In Which I Am Proud of My Friends …

… and also Facebook is briefly not awful.

This all started because we bought a house.

Among the reasons my family moved from Canberra to Wagga Wagga in 2012 was to, we hoped, save up enough money to buy a place, on the kind of land you don’t find without spending an absolute fortune in and around Canberra. Six years later, we got there: a slightly-too-small house on two acres near the Murrumbidgee River (yes, we’ll probably flood at some point).

View of the back yard:

To the left, a big shed does its best to make up for the slightly-too-small house.

Facing the other way:

There’s a lot to do, but I set up a record player almost immediately in the shed – priorities – and since the only thing over the fence is a reserve of council-owned land, where local golfers practise their shots, the whole family can play music on that record player pretty darn loud without bothering anyone.

The first album I played was Revolver – after which, I’m sorry to say, I really let those golfers know just how white and middle-aged I was with Wings and Billy Joel and Wired Volume 2 (seriously, how offensive is that snare drum on Bucks Fizz’s Land of Make Believe?). Then I changed things, as the young people say, up, by hanging out washing to the strains of:

Later, I planted seedlings to The Firebird Suite, so obviously I had Stravinsky on my mind. I’d also recently seen, and laughed hard at, this tweet:

Thus, I had Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on my mind too, and the next morning I walked to work thinking about the song’s opening lines:

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord …

“I wonder what that secret chord was?” I thought. “Could it have been Stravinsky’s Petrushka chord? Huh. What rhymes with Petrushka? Eliza Dushka? Baboushka?”

In any case, I thought, in keeping with Cohen’s original “It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth”, any re-write, for maximum music-theory-nerd value, would have to explain what a Petrushka chord actually is. By the time I got to work, I had facebooked this:

No explanation, no context. I just threw it up there and hoped some music theory-nerd friends would like it. And they did, so the next day, having realised that the Tristan chord was pretty much de rigeur for this sort of thing, I walked to work again, and ended up with:

I couldn’t think of a decent rhyme for ‘Tristan’, and besides there wasn’t anywhere it could scan nicely at the end of a line. I also justified near-rhyming ‘sixth’ with ‘fifth’ by noting that Cohen’s original contains near-rhymes, plus parodies should sound like their inspiration. Cough.

Next day, having remembered Strauss’s Elektra chord:

That’s easily the funniest of the three, probably because it doesn’t waste so much time on music theory details, but at this point I was a bit stuck. Could I do Sullivan’s The Lost Chord? Fortunately, this happened:

I love how Helen, whom I know through Canberra’s Impro community, and who is herself a trained musician, included, without any prompting on my part, the necessary music theory nerdery, and in exactly the right spot. She wrote hers really quickly too, dammit. Then:

Helen loved it. Glenn later frowned on his identity of ‘then’ with ‘then’, but I pointed out that he was doing better than half the lyricists on Broadway. Helen again:

Scriabin’s mystic chord is harder to describe than any of the others so far, and so I couldn’t think what to do with it. But Mike could:

James is a songwriter, so he knows when to add an extra syllable for a laugh:

And Jamie brilliantly managed to think of a ubiquitous type of chord that had utterly failed to cross my mind:

I’ll defend ‘When’t’ and ‘vaulted heights of Heaven’ as utterly Leonard Cohen-ian if anyone objects to them.

UPDATE: Two excellent further entries from Andrew Kay and Noel Katz below! I first met Andrew as the superb half-of-two pianists contributing to Canberra Repertory’s Old Time Music Hall, but I later learned he was a formidable songwriting talent in his own right. As for Noel, he’s a music-theatre composer/lyricist with a highly impressive CV, a very much worth-your-while blog, and my own taste (ie the correct one) in the classic virtues of rhyme, scansion and prosody (he may pronounce some words differently from us Aussies):

Obviously, I’m proud of my friends, but think about it: this is a pretty high-level, daunting lyric game. You have to correctly describe some aspect of chordal harmony, make your words scan believably, include a joke if you can, and get it all to rhyme. And they all did it in a matter of days, while working their actual jobs.

I’m not just being kind: my friends are doing better than half the lyricists on Broadway. I won’t say which half.

Bridging The Gap

The second of Trevor Jones’s posts about Oz musicals – in particular, about how they get written, but often don’t get far.

MT Vocal Coach

Transferring original musicals to commercial production

In response to my first article, Craig Donnell, an Executive Producer for the Gordon Frost Organisation, commented on Facebook (with permission to share):

“I support your push for more local content but perhaps you are looking to the wrong people to do the heavy lifting?  Commercial producers are just that, commercial producers – they produce what they believe the public wants to see.  […]  There are numerous organisations around the country who receive funding to develop local content – are they playing their part?  Greater collaboration between those organisations with the advice and experience of commercial producers may prove part of the solution. […] If you want to see Australian content on the main stage touring the big houses then it has to appeal to the wider audience otherwise it will always be constrained to the small stages of pro/am and subsidised theatre –…

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New Australian Musicals? Here They Are!

Trevor Jones has been writing about the Australian musical, and getting deserved praise on facebook and such. Happily, he’s now started a blog.

MT Vocal Coach

Since my last article, there has been a lot of discussion about the current state of Australian musical theatre. This discussion is certainly not new, with some debate sparked in early 2015 by John Senczuk’s platform paper ‘The Time is Ripe for The Great Australian Musical’. Recently, I was invited to speak on ABC Radio Sydney Mornings with Wendy Harmer and Radio National Drive with Patricia Karvelas, showing that there may now be a growing public interest in the wider community about Australian musicals. It is also clear that the remainder of 2017 sees the development and premiere of many new Australian Musicals which may herald some progress towards major commercial productions.

Today (7th July) sees the premiere of Joh for P.M. (pictured above), a new musical by Stephen Carleton and Paul Hodge, at the Brisbane Powerhouse. This production is a collaboration between a theatre (Brisbane Powerhouse)…

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Speed the Plow review, or, why does the theatre hate me this year?

I like reading Cassie Tongue’s theatre criticism; it helps that I agree with her, particularly about where musicals need to get to, most particularly here in Australia.

She’s brave and smart and generous, and there’s very little return in it. Good on her.

Cassie Tongue

I love the theatre. I’ve loved it for a very long time and I’ve been writingaboutit for several years now as a critic. I love it anew every time I sit down and wait for that hush before the play starts – the promise of something real, something revelatory, that incredible power of the form to tell us something new we’ve always felt, but never quite could put our finger on. Or those times it blows us apart, smashes us open, and remakes us into better humans. I love that.

I just wish the theatre loved me back.

Last night I attended the opening night of Speed-the-Plow, Andrew Upton’s production in the Roslyn Packer theatre. It was a homecoming of sorts, starring Rose Byrne (in the Madonna/Lindsay Lohan role), and that was a hard piece of marketing and casting to resist.

I saw Byrne in an STC…

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The Sondheim Review: No guarantee of happiness

David Levy, keeping his ears open and his conclusions likely.

David Levy

The destructive potential of the American Dream

Originally published in The Sondheim Review.

Mark Linehan (center) played John Wilkes Booth in New Repertory Theatre's October 2014 production of Assassins in Watertown, MA. Photo by photos by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures. Mark Linehan (center) played John Wilkes Booth in New Repertory Theatre’s October 2014 production of Assassins in Watertown, MA. Photo by photos by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.

Stephen Sondheim has distanced himself from the practice of reusing discarded songs from old shows when writing new pieces. He has only ever acknowledged dipping into his trunk twice, both for Wise Guys: “Addison’s Trip,” present from the first reading in 1998, and “It’s In Your Hands Now” from the 1999 workshop. What distinguishes these from one another is that while “Addison’s Trip” reused material from an unknown song from a dead project (“Lunch” from Singing Out Loud), “It’s In Your Hands Now” came from Assassins.

It makes sense that if two shows were to share music, it would be the two written with John…

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The Search for Name That Christmas Tune, Mr Spock!

I imagine these sung, by Nimoy himself …

Nannygoat Hill

The hereditary ruler of Bohemia observed evidence of a heavy snowfall on the anniversary of the death by stoning of the protomartyr of the Christian religion.

A woody shrub bearing red berries and spiked leaves, and a tenacious, leafy vine capable of climbing for great distances over trees, rocks and artificial structures: of all the vegetative life-forms in this biome, the former is metaphorically endowed with a metal headdress indicating its superiority.

I recommend that you refrain from emitting verbal noises at a level above that of ordinary conversation, from expressing emotional distress by keening and emitting saline fluid from your eyes, and from protruding your lips in a petulant manner, for the following reason: we anticipate the arrival of an incarnation of Nikolaos, the sanctified Bishop of Myra, in this human settlement.

The period of time when this planet’s primary is hidden by the horizon is distinguished by both a lack of audible frequencies and an atmosphere of reverence. Nonetheless, and without disturbing…

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Ulla is Wasted in ‘The Producers’

I wrote in an earlier post about female characters in musicals who are little more than lust-bunnies for male characters. I mentioned Ulla, from The Producers, as an example.

Some Ulla Inga Fansens thought I was criticising Ulla herself, and leapt to her defence. But I was actually criticising the work of Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, who both have remarkable careers, stacks of great things they’ve written, and half a dozen Tony Awards between them.

I was also suggesting that an important character doesn’t work in a show that ran 2502 performances on Broadway – so, you know, I don’t think I can do much damage here. Nevertheless …

How Ulla Should Be Re-Written

As The Producers stands right now, Max Bialystock subjects a gorgeous blonde in the street to some sexual harassment. This blonde, we later discover, is Ulla.

Max seeks out the worst play ever written, and finds it. He takes it to Roger De Bris, and in the course of Max’s convincing Roger to direct Springtime For Hitler, the play becomes a musical.

(Question: where will the songs come from? The show never explains it.)

Ulla turns up to audition for Max with a song she’s written. The song is good, and Ulla wrote it in a day.

Now ve join de dots, ja?

Springtime for Hitler needs songs.

________________Ulla writes songs.

____________________________Springtime for Hitler needs songs.

___________________________________________Ulla writes songs.

So here’s what we do. Early in Act Two, Ulla dumps a bunch of songs she’s written on Max’s desk. Max confides to Leo that the songs are, happily, dreadful. One of the songs is “Haben Sie Gehoert Das Deutsche Band”, which lands Franz Liebkind the role of Hitler.

On the opening night of Springtime for Hitler, among the unexpected praise in the newspapers is a valentine for Ulla’s brilliant, savage, parody songs. (If she performs in Springtime, as she does now, that’s odd, since Max remarks that they’ve hired the worst singers and dancers they could find. Poor Ulla!)

Then, when Ulla proposes to Leo that the two of them run away to Rio, she makes it very clear that she was in on the scam the whole time. Yes, she knew about Max schtupping every little old lady in New York. Yes, she knew about Leo’s two sets of accounting books. But most of all, yes, she deliberately wrote those dreadful songs, because that’s what Springtime needed. Leo is astonished: what a brilliant, gorgeous woman.

With these touches, we have achieved three good things:

1. Tidied up a plot point.
2. Given Ulla depth.
3. Made Ulla’s relationship with Leo smarter and sexier.

And to avoid adding to The Producers’ running time, I say we make these additions at the expense of some of Carmen Ghia’s mincing schtick. It will not be missed.

What differences are there between musical theater today and musical theater 20 years ago?

Answer by Peter J Casey:

If we look specifically at Broadway twenty years ago, we can see that a new stage version of a Disney animated film (Beauty and the Beast), with a score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, was enjoying good box office despite mixed reviews.

This year, a new stage version of a Disney animated film (Aladdin), with a score by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is enjoying good box office despite mixed reviews.

Twenty years ago, a musical with a lush, romantic score (Cyrano) closed after only 137 performances, but was still nominated for the Tony Award for Best Original Score.

This year, a musical with a lush, romantic score (The Bridges of Madison County) closed after only 137 performances, but was still nominated for the Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Twenty years ago, Audra McDonald was Tony-nominated.

This year, Audra McDonald is Tony-nominated.

(OK, I cheated on that last one, because she’s in a play.)

View Answer on Quora

Pretty much my response, although I never got into ‘Glee’, so I can hardly boycott.

Mel Writes

Dear Sirs,

              I am a long time fan of Glee. I have watched Glee since its inception. I have bought Glee on Blu-Ray. Glee is probably my television show. The episode aired on January 24th 2013 entitled Sadie Hawkins will be the last episode of Glee I will watch.

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