Monday, November 9, 2009

Baby, Dream Your Dream

What do speakers, songwriters, sports figures, and scientists all have in common? Whether through their words or deeds, they inspire others to lead better lives, pursue their goals and, against all odds, continue to hope.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. So did Mama Rose. Visionaries like Alan Turing and Steve Jobs brought have brought about huge changes in our culture through their advances in computer technology. Today's stem cell research teams are opening up new frontiers in medicine.

Many an anthem has been written inspiring people to achieve greatness. From the reassuring tone of You'll Never Walk Alone in 1945's Carousel (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) to the clarion call of Everything's Coming Up Roses in 1959's Gypsy (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) -- from the twittering charm of A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes from Walt Disney's 1950 version of Cinderella (written by Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston) to the blatant sarcasm of "Baby, Dream Your Dream" in 1966's Sweet Charity (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields) -- from the rambunctious "I Ain't Down, Yet" in 1960's The Unsinkable Molly Brown (music and lyrics by Meredith Willson) to the wistfulness of I Dreamed A Dream in 1980's Les Miserables (music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Alain Boublil), audiences have been uplifted, characters have been transformed, and resolve has been strengthened night by night.

In the following clip, Patricia Neway (who created the role of Magda Sorel in Gian-Carlo Menotti's 1950 opera, The Consul) and the original Broadway cast of 1959's The Sound of Music sing Climb Ev'ry Mountain supported by the operatic strength of Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestration.

Watch carefully how Brian Stokes Mitchell caresses the idealism contained in The Impossible Dream (The Quest) from Man of La Mancha (music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion) in this first clip.

Now, watch how Mitchell hilariously deconstructs the song for college students, showing how it captures not only the highest of highs but makes the singer feel like he must slog through the lowest of lows in order to reach the number's climax.

People who are terrified of change often cling to the status quo, paralyzed by the fear of what might happen if someone rocks their boat. Others seek out challenges that will stretch them by using their natural skills, testing their physical strength, and daring their mental acuity to break new ground.

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Composers are an odd lot, people who take great delight in challenging their skills.
Cy Coleman preferred the challenge of never repeating himself. A child prodigy who had given piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall by the age of nine, he was performing in jazz clubs with the Cy Coleman Trio before he turned 20. Eager to test his skills in various forms, he wrote the score for 1978's On The 20th Century as a mock-operetta and, years later, composed a smoky jazz score for City of Angels. His work on shows like Sweet Charity and The Life showed a remarkable ear for contemporary sounds and pop music.

Coleman's popular hits ranged from Wildcat's "Hey, Look Me Over" to Sweet Charity's Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now; from Little Me's "Real Live Girl" to Barnum's "The Colors of My Life" and Seesaw's "Nobody Does It Like Me." He won Tony awards for best score for City of Angels (1990) and The Will Rogers Follies (1991) as well as two Grammy awards for The Will Rogers Follies (one for his musical score, and one for producing the original cast album). Here's Cheyenne Jackson performing the seductive "I've Got Your Number" from 1962's Little Me.

Broadway By The Bay recently staged a tribute to Coleman entitled Broadway Up Close and Personal, starring Judith Blazer, Jason Graae, Donna McKechnie, and Sharon Wilkins. Narrated by Michael Kerker (Director of Musical Theatre for ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) along with singer/songwriter David Zippel, the evening suffered from overly zealous amplification that caused Christopher Marlowe's piano accompaniment to nearly drown out the performers.

At the time of his death, Coleman had been working with David Zippel and Wendy Wasserstein on a new show entitled "Pamela's First Musical." Zippel's droll rendition of "The Critic's Song" as well as Sharon Wilkins' rendition of "The Oldest Profession" from 1990's The Life were among the evening's highlights. One of Coleman's songs from Seesaw (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields) can be heard in the following video of Barbara Cook singing "It's Not Where You Start" accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Note the jazz riff in the song's midsection.

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Even though "It's Not Where You Start" may never have become a hit song in Taiwan, the song's message was undoubtedly on the minds of three brave Chinese athletes who entered the 2008 Polar Challenge (a race covering 320 nautical miles from the Resolute training base in Nunavut, Canada to the 1996 position of the Magnetic North Pole that has been held every year since 2004 and televised to 168 million homes in 107 countries).

As part of its Taiwan Film Days mini festival, the San Francisco Film Society recently screened Yang Li-chou's beautiful documentary, Beyond The Arctic. The three men who represented Taiwan as the Team Gamania Foundation in the 2008 Polar Challenge are:
  • Albert Liu, the CEO of Gamania (an online games company).
  • Jason Chen, a 22 year old student.
  • Kevin Lin, a famous marathon runner who works part time as a barista in Taipei while training. Now retired from professional sports, in 2003 he came in third in China's Gobi March. In 2004 he won Chile's Atacama Crossing and, in 2006, he took third place in the Antarctica race. Along with American Charlie Engle and Canadian Ray Zahab, he spent 111 days crossing the Sahara Desert on foot during the 6,900 kilometer run from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to the Red Sea.
The film follows the three men as they travel from Resolute Bay to the magnetic north pole in 21 days. Along the way they eat a steady diet of noodles with hot dogs, battle hypothermia, sing silly songs, suffer from frostbite, and have a late night encounter with a polar bear that rips a hole in the side of their tent.

Temperatures range from -5 degrees to -85 degrees Fahrenheit (which means that a man's sweat can freeze in his pants, defecating is done as quickly as possible, and contestants sometimes hallucinate or suffer from snow blindness). Unlike early Arctic explorers, contestants are equipped with GPS devices, portable stoves, and the latest in camping gear. Luckily, the Polar Challenge's support team includes medical and safety teams who are able to cope with emergencies.

Much of the appeal of Beyond the Arctic lies in the sheer beauty of its frozen wasteland, the good humor of the three men representing Taiwan, and the remarkable determination, stamina, and endurance of everyone involved in the race. This is a film you'll be happy to watch from the warmth and safety of a cozy chair. Here's the trailer:

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While numerous plays and movies have been written in which a male character has to dress up in women's clothes either to find the truth or escape detection, we see women dressing as men in far fewer narratives.
  • In Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, Leonora must disguise herself as a man in order to enter the prison where Don Pizarro is holding her husband, Florestan, captive.
  • In Shakespeare's comedy, Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario.
  • In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, both Portia and her maid, Nerissa, disguise themselves as men.
  • In the movie Yentl, Barbra Streisand's character decides to dress as a man in order to receive an education in Jewish Talmudic law.
  • In Victor Victoria, Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a young singer who, in order to gain employment, pretends to be a man (Count Victor Grazinski) who is pretending to be a female impersonator.
With the recent premiere of My Heart Goes Hooray! (Dil Bole Hadippa!) at the Toronto International Film Festival, a new character has joined the roster of cinematic drag kings. Veera (Rani Mukherjee) is a young nautanki performer who dances with the show's star (Rakhi Sawant). In her heart of hearts, however, Veera (who is a huge fan of Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar) desperately wants to play on a cricket team for India.

Rohan (Shahid Kapoor) is a much adored and Anglicized cricket captain who lives in England with his mother, Yamini. His parents are long separated and Yamini (Poonam Dhillon) refuses to communicate with Rohan's father, Vicky (Anupam Kher). For eight years, Vicky and his boyhood friend, Liyaqat "Lucky" Ali Khan (Dalip Tahil) have managed rival cricket teams that compete for the Aman Cup in games that are played at the border between India and Pakistan.

After faking a heart attack, Vicky has managed to lure Rohan back to India (where he convinces his son to help him win the Aman Cup). Unfortunately, on the drive home from the airport, Vicky's car breaks down and they end up getting a lift from Veera and her uncle. As Rohan rides in the back of the truck with a water buffalo and an obnoxious young Punjabi girl who tells him is quite "jokey," he develops an instant dislike for Veera.

Faced with a team that has lost the competition for eight years in a row, Rohan decides to hold auditions. When Veera proudly shows up with her cricket paddle, she is laughed off by the guard. But upon returning to her village and learning that the show's male lead has taken sick, she is forced to slap on a fake moustache and perform before an adoring audience.

Seeing herself in the mirror after the show gives Veera a brilliant idea. Disguised as a male sikh (wearing a fake moustache and beard), Veera shows up for cricket auditions as Veer. Because her cricket skills are so much stronger than most male players (and because Vicky notices that she doesn't want to play for her own sake, but for the sake of her village and the sport), she gets added to Rohan's team.

The rest of this Bollywood "message" musical becomes quite predictable as Rohan and Veera start to fall in love. As seen in the Castro Theatre during the Seventh Annual 3rd I San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, the film is a definite crowd pleaser -- and not just because of lines like "I've fallen in love with you, Buffalo Girl!"

As directed by Anurag Singh with a pulsing original score by Pritam Chakraborty, Dil Bole Hadippa! is a visual and comic delight. Not only does the audience enjoy the constant plot challenges faced by Veer/Veera -- and the hunky beefcake filling the giant screen with adoring shots of Shahid Kapoor and his rival team's captain -- this may be the first time I've seen a musical production number that included a ferris wheel!

Judging from the harsh comments by outraged cricket purists on IMDb, the less you know about the sport of cricket (or, for that matter, who's who in the Bollywood industry), the more likely you will be to enjoy this delightful film. Here's the trailer:

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