Back in December, 2018, I wrote here on the more effusive raves I’ve written about a recent stage musical in years for the show Come From Away. It was nominated as Best Musical for the Tony Awards (and for my taste should have won), but won the Olivier Award for Best Musical on London’s West End. And won the Drama Desk Award as Best Musical. Whenever I saw that it would be playing a town where I knew people I would be unrelenting in letting them know that they should go see it, coming as close to a near-insistence as I could. As I noted in my article, it has perhaps the fastest standing ovation I’ve ever seen for a show, where the entire audience was on its feet the moment the show ended and the lights went down.
It isn’t a subject matter that one would like would lend itself to a musical, let alone such a great one. The show based on the true story about the small town of Gander with 9,000 people in Newfoundland who dealt openly and graciously with the 38 planes and 7,000 passengers that were forced to land there on 9/11. But the show is tremendous.
Unfortunately, most people have never had a chance to see the show, though it’s still playing in New York, and has announced that it will be back when Broadway fully reopens.
I bring all this up because, it turns out, you will have a chance to see Come From Away. It turns out that the cast (mostly from the current production) reunited recently, and the show was filmed with all manner of different cameras – and it will be premiering on Apple TV+ on September 10, this Friday!
(Note: If you don't subscribe to Apple TV+, it only costs $4.99 a month, so you can sign up for just one month. In fact, they may even offer a free trial period. Then, you can watch Schmigadoon!, too.)
Better still, several members of the original cast are still in the show and participate, notably Joel Hatch who plays the Mayor, among other roles. Also, though the British actress in the current production who plays the pilot – among other roles -- wasn’t able to join her cast mates because of COVID-19 protocols getting her back in the country for the filming, the production brought back Jenn Collella who starred in the original Broadway cast and was acclaimed in the role. So, you'll get to see her perform her showstopping song, "Me and the Sky."
By the way, I mention “among other roles,” because – as I wrote in my earlier article, “there are 12 actors who play about 100-150 characters. (I’m not exaggerating.) It may be the first ‘non-stop musical’ I’ve seen. The first number – which grabbed me by the throat and heart half-way in – starts when the curtain rises at level nine, and it keeps that pace to the end, an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. It's a whirling dervish of an emotional, wonderful show. And it's magnificently directed on an almost bare stage.”
The book, music and lyrics are written by a Canadian team Irene Sankoff and David Hein. They’d heard of a 10th anniversary gathering in Gander, Newfoundland – known as “The Rock” – and decided to go up to see what it was like, not having any idea what to expect. They ended up interviewing people when there, and the show sprung from there.
What I also wrote previously was that “As fun as Come From Away is (and often very funny), it is at its core a thoughtful, serious drama that is filled with emotion, sadness, twists and a sense of the utter, stunning decency of Man. Or at least this town. In the program, it notes that Newfoundland and Labrador were named "one of the top 10 friendliest cultures in the world" by MacLean's magazine. It seems like an odd distinction when you read that before the show -- it is utterly understandable afterwards. It's also near-impossible to watch the show and periodically through the evening not contrast all this decency towards one's fellow man with news today from certain corners.
To be clear, it will NOT be as good as live on stage. Part of the experience is the vibrant sound of the pounding of feet, the relentless movement. It’s a visceral production seen and heard live. But from all I’ve read, they’ve tried hard to capture being in the theater, using 10 cameras, Steadicams and crane shots to take viewers inside the show where theater audiences couldn’t go. So, my hope is that there will be a great sensibility to it, regardless. And besides, SO many people will never otherwise see the show. And this will be a great way to bring it to them.
Most of the recording was done without an audience. But they did bring an audience in one day – made up of 9/11 survivors and first-responders – and several performances were edited together.
Also worth noting is that the reunited cast will be performing the show outdoors for free at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on September 10, to help commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
And if for any reason you still have some uncertainty about watching, this is a wonderful article from the Washington Post the other day -- "A 9/11 survivor wanted nothing to do with 'Come From Away.' Now she's seen it a dozen times." But then, it's a terrific article even if you know you plan to watch. Or have seen the show on stage.
Here’s the trailer. The video production looks very well done.
I just decided that this is what today needs. So, from the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain, here is Donald O'Connor singing the song, "Make 'Em Laugh."
But we'll add a couple of bonus videos to this.
In 1984, on a trip to London, I saw the premiere production of a stage version of Singin' in the Rain, which starred -- and was directed by -- Tommy Steele. It was pretty enjoyable, notably the title song (done in full rain, after surreptitiously rolling out a a full-stage platform with borders to keep the water in (a London revival of which I posted here) and "Make 'em Laugh" done live in one take, no cuts by Roy Castle -- who got a Tony nomination as Harry Secombe's sidekick in the Broadway production of Pickwick. Some of the stunts had to be trimmed down for reasons of reality, but most of it was pretty close. This video below isn't from that original production, but the stage show has had a respectable life, and even went to Broadway a year later and ran for almost a year -- this is from one of those subsequent productions, Scott Barnhardt performing the number in 2007 at the acclaimed Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut.
Which brings us to one more bonus video.
For the longest time, I confused "Make 'em Laugh" with the Cole Porter song, "Be a Clown," from the 1948 movie, The Pirate, also with Gene Kelly, as well as Judy Garland. I thought maybe they were the same song, and I was confusing one for something else, but wasn't sure.
But then I heard a story told by one of the people in the film -- I don't recall who, if it was Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor, or the screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, or a co-producer or who. It could have been Stanley Donen, who co-directed the film with Kelly. But my confusion became clear.
The impetus for making Singin' in the Rain came from Arthur Freed, who headed up a highly-regarded production unit at MGM. Earlier in his career, he had been a successful lyricist with composer Nacio Herb Brown, and he thought it would be a good idea to make a movie built around their library of songs. And Freed served as the film's producer.
At one point, it was decided that they needed a comic number for Donald O'Connor, but there wasn't one that was just right among Freed and Brown's existing work. So, though they hadn't written together for a long while, they were approached to write a brand new song, a comedy piece that was sort of in the vein of "Be a Clown."
A few days or perhaps a week later, Freed came back with that new number, "Make 'em Laugh." And the person telling the story (whoever it was) said, "We realized that they not only wrote a song that was in the vein of 'Be a Clown'...they wrote 'Be a Clown'! And we didn't know what to do. How do you tell the legendary Arthur Freed, a great songwriter and producer of the movie, that he'd stolen from Cole Porter. So, we didn't say anything. And used the song."
It's still a wonderful song. And the "steal" wasn't intentional. And much of the reason for the joy of the number is the great comedy choreography and performance by Donald O'Connor.
And for those who aren't sure that the two songs are really that similar, here is "Be a Clown."
Over on his website, my pal Mark Evanier wrote a couple of articles about Allan Sherman, The first here is a good, long piece about Sherman’s career and its descent. In it, he mentions Sherman trying his hand at writing a Broadway musical and it closing after four performances.
(One slight, somewhat-addendum. In talking about Sherman’s career falling off, Mark references him trying to shred being a short, fat Jewish writer with a crewcut and glasses and becoming instead Frank Sinatra. Worth noting that in his autobiography, A Gift of Laughter – which Mark also writes about, and is correct about it being an enjoyable book, even if not, as Mark points out, not always accurate… -- Sherman jokes at length about wanting to be Cary Grant. So, there’s a little of both icons in his personal changes.)
In his second piece here, Mark mentions Sherman’s attempt to write some serious songs and embeds a video of a sort-of parody original.
All this brought to mind one of those serious song, which is actually fairly enjoyable. It comes from that failed 1969 Broadway musical, The Fig Leaves are Falling. The music for the show was written by Albert Hague, an accomplished composer who had a couple of Broadway hits to his credit, Plain and Fancy and also Redhead, with lyrics by the great Dorothy Fields, that starred Gwen Verdon and co-starred Richard Kiley, who soon after would star in Man of La Mancha. (Hague also wrote the popular song, “Young and Foolish,” and composed the music for the songs in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) However, he’s probably best-known for playing the music teacher Mr. Shorofsky in the film, Fame, a role he re-created in the TV series.
I mention all this to make clear that The Fig Leaves are Falling did at least have some pedigree behind it. For what it's worth, the star Dorothy Loudon was nominated for a Tony as Best Actress in a Musical -- and won the Drama Desk Award. And it had a revised revival off-off-Broadway in 2013. The reviews both times though were not good.
I don’t know the score, but have heard this one particular song from it, “Did I Ever Really Live” There are a couple of recordings of it online by jazz greats Joe Williams and Nancy Wilson accompanied by Ramsey Lewis. They’re very good, though I think like another unlikely, basic version more, sung by of all-people deadpan comic Pat Paulsen, from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The simplicity of the song’s lyrics and it’s straight-forward music serves it especially well. And he does a good job with it.
Paulsen’s is the first time I heard the song. I was working at the radio station WNUR while attending Northwestern University and one day was going through the music library. That’s when I came across Pat Paulsen’s comedy album, Live at the Ice House, which is a comedy club in Pasadena. And in the middle of all the comedy bits, there he was, singing a song – and a serious one at that.
(I later saw Allan Sherman perform the song on TV. He noted that one thing he was pleased with was, to emphasize the simplicity, he only used words of one syllable, except for four words – or six, since the word “ever” is repeated two times. He said the only other song he know like this was “My Heart Stood Still,” by Rodgers & Hart.)
Anyway, Pat Paulsen sang the song on TV, as well, when he had his spin-off series from Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It ran for 13 episodes, and he sang it at the end of the last “real” episode, #12 – the final episode was basically a clip show.
If you want to hear either Joe Williams or Nancy Willson/Ramsey Lewis’s recordings, you can find them both here.
But this is Pat Paulsen’s version of the Allan Sherman-Albert Hague song. Not only because I like the song and his rendition -- but...hey, I just like seeing Pat Paulsen sing. And a serious song at that...
As we continue our attempt to make it through the year with a song ever first of the month about that month, September turns out to be a pretty easy one. There are several perfectly good ones to choose from -- but really only one leaps out as the Must post. And that's "September Song."
The song is actually from a musical, "Knickerbocker Holiday," with music written by Kurt Weill and the book and lyrics by playwright Maxwell Anderson. The show is from 1938, and about the early days of New York, loosely based on Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, which dealt with 17th-century New Netherland.
As for the show's famous song, it's surprisingly sung by a well-known historical figure, Peter Stuyvesant. In the show, Stuyvesant was originally written as villainous, though as work on the show developed, his character was softened a bit and made more likable. And the actor who played Stuyvesant and introduced the song was Walter Huston, the father of Oscar-winning director John Huston. (And grandfather of Oscar-winning actress Anjelica.) Walter Huston had his own successful career as an actor, perhaps best known for The Treasure of Sierra Madre (which his son directed) that won him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, and Yankee Doodle Dandy as George M. Cohan's father, for which he was nominate for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He also got a Oscar nomination as Best Actor starring in Dodsworth, based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis -- which was released the same year he was in Knickerbocker Holiday.
Huston was not considered a good singer at all, with a limited range, but from all reports that made his of "September Song" rendition on stage all the more touching. So, for all the people who recorded the famous song over the years, it's Walter Huston's original rendition -- which includes verses not usually included in the other popular recordings -- that we're going to go with.
This is a fun and interesting montage of songs from Hamilton when the show initially played in London. All of the numbers are those sung by 'King George III," and it's fascinating to hear the audience reaction and what they most-particularly find funny.
The core song is, of course, "You'll Be Back," and the subsequent two numbers are reprises of that same music, though with different lyrics each time. The first reprise is "What Comes Next?," and the other is "I Know Him."
The performer is Michael Jibson, who gives a slightly different (but wonderful) interpretation from Jonathon Groff who initiated the role on Broadway, and made it a bit more all-comic and buffoonish. Jibson is very comic, as well, but with more pointed anger which probably fits playing in London better.
(The original, but generally overlooked, performer of the song was Brian D'Arcy James who created the role in the show's first incarnation off-Broadway. I had never heard or seen his rendition, but in 2018 I wrote here about a fund-raising event I attended for the Theater Department at Northwestern University, called "A Starry Night" -- a great evening hosted by alum Stephen Colbert with famous alumni back on campus performing. One of those actors was D'Arcy James who sang "You'll Be Back" -- and he was great, and a completely different interpretation from all others, funny but totally malevolent. You'd probably recognize him from one of the many things he's done -- including starring as Shrek on Broadway, playing Debra Messing's husband in the series Smash, or as the HBO lawyer in John Oliver's great musical extravaganza "Eat Sh*t, Bob!" on Last Week Tonight, which I posted here.)
But I digress.
This is about Michael Jibson as 'King George III' in Hamilton in the London West End production. Just know that the montage repeats itself, so you can stop when it finishes around the 7:30 mark.
It didn’t get a great deal of promotion – in fact, it pretty much slipped between the cracks, and I only caught it on its repeat. But a couple weeks ago, Great Performances on PBS had a sequel to the documentary they did 18 years ago, Broadway: the Golden Age. This one is called Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.
It’s absolutely great, arguably better than the first one. It’s a bit different– the first was largely an overview of the entire period. This is more focused on several shows, but it gives a sense of the era. And I don’t want to say why it’s so wonderful, since it’s full of surprises -- some of them small but lovely, some huge, some for the people who appear on camera. I’ll only mention one: Robert Redford, who talks with such warmth and affection about the early days of his career on Broadway. Also, the opening 5-10 minutes of the documentary are thrilling, as actors talk about what it’s like preparing for the curtain to go up, beautifully, rivetingly edited. But it’s not like that’s the high point of the production and downhill from there. It’s all terrific.
And sequences and moments are so great of a joyous, distant era, and include some rare, never-before-seen footage.
By the way, after watching it I found out through a friend who knows one of the producers why this appeared to be a bit different from the first documentary. That’s because this was only 98 minutes or so, but the full documentary was 150 minutes. They cut out a third of the film to fit in the PBS timeslot with Pledge Breaks. There’s almost another hour of material left! And yet it was still tremendous. On the positive end, I’m told that the company is looking for outlets.
Both films were directed by Rick McKay. Sadly, he passed away three years ago before this second production was completed. However, the production team and editor were finally able to finish it. A couple of friends got to know him well in the last 15 years or so of his life, though a sort of family connection, and spoke highly of him.
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to see it, or will be able to catch it on a repeat on one of the various PBS channels, or On Demand. But it’s also on the PBS Passport website for PBS subscribers. This is the direct link here.
However, good news! It appears that I can embed the show on my website – I just tested it, and that seems to be the case. Just know that the video expires in about two weeks, on September 11.
If you can make it full screen, do so.
It’s great. And one of those things I feel comfortable saying, “Trust me.”
Neil Patrick Harris had a streak where he hosted the Tony Awards with a trifecta of three great opening numbers. The best by far -- what I think was the best opening number in any awards show history that got a full 65-second standing and roaring ovation -- came in 2013. But had a really wonderful one the year before (which was the second one in the great streak) I've posted this 2012 opening previously, but since it tends to get overlooked by the spectacle the next year, I though I should revisit it. It's awfully good as far as opening numbers go, all on its own.
By the way, late in the number about the 6:40 mark he does a long run-on lyric that begins with "We know that life is brief and brutal". It's largely the same rhythm, cadence and music as one he did the following year (about Annie and her orphans coming up to your knees and Chuck E. Cheese) so I suspect similar people were in involved.
All that aside, here there is the Tony Awards opening number from 2012.
I was about to post the 2013 number, as well, since I referenced it, but then realized I didn't want to repeat the problem of letting this great 2012 number get lost in comparison. If you want to see it, go to YouTube and just search for Tony 2013.
This is something weird and wonderfully interesting that I came across a couple weeks ago. It's a "new" song from Hamilton. Sort of.
A few years ago, Lynn-Manuel Miranda developed a mutual admiration society friendship with John Kander, the legendary composer who wrote such musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman and many more (including the song "New York, New York") with his collaborator Fred Ebb, who passed away in 2004. Over time in their lunches and conversations, the idea was brought up offhandedly that Kander and Miranda should write a song together. And then it became more serious. And eventually, Miranda -- who has been clear about his admiration, perhaps idolization of John Kander -- mentioned that there was part of Alexander Hamilton's story that he thought about including in his musical, but it just didn't fit, so he left it alone -- when Hamilton got a big parade in New York City after the the state of New York adopted the U.S. Constitution.
And that's the song that he and John Kander wrote together. In essence, a "new" song for Hamilton, called "Cheering for Me Now."
There are two videos of the song that stand out, but I'm not sure which to post. One is probably the "official" music video, which begins with Lynn-Manuel Miranda is full costume as Hamilton. The downside for me is that, as a music video, it's intercut with modern-day footage around New York City. And I find that somewhat distracting to the point of the song, though it's fine if you don't know it's from Hamilton, since the song is also about the melting pot of New York and fits well as a song for today. But the main reason for it to get attention is that...well, it's a "new" song for Hamilton..
The other video seems reasonably official, as well, but is much more low key. No cutting away to modern-day New York, just Lynn-Manuel Miranda singing the song at the recording session with the orchestra, cut with behind-the-scenes footage. The downside is that he's not in Hamilton costume, but just a sportcoat and bow tie.
I really like him in costume, which adds greatly to the Hamilton sensibility -- but I think I slightly prefer the one with the orchestra that doesn't cut away to modern images, even though they're making a point of what came from the seeds Hamilton helped plant. But -- in the end, you can pick whichever you prefer to watch first (or only), since I'll post them both.
(I admit to a bit of a bias with all this. John Kander went to my oft-mentioned summer camp, Camp Nebagamon in Wisconsin, so I've felt a certain, if distance kinship. But that gap has been closed somewhat since when I went to Nebagamon, his nephew John Kander III, a talented fellow in his own right, was there at the time, and we remain friends today, here in Los Angeles.)
So, here then are the two videos for you to choose which to watch first, or alone or both..
The one I'll embed first is my ever-so-slight preference, Miranda and orchestra alone. Not just because I slightly prefer it, but also because I think once you've heard the song and know it, seeing the modern images in other video fit together a bit better. But that's just personal taste. Your mileage may vary.
And here is the "official" music video in costume, but -- with cutaways.
There is a song in this week's episode of SCHMIIGADOON! that's a parody of arguably the most famous number in THE SOUND OF MUSIC that is just too Oh-My-dear-God funny. I shall say no more, not to give it away. But hat's off. Just great.
After four episodes (two to go), it's seriously impressive how good the show is and keeps getting better. If you subscribe to Apple TV+, it's highly worth watching. If you don't subscribe, but are able to get the app for your SmartTV or iPad, it costs $5 a month. Wait two weeks for the show to finish and then binge it all in that month.
Okay, here's what I mean --
As I wrote the other day, the premise of the show is that Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key are in a relationship, but it's hit a bump, so they go on a couples trip. On a hike, they get lost and end up in the town of Schmigadoon that is caught in a time-warp of a 1940s musical. And the two are unable to leave until they find true love.
Which brings us to this song at the very start of Episode Two. She likes musicals and is sort of adjusting to the town. He abhors musicals, and when people break into songs throughout the town, it only increases their divide. And them being stuck there, not being able to leave, almost prisoners until they find "true love" is putting even more stress on the two. And so, at the start of Episode Two, they get into a big argument about their relationship and situation -- when they look up and see, to their great annoyance, that many of the townsfolk have suddenly all intrusively gathered around their very private, personal and serious argument, and... well, here's what happens.
The show is written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, who together wrote such films as the Despicable Me series, The Lorax, and The Santa Claus 2. Paul wrote all the songs (which are tremendous) All episodes were directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, whose films include Get Shorty, all three Men in Black movies, Wild Wild West and The Addams Family and its sequel. And the orchestrations are by Doug Besterman, who has won three Tony Awards, including the stage musical of The Producers, so they’re rich and full. So, the credentials are top notch, all around, as is the cast, which has a lot of Broadway stars in it.
I don’t know if you get Apple TV+ or not. If not, you can skip all this. Though...if it's of interest, you can wait a little over a month until all the episodes drop and then sign up for a month to binge-watch the show and also the first two seasons of the wonderful comedy series Ted Lasso (which is beginning its second season next week on July 23). Apple TV+ only costs $5 a month.
If you do get it, though, last night they premiered a new 6-part series called Schmigadoon! It’s an affectionate spoof of musicals (with, of course,” Brigadoon as the starting point, but Rodgers & Hammerstein flow through it all, and I’m sure others will, too.) The premise is two hikers get stuck in a town that’s a 1940s musical. It stars Cecily Strong of Saturnday Night Live and Keegen-Michael Key, and a good cast that includes several big Broadway stars -- I'll let it tell you know who's in it. Plus, it has a great final joke.
The first episode was a total joy. In fact, from the moment it started I was burst out laughing – because they start with an overture.
I have no idea how well it will develop, but it’s only six half-hour episodes, so it’s not like they have to stretch the the story and can move it along briskly enough. It's written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, who together wrote such films as the Despicable Me series, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, and The Santa Claus 2. Paul wrote all the songs (which so far, after one episode, are wonderful) All episodes were directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, whose films include Get Shorty, all three Men in Black movies, Wild Wild West and The Addams Family and its sequel. And the orchestrations are by Doug Besterman, who did the stage musical of The Producers, so they’re rich and full. So, the credentials are top notch, all around.
The details and homages are wonderful, especially if you know musicals, but many are broad enough that even if you only know the genre tangentially you'll be able to pick many up. And It’s overflowing with homages.
I thought it said that there will be a new episode every Friday, but the first two are posted. I assume that’s just to start things off. (And no, I only watched the first one, but I’ll watch the second episode in a few days.)
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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