Tag Archives: broadway

Sondheim Week! Day Two: “Opening Doors”

Album Art

Opening Doors

Original Broadway Cast

Merrily We Roll Along (Original Cast Recording)

Genre: Broadway

If a movie flops, that’s that. If the movie was based on something else, maybe another team will take another crack at adapting the source material after enough years have passed and the floppage has been forgotten. There’s also an outside chance that the movie will have become such a landmark of failure that a squad of improv comics will do a sarcastic stage adaptation of it and (fingers crossed) they’ll get to make a sarcastic remake of the film (see: “The Brady Bunch Movie”).

(No, please, I’m definitely not telling you to see “The Brady Bunch Movie.” I meant “see” as in “I refer you to…” Though frankly, even looking at its IMDB page will make you very, very sad.)

Otherwise, a flop movie is damaged goods and nobody will ever touch it again. “Heaven’s Gate” was a legendary failure. In fact, this movie is credited with causing the collapse of United Artists. I’ve seen three different cuts of the film and I can certify that this is no maligned, hidden gem: it’s awful. It’s like a collection of subplots loitering around the set in search of a story to support. But I regard it as a tantalizing failure. The cinematography is often stunning. The performances are exceptional. The story…is incomprehensible. Yet I get a sense that the writing of the screenplay was going great until it derailed at point (X,Y) and if someone can locate those precise coordinates and apply some course corrections…wow, “Heaven’s Gate” could become great.

It’ll never happen, of course. It’s a movie. Dead is dead. Why remake a bad movie when there are so many bad unproduced screenplays waiting to be filmed?

Different rules apply to plays and musicals. Theater doesn’t attach stigma to failure; on the contrary, failure is a traditional part of the development process. Launching a theatrical production is like launching a paper airplane. You watch it fail and use that data to build something that will fly.

Some producers and directors look at a failed play and see an unsolved puzzle. It sticks with them…particularly if they’re the ones who created it in the first place. And, admirably, theater has no tradition of attaching stigma to failure. “Figure out what’s wrong and try to fix it” is an accepted part of the process.

“Merrily We Roll Along” closed on Broadway after 16 performances, bad reviews, and more audience walkouts than most creators like to see. It’s the story of a young, struggling Broadway composer who damages two close, lifelong friendships on his way to becoming a wildly-successful Hollywood producer.

It’s the last play that Sondheim includes in “Finishing The Hat” and he does a great job going through the black-box data on the failure. The structure of the musical used the same structure as the 1934 Kaufman and Hart play that served as the basis of the story: the curtain opens in the present-day and as the show progresses, we keep going further back in time. So it was tricky for the audience to follow, particularly as relationships between characters kept changing. A stopgap solution: have the characters wear tee shirts with a description of their current relationship with the main character (“Ex-Wife”) actually written out on them.

The characters are in their Forties at the start of the show and in their early Twenties and late teens by the end. The production had the idea of casting college-age actors and having them play younger over the course of the evening. The problem there (Sondheim writes) was that there aren’t many 20 year old actors who can play anything other than their 20-year-old selves. He described the audience reacting to the opening scenes of “young adults playing jaded grownups” as if they were watching a college production. Which, Sondheim says, was an intended effect but it didn’t play with the audience the way he thought it would.

The most interesting note that Sondheim makes is the “time moving backwards” structure of the show interferes with the audience’s sympathy for the main character. When they meet him, he’s rich, at the top of his profession, kind of a jerk and a shallow phony. It’s hard, then, to sympathize with him as they see him screwing over his friends and disconnecting from his creative passions in subsequent scenes. By the very end, when the audience sees the young and idealistic composer complimenting his friend’s play and suggesting that they work on a musical together…they’re supposed to compare and consider this likeable underdog and the jerk he became, and see the tragedy. It’s all there, but (never having seen the whole musical, myself) I can imagine how the overall effect requires more of a contribution from the audience than they might have been prepared for.

The book describes all of the problems that were identified and addressed over the decade of different productions that Sondheim worked on before he considered himself satisfied with “Merrily We Roll Along.” That’s an interesting relationship with a work, isn’t it? It feels like that scene in “Seinfeld” where George is humiliated by a co-worker during a meeting, and then he keeps trying to re-stage those exact circumstances so that he can use the devastating comeback that came to him later on. You don’t get to do this in real life but as a theater composer, when you later think “You know what that character should have done?” you can do something about it.

This “Seinfeld” reference also allows me to mention that Jason Alexander was part of “Merrily”‘s original cast. In fact, when Sondheim writes about the mistake of casting inexperienced young actors, he singles out Alexander as the only one capable of playing a 40-year-old. “It’s as though he had been born middle-aged,” he wrote.

Yup, another example of the Charles Nelson Reilly Effect. It blew my mind when I learned that he’d come to “Seinfeld” off of a successful Broadway career capped by a Tony award for Best Performance By A Leading Actor for his work in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.”

The mind is good at forming retroactive connections. Every time I see Costanza do one of his rare little dances of joy (see: “The Puffy Shirt,” “The Trip, Part 2”) (yes, do see them) I can’t help but think he’s rocking some of the moves he used on stage while singing “If I Were A Rich Man.”

And damn, the man has a terrific voice. You’ll recognize him instantly in “Opening Doors” as the theatrical producer that the two composers audition for.

“Opening Doors” is practically an entire musical play in itself, with a beginning-middle-end arc and character development throughout. It’s also emblematic of why it took me a long time to warm to Sondheim.

I wish I had enough musical knowledge to articulate my early reactions. When I thought of a Sondheim song, I imagined a performer having to strut sharply from one separately-lit and dressed section of the stage to another as he went…”I’m singing, and I’m knocking on a door” “Heeeeere I AMMMMM at a blaaackbooAAARRRdddd, because nowww as I sing my next linnnneeee it’s three months later and I took that teeeeaching job…” “Whoops, here in the middle I have a different job cleaning the poooool filters in an aaaaaquacaaaaaade because the school burned DOWNNNNNNN!!!!”

You know what I mean? Lots of shifts in tone and melody and place, and characters who are clearly going through a lot over the course of a single song. Lots of stacatto declarations. Overall, Sondheim is the only composer who can get a character to commit adultery, confess to his wife, abandon the daughter his mistress gave birth to, and then wonder if he should accept his daughter’s invitation to her new gallery opening after thirty years of estrangement…all within the margins of a single nervous ballad.

(Side complaint: this types of songs also present frequent challenges and frustrations to a devoted shower singer such as myself. Right about the time when I’ve started to throw myself into the song, I’m forced to hold my position while a countess enters the bathroom, muses for eighteen bars about broken jewelry, and then moves off. Then I get to sing some more. But while I was en tableau all of my Irish Spring Body Wash dripped off and I need to reapply and lather.)

I’m not saying that this observation was off-base. In many cases, it’s spot-on. I guess what turned me off about these types of songs was that I heard them done so poorly by so many Sondheim pretenders and parodists that I wasn’t leaving my mind open to the solid features of the original.

Sinatra and Elvis Presley recordings have the same problem. It’s hard to lock your memories down on the originals any more.

And I know it’s kind of an ironic admission for me to make, given the nature of this song and “Merrily We Roll Along.” Here I am, complaining (or at least observing) that many of Sondheim’s songs have a beauty that require active comprehension. In “Opening Doors,” Jason Alexander’s theater producer character is rejecting the composer’s score and complaining

There’s not a tune you can hum
There’s not a tune that goes bum-bum-bum-di-bum
You need a tune that goes bum-bum-bum-di-bum
Give me a melody!

He has a point. I’ll still take Sondheim over Jerry Herman any day, though. “Penny In My Pocket” will take me nicely through the wetdown/soap/lather/scrub/rinse/shampoo/lather/rinse/conditioner/set/rinse cycle. But leaves me with a somewhat emptier feeling.

Preview “Opening Doors” on the Amazon MP3 Store. Yes, I know…you can also get it from iTunes and elsewhere. But anything you buy on Amazon after clicking this link results in my receiving a small kickback in the form of Amazon store credits, which I assure you will be spent on foolish but fun things.

See my other music postings if you liked this one and have time to waste.

“Sue Me” (from “Guys And Dolls”) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 15

Album Art

Sue Me

Nathan Lane and Faith Prince

Guys And Dolls (New Broadway Cast Recording)

Genre: Soundtrack

Damn. This is the third Monday in a row that I’ve chosen a show tune as an Advent Calendar selection. We all have a little bit of OCD in us and something now compels me to simply designate Monday as permanent Show Tune Day.

Hey, no problem: I have dozens of favorites. But how will this affect my quarterly P&L? Does my usual Monday traffic respond to content of that type? Can I compensate for any dips in the metrics with some more finely-targeted SEO?

I really don’t know. I barely can explain what any of those terms mean. But writing a paragraph like that makes me feel like kind of a big shot and there’s every chance that paragraphs like that one will elevate me to the sort of speaking gigs where rich people hope to get even richer. The buffets at those kinds of conferences tend to be exceptionally good; in addition to my speaking fee, $5 for a box of store-brand Ziploc baggies can parlay itself into saving three weeks’ worth of grocery budget.

This track is from the early-Nineties revival of the classic. It’s also known as the show that made Nathan Lane, Peter Gallagher, and Faith Prince into stars who could get paid far, far more money for working way, way less hard. It’d definitely be one of my Desert Island Discs. Here they are, performing this number on TV:

It kind of breaks my heart a little. It’s such a damned shame that these legendary productions dry up and blow away after the original cast moves on and the show closes. You can buy “Riding The Bus With My Sister” on DVD. You can see “Family Guy” every hour of the day or night on multiple cable channels. It’s cheap, low-grade horsemeat but it’s on film and it’s on video, so it’s going to be preserved somewhere.

Live theater? It was made to be seen live. From both a creative and a legal point of view. I made this lament to one of the many people in this world who are smarter than I am and they explained that it’s not as simple as plonking a few cameras on tripods in the theater and hitting the “Record” button on them before the curtain goes up. Everyone on the stage, everyone in the orchestra, and everybody behind the scenes has a financial stake and the negotiations between all of the respective trades to make a video production happen generally aren’t thought to be worth the trouble. It’d be easier to move a suspension bridge a bit to the left.

So: if you want to see that episode of “Two And A Half Men” where one and a half of the men have a farting contest inside a closed car and the one man loses when he craps his pants, you’re in luck because it’s in a boxed set. If you want to see the 1992 revival of “Guys And Dolls,” well, that’s just insane.

I’m picking this specific song chiefly because I heard something absolutely wonderful about it last week, during a “Fresh Air” podcast in which Michael Feinstein talked about the career of Frank Loesser…the show’s composer. I already knew that Sam Levene, the show’s first Nathan Detroit, was hired for his skills as a character actor. He was an awful singer. What I didn’t know, and what was absolutely stupidly obvious when Feinstein mentioned it, was that Loesser baked a melodic support system into his one big song.

Not only are all of his notes in the same octave…but the melody “walks” him up to the right note. If Levene had to simply sing “Sue Me…” he’d have been completely off-key. “Hire-A-Law-Yer-And…” lets him dialing it up closer and closer to the “real” lyric.

Isn’t it neat? This kind of machinery was lurking inside this song all the time, unnoticed by me.

Stage music is full of tricks like that. Like Loesser, Mozart had to write music for “The Magic Flute” that would help a very weak Papageno get through his big aria. The orchestra plays his entire melody before he has to sing it…and it ends on the note that he has to start on. It’s a built-in cheat sheet!

Mozart’s first Queen Of The Night, on the other hand, was his sister-in-law and a renowned soprano. Listen and you’ll notice that she gets no help whatsoever from the orchestra. If anything, the orchestra has to keep up with her. Meanwhile, the composer is throwing everything at her he can to make sure that she dies a deathly death of dying.

Listen to “Sue Me” (From “Guys And Dolls”) on the Amazon MP3 Store.

When you click that link, any purchases you make during that Amazon session will result in my receiving a small kickback in the form of Amazon Gift Credits. I shall use them to buy silly, but manifestly wonderful, things.

“You Gotta Get A Gimmick” (from “Gypsy”) – Amazon Advent Calendar Day 8

Album Art

You Gotta Get A Gimmick

Heather Lee, Kate Buddeke, & Julie Halston

Gypsy (2003 Broadway Revival Cast)

Genre: Soundtrack

It’s another damn Monday. Let’s do another show tune, eh?

I saw the 2003 revival of “Gypsy” during its surprisingly brief run on Broadway. Shocked, I was, that I could get tickets for a classic musical in a big-budget revival with a big-name director and a big-name star…

(Note: a star of musical theater, not someone who made it into the Top 6 in season four of “American Idol”)

…for half-price on the day of the performance.

Clearly, the environment that had allowed this show to close early is populated by idiots because it was fantastic. The staging was creative and engaging and the whole experience underscored why I love live theater, and how deeply I wish I could see more shows.

Here’s an example. “Gypsy” follows Gypsy Rose Lee’s path through show business, from her beginnings as a child vaudeville performer to mainstream stardom as a burlesque performer. The real star of the show is Mama Rose. Denied acknowledgement of her own talent and potential, she drags her two daughters into show business just to prove to the world how wrong everybody was to deny Mama her rightful place in the spotlight.

The conceit of the show’s design was that the physical sets got bigger as the show progressed. At the very end of the show, when Gypsy’s a huge star, she strips on a glitzy stage set that fills the whole dimensions of the Schubert Theater’s actual stage. But the first time we see her perform as a little girl alongside her sister, it’s on a fake theater stage about two thirds that size, with its own proscenium arch. The rest of the Schubert stage is bare, all the way to the back wall.

Early in the show, we get to see the little girls’ whole stage act from start to finish. Meanwhile, you can see Mama Rose in the wings, through ambient lighting. She has no lines and no “business.” In fact, it’s not even set up to look like the wings of a stage. She’s just sort of stranded out there in Twilight Zone space after she makes her exit. You’re sort of wondering why Bernadette Peters even has to bother standing there when she could be relaxing offstage for five minutes.

Ah: but in the middle of the girls’ performance, one of the two little girls has a costume change. The girl dances off of the fake stage into the wings, where Mama Rose helps her do a quick-change in time for her re-entrance after the other girl’s solo. Again, there’s no special lighting, dialogue, or business. The audience’s attention is clearly supposed to be on the solo performance taking place on the mini-stage.

You see what I’m getting at? The director had this great idea of having the fake theaters get larger as the show progresses. But at some point in the planning, everyone’s faced with the fact that this real girl needs to do a real costume change…only now, she really has nowhere to go to do it.

There’s only one way out of the problem. Bernadette Peters, one of Broadway’s biggest stars, who’s being paid a hell of a lot of money, has to act as this little girl’s dresser. Sure, that makes sense from a dramatic point of view. Mama Rose would be standing just offstage, and she would be helping her kids change. But I’m certain that in six to eight performances a week, during those thirty seconds, Peters wasn’t playing the role of Mama Rose. It was way, way more important that she be a damned good dresser and made sure that a fellow castmember was in full costume by her next cue.

The second act is full of big, showstopping numbers. This is one of them. At this point, Mama Rose’s tyrannical obsession with success has driven away one of her two daughters and the manager who was this close to becoming Mama’s husband and allowing Mama and Gypsy to finally have normal lives. Now it’s driven her to this: she’s pushed her youngest daughter into stripping in burlesque. A few established — I suppose the adjective “weatherbeaten” wouldn’t be a stretch — pros help the newly-christened Gypsy Rose get ready for her first strip.

I loved the song and the performance. But I also loved the backstage — sorry, the “real backstage,” not the “fake backstage” — stuff. I didn’t spot any of these three women in the first act. They were probably understudying other roles. With their minimal onstage involvement in the rest of the show, I think these three performers would have summarized the story of “Gypsy” thusly:

  • (blah, blah, blah)
  • In a powerful scene that acts as the obvious emotional and dramatic center of the show, three wise women teach the young Gypsy Rose Lee everything she needs to know about dancing…and, about life; Gypsy leaves their tutelage with all of the tools she needs to finally assert herself and rise above the minor supporting castmember who plays her insane and domineering mother.
  • (blah, blah, blah…curtain.)

The theater is a bit like baseball, or at least Al Capone’s description of it. Yes, you’re out there playing as a team, but for most of the players theres also an opportunity for individual accomplishment.

(And then you beat your rival to death with a bat.)

I do like the fact that for a full four minutes and fifty seconds, not including ovations, the entire show is about these three women. And boy, do they perform the song that way.

If you own a +10 Sword of Dispersement of Broadway Magic, “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” still holds valuable lessons. It’s pretty much everything you need to know about successful Internet marketing. “A blog about serialized graphical storytelling” won’t get much traction. But if you tell me “I make fun of ‘Mary Worth’ and other comic strips several times a week” within a few days, I’ll be buying tee shirts from your online store.

Listen to “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” on the Amazon MP3 Store.

My own gimmick is to somehow bamboozle you into clicking an Amazon Associates link, so that I can get a small kickback from all of your Amazon purchases. Because paying to have my own personal and private bouncy-house in my office would just be silly.

(Yes, it’s office equipment. How stupid would I look if I had an important briefing and a Google project director walked in and saw me writing inside a sofa-cushion fort? Use your head!)

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 02: “The Song That Goes Like This”

Text link: Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

It’s possible that you’ve never gone to a play or a musical, so I’ll just need to explain two things.

First: [painless but meaningful slap across face]

Okay? You ought to go the theater and see a show every now and then.

I acknowledge that it’s kind of a big deal to spend $30-$80 on a theater ticket. To say nothing of parking, dinner, five bucks for a gin and tonic in the theater bar during intermission, four bucks at the newsstand across the way because you’ve just noticed that People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue just came out and you still don’t know if you made the cut this year or not. But really, your first show is something you look back on as one of those slap-on-the-head, why-didn’t-I-do-this-sooner moments.

And if you’re visiting New York, there’s absolutely no excuse. Wait in line at the newly-refurbished TKTS booth in Times Square for an hour or maybe 90 minutes and you can take your pick of a dozen or more fine shows at half-price on the same day of performance. If you’re willing to show up even earlier, you can practically take your pick from the full menu.

Secondly, there’s sort of a natural arc to these things. First, you see the show. Three days later, you come across the folded-up Playbill in your coat pocket or the kitchen counter where you dropped it when you came home. You spend the rest of the day humming the songs, and the day after that you go and buy the cast album.

Admittedly, this is easier to do with a musical like “Spamalot” than, say, Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” It must also be said that “The Song Like This” is more fun to sing than “Krogstad’s Letter (dance reprise).”

“Spamalot” is a lot of things. It’s A Musical Based On A Movieā„¢. It’s an anthology show of favorite Python bits. It’s a show of new Python material (it was co-written by Eric Idle).

And it’s a send-up of Broadway. To anyone who’s ever heard an Andrew Lloyd Webber song — mmmm, yes, that should cover most of you — “The Song That Goes Like This” is hysterically funny satire. It’s also probably the highest compliment that Lloyd-Webber’s music has ever received, in that it proves that there really can be a piece of music that’s even tackier, more overwrought, and more glib than a song in an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.

Still, it’s not much of a compliment, is it? After all, Eric Idle and John Du Prez (who wrote the music) actually intended to write a song whose sheet music should have been painted on black velvet instead of printed on white paper. I feel that when they got to the end and emailed their composition to the arranger, they downed a nervous shot of whiskey and thought “May God have mercy on our souls.”

You do get the impression that when Lloyd-Webber laid down the final strokes of “Music Of The Night” he thought “Well! This should certainly renew Humanity’s spirit of hope and fellowship! No more wars, no more injustice…well done, LW, well done.”

“The Song That Goes Like This” is a hell of a lot of fun to sing. When I saw the show in Boston a couple of weeks ago, Ben Davis and Esther Stilwell were obviously enjoying themselves. On the original cast album, Christopher Sieber and Sara Ramirez are obviously enjoying themselves.

And dear readers, every time it’s come up on Shuffle Play on the iPhone mounted in my car…I’ve enjoyed myself to the point of punishing my passengers.

Buy it from The Amazon Store. I’ll get a small kickback from the purchase…and you’ll get it free of digital rights management, encoded at high 256K bitrate:

Monty Python’s “Spamalot” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Or you can buy it from the iTunes Store. But it’ll be 128K and copy-protected. And I’ve read that part of the proceeds will go towards producing another season of “According To Jim.” So let your conscience be your guide.

You’ve Got To Know These Things When You’re King

Wednesdays are, historically, not good days. Yes, it’s called “hump day” but in my case, the hump is actually the gestation sac of one of the creatures from “Gremlins.” It typically bursts out of its egg case in the corner of the ceiling at about 2 PM and leaps on my head, still trailing tendrils of amniotic fluid, and immediately commences to beating and scratching me until it gets bored and gives up…usually at around 5 AM the next morning.

Yesterday was a good’n, though. I filed a column that I was quite happy with and then I headed to downtown Boston for Spamalot Day.

Spamalot Day happens in Boston on every November 19, 2008. It marks the anniversary of the time that Chris Gurr emailed me to ask if I wanted house seats to see the show during the tour’s Boston run.

He plays Sir Bedevere/Concorde/Old Woman in the show and when he offered, I hesitated before replying. Should it be “Yes” or “Holy ****, yes”?

But ever the shrewd negotiator, I deftly concealed my intense desire to close this deal. I counteroffered with “house seats, and we get together for lunch before the show.” I really hated to screw him over like that, but business is business. I have a responsibility to my shareholders.

There was only one choice for the lunch venue: Zaftigs in Brookline, of which you’ve heard me speak so highly in past missives. It’s the default place to take folks who are new in town. The food there is so out-of-this-world that I want to eat there every day…but that’s both financially and medically-contraindicated, so I try to limit myself to just one visit per month.

Still, one must be hospitable, mustn’t one? So I steeled my courage and tucked into a combo plate of blintz, kugel, knish, and potato pancake, a cup of chili, and a turkey pot pie.

Chris ordered the chocolate brioche french toast. There are two big perks to taking people to this restaurant. The first one is: lunch at this restaurant. The second is getting to witness people’s reactions to the cuisine. The chef’s culinary aesthetic seems to be “But you’re so skinny! Let me fix you a plate…no, sit, sit!”

Chris’ reaction to his entree was immediate, reverent silence as his brain shut down all unnecessary functions and put his sensory processors into emergency hi-burst capture mode. Which is by no means atypical.

It was a fab afternoon. In fact, I knew that my parking meter was due to click out soon but I was enjoying the conversation. If I got ticketed…well, hell, I was getting more than $15 worth of entertainment there in the restaurant. It would work out OK.

We parted company after I spent another hour or so showing Chris the many delights of Coolidge Corner. It’s my favorite Boston neighborhood. It features Boston’s best bookstore and movie theater, and a small store so overstocked with piles and piles of merchandise of every possible description that I wonder if doctors don’t bring their patients there as some sort of test for epilepsy. There is such intense detail in such minute quanta in such a small area that any weak synapses will quickly give up and spasm trying to resolve the imagery.

The show was just flat-out wonderful.

“Spamalot” has been on my list since it opened a few years ago. But the way Broadway works these days, it almost lulls you into the same lack of a sense of urgency as you have regarding movies. Hits settle into multi-year runs with new casts, and touring companies are top-notch.

In fact, half-price tickets to the Broadway production were available during my last trip to New York but I opted for another show; “39 Steps” was a small, quirky comedy that probably wouldn’t be around the next time I was in town. “Spamalot,” like “Cats,” seemed to be now and forever.

(Uh, yeah…but a week or two later, they announced that “Spamalot” would be ending its Broadway run soon. And “Mamma Mia!” is now in the theater that “Cats” owned for more than a decade; many regard this as an improvement only to theater patrons with fur allergies.)

Regardless, I knew that I’d be seeing the show at some point in life. So in all these years, I’d never bought the cast album or read a synopsis, so that I could see the show “clean”…or as cleanly as you can see any show that’s based on one of your favorite movies.

I really, really wondered what the show would be like. “Spamalot” has to navigate a lot of problems that the authors of “No, No Nanette” never had to contend with:

  1. Python fans are going to expect to see their favorite bits.
  2. Non-fans are going to expect to understand what the hell is going on without checking Wikipedia every ninety seconds.
  3. At $80 for the good seats, even the fans aren’t going to be satisfied with just a replay of the bits they already know from the movie and the TV show.

That last thing was my biggest concern. I and My People worship at the Church of Python. Weve been attending services since we were little kids. We know when to stand, we know when to sit, we know when to kneel, and when the Minister (of Silly Walks) calls for Hymn 132, we immediately start singing “I’m A Lumberjack And I’m OK.” I went to see Eric Idle’s “Greedy Bastard” tour; most of the audience seemed to be just checking off the lines and the songs as they heard them.

(It’s sort of like going to a concert where the band plays lots of their hits. You don’t so much hear the band playing as much as you hear everyone else singing along.)

But “Spamalot” handles all of these problems beautifully. I couldn’t help but think about the “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” in which there’s a stage show of the events of the Baron’s life that draw from the threads of his adventures, but which isn’t an actual retelling per se.

It was tremendously good, silly fun that kept picking up steam as it went. As a Python fan, I liked seeing “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” done live. As a theatergoer, I had that great experience of spending two or three hours in an entire other place, removed even from seat D-101 (fifth row, aisle, awesome) of the Colonial Theater in Boston, MA.

Annnnd as a big dumb heterosexual male, I enjoyed the fact that at times, there were enough pretty chorus girls in skimpy costumes on stage at once that I couldn’t decide which one to objectify.

I’m saying that you really ought to go see it. Here’s a link to the tour page. It’s in Boston just through the week. Last night, the house was muchly full but I reckon that if you want to find some seats together, you can manage it.

I’ve been asked if “Spamalot” is “family friendly.” That’s kind of a floppy term. I think if you’re okay with your kid seeing “Monty Python And The Holy Grail,” then “Spamalot” will present no additional problems. “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” does indeed include the line “Life’s a piece of s***, when you look at it.” And although the language in the French Taunters’ scene is clean, you might spot a gesture or two from the top of the castle walls. It’s your call but I’d have no problems taking a teenager with me.



At this point in my narrative, I must reveal one spoiler for the show, so avert your eyes, o lord, if so inclined to enter the theater with a blank slate.

Just as in the movie, the location of the final resting place of The Most Holy Grail is can be found in the living rock of a cave protected by a killer rabbit. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch dispatches the threat and the answer is revealed in four enormous stone letters.

The knights speculate as to what the letters might mean. “Oi! Oi!” perhaps?

Ah! It isn’t a word at all, sire! It’s a seat number!


Those of you with excellent memories now realize that this information has a certain relevance to my tale.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

And sure enough…the houselights were raised and a spotlight snapped on around my seat. Knights and peasants eagerly exited via a set of stairs at the foot of the stage, bounded in my direction…

..and then unexpectedly siezed a man on the other side of the aisle in Row C. The Grail was found underneath his seat and he was hustled onstage, where he received a proclamation of thanks and what appeared to be a rather nice gift pen.

As for me, I was siezed by a heady blend of relief and disappointment, in equal proportions.

The man was wearing an AIDS ribbon. As I enjoyed the presentation and the rest of the show, I imagined that he’d been quietly approached at his seat during the intermission. The ribbon, I supposed, signaled to the cast that THIS was the guy who said it was OK to drag him onstage.

See, I have a bit of a Situation brewing at home. My cellphone was off during the first act and I used the intermission to step outside and check for messages. It all became pretty clear to me later on; the D-101 prop always points to the house seats (likely to be used by someone that someone in the cast knows), they didn’t find me there during intermission, so they just went to Plan B.

So again: relief and disappointment. Relief, because at the moment I looked like I had dressed and groomed myself and left the house in a big hurry after having spent all night working on a column. Disappointment, because I imagined that the Colonial Theater looked really cool from the stage.

(Plus: crap, that looked like a really cool pen.)

I went backstage after the show. I bumped into King Arthur on my way through the stage door. He was fab; I’d love to see him playing the male lead in “Kiss Me, Kate.” He has a real Alfred Drake vibe about him, in voice and presence.

(I’m sure that you know that Alfred Drake originated the role of Fred Graham in “Kate.”)

Chris was, of course, equally fab in his multiple roles and as the Old Woman, he had a fabulous rack; theater tradition insisted that I compliment him on that immediately.

He was nice enough to show me around backstage. What a treat. The Colonial is one of the country’s most significant houses. It’s about a hundred years old and some of the most famous plays and musicals in history debuted here. In baseball, a promising left-hander must spend a season in Pawtucket before pitching at Fenway Park. In Broadway, there was a time when a new production was put on its feet in Boston before moving to Broadway with its final cast and rundown.

We joked about Seat D-101. It wouldn’t have been the first time that one of his guests had wound up onstage. Though he told me that there was nothing pre-arranged about it and that my spending intermission outside on my iPhone instead of inside at my seat had changed nothing. The audience member really is plucked out of his or seat cold.

Maybe I didn’t get the free pen but I did get that other thing I wanted: a view of the Colonial from center-stage:

Center-stage. Can this view ever get old?

Center-stage at the Colonial Theater. Can this view ever get old?

I left the theater with Chris and Sir Lancelot and the show’s wig supervisor and we walked to the T. The weather had dropped from Scenic New England Crisp all the way down to “Brass Monkeys, Beware.” We talked about nerdy stuff (theater and technology) all the way until our trains arrived.

I got home very late and very cold but also very happy.