Monday, September 14, 2009

JOHN OFF TO FLORIDA AND 1980 WASN'T GOOD FOR ME TOO




Today, my John took off to Florida to see his mother and sister and his nephew and niece. It's been four long years. I dropped him off at LAX without incident. The D23 convention wrapped up in Anaheim, yesterday. Pretty amazing stuff here. I understand. The picture you see here is of Walt Disney's desk the day before he checked into Saint Joseph's Hospital for the last time way back in late November 1966. He died there on December 5th of the same year. Funny, my dad passed away in January of that same year. Look at that phone! An Emmy and an Oscar happened to be there on his desk that day and he had just written out a check. That's his personal pen and reading glasses. I read today where the unluckiest year of them all was 1980 for Charles Strouse, the composer-- and 1980 wasn't a terribly good year for me ether-- with the exception that I started writing for musical theatre in that same year for the Gallery Theatre in Ontario. Charles Strouse wrote a musical called "Charlie and Algernon" which opened and closed after seventeen performances. "Charlie" is the musical telling of the motion picture "Charly". The musical had a book and lyrics by David Rogers and music by the aforementioned Mr. Strouse. It is based on the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.The title characters are a mentally retarded man and a laboratory mouse, respectively. Charlie volunteers to participate in an experimental intelligence-enhancing treatment, and his rapid progress parallels that of Algernon, who had been treated earlier. When the mouse's enhanced intelligence begins to fade, Charlie realizes he too is fated to revert to his original mental state. The ill fated show opened on September 14, 1980 at the Helen Hayes Theatre and ran for those investment busting 17 performances. The cast included P. J. Benjamin and Sandy Faison. In 1979, the musical opened as Flowers for Algernon in London's West End with Michael Crawford as Charlie. In the London staging, Michael Crawford performed one number in a spotlight while the trained white mouse ran from one of his hands to the other, by way of Crawford's shoulders and neck. The audience reaction to this was so positive that Crawford repeated it with another live mouse (while playing an entirely different character) in 2003 while starring in the West End Llyold Weber musical The Woman in White. Charlie and Algernon was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Original Score. A London cast album was released on the Original Cast Records label. Later in the season, disaster would finish Mr. Strouse once more. He and old time lyricist Lee Adams joined forces to write a sequel to "Bye Bye Birdie"-- which is being revived in 2009 on Broadway. Picture this: It's twenty years later and Conrad Birdie is missing. Guess who was playing Conrad? Believe it or not it was the late great Donald O' Connor-- in a jump suit for God's sake. This poor misfit musical open and closed in four performances. It reminds me of Walt Disney's old philosophy "You can't top pigs with pigs" That referred to the studios in 1933 clamoring for more cartoons starring that fearless pork trio "The Three Little Pigs". So here's the opening synopsis from this show-- you be the judge-- especially if you know the original masterpiece: As the house lights dim, we hear a woman's voice telling us, in story-teller-lady fashion: "Once upon a time, so long ago that New York City hadn't even been bankrupt once, there lived a young man in the music business named Albert Peterson, who loved his secretary, Rose. His only client, a rock-n-roll idol known as Conrad Birdie, was being drafted into the army, and Rose wanted Albert to give up the music business, marry her, and become...an English teacher! Alas, Albert's mother--a frail and gentle old lady with many of the same endearing qualities as Snow White's stepmother--opposed the match. But love triumphed, Conrad vanished, the mother was banished, Albert married his Rose and became an English teacher and they all lived happily ever after. [Ominous chord.) Till now." After the Overture, we see two shadowy figures in a darkened room, and, after Albert finds the light switch, we learn that Rose and Albert are burglarizing their old office, looking for the contract that will put them on the trail of Conrad Birdie. It seems that Birdie disappeared 18 years ago, and Albert has been offered twenty thousand dollars if he can track down his former client and get him to perform on a TV Grammy Award special along with other giant recording stars of yesterday. Albert has accepted the challenge, eager to return to the music business, and Rose is unhappy about it. "Albert," she pleads, "if NBC wants Conrad, let them find him! We have too much at stake!" Oh well! Can someone say Neil Simon rip off? Ah, well, even great writers have great flops-- but another Strouse flop was coming-- this time with Alan Jay Lerner called "Dance A Little Closer" which the critics dubbed "Close A Little Faster"-- which it did in four performances. Then another flop-- this time with Stephen Schwartz in a mis mosh musical called "Rags". But Strouse's bad luck was to continue for he followed "Rags" in 1993 with "Nick And Nora" with nine performances. Based On "The Thin Man" it boasted a book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Richard Maltby. Ironically, Mr. Strouse also wrote the music score to the most disastrous movie flop since Howard The Duck-- the one and only "Ishtar". But Charlie persist. From his pen is coming a musical called "The Night They Raided Minsky's". Why isn't he writing with Lee Adams? oh well, maybe Charlie is living the words of Larry Gelbert "I was dead once or twice, but I'm better now"

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