Saturday, April 30, 2011

Our Time

"Our Time"
by Stephen Sondheim
from Merrily We Roll Along (1981)

Something is stirring,
Shifting ground,
It's just begun.

Edges are blurring
All around
And yesterday is done.

Feel the flow -
Hear what's happening,
We're what's happening.

Don't ya know -
We're the movers and
We're the shapers.
We're the names in tomorrow's papers.
Up to us, man, to show 'em.

It's our time,
Breathe it in,
Worlds to change and worlds to win.

Our turn coming through.
Me and you, man, me and you.

Feel how it quivers 
On the brink ...

Gives you the shivers,
Makes ya think
There's so much stuff to sing.

And, you and me,
We'll be singing it
Like the birds -
Me with music and you the words.
Tell 'em things they don't know.
Up to us, pal, to show 'em.

It's our time,
Breathe it in,
Worlds to change and worlds to win.
Our turn - we're what's new.
Me and you, pal, me and you.

Feel the flow -
Hear what's happening,
We're what's happening.

Long ago,
All we had was that funny feeling
Saying someday we'd set them reeling.
Now it looks like we can.
Someday just began.

Something is stirring,
Shifting ground,
It's just begun.

Edges are blurring
all around,
and yesterday is done.

Feel the flow -
Hear what's happening,
We're what's happening.

Don't ya know -
We're the movers and
We're the shapers.
We're the names in tomorrow's papers.
Up to us, man, to show 'em.

It's our time,
Breathe it in,
Worlds to change and worlds to win.

Our turn coming through.
Me and you, pal, me and you.

Years from now,
We'll remember and we'll come back.
Buy the rooftop and hang a plaque.
This is where we began ...
Being what we can.

It's our heads on the block,
Give us room and start the clock.
Our dreams coming true.
Me and you, pal, me and you ...

It's that time of year ... graduation.  Tonight is "Grad Nite" - an all-night affair for graduating high school seniors at Walt Disney World - and my Facebook news feed has been flooded with announcements from former students who are graduating from college.  There's only ONE musical that comes to mind at graduation time - Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along.

The musical is based loosely on the famous Kaufman and Hart play of the same name.  Although many praise the score as one of Sondheim's best (with some of his most popular songs - "Not a Day Goes By," "Old Friends," "Good Thing Going"), it and the book have undergone numerous revisions since the musical's first disastrous Broadway run of only 16 performances.  The play centers on the lives of three characters, Frank (a composer), Mary, and Charley (a lyricist and Frank's songwriting partner), from high school graduation through the dissolution of their friendship. However, like the play on which it is based, the musical moves BACKWARDS in time.  It ends with the beautiful lyrics of "Our Time" above as the three watch in wonder at a fly-over of Sputnik and are filled with hope for the future.  It is a bittersweet ending, however, since the backwards chronology has already informed us that their lives will be filled with betrayal, unrequited loves, divorces, and business and artistic failures.

I had the good fortune to direct a high school production of the ORIGINAL version of the show in the late 80's at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.  The show reminds me of graduation because, in its original version, it begins and ends with the now famous high school graduation bookend scenes that no longer exist in the current version ... along with a glorious graduation anthem, "The Hills of Tomorrow." 

Despite the show's inherent flaws, it will be one that is always near and dear to my heart, thanks to its soaring score and marvelous songs. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fine Actually

Rabbit Hole  (2005)
by David Lindsay-Abaire

BECCA  Mom?  Does it go away?
NAT  What?
BECCA  This feeling.  Does it ever go away?
NAT  No. I don't think it does.  Not for me, it hasn't.  And that's goin' on eleven years.  It changes though.
NAT  I don't know.  The weight of it, I guess.  At some point it becomes bearable.  It turns into something you can crawl out from under.  And carry around - like a brick in your pocket.  And you forget it every once in a while, but then you reach in for whatever reason and there it is: "Oh right.  That."  Which can be awful.  But not all the time.  Sometimes it's kinda ... Not that you like it exactly, but it's what you have instead of your son, so you don't wanna let go of it either.  So you carry it around.  And it doesn't go away, which is ...
BECCA  What?
NAT  Fine ... actually.

A few months ago, I had the honor and privilege of playing the role of Howie in David Lindsay-Abaire's STUNNING play, Rabbit Hole.  The beautiful 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning script tells the story of a married couple dealing with the accidental death of their 4-year-old child. That's me in the picture above with my dear friend, MaryBeth, who played my wife, Becca.  It was one of the proudest moments in my community theatre acting "career," along with my portrayal of Father Flynn a few years back in the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Doubt (more on that another day).

Rabbit Hole is the kind of play I can see myself writing.  A taut, single-set, personal family drama sprinkled liberally with doses of comedy.  We spent much of the rehearsal period marvelling at the script - its economy of words, its precise and effective use of silence, its ability to say JUST what needs to be said ... and nothing more.  Roles like Howie don't come along very often - a role with rich rewards that beats you up at the same time.  Howie works at cross-purposes with his wife in dealing with his grief and loss ... he is great at appearing that he has "everything under control," he's dealing with it, doing everything that is "expected" of him, such as going to group sessions.  Underneath is an overwhelming rage and depression that is only brought out by his wife's need to NOT think about it and even "erase" evidence of their child's existence from the home.

The night before last, the cast of Rabbit Hole got together to watch the film version for the first time ... together.  It amazed me how the stage play was adapted for the screen (both scripts were written by Lindsay-Abaire).  It struck me that the method of story-telling in film is so different from the stage.  The prolonged scenes in the stage script were diced into small moments, often scattered non-sequentially throughout the film and even more surprising, lines were given to different characters.  Add to that the introduction of characters only mentioned, but not seen, in the stage play, and multiple locations outside the family home (a bowling alley, a park, the group sessions, the mother's home).  It was really fascinating to compare the two ... even the "arc" of the stories for Howie and, significantly more pronounced, Becca, were altered for the film.

As a writer, I would love to study the two scripts side-by-side ... I'm looking forward to watching it again with the commentary track (featuring the film's Director, Director of Photography, AND Lindsay-Abaire) turned on.  Which did I prefer?   They were both so different, its hard to compare them, particularly since there were many things about each that I liked.  My heart belongs, of course, to the stage version.  And as a writer?  I think I'll stick to the stage, as well.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love Who You Love

"Love Who You Love"
by Lynn Ahrens
from A Man of No Importance (2002)

I'm not one to lecture -
How could I dare?
Someone like me who's been mainly nowhere.
But in my experience, be as it may,
You just have to love who you love.

Your common sense tells you, best not begin.
But your fool heart cannot help plungin' in,
And nothing and no one can stand in your way.
You just have to love who you love.

People can be hard sometimes
And their words can cut so deep.
Choose the one you choose, love,
And don't lose a moment's sleep.
Who can tell you who to want?
Who can tell you what you were destined to be?
Take it from me ...

There's no fault in lovin' -
No call for shame.
Everyone's heart does exactly the same.
And once you believe that, you'll learn how to say,
I love who I love who I love ...
So just go and love ... who you love

All directors and actors have a personal list of "dream shows" ... this one tops my list.  I would LOVE to play the leading role of Alfie Byrne in this musical, based on the 1994 Albert Finney film, with music by Stephen Flaherty and book (dialogue) by award-winning American playwright, Terrence McNally.  The story takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and concerns a middle-aged bus conductor in the early 1960's who is struggling not only with the church (over his plans to stage a community theatre production of Oscar Wilde's Salome), but his own "coming to terms" with being gay.  Throughout the musical, Alfie is advised and prompted by the spirit of Oscar Wilde himself.  I have used the musical's song "Love Who You Love" as an audition piece and I've ALWAYS loved singing it.

It's also no surprise that the score and songs of A Man of No Importance were written by one of my favorite tunesmith teams - Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.  This talented pair has created the scores to some terrific musicals, including Ragtime, Seussical, Once On This Island, Lucky Stiff, My Favorite Year, and the animated feature, Anastasia, among others.  I guarantee you have not seen the last of Ms. Ahrens on this blog!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Mind-Killer

Dune (1965)
by Frank Herbert

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. 

In the world of sci-fi geekdom - and I consider myself a proud member of that society - Frank Herbert is to science fiction what J.R.R. Tolkien is to fantasy.  The universe of Dune and its five sequels is STAGGERINGLY complex, spanning numerous galaxies and literally thousands of years of personal and political history. What separates Dune from other science fiction works is that it is, in many ways, more "literary" than other sci-fi novels ... concentrating significantly more on character and story than the technical aspects.  To even attempt a synopsis would be futile, given the complexity of political, religious, philosophical, and even ecological issues that are explored in the novels.  Two film versions have been made (with a third one apparently in production) and neither has been terribly successful ... I doubt any visual representation could ever fully capture the world that is Dune.

Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere.
Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it's a mountain.
From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When I Heard at the Close of Day

"When I Heard at the Close of Day"
by Walt Whitman
from Leaves of Grass (1892)

When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that follow’d;
And else, when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d, still I was not happy.
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing, bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,         
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy.
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next, at evening, came my friend,
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,  
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast - and that night I was happy.

About three weeks ago, I dedicated my first Transcendentalist blog post to Thoreau and Walden.  Today it's Walt Whitman and his marvelous poetry collection Leaves of Grass.  Originally published in 1855 with only twelve unnamed poems, Whitman intended for the book to be small enough to carry in one's pocket.  It was expanded by Whitman about eight times during his lifetime until the final "deathbed" edition, published in 1892 two months before his death, which contains nearly 400 poems.  Nestled among this hefty volume of poetry is this beautiful expression of love ... I hope one day to feel this again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Enchanted Place

The House at Pooh Corner (1928)
by A.A. Milne

     "Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever.  Not even when I'm a hundred."
     Pooh thought for a little.
     "How old shall I be then?"
     Pooh nodded.
     "I promise," he said.
     Still with his eyes on the world, Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.
     "Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I - if I'm not quite -" he stopped and tried again - "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
     "Understand what?"
     "Oh, nothing."  He laughed and jumped to his feet.  "Come on!"
     "Where?" said Pooh.
     "Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.
     So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

Sigh ... there isn't much in this world I love more than the original tales of Winnie-the-Pooh written by A. A. Milne with the non-Disney-fied illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard.  I will swallow my pride and tell you that a stuffed Tigger watches me sleep, the first Shepard illustration of Christopher Robin dragging Pooh "bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head" down the stairs is framed on my bedroom wall, a sizable portion of my Disney snowglobe collection (yes ... I have one, thank you very much) is Pooh-related, and a boxed set of the original Pooh books by Milne occupies a treasured place on my Children's Lit shelf.  'Nuff said ...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Two Parties

The West Wing (2001)
by Aaron Sorkin

I am tired of working for candidates who make me think I should be embarrassed to believe what I believe.  I am tired of getting them elected!  We all need some therapy, because somebody came along and said "Liberal" means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on Defense, and we're gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to.  And, instead of saying, "Well, EXCUSE me, you right-wing reactionary xenophobic homophobic anti-education anti-choice pro-gun Leave-It-To-Beaver-trip-back-to-the-50's," we cowered in the corner and said "Please ... Don't. Hurt. Me."  No more!  I really don't care who's right, who's wrong. We're both right, we're both wrong.  Let's have two parties, huh?  Whaddya say?

In my opinion, there is very little writing to match the pure genius that is Aaron Sorkin.  His work both inspires me and scares me at the same time.  I hear his dialogue and, after I've picked my jaw up from the floor, I think, "There's NO way I could EVER write like that."  The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and the prematurely-axed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - intelligent people engaged in smart, quippy, fast-paced dialogue that both challenges the listener and stuns with surprises around every corner.

I started watching The West Wing only a few months ago at the urging of some online friends who were astonished that I had never seen the show.  After only the first few episodes of the first season, I was HOOKED and immediately spent hundreds of dollars ordering the complete seven-season series on DVD (thanks to an Amazon birthday gift card).  I am slowly making my way through the series and heard the above quote just last night as I watched the episode "Gone Quiet" from the beginning of the third season.  It is delivered by the character of Bruno Gianelli (played by Ron Silver in the photo above), the somewhat ruthless re-election campaign strategist for the fictional Bartlet Administration.  What struck me most about the speech was its relevance today ... I feel his complaints about the apparent spineless-ness of Liberals (a group to which I align myself) is just as on point today as it was in the fall of 2001, when this episode first aired.  I do wish that I had caught the series when it was broadcast ... it certainly would have been a wonderful alternate universe to visit once a week - an escape from those utterly dreadful Bush years.

My favorite Aaron Sorkin quote (about a discussion he had with Stockard Channing and characterization), and something I need to remember as a writer ...  "Stockard had done an episode of the show as the First Lady. She took me out to lunch and said she really liked doing the show and wanted to do more and started asking me questions like, 'Who do you think this character is?' And those aren’t questions I can answer. As a writer, I can only answer, 'What do they want?'"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Can I Win?

"How Can I Win?"
by David Zippel
from The Goodbye Girl (1993)

How can I learn to trust enough
And to stop believing all I hear are lies?
Open my heart, but just enough
To keep an open mind, but never close my eyes
To the dangers I alert myself ...
Making efforts to assert myself
And discovering ways to hurt myself
That no one else has tried.
How can I win if I'm not on my side?

How can I dare to feel again
If I can't let go of past mistakes I've made?
Living through each ordeal again -
The faith that I misplaced, the price I overpaid.
I've been able to endure enough,
But I must not want the cure enough.
I get back on my feet and sure enough ...
My hopes and fears collide.
How can I win if I'm not on my side?

I live each day like emotions are at war,
But I don't remember anymore
Just who or what I'm fighting for ...

When will delight be mine again?
Will it come or can it be that it's too late?
I want the sun to shine again,
But I must walk away from the shadows I create.
And though I tell myself it's safer just to hide ...
How can I win if I keep retreating?
Cheating myself is self-defeating.
How can I win if I'm not on my side?

Have you ever heard a song and you are absolutely certain that the song is ALL ABOUT YOU?  This is mine ... it could be my personal anthem.  I've heard myself saying EVERY SINGLE ONE of these things, and it's frankly kind of frightening just how on the mark it is.  There are even times, depending on my mood or state of mind, that I just can't listen to it.

The song is from the musical The Goodbye Girl, based on the Neil Simon movie of the same name.  The music was written by Marvin Hamlisch, and the words by a brilliant lyricist - David Zippel - who also wrote the lyrics for the terrific musical, City of Angels (which I had the pleasure of directing more than a decade ago).  And it certainly helps that the song was delivered by the incandescent Bernadette Peters, who can act the hell out of any song and make you believe every word she's singing.

I think the lyrics speak for themselves and those who know me well can probably recognize me in the words.  The line "Cheating myself is self-defeating" is just amazing ... the bookend rhyme and the cleverly hidden repeat of the word "self."  I want to write just like that ...

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Sentimental Friend

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
by L. Frank Baum and Noel Langley

"And remember, my sentimental friend,
that a heart is not judged by how much you love,
but by how much you are loved by others."

Recently, while dwelling in one of my infrequent though somewhat troubling "old-fat-unattractive-alone-and-unloved" blue funks, I was reminded of this quote from the film version of The Wizard of Oz.  It is advice that the unmasked "Wizard" gives to the Tin Man as he is awarded his "heart."  I am always struck by universal truths stated so clearly and simply.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Quiet Thing

"A Quiet Thing"
by Fred Ebb
from Flora the Red Menace (1965)

When it all comes true
Just the way you'd planned,
It's funny, but the bells don't ring -
It's a quiet thing ...

When you hold the world
In your trembling hand,
You'd think you'd hear a choir sing -
It's a quiet thing ...

There are no exploding fireworks.
Where's the roaring of the crowds?
Maybe it's the strange new atmosphere
Way up here among the clouds.

But I don't hear the drums
And I don't hear the band -
The sounds I'm told
Such moments bring.

Happiness comes in on tip-toe.
Well, what'd'ya know?
It's a quiet thing.
A very - quiet - thing...

A dual-purpose post today.  The first is to share the WONDERFUL lyrics of this song with you (if you're not already familiar with it ...).  Certainly one of my top ten favorite songs, it made its first appearance in John Kander and Fred Ebb's (Chicago, Cabaret) Broadway debut, Flora the Red Menace, and it was sung by a young Liza Minnelli, who was also making her first Broadway appearance.

The second, and more significant, meaning behind today's post is the key word of the song ...  I was watching the film Hereafter the night before last and it struck me just how QUIET it was.  The movie concerns three people who are all facing death and grief in very different ways ... a sensitive, moving, and introspective screenplay.  There are large portions of the film that have almost no dialogue as we follow each of the three protagonists in their personal struggles with loss.  It's a thoughtful, beautiful exploration of how we face death, and I HIGHLY recommend it if you haven't seen it.

As a director, performer, audience member, and writer, I am always drawn to the POWER of silence on stage, on film, and on the page.  I remember when I first read the script to Rabbit Hole (in which I recently performed) and was thrilled at all the "beats" and "pauses" that were written into the piece.  As a director, I am NEVER scared of adding those beats and pauses where necessary ... they are vital and, when well-placed, do not slow the pace of the work.  They enhance it.  To quote a famous English poet and author, Martin Tupper - "Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."  AMEN.

Hmmm ... makes me wonder about writing an entire piece that doesn't have a single line of dialogue.  I've written an action-only scene as part of a playwriting exercise, but never a complete piece.  Might be worth the experiment ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When I Look In Your Eyes

"When I Look In Your Eyes"
by Leslie Bricusse
from Dr. Dolittle (1967)

When I look in your eyes,
I see the wisdom of the world in your eyes.
I see the sadness of a thousand goodbyes
When I look in your eyes.
And it is no surprise,
To see the softness of the moon in your eyes.
The gentle sparkle of the stars in your eyes
When I look in your eyes.

In your eyes, I see the deepness of the sea.
I see the deepness of the love,
The love I feel you feel for me.

Autumn comes, summer dies.
I see the passing of the years in your eyes,
And when we part there will be no tears no goodbyes.
I'll just look into your eyes.

Those eyes, so wise,
So warm, so real ...
How I love the world your eyes reveal.

One of my favorite big-budget musicals as a child (and it still is, even as an adult) was 1967's Dr. Dolittle ... the ORIGINAL one with Rex Harrison.  The 60's and early 70's were such a wonderful time for BIG film musicals, courtesy of songwriters like Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse, and the marvelous Sherman brothers.  Who can beat Dr. Dolittle, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, among others? 

More to come from the others, but here's my favorite song from Dr. Dolittle.  Believe it or not, the Doctor (Rex Harrison) sings this to a seal named Sophie who longs to return to her husband (I'm assuming you all know that the good Doctor "talks to the animals").  It is a suprisingly touching moment on an English cliffside as Dolittle sings a loving goodbye to Sophie before returning her to the sea.  The version above is the "popular" one ... in the movie, the final line was actually "Isn't it a pity you're a seal?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

At The Same Time

"14e Arrondissement"
by Alexander Payne
from Paris, Je T'Aime (2006)

They say a lot of things about Paris. They say it's a place where artists find inspiration. They say it's a place where people come to discover something new about their lives. They say it's a place where you can find love. Of course, at my age, I didn't expect any of that ...

And then something happened, something that is hard to describe. Sitting there in a foreign country, far from my job and all the people I knew, a feeling came over me. As if I recalled something, something that I had never known and for which I had been waiting. But I didn't know what it was. Maybe it was something I had forgotten. Or something I had missed my whole life. I can only tell you that, at the same time, I felt joy and sadness. But not a great sadness.

Because I felt alive. Yes. Alive.

That was the moment I fell in love with Paris and the moment that I felt that Paris had fallen in love with me.

I felt GREAT joy this past weekend watching a delightful film called, Paris, Je T'Aime ("Paris, I Love You").  A brilliant concept ... 20 different directors, each directing a 5-minute segment that shows some aspect of love in the "City of Light."  The final segment entitled "14e Arrondissement" ("14th District" - each segment is named for the area in Paris where it occurs) shows an American woman about my age, Carol (played by Margo Martindale), touring Paris on her own.  As she tours the city by herself, she narrates in a poorly-pronounced French voiceover.  The segment was written and directed by Alexander Payne (who also penned the terrific screenplays for such films as Sideways, Election, and About Schmidt), and it truly had me saying "I wish I had written that."

The final image of the film is Carol, sitting by herself on a park bench, regarding all of the lovers and passersby in the Parisian park.  Read her final words above and examine the look in her eyes in a still from the film ... the loneliness, the longing ... and you will know why this has resonated with me for DAYS since I watched the movie.  I understand her ... completely.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Louder Than Words

"Louder Than Words"
by Jonathan Larson
from tick, tick ... BOOM! (1990)
Why do we play with fire?
Why do we run our finger through the flame?
Why do we leave our hand on the stove,
Although we know we're in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light
When the streets are dangerous?
Why does it take an accident
Before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don't say the answer ...
Actions speak louder than words.

Why should we try to be our best
When we can just get by and still gain?
Why do we nod our heads
Although we know the boss is wrong as rain?

Why should we blaze a trail
When the well worn path seems safe and so inviting?
How, as we travel, can we
See the dismay and keep from fighting?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds

Fear or love, baby?
Don't say the answer ...
Actions speak louder than words.

What does it take
To wake up a generation?
How can you make someone
Take off and fly?
If we don't wake up
And shake up the nation,
We'll eat the dust of the world
Wondering why ...

Why do we stay with lovers
Who we know, down deep, just aren't right?
Why would we rather put ourselves through hell
Than sleep alone at night?

Why do we follow leaders who never lead?
Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution?
If we're so free, tell me why?
Someone tell me why
So many people bleed?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don't say the answer ...
Actions speak louder than words.
Jonathan Larson is best known for his briliant musical, Rent, which I'm sure will grace one or two posts in this blog before it's finished.  Six years prior to the Off-Broadway opening of Rent, Larson began performing a solo "rock monologue," which went through the titles 30/90 and Boho Days, before becoming tick, tick ... BOOM!  After Larson's untimely death and the smash success of Rent, his solo work was restructured by David Auburn (playwright of Proof) into a three-person musical and the score was streamlined.  Since then it's had numerous professional productions, including an off-Broadway run in 2001, an American tour, and a West End production as well. 
The piece is strictly autobiographical and concerns the 30-year-old Larson, who worries about his age and lack of success as he struggles to become a professional artist in New York City.  Of all the songs in the show, "Louder Than Words" is the one that will make me stop and listen.  The incisive lyrics cut straight to the bone, as do many of the lyrics in his later work, Rent.  They are intense and so incredibly unforgiving.  I'll save Rent and the story of Larson's tragic untimely death for a later date ...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Two Sizes Too Small

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957)
by Dr. Seuss

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:  "How could it be so?
"It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!"

And what happened then ...?
Well ... in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys!  And the food for the feast!
And he ...

... HE HIMSELF ...!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

I have been accused on many occasions (and probably rightly so) of being a bit of "a Grinch" (or that other literary allusion "a Scrooge") when it comes to the holidays.  I identify a bit with the lovable green guy and understand in some small way his annoyance at the incessant holiday carryings-on of those blasted Whos down in Who-ville.  There used to be a time I could recite this absolutely delightful tale from beginning to end, and there are still certain sections, like the first "stanza" above that I will always be able to recite by heart.  "Till his puzzler was sore" has GOT to be one of my favorite phrases from any childrens' book, or any book for that matter.  "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch," but I LOVE you!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The Lorax (1971)
by Dr. Seuss

The Lorax said nothing.  Just gave me a glance ...
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance ...
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I'll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.

And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with the one word ...
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn't guess.

That was long, long ago.
But each day since that day
I've sat here and worried
and worried away.
Through the years, while my buildings
have fallen apart,
I've worried about it with all of my heart.

"But now," says the Once-ler,
"Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

"SO ...
"Catch!" calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
"It's a Truffula Seed.
It's the last one of all!
You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula.  Treat it with care.
Give it clean water.  And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest.  Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back."

On my shelf of children's books, you will find a great number of books by the splenderiferous Dr. Seuss.  I don't think the good Dr. needs any introduction or praise from me ... his work speaks for itself.    One of my "projects" is a series of childrens' books ... an educational series about math and science presented in Dr. Seuss style.

I've picked The Lorax because it represents the seriousness of some of his outwardly whimsical work.  This cautionary environmental fable was written FORTY YEARS ago.  The plight of the Lorax, his beloved Truffula Trees (destroyed in the production of Thneeds), and his friends the Bar-ba-loots, Humming-Fish, and Swomee-Swans is nothing short of heartbreaking.  How sad it is that we're STILL talking about the "UNLESS" ... and many don't even believe it's for real.

And, what the heck ... let's make it a Dr. Seuss weekend!  Tomorrow, the Grinch.

Friday, April 15, 2011


by Steven Lutvak
from The Time It Takes (2004)

I walk museums in search of my father,
Scrutinize the paintings and the patrons
With great care.
For I'm an expert on all the great museums,
And part of me is always hoping
He will be there.

He took me up all the marble stairways,
Let me hold his finger till I had grown.
And it was he who introduced me
To the wonders I would find there,
And later let me wander on alone.

See the brushwork so passionate and strong.
Do you feel the rhythm as your eye is moved along?
And look there, in the shadows,
How the colors subtly dim?
My father sees the painting,
And I am watching him.

An hour later, we'd start to leave the gallery,
Down the marble stairway the two of us would wind.
Returning to the street
And to our old familiar silence,
Leaving all the paintings far behind.

Feel the rustle of her ballgown
As she dances with the man who is her lover,
Feel the pressure of his hand.
And the moonlight pouring through the arbor
To the faces of the dancers,
And the whirling of the band.

See the garden, see the cafe,
You can almost hear the chatter,
And the glasses, and the flirting,
And the sighs.
See the laughter in the faces,
And the joy that rings forever
In the violet, and the longing,
In the eyes.

I walk museums in search of my father,
I look in all the paintings for the man I hardly knew.
Searching through the brushstrokes
In the paintings of the Masters.
Exactly as my father taught me to ...
Just as my father used to do.

See the violet in the shadows,
And the longing ...

A number of years ago, an online friend of mine, David, introduced me to a new composer-songwriter-performer, Steven Lutvak.  I've been a huge fan ever since.  His first album, The Time It Takes, contained three songs that touched me ... this one, "Museums," and "I'll Imagine You a Song," and "The House That I Grew Up In."  I wrote Lutvak almost immediately for sheet music to the three songs, and I got a wonderful personal note in reply complimenting my choice of songs from his album ... they were some of his favorites as well.  And I was beyond thrilled when he sent me the sheet music to all three.

I cried the first time I heard "Museums."  It speaks to my own unresolved issues with my father, who passed away in 1985 (I was only 24).  As a result, I've always been drawn to pieces that deal with the relationship between fathers and sons.  There is such poignancy in the relationship between the narrator and his father ... a father who only seems to be able to connect with his son when expressing his passion in paintings and museums, before returning to the "real world" with its "old familiar silence."  The most effective part of the lyric for me is the final line ... "and the longing."  It's paired with a final note that floats without resolution - you can actually hear the LONGING in the word.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

His Little Heart

The Turn of the Screw (1898)
by Henry James

But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day.  With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall.  I caught him, yes, I held him - it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held.  We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

I'm a total sucker for a GREAT gothic classic (I'll save Wuthering Heights for another post).  One of my favorite high school English class assignments was Henry James's thrilling novella, The Turn of the Screw.  My own heart almost stopped when I read this final paragraph in a story that kept me spellbound as a teenager.  It is a chilling story of a newly-hired governess who witnesses the ghosts of a former housekeeper and employee and fears for the safety of the two children in her charge.  What is so fascinating about the tale is its ambiguity and critics have been arguing over the meaning since its publication.  Are the ghosts real?  Are the children sinister themselves and in cahoots with the spirits?  Is the governess insane and hallucinating the spectres?

As a writer, the story has always intrigued me and I have often toyed with the idea of adaptation for the stage as either a play or a musical.  It has been adapted numerous times, most notably the Benjamin Britten opera and the wonderful 1961 film version The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr.  It's frequently on my mind and it very well may be one of those many "projects" that I tackle during my "sabbatical."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I Did For Love

"What I Did For Love"
by Edward Kleban
from A Chorus Line (1975)

Kiss today goodbye,
The sweetness and the sorrow.
Wish me luck, the same to you.
But I can't regret
What I did for love.

Look my eyes are dry.
The gift was ours to borrow.
It's as if we always knew,
And I won't forget
What I did for love.

Love is never gone.
As we travel on,
Love's what we'll remember.

Kiss today goodbye,
And point me toward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do.
Won't forget,
Can't regret,
What I did for love.

I guess this lyric falls into the "I-Really-Should-Be-Sick-Of-This-Song-By-Now-But-I'm-Not" category.  There are a number of songs that fall in this category, heck, I'm sure I'll be posting "Memory" from Cats before long ... another song I haven't tired of.  There's something so glorious about these lyrics, particularly when paired with its soaring melody, courtesy of Marvin Hamlisch.  If you're an artist, this song strikes a profound chord, but I suppose it can apply to anyone who struggles for no other reward than the love of doing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Words

"New Words"
by Maury Yeston
from In the Beginning (1987)

Look up there,
High above us
In a sky of blackest silk.
See how round,
Like a cookie
See how white,
As white as milk.
Call it the moon, my son, say moon.
Sounds like your spoon, my son, can you say it?
New word today ...
Say moon.

Near the moon,
Brightly turning
See the shining sparks of light.
Each one new,
Each one burning
Through the darkness
Of the night.
We call them stars, my son, say stars.
That one is Mars, my son, can you say it?
New word today ... 
Say stars.

As they blink all around us
Playing starry-eyed games,
Who would think it astounds us
Simply naming their names.

Turn your eyes
From the skies now,
Turn around and look at me.
There's a light
In my eyes now,
And a word for
What you see.
We call it love, my son, say love.
So hard to say, my son, it gets harder.

New words today
We'll learn to say ...
Learn moon,
Learn stars,
Learn love.

Maury Yeston's musical In the Beginning (originally titled 1-2-3-4-5) was staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1987 and 1988.  The company who leases the production rights (Music Theatre International) has this description of the musical:

"Let there be laughter!  The first five books of the Old Testament get a good-natured ribbing in this hysterical tribute to all of those ordinary, everyday people who didn't make it into the Bible.  Unremarkable though they may be, these hardy Biblical bystanders somehow survive calamity after calamity in outrageous fashion, inventing some useful and practical devices along the way (including the Life Saver - the candy, that is), escaping enslavement in ancient Egypt and helping a young man named Cain find his redemption."

I don't believe any commercial cast recordings of this Off-Broadway show exist, but a few of its songs survive in studio recordings, covered by a number of different Broadway performers.  They include this one, "New Words" (probably the most familiar to musical theatre fans) along with "Is Someone Out There?" and "You're There Too."  In "New Words," much like his "Getting Tall" (which was the subject of a previous blog post), Yeston uses short, simple phrases (in mostly monosyllabic words!) to paint a moving portrait of a parent teaching a child new words.  I've heard this song performed live many times and it rarely fails to touch the heart, particularly the line about love - "so hard to say, my son, it gets harder."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Keep Working on Love

Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)
by Richard Bach

But then the day came that Chiang vanished.  He had been talking quietly with them all, exhorting them never to stop their learning and their practicing and their striving to understand more of the perfect invisible principle of all life.  Then, as he spoke, his feathers went brighter and brighter and at last turned so brilliant that no gull could look upon him.

"Jonathan," he said, and these were the last words that he spoke, "keep working on love."

When they could see again, Chiang was gone.

Call me a product of my generation, but my first edition copies of Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull (with my father's name printed inside the cover) and his second 1977 novella,  Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, occupy a treasured place on my shelf of most-loved books.  I believe that these fables helped to shape much of my spiritual views throughout middle and high school, and perhaps even into my adult years.

Jonathan Seagull has a passion for flying and his experiments in speed and technique cause him to be exiled from his materialistic and narrow-minded flock, who decry his unwillingness to conform.  After being cast out, Jonathan is met by two radiant gulls who take him to a "higher plane of existence" and a group of gulls who, like him, seek only perfection in flight.  Under the tutelage of his teacher and Master, Chiang, Jonathan comes to realize that he can be free of the limitations of his own physical body, and travel at the speed of thought.  The final words of his Master, "Keep working on love," urge Jonathan to forgive his former Earth-bound flock, to which he returns this time as a teacher to other young gulls who simply love to fly.