Sunday, 12 April 2015

Just rewards

“"All these years of waiting. I am so infinitely grateful to have this baby in my hands.

"Here I am creeping up to 90 and feeling like a million dollars because I'm in London in this magnificent hall with all you - my roots, where I began.”

Congratulations to Dame Angela Lansbury, who won her first ever Olivier Award (Best Supporting Actress, for her role as "Madam Arcati" in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre last year) today at the grand old age of 89.

Olivier Awards official website

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mystery guest of the day...'s none other than Our Princess Kylie Minogue as Marlene Dietrich!


Check out dear Marky Mark's Shine One And On blog for more photos from lifestyle magazine Sorbet, for whom this photo-shoot was commissioned.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

I want to leave them with something that they`ll remember

"In a cabaret, it`s almost like being in your living room with friends coming in to visit, and you want to give them the best you have, all that`s in you."

"My whole goal in life is to reach the person in some way. It may not happen on every song - it may happen with only one moment in a show. But I want to leave them with something that they`ll remember, that they were touched by."

Sad news. The death of Miss Julie Wilson [read my previous blog about her], on the eve of her icon Billie Holiday's centenary has left another yawning chasm in the pantheon of the great cabaret artistes.

In a 1987 interview, Miss Wilson named Holiday as her major influence. “No singer has ever moved me so much,” she said. “No one has ever had such pain and emotion in her singing. She is why I wear a gardenia in my hair every night.”

Writer Deborah Grace Winer in her book The Night and the Music called Wilson "the undisputed Queen of cabaret, the doyenne of the night chanteuses." Hers was a long road to that pinnacle in her career, however.

From her roots in Omaha, Nebraska, she emerged in the New York nightclub scene in the 40s, found stage fame in musicals in London's West End and on Broadway in the 50s and 60s (and appeared in couple of largely forgotten movies), then retired in the early 70s back to the Midwest to raise her family. It was not until the 1980s that Miss Wilson revived her cabaret career, and became the legendary performer of Sondheim, Porter and Weill standards so beloved of audiences at Michael’s, the Kaufman and the Algonquin. She had her comedic moments, too:
On Jack Paar's Tonight Show in the late '50s, guest host Arlene Francis discovered that Wilson was a yoga enthusiast and asked her to do a headstand.

"I was wearing this exquisite, sequinned gown from Neiman Marcus, but I figured I had the situation under control"

"Well, while I'm on my head - live on national television - my skirt came falling down right over my head. And I was only wearing pantyhose! They immediately cut to a commercial."
She will be very much missed. And her she is with her version of the Sondheim/Stritchy classic The Ladies Who Lunch:

I'll drink to that!

RIP Julie May Wilson (12th October 1924 – 5th April 2015)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

There's no damn business like show business

"If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all."

"You've got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any-damn-body's sermon on how to behave."

"There's no damn business like show business - you have to smile to keep from throwing up."

"You can be up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation.”

"I hate straight singing. I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That's all I know."

It is the centenary of the birth of Billie Holiday today.

Here is "Lady Day" herself, live, on Art Ford's Jazz Party in 1958:

  • As a child she ran errands for the girls in a local brothel in return for the privilege of listening to recordings by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
  • She chose the stage name "Billie" after her favourite actress Billie Dove.
  • Her most famous/notorious anthem was Strange Fruit, described as the "first (black) protest song", which described the horror of lynchings of black people in the USA; it was in fact written by a a white Jewish schoolteacher from New York City, Abel Meeropol.
  • She was first arrested on drugs charges in 1947, and on her deathbed in 1959 was again under arrest for possession of narcotics.
  • Billie claimed to have never read her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (it was mainly ghost-written by William Dufty).
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan, 7th April 1915 – 17th July 1959)

Thursday, 2 April 2015

"I don't really know what it's going to be like"

From the BBC:
Rock legend David Bowie is co-writing a stage show inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth, the New York Theatre Workshop has announced.

The production, Lazarus, will feature new songs specially composed by Bowie as well as new arrangements of his old songs.

The star is working on the project with Irish playwright Enda Walsh, who won a Tony Award for the musical Once.

Lazarus is due to première in New York in the winter this year.

The show is inspired by the 1963 novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, and centres on the character of Thomas Newton, played by Bowie in the 1976 screen adaptation directed by Nicolas Roeg.

It will be directed by the Belgian Ivo van Hove, whose recent London productions include Antigone with Juliet Binoche, and the sell-out A View From the Bridge, starring Mark Strong.

Bowie is not expected to feature in the cast.

James C Nicola, the artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop, said the show had been in secret development for some years.

He told the New York Times: "It's going to be a play with characters and songs - I'm calling it music theatre, but I don't really know what it's going to be like. I just have incredible trust in their creative vision."

Nicola said the show would not retell the story of the book and film, but would feature some of the same characters.
It could be good. It could be not.

Who knows? not me
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the Man who Sold the World.

New York Theatre Workshop

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Winter is dead?

“She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead.”

- A.A. Milne, Daffodowndilly

“A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England.”
- Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

British Summer Time starts today. It is, of course, raining.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Unless you show off, you're not going to get noticed

"The great thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star."

"I think performers are all show-offs anyway, especially musicians. Unless you show off, you're not going to get noticed."

Sir Elton Hercules John CBE (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, 25th March 1947)

“Most people don’t understand performers are really sheltered and protected so much sometimes that they don’t get a chance to live their lives.”

“I can be a better me than anyone can!”

Diana Ernestine Earle Ross (born 26th March 1944)

Sunday, 22 March 2015

There is no-one else remotely as good as either of them

Two significant theatrical birthdays coincide today, as Michael Coveney observes in WhatsOnStage:
Happy Birthday to the grand old men of musical theatre, and I'm not talking Rodgers and Hammerstein. It's almost freakish that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim, the transatlantic giants of the genre, share the same birth date, 22nd March, though ALW is a mere stripling at 67 years, Sondheim a justly venerated 83.

Both composers, both geniuses in their own individual ways, tread warily and respectfully around each other, but their supporters, mostly on the Sondheim side, are like rival fans of the two Manchester football teams: vociferous, bitchy and unaccommodating. Lloyd Webber, in their eyes, always wants to please the public whereas Sondheim wants to change an art form. Guess who most critics prefer.

The truth is they both seek popular approval, of course, and they have both been revolutionary innovators. Lloyd Webber's two major musicals written with lyrics by Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, will remain in the repertoire for as long as Puccini's Tosca and Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow and, who knows, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. Cats and Starlight Express are brilliant eclectic vaudevilles, exploring every kind of rock musical and operatic style in effervescent pastiche, while Sondheim's best shows - my favourites (not necessarily the same thing) are Company, A Little Night Music and Into the Woods - reinvent the genre as urban satire, fairy-tale, operetta; and of course he rewrites his own brilliant lyrics.

Although the first productions of Company and Night Music each ran a year here, neither was a commercial smash, nor was (or is) Assassins, for all its mordant vitality. ALW's Phantom of the Opera runs for ever because it touches a nerve about the music of seduction, the agency of love and the splendour of its rock romantic expression; and the music is on a constant switchback between that romance and the heart of darkness in the Phantom's labyrinth, while Sondheim does a similar thing in combining surface atmosphere with ghoulish revelation in Sweeney Todd.

Both write "proper" music to put it mildly. The first half of the finally disappointing Stephen Ward contained some of Lloyd Webber's best continuity, or underscoring, while Sondheim's Passion, which I can live without, has some of his finest arioso and harmonic moments. If there's a musical context for Lloyd Webber's inspiration you find it in Prokofiev as well as Puccini - it's worth remembering that when Dmitri Shostakovich, arguably the greatest composer of the 20th century, saw Superstar in London shortly before he died (twice, on successive evenings) he lamented that he could not have written something similar himself, admiring particularly the writing of a core rock band orchestration overlain with full symphonic strings, brass and woodwind. And Sondheim hails from the greatest days of the Broadway musical and indeed wrote lyrics for three of them - West Side Story, Gypsy and (music as well) A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Both writers owe a lot to Cameron Mackintosh. Mackintosh produced Cats and Phantom and Side By Side By Sondheim, the 1976 cabaret that really put Sondheim on the map in this country. And when Cameron celebrated his 30 years in show business in 1998, ALW and "Steve" (as I called him by the end of our one and only chance encounter in a London pub, when I had the privilege of buying him two very large gin and limes) collaborated for the first and only time at a royal gala in the producer's honour.

On film at that gala, they shared the same piano and an item (devised by Sondheim) which wedded the tunes of "Send in the Clowns" and "Music of the Night": "Isn't he rich? Isn't he square? Isn't he working the room, somewhere out there? Send in the crowds... Acts on his whims, took a big chance, seeing his anagram said: Cameron, Romance. He went to France. Send in the crowds." The tune shifted to 4/4 time: "Night time falling, Cameron keeps calling. Posing questions, questions with suggestions... suddenly appearing, always interfering; but here we are, and cheering as we might, the man who flogs the music of tonight."

About the only other thing they have in common is having written an Oscar-winning film song for Madonna (ALW in Evita, with Tim Rice, and Sondheim in Dick Tracy), and both are struggling to adjust to the changing musical theatre scene. One problem they share is that there is no-one else remotely as good as either of them, nor do they have the benefit of a great musical theatre producer like Mackintosh, last of a breed, I reckon. ALW's influence has been immense in terms of the industry and side issues like sound systems and orchestration, while Sondheim has unwittingly created a more baleful legacy in his imitators and American musical theatre writers who simply can't get out from under his skin, or his shadow.

Still, with two Sweeney Todds coming up - one at the ENO with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson (semi-staged, for 13 performances only, hardly an auspicious launch for the supposedly money-making ENO deal with Michael Grade and Michael Linnitt), one in a pop-up pie and eel shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, cheekily gazumping ENO on Cameron's patch - and Gypsy soon to storm the Savoy, Steve ain't going away... nor is ALW, though I'm not the only one to worry about space songs for Sarah Brightman, his muse and inspiration on Phantom, and his unlikely-sounding collaboration with Julian "Downton Abbey" Fellowes - the Downton chief location, Highclere Castle, is handily close to ALW's country pile on the edge of Watership Down - on Jack Black's School of Rock.
Stephen Joshua Sondheim (born 22nd March 1930)

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber (born 22nd March 1948)