Saturday, November 18, 2017

Musical Theater Therapy: "I Fought Every Step of the Way"

Musical Theater Therapy is a big fan of the delightful and talented Rose Marie. While you likely know her from the Dick Van Dyke Show (Sally Rogers is one of the first females in television that isn't defined by being a wife or mother or daughter), or from Hollywood Squares, she's actually had a few careers in show business. She was a child star of vaudeville and movies, a showgirl with mob connections (she headlined the opening of the Flamingo--her opening act was Martin & Lewis), and a singer who toured with Rosemary Clooney, Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting as 4 Girls 4.

Her Broadway credits are surprisingly limited given her background on stage and her singing talent. Her biggest role (bigger role, she only has 2 credits) is Top Banana (biggest role so far--she could still do a run in Chicago), a Johnny Mercer musical written as a showcase for Phil Silvers. Mission accomplished there: Phil Silvers won the show's only Tony award, Best Actor in a Musical. Top Banana is loosely based on the life of Milton Berle when he hosted Texaco Star Theatre.

Fun fact: Milton Berle's penis is legendarily large.

Today's song, "I Fought Every Step of the Way", is credited to Mercer and Bill Finnigan (one of 2 songs in the show with co-credits; Finnigan was a conductor with only Top Banana to his Broadway credits). It's one of 2 solo songs in the show--a big peppy swing song--and Marie sings the shit out of it (which is a good thing, to be clear).

Today's lesson: OMG you have no idea how amazing Rose Marie is. Go see the documentary about her, Wait For Your Laugh, now playing in select cities.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Musical Theater Therapy: "The End of the Movie"

Musical Theater Therapy wants you to know that life doesn't make narrative sense.

It doesn't.

And we know this because Josh Groban told us. Well, he sang it to us, in a song from the delightfully smart, fun, and poignant Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show's first season was fun, and the second season avoided being too predictable for a show with this basic premise (cause it's not like there are a lot of musical comedies about women pursuing the guy they've retroactively decided was the one... it's this, Ally McBeal, and Law & Order: Special Tap Dancing Unit).

But the third season, in progress, reminds us all that the first word of the show's title is crazy--the new credits are a nice reminder of the many facets of "crazy".

The show's writers treat various manifestations of mental illness with a deft hand. That the crazy ex-girlfriend attempted suicide by over-dosing on "nerve pills" on a flight to LA (after the flight attendant told her they couldn't drop her off in Kansas City or something) was a gut punch they did not play for laughs, nor for some super-heightened "very special Blossom" melodrama. It's kinda got a Bojack Horseman feel to it (which is the highest praise I could give for anything not directly involving Liza Minnelli).

Rachel Bloom is the dynamo of talent at the heart of the show, but the ensemble is filled with great performers even if they don't all get the screen time they deserve. She started her professional life as Seth Meyers's intern at SNL and has worked behind the scenes on a few shows while her "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury" video went viral and earned her a Hugo Award nomination (Best Music Video About Having Sex With a Famous SciFi Writer--she lost to Drake's "Going Downtown With Ursula"). I suspect her myriad connections are how she attracted the wonderfully talented Josh Groban to the show, then I remembered that Groban is always eager to parody himself on camera: CSI NY; It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Parks and Recreation; The Muppets. If you need someone to play Josh Groban, just call--he does his own hair and make-up!!!

Here's the set-up for this scene for those of you not current on season 3 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. At the end of the last season Rebecca gets left at the altar by the guy she moved to West Covina to, ugh, it's very complicated, things have really gone to shit and at some point she runs into a different ex's dad and ends up hooking up with him. Some people might consider this hitting rock bottom, but I say it depends on the dad.

Today's song is "The End of the Movie" from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend S3E4 "Josh's Ex-Girlfriend is Crazy." Today's lesson is that when a movie is about real life, it doesn't make narrative sense. This is why Boyhood isn't actually a good movie. Great idea for a movie, but ultimately, yawn, not.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Musical Theater Therapy: "God Bless the Absentee"

Musical Theater Therapy jumps back 4 decades (1980) to Paul Simon's only writing credit for a theatrical release--he was among the writers for The Paul Simon TV Special and shares an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special with Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase (so that's why he was in the "Call Me Al" video), Tom Davis, Al Franken, Charles Grodin, Lily Tomlin, and Alan Zweibel: One-Trick Pony.

What a coincidence that he got a job writing for a special where his name was in the title.

One-Trick Pony is a naturalistic musical (where people are singing because they're actually singing, and other people can hear them, and there's usually not a lot of choreography); and while it's not a great movie, it's a really good movie.
A pretty good movie.

To appreciate it, you have to contextualize it among American auteur movies of the late 70s and thus not expect anything good for the lead character. It's like what if Kramer vs. Kramer was about one Kramer constantly on the road with his band and struggling to make new music while Dustin Hoffman broods while watching the kid. Or if The Deer Hunter was a musical, except nothing at all like that.

It's a semi-autobiographical work about Simon's change from Columbia Records to Warner Bros. Records. The presence of other notable Warner Bros. recording acts like The B-52s, David Sanborn, and Lou Reed is purely coincidental... as is the fact that the film was distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

NOT! That's called synergy, and if you don't understand the importance of leveraging existing organizational assets to minimize external costs and maximize profits, then the terrorists already won.

Synergy: it's like nepotism for things. And nepotism always works out just fine.

Fun fact: it's likely that letting Paul Simon star in the movie he wrote (but did not direct) was part of the deal that Warner Bros. Records offered him to lure him away from Columbia Pictures, and thus the entire movie was probably just a planned to be charged off toward their business development activities. My best guess is the movie gave WB accountants a way to write-off 3 to 5 months worth of cocaine. Okay, that might just be a fun speculation.

Fun fact: One-Trick Pony marks the film debut of which remarkably talented "Brat Pack" member? Hint: her distinguished career includes a Tony nomination, an Oscar nomination and 2 Emmy awards. She's also a singer with the voice of an angel and does a rather charming version of "Me and Bobby McGee" sitting naked in a bath tub on the lap of Paul Simon (because it was filmed in the very late 70s let's say that Simon is also naked because, reasons).

A: Robert Downey Jr. hash tag the more you know

The band in the film if portrayed by Paul Simon's actual touring band from the same period... synergy! Also, it's clear these guys are not actors. Listen to the, um, casual nature of their dialogue over the beginning of today's song, "God Bless the Absentee." It's a sweet song from Simon's pre-Graceland oeuvre and crafts a nice mood for this scene. This album (and movie, to be honest) is a personal favorite. It's not Simon's best work, but watching it at random hours of the day or night on The Movie Channel, one of 2 premium cable channels even available to us, is one of only 3 happy memories I have from 1982.

Fun fact: The Movie Channel began as a way to promote the Warner Bros. film library... SYNERGY!

Today's lesson? Obviously it's the thing about synergy.

Musical Theater Therapy: "Stop the Show"

Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me is Martin Short's send up of Broadway's memoir movement: think Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays or Elaine Stritch at Liberty. But really it's a chance for the brilliant Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who might be brilliant, or might just be smart enough to work near Shaiman) to be snarky and meta simultaneously.

Exhibit A: some lyrics from today's song "Stop the Show"
"Yes I have just one question
that i'll ask if I may
why the hell did they name it the great white way
cause if you want a hit
learn what Sondheim doesn't know
and let a big black lady stop the show
next the audience will stand
nobody ever dares walk out
when a big bold mama starts to wail and shout"
"Stop the Show" is *the* show stopper from Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me (based on the novel Push by Sapphire). Capathia Jenkins tears this song up (you might know her as the washing machine from Caroline or Change [and I am not even making that shit up]). I'm pretty sure she was the only person of color in the show.

MS:FBM ran for fewer than 200 performances so clearly they could have used another big bold mama (or 2).

Today's song is "Stop the Show" and today's lesson is pretty clear: put a plus-sized soul diva in your musical, always (you can't be too careful).

Musical Theater Therapy: "I Want More"

Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire is hugely popular, but not particularly good (in my never-humble opinion); and yet I found myself unable to put the book down when I read it 25 years ago. Eventually I realized it was the layout of the book that was keeping me from putting it down: the chapters way long, and paragraphs rarely ended at the bottom of a page and I just can't stop without a clean break.

Or a clean-ish break: If I'm desperate I'll take a complete sentence as the end of a page even if the paragraph continues.

Yes, I could read to the end of a sentence on the next page, but once on that page I'd need to finish it. The novel seemed to be formatted in ways that used my quasi-OCD reading rules against me (and yes, by "against me" I mean pushing me to read more in a single sitting).

IWTV was the first of The Vampire Chronicles, Ann Rice's gay gay gay (sorry, homoerotic) novels about "lost souls" who stay out until all hours and sleep through the cursed burning sunlight that also include The Queen of the Damned, Chicken Soup for the Immortal with No Soul, and Eat Pray Love Blood. The film version of IWTV took the bold move when casting the tall blond charismatic Lestat of skipping Julian Sands, David Bowie, Carrie Elwes and Tilda Swinton, and opting for the bitchiest version of Tom Cruise we've ever seen (Tom Cruise's actual height: 5' 6" is probably generous).

Or maybe that I've ever seen (and I haven't seen Jack Reacharound yet).

But this isn't about that. This is Musical Theater Therapy and today's musical is Lestat with music by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It opened in 2006 and closed very soon after, also in 2006; its total performances (39) outnumber its previews (33), but not by much. It received 2 Tony nominations.

Today's song is "I Want More" sung by Claudia, the little girl turned into a vampire and cursed to spend eternity trapped in the body of a little girl (Roy Moore's dream). Also kids turned vampire have more demanding needs in the way of blood. Poor Claudia: she was already going to have to work twice as hard for less money and recognition, thanks to Lestat she also had to spend eternity being hit on by perverted men and had to feed a constant blood lust to boot.
Today's lesson: keep your vampires away from Broadway. I'm looking at you, Twilight.