Friday, November 21, 2014

Hollywood Musicals on Stage: Celebrating the Past?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-George Santayana

Hope you had a great week!

Gene Kelly
The above quote does not apply to revivals (or revisals) as they are more aptly called these days for transferring classic Hollywood musicals to the stage. By the early 1930s, the theater capital and the film capital of America were separated by an entire continent. In the early days of the Great Depression, artists had to make a choice: stay in New York, with its harsh winters and gray, shuffling breadlines,
working for a business staggering from layoffs and cutbacks, or move to Hollywood, where it was sunny all year round and smelled of eucalyptus, and money was thrown at you in fistfuls by studio executives. 
Which would you choose? It is, of course, a trick question. Although the motion picture studios jumped at the chance to add musicals to their rosters after the introduction of sound with THE JAZZ SINGER in 1927, it was several years before they mastered the technology of filming a successful musical. 
The actual sound reproduction was tinny and false, and camera movement was severely limited. After movie musicals took off, Hollywood started reaching out to Broadway. Now, Broadway is reaching out to Hollywood!

Off the top of mind, I am recalling Meet Me In St. Louis and Singing In The Rain on Broadway in the eighties, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and other assorted musicals.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, although there have been several staged incarnations over the years is currently on Broadway now (through January 3rd). This is the first time that this has ever been done on Broadway. Of course it was written for television. The original production was on CBS in 1957 and starred Julie Andrews and Jon Cypher. It was done again in 1965 with Stuart Damon and Lesley Ann Warren, and, in 1997 with Brandy and Paolo Montalban. The script has been altered every time it has been done. MOST of the songs have remained intact, however, there have been a few additions and deletions. 
Newsies just completed a very successful run on Broadway. It was based on a flop film from 1992.
The success of Wicked is due to the success of the film of The Wizard of Oz

Due to the amazing success of Disney's animated Frozen, there is talk that it will eventually be made into a Broadway musical. Success is almost assured. Disney practically owns Broadway now. The Lion King is the eighth longest running show in Broadway history. 
Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mary Poppins were all very successful.  
Tarzan was not as successful.
Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway was based on one of my favorite movies but completely revamped from the movie and only maintaining the title song and Jimmy. One of my favorite characters, made so memorable bt the Golden Globe Award winning and Oscar nominated Carol Channing as Muzzy.
I guess Carol left such an impression on movie audiences that the powers felt that NO ONE could recreate that magic on stage!

White Christmas on stage
It wasn't too long ago that I saw White Christmas at The Papermill Playhouse. I also saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Broadway. 

Last week , I received an email from Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene Kelly's widow. 
She has made it her mission in life to preserve the legacy of Gene Kelly. I interviewed her some time ago and instantly fell in love with her! 

She is passionate and sincere in her love of Gene Kelly and his legacy.

When she learned recently that so many of her good friends were cast in the upcoming "re imagining" of An American in Paris, she eagerly went to the website to read about the new production scheduled to premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on December 10, 2014, previews begin tomorrow night, November 22nd,  and it opens in New York City at The Palace Theatre on March 13th, 2015. 

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Inspired by the Academy-Award winning film, An American in Paris brings this classic tale to Broadway for the first time with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and a book by Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominee Craig Lucas. The production, presented in English, will run through January 4, 2015.(The details for this production are taken from their website.)

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS also features a book from Tony Award® and Pulitzer Prize nominee, CRAIG LUCAS, sets and costumes by six-time
Craig Lucas
Tony® winner BOB CROWLEY and lighting by three-time Tony® winner NATASHA KATZ. 

ROBERT FAIRCHILD (Jerry) is a member of NYCB, where he has been ​enjoying his status​ a​s​ principal dancer for the past​ 5 years.  ​B​orn in Salt Lake City, Utah, ​he​ began his dance training at age four.  ​
F​ormal ballet training began with The​ Ballet West Conservatory. Once Fairchild became an apprentice with NYCB the following year he joined the Company as a member of the Corps de Ballet. He was quickly promoted to soloist with NYCB ​soon after promoted to principal in 2009. ​Fairchild ​originated the role of Romeo in Peter Martins’ Romeo and Juliet featured in the PBS Live From Lincoln Center television broadcast. 
Robert Fairchild
Last season Fairchild ​played the role of Carousel Boy in the NY Philharmonic’s Emmy nominated production of Carousel directed by John Rando and choreographed by Warren Carlyle.  ​He is a ​Recipient of the Mae L. Wien Award for  Outstanding Promise at The School of American Ballet. Fairchild is newly married to Principal Dancer Tiler Peck, also of NYCB.

Leanne Cope
LEANNE COPE (Lise) trained at The Royal Ballet School and graduated into the Company in 2003, promoted to First Artist in 2009. She has created several roles for the Company and has built a particularly strong relationship with Royal Ballet Artist in Residence.  
Liam Scarlett, who has described her as having “a presence on stage like no other.” Cope’s role creations for Scarlett have included Emily Dimmock and Annie E. Crook (Sweet Violets) and Gretel (Hansel and Gretel), and she has also created roles in DGV: Danse à grande vitesse, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, As One, Tuckett’s Timecode and works by Scarlett, Jonathan Watkins and Samantha Raine in The Royal Ballet’s Draft Works. Cope was born in Bath and began dancing at the age of five. She trained at The Dorothy Colebourne School of Dance before joining The Royal Ballet Lower School at the age of 11, going on to graduate through the School. Her repertory with the Company has included Clara (The Nutcracker), Princess Louise (Mayerling), pas de six (Giselle), White Cat and Red Riding Hood (The Sleeping Beauty), Mustard Seed (The Dream) and roles in Asphodel Meadows, Concerto, Song of the Earth, Sensorium, Four Temperaments and ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe. Leanne wouldn’t be where she is today without the love and support of friends, family and husband.

An American in Paris is a 1951 American musical film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, and Nina Foch, the film is set in Paris, and was directed by Vincente Minnelli from a script by Alan Jay Lerner. The music is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira, with additional music by Saul Chaplin, the music director.
If you've heard of An American in Paris you already know that it's one of the top movie musicals ever made and one of the artistic high points in the history of the MGM studio. In the production unit of Arthur Freed, MGM bankrolled a concentration of musical and dancing talent that no smaller organization could possibly have put together; it's one of the truly persuasive arguments in favor of the old studio system.  
The story of the film is interspersed with dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to Gershwin's music. 
Songs and music include I Got Rhythm, I'll Build A Stairway to Paradise,  'S Wonderful, and Our Love is
Here to Stay. The climax of the film is The American in Paris ballet, a 16 minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin's An American in Paris. The ballet alone cost more than $500,000.
The Plot:  
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is the romantic story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war.
iAdam Cook (Oscar Levant), is a struggling concert pianist who is a longtime associate of a French singer, Henri Baurel (Georges Guétary). 
At the ground-floor bar, Henri tells Adam about his cultured girlfriend. Jerry joins them later, before going out to sell his art.
Because the movie was such an important part of Gene's career -- and meant so much to him personally -- Patricia was surprised not to see him even mentioned on the page. 
Gene Kelly in Brigadoon, based on the Broadway musical

She wrote in a recent post in the Huffington Post, When Gene first brought me to California to write his memoir back in 1986, he was, for me, essentially a blank slate. 
I had to get up to speed on everything. Because I would eventually wear the dual hat of wife and biographer, I felt it incumbent upon me to double- and triple-check my primary source -- my husband. As a result, I spent hours at the University of Southern California library exploring the expansive Arthur Freed collection. Most of Hollywood had little or no regard for its history (film scores were tossed in a landfill, and film cans were often of more value to executives than the film in them).
They have since added Gene Kelly's name but there are other glaring omissions. 

The romantic story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war, is the stuff of Broadway dreams.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS promises to be the kind of new Broadway musical you thought they didn’t make anymore—a musical filled with beauty, artistry and the unmistakable beat of the human heart.

The Goodspeed Opera House from the Connecticut River
Last month, I had the wonderful experience of seeing the world premier of Holiday Inn at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut

I have been going to this glorious theatre for years and have yet to see a production there that I didn't like. 
I feel the same way about the Papermill Playhouse.

How lucky are we in the tri-state area to have two theatres that are interested in preserving an art form that sadly seems to be disappearing from our cultural landscape. A cultural landscape, as defined by the World Heritage Committee, is the "cultural properties [that] represent the combined works of nature and of man."

When I go to see a musical, I want to escape. I am not interested in spending two to three hours dealing with angst.
With Holiday Inn on stage at Goodspeed, The Bandwagon on stage with Encores this weekend, and An American in Paris on the fast track to Broadway, I got to thinking about iconic Hollywood musicals that have made their way to Broadway.  
There was a time when Hollywood sought out projects from the Broadway stage for production. 
Now, it is the opposite. 

Fortunately, Freed donated the records and production notes of many of my husband's greatest and best-known films, including An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain
These minute-by-minute accounts provide a remarkably detailed -- and accurate -- record of the preparation, rehearsals and shooting schedules of the movies. In the notes regarding An American in Paris, Gene is frequently listed as "Director," with Minnelli's name following in parentheses.
On the website for the new stage version, Arthur Freed is described as the "one who put together a set of existing songs on which he created a story." 
According to Gene, it was he and Minnelli who chose the songs and the writer Alan Jay Lerner who crafted the script on a typewriter as he sat in his bed at the famed Bel Air Hotel. 

"We had a choice of every song the Gershwins ever wrote," Gene said, explaining the selection of numbers. "You might say, 'Oh, boy, what riches.' 
But we didn't know what to select -- we spent more time trying to fit the songs in. ... I don't think we could have ever done An American in Paris if we hadn't had someone like Alan Jay Lerner, who could adapt every time Minnelli and I changed a song and put it in a different place." 

Patricia is the exact opposite of Robyn Astaire, the widow of Fred Astaire.

During his lifetime, Fred Astaire epitomized grace, elegance, and the sublimity of style. 
In death, however, he left behind a decidedly earthbound legacy of messy squabbles over the control of his image. The disparity was, in Astaire terms, night and day. 
I remember vividly in 1992 when Ginger Rogers received the Kennedy Center Honor. There was a huge controversy based on the fact that Mrs. Astaire allegedly demanded a huge sum of money in order for them to show any clips of Fred Astaire!
Watch the clip. You will notice there are NO images of Fred Astaire! 
He was/is an integral part of Ginger's history. Five years later, he was dancing with a Dirt Devil
This controversial ad, okayed by Astaire's daughter but protested by his widow, inspired "the Astaire Bill," which was passed in 1999 to "eliminate the exceptions and place the burden of proof on those using celebrity images, forcing them to show that their use is protected by the First Amendment." 
Astaire passed on on June 22, 1987 (on the anniversary of Judy Garland's passing), at age 88, from pneumonia. He passed away while being held by his second wife, Robyn. ''That's the way he wanted it,'' she said. ''He died holding on to me.'' The eulogies that came were unequivocal: ''Wrap up the 20th century,'' mourned Newsweek. ''Fred Astaire is gone.'' 
 Astaire's artistic legacy is 31 films he made in 35 years — 10 of them with the perfect partner, Ginger Rogers — established the canon of the American musical. The dazzling dance numbers he created in such films as Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), and The Gay Divorcee (1934) were breathtaking in execution, as well as inspirational to a generation of moviegoers and students. Said Stanley Donen, who directed the star in Funny Face: ''When Fred Astaire danced, everything in this world was perfect.''

It always amazes me, whether it is transferring a Hollywood musical to the stage or a revival, that the new creative team feels that can improve upon the original. 
Sally Struthers in the recent National tour of Hello, Dolly!
They have even gone so far as to call these "revisals". Why did they choose these projects in the first place? It was because of their impact on the consciousness of those who have experienced it before. A couple of years ago, a well know director told Marge Champion that they made the decision to change Dolly's gown in Hello, Dolly from red to green in a production they directed. Marge simply asked, "Did it make it better?" 
Lee Roy Reams summed it up better thaan anyone. He said we all know what a red velvet cake looks like and tastes like. But let's say that you're going to make a red velvet cake, but you are going to replace certain key ingredients with OTHER ingredients. 
Brian Stokes Mitchell, although not a dancer, stepped into Fred Astaire's shows in Encores' production of The Bandwagon this weekend
Lee Roy says, and I concur, that it damn well taste better than the original or why bother?
Working on preserving the legacy of Hello, Dolly!, I have seen various productions over the past few years. Some work. Some don't. Invaribly, the productions that didn't work were those that tried to "improve" upon the original.  
I really wish that I had had the opportunity to see The Bandwagon this weekend with Encores. 
The beloved backstage musical was presented at New York City Centre for nine performances from November 6 thru 16th to sold out crowds who smiled, laughed and had the time of their lives at this version of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s original script, expanded by Tony Award winning playwright Douglas Carter Beane.
The Band Wagon is a 1953 musical comedy film that many critics rank, along with Singin' in the Rain, as the finest of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals, although it was only a modest box-office success. It tells the story of an aging musical star who hopes a Broadway play will restart his career. However, the play's director wants to make it a pretentious retelling of Faust, and brings in a prima ballerina who clashes with the star.
Years ago, there was a special screening of The Band Wagon and Singin' In The Rain at The Film Forum. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Betty Comden and Adolph Green were in attendance. They did a talk back with the audience between films. 
I'll never forget a lady in the audience commenting that the film still seemed a little "contemporary" and how they were able to pull that off. 
Without missing a beat, Betty responded, "We got up one morning  and decided to write a contemporary musical in which someone would ask us this very question fifty years later!"
Cyd Charisse!
As far as Encores is concerned, they ALWAYS do great work with respect for the intent of the original creators. I spoke with entertainer, Moira Danis, who attended Saturday night. I wanted to get her take on the evening. 
Moira admits that she has never seen the film from start to finish. She has only seen it in "drips and drabs" over the years.
Therefore, Moira went in with no expectations. She loved it. She thinks it can transfer to Broadway. They have "updated" some of the dialogue. There are a couple of a few places where it needs a little bit more tweaking. They did make it "current". Some of the numbers might need a little bit more tweaking. All of that said, it was a wonderful show with beautiful performances. Moira would definitely like to see it brought to Broadway. 
Moira likes how Encores has the orchestra on stage. She likes the "stripped down" approach to the musical. 
What MOVIES would you like to see on the stage?  

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella 1965

Reserve Today for The Many Sounds of Christmas
At Historic St. Peter’s Church on December 21st
Experience a NEW New York City Musical Tradition!

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Brandy as Cinderella

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,
The Papermill Playhouse

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