Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Walken On Wood

The big news this week wasn't the complete failure of the Super Committee, nor the controversy over retailers creeping into Thanksgiving by opening stores on the holiday.  Nope, the big news was, of course, the reopening of the Natalie Wood case.
As everybody knows, Wood tumbled (or was pushed) from a boat into the water off Catalina in 1981, and was later found dead.  The incident was deemed an accident, though several times over the years, the captain of the boat raised questions.  The folks onboard had been drinking, and arguing, and the fact that Wood's husband Robert Wagner did not alert authorities to his wife's absence for a while, has always led to suspicion (plus the fact that RJ's first call wasn't to the authorities, but to his lawyer).  When the LAPD reopened the case this week, based on the captain's claims, I cracked that the truth would finally come out:  it wasn't Natalie Wood who fell into the water that night, it was Marni Nixon. 

(Hey, it got some laughs with my Facebook crowd).

The star of this week's Dance Party was in the middle of shooting a film with Natalie (Brainstorm, released in 1983, was almost derailed by her death) and was also onboard that night;  he retained a lawyer this week to protect his interests.

Nobody is surprised, these days, when Christopher Walken breaks out into song and dance, but for many years, he was known strictly as an intense, often creepy, character actor.  His performance as a steelworker involved in the Vietnam war in The Deer Hunter brought him to national attention, and won him the Oscar.  For years since then, his roles were usually moody, brooding, and sinister. 

But he started his career as a musical theatre performer, and there are now lots of clips out there of his dancing abilities.  He has often been seen hoofing on Saturday Night Live, as well as in several music videos of note, and in 2007, he brought a low-keyed charm opposite the over-the-top drag performance of John Travolta in Hairspray. 

Here's a clip from that oddball Steve Martin musical, Pennies From Heaven (this film has appeared on the Dance Party before, when character actor Jay Garner died).  Even dancing (and lip syncing), Walken comes off as pretty sinister here (appropriately, he's playing a pimp). 

BTW, Natalie Wood appeared in this Dance Party a while back, when her Gypsy costar Karl Malden died.  Let's hope Christopher Walken was not misbehavin' with Natalie Wood on that boat.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Third Anniversary

I can't believe this silly little segment has been going on so long, but the calendar does not lie. The Friday Dance Party passed its third anniversary this week.  Every week for the past three years, a new and exciting, or old and enthralling, or odd and disgusting, musical clip has graced these pages.  Before taking a look back at the 54 clips which comprised this year's Party (yes, there were 54 clips in 52 weeks, math never was my strong suit), credit must be given to my old Wayside Theatre buddy, Larry Dahlke, who invented the segment on his own blog.  Three years ago.  He abandoned it very soon afterward, but the Dance Party doggedly continues here!

You might imagine that most of the clips presented originally came from the Broadway stage, but relatively speaking, only a few did.  Which brings me to the reason there were 54 clips in only 52 weeks.  Just last week, we had a double-header, from The Apple Tree and She Loves Me, and the weekend Hurricane Irene roared up the east coast, we had a Very Special Episode of the Friday Dance Party, on Saturday, honoring the Broadway show which carries her name.  Otherwise, though, the pickings from the legitimate stage were pretty slim.  When I was myself appearing as Potiphar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last winter, we caught the song from the TV version of same.
Around Christmas time last year, we watched a grainy but energetic presentation of one of the most meaningless numbers ever to stop a show, from Promises, Promises.  And when an old lesbian died, we took a look at how one of the standards from The Sound of Music had been holding up.  The year could not be complete without a visit from Neil Patrick Harris, his generation's true song-and-dance man, and the year also included a harrowing anthem from Patti LuPone, the night she won the Tony for Gypsy.  And we had one of the most unusual clips ever presented on the Tony Awards, when that musical powerhouse Katherine Hepburn gave us a taste of her performance as Coco (Chanel).
Movie musicals, though, made a strong showing this year, with Mitzi Gaynor, Bette Midler, and Lucille Ball presenting some songs, and on my birthday, my special friend Pat Carroll crooned one of Disney's most dastardly tunes.  We had some teams, too, including Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire (again), Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, and Harold and Maude.  The clip from Grease was inspired by the death of Jeff Conaway, and ditto the Victor/Victoria duet, by the death of Blake Edwards.

Regular visitors to these pages will not be surprised to learn that many, many Dance Parties were inspired by dead people.  My little obituary/tributes were included when TVs Designing Women  did some lip syncing, and when composer Andrew Gold died, we heard from The Golden Girls and Mad About You.  Though the Village People did not die (at least, not all of them), the producer of their misguided appearance in the cult flop Can't Stop the Music did.  Peggy Lee wondered "Is That All There Is?" when Jerry Leiber died, and composer John Barry delivered a haunting ballad from Mary, Queen of Scots before he died, a number he co-wrote with Mary herself, from a distance of about four centuries. 

Ed Wood's favorite star Dolores Fuller wasn't much of a song writer, or much of an actress either, but Elvis had a clambake when she died.  When Jill Haworth, the first musical Sally Bowles, went the way of her girlfriend Elsie, we had one of my favorite tunes from Cabaret, and when character actor Jay Garner left us, his number with Steve Martin gave us a lift. A couple of oldsters finally left the stage, including Betty Garrett and Jane Russell (and it's no wonder Jane lasted so long, assuming she visited this gym often).  When David Nelson died, his brother Rick went to a garden party, and when the actress who, as a tike, played Bonnie Blue Butler, died, her fictional parents scandalized Atlanta by dancing in Gone With the Wind. 

My favorite clip of the year, from a gal I had never heard of, was inspired when its songwriter, Hugh Martin, passed the peace pipe for the last time.  And when Groucho's son Arthur finally said the magic word, it was "Lydia" (the Tattooed Lady).

Sadly, a couple of my clips I posted have since been removed by their rightful owners, but you can still go here to read my obit for Lucy's longtime writer, and here to read my thoughts about William Holden.  He didn't die this year, of course, but as it was Labor Day, I was thinking about his performance in Picnic, which takes place on the holiday.

Other holidays were celebrated on the Dance Party, too.  We spent  Veteran's Day with Martha Raye, New Year's Eve with Eartha Kitt, and Christmas with The Monkees.  When I missed St. Patrick's Day, "Danny Boy" tried to apologize.

Let's see, who else?  The Monkees joined forces with Bobby Sherman for one of the first music videos, years before they were classified as such, and the guys who wrote Avenue Q teamed up with the guys who wrote Scrubs, and came up with a crackerjack opening number for a musical episode of the latter.  Dorothy Loudon put two disparate Sondheim songs together to bring down the house at Carnegie Hall, and Craig Ferguson put his own particular spin to one of my favorite novelty numbers of all time (I've even sung it at auditions). 

Meanwhile, two French dancers delivered the most athletic Dance Party of the year.

More than a few of this year's clips reflected something personal going on in my life at the time.  When I was feeling under-rehearsed while prepping The Nerd last summer, I turned to the master of Under-Rehearsal, Dean Martin.  The Nerd also prompted a return visit from Cass Elliot, while the gesticular choreography used in my production of Joe's Coat inspired these hand jives.  My backstage demeanor prompted a visit backstage to another theatre, while my participation in the legal strategy of Witness for the Prosecution brought Betty Hutton to mind. The anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepherd inspired a same-sex tango, and when my L.A. buddies gave up their motor home (not that those two things are of equal importance, of course), they were serenaded by these two guys, in perhaps the most creative of the Dance Parties (the entire thing was shot on a cell phone, in a single take).

Finally, my recent New York investigations were commented upon by Judy Garland, who happens to like New York, and by the cast of Hold That Co-Ed, who enjoys limping.

And that, I believe, includes everybody who contributed to the Dance Party this year.  If you care to, you can see all the Dance Parties, from the beginning, in reverse chronological order, here

If you are deranged enough to do so, you will see only one clip repeated, from one of my guilty holiday pleasures.  Go ahead and make some fun of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.
To kick off the fourth year (jeez) of the Dance Party, a bit of a tradition.  The very first Dance Party, as well as the First and the Second Anniversary clips, were all young amateurs, discovering the joys of dance. I won't be breaking with tradition today, here is this week's Dance Party:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Assembling the New York Branch

I have enough ego to believe that I have many talents.  But working with my hands, putting things together, isn't one of them. Unless it's a dirty martini. More on that in a mo'.

The past few weeks have been very active, as I have made several roundtrips to Manhattan and back, opening the New York Branch of my life.  As I wrote previously, I was recently awarded an apartment in Manhattan Plaza, a two-building complex of apartments devoted to subsidized housing for artists. My unit is on the 29th floor, and sports a pretty swell view, especially at night.

During the day, though, the place looks a lot like this:

Furnishing the place is not high on my list of priorities.  As I will be keeping my place in DC, and splitting my time between the cities, I feel a little bit like I'm camping in New York.  The first piece of furniture I bought for the place was delivered before I ever took possession of the apartment.  Thankfully, ManPlaza has what they call a "package room, " which is not a room at all, but a small storefront between the two towers resembling a UPS store.  There, everything which cannot fit into the teeny tiny mailboxes is delivered, to be picked up by the tenant at their convenience.  My tall director's chair was waiting for me when I pulled into the complex last week.  I am an incompetent goof when it comes to putting things together, and so I spent much more time assembling the chair than it should have taken.  Still, it was a smart impulse buy.  I have spent many hours perched on the chair at one of my huge picture windows, sipping a cocktail, and enjoying the view as the sun goes down and the New York skyline comes into its glorious own.
I have a new inflatable bed set up, which should suit me for the time being.  Luckily, I did not have to assemble the thing, just blow it up.  After several false starts, my Internet was finally connected, and I set about the seemingly impossible task of assembling the desk I had ordered online from Costco. Though a large corner unit, with three sides, it arrived in a single box. With instructions which turned out to be, at least in part, designed to assemble the mirror image of the desk.  Online, previous purchasers assured me that it only takes 10 minutes to assemble this thing.  It took me 2 hours, but in the end, the empty corner at the huge picture window now has a lovely, full desk.

I also assembled a floor lamp.  Aren't you excited?  Because of all the logistical stuff which comes with opening a new branch of one's life, I have yet to do anything particularly New Yorky.  Other than spend waaaaaay too much on groceries.  One of the largest (and most expensive) grocery stores in Manhattan is located right downstairs, and I have been visiting it frequently.  The first time I shopped there, last week, I ran into a Broadway star:

Well, when he's onstage, he actually looks like this:

I have no idea if Nick Adams, from Broadway's Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is a tenant at Manhattan Plaza, or was just doing some shopping before his evening show, but running into him is just another illustration of the peculiarity of living in this huge city.  The population here must be around 9 million, but every time I venture out, I recognize somebody.

(That's Hunter Foster, an actor and playwright who often works in DC, but is now appearing Off-Broadway.  Passed him on the street.)

And as for that overpriced grocery store downstairs?  I had determined not to frequent any establishment which charges $2.65 for a single roll of paper towels.  But then I wandered down the salad dressing aisle.  There, amidst a limited selection of cocktail olives and onions, was a jar of these outrageous "cocktail stirrers":

It had never occurred to me to put actual pickles in my martini.  I'm now hooked. I don't think I care whether or not the New York apartment ever gets fully furnished. I have a bed, a desk, a lamp, and a cocktail garnish. What more do I need?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Veteran's Day

My family boasts a couple of veterans, including my father, who lied about his age to join the army at the tail end of WWII, hoping to attend flight school.  The war ended too soon, but my father began a lifelong fascination with all things airborne.  He spent almost 40 years at Lockheed, indulging his passion. 

My father's brother spent a lot longer in the military, and served with distinction in Korea.  On my mother's side, my grandfather the doctor served on a hospital ship during WWI.  When my grandmother died, she bequeathed me his ceremonial swords, which Doc Sample wore whenever he was in dress uniform.

I have a good buddy serving in the forces overseas now.  Before he left, Matt answered my curiosity about the portable, prefabricated meals the troops are often forced to eat, by actually giving me one.  This was several years ago, but the packet remains in my kitchen, unopened.  I have vowed to keep it until Matt returns to us safely.  Then, I'll eat it.

So, as today is Veteran's Day, it provides the background for this week's Dance Party.  USO settings have already appeared in previous Parties, including this one from the hilariously motor-mouthed Betty Hutton, and this one, a much more poignant song sung by Bette Midler for the troops in Vietnam in For The Boys.  But if Veteran's Day is our theme, there can be only one star for today's edition:

I wrote a bit about Martha Raye ("Colonel Maggie," as she was known to generations of servicemen) the first time she showed up in these pages.  She never allowed her chaotic private life to interfere with what she considered her duty as an American citizen: to entertain the troops.  This tune comes from Keep 'Em Flying, in which Raye starred (as twins!) with Abbott and Costello.  I am not a fan of Abbott nor Costello, so have never seen the film, but our Martha gives a fun account here.  The song was nominated for the Oscar, and these soldiers are having so much fun, it almost makes you want to join the army.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Friday Dance Party: Double Bocking

Composer and sometime lyricist Jerry Bock died a year ago this week (naturally, I wrote about it here).  With his partner Sheldon Harnick and librettist Joe Stein, he created one of the preeminent musical theatre classics in the history of the genre, Fiddler on the Roof. That monster hit put
 the rest of his career in a bit of a shadow, so where better to add a bit of sunshine than with the Dance Party? And this week is a twofer:  two short clips featuring songs from lesser-known musicals by Jerry Bock, each of which is performed by one of my favorite musical comedy ladies. 

The Apple Tree ran for about a year in the mid-60s, a respectable run at the time.  The show earned a Tony award for its female star, Barbara Harris, but it has not held up well over time.  It's actually three shows, as it's comprised of 3 musical one-acts.  The first  is the Adam and Eve tale (hence the show's title), and it's based on a Mark Twain story.  The second act is an adaptation of an allegory written in the 1800s.  The third, and most famous, act is adapted from a Jules Feiffer story, Passionella, which in itself is a riff on the Cinderella legend.  In The Apple Tree, homely chimney cleaner Ella is transformed into a glamorous TV star.

The show is mainly revived, nowadays, in high school settings, as the production demands are minimal, and there are nice opportunities for young actors.  In the original show, Ms. Harris and her costars, Alan Alda and Larry Blyden, appeared in all three playlets, but amateur groups usually spread the wealth, and cast their productions with different actors in each act.  The only Broadway revival of the show ran for only a few months in 2006-07, with the great Kristin Chenoweth playing the leading ladies.  Kristin appeared in a previous Dance Party (in fact, one of my favorites of all time), and here, she is singing one of her big numbers on The View. 

She Loves Me is a Jerry Bock show which has withstood the test of time.  The source material dates back many years, to a French play and film.  The story was Americanized in a Jimmy Stewart movie called The Shop Around the Corner, and it has undergone several incarnations since, including the Meg Ryan flick You've Got Mail.  Back in the 60s, Bock and Harnick adapted the tale into the musical She Loves Me, which provided Barbara Cook another starring role, and provided Jack Cassidy with a Tony. 
The show is very well-respected by musical theatre actors, but is not very well known.  I guess when you've written Fiddler on the Roof, everything else pales in comparison.

But the show has a terrific score, and the following clip features my favorite song from it.  And it's being sung by one of my all-time favorite musical theatre performers, Nancy Dussault. 

She is still kicking, bless her, and this clip is from her club act presented at the Gardenia in Hollywood just a few months ago.  Dussault had a thriving Broadway career in the 60s, earning a Tony nomination for the flop Bajour, and another one opposite Phil Silvers in Do Re Mi.  She was one of the Maria replacements in the original Sound of Music.  Decades later, she played the Witch, for a time, in the original production of Into the Woods.  If you can find another musical actress who can sub both Mary Martin and Bernadette Peters, I'd be surprised.  Nancy has (or had, she's a little long in the tooth these days) a pure soprano and also a strong belt, an unusual combination.

Dussault never became a major star, though she is fondly remembered for her role as Ted Knight's wife in Too Close For Comfort, his follow-up sitcom to Mary Tyler Moore.  She also spent two years in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, but should be credited for her work in early morning television as well.  Along with actor David Hartman, she was part of the original hosting team of Good Morning America way back in 1975.

But Ms. Dussault is also known for her cabaret act, which is glimpsed in the following clipIn another entry, I will talk about Nancy and her good pal Karen Morrow, another Broadway vet who never achieved the stardom she deserved, but for now, enjoy this number from She Loves Me. It's usually sung by a man, but Nancy Dussault gives it her own personal twist.