Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman were both born out of the same Brooklyn hospital into Eastern European families. Despite neighborhood proximity, they didn’t meet until respectively landing in Los Angeles the 1950s. One might call this particular collaboration Kismet.
The married couple has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards garnering three. Their extensive oeuvre also includes, in part, iconic television themes, numbers written for television musicals, a jazz cycle, and widely varied songs popularized by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Barbra Streisand. The Bergmans never found their way to Broadway but tailored to characters in film (Yentl is a prime example) and when writing for a particular vocalist. “We knew enough about him to fit the lyric to his character time and time again,” Alan Bergman once commented about Frank Sinatra.
Today’s Special Guest is critic/biographer/librettist/playwright Terry Teachout. The inimitable David Lahm, Granat’s symbiotic accompanist furnishes eloquent piano.
Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Host Harvey Granat begins vocal choices with Alan Bergman/Lou Spence’s “That Face,” introduced by Fred Astaire, followed by the Sinatra hit “Nice N’ Easy” credited to Alan Bergman/Marilyn Keith/Lou Spence. Renditions are genial and dancey. Granat’s skilled nonchalance is similar to that of Sinatra. During the second number, he feeds us the lyrics. (The knowledgeable audience often knows songs by heart and are selectively encouraged to sing along.) Teachout suggests we don’t ordinarily think of the Bergmans for a swing tune.
Original placement of familiar songs is something of a revelation. 1967’s “Make Me Rainbows” (music – John Williams) is from what Teachout calls “a justifiably forgotten film” called Fitzwilly.” “If that had been written 10 years earlier,” he continues, “it would have become a standard.” The same year saw original English lyrics for “You Must Believe in Spring” (music – Michel Legrand) from French film The Young Girls of Rochefort: Beneath the deepest snows,/The secret of a rose/Is merely that it knows/You must believe in Spring! …Granat’s version is delicate, poetic, lovely. Teachout declares it the moment the Bergmans became themselves, “the great romantics of the late golden age of songwriting.”
From The Thomas Crown Affair we hear a wistful, resigned “The Windmills of Your Mind” for which composer Michel Legrand apparently wrote five or six melodies. The Bergmans suggested he go to a movie and they’d meet the next morning, whereupon the vote was unanimous. Teachout observes the song is effectively in a minor key “which American popular songs never are.” Lahm adds that the grammar is successfully out of phase with the melody, yet another example of iconoclastic skill.
It turns out that “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (music – Michel Legrand) was written for an obscure 1969 film called The Happy Ending. Granat’s buttery version is rife with yearning. Teachout remarks that rhymes fall on the next to last words. This particular session of the Granat series is illuminated by more incisive music perceptions than usual due to this guest’s contribution.
In the same lush vein, “Summer Me, Winter Me” arrives with recognition that nouns have become verbs: Summer me, winter me/And with your kisses, morning me, evening me/And as the world slips far away, a star away/Forever me with love…Suddenly, magically/We found each other…Granat sings with surprise and excitement, not disturbing the tenor of the song. During “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with what Teachout calls “a great lyric for a soured relationship,” Granat appears to be reflecting in real time. (Both music – Michel Legrand)
In 1973, the Bergmans wrote “The Way We Were” (music – Marvin Hamlish). Though the group is invited to sing and clearly know the lyrics, its volume is extremely soft, in order, one suspects, to fully hear the vocalist’s interpretation.
When, as a little girl, Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s daughter was asked what her parents do, she responded “When my mommy and daddy wake up, they drink coffee, go into a room and close the door. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not. And they get paid for it.” And aren’t we lucky?
I hear a great many vocalists. Not only are these sessions illuminating and fun, but Harvey Granat is one of our most authentic balladeers. Again, a good time is had by all.
Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Terry Teachout, David Lahm Bigstock Photo of Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman at the Grammy Foundation’s Starry Night Gala. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. 07-12-08
Songs and Stories with Harvey Granat: Alan and Marilyn Bergman Special Guest Terry Teachout 92St.Y 92nd and Lexington Avenue Venue Web Site NEXT: May 4 On Dorothy Fields with Special Guest, Field’s son, musician David Lahm
The plot of George and Ira Gershwins’ 1927 show Funny Face bears no resemblance to that of the subsequent Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film which centered on the sophisticated world of fashion. Originally, the musical was (and is) a romantic comedy featuring: Jimmy Reeve ( Patrick Graver) a young, wealthy man and his three attractive wards – Frankie (Jessica Ernest)- a ditsy blonde who congenitally lies, June (Whitney Winfield)- a sweet young woman impatiently waiting for Jimmy to propose, and Dora (Caitlin Wilayto), a comedienne type aggressively searching for a husband, the guardian’s best friend- Dugsie (Blake Spellacy), Peter (Seth Danner)- a handsome aviator who get caught up in misrepresented robbery, two bungling burglars (Herbert-Edward Tolve and Chester- Bill Bateman), impersonations, and a company of dancing/singing flappers with jaunty swains.
Caitlin Wilayto, Patrick Graver, Whitney Winfield
Producer and Creator of Musicals Tonight, Mel Miller, and his cohorts have put together a buoyant version of the piece helmed by Director/Choreographer Casey Colgan of whom I am now a serious fan. Having been loyal to this organization for a great many years, I’ve watched valuable presentations of rarely revived musicals get better and better, despite short rehearsal time, minimal trappings, and shoestring budget. With this production, the organization has reached a new high.
Opening at Jimmy Reeve’s birthday party, we see a line of long-limbed chorus girls who not only dance up a storm but kick like Rockettes. Watch that fringe fly! The boys are equally swell, not only partnering, but at one point ebulliently executing acrobatics. We’re treated to Charlestons, Waltzes, and Tap. Everyone is cute without being saccharine. This is a cohesive company accurately representing a period show while having an infectiously good time.
Seth Danner, Blake Spellacy
Songs like “Funny Face,” “S’Wonderful,” “He Loves and She Loves,” and “How Long Has This Been Going On?” are just a of few of the iconic numbers here. Vocal arrangement is excellent. Choreography is lively, attractive, fresh and perfectly suited to the small stage. I wish I could tell you to immediately secure tickets, but unfortunately I saw the piece at the end of its run. This review is partly for the record, partly to acknowledge fine work, and partly to make you more aware of the blooming Musicals Tonight.
Caitlin Wilayto and Blake Spellacy; Jessica Ernest and Seth Danner
Patrick Graver and Jessica Ernest as Jimmy and Frankie are dancers in song and dance roles. Both entertain tilting towards the former at which they’re thoroughly appealing. Ernest emulates her dizzy character with modest brio.
Caitlin Wilayto (Dora) and Whitney Winfield (June) are well cast. Wilayto has good comic timing and manages to be engagingly quirky without veering towards trite. Winfield has a superb voice and genuine presence.
Whitney Winfield and Patrick Graver
Seth Danner (Peter) and Blake Spellacy (Dugsie) are both skilled male ingénues. They sing, dance, and relate with natural charm. Spellacy reminds me of song and dance man Gene Nelson (check out such as the film Oklahoma!) – a high compliment.
As Maladroit burglars, Edward Tolve and Bill Bateman – the former especially – are amusing in their roles and excel at “The Babbitt and The Bromide.” Though the nifty vaudeville number has nothing to do with this story, it’s a hoot. Relevance might be easily supplied by a line or two of dialogue indicating the burglars are hiding from cops by substituting for the resort’s headliners.
Also featuring Doug Jabara who comically does what he can as the Sergeant.
Costumes. Wigs, and footwear, apparently acquired and ostensibly overseen by Casey Colgan are flat out terrific, especially the colorful, plaid suits for The Babbitt and The Bromide which it pains me not to be able to show you.
Bravo Resident Casting Director Holly Buczek.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening Left to Right: Christian Brown, Kacie Burns, Caleb Dicke, Giulia Dunes, Kyle White, Briana Fallon, Parker Krug, Andrea Weinzierl
Musicals Tonight presents Funny Face
Music by George Gershwin; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Libretto- Fred Thompson & Paul Gerard Smith
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Colgan
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street NEXT: The world premiere of Hoi Polloi by Noel Coward-November 1-13 Musicals Tonight website
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the beloved 1942 Christmas film Holiday Inn starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as successful song and dance men both in love with Lila, the girl in their act. Preferring a simpler life, Bing/Jim has purchased an Inn where he plans to live with Lila who’s accepted his marriage proposal. At the last minute she decides she’s in love with Fred/Ted and her career. Jim leaves for Midvale, Connecticut alone.
He refurbishes the picturesque place, but unable to support it decides to offer dinner theater as frequently as he needs to keep it going – on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn. In a mix-up of identities, aspiring performer Linda shows up in Connecticut looking for a job. Here’s where “White Christmas” first comes in as a newly penned song Jim sings to the pretty stranger. By New Year’s Eve, the show’s up and they’re smitten.
Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu
Meanwhile Lila leaves Ted for a millionaire. Bereft without a partner the moment Hollywood calls, he turns up wildly drunk at the inn on December 31, grabs Linda and dances up a storm. She rescues his inebriated infirmity and makes them look good (unfortunately not well executed here.) The crowd thinks they’re a new team He passes out.
In the morning, Ted remembers her feel in his arms and the look of her legs but can’t otherwise recognize the girl. Offering his celebrity to bring in an audience, he plays several holidays in search of the unknown woman determined to make her his new partner. (A missed comic opportunity is not including the scene where Ted weaves among couples checking out women’s legs much to everyone’s puzzled offense.) Jim can see familiar writing on the wall and takes steps to prevent their meeting…which comically fail. Miscommunication causes a rift but all comes out swell in the end.
Lora Lee Gaynor and Bryce Pinkham
Of the wry, sophisticated, entertaining story, we retain nothing wry or sophisticated. (This includes orchestrations by Larry Blank which sound like summer stock.) Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), and Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) are playing Flatbush when we meet them. So much for the decision to walk away from a highly successful career. She accepts his ring postponing marriage a mere 6 weeks, (uh huh), later showing up at “the farm” to break it off adding another song.
Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gaynor) is a schoolteacher (a former actress of course, though conveniently with zero ambition) whose family used to own the house/inn. Mamie and her children (who were black), Jim’s sole kitchen help and company, have disappeared, undoubtedly for political reasons. Instead we have “fix-it man” Louise (Megan Lawrence dressed like Rosie the Riveter) who takes steps to help her, here, completely hapless boss and plays matchmaker. (Jim has been reconceived as so awkward he seems obtuse.) Also added is a child (Morgan Gao) who works for the local bank?! delivering bills and mortgage notices with admonition. Virtually all his appearances feel out of place.
Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Holiday Inn is always televised at the end of the year as its centerpiece is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Likely in order to prolong touring possibilities, whereas almost all the numbers in the ebullient original took place at the Inn, here we spend time watching glitzy Ted and Lila perform elsewhere. Several production numbers involve a company of theater kids who appear out of nowhere at just the right moment in the Garland/Rooney Let’s Put On a Show mode. We’ve jettisoned intimacy and diminished the love story.
There are 21 songs squished into this facsimile, most brief, many – some obviously – not from the original. It’s like sitting at a restaurant table elbow to elbow with other diners. Few are comfortable. The book is sketchy and often blatantly derivative inserting an occasional wink, wink line from another film. It serves merely to carry us from song to song.
Bryce Pinkham. Megan Lawrence, and The Company
Having said this, I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel about the show if I was unfamiliar with the film. I think I’d find it overstuffed, fragmentary, and homogenized, though parenthetically entertaining. The company is bright, enthusiastic, and good hoofers, especially Mr. Bleu. Overall, voices are excellent. It’s a pleasure to see Bryce Pinkham on stage again, though one wishes him a better vehicle next time. And I look forward to further roles by new-to-me Megan Lawrence who has spirit and brass.
As one of the book writers, Director Gordon Greenberg carried through his vision with continuity. Choreography by Denis Jones is fun. A scene using holiday garlands as jump ropes works splendidly. Anna Louizos’ Set Design is well conceived but looks as if corners were cut in execution.
Costume Designer Alejo Vietti does a yeoman-like job, but excels at millinery. Not only does Bing Crosby’s hat show up later on (no sign of the pipe), but fanciful Easter bonnets are unquestionably the show’s visual highlight.
Also featuring Lee Wilkof as the act’s agent Danny, who doesn’t make enough of his ba-dump-dump lines.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Roundabout Theatre Company presents The New Irving Berlin Musical Holiday Inn Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin Book by Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge Directed by Gordon Greenberg Choreography by Denis Jones Studio 54 254 West 54th Street Through January 1. 2017
Lyricist and Librettist Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) won three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards. With Frederick Loewe and Burton Lane, he gave us such varied musical theater pieces as Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and the iconic My Fair Lady as well as movie musicals Gigi and Royal Wedding. Lerner also wrote the screenplay for An American in Paris. The irascible artist had a well known amphetamine habit, yet managed to have eight wives, provoking one to remark, “Marriage was his way of saying goodbye.”
Well born Lerner met Frederick Loewe at The Lamb’s Club in 1942. Their first big hit was 1947’s highland fantasy Brigadoon. Harvey Granat begins today’s musical selections with a palpably enamored “Almost Like Being in Love” from that show. Special Guest John Cullum comments, “Thank God, this is a talk show. I wouldn’t want to compete with that.”
Three songs from the Fred Astaire/Jane Powell film Royal Wedding follow. “Too Late Now” arrives a wistful, wounded shrug, not believing the relationship is over. “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?” is delivered in music hall vernacular like yout (youth), trut (truth) and wouldn’t yuz know. “All the World To Me” (the dancing on the ceiling number) is graceful and jaunty. “He paints such a beautiful, lyrical picture,” Granat says. As does the vocalist.
By whom are you influenced when singing in theater,” Granat asks Cullum, “the composer? the lyricist? the director?” “Lyrics,” the performer decisively responds.“They change your personality with every song you sing.”
My Fair Lady, which garnered 2700 performances in 1956, featured Rex Harrison, an actor convinced he couldn’t sing (apparently much like Cullum) and a wet behind the ears, Julie Andrews. We hear a rendition of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” subtly colored by surprise and a deeply romantic “On the Street Where You Live” during which some of the audience quietly sing. “Sing out!” our host encourages.
At the top of the last 16 bars, Cullum joins in and Granat yields the floor. “When I first came to New York,” the thespian explains, “they always asked whether I had a ballad. I said, yes, On the Street Where You Live.” Again and again he was told Give us the last 16 bars. “I’ve had lots of practice,” he grins.
With “Gigi,” Granat expresses puzzlement, unconsciously wrinkling his brow on ‘desire.’ “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” remains affectionately timeless, though our host points out the lyrics would elicit issues today. Having worked in many mediums, Cullum is asked which he prefers. “I have to admit, there’s nothing like a musical, though I wish I had the voice to sing opera.”
Cullum auditioned to play a knight in 1960’s Camelot starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet. “All the guys over 6’3” were there to audition and I knew they could sing circles around me…” He got the part, also understudying Roddy McDowall and Burton, becoming friends with the latter whom he fondly recalls as generous with the entire company and scholarly. “Burton really didn’t think acting was important thing to do which broke my heart. I think he was lying.”
Granat then sings “If Ever I Could Leave You” during which each season seems to occur to him before our eyes. Cullum continues Camelot anecdotes with Lerner’s request that he sing Sir Lancelot’s ballad for the lyricist in hopes he might understudy Goulet. “I told him I haven’t got that kind of voice, but he insisted. Afterwards, he said,~ John, you’re absolutely right, you haven’t got the voice.’” Sweetly, self-effacingly related.
In 1965, Cullum stared as Dr. Mark Bruckner opposite Julie Harris’ Daisy Gamble/Melinda in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. He sings the title song beginning with the verse, part of a song, he comments, too often overlooked. Every word is meaningful, every thought appreciated. Gentle long notes originate at the back of the performer’s throat, clearing lips with thoughtfulness and emotional waver.
Just before Lerner died, he withdrew from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera having authored “Masquerade,” but losing his memory due to an undiagnosed brain tumor. He was also working on a musical of My Man Godfrey.
As always, MD/pianist David Lahm makes everything seem rehearsed.
Harvey Granat’s The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner is the last of this season’s entertaining midday concert/talks at the 92 Street Y. Next season begins on September 15 with music and stories about Jerry Herman. October 20, it’s Frank Loesser. November 10, Jule Styne. December 8, Burt Bachrach. Each event will feature a special guest. Each will be at noon at the 92Y on Lexington Avenue.