Saturday, August 23, 2008

LOST GENIUS

Who could forget "Singing In The Rain" Here is Gene in that classic scene!





We lost today what I might call the world's greatest lyricist of all times. Oscar Hammerstein was the pioneer of everything that musical theatre holds dear today. Before Hammerstein, Broadway musicals had meaningless little trifle stories and plots upon which great songs were hung. The story meant nothing but a means to the end to get a great song to the audience. Oscar began this tradition with "Showboat" in 1927 with the incredible Jerome Kern. Oscar died on this day in 1960. I was thirteen years old at the time. Little did I know how much influence this amazing man was going to have on my very own life. Broadway mourned Oscar's passing by darkening all the lights in the Broadway community (the first time this had been done since World War II) for one whole minute. Imagine that! The second gentleman featured on the page today is playwright/screenwriter Sydney Howard. Mr. Howard wrote a little play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 called "They Knew What They Wanted". It was the story of an Italian grape grower who woos a woman in a letter to get her to marry him but has supplied her with another man's picture with his correspondence. She arrives, finds out the truth, but forgives him and marries him. Later when she has had relations with one of the man's stewards and becomes pregnant, he forgives her and remains married to her, regardless. Funny thing, that play was later the basis of the Frank Loesser Broadway musical, "The Most Happy Fella" Sidney's biggest kudo came with winning the Academy Award for adapting the Margaret Mitchell novel "Gone With The Wind". But due to a tragic tractor accident on his farm, that happened on this day in 1939, Mr. Howard never got to see that award. To this day, however, posthumously or not, he is the only individual to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Academy Award. Today also would have been Gene Kelly's 96th birthday. What an incredible entertainer. Now, I'm sure, he's teaching the angels how to dance! A real funny thing: the last movie he did while alive was "Xanadu"-- an amazing flop! But today, the Broadway musical version continues to play to big audiences. I was sorry to learn that Stephen Schwartz's revival of the new production of "Godspell" has been delayed to the pulling out of a major investor. And so the show will NOT go on as planned. I am surprised. Stephen is the hottest ticket on Broadway these days with "Wicked" approaching it's five year anniversary at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. And bad economy or not, "Godspell" is still a wonderful and very established show. Interesting note: There will be a special Broadway concert on October 14th at the Gershwin called "The Yellow Brick Road: The Roads Not Taken" in which all of the cut songs and scenes from the original incarnations of the Wicked musical before 2003 will be presented in a special one night charity concert. Stephen, I am told is busy at work dusting off these forgotten treasures and orchestrating them all-- it just goes to show you-- composers must never throw anything away and they must keep everything they write properly filed and ready to go--just in case. This is going to be a major fundraiser!

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