cody, by name… but most had probably seen her in at least one show if not more. From the shows that were mentioned, I figured Michael and I had seen her at least three or four times in different Broadway shows. We last saw Hunter on closing night in The Bridges of Madison County. They both gave impressive performances together and alone. It was also fun to listen to their witty banter and learn more about their careers and the two of them as a couple.
My Top Three Favorite Musicals: Stage to Screen
With the recent release of the film version of Into the Woods, I thought it might be fun to share my top three favorite film versions of musicals that originated on the stage.
A number of adapted musicals have enjoyed big box office success and some are quite good; both for their stand alone entertainment value and in their homage to their source material. My Fair Lady and Grease are two good examples.
For me, there are three that stand above the rest for a variety of reasons. In two of the three cases, I think the film adaptations are actually better than the original stage versions.
Dreamgirls (2006) Directed by Bill Condon and adapted from the Tony Award-winning original 1981 Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dreamgirls was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two Oscars: Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson.
Suggested by the rise of The Supremes, Dreamgirls is an exuberant tribute to the sights and sounds of the 50’s & 60’s.
I find the film version superior to the stage production because of the visual, on location advantages and smoother scene/time transitions. The screenplay (by Condon) stays true to the original.
Chicago (2002) Directed by Rob Marshall (Into the Woods). Screenplay by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). Based on the 1975 Bob Fosse, Kander & Ebb musical, whose stripped-down 1996 revival, far exceeded the success of the original. Still running on Broadway after 18 years.
I’m not a fan of the stage version. I find it drab and dull. On screen though, Chicago is an exciting, vibrant song and dance masterpiece. By far, the best example of a film adaptation being much better than the original.
West Side Story (1961) Based on the classic 1957 stage musical, the film is a true representation of the original stage material and by far, my favorite movie musical of all time.
West Side Story is a contemporary re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet love story, told against the backdrop of the gang-controlled streets of New York.
Ground breaking in so many ways with some of the best choreography ever created, West Side Story is perfection.
The result was honored with a record 10 Academy Awards– the most of any other movie musical and the fourth biggest winner, overall in Oscar history.
I’ve loved West Side Story since I was a kid. When I finally saw it live on stage for the first time, I was completely blown away. It’s one of the few works that I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. The film and stage versions are equally brilliant.
I’m always shocked when someone says they’ve never seen West Side Story. If you’ve honestly never seen it. Put it on the top of your list now.
Why I Liked But Didn’t Love The INTO THE WOODS Movie
The good news is that Into the Woods was the second highest grossing film on Christmas Day and it finished third overall for the weekend.
The bad news is that I didn’t love it.
Let me compare Into the Woods to a piece of chocolate cake. Right off, you may either love or hate it because you might like or dislike chocolate, cake, or both. If you’ve never had chocolate cake before– this may be the most delicious thing you ever tasted. If you like chocolate cake– this may be satisfying; but if you love chocolate cake, this may be underwhelming or a complete disappointment. There are still others that will find– good or bad, dry or moist– they are just grateful to have a slice of cake.
For me, this version of ITW is missing key ingredients. Or to draw from the script– the potion is missing it’s hair as yellow as corn. It didn’t work for me.
The original Into the Woods clearly explores the price that comes with wishes, what is really happily ever after; and the importance of teaching children, wishes as children and the hope that exists in children themselves. Much of this is lost or brushed aside in the film. Instead of a film using fairy tales to tell a bigger story, it’s just a film telling fairy tales with a slightly different ending.
The movie is beautifully filmed and features an outstanding cast. BUT– I found it visually too dark; and with the major plot changes, I was never drawn in or emotional involved.
I have some pretty strong opinions about this particular film because I’ve had a long personal attachment to the stage version of Into the Woods.
I saw the original 1987 Broadway production– twice, the 1988 first national tour, worked the theater where the second national tour began in Chicago (non-equity), saw the 2002 Broadway revival, designed the set and costumes for a local high school production; and have seen literally dozens of professional and amateur productions over the years.
The stage version of Into the Woods is visually a combination of light (colorful) and dark images, where the movie was visually dark from start to finish. The village and castle scenes in the movie all had a dingy, dirty feel as opposed to embodying color, light or any fairy tale magic. Emotionally, the movie is pretty much gray from start to finish. I didn’t feel the passion of the dreams and wishes from the major characters; which is problematic because it leaves no real reason for them to go into the woods to begin with. We never truly see even a glimpse of the happy ever after they are so desperate to achieve.
Even in the worst productions I’ve seen, no matter how badly acted or staged– I’ve always been moved by No One Is Alone. Except in the film. To borrow from another musical, I felt nothing.
Some might feel that it is to Disney and director Rob Marshall’s credit that they didn’t Disneyfy the look of the film. I see it as a missed opportunity to enhance the story. I really would have appreciated seeing some of the beauty and opulence of the castle, for example. Instead, it was dark and drab, as was the brief wedding imagery.
In adapting for the film, the writers chose to edit and whitewash the deeper, meaningful moments of the story. Combining that with the lack of passion, it left very little to get emotionally involved in.
Without Rapunzel’s demise, we lose the witch’s profound grief that propels her into a frenzied Last Midnight. Without a larger presence of the Baker’s Father (Mysterious Man, or not) and the cut song No More, we lose what is the cathartic moment that leads to the Baker’s return to his new family. As a result, the intensity and the pure, desperate passion is lost from characters’ motivations.
One of the early moments in the film set the tone for me. Jack’s Mother, played by the incredible Tracey Ullman, was directed to be purely a serviceable character on screen. (In the stage version, she is a warm, witty and lovable character.) I believe this was done to lessen the audiences’ attachment and thus, later in the film: the reaction to her death; which also seemed somewhat muddled. Jack didn’t seem terribly upset when he found out his mother was gone, nor did Little Red over her Granny. (And did it bother anyone else that Little Red suddenly looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz for the remainder of the picture?)
The character of the Witch and Meryl Streep’s performance have to be looked at separately. First, I didn’t feel like the other characters really feared the Witch and her power as much as they saw her as a means to get what they wanted, or as an obstacle in doing so. Second, since the film chose to let Rapunzel ride off with the Prince, future unknown– instead of becoming a victim of the giant; it lessened the Witch’s loss. These two points affect the whole dynamic of the Witch’s antagonistic role in the story, as well as her motivations.
Meryl Streep, easily the greatest American actress of our time, fully embodied what the film set out to portray. Though I hoped for a much more powerful performance, Streep filled the bill the way the story has been adapted, perfectly. One thing I noticed, having listened to the soundtrack since; you don’t really grasp the incredible technique and emotion Streep brought to the character– vocally, in one viewing in a theater. Meryl Streep doesn’t just sing musical roles– her vocalization is a well-crafted extension of her character’s development and expression. Every word, phrase and guttural sound is perfection.
I liked the introduction of the blue moon to the story, opposed to just the passing midnights of the stage version. I thought it gave a clearer understanding of why the spell had to be broken now.
For me, the best and only perfect moment in the film was Agony. It was beautifully acted and staged. If the entire film had this energy and attention to detail, it could have been the best stage musical-to-film ever made.
I remember thinking about two-thirds of the way through: Where is all the music? A substantial amount was cut and occasionally reduced to underscoring. This is composer Stephen Sondheim’s baby. Though he and original book writer James Lapine were actively involved in the film, I feel they caved in to the studio pressures, too much, just to get this film made.
From all that I read leading up to the film’s release, Disney was concerned about the original version being too dark (plot-wise), too many main character deaths and wanted to make it more family-friendly. The result is a watered down story that still, in my opinion, is not a family movie.
Into the Woods, on screen, felt like it was too long. This is ironic since it was 20 minutes shorter than the stage version, not including an intermission. It was more than a little slow and disjointed at times.
I’m sure people completely unfamiliar with ITW will have a completely different reaction to the film. And that’s okay. I just hope it’s a positive experience. The very best thing that could come out of the film is that it might encourage a new audience for the stage version. The film versions of other more recent movie musicals have done a great service to building and keeping audience interest in live theatre.
I can only hope that this film will contribute to that trend.
Ten Christmas Mysteries Unsolved
The origins of most Christmas traditions can be easily researched on the computer. Some are quite interesting and the variations of traditions in different countries and cultures are fascinating as well.
But what about those confusing lyrics of Christmas songs?
Have you ever listened to a song and wondered, exactly what they were thinking?
Here are ten questions that came up as I was listening over the past week.
- Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree…. Seriously? Does anyone do this? I don’t even own a rocker. Am I missing out?
- Can someone tell my why Julie Andrews ate a big bowls of prunes (instead of a spoonful of sugar) before recording Silent Night? Was all that puckering really necessary? AND– with all those verses–exactly how silent could it really have been?
- Why was only one whore soaping the sleigh? Wouldn’t it have gotten done faster if they all pitched in? Is this like a sleigh (car) wash or something? Is it a euphemism? And how did she jingle bells with a sponge and a hose in her hands? Jingle pasties?
- What if Santa Claus doesn’t get your letter? AND- you were good… really good. Does that give you an excuse to turn bad?
- Was the guy that wrote The First Noel, kind of like the Sheldon of the 18th century? (knocking– “Noel, Noel, Noel Noel…Noel, Noel Noel…”) And how was he so sure there weren’t other Noel’s he just hadn’t met?
- Why wasn’t Susie Snowflake arrested for stalking? Obviously, she was a white girl. #blacklivesmatter Too soon? Why did she tap on the window instead of sending a text?
- Did anyone ever think that just maybe Santa was feeding Rudolph GMO feed and that’s why his nose glowed?
- Exactly how much Rum-pum-pum-pum did Bing Crosby and David Bowie consume when recording The Little Drummer Boy?
- Does Adeste Fideles have the same side effects as Cialis?
- After the 12 Days of Christmas— Did My True Love ask for half back in the divorce settlement?
Let It Go is NOT a Christmas song! So, please– Let. It. Go.
Now you know why I don’t do comedy.