Tag Archives: Stephen Sondheim

Coming soon….my year of the diva!

From wikipedia:

diva is a celebrated female singer; a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera, and by extension in theatre, cinema and popular music. The meaning of diva is closely related to that of prima donna.

The word entered the English language in the late 19th century. It is derived from the Italian noun diva, a female deity.  The basic sense of the term is goddess.

(My definition includes actors, playwrights, novelists and any form of artistic expression.)

Jennifer Hudson

 

 

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Bit by bit…..

Putting it together…..

I was privy this Saturday to a private preview performance of a new and exciting theatre production currently in creative development.

“TTFO, Things That Fall Over” an (anti-) musical of a novel inside a reading of a play, with footnotes, and oratorio-as-coda. Now isn’t that a mouthful?

Yesterday’s performance highlighted the musical aspects of the production and it was fabulous and very entertaining even in its raw state (only a week of development so far), Impressive to say the least.

This behemoth of a theatrical idea comes from the pen of acclaimed playwright Peta Murray (Wallflowering, Salt) and has music by composer Peta Williams – a talented lady with an ear for a good show tune. To find out more about this show click here  to the blog, and like the Facebook page here.

It will be very exciting and a lot of fun seeing the development of the piece to the opening night sometime in the second half of 2013.

Go Girls!!!

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Meryl you are a witch???

No I am not complaining about my disappointment in Meryl Streep’s Oscar win last week for “The Iron Lady“.

This post is much more of a delight.

Meryl Streep is rumoured to be cast as the Witch in a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical “Into The Woods”. The film is to be directed by Rob Marshall who brought “Chicago” to the screens successfully (in box office terms-not artistic) but we must remember he is also responsible for bringing “Nine” to the screen which was a disaster (box office and artistically!) I do love his TV remake of “Annie” that was a success in my own opinion.

But there is more rumour-mongering about Meryl as the Witch…..

The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park Festival are mounting an outdoor production of the Sondheim musical this July and rumoured to play the Witch is none other than the reigning Oscar Queen Meryl. Is this an audition?

I am a big fan of this show and was very very lucky to see the original Broadway production way back in 1987 – Bernadette Peters played the Witch and she was fabulous. Of the course the role to steal the show belongs to the Baker’s Wife. Who will be cast in that coveted role? Joanna Gleason won the Tony that year and she was also fabulous! I recall turning to my partner and said – “she will win the Tony, not Peters!”

Brilliant Bernadette Peters – the original Witch of the woods.

In the meanwhile…..

Sondheim has announced that he is collaborating on a new musical with playwright David Ives who is currently represented on Broadway with the hit show “Venus In Fur” – of which Babs has on his list of “shows to see” when he is in town in May.

He has apparently written 20-30 minutes of the piece and says of it – “Having spent the better part of four years writing two books [Finishing the Hat and Look I Made a Hat], I’m really rusty,” Sondheim humbly said of his process. “I sit at the piano and think, ‘Where’s middle C?’ Any muscles, as you know, atrophy when you don’t use them, and I haven’t been using my musical muscles.”

Who cares? Any thought of another Sondheim musical certainly gets my muscles into action. I am so excited about this.

And what does he say about Streep the Witch? Sondheim neither confirms nor denies the rumours. “We will see,” the composer said. “I think she’d be great.”

My hero Stephen Sondheim.

Nina Arianda & Hugh Dancy star in David Ive’s “Venus In Fur”.

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Eddie and the Edies.

I saw two theatrical productions this weekend and both were excellent and challenging in their different ways.

GREY GARDENS: THE MUSICAL

Grey Gardens is based on the 1975 documentary by Albert & David Maysles that depicts the story of the eccentric Beales, a mother and daughter both named Edith. They lived in squalor in a run down mansion called Grey Gardens in the Hamptons –  New York. Of interest here is that they are the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Strange subject for a Broadway musical you might say, but it works very well. In the documentary the women talk and bicker to the camera telling how it was and how it could have been. How did these former socialites end up like this? The musical’s first act shows us the early years of the Beales and the circumstances that led to their strange co-dependancy. Act 2 closely follows the documentary. The musical has a book by acclaimed playwright Doug Wright (I am My Own Wife, Quills), lyrics by Michael Korie and music by Scott Frankel the score owes a lot to the musical style of Stephen Sondheim. It was first performed off-Broadway in 2006 then transferring to the main stem in a revised version. It won Tony awards for it’s leading ladies Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson.

The Australian premiere has been mounted by The Production Company and features two of Australia’s most talented women – Pamela Rabe and Nancye Hayes. Rabe plays Big Edie in act 1 and in act 2 takes on the role of Little Edie with Hayes portraying the elderly mother Big Edie.

It is a fine production, deftly directed by Roger Hodgman, simple and no fuss, letting the actors shine and boy do they shine. Rabe is monstrous as Big Edie, hilarious and heartbreaking as Little Edie – able to ham it up as the roles allow, her final song is very poignant. Hayes is very much her equal, funny and moving as an old lady frustrated at losing her faculties and relying on her odd daughter’s support. The rest of the cast are very good, I couldn’t fault this fine production which gave it’s final performance from a limited season on Sunday.

Nancye Hayes & Pamela Rabe

Pamela Rabe as Little Edie in Act 1

EDDIE IZZARD – STRIPPED

What a dazzling talent Mr. Izzard is, standing alone on stage for nearly two hours (with intermission) a full force funny man like no other- Izzard the blizzard I say!!!

Izzard’s comedic style has been described as rambling, whimsical and self-referential. His storytelling goes off on all sorts of tangents, with hilarious results. This particular show has a structure in which he explains the formation of the world and civilisation from the beginning of time when ‘god’ had a few busy days being creative. His left leaning politics are apparent but not overdone making it all the more powerful. Highlights for me were a rant on Apple ITunes agreements and downloads, and an observation of the vegetable bok choy, his thread on the Latin language was side splitting, actually the whole night was side splitting and his appreciative audience lapped it up. His talents of voice control and physical comedy to match are outstanding, comedy with this much intelligence is very rare, I just loved every minute of it. Eddie Izzard you are a marvel.

Eddie the incredible

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Here she is boys…here comes Babs!

The other Babs, the more famous one!

RUMOUR has it (according to gossip monger and Spiderman the musical’s arch nemesis Michael Riedel of the NY Post) that Barbra Striesand is interested in producing, directing and starring in a new movie version of that great Broadway stage musical  “GYPSY”.

She is way too old, and too soft to play the part, in my own opinion. (soft in her screen persona of movie star – i bet she is a tough as nails). Rose needs to be tough, and a monster, without manicured fingernails, although with them she will be able to pick up egg rolls minus chopsticks, Mr Goldstone!

Arthur Laurents the book writer of the classic and arguably best ever Broadway book show has expressed his approval, he is an old, and I do mean old – aged 92 (possibly senile) old friend of Babs the diva beyond diva. So, hey old friends what do you say old friends? Please do not make this movie.

Here are a slew of grand divas who have performed, and (sometimes) perfected the grand old role of Momma Rose.

The original Rose – ETHEL MERMAN

ANGELA LANSBURY

ROSALIND RUSSELL

BETTE MIDLER

TYNE DALY

LINDA LAVIN (who I saw- a replacement for Tyne Daly, she was fabulous)

BERNADETTE PETERS

PATTI LUPONE (need I say more)

BABS ??? ( and those fingernails)

 

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A theatrical year (part 4 of 4)

So after my jaunt to NYC and Broadway I arrived home to attend an  MTC production of David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage”, although jetlagged I was thoroughly entertained due to the excellent cast having a very fun time, a good production all round. Made me realize that theatre, whether a hit on Broadway or a hit at home, if it is good it can take you to places of pleasure and surprise.

Margaret Mills & Pamela Rabe in MTC’s “Boston Marriage”

Then came another MTC production – a stage adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s film “All About My Mother”. First produced at The Old Vic theatre in London. It was sadly very disappointing. Saw it a few days after opening night so I guess the cast hadn’t worked itself in, still no excuse.  Wendy Hughes was good as always, and Paul Capsis tried ever so hard to make his character work. Direction was very average and the setting of sliding screens very annoying as were weird projections. A dud in my opinion. And with the musical version of Almodovar’s “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” ending its flop run in NYC three weeks earlier than expected, it seems Almodovar should not be adapted – too cinematic!

Wendy Hughes – “All About My Mother”.

Next came the Magnormas Theatre company’s triptych tribute to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday.

“Saturday Night”, “Merrily We Roll Along” & “Anyone Can Whistle”. The ‘flops’ and the never produced! Each having merits and flaws. Wonderful to see performed. Confirmed in my mind that my favorite Sondheim musical/score is “Merrily We Roll Along”, I love this show. Jeannie Pratt should produce it at her Production Company, especially now she has made a few bucks with “The Boy From Oz”. Whatever happened to the policy of underproduced gems being on the agenda of The Production Co. ?

Laura Fitzpatrick & Stephen Wheat in “Merrily We Roll Along”.

Finally a couple of walk outs and a bizarre tap extravaganza.

I had a few free tickets at the end of the year. Sadly cos it was free I didn’t last past interval. Why? Because i was bored and uninspired, not exceptable in theatre.

“Becky Shaw”, an independent production presented at an MTC house. A finalist for the Pulitzer prize about a blind date gone wrong – well I didn’t see second half so I can’t comment beyond a description. Dreadful acting and a leading man with a hair problem – I had to leave.

The MTC production of acclaimed Australian playwright (famed overseas) Daniel Keene’s “Life Without Me”. Good cast of actors doing the usual – nothing special. I was tired from work, and nothing new to lift me out of the lethargy. I predicted the themes and possible ending. I should not reallly comment as I never saw the second half.

MTC’s “Life Without Me”

Finally went to see a tap dance extravaganza at the National Theatre in St Kilda. The “Glam Kitten” Tap Dance Studio end of year revue. I can only describe it  as very camp and bizarre. Way too long, but lots of fun, in an odd kind of way.

So that was my very theatrical year.

Now for the top 5.

1. KATIE FINNERAN in “PROMISES, PROMISES” and stealing the show.

2. RED the play by John Logan. A play about Rothko performed by an excellent cast of 2 and a clever design.

3. MAGNORMOS SONDHEIM TRIPTYCH – Sondheim performed live is always a highlight.

4. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (MTC) – Geoffrey Rush perfectly cast.

5. NT LIVE – the chance to see acclaimed London theatre, what a treat!

 

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A theatrical year (part 3 of 4)

THE BROADWAY.

My trip to the Great White Way this year certainly supplemented my theatrical urge.

I chose my shows well I think. I saw a total of 9 productions and out of those only 2 were a disappointment.

AMERICAN IDIOT & LEND ME A TENOR being the 2.

After a 20 year gap seeing a show in NYC,  the first I saw was a treat.  It had as its subject – Stephen Sondheim

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM whilst probably to the discerning a tad disappointing, I hardly noticed – I was in Sondheim heaven and at Studio 54.

PROMISES, PROMISES was a highlight as I got to see the sublime Kristen Chenoweth perform live and she did not disappoint. Sean Hayes was pretty good as well, but it was Katie Finneran who stole the entire show, I am grateful I got to see such a legendary performance.

Another highlight was John Logan’s Tony winning play RED, starring Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne its subject was artist Mark Rothko. I am a huge fan of Rothko, to see it in the city it was set in, then visit MOMA and see them for real, what more can one ask for?

The others:

SOUTH PACIFIC (Lincoln Centre revival) tired by the time I saw but wonderful never the less.

HAIR (another revival – second cast but such a great show, my fave all time musical)

THE OCTOROON – my only off-broadway experience, whilst not so great, it was still a breather from the commercial stuff I had been seeing.

NEXT TO NORMAL – I finished off with a great production of an excellent musical (soon to be seen in Melbourne in a production by the MTC). Alice Ripley in her Tony winning role as the bi-polar pill popper was simply stunning.

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The parade leaves town….

Original Broadway Cast Recoding CD Cover

Image via Wikipedia

The Magnormos Sondheim Triptyche is over, withdrawals are setting in. When will I get my next Sondheim fix? Into the CD collection I go.

Last night was the final production – “Anyone Can Whistle”. Another of Sondheim’s lesser  known and seldom performed musicals, and another Broadway flop!

It was Sondheim’s second produced Broadway show in which he wrote both music & lyrics, following the success of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”in 1962. It premiered on April 4 1964, and closed after only 9 performances. It was savaged by the critics of the day, and angry audiences walked out in droves – even talking back to the performers on stage.

It was the stage musical debut of Angela Lansbury and starred movie actress Lee Remick, in the role that director Arthur Laurents offered to the other Babs -Barbra Striesand who turned it down to do “Funny Girl”.

Whilst the show has its problems (mostly book), it also has many pleasures.

The plot revolves around a fictitious American town, ruled over by a corrupt Mayoress – Cora Hoover Hooper. With the help of her cronies she fakes a miracle to draw in tourists to make money and help the town out of it’s financial woes. Out to expose the fraud is a sweet natured nurse – Fay Apple, who looks after the local looney bin – the Cookie Jar, full of cookies of course – kooky! and kooky it certainly is.

The first half of the show is very absurdist and after the arrival of a new ‘psychiatrist’ – J. Bowden Hapgood, things spiral out of control. The second half calms down a little bit and is full of glorious Sondheim tunes.

Basically it’s relevant message is to mantain individuality in a conformist society. Poking fun at government, religion, psychiatry and lots more, it sure was an out there show when it had it’s premiere. Audiences weren’t ready for it, and with a weak book it is easy to see why it failed.

What it does have though is of course Sondheim’s wonderful score – aside from the ‘crazy’ numbers it is full of some of his most romantic songs and strong anthems –  There’s A Parade In Town,  With So Little To Be Sure Of,  Everybody Says Don’t & the title tune, are all gems.

The Magnormos production should be admired for its ambitious undertaking, with a cast of pros and newcomers it was finely sung and well acted once more. Using a chorus of youngsters as the cookies/towns people was a lot of fun – with a nod to the hit TV series Glee perhaps?

Anne Wood was very good and hilarious as Cora the mayoress (though she managed to flub the end of ‘Parade In Town’), with Robert Grubb alongside as her main cohort they were responsible for a lot of nice comic touches.If only they had studied their scripts a bit more, perhaps they were busy leading up to the performance? It was very distracting.

Dan Humphries as Hapgood was excellent in voice and charming in character – his big number ‘Everybody Say’s Don’t’ was excellent.

The highlight of the cast was Patrice Tipoki as Nurse Fay Apple, she had a great belting voice and a sweetness that was spot on, I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of her in the future. Her rendition of ‘See What It Gets You’ was the big showstopper.

Overall it was an admirable attempt at a difficult show – hats off to director Aaron Joyner – founder of Magnormos.

And hats off to all the fine performers and musicians of all  3 shows in the triptyche – our own Sondheim birthday gift.

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Light the lights

Everythings coming up roses for famed Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim as the lights are lit for the theatre named after the great man.

Photos courtesy of Broadwayworld.com

Check out the photo coverage by clicking on the link

Photo Coverage: Stephen Sondheim Theatre Unveiled! 2010/09/15.

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