Okay, this is a bit weird (with "a bit" being an understatement), though really quite wonderful.
Last year, Netflix said it commissioned a fellow named Keaton Patti to run 1,000 Christmas movies through a bot and “created our own mathematically perfect Holiday film made entirely by bots.” Now, of course, it’s possible that this is just a terrible video that they created to be funny. But it’s really SO nonsensical in insignificant ways that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on the level. In fact, the only thing noticeably missing is a bakery, department store and Christmas tree farm. But otherwise, they've given Hallmark a run for its money...
Tonight we have a sort of Unknown Harnick Festival with three Christmas songs by Sheldon Harnick that you've almost-certainly never heard. In the case of this first song, that's because it's for a musical that never made it to Broadway.
The song is a particular sweet number called "One Family," and it's from a show that Harnick wrote based on none other than...A Christmas Carol. Harnick is best-known for his work with composer Jerry Bock on such musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me and the Pultizer Prize-winning Fiorello! For this, though, he collaborated on the show with famed movie composer, Michel Legrand, who among many film scores wrote The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, as well as the original film version of The Thomas Crown Affair, for which he won an Oscar for the Best Song, "The Windmills of Your Mind."
Though their production of A Christmas Carol never was produced on Broadway, it's had a bit of a life in community theater. This number is sung in the show by the Cratchit Family, and it's performed here by Sheldon Harnick, along with his wife Margery Gray (who had a successful Broadway career, including the show Mr. Wonderful that starred Sammy Davis Jr., and oddly enough had music by Jerry Bock before he teamed up with Harnick), and Leigh Beery, who starred as Roxanna opposite Christopher Plummer in Cyrano, a musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. (She comes in with her main solo at the 1-minute mark. Margery Gray follows her.)
This (and the two that follow) come from the wonderful CD I've posted several selections from. Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures, which you can find here.
These next two Christmas songs were written by Harnick and Bock for their musical She Loves Me (which is based on the Hungarian play that the movies Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail are adapted from). However, they're so little-known that people who even love She Loves Me inside-out likely don't even know them. That's because they were cut from the show.
The first song, "Christmas Eve," was to come at the very end of the show -- around the time when the "12 Days to Christmas" number, whose video I posted here the other day (12 days before Christmas) comes in. It's a lovely, wistful ballad, but in his liner notes Harnick writes that the song just didn't move the story forward enough and had to be taken out. It's sung here by the composers, with Harnick in the lead.
And the final number is probably best-described as a show song, one that really only fits within the context of the musical. Harnick notes that it was ultimately too complex and didn't work well-enough for that, so it too was cut. But it's good fun to hear, especially with Harnick filling in the dialogue. And if you do know the show, you'll recognize that some of the lyrics were saved and able to be used elsewhere in the show, mixed in as a sort of sardonic counterpoint in the song "Ilona." Here then are Hanick and Bock singing, "Merry Christmas Bells."
We interrupt the Holiday Music Fest currently in progress so that we my bring you this special posting. The Holiday Music Fest will return soon. This afternoon, though, we honor the State of Illinois on the 204th anniversary of it being admitted to the Union. Huzzah!
In honor of it as the true birthplace of America, or at least me, we do have music, so those of you who miss the latest installment of holiday songs at least have something to hold on to. It's the state song, "Illinois," quite an aptly-named title, I must say. It's also often know as "By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing," the song's first line, which adds a bit of grace to something otherwise more perfunctory. There's a lovely chorus that sings along, very slowly as if it was a religious hymn. For all I know, that's what they songwriters intended, rather than something to rouse the spirits -- or not. Hymn-like does make it lovely, albeit interminable. I have a feeling that it's all because of the word "Thy." When you put "Thy" in a song, people are going to sing it like a hymn. And if you give people a hymn and make it long-enough, there's a reasonable chance they'll turn it into a dirge.
By the way, why on earth that video says, "Illinois, Worth Fighting For," I have zero idea. I wasn't aware it was under attack. Not when the song was written, not in the intervening years and not now. (Unless you count by people from Wisconsin driving down on tractors wearing their cheeseheads. But that usually isn't legally considered an act of war.)
Why on earth they also print the verses out of order -- even acknowledging doing so -- is another matter of bewilderment.
The thing is, as I watched the video again -- after having originally posted this in 2018 for the state's 200th birthday -- a few things stood out that missed before: notably that every politician shown was a Republican. Lincoln and Grant are fine. And Everett Dirksen is okay, since he was a Senate Minority Leader. Though his fellow-senator Paul Douglas was a truly great man, but no photo. And a photo of Rep. Henry Hyde was odd, since he had resigned in scandal disgrace. And while a photo of Ronald Reagan makes sense since he was president...there's no photo of President Barack Obama. But there's a photo of Trump Tower in Chicago, which hasn't aged well. So...nope, sorry, as beautiful as the montage of images from around the state are, I don't have it in me to repost. Which is okay, too, since the version of the state song is dirge-like
Instead, here is a significantly shorter, 1-minute orchestral, rousing version played like a state's anthem should be played!
And for those who want to sing along, I'll post the lyrics to the first verse below. You're welcome!
By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
O’er the prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo o’er the breeze.
Rustling through the leafy trees,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.
Today, we focus more on Fest part of our holiday gala, rather than the music. But the little-known part is forefront.
I dearly love The Goes Wrong Show. It's a BBC-TV series made by the same people who created The Play That Goes Wrong, which I've written about on this site a few times. It was a hit in London and Broadway and toured to Los Angeles where I saw it -- a play ostensibly put on by a mediocre theatre company, the Cornley Drama Society, in the middle of England where pretty much everything...well, goes wrong. The show was such a success that they've done several follow-up plays. And also this series.
The TV series is done by the same people, once again playing members of this same mediocre Cornley Drama Society from the middle of England. And supposedly they put on a new half-hour play each week (a different genre each time) that is broadcast throughout England. The shows are a joy and often remarkable. A couple of them are tour-de-force: one is a courtroom drama called "A Trial to Watch, and the other (a Tennessee Williams-style play set in the hot, steamy Deep South titled "90 Degrees") is almost Shakespearean in its physical comedy, taking slapstick ito an "oh-my-god" level.
If you don't like physical humor, The Goes Wrong Show is not for you. Just know, though, that this is physical comedy done as an art form by brilliant craftsmen at the peak of their skills.
The first season should be available on YouTube, and most of season two can be found on a site called DailyMotion.com. You can also get it on Amazon Prime, though it's not included and has a separate fee.
This is their Christmas special from Season One, "The Spirit of Christmas" (with my favorite part, the 'Nistle and Nostle Song.') Where pretty much everything...well, goes wrong.
[UPDATE: Weirdly, when you click on this video below, it said it can't play in this browser. But if you click on this link here, it will take you directly to the video on YouTube.]
In honor of Trump releasing a video today defending the Jan. 6 Insurrectionists on the heels of having dinner with two virulent anti-Semites, and days after two Oathkeepers were convicted in court of seditious conspiracy, I thought it was a good time for this little-known Christmas song.
Though he is no longer in the White House, that doesn't mean we can't recall the holiday cheer that the quite-wonderful folks at Bad Lip Reading brought with their Trump Christmas song, wonderful for the Holiday Music Fest. Their seasonal gift to everyone. As always, it's a hoot -- though this one is quite a bit different from all the others. And that makes it all the more loopy. But then, after all, "Christmas is Here!" Even without the blood-red killer Christmas trees from Hell.
Happy Holidays. From their house to our house to yours...
A few weeks back, CNN showed a documentary about Gabby Giffords that I’d read about quite a while back and had been trying to see. It was wonderful – difficult at times, sad and utterly joyous -- and terrifically structured, going into unexpected, fascinating areas. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about its airing until late and didn’t have enough time to pass on that it was airing. But for those interested, CNN is repeating it tomorrow (Saturday) at 6PM in Los Angeles. I don’t know what time that will be in your area, but it should start somewhere around 6-9 PM.
It been entered to the Motion Picture Academy for Best Feature Documentary. Here's the trailer.
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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