Thursday, January 13, 2011

Liv Ullmann Sings!

The latest find at is from Richard Rodgers' last musical, I Remember Mama. This was a natural subject for a musical, and since Rodgers and Hammerstein actually produced the John Van Druten play, they must have at least considered doing it as a musical.

The show got poor reviews and ran into lots of trouble out of town (leading to the firing of Martin Charnin as both lyricist and director), and this Tony performance certainly suggests it was not a very good show. It's not just that it's old-fashioned, but it's rote old-fashioned, going through all the tricks of the Rodgers and Hammerstein style musical -- the chirpy line delivery, the broad gestures, the device of having a dialogue interlude that gives a new context to the song when it's repeated. (Mama sings that you can achieve anything by giving "a little bit more"; in dialogue, the family works out a way to get extra money by doing just that; in a reprise of the same song, they celebrate their success in giving a little bit more.) The style of the show appears to have been somewhere between Annie, which the lyricist and book writer had just done, and The Sound of Music.

Liv Ullmann was the star, and she doesn't seem as bad as the reviews suggested. There have been lots of non-singing movie stars who did musicals, and she's by no means the worst; she actually tries to sing the notes. And at least she's the one acting, instead of just gesturing.

The other redeeming feature is Rodgers' music. His work in the last decade of life shows a definite falling-off in inspiration (few people have ever written a great musical after the age of 70, unfortunately). This is not a melody to compare with anything he wrote from the '20s through the '60s, and it feels like the composer imitating himself. But the musical style is still so unmistakably Rodgers, so right for the situation, that I almost feel like it would work better as an instrumental, without the drab, imitation-Hammerstein lyrics. (These lyrics are by Ray Jessel, a TV writer and Broadway composer-lyricist who was brought in to write with Rodgers after Charnin was fired.) The lyrics try to lecture us on never giving up hope and striving, but the music sells the idea much better than the words do.


Anthony Strand said...

In this clip, Ullmann is much, much better than Katharine Hepburn in "Coco."

Joseph Planta said...

Is this lip-synched?

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Doubtful. There was no cast recording (there was a recording later but Ullmann wasn't in it). The sound is probably a bit out of sync.