Monday, January 11, 2021

JERRY HERMAN: A MUSICAL OPTIMIST CELEBRATES LOVE AND LIFE

Recently the Pasadena Playhouse in California presented a musical love letter to Jerry Herman that displayed the composer and lyricist as a man filled with joy, optimism, love and timelessness. Written and conceived by Andrew Einhorn, “You I Like” is a delightful tribute to a man who wrote such musical classics as “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” garnering two Tonys in the process. A quintet of singers, Andrea Ross, Ryan Vona, Lesli Margherita, Nicholas Christopher and Ashley Blanchet, offered such favorite confections as “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and the title tune “Hello, Dolly!” that when sung by Louis Armstrong bumped the Beatles off the Billboard 100 spot where they had resided for weeks. Herman’s songs had shine and sparkle and a “glitzy optimism” according to Einhorn, a massive body of work that made Herman a master of the show tune. The only child of a couple who took him frequently to Broadway to see theater, he was particularly attached to his mother Ruth, a cheerleader of his who died of cancer when he was only 21. He said in an interview that his mother “was glamorous like Mame and witty like Dolly.” Sadly she died before he had a hit on Broadway, but she did arrange for him to have a meeting with composer Frank Loesser when he was a teenager. Loesser encouraged him to continue his writing and advised him to write his songs as if he was building a train, with a locomotive in front, followed by a red caboose that held a little surprise. After that meeting, Herman changed courses and colleges, leaving architecture for show business. Herman’s philosophy was always to find happiness in even the smallest pleasures, a trait he learned early on from his mother. One day he came home from school to find her planning a party. When asked why a party, she replied “Because it’s today.” That may explain why the tune “It’s Today” is such a glorious hit in “Mame.” Jerry Herman was always trying to transport his listeners to warm places of welcome like in the song “Shalom” from his musical “Milk and Honey,” a play about the young and strong state of Israel, a homeland of greeting with a little hello and farewell in it. In writing it, he spent time visiting and talking with the people in the land, rather than take an organized tour. When asked, he claimed his favorite work was the musical about the silent movies, “Mack and Mabel,” with the tune “Movies More Movies.” He had the unique ability to create real and vital characters and could even identify with female roles, like Gooch in “Gooch’s Song” from “Mame.” Gooch sings how she lived, and lived so well, that she opened her window so wide, too wide, that she couldn’t close it again. Even though he was not a trained musician, he was influenced by Irving Berlin and wrote his own holiday song “We Need a Little Christmas” as a Jewish composer. His songs could capture humor and stretch it far for laughs like in “Boom Buddies” in “Mame” where two frienemies defend each other no matter how hard it is to recognize the naked truth or in “If He Walked into My Life Today” also from “Mame” which struggled sentimentally with how issues were handled in the past and what might be different today. Jerry Herman called his musicals “my children.” They had a timeless quality, especially his message songs like Time Heals Everything” from “Mack and Mabel” and “The Best of Times” and “I am who I am” from “La Cage Aux Folles.” In “La Cage” he focused on acceptance between male lovers, a situation that had not been tackled before. You can still get in on the fun and sing along. Go to PlayhouseLive.org. Support the non-profit theater and entertain the whole family for $24.99 until February 7, watching as many times as you’d like. His legacy is clearly that he wanted to explore the human condition and was wholly devoted to making people smile. As Andy Einhorn stated so eloquently. Jerry Herman was a man who “loved to live and lived to love” and we are all the better for that devotion.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

HARTFORD THEATERS OFFER TRIPLE HOLIDAY GIFTS

HARTFORD THEATERS OFFER TRIPLE HOLIDAY GIFTS For another dash of holiday humor, look no further than “Christmas on the Rocks” courtesy of TheaterWorks Hartford for an encore performance, streaming until Thursday, December 31. Imagine some of your favorite childhood characters have come back to life, as adults, and are heading for a local bar on Christmas Eve. Ted Lange of “Love Boat” fame is their friendly bartender, ready and eager to hear their tales of woe and how they are faring in this cold, hard world. Come meet Ralphie Parker who did indeed get his eye shot out by his bb gun, in his gun safety class of all places. The trauma continues with a peek back to George Bailey’s daughter Zuzu who has developed an unusual fear of bells and the angels who can get their wings. It’s also time to meet the most misfit of elves, Hermie, who doesn’t like Rudolph, hates making toys for Santa and really wants to be a dentist. Be careful because Karen, the girl who created Frosty the Snowman, walks into the bar, anxious to escape the police because she has turned Frosty into a pail of frozen water with her trusty hair dryer. The cynical Tiny Tim enters cursing Christmas as a lie and a horrible one at that, no longer grateful to Scrooge for saving his life. Get your toe shoes on as the heroine of “The Nutcracker,” Clara, pirouettes in, cursing the day she married her suave cracker of nuts. Could her husband be cheating on her? Finally end on a sweet note as that perpetual loser Charlie Brown once again meets the love of his life, the little red-haired girl, and proves there is hope for the future. Stay tuned for a special quarantine edition at the end. Conceived and directed by Rob Ruggiero, the show features Randy Harrison, Jenn Harris, Matthew Wilkas and Harry Bouvy in addition to Ted Lange. Go to twhartford.org to sign up today. Another holiday treat from TWH is a jazzy evening with Ella Fitzgerald, thanks to the singing sensation Tina Fabrique, with “A Very Ella Christmas.” Curl up on the living room sofa, in front of your fireplace, for a warm and cozy concert with such favorites as “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” among others. Go to twhartford.org to sign up for streaming tonight only. West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park offers an unusual and emotional visit of music “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” by Peter Rothstein, where German and English soldiers declared a temporary cease fire on the holiday. While the fever of war encourages eager, young lads to enlist, the reality of war soon intrudes its ugly reality. With no idea of what they are facing, both sides lay down their arms for a brief moment of compassion in a war that claimed nine million killed. Their voices raised in song are truly memorable. Go to playhouseonpark.org for details until Sunday, January 3. Bring some special joy into this holiday season with the amazing magic of streaming theater until we are able to attend in person once again.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

MERRY CHRISTMAS DARLING

Now that we are literally home for the holidays, we must work a little harder to make the season holly, jolly and bright. Goodspeed Musicals is making that mission one sprig of mistletoe easier by offering a wonderful holiday concert to stream until Sunday, December 27 with “Merry Christmas Darling” when Heidi Kettenring Sings Karen Carpenter. The joy of live performance can be yours as the music and life of Karen Carpenter are celebrated in this two hour event that ends with an interview with Heidi Kettenring where she reveals many intimate stories about her life. Elton John called Ms. Carpenter “one of the greatest voices of our lifetime” while Paul McCartney recognized her as “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” She was born in New Haven, Connecticut and followed her older brother Richard’s passion for music. Originally she was a drummer, and a wonderful one at that, until her singing voice was discovered. Heidi Kettenring recreates her memorable voice with her unforgettable songs and then wraps them like a present in delightful anecdotes and stories about Karen’s life and how they both share many similarities. Kettenring takes the audience on a musical journey singing such tines as “Top of the World,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “A Song for You,” “Sing," ”For All We Know,” ”We’ve Only Just Begun” and “It’s Goin' Take Some Time,” to name but a few. In between we learn about her career, the men she dated like Tony Danza, Steve Martin, Mark Harmon and Alan Osmond, her best friends Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick and Olivia Newton-John, her one brief marriage, her health issues and early death as well as a selection of holiday tunes to gladden the season, like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Little Altar Boy.” Chuck Larkin is her musical director and pianist, with her band and musical accompanists as well. With her prolific background as a singer and actress, Heidi Kettenring brings a warmth and sincerity to her performance that makes Karen Carpenter real and substantial, a legendary singer who lives once again in our hearts and minds. She takes us over the rainbow with recollections and we are free to singalong in the privacy of our own living rooms to all the songs we love so well. Sweet intimate details tie the two women together, like Karen started playing the drums to get out of gym class while Heidi used choir practice to escape the same dreaded physical activities. To secure this Christmas Valentine to Karen Carpenter, for $35, go to goodspeed.org or call 860-873-8668. As we bid a final farewell to the year 2020, reward yourself with a visit with this pair of “Superstars” and ask yourself “Do You Hear What I Hear?” A bit of musical heaven.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

LIZ CALLAWAY CONCERT "HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS" COURTESY OF THE PALACE THEATER

Versatile could be Liz Callaway’s middle name. Her unique and warmly inviting singing style has been celebrated in such roles as Eva Peron in “Evita,” Norma Desmond in ”Sunset Boulevard,” Dot in “Sunday in the Park with George” and Grizabella in “Cats” to name but a few. In addition, she’s created concerts featuring the music of “Follies,” “Hair” and composer Stephen Sondheim. These are but a few of the Titanic tip of the legendary musical iceberg for this prolific artist. Right now you can bring the iconic Miss Callaway right into your living room until Saturday, December 19 as you snuggle by the fire place for a singularly sensational concert of holiday music perfect for your evening viewing pleasure. You don’t have to travel to New Zealand, China, Australia, Iceland, Estonia, France, Slovenia, South Korea or Spain to hear her golden voice. This Tony nominee and Emmy Award winning singer, actress and recording artist will present “Home for the Holidays” courtesy of Waterbury’s Palace Theater as part of Bank of America’s Virtual Holiday Series. Support the Palace Theater and save $5 on your ticket by going to www.palacetheater.com for streaming instructions. With a lovely Christmas setting at the Bedford Playhouse in Bedford, New York, Miss Callaway welcomes you with “We Need a Little Christmas,” convincing us that snow and Santa will both be coming soon. With show tunes from movies and Broadway, she reveals her personal philosophy for facing her challenges, by belting out “Cockeyed Optimist,” She encourages you to set a place at the dining room table because she is sure “l’ll Be Home for Christmas.” In between the songs, she delights with charming conversations and anecdotes, sharing her background as a voice animating such movies as becoming a singing and dancing napkin ring in “Beauty and the Beast,” being the voice of the lost Russian princess in “Anastasia,” playing Jasmine in “Aladdin,” and even the “Brave Little Toaster.” With guitarist Peter Calo, she gives a glimpse into her new album ”Comfort and Joy An Acoustic Christmas” with tunes like “Merry Christmas Darling” and “Carol of the Bells.” Thanks to pianist Joseph Thalken, her seventy minute concert is a lovely way to usher in the holiday spirit, ending with the cheery wish to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a desire we all share as the difficult year 2020 winds to a close.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Have no fear, the beautiful holiday of Christmas is hiding under the mistletoe, behind the spruce tree, in gaily wrapped presents, in fact everywhere you look. Just because you may not be able to enter theaters in person doesn’t mean you can’t be a Nancy Drew and discover holiday frivolity for your family’s viewing pleasure, and many are for free. Pantochino Productions in Milford is planning a special email every day until December 24, with 24 mini shows. Just go to http://www.pantochino.com/donate and sign up for the holiday fun. The Irish Rep has a special musical treat until January 2 with the streaming of “Meet Me in St. Louis” by going to IrishRep.org. For a little adult humor until Thursday, December 31 travel to TheaterWorks Hartford for a return of their perpetual favorites “Christmas on the Rocks” when some of your favorite fairy tale characters decide to frequent a local bar on Christmas Eve. Go to twhartford.org for all the humorous details. West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park has a little more serious and spiritual fare this season with “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” as it explores the experience of both sides in no man’s land on Christmas Eve, between the British and the German soldiers, until January 3. Go to playhouseonpark.org for all the details. What would the season be like without a visit with George Bailey and Clarence the wannabe angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a radio show complete with sound effects courtesy of Music Theater of Connecticut, one of the few places you can actually occupy a seat as well as stream. Available until December 20, call 203-454-3883 for all the particulars. The Shubert Theater in New Haven and the Palace Theater in Waterbury are both streaming a new Christmas family show “Eleanor’s Very Marry Christmas Wish” until December 27 when a rag doll wishes very hard for a home and best friend of her own. Check their websites for all the special details and presents that can be purchased. Ten thousand lights are aglow at the Ivoryton Playhouse for capturing the Christmas spirit as well as a new children’s book created by playhouse artistic director Jacqueline Hubbard. Invite "Ella Capella and the Pink Umbrella" into your home for a sweet treat and fundraising effort to help the theater continue to thrive during this difficult time. Go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org to place your order. Now is the time to pile the family in the care and attend the 26th Festival of Lights at Lighthouse Point Park nights until December 31st. Goodwill of Southern New England is the beneficiary of this cherished fundraiser. Other places to travel include the Mystic Seaport Candlelight Tours, the Bridgeport Beardsley Zoo and Miss Florence’s Trees at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. Call each venue for all the specifics. Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre is celebrating with a musical in “Miracle in Hamilton Park-Virtual Christmas Cabaret” when all the loyal friends of the showplace gather by the Christmas tree to help artistic director Semina DeLaurentis do her holiday musical magic. Not to be outdone ACT of Ridgefield is offering “Broadway Unwrapped” to take the audience backstage to showcase their past productions. Go to unwrapped2020 for the entry information. These are but a few of the wonderful productions across the state that are guaranteed to make your family happy with new traditions. Plan to experience one or three to create new holiday joys.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

CHANUKAH TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD

When Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 they settled in Syria for safety.  On Chanukah they vowed to light an additional candle, a shamash or servant candle, for thanks for their rescue.  Consider lighting an extra candle today in honor of the refugees who have since fled Syria in search of a safe homeland.

It is customary in France, in the southern region of Avignon, on the Shabbat during Chanukah to open a new bottle of wine or cask.  After Havdalah, the end of Shabbat, Jews travel to neighboring homes to toast the holiday and celebrate the community. 

Mexicans call the holiday Januca or Lucenarias, the feast of lights, and children play a game called Toma todo or winner take all.  It is similar to dreidel except the top has 6 sides not four.  Their dreidel is called a pirinola. Mexican Jews often break a piƱata shaped like a dreidel filled with Chanukah treats and trinkets.

In Italy, they combine the holidays of Tisha B’Av where the candle used to read the portion is saved and used to light the menorah on Chanukah.
The sadness of the destruction of the Holy Temple is overcome by the joy of rededication on the festival of redemption.

There are no Jews left in Kurdistan but Kurdish Jews celebrate wherever they are in the world.  Like giving Chanukah gelt, the children lock their doors to their rooms and parents must give them coins to gain entrance. If they are too poor to have a menorah, they use eggshells to hold wicks and oil to light every night.

Moroccan Jews add an extra day, a ninth day, called the day of the shamash, when children go house to house collecting left over Chanukah candles.  They create a giant bonfire and dance and sing.  Single women jump over the fire to hope to find a husband, while married women to conceive a child. You could also soak three candles in hot water to soften them and twist them together to make a small havdalah candle.

Tunisian Jews celebrate the seventh day of Chanukah, Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the beginning of the month of Tevet, for a holiday within a holiday.  This festival known as the Festival of the Daughters or Chag haBanot, honors the courage of Yehudit, who saved the Jewish nation by killing the general sent by Antiochus, the evil ruler of the Syrian-Greek Empire. On this day, women do no work, but visit each other and eat doughnuts and honey cookies.  It is especially meaningful to women about to be married.

In Israel, Chanukah is a holiday without limits as you can drive, shop, and travel by bus and train. It is impossible to be in a bad mood while eating a jelly donut or sufganiyot. The entire country comes together in a rare celebration of solidarity.

May your family create its own light and love filled traditions of Chanukah. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

THE OLD-FANGLED TELEPHONE

Ever since the time when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, there have been telemarketers to bother and harass us.  And no time has it been more troublesome than these past eight months during the pandemic. Every day and sometimes multiple times  day I am offered a free $400 medical alert system so someone can pick me up from the floor, the shower or the park when I fall.  I can also lower my credit card interest rate, put a set of solar panels on my roof, get my Google listing upgraded and engage a new third party payer for my electrical needs.  Who wouldn’t be thrilled by this plethora of opportunities”

Frankly, me.  As Clark Gable's Rhett Butler said to Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a fig.” Why don’t I just sign up for the Do Not Call Registry you might ask.  Well, I did and my listing doesn’t rescue me one iota.  I still hear the voices of Sue and Amy and even Chinese and Phiiipinos.  Maybe I should try learning how to say no thanks in a variety of languages.  And to make it more frustrating, they keep calling from new and unidentified places, even hospitals and sometimes from your own phone number.  No one said these telemarketers aren't tricky
and sly.  I try to tell them I am not interested, that my condo won’t allow solar panels, that I pay my credit cards fully every month, that my car is still under warranty and besides who is actually driving.

They don’t care. What is even most disturbing of all is I now realize that if it weren’t for these annoying roto phone calls, I might not get any phone calls at all.