Annie was right all along!!!
For all those of you concerned about losing the sun yesterday during the total eclipse -- not to worry! Everything will be well.
Annie was right all along!!!
None of these videos are especially-good quality, and the audio of each is a bit muddled. But boy howdy are they each a treasure.
Initially, I came across one, and was going to post it. But then, doing some searching, I came across three others that leaped-out as too special to pass by. So, here are four versions of the song, "Liaisons," from Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical A Little Night Music.
It's not that any of these are The Best rendition of the song -- I've found several others that are great, as well, which aficionados may well swear by. And I'm not even including the original, which was Hermione Gingold, who not only played the role of Mme. Armfeld in the first Broadway production, but in the initial staging in London, as well. Rather, these are four performances that are in their own ways historic, and remarkable for who the actresses are. And one of them -- alas, audio only -- is (to me) the most special of all, and I don't say that because I saw it live, when the show was on its national tour in Chicago, but because...well, you'll understand when we get to it.
The song is the only solo number for the character, and it's a showstopper. Mrs. Armfeld is an old woman, an aged, former courtesan -- the mother of the main character, Desiree -- who has been watching all the dalliances going on around her during the course of the show and eventually reminisces wistfully what real liaisons should be, that they be done with class and style and grace.
This first is a fairly recent revival of the show on Broadway, done I believe around 2012. It brings back to Sondheim an actress who in much earlier days starred in Sondheim's first show, Anyone Can Whistle and then had great success (and a Tony award) for another of his musicals, playing then Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. But here, Angela Lansbury has grown into the role of Mme. Armfeldt.
Next, this is Glynnis Johns in the role. She may not be as well-known as the other performers here, but is beloved for one particular role. And theater fans already know why this particular performance is special to include. The reason most people would remember Glynnis Johns is for a movie -- she played the mother, Mrs. Banks, in the movie, Mary Poppins. But that's not why she's included in this collection. It's because for the original Broadway production of A Little Night Music, she was the actress who created the starring role of Desireee -- indeed, who introduced the song, "Send in the Clowns." And with the passage of time, she returned to the show, this time as Desiree's mother, in a 1991 revival in Los Angeles.
Below, this was the video I referred to at the beginning, that I initially found and had intended to post alone. It comes from a 2010 limited-run production in Paris, the first-ever version of the show done there. Unfortunately, the video is just a single long shot, no close-ups or even anything medium, so you can't really see any details. But the audio comes through well, and therefore you get to enjoy the lovely performance of Leslie Caron. (If reminders are needed for anyone, she starred in such classic films as An American in Paris, Gigi and Lili, among many others. (A wonderful side note: when starring in the title role of Gigi, the actress who played her grandmother was...Hermione Gingold, who as mentioned later created the role of of Mme. Armfeld.) I believe this production only ran for a week, and what's interesting is that they didn't translate it into French -- perhaps translating intricate Sondheim lyrics was too much of a challenge, at least for a limited run -- but you can see "super-titles" at the top of the stage, translating the words into French, as is used for operas these days.
And wonderful as all these are, this, to me, is the gem. A good part of that is personal -- as I said, I saw this production on the show's national tour when it came to Chicago in the mid-1970s, playing at the Shubert Theater. Jean Simmons was the star, and she also played the role in the London production. And as terrific as the production was, it was this performance of "Liaisons" which made the matinee so memorable for me. That's because the role of Mme. Armfeldt was played by none other than...Margaret Hamilton! Yes, the 'Wicked Witch of the West' from The Wizard of Oz. And she was great. It remains one of the handful of most-memorable performances I've seen. My recollection is that she played the role very differently from the others. As you saw in the videos above, Mme. Armfeld is in a wheelchair, and at the end of the song she fades off and falls asleep, and is wheeled off-stage by an attendant. That's the only way I've seen the role done -- except in this production. Margaret Hamilton walked hesitantly out on stage, but stood there, almost defiant against age and time and sang it standing tall. And then walks carefully offstage.
As I said, this is only the audio, but still... You at least get to hear Margaret Hamilton steal the show with "Liaisons."
What with removing statues of Confederate Civil War generals being so prominently in the news, I thought I would do a kindness for all those so upset about it and present a joyful Broadway musical number on behalf of one such statue. It's the wonderful "Jublilation T. Cornpone" from the show Li'l Abner. And keep reading because, believe it or not, there's an even funnier and more pointed connection to it all...
But first, to give credit where credit is due, the song is performed by Stubby Kaye, and written by Johnny Mercer , who did the words, and music by Gene de Paul.
Okay, now the loopy part.
To make this all the more whimsical, pointed and, yes, even bizarrely newsworthy, I take you to the plot of the show.
One of the storylines is that this tiny, nothing, backwoods of a hamlet, Dogpatch U.S.A. has been deemed so useless and unnecessary that the government has chosen it to be the site for testing an atomic bomb. At the very end of the show, government officials arrive to clear out Dogpatch, and as the villagers prepare to leave, they... remove the statue of Jubiliation T. Corpone! And -- when doing so, they discover a plaque that had been hidden away underneath which shows that Abraham Lincoln had honored this Southern general for being so incredibly incompetent that his ineptitude helped win the war for the North. As a result of finding this plaque, it's determined that the site is a national monument, and so Dogpath is saved.
In other words...removing the statue of a Confederate general saved the day!!! Saving the town of hundreds of fictitious people.
I came across this video a few months back, but didn't get around to posting it. It's historically wonderful, from the perspective of Broadway theater, featuring Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, but the video itself is pretty low-key. But I realized that this would be as good a time as any to post it.
It's additionally timely since, over the weekend, former President Barack Obama posted a tweet which Twitter stats show to be the Most-Liked Tweet ever. Mr. Obama quoted Nelson Mandela, saying -- "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..."
This video looks like it comes from around 1950. It's a little featurette, probably made for movie theaters, on behalf of the National Conference of Christians & Jews, for National Brotherhood Week. Hammerstein introduces the song, and explains its important within the show he and Rodgers wrote, South Pacific. And then with Rodgers at the piano, Hammerstein introduces William Tabbert who sang the song, "Carefully Taught," in the original production.
I've been remiss in not mentioning the passing of Barbara Cook, who died on Tuesday at the age of 89. She had a legendary career on Broadway, yet kept working as a solo concert performer until late in her life. But she even still performed on Broadway as recently as 2010 in the revue, Sondheim on Sondheim.
I suspect most people have a reasonable sense of her highlights, most notably creating the role of 'Marian the Librarian" in The Music Man, as well as 'Cunegonde' in Candide and 'Miss Balish' in She Loves Me. There's a lot more, like Plain and Fancy, and The Grass Harp, along with numerous revival productions on Broadway, like The King and I, and Show Boat, and national tours of Funny Girl and The Unsinkable Molly Brown,
And lots more. Lots. But rather than go into it all, here's the musical section of when she received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2011.
There's another video that includes the biographical section of the evening, and it's quite good. But the voice and picture is out of sync, and there are Japanese subtitles which get a bit distracting, as well. But if you want to see it, you can watch here. (It says the video runs 35 minutes, but it doesn't. It's 17 minutes, and gets repeated.)
But I couldn't leave it at that. How can you honor Barbara Cook and not have Barbara Cook? So, here is a rare . video of her on the Bell Telephone Hour in 1960, performing a medley of two songs from...The Music Man!
(By the way, when she sings the counter-point song of "Lida Rose/ Will I Ever Tell You" with a barbershop quartet, I recognize them as the Buffalo Bills. They were in the original stage production of The Music Man with her, and then re-created their role in the movie.)
I've written about the 1976 made-for-TV musical version of Pinocchio that starred Sandy Duncan and Danny Kaye, and posted a few musical numbers for it, here and here. This is another song, a solo number performed by Danny Kate, "Look at Me Now." As I've mentioned, I find the score by Billy Barnes to be mediocre, but it's lively, and fun to see the numbers, especially since all that I've come across have been well-performed.
Back in 2005, the Hollywood Bowl held a 75th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim. Happily, I was able to go, and it was an absolutely wonderful concert. I'd been told that it was videotaped for possible broadcast later on PBS -- but for whatever reason it never did get aired. I don't know if it was a rights issue matter, or they didn't get enough underwriting funds, or if the video wasn't good enough (I can't believe that). But whatever the reason, it didn't make it on TV, which is a shame. It was terrific. Somewhere, I assume, the video of that night still exists in some archive.
One of the highlights was when Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou reunited to recreate the "A Little Priest" number they did in Sweeney Todd on Broadway in 1979. And happily there's video of that, taken from the audience, so it's a little shaky, but it's fine, and the historic record is saved. Both performers are a joy and (best of all) doing the song totally in character after 26 years -- she most-especially dives in deep -- rather than just standing up and singing the tune. And the audience is wildly appreciative throughout.
Making the video even more special is how rare it is to have recorded footage of them together from the show. When the TV version was done, it was from the road tour, when George Hearn had the lead opposite her. There's one other video of the two of them that I'm aware of, but not likely much more..
Unrelated side note: I almost missed the concert. Rather than battle hellish traffic getting to the Bowl and then trying to park, I've started using their Park-n-Ride option. As it happened that night, for inexplicable reasons, the lot I was using never got its buses. The line of people grew and grew, ever longer. And more upset as the time was getting closer to the concert. Though there were supposed to be half a dozen buses scheduled to show up, none did. Until finally a single bus arrived. The question was who would get on. There was a line, but also a lot of annoyed people. Fortunately, I'd bought a bus ticket ahead of time -- and those with prepaid tickets got on first. I have no idea how they decided on the rest, but once I got my seat I was so relieved that little outside the bus mattered. As it was, we still got the the Hollywood Bowl late, and by the time I reached my seat, I'd missed the first 10 minutes. But it went on for another two hours or more, so it worked out...
This is another of those real finds and a major treat. Not just because of how special it is, and pleased I was able to find it...but mainly because I had no idea it even existed!
This a reunion in 1993 of almost ALL the original cast members from Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1970 musical Company, re-creating most of the show in a concert reading 23 years later!
What little I could find is that only two original cast members are missing, though I can't tell who. All the major performers I'm able to recognize (either by appearance or voice, from the original cast album) are there. Elaine Stritch, Charles Kimbrough (who later played anchorman Jim Dial on the TV series Murphy Brown), Barbara Barrie, George Coe, Beth Howland (who was Vera on the series, Alice) Pamela Myers, and Susan Browning. And most notably, Dean Jones back as Bobby. Jones famously left the show very early on, in what was later believed to be personal matter when he was going through a divorce. He recorded the original cast album, but Larry Kert -- the original Tony in West Side Story -- took over and received significant credit for the show's success. But watching Jones here, best-known for a lot of light-hearted Disney movies, he's wonderful and gives credibility to to his part in the show getting off to such a good start. His performance here with the showstopping, emotional closing number, "Being Alive," is tremendous. (A personal thought: I wonder how much his invigorating performance and enthusiasm is due to him having the rare, second chance to re-visit a major show that he had had to abruptly leave so early. Maybe not. Maybe so.)
A couple of general things stand out. One is how terrific and fresh everyone's performances are. There is nothing creaky here or phoned-in. This is a vibrant, fresh, enthusiastic production, even with it just being concert-staging. There's still some choreography, and it's a joy. More on one particular scene in a moment.
And the other is how much fun everyone seems to be having, often breaking character (after finishing a number, never during) as they head back to their seat, their faces filled with pleasure. And others in the cast showing as much appreciation, beaming and applauding one another after a stand-out moment -- of which there are many. The all appear to be having the time of their lives. And it shows in the performances. (It shows too in the enthusiastic appreciation of the audience, which clearly knows the show and its history.)
To be clear, this is not a production of the full show. Mostly, it's just a re-creation of the songs. There's one major exception -- the opening. The show here beings with what seems to be the full dialogue of the first scene of the musical.
The video recording and sound is reasonably clear. All perfectly watchable. I have mixed-feelings when shows are recorded in the audience, but one of the lines I think worth crossing is when there's historic value AND enough time has passed. This easily qualifies on both counts. To think that without this video the production would have been lost is noteworthy.
It's also amusing to see Patti LuPone introduce the evening, since 18 years later in 2011 she starred in the limited-run production, taking the Elaine Stritch role of Joanne.
I've seen a couple good productions of Company, and this, even just being a concert production, and only mostly the songs, and re-creating something from 23 later and a mediocre video, may well be the best interpretation, done with graceful ease, the insight of time, and affection.
I thought the whole production was wonderful, and there are a handful of gem numbers in the first half (the title song, "Sorry-Grateful, "Another Hundred People," "Not Getting Married" and more), but the second act had most of the special, stand-out highlights for me. If you want to jump right to those rather than watch the entire production, here's a guide --
43:30 -- "Side by Side-Where Would You Be Without Me." This is a full-blown production that lasts 9 minutes (10, if you count the ovation at the end), and is a total, showstopping joy. It brings down the house.
57:50 -- "Tick-Tock." This is the famous solo dance that brought Donna McKechnie to fame. I'm not a huge fan of dance numbers, and especially interpretive dance, but this...this...boy, howdy, this is spectacular and utterly mesmerizing . There are times you watch in awe. It would have been stunning in 1970 (and was, from all that's been written about it, but that she's still this tremendous 23 years later and goes all-out in this concert-production is almost other-worldly. Then again, given that this is Donna McKechnie, who blew away Broadway in A Chorus Line, that's not surprising. I'm not quite sure what is going on in the scene, but the impression I get is that a couple of characters are having a one-night stand, and this is the show's way of interpreting that. Or something along those lines. The number has been cut from most subsequent productions, in part because Sondheim and director Hal Prince didn't think it's essential to the show, and in part because it requires someone who can dance like Donna McKechnie.
1:05:45 -- "Ladies Who Lunch." Okay, this is Elaine Strich's number. For those who know the show, nothing more need be said. For those who don't know the show -- well, you can figure out, this is a showstopper,
1:11:30 -- "Being Alive." As I said above, this is Dean Jones' big number, and he knocks it out of the park. It's a very good song on the cast album. But here, all the emotion comes bursting out. Stick around after to watch the curtain call. It'll be blocked for a few seconds, but the camera picks things up soon enough. And the pleasure is to see how enthralled the cast is by it all.
You may well be, too.
The other day, I posted a song from a 1976 original made-for-TV musical version of Pinocchio that starred Sandy Duncan and Danny Kaye. The score was by Billy Barnes -- just fair at best, but there were a few fun numbers. This is the scene when Pinocchio and Gepetto discover they're both in the belly of a whale, and together sing, "I Want to Go Home."
You may have seen the news story from Monday at the Boy Scout Jamboree where Trump talked about to the young Scouts about himself and winning the election, and then got the crowd of children and the Scout leaders chanting "We love Trump, We love Trump!" and booing President Barack Obama & Hillary Clinton.
Here's some additional B-roll footage that may not have made the news broadcasts, coming from a picnic lunch the Boy Scouts held at an outdoor bistro.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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