The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘musicals’

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

November 16, 2015 | by

John O’Hara’s Pal Joey remains an exemplar of a rare form: the epistolary novella.

From Robert Jonas’s cover for an early paperback edition of Pal Joey, ca. 1946.

Ever see the movie? Well, do yourself a favor and don’t. You should pardon me for bringing this up right off the bat, but it’s so beyond being a mere stinkeroo that I get ahead of myself and must apologize. But you can trust me; I shall get back to it later.

It’s hard not to start sounding like Joey Evans after listening to him come up off the pages of John O’Hara’s novella. In fact, even if you’re holding paper and ink, Pal Joey is always an “audio book” in some other, fundamental sense of the term. The osmotic nature of Joey’s voice affects even the other characters. Vera—the rich older woman whom O’Hara added to the theatrical adaptation—says, in a moment of amazed exasperation: “Good God, I’m getting to talk like you.”

Joey’s is an American voice from the second act of the American century, a time when the country’s wisecracks and slang, thanks to movies and even to books, wrapped themselves around the thoughts and vocal cords of half the world. O’Hara had the upwardly mobile luck to be in possession of the best ear anybody had for catching and transmitting the national lingo.

Frank MacShane, one of the author’s biographers, explains that the first Pal Joey story, published in The New Yorker on October 22, 1938, got written after O’Hara went off on “a two‐day bender” instead of the stretch of work he’d pledged to his wife: Read More »

The Waiting Game

September 3, 2015 | by

The first release of “September Song.”

One of my “parlor tricks,” if such you can call it, used to be performing the Kurt Weill standard “September Song” in the voice of Lotte Lenya. I can’t pretend anyone ever requested this, per se, but from the ages of fifteen to about twenty-one, I broke into it on the slightest pretext. Among other things, the rendition was very loud. No record exists of my performances: small mercies, et cetera.

“September Song” was famously written for Walter Huston’s limited vocal range, and his initial rendition—as an elderly Peter Stuyvesant in 1938’s Knickerbocker Holiday—remains, for many, the most poignant. (To anyone who would laugh at the thought of a seventeenth-century Dutch colonist singing one of musical theater’s great laments on aging, I would merely point out that “Memory” is performed by an anguished cat.) My grandfather always talked about first hearing the song when Walter Huston visited the radio program for which he was a writer in 1938. He cried, he said. When he died, it was sung at his funeral. Read More »

My Day

August 5, 2015 | by

The Broadway Melody of 1929 won the Oscar for best picture. The highest-grossing film of the year, it was the first all-talk musical, and MGM’s first musical, period. It contained a groundbreaking Technicolor sequence.

Even if you’re not a cinephile, the film’s a great, pre-Code watch. While the acting is certainly dated, and the story somewhat melodramatic and lurid—it centers around a sister-act love triangle—it’s an emotionally and visually satisfying spectacle. Read More »

Coup de Théâtre

April 20, 2015 | by

An American in Paris leaps from screen to stage.

AAIP angela sterlibg

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Photo: Angela Sterling. Courtesy of An American in Paris

About halfway through Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 film An American in Paris, we glimpse a sign: À LOUER—APPARTEMENTS STUDIOS DE GRAND LUXE—RENSEIGNEMENTS AU FOND DE LA COUR. We see it in a courtyard through which Milo Roberts, the beautifully appointed parvenue, leads Jerry Mulligan, the scrappy, penurious painter; they ascend a staircase into an artist’s atelier that anyone would dream of. In addition to the essentials—a double-height wall completely of glass, new brushes and paints in every imaginable color, a sturdy easel—the room boasts a marble mantelpiece, fresh flowers, and an enormous sofa upholstered in red toile de jouy. That’s part of the allure of Minnelli’s film: it wrings every drop of naive charm out of the Paris of myth and cliché. Despite its legendary status, though, the movie’s charms are often enforced with a lead pipe—or perhaps a pipette of the kind geese are fattened with to produce foie gras. I couldn’t help but read too much, then, into that sign advertising rooms for rent. The movie itself can feel like a rented room; there’s plenty of space for someone else to move in, to make it deeper, better, more accomplished. That’s what the new musical on Broadway attempts, and—though not without its longueurs and contrivances—on many levels it has the film beat by a mile. Read More »

Taste It!

August 11, 2014 | by

Menahem Golan, the B-Movie auteur, is dead at eighty-five, the Times reports. In the course of his prolific career, Golan—who directed more than forty films and produced more than two hundred—worked with Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Vanessa Redgrave; though he had a hand in several distinguished productions, he and his cohort trafficked in unabashedly debased material. The Golan milieu is one of superabundant corn-starch blood and suspenseful synthesizer sound tracks. As the Times has it, they “churned out movies about ninjas, cyborgs, chain saws, and the likes of Teenage Bonnie and Klepto Clyde (1993).”

A bit of YouTube spelunking has led me to The Apple, a 1980 musical written, directed, and produced by Golan—perhaps one of the most gloriously catastrophic concepts ever committed to celluloid.

“A young couple enters the world of the music industry, but also the world of drugs,” the IMDB description reads, as if those worlds have ever been separate—and to that synopsis, allow me to add that the movie takes place in a dystopian future that’s very, very, very far away: it’s set in 1994. (“Life is nothing but show business / in 1994,” one song tells us, helpfully.)

In The Apple, Boogaloo International Music (BIM) controls the world—in the movie’s one prescient plot point, the citizenry is addicted to “the Worldvision Song Contest,” a talent show almost identical to American Idol or Eurovision. Any similarities to the actual future end there. BIM, headed by the nefarious Mr. Boogaloo, judges the success of its performers by counting the number of heartbeats in the crowd; when a sweet young couple threatens to overtake BIM’s pre-selected stars in the heartbeat rankings, Boogaloo throws the contest, invites the innocent couple to his swanky corporate HQ, and has his henchman drug the young woman. Things get progressively worse from there.

Above is a clip of the musical’s title track, “The Apple,” in which the entire cast is transported to Hell and the classic forbidden fruit is dangled before our unsuspecting heroes. “Juju Apple / Voodoo Apple,” sings a mildly hunky shirtless guy. “Take a little bite / Spend a splendid night / In our garden of delights.” 1994, man—it was wild!

If Menahem Golan is, as I write, in transit to some kind of afterlife, I hope it’s infinitely more pleasant than the one depicted in The Apple.


Beautiful Hide

January 9, 2014 | by


Jane Powell and Howard Keel in a poster for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Not that long ago, I was walking down a Brooklyn street and encountered an elderly woman surrounded by grocery bags. I offered to help carry them into her apartment, and I was sort of disappointed when she said yes and I saw what a long staircase it was and how heavy the bags were. After several trips we’d gotten them all in and she thanked me. “I was worried I was going to miss the beginning of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on TV,” she explained. “It’s my favorite movie.”

“You know,” I said, “it’s out on DVD now. I’d be glad to loan it to you.”

“Oh, I have the DVD,” she said blithely.

The film inspires such irrational devotion. Whenever I am down, I go to YouTube and watch the barn-dance scene, which is famous not just because of the number of accomplished dancers in the cast but also because of the sheer, exhausting athleticism of Michael Kidd’s choreography. As a child, I decided that my wedding party would replicate the entire number—I was going to be Milly and do the pas de deux in the middle—but then you grow up and realize that unless you are a dictator on an international scale, this kind of thing is impossible. Nevertheless, I defy anyone to watch it and not get just a little bit cheered up. Read More »