Streaming New York Philharmonic’s Superb Carousel Not in Maine or Budapest, But On the Shores of Lake Simcoe
It was a rainy hot Sunday up here north of Toronto where I am spending my summer streaming and writing, working and playing by the shores of Lake Simcoe. It’s lovely and fresh, not exactly the same locale that they had in mind when those two iconic magicians of musical theater wrote what is said to be Rodgers’ favorite musical that he crafted with Hammerstein. That’s quite the statement, as that list holds such iconic shows, such as Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Carousel, no doubt,is by far one of the most gorgeously haunting of their works, tackling difficult and complex issues, such as love, suicide, mortality, and the most debated one, domestic abuse. Some say that one line is worth canceling the whole clam bake, and I can’t say I blame them, as that “slap was like a kiss” idea always stings so hard, especially for anyone who knows that feeling. But the musical, especially as presented by the New York Philharmonic for a five-performance run at Avery Fisher Hall, brings such life to that delicious score, that one has to pause in the quick response, like Billy should have done. Lucky for us, it remains as glorious in tone as one can imagine, streaming for us all to devour this weekend on the Lincoln Center YouTube channel. And giving us the moment to pause and examine the work as a whole, not just for one problematic part.
Directed with a clear-eyed vision by John Rando (Off-Broadway’s Jerry Springer – The Opera), under the impeccable musical direction of Rob Fisher (Broadway’s Chicago), Carousel delivers a whirlwind of beauty and magistry, unveiling the epicness of its complex structure and insane beauty of its musical expertise. I saw it for the first time in the spring of 2018 with Jesse Mueller and Josh Henry in the starring roles, and its lusciousness of wall-to-ceiling sound captivated my heart. It was a solid lesson in the intricate structure of this complicated tale, and it was there in that revival that I was introduced to the most famous and controversial piece of dialogue, one that hangs over any modern revival of this classic musical tale quite heavily. It is when the young daughter, Louise tells her mother that the blow she just received for not accepting a star from the unbeknownst spirit of her dead father, Billy, miraculously didn’t hurt at all, but felt like a kiss, not a slap. And the mother tells her own daughter that this is, in all honesty – as she reminisces her dead husband Billy, something that could quite possibly be true. A problematic line, no matter how many times you insist that it happened only once. It’s only in this tight construct where problems tend to arise for the artists, the director, and for modern audiences to take in and act out without wincing.
Carousel was adapted by this legendary musical team from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, which chronicled a dismissed carnival barker who hits his wife, just the one time, attempts a robbery and commits suicide; a seemingly unlikely central character for a typical musical. Oscar Hammerstein II decided that he had to use the words and story to make the audience sympathize with the lovers, removing it from its Budapest setting to the Maine coastline, and change the ending of this tale into a story about trying to right a wrong and looking for redemption. Richard Rodgers wrote, explaining his rationale for the changed ending:
Liliom was a tragedy about a man who cannot learn to live with other people. The way Molnár wrote it, the man ends up hitting his daughter and then having to go back to purgatory, leaving his daughter helpless and hopeless. We couldn’t accept that. The way we ended Carousel it may still be a tragedy but it’s a hopeful one because in the final scene it is clear that the child has at last learned how to express herself and communicate with others.
This PBS production, which is a semi-staged revival with the full Philharmonic on display with the actors running through and around the musicians, stays true to the classic musical retelling. The story revolves around Billy Bigelow, the carousel barker, played most dynamically by operatic baritone Nathan Gunn (Santa Fe Opera’s Cold Mountain), whose initial attraction blossoms into a full-scale romance with millworker Julie Jordan, beautifully voiced by the Tony-winning musical theater star Kelli O’Hara (Broadway’s Kiss Me, Kate),. That love and attraction causes them both to lose their jobs within minutes of meeting. And even with the trouble now heaped at their feet, they sing the most glorious of songs, “If I Loved You” to one other, illuminating everything that will drive the two forward into the dark night, filling our hearts with the gloriousness of sound and harmony.
O’Hara is as perfect as one could hope for in this classic tale, playing the pensive young woman who falls for the brooding young man. We all know he is trouble from the get-go, but her voice grabs hold of the soaring melodies, showcasing her vocal abilities gloriously, while also finding subtlety and grace in her quieter moments. Her choice to stay causes the two to lose their incomes, sacrificing more than they could possibly imagine when they first locked eyes on one another on the carousel. But when the unemployed Billy panicks after hearing the news that Julie is pregnant, he decides, most fool-heartedly, to follow through on a dangerous plan. That is when the darkness fully takes over, turning the love story into one about escapist death, moral recognition, and hopeful redemption.
Gunn also couldn’t be more perfect for the role. His voice is just plain rich and spectacular, but it’s in his masculine physical energy vibrating most fully within that impressive frame that fully reveals the underlying vulnerability that somehow exists within that easily provoked beast. Trapped in that downward spiral, he doesn’t do himself proud, nor does he understand the epic love he feels for Julie. He’s desperate and selfish, all at the same time, unable to manage and comprehend his ego and fire with the tenderness and love that also exists inside. Gunn finds it somewhere within and delivers it for us all to devour.
These two lead performers, along with a magnificently charming assist by as her best friend, the lucky-in-love Carrie Pipperidge, played to perfection by Jessie Mueller (Broadway’s Waitress, Carousel) find endless richness in their musical moments. Mueller, who ended up starring in the lead on Broadway in 2018, fits Carrie just as solidly as she filled out the lead role. She finds faithful clarity and humor within her character, staying true to the part, and the emotional authenticity of each and every moment. The mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (One Sweet Morning at Avery Fisher Hall), as Nettie Fowler, Julie’s maternal older cousin, finds unmined glory in her You’ll Never Walk Alone as does the handsome Jason Danieley (Broadway’s The Visit) as Carrie’s beau, Enoch Snow, who does this music and the part proud. New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck (NYCB’s Swan Lake) also finds her way to fly up into the stars as the young teenage Louise in the second act’s beautiful ballet segment, gorgeously choreographed by Warren Carlyle (Broadway’s Kiss Me, Kate), and partnered with the dazzling Robert Fairchild (Ensemble for the Romantic Century‘s production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Together, they discover heartache and struggle inside the graceful moves and rhythms set forth. It’s breathtaking and lovely, while also piercing our hearts with truth.
Unlike the play that it is based, one more scene is added to the ending after the failed interaction between father and child, and it is at the graduation ceremony that Billy finds a way to whisper some meaningful words into her ear, lifting her up, and leading them all into a glorious reprise of “You’ll Never Walk Alone“. It’s a very different ending than the play, one that will have you filled with as much glory and joy as intended, thanking all those magnificent stars and the theatre-streaming gods up above that have gifted us this jewel delivered straight into our cosy living rooms on this hot summer’s day.
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
The Glorious Corner
SLY REVIVED — (via Rolling Stone) Sly Stone, the enigmatic R&B/funk icon, will share his story in a new memoir, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), arriving Oct. 17 via Questlove’s new publishing imprint, AUWA Books.
Stone co-wrote the new book with Ben Greeman, who’s written memoirs with George Clinton, Brian Wilson, and Questlove (he helped the Roots drummer with his three other books, too). Questlove — who’s directing a documentary about Stone — will also pen a foreword for Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).
In a statement, Stone said, “For as long as I can remember folks have been asking me to tell my story. I wasn’t ready. I had to be in a new frame of mind to become Sylvester Stewart again to tell the true story of Sly Stone. It’s been a wild ride and hopefully my fans enjoy it too.”
Born Sylvester Stewart, Stone’s music career began when he was a child, singing in a gospel quartet with his siblings. In the Sixties, he worked as a radio DJ in the Bay Area, forming various soul groups, including the extremely successful Sly and the Family Stone. The group’s debut,A Whole new Thing, arrived in 1967, and that same year they released their first major hit, “Dance to the Music,” which anchored the band’s second album. Between 1967 and and 1982, Sly and the Family Stone released 10 albums, including classics like Stand! and There’s a Riot Goin; On.
But after the dissolution of the Family Stone, Stone struggled to find success as a solo artist while simultaneously battling drug addiction. Though he got sober, he receded from public life, making only sporadic appearances, like the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a performance at the 2006 Grammys. In 2011, Stone released a new solo album, I’m Back! Family and Friends; in 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) is one of several books on the initial slate for Questlove’s new AUWA Books venture. (The Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint takes its name, by the way, from the bird-call noise Prince used on songs like “Baby I’m a Star” and “Eye No.”) Also on the docket: Questlove’s new book, Hip-Hop Is History, and a book from TikTok star Drew Afualo (both out in 2024).
This is major news for sure. If you’re of a certain age, Sly Stone’s music was the best. The true of story of what actually happened should be cataclysmic. The stories I’ve heard over the years encompass almost everything good and bad about the music industry. I hope the curtain is finally pulled back in this instance.
TICKET TO YOUNG — (Via Ultimate Classic Rock) Count Neil Young among those musicians who blame escalating ticket prices for ruining the concert industry. “It’s over. The old days are gone,” Young declared in a message posted to his Neil Young Archives website. “I get letters blaming me for $3,000.00 tickets for a benefit I am doing. That money does not go to me or the benefit. Artists have to worry about ripped off fans blaming them for Ticketmaster add-ons and scalpers.”
The acclaimed rocker’s message was accompanied by a story about the Cure and their recent battle with Ticketmaster. The ticketing giant earned the scorn of the goth rock band and their fans by adding several fees to ticket prices for the Cure’s upcoming North American tour. In some cases, these “unduly high” fees, as Robert Smith called them, resulted in the actual price of tickets nearly doubling from their face value. Ticketmaster eventually agreed to refund some of the cost.
“Concert tours are no longer fun,” Young opined, pointing to ticket fees and scalpers as the culprit. “Concert tours not what they were.”
Young’s thoughts about ticket prices are the latest in his ongoing list of gripes regarding modern touring. In December, the rocker reiterated his refusal to play at concert venues that use factory farms.
SHORT TAKES — Could Big Blue be coming back? Blockbuster for decades was the go-to spot for DVDs and video-tapes. Stay tuned …I love Keanu Reeves, but I must admit I’ve not seen any of the John Wick movies. Chapter 4 opened this past weekend with a $74 million+ score. Rather amazing in this post-covid period.
I pulled up the trailer and was terrifically impressed by the lush visuals; beautiful music and Reeves and Lance Reddick just sensational. I am thinking of a John Wick-weekend where I’ll watch all 4 … Writer/producer Terry Jastrow arrives in NY this week with his wife actress Anne Archer … Whatever happened to the Madonna biopic? You ask three different people and you get three different answers,. Check this one out from IndieWire: https://www.indiewire.com/2023/03/julia-garner-madonna-biopic-fingers-crossed-1234819696/ …
Personally, I don’t think Garner should do it. Mired in controversy already, could it really be any good? … GUESS WHO DON”T SUE: What up-and-coming metal band is using the name of a high-profile manager to score some Manhattan-gigs? They were going to work with the manager until it blew up. Simply shady if you ask me … btw: whatever happened to Wendy Stuart Kaplan? …
Friday was the last episode (for their inaugural season) of Apple TV+’s Shrinking which has just been so excellent in this its debut season. Jason Segal and Brett Goldstein have come up with the best show on streaming yet. Infectiously good and the acting turns from Segal and Harrison Ford are off the charts. The show culminated in a wedding for best-friend Brian (Michael Urie) and ended with a call-back to the show’s very first scene. Remember it? Truly a one-of-a-kind show. We loved it … I’ve heard at least 4 stories on the news this weekend about composting. Is this a hot topic now? Trending is it? … RIP Nicholas Lloyd Webber
NAMES IN THE NEWS –— Alex Salzman; Rob Petrie; Anthony Pomes; Terry Jastrow; Tyrone Biljan; Jacqueline Boyd; Bill McCuddy; Brad LeBeau; Nile Rodgers; Nancy Hunt; Steve Leeds; Terri Epstein; Brenda K. Starr; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; William Schill; Robert Funaro; Vinny Pastore; Maureen Van Zandt; Tricia Daniels; and ZIGGY!
Did You Know There Is A Kander & Ebb Way?
On Friday, March 24th, the 96-year-old John Kander was given a Mayoral Proclamation from Mayor Eric Adams in celebration of the first performance of his new Broadway musical New York, New York. Following the proclamation, Lin-Manuel Miranda unveiled the sign renaming 44th Steet ‘Kander & Ebb Way. On hand was the Manhattan School of Music to performed the iconic Kander & Ebb song “New York, New York.”
New York, New York opens Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre (246 West 44th Street).
The Marvelous Marilyn Maye Received Twelve Standing Ovations At The New York Pops
Karen Akers, Jim Caruso, Tony Danza, Jamie deRoy, Max von Essen, Melissa Errico, Bob Mackie, Susie Mosher, Sidney Myer, Josh Prince, Lee Roy Reams, Rex Reed, Randy Roberts, Mo Rocca , Mark Sendroff, Lee Roy Reams, Brenda Vaccaro and David Zippel were there to see and honor Cabaret legend and Grammy nominee Marilyn Maye. Maye who turns 95 April 10th, made her at Carnegie Hall solo debut last night with The New York Pops, led by Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke.
Maye is a highly praised singer, actress, director, arranger, educator, Grammy nominated recording artist and a musical treasure. Her entire life has been committed to the art of song and performance and it showed with the 12 standing ovations she received.
Maye appeared 76 times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, she was “discovered” by Steve Allen and had a RCA recording contract, seven albums and 34 singles.
The evening started out with the superlative New York Pops Overture of Mame, which Maye had played the title role.
Next a Cole Porter Medley with “Looking at You,” Concentrate On You,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” It’s Alright With Me,””Just One of Those Things,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “All of You”. This was Marilyn’s second standing ovation. The first was when she stood on that stage for the first time and the audience was rapturous.
A terrific “It’s Today” from Mame with high flying kicks was the third ovation and wow can that woman kick.
A rainbow medley included “Look To The Rainbow” from Finnian’s Rainbow, the iconic “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” the jazzy “Make Me Rainbows” and of course “The Rainbow Connection.” And with that another standing ovation.
“Put On A Happy Face” from Bye Bye Birdie.
Frank Loesser’s Joey, Joey, Joey brought on a fifth standing ovation. This song was a masterclass in acting and vocal nuance. For that matter every song that comes out of Ms. Maye’s mouth is perfection. Part of the brilliance of this night is her musical director, arranger, and pianist Ted Firth. That man is a genius.
Lerner and Loewe’s “On The Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady ended the first act with a sixth standing ovation.
The overture from Hello Dolly! and then Cabaret shows Marilyn Maye also starred in opened the second act. The New York Pops sounded phenomenal as always.
“Your Gonna Hear From Me” from “Inside Daisy Clover was an appropriate starter for this next round as the audience got to its feet.
Maye’s most requested song “Guess Who I Saw Today” from New Faces of 1952 was followed by a show stopping “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom and of course another standing ovation.
Her next song was chosen by the Smithsonian Institute to be included in its permanent collection of recordings from the 20th century. Her recording of “Too Late Now” is considered by the Smithsonian to be one of the 110 Best American Compositions of the Twentieth Century and Ms. Maye showed us why and again another standing ovation.
A proclamation from The City of New York read by Steven Reineke to Marilyn Maye made this day Marilyn Maye Day. This treasure cried with joy as she sang Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here.” Though she forgot some of the lyric, Ms. Maye proved performing is all on the intent and connecting to the audience. Two more standing ovations were added here.
For encores, I was thrilled to hear James Taylor’s “Circle of Life” and “Here’s To Life,” which is my personal favorite, finally going back into “It’s Today” with those high kicks and a twelfth standing ovation. Bravo Ms. Maye!
If you are a singer and do not catch Ms. Maye live, you really do not care about your craft. Last night Ms. Maye made it clear why she’s been celebrated as one of America’s greatest jazz singers for more than 50 years and this was a night I will always remember. Thank-you New York Pops.
Don’t miss the Pop’s 40th Birthday Gala: This One’s For You: The Music Of Barry Manilow on Monday, May 1st. The gala will star Sean Bell, Erich Bergen, Betty Buckley, Charo, Deborah Cox, Danny Kornfeld, Norm Lewis, Melissa Manchester, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, Billy Stritch, Steven Telsey, Max von Essen, Dionne Warwick, and more to be announced. This will be yet another New York Pop’s Night not to miss.
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