Friday, January 14, 2011


One of my all time favorite Disney scores is Aladdin written by Alan Menken with lyrics by the oh-so-missed Howard Ashamn who passed from this weary world in 1992. Disneyland's California Adventure where our friend Brandon Pohl stars as Aladdin four times a week. Brandon had been cast in our latest musical "The Bremen Town Boys" (please see our web site: ) but he had to bow out due to scheduling restraints. Now we learn that Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw will stage the world-premiere, two-act stage musical adaptation of the Academy Award-winning Disney film Aladdin at the 5th Avenue Theatre this summer. The new stage adaptation will incorporate the Oscar-winning songs from the 1992 film, penned by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Aladdin will also have a new book by Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), who will pen new lyrics along with Menken. Aladdin will debut July 7-31 with direction and choreography by Nicholaw. The pilot production will be used to launch the new two-act version as a licensable property for professional and amateur organizations through Music Theatre International, which handles rights for Disney Theatrical titles. The new stage production of Aladdin will feature cut songs and moments from early drafts of the property. "Proud of Your Boy," a popular song with lyrics by Ashman, was originally cut from previous drafts and could make its debut in Seattle.Aladdin marks a return to Alan Menkins and Howard Ashman's original vision: a loving homage to the Hope-Crosby road pictures with a score invoking the jazz sound of stars like Cab Calloway and Fats Waller." The new Seattle production will not be the first time that Disney has let the genie out of the bottle besides California Adventure's daily runs , Houston's Theatre Under the Stars debuted a pilot production of a dual-language version of Aladdin in 2009.
Other versions of Disney's Aladdin have been available for years through MTI's Kids and Junior series, which offers pared down versions of stage musicals, geared toward youth theatre performers and young audiences. Disney has also previously developed "Mulan," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland" and "High School Musical" for its youth theatre series. Disney is also at work on a theatrical adaptation of its 1992 live-action film "Newsies," which also features a score by Menken and a new book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein. Yeah for Harvey! His magic will make it come alive! The property has been sought after by numerous schools and theatre groups across the country for years, and will likely receive its own pilot staging in the near future prior to being released as part of Disney's theatrical licensing catalogue. But right now, the new production is not aimed at Broadway, but licensing for schools and colleges. Our own show "The Bremen Town Boys" continues its rehearsal process and we have a wonderful director who is simply brilliant. Her name is Cat Deobler. The weather here in California has actually gotten over it's terrible cold spell. I actually have my front door open as I write this. That would have been stupid only four days ago. My new little cat "Joshua" is a real character, himself. He's a Siamese-Rag Doll mix and has more personality than some people I know.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I remember Gypsy Rose Lee as a young man-- she was certainly a hoot to watch on television. Watching the musical "Gypsy" is always entertaining for me. But her life in the later years is even more interesting than the story the musical tells. As late as 1948, Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister June Havoc continued to get demands for money from their mother, who had opened a boardinghouse for women in a 10-room apartment on West End Avenue in New York City (the property rented for her by Gypsy, herself), as well as a farm in Highland Mills, New York. Not bad-- a farm and a boarding house together! Good old Mama Rose shot and killed one of her guests who was actually Mama Rose's female lover who had made a pass at Gypsy, according to an account provided by Gypsy's son, Erik Lee Preminger). The incident was explained away as a suicide and Rose was not prosecuted. Mama Rose died in 1954 of colon cancer With their mother dead, the sisters now felt free to write about her without risking a lawsuit. Gypsy's memoirs, titled Gypsy, were published in 1957 and were taken as inspirational material for the Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable. June Havoc did not like the way she was portrayed in the piece, but she was eventually persuaded (and paid) not to oppose it in public for her sister's sake. The play and the subsequent movie deal assured Gypsy a steady income. The sisters became estranged and didn't speak for years. June, in turn, wrote the novel "Early Havoc" and "More Havoc",relating her version of the story. Gypsy Rose Lee went on to host a morning San Francisco KGO-TV television talk show, Gypsy. She was diagnosed in 1969 with metastatic lung cancer, which prompted her to reconcile with June before her death. "This is my present, you know," \she reportedly told June, " this is my present from Mother".
The walls of her Los Angeles home were adorned with pictures by Joan MirĂ³, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning, all of which were reportedly gifts to her by the artists themselves. Like Picasso, she was a supporter of the Popular Front movement in the Spanish Civil War and raised money for charity to alleviate the suffering of Spanish children during the conflict. She also founded one of the first kennels dedicated to breeding Chinese Crested dogs in the U.S, "Lee", which was sold after her death to Mrs. Ida Garrett and Debora Wood. Gypsy Rose Lee died of lung cancer in Los Angeles in 1970. She is buried Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


The picture today is a photo from a Broadway show that ran almost 1600 performances. Neil Simon never runs that long on the Great White Way. The play is "Mary, Mary" The stars are Barbara Bel Geddes and Barry Miler. The author is Jean Kerr. Jean Kerr, wife of Broadway film critic, Walter Kerr was and remains one of my all time favorite writers. The things she wrote were national best sellers and Tony award winning plays and musicals. She of course wrote the world famous "Please Don't Eat The Daisies" and the very funny Broadway play called "Mary, Mary" which I had the absolute honor and delight running lights for for the San Gabriel Little Theatre right after my father died back in 1967. That starred Gary and Linda Hamner, two of the best actors on the planet and dear old David P. Klain who taught social studies at Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights where my friend Tim Doran played piano for almost twenty years. Those were great years. Jean Kerr, whose wry wit and unerring eye for life's everyday absurdities kept legions of readers and theatergoers laughing with books died on this date back in 1980 in White Plains, New York. She was 80. She lived nearby in Larchmont, N.Y., and also in Westchester County. Mrs. Kerr was well acquainted with the glamour, grit and egocentric follies of life in the theater and capitalized on that experience. She wrote entertainingly and often about show business, musing about what to say when lunching with a prospective producer (order a drink, so you look relaxed, but don't touch it lest he think you're an alcoholic), or gloomily anticipating negative reviews of her latest work (''If I have to commit suicide, I have nothing but Gelusil'').But she also had an unquestioned gift for finding the comic in the commonplace anxieties of suburbia and married life. She cheerfully acknowledged doing most of her writing in the family car, parked several blocks away from the scrambling chaos of several children and pets (''There is nothing to do but write, after I get the glove compartment tidied up. The Kerrs made their debut as a team on Broadway in 1946 with ''Song of Bernadette,'' a dramatization of Franz Werfel's novel about a young Frenchwoman who was canonized after saying she had seen visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near Lourdes. It was not a success, nor was her solo writing effort two years later, a comedy called ''Jenny Kissed Me,'' about a priest who finds his household disrupted by the arrival of his housekeeper's niece.
Jean and Walter Kerr teamed up again in 1949 with ''Touch and Go,'' a revue for which they wrote the sketches and lyrics and which Mr. Kerr directed. The show was a hit, with sketches ranging from ''Hamlet'' performed as a musical comedy to a location rehearsal for a film sequence in which one of the characters, a trained ape, turns out to be smarter than the glamorous actress who is the star of the film. Brooks Atkinson, writing in The New York Times,praised the Kerrs' ''breezy and informed wit'' and hailed the show as the best of the season. It was her quotes that always made me laugh.
Tidbits like "Getting Divorced is like getting hit by a Mack truck. If you survive it, you go around life always looking closely to the right and the left." Hats off, dear Jean. I hope the world will continue reading your many plays and books.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Before I tell you all about the greatest flop in Broadway history, I must tell you that I read today that the musical "Wicked" has now broken the all time weekly box office record of any musical in Broadway history. Or for that matter, at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City where it is now in its eighth year. The gross for one week between December 26th, 2010 and January 3rd 2011 at this theatre alone was $2,228,235. There are two touring versions in the country as well. One is in Chicago, which broke more records grossing $1,726,476 in the same week and Indianapolis which grossed in the same period a whopping $1,597,732. That's a total of (drum roll please) $5,552,443 for ONE WEEK. Absolutely amazing and it couldn't to a nicer man. God love you, Steven Schwartz! You who help countless numbers of we dreamers who want to have our own "Broadway Miracle" He works so hard helping others and has certainly been an inspiration to me and my writing partner, John Nugent. Now before you say "Well, if you're already famous like Steven Schwartz. things like that just happen. Oh no! Ask Charles Strouse with or without Lee Adams how being famous doesn't save you from a great big Broadway flop. Together they had one of the biggest-- "Bring Back Byrdie" (Donald O' Connor in a jump suit?-- dear God) and "It's A Bird, It's a Plane" But the all time biggest flop in the world was called "Home Sweet Homer" with music by Mitch Leigh, the composer of "Man of La Mancha." It even co-starred Joan Diener who had been in "La Mancha" and the legendary Yul Brynner. It opened and closed in one afternoon-- not even making it to the Sunday evening performance. That date was today's date in 1976-- yes, the same year that Jimmy Carter took office as president. The libretto or the book of this notorious flop was by Roland Kibbee and Albert Marre. The lyrics were written by Charles Burr and Forman Brown and as I mentioned before, the music was written by "The Impossible Dream" composer Mitch Leigh. By the way, Mitch Leigh never again had a successful Broadway show after this unmitigated disaster. Originally, this ill fated musical bomb was called "Odyssey". It was Loosely based on Homeric legend, focusing on Odysseus , the hero of the Trojan War and the guy who came up with the sneaky idea of the Trojan Horse. Brilliant! Now, according to legend, while fighting in this war, Odysseus did something so offensive to the god Poseidon that the angry god decreed that he would never find his way back home. Of course it also involved his spouse Penelope, awaiting his return to Ithaca. You remember her-- the most faithful wife in history. When her husband never returned, because of the god's decree, she was pressured to marry one of the young men in the country which she actually promised to do the day that she actually finished weaving a hug tapestry that she sewed by day in full view of everyone in town and secretly unraveled it at night. Is that a sneaky broad or what? Of course, although it was a great stalling, all of these would be suitors all moved right into the palace, all of them waiting for the finish day of this amazing tapestry and every one of them took full advantage of Grecian hospitality in general and her good heart in particular! -- you know, gold, treasures, food. Well anyway, after ten long years, Odysseus returns in a very convincing secret disguise of a poor beggar and retuns to Ithaca where he gathers some friends who recognize him. He then convinces dear Penelope to announce the choosing date of one of the many suitors. She is to hold a contest wherein she will marry the suitor who is able to string Odysseus' bow and fire an arrow through a set of gold rings: a feat that only Odysseus, himself had been known to do. During the contest, Odysseus friends lock all of the doors to the Palace. After all the suitors fail at the task, Odysseus, himself begs to try. The suitors who think he is only a poor beggar mock him, but it might good sport to watch his failure. Once Odysseus achieves the task, his disguise is miraculously removed by the goddess Athena. Once his true identity is revealed, Odysseus uses the rest of his arrows to kill all of the suitors. Now, he is totally victorious and he and Penelope and their twenty year old son, Telemachus (born on the day his father left to fight the Trojan War) all live happily ever after. Too bad this poor show didn't have the same luck. The musical was designed as a vehicle for Yul Brynner, who was anxious to duplicate his success in The King and I more than two decades earlier. The original book and lyrics were by author Erich Segal, the author of "Love Story" and a fairly modest production with a small cast began a national tour in December 1974. The tour was plagued with problems from the start. Both Brynner and co-star Joan Diener r frequently were ill and missed performances. In April 1975, the two, together with Diener's husband Marre and Brynner's wife Jacqueline, filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against Trader Vic's in Manhattan, alleging the short ribs they ate there shortly before the start of the tour were poisonous and had left them "ill, weak, and infirm." And of course that cursed the musical too? Right? Oh brother. In each city the show was played it received consistently bad reviews, and when it reached Los Angeles, Segal asked that his name be removed from the credits. Marre, whose career was littered with bombs like Cry for Us All and the equally dreadful Shangri-La, by Burt Bacharach and Hal David not only revamped the book and lyrics, but fired the totally clueless choreographer Billy Wilson and took over the musical staging as well. In August, an unhappy Brynner sued to terminate his contract but backed down when he was threatened with a $1 million countersuit. By November, the producers decided to close the show at the end of the tour and forgo a Broadway opening. Brynner (already angry that he couldn't get out of this bomb) threatened to quit and take up another multi-million dollar law suit if they didn't proceed to New York City and Broadway as planned and promised to Brynner. The fast shuffle followed and eleven previews later, the poor show, now an extravagant production retitled "Home Sweet Homer", opened at the Sunday matinee on January 4, 1976 at the Palace Theatre. The closing notice was posted as soon as the curtain fell. Yul Brynner vowed he would never step foot on another Broadway stage. You might call this true story "The bigger you are, the harder you fall. Today also would have been Sterling Holloway's birthday. Sterling was the voice of Winnie The Pooh, the stork in"Dumbo" and Kaa The Snake in "The Jungle Book" Rehearsal went very well for our musical "The Bremen Town Boys" last night. We have a great cast and an amazing director.

Monday, January 03, 2011


Well, tonight at 7pm, John Nugent and I start all of this again. A brand new opening rehearsal for a brand new musical. This time it's called "THE BREMEN TOWN BOYS". Now trust me, sometimes plays and musicals seem to write themselves. This project all started out as an attempt to musicalize the famous Brothers Grimm story called "The Four Musicians of Bremen Town". Now as admirable as all of that sounds, I have taken a few whacks at musicalizing fairy tales. All of my stage musicals all started with writing a brand new "Wizard Of Oz" for the Gallery Theatre in Ontario, Ca way back in 1980. That's over thirty years ago. I followed with"The Return Of The Wizard Of Oz" and John Nugent and I have adapted "The Wild Swans" and dear Tim Doran and I made a really wonderful adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Traveling Companion". But with this show, I almost stopped in the middle of because it just wasn't grabbing me. That is until the day I decided to make it a musical spoof of actors, directors, producers, divas and of course all the little things that they all demand. You know: "what's my motivation?". "what's the complication?" and of course the world famous "what's the agenda?" So now, by the end of Act One, this whole musical story gets turned on its head. Now we have writers fighting with producers, actors fighting with songwriters etc. So tonight at 7:00pm, our director Cat Deobler takes the reigns of our newest show. Friends David Marc and Bob Weiner are in the show. David plays a farmer and a deadpan sheriff. Bob plays the Mayor who turns out to be the greedy producer, Jeffrey Gardner plays the clever Herald. Michael Liles plays the handsome Christofer. Great find Andrew George plays Matthias, the musician and the amazing Julie Rothman plays the diva, Princess Marta. The show is fun and music wise style, John Nugent and I have gone with the styles of Jerry Herman, Cy Coleman and of course our dear friends, The Sherman Brothers. Robert Sherman turned eighty-five years young last December 19th. He still lives in London and he and his amazing brother Richard are still trying to their newest musical "The Merry Go Round" off the ground. John and I are the ultimate fans, if you're not counting family! They have inspired both of us so much. In our musical score for BREMEN TOWN BOYS" John and I are very proud of the songs "Gaining Wisdom" and "Somebody Had To Love Her" You can't believe hoe many people we had to audition to get our sixteen member cast. Why do actors take a role, give their word in commitment to it and then break their promise because suddenly "they are just too busy" or "they have a family emergency" "or "they can't take a role without checking with their manager?" or the big one is when they accept a role that pays 33% of each guest they sell to refer to us, (and without being in Equity) they demand $75.00 a night minimum guaranteed. We are a dinner theatre show. Equity dinner theatre does eight shows a week and pays $525.00 a week including twelve hour rehearsal days (times five brutal days) in tech week. Divide eight shows into $525 and you get $65 a night, We are asking for four shows, two on one day (Sunday)
Well, I have a great memory. I will remember those actors who have broken their word without great reason. We open in Van Nuys on February 11th at 8:00pm and run Friday Nights, Saturday matinees and two shows on Sunday. Thanks again to the Sherman Oaks Fashion Square Mall for the free use of the rehearsal space.