Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Belated Valentine's Day Top 10

Ah, Valentine's Day. That special day of unbridled romance, chocolates, fancy dinners, Durex, price-hiked flowers, and probably some disappointment.

....And romantic music!!! What better gets us in the mood than some Marvin Gaye or some Righteous Brothers, stimulating our sex organs into a pottery-spinning frenzy?! What makes our hearts soar and eyes tear up better than a song proclaiming everlasting love and devotion? I'd like to commemorate this Valentine's Day with MY Top 10 favorite musical love songs.

The world's general top three favorites seem to be "If I Loved You", "All I Ask Of You", and "Some Enchanted Evening" (this one actually made my list). "If I Loved You"is a truly beautiful and heartfelt song, but I think it's too timid for Valentine's Day. I need a love song that screams of love from the rooftops. "If I Loved You" is all about what you would say if you were brave enough to say it (a cop out in my opinion). "All I Ask Of You" is also a beautiful song, with even more beautiful music. But in the context of the show, I think Raoul is more about comforting and assuring Christine's protection, who is so vulnerable, she enlists Raoul as her personal bodyguard-slash-boyfriend for the rest of time.  I think at this point in the show (if they were smart), they should be talking about searching the opera house for that stalker guy in a mask who murdered that poor stagehand about five minutes ago (and maybe getting Christine some therapy for her Stockholm Syndrome). But no, you're just gonna sit on the roof and proclaim your love for each other. Good for you.
You're even more beautiful up close than when I stare at your through the trick mirror!

I'm going against the grain and making a (short) case for each of my selections, for I believe they contain some of the most romantic, sentimental, schmaltzy, beautiful lyrics and/or music to ever grace a Broadway love song. So allow me to present (in no particular order of preference, just alphabetical) my 2014 Top 10 Favorite Broadway Love Songs:

1. How Could I Ever Know? - Secret Garden
In this gut-wrencher of a song, long-suffering widow, Archibald Craven (played by the am-AH-zing Mandy Patinkin) is visited by his deceased wife, Lily. She apologizes for the pain he's endured from her death and encourages him to stop mourning her and be a presence in their son's life. I mean, of course it's not her fault she's dead, so she doesn't really have any reason to be apologetic!  But to cross back over into the world of the living to help your husband move on after tragically losing you?  That's love, man...

2. Love Can't Happen - Grand Hotel
I never personally believed in the concept of "love at first sight." But Brent Barrett makes me want to be a believer!  Barrett's character, Baron Felix, meets an aging ballerina while attempting to rob her hotel room and "loses himself completely." The sweeping score and climactic belting turn me into a swooning mess of estrogen.

3. Love Song - Pippin
I'm a tad obsessed with this song at the moment. Pippin was the most recent show I've seen (technically Chicago was the most recent, but they were on the same day), so it's still fresh in my mind. There's nothing dramatic or grand about this song. But I think it's a very sweet, intimate song that magnifies the importance of all the "little things" that make a relationship special.

4. Not A Day Goes By - Merrily We Roll Along
I know this song's about a breakup, but you can't appreciate happiness without a little sadness. Even after a relationship ends, the love doesn't necessarily end, as much as you may want it to. In the misunderstood flop, Merrily We Roll Along, the done-wrong wife sings of how her two-timing husband is still in her mind and her heart. Here, the queen of the heart-wrench, Bernadette Peters practically crushes her own soul on stage for the sake of our earballs' entertainment. Bless you, Bernadette!

5. Say It Somehow - Light In The Piazza
Out of my entire Top 10, I gotta say this is the song that reduces me to a blubbering mess the most (especially right when she says "I always understand"). ERMERGERRRRRD!!! It's such a passionate and pure song that breaks and transcends language barriers. Even though Fabrizio and Clara aren't able to easily articulate their feelings, they still know each other's hearts and get the message across even when words fail. Plus a little touch of looming danger at the end is always fun!

6. Some Enchanted Evening - South Pacific
I can't fight the masses completely. This song is good. Really good. Plus it never hurts when Brian Stokes Mitchell (in a tux... a white tux!) sings it. Seriously, if dark chocolate had a voice.... Such a lovely song about spotting a moment that you know is special and vowing to hold onto it.*Sigh* Good stuff.

7. Something Wonderful - The King & I
Lady Thiang pleads with "Meesus Ah-na" to assist her husband, the King, with his kingly affairs, as he is unable to tackle them on his own. I like this song because it's all about loving someone who is not just imperfect, but someone who truly requires your help to get by. It's tough enough to be in a regular, mutual relationship. But to be in love with someone with serious faults who needs you more that they realize and may or may not show appreciation for you? That's tough. And incredibly loving.

8. Song On The Sand - La Cage Aux Folles
This is a very sweet "we-stood-the-test-of-time" song. Georges recalls meeting his longtime love, Albin, how special that day was, and how their love is just as strong today.

9. The Next Ten Minutes - The Last 5 Years
The song starts out with the small request of sharing the next 10 minutes together. Then by the end of the song, he wants ten lifetimes with her. The musical follows Cathy and Jamie through their 5 year relationship: Jamie starting at the beginning and going forward, Cathy starting at the end and working back. For this one song in the show, they meet in the middle and sing together. This is the one time when they're in sync in their relationship. I think I love the harmony at the end of this song more than anything. It just screams chemistry!

10. Unexpected Song - Song & Dance
I don't know much about this show, but I do love this song.  There's nothing more exciting than new love blossoming. This song highlights every emotion, every thrill, and every butterfly just beautifully.

So there you have it folks. My Broadway Love Songs Top 10 of 2014! Agree? Disagree? Did I leave any out?  Share yours and we'll discuss!

Honorable Mentions:
The More You Ruv Someone - Avenue Q

The Song That Goes Like This - Spamalot

Touch Me - Spring Awakening (this is more of a sex song than a romantic song, but I find it pretty hot)

Songs With A Person's Name in the Title
* Johanna - Sweeney Todd
* Maria - West Side Story
* Dulcinea - Man Of La Mancha

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Oh, the Negro and the Hebrew Should Be Friends! A Study of Dual Guilt, Persecution, and 11 o’ clock Numbers

DISCLAIMER: If you’re overly sensitive, this post may touch on borderline racism, so I apologize in advance.  But then again, everyone’s a little bit racist!

I was listening to XM Broadway Radio in my car the other day and before treating my eager ears to Norm Lewis nailing “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”, Seth Rudetsky (I think it was Seth) mentioned how the most soulful, memorable musical numbers sung by powerful black characters (i.e. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, “I Know Where I’ve Been”, “Ol’ Man River”) are often written by old, white, Jewish men. I found this observation fascinating. It also raised a few questions:

1) How are Jews so good at writing these songs?
2) With all the persecution and hardship they have in common, why aren’t African Americans and Jews better buddies?
3) Why aren’t black people writing these songs themselves?

As a white, Jewish female, I may be biased in this study. But I’m throwing it out into the universe anyway!

1) How are Jews so good at writing these songs?
What the frak do old, white, Jewish men know about spirituals and gospel numbers?  It’s truly amazing how you get a bunch of very talented songwriters who grew up with klezmer-flavored music and Yiddish-speaking parents, yet they crank out stuff like this!

"Okay, how does this sound? '...Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.'"
If you were lucky enough to catch WHYY’s piece on the Jewish legacy in musical theatre, it touches on how the great early 20th century Jewish composers of the time (Berlin, the Gershwins, Hammerstein) would draw on segments of their own culture’s music and develop it into songs for musical theatre. The program also mentioned how both turn-of-the-century Jewish klezmer music and African American spirituals/folk hymns tended to be in a minor key. Songs in minor tend to have a sadder, more melancholy tone than songs written in a major key. This musical familiarity between the two made an easy transition from ‘da Blues to ‘da stage.

2) With all the persecution and hardship they have in common, why aren’t African Americans and Jews better buddies?
Pre-turn-of-the-century Jewish and African American songwriters also shared a very mutual antagonist, which clearly seeped into their cultural music: oppression, discrimination, and woe.  Who carries their ancestors’ hardships on their backs and wears it as a badge of pride better than the Jews and African Americans? You would think with the amount of slavery, persecution, culture, and misery Jews and African Americans have racked up throughout the last few centuries (not counting the extra couple thousand years the Jews have accrued), they’d have a very strong, common bond.  Instead, they seem deadlocked in a Who’s-The-Bigger-Victim pissing contest. The lack of Jewish and African American camaraderie arguably roots from several schools of thought: Ignorance, Self-importance, politics, excessive use of the race card, and flat-out racism.  Or is the thought of a mutual respect between such large groups extremely na├»ve? I mean, are there really any cultural partnerships like that? Or are all the world’s ethnic/racial/religious groups just locked in a collective passive-aggressive dislikefest (some less passive than others)?

"Okay, let's get Father Flanigan and walk into a bar. It'll be hilarious!"
3) Why aren’t black people writing these songs themselves?
Even if they don’t get along on an everyday basis, you’d think they’d be bosom buddies in the entertainment industry.  I get it. Broadway is primarily a white, upper-middle-class people’s game. Always has been.  The majority of African Americans would most likely rather play in oncoming traffic than sit through a musical (and pay top dollar to do it). But why is this? African Americans have made monumental contributions in entertainment, art, literature, and music.  It’s not like they don’t have a reputation for producing brilliant art. The talent’s there.  Why not bring it to the stage, where it’s truly appreciated? But now we’re back to the white people’s game.  I’ll admit it’s not historically easy to attract black theatregoers.  In recent all-or-mainly-black cast productions performed on Broadway, African American audiences were typically drawn to the star power tied to the shows (The Wiz, Oprah heavily endorsing The Color Purple, P-Diddy-or-whatever-his-name-is-now in Raisin in the Sun, James Earl Jones in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, etc.). The shows without big star power typically had less of a turnout from the black community (Passing Strange). I personally frown on most mainstream stars invading Broadway (like Disney Channel kids and American Idol runner ups and former boy band members). But if that’s what brings a more diverse crowd, I say give ‘em what they want. If that’s what brings people to the theatres and potentially inspires them to create similar work, bring it on. And if you really want to get integrated, who says typically-white characters can’t be black?  Belle was black for a while when Toni Braxton had her stint on Broadway and people loved her! I’d be very interested to see the general reaction to a black Cinderella or Galinda or Phantom

The early 20th century saw a slew of successful and popular all-black productions, propelled by the Harlem Renaissance. Minstrel shows and blackface stereotypes were rejected in favor of serious, home-hitting subject matter that appealed to both black and white audiences (when they were integrated, which was a revolutionary concept, only beginning to see the light of day). African Americans used art to prove their humanity and demand for equality when it was widely denied them. The Harlem Renaissance not only led to more opportunities for blacks in white mainstream circles, but also developed a sense of ethnic pride and identity.  The explosion of culture lifted African Americans at the time to a higher, respected status.

I say we should bring that mentality and identity back. And I don’t mean Kanye or whoever rapping about the joys of being an overpaid, overdrugged, oversexed gangsta.  Even though that’s obviously what sells today, I can’t imagine that it is the only profitable subject matter in the current black music style. Look at Will Smith! While other rappers were rapping about shooting people and gangs and inflating their already astronomically-entitled egos, he rapped about how his caring mother sent him tolive away from the hard streets ofWest Philadelphia.

My point is “Thug Life” is just that: Thug Life.  They know what sells and what attracts the masses. But they’re obviously better than that.  And while I’m at it, that goes for the white people too! Some people have talent and some people have a talent for entertaining. Don’t settle for a pair of tits or a boy band haircut singing a mindless-though-catchy pop tune!  Let talent live and breathe outside the singing competition shows!  …Sorry, I digress. African Americans used to be a driving force for good in our country’s culture and on our stages.  In comparison, it’s just pandering amusement and shock value now.  I don’t see why they can’t be a force on Broadway again. I would have given my *insert sexual appendage here* to see the all-black cast rendition of Hello Dolly! (headed by Pearl Bailey).

I think musical theatre is the greatest means of creative expression in the world.  So why is it such a whitewashed institution? You see a “person of color” on or behind the scenes here and there. You see an ethnically-charged show here and there.  But why, in a community that is so outgoing and inclusive and open to diversity, is race still a hurdle?  I highly doubt Broadway is turning black artists away; I just wonder how many are showing up.  Maybe things would change if we could get Jay-Z to be in a musical…