My pal, the inveterate Chris Dunn is oft-mentioned around these parts, for a variety of reasons, mostly positive. Well, he is now the inveterate Emmy-winning Chris Dunn, having won a Daytime Emmy award this evening. (Personally, I think they should have the Daytime Emmys ceremony during the daytime, and I find it a bit duplicitous that they hold them at night.)
He writes for the daytime drama The Young and the Restless, and it my personal, wildly-biased belief that broadcasting is better for it, in part because it keeps him off the streets. and therefore out of the scandal sheets. But also because no one writes natural disasters into scripts like he does.
So, a big Hat's Off to Chris Dunn today. If you see him on the street, ask to see the statuette since it is my hope that he will be carrying it around everywhere.
Today's Piano Puzzler
This week's contestant is composer Paul Hanna of Tallahassee, Florida. The hidden song has a tricky twist, and I'm pleased to say that I got it -- fairly early on, I must say, though I didn't have full confidence in being right, since it did have that tricky twist, after all. But eventually, I felt sure enough to officially make it my guess. Alas, I didn't get the composer style, an annoyance since it's someone I quite like.
Happy Sheldon Harnick Day
Today is the 93rd birthday of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick, whose works include Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me, the Apple Tree and much more.
Several years back, I interviewed him for my radio program at Northwestern University, when he returned to the school to be Grand Marshal for homecoming. I turned the interview into a half-hour radio documentary and wanted to get him a copy of the tape, but didn't know how. When I move out to Los Angeles for graduate school, I brought the tape with me, figuring I might meet someone someday who would know Sheldon, and know how to get the tape to him.
About 15-20 years passed, and I actually became friends with someone, the lovely Treva Silverman (herself a two-time Emmy-winner) who knew "dear Sheldon," as she referred to him and had his address. Finally! Persistence paid off!
That weekend, calling home to Chicago, I brought up the story to my mother and told her that I had finally found someone who knew Sheldon Harnick. "Oh," my mother said, "you mean Aunt Joan?"
It turned out that my Aunt and Sheldon and grown up together in Chicago, were very close, and even went to Northwestern together. In fact, a famous family story (which I had never heard) was that when he had made his decision to move to New York to try and have a life there, my Aunt's mother said, "Oh, Sheldon, do you think one can have a career in the theater?"
I wrote him -- from the address Treva gave him -- sent along the radio documentary after all those years, finally, and also mentioned who my aunt was, When he wrote a letter back, the very first line was, "Joan Sered! Oh, my God!"
We didn't stay in communication, those years later, thanks to a Huffington Post article I wrote about Fiorello!, we did get back in touch and became email buddies of a sort, and even met up back in Glencoe where I grew up and the wonderful Writers Theatre was putting on a production of his She Loves Me. (Side note: it starred Jessie Mueller, who went on to win the Tony Award, playing Carole King in the musical Beautiful a few years ago.) And I coordinated schedules so that my Aunt could come to the same performance, where she and Sheldon had a chance to meet and have a joy visit for the first time in decades.
Anyway, in his honor, here's an interview he did a few years back when he was 86 on the New York cable show. Theater Talk, and he performs one of his songs (wonderfully...-- he has occasionally performed a little cabaret act of his material) with Kate Baldwin. (Side note: Baldwin put out a CD of her singing Sheldon Harnick songs, and a couple of years ago appeared in the New York Encores! production of his Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fiorello!)
And as a bonus, here is Zero Mostel, recreating his role as Tevye on the 1971 Tony Awards, six years after opening in Fiddler on the Roof, and singing "If I Were a Rich Man.
Host Peter Sagal's contestant on this week's "Not My Job" segment of the NPR comedy-quiz show is Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado. It's a fun, freewheeling interview, that's helped by the appreciative local audience for their Democratic governor, who once owned a brew-pub and currently owns a pool hall.
Hello, Hello Dolly!
The other day, I mentioned that Bette Midler just returned to Broadway in a revival of Hello, Dolly! and posted a couple brief videos of the curtain call on opening night. I thought it might be nice to revisit the original show. And in a pretty special way. More on that in a moment, but first a little background to put it all in perspective. Bear with me, I think it's worth it.
The original show, which starred Carol Channing, and featured David Burns as Horace Vandergelder ("the well-known half-a-millionaire") opened in 1964, won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran for seven years, closing after 2,844 performances -- which at the time was a record, making it the longest-running show in Broadway history. It was directed and choreographed by Gower Champion.
The musical has a classic, joyful score by Jerry Herman, with a book by Michael Stewart -- but its history goes back far longer than 1964. In fact, it has pretty solid source material, based on a stageplay by acclaimed writer Thornton Wilder, called The Matchmaker.. If you're interested in seeing how the musical and play compared, The Matchmaker was made into a movie that starred Shirley Booth and had the wonderful Paul Ford as Horace Vandergelder, about as perfect an actor for the part. (Interestingly, in supporting roles, the young apprentice Cornelius Hackl -- portrayed by the outlandish comic actor Charles Nelson Reilly in the stage musical version -- was played by about as opposite an actor as one could imagine: Anthony Perkins! And his buddy Barnaby Tucker was played by Robert Morse, who re-created his role from Wilder's Broadway play.) By the way, the original Dolly on Broadway in the play was Ruth Gordon. And in a fascinating historical note, the original Horace Vandergelder in the play on Broadway was performed by Loring Smith...who a decade later played the character in the original London production of the musical version, Hello, Dolly!, opposite Mary Martin.
But the show's history goes back even farther than The Matchmaker -- because Thornton Wilder's work is itself based on an Austrian play, Einen Jux will er sich machen,written back in 1842. And even that is based on a one-act English play written in 1835, A Day Well Spent. And that's not even the end of its history, because the story is well-regarded enough that in 1981, no less than Tom Stoppard adapted the Austrian play into his own version, called On the Razzle. (I recall seeing a PBS version around that time that they did of it.) So, as you can see, it's a story that has traveled well for a very long time, under some impressive auspices.
Carol Channing famously toured with the show four times -- in 1965, 1977, 1981 and then 1994 (30 years after the original production!) -- taking it back to Broadway in '77 and '94. In all, she played the role for over 5,000 performances. And famously never missed a single one, only having to be replaced once halfway through for food poisoning. I saw the original tour when the show came to Chicago at the Shubert Theater, and Carol Channing was in that tour, as well. Three years later, I saw the show again on Broadway (still in its original run) with the all-Black cast starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.
All of which brings us to this.
There are a few good videos of sequences from the Carol Channing revivals, a few songs here and there, mostly from the 1994 tour when recording was more prominent. But the other day I can across something pretty special. "Pretty special" being an understatement for theater historians. It's the entire performance of the show from that 1977 tour! And being 1977, Carol Channing -- while not at her peak -- is still in terrific performing shape at age 57, unlike the 1994 version when she was still solid and a pleasure to see in the role, though well past her prime at 73. What's so notable here is that despite her singing being a bit wobbly at times, though vibrant, is how wonderful she is in the substantial non-singing parts, very funny and quite dramatic. And what's clear, too, is that she knows spot-on where every single joke is and every detail of how to play that character, which she had already done for so long, probably a few thousands performances by that point (...and then for years after). So, this is a wonderful and historic document to have. And best of all, the recording is pretty good -- in fact, I get the sense that it may have been done by the theater company itself, not just because of the quality but also there are camera cuts -- and it is thoroughly watchable.
I don't know who plays Horace Vandergelder here. Eddie Bracken played the role when the tour reached Broadway, but it's not him in this production. The only other actor who I think I recognize is, I believe, Lee Roy Reams who plays Cornelius Hackl here.
By the way, what caught my eye about this video when browsing through YouTube was a pure accident -- all I saw was it say "Melbourne" in the description. I didn't even know that Carol Channing was in it, but thought it would be interesting to see how the show was performed in Australia. It turned out not to be that at all, but this 1977 tour with Carol Channing in Melbourne, Florida! Needless-to-say, I'm awfully glad I checked it out.
While I recommend watching the whole thing -- this is a significant part of theater history and a joy -- I understand that most people won't want to spend the time for that, even over several start-and-stop viewings. So, I've marked down several of the song highlights which you can jump to, along with adding a few notes.
I Put My Hand In – 8:30 (keep watching after the song, for her touching monologue, which leads into a reprise,)
It Takes a Woman – 17:30
Put On Your Sunday Clothes – 30:30
Ribbons Down My Back -- 40:30
Motherhood -- 52:30
Before the Parade Passes By – 1:08:30 (this starts before the song, to include her important speech)
Elegance – 1:19:00
Waiter’s Gavotte – 1:31:00 (this is the exuberant dance that builds to and helps set up the title song)
Hello, Dolly – 1:33:50 – (What's important to know about the number, and one reason why it works so well in the show, is that they made the interesting and wise decision to withhold Dolly's appearance in the second act until here, a full 16 minutes in. So, including the intermission, the audience hasn't seen the star for over a half-hour, and so there is that sense of anticipation that they manufactured. It's a treat to see the full 9-1/2 minute production with the audience audience reaction. This is how you stage a show-stopping number.)
Dinner scene – 1:44:00 (No singing, but it's the famous 6-minute scene between Dolly and Horace)
So Long, Dearie – 2:04:45
Finale sequence – 2:12:30 (including Carol Channing's curtain speech)
One of the famous "injustices" in Hollywood history was when Carol Channing was not hired to recreate one of Broadway's most renown performances for the movie version of Hello, Dolly!, and it was lost forever.
So, overture. And then...curtain up!
A Good Cup of Joe
I had lunch with a friend today at the Taste Chicago restaurant in Burbank. That wouldn't mean much to most people, but it's probably the most low-key celebrity restaurant in the world -- co-owned by actor Joe Mantegna and his wife Arlene. It's a little joint that seats about 50 people and serves (as the name implies) Chicago food -- Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and Chicago hot dogs, and more.
While there, Joe Mantegna showed up -- as he apparently does on Fridays, if he isn't filming. (As do other Chicago actors on occasion.) And since my friend had directed him in an episode of Criminal Minds, he stopped by for a chat. I kept quiet for the most part, but since I knew he was a huge Cubs fan (the place has a lot of Cubs memorabilia on the wall, and a big Cubs blue W on the side wall outside, along with other items from Chicago sports), I mentioned often hearing him on Cubs broadcasts when he shows up in the booth. He smiled and said that in fact he was going to be in the booth and lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" next Friday, when the Cubs play the Yankees.
You have your scoop.
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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