Friday, June 30, 2006

I am running very late in today's entry, I must say. I had waited on James Darren at my camera store two weeks ago and I was really thrilled. I had loved his voice when I was young and I loved him in the short lived series "The Time Tunnel" back in 1966-67. So here was "Moondoggie" from that classic movie "Gidget" in the flesh. Only now he is SEVENTY years young! Oh wow, did that age me. He gave me his latest CD (Yes, he is still singing and performing in public! His biggest hit was 1961's "Goodbye Cruel World" --it was on the Billboard top twenty list for a long time! His new album is called "Because of You"-- and i will tell you, this man has still a most wonderful and delightful singing voice! He sings some great renditions of some classic songs including Cole Porter's "It Was Just One Of Those Things" and Frankie Vallie's "My Eyes Adored You" All in all I loved hearing some of the great old songs once recorded by Frank Sinatra and Tony bennett sung in a new way. Some jazzed up, some even with a Bosa Nova beat! How I would love this man to sing some of my songs! I remember him singing the title tune from "Gidget" starring the late great Sandra Dee. How did that lyric go? Oh yeah == "It's very well maybe, she's just a baby, speaking romanticly -- well if that's how you reach her, I'll be the teacher-- Gidget is the one for me" "She may say she loves you , but deep down inside she hates you and if she says she hates you-- that can also mean she loves you". Well it was a great meeting and a great album. I really enjoyed it! Until next time!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Well I notice that gas prices are coming down somewhat, but this gague is still pretty funny and kind of says it all. I really think that the oil companies are cheating us all and somebody soon needs to do something about the problem. There is just no real reason in my humble opinion for gas prices being this high. Thank goodness, I don't drive far to work like I used to when I worked for Hooper Camera in Chatsworth. Those days are over, thank God! That being said, I would like to mention that today was a day of discovery for actress Shirley Maclaine. Back in 1954, Broadway actress Carol Haney was performing in "The Pajama Game" and broke her ankle. That allowed the understudy to go on in her place. A critic happened to be in the audience that night and gave that twenty year old girl rave reviews. I doubt little more happened for the original star. That understudy was of course the amazing Shirley Maclaine. I love dreams coming true stories. It makes my own dream of becoming a really succesful songwriter a dream worth persuing. Shirley's first movie was for Alfred Hitchcock called "The Trouble With Harry" One of the funniest moments involving Shirley in a movie was the classic Albert Brooks film called "Defending Your Life". In the premise you are led to believe that when you die, there is no heaven or hell. You go to a place called "Judgement City". In this place you have five days to "defend your life". If you succeed, you get to go on to a higher plain where you are allowed to use 100% of your brain to experience new and better things (we use about 10% here on Earth) if not you will be returned to earth where you will become a tree, or a beaver or something like that. On a break from the grilling, the Albert Brook and Meryll Streep characters visit "The Pavilions of Life" where Shirley is giving a tour. The place is filled with pennants and baloons and flowers and happy decorations and Meryl Streep comments that the place reminds her of Disneyland. Albert Brooks (one of the funniest men on the planet) quips "Gee, I hope I'm tall enough" I can't tell you how many times, I have gone through life thinking I was not "tall enough" to experience what I both wanted or needed. Something or someone was always going to step in front of me and deny me what I needed or most wanted. I am debating today a suggestion of my friend Jimmy Chapel to change the name of one of my musicals from "Once More With Spirit" to "The Ghost Who Saved Broadway!" That's really what its about, but I wonder if that title is too "on the nose" Well, I will decide at some point. Well it's time to go back to work. It will be another hot day and I am very happy to be able to be working in a place with air conditioning. i will also give the Ritz people the first recording of my spec advertising song for them: the song "Capture Your World" . It has a really catchy tune and I do hope that they like it. Well, that's about all for today!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Today is a busy day. I am preparing materials for Jimmy Chapel so that he can present some promotional materials for both musicals and "First Mother" and also preparing an entry for the Fred Ebb Award. Fred is pictured here. Fred was an incredible lyricist who is best known for his association with composer John Kander. Their best collaborative work together was of course the classic "New York, New York" Most people do not realize that this amazing song was not introduced and sungfirst by Frank Sinatra but rather by Lisa Minelli in a motion picture of the same year that co-starred Robert De Niro. Ebb was an amazing lyricist who could be very clever and cynical in his wording and structure in a lyric. He wrote the lyric for one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time "Santa, Baby!" Kander and Ebb wrote the incredible score for Cabaret, Chicago, The Rink (my favorite) and "Kiss of The Spider Woman" Believe it or not one of his first jobs was bronzing baby shoes-- and you thought you're first job sucked! Kander & Ebb's first important musical was "Flora, The Red Mennace" starring Liza Minelli. Tim and I are entering "The Traveling Companion" to the Fred Ebb Foundation Award. The prize is 50 grand-- so we shall see what happens. One thing before I sign off today-- the proposed Constitutional amendment that would have made it illegal to destroy or deface the American Flag has failed to qualify for consideration of the 50 states by ONE vote in the Senate. So to all of you gentleman and ladies who voted against this amendment-- do me a favor-- stay home on July 4th-- don't celebrate like the rest of us. Stay in bed! SLEEP IN! Why do you want to defend and protect what the flag represents if you don't think we should defend and protect the flag itself! Both Mark Twain and Will Rogers would have had a field day with this one! Of course Twain said it best "It's man's idea you see that the deity sits up night and admires him-- and it's Congress who thinks God writes down every single word that they say! " Ha! Oh well, politics win again over conscience! By the way, the recording mixing session yesterday went off without a hitch! We completed the storyteller reel for "The Traveling Companion" Bill Lewis' narration was perfect and the songs sound great! Bye for today!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Well, today is kind of a very special day! Tim and I go into Smooth Sounds Studio in Van Nuys to mix the new songs we recorded for our new musical "The Traveling Companion". I am very excited about the possibilities of producing a storyteller type preview album that features the majority of the songs with a narration and music. In the recording, dear friend Bill Lewis sang and so did David Meinke and a new singer named Danny really impressed us. All of this starts about four'oclock this afternoon and all fingers are crossed that all will go well! I have had several interested parties respond to this musical and Tim has a boyhood acquaintance who now produces musicals professionally will read the show this weekend! So lets us all hope all goes well. It looks like we might get a break from the 100 degree temperatures that we've been having so that should be good as well! On another note, I read with interest that the Congress of the United Stares is about to introduce a constitutional amendment that would bar the burning or destruction of the American Flag! I support it! Now, I can hear all the Free Speech enthusiasts all yelling that this ban will violate the freedom of expression. That grand and wonderful flag has been around long before the Bill of Rights even existed. Freedom is a great thing to defend, but free speech should never cover the destruction or damage or disrespect to the symbol of that freedom. To say that nothing should be excepted from free speech is akin to saying that it's okay to yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theatre. Sorry, that doesn't fly. I support a constitutional amendment that would protect our flag. Either you love America or you don't! Love it or leave it! That flag has been through a lot! Funny thing, we almost didn't have a Bill of Rights or a Constitution at all. In the beginning, all we had was a very ineffective document called The Articles of Confederation. During the debate for the proposed Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was adamantly opposed to the signing of this document because he felt that the Bill Of Rights, as written, did not go far enough to protect our individual freedoms. He got angry! Really angry! He stormed out of the gathering and all of the remaining Founding Fathers though the document was dead in the water. Without Ben Franklin's support of the Constitution, others who shared his then and there conservative views wouldn't sign either. Those "on the fence" would use Franklin's rebuttal as an excuse to oppose the document itself. The next morning, the patriots were sure that the vote would go badly. Suddenly, a sheepish looking Benjamin Franklin walked back into the chamber and subsequently signed the document. When he was asked what had made him change his mind, the great Benjamin Franklin said "Last night, I had a very mysterious dream-- and in that dream I was told that I must doubt my own certainty-- just a little bit more!" Those are pretty wise words: in every aspect of our lives. Before we cut off family because of an argument, before we blame someone of some perceived grievance of ours, before we vote or otherwise decide anything: let us doubt our own certainty just a little bit more. We are all human. And in being human we make lots of mistakes. An attractive looking apple lost paradise. Prejudice has hurt and even killed millions. The hasty heart is the worst weapon human beings will ever know. Nothing is in stone except a rock! So before we oppose something, let's think about it carefully! Let's not be so quick to let our emotions rule our minds! One more "apple like" conclusion and mistake from an Eden like garden in our lives and we're all finished! Well, until tomorrow!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Today is the 95th anniversary in 1911 of Irving Berlin on Broadway. "The Zigfield Follies" had two great songs by Berlin "There's a Fire Deep in My Heart" and "Woodsman, Woodsman, Spare That Tree". Of course 1911 is also the year of Irving's first big song hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band" What an amazing success story was Berlin's. He was born in 1888 in Russia and his father was a rabbai. Songwriting was a happy accident like mine. He was working in a restaurant in 1906 when the owner of that restaurant commissioned Irving to write a song that could be used to rival another restaurant that was using a catchy tune to attract customers. That song turned out to be a tune called "Marie-- From Sunny Italy" That song began Berlin' s career and earned him a total royalty of thirty-seven cents. Berlin never learned to play piano properly or read music beyond a very rudimentary level. He could play by ear but only the black keys on the piano. That made everything come out as F sharp Major or D sharp minor, since he also wrote songs in minor keys. But he owned a piano that with a pull of a lever transformed everything to middle C while an arranger wrote out everything in the proper way. I have an arranger who's a genius at figuring out my material as well! Funny, how my sisters got all the piano lessons but me the songwriter got not a one! Berlin led a charmed life. He was the only person in the world to have found his own name on the winner's envelope at the Academy Awards afterv he announced the nominees for "Best Song". The song that won him that Oscar was none other than "White Christmas" He was nominated for six other songs by the Academy, but lost. The death of his first wife singer Dorothy Goetz five months after their wedding in 1912 (contacting pneumonia and typhoid fever on their honeymoon to Havana inspired one of his biggest hits "When I Lost You" His second wife was Ellin Mackay, a devout Irish Catholic and heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune. They were married in 1926 and she was promptly disinherited by her father and snubbed by rich society including the Vanderbilt's. Finances were never a problem, however as Berlin assigned the royalties to the song "Always" to her in perpetuity which yielded her a huge and steady income. Berlin had three daughters and a son (Irving Berlin Jr.) who died before his first birthday on Christmas Day. Although he declined to attend his 100th birthday celebration he did attend the 100th anniversary ceremonies of the Statue Of Liberty. Hr was proud to be an American-- right to his dying day. So here's to Irving Berlin: the father of American music and a true inspiration to me. Today I meet with Jimmy Chapel and hope to resurrect a property called "First Mother" that I had written way back in 1993. IThe pitch is this: "The most eligible bachelor in the world becomes quite suddenly the first Jewish president of the United States and his Brooklyn mother moves into the White House, lock, stock and bagel and takes Washington by storm!" Funny premise! We will see what becomes of this! I am also developing a new series idea called "Changing Habits"-- this could be interesting!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Today is the birthday of a giant in both straight Broadway plays and musical theatre as well. Pictured here is the legend known as George Abbott. He is directing the original production of "The Pajama Game in this photo. George Abbott was born in 1887 and lived (and worked) until the ripe old age of 107 years old. He was known as an actor, playwright, producer and "show doctor" Whenever a musical was in trouble in either previews or tryout, the legendary George Abbott was called in to fix the problems: tighten the structure, eliminate unnecessary songs, cut dialogue and whip performers into shape. He was very astute in this arena and had a reputation for being "absolutely ruthless". He first appeared on Broadway in "The Misleading Lady way back in 1913. He went on to work in Hollywood as a writer and director while continuing his theatre work. His most notable directorial efforts included The Rodgers and Hart shows "Jumbo", "On Your Toes" and "Pal Joey". He is most noted for directing "The Pajama Game" (which gave Bob Fosse his big break) "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The forum" and of course the amazing musical "Damn Yankees" He supervised the revival of this classic starring Jerry Lewis as Applegate (the devil, himself) in 1994. When he was escorted down the aisle of the premiere of the "Damn Yankees" revival he received a standing ovation to which he quipped to his wife "There must be somebody important in here!" A week and a half before his death at age 107, George Abbott was dictating revisions to the second act of "Pajama Game" with a revival in mind. As I was preparing for what to write here this day, I decided to do a re-write to a musical I've been trying to get finally finished and produced since 1989. You know how they say that a play isn't just written-- it's always re-written? Well that can be said for "Once More With Spirit". This musical in various forms and scripts has been around my desk since 1984. Basically its a very neat story. The musical is the story of Parker O' Day, the greatest vaudevillian actor- performer and dancer of all times. The story starts in 1966 when Parker dies and goes to the "Pearly Gates" only to discover that he is not good enough to go to heaven and not bad enough to go to hell. Saint Genesius, the patron saint of all entertainers decides to give "The Old Smoothie" a second chance. Parker has twenty years to fix up the three lives that he ignored and screwed up while he lived on Earth. If he succeeds, he will become an angel in the League of Saint Genesius. If he fails, he will go to "Section 86" in hell-- where one would find the show business ruthless-- lawyers, promoters, agents, bookies etc. The trouble happens when O' Day is given a female guardian angel named McDuff who arrives announcing strict rules for this second chance to be possible.McDuff had expected herself to be assigned to royalty or somebody really important. There is conflict immediately because O' Day was never good with rules. O' Day wants three miracles to change the lives in question. Mcduff tries to explain that she couldn't give him three miracles if she tried. They argue and O' Day tells McDuff to scram: he'll earn his redemption his own way. Nineteen and a half years pass and McDuff realizes that if she fails, she will never get the assignment she wants and longs for if she fails with Mister O' Day.She changes strategy, tricks O'Day into thinking he's got those three miracles afterall and O' Day gets to begin changing the three lives in question. Of course these "miracles" are nothing more than grand good luck for angel McDuff. The life changing begins to work! But when the Majestic Theatre is threatened and O' Day takes matters back into his own hands, Saint Genesius intervenes and all looks lost for the classic entertainer. Only a last minute plea from the "Old Smoothie" saves his hide and saves Broadway. I guess you might sum it all up as "The Ghost Who Saves Broadway" I did a revision last night and changed the opening which shows how O' Day wins the reprieve from the kindly saint. I think now it is much stronger. I thought about Mr. Abbott during that re-write. Nothing is in stone. Even classic musicals (like the current revival of "The Pajama Game") needs re-vision and updating-- all for the better-- all for the good of the show! That's it for today. Rest in Peace, Mr. Abbott-- Broadway would not have been the same without you!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The musical that beats all the odds is Stephen Schwartz's "The Wicked" Since October 2003 , this amazing musical has continued month after month and week after week to be an incredible smash hit selling out continually and raking in 100 % capacity of all seats available. What is the absolute fascination about the land of Oz? What absolute magic did L. Frank Baum create in 1900 . It certainly has affected me as a writer. I read the original book back in the sixth grade. I couldn't put it down. It was absolutely fascinating. I played the Scarecrow as a teenager in a community theatre presentation at age sixteen. And it was "The Wizard Of Oz" that opened the door for me to become a songwriter in 1980. As I told the story in my very first blog here, without my wanting to play the Scarecrow again in a production that was being put on by the Gallery Theatre in 1980, I would have never taken up songwriting seriously. By 1980 I had tinkered with a few lyrics and a few melodies, here and there but only with the challenge that the "Gallery" production provided did I do anything that was important in this arena. I ended up writing an entirely new libretto with twelve songs and even did a sequel called "The Return Of The Wizard Of Oz" --in which Oz returns to Emerald City and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry come to live there as well. But "The Wicked" is unique because it is not based on the original story except for its characters. The novel by Gregory Macquire is sprawling and needed tight adadptation. The other day I got to read the detailed synopsis of the musical show and found it absolutely fascinating. Of course the wizard in this show is no Frank Morgan of MGM movie fame-- and he is most certainly not the kindly humbug that L. Frank Baum created in 1900. Now in Baum's book, animals talk and move freely about. In this musical, they are losing these rights and the word "cage" is being bantered about freely. I think that this musical suceeds so well because every one loves an underdog. Elphaba as the misunderstood "Wicked Witch Of The West" is perfect fodder for exploration. A love interest for her becomes absolutely fascinating: love can be blind, even if you're green! A lot of plot, however rides on the fact that Glinda's reputation can not be spoiled at any cost. Even if that cost means that your best friend must stage her own demise (melting the witch with water etc) and be run out of town on a rail-- no make that broom! We even find out that the two witchs of Oz were indeed sisters! The wizard is a humbug -- and that is discovered by Elphaba, herself. Of course, relying on the fact that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose makes a great ending. But I do wonder, after reading this synopsis why Elphaba could not have used the discovery that Oz is indeed a humbug as a way to save her dear green skin! Now, its true that Glinda discovers this deception also and demands that the Wizard leave Oz. But why didn't she use this information to save her long time friend? A mystery! The Wicked Witch of the West is perhaps the first victim of prejudice. Even in a fairy tale you can be misjudged, maligned, blamed and convicted because of the color of your skin. Why does the color green bother people in Oz when its capital city is indeed the same color and the brick road that leads us to its door is none other than yellow. You can benefit from color, but you can't BE a different color in any world there is: reality or make believe! It doesn't take a Munchkin to be small minded. It simply requires, mistrust, prejudice and hatred to do the job. What did the Scarecrow say "Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't they!" How very true and prophetic were those words! I really believe that "The Wizard Of Oz" should be required reading for every school child. So now we return to the question of the day. What makes this musical so successful. The critics only gave it mixed reviews and Broadway critics can close a show after three performances. The producers of "Carrie" know that story well enough! So does Sir Elton John with "Le Stat" (though that lasted a month!) Well, THE WICKED succeeds because Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman have made a brilliant adaptation. The Mcguire book is a brilliant character study, but character studies don't make Broadway musicals! Believe or not some "chestnuts" don't succeed in adadptation here eithier. The attempted musical version of "Harvey" by Leslie Briccuse comes to mind! The Macguire book needed serious adaptation. The first reading of this show was four hours long! Of course, the songs are wonderful! That helps a lot! It is also great fortune that the Scwartz and Holzman knew when to cut things that didn't need telling! Baum's characters continue to live on despite the fact that during his lifetime L. Frank Baum was a androit failure! "Thank goodness" for that!

Friday, June 23, 2006

One of the most amazing creative forces in Broadway theatre was born today in 1927 in the city of Chicago. His father had taught him ballroom dancing and from there Bob Fosse learned tap and acrobatic dancing. With Fred Astaire as his inspiration, Bob Fosse became one of the most incredible choreographers of the 20th century. Some of his most famous routines was "Steam Heat" from the Pajama Game and "Hey, Big Spender" from Cy Coleman's and Neil Simon's "Sweet Charity" The filmed routines from the motion picture version of "Cabaret" were typical: full of the vulgar energy of vaudeville and burlesque updated and cool contained within a slick knowing sophistication. He won an Oscar for directing this picture. Funny thing, there was no musical that won a Best Picture Oscar after that until "Chicago" -- another show he championed on Broadway won one thirty years later in 2002. Bob Fosse was responsible for the first Broadway success of Stephen Schwartz winning a Tony award for "Pippin" in 1972. Bob Fosse developed dance routines there were intense and specific, yet had a sophisticated simplicity. He went bald at age seventeen which is why he used bowler hats in his creations. He did not like the look of his hands so he used gloves in all of his routines. It was during the Broadway production of "The Pajama Game" that he first met his future wife: the legendary and equally amazing Gwen Verdon ("Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets') .He was a chain smoking, no holds barred, in your face kind of guy that I got to meet once back in 1986-- a year before he died of a heart attack at age sixty. There has been a resurgence of interest in Fosse's work following revivals of some of his past shows. Of course my very favorite work of his is "Damn Yankees" -- who could forget "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo" or "What Do They Do When They Do The Mambo" Today he would have been 79 years young. I think every dancer in the world owes this man a great big "thank you". Well until, next time....

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The more I look over all the songs that i have written over the last twenty- six years, the more I am grateful to the man who graces this page today. His name is Tim Doran and bar none other than my amazing mother and father, my immortal soul and good heart and talent there is no other gift from God that compares. My arranger and friend has taken faithfulness, dedication, and protection of me to levels few have ever attempted. We've been friends and partners in music since this day way back in 1990. Sixteen years! God does work in mysterious and wonderful ways. We had met because I needed an arranger to put my melodies and lyrics in coherent form and we were introduced by a guy who was my room mate at the time. Steve Hunt wasn't the best of singing teachers, but I will always be grateful to him for connecting me with this incredibly gifted musician. Of the six hundred songs that I've created or co-created half of them have been arranged by Tim Doran. At first, they were put on large music paper in pencil, (what a job that must have been) but later Tim got connected with a godsend: Finale computer publishing. What a great program! Now all of the songs and arrangements that he creates for me look published and truly professional. I wouldn't have known that today was the day we met except my ex-roommate and friend of many years ago found an old journal of mine that somehow had gotten mixed up with his personal things! He called me last night at 10pm of all things and asked if I still wanted it. I asked him what was in it. I had noted a Happy New Years Eve celebration. He send the move to Steve's house on January 13, 1990 was noted. He said I described an unpleasant encounter with a wannabee student arranger from Cal-State Fullerton on April 17th of the same year. It noted a joyous Easter that same year and one additional note: June 22nd 1990. It said I was introduced to a remarkable musician named Tim Doran. He was looking for work for the summer and an agreement was made. I will tell you without doubt that day was and will always be my red letter day. I had been through a difficult collaboration with a guy who was very talented, but could never finish anything on time. I simply and without doubt could never have been the songwriter I am today without Tim Doran. I have had no formal musical training. I write songs like Mel Brooks and Irving Berlin-- mostly by ear. Berlin could only play the black keys of the piano. Mel sings songs into a tape recorder. Tim has taught me more things about music and theory and structure than I could have learned from anybody else. I can not begin to tell him of my appreciation and gratitude to him for all of these years! Tim is loving, patient, and plays the piano like few can play it. I am the luckiest man in the world to have found the treasure of this sweet, kind and incredible individual. He has a heart like mine. There's a song in Stephen Scwartz's "THE WICKED" called "For Good" It tells that sometimes people come into our lives very unpredictably and very suddenly: when we least expect it! We are never the same afterwards because they have changed us: we are now stronger; we are more confident; we are kinder to others around us and most important "we've been changed for good" I am proud to now be partnered with this incredibly gifted and kind hearted man. We have written "The Traveling Companion" together and I hope a lot more. Sixteen years is a grand collaboration. Now we simply have to make our mark in the world together. Today also marks the 20th anniversary of the arrival of "Godspell" on Broadway after playing 2,124 performances Off Broadway. Stephen Scwartz is a kind and wonderfully helpful writer. So after Pippin in 1971, this marks Stephen's 35 anniversary on Broadway. I can only hope that Tim and I go the distance as he has. It's never too late. The great director Geore Abbott directed shows past 100 years of age. In the very words of one of our songs from "The Traveling Companion" "impossible is plausible; you can be unstoppable I feel" So thank you, Tim and Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Today is the birthday of Al Hirschfeld, the legendary Broadway caractiture artist who's art work for years and years graced the programs of Broadway plays and musicals on the covers of Playbill Magazine. He drew these character drawings of every major theatrical star, composer, and Hollywood comedian over a life span of over ninety years. A Broadway theatre now bears his name in NYC. Sometimes an artist contributes things in a totally different and wonderful way. This was the case with Al Hirschfeld. He ahd drawn caractictures of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and the great Harold Lloyd, but what made him equally famous was his renderings of Lloyd Webber, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cy Coleman. Too many of these great artists are simply memories. But thanks to Al Hirschfeld we can remember them over and over again. Well, that's about it for today. My thoughts are with my friend Jerry who returns to court today. Hopefully all will go well for him. And oh yes, let's hear it for the Beagle who believe it or not dialed "911" the other day and that "paw" action saved his owner's life. That precious dog is getting a medal today! How wonderful are our pets. I have a cat named Simon that is just the sweetest cat that I have ever owned. He talks to you like crazy and I swear he understands what you are saying to him. He's a Maine Coon and an amazing animal! But more about this unique feline in another diary entry. Bye for now!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A great big Broadway Premiere like the one pictured here.....
for "Tarzan" has been my dream for the last twenty-six years. "Skylark" many years ago came very close and now the musical "The Traveling Companion" that I've written with the incredible Tim Doran represents the next best chance that I have. Tim and I have a lot riding on this one. We've scored it for complete orchestra, hired musicians, singers and recording studios and yesterday was another big milestone accomplished as we recorded several new songs from the score. In attendance was my friend of the last eighteen years, Mr.Bill Lewiswho recorded several songs along with David Meinke. Highlights were the songs "Better Do What The Good Book Says", "Wear His Smile" and "Opposites, Opposites". A young singer nmaed Daniel from Tim's choral group at school sounded very promising in the re-casting of the protagonist's songs. Tim and are are finding more and more that singers (even so called professional) are singing nasally and not from the diaphram. Wherever they learned this horrible bad habit, I sure hope it stops. We pay singers and still find that some of them sing with some pretty bad habits in place. But all in all everything went very well with yesterday's recording session. We even managed to record the narration for the storyteller CD and a proposed song for Ritz Cameras called "Capture Your World". I sincerely hope that this musical takes off. It has a really great story and some very hummable tunes. It's based on a classic tale written by the great Hans Christian Andersen. Tim has worked incredibly long to get the score ready. It's an amazing amount of work that few people outside of musical theatre can appreciate. We have made some submissions to various theatres, including the Alliance in Atlanta, but now we need to complete the score and get this storyteller CD out to them as well. Our sincere thanks to our engineer, Mr. Robert Roth. He's a true genius in the recording studio! I notice also this morning the latest Broadway Grosses from June 12th thru the 18th. "Wicked" continues to draw incredible crowds and still maintains 100% capacity. The week in question it made a whopping $1, 365,387.00. The writers including Stephen Schwartz make about 7.5 % of the gross every single week in every single "A" type of professional production! "The Lion King" continues to draw 1oo% capacity as well as does the "Jersey Boys". Believe or not "The Phantom of the Opera" after 18 years on Broadway still is drawing 98.5% capacity or $822,302 last week alone! Tim and I dream of such numbers for us too! Well maybe.. someday!

Monday, June 19, 2006

On this day in 1966, the world lost one of the greatest comedians of all times: Mr. Ed Wynn. He was eighty years old. Ed ran away from home at fifteen to join an acting company and was almost always from that year in show business. His fame came from two distinct characters that he created. The first (pictured at left) was "The Perfect Fool" which he utilized in early vaudeville. The second was the endearing "Fire Chief" for whom he was best remembered. He was born Isaiah Edward Leopold in 1886. Vaudeville was very kind to this great comedian who often noted the difference between a comic and a true comedian. "A comic says things funny; a comedian says things that are funny. He was brilliantly cast as the voice of The Mad Hatter in Walt Disney's "Alice In Wonderland" But it was at the urging of his son, Keenyn Wynn that the great comedian took up serious acting. His incredible performance in "The Diary Of Anne Frank" as Van Dussell was absolutely brilliant. Who could forget his portrayal of Uncle Albert in "Mary Poppins", or as Refus in his last movie "The Gnome Mobile". I will remember 1966 because in that year, I lost my dad, Ed Wynn, Verna Felton and of course Walt Disney, himself. Ed Wynn used to say "I never pulled up a raddish without a mortgage being attached to it" Oh is that true today! Nothing comes without a price tag of some sort. I do remember one portrayal he made on "The Twilight Zone" Mr. Death has come to take away "Lou Diamond" the greatest pitch man on the planet. Ed Wynn's character manages to trick "Mr. Death" by claiming "unfinished business" as the reason he is not ready to claim his eternal reward and face his demise! Wynn's character ( a great salesman) wants to make "the pitch of the century" or "one for the angels" an accomplishment every salesman and dreamer (and I am both of those) wants to make. Because death is cheated, he picks a young girl to take Lou's place and her "scheduled departure" is at midnight that night. Mr Death appears an hour before and Ed Wynn's character opens his suitcase of nick nacks and wares and begins to pitch "Mr. Death" himself. Not even death is a match for the great salesman and "Mr. Death's deadline for taking the young girl comes and goes. Now death warns, there will be great reprecussions. But Wynn's character now agrees to go with Death. He has made "the pitch of the century" He has acomplished in his simple life a feat that can be called "One For The Angels" In my own life, I have prayed and asked God to be able to do just that: to have at least one success that is so fantastic it can labeled as "one for the angels" I think I will. I have a great love for songwriting and the most amazing arranger in the whole world. Together I think we can do "one for the angels". The epitath on Ed Wynn's grave is very simple, but very effective. It reads "Dear God, thank you!" And as long as thank you is the subject here: "Thank you Edward Keenan Wynn" for all the joy and laughter that you brought into the world. I have made the great "Fire Chief" a character in a musical I have written called "Once More With Spirit" --perhaps he will ask the Good Lord to make this play a great success. Until next time...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Today is Father's day. I lost my dad when I was eighteen years old, but I remember him with great clarity and fondness. My dad, bar none had one of the kindest hearts on the planet. He was generous to the fault and there was not one thing that this kind good man did not give to his four kids. I was the only boy among three sisters, (Lorie, Rosemary and Annette) a female dog (dear Happy) and a constant barrage of female cats. I think what allowed me to love him so much was the fact that his kind heart was one of the biggest good heart (next to my dear mother) in miles. No matter how poor he was, no matter what the difficulty was, (even when he was out of work) he gave us kids every thing we needed. There was never a Christmas Eve that was unhappy. There was never a birthday that was forgotten or treated economically. Now truth be told, my sweet Mother was responsible for a good deal of this, but my dad seldom complained to her-- and trust me, he could have easily! My dad was a house painter. Back then all that was used was oil based paints meant when it rained, the painter was usually out of work for several days! Oil base paint was also tough for a painter because turpentine was really hard on human lungs when it was breathed in over a long period of time. Nothing else would clean those paint brushes! Turpentine effects on his lungs and a bad heart is what eventually did him in. I remember that day with such detail! But on the talent side of the equation, My dad could match any color of any wall, of any rug, of any sample of any desired color. He could mix colors with such talent, one could sit there and watch him and be absolutely mesmorized. When he painted your house or apartment it was done with precision, time, craft and impeccable talent. He'd re-paint the house if it wasn't perfect for no additional charge. There were no paint sprayers back in the 1960's. Rollers were just beginning to be used and were very expensive. My father was a man of honor and integrity. Quite literally, Louis Ricciardi couldn't have told you a lie if the devil was standing on his foot! But he was also funny, warm, kind and witty. At the time that I lost him, I was just beginning to know and appreciate him. My God, how I still miss him, today! My dad was also an artist. His paintings were incredible and wonderful. Each painting he made told a definite story with true personalities in all the characters of his paintings. My favorite painting of all was the one of thirteen French nuns in full habit in the last century who have walked four miles to have a picnic in the woods on a very warm spring afternoon! The painting depicts the nuns ready to eat their picnic lunch after their long hike from the convent! The table cloth is spread out and everything is out and ready and waiting! In this painting, the older nuns were responsible for bringing the "sensible things" like plates and silverware and linen napkins. The oldest nun has brought the wine and the wine glasses. The Mother Superior representing 'wisdom" brings the salt and pepper shakers. Now picture if you will the faces of all thirteen of these great nuns as they discover that youngest nuns (the postulents) have forgotten to bring the picnic lunch, itself. The looks range from surprise to laughter to shock and severe disappointment. There is pure consternation by the Mother Superior, herself! Somebody is going to do pennace for this little screw-up. The painting was absolutely classic! But he also painted so many other things; there were sunsets, Italian Villages, Italian Women doing the wash in the middle of town plus portraits of my various relatives. He loved animals and he loved life. I am quite sure that my dad was one of the greatest characters of all. He loved his wife. He loved and adored his kids. And we truly loved him. But one thing for sure: the twentieth century completely befuddled my poor dad. Traffic angered him; being late truly annoyed him and unethical behavior made him cringe. He loved books, libraries, art and culture. He loved to listen to recordings made by Enrico Caruso. He would listen to these recordings over and over again. But oh man, what I gained from my dad. I love great art. I love great music and I am the same hopeless romantic that he was. He loved to sing while my mother played piano. Between and because of the two of them, I am the songwriter that I am today! Oh do I miss him. I thank God for giving me the greatest parents in the world. But my dad will always have a special place in my heart. Wherever you are my dear father, I love you! Now and forever. It was his promise that he kept (to send all of us kids to Catholic school and raise us as Catholics) that allowed me to have my relationship with God and for that alone I will hold him dear always. So dear "Luigi Pasqualli" here's to you. My glass is raised high to your memory and my heart is very grateful. I love you, dad! Now and forever!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I read with great interest that the magnificent Eartha Kitt is going to be recording a live performance album at the Cafe Carlyle where she is currently playing her 12th engagement. It will be released by DRG records recorded at a performance at the very intimate cafe in NYC. Eartha Kitt is simply an incredible performer who has been a legend for more years than she'd probably like to admit. The CD will be recorded live at the intimate cabaret, and "Eartha Kitt: Live at the Café Carlyle" is scheduled to hit stores in October. The recording will include the songs from Eartha's current cabaret act: "Sell Me," "An Englishman Needs Time," "Come On-A My House," "Hate/Love New York," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Yuska Dara," "Waray, Waray," "La Vie En Rose," "Darling, Je Vous Aime," "What Is This Thing Called Love," "How Insensitive," "All My Life," "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," "C'est Ci Bon," "September Song," "It Was a Very Good Year" and "Here's to Life." A world-renowned concert artist and actress, Eartha Kitt has appeared on Broadway in Bal Negre, Leonard Silliman's New Faces of 1952, Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley, Jolly's Progress, Timbuktu!, The Wild Party and Nine. She received her first Tony nomination for her performance in Timbuktu! and her second for her work in The Wild Party. Kitt's screen credits are numerous, including the 1965 drama "I Spy," for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award. Her autobiography is entitled "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten." I simply love Eartha Kitt. Of course I had always known about "Santa Baby" the quiescent Christmas classic, but it was life partner, John who really introduced me to how wonderful she was. Her number about the guy with "the champagnee appetite" and "beer belly pockets was simply the funniest thing ever. Good luck Eartha! I will certainly buy it when it comes out. Well today should be a very busy day at work. It's the day before Father's Day and everyone and their brother will probably be out buying their dad a last minute gift. For all of you who still have their fathers-- do something special for him. Treat him right! Don't forget that "he could be here without you, but you couldn't be here without him!" I miss my dad so much. I was just beginning to appreciate him when i lost him. So don't let any more years go by. Do something for him now, before it's too late and you can't. My mom used to say "Don't bring me flowers after I'm dead-- I can't smell them! Well that is true all of the people that we love-- but especially dads. Without my father's promise to my mother to raise us kids as Catholics, I would never have had the relationship with the lord as I do now. He sent all of us kids to Catholic school! And my dad was a piss poor housepainter. But more about my dad on the proper day tomorrow. Well, its off to work! Another day, another dollar! But the new job is getting better all the time!

Friday, June 16, 2006

I really missed something in today's blog entry. Today would have been Stan Laurel's 116th birthday. As a kid, and even today, I was and am a Laurel and Hardy extreme fan. Nothing could make me laugh harder than a great Laurel and Hardy film. Now trust me when I tell you that I have seen every picture they made many many times. I ran them at home in 16mm and ran them for benefits I used to do for The Alhambra Public Library. Our "Films For The Future Club" was trying to buy films for the library collection. Thank goodness for Father Hultgren and the Holy Trinity Parish in Alhambra for always helping us and providing us free space for the fund raisers. Guess what? Even today, I still find something new to laugh at watching those old films. "The Music Box" without doubt remains my all time favorite. That was the movie that won the boys their only Academy Award in 1932. Those steps and that house were real steps and a real house. You can still climb those famous old steps even today! The secret to really enjoying the comedy of these two incredible performers is this: Oliver Hardy is actually dumber than Stan Laurel but doesn't know it! Watch Oliie ask Stanny for a solution to a problem. Stan will say something perfectly logical and intelligent. Then Olie will say to Stan: "Tell me that again!" And Stan will attempt to repeat what he just said, but it comes out all confusing and crazy sounding. After which Olie will say "That's just what we'll do! And you laugh and laugh and laugh. It all goes back to what Danny Simon always taught us writers that honesty was the basis of all great comedy. Laurel & Hardy comedy was the very best comedy next to Charlie Chaplin. Today is also the birthday of a great songwriter by the name of Sammy Fain. He was born in 1902. With his original lyricist Irving Kahal, Sammy was the composer of many incredible Tin Pan Alley hits including "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella" in 1927, "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine" in the same year plus "By A Waterfall", "I'll Be Seeing You", "Easy To Love", and "Dear Hearts and Gentle People". With Sammy Fain, he also wrote the music for the songs from Walt Disney's animated classics "Alice In Wonderland" and "Peter Pan". But more than that he also wrote "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" in 1955 and "Secret Love" from Calimity Jane in 1953. He was an incredible composer and my hat is off to him this day! Well until next time....

My day in court for my friend Jerry was a big waste of my time. If Justice is this laid back, I seriously worry about it for the average guy. The prosecution was not ready. The public defender that my friend was assigned was going between two courts and had even brought his young five year old kid to the proceedings. The jury had not even been selected yet. Good grief! So a work day was lost and nothing was accomplished except a continuance. The only thing official that I was required to do was to stand up and state and spell my name as a character witness. I got up very early so I could find the courthouse in Pasadena and ended up going the wrong way due to a stupid directive on the Map Quest map. But once I got in there we just sat and waited ninety minutes. Oh well, let's hope the resolution of this goes my friend's way! It is a most beautiful day in Southern California. It's very pleasant here. So that is very good news! I will take advantage of that. Well, there isn't too much else to report here. I did find it interesting that the Supreme Court has ruled that the police with a warrant in their hand can now break down a door without knocking. This ruling would not have happened if Sandra Day O' Connor was still on the court. I do realize we face a uphill battle sometimes fighting crime, but let us remember, dear friends, this is still America. Other countries of the world look to us to uphold certain standards of fairness and justice. The French hate Americans because of things like this. Let us be so careful before we do things and make official rulings that make us look bad to the rest of the world. Sloppy justice and over zealous justice simply gives us a black eye that we don't deserve. Our prejudices make the "Ugly American" syndrome very real. Prejudice is like tasting a banquet with your nose-- all you get is a dirty face!" Well until tomorrow, have a great day today!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I read today that the voice behind Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) died a pauper and for years had an unmarked grave at Valahala cemetery in North Hollywood. Cliff Edwards was a unique and wonderful entertainer who had gained great fame as "Ukelele Ike". Walt Disney paid for his funeral in 1964 -- just two years prior to his own demise in 1966. Now everyone in this world knows that "Ike" sang "When You Wish Upon A Star in Walt Disney's classic "Pinocchio" in 1940. Who can forget the character of Jiminy Cricket? He went on to be one of the most popular animated characters in the Disney Stable. He was featured in many Disney educational shorts including the I'm No Fool" series on "The Mickey Mouse Club" He also introduced songs like "Give A Little Whistle" But more than that I was he who introduced the song "Singing in the Rain" to the world back in the early 30's. Only in the last three years has there been a marker on this great entertainer's final resting place. It was put there by the Disney Studio as a fitting last tribute. Here was a gentle sweet loving man. I intend to make a visit to his gravesite very soon. My entry is short today. Tomorrow morning, I make my first visit to a Superior Court to testify to the character of a good friend. He made the foolish mistake of buying something stolen on the internet. When he went to sell it, he decided to have it cleaned before he did and the outfit that does the servicing decided to check the serial number. I am certain the only reason that the serial number was checked was because Jerry is black. Prejudice is a very ugly word. I have seen this man held up to extreme prejudice in the seven years I have known him. The lesson here is to check the serial number of anything you decide to buy from the internet. If you buy it and it turns out to be stolen-- you are just as liable as the guy who sold it to you-- that is of course if you can find him again. I will let you know what happens after my day in court tomorrow. It should be interesting!

I was reminded today of an old journal entry I made years ago, which I will re-make here. "Obtaining wisdom is like coming across a sunrise: you can't believe how dark it was only moments before and you can't fathom that it took you all night to find it" How many times in our journey in life do we struggle for answers to the simplest of mysteries only to have the answer suddenly present itself completely out of nowhere. Trust me when I tell you how often that has happened to me. So maybe with this journal I'll be able to note a few things and obtain a little "sunshine wisdom". I know for certain we certainly don't listen well enough. "Knowledge is power" -- that is 100% certain. What we have to learn is to set ego aside and allow our hearts and minds to speak to us. And we need to listen to our friends too. God sends us the answer in the most mysterious ways. Sometimes they are that "sudden sunrise" we've been looking "all night" for. There is that wonderful story about the Baptist farmer who gets stuck on his roof after a terrible storm. The water is rising fast and he's hanging on to dear life to his chimney. Along comes a Catholic priest in a rowboat. "Hey, Farmer Brown yells the priest-- its only a rowboat, but I can save you" The farmer's pride is working overtime. He thinks Well, no Catholic is going to rescue me. He yells out "No, thanks, God will save me in his own special way" Next comes a rabbi with a motorboat and offers to help the farmer. The farmer refuses to be rescued by a non-Christian and says "Don't worry, God will save me in a special way! Next comes a Mormon in a helicopter who offers to rescue the farmer! No dice. The farmer thinks "A Mormon-- rescue me? -- hell no. They're all going to hell in a handbasket anyway" And so the farmer yells out to the Mormon "Don't worry, God will rescue me in a special way! Well of course the flood gets worse and the good farmer drowns and goes to heaven. When he gets before God the farmer is very angry with God. He's fuming and pacing and really emotional! This man is pissed! "You could have saved my life, you know! I've been a God-fearing, law abiding, church going, church building Christian all of my life. Why, hell, I half-bult our church with my donations alone! Why didn't you send me a miracle? Something spectacular to make it look like you really cared!" And God looks at him with utter disbelief and says." I sent you a rowboat, a cabin cruiser and a cockamamie helicopter-- what the hell were you expecting?'" Sometimes the answer is so right in front of us, but we are too proud to see it. Or we can't accept the answer that God is sending us. As one of my songs says "God Draws Straight With Crooked Lines" and trust me friends, it will always be so. So trust more. Listen more. Guess what? You might just find that sunrise a lot sooner! Bye for now!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I normally would not write a second blog in one day, but there were some important omissions from this morning's blog entry. Today (June 14th) would have been the late Cy Coleman's 77th birthday. Cy of course was the author of some pretty incredible musicals of the Broadway stage including "Sweet Charity", "I Love My Wife", "The Will Rogers Follies" "City of Angels" and of course "Barnum" (my favorite of his musicals) Cy was a master. I got to meet him one time at an ASCAP membership meeting and he was very gracious. He died very suddenly two years ago as he was preparing for the " Sweet Charity" revival that starred Christina Applegate. Fifty years ago this day, Maggie Smith made her debut on stage in "New Faces of 1956" The sketches were written by Neil and Danny Simon, Paul Lynde and Louis Blotto. I had the extreme honor of studying comedy with Danny Simon (God rest him!) fot four wonderful years! Bar none, Danny Simon was one of the funniest men in all the world. I learned so much about comedy writing with him. He used to teach that "great comedy was really nothing more than great honesty". One of his famous quotes was "Deal With It!" Perhaps most people are not aware, but Danny has been the subject of or been a major character in lots of brother Neil's famous plays including "Come Blow Your Horn", "The Odd Couple", "Chapter Two", and many more. He was the one who started to write "The Odd Couple" long before Neii took it over.(More of that story another time!) He did manage to write one full length play called "The Convertible Girl" which is so damn funny! Danny really was "Felix Unger". He was the neatest neat nick you could ever meet in your life. Nobody but nobody could be more immaculate than he. Once we students were invited up to his condominium in Sherman Oaks. The place looked like a museum of zealous housecleaners! -- there wasn't a magazine out of place. Of course we students always tried to make Danny laugh-- to get a laugh from the guy who taught comedy to the great Woody Allen was a great compliment. Well, I actually made him laugh twice in one evening. As we wandered around on the fifty cent tour he gave, we were all amazed at just how neat he really could be. So I piped up the first time with "Danny, you're the only guy in California whose dollies are breaking in new doilies" He laughed. As we were looking around he was suddenly upset that none of us had taken off our shoes. Off went our shoes. He was really complaining and muttering "Gee, what if you guys brought dirt in here. I may never get rid of it!" Maybe he didn't trust vacuum cleaners! Maybe he thought we were lower Slobovian mud wrestlers on the fifty cent tour of his condo! He was almost whining about it! No, i take that back-- he WAS whining about it-- terribly! Now I thought it was so silly that he wanted us to remove our shoes this late in our visit. So I piped up with "Danny, for God's sake, you're the only man I know who's toaster is cleaner than his toilet" Now he really laughed. Somehow that broke the tension and he proclaimed "Oh, the hell with it!" Today also is another milestone date. Twenty years ago today, we lost Alan Jay Lerner. The brilliant lyricist of "My Fair Lady", Camelot", "Paint Your Wagon" and "Gigi". He was of course partnered with the great Frederick Lowe with whom he wrote all of the above shows. I understand that these two guys used to fight as fiercely as Gilbert and Sullivan did back in the late 1800's. Amazingly, as the story goes, Lerner had put in his will that $2500.00 be spent on a wake in his honor! Unfortunately, with his many debts from failed shows after Lowe's death and taxes owed, there was not enough money to spend one tenth of that amount! Alan Jay Lerner had a really spectacular failure with none other than Leonard Bernstein in a Broadway failure called "1600 Pensylvania Avenue" But you should all listen to it including the song "Bless This House" It will bring tears to your eyes. Other birthdays of note: folksinger Burl Ives was born on this date in 1909 and Dorothy Mcguire in 1918. To all of these wonderful people: we remember you, we salute you. As for Danny Simon, he will always have a very special place in my heart! God rest you, kind sir! Make God laugh: Lord knows he needs it!

Good Morning! I saw the preview for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and it really looks exciting. The first one was really incredibly well done and deserved all the critical kudos. The new one involving legendary Davy Jones looks even more exciting. Johnny Depp is really a very talented guy-- he can really make you believe that this is all very real! The rest of the cast was sterling as well. I am also very excited to see the changes planned for the revised "Pirates of The Caribbean Ride" at Disneyland this summer. Of course you must know that I am an absolute Disneyland fanatic -- from the very first visit of my life back in 1957. I am told that the changes will be really spectacular! In my opinion, nothing the park has done (except perhaps Indiana Jones) comes anywhere close to the originality of this amazing attraction. It was the last attraction that Walt Disney personally supervised. The ride will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year in 2007. Speaking of other scary things, I saw the remake of "The Omen" last night. I must say that this re-make is just as good--- if not better than the original. I saw that original in its purity: in a full wide screen pre-dolby stereophonic sound at the Academy Awards Theatre in Beverly Hills with a classic actress by the name of Jacqueline DeWitt. Jacqueline had played many great parts including a classic Twilight Zone episode in which she played the nagging wife of Burgess Merrideth in that episode where Henry Beeker, bookworm is the only survivor of a nuclear blast because he spends lunch hours in the vault of the bank where he works. This version of "The Omen" featured a classic appearance by Mia Farrow. It was grand to see Mia again after all these years in such a juicy role. I also think that this version helps explain the prophecy aspect of the story from the book of Revelation. Its also interesting to see the Catholic Church (and the last pope syndrome) shown in a prominent part of the plot. So I do recommend it. I haven't done a lot of writing this week, but it may very well be that the muse is a bit tired. I am really looking forward to recording the new songs for "Traveling Companion" on Monday, June 19th with Tim Doran. Bill Lewis is singing for us and we can't miss with that. Bill lewis has been my faithful friend for almost twenty years now and he is an absolute joy to work with. Not one ounce of bad ego! I also am eager to hear a young singer named Danny that Tim found in his chorus class at school. I am told that he has a most amzing voice. Speaking of amazing voice, yesterday I met in my camera store a great talent of the past. None other than James Darren who of course recorded songs like "Gidget" and "Goodbye Cruel World" Here was the guy who played sexy crazy "Moondoggie" in that same Gidget movie with Sandra Dee! Jim shows his age, but sure looks better than Frankie Vallie did on the Tonys the other night. Jim gave me a new CD that he has just recorded and I am anxious to listen to it. By the way, I wrote a commercial for Ritz Camera and we'll record that on June 19th as well. Great or unique things always happen to me on the 19th of the month throughout the years-- the 19th of October was my parent's anniversary! Interesting! Well, that's about it for now! See you tomorrow! And sing a little of that Pirates Theme Song -- won't you? Walt would appreciate it!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Good Morning! Well today is my sister Rosemary's Birthday. And she has shared with me a wonderful secret-- she is going to be a grandmother for the first time. This is really wonderful and quite unexpected. So with the other news that my nephew and his wife are expecting a second child that means I will become a great uncle TWICE this year: once in October and again in December. So this is a most happy day! I am very happy for my niece Stephanie and her fine husband Mando and for my Nephew and his wife Berenda. I wish my mom and dad were still alive to enjoy all of this, but sadly I lost them long ago. Just to let you know, I was the only boy in a family with three sisters: Lorie, Rosemary and Annette. My poor dad and I sometimes seemed surrounded. We even had a female dog named Happy and several female cats. At one point we even had a female turtle! Growing up with three sisters is never easy. But I love them all and am at this point in my life really beginning to enjoy and appreciate them. They are all different: each with their own personalities and characters. We laughed a lot when were kids and all of us really had a very happy childhood. We had aunts and uncles that were simply incredible characters. They were sometimes so funny, I still laugh when i think of some of their antics! I can recall all of them even today. They made my childhood so rich with experience. But even without the aunts and uncles there are so many wonderful memories that I recall and always will. I remember my mother playing piano and my dad singing "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart". We may have been poor, but my mom and dad were so incredibly generous to us kids-- they simply made things happen. Christmas Days were so happy! You will not believe how many presents were under that tree of ours! Birthdays were mega events! My mom balanced the budget with the skill of a great planner. I still don't know how she managed it all! My dad was a house painter. Now because back in those days house and industrial painters used oil based paints, inclement weather would put my dad out of work for up to two months. But reflecting on my sister Rosemary today, I will tell you that I am becoming so much closer to her. Her advice all of these years now finally all makes sense. I really do think that we don't appreciate the ones we love until we lose them. I was just getting to know my father when I lost him forty years ago this year and my angel mother: I still talk to her every day in my thoughts and prayers in some way. So I guess the message here is to re-connect with your mother, father, brothers and sisters before they're gone. Even if you have not been that close to them for a few years-- get close again! They will always teach you something! Even parents long after you are out of "the nest" can teach so much still! I remember the great Mark Twain once said "When I was fourteen years old, I thought my father was the stupidest creature who ever walked on two legs-- by the time I was twenty-one, I was amazed at just how wise he had become in seven short years." My sister shares a birthday with Walton's actor Richard Thomas (John Boy) who turns 55 today and with the late great Basil Rathbone and the incredible Paul Lynde. Paul would have been eighty years old today. Paul Lynde without a doubt could make me laugh any time he was on. His appearances on "The Hollywood Squares" were simply hilarious. I am up early this morning and it's a grand and sunny day. I just hope that it stays cool likeand pleasant as it has been the last fe days. My prayers go out to those people who are threatened by this tropical storm in Florida named "Alberto". Go away! I've never been through a hurricane before but my partner John has. It's not a pleasant experience by any means. Today is another day at work at Ritz Camera, but everything there is getting better all the time. Well I guess that's it for today-- have a wonderful day and we'll meet back here tomorrow. Ciao!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Well today is a nice day here in Southern California. It's cool in the morning or what they like to call "June Gloom" and very pleasant in the afternoon. It gets very hot in the San Fernando valley in the summers, so having a pleasant week where the tempeture does not exceed 75 degrees is a true blessing. Today I have the day off and I plan to do some writing. Now that I've reached my 600th song, I can only wonder what my next goal will be. I am reading about Disneyland and Walt Disney World's new promotion after the 50th anniversary celebration ends on September 30th. They call it "The Year of A Million Dreams" According to the press reports, unbelievable dreams coming true will be given to people at random at both parks. Things like being the grand marshal in every parade in every Disney theme park around the world, a night spent in Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World or having a "Golden Fast Pass" for private riding of every attraction in the park. That sounds really wonderful. Something I sure the great Walt Disney would have embraced. Believe it or not, dear friends, we lost Walt Disney forty years ago this December 15th. And when he left us that fateful December day, he left behind at least fifty yearts of grand concepts and ideas. Walt has always been my personal hero. I got to meet him once when I was a kid but more of that another day! M favorite films of all times will be Walt's animated classics. I can still watch "Snow White" a hundred more times and still see new things in it. I must also tell you that I have a great fondness for the Disney villains. Captain Hook is my all time favorite, followed closely by "Ursula" (from "The Little Mermaid") and of course "Malificent" from "Sleeping Beauty". The voice of "Captain Hook" was supplied by the late great character actor Hans Conried. Hans played "Uncle Tanoose" on the Danny Thomas Show to perfection. The voice of "Ursula" was supplied by character actress Pat Carroll. Pat was also a regular of the cast on the Danny Thomas Show. Danny could tell a joke with such incredible embellishment that you actually laughed harder. You did that because you had really gotten to know the characters in all of his jokes. They actually became three dimensional. Speaking of great villains of course nothing beats Eleanor Audley's chilling portrayal of Mallificent in "Sleeping Beauty" and the Wicked Stepmother in "Cinderella". Eleanor is also the voice of Madame Leota in Disneyland's and Walt Disney's World's "Haunted Mansion" The rehearsals go on today and Thursday for the new recordings for the new songs Tim Doran and I are recording for "The Traveling Companion. On a historical note today: on this date in 1970 Sir Lawrence Ollivier became the first actor to become a honorary member of the House Of Lords in England. He was portraying Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" at the time. Last night was the Tony Awards. Great kudos and congrats to "The drowsy Chaperone" an original musical. Originality is great! "The Color Purple only received one award and "Le Stat" and "Tarzan" were completely shut out as was the mis fire of "The Woman in White". Looks like this was not a good year for Lyold Webber. Elton John should fare better on "Billy Elliot" then he did for "Le Stat". Certain subjects just should not be subjects of musicals. Does anyone remember the musical disaster of "Carrie" the musical composed by Michael Gore? It lasted three nights. Also "Chorus Line" reopens on Broadway on September 18th and "Mary Poppins" is set for November. I also read that Jerry Lewis (now 80 plus) is preparing a musical version of "The Nutty Professor" for 2007 for Broadway. He will direct from his own script. The amazing Jerry never ceases to amaze. His sheer tenacity has taken him to incredible heights. Well, that's about all for now. See you next time!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The recording session went very well this afternoon. Tim Doran and myself met with the engineer at 3pm and did three tunes. First up was a commercial for Ritz Camera that's called "Capture Your World" That title is this company's logo/ slogan and I wrote a song all around the fact that Ritz Camera takes care of all your 35mm film and digital pictures. They make not only 4x6 pictures, for both medias but also a full uncropped size that is 4 1/2 by 6 and big 6x6 prints for only 39 cents each. The song came out wonderfully. The second song was a upbeat Christmas song called "If Christmas Took a Holiday". What would happen if Christmas got tired of all the trite commercialism of its grand day and decided to simply not show up on December 25th? Well again, the orchestration that Tim created was pretty wonderful. We found a great setting on the massive Kurtzweiler keyboard that creates a combination of instruments: strings, bass, French Horn and woodwinds. The third song was based on a poem I had written for my sister Annette way back in 1977. We were attending an American history class at a local city college and the professor had simply gone off on a tangent about the crazy spiral of coffee prices. Getting bored with this very quickly, I started to write a poem about my experience of having a very unexpected snow fall on me on a cold spring day. It was so unexpected and so incredibly beautiful that I simply had to write about it. So I did. The song is called "On Tuesday, I Saw Snowflakes" and came out really wonderfully. Well on the 19th of this month, we goi in and record more songs for the "Traveling Companion" I am very anxious and excited about this and really want this project finished so that Tim Doran and myself can begin to market it. Well, this is an extra entry for today, but I wanted to give you all an update of my morning blog entry. Have a great evening and great day tomorrow. Until then... Ciao!

Today are two grand birthdays of note. Today however, I must be very brief. I am going into the recording studio today with Tim Doran to record some backgrounds on some new songs that I have written including "Hurricane Heartbreak" "Little Things Matter To God" and "Capture Your World". I must acklnowledge that today is the birthday of the late great Judy Garland. I actually can say that I'm old enough to have watched her later efforts. She was incredible and moving and I just cry knowing how tragic her last years were. Today is also the birthday of Frederick Lowe: one half of the great songwrtiting team of Lerner and Lowe (composers of "My Fair Lady" "Camelot" and "Paint Your Wagon" Incredible songs and incredible musicals. I can only hope that he can play those great songs for the angels in heaven. God rest both of you: a singer and a songwriter: two legends in diferent arenas. Well bye for now.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Well, trying to understand the mechanics of blogging has been a little frustrating to say the least, but I am determined to do regular entries here. Today is a bit of a milestone. I have completed my six hundredth song. That's Six hundred songs in twenty six years or two songs every month for that same period of time. I actually did very little writing between 1991- 1994, so I guess this is a milestone. I am currently writing a new musical with my writing partner, Timothy Doran. The name of the musical is called "The Traveling Companion" and is based on the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It was one of the very first stories written by the great Danish writer in 1835. Actually 2006 marks the 200th anniversary of the great author's birth. The musical has been a pure joy to write. I have learned so many wonderful new things about songwriting craft from Tim. He and I have been together since the summer of 1990 when I was introduced to him by a singing teacher by the name of Steve Hunt. He's been my arranger all of these many years. But the most amazing thing is just how incredibly talented Tim Doran really is. Many years ago-- way back in 1976-- Tim was the last person to accompany on the piano the late great legend of song, Kate Smith in her last rendition of "God Bless America" before she became very ill and retired. She had been asked to christen with a bottle of champagne a huge yacht in Dana Point. Kate only made one other public appearance before her death and that was when she appeared on the Oscars telecast. She was wheeled in and received a standing ovation! I only wish I could have written a few songs for this incredible artist. An interesting fact: only she and the late great Richard Kiley could hit the last note of "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha" exactly as it had been composed by composer Mitch Leigh. Well, at any rate Tim has been a pure joy to work with and "The Traveling Companion" is a piece we are sure will be playing on Broadway. This is a timeless story about the forces of good doing a fierce battle with the forces of evil. A young Danish teen is our hero. After his father dies, he must make his own way in the world. A single act of kindness changes his fate and destiny and he finds a kingdom to rule and a beautiful princess to love and marry. By the way, I am a member of ASCAP and I can not say enough great things about this superior performance organization. They have provided me and Tim with some pretty incredible opportunities-- but more of that later. You can find my songs and the songs that I have co-written with Tim Doran on the ASCAP "Ace Data Base" by looking under my name, Mike Ricciardi. Until next time!

Well first and foremost allow me to apologize for not discovering the spell check on my first bloc entry. Oh well, such is life. Yesterday, I was telling you just how I started as a song writer.. That was way back in 1980. It was an exciting time. Well, I did write a complete libretto and twelve original songs. Of course, time being a factor here, I couldn't complete the entire score for the production and The Gallery Theatre had to use songs from Charlie Small's production of "Thr Wiz" and even a couple of Sherman Brothers tunes. But I did manage to write a song for the Munchkins, a song for Uncle Henry and of course for the Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Lion. And we did one song that really embraced the spirit of the original work entitled "Show Me Some Of Your Wizardry" As most of you true Oz fans must know by now, the MGM version shows the Wizard only as a "Giant Head". In the original book written by the late great L. Frank Baum, the "Great Oz" actually appears as several personas. To Dorothy, he shows himself as "The Giant Head". To the Scarecrow, he shows himself as a beautiful lady. To The Tin Man he is a terrible beast. And to the great Cowardly Lion, Oz appears as a massive ball of fire. At one of the first rehearsals, the director Mark Shipley tells everyone "Mike is going to write a song that will encompass all of the manifestations of the Great Oz" "I am?" I asked. Well, dear friends, I did. The result was the grand song that I describe above. I remember coming to one of the first rehearsals and hearing a most incredible voice by a young boy by the name of Greg Lastrapes. I can not tell you in mere words what a magnificent incredible voice young Greg possessed (and still possesses to this day) I was simply blown away! The voice was pure and clear and rich in tone. Greg became a very important part of my life. He went on to become the lead in "Skylark" -- a very important musical milestone in my career. I remember too some wonderful actors who brought my script adaptation to life. Mike Sosha was the Cowardly Lion. He was simply incredible and I can only wonder if he is performing somewhere on Broadway today. Bob Meisha played the Wizard and Laurel Shipley played Dorothy. The production was very successful for the Gallery Theatre and got some pretty incredible reviews-- even though they said "Over The Rainbow" was missed. Good grief, I guess that's a compliment. But overall, it was a wonderful show. It had all of the Shipley children in the musical playing Munchkins. I remember Jared and Josh and Laura and wonder where they are today or even if they are all performing still. Can you imagine how unique and wonderful it must have been to be in a family where you literally grew up performing and singing in classic plays and legendary musicals as part of your everyday life. Where your family's livileyhood depended on the continued success of these plays and musical;s going on-- as scheduled! You helped build sets, paint, do props-- everything needed. My theatre roots go back to the San Gabriel Little Theatre in San Gabriel, California where I grew up. Those were incredible days in the 1960's with incredibly wonderful people like Elizabeth Gregory, John Higgins, Ruth Ballan, David P. Klain, Sylvia Boone, Gary and Linda Hamner, George Von Ravensburg, and Jay Buck. God rest them all. I miss them. Well, that's how my songwriting began. I should point out that very early into this, I had decided to persue this full time and had placed an ad for collaborators at Cal State Fullerton. I am sort of like an Irving Berlin sort of musician. I do not read music. I compose the music in my head and write the lyrics. In fact, I found that the piano simply got into my way. I rely on arrangers. The first one I found for "The Wizard of Oz" production was dear Elaine Fullerton in Ontario, California. The only problem? She transposed everything into "F Sharp" -- just as Berlin did. Irving Berlin could only play the black keys of the piano. And so we had to transpose everything. We had an incredible arranger for the production. I can only remember that his first name was Joel and he could literally play something from scratch after looking at the music-- only once. The first person who answered my ad was a college student with whom I have written some pretty incredible songs with. His name is Randy Ames. We formed a partnership and eventually took on a third arranger- musician by the name of Eddy Magee Clement. I simply would never have written the number of songs that I have today without the incredible contributions of these two gifted musicians. Eddy was a master of the French Horn and a incredible arranger, himself. But I will tell more in my next entry here. Yesterday by the way (June 8th) was Cole Porter's birthday. I sang Porter songs all day. What an incredible songwriter he was. He had much pain and suffering in his life but wrote some of the most beautiful and incredible songs in the world. God rest you Cole Porter. He passed away in 1964.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Well, this is the first entry in my journal as a songwriter. It all began twenty- six years ago by pure accident. There was a local theatre called "The Gallery" operating in the city where I was working at the time. A gentleman by the name of Mark shipley was running a theatre in an old building that had served as a Baptist Church in years past. He actually was using the proceeds of this community theatre to raise his Mormon family. This family had a wife and six (yes six) kids who were all recruited (not really by choice) to act, do props, build sets, etc. So this theatre decides to do a production of "The Wizard Of Oz" (The MGM Musical version) Now what everyone should know before they decide to open a theatre is this: whatever production you decide to put on, you must pay 100% of the royalties for all planned performances in advance. This theatre made the awful mistake of announcing auditions for this musical BEFORE contacting the folks who owned the rights (in this case Music Theatre International) and BEFORE paying them the required royalties. Of course, I knew about none of this before I went to that audition on my one hour lunch break on a May afternoon in 1980. It was incredibly well attended. I was wotking for Ritz Camera back then just as i am working for them now. (Funny how events in your life tend to repeat themselves) At about fifteen minutes before I had to return to work, there were still forty people ahead of me. For some unknown reason (but I'm sure this was God's doing) I got the courage to go to the front of ther line and tell them I had but fifteen minutes for lunch and could I please have a tryout right then and right there. For some reason, they agreed. I got the part of the scarecrow in the musical and this was to become a most fateful day. So I re-arranged my vaction and planned to play the Scarecrow in the Gallery production of "The Wizard Of Oz". I went to the first rehearsal as scheduled and received a rude awakening. I was the only person there besides the director, Mark Shipley. Well of course, I wondered just what the hell was going on and was soon told the answer. The theatre had finally contacted Music Theatre International and had been quoted the royality rate: $295.00 for the first performance and $195 for each additional performance after that payable 100% in advance. Now remember, this was 1980. That was a lot of money back then. So there I am standing there and being told that they can't afford the royalties and might have to cancel the show. I had already postponed my vacation. Trust me, I was not a happy camper at this point. But then the director says to me "But it says on your audition sheet that your hobby is songwriting. Well it had been briefly. I think I had written song ideas out for about six songs at this point. So he turbed and said to me "Well, young man, I have a challenge for you" Well, good friends that challenge turned out to be writing a brand new libretto and twelve songs for a brand new version of the "Wizard Of Oz". Thank goodness rge story itself was in the public domain, having been written in the year 1900 by the great L. Frank Baum: a pure genius in my opinion. Omagine if you will trying to write a replacement song for "Over The Rainbow" Now trust me, nothing, not any song in creation can "replace" "Over The Rainbow" but i had to come up with a song that Dorothy would sing to her dog in Kansas. The song I eventually wrote was called "Somewhere" and it it really turned out to be a most beautiful song. So with apologies to the great harold arlen, I did write a song that at least was respectable enough to stand in "Over The Rainbow's" shadow. It was interesting. The second song I wrote was for a character that had never had a song in any musical treatment of the story-- and that character was Uncle Henry. His song was "I Stopped Dreaming Ling Ago". It was a nice song, but today I would have made it a lot stronger. Well, next time, i will continue this little saga. That's all for today!