Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Dance Party: That Aspirin From United Drug

The star of this week's Dance Party is going to need some of that aspirin.
Chita Rivera turned 80 this week, on a two-show day.  Her cast surprised her with cake at the curtain call.

Rivera has turned her current supporting
role in Edwin Drood into a star part.

The old gal is still kicking, though perhaps not as high, as she is finishing up a limited run in the Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Expect her 10th Tony nomination to be announced later this spring.

Chita is on my radar this week for another reason, in addition to her birthday.  She was the star attraction at one of the myriad inaugural events which peppered the DC landscape last weekend. 
Don't recognize this dude? He played the geeky
foreigner with the indeterminable accent on
That 70s Show, now all hunky and grown up.

The event was a celebration of President Obama's contributions to the American Latino community, and was held at the Kennedy Center.  The Big Guy did not attend (though VP Joe Biden did), but that did not damper the enthusiasm of the Latino stars who took the stage.  Eva Longoria both hosted and produced the affair, which included appearances by Jose Feliciano, Broadway's Raul Esparza, and singer Marc Anthony.
Mario Lopez also appeared at the event.
He was quite presentable in his tux.
But why hire Mario Lopez for a gig
which requires him to be fully clothed?

The centerpiece of the show, in my humble opinion, was the duet performed by those duelling Anitas, Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno.  Everybody knows, of course, that Chita created the role of firecracker Anita in West Side Story, only to lose the role to Rita for the film.  Rita won the Oscar and went on to a pretty illustrious career which included a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy. 

Our Chita received the Kennedy Center Honor
in 2002, along with James Earl Jones,
Paul Simon, and Elizabeth Taylor. In 2009, she
also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
along with Sandra Day O'Connor,
Stephen Hawking, and Harvey Milk.

Our Chita remained, for the most part, on stage, creating many memorable roles and winning several Tonys. 
The announcer of last week's event proclaimed that it was the first time Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera had ever performed together.  Not so.  They helped Bette Midler open the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health in  November of 2002.
I did not attend the Latins Love Obama concert, but it was streamed live on Univision's website.  My Internet connection is pretty lousy at my DC Branch, so the picture quality was poor, and because Univision is the Spanish network, all the narration was in that language.  I would not even have known about this event had it not been for a couple of my young buddies in the DC theatre community, who were chosen to be part of the backup singer/dancers for the Chita/Rita Show. 
The Latina Bosom Buddies were backed up by a male chorus which proved more limber and more on-key than our stars.  The first two guys from left to right are the lovely and talented Kurt Boehm and Vinny Kempski, who played two of my sons in Joe's Coat several years ago.
Neither of the old broads moved all that much, and Rita in particular was croaking her notes, but nobody cared.
There was a supposed rivalry between Chita and Rita throughout their careers, but I never found any evidence of it.  These Latina Grande Dames were the hit of their inaugural party.
Rita has appeared twice on the Dance Party, as West Side Story has provided two clips (so far).  Go here for the Dance At The Gym, and here for some rooftop shenanigans.  Rivera has danced only once in these pages, back when Tom Bosley died. Surely it's Chita's turn again.  This particular clip comes from  some concert or other, and our heroine, though clearly middle aged, is still at the top of her game.  She's singing two of the songs she originally introduced.  Happy birthday, Chita!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Do They Think That Walls Can Hide You?

It was a week of confessions, one of which inspires our Dance Party.  Of course, everyone has heard all about Lance Armstrong's revelation that he has been lying for years, and that he in fact was a major doper. 
Liar's Club

I did not watch his interview this week, as I have less than zero interest in an athlete revealing that he rose to glory by artificial means.  I've heard that Armstrong is likely to feel the pain of his lying through his wallet.  NPR told me that he is worth about 100 million, but will shortly be sued by just about everybody.  The London Times, for example, paid out over a million dollars when it lost a libel suit brought by Lance.  Since the claims the paper made are now verified, they want their money back.  So does the US Postal Service, who sponsored Armstrong's activities to the tune of 90 million dollars.

Ah well, you get what you pay for.

Jodie Foster's confession was probably the week's most fun. 
Foster's first Oscar nod came at age 15.

Her rambling speech at the Golden Globes verified what everybody in the film industry already knew about her sexuality, though her speech seemed to mystify some.  I read later that there was confusion about whether or not she had actually come out.  Yes, she did.  The confusing part of her speech was really about her work;  it sounded a lot like she was retiring.  When someone asked her about it backstage, she clarified that no, she did not mean to imply that she was leaving the business. 
Something's wrong with this picture.

Good to know, but I'd really like to hear why Foster specifically mentioned Mel Gibson as someone who "saved me."  How did such a self-professed bigot, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe ever save Jodie?  THAT'S the Oprah interview I'd like to hear.

This week's Dance Party comes from the third confessional we heard this week, though it really wasn't one. 
Playing Jennifer Garner's pop
on Alias brought him his first
sustained national attention.

Victor Garber was interviewed by one of those Hollywood bloggers, and seemed surprised to be asked about his partner of 13 years. Garber has never been secretive about his sexuality, but since he spent his younger years in the theatre, it didn't come up.  I don't really think anybody cares now, either, as he's a solidly middle-aged character actor who has a thriving but understated career.  He counts Titanic as one of his films (he played the boat's builder) and is currently on the big screen as the heroic Canadian ambassador in Argo.  He's carved a lively career in episodic television, playing Jennifer Garner's father in Alias and, currently, as the patriarch on NBC's Deception (Victor has a total of six Emmy nominations to his credit). 
Eli Stone didn't last 2 seasons, and is now only remembered, if at all, as having brought current Sherlock Holmes Jonny Lee Miller to the small screen.  But the quirky show was one of my favorites, and was peopled with Broadway alums like Loretta Devine and Victor Garber. Producers occasionally made use of their vocal chops with imaginary musical numbers.
Our hero has earned four Tony nominations, having appeared in the original casts of Lend Me A Tenor, Noises Off, Deathtrap, and many others. 
Garber teamed with Bebe Neuwirth in the 1994 revival of
Damn Yankees.

His performance in the Canadian production of Godspell (he is himself of Canadian birth) led to his starring role as Jesus in the film version, which perhaps should have elevated him to stardom, but didn't. 
Suspenders and clown makeup will only take you so far. I find the charm of Godspell to be questionable, even on stage, but I'm clearly in the minority. The show is constantly performed in schools.  The film version was even less charming. Filmed on location in New York City, the show's hippy-dippy vibe was out-of-date by 1973. One of the numbers was filmed on the roof of the World Trade Center, which was just nearing completion, making the film even harder to watch today.  That other messianic musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, was also released in 1973 to similarly disappointing results. 
Godspell is one of those shows which is more fun to be in than to watch, and the film is cloying and pretty unwatchable.  But it is Victor's appearance in another Broadway musical of note which inspires this week's Dance Party. 
Garber's young leading man in Sweeney Todd
was overshadowed by the
flamboyant performances surrounding him

In 1979, Garber created the role of sailor Anthony Hope in Stephen Sondheim's masterwork Sweeney Todd, and introduced one of the most haunting ballads in the Sondheim canon, "Johanna."  I've been unable to find a video clip of his performance in Sweeney, but the original cast album, which is one of my treasures, reveals a clarion tenor voice filled with emotion.  Sondheim, master that he is, allows his young leading man to introduce the song, but then incorporates the tune as a continuing motif of the show.  The clip below illustrates that mastery;  it comes from the video of the First National Tour. 
In the upper right corner, Victor is almost

Sadly, Victor Garber is not included here, his role is taken by the blond Cris Groenendaal.  But this sequence is a prime example of Stephen Sondheim's genius.  He takes what was, at first hearing, a stand-alone love ballad, and expands it into a quartet which reveals aspects of character and moves the plot. This clip also displays director Hal Prince's staging finesse, which is so evocative of  London in the early industrial age, filled with iron and smoke and teaming with lowlife. 

Who needs meat pies with all this ham around? Angela Lansbury and George Hearn chewed the scenery ferociously, exactly as needed for this melodrama.
This video was shot during the tour's stop in Los Angeles, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Though the close-ups were filmed in an empty theatre, the producers also taped a performance in front of a live audience; I was in that audience. 
Victor Garber's confirmation this week of his
long term relationship was met with shrugs.
That's a good sign.

I wish I had seen Victor Garber play the role he created, but could never complain about the performances I saw, which included the great Angela Lansbury as the definitive Mrs Lovett (she wanders through this clip carrying human remains;  she is the woman with the red hair). In honor of Victor Garber, enjoy the song he introduced to the world. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday Dance Party: This Lingering Season

My stocking was handmade by my grandmother when I was only 5 or so.  It hangs in a position of prominence, over my fireplace's mantle, all year long. I don't consider it a Christmas decoration at all, but rather a family treasure.
Usually, by the first week of January, I am ready to move on from the holidays.  I love my Christmas and all that, but by the New Year, I'm done.  Not this year.  For what may be a variety of reasons, I am loathe to let go of the holidays this year.
I put up this misshapen specimen as an afterthought, and despite its obvious shortcomings, I have enjoyed it more than most others in my holiday history.  Perhaps its sorry state is a symbol for the way Christmas limped into town this year.
Part of the reason may be that crooked little tree.  I wrote here about my impulse buy, a Christmas tree which I stuffed into the trunk of my Honda on Christmas Eve.  I tossed some strings of lights and some ornaments on the thing, in a very haphazard way, and called it tannenbaum.  The poor thing slants precariously to the southwest, but I've enjoyed watching the cheap colored lights blink.  For some reason, I can't get rid of it yet.

Apparently, I'm not the only one.  I've run into quite a few friends and others who rather sheepishly admit that their tree is still up.  It seems particularly hard for a number of people to let go of the holidays this year. 
These snowflake lights hang from streetlamps in
DC during the hols. Everyone's back to work,
the new year has begun,
but the snowflakes remain.

It was certainly a stressful, even dismal, Christmastime in and of itself.  Everybody was frustrated about finances, both personal and at the national level (I really wanted to cover the Capitol building with a big tent and gas the place during the whole Fiscal Cliff debacle).  Thousands of people spent the holidays in makeshift, temporary homes after their entire lives were flattened by Sandy.  The horrible shooting in Connecticut only 10 days before Christmas drew a pall over the holiday for the whole country. 
Superstorm Sandy, the Fiscal Cliff, Newtown: Who the hell
was in the mood for Christmas? The Whos, that's who, and it
came just the same.

But there was something comforting about the fact that, to quote Dr Seuss, Christmas came just the same.  Maybe that's why so many of us don't want to let it go this year.

I've already given up some of the accoutrements of the holiday.  As much as I love Christmas music, it loses its charm after month #2, so my dozens of albums of the holiday genre have all been retired until next year. 
This little-known album is a constant presence on my CD
player from November-December.
But in January, it's gotta go.

My Christmas Wine and Martini glasses (yes, I have such things, are you surprised?) have already been packed away until next November. 
But as we approach the middle of January, my misshapen little tree continues to blink in my bay window.  (Only at night, of course, as I find a Christmas tree which is lit during the day to be a little sad.)  But every night when I come home from rehearsal, I plug in the lights on my crooked little tree, and admire the sentiment for a while. 

Yeah, it's probably time to bid Christmas adieu.  But not before one more Dance Party celebrating the season.  There's a melancholy song out there which seems to suit my mood as I let Christmas go;  it's really only marginally a Christmas carol.  "River" is a Joni Mitchell tune, and it's been recorded  by lots and lots of others. 
Robert Downey Jr shocked everyone (and won a Golden Globe) with a dynamic comeback on Ally McBeal.  His 12-episode story arc included several musical sequences, including the first time I ever heard "River." Sadly, he fell off the wagon during hiatus, and he was dumped from the show.  But his musical career continued.
It first came to my attention when Robert Downey, Jr. was guest starring on Ally McBeal, and he delivered a soulful version which has stuck with me all these years.  That particular clip has been removed from YouTube by Fox, and I've been unable to find another clip of him singing it live.  It's my favorite version of the song.  My bittersweet farewell to Christmas calls for "River," so this week's Dance Party features James Taylor's rendition.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Friday Dance Party: Hush, Hush, Sweet Patti

Patti Page's rendition of "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" does not reflect the tone of the film.  She recorded the theme a year after the movie was released; it was her final visit to the Top 10.

Once again this week's Dance Party is inspired by a death, but in this case, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, it's a person who meant absolutely nothing to me.  Of course, I was aware of her name, but truly, I would not be able to pick her out of a lineup, recently or even during her heyday. And I admit to finding her music, well, let's just say "not my cup of tea."

Patti Page
Page deserves some recognition, as she was one of the leading songstresses of the 1950s and early 60s. Her rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" is considered definitive, even though many, many other artists have recorded that snoozer.  Her version ranks as one of the all time top selling singles, and I mean TOP selling, right up there with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." And Patti returned to the top 10 many times, for well over a decade, so attention must be paid.
Patti was not much of an actress, but she was enlisted to appear in Elmer Gantry, in which she sang snippets of gospel while playing a revivalist nun.

Page straddled pop and country, and
often charted in both genres.
But her music does absolutely nothing for me. Admittedly, her era is not one of my favorites, but even with that understanding, I find her songs just too simple. I will give her credit, as others do, for being the first to instigate a recording technique which would eventually revolutionize the recording industry. She did it by accident. The story goes that a musicians' strike was looming as she was going into the studio to record what would be her first big hit, "Confess." Instead of waiting for her background singers to become available, her producer, Mitch Miller of "Sing-a-long With..." fame, suggested she record her own backup vocals. 
Miller and Page share credit for inventing the
process of overdubbing.

He had the ability to record Page on acetate disc, then replay the recording as Patti sang the lead vocals. Thus, she became the first artist to overdub her own recording. She liked the result so much that she used the technique often in her career. All the musicians of today who not only sing their own backup, but also play all the instruments on their recordings, must count Patti Page as their antecedent.
This moment from a concert in recent years seems to reflect an energetic vocalist, but I was unable to find a single clip, early or late, in which Patti was truly dynamic.
I just wish Page's choice of songs were a little more sophisticated. But I suppose they fit her style, as she herself was pretty milquetoast. In researching this week's clip, I looked in vain for an instance in which she exuded any kind of energy or pizazz in any concert setting. I could find none. 
I cannot argue with her recording success, even
as I find her music rather dull.

Every clip out there presents a singer devoid of sparkle, and some of her performances are down right perfunctory. For a while, I became excited to learn that Patti had her final big hit with the theme song for the horror classic Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but even her version of that one is a yawn. Once Page's style of music faded, she continued to record and to tour, and apparently her concerts were well-attended.
Page's "Live at Carnegie Hall" album won a Grammy in 1998.  Along with Ravi Shankar, she will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously at this year's ceremony.

I'm sure it's my own failure that I have such trouble appreciating her mix of pre-rock pop and dull country twang.
With Johnny Cash.
It's hard to believe, but even Patti's performance of her big novelty hit lacks verve. The song is one of the biggest novelty tunes of all time, and has the distinction of being the first #1 hit to have a question in the title. 
How much did she earn from that doggie? The song
was a smash, and became one of her signature tunes.

I suppose the song itself has some charm, but this week's performance of it, which comes from Patti Page's variety series in the 50s, doesn't have much sparkle. The dog, the boy, and the salesclerk all clearly wish they were someplace else. Me too.