Broadway Musical Fans, Here’s a Book Recommendation for You!

SHOWSTOPPERS! by Gerald Nachman: one singular sensation of a Broadway book!

If you love musicals – and I’ve loved them my whole life – then have I got a book for you!  Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore, or better yet log onto your Amazon account, and check out SHOWSTOPPERS! by Gerald Nachman.

I’ve always enjoyed hearing about the back story of how theatrical works are put together.  In this book, Gerald Nachman presents a fascinating, detailed, beautifully researched account of Broadway hit songs and the legions of people who made them happen.

For example, have you ever heard of a 1964 Broadway show called A Damned Exasperating Woman?  Of course not.  That’s because, after Jerry Herman wrote a song that Louis Armstrong liked so much he recorded and released it before the show in question opened.  The song became such a hit it was decided that the show should be named for the song.  Its title?  Hello, Dolly!    The new revival that just opened, starring Bette Midler,  is breaking box office records right now, 53 years later, and while Louis Armstrong is long gone (and missed), we’re all still singing that song.

The back story of the music of Hello, Dolly! is just one of the dozens of fabulous behind-the-scenes-to-before-the-floodlights chapters in this book.  Ever wonder about the differences between the partnerships of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, and Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein?  Curious about the real Annie Oakley, who inspired the Irving Berlin musical Annie, Get Your Gun, which was written with Ethel Merman in mind?  Want to find out more about another Annie, the one who was adopted by Daddy Warbucks?  Then this is the book for you.

The chapter that I personally found the most interesting is the one about the song “Wilkommen” in Cabaret.  But let me back up here.  I found the record one day when I was home sick from school as a kid, played the songs and adored them from that point on.  I’ve always particularly loved “Wilkommen,” where the Emcee of a Weimar Berlin cabaret, played by Joel Grey, welcomes the guests in German, English and French.  The song is at once a great show tune and a miniature language lesson in the bargain.  But keep in mind, the first time I played the song, I heard it.  I did not see it acted on a stage.  I didn’t know Joel Grey came out on the stage wearing bizarre make-up.  Until reading SHOWSTOPPERS!, I did not realize that the number, the first in the show, was staged to deliberately set a creepy tone for the audience and let them know what kind of theatrical evening they were in for.  Those who missed seeing many of these classics performed live  the first time around will surely welcome the chance to hear these stories.  They’re certainly giving me a new appreciation of many of my old cast albums.

This book is a treat.  Love Broadway?  Go for it!

 

Take Out Your Tiaras: Night of A Thousand Gowns and The Imperial Court of New York

Members of the Imperial Court at last year's Night of a Thousand Gowns

Reminiscent of a much more elegant era: members of the Imperial Court at last year’s “Night of a Thousand Gowns” Event

If you’ve been reading my blog this far, you know how much I love the work of Broadway composer Jerry Herman.

Several years ago I went to a concert that was given in honor of Mr. Herman.  There is no such thing as a Jerry Herman song that isn’t fabulous, but one of my favorites is “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” from the musical Hello, Dolly!  It’s presented as a costume parade in the show, circa 1910, with the entire chorus cascading across the stage, dressed to the nines, parasols, top hats and all.

At this particular concert, a group that, according to my program, was called “The Imperial Court of New York” came onstage to sing that number.  I had never heard of them up until that evening, but one look and I loved them at once.  In addition to the group on the stage, many more of them were seated in the boxes of the theater, dressed as royalty, some peering at the stage through lorgnettes, each and every one “in character.”  I didn’t realize at first that some of the duchesses were men in drag.  Once I did, it made it all the more fun.  They looked like they were having a grand time.

The Imperial Court is a charitable organization open to anyone and everyone, of  all persuasions, who wanted to dress up, raise money for a variety of charities, and have a good time.  It was founded by a gay man, Jose Sarria, in San Francisco in 1968.  I wish I still had the program from that terrific Jerry Herman event, but I recall it mentioned how Sarria had wanted to “use humor to make a point.”  For a gay man in 1968, the point was one concerning inclusion.  Wow!  At a time in history when people were using some rather dangerous forms of protests to get other points across, this man  chose instead to harness the power of humor.  That, right there, was enough to put the Imperial Court right onto my “Good List.”  I could remember, all too well, watching the protesters in the 1960’s on the news every night who proclaimed – many at the top of their lungs – that they were “non-violent” and in favor of “peace not war,” but made their points by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, rioting and burning down buildings.  Non-violent, my foot!  Even at seven years old, I was appalled at that kind of blatant hypocrisy.  Contrast that nonsense with a cool group like the Imperial Court who didn’t fight the flow with bricks but tried to make their point by giving everyone a royally good time attached to a wink and a grin – and wearing as impressive a collection of finery as I’ve ever seen.  Their system involves giving their members titles, like Lords, Ladies, Dukes, Duchesses, Princes, Princesses, all the way up to Emperor and Empress.   And do they ever dress the parts!  I don’t impress very easily – but I’ve rarely been more impressed.  I also never had such a smile on my face as when I watched The Court parade onto that stage in their tiaras and jewels.

By now you’ve figured out that I loved the spirit of this organization from my first contact with it.  I love it yet, so imagine my delight when I found out, last year, that I had friends who are in it. I volunteered to help out at one of their magical fundraisers and had a fantastic time.  Their big costume event of the year is called Night of a Thousand Gowns, and it will be held April 6th at the Hilton Hotel.  The proceeds go to charity.  Since the Imperial Court started a New York group in 1986, they’ve made local charities richer by over one million dollars.  Here comes the best part: the charities that benefit aren’t only GLBT organizations – the spirit of inclusion that started this group continues, so they don’t limit themselves with regard to who they help.  Brava and Bravo!  Why can’t more organizations behave in a manner as open-hearted as this?  Imperial Court of New York, you are a true inspiration, and not only that, you all look great, too!

If anyone would like to find out what being surrounded by royalty is like, why don’t you take out your tiara and give this event a whirl?  You can even purchase a title of your own for the evening and be presented to the Emperor and Empress!  For more information about this event, and others, the royal website can be found at http://www.icny.org.

A party guest and my friends Elian and Mother Anita at Night of a Thousand Gowns

A party guest and my friends, Elian Bensoussan of Houx Creatifs and Mother Anita, at Night of a Thousand Gowns; Elian designed that incredibly phenomenal gown worn by Mother Anita!

Princess Audra Fox on the right, her Husband Kevin on the left, and the happiest event volunteer in New York in the middle!

Princess Audra Fox on the right, her Husband Kevin on the left, and the happiest event volunteer in New York in the middle!  Kevin’s also the brother of one of my best friends since Kindergarten, Karen Thomas.