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.
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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