Musical theater lovers who might have wondered just how revolutionary Oklahoma! was when it redefined the Broadway musical in 1944 got a tangy taste of what came before it at Monday night’s terrifically entertaining Musical Theatre Guild concert staged reading of George and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy.
Fully integrated songs and dances? No way. Lyrics that advanced the plot? Forget it. Serious subject matter? You must be kidding! And as for 21st Century political correctness, there was no such thing back in 1930 when Jews, Mexicans, Gypsies, Asians, Gays, Women, you name it, were deemed joke-worthy.
While it may be true that no musical is too big for Broadway, Spider Man being a case in point, it’s equally true that some musicals are simply too small, too intimate, too “chamber” to make it on the Great White Way, one more reason to celebrate Musical Theatre Guild for bringing these delicate gems back to life, if only for an evening or afternoon of musical theater bliss.
Such is the case with 2008’s A Catered Affair, which despite its pedigree (music and lyrics by John Bucchino and book by Harvey Fierstein, based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal and a teleplay Paddy Chayefsky) and a cast which included Tom Wopat, Faith Prinze, and Fierstein, closed on Broadway after a mere 143 performances and previews.
You’d think that theaters in search of grown-up entertainment for the entire family would be jumping at the chance to program Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel The Secret Garden. 709 performances on Broadway, seven Tony Award nominations and two wins (for Norman’s book and Daisy Eagan’s performance as Mary). And as if that weren’t already enough, Norman’s book pays as much attention to the novel’s adult characters as it does its children while show’s Tony-nominated songs (music by Simon, lyrics by Norman) capture ever so gorgeously the sound and feel of the Yorkshire moors.
You’d think that this would be true, but you’d be wrong. The Secret Garden hasn’t had a big stage L.A.-area professional production for over a dozen years, all the more reason for Musical Theatre West to add it to this season’s Reiner Reading Series, a one-night-only event that not only brought Burnett’s classic story to unforgettable life, it did so after a mere twenty-five hours of rehearsal.
After their phenomenal concert staged reading of Titanic The Musical, a production I dubbed “one of Musical Theatre Guild’s crowning achievements,” you might think that the triple-threats of MTG would want to take it easy for the rest of the 2012-2013 season.
Not so, as last night’s titanic staging of Chess (In Concert) at Glendale’s Alex Theatre made abundantly clear, and for those who missed this phenomenal achievement, you have but one more chance to catch it this coming Sunday afternoon in Thousand Oaks.
Musical Theatre West’s One-Night-Only concert staged reading of 110 In The Shade, the 1963 Broadway musical adaptation of N. Richard Nash’s perennial favorite The Rainmaker, proved an entertaining, particularly well-timed treat for this reviewer, having only one week prior seen the very play which set the musical ball in motion.
Legs Diamond died twice, the first time in a mob shootout on December 18, 1931, and then a second time on February 19, 1989, when the musical bearing the Prohibition-era gangster’s name died an ignominious death inside the soon-to-be-defunct-itself Mark Hellinger Theatre, the victim of too much hurried rewriting and a leading man who wasn’t quite the triple-threat the role of Legs required.
End of story, right?
Wrong, though it would have been without Michael Betts, co-producer of Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series, who fell in love with the musical’s Original Broadway Cast recording and refused to let go of a dream to bring Legs back to life, even if for One Night Only, a dream which came miraculously true on Sunday, December 2, 2012.
Here’s a question for Los Angeles area musical theater lovers. Of the two Tony-winning musicals of 1951, Guys And Dolls and Call Me Madam, which one have you seen over and over again and which one have you never seen—or at least not until last night at Glendale’s Alex Theatre?
The answer to the second part of the question is, of course, Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, the mostly forgotten winner of three Tonys (for Best Score, Best Actress, and Best Featured Actor), a musical gem/chestnut that hundreds of Angelinos got to experience last night in Concert Staged Reading form, thanks to the oh-so talented triple-threats of L.A.’s Musical Theatre Guild.
Few 20th Century events continue to exert the fascination of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. The mind still boggles at the epic tragedy of a supposedly unsinkable ocean liner on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City striking an iceberg in dead of night. What terror must have been inspired by the sudden realization that death was but an inexorable hour or two away?
2,224 passengers and crew in all—and only enough lifeboats onboard to carry half of them. 1,514 dead. Only 710 survivors, despite there having been space for 500 more.
And the “what ifs.” What if there had been sufficient lifeboats? What if the ship hadn’t been traveling at full speed so as to reach its destination in record time? What if a few critical modifications had been integrated into its design? What if a nearby ship had gotten Titanic’s SOS? What if? What if? What if?