Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Dance Party: My Huckleberry Friend

Andy Williams
When Williams died this week, memories popped up of my mother, who was a big fan of his music. 
Williams had a habit of holding his mic with his
fingers, rather than in his fist. It drove me nuts.

We had many of his albums stashed in the console stereo in the living room, and Andy's dulcet crooning provided the background music for many family occasions.  I have to admit, though, that at the time, I was less than enthusiastic about his music, which was slow and dull to my pre-teen ears.  I didn't much like his variety show, either;  it was short on comedy and loooooooong on music (I preferred Carol Burnett, thank you).  But in my adult years, I've come to respect Andy Williams and his easy listening style.
The Williams Brothers toured with Kay Thompson, and Andy later revealed he slept with her as well.  Her own Dance Party can be found here.
His recording career had a longevity which few could match.  His albums routinely went gold, and even platinum, and he is surely well remembered for his Christmas albums. 
Andy was friendly with the Kennedys, and was present
in the hotel when RFK was shot.
The woman facing the camera is Andy's wife,
Claudine Longet, who famously shot her lover
in Aspen in 1976. She got 30 days, then married her lawyer.

Even after his weekly variety show folded, he continued to produce annual Christmas specials which were appointment viewing for families everywhere. 
Williams sometimes went over
the top with his Christmas togs.

In addition to his contributions to holiday music, though, Williams became a leading interpreter of film music.  "Moon River" is certainly his best known song, though oddly, he never released the song as a single, so it cannot be included as one of his hits.  But he put the song, and himself, on the map when he crooned it at the 1962 Oscar ceremony.  The song won the Oscar, and Williams became closely identified with its success.  For the next decade and beyond, Andy was the go-to guy to record the latest theme song from Hollywood. 
Yep, even The Godfather had a love theme.
Yep, Andy Williams sang it.

"The Days of Wine and Roses," "Born Free," "Charade," "The Shadow Of Your Smile"(from The Sandpiper), "Where Do I Begin?" (from Love Story), and many others cemented his reputation as a singer who could bring attention to a film simply by singing its theme. 
Though his career was full of movie music, Andy's film appearances were minimal. I admit to loving this Ross Hunter rarity, in which Williams and another Voice Of The Period, Robert Goulet, duked it out for Sandra Dee's hand. Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold are a hoot in this little gem.

I wrote about Love Story when writer
Erich Segal died. Andy's version of the
theme was a smash.

In his later years, Andy Williams built his own theatre in Branson, MI, appearing there often, and importing other acts as well. In the past few decades, his music reappeared on the music charts in the UK, due to exposure gained through TV commercials there, but in the states, his type of music has long been out of style.
The Moon River Theatre in Branson, MI, is the place to be for the holidays.
As for his variety show, as I said, I was not a regular viewer, but in researching this piece this week, I've found dozens of musical clips from the show. 
I forgive Andy for inflicting the Osmonds on us.

Andy is well known for having discovered the Osmond Brothers, who became regular fixtures, but he also helped boost the careers of other, more popular artists.  These clips are very fun to watch, and display a nice diversity in Williams's style, as he inevitably sat down to sing with whoever his musical guest was for the week. He was at home with Lena Horne and Bing Crosby as well as Simon and Garfunkle and the Fifth Dimension. 

Part of Andy's appeal was his accessibility. He could wear a tux as well as anybody, but he was equally stylin' in a turtleneck and sweater.  We cannot picture Sinatra or Dean Martin in a cardigan.
This week's clip comes from one of those shows.  It is not the best vehicle for Andy, who matched up a pretty unlikely trio, then added himself to the mix.  But it's fun to watch (I never get tired of Cass Elliot), and as an added bonus, it's fun to know that this marked Elton John's first appearance on American television.

As everybody knows, Andy Williams died this week from bladder cancer.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Dance Party: A Hard-Knock Life

This week's Dance Party features an award-winning cast.  We have two Tony winners and two Emmy winners, plus an Oscar winner for good luck.  Various of our cast members have also won the Olivier, the Theatre World Award, the Golden Globe, and the SAG. 

We have two Drama Desk winners, two Outer Critics Circle Award winners, and  two winners of GLAAD awards,  for roles and/or work on behalf of the LGBT community.  We even have a recipient of the OBE, awarded by the Queen herself.  They have earned numerous nominations for these and other awards, including a whopping 11 Emmy nods for one of our stars, who finally won one last weekend, playing a ghost (and with some luck, she may win another on Sunday).

The above partial list of accomplishments is particularly impressive, considering there are only three people in this week's clip.  But what a finely talented trio they are.

Alan Cumming cultivated a bad-boy, poly-sexual image in his early career. He is an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, and classifies himself as bi-sexual. 
Alan Cumming had a rising career on the London stage when he snagged his breakout role, the Emcee in the 1993 re-imagining of the classic Cabaret
Alan Cumming's grungy Emcee was a
massive reinterpretation of the role which
pixie Joel Grey created.

He transferred with the show to Broadway, and won the Tony.  At roughly the same time, his film career was taking off, with appearances in the Spy Kids and X-Men franchises, as well as well-received performances in quirky indies such as his own The Anniversary Party, which he co-wrote and co-directed.  He occasionally returns to the musical stage, including an all-star revival of Threepenny Opera, in which he sang "Mac the Knife". 
Alan cleans up good. As Eli on
The Good Wife, he's earned 2 Emmy

His recurring role in the first season of The Good Wife was immediately expanded;  he is now part of the permanent supporting cast.

Kristin Chenoweth
Chenoweth's career has included some non-musical projects, including the "Jimmy Smits" years of The West Wing, and last season's failure, GCB

Chenoweth spent 2 years on
The West Wing. She was dating
Aaron Sorkin at the time.

But she is best known for her musical appearances, including this week's Dance Party, as well as Glinda the Good Witch, Marion the Librarian, and Charlie Brown's sister.  Our Kristin had a very rough summer;  coincidentally, she was beginning a guesting gig on her costar Alan Cumming's The Good Wife this summer when she was clobbered by a falling light instrument and was hospitalized. 
That's Kristin Chenoweth on the stretcher. It was a major accident which pulled her out of the planned story arc on The Good Wife. I smell a lawsuit.
She spent weeks in a neck brace, recovering from a fractured skull and other issues.  She has since reappeared publicly, including the season premiere of Anderson Cooper's talk show, during which she described the extent of her injuries (after which, she opened the door for Cooper to address the issue which was on everyone's mind at the time, his public acknowledgment of his homosexuality). 
Kristin unexpectedly won the Emmy
for Pushing Daisies, which had long
since bit the dust.

Regular visitors to these pages know that I am a great fan of Chenoweth (her own Dance Party, one of the best ever, can be seen here).  I have never seen this firecracker live, but will surely rectify that when she returns to Broadway in the upcoming revival of On The Twentieth Century, playing the role created by Madeleine Kahn.

Kathy Bates
If Kristin Chenoweth has had a rough summer, Kathy Bates has had a truly devastating one.  First, her TV show, Harry's Law, was cancelled, despite being the highest rated scripted program on NBC.  Then, her diagnosis of breast cancer led to a double mastectomy.  Any woman who agrees to such a massive operation immediately following her diagnosis, well, I'm guessing her prognosis was not positive.
The demographics of this hit show registered too old, and the program was axed.  A grassroots campaign to save the show sprang up, but did not convince NBC to continue production.  Meanwhile, Bates was having her breasts removed.  A really lousy summer for our gal.
Kathy Bates is considered one of the best actresses of her generation, and I would not disagree. 
'night, Mother

Her uncluttered, no-nonsense style made her a hit on the New York theatrical scene, where she won a Tony nod for her performance in the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'night, Mother (her role went to Cissy Spacek when the play was filmed).  Terence McNally wrote Frankie and Johnnie at the Claire de Lune specifically for Bates, who was nevertheless replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer (!) for the movie.  Eventually, though, our gal made up for those egregious disappointments, becoming a bit of a sensation in her breakout role of a crazed fan in Misery.  She won the Oscar and Hollywood took note.
No one will ever forget this scene with the mallet and the ankles.
I'm pleased that she's been all over the place lately.  She took the title role in Harry's Law, originally written for a man, and attracted a large, but aging, audience. 
Bates earned another Oscar nod for Primary Colors.

Over the years, she has earned 11 Emmy nominations, and it was a bit reminiscent of the Susan Lucci / Angela Lansbury curse, until last weekend, when she picked up the award for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. 
Kathy won the Emmy last week,
playing the ghost of Charlie Sheen.

She is up for her own series on Sunday, facing stiff competition, but don't count the old broad out.  She overcame ovarian cancer a decade ago, and this new assault, I hope, will be dealt with just as completely.

This week's clip features Kathy in a rare musical role.  The story goes that she pursued the role herself, when she learned a TV remake of the 1970s smash Annie was in the works. 
As "unsinkable" Molly Brown in Titanic.

Nobody remembered that she had crooned a tune in 1971's Taking Off (at that time she was calling herself Bobo Bates.  Thank god she changed her mind on THAT before it was too late).  She holds her own with her costars here, in a number which has already appeared on the Dance Party, sung by its originators onstage, here
Annie's Rooster and Lily.

This is the only production of this song, though, that my eye does not continually fall on the character of Miss Hannigan.  Here, Alan Cumming's performance is so smoothly quirky that he swipes the number.  I have a lot of admiration for Bates's talents, but she does not have the musical charisma which her costars in the clip possess.  But boy can she scare the sh*t out of everybody.
Misery loves company.

Annie was in dire need of a do-over, after the mess director John Huston made of the 1982 film, and this one will do nicely. Victor Garber and Audra McDonald are also in the cast. This number remains my favorite song from the musical. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Dance Party: 100%

Carnegie Hall exploded when Loudon mixed
two dissimilar Sondheim classics.
This week's Dance Party features another repeat offender, deservedly so.  Dorothy Loudon is one of my favorite performers, so she has graced these pages before.  I first saw her in the original production of Annie (I wrote about seeing that show here), and her showstopping performance was showcased on the Tony Awards, which I featured here
"Easy Street" stopped the show, and was featured on the Tonys. Annie was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Dorothy Loudon.
Despite having starred in one of the smash hits of the 1970s, our Dorothy didn't have a lot of success in traditional book musicals, starring in flop after flop early in her career. 
New Yorkers loved Loudon, who headlined at
The Blue Note before her Broadway career.

After her triumph in Annie, she became a go-to gal for variety and concert appearances;  her hilarious mash-up of two Sondheim songs brought down the house at Carnegie Hall, during a tribute to the composer, and it appeared here.

I wrote earlier that I also saw Ms. Loudon in her follow-up to Annie, a barely recalled musical called Ballroom.  It was a stunner, and I saw the show twice in the week I visited New York in 1978.  It is from this flop that today's Dance Party is plucked.
With Vincent Gardenia in Ballroom.

Ballroom didn't yield anything like a hit song, but "50%" is often heard these days in cabaret settings.  It's the 11:00 number in Ballroom, deservedly so, and Loudon hit it out of the park. In this song, our leading lady accepts the fact that she is the "other woman" in her new relationship.  
Sharing the stage with Katherine Hepburn
in West Side Waltz.

I can verify that the number brought down the house in the theatre.  There is a grainy clip out there of Dorothy's rendition sung on the Tony Awards (Ballroom, though up for several awards, had long since closed, which is a shame.  If the TV audience had been presented with one of the spectacular dance sequences which Michael Bennett created, I believe the box office would have improved), and that clip is worth catching. 

Loudon made only two films, including this favorite, Garbo Talks. Interestingly, when her two biggest Broadway hits, Annie and Noises Off,  made the move to celluloid, Carol Burnett took her roles in both.
This week's moment, however, is decades later, when Loudon performed it at Carnegie Hall, for one of those PBS fundraising specials which used to happen so often.  It's from the late 90s, and Loudon had just learned that the cancer she had been fighting was inoperable. 
With John McMartin in a TV episodic. The duo headlined in
Showboat in Chicago.

Several online sources claim this was Dorothy's last stage appearance, but that isn't quite true. This may have been her final musical performance, but Loudon had already performed a preview of the all-star revival of Dinner at Eight when her illness forced her to withdraw.  She died 10 months later;  her will established the Dorothy Loudon Foundation, which funds charities concerning actors. 
Performing the comic song "Vodka." Her Tony
appearances were legendary: they stopped writing
her patter and just let her rip.

Known primarily for her comic performances, our gal displays some dramatic chops in this ballad;  it is probably the most famous song she ever introduced.  Dorothy Loudon's birthday is Monday, so in her honor, enjoy this emotional moment from Ballroom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Say A Little Prayer For Him

"A chair is still a chair, even when there's no one sitting there," is one of Hal David's lyrics which had significance this week.
It may seem odd that this week's Dance Party is paying a return visit to what I consider to be a fairly minor musical from the 1960s.  Promises, Promises had a substantial run in its first incarnation, winning a Tony for Broadway Boy Jerry Orbach, and providing a few firsts along the way, including the first pop score and the first time backup singers were concealed in the pit. 
Jerry Orbach's varied stage career
included The Fantasticks, 42nd Street,
and the original Chicago.
But I am still not enamored of the musical, which seems a bit workmanlike to me, despite its success.  And the gent who supplied the lyrics to the show has some explaining to do regarding the song which was featured in this Dance Party clip from a while ago, one of the most ridiculously nonsensical songs to ever appear on Broadway. 
Nobody can explain the attraction (or even the meaning) of the Turkey Lurkey, but Michael Bennett's original choreography brought down the house.  That's Donna McKecknie at the far right, in the first of several star dance turns which led to A Chorus Line.
But the show, on the plus side, provided two more in a string of smash hits for Dionne Warwick, so attention must be paid to this death this week.

Hal David
David's drek was not limited to the Broadway
stage. This dreadful duet went to #1 on the
country chart and #5 on the Top 100.

His career dates back to when he was writing material for Guy Lombardo, and he cannot be forgiven for providing Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias the horrendous hit "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," but he is of course best known for his partnership with Burt Bacharach.  Together they furnished a pop soundtrack to a generation of soft-rock lovers;  their tunes topped the charts in recordings by The Carpenters, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, and so many more, and their work is inexorably linked to Dionne Warwick, who is now in the record books as the vocalist who has placed more singles (56) on Billboard's Top 100 than any other female, save Aretha Franklin. 
It was Warwick's lucky day when Burt Bacharach plucked her from the background singers for The Drifters.  She delivered a string of hits for several decades, most by Bacharach & David.
Warwick's international stardom is owed in large part to the Bacharach/David team, who wrote hit after hit for their favorite singer. 
Bacharach and David must be considered
one of the most successful of all song-
writing teams. They broke up when their
film musical Lost Horizon flopped. "I
never miss a Liv Ullman musical,"
Bette Midler quipped.

Our Hal won the Oscar for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," (though I still remain confused about what that perky song was doing, planted in the middle of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); he was also nominated for "Alfie," "What's New, Pussycat?", and "The Look of Love," from Casino Royale.  David's lyrics would never be considered particularly deep or meaningful, but they had a quality which attracted the ear. Who else would rhyme "catch pneumonia" with "never phone ya'"?
This montage in Butch Cassidy... yielded a smash and an Oscar.

Promises, Promises was Hal David's only Broadway book musical (he provided lyrics to two revues as well).  He and Burt were included in the Best Musical Tony nomination in 1969, but lost the award (deservedly) to the gang at 1776
This revival ran almost a year at
full capacity.

The show's only Broadway revival, in 2010, recouped its investment and closed when its bankable stars, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, completed their contracts.  That revival received lukewarm reviews but played to capacity crowds due to the starpower involved;  the production is now remembered because of an offstage controversy.

I wrote about this here, but in a nutshell, a writer for Newsweek presented an article which claimed that, when a viewer knows that an actor is gay, it is impossible to accept that actor's performance in a heterosexual role.  This writer, who himself is gay, ignited a firestorm of criticism resulting from his outrageous claim, culminating in an hysterical moment on the Tony Awards, when Chenoweth and Hayes indulged in a deep, lingering kiss. Afterwhich, Kristin fainted.  (Three years ago, Chenoweth starred in one of the most admired Friday Dance Parties in the history of the sequence; go here to enjoy that showstopper.)
Kristin's support of the gay community is well known, and she quickly leaped to the defense of her costar when Newsweek complained he was flaming too much.
It will probably be a while before there is another revival of Promises, Promises, but no one will miss it.  This week's clip comes from a promotional appearance the revival's stars made on The View, and it's actually a charming little presentation. 
Hayes as Chuck Baxter.

Hayes is not a singer on the scale of his costar, or of his predecessor in the role Jerry Orbach, but he acquits himself well.  As a matter of fact, Sean received a Tony nomination for his performance;  he was a gay actor playing straight, and he lost the award to a straight actor playing gay: Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles (and THAT  performance is remembered on this Dance Party). As for Hal David, his catalogue of hits will remain robust for a long time to come.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stratford Upon Hudson

All is calm on the south side of the monument.
But walk around the thing,
and you're in the middle of the Wars of the Roses.
We all consider Labor Day to signal the end of summer (except the meteorologists, who know otherwise), and by coincidence or divine providence, my final summer project also ended with Labor Day.
Our Richard III began with a scene which is not in the play. This moment from Henry VI, Part 3, was interpolated into our production of R3, to make it clear that the Yorkists achieved the English throne through bloody actions. David DeWitt delivered a majestic deathbed speech as the last Lancaster king. While this moment clarifies how Richard's family won the throne, it also robs the audience of any surprise regarding the character of Richard.  In the first 2 minutes of the play, we know he is a cold-blooded killer, so when he orders the murder of his own brother, and his own nephews, nobody's surprised.
Richard III, about which I wrote a few weeks ago, provided the bookend to my earlier summer gig, Taming of the Shrew, which opened on Memorial Day, usually considered the beginning of summer. 
The role of Lady Anne is sometimes thought
unplayable, as it contains one of the most
outrageous reversals in the canon.
Amanda Renee Baker made
me believe it.

Other than those two gigs, not much happened in between, but I'm not complaining.  It's been years since I did two shows in a single summer, my career does not run that way, and the symmetry of opening a show on summer's opening weekend, and closing one on summer's final weekend, is kind of fun.
Hastings, Buckingham, and Rivers. No, it's not a law firm, they are all victims of our anti-hero.
Since it's so freshly minted, it's only natural that R3 is uppermost in my thoughts at the moment. 
Our dressing room was also the audience's lobby. We
dropped trou as the audience exited.

We had terrific weather for our run, interrupted only twice by rain.  Most evenings were balmy with a nice breeze coming off the river, and I was very surprised that our audiences sat still for two hours, on the hard cement steps which served as our auditorium. 

Valerie O'Hara's Duchess of York recalled the Queen Mum,
and Bruce Barton's Archbishop wins for Best Voice in Show.

We played by natural light, and when we opened a month ago, Mother Nature proved a good designer and technician. 

I was not fond of the sun setting in my face, but can't deny
it looks swell.

In those first weeks, we had a warm sunset in our faces through much of the show, and as the sun finally disappeared and darkness set in, the ghosts of Richard's victims were just coming out to haunt.  Following that scene, the big battle took place, and the play was done.
Richard is haunted by the ghosts of his victims, in a scene which is enhanced by the natural dusk.
Nick DeVita's Catesby handled several of the props which
enhanced the show, including the one and only table.
"You can't go to war without a table," he quipped.

But it's late August, so the sun's habits were changing drastically, and the last week or so, darkness set in about half-way through our performance.  Lit only by three streetlamps (one of which turned itself on and off at irregular intervals), some scenes played better than others. 
The Royals bask in sunlight which is all-too-fleeting.

This is the first year Hudson Warehouse has performed this late in the season, and we were at the mercy of the significant change in the natural light which happens in late August.  Personally, I could tell a difference in the way the Mayor's scenes, which are comedic, were playing. 
The Mayor begs Richard to assume the throne.

When there was lots of light, there were lots of laughs;  when the light was dim, so was the laughter.  (This is not news to anybody: comic moments usually come off better in bright light.)

No matter the lighting, I had a fun time with the Mayor.  Initially, I was cast only in this small role, but less than a week before we began rehearsal, the gent scheduled to play the Duke of Clarence bowed out, and I jumped at the chance to play Richard's hapless brother. 
Clarence ascends to the Tower. He won't
emerge. But I'll get a new audition piece.

I was pleased that I could play this largely dramatic role, in addition to the comical Mayor;  it gave me much more to do, and provided a nice contrast.  And Clarence's famous "dream speech," which was truncated in our production but I hope still effective, is a great audition piece for me in the future.

Before Richard III, I had performed outside only once, in a production of Much Ado About Nothing in South Carolina, many years ago. 
Ryan Ervin's Brakenbury owned those steps.

That show was also performed in a space built for non-theatrical endeavors.  It became one of the charms of our R3 that our space was not secured from outside forces. 

This sight gag was enjoyed by the first row
or two. But Vince Phillip's
ferocious performance was enjoyed by all.

Early on, we had a drunken fool interrupt a scene, and later, when our houses were quite full, I occasionally collided with an audience member during my Big Death Scene.  (That sequence became my favorite moment in the show.)
The Money Shot. Clarence's death became my favorite moment in the show. There were more gruesome murders to come. "You can't do Richard III without blood," someone said, but you actually can.  In Shakespeare's original text, only one murder occurs onstage, that of Richard himself.  All other assassinations occur off stage. Nowadays, though, we won't accept such delicacy.  We want to see all the blood and guts, which caused laundry concerns, as all the men were in business suits. The solution was to have each victim abandon his jacket for his death scene, which caused our Buckingham, Timothy Reynolds, to advise, "Keep your coat on, and you'll be safe."
Throughout our run, I was pleasantly surprised that our audiences seemed to be following the story. 

Mad Margaret, Dowager Queen of England, is sometimes removed from the show completely, as she does not serve the foreword thrust of the action (the Duchess of York is also sometimes dumped). Margie Catov's curses on the Yorks, though fierce, could not keep Drew Rosene, at left, from dozing off. He would become the uncrowned Edward V, before falling victim to his Uncle Dickie.

Matt Ebling as the young Duke of York provided some comic relief.

Shakespeare's history plays are notoriously hard for American audiences to follow, we can't tell Henry VI from Henry VII, even if the Brits can.  And the original text is Shakespeare's second longest play (right behind Hamlet), so cutting this monster down to two hours was a feat. 

George Wells as Richmond, at left, remains on the outskirts of the play for two hours, then steps up to deliver a call-to-arms which rivals Henry V's. Once everybody's dead, he will ascend the throne as that first and most buff Tudor king, Henry VII.
Our director, at right, also adapted the script. And played
the part of Lord Hastings. And is the group's
Producing Artistic Director. And he bagged all the blood.

The man with the buzz saw was our director, Nicholas Martin-Smith, who mercilessly cut the text;  he didn't bother much with maintaining the poetry, his intention seemed to be to tell the story cleanly and efficiently.  So, lots of embroidery disappeared, but as it turns out, you CAN see the forest, if you cut down enough trees.
This is the last we see of Edward IV, whose death opens the floodgates.
Myles and Ian reminded me of Cruella DeVil's henchmen,
Horace and Jasper. They enjoyed killing me
 and everyone else.

Fall will soon be upon us, and with it, my next project, yet another Shakespearean effort, which begins rehearsal in late October.  Between now and then, I'll be spending more time in my DC branch, which I have ignored through most of this Shakespearean Summer. Hmm: "My Shakespearean Summer"- could be a chapter in my memoir. Stay tuned.
The final image of R3, as the carnage of the Wars of the Roses ends. There is something very right, when scenes which Shakespeare placed outside are actually performed outside.