I Confess - - -

I LOVE musicals.

Even when they get tedious which, with most musicals, is after about an hour. At which point, you start thinking, "Will you just stop singing? Please. PUHLEASE." Still, I love them.

My first favorite was Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. My brother, I think Joe, had a copy of the original cast recording, and I listened to it over and over and over. And over. And memorized all the songs (yes, I can still sing them). I remember one occasion when I followed my mother around the house singing them to her. Since I can only sing on tune if I'm standing next to a piano which drowns me out, I don't think she was impressed.

I got into Camelot for awhile, but that was less about the musical and more about the story and since I ended up being on Modred's side, that phase died pretty quickly.

I went through Rogers & Hammerstein in my teens: Sound of Music, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, Once Upon a Mattress, Evita. I've written an essay about Oklahoma which is posted here. I must say that Gordon McRae's opening song ("Oh, What a Beautiful Morning") as he rides through the cornfield is one of the most stunning things I've ever heard. But Hugh Jackman's performance is far more interesting.

In High School, I was part of the drama club. I sang as a chorus member in Music Man, moved stage scenery in Bye Bye Birdie, got the part of the Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof (no, I can't play the violin, but I was small enough to fit on the roof) which got me top billing for which I played in two short scenes and performed some very bad fake fiddling. And I was Freddy's mom in My Fair Lady. Thus endeth my career in the theatre industry.

Interest-wise, I moved on to (more) Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom, Joseph, Cats, although I gave Miss Saigon a miss and Jesus Christ Superstar (anything that postulates Judas as a hero is too dumb to be believed). The 10th anniversary special of Joseph on PBS was a bit frenetic (a massive understatement) for my tastes (the first half of the musical has always been stronger than the second). Still, the narrator was exactly right, and Donny Osmond, well, I know it's par for the course to mock the Osmonds but Donny was the best choice for Joseph. He has a splendid voice and just the right amount of non-pretentiousness. And they used the children (in fact the entire schoolroom setup) exactly the way I always imagined it.

On to Sondheim. At college, I attended a showing of Into the Woods, almost by chance. I'm a homebody; it usually takes quite a lot to pry me out of my comfort zone. But I was in the Art Building and bought a ticket for myself on the spur of the moment. It was an off-Broadway production, on Halloween and the place was PACKED. It was no-hands-down one of the best productions I've ever seen. BYU students make great audiences, by the way. They are respectful and appreciative and fully engaged. (Going to see movies at BYU was always a blast; it's one of the few places on earth where people actually boo the villain and cheer the hero.) Even the DVD of the Broadway production (with the excellent Bernadette Peters) didn't match the show I saw at college, but then, whatever people might say, there's a difference between the movie and the live performance.

Like many people, I saw the ceaselessly aired Les Mis special on PBS. I liked it better than the show itself, which I saw in London. My only memory of the London show is the actor who played Marius; he was the understudy, and he put his ALL into it. Everyone else was just going through the motions: ho hum, another night in this endlessly running musical.

But the PBS special, where you could actually see the actor's faces, was engaging and highly energetic, not to mention Colm Wilkinson as Valjean (Wilkinson has a tonal quality that I adore in male singers). The only singer I considered poor was the guy who played the bishop. Since I tend to imagine the bishop as Peter Vaughan from the Liam Neeson movie, the Special's bishop was something of a let-down, being thin, reedy (in looks and voice) and over dressed.

But everyone else more than delivered. The Thenardiers brought down the house with a rollicking performance of "Master of the House" and Javert and Wilkinson, together and singly, catapulted the audience to their feet a couple of times. The leader of the students was a bit tiresome but I think that's the character's personality, not his singing.

Since then I've mostly been engaged by particular numbers, rather than particular productions. For instance, Nathan Lane singing "Comedy Tonight" is the next best thing after Gordon McRae. Judi Dench singing, "Send in the Clowns" blows your socks off. Matthew Broderick in "The Music Man" is, well, odd. Broderick is kind of like Ewan McGregor (and if you want to see a wacky musical, check out Moulin Rouge): Can he act? Is he good? What's he thinking? What Broderick can do is dance and sing. Emote, not so much. But dancing and singing is enough. Bernadette Peters has great tone. Julie Andrews is unbelievable, she's so good, Nathan Lane class or better. I've never seen the woman in anything where she didn't look regal and sound fantastic. I love Tom Wopat singing "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" with Bernadette Peters—absolutely delightful number (this is what happens when you discuss musicals. You start sticking adverbs onto excessive adjectives; I'm going to start saying, "Oh, darrrrling" in about two seconds).

Anyway wouldn’t it be great if American Idol singers were forced to sing stuff like "Anything Goes" and "Singing in the Rain"? Now, that I would watch.



Joe said...

The copy of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was actually from the Schenectady County Community Library. We checked it out many times.

(For the record, while I find the show a bit tedious now, I too think Donny Osmond was masterful in the part, though I strongly dislike the rest of that production. On the other hand, it was infinitely better than the Rexburg High School production I saw in 1982, which was perfectly hideous, even as High School musicals go.)

Kate Woodbury said...

The worst musical I ever saw was in England. Actually, it wasn't the worst musical. It may have been good. Well, at least reasonably okay. It was Bye, Bye Birdie and for some incomprehensible reason, the producers (a youth club) decided to do American accents, and they were TERRIBLE American accents. It was a weird choice since the play can be easily switched from an American to a British locale--after all, British teenage girls in the 60s went nuts over rockstars too. In any case, the audience was filled with fond (English) parents and grandparents and nobody but me twitched everytime an actor opened his/her mouth. Which just goes to show that parents aren't that different on both sides of the Atlantic (probably at least one father in the audience was asleep). And it makes one wonder how often British audiences wince at Americans faking British accents.