Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Another Year, Another Opening, Another Show

On May 16, 1965, a new musical by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley opened at the Shubert Theatre. With a cast headed by Newley and Cyril Ritchard, the show's biggest hit was a solo for its star entitled "Who Can I Turn To?" However, in the second act of The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd, baritone Gilbert Price introduced "Feeling Good," which went on to be performed by a wide variety of pop artists ranging from Nina Simone to Jay Z, from Bobby Darin to Brian Stokes Mitchell.

In the stage musical, this song was sung by Price as "The Negro" (who manages to win a game of class warfare by going behind "Sir's" back). The following two clips allow listeners to compare Price's heartfelt rendition of the song with Michael Bublé's cynical musical video.

As we embark on a new year, we celebrate a time for hope, change, and renewed optimism. One could start the year off with Tim Wu's fascinating article entitled Netflix's War on Mass Culture (Binge-viewing was just the beginning -- Netflix has a plan to rewire our entire culture). I prefer, however, to concentrate on a different development in the world of network television: NBC's recent broadcast of a live performance of The Sound of Music. Although many criticized Carrie Underwood's acting, this adventure in live television opened a door to a bright new future for Broadway musical classics.

While some people have already suggested a made-for-television version of 1966's Mame with Cher in the title role (wouldn't Bebe Neuwirth make a great Vera Charles!), I'd love to see a production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown starring Reba McEntire and Seth MacFarlane. One cannot, however, understate the cultural importance of digitally preserving some of America's great musicals.

    There are numerous benefits to taking the approach NBC did with The Sound of Music.
    • The ability to attract major stars who would not want to be tied down to a one-year or two-year contract requiring eight performances a week.
    • The ability to hold several weeks of rehearsals which lead up to the taping a live performance (after which the cast can be released).
    • The ability to bypass sustained marketing campaigns to boost ticket sales.
    • Potential repeat broadcasts (which can draw advertisers).
    • The potential for DVD sales to build a new revenue stream.
    There are plenty of musicals I'd like to see broadcast live using this format. An obvious choice would be Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler as Dolly Levi, Harvey Fierstein as Horace Vandergelder, Lea Michelle as Irene Molloy, Kristin Chenowith as Minnie Fay, Justin Timberlake as Cornelius Hackl, and Daniel Radcliffe as Barnaby Tucker.

    But what about some musicals which were extremely popular with audiences but are either too expensive to earn a return on investment in a commercial run or have simply fallen from the public's awareness? A quick list of potential candidates would include:

    * * * * * * * * *
    Many people mistakenly assume that, after the holiday season, most theatre companies would want to take a breather. However, in some cities, January marks much more than the start of another year. It's a time when smaller companies can capture the media spotlight. It's a time when audiences who were exhausted by the traditional holiday offerings can look for a challenging change of pace.

    Several upcoming Bay area productions demand attention.  First up at bat is the Bay area premiere of Stephen Sondheim's last musical (Road Show), which will be presented by Theatre Rhinoceros at the Eureka Theatre. In the following clip, Claybourne Elder (who was in the New York production at the Public Theatre) describes his experience in the production and sings "The Best Thing That Ever Happened."

    * * * * * * * * *
    The following weekend, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival stages its annual winter event at the Castro Theatre. The Little Tramp at 100 is a full day dedicated to celebrating the centennial of Charlie Chaplin's first screen appearance in 1914's Making a Living. The afternoon commences with a program of three shorts (1916's The Vagabond, 1917's The Cure and Easy Street).

    Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush

    Full length screenings of 1921's The Kid and 1925's The Gold Rush (for which Chaplin also wrote the musical score) will be accompanied by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra with Timothy Brock conducting. This being San Francisco, the obligatory Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest will take place at 4:00 p.m.

    * * * * * * * * *
    Hot on the heels of the Chaplin Centennial Celebration is the 18th Annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. Opera fans will be especially interested in the Friday, January 17 centerpiece screening of Ludwig II starring Sabin Tambrea as King Ludwig of Bavaria with Edgar Selge as composer Richard Wagner. Written and directed by Marie Noelle and Peter Sehr, the film's trailer points to a wealth of visual, dramatic, and musical riches.

    * * * * * * * * *
    February brings the two back-to-back world premieres.  On Tuesday, February 4, Taylor Mac's provocative new play, HIR, debuts at the Magic Theatre. Anyone who was lucky enough to see the Magic Theatre's production of The Lily's Revenge in April of 2011 will be curious to see what this controversial artist has in store (I strongly recommend reading I Believe:  A Theater Manifesto by Taylor Mac). The promotional material for HIR explains that:
    "A U.S. marine working in Mortuary Affairs, Isaac comes home from the war to take care of his father, who has recently suffered a debilitating stroke. His newly enlightened mother is determined to forge a deliriously liberated world for her two wayward children: Isaac (who was recently discharged from the army under dubious circumstances) and Max (tender, jaded, and sculpting a third-sex gender identity for hirself) . But will the newly radicalized Paige and Isaac's transgendered sibling make things easy for him? HIR is a tragedy about the way we care for and bury our dying ways of life."

    The following night, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will present the world premiere of Marcus Gardley's new play, The House That Will Not Stand. Those who were present at the world premieres of Gardley's And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi (Fall 2007 at Cutting Ball Theatre) and This World in a Woman's Hand (Fall 2009 at Shotgun Players) already know that the Oakland native is a major talent.

    Commissioned by Berkeley Rep, The House That Will Not Stand was nurtured at The Ground Floor (Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work).

    * * * * * * * * *
    Back when he was General Director of Houston Grand Opera, David Gockley was one of the strongest proponents of opera companies performing popular Broadway musicals. In addition to producing tours of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (with Carol Channing repeating her triumph as Dolly Gallagher Levi) and Scott Joplin's ragtime opera, Treemonisha (which was televised over PBS in 1986), Houston Grand Opera won a Tony Award in 1977 for producing and recording the full-length "opera house" version of Porgy and Bess (which toured the United States and Europe).  HGO's 1995-1996 revival of Porgy and Bess (which was co-produced by nearly a dozen American opera companies) also traveled to Japan.

    Not only did HGO present a stunning production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, in the Spring of 1989 I accompanied the company to Egypt where its production of Show Boat was one of the offerings in the inaugural season of the new Cairo Opera House. A new production of Show Boat, co-produced by the Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, and San Francisco Opera will dock at the War Memorial Opera House on June 1st for 10 performances.

    With a cast headed by Nathan Gunn (Gaylord Ravenal), Heidi Stober (Magnolia Hawks), Patricia Racette (Julie LaVerne), Morris Robinson (Joe), and Angela Renée Simpson (Queenie), the production will be conducted by John DeMain (who led the tour to Cairo). Directed by Francesca Zambello, this promises to be a first-class production of one of the most important works in the history of the American musical theatre. The following four clips offer a preview:

    No comments: