Posts in Music
The Lady Who Lunched : Elaine Stritch

73 PodcastAs soon as the final chords were played at Elaine Stritch sings Sondheim at the Carlyle Cafe, I got up from my front row seat and made my way to the back of the bar.  I had spent a month's salary to get to see Broadway legend Elaine Stritch sing my favorite composer's songs in New York City.  That was not enough for me.  I was bound and determined that I was going to meet her as well.  As I stood with my program in hand, here she came.  She smiled at me with that smile that only Elaine could give, then she whipped her head around to her assitant and yelled, "Where the hell is my pen, people.  I can't sign without a pen."  I held out my black marker and she signed her at that time 85 year old name to my poster.  She never gave me my pen back. imageOn Thursday, July 17th Elaine Stritch passed away.  The world of show will never be the same again.  If you don't know the name you will recgonzie the face, the voice or the pantless legs.  You might know her from The Cosby Show, Law & Order or 30 Rock.  I knew her as Joanne from Sondheim's Company.  Her version of the Ladies Who Lunch will live on just like The Beatles's Twist and Shout or Billy Joel's Piano Man.  Some things are imprinted in pop culture for ever.

Elaine's last year of life is documented in Elaine Strich: Shoot Me.  I was lucky enough to interview the director of the movie Chiemi Karasawa for Episode 73 of The Red Room Podcast.  That interview was later published in the magazine The Sondheim Review.  Elaine pushed Chiemi into directing and shaped her life.  Elaine indirectly helped me get published.  She inspired people with her bravery of alcholism, diabeties and aging.  She braved the stage in her final years not knowing if the words would come to her or not.  Any performer will tell you that is an amazing act of bravery.  Her life and stories are also documented in her one woman show, At Liberty.  If you even have a passing interest in Broadway or old time Hollywood, I know you would love it.  She pulls you in with a story teller's abilty that I will be jealous of for life.

There are really only a handful of performers that truly amaze me.  Most people in this era of acting confus fame with talent.  Elaine was someone who had more talent than fame.  Her view on acting, the stage and what it means to be a "Star" has passed on.  But her songs, her performances and her standard is captured on film.  She will not be replaced.  It reminds me of when we lost Johnny Carson.  You just know a bridge to the past has been permantly closed.  I shutter to think of what will replace it.  But when it worries me, I will watch her performance at the end of the Sondheim Birthday Concert.  After two and half hours of show stopping performances, a 86 year old woman stood up and sang I'm Still Here to close the show.  It was the only standing ovation of the evening up to that point.  She stood surrounded by today's leading broadway stars all at least a quarter of her age and she stopped the show once again.  "I've run the gamut, A to Z, three cheers and dammit, C'est la Vie.  I got through all of last year, and I'm here."  She may be gone, but she will always be here.  And I'll drink to that.

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77 Sondheim Review Interview

77 Podcast Scott interviews Rick Pender the managing editor of The Sondheim Review. They discuss Six By Sondheim, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, Road Show in Chicago and the direction of the staged musicals by John Doyle.  This podcast completes Scott's Trilogy of Sondheim podcasts this year.  The interview Scott did about Six By Sondheim was published in the most recent edition as the cover story of The Sondheim Review.  Check out their website to purchase it.

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Sondheim's Road Show in Chicago

photo 3Fans of Stephen Sondheim have waited for his next big thing for over 10 years.  Through those 10 years we have received two new shows.  The thing is, they were the same two shows.  Bounce about the Mizner Brothers and Road Show about the Mizner Brothers.  I was able to see both shows in Chicago.  Bounce in 2003 and Road Show this March, 2014.  The difference was night and day.   Bounce was just fine nothing more.  It was too large and clunky. That was quite surprising seeing how it was directed by Hal Prince.  The Road Show of 2014 is sleek, small and much better.  The theater at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is hands down the best place to see any show.  It sat maybe 40 people.  My seat was in the balcony and the stage was directly below me.  It was so intimate that I felt like I was seeing a Shakespearean play back in the 1800's.   The ten years of work between Bounce and Road Show paid off.  If you have a chance to see it, see it. photo 2Directed by Gary Griffin, he stream lines this play down to 95 minutes.  It moves so quickly that you don't have time to consider much.  You just go along for the ride.  The plot of the show follows two real Americans, Addison and Willie Mizner, whose pursuit of the American Dream takes them to Alaska, to New York, to Florida.  I feel that any good piece of art should reflect the times we live in now.  I couldn't help but think that this time of America has past us.  The time when you could pick up and create a new life in a new frontier of America.  This show takes place in the turn of the last century when you actually could go move from one class to another. The highlight of the show is the one, two punch of the songs Addison's Trip and That Was A Year.  I looked across the sold out, small audience and every single person was smiling during these numbers.  Isn't that what great theater is about?  These two infectious numbers surprise you with cast entrances and use of musical instruments.  The ease of how Sondheim can encompass years of these character's lives in two songs is a marvel and the reason that he is the greatest Broadway composer ever.  The direction was also perfect.  The enjoyment of these two numbers is worth the price of admission.  What you want most from Sondheim is for him to have a rhyme that you never saw coming.  Both of these numbers do that.

As was the same with Bounce, the show does flounder when it gets to Boca Raton.  I felt in both shows that this section was too lengthy with songs that were merely average.  That is a part of the problem with being the greatest living composer, not every song is going to hit the mark.   I am not sure the creating of this city is as interesting as the writers think it is.  The Boca Raton scheme may just not be an exciting "third act" kind of a story.  Unfortunately, it was the third act of their lives.  I think the songs could have been more interesting at this section but it certainly doesn't wipe away the enjoyment of the first two thirds the show.  Road Show will never be up to the levels of Company or Sweeney Todd in the Sondheim canon but it certainly surpasses all the Juke Box Musicals that are being written today. If you are a fan of Sondheim and you want a chance to see his latest musical performed at the top of its game, I suggest you head to the Windy City and see this show.

Read my Blog review of Merrily We Roll Along in Cincinnati directed by John Doyle.

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Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans.

Check out my podcast with the editor of Six By Sondheim

Check out my podcast interview with the director of Elaine Stritch Shoot me

Look for my latest article to be published in The Spring edition of The Sondheim Review.

Six By Sondheim: An HBO Documentary

Opening DoorsA year ago I was lucky enough to see a revival of the musical, Sondheim On Sondheim.  This was the first time this limited run Broadway show was done outside of NYC.  The reason that the show isn't done is that it uses clips from the past of Sondheim on television. Therefore, getting the rights is a bear.  The new HBO Documentary will now let us see these clips anytime.  Producer Frank Rich and Director James Lapine have taken the best shots from this show and made a documentary out of it.  The premise is to focus on six Sondheim songs spanning his career.  The result is pure joy for Sondheim fans.  I also believe the show would be interesting for any fan of writing.  The main plot is how the greatest living lyricist tackles his craft.

As Frank Rich says, "Sondheim has his story and he is sticking with it."  As is demonstrated through clips, Sondheim can start a sentence in one decade and finish it in another.  He tells his Hammerstein stories in the exact same way.   Anyone who is a fan of Sondheim knows how long he works to chose his words.  Once he has them, he is sticking with them.  His stories of his mother are horrifying.  His stories about teaching are inspiring.   His stories about his craft are humbling.  Each story is then juxtaposed to compliment the song that they are focusing on.  They even have 3 new recordings in the show.  I have searched iTunes to be able to purchase them and they are not available.  I guess this is a documentary and not Glee.  The version of I'm Still Here is so strange that I can't stop thinking about it.  This is a song I have known for at least 25 years and I feel like I heard it for the first time.  Audra McDonald also sings Send in the Clowns.  Strangely they only play half of this recording.  There better be bonus features on the blu-ray.  There better be a blu-ray! By far the best part of the documentary is watching Sondheim sing a part in the song Opening Doors.  For years he has been criticized for not writing "Hummable" tunes.  Like all inaccurate facts, this impossible complaint has been repeated for some forty years.  I don't know how he doesn't scream ANYTHING you can sing you can Hum!  Instead, he wrote a part in a song where a producer says these complaints to a pair of young composers.  They decided to have Sondheim sing these lines.  It was a pure joy to watch.  I would love to know who's idea this was.  Yes, I have been after Frank Rich for an interview.  It will happen.  I am persistent.

The only part of the documentary that I didn't agree with was playing the entire Being Alive recording from the 1970 documentary from the original cast.  First, we already own this version so that takes away from the specialty of the rest of the clips and makes cutting Audra's new version of her song down even stranger.  Secondly, Raul Esparza's version from the 2006 cast is far superior than the Dean Jones 1970 version.  Now before you say that is just opinion, it is Sondheim's opinion as well.  He has said publicly that he never thought the song worked until he saw John Doyle's version where Raul sat at the piano and played Being Alive himself.  I think a more interesting part would have been to show how something he wrote in 1970 wasn't perfected till 2006.  Art isn't easy. Overall this documentary gives an amazing insight into the artist of our time.  Sondheim is the most important writer in my life.  I go to his words like Christians go to the bible.  I am glad that when I need to spend a little time with someone who inspires me to be a better person, a better musician and a better writer that I will be able to watch this and focus on Six by Sondheim.

Be sure to check out our podcast where The Red Room Interviews the Editor of this movie, Miky Wolf

Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans.

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Read my review of Merrily We Roll Along in Cincinnati

Mad Men: Tomorrow Never Knows

Last night while watching Mad Men season 5 “Lady Lazarus” I was utterly shocked.  To me this twist was as jaw dropping as JR Ewing being shot, Rosalind Shays falling down the elevator shaft (which they alluded to in this episode) or Piccard turning into a Borg.  At the end of this episode, Don Draper walked over to the record player, dropped a disk on the turn table and the actual Beatles came out of the small speakers.  For the first time in my life, I heard a TV show use The Beatles.   Don listened to the 1966 track, Tomorrow Never Knows.  I sat up with shock.  I couldn’t believe that someone had actually got The Beatles to allow them to use one of their songs.   As soon as I finished the episode I went out to Google.  Sure enough I found an article confirming my suspicion that this was the first time they allowed one of their actual recordings to be used in a television series. I had read years ago that part of the contract that was signed when The Beatles broke up was that all four Beatles, or their surviving wives, had to sign off on any use of their songs.  The producers of the movie The World According to Garp by John Irving went through this to get the rights to use “When I’m 64” for their opening credits.  It was George Hill’s relationship with George Harrison that allowed this to happen.  I never thought it was worth the trouble for Garp.  For Mad Men it was critical.  Tomorrow Never Knows has always been the bridge between old Beatles and New Beatles music.  Having Megan suggest that Don start by listening to Tomorrow Never Knows and then having Don stop it in the middle and get up and go to bed that was genius.  We know that Tomorrow Never Knows will go down in history for many reasons: the first use of loops, a pop song written only in the key of C and the first blatant manifestation of drug use in a Beatles song, but in 1966 there had to be tons of 40 year olds that said, “shut off that noise.”  It is very brave to let your main character stay behind the audience’s sensibility.

I believe in season 1 when Don Draper went to the coffee shop and heard a Dylanesque artist perform, he really thought it was silly.  I think Draper didn’t like Dylan and wouldn’t have liked the later Beatles songs.  We know that he took his daughter to see early Beatles and he probably viewed them as harmless noise for young people.  Two years later, his new wife, his employees and even his clients are looking ahead to a new kind of music.  Don is feeling old.  I read that it cost the show $250,000 to license the song.  It was worth it.  They have taken Don from all knowing in the present to facing the truth that Tomorrow Never Knows.

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