Forgotten Musicals Friday: I REMEMBER MAMA

Carrie Horner, Maureen Silliman, Kristen Vigard, Liv Ullmann, George Hearn, Ian Ziering and Tara Kennedy in I REMEMBER MAMA

Carrie Horner, Maureen Silliman, Kristen Vigard, Liv Ullmann, George Hearn, Ian Ziering and Tara Kennedy in I REMEMBER MAMA

It’s been almost thirty years since the opening of the last musical that Richard Rodgers composed, I Remember Mama. Running for only 108 performances in 1979, this rather sentimental musical featured a book by Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel. Based on an overwhelmingly successful play by John Van Druten, which was produced by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in the 1940s, which was in turn based on the Kathryn Forbes’s memoir, Mama’s Bank Account, I Remember Mama tells the tale of a family of Norwegian immigrants living in San Francisco in the early twentieth century.

Chiefly remembered for the (mis-)casting of Liv Ullman in the central role, the original production of I Remember Mama earned itself a spot in Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. Such was the initial failure of the show that an original cast album was not recorded. It was not until a 1985 studio album was released that the score became available to the general public in the form of a cast recording. All things considered, this was not the ideal swan song for Rodgers after his auspicious career, was it?

Liv Ullmann and George Hearn in I REMEMBER MAMA

Liv Ullmann and George Hearn in I REMEMBER MAMA

When I Remember Mama surfaces in discussions, as it does in musical theatre forums on social media from time to time, nobody who remembers seeing the show says that it was brilliant – and many say it was an unsalvagable disaster. But those who don’t say it was a complete failure say that it was a sweet show that came along thirty years too late. Listening to the recording, it does rather remind me of Meet Me in St Louis with a little bit of Act One and Little Women thrown in for fun, and it certainly is an old-fashioned show. I think its heart is in the right place, and its certainly easier looking back at it as a nostalgic piece of work now than it must have been in 1979.

In its favour, I Remember Mama has some lovely melodies by Rodgers. I’m rather fond of “You Could Not Please Me More,” which seems to achieve what “An Ordinary Couple” from The Sound of Music set out to do. In fact, I think that it is the better song of the two, even if its lyric could take one on more of a journey. “When?” is also lovely, with the music once again outshining the lyric.

Indeed, the lyrics of I Remember Mama are often pedestrian. A good example of this quality is in evidence in “Ev’ry Day (Comes Something Beautiful), a number which aims to list things in the world that are ineffably beautiful. The very idea of the song seems counter-intuitive: how can one describe imagery that can’t be captured in words, in words? And when the score dips into comic numbers, the results are mostly poor. The two songs written for Uncle Chris are clunkers. Actually, the music of “Easy Come, Easy Go” has a pleasing build, and there’s some glee-inducing counterpoint. It’s the lyrics – cliché after cliché – that let it down. But there’s no such defence for the choruses of the song that introduces him: “Uncle Chris” is a most disagreeable song.

Carrie Horner, Kristen Vigard, Liv Ullmann, Maureen Silliman, Tara Kennedy and Ian Ziering in I REMEMBER MAMA

Carrie Horner, Kristen Vigard, Liv Ullmann, Maureen Silliman, Tara Kennedy and Ian Ziering in I REMEMBER MAMA

There are some charming character pieces, including the number that establishes Katrin’s desire to become an author, “A Writer Writes at Night”. The number also helps to establish the relationship between Katrin and her Mama as well as, more importantly, lending some context to the frame story, something that the musical proper could afford to incorporate more often. “Fair Trade,” a second act number that introduces the cameo role of Dame Sybil Fitzgibbons, is great fun, as is its reprise.

When the Toronto Civic Light Opera Company, a community theatre group, produced the Canadian premiere of I Remember Mama in 2006, it was a successful holiday show over that year’s Christmas season. Word is that the company tinkered with the book and score, although there seems to be no record online of what they changed. With a general consensus that the show could have been and should have been better, perhaps this is a show that is a serious candidate for an official, sensitive revision. There are supposed to be many cut songs that might serve as alternative material, and there’s enough source material to use should the book need tweaking. There’s no real reason that this shouldn’t be a reliable seasonal show for families to enjoy.

So what are your memories or thoughts – good or bad – of I Remember Mama? Head on to the comment box and share them with us!

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#ThursdayThoughts: Musical Theatre Revivals

Poster artwork for the Lincoln Center revival of SOUTH PACIFIC

Poster artwork for the Lincoln Center revival of SOUTH PACIFIC

Welcome to the very first #ThursdayThoughts, a new forum for interactive discussion that will take place weekly at Musical Cyberspace from here on out as part of our slow and careful rejuvenation of this site. Each week, we’ll share a quotation about musical theatre that is open for discussion.

Today’s quote is about revivals of musicals on either side of the pond and is taken from Michael Billington’s review of the West End transfer of the Lincoln Center’s production of South Pacific in 2011:

New York has little to teach (London) about resurrecting the Broadway past.

Head on down to the comments and sound off! Although anyone is welcome to share their opinions, please try to treat other readers mindfully and stay on topic as far as possible. Discussions that get out of hand will be moderated.

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The “Happy Birthday, MISS SAIGON” Quiz

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Today in 1989, Miss Saigon had its world premiere in London. Here’s a little quiz to celebrate. I’ve answered the questions in the body of this body, and I’ve love to see yours in the comments! Feel free to copy and paste the questions if you need to.

1. What do you like about this show? Or, if you’re not a fan, what makes it unmemorable for you? I’ve always liked Miss Saigon. I really love the epic feel of it, the sweeping melodrama, the romance at the core of it all. I think it’s all just wonderful. But you have to buy into it at the start – or you never will.

2. Pick your favourite song in the show and tell us why it’s your favourite? “I’d Give My Life for You”. I think the song is simple and direct, a moment where I think you see exactly who Kim is. I think it might be melodramatic and over-the-top in something a little drier, but I think it’s perfect for the kind of musical that Miss Saigon is.

What is your favourite song in Miss Saigon? Easy. “I’d Give My Life for You” is one of the things that really makes Miss Saigon so effective as an emotional experience: it is a beautiful character piece married to a haunting melody. I cannot believe it has not appeared on more favourite lists in this thread

3. What is your favourite lyric? I really like “Sun and Moon”, particularly the line ‘How in the light of one night did we come so far?’ I also really like the verses in “It’s Her or Me”/”Now That I’ve Seen Her”. But see below for more on this….

Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

4. Got a number you just can’t stand? Tell us why. Where Miss Saigon falls down for me is in the details. There’s not a number as a whole that I can’t stand, but there are lyrics that just don’t work. My least favourite by a long shot was “What is this bug up my ass? You tell me, I don’t know”. Thankfully, that one’s been replaced in the years since the show’s premiere in London. One of the changes I dislike is the rewritten opening of the chorus for “It’s Her or Me”, which became “Now That I’ve Seen Her”. I understand the thinking behind the change, but the change itself is sloppy and doesn’t match the musical phrases of the song.

5. Who’s your favorite character? Kim. I think it’s a fantastic role.

6. Who is your favourite Miss Saigon-related performer? Lea Salonga.

7. Got a favourite production or cast recording? What makes it so special? Nope. But I reckon that anyone who got to see Lea Salonga in the role got to see something pretty special.

8. What do you think of the show as an adaptation of Madama Butterfly? I think it works and I think it works better. The characters are less one-note than in Madama Butterfly. Kim, as I’ve said, I think is fantastically written. Chris is a huge improvement on Pinkerton, a character that holds little appeal and who deserves no sympathy. And I like the other shifts too – Suzuki’s transformation into Mimi, Goro’s retooling as the Engineer, Prince Yamadori’s now politically motivated Thuy. Also, the building up of the Kate Pinkerton role into Ellen gives the piece an added dimension. And the context given to the piece of the war in Viet-Nam works perfectly. Character, situation and narrative come together really well in this adaptation.

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga as Chris and Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga as Chris and Kim in the original production of MISS SAIGON

9. A film…. What would you like to see if one was made? I’d love to see a film. I think the only way to cast Kim would be to go the same route that the producers went to find Lea Salonga – to look for a complete unknown who has what it takes to hold the film together. In terms of the screenplay, I’d like to see the fall of Saigon restored to it’s chronological place in the action. Without the act divisions, I think the second act material is strong enough to carry a film through to the ending. And I would like to see “The Sacred Bird” restored. And I think a big budget Hollywood epic would be the only way to do. With Miss Saigon, it has to be all or nothing.

So there you go! Scroll down and send us your answers. Happy birthday, Miss Saigon!

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The Saturday List: Lights, Camera, Action! Ten Movie Musicals on the Way to the Silver Screen

Emma Watson as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Emma Watson as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Who doesn’t love a great movie musical? OK, there are loads of people who don’t. But I do, and it’s devastating when one doesn’t live up to its potential. On this week’s Saturday List, I’m taking a look at five upcoming movie musicals to which I’m looking forward. Some of these are nowhere near opening day, but here’s hoping!

1. Let’s get Beauty and the Beast out of the way first, mainly because it has a release date that is less than a year away. When this live action remake of the 1991 animated classic was first announced, my first reaction was that Disney should have produced a live television special of their stage adaptation rather than trying, once again, to reinvent the wheel. At that point, I think we all presumed that the new film would be an adaptation of the stage show, but it turned out that this was not to be the case. The new film, with a screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, would incorporate songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from the original film and new songs with lyrics by Tim Rice, who augmented Ashman’s lyrics for the stage show, but none of the material from the stage show itself would be used. Although the teaser trailer was something of a non-starter, we’re all waiting in anticipation to see what the film is like, with its cast led by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Audra McDonald on set in HELLO AGAIN

Audra McDonald on set in HELLO AGAIN

2. Nobody who knows me will be surprised that I’ve placed Hello Again second: I’m a huge Michael John LaChiusa fan and make no apologies for it. I’m also a huge fan of the play upon which the musical is based, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler, and its various incarnations such as David Hare’s The Blue Room. So when news arrived about a film version of one of my favourite LaChiusa shows starring Audra McDonald (who will get a new song in the film), Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Martha Plimpton, I was in seventh heaven. Directed by Tom Gustafson with a screeplay by Cory Krueckeberg, Hello Again is currently being filmed. Everytime LaChiusa posts something on Facebook or the film updates its Instagram or Twitter account, the excitment builds. I simply cannot wait for this one.

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga in the original production of MISS SAIGON

3. Miss Saigon is a musical I’ve always wanted to see make the jump to the big screen. The popular musical retelling of Madama Butterfly that transfers the action to the fall of Saigon in 1975 is already incredibly cinematic and lends itself to the kind of visual expression that a cinema experience can provide. Back in 2009, I loved hearing industry buzz that ex-United Artists CEO Paula Wagner was gearing up to produce a screen version of Miss Saigon with Lee Daniels at the helm. That film was to be a co-production with Cameron Mackintosh with a 2011 release date. That never happened. Then, in 2012, Les Misérables hit in the big screen. Although both Mackintosh and Daniels hoped that the success of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s first musical theatre classic would spur on a film adaptation of their second, it was not until the closing night of the West End revival earlier this year that Mackintosh indicated that things were on track. In March, it was announched that Danny Boyle might direct the film. All along, it has been said that the film will remain faithful to its source material, although I still wonder what changes we’ll see to the show as we know it. No doubt Ellen will get yet another song to try and solve a moment in the show that has never quite gelled. I know I’ve always thought the fall of Saigon – the infamous helicopter scene – could be shifted to its chronological place because the last half of the piece is strong enough both emotionally and dramatically without it. But we’ll have to wait and see, I guess. It took 32 years for Les Misérables to go from its first production as a Parisian spectacular to the premiere of the film. Miss Saigon opened in London in 1989. 1989 + 32 years = 2021. The clock’s ticking, Mr Mackintosh…

Joshua Park as Pippin the the 2006 Goodspeed Opera House's produciton of PIPPIN

Joshua Park as Pippin the the 2006 Goodspeed Opera House’s produciton of PIPPIN

4. Pippin has been in development since 2003 when Miramax acquired the film rights for the musical penned by Stephen Schwartz, Roger O. Hirson and (the uncredited) Bob Fosse. A decade later, The Weinstein Company – who I guess took the rights along when Bob and Harvey Weinstein broke away from Miramax – named James Ponsoldt as a screenwriter for the project, which was subsequently confirmed as Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s next project. This was around the time of the much-loved Broadway revival of the show, but things have been pretty quiet since then. Perhaps this team is still struggling to find a way to make this very theatrical musical work in the medium of film. Maybe they should recruit Rob Marshall: Pippin seems like the kind of thing that would suit him and his style of musical film-making, one with a framework that offers a plausible excuse for the stylistic features of the genre. Or… why not take inspiration from the anime-inspired hip-hop version that played Los Angeles in 2008? Animation might be an inspired choice of medium for this adaptation.

IN THE HEIGHTS as it appeared on Broadway

IN THE HEIGHTS as it appeared on Broadway

5. It’s been five long years since Universal withdrew from the production of a film based on Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. Back then Miranda, the show’s original Usnavi, would have been directed by Kenny Ortega, who would have had the opportunity to redeem himself for his tacky work on the High School Musical franchise following the promising work he did in staging the numbers for Newsies. Miranda said that he would try to get another studio interested in making the film, but many – including myself – feared that this stumbling block would be the end of the road for a film adaptation of this show. Last month, The Weinstein Company announced a $15 million production, which would have a new screenwriter working on Marc Klein’s existing treatment of the material. In the wake of the success of Hamilton, Miranda will be involved, but not as Usnavi, as he has aged out of the role.

Honourable Mention

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY

For all intents and purposes, My Fair Lady is dead in the water. That’s why it’s in last place here, but it did attract enough buzz over its time in development to merit an inclusion  – and given the change in circumstances for In the Heights, why not? There are those who have no desire to see a remake of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s classic musical, believing that the original film is brilliant. While I don’t think a new My Fair Lady film is a necessity, the original film is by no means untouchable. It’s a solid film, and a faithful one, but it’s not perfect. Rex Harrison is fantastic, but…. In any case, new films don’t supplant old ones. Nobody who doesn’t want to watch the remake has to and the old film will always be there for anyone to see whenever they like. The one consistent factor in the saga of bringing a new Eliza Doolittle to the screen: a screenplay by Emma Thompson. At one point, Danny Boyle was on board to direct the remake. I didn’t think it a great loss when he dropped out. Then it was rumoured that Keira Knightly would play Eliza, with Joe Wright, who directed her in the tepid Pride and Prejudice remake and Atonement. Knightly and Wright obviously enjoy working together, but the idea of the two of them and this material seemed to be something of a mismatch and they went on to make Anna Karenina instead. When Knightley backed out, Carey Mulligan’s name was tossed about as an option, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt both being bandied about as potential Higginses. At that point, John Madden also had his eye on the director’s chair. For a while, Sony Pictures tried keep the buzz about the remake going, but Mulligan shattered all hopes of it moving forward in a statement she made at Cannes. Since then, no further information about the project has been forthcoming. Not yet, anyway.

So there you go… My favourite five movie musicals to be. What movie musicals are you anticipating with glee? Head over to the comments section and let’s hear!

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The Saturday List: “Joseph’s Coat” – or a List of Colourful Songs, Part 2

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien's production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien’s production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Last week, Musical Cyberspace ran the first of a three-part series of Saturday Lists celebrating the brand new South African revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from Pieter Toerien Productions and the Really Useful Group. Having played a week of previews prior to its official opening, the show is currently running in Johannesburg. The South African revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is directed by Paul Warwick Griffin, with musical supervision by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, musical direction by Louis Zurnamer and choreography by Duane Alexander. Earl Gregory stars as Joseph, with Bianca le Grange as the Narrator and Jonathan Roxmouth as the Pharaoh. (Bookings are through Computicket.)

Last week, I looked at the first dozen colours that appear in “Joseph’s Coat”, the song in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that sees Tim Rice listing a series of colours to a bouncy tune from Andrew Lloyd Webber. For each colour, I attempted to find a song title of a show tune that referenced the colour in one way or another. This week I’m working my way from lilac to rose, bringing the tally of colours to twenty.

‘And lilac and gold and chocolate  and mauve…’

Lilac and nostalgia go hand in hand when it comes to musical theatre, it seems. Whether you listen to Lilac Time or Nunsense, chances are that things are going to turn sentimental. That said, my choice of song is Ivor Novello’s parlour duet from Perchance to Dream, “We’ll Gather Lilacs.” Of course, the best reference to lilac comes from Bea Arthur, quoting Tallulah Bankhead: ‘There’s a touch of homosexual in all of us.  It’s not the cock.  And it’s not the twat.  It’s the eyes, don’t you know, and sometimes, the smell of lilac.’

“Gold” from Once is soul music. One of the couple of songs not written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for the score of the show, “Gold” was composed by Fergus O’Farrell. In this song, which closes the first act of the show and is reprised later in a stunning a cappella arrangement, Guy sings about loving a woman and, for the first time, it’s a song all about Girl and not the ex-girlfriend for whom he has been pining throughout the showuntil that point.

“The Chocolate Soldier”, from the operetta of the same name by Oscar Straus, Rudolf Bernauer and Leopold Jacobson, takes us back to yesteryear. This little charm song plays on the joke that Bumerli, who has arrived in Nadina’s bedroom, uses his ammunition pouch to carry chocolates, which renders his revolver useless. The operetta was based on Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, who famously despised this adaptation of his play.

When I read through the list of colours I would tackle, I thought mauve would stump me. It has. Anyone know a show tune with “mauve” in the title?

‘And cream and crimson and silver and rose…’

There’s only one defendable choice here: “Ice Cream” from Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s She Loves Me, which is currently enjoying a revival on Broadway and racked up eight Tony Award nominatons this past week. At this point in the story, Georg has just visited Amalia, who is ill, and given her a gift of vanilla ice cream. Amalia tries to write a letter to a pen pal with whom she trades romantic letters, who is – unbeknownst to her – also Georg. Instead, she finds herself thinking of Georg, whose kindness towards her represents a clear shift in their real-life relationship.

Get ready for your third dose of operetta. Blame crimson, which offers only one option: “The Colonel of the Crimson Hussars” from Sybill by Victor Jacobi, Ferenc Martos and Miksa Bródy. The English-language version, in which the titular singer lost an ‘l’, featured lyrics by Harry Graham. The number is performed Sybil, the object of Russian officier Petrov’s affections, and a chorus of officers that she, at this point, likes better. Guess what’s different by the time the curtain falls.

“Look for the Silver Lining” by Jerome Kern and B.G. DeSylva was written for the Zip, Goes a Million, which flopped, and reused in Sally, which didn’t. In the show, the song is sung by Blair Farquar, the son of a millionaire to ‘Sally of the Alley’, a dishwasher in need of some cheering. She cheers up considerably, becoming a star of the Ziegfeld Follies and the wife of an heir to a fortune.

There is a story told by Stephen Sondheim that Jerome Robbins’s first reaction to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” was to wonder whether the audiences of Gypsy would be left wondering, “Everything’s coming up Rose’s what?” That story alone is worth the inclusion of the Rose to end all Roses in this list and might leave you rosy cheeked as you think about the song that Jule Styne wrote with Sondheim to close the first act of the show. Look, I know that this pick is something of a cheat, but did you really want me to pick something dreadful like “Spanish Rose” from Bye Bye Birdie?

So… what do you think of part two? Which songs would you have picked for these colours? Any suggestions for the final week? While you think about that, enjoy this playlist of the songs mentioned in this column, and then head on to the comments section below!

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The Saturday List: “Joseph’s Coat” – or a List of Colourful Songs, Part 1

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien's production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Promotional artwork for Pieter Toerien’s production of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

With Pieter Toerien Productions and the Really Useful Group presenting a South African revival of  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and that revival having had its first performance yesterday in Johannesburg, where it will run until August before transferring to Cape Town, I thought it might be appropriate to run through the famous list of colours that Tim Rice set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music to create the first of three Saturday Lists, the following two of which will appear in the next two weeks.

The creative team of this production is headed by Paul Warwick Griffin, who will direct, with musical supervision by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and musical direction by Louis Zurnamer. Choreography will be by Duane Alexander. Earl Gregory stars as Joseph, with Bianca le Grange as the Narrator and Jonathan Roxmouth as the Pharaoh. (Bookings, by the way, are through Computicket.)

Here’s a list of songs from musicals which feature the first 12 colours of “Joseph’s Coat” as per the lyrics of the song. Actually, it’s only ten, because there are two colours that have me stumped. Any suggestions? Sometimes, the reference is to the colour itself, but at other times it’s a name or a fruit or something else completely.

‘It was red and yellow and green and brown…’

Our first song is “Red and Black” from Les Misérables. This song, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil (French) and Herbert Kretzmer (English), is sung at the ABC Café during a political meeting between a group of students who are preparing for a revolution that they are sure will follow once General Lamarque is dead. Red symbolises both ‘the blood of angry men’ and ‘a world about to dawn’ in this song.

Next up is “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” from The Wizard of Oz. Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s short number is a prelude to “You’re Off to See the Wizard” and is head when the Munchkins send Dorothy off to the Emerald City. There are several real-life yellow brick roads, two of which may have inspired Oz author L. Frank Baum. One is at a military academy in New Work and the other is near Holland, Michigan.

“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”, by Stephen Sondheim, comes from Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This song introduces the character of Johanna, who is kept in seeming captivity by Judge Turpin. “If I cannot fly,” the girl wishes, “let me sing.” The European greenfinch is a beloved songbird, commonly bred as pets in Malta, while the common linnet is declining in numbers and is protected as a priority species in the UK.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s “Sarah Brown Eyes” from Ragtime gives the character mentioned in the title of the song an unexpected appearance in the second act of the show. With Sarah having died at the end of the first act, her beloved, Coalhouse Walker Jr, recalls their first meeting. It’s a tender moment before the musical kicks back into high gear, with Coalhouse planning to blow up J.P. Morgan’s library.

‘And scarlet and black and ochre and peach…’

Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton wrote a title number for The Scarlet Pimpernel, a patter song for Percy Blakeney, Marguerite St Just, Marie, Armand St Just, Lady Digby, Lady Llewellyn and the servants. In the song, they all debate the identity of this eighteenth-century superhero who saved innocents from facing the guillotine during the French Revolution.

In, Hair, James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot wrote a song for three white women of the tribe to express their love for “Black Boys”. The response? Three black women of the tribe explain their love for “White Boys”. While this was an exuberant deconstruction of miscegenation which had been lgeally dismantled in the year of the show’s premiere, Hair tackled other issues about race with a more serious intent.

Ochre has me stumped. I can’t think of a musical theatre song that mentions this colour in its title.

No, No Nanette first hit stages in 1924, opening on Broadway and in the West End the year later. Three film adaptations followed, but it was a revival in 1971 that set in stone the legacy of this show and its score, which was penned by Irving Caesar, Otto Harbach and Vincent Youmans. At the top of the second act, Nanette goes to Atlantic City and quickly becomes the most popular girl in town, the “Peach on the Beach”.

‘And ruby and olive and violet and fawn…’

Some people might consider listing Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” a cheat. But this song comes from one of my favourite revues, Smokey Joe’s Café, and I prefer it to any of the other options. (There aren’t that many.) This song about a girl called Ruby who doesn’t return the affections of the singer has been recorded by, amongst others, The Drifters, The Beach Boys, Bobby Darin and Michael Park with the original Broadway cast.

In Kismet, Robert Wright and George Forrest asked, using the music of Alexander Borodin, ‘Why be content with an olive when you could have the tree? / Why be content to be nothing, when there’s nothing you couldn’t be?’ Who would have thought that such profound thoughts could be set to the third act trio from Prince Igor? They also told us, ‘If you have heard and do not heed / There is a word for what you are / … Fool!’

I’m glad that I am able to include a song by Jeanine Tesori on this list. This one is called “Promise Me Violet” and has lyrics by Brian Crawley. The situation is this. Monty asks Violet, who is on her way to Tulsa, to meet him when she returns to Fort Smith, where he says he’ll be waiting for her. It’s so seductive. I’d probably succumb. Violet, on the other hand, promises no such thing before the bus pulls away. Rats…

Fawn is another colour that has me stumped. I thought I might find something in The Yearling, but it was not to be…

So… what do you think of the list so far? Which songs would you have picked for these colours? Any suggestions for the upcoming weeks? While you think about that, enjoy this playlist of the songs mentioned in this column, and then head on to the comments section below!

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The Saturday List: Go GREASE(d) Lightnin’ / No GREASE(d) Lightnin’

The cast of GREASE: LIVE

The cast of GREASE: LIVE

It may be almost a week since the much-hyped Grease: Live hit the small screen, but that’s given the dust (and the fankids) a little time to settle. This week’s Saturday List takes a looks at some of the strengths and weaknesses that have revealed themselves since last Sunday. For those of you who need reminding, Grease: Live was a live television event written by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins based on both the stage musical, Grease, and its film adaptation, directed by Thomas Kail and Alex Rudzinski for Fox. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the five best and five worst things about Grease Live!

Go GREASE(d) Lightnin’

Let’s face it: Sandy is a relatively thankless, yet deceptively difficult, role. Play it too sweet, and everyone’s going to hate you. Too tough, and you lose the arc of the character. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Julianne Hough finds her way in the role, navigating through thin backstory infested waters too. In an adaptation that leans heavily on the film, it’s almost certainly a blessing that Hough didn’t have to adopt Olivia Newton-John’s Australian accent, even she did have to done close reproductions of some of the costumes. Of the leads, Hough best manages not only to make the role her own, but to make her own take on Sandy work.

A huge part of the teenage experience is fantasy. It’s why “Greased Lightnin'” never fails to please: besides the rhythm of the song, the audience is really rooting for those boys because so many of us drove a beat-up old car that we wished was something better. And it’s just one reason that “Freddy My Love” works so well in Grease: Live. It’s one of the few moments in which this adaptation finds its own voice. Imagine what approaching the rest of the score with that same sense of spontaneity might have yielded.

Noah Robbins as Eugene

Noah Robbins as Eugene

There are some gems in the supporting cast of Grease: Live, especially Noah Robbins as Eugene and Kether Donohue as Jan. Robbins works well in his expanded role, nailing Eugene’s role in the halls of Rydell. He plays Eugene as a young man on the way up and builds his character scene by scene. When he arrives to help the T-Birds in a key scene added to this adaptation, it doesn’t ring false because Robbins has developed the character scene by scene. His Eugene is more than dispensible comedy relief. It works. Donohue has it easier in a role that is already an audience favourite, but she hits the mark in each of her scenes. It’s a pity she doesn’t get her moment in “Mooning”.

There are two great cameos by Didi Conn and Barry Pearl in Grease: Live. Both starred in the film adaptation of the show. It was especially fun to see Conn play the reverse side of her scenes from the film. (Has anyone made a YouTube clip of Didi as Frenchy opposite Did as Vi yet?) Was there room for more cameo work here or would that have been overkill? Either way, this was the best of the bunch when it came to stunt casting in this adaptation.

Amidst some pretty uneven work as Danny, Aaron Tveit delivers an exemplary “Sandy”. Written by Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon for the film, “the song replaced the clunky “Alone at a Drive-in Movie”. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Tveit’s; generally I find his performances lacking in colour. But every now and then he brings it home, and he does that here in spades. This was his most riveting performance in the show.

No GREASE(d) Lightnin’

Jessie J records the title song of GREASE

Jessie J records the title song of GREASE

First things first: the opening number. The inclusion of the title song written by Barry Gibb always causes a bit of a debate. It’s too much for the old guard, who saw and loved the original production, to endure. “It’s not a period song!” the proclaim – and they have a point. Given how associated the song has become with the property, including “Grease” is a compromise I can cope with – if the staging of the number works. The golden standard in this regard, as far as I’m concerned, is the 1993 revival, where the staging of the number establishes the various strata of life at Rydell High School. A pop star walking around behind the soundstages and the backlot with the cast joining in here and there is not good enough. Period. To add insult to injury, Jessie J’s delivery of the song wasn’t exactly first rate either.

While some of the supporting cast members are fantastic, others leave a great deal to be desired. The chief offender here is Elle McLemore, who played Patty Simcox. Sure, the character is grating – but McLemore’s Patty is so annoying that she gives the sidekicks on the Disney Channel’s teen sitcoms a run for their money. Don’t get me wrong – The Wizards of Waverly Place has its, well, place, but nobody wants to see Harper Finkle in Downton Abbey. McLemore’s Patty falters in failing to provide a vital foil for both Sandy and Rizzo, which means that the directors of Grease: Live must share some of the blame. In their push for manic energy, everyone seems to have forgotten who Patty is in the world of Rydell High School and why the character is there in the first place. Close on McLemore’s heels is Haneefah Wood in the comparatively minor role of Blanche.

Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy

Carly Rae Jepsen as Frenchy

Sometimes a new song adds something to a musical. “I Have Confidence” added a giddy, character-specific transition piece to The Sound of Music. In Cabaret, “Money” helped to communicate that Sally Bowles on film was a different creature in comparison with her stage counterpart, a singer who was capable of far more than performing at dingy cabaret, able to keep her job and who was thus there by choice rather than necessity – get it? Grease: Live added “All I Need Is an Angel” – a generic pop ballad by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. Besides its failure to capture any sense of the show’s period, it fails even in setting up the number it introduces, in which Grease: Live presented a trio of Teen Angels – not just the one that Frenchy repeatedly asks for in this number.

“All I Need Is an Angel” segues neatly to the next big problem with Grease: Live: Boyz II Men. Who thought it would be a good idea to hire a smooth R&B vocal group, known for singing ballads and kick-ass harmonies, to put across a comedy number? Vocal riffs and group singing get in the way of punchlines – and this song is all about its punchlines. This was a textbook case of stunt casting gone wrong.

Finally, a question: what do you do with an iconic musical theatre number that just happens to be the closing of your show? Picture that production meeting where it was suggested that “We Go Together” would involve the cast running from a soundstage, mugging at the camera, hopping onto an elongated golf cart and finally arriving to perform some perfunctory choreography on the backlot. Now picture everyone involved thinking that’s a good idea. It’s pretty tough to imagine, isn’t it? What were they thinking?

That’s all that I’m putting on the list for today. What were your highs and lows of Grease: Live? Share them in the comments box below. It’ll be great to hear what you think as we count the days till the next live television musical.

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