Some quick thoughts on some items in the news. I almost said “newspapers” which would have revealed me as some hopelessly out-of-date, stuck-in-the-past oldster. What’s black and white and read all over? A Twitter feed.
A Broadway actress named Morgan James saw the first preview of Into the Woods in the park, and was so horrified by what she saw, she tweeted her dismay with the hash-tag, #horrified. An all-star cast (Donna Murphy, Amy Adams, et al.) butchering Sondheim? She had a right to be pissed, given all the money she paid for tickets. Let me look up how much that was. I happen to have a newspaper handy. Just a sec. Oh: It was free.
Members of the theatrical community can’t go tweeting “This sucks” about shows. Doing so shows a rude disregard for the hard work that other members of the theatrical community are putting in. Professional courtesy must trump honesty: how many of those involved with Into the Woods are going to want to work with Morgan James now?
I saw two shows Morgan James was in and thought they both sucked, but you didn’t read that here. This incident serves as a reminder that there are limits as to how candid I can be with my cutting commentary on this blog. Quite often, I find I have to talk about certain shows and certain writers without mentioning their names.
A while back, I complained about an inexplicably popular songwriter who’s never had a musical produced and literally cannot write music. Let me be clear: the sheet music he’s personally distributed contains errors I’ve never seen any other composer make: notes on the wrong staves, for instance, or E-flats expressed as F-double flat, etc. Playing his music, as my job sometimes requires, is an unpleasant adventure, even harder on the singer. Then, there was a post about a rather dull three-character musical; the songwriters were competent on that one, the librettist, less so. Many months later, I learned that the wholly incompetent songwriter and the less-than-proficient book writer had written a show together, and my wife was involved in casting it. How embarrassing it might have been had I not used an obvious pseudonym for one and “neglected” to name the other. The show has since lost its backing, and nobody’s faulting the cast.
A much higher-profile show has lost its songwriting team. The stage adaptation of the late great Nora Ephron’s film, Sleepless In Seattle, has named Ben Toth and Sam Forman as their new composer and lyricist, eleven months before the scheduled world premiere in Pasadena. “Who?” you’re going. Even your faithful muser, who knows a lot of names and habitually memorizes credits was stumped by this one. (Briefly, I confused Forman for Sam Carner, a good musical theatre writer who lives near me.) There’s something extraordinary about a major project being given to a couple of unknowns. My impulse is to say “Good for them!” but I’m too curious about the process that led the producer to pick them, of all people. Famously, Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky had several up-and-coming songwriters audition, by writing a couple of songs, for his pet project, Ragtime. And the best team won, Flaherty and Ahrens – hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. But what happened here? A careful perusal of a very detailed press release and I now know Toth had a song performed by actress Christina Hendricks, and, as they say in Semi-Tough, she’s got great lungs.
He also worked with Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the creators of Spring Awakening. A theatre company I expressed disappointment in, in a recent entry, but didn’t name, La Jolla Playhouse, has gotten itself into hot water over the casting of Sater and Sheik’s China-set musical, Nightingale. Only two Asians in a cast of twelve. I first heard about this though the outrage of Deborah S. Craig. She and Aaron Ramey sang my duet, Marry Me, in one of the NEO concerts, an annual benefit for (and at) the York Theatre. There, these sexy and attractive people played lovers in the process of getting engaged, and no one took note that one was a beautiful Asian-American. Now, the dearth of Asians in the cast of Nightingale seems to be the only thing about the show anyone’s taking note of.