website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘broadway’

REBLOG: THE STRAIGHT DOPE: Why People Forget BE A CLOWN and MAKE EM LAUGH Aren’t the Same Song

The Straight Dope: Aren’t the show tunes “Be a Clown” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” suspiciously similar?

A STRAIGHT DOPE CLASSIC FROM CECIL’S STOREHOUSE OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE

Aren’t the show tunes “Be a Clown” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” suspiciously similar?

June 4, 1976

Dear Cecil:

The finale of The Pirate (1947), with a score by Cole Porter, is a number performed by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland called “Be a Clown.” In Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Donald O’Connor does a famous routine to a song called “Make ‘Em Laugh,” whose music is identical to that of the earlier song and its lyric nearly so. Its authors, however, are listed as Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who wrote the rest of the movie’s score. How come? Were there any lawsuits? Both movies were produced by Arthur Freed, which may mean something.

Cecil replies:

Arthur Freed, the producer responsible for most of the MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s, began his career as a songwriter. “Singin’ in the Rain” was part of Brown and Freed’s score for MGM’s first “all talking, all singing, all dancing” musical, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (the song has since been used in five other films, counting A Clockwork Orange).

In 1952, Freed decided to use his songbook as the basis for an original musical, as he had done with Jerome Kern’s songs in 1946 (Till the Clouds Roll By) and George Gershwin’s in 1951 (An American in Paris). Freed assigned Betty Comden and Adolph Green to build a screenplay around the available material, with Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly to direct. When the time came to shoot, Donen decided that Donald O’Connor needed a solo number, and couldn’t find anything that worked in the Freed catalog. Donen suggested that Brown and Freed write a new song, pointing to Porter’s “Be a Clown” as the sort of thing he thought would fit in at that point in the script. Brown and Freed obliged–maybe too well–with “Make ‘Em Laugh.” Donen called it “100 percent plagiarism,” but Freed was the boss and the song went into the film. Cole Porter never sued, although he obviously had grounds enough. Apparently he was still grateful to Freed for giving him the assignment for The Pirate at a time when Porter’s career was suffering from two consecutive Broadway flops (Mexican Hayride and Around the World in Eighty Days).

Media Log: FEBRUARY THEATRE SPECIAL

I had the opportunity to see a lot of theatre in the last week, both on Broadway and near home in Rhode Island. A reminder, I usually give theatre a simple SEE IT  or SKIP IT recommendation based on content not performance. In cases where good material is performed badly, I’ll add an additional note.

Take Me Out

TAKE ME OUT, writer Richard Greenberg. In 1993 the novelist Richard Lefcourt published a popular book “The Dreyfus Affair” not about the famous French Dreyfus Affair but about a gay, inter-racial  romantic affair between two major league baseball players. Although amusing enough, Lefcourt, whose primary occupation is television scriptwriter, clearly wrote a novel looking for movie rights. His actual knowledge of baseball seemed slight and as far as I can tell he is also a straight guy who failed to capture gay sensibility with any substance either. Lefcourt’s readers were sort of told: Dudes, just move those yummy, round tits down under a schlong and it’s the same thing. It aint. Also not the same thing is the 2003 play TAKE ME OUT by Richard Greenberg (and I confused these two for years) but it’s about a professional baseball player coming out of the closet. Fortunately instead of trying to tackle everything about baseball and gayness the play draws its dramatic energy from issues about all kinds of  intolerance. There actually isn’t any sex in it, which is ironic because many of the scenes call for full male nudity. The dialogue comes off too polished and overly theatrical for my taste, however the characters and the social commentary are complex. TAKE ME OUT won a Tony Award for best play. The cast at the production I just saw at 2nd Story Theater in Warren, RI was as talented as any you’ll see on Broadway.  SEE IT.

COMPANY, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. COMPANY is sometimes referred to as Broadway’s first successful “concept” musical. That’s historically arguable, but COMPANY was very influential in moving musical theatre away from the grand and formal Rodgers and Hammerstein book form. Instead COMPANY is a plotless musical about married couples done sort of in vignettes or review style. The common thread is the bachelor character Bobby who is a friend to each of the couples and a prism for their modern upper-middle class angst. COMPANY is my favorite musical on any stage, largely for Sondheim’s brilliant music. SEE IT for the music alone but be warned that the current production at Black Box in Mansfield, MA has a weak cast.

If you are reading this in the New England area both of these shows have their last performances this weekend through Feb. 19th, 2012.

Merrily We Roll Along

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book George Furth. Another great Sondheim work, and underrated for decades, is MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG currently in revival at Encores in New York City. The concept here is to tell the story of three bickering friends in showbusiness starting at the end of the story and moving backwards twenty years to when they first met as idealistic young people. So we begin at the bitter end, and end at the hopeful beginning. The first Broadway production of MWRA in 1981 was an historic flop for Sondheim. It closed after two weeks. The music was brilliant but the concept was confusing to audiences. Over 30 years Sondheim and his collaborators have tinkered with the show. One of the big things that changed is the nexus of the story-  it’s gone from being a critique about artistic integrity to being more a reflection of how adult friendships change over time. I’m still  interested in that story but I think dramatic efficacy gets lost in backward plotting. I love MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG because it’s unique but I don’t know if the concept will ever really work. SEE IT.

Nick Jonas, How to

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, music and lyrics Frank Loesser. If Merrily We Roll Along is an intellectual musical H2$ is the opposite. H2$ is what everybody’s talking about when the say that musicals are dumb stories surrounded by sometimes good music. I love Frank Loesser’s score and I think there are sometimes brilliant subtleties to this broad comedy about a window washer who climbs the ladder of business. I did not have the opportunity to see this revival’s first cast with Daniel Radcliffe and John Laroquette. What they have now on Broadway with Nick Jonas and Beau Bridges is pretty bad, particularly Jonas. To me the character of Finch is supposed to be an opportunist but not necessarily conniving. The comedy is in that everybody at the company keeps promoting Finch because he stands in the right place at the right time. Jonas seems to think that the way to play Finch is to play Nick Jonas playing Finch and he just comes off as smug. Jonas’ vocal performance also isn’t ready for Broadway.  SEE IT somewhere but skip the current production on Broadway.

book reports – VIOLENCIA! A MUSICAL NOVEL by Bruce Jay Friedman

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know the author Bruce Jay Friedman. I came across his novel Violencia! (2001) while doing research for my own novel in progress. Friedman, now in his 80s, over decades has written a bunch of novels I never read, some off-broadway plays I never heard of, and the screenplays for movies made in the 1980s I couldn’t care less about, e.g. Stir Crazy, Doctor Detroit, Splash. If Friedman is a famous author I gather it’s because he’s supposed to be a master wit in hysterical fiction. Hysterical is a pretty good word for describing the mania of Violencia! A retired police precinct clerk is recruited to write the libretto for Violencia!, a Broadway musical based on gritty experiences observed in the crime fighting world. Despite knowing nothing about writing a musical and being a rather ordinary man, the clerk unwittingly becomes a swiveling node for the novel’s cast of neurotic producers, composers and theatre actors. They all see the dull clerk as an embassy for their vanities, character flaws, and harebrained ideas about art and audience. Violencia! follows the attempt to put on a big musical from it’s distasteful concept, to dishonest financing scheme, to pointless and vulgar production numbers, and then to calamitous road tryouts. The novel is intended as a satire on the affectations of backstage Broadway. Situations and characters in this book are clever I have to admit, but satirical comedy like this too often proceeds plausibility: the fatigued composer returns energized after vacationing in less than a day’s travel from New York to PuertaVallarta, no-nothing producers with hundreds-thousands of dollars at stake insist that Violencia!’s success is held in suspense by the script’s call for use of the word “doody.” This style of writing allows for comical leaps in logic and abandoned story detail. Friedman’s novel is creative but I also find the storytelling a little lazy considering it’s something he’s been doing for decades. This may be a good light read for someone in the mood for lampoonery; I take my comedy much more serious.

book reports – THE THEATER WILL ROCK, Elizabeth L. Wollman

THE THEATER WILL ROCK: A HISTORY OF THE ROCK MUSICAL FROM HAIR TO HEDWIG (2006)

There does seem to be a common understanding that before the musical Hair there was nothing like Hair and that most of what followed Hair were flop imitations – Dude, Via Galactica, Rainbow. Though Hair became a classic, theatrical producers stopped throwing their money away on rock scores by about 1975. What Elizabeth Wollman’s through history brings forward is that Hair’s influence in musical theatre can be seen in decades of cultural tug-of-war between keeping rock music’s aesthetics authentic and produce musicals that have mass audience appeal. Hair’s long beautiful hair grew into Grease, and Les Mis, and Mama Mia but through the use of softer forms of rock music. We don’t really recognize how things of changed since Rogers and Hammerstein. Unlike any work I’ve read on the topic of musical theatre, or even in rock journalism for that matter, Wollman finally provides language for describing the variety of very different kinds of musical theatre that are too often lazily categorized as “rock musicals.” For once Hair is rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar is rock opera and Dreamgirls and Smokey Joe’s Cafe are other things too, well categorized here. I have a couple of quibbles. First, I think Wollman doesn’t emphasize that much of the failure in those fabulous post-Hair rock flops lies in being rushed to Broadway with big money backers and no existing source material. Most of the truly great shows in musical theatre are drawn from novels, plays or history. At least Hair had the huge benefit of a long and sometimes painful gestation period before finally coming uptown. The big rock flops of the early 1970’s were being made-up on the spot. Ironically two of the successful rock musicals from the same period, Your Own Thing and Two Gentleman of Verona were adapted from that rebellious beatnik Shakespeare. Next, Wollman makes frequent reference to off-off Broadway shows like House of Leather and The Legend of Johnny Pot which barely ever opened, meanwhile her research overlooks shows like Promenade (259 performances) and Salvation (239 performances). Finally, between her socio-historical chapters the author includes some short academic meditations on audience attitudes, marketing experiments, and musical aesthetics. These interlude essay are well written they do seem like step children, sections from a different book. If you are seeking musical aesthetics and composition for musical theater, you won’t find much here on the specific shows or songs. However this is excellent work on cultural commodification and the economics of Broadway over the last forty years.

Irving Berlin Re-Signs Agreement with Rodgers n Hammerstein 23 Years After The Last One Died

link: Irving Berlin Music Company Re-Signs with Imagem Music Group, Rodgers & Hammerstein :: Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization :: News.

Irving Berlin Music Company Re-Signs with Imagem Music Group, Rodgers & Hammerstein

Relationship Dating From 1990 Continues With Global Representation of Irving Berlin Brand and Grand Rights, and On-Going Music Publishing Representation in North America

The Irving Berlin Music Company (IBMC) has just re-signed its ongoing representation agreement with the Imagem Music Group/Rodgers & Hammerstein for international brand management and grand rights exploitation, and music publishing in North America. “Our partnership with the IBMC and the Irving Berlin family began in 1990,” says Ted Chapin, President of Rodgers & Hammerstein, a division of the Imagem Music Group. “We have enjoyed working with Mr. Berlin’s three visionary daughters over the years, with unprecedented success in the arenas of publishing, recordings, TV specials, books and events, major revivals of his musicals on Broadway, in London, and on the concert stage, and the creation of new stage properties such as WHITE CHRISTMAS and TOP HAT. We look forward to a continued, and fruitful, collaboration with the IBMC and the Berlin family.”

About Irving Berlin

Born Israel Beilin in a Russian Jewish shtetl in 1888, he died as Irving Berlin in his adopted hometown of New York City in 1989. Songwriter, performer, theatre owner, music publisher and soldier, he wrote scores to more than a dozen Broadway musicals (including ANNIE GET YOUR GUN), and dozens of Hollywood movie musicals, including two which have recently become successful stage properties: WHITE CHRISTMAS and TOP HAT. His more than 1,200 songs include “White Christmas,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Easter Parade,” “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “God Bless America.” Irving Berlin’s love for, and generosity to, the USA is legendary, and through several ongoing foundations, including the God Bless America Fund, he donated tens of millions of dollars in royalties to Army emergency relief and the Boy and Girl Scouts. Numerous awards and accolades include an Academy Award for “White Christmas,” a Congressional Gold Medal, a special Tony Award and commemoration on a U.S. postage stamp. Learn more about Irving Berlin at www.irvingberlin.com and www.rnh.com. Like Irving Berlin on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/irvingberlin.

About the Imagem Music Group

Imagem Music Group (André de Raaff, CEO and Co-founder) is the number one independent music publishing company in the world, unique for its leadership role in classical music, Broadway, and pop/rock. Boosey & Hawkes represents the world’s leading classical composers from Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky to such contemporary artists as John Adams and Steve Reich. Rodgers & Hammerstein controls the rights to the world’s most popular stage and film musicals, including THE SOUND OF MUSIC,OKLAHOMA! and THE KING AND I, as well as representing works by Irving BerlinAndrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz and more. Imagem Music’s ever expanding pop catalogue includes such writers as Elvis Presley, Ludacris, Phil Collins, Genesis, Anna Nalick, Temper Trap, Steve Robson, M.I.A., Bombay Bicycle Club and Daft Punk. Imagem is also active in production library music; London-based Imagem Production Music represents over 100,000 tracks, while California-based 5 Alarm Music represents more than 40 different music libraries. The Imagem Music Group has offices in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam, and exclusive agents throughout the world. Imagem: making the difference!  www.imagem.com.

book reports – ONE MORE KISS, Ethan Mordden

One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s is the 6th of Ethan Mordden’s 7 volumes reviewing the history of Broadway musicals. Mordden has had an eclectic career as writer and composer from novels, to other non-fiction books, and whole off-broadway musicals. Mordden’s familiarity with theatre makes him more than qualified to write about the subject matter but I’m surprised that a publisher would be so committed, volume after volume, to one person’s idiosyncratic style, or that an editor would let the infusion of the author’s personality overwhelm the history. These historical essays account for just about everything that ever lasted a day or more on Broadway, but they are also outlets for the author’s unsolicited opinions. Unfortunately along with opinion comes the author’s voice and an irritating sense of humor. I want to read something that is comprehensive about the shows of 70s. Why is this guy here? There are actually occasions when Mordden tells the reader what their favorite show is. I find it invasive. The volume is a treasure chest of information but it’s wrapped around an authorial style that I can’t abide.

the dirty needle – THE LAST SWEET DAYS OF ISSAC

The Last Sweet Days of Issac is about a guy trying to make it with a girl in an elevator and then, in the second act, the same guy, in jail, trying to make it with a different girl through a television screen. I don’t think we’re in Oklahoma anymore. The play appears to be Brecht inspired and the music is the definite offspring of Hair. Issac was a decent off-Broadway hit in 1970. The show’s creators were the female-female team of Nancy Ford (composer) and Gretchen Cryer (lyrics and mother of actor John Cryer). Ford and Cryer got what ever they needed to bring another show to Broadway called Shelter. Shelter flopped, but after that they had their biggest hit I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It Out on the Road. The songs in Issac are so much like Hair you could transfuse “I Want to Walk to San Francisco” and “Herein Lies the Seeds of Revolution” into the Hair lineup and not know they’re from different shows. That’s a compliment. I love Hair, and I love a lot of the rock ensemble pieces in Issac. This show has its pretentious clunkers, but it also seems to have its own point of view about living life to the fullest. I would love to see this show revived somewhere. 3 gramophones.

The vinyl copy I found has some distortion, especially during the louder tracks on side two. I think it’s an issue with the pressing rather than the recording. I’ve seen this soundtrack in the record swap bins a couple of times so it’s not hard to find and it should be cheap.