Click the illustration to get the full-size poster.
OK, as I wrote before. Trying to find a baker’s dozen archtypical performances. Here’s my selection for the women.
For a project that I may have coming up, I wanted to define a dozen iconic song performances in the “American Songbook” style. That way, if teaching for example, one can say, “Could you give it a little more Peggy Lee cool?” and someone might know what you’re talking about. I’ve tried to limit it to the root of a style, so we have Sinatra but no Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong so no Louis Prima, etc. And I restricted it to performances that were available on YouTube because I belive you have to watch performances, not just hear vocals. Looking forward to comments about people who are questionable on the list and who has been unfairly disregarded.
A great interview with friend-of-this-blog Sally mayes on Broadway.com: “I used to sing in this Mexican restaurant down in Houston called Las Brisas, doing four one-hour shows a night with the most amazing trio. It was the best training in the world, and that’s what it feels like to stand up with these guys.”
The NYTimes explains how the legend is still here:“Ms. Stritch is, among other things, a great natural clown. Throughout the performance her changing expressions and gestures were as important as her vocalizing, the more wistful moments bringing to mind Federico Fellini’s muse, Giulietta Masina, though Ms. Stritch is much tougher. A gift Ms. Stritch gave to her audience was her smile. As it spread across her face, the thunder, lightning and rain withdrew, the sun beamed down, and you were in the calm eye of the storm.”
The NYTimes weighs in on the ever-boyish McGillin: “Mr. McGillin’s attitude of ardent courtliness was established early on with a medley of “All the Things You Are” and “Isn’t It Romantic?” And “A Foggy Day” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” accompanied his starry-eyed recollection of visiting London and performing for the royal family.”
I caught a fascinating double feature at Signature Theatre on Saturday.
For reasons I still don’t quite understand, the theater has inflicted on itself the gargantuan undertaking of starting the season with two new American musicals done in repertory with overlapping casts. I’m happy to say that each show delivers a fascinating, complete theatrical experience. (And I do have to admit that I didn’t really get any more insight into either piece by seeing them in repertory than I would have seeing them sequentially in a season.)
On to the first. The Boy Detective Fails tells the story of Billy Argo, former successful teenage sleuth, dealing with a world that seems less certain for him and his youthful sidekicks as he grows up. The show tells the story of Billy’s youthful success leading to institutionalization and then his reintegration into society. Along the way we get a romance with a quirky kleptomaniac (is there any other kind?) and Billy trying to solve a deep family mystery.
For the style of the show, imagine a Harvey comic book (Richie Rich, Little Dot) as written by Jean-Paul Sartre. The show wraps an existentialist despair in bright music and cotton candy colors and even the song “Evil” with Billy and his arch-nemesis is a sprightly soft shoe. Along the way there are clever nods to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and even a touch of Merrily We Roll Along.
Typically, as with Merrily…, musicals about youthful exuberance lost to adult experience mourn the loss. The Boy Detective Fails seems to embrace the failure, and the character is happily left with the revelation “I don’t know” at the end of the evening.
Moving on from Sartre comic book, The Hollow is like a Disney cartoon as directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The musical takes Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as its starting point. It develops the story into a parable of the way new ideas and the power of the imagination can threaten hidebound societies.
In this case, new Yankee schoolmaster Ichabod Crane comes to the Dutch settlement of Sleepy Hollow. While many resist his ideas, farmer’s daughter Katrina Van Tassel falls for them (and for Ichabod), disturbing the social order of Sleepy Hollow. As does Irving, the musical leaves whether the eventual fate of Crane was the result of the Hessian Headless Horseman ghost or due to more earthly forces.
Sitting through the show, it was easy to see parallels to our contemporary culture, where swaths of society are willing to question givens such as evolution or climate change. The music is lovely and everyone works to give the piece a combination of beauty and creepiness. One acerbic friend did complain about the lack of action saying “In the theater, you show people what happened rather than telling them. That’s why it’s called a ‘show’ rather than a ‘tell.’”
Congratulate Signature for rising to the production challenge. Each show has been given a distinct, stunning physical production. The casting is first rate all around, and it shows the wealth of their talent pool that pros like Harry Winter and Sherri Edelen are each in smallish ensemble parts – although each knows how to make the most of the moments they are given. Stephen Gregory Smith is a particular pleasure as Billy Argo in The Boy Detective and Whitney Bashor’s turn as Katrina Van Tassel is a textbook example of how to make an ingénue bearable. Although the cast members all do great work balancing the two shows, James Gardiner deserves particular plaudits for going from a Dutch farmer in Hollow to the Millhouse-esque sidekick in The Boy Detective.
The Boy Detective Fails and The Hollow run through October 16. Tickets and information.