Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Hurricane Sandy Dumbrowski

Considering how much I dislike the musical Grease, it's alarming how often the subject of that piece shows up in these pages.  When Jeff Conaway died a while ago, he inspired this Dance Party.  I also wrote about Grease when I saw the Olney Theatre production a year or more ago.  In both those entries, I mentioned that I earned my Equity card while appearing in Grease, so I guess it holds a certain place in my heart, though not for its artistry, which is minimal. 
"Alone At The Drive-In" is one of the nicer tunes in Grease, but was removed for the film to make way for a new ballad for John Travolta, appropriately called"Sandy".

The bullying of nerdy Eugene creates comic fodder in Grease.

I disagree with its message that "fitting in" with a popular crowd is motivation enough to completely change who you are.  In fact, this may be the only hit musical to feature bullying as an acceptable activity.
Grab those cigarettes and leather pants, girls, if you want to fit in! This film role turned Olivia Newton-John into a movie musical star, but only until we discovered she could not act.  Xanadu, anyone?
(But Grease is still a lot of fun to be in.  It's just not much fun to sit through...)

Perhaps inevitably, though, the show reappears on this week's Dance Party.  As everyone in the country must know by now, Hurricane Sandy is rumbling up the eastern seaboard, and everyone's getting all excited, particularly in the two branches of my current life, DC and NY.  Both cities are preparing to get hit with what they are calling Frankenstorm. 
Adrienne Barbeau and
Barry Bostwick went on to
lively careers.
I'll be watching Frankenstorm from my window on the 29th floor.

Well, the leading lady in Grease is Sandy, a sweet and sensitive character who is bullied into conforming to a stereotype in order to survive high school.  Nice message.  A year or so ago, as Hurricane Irene invaded the mid-Atlantic, an extra-special Dance Party (on a Saturday!) appeared in these pages, honoring the musical which bore her name, so why not continue that mini-trend and showcase the musical in which Sandy becomes a hoodlum?

The clip below is the longest to have appeared on the Dance Party, clocking in at 12 minutes of so, but it includes a medley of all those fun songs from the score.   
Ilene Kristen, the original Patty, went
on to a long career in soaps.

The event is the annual Gypsy of the Year Award, and the full original Broadway cast was invited to open the show. The performers are aging and grey, and you'll surely recognise Barry Bostwick, Adrienne Barbeau, and perhaps future stage director Walter Bobbie.
The original New York cast opened Off-Broadway, but the show was deemed Tony-eligible as it was produced under Broadway level contracts.  It received seven nominations, and lost them all.

Ah, those Magic Changes which happen as we age:
The original cast reunited in 2011 to perform this week's Dance Party.
The annual Gypsy of the Year competition is one of the premiere fundraisers for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights Aids.  In this clip, you will see the 2011 gypsies, as well as the Grease original cast.  I wonder if any of these kids were realizing that they were dancing and singing, side by side, with their futures.  Talk about a Halloween Horror!  To kill some time while Hurricane Sandy rages on, enjoy:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Rita's Looks

This was one of the sassy looks which caused people to remark on my mother's resemblance to Hayworth.
Though a huge musical film star in the 40s and 50s, Rita Hayworth has never been on my radar much, I'm not sure why.  She was one of the top stars of the Golden Age of Musical Film, and she holds the distinction of being the very first person to partner, on film, with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. 
Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles play
matador. What could go wrong with
THAT marriage?

She had a complicated private life, with multiple marriages, including one to Orson Welles, another to singer Dick Haymes, and even one to a Muslim prince.  She struggled with alcohol abuse, which was, in her later life, exacerbated by what we now recognize to be Alzheimer's.  But in her prime, she was highly regarded as a dancer, voted one of the top film stars for several years running, and she is considered one of only two superstar pinup girls during WWII (the other, of course, was Betty Grable).
WWII Pin Up Girls Gable and Hayworth sent a lot of Yanks to the latrine for a lot of yanks.
Hayworth's birthday was this week,  the day before my mother's birthday, which was yesterday.  This coincidence is the real reason Rita has popped up on my radar so unexpectedly.  I've been thinking a lot about my mother this week, as often happens this time of year.  In her later years (that is, in the years I knew her), my mother was often told she resembled Juliet Prowse (I wrote about that a while ago, when Juliet had her own Dance Party).  But in my mother's earlier adult life, back when she was in her 20s and early 30s, she was often told she resembled Rita Hayworth.
Here's Rita.
Here's my mother.  There is a resemblance.
This week's Dance Party comes from 1942's You Were Never Lovelier, which contains several swell pas de deux featuring Hayworth and Astaire (in his later years, Fred revealed that Rita was his favorite dancing partner).  This number reminds me of a couple of times when I danced with my mother. 
These publicity stills were taken during my mother's trip to
Cuba (pre-Castro, of course), part of her duties as the first
Apple Blossom Queen of Hendersonville, NC.

There was the time when my mother taught me a triple-timestep in the kitchen of our house in California, and another time when the family was having a farewell dinner for me (I was moving temporarily to Utah);  that night, before leaving for the restaurant, my mother and I danced a jitterbug on the living room carpet.  These are just a couple of memories which have resurfaced in my brain this week, and since both of these memories are at least 30 years old, I'm thrilled that I still have them.


Here is the clip which triggered those precious memories.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Why Does He Have To Throw Like That?

The only baseball game I might attend is one which Al Hirschfeld would cover.
Forget the VP Debate.  The big news around the DC Branch this week was baseball.  Apparently, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles are both still alive in their respective divisional playoffs, giving rise to hopes for what locals are calling a Beltway Series. 
Gwen Verdon does not star in this
week's Dance Party.

Catchy title, I guess, but not appropriate.  Washington has a beltway surrounding the city, so does Baltimore, but never the twain do meet.  If anything, a playoff series between the two teams should be called a Parkway Series, named after the Baltimore/Washington Parkway which connects the two cities.

And that is all I have to say about baseball. 
The boys from this week's Dance Party
I have no interest in competitive sports of any kind, and if I did, baseball would be waaaaaaaaay down the list. I still have crummy memories of my father dragging me to Atlanta Braves games, in hopes of getting me interested in some kind of sport.  Sorry, Dad, didn't happen.

But with baseball fever gripping the region (at least until tonight, when both teams are predicted to lose their respective games), it's fitting that America's Pastime take center stage on the Friday Dance Party. 
I love this caricature of Applegate in
Damn Yankees, created for my college chum
John Dantona, who is currently playing the role.

Damn Yankees, of course, immediately pops to mind, as baseball figures heavily in that story, but the musical has appeared twice in these pages: go here to see the most recent revival's showstopper, and go here to see yours truly in the most self-indulgent Dance Party ever.  So, we're tired of the Yankees, let's go to Little League instead.

Our clip comes from Falsettos, the musical from 1992 chronicling the complicated family dynamics of a gay man, his wife, son, and lover, plus the wife's second husband and a pair of lesbians from next door. 
Original cast of Falsettos
Composer William Finn won the Tony, as did the show's co-librettist and director James Lapine, but none of the performers you see below took away a trophy. 
Stephen Bogardus and Michael Rupert
as the lovers at the center of Falsettos.

Michael Rupert, the most nasally leading man in Broadway history (and I'm including Nathan Lane!) lost his award to Gregory Hines in Jelly's Last Jam, and his leading lady, Barbara Walsh, lost to Hines's costar as well.  Falsettos itself was nominated for the Big Prize, and lost it to that crowd-pleasing piece of fluff, Crazy For You.

Despite its small cast size and catchy score, Falsettos isn't revived as much as many other musicals.  It had a relatively short life on Broadway, but it remains well-respected, if seldom produced (at least, professionally).  AIDS takes center stage in the second act of the show, which dates the material considerably, but taken as a heartfelt, sometimes rueful examination of a certain kind of modern family, it still has something to say today.  And Finn's score contains some soaringly beautiful tunes, several of which have lived on in cabaret settings.  Singing actors love his songs.
This production was offered by the now-defunct Ganymede Arts in DC, directed by my old South Carolina buddy Jeffrey Johnson.  I wrote about seeing this particular production here;  it is the only time I have seen the full piece.
It's not by coincidence that Falsettos arrives here today, as this week also contained International Coming Out Day, and the 14th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard (on the 10th anniversary of that horrific hate crime, I wrote about it).  So, mixing gay days and baseball plays, enjoy this week's Dance Party:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Theatre Droppings: Jacques Swell

Don't be fooled by the straw hats and jaunty expressions. This Brel spends its time investigating the darker side of the human condition. 
While in the DC branch, I popped across the river to Alexandria, to catch the critically acclaimed musical revue, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.  I have not had a positive opinion of this piece in the past.  The only other production of it I have seen was years ago, at Olney Theatre, where the four-member cast was doubled, and a giant wheel was placed on the stage as a set piece. 
This Olney production with an expanded cast left me cold.

Olney Theatre itself was large, and the show seemed to be overwhelmed.  I came away from that production with a feeling that Brel's music is cold, distant, and uninteresting, and assumed it must be better in its original language.

The current production at MetroStage has changed my mind about the piece.  There is nothing more exciting to me than to see actors standing still onstage, and telling a story. 
Nastascia Diaz knows how to deliver
les chansons.

It takes a strong performer to be able to hold an audience's interest under these simplistic circumstances, and the four actors in this show more than hold their own.  Though I am not personally acquainted with any of the four performers, I have seen all of them onstage in previous productions.  They have found a terrific showcase in Jacques Brel...

There are several interesting group numbers in the piece, but the show is primarily composed of solos, all of which showcase the cast to great advantage. 
Sam Ludwig as Tobias in
Sweeney Todd.

I've seen Sam Ludwig several times before, but he was unrecognizable underneath his substantial 1970s moptop.  He delivered strong choices in his numbers, including "Statue" and "Next".  Bayla Whitten's "Timid Frieda" was memorable, as was her second act dress, which wins the award as best costume in the show. 
Bayla Whitten and Sam Ludwig

Natascia Diaz has spent a few years becoming a bit of a headliner on DC musical stages, turning in memorable performances at Signature and here at MetroStage.  She comes off as the most international of the bunch, delivering several of her songs in French and Dutch. 
Bobby Smith

Bobby Smith has carved a substantial reputation as a strong character singer in local musicals, with an emphasis on comedic roles, but here, he displays a terrific dramatic side with "Amsterdam" and "Songs for Old Lovers."
Bobby Smith, center, is best known around town as a comic musical actor, as seen here, as Rooster in Annie. But this Jacques Brel displays his dramatic chops.
You've never heard of any of these songs, have you?  Neither have I;  Jacques Brel himself became internationally known on the strength of only one smash, "If We Only Have Love," which is delivered here as the show's grand finale. Our composer is one of those folks who is internationally known on the basis of a large catalogue of mostly unknown works.   
Composer Jacques Brel recorded his own
songs in French, but his music attracted
singers as diverse as Ray Charles, John Denver,
Frank Sinatra, and the Kingston Trio.

Brel's music has a decidedly pessimistic slant;  judging from the almost 30 songs in this show, he never met a disappointment which he could not put to music.  There are very, very few moments of uplifting optimism in Jacques Brel..., which probably reflected his own view of the world.  According to the program notes, Brel finally gave up on modern life and retired to a tropical island, where he died in 1978 at the age of 49.

MetroStage's promos are fooling
you. Their show displays few smiling

Thanks to fine productions such as this, though, his music will live on, particularly among actors who can tell a story of depth while singing.  MetroStage's cast meets this challenge.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Pirates of Politics

I don't usually include any talk of politics in these pages, largely because I don't feel qualified to discuss such intricacies in depth.  I know what my views are, of course, and I hope I come to them with intelligence.  I know, for example, where my presidential vote will be going, though I admit to being somewhat disappointed in my candidate.  I think, in hindsight (though I felt this four years ago, so it isn't really hindsight), that our country would have been better off had we elected Mrs. Clinton to the top job, and allowed Mr. Obama more time in his senate seat, learning the ins and outs of legislative process (or lack thereof).
We could have used some of the Clinton political savvy in recent years.
Regardless of my listless enthusiasm for him this term, though, the thought of his opponent becoming president scares the crap out of me.

Romney really thinks cutting PBS
funding will reduce the deficit. Math
is not his strong suit.
All the talk this week has been political, due to the first of the presidential debates.  All hands agree it was won by Romney, and that Obama gave a lackluster performance, allowing all sorts of points to go unchallenged.  I'm afraid the bump Romney received from his showy performance is going to last longer than the experts are predicting.

This week's Dance Party is a parody which is several years old, but still fun.  You can tell its age by certain of its references, including one to Sarah Palin, who has dropped out of any circles of influence and become a stale joke herself. 
George Rose stopped the most
recent revival of Penzance with the
song being parodied this week.

The original song is from The Pirates of Penzance, which provided an earlier Dance Party (a real one, and a hoot) here.

Go have a ciggie, Mr. President, and get back in the game.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Theatre Droppings: Chicken And Beef(cake)

I'm back in DC for a week or so, before beginning work on my next project which will keep me in New York well into December.  One of the first items on my District agenda was to pay a visit to the Chicken Ranch, as portrayed in Signature Theatre's country-twanged revival of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
All the poster art for Signature's production features my friend Jamie Eaker, who played one of my wives in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat a few years ago.  She traded her caftan for a teddy.
This particular show has held interest for me for quite a while, ever since I heard the original cast album (which, get this, I have on vinyl!). 
Sherri Edelen as Miss Mona

There is nothing particularly innovative about the music, but something about it stuck with me, and I've been a fan ever since.  The show is not revived very often, as it requires a large chorus of hot hookers and hunky hoofers, and I doubt very many high schools present it as their spring musical. 
The Texas Aggies football team wins a graduation trip to the Chicken Ranch after the big Thanksgiving game.  Nobody in the audience complains that none of them have buttons on their flannel shirts.
I saw the film, of course, which provided one of my precious Dance Party entries, you can go here to see it.  Until now, though, I had never seen a live production of the stage show.

Signature Theatre has taken a little bit of slack for choosing to revive this piece, which had a long life in its original production but is now considered a fairly minor musical. 
An abused country girl arrives at the Whorehouse looking for
work in the show's first scenes. This promising plotline is
abandoned, a flaw in the original script.

The critic from the Washington Post, in particular, was quite dismissive in his assessment, though most other local press was positive, if not overly enthusiastic.  I enjoyed the show myself, though I can see the flaws in the writing I suppose. 
The scenic design was not as evocative as this picture suggests.  This stationary set was a bit overpowering, lending a brooding tint to an otherwise lightly bittersweet musical.
Sig's reasons for the revival, spelled out by director Eric Schaeffer in his program notes, ring absolutely true to me:  the overriding theme of the piece concerns the tendency of self-righteous publicity seekers to attempt to mandate their own versions of morality.  That tendency is much more prevalent today than it was in the 70s, when this musical was written.

Dan Manning hams it up as the Texas
governor, the role which earned
Charles Durning an Oscar nomination.
Regardless of the Post's reaction, I had a very good time at this Whorehouse.  The performances cannot be faulted (an ongoing triumph at Signature Theatre is their casting, which is almost always spot-on), beginning with our star, Sherri Edelen.  Sherri's Miss Mona is full of life, quick with the quip and down to earth to boot.  She shines throughout, and I particularly enjoyed her final ballad, which brought the show to a bittersweet conclusion.  (And her substantial decolletage should have been given its own bow at the curtain call.)
Nova Payton brings down the house with her number, igniting anxious anticipation of her upcoming performance as Effie in Dreamgirls.

Sherri's husband, Tom Simpson, is playing opposite her, as the sheriff who becomes overwhelmed by the public's outrage, and he is giving the standout performance, in my humble opinion. 
Husband and wife Simpson and
Edelen are leading musical players
in DC. Their easy chemistry was
a highlight of the show.

The fact that Tom played Don Quixote to my Sancho Panza several years ago has nothing to do with my admiration for his work here.  Believe me, I never allow my personal affection for my friends to color my opinion regarding their work.  The fact that my friends are always the best things in their shows is pure coincidence.
This high-stepping choreography caused my acquaintance Stephen Gregory Smith to splinter some foot bones. Beware the Texas Two Step!

Likewise, my cohorts from Joe's Coat a few years ago are also standouts in ensemble roles, including Erin Driscoll, Jamie Eaker, and Vinnie Kempsky. 
Erin Driscoll, another of my Joe's Coat
wives. She moves easily between
leading and supporting roles in DC's
musical scene.

Lots of comedy is mined by Chris Bloch and Dan Manning, as the TV reporter who blows the whistle on the Chicken Ranch, and the Governor of Texas, respectively.  Those are both character actors' dream roles, and I'd like a crack at them myself.  Maybe one day...