36 FRIDAY 1 AUGUST 2014
Sing Happy – Darryl Knock
Sing Happy is the first Kander and Ebb song to make it to the list. Now, I don’t like to play favourites, but if I did, this duo would be at the top of my list. I love everything about them; probably the coolest dudes to ever team up to write show tunes. From “Flora The Red Menace” to “The Scottsboro Boys”, I’m sure I’ll be packing many of their songs in my suitcase. Sing Happy is also the first song on the list that was published the year I was born, 1965.
I didn’t become familiar with Sing Happy until 2006. I was going through a very tough and unexpected breakup when a friend suggested I did a breakup playlist. I had never created one, so, I decided to give it a try.
I set off my iPod to shuffle mode and got myself lost in the music. I set aside the songs that I felt somehow helped me put into perspective my failed relationship. I called the list iBreak (back then everything with an “i” in front of it was trendy.)
Do I need to tell you that iBreak played like a musical? Well, yeah … What else would you have expected from me? Anyway, through songs I re-lived the relationship, how we met, how much fun we had, stuff we did, things we promised to each other, and the breakup. My therapist saw it as a very enlightening thing to do. (Yes, it was that bad of a breakup that I had to go to therapy for over six months.)
“It is a fact that many people have gone through similar situations, even the songwriters who have been able to express their experiences through music.” My therapist told me when I let her in my playlist project. “So, it is only natural that you can find solace in their work. Their songs help you understand your situation better, and they may give you the tools you need to move on.” I agreed with her, but in reality, that’s not the reason I was doing it. In my head, it was a non-stop musical playing over and over. The last song on the list would be a segue to the start of the list again. If you’ve ever seen or read Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of our Teeth”, you’ll get what I’m talking about.
Sing Happy didn’t always have the same meaning on the list. Some days I thought of it as a triumphal declaration of self-determination to come out of the dark space where I was stuck. Other times it was more like a clamour to only hear happy tunes while I was still trapped in the depths of depression.
As I progress with this list, I’ll let you know which songs from iBreak have made it to this list.
Song Title: Sing Happy – 1965 Genre: Musical Artist: Darryl Knock Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: Celebrating New York New York! Chicago! Cabaret!
Favourite Lyrics: Play me a madrigal about trips to the moon / Or some old ballad about two eyes shining / It can’t be loud enough or a moment too soon / Sing happy.
Runners Up: My Own Space (The Act) • New York, New York! (New York, New York) • Sennett Song • Look at All the People (Reprise)/Tramp Discovery • Tramp Shuffle, Pt. 1 • Life Can Be Like the Movies • The Look-a-Like Contest • Where Are All the People? • Got to Be Real
37 SATURDAY 2 AUGUST 2014
Nowadays – Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera
It wasn’t until 1996 that I discovered the musical “Chicago.” Although originally from 1975, “Chicago” had the misfortune to have come out the same season “A Chorus Line” opened. It is not as if “A Chorus Line” was a better show. The Chorus Line premise may have appeared a bit more innovative at the time, than a pair of vaudevillian chorines getting away with murder.
What I like about the show and the Kander and Ebb score is how each musical number feeds from the energy generated by the previous number and so on until the rousing end of the play. I think “Chicago” is almost a perfect show, with a flawless score and witty book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb. There’s a reason why the 1996 revival is still running on Broadway.
I picked Nowadays because it is a very classy tune; the lyrics are elegant, and the number gives Roxie and Velma the refinement and sophistication they have lacked throughout the entire show.
I specifically chose this version because of Gwen Verdon. I love Gwen. I fell head over heels for her the first time I saw her swaying her hips during the “Whatever Lola Wants Lola Gets” number in “Damn Yankees.” She’s been such a part of my life that I created a character in my only published novel, “The Return Of The Army Of Light,” as an homage to Verdon.
Earlier this year (2014) while reading Sam Wasson’s biography of Bob Fosse (a fantastic read, by the way) I learned how Nowadays became part of “Chicago.”
The show’s original finale wasn’t working, so Fosse, Verdon’s husband, and the musical’s director had Kander and Ebb write a new number. The duo did so and promptly presented the new tune to Fosse, Gwen, and Chita Rivera, the show’s co-star. Gwen wanted the song just for herself, Fosse, who was not a nice guy, a genius no doubt, but a defective human being, was not entirely sure. So, he had her sing the song in front of all the people present at the meeting. I’ll quote from Wasson’s book now:
“She was standing at the end of the piano,” (Chita) Rivera remembered, “and there were tears in her voice and an unhappy feeling in the room. But she never stopped singing.” *
It broke my heart to read that. Here she was, one of the most accomplished and celebrated performers Broadway ever saw, and her husband humiliating her in public. A way of psychological abuse, if you ask me. Sure, he was the director, and ultimately it was his choice who did the number, but you don’t treat your spouse like that, period. Ultimately, he decided to split the song; that’s why Roxie interprets the first part. I would like to think that part of the sadness and despondency wrapped around the Roxie Hart character throughout the show came from that moment when Gwen Verdon sang Nowadays with tears in her eyes.
* Wasson, Sam. Fosse. 2013
Song Title: Nowadays – 1975 Genre: Musical Artist: Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: Chicago
Favourite Lyrics: You can like the life you’re livin’ / You can live the life you like / You can even marry Harry / But mess around with Ike.
Runners Up: Roxie, Part I: Soliloquy • Roxie, Part II • Nowadays • Hot Honey Rag
38 SUNDAY 3 AUGUST 2014
Mister Cellophane – Joel Grey
I’m sure we’ve all been a Mister Cellophane at some point in our lives. Some of us may still be unnoticeable to most people around us, but I have no issues with that, as a matter of fact, I prefer it like that. However, that’s not why I’ve chosen this song.
If you’ve seen “Chicago”, either the play or the movie, you can see how Amos is taken for granted and used by his wife Roxie, and most people around him for that matter. However, just as the audience is about to ignore him too, Kander and Ebb throw this ditty in his direction. Amos manages, if not to get back his dignity, at least to remind people of his humanity and his need to be acknowledged. That is the thing with Kander and Ebb, to quote Jerry Herman, “they like to take these downtrodden characters and give them dignity. That’s what they do with their songs.” Mister Cellophane is proof of that.
I was fortunate enough to see the great Joel Grey perform this song in the 1996 “Chicago” revival. It was one of my theatrical highlights of the 1990s. What a treat it was to see this Broadway legend put on white gloves and confide the audience with his tribulations for being ignored by most people in his life. It was a very a heartfelt rendition; it stopped the show.
Song Title: Mister Cellophane – 1975 Genre: Musical Artist: Joel Grey Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: Chicago – The Musical (1996 Broadway Revival Cast)
Favourite Lyrics: A human being’s made of more than air / With all that bulk, you’re bound to see him there / Unless that human bein’ next to you / Is unimpressive, undistinguished / You know who…
Runners Up: Roxie • I Can’t Do It Alone • Overture • All That Jazz • My Own Best Friend
39 MONDAY 4 AUGUST 2014
One (Reprise)/Finale – A Chorus Line Company – Top 10 Fast Tracked –
7th Place Finish
When I was 17 while surfing through Venezuela’s only four channels, I caught “Baryshnikov on Broadway”, a 1980 TV special where Baryshnikov along with Liza Minnelli danced to some of Broadway’s classic scores. I was mesmerised the entire time; I loved it.
At the end of the programme, Baryshnikov joined the “A Chorus Line” cast to do One, the show’s big finale. That was the first time I heard One and saw it being performed. I didn’t know what the song or show were all about. Still, I felt like I wanted to be part of that group of people on stage, for a brief moment I dreamt I was one of them. Maybe I should become a dancer, I thought. Could I be one? I was certain I could. Sure, I was already attending university, had never taken dance lessons and was a bit on the chubby side, but I was sure I could pull it off. I went to bed with the determined resolution that I would become a dancer. Just like a drunk at the end of his hangover, the next morning I realised it was not such a good idea; I was better off sticking to university and having a real career.
This was probably the first time I wished things were different. Had I seen this show while I was still in high school, I could have started taking some dance lessons then, or chosen to study a career in performing arts. This was also the first time I resolved situations on my own. I didn’t tell anybody about it; I just talk myself out of it, something I’ve kept doing through years, talking myself in and out of things. It was around this time that I first created a parallel world where all the things I’d never accomplish and all the things I’d never be, coexisted and thrived. A place that I could go and visit, a place that I still run off to when I can’t cope with things in the real world.
Was I serious about it? (being a dancer) I don’t think so. Although I have a good ear for rhythm, and I’m a fast learner, I wouldn’t have had the tenacity, discipline, and/or talent to make it as a professional dancer. However, I regret not having given myself a chance to explore it and find by trial and error, rather than by theory.
A year later I saw the “A Chorus Line” record at a store and bought right away; it was an import. I didn’t know anything about the show until then. By reading the synopsis, I found that “A Chorus Line” was a musical about a group of dancers auditioning to be part of the chorus in a Broadway show.
From that day on, I would sit in the family room, put on the headphones, listen to the record over and over, and imagine how the show would look on stage.
In 1985, the film version of “A Chorus Line” was released and widely panned by the critics and audiences, but I didn’t care; I loved it. Years later when I watched it again, I could see why it was so hated, because it is simply bad. Richard Attenborough just didn’t get it.
I was finally able to see a road show version in 1991, at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, and then again in 1992 or 93 at the Warner Theatre in DC. The show was everything I had imagined; I liked it a lot but didn’t love it, though. Not sure why, probably my idea of it had become larger than reality, and I felt disappointed.
I reconnected with A Chorus Line a few years ago when I saw the documentary “Every Little Step.” This documentary about 2006 Broadway revival, also presented the genesis of the play in the 1970s. I went in because I was interested in getting to know the history of the play itself, not so much the 2006 revival. However, I was not ready for the emotional impact the documentary would have on me. When I saw all the hopeful dancers auditioning for the revival, I thought of my 17-year-old self, sitting in the dark, watching Baryshnikov doing One, and being mesmerised, inspired, and yet hopeless. I sat in the theatre and for the first time in my life, I questioned any of the decisions I made when I was a young man. I should have told someone about my illusion of being a dancer; I should have tried to do something about it, anything.
Last time I went back home I browsed through some of my old records, “A Chorus Line” is still among them. My mother, who’s a hoarder’s worst nightmare, asked me if I wanted her to get rid of them. I told her to keep there in the family room closet. It is as if a part of me still lives home.
Song Title: One (reprise)/Finale – 1975 Genre: Musical Artist: Company Composer: Marvin Hamilisch Lyricist: Edward Kleban Album: A Chorus Line
Favourite Lyrics: She walks into a room and you know she’s / uncommonly rare, very unique / peripatetic, poetic and chic.
Runners Up: Opening: I Hope I Get It • Nothing • The Music And The Mirror
40 TUESDAY 5 AUGUST 2014
Heaven Can Wait – London Symphony Orchestra
The main title of the movie “Heaven Can Wait” was an easy pick. I remember loving this movie when I saw it as a teenager. It was probably the first time I understood the concept of “what if” when it comes to storytelling. What if you die unexpectedly, what if it was a mistake made in heaven, what if you come back to earth, what if you try to continue to live your life in somebody else’s body. The Academy-Award-nominated score, composed by Dave Grusin, is bold and gorgeous. The main title, in particular, can take you to different places under 4 minutes. From the excitement of a sports event to an intimate moment of solitude and contemplation, to a romantic spot, and then back to where it started.
This composition lifts my spirit every time I hear it.
Song Title: Heaven Can Wait – 1978 Genre: Soundtrack Artist: Dave Grusin & London Symphony Orchestra Composer: Dave Grusin Album: Cinemagic
Runners Up: ONE • One • From This Moment On • You Gotta Look Out for Yourself • With Every Breath I Take • You’re Nothing Without MeIt Needs Work • With Every Breath I Take (Duet) • I’m Nothing Without You • So Many People • Blue Danube Waltz
41 WEDNESDAY 6 AUGUST 2014
Bolero – Zdenek Chabala & The Spanish Orchestra
Not much to say about Bolero. It is a very organic composition, it sneaks in quietly into your system, and you just live within it for the next 14 minutes. I didn’t know it was originally commissioned as a 1928 Russian ballet.
I was first introduced to Bolero in 1979’s “10”. Remember Bo Derek making love to Bolero? However, it only became an intrinsic part of me a few years later when I saw the French movie “Les Uns et Les Autres,” where it is used to drive and entwine the story. But more on that when I introduce you to the few songs from that motion picture that I’m certain I’ll be putting on the list later on.
Song Title: Bolero – 1928 Genre: Classical Artist: Zdenek Chabala & The Spanish Orchestra Composer: Maurice Ravel Album: Classical For The New Age
Runners Up: Clair De Lune • Tales from the Vienna Woods • Pavane for a Dead Princess • Hungarian Dance no. 5 • Pizzicato Polka • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring • Nimrod • Funeral March of a Marionette
42 THURSDAY 7 AUGUST 2014
Overture – The Color Purple – Orchestra
In 1996, I was asked to prepare a photo montage at work. I used to work for the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest regional development bank in the world. That year the annual meeting of the board of governors was to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The assignment called for me to highlight the many projects the bank had successfully financed in the country.
It wasn’t the first time I had prepared presentations as such, but in the past, I had used 3D animation software, which I thought wasn’t quite appropriate for the project this time around. So, I started to look into new techniques or software.
Those of us, who have been working in the video industry since the 1990s, and before, witnessed the transition from analogue to digital production. Editing and using motion graphics became easier, faster and cheaper. Adobe and Apple changed the way we approached postproduction. Photoshop gave us new ways to do graphics, and Apple not only gave us faster computers, but also a format that would forever change the way we did animations, QuickTime. Only a few years before if I wanted to do a 3D Animation I had to render frame by frame, record onto tape and then edit frame by frame. A 30-second animation could take an entire week to do.
Back to my project. Someone suggested I looked into Adobe After Effects, a motion graphics software that Adobe had been producing for three years. I bought it and gave it a try. With After Effects, I was able to animate photos, create QuickTime movies, and then bring them into our editing system, on the same day! Imagine that!
So, with pictures and software sorted, all I need was the music to cut to. I didn’t like any of the music I had at work or at home, so I went to the Tower Records at Foggy Bottom to browse through their soundtrack section. I can’t remember how many CDs I bought, but “The Color Purple” Soundtrack was one of them.
I chose a section of the Overture, from about 4:30 to the end, put the pictures together, an edit here and there and, as they say, the rest is history. That combination of photos, software and music made me a Motion Graphics Artist and put me on a career path that, after almost 20 years, I still love. Although editing is still my day job, I have made hundreds of animations on the side, mostly for documentaries, and the occasional corporate or instructional video. Nevertheless, it is this particular animation from 1996 the one I love the most, it is a reminder of how it all started.
Song Title: Overture – The Color Purple – 1985 Genre: Soundtrack Artist: Orchestra Composer: Quincy Jones, R. Temperton, Lionel Richie, J. Hayes, Fred Steiner, J. Lubbock, Jerry Hey, Randy Kerber, M. Meyjes, Chris Boardman Album: The Color Purple – Soundtrack
Runners Up: Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Op. 60 – Troika • Radetzky March • Can-can • On the Trail • Turkish March • Sabre Dance • March of the Toreadors • William Tell Overture • End Title • Le Conga en Nueva York