Archive for March, 2003

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Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

Found this on the Sondheim list.

Sunday in the Dark with George

George:
Finishing Iraq.
How you have to finish Iraq.
How you fuck the rest of the world from the White House,
While you finish Iraq.

Starting in the sky.
Putting little planes in the sky.
What you feel when voices that come through the speakers go…
Until you say who should die.
And then there’s light in the sky.

And how you’re always finding out too late
That the building you bombed was a kid with a kite.
But then the kind of nation willing to wait
Ought to know that America’s antsy.
So you lock them in your sight.
And hit them when it’s night.
Finishing Iraq.
Dusting all the sand off Iraq.
Wringing out the world of Iraq like a washcloth,
And then throwing it back.

Stomping out a race.
What you feel destroying a race.
Makes a little space for a flag and a Wendy’s.

Now they’re free, it’s the only way to be.

And when another giant tower blows
We can say to ourselves, “Well, we give what we give,”
And remain a nation that always knows that as long as we live
There’s an army
Always standing by,
Waiting in the sky,
Finishing Iraq.
Aiming at Iraq.
Finishing Iraq.
Setting up a plaque
Where there used to be Iraq.
(Scott Murphy)

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Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

They Both Reached for the Gun is a first-rate piece by Frank Rich which makes some devastating connections between the press as depicted in the movie musical “Chicage” and the Washington press corps’ treatment of President Shrub at his pre-war press conference. It suggests that the popularity of that film musical has a great deal to do with the zeitgeist, including a novelty-crazed press and a complacent citizenry.

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Sunday, March 16th, 2003

Attendees at the 22nd annual Memorial Concert presented by the Friends of Alec Wilderat Saint Peters Church in New York on Saturday, March 15, were treated to generous helpings of reverence and melancholy along with a substantial dose of inspired music making.

The room’s acoustics, unfortunately, were not hospitable to music making. A trickling fountain provided a tranquil note during the silences in the program but obscured the music with unwelcome white noise during the performances.

The first selection featured conductor Richard Auldon Clark as viola soloist in the premiere performance of Wilder’s Sonata for Viola and Piano. The only unamplified work on the program, the piece was a little difficult to make out given the hall’s fuzzy acoustic, but Clark and pianist Michael Cass attacked the work with energy, bringing out its singing melodies and rhythmic complexities. In his remarks before the performance, Clark called attention to the use of 12-tone technique in the sonata’s third movement, and the juxtaposition of serialism and lyrical jazz made for a lively contrast.

A high point of the program was The Four Bags’ arrangements of four of the Wilder Octets, rescored for a distinctive ensemble of accordion, guitar, clarinet and trombone. In his opening remark, accordionist Tom Aldrich suggested that the audience hold its applause til after all four pieces had been played, but the crowd refused to cooperate. After the first two selections (Such A Tender Night and Jack, This Is My Husband), audience member Mitch Miller could restrain himself no longer. “How can you not applaud?” he cried out. “These guys are terrific!” They received enthusiastic ovations after every subsequent selection (Little Girl Grows Up and a high-spirited rendition of It’s Silk, Feel It).

After The Four Bags played, Mitch came to the mike to speak warmly about the prospect of a new generation of musicians re-invigorating Wilder’s music, and offered a few tantalizing anecdotes about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Octets. “I don’t want to take up any more of your time,” he apologized more than once during his remarks before launching into another reminiscence; the audience didn’t appear to mind his monopolizing their time at all.

After the intermission, a trio of singer Nancy Marano, pianist Mike Abene and trumpeter Joe Wilder offered a stylish set of Wilder tunes. I’ll Be Around was followed by a medley of If Someday Comes Ever Again and Blackberry Winter. A distinctive arrangement of Moon and Sand showcased Marano’s considerable skills as a jazz stylist and the virtuosic flair of Mike Abene. Afterward, Marano sat down at the piano to accompany herself of the Roy Kral/Alec Wilder tune So You’ve Had A Chnage Of Heart. The trio closed their set with an up-tempo jazz reading of While We’re Young that lifted the spirit of everyone in the room.

The final attraction of the afternoon was the pianist Marian McPartland, a longtime friend of Wilder’s and the recipient of a number of compositions penned especially for her. This listener found some of the selections especially poignant, since they were tunes I first heard McPartland play some thirty years ago when I was a college student just discovering Alec’s music. Jazz Waltz for a Friend and Where Are All The Good Companions are tunes I remember from my well-worn copy of the Halycon LP Marian McPartland Plays the Music of Alec Wilder. Her set also include a reflective reading of It’s So Peaceful In The Country and a selection she introduced as a theme from the Wilder Octet The Neurotic Goldfish which Chick Corea borrowed for his tune Matrix, which she played with quirky brio.

McPartland was joined onstage by Jackie Cain, whose late husband Roy Kral was eulogized early in the program by host Tom Hampson, for two selections. Cain apologized beforehand for her rusty chops, idled by grief over the past eight months, but the audience responded warmly to her heartfelt readings of Remember My Child and While We’re Young. For the second time in the afternoon, I was struck by the ironic contrast between the youthful optimism of that song’s lyric and the nostalgic ache it seemed to evoke in the older music of the audience. “Songs were made to sing while we’re young,” to be sure, and Wilder’s songs were enjoyed by musicians and listeners of all generations in this stirring memorial concert.

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Friday, March 14th, 2003

George W. Queeg My cousin Chuck sent me this column, which seems to me a pretty searing indictment of our current foreign policy crisis.

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Friday, March 14th, 2003

Philadelphia Theatre Company – The Last Five Years, a new musical by Jason Robert BrownCaught the final dress rehearsal of this Philadelphia premiere last night. The good news: a terrific cast, great songwriting, well played and performed. The less good news: a peculiar scheme of production (lots of video projections that seemed both too complicated and too simplistic) and a show that, despite the brilliance of many of its individual moments, doesn’t add up to much of anything. Because of its unique dramaturgical construction (she goes backwards in time, he goes forward) and the complex nature of the characters (they’re both lovable and despicable), one reaches the end of the play feeling, well, very ambivalent. Are we supposed to sympathize with Jamie for cheating on his wife just because she’s a shrew and he’s a genius? Compounding the problem, the director doesn’t have much flair for musical staging – numbers stumble to a close without proper “buttons,” the actors seems to wander in and out of each others’ moments in ways that seem often pointless – and the actors remain in the same clothes throughout even though the play spans five years. Well there I go again, being a nitpicker – better to focus on the marvelous singing and acting of the two stars, Nicole Van Giesen and Wayne Wilcox, both of whom transported me into states of rapture at many points during the show. And the songs are consistently inventive, consistently surprising, and often very very honest. Jason Robert Brown is unquestionably the genius folks say he is, and I hope he finds more projects like Parade, where the collaborative process and the demands of the subject matter bring out the best of his talents.

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Friday, March 14th, 2003

aTTenTioN sPaN raDiO: Post 60’s Jazz/Funk/Rock for the Tragically Hip. I’ve been getting a cheerful earful from these two net radio channels lately. Down to the final weekday of spring break, I watch the last grains of sand slide down the hourglass and contemplate a return to the race. Mame is nearly all staged, but SOTA@20, my big school show, remains a challenge to be hurdled.

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Thursday, March 13th, 2003

The Onion | Congress Accidentally Approves Arts Funding

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Sunday, March 9th, 2003

The production of Mame I’m directing for GAMP is progressing slowly, very slowly. Of course, with only seven or eight hours of rehearsal a week, it’s tough to get any kind of momentum. (That means we’re only about sixty hours into the rehearsal process, not counting their music rehearsals.) The student actors, understandably, forget staging that was created a few weeks ago with no opportunity to review it in the intervening days. Their lack of vocal technique and a sense of the stage compounds the problem – they lack the experience that would enable them to function more efficiently under such difficult circumstances.
One of the most remarkable things, to me, is their inability to sing words intelligibly. Nearly all the chorus and most of the leads sing with a vague, whispery tone, no articulation, and little support or resonance. When they sing words, there’s little sense that those sounds actually denote something that has meaning.
I’m hoping that some of this improves with practice. More than anything, they need to go over and over the material, so that they can become more secure with the multiple tasks they are called on to execute.
In the meantime, it’s a challenge to remain patient and not weary of the effort. There’s no point in berating them for not knowing how to do things they’ve not been taught to do – after all, it’s not like any of this is innate. And professional actors would be inclined to be forgetful when faced with a sporadic schedule like the one we’ve been on.

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Saturday, March 8th, 2003

Musicians’ Strike Leaves Broadway Without Musicals Who’d have thought it would ever come to this? That live music is preferable to the “virtual orchestra” is indisputable, but the 24-man minimum for the Broadway orchestra seems hard to justify on either economic or artistic grounds. Certainly I want as many musicians as possible to make a living playing their instruments, but I see musicals with small orchestras that are artistically successful in many venues, both in and out of New York. If the Broadway minimums were smaller, would there be more productions? Would productions be more economically viable and able to run longer? The way this article describes the two opposing camps’ positions makes me think there must be some acceptable middle ground.

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Friday, March 7th, 2003

The first day in a long time when I’ve had a minute to catch my breath. Disorder proliferates around the edges of my life when I work at my current pace. Piles on all desks, accumulated messages and action items. My morning goal: whittle away a few items from that list.
Started on the Mega-Mix for the SOTA show. A funny idea, in concept: a collage of excerpts from dozens of plays and musicals, arranged so that the transitions and juxtapositions produce some humorous and some resonant moments. After the first rehearsal last night, I’m feeling very dubious about the appeal of this idea – it didn’t send off too many sparks of excitement as we worked on it. My colleagues (choreo Nancy, asst dir Chris) seem enthusiastic about it, so I guess I’ll hold off killing the child and give it a little longer to get on its feet. I keep thinking, maybe when it’s staged it’ll seem like it has some reason to exist. But will the audience assembled for a 20th anniversary celebration warm to my grotesque whimsy? As always, it’s a shot in the dark.
Spring break starts today – a week without students, without classes to prepare (or not). Always a cheerful prospect. Hope springs eternal that somehow I’ll get a little more caught up while they’re gone. I think that the state of “just need to get caught up” will be my perpetual condition for the rest of my days. Put it on my tombstone: “Here lies Charlie – death caught up with him before he got caught up with himself.”