Friday, November 11, 2011

Creativity at its BEST!


Ice: [singing] Play it cool boy, real cool.




Happy 11/11/11 AND Veteran's Day!
Before you read my blog today, PLEASE take a moment to remember our veteran's...past, present, and future. A RESPECTFULLY HAPPY VETERANS DAY TO ALL VETERANS, their families, and their friends. Just as important...please remember all of our fellow Veterans from the Minority, Disabled and LGBT Communities as well; THEY served our country honorably, too. God bless ALL of you, always and forever." 
According to some, 11-11-11 is the COSMIC PORTAL TRANSIT DATE.




Hoping you're gearing up for an incredible weekend. I certainly do have a busy one! 
I'm going to TWO weddings this weekend (one gay, one straight). 
My panel discussion on Jerry Herman is tomorrow. If you've been following my blogs, you've been reading about the wonderful artists, colleagues, and friends who are joining forces with me to celebrate this incredible man! 
Wednesday night, I went to see the special screening of West Side Story projected on big screen — my first viewing since! What a great film. Robbins choreography is so stellar, so wicked, so spot-on and thrilling; it’s even scary in “Cool.” The “America” number on the rooftop is just beyond brilliant. Every song fabulous. The entire cast unspeakably great, nothing rang false. Natalie Wood... She’s wonderful. Also, Russ Tamblyn is very good. Not at all surprising … George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, both fantastic. I wish that I could see it again at the Fox pictures party at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on November 15th.
Autographed photo of Tony Mordente
Seeing West Side Story Wednesday night in a theatre reminded me of what the movie going experience used to be like. It was/is an incredible film to start with. 
But it was also exciting to sit an audience with people who were just as excited as I was to be there. 
From the moment that the opening bars of the overture started, the audience burst into applause. You could hear a pin drop during the dramatic scenes (except for the sniffles you heard throughout the theatre.). The audience applauded after every musical number. No special effects. No loud sounds and/or images constantly assaulting your senses.
Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Robbins, Stephen Sondheim








Just pure entertainment and artistry at its highest form. A few days ago, I wrote about Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, Donald Pippin and Ona White coming together to create the magic of MAME. It happens also with West Side Story. All of these geniuses coming together and creating magic. Singularly they are all great, but together, POW!

Yesterday, I was going to write about Kay Thompson who's birthday was earlier this week but the day got away from me. 
Hopefully, I will cover her in tomorrow's blog along with Sam Irvin's biography, “Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise”, whom I interviewed this afternoon.
I received a nice e-mail from George Chakiris after the blog I wrote day before yesterday on him.  
I was thrilled to get this response:
 
"Dear Richard,
Thanks so much for this wonderful piece.  Very much appreciated.  You are more than generous!!!  I love the photo of Richard Beymer, who is such a lovely guy.

Thanks so much for all the photos you included!!!
I was not in Flower Drum Song, no big deal. 
The firing of Jerome Robbins has a different time line depending on who you speak to,
but (here I go) he was definitely present more than one third of the way.  Jerry's contribution to this movie cannot be overstated. I feel the need to say this, because we all
owe a great deal to Jerry.  In my opinion, it could never have been the same without him. Everything was rehearsed with Jerry before we started filming. 
My reason for saying any of this, is that when anyone speaks of the firing of Jerry, it makes it sound as if he wasn't there for all that much of the filming, and that's not correct.

To me that  diminishes his contribution which I think  really can't be calculated.  
Thanks so much again, Richard.

Sincerely, George"





As I watched West Side Story on Wednesday night, I couldn't help but think about the talents that came together for that show and subsequent film. I'll start with Leonard Bernstein.


Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist.
He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was "one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history."


Leonard Bernstein took the musical to new heights of seriousness in West Side Story, based loosely on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Its true subject was the growing menace of gang warfare (or "juvenile delinquency" as it was known then) in the context of racial tensions created by clashes between whites and Puerto Rican immigrants. Consciousness of racism was very much on the rise in the U.S. of the late fifties; and Bernstein, a life-long liberal, wanted to portray the issue in an uncompromising fashion.
According to an article I found on line written by Tony Mordante, "Note that the Jets display their ignorance and/or hostility by consistently mispronouncing "Puerto Rico" as "Porto Rico." The Sharks always pronounce it properly."

 Tony Mardente played A-rab on the stage, was Action in the film There are many accolades and superlatives that can be applied in the world of entertainment, especially for such a renaissance man as Tony; but Tony is the one and only performer to earn something similar to the Triple Crown Title for his work in West Side Story: He was a member of the Original Broadway Cast, and the Original London Cast, as that wise-apple A-Rab, and later made the jump as that brooding and tumultuous Action in the 1961 Oscar-Winning film version, in which he also functioned as a Dance Assistant to director, Jerome Robbins. Other mentors include Broadway icons Michael Kidd and Gower Champion.  As an actor, some of his more memorable roles include the hustling cook in the Longest Day and nervous fidgety Genero Panneta in perhaps one of the more terrifying episodes of The Outer Limits, The Invisibles. But it has been the directing road that Tony has mainly traveled. Proving to be equally adept in such varied genres as situational comedies (Rhoda), dramadies (M*A*S*H), action-adventure (The A-Team) suspense (Matlock) or thought-provoking family fare (7th Heaven), Tony’s talents have been utilized by Stephen J. Cannell, Chuck Norris, and Aaron Spelling, and today he is one the most successful , prolific, and diverse director within the medium.
 Anthony Mordente was born in New York City on December 3rd. He was trained at the High School of Performing Arts and made his professional dance debut at the famed Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. Shortly afterwards, he made his professional musical theatre debut in Summer Stock, high in the mountains somewhere near Stroudsberg, Penn. Returning home, he joined the Ballet at Radio City Music Hall as a soloist, appearing in three different productions. Around that time, famed choreographer, Michael Kidd, was getting ready to make his directorial debut with a new musical based on the famed Al Capp comic strip, Li’l Abner. Searching for young energetic athletic dancers to create the citizens of Dogpatch, he cast Tony as both a dancer and as Lonesome Polecat, that cave-dwelling guy who concocted the famous Kick A Poo Joy Juice
While a crowd pleaser and critical success, Li’l Abner proved to be a challenging task for the dancers, as they were mostly barefooted and shared the floor with a bevy of barnyard animals.

Originally the script of West Side Story was to have dealt with a Christian/Jewish romance (called "East Side Story"), but Bernstein decided to choose a more immediately relevant theme. Ironically, neither Broadway nor Hollywood was able to rise above its own institutionalized racism to cast a Latina actress as Maria.


West Side Story features classic dances by Jerome Robbins, especially in the hyper-athletic masculine style pioneered by choreographer Agnes de Mille in Rodeo and Oklahoma!  and several extraordinarily beautiful songs, many of which have become classics.

Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) choreographed the original stage musical Oklahoma! in 1943 and the film version of Oklahoma! in 1955. Oklahoma! used dance as one of the ways to tell the story, and became the first musical to fully integrate song, story, and dance.Bernstein, at this time the most famous conductor in the world, leading the New York Philharmonic, and exponent of a wide range of classical and popular music, had the skills to write music considerably more complex that contained in most musicals.
 If a musical is not an opera, neither is it a play. It is necessary to accept the fact that characters are constantly bursting into either song or dance. It is in these songs and dances that the very essence of the musical exists.
 Agnes de Mille was born in 1905 in New York City. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and studied dance in America and England.

In 1939, she was invited to join a new ballet company in New York City called Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) where she choreographed her first ballet titled Black Ritual.
I met Ms. deMille once. I was at the Rodger and Hammerstein Archives at Lincoln Center. I walked into the listening room and she was sitting there all alone. I'll never forget how beautiful and tiny she was. She was in a beautiful pink dress. This was shortly after her stroke. But she invited me to sit with her after I said hello. I had just seen the 1979 revival of Oklahoma! at The Palace Theatre.

In 1942, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a successful ballet company in Europe, invited de Mille to create a new ballet for their repertoire.
She choreographed Rodeo, a ballet about American cowboys and cowgirls. With a score by Aaron Copeland, Rodeo tells the story of a young cowgirl tomboy in search of love. The ballet used stylized movements to represent cowboys riding horseback and roping cattle. Rodeo was an immediate success and received 22 curtain calls on opening night.
 The dance style of Rodeo fused classical ballet technique with modern dance and American culture. This unique dance style caught the attention of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and they invited de Mille to choreograph Oklahoma! De Mille’s choreography for Oklahoma! combined classical ballet, modern dance, and stylized gesture in a way that had not been seen in musical theatre before.
She created the first “dream ballet” sequence using dance without lyrics to convey the characters’ emotions and struggles. Earlier musicals included dance, but usually as an interlude or for pure entertainment.
For the first time in a musical, dance was used to convey the character’s emotions and motivation to the audience and to move the plot forward.
The dream ballet later became a common characteristic of musicals during that era.
 After Oklahoma!, de Mille continued to choreograph ballets and musicals. Her musicals include Carousel (1945), Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949) and Paint Your Wagon (1951), as well as a dramatic ballet called Fall River Legend (1948). De Mille also worked on revivals of musicals, including the 1979 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!
 De Mille is perhaps best known for her musical theatre choreography, but she also contributed to the performing arts as a dancer, director, and author. De Mille wrote a number of books about dance and was a strong advocate for the arts until her death in 1993. Her awards include a Tony Award (American Theatre Wing Award) for Brigadoon (1947), New York City’s Handel Medallion (1976), and a Kennedy Center Honor by President Carter (1980).
 Books by Agnes de Mille

And Promenade Home (1957)
Book of the Dance (1963)
Dance to the Piper (1952)
To a Young Dancer: A Handbook (1962)
 Resources
Easton, Carol. No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes De Mille. Da Capo Press: New York, 2000.

http://www.agnesdemilledances.com/index.html
http://www.abt.org/education/archive/choreographers/de_mille.html
http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/artists/?entity_id=3719&source_type=A

 Stephen Sondheim, was awarded the Handel Medallion Nov. 1.

The award is the superlative award in the arts community and is given by the city of New York for contributing to the arts, according to The New York Times' ArtsBeat blog. The medallion was presented to Sondheim by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Alec Baldwin at Lincoln Center, where, most recently, a revival of Sondheim's "Company" was staged, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, and Jon Cryer.
Sondheim has also penned musical theater greats like "A Little Night Music," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Sunday in the Park with George," and "Follies."



West Side Story is arguably one of the great trifectas: a timeless love story, a near perfect
motion picture and a brilliant musical score. 
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic film, based on the hit Broadway musical, and to celebrate the golden year MGM has just released a completely restored Blu-ray set.
But West Side Story deserves a commemoration greater than just a video release,
and The Leonard Bernstein Office in New York City had something a little more
special, a little more daring in mind to celebrate the historic event. As the last
decade saw orchestra-to-picture tours like John Goberman's Wizard of Oz shows
and Ludwig Wicki and the 21st Century Orchestra's performances of Howard  Shore's Lord of the Rings trilogy become increasingly popular in concert halls
around the world, Paul Epstein, Senior Vice President at The Leonard Bernstein Office, saw the perfect opportunity to kick off the 50th anniversary of Bernstein's  beloved classic with a similar approach, setting his sights on the major orchestras of
Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.What has ensued is an exciting and unexpected path of discovery by a team with the intensity and aggressiveness of the Jets and the Sharks combined. The West Side
Story
project began with a mix of mystery, science, and ultimately love for both Leonard Bernstein's score and Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' Oscar-winning film.

Epstein went to Steve Linder, Senior Vice President and Director of Attractions Division at IMG Artists, who is preeminent in producing live orchestra to picture shows. Linder worked at the Hollywood Bowl for 20 years, serving as Director of Presentations for a portion of his tenure. 
He worked tirelessly to bring film music
Tony Mordente, center, during Officer Krupke on Broadway.
Fellow film Jets, David Winters and Tommy Abbot, left.
concerts to the Bowl, incorporating "clip shows," where film score excerpts were performed live to their respective scenes.
  That history gave him the edge needed to bring the complete West Side Story film to the concert hall. "Here's the perfect film where the music transcends the concert the hall," says Linder. "It transcends film
music. It transcends any specific genre because it's Bernstein's music."
Linder believes West Side Story's universal appeal to audiences in and out of the concert hall is the perfect opportunity to bridge both worlds. "Besides the fact that Bernstein's music transcends classification, I think it's also a great movie. It is one of those movies that had a troubled past yet it is a film that is beloved by everyone.
 

It is one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, although the parts are pretty damn good. So any orchestra approaching it is going to look at it potentially different from other films. That started a long process of discovery."
For Linder and the Bernstein Office, that process of discovery turned out to be an unexpectedly long and arduous road. 
Epstein and Linder wanted to have their first concert in July with David Newman conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. So with a loud ticking of the clock at their backs, they rushed to get the necessary approvals from MGM. Immediately out of the gate they hit some unwelcome roadblocks.

 First they struggled to get the studio's attention, which at the time was
fluctuating in and out of bankruptcy and had difficulty focusing on the benefit of
starting such a project. As soon as MGM's financial situation leveled out and the
studio figured out how to staff such a unique and unexpected production, the Lion
saw the huge promotional opportunity for their upcoming restored Blu-ray release
of the film. With MGM on board all systems were "go."


But there was one major obstacle: the original score materials didn't exist. To make
matters even worse, just as the original score materials were lost, so were the
original mixing stems, leaving only a composite mix of the audio. With the
dialogue, music and effects all mixed together, it would be a nightmare to remove
just the orchestra from the mix for live musicians to perform.

 Without hesitation, Linder went to Bob Heiber, Vice President of Audio for Chace
Audio. Chace was instrumental in fully restoring the film's audio from the newly
discovered original six-track mix for the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray. Heiber in turn
recommended Paris-based Audionamix, who was testing and perfecting their
proprietary technology on separating sound elements from monophonic audio
tracks. Finally, they were in luck!

 Linder and the Bernstein Office knew they had a long road ahead of them and took
the leap of faith to find whatever remaining elements existed of Bernstein's classic
score while attempting to successfully extract the orchestra from the original sixtrack
mix.

Enter Eleonor Sandresky, a New York composer, producer and performer, who also
serves as the Bernstein Office's Licensing Associate. Apart from co-founding MATA,
a non-profit organization commissioning new works from young composers,
Sandresky's credits include membership in the Phillip Glass Ensemble, where she
has performed and conducted live music to film.

Epstein saw the valuable resource
Sandresky could provide to the project and recruited her to research and track
down any of Bernstein's original film score materials. Since the film's production was a near-horror story and MGM didn't have the
foresight to see any future uses of the score, the materials became lost. "In those
days when you would make a film nobody thought about saving music," Sandresky
says.

 "In this case, the show already exists. They made it as a Broadway show and it
was never intended to be a movie until it was a huge success. Bernstein was so busy
writing one of his big symphonies at the time and he was under a big deadline and
he didn't have time to work on the film that much. So he sent Sid Ramin and Irwin
Kostal out to Hollywood with his instructions and they were in touch a lot.

 But Sid
and Irwin did the orchestration and they just made things for scenes. ‘Oh, we need
a little extra music here or we need to take some music out there.' It was a real nipand-
tuck type of situation. And nobody thought any more about it. So people who
were savers saved things and people who were not didn't.

 MGM went through all
the various incarnations through the years, and at a certain point, when they moved
all their materials out to the West Coast, they just got rid of everything. Fifty years
of film music-it's just gone. They couldn't imagine actual performances of film
music then. It seemed so arcane."

READ MORE



 Carol Lawrence (Maria on Broadway) went on to star in numerous other Broadway productions including: “SARATOGA”, “SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING”, “NIGHTLIFE”, “I DO, I DO”, and “KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN”.  Lawrence has also starred in national tours of “FUNNY GIRL”, “THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN”, “THE SOUND OF MUSIC”, “SWEET CHARITY”, “NO, NO, NANETTE”, “WOMAN OF THE YEAR”, and “SUGAR BABIES”.

It is easy to see why this Italian girl from Melrose Park, Illinois is well deserving of her star on the prestigious Hollywood Walk of Fame – the first recipient ever in the category of “Live Theatre”.

Carol received rave revues in Los Angeles productions of “Do I Hear A Waltz?,” “Follies,” and “Amy’s View,” for which she received The Los Angeles Drama Critics Award.  Miss Lawrence also broke box office records for her stellar performance in the title role of “Mame”.  Carol recently headlined both the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, and the newly created Florida Follies.

As a regular on ABC’s General Hospital, Ms. Lawrence played the loving Italian matriarch “Angela Eckart”, and on “Touched by an Angel”, gave a heartwarming portrayal of a woman facing death.
Carol has also played leading roles on “The Commish” and a dramatic Diva on “Murder She Wrote”.

Other TV appearances include countless musical variety shows, guest roles on “Sex And The City”, “Lois and Clark”, “Murder One”, “The Championship Season”, “Matt Houston”, “Hotel”, “Love Boat”, and “Simon and Simon, just to name a few.
 If West Side Story can be equated to a university, then Tony Mordente was one of its honor students and distinguished graduate. 
As an actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, director and producer, he has graced stage, film and television, all with stunning results.
 By hosting five shows on the popular series “Chef du Jour” for the Food Network, Carol was able to share the secret recipes for her cookbook, “I Remember Pasta”, a Harvest House publication.  In 1998, Carol set a new record for Cookbook sales on the Home Shopping Network.  Hand in hand with her cookbook is Carol’s interest in fitness, nutrition, health and exercise. Her innovative aerobic/ dancercise video, “Broadway Body Workout” is set to Broadway music, and reflects her love of dance and fitness.  Carol’s autobiography entitled “Carol Lawrence, The Backstage Story”, was released by McGraw-Hill.
 She appeared most recently, as a recurring character on “Flipper”, shot in Australia.  For three years, Carol hosted her own biweekly TV magazine/talk show, “The Carol Lawrence Show”, which she wrote and produced for the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

The show’s theme song, “In His Spotlight”, set the stage for spotlighting celebrities, cooking, nutrition, fashion, exercise, children, music, and other topics. By hosting five shows on the popular series “Chef du Jour” for the Food Network, Carol was able to share the secret recipes for her cookbook, “I Remember Pasta”, a Harvest House publication.
  West Side Story marked  its 50th Anniversary on September 26th, 2007. 
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp celebrating the show? With your help, we can make it happen!

Not only has West Side Story had a profound impact, artistically and socially, on American culture; not only did the work break new ground in its seamless meshing of dance, music and the spoken word; not only did it engender an equally beloved film -- but also, several generations of young people have embraced West Side Story as an iconic work that expressed their own longing for tolerance and love in a troubled world.  
West Side Story has lost none of its immediacy; it continues to move and inspire young and old alike the world over. Honoring West Side Story with a commemorative postage stamp would celebrate the very best that American culture has to offer. Please click on the link above for a letter that you can send urging the USPS to honor West Side Story with a commemorative stamp.  I hope you will sign and send the letter.  These campaigns really do work!

For copy of recommended letter:




My friend, Laurie Vega, sent me the following, " West Side Story touches my life in a very special way.
If you were a kid living in Spanish Harlem like I was, there was no other movie that gave us greater pride. My parents who also grew up in Spanish Harlem were lucky enough to be living right across the street from a school yard where some of the scenes were filmed. And my father who sang and performed in theatre in his younger years played Tony in an off-b'way production. And he taught me how to sing "Tonight" for my audition to the high school of Music and Art. I am an '82 graduate because of that song. WSS is forever in my heart."




We hope that you will join us tomorrow afternoon as we celebrate Jerry Herman!
Nov 12
1:45pm
LOCAL 802 MUSICIAN'S HALL, 322 West 48th Street, NYC
An Afternoon Celebrating The Legacy of Jerry Herman
I host with an AMAZING PANEL Klea Blackhurst, Ken Bloom, Marge Champion, Amber Edwards (Words and Music, the award winning documentary on Jerry Herman), Sondra Lee (Hello Dolly!'s original Minnie Faye), Miles Phillips, Donald Pippin, Lee Roy Reams with John Fischer on piano. $10 non members of the Sheet Music Society.

I have been fortunate enough to call among my friends several celebrities. The one thing that I've gleaned from them beyond their bodies of work is their humanness.


Thank you to all of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you ALL have given to the world!




Thank you for joining me on these nostalgic journeys! I've added a new aspect to my blog.. I am now answering a question on video that YOU send to me. You can ask me ANYTHING and I will answer your question on video within my blog. Send your questions to
Richard@RichardSkipper.com




"Richard, for supporting the ARTS and calling attention to the STARS of yesterday. You are a STAR in your own right!! With admiration and friendship"
Arlene Dahl




Thank you to all who have encouraged me! Thanks to all who have tried to stifle my art. I have learned from ALL of you! Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL!


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                               TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED WEEK!
                                               Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


Sources for this blog: Carol Lawrence website
WEST SIDE STORY WEBSITE
Tony Mordente's Website
Arts.Meme
Wikipedia
Masterworks/Broadway


An actress, singer and dancer of the first magnitude,   Ms. Lawrence created the role of “MARIA” in the Leonard Bernstein/Jerome Robbins Broadway classic, “WEST SIDE STORY”.




1 comment:

  1. Another great blog Richard and yes, the Postal Service should honor this ageless classic.

    ReplyDelete