Friday, June 24, 2011

Gethsemane


"Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)"
by Tim Rice
from Jesus Christ Superstar (1971)

I only want to say ...
If there is a way,
Take this cup away from me
For I don't want to taste its poison.
Feel it burn me,
I have changed.
I'm not as sure
As when we started.

Then I was inspired,
Now I'm sad and tired.
Listen, surely I've exceeded
Expectations,
Tried for three years ...
Seems like thirty.
Could you ask as much
From any other man?

But if I die,
See the saga through
And do the things you ask of me.
Let them hate me, hit me, hurt me,
Nail me to their tree.


I'd want to know, my God.
I'd want to see, my God,
Why I should die.
Would I be more noticed
Than I ever was before?
Would the things I've said and done
Matter any more?


I'd have to know, my Lord.
I'd have to see, my Lord.


If I die what will be my reward?
I'd have to know, my Lord
.

Why, why should I die?
Oh, why should I die?
Can you show me now
That I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain.


Show me there's a reason
For your wanting me to die.
You're far too keen on where and how,
But not so hot on why.

All right, I'll die!
Just watch me die!
See how, see how I die!
Oh, just watch me die!

Then I was inspired,
Now I'm sad and tired.
After all I've tried for three years,
Seems like ninety.
Why then am I
Scared to finish what I started?
What you started,
I didn't start it.


God, thy will is hard,
But you hold every card.
I will drink your cup of poison.
Nail me to your cross and break me.
Bleed me, beat me,
Kill me, take me now,
Before I change my mind.


I was ten years old when I saw my first Broadway show and THAT show was the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was followed quickly by Godspell and Grease, all in my middle school years from 1971 to 1972.  It certainly helped to live in Connecticut, which is only an easy two-hour train ride to the City. 

I frankly don't much care for Godspell and Grease, but Jesus Christ Superstar remains one of my favorite musicals (even if it is a "Sir Andrew" show).  I credit this "rock opera" with igniting my passion for theatre ... and this song, in particular, still thrills me to this day.

I will be leaving early tomorrow morning for a week in Seattle and Alaska!  So, I'll be back with my next post on Friday, July 1 ... Have a great week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Endless Night


"Endless Night"
by Tim Rice
from The Lion King (1997)

Where has the starlight gone?
Dark is the day.
How can I find my way home?

Home is an empty dream,
Lost to the night.
Father, I feel so alone ...

You promised you'd be there,
Whenever I needed you,
Whenever I call your name,
You're not anywhere.

I'm trying to hold on ...
Just waiting to hear your voice.
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare.

When will the dawning break?
Oh, endless night.
Sleepless, I dream of the day ...

When you were by my side,
Guiding my path.
Father, I can't find the way.

You promised you'd be there,
Whenever I needed you,
Whenever I call your name,
You're not anywhere.

I'm trying to hold on ...
Just waiting to hear your voice.
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare.

I know that the night must end,
And that the sun will rise.
I know that the clouds must clear,
And that the sun will shine.

I know that the night must end.
I know that the sun will rise,
And I'll hear your voice deep inside.

I know that the night must end.
And that the clouds must clear ...
The sun,
The sun will rise.

OK ... so I know I'll make some of my fellow Disney fans mad at me (and I may even have to give up my Disney Annual Pass and credit card), but I've never felt that Disney animated features belong on the Broadway stage.  A theme park stage, maybe, but not Broadway.  I am a DEVOTED fan of the Disney animated feature but, as wonderful as they are, these films typically have paper-thin plots and not much more than two-dimensional characters (pun perhaps unintended).  Feel free to call me a theatre snob or elitist ... but they don't, in my humble opinion, translate well as "legitimate" theatre.  Of course, I recognize the tourist trade and big box office sales.  And that's not to say there aren't PLENTY of other non-Disney musicals that don't belong there as well (... can anyone say Mamma Mia! ?).

Disney's 1994 film version of The Lion King was a delight.  Loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet (among other sources), the feature also had original songs by Elton John and Tim Rice and a thrilling score by Hans Zimmer (augmented by traditional African music and choral work by South African composer Lebo M.).  It was translated for the stage three years later by director, Julie Taymor, and it has been running ever since (it is currently the seventh longest-running show on Broadway, with Beauty and the Beast right behind and Mary Poppins moving up the list).

I was eager to experience the reported visual feast of puppetry and stage spectacle but I have to admit that, after the first fifteen minutes or so, the novelty wore off and I was a little, well ... bored.  There is one song written especially for the musical, however, that I absolutely love - "Endless Night."  Enjoy ...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Easy To Be Hard


"Easy To Be Hard"
by James Rado and Gerome Ragni
from Hair (1967)

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard ...
Easy to be cold.


How can people have no feelings?
You know I'm hung up on you.
Easy to be proud ...
Easy to say no.


Especially people
Who care about strangers,
Who care about evil
And social injustice.
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?

I need a friend ...

How can people be so heartless?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to give in ...
Easy to help out.


Especially people
Who care about strangers,
Who say they care about
Social injustice.
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend ...

How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be hard.
Easy to be cold.
Easy to be proud.
Easy to say no.

I was watching the film Taking Woodstock last night, and it got me thinking about the musical Hair (for obvious reasons).  I've seen the stage production twice ... the recent, and extraordinarily disappointing, Broadway revival and a strong local production.  My first introduction to the musical was Three Dog Night's cover of the song "Easy To Be Hard" - I was only six when the musical first played off-Broadway, after all.  It still remains my favorite song in the show. 

Though the 1979 Milos Forman film version (with electrifying choreography by Twyla Tharp) has NOTHING to do with the musical, it succeeds in its own right ... I love the film, though most "musical theatre types" despise it.  Here is the brilliant film performance of the song by stage and film performer, Cheryl Barnes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How I Paid for College


How I Paid for College (2004)
by Michael Ende

The story of how I paid for college begins like life itself - in a pool of water.  Not in the primordial ooze from which prehistoric fish first developed arms and crawled onto the shore but in a heavily chlorinated pool of water in the backyard of Gloria D'Angelo's split-level ranch in Camptown, New Jersey.

Aunt Glo.

She's not my aunt, really, she's my friend Paula's aunt, but everybody calls her Aunt Glo and she calls us kids the LBs, short for Little Bastards.

Aunt Glo yells.  Always yells.  She yells from the basement where she does her son the priest's laundry.  She yells from the upstairs bathroom, where she scrubs the tub to calm her nerves.  And she yells from her perch behind the kitchen sink, where she stirs her marinara sauce and watches us float in the heavily chlorinated pool of water.

Like life itself, the story of how I paid for college begins with a yell ...


Thus begins one of the single funniest books I've ever read.  How I Paid for College is subtitled A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater.  It's a difficult book to describe (as the subtitle probably suggests), but it's HYSTERICAL ... particularly if you're a "theatre person."  Here's the description from the back of the book ...

"It's 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside Manhattan.  Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and mischief.  The fun comes to a halt, however, when Edward's father remarries and refuses to pay for Edward to study acting at Juilliard.  So Edward turns to his misfit friends to help him steal the tuition money from his father.  Disguising themselves as nuns and priests, Edward and his friends merrily scheme their way through embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and blackmail.  But along the way, Edward also learns the value of friendship, hard work, and how you're not really a man until you can beat up your father - metaphorically, that is."

It's an adult, EXTREMELY black comic caper with a cast of delightful teen-angsty misfits (these are NOT the "Glee" kids) ... I read it when it first came out and I've been staring at it (and its sequel Attack of the Theater People) on my "favorites bookshelf" for some time now.  I need to give them another go!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Disneyland

 
"Disneyland"
by Howard Ashman
from Smile (1986)

Hot summer night,
I guess the folks were busy fighting.
Joe'd already left home.
Eleven years old on my own
Feeling nothing but lonely.

There's nothing to do.
There's nothing out there but the traffic
Down on state ninety-three,
So I'd sit through the night
By our old black and white TV.

That's where I saw it.
That's when I heard it.
Calling, calling me ...

Disneyland, Magic Kingdom.
Disneyland ...
I close my eyes real tight.
Wishing hard I might, wishing hard I may.

Find my way to
Disneyland, gotta get to
Disneyland
On a western breeze
Magic carpet please, carry me away.

Oh, I know you're gonna say
The trees are paper mache.
It's done with mirrors, the magic there.
Each little bird's full of springs,
You press a button it sings
Recorded music in the air.

They've had the mountain refaced
It's only plywood and paste -
Go on say it!
I'll turn around and tell you I don't care!
I don't ... care.

I will live in
Disneyland.
Make my home in
Disneyland.
Maybe it's all fake,
That's a chance I'll take,
It's perfectly OK.

Someone give me
Disneyland.
Take me there
To Disneyland.
And when I get to Disneyland ...
I'll stay!

I'm heading to Universal Studios in Orlando early this morning, so I thought a theme-park themed song would be appropriate for today's post.  This song comes from the musical flop, Smile.  Never heard of it?  Not surprising ... it only ran for 48 performances, so not many people have.  What is surprising about its lack of success was the writing team - the music by Marvin Hamlisch and the words by Disney animated feature lyricist, Howard Ashman (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and others).  What is also surprising about this score (which chronicled the lives of teenage contestants in a California beauty pageant) are the gems, like the title song and this touching ballad, "Disneyland."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Alexander


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible,
No Good, Very Bad Day (1972)
by Judith Viorst

There were lima beans for dinner and I hate limas.
There was kissing on TV and I hate kissing.
My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas.
I hate my railrood train pajamas.
When I went to bed Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night light burned out and I bit my tongue.
The cat wants to sleep with Anthony, not with me.
It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
My mom says some days are like that.
Even in Australia.

Poor Alexander can't win for losing.  Everything is going wrong and it's a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.  His day starts with waking up to find gum in his hair and it just goes downhill from there.  This is ABSOLUTELY one of my favorite children's books - from acclaimed children's author, Judith Viorst.  If you've never read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up ... although you'll probably want to move to Australia.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Gentle Movement

"Vegan Diet: Why Does it Make People So Angry?" (2011)
by Christina Pirello

After reading the book Skinny Bitch last summer during my week in Ireland, I became a devoted vegetarian ... eschewing all meat (beef, pork, chicken, fish), but still eating dairy products and eggs.  I have been a steadfast vegetarian now for almost twelve months.  Over the past couple of weeks, while reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, I decided that I need to go "all the way" ... to veganism.  NO animal products whatsoever, including dairy and eggs.  This is PARTICULARLY difficult for me, since I could simply LIVE on cheese.

It's a VERY difficult lifestyle to follow ... especially when eating out.  I have "cheated" here and there, eating some dairy and even some fish tonight at dinner.  I have frequently been asked to explain why I've made the decision to become vegetarian and now vegan, and it's hard to give a simple, concise answer to that question.  Fortunately, my friend Susan sent me a link to this article in the Huffington Post which states the reasons for the choice VERY succinctly and also explores why some people seem so vehemently opposed, and even angry, with people who have made this personal decision.

I posted this article myself on Facebook, and Ms. Pirello was right ... even I got some fairly "angry responses."  Go figure ... is it THAT threatening?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Man in Chair


The Drowsy Chaperone (1998)
by Bob Martin and Don McKellar

I hate theatre.  Well, it's so disappointing, isn't it?  You know what I do when I'm sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the curtain to rise?  I pray.  Dear God, please let it be a good show.  And let it be short, oh Lord in Heaven, please.  Two hours is fine, three hours is too much.  And keep the actors out of the audience.  God.  I didn't pay a hundred dollars to have the fourth wall come crashing down around my ears.  I just want a story, and a few good songs that will take me away.  I just want to be entertained.  I mean, isn't that the point?  Amen.

You know there was a time when people sat in darkened theatres and thought to themselves, "What have George and Ira got for me tonight?"  Or "Can Cole Porter pull it off again?"  Can you imagine?  Now it's, "Please, Elton John, must we continue this charade?"  It used to be, sitting there in the dark, you knew that when the lights came up you would be taken to another world, a world full of color and music and glamour.


Have you heard this joke?  Stop me if you have ...

How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two ... one to screw it in, and the other to say, "I could've done it better."

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post ("Love Who You Love" back in late April) that all theatre performers (and directors) have personal lists of "dream shows" that they would literally kill to do.  The role of "Man in Chair" in the musical Drowsy Chaperone is one of those for me.  Tonight I saw a production of the musical and I was a bit worried about how I would react to someone doing "MY" role. 

I made an oath to myself that I was taking this "sabbatical" from theatre until the Fall of 2012, so I did NOT audition for the part (much to the astonishment of many of my friends who thought this "sabbatical" thing wasn't serious).  I was thrilled, however, to hear that my friend, Geoffrey, would be playing the role and thought he was a TERRIFIC fit for the part.  From the moment he started speaking the opening lines above in the darkened theatre, I knew he had it nailed.  He was GREAT and I'm sure I'll have another chance at some point ...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Marry Me a Little


"Marry Me a Little"
by Stephen Sondheim
from Company (1970)

Marry me a little,
Love me just enough.
Cry, but not too often,
Play, but not too rough.

Keep a tender distance
So we'll both be free.
That's the way it ought to be.
I'm ready!

Marry me a little,
Do it with a will.
Make a few demands
I'm able to fulfill.

Want me more than others,
Not exclusively.
That's the way it ought to be.
I'm ready!
I'm ready now!

You can be my best friend,
I can be your right arm.
We'll go through a fight or two.
No harm, no harm.

We'll look not too deep,
We'll go not too far.
We won't have to give up a thing,
We'll stay who we are.
Right?
Okay, then.
I'm ready!
I'm ready now!

Someone, marry me a little,
Love me just enough.
Warm and sweet and easy,
Just the simple stuff.

Keep a tender distance
So we'll both be free.
That's the way it ought to be.
I'm ready!

Marry me a little,
Body, heart, and soul.
Passionate as hell,
But always in control.

Want me first and foremost,
Keep me company.
That's the way it ought to be.
I'm ready!
I'm ready now!

Oh, how gently we'll talk,
Oh, how softly we'll tread.
All the stings, the ugly things
We'll keep unsaid.

We'll build a cocoon of love and respect.
You promise whatever you like,
I'll never collect.
Right?
Okay, then.
I'm ready.
I'm ready now.
Someone ...

I'm ready!

So ... the NY Philharmonic version of Company (playing in movie theatres for only a couple of performances) was quite wonderful.  I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things, including how well the non-musical theatre comics (Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, and others) performed this difficult material, and how much I actually liked Patti LuPone in the role of Joanne (her rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" was RIGHT ON). 

The "revival version" has been a bit altered from the original 1970 version ... the most notable addition is this song, "Marry Me a Little," which is now sung by the lead character, Bobby, as the Act One Finale.  I've ALWAYS had a great deal of difficulty with the inclusion of this song, particularly halfway through the show.  "Marry Me a Little" was an earlier, abandoned attempt for the place now held by "Being Alive" in the show.  It's an AMAZING song, but I feel it is too self-aware for Bobby at the end of Act One, since he is only halfway through his "journey" to deciding that he can't live his life alone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Being Alive


"Being Alive"
by Stephen Sondheim
from Company (1970)

Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.


Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody need me too much,
Somebody know me too well,
Somebody pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.
Make me alive ...

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody crowd me with love,
Somebody force me to care,
Somebody make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

I think you'll probably notice a common thread in some of my favorite songs and this one certainly fits the bill.  It probably doesn't need much more explanation than that.  I chose this song today because I'm looking forward to heading to the movie theatre tomorrow night to see the New York Philharmonic concert staging of the 1970 musical, Company

This is a show that is near and dear to my heart, being the only fully-staged musical that I performed in (as David) during my college years.  I also played Amos in a concert version of Chicago.  This is certainly one of Sondheim's most famous songs and, next to Send in the Clowns, probably the most covered, as well.  My favorite version is still the original one above ... Dean Jones from the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Believe


"I Believe"
by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone
from The Book of Mormon (2011)

Ever since I was a child
I tried to be the best ...
So what happened?
My family and friends
All said I was blessed ...
So what happened?


It was supposed to be all so exciting
To be teaching of Christ across the sea,
But I allowed my faith to be shaken -
Oh, what's the matter with me?

I've always longed to help the needy,
To do the things I never dared,
This was the time for me to step up,
So then why was I so scared?

A warlord who shoots people in the face.
What's so scary about that?
I must trust that my Lord is mightier
And always has my back.
Now I must be completely devout
I can't have even one shred of doubt...

I Believe -
that the Lord God created the universe.
I Believe -
That he sent his only Son to die for my sins.
And I Believe -
That ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America.
I am a Mormon,
And a Mormon just believes.

You cannot just believe part way,
You have to believe in it all.
My problem was doubting the Lord's will
Instead of standing tall.

I can't allow myself to have any doubt.
It's time to set my worries free.
Time to show the world
What Elder Price is about,
And share the power inside of me!

I Believe -
That God has a plan for all of us.
I Believe -
That plan involves me getting my own planet.
And I Believe -
That the current President of The Church,
Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God.
I am a Mormon
And dang it,
A Mormon just believes!

I know that I must go and do
The things my God commands.
I realize now why He sent me here!
If you ask the Lord in faith,
He will always answer you.
Just believe in him
And have no fear!

I Believe -
That Satan has a hold of you.
I Believe -
That the Lord God has sent me here.
And I Believe -
That in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!
You can be a Mormon!
A Mormon who just believes!

And now I can feel the excitement.
This is the moment I was born to do.
And I feel so incredible -
To be sharing my faith with you
The scriptures say that if you ask in faith,
If you ask God himself you'll know.
But you must ask him without any doubt,
And let your spirit grow!

I Believe -
That God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I Believe -
That Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I Believe -
That the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
If you believe,
The Lord will reveal it.
And you'll know it's all true -
You'll just feel it.

You'll be a Mormon
And by gosh!
A Mormon just...
Believes!

Tasteless?  Perhaps.  Blasphemous?  Probably.  Hysterical?  Absolutely.

But what do you expect from the creators of South Park and one of the creators of Avenue Q?  You certainly don't expect them to pull any punches, and they don't.  The Book of Mormon swept the Tony Awards two nights ago, and I have to admit I've listened to the cast recording pretty much non-stop since I got it last week.  The video above was the selection that was telecast in the Awards ceremony ... probably the only song that COULD be broadcast on network television (or appropriately posted here on this blog).  It also happens to be my favorite song in the score. An unforgiving, satirical take on a contemporary Christian a-la-Amy-Grant anthem, and if you don't listen carefully, you'll miss the occasional gut-busting comic lines that make it distinctly The Book of Mormon.  If you're also REALLY paying attention, you'll hear a two-verse homage to The Sound of Music, as well!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment


"It Only Takes a Moment"
by Jerry Herman
from Hello, Dolly! (1964)
 
It only takes a moment
For your eyes to meet, and then ...
Your heart knows in a moment
You will never be alone again.
 
I held her for an instant
But my arms felt sure and strong.
It only takes a moment
To be loved a whole life long ...
 
And that is all
That love's about,
And we'll recall when time runs out ...
That it only took a moment
To be loved a whole life long!

"Isn't the world full of wonderful things?" ... My single proudest moment as a performer was playing Cornelius Hackl in a benefit concert performance of Hello, Dolly! a couple of years ago.  In the concert, I also had the pleasure and honor of performing alongside Broadway stars Pam Myers and Harvey Evans, as Dolly and Horace. 

This is such an incredible ballad (though I've never heard the additional verse in Barrowman's version above) and, as an added bonus, Cornelius has this remarkable monologue smack dab in the middle of the song, taken directly from the source - Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker.  The final lines ...

"Today I've lost so many things.  My job, my future, everything that people think is important, but I don't care!  Even if I have to dig ditches for the rest of my life, I'll be a ditch digger who once had a wonderful day."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Make Our Garden Grow


"Make Our Garden Grow"
by Richard Wilbur
from Candide  (1956)

You've been a fool
And so have I,
But come and be my wife.
And let us try,
Before we die,
To make some sense of life.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good -
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow ...
And make our garden grow.

I thought the world
Was sugar cake,
For so our master said.
But now I'll teach
My hands to bake
Our loaf of daily bread.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good -
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow ...
And make our garden grow.

Let dreamers dream
What worlds they please -
Those Edens can't be found.
The sweetest flowers,
The fairest trees,
Are grown in solid ground.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow!

Simply the greatest Broadway song and most glorious musical theatre finale ever written ... with Leonard Bernstein's music and Wilbur's lyrics.   That's all I really need to say ... it's. just. staggering.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pretty Lies

by Boy George
from Taboo  (2003)

I can never get this muck from round my eyes,
Don't know why I bother sometimes ...
Painting my face up for the kill.

A little bit of glitter goes a long, long way,
But if you never see my face ...
How will you know if what you feel is real?

I've been trying to be something I'll never be
But I'm nothing special, there's no mystery ...

I've been hiding from the world, and from myself
Wanting love so desperately,
Oh, so desperately ...

If you see all the hurt in my eyes,
Will you laugh, will you run, will you carry me?
If I tell you that I'm weak and I'm scared,
Will that seem absurd?

I'm the loneliest boy in the world.

I'm the loneliest boy
In the world ...

The 2003 musical flop Taboo told the story of the life and career of Boy George (with significant artistic license).  Although Boy George did appear in the musical, the CHARACTER of George was played by a marvelous performer with an extraordinarily beautiful voice, Euan Morton.  It's difficult for me to listen to this song without getting a few chills and a few tears ... and, again, I find a strong personal connection with the lyrics.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Darkness and Decay


The Masque of the Red Death (1842)
by Edgar Allan Poe

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical ...

Love me some Poe.  And The Masque of the Red Death is my favorite Poe short story.  Prince Prospero and his friends in the nobility have sought refuge in Prospero's abbey from a deadly plague, The Red Death, that is sweeping the land.  They seal the doors and throw a grand masked ball, completely indifferent to the suffering of the common people outside.  The seven abbey rooms are decorated in a different color with the final room decorated in black and lit by a blood-red light.  Also in this room, that no one at the party dares to enter, is a large ebony clock whose toll each hour stops the revelry.

At midnight, an uninvited masked figure appears.  The mask of the stranger is the shocking visage of a Red Death victim and he is cloaked in what appears to be a blood-spattered funeral shroud.  Demanding to know the uninvited guest's identity, Prospero chases him through the seven rooms.  When he faces the stranger in the final black room, Prospero is struck dead.  The guests descend upon the stranger and pull off the mask, only to discover no one beneath it.  The Red Death has found them even behind the walls and the guests succumb to the plague ... as the last line proclaims -

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death
held illimitable dominion over all.

I have often considered the theatrical opportunities in the work of Poe.  Not too long ago, my friend Aaron and I began work on a musical based on the puzzling last four days of Poe's life as he lay dying in a hospital.  We were going to call the musical Nevermore (from his poem "The Raven") and had some terrific ideas for the show.  Unfortunately, we discovered that there was a recent Off-Broadway musical with the same name and with some of the same story components.  I'm not sure if we've given up on it completely ... we'll see ...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Moon Child

 
The Neverending Story (1983)
by Michael Ende
 
And so it would go on for ever and ever, for any change in the sequence was unthinkable.  Only he, Bastian, could do anything about it.  And he would have to do something, or else he too would be included in the circle.  It seemed to him that this story had been repeated a thousand times, as though there were no before and after and everything had happened at once.  Now he realized why the Old Man's hand trembled.  The Circle of Eternal Return was an end without an end.
 
Bastian was unaware of the tears that were running down his cheeks.  Close to fainting, he suddenly cried out, "Moon Child, I'm coming!"
 
In that moment, several things happened at once ...
 
My friend, Kyle (http://q-uq.blogspot.com/), reminded me of this novel the other day when he mentioned the film version on Facebook.  It saddens me to admit that I had totally forgotten about this epic fantasy adventure even though it sits on my "Favorite Literature" bookshelf and remains one of my most treasured reads.  To judge this beautiful novel on the rather cheesy children's film, however, does it a disservice.  I must admit I enjoy the movie - charming, delightful, and faithful ... though only to the FIRST HALF of the book and, in my opinion, the LESS important of the two halves.
 
The story concerns the neglected and bullied Bastian Balthazar Bux, who steals a book called The Neverending Story from a local bookseller and hides in his school attic to read it.  As he reads the tale of a young warrior's efforts to save his land, Fantastica, from the spread of the Nothing (caused by the "real" world's denial of fantasy), Bastian finds himself drawn further and further into the novel ... literally.  Bastian is shocked to discover that he is the human child prophesized to save Fantastica and that he is, in fact, reading his OWN story.  So, when he cures the world and the dying Childlike Empress by giving her the name "Moon Child," he is drawn completely into the story. 
 
Unfortunately this is where the movie ends, but it's only HALFWAY through the novel.
 
The second half of the novel is Bastian's adventure in Fantastica, a world that has disappeared and a world HE must recreate.  As he rebuilds the world through wishing, his new friends discover that Bastian is losing his memories of the real world little by little with each wish.  Since this is the part of the novel NOT covered in the film, I'll leave off the spoilers and hope that you will find the time to read this wonderful novel.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Star-Child


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
by Arthur C. Clarke

There before him, a glittering toy no Star-Child could resist, floated the planet Earth with all its peoples ... Then, he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers.  For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.

But he would think of something ...

Enigmatic, frustrating, but revolutionary ... Arthur C. Clarke's novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey was developed concurrently with the Stanley Kubrick film version and was published after the movie's release.  Though many find the film's deliberate pace with LONG stretches of nearly silent imagery dull, I find it fascinating.  I am NEVER bored by the classic film, which many critics now consider to be one of the greatest ever made.

I remember picking up the book as a teen and poring over every. little. detail.  What were the monoliths?  How were they controlling man's evolution?  More importantly, WHO was controlling man's evolution?  Why did HAL malfunction?  What happened to Bowman when he made his final mind-blowing trip to the monolith near Jupiter?  Was Bowman's transformation into the "celestial fetus" the final step in man's controlled evolution?

The book answered just enough of the questions to fill in SOME of the blanks, but fortunately not all.  This book began a small love affair with the work of Arthur C. Clarke - I followed it with Rendezvous with Rama (which was surprisingly the inspiration for a fascinating video game) and the three Space Odyssey sequels: 2010 (and its faithful film version), 2061, and 3001.  But NOTHING will match the majesty, poetry, mystery, and power of the original 2001.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Party Was Over


The Shining (1977)
by Stephen King

It shrieked; it shrieked but now it was voiceless and it was screaming only panic and doom and damnation in its own ear, dissolving, losing thought and will, the webbing falling apart, searching, not finding, going out, going out to, fleeing, going out to emptiness, notness, crumbling.

The party was over.

There aren't many novels that have made me cry (the most recent was The Time Traveler's Wife), and even fewer that have truly scared me ... scared me to the point of wanting to put the book down, but not wanting to put the book down at the same time.  Wanting to look at the car accident, but not wanting to look at the car accident.  The Shining was one of those books. 

There was no one quite like the EARLY Stephen King.  I think he's lost of lot of his punch in his almost assembly-line release of new novels.  Many of the later ones became rather ... well ... silly, and I honestly just stopped reading his work.  But a number of his first novels TERRIFIED me.  His 1975 vampire novel (WAY back BEFORE it became a fad), 'Salem's Lot, kept me up late at night, curled up in bed, facing away from the window, dreading the scratch of fingernails on the pane.

The Shining was another matter ... a roller coaster of a haunted house novel with unexpected horrors around every corner.  I expect many people only know the work from the atmospheric, if not very faithful (not at ALL, in fact), Stanley Kubrick film with Jack Nicholson.  There was a MUCH more faithful TV miniseries about 15 years ago, though it didn't quite match the scares in Kubrick's version.

Either way, if you haven't read King's bloodcurdling novel and you don't mind losing some sleep, I couldn't possibly recommend it more strongly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Grey Havens


The Return of the King (1955)
by J.R.R. Tolkien

"Well, here at last, dear friends,
on the shores of the Sea comes the end of
our fellowship in Middle-Earth.
Go in peace!
I will not say: do not weep;
for not all tears are an evil."

I thought I'd take a small vacation from the world of musical theatre this week and stick with some of my favorite prose, starting with The Lord of the Rings.

I nearly INHALED this trilogy for the first time when I was in high school.  I've always been more than a bit of a fantasy and sci-fi geek ... to dive into this monumental trilogy and live in this thrilling, complex, breathtaking, living world was nothing less than a dream.  And the final scene above at The Grey Havens with the wizard, Gandalf, bidding goodbye to his companions never failed to bring me to tears.

The film adaptations of the past decade brought Tolkien's universe to vivid and faithful life, but they'd never match the scenes and visions I could compose in my head.  As a teen and a budding visual artist (I need to get back to that, too), I would draw pictures of the Balrog and Gollum and Shelob and Smaug (from The Hobbit).  I think I've read the entire trilogy a few times, but it's been quite some time since my last trip to Middle-Earth.  Maybe it's time for a return visit ...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

God Is in the Details


Finishing the Hat (2010)
by Stephen Sondheim
 
There are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer, all of them familiar truisms.  They were not immediately apparent to me when I started writing, but have come into focus via Oscar Hammerstein's tutoring, Strunk and White's huge little book, "The Elements of Style," and my own sixty-some years of practicing the craft.  I have not always been skilled or diligent enough to follow them as faithfully as I would like, but they underlie everything I've ever written.  In no particular order, and to be written in stone:

CONTENT DICTATES FORM

LESS IS MORE

GOD IS IN THE DETAILS

all in the service of

CLARITY

without which nothing else matters.

It was with an almost orgiastic frenzy that Stephen Sondheim devotees (including myself) devoured his book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines, and Anecdotes.  It is a GLORIOUS volume, replete with pictures and lyrics from the thirteen shows for which Sondheim had written lyrics during those years (from Saturday Night through Merrily We Roll Along).  Sondheim shares lyrics from each show (including gems that were cut from each production) and annotates them with personal stories, observations, critiques of his own work, critiques of others' work, gossip, and "inside tidbits" about theatre history and his collaborators. 

I can't wait for the publication of his second volume: Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes due out this November!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Great Work


Angels in America (1991)
by Tony Kushner

This is my favorite place in New York City.  No, in the whole universe.  The parts of it I have seen ...

This angel.  She's my favorite angel.  I like them best when they're statuary.  They commemorate death but they suggest a world without dying.  They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, and weigh tons but they're winged, they are engines and instruments of flight.

I'm almost done.

The fountain's not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes.  But in the summer it's a sight to see.  I want to be around to see it.  I plan to be.  I hope to be.

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away.  We won't die secret deaths anymore.  The world only spins forward.  We will be citizens.  The time has come.

Bye now.

You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.

And I bless you: More Life.

The Great Work begins.

There's nothing quite like the masterwork that is Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.  Told in two parts, Millenium Approaches and Perestroika, this seven-hour epic has an astounding poetic sweep and vision that is frankly nothing short of staggering. 

It's hard to summarize the plot of this piece ... it is a grand, fantastical journey that spans the years 1985 to 1990 and travels through a multitude of locations including Antartica and Heaven itself as it follows three very different gay men with AIDS.  Though breathtakingly theatrical, it was translated to the screen in 2003 for HBO and it is a surprisingly faithful and successful adaptation.

What I wouldn't give to direct a theatre piece like this with the appropriate facility, budget, cast, and creative team.  And what I wouldn't give to be able to write like this, as well ...

Friday, June 3, 2011

September Song


"September Song"
by Maxwell Anderson
from Knickerbocker Holiday  (1938)
 
Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September.
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game.

And the days dwindle down to a precious few ...
September, November.
And these few precious days I'd spend with you -
These golden days I'll spend with you.
 
As the school year draws to an end, this song has been running through my head ... I'm not sure why. It doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with school or summer vacation.  The days are certainly "dwindling down to a precious few" (my Facebook status yesterday morning) and September calls to mind the beginning of the new school year. 
 
This lovely song with its melancholy melody by Kurt Weill (from the 1938 musical Knickerbocker Holiday) was a pop and jazz hit for MANY artists, most notably Frank Sinatra.  I was thrilled to find this Sarah Vaughan rendition on YouTube ... ENJOY!!