Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Dance Party: Neither Pastoral Nor Lyrical

Charles earned a Tony nod as Harry in the ground-
breaking musical Company. His karate-chopping
partner Barbara Barrie was also nominated. They
both lost their awards.
This week's Dance Party is another two-fer, but this guy deserves it, I think.  He's been a character actor on stage and screen since the 60s, and is one of those gents who was semi-famous for a while.  He turned 78 today, so Happy Birthday, Charles Kimbrough!
Charles met his wife while doing Company. As Amy, Beth Howland introduced the famous "Getting Married Today."

It's astonishing that two of my favorite musicals have never graced these pages, but we're about to change all that.  By coincidence or not, Kimbrough features in each.
Kimbrough continues to work. A year or so ago, he appeared in the Broadway revival of Harvey, starring The Big Bang's Jim Parsons.
After several years as a company member at Milwaukee Rep, our hero moved to New York.  He snagged both a Tony nomination for his performance in Sondheim's Company, and a Chef Boyardee commercial.  He was to continue his association with Sondheim a decade later, when he appeared as Jules in the original cast of one of the Pulitzer Prize Committee's favorite musicals, Sunday in the Park with George.
As everybody knows, or ought to, Sunday in the Park with George concerns the creation of this masterpiece by Georges Seurat.  I'm sure the Act One finale, one of the most thrilling in all of musical theatre, will grace the Dance Party one day.  For today, another painting by Seurat anchors a clip below.
"Bathers at Asnières" was Seurat's first major work,
and it affords us our introduction to Kimbrough's
character, Jules.
In Sunday in the Park, Charles plays Jules, an artist who acts as the confidant, mentor, critic, and ultimate competitor to Georges Seurat. This little clip introduces Kimbrough and Dana Ivey, as his catty wife Yvonne. The song is not well-remembered in the overall score of the show, as it's less than two minutes, and is a blend of atonal notes and short, staccato phrasing. In fact, it reflects the manner of the two characters singing it, as most Sondheim songs do. The staging foreshadows the brilliant finale to Act One, when all the characters we have met are finally put together to form  Seurat's masterpiece, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte".
But first we meet Jules and Yvonne, viewing Georges's first work:

Kimbrough gained some fame during the decade he spent as a regular player in the sitcom Murphy Brown.

Murphy Brown's Jim Dial was
a throwback to the great
generation of newsmen like
Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley.
Charles had some success in Hollywood, where he landed the role for which he is best remembered, stodgy anchorman Jim Dial in TV's Murphy Brown.  He proved an able straight man for star Candace Bergen, and received an Emmy nomination in 1990 for the role.
Kimbrough had lots of success in the voiceover field, where his best known work appears in my favorite animated musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I have no doubt other clips from that movie will show up here soon enough. The film was based, obviously, on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. In the Disney version, the hunchback gets three sidekicks, whom the writers hilariously named Victor, Hugo, ...and Laverne.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favorite of the animated musicals produced during what is commonly known as the Disney Renaissance. Beginning with The Little Mermaid, Disney spent the 1990s reigniting the animated musical feature genre.  Hunchback is the darkest of the series of films, which may be why it is my favorite.  
The vocal cast included Tom Hulce,
Kevin Kline, Demi Moore, David
Ogden-Stiers, Paul Kandel, and
Tony Jay.
The following clip is one of the comedic songs from the score (there aren't many of those), and features Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes as well as our birthday boy.  They all play gargoyles in the cathedral at Notre Dame, who come to life in the imagination of the tortured title character. When this musical makes its way to Broadway (it's already on track), this number will be the comic centerpiece of Act Two.  The villain has set fire to Paris, and the Hunchback frets about the missing gypsy Esmeralda.  His buddies the gargoyles attempt to cheer him up with this ditty, charmingly realized through some animated slapstick.  Happy Birthday, Charles, and thanks for your lifetime of work!