Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Album Droppings: "Everything's Coming Up Shows"

One of the many patterns I'm detecting in my album collection reveals an interest in the Backstage Musical. Anytime I ran across any cast album, or soundtrack, which seemed to deal with people putting on a show, I grabbed. Often, they were not worth the effort. Five After Eight was such a show. This is a terrible little musical which hangs its limited plot on a young group of performers, and their various personal problems and relationships. The piece only tangentially deals with Putting On A Show (the title refers to the fact that all personal problems cease when the show starts at five after eight. I hate late curtains.)

Here's another show with identical themes, but set in a wildly different circumstance. A group of young performers emerge from a bomb shelter to discover they are the only humans left on earth. (I can't really say they survived a nuclear holocaust, since there is no evidence of radiation in the atmosphere nor any, you know, mutants running rampant.) Instead, this group is joined by a shlub named Avery, who claims to be God's emissary. This guy tells the gang that they must audition to be chosen to repopulate the world. I'm not making this up. So, the show deals with this group rehearsing and then performing their Big Audition for God. This bomb could only be called one thing:

Here's one that's not quite so stinky. Stages concerns yet another group of young performers (why are all these things populated only by young people?) attending college, all in the theatre department. The requisite personal problems and relationships arise, etc etc etc, until these kids finally graduate. This show was obviously a vanity production, as the book was written by the same guy who wrote the music who also wrote the lyrics who also directed the thing. The man in question (Bruce Kimmel) had a minor cult success a little earlier with The First Nudie Musical, and instead of inflicting us with the second nudie musical, concocted this show. Stages had its first (and possibly only) production in Los Angeles, and in the cast was Sammy Williams, who had already won the Tony as Paul in A Chorus Line, and should have known better.

Another piece which concerned a group of young performers learning their craft was a film, and much more successful. I fell in love with the movie Fame as soon as I saw it. It took place at the New York High School of the Performing Arts (at the time I didn't even know such a place existed), and the film is full of such exuberance that one couldn't help but be roped in. A motley group of geeks and misfits all come alive here at this performing arts school. The soundtrack is dominated by several disco flavored songs sung by cast member Irene Cara, who subsequently became a Disco Diva for about a week, but the score is augmented by one melancholy ballad sung, and written, by a young Paul McCrane, decades before he lost his hair and checked into ER. The film boasted a rare dramatic performance by comic Anne Meara, and a brief appearance by Debbie Allen, who later starred in the TV series based on the film.

None of these "backstage musicals"made it anywhere near Broadway, though a stage version of Fame has been knocking around for years.

But I have a couple of vinyls of backstage shows which did make it to Broadway.

So Long, 174th Street is the musical version of the Carl Reiner comedy, Enter Laughing. I have no idea what the music sounds like, as this is another album I have owned for 25 years without opening. The cast included Robert Morse, still trying to recreate his How to Succeed... triumph, and Kaye Ballard as his mother. The show was not a success.

The New Faces of 1952 cast album caught my eye in the record store due to the presence in its cast of several performers who were to become stars. Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostly, Eartha Kitt, Robert Clary (later of Hogan's Heroes), and Carol Lawrence were all in this musical revue. A film version was later released as New Faces of 1956.

When I was in London as a teen ager, I had the opportunity to see a truly spectacular stage performance. Nobody believed that anyone other than Ethel Merman could ever play Mama Rose, so it took almost two decades for Gypsy to make its London debut. Angela Lansbury radically reinterpreted this stage mother from hell, and created a sensation. She later took the show to Broadway and won the Tony. This recording of her performance reflects the humor and humanity which she displayed in the theatre. Go HERE to see a grainy but still spectacular clip. Her rendition of "Rose's Turn" is so shattering, you want to jump out the window.

This album is definitely worth having on CD, but as I already have the Merman Gypsy, the Midler Gypsy, and the Bernadette Gypsy (I passed on the Tyne Daly Gypsy), I'll make do with my homemade copy. That is, until LuPone records her Gypsy later this spring. Have an eggroll!


Vera Charles said...

You got a problem with bald people?

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