Our month of theater, or theatre, if you will

“‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era.”

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks were in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.

Julie Andrews is 80

The Daughter thinks The Wife looks a bit like Julie Andrews from her Cinderella era, which pleases The Wife.

Julie_AndrewsIt is quite likely that the final episode of MASH that aired in 1983 was NOT the highest-rated non-sports television broadcast in United States history.

Some believe that the 1957 broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA, starring a rising Broadway performer named Julie Andrews eclipsed it, with 107 million viewers in the US alone.

I watched Julie Andrews in a ton of television performances, including several with Carol Burnett. But it wasn’t until this century that I ever saw her in a movie, when the Daughter introduced me to The Princess Diaries and its sequel, on video. No, I saw parts of Victor/Victoria, but not enough to count it. I’ve also HEARD her in Shrek 2, Enchanted, and Despicable Me.

My Julie movie drought is odd because my mother had the soundtracks of both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, which I grew up listening to. My current household saw Mary Poppins in December 2011, and The Sound of Music in the Fall of 2013. The Cinderella DVD was a 2009 family Christmas present; The Daughter thinks The Wife looks a bit like Julie from that era, which pleases The Wife.

My favorite Julie Andrews memory is an LP that came out in the mid-1960s. Back then, Firestone Tire Co. produced a new Christmas album every year, for sale at gas stations for a dollar. I STILL own an album featuring Julie Andrews.

Unfortunately, her gorgeous singing voice was wrecked by a throat operation in 1997, as she notes here, limited to a sing-speak kind of voice. She’s now concentrated on writing children’s books.


Sings for King George VI in 1948 (Aged 13)

12 year old Julie Andrews~Polonaise; Je suis Titania – Mignon

In my own little corner -Cinderella

A Spoonful of Sugar – Mary Poppins

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Mary Poppins

The Sound of Music

My Favorite Things – “The Sound of Music”

Edelweiss -The Sound of Music (not the movie version)

The Bells of Christmas, noted at the time, correctly, as “one of the best new Christmas Carols to come along in years.”

VIDEO REVIEW: The Sound of Music

Two new songs, I Have Confidence and Something Good, were added to The Sound of Music, written by Rodgers, after Hammerstein died.

One could reasonably make the case for movies one ought to see that came out this century. But there are SO many that I have never seen from the 20th Century that I don’t worry about the current stuff as much as I used to. Somehow, prior to this fall, I had NEVER seen The Sound of Music in its entirety. Oh, I’ve seen scenes, of course, but that’s not nearly the same thing.

It’s odd too because my mother had the LP soundtrack going back to nearly when it was released in 1965. I’ve had the CD of same for at least a decade and a half, and I love it dearly. I have great affection for the Morning Hymn that the nuns sing early on, and it’s in my Top Five movie soundtracks ever, along with West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof.

Still, I had not seen many of the songs in the context of the film. Is there a more stunning opening of a movie than the background of the Alps while Maria (Julie Andrews) sings the title song? I didn’t realize Maria’s outdoor excursion was going to get her in trouble back at the abbey.

I knew somewhat of the clash of child-raising styles between Captain von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), a Naval officer widower with seven children, and the free-spirited new nanny, Maria, but I’d miss many of the particulars, such as the whistle. Do-Re-Mi is shot all over Salzburg, and the extra disc for the 40th anniversary let me know that the city is now a destination for movie buffs, largely for that song.

Of course, Maria and the Captain end up together, but somehow I was totally unaware of the subplot involving the Baroness (Eleanor Parker) that briefly bring Maria back to the abbey. And bringing the movie to the intermission. Yes, it’s included on the disc, and we went to bed at that point to finish the movie it the next night, because it is a LONG film.

The real story of Maria and the Captain was compressed in time, and the escape from Austria after the Nazi appeasement was far easier in real life than in the cinematic version. The real family feels that the Captain in the film was far less flexible than the father they knew.

Other features of the extra disc featured the REAL story of the Von Trapp singers as they settle in Vermont and become an international sensation. It also contains a reunion of the seven then-child actors remembering the goofs they made here and there that ended up in the film, a misstep here, a fall there.

Seeing the movie has given me a greater appreciation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein score, which changed from the Broadway version that Mary Martin and others had commissioned. At least one song was dropped, and two new songs, I Have Confidence and Something Good, were added, written by Rodgers after Hammerstein died.

There’s going to be a LIVE version of the STAGE musical on NBC-TV on December 5. I MUST watch.
A Complete Curmudgeon’s Guide To ‘The Sound Of Music’. On the other hand, a study suggests that Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


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