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Performing Arts Blog
Sondheim Photo

Mixing things up: artists from various musical disciplines re-imagined songs from Sunday
REVIEW by David Levy (The Sondheim ReviewWinter 2014)

Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick... BOOM! occupies a special branch on the Sondheim family tree. Stephen Sondheim holds a God-like (albeit offstage) position in the creative development of the central character, Jon, buoying the struggling songwriter’s sinking confidence with a well-timed phone call. The show is also notable for its loving tribute to Sunday in the Park with George’s title song, re-imagined as a meditation on brunch through the eyes of a harried waiter. The themes of mentorship and derivation in Larson’s musical inspired young composer Ben Wexler to create the Sondheim REMIX challenge in conjunction with a revival of tick, tick... BOOM! at New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series (June 25-28, 2014).

Writers, producers, and performers were invited to take a piece from Sunday “and remix it. Make it yours. Sample it. Adapt it. Run with it.” The range of submissions represented world music, spoken word poetry, electronica, folk, and rap, each demonstrating Sunday’s power to transcend cultures and generations.

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October 30, 2014 by New York City Center
Barbara Cook Photo

Barbara Cook, photographed by Denise Winters.

The glorious Barbara Cook never originated a role in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show, but she’s been very good at pinching their songs, co-opting them, to the point that we think of her as having created them in some fundamental way. That habit began at City Center in the 1950s, when Cook lent her pure, Rockwellian soprano to revivals of Oklahoma! (1953), Carousel (1954), Carousel again (1957), and The King and I (1960). As Carrie Pipperidge, Cook received her first rave New York notices (Brooks Atkinson called her “obviously the biggest find Mr. Hammerstein has made….in appearance, acting and singing she is perfect”), and her Anna Leonowens was so thrillingly sung that it prompted the following note: “We wish last night had been the Broadway opening.” The note was signed, “Dick and Oscar.”

In a recent phone conversation, Cook talked about rehearsing with Richard Rodgers, why The Sound of Music isn’t as schmaltzy as everyone thinks, and why “the lady who played Aunt Eller was just a pain in the ass.”

CITY CENTER: When did you first hear the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein?
BARBARA COOK: Their first big hit was, what, Oklahoma!? Well, I got out of high school in ’45 and took a trip to New York, and that’s the show that I saw. I remember sitting there being a nervous wreck, because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I couldn’t even really see the show properly and enjoy it, because I kept thinking, Oh my god, those people up there—they’re not real people. How could I ever do that?

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October 25, 2014 by New York City Center
Dietz & Schwartz

Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz wrote the immortal standards that make up the score of The Band Wagon.

Some of the most elegant, panache-filled numbers in the American Songbook—including “By Myself,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan”—were written on the sly between court cases and Greta Garbo publicity snafus. The composer was Arthur Schwartz, the lyricist was Howard Dietz, and unlike the big guns of Tin Pan Alley, songwriting was something of an avocation for them. Schwartz had a day job as a lawyer (he eventually became a film producer and a full-time composer), and Dietz worked as the head of publicity at MGM.

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October 24, 2014 by New York City Center

Academy Award nominee Michael McKean has played a heavy metal frontman (This is Spinal Tap), a board game piece (Clue), and J. Edgar Hoover (this spring’s Broadway production of All the Way). His latest role: the lovable hypochondriac Lester Martin in The Band Wagon, an Encores! Special Event based on the classic MGM film. McKean agreed to keep a behind-the-scenes diary of the experience. Read the latest entry!

October 23, 2014

Day four of Band Wagon. Playing completely against type, I got a full seven hours of sleep last night. All the better to wallow in this pot of jam I’ve fallen into. I mean: Kathleen Marshall is over there talking to Tracey Ullman. Please. The incomparable Brian Stokes Mitchell is due any minute. We’re about to rehearse a number called “That’s Entertainment” with the amazing Tony Sheldon. I am officially in Show Business.

I had the pleasure of working with Kathleen (Pajama Game, ’06), Stokes (South Pacific/Hollywood Bowl, ’07) and Tracey (looong history there), but my new buds are pretty awesome. Tony is hilarious, the beautiful Laura Osnes could sing a hungry dog off a meat wagon, and the entire company is world-class.

It's my first experience with Encores! (exclamation point optional) and I’m having a blast.

More soon,
MJM

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October 23, 2014 by New York City Center

On October 27, New York City Center’s annual Gala will celebrate the songbooks of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Lorenz Hart, with a star-studded cast that includes Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, and Paulo Szot. Here, Rodgers & Hammerstein president and City Center board member Ted Chapin answers the question: why is Rodgers’ music continually relevant and popular? 

Richard Rogers

The composer Richard Rodgers.

Richard Rodgers looked like a banker. Of course he lived at a time when men tended to wear suits and ties to work every day, but beyond that, he saw composing and managing his work as a job: the job he was destined to have. He turned out to be very, very good at that job. Here’s what Alec Wilder said in his landmark book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950: “Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication. After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed: I am astonished.”

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October 21, 2014 by New York City Center
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