Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reason #1 Why Not Living in NYC Stinks!

Exciting music from a show that looks exciting. I just might have to get this CD before I get to New York next year.

If you haven't heard "96,000" from In the Heights, check this out from

the Broadway Mouth
May 31, 2008

Kerry Butler Interview (Link To)

Here is an interesting interview with Kerry Butler I recently read. When I first saw the track listing of her new Disney-themed album, I thought it was odd that there were some song titles I hadn’t heard before. The interview explains where they came from.

the Broadway Mouth
May 31, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mom, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Aren’t Playing Fair!

I guess it’s not really breaking the rules when you made them in the first place. Still, buying the 1994 revival cast recording of Carousel recently made for a fascinating listen. Yes, Sally Murphy, Audra McDonald, and Shirley Verrett are all in top voice singing some of Broadway’s most beautiful melodies, but it’s also interesting to experience the story solely through the music.

It’s intriguing to see how the songs are divided among the characters. Main character Billy Bigelow gets two songs (“If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy”), an intro, and a reprise. That’s it. Julie Jordan gets heard in a few more, but most of the songs go to Carrie, Mr. Snow, and Nettie Fowler, with the chorus helping out. If they were taking a class on writing musical theatre, I think it’s fair to say Rodgers and Hammerstein would not have gotten 10/10 for structure.

Because of this, it’s really hard to tell what’s going on in the show from the recording. I saw the movie a number of years ago, so it’s not like I’m confused, but it is intriguing that on recording, Billy and Julie are footnotes in their own story.

And let’s take a look at those lyrics. If Stephen Schwartz had had the nerve to rhyme bigger with figure (figger) or stickler with particular (partic’lar), there are those who would be ranting about Carousel as an abomination of musical theatre. There’s actually quite a bit of that in Carousel, and while one could argue that these are only examples of Hammerstein’s Northeastern dialect, the truth is that it’s a dialect that comes and goes throughout the show.

Now I, for one, am not attacking Rodgers and Hammerstein. But I do think we can take a step back and learn from the Masters.

As I’ve written elsewhere, we can’t allow ourselves (or critics) to get too caught up in the mathematics of art. Carousel was a smash when it first opened and is still a beloved show despite who sang the songs. It’s a great show, and above all, that is what counts.

Secondly, we can’t over-glamorize the past. It’s easy to attack the current talents of Broadway for not being the greats of the past, but the truth is that many people hold the talents of today to greater standards. No one is ever going to top how great Ethel Merman is in the collective conscious of the Broadway mind, but perhaps there will be someone with more nuance and warmth.

I would suggest everyone to recalibrate themselves with Carousel from time to time. Yes indeed, you can learn many things from the Masters.

the Broadway Mouth
May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Forget About the Boy”

I honestly haven’t heard enough of Jeanine Tesori’s music to get a feel for her style. Because there’s nothing like hearing a score for the first time on stage, I keep waiting to catch a production of Caroline, or Change before buying the CD. Since a production close to me won’t be mounted for almost another year, I’ll focus on a gem from Thoroughly Modern Millie with lyrics by Dick Scanlan.

“Forget About the Boy” really is about as great, old fashioned as you can get without recycling a song from another show. It has an irresistible melody with fun, catchy lyrics that express character.

Another gem from the show, “Gimme, Gimme” is particularly remarkable because it caps off a wild and wacky night of fun with heartfelt, passionate emotion. A typical ballad would have been the wrong moment, so Tesori finds a balance in a high-energy song that perfectly complements Scanlan’s clever lyrics (“Here I am, St. Valentine / My bags are packed; I’m first in line! / Aphrodite, don’t forget me / Romeo and Juliet me”). Thoroughly Modern Millie required the use of songs from a variety of sources, but from hearing “Forget About the Boy” and “Gimme, Gimme” alone, it would be exciting to see Tesori and Scanlan tackle an entirely original score.

the Broadway Mouth
May 29, 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Congrats on a Broadway Debut!

I’m always excited when I read about performers making their debut on Broadway, and I was naturally thrilled when reading about Carrie Manolakos making hers as Sophie in Mamma Mia! on June 4.

In the days of long-running shows, the replacement casts tend to get ignored or forgotten. Everyone remembers Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, but they forgot the many names who kept that show in tip-top shape after he left. It takes a load of talent to replace a cast member, and the audition process is as brutal and tough for long-running shows (and tours) as it is for a new show. I’ve heard good things about Carrie Manolakos, but the fact that she’s making her Broadway debut says enough. Congrats!

the Broadway Mouth
May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Written in the Stars”

“Written in the Stars” is a song that harkens back to the old days of Broadway. It’s a song uniquely fitting the situation at hand within the show while conveying a universal emotion that allows it to live outside of the show. Not all that unlike Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, or Dinah Shore recording a Broadway hit in the 1950s, “Written in the Stars” was recorded by Elton John as a duet with Leann Rimes, which received radio play and warranted a video some time before Aida premiered on Broadway.

The songwriter’s version, however strong, cannot top Adam Pascal and Heather Headley’s passionate version which was preserved on the Original Broadway Cast Recording. The song perfectly encapsulates the concept of Aida—a doomed love between soul-mates. The tragic concept in the song is strengthened by Tim Rice’s use of the idea of the gods wreaking havoc in the lives of men and women, that paradise has been found, only to be torn away by the whim of the stars.

Like the rest of the show, “Written in the Stars” is an exercise in style over nuance, heart over head. Lyrically, it’s not a dense song, containing a few simple ideas, but the music carries each verse and chorus to new emotional heights. No, it wouldn’t work in a Sondheim show or in a Finn show, but it works beautifully within the show that Aida is, and because of that, it’s extraordinarily effective.

Aida is filled with a ton of great songs—“My Strongest Suit,” “Dance of the Robe,” and “Elaborate Lives” are just a few. I never saw Elton John’s Lestat, but perhaps John’s pop background works best with heavily stylistic shows like Aida, rather than pieces that require strongly nuanced character pieces. I know many people delight in trouncing on big names with big flops, but I, for one, would like to see more of John’s work simply because his work in Aida is outstanding. Perhaps he should give Tim Rice a call . . .

the Broadway Mouth
May 27, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Wheels of a Dream

It’s astonishing to realize that Ragtime opened just ten years ago—January 1998. Its lush, emotional score with stunning to-the-rafters ballads and stirring group numbers feels so distant from the current trends on Broadway that it sounds like something from ages past.

Honestly, the score is so rich and expansive, it is quite difficult to pick only one great song from the spectacular Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens score. How does one choose among that stunning opening number, the beautiful harmony of “Journey On,” the fun of “The Crime of the Century,” Audra McDonald’s moving “Your Daddy’s Son,” the rousing “The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square,” and . . . well, you get the idea (and that’s not even finishing the music from the first act!).

In listening to “Wheels of a Dream,” it’s easy to miss the grand scores of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Indeed, there’s something to be said of the delicate, character-specific nuances of a song like Adam Guettel’s “Dividing Day,” but there’s also something to be said for the stirring, character-specific grandness of the songs in Ragtime. In “Wheels of a Dream,” we have two characters facing the journey of family life, the open road of their life together represented by the metaphor of a car. As anyone who has seen the show knows, however, their grand moment of dreaming will actually be only dreams, for the country that will let a man like Coalhouse “own a car, raise a child, build a life with you” will destroy his car, gun down his love, and leave his child in the arms of another man.

The melody is of the stirring anthem type, the grand emotional push that, while lacking the nuance that has unjustly wrought criticism on a number of other moving scores of this ilk, is pinpoint perfect for the hopes and dreams that Coalhouse holds for his family. Having had moments of great hope in my own life, they require larger-than-life musical colors to accurately portray. The fact that his hopes—expressed through the grandness of the melody—will never arrive in tact is even more affecting when remembering the depth of his hope in “Wheels of a Dream.”

If you are a younger musical theatre fan, and you are not familiar with the score to Ragtime, I couldn’t urge you more to check it out. It really is something extra special.

the Broadway Mouth
May 23, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Let’s See, Who Could It Be? Who Could It Be? Could It Be . . . Barret Foa?

I was recently paging through some old issues of Entertainment Weekly, and I found the above picture from the Gap dance ads from 2000. To my surprise, I instantly identified my Leaf Coneybear, the very talented Barret Foa (third from the right).

It’s nice to know he was talented even way back then.

the Broadway Mouth
May 21, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “You Can’t Stop the Beat”

“Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”
“Hello, Dolly!”
“You Can’t Stop the Beat”

In a very short time, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” has become one of the best-known Broadway songs of all time, right along with the other songs in above the list. In our time, that’s a pretty spectacular feat.

And it’s not without reason. It is one of the best endings that a Broadway show ever had, a 12 o’clock number in a show that never needs to wake the audience up. Instead of injecting energy as the old 11 o’clock numbers did, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” sends the audience out pumped with energy and the excitement of a great night in the theatre.

It also helps that it’s a topper on a great evening of music. Critics can whine about Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s use of the pop vernacular, but the masses have spoken loudly for the music of Hairspray, first turning the Broadway show into a hit of Ednaian proportions and then falling in love with the movie in droves—first in the theatres then on DVD. It’s easy to single out “You Can’t Stop the Beat” because it’s energetic and exciting, but everyone reading this already remembers all the other greats in the score—“Good Morning Baltimore,” “The Nicest Kids in Town,” “Welcome to the 60s,” and a bunch of others.

the Broadway Mouth
May 20, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

You Can’t Stop the Beat: Reflections Upon the Feat That is Marissa Jaret Winokur

Big Congratulations! are in order for Dancing with the Stars star Marissa Jaret Winokur. She didn’t walk away with the trophy (though after a Tony, it hardly seems to matter), but she did manage to beat out some big names to make it to the semi-finals.

Honestly think about it. Of all the celebrities this season, Winokur is the least known and the least seen. A few may remember her from Stacked, but that show disappeared pretty quickly. A certain number would know her from her Tony Award, but not enough people could have actually have seen her as Tracy on Broadway or in Los Angeles to have kept her going for so long. Look at the names she outlasted—Priscilla Presley, Steve Gutenberg, Adam Corolla, and Mario are all much bigger names with much more instant recognition. But Winokur, who was by far not the best dancer among them, danced her way into the semi-finals based solely on her charm and appeal. She also got a talk show out of it.

Now if we could only get her back on Broadway. I still think she should do a replacement run in Chicago.

the Broadway Mouth
May 19, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Dividing Day”

I don’t know if it is original to Adam Guettel, but there is something very satisfying about the phrase Dividing Day as used in The Light in the Piazza. It’s a simple use of words that captures the essence of the song in a poetic manner—the dividing of one into two.

And “Diving Day” is filled with many rich uses of language to express Margaret’s emotions, such as seeing “the winter in your eyes.” There’s also a brilliant use of rhyme at work, particularly in the pairing of bowed and “no more love allowed,” a shocking statement about a long-lasting marriage.

Guettel also gives us two stark ideas with contrasting images, both of which give weight to the concept of the song—“Were you lying next to me / Hiding what you couldn’t say” and “Was my cheek upon your chest / An ocean away.”

The dual strength of the song is in how the lyrics and melody fit the character of Margaret. The arrangement on the OBCR betrays Margaret’s lack of confidence in her marriage, the discord of her emotions plucking in the background. The lyrics and the melody convey a solemn admittance of emotion—not a grand power ballad of loss, but a simple, emotional expression of a fact mutually agreed upon but not formed into words until that moment, thoughts escaping in simple, painful lyrical phrases.

The idea of “Dividing Day” is as interesting as how it is expressed. The reality is that the American concept of marriage hasn’t altogether been successful, and when you see someone madly in love on their wedding day and getting in a bitter divorce ten years later, the concept of a diving day is quite fascinating. Not to return to my days of teaching or anything, but it would be interesting to juxtaposition the very American “Diving Day” with “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof, which is very non-American in nature, dealing with love in a different definition.

“Dividing Day” is just one song in a rich and lush musical score that is both complex and lovely. It’s hard not to listen to The Light in the Piazza and not have hope for the future of the Broadway musical. Now if only Guettel would write more like it on a regular basis!

the Broadway Mouth
May 15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Oklahoma?”

How can you top a song that rhymes Jew with zoo and Oral Roberts U? I mean, honestly—Oral Roberts U? It doesn’t get any better.

“Oklahoma?” from David Yazbek’s beautiful score for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a masterpiece of lyric, melody, and character development. Performed by Sara Gettelfinger on the OBCR (and in the cast I saw), “Oklahoma?” does exactly what a Broadway song needs to do. It’s a smashing showcase for the character Jolene Oakes, written perfectly to her personality and filled with clever rhymes and funny concepts, the idea that while she’s selling Jameson on the glories of living in Oklahoma, she’s betraying her own unpleasant personality and scaring everyone away from Oklahoma at the same time. She’s so obnoxious, in fact, we don’t feel an ounce of pity for her even though Jameson has used her cruelly.

By the way, did I also mention we also get Oklahoma paired with melanoma? It’s the perfectly unexpected word, and it ends the song on just the right hilarious note.

Yazbek’s score for the show as a whole is delightful, somehow managing to have surprising beauty in a score and story that also delights in crassness (a little too much for my taste, but that’s not the point). Following one of my favorite overtures (third behind Gypsy and Sweet Charity), we are given “Give Them What They Want,” which is a great example of the beauty of the score. It’s also worth noting that Yazbek strives here to find a balance between the traditional Broadway sound and the beat of his own rock heart. The dance arrangements for “Oklahoma?”—just one example in the score—is pretty heavy on guitar and effectively so.

Other gems on the CD include (but are certainly not limited to) Norbert Leo Butz’s “Great Big Stuff,” Sherie Rene Scott’s “Here I Am” (“These fries are French!”), “The More We Dance,” John Lithgow’s “Love Sneaks In,” plus the final three tracks in which the ending is unraveled.

But my favorite is “Oklahoma?”. It really doesn’t get any better.

the Broadway Mouth
May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Prelude to 20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years

Broadway is dying. The shows aren’t as good as they used to be. There is no Ethel Merman for today.

As Penelope Pennywise says, “I’ve heard it all before.”

It always annoys me when, on the Tonys, all the songs played for entrances and transitions are classic Broadways songs—Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, and so on. It’s not that those aren’t great songs, but there’s a whole new generation of songwriters out there whose work will only get known by having their songs heard. It’s not 1950 anymore, and there is no Doris Day or Frank Sinatra of a current generation to put the hits of Broadway on the radio.

In celebration of the great talent of the current generation of Broadway songwriters, I’ll be highlighting twenty great Broadway songs from shows the opened on Broadway in the past ten years—from 1998-2008.

This will not be a comprehensive list because, while I do keep up with the current shows on Broadway, I have simply not heard all the scores of the past ten years. It’ll be a thorough and wide-ranging list, but it won’t cover every score of the past ten years.

That said, on with the celebration!

the Broadway Mouth
May 13, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Show Me!: That Bad Boy, Narration

Narrator: Cody tried everyone he knew. Nobody believed him. He realized that he would have to face his transformation alone. Being alone in your time of need is a terrible feeling, and Cody felt it.

The first play I ever wrote was for my high school creative writing class. In it, I used a narrator to act as glue between the parts of the story, dispensing such nuggets of wisdom as the one above. Yes, it was an intentional line of dialogue, but unnecessary nonetheless. In fact, when I taught creative writing, I saw how easily my students would use narration as crutch in playwriting and finally got to the point where I wouldn’t let them use it.

The use of narration in writing a play is a tricky thing. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Stage adaptations of long narratives tend to require narration to condense a 300+ page novel into a two-hour play, though it is a fine line. The first time I learned this was in watching a production of Great Expectations as adapted by Barbara Fields. The production had so much narration that I began to feel like I was having a bedtime story read to me rather than experiencing a compelling production of a great plot. There’s something wrong when the narrator tells you that Pip ran away while you are watching Pip run away.

A great example of the use of narration in a musical is Jane Eyre. In the novel, Jane tells her own story, and she does so in a way that opens up her own emotions to the audience, at times addressing them, such as in the famous, “Reader, I married him” line. The musical adaptation required the narration to help convey the breadth of the storytelling—stretching through Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, her time at Lowood School, her life at Thornfield, her return to Gateshead, her sojourn to Moor House, and her final return to Thornfield. Never is Jane required to spend great lengths addressing the audience, and when there is need for telling of events, the chorus is employed in a way that creates mood and atmosphere, communicating ideas without simply throwing them at the audience.

An example of when narration is superfluous is in the Broadway version of Jekyll and Hyde, where the narration that opens Act I and Act II could be entirely removed without affecting the plot. It was an interesting choice, considering the opening of each act in a musical is considered to be a place to grab the audience’s attention and pull them in, but the use of narration starts things out didn’t work in this case.

In reading the libretto of Big River, the weakness of the show appears to be the extensive use of narration. I’ve never seen Big River in production (a local high school was set to do it, but the school board nixed the idea), but it has entire paragraphs of Huck talking to the audience about what he’s done or is going to do. It reads as if you don’t actually see much happening. Instead, the story is being summarized and the audience is given vignettes to flesh out the most important points. The result is a show with great music holding together a weak book (Though, to be fair, adapting The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the stage would be no easy task. As they say, there but for God, go I . . .)

The danger of narration is resorting to verbalizing a story rather than dramatizing it. One of the writer’s adages is “Show, Don’t Tell.” If the narration acts as a transition into the Show, sometimes it’s needed. But the story is being told to you—particularly when it could easily be shown to you—that’s when it gets to be too much.

the Broadway Mouth
May 10, 2008

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Phantom of the Marketing: A Second Look at the New Phantom Logo

There were dispelled rumors on Broadway World about this being the new logo for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera when the image appeared at the 20th Anniversary celebration for the Broadway show.

They were dispelled a little too soon.

To me, this image looks like one of the tacky logos MTI licenses for their shows rather than something worthy of a sumptuous Broadway show. Yet, this is now being used to promote the show on tour. In fact, when I saw the logo on the website for the touring venue in my area, I wondered if this was a sign the show had gone non-Equity. I have a feeling it is just a change in the marketing.

Oddly enough, this looks like the logo often seen for the Kopit/Yeston telling of the story. It's an interesting choice for Cameron Mackintosh to make because the original logo is so instantly recognizable. McDonald's sure as heck wouldn't change their golden arches now.

Ugly or not, the show will be sure to sell, though audiences may have to wade through some confusion to figuring it out.

the Broadway Mouth
May 7, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

Meet Me in St. Louis, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Meet Me in St. Louis on Stage: Reflections on Razzmatazz, Heart, and the Elusiveness of Theatre

When I told my college director that my favorite show of hers was Meet Me in St. Louis, her response was, “Well, that’s very kind of you.” I don’t think anyone would disagree that the show was beautifully produced and directed, as well as superbly acted (her John Truitt—the boy next door—later auditioned for ER, and her Lon Smith has since produced one or two movies). Her sensitivity was concerning the nature of the storytelling in the show, which, like the original movie, is remarkably satisfying while not particularly plot-filled. The show was well-attended when she directed it, but for some reason, she and the cast had been unsatisfied with the final effect.

When I was supremely disappointed, however, was when I bought my Original Broadway Cast Recording of the score because it didn’t reflect the libretto of the production I had seen twice. According to Charles Wright in The TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings, the movie was originally adapted for a regional production in the 1960s with Tootie herself, Sally Benson, writing the libretto. The Broadway production, however, had a book by Hugh Wheeler, with a hodge podge of songs from the movie (which includes songs by other composers), other Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin versions of the score (that’s via Richard Barrios in The TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings) and, according to the liner notes of the CD, ten new ones.

The production I saw in 1996 had a book credited to Sally Benson with the following songs:
“Meet Me in St. Louis”
“Meet Me in St. Louis” reprise
“The Boy Next Door”
“Skip to My Lou”
“You Are for Loving”
“How Do I Look?”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
“Raving Beauty”
“Finale I—A Raving Beauty”
“The Trolley Song”
“What’s His Name?”
“If I Had an Igloo”
“Diamonds in the Starlight”
“Be Anything But a Girl”
“You are For Loving” reprise
“You and I”
“The Trolley Song” reprise
“Finale II—Meet Me in St. Louis”

The Broadway production, as preserved on the CD, has a very different song list—including songs dedicated to Banjos, Ice, and John Phillips Sousa.

By the time I was directing high schools shows and perused a copy of the libretto, the show Tams-Witmark was licensing for amateur productions was even more faithful to the movie with fewer jaunts into extraneous charm. I was very disappointed.

In a way, I think I’ve been chasing after the elusive experience I had with that first production of Meet Me in St. Louis. I had rented the movie in high school and now own the 2-Disc DVD, but the charm and warmth of that original stage production has never been recreated, largely because I haven’t been able to find the songs recreated anywhere else.

The Broadway album is a curious mix. I actually often find myself skipping through the album to the songs from the movie (and “Raving Beauty” and “You Are For Loving” from that original production I saw). Nothing would ever top hearing Judy Garland sing her songs, but Donna Kane has a lush voice with a warmth all her own. I could literally listen to “The Boy Next Door,” “Skip to My Lou,” “The Trolley Song,” and “You Are For Loving” about a hundred times in a row (and have . . . okay, we’ll just leave it at “many”). Those songs alone make this a must-have CD.

The other songs are a curious mix, many of them seeming disconnected from the characters (though honestly, perhaps I would have said the same about “If I Had an Igloo” had I not seen it in production).

Where some of the other songs fail, however, is in the polish. One thing Broadway does well is razzmatazz, that Broadway glisten and polish. It becomes difficult to translate a film like Meet Me in St. Louis to the stage because the process of enlarging both the story and the performances to fit a huge Broadway theatre means sacrificing the warmth and intimacy of the source material. It’s the Tracy vs. Tracy comparison. A Xerox of Nikki Blonsky’s performance would not translate well on a Broadway stage, and the energy and presence of Marissa Jaret Winokur’s performance would be out of place in a movie. Donna Kane, on record, was an excellent translation, but the show as a whole didn’t seem to have followed her lead.

My college director has since retired, leaving behind a legacy in her students, myself being one of them. She directed many fine shows (and the more I see, the more I realized what a rare talent she was), but my two favorites will always be Meet Me in St. Louis and Quilters, another show not recorded, another beloved experience that can never be revisited.

Curse the elusiveness of theatre!

the Broadway Mouth
May 5, 2008

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Casting Quandaries III: The Problems Created By Maria

The casting of The Sound of Music became infinitely more challenging when Julie Andrews stepped into the role of Maria for the film. It’s interesting to ponder that Mary Martin was cast in the role in the original Broadway production after playing parts like Peter Pan and Annie Oakley. Those aren’t roles you would ever imagine Julie Andrews taking on.

Since the movie, what stage production will ever be able to live down the memory of Julie Andrews in one of the most beloved movies ever made? In the last revival, Rebecca Luker and Laura Benanti were consecutively cast as everyone’s favorite postulant, casting choices that followed the film’s lead (and both are tremendously talented women). But look at the choice—you could never imagine casting either Luker or Benanti as Peter Pan or Annie Oakley.

Casting a movie can be a very different exercise from casting a stage production. Often the integrity of the role is sacrificed for celebrity by casting someone who can’t sing too well, can’t sing the role the way it was written, or is too old for the part. Casting Julie Andrews as Maria was inspired, though it fits a film’s style more than it would probably fit a stage production (particularly in the way that The Sound of Music was reconceived for film). What the film captures in a close-up with Andrews may have been difficult for the stage to have successful communicated. I never saw Mary Martin on stage, but my understanding is that her performances were full of pluck, energy, and charm. I have a feeling her Maria didn’t abandon those traits (and the show was written to play to those strengths as well).

Yet, stage productions of The Sound of Music are always caught chasing after the beauty and charm of Julie Andrews, rather than going for someone with the plucky cow-town charms of a Mary Martin.

It’s interesting to compare this to the casting of Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie. The original Broadway Millie was going to be Erin Dilly, a very talented and versatile actress in the Julie Andrews vein (who played Millie in the original movie), but the show’s creators realized that they needed something different. It seems to me that their final choice—Sutton Foster—has more in common with Mary Martin than she would ever have with Julie Andrews. But then again, the needs of casting for the stage are something altogether different.

So, if I were to cast a stage production of The Sound of Music, I think it would be interesting to expand my horizons in casting Maria. A great role is open to many different interpretations, but I would love to see what a Sutton Foster type would do with the role . . . if I could only escape the movie.

the Broadway Mouth
May 3, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Casting Quandaries II: What It Is, It Wouldn’t Be

As Alice says in Alice in Wonderland:
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”

That about sums up the casting for a couple of musicals. The more apparent one is probably Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She’s not supposed to be a spectacular performer, yet people pay big bucks to see someone who can sing. I believe it was Ken Mendelbaum who identified Susan Egan as the best Sally of the last revival because she was able to perfectly balance those two facets of the character.

Like Annie in “Casting Quandaries I,” there’s another role that’s mysteriously difficult to cast. It’s hard for me to fully comment because I don’t think I’ve seen the definitive production of the show (though I have seen several strong productions). When it comes to Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the temptation seems to be to take the kid you want to cast because he’s so nice and give him the role. After all, it is good old Chuck; how much stage presence do you need?

I love my Broadway revival cast recording of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown with Anthony Rapp in the title role, a production I never got to see. It’s interesting to hear it because, though the character is . . . well, Charlie Brown . . . Rapp is still giving an endearing, strongly sung, and theatrical performance. He found a way to bring to life a wallflower, a failure, and a self-defeating character without sacrificing stage presence, warmth, and humor.

It seems to me that the best casting of Charlie Brown would be in finding one of your strongest character performers, then casting him in that role. The show is, after all, named for Charlie Brown. He shouldn’t be the least memorable character in the show (just as he was never the least memorable character in the cartoon specials).

the Broadway Mouth
May 1, 2008