Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Simply the greatest singer of them all

"The one radio voice that I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I'd sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words." - Doris Day

"Ella's voice becomes the orchestra's richest and most versatile sound." - Arthur Fiedler

"Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest of them all." - Bing Crosby

"The best way to start any musical evening is with this girl. It don't get better than this." - Frank Sinatra

"She has been one of my all-time favourite singers for many years and still is - she's terrific." - Perry Como

"She was the best. She was the best there ever was. Amongst all of us who sing, she was the best." - Johnny Mathis

"I call her the High Priestess of Song." - Mel Torme

"I was there from the beginning, and it was obvious from the start what she had that night at the Apollo. My goodness, what she's done with it." - Benny Carter

"Whatever she does to my songs, she always makes them sound better." - Richard Rodgers

"Ella is simply the greatest singer of them all." - Pearl Bailey

"If you want to learn how to sing, listen to Ella Fitzgerald." - Vincente Minnelli

"Ella is the boss lady. That's all." - Billy Strayhorn

"She brings out the best in everybody, making everyone work that much harder to keep up with her." - Andy Williams

"It is so much fun to sing with Ella. It is so nice to sing with someone who does more than make a pretty noise." - Jo Stafford

" She is amazingly creative, bringing so much more to a song than just a singer. She is a first-class musician and the most gracious person in the world." - Marty Paich

"A lot of singers think all they have to do is exercise their tonsils to get ahead. They refuse to look for new ideas and new outlets, so they fall by the wayside... I'm going to try to find out the new ideas before the others do."

"I sing like I feel."

Today is the centenary of one of the greatest voices who ever lived, Miss Ella Fitzgerald.

There are no equals.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (25th April 1917 – 15th June 1996)

Friday, 21 April 2017

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual...

...like today's (other) birthday girl: singer, vaudevillian, music hall performer, stage and film actress Miss Beatrice Kay (21st April 1907 - 8th November 1986):

I have no idea where Sheboygan is, but if Miss Kay was there I am sure the party went with a swing!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Dress me! dress me! dress me!

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Hans Conried. I suppose you know yours."

It was the centenary on the weekend of that marvellously fruity actor Hans Conried.

When, on his appearance on their show, The Monkees kept disrupting him as he tried to perform his lines, Mr Conried looked straight at the camera and said: "I hate these fucking kids." Unsurprisingly, it was not broadcast.

According to IMDB: "His distinctive voice made him a popular radio performer during the 1930s and 1940s. In the following four decades he had a lucrative second career doing voice work for animated feature films and television productions; he was best known as the voice of "Captain Hook" in Peter Pan (1953)."

He went on to carve a not-insignificant career on US television, in numerous shows including Make Room for Daddy, Love, American Style and The Lucy Show, as well as on stage (he was in the original cast of Cole Porter's 1953 Broadway hit Can-Can).

However, it is for his portrayal of "Dr Terwilliger" (described as the "first gay villain") in the camp classic (and box-office disaster) The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T for which we love him most - especially this scene:

Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me, in my finest array!
Cause just in case you haven't heard
Today is doe-me-doe day!

Dress me in my silver garters, dress me in my diamond studs
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!
I want my undulating undies with the marabou frills!
I want my beautiful bolero with the porcupine quills!
I want my purple nylon girdle with the orange blossom buds
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!

Come on and dress me! dress me! dress me!
In my peek-a-boo blouse
With the lovely inner lining made of Chesapeake mouse!
I want my polka-dotted dickie with the crinoline fringe
For I'm going doe-me-doe-ing on a doe-me-doe binge!

I want my lavender spats and in addition to them
I want my honey-colored gusset with the herring bone hem
I want my softest little jacket made of watermelon suede
And my long persimmon placket with the platinum braid
I want my leg of mutton sleeves and in addition to those
I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard skin bows
I want my pink brocaded bodice with the floofy fuzzy ruffs
And my gorgeous bright blue bloomers
With the monkey feather cuffs
I want my organdie snood and in addition to that
I want my chiffon Mother Hubbard lined with Hudson Bay rat
Dress me up from top to bottom, dress me up from tip to toe
Dress me up in silk and spinach for today is doe-me-doe day!

So come and dress me in the blossoms of a million pink trees!
Come on and dress me up in liverwurst! and Camembert cheese!
Come on and dress me up in pretzels, dress me up in bock beer suds! Cause I'm gooooo-ing
in my doe-me-doe duds!

A work of utter, breathtakingly camp genius - that I rightly featured (as an adjunct, admittedly) to my famous "Top Ten of the most extravagantly camp moments in cinema" post over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle.

And, by way of a bonus - a particularly scary scene that was cut [alongside many of the original film's musical numbers, in their entirety, and latterly destroyed] on the grounds of being "too outré" for Fifties audiences:

Hans Georg Conried, Jr. (15th April 1917 – 5th January 1982)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Jaeger-meisters no more

And so, farewell to yet another British institution, with the announcement that the 133-year-old Jaeger Clothing has gone into administration - hot on the heels of such venerable rivals as British Home Stores, Austin Reed (although its brand was rescued by Edinburgh Woollen Mills, its stores were not) and Aquascutum (bought out by the Chinese).

The Jaeger company was formerly known as Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System, yet over the years developed stylish clothing lines that were the occasional favourites of such disparate fashionistas as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and the Duchess of Cambridge; it was certainly always renowned for its sturdy woollens, stylish overcoats, tailored suits and... sexy underwear!

...and bathing costumes.

It was the absolute epitome of post-War style...

...and embraced the oh-so-trendy 1960s...

...with lesbians, apparently.

And now, with a whisper not a scream, the most famous purveyors of the classic camel coat are no more.

RIP, Jaeger (1884 - 2017)

Friday, 7 April 2017

Penises or Penii?

...regardless, there were many of various sizes at Japan's notorious Penis Festival.

Now, that's what I call a good way to start a weekend!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Miss Davis expects...

It is our Patron Saint Miss Bette Davis' birthday today! Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect...

To celebrate, here are a couple of choice extracts from The Devil in Miss Davis, a rather marvellous anecdotal article by veteran director William Frye that was published in Vanity Fair in 2010:
...when Bette Davis decided she wanted to go somewhere, you went. Naturally, we didn’t have a reservation, and [the club] Mocambo was jammed. There was a line of people standing behind a red rope waiting to get in. Bette was no more going to join that queue than fly to the moon. She marched up to the maître d’ and said, “We want a table for two.”

“I’m terribly sorry, Miss Davis, there’s not an empty table in the room. Would you like to go to the bar and wait until one becomes available?”

she said haughtily. “Put one up.”

Moments later, we were escorted into the main room. Right next to the stage, where everyone could see us, they had put up a table about the size of a silver dollar. As Bette was being seated, she spotted two people at the door who were also having trouble getting in - Esther Williams and her husband, Ben Gage. “Esther! Ben!” she called across the room. “Come join us! There’s lots of room!”

They, too, jumped the line, and two more chairs were brought to our table. We danced and drank until the club closed.
And this [on the aftermath of Miss Davis being upstaged by Miss Crawford at The Oscars]:
Olivia de Havilland became very upset. She said it was terrible that Bette had lost, terrible that Joan Crawford had stolen the night, terrible, too, that the world would wake up the next morning to pictures of Crawford clutching an Oscar and assume she’d won it for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? ...

At that moment I made the most inappropriate comment I’ve ever made in my life - the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the wrong person. I still cringe to recall it. I suddenly said, “Well, you have to admit, when Crawford came out on that stage, with that dress and that array of diamonds, she did look like the movie star of all time.”

There was dead silence. Olivia stopped commiserating. Bette stopped slicing bread. I stopped rocking.

“What did you say?” Bette asked, looking up. When I didn’t reply, she came at me with the knife. Pressing it to my chest, she repeated, “What did you say?”

I sat frozen in the rocker, imagining blood dripping down my pleated evening shirt, and repeated the monumentally stupid - but accurate - thing I’d said a few seconds earlier. After another interminable silence, she took the knife away. “You make me sick” was all she said.

Then she went back to slicing bread, and the party resumed. After more drinks, everybody had scrambled eggs and toast. I got home at five a.m. The “evening” had started 12 hours earlier. Neither of us ever mentioned the knife incident again.
There was only one Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (5th April 1908 – 6th October 1989)

Monday, 3 April 2017


From the very opening number, whereby we were instructed: "Please don't fart. There is very little air and this is art", we just knew we were in for a good evening. And so it was, indeed - as a little gang of us huddled into the teensy-tiny confines of the fabulous Jermyn Street Theatre in Mayfair last Friday for not just any old show, but the première of a Stephen Sondheim musical!

The Frogs is not the best-known of the modern-day Master's work, of course. It began as a short art-house-piece way back in 1974, for which Mr Sondheim had merely been asked by its "creator" Burt Shevelove (who "freely adapted" it from Aristophanes, of all obscure sources) to contribute a few songs. It was not a huge success even in those experimental times, despite its semi-aquatic staging (in a swimming baths!), and despite the presence in the chorus of a couple of young gals who were definitely destined for greater things - Miss Sigourney Weaver and Miss Meryl Streep! However, that other theatrical maestro Mr Nathan Lane had other ideas, when he "even more freely" re-worked it (with the collaboration of Mr S, who wrote more songs for it) back in 2004...

We had no water in our theatre of course, but we did have a fabulous cast with fabulous voices, energetic choreography, a (very) quirky storyline and even quirkier score (typically Sondheim: hints of Brecht & Weill, hints of Gershwin and even of Lerner & Loewe in places; lots of staccato and overlapping harmonies) to entertain us. That doyenne of all things arty, Miss Libby Purves [recently treated like shit by the BBC as they axed her Midweek Radio 4 programme after 33 years] (writing in her Theatre Cat blog) has the lowdown:

Here’s the god Dionysus, deprived of his Noël Coward smoking jacket and unconvincingly disguised as Herakles in a lion skin. He’s having a panic attack on a ferry across the Styx while a chorus of marauding frogs sings a menacing staccato and Charon the ferryman sleeps off a spliff. The frogs represent apathetic conformity – “Brek-kek-kek-kek! Brek-kek-kek-kek! Whaddya care the world’s a wreck? Leave ’em alone, send ’em a check, sit in the sun and what the heck?”.
But as the God of theatre, our hero is on a quest to bring back a great playwright – George Bernard Shaw of all people – to improve the world with questioning.

There are many fingers in this mad frog pie. Aristophanes, the Ancient Greek playwright who wrote, for the feast of Lenaia, about a journey into Hades to bring back the dead Euripides. Then Burt Shevelove who updated it to include Shaw and Shakespeare in debate, and Stephen Sondheim who wrote the music and lyrics, and had it performed in the unfriendly acoustic of the Yale swimming pool. Now add Nathan Lane, who fell for it as if for “a little homely rescue dog”, messed about and wrote new bits. And here it is at the ever-adventurous Jermyn.

Rarely have I been in a more Marmite show. A couple left furiously at the interval, not getting it at all: another woman rhapsodised in the interval expressing surprise that they didn’t adore it like her, then unaccountably picked up her many bags and left ten minutes in making the rest of the row stand up for her. Me, entrancedly amused mainly by the Sondheim lyrics, I stayed and enjoyed the character of Pluto the underworld king as a leather queen with a whip, the assorted choruses, and the very funny advent of Martin Dickinson as George Bernard Shaw himself, pompous, emitting his famous epigrams and excoriating the frivolity of Shakespeare and his "Purple patches on borrowed rags".

Dionysius holds it together, the affable Michael Matus alternately alarmed, determined, and nicely gushy as the top Shaw fanboy, praising his “gravity of subject and levity of manner”, which actually describes this whole show quite nicely. The duel of quotations between Shaw and Shakespeare is wonderful, with quite the right winner.

So I enjoyed it, crazy as it is, and the music – piano, woodwind, trumpet and cello, is beautifully Sondheim, and Grace Wessels directs with cheerful speed. It feels more like a clever college romp than anything else, but it is a romp composed by a genius, an eloquent wise clown. For Sondheimites, it has the buzz. Or croak.
For the record, nobody left halfway through the show when we went. Nobody farted to my knowledge, either. In fact the audience was generally, as we were, enraptured.

Like Miss Purves, we loved the interplay between the somewhat effete Dionysus (god of drama and of wine) and his slightly-nerdy slave Xanthias (George Rae) that holds the story together (with some funny throwaway lines such as “Viagra - the god of perseverance”), the humour of the dominatrix Pluto (Emma Ralston) complete with Cage Aux Folles-style fan-dancers, the hilarious Beetlejuice-esque Charon (Jonathan Wadey), and the sheer camp effect of the ensemble cast playing not only the central Greek Chorus roles but also myriad other characters (Chris McGuigan plays both the macho Herakles and a handmaiden to Persephone(!), Martin Dickinson plays Shaw, Nigel Pilkington Shakespeare, Li-Tong Hsu plays "Virilla" the highly-sexed Amazon, and Bernadette Bangura is Dionysus' love Ariadne).

There is a lot to take in in this show, and it certainly is unlike anything else in Sondheim's repertoire (aside from the fact that some of the "hooks" herein sound somewhat familiar to anyone who may have seen his much later Into The Woods). It is definitely not like anything else currently showing in the West End. And for that, we are somewhat thankful.

The Frogs at the Jermyn Street Theatre is now completely sold out, and closes on Saturday 8th April. However, it is definitely worthy of a run at a bigger (not too big, hopefully) West End Theatre, fingers crossed.