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 Last Musical Or Play You Watched?

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Harmsway
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PostSubject: To be merged   Sun Jan 15, 2012 8:59 am

Not a movie, but no idea where else to talk about this, but I gotta, since it's bound to be the highlight of 2012 for me: I saw Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES on Broadway at the Marquis.

FOLLIES has always been something of an odd show, kinda like a weird cross between WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. This mixture, though, is why FOLLIES remains one of the great theatrical accomplishments. When properly staged, FOLLIES is exhilarating and devastating in equal measure, both an elegy and a celebration, a study in nostalgia's pleasures and soul-damaging dangers. While FOLLIES has looked very different every time it's been produced, with a book and score that has been constantly revised, for most the gold standard remains the original 1971 Hal Prince/Michael Bennett production, which was grand on a scale that couldn't be replicated today. Subsequent revivals have often struggled to achieve a similar sense of scale (the remarkably pared-down 2001 Broadway production was largely regarded as an unmitigated disaster).

I must say, though, that the new production on Broadway is an astonishing winner, and the greatest experience I've ever had in a theater. Recognizing that it could not match the sheer spectacle of the original, it makes sure that what slighter hints of classic Broadway glamor deliver the goods (the costuming is fantastic across the board, and provides a sufficient glimpse of the old theatrical grandeur), and in lieu of grandiose staging, decides to let the energy and charisma of the performers carry the big show-stoppers ("Mirror, Mirror," the big show-stopping dance number, is as irresistably exhilarating as one could hope for it to be). Otherwise, the production plays up the eeriness of the show, having transformed the sterile, modern Marquis theater into a dilapidated, old-fashioned stage where the ghosts of the past stalk the cast members.

But what separates the production from so many of the other revivals is the pitch-perfect cast, which hasn't a weak link in the bunch, and seems surprisingly unified (often, FOLLIES has had the problem of seeming hopelessly fragmented, more like a concert of disconnected numbers than a show, which is far from the case here). One by one, they breathe life into a score crammed with over-performed standards. The four leads--Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein--give this production its heart and soul, portraying their faded, wilted characters with devastating sincerity. Peters is particularly astonishing, given how well she transforms herself from her usually glowing, irresistible self into a frumpy, fragile, off-kilter Sally. When Sally's slide into madness reaches its apex with the ballad "Losing My Mind," I was in tears.

If I had the money and the time, I'd rush back to New York to catch it a second time before it closes on the 22nd of this month (after that, it heads to Los Angeles, but without Bernadette Peters). I sadly won't have that chance, but at least I'll have the terrific recording, which is the almost certainly the best recording of FOLLIES to date. Previous recordings were either incomplete (the Original Broadway Cast recording), disjointed (the '85 Concert recording), misguided (the Original London Cast recording), or listless (the '98 "Complete" recording). But this recording is both coherent and passionate, a true record of one of Broadway's great shows.

I'm now more apprehensive than ever about the idea of a FOLLIES movie. Last word we heard was that Sam Mendes was working on it with script duties going to Aaron Sorkin. Doesn't seem right to me, especially since Mendes doesn't seem to do well with "traditional" Broadway productions (his staging of GYPSY was a disaster), and his previous excursions into domestic disillusionment leave much to be desired. Provided he was willing to stick closely to James Goldman's book (yep, the same James Goldman of LION IN WINTER fame) and didn't soften the bleak finale, I have to say the ideal director would probably be Spielberg, who would be able to handle the characters with the right level of compassion, as well as capture the glamor of old-school musicals. Spielberg has said he always wanted to do a musical, after all.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Sun Jan 15, 2012 11:27 am

Just picked up the 25th Anniversary performance of Phantom of The Opera at the Albert Hall, definitely the best version I've seen hands down. The acting, the sets, the orchestra, all perfection. Ramin Karimloo manages to make Gerard Butler sound like a choir boy, that alone puts it above the movie for me.

I plan on catching it live at the Majestic later this year, ALW has his share of haters but I adore the score, and know the majority of it on piano. Beautiful stuff.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:16 am

I have a lot of fondness for PHANTOM (I've seen the show six or seven times, most recently this past December), but don't really love the 25th Anniversary Concert, even if it beats the pants off of the 2004 film. Not only does it lack Hal Prince/Maria Bjornson's remarkable staging and design (which honestly accounts for at least 60% of the value of the show), but the two male leads, Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser, are decidedly third-rate. Sierra Boggess is radiantly beautiful, though, even if she isn't the best-voiced Christine out there.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:32 pm

I'll take your word for it Harms, you would know better than most. I suppose I'm in for quite a treat when I do see it live then. :) I haven't been fortunate enough to see many live musicals, touring is almost non-existent in the middle of Maine.

On that note, I finally tracked down a bootleg of Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde starring Rob Evan. It's not the best quality but it makes the play look so much better without Hasselhoff's insufferable 'acting' dragging the whole production down. I'm really quite a fan otherwise, I own about 6 different recordings and it's quite exciting, more accessible than Phantom even IMO. Have you heard it?

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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:04 pm

Chigawa wrote:
I'll take your word for it Harms, you would know better than most. I suppose I'm in for quite a treat when I do see it live then. :)
When do you plan on seeing it? I only say that because Hugh Panaro is the current Phantom on Broadway, and he's quite good.

Chigawa wrote:
I haven't been fortunate enough to see many live musicals, touring is almost non-existent in the middle of Maine.
Understandable. To be honest, theater culture isn't particularly great even in Philadelphia, major metropolitan area though it might be. I make the trip up to New York City about once every month to see a play, musical, or opera.

This year, I'm contemplating seeing THE BEST MAN, opening in March, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, due to open in October, and possibly the in-the-works revival of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, provided it makes it to the stage.

I'm hoping that the new Chichester Festival SWEENEY TODD production starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, due to open in the West End later this year, will eventually make it to Broadway. Apparently, Sondheim absolutely adores it, and the last Broadway revival of SWEENEY TODD was the pared-down, cast-as-the-orchestra production, and I have little to no interest in a TODD production that doesn't use a full orchestra. So much of the appeal of that show lies in the Sondheim score with the marvelous Tunick orchestrations.

Chigawa wrote:
Have you heard it?
I've never given JEKYLL AND HYDE a full listen.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:39 pm

I would definitely recommend it. Sweeny Todd is another favorite of mine and I definitely agree about the orchestra, I honestly couldn't imagine it without that full sound.

And hopefully I'll be making the commute this April around tax season, so fingers crossed he's still there.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Tue Jan 17, 2012 1:57 pm

Chigawa wrote:
I would definitely recommend it. Sweeny Todd is another favorite of mine and I definitely agree about the orchestra, I honestly couldn't imagine it without that full sound.
Seeing shows with full orchestras these days is becoming a rarity. In order to cut costs, more and more shows are relying on synth accompaniment. When I saw Trevor Nunn's revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC not too long ago (with Catherine Zeta Jones and Angela Lansbury), the orchestra had been halved, and it definitely robbed the show of some of its elegance. It was to my great pleasure that when I saw FOLLIES, it had a full, 28-piece orchestra.

The director who did the pared-down SWEENEY did the same thing to Sondheim's COMPANY. That wasn't as big a problem, given the nature of COMPANY's more pop-y score. He's apparently giving PASSION the same treatment later this year, a move I'm fairly dubious about; I think PASSION demands lush orchestrations.

Chigawa wrote:
And hopefully I'll be making the commute this April around tax season, so fingers crossed he's still there.
He's one of the better Broadway Phantoms of recent years. The English-language Phantoms on both sides of the pond have tended toward the generic over the past decade (gone are the days of Phantoms like Michael Crawford, Colm Wilkinson, Peter Karrie, or Kevin Gray, people who, for better or worse, really put their stamp on the part), but Panaro is nevertheless a stand-out. He's got a fine voice, and his diction is very distinctive.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Thu Jan 19, 2012 4:34 am

Colm Wilkinson played the Phantom?...never knew that. He was also the first Jekyll/Hyde in an early recording. I'm debating whether to see Les Mis while I'm in NY or just wait for the movie, I've never heard or seen it before.


I know, when it comes to musicals I'm quite the n00b.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Thu Jan 19, 2012 5:01 am

DANCER IN THE DARK: best musical I've ever bothered watching.

As far as traditional musicals go, I do enjoy AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Though, I believe there were quite a few issues with the actual music, caused by studio nonsense.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Thu Jan 19, 2012 2:15 pm

Mr. Brown wrote:
DANCER IN THE DARK: best musical I've ever bothered watching.
Boy, do I hate that film. On the topic of DANCER IN THE DARK, Poul Ruders composed an opera based on the film. I've no idea how well that went over.


Last edited by Harmsway on Thu Jan 19, 2012 2:28 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Thu Jan 19, 2012 2:19 pm

Chigawa wrote:
Colm Wilkinson played the Phantom?...never knew that.
He was the first guy to ever perform the part (during the preview of the first act of the show that Webber put on in Sydmonton), and later became the premiere Canadian Phantom. You can hear him on the Original Canadian Cast recording. I don't think he was a particularly good Phantom, for what it's worth, but he was unique.

Chigawa wrote:
I'm debating whether to see Les Mis while I'm in NY or just wait for the movie, I've never heard or seen it before.
LES MISERABLES is no longer running on Broadway. I've seen the show a few times during the US Tour. I don't much care for it, to be honest. It's not very a very interesting stage show on either a conceptual or musical level. One always has the sense when watching it that it's constantly dragging its feet, thanks to the show's irritating dependence on soliloquies.

I'm quite skeptical about the new film, too. Nothing about Tom Hooper suggests to me that he'll make for a particularly good movie musical director, and the way the musical is structured, it doesn't lend itself to cinematic presentation quite easily. If I had to guess, it's gonna be quite the dull experience.

Chigawa wrote:
I know, when it comes to musicals I'm quite the n00b.
You gotta start somewhere, though I gotta say that the "blockbuster" musicals like PHANTOM or LES MIS aren't really where you're gonna find the really good stuff.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:05 am

I admit I'm a bit ignorant when it comes to musical theatre. Vesper's roughly the same age as me, yet he's familiar with Sondheim's GYPSY. WTF?

Could someone point me in the right direction? Where do I start?
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:18 am

Largo's Shark wrote:
I admit I'm a bit ignorant when it comes to musical theatre. Vesper's roughly the same age as me, yet he's familiar with Sondheim's GYPSY. WTF?

Could someone point me in the right direction? Where do I start?
What have you heard (and liked)? I can list off the respected classics (PORGY AND BESS, THE THREEPENNY OPERA, GYPSY, WEST SIDE STORY, etc.), but I always find it easier to work my way into something if I follow my emotional responses rather than working my way through some established canon.

There's a pretty big swath of musical theatre that doesn't do a lot for me (Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein), even though they're regarded as the greats. I think musicals really came into their own in the 1960s.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:18 am

I hang around with pretentious grammar school grads and law students: I forced myself to look it up for conversational/networking purposes.

I started with albums 'For example: Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter song book' etc and just worked my way backwards.

Like Harms said, start by going with what resonates: Hear a song, google who wrote it, what play it came from, its performance history, listen to different versions to gain some perspective.

An album I stumbled upon by accident on Spotify was 'Susan Egan Live! With Christopher McGovern' -- I found it a good point to work backwards from because a) she has a voice like butter and b) it covers a pretty freaking diverse range of theatre - from Rogers & Hammerstein to Cabaret to Thoroughly Modern Millie. Again, hear something you like, google it, go from there.

Once you find a show or a songwriter/pair you think you like the sound of, try and find a cast album. If there's a recording of a performance somewhere, go for it.

After a couple of months doing this I can hold a conversation pretty decently; I had a bit of an advantage insofar as my father played in more than a few orchestra pits as a hobby and my aunt is a failed playwright who would drag me to plays as 'birthday presents' but that only got me so far.

Going to productions help, but depend on the talent of your local talent pool. Also YouTube is a goldmine. I managed to find footage of Judi Dench in CABARET; Lansbury in GYPSY; etc.




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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:21 am

Harmsway wrote:
Largo's Shark wrote:
I admit I'm a bit ignorant when it comes to musical theatre. Vesper's roughly the same age as me, yet he's familiar with Sondheim's GYPSY. WTF?

Could someone point me in the right direction? Where do I start?

What have you heard (and liked)? I can list off the respected classics (PORGY AND BESS, THE THREEPENNY OPERA, GYPSY, WEST SIDE STORY, etc.), but I always find it easier to work my way into something if I follow my emotional responses rather than working my way through some established canon.

There's a pretty big swath of musical theatre that doesn't do a lot for me (Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein), even though they're regarded as the greats. I think musicals really came into their own in the 1960s.

I'm familiar with three out of the four classics you name, but Sondheim is a big grey area for me. I know SWEENEY TODD, but not much else.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:29 am

Largo's Shark wrote:
I'm familiar with three out of the four classics you name, but Sondheim is a big grey area for me. I know SWEENEY TODD, but not much else.
For GYPSY, Sondheim only provided lyrics. But it is an important show in how it paved the way for what would come later (I don't love the whole show, but the climactic number, "Rose's Turn," is a knockout).

For Sondheim, other than SWEENEY TODD, I'd look at these (I've singled out my preferred recordings for each):

GYPSY (1973 Original London Cast Recording)
COMPANY (1970 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
FOLLIES (2011 Broadway Revival Cast Recording)
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (1995 Royal National Theatre Cast Recording)
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

I think there are other Sondheim shows that would be of interest to you (PACIFIC OVERTURES and PASSION are not as significant, but they have lovely scores), but those are the shows that you should probably start with. They're the "canonical classics."
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:34 am

Vesper wrote:
I hang around with pretentious grammar school grads and law students: I forced myself to look it up for conversational/networking purposes.

Gotcha. I figured there was an ulterior motive somewhere. laugh

Vesper wrote:
I started with albums 'For example: Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter song book; Susan Egan Live! With Christopher McGovern (I found that one good because a) she has a voice like butter and b) it covers a pretty freaking diverse range of theatre - from Rogers & Hammerstein to Cabaret to Thoroughly Modern Millie)' etc etc and just worked my way backwards.

I'm fan of Fitzgerland, Landsbury and Lenya. I guess I should go from there.

As far as contemporary singers go, I like Audra McDonald.

Vesper wrote:
Hear a song, google who wrote it, what play it came from, its performance history, listen to different versions to gain some perspective.

This only really works for me with radio. I can't count the number of times I've jotted what I could decipher of lyrics from songs at night, then googled them the next day to find the artist.

Vesper wrote:
IGoing to productions helps, but it depends on the quality of the talent pool where you live.

London's first rate, though I'm always wary of new productions. Too many pseuds out there.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:42 am

If you love Lansbury, Sharky, you should definitely get the GYPSY recording I recommended. Lansbury plays Mama Rose on that recording, and it's probably the best musical theatre performance she ever gave.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:44 am

Just curious Harms, have you seen (either live or recorded) any of Bernadette Peter's in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and if so what did you think? I recall you saying on old MI6 that you considered Dench's Send In The Clowns the definitive version, but in the clips I've seen I think Peter's might give her a run for her money.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:58 am

Vesper wrote:
Just curious Harms, have you seen (either live or recorded) any of Bernadette Peter's in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and if so what did you think? I recall you saying on old MI6 that you considered Dench's Send In The Clowns the definitive version, but in the clips I've seen I think Peter's might give her a run for her money.
I saw that production on my honeymoon, actually, but not with Peters (I saw Catherine Zeta Jones, who was so beautiful in person that I had to catch my breath every time she came onstage, and Angela Lansbury, who was delightful).

I've seen the clips with Peters. I've heard that she was wonderful live. Still, the part of Desirée was written for a non-singer, and I've always preferred rougher voices for the role, like Glynis Johns and Judi Dench.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:25 am

Largo's Shark wrote:
Vesper wrote:
I hang around with pretentious grammar school grads and law students: I forced myself to look it up for conversational/networking purposes.

Gotcha. I figured there was an ulterior motive somewhere. laugh

It's helped get me laid twice and convinced a lot of people I had a well-read and culturally refined upbringing laugh

Quote :
Vesper wrote:
I started with albums 'For example: Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter song book; Susan Egan Live! With Christopher McGovern (I found that one good because a) she has a voice like butter and b) it covers a pretty freaking diverse range of theatre - from Rogers & Hammerstein to Cabaret to Thoroughly Modern Millie)' etc etc and just worked my way backwards.

I'm fan of Fitzgerland, Landsbury and Lenya. I guess I should go from there.

If you like Lenya try out CABARET. It's Kander & Ebb so even if you don't love it you probably won't hate it (I'm fascinated by CABARET insofar as I haven't found a version I like in its totality).



Also Joel Grey is worth knowing as a link to finding other shows. If you haven't see the film it probably wouldn't hurt to see that since Kander & Ebb wrote or recycled a lot of the more famous songs associated with the play specifically for the film. And you get to see Grey's performance on film and Minelli is actually kind of decent in it.

'Fitzgerald has a series of albums 'sings the Cole Porter song book' 'sings Gershwin' 'sings the Irving Berlin songbook' that are pretty good cliffnotes for those older composers.

Going for the Lansbury recording of GYPSY is smart for all the reasons Harms points out and the fact that Ethel Merman is unbearable.

Quote :
Vesper wrote:
Hear a song, google who wrote it, what play it came from, its performance history, listen to different versions to gain some perspective.

This only really works for me with radio. I can't count the number of times I've jotted what I could decipher of lyrics from songs at night, then googled them the next day to find the artist.

Well then maybe just llisten to cast recordings and read the wiki so you get the point/context of the song? I suppose that could work.

Harmsway wrote:
Vesper wrote:
Just curious Harms, have you seen (either live or recorded) any of Bernadette Peter's in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and if so what did you think? I recall you saying on old MI6 that you considered Dench's Send In The Clowns the definitive version, but in the clips I've seen I think Peter's might give her a run for her money.
I saw that production on my honeymoon, actually, but not with Peters (I saw Catherine Zeta Jones, who was so beautiful in person that I had to catch my breath every time she came onstage, and Angela Lansbury, who was delightful).

I've seen the clips with Peters. I've heard that she was wonderful live. Still, the part of Desirée was written for a non-singer, and I've always preferred rougher voices for the role, like Glynis Johns and Judi Dench.

In the clip I've seen I thought she struck a decent balance but fair enough. Though there was a youtube comment on the bootleg I watched from someone who is boycotting broadway because Peter's didn't BELT Send In The Clowns laugh
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Thu Jan 03, 2013 5:19 pm

Just discovered Follies.

Finally fully onto the Sondheim bandwagon. The man is brilliant.

Harms, is there a recording that you would recommend? I read that the original broadway cast recording cuts a lot out.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Jan 04, 2013 12:04 am

Vesper wrote:
Harms, is there a recording that you would recommend? I read that the original broadway cast recording cuts a lot out.
The new recording with Bernadette Peters is the best overall. The original Broadway cast recording is great for capturing something of the original cast (which is still, by far, the *best* cast for FOLLIES), but it's so chopped up that it doesn't make any sense on its own.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Fri Jan 04, 2013 12:32 am

I just remembered you recommended one earlier and came back to edit my post laugh

But thanks for the suggestion, I will check it out.
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PostSubject: Re: Last Musical Or Play You Watched?    Sun Jan 06, 2013 4:59 am

So after a bit of searching this is definitely my favourite version of 'Could I Leave You'

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