Saturday, July 24, 2010

Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Will Be Ours (Except On Sunday)

Who'd have thunk, there's an actual comics announcement from the San Diego Comic-Con. (Well, they have to happen every once in a while to fill time in between big network TV show panels.) And this announcement happens to be a very good one: Fantagraphics is going to bring out reprints of Floyd Gottfredson's "Mickey Mouse" comic strip. They're only going to print the dailies for now, with the Sunday strips -- which told separate stories -- possibly held over for later; here's an interview with Fantagraphics' Gary Groth where he talks some more about the project.

I've said it before, but I can't think of another case where the comics spinoffs improved the characters quite as much as they did for the Disney stars. Normally even so-so cartoon characters are watered down for the comics, where there were more restrictions on things like violence (at least for cartoony, kid-friendly characters). Casper the Friendly Ghost was arguably more successful as a comic book star, but I think he had slightly more of an edge to him in the cartoons. But Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were much more interesting characters outside of animation, under Gottfredson and Barks respectively, than they were in their films, even with all the added (theoretical) advantages of being able to move and talk.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Salute To The Unknown Bad Dancer

When I saw this episode as a kid, I was mostly fixated on Potsie's poor singing and the weird new Arnold's set (just before Ron Howard left, Garry Marshall ordered Arnold's burned down so the set could be rebuilt in a style that '80s kids could relate to). Now I'm fixated on something else: the uncredited guy in the blue sweater, whose dancing is prominently featured in this clip. It may be the worst dancing I've ever seen on a TV show, except for dancing that is intentionally supposed to be terrible. I guess it's possible that Jerry Paris told him to dance that way to add some comedy to the scene, but it doesn't really come off; it's just bad spastic hair-coiffing dancing.

But he dances so badly with so much enthusiasm that he's almost a predecessor of Jeff from Mr. T's "Be Somebody Or Be Somebody's Fool." Never have I found it more unfair that a show could get away with not crediting someone if it didn't give him any lines. This man deserves to have his name, and his shame, preserved for posterity.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Loud as a Chanticleer

This is (for now) one of the few flop musical clips from the Ed Sullivan Show that's still online, after had to divest itself of all its Sullivan material. (Of course the copyright owners have no apparent intention of making anything available except a few select clips from hit shows.) It's Lucille Ball and Paula Stewart performing the big hit from Wildcat, written by N. Richard Nash (The Rainmaker), directed by Michael Kidd, with a score by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh.

The cast album of Wildcat is one of the ones I listen to a lot despite the fact that the singing is very unpleasant to listen to: specifically, Ball can't sing, and while she at least tries to sing the notes (which puts her one up over Katharine Hepburn or Rex Harrison), the result can't really be said to do justice to them. Still, this is one of only two scores the great Coleman/Leigh team wrote for the theatre -- Little Me is the other -- and while they were better suited to pop than theatre, there is nothing like the combination of Coleman's nervous, rambling, constantly "busy" music with Leigh's colloquial, laid-back, yet brilliantly-rhymed lyrics. Encores! really ought to do this show (with someone who can sing better than Ball).

Friday, July 09, 2010

Laugh-Out-Loud Songs In Musicals

I've been listening to some old musicals lately, and one thing they've gotten me thinking about is the difficulty of writing a really laugh-out-loud funny comedy song. Of course most comedy songs are funnier in the theatre, with an audience, than they are on a record, so I'm not judging them fairly, but even in the theatre it's hard for a song to make me laugh as hard as funny dialogue or physical action -- there's just too much going on for a joke to "land" even in a first-rate song. "I Cain't Say No" is a funny lyric, but there are no spots for audience laughter, and the point is more to make us smile than laugh.

Also, while comedy songs are often loaded with rhymes and puns, those things don't always get laughs. If you look at the original cast performance of "Please Hello" from Pacific Overtures, in ten minutes of dazzling rhymes, there aren't many laughs from the audience except at the simplest jokes: the repeated "Don't touch the coat," and the first mention of "Detente" where the audience gets the topical joke. (Stephen Sondheim has also said that the song "Barcelona" gets its biggest laugh right at the beginning, with the simple exchange "Where you going?" "Barcelona.")

The songs that get the biggest laughs are, first of all, songs that have some built-in laugh pauses (either a literal pause or a repetition, like of the song's title, where we don't need to hear the lyrics). And they're often songs that don't have a lot of big jokes in them, but have some overriding comic idea. "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" is, in my experience, a song that gets big laughs even on a record -- but only if it's sung by the kind of voice it was written for, a legit soprano voice. The gag is the contrast between the carnal sentiments of the lyrics and the sweetness of the melody and voice; when it's sung breathy and sexy, it is (again, in the performances I've heard) not a big laugh-getter.

And then there are some songs from unsuccessful shows that make me laugh harder than even comedy songs from some of the great shows. That's what got me thinking of this: I was listening to the cast album of the 1964 failure Bajour (about a band of Gypsies pulling an elaborate con on a naive anthropology student and her mother), and I was reminded that the song "Honest Man" always makes me laugh out loud.

It was added on the road as an eleven o'clock number for Herschel Bernardi (as the leader of the main Gypsy tribe) and Herb "Golden Girls" Edelman (as the leader of the Newark tribe). It's built around basically one joke, the "echo" joke where the characters repeat the last few words with a different meaning. But, because of the timing and the placement of the jokes, plus Bernardi and Edelman's delivery, I always, always laugh. And I bet I'd have laughed even harder with some of the visual business, like both actors taking off their hats as they sing "I swear by every hair on my head."

Are there any musical-theatre songs that always make you laugh?

Bajour is a pretty interesting show, though unrevivable since it's almost entirely built around negative ethnic stereotypes. It had great choreography by Peter Gennaro (who choreographed "America" and some of the other Sharks dances in West Side Story). The score, by a newcomer named Walter Marks, is quite good overall, entertaining even in the weaker songs, but Marks faded into almost complete obscurity after writing one other musical later in the decade (Golden Rainbow for Steve and Eydie, which produced Marks' only hit song, "I Gotta Be Me"). I think he wrote some material for Carol Burnett, and wrote the Merchant-Ivory flop movie The Wild Party. There were a lot of talented newcomers in the Broadway of the '60s who didn't quite make it, like Milt Schaefer (Drat! The Cat!), but Marks just sort of seemed to vanish, though I believe he's still alive.

The show was not an out-and-out flop, managing a run of about half a year. The problem with it, according to musical director Lehman Engel, was that it had two female stars, Chita Rivera (as a gypsy in charge of pulling the con) and Nancy Dussault (as the conn-ee). Rivera was better known, and you'd think that the "bad girl" would have the best material. But in fact, Dussault's material was generally better, and she was so good that she stole the show from Rivera. A lot of the tryout period was apparently spent trying to build up Rivera's part rather than fixing the fact that the male characters (except Bernardi) were weak.

Dussault and Bernardi proved they had the goods in another number that always makes me laugh, "Words, Words, Words," essentially a Vaudeville word-association sketch in musical form.

And, not comedy-related, but here's a sample of Gennaro's choreography, Chita Rivera dancing the title song. In this clip she sings it as well; Bernardi's character sings it on the cast album and in the script.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Wanda WTF

Sorry for not posting recently; I think I'm going to return to posting a clip or story here until I can get some longer posts in the pipeline.

In my Bob Bolling post a couple of weeks ago, I didn't mention one story from the same period (mid-'80s) that I have never really understood, though I think I kind of like it in a weird sort of way. It's the five-page "Wanda Wunderbuss," which appeared in Pep in 1984, written, drawn, inked and lettered by Bolling. I know the omnibus titles Pep and Laugh did a few pilots for potential series that didn't take off (Jack Kirby even contributed a failed pilot to Laugh in 1947, called "Pipsy"). I guess this was one of them, but I can't quite believe anyone thought there was series potential in a story about a news reporter whose boyfriend turns out to be a robot, at a news station populated primarily by robots. It reads as one-third a parody of soap operas, one-third a parody of inane pretty-boy newscasters (three years before Broadcast News) and one-third just plain strangeness.

Adding to the strangeness is that Wanda's last name has clearly been changed to "Wunderbuss" from the original "Wunderbust" (the original name slips through at one point). Bolling sometimes tried to turn his fondness for puns into an attempt to get stuff by the editors, but I guess they caught this one.

Wanda Wunderbuss in"The Noose Behind the Nightly News, Or It Was a Real Hang-Up"
Script: Bob Bolling
Art, Inks and Letters: Bob Bolling
Coloring: Barry Grossman