Posts Tagged ‘musical’

The musical Hamilton goes to Germany.

Claudia was first to alert me to the the New York Times story about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton getting translated into German for an upcoming tour. The art of translation is really interesting to me, especially when the translator is supposed to render a play on words in a different language or convey the sense of something deeply embedded in another country’s culture.

Michael Paulson wrote from Hamburg, ” ‘Hamilton’ is a mouthful, even in English. Forty-seven songs; more than 20,000 words; fast-paced lyrics, abundant wordplay, complex rhyming patterns, plus allusions not only to hip-hop and musical theater but also to arcane aspects of early American history.

“So imagine the challenge, then, of adapting the story of America’s first treasury secretary for a German-speaking audience — preserving the rhythm, the sound, and the sensibility of the original musical while translating its dense libretto into a language characterized by multisyllabic compound nouns and sentences that often end with verbs, and all in a society that has minimal familiarity with the show’s subject matter.

“For the last four years — a timeline prolonged, like so many others, by the coronavirus pandemic — a team of translators has been working with the ‘Hamilton’ creators to develop a German version, the first production of the juggernaut musical in a language other than English. The German-speaking cast — most of them actors of color — [reflect] the show’s defining decision to retell America’s revolutionary origins with the voices of today’s diverse society. …

“Hamburg has emerged, somewhat improbably, as a commercial theater destination — the third biggest city for musical theater in the world, after New York and London — with a sizable market of German-speaking tourists. The market began with ‘Cats’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ and Disney shows are a big draw. …

“But less familiar shows have had a harder time here — “Kinky Boots” closed after a year. Sure, there are hard-core German “Hamilton” fans (some of them upset that the show is being performed in a different language from that of the cast album they love), but there are also plenty of Germans who have never even heard of Alexander Hamilton.

“ ‘It’s not like “Frozen,” which everybody knows,’ said Simone Linhof, the artistic producer of Stage Entertainment, an Amsterdam-based production company that operates four theaters in Hamburg and has the license to present ‘Hamilton’ in German. …

The German cast has already adopted its own take on the show: Whereas in New York, the musical is celebrated for its dramatization of America’s founding, almost every actor interviewed here described it as a universal human story about the rise and fall of a gifted but flawed man. …

“International productions have become an important contributor to the immense profitability of a handful of shows birthed on Broadway or in the West End, and they are often staged in the vernacular to make them more accessible. …

“For ‘Hamilton,’ Stage Entertainment executives invited translators to apply for the job by sending in sample songs, and then, not satisfied with any of the submissions, asked two of the applicants who had never met one another to collaborate. One of them, Kevin Schroeder, was a veteran musical theater translator whose proposal was clear but cautious; the other was Sera Finale, a rapper-turned-songwriter whose proposal was imaginative but imprecise.

“ ‘Kevin was like the kindergarten teacher, and I was that child who wanted to run in every direction and be punky,’ said Finale. … Both of them were wary of working together. ‘I thought, “What does he know?” ‘ Schroeder said. ‘And he thought, “I’ll show this musical theater guy.” ‘

“But they gave it a go. They wrote three songs together, and then flew to New York to pitch them to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for ‘Hamilton.’ Miranda can curse and coo in German (his wife is half Austrian), but that’s about it; he surprised the would-be translators by showing up for their meeting with his wife’s Austrian cousin. …

“Miranda had been on the other side once — he translated some of the lyrics of ‘West Side Story’ into Spanish for a 2009 Broadway revival — and he remembered observing how that show’s lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, listened for the sounds of the Spanish words. Miranda applied that experience to the German ‘Hamilton.’

“ ‘I’m going to feel the internal rhyme, or lack of internal rhyme, of which there is a lot in this show, and so it’s important to me whenever that can be maintained without losing comprehensibility,’ Miranda said. …

“Once Finale and Schroeder got the job, the process was painstaking, reflecting not only the complexity of the original language but also the fact that the show is almost entirely sung-through, meaning there is very little of the spoken dialogue that is generally easier to translate, because it is unconstrained by melody. They tried divvying up the songs and writing separately, but didn’t like the results, so instead they spent a half year sitting across from one another at the kitchen table in Finale’s Berlin apartment, debating ideas until both were satisfied. They would send Miranda and his team proposed German lyrics as well as a literal translation back into English, allowing Miranda to understand how their proposal differed from his original. …

“Figures of speech and wordplay rarely survive translation, but Miranda encouraged the translators to come up with their own metaphors. One example that Finale is proud of concerns Hamilton’s fixation on mortality. In English, he says ‘I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.’ In German, he will say words meaning, ‘Every day death is writing between the lines of my diary.’ ”

More at the Times, here. At National Public Radio you can read some details without a firewall.

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Photo: Igor Kasyanyuk via WIFR.
Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, co-creators of a Tiktok musical based on the television show Bridgerton.

Are you on TikTok? I haven’t gone deep there, but I’ve gotten a kick out of the few things I’ve seen, mostly clips recommended by some other website. Today I want to highlight something fun: a musical created just for this kooky platform.

At the Conversation, Sarah Bay-Cheng, Dean of the School of Arts at Canada’s York University, asks, “Is musical theatre an event, a sound — or something else?

“The 2022 Grammy Award for best musical theatre album went to a show that originated as a TikTok smash hitThe Unofficial Bridgerton Musical by duo Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear.

Bear, a 20-year old pianist, composer and former child prodigy produced the album. She and Barlow both composed music and wrote lyrics. Barlow, a singer who previously established herself with a massive TikTok fan base, sings almost all the parts of all the songs.

“What does all this mean for the future of musical theatre?

Inspired by hit Netflix series Bridgertonproduced by Shonda Rhimes, Bridgerton: The Unofficial Musical won the Grammy over productions created by established figures such as composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber. ….

“Musical theatre albums typically circulate as the official cast recordings of staged musical theatre performances including full orchestrations. In this case, Barlow and Bear began their collaboration over Zoom [during Covid] and together performed all of the roles.

“Their collaboration didn’t end there. Over the course of creating The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical, Barlow and Bear played to other fans of the show via TikTok: They rehearsed their songs, interacted with fellow performers and contributed to the thriving creative fan culture for which the video platform has become known. …

The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical was not the first musical adaptation to emerge on TikTok. In 2020, during pandemic shutdowns, an online fan base of the Disney film Ratatouille began creating, sharing and developing Ratatouille tribute songs — like an ode to Remy the rat by one user given a (digital) orchestral treatment by another user — until this swelled into a Ratatouille musical TikTok community.

“Eventually, leaders of the theatre and digital media production company Fake FriendsMichael Breslin and Patrick Foley, adapted the collective project for an online performance. …

“With Disney’s permissionRatatouille the TikTok Musical streamed for two performances in January 2021, raising over US$2 million for the Actors Fund. …

“Although the [Bridgerton] win was historic, musical theatre has always circulated through networks of media, popular culture and fandom.

“Long before social media allowed users to create and share music online, audiences performed songs from theatrical productions at home. … For example, as musical theatre scholar Stacy Wolf points out, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’ was used for a hair product commercial.

“If musical theatre of the past was an event, today it is more akin to a community. … The musical Hamilton amplified access to tickets and online media buzz by creating a hashtag contest, #Ham4Ham. Fans using the hashtag had the chance to win front-row seats.

“But today but just getting a seat is not enough. New audiences want to be part of the process, and scholars are paying attention.

“Throughout the creation of Unofficial Bridgerton, locked-down Broadway performers joined in the collective development. They shared ideas and performed songs with Barlow and Bear.

“In an interview with NPR, Barlow noted that theatre is a gate-kept art form and at $200 a ticket not many people can go. In comparison, online adaptations create more access and more interest. …

“I first heard about Barlow and Bear’s album from a former student of mine who works in the writers’ room for Bridgerton. It’s not a coincidence that Rhimes’s show was source material to inspire new musical theatre creation.

“Rhimes’s television projects consistently challenge dominant cultural narratives, ensuring that what people see on the screen reflects the realities of contemporary life. … She calls it ‘making TV look like the world looks.’ In response to her work, creative fan cultures emerge with media platforms facilitating dynamic, diverse and ongoing collaborations.

“This attention to the diversity of representation and Grammy recognition for new modes of production are changing musical theatre for the better. Rather than a singular location or sound, theatre of all kinds today is a dynamic experience created across multiple networks, communities and identities. We should recognize and celebrate these talents.”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Funny how quickly the photos pile up in beautiful weather. Winter days offer fewer opportunities, unless there’s a big snowstorm. Most of today’s pictures illustrate how I am drawn to spring’s strong sunlight.

Sunshine highlights the candles offered by the Barrow Bookstore, a shop featuring used books and much more — for example, birdhouses made from books.

I have a couple shots of people getting ready for the Patriots Day parade, which is always a big deal here. (Well, unless there’s a pandemic.) “The shot heard ’round the world,” usually credited with being the first shot of the American Revolution, happened at the North Bridge in our town, April 19, 1775. This year I managed to get up there in time to join the crowd watching the reenactment. Lots of noise and smoke and harmless musket shots.

I have no idea why a pine cone is nailed into a tree, but my camera is always drawn to oddball things.

The Toad Abode is at a community garden in Massachusetts, and the flowering trees are in Rhode Island.

From sunlight to dark: the moving musical Titanic, sung by some of the strongest voices I have heard since Covid. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the show, but they put up a couple of their haunting slides before the show and at intermission. I guess you know what happened at that longitude and latitude. So many people to blame! So much hubris!

Having not been to theater for a long time, I managed to attend three shows in one week, all masked up, of course. I saw my youngest grandchild in a production of The Wizard of Oz. She had written invitations to each child in her class, and many came. Then I attended Footloose with my eldest grandson, who had friends in the cast. And finally, I presented my vaccination card at our local community theater and enjoyed the Titanic along with a lot of other matinee-loving old folks.

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Photo: Clay Bank/Unsplash.
There’s a musical road near Mt. Fuji, one of several discovered around the world.

When my mother was a kid, she loved to go to Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. If you scuffed your feet in the sand, it squeaked. It didn’t really “sing,” but that was how the beach got its name.

Now I’m learning there is also such a thing as a singing highway. Stacy Conradt shares the story at Mental Floss.

“You’re probably familiar with rumble strips, those grooves on roads that make a loud, obnoxious noise when a car crosses them. Shoulder and centerline strips are placed to alert drivers that they’re getting too close to the edge of their lanes, while transverse strips typically cross the entire road and are used to signal that drivers should slow down.

“In most cases, rumble strips are anything but pleasant to the ear — but a few enterprising individuals realized that it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, varying the length and distance of the grooves can allow cars to create melodies on the road. Here a few places where you can find harmonious highways.


“The road-as-an-instrument concept was invented in 1995 when two Danish artists came up with the ‘Asphaltophone,’ raised pavement markers that are more closely related to Botts’ dots than rumble strips. See it in action just after the 1:30 mark:


“Transportation officials in New Mexico hope that ‘America the Beautiful’ will get cars to slow down on a section of historic Route 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras. To hear the song at the proper speed and pitch, vehicles must strictly obey the posted speed limit of 45 mph. Drivers are unable to hear the song if they are going even a few miles under or over the limit.


“The only other musical road in the U.S. can be found in Lancaster, California, where a snippet of the ‘William Tell Overture’ plays for drivers going 55 mph. … The attraction was originally installed near a residential area, but citizens complained so much that the grooves were paved over just two weeks after they were installed. The city received hundreds of phone calls from people who missed The Lone Ranger theme song and eventually agreed to reinstall the strips in an industrial area where it wouldn’t bother residents. …


“Japan embraced a number of singing streets after engineer Shizuo Shinoda accidentally scraped a road with a bulldozer and realized that the resulting grooves made interesting sounds. There are now several melody roads in Japan, including [one] near Mt. Fuji.


“Nearly 70 percent of highway accidents in South Korea are caused by distracted or dozing drivers, so the Korean Highway Corp. has installed musical grooves in particularly dangerous stretches of road in an attempt to get motorists to pay attention. [One] of the songs, which you’ll recognize as a slightly off-tune version of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ ”

More at MentalFloss, here.

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What a weekend for entertainment! On one day, we saw the musical The Wild Party (LaChiusa version) at  Moonbox Productions in Boston. (Very good.) On another, we attended a flamenco concert in a church.

The flamenco headliner, guitarist Juanito Pascual, was joined by flamenco percussionist and singer José Moreno and singer and dancer Bárbara Martinez. Such exuberant and mournful fun! It reminded us of fado concerts we’ve attended, although that happy-sad tradition is Portuguese and flamenco is Spanish.

The music included pieces that go back centuries plus Pascual’s own compositions, which are a fascinating blend of old and new. Challenging at times, but pretty intriguing. One was dedicated to the person back home in Minnesota “who persuaded my mother to let me take guitar lessons.”

An article in the Concord Journal notes that Pascual,  who is just beginning a 15-city tour to promote his latest CD, “skillfully weaves such influences as Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Bach and many others into his original compositions.” The Journal also quotes Boston Globe critic Steve Morse, who admires how Pascual “combines vivid colors, rich imagination and a yearning, never satisfied mastery of his art.”

Even in pieces without Moreno’s percussion support, Pascual’s virtuoso performance sounded like he was simultaneously playing two guitars and a set of bongos (flamenco involves slapping the wood as well has playing the strings). Very dramatic.

More at the Concord Journal, here. And you can hear samples of the music at all three artists’ websites.

Photo: www.juanitopascual.com

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A musical based on a winning 1950s Mademoiselle college-contest story, Doris Betts’s “The Ugliest Pilgrim,” is playing at the Speakeasy Stage in Boston, and it’s pretty special. My husband and I saw it yesterday.

The Violet of the title is a young woman from North Carolina who has saved up enough money to take a bus to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to beseech a television faith healer to resurrect her face, disfigured by a hatchet accident in childhood.

In spite of being an ornery character, suspicious of ridicule, she is befriended on the bus by two soldiers and an old woman, none of whom believe in the faith healer.

The group splits up, and Violet makes it to the television studio. Having first accosted the faith healer, she enlists her own belief, her carefully chosen Bible verses, and her childhood memories and fears in a dreamlike growth process that resonates on many levels.

The production’s fugue of psychology, American beauty culture, race relations — and musical numbers suggestive of the regions Violet passes through — rises to a crescendo and resolves into a satisfying ending. The show has humorous moments, moving moments, moments of insight, and memorable songs.

One of the most stirring musical numbers, “Raise Me Up,” is performed at the television station by both charlatans and true believers. The professional actors are backed by a series of Boston-area Gospel choirs, filling in at different performances.

What a great idea! I knew when I bought tickets that, if nothing else, I’d like the local choirs. As it happens I liked it all.

Jeanine Tesori wrote the music. The book and lyrics were by Brian Crawley, direction by Paul Daigneault, musical direction by Matthew Stern, and choreography by David Connolly. An earlier version of the show played Off-Broadway in the late 1990s. Speakeasy is presenting the brand-new version as the Boston premier.

Check out the review by Boston Globe critic Don Aucoin, here.

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Our 5-year-old grandson’s friend had been planning to attend an American Repertory Theater musical with her grandmother today at 10 a.m. We decided to go, too.

The show was The Pirate Princess and was loosely (very loosely) based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It was a hoot for me, and the young man in the photo seemed riveted. But whether he could make head or tail of the  convoluted plot, I have my doubts. It will be interesting to see down the road what he remembers — and whether he wants to see more plays.

The plot involves a brother and sister who get separated in a shipwreck (in this case, it’s thanks to a monster called the Kraken) and have separate adventures with characters who later mistake the sister dressed as a boy for the boy and vice versa. (I kept whispering in my grandson’s ear, “The pirate thinks he’s the girl that he thinks is a boy”; “The Queen thinks he’s his sister but doesn’t know his sister is a girl.” My grandson didn’t respond.)

There were songs, musical instruments, fancy costumes, pirates storming up lighted platforms in the middle of the audience, sword fights, and imaginative special effects. I especially like the jellyfish created by glowing umbrellas with streamers, carried along the aisles in the dark. The Kraken with his many legs was pretty great, too.

After the show, we had hot chocolate and cookies at the Darwin on Mt. Auburn Street. I’m not sure what our grandson will be able to tell his parents about the madcap entertainment he witnessed, but bits and pieces will likely emerge over time. I myself saw Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland when I was four, but I didn’t become a theater nut until I was 10.


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Flashback city.

Hershey Felder has been presenting his one-man show on Irving Berlin at the Cutler Majestic. Embodying the great composer-lyricist, Felder takes the audience through an extraordinary life from Berlin’s birth in Belarus to his death in New York at 101.

We get to hear much of the great music, including the backstory of songs we thought we knew. “White Christmas,” for example. We may have known it was written after Pearl Harbor and became beloved of US troops everywhere, but its heartfelt power comes from a loss Berlin and his wife Ellen experienced at Christmas years before.

I liked the way Felder/Berlin first describes the famous characters with whom he interacted and, after a pause, springs their names on us. He describes writing music for one performer whose first audition pegged him as balding and mediocre at acting, singing, dancing. It was Fred Astaire.

Felder does brief and funny imitations of many celebrities: Ethel Merman, George Kaufman, Flo Ziegfeld. There are movie clips featuring people like Al Jolson — and a touching story about the great African American singer Ethel Waters.

But what can catch a person by surprise is an incident or name that hasn’t been thought of in decades. The story about Berlin putting aside “God Bless America” because an adviser thought no one would like it — then pulling it out when a well-known singer wanted something for Armistice Day years later — gave me a jolt. That’s because the well-known singer was Kate Smith, and I had a flashback to a childhood nanny who listened every day to Kate Smith on the old black & white Dumont TV singing “When the moon comes over the mountain” (not a Berlin song).

After a standing ovation, Felder made an announcement that the eldest daughter of Irving Berlin was in the audience, and she came up to the front. And so did a daughter of hers and a son and two grandsons (grandchildren and great-children of the composer.)

Berlin’s daughter spoke a few words of gratitude to Felder for his faithful portrayal, noting in particular her father’s fierce patriotism. It was fun to think that this woman was the baby for whom Berlin wrote “Blue Skies Shining for Me.”

There’s a lot to be said for the out-of-body state induced by watching a good entertainment (or reading an absorbing mystery, or doing tai chi, or playing with a child) that puts your mental tape loop on pause and leaves you refreshed.

More about the production can be found at Arts Emerson.

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Wow, what an awesome job the Concord Players did with this goofy musical by the folks who brought you Monty Python!

Spamalot had so many insane costume changes, extravagant production numbers, and giddy jokes that it never allowed you a minute to think how silly it all is.

We laughed a lot. They say laughing is good for your health, and I can see why it is good for mental health at least — when you are really laughing, you can’t think about anything but the thing that is making you laugh. So you’re really “living in the moment,” as the gurus advise.

Tom was one of the trumpet players (not the one who gets shot by the conductor for playing the wrong trumpet themes in the overture), and Claire gave a party after the matinee. Wisely, she decided not to emphasize Spam for the meal (“No one would have come to the party,” she said) and instead presented a delicious spread with a Cinco de Mayo theme.

Several guests cracked out their smart phones to inform us about what Cinco de Mayo celebrates (the 1862 defeat of the French by Mexicans at Pueblo — not sure I feel much wiser, though).

Spamalot is sold out. But it was sold out today, too, and I saw a few empty seats, so take a chance — maybe a ticket holder won’t show up. The woman next to me was offended by some of the naughtiness and irreverence and left at intermission. So you could always come for the second half.

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Ted-Shen-Second-Chance-at-PublicWe went down to New York this weekend to see my husband’s classmate’s new musical.

Ted Shen wrote the book, lyrics, and music to A Second Chance, a lovely little cameo about a widower and a divorcee. The title refers to new beginnings for two people, but it’s hard for my husband and me not to think of new careers, too, since Shen was an investment banker for 30 years before turning to music so seriously.

At TheaterMania, where a couple of old reviews I wrote are still archived, Shen describes how he began to develop his musical after Stephen Sondheim gave him encouragement.

And he explains his style. “In my role as composer, my preference has been to emphasize the use of ‘action songs’ that show the characters interacting with each other and conversing primarily through lyrics rather than pure spoken dialog, and to limit the use of ‘introspection songs’ that stop the action to express feelings and inner thoughts. I have attempted to create a contemporary musical ‘language’ that is jazz-inflected rather than written in today’s predominant pop-based genre.’ ” More at TheaterMania.

Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, where the show is being performed, says that Shen “has written some of the most elegant and sophisticated music I have heard in theater in many a moon.”

While in New York, we also saw the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (based on the movie Kind Hearts and Coronets). It was pure Broadway fun, and we laughed a lot. But A Second Chance gave us more to talk about after.

Consider checking out the site for the Shen Family Foundation, here, which “concentrates its grant-making in the area of musical theater through its funding support of works of exceptionally gifted and highly original musical theater composers.”

Photo: Suzanne‘s Dad reconnects with his classmate decades after business school and asks him to sign a Playbill.


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Well, if you aren’t into musicals, it might not be hilarious to you, but I just love that a famous songwriter wrote this number for Great American Soup back in 1970, and a famous Broadway star performed it. Terry Teachout posted it, here, on his theater blog. His blog is called “About Last Night,” and I connect to it through ArtsJournal.

Back when I was reading the Wall Street Journal, I used to enjoy Teachout’s theater reviews. But according to his blog, reviews are just the tip of the iceberg for this Renaissance Man.

“Terry’s first play, Satchmo at the Waldorf, opens off Broadway at the Westside Theatre on Mar. 4. Previews start Feb. 15. The production is directed by Gordon Edelstein, with John Douglas Thompson appearing in the triple role of Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis. It was seen in 2012 at Shakespeare & Company of Lenox, Mass., Long Wharf Theatre of New Haven, Conn., and Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater. For more information, go here.

“To see John Douglas Thompson on stage in Satchmo at the Waldorf, go here. To watch a Wall Street Journal-produced video interview with Terry, go here.”

Teachout also writes opera libretti. I always thought it would be fun to do that.

Below: “Great American Soup” commercial, written by Stan Freberg and starring Ann Miller.

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Yesterday a colleague who has been taking a work-related class told me he finally sent in his latest paper. He said that he had kept taking it home, intending to work on it, but just couldn’t. Finally, on the day it was due, he came to work early and wrote the dang thing.

He said, “I always leave this stuff till the last minute. I work better under pressure.”

I said, “There’s a song for you. It’s called ‘A Book Report on Peter Rabbit,’ and it’s from the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

And I went on YouTube and found the song for him. It’s sort of a fugue involving Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and Charlie Brown. They each have their own way of approaching the task of writing a book report, and I think the four styles pretty much cover the different ways each of us approaches work.

Are you more like Lucy, counting up the words in order to do the bare minimum? More psychologically analytical like Linus? Wildly imaginative like Schroeder, who would rather be writing about Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham?

My friend identifies with Charlie Brown, who sings that there is no point in getting started when he’s “not really rested,” that he works “better under pressure.”

I suspect I’m closest to Linus. Who are you?

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I moonlighted as a theater reviewer for years and loved doing it. But even if I hated a particular show, I worked hard to find some aspect to praise. People had to read between the lines for the criticism. I really felt for the actors.

The critics of yore had no such scruples, and as I laugh out loud, I can’t help being a little jealous of their freedom.

Yesterday my husband dug out some reviews of the 1945 Broadway show Polonaise. He had read an obit about the star, who just died at age 99. As there are few shows he hasn’t heard of, he was stumped and went straight to the “critical quotebook” Opening Night on Broadway.

The show’s creators had decided to use the music of Chopin, a Pole, for a story about another Pole, a man who volunteered in George Washington’s army. The two Poles had nothing else in common.

Reviewer Luis Kroneberger wrote, “The best I can say for the thing as a whole is that it appalled me enough at times to keep me from being bored.”

Burton Rascoe noted, “The playbill says that the Alvin Theatre is perfumed with Prince Matchabelli’s ‘Stradivari.’ There was not enough of it used to overcome the odor of dry-rot and mothballs that emanated from the book, the lyrics, and the production of Polonaise.”

And Willela Waldorf must have been hanging out at the Algonquin with Dorothy Parker too much. She let it rip: “It is about time somebody started a League for the Defense of Dead Composers. It is disturbing that some of Chopin’s finest  works, ‘adapted’ for the occasion, should be carelessly flaunted on the Broadway stage in a futile attempt to add luster to a stupid, inept, often embarrassingly ludicrous spectacle. …  The concert pianist hired to play Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat while the ballet stormed the Royal Palace, not only performed with vigor at the pianoforte but spoke his one line of dialogue clearly and as if he knew what it meant. Maybe what Polonaise needs is a few more concert pianists in some of the other roles.”

Today there is plenty of harsh talk in the media, but I would venture to say it lacks the literary flair of the critics of 1945.

Photo of Chopin: Bisson, c. 1849, via Wikipedia
He looks troubled. Is he foreseeing the future Broadway show

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When I was a child, circuses still had side shows. I remember standing in a crowd and looking up at “a giant.” My father, who regarded side shows as part of the circus experience, eventually was won over to my mother’s view that side shows were a sad abuse of people who were born different.

We didn’t go again.

Who would ever think of making a musical on the subject?

Answer: Henry Krieger and Bill Russell, two very creative people who saw in the side show a metaphor for the human experience, the longings, the feeling of being a square peg in a round hole, and the difficulties and comforts of closeness.

I saw Side Show several years ago and loved it. So when it came to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts, I told my husband we had to go. He ended up loving it, too.

The musical centers on pretty, singing Siamese twins whom a talent scout discovers in a side show among their circus “family”– the bearded lady, the cannibal, the rubber man, the fortune teller, a wide array of misfits.

The story is odd and wonderful at the same time — the sisters’ longing “to be like everyone else” likely to strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt different.

What came across in this production more than in the one I saw at the Lyric Stage, was how completely different the two personalities are. The girls are sensitive to each other and comforting, but one is outgoing, one is shy, and they have very different ideas about what a happy future would look like.

Side Show has wonderful songs, some poignant, some raucous, and the current production features excellent acting from the mainly nonprofessional performers. It was polished and moving (a two hanky event for me), and it runs through Nov. 10.

If you want to to see Side Show with professionals, it looks like it is going to be revived on Broadway. More on that at Playbill, here.

Photo: Playbill.com
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner in the original production. It’s amazing how quickly you see actresses in this show as conjoined just because they sit close.

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Today I had an amusing back and forth with Fire Islanders past and present. It was about a fund raiser for what we used to call “Group” back when I was a day camper and later a counselor and writer-director of teenage musicals.

The fundraiser is to restore the Ocean Beach Youth Group (“Group”) building below, which was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy. From the first e-mail:

“Food . Beer & Wine . Auction . Guest Bartenders . Tequila Tasting
“Sun., Jan. 6, 2013, 4-7 pm @ Rodeo Bar, 375 Third Avenue, NYC
“$50 cash/check at door, 21+
“$30 for 16-20 For advance tickets or to make a donation, visit http://www.nycharities.org/Events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=5691 OBYG is a 501(c)3 organization.
“As an added bonus Tony Roberts of Broadway fame and Youth Group Alumnus will be our guest.”

I wrote back that I was in one of Tony Roberts’s teenage plays (back when his name was still Dave) and can sing most of the lyrics to the theme song of his show Like You Like It.

I then indulged in some contradictory reminiscing with my first co-writer/director and with the daughter of playwright Arnold Horwitt, who was an adviser on the first show we wrote.

“Memories can be beautiful and yet” … (Oh, sorry, we used to burst into song a lot.)

But about memories. I know I have the most accurate memories for the shows I worked on, yet friends keep remembering differently. And who can blame Arnold Horwitt’s daughter, for example, if she thinks her father wrote all the lyrics to our “Return of the Native” when he only contributed the song that he had already written for a cruise to fight a bridge, “Everything’s Coming Up Moses”? He was a huge support, and that’s what she gets right.

Want me to sing anything for you?

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