Thursday, August 12, 2010

Living High on the Hog

In 1931, Ethel Merman recorded a new song written by Ray Henderson with lyrics by Buddy G. DeSylva and Lew Brown. The lyrics to "Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries" read as follows:
"People are queer, they're always crowing,
Scrambling and rushing about;
Why don't they stop someday,
Address themselves this way?

Why are we here? Where are we going?
It's time that we found out.
We're not here to stay.
We're on a short holiday.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don't take it serious,
Life's so mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can't take your dough
When you go, go, go.
So keep repeating it's the berries,
The strongest oak must fall.
The sweet things in life,
To you were just loaned.
So how can you lose
What you've never owned?
Life is just a bowl of cherries.
So live and laugh at it all!"
If a person is lucky, he gets to enjoy moments when it feels like he's sitting on top of the world. No matter how short lived those moments may be, they are cause for celebration. Down at New Conservatory Theatre Center, soprano Leanne Borghesi and pianist G. Scott Lacy are doing celebrating life in grand style in their delightful revue entitled Divalicious.

For those who do not know, Borghesi has the kind of big sound that made singers like Ethel Merman famous. Whether singing at Martuni's, draping herself on top of a grand piano, or spreading holiday cheer as her alter ego, Anita Cocktail, the woman can belt.

Borghesi knows how to deliver torch songs like Jim Wise's "That Mr. Man of Mine" (Dames At Sea), Kander and Ebb's "Maybe This Time" (Cabaret), as well as"Don't Rain On My Parade" (Funny Girl) and "Some People" (Gypsy) -- two great songs by Jule Styne. In addition to the Merm, Borghesi's tribute to the great belters of Broadway and Hollywood (Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, Patti Lupone, and Bernadette Peters), includes Rosemary Clooney's big hit from 1954 "Mambo Italiano" (music and lyrics by Bob Merrill).

Leanne Borghesi
Borghesi has lots of fun with such upbeat numbers as "Stuff Like That There" (recorded by Betty Hutton in December of 1944 and made popular again by Bette Midler in 1991's For The Boys) and "The Trolley Song" (Meet Me In St. Louis). Yet she can carefully caress a lyric with wistfulness, tender longing, and care -- as she does with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "As If We Never Said Goodbye" (Sunset Boulevard), Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone (Into The Woods), and Maury Yeston's "Unusual Way" (Nine). Much of this is due to the fact that she has an extremely healthy voice and has worked closely with Lacy, whose intelligent arrangements support the singer, but never compete with her. The two merrily join forces for "You're The Top" (Anything Goes)

G. Scott Lacy and Leanne Borghesi
Because this dynamic duo has such a keen interest in the Broadway songbook, I'd like to suggest several songs for future consideration that would fit Borghesi's voice like a glove:  Listed by songwriters, they include:

Those who saw Borghesi's performance as Mona in New Conservatory Theatre Center's production of Dames at Sea know that she has both the vocal and comedic chops to handle a wide range of songs. Divalicious continues at New Conservatory Theatre Center through August 22nd (you can order tickets here).

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One of the most wonderful surprises during the 15th Anniversary San Francisco Silent Film Festival was a screening of Mario Camerini's 1929 film, Rotaie (Rails), which starts off on an extremely bleak note. A destitute young couple check into a hotel, intent on committing suicide. They have no money, no future and, to make matters worse, the poison that Giorgio has dropped into a glass of water for his girlfriend (Kathe von Nagy) becomes useless after the vibrations from a passing train cause the glass to fall off the table and shatter on the floor.

Without any money to even pay for their hotel room, the two sneak out and start wandering around late-night Rome. Upon arriving at the train station, they push their way through the crowds. At one point, Giorgio notices that a man who has just boarded the train has dropped his wallet on the platform. Upon examining its contents, he realizes that money is no longer an issue.

Kathe von Nagy and Mauricio D'ancora in Rotaie
Giorgio buys two tickets for the next train leaving the station and the couple eventually debarks near a beautiful casino overlooking the Mediterranean. While there, Giorgio has incredible luck gambling. His girlfriend buys new clothes, they start to live the high life, and it often seems as if they are living the dream life. Their dream ends abruptly two weeks later, when Giorgio's luck runs out and the compulsive gambler loses every cent he had.

Of course, there has to be a villain and, in Rotaie, he takes the form of the slick gambler, Jacques Mercier (Daniele Crespi), who is eager to seduce Giorgio's girlfriend. Everything that could possibly go wrong does. The couple finally scrape together enough money for two railroad tickets back to Rome and leave the glamorous life of gambling far behind them.

Several years later, Giorgio is seen leaving a factory at the end of the day. He is greeted by his wife and child. The couple is happy to be leading the simple life once again. It seems as if they have completely forgotten their wild ride with found money.

Camerini's film is beautifully shot, especially the moments involving trains and the large casino. An interesting piece of trivia is that the actor who portrayed Giorgio (Mauricio D'ancora) subsequently became president of the Gucci Group.

Some have compared Rotaie to F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent film, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, for the way in which it contrasts the decadence of urban life and industrialization with the simpler pleasures to be found in smaller towns. What mattered most to me was that Camerini did such a spectacular job of framing and telling a story of desperation, adventure, betrayal, forgiveness and, ultimately, true love.  Rotaie was accompanied by Stephen Horne, who performed with his usual sense of musical acuity.

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What happens when a person has no money left, has fallen from grace, and is struggling to keep up appearances?  He might become like the character played by Kevin Kline in The Extra Man. Henry Harrison never had much luck as a playwright. Instead, he has managed to keep visible by being a society "walker," and filling in at dinner parties when they need an extra man to accompany a single woman. His clientele includes rich old biddies like Vivian (Marian Seldes), who want to be flattered and made to feel attractive even as they have one foot already in the grave.

When Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a teacher at a ritzy Princeton prep school, is discovered in drag, he quickly loses his job. Upon his arrival in New York, he answers Harrison's ad for a roommate, and finds himself dealing with a genuine eccentric. Harrison has all kinds of strange rules, does not believe women should be educated, and exercises in the most bizarre ways. Their jealous neighbor, Gershon (John C. Reilly), is a bear of a man who speaks in a high-pitched voice.

John C. Reilly as Gershon in The Extra Man
Meanwhile, Ives has found a job at a small environmental magazine where his coworker, Mary (Katie Holmes) is very green-oriented vegan. As Harrison mentors Ives on the important things in life (how to sneak into an opera at intermission, how to urinate in public), Ives secretly keeps exploring a secret interest in cross dressing.

Harrison treats his mooching off high society as a professional calling, and his easily threatened by a female rival, Lagerfeld (Celia Weston), who hopes to cash in on the same all-expenses paid winter vacation in Palm Beach that Henry is aiming for. If the story occasionally loses steam, what matters most is the chance to see veteran actors like Kline, Reilly, Weston, and Seldes at the top of their game. That Paul Dano manages to hold his own among such old pros is a testament to his strength as an actor. Here's the trailer:

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