STEEL PIER at 25!

Introduction: So watch the joy go on and on! 

2022 is the silver anniversary of the Broadway musical, Steel Pier which opened on April 24th 1997. To celebrate, this blog continues the discussion of this gorgeous musical on a variety of different topics. The first blog I wrote to celebrate the show’s twenty-first anniversary in 2018 has been updated, improved and grammatically corrected. If you haven’t already read the first blog, Click here! 

The logo art going up for STEEL PIER at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Photo Credit: @bygonebroadway / Craig Lucas

STEEL PIER at College: Who ever gets a second chance?

Although Steel Pier has never been revived in New York either by a Broadway revival or by City Center Encores, the musical has recently been picking up steam in the theater departments of colleges throughout the country. Steel Pier seems tailor made for colleges because it allows many students opportunities to shine with to the various roles the show has to offer besides the leading characters such as Shelby Stevens, Happy McGuire and Buddy Becker to name a few. From a design and dramaturgical perspective, the show allows students in those areas of study to dive into the decedent world of the 1930s and of the dance marathons. Here are two video clips of two different universities performing Steel Pier as part of their theater season: 

The University of Utah’s promotional footage for their production of STEEL PIER.
Costal Carolina University’s promotional video for their production of STEEL PIER.
Rider University’s poster for their production of STEEL PIER which was unfortunately shut down due to the 2020 pandemic.

I had the privilege of seeing two productions of Steel Pier within the state of California, at UCLA in the spring of 2018 and at San Diego State University in the winter of 2021, which featured a brilliant concept of changing their theater stage into an immersive seating experience that made the audience the attendees of the Steel Pier marathon. 

A beautiful snapshot of the final dance from UCLA’s production of STEEL PIER taken backstage by my friend who was in the show, Sara Gilbert.

Both productions of Steel Pier made tiny arrangements to the musical, most notably trimming the first opening scene of the musical in which Bill Kelly is found on the floor surrounded by ethereal dancers in white. In UCLA’s production, “The Overture” was cut and started with “The Prelude” without the ethereal dancers. In SDSU’s production, “The Overture” was kept intact but skipped over Bill Kelly’s opening moment. The show began with Rita Racine walking on the beach, making it apparent that SDSU’s production was focused on the story being Rita’s narrative. Both productions omitted a small scene in Act One, Scene Five in which an Egg Dance was held in addition to a small section of Act One, Scene Ten in which Bill falls into the Diving Horse tank and scares Rita for a moment, thinking that Bill might have drowned. UCLA cut “The Entracte” and “Running In Place” in half, while SDSU cut the cameo of Mr. Peanut in Scene Ten in addition to reducing the orchestra to five players (wonderfully orchestrated and helped contribute to the honky-tonk atmosphere of the marathon).  

The set for the University of California Los Angeles’ production of STEEL PIER.
The set for San Diego State University’s production of STEEL PIER.

Both productions featured a minimal one unit set, a half symmetrical neon light STEEL PIER sign and brought in small set pieces for scenes that did not take place within the Marine Ballroom. This begged the question for me of whether or not the original Broadway production might have benefited from a smaller design. Although Tony Walton’s set for the original production was praised by critics and was nominated for a Tony Award, from production photos, the set makes the story feel over blown and too epic. Although it was not as big as other musicals of the 1997 season, the overwhelming design of the show might have thrown audiences off with the genuine love story and grittiness of its subject material. The blame could also have been that the original Broadway production played at the gigantic Richard Rodgers Theater. Furthermore, the scaling down of Kander and Ebb musicals such as Flora The Red Menace, The Happy Time, Cabaret and Chicago have all proven to be superior and to work better than their original Broadway counterparts with minimalistic scenic designs. Seeing Steel Pier at those two universities with a paired down set in smaller theaters proves this point to be true. 

Here is the incredible Claudia Baffo in her fabulous rendition of “Everybody’s Girl” from UCLA’s production of STEEL PIER.

STEEL PIER Remembered: You remember?

A second rendition of a Kander and Ebb revue (the first being And The World Goes ‘Round) was named after the pinnacle love song from the show, First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb. The revue premiered on PBS in 2015 after having performed at the Signature Theater in 2009 and The Kennedy Center in 2012. The song, “First You Dream” was the finale of the show and featured the beginning selection from “Leave The World Behind”. 

2:17

Steel Pier is a part of the gold standard of Broadway flops. It has been featured in the grand catalog of flops in two other shows; [title of show] in the number “Monkeys and Playbills” and Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation in the parody number “The Place Where The Lost Shows Go”. 

The song “First You Dream” has been covered by artists such as Audra McDonald and Peter Davenport. The song “Second Chance” was covered by Brent Barett for his Kander and Ebb album. 

Various media influencers have commented on Steel Pier, all with positive responses for the score. 

 STEEL PIER’s Relevance Today: Real life mixed with real show business.

When I saw Steel Pier at San Diego State University, a colleague of mine who also attended the production questioned the relevance of the piece within today’s society. Although Steel Pier is not a political battlecry as most theater pieces are now required to be in today’s theater scene, the musical still comments on the condition of human suffering as a form of entertainment and the everlasting power of love. 

The love story of this musical is timeless, most impart on the story being based on the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. There are many people who are trapped in their own personal underworlds by their own Hades. For Rita, she was trapped by her Hades, Mick, in the underworld of the dance marathon. The way Rita escapes her predicament is through Bill, the story’s Orpheus. Like Orpheus, Bill teaches the lesson on the importance of not looking back and letting love guide the way. As he says to Rita in Act Two, Scene 6A; “Just don’t look back. When you’re flying, you never look where you’ve been. You can only look where you’re going. Ever see a bird look over his shoulder? No. There’s only one way to go. Straight ahead.” (Thompson, pg.98). 

The story of Orpheus, Eurydice and Hades is once again being told on Broadway in the Tony-Award winning musical, Hadestown, reinstating the timelessness of the Orpheus myth. With Hadestown being the toast of the town with audiences and critics alike who are becoming enamored with the musical, it could be theorized that today’s audience might be more accepting of Steel Pier’s story if the musical was ever to be revived in New York now that audiences have a contemporary comprehension of the Orpheus myth through Hadestown

Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) from HADESTOWN, Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy/Rita (Shelby Talley) and Bill (James Olivas) from UCLA’s production of STEEL PIER, Photo Source: Caitlin Kagawa

Dance Marathons are still put on today, mostly through fun high school charity events and the ugly underbelly of the marathon still lingers today as well. There still are selfless promoters like Mick Hamilton still thriving off the back of the unfortunate and the blur between real life and the exploitation of show business still occurs. We can see this blur in reality TV shows like Wipeout in which ordinary people fight their way to the top for a grand cash prize by performing humiliating and painful obstacles. 

The ideals of Dance Marathons being endurance obstacles and a “survival of the fittest” competition still continue with the popular TV drama Survivor, which is still continuing in its 41st season. 

We also see Marathon habits, such as sponsored weddings and staged discord, creeping their way into reality dating shows. As Carol Martin stated in his book, Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture in the 1920s and 1930s, “Dramatic vignettes…helped break up the long hours of the contest…Members of the audience returned day after day to see new developments. It didn’t matter that the [dramatic vignettes] were ‘real’ or not because once narratives….were introduced, contest and theater overlapped.” (Martin, p.31). We see this played out today in shows like The Bachelor where everyday women are pitted against each other in order to obtain a “happy ending” with their “soul-mate”. The women are dropped like files and television audiences tune in each week to see who would win the heart of the wealthy stud. The winner is not usually picked by the bachelor himself, but rather by the team behind the show. In Steel Pier, we get a small glimpse of how the pressure of the dance marathon led to rivivaliers against contestants such as Buddy Becker with Johnny Adel and when Precious McGurie upstages Selby Stevens’ big number . 

Jimmy Donaldson, known on the internet as MrBeast, is one of the highest paid Youtuber content creators with over 80 million subscribers in addition to his own burger chain. MrBeast through his series of youtube videos has indirectly continued the tradition of dance marathons. His clickbait videos entice his Youtube audience with difficult and wacky competitions for an extreme cash prize. 

His video posted on August 31, 2021 entitled, “Last To Leave Circle Wins $500,00” (with over 100 million views on Youtube) is essentially the same as a Dance Marathon. Over 100 people fought for the chance to win a grand cash prize by standing in a circle and performing various acts such as standing for 24 hours straight without sitting down. MrBeast served as the Mick Hamilton-eque MC for the video and continually tricked his contestants to leave the circle for smaller prizes, the same way Mick tricks Dora into leaving the marathon to supposedly model fashion in New York. MrBeast’s friends served as the Floor Judges who checked who stepped out of the circle throughout the competition. During the competition, a marriage proposal was held in the circle, not dissimilar to marriage proposals and weddings that occurred during dance marathons. The video also heavily advertised MrBeast’s Burgers establishment and was sponsored by their “Fralinger’s Taffy”, Bitcoin. The “Leave The Circle” Marathon lasted over twelve days when only ten contestants remained standing and was only the FIRST part of the competition. The contestants later had to be subjected to a grueling game of Extreme Tag. 

MrBeast also hosted his own version of a marathon derby in which the last contestant to stop running on the treadmill wins $1,000 per mile they run. 

Another tradition that MrBeast has continued from Dance Marathons was a specialty act performed at the marathons. “Frozen Alive” was a special entertainment performed to keep spectators enticed during the long hours of the marathon in which a contestant would intomb themselves in a block of ice for an extended period of time. MrBeast did a variation of such an act in his video, “I Survived 24 Hours Straight In Ice”

The “Frozen Alive” speciality act. The contestant entombed in ice would use a flashlight to signal to the medical staff and the the MC. Photo from the collection of George Eells/Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture in the 1920s and 1930s by Carol Martin.

The examples of reality TV and of Mr. Beasts videos prove that although dance marathons maybe out of fashion, the marathons’ melodramatic theatrics in addition to the public’s desire to view such content will not fade away anytime soon.

STEEL PIER vs. THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY: Yahousah! Yahousah! Yahousah!

The creative team of Steel Pier originally wanted to adapt They Shoot Horses Don’t They? into a musical. They Shoot Horses Don’t They? is a 1935 novel written by Horace McCoy and later adapted to an Academy Award winning movie of the same name in 1969 starring Jane Fonda. The creative team had a difficult time obtaining the rights to Horses, dropped the idea and decided to create their own story. That being said, there are some striking resemblances between the film version of Horses and the musical Steel Pier. Here are the similarities and differences;

  • The plotting device that begins the story of both Steel Pier and Horses reveal themselves at the end. Both concern the story’s leading man. Horses begins with Robert Syverton as a child watching his father shoot a lame horse in a field of pasture to put it out of its misery. Throughout the film, the story shows Robert’s imprisonment and speedy trial for an unstated crime of which he claims not guilty of. At the end of the film, his dance partner Gloria Beatty, giving up on her life, begs Robert to shoot her. The image of the lame horse being shot in a field of pasture at the beginning of the film is replaced with Gloria being shot. The film cuts to the police dragging Robert off to jail. When an officer asks why Robert shot Gloria, he states the story’s title, “They shoot horses don’t they?”. The audience now comprehends that the brief moments in which Robert was in jail was the story’s epilogue scattered about the film. In Steel Pier, Bill wakes up off the ground in a tattered coat. He looks at his Trenton Air Show raffle ticket and exclaims, “All right, I understand. I’ve got three weeks. Three weeks!” (Thompson, p.11). Throughout the musical, the audience sees Bill resurrect a dead pigeon, reverse time and create a world of possibility in Rita’s dreams. There are also references to Bill not sleeping nor eating and he himself states twice to Rita that he is death-defying. It is not till the end of the show that the audience and Rita find out that Bill is dead, given a second chance in addition to the power to spend three weeks with the woman he loves. 
  • Both center around the relationship of a man and woman. Although Bill and Rita’s relationship in Steel Pier is romantic, Gloria and Robert’s relationship in Horses is platonic. Both couples are proposed to partake in a fake wedding. Steel Pier sees this idea through while Horses does not.
  • Both feature a sleazy emcee (Mick in Steel Pier, Rocky in Horses) who uses The Depression and the American Dream as an excuse to torutre the contestants. Both discuss how their father is the prime reason for the way they are. Mick and Rocky set up their contestants for humiliation. Mick in Scene 10A sprays a couple with a seltzer bottle and forces everyone to laugh at them. Rocky steals Alice LeBlanc’s dress and makeup in order to make her look as miserable as the contestants around her. 
  • Both feature a comic relief who is later eliminated in the second act of the story, Buddy Becker in Steel Pier, Harry Kline (“Sailor” as he’s commonly referred to) in Horses.  
  • Both showcase the passage of time within the dance marathon and a marathon derby race. The film is better at capturing the sleep depravity and desperation of the contestants than Steel Pier does through the use of close-ups, make-up in addition to showcasing the contestants’ clothes gradually deteriorate. 
  • Both feature a perky young woman using the marathon as a way to gain exposure for her theatrical career. Precious McGuire in Steel Pier is so desperate to become the next Jeanette McDonald and to sing on the radio that she has an affair with Mick Hamilton in order to secure a singing spot for the phony wedding. Alice LeBlanc comes all the way from London in hopes of using the marathon as a way to be scouted by Hollywood talent (the marathon in Horses takes place on the Santa Monica Pier). 
  • Both showcase contestants getting “squireley” due to sleep deprivation. This is represented by Buddy Becker in Steel Pier who ends up going squirrely and repeatedly screams, “I want a job!”. In Horses it’s represented by one of the female contestants screaming, “They’re crawling all over me!” when there is nothing on her. 
  • The key difference between the two pieces is their ending message. Horses wanted to capture the exploitation and danger of the dance marathon world. The film ends with Gloria begging Robert to shoot her to get out of the rut of life. While Steel Pier does showcase the dance marathon’s dark underbelly, Bill represents the story’s message of hope and taking a second chance on life which inturn helps Rita get out of the marathon’s grasp. 

STEEL PIER’s Cut Songs: If you’re gunna sing, know the words of the song

Here on this blog, I proudly present two never publicly heard Kander and Ebb numbers which were cut from the final stage production of Steel Pier. Both numbers are sung by the supporting characters of the musical as they come to grips of the mess they’ve got themselves into and what their motivations will be in order to get through the marathon. Presumably, these numbers where meant to take place during Act One, Scene Four in which the contestants begin to introduce themselves to each other and the audience in their bunker rooms. The same conversations that transpire in the scene are similar to the lyrics of the two songs.

There are two Easter eggs in this song! In the beginning, you’ll hear a snippet of “Willing to Ride” and Rita’s solo you’ll hear the “Lovebird” theme!

There is also an additional number which was cut called “Dance With Me” which is presumably the first draft of the song of the same title that Mick Hamilton would sing in the final production. Here is a demo recording of the number, sung by the composer, John Kander. 

Another song that was cut was written for Rita Racine called “Nobody’s Fault”. This song comes in the second act after Rita once again agrees to go along with Mick’s exploitative plans in order to return to her home. I theorize this song was cut for several reasons. The first being that the song makes the leading lady sound like a self pitying victim, submissive to Mick and incorrectly labeling the blame on herself rather than her conniving husband. The second reason could be that another ballad right after “Somebody Older” might have slowed down the pace of the second act. The song also carries the essence of a Helen Morgan torch song, which might have been inappropriate for the character and the dire situation she is in. This song would be replaced with a brisk uptempo dance number, “Running in Place” which expresses Rita’s frustration on her entrapment in Mick’s world rather than blaming herself for the entrapment. Although the song was cut, a section of the song would stay in the show in the same scene: 

Twelve Ocean Drive, right by the shore  

Not many rooms, I only count four

But those four rooms spell happiness 

My address, our address

Keep your ears open, “Rita’s Tune” plays throughout the song

Conclusion:  Off we go, to the sky!

Let us raise a glass and propose a toast to Steel Pier! A musical that continues to resonate, fascinate and capture the hearts of audiences. Here’s hoping that the next twenty five will continue to give Steel Pier that second chance the musical so rightfully deserves.

The original Broadway company at the curtain call. Photo credit: @bygonebroadway / Craig Lucas

I would also like to take this opportunity to answer the age old question many of friends have been asking me; “Why do you love Steel Pier so much?!” The reason why I love this show is mainly for two reasons. The first being John Kander’s incredibly romantic score that continues to move me ever since I discovered the original cast album in 2017. My favorite tracks on the album are “The Prelude”, “Somebody Older” and “Final Dance”. I would like to acknowledge once again Michael Gibson’s orchestrations and Glen Kelly’s incidental music and dance arrangements they created for the score that help Kander’s music to shine. The second reason is the love story between Bill and Rita. Who wouldn’t want a dashing pilot to save us from the rut of life, inspire us to dream and point us in the direction our lives should go? My favorite moment in the show is “Final Dance” where Bill and Rita are forced to part ways but are given a moment to passionately dance in each other’s arm. When Bill finally disappears, Rita discovers Bill’s medal for daring and bravery which he gave Rita as a substitute for an engagement ring. In an earlier scene in Act Two, she asks Bill to give it to her when the time is right. In that moment when Rita pulls the courage to leave the marathon, the time is right.

To end our trip to the Steel Pier, I invite you to watch one of the best Tony Awards performance ever performed in the history of the telecast. There’s so much to marvel at in this five minuet clip; The orchestra’s fantastic sound in Radio City! The banjo! Susan Stroman’s choreography! The incredible ensemble! Mr. Peanut! Kristin Chenoweth’s microphone unknowingly being on as we hear her say in character, “Bye…Hi!” during Bette and Buddy Becker’s solo! And finally, the passion and romance when Bill and Rita whirl around, gaze longingly into each other eyes, ending with a kiss!

This humble little blog is dedicated to the memory of Daniel McDonald, who portrayed the role of Bill Kelly in the original production.

Works Citied

Martin, Carol J. Dance Marathons: Performing American Culture of the 1920s and 1930s (Performance Studies). University of Mississippi, 1994. 

Thompson, David, et al. Steel Pier. Samuel French, 2005.

Bernstein, Blitzstein and West Side Story

Introduction

With director Steven Spielberg’s new motion picture West Side Story recently being nominated for seven Academy Awards and streaming on Disney+, the classic musical continues its extraordinary popularity with audiences around the world. 

The re-emergence of West Side Story came about during Leonard Bernstein’s centennial celebration. Throughout 2018 and 2019, regional theaters, opera houses and syphomines jumped on the bandwagon to perform the work with the pinnacle being an ill-fated Broadway revival directed by Ivo van Hove in addition to Spileberg’s film, originally slated to open in 2020. 

West Side Story is part of a very slim list of timeless musicals in which all the elements of theater seamlessly came together in one perfectly crafted piece. The musical’s longevity is also helped by the successful 1961 film version produced by United Artists. There have been many books written about West Side Story and the 1961 film, dozens of various recordings in addition to countless parodies and homages of the work in media throughout the years.  

Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert on location (West 56th street between 9th and 10th ave) for WEST SIDE STORY publicity shoot. Photographed by Friedman-Abeles.

While the original creators; choreographer Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, receive much of the credit due to them for creating West Side Story, and rightly so, there is one creator who also helped shape this classic work who has slipped through the cracks. This unintentional creator is American composer Marc Blitzstein, who was Leonard Bernstein’s life-long friend and mentor. Although Blitzstein’s contribution to West Side Story is small and varied, the ways his music and ideals seeped into this project would help lay the foundation for one of the greatest landmark musicals ever constructed. 

Leonard Bernstein conducting WEST SIDE STORY at The Winter Garden Theater on April 26th 1961. Photographed by Avery Willard.

The Cheat Sheet

Before proceeding, I assembled a cheat sheet for shows referenced within this dissertation: 

BERNSTEIN

On The Town (1944): A musical comedy based on the ballet, Fancy Free. It tells the story of three sailors who have a twenty-four hour shore leave in Manhattan. 

Wonderful Town (1950): A musical comedy based on the book and play, My Sister Elieen. It tells the story of two sisters from Ohio who land in the colorful world of Greenwich Village and attempt to make it to the top as creative artists in the Big Apple. 

Trouble in Tahiti (1954): A one act opera. It tells a cynical story of a troubled marriage between a husband and wife, set against the backdrop of 1950’s suburbia. In 1983, Bernstein would later write a three act sequel to this story entitled, A Quiet Place

Candide (1956): A comic operetta based on Voltaire’s satire of the same name. It tells the story of the young Candide’s search for happiness in a world in which all is “supposedly” for “the best”. 

West Side Story (1957): A musical based on Romeo & Juliet. It tells the story of two star crossed lovers caught between the gang war of the Jets and the Sharks. The project, originally called East Side Story with the conflict being between Irish Catholics and Hebrews, was conceived, choreographed and directed by Jermoe Robbins.

Mass (1971): A theater piece for singers, players and dancers composed for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The abstract piece follows The Celebrant trying to conduct the catholic mass against a cynically jaded congregation. 

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976): A concept musical that examined the oval office and its relationship with racial injustice throughout history. This musical closed on Broadway after seven performances. 

BLITZSTEIN

The Cradle Will Rock (1937): A pro-labor opera whose fabled opening night stood as a bekon of breaking censorship against the government. It tells the story of the Liberty Committe of Steeltown U.S.A. on the night of a big union drive and how each member of the Liberty Committe has metaphorically prostituted themselves to the greedy capitalist, Mr. Mister, and his family members.  

No for an Answer (1941): An opera about a group of restaurant and hotel workers battling big business and unemployment in a resort town. 

Regina (1949): An opera based on Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes. It tells the story of a three siblings’ rivalry and how their unrelenting greed affects their family members during the dawn of industrial domination in the deep South.

Airborne Symphony (1946): A symphonic canta that revolves around the history, daily grind and dangers of aviation. The piece would lay the groundwork for Bernstein’s Mass

Ruben Ruben (1954): An opera loosely based on the Faust legend. The musical only lasted it’s out of town tryouts in Boston. 

Juno (1958): A musical based on Sean Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock. It tells the story of a Dublin family and their reversal of fortunes during an Irish revolution.   

Based on a Conception  

In the fall of 1946, Marc Blitzstein began collaborating with choreographer Jerome Robbins on a work inspired by the issues of civil rights beginning to emerge in America. The two proposed a pas de deux of black and white dancers in masks in order to critique the intolerance and treatment of minorities. Three years later this idea became the ballet, The Guests, which was presented by The New York City Ballet on January 20th, 1949. It was Jerome Robbins’ first ballet for the company and would lead him to becoming the Associate Artistic Director. 

Although the original idea for the ballet never came through fruition, The Guests’ scenario still dealt with the ideas of prejudice and social discrimation. In the ballet, a host assembles two different groups among ten dancers, one group having six dancers while the other group had four dancers. The larger group is marked with stars on their forehead to represent their superiority to the other group. Both groups receive masks and a dance commences. One boy and girl dance a pas de deux together. At the end of the pas de deux, the two umask to reveal the boy is marked on her forehead while the girl is not. The guests look aghast, the host pulls the two away from each other and both as force to flee as the ballet concludes.   

Bows for THE GUESTS featuring Jerome Robbins and Marc Blitzstein. Photographed by Fred Fehl.

It was during this time in rehearsals for The Guests that Jerome Robbins called Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents on January 9th, 1949 with the notion of doing Romeo and Juliet in the slums of New York. Robbins has denied the fact that he ballet had any connection to West Side Story and the idea for the musical came about when he was pondering how the Shakespeare play connected to contemporary times after a friend of his who was playing Romeo asked Robbins for advice. That being said, there could have been no coincidence that doing a ballet with Romeo and Juliet themes about a girl and boy from two rigidly divided social groups who fall in love in addition to communicating social problems through music and dance could not have inspired Robbins to create the notion of what would become West Side Story. And it could not have been created without Marc Blitzstein’s input and ideas he collaborated on with Robbins for The Guests

Dancer Rita Karlin who was in the ballet also concurred The Guests was a precursor to West Side Story;

“After the pas de deux was performed…Karlin recalled, ‘Lo and behold [the two lovers] found each other. Everybody, of course, when they realized that they were in love, or they had some kind of thing going, looked in absolute horror…That’s why I’m saying it’s a fore-runner to West Side Story.’” (Lawrence, p.139)

One idea Blitzstein and Robbins cut from was a concept for the ballet’s ending in which the unaccepted lovers were slowly joined by a few members of the different groups dancing together in unity. This rejected idea would later be used for the “Somewhere Ballet” in the second act of West Side Story.

Aslo Rep’s reconstruction of Jerome Robbins’ choreography for “Somewhere”. Start at 5:35.

Bernstein and Blitzstein

“[Bernstein and I] are almost telepathically close. Sometimes we compose startlingly similar music on the same day, without seeing each other.” – Marc Blitzstein (Pollack, p. 185)

Marc Blitzstein and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, July, 1946.

Marc Blitzstein first met Leonard Bernstein when Bernstein was still a student at Harvard and was conducting a production of The Cradle Will Rock his senior year. Bernstein was a fan of the opera and commented that “I had the feeling I had practically written this work myself, I knew it so well” (Camera Three, 16:00-16:07). Marc Blitzstein attended the premiere and was enamored with the young Bernstein. Throughout the rest of Blitzstein’s life, they remained good friends and Blitzstein became a mentor to Bernstein. 

Bernstein premiered three of Blitzstein’s works and dedicated his one act opera, Trouble in Tahiti to Blitzstein. In return, Blitzstein dedicated his Six Elizabethan Songs (written for The American Shakespeare Festival Theater) to Bernstein. Bernstein would also name two of his children after characters from Blitzstein shows; Alexander after Alexandra in Regina and Nina after the character of the same name from Ruben, Ruben. Leonard Bernstein even had a fling with one of Marc Blitzstein’s lovers, Bill Hewit.  

The only project the two ever “collaborated” on was for the 1950 Broadway production of Peter Pan in which Bernstein supplied songs and incidental music for. Blitzstein supervised his music and lyrical revisions while Bernstein was away conducting in Israel. 

Not The First Time 

“[Blizstein] had written those special [musical] notes which seduced my soul, those thousand of special, mysterious notes that can never be forgotten.” – Leonard Bernstein (Pollack, pg.184)

Artistic borrowing and allusions to former works is nothing new in the world of music and still continues till this day (look at Lin Manuel Miranda’s multiple music allusions in Hamilton for example). Leonard Bernstein himself seemed to be aware of himself and other composers who have used musical allusions for compositions. As he stated in an interview with Paul R. Laird; 

“Take Le sacre du printemps [The Rite of Spring], which was supposed to be the work that revolutionized music and changed the world, and just analyze it page by page, bar by bar. You’ll find that every bar of it comes from somewhere else. But it has been touched by this magic guy” (Laird, p.34). 

Marc Blitzstein was fully aware that Leonard Bernstein not only borrowed from other composers but from his own work. As he wrote to his friend, author Mina Curtiss, after the opening of Bernstein’s musical, Wonderful Town

“He has been this time rather exorbitant in his demands for lenience in the matter of borrowing. I don’t seriously mind when he swipes from me (he has a number, ‘Quiet Girl,’ which title I used years ago; but instead of writing that song, he has written another of mine: a lullaby I wrote for No for an Answer)-but, when he calmly grabs the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto for his ‘hit’ called…’Ohio’, I gaga (I mean gag.)” (Gordon, p.364)

In The Score of West Side Story   

“MARIA”

After Jerome Robbins proposed the idea of a modern day Romeo and Juliet to Leonard Bernstein in 1949, Bernstein wrote the first tune to be used for the score using his own dummy lyrics. When the work became West Side Story and lyricist Stephen Sondheim joined the project, the tune would be known as “Maria”. “Maria” features a three note melody including a tri-tone (also known as an augmented fourth). The three note melody and the tune for “Maria”, originally came from the Act One opening of Blitzstein’s Regina. Regina premiered and closed on Broadway in 1949, the same year Bernstein wrote the tune for “Maria”. Bernstein followed Blitzstein’s progress throughout the creation of the opera, participated in a New York Times editorial to prolong Regina’s run in New York and informed Blitzstein that in 1955 (four years after the piece closed) how the piece never slipped his mind. Therefore, there is no coincidence that the opening of Regina is identical to “Maria”. In the Act One opening of Regina, the three note melody is in the horn section. 

In this introduction for REGINA, you can hear the melody for the lyrics; “Maria”, “And suddenly that name”, “I just kissed a girl named Maria and then suddenly I found”.

This three note melody is spread out throughout the score of Regina is tied with the character of Mr. Marshall. Instrumentally the theme is heard in such other numbers as “Music, Music”, “Goodbye”, “Horace’s Last” and “The Finale”.

Act 1, No.4, m.4-6, p.34

It is heard once again vocally in the dinner scene when Regina sings, “Provincial, Provincial” and when Mr. Marshall sings, “Delightful, Delightful” (Blitzstein, p.22).

Act 1, No.3, m.8-13, p.22

In Act III, the character Birdie sings the three note melody in her aria; “Then they try to hide it, Birdie’s got a headache, a headache, a headache again” (Blitzstein, p.209).

Act 3, No.2, m.4-6, p.209

With “Maria” in West Side Story, Bernstein kept the identical three note melody for the very beginning of the song.

No. 5, m.1-4, p.55

When the song moved into the chorus, Bernstein used the three note melody once again but “inverted one interval but left the harmonies and rhythms virtually intact” (Peyser, 268). The three note melody is sprinkled throughout the entire score of West Side Story in almost every single number. The three note melody was first heard by the Broadway public in Candide (a piece Bernstein was working on at the same time for West Side Story), used for the number, “Auto Da Fe”. Furthermore, “Auto Da Fe” was a number whose structure was also stripped from Regina, this time from the Act II finale, “Gallop”. 

No.4A, m.1-31, p.71

“THE JET SONG”

There is another motif Bernstein used from the beginning of Regina that was used for the beginning of West Side Story. It occurs when the Hubbards break the fourth wall and express their inner monologue about the proceedings of their dinner. They sing “The company have the table quit” (Blitzstein, p.21).

Act 1, No.3, m.12-18, p.20-21

Bernstein took this little section, added an additional dissonant note at the end and transformed it into The Jet’s leitmotif used in “The Prologue” and “The Jet Song” (originally used for an extended opening number called, “My Greatest Day”). 

No.1, m.9-13, p.3

“TONIGHT”

Bernstein took another Blitzstein theme to make one of the greatest hits from the score of West Side Story, “Tonight”. The motif from “Tonight” came from an unrecorded song in No For An Answer, “Lullaby”. The lyric is as follows; “Baby don’t you cry, Baby don’t you cry, Baby, baby, don’t you cry” (Blitzstein/Lehrman, p.26). Bernstein took the interval notes on the second and third “don’t”s and the final two words “you cry” and re-arranged them into the notes for the lyric, “Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight” (Bernstein/Sondheim, p.64) Bernstein would also used the harmonic structure of “Lullaby” for dozens of other songs from “A Quiet Girl” from Wonderful Town (“Quiet “Girl” was also the title of a wartime song composed by Blitzstein), to “Fraction: Things Get Broken” from Mass, to a ballad from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, “Take Care of This House”. 

Leonard Lehrman who completed Blitzstein’s operas IDOTS FIRST and SACCO & VANZETTI, showcases the similarities between “Lullaby” and “Tonight”. Sung by Helene Williams.

THE POP SONG FORM

In Camera Three’s 1976 tribute to Marc Blitzstein, Bernstein stated;

“I was tremendously influenced by Marc in everything I wrote for the theater… because even in works that are enormous as my Mass….the basic unit in it is always the song form, the pop song form, no matter how it’s stretched or distorted or snuck in and out of and in that sense I think I owe my biggest debut to Marc.” (Camera Three, 19:06-19:39)

An example of Marc Blitzstein using the pop song as a basis would be “Croon-Song” from The Cradle Will Rock, a parody of crooners and their music during the 1930s. Another example is “Fraught” from No for An Answer, a pastiche of a Cole Porter torch song. The pop song in West Side Story would be derived from two popular styles of music dominant in the 1950’s; jazz, the “American” music used for The Jets such as “The Jet Song”, “Dance At The Gym: Jump”  or “Cool” and latin music for The Sharks such as “Dance at the Gym: Mambo”, “America” or “I Feel Pretty”. 

“GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE”

The introductory vamp to the number, “Dear Officer Krupke” is eerily similar to Blitzstein’s introduction vamp to “Scene Six: Hotel Lobby” from The Cradle Will Rock. Both numbers start in all sharps or flats with the horns speedily playing a vaudevillian introduction’s melody followed by an um-chug, um-chug over dialogue. 

No.6, m.1-3, p.93
No.14, 49-56,p.168

Both numbers use vaudevillian conventions for ironic commentary. The Cradle Will Rock comments on the willingness of creative artists to disregard politics in order to create “art” while “Gee, Officer Krupke” comments on a flawed system that believes it understands juvenile delinquency. Bernstein would continue to use this style of ironic commentary for his later works including, “God Said” in Mass and “The Money Lovin’ Minstrel Parade” in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

“I HAVE A LOVE” & “ONE HAND ONE HEART”

Maria’s Act II number, “I Have A Love” (originally penned “Once In Your Life”) is a variation on the opening of “What Will It Be” from Regina. “What Will It Be” starts with a whole note, followed by two quarter notes and a dotted half note. “I Have A Love” is a dotted half note followed by two eighth notes and a dotted half note. 

Act 1, No.7, m.1-5, p.73
No.14, m.69-72, p.188

In the book Music in a New Found Land (dedicated to the memory of Blitzstein), author Wilfred Mellers asserted that Bersntein’s “One Hand, One Heart” (originally written for Candide) was a “Hollywood corruption” of Blitzstein’s “What Will It Be” from Regina and “Gus and Sadie’s Song” from The Cradle Will Rock (Mellers, p.431). 

SOMEWHERE

Long before West Side Story, Bernstein wrote a melody to a song to which Blitzstein added lyrics to;

There goes what’s his name

Unhappy what’s his name

I’ve been wondering who’s to blame?

Who’s to blame?

Huh?

That melody that would later be pulled out of Bernstein’s trunk years later with different lyrics for the Act II number, “Somewhere” and long after West Side Story opened “neither Shirley [Bernsetin, his sister] nor Lenny could shake from their minds Marc’s [lyrics].” (Gordon, p.325)

The musical phrase, “Peace and quiet”/“Hold my hand” in the song is identical to Blizstein’s solo from his Airborne Symphony, “Emily”. Bernstein himself conducted the American premiere of The Airborne Symphony and would have known the melody. 

1:09, You can replace the word “Emily” with “Hold my hand”/”Peace and quiet”

 MEETING SCENE

Blizstein used a technique in two of his songs in which the leading man would sing the heroine’s name while the heroine would interject with dialogue. In “Francine” from No For An Answer, Sam sings the heroine’s name then hums a haunting melody while Francine interjects with dialogue over his humming. In “One Kind Word” from Juno, Jerry sings his sweetheart’s name, “Mary”, while Mary interjects with dialogue as he holds her name out.

Although Bernstein does not directly use this technique, he does a variation of this during “Dance at the Gym (Meeting Scene)”. Instrumentally, the strings play the tune of the heroine’s name, Maria, interjected with dialogue from Tony and Maria. Tony doesn’t know Maria’s name hence why there is no lyric when the strings play her name musically. 

Like in No for An Answer and Juno, this small section in West Side Story showcases “the passion and the difficulty of communication between two lovers, who seem to be on different levels of emotion” (Lehrman, p.151). All the men in these songs (Joe, Jerry and Tony) are so gobsmacked with their love for their girl (Francine, Mary, Maria) that they wax poetic while the female characters reply with level headed and direct responses. “I knew something never before was going to happen, had to happen”, Tony romantically expresses, “But this is some much more” to which Maria replies “My hands are cold” (Laurents/Richards, p.364).

4:36

RETURN TO THE VERSE

Another favored formal device Blitzstein used in his songs was using the beginning verse of the song as an ending tag. For example in “I Wish It So” from Juno, Mary begins the song with “I’ve an unrest inside me…and I think I’ll go mad” (p.107-108, Blitzstein/Lehrman) and ends the same way. In “Emily” from The Airborne Symphony ends the same way the song begins, “At night a white-face nineteen year old bombarder sits writing. The wonder of his crew tonight before the flight, sits writing” (p.80, Blitzstein/Lehrman).

Bernstein uses this technique for Tony’s songs in West Side Story; “Something’s Coming” both begin and end with “It’s only just out of reach, down a block on a beach” (p.34, Bernstein/Sondheim) and “Maria” in which Tony returns to verse at the end of the song, “The most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria” (p.59, Bernstein/Sondheim). 

After West Side Story 

Seven years after the Broadway premiere of West Side Story and three years after the film’s release, Marc Blitzstein died on January 21st 1964. Although Leonard Bernstein vowed to complete Marc’s uncompleted operas, Sacco & Vanzetti and Idiots First, in addition to restoring Regina, he never got around to doing so. After Marc’s passing, Bernstein never reached the success he had in the 1940s and 50s. His work for the theater such as Mass, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and A Quiet Place were all met with negative reviews. 

Conclusion

The musical examples listed above lead to questions of whether or not these artistic borrowings were intentional? Was Bernstein so infused with Blizstein’s style that it was coquinential? Was it Berstein tipping his cap to Blitzstein and believed imitation was the sincerest form of flattery?

Regardless, as American composer Ned Rorem stated, it is clear to see that; “Bernstein would never have been quite what he was without the firm example of Marc Blitzstein…” (Pollack, pg.185). Leonard Bernstein throughout his career strove to write music with an artistic and social base, which he learned how to do so through Marc Blitzstein’s work.

Had it not been for Marc’s original concept written for The Guests with Jerome Robbins and the melodies he composed for the theater, West Side Story would not be the mega hit musical it is today nor a piece of theater that will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.  

Leonard Bernstein and Marc Blitzstein at Martha’s Vineyard, 1960.

WORKS CITED/BIBLIOGRAPHY

BOOK

Jowitt, D. (2005). Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Lawrence, G. (2002). Dance with Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins. Berkeley.

Gordon, Eric A. Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein. St. Martin’s Press, 1989. 

Gottlieb, J. (2010). Working with Bernstein. Amadeus.

Kirk, Elise Kuhl. American Opera. University of Illinois Press, 2005. 

Peyser, J. Bernstein: A Biography. Billboard Books, 1998. 

Pollack, Howard. Marc Blitzstein His Life, His Work, His World. Oxford University Press, 2013. 

Richards, S., Gershwin, G., Gershwin, G., Weill, K., Loewe, F., Porter, C., Bernstein, L., Styne, J., Bock, J., Edwards, S., Sondheim, S., Kaufman, G. S., Heyward, D. B., Perelman, S. J., Lerner, A. J., Spewack, S., Laurents, A., Laurents, A., Stein, J., … Furth, G. Ten Great Musicals of the American Theatre. Chilton Book Company, 1973.

Shawn, A. Leonard Bernstein: An American Musician. Yale University Press, 2016. 

Simeone, Nigel. Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story. Routledge, 2017. 

Wells, Elizabeth Anne. West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical. Scarecrow Press, 2011. 

FILM/VIDEO

#MondayMusicalMoments | Somewhere | West Side Story. (2020). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bNO7X2nY3c&t=335s 

20181005 19 Intro + Tonight. (2018). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7PkvR4kJn0. 

Camera Three – The “Cradle” that Rocked Broadway (1976). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWpV97X9Gqk&t=967s

United Artists. (1961). West Side Story. United States. 

MUSIC RECORDING

Blitzstein, M., Brice, C., Carron, E., Driscoll, L., Frierson, A., Hecht, J., Hellman, L., Irving, G. S., Krachmalnick, S., Lewis, B., Renan, E., & Strine, H. (n.d.). New York City Opera Company presents Marc Blitzstein’s opera Regina based on “The Little Foxes” by Lillian Hellman. Columbia Odyssey. 

Blitzstein, M. (n.d.). Marc Blitzstein Discusses His Theatre Compositions. Spoken Arts 717. 

San Francisco Symphony . (n.d.). Bernstein: West Side Story

The New York Festival of Song. (n.d.). Blitzstein: Zipperfly and Other Songs

PHOTO SOURCES

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert on location (West 56th street between 9th and 10th ave) for West Side Story publicity shoot” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1957 – 1958. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/2f4f9f50-88d4-0134-e9fb-00505686a51c

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Leonard Bernstein conducting orchestra during opening night party at Roseland for the stage production West Side Story” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1960. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/3808c7b0-8280-0134-c450-00505686a51c

Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. “Guests” The New York Public 

Library Digital Collections. 1948 – 1949. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a183ab5e-efb5-8592-e040-e00a180618a0 

Leonard Bernstein and Marc Blitzstein at Martha’s Vineyard. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/musbernstein.100030060/>.

Marc Blitzstein and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, July. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/musbernstein.100030001/>.

PRINTED MUSIC

Bernstein, L. (1958). Candide: A Comic Operetta Based on Voltaire’s Satire. Amberson Enterprises. 

Bernstein, L., & Sondheim, S. (1959). West Side Story: A New Musical (Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins). G. Schirmer, Inc. Chappell & Co., Inc. 

Blitzstein, Marc. Regina: An Opera: (Based on “The Little Foxes” by Lillian Hellmann). Leonard Auslfg., 1954. 

Blitzstein , M., & Davis, S. E. (1938). The Cradle Will Rock: A Play in Music. (C. Davis, Ed.). 

Blitzstein, M., & Lehrman, L. (1999). The Marc Blitzstein Songbook (Vol. I). Boosey & Hawkes. Blitzstein, M., & Lehrman, L. (1999). The Marc Blitzstein Songbook (Vol. II). Boosey & Hawkes.

Copyright Statement 

This dissertation is written for nonprofit educational purposes. I have cited the media (photo, videos, sheet music, etc.) and information I used for the dissertation. 

According to the Library of Congress: The Library of Congress is providing access to The Leonard Bernstein Collection ca. 1920-1989 for educational and research purposes. LOC provided accessible download links to the photos and offered citations for the photos. 

The NYPL Digital Photo Library provided accessible download links to the photos and offered citations for the photos.

COPYRIGHT ACT OF 1976: CODE 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.

I Like Your Style: An Opinionated Analysis on Cy Coleman’s Broadway Musicals

On June 14th 1929, 91 years ago, Cy Coleman the great tunes-smith who traversed the music worlds of pop, musical theater and jazz during the 20th century was born. In his lifetime, Cy Coleman has collected many accolades for his music, penned over fourteen musical scores, ten of which have been performed on Broadway, wrote several popular songs that would not only be in the national consciousness but also become jazz standards covered by many artists over the decades in addition to serving as the Board of Directors of ASCAP for 38 years to protect the music rights of himself and his fellow musicians.

My personal adoration for Cy Coleman’s musicals began when I was just starting college back in 2015 where I was exposed to two of his musicals, Barnum and On The Twentieth Century. I immersed myself into those shows, repeatedly listened to the cast albums and made me want to explore more scores composed by Cy Coleman. I have been exploring his gigantic catalog ever since. I have used many of his songs for auditions over the years; “You’ve Come Home” from Wildcat has been my go to Golden Age ballad number for three years, “Double Talk” from City of Angels to audition for Sunset Boulevard and “Come Follow The Band” from Barnum for the ensemble of The Music Man, just to name a few! Recently I purchased a copy of Coleman’s biography by Andy Propst titled, You Fascinate Me So and I have been reading all about Coleman’s life during the quarantine. On June 14th, when I saw it was his birthday on social media, I had an insane itch to write all my personal thoughts, opinions about his musicals and to profess my love for Cy Coleman’s artisity with all the information I know about him thus far. The following I have written are subjects about certain recurring themes, patterns and styles I’ve noticed when listening to Cy Coleman’s scores in addition to my personal opinions about his legacy and presence in musical theater history. These are also topics not discussed in his biography. 

Themes in Cy Coleman’s Shows

The men of Cy Coleman’s shows

Throughout his shows, certain themes and theatrical concepts keep recurring in Cy Coleman’s musicals which might showcase the type of stories and structures that interested him. The first recurring theme is theatrical men who are in the entertainment business and the women in their lives who oppose those men for divulging in that business.

In Barnum, the title character wants to live his life in the main ring, full of bright colors and indulge in the pleasures of humbug with his fantastical attractions. His wife, Charity, is the opposite. She is a stern Connecticut Yankee who lives her life in soft earthy colors, as she sings about in her song “The Colors of My Life (Reprise)”. Charity opposes any kind of humbug and wishes her husband would take a quiet respectable job such as her job defending women’s emancipation.

In The Will Roger Follies, the famed vaudevillian falls in love with Betty Blake who states that Will’s roping act is “the most disgusting spectacle I have ever witnessed”. She discloses throughout the show that she wished Will would give up show business all together and that their children do not follow in their father’s footsteps. In the song, “No Man Left For Me”, she laments that Will is so busy traveling the world furthering his different careers that she feels forgotten by him and lonely.

In City of Angels, Stine is a witty writer who battles with a maniacal Hollywood producer over the creation of a screenplay based on his book about a Private Eye detective. Stine’s wife, Gabby, has great respect for her husband but does not respect the fact that Stine is going to be selling out to Hollywood. As she sings in the number “It Needs Work”, “I’d rather see you shoot yourself/Then watch you prostitute yourself”.

In On The Twentieth Century, Oscar Jaffee is the grande dame of theatrical impresarios. His pygmalion creation, Mildred Poltka turned to the glamorous Lily Garland, is detested when she is asked to come back to the theatrical endeavours of Oscar Jaffee. “I’d rather die” she meinically explains in her song “Never”. 

Some the incredible women who run the show in Cy Coleman’s musicals

Another theme that re-occurs in Cy Coleman’s shows are stories about strong and fiercely independent women who are tired of being thwarted by the men in their lives. Sweet Charity, Little Me and The Life are about those very same subjects and feature some of the most fabulously fierce women in the musical theater cannon.

In Little Me, Belle will do anything to live life ‘on the other side of the tracks’. In order to do so Belle tries to marry Nobel, the man who can allow her dreams to come true. However, when Nobel’s mother wouldn’t allow her son to marry a girl such as Belle, Belle spends the rest of the show trying to find what she wants in anray of varieties with an array of different men. These men from Mr. Pinchley to Val Du Val to Prince Cherney continually thwart her plan by comically dying making the process longer for Belle to acquire a life of wealth and stature.

The title character in Sweet Charity laments her rotten luck with her ex-boyfriend Charlie in the number, “Charity’ Soliloquy”. Later in Act I, Charity demands with her friends Nicike and Helene that “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”. The ladies dream of jobs that could get them away from a life of creepy men who ask them for a dance with their “groping, grabbing, clutching, clinching, strangling, handling, bumbling, pinching”.

The Life features Queen(ie) who throughout the whole show tries to get away from ‘the life’ of prositution and her abusive lover, Fleetwood. She expresses her frustration with Fleetwood’s treatment of her in numbers such as “He’s No Good”, “We Had A Dream”, and “I’m Leaving”. Also in The Life, the spunky prostitutes of New York City are tired of being harassed by the Gospel Group and the Police and they express their anger with the musical numbers “My Body” and “Why Don’t They Leave Us Alone”.

In City of Angels, Gabby, Stine’s wife and Oolie, the fictional Stone’s secretary, are tired of being the great minds behind the men in their lives and both lament in the number, “What You Don’t About Women”. Later in the second act, Oolie and her technicolor counterpart, Donna, reflect on how they have been used by men throughout their lives in the number, “You Can Always Count on Me”.

Other fierce and spunky woman who run the show in Cy Coleman’s musicals include Wildey from Wildcat, the streetwise Gittle Mosca from SeeSaw, the frigid champion of women’s rights, Charity in Barnum and the grand diva Lily Garland in On The Twentieth Century (Oscar and Bruce both sing in the number, “Mine”, “She runs the show”). 

The quartets

A theatrical convention that Cy Coleman reuses in his musicals is the use of an onstage quartet. These quartets of four men (with the exception of City of Angels) act as the show’s greek chorus and their songs gently comment on the action. Furthermore, these quartets sing a song at the top of Act Two that is used to not only welcome the audience back after intermission but also summarize the story or the story’s optimistic message to impart on the audience.

I Love My Wife features four musicians dressed in Santa suits who play the score of the entire show and sing songs by themselves that comment on the action occurring between the two couples such as “Hey There Good Times” (sung at the top of Act 2) and “Scream”.

On The Twentieth Century the following year features four train porters who insert themselves into the action of several scenes, help transition scenes (“Oscar Jaffe/Lily Garland”) and at the top of Act Two sing the philosophical “Life Is Like A Train” before returning to the story on the train.

In City of Angels the quartet known as the Angel City 4 opens the first and second act with “The City of Angels Theme” (second act version of the song summaries both of the evening’s stories). The Studio Singers are inserted into both the black and white and technicolor stories being told as shown in the number “Everybody’s Gotta Be Somewhere”. The other songs they sing, “Stay with Me” and “Look Out for Yourself”, indirectly comment on the action.

In The Will Rogers Follies a male quartet of cowboys sing the “do-whop” and jazz harmonies throughout the show (usually tagged along with Zigfeild’s Favorite) in such songs as “Will-A-Mania”, “Give A Man Enough Rope”, “We’re Heading For A Wedding/I’ve Got You” and “Presents for Mrs. Rogers”. At the beginning of Act 2 they sing and dance to a reprise of the philosophical “Give A Man Enough Rope”.

In the musical The Life, Jojo is the main pimp of the story and the narrator. He and his fellow pimps sing the opening of Act One and Two that reflect the story’s themes, “Use What You Got” in Act One and “Mr. Greed” in Act Two.

In the 1999 revival of Little Me, Belle starts the show with the title number accompanied by her male quartet known as Belle’s Boys. 

The Music of Cy Coleman

Cy at the piano

Whenever Cy Coleman’s shows are reviewed by the critics, no matter what the show is or how bad the show was reviewed, a high majority of critics unanimously praise Cy Coleman’s for music and great tunes. I firmly believe that Cy Coleman’s music is usually what people enjoy about his shows the most. With the exception of Wildcat, all of his shows have either won or have been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Score. He has won three times for Best Score and in 1991 was a composer who enjoyed the success of winning Best Score and Best Musical two years in a row for City of Angels in 1990 followed by Will Rogers Follies in 1991. 

The following are aspects about Cy Coleman’s music that stuck out to me while listening to his music, the certain musical techniques he uses to tell the story of his musicals and re-occurrences within his scores. 

The first aspect is Cy Coleman’s use of pastiche and the use of content dictating form in order to create a musical style for the show. His use of pastiche or using certain musical styles for his shows communicates to the audience the time the story is taking, the musical sounds of the era and to connect the characters to other music or previous entertainers. While Cy Coleman is using those techniques, underneath the music you can still hear his jazzy style layered beneath the song if you listen very closely. It’s one of the reasons I adore him because he’s a great musical chameleon, able to brilliantly pastiche a number or write in a certain musical style yet still be able to put his own signature stamp on his songs. In discussing Cy Coleman’s music, composer Marc Shaiman has commented that, “Cy could write in any style and always make it entertaining for the masses yet tasty to we musicians”. 

Here are examples and a study of Cy Coleman using pastiche and certain musical styles for each one of his shows;

With Wildcat and Little Me, although some of the songs in the score are pastiche or have a musical style (ex. “Boom Boom” from Little Me pastiches the kind of number Maurice Chevalier would perform and “What Takes My Fancy” from Wildcat in the musical style of an old fashioned western tavern song ) the music in those two shows overall resemble the golden age musical comedies of its day.

Sweet Charity, SeeSaw and I Love My Wife represent a mixture of Broadway show tunes with the sounds of the late 60s and 70s. It’s not till On The Twentieth Century, Cy Coleman really dives into pastiche or using a distinct music style with On The Twentieth Century pastiching European Operetta. As Walter Kerr wrote in his review for the show “Mr. Coleman’s resources are up to the rushing demands, and the playful musical mockery (Bizet and Romberg included) pays off in a final, fraudulent, Tristan‐like death scene as it might have been done by a conniving Nelson Eddy and an insincere Jeanette MacDonald”.

In Barnum, Cy Coleman’s uses different styles of music from the turn of the century; ragtime (“Thank God I’m Old”, “Black and White”), Gilbert & Sullivan (“Museum Song”, “Love Makes Such Fools of Us All”), John Phillp Sousa (“Come Follow The Band”) in addition to circus music (“Join the Circus” and the chases of the show).

City of Angels pastiches the pop music of the ‘40s (“Stay With Me”, “Look Out For Yourself”), torch songs (“With Every Breath I Take”), the film scores of Max Steiner (“Alaura’s Theme”) and film noir music (“City of Angels Theme”, “L.A. Blues”).

Every number in Will Rogers Follies is a pastiche of a certain type of music associated with the Zigefeild Follies or the cowboy sounds of Will Rogers. Some examples of pastiche in the show include big vaudeville numbers (“Big Time”, “It’s A Boy”, “Favorite Son”), Native American music (“Will-A-Mania: Indian Section”), in addition to the grand music that was used in the Ziegfeld Follies (“Presents For Mrs. Rogers”, “Marry Me Now/I’ve Got You”, “My Big Mistake (Reprise)”).

Cy Coleman’s music in The Life, resembles his work he did with Sweet Charity, SeeSaw and I Love My Wife, the mix between the jazzy Broadway show tunes Cy Coleman writes so well (“Hookers Ball”, “Use What You Got”, “People’s Magazine”) and the pop funk music of the 70’s (“Piece of the Action”, “Lovely Day to Be Out of Jail”). The only number that would be considered a pastiche is “You Can’t Get To Heaven”.  

The following below are some of the other musical techniques that Cy Coleman uses in his songs for his shows and the examples that showcase style. 

Call and Response: two musical phrases, unusually identical, in which one phrase is heard as in response to the second phrase.

  • Sweet Charity
    • Big Spender (“Hey Big Spender!”, brass responds)
  • City of Angels 
    • What You Don’t Know About Women
    • The Tennis Song (Singers and orchestra responds)
    • All You Have To Do Is Wait (Singers and orchestra responds)
  • Will Rogers Follies 
    • Will-A-Mania (“He’s got more fans then Shirley Temple”)
    • Give A Man Enough Rope
    • My Big Mistake (Wind instruments respond)
    • We’re Heading For A Wedding/Marry Me Now/I Got You
    • Presents For Mrs. Rogers
  • Barnum
    • The Colors of My Life
    • I Like Your Style (“Each blessed day we sweetley fill”)
    • Come Follow The Band 
  • SeeSaw
    • It’s Not Where You Start
  • On The Twentieth Century
    • Title Song
    • Together (“To know my favorite star is not so very far” and “She’s getting on”)
    • Mine 
    • Our Private World (“You opposite me, opposite you”)
    • Life Is Like A Train (“You get on the beginning”)
    • Sextext (“I believe in Oscar Jaffe”, brass responds)
    • Five Zeros 
    • Lily, Oscar
  • The Life
    • Use What You Got (male pimps respond on pitch)
    • My Body
    • Mr. Greed
  • I Love My Wife
    • By Three
    • Title Song (Piano responds) 
    • A Mover’s Life
    • Married Couples 

Counterpoint: the relationship between voices which are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and contour

  • Sweet Charity
    • Rhythm of Life 
  • Wildact
    • Hey Look Me Over (Jannie sings the melody while Wildcat sings the counterpoint)
  • Will Rogers Follies
    • Give A Man Enough Rope (“A guy could choose to run a bank” conterpointed against harmonica)
    • We’re Heading For A Wedding/Marry Me Now/I Got You
  • City of Angels
    • Everybody’s Gotta Be Somewhere (Counterpoint: “Where’s that dame” sequence)
  • On The Twentieth Century
    • Sextet (Sign, Lily, Sign)
    • Together (Second verse with the passengers complaining, “You’re crowding, You’re pushing, She’s waving, She’s smiling”)
  • Barnum
    • One Brick at a Time (Counterpoint: “Just take a brick and place it on the ground”)
    • Out There (Counterpoint in the trumpets) 
  • I Love My Wife
    • Hey There Good Times/By The Way If You A Free Tonight
    • I Love My Wife/In Conclusion

To give you an example of counterpoint in addition to call and response, here is one of Cy Coleman’s best theater songs, “We’re Heading For A Wedding/Marry Me Now/I’ve Got You” from The Will Rogers Follies. You also see the onstage quartet singing the tight jazz harmonies as previously discussed in this analysis.

Follow the time marks to see when call and response or counterpoint pop up in the song
  • Call and Response
    • 0:36, Will calls and girls respond
    • 1:00, Will calls and girls respond
    • 1:30, Will calls and girls respond
    • 2:48, woodwinds and bells respond
  • Counterpoint
    • 2:15, Quartet and Will counterpoint Betty Blake’s melody
    • 3:05, Counterpoint between chorus “We’re Heading for A Wedding” and orchestra playing Will’s melody “Marry Me Now”

Other recurring musical styles that pop up in Cy Coleman’s show include operatic-esque soliloquies usually sung the female protagonist about five minuets long (“Charity’s Soliloquy”, “I’m Way Ahead”, “Sextet/Together”, “The Legacy”, “The Oldest Profession”), Recitative numbers (“I’ve Got It All”, “Oh Daddy”, “Go Home”, “We Gotta Go”) and band marches (“Hey Look Me Over”, “Sextet”, “Scream”, “She’s A Brass Band”, “Come Follow The Band”).

Here’s an example of Cy’s jazz soliloquies he’s written for his leading ladies accompanied by the composer himself.

The next topic concerning Cy Coleman’s music is my favorite piece he wrote: 

The Overture from On The Twentieth Century

It’s Cy Coleman’s best overture and I strongly believe it’s one of the greatest overtures of musical theater, up there with the overture to Gypsy and Candide. The Overture communicates the story of the musical and is similar to the big Act II number, the “Sextext” in which Lily Garland must choose whether or not to sign the Contract. Will she go back to the theatrical world of Oscar Jaffe or remain in the tawdry world of Hollywood with her egotistically silly beau, Bruce Granit? Furthermore, the overture musically introduces the audience to the character’s musical themes in addition to getting the audience ready for the exhilarating and fun train ride about to commence.

Below are each section of the overture with time marks to follow along with the Overture on Youtube. 
  • Section A: The Title Song, “On The Twentieth Century”. The porters are helping the passengers settle in for the upcoming journey on the luxury liner. 
    • 0:00
  • Section B: The train starts to pick steam and starts its journey as we hear Oscar Jaffe’s musical plee in the cellos, bass and trombones, “You must come back”.    
    • 0:16
  • Section C: Oscar Jaffe’s melody of “You must come back” mixed with Lily Garland’s melody “Hear my heart hammer”. Oscar’s melody also doubles as the train moves across the tracks. 
    • 0:42
  • Section D: The song “Together”. Lily Garland is exhilarated that her long lost love Oscar and herself are reunited once again on the train together.  
    • 0:55
  • Section E: Oscar’s “You must come back” theme is heard once again before transitioning into the song “Mine”, Bruce Granit’s theme which is a variation of Oscar Jaffee’s “You must come back” theme. You can hear how braggy and boutrous he is with the trumpets and cymbals. 
    • 1:30
  • Section F: The song “Our Private World”. Oscar’s love song to Lily. 
    • 2:00
  • Section E: The song “Sign, Lily, Sign”. Owen and Oliver (basson) are convincing Lily Garland to sign the contract.  
    • 2:27
  • Section F: “Sign it Lily” is intertwined with “I’ve Got It All”. While Owen and Oscar plead,  “Sign it Lily, Sign it Lily, Sign it Lily!”, Ms. Garland is thinking about how splendidly her life is in Hollywood, why would she go back when she has it all?  
    • 2:35
  • Section G:  “I’ve Got It All” is intertwined with train speeding.  
    • 2:50
  • Section H: The train is speeding faster and faster, almost going off the rails (violins) as we are introduced to the religious nut, Miss. Primrose (the horns). 
    • 3:01
  • Section I: The train is speeding with “The Title Song” as it approaches Grand Central Station. 
    • 3:12
  • Section J: Havoc on the train with the “She’s A Nut” theme, a wild goose chase. The train finally arrives and we end on a grand operatic ending.   
    • 3:20

Cy Coleman’s Legacy and Popularity

I have gone to see Chita Rivera in Concert each time she came to the Los Angeles area, once in 2017 and 2018. Before she would perform the number “Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity, Ms. Rivera would introduce Cy Coleman’s name as the man who wrote the song. Dead silence. She would then have to say, “I’ll wait for that” and force the applause out of people to recognize Cy Coleman. 

When the New York Public Library did it’s exhibit to pay tribute to Director Hal Prince, the informational board that discussed On The Twentieth Century not once discussed nor even mentioned Cy Coleman’s name as main contributor to the show.

Do you see Cy’s name? (Also Sweeney Todd was AFTER 20th Century opened)

When we think of great theater composers, we usually think of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Kander & Ebb, Jerry Herman, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Frank Lesser. Cy Coleman is usually near the bottom of this list or is usually not even mentioned. 

How could this be so? How could it be that Cy Coleman and his work be felt forgotten at times? A good majority of his Broadway shows were successful hits, he wrote more musicals or as many shows as the composers listed above, several of his songs from those shows became jazz standards such as “Hey Look Me Over”, “I’ve Got Your Number” and “Here’s To Us” in addition to his song “Big Spender” being one of the quintessential numbers in the Broadway songbook. Well, here are my possible theories on Cy Coleman’s legacy thus far in 2020. 

The first theory, I inquaried while I am reading his biography, could be that he had a life that might be considered “basic” compared to those of other composers. He grew up becoming a musical prodigy, became a jazz pianist in the 50’s then spent the rest of life creating Broadway musicals. Now compare this with Stephen Sondheim whose surrogate was Oscar Hammerstein II, Cole Porter who married a woman and struggled with being a homosexual throughout his career or Leonard Bernstein who also started as musical prodigy, later conducted for the New York Philarmoic and was targeted by political leaders throughout his career. Cy Coleman may not be interesting for musical theater historians to learn about or dissect compared to other composers, Sondheim and Bernstein for example have several books that analyze their lives and their works. 

My second theory is because none of his shows changed musical theatre or broke new ground. In college, I had a book/DVD Documentary for my Musical Theater History entitled “Broadway: The American Musical”. The book/DVD documentary discussed the evolution of the American Musical and the shows that helped evolve the Broadway musical to what it was up to 2004. The documentary not once mentioned his name nor a single show he created and Coleman only received an honorable mention in the book when it’s author spotlighted, On The Twentieth Century, as a good show to footnote and called him a “fixture”. And unfortunately it’s true, although his shows had interesting subjects and spectacular music to accompany those stories, the shows were usually structured as traditional musicals and didn’t elevate the Broadway musical to a new level (compared to other shows like Cabaret, Hair, Les Miserables, etc.)

Furthermore none of his musicals come with a cynical edge (although Sweet Charity comes close but that is because of Bob Fosse’s vision) compared to composers like Kander & Ebb or Sondheim. His shows all end happily (one way or another) and his songs are infused with toe tapping joy. Musical theater historians and music critics may not be interested in his musicology possibly because they think his music is too standard compared to Bernstein, Porter or Sondheim. However I disagree, I think his music is rich and interesting to look into (have you listened to City of Angels lately?). Cy Coleman’s music makes me want to study musicology and music theory just so I could discuss how simple yet complex his music is at the same time. 

In regards to his shows’ popularity, many of his shows have become cult classic favorites with the musical theater elite, especially shows such as City of Angels and The Life with thanks due to the show’s cast albums. And although his shows do indeed get produced, they only get produced once in a while compared to the catalog of other composers such as Alan Menken or Rodgers and Hammerstein. His shows often show up in companies who celebrate forgotten musicals. In 2019, Musical Theatre Guild produced Barnum, J2Spotlight produced SeeSaw in 2019 as well, and in 2014 City Center Encores presented Little Me. Only three of his ten shows have had Broadway revivals and are usually limited engagements; Little Me twice revived, Sweet Charity twice revived (and once Off-Broadway) and On The Twentieth Century in 2015 (Little Me in 1999 and On The Twentieth Century were both produced by Roundabout Theater Company). The following are my theories on why Cy Coleman’s shows don’t get produced very often. 

 My first theory is because a majority of his shows were not based on popular properties. While shows like I Love My Wife, SeeSaw and On Twentieth Century were based on plays, they were not household name plays like those of Arthur Miller or Noel Coward. Sweet Charity was based on the foreign film, Nights of Cabiria, however the musical was so remodeled into its own identity the only thing that’s left that resembles Night of Cabiria it’s the film’s plot line. City of Angels, Wildcat and The Life are all original musicals. Broadway musicals have always (and nowadays in particular) relied on popular properties to insure that people would be interested in purchasing tickets to those shows with musicals such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Aladdin, Beetlejuice, etc.

To summarize, people like what they know and the properties that Cy Coleman based his work on are not exactly in the popular consciousness making it more difficult as today’s musical theater main business solely relies on popularity and brand name recognition.  

My second theory is that Cy Coleman’s show demands certain types of specialty performers for his shows, above and beyond other shows that just require triple threats or actor-singers.

Sweet Charity requires strong Fosse dancers, Barnum requires circus performers, I Love My Wife requires four strong musician singers, On The Twentieth Century requires it’s company, especially it’s leading lady, to be able to sing in the style of traditional European Operetta extremely well. City of Angels requires four singers to be able to sing jazzy scat with intricate harmonies and lyrics while The Will Rogers Follies requires four men to sing the tight jazzy scat harmonies, two strong cowboy ropes men, a Dog Act, in addition to large triple threat cast and budget.

Without these specialty performers and special requirements for each show, the stories of these musicals can not be told properly or would feel inadequate without good specialty performers. 

Conclusion 

Despite the fact that Cy Coleman may not be considered as popular as other theater composers and there are not yearly tributes to him like Sondheim, it cannot be denied that Cy Coleman and his musicals have brought joy to many of his audiences who experience his shows in addition to bringing many great tunes to hum to as we exit the theater. Cy Coleman has raised the bar for complicated and tuneful jazz music on the Broadway music stage and his amazing musical legacy can be seen in many contemporary jazzy Broadway scores such as Catch Me If You Can, War Paint and Bandstand

For you the reader, if you’re ever on a long car trip, are looking for a new Broadway score to listen to or need a good audition song, I highly suggest looking in the Cy Coleman catalog, you won’t be disappointed. And finally, I personally would like to thank Mr. Coleman for his amazing body of work, his scores have always been a joy to listen to, I certainly will not forget him nor his tuneful songs that always brighten my day. Mr. Coleman, you fascinate me so. 

The great composer at the piano

Video-ography: Here are some great videos to watch to see Cy Coleman’s work in action. Luckily three of his shows have been recorded in their entirety and are easily accessible on Youtube!

Although it is not the original Broadway cast, this regional production features the original set and costume designs. 
This is a phenomenal song used in 1982 production of “Little Me” with the phenomenal Fred Barton Orchestra

Supplemental Albums: If you’re a musical theater nut like me and have already listened to all of Cy Coleman’s musicals, here are some great albums to go look for to give a listen to! All of these albums are available on Youtube.   

Cy Coleman: A Jazzman’s Broadway

 

The Cy Coleman Trio Plays Barnum
Songwriter Showcase Series: You Fascinate Me So
Songwriter Showcase Series: Barnum Backer’s Audition
Songwriter Showcase Series: I Love My Wife Backer’s Audition

Photos for this blog are from the Broadway on Broadway and Fans of “On The Twentieth Century” Facebook groups.

The Best of All Possible Costumes: Q&A with Tony Award Winning Costume Designer, Judith Dolan

“I think the hardest thing in the world to do is a musical and I have many fellow designers who agree with that. It is the hardest art form to pull off.” – Judith Dolan 

 

Introduction: This is our story rich and rare! 

As you see from this picture above, what is a Tony Award, a souvenir program from the 1997 revival of Candide and a Chia-Plant of Donald Trump all doing on a desk? Well, I shall tell you and I promise it will all make sense in the end! 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the great privilege to interview one of the great costume designers of the American stage, Ms. Judith Dolan. In this interview, I had the pleasure to discuss her Tony Award winning approach to designing the costume for Hal Prince’s production of Candide. I got to ask her several questions about the many different lives of Candide from the New York City Opera’s multiple productions since 1982 as well as the 1997 Broadway production in addition to all the fun stories and anecdotes that come with it! Furthermore, Ms. Dolan talks a great deal about her amazing collaboration to the legendary director/producer, Harold Prince. So let’s take a peek behind the curtain to see how these stunning costumes came to be and the creative process behind the costume’s creation. 

How We Met: Oh! Is it true?! Is it you?!

In February, I was attending a cabaret in Hillcrest to see Linda Lavin and Billy Strich perform at Martini’s Above Fourth. At the end of the cabaret when I went up to meet Ms. Lavin, I asked her to sign my It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman vinyl (Lavin, a member of the original Broadway cast, sang the now hit tune from the show “You’ve Got Possibilities”) and a picture of her in the role of The Old Lady from New York City Opera’s production of Candide. When she graciously signed the Candide photo, she informed me that the woman who made these costumes for that show was in the house that night! After I thanked Ms. Lavin, I was able to spot Ms. Dolan, and asked her if she indeed was THE Judith Dolan and she was! She was very indulgent with me and allowed me to tell her how greatly I admired her work. I told her that Candide is one of my all time favorite musicals and that the New York City Opera version of the show was my favorite incarnation of the show. Furthermore, what made that production my favorite out of all of the incarnations of Candide was the visual design of that production, both set and costumes. After about ten minutes of me babbling about her praises, she kindly allowed me to email her to meet up again during her office hours at UCSD, the campus where she currently serves as a professor of Directing and Design/Costumes. After an email or two later, I was able to meet with her on the UCSD campus to become better acquainted with her. 

Who Judith is: That paragon of human virtue! 

Judith Dolan's Headshot

What is written below is Judith’s official bio from the UCSD website to help give you an idea of all of her wonderful accomplishments! 

“JUDITH DOLAN has designed costumes for several productions for director Harold Prince including Candide for which she received a 1997 Tony Award.  Another collaboration with Mr. Prince, the musical The Petrified Prince, earned her the Lucille Lortelle Award and a 1995 Drama Desk nomination.  Other theatrical credits include costumes for Andrei Serban’s production of The Miser for the American Repertory Theatre,  Christholf Von Dohnanyi’s interpretation of The Magic Flute for The Cleveland Orchestra,  Idomeneo for Wolf Trap Opera and the original Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.   Her designs have been seen in numerous companies in the U.S. and abroad including Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Theatre Clwyd in Wales, The Old Vic, The Kennedy Center, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C., The Goodman Theatre, The Alley Theater, The Mark Taper Forum, Hartford Stage, New York City Opera and the Houston Grand Opera.  Recent Broadway work includes the award-winning musical Parade and Hollywood Arms by Carol Burnett and Carrie Hamilton.  In 2007, she designed costumes for LoveMusik, the story of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, directed by Hal Prince, starring Donna Murphy and Michael Ceveris, for which she received Outer Critics and Drama Desk nominations for Best Costume Design.  Other recent design credits include sets and costumes for Gombrowicz’s Meditations on Virginity for the International Theatre Festival “Theater Confrontations”in Poland and Travesties directed by Gregory Boyd for the Long Wharf Theater. She has directed and workshopped new plays for The Director’s Company in New York City, where she is currently developing a new music/theater piece, Stoker, with composer Joe Jackson. In 2014, the New York City League of Professional Theatre Women awarded her the Ruth Morley Design Award for her career achievements and leadership in design. Judith Dolan has an MFA in Costume Design and a PhD in Design and Directing/Theatre History and Aesthetic Theory from Stanford University.”

Check out Judith’s work in action here from Candide, ParadeLoveMusik and Joesph…!

The History of Candide: Let us review lesson eleven! 

Candide is a large-scale operetta by composer Leonard Bernstein based on the satirical 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire, a French philosopher during the Enlightenment era. Voltaire wrote his satire in response to the tragedies of the world at his time and to debunk his fellow philosophers beliefs on optisium. When ​Candide​ came out, the depiction of religious figures, ​political sedition, greed, rape, etc. made the novella banned for several years. Since its publication, it has become a standard of literature and is taught in many schools throughout the world. 

The operetta in 1957 was written by Bernstein and playwright Lillian Helman in response to the McCarthy-Army hearings and drew a dramatic parallel to the Hearing with the novella’s section on the Auto Da Fe (in which the Spanish Inquisition flogged, hanged and burned heretics in God’s holy name). Although many critics consider ​Candide​ to be Bernstein’s best score next to ​West Side Story​, the show was a flop and ran only two months when it originally opened in New York. 

Despite its lackluster run, the show’s cast album became popular and helped the show be occasionally produced as a concert throughout the 1960s in various locations. Around 1973, The Chelsea Theatre Center of Brooklyn persuaded the great producer/director Harold Prince to revive Candide with a new libretto to the existing score. A new libretto was created by Hugh Wheeler and new lyrics were added by Stephen Sondheim (both gentlemen had recently opened A Little Night Music with Prince). This version of Candide sold out it’s month long run, and it’s popularity led it to transferring to Broadway where it ran for almost two years.

In 1982, the New York City Opera asked Prince to create an opera house version of the show based on the Chelsea Version. This production of Candide is in which Judith Dolan created and designed her costumes for the show. This version was also a great success and would later become the staple of the company’s repertoire, later being revived several times. The 1982 production was recorded for Great Performances by PBS. 

In 1988, Leonard Bernstein with help from John Manceri created his final version of the score and a new version of the show premiered in Glasgow at Scottish Opera.

In 1997, a revival of Candide opened at the Gershwin Theater on Broadway and was based on the New York City Opera production. It was produced by Garth Dubinsky and highly featured Andrea Martin as The Old Lady. At the 1997 Tony Awards, Judith Dolan won for Best Costume Design for Candide

In 1999, the Royal National Theater in London constructed their version, a complete book to stage adaptation with a majority of the lines of the script coming straight out of the novella. 

In 2004, the New York Philharmonic put on a concert version of Candide, conducted by Marin Alsop and starred Kristen Chenoweth as Cunegonde and Patti Lupone as the Old Lady. This concert was recorded for Great Performances by PBS. 

In 2006, Théâtre du Châtelet presented their version, having Candide set in America during the last quarter of the 20th century. In this production, Cuengonde is Marylin Monore, Candide is a soldier for the Korean War, and featured dancing KKK members during the “Auto Da Fe” sequence.   

In 2017 and 2018, several opera and theater companies produced Candide as part of Leonard Bernstein’s Centennial Celebration. One of those productions was New York City Opera’s remounting of Candide (which I happened to see). 

The Basic Plot of Candide: I have been asked to tell you about Westphalia…

While Bernstein’s Candide has many different versions with some versions completely faithful to Voltaire while others take artistic liberties, this is the basic generic plot for all the versions.

Candide​ tells the story of the young youth of the title in his misadventures and tribulations throughout the globe. In the beginning of the story, Candide as well as his other classmates, the beautiful Cunegonde, the arrogant Maximilian and the resourceful maid Paquette, are taught by their tutor, Dr. Pangloss that “since this is only possible world it follows that this is the best of all possible worlds. Ergo, since this is the best of all possible worlds, it follows that everything that happens in this world is for the best”. With this optimistic knowledge ingrained in his brain, Candide travels around the world to find happiness with Cunegonde. However, more misfortune then opportunity lands in lap of Candide such as the witnessing a deathly earthquake in Lisbon, being flogged by the Auto Da Fe, being forced to serve in the Bulgarian Army, watching his love become defiled by powerful men in addition to repeatedly being taken advantage of and swindled. On his journey, he also encounters new characters such as; Cunegonde’s Duena, The Old Lady, who once was a wealthy princess who was raped, has had one of her buttock’s eaten and then forced to become a serving maid but still looks forward to life, Cacambo who travels with Candide to El Dorado only to find absolute happiness in actually very boring and Martin, a pessimist who believes “Everything happens for the WORST, in this worst of all possible worlds” (Martin and Cacambo are not featured in the Hal Prince production of the show). In the end, Candide realises that life is neither pure nor bad, life is unbalanced, life is life. Candide and Cugendonde are married and fulfill man’s natural function: work God’s earth with no regret for yesturday or hope for tomorrow.

Notes on Judith’s Costume Design for Candide: My wardrobe is expensive as the devil! 

What is written below are notes Judith wrote about her approach to Candide’s costume design taken directly from the 1997 Broadway Souvenir Program: 

 “Candide-the music, the story, the characters-charms. One of the most important issues for me was how to convey the charm without losing the satiric edge and wit of Voltaire’s work. What was somewhat unnerving, as I found myself more and more engaged by the piece, was that the satire felt so fresh and current. The contemporary influence of artists such as Bernstein, Sondheim, Wilbur, Wheeler and others was no doubt a part of this, but this “collaboration” with Voltaire that spanned two centuries demanded a fresh approach. The circus is a particularly rich visual metaphor which crosses national boundaries and traverses time…elements that are useful for this production of Candide

My historical research encompassed travelling shows of all kinds and music hall conventions of the early part of this century, as well as theatrical presentations of the Inquisition and the carnival atmosphere surrounding the French Revolution. Within the costume designs, 19th-century acrobats co-exist with infamous political authorities. Every character in Candide lives a kind of simultaneous life within the story and within “Dr. Voltaire’s” show: Cunegonde is both the heroine of the story and the rising young female star of the troupe; the Old Lady exists as a catalyst to the action and as the experienced character actress who knows how to hold the audience in the palms of her hands; Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor blur the lines between public figures and old-time vaudevillian comedy teams. Throughout, it is the figure of Voltaire who weaves the story together as author, actor and impresario.  

I found the energy of musical theater actors demand new approaches than that of opera singers. These designs are brighter in color and more straightforward. They are attuned to the individual presence of each performer’s personality.   

Ultimately, I hope that the costumes for Candide convey some of the joy of the production without losing it’s critical edge.”

A scene from the 2017 production CANDIDE

    

The Q&A: You are perhaps wondering perhaps why I’m so attired!?

On the day I was able to meet with Ms. Dolan , she was assisting her students with their eye popping designs for an opera coming up. When entering her office she had a gigantic bookshelf filled with all kinds of cool inspirational knick knacks. On the far end of the office is a quaint table with posters of some of the shows she worked on to the left, hanging on the wall. After I complimented her about her beautiful office then discussed about her position on the UCSD and the love she has for her fellow students, I began to ask her my questions. 

The wall of posters of all the shows Judith has worked on!

 

Colden Lamb: How did you acquire the job for Candide in 1982? 

Judith Dolan: I got that job through Hal Prince. I was designing a soap opera at the time, that job was ending and I was moving on. I was applying for more theater work by sending out letters to producers and directors through Backstage. I didn’t have any contact at all and it was Hal Prince who got back to me. At first, I didn’t know if I should apply to Hal Prince, ya know, he’s too big, who am I? However, it was the Prince Office who got back to me, nobody else did. They asked me if I would be interested in an internship and I said yes, not having a clue what it was! And it was out of those first interviews, I got to do three shows, one right after the other and one of those shows was Candide for New York City Opera in the early 80’s. 

The other two shows were Merrily We Roll Along and an opera called Willie Stark with Houston Grand Opera which was the first show I did with Hal. Willie Stark was also one of those cases in which I was sitting there at the first dress rehearsal at Houston Grand Opera, and this is true, when I realized it was my first opera I’ve ever seen in my life! I had a very limited experience in theater, I came from a family of steel workers, so I saw an occasional movie but that was about it! So I have no idea how I ended up in the theater but Willie Stark was my first opera (but I didn’t tell Hal Prince that)! 

 

CL: Did you have any connections to the 1973 Chelsea Version of Candide

JD: No, that was Eugene and Franne Lee, a husband and wife costume design team.

 

CL: Did you discuss or research costume designers who did previous productions of Candide

JD: No, Hal Prince didn’t really give me anything in regards to past designers because research was not that accessible back then when you think about it. I remember when I was working on another piece (I can’t remember what the piece was) with Hal and he told me to go see the video of Company that’s at the New York Public Library. When I went to see it, the film was really grainy and bad! Back in those days, we didn’t even have color xerox. I know it sounds like ancient history but it wasn’t that easy to do research. 

Also, I try not to be influenced by other designers on productions, especially those that might be called seminnal. It’s not that I don’t respect it, it’s just that it doesn’t help me create something original.      

 

CL: You stated that your costumes for Candide were based upon late 19th century carnival, circus, freak and burlesque shows. Was that concept your idea or director Hal Prince’s idea or both? 

JD: I don’t remember, and I’m trying to avaid it. Hal for the New York City Opera production in 1982 wanted it to look like a down and out traveling freak show. So the colors and banners were all green and grey, a rustic and dark take on it. Then when it went to Broadway, which was a big stage, Clarke Dunham, the set designer for both NYCO and Broadway, and I used bolder colors making the Broadway production become more circusy by default due to the gigantic Broadway scale. And when I saw the scale that Clarke Dunham was doing, I knew that my funky little down and out “mummers” from 1982 would not be seen on the stage. I had to pull out my costumes in order to compete with the beautiful, but complicated, scenic design with a lot of scenic painting and detail. I knew I had to go bolder and stronger in color range with my designs for Broadway. The most recent production with NYCO that I did with Hal, he wanted to bring back the 1982 color palette of darker colors. I re-design everything to pull it down and Hal was very happy with that. 

 

CL: Why didn’t you design the costumes based on the time period the novella came out, the 18th century? Why no powdered wigs, giant Marie Antoinette hoop skirts or colonial apparel? 

JD: Well they did that before evidently and it failed in 1956. However, that wasn’t Hal’s concept. He told me that he wanted to look like a school boy’s prank, so it had to look a little more light-hearted and flippid. In order to achieve that and to capture Volitaire’s comic satire, because it is a dark comedy, I made it an agenda for myself to offend every single ethnicity, person and place I could think of. It was equal opportunity satire and I would try all sorts of stuff. Once you do that and when everyone becomes a target, you can enter into the festivity of the satire wholeheartedly. I think the biggest compliment I got was on opening night of Candide on Broadway and somebody saw me at the opening night party to say, “Those costumes were really beautiful”. Mike Wallace was walking by, he turned around and said “Yeah and they were smart too”. The smartness of my designs were really important to me.  

 

CL: Did Bernstein ever come to see the 1982 production? 

JD: He did! I remember him being at one of the rehearsal halls. However, he was not invited to the rehearsal rooms on a regular basis because he was the composer and Hal needed to direct in order to create his vision of Bernstein’s music. And that’s true by and large, a lot of composers don’t come in. However, Bernstein wasn’t invited but he was there at the opening night party! They were still playing around with Candide’s text but everything represented in ‘82 had some flexibility. That flexibility in ‘82 also had to do with not having a very large budget, we were under the gun! On opening night in ‘82 I was stitching aprons for the final scene! 

Hal Prince came to the costume shop and asked, “What are you doing?!” 

I said, “I’m sewing! You said you wanted white aprons!” 

He started laughing stating “Well, you wouldn’t see Florence Klotz stitching!”

I said, “Well do ya wanna see your aprons?!” We had a great kind of banter back and forth with it but yea, I have stitched to get the show up. 

In ‘82, I wanted everything to look like it came out of an old opera trunk. That was part of the ability to make it happen because NYCO had a lot of Wagnerian helmets and crazy tunics which I decided to use for the Westphalia battle sequence. I embraced the limitation and found joy in it. When we recently remounted the show in 2017, we had to re-make the costumes all over again because the costumes were burned in a warehouse fire. It was really sad because there were some really beautiful old archaic opera treasures. 

Judith’s rendering for the Westphalian soldiers, 1997

 

CL: What happens to your costumes when your shows close or are all done? 

JD: Sometimes, it is put in storage. I believe my costumes for Candide are now with the Goodspeed Opera House.         

 

CL: The 1997 production of Candide added acrobats and stunt artists doing flips and special tricks throughout the show (the NYCO productions did not have acrobats). Did you have to make those costumes in ‘97 revolve around the flexibility of the performers or was everything still basically the same? 

JD: The ensemble costumes of the show were all designed in each production specifically for the dancers. For instance, the ensemble women’s clothes were all built as ballet costumes. Hidden in the seams of their costumes were elastics so they could pull up and pull down. They were all hand dyed silk satins to get that soft patina, but they were built for a lot of heavy construction so they could take abuse. When I had acrobats in ‘97, I had to get special shoes in and I had to do a couple of other special things. For the ensemble men’s costumes, the shirt’s were knit, things would stretch and move, it was all built to be danced in.  

Judith Dolan’s sketches for the CANDIDE ensemble

CL: Why didn’t the 1997 version of the show do successfully? My assumption is because no one asked for it. Drubinsky wanted another Show Boat. There was no crashing chandelier or sinking Titanic. Broadway was getting sick of revivals. Would you agree or disagree? Why do you think it wasn’t a hit and closed after 100 performances?  

JD: I have often wondered why too, it has so many good things in it and about it. I personally think it was in the wrong theater space, it was too big. It lost it’s joy and intimacy. It was a big theater and to compensate you had to use big gestures and for something that’s quirky it’s harder, it lost it’s quirkiness. 

CL: Was the Gershwin bigger than the house that New York City Opera was in?

JD: Yea, it was huge and we all knew it too.  It would have been better in a smaller theater. (Looking at a picture from the 1997 Souvenir Program) I mean, look at the stage, it’s caverness! I also think that when the show went to Broadway, the quirky costumes got lost on the big stage, you couldn’t really appreciate their goofiness. Ya know, who knows? I think the hardest thing in the world to do is a musical and I have many fellow designers who agree with that. It is the hardest art form to pull off. I think it’s harder than opera.

CL: Well, I guess with opera, you can’t go wrong going bigger and more opulent for operas. 

JD: With opera, you can go big or go home or there is an expectation or certain amount of tradition. But, to do a new musical or a new approach to a musical is really tough. I’m on the Tony nominating committee, this is my third and final year doing it. It has been really rewarding because I get to see every single show on Broadway. I have to go into the final month and see seventeen shows, sometimes I see six shows back to back, matinees, evenings, just to see them all! My point is that I have such respect for anyone pulling off a good musical cuz it’s really tough. 

Clarke Dunham’s set for CANDIDE

 

CL: Do you have a favorite costume from the show that you really like?

JD: No, I can’t say I do, I love them all, they’re my children! 

 

CL: My favorite costumes you did for the show are those created for the “Auto Da Fe” sequence. I love the color scheme you used for this section, blacks and purples with highlights of light blues and reds. Why did you choose to have the ensemble in Masquerade in Venice outfits? 

JD: Oh, just because I wanted it to be a big party. Period authenticity was not as important. 

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“What a day, what a day for an Auto Da Fe!”

CL: In the “Auto Da Fe” sequence, who are the authoritative men with LISBON sashes across their uniform? 

JD: I call them the legionnaires. A little masonicic. 

CL: Those are such fun outfits! Also in the Cartenaya, Colbumia Sequence there’s a man with a sash across his costume as well! 

JD: You know so much! Yea, there is a sash for the Slave Captain’s assistant and I put in Spanish, AYUDA which means “aid”.  I’m not even sure if that’s even correct Spanish but I would just do silly things like that. 

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If you look center below the Governor (Jim Dale) you will spot the AYUDA

CL: Another great costume you created for the “Auto Da Fe” sequence was The Lady of Oporto (The Lady of Oporto is a local Madonna).

JD: Yea, she was a Madonna, I called it The Infant of Prauge look. I added a globe on the top of her head, with gold and giant hoop skirt. I also added a dancing Jesus puppet to that costume. I wanted to pay tribute to the religious iconography as well as make her as big as possible. My sister has the sketch rendition I did for The Lady of Opoto because she was crippled laughing form that costume. I love that costume, too. 

The Lady of Oporto (and the Baby Jesus puppet) from the 2008 NYCO production

CL: I really missed seeing that costume for the 2017 NYCO production because that little section with The Lady of Oporto was cut. 

JD: Another thing that got changed in the last production that I missed and that Hal admitted he missed too were the Old Dons original costumes for the “Easily Assimilated” number. I originally had them in long red underwear and really bad beards. I think the use of long underwear in reds and blacks was wonderful to bring out the cheapness and fun of the characters in order to stereotype old Mexican men. It all goes back to offending everybody and adding in jokes all over the place. 

CL: At NYCO in 2017 the Dons didn’t have the elboarte sombreros like your previous productions and they were all in greys and greens. 

JD: Yea, Hal didn’t want the red underwear. When we opened in 2017, Hal was perplexed. He said it didn’t work this time and I felt like saying “Well…then listen to your designer”! The red underwear told the audience that these were old men with droopy drawers, it didn’t have the same effect with the grey long-johns. 

Linda Lavin and the grey Dons in the 2017 NYCO production

 

CL: I read in Hal Prince’s book, Sense of Occasion, he wanted to make his recent 2017 NYCO version of Candide a big “F*@#k You” to Donald Trump. Was that why the colors for that production were more darker and bleeker? 

JD: I think that was important to him for the ending, he wanted the ending to be very alstreer. He never said that to me but hold on, wait a second, I want to show you something (she gets up from her chair, and grabs something off from her bookshelf). This was Hal’s opening night present to me (She proceeds to place on the table a Chia-Plant of Trump). This is the kind of humor we had. He’s handed me some really nice opening gifts but this time he handed me this.   

CL: (Dead)

Harold Prince’s opening night present to Judith! Talk about making your garden grow!

 

CL: Could you tell me more about your designs for the character of Dr. Pangloss? 

JD: His robe for the schoolroom scene was supposed to resemble a period dressing gown. With the red wig and the stripes on the robe, I wanted him to look like Ichabod Crane. In later iterations, these were plaid coats and not stripes, all depends on what you have at the time.   

Dr. Pangloss in the schoolroom scene

CL: I also love that when Pangloss arrives in Lisbon, he is wearing a patchwork outfit with a hump on his back. What was your inspiration for this? 

JD: That costume was a one piece since the actor playing Pangloss had to do quick changes from Pangloss to Voltaire. The inspiration for that costume was for Pangloss to look like a Punch and Judy puppet, another theatrical callback. In the show as well if you recall, to start the story out,  Pangloss starts out as Voltaire with a more period look. In ‘97 I based Voltaire’s red cloak and cap on the actual clothes the real Voltaire wore, that was all based on research. I also wanted him to look like an 18th century storyteller. 

Dr. Pangloss in the Lisbon Sequence

CL: Did you also design or have any input on the wigs and hats for Candide

JD: Yes but sometimes I didn’t have much control. In 1982, we used NYCO hair and makeup people who had their traditional approach to hair and make-up. I didn’t think it translated well when the ‘82 production was recorded for PBS, it looked too extreme. It all depends on certain things but yes, you did get to have a conversation with them. And Hal had his input too as well because he wanted his characters to look a certain way. An example of different wigs was for the actresses who played Cuengonde, Erine Mills who played her in ‘82 had a blonde wig, Meghan Pierno in 2017 was a brunette while Harolyn Blackwell who was an African American Cuengonde who had a short afro. Her short afro was so darling we didn’t have to do anything with that. Absolutely darling! I had costumed Harolyn Blackwell in the past during the 80’s for a production of The Magic Flute where she played Pappagena and I did her as Tina Turner. She had this crazy wig and sequinned dress, strutting in mile high shoes. So, I worked with her before but we didn’t have to wig her for ‘97 production.  

A publicity shot for the 1997 production of CANDIDE featuring Harolyn Blackwell

CL: And finally, my last question, do you have any fond memories of the creative team or cast members from the many versions of Candide you have done?  

JD: Oh I love them all, I know that sounds terrible but it’s true. I’ve a particularly fond memory of the Broadway group. Some of the people I worked with on the Broadway production, I worked with them again and they were wonderful but it was more the ensemble feel of it all. I was told that when I won the Tony that year, the ensemble was sitting in the green room, I think they had just performed but I heard they went bananas when they found out I won. And that’s what it felt like, it felt like you were doing it for everybody. I think I even said in my acceptance speech that this was for them. I also thanked Hal Prince for his many acts of faiths over the years towards me and that was in reference to the “Auto Da Fe ” which means “act of faith” so I thought that was important. 

 

Conclusion: Therefore and hence, wherefore and ergo! 

This concludes my interview on the fabulous Ms. Judith Dolan. I would personally like to thank Ms. Dolan once again for her time and her attention for the questions I asked her, she is such a kind and gracious lady. Furthermore, I’d like to thank her not only for her stunning work on Candide but for her contribution to making all the productions she has worked on, and all the actors that have been in them, drop dead gorgeous with her magnificent creations.   

See Judith Dolan on the 1997 Tony Awards! 

Time Marks:

See her costume’s in action with cast of Candide performing “The Overture/Bon Voyage” – 43:50

Judith and the other nominated designers discuss their creative process – 2:02:14

Judith’s acceptance speech – 2:08:20

 

Photo Credits: 

The New York Times, Playbill, Catherine Ashmore, Jessica Tyler Wright, The La Jolla Historical Society, UCSD, Flickr

 

The Theater of Scott Frankel & Michael Korie

Introduction

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Scott Frankel and Michael Korie

From a decaying mansion in the nasty republican town of East Hampton, to a picture perfect suburban house in Hartford, to the beauty salons on New York’s Fifth Avenue, Composer Scott Frankel and Lyricist Michael Korie have taken their audiences to interesting and dramatic slices of American life through their Broadway musicals. The characters this songwriting team decide to write about are larger than life. However, through their brilliant music and lyrics, the team is able to find the empathy, sympathy and pity within these characters in order for the audience to see their humanity. This blog will discuss and examine their three musicals; Grey Gardens, Far From Heaven and War Paint. This blog will also discuss the show’s similarities, the scores and how the work fits in the historical context of 21st century American musical theater.   

The Shows 

Disclaimer: Although the team has also composed the musicals Doll and Happiness, the contents of this blog will concern with their major Broadway works, or their musicals that have an accessible cast recording or libretto. Therefore, this blog may be considered biased in regards to comparing their work because it does not include Doll or Happiness.

Grey Gardens

Christine Ebersole, left, as Little Edie Beale and Mary Louise Wilson as Edith Bouvier Beale. Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Plot: Grey Gardens is the hilarious and heartbreaking story of Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. They were once bright names on the social register who would later become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses. Act One takes place in 1941 where Edith Bouvier Beale is throwing a party to announce the engagement of her daughter Edie to Joseph Patrick Kennedy. However, when stories of Edie’s scandalous past is told to Joe Kennedy, in addition to a telegram from Mr. Bouvier Beale desiring a divorce from Edith, the engagement and the party are off. Act Two takes place in 1972 in which the Beales live in squalid conditions in their dilapidated house filed with “racoon, flees and virtually no plumbing”. The two women argue, relive moments from their past and question what brought them to living in such shambles. Edie begins to be fed up with her mother’s comments in addition to the presence of Jerry, the Beale’s friend and houseboy. She plans to leave Grey Gardens for good although in the end she never does.

Theme: The theme of the musical mostly revolve around the undying love and dangers of a mother and daughter relationship. This is showcased through the Beales, particularly at the end when Edie decides to stay with her mother.

Musical Styles: The first act pastiches the type of parlor songs the Beales listened to and sang during that time: European Operetta, Tin Pan Alley, Soft Shoe, Minstrel tunes, and Gershwin. Act two has no pastiche style (besides the WWII number “The House We Live In”) but rather a musical theater sound similar to Sondheim.

History of the musical: Grey Gardens premiered at Playwrights Horizon and was a such a resounding success that it transferred to Broadway to glowing reviews and two Tony Awards for the actresses portraying The Beals. PBS’s Independent Lens would create a documentary discussing the original film and the creation of the musical entitled Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway. A 2009 HBO movie titled Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange as the Beals would premiere two years after the success of the musical.Since closing in New York, it has played in regional theaters all over America and around the world.

Far From Heaven

Kelli O’Hara’s character catches her husband, played by Steven Pasquale, embracing a man . Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Plot: Its autumn in Connecticut 1957. Cathy Whitaker seems to be the picture-perfect wife and mother to her family and to her community. But roiling beneath the surface are the secret longings for her African American friend Mr. Raymond Deagan and the forbidden desires of her closeted husband Frank. These desires and complications would help causes Cathy’s world to unravel, with incendiary consequences.

Theme: The show revolves around how the leads, Cathy, Frank and Raymond, are affected by the repression, hypocrisy and snobby conformist rules of the ‘50s. The show also showcases the false facade that the decade and characters put on.

Musical Styles: The music and sounds resemble the music of 1950s suburbia: cocktail music, jazz, film noir, and latin salsa.

History of the musical: The show premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2012 then Playwrights Horizon a year later. When it premiered at Playwrights Horizon, it received good but mixed reviews. Although the musical did not reach the Broadway stage (probably due to the show’s “non-commercial” nature), it did receive a cast recording and is now available for licensing through R&H.  

War Paint

Patti LuPone, left, and Christine Ebersole, right and company. Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Plot: War Paint is a biography musical about Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden who defined beauty standards for the first half of the twentieth century. Brilliant innovators with humble roots, both were masters of self-invention who sacrificed everything to become the country’s first major female entrepreneurs. They were also fierce competitors whose fifty-year tug-of-war would give birth to an industry. From Fifth Avenue society to the halls of Congress, their rivalry was relentless and legendary – pushing both women to build international empires in a world dominated by men.

Themes: The musical showcases the battle of women fighting against a male dominated world and the costs Arden & Rubenstein paid for in their personal lives in order to break the glass ceiling. Another theme is revealed In the final scene when Elizabeth Arden asks Helena Rubinstein this question: “Did we make women freer or did we help enslave them?”

Musical Styles: Act One captures the swing music and big band sounds of the 1930s. Act Two captures the rally calls of WWII and the bongo sounds of the 1950s. Elizabeth Arden’s music is in a major key, bright and laid back. Helena Rubinstein’s music is in a minor key, brassy with chunky chords.

History of the musical: War Paint had an out of town tryout in Chicago before opening on Broadway a year later to good but mixed reviews. It received four Tony Award nominations and lost all. 2017 was a watershed year on Broadway and unfortunately War Paint was lost in the mix of innovative contemporary musical theater shows such as Dear Evan Hansen, Great Comet, Come From Away and Groundhog Day. The show closed prematurely after 236 performance when it was announced leading lady Patti LuPone was to have hip surgery. The show is now available for licensing from Samuel French.       

Similarities Within Their Work

The musicals of Frankel and Korie have a distinct style and pattern to their work the same way any great artist such as Picasso or Miro does;

  • Their musicals are based on a film: Grey Gardens and Far From Heaven are based on the documentary/film of the same name and War Paint is based on the documentary, The Powder and Glory (in addition to the book of the same name!).
  • All the shows are directed by Michael Grief
  • The shows are center around incredible and strong American women: In Grey Gardens, the Beals, Far From Heaven, Cathy and in War Paint, Arden and Rubinstein.
  • The show also deals with how these women’s lives are comprised by the men in their life: In Grey Gardens, Edith is despised and resented by her father, Major Bouvier while Edie blames her problems on Joe Kennedy’s resentment to marry her due to his strict rules on what his ideal bride is supposed to be. In Far From Heaven, Frank’s unfaithfulness to Cathy in addition to his rude comments to her and his physical abuse causes Cathy to unravel. In War Paint, Arden’s husband, Tommy Lewis and Rubenstein’s business partner, Harry Fleming, both feel undervalued and not appreciated for their devotion towards the company’s successes. In retaliation, the men backstab the women by working for the opposite companies (Lewis goes to work for Rubenstein while Fleming goes to work for Arden). Furthermore, both the men give away the top secrets of the previous company. This causes Arden and Rubinstein to lament in the number “If I’ve Been a Man”.
  • The musicals are tailored made for star vehicles: Grey Gardens’ stars were Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, who both won Tony Awards for their performances as the Beals. In Far From Heaven, the stars were Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale were the Whitakers (this was a year before they would pair up again as star crossed lovers in musical adaptation of Bridges of Madison County). War Paint’s stars were Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden and Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein. Both women were nominated for Best Actress at the 2017 Tony Awards.
  • Their musicals have underlying camp elements, deal with gay subject matters or appeal to gay audiences: Grey Gardens is considered to be one the definitive gay camp classics alongside Mommie Dearest and All About Eve. What makes this film appealing to gay camp lovers are the headstrong Beal’s quotable phrases, fashion statements, unique voices and catty arguments. Although all of these elements are intact in the musical, Frankel & Korie also attach a sympathetic and saddened look at the Beals rather than making them the cartoon drag queens as they have become over time. This pathos view of the Beales is evident in numbers like “Jerry Likes My Corn” and “Another Winter in a Summer Town”. Furthermore, Grey Gardens’ George Gould Strong, Big Edie’s confident and soulmate, is portrayed in the musical as flamboyantly gay. Although some might consider Far From Heaven campy due to the story’s melodramatic structure, it is FAR FROM camp (see what I did there?). Frank Whitaker is a closeted gay man and drives the plot forward when his wife Cathy finds him making love to another man. Frank considers being gay a disorder in his mind and discovered he had this “illness” while he was enlisted in WWII. Frank showcases these problems in the musical numbers, “Secrets” and “If It Hadn’t Been (Reprise)”. When Frank finally gives into his “illness” in the musical number “I Never Knew”, he decides to live with another man, divorces Cathy and crushes her spirit in the process. Like Grey Gardens, War Paint deals with two headstrong fabulous woman at constant battle with bitchy one-liners. War Paint’s Harry Fleming is a gay man who works for Helena Rubinstein. Fleming is caught when a late night tryst blackmails Rubenstein for money, Fleming goes against Rubenstein and discontinues to be with her, which is somewhat similar to what Frank did to Cathy in Far From Heaven.
  • Their musicals take place during the mid-20th century: Grey Gardens’ first act takes place in July 1941 while Act Two takes place in July 1972. Far From Heaven takes places from autumn 1957 to spring 1958. War Paint takes places from 1930s to the early 1960s. Having the shows take place during the mid-20th century allows the musical language to consist of jazz and swing style or consist of music of an era before rock ‘n roll. Speaking of the music…
  • Each musical beings with a prologue then goes into a splashy opening number: Grey Gardens’ prologue begins in 1972 with a newsreel giving the audience a brief background on what the mansion is and who is living in it. The scene then transforms into Grey Gardens in its heyday in 1941. Their is excitement in the air with preparations for Little Edie’s engagement party and is displayed in the opening number “Five-Fifteen”. Far From Heaven beings with a musical prologue (It’s the musical’s main leitmotif and is the basis for the song “Tuesday’s, Thursdays”). The original staging used this musical prologue to showcase the different types of people of Hartford, Connecticut; the snobby middle class whites versus the working class African Americans. This prologue segues into the opening number, “Autumn in Connecticut” introducing Cathy in her perfect 1950’s life as she gets ready for the fall season. War Paint’s prologue, “Best Face Forward” begins with different beauty advertisements taunting New York’s society ladies ladies with their imperfections in order to buy makeup products. This prologue then segues into two opening numbers, one for each of the leading ladies. Elizabeth Arden’s opening number is the swinging “Behind The Red Door” and Helena Rubinstein’s opening number is the brassy “Back on Top”.
  • Their shows ends with the heroine(s) looking back at her life and singing an 11 o’clock number: These 11 ‘clock numbers are ballads that are more like 21st century opera arias than musical theater numbers. Grey Gardens’ “Another Winter In A Summer Town” is sung my Little Edie reflecting on her life and how Grey Gardens is a metaphor for her crumbling life. In Far From Heaven’s “Tuesdays, Thursdays” Frank is informing details about his divorce with Cathy. In return, Cathy looks back at her perfect life with her family and community. She finally realizes that it was all disillusionment and begins to feel all alone in the world. War Paint has two 11 o’clock numbers. The first is for Elizabeth Arden who has been asked by her board to leave the company and her signature color, “Pink”. She looks back at her illustrious career and her personal sacrifices only to discover that the only legacy she will leave behind is a basic color that she never liked in the first place. The second 11 o’clock number is for Helena Rubinstein as she reminisces all of the famous artists who have painted portraits of her and made her “Forever Beautiful”. She also looks back at her life filled with constant battling from disapproving men.
  • Other minor similarities: Grey Gardens and War Paint book writer is Doug Wright. All these shows had out of town tryouts. Another minor similarity is two of their musicals feature a song about the character’s relationship with art. In Far From Heaven, it’s the song “Miro” and in War Paint it’s the song “Forever Beautiful”. Grey Gardens and War Paint both feature a pastiche of a WWII fighting song, “The House We Live In” in Grey Gardens and “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” in War Paint.    

A Sample of Their Work

The videos attached below give the sense of Frankel and Korie’s music and the mes-en-scene of the original productions of their musicals.

Grey Gardens

Far From Heaven

War Paint

This video, “Building Broadway: War Paint”, showcases Frankel, Korie and book writer Dough Wright as they discuss the songs and creative process for War Paint. It’s also entertaining, hypnotizing and absolutely astounding to watch Frankel play the piano. Watching Frankel play his score details how rich and introquite his music is.

My Favorite Songs

The sheet music for the musical number Miro from Far From Heaven

What I enjoy most about their work is Scott Frankel’s complex music. I feel smarter just listening to it. Just hearing the music one gets a sense of its complexity. When I saw the Piano/Conductor scores for Frankel’s shows, it’s even more intricate then listening to it. Crunchy jazz chords, music that flies by so fast in addition to the constant changing of musical keys and time signatures. Michael Korie’s lyrics are pure poetry that are appropriate for the period and the characters. Here are a couple of my favorite song from Frankel & Korie’s musicals with my commentary on what makes their songs sparkle.

  • Grey Gardens:
    • The Five Fifteen: A great vamp and the harmony the characters sing at the very end is extremely exciting to listen to!
    • Drift Away: Truly evokes the Gershwin-esque parlor songs of the era in addition to evoking a beautiful grey sky on a Long Island beach. My favorite rendition of this song was actually performed by one of my dearest friends Bradley J. Beherman. You may think I am saying this because he’s my friend or I am doing a shameless plug in but I’m not. Bradley’s voice is perfect for this song and the key it’s performed in gives the music a more melancholy feel. Give it a listen and see for yourself!

      • Around the World: This song takes the audience on the flustered emotions Edie is feeling. My favorite part of the song is when she discusses about one of the things in her collection, “a bird cage for a bird who flew away…”. I feel Edie resents this bird because unlike her, the bird is able to escape the closed off world of Grey Gardens.
  • Far From Heaven
    • If It Hadn’t Been (Reprise): Frank’s aggressive vamp is such fun to hear. I also enjoy the end of the song where Frank out of nowhere sings an F with opposing music in what sounds like a different key. You would think he would hit an F#/Gb instead, which would make sense musically. However having Frank hold out an F gives the impression that his sessions with the doctor to cure his homosexuality in addition to his willingness to go forward with this treatment is as faulty and as sour as the note he hits. It sounds dissonant at first but it is absolutely fascinating and wonderful for the ear to hear.
    • Miro: Frankel & Korie at their best! Atmospheric music with haunting lyrics that captures the artwork of Joan Miro. It also communicates the intellectual sides of Raymond & Cathy, how they are the only ones who appreciate this art with descriptive words compared to the Ladies auxiliary whose only comment on the artwork is “interesting”.
    • Picture In Your Mind: A beautiful ballad that deserves more attention. That being said, heavy caution when listening to this song, you’ll need several boxes of tissues before diving in. It shatters my heart each time I hear it. Cathy and Raymond’s harmonies soar to lush romantic heights when they sing “And although I maybe far away we’ll never say goodbye/For in that moment we were free”. Another favorite moment is when the couple sings in harmony “When will I learn how to let go” against clashing music. To me the unison melody represents their love while the clashing music symbolizes the society that wouldn’t allow them to be together.  
  • War Paint
    • Behind The Red Door: A great opening number that sets up the character of Elizabeth Arden and how she runs her business. Furthermore, the number takes the listener back to the Golden Age where the biggest concern was “When is the Grand Madame arriving?” and when she finally arrives, she glides down a grand staircase to triumphant music.
    • Back on Top: An exciting and engaging number with an amazing Bb13b9(#11) chord at the end.
    • Step on Out: An amazing and complex swinging dance break!  
    • Oh That’s Rich: A juicy vamp and key, one of the first songs from the score I feel in love with. The song is simply delicious! But not as delicious as what is inside the beauty jars of Arden and Rubinstein…
    • Face to Face: Oh that poor brass section at the very end.
    • Fire And Ice: Someone was listening to Judy Garland’s rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine” while writing this song. Bongolisous!

Their Work in the Context of Musical Theatre History

21st Century musicals in my opinion fall into roughly four different categories in regards to new musicals. The first category is “Contemporary Musical Theater” with composers like Jason Robert Brown (Parade, Bridges of Madison County), Dave Malloy (Great Comet, Ghost Quartet) and songwriting teams such as Pasek & Paul (Dogfight, Dear Evan Hansen), Kitt & Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then). The second is “Commercial Contemporary” that blend a Golden Age style show with contemporary composers like Shaiman & Wittman (Hairspray, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Mel Brooks (The Producers, Young Frankenstein) and Alan Menken (Sister Act, Aladdin).The majority of shows are based on popular films like Anastasia, Wedding Singer, MeanGirls, and Once to name a few. The third I’d like to call the “I’m Still Here” category. This category, which I named after Sondheim’s tune from Follies are shows that have a specific target audience, come across as doing art for art’s sake and although are artistic success, they are usually commercial failures.They also come across to me as the type of shows similar to the musicals that Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim created during their time in the 1970s, thought provoking musicals with depth using a musical mixture of content dicating form, contemporary and golden age sounds. Composers of this category include Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins, Light in the Piazza), Kander & Ebb’s later work (The Scottsboro Boys, The Visit) and Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change, Violet). The fourth category are jukebox musicals consisting mostly of famous performance artists from the later part of the 20th century (Motown, Boy From Oz, Summer, Beautiful, etc) or of composer George Gershwin (Nice Work, An American in Paris).

Now, where do Scott Frankel and Michael Korie fit in? They most reside in the “I’m Still Here” category. Although their musicals are based on films like the pattern followed in the “Commercial Contemporary” category, the films they choose are not popular or comedies like School of Rock or Newsies. Although their musicals are just as musically challenging as the composers of the “Contemporary Musical Theater” category, Frankel & Korie do not choose to have a pop or rock sounding score compared to composers like Pasek and Paul or Frank Wildhorn. The reason they fit into the “I’m Still Here” category is because the musical sounds of their shows are often referred to as Sondheim-esque to critics who described in their reviews of the shows. The reason for this is because Frankel’s beautifully complex arias and Korie’s poetic lyrics sometimes do come across like the type of songs Sondheim wrote. Furthermore, like the other shows in this category, Frankel & Korie’s musicals are artistic success but not commercial ones. The team’s two Broadway shows have stayed on the Great White Way for less than a year and did not recoup their profits despite the big star names attached to the projects. Far From Heaven has never premiered on Broadway. Frankel & Korie’s shows also have a very specific target audience. The subjects they choose to write about are usually for older adult audiences who appreciate traditional musical theater. This makes their shows difficult to sell to Broadway’s larger target audiences of teenagers (looking for something to fan over like Dear Evan Hansen or Newsies) and tourist looking for more towards “Broadway shows”, and then seeing “musical theater” (or another analogy I’d like to use: tourists and teenagers want to see a “cotton candy” show rather than seeing a “T-Bone steak” show). Frankel & Korie’s shows also have not seen much life outside of New York; Grey Gardens get produced but only once in a blue moon, while Far From Heaven has been only performed in two regional theaters and War Paint has not been performed regionally yet.

Conclusion

Bookwriter Doug Wright, left, Lyricist Michael Korie, top right, Composer Scott Frankel, bottom right

The musicals of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie challenge their audiences with their complex melodies and witty lyrics. Furthermore, their work has the ability to communicate with their audiences the emotional heights their characters deal within the show. Their work keeps the art of musical theater alive and I look forward to see what the team has in store next. If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest to listen to the cast recordings and read the librettos of Grey Gardens, Far From Heaven and War Paint. If you have the opportunity to see these shows in your community, do so!  While you watch or listen to these shows, see how the characters, in particular their leading ladies, through the songs communicate their personalities, connect with the relationship with other characters and lament their struggles.

For more information:

Michael Korie has beautiful website of his life and works at http://www.michaelkorie.com. Although Scott Frankel does not have an official website, information about his life and accomplishments can be found on various different sites via google search.

Photo Credits: The New York Times

 

Celebrating STEEL PIER

Introduction: Life’s a party, why don’t you come to the Steel Pier?!

Twenty-one years ago today, Steel Pier: A New Musical premiered on Broadway. To celebrate one of my all time favorite shows, this blog will discuss all you need to know about this very special musical. So dip your toes into the ocean, be willing to ride, and welcome to the Marine Ballroom on the world famous Steel Pier!

The promotional footage for the original Broadway production

Background: No place draws a friendlier crowd than the Steel Pier! 

Steel Pier is a musical written by librettist David (Tom) Thompson, with music by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb. It was directed by Scott Ellis and was choreographed by Susan Stroman. Steel Pier based on the concept of the 1969 film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in addition to the greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The original Broadway cast featured Karen Ziemba as Rita Racine (the show was written as a star vehicle for her), Daniel McDonald as Bill Kelly and Gregory Harrison as Mick Hamilton. The cast also featured Debora Monk, Casey Nicolaw (who later become the director of such Broadway hits as Drowsy ChaperoneSomething Rotten and MeanGirls), Andy Blankenbuehler (future choreographer of Hamiltonand a young Kristin Chenoweth making her Broadway debut. It opened at the Richard Rogers Theater on April 24, 1997. The show received mixed reviews and ran for only 76 performances.

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Historical Background: All Atlantic City is proud of the Steel Pier!

Steel Pier is a 1,000 foot long boardwalk built over the ocean of Atlantic City, New Jersey and is the world’s first Boardwalk. It is Atlantic City’s oldest theme park (founded in 1898) and helped Atlantic City win the title of being known as the Playground of the Nation. In its heyday, the pier featured a diving horse act (the best-known stunt on the Steel Pier), water skiing puppies, flagpole sitters (the most famous flagpole sitter on the Steel Pier was Alvin ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly who once sat for 49 days atop a flagpole), daredevil acts such as motorcycle stunts inside a 16 foot globe and was where the Miss America Beauty Pageant was created. It was particularly popular during the summer seasons as a way of escaping the heat and the crowds of the nearby industrial cities.

Two prominent food vendors, both of which are featured in the musical, that set up stores of the pier were Joesph Fralinger’s world famous Salt Water Taffy, created in Atlantic City in 1848 and Planters Peanuts which featured a Mr. Peanut mascot costume character who passed out free samples in front of the store.

The composer of the show, John Kander, once visited to Atlantic City’s Steel Pier with his grandparents in the summer of 1933. Has he stated, “The memory of it is still with me…It was quite elegant – very tony and glamorous. Men were dressed in suits and ties. There was music all over the place. It had three movies going, a circus, and in the evenings there was dancing. The Paul Whiteman Orchestra played in a casino there”. (Kander/Currier, et.al, pg.19-20)

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The Marine Ballroom, located at the end of the pier, could hold up to 5,000 people

Dance Marathons were a popular form of entertainment during the 1920s and ’30s in which couples danced day and night on end in order to achieve a grand cash prize and publicity. Some of the marthons’ cash prizes went up to $5,000 ($96,282.28 in 2017 inflation). The main rule was to keep dancing, swaying or moving on the dance floor. If a contestant should stop moving, fall asleep or fall on the floor from exhaustion, the contestant was disqualified. Contestants would get one fifteen minute break every hour in addition to food and beds. Spectators threw coins at the marathon dancers and could even become a sponsor of their favorite couple.

Although Dance Marathons supplied contestants with food, a roof over their head, a chance to be recognized by entertainment producers and gave spectators free entertainment during the time of the Great Depression, there is a dark sadistic side to the marathons. Discussion on this matter will continue later in the blog.     

Plot: Here I go again, willing to ride!

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“Cuz if your partner doesn’t show, I’m still available”

ACT ONE

Steel Pier, August 12th 1933. Rita Racine, a charismatic young woman full of life, is waiting for her partner to show up so they can enter Steel Pier’s dance marathon. Rita is known as “Lindy’s Lovebird” for she was the first woman to kiss Charles Lindbergh when he returned from his famous flight. Rita, finding out that her partner never showed up, decides to dance instead with Bill Kelly, a “death-defying” stunt pilot. He tells her about the time he won a raffle ticket to a kiss and dance with “Lindy’s Lovebird” at the Trenton Air Show but couldn’t make it in time. Although he has two left feet, Bill dances his best for her and has has become very smitten with Rita.

Rita is secretly married to Mick Hamilton, Steel Pier’s marathon’s host and master of ceremonies. Mick and Rita have done several other marathons together in which he organizes, schemes and rigs the contests to ensure that his wife will be the winner. Mick promises Rita that this will be her last marathon.

Back at the Marathon, the contestants dance and drop from the Shag to the Two Step. The audience is also introduced to some of the contestants including Shelby Stevens, Johnny Adel, Betty and Buddy Becker in addition to Precious and Happy McGuire just to name a few.

In order to promote Rita and to get an important sponsor for the marathon, Mick hatches a plan to create a fake wedding between Bill and Rita. Despite her resentment, she willingly agrees.

Mick prematurely decides its time for the constants to run The Sprints in order to knock out some of Rita’s competition. However, it is Rita who falls in the sprints. Bill manges to stop time and run time back again so she doesn’t fall. The marathon continues.

ACT TWO

Steel Pier, August 26th, 1933. Rita falls asleep during her fifteen minute break where she dreams of Bill taking her to the skies in his airplane. She wakes up only to find Mick telling her to get back out on the dance floor.

The marathon drags on with contestants dropping out one by one. Buddy Becker goes “squirrel-ey” and has a mental breakdown from sleep deprivation, repeatedly screaming, “I want a job!”. Another contestant, Happy McGuire, who voluntarily dropped out of the marathon is confronted by Shelby Stevens. Shelby tenderly asks Happy to take her with him, back to his home in Utah. He declines and Shelby is left heartbroken.  

September 2nd, the night of the phony wedding. Mick, suspecting that his wife is beginning to have feelings for Bill, decides to create a break up between Bill and Rita right after their marriage. Rita once again agrees in order to finish this marathon so she can go home for good but instead, finds her world coming apart.

The phony wedding happens with a grand aria sung by Precious McGuire. Bill and Rita are sent to their honeymoon tent. Knowing that this tent will be ripped away for a taundry stunt pulled by Mick, Rita wishes that she could escape. Bill tells her that anything is possible in their dreams and takes her away on his plane telling her not to look back. But Rita does look back when Bill informs her that he has to leave for good. The tent is lifted with Rita and Bill going their separate ways, both hurt and confused.

Later that night, Rita is informed that she will be dancing in the St. Louis Dance Marathon but that her dream to go home was destroyed by Mick who sold the house and never told her. In return, Rita disqualifies herself by standing still on the dance floor. Mick, infuriated, reminds her all that he has done for her including her failed act at The Trenton Air Show in which a pilot got killed in a horrible plane crash and took all the publicity from her. “He died”, Rita replies shocked. She realizes it was Bill, the man she has danced with and fallen in love with.

Rita slowly begins to realise the loveless trap her marriage has been with Mick. Suddenly, Bill appears and tells her to take a chance on life, away from the marathon. He asks for the dance that he won at the Trenton Air Show raffle. After the dance, he is taken away to the other world while Rita finds herself around the exhausted and used marathon constants. With love in her heart and the determination to create a new dream, she leaves the Steel Pier and Mick for good.

Music: Common boys! Let’s make it hot, sweet and sassy!

The score is created by the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb who have brought signature tunes to the American songbook such as “All That Jazz”, “Cabaret”, “Maybe This Time” and the theme song from New York, New York just to name a few in their immense catalog. The songs Kander and Ebb write for their musicals are known for their use of pastiche; a song/score that indirectly and flatteringly mimics another song, musical style or performance style. Kander and Ebb use pastiche to help the draw attention to the theatrical or musical setting in which the story is presented.

An example of Kander and Ebb using pastiche are the songs they wrote for their 1966 musical, Cabaret. To draw attention to the theatrical setting of the Kit Kat Club in Weimar Germany, the team wrote songs in the style of the cabaret songs of the 1930’s such as “Willkommen”, “Married” and “Mein Herr”. An example to demonstrate the opposite of pastiche is the 2016 movie musical, The Greatest Showman. Although The Greatest Showman takes place in the mid-1800s, the musical styling of the songs within the film reflects the pop music of today rather than the music of the time the story takes place in.

In regards to Steel Pier, the pastiche is a combination of different musical styles of American music popular in the 1930s.

In “The Overture”, we can hear the pastiche of George Gershwin in the piano part. 

The gentle waltz of “Willing to Ride” gently calls back to carousel tunes on a beachside boardwalk.

The lyrics of the song, “Everybody Dance” call back to the songs lyrics of “Shakin’ The Blues Away” and “Forget Your Troubles C’mon Get Happy”.

The song “Dance With Me”, is a pastiche of the kind music heard in the grand sweeping Fred Astaire movies. The lyrics even nods to Astire in the song, “Fred and Adele never gilded as well as we do when you dance with me”.

Here’s Fred Astaire singing “Let’s Face The Music and Dance”

Here’s Kander & Ebb’s pastiche, “Dance With Me”

“The Shag”, “Two Step” and “Harmonica Specialty” are all based on the music Big Bands played at Dance Marathons during that time in addition to music that went along with the zany dance steps of the time such as the Suzy-Q, the Turkey Trot and the Moochi.

Shelby Steven’s number, “Everybody’s Girl” is an obvious pastiche of Mae West and Sophie Tucker, famous broads known for their naughty double antrandra. One of Mae West’s best jokes (“I had a cattle ranch, but I had to sell it. I couldn’t keep my “calves” together”) is featured in “Everybody’s Girl”. 

Here’s Sophie Tucker singing “You’ve Gotta See Your Mama Every Night”

Now here’s Kander & Ebb’s take on Tucker and West with “Everybody’s Girl” 

The production number “Leave The World Behind” is pastiche of the big Busby Berkley production numbers made in the early days at Warner Brothers and RKO, in particular the title song from the 1933 movie, “Flying Down To Rio”.

The song “Two Little Words” is pastiche on European Operetta (a popular form of theater music from the 1880s-the 1940s that featured melodramatic arias sung with operatic gusto) and of singer, Jeanette McDonald who sang one of the most famous of all operetta songs, (the often parodied) “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life”. 

The music of Steel Pier also contains two musical phrases that are used as the love theme in the show. The first is Rita’s Theme as shown below.

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Rita’s Theme (Kander, pg.3)

The second is Bill’s Theme. His theme is also the basis of his song, “Second Chance”.

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Bill’s Theme (Kander, pg.13)

Throughout the show these two themes play separately. However, whenever Bill helps or shows his love to Rita, in such numbers as “The Sprints” or “Final Dance”, the two themes are intertwined to create the musical’s love theme.

At 1:46, “Rita’s Tune” begins due to the fact she fell down in the sprints. When Bill comes to rescue her his “Second Chance” theme intertwines. 

Themes: First you dream…

When David Thompson, Susan Stroman, John Kander and Fred Ebb came together to create Steel Pier, they wanted to “create a musical that celebrates a uniquely American view of the world” (Thompson, pg.8). The unique American view can be expressed in the three leads, Rita, Bill and Mick.

Bill and Mick both represent the two different sides of the American Dream. Bill represents an optimistic version, where you truly can get a second chance in life, anything is possible and as long as you hold on to your dreams with the courage of your convictions, anything can happen. Mick represents the dark side, in which to achieve the American Dream, one must fight tooth and nail to be at the top, “never be an employee, always be the boss” (from Mick’s song, “A Powerful Thing”) even if it comes at the cost of exploiting and humiliating others.  

Rita, represents the audience, who must decide which side of the American Dream they want to pursue in order to find home. In the end, Bill is the man who shows Rita how to achieve her goal.

For choreographer Susan Stroman the themes of the show were represented through dance and flight, which represent the two leading characters, Rita (dance) and Bill (flight);

“Dance in our story is used to heighten the romance of the love triangle. In Steel Pier, the marathon is used as a metaphor for people trapped in a rut. The rut could be a relationship, a job, or a depression. Not until our heroine is empowered with love does she realize she has the choice to leave.

There are many ‘flying’ references in Steel Pier – hardly surprising as flying, air shows, and pilots were the main news items at the time. Flying symbolizes freedom. Uninhibited dance is also freedom. The freedom and joy of movement; dance as exhibition. Our leading character, Rita expresses her emotions through movement. Risk taking is central to Rita’s story. Will she risk all? Or continue to let life dictate to her? In a dream sequence Rita imagines she is flying – gliding, sliding and dancing towards the future.

Steel Pier is a journey danced from beginning to end. The technique of close partner dancing heightens the sensuality of our love story. Dance as a metaphor, dance as history, dance as romance.” (Stroman/Currier, et.al, pg.11-12)

The American Dream Gone Awry: YOU’RE OUT!!!

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“It was [Historian Thomas} Macaulay’s conjecture that the Puritans objected to bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators” – The New York Times, 12 June 1928, pg.12

Kander & Ebb’s most well known musicals such as Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spiderwoman deal with dark uncomfortable subjects with a cynical perspective that often ends with one of the characters dying. Steel Pier has been categorized as Kander and Ebb’s least cynical musical and in the same categories as the team’s other lighthearted shows such as Woman of the Year, The Happy Time and Curtains.

This is completely understandable. When one listens to this score, Steel Pier is full of happy, bouncy and romantic tunes piled on top of each other. However, the cynicism in the show can be found libretto and through the history about the darker side of dance marathons.  Steel Pier has a lot of cynicism than it’s given credit for.

Although as previously discussed, dance marathons helped Americans “dance their blues off” in addition to giving a chance for economic opportunity with free food and shelter, the marathons exploited the contestants. Furthermore, it gave the spectators the sadistic pleasure of throwing coins at the dancers in order to watch these constants fight to win in a gurgling contest. David Thompson, the book writer of Steel Pier, called dance marathons “a place where hope-and hopelessness-blurred”. Furthermore, just like Mick Hamilton in the musical, some of the dance marathons were only used as publicity stunts to promote businesses or celebrities and were rigged. Fred Ebb in conversation about the musical stated, “We were looking for a project that was a challenge and the idea of the dance marathon craze appealed to us. It incorporated all the glitz and glamour of show business but also showed the American dream gone awry. I like our shows to have a dark side.” (Ebb/Currier, et.al, pg.19)

Here are two examples from Steel Pier that show the dark underbelly of the Dance Marathon:

In Act One, Scene 7A (Thompson, pp.46-47), after the big “Shag Dance”, a pair of contestants drop to the floor from exhaustion. Walker, the floor judge, proclaims “Yoooooou’re Out!”. As Walker goes to help the constant up, Mick turns to Walker, “Hold on, Walker. Let everyone take a good look”. Beat. The contestants struggle to get up off the floor. “Don’t worry folks”, the boastful Mick says on the mic, “Their dreams may be broken, but tomorrow they’ll be as good as new, ready to try again, somewhere else. Because that’s the spirit of this great nation of ours! Right kids?”. The couple is taken away as Mick sings with a smile, “All Atlantic City is proud of the Steel Pier”!

This scene shows the Mick exploiting the pain that the contestants is going through just for them to get up off the floor, tells Walker not to help, (ironically) tells the crowd that their loss is fostered on the American Dream and then proceeds to sing a bouncy song after the couple’s loss.

In Act Two, Scene 3 (Thompson,pp.86-87), Buddy Becker, one of the constants begins to have a mental breakdown from exhaustion in the marathon. “What’s the matter with me?” Buddy proclaims as he begins to crack up, speaking faster and faster, falling to the floor, “There’s nothing the matter with me! Nothing’s ever been the matter with me! I want a job! I WANT A JOB! I WANT A JOB!” The music stops as Buddy turns to find everyone looking at him on the dance floor stunned. He quietly replies embarrassed and broken, “I can walk out of here myself, thank you”. Bette, Buddy’s sister and partner in the marathon, watches with pain. She grabs the couple number off her back, throws it at Mick’s feet and walks out. Beat. No one moves. Suddenly coins begin to be thrown by the crowd. None of the contestants move. Walker turns to them and barks, “Pick up the coins”. The contestants obey and barbarically grovels for the coins.

This scene shows how Dance Marathons brought out the worst in people’s morality. Thompson shows Buddy screaming, “I WANT A JOB!” in order to show the audience that dancing in a marathon was not a noble profession and the desperation these people went through just to have a chance of winning money in order to survive in the Great Depression. The only person who shows humanity in this scene is Bette, who disqualifies herself to be with her brother. The scene then goes to show the crowd’s sadistic pleasure from watching someone have a mental breakdown as form of entertainment by throwing coins on the dance floor. At first the contestants are aupaled but when ordered to, they run to grab the coins and fight each other for it. The underscore for this section is a happy bouncy vamp in G major which makes the scene very unsettling.

What happened?: Some hot-dog pilot gets killed in a plane crash and everything falls to shit

When Steel Pier came out 21 years ago, people either loved it, hated it or were confused by the piece. The musical, although considered to be problematic, was nominated for eleven 1997 Tony Awards, but lost all in year dominated by Titanic and the revival of Chicago. So what went wrong? Well, here is my theory on the matter.

Steel Pier is written in the style an old fashioned musical plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein and departure from their unique style. When people went to go see Steel Pier, they expected Kander & Ebb’s usual style of raunchy provocative material but were thrown off when they instead found a genuine love story. Ben Brantley of The New York Times in his review called Steel Pier, “the anti-”Cabaret”…{the} anti-”Chicago’”(Leve, pg.227). Historian Ethan Morden also puts the blame on the audience for the failure of Steel Pier; “Perhaps the fantasy felt too contrived for some, or perhaps it was another case of the public’s impatience with well-made story musicals with strong emotional foundation.” (Morden, p.238) Another problem could have been the year Steel Pier was competing in. The season was filled with pop operas filled with over the top spectacle with such shows as The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Cats, Jekyll & Hyde and Titanic. Possibly, the 1997 Broadway audiences just didn’t want to see an old fashioned show where the scenery (like crashing chandeliers, helicopters or tilting ocean liners) wasn’t the star.

Where most critics and scholars put the blame of Steel Pier’s failure was the story’s ending when the audience finds out that Bill was dead the entire show. The set designer for the original Broadway production, Tony Walton said that, “the conclusion of the story begged too many questions and pushed the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the breaking point” (Leve, pg. 227). Here is what I personally don’t understand in regard’s to the ending; how come a musical theater audience can accept Billy Billglow coming back from the dead with the angels to help his child and wife in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (which had a successful revival at Lincoln Center Theater three years prior to Steel Pierbut won’t accept Bill Kelly coming back from the dead to help Rita?

John Kander commented that ending of Steel Pier is not supposed to be thought out, “Sometimes you just have to go with your feeling” (Leve, pg.227). I agree with Mr. Kander and just like Bill says to Rita, “Just don’t look back”. Unfortunately a majority of the audience looked back.  

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Bill and Rita 

Conclusion: Go on, fly!

Although Steel Pier has been criticized for it’s “problematic” ending and being the odd child in the Kander & Ebb musical family, I find it to be the team’s strongest score. I believe what helps makes this score so lush and romantic is the beautiful orchestrations by Michael Gibson, vocal arrangements by David Loud and dance arrangements by Glen Kelly. The combination of these creators in addition to cast, truly shimmer and glow on the cast recording. Historian Ethan Moore stated that “Those listening to the cast recoding in the future will find it hard to understand why Steel Pier only lasted two months”. (Morden, pg.238).

For those who haven’t listened to the cast recording, I highly suggest going to your local library or digital store to go listen to this musical, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I hope one day this musical will once again shine in the spotlight and be appreciated for what is. What Steel Pier really needs more than anything else is a second chance…..


WORKS CITED 

Currier, Jameson, et al. Steel Pier: A New Musical (Souvenir Program). Dewynters Merchandising Inc., 1997.

Kander, John, and Fred Ebb. Steel Pier: A New Musical: Original Broadway Cast Recording, Hit Factory Studio 1, New York , 4 May 1997.

Kander, John, et al. Steel Pier: Vocal Selections. Edited by David Loud, Hal Leonard , 2005.

Leve, James. Kander and Ebb. Yale Univ Press, 2015.

Mordden, E. (2004). The Happiest Corpse I’ve Ever Seen: The Last Twenty-Five Years of the Broadway Musical. essay, Palgrave Macmillan. 

Thompson, David, et al. Steel Pier. Samuel French, 2005.

I’m Obsessed: “Applause”

In this blog, I discuss my obsession with the 1970’s musical Applause! I hope to make future blogs about other shows I’m obsessed with but for now, let’s step into world of 1970’s New York City at the Palace Theater!

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BACKGROUND: “Welcome to the Theater! To the Magic! To the Fun!”
Applause is a 1970 musical based on the film, All About Eve and it’s original story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. The creators are Broadway royalty; Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Annie) and Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (Singin’ in the Rain, Wonderful Town, On The Twentieth Century). The original Broadway production starred Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing and won four Tony awards including Best Musical.

STORY: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
Super-fan, Eve Harrington is brought backstage to meet Broadway star Margo Channing on her opening night of The Friendly Argument. Eve tells Margo how the actress saved her depressing life after her husband died in the Vietnam War. With Margo’s ego boosted, she welcomes Eve to her life and Eve soon becomes Margo’s shadow. Eve slithers her way into the life of her friends; producer Howard Benedict, playwright Buzz Richards, Buzz’s wife Karen and Margo’s director and lover Bill Sampson, making Margo even more suspicious of Eve. This siltering leads Eve become Margo’s understudy making Margo horrified. “I can’t believe it”, Margo screams, “This little prairie flower has been standing in the wings, studying my every line, my every move for five months and I never knew what she was really up to!”. Margo blames and yells her friends, causing them and her lover Bill, to walk out on her. Planning to backstab Margo and to help Eve, Karen and Buzz empty the gas out of Margo’s car, making her unable to attend the performance and allowing Eve to go on for Margo. At that performance, Eve is a hit and the audience is full with critics. Margo’s hairdresser Duane snipes at Eve, “a birdie must have told ‘em you were on tonight, or maybe a vulture”. Eve tried to seduce Bill but Bill turns her down. She then moves to Buzz, but before their affair can flourish, Howard (the producer) calls her out for the lies she has told Margo and her friends. Her real name is Evelyn Hinkle and her husband never died, he’s still in Vietnam. Howard blackmails Eve for a starring role in an upcoming play and Eve now “belongs” to Howard. Margo finally realizing Eve’s motives, she decides to give up the stage and her own ego for “Something Better”, her love for Bill.
ANALYSIS: “Who’s that girl?”
The musical is an interesting character study between its two leading ladies, Eve Harrington and Margo Channing. Eve represents how far people go and what lines people cross in order to achieve their dreams. Margo’s journey throughout the show deals with coming to grips with the ugly side of ourself- our age. The women also deal with the theme of being alive. Throughout the musical, the characters sing and say what it is to be alive. However, it is up to the audience to decide what makes one truly alive. Both women sing the song “But Alive” at different times of the show. For Eve, being alive is artificial love from hundreds and for Margo being alive is true love from one person.
Much like Sunset Boulevard, the show centers around an aging actress in addition to the story celebrating and criticizing the excitement and backstabbing of show business (Shown through such numbers as “Applause”, “Backstage Babble” and “She’s No Longer A Gypsy”). It’s a show that discusses and deals with the hidden figures of theater business who do not get the applause they deserve such as the supporting characters of Karen, Bert, and Buzz.

GAY CULTURE: “It’s just too groovy to believe”
The show is most notably known for Margo’s “But Alive” which takes place in a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Before Applause, homosexual representation in musical theater had been coded and taboo on Broadway. For example in Damn Yankees, the role of the Devil is subtextually gay with his style, manor and wit in addition to the character ascending from Hell. In Cabaret, the role of Cliff was originally supposed to be gay but his character was changed to be in love with Sally. Applause is significant for having one of it’s character’s (Margo’s hairdresser, Duane) openly gay and for having one of it’s scenes in a gay bar, representing diva worship in the gay community. This is not coded in the show nor does the show make them blatant stereotypes such as future gay musicals such as The Producers or La Cage Aux Folles. Furthermore, Duane is never shamed for being gay, the characters respect him for who is (a MAJOR step considering it came out the year after The Stonewall Riots).


MUSIC AND LYRICS:
Although the music is joyous and the show is commercial, it is the darkest out of all the shows Strouse and Lee have written. Lee’s lyrics in such songs as “One Halloween” and “Welcome to the Theater” have cynical edge to them:
Welcome to the Theater
Welcome to the dirty concrete hallways
Welcome to the friendly roaches, too
Welcome to the pinches from the stagehands;
It’s the only quite thing they do!
Welcome to Philadelphia critics
Welcome to Librium and Nembutal
Welcome to a life of laryngitis
Welcome to dark toilets in the hall
Welcome to the flop you thought would run for years
Welcome to the world of fears and cheers and tears


One Halloween
Remember that Halloween when you were nine?
You wore a fairy queen costume of your own design
Well, look at you now
And you put on rouge and lipstick, though it wasn’t allowed
You were so proud
And Daddy said “Wash your face
You look like a whore”
That’s what he said
No more
……….
Everybody loves the winner
But nobody loves the flop
No one worries how you got there
Once you’re standing on the top

I love this version of the song by the original Broadway Eve, Penny Fuller. You can feel and hear all of Eve’s anger, hurt, vengeance and triumph. 

However, the show balances this cynicism with campy disco theater tunes such as “Fasten Your Seatbelts”, “But Alive” and “Who’s That Girl”. Strouse wrote in his memoir “Put On A Happy Face” that the disco/1970’s-esque tunes came from reading an article in the New York Times stating that in order for a show to be successful on Broadway, it must have an up to date score that aligns with the music of the times, hence why the score is settled in an heavenly dated 70’s feel.

WHY DO I LIKE APPLAUSE?: “What is it that we’re living for?”
For me, I’ve met a lot of Eve Harrington’s in my life and I love this story for telling this tale of this actress who will do anything for a part in a play. We have all met and have been Eve or Margo one time in our lives. We all have crossed lines and prostituted ourselves to achieve our dreams one way or another.

FINALE: “Something Greater”
This gem (like most gems) are swept under the rug. However there are rumors that Audra McDonald is to do a revival of Applause as Margo Channing next year on Broadway! And luckily for you, you can watch Applause now, thanks to the wonders of Youtube! This version is of the 1972 London cast filmed for television. Although there is a time bar at the bottom, the television adaptation is a faithful reproduction of the stage show and is definitely a must watch for any musical theater buff.

Statues and Stories: My Musical Trip to Italia

Written August 4th 2017

OVERTURE

This past July, I had one of the most life changing and wonderful opportunities of my life, performing musical theater in Italy! I have just returned back to the states, and boy am I jetlagged! I wanted to blog about the highlights of my trip, the wonderful people whom I met and what I took away from this surreal experience. So, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!

ACT ONE

In early spring, I was accepted into Music Academy International for Musical Theater Performance, after submitting an audition video. The program would take place in a sleepy mountain town in Italy called Mezzano throughout the whole month of July. Although I was ecstatic I was accepted into the program, I was very apprehensive because it would be my first time internationally, first time in Europe (not to mention I’d be on my own) in addition to being a little nervous about what the program would really be like. Nonetheless, I was willing to take a chance!

My parents also wanted to tag along in the fun! Therefore, we left a week early before the program started to go see the sites of Germany and Austria! In Austria, my mother and I went to go do The Sound of Music Tour, to visit the locations used for the 1965 film. It was EXTREMELY touristy and campy, but my mother and I had a great deal of fun! Some of the sites we saw  included the Mirabell Gardens (where “Do Re Mi” was filmed), Mondsee Chapel (used for the wedding sequence) and the Hellbrunn Palace Gazebo (used for “16 Going On 17”).  However, the most spectacular site we saw no not even in the movie, it in a town called Sankt Gillen which over looked this beautiful lake, so clear and blue, simply breathtaking. After that, my parents dropped me off in Mezzano and I was ready to begin with Music Academy International.  

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I have confidence in sunshine! I have confidence in rain! 

The town of Mezzano, in addition to its neighboring towns of Imer and Fiera di Pimero, was simply spectacular. Everywhere you turned, there was another majestic view to hit you in the face! It truly was a storybook village untouched by time. My friends and I would keep joking that at any moment the town would just start to sing “Belle/Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast. Fortunately for me, I studied italian for two years in high school and for a semester at San Diego State so it was easy for me to decipher and assimilate to this italian culture.

And of course, when in Italy, MANGIARE MOLTO. Every restaurant in town had spectacular food and I loved them all! As a matter of fact, I lost 15 pounds over in Italy on this pizza diet! My favorite dish I had in Italy was Pollo allo Spiedo, a special type of roasted chicken with herbs and spices, so delicious! A special memory I had was every Friday having lunch with my fellow SDSU students and our professor Rob Meffe. I loved getting the opportunity to have a wonderful luncheon where I got to connect more to Rob and the other students who I love very much.

What I loved the most out of this program and what I will take away from this experience the most was the chance to make a lot of friends from this program. It was great to be around students from some of the top musical theater schools in the states who were just like me; had a deep love for musical theater, passionate performers, good head on their shoulders and knew what they wanted out of life and this career. I also got to make an Italian friend, Patrick! Patrick was the son of the landlord of the apartment of where I was residing. A fun memory I had with Partick was when he invited my roommate Stephen, my friend Coleman and I to go to a secluded lake to go swim in called Villa Welsperg. The lake was FRIGID but I made the guys dunk their whole bodies in the cold water. Patrick got to make a lot of friends with the other kids from the program! He even lead some of them on tour of Vienna. Che e bene amico!

Every weekend us students had the opportunity to explore the wonders of Italy! Some of the students hiked the Dolomites, some went to other cities like Verona, Venice or Rome! However, my newly acquainted friend from Pace University, Westley and I went to the enchanted (and tourist trap) city of Florence. It has always been my dream to go to Florence ever since tenth grade when I saw Adam Guettel’s musical The Light in the Piazza (this musical is also the reason why I decided to study italian). So the first stop on our trip was the site where Fabrizio and Clara met, The Piazza della Signorina. And of course, being the annoying American tourist I was, I began to re-enact the show in the piazza. Although I saw the many famous sites of Florence, I think the highlight of the trip to Florence was the opportunity to hang out with my new friend, Westley. I miss him very much and I hope to meet with him again soon in NYC.

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And the beauty is I still met people I know…

ACT TWO

I had the opportunity to work with some of the best professors from the top musical theater schools in the states; From University of Michigan, Linda Goodrich, Jason DeBoard and Logan Jones (who will be in the cast of Spongebob on Broadway this winter, go Logan!), from Pace University, Marishka Wierzbicki and Gillian Berkowitz and from San Diego State, my professor, Rob Meffe! I was extremely fortunate enough to make some wonderful friends over there from performers all over the world! I loved being around these guys because they love musical theater as much as I do, they have so so so talented in addition to being extremely dedicated to their craft and know what they want out of life. I miss them terribly and look forward to the day our paths cross once more.

As part of M.A.I., the musical theater students get to put on two gala concerts and two full length musicals (this year it was Godspell and Chicago). We were split into two groups, the cast of Godspell would be in Gala One and the cast of Chicago would be in Gala Two. Although us students were always separated into two groups, we loved to hang out with each other and always supported each other, it was a very nice camaraderie between the students. The first gala was superb! My fellow classmates from San Diego State killed it with their songs from Guys and Dolls. Also in the first gala had an amazing moment. One of the students Samantha Williams was singing the ultimate 11 o’clock number “I’m Here” from The Color Purple. As she started to sing it started to trickle rain, then as the song progressed it began to rain, then pour (HEAVILY), than THUNDER. It was as if her powerful and beautiful voice commanded the weather, it was truly a memorable night and how lucky I was to be a witness to it! I performed in Gala Two where I sang with my dear friend Coleman Campbell, “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden.

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Gala Two singing “S’Wonderful”

The musical I got to perform in was Chicago! I was very excited to be in this because I absolutely adore Kander & Ebb and anything ala Brecht! I played the role of Amos Hart, Roxie’s funny honey husband who sings the Bert Williams-inspired number “Mister Cellophane”. Now, I had some trouble finding the character of Amos because everyone plays Amos as stupid or one-dimensional, in addition to this show being produced so much,I wanted to find something new with this character so I wasn’t doing a carbon copy of someone else’s performance. But with the help of my wonderful director Linda Goodrich and analysis critique by Scott Miller, I began to understand the character and what he is/represents. As Scott Miller said in his book, Amos represents the unrecognized heroes or “nice guys who don’t win in the real world; sometimes nice guys get dumped on, and the Billy Flynn’s of the world get it all”. Amos and the Hunyak are the only two characters in the show who are not selfish, not “performing” or obsessed with fame and wealth. I decided to make Amos not one dimensionally stupid, but someone who wants to be smart but can’t be, making upset and little frustrated when he can’t be. He wants to be sexy and popular like Billy Flynn but never can. Amos does have moments where he stands up for himself but other people just keep pushing him down. He was the most interesting character I’ve played so far and I loved doing this show with a wonderful creative team and cast. (You can see my performance of “Cellophane” on my website under videos).

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And all that jazz…..

FINALE

This trip to Italy was truly life changing and I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to do this wonderful program! I miss all my friends and wish I could relive this experience all over again just to be with them once more! A huge thank you to the wonderful ladies who organized this program, the amazing faculty who came out to Italy to help teach us students, Patrick and my parents for allowing/ helping me go on this journey! Till next time, arrivadella Italia!

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Love’s a fake, Love’s a fabel 

The Broadway Tag

Several weeks ago, one of my dear friends from Canada, Mr. Taylor Michael, tagged me in the Broadway Tag! It’s a fun internet tag in which if you are tagged, you have to answer questions in relation to musical theater. Here’s Taylor’s video (where I’m mentioned in the end).

Therefore, here are my answers:

  1. What was the first musical you saw live?

Beauty and The Beast

  1. What was the first movie musical you saw live?

Oklahoma

  1. What was the first play you ever saw?

Brighton Beach Memoirs

  1. How many musicals have you seen?

Too many.

  1. What was the first musical you were cast?

HMS Pinafore

  1. What is your favourite musical?

The Visit

  1. What is your favourite movie musical?

Pennies from Heaven

  1. What are your dream roles?

Floyd Collins, Bert, Billy Bigelow, Bud Frump, Nostradamus, Man in the Chair

  1. What is your favourite solo?

The American Dream

  1. Who are your broadway crushes?

Ana Villafane and Josh Segarra from On Your Feet

  1. What shows do you wish would do a revival?

The Rink, Barnum, Parade

  1. What is your dream jukebox musical?

I don’t have one.

  1. What shows do you think should have a televised special?

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, 1776

  1. Name the shows you wish you could see? (any cast past/present)

King & I 1996 Revival, Mack and Mabel, Bring Back Birdie

  1. What would they name the broadway show based on your life?

Now That’s Comedy!

  1. What was the last musical that you performed in?

King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar

  1. Who are your broadway idols?

The hard working equity ensembles of any and any broadway show, Clay Thompson and Chris Rice

  1. What is the show that you have the most memorized?

Passion, Sunset Blvd

For more updates for Taylor, check out his youtube page at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1ig6FSUZ-SJlzCh3XW4fIw/videos

 

 

King Herod Interview

 

cyyk5erukaaqt4uI had the great privilege about two months to perform the role of King Herod for San Diego State University’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar: In Concert. In anticipation for the concert, I was interviewed by our show’s dramaturg, Maya Greenfield Thong. Here is the article discussing about my research for the role of King Herod and what I did to prepare for the role: 

Q: The Herod we see in JCS and the Herod we see in the Bible are very different people. Tell us a little bit about your interpretation of Herod.

A: You are correct, Herod in the Bible and in Superstar are two completely different people. In history, King Herod was a despicable man who killed and tortured many people during his reign and is barely mentioned in the bible. And an interesting fact, HE was actually The King of the Jews until he sold out to the Romans and betrayed his own people. In the rock operetta, Webber and Rice decided to represent this reprehensible sellout as the flamboyant comic relief in the show. Many critics and scholars have issue with the show’s portrayal and music style of Herod therefore label him as a major problem in the show. Because the character comes out of nowhere in the story and never returns, in addition to his song style being unlike anything compared to the rest of the score, it lends its way to many different interpretations. Furthermore, their arguments would not cease since Herod has been played as a full-out drag queen, a Vegas crooner, a smarmy sort of used car salesman, and everything in between. Furthermore, many of my theater friends when I told them I was to play Herod asked me if I was going to play him as a nance (which is a usual stable when actors perform Herod).

The combination of the scholars’ criticisms and the usual interpretations of Herod, made me really question how I was to honor the actual King Herod, Webber/Rice’s Herod, in addition to creating my own vision and trying not to be another actor trying to make the same choice of a flamboyant Herod. I realized that I had to cast all those thoughts aside, create my own interpretation, and bring a little of myself into the character, no matter if it came out flamboyant or how it came across to an audience. I also had the help of Stephen (our terrific director) for his guidance and what he interpreted. He used different references of characters, shows and archetypes for me to understand what his vision was of the character. Examples included a “Let’s Make A Deal” TV Show host (inspired by the 2012 Arena Tour of Superstar), Elton John, Adam Lambert (on which my outfit is based upon), Billy Flynn from Chicago, and even our President elect. In addition to what Stephen wanted from the character, I added inspirations of the Emcee in Cabaret, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman and Terrance Mann. So, Herod is really a melting pot of so many different inspirations combined into one man.

Throughout the song, I try to ringlead Jesus into performing his talked about miracles. My intention is to expose him as the circus freak he really his (changing water into wine, raising from the dead) and it strongly gets on my nerves when he does not say or do anything. In addition, throughout my song I also mock and make fun of him for being a “king”, a superstar, a jew and God himself through my sarcastic tongue and cheek tone.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the audience about Herod? The show?
A: What I love about Superstar is that it’s very much like a Shakespeare play in which each production is different and interpreted. What’s special about San Diego State’s production is THIS is the way Superstar was meant to be seen and the correct way to be done. As a rock concert. This show I think was not very well suited for actual storytelling and suffers for it, as evident of the 1974, 2000, 2012 Broadway productions in addition to the 1974 and 2000 films. Scott Miller in his book “From Assassins to West Side Story: The Director’s Guide To Musical Theatre” furthers this argument my stating, “Because the show was recorded in the studio before it was staged, it was originally written for the ears, not the eyes, and some of the score is very difficult to stage adequately, especially for audiences used to the skillful storytelling of modern pop operas like Les Miz, Rent, and others (Miller, pg.137). Therefore, San Diego State’s concert production perfectly fits the score’s needs.

Another problem that a majority of productions plague from is focusing on the singing the text instead of interpreting the text and letting the music come from the text. Because our cast is from the land of Musical Theater rather than the land of rock, there is more emphasis on the text and the emotions of the characters rather then (no pun intended) wailing to the high heavens. Our amazing music director, Rob Meffe, has given the cast and I musical liberties with the score, helping us create our own characters through the set music Webber wrote. Listening and watching my fellow cast members interpret the songs as they sing through the show is like hearing this show again for the first time.

As for Herod…buckle your seat belts, kids.

For more interviews from my other cast members and  information on SDSU’s JCS, go to https://sdsujcs.wordpress.com/