Interesting news for some of us, anyways. (I started the Kulcha! tag because using Unpopular Culture seemed a little too easy.) Frank Rich, in NYMag:
… While it was far from the case when I first met him, Sondheim at 83 is an institution and a cottage industry. He’s received every prize an artist can in America, often multiple times. His shows are in constant revival. In November alone, he was lionized by the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, and City Center at home, even as a West End production of his 1981 Broadway failure, Merrily We Roll Along, beat out The Book of Mormon for Best Musical in London’s Evening Standard awards. At this point, so much has been written about his career that it’s hard to find much new to say about it. Besides, Sondheim often says it better than anyone else. The most transparent of artists when it comes to explicating his craft, he has given countless interviews detailing his methods and motives, meta and micro, song by song and show by show. (Much of it is codified in the essays tucked into the two juicy volumes of collected lyrics he published at the start of this decade.) But the man himself, the guy behind the work, can be harder to pin down. This is a challenge that the playwright and director James Lapine, Sondheim’s friend and longtime collaborator, and I tried to address in Six by Sondheim, our documentary debuting December 9 on HBO. I’ll let the film speak for itself, not least because almost all the speaking is done by its subject, whose on-camera interviews over 50-plus years shape a narrative built around a half-dozen of his songs…
Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, what’s on the agenda today?
We were in Chicago for a conference a few years back when we wandered into Millennium Park on Michigan Ave one evening. There was a free concert in the Pavilion and it just happened to be a huge Sondheim tribute:
The only problem for me was that, besides Forum, I really don’t like musicals at all but I thought I’d share.
Ah, the great Zero Mostel. I’ve always been puzzled by the story behind that song. Supposedly the show was a complete flop in tryouts in DC, partly because audiences weren’t set up to expect a comedy. So they brought Jerome Robbins in as a fixer and he had them add this number up front telling the audience “It’s comedy OK?” Beating the point to death.
And then it was a hit. My question: how could you not know within 30 seconds that it’s comedy?
@raven: I love musicals but don’t much like Sondheim. My Sondheim concert story is that I went to a concert of all-Sondheim music here in Philly, not because of the composer but because the performer was Mandy Patinkin.
@Randy P: Yea, I mean it was a beautiful summer evening, it was free and we had nothing else to do so I wasn’t complaining but I would have preferred Sly in Grant Park!
@Randy P: Could be the ancient-Roman setting made people lock onto “Shakespearean tragedy.”
And in Seattle, we’re still celebrating the ‘Hawks dismantling the Saints, and securing a playoff birth. Having a powerful and feared team, in any sport, is something of a new experience.
And the Washington Huskies football coach is decamping to USC, which is being met with a sort of collective.. “huh”.
The topic of musical theater came up at the hockey games this weekend and someone (it may have been JMN in fact) mentioned that “Forum” was the only musical they liked. It made me stop and think because I like that show a lot but couldn’t think of another one I really would be excited to see. It must be the Musical for people who don’t like them!
I like Paint Your Wagon, but inspite of the music and Man of Lamancha (the movie stinks – avoid at all costs) for the story but only “Dream” for the music. I guess I discovered this weekend that I don’t like musicals either.
As for people being surprised Forum was a comedy?!? My guess is they made several other adjustments & that song (which I find annoying) got credit for all those other things they did.
@Schlemizel: Years ago a friend said I just had to see Miss Saigon, “it is so emotional, such an incredible view of the war in Vietnam”. I went. Sheeeeet.
Miss Saigon never interested me & that promo would not have induced me to change my mind!
I love to concept of “Wicked” and it has been in Minneapolis several times but I have never felt like dropping $120 for the 2 of us to sit in the farthest reaches of the last balcony on the off chance it might be as good as people rave. I picked the book up but dropped it about 3 chapters in as far as I could tell it is an unreadable mess.
I love storys from the ‘other side’. If I had the ability I’d write a story about a young kid who grows up on a farming planet with 2 suns who dreams of getting away and having an adventure. His older brother joins the space army to escape but is killed when a rebels, lead by a group of religious fanatics, blows up the military installation he is assigned to. The kid joins up to avenge his brothers death. In case anyone can’t see where this is going – the kid ends up working for Darth Vader.
@Schlemizel: When your musical is on Broadway will it be called The Wookiees? I want . to see Kinky Boots but it’s a tad expensive.
The only Broadway musical that I’ve seen was Godspell. Yes, I’m that old.
I love The Wizard of Oz (must have been the early inoculation) and the Karloff Grinch, and can enjoy Willy Wonka and have thrown toast at Rocky Horror Picture Show.
And that’s about my tolerance.
I think it’s my early television experience, back when vaudeville was still hanging in there. If anything interesting was happening on the little, black and white, screen, it would be stopped dead for someone to sing and dance. And that’s not what I had come for.
And the medleys. Dear heavens, the friggin’ medleys.
The new mutt continues to surprise me. Yesterday I cleaned out the guest bathroom and found paw prints all over the tub. Company last week hadn’t turned off the faucet all the way so there was a slow drip and he must have stepped in water. Maybe he just wanted clean paws. I sent a story to Anne about Mr. Finch in case she needs a Sunday morning filler and included this video. About fifteen seconds in, he is marking his territory. When he has a full bladder he normally walks on his front paws about ten feet. youtube I have an ancient cell phone without video, so haven’t been able to record it.
You mean there are people out there who actually like Company? I will admit that Sondheim has done some worthwhile stuff (e.g. Forum and Sweeney Todd), but damn, he’s done a lot of crap, and Company is the perfect example.
@low-tech cyclist: haha.. I’ve forgotten that I had seen that one because I did doze off.
A little Zero Mostel in the morning… a good way to start the day. Thank you AL. I do like most musicals. I saw Nathan Lane in the Zero Mostel role from Forum. It was the spring theatre benefit and there were tickets unsold, so they were sold to staff at the wholesale/benefit price. My seat was on the left side but in the orchestra. Not a really great seat but okay for what I paid. And I saw Nathan Lane, one of the few actors who can take over a role from Mostel.
I’ve been watching “Tired Old Queen at the Movies” and love Steve Hayes’ reviews. He stars in Forum in the CRT production.
I saw Sondheim receive an award at the McDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH this past summer.
I never really followed the musicals or those who created them, but it was pretty impressive hearing his body of work laid out and also to see how gracious he was in his comments.
If anyone is in NH during the summer I recommend attending Medal Day at the McDowell Colony.
I met Stephen Sondheim when he was honored at the William Inge Festival in 1998 (or so). This is a small festival in a small town and it was a huge honor to have him there. The turnout was so big and star-studded (Frank Rich and Bernadette Peters showed up) that we had to move the tribute from the college theatre to the town’s civic auditorium. He was generous, funny, and he would sit in the lobby of the Apple Tree Inn into the wee hours and trade stories with us.
“Forum” is a great show, but “Company” gets me right where I live.
I got to meet Sondheim once and he signed my Scrabble album (which contains the most evocative, touching version of Anyone Can Whistle, sung by the man himself – I have yet to listen to it without crying). I’m a fan, even of his flops. Company suffers a bit from being so firmly trapped in its era, but there’s a lot of good in the show, too. I was pretty young, 11 or so, when I heard Sweeney Todd, and that might always be my favorite. But Sunday in the Park with Georges is sublimely beautiful, I think maybe his best work as a composer, and the sex positive A Little Night Music is delightful, I saw the wonderful revival of Follies a couple of years ago and fell in love with that show all over again (and I’m a mezzo and “Losing My Mind” has long been a staple song for me).
Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, what’s on the agenda today?
@Anya: It’s an old theatre joke. Mary Todd Lincoln was sitting next to President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre when he was assassinated. So it goes, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
Obamacare to cost billions of dollars LESS than expected:
With the website apparently chugging along and people signing up at healthcare.gov, plus state-run websites doing really well, it seems the Republicans have lost their final battle. Their entire raison d’etre over the past 4 years has been Obamacare. Now they’ve got nuthin’.
They’ve still got BENGHAZI!!!! They’ll always have Benghazi.
Inevitable response: “SEE? OBAMA CUT $137 BILLION FROM MEDICARE!”
(The only question is whether a Tea Partier or a True Progressive will say it first.)
@Southern Beale: well, don’t tell Ezra Klein, he’s now gone all the way round the bend. His latest headline takes hyperbole to new heights. Olympian heights of stupid.
After Obamacare, will Americans ever trust the government again?
He wouldn’t even make a plausible troll on the this blog anymore. We’d all just laugh and say, oh DougJ give us a break.
you shoulda known better than to trust him.
Christie Denies Allegations He Backpedaled On NJ DREAM Act
Catherine Thompson – December 3, 2013, 6:47 AM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Monday denied accusations that he backpedaled his support for a bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
“I said the legislature should move in the lame duck session towards tuition equality in New Jersey. Period,” he said at a news conference, as quoted by ABC News. “That’s what I said. I didn’t support any particular piece of legislation. And I still support tuition equality.”
Christie’s remarks responded to an editorial published Sunday in the Newark Star-Ledger. The editorial accused the governor of supporting the legislation, known as the New Jersey DREAM Act, while he sought the Latino vote for his reelection bid — then dropping that position after he was elected to a second term as governor.
“The real reason for his flip-flop? Christie has his eyes on the presidency,” the editorial read. “And if he has to roll over Latinos to get there, he’ll do it.”
Christie said in a radio interview last week that he opposes the bill because it allows undocumented residents of other states to qualify for in-state tuition if they attend a New Jersey private school for at least three years, according to ABC News.
Since this is a musical open thread, I have a question for any pianists in the house: are there any non-fiction books that directly relate to pianists or similar that are must-read? I bought this one for my daughter’s beloved piano teacher last summer, but am looking for an xmas gift for him: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Benjamin-Britten-Music-Neil-Powell/dp/0091931231/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386082460&sr=1-3&keywords=benjamin+britten+biography
My music story, not related to Sondheim: a few days ago I went to a piano “concert” in our little village hall, there were probably about 40 people there, all funds to go toward a new piano for the hall, and all performers local. It was one of those gatherings that makes me so glad to be back in Scotland living the small village life. It was amazing to see how talented some of the people that I regularly see are. I see them selling jam at a fundraiser, or picking up their children from school, and then I see them playing Debussy, or their own composition, and am amazed. Or the very old couple who played a violin & cello duet, and I am pretty sure their hearing is gone because I used to play cello, and it’s not supposed to sound like that… but that they did it! I just couldn’t perform in front of people in any way. So many lights hidden under bushels, revealed in a little village hall with a maximum capacity of 70 or thereabouts…
Specifically on piano-related books, here are two recommendations:
A Pianist’s A-Z: A Piano Lover’s Reader
A series of short essays on topics mostly musical by Alfred Brendel, one of the world’s greatest pianists who retired from concertizing several years ago. Utterly delightful!
Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible
Written by the Guardian’s editor-in-chief and serious amateur pianist Alan Rusbridger, the book chronicles his year-long efforts to master one of the most demanding pieces in the piano repertoire, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor.
And while not focused exclusively on the piano, the most interesting book on music I’ve read this year is Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie. It examines how changes in aesthetic taste and technological innovations have affected interpretations of Bach compositions for piano, organ, and chamber ensemble. Best appreciated by someone with a serious interest in classical music.
And kudos for the selection of the Britten biography in his centennial year.
It seems my lament yesterday about the lack of flying cars may have been misplaced.
Well, to answer the FORUM question. The way a show starts sets a tone. FORUM was opening with a charming, lilting song called “Love is in the Air” — it’s very pretty (and witty). Feels like the start of a light romantic comedy.
A half hour later Zero Mostel was gathering vials of horse piss.
So, yeah, changing the opening number to a loud, fun, in-your-face song made all the difference.
I constructing a musical the “opening number” is a crucial part of the decision-making.
Another side note: Jerry Robbins’ staging for Comedy Tonight is lost. It was never recorded and reconstructions have had to rely on memories. Apparently it was brilliant but we’ll never see exactly what he did.
(I was just rereading parts of Sondheim’s biography by Meryl Secrest (anagram of “secrets”) and just happened to have read the FORUM chapter two nights ago)
I sometimes volunteer for SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival). They needed volunteers for a special screening of “Six by Sondheim,” so I signed up and got to watch the documentary on a big screen :)
The documentary is very good, particularly if you like Sondheim, which I do. It’s put together in an interesting and unusual fashion; almost, you might say, like one of his musicals.
Cris (without an H)
Hey, Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and A Half book won “Best Humor Book” in the Goodreads 2013 Choice Awards!
(Also, my brother’s biography of Jim Henson won in the History & Biography category. Yay Brian!)
@CaseyL: Any chance of them showing the Watterson documentary? If I ever wanted to see one in a theatre it’s that one.
@Cris (without an H): Just remind him of us little peeps every now and again. :)
Seeing Gwen Verdon in “Damn Yankees” made my youthful parts tingle.
Your friend might enjoy—and might be likely not to have already read—T.E. Carhart’s book The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. It’s an amiable, discursive memoir of piano love. New York Times review here.
Thanks handsmile & steeplejack — I’ll read up on all of those books. They all sounds interesting, and I’m an extremely amateur pianist.
@raven wrote: I really don’t like musicals at all but I thought I’d share.
I went to the previews of Merrily We Roll Along when I first moved to NYC in 1981. It WAS a stinker. Hal Prince was also involved IIRC. It was actively bad.
I didn’t “get” what the song “Comedy Tonight” was about until I finally saw the film version and was like, Oh, it’s so people don’t expect a Greek (or Roman) tragedy — they’ll do tragedy tomorrow, but comedy tonight. It’s one of those songs that became a standard but really only makes sense in context.
“…lionized by the New York Public Library…” I saw what they did there!
Leslie Caron made me tingle also, too.