Born yesterday

This is the 100th post on this blog.  Which means I get to self-congratulate, look back, crow, consider the future, and try to convince readers of this entry to go back and read the other 99.

Speaking of “99” – Barbara Feldon.  A year ago or so, I ran into Barbara Feldon at the world premiere of a new musical, the name of which I don’t remember.  As we chatted, I remembered that a collaborator of mine had once told a marvelous story about complimenting her so profusely she gave him a kiss.  On the lips!  So, I brought up the story to see if Feldon would remember.  She did not.  Which crushed my friend.  I guess kissing him wasn’t the most memorable night of her life.  But hey, we know she attends original musicals, so she’s aces in my book.

And so are you, for reading these mad ramblings.  They come out very regularly, compared to most blogs: every five or six days; usually six.  Sometimes I have to strategize when they’ll appear, weeks in advance, if I know I want one to come out on a certain date.  Once such “timed” entry was my most popular ever, a review of the television abomination, Smash.  In a way, I’m disappointed that my comments on a lousy network pilot should attract more attention than, say, a rave about a musical experienced on stage.  The point I’ve probably made more frequently here than any other is that musical theatre is an art form that must be experienced live, in a theatre, not in an excerpt.  The magic of musicals, to an extent that can’t be overstated, involves a flow of energy back and forth over the footlights.  The performer, live, is putting a voice, and facial expressions, and body language, and movement, out there for the delectation of a live audience.  The audience, in turn, reacts – most often with laughter, but sometimes with gasps, inevitably with applause, and, a friend of mine swears Bernadette Peters could hear my sniffles as she sang Children and Art on stage at Broadway’s Booth Theatre.  This has an effect on the performer, who will adjust what she’s doing in a thousand subtle ways, all because of the live response.  And I seem to have lost my point, which is that I wish more people would go out and see new musicals.  Certainly, sitting in your living room gaping at a cathode tube is the palest of substitutes.  And the interest in the Smash critique rather than the one about The Scottsboro Boys reminds me that more people are staying home than going out.  And do they make those things with cathode tubes any more?  I doubt it.  They did when I was a kid, though.

And when I was a kid – I kid you not – I was very excited to discover that Ed Platt, who played the Chief on Get Smart, had been in musicals.  Some weird snobbism exists in me that leads me to feel that the actor who’s done musicals is somehow a superior creature to one who hasn’t.  I admire the ability to appear live, eight days a week.  And the ability to act while singing.  I don’t particularly care for opera, as I’m somewhat accustomed to singers there sounding great but not acting so great.  One of my more popular posts delineates the basic differences between an opera and a musical: I don’t really get what’s so fascinating about semantic distinctions.  But as I’ve cheerfully admitted, I’m anti-semantic.

A more popular post than that referenced the anti-Semitism in the unaccountably popular comedy song, Shiksa Goddess.  Here I won’t complain.  I accept that a lot of people love that song, and I’m glad so many are interested in my pointing out its flaws.  There’s something satisfying in holding a widely-held belief up to the light and revealing the warts.  If I’ve changed a few minds over the hundred posts, well, that’s gratifying.

Used to be, I’d read newsgroups, message boards and chat rooms about musical theatre.  From time to time, I’d feel a compulsion to answer some outrageous statement with a calmly-worded and, in some way, humorous response.  Then, one miscreant decided to devote hundreds of posts to saying I was a terrible person.  Eventually, he chased away the group’s entire readership.  Along the way, I’d gotten into the habit of giving my opinions about musicals, but there had to be a better way of scratching that itch.

Enter a marvelous musical theatre writer named Mark Sutton-Smith.  Over a meal at that diner I wrote a song about, he convinced me of a few things:

  • That every musical theatre writer nowadays needs to have some sort of presence on the web.
  • That utilizing WordPress would make blogging easy, or, at the very least, do-able; in any event he promised he’d answer questions.
  • That besides my individual voice as a show-writer, I’ve a unique ability to put in words a perspective on musical theatre others would find valuable.

Immediately I had this anxiety that blogging would take up time usually devoted to musical theatre writing.  But the argument was made that it would replace the similar time I used to spend on newsgroups and on-line forums.  I also feared that Mark would have to spend so much time answering my questions, he’d never find time to write anything himself, but right now he has a new musical, The Usual, running in Michigan until April 22.

And I’ve had two shows on the boards since this blog began: the trunk-song revue, Things We Do For Love and the Portland production of The Christmas Bride, which required a new orchestration (the great, time-consuming, auto-didactic accomplishment of 2011).  So that initial fear failed to materialize: I’ve gotten stuff done.  But another anxiety is always with me: that I’m not getting enough done.  To quell this, I thought back to the back pages of some songbooks I dearly loved as a kid.  There were separate collections of Gershwin, Porter and Arlen that listed the composer’s complete output, year by year.  And, some years, they wrote nothing.  Or just one song.  So, if a few months go by and I know I’ve completed nothing, I can still feel like I’m in the company of geniuses.

As I’m yammering on, celebrating the completion of my hundredth post, I see I’ve gone over a thousand words on this one.  I try to keep these things shorter than a thousand words, and include links, videos, audio files and amusing Easter eggs.  The one thing I’m not sure I can continue doing is the post-naming protocol.  But, since nobody seems to have figured out why each of the 100 has such an odd title, perhaps no one will miss it.

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One Response to Born yesterday

  1. Congrats, Noel! I have loved every one of the 100, and feel quite privileged to have helped your voice reach more and more readers. Your posts in the “musicalmakers” group online were always the most interesting because of their efficiency and surprise. I know this latter quality is one you prize most in your theater writing, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from you, so it’s nice to see it carry over into your writing. Keep it up, and thanks for sharing your insights with us all.

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