Thursday, August 28, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “I’ll Forget You”

Like a couple of other songs on my list, “I’ll Forget You” is a new song that was written within the ten-year time period for a show that was originally written prior. The show was The Scarlet Pimpernel, which opened in 1997 and faced some significant alterations in 1998 and 1999, one of the alterations being the addition of “I’ll Forget You.”

In “I’ll Forget You,” composer Frank Wildhorn gives us another passionate, deeply emotional song worthy of both the Broadway stage and radio airwaves. It’s a song perfectly suited to the character and moment—Marguerite longing to break herself of her love for her husband—but it has that Wildhorn pop appeal in its grand emotional peaks (not to mention, on recording, in Rachel York’s powerful belt). Just like “Hey There,” “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and countless other hits from shows past, “I’ll Forget You” functions beautifully within the plot and without as well.

There is, however, a measure of depth to the lyric, in which Marguerite is promising herself one thing, clearly unable to follow through despite her intentions. She finally admits this to herself in a nice turn of the lyric, ending with, “I’ll forget you . . . / When I die . . .”

And although the rest of the score was written in 1997, there is a bevy of great songs in The Scarlet Pimpernel worth noting here, with Wildhorn’s music being greatly aided by Nan Knighton’s literate and poetic lyrics. Their work on “Madame Guillotine” is particularly brilliant, though “The Riddle,” “Into the Fire,” “You are My Home,” and “The Creation of Man” are all priceless gems from the show.

the Broadway Mouth
August 28, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bad Choice #546: Learn From My Mistakes, O Budding Theatre People

On Friday I attended a play a well-known local regional theatre. I was surprised to see a former middle school classmate in the program.

I’ve already shared on here the million different choices I’ve made that screwed up my artistic life over the past ten years—starting with majoring in education and ending with . . . well, maybe it hasn’t ended yet.

But through all of my desire to find an audience for my writing, I have resisted the thought of becoming involved in the local theatre scene, as thriving as it is. When I had boundless energy, I was exerting it all on keeping afloat as an English teacher—getting five hours of sleep at night because I was up late grading essays or re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be prepared to teach it—or job hunting in my desperate attempt to escape the classroom. Now that I’m not interested in sleeping only five hours a night or running from sun-up to sun-down, I really want to focus on what I really want to do—write.

This former middle school classmate—we’ll call her Ursula—spent all her twenties running around in dance, and now she’s made the connections to get to do some minimal (and I mean minimal) choreography for a major regional house. I saw her very early work, while she would have still been in college. She choreographed for a miserable high school production of a Jerry Herman musical, and her choreography perfectly fit in with the rest of the show. I mean, what else can you say for a dance number that ends with a cheerleaders’ pyramid?

And yet, she’s worked the Fringe, she’s done bits and pieces here and there, danced, and she’s got a budding career in choreography and musical staging.

My theory was that I wanted to write for either Broadway or Hollywood, so why waste my time locally. I was also frustrated by the lack of support I had when I produced a reading of my show, when people promised they would attend but never showed up, when I couldn’t find actors. No, the show wasn’t as brilliant as I thought it was, but it was a well-produced reading, and the lack of interest in even attending to provide feedback from the large number of local theatres I contacted by phone and mail (with beautiful, full-color artwork) proved to me I was a fish out of water. I don’t live in a city that supports new musical works because we can’t afford, by and large, to produce them. So why exert my energies here?

But now, whatever reasons aside, I’ve done all the writing, but I’ve gotten nowhere. Ursula, on the other hand, has.

I’m thrilled for Ursula. But what can I learn from her choices, and what can I do to apply that to my own aspirations?

the Broadway Mouth

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

16 Going On . . .: Analyzing Comedy, Part II

I recently highlighted a very funny rendition of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and asked people to think about what makes it funny. Here are some of my thoughts (and I encourage you to read the thoughts of my readers from the original column) . . .

1. Okay, so this one is obvious. Obviously the concept is a hoot—Dame Judi Dench playing a character who is sixteen. Not only is she so far removed from that age, but the facial expression that earns her roles like Lady Catherine de Burgh in Pride and Prejudice is even farther removed from sixteen going on seventeen.

2. Dench takes the comedy bit a step further, however, by caricaturing the character. She makes coquettish hand gestures that are a step larger than what the actress playing a part of that nature might otherwise do. She highlights her actual age and expression through the caricature.

3. Dench also adds to the concept in her facial expression, which is deliberately flat. She makes head turns and movements which don’t exactly match her facial expressions, which are naturally hard-edged. You could imagine where a young girl playing the part might look flirtatious, shy, or intimidated, but instead, Dench just looks mean.

4. The chorography is done specifically simple and childlike, which magnifies the ridiculousness of the whole thing, including her hair and costume. There is also the intricacy of the motion of the boy touching her breast and her slapping him, which is also very clever.

I grew up watching the best in comedy. I feel sorry for kids today who find Yes, Dear or The George Lopez Show so hilarious (I’ve seen an episode or two of each, and I simply don’t find them that funny). Though I am thirty-one, I grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and The Honeymooners, not to mention classic comedies like Singin’ in the Rain, The Fuller Brush Man, The Parent Trap, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, all of which are television shows and movies with many burst out loud laughing moments (many comedies people tell me are hilarious these days really only have three or four good comedy bits). What is Drake and Josh and Hannah Montana to kids today was what Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes was to me and my siblings—there is no comparison in quality.

In order to write or direct comedy, you have to know comedy (and even then, it’s not easy). It’s something innate, something that you can only teach yourself. It’s not something born within you; it’s something you get from experiencing the best. I’ve had moments in plays I’ve directed where comedy bits or lines are laugh-worthy in rehearsal but when the audience comes, the actor gets nervous and changes an inflection, a volume level, or even a head turn. Something as simple as that can completely destroy a laugh line.

I guess I have no point to make, except perhaps if you are a writer or director (or aspiring to be one), surround yourself with great work. Don’t turn away because it’s old, in black and white, or has actors you don’t know. Expand beyond one type of comedy. Even if you hate Adam Sandler’s work, like I do, at least give it a try. See what you can learn.

the Broadway Mouth
August 20, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chip Tolentino, I Feel Your Pain

It was a Scrabble match, my sister on one side of the table, her brother on the other (that would be me). Following a long history of her beating me, I’ve come to learn the true skills needed to succeed in Scrabble, which is not coming up with great words, but coming up with the words that’ll get you the most points, accomplished by maximizing use of the Double Word Score, Double Letter Score, et al squares.

These days my sister and I run neck and neck as we race toward that final letter (with me usually beating her out by a narrow margin—thank God she has a history of getting stuck with all vowels for long durations of the game play).

In this particular game, out of desperation, she has had to place an IT at the very bottom of the board, stopping just short of utilizing the red Triple Word Score square with her short unglamorous word . . . tit.

I then remember the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and see my chance. I just need a P, a sole P to make a word only I would know on that square, the only word that could use that Trip Word Score square. Thank you, William Finn, thank you.

And as I plan, I know what my sister will do. “Whatever,” she’ll say. “That is not a word. I challenge that.” She’ll look it up in her Official Scrabble Dictionary, see that it is, indeed, a word and lose a turn, giving me an even bigger upper hand in points.

So, I take my turn, hoping to dump enough letters to get a P so I can use my word. I make a word, dig for letters. No P.

Next turn, no P. Turn after that, no P. But then I find it, my glorious P. My fantastic, marvelous, sensational P. And I’m set to go.

“Whatever,” she says. “That is not a word. Use it in a sentence?”

“Um,” I answer, “I can’t . . . But that doesn’t mean it’s not a word.”

“I challenge that.”

With a smirk, I watch her page through her Official Scrabble Dictionary.

“It’s not in here,” she says.

“Well, it should be. It’s a word.”

“Oh wait, here it is.”

“See,” I say, “it’s a word.”

“But it’s not T-I-T-O-P. It’s T-I-T-T-U-P.”

Crap. Irony sucks.

Okay, so I still won the game. But Chip Tolentino, I feel your pain.

the Broadway Mouth
August 18, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

16 Going On . . . : Analyzing Comedy

I recently checked out from the library the DVD with the performance below. It’s a hoot.

One of my favorite ways of learning is through analysis. I look at works that are effective, powerful, funny, touching, romantic, or whatever, and I try to figure out why they are so effective, powerful, funny, touching, romantic, or whatever. The performance below is hilarious for more reasons than just the concept. Watch it, then feel free to share your analysis. Remember, you can post comments anonymously.

the Broadway Mouth
August 16, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “A Change in Me”

Though Beauty and the Beast opened in 1994, it wasn’t until 1998 when Toni Braxton took on the role of Belle that the Alan Menken/Tim Rice tune “A Change in Me” debuted and was on the fast-track to sixteen-bar celebrity as every ingĂ©nue’s audition piece.

Okay, to even suggest the song was needed is suspect. In fact, when the second national tour came around bearing “A Change in Me,” its inclusion dragged the second act wheras it had been satisfying before. It felt superfluous within one line of its lyrics being belted. Yet, it’s still one of the best songs to come out of Broadway in the past decade because of its melody and lyrics.

“A Change in Me” fits beautifully in the grand tradition of Disney songs, a tradition which now extends to Broadway. Rice’s lyrics for the song are some of the best in the whole show, his lyrics flowing from one idea to the next without obvious dependence on rhyme. It bears a simple concept, one perfectly fitting Belle’s experience—the idea that her experience has changed her where it counts. She no longer has a problem with her “poor, provincial town” because she is no longer dependant on it for her satisfaction. She has found the value of her life within herself.

Best of all, those simple, memorable lyrics are perfectly suited with Alan Menken’s catchy melody. I can’t be the only who finds himself hearing this song pleasantly running through his brain.

If you’re a fan of the song, you must get Susan Egan’s solo album So Far, in which she recorded “A Change in Me.” Egan was the original Belle on Broadway—the Belle preserved on recording—and it’s only fitting that her rendition is saved and in every fan’s collection.

the Broadway Mouth
August 6, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Results: You Wanted to Be a Producer

And have a hit show on Broadway? I guess we’ll see. Based upon our producing committee (those who voted in the survey from last week), the creative people for our musical comedy will be as follows:

Director: Joe Mantello
Music: Jason Robert Brown
Book: Bob Martin and Don McKellar (Thank you, though, to the person who had faith in me.)
Choreography: Rob Ashford
Leading Lady: Sutton Foster
Leading Man: Roger Bart
Supporting Actress: Susan Egan
Supporting Actor: Jason Danieley
We will open at the Palace.

And . . . if we don’t win any Tonys, we may close early because we will not resort to stunt casting to keep the show open.

So, how’d we do? Vote in the poll to your right.

If you want to see the original choices, look here: Click Here to take survey
Voting now will not change the final results.

the Broadway Mouth
August 2, 2008