It’s supposed to be the season of joy but, with so many tragic headlines, I think we are all feeling a little lost. I can’t make sense of what seems beyond reason here, but I can hopefully provide a little lift, a smile of silly senselessness. And isn’t that often what theater is for?
So, as you may recall, the 5th Dimension version of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from Hair is my dance of joy (see the original version here and prepare to have your psychedelic mind blown). From the age of about 4, my parents would put on the record and I would do a raucously improvisatory series of movements, mainly centered around hip thrusts. I can only imagine what my parents thought of their little Gypsy Rose Lee in training. The best part is, no matter my mood, whenever I hear the song start, no matter how old I get (and let me say for the record, I am not 4 anymore), I still do that SAME dance.
Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I see that I am not alone. So here’s to finding joy again, even for one silly shining moment…
Sutton Foster in "Anything Goes". Photo by Joan Marcus.
“Belting (or vocal belting) is a specific technique of singing by which a singer produces a loud sound in the upper middle of the pitch range.” Wikipedia
Sure, that’s the technical definition. But theater types know belting as that spine tingling, vocal chord busting, earsplitting, sometimes heartbreaking sound that makes grown men weep and every little girl wish she were Annie. Love it or hate it, belting is the sound of modern Broadway and the holy miracle that creates diva worshippers as devoted as any Delphic priestess. (Personally, I’m a mix man but that’s for another day…)
Need a little belt booster shot? Watch this hysterical/awe-inspiring video compilation of some of the best belters ever, followed by some choice quotes from the diva’s themselves about their voices…
Alec Baldwin. Photo by Monica Simoes @ PlaybillVault.com.
Producers announced that Alec Baldwin (30 Rock and newlywed) will be returning to the New York stage this season in the first Broadway production of Lyle Kessler’s acclaimed drama Orphans. This news probably causes you to think a number of things such as “isn’t that the play that made Steppenwolf actors stars?” or “wow, it will be great to see an actor of Baldwin’s depth and star magnetism back on the stage” or “I hope they have an ambulance on standby at that theater for fallen paparazzi.”
However, my first thought was “Orphans? People actually do full productions of that play instead of just scenes in acting class?” You see, if you’ve spent any time in an acting program, you will be acutely aware that there is a syllabus of plays that are done and done and done–until they’re done–in acting classes. They are performed so frequently (and often with such…well…lack of finesse) that they lose all meaning as freestanding works of drama and begin to feel like they were written for a text book like those mysterious reading samples on a standardized test.
These classic Acting 101 scenes are popular because they break down into nice, easily memorizable 5 minute chunks and feature two (preferably youngish) characters, few props and a set that can be made from two or three wooden “acting cubes”. For your edification and amusement, let me break down the four most popular scene types (in this case from Contemporary American Drama, though there are analogous examples from Shakespeare, the Greeks and Chekhov) with video aids from actual acting classes. [Note: I recommend you skim across these videos like delightfully buzzing hummingbirds, getting a nip of some of the sweet, tantalizing nectar then moving on.]:
It’s officially summer. And you know what that means. Bowling in the arcade. Drinking lemonade. Making out under the dock. Staying out ’till ten o’clock.
If you don’t recognize those phrases then…what are you doing reading this blog? It’s “Summer Nights” from Grease, perhaps one of the most well known by laymen and karaoke’d songs in the music theater cannon. Seriously, I can still do the choreography from the movie and match John Travolta’s breathy “ewh” toward the end of the song without having to even think about it. And I know you can, too.
You want proof of how ubiquitous the song is, how it’s doo-wop, he said/she said veiled smuttiness has permeated our culture? Look at these videos from around the world showcasing the many flavors of Summer Lovin’…
Brian d'Arcy James, Debra Messing & Emory Cohen on "Smash". Photo by Will Hart/NBC.
Tonight marks the season finale of the Broadway-themed TV show Smash. I’ll admit it; I’m a few episodes behind at the moment so I can’t comment on what will or won’t happen when Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe show within the show, opens. However, my overall opinion hasn’t changed much since my premiere post: kicky production numbers, fairly accurate backstage fun, juicy Megan Hilty & Christian Borle, some frustrating storytelling and an often vanilla take on a wildly colorful world. I’ll keep watching, particularly to see what new show runner (Gossip Girl‘s Joshua Safran) will bring to the mix in Season Two.
One unequivocal bummer is that one of the best voices on Broadway (and “nicest man in Show Business”) Brian d’Arcy James has only gotten to sing on the show for a total of 10 seconds…and once with a guitar hero game. But fear not, those d’Arcy d’addicts who want to hear him sing on TV, I’m here to give you d’all you’ve been d’asking for. This has to be one of my favorite TV clips featuring Brian; meet The Late Show with David Letterman‘s “singing cop”…
I thought I already loved Sherie Rene Scott as much as was humanly possible . I thought that there was no way I could be further enamored of her big voice, witty stage presence and all-around star quality. Then I saw this:
That girl is rocking a power ballad about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! She must have turned at least half the kids in the audience into show queens with that display of Broadway diva belting. And, let me tell you, it ain’t easy to hold the attention of a huge theater full of kids — particularly kids who came expecting Turtles kickboxing and instead got some be-wigged redhead singing a Pat Benetar B-side — but Ms. Scott can do it. Someone give this woman the Tony-winning role she deserves, already.
Now, if you think I’m in any way, shape or form mocking Ms. Scott by posting this “embarrassing” moment from her early career, well then you just don’t know me well enough. And you clearly don’t know that I once did this…
Stockard Channing in "Other Desert Cities". Photo by Joan Marcus.
Celebrities must hate youtube. All it takes is a few clicks and we can see video proof of their most embarrassing moments. (To understand, imagine someone followed you around high school with a camera and then posted it online. Shudder…)
Someone has kindly edited together a montage of her “best” moments for the second effort in which she played an investigative reporter, going undercover each week in a new wacky (and often un-PC) disguise. Watch (I recommend skimming lightly) and discover what being in the blockbuster film Grease can do for your career… Read more…
I haven’t seen the Stratford Festival/La Jolla Jesus Christ Superstar that is due to hit Broadway this spring, but I kind of hope it looks something like this. (If you’re in a rush, cut to 1:50 and watch for a minute…but really, don’t you want to savor this savior goodness?)
Dutch people rock. And don’t you know that somewhere, right now, John Doyle is trying to figure out if he can do a production of A Little Night Music with actors who play instruments AND ride unicycles. I’m just saying…
Barbra Streisand is Funny Girl. That’s not just a tagline but an inviolable truth. At least you would think so based on the gnashing of teeth in response to casting anyone else in the role of Fanny Brice for the recently cancelled revival. How can someone compete with the memory of Babs singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade”?
Bea can. Bea Arthur can grab that song by the throat and pound it into a basso profundo submission. Bea can not only make you forget anyone else sang the song, but she can obliterate the fact that it IS a song. In fact, her rendition in the video clip below is more incensed poetry slam, more Alanis Morissette threatening to set fire to her ex in a blaze of proto-feminist glory than music theater show stopper. And yet, my show is stopped. Witness the wonder that is Bea…