Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Liza, Ben, Tap Dancers & Angela Inspired Me

 photo Pippin Cast Album_zpsgynww9qw.jpg  photo The_Act_Original_Recording_zpsxhmrwcui.jpg
 photo a-day-in-hollywood-a-night-in-the-ukraine-original-broadway-cast-cd.jpg_zps3bcnibqi.png  photo sweeney todd original cast album_zps6nxxjfer.jpg

Today, I thought I would take a look back at some of the music that inspired me, and helped to form what is now quite a vast array of music. While growing up, I was not only exposed to Pop music that was playing on the radio, I also had my older brothers and sister with their music. But in high school, something changed. I did some of the yearly musicals, which exposed me to some different music. But it was when I sent on the yearly trip to New York City, just over a 2 hour drive from my home town, that I got y first taste of professional theater. And my first show was a magnificent way to start. It was 'Pippin', with words and music by Stephen Schwartz, starring Ben Vereen, John Rubinstein, Jill Clayburgh and Irene Ryan, directed and choreographed by the brilliant Bob Fosse. Sitting in the theater and watching it all come to life blew me away, and excited me in a way few other things did. This is a video of Ben Vereen singing "On The Right Track" from 'Pippin'.

I had no idea what to expect when I went to see 'The Act', featuring Liza Minnelli. I was already a big movie buff, having watched many a musical on television, including many starring the late, great Judy Garland. I had seen Liza on the screen, but this time I would actually get to see her on the stage. I was so excited, and have to say, Minnelli lived up to the it all. I was blow away by the shear bravura of her performance. I mean, she was just electrifying in person. The show, which was little more than a star vehicle for Liza, showed off her talents as a singer and dancer. And certainly showed that John Kander and Fred Ebb were still excellent songwriters. This is Liza Minnelli singing "City Life" from 'The Act' in a performance from the 1978 Tony Awards.

Once I left high school, I went to college. At Albright College, in scenic Reading, PA, I found another school that planned yearly theater trips to New York, only now, you got to go for a weekend, and catch more than one show! One of the shows I saw was a phenomenal one I knew nothing about, 'A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine'. The show, which combined original songs with music by Frank Lazarus and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh with other music that fit the needs of the story, was a tribute show of sorts. The first act was a valentine to Hollywood, with humor and heart. The second act was a look at the Marx Brothers famous film 'A Night in the Ukraine'. Both were filled with reverence, camp, and a lot of love. Near the end of the first act, the cast performed a number without the orchestra, using their tap dancing shoes and voices to create a special moment. This is the cast of 'A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine' singing "Doin' the Production Code".

I was also lucky enough to get to a preview performance of a new musical by Stephen Sondheim, a little show called 'Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. Once again, I walked in blindly, knowing only I already was a fan of Sondheim's work. I found the entire show fascinating, from beginning to end, often getting chills from almost every aspect of the show. Angela Lansbury was perfect as Mrs. Lovett, and Len Cariou amazing as Sweeney. A young and handsome Victor Garber played Anthony, with an impressive voice. It was exciting, beautiful, scary, and sweet, sometimes all at once. In one of the sweeter moments in the second act, this is Ken Jennings with Angela Lansbury singing "Not While I'm Around" from 'Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.

I purchased the original cast album for all four of these shows, and several others. I still have them, and listen to them to this day. I became a fan of the shows, and the cast who were in them. in a few years, I moved to New York City, and began to work in the Circle Repertory Theatre, in the West Village. I worked behind the scenes, as a carpenter and production manager. There were some fantastic shows, and some memorable bombs. I worked with some incredibly talented people, like designers John Lee Beatty (who I had a bit of a crush on), Dennis Parichy, and Jennifer Von Mayrhauser, as well as many talented actor, directors, and playwrights. I knew the late Lanford Wilson, and worked on Sam Shepard's 'Fool For Love'. And I don't think that would have happened without starting to see the shows I mentioned above, inspiring me.

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