The boy who lives upstairs

October 30, 2013

Yeah, the Sondheim tinkering with Company to make Bobby gay thing.  You knew I had to pipe up about that one.

Stephen Sondheim is 83.  Octogenarians do whatever the hell they want, and that’s fine, because, we figure, they’ve been around so long they’ve earned the right to do things – even crazy shit – without being harshly criticized.  And it’s only a reading.  Not open to the public.  The director, John Tiffany, has been widely-praised for Once and The Glass Menagerie; one certainly can’t blame Sondheim for wanting to work with him.

But let’s look at this.  Let’s look at what Company actually is.  Let’s look at the mass hysteria – the deluded throngs who’ve insisted that Company is something other than what it is.  And then maybe a little speculation on what alterations would be necessary to turn a musical about a heterosexual into a musical about a homosexual.

The character actor George Furth wrote a set of short plays about married couples and showed them to producer-director Harold Prince. He brought in Sondheim, who, at that point, was no critic’s darling. They came up with the idea of connecting the plays by inventing Bobby, one of those stereotypical bachelors of the time, who could observe the marriages and, perhaps, be influenced by them. What they wrought in 1970 was a huge hit, and answered a question on the mind of many: What is it with all these men who have so many relationships with women but can’t pick one and settle down?

For a time, some believed that Bobby was Sondheim’s self-portrait.  This supposition seems pretty humorous now, of course. Sondheim and Furth, both gay men, didn’t have the experience of bedding many women that they depict. And that’s OK. As far as I know, Sondheim had no history of murdering strangers and baking them into pies, yet Sweeney Todd is an effective piece of theatre. When I look at where Company fits in musical theatre history, it’s hard to ignore its place as one of the first R-rated musicals. There’s a dance representing sex. Orgasms! Waking up the next morning and, after some deliberation, having more sex. There’s guys fixing up Bobby with a girl because she’s into kama sutra. (Boy, a lot of people are going to Google their way to this paragraph and be very disappointed.)

In the largest misinterpretation of a musical I can think of, an enormous confederacy of dunces looked at Company and decided that Bobby, deep down, was gay. Doesn’t his pained “Oh God!” at the end of the song, Barcelona, convey revulsion at having more sex with that stewardess? Or this lyric the couple friends sing: “Who is a flirt, but never a threat.” If husbands and wives don’t see Bobby’s potential for adultery, he must be gay, right? The man who, in 1970, is merrily playing the field (of women) without proposing marriage is seen as unable-to-commit-because-what-he-really-wants-is-a-man.

Except that’s not the musical Sondheim and Furth wrote. It might be a premise for an interesting musical, but Company isn’t it. Compare William Finn’s trilogy about Marvin, a happily married man who discovers he’s gay: In Trousers, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland are wacky as well as moving and truthful. Now, before you point out that Company has a new book scene, involving talk of man-to-man encounters inserted into a revision some decades later, there is no evidence that this was an idea they considered in the original. It’s an incredibly awkward scene in which Bobby is unsure whether Peter is joking with him. Watching it, I’m unsure whether Bobby’s joking back, with his admission about a couple of experiments with guys. Like almost any scene tacked on to an old musical, it stands out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t make sense, because the rest of the musical so convincingly portrays Bobby as the typical swingin’ bachelor, loving loving gals and only gals.

I’m told by gay friends of a certain age that, back in the day, some bachelors, feeling attraction to other men, tried to repress it by sleeping with many women. That, too, could make for an interesting musical. But Company ain’t it.

Sondheim’s quoted in the Times as saying he’s “rewriting lyrics here and there and rewriting some of the dialogue, though as little as possible since George isn’t around.” Damn right he’s not around: George Furth died a few years ago, and this monkeying around with his words and oft-stated intentions doesn’t let him rest in peace. I think it’s fair to say Company is the best thing he ever did. Good writing involves considering every aspect of your main characters, including – most definitely in this case – their sexuality. Bobby is conceived as straight, and this informs everything he says, everything he does, even how he looks at the world. “Here and there” and “some of the dialogue” can’t comprise the radical surgery needed to reorient Bobby Baby.

I hate to see Sondheim potchkeying around with his revolutionary hit of 43 years ago; I prefer the truly new to a ill-considered revisal. John Kander has a new show on the boards and he’s further into his eighties. Somebody, before a day goes by, needs to send a ghost to Turtle Bay to say “Give us more to see.”


The cave

October 24, 2013

Caught Big Fish, and thought it an impressive set of set pieces that don’t hang together well enough to reel you in to a story.

That’s it for the puns this week: I promise.

It’s a story about a teller of tall tales, and also his son, a journalist – so, one must assume, a teller of true tales.  The subject discussed so frequently here – storytelling – is therefore front and center.  And it’s in this element where Big Fish crashes on the shoals.  (Not another pun – I simply can’t find a better way of putting this.)  As theatre-goers, sooner or later, we need to have some sense of why we’re seeing what we’re seeing.  Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz) can’t help mythologizing his life; he also has a penchant for corny jokes. These are imaginatively staged by Susan Stroman, and most are pretty diverting. They’re usually funny and fun. But why? – There’s the rub.

Big Fish could just as easily be a splashy revue called Southern Malarkey. But the flights of fancy are part of what seems to be a serious plot: a father and son with a somewhat strained relationship, life beginning, life ending. Sometime soon, we suspect, this narrative will begin to have a turn that explains why we’re sitting through so many unlikely stories. At the curtain call, we’re still wondering.

The son – did he have to be a journalist? – is getting married (does the bride have to be a journalist too?) and there’s no trouble in paradise. From an early age, he’s rolled his eyes at his father’s exaggerations. During the few months covered, he’s curious about why his father lies so much, and what, if anything, might be real. But the curiosity of a journalist isn’t particularly compelling, and it’s not as if this unfolds like a mystery, meting out clues to the puzzle. What’s needed is for the son to have some sort of emotional void that can only be filled by a greater understanding of his father. And that’s got to be understood and felt by the audience long before any life passages turn up.

One might argue that the story we’re viewing is the father’s story, and it takes place in flashbacks before the son is born. If so, the whimsy cuts too close to musical comedy clichés. Characters fall in love at first sight, move mountains to win an inamorata, villains get nice all of a sudden, and a lot of things come way too easily to our hero. Big Fish is a show that’s not without conflict, but never seems to have enough conflict to make you care about the result of any action.

While we’re all thinking about the act of spinning yarns, the pre-eminent director-choreographer of our time, Susan Stroman, puts considerable care into coming up with varied and whimsical ways of presenting each vignette. Individually, they can be effective, striking. Cumulatively, they pall. Without a workable overall arc, we go “What you got for us next, Stro?” and on comes a new set, a new color palette, a new style. A master plying the tricks of her trade grows wearisome fast when we get the sense that she’s just showing off. Her virtuosity is the point? Hell, we knew that decades ago.

Big Fish is very much less than the sum of its parts, but I’ll freely admit some of those parts are pretty wonderful. Start with Norbert Leo Butz. He’s never short of fully engaged; he has vast amounts of charm. We’re happy to have him on stage, and, luckily, he almost never leaves. Julian Crouch’s sets are, at times, beautiful, witty and, at one moment, astounding. I appreciate that he works fairly economically. The stage at The Neil Simon is relatively small for a musical house on Broadway. There are some heart-felt, genuinely emotional sequences. Mellifluous voices abound. As do top tier character actors, like Brad Oscar, who was in my Such Good Friends.

And I’m going to mention something that most people will overlook: Andrew Lippa’s music is effective, hummable, and pretty. This is one of those good old-fashioned scores that, years from now, people will listen to on record and wonder why the show wasn’t a bigger hit. But, since the advent of the cast album about 70 years ago, this has been the constant puzzlement of show tune fans. We hear a record – say, House of Flowers or A Tree Grows In Brooklyn – and think the show that contains those songs must be worthwhile. If devotees would put in the research, they’d discover that attractive songs can’t save a tale that barely seems worth telling.

But I want to get back to the phrase I began with: “hang together well.” My composition teacher had, himself, studied composition with Aaron Copland, and said that when the First Man of American Music liked something, he’d say “It hangs together well.” Big Fish is like an annoyingly eclectic art show.  You see paintings in all genres, in varying levels of proficiency. But who’s curated this mess? They simply don’t hang together at all.


A little bit of this; a little bit of that

October 18, 2013

My last post, WordPress tells me, was my 200th.  Now, normally I’d take this as a cue to celebrate, and reflect back.  But, as the third Blogaversary just passed, it seems like I was just doing that the other day.  When you catch yourself reflecting back on reflecting back, it’s a sure sign you’re doing too much of it.

But if I look to the future, I’m faced with this blog’s certain mortality.  I can’t go on writing this thing forever.  The day will come when I’ve said everything I know about writing musicals.  And the whole idea here is to share some of my thoughts based on the unusual amount of experience I have creating musicals – shows that have been produced. (It’s rare I talk about the one I wrote that was never produced, the one that seemed the most commercial idea of all when I started it.  Strangely, I still hold out hope it will find its way onto a stage someday.) I truly believe – and will be happy to learn I’m wrong – that this blog is the only place you can go to learn about what goes into writing a musical.

Blood, Sweat and Tears.  Nothing to do with the previous sentence; just the name of an old rock band that popped into my head.

In 2010, when Mark Sutton-Smith urged and enabled me to start this, I had a fear which has materialized: Writing about how you do something, sometimes, makes it harder to do it. It’s like trying to dance when you’re concentrating on the steps. And then, I often say things here that reflect a rather high standard for musical theatre writing, a standard I frequently can’t live up to. And my collaborators – sheesh! – forget about ‘em!

Which reminds me to mention something I’ve not previously said here, about standards. Have them. Hold them dear. Insist your collaborators do their very best. But there’s also a time for relaxing those standards, a time you’re going to need to compromise.

Time and again, in my career, there were these crisis points, in which I could steadfastly stick to my principles, or get another show produced. I’ve argued with people, sent collaborators running home in tears, but never let this jeopardize the show getting on. My malleable resolve has helped me get fourteen different shows produced, two industrials and a short musical film.

When you’re working on an industrial, there’s a client who is paying you, and he who pays the piper sometimes quite literally calls the tune.  I remember coming up with a trio about three different people who work in a business – a high executive, someone mid-level, and a graveyard shift word processor.  This led to considerable consternation from the fellow who’d hired me.  “No, you don’t understand!  Human Resources people are going to see this, and they can’t stand the notion that some people are higher than others in a hierarchy.  This will not do at all!”  I swear I was balled out for the better part of an hour.  But he was the boss; I, the underling.  (Wait: Should I have said that?)

You’ll notice I’m not naming anybody in these stories. Once, I worked with someone who went on to become extremely famous. He was the director as well as the author of our opus, and couldn’t stand my need for structured lyrics. “You think everything I do is a piece of shit!” he bellowed. I responded that, unless we wanted this thing to sound like a modern opera (which we didn’t), music requires a modicum of form. “Well, it’s obviously not going well between us. And, from now on, I think it will work better if you don’t think of us as collaborators, but rather the guy hired to do the music.” Hired? I wasn’t getting paid for this. “Take the weekend and decide whether you want to continue on these terms, because there’s still time for me to get another composer and I have people in mind.” Out of a thousand creators, 999 would have opted to walk away. But I couldn’t get it out of my head that this guy was a genius, that the script he’d come up with was powerful and interesting, and that I really wanted to see our musical – yes, damn it, our – on stage. And though he soon after barred me from rehearsals (unable to stand having someone who ever disagreed with him somewhere in the theatre), I think I made the right choice by proceeding.

A writer who’s also the producer or director is in a power position. As a practical matter, it’s no longer a collaboration among equals if one wears many hats and the other is “just” a writer. Once, I came up with a wacky idea for an opening number, and the producer who was also one of the writers wanted to add a sight gag – someone getting bonked on the head.  So, I wrote music for this in the style of the rest of the piece, driving rock. Now, although I was the sole composer, he started insisting the new section be written as a soft shoe. Meanwhile, the director got a brilliant idea about how the song should be staged. But the rock vs. soft shoe argument went on so long, the writer-producer wrote a completely new lyric and went to a different composer, all the while preserving the great staging idea. I ended up with just one song in that revue, although I certainly felt proud of that opening number. None of it was written by me, but I had written the draft that inspired the good idea. About a year later, the opportunity arose to collaborate with these same people again, and I jumped at it.

Again not naming names, but the guy who screwed me…went on to become one of my best friends in the world.


How does a pirate tell a fellow pirate that she loves him?

October 12, 2013

Ten years ago played the musical of mine that changed my life the most. As the opening number played, I was still a bachelor. Somewhere towards the end, I became a husband. And during the finale, everybody in the audience sang a snatch of song.

This rather ecstatic musical comedy was Our Wedding: The Musical, which means this is our tenth wedding anniversary. That night, I married the talented actress Joy Dewing. Today, she’s Broadway casting director Joy Dewing, responsible for finding those unfamiliar talents who grace the stage of Soul Doctor.

For Our Wedding, I got to do something just about every pop songwriter does, but writers for the stage rarely do: Taking the emotions you’re truly feeling and expressing them in song. Why do so many rock stars founder so miserably when they attempt theatre pieces? They often fail to sound and think like their characters, persons who are decidedly different from them. Everybody who writes songs, I think, starts out by making lyrics out of their own joys and travails. But I’ve been writing shows since I was 14, so it’s unusual that I’m in that self-expressive mode.

Creating Our Wedding, I hit upon the idea of including family members and the wedding party, each giving their own perspective on the same event. It’s somewhat like Wallace Stevens’ poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Our friend, the preacher, had his view. The father of the bride, another. The Best Man gave her view towards the end; my sister’s perspective came early. And the four-year-old flower girl got a solo, too, conveying the idea that weddings are all about the flower girl.

Writing for characters who are not me is my comfort zone. Coming up with lyrics I’d actually sing to Joy on stage at The Soho Playhouse in front of all those people upped the ante considerably. Now, one of the things that I’ve often said (and it’s also said by Stephen Sondheim in his praise of my favorite songwriter, Frank Loesser) is that coming up with a great idea for a song is somewhat more important than the execution, what you actually put in them.  The Guys and Dolls opener, with the three touts singing about their horse-race picks in counterpoint, is far more brilliant as a concept than “If he says the horse can do, can do, can do” is. So, all these years later, these lines I sang to Joy strike me as a little less vivid than they should be:

Your wisdom: The way you wrap your mind around a problem or a pain

The infinite surprises of your brain

I see stunning talent: resplendent, resilient

Few could be as brilliant as you

But I’m still proud of the idea for the song, and it’s one I still haven’t seen elsewhere.  All of us who don’t marry our first loves have romantic histories, other people we dated but didn’t stick with. So, the song questions How Could They Have Missed this or that wonderful quality.

I hope I haven’t implied this is the only from-the-heart musical message Joy has ever gotten from me. Various birthdays and anniversaries have led me to write many numbers telling her how wonderful I think she is. But these are played privately. As I write this, I don’t think anybody but Joy has heard this year’s birthday present.

Which reminds me of one of my complaints about weddings: In essence, they’re public pronouncements of a private thought (I love you and want to be united with you forever).  I recoil a bit at that aspect. But, really, there were a host of things either Joy or I didn’t like about nuptials: throwing rice, that disgusting stuffing of wedding cake into the bride’s mouth, a long parade of relatives coming down the aisle, solemnity or mirthlessness. These negatives helped define the parameters of what we should do, like having the four bridesmaids give advice about wedding-night sex, or the father of the groom sing during the first dance (thus splitting the focus between him and us).on our wedding day

A friend recently asked me how much dance can be found in my musicals. Boy, when you’re the one rehearsing the steps, it can seem like way too much. Our devilish dervish was created by Tara Jeanne Vallee, who later went on to choreograph on Broadway. And, in our chorus was Lauren Elder, who later appeared on Broadway. But someday I’ll probably devote a post to the Broadway folk who did my shows before reaching The Street. I’m not sure if it constitutes bragging.

Must banish that last thought from my head if I’m going to say a word about Joy. Sixteen months ago, she hung her shingle as an independent casting director, and now she’s among the select few who’ve cast for Broadway. That’s extraordinary success, but what’s even more extraordinary is her commitment to making her auditions a process where actors are treated well. You know, we all use the term “cattle call” without thinking about it, but if we did, we might admit there’s often situations in which performers are handled, like steer. Joy makes me feel loved every day; the aspirants she sees feel more like kobe beef – not exactly loved, but certainly respected.

And, for her big solo at the end of Our Wedding, I had to come up with the words Joy would sing about me. This was, by far, the biggest struggle in writing the nuptial show. (The cast album‘s for sale; contact me.) My self-regard is not such that I can easily come up with good things to say about myself. Everyone else in the cast accepted their songs, and started learning them. Joy kept sending me back to the drawing board. Through three drafts I couldn’t get the sentiment right. For the fourth, I decided to play to Joy’s strong suit – singing in a quasi gospel style. And I realized the rejected lyrics ran aground because they were way too wordy (I ran out of good things to say about myself). Fewer words, longer notes; repetitions and melismas: let her voice convey the meaning, not the words.

You know how Georges Seurat, in the musical about him, repeats certain words to himself as he paints?  I should say that sentence to myself every time I write.

New York Times on Our Wedding

Peter Filichia on the original cast album


Accommodations

October 7, 2013

Sondheim, Laurents, producers Hal Prince & Robert Griffith, Bernstein, Robbins

There’s a new book revealing that Leonard Bernstein almost abandoned writing West Side Story. Before we proceed to the dish, pause for a moment to consider what a poorer place this world would be without those singing and dancing Jets and Sharks. The show was a significant advance in the development of the musical. As I recently outlined, one of the very last. It’s possible the form might not have developed further.

I suppose Jerome Robbins and book writer Arthur Laurents could have found someone else to collaborate with. At the time of the near-abandonment Bernstein was doing his own lyrics; Stephen Sondheim didn’t take over that role until far later. Who but Bernstein could have composed in such a forceful and gutsy style? No one was nearly as urbane, as comfortable with ballet music, jazz, and the sound of tough New York youths, half of whom hail from Puerto Rico.

The most obvious choice would be Harold Arlen, the other spiritual heir to Gershwin. He used innovative harmonies and some contemporary-seeming dance rhythms. But it’s rare for him to utilize the muscle needed for West Side’s most dramatic moments, like the fire of A Boy Like That. Shifting just a few letters on the marquis, they could have used Marc Blitzstein. But in the 1950s, he was box office poison. He could write very interesting material, but never a hit song. Which reminds me of a little-known-fact about West Side Story.  Its songs didn’t become hits until the movie came out and the Hollywood studio that produced it promoted it. Many of the critics reacted to Bernstein’s wonderful score as it was the most unlistenable acid jazz imaginable at the time. A powerful experience, sure, but unmelodic! The other odd-in-retrospect thing is that critics ignored Sondheim’s lyrics, which are mostly pretty good. But, just because I’m relentlessly nit-picky about rhyme, can we talk about the girls’ interlude in I Feel Pretty for a moment? I’ve known a lot of people from Puerto Rico in my life, but I’ve never heard anyone pronounce the first syllable of Maria in a way that rhymes with “her.”

Keep away from her
Send for Chino
This is not the Mar-
ia we know

Believe it or not, folks: Sondheim meant the first and third line to rhyme.  Homer nods again.

But what about the idea of Sondheim composing West Side Story? Take a listen to his score about New York City young adults, written about the same time, Saturday Night. It may charitably be described as cute, but a far cry from the guts and gusto West Side required. Plus, Sondheim tells the story of how Arthur Laurents, back then, hated his music.

But hating collaborating with Arthur Laurents seems to have been Leonard Bernstein’s reason for considering dropping the project. Everybody loved Lenny, I’m told, and Lenny loved many. So one might reasonably conclude that Laruents was a difficult collaborator.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote two excellent musicals with Bernstein.  They later collaborated with Arthur Laurents on the Tony-winning but significantly less wonderful Hallelujah Baby and never returned to the Laurents inkwell again. In fact, it was nearly 25 years before he wrote another Broadway show; an odd career for someone so successful. The collaborator who did work with Laurents again and again was Stephen Sondheim.  Four shows, but the last two were the disappointingly short-lived Anyone Can Whistle and Do I Hear a Waltz? These are hardly the highlights in the Sondheim canon, and that casts yet another aspersion.

When Bernstein pondered ditching West Side Story, of course, he had a world of other options.  He was a much sought-after conductor; there was classical music to write, and, also in the 50s, two other Broadway shows, Wonderful Town and Candide.  He would have been rather fulfilled, and considered extremely successful, if he didn’t write the Romeo and Juliet update. But, in considering his entire output, including those wonderful television shows, I think West Side Story is his masterpiece, the best thing he ever did.  And just because I’ve somehow failed to mention the other Sondheim-Laurents collaboration, I should say I think the book to Gypsy was the best thing Laurents ever did, also taking into account the shows he directed and his many straight plays.

In light of the happy outcome of Bernstein’s deciding to see it through, I’m rather skittish about giving up on any of the musicals I’ve started. While there are all sorts of reasons that seem perfectly clear to me that I should shutter my show about a non-believer at a religious retreat, the argument for persevering is: I don’t know; it could turn out to be my West Side Story.

Seems high time to confess the moment it became crystal clear to me I should abandon work on that show. I’d played the opening number for someone, and he thought my joke about Hassidim smelling bad was both untrue and offensive. “You can’t say that.” Now, I don’t like being told what I can’t say, but this comment helped me hone in on how important it was to me that irreverent humor be a part of my show. If I couldn’t crack jokes about Jews that might offend some, I didn’t want to do the show. And the next thing I knew, a musical opened that was filled with hysterically funny gags about a certain religion, ones you’d think some would take umbrage to. This really took the wind out of my sails, because, whatever I make of my show, it will inevitably be compared to the biggest hit musical of recent vintage, The Book of Mormon.

Of course, I don’t really know I won’t return to mine.  After all, Leonard Bernstein could have gone to South Pacific and thought, “Damn! Rodgers and Hammerstein have beaten me to the punch with a show about star-crossed lovers.  Now my East Side Story” (as it was then called) “will inevitably be compared to South Pacific.”

Ever hear anyone making such a comparison?


Will you buy any cake?

October 2, 2013

I celebrated the three year anniversary of the start of this blog by attending a piano recital that included music by the man who convinced me to start this blog, the late Mark Sutton-Smith.  This was nearby on the Columbia campus, and, by coincidence, both Mark and I graduated from Columbia, although we were a tad too many years apart to know each other.

So that reminds me of a story about Columbia.  For a hundred years or so, it’s had what’s called a core curriculum.  This means a set of courses that everybody who goes through the college, no matter their major, must take and pass.  One is a year-long philosophy survey course.  Another takes a year with the foundations of western literature.  There’s a term of art appreciation.  And then there’s Music Humanities, popularly referred to as Music Hummmmmmm…

At the time, I thought Music Hum a waste of time, something they should have placed me out of.  I felt I knew a lot about music, especially compared to the chemistry majors.  (Chemistry?  Yeah: chemistry.)  The rest of the core I knew I needed.  The professor, Doug Anderson, had one memorable assignment: “Go to a classical concert and write down what you hear.”

This, too, seemed like a waste of time to the hubristic kid I was back then.  Did he want me to transcribe what I heard?  No, just jot down as much description as possible.  An unsophisticated student might say “I hear an orchestra.  It’s loud now, then soft, then loud again.  Now just strings are playing.  Here come low horns.”

Over the years, I came to the view that this is a terrific exercise, and certainly took into account the vastly different levels of experience with music we college kids must have had.  In writing this blog, I’m sometimes flummoxed by the varying degrees of familiarity with musicals and music theory various readers may have.  I’m nowhere near as clever as that old college professor.

Earlier this year, for instance, I did a two part entry on compositional techniques.  You’ll find it here and here.  But your eyes could glaze over because you find it numbingly simple.  Or, perhaps, jaw-droppingly complex.

Back to the present. The pianist starts the concert with a Beethoven sonata. And I notice it frequently shifts tempos, “feels” or grooves; the ear never settles. When the right hand’s got a theme on long notes, the left hand had something busy, an interesting figure on quick notes. Repetition is used to lead the listener down the garden path.

  • A little fanfare in the treble.
  • After a little pause, the same fanfare in the bass.
  • Then a treble fanfare.
  • And the bass responds with the same fanfare, but, after a few notes, it veers off into something different, a new harmonic place.

Beethoven sets up an expectation that we’ll hear an exact iteration on low notes, then plays with us, denying the expectation. Don’t take anything for granted. Listen to this.

The Mark Sutton-Smith sonata would have reminded anyone of Gershwin. It had the same gutsy, energetic synthesis of jazz and classical. Instantly likable. To my surprise and delight, it frequently shifted grooves; the ear never settles. When the right hand had a theme on long notes, the left hand had something busy, an interesting figure on quick notes. And Sutton-Smith, like Beethoven, set up an expectation that we’ll hear an exact iteration on low notes, then playfully denied the expectation.

Attending this premiere was the ideal way to celebrate three years of this blog because that’s what this blog does, week after week. Details, tricks, methods, devices. The hope here is that you get in the habit of observing more, maybe enjoying more. It’s long been said that the best observers make the best writers. That usually refers to the world around us. The more attention you pay to the inner workings of musicals – what makes them go, what makes them good – I believe, the better your musicals are bound to be.