HOW DO YOU MEASURE A YEAR?
Jan. 25, 1997 marked the first anniversary of Jonathan Larson's death; what happened in the ensuing year to Rent, the show upon which he toiled for so long, has few if any parallels in the annals of theatre history.
There's little point in reviewing all of the highlights here; they've been covered in countless articles and television features, they're available on internet websites, and a full-length book covering the entire history of the show and Larson's life and featuring the show's complete, fully illustrated libretto, is due this spring.
The Broadway production, which some thought might begin to lag at the box office during the difficult winter months, is showing no sign of decline whatsoever; indeed, a friend said he witnessed people lined up for 6 PM day-of-show tickets at 8:30 AM on a recent morning when the temperature held at single digits.
The Boston Rent is a success, the La Jolla/Los Angeles and Toronto versions are now casting, and that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of future productions in the U.S. and around the world, where Rent is more eagerly awaited than any other recent musical. In fact, it now appears that Rent will prove to be a phenomenon unlike any other in the last 50 years.
Naturally, with all the press attention, the Bloomingdales boutique, the many cast TV appearances, the movie sale, etc., there has been a certain amount of Rent backlash, with some commentators tending to ignore the fact that Rent opened to raves and won the Pulitzer Prize followed by every Best Musical prize going, even in a season that included another musical--Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk--which won equal acclaim. Some have averred that the unique circumstances that saw the show premiere immediately on the heels of its creator's death brought it attention it would not otherwise have received; while there can be no question that those circumstances were a natural for press stories and sympathy, no show can succeed on the scale of "Rent" unless audiences really take to it, and the reaction of Rent's audiences continues to be extraordinary. Others have taken to deeming Rent the Hair of the '90s, likely to prove as ephemeral as that '60s show in terms of its effect on musical theatre and its ability to play well in revival in decades hence. But I suspect that "Rent" will continue to be performed long after its initial international life (likely to last at least a decade or so) concludes. It should stand as a contemporary opera documenting the mood and lifestyle of a generation, and a work that possesses sufficient emotional power to make it far more potent in revival than Hair, which, truth to tell, has failed in such recent revival attempts as a 1993 London production (with John Barrowman and Paul Hipp), a quickly aborted U.S. national tour, and a recent Chicago revival.
If it's been quite a year for Rent, I suspect--even if the closing lyric tells us there's "no day like today"--that Rent has quite a tomorrow ahead of it.
THIS SEASON'S "SEASONS"
If you're like me, you enjoy watching and taping those all-too-rare instances when numbers from Broadway musicals are performed on television programs. Last spring, summer, and fall, Rent's second act ensemble opening number, "Seasons of Love," was performed just about everywhere, from the Tony Awards to the Democratic National Convention, the Rosie O'Donnell Show (one of the most supportive venues for Broadway material), the David Letterman Show, the Jay Leno Show, Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and several other spots.
This season, the show number seen on TV more than any other has been "All That Jazz," the smashing opening from the Chicago revival, with Bebe Neuwirth leading a company of scintillating dancers. "Jazz" has already turned up on the Thanksgiving Parade, Rosie O'Donnell, Letterman (the latter with co-star Ann Reinking joining in, as she does in the theatre, for some racy spoken portions), and President Clinton's Inaugural Gala (an interesting venue, as Chicago is a show that questions, albeit in humorous fashion, the very morality and ethics of the U.S.A.). On the Clinton Gala, "All That Jazz" led off a sequence of four numbers from the show, a sequence that could very easily wind up being repeated on the 1997 Tony Awards. And speaking of Chicago, rumors are flying about the casting of both the film version and the two soon-to-commence road tours. The names figuring prominently for the proposed movie are Madonna (Roxie), Goldie Hawn (Velma), John Travolta or Kevin Kline (Billy Flynn), and Rosie O'Donnell (Matron Mama Morton).
What no one seems to be discussing is the fact that the show, even with its smart, funny, spare book, is essentially a series of overtly presentational, heavily choreographed vaudeville numbers, the kind of stagy thing that won't be a breeze to transfer to the screen.
And perhaps more to the point than who will star in the film is the question of who will choreograph it, and whether or not it will retain the Fosse style and concepts.
As far as the tours go, I've heard that Donna McKechnie has been offered Roxie, and Jasmine Guy (currently appearing on Broadway in another revival produced by Chicago producers Barry and Fran Weissler, Grease) is likely to be Velma, although not necessarily on the same tour.
High Society was first a 1956 movie musical adaptation of Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra, with songs by Cole Porter. With the addition of more Porter songs, High Society reached the stage in 1987; Natasha Richardson, Stephen Rea, and Trevor Eve had the leads at London's Victoria Palace. Since then, there have been other stage versions for Australia and a U.K. tour, but a hot new one is about to have a New York reading. With a score still drawn from the Porter catalogue, the new version has a book by Arthur Kopit, with Christopher Renshaw directing the reading. And how's this for a glamorous threesome: Melissa Errico, born to play Tracy, will do so, and the men in her life will be Howard McGillin (who a decade ago sang Porter songs in "Anything Goes") and Jere Shea. Randy Graff and John McMartin will have other leading roles.
Martin Short certainly favors musicals with Neil Simon books: His Broadway musical debut in 1993 was in The Goodbye Girl, Simon's first musical in 14 years. Short will star in the Encores! concert version of Simon's 1968 smash Promises, Promises in March. And he's already been announced for another Simon musical, Little Me, next season at the Roundabout.
Short's Goodbye Girl co-star, Bernadette Peters, had a much-deserved triumph in her solo Carnegie Hall concert on December 9. Angel's live recording of the event will be released on March 11, and it looks like the concert will have a future, with a tour of select cities and a possible Broadway run in late '97.
In addition to her reported March takeover from Donna Murphy in the Tony-winning revival of The King and I, Faith Prince has two interesting recordings due out: On March 11, Varese Sarabande will release Hey, Love: The Songs of Mary Rodgers, a cast recording of the revue in which Prince co-starred (with Jason Workman and Mark Waldrop) last fall at Rainbow & Stars (it was called 3 of Hearts for that engagement). Note, of course, that Mary Rodgers is the daughter of King and I composer Richard Rodgers. And more than a year ago, Prince recorded the role of Holly Golightly in the premiere recording of the legendary 1966 David Merrick flop Breakfast at Tiffany's. The album, which offers more than 25 songs written for or performed in that show's engagements in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York (where it closed in previews), still awaits release. If Bob Merrill's score is not as consistently strong as his scores for Carnival or Take Me Along, it has many enjoyable things in it; Prince sounds great on the recording, and she's joined by John Schneider, Hal Linden, Ron Raines, Patrick Cassidy, Carol Woods, Jonathan Freeman, and, in her original stage role, Sally Kellerman. Show collectors will find this a fascinating disc.
The London production of Romance/Romance, opening in March, will have Caroline O'Connor (leading lady of the recent London Mack and Mabel), Mark Adams (that production's third Mack), Linzi Hateley (Carrie), and Mark Cantwell in the cast.
Musical theatre CD release line-up:
This Tuesday, Jan. 28: The new Broadway cast recording of Chicago (RCA Victor), and reissues from MCA of the 1959 Andy Griffith-Dolores Gray success Destry Rides Again and the 1954 Broadway revival of On Your Toes (Bobby Van, Elaine Stritch).
February: DRG's cast recording of the current hit Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back.
March: RCA's new Broadway cast recording of Once Upon A Mattress, with music by Mary Rodgers (March 25), and Nonesuch's cast recording of last season's Playwrights Horizons musical Floyd Collins (March 5). (Note that Floyd composer Adam Guettel is the son of Mattress composer Mary Rodgers). As stated above, Varese Sarabande's disc of the Mary Rodgers revue Hey, Love appears on March 11. Also in March: DRG's album of Barbara Cook performing the work of Oscar Hammerstein, based on her recent triumphant cabaret performances.
In the next month or two, Jay Records will release the Donmar Warehouse London cast recording of The Threepenny Opera; the first complete, double-CD recording of South Pacific (Paige O'Hara, Justino Diaz, Pat Suzuki, Sean McDermott); and the Leicester, Haymarket Merrily We Roll Along, previously issued as a single TER CD, in its full-length, double-CD form.
Future plans: Varese is recording the York Theatre production of No Way To Treat A Lady next month, hopes to record the Annie revival soon, and has already recorded or is in the process of recording Lost in Boston IV (due in April), Unsung Musicals III (due in May), Sondheim at the Movies, and Debbie Gravitte's The M.G.M. Album. Jay will record the recent Rainbow & Stars revue Leading Men Don't Dance, increasing the number of performers from four to five. And, in early March and even before the final changes for the production are in place, Polydor/Really Useful Records will make a recording of Whistle Down The Wind.
THEATER CDs OF THE WEEK
A trio from RCA: As was the case with its cast recording of Whoop-Dee-Doo!, an earlier revue built around the outlandish costume designs of Howard Crabtree, RCA's new cast album of When Pigs Fly, the hit off-Broadway revue on which Crabtree worked just prior to his death, is up against the fact that, on disc, you can't see those outfits. But the Mark Waldrop-Dick Gallagher material of Pigs is bright indeed, and this salute to the gay lifestyle is unfailingly good-natured and appealing...The soundtrack disc of the new Woody Allen film Everyone Says I Love You indicates that Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Alan Alda, and Julia Roberts may not be asked to play Norma, Joe, Max, and Betty when Sunset Boulevard changes its cast. But it's fun to hear them all (plus Allen and others) doing their best to warble the classic (if not always well-known) songs. Dick Hyman's arrangements are classy, and the film is one of two important entries in the "will-live-action-movie-musicals-make-a-comeback?" sweepstakes (guess what the other one is)...Pop singer and professional survivor Marianne Faithfull's 20th Century Blues, recorded live in Paris, is for the most part a tribute to Kurt Weill, although a few other composers are also represented. Faithfull's singing sounds remarkably like Bette Davis' at times, but she's a decidedly effective interpreter of this material.
QUIZ OF THE WEEK
What musical number from the original production of Chicagowas performed on the 1976 Tony Awards?
Answer to last week's quiz question: Liza Minnelli made her New York theatre debut in the 1963 off-Broadway revival of "Best Foot Forward." She made her Broadway debut two years later in Flora, The Red Menace.
Dave Wirth asks: With the success of the Evita movie--and the 20th anniversary of the show approaching--is there talk of a full scale revival any time soon?
KM: I've heard that, owing to the success of the film version of "Evita," stock rights to the show have been temporarily withdrawn, and that a major stage revival is in the works. I hope it recreates the brilliant original Hal Prince staging. And I hereby nominate Lea Salonga for the title role; any other suggestions?
Julia from Missouri asks: After getting (and loving) the soundtrack to Evita, I got the original Broadway cast recording to compare it with. Now, I'm wondering about something. When Patti LuPone sings her first lines, during the funeral sequence ("don't cry for me Argentina, for I am ordinary, unimportant..."), another woman joins in to sing "and undeserving of such attention...". What character is that?
KM: The role of Eva is a great one, but one with one of the more unusual and ambiguous entrances. The actress who plays Eva appears out of the crowd at the end of the funeral; she's not yet playing Eva, but rather "a non-descript girl" who "sings as the voice of the dead Evita." So while you're hearing LuPone begin that section, she is not actually Eva at that point, and was dressed as a plain citizen in a kerchief. The other voice is that of another ordinary face in the crowd, seconding the first voice.
Roger Fristoe of Louisville, KY asks: Re Liza Minnelli's return to Broadway in Victor/Victoria, I've heard that the New York Post ran a story about Minnelli consulting with Jerry Herman about a new Mame. But it wasn't clear whether they're speaking of a Broadway revival or the upcoming Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production. Anyway, what exciting casting that would be for Liza! Do you have any info about this? Thanks.
KM: I know that Liz Smith (in the Post and elsewhere) has strongly suggested Minnelli for the potential TV Mame ; other names that have come and seemingly gone from the list for the TV film include Bette Midler and Glenn Close. But the latest name I've heard being sought for the TV production is--coincidentally, speaking of Liza--none other than the original Victoria, Julie Andrews.
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