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Archive for the ‘Musicals’ Category

SOUNDTRACKCROON AND SWOON: A Classic Christmas (1998).

I grew up listening to big band and crooners.  Bugs Bunny taught me a lot about crooners, too.  So if there’s a Christmas album dedicated to them, I’m all over it.  It’s amazing how many songs are here that are not on other compilations as well (even though it’s really hard to tell since all of the singers basically did all of the songs at some point).

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  This is a pretty traditional take on the song with a but of fun from the Sisters.

LENA HORNE-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”  This is done with Lena’s typical zest and verve.  It’s a really fun version.  I have come to really appreciate Lena this year.

JOHNNY MATHIS-“Winter Wonderland.”  This version sounds a bit fast, frankly.  It doesn’t quite sound like his smooth voice although he still sounds great.  The middle section includes an extra verse I don’t know

Over the ground lies a mantle of white
A heaven of diamonds shine down through the night
Two hearts are thrilling
In spite of the chill in the weather, ooh the weather
Love knows no season, love knows no clime
Romance can blossom any old time
Here in the open
We’re walking and hoping together
Together, together, together

Although I understand that other singers have included it as well.  He has a lot of fun with the song after this including a wonderful run through some octaves after the other kiddies knock him dooooooooooowwwwnnnnn.

LEROY ANDERSON-Sleigh Ride.  This is the classic instrumental that is used all of the time.  It’s awesome and comes complete with the woodblocks for horse hooves and a horn whinney.

ANDY WILLIAMS-“Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  Pure Christmas spirit wrapped around a singer.

PERRY COMO-“There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” This is sung by a big group of happy people.  Classic-feeling.  Although the line “gee the traffic is terrific” is always hilarious.

ANGELA LANSBURY-“We Need a Little Christmas” This is taken from the musical “Mame”  Its a fun musical version with a full cast which really adds to the song.

BING CROSBY-“It’s Beginning To Look a Lot like Christmas.”  A classic crooner from Bing.

GENE AUTRY -“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”  This one sounds sweet and cute, almost like a children’s version.  Even the instrumentation feels kid-friendly.  I love it.

DORIS DAY-“Here Comes Santa Claus.”  I associate this version with children as well, but Doris Day is kinds of sexy right?  I don’t know much else by her, but this song is sweet.  She has a chorus of men singing with her. They sing the “Santa knows that we’re Gods children.”  That and “gives thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight” is always a weird disconnect.

TONY BENNETT-“My Favorite Things”
Not a Christmas song in any way.  It’s a crazy over the top Tony Bennett croony version.  I don’t care for what he’s done to the song and it doesn’t belong here anyhow.

JUDY GARLAND-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  A Christmas song by Judy was on the other day.  I can’t recall the song but I hated it, it sounded so mournful and depressing.  For this song she sounds so wavery and frail that I can’t stand it.  I don’t know if this is just how she sings all the time or if it’s a particularly bad recording but it hurts! it hurts!

RAY CONNIFF-“Silver Bells” This is a strangely stiff version of the song.  The men in particular are very dull but the women add some spark

MABEL MERCER-“The 12 Days of Christmas”  No idea who she is but she is operatic and formal and over the top and its fairly strange–the way she rolls her rs on “five golden r-r-r-rings is pretty funny.  But i know she is deadly serious despite the absurdity of the song

GENE AUTRY-“Frosty the Snowman” is also cute and kid-friendly.  It’s very sweet with a clopping feet rhythm.

PEGGY LEE-“Days of Christmas.”  I don’t know this song at all..  How is there an old-timey Christmas song that I don’t know?  It’s very sweet.  I like that it starts with the melody of “The First Noel” and then turns into something else entirely with the lyric:  “This song of mine in three-quarter time.”

PERRY COMO-“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” This version is slow and croony and lovely.

ROSEMARY CLOONEY-“White Christmas.”  This is a lovely straightforward version of this classic song.

Overall this is a great collection of songs.

[READ: December 10, 2018] “One Gram Short”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This story appeared in the New Yorker on December 1, 2014.  I enjoyed it then and I think I enjoyed it more this time.  here’s some of what I wrote then: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REIGNWOLF-“In the Dark” (Field Recordings, June 29, 2012).

This is another Field Recording set at Sasquatch! Music Festival [Reignwolf: A One-Man Rock Show].

I’d never heard of Reignwolf and I’m still not sure if Reignwold is typically a solo project–like here or a band.  “In the Dark” is a simple blues rock song–like Led Zep via the White Stripes.

Jordan Cook plays a noisy, distorted guitar with a metal slide so that there’s pretty much always something coming out of the amp.  After some pretty simple verses he plays a wild, sloppy (broken stringed) solo.

The way he was tearing it up during an impromptu set at the Sasquatch Music Festival, you’d barely notice that Jordan Cook, a.k.a. Reignwolf, broke a string midway through his fiery rendition of “In the Dark” — that is, until you saw the mangled remnants of his guitar, smoldering on the ground after he’d wrenched every wailing chord from its guts.

The song works best when he plays the kick drum.  It adds just enough oomph to make it not seem like a guy playing a guitar.

The Saskatoon native and recent Seattle transplant never misses a beat — literally. When he’s not with a band, he accompanies himself on kick drum and makes enough noise to match a dozen metalheads. In this video, recorded at the artist campground between sets at the festival, Reignwolf causes a ruckus beside his RV and rousts a crowd of sleepy campers into dancing and cheering.

The soloing goes on for a while and the people around him seem to like it.  Although the soloing behind his head is a bit much, but hey, if you can do it, then go ahead!

[READ: February 1, 2017] “The Sightseers”

I really liked a main aspect of this story, and so many of the details.

The story begins with an overprivileged New York family.  They have a maid/cook/gofer named Kiki from Tibet and the husband marvels at Kiki and “their calm, those people.”

The father, Robert, is happy that they no longer go to North East Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving–the round nephews and the piles and piles of food.  For their Thanksgiving they would be having salmon as Robert was training five times a week with a Navy Seal.

When the salmon turns out to be halibut, the son says that wasn’t on the menu (the menus were designed ahead of time to limit daily stress by preparing the children for their dinners ahead of time–there would be no surprises.  The son asks if the next time they have halibut it will be salmon.  The father thinks that’s an excellent suggestion. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 1, 2018] Evan Dando

Back in 2015 I saw that Evan Dando was playing at the New Hope Winery.  I had no idea that there was a concert venue so close to me and that Evan Dando would be there.  For some reason, I was unable to make that show, (Thurston Moore was also playing there around that time and I couldn’t make that either, so we must have been away).

Since then I have monitored the Winery to see what other cool bands would be playing there.  Sadly, pretty much since that day, aside from Dar Williams (who is awesome) everyone playing there is a cover band.  Which sucks.

I have loved The Lemonheads since college and It’s a Shame About Ray is a stellar album.  I’d never seen him play, so when I saw he had announced one show (which has since turned into a small tour) at Monty Hall in Jersey City, I knew I had to go.

Evan came out pretty late by any standard.  But I wasn’t even sure if he was going to show up.  He seemed surprisingly discombobulated (he forgot his capo) and it took a pretty long time or him to get set up.  This was all fairly surprising since he’d been doing this forever.

He had a total artist look: pants that were filthy and a suit jacket that had a giant rip under the armpit (and which seemed too small for him).

He was wearing glittery flip flops!  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BAND’S VISIT-Tiny Desk Concert #745 (May 21, 2018).

After nearly 800 Tiny Desk concerts, The Band’s Visit is the first Broadway musical ever to play the series.

The show opens with four men in powder blue uniforms (the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra–Garo Yellin-cello; Sam Sadigursky-clarinet; Harvey Valdes-oud; Ossama Farouk-darbouka) playing “Soraya,” a lively instrumental.

From the first note strummed on the oud, Yazbek’s nominated score transports the Tiny Desk to the Middle East with traditional instrumentation and melodies, and weaves in beautiful theatrical ballads.

The Band’s Visit insists that it’s OK, even essential, to get “stuck” with strangers who have different perspectives. It serves as a poignant reminder that our common connection to music can rise above the noise of intolerance

The composer David Yazbek comes out to explain the scene:

The story of The Band’s Visit,  told the Tiny Desk audience, “is about hope and faith and silence and music.” It tells the tale of Egyptian musicians stranded in a small Israeli village. The townspeople have no choice but to take them in. Eventually, the love of music allows the characters to see past their differences and form an unlikely bond in a single night. The musical was adapted from the 2007 film and has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards.

He introduces Katrina Lenk (nominated for a Tony Award).  For this song, she is reminiscing about her childhood growing up in the middle of nowhere in Israel.  The main cultural delight was through her mothers radio and TV via Arabic music and movie stars like Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif.

“Omar Sharif” is a beautiful song with a wonderful really compelling melody.  It’s noy musical-like at all.  It is very passionate with one big moment but never over the top.  Her accent as she sings is wonderful.  I love the lyric

honey in my ears / spice in my mouth

The song features Andrea Grody on piano and Alexandra Eckhart on bass.

Although it’s a Broadway smash hit, it lacks the opulent, bring-down-the-house song and dance numbers. It’s a more intimate show with some universal messages that fit the up, close and personal space of the Tiny Desk.

Dina interacts with Tewfiq the leader of the orchestra, “the swarthy, handsome Tony Award nominated Tony Shaloub.”

She asks him to sing something and he offers an Arabic poem (a capella).

Yazbek’s poem Itgara’a, translated here from Arabic and sung a cappella by Tony Shalhoub, sums up the show’s philosophy:

When you drink, drink deeply / Drink deeply of the moonlight / drink deeply of the dark / of the loneliness / of the joy.
You will never drain the moonlight / you can never end the dark. /  In your eyes, the flash of joy / in your mouth, the sweet shock of honey.
You are the joy / you are the loneliness. / Drink deep.

It’s followed by a wild and fun instrumental “Haj-Butrus” with pizzicato violin, some wild oud work and an amazing darbouka solo.

For the final song he tells us about a character.  The telephone guy.  He’s off at the side of the stage at a pay phone waiting for it to ring–for… days? weeks?  He’s waiting for his girlfriend to call.  The last song is a culmination of everyone yearning for human connection and something deeper.

“Answer Me” features “telephone guy” who is Adam Kantor.  Kristen Sieh (who plays Iris) representing the cast of thousands and George Abud who plays Camal (and the violin solo earlier) plays some oud in this song.

Kantor has a lovely high voice.  After a brief instrumental break, Lenk sings and then with the backing players as a chorus Shaloub joins in as well.  Although of all of the songs played, this is my least favorite.

The crew from the show, which opened last November at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, descended on NPR at 8:30 a.m. — seven musicians, five actors, a wardrobe department, a make-up artist, a publicist, a music director, the composer and even a vlogger. We started early so they could hustle back to Manhattan for a 7 p.m. curtain.

The musical sounds wonderful and I’d like to hear the rest of the soundtrack.

[READ: July 7, 2016] “The Midnight Zone”

I found this story to be mostly good but there was something that didn’t resonate with me.  The whole story is told in a very detached, first-person style.

The story opens with a family staying in an old hunting camp.  They are told that a Florida panther was seen in the camp a few days earlier, but things were pretty quiet for them.

“we had lunch, then the elder boy tried to make a fire by rubbing sticks together, his little brother attending solemnly….  Then dinner, singing songs, a bath in the galvanized-steel horse trough…and that was it for the day.”

The father/husband gets a call that he has to return home for an emergency.  He said he’d be back in two days.  And so it was just the wife and her two (very) young sons. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 23, 2018] Oklahoma

We had seen a few musicals at Montgomery High School and they were quite good.  Their theater work is serious business.  So when I saw that they were doing “Oklahoma” by Rodgers & Hammerstein, I thought it would be really fun to check out.

Sarah has known the music from this musical most of her life and I think most people know at least a song or two.  But I don’t know how many people actually know the story.  The story is pretty out there and is a little inappropriate for a high school production (and for my kids).  Not all of it, obviously, but the way the story resolves it pretty crazy (spoiler in the next paragraph).

Three weeks later, the marriage of Curly and Laurey takes place. Jud, drunk, breaks into the festivities and threatens Curly with a knife. In the ensuing brawl Jud falls on the blade and dies. A makeshift trial is hurriedly improvised by Judge Carnes so as not to delay the young couple. Curly is acquitted of murder, and is free to go off with his bride on their honeymoon

So yea, a high school musical with a murder and frontier justice.  And lots and lot of singing! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 24, 2017] Pippin

Pippin has been Sarah’s favorite musical for years.  And as a special treat, she is guest co-authoring this post with me.  I have highlighted her part in a Pippin-inspired purple.

She has seen it once before in a decent sized production.  And we saw it together at a community theater version.  Strangely, I don’t remember much about that production (I was more fascinated by the building).  Anyhow, this touring production of Pippin is the newly redesigned version.

As I said I don’t remember all that much about the previous version, but I can tell you it was nothing like this one.  This new version was utterly spectacular, with an emphasis on spectacle!

SD: You know how the books from your childhood or the movies you watched over and over as a teenager are the ones you know by heart? Pippin is like that for me. My mom loved this musical and I grew up listening to the soundtrack (Original Broadway cast recording) over and over again. I know every bit of the album (and when I grew up and got a dog, I named him Pippin.) The thing about knowing a show by the soundtrack and not the performance is that you might make up what some of the plot is. I remember being surprised at the previous performances I’ve been to (one very good, one, as Paul said, not so great community theater) to find out what the songs really meant in context!  Anyway, the songs and the show are special to me and I couldn’t wait to see this. 

The story of the musical is fairly simple.

Pippin is the son of King Charlemagne (that much is true, but the rest is totally made up).  Pippin has just come back from college, but he is full of ennui.  He knows that he is an extraordinary person (he even sings about it), and is certain that there has to be something that will fulfill him.   Pippin wants to impress his father so he insists that he join his father and step son in fighting the Visigoths.  Charles reluctantly agrees but Pippin finds it less than satisfying.  From there he runs to his grandmother who tells him to enjoy the physical pleasures in life–which he does!  But that proves empty as well.  Finally seeing how much of  tyrant his father is he decides to fight tyranny and take over as King. But he finds that he has to resort to tyranny as well and asks for a do-over.

What’s left?  Art?  No.  Religion?  No.  No No No.  All that is left is despair.  While lying in the road, Catherine finds him.  She is a widow with a son and she tends to him.  He is reluctant, but eventually comes around to her care.  He spends a year with her, fixing the house, tending the farm, doing very ordinary things.  But he is extraordinary!  He can’t live a life like that.  How can he make his life (or death) special?

Fairly straightforward, right?  Well, this production takes this story and tweaks it in an amazing way. (more…)

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