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.
Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.
Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”
We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.
Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.
Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.
Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.
From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely. Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.
When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.
In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.
Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.
At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.
Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!
Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.
Maestro begins with a lesson in music theory and construct (be patient, it will pass) and unexpectedly ends with a passionate outburst of self-recrimination. Between the two lies illumination of one of the iconic music figures of our era. Hershey Felder’s beautifully written piece channels musician/composer/conductor/author/teacher Leonard Bernstein from his influentially Jewish background (even demonstrating why he thinks of The Phrygian mode –the formation of a particular set of octaves or scales, as the Jewish mode) to immense professional success, frustration and personal crisis.
Though serious musicians are likely to garner somewhat more from the piece, it’s as entertaining as it is intermittently scholarly and most definitely a character portrait. Layman-accessible allusions such as: Wagner’s TristanundIsolde exhibits forward propulsion of harmonies and motifs in need of resolve, thus creating sexual tension – are an unexpected treat.
The Jewish tenant of “continuum to God” and his father’s “niggunim…Jewish tunes that he’d suddenly burst out singing in order to remind him how close he was to God…” seem to have translated into Bernstein’s hyper consciousness of a musical continuum. “Carried Away” from On the Town (written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green), has never sounded so schmaltzy and ethnically derived as in this production.“Papa, Yankel Gershovitz (George Gershwin) never eats with the help in the kitchen!” he protests when his father disparages musical pursuits.
Other performed music ranges from that of classical and contemporary composers (including Bernstein himself) to West Side Story which “changed musical theater forever” and whose songs here punctuate his emotional life. Among those we meet are: Dimitri Mitropoulos, who literally fed Bernstein his first oyster and with whom he felt “a new and powerful kind of connection”; Aaron Copeland who commented “You’ve recycled everyone, even me,” yet recognized the young man’s talent; Fritz Reiner who “looked like he had had sex once, didn’t like it, would never have it again…” (the piece is peppered with humor); and, Serge Koussevitsky whom he attributes with unquantifiable knowledge and falls “a little bit in love.”
At 25, the “skinny Jewish kid from Lawrence, Mass.” replaced ailing Bruno Walter as conductor of The New York Philharmonic, a full position he later acquired. At 33, he married his best friend, Chilean-born American actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre with whom he had a treasured family. Felder depicts their relationship as deeply loving (despite the quote “I had become completely behaviorized”) and his subject’s adulterous sex life with great delicacy. International reputation swelled as Bernstein conducted, composed, taught, and brought classical music to television.
The chronicle is detailed. It could successfully be 10-15 minutes shorter in music, but the libretto is terrific and the show holds. Bernstein’s own words and thoughts enrich. Ambition, ego and selfishness are addressed in tandem with talent, tenderness, a soupcon of politics, and regrets. Hershey Felder is appreciative and sympathetic but not, mercifully, starry-eyed; a fine pianist, a fair singer, a splendid writer and a fully invested performer.
Director Joel Zwick does a virtuoso job of guiding this one man show so that its subject is an unrushed Sherezhade, imitating pivotal conductors (albeit with extremely similar accents)and recalling his life in an arc from excited ambition, though joyful appreciation, to bitterness and remorse. Wry lines land on target. Ego is palpable. Passages concerning Bernstein’s wife, Felicia are moving. Pacing is adroit.
Set Design by Francois-Pierre Couture says a lot with a little, inclusively offering blank canvas on which Projection and Lighting Designer Christopher Ash exhibits his nuanced, illustrative skills. Images often bleed across the floor as well as backdrop, film at the center of a still becomes framed by mood, gradual morphing is well calculated. ‘Love the candle and stars.
Photos Courtesy of Hershey Felder Pesents
Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro Book by Hershey Felder Directed by Joel Zwick 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through October 16, 2016
On the 25th Anniversary of this show’s original opening, (the vocalist’s debut at the fabled Oak Room of The Algonquin Hotel), and the 1st Anniversary of Stephen Hanks’ monthly series New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck thrilled a club (The Metropolitan Room) so full of enthusiastic audience we practically sat on one another’s laps.
Worthy of The Hollywood Bowl or London Palladium (are you listening New Jersey Performing Arts Center?), this exceptional evening manages to embrace 21 Broadway musicals that opened in or were still running during its memorable 1959 season. The piece, performed with gusto, clarity, and taste, is cleverly framed as a show unto itself (top ticket price $9.20) with narrative arc illuminated by some of the best constructed medleys I’ve ever heard. Occasional duets add sparkle. (MD/pianist/Alex Rybeck.)
Bookended by a splendid arrangement of “Tonight” (West Side Story) delivered in three musical chapters – light piano cadenza, modulated upswell, Broadway fervor and a gauzy “Till Tomorrow”(Fiorello) – this adroitly written show also contains opening and second act Overtures and an amusing Entr’acte. The latter skillfully conjectures what people might be talking about in Shubert Alley at the time.
Jeff Harnar doesn’t just look around the room, he looks into our eyes making this an immersive experience. The performer is expressive and charming. Lightness of carriage and infectious love of the material makes us feel as if we’re at a stylish, showbiz party. Harnar is in superb, muscular voice. He musically turns on a dime and delivers appreciable script without dropping a stitch. There are songs performed with theatrical accents and others he inhabits with seemingly fresh character awareness. Sara Louise Lazarus reprises and conceivably improves upon her expert Direction.
We meet our boy and girl with “A Perfect Evening” (First Impressions.) He says I’ve seen her kind before…uppity laugh… She says, I’ve seen his kind before…head in the clouds, nose inthe air… The lyric is party spoken to great effect. “The wonderful thing about first impressions is that they change” prefaces a waltzy “Nine O’Clock” (Take Me Along) followed by a rich, aptly besotted “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady). “I Don’t Think I’ll End It All Today” (Jamaica) arrives with fair accent, engaging gestures, and dancey demeanor.
The show’s Marriage Medley slyly employs a familiar wedding theme from Company as a red herring, bridging numbers from other musicals. In part: “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” (My Fair Lady) is a wry dirge; Harnar’s reoccurring “Don’t Marry Me” (Flower Drum Song) emerges sophisticated, insouciant; “One Hand, One Heart” (West Side Story) contains a sob which seems new to this artist. Rybeck ably duets. Remember, he can sing. “As the Act I curtain falls, we find our hero contemplating the wisdom of his dreams.” Hands at his sides, ostensibly holding it together, Harnar showcases finesse while Rybeck’s arrangement shimmers light on selected passages.
Act II opens with a Political Medley featuring such as: “Little Tin Box” (Fiorello) during which Rybeck plays the prosecutor and Harnar the witnesses, several with New Yawk accents. This ends with a jaunty, ersatz soft shoe. And the acerbic hoedown “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” (L’il Abner) which sounds disturbingly current. (Why is no one doing a cabaret show of Broadway political songs?)
We then revisit “our troubled lovers.” “I Say Hello” (Destry Rides Again) brims with entreaty; “Long Before I Knew You” (Bells Are Ringing) is palpably warm, “Look Who’s In Love” (Redhead) lands surprised. Before the coda of this section, we hear Harnar’s Harold Hill tell partner-in-crime Marcellus that he can’t run away even if it means being caught. In love with Marian the Librarian,“… for the first time in my life, I got myfootcaught in the door…” (‘Inspired use of a line.). Four bars of “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) adds a cursive flourish. Always a talented balladeer, the vocalist brings sincerity to songs that might be merely sentimental in other’s hands.
A moving “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (The Sound of Music) with unexpectedly entrancing piano serves as encore. Harnar is tender, not stressed. The song appears heady in a different, more affecting way. Much of the room tears up. Bravo!
This extraordinary show unfortunately has no future dates.
Photos by Steve Friedman
New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits presents Jeff Harnar sings The 1959 Broadway Songbook First engagement at The Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel 1991 Recorded live on Original Cast Records 1992 Jeff Harnar-Vocals Alex Rybeck- MD/Piano & Vocals Sara Louise Lazarus- Director The Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd Street August 13, 2016 Venue Calendar
Getting into the elevator following Signature Theatre’s production of Road Show, one woman was overheard saying to her friend: “I liked West Side Story better.” The musicals have Stephen Sondheim in common. (He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, the music and lyrics for Road Show.) But while revivals of West Side Story often receive rave reviews, including the recent one at Signature, Road Show has always been a harder sell. In fact, the musical’s journey, which included a lawsuit, title changes, and a total overhaul, resembles in many ways the story it tells of two brothers who criss cross the country in search of success but instead meet with disappointment.
Yet for true Sondheim fans, Road Show should not be missed. And Signature’s production, which benefits from substantive changes made during the musical’s run at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, features an enthusiastic and talented cast, smart direction, creative staging, appealing period perfect costumes, and musical accompaniment evocative of the early 1900s. Songs are quintessential Sondheim, with clever, fast-paced lyrics that compliment the action and move the story along.
Noah Racey and Cast
Road Show is the fictional story of Addison Mizner and his brother, Wilson. Following the death of their father, their mother encourages them to go out and seek their fortune. They begin that quest in Alaska, hoping to strike it rich during the gold rush. They do find gold but Wilson, a compulsive gambler who has a talent for manipulating people, loses their claim in a poker game. Addison leaves in disgust and ends up in New York. He shows promise as an architect, and lands his first client, a rich widow, who wants him to design a pool house. Before he can do that, however, Wilson shows up, seduces the widow, marries her, and fritters away her fortune on boxing matches and horse races.
Matthew Schleich, Josh Lamon and Noah Racey
After their mother dies, Addison travels to Florida lured by the state’s land boom. Soon, he’s building mansions for the wealthy in Palm Beach. He also takes a lover, Hollis Bessemer, the son of a wealthy industrialist who has been cut off by his father. Hollis’ dream is to create an artists’ colony, but that plan is put on hold while the two enjoy each other and their new found wealth. When Wilson shows up, once again down on his luck, he comes up with a scheme to build a new city, Boca Raton. Once Hollis is convinced, Addison agrees, but Wilson’s plan is soon revealed as a scam. Addison loses everything – his wealth, his lover, and his reputation. The two brothers end up where they began, penniless and alone.
Josh Lamon and Noah Racey
Without two strong leads, the story would fall flat. Fortunately, casting here is inspired. As Addison, Josh Lamon is the larger stage presence but he’s putty in his brother’s hands. Lamon’s body language and facial expressions speak volumes, showing the conflict that he suffers whenever he must weigh the love he feels for his brother against doing what’s right. Noah Racey’s Wilson is the charming rogue, able to win over most everyone he meets. Yet when Racey flashes that Cheshire cat grin, we know there’s malice behind those good looks.
Each member of the supporting cast assumes more than one role. Transformations are skillfully managed and each character appears distinct. A large map of the U.S. serves as a backdrop while small lights pinpoint the brothers’ travels. Scenery while minimal, works well, creating the right atmosphere without distracting from the action.
Road Show isn’t Sondheim’s best. But it is Sondheim and true fans will find much to discuss after this road show.
Photos by Margot Schulman Opening: Noah Racey, Josh Lamon, and Sherri L. Edelen
Road Show Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Avenue Arlington, Virginia Directed by Gary Griffin Music Direction by Jon Kalbfleisch With Erin Driscoll, Sherri L. Edelen, Stefan Alexander Kempski, Jason J. Labrador, Josh Lamon, Jake Mahler, Dan Manning, Angela Miller, Noah Race, Matthew Schleich, and Bobby Smith