Friday, 30 March 2007

Behind The Sofa!

Well it’s almost time for a new series of Doctor Who, so I thought I would stretch my “entertainment based” remit a little and talk about the first of my (occasional) essential television shows.

I am of an age that I can remember John Noakes climbing up Nelsons Column on Blue Peter, Todd Carty when he was Tucker Jenkins and Meg Mortimer’s husband being killed by international terrorists in Crossroads – so of course I can remember Doctor Who first time around as well. Though not quite from the beginning as it had been going for a good ten years by the time I was aware of it. My first recollections of the programme are very vague, I remember I watched it occasionally when Jon Pertwee played his silver haired, dandy, action hero take on The Doctor, and can remember losing interest completely when Tom Baker and his preposterous scarf and curly hair took over in 1974. The odd memory persists however. I think I can remember seeing Sarah Jane and the Daleks, and vividly recall Tom Baker’s Doctor writing “Fake” on the back of a number of forged Mona Lisa’s and possibly even Pertwee driving the preposterous Whomobile . Of course it’s difficult to separate real memories from things I have seen later though! My friend Jackie always reminds me that she was scared of the music… wahoooooooooooo wahooooooooooo it went as a metallic spiral spun round the screen. It was the spiral more than the music that scared me – but then again I was only little! However, up until I was around twelve I wasn’t really that interested in all honesty. Then, in 1981, BBC2 showed a special season of vintage episodes – I think it was called The Five Faces Of Doctor Who, and featured stories from each of the five Doctors. From then on I was hooked. When the series proper returned in 1982 with Peter Davison at the helm of the Tardis – ably assisted by the amazing Tegan Jovanka, the awful Adric and the too clever by half Nyssa (yes there really were that many of them!) – I watched it religiously. Cybermen, Daleks, The Master! They were all there, and when the series celebrated its twentieth anniversary with The Five Doctors I thought I was in heaven – it even brought back Sarah Jane who I remembered loving as a kid! Despite them often being knocked, I loved the Peter Davison years and still do. Shortly after Davison regenerated into Colin Baker I began my first Saturday job so never seemed to be in when the show was on, so the remaining years of the initial run more or less passed me by.

In the early nineties, with the advent of the video releases, I began to re-explore the series, but then I got UK Gold. A complete story every Sunday morning! Within about six months I had totally overdosed on the show and really did feel like I could never sit through an episode again. Of course this was not the case and I positively ate up the 1996 TV Movie starring Paul McGann and was saddened that the mooted new series never happened.

Fast forward a few years. The unimaginable happens. Doctor Who is back in production. I had enjoyed many conversations with Ian Mackenzie and Allan Ferris where we had talked about how they could bring the show back and how they would make it work. Thankfully Russell T.Davies hadn’t been listening to our ideas though! I nervously waited for the series, and found myself totally bowled over by the re-imagination of this classic concept. We had Christopher Eccleston bringing his heavyweight acting prowess to the ninth incarnation of The Doctor, along side a revelatory Billie Piper as his companion Rose. Lessons had been learnt from the likes of Buffy and Smallville and story arcs and recurring secondary characters all helped to bring the show right up to date. No doubt the show was a balancing act, but Davies managed to include enough elements of the old series to keep all but the most rigid fan happy – although not so much that it alienated newer viewers. Also the new regeneration of the series has a budget that can do justice to the stories, and we have monsters designed impressively using the most up to date CGI techniques, where as it was not unusual in the past to have them made of bubble wrap or corrugated card board.. Anyway it was back with a vengeance, I loved it, the public loved it and even the critics loved it. Once again, a whole new generation cowers behind the sofa on a Saturday evening and children play at Doctor Who and the Daleks! Action figures abound, the annual is back and a whole new range of novelisations to add to the many hundreds that have already been published.

I had said right from the start that the two things that I would really love to return to the show were Sarah Jane Smith and the Cybermen. So when they were both announced for the second series I couldn’t quite believe it! As David Tennant took over the controls of the Tardis the second series was even better than the first. This last Christmas also saw the pilot for The Sarah Jane Adventures which was excellent and I can’t wait for this spin off – very reminiscent of old style Who – to begin later in the year. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of the original series may have been it never had the emotional impact of this version which frequently moves me to tears or laughter. Also, in the past, I never quite became the fan I am now. I am slowly getting all the “Classic” Doctor Who releases on DVD, and have been known to read the odd novelization! (and yes some of them are very odd indeed) and even, shock horror, I buy the magazine now! But that’s as far as I will go! Honest! I’m really not the type to go to conventions dressed as a Terileptil or (god forbid!) Colin Baker.

What’s most interesting to me is a comment that Russell T. Davies made along the lines that Doctor Who will never go away – he will always live on in literature or the arts in some respect. This has certainly been proved over the years when the show has been off air. Countless books have been published along with CD dramatizations of plays – some of which have gone on to be broadcast on radio. We even had a stage musical once upon a time, but I can’t help feeling the less said about that the better! So will The Doctor fade away at some point? I doubt it. It seems that back in 1963 when a group of TV executives came up with this timeless concept that they created a true British fictional hero to rank alongside the likes of Sherlock Holmes. As once again playgrounds echo to the strains of “Exterminate!”, not to mention the plaintive cry of “Are you my Mummy?” it seems that the wandering galactic hobo from Gallifrey will never really vanish from popular British culture. I look forward to the third series with great interest – but firmly on the sofa and not hiding behind it!

So there you go! A little look at Doctor Who – and you thought I only liked musicals!

Most Who fans will disagree with me I am sure, but I do like The Five Doctors. Other than that I would say that all the current releases of the classic series have their merits. Of the early years there is a boxed set containing the first three stories (which include the debut of the Daleks) alongside the crotchety elderly Doctor that was William Hartnell, we have three companions – my favourite being school teacher Barbara. Barbara is a very strong character, challenging the Doctor at every step of the way and is atypical of female roles of the time. From the Patrick Troughton years Tomb Of The Cybermen is excellent, and the recent release of The Invasion, another Cyberman adventure, is well worth seeing. In the sixties it was common practice for the BBC to tape over shows after they had been broadcast so much of sixties Doctor Who is missing as a result, with the Troughton era being particularly sparsely represented. The Invasion had two episodes missing but thanks to contemporaneous sound recordings made by fans and the animation of Cosgrove Hall they have recreated the missing episodes for this edition. It’s fascinating viewing to see what television was like back in the sixties and how different story telling was then - particularly science fiction on a low budget! From the Pertwee era I would plump for The Claws Of Axos imaginatively filmed as it is. Anything with Sarah Jane is worth watching of course so the Baker era Genesis Of The Daleks (often voted the best ever story) and The Pyramids Of Mars are excellent choices – and the later City Of Death (cue the fake Mona Lisa’s) is also one of the best stories. The plague ridden The Visitation is possibly the best of the Davison stories currently on DVD, and I would plump for the Colin Baker The Two Doctors just because it sees Patrick Troughton’s final appearance in the series. Although I hated them at the time the Sylvester McCoy stories stand up quite well now and Remembrance Of The Daleks is probably as good as anything else from the first twenty years or so! As for the new series? Well you should be watching it!

In Closing
Destiny (Romanavoratrelundar)

Resurrection (Tegan Jovanka)

Revelation (Perpugilliam Brown)

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Soundtrack - Tracks 34-37

34.Grateful (Buchinno) DAVID CAMPBELL
Another song that (like “Another Hundred People”) mentions a city of strangers – but follows it up with “I’ve found a family of friends” . I have made some great friendships, some have been intense and short termed, yet friendships that have seemed slight and weak have grown stronger with time. Strangely it’s not always the people you expect to have the lasting friendships that remain in your life, it can often be the people you least expect to stay in touch with. Anyway the song deals with looking at what’s good in life and appreciating the positive things rather than dwelling on the negative. It’s not as difficult as it sounds either! Believe Me!

35.Your Lovely Face (Fordham) JULIA FORDHAM
The sentiments expressed in this song are very similar to those of “Losing My Mind” obsessive love, or at least a crush. It all seemed very real at the time but lusting after a heterosexual friend was really not going to get me anywhere! I did grow out of these crushes in time – although there were a good few up until my mid twenties!

36.Theme from “thirtysomething” (Walden/Levin) Snuffy W G Walden
I loved this TV series so much, and can’t wait for it to come out on dvd, so many of the stories that it dealt with are things that happen in all of our lives, and it really was a big part of my life! The only story I can connect to it is that once I served Mel Harris (Hope Steadman) and such was my enthusiasm to be speaking to her that when I wrote out her duplicate ticket out I forgot to write the level on so she had to come back again for me to correct it! I should know by now – if I get talking to a celebrity who I admire in some way I ALWAYS end up mucking up their booking! I really am an embarrassment. It happened with Tracie Bennett when I started talking about her sitcom, and also with David Suchet when I enthused about “Blott On The Landscape”. I really am an embarrassment!

37“Running Bear” (Preston) JOHNNY PRESTON
Time for a little light relief I feel! Plum, Jo, Alex, Lisa, Lisa, Rebecca and more… we would work hard on “Miss Saigon” by day and end up at the Rock Island Diner by night. It was an American fast food restaurant where fifties and sixties music was played and when certain songs came on, this one included, the waiters and waitresses would stop serving and do the dance routine on the bar and the tables. Many a drunken evening was spent there ….up until we blotted out copy books….One night some of us – well Plum and Alex had been there since happy hour and were rather worse for wear by the time the rest of us arrived - anyway they were so drunk that they ended up bringing the fire doors down and subsequently we were banned from the restaurant and told we had to pay fifty pounds penalty! It was many months before we dared cross their threshold again!

Friday, 23 March 2007

In My Easter Bonnet With All The Frills Upon It - Column Entry

In My Easter Bonnet With All The Frills Upon It

When asked what place Irving Berlin had in American popular music, Jerome Kern (composer of Showboat) simply stated Irving Berlin is American popular music. From early compositions such as Alexander’s Ragtime Band to the best of his Broadway shows, Annie Get Your Gun, the Russian immigrant Isaiah Baline (as he was born) was and remains one of the great exponents of popular song both on and off Broadway. Highly regarded by his contemporaries, both for his song writing prowess as well as championing the rights of composers and lyricists, Berlin was equally loved by the public – therefore it was inevitable that Hollywood would show some interest in his work.

Berlin maintained a great deal of control on his work, and was involved with many movie projects over the years – some of which reached fruition, others of which vanished without trace. Without a doubt the most successful of Berlin’s film projects was the 1948 Easter Parade, which included songs from his early career along with some specially written for the movie. As Easter is just around the corner it seems an opportune time to look at this musical. It was Irving Berlin himself who had the idea for “Easter Parade” and went to Twentieth Century Fox offering them the project for $600,000 and a percentage. Fox wasn’t impressed with the financial deal but Louis B.Mayer (head of MGM) instructed producer Arthur Freed to snap up the deal before anyone else got their hands on it.

The movie was originally slated to star Judy Garland and Gene Kelly with Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson in supporting roles. Before long it became clear that the Sinatra role would only require minimal singing so this was passed on to Peter Lawford. When Graysons role became essentially a dance number , the operatic soprano also bowed out to be replaced by Cyd Charrisse, and then in turn she was replaced by Ann Miller. The biggest change in casting was when Gene Kelly broke his leg while indulging in an extra curricular ball game and , at his own suggestion, was replaced by Fred Astaire who, despite retiring two years previously, was eager to get back to Film making. In the directors chair was Charles Walters, another replacement – this time for Vincente Minnelli.

As with many of these old movie musicals the plot is simple. Don Hewes (Astaire), one half of acclaimed Vaudeville song and dance team Nadine and Hewes is thrown into turmoil when Nadine leaves the act to star in a Broadway show. A desolate Don drowns his sorrows at a café, where he vows that he can turn any of the café’s chorus girls into a star. As he leaves he offers Nadine’s job to Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) – although Hannah doesn’t believe him for a minute. It’s only after he has gone that she is made aware of who Don is, and that this could be her big chance.

The next morning Don begins trying to transform Hannah into a rival for Nadine and is determined that at the next Easter Parade all eyes will be on her. First step is to change the poor girls name to Juanita, and then they set off on a casual stroll to see how much of an impact she makes on passers by. Initially the impact is little or none, until Hannah starts making faces at all the men she sees who then can’t help but give her a second glance. Their act is not successful, and its decided that imitating Nadine is not the way to go – so they revamp the act focussing on Hannah’s real skills, and around this time she meets Johnny Harrow (Peter Lawford) and is immediately smitten. Hannah and Hewes become so successful that a producer wants to build a Broadway show around their talents, and their opening night on Easter Saturday 1913 is an unparalleled triumph, culminating in what became a signature number for Astaire and Garland – A Couple Of Swells, performed as a couple of tramps! As always seems to happen, at the eleventh hour, a misunderstanding arises and Hannah flees to the café where she first met Don as she is convinced he wants to re-team with Nadine. Don’s attempts to reconcile with Hannah fall on deaf ears, until the next morning – Easter Sunday, when Hannah surprises him with flowers, candy and even a bunny rabbit in a hat! Then needless to say its time for the Easter Parade of the title, and as all eyes are indeed on Hannah, the ever suave Don slips an engagement ring on her finger.

Ok, so the plot is kind of simple but that’s not to take away from a stunning set of musical numbers. Contractually Berlin was to provide eight songs from his back catalogue and another eight original compositions. Many of his earlier works are perfect for the vaudeville scenes – such as I Love A Piano and When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam’ . However, it’s in the songs written specially for the film that it really does begin to soar! Drum Crazy is a typical prop laden Fred Astaire dance number as he uses all the merchandise in a toy store to attempt to distract a young boy from the last Easter bunny! It Only Happens When I Dance With You is a lovely romantic song that, although written specially for Garland, is first sung by Astaire in the movie as he attempts to woo Nadine. Steppin’ Out With My Baby is another big dance routine by Fred along with the chorus and is a real showstopper. Ann Miller gets to perform one of her most memorable numbers Shaking The Blues Away. This energetic dance number is remarkable in that Ann was actually suffering from back problems at the time and spent each night in traction during the movies production. Undoubtedly the films highlight is A Couple Of Swells, performed as a couple of tramps with outsized dirty clothes and blackened teeth, this is one of the most memorable musical performances ever committed to film. Fred’s costume is an absolute antithesis to his usual urbane screen image. One of the highlights of the film for Garland was her rendition of Mr Monotony however, for an unrecorded reason, this scene was cut from the picture and did not see the light of day until That’s Entertainment III was released in 1994. The song had a similarly beleagured history on stage where it was cut from both Call Me Madam and Miss Liberty before finally finding a home in 1989’s Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

The film was a huge hit, and continues to make money almost sixty years after it’s initial release. Sadly this was to be the only screen pairing for Astaire and Garland, a second movie should have been The Berkeleys Of Broadway however, owing to Garland being ill, Astaire’s erstwhile dance partner, Ginger Rogers, stepped into the breach. In private it is said that Astaire found Garland to be his best dancing partner. This was no doubt partly due to Garland being a very quick study. At the time Fred said She’s just great! I go through these very intricate dance steps. She asks me to go through them again. That’s all the instruction she needs, she picks it up so quickly. And she could do things – anything – without rehearsing and come off perfectly. She could learn faster, do everything better than most people. Factor into this Garland’s admiration for Astaire and it’s easy to see why this pairing made such magic in this movie. Then of course there was Miller, who came onto the film after a miscarriage and serious back injuries, and admired both of her co-stars greatly – I was in excruciating pain with my back all during the shooting: I couldn’t dance in the steel brace (I was supposed to be wearing), so I had to be taped up each day….Each night my mother strapped me back into the harness and the traction bed. But it was all worth it to be in a picture with Fred and Judy. But I mustn’t finish without once again mentioning Irving Berlin. A true giant of the musical theatre scene, Berlin went on to live to over a hundred years old and was still composing in his seventies. Only recently he was back on Broadway with Annie Get Your Gun and there are no signs of his work disappearing from the musical theatre canon anytime soon.

So there we go! Stuck for something to do over Easter? Well step back in time to this wonderful 1948 movie and be the smartest fella in the Easter Parade!

There is a great re-mastered edition on the Turner Classic Movies label, and the movie is also out on DVD. Irving Berlins songs figure on many, many albums – not least in Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook, and an early album from Michael Feinstein – Remember. I suspect that any collection of standards is likely to include at least one Berlin tune anyway, so keep your eyes open for his name in the composing credits!

Monday, 19 March 2007

Soundtracks - Tracks 30-33

30."My Fathers Song" ( Holmes) BARBRA STREISAND
31."Song For My Father" (Darrow/Cohen) JANE OLIVOR
I had a pretty bad week all in all. At the weekend I had a call saying my mum had collapsed and was in hospital with an abscess on her ovary. On the Wednesday I returned home to find the police in attendance, as my flat mate had covered herself on petrol and was about to set fire to herself. The following Saturday (1 October 1990?) saw me receive a telephone call that would change my life forever. My dad was dead. At forty! All in all we had spent less than four weeks together over the previous two years. The last conversation we had was of him worrying about my mum being taken ill. I had still not worked out if I could call him "Dad" or Henry (neither seemed right somehow) much less told him I loved him or even worked out how I felt. As Olivor's song goes "where did it go, where did it go - did I say I love you did you know?". What I did know was that I was absolutely devastated and to this day I have never felt a shock like it. It was something that he said to me once that helped me to through it -"no matter how bad a situation is you always gain something positive from it". This is so true and sometimes this thought is all I need to cope with life's struggles, and it's possibly the greatest gift he gave me. The funeral and the days leading up to it were surreal, enduring a funeral service that was in language I barely understood, paired with rows and recriminations between my grandparents and Vina his estranged wife. I expected to strongly dislike Vina but we got on brilliantly from the outset, and I found a wonderfully black sense of humour that helped me through. I felt ,for a long time, my dad was taken from me when our relationship was still developing, this is undoubtedly true, but I also believe what Vina later told me. I got the best of him. He was a tyrant, selfish and a monster in many ways, but he also had great charm and managed to effect the lives of everyone he met. He was often very critical of people but I got a very different feeling from him, one of acceptance illustrated in Barbra's song "whatever you are you gonna be, whatever you are it's alright with me, you'll do what you want anyway, these are the words I heard my father say"

32."Look Over There" (Herman) from "La Cage Aux Folles" Gene Barry
"How often is someone concerned with the tiniest thread of your life?" Well, less often would be good - the relationship with my maternal grandparents can be stifling much of the time. It often seems that it has a stranglehold on my life that prevents me from doing what I want to do. I am expected to tell them of all my movements, when I am going to be out and when I am not. I get text messages if I have had a drink after work saying "Call me when get back am worried" and I still get told to make sure my door is locked at night, because about ten years ago I left it open one night. This is just the tip of the ice berg as well! Believe me! Anyway it's not all bad. I do appreciate the good side of this, such as when I found out about my dads death. They got in the car drove the hundred miles from Leicester to London and collected me. Booked a plane ticket and got me on the plane to head to Germany for the funeral. I was in no fit state to organize this myself and truly couldn't have managed it without them .

33."Anytime (I AM There)" (Finn) from "Elegies A Song Cycle" CAROLEE CARMELLO
we have all lost someone we care about. This is sung from the point of view of someone that was loved and is lost. It expresses what I believe, that these people are never gone for ever, they are still here, and make us what we are today. It's for five very special people, My dad, Violet, Grandma Cox, Tante Leni and Onkel Jakob. All of whom played their part! And it's not depressing at all, even though I have placed it after my dad's songs - it's one of the most optimistic love filled songs I have ever heard!

Friday, 16 March 2007

The Column - This Is The Moment - Anthony Warlow

This Is The Moment!

Well a month or so ago I promised to write about some of my essential performers you may be less familiar with. Then promptly I wrote about Petula Clark and Liza Minnelli. Well, now is the time that I redress the balance and tell you about Anthony Warlow. I am sure many of you know of Anthony as, simply put, he is possibly the best male musical theatre voice in the world today. Well, I think so anyway!

Born in Australia in the early sixties, Anthony was classically trained and early appearances were in operas such as Tosca, The Magic Flute (where he became the youngest ever Papageno at 21) and A Midsummer Nights Dream where he made his debut with the Australian Opera at the age of nineteen. . However it wasn’t long before Warlow was attracted to the world of musical theatre, appearing in Guys And Dolls in 1986. and the following year he appeared as Enjolras in the original Australian production of Les Miserables , he was considered by many to be the greatest performer ever in the role and he repeated his performance on the International Symphonic Recording of the show. It was shortly after this that he played the title role in The Phantom Of The Opera in Melbourne, making him the youngest performer to play the role, at 29, a record he holds to this day . He won several industry awards as a result of his performance and critics have noted that his is the only performance to rival Michael Crawfords original. Countless television appearances in his native Australia followed over the next few years and he began a very successful recording career.

It was from these first recordings in the early nineties that Warlow first came to my attention. His first two collections, Centrestage and On The Boards collect songs together from musical theatre spanning almost the entire twentieth century. Warlow approaches each song as if he is performing it within the context of the original show and displays chameleon like qualities as his soaring baritone gives us definitive versions of songs that he has performed on stage as well as in concert. His Music Of The Night and Anthem would be hard to better and I have never heard anyone duet with themselves to such perfection as he does on You’re Nothing Without Me from City Of Angels where you would swear it is two people singing. It was shortly after these early successes that Warlow was diagnosed with lymphoma, a personal battle that he successfully overcame. Following his recovery, the 1993 release of Back In The Swing – featuring big band and swing numbers – saw him take on a major Australian tour where the track Without A Song became something of a theme song for him. He swiftly followed this with the role of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, a role he has played many times in following years. 1994 saw the release of his fourth album, Midnight Dreaming , a collection of show tunes and standards with stunning new arrangements. I think this is possibly his best album to date, and his versions of Unexpected Song and Losing My Mind must be the best male vocal versions recorded. The mid-nineties saw a return to the Australian Opera with a role in Gilbert And Sullivan’s Patience and heading the Australian cast of The Secret Garden. When, prior to the Broadway production of Jekyll And Hyde, a studio cast double cd was released it was Warlow that was cast in the lead role. His vocal versatility and talent for mimicry was perfect for the role and this has to be the definitive recording of the show. Nobody sings This Is The Moment quite like Anthony. It’s said that the producers hoped to contract him for the New York production, however Warlow preferred to focus his career on Australia where he could remain near his young family.

As well as various opera productions, and the critically acclaimed role of Teen Angel in the arena tour of Grease, the late nineties saw Anthony starring in a number of huge concert spectaculars. Sandwiched between The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Tim Rice Concert Spectacular was The Main Event. The Main Event saw Warlow joined by Olivia Newton John and John Farnham in a concert that broke all records down under and outsold all international acts in 1998. The concert saw each of the trio having a sizeable solo performance as well as duo and trio sections featuring all three. The album of the concert hit number one in the charts, and a TV Special and video/DVD followed.

The new millennium saw Anthony playing Daddy Warbucks in a Sydney and Melbourne production of Annie. It’s to his credit that writers Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse, wrote Why Should I Change A Thing specially for Anthony to sing in this production. Two years later he returned to the same two cities to play Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man Of La Mancha. He must have had a sixth sense that he would play this role as his recording of The Impossible Dream from the show was on his first album back in 1990. 2003 saw a return to the recording studio with a further collection of big band classics entitled Face The Music, and in 2005 he released a recording of The Snow Goose as well as Tenor And Baritone with David Hobson where the duo sing a selection of Victorian music hall songs . Hopefully it won’t be too long before he records another selection of the theatre music that he so excels at.

Now 45, Anthony’s career continues to go from strength to strength. He is one of the few opera stars whose name on a bill board can increase sales in Australia, as well as being a big draw in musical theatre. Both aspects of his career were displayed to great effect a couple of years ago when he performed in major concerts with our own Lesley Garrett. Currently he is back with the Australian Opera, playing a Jack Sparrow inspired Pirate King in The Pirates Of Penzance, and this summer sees him return to the role that made him a star – The Phantom Of The Opera!

So far Warlow’s career has yet to bring him to London’s West End. He almost made it to Hampton Court a few summers ago, but sadly the concert was cancelled. We can only hope that British audiences get an opportunity to see him perform live before too long!


Of his solo recordings, only Centre Stage got a UK release, but all of his work is usually available at Dress Circle, sometimes at HMV Oxford Street, and regularly shows up on ebay. End Of Act One his greatest hits collection of 1996 is probably a good start for the Warlow novice – although I don’t think the choices on it are particularly his best songs. For my money his best selections are his 1990 debut Centre Stage and 1994’s Midnight Dreaming. Of his two swing collections I prefer the earlier Back In The Swing collection. For any enthusiast of musical theatre then The Main Event DVD should be an essential purchase.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Soundtrack - tracks 26-29

26.Love In The First Degree (Stock/Aitken/Waterman/Fahey/Dallin/Woodward ) BANANARAMA
I am quite surprised to discover one Bananarama song makes the soundtrack never mind two! Anyway this reminds me of a guy I worked with on "Phantom" called Colin. You know what it's like in the gossipy world of theatre.... Everyone wondered "Is he or isn't he?" like it was anybody's business but his....anyway he wasn't. The reason I have chosen this is because I remember, with much amusement, Colin counting ticket stubs as he sang "Nothing's gonna set me free, cause I'm guilty, guilty as a girl can be...." Not camp at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

27.Another Hundred People (Sondheim) from "Company" LA CHANZE
This song expresses what it is to live and work in a big city every day perfectly ....In a city of strangers, some come to work some to play......and more than anything it makes me think of the public transport service! I remember being on the train once and just as I stepped off the train my walkman chimed in with "and another hundred people just got off of the train...." Its very much an urban song and you possibly have to have spent time living in a large city like London or New York to even begin to relate to it.

28.Where I Want To Be (Rice/Andersson/Ulvaeus) from "Chess" TOMMY KORBERG
Another song from "Chess" this time dealing with what it's like to do what you set out to do and still wonder if you have actually managed it after all. In the late eighties / early nineties this was very much the way I felt. I had moved to London and started a career in theatre yet felt lost in many ways "I'm where I want to be, and who I want to be, and doing what I always said I'd do and yet I feel I haven't won at all"......The feelings wouldn't last for ever although I still haven't really worked out what I want to do after all this time! Writing maybe?

29. "No More" (Sondheim) from "Into The Woods" TOM ALDREDGE AND CHIP ZIEN
As I have mentioned in passing my dad wasn't part of my childhood having walked out when I was a toddler. He passed briefly in my childhood on two occasions when I was very young. Once he was staying with my grand parents when I was visiting Germany and, apparently , ignored both myself and my mother for the duration. Then, when I was around four, he swept back into our lives when my mum was alone (as my grandparents were in the States) therefore she was at her most vulnerable. He asked her to go to India with him, but leave me in the UK. Sensibly she stayed with me. Anyway as you can imagine growing up without a dad was not always easy. In the seventies we lived in a small village and almost everyone had both parents. I was in a very small minority of one parent families. We lived in a small cottage with an outside toilet, a mangle for the washing and a tin bath in front of the fire! I know! It sounds more like the forties than the seventies but it was by no means unusual in that era. But back to my I grew up I went from hero worship to hate and all the variants in between. Then in 1988 the bomb shell came. I was living at Simon's (my uncle) at this point and one day I noticed a letter with my name on sticking out of a book case. My uncle had saved it to talk to me about it but I had noticed it so opened it. I had recently booked a holiday in Germany and was shocked to read the letter as it was from my Dad and said he was now living there. I struggled with my emotions and tried to work out what to do, and came to the revelation that I had no strong feelings either way. Love and hate had ceased to play a part in my non-relationship with my father. When I realised this I came to understand that I could meet him with an open mind. If I disliked him it didn't matter, and the same if we got on. Well we got on OK, it felt a little strange and I never truly established how to address him even...Dad...Henry??? It was however a very open relationship, we talked in a way I never had with my mum. We didn't have that childhood history, so we approached each other as adults and it was very much a learning experience of what we enjoyed in life and some of our experiences. We spent little time analyzing past mistakes and concentrated on the "here and now" as it were. In the two weeks I spent with him that year and the next we came to trust each other and to know each other astonishingly well. He told me of some of his experiences in Asia including a memorable visit to Goa and an audience he had with Indira Gandhi. The second visit saw another person entering the equation as I met my brother Adam for the first time. I was really worried about how I would feel for Adam, but from the moment I met him I felt unconditional love. It's rather odd that I have two brothers named Adam - as this one has a Mauritian mother I often say that one is black and one is white! Anyway the song itself deals with a father and son being reunited and expresses perfectly the confusion, ambivalence and emotion that we both felt at this time. I will always be very grateful to Simon for negotiating the meeting between us.

Friday, 9 March 2007

New Column - "Think Pink!!!!" - a look at "Funny Face"

As I watched The Devil Wears Prada, for a second time, and Meryl Streep made her first entrance as Miranda Priestley, I half expected her to unroll a swathe of magenta fabric and cry ….

"To the women
of America..."-no, make it to the women everywhere: "banish the black, burn
the blue, and bury the beige! From now on
Think pink! think pink! when you shop for summer clothes.
Think pink! think pink! if you want that quel-que chose

How strange! you may say, or how camp! . Well I can’t deny the latter as it would be very camp indeed, but not really as strange as you may think. You see, I suddenly found myself taken back in time fifty years to that other movie focussing on the fashion industry – Funny Face. Like The Devil Wears Prada one of the protagonists of the movie is a magazine editor, Maggie Prescott, played by Kay Thompson. Much as Meryl Streep makes her first assertive entrance in Prada, Thompson strides into the offices of Quality Woman magazine with Think Pink the campest of Movie musical songs – specially written for the movie by Roger Edens. Directed by long time Gene Kelly collaborator Stanley Donen, and featuring a score of ravishing George and Ira Gershwin songs, Funny Face is a delightful film musical that looks at the world of fashion in a much gentler age. The film was originally set to be made by MGM’s “Freed Unit” but due to a number of difficulties it ended up being produced by Paramount. Alongside Thompson stars the legendary Fred Astaire as Dick Avery, a fashion photographer - said to be inspired by Richard Avedon, who also advised on the film. Rounding out a trio of lead characters is Audrey Hepburn as philosophy fan and book shop employee Jo Stockton, a role initially rejected by Cyd Charisse.

Red is dead, blue is through,
Green's obscene, brown's taboo.
And there is not the slightest excuse for plum or puce
-or chartreuse.

Dowdy Greenwich Village book store clerk Jo is shaken to her bones when the Quality Woman team arrive at her shop for a fashion shoot. With total disregard to the store they leave the whole place in great disarray, and the only saving grace is the fact that Prescott has placed a large order for books. When Jo takes the books to the magazines offices, she finds herself prodded and pummelled as Avery believes she has potential to be a model. She has no interest in the world of fashion at all, but lured by the chance of going to Paris, the philosophy capital of the world (and the possibilty of meeting Professor Emile Flostre the founder of empathicalism), she acquiesces and goes along with the scheme! So the day finally arrives and Jo is in Paris for the first time. All goes well to begin with until, after a misunderstanding, Jo runs away to try and meet Flostre. Avery and Prescott are determined to save the day so manage to gate crash a soiree held by the philosopher , posing as hillbilly folk singers where they perform the energetic Clap Yo’ Hands. Flostre is exposed as only being interested in Jo for her looks rather than her mind, and Jo returns to her modelling assignment Naturally throughout the story there is an attraction developing between Astaire and Hepburn’s characters and it’s inevitable that they should end up together, so when the denouement finds them falling in love it’s no great surprise.

Think pink! forget that Dior says black and rust.
Think pink! who cares if the new look has no bust.

As is often the case, despite Leonard Gershe’s screenplay being Oscar nominated, the plot is slender and fluffy – but what better for a film set in the world of 1950’s fashion? The film was of course largely shot in Hollywood, but some location filming in Paris, as well as the scenes set in New York, gives the movie a very cosmopolitan feeling. The film is beautifully shot and designed so it’s no surprise that it also received Oscar nominations for Art Direction-Set Design, Cinematography and, appropriately, costume design. The costumes were designed by legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head and also Paris couturier Givenchy who was Hepburns favourite designer and dressed her in most of her movies.

Now, I wouldn't presume to tell a woman
what a woman oughtta think,
But tell her if she's gotta think: think pink-!

1927 had seen a Broadway production of Funny Face starring Fred and Adele Astaire, yet the screen version shared only the shows title, a handful of the songs and of course it’s leading man. Astaire is, of course, at his most urbane and sophisticated, in his role as the photographer who nurtures Hepburn in an almost Pygmalion like way. Not noted as a great singer I have always preferred the vocal stylings of Astaire (and Gene Kelly) to the more noted vocals of Crosby, Keel and Sinatra. It’s not surprising that he was a dancer that composer’s loved to write for, as his lightness of touch lends itself perfectly to the tunes of Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern and, in this case, George and Ira Gershwin. From “Funny Face” over the opening credits, to highlights such as Clap Yo’ Hands with Thompson, Fred gets ample opportunity to display his vocal chops and terpsichorean skills, particularly in Let’s Kiss And Make Up where he dons a cape and cane. As Galatea to Astaire’s Pygmalion, this is a rare musical role for her but, charmingly, Hepburn is not dubbed as she was in My Fair Lady and does her own singing. Her voice is by no means great , but has the same warmth and husky quality that her speaking voice does. Her rendition of How Long Has This Been Going On, while alone in the book shop, is touchingly effective despite her vocal limitations. It’s nice to have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Hepburns dance training too, particularly in the Basal Metabolism number. It goes without saying that Miss Hepburn more than had the charm to carry the role off – I suspect she may have been size zero too! Now, last but not least of our lead trio, Kay Thompson was one of the greatest performers of her day, cabaret artist, musical and vocal arranger extraordinaire and even the author of the popular Eloise childrens books, but she rarely ventured into film and Funny Face remains her biggest film role.

-for bags! pink for shoes!
Razzle, dazzle and spread the news!
And pink's for the lady with joie de vive!
Pinks for all the family.

Despite seeming a perfect setting for a musical, the world of fashion has only occasionally appeared in the world of musicals. Fred Astaire’s only rival for the title of best screen hoofer, Gene Kelly, co starred in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth. Cover Girl is very dated and not really quite as good at all as Funny Face but it did provide us with that most beautiful of standards Long Ago And Faraway from the pens of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. On stage it was that other stellar Hepburn, Katharine, who appeared in the most famous Broadway fashion show – Coco. With a score by Alan Jay Lerner and Andre Previn, Coco told the story of Coco Chanel and her fashion house, and garnered a Tony nomination for Hepburn and her presence undoubtedly helped to make the show a success.

Try pink shampoo.
Pink toothpaste too.
Play in pink, all day in pink,
Pretty gayin pink.
Drive in pink, come alive in pink,
Have a dive in pink.
Go out dancing but just remember one thing:
You can get a little wink
If you got a little pink
In your swing.

I am not sure if the original soundtrack of Funny Face is currently available, but I am sure it will appear soon in a re-mastered version as everything seems to get it’s moment. Of course it is best enjoyed as a film, and the DVD is widely available.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Soundtrack - tracks 22-25

22.Itchykoo Park (Marriot/Lane) THE SMALL FACES
Another song that doesn't make good copy, yet again a crazy sixth form song. The first time I heard this was as I witnessed Melanie Gurley leaping around like a mad woman and shrieking "What did we do there? We got hiiiiiiiiiiigh!". Did we ever go to classes? Well occasionally we did, but I can remember people hiding in cupboards to avoid lessons. What's that all about? Much easier to go to the bloody lesson to start with! Why on earth would you sit in a store cupboard for forty five minutes?????

23.Easy Terms (Russell) from "Blood Brothers" BARBARA DICKSON
Another over dramatic selection! "Only mine until, it's time to pay the bill" When I was a teenager we had family money for the bills, gas getting cut off....the bailiffs! And whilst all this was going on my Mum managed to pop out Joe, Adam and Katie! It didn't quite get to Mrs Johnston's level but it felt like it might for a while!

24.I Wonder (Andersson/Ulvaeus) ABBA
...I wonder, it's frightening, leaving now is that the right thing? Moving to London permanently at 18 was a big step but more than anything it was what I wanted to do. My summer holidays, working front of house, had made me determined to work in theatre! I applied for a job in Box Office with Stoll Moss and was offered the job at the interview. Was very exciting to find myself working on "Phantom" from just before it's first birthday, It really was a phenomenon and nothing has been quite the same since. The song deals with the doubts that I faced on making such a big step, and is one of Abba's most beautiful songs and sensitive lyrics.

25.Don't Leave Me Behind ( Watt/Thorn) EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL
"You will be a star, and I will be so jealous when you are" , well I'm not (yet) a star but this was kind of Jackie's song for me when leaving for London, and kind of deals with the idea of not leaving people behind just because your personal circumstances have changed. During our teenage years, and even now to a lesser extent, we shared music and introduced each other to different stuff. So Jackie had introduced me to EBTG and in return I had given her......Elaine Paige! IN 1997, the song had further significance when I went to an open audition for "Rent" and sang it! Sadly my dreams of playing Mark Cohen were not to be, and I lacked the bravery to go to further auditions for other shows!

Friday, 2 March 2007

The Pajama Game Is The Game We're In

Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a hell of a lot….Well that may be so, but to the employees of the Sleep-Tite factory, the setting for “The Pajama Game” (this weeks essential musical) it was very important indeed.

Based on the New York Times bestseller (“Seven And A Half Cents”) by Richard Bissell, “The Pajama Game” was one of the big hits of the 1954 Broadway Season. After previously writing songs for a revue this was the first time that writers Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote for a fully fledged Broadway show and they collaborated on a lively score with many numbers that became hits. Legendary producer/director George Abbot shared the directorial role with Jerome Robbins, and Abbot’s protégé Harold Prince was amongst the producers. The show was also an early success for choreographing wunderkind Bob Fosse.

Very much a blue collar musical, the show dealt with a pay dispute between the factory workers and the bosses. Focussing on the colourful employees of the factory, it isn’t long before new superintendent Sid Sorokin is at loggerheads with the grievance committee – lead by the attractive Babe Williams. The girls on the factory floor are quick to accuse Babe of falling for Sid but she deals them the reposte “I’m Not At All In Love” . Sid’s feelings are expressed merely to himself, but in an engaging manner, as he sings “Hey There” to his Dictaphone before rewinding the machine and responding to himself and harmonizing. The pair finally get their act together amid the jubilation of the firms “Once A Year Day” annual picnic and their fate seems sealed. The raucous “There Once Was A Man” provides a further energetic number for the pair but it is only a matter of time before the relationship breaks down when Sid sacks Babe for interfering with one of the factory’s machines after he had successfully stopped a “go slow” by workers. As the dispute unfolds the union hold a fund raising rally, where Gladys and a couple of boys deliver the outstanding dance number “Steam Heat” (amongst Bob Fosse’s finest work and rightly included in the “Fosse” retrospective of a few years ago). Sid has a plan to resolve the action , which involves a clandestine meeting with secretary Gladys at “Hernando’s Hideaway”, when they accidentally bump into Babe and Hines (Gladys’s fiancé) this causes some embarrassment, however Sid successfully manages to find a resolution to the strike, and at a rally shortly afterwards he is able to announce that the staff will indeed get their seven and a half cents. A happy ending for Babe and Sid as well? You bet!

The stage production of “The Pajama Game” featured a superlative cast lead by Broadway legend John (father of Bonnie) Raitt, who had previously been “Carousel’s” first Billy Bigelow. Janis Paige appeared as Babe, with Carol Haney as Gladys and Eddie Foy and Reta Shaw rounding out the principal cast. When it came to the Tony’s “The Pajama Game” won outstanding musical as well as an outstanding supporting musical actress win for Carol Haney and best choreographer for Bob Fosse. A successful London production starred Edmund Hockridge, Joy Nichols and Max Wall – all big stars of the fifties.

When Hollywood came calling for the 1957 screen version, unusually, it retained almost all of the original Broadway cast. Unfortunately, for her, Janis Paige was not lucky enough to re-create her stage performance and, needing a star, the producers re-cast with Doris Day. This was no great tragedy as Doris was beautifully cast and “The Pajama Game” rates amongst her finest performances, her tom-boyish energy and warmth lending itself perfectly to the role. Although, naturally, the film has dated a little it does stand up pretty well after half a century. It’s not often that we get to see Broadway performers re-creating their roles as we do here. Set at a similar time to “Grease” , although with a slightly older set of characters, it shares much of the movies exuberance and, of course, many similar fashions! All in all you can do much worse than getting the DVD and spending an afternoon in the company of Doris Day and the Sleep-Tite crew!

The partnership of Adler and Ross was not to be a long lasting one sadly as, after writing a second big hit, “Damn Yankees”, Jerry Ross died at 29. Bob Fosse of course went on to become a Broadway legend, Harold Prince became one of the pre-eminent director/producers of the twentieth century and George Abbot continued working right up until his death – I believe he was something like 108! Writer Richard Bissell went on to write another book, based on his experiences with the show, this was entitled “Say Darling!” and inevitably also ended up as a musical!

“The Pajama Game” continues to be an oft performed part of the musical theatre canon until this day, and, as well as being produced by the New York Metropolitan opera, it had a West End Revival just a few years ago in the wake of the Bob Fosse mania we had for a while after “Chicago”. Last year saw a very successful Broadway remounting of the show at the Roundabout Theatre where jazz performer/actor Harry Connick Junior played Sid.

Well the Broadway Cast recording has been beautifully re-mastered and is easy to obtain, as is the Doris Day Soundtrack which provides a truncated version of the score (twinned with “Calamity Jane”). Even the London Cast recording has been recently released although I have yet to hear it. However, knocking all of these out of the water is the Broadway Revival recording from last year. Everything about it is brilliant, the orchestra, the completeness of the score, and of course the performers - lead by Kelli O’Hara and Harry Connick Jr. A few years ago the late John Raitt released an album called “Broadway Legend”, although his voice was that of a much older man by this point, the album provides some lovely version of songs from the shows he was identified with. On “Hey There” (as well as a couple of other numbers) he is joined by duet partner, and daughter, Bonnie Raitt. Doris Day has only just recently been back in the charts with yet another “best of” compilation, however its far more interesting to discover her back catalogue. Most of her early albums have been paired up in Columbia’s “Two For One” series and these contain many gems that are less well known than her greatest hits. Bing Crosby apparently rated Doris alongside Ella Fitzgerald as one of the two greatest female voices, and certainly when it comes to the great American songbook the praise is much deserved. A particular favourite Doris album of mine is “Duet” where her vocals are complimented by Andre Previn’s jazz piano…their version of “Close My Eyes” is marvellous!

In Closing
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Forest Whitaker (The King)
Cheryl Wilkin (DBE)