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!

 

What an Exhibit: Costumes from the Movie CHICAGO! Song Clips, Too:

Surprise, surprise! Me standing in front of the very costumes worn by Richard Gere (the red suit) and Queen Latifah (the gold dress) in my favorite movie, CHICAGO!

Surprise, surprise! Me standing in front of the very costumes worn by Richard Gere (the red suit) and Queen Latifah (the gold dress) in my favorite movie, CHICAGO!

On Sunday I went, for the very first time, to the Museum of the Moving Image at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, one of the first movie studies in the world.  They were having a screening of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and since I love that movie, I couldn’t resist.  I was with a friend who had, incredibly, never seen it, which made the whole idea of watching it in the museum’s gigantic screening room even more fun.  It’s the story of a wild and crazy chase to find stolen loot.

I had to refrain from doing my imitation of Jimmy Durante saying, “There’s this big double-ya, see?  There’s this big double-ya,” until after the movie was over, so as not to spoil it for my friend, which wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.  Meanwhile, we got there early enough to eat lunch at a cantina and then see the exhibits in the museum before the show started.

Well, I got one of the most pleasant surprises ever!  One of my favorite movies of all time is Chicago with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah.  Know how much I loved it?  I saw it 27 times!  It was playing across the street from my old job.  I would go from work to the theater, eat a hot dog and a soda for dinner, and watch Chicago regularly on my way home.  Without even trying, I have that whole movie memorized from start to finish, as a result.  I think arguably the best musical number in motion picture history is “All That Jazz.”  That said, there’s no such thing as a number in Chicago that isn’t wonderful, including “Razzle Dazzle” and “When You’re Good To Mama.”  Kander and Ebb outdid themselves with their fine and tuneful score.  I’ve also occasionally, whenever attitude is called for, put on the same air of boldness combined with insouciance as Catherine Zeta-Jones exhibited during the “Hot Honey Rag.”  It’s especially effective to bring to mind whenever you have to give some “worthy recipient” the cold shoulder – trust me there, tee hee!

I adore that movie on more levels than there is room for here.  Four out of the five main characters are completely, totally, 100% full of bullshit, and not only that, but they’re proud of it, which makes the movie more true to life than most others!

Getting back to the museum, at the costume exhibit, a suit trimmed with men’s sequins and a gold gown drew my eye.  The rest of me followed, like a magnet.  Both of those costumes looked like they were from the 1920s, my favorite era, and also looked familiar…well, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the signs saying they were worn in Chicago by Richard Gere and Queen Latifah!

Of course they’re familiar!  I saw the movie 27 times!

How could I resist taking that happy selfie in front of them?

Watch Richard Gere giving them the old “Razzle Dazzle” here:

Queen Latifah in the gold gown sings “When You’re Good to Mama” here:

Catherine Zeta-Jones struts her stuff in “All That Jazz” here:

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger perform “The Hot Honey Rag” here.  If you ever need to snub somebody, just think of Catherine’s ‘tude in this one!

Oh, and last but certainly not least, here’s the trailer from It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.  Enjoy!

 

 

“Ring Them Bells”

 

Liza Minnelli at the Red Dress Collection char...

Liza Minnelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a Liza Minelli song by the Broadway songwriting team Kander and Ebb that I heard for the first time on Friday night.  They wrote it for a television special called “Liza with a Z” that I saw when I was about ten years old.  I remember other parts of this special, though not this song.  After hearing it just once on Friday, I have not been able to stop singing it since.  Enjoy!