Friday, November 26, 2010

I Heart ASSASSINS

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Second, I don't mean I literally love assassins -- that would be messed-up.  I mean I love the musical ASSASSINS.  It's the latest recording I've been listening to non-stop, and I wanted to share.  And, it's the holiday season, and I'm in Little Rock Arkansas with not much else going on so…

Here's the skinny:  ASSASSINS is a lesser known musical with music and lyrics by my hero, Stephen Sondheim, that takes a look at some of the more notable individuals who have attempted to take, or have taken, the life of a US President.  Debuting off-Broadway in 1990, it received a Broadway production in 2004.  I was first introduced to this gem via a staging at New Line Theatre a few years ago, and promptly bought the original cast recording.


2004 Broadway production
This black comedy of a show pokes holes in, or shoots bullets through, one of the great American myths: Anyone can grow up to be President.  Well, that's not really true is it?  For those who have found the American Dream out of their reach, perhaps a .38 Smith & Wesson is easier to come by.  This show doesn't glorify these successful and unsuccessful assassins, nor does it ask you to sympathize with them, but it does attempt to show you where they're coming from.  While they're considered enemies of society, they're also undeniably products of it as well.

The song I can't seem to get enough of is called "How I Saved Roosevelt".  It takes a look at the attempted assassination of F.D.R. by an American immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara.  It's couched within a comical point of view of the witnesses who were present when the assassination attempt took place.

2008 New Line Theatre production 
A little historical stuff:  Zangara suffered severe pain in his stomach that was later attributed to adhesions of the gall bladder.  This condition affected him physically and mentally.  He became convinced his pain was due to a supernatural influence from the then President, Herbert Hoover.  I know, right?!  Check out the Zangara link in the paragraph above this one -- it's messed up.  Anyway, when he got it in his head to assassinate him, it was wintertime and Hoover was in Washington DC -- not the best climate for a stomach condition.  So instead, he decided to try to kill President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he came to Miami and in Zangara's mind, relieve his stomach pain in the end.

I love how Sondheim uses John Philip Sousa's "El Capitan" (and a little "Washington Post March") to musically establish this "Presidential" tone.  Love.  You'll recognize 'em.  I also love how he gives us a subtle taste of a little Italian flavor in the section where Giuseppe Zangara is pleading his case -- Zangara being Italian.  GENIUS!  I can't help it, I love this stuff...

I've included the lyrics to this one too, cause they can be hard to catch -- plus I want Sondheim's lyrical brilliance to be evident.  :)

The beginning starts with the radio announcement of the happenings from the beginning to around 37 seconds.

Then we go into the eyewitness accounts.  Hilarious.

At 1:29 we hear from Zangara.  At around 1min. 59 seconds is when there's an infusion of that little Italian flair I was talking about.

After that the back and forth with the witnesses and Zangara continues.

Enjoy!!



[RADIO ANNOUNCER]
That was President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, 
ladies and gentlemen, speaking to a crowd 
of supporters here in Miami's beautiful Bayfront Park. 
A group of notables are pressing in around 
the President-elect's car. 
There's Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago, and-

There's been a shot!  I can't see-wait! 
Mr. Roosevelt is waving!  He's all right! 
But Mayor Cermak has been hit! 
The police have somebody in custody.  An immigrant. 
Giuseppe Zangara. 
We take you now to a group of eyewitnesses 
who will tell us what they saw!

[BYSTANDER #1]
We're crowded up close,
And I see this guy,
He's squeezing by, 
I catch his eye, 
I say to him, "Where do you 
Think you are trying to go, boy?
Whoa, boy!"
I say, "Listen, you runt,
You're not pulling that stunt,
No gentleman pushes his way to the front."
I say, "Move to the back!", which he does
with a grunt-
Which is how I saved Roosevelt!

[BYSTANDER #2]
Then-
Well, I'm in my seat, 
I get up to clap, 
I feel this tap, 
I turn-this sap, 
He says he can't see,
I say, "Find a lap 
And go sit on it!"
Which is how I saved-

[BYSTANDER #3]
Then-
He started to swear
And he climbed on a chair,
He was aiming a gun-I was standing right there-
So I pushed it as hard as I could in the air,
Which is how I saved Roosevelt!

[ALL THREE]
Lucky I was there-

[BYSTANDER #1]
That's why he was standing back so far-!

[BYSTANDER #3]
That's why when he aimed, He missed the car-!

[ALL THREE]
Just lucky I was there,
Or we'd have been left
Bereft of F.D.R.!

[ZANGARA]
You think that I scare?
No scare.
You think that I care?
No care.
I look at the world-
No good. No fair. Nowhere.

When I am boy, 
No school.
I work in a ditch, 
No chance.
The smart and the rich
Ride by, 
Don't give no glance.

Ever since then, because of them,
I have the sickness in the stomach, 
Which is the way I make my idea
To go out and kill Roosevelt.

First I was figure I kill Hoover,
I get even for the Stomach. 
Only Hoover up in Washington.
Is wintertime in Washington, 
Too cold for the stomach in Washington-
I go down to Miami Kill Roosevelt.

No laugh!
No funny!
Men with the money,
they control everything.

Roosevelt, Hoover-
No make no difference.

You think I care who I kill?
I no care who I kill, 
Long as it's King!

[BYSTANDER #4 (MAN)]
The crowd's breaking up
And I hear these shots,
And I mean lots-

[BYSTANDER #5 (HIS WIFE)]
I thought I'd plotz-

[MAN]
I spotted hi-

[WIFE]
My stomach was tied in knots-

[MAN]
So I barrelled-

[WIFE]
Harold-!
No, happened was this:
He was blowing a kiss-

[MAN]
She means Roosevelt-

[WIFE]
I was saying to Harold, "This weather is bliss!"

[MAN]
When you think that we might have missed seeing
Him miss-!

[BOTH]
Lucky we were there!

[WIFE]
It was a historical event-!

[MAN]
Worth every penny that we spent!

[BYSTANDERS]
Just lucky we were there!

[BYSTANDER #1]
To think, if I let him get up closer-!

[BYSTANDER #3]
I saw right away he was insane_
Oh, this is my husband, we're from Maine-

[BYSTANDER #2]
He told me to sit, but I said, "No, Sir!"

[BYSTANDER #4]
This makes our vacation a real success!

[BYSTANDER #5]
Are you with the press?

[PHOTOGRAPHER]
Yes.

[BYSTANDER #5]
Oh God, I'm a mess...

[BYSTANDER #1]
Some left wing foreigner, that's my guess-

[ZANGARA]
No left!
You think I am left?
No left, no right,
No anything!
Only American!

Zangara have nothing, 
No luck, no girl,
Zangara no smart, no school,
But Zangara no foreign tool,
Zangara American!
American nothing!

And why there no photographers?
For Zangara no photographers!
Only capitalists get photographers!

No
[BYSTANDERS]
Right!
Lucky
No fair
I was there!
Nowhere!
So what?
I'm on the front page-
Is that bizarre?
No sorry!
And all of those pictures,
Like a star!
And soon no 
Just lucky I was there!
Zangara!
We might have been left
Who care?
Bereft of F.
Pull switch! 
No care, 
D.
No more,
No- 
R.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SOUTH PACIFIC • The Fox

Well, now I can mark a classic off the list -- I've seen SOUTH PACIFIC in person.  I posted an entry about this show when the revival was aired on a PBS "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast here.  Since this will be a second viewing, I guess I'll just hit the highlights, shall I?

As the "About" section on this blog suggests, thanks to my wonderful parents, classical music is really my first love, so the fact that this show is traveling with a big-ass 26 piece orchestra -- yay!  There really is some absolutely beautiful music in this show, and a gorgeous overture.  I wet my pants a little.  Sadly, some seated around me still don't realize that the overture is part of the show, which annoys me.  I may have to post a whole separate entry about that soon…

From what I've read, this show (that debuted in 1949) did its part in addressing some major social issues for its time.  Set in the South Pacific during WWI, we have a Navy Nurse, Nellie Forbush, and an Officer, Lt. Cable, who find themselves falling for people of a different race.  I did notice this time around how all of the black "seabees" were always huddled together, away from the white officers.

Carmen Cusack (Ensign Nellie Forbush).
Photo by Peter Coombs
Anyway, I couldn't help but be a little more critical this time around.  It seems like there was a rush to squeeze all this music into the second act.  I mean, "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" followed by "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy"?  Well, whatever -- women can be kinda fickle.  But that's okay.  Near the end of the second act is the moment I was looking forward to the most -- again, I blogged about it in my PBS post.  I don't care how many people don't care for the "Honey Bun" reprise.  I thought it was haunting, and I got chills.

“There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” – Photo by Peter Coombs
The performances were top-notch.  I think the last time I saw Carmen Cusack (Nellie Forbush), she was green and engulfed in smoke on a cherry picker singing about defying gravity.  But she won me over (again) with that southern accent as a Little Rock hick (my home town) who is forced to face her passed down prejudices.  She was great, as was David Pittsinger as Emile de Becque, the plantation owner she falls in love with.  I thought he read a little old in the publicity photo, but he plays younger in person, and has an absolutely dreamy voice.  I thought Anderson Davis as Lt. Cable was much more likeable than his counter-part in the PBS broadcast, and he's kinda hot to boot.  The entire ensemble was strong, and the "theatre canon" numbers that this show yields, including "Bali Ha'i", "I'm gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair", "Some Enchanted Evening", "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and "Happy Talk" were fantastic.

David Pittsinger (Emile de Becque).
Photo by Joan Marcus
If you have the time, check it out.  Like I've said before in my previous post, I thought I would be kinda bored with this show, but with so many classic Broadway tunes coming your way, I couldn't help but be grateful that I was seeing this production with such a fine cast, staging and direction.  

Go see some Rodgers and Hammerstein!


SOUTH PACIFIC

Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, adapted from "Tales of the South Pacific" by James A. Michener 
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Richard Rodgers
Directed by Bartlett Sher
through November 21 | tickets: $28 - $70
Performances Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday November 14 at 7:30pm, Thursday November 18 at 1pm

Cast:
David Pittsinger (Emile de Becque), Carmen Cusack (Nellie Forbush), Anderson Davis (Lt. Cable), Timothy Gulan (Luther Billis), Jodi Kimura (Bloody Mary), Chad Jennings (Capt. Brackett), Peter Rini (Cmdr. Harbison), Sumie Maeda (Liat), Rusty Ross (Professor), Genson Blimline (Stewpot), Christina Carrera (Ngana) and CJ Palma (Jerome).

Creative:
Musical staging by Christopher Gattelli; sets by Michael Yeargan (winner of the 2008 Tony Award®); costumes by Catherine Zuber (winner of the 2008 Tony Award®); lighting by Donald Holder (winner of the 2008 Tony Award®); sound by Scott Lehrer (winner of the 2008 Tony Award®); music direction by Ted Sperling.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

OLD ROCK HOUSE PREVIEW: Stew from PASSING STRANGE

It's not every day you get to see a Tony winner in a really intimate venue, but this Thursday, Stew from PASSING STRANGE will be at the Old Rock House.  Stew authored the show’s book and lyrics, composed (with Heidi Rodewald) its music, and was the lead guitarist and musical narrator too.

PASSING STRANGE, a rock ’n’ roll musical about an artist in search of himself made a big splash in 2008.  There really wasn't anything like it on Broadway at the time, and its high-spirited, passionate presentation was lauded by the critics for daring to be different -- doing its share to redefine what musical theatre is.

Drawn from Stew's experiences, this show follows a character called Youth, as he makes tracks out of his middle-class Los Angeles surroundings, and heads to the hash cafes of Amsterdam and the artists' community in Berlin.  Along this coming-of-age journey, Stew interjects insightful, wry commentary as he looks at himself as he once was.

Additional info. about Stew can be found here.

Check it out this Thursday, and enjoy this clip from their Tony Award performance!

Monday, November 8, 2010

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT • Muddy Waters Theatre

Eugene O'Neill's plays are no joke.  They tend to drift toward tragedy, where life guarantees struggle, and people born into this world are doomed.  LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, a semi autobiographical drama, is considered to be his masterpiece, and it's currently receiving a striking production from Muddy Waters Theatre.

The play takes a look at a day in the life of the Tyrone family at their Connecticut summer home, starting at around 8:30 on an August morning in 1912.  First there's James Tyrone (Robert Ashton), the patriarch of the family.  At one time he showed promise as a Shakespearean actor, but he chose to join a more lucrative touring production that travelled from city to city doing one-night stands.  Now he's a third-rate actor, and an alcoholic miser.  He has two sons, also alcoholics.  Jamie (Joshua Thomas), followed in his father's footsteps pursuing a career in theatre, but in the eyes of his dad he's little more than a "Broadway loafer", content to sponge off of the family for his drinking and whoring around.  The youngest, Edmund (Aaron Baker, representing Eugene O'Neill), is the sensitive one -- a poet with a fondness for Nietzsche, Ibsen and Baudelaire.  He also has a horrible cough -- a likely sign of consumption in those days.  Last but not least, there's the matriarch, Mary (Kari Ely).  She has recently been released from a sanatorium, put there for the treatment of her morphine addiction of many years.  After she's released, her decline doesn't take long as Edmund's cough persists, and her need to escape returns.
Robert Ashton (James Tyrone) and 
Kari Ely (Mary Tyrone). Photo credit: John Lamb
The increasing tension created as the family waits to hear definitive news about Edmund's health heightens the dysfunction of the Tyrone clan.  The brothers, along with their father, to try conceal Edmund's probable prognosis from Mary as best they can, fearing this might send her beyond hope of kicking her addiction, but as the liquor lines around dad's bottles of whiskey sink lower and lower through the day, the men's jabs at each other become increasingly malicious, and Mary visibly sinks deeper into her returning dope habits.  Her trips upstairs "for a nap" are met with suspicious looks, and her time spent with the rest of the family go back and forth between ramblings of her lost youth and leveled, bitter accusations.
Joshua Thomas (Jamie), and
Robert Ashton (James Tyrone).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This is a beautiful production admirably directed by Cameron Ulrich, and I have never seen so many stunned faces on the way out of the theatre.  But stunned in a good way.  The performances were rock solid across the board, including Jennifer Theby as the "summer help", Cathleen.  She's a welcome safety valve and pretty funny -- Irish brogue and all.  The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, and each make the most of them.  Joshua Thomas as Jamie really makes an impression in the last act as his love/hate relationship with his brother is revealed.  Aaron Baker as Edmund comes across as pensive, with his fair share to shoulder, trying to find normalcy within the walls of his messed-up family's dilapidated summer home.  Robert Ashton epitomizes the familiar "dad vs. his sons" generational conflicts, but shows a deep sense of an almost constant underlying dread along with some residual bravado from his matinee-idol days.  Kari Ely as Mary Tyrone was remarkable.  She seems grounded just enough in the beginning, that watching her gradual decline and resulting dope-induced detachment by the end is absolutely gripping.
The set is simple -- a handful of furniture and a few stacks of books, but in the second act, there are partial panels of a scrim-like curtain drawn in front of parts of the Kranzberg's thrust stage.  By the final act, around midnight that night in the play, this scrim completely surrounds the stage, obscuring the players in a haze as the fog lays thick outside along the seaside.  Lovely conception.  The costumes clearly inform the characters, and the lights were low and provocative.  The creative contributions, along with additional music between the intermissions by Ryan Spearman, all contribute to the overall mood of the play.
Aaron Baker (Edmund)
and Kari Ely (Mary Tyrone).
Photo credit: John Lamb
I'd never seen this play before, but I can't imagine it any differently than the way it was presented.  Now, it is long, clocking in around three and a half hours with two 10 minute intermissions, but please don't let that stop you from checking it out.  This glimpse into this complex family is well worth it.  It's a classic!  And one of the most captivating pieces of drama I've seen in awhile.

Go see it.


LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Cameron Ulrich
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through November 21 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Kari Ely* (Mary), Robert Ashton (James), Aaron Baker (Edmund), Joshua Thomas (Jamie) and Jennifer Theby (Cathleen).
*Members Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Costume design by Theresa Loeb; scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by John Ryan; original music by Ryan Spearman; stage manager, Maria I. Straub.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MARRY ME A LITTLE • Citilites Theatre

Stephen Sondheim isn't one to shirk away from addressing complicated emotions.  In fact, he usually looks them dead in the face with an insightful honesty, tempered with humor and wit.  So many of his songs examine that human tendency toward connection, and the fact that there aren't always happy endings.

These themes run throughout Citilites' production of MARRY ME A LITTLE, directed by Seth Ward Pyatt.  This one-act musical revue uses a collection of Sondheim's “trunk songs”.  Some were cut from shows like FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, COMPANY and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  Others were written for shows that never caught on.

So, we've got these two lonely New York singles -- a Man (Scott Tripp) who's moving out of an apartment and a Woman (Laura Ernst ) who's moving in.  All of the action takes place within the space of one small apartment, and although the staging has these two sharing the same space, they never actually meet.  They do occasionally kind of play off of each other during their duets, but remain unaware of the other one.  As they obliviously cross each other's paths, one packing and the other unpacking, looking at old pictures and ripping up others, they spend their Saturday night musing about their shared loneliness and longing.  A neat setting in which to place these songs that at the core deal with modern romance and missed opportunities.  

Laura Ernst (Woman) and Scott Tripp (Man).
Photo credit: Michael C. Daft
With no dialogue, the characters are revealed primarily through the lyrics.  Tricky.  A lot of the songs like, "Can That Boy Foxtrot" or "Uptown, Downtown" (with energetic performances by Ernst and Tripp) have enough individual context to stand on their own, but when 17 of them are strung together, there's not always a lot of cohesion -- except for that distinctive Sondheim sound.  If you're a die-hard fan though, this probably won't matter much.

The music itself is also tricky.  Sondheim really doesn't do a ton of "hummable" tunes.  Beautiful? Yes.  But also unpredictable, complex and well… tricky.  Ernst seemed a little more comfortable navigating her songs than Tripp did, who seemed a little timid.  I enjoyed them best in their quieter moments which were played honestly and subtly.

The stage at the Gaslight is on the smaller side, and though the set by Nick Moramarco and GP Hunsaker was a detailed realization of a NYC apartment, there was a lot of stuff up there, and with the actors having to maneuver through it all, at times it seemed a little crowded. 

This is a challenging piece to pull off, and even though it doesn't seem to have completely gelled quite yet (I saw it on the second night), it's a show worth checking out.  The overall production puts you in the perfect spot for an evening of Sondheim exploring his favorite emotional terrain.


MARRY ME A LITTLE

Lyrics/music by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René
Directed by Seth Ward Pyatt
Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through November 21 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Laura Ernst (Woman) and Scott Tripp (Man).

Creative:
Scenic design by Nick Moramarco and GP Hunsaker; lighting design by Steven J. Miller; choreography by Cindy Duggan; accompanist, Nick Moramarco; stage manager, Katie Donnelly.

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