Friday, December 16, 2011

Celebrating White Christmas and Larry Blank!

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
to hear sleigh bells in the snow

Irving Berlin



Happy Friday!

Is there a person over the age of five who doesn't know those lyrics?

  Jerome Kern famously opined, "Irving Berlin has no place in American music-he is American music."
with Miles Phillips

I was able to hear those lyrics, as well as other wonderful Irving Berlin lyrics, last night, in Vermont!










Actually, I was in Millburn, New Jersey at the historic Papermill Playhouse. Paper Mill Playhouse is a regional theatre with approximately 1200 seats, located in Millburn, New Jersey, less than 25 miles from Manhattan.
 Due to its location, it can draw from the pool of actors (and audience members) who live in New York City.
 Its location, as well as its focus on producing large-scale shows, makes Paper Mill a Broadway theatre thirty minutes from Broadway. Paper Mill was officially designated as the "State Theatre of New Jersey". Since 1971, Paper Mill has had the New Jersey Ballet as its resident ballet company, with the annual production of Nutcracker.
 


"It was a terrific production. The cast was perfect, the sets and costumes beautiful, great singing and dancing--overall lots of fun. You can really count on Paper Mill for doing Broadway-calibre shows." Sara Louise Lazarus
Mark S. Hoebee serves as the Artistic Director and Todd Schmidt serves as the Managing Director.I have been going to the Papermill Playhouse for years. I actually don't even remember what the first show I've ever seen there was. But, I will say, I've never been disappointed in all the years I have been going there.
I can happily report that White Christmas at the Papermill Playhouse delivered exactly what I crave in the theatre.

I am not impressed with special effects. I get that in the movies. I want a great story. Great talent. I want to be transported.
 I don't want to be hit with angst and/or a message. I desire to be entertained.
Set out to do that artistic directors and you will have me. I don't need to be re-educated or given YOUR vision. Irving Berlin, along with Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank who wrote the original screenplay did just fine.
with Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes) and Miles


Let me give you a little background...
 White Christmas", of course, is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an an old-fashioned Christmas setting.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.

One story is that Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1940, in warm Banning, California. He said to his secretary, according to legend, " I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"






The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941; the recording is not believed to have survived.He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm songs from the film Holiday Inn.

At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song.
He just said "I don't think we have any problems with that one, Irving."
 In 1942 alone, Crosby's recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard Charts.
The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks,Crosby's first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart.
Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the #1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.
with Sue Matsuki, Meredith, Miles

The version of "White Christmas" most often heard today is not the original 1942 Crosby recording, as the master had become damaged due to frequent use.
Crosby re-recorded the track on March 18, 1947, accompanied again by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, with every effort made to reproduce the original recording session.






There are subtle differences in the orchestration, most notably the addition of a celesta and flutes to brighten up the introduction.


In 1944, Frank Sinatra released a version of the song (with backing orchestration by Axel Stordahl) that reached number 7 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart (this same version charted on the Billboard pop singles chart two more times: in December 1945, reaching number 5, and in December 1946, reaching
 number 6).

 

Next stop, Holiday InnHoliday Inn is a 1942 American musical film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, with music by Irving Berlin. The film has twelve songs written expressly for the film, the most notable being "White Christmas". In addition the film features a brief use of "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning", written in 1917 for the World War I musical Yip Yip Yaphank (which was reprised on Broadway in 1942 under the title This Is the Army) and a complete reuse of " Easter Parade", written by Berlin for the 1933 Broadway revue As Thousands Cheer.


In 1946, Jo Stafford (with backing vocals by the Lyn Murray Singers and backing orchestration by Paul Weston) released a version of the song that reached number 9 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart.
In 1949, country singer Ernest Tubb (with female backing vocals by The Troubadettes) released a version of the song that reached number 7 on Billboard magazine's Country and Western Records chart.



David Sabella, Sue Matsuki, Lorna Luft, Ernie Sabella, Miles, Richard, Bismarke
Holiday Inn's choreography was by Danny Dare.  In May 1940, Irving Berlin signed an exclusive contract with Paramount Pictures to write songs for a film musical based on his idea of an inn that opened only on public holidays.
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were the stars of Holiday Inn with support from Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale.
Produced and directed by Mark Sandrich, filming took place between November 1941 and February 1942. Holiday Inn had its premiere at the New York Paramount Theatre in August 1942. It was a success in the U.S. and the U.K., the highest grossing film musical to that time. It was expected that "Be Careful, It's My Heart" would be the big song.
with Bismarke
While that song did very well, it was "White Christmas" that topped the charts in October 1942 and stayed there for eleven weeks.
Another Berlin song, "Happy Holidays", is featured over the opening credits and within the film storyline.

 In 1947, Eddy Howard and his Orchestra released a version of the song that reached number 21 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart.

The success of the song "White Christmas" eventually led to another film based on the song, White Christmas, which was released in 1954 and starred Crosby, Danny Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. It was a loose remake of Holiday Inn, with a plotline again involving an inn, but otherwise different from the earlier film. Fred Astaire was offered the second lead in the new film, but after reading the script, he declined.

The role was then offered to Donald O'Connor, but he was injured before filming began. Danny Kaye took the role.

 For a film that's remembered mostly as a warm, nostalgic holiday movie rather than as one of the all-time great musicals, White Christmas (1954) certainly commands a lot of star power and pop-cultural significance.
Consider: White Christmas was the highest-grossing film of 1954 ($12 million); it was the biggest hit of director Michael Curtiz's career; co-stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were ranked at the time as the #1 and #3 box office stars in the country; and "White Christmas" was already the most successful song in American history - a record it maintained for many decades more.  
With the continuing popularity of the song (and Bing Crosby) through the 1940s, it was a no-brainer for Hollywood to want to capitalize on it yet again. As early as 1949, the movie White Christmas was in preparation at Paramount.
The idea was to show off old and new Irving Berlin tunes and reunite the stars of Holiday Inn, Crosby and Fred Astaire.
with Beth Glover (various roles, standby for Martha)
Irving Berlin recycled parts of the earlier film and mixed it with elements of an unproduced musical he had written with Norman Krasna called Stars on My Shoulders; Krasna went on, with Melvin Frank, to turn the new story into a screenplay.

Lorna!
As production began, Berlin wrote in a letter to his friend Irving Hoffman, "It is the first movie that I've been connected with since Holiday Inn that has the feel of a Broadway musical. Usually there's little enthusiasm once you get over the first week of a picture.
But the change in this setup has resulted in an excitement that I am sure will be reflected in the finished job.
In any event, as of today I feel great and very much like an opening in Philadelphia with a show."

 Paramount chose White Christmas to be its first movie produced in VistaVision, the studio's widescreen answer to CinemaScope.  
The New York Time noted the technical achievement in its review: "The colors on the big screen are rich and luminous, the images are clear and sharp, and rapid movements are got without blurring - or very little." 
 Robert Alton is credited with the dance staging, but an uncredited Bob Fosse also did some choreography work.
(Source: Turner Classic Movie Website) In 1947, Perry Como (with backing orchestration by Lloyd Shaffer) released a version of the song that reached number 23 on Billboard magazine's pop singles chart.
The movie, itself, lends itself to a stage show. So bring in David Ives and Paul Blake. David Ives (Chicago, July 11, 1950 – ) is a contemporary American playwright.

A native of South Chicago, Ives attended a minor Catholic seminary and Northwestern University and, after some years' interval, Yale School of Drama, where he received an MFA in playwriting. In the interval between studies at Northwestern and Yale he worked for three years as an editor at Foreign Affairs magazine.
They did an incredible job of transferring this classic movie to stage. They made a few adjustments in the story that did not take away from the original.
As a matter of fact, I felt the inclusion of Blue Skies with Randy Skinner's brilliant choreography and Marc Bruni's astute staging was expertly handled to create major conflict and a cliffhanger, if you will, at the end of act one.
The stage version premiered seven years ago with a sold-out run at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 2004.

The incredible cast I saw last night included both veterans and new faces from that production seven years ago.
I have to give kudos to amazing sets by Anna Louizos. We treated our friend, Miles Phillips, last night for his birthday.  
White Christmas happens to be his favorite movie. He saw this production several years ago. He said their were aspects of that production he hated. After last night's show, he said this production worked brilliantly at the Papermill Playhouse.
Then there are Carrie Robbins gorgeous costumes. My friend Ken Billington's always perfect lighting. Ken Billington began his career in New York City working as an assistant to Tharon Musser.Randy Skinner's brilliant choreography. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Meredith Patterson is a STAR. MGM would have LOVED HER...as I do!

In 1948, the R&B vocal group The Ravens released a version of the song that reached number 9 on Billboard magazine's Rhythm & Blues Records chart in January 1949. Their version was released as the flip-side of a single that included their version of "Silent Night".

 On July 15, 1952, also, Larry Blank's birthday!, singer Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter's orchestra & chorus recorded a version of the song at Manhattan Center, New York City, New York. The song was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-4910 (in USA) and by EMI on the His Master's Voice label as catalog number B 10779 and JO 420.

I was lucky enough to interview Larry Blank today who did those amazing orchestrations.
  Larry performed in FIORELLO in summer camp in 1961.
He played Mr. Lopez..."Tell me what I gotta do"
He was smitten/bitten and his parents promptly got him tix (twofers) for a matinee of FIORELLO at the Broadway Theatre in Oct '61
He was hooked!

His parents always had Broadway music on the piano.His mom played and they saw everything...Larry was raised in Bayside, Queens...so he heard the recordings of CAMELOT and South Pacific a great deal.
 
He was taken to the theatre regularly after Fiorello and saw many of the musicals from Oct 61 on...
and starting in 64 when he started scooting off to Manhattan by himself and saw EVERYTHING.
Larry's first job as an orchestrator came when he wrote an arrangement for a college production for his childhood friend Don Oliver
who now owns and runs Chelsea Music, a top copying office for Broadway shows.
He then wrote an arrangement or two for the Kenley Players when he was asst conductor for The GREAT WALTZ.
Earl Wrightson told him it was CRAP. Larry says he was right (in retrospect)...
He decided he had better learn. Which he did at the hands and feet of Irwin Kostal, Michael Gibson, Ralph Burns, Phil Lang )who did those incredible orchestrations for Hello, Dolly!) and Larry Wilcox.
Larry was pianist for THE FANTASTICKS in Jackson Mississippi at age 16.
First real job was a lot of summer stock...and then finally Paul Gemignani hired him as replacement asst conductor for the national tour of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC November 1974 in Chicago.
Larry never went to University but did attend the HS of Performing Arts.
He started to work when he was 16 and learned on the job.
There is no place that teaches what is required for MD and/or orchestrations.

Larry has conducted for Carol Channing a couple of times, by accident. She was on a gig with Michael Feinstein and he wrote new orchestrations for DOLLY and when he was President of ASMAC
(American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers), she was a presenter of an award to Jerry Herman
Larry just been re-elected President after a 10 year absence.
Carol called him once to conduct her act...shortly after the Feinstein gig...and unfortunately...he was unable.
The phone call began like this...
"Hello Larry...this is Carol.....YES...Carol Channing!!!!" in her unmistakable voice.
 
The arrangement that put Larry over the top
was HIS arrangement of WISH YOU WERE HERE
for Michael Feinstein...in the 90s....



Larry is orchestrating a lot of different things...He did some work on SMASH the upcoming TV show for Marc Shaiman
(He was co orchestrator with Marc on CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) He is going to do some work on the Singin' In The Rain revival in London and he did one number on ON A CLEAR DAY when Doug Besterman became inundated with so much music on the show and he will be doing a new show at the Kennedy Center soon.
Larry was the original conductor for THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG and conducted many things after that.
I'm still in demand as a conductor for various artists Michael Crawford, Betty Buckley
He loved working with Hal Prince on Evita in 1980 in Los Angeles and my greatest highs were the three Tony noms for his orchestrations for DROWSY CHAPERONE,WHITE CHRISTMAS and CATCH ME
He also did a lot of work on THE PRODUCERS and was very happy to be part of it albeit uncredited.
Earl Wrightson telling Larry his first arrangement was crap was not a high point of my life.
He, however, has outlived him and the arrangement!
Larry would like to see decent sized orchestras used on Broadway again...(A FANTASY) and the acknowledgement of live music back in all venues.
It's shocking that at the Tony Awards..there is not even an appearance of a live orchestra even though there is one.
Same for the Academy Awards.
 Larry's models and influences
Donald Pippin

Milton Rosenstock, left (with Jule Styne)
 I don't own the song and pictures. They belong to their rightful owners.

In 1982 Disney changed the soundtrack for Fantasia for the 80s because the 1956 Fantasia sound master was starting to go wrong, and they got Irwin Kostal to conduct the soundtrack for only the 1982 and 1985 releases.
Maurice Ravel


Sergei Prokiev


What do you think ultimately made you go into your profession? 
 It was safer than being a flight instructor....
 
Larry is very happy to be doing what he is doing but he'd be very happy if he had a huge inheritance that allowed him to turn down a job now and then!
He would like to have a few more hit shows with his name on them but the answer is yes, he has achieved what he set out to do. 

Larry realizes that it all goes in cycles and the main thing is that it's an honor to be asked
and being re-hired again and again...is a good sign of your success.

Thank you, Larry!


Do yourself a favor and go hear Larry's incredible orchestrations for White Christmas at The Papermill Playhouse! In the meantime visit Larry's website.
NO COPY WRITE INFRINGEMENT INTENDED 

Paper Mill’s ‘White Christmas’ has everything right (Review)


HERE ARE RECENT AUDIENCE COMMENTS FROM WWW.RICHARDSKIPPER.COM:


As a long-time Richard Skipper fan, but a newcomer to this site, I must applaud one quality he has that I ADORE, and that's sweet-natured, positive ENERGY! Show business is so full of negativity and angst, it's a blessing to see people refuse to get bogged down and remain enthusiastic about others and the possibilities lying just past that next bend in the road! Bless him for it.
Randy Buck, NYC

“Richard Skipper was the producer of a wonderful tribute to Jerry Herman last week at the Sheet Music Society of New York. He displayed a talent, not only for organizing a great panel, but as a host and moderator who asked intelligent questions and kept the program moving. Thanks to Richard, it was a great afternoon.”
Lou Iocovino, NYC


I attended Richard Skipper's workshop at The Arts Council of Rockland on Tuesday night (11/15/11). I was prepared for an evening of scribbling down dry information which I would have promptly ignored when I got home. Instead I was treated to a fun and engaging evening. Richard provided many "ahh ha" moments. He made the information relevant, and instilled a sense of urgency to do it now! Most importantly for me, Richard gave me the permission I was not aware I needed to pursue an audience outside of my comfort zone. Thank you Richard Skipper!
Joanna Morton Gary
Spring Glen, NY



Have your voice heard – You can make a difference!

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
with Meredith Patterson, (Judy Haynes)

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!



GO SEE WHITE CHRISTMAS BEFORE IT CLOSES DECEMBER 24th!



Become A Facebook friend of mine!
Follow me on Twitter
If you've seen one of my appearances/shows, add your thoughts to my guestbook at www.RichardSkipper.com




Tomorrow's blog will be CELEBRATING HARVEY EVANS AND TONY STEVENS



Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING  AND HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED WEEK!
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com



































3 comments:

  1. Thanks to a method/technique I learned in Richard's Seminar at the Rockland Co. Arts Council last month (which I will NEVER reveal!), I was able to get the following..... A one-day-10 hour-minimum personalized "NYC Tour Guide Gig", at the princely rate of $100.00 per hour! When-never "IF"-this works out as well as I know it will, I'll turn this Gig into a lucrative part time hobby. A hobby which will (financially) enable me to pursue my REAL dream. The dream of recording my first-ever CD as an American Songbook/Jazz Vocalist. I plan to do this professionally AND in style, with the musical expertise and class of my friend Daryl Kojak; whom I'm hoping will be available! Thank you, Richard. You're a genius, and a truly great Guy....God bless you always!

    Ronnie

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have been through the whole content of this blog which is very informative and knowledgeable stuff, I would like to visit again.

    Sign blank

    ReplyDelete
  3. Apparently, Larry Blank's talent runs in his family. His cousin's daughter just completed her Master's Degree in Music Education, teaches general and choral music in 2 private schools, and teaches piano, voice, flute, and guitar privately. She also has had a life-long interest in Musical Theater and has performed extensively in local theater. She is looking forward to meeting her cousin in the NY/Philly area.
    Thank you, Richard, for using your blog to pay tribute to someone in Musical Theater like Larry Blank who is rarely appreciated by audiences for making the music more than just a piano and voice.

    ReplyDelete