Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "Be Our Guest"

Musical Theater Therapy salutes the man of the year, Jerry Orbach (in the Chinese zodiac it's the year of the dog; for the musical theater zodiac it's the year of the Jerry Orbach), with his performance during the 1992 Academy Awards. The song, "Be Our Guest," is from the 1991 animated musical Beauty and the Beast, based on Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's mid-18th century adaptation of Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's early 18th century fairy tale which is, ultimately, based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

It was the first animated film nominated for Best Picture and earned Alan Menken 2 of his 8 Academy Awards (3 of them were deserved). It accounts for 4 of his 19 Oscar nominations. And now I've just updated Alan Menken's Wikipedia entry to show "Belle" as a song from a Disney film for which he was nominated for an Oscar but didn't win, and removed "Colors of the Wind" since he did actually win an Oscar for that (one of his 8, 3 deserved).

Between Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury, Beauty and the Beast had 2 magnificently talented Broadway performers who also appeared in many episodes of Murder She Wrote (I am just learning of the attempt to launch a spin-off of M,SW starring Orbach and Barbara Babcock--one wonders if they weren't cast because of their rhyming surnames--The Law & Harry McGraw). Given CBS's propensity for launching spin-offs, it's a surprise that TL&HM didn't last. They probably should have added a city name or some initials after the title.

Today's song is "Be Our Guest" and today's lesson is not to overlook the talent on your television. It might be a Broadway legend.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life"

Musical Theater Therapy congratulates Harry and Meghan (kinda, but not really, we were holding out hope Harry would come around and start seeing us again—he's royal but not inbred, and a ginger, 2 things his brother can't claim—but ultimately we knew it wouldn't work with grandma around. Their royal wedding is May 19th.

Meanwhile we've got a Royal Wedding today. The 1951 movie musical, directed by the charming and talented Stanley Donen, starred Fred Astaire and Jane Powell who is adorable here. Why didn't she star in The Fairer Sex?!

While she didn't get that role, she did get this role from June Allyson who proved so inept there. Powell in uninept... quite ept indeed.

Today's song is "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life" which, much like Prince Harry, is more than a mouthful.

Today's lesson is that compulsive liars tell little lies, often due to low self-esteem, that are mostly harmless; pathological liars, on the other hand, live in an alternative reality of their own creation, lying brazenly and getting defensive when their lies are pointed out... "fake news!" they declare, even when no one else is in the room, which is often the case because, you know, they're so awful.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "Yes, Yes"

Pennies From Heaven, the 1981 movie musical, is based on Pennies From Heaven, the 1977 BBC television series that introduced the world to Bob Hoskins and, to a lesser extent, to Cheryl Campbell. The BBC series is based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

The 1981 movie was Steve Martin's follow-up to The Jerk and as Pennies From Heaven was an homage to depression-era movie musicals and NOT a comedy, it was confusing and disappointing to the Steve Martin fans that actually showed up to see it. Per Martin: "I don't know what to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy."

Critics loved the movie (its Rotten Tomatoes score is 84% fresh) with Pauline Kael basically orgasming on to the newsprint calling it the most emotional musical she'd ever seen: "The dance numbers are funny, amazing, and beautiful all at once; several of them are just about perfection."

Fred Astaire, who objected to the movies use of footage of him from Follow The Fleet, said "every scene was cheap and vulgar."

The movie was a flop, earning (in today's dollars) $23 million on a budget of $64 million. The Jerk, from 2 years earlier, earned about $240 million in today's dollars.

It managed 3 Oscar nominations including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Costume Design for Bob Mackie. Mackie might not have been a shoe-in, but his costumes, or those for Reds or Ragtime, were probably superior to the winner for Chariots of Fire (although I haven't actually seen that movie so who can say).

Today's song is the Tin Pan Alley song "Yes Yes" by Sam Browne and the Carlyle Cousin from the movie Pennies From Heaven. Today's lesson is that you can't change your milieu radically and still expect your audience to follow.

Song of the Day: "You Broke Up With Me"

You got bro in my country. You got country in my bro.

Song: "You Broke Up With Me"
Artist: Walker Hayes

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "My Favorite Things"

For 15 seconds we were considering using a version of "My Favorite Things" from Dancer in the Dark, Lars Van Trier's dark as fuck musical movie that earned the Golden Palm and Best Actress for Björk at the Cannes Film Festival. Then we re-read the plot and decided that there was no way. We here at Musical Theater Therapy like the occasional dark or realistic musical, but holy shit, not that dark. It's so dark that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association considered the musical a Drama (as opposed to a Musical/Comedy) for purposes of nominations.

So today's "My Favorite Things" comes from exactly the place you'd expect it to come from, the Oscar-winning 1965 movie version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, based on the hit Broadway musical The Sound of Music, based on The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers by Maria Von Trapp (nee Maria Augusta Kutschera), based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

Some call The Sound of Music the fourth greatest movie musical of all time. We assume Grease is the first. (We are just kidding about Grease.)

We also assume you've seen it. And if not the Julie Andrews classic, then you've at least seen the Carrie Underwood mess that NBC produced a few years ago. And if you haven't, 1) ask your parents why you were deprived as a child, and B) Netflix that shit now! Or OnDemand or Amazon Video or iTunes. It's worth the $4. At the very least keep an eye out for it on TCM.

Today's song is "My Favorite Things" and today's lesson is that Lars Von Trier is a clear limit to how dark we will accept musicals here at Musical Theater Therapy.

Song of the Day: "Obsession"

Okay, OK GO, go.

Song: "Obsession"
Artist: OK Go

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "Gold"

Is Linda Eder America's version of Sarah Brightman? Don't be silly, Sarah Brightman moves tote bags during PBS pledge drives; Eder merely answers their phones.

Still while Brightman was muse for Andrew Lloyd Webber (still a monster), Eder was muse for Frank Wildhorn's musical Camille Claudel. Or maybe she wasn't, except you probably wouldn't know either way so she was.

Her and Liza Minnelli. They were co-muses.

Fun fact: composer/lyricist Frank Wildhorn also created the show from which Sunday's Musical Theater Therapy session was drawn (oh shit, we were supposed to reduce the amount of forgettable music for a bit, will need to overcompensate for a bit after this).

Funner fact: Camille Claudel was a human person who did things, but you wouldn't know about them (if you even do) if she hasn't slept with a man who was famous. If you don't know, the man was Fred from The Scooby-Doo Mysteries.

Funnest fact: Linda Eder has been nominated for 3 not-a-Tony awards, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Theater World Award. Rosie O'Donnell and Regis Philbin both said she was robbed of a Tony nomination, but I'm thinking it wasn't at gun-point.

Today's song is "Gold" from the musical Claudel Colbertte (or is it). Today's lesson is something about how we're not always putting a lot of thought into these sessions so perhaps you should have a second resource for counseling.

Song of the Day: "Juice"

Chromeo is playing Coachella in April, you going?

Song: "Juice"
Artist: Chromeo

Monday, January 8, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "Talk To The Animals"

Doctor Dolittle—the 1967 movie musical adapted from the Dr. Doolittle children's books, which were loosely based on the novel Push by Sapphire—is a case study in the myriad ways a film can fail. It is also a lesson in how enough money can buy a crappy movie a slew of Oscar nominations (and even a couple wins).

Musical Theater Therapy celebrates (kinda) the 50th anniversary (almost, it's actually in April) of the time a movie with a 32% fresh rating managed to keep Cool Hand Luke, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Camelot, Barefoot in the Park, The Dirty Dozen, In Cold Blood, hell, even Two For The Road, from a Best Picture nomination.

The movie starred Rex Harrison when he was in full diva mode after winning an Oscar for My Fair Lady. Harrison anchored his private yacht in one of the shots as a way to extort additional money from the studio. The studio brought Christopher Plummer in to the location to replace Harrison and Rex took the hint and behaved. Still, is it any wonder white guys today wander around with a sense of entitlement when you've got the "anchored your private yacht in the shot to extort more money from the studio" shit as part of our recent history?

A wise person once said "never work with animals or children"–that person was the accountant at 20th Century Fox, and no one listened to him (UPDATE: or her, hash tag check your sexism). Dr. Dolittle was filled with both. Apparently the logistics of wrangling a large variety of animals are difficult to estimate (or are very easy to underestimate). The studio lost about half of the $17 million budget (which was increased from $6 million originally); the loss is equal to about $60 million today.

The loss of studio money on Dr. Dolittle merchandise ended the studio's appetite for future deals. As such, just a few years later 20th Century Fox ceded its interest in merchandising for a little film called Star Wars to its director. George Lucas is worth about $5 billion today, at least in part, because Dr. Dolittle was such a disaster.

What do you do with a musical whose "music is not exceptional" (NY Times), and that Leonard Maltin called a "colossal dud" (though to his credit Maltin recommends the movie to parents with unruly kids as a non-narcotic sleep aid)? A movie released a mere 2 months after the widely acclaimed adaptation of The Jungle Book and a year after The Sound of Music? Why you double down with the first mega campaign for Oscar (Behind the Oscar called the campaign unparalleled). You gotta spend money if you want a crap movie to get nominated.

Today's song is "Talk to the Animals" which is the only marginally redeeming song from the film, and is Leslie Bricusse's only Academy Award (and I literally had to add it to his Wikipedia entry–finally, a chance to upgrade someone instead of acting as a buzzkill) from his 9 nominations (he's responsible for some of the most forgettable Oscar nominated songs of the last 50 years, like that song from Hook and that song from The Godfather III). The song beat "The Look of Love" and "The Bare Necessities" (and 2 other reasonable contenders) for Oscar.

Today's lesson: where talent or merit or quality fail, cash succeeds.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Musical Theater Therapy: "The Honor Of Your Name"

The Civil War is a musical based on the American Civil War (the "civil" one), also known as the War for States' Rights, also known as the War of Northern Aggression, also known as The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down Over and Over and Over. It's based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

No one even remembers why there was a war*, but everyone agrees that there were good people on both sides**.

The musical is more of a song cycle with limited plot and dialogue. Reviews were generally negative: "generic...without plot and essentially without character" is relatively tame. So naturally the show only picked up 2 Tony nominations, including Best Musical. The 1998/99 season was pretty weak; the show, a revue called It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues, and the unfortunately titled Parade all lost the Fosse, a revue featuring the life's work of Dian Fossey, the primatologist and conservationist***.

The show's been performed in a variety of non-Broadway settings like Ford's Theater (that seems tacky to us here at Musical Theater Therapy), and in Gettysburg (also tacky, surely that place had seen enough carnage). Its cast members included both Larry Gatlin and John Schneider, and a Winans or two.

And my close, personal friend Trisha Yearwood sang a song on the concept album, and it goes a little something like this...

Today's song is "The Honor of Your Name" and today's lesson is that how you describe the American Civil War says a lot about you as a person. And as a racist. And as a person.

* Slavery.
** Not really; that idea is a way for some to try to avoid being called racist when they act in a racist way or support a racist act.
*** We think it was about her.