Mercoledi Musicale

showboat-bc
Barbara Cook and Stephen Douglas in the 1966 revival of Showboat.  The only time I saw her on stage.

It seems that almost weekly I’m reading of the passing of  a performer who helped define my youth and taste in theatre, music, and the arts.  Yesterday it was the remarkable Barbara Cook – one of the greats of musical comedies in the 1950-60s.  After a troubled period fighting depression, obesity, and alcoholism, during which her career waned, she return to the spotlight in a landmark concert at Carnegie Hall 1975 with Wally Harper.  It was the beginning of a partnership that was to last until his death in 2004.  And it also relaunched her as a premier cabaret and concert singer.  She was to continue to perform until into her 80s and made her last Broadway appearance singing the songs of Stephen Sondheim in 2010.

Here she is in one of her most famous role – Marion the Librarian in one of the most delightful musicals in the canon, Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

I was fortunate to see her on stage back in 1966 when the Lincoln Center brought it’s magnificent revival of Showboat to the stage of the O’Keefe Centre.  It was one of the largest shows to tour with a full size showboat sailing on to the levee with a dream cast of the time:  Constance Towers, Stephen Douglas, William Warfield, David Wayne, Margaret Hamilton, Rosetta LaNoire, and Barbara Cook.  It was probably one of her last “ingenue” roles, her subsequent appearance in book shows were in more mature roles.

But in her concert career she both twitted and celebrated her years as Broadway’s leading ingenue.  And no where was it more celebrated than in her version of “Ice Cream” from She Loves Me. Here she almost 40 years after she created the role of Amelia and she hits that last high B with the same panache and accuracy as she did back in 1963.

Tonight the lights on Broadway will dim in tribute to her and perhaps, if you believe in that sort of thing, the stars in heaven will gleam a little brighter.

On this day in 1173:  construction of the campanile of the Cathedral of Pisa (now known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa) begins; it will take two centuries to complete.

Mercoledi Musicale

soulpepper-parfumerie
This poster is listed by illustrator E. Joan Lee as a student project.  I don’t know if Soulpepper used it or not but it really does capture the spirit of the play.

One of my favourite Christmastide movies i.e. a movie I enjoy watching at Christmas as opposed to a movie with a Christmas theme is Ernst Lubitsch‘s The Shop Around the Corner.  If ever a film showed the Lubitsch touch it is this simple tale of two people who were destined for each other but don’t know it.  I knew that the screenplay had been based on Illatszertár (Parfumerie) a relatively obscure play by the Hungarian playwright Miklós László.  I was a bit surprised when I discovered that a production by Soulpepper (the best repertory theatre on the continent in my not so humble opinion) in 2009 was only the second time it had been performed in North America.  I was in Italy at the time and recall wishing I could see it – the reviews were unanimous in their praise and it had played to sold out houses.  Once I returned to Canada I did not get down to Toronto for the 2011 or 2013 revivals but finally last year I was able to combine it with A Christmas Carol, another Soulpepper Christmas favourite, and a visit with my favourite (well okay only but still my favourite) niece.

I wasn’t to be disappointed with either Soulpepper production or a lovely afternoon spent with FN.  Though the movie is a delight László’s play is far richer in characterization; Lubitsch focuses primarily on the two lovers but the play fleshes out the other employees in Hammerschmidt’s shop and their stories.   It was a glorious bon-bon filled with funny and touching performances by the entire company and worth the trip.

slm-220x300And the delight I felt in finally seeing Parfumerie  led me to revisit She Love Me the 1963 musical version by Joe Masteroff with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  It is a show that has always been considered a cult musical – small scaled without big elaborate song and dance numbers, at times bordering on being an operetta.  Never the less it has had successful productions in London and well-received revivals in New York as recently as this past year.  A new production opened this past week in London again to ecstatic reviews: in The Guardian the reviewer calls it a “macaroon musical: light and crisp and colourful.”  Which perfectly sums up, for me at least, the original play, the movie and the musical.

Now I did say that it isn’t a Christmas movie/play/musical but it reaches its denouement on Christmas Eve and being about a shop those days before Christmas break into a frenzy the closer they get.  And to my mind Harnick and Bock catch it perfectly – I think we’ve all been there; and done that!

Twelve days to Christmas,
Twelve days to Christmas,
Plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping
These are the people who shop in time, shop in time, plenty of time
These are the people with time to spare who shop at their convenience

Twelve days to Christmas,
Twelve days to Christmas,
Look at the way they do their Christmas shopping
They can go shopping and still remain calm and sedate
These are the people we envy and the people that we hate!

Thank you, Thank you
We’ll call again
We’ll call again, thank you
holly-break1Nine days to Christmas,
Nine days to Christmas
Still enough time to do your Christmas shopping
These are the people who shop in time, shop in time, still enough time
Sensible people who organize the time at their disposal
Nine days to Christmas,
Nine days to Christmas,
Still enough time to do your Christmas shopping
These are the people who plan their days wisely and well
These are the people who shop in time, and they can go to hell!

Cashiers: Thank you, thank you, please call again, do call again, thank you
Customers: Thank you, thank you, we’ll call again, we’ll call again, thank you
holly-break1Four days to Christmas
Four days to Christmas
Just enough time to do your Christmas shopping
These are the people who shop in time, just in time, barely in time
These are the people who calculate with clinical precision
Four days to Christmas
Four days to Christmas
These are the folks who never waste a second
Full of a chilly efficiency
Loaded with gall
Never too early and never late
AND THEY’RE THE WORST OF ALL!

Cashiers: Thank you, thank you, please call again, do call again, thank you
Customers: Thank you, thank you, we’ll call again, we’ll call again, thank you
holly-break1THE TWENTY FOURTH?!
One day to Christmas
One day to Christmas
Not enough time to do our Christmas shopping
We’re not the shopple who peeped in time
We’re not the sheeple who popped in time
We’re not the people who shopped in time
Shopped in time, not enough time
We are the people who always wait until it’s much too late, OH!
One day to Christmas
One day to Christmas
How will we ever do our Christmas shopping?
Why did we ever delay so long, who can recall?
Some of the family may not get a Christmas gift at all!

Cashiers: Thank you, thank you, please call again, do call again, thank you
Customers: Thank you, thank you, we’ll call again, we’ll call again, thank you

Merry Christmas!

On this day in 1812:The French invasion of Russia comes to an end as the remnants of the Grande Armée are expelled from Russia.