Wednesday, January 31, 2007

ASCAP MUSICAL WORKSHORT NIGHT #2 AND HAPPY 86TH BIRTHDAY TO CAROL CHANNING



Last night was the second ASCAP -Disney Musical workshop held at the Disney Studio Commissary. It was hosted once again by the amzing Stephen Schwartz (who looked a little grayer than last year) The Two musicals presented were ON DRAGONS WINGS a lovely concept for a children's fantasy and JESUS' KID BROTHER-- a big comical "Spamalot" type spoof on the life of a supposed kid brother (yes, brother of God). There was a lot of great talent there-- especially in the first show. But both missed the basic questions that every single musical must know. These questions are "What is my story about?" and "What does my protagonist really truly WANT and NEED. The first was a sweet children's story-- but this is a Broadway hopeful presentation and this sweet endearing fantasy with all of it's charm and originality hasn't a snowball's chance of making it on the Great White Way. If its only purpose is children's theatre across the country-- fantastic. But New York audiences are NOT going to pay $110-125 to watch a story about a sweet little water bug who yearns to dance with tadpoles in a mythical though wonderfully magical water pond. There's no danger in nthis musical. There is no antagonist present (at least in the first 25 minutes presented last night! The second show is a real romp and is a very funny spoof. But once again, there is no real antagonist and we really don't know what the supposed younger brother of Jesus Christ ( his name is Larry) really wants and therefore really needs. It was funny and original and clever, but if we don't have a real antagonist and a goal and a purpose for the protagonist, we simply don't have a musical. Dear Danny Simon used to say "If you haven't got a real conflict by page three (or in three minutes) you don't have a story. In both musicals, there is no real conflict. Even Winnie the pooh has a dilema by three minutes into the movie. The "KID BROTHER" had a great opening, but had a second number which could have been the opening number-- so choose one. Comedy is hard. Farce is evn harder. You can not repeat jokes. You have to have a real purpose. The girl that Larry falls for is the daughter of PONTIUS PILATE ("I'm a pilate that wants to fly--ugh) and I'm just not terribly sure that that works. And the songs-- well, they just are not that memorable. The opening number for JESUS KID BROTHER may be an exception (IT'S TOUGH TO BE A JEW IN BIBLICAL TIMES) but I think both shows need major re-working! Today are two important birthdays too. Carol Channing (born in 1921) is 86 today.Channing was introduced to the stage while doing church work for her mother. In a 2005 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Channing recounted this experience: "My mother said, 'Carol, would you like to help me distribute Christian Science Monitors backstage at the live theatres in San Francisco?' And I said, 'All right, I'll help you.' I don't know how old I was. I must have been little. We went through the stage door alley [for the Curran Theatre], and I couldn't get the stage door open. My mother came and opened it very easily. Anyway, my mother went to put the Monitors where they were supposed to go for the actors and the crew and the musicians, and she left me alone. And I stood there and realized – I'll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple. This is a cathedral. It's a mosque. It's a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards." Carol Channing's first job on stage in New York was in Marc Blitzstein's No For an Answer, which was given two special Sunday performances starting January 5, 1941 at the Mecca Temple (later New York's City Center). Channing then moved to Broadway for Let's Face It, in which she was an understudy for Eve Arden. She had a featured role in a revue, Lend an Ear, where she was spotted by Anita Loos and cast in the role of Lorelei Lee, which was to bring her to prominence. (Her signature song from the production was "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.") Channing's persona and that of the character were strikingly alike: simultaneously smart yet scattered, na├»ve but worldly.Channing came to national prominence as the star of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! She never missed a performance during her run, attributing her good health to her Christian Science faith. Her performance won her the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, in a year when her chief competition was Barbara Streisand for Funny Girl. She was deeply disappointed when Streisand, who many believed to be far too young for the role, successfully campaigned to play the role of Dolly Levi in the film, which also starred Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford. Today also would have been the 86th birthday of Mario Lanza. I am old enough to remember just how his amazing talent impressed me so. He died tragically at age thirty-seven of a pulminory embolisim.

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