260 FRIDAY 13 MARCH 2015
Hello, Dolly – Barbra Streisand
I have always loved this song. As with any Jerry Herman song, there’s enough material to write a short story. It is one of Herman’s most famous songs. I’d be willing to bet that, even if you’re not into musicals, you’ve hummed the first bars of this ditty at some point in your life.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker”, “Hello, Dolly” tells the story of Dolly Levi, a widow whose favourite pastime is to meddle in people’s lives. One day she decides to stop mourning her late husband and return to the cheerful life she once had.
Although Hello, Dolly has been closely associated with Louis Armstrong and Carol Channing, I’ve decided to include La Streisand’s version. I believe it tells a better story, she is better at conveying the idea of reclaiming one’s life. Armstrong’s jazz version was originally arranged as a promotional jingle before the show opened on Broadway in January 1964, so it really doesn’t tell a story. Carol Channing’s magnificent rendition of the song, although vibrant, it’s designed to be performed in front of a live audience. Hence, it fails to show Dolly’s mixed emotions as she returns to the Harmonia Gardens.
Okay, time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, La Streisand was easily 20 years too young to play the part as it was originally written, but then again, Dolly Levi could easily be a widow of any age. Funnily enough, nobody ever mentions, La Streisand being too young to play Walter Matthau’s love interest, she was only too young to play Dolly.
Back to the song, not only La Streisand is emotionally involved, but she’s also flirtatious to a point where you wonder if any of the waiters – at least one among the ones who are not hysterically excited to see their hag back – has been Dolly’s lover. I wonder if they would have let a more seasoned actress play it that suggestively.
However, the highlight of the song is La Streisand’s brief duet with Louis Armstrong, which she has described as a rare privilege. It’s amazing to see and hear these two music giants share the screen for 60 seconds, a rare opportunity indeed.
Song Title: Hello Dolly – 1964 Genre: Musical Artist: Barbra Streisand Composer: Jerry Herman Lyricist: Jerry Herman Album: Hello Dolly
Favourite Lyrics: You’re looking swell, Dolly, / We can tell, Dolly, / You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’ / You’re still goin’ strong.
261 SATURDAY 14 MARCH 2015
I Want To Be Happy – Jack Gifford, Susan Watson, Ruby Keeler
This is the second time this ode to co-dependency makes it to the list. The first time was during Week 21, when I chose Ella Fitzgerald’s jazzy rendition, which, at the time, I described as the cat’s meow.
As I previously said, most versions of I Want To Be Happy, from the 1925 musical “No, No, Nanette”, present the song as a love ballad. However, in its original incarnation, I Want To Be Happy is sung by a parental figure. Jimmy, Nanette’s legal guardian sings it to her as a proof of his commitment to looking after her. Nanette, in return also tells Jimmy that she’ll make everything in her power to make him happy.
I know, I’m typing, I’m reading, and it’s creeping me out a little bit. Why would an old man sing that to a young girl? Maybe, that kind of relationship between a legal guardian and his ward was common in the 1920s, but not now. “I’m a very ordinary man, trying to work out life’s happy plan, doing unto others as I’d like to have them doing unto me.” Disturbing words, definitely. Perhaps, iTunes should flag those lyrics.
In any case, from a strictly musical point of view, I like how this version starts slowly with a duet, followed by a soft chorus of boys. It then goes into a gentle tap dance, which in the 1971 revival featured a routine by the great Ruby Keeler playing the ukulele. The number finishes with a rousing tap number that makes your heart beat race at the same speed each tap shoe clacks the stage.
Song Title: I Want To Be Happy – 1925 Genre: Musical Artist: Jack Gifford, Susan Watson, Ruby Keeler Composer: Vincent Youmans Lyricist: Irving Caesar, Otto Harbach Album: Broadway Magic 1970s
Favourite Lyrics: When skies are gray / And you say you are blue / I’ll send the sun smiling through.
262 SUNDAY 15 MARCH 2015
I’m Still Here – Yvonne De Carlo
Has any cabaret singer over 60 not sung I’m Still Here? It’s very unlikely. Introduced by Yvonne De Carlo in the musical “Follies”, this song has become a staple in many entertainers’ acts, and for a good reason. They believe the song represents strength, resilience and the triumph of the spirit. However, I’m not so sure if that’s what the song is really about.
It was only ten years ago that I paid close attention to the lyrics. Sure, the singer has gone through many things, like sleeping in shanties, and standing on bread lines. She’s survived them all, but she also wonders why. Shouldn’t I be dead by now? Seems to be the hidden message, what else do I have to go through before I die? Go on, take me. I’m ready to go. I’m aware this may be a stretch, but I ask you; next time you hear this song, think of it as the note someone has written before she dies by suicide. You’ll see what I mean.
Song Title: I’m Still Here – 1971 Genre: Musical Artist: Yvonne De Carlo Composer: Stephen Sondheim Lyricist: Stephen Sondheim Album: Broadway: The American Musical
Favourite Lyrics: Reefers and vino, / Rest cures, religion and pills, / And I’m here / Been called a pinko / Commie tool, / Got through it stinko / By my pool.
263 MONDAY 16 MARCH 2015
In The Still Of The Night – Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd – Top 10 Contender
I’ve said before that I consider In the Still Of The Night and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” to be the most personal songs Cole Porter ever wrote. (See Week 33) This particular version of In The Still Of The Night, by Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, floors me every time I hear it. Their voices are so real, so unfiltered that you can’t help but feel the real love between these two characters.
It is safe to assume that Cole Porter was gay, or at least enjoyed having sex with men. However, his only committed relationship was with his wife, Linda Lee Thomas. For Porter, Linda was not just a front for his homosexuality. She was a friend, confidant, and most important, a companion. Their love and devotion to each other were unique, and it never diminished. They were together until her death in 1954.
The 2004 movie “De-Lovely” attempted, unsuccessfully, to shed some light on Cole and Linda’s relationship. Nevertheless, this moment when both Kline and Judd sang this song, live at the end of the movie, is one of the most beautiful and sublime moments captured on film at the turn of the century.
That last scene of the movie really struck a chord when I first saw it. After leaving the theatre, I walked down Courtney Place back to my flat, on an icy night. When I arrived at my place, I stepped out on the tiny balcony overlooking Cuba Mall and lit up a cigarette. Although the night was steely cold, I stayed there for a long time, paralysed and lighting one cigarette after another. On that night, which happened to be the first full moon of August 2004, it finally sank in me that my relationship with Ronald had ended.
Almost four weeks had gone by since I had visited Ronald in Phoenix, where he had been working for a little bit. During my visit, we had talked at length about the state of the relationship and decided that it might be best to end it. We couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had gone wrong; however, later we learned that migration can be very tough on couples. Moving to another country can either make you or break you. Unfortunately, in our case, it broke us.
From that night, when I stood out on the tiny balcony, until the second full moon of the month, I went into a mourning state. All I remember is reading Greek mythology.
Ronald came back in the spring, and we stayed together for another year. We decided to take our own time to deal with the end of the relationship.
We’re still good friends, and there’s no way we won’t be in each other’s lives ever. After all, we are family, we came together to New Zealand, and for a while, we only had each other.
Song Title: In The Still Of The Night – 1937 Genre: Soundtrack Artist: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd Composer: Cole Porter Lyricist: Cole Porter Album: De-Lovely [Soundtrack]
Favourite Lyrics: Like the moon growing dim, on the rim of the hill / In the chill, still, of the night.
264 TUESDAY 17 MARCH 2015
It’s a Wrap, I Found a Dream – Michelle Williams, Lang Lang
This combo comes from one of my favourite movie scores of the last few years, “My Week With Marilyn”. I love it because it captures perfectly the feeling of working towards a deadline, see it completed, and then the quietness that comes after.
I work for TVNZ’s One News, I’m a picture editor. Every day, as six o’clock approaches, one can feel the sense of urgency around the newsroom. It won’t be long before our flagship show goes to air.
At one and a half hour to airtime, reporters are finishing their scripts and producers are working on last minute developments or preparing promos. The video library is frantically sourcing file footage, not only for our stories but also for the stories being produced in other centres around the country.
Closer to five, a queue starts forming at the voice booth. Reporters begin recording the narration for their stories. The media exchange (MX) operator, with dexterity and efficiency, ingests into ISIS, our server, the last tapes with interviews and generic shots needed for the show’s stories.
One hour before airtime, a parade of reporters trots down the hallway in search of us, the editors. We are the ones who will put it all together and, more importantly; we’ll make sure their items get to air on time. They drop their scripts, give their editor instructions, and then leap off again. It could be that they still need to organise an interview, or do a ‘piece to camera’. You know, PTCs? Those segments that they usually do on camera for basically two reasons; to give to the story a face or to cover for the lack of shots to illustrate that part of the story.
30 minutes before airtime. The story is two minutes long, but the line producer has only given the reporter one minute forty-five. 15 seconds must come off.
25 minutes before airtime. A graphic comes in with the wrong numbers; the reporter calls the graphic department and has them redo it.
20 minutes before airtime. The editor has forgotten to blur the shots that are under a gag order by a judge. The MX operator asks for an estimated time of arrival (ETA). The editor tells him to fuck off; he’s still trying to figure out what shots need blurring.
15 minutes before airtime. The reporter has mispronounced a few words; she goes back into the voice booth. The fixed graphic comes in. Another editor wants to make sure nobody else uses the opening shots she’s using.
10 minutes to air. The MX operator asks again for an ETA. Both the editor and the reporter tell him to fuck off. We’re still trying to shave off the 15 seconds that need to come out.
5 minutes to air. The bureau chief comes into the edit suite to watch the story.
3 minutes to air. The editor quickly swaps two shots and bleeps a swear word.
2 minutes to air. The MX operator asks yet again for an ETA. The editor, the reporter and the bureau chief tell him to fuck off. One of the grabs doesn’t make sense, it comes out. No time to swap it.
1 minute to air. Master control in Auckland is freaking out. The editor sends the story to playback.
30 seconds to air. The story has arrived at the Airspeed in Auckland where it waits in a queue to be played out.
It’s six o’clock!
Presenters welcome viewers and tease the day’s stories. A few minutes later the story goes to air, and that’s it, our job is done. We can relax and resume a normal breathing pattern. We make sure the story we cut has gone to all the places it needs to go. We also check if the story requires additional work for the late bulletin. We close the bin where we’ve been working, shut down the computer, apologise to the MX operator, and go home.
It is a rare feeling to have your work on display every night for the over half million viewers who still get their news from TV. Often, I forget how cool that can be.
Song Title: It’s a Wrap, I Found a Dream – 2011 Genre: Soundtrack Artist: Michelle Williams, Lang Lang Composer (It’s A Wrap): Conrad Pope Composer (I Found A Dream): Richard Addinsell Lyricist (I Found A Dream): Christopher Hassall Album: My Week With Marilyn (Music from the Motion Picture)
Favourite Lyrics: Light of heart and fancy free / That’s the way to start / There will be nothing to lose / Till you lose your heart
265 WEDNESDAY 18 MARCH 2015
Join the Circus – Jim Dale, Original Broadway Cast
I remember when I thought of joining the circus as a viable career option. Wait, it’s not as if I wanted to literally join the circus. I wanted to join “Up With People”, the non-profit youth musical touring group, which coincidentally was funded in 1965.
“Up With People”, or “Viva La Gente” in Spanish used to tour around Venezuela almost every year. They would come to Maracaibo and filled up entire stadiums. Their shows were a lot of fun, full of songs and dance. Every concert would end with their anthem that I’m sure people from my generation would recognise right away. Just listen to it:
Note: The song is not part of the list; it’s only here to make a point.
Anyway, one year they came to town and at the end of the show, they announced they would be holding auditions the next day at a local hotel. I knew I couldn’t go to the auditions, at the time I was 15 or 16 and I was still in high school. However, if they came back in one or two years, I could audition and run away with them. That seemed like a good plan, the only problem was that they never came back to my hometown, or if they did, I was already at university. So, I didn’t run away with them.
Fast forward to 1990, one autumn morning I was walking around the Quad at American University, minding my own business when I ran into two reps from “Up With People” who had set up a table to recruit people for the North American touring company. I told them my story about wanting to run away with them. They reminded me that they were not a circus and that the people who joined their organisation did it for the love of singing – I’m sure I rolled my eyes. However, they told me they needed more Latinos in their troupe and asked me to come to audition for them. I knew I could nail the audition, and I told them so. However, the problem was that I had a scholarship and that I had to check with my sponsor if I was allowed to join “Up With People”. I telephoned my adviser who obviously told me I couldn’t do it because I just couldn’t, period. She didn’t need to elaborate. I called the “Up With People” casting agent and told her I couldn’t go to the audition. She said not to worry and gave me tickets to that evening’s show.
I often wish that running away with a circus or joining a touring company were still feasible career options at my age. I would leave everything behind at a drop of a hat
Song Title: Join the Circus – 1980 Genre: Musical Artist: Jim Dale, Original Broadway Cast Composer: Cy Coleman Lyricist: Michael Stewart Album: Barnum
Favourite Lyrics: Just join the circus like you wanted to, when you were a kid. / Climb aboard before it moves on and you’ll thank your lucky stars you did.
266 THURSDAY 19 MARCH 2015 (-100)
The King and I: Finale Ultimo – Ben Kingsley, Julie Andrews, Edmund Kingsley, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, John Mauceri, Mevina Liufau, The Los Angeles Master Chorale
Okay, here we are song number 266. Do you know what that means? We’re 100 songs away from finishing the list, and I still have about 1200 songs to choose from. In my wildest dreams I thought I could pull this off, but if I keep this discipline, I’ll be finished packing my suitcase in 15 weeks.
I’m glad The King and I: Finale Ultimo, in particular, is the ‘-100’ song. Its sombre mood put me in the right space while writing an relevant passage of my novel “The Return Of The Army Of Light”.
You can read an excerpt here: The King and I: Finale Ultimo
Song Title: The King and I: Finale Ultimo – 1951 Genre: Musical Artist: Ben Kingsley, Julie Andrews, Edmund Kingsley, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, John Mauceri, Mevina Liufau, The Los Angeles Master Chorale Composer: Richard Rodgers Lyricist: Oscar Hammerstein Album: Rodgers & Hammerstein: The King And I