Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's Interesting About George Gershwin?

The news that Steven Spielberg is interested in doing a George Gershwin biopic surprised me at first, though it really shouldn't have. Gershwin sometimes comes off as a character wandering through a particular time period, who has his own goals and is willing to use the conventions of his time to do something unusual -- he took jazz, Broadway and the musical cultures of both America and Europe, and fused them into something unique and very difficult to imitate. As a creature of his time and a person somewhat out of step with his time, he probably has something in common with Spielberg's better lead characters: Frank Abignale, early '60s misfit; Indiana Jones, '30s weirdo. And not to psychoanalyze too much, but you've got to wonder if Spielberg thinks he has some kind of kinship with Gershwin, who also became incredibly successful incredibly young.

But all that said, I'm just not sure what's interesting about Gershwin's life, as opposed to his work. While I'm sure it's possible to make a Gershwin biopic that's more exciting than Rhapsody In Blue, there's still the problem that he didn't do a whole lot besides work. And an artist's work is almost impossible to portray in a conventional narrative movie, which is why it always comes down to one or two scenes of him getting sudden inspirations.

(With someone who came up with melodies as easily as Gershwin did, some of these stories are even true, or at least they're told outside of the movies. There's a famous story Ira Gershwin told of his brother waking him up in the middle of the night to play the march melody that had just come to him, which became "Strike Up the Band." And when Porgy and Bess was in development, Gershwin improvised something for Ira and DuBose Hayward to show what he thought Porgy's aria might sound like; they told him that tune was perfect as it was, and they wrote it up as "I Got Plenty Of Nuttin'.")

Yes, Gershwin wanted to prove that a pop composer could write "serious" music for the concert hall, and had to deal with critics who didn't take him seriously. (This might have some connection to the way Spielberg sees himself.) But the thing is, there's not much story there. Gershwin's emergence as a concert-hall composer came almost as soon as he'd established himself as a star Broadway/pop composer. He continued to balance both his Broadway and concert work for years. The work is fascinating; the process is not, because he always did pretty much what he set out to do. The only thing that stopped him was death.

And that's the point: the most interesting thing about Gershwin's life is his death. Gershwin died before he really achieved all he wanted to. He was trying to figure out how to fuse the three strands of American musical life -- European-influenced classical, Broadway-influenced pop, and jazz -- and no one after him was able to do it. (Leonard Bernstein could talk about it, and he knew how to do it in theory, but he was not able to put it into practice.) Just as no one was able to make an interesting Mozart play/movie without telling it from the point of view of his supposed rival -- Peter Shaffer, and Pushkin before him -- I feel like a more interesting Gershwin story is the story of the American musical culture of the era, the people who were jealous of or fascinated by Gershwin's success (or both: Virgil Thomson's reaction to Porgy and Bess is a weird mixture of snobbery, insight, and perhaps resentment that Gershwin was stealing the thunder of Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts). But I doubt that's what this movie is going to be about.

Since this post has become more about Gershwin than Spielberg, I'll say that I think of Porgy and Bess as one of the three great dead ends in the history of the musical theatre. The other two are The Magic Flute and Carmen. All three of these are works that fuse serious and popular, opera and musical (singspiel in the case of Mozart, opera-comique in the case of Bizet, and Broadway in the case of Gershwin). All three seemed to point the way to a new kind of opera, an alternative to the style that was becoming dominant; Nietzsche went crazy over Carmen because he thought it was the perfect alternative to Wagner and Wagnerism. And in all three cases, the composer died soon after, each one in his thirties, each one without ever writing a follow-up to his breakthrough work. None of these three works were ever able to found a "school" per se; they became great, popular, freakish works that pointed the way to something that never happened.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Which Prime-Time Shows Should Be Made Into Saturday Morning Cartoons?

(Cross-post from TV Guidance)

A lightweight question as the weekend approaches: if people were still making prime-time shows into concurrently-running Saturday morning cartoons, the way they did with The Dukes of Hazzard or Laverne and Shirley or Punky Brewster, then what shows would you choose to be made into cartoons, what would be the wacky premise, and who would be their cute animal sidekick?

- Mad Men: The evil wizard and advertising mogul Pryceo and his cat Madison (voiced by Frank Welker) wants to take over the only advertising agency he does not yet control: Sterling Cooper. Fortunately, the good wizard Papa Bert creates a magical cloak that makes it impossible for the bad guys to find their agency. But Don Draper, Betty and their pals can't resist leaving the agency and going outside into early '60s New York. Look for Ann-Margret to reprise her Flintstones role as Ann-Margrock in episode 3.

- The Big Bang Gang: There's no show that lends itself more to a Saturday morning cartoon adaptation. Hell, the characters have already had a time machine in their apartment, even though it didn't work. When Sheldon rigs the time machine so it will actually work, the clutzy fighting of Howard and Raj accidentally sets it off and gets the whole gang trapped in an endless time-loop, along with Penny's talking cat Cheesecake (voiced by Frank Welker).

- Bones: In this animated version, Booth and Bones are among lots more bones, because they live in prehistoric times, in the dinosaur age! Cavemen come to them, asking them to use their mystery-solving skills to solve scary mysteries: it seems that giant lizards are trying to scare away the dinosaurs. But don't worry: Booth, Bones, and their baby Stegosaurus sidekick Steggo (voiced by Frank Welker) discover that it's just a Tyrannosaurus disguised as a giant lizard.

- Being Erica: Pretty much the same as the current version except that instead of being sent back in time by a psychiatrist, Erica meets a blue goat named Grogar (voiced by Frank Welker) who magically sends her back to learn lessons about Canadian history. Episode 1: Erica meets Mary Pickford.

- Cougar Town: Courteney Cox and whoever else can take time off to do the voice is transported to the real Cougar Town, where cute baby cougars -- all of whom are female -- sing songs, play games, and occasionally maul intruders. Told in serialized 15-minute instalments, where the cougars' new human friends help them fend off attacks from the wicked cougar-hunter Pelto and his magical, evil dog Skinny (voiced by Frank Welker). The other 15 minutes of each episode are taken up by Modern Family Adventures: every week the adults make a mess of one of the three houses, and have to clean it up before the kids get back.

- Lost... in Space!: This one pretty much speaks for itself. Except that half the cast is replaced with animals (voiced by Frank Welker). Plus the addition of The Monster, the wacky blue-haired sidekick who keeps almost falling off the floating island at the end of every episode.

- Saturday Morning Lights, where the characters take time off from football practice to play groovy music in their band, including their hit song "Pounce Like a Panther, Baby." When they're not playing the tunes or running circles around their inept football opponents, they're solving the many jewel thefts that occur in a small Texas town.

Other suggestions would be welcome.

For a primer on how to make one of these spinoffs, someone has uploaded a full episode of Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, featuring three characters from the original show, those Hanna-Barbera "zap" sound effects, and a dog voiced by... wait for it... Frank Welker.

Also, I have to add, bad as these '80s H-B shows were, if I could make some of those "zap" effects into a ringtone, I'd do it in a second. I love those things.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grudge Match: Shirley Temple vs. W.C. Fields

This may be one of them irresistible force vs. immovable object scenarios:

Shirley Temple, in her usual movie persona as the adorable spunky curly-head who eventually melts the heart of every adult she meets, needs to ingratiate herself with a crusty middle-aged man who seems immune to her charm. This middle-aged man is W.C. Fields, in his usual persona as a guy who starts and ends the picture hating children -- especially spunky, adorable children. Does Shirley melt Bill's heart? Does Bill treat her as just another, slightly less objectionable Baby Leroy? Or is this a '30s stalemate? And most importantly, what silly name will Fields be using this time?

I'll probably pick Shirley simply because the power of her clich├ęs is greater than the power of Fields's. Fields, due to the rules of Hollywood and Broadway, did play quite a few people who learn to love children and adopt adorable little girls. Shirley, on the other hand, is loved by all in just about every movie she ever made. So unfortunately, I doubt Bill will be a match for her evil powers of sentimentality. But maybe he can insult her a few times before he succumbs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

WKRP Episode: "I Do, I Do... For Now"

By request, the season 1 episode that introduced the running gag about Jennifer's doorbell playing "Fly Me To the Moon." (Even this was eliminated on the DVD version -- this may have been the most irritating cut, because the song was changed to "Beautiful Dreamer.") The episode was the first appearance of Jennifer's apartment, as well as the first indication of her Appalachian background (as I said, one of my favorite jokes from the series is in a later episode where she slips into her real accent while talking to her mother on the phone).

The episode itself is a fairly straightforward example of the "pretending to be married to get rid of an old sweetheart" plot, which has been done on many shows before and after. (Frasier had Daphne pretending to be married to Niles to get rid of her fiance from England, and so forth.) It also gives guest star Hoyt Axton a chance to do some singing, but the episode is actually stolen by a non-actor: stage manager Buzz Sapien plays the role of the man in the elevator in the next-to-last scene, and runs away with the scene. MTM shows loved to have some random stranger saying strange things during a climactic scene; when in doubt about how to make the wrapping-up scene funny, put a wisecracking bystander into the mix.

Other than that, I think my favorite bit in the episode is Johnny's stream-of-consciousness repetition of everything Jennifer tells him when she's showing him around her kitchen. Also, Herb's nightmare about being attacked by a bunch of little Johnny/Jennifer children.

For those keeping score, this is the second of at least three episodes with Hare Krishna jokes. Hugh Wilson must have had a thing for that particular joke.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons

The death of Jean Simmons takes away my favorite of the England-to-Hollywood transplants of her era; she wasn't as famous as Deborah Kerr, but she was more likable, and she did everything well. In Guys and Dolls, a movie that makes dozens of little wrong choices that ultimately sink it for me (the obvious discomfort of Brando and Sinatra, Joe Mankiewicz's crippled sense of comic timing, the nonexistent ending, the unfortunate song substitutions), she stands out as one of the few completely right choices, looking, acting and even singing the part just right.

Looking at her filmography, I feel like -- with a few exceptions -- luck was not always with her in the movies she made. It's not that she had no access to good projects or good directors, just that most of her films are not quite first-rank, or don't quite live up to what we might expect from the talent involved. Again, Guys and Dolls is the clearest example for me: with that cast, director and source material, it ought to be one of the all-time great film musicals, and it isn't anywhere near that. Another example is The Grass Is Greener, Stanley Donen directs three of Hollywood's favorite Brits (Simmons, Kerr, Cary Grant) plus Robert Mitchum, but it doesn't add up to much.

Perhaps too many of her films are prestige projects in one way or another, which in '50s Hollywood usually weren't much fun. Her excursion into RKO noir in Angel Face -- with Mitchum and Otto Preminger -- is a rare chance to see her in the kind of movie that represents Hollywood at its best, playing a femme fatale part. She's good in it, of course; she always was. I'd have loved to see her in more movies of that type.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jerome Kern: That Moment Divine

Sorry for the long gap between posts. In my previous post, some commenters mentioned another track from that John McGlinn "Broadway Showstoppers" album, the original version of "All the Things You Are."

This was from Jerome Kern's last Broadway show, Very Warm For May, one of many bombs Oscar Hammerstein wrote in the '30s. (When Oklahoma! became a hit, Hammerstein took out an ad listing all the flops he had written in the past 10 years, and ended it with "I've done it before and I can do it again.") Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the show originally did well in tryouts, but was heavily rewritten at the insistence of the producer, Max Gordon. From Hugh Fordin's biography of Hammerstein:

Between the end of the Boston engagement and the opening night in New York six days later, something happened to Very Warm For May. Max Gordon had reappeared on the scene, and he and Minnelli became confvinced that the show had to have drastic revisions in order to be "commercially successful." Gordon brought in Hassard Short [one of the most successful stage directors, a specialist in big, elaborate productions] as consultant. The book was completely rewritten, the gangster plot removed entirely, and along with it an element of fantasy upon which the tone and humor of the play depended. The character of Quiller [the pretentious director of the play-within-the-play] was so toned down that the satirical element was eliminated and the preposterous, posturing figure became an inexperienced but sympathetic young man. The dialogue was emasculated in the hasty rewrite, losing its wit and verve. The new script showed a tightness that the first version had lacked, but removed the wacky charm of the original without offering any substantially stronger structure. Russell Bennett, the orchestrator of the show, called Very Warm For May a "great show that was produced into a failure."

Kern went back to Hollywood after the failure of the show and concentrated on film musicals for the rest of his career. Hammerstein coaxed him back to New York to do Annie Get Your Gun, but he died before he could start work on the score.

The score of Very Warm For May is, as you'd expect from Kern in his prime, full of beautiful things, but no song from the show (or any flop show, really) has become as famous as "All the Things You Are," the essence of the Kern technique: write a song that sounds like a pure, simple little melody but has, by Broadway standards, almost avant-garde harmony. "We never thought the public would take it," Hammerstein said. "It had three changes of key in the middle of the refrain, which is a very risky thing to do."

In the original version, recorded by McGlinn in 1992, the song is performed as part of the show-within-the-show. The Orson Welles-ish director, Ogdon Quiller, plays one of the characters singing the long verse (which was rewritten and shortened in the published version), the refrain is sung by a soprano while the tenor harmonizes, and then there's a big, lush choral arrangement of the refrain.

In 1994, McGlinn led a mostly different cast in a concert performance of Very Warm For May at Carnegie Hall; Ogdon was played by Jon Lovitz, who can do that sort of part in his sleep (he'd already played virtually the same character on The Simpsons). Here is a live bootleg recording of that performance, which includes the lead-in dialogue from the play-within-the-play.

Another Very Warm For May song that has always had a powerful effect on me is "Heaven In My Arms," a dancing song (which would have been perfect for Fred Astaire; it was here introduced by Jack Whiting, a singer-dancer who got a lot of Astaire-style parts after Astaire left New York) that Kern and Hammerstein expected to be the show's big hit. It never quite made it, maybe because it's somewhat ungrateful to sing: Kern keeps dipping down really low ("the music and...LIIIGGGHHH--TING")you will notice that on this recording, the singers struggle with the low notes. But it's a gorgeous song, and another of Kern's formal experiments: instead of the normal verse/refrain format, he writes it in such a way that the verse and refrain almost seem to be part of the same unit, and ties the whole structure together by repeating the opening notes of the verse at the end of the song.

I first heard the song sung by Broadway singer/dancer Harold Lang on Ben Bagley's Jerome Kern Revisited album. This recording, from McGlinn's Jerome Kern Treasury, is a composite version, using the second refrain that was cut on the road, but keeping the choral section that was added during the same tryouts. (The young and brilliant composer/arranger Hugh Martin was called in to Very Warm For May to provide a more modern sound in the vocal arrangements, the way he'd already done for Richard Rodgers in The Boys From Syracuse. I don't know for certain if this arrangement is his or if it's by Robert Russell Bennett, who sometimes did vocal arrangements in addition to orchestrations.)

And in keeping with this post's policy of having two, two, two recordings for every song, here's the version from the live 1994 concert; same arrangement, but it includes the dialogue and the scene-change music after the number.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Some Girl Is On Your Mind"

I was talking in an earlier post about great unknown songs by the likes of Jerome Kern. So here's one of the best-known unknown songs he ever wrote. It's unknown because no one has heard it except musical-theatre buffs, but every hard-core Kern buff counts it as one of his greatest achivements.

It's "Some Girl Is On Your Mind" from the musical Sweet Adeline, the first thing Kern and Oscar Hammerstein did after their enormous success with Show Boat. It was a vehicle for Helen Morgan, getting promoted to star after her breakout performance as Julie in Show Boat, and like its predecessor, it was a period piece. It was a much smaller story, not an epic like Show Boat; it was basically just a little story about the romantic problems of Morgan's character. Like all Hammerstein's original scripts, it appears to have been a little short on plot; he was never as good at writing his own stories as he was at adapting other people's. There was a film version with Irene Dunne, but it scrapped most of the songs apart from the hits (like "Why Was I Born?"). The show was seen mostly as an excuse to show off Morgan's singing and the Gay '90s sets and costumes. The costume designer, by the way, was Charles LeMaire, who moved to Hollywood and became Fox's chief costume man.

But Kern, having taken musical-theatre music to new levels of ambition in Show Boat, wasn't about to get less ambitious just because the story was smaller. "Some Girl Is On Your Mind" may be the most complex number he had created up to that point, and I think you can argue that the Broadway theatre has never fully caught up to it.

It takes place in the second act, in a tavern where the three men who love the title character are sharing a drink. A real-life figure begins the number: James Thornton, the 19th century performer/songwriter ("When You Were Sweet Sixteen"). Although Kern used several real old songs in this score (the whole overture is built out of old tunes, no actual songs from the show), the song Thornton is singing is an original Kern-Hammerstein song written in his style. It will turn out to be a countermelody to the main refrain or "burthen" as Kern always called it.

Addie's three men invite him to drink with them, and they sing the refrain of the actual song, about how every man in the bar is thinking of some girl he wants but can't have. The refrain is pure Kern: it sounds simple and tuneful but is very complicated and sophisticated harmonically; it doesn't call for an operatic voice but tests the limits of the typical Broadway voice. It's the kind of "pop aria" that musical-theatre composers have been trying to create forever, and that Kern turned out effortlessly. (It must have also been murderously difficult for Hammerstein to set, what with those extended notes at the beginning of each phrase; he solves it by always putting "Why" or a rhyme for "why" on that note -- words that can be sustained for a long time without sounding awkward.)

Then the repeat of the refrain becomes even more complicated. You've got some of the men and some of the chorus members singing the refrain, while others sing Thornton's song in counterpoint. And then, the voice of the heroine (Morgan in the original show) is heard offstage, representing what's "on the mind" of the three men; she reprises two different songs from earlier in the show.

The number then reaches a huge choral climax, followed by an orchestral postlude; Robert Russell Bennett, Kern's orchestrator, creates a dark, heavy sound from the pit orchestra, in part by prominent use of the tuba. And then instead of finishing there and asking for applause, the music fades away as the men are lost in thought; the number ends quietly.

When Sweet Adeline was revived for Encores!, everyone who saw it was talking about this number, not just as a great song but a great theatrical moment, where music, character, staging and lighting combine to give you more than you could get from non-musical theatre or opera or any other form; it's something only a musical can do. This kind of "total theatre," more real than opera and more fantasic than a play, is the highest goal of the musical. But I don't think anyone has ever done it more successfully than Kern, America's greatest theatre composer, or Hammerstein, the man who did more than anyone to redefine the emotional impact a musical could have.

An audio recording can't really tell us everything about a number like this, but an audio recording is all we have, and we're lucky that there is even one. It was recorded by the late John McGlinn in 1991 on a grab-bag disc called "Broadway Showstoppers." It's probably his best recording, in part because it had no crossover (opera) singers involved. The disc mixed original versions of well-known standards with songs from obscure shows, and there were four songs from Adeline, including the two songs Addie (Judy Kaye on this recording) reprises in this number.

The performers are Cris Groendaal (Thornton), Brent Barrett (Jim), George Dvorsky (Tom), Davis Gaines (Sid); Kaye (Addie); and the all-purpose British chorus the Ambrosian Singers. The orchestra is the London Sinfonietta.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lots o' Yosemite Sam & McKimson Daffy

UPDATE 2: TV Shows On DVD now has the final list of cartoons on the two discs, which, compared to the list they had before, is pretty disappointing. Most of the cartoons mentioned below aren't on it -- no "Rabbit Every Monday," "Which Is Witch" or "Daffy Doodles." So that's the way it goes.

UPDATE Jerry Beck, in comments: "For the record, the list of cartoons posted on TV SHOWS ON DVD today is (as far as I know) incorrect." The site has removed the list.

That wouldn't be the first time a mistaken list of contents has been posted on a company's website (which is where TVShowsOnDVD got the information). So we'll have to wait and see what the actual finalized contents are going to be.


TV Shows On DVD has the list of shorts on the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck single-disc releases. What condition some of these cartoons will be in -- particularly the few pre-1948 ones -- I don't know, but as promised there are no duplications with the Golden Collections. And there are some cartoons a lot of us have been waiting to get, including the unofficially banned-from-TV "Which is Witch?" and "Bushy Hare," and a few of the essential pre-1948 Daffy cartoons ("Ain't That Ducky," "Nasty Quacks," "Daffy Doodles" all have a strong claim to be in his top 10 adventures).

The Bugs disc also has five cartoons with Yosemite Sam, a character who didn't appear on the Golden Collections as much as he might have. Maybe if the disc sells well enough we'll someday get the great Bugs cartoons that are missing from this collection, like "Racketeer Rabbit." In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a decent copy of "Rabbit Every Monday," a very strange cartoon that feels -- except for the presence of Sam -- like it could have been made almost a decade earlier. It's long been a mystery who the writer of this cartoon was; there's no credit.

Much of the Daffy disc is Bob McKimson, and while the cartoons range from great (Daffy Doodles) to interesting but not quite there ("Quack Shot" is a very confused mix of the early "wacky" Daffy that McKimson never really gave up on, and the Daffy-as-failure gags that were in vogue by then) to cartoons written by the bane of a WB cartoon-watcher's existence, Dave Detiege ("Good Noose").

By the way, watching "Good Noose" again, it seems to me that Bill Lava's composing mannerisms weren't as out of hand when he scored a McKimson cartoon. Maybe it's just that McKimson's cartoons were sort of old-fashioned and demanded more old-fashioned (and therefore tolerable) scoring.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Li'l Abner Meets The Beverly Hillbillies, Which Already Met It

This has been on the 'Tube for over a year, but I only just saw it: three excerpts from an unsold 1966 pilot for a Li'l Abner series, with the script credited to Al Capp himself. The producer, Howard Leeds, was at the beginning of a long and illustrious career of working on bad sitcoms, culminating in his creation of the worst of them all, Small Wonder. The pilot was made for NBC, which rejected it, and rejected it again when it was re-submitted the following year.

Abner is played by perennial not-quite-star Sammy Jackson; Jeannine Riley, who had just quit Petticoat Junction because she thought it wasn't letting her grow as an actress, wound up playing Daisy Mae, because that's so much better than playing a sexy blonde hick. Judy Canova is Mammy Yokum, and Robert Reed turns up.

It's not much of a show, and visually ugly even by the low standards of 1966 (visually speaking, there have been few worse times in television than just after every show switched to color). Though the idea of doing a Beverly Hillbillies type of show based on Li'l Abner must have seemed like a good bet, given how much Beverly Hillbillies borrowed from Capp. But with that show, like any hit sitcom, you liked the characters and wanted to hang out with them. Capp is a misanthrope and holds his characters in contempt, and that always comes through in any version of the story; I think one reason the musical version was the only successful adaptation is that the songs help to soften the characters and make them easier to like.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Best Trunk Song of 1896

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Grand Duke was their last collaboration, their least successful, and probably their worst; Gilbert's book is depressing, confused, mean-spirited and dependent on weird in-jokes that only he seemed to get (a lot of the plot hinges on axe-grinding about actors who are obsessed with their standing in the company). Gilbert was capable of better; the libretto he had written two years earlier, His Excellency, contains some of his best lyrics, and if Sullivan had agreed to do it, it would probably have been a huge hit. But Sullivan didn't come on board for His Excellency; he did come back for the inferior Grand Duke libretto, in another one of those shotgun weddings that he and Gilbert periodically agreed to (they would split up, write with other people, find they couldn't achieve the same kind of success separately, and semi-reluctantly get back together).

Sullivan's score isn't bad, just a little tired-sounding; he didn't like the book, didn't like working with Gilbert, and wasn't in great health. (Another problem was that of their regular actor/singers, the only one who signed up for this one was Rutland Barrington, so his part is inflated out of all proportion while several other characters have almost nothing to do.) Oddly enough, however, this is one of the few shows for which Sullivan took the time to compose the overture himself; like his overtures for Iolanthe and Yeomen, the Grand Duke overture is not a medley but a symphonic development of contrasting themes from the opera.

One of the more enjoyable songs from The Grand Duke was one that Gilbert actually cut after the first few performances, trying to shorten the incomprehensible second act (where the hero gets married to two women and is about to marry another before he's interrupted). It's sung by the Prince of Monte Carlo, who went from bankruptcy to sudden wealth when he invented the game of Roulette, the most sure-fire way to make people give him their money. (This was another of Gilbert's bitter in-jokes, this time about Sullivan's own tendency to lose money at the tables.) His song, with a mix of English and French lyrics and an unusually-structured refrain, is one of the few pieces in the whole evening that sounds like something G&S hadn't done before.

It was included on the D'Oyly Carte's recording from the '70s, sung by John Ayldon, who made a big hit of the number in a concert performance (the company never actually gave The Grand Duke a staged revival) and continued to perform it in recitals. I think it's usually included in the rare amateur and semi-pro productions of The Grand Duke.

Friday, January 01, 2010

It's No Longer New Year's Eve, So This Song Is No Longer Applicable

But that's OK, because it's not the greatest of songs anyway. I just happened upon this clip from one of the last Animaniacs episodes (and therefore one of the shows that you won't see on DVD), "Hooray For North Hollywood." This was a strange episode, or rather two episodes. It was based on a story that the writers originally planned as a possible feature film: the characters pitch a movie idea. I liked the episode when it aired, don't like it very much now, since the structure is extremely weird: almost nothing happens in the first half (something that is acknowledged in the recap at the beginning of part 2*) and the second half has both too much plot and tons of padding.

Also, two very good song sequences that were produced individually -- "L.A. Dot" and "There's Only One of You" -- were awkwardly shoehorned into this episode to pad it out further, thereby weakening their impact. (If "There's Only One of You" had been shown on its own, it would be one of the best short song cartoons the show ever did.) And "Variety Speak" is performed all over again, with revised lyrics, because the song was originally conceived for this feature film idea.

Randy Rogel's new songs do sort of give an idea of what a full-fledged Disney-style Animaniacs musical would have been like (so does "Wakko's Wish," but that's almost a Disney-style musical played straight). This New Year's Eve song is the last original song in the episode, and it's not a bad song but there's something missing from it. The staging also illustrates the point I keep harping on about the show's visuals; it's not poorly done or anything, but there's not much in the way of interesting staging or acting.

*The best part of the episode was actually the recap, which went like this:

SKIPPY: Last time on Animaniacs...
WARNERS: We want to make a movie.
PLOTZ: You can't make a movie.
WARNERS: We want to make a movie.
PLOTZ: You can't make a movie.
WARNERS: We want to make a movie.
PLOTZ: You can't make a movie.
SKIPPY: That was pretty much it. For a full half-hour.