Tag Archives: Judy Kaye

Nr 464: Oh, Brother!(1981)

27 Jan

Oh, Brother!
Broadway 1981, 3 perf.

Music: Michael Valenti
Lyrics: Donald Driver
Book: Donald Driver based on William Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors (1591) which in turn was based on Plautus (254 B.C. – 182 B.C) play Menaechmi.

Tag line: Musical Comedy breaks out in the Middle East!

OH, BROTHER! takes place during a revolution in an oil rich Middle Eastern country on the Persian Gulf in a quaint resort town where its populace of merchants and revolutionaries mix Eastern tradition with Western consumerism. Into this volatile environment unwittingly stumbles a sweet old American named Lew. He is immediately surrounded by revolutionaries demanding he explain his presence. And the show starts with him telling his story:
Years ago, travelling in the Middle East with his wife, Lillian, she gave birth to identical twin boys. At the same time a dear black woman also gave birth to identical twin boys, but she died. Lew and Lillian adopted the orphaned twin boys to raise as brothers to their own. And for some inexplicable reason they only give each pair of twins one name so we have 2 boys named Habim and 2 named Mousada. When Lillian was well they booked separate flights home, separate flights to lessen the chance an air disaster might orphan any of their infant sons. Each parent took one twin from each set and departed for home. Disaster struck! The plane on which Lillian and her two charges were flying was hijacked to Iraq.
Lew tried to find them, but he never saw Lillian or the two boys again.
When Lew’s two boys grew to manhood, curious about their lost twins they prevailed upon old Lew to let them search the world to find them. Lew consented.
That was two years ago. Now they are lost too and he is searching for them.
And now the real story begins: of course Lew’s sons are in the same town at the same time as their father (unbeknownst to him) and, as faith would have it, it is in this very town their lost twin brothers live…

This leads to a series of mistaken identities where nobody knows which brother is which (they have the same name, remember) and that in turn leads to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of of one brother, false accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and lots and lots of confusion and hilarious situations and a big chase. But all is solved in the end and they even find their long lost mother Lillian.

Well, that sounds like it could be a lot of fun, right? And it is quite funny for a half hour or so, but the whole ”mistaken identity” thing gets old and very predictable rather fast, and what’s left is a loooong wait for the cast to start the finale.
Thankfully the music is good. Some songs are even very good. And that saves the show from being a total waste. We have an old fashioned opening number that sets your toes tapping along (We Love An Old Story), a beautiful quartet for the two pair of twins (I Too The World), a romantic anthem that sounds like something Rodgers & Hammerstein could have written (That’s Him) and a very funny and definitely not politically correct song (How Do You Want Me).

And there was so much talent on the stage: Judy Kaye (the Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia), Harry Groener (Cats, Crazy for You) and David James Carroll (Chess, Grand Hotel), just to mention a few of the more well known, who all went on to bigger and better things. It’s the book that let’s this show down. And the staging. And the sets. And the choreography. And the costumes. And… well, everything.

But as I mentioned before the music is worth a listening. Unfortunately you can’t find it on Spotify but maybe on Apple Music? But if you listen to the cast album you’ll get a couple of bonus songs. They probably recorded the album during try outs for two of the songs didn’t make it to the final show, and they’re good songs. A 60s flavored rock song called My World’s Coming’s Unwrapped and a funny ensemble number simply called Revolution. You could hear a little from the latter in the Entr’acte. Now, if you’ve read about this show somewhere else you may find my last statement a bit confusing: how could there be an Entr’acte as the show was in one act. Well, now it is, but during try outs it wasn’t. So therefore there was an entr’acte. But that one is not included on the cast album. Sorry, but the musical geek in me just had to point this out…

This isn’t the first musical version of The Comedy Of Errors, that was The Boys from Syracuse (1938) with book by George Abbott, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and music by Richard Rodgers. That show had the same problems as this one has, as far as the mistaken identity plot goes, but is all in all a better put together show and the music… Oh, the score is a real classic. You can read more about The Boys on this blog, search for entry no: 198.

This wasn’t Donald Drivers first attempt at musicalizing a Shakespeare play, he made Twelfth Night into the rock musical Your Own Thing in 1968. That show was a hit. Read about it at no: 438.

The composer of Oh. Brother! Michael Valenti, was actually one of the performers on Your Own Thing and he was also the understudy for the lead in the original Broadway production of How To Succeed in Business Without Even Trying (1961)

”Nonstop zaniness with perpetual motion belly dancers, burlesque turns, bad puns, gun toting Arab revolutionary chorus boys and other assorted sight gags, from a sneaker shod camel to a self propelled skateboard.”
– Women’s Wear Daily

… ‘‘Oh, Brother!” may be the only current Broadway musical that is discreetly amplified: we hear music instead of an electronic buzz. Let other producers note that this show’s sound system was designed by Richard Fitzgerald.
The rest of ”Oh, Brother!” – its book, lyrics, direction and ”staging” – is the work of Donald Driver. With the exception of the lyrics, which are adequate, Mr. Driver’s contributions encase the show in cement. It is his idea to reset a Plautus-Shakespeare longlost brothers farce in the contemporary Middle East, and a most misguided idea it is.
What’s funny about the Middle East today? Not much – unless you want to be completely tasteless. … but why bother to set a show in a region where there’s no room, right now, for humor? Thanks to its concept, ‘‘Oh, Brother!” is crippled before it even begins. Because he can’t bite any satirical teeth into his topical setting, Mr. Driver loads the show instead with hoary double-entendre gags and stale parodies of Hollywood’s old Arabian Nights movies. … some of them look and sound as though they were culled from 15-year-old back issues of Mad magazine. 

Mr. Driver doesn’t know how to pace or build his convoluted story of mistaken identities – it’s all conveyed frenetically in the same numbing shriek. The direction is of the same style. Mr. Driver has staged this show at a speed that kills. ”Oh, Brother!” runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, and the actors are running the whole time. Energy is one thing -a relay race is another. Whiplash direction, much of it modeled on ”Three Stooges” comedies, is not a substitute for well-written fun.
– Frank Rich, The New York Times


Tv review + We Love An Old Story + How Do You Want Me
A Loud and Funny Song

Nr 386: On The Twentieth Century

5 Feb

On the Twentieth Century (1978)
Broadway 1978, 449 föreställningar
London 1980, 165 föreställningar
Broadway Revival 2015, 144 föreställningar

Music: Cy Coleman
Book & Lyrics: Betty Comden & Adolph Green

Baserad på pjäsen Twentieth Century (1932) av Ben Hecht och Charles MacArthur och på Howard Hawks filmversion av pjäsen från 1934. Bägge dessa verk var i sin tur inspirerade av den ospelade självbiografiska pjäsen Napoleon of Broadway skriven av Charles Bruce Millholland som handlade om hans tid som anställd hos den ökände teaterproducenten David Belasco.

The action takes place aboard The Twentieth Century, a luxury train traveling from Chicago to New York City.
The time: the early 1930’s.
Oscar Jaffee, a theatre producer coming off his fourth flop in a row (it closed in Chicago after its first act), has a plan to turn his career around and bring a winning show to Broadway. Two tiny problems exist – he is completely bankrupt and the epic play in question is a non-existent drama about Mary Magdalene.
His plan is simple: raise money, create a play from scratch and cajole glamorous Hollywood starlet Lily Garland (his former muse and lover) into playing the lead before the train arrives at Grand Central Station. That means he’s got 16 hours to make it all happen.
Sounds simple enough, right? But then of course we haven’t taken into account the backer Mrs. Primrose a very strange religious millionaires with a secret, or Lily’s new extremely jealous lover Bruce or all the nutty passengers who throughout the show try to make Oscar read and produce ”this fantastic play that I’ve written…”

Det här är en gammal favvis som jag älskat ända sedan jag hörde castskivan första gången 1978. Det är inte en vanlig musikal utan snarare en slags hybrid mellan operett och musikal med en viss övervikt mot operett.
Cy Colemans musik består av kärleksfulla pastischer på den typ av operetter som  Sigmund Romberg och Rudolf Friml gjorde populära på 1920-talet, men med ett lite modernare sound och med tydliga jazziga Broadway accenter. Och melodiskt är den, storslagen är den och roligt är den, för här om något hör man hur humoristisk musik faktiskt kan vara i sig – utan bistånd av en bra text. Fast texterna är fantastiska dem med. Comden & Green bidrar med smarta rim, kul vändningar, ordlekar, vassa iakttagelser, satir och elaka blinkningar åt de romantiska och ofta repetitiva och rätt menlösa typiska operettsångtexterna. Ja, jag vet att det senare nog mest speglar mina fördomar vad gäller operett men jag tror många känner det samma och det är just den fördomen de leker med. Och jag ska kanske påpeka att allt görs med den största respekt och kärlek för genren – i annat fall hade det nog inte fungerat. För det fungerar verkligen.

Och vilka fantastiska roller det finns här. Lily är en drömroll för en klassiskt skolad sångerska som också kan belta och har perfekt komisk tajming. I originalet var det Madeline Kahn som sjöng Lily och i förra årets Broadway revival så gjorde Kristin Chenweth den. Bägge starka komiker med stora röster. Jag föredrar Madelines version för att hon har en drypande sarkasm, ett bett och en tajming i sin röst som jag bara älskar. Kristins version är också mycket bra så vilken man föredrar är en ren smaksak.
På den manliga sidan är Oscar en riktig kalasroll för en baryton (även här föredrar jag originalets Oscar, John Cullum, mot revivelns Peter Gallagher) med en möjlighet och uppmuntran till överspel som är fantastisk och Bruce är den perfekta rollen för en riktigt stark fysisk komiker. Och Mrs. Primrose… Love her!

Det här är en fantastisk show som jag önskar någon teater ville sätta upp i Sverige. Nu är den kanske inte ett så bra val för en privatteater för den vanlige musikalälskaren kanske håller sig undan från allt som luktar operett medan en operettälskare kanske inte söker sig till en privatteater för att få sitt lystmäte tillgodosett. Men den skulle passa på GöteborgsOperan, Malmö Opera eller WermlandsOperan – eller varför inte som avslutnigsproject på Artisten i Göteborg för där finns det ju både klassiska sångare och musikalartister…


1978 års version vann:
5 Tony Awards: Bästa libretto, score (dvs musik och sångtexter), manliga huvudroll, manliga biroll och scenografi.
4 Drama Desk Awards: Bästa manliga biroll, musik, scenografi och kostym
1 Theatre World Award till Judy Kaye i rollen som Lily

2015 års version vann:
1 Drama Desk Award: Bästa kvinnliga huvudroll
2 Outer Critics Circle Award: Bästa kvinnliga huvudroll, manliga biroll

Kevin Kline som spelade Lilys älskare Bruce i originalet vann inte bara en Tony för sin insatts utan fick också sitt stora genombrott i denna show. Hans konstanta snubblande, springande in i väggar och hysteriskt roliga svartsjukeutbrott gjorde honom till allas favvo. Han gick från denna roll till rollen som piratkung i The Pirates of Penzance, en roll som gav honom en ny Tony och sen satte hans filmkarriär igång.
I St. Louise delas man ut  The Kevin Kline Awards till framstående utövare och skapare inom teaterområdet.

Efter att showen fått sin premiär 1978 så började Madeline Kahn sjukskriva sig med jämna mellanrum, hon var ”sjuk” under inte mindre än 10 av de första 74 föreställningarna. Hon sa att det berodde på att rollens extremt stora vokala omfång skadade hennes stämband – fast ryktet sa att hon hade ”personliga problem”.
Hennes frekventa frånvaro skapade två läger inom ensemblen: den ena sidan ville att hon skulle sparkas och att hennes understudy skulle ta över rollen och den andra sa att de skulle säga upp sig i fall hon sparkades.
Kahn lämnade showen och hennes ersättare Judy Kaye tog över rollen den 25:e april, bara drygt 2 månader efter premiären.
Producenterna försökte att få Tony kommittén att ändra nomineringen för bästa kvinnliga huvudroll från Madeline till Judy men kommittén vägrade. Kahn vann inte Tonyn och anledningen till det var nog hennes beteende och kontraktsbrott.

Hugh Jackman spelade rollen som Oscar i en reading med Kristin 2011.


1978 års version:

It has rough spots, flat spots and an energy that occasionally ebbs, leaving the cast and the director to regroup their energies for the next assault. But the elegance is there, nevertheless; the kind that allows itself to be unpredictable, playful and even careless. The musical has an exuberance, a bubbly confidence in its own life. This is a big musical, with some extraordinary visual effects that are a wordless extension, both startling and captivating, of the comedy of the performers. But there is a vein of the sensible running through that cuts any tendency to pretentiousness. When anything gets big, it laughs at itself.
– Richard Eder, New York Times

On The Twentieth Century is genial, good to look at, fun to listen to whenever the orchestra’s giving it the scale and brio it’s special temper demands. As with most train trips, you grow more relaxed along the way. An imperfect roadbed, but there are those friendly faces acros the aisle.
– Walter Kerr, New York Times

An uneasy comic operetta. When the book is in command, things go swimmingly.

The score, to its credit, calls for real singers for a change, and it gets them in abundance, but it lacks any real character of its own, alternating much of the time between early 19th century comic opera mannerisms and early 20th century operetta.
– Douglas Watt, Daily News

2015 år version:

In the theater, there is overacting, which is common and painful to watch. Then there’s over-the-moon acting, which is rare and occupies its own special cloud land in heaven. I am delighted to report that this latter art is being practiced in altitudinous-high style at the American Airlines Theater, where Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are surfing the stratosphere in On the Twentieth Century.

Yet we can’t help detecting both the calculation and the infernal hunger behind those poses. Swooning, kneeling, leaping, clawing and kissing with the rococo grandeur of silent-movie idols, they always exude a feral heat that makes it clear that these two masterworks of self-invention are made for each other.

Since this is established from the moment they first share a scene (a flashback, in which Lily is a scrappy, frowzy young thing named Mildred Plotka), we know from the beginning that this prize fight is fixed. That means we can sit back, relax and savor the blissfully bumpy ride in luxury accommodations.
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Scott Ellis’s dazzling production of On the Twentieth Century looks like one of those legendary Broadway musicals that exists largely in our collective memory of great shows we never saw.

For a lot of us, this is the show of our dreams.
– Marilyn Stasio, Variety

Next stop, Broadway musical bliss.
That’s where the Roundabout revival of On the Twentieth Century, directed with verve by Scott Ellis, takes you.

In the show’s title song, it comes out that the Twentieth Century famously gives passengers “nothing but the best.” This production, fizzy and dizzy entertainment, does likewise.
– Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News


The 2015 Tony Awards
The 1978 Tony Awards
I’ve Got It All
She’s a Nut



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