I mentioned just moments ago (or thereabouts) that the song "Comedy Tonight" is best performed by the full cast. Well...would I leave you hanging like that? And without a surprise bonus treat, to boot?
Last year, there was yet another major revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This one though was not on Broadway at al, but rather -- in Melbourne, Australia. What makes this noteworthy is that starring as Pseudolus was none other than the Oscar-winning actor (for Shine), Geoffrey Rush.
One marvels in the imagination of how wonderful he must have been. Perhaps one day when they decide to revive it yet again on Broadway...
This isn't the full number of "Comedy Tonight," but it starts at the point when Rush (as Prologus, the narrator) invites the full cast on stage to join him. The video appears to be from a dress rehearsal, since there's no audience response. And also, the performers seem like they're still getting their sea legs and movements down pat. Noticeable too is how mediocre the camerawork is, as the speed of the actors in this fast-paced number seems to be hard for the lens to catch up to who's always singing. But overall they eventually glom on to things, and in the end it's a treat to have.
(BobTip: watch this video full screen. There are so many people zipping through that things can get a bit more lost in a small window.)
The other day, I posted a video of Zero Mostel re-creating his original performance of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof by Harnick and Bock. As I mentioned, this 1971 Tony Award 25th anniversary broadcast was perhaps the greatest TV specials I've ever seen, as they brought back the stars of the previous 25 Tony Best Musicals, re-creating their iconic song. (The Tonys had only been on television for a few years, but the awards had been presented for 25 years.)
Of all the shows and performers, only one person sang two numbers, having starred in two Tony-winning Best Musicals. And that person was -- Zero Mostel.
The other Best Musical that Mostel had starred in was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- which opened in 1962, just two years before Fiddler. (Quite a good run for the fellow, I'd say.)
Forum was the first big hit for Stephen Sondheim. He'd written the lyrics for several major classics -- West Side Story and Gypsy. But he was a composer, as well, and always wanted to do full scores himself Forum changed his career.
Zero Mostel, who seems so core to the exuberance and mischief of the show, wasn't the first choice. Among the people who passed on it was Phil Silvers -- to his great regret. However, to his great credit, when the movie was made (with Zero Mostel re-creating his role as Pseudolus and the narrator, Prologus), Silvers took a lesser, but important role of the shifty procurer Marcus Lycus. And then 10 years after the original, Silvers got the chance to do the role he'd been originally offered -- and he starred in the 1972 Broadway revival. And won a Tony Award for it, as well. (Oddly, and disappointingly, this is the only one of the three Forum productions that didn't have a cast recording. I did, happily, get to see it when it toured the country prior to Broadway and played in Chicago -- and it was quite wonderful.)
Seeing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on stage is a different -- and far better -- experience than seeing the movie, great as the cast was. Larry Gelbart (who co-wrote the show with Burt Shevelove) always hated the film version. He and Shevelove had nothing to do with the movie, and thought the rewritten script was too leaden and self-conscious. Jokes they had themselves cut from the stage version (for instance, when Pseudolus looks at a bottle of wine, he wonders "Was One was a good year?") were put back in. (Gelbart told me that the characters should never be self-conscious about where they are in history.) And he thought the film direction was too heavy-handed and obvious. Then again, there are some things are simply "theatrical" and probably could never have worked as well in a movie. The chase scene in the movie with chariots goes on endlessly and without much charm or humor. On stage, the audience is in awe watching an actual 10-minute chase scene that's at the level of a non-stop hilarious French farce, with slamming doors, missed timings, disappearances, and more. Larry was always pleased to note that the scene wasn't something that was the result of pure direction, since "every moment and beat in that chase is in the script and meticulously written."
The script for Forum famously went through countess drafts, 10 of them over five years of writing. And monumental research, going back to 21 plays by the Roman playwright Plautus, even finding some of its jokes. (When Miles Gloriosus has the egotistical line, "I am a parade!," that comes from a play 2,000 years old.) But perhaps the funniest thing of all isn't a joke -- it's that one of the ancient plays that Gelbart and Shevelove researched was titled...Mostellaria.
So, in the end, it's quite fitting that everyone else turned down the role, and Zeero Mostel starred.
What also wasn't in the opening of the show originally was the now-famous opening number. The show (originally titled, A Roman Comedy) had begun with a sweet little piece of whimsy, "Love is in the Air." The problem was that it didn't set the tone for the lunacy and farce that was to follow. So, after the Washington pre-Broadway run and before the New York opening, Stephen Sondheim was asked to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that would better inform the audience. What he came back with was "Comedy Tonight." And the audience was now quite informed.
(For all the justified credit that the new opening song gets for helping make the show a success, Larry Gelbart always said that it had an added benefit. They'd always had trouble figuring how to end the evening. And "Comedy Tonight" gave them the perfect reprise and way to finish.)
Though "Comedy Tonight" is a number meant for a full cast, throwing in what at times seems like every joke imaginable, it holds its own when performed solo -- but most particularly when that solo is Zero Mostel, throwing himself into every note and appropriately mugging moment.
While I admit to loving animal videos, some of them transcend even that limiting description. I have a few thoughts about what makes this one so particularly wonderful, but that would give away the discovery of what develops.
It falls into that "Trust me" category.
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We read the news, so that your head won't explode.
There was a lot of media coverage when it was announced that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would become the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate a same-sex wedding, She will officiate at the wedding of Michael M. Kaiser (Kennedy Center President) and economist John Roberts.
While I completely understand why this made news, personally I think the reason she did it was not to be cutting edge, but rather as a ridiculing dig at Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts....
Yesterday, former crazy congressman Allen West (R-Mars) blasted President Obama when he said...oh, who cares? I didn't care what lunatic things Mr. West ranted about when he was an elected official, I can't understand why anyone on Earth or back on his home planet would care what he says now that he no longer has the authority of a Congressman.
Sports reporters have been working overtime for the past several weeks, writing about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who last year became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. The controversy over Manziel has been over whether or not he took any money for signing football paraphernalia, which is against NCAA rules. The NCAA has been investigating if any money changed hands, and the best they can determine is that he may have broken the spirit of the rule about money payment, and so suspended him with a slap on the wrist, prohibiting him from playing in the first half of Texas A&M's first game.
I'm really not sure what all the dispute and concern is about, and most especially the shock if such a thing actually happened, that money might have changed hands.
I mean, seriously. Look at the school's logo. It's freaking "ATM"!
And people are actually wondering if money changed hands??!!
Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said on Thursday he has a "gut feeling" that Syria possesses chemical weapons which it got from Iraq. It should be noted that in 2003, Mr. Terry supported the invasion of Iraq, no doubt based on his "gut feeling" at the time that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. It's impressive how someone with such hyper-active gut feelings can be so gutless.
Liz Cheney, running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in Wyoming; daughter of former VP Dick Cheney, and whose sister is very famously gay, commented yesterday that "I am not pro-gay marriage." I was going to say, "Hey, now that's a family dinner table I don't want to be at for Thanksgiving..." when I realized that that's a family dinner table I don't want to be at for any meal.
So, the other day here we had Katharine Hepburn in a Broadway musical. I figured that it only made sense then to have your other favorite Broadway singing and dancing star, Liv Ullmann, in a Broadway musical, too!
Yes, Liv Ullmann.
This was when the famed Norwegian actress and film collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman starred in the last show Richard Rodgers ever wrote, I Remember Mama, based on the long-running play from 1944 about an Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco in the early 1900s. The musical was not successful, running for only 108 performances. Liv Ullmann took a good deal of the heat for that, criticized for being out of place. But the thing is, in fairness, I've heard the score, and it's extremely mediocre at best. And I Remember Mama was painfully dated in 1978. (Both things which will be apparent in this video.) I have a feeling that Rodgers one reason Rodgers chose it because he owned the rights, having produced the original play with Oscar Hammerstein. For all I know, he'd always wanted to turn it into a musical. And it might have been a great idea 35 years earlier.
There was probably much sweetness, and perhaps another actress might have made the musical more cohesive. But I wouldn't be surprised that it was the star power of Liv Ullmann that help get the show to run even those 108 performances.The lyrics are by Martin Charnin (who wrote the lyrics to Annie). Additional lyrics are by Raymond Jessel who came in later. (It's the same Ray Jessel I wrote about here who in more recent years developed a wonderful one-man cabaret act of his songs.). A few years ago, I met Ray a few times, and asked him about I Remember Mama. Knowing that it was a troubled production, I wondered if it was a tough decision to come on board under such circumstances. "Are you kidding?," he said. "I got the chance to work with Richard Rodgers. It was absolutely worth it."
There's a little bit of interesting Broadway trivia that preceeed this video, which meant nothing at the time. Prior to the scene, they staged a little tribute to Richard Rodgers -- who was in very poor health -- and had Len Cariou sing an early Rodgers and Hart song. Cariou then introduced the scene. Playing Liv Ullman's husband in the show is the actor George Hearn. The trivia is this: at the time Len Cariou was starring on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. And when he later left the show, he was replace by...George Hearn, who subsequently starred in the TV production version of it (opposite the Broadway Mrs. Lovett, Angela Lansbury). For those keeping score, Sweeney Todd swept the Tonys that year and won Best Musical.
Okay, all that aside, here is Liv Ullmann and family singing "A Little Bit More" from the 1979 Tony Awards.
Joe Satran has a remarkable article here on the Huffington Post about, of all things, a significant crisis in the orange-growing industry. To clear, I am not a Big Science Expert who by nature gloms onto such articles. I simply saw it, like orange juice and thought I’d like to see what this is about.
It's detailed, substantive, scientific, historic and yet (mostly) accessible. Wonderfully written, on a subject that is difficult to write about. The article concerns a devastating disease called huanglongbing or HLB or -- in human English -- "Citrus Greening" that has been crippling orange groves around the world, and has been making its way through Florida for the past five years (and has started to touch California.
But the article isn't all about science. It's also about history -- of the orange industry and also scientific research. And most interestingly about one man, Maury Boyd, an orange grower whose life has been impacted. But rather than accept the non-curable disease (at the moment -- scientists are very hard at work on a cure), he delved into some of his own science-training from college and has developed a potential way of dealing with the problem. He's been very controversial -- to the point of being called "Typhoid Maury" by some -- questioning whether his proposals are having the impact they appear, or if they're simply delaying something worse.
By the way, scientists do feel confident that they are making progress and will find a cure. The problem is that it's probably 15-20 years, which could be too devastating for the industry. Which is where Maury Boyd might come in.
Make no mistake, the article is a tad long -- "tad" being along the lines of Homer's The Odyssey, crammed (albeit only in parts) with arcane science. I skimmed many parts, though I suspect that for people involved in the subject, the full science was important to include. For the general public, less so. But over all, most especially if you come with your skimming eye well-honed, this is quite a seriously impressive exploration.
The other day, I ruminated here about how there were no Republican former presidents -- or even former GOP presidential candidates -- at the tribute honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I have a dream..." speech. I wondered whether there were any high-ranking Republican officials there.
It turns out that there weren't. But the story is worse. Because it turns out that pretty much every Republican official in Washington -- and most major ones elsewhere -- were invited. And none showed up. Zero.
Let's repeat that number, since "zero" is easy to slip by. It was -- zero.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was invited, but didn't attend. He was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, giving a -- well, no, he didn't have any public speeches that day, though he'd been doing fundraising, so perhaps he was occupied with that. House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was invited, too, but he didn't attend either, though he had an excuse -- he was in North Dakota, meeting with oil lobbyists. The last two standard-bearers of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney and John McCain, weren't there either.
In fact, all 233 Republicans in the House of Representatives were invited. So were all 46 Republican U.S. Senators. And every one of the 30 Republican governors. And not a single one of them found it worth their time to help commemorate what is widely considered one of the great civil rights events and one of the great speeches, period, in United States history.
So much for Republicans showing their support for minorities. So much for that whole "outreach thing" that the Republicans acknowledged in their Growth and Opportunity Project report that the Party had to do.
And how did Fox News cover their total absence? How do you think? With total, outraged inaccuracy.
On his show, the ever-angry Bill O'Reilly cried pointedly and emphatically and All Knowingly to his ever-believing viewers that " "No Republican or conservative was invited."
Except for the 281+ who were.
And now you understand why a study by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll showed here that "People who watch No news know more than Fox viewers"
(By the way, this raises the question. If Bill O'Reilly and the various far right news media around the country were so outraged that Republicans supposedly hadn't been invited to the March on Washington commemoration -- will these same conservatives media now be equally outraged AT all the Republicans who didn't attend?? By sheer, rational logic, you'd sure think so. And by sheer understanding of recent reality that there is no depth to which far right hypocrisy won't sink, you'd sure know that's not likely to happen. "We just vociferously demanded (!) they should be invited. We never for a moment thought they should ever actually attend...)
Forget the horrible message this shows to minorities -- and to majorities, for that matter -- about what the Republican Party feels about civil rights, human rights, and the downtrodden and needy. Forget how this shows the galling hypocrisy of that Growth and Opportunity Project the Republican Party put together. (The report was beautifully typed and packaged, at least.)
Forget all that. Just purely on a human level, on an American level, it is reprehensible that not a single ranking Republican official out of 281+ invited showed up to honor the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most iconic moment in the struggle for civil rights this nation has seen. The Democrats showed up -- three presidents and numerous lawmakers. But zero on the Republican side of the aisle.
If any number could encapsulate the Republican Party's support of those in need, you have it right there. And this isn't about just some racist sense of ignoring black people or Hispanics or whatever minority might be uncomfortable or inconvenient. But that 50th anniversary event was about sort of the core concept of this nation. You know, the American Dream. The whole "Give me, your tired, your poor. The huddled masses yearning to breathe free" thingee on the Statue of Liberty. And the other Dream -- the "I have a ..." one.
Not one Republican official showed up. That's intentional. That's planned. That's sending a message. That's, "Let's go out of our way to ignore honoring civil rights."
And that's the Republican dream. Welcome to their nightmare.
Yesterday, I told a story about working with Robert Goulet and having him autograph my copy of the original cast album for The Happy Time, the Kander and Ebb musical for which he won the Tony Award as Best Actor. I thought it would be nice to show an 8-minute video of the show's presentation on the 1968 Tonys. It includes the very enjoyable title song and a charming sort of soft-shoe number, "A Ca that includes co-star David Wayne as his disapproving father and 16-year-old Mike Rupert as Goulet's impressionable nephew.
The show is based on a series of stories, which became a Broadway play in 1950 and then a movie a few years later that starred Louis Jordan, Charles Boyer (as the father), and Bobby Driscoll (from the film Treasure Island). The story is set in French Canada -- which, in fact, is Goulet's heritage, and where he moved when a young boy himself. It concerns memories of one's past, and a man, sort of the black sheep of the family who left home to become a photographer, who returns home for a visit, and how it affects those around him.
The Happy Time was Kander and Ebb's first musical after their breakthrough Cabaret. It didn't have the "bite" of much of their work, and wasn't successful, though it ran for 286 performances. It won two additional Tony awards, to Gower Champion for directing and choreography. While it was famous (or infamous) for its pioneering use of photographic projections (which weren't admired by all, some thinking it overwhelmed the action on the stage) and being the first musical to lose a million dollars, the score still has a bunch of very nice songs throughout.
The production went through a revision for a revival at the Goodspeed Opera House in 1980, notably in the second act, and added some songs that had been cut. Also, the use of photograph projections was dropped And then about 10 years ago, for a college production, Kander and Ebb reworked the show again, with some more cut songs returned, and when finished considered that the "definitive" version. A couple years ago, this was presented at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and in the Washington Post review of this new production, they called it, among other things, "A little charmer... Effervescent." So, maybe The Happy Time had a happy ending...
I've been looking for this to post for a long while. It's the song, "Confidence," from a little-known 1964 off-Broadway musical, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The score isn't effective all the way through, but half of it is quite wonderful. The music is by Leon Carr (who had a successful career writing TV jingles, most notably, "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut" for the Almond Joy/Mounds candy bars) with lyrics by Earl Shuman. The book is by Joe Manchester, based of course on the James Thurber story.
In fairness, I have it on the album, but converting it all to a digital file is something that I never decided to get around to doing. But with the National Football League season starting in only about 10 days, I thought it was time to finally get it done. And so, bingo! Here, at last, it is.
Wait, the NFL?? What does the NFL have to do with this.
Okay, here's the tale.
Today, NFL football on Sunday is carried by CBS and Fox. Just a few years earlier, though, NBC had the contract along with Fox. However, before that, for a very long time, NFL football was a Sunday tradition on CBS and NBC. It was a huge deal when upstart Fox outbid CBS -- which ultimately is one of the things that put the new network on the map.
And when CBS carried the NFL football on Sundays, most notably from the mid-60s forward, they began their broadcast with a rousing march. Many years later, ABC's Monday Night Football tried sort of the same thing with their theme song, "Are You Ready for Some Football?" (at least before Hank Williams Jr. went all racist, and was dropped). But it was CBS's joyful, enthusiastic, opening march that was the trend-setter. It simply put audiences in the spirit of a big football game. You heard that march, and you sat up, ready to watch. It was Sunday! It was football!
And that music -- little-known by most people, most especially not known by macho football fans -- was "Confidence."
From The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. An off-Broadway musical.
The song comes in the show when the always daydreaming and henpecked Walter is down at his favorite Harry's bar. It's around his 40th birthday, and he's ruminating about his wistful life. And it's there that Harry (performed by Rudy Tronto) begins to tell Walter (played by Marc London) to start having some confidence already, like making big changes in his life. Just throw it all aside, even if that means moving on from his nagging wife, Agnes. And with the pushing of others at the bar, (including Cathryn Damon, later a star of the TV series, Soap), and the influence of the flowing alcohol, Walter starts to build the confidence he's been lacking his whole life.
And no, this isn't in the original James Thurber story. And yes, it all ends happily. After all, the reason his wife Agnes nags him is because Walter is always so lost in his dreams, and he realizes that he needs someone to keep him on track.
(Though knowing such minutiae might seem wasteful and pointless -- in large part because it is -- I once scored bonus points for knowing this musical, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. A few decades ago, I was visiting my friend Stephanie Segal, who was having a little gathering. Also there was her childhood friend from New York, an actress named Christopher Norris, who would soon go on to some fame in the TV series Trapper John, M.D., a spinoff of M*A*S*H, as Nurse "Ripples." Upon being introduced, I offhandedly asked if she was the Christopher Norris who played Walter Mitty's little daughter, Peninnah, in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was like a cartoon moment when a character's jaw hits the floor. Stef later told me that I had made a friend for life. A slight exaggeration since I haven't seen Ms. Norris since. But who knows, perhaps if we cross paths again one day...)
And yes, the character's name is Peninnah. That wasn't a typo.
By the way, I've thought that CBS blew it when they got the right back to Sunday football. They should have opened their first broadcast with this song. Well, if CBS screwed it up, at least I can rectify their error.
I know that there's a new movie version of the Walter Mitty story from Ben Stiller upcoming, so all the more appropriate to post this now. But then, movie aside, this is version with the NFL Song.
Anyway, even if you don't know the music from the NFL days, this is still an absolutely joyful, wonderful showstopping number. But if you do remember That Music from the early days of the NFL on CBS, you're going to hear the opening bars, leap up in your seat and shout, "Oh, my God! That's the NFL song!!!"
And so it is.
We interrupt this website to pass along some great news for folks here who like to read those ebook things. My friend Bart Baker -- who I've written about often, most notably here about his always wonderful BartRants (tm) -- is doing a promotion for his terrific novel, What Remains, and has put the ebook edition on sale for just $0.99. You can download it on Amazon.
This is what I wrote about the book when it was published.
"I’m sort of in awe of Bart’s writing style. It’s powerfully aggressive, but wild with humor and heart-breaking romantic tenderness. I don’t have a clue how he does it. I know of few other writers who can do it. But he does all the time. What Remains falls right into that. A disgraced ladies man whose life crashes and burns has to move in with his gay brother. When the brother’s life hits its own crisis and falls apart, the slacker is aghast to have responsibilities dumped onto him – forcing him to take a journey to the jungles of Colombia and complicated further when he falls in love with their mixed-race nanny with her own, unsuspected and dangerous problems. As they say, complications, hilarity, and serious angst ensue. How Bart gets hilarity out of this deeply emotional drama, and he does, that’s his magic trick."
I'm slightly biased in all this. When Bart initially wrote his first draft, I edited it. It sat on the shelf for a long while he focused on other things that took over his life. After he finally picked it up again, though, he completely re-edited it on his own and took it to another level, making it even better.
I have no idea how long the sale is for -- but I just wanted to pass this along.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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