My daughter’s musical tastes

The day before a momentous one

hamilton logoI’ve noted that my daughter’s musical tastes include 1990s soul, developed without much input from me, though I approve.

She’s been involved in a few musicals at church, so she knows The Lion King. Her parents have let her know about West Side Story and Fiddler On The Roof. She discovered Grease on her own.

Recently, she’s been playing the Studio Cast Recording to the musical Six, about the six wives of Henry VI. The first song, Ex-Wives, repeats the bromide to remember their fates: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. It could be useful in a history class.

Indeed, her affection for Hamilton, long before I was aware of it, has helped her in that manner. She knows who ran in the election of 1800, e.g. Likewise her knowledge of Assassins, the interesting Sondheim musical about people who killed Presidents, or tried to, has helped. Musicals aren’t history, of course, but they can be useful.

Her father, as noted, gave her Beatles #1s when she was five. So I was amused with one of those periodical articles, this showing up in the local paper, by a guy named Michael Gorelick. His commentary was titled “Fab Four music seriously flawed” The writer says nausea overwhelms him “three seconds after hearing a Beatles song.”

I would disagree, of course, as did at least four readers of the Times Union. But he did say one thing that was true of me. I used Beatles music to babysit my child, unapologetically. Compare Adam@Home.

More of the road trip songs

I’m continuing with songs she picked out on the road trip.

Take On Me -A-ha
No Scrubs – TLC
Stand Up – Cynthia Erivo. This is from the movie Harriet, which she did not see, but her parents did.

Jugaste y Sufri – Eslabon Armado ft. Danny Lux
Lover Is A Day – Cuco
Not Allowed – TV Girl
t r a n s p a re n t s o u l – Willow Smith ft. Travis Barker

Cupid’s Chokehold/Breakfast In America – Gym Class Heroes ft. Patrick Stump. I love that Supertramp album
Redbone – Childish Gambino
Moral Of The Story – Ashe. “You can think that you’re in love when you’re really just in pain.”
Daddy Issues – The Neighbourhood. Hmmm…

An off-year for the Oscars and me

see The Queen Of Basketball and The Long Goodbye

Historically, 1) I would see lots of movies in the theater throughout the year, and 2) I’d try to see whatever movies I’d missed after the Oscars were announced. This year, though, is an off-year for the Oscars and me.

For one thing, I saw far fewer movies in an actual cinema, always my preferred venue. For another, I’d make dates with my wife to watch some films on a streaming service, but the plans would fall through. I DID see a few online by myself, but I just didn’t have the mojo for doing that too often.

What DID I see that were nominated? I linked to my reviews in the BEST PICTURE category, or elsewhere if not nominated there.

JAVIER BARDEM in Being the Ricardos, which I watched a day ago and requires a full review
TROY KOTSUR in CODA. Based on all of the other awards, I’d think Kotsur is a near lock, which is fine by me.
J.K. SIMMONS in Being the Ricardos

PENÉLOPE CRUZ in Parallel Mothers
ARIANA DEBOSE in West Side Story                                                                            JUDI DENCH in Belfast. I was pulling for Caitríona Balfe, who played the mom in Belfast, but she wasn’t nominated

FLEE – Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie

WEST SIDE STORY – Janusz Kaminski
WEST SIDE STORY – Paul Tazewell


BELFAST – Kenneth Branagh
DRIVE MY CAR – Ryusuke Hamaguchi
LICORICE PIZZA -Paul Thomas Anderson
WEST SIDE STORY – Steven Spielberg
I saw all except Jane Campion for THE POWER OF THE DOG. Of the four, I’d pick Branagh.

ATTICA – Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry. Just saw this. Very thorough but greatly unsettling.
FLEE – Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie. Has there been an animated film nominated as a doc feature? Powerful. More soon.
SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, and David Dinerstein, which was splendid

THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL – Ben Proudfoot. You can watch it at this link. I didn’t write about this because I expected to see the others in this category. The IMDB description: “an electrifying portrait of Lucy Harris, who scored the first basket in women’s Olympic history and was the first and only woman officially drafted into the N.B.A. Harris has remained largely unknown – until now.” I found it quite informative and touching. Also sad, since Lucy recently died.


THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Norway) – just saw this; worthwhile. More in days to come.


PARALLEL MOTHERS -Alberto Iglesias
DOWN TO JOY from Belfast; Music and Lyric by Van Morrison.
I’m rooting for DOS ORUGUITAS from Encanto; Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The big category

BELFAST – Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas, Producers
CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger, Producers
DRIVE MY CAR – Teruhisa Yamamoto, Producer
LICORICE PIZZA – Sara Murphy, Adam Somner and Paul Thomas Anderson, Producers
WEST SIDE STORY – Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
Not having seen DON’T LOOK UP, DUNE, KING RICHARD, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, or THE POWER OF THE DOG, I’d pick CODA, though BELFAST would be a fine choice.

WEST SIDE STORY – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo

THE LONG GOODBYE – Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed A powerful film that you can watch here or here

BELFAST -Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
WEST SIDE STORY – Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME – Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick

CODA -Screenplay by Siân Heder
DRIVE MY CAR – Screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
BELFAST -Written by Kenneth Branagh
LICORICE PIZZA – Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD – Written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier. My favorite of the three.

It’s likely that I’ll get a short-term subscription to Netflix and see tick, tick…BOOM!, THE POWER OF THE DOG, and THE LOST DAUGHTER. Maybe catch some other films somehow.

The Hollywood Reporter: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

Movie review: West Side Story

There’s a place for us

West Side StoryOf course, my wife my daughter, and I HAD to go see the new movie West Side Story. Not only have we all seen the original film a number of times, but we’ve all attended at least three stage productions of the musical.

First, we loved the physical setup of the opening. The signage suggests the future location of Lincoln Center. It makes sense. “April 21, 1955: The Mayor’s Slum Clearance Committee chaired by Robert Moses is approved by the New York City Board of Estimate to designate Lincoln Square for urban renewal.” Nine years later, buildings began opening. The rubble in the new film was more believable.

Thus, this iteration is in keeping with the timeframe of the original musical (1957) and movie (1961). Of course, the vintage cars would tip one off as well.

This Tony (Ansel Elgort) has a rap sheet, less the dewy-eyed kid from film #1. So his Something’s Coming is less a certainty than a need. But he has the support of Valentina (executive producer Rita Moreno), who is the widow of Doc, who had run the store in the first movie. Valentina is a more substantial character and gets the most affecting song late in the story.

Fancy colors

My daughter noted the color schemes of the Jets (blues, greys) and Sharks (reds, browns). Though I wasn’t consciously aware of this, I must have subliminally picked up on the motif.

This Anita (Ariana DeBose) is at least as feisty as her predecessor, as Bernardo (David Alvarez) finds out. The “eyes lock across the room” between Tony and Maria (Rachel Zegler) isn’t as dramatically corny as in the first film.

What I loved about Tony singing the song Maria afterward is that other people notice, some with admiration, others with disdain, which was occasionally funny.

America was enhanced by dancing in the streets, with passersby occasionally getting a line. Gee, Officer Krupke really works in the new setting, with the ultimate musical payoff. One Hand, One Heart is lovely.

I always found Cool to be the weakest song in the show. In the musical, it’s before The Rumble, but afterward in the original film. It’s before here, but serving a very different purpose, showing a rift between Tony and Riff (Mike Faist).

The Tonight Quintet is the piece that first made me fall in love with West Side Story. The set of The Rumble, with the long shadows, worked well. So did the Gimbels, an old competitor of Macy’s in the day, for I Feel Pretty.


My nutritionist said that WSS is an opera. No more so than A Boy Like That/I Have A Love. The scene at Doc’s with Anita and the Jets was stronger this time.

It seems that from where Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera) shoots Tony, he could have also wounded Maria as well. This Chino was better developed. So was Anybodys (Iris Menas). This is a very talented cast.

If not every note feels as it did when I saw the original nearly six decades ago, it’s OK. Some folks complained that there was some dialogue in Spanish that was not translated. Given the fact that people throughout – the cops, and even Bernardo – were insisting people “speak English”, it was no big deal to me. But I will allow there was occasionally a bit too much talking altogether, IMO.

Still, we’re glad we saw the new film. The critics mostly agree. The box office was rather anemic. Did that have anything to do with allegations against Elgort?

A more fundamental question is whether there should be a remake at all. Did we NEED another version of A Star Is Born a couple of years ago? I dunno, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it.

I’m glad that WSS lyricist Stephen Sondheim got to see this film before he died. He said that he loved it. My family saw it at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on December 30.

Composer Stephen Sondheim

colonel,and journal

Stephen SondheimAs much as I loved Stephen Sondheim as the composer of some of my favorite songs, I was even more taken by him as a teacher and raconteur.

He came to that first profession because he was fortunate to have as a neighbor Oscar Hammerstein II, as in Rodgers and. Here’s a story I’ve heard him tell. “In 1945, Sondheim presented his first musical, By George, to Hammerstein, who told him: ‘It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was terrible, and if you want to know why it’s terrible, I’ll tell you.’

“Hammerstein taught him how to construct a musical. ‘I dare say, at the risk of hyperbole, that I learned more that afternoon than most people learn about songwriting in a lifetime.” 

Has anyone so talented been so hard on himself? His books Finishing The Hat (2010) and Look, I Made A Hat (2011) collect lyrics with Attendant Comments, Anecdotes, et al. They are very entertaining additions to my book collection. In fact, they reside perhaps a meter away from where I sit in the office. The former was my favorite book that year.

A massive body of work

wrote how Leonard Bernstein,  another of his teachers, kept him from using the obvious profanity at the end of Gee, Officer Krupke. Of course, as I’ve noted repeatedly, West Side Story is my favorite musical. Its creation and evolution from the stage to the movie have long fascinated me.

“The first show for which Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Comedy Night is a grand opening piece. I recall that from seeing a production of it back in the early 1970s. At some point years ago, I’ve actually sung the title tune from Anyone Can Whistle. My daughter was in a variation of his Assassins, which is difficult music indeed. I’ve seen the movie Into The Woods.

And I haven’t even mentioned Gypsy or Company or Follies or A Little Night Music. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George. As the Boston Globe asked, “Who else would write a musical about a vengeful barber whose victims are turned into meat pies (‘Sweeney Todd’)?”

Ken Levine notes an even earlier credit, on a television show. 

Words that rhyme

Here’s something I find intriguing. He believed “words that are spelled differently, but sound alike, such as rougher and suffer, engage the listener more than those spelled similarly, rougher and tougher… ‘I have got a rhyme in ‘Passion,’ colonel, and journal. Now, you look at them on paper, they seem to have no relation to each other at all. So, when you rhyme them, it’s, ooh, you know?'” I believe he is correct.

Mark Evanier has linked to Sondheim-related material dozens of times. As he noted: “If you have ever wanted to write songs or plays — or really anything — you will enjoy this conversation between Adam Guettel and Stephen Sondheim. It’s just two guys who write great stuff for the Broadway stage sitting around and yakking…”

Evanier also posted Send In The Clowns, sung by Bernadette Peters, generally considered the greatest interpreter of Sondheim’s work, with the composer on the piano.  And Everybody Wants To Be Sondheim, a “song written by — and performed here by — Alan Chapman.” In fact, just go to Mark’s site and search Stephen’s name.

Stephen Sondheim received nine Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammys, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). He was 91.

Well Intentioned White People; West Side Story

The Barrington Stage Company was founded in January 1995.

Well intentioned white peopleWhen my wife’s family was staying at a timeshare in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, my wife, my daughter, a brother-in-law, one of his daughters, and I went to see productions at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield.

More correctly, we went to the TWO theaters. On the Sunday, we went to the St. Germain to see the world premiere of the play Well Intentioned White People. It was written by Rachel Lynett, who gave an author talk before we’d gotten there.

Someone keyed Cass’ car with a racial epithet. The black professor, looking to make tenure, would just as soon let it go. But thanks to the well-meaning concern of her roommate Viv, it becomes public.

Soon Dean West from her university ends up wanting to make the incident a teachable moment, with Cass and another “minority”, Parker, having to do the heavy lifting to create an “appropriate” event in response.

Many of the characters are quite recognizable, especially the dean, if you’ve ever spent five minutes in the world of academia. You might be surprised to find that the story is often quite funny.

The production continues through September 8. I hope it will be considered for Cap Rep sometime in the future. Incidentally, Andrea Cirie, who plays the dean, has performed in the Albany theater.

The musical we, all but my BIL, saw on the following Wednesday on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, a couple blocks away from the St. Germain, was West Side Story.

I know this story extremely well, and it may be my favorite musical. I saw the movie when I was 10 or 11, I’ve seen a ballet, and several stage productions.

This may be the best. Here’s Steve Barnes’ review in the Albany Times Union. It is playing through September 1.

The Barrington Stage Company was founded in January 1995. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee premiered on the St. Germain stage in 2004, ran on Broadway from 2005-2008, and then played on the Mainstage later in 2008.

My wife and I are considering going to Pittsfield to see The Glass Menageie on the Mainstage in October. It’s amazing that with our several trips to the area over the past couple decades, we discovered BSC only this year.

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