The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: More Loesser Than You Can Handle

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Loesser

With two of Frank Loesser’s biggest hits returning in the form of simultaneous all-star concerts, last week New York experienced a rare treat for Classic Broadway lovers and the ClaBro-curious alike. Wednesday – Sunday, Encores! gave us the quasi-operatic romance The Most Happy Fella with Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, Shuler Hensley, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jay Armstong Johnson and… yeah, basically everyone The Craptacular has ever written about. Then, on Thursday, Carnegie Hall exploded with the musical comedy excitement of Guys and Dolls, starring Nathan Lane in the role that made him famous, along with Patrick Wilson, Sierra Boggess, Megan Mullaly, John Treacy Egan, Len Cariou and Judy Kaye.

Frank Loesser was unique among Golden Age songwriters for a number of reasons: his earliest hit songs were written for the movies, marrying his lyrics to tunes by Jule Styne, Hoagie Carmichael, Burton Lane and others. In the mid-1940s, he began writing his own music, leading to his first Broadway show, the hit Where’s Charlie, and his Oscar-winning song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Please, if you want to debate the perceived rapey-ness of this song, do it in the comments of someone else’s post.) Continue reading

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The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Little Me

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Little Me

This week, Encores! kicks off its 21st season with Little Me, a jazzy musical comedy — emphasis on comedy — which features a hysterical book by Neil Simon specifically crafted around the talents of original star Sid Caesar, who played seven different roles in the show. Christian Borle steps into all of those roles for the Encores! production, but before the curtain goes up at City Center, let’s take a look back at the history of this show.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to impress/bore your friends/enemies at parties/piano bars with Broadway trivia, Little Me is right up your alley. Based on a book by Patrick Dennis — who you might remember as both a character in Mame and the author of, Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, the novel it’s based on – Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen, and Television Belle Poitrine as told to Patrick Dennis. (Does that make Little Me an unofficial sequel to Mame?) The novel, a satire on the self-indulgent celebrity autobiography that has never gone out of style, was built around a series of humorous photographs taken by Cris Alexander. You might remember Alexander as Chip in the original production of On The Town, or for his roles in the original stage and film casts of Auntie Mame. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Encores!

Love Broadway musicals but hate having to sit through all that talking between the songs? You’re in luck. In the next couple of months, you can catch the New York Philharmonic doing Sweeney Todd in Concert, Lincoln Center hosting Titanic in Concert, Carnegie Hall offering Guys and Dolls in Concert, and 54 Below with concert revivals of Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Side Show on deck. But most importantly, the 21st season of Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert kicks off with Little Me the first week of February. Believe it or not, once upon a time, concert productions of older shows didn’t fill our concert halls and nightclubs. There was the occasional Kern or Gershwin show dusted off at Carnegie Hall or the Library of Congress, and starry casts came together for special events like Follies in Concert, but they were just that—special events. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Five Broadway Lessons From My Mom

Originally published on The Craptacular.

remedial queens mom

On December 29, 2013, my mom, Lois Levy, passed away at age 67. (Read my eulogy for her.) In her memory, I’d like to offer a different kind of Broadway history: a short history of the Broadway lessons my mother left me.

Nothing Says I Love You Like A Showtune

Like most mothers, my mom loved to sing to me when I was little. Her favorite? “I love you / a bushel and a peck…” It wasn’t until years later that I realized the song that she sang over and over again to tell me she loved me was originally written as a strip tease number for Guys and Dolls. (If you think the “hot box girls” are supposed to be anything else, you’re deluding yourself.) Luckily, I seem to have avoided any long-term psychological baggage from making this connection.

Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: The Making Of Chronicles

Originally published on The Craptacular.

The Making-Of Chronicles

I’m not sure when gift cards became a controversial gift (are they lazy? are they thoughtless?) because frankly, I think they’re the actual best. Seriously. The only thing better than money, is money that comes with the explicit designation that it can only be used for a particular kind of frivolity. When I was younger, gift cards meant one thing: cast album binge! But as I’ve matured (and acquired a Spotify Premium account), I find myself more and more drawn to filling my bookshelves (and my Kindle library) with books about our collective favorite obsession: Broadway musicals.

Actually, there is a particular sub-genre of books about Broadway that I love most, and that’s the Making-Of Chronicle. (This should come to no surprise, given that you are currently reading a column I write about the history of Broadway musicals.) Like a good Behind the Music episode, the best of these manage to break through the necessary conventions of the form to bring to life the dramas behind the drama and the personalities that gave birth to the shows we love – or occasionally, the shows we love to hate.

Right now, the Making-Of Chronicle spotted most frequently on the subway is Glen Berger’s Song of Spider-Man. Certainly, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has all the elements of a great making-of story: huge personalities, high stakes, and a disastrous journey from idea to opening night. I haven’t seen any version of the Spider-Man musical, but I will admit that reading the book makes me want to try to catch it before it closes on January 4th. Berger, the show’s book writer, acknowledges from the start that he can’t really create any sort of distance from the events he documents, and you may find his editorializing and finger-pointing exciting or exasperating, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing.

But if you’re like me (or aspire to be), you’re probably more interested in Chronicles of shows long gone than documents of disasters still running (however fleetingly) on Broadway. So here’s five suggestions to add to your Amazon Wish List today, so you can order them with your gift cards on Christmas morning. I can’t claim to have read every “Making-Of” book. Hell, I can’t even claim to have read every “Making-Of” book currently sitting on my bookshelves… or even on this list. But these are the five (plus one honorable mention) that spring to mind first when the subject comes up, and you won’t go wrong starting with any one of them. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Who Will Love Side Show As It Am?

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Every so often, a show that flops hard on Broadway leaves in its aftermath a corps of fans devoted to keeping its memory alive. With shows like Candide, Merrily We Roll Along, Carrie, and countless others, these vocal proponents ensure that while the show may have closed quickly, they will not be forgotten. In the case of the most beloved of these shows, including the three I just named, their fans go so far as to spend countless hours “fixing” them, figuring out how to solve the problems that caused the shows to flop in the first place. When this works, the shows can go on to great acclaim: Hal Prince’s revision of Candide ran for years in the mid-70s, Michael Grandage’s London production of Merrily We Roll Along won the Olivier Award for Best Musical, and Carrie‘s recent off-Broadway return spawned a series of regional productions which will surely give way to high school, college, and community theater productions for years to come.

The latest cult musical to get this fan-fueled revisal treatment? Why, Side Show, of course. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: The Five “Bs” of Bob Fosse

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Even though Bob Fosse’s been dead longer than many of our readers have been alive, I can’t imagine that anyone here doesn’t have at least a passing familiarity with his work. After all, two of his signature shows (Pippin and Chicago) are currently running on Broadway, each in a hit revival received even more enthusiastically than the original. And what do those revivals have in common? Both took great pains to create choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse,” including recreating Fosse’s own steps for big numbers in each – “The Manson Trio” (the dance break in “Glory”) in Pippin and “Hot Honey Rag” in Chicago. With no disrespect to the other great choreographers of Broadway, while original dances from De Mille, Robbins, and Bennett have been recreated, no one else created a style so recognizable and enviable that people today still strive to work (and market their work as) “in the style of” anyone other than Fosse.

Given Fosse’s enduring popularity and fascinating personal life—more on that in a sec—I predict that Sam Wasson’s excellent new biography will be as in demand as Pippin tickets. The 700-page opus takes us from Fosse’s funeral back to his childhood dancing in the slimiest burlesque houses Chicago had to offer, through the romances and bromances of the showman who made history as the first (and still only) to win the best director Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards all within a year. Continue reading