330 FRIDAY 22 MAY 2015
Prologue: Ragtime – 1998 Ragtime Cast
E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 masterpiece, “Ragtime”, got its musical treatment in the late 1990s. It seemed appropriate to close the 20th century with an extraordinary story that flawlessly mixed historical figures with fictional characters.
I was blown away by Doctorow’s prose when I first read the novel. It fascinated me how easily he intertwined actual historical figures like Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini and Henry Ford with fictional characters. After finishing the book, I stayed in a haze. I just couldn’t shake off the stories; they stayed with me for a long time.
I first saw “Ragtime”, the musical, in D.C. in the spring of 1998 and loved it as much as I had enjoyed the novel. I thought their creators had done a fantastic job adapting such a rich and complex story. I thought The Prologue, in particular, was quite effective at introducing the characters and setting the story’s tone.
When awards season came about, “Ragtime” didn’t do as well as I hoped it would. That year “The Lion King” roared its way through most awards, including best musical and best director at the Tonys. However, “Ragtime” swept the best book and music awards. It is probably the best adaptation, from a rich and complex novel, into an equally gorgeous and intricate theatrical piece.
I have read the book thrice in the last 17 years, and it is still number one on my list of favourite novels. In fact, this is the literary work that inspired me to write. Reading “Ragtime” taught me that there’s room to tell every story you want to tell; all you need to do is create the right world where everything makes sense.
Song Title: Prologue: Ragtime – 1996 Artist: 1998 Ragtime Cast Genre: Musical Composer: Stephen Flaherty Lyricist: Lynn Ahrens Album: Ragtime- Original Broadway Cast
Favourite Lyrics: It was the music / Of something beginning / An era exploding / A century spinning / In riches and rags / And in rhythm and rhyme / The people called it Ragtime.
331 SATURDAY 23 MAY 2015
Final Dance – Karen Ziemba, Daniel McDonald
Final Dance comes from my number one favourite musical that I’ve never seen, “Steel Pier”.
At the end of the show, Rita comes face to face with Bill, the man who has turned her life around 180 degrees. They can’t be together, so they embrace and slowly spin on the dance floor for one last time. Bill sets her free, and Rita lets go. It is a sombre moment, but simultaneously, there’s a joy for the new future waiting for Rita.
I don’t want to talk much about this entry. It has a special meaning, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
Song Title: Final Dance – 1997 Artist: Karen Ziemba, Daniel McDonald Genre: Musical Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: Steel Pier (Original Broadway Cast, 1997)
332 SUNDAY 24 MAY 2015
Vida Mia – Hector Pacheco – Top 10 Contender
I grew up among Tangos; my mother used to sing a few around the house, and so did my grandfather. There’s always something nostalgic about them. I’m unsure if it is because all tangos are evocative or if their instrumentation takes me back to my happy childhood.
So, it didn’t come as a surprise when I fell in love with the new tango featured in the Argentinean film “Plata Quemada” or “Burnt Money”. What a beauty it was, so soulful, and it even had a trumpet solo that made it cool and jazzy simultaneously. It was, without a doubt, the perfect theme for this tragic love story between two male lovers in Argentina and Uruguay in 1965. I liked the movie because I thought it was the first good gay movie that went beyond pretty young boys falling in and out of love. These were two tormented criminals who loved each other with an undeniable passion.
Well, good thing I didn’t tell anybody about it. As it turned out, the beautiful new tango was from 1933, and the cool trumpet solo was by no other than Dizzy Gillespie; yeah, that’s right. The great Dizzy Gillespie. Vida Mia had already been a standard for years. How did I not know this?
The tango is about lovers separated by distance. The man has gone away in search of fortune, assuring her that the farther they are, the more he’ll be in love with her. The value of gold won’t come close to the value of her kisses. His breathing will always be hurried in anticipation of the day they will both meet again. He exhorts her to dream of the day they will reunite again. There is so much sadness in the song that although you root for the lovers to be reunited again, deep down, you know their love story won’t end up well.
Song Title: Vida Mia – 1933 Artist: Hector Pacheco Genre: Tango Composer: Osvaldo Fresedo Lyricist: Emilio Fresedo Album: The Best of Tango
Favourite Lyrics: Vida mía / hasta apuro el aliento / acercando el momento / de acariciar felicidad / Sos mi vida / y quisiera llevarte / a mi lado prendida / y así ahogar mi soledad.
Life of mine / my breathing hurries / as the moment/ to touch happiness approaches / You are my life / and I would take you / pinned to my side / and so, I’d drown my solitude.
333 MONDAY 25 MAY 2015
Will-A-Mania – Cady Huffman, Cast
There’s something about this song that I’m not sure how to explain.
It is from a musical written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Cy Coleman, making it quintessentially pure traditional musical comedy. The song sounds like any standard American musical tune; the whole show has a vaudevillian and big follies vibe to it. Yet I hear this song, and, to me, it screams the 1990s. It’s not because it is a score from 1991. I don’t get the same vibe from the other songs on the show. Mind you, there’s nothing about the 1990s about the style, lyrics, music or arrangements, but that’s all I hear for some reason. However, I love it. It is a song that lifts my spirits whenever I listen to it. Its syncopation puts me on the move.
Song Title: Will-A-Mania – 1991 Artist: Cady Huffman, Cast Genre: Musical Composer: Cy Coleman Lyricist: Betty Comden, Adolph Green Album: The Will Rogers Follies (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favourite Lyrics: Willamania! Willamania! / Scratch your skull, twang your voice, snap your gum for the peoples choice-/ Brand new sage for a brand new age, he makes our spirits climb / It’s willamania time!
334 TUESDAY 26 MAY 2015
Victor / Victoria – Julie Andrews, Tony Roberts, Company
When I started this project, I knew two things for sure. First, it was going to be a lot of work, and it was very likely I was going to ignore Julie Andrews altogether, and yet, here she is again, for the last time. However, this time, I included this song because of the show it comes from, not because of her.
In a previous entry, I talked about seeing the movie “Victor / Victoria” and how it influenced my views on storytelling (See 176 Le Jazz Hot). Although it was a film I enjoyed, I never thought of its musical adaptation as “a must-see”. It wasn’t until Liza Minnelli took over for a month in the winter of 1997 that I decided to go see the show.
As soon as it was announced that La Minnelli would be taking over the main role while Julie Andrews took a month off, we got some expensive orchestra tickets for the first week of February, which also happened to be Liza’s last weekend performing the role at the Marquis Theatre.
To say that I was excited would be an understatement. Although I was never a big fan of Liza’s vocals, I always thought she was a terrific dancer. I couldn’t wait to see her step through all the musical numbers in “Victor / Victoria”. However, Ronald, my partner then, wasn’t as excited as I was. He just wanted to get away for a weekend and perhaps, see other shows in New York. He wanted to see if we could get into “Rent”.
Naturally, on our way to New York that weekend, I played the tape I had made of the show countless times, particularly the finale, Victor / Victoria. The lyrics, we thought, were witty and funny, and Julie’s accent made them sound campy.
Saturday night arrived, and before heading into the Marquis Theatre, we went upstairs to the hotel’s rooftop revolving restaurant and bar to have a drink. Twenty minutes before curtain time, we went downstairs, and as we walked in, a man announced, “Liza Minnelli won’t be here tonight. You can call Ticketmaster for a refund or reschedule.” Well, I was disheartened; I just couldn’t believe my luck. As it turned out, Liza had also missed her last few performances due to illness. However, as gossip said, she wasn’t that good on the show, never learned her lines, vocally she wasn’t in top form, and she didn’t get along with the rest of the cast.
Standing in the theatre’s foyer, Ronald turned to me and suggested we could return later in the year to see Julie Andrews. I said no. I wasn’t going to come back to see Julie Andrews. I’m sure I rolled my eyes. Being so close to 8:00 PM, we weren’t going to be able to get in another show, so we thought we might as well stay and see the show with the understudy. I was glad we did. It turned out to be a good show, actually a superb show. I can’t wait until it is revived again.
The next day, we returned to the Marquis Theatre to see if Liza would do the matinee. When we heard she wasn’t doing it either, we walked over to the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street and got tickets for “Rent”, and well, I’ve already told you how much that show affected me. See 312 La Vie Boheme
I finally saw Liza on stage in December of 1999, when she did “Minnelli on Minnelli” on Broadway, a tribute to her father, acclaimed film director Vincente Minnelli. By then, she wasn’t dancing, but it was fun seeing her on stage singing the songs from her father’s films.
Song Title: Victor / Victoria – 1995 Artist: Julie Andrews, Tony Roberts, Company Genre: Musical Composer: Henry Mancini Lyricist: Leslie Bricusse Album: Victor / Victoria (Broadway Cast)
Favourite Lyrics: And so when young men and old men / Turning to bold men, to hold my hand / They get too frazzled and bedazzled / To understand.
335 WEDNESDAY 27 MAY 2015
Finale – (Alexander’s Ragtime Band/ There’s No Business Like Show Business) – Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray, Mitzi Gaynor
I was a smoker for a long time. I started to smoke regularly at 15. I’m not sure of the exact circumstances when I started puffing, but I remember I wasn’t the only one. My siblings and a few cousins, all in the same age range, began to blow smoke away around the same time. To fool our parents, we devised a code word for cigarettes. They were called “Adris”. I guess it was a sort of homage to our aunt Adriana. She was a physician, though. I doubt she’d have been honoured had she known about it.
We thought smoking was fabulous, glamorous and above all, so adult. If we needed proof, all we had to do was turn on the TV and see the countless ads where happy, well-adjusted, cool, and beautiful people smoke away at some exotic locale. Of course, we would fantasise about having our very own cigarette brand with great TV ads. Obviously, the name of our cigarette would be “Adri”, and the marketing campaign would involve a family of Vaudevillians, smokers naturally, selling “Adri” in the Vaudeville circuit. It was a take on the movie “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, so the “Five Donahues” became the “Five Who Smoke”. Each TV ad was to mimic four or five of the musical numbers from the film, with Alexander’s Ragtime Band being the main theme. I even wrote new lyrics for it.
The words went like this: “Come on and smoke, come on and smoke, with the new sensation. Come on and smoke, come on and smoke, come on, and you’ll see. This one has less nicotine and less tar. It’s classier than others, and it’s extra-light. It’s simply the best; it’s Adri!” I can still remember the lyrics.
At some point during the campaign, the youngest son quits smoking. Hence, no more the “Five Who Smoke”. When it’s revealed that he’s based his decision to quit on some bogus health study, the prodigal son comes to his senses, takes back the habit and reunites again with the “Five Who Smoke” to sing one more time the praises of Adri. In the last ad, they briefly sing Alexander’s Ragtime Band and end with There’s No Business Like Show Business, or should I say There’re No Ciggies Like Adri Ciggies. The campaign was supposed to work as a Telenovela. There were many campaigns in that style in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were serialised mini-short films that would usually play on Sunday night over a few weekends.
In the early 1980s, a law prohibited cigarette and alcohol commercials on TV. Furthermore, smoking on camera was also banned. That put a stop to our dream of one-day becoming cigarette tycoons.
Of all my cousins, I was probably the last to quit smoking. I did so in 1998, but for the next 10 years, I struggled to stay off the habit altogether. I have remained smoke-free for five years, but I miss it. I can’t wait for the day they make them safe again.
This is Ethel Merman and Irvin Berlin’s last appearance on the list.
Song Title: Finale – (Alexander’s Ragtime Band/There’s No Business Like Show Business) – 1911/1946 Artist: Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray, Mitzi Gaynor Genre: Pop/Musical Composer: Irving Berlin Lyricist: Irving Berlin Album: There’s No Business Like Show Business
Favourite Lyrics: And if you care to hear the Swa-nee Riv-er played in rag-time / Come on and hear, come on and hear / Al-ex-an-der’s Rag-Time Band
336 THURSDAY 28 MAY 2015 (-30)
Such Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of – Orchestra
As I approach the end of week 48, I’m starting to get a bit reflective about this project. It’s been one of the most significant personal endeavours that I’ve taken in my life. I don’t want it to end. I only have four more weeks, and then I’ll be ready to continue my journey with 365 songs neatly packed in a suitcase.
Song Title: Such Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of – 2011 Artist: Orchestra Genre: Soundtrack Composer: Conrad Pope Album: My Week With Marilyn (Music from the Motion Picture)