50s rock

January 31, 2016

This is the story of one of the most successful musicals of all time, and how it got destroyed.

Two Chicago actors who’d grown up in the 50s met in the 60s and started talking about what their experience of high school had been. It was markedly different than the way teen life had been presented on stage and screen. They remembered the drinking, the swearing, the cigarette-smoking, the violent bullies, even rape. So, they set out to write a show involving their memories of a tough adolescence.

The last thing they wanted to do was to create a squeaky-clean whitewashing of the era. When producers suggested their memory play should be a musical, they set about writing parodies of the songs they loved in the early rock era. There were simple chords back then, fairly easy to play on a guitar, quite often in the familiar harmonic pattern of I-VIminor-IV-V7, repeat ad absurdum. And did I forget to mention all of this was funny? In determining the right tone for a grounded-in-recalled-reality musical comedy, they dropped the rape and toned down the violence.

This was before George Lucas’ film, American Graffiti, before the television sitcom, Happy Days; it was before a nostalgia craze began involving war babies reminiscing about their salad days. In other words, it was a fresh idea, one that presaged a cultural phenomenon.

Or, perhaps, caused it: Grease became the longest-running musical ever to play on Broadway. And it’s hard to recall what an extraordinary hit it was. This was a musical for adults; really, back then, you wouldn’t dream of bringing your kids to it. After all, it had all that teen drinking, cigarette-smoking, and sex – did I mention sex yet? – including a plot turn involving an unwanted pregnancy. The final beat of the story involves a formerly “good” girl dressing up in a tough and/or slutty way and this leads to her triumph. That’s a fine conclusion to a silly story contrived for adults.

Six years after its Broadway opening, a film version was released. This is the highest grossing movie musical of all time, and the soundtrack was the second best-selling album of its year. You can’t argue with success like that, right? Well, here goes:

Hollywood has a habit of going for the least common denominator. Movie tickets are intended to be sold to viewers of various ages, particularly the young. While the Broadway show successfully marketed itself as a piece for people who remembered the 1950s, the studio wanted cinemas filled with kids who hadn’t even been born then. And that meant a lot of change in content.

The stage Grease begins at a high school reunion, where the school Alma Mater song is heard. Then, a flashback begins with energetic electric guitars and we hear raunchy teens shout-singing a parody:

I saw a dead skunk on the highway
And I was goin’ crazy from the smell
Cause when the wind was blowin’ my way
It smelled just like the halls of old Rydell
And if you’ve gotta use the toilet
And later on you start to scratch like hell
Take off your underwear and boil it
Cause you’ve got memories of old Rydell
I can’t explain Rydell, this pain Rydell
Is it ptomaine Rydell gave me
Is it V.D., Rydell?
Could be Rydell
You outta see the faculty

The movie Grease has no Alma Mater parody, and various other lyrics get bowdlerized. New songs – not by the Broadway songwriters – have a decidedly un-50s feel, particularly the new finale, You’re the One That I Want. Supporting roles – adult characters – are given to stars from 1950s television, in an effort to play up the sweet nostalgia element. And wait: I just used “sweet” in association with Grease, the musical that was designed to be anything but.

With all that success, Grease inevitably became the most-performed musical in high schools. So now there were kids in the audience, kids on stage, and the nostalgia people felt was for when they saw the hit movie. Many productions cleaned up some of the dirtier lyrics, such as “You know that ain’t no shit, I’ll be getting lots of tit.” You can understand why that would happen. But Grease is the prime example of being a victim of its own success. The forces of Hollywood and educational theatre turned it into the squeaky-clean whitewashing its authors strove to avoid.

I have a higher opinion of the original Grease than most: I embrace the rebellious nature of its frankness. A chorus singing chord symbols tickles the music theory nerd in me. I loved Patricia Birch’s choreography – jettisoned in all subsequent stagings. And the way the songs so closely resemble what you could hear on the radio in 1959, often with effectively funny lyrics: I find a lot to like, there.

But last decade’s Broadway revival used four of the film songs, and presented itself as an entertainment for the entire family. There was quite the publicity machine involved in casting the leads – a TV reality show “documenting” the process. (I remind you: the presence of “reality” before “TV” is a sure sign it’s the opposite.) Great Britain followed suit with its revival. And here we are, 57 years after the time the show is set. Senior citizens remember the era. Baby boomers remember the film. And very few people care about the message Grease sends to youth.

Now comes a live television presentation, which also contains songs the original creators didn’t pen. It’s hard to feel bad, I suppose, for two writers who made such a fortune they never really did anything again, but I’m just sentimental enough to mourn their dashed intentions.



January 24, 2016

A few weeks ago, Broadway actress Samantha Massell had the chutzpah to tweet something that needs to be said. Thought about. Discussed. It’s about those omnipresent bootleg videos taken of Broadway shows. I loved the way she dealt with those who tweeted back their views. And, over on Facebook, I got involved in a parallel discussion.

Since I write these musings in advance, I’m writing this during a holiday. So, I’m going to attempt to adapt my comments into an essay about bootlegging. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but hey, you gotta let me slack off a bit on a holiday, right?

To the gentleman in the third row BLATANTLY filming our whole show on his iPhone. Shame on you!

A fellow cast member (the show is Fiddler on the Roof) chimed in:

So apparently there was a dude filming our show tonight. It would be appropriate if I choked him instead of Tevye with my pearls yes? #Fruma

Someone tweeted back:

the thing is, I’m too poor to see the play IRL. I live for those people who record the shows.

Massell answered:

I DEEPLY appreciate that, but live theatre is LIVE for a reason. I’m NOT paid extra when my work appears on youtube

And when someone else offered that video-takers could be subtler about it, Massell retorted:

The distraction, while annoying, is NOT the issue. The issue is that filming a live show is THEFT

Bootleggers, and people who watch bootlegs, don’t see it as “theft” but make a variety of specious arguments justifying the practice of surreptitiously recording videos of Broadway shows. Let’s look at a few of these:

     I can’t afford it.

Broadway performers train for years, paying large sums to voice teachers, acting coaches, dance lessons, etc. It costs many millions to mount a Broadway show. Anyone who steals a peek at a bootleg is robbing the hard-working performers and the angels who back the show. “I steal only what I can’t afford,” is something Aladdin sings, the scamp.

But theatre should be affordable because stage artists want their work seen by the highest number of people possible.

Do they? You know, there already is entertainment professionally recorded and available on Netflix for a small fee, something called “motion pictures.” Less-than-rich folk enjoy them all the time. Broadway is a luxury item, like a Rolls Royce; it’s not supposed to be affordable to most. Broadway artists, deservedly or not, are considered the best in the business. “Theft” was the term used by the Fiddler actress. I assume because she signed a contract to perform for a maximum of 1900 people 8 times a week for a couple thou. So, if you’re not among those 1900, and also aren’t compensating her, you’re “stealing” her work.

But, sometimes, theatres outside of New York decide to produce shows they wouldn’t have otherwise been familiar with without the bootleg.

Interesting point. I know I’d like it if a bootleg of one of my shows led to new productions. What show were we talking about, again? Fiddler on the Roof? Ever hear of it?

A bootleg’s my only option.

I realize some people are shut-ins with medical reasons they can’t travel to Broadway. I’m sympathetic to that plight, and am reminded of an old friend who had a moderate income, is confined to a wheelchair, lived in Pennsylvania and attended Broadway shows frequently. Me, I worked until 4 a.m. at jobs that threatened to kill my soul just so I could earn enough to attend NY theatre. So: Really? A bootleg’s your only option?

Theatre people want their work seen by as wide an audience as possible.

No: you’re thinking of TV & film people. The actress tweeting is an artist performing for a full house at the Broadway. She does what she does for them, and not for the surreptitious camera. Performing for the camera is another beast entirely.
Now, I agree it might be nice if all parties agreed to a wide distribution like the Met Opera and National Theatre experiments. But the chorus of fans insisting they somehow deserve Broadway entertainment for free isn’t helping to bring that about.

But what about performers and writers who are glad that they are made?

I’ve no doubt there are plenty of Broadway artists who are glad that bootlegs have been made. But one can’t therefore assume everybody’s pleased. There were, years ago, hard-fought negotiations with various stage unions that created the Lincoln Center Library archive: In that case, every party agreed to a rather limited showing. Why can you only see each video once? So you can’t steal the staging. I empathize with directors who’ve worked hard to create stage pictures that are then copied by hundreds of creativity-deprived directors for no compensation. Would you feel flattered, or robbed?

If someone gets a bootleg of a performance by the OBC of The Golden Apple, how is that preventing anyone from getting the pay that they should be getting?

The mention of The Golden Apple gets me thinking about its composer, Jerome Moross, who only wrote one Broadway musical. I don’t know much about him, but let’s speculate that one of the reasons he didn’t write more is that he didn’t feel he was fairly remunerated for the tremendous amount of work it took to create that incredible score. He didn’t live to see the world we have today, in which income for Broadway composers hasn’t risen significantly, but the number of consumers has grown exponentially. And it’s not that theatres have gotten bigger. It’s that cultural thieves have discovered a way to enjoy Broadway shows without giving one penny to the people who’ve worked so hard to put the show on. Several of the best musical theatre writers of my generation stopped writing musicals because they could earn much more money in Hollywood. Bootleggers provide a disincentive for many musical theatre creators to stay in the business.

I don’t point all this out in order to say “shame on you for watching bootlegs!” But something is rotten when an entitled class sups on our art when we didn’t authorize it. I’m led to fantasize the following revenge scenario: Some guy whose bootleg has been viewed a million times on the internet gets sued for a million dollars times the price of the show’s ticket. If he claims “I can’t afford it,” he’ll be drawn, quartered, and forced to sit through Mamma Mia again and again.

She took away birthdays

January 17, 2016

It’s my birthday. An opportunity for self-indulgence that might be excused. Because it’s my birthday. Usually I tread with an eye towards modestly but maybe today – just today – I can go egotistical on you all.100-0063EA22

When I was a teenager, it was my habit – nay, my addiction – to check out scores to musicals from the library and play every note. You can learn a lot: I may not have a degree in music, but know much of what I know though that kind of self-teaching. I was playing the overture to Threepenny Opera, a march in waltz time(!), when my father came home with a friend. The friend uttered something appreciative and I said that this particular piece was a big influence on my writing. Then my father said something about my ego. And that’s kind of puzzling: Is being influenced by this obscure Weill piece tantamount to claiming you’re great?

Things you’re told in adolescence can have an effect on you far greater than at other times of life. This off-hand and mildly stated accusation that I was full of myself haunted me for years and years. I’ve been so worried about coming off as conceited, I have a tendency to hide my light under a bushel. So, let’s not do that today.

Another major auto-didactic thing I did in my teens was following Oscar Hammerstein’s assignment for the young Stephen Sondheim. The Master told his apprentice to write four musicals with the idea that you learn a lot about writing musicals just by doing it. The four were to be

A totally original work, like my first effort, How To Be Happy

A show based on a play you admire, like my The Great White Way, based on a play called Broadway

A show based on something not in dramatic form, like my Through the Wardrobe, based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

A show based on a play you think flawed, where musicalization could improve it, and here my choice is a little odd: A Diary, based on The Diary of Anne Frank

Today, I don’t think that play has flaws, and I think Broadway is very flawed. But the point is I completed the assignment before I was old enough to drink.

Circumstances dictated that my fifth musical would be a genre spoof. Nowadays, a lot of people are tired of spoofsicals, but, coming right after the Hammerstein tutorial, this was a good way of teaching myself how a certain type of musical ticked. The only opportunity to get an original musical done at my college was across the street at The Barnard Gilbert and Sullivan Society. I pitched my Pulley of the Yard as an inexpensive companion piece to the duo’s Trial By Jury, and contrived a way of using the same set and costumes. My show would be a murder mystery, set backstage at a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. This gave me a whole other genre to lampoon. I put my murder during the overture, then came various reactions to the death, followed by the entrance of Detective Pulley of the Yard. He gathers clues quickly as each suspect supplies evidence to point suspicion to someone else. The mystery gets solved, there’s a j’accuse reveal, an arrest and, somehow, a deliriously happy ending.

To say the audience ate this up is to be, well, modest. I got fan letters. People who never liked Gilbert and Sullivan became lifelong fans. Some mistook my work for actual G & S, and, under the title Murder at the Savoy, the show has gone on to numerous sold-out productions in Great Britain. It’s fast, funny, and exactly what the two great Victorians might have written if they’d ever set their sights on backstage mysteries.

At 21, then, I’d made a name for myself, and this led to my next two shows: a medieval ghost story called The Heavenly Theatre: Hymns For Martyred Actors and then the first Columbia Varsity Show after a long drought, The New U. Yes, these were done in university settings, but there’s no way of measuring the value of a live audience reacting to your work. Not just applause, the calls of “author! author!” and rave reviews but the creative decisions you make along the way. What to cut. The power of orchestration. Timing. One joke in a lyric in The New U. literally stopped the show. The laughter went on and on and the pianist, Jeanine Tesori, took her hands off the keys, waiting for the audience to quiet down so we could go on.

Little wonder my collaborators and I were approached about creating a revue for a commercial production off-Broadway. On the Brink had some stormy collaborative issues, but I managed to channel the strife into my best work. “I’ll show him!” I’d say to myself, and rather furiously write songs like Madison Avenue Is Calling Me, Just Plain Paul and Thoughts In Transit.

My collaborator on Through the Wardrobe resurfaced to say we’d an opportunity to get the show done at a theatre in California. She’d gotten the rights to do the show many years prior in England, but we discovered they were no longer available. A pity, since the theatre loved the score. So, a new musical called Popsicle Palace was created, an attempt to make an original family show and keep as many of my songs as possible. Many were cut, and many new ones added. The show was such a success, the run kept getting extended. Eventually, owners of the trademark, Popsicle, sent us a threatening letter, and the subsequent productions (Greenwich Village, Detroit, Queens) used our new title, Not a Lion.

My fifth musical to get produced in my twenties, The Christmas Bride, was lush and romantic, unlike the others. And that’s been a big deal with me: I want every new show to be a departure from places I’ve gone before. One night, who to my astonished eyes should appear but Stephen Sondheim, who soon thereafter dashed off a check to The Third Step Theatre Company, which developed and presented the piece.

A year later, Third Step shepherded my next project, The Company of Women, and I feel I did my best songwriting on this contemporary piece about female friendships. Several people told me it was hard to believe a man wrote the thing, so true was my ear. But the idea that a man could have something to say on the subject was kryptonite to producers, and, good as it may have been, it’s the only show I wrote as an adult that never saw a production.

Then, a performer involved with the two Third Step shows hit upon the flattering idea of creating a cabaret show out of the songs in my trunk. Spilt Milk was written up in The New Yorker, and, every few years, another assemblage of my material plays in a different cabaret. Here’s what’s odd about the honor. What if my best songs are those large ensembles that convey a lot of plot in a short amount of time? They’re not the sort that work with a small cast in a cabaret setting; none of the four revues therefore constitute a “best of” Noel Katz. What works best are self-contained comedy pieces. As a result, my loony tunes tend to be the ones I’m best known for.

And that’s what I was most frequently called upon to do. A traveling opera troupe commissioned The Pirate Captains and played it for six years. A couple of my pals from the improv world enlisted me to write songs for a goofy corporate video. And then came another. But the biggest creation with the improvisers was the all-funny-all-the-time Area 51.

I apologize for running long with this one, but hey: I’ve written a lot of shows. The most famous is surely Our Wedding, in which I actually wed Joy Dewing. We knew people come to marriage ceremonies with certain expectations, and I wondered how many I could stand upon their ears. Bridesmaids give the bride advice in hoary aphorisms; then decide to switch gears and offer sex tips for The Wedding Night. Father of the Bride threatens to kill groom. I entered singing a song called I Can’t Marry You. Absolutely everybody sang, from my dear old Dad to my 4-year-old niece, the flower girl.

Musical nuptials are easy to love. So next I set myself the challenge of taking a truly dark episode in American history, and leavening the drama with ample helpings of humor. In what has to be the ultimate in birthday self-indulgence, I’m just going to quote one of the many rave reviews to close this out, as Michael Dale said it better than I:

Noel Katz’s wonderfully funny and beautifully touching Such Good Friends, one of the best musical comedies I’ve seen in years. It’s the story of an awkward 1930’s Broadway chorus girl (Liz Larsen), who eventually becomes the star of a popular 1950’s television variety show, with her buddies hired as director (Brad Oscar) and head writer (Jeff Talbott). A sketch lampooning Joe McCarthy earns the three of them subpoenas to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the decisions they make while on the witness stand seriously affect their friendship and careers.
Though the story is a grim one in American history, Katz’s main characters are all funny people who use humor as both a defense mechanism and a weapon, so there is always a realistic lightness at the surface. The lively and hummable score easily blends the vaudevillian antics of the first act into the emotional heartache of the second with sharp lyrics and clever rhymes.


Casual sex Fridays

January 8, 2016

Way back in the forties, my favorite songwriter, Frank Loesser, wrote a humorous duet for him and his wife to perform at Hollywood parties. Everybody loved it; so much so that eventually one of the party guests put it into a movie where it promptly won an Oscar. Over the seventy plus years, two unintended things happened to the song: It became associated with the Christmas season and it’s become criticized as a callous depiction of date rape.


How can such a thing happen to a song? Baby, It’s Cold Outside has unhappily evolved from universal appreciation to widespread condemnation. I believe this has less to do with the song itself than the ways society has evolved. George S. Kaufman quipped that satire is what closes Saturday night. In this case, poking a little fun at – what to call this? – a mating ritual, lasted over sixty years before a committed band of killjoys drew it to its close.

Let’s be frank. (And then, later, let’s be Frank.) There is a scenario that occurs in life. Couples who feel an attraction think about having sex. In the stereotypical twentieth century situation, the male works his charms in hopes that the female will agree to sexual contact of some sort, while the female is bound, by societal restrictions, to put up some resistance. I’m calling this a stereotype: it truly happens with a certain frequency. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all: There are times when the woman is the aggressor and the man puts on the brakes. Sometimes, the couple has mutual willingness, or mutual unwillingness. The male-pursuer/female-resistor thing has been portrayed, in various works of art, thousands of times.

You got a problem with that? Does any of this bother you? Is there some harm in admitting these sorts of scenes go on? Or is your view of heterosexual tussling clouded by the existence of tragic and traumatic male-female interactions?

There’s gotta be a word for you, for the purposes of this discussion. I’ll make up one, SenSoul, and I don’t mean that as an insult. There’s plenty of reasons to be a SenSoul these days. For instance, there’s been greater awareness, in this new century, of a different but not wholly dissimilar scenario: when women are coerced or forced into having sex. That, it should be needless to say, is a terrible thing. And here we must pause to define two types of men.

I’m reminded of a line Joel Grey once sang in a musical set in the middle ages, decrying rape: “It’s no fun unless they want to rape you back.” Gentlemen, to use an old-fashioned term, are interested in mutually-desired sex. They may employ many a technique to get the gal in the mood (beaux’ stratagems?), but if she doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want it either. What word for the ungentlemanly? Punks? Punks don’t care what the woman wants. Her “no” is trumped by his bestial desire. His strategies might include plying with excessive amounts of alcohol, or slipping her a drug while she’s not looking.

In 1944, nobody wrote comedy songs about people like that. We can rail against our paternalistic and misogynistic society until the cows (sorry, bulls) come home but the general public doesn’t consider that amusing. So, now, let’s be Frank. Creating a duet for him and Lynn Loesser, his subject is a gentleman and a certain kind of lady. They’re a happy romantic couple with some amount of mutual desire. In his charming way, the man humorously offers reasons the woman should spend the night. In her charming way, the woman offers reasons why she really can’t stay. And yet, at the end of the song, “Ah, but it’s cold outside” agreement to stay the night has won the day (or night).

The “certain kind of lady” Frank wrote for his better half to play is, I feel, a rather extraordinary character. There is a shibboleth about mid-century musical comedies, that they make the women sexless, somehow, and I relish exceptions to this non-rule. Here is an unmarried woman who is actively considering having some sort of intimate contact, through the night, with a man that appeals to her (pun intended). She is in control of her destiny, and the lyric has her consider the ramifications of staying. (“My father will be pacing the floor.”) And why consider those ramifications? Because she feels sexual desire and is willing to act upon it.

“Nah-nah!” I can hear the SenSouls retorting. She firmly states “The answer is no” and the man doesn’t cease with the implorations. For decades now, we’ve been told that a woman’s “no” means “no” and never yes. That’s a Platonic ideal of twenty-first century heterosexual relations (again, pun intended) and it doesn’t jibe with how both genders viewed the mating dance seventy years ago.

But what of the expression, “Say, what’s in this drink?” Ever-focused on the recent publicity about the date rapes of the once-beloved actor Bill Cosby, SenSouls reflexively glom on to a more modern and malevolent interpretation. But think about it: “Say, what’s in this drink?” is what you say when you’re feeling a bit intoxicated or uninhibited. You choose to joke about the drink rather than stating that you find a man intoxicating. (He can be intoxicating because he’s charming, handsome, sings well, or maybe being alone with him has you all a-flutter.) If you seriously suspect your drink is drugged, the last thing you’d say is “Say, what’s in this drink?”

Tellingly, the song concludes with harmony. Characters harmonize when they’re in some sort of agreement. On the final title, the lady concurs that spending more time inside with the gentlemen is more appealing than going outside in the cold. Whoopee will be made, and I think of that as a happy ending.

But the history of an Oscar-winning song ends less happily. Adding her voice to the chorus of disapproval is Casey Wilson, who many years ago, in a revue, sang my song celebrating the mating of office-mates called Casual Sex Fridays. I wonder how that would sound today.



January 1, 2016

“I’ll bet those actors feel self-conscious.”

This was said after I’d described a little of what goes on in the Musical Scene Study class Alan Langdon and I teach. It’s my belief that there’s no class remotely like it in the world, which is why I was describing it:

A pair of actors will rehearse a well-written musical scene, one involving dialogue leading into a duet, for an intensive period of time. The main goal is for them to comprehend, and portray the characters’ intentions in every thing they do. If they turn to the left, there’s a reason for it. If they extend the length of a note by a fraction of a second, there’s gotta be a reason. And they’re making every effort to see to it that nothing goes unnoticed, or unplayed. When they finally get in front of Alan and me together, the actors will talk, a bit, as themselves. As they recount real-life events and feelings, they’re recollecting things they’ve gone through that relate, somehow to something their characters are going through in the scene. They’ll dress in character, and carry themselves like people of their class and time periods would. And of course, they’ll sing in a manner totally appropriate to the style of the music. The pairs have roughly an hour to work.

They’re always eager for reactions. What did we see? What intentions appeared to be missing? Did someone play the wrong intention? Was something sung in a questionable way?

So, would that make you self-conscious? Yes and no.

No, because you’ve rehearsed to a certain level. I won’t call it perfection, but you’ve worked it enough times that you have experience keeping an eye on so many different aspects of your scene.

Yes, because of a broader meaning of self-consciousness: awareness. As an artist, your eyes need to be open, concentrating on a variety of details. “Detail oriented” is a phrase you read in job descriptions, but it’s an implied requirement of every casting call. Because actors have to sweat the details.

And, as we start a new calendar year here on this blog, it seems to me that most of my posts are about how writers of musical theatre need to sweat the details. It tends to irk me when I discover a bit of a musical that smacks of an unsweated detail, such as that Sondheim reference to a Sony television that wasn’t sold in America at the time the scene was set. But I’m gentle with the acting students.

They’ve worked hard, scrutinizing a musical’s text. There are times when something seems out of kilter and I think it’s a problem in the writing, not the performing. And of course I look back at my own musicals, and wonder if someone in my professorial shoes (loafers, rubber soul) would find fault with this or that.

So, the question might be asked, am I overly self-conscious as I write? There’s so many things you need to get right in a musical: a million ways to fail. I tend to plow along, and to not let such doubts distract me. If a song’s not working, I have complete confidence that I can come up with a replacement that will.

Intense scrutiny – I seem to keep coming back to those words. My previous entry enthused about the Genius Annotation of Hamilton. I love that self-appointed scholars (and some real experts) are poring over lyrics, explicating and analyzing, tracking down every allusion. How I wish other great musicals got this treatment. And then I’m reminded of times in my life when I had the time of my life listening to directors going over my musicals with a fine tooth comb. There was a brief encounter with Elizabeth Lucas, working with some Broadway vets on The Company of Women. Or those summer days when Marc Bruni asked me a million questions about Such Good Friends, leading to massive rewrites and our winning awards.

I still refer to those early meetings with Marc as the outstanding experience of my career, here in the 21st century. But, at New Year’s, the tradition is to look back over the year just ended. And make resolutions for the year just beginning. IMG_0236So, in 2015, adding this open-to-the-general-public class with Alan Langdon is a clear highlight. If you’re a serious musical theatre actor, I encourage you to join us. You know how dancing classes are offered for various levels of skill? Most people I know find Advanced Dance too challenging, but our class is like an Advanced Acting For Musicals, and we’re not going to break your knees – we’ll raise the level of your game.

And for an upcoming goal, let me circle back to the thing about awareness. I just went to a holiday party where a woman quoted a rhyme I’d written decades ago and I felt myself cringing a little. I was so young, and I wrote what I thought would be funny. And yes, people laughed, but I wasn’t aware of something, back then, that I’m aware of now. And I’ll take this as a sign I need to be more aware in 2016. Maybe about how jokes will be taken. Maybe about the vocabulary I employ. Maybe about compositional patterns I fall into. I never want to sound like myself. (Road Show, anyone?) And awareness also means listening more. To the rhythms of overheard conversations. To the musicality of the foreign languages I don’t speak. (That would be all of them.) To composers I’ve never heard. (Ed Sheeran, astonishingly, I’ve heard not a note of.) To birds. To paintings. To my wife, the wisest in the world. And more to the most un-self-conscious dynamo of creativity I’ve every met, my daughter.