March 27, 2017

Elaine Paige – Musical Theater Diva


You may not know the name of Elaine Paige, but she has made musical theater history in several iconic shows.
She made her 1968 West End theater debut in “Hair,” but it was originating the role of Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 musical, “Evita” that really put her on theater map.
She went on to be the first actress to sing the role of Grizabella in “Cats” which resulted in a top ten recording hit for her with the song, “Memory.” She was also in the original production of “Chess,” the musical penned by members of ABBA.
In 1996, she made her Broadway debut in “Sunset Boulevard.”
“The King and I,” “Nine,” “Anything Goes” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” are some of the other musicals that have benefited from her presence.
Having released 22 solo albums, she has also hosted a BBC radio program called “Elaine Paige on Sunday” since 2004. She celebrated 50 years in show biz in 2014. Happy birthday, Elaine Paige who turns 69 this week.

Harold Prince: Superlative Director/Producer

Producer/Director Harold Prince turns 89 this week. His remarkable career spans from being assistant stage manager on Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam in 1950 to directing a revue of songs from his hit shows in 2015.

A partial list of his Broadway endeavors looks like a history of musical theater: The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, She Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Candide, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Showboat plus countless others.
I have a tiny little connection to him. Harold Prince was being publicly interviewed in Chicago by theater writer Jonathan Abarbanel. My musical Fat Tuesday was then showing at the old Theater Building Chicago. Our stage set was where the conversation took place in front of a rapt audience.
I had the opportunity to give Mr. Prince a hand-written invitation to attend the Pump Room that evening where I was currently performing.
He sent me a lovely letter back expressing his regrets at not being able to attend the Pump Room since he was flying out later that day. He was most gracious in thanking me for the invitation and expressed fond memories of other visits to this famous supper club. As busy as he was, his courtesy and attention to detail was demonstrated in this kind reply to my note.
Happy Birthday Harold. You are indeed a Prince!

La La Land: Oscar-worthy

I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.

The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.

Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.

One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!

Gilmore Girls Reunion on Netflix

Many mothers and daughters watched the iconic TV show, Gilmore Girls from 2000 to 2007. Netflix has wisely hired co-creators Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino to give fans a reunion mini-series that catches us up with the lives of Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). No less than Time Magazine and Rolling Stone have written about this cultural phenomenon.

The old series, set in the fictitious Connecticut town of Stars Hollow, featured characters played by actors who continue to star in TV and films. Melissa McCarthy was Sookie, the chef at Lorelei’s charming little inn. Rory’s boyfriends included Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural) and the marvelous Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us, Heroes) all of whom make appearances in this new four-episode series.

In truth, Kelly Bishop who portrays Lorelei’s mother is also a Gilmore Girl and is shown redesigning her life after the passing of her husband (Edward Herrmann who died in real life.) The current series is graced with cameos and small roles for celebrities such as Sally Struthers, Carole King, Todd Lowe plus Broadway veterans Sutton Foster and Christian Borle.

The emphasis may be on the “girls,” but men have important roles, too, such as Lorelei’s inn manager, Yanic Truesdale, town oddball Sean Gunn and the hunky Scott Patterson who plays Lorelei’s live-in boyfriend. The final Netflix episode left some with questions about how the show ends, but just let me say that history is again repeating itself with those Gilmore Girls. They may be tempted by the rich bad boys, but they end up with the salt-of-the-earth good guys. A happy ending indeed.

Michelle Obama on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden

Am I the last person to watch the youtube clip of our First Lady singing pop tunes with James Corden, the popular host of the Late Late Show? Carpool Karaoke has taken off like a rocket on Youtube with guests as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Adele and Elton John. Although Michelle Obama’s Carpool Karaoke clip is my favorite, second runner-up is the Broadway ride with Lin Manuel, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Krakowski and Audra McDonald.

Back to Michelle Obama. That lady has moves and moxie as she flawlessly delivers lyrics. She has to be the hippest resident of the White House ever. Missy Elliot suddenly appears in the back seat and adds to the revelry.

Warning: once you start seeing the list of Carpool Karaoke riders, you may need to block out some serious time on-line. Heads-up: Britney Spears will ride along with Corden on August 25, 2016.

Carpool Karaoke with First Lady Michelle Obama:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln3wAdRAim4

Carpool Karaoke with Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jane Krakowski:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YshgmStEZh0

Barbra Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald Birthdays

The successful pop singer, Barbra Streisand turns 74 this week. The beloved jazz vocalist, Ella Fitzgerald would have been 99 years old on April 25.

 

 

 

 

Both have recorded several albums of iconic Great American Songbook material.

Ella Fitzgerald put out nine impeccable “songbook” albums, each featuring a different songwriter or duo, including Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Streisand, vocalist, actress, director, is also noted for recording film and Broadway songs by Stephen Sondheim, Michel Legrand, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, among many others.

Elaine Paige, Musical Theatre Diva turns 68

If you are a musical theatre geek, you may know Elaine Paige. She got her start in a West End production of Hair, went on to originate the roles of Eva Peron in Evita, Grizabella in Cats (she had a top ten hit with the song Memory), was in the original production of Chess, graced Broadway in Sunset Boulevard and The King and I, and returned to London’s West End in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Other notable performances were as Mrs. Lovett in the New York City Opera production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, as Edith Piaf in Pam Gems’ musical play Piaf and as Carlotta Campion in the Kennedy Center production of Follies. She has put out 22 solo albums and done concerts world-wide.

She has been dubbed the First Lady of British Musical Theatre and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by no less than Queen Elizabeth. She announced her farewell tour on her 50th anniversary in show biz.  May she do as many farewell tours as Cher!

If/Then: Contemporary musical at Oriental Theater

You still have a couple of weeks left to see the national tour of If/Then currently playing at Chicago’s gorgeous Oriental Theater. Fans of the 2009 Broadway musical, Next To Normal will want to catch If/Then since the same composer and lyricist/book-writer, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, crafted both shows.

Jackie Burns plays Elizabeth, a role originated by Idina Menzel on Broadway. Burns sings with the same edgy belting sound for which Menzel is noted so it is no small wonder that Burns also played the role of Elphaba in Wicked after Menzel initially wowed Broadway audiences.

The production is inventive and swift-moving with a crack band in the pit. The choreography is modern and inventive. The singing actors in the cast are uniformly strong with stand-out Anthony Rapp reprising his Broadway role as Elizabeth’s nerdy activist friend. My two favorite songs were sung by Matthew Hydzik playing boyfriend/husband Josh: You Never Know in Act One and Act Two’s Hey Kid, a contemporary musical scene reminiscent of Soliloquy from Carousel.

The show’s major structural device sets it apart from other musicals but provides its major weakness as well. Throughout the show, we see Elizabeth alternate between the path taken by Liz and that taken by Beth. Several people around me were asking one another, “what’s happening now?” I observed the same confusion in Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years.

Still, if you like contemporary musical theater, this may be just the ticket. http://www.chicago-theater.com/theaters/oriental-theatre/if-then.php

Rush tickets are sometimes available for $25 before show time at the Oriental Theater box office. Hot tix is also featuring discount tickets: http://www.hottix.org/

Shoot Me, Documentary on Elaine Stritch

You don’t have to be a theater buff to enjoy Shoot Me, a fascinating 2013 documentary on the legendary Elaine Stritch. Alec Baldwin served as an executive producer on the film project, no doubt as a result of Stritch brilliantly playing his overbearing mother on NBC’s 30 Rock.

We see her home life at the storied Carlyle Hotel in New York, scenes with music director and angel care-taker Rob Bowman and observe a frustrating recording session with Stephen Sondheim when he and Stritch were both much younger. The viewer is treated to interview clips with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Cherry Jones, Nathan Lane, Harold Prince, George C. Wolfe, John Turturro and James Gandolfini, among others.

We see a brutally honest Stritch who quips that the footage is catching her at “almost post-time.” Indeed, she passed away just a few short months after the film was released in early 2014. If you want to see a one-of-a-kind entertainer from her performance genius all the way to her sometimes messy day-to-day life, this documentary on Netflix will captivate you.

Happy Birthday, Hal Prince!

Can you think of any theatrical producer/director that has had a wider array of hits and prestige productions on Broadway than Hal Prince? A partial list would include: Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum, She Loves Me, Fiddler On the Roof, Cabaret, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, not to mention being Stephen Sondheim’s go-to-guy for Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along and  Sweeney Todd. Whew! Whether directing or producing, or doing both, this guy must have been working night and day since the 1950s.

Back in the 90s, Mr. Prince had agreed to be interviewed in front of an audience in Chicago. My musical Fat Tuesday was running at the Theater Building on Belmont. Our stage set happened to be the venue for the Prince program. I gave him a hand-written note inviting him to the Pump Room where I was performing.

He wrote me back saying that he was leaving Chicago after this event, but had warm memories of his previous visits to the Pump Room. He wished me well. I was dazed with hero worship!

He turns 87 this week. Happy Birthday, Mr. Prince!