Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008


Music(als) of the Spheres (part 3)

Mike Resnick

Illustrations by Kurt Erichsen

One Month Later:                           

Well, like I said, the real expert is Laura Turtledove, Harry’s spouse and the mother of all those beautiful and talented girls. I showed her the article this afternoon and asked if I’d missed anything. When you want to know, you go to The Source. Here’s her answer:

All Shook Up. I hate jukebox musicals. This was the Elvis one from 2004, but it featured a magical jukebox. How else do you cram 20 Elvis songs into a show without actually having Elvis in it?

Assassins. Sondheim and Weidman’s revue about successful and unsuccessful Presidential killers. Any show that has assassins from different centuries hanging out in a bar together deserves to be on this list, though my theatre major daughter vehemently disagrees with me.

Babes in Toyland. From ‘03. No, 1903, as in Victor Herbert. The evil uncle of two tots wants to get rid of them, but they wind up in Toyland, where the toys and Mother Goose characters help them thwart the uncle. Some of these songs still get hauled out at Christmas.

By Jupiter. Rodgers and Hart’s last original show, 1943, starring Ray Bolger. Queen Hippolyta and her gals hold the upper hand over their wimpy guys because the queen has a magic girdle that gives her strength. The Greeks, led by Theseus and Hercules, invade to help the males get the girdle, and they find their talents in the bedroom work better than those on the battlefield. It might have run longer, but Bolger left to entertain the troops.

Cabin in the Sky. Vernon Duke and John Latouche’s 1940 fable of the battle between the forces of the Lord and those of the Devil for the soul of Little Joe Jackson (Todd Duncan). Ethel Waters’ only book musical, this one produced the hit, “Taking a Chance on Love.” Choreography by George Balanchine.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 2002 British hit based on the Sherman brothers’ movie (itself based on the Ian Fleming kids’ book) about an inventor, his kids, and their flying car. Um, don’t ask me for details about the plot since I last saw the movie in 1968. But the car flies!

A Christmas Carol/Scrooge. There are at least five versions of Dickens’ tale, the significant ones being Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge, for which he did the music, book and lyrics, and was based on his film version. It ran in Britain in 1992 and 1996m then toured the US in 2003-2004 in versions with Davis Gaines and Richard Chamberlain in the leads. Mike Ockrent directed and Susan Stroman did the choreography for the Lynn Ahrens/Alen Menkin production that ran in NY every holiday season from 1994 through 2003. The Scrooges over the years included Walter Chalres, Terence Mann, Tony Randall, Hal Linden, Roddy McDowall, Roger Daltrey (!), Frank Langella, Tim Curry, Jim Dale and F. Murray Abraham. These shows packed the 5,100-seat theatre at Madison Square Garden.

Dance of the Vampires. The 2003 multi-million dollar flop based on Roman Polanski’s film, The Fearless Vampire Killers. It started out a German production, and after heaps of revisions, lurched onto Broadway with Michael Crawford as Count von Krolock.

The Day Before Spring. Maybe this early Lerner and Loewe work (1945) is only a marginal fantasy, but it does feature the heroine getting advice from talking statues of Freud, Plato and Voltaire, as well as lots of speculation (through ballet) about alternate history. At a college reunion, a couple meet up with Alex, the guy the wife was going to elope with ten years ago, but his car broke down. Alen then went on to write a novel about what would have happened had it NOT broken down. At the reunion, the events of ten years ago begin to unfold again.

Doctor Dolittle. Leslie Bricusse’s movie score about the doctor who could talk to the animals got revised for the stage in 1998. The Jim Henson workshop did the animals, and Julie Andrews was the recorded voice of Polynesia the Parrot.

Dorisn/Dorian/Dorian Gray. There have been at least three attempts at doing Wilde’s story of the fellow with the magic portrait. Doesn’t seem to work.

DuBarry Was a Lady. 1939 Cole Porter hit show starring Bert Lahr as a washroom attemdant who takes knock-out drops by accident and dreams he’s Louis XV. Given that much of the show is a dream sequence, I think this should count as a fantasy. With Ethel Merman as Madame DuBarry and Betty Grable to flash those legs.

Dude. A weird allegorical rock musical (1972) from the creators of Hair. Dude (aka Everyman) wanders the universe in search of understanding, and good and evil battle over his soul. They performed this disaster in the reconstructed Broadway Theatre...with seat sections renamed “foot hills,” ‘trees” and “valleys.”

A Fine and Private Place. Based on the Peter Beagle novel about the old man who lives in the cemetery and talks to the ghosts of the recently deceased. The songs are faithful to the story, but the music is unexciting and the characters don’t generate the warmth they had in the book (though I know a guy who saw this show live and swears by its greatness). This ran at the Goodspeed back in 1989 and they reassembled the cast 15 years later to record the CD (music by Richard Isen, lyrics by Erik Haagensen). Gabriel Barre, a fine talent who has since turned to directing, was the Raven.

Flahooley. Yip Harburg/Sammy Fain fantasy satirizing American industry and greed. Debut of Barbara Cook, 1951. It’s got a girl who can hear puppets talk, Arabs trying to get their magic lamp fixed (because they’ve run out of oil in Arabia; told you it was a fantasy), a genie that makes wishes come true, and many satiric shots at captialism, which helped kill the show when it opened during the Korean War. It’s been revised (cutting political/social commentary) as Jollyanna.

Follies. I wouldn’t include Grey Gardens on this list, even though ghosts show up in the second act, but the ghosts of Sondheim’s Follies are an integral part of the plot. Set in an aging theatre during a reunion of former showgirls, Follies focuses on two couples (Ben and Phyllis, Buddy and Sally). Ghosts of their past selves play alongside the contemporary characters, and everybody has a big breakdown near the end, performed as Follies numbers reflecting their mental states. Yes, Follies has a flawed libretto. That hasn’t stopped me from seeing it every time I get the chance. One of the greatest scores ever written.

Forever Plaid. This was a smash hit off-Broadway in 1990. The Plaids were going to perform at a concert in 1964, but their car got hit by a bus of girls going to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. They are granted their last wish, to come back to earth to perform the concert they were about to give on the night they all died. Lots of tunes from the late 50s and early 60s.

Great to be Alive! A flop (52 performances) from 1950 about ghosts in a mansion (who can only be seen by virgins ... and the audience, er, regardless of sexual status) who try to prevent a rich lady (Vivienne Segal) from buying the place from the descendant of the original owners. Book and lyrics by Walter Bullock, music by Abraham Ellstein and Robert Russell Bennett, who became better known for his great orchestrations.

Have I Got a Girl for You! A parody of the Frankenstein movies from 1985 (so they were probably stealing from Mel Brooks, whose Young Frankenstein is about to open as a musical in November 2007 – and not the other way around). It lasted a couple of weeks off-Broadway.

Happiest Girl in the World. Another musical set in ancient Greece, complete with gods. This one has a funny pedigree: it’s based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (where the women of Athens try to stop the war by refusing to have sex with their spouses), with lyrics by Yip Harburg and music by 19th c. French composer Offenbach.

Happy as Larry. Burgess Meredith directed and starred in this turkey (3 performances) from 1950 about an Irish tailor telling his pals about his grandpa, who had a good wife and a bad wife. Using witchcraft and “Three Old Ladies from Hades” (the Fates), they all go back in time to see the wives for themselves and help solve Grandpa’s murder. What can you say about a show that lists among its songs, “The Flatulent Ballad?”

Here’s Love. Meredith Willson wrote The Music Man, one of the classics. He also wrote The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a decent enough show. Then there was Here’s Love, based on the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, which lasted for nearly a year, but just wasn’t much of anything.. Maybe it was too hard to get excited over the mystery of whether the old man really was Santa at any other time than in December.

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical/A Wonderful Life. As far as I can tell, there have been three efforts at turning the classic movie into a musical. Two never got beyond regional dinner theatre, but Joe Raposo and Sheldon Harnick’s 1991 version was also done as a 2004 benefit for the Actor’s Fund.

Just So. Cameron Mackintosh produced this 1998 take on the Kipling stories both in the UK and at the Goodspeed Theatre. Music by George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe, and it starred Gabriel Barre. But nothing ever came of it.

Ka-Boom! Okay, I know nothing about this show except what I ran across in one of my fat musicals books. The plot concerns the survivors of a nuclear attack...who decide to put on a show called “Creation, Part II.” Music by Joe Ercole, lyrics and book by Bruce Kluger. Somehow, it ran off-Broadway for 71 performances in 1981.

The Little Prince. Lerner and Loewe’s last original score was for the decidedly peculiar movie version, but there have been three tries for the stage. John Houseman produced a version in 1993 starring Daisy Egan (from The Secret Garden) that ran a few months at the 28th Street Theatre. A. Joseph Tander’s version lasted a week of previews at the Alvin in 1982. John Barry did the music, Don Black the lyrics, and Hugh Wheeler, the book; and Michael York as the Aviator. The early closure led to a court case in which the theatre owners (the Nederlanders) had to pay Tander a cool million.

Marie Christine. I’ve never seen this show, but the score is chilling (Michael John LaChiusa, with kickass orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick). I’m guessing it didn’t succeed because the subject matter was simply too intense to bear watching. It retells the story of Medea, updated to late 19th c. New Orleans. Marie Christine (the astounding Audra McDonald), from well-to-do Creole family, falls for a white sea captain, Dante. She ultimately kills her brother to be with him and bears him two sons. When he begins to make a name for himself (partly thanks to her voudon magic in taking out his rivals), he dumps her for a white woman. She kills the woman through a cursed gift and then kills her own boys so Dante cannot have them. Buy the album and shiver.

Narnia. The NY State Theatre Institute tried adapting C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. It lasted two weeks.

Nightingale. Based on the Andersen fairy tale. This ran in London in 1983, with music an lyrics by Charles Strouse. It starred Sarah Brightman, who wasn’t yet Mrs. A. Lloyd Webber. Or ex-Mrs. Lloyd Webber.

Once on This Island. Graciele Daniele (who also directed Marie Christine) had the honors of putting on this early Ahrens/Flaherty show based on a Caribbean fable of a peasant girl who is rescued from a storm by the gods. She then rescues the injured son of the landowner and makes a deal with the gods, giving up her life for his, since she thinks the power of love will help her overcome death. The rich guy lives, but spurns her, whereupon the gods turn her into a tree, which will live forever. It’s charming, told in the format of a mother calming her own daughter during a storm through storytelling.

The Phantom Tollbooth. Arnold Black and Sheldon Harnick tried adapting Juster’s kids’ fantasy about Milo, who drives his car into the Land of Wisdom to save the two princeses, Rhyme and Reason. But Black died, so Harnick tried doing the music on his own, and the production never got beyond Cape Cod.

Raggedy Ann. Joe Raposo, who wrote so many great numbers for Sesame Street, wrote the score for a Raggedy Ann animated movie, which then got used in this piece that lasted five performances in 1986. Marcella (the little girl) is sick with fever and having strange dreams about her dolls. Raggedy Ann gives her heart to Marcella to save her life, whereupon Marcella wakes up and her doll is missing its heart. Apparently, this show went to the Soviet Union before the Broadway run (now that’s playing out of town!) and the Russians loved it. Go figure.

Rainbow Jones. A one-night wonder from 1974, featuring a girl that can’t connect in life, so she brings her magic book of Aesop’s Fables to Central Park, where her only pals, the critters in the tales, pop out and keep her company. Until she meets a jogger who helps her straighten out her head. Could I make this up?

Say Hello to Harvey. This version of Harvey (the invisible giant rabbit, remember?) ran in Toronto in 1981, but Washington and Broadway openings were aborted.

Shangri-La. As in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. Luckily for Hilton, he died two years before this clunker made it to Broadway in 1956. Yes, high in the Himalyas (constructed of Lucite), there’s a place where no one ever ages. But without Ronald Colman, who cared? The talent for this was actually pretty damn good: Music by Harry Warren, lyrics and book by Lawrence and Lee, directed by Albert Marre, and starring Dennis King, Jack Cassidy, Harold Lang and Alice Ghostley. At the opening night party, Cassidy introduced Bock to Harnick, which was more important to showtune history than singing Lamas.

Steel Pier. An unsuccessful Kander and Ebb show from 1997, starring Karen Ziemba, Daniel McDonald, Gregory Harrison, and Debra Monk (with Kristin Chenoweth in a hysterical bit part, trilling for all she’s worth). Ziemba plays Rita, a dancer who is secretly married to nasty, cruel Mick (Harrison), who runs dance marathons (it’s set in 1933). Bill (McDonald) is a barnstorming pilot...who actually died three weeks ago, but is claiming the extra days since he got cheated out of his dance with Rita when his flight schedule got changed. She learns he’s really a ghost at the end, but he gives her the courage to leave the abusive Mick at last. Susan Stroman’ choreography was a tribute to all the dances of the 30s. For some reason, audiences didn’t go for it. Me, I liked it, even if the hero was a dead guy.

Time and Again. Based on the Jack Finney novel about the man who goes back to the 1880s. produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001, with a score by Walter Edgar Kennon, it starred Laura Benanti, Lewis Cleale, and Christopher Innvar, which is a good cast. It had been in development for eight years and lasted three weeks at the City Center Stage

Three Wishes for Jamie. More Irish magic, but not enough (even with lead John Raitt at the top of his talents) to have a long run. In 1896, Una the Fairy grants Jamie three wishes: travel, the wife of his dreams, and a fine broth of a lad who will speak Gaelic. Naturally, there are complications on the way to getting the wishes to come true, including getting out of a pre-arranged marriage, ending up in America, and, since his wife is barren, adopting a mute kid, who miraculously says his first words in Bulgarian. I mean, Gaelic. Everybody said it was a rip-off of Brigadoon and Finian’s Rainbow, which it was, though Raitt always felt it was one of his own favorites.

The Wind in the Willows. Based on Kenneth Grahame’s classic kids’ story of Toad, Ratty, Mole, and Badger. There have been several attempts to do a musical of Wind, mostly in Britain, but this one got briefly to NYC in 1985 and vanished under a heap of wretched reviews. The late David Carroll was Ratty, Vicki Lewis was Mole, and Nathan Lane chewed the scenery as Toad. Poop poop!

The Witches of Eastwick. Michael Crawford was supposed to do this one back in 2000, but Ian MacShane ended up stuck with it. Cameron Mackintosh sank heaps of pounds and endless revisions into this wreck. Maybe a magic spell might have helped....

The Wizard of Oz. Aside from Wicked and The Wiz, the Baum novel itself was heavily revised into an early Broadway success in 1903: a puppet version (Bil Baird Marionettes) in the 1960s: and the classic Harburg/Arlen movie score was adapted for the stage in the late 1990s, with Mickey Rooney mugging as the Wizard and Eartha Kitt (later Jo Ann Worley) as the Witch.

The Woman in White. I don’t know if this should be on this list or not, because I’m haven’t seen/heard/read it and don’t know if the woman really is a ghost. This was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest catastrophe (2006 on Broadway), based on the Wilkie Collins novel. No doubt Sir Andrew has been looking for more Victorian horror novels to adapt. Michael Crawford, then Michael Ball, donned fat suits as evil Count Fosco, and Maria Friedman soldiered on as the female lead despite getting a diagnosis of breast cancer during rehearsals.

A Year With Frog and Toad. Far superior to Wind in the Willows, I urge all parents looking for good music for their kids to buy the album and see the show. Based on the books by Arnold Lobel about inseparable pals Frog (Jay Goede) and Toad (the endearing Mark Linn-Baker), Lobel’s daughter Adrianne acted as one of the producers. Music by Robert Reale, book and lyrics by Willie Reale. It’s sweet and funny and the score is adorable. I defy anyone to listen to the “Cookies” song and not smile. Alas, along with Amour, it got swallowed up at the 2003 Tonys by the juggernaut that was Hairspray.

Other bits: I know there’s a Ghost and Mrs. Muir musical running around; it starred James Barbour, whose sexy baritone must have made a yummy ghost, and had a brief run out here in LA two summers ago, but I missed it. Young Franklenstein takes the Great White Way next month, as does Disney’s The Little Mermaid. And Bruce Kimmel has a show that just got rave reviews at a festival for new musicals: The Brain From Dimension X. Apparently, the show’s highlight is the solo by the disembodied brain.

Mike here again: I can’t believe I missed some of those. I’ve seen Assassins and Follies over a dozen times each. I’ve seen a third to half of the others. But only the remarkable Ms. Turtledove could add them to the list. Is it any wonder that I plan to run off to Broadway with her the next time Harry and Carol go (yawn) bird-watching?



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