And the Oscar does NOT go to a Musical

With the musical La La Land being the “winter book favorite” to win Best Picture this year the musical geek in me thought I would spend a few paragraphs on how the genre has fared on Hollywood’s biggest night.

Over the years eight musicals have won Best Picture including the first “talkie” to be so honored, The Broadway Melody in 1928-29. The movie became a template for movie musicals for years to come: often set on Broadway especially “backstage.” The song Singin’ In The Rain was featured, which of course became an MGM standard. It also produced three sequels, one of which, The Broadway Melody of 1938, served as Judy Garland’s breakout performance. It would be twenty two years until another musical took home top honors with An American in Paris in 1951. As long a gap as that is it pales in comparison to the next one. More on that later. There are those who suggest that Going My Way in 1944 should qualify as a musical. It is true that there are several musical numbers included and principal star Bing Crosby was known as a singer, pardon me, crooner. Crosby had starred in several musicals. He and his good friend Bob Hope had already launched the “Road” movies which always included a song (or two) by Bing. No one, certainly not Paramount Studio who released them was calling them Musicals however. Going My Way was a drama with elements of comedy and a few songs to play to Mr. Crosby’s strength. That paid off by the way; Bing won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.

Back to An American in Paris. Featuring songs by George and Ira Gershwin, including George’s An American in Paris, which was used as the basis for a ballet sequence which took up approximately 17 minutes of screen time and was the climax of the film. Starring Gene Kelly (who also choreographed) and “introducing” Leslie Caron. Hollywood legend Vincent Minnelli directed from a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner. Those last three would combine their talents again seven years later for the Best Picture winning Gigi, also a musical.

At this point Oscar was entering it’s fourth decade. Three musicals had been named Best Picture, all from MGM. The last two within seven years of each other. The 1950’s were the end of the so-called “Golden Era” of movie musicals. Gigi at the time was one of the most Oscar honored films ever, taking home a total of nine. Interestingly enough, despite a well respected international cast, none were nominated in the acting categories. Gigi is in some ways My Fair Lady relocated to Paris.  The next two years would see one of the great Biblical epics of all time William Wyler’s remake of Ben-Hur walk away with everything in sight. Followed by the brilliant satire Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. Then came 1961. Hollywood, with RKO and MGM had traditionally created musicals from scratch, using the star power of their contract players such as Astaire, Rogers, Kelly, Garland, and Rooney and producers like Arthur Freed (whose “Freed Unit” at MGM became perhaps the most prolific ever and certainly the most well-known). Warner Brothers released West Side Story in 1961. Hollywood had remade a handful of stage Musicals. Most notably Show Boat (twice) and later on a couple of Rodgers and Hammerstein groundbreakers; Oklahoma and Carousel. To give an example how seldom Broadway musicals were used in Hollywood Rodgers and Hammerstein had already written an Oscar winning song “It Might As Well Be Spring” from State Fair which was an original screen musical. West Side Story was more of a risk than modern observers may realize. The Broadway production was not the huge success that many think it was. Certainly not critically. The Tony for Best Musical that year went to The Music Man. The movie was something else entirely being nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning 10. Rita Moreno won for Best Supporting Actress, the first leg in what eventually became her road to an EGOT. The Oscar for Best Director was shared by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Extremely unusual since the DGA rarely allowed split credits.

The Best Picture of 1964 was My Fair Lady. The first time a movie version of a Tony winning  Best Musical also won Best Picture. A minor controversy arose over casting when Audrey Hepburn, a fine actress but with limited singing abilities was cast as Eliza over original Broadway lead Julie Andrews. Julie famously took home an Oscar of her own from that same ceremony for her lead role in Mary Poppins. The movie was adapted from My Fair Lady which was written by Lerner and Lowe making Alan J. Lerner the only screen writer to have a hand in the creation of three musical Best Picture winners.

1965 saw the first and so far only time that Best Picture has gone to a musical in consecutive years. The Sound of Music was also the second Best Musical Tony winner to have  its movie version win Best Picture. The director was Robert Wise making he and Vincent Minnelli the only people to helm two. And just for good measure The Sound of Music was the tcurrent all-time box office champ. Making it the first film since Gone With the Wind to hold both crowns.

Oliver! the 1968 Best Picture winner was also adapted from a stage production. But this time around not one that originated on Broadway but rather in London’s West End. Super producer David Merrick brought the play to Broadway. The rest of the country got their first glimpse of the show on The Ed Sullivan Show. They can be forgiven if they missed it. It was the same night The Beatles made their American debut. The movie was also the last Best Picture winner to be rated “G.” The irony being that Midnight Cowboy, the 1969 winner was rated “X.”

So the 1960’s produced a total of four musical Best Picture winners, more than the thirty plus years prior. The era of big budget musical extravaganzas was coming to a close despite the five Oscars won by Oliver! in 1968. The death knell was probably sounded the year before by the financial disaster Doctor Dolittle. An attempt to recapture the magic of My Fair Lady, it starred Henry Higgins himself Rex Harrison. The movie included the Academy Award winning Best Song Talk To The Animals but received mixed reviews in general.

1972  brought the most honored musical in over a decade; Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. Joel Grey became one of an elite group who have won an Oscar and a Tony for the same role. Liza Minnelli (yes, daughter of Judy Garland and two time Oscar winner for Best Director of movie musicals Vincent) won for Best Actress. And Fosse famously picked up Best Director over Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather. Fosse was on the hottest of hot streaks that awards season picking up a Tony for Pippin and an Emmy for Liza With a Z, the triple crown.

A new millennium would dawn before Oscar would smile on another musical as Best Picture. Perhaps fittingly it was Bob Fosse’s 1975 stage magnum opus Chicago. A stage musical that in its day had been overwhelmed and overshadowed by the singular sensation known as A Chorus Line. Many considered it unfilmable which partially explains the over quarter century delay. The fact is, despite its many fans Chicago the musical took a long time to become a hit on Broadway. Much of the original cast took part in the first National Tour. An unusual situation.I was lucky enough to see original stars Jerry Orbach and Gwen Verdon when it played  the Shubert Theater in Chicago less than a year after it opened on Broadway. It would take another 20 years before dancer/choreographer Ann Reinking, who had been Fosse’s most famous mistress helped bring Chicago back to Broadway in 1996. It won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical and has been playing ever since. It now holds the record for longest running American Broadway Musical of all time. Three years later Reinking helped bring the revue Fosse to Broadway. It won Best Musical. With Fosse back in vogue the stage (or should I say “screen”) was set to take another look at the now 25 year old property.

Director Rob Marshall made an important decision early on. He chose to film the movie from Roxie’s point of view. He also staged every song like an act on a vaudeville stage. Fans of the original will recall that “A Musical Vaudeville ” was part of the original ad campaign back in 1975. The constant switches between “reality” and Roxie’s hyper-realized POV which interpreted every thing as a vaudeville routine allowed the musical numbers to take on surreal element that worked well within the context of the narrative.

The movie scored acting nominations in three of the four categories, Richard Gere was overlooked, as usual. As a side note, everyone he was in a movie with that year seemed to get a nomination, including his costar from Unfaithful Diane Lane.

Will La La Land become musical number nine to win Best Picture? We’ll have the answer Sunday night.

FLY THE W

Today is November 2, 2016. Yes, the MLB season runs much too long. But that having been said we knew back in April that this would be the end of the road. I want to say this early in the morning, before a pitch is thrown that Cubs Nation, from the Ricketts family on down the line should be proud. No matter tonight’s outcome. As a whole we have never experienced anything like it before. Us, the Cubs are in a World Series. Let that sink in. I’ll be thinking of my dad tonight. Millions of the faithful (when you only do this once every seven decades or so there is lots of time to regenerate) who will no doubt be doing the same. Remembering a loved one who is no longer with us. In my case I want this at least as much for him as for myself. Dad became a Cubs fan around 1930 when he was 15. He worked (apprenticed really) for a local dry cleaners in his hometown of Wynne, Arkansas where he was able to pick up bits and pieces of the games on WGN Radio, which was “clear channel.” He could have just as easily become a Cardinals fan courtesy of KMOX out of St. Louis but he chose the Cubs. It could be argued that the Cubs chose him. 1930 was the year Hack Wilson hit 56 home runs, at the time a National League record. He also drove in 191, still the Major League record. In a 154 game season. Think about that, an average of nearly 1.25 RBI per game. But back to dad. Dad emigrated to Chicago in 1941. He quickly embraced all the sports teams but especially the Cubs. He was actually a resident of Chicago in 1945 but was away courtesy of the United States Military and WWII. Like many fans he knew the history of the team and could name the greats from a bygone era. Because of him, as the 1960’s rolled around and his only child caught the fever for the game and especially the Cubs, I learned about Gabby Hartnett and Charlie Grimm. About Andy Pafko and Dizzy Dean’s brief stay with the team. The Cubs were about midway among the teams bringing Negro players into the majors. They bought the contracts of a couple young infielders, one Gene Baker played second base. He hung around a couple seasons. The second was destined to become the greatest Cubs player of them all: Ernie Banks. By the mid sixties the Wrigley family, possibly frustrated with what by that time was two decades of mediocrity had begun to assemble a young team of home grown talent including two Rookies of the Year: second baseman Ken Hubbs who tragically lost his life in a plane crash. And Billy Williams. Ron Santo came in. A great keystone combination of Don Kessinger, who grew up down the road from my dad’s hometown in Forrest City, AR. And Glenn Beckert who was almost impossible to strike out. 1965 saw Ken Holtzman, who was sometimes compared to Sandy Koufax since both were southpaws and Jewish. Kenny outdueled Sandy one Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. 2-1. 1966 brought Ferguson Arthur Jenkins, Jr. The pride of Chatham, Ontario, Canada as Jack Brickhouse often called him who would run off six straight 20 win seasons accumulating 3000 strikeouts (while allowing less than 300 walks) and come up just shy of 300 wins on his way to the HOF. He is one of the most honored athletes in the history of Canada. Cecil Randolph Hundley joined the fold and taught the baseball world at least a full season before Johnny Bench got credit for it that a catcher could use his mitt hand alone to catch, thereby leaving a hand free for pick off plays and gunning down base stealers. One young talent we let slip away was Louis Clark Brock. Beginning a tradition that would be repeated many times over the ensuing decades: leave the Cubs, win a World Series ring. The trade is often cited as one of the worst, not only in Cubs history but in the history of the game, period. The Cubs certainly got the short end of the deal, parting with a young, fleet footed player for a couple of, as it would turn out, washed up over the hill pitchers who would be gone before the next season ended. Brock of course went on to a HOF career that included over 3000 hits and at the time of his retirement major league record 938 stolen bases. What is often overlooked in this scenario is the choice was between Brock and Billy Williams. One of them was going to have to go because neither could play right field at Wrigley. Being my father’s son I was aware of all this and more. Trust me, dad is calm but happy and prepared for whatever tonight brings, win lose or draw. Being first, last and always  a Chicagoan, for me this is as good as it gets. The Chicago Cubs are still playing in a game that means something. There were many, many days I thought this could never happen. FLY the W! Go Cubs Go!

That Many Candles is a Fire Hazard

In December of 2005 I remember being, if not exactly “pumped,” certainly totally prepared for the coming year, 2006. My once and forever bride, Vera and I along with our brand new two year old Princess, Ta’Kia were settled into the South Florida lifestyle. I was comfortable at a company which was still respected and more importantly solvent. Vera had been working for a couple of months at an upscale day care, doing what she loved, taking care of and spoiling little ones. The most incredible year for tropical storms ever was fitfully coming to a close. That was the year of Katrina and the one those of us in south Florida came to be on  first name basis with, Wilma. If you recall the NWS ran out of names that year and began referring to the new ones by the phonetic alphabet. There was actually a named one on New Year’s Eve.

Anyway, my sense of controlled euphoria was prompted by an event a half century in the making: my fiftieth birthday that coming summer. I know that many people begin to “lighten” the burden as the date approaches. Benjamin Kubelsky, better known as Jack Benny avoided it altogether and declared himself forever 39. Others shave a year here and there. Then there was me, or to quote Jim Croce “the fool the fool that I am and will always be,” was looking forward to the day. Little did I know.

Mother Nature, in her role as teacher, chose to educate this poor, poor, pitiful fool precisely what fifty can feel like. In the spring my back went out via the sciatic nerve.  By 2006 I had over 20 years in at Merrill Lynch.  I seldom, if ever missed a day.  Sixteen of those years I had perfect attendance.  In retrospect, this was not a good sign.

Things were going along nicely again by July.  My fiftieth was a semi big deal to my coworkers since I was the oldest person in my department and they wanted to celebrate it with appropriate pomp and circumstance.  The party was delayed a day as I took the actual day off so that Vera, the Princess and myself could celebrate as a family.

Beginning in early October, things began to fall apart.  I noticed an alarming increase in my i/o (intake/output) of fluids.  I found myself carefully planning my commute to and from work in order to allow for my inability to control my bladder.  The final straw came during a visit to Cici’s Pizza.  Over the course of less than an hour I had to relieve myself four separate times.  It is often stated that guys are stubborn and  tend to go into denial where our health is concerned.  I tend to be much less macho than most  males are, but I am certainly  “male” when it comes to taking care of my health.  Still, as Barbra and Donna sang all those years ago: “Enough is Enough.”  I let Vera know that I need to go to the ER that night and I was admitted.  I wound up spending a total of nine days in the hospital. I worked in a hospital for eight years in various capacities.  Let me tell you, nine days as a patient is pretty much an eternity.  I spent one night approximately three days into my stay in CCU.  That particular night took on a bizarre resonance that it took several days to completely unravel.  Vera, as she had been doing for almost two decades by that time, saved my life.  I had gone to the restroom, still a frequent situation at this point in my hospitalization, and suddenly became faint and disoriented.  I could not stand and was finding it impossible to call out.  Vera apparently became concerned and came into the bathroom.  She “brought me back” at least a couple of times.  Had it not been for her I would not, not for the first time, have made it.  Now, I am not Fox Mulder, but over the course of the next few days my “out of body” experience began to make sense to me.  I honestly recall being urged to “go in to the light” that night.  I learned later that my aunt, the one I grew up around, Mae Thelma Cannon, or Aunt Tammy as I always called her was making her transition at that same moment.  Aunt Tammy was totally dedicated to her older sister, my mother, Jennie, the one person in this world who went out of her way to understand and help her baby sister.  My aunt had contracted scarlet fever around 1931 when she was 13 years old.  It had blinded her and left her deaf also.  Her sight partially returned (though she suffered from cataracts and  glaucoma for the rest of her life.but her hearing never did.  My maternal grandparents had 14 children (she was number 13).  They were ill equipped to deal with the needs of a teenager with medical problems. She came to live with my parents in 1948 as soon as they had an apartment of their own.  As I stated, she was extremely, make that fiercely loyal to my mother. The last thing she promised my mother, prior to mom’s own transition nearly forty years earlier, was that she would always look out for me.  I am certain that some of my life choices left her frustrated to say the least.  The eight years prior to my meeting and marrying Vera were especially challenging.  I have never doubted that Aunt Tammy had chosen to bring me along with her.  Vera of course, even without being aware of the whole scope of the situation, was not having it.

I did not really intend for this to be about the circumstances surrounding my hospital stay.  It is about another subject, perhaps more than one.  I have joked many times over the past ten years about the events of 2006.  I am, and for the most part continue to be, an optimistic person.  Despite, or once again, perhaps because of being a Chicago sports fan, I have never lost my belief that tomorrow will be a better day.  Fifty was the year that was.  Now I stand on the precipice of another milestone birthday: 60.  Vera is only with me in spirit (as has been true for almost six years now).  She continues to be a very real presence in my life.  She will always be my once and forever bride.  The Princess is no longer a toddler and is on the threshold of becoming a teenager (though in many ways, she made that transition a few years back).  My life has settled into a routine of work, home, sleep, repeat.  Because of the nature of my job, there is always a certain amount of excitement in my life.  You cannot be an emergency dispatcher and have much in the way of dull.  I have few complaints.  Things have not always worked out the way I imagined  almost forty years ago as I was embarking on a job, that became a career that I sort of stumbled upon but which I became successful and respected at.  My ability to adapt and learn and think outside the box served me well for almost a quarter of a century.  I’ve always been a person who stayed the course.  I spent eight years at Evanston Hospital concurrent to and subsequent to my first term at Merrill Lynch.  In November, God willing, I will make five years at Jackson Police Department.  Vera, my first, my only wife, were married five days short of 22 years. Since we wed two weeks after we met, I feel justified in stating we were married 22 years.  It’s been a wonderful life.  I have learned that life is many things: a box of chocolates, a bowl of cherries, a Cabaret.  It is filled with Angels and Demons.  Saints and Sinners.  Cubs fans and Cardinal fans.  Bears fans and Cheese Heads (sorry).  It is ever changing, and yet somehow always the same.  I have found that very often the very things that bring us our greatest joy  can be an element of our most profound sorrow or sense of loss (Vera).

Sixty seems as good a time as any to look back and reflect. I like to say that I wouldn’t go back and change anything even if I could.  Naive?  Perhaps.  Long before Back to the Future re-imagined It’s a Wonderful Life for a new generation, I had already made peace with the idea that everything happens for a reason.  Everything that has happened, made the way for the next thing.  Living through some things can be painful.  And the fact is that we are not always around to witness the end result.  When Vera and I were newlyweds, she was not the healthiest person in the world (a situation that persisted to a greater or lesser degree throughout our marriage).  She was honestly troubled about how long she was going to survive.  I always used to tell her that I was certain she would live to be 84 years old.  When she questioned me on this I told her about my deal with the One in Charge.  I had one wish left, it was a toss up between my living to see the Cubs in the World Series (not by the way, WIN a World Series, I’m not QUITE that greedy) or for her and I to make it to our Golden wedding anniversary.  I like to think I had my priorities in order.During our marriage the Cubs made a couple of runs at it.  Most famously, okay, most infamously in 2003.  Does the Cubs never winning a Series in my lifetime (for what it’s worth 2016 is NEXT YEAR, fingers crossed, at long last) bother me?  Of course it does.  Does Vera not being here as a constant presence bother me?  More than I can ever say.  I was always a sentimental person.  The last several years have made me even more so.  I find myself watching television shows or movies and thinking of how Vera would have reacted to them.  My obsession with musical theater has lead me, over my lifetime to discover and embrace many stage productions and movies.  Years before I met Vera I wrote a poem about how my favorite entertainments were musical romantic comedies.  All those years of watching Fred and Ginger, and Mickey and Judy or Gene and many but especially Leslie had worked their magic on me.  I can’t dance worth a lick, and I peaked as a singer sometime between grammar school and college.  So I was not likely to be the star of such a production.  But I could, did, and sometimes to this day do, dream.  My daughter gave me a birthday card which, as always, brought tears to my eyes.  Sometimes it is enough to simply know that you are appreciated and loved.  I admit that the “milestone” birthdays and anniversaries tend to resonate more deeply with me so this one is important to me.  I am ever so grateful to have been blessed with sixty years of life.  I am truly amazed at the changes I and the rest of my generation have been around for.  For example, 47 years ago today, on my 13th birthday my dad and I were watching pre-game warm ups at Wrigley Field when Apollo 11 returned from its historic mission (to complete the baseball connection, the two of us were at the “real” White Sox park five days earlier on July 20 when the Eagle touched down at the Sea of Tranquility.

As Thornton Wilder pointed out in “Our Town” every day is special in its own way.  In the future will this day stand out?  Impossible to say.  I can’t imagine any day for me will ever top September 24, 1988.  Still, every day with Vera was special.  For the moment though, on this milestone birthday, I want to take a moment to tell her once again how much she meant and continues to mean to me.  Vera, I love you; forever plus one.

The Happy Hooker Goes To Hollywood

Some of you know that I am a self-professed theater geek, with an especial love of musicals.  You may not know that I also am fascinated by movies and movie trivia, especially the Oscars.  One of the areas that interests me is the types of pictures and roles that tend to win each year.  Despite what many seem to believe, the big box office winners often lose out or are overlooked altogether come Oscar time.  For every Godfather there is a Chariots of Fire.  Something that seems to happen often is rewarding certain types of roles when the winners are announced.  For example the voters appear to like to give the nod to playing against type (Cloris Leachman, Mo’Nique, Kevin Kline, Lee Marvin, James Cagney to name a few).  Robert Downey Jr.’s famous line from Tropic Thunder is pretty accurate (“You never go full retard.”). Tom Hanks and Cliff Robertson both won, Sean Penn lost.  For the ladies playing, as Archie Bunker once said “a woman of ill-refute” seems to excite the Academy members.  Since the first ceremony honoring the movies of 1927/28 there have been 88 presentations.  The Oscar for supporting actors and actresses was established for the 1936 awards so there have been 169 “competitive” Oscars presented to the ladies (Katherine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied in 1968).  Out of that total 14 (in fact 4 0f the first 5 leading actress awards are on my list) have gone for roles in which the character was, ahem, of “questionable morals.” That works out to around 8%.  Morality, like beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder.  I’m not judging anyone here.  I just find it interesting.  For what it is worth, there is a tendency for actresses who are often thought of as being among the most beautiful people in the world to win, or a least be nominated, when they play characters that are, how should I put this?  Less than gorgeous.  Nicole Kidman is a fine actress who had been nominated previously, she won her Oscar (as Denzel Washington so wryly put it when he opened the envelope at the ceremony that night “by a nose”) when she played a dowdy looking character.  Charlize Theron performed a double (arguably triple) threat for her turn in Monster: fallen woman, serial killer and physically, well a monster. Whether or not some of these roles qualify is opinion of course.  I stand by it.  Another interesting note is that the men hardly ever get nominated for this type of role.  I think Jon Voight is the only male prostitute role to ever get a nod.  Double standard?  You be the judge.  Below is my listing.

Janet Gaynor7th Heaven {“Diane”}; Street Angel {“Angela”}; and Sunrise {“The Wife”} The Oscars for 1927/28 (#1) were awarded for a body of work rather than a single film.  Street Angel would be the role that fits my thesis here.
Mary PickfordCoquette {“Norma Besant”}
Norma ShearerThe Divorcee {“Jerry”}
Bette DavisDangerous {“Joyce Heath”}
 

Elizabeth TaylorButterfield 8 {“Gloria Wandrous”}

Jane FondaKlute {“Bree Daniel”}
Jodie FosterThe Accused {“Sarah Tobias”}
Halle BerryMonster’s Ball {“Leticia Musgrove”}

Charlize TheronMonster {“Aileen Wuornos”}

Donna ReedFrom Here to Eternity {“Lorene/Alma”}
Shirley JonesElmer Gantry {“Lulu Bains”}
Mira SorvinoMighty Aphrodite {“Linda”}
Kim BasingerL.A. Confidential {“Lynn Bracken”}

Now That’s What I Call Broadway

No friends, I actually Don’t know every song that has ever been heard in a Broadway musical (though that’s not from lack of trying).  The recent announcement that the “Now That’s What I Call Music” series is adding a Broadway album inspired me to come up with a list of my own. A grateful nod to a good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless so he can unpack and stay around 😋) is also in order. The set list (sorry, the Princess and I have been watching Glee on VOD) while excellent, is also strongly geared toward musicals of a certain relatively recent vintage.  All of the shows featured opened subsequent to my high school graduation, with calendar year 1975 being the earliest, and interestingly enough, most represented with three shows. A note on the “age” of the songs. Two of the songs on the CD are from so-called Juke Box musicals; musicals that are created out of existing popular material.  Because of this Sherry from Jersey Boys and Will You Love Me Tomorrow from Beautiful, The Carole King Musical are actually from the 1960’s.

If I had a vote, these songs would be included (in no particular order):

Old Man River from ShowBoat

People Will Say We’re in Love from Oklahoma.

Tonight from West Side Story

Brotherhood of Man from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Carefully Taught from South Pacific

Summertime from Porgy and Bess

Luck Be a Lady from Guys and Dolls

Someone To Watch Over Me from Oh, Kay!

Dulcinea from Man of La Mancha

The Sweetest Sounds from No Strings

Our Time from Merrilly We Roll Along

Fascinating Rhythm from Lady Be Good

Being Alive from Company

Hello Dolly! from Hello Dolly!

If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof

Aquarius from Hair!

I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady

Till There Was You from The Music Man

My New Philosophy from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (1999 revival)

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute from Barnum

I’m Just Wild About Harry from Shuffle Along

Give My Regards to Broadway from Little Johnny Jones

Once in Love With Amy from Where’s Charlie

Once Upon a Time from All American

Put On a Happy Face from Bye Bye Birdie

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey

Love for Sale from The New Yorkers

Good Old Days from Damn Yankees

Meeskite from Cabaret

If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot

Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll from Memphis

There’s No Business Like Show Business from Annie Get Your Gun

That’s a total of thirty-two.  I left out scores of favorites.  I did try to touch on as many decades as I could and included songwriters who have inspired my love of musicals both from the legitimate theater and in motion pictures.

A couple of favorites (one old, one new) that did not make the cut because they are from shows that did not have a Broadway run:Try to Remember from the longest running musical in theater history  The Fantastiks and a recent gem The Next Ten Minutes from The Last Five Years.

I encourage you to check out some of these songs.  Most are available on YouTube or Vimeo.  The songs run the gamut from tender love ballads to uptempo numbers. From cynical to patriotic. From introspective to irreverent.  Trust me, I have only scratched the surface.

2015, That Was The Year That Was

 

It has been a surpassing strange year. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times doesn’t begin to cover it.  As happens in every 365 day cycle anything and everything happens. Moments both profound and mundane. The players change and sometimes the results are the same. Not unusually, my hometown of Chicago has been prominent in the national ( and global) conversation. The City that Works (as Dick Daley, who practically owned the town for the better part of three decades used to call it), in many ways has been a showcase for the craziness that has been 2015.  Brutal police shootings along with what can be most charitably referred to as an inadequate response from the mayor’s office have overshadowed the positive vibes that the Black Hawks brought to town in the spring. Which almost miraculously was practically forgotten thanks to the incredible run of Joe Maddon and the youngsters of Wrigley. The timing couldn’t have been better between the Back to the Future II connection and what would happen as the year progressed.

Much of what went on was painful to witness: multiple shootings seemingly Every weekend. The aforementioned highly questionable and controversial police involvement. A mayoral election that could probably use a “do over” what with subsequent revelations. Spike Lee bringing his 40 Acres and a Mule road show to town. The initial reaction was hardly a surprise, even before the movie came out. Arguably Spike, who is certainly no bodies fool, expected this.

The fact is that the big events get the press. In this era of sound bites and no time taken for in depth (or in most cases any) analysis it seems the loudest voice is the one that gets heard. Fact checking may be a growth industry but in the end it still depends on who you are rooting, excuse me, voting for. Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the loudest voice also appears to be the angriest. Forty years ago Paddy Chayefsky wrote the brilliant Network. The character of Howard Beale became a cultural icon. Most movie goers thought it was a wonderful satire. Paddy knew better, even at the time. He stated once on the subject: “…I still write realistic stuff, it’s the world that has turned into a satire.” As we stare across midnight at 2016 and, among other things another bit of sound and fury otherwise known as the U.S. Presidential election keep Paddy’s words in mind.

What kind of a year was it? A year like all years, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times. And heaven help us all, we were there. Happy New Year.

 

 

Life and Life and All that Jazz

October 27, 2015 is the anniversary of my first blog entry on WordPress (or anywhere else for that matter).  I learned the definition of the word “blog” from an episode of my once and forever bride Vera’s favorite television show: NCIS.  So I was seriously behind the curve.  This posting will make a baker’s dozen, so I have actually averaged one per month as I enter year 2 of this undertaking.  If you read my first posting you know that for me it is all about spontaiety and eclecticism.  I hope that you have found some things of interest.  I’ll always write about things that I find fascinating and that I think could be fascinating to others. Or which will cast me in the role my father pretty much marked me for: teacher.  For over forty years I have scribbled bits and pieces of flotsam and jetsam and gone back later to flesh them out.  Whether it is an hour later or a year.  What all of these electronic devices have added to the process is the ability to make the scribbling neater and more easily available. Below is an example of something I wrote and saved about a year ago and put to the side, not quite sure it was ready to publish.  I came back tonight and looked at it again.  I realized, as I sometimes did “back in the day” that it didn’t need any additional tweaking.  So, to celebrate one year of being “officially” in the public eye, here are my musings on the circumstances of who and what I am and came to be.
 I was certainly no accident, celestial or otherwise. When you try for 14 years and then finally become with child (ah the 1950’s) at the age of 38, for the first (and what would prove to be the only) time, it is not an accident. A life changing event perhaps, and possibly not the best idea for my mother’s physical and medical health, but without a doubt, not an accident. I have stated before that I feel truly blessed to have been born. I did not know then (none of us do) just how big a deal, and how unusual an event it was. These days it is pretty common place. But 58 years ago? A woman of my mother’s age who had yet to conceive was pretty much looked on the same as Elizabeth; the Virgin Mary’s cousin. i. e. barren.  I’m certainly not John the Baptist (these days I’m not even Vernon the Baptist since I am a convert to Catholocism). I am just glad that my parents decided that I was a blessing and not a probable, if not curse, at least unneeded burden. Even back then there were ways of terminating a pregnancy. The fact that they did not choose that path to me speaks volumes about their faith, quiet and understated–at least in dad’s case–though it may have been. That faith, powerful in its own right, was passed along to their only child.  I’m sure that those of you have read my posts know that I quote my father frequently on matters both profound and prosaic.  I have a good friend from my (our) high school days who I have reconnected with in recent months after a 40 year lag.  The time in between has truly felt as if we were traveling in the Enterprise, or given my belief in The Force, perhaps I should say the Millennium Falcon.  The time feels as if it never happened, our conversations still feel like we are waiting for the bell to ring for our next class. He has likened my own brand of belief as “spiritual, not dogmatic.”  And I completely agree with his assessment.  I have strong personal opinions.  I will share some of them here as time goes by.  But I am motivated not by an unfailing belief that I am right, so much as a desire to promote the possibility that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  I believe that God did not make us sheep for a reason.  She wanted us to think for ourselves (yes, I did say “She” and yes that is an example of thinking for myself).

Life Upon the Wicked Stage (is often quite different from the movie)

Over the years scores of plays have gone the route from stage to screen.  Being a self-confessed musical geek the musicals are of especial interest to me.  Of the nine musicals that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture five have followed this route: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Oliver! and Chicago.  Gigi went from screen to stage and An American in Paris became a stage musical for the second time earlier this year.  My Fair Lady is the only one of the first group to be named both Best Picture and also win a Tony for Best Musical (though Chicago was later awarded a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical). As a general rule there are always re-writes and changes made as these productions transition.  In recent years a popular change (sometimes an addition of sorts) is to include a “new” song in the movie score.  The reason for this is that the original songs included in the stage production are not eligible for “Best Song,”  In movie production company’s quest to nab Oscar nominations this has become standard practice.  Evita played it well and actually won Best Original Song for Webber and Rice (You Must Love Me).  Another change that involves music is several of the original production’s songs being removed altogether, or rearranged as to their order (West Side Story rearranged several of the songs and assigned a few to different characters.  “America” is sung by the Puerto Rican ladies in the stage production but is sung by the ladies and the men in the movie.  The difference causes the song to become perhaps even more comic and certainly more bitter).  Chicago’s director Rob Marshall should be given a great deal of credit for coming up with a concept that allowed what many had considered an project that could not be presented on film.  Ironic considering that the original Broadway director was Bob Fosse who had turned Cabaret into a multiple Oscar winning movie and famously won the Oscar for Best Director over Francis Ford Coppalla’s work on The Godfather.  Marshall came up with the idea of filming Chicago from the point of view of Roxie Hart.  Basically this meant that the movie was all about what Roxie was witnessing and she became the audience’s “eyes.”  It also meant that the duet between Velma Kelly and Matron Mama Morton “Nowadays,”  had to be excised as the scene takes place outside of Roxie’s presence.  Technically it should have also meant that “Mr. Cellophane” should have been removed also.  Thank goodness he left it in.  It is my favorite song from the show and gave John C. Reilly a showcase that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Part of the reason that My Fair Lady is the only one to win both “Best” awards may be that quite simply it is the one that stands virtually unchanged from stage to screen.  It is in many ways a filmed stage play.  The sets are pretty intimate with only a few instances where the action is “opened up” to try to take advantage of the more extensive area that a film set can offer.  My Fair Lady, for all of it’s accolades also gathered some criticism over casting.  Audrey Hepburn was certainly not the first non-singing actress (or actor for that matter) to star in a movie musical.  Deborah Kerr was dubbed (by perhaps the best “ghost” of all time, Marni Nixon) for the role  of Anna in The King and I (and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress).  Ms Hepburn was also dubbed by Ms. Nixon.  Marni did quite well for herself as far as Oscar winning movies in the early 1960’s as she also dubbed Natalie Wood in West Side Story and had a small part in The Sound of Music, for once not dubbing for someone else.  The irony here is that she appeared opposite Julie Andrews.  Julie was part of the casting controversary for My Fair Lady.  Julie had created the role of Eliza Doolittle (garnering a Tony Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical along the way).  When Hollywood brought the multiple award winning stage musical to the screen they decided, as they often do, to use an established movie star.  Rex Harrison reprised his role as Professor Higgins but even though he was a known movie presence, he was not at the time a person who could, as we say these days, “open a movie.”  Hepburn already had an Oscar to her name and in fact was an excellent choice, except that she did not have the musical chops for the role.  Once again, this was a situation that  Hollywood began dealing with the second that “talkies” became all the rage (a large part of the plot of the quinintesential Hollywood musical, Singin’ in the Rain deals with the many pitfalls of popular stars who had voices that did not fit their image, not just singing voices but all around).  In the ultimate payback (though in fact Julie Andrews from all accounts is too much of a lady and simply too gracious a person to have thought of Hepburn as “the enemy), not only did Hepburn not receive an Oscar nomination but Julie was nominated for her title role in Mary Poppins and went on to win.  A star was born.  To further extend the “more bankable star” irony, the next year Julie starred as Maria von Trapp in the screen adaptation of The Sound of Music, a role that was created on Broadway by Mary Martin.  Mary is one of the most honored stage actresses ever.  She was also 22 years older than Andrews at the time.  Their ages probably were not the main consideration however since the stage musical had been presented barely 6 years previously.  To paraphrase Woody Allen in Radio Days “there are a lot of great stories about musicals and I have collected hundreds over the years.”

For Vera: Still Crazy (In Love) After All These Years

But first a word, not from our sponsor, but rather from your humble servant.  Funny what you encounter when you decide to clean out closets (not to say I have been in one … never mind).  I wrote this for Valentine’s Day 2012 after a co-worker mentioned that she didn’t like romantic gestures, on February 14 or any other time  Vera and I pretty much lived for them..  So:

Whatever happened to romance?

Whatever happened to love?

When did we stop chasing rainbows?

And wishing on stars up above?

Why are we frightened by moments so tender

That we wish we could hold for all time?

What is so scary about one heart’s surrender

To another that makes everything rhyme?

I seem to remember,

A long ago September,

A moment that defined love so true.

An instant so excellent,

It could only be heaven sent,

That moment I first gazed upon you.

You were all that I’d hoped for

A balm for a heart sore

From misuse and years filled with pain.

You touched on my heartstring

And showed me it could still sing,

And that now I could come in from the rain.

February 14, 2012.  Forever plus one is just the beginning.