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Category Archives: Musicals

Maureen O’Hara – As Singer

Classic-The-Parent-Trap-1961-classic-disney-25659872-768-862A little while ago I watched The Parent Trap again after many years and during the movie Maureen O’Hara briefly sings to Hayley Mills a song written by the Sherman Brothers called “For Now, For Always.” Since I am a suspicious person, and because she actually sang well, I wasn’t initially sure if that was truly her singing. Perhaps I should have realized – after all she did some singing in The Quiet Man, too – but I honestly had no idea that Maureen O’Hara was a singer as well as an actor. She just never starred in a musical, as far as I knew (though it turns out that very early in her career she did do a musical called They Met in Argentina, with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, that was supposed to cash in on Down Argentine Way). In her autobiography, she said that she loved singing even more than acting.

Not one of the Sherman Brothers’ (Robert B. and Richard M.) more celebrated or recognizable songs, “For Now, For Always” is still lovely song and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. This song, along with “Let’s Get Together” and the theme song, “The Parent Trap,” were the first songs they wrote for Disney and it allowed Maureen O’Hara to at least sing a little, though the movie still does not pass as a musical.

Maureen O’Hara also sang a few songs in The Quiet Man. Once again, I am embarrassed to say that all these years I have been assuming that it was not really her own voice I was hearing. So often, actors and actresses were dubbed during those years that unless I have some positive knowledge that the actor in question is a singer, I just assume it is not really them (perhaps an unfair assumption).

And what I did not know was that Maureen O’Hara almost got the part of Anna Leonowens in The King and I. Producer Darryl Zanuck wanted her for the role, since she could act, look beautiful and still sing beautifully. She sent Richard Rodgers a recording of her singing some of his songs and after he listened, he said that she did indeed have a nice voice, but that he would not have a pirate queen playing in his musical. Alas for Maureen O’Hara. The world never got to see her in a musical. I think Deborah Kerr did a wonderful job, had sizzling chemistry with Yul Brynner and that The King and I stands as the finest example of successful and believable dubbing (Marni Nixon dubbed for Kerr), but I now kind of wish I could have seen O’Hara in the role, too. After all, if you are making a musical, it always seems like the best thing is to get someone who can actually sing (though I would a thousand times prefer that you dub someone’s voice rather than allow an actor who can’t sing to unleash their sound upon the world).

In this tribute to O’Hara for her 90th birthday, the background vocals are sung by O”Hara herself, singing “Hello, Young Lovers” from “The King and I.”

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Musicals, Uncategorized

 

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“To Keep My Love Alive” – Deliciously Murderous Song by Rodgers and Hart, from “A Connecticut Yankee”

richardrodgers_marktwain_viviennesegal-aconnecticutyankeeSeveral years ago, I read Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It was an unintentionally hilarious book. Damosels (that’s how he spells it) show up randomly and either get beheaded (a surprisingly common occurrence – for the woman, anyway) or abducted or seduced or vamp the men or ask for help or offer adventure. And men lay in wait for suspecting knights to fight, seek adventure, constantly visit hermits to hear prophecies they ignore and receive absolution for their manifold sins (which they go out and commit again), seek revenge (it’s practically a living), and generally pursue their highly fatalistic way.

Every knight is worshipful and every damosel rides a white palfrey. And the knights behead a lot of woman (sometimes accidentally) and for some reason no one seems to mind it nearly as much as killing other knights. It’s more like a secondary offense, murder in the second degree.

And for some reason Morgan Le Fay spends the entire book attempting to abduct Lancelot (who only has eyes for Guinevere). She always sends twenty (or was it thirty) knights to lay in wait for Lancelot and he always manages to defeat them…barely. Why couldn’t she ever send twenty-one knights? That should have done the trick. Anyway, I always found myself rooting for her to succeed. She never did, and I knew she wouldn’t, but I was incorrigible and kept on hoping she would capture Lancelot, anyway…or do something like take over all of Camelot and kill the knights. Alas, she never did.

It’s enough to make a feminist out of any woman.

“To Keep My Love Alive,” then, is a song for those women who find themselves wishing the woman would defeat the men. It was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for their 1943 revival of their 1927 hit “A Connecticut Yankee,” which was a musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. At this point, Lorenz Hart was drinking extremely heavily and their long partnership was shaky. Unable to rely on Hart, Richard Rodgers teamed with Oscar Hammerstein for the groundbreaking “Oklahoman.” But Hart was in an extremely bad way and Rodgers and Hammerstein thought that if Hart continued to work, it would help him. So, Rodgers and Hart decided to revive “A Connecticut Yankee” and add some new songs.

Vivienne Segal as Morgan Le Fay and Dick Foran as Martin, Sir Boss

Vivienne Segal as Morgan Le Fay and Dick Foran as Martin, Sir Boss

One of the changes was to give Morgan La Fay more to do and to sing. In fact, she practically runs away with the musical with her extremely witty songs. One song is “Can’t You do a Friend a Favor” (the favor being to fall in love with her) and another is “To Keep My Love Alive.” This latter song she sings upon first appearing in Camelot. She is explaining exactly how she has managed to keep her love alive – without divorcing any of her husbands, or cheating on them. She achieves this by simply killing them and the song is a hysterically funny list of all her husbands, their names, their crimes and how she disposed of them.

Hart would die during the running of the musical and Vivienne Segal, who played Morgan Le Fay and was a good friend of his, had to flee the stage during her performance of “To Keep My Love Alive” because she was so distraught over his death that she couldn’t remember all the husbands’ names. She took a moment and then came back out and finished the song.

I really do believe that Lorenz Hart was one of the wittiest, most poignant and best lyricists of the American popular song. He led a very tragic life, dying when he was only 48 years old, but with composer Richard Rodgers, he wrote some of the best songs of the Great American Songbook. If you are at all interested in his life, his songs or the era of 1930s Broadway musicals try A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart, by Garry Marmorstein. The cast recording – one of the earliest cast recordings that were ever made – is also available and is extremely fun. The CD also contains various other songs of Rodgers and Hart sung by Hildegard and Shirley Ross.

Here is Vivienne Segal’s version. It’s a full 6 minutes long and contains a truly impressive list of husbands. One wonders how she found time, but one also can’t help being impressed at her ingenuity in disposing of each and every one of them, without ever repeating a single method!

A somewhat shortened version is sung by Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook.” I love this album. Not only do I love Ella Fitzgerald, but it also is the most comprehensive introduction to the duo’s work.

 
 

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Jane Eyre (Musical) – by Paul Gordon and John Caird…and the challanges of adapting the character of Jane Eyre

383px-Charlotte_Brontë_2I have long loved the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. However, I have never found a satisfactory movie adaptation, which is ironic since there have been over ten different versions. It’s admittedly a difficult movie to adapt, although I never realized it until recently. Last Wednesday, I went to see a musical version of Jane Eyre and afterwards the cast, director and dramaturgist talked about what it was like doing the musical and how they prepared for it. It was a lot of fun to listen to them talk, but the person I enjoyed hearing most was the dramaturgist. She was clearly passionate about her job and about the book, Jane Eyre. She had done extensive research and provided packets about the characters and the time period for the cast in preparation. And she highlighted something I had not thought about before: how difficult it is to portray the character of Jane Eyre in a movie.

The difficulty, she said, was in how silent Jane Eyre comes across to people, but how passionate her inner life is. The book is written from her perspective and we are privy to all her thoughts and emotions. In a movie, however, we are necessarily excluded from her thoughts and any actress who plays her must somehow find a way to convey the storminess of her inner world whilst maintaining a quiet demeanor.

And that, argued the dramaturgist, is what a musical allows – specifically the musical by Paul Gordon and John Caird, which opened on Broadway in 2000. A musical, after all, is not just about characters communicating to each other through song, but is also about a character expressing intangible things through song, like their emotions, feelings or thoughts. That is the real strength of musicals. For example, the only reason that My Fair Lady is a romance is because of the music. It is not even the words that they sing in the songs. There are no love duets – in fact, there really are no duets – and Higgins and Eliza never speak of love. Our only clue comes from the breathtakingly beautiful and romantic music.

And this ability to convey emotion is the strength of the musical version of Jane Eyre. She is allowed her usual, calm demeanor in her interactions with people, but in her songs about herself, she is allowed to cut loose with what she actually thinks. And in this respect, the musical is far more satisfactory than any movie version I have ever seen.

It is also satisfactory in many other respects. Although there are several significant plot changes – especially near the end regarding the character of her cousin St. John Rivers – the spirit of the story is quite in alignment with the book. The unique combination of Jane’s faith and passion and desire are present. We can hear her thinking her way through her decisions, such as her decision to leave Mr. Rochester after he asks her to stay with him even though he is married. We hear her despair when she believes that he is going to marry Blanche Ingram. There is her anger as a child directed against her abusive aunt, her desire for freedom and independence. And in the musical, even more than any movie, she is always present on stage, which is as it should be, since the book is told entirely from her perspective.

I also like how the musical handles Mr. Rochester’s character. In most movies I have seen, they tend to de-emphasize how proud he is and how much he has been humbled at the end and how that humbling has made him a better person and more her equal. Because of what he has gone through, it is no longer as a grand lord conferring a favor on her by marrying. He now comes to her as much in need of her as she needs him. He talks a lot in the book and emotes often, so it was always easier to translate his character from the book to the screen, but he has more character arc, I feel, in the musical.

The songs are lovely…though perhaps not as catchy as some musicals I have heard. They further the plot, however, excellently and allow the characters to express their inner turmoil and thinking. I have been familiar with the musical for quite a while, solely from the CD I had of the cast recording. It stars Marla Schaffel as Jane Eyre and James Barbour as Mr. Rochester. James Barbour has one of the most beautiful baritone voices I have ever heard, rich and warm with wonderful range and capable of singing so softly and tenderly and then thundering the next minute. He is one of my favorite Broadway singers of today. I once saw him play Lancelot in Camelot when the musical came to Seattle on tour. After he sang “If Ever I would Leave You” I could literally hear sighs from various women all around the audience. I think I might have been one of them.

I really was glad to see Jane Eyre live as a musical. It was a fairly small theater space, but they used it very well and the performers were all excellent – though the Mr. Rochester could become a trifle theatrical at times. It was a lovely production and as far as adaptations of the book go, I think I prefer the musical above any movie I have seen so far.

Here is a clip of Marla Schaffel and James Barbour, giving a taste of the musical to audiences in New York City, before the show opened on Broadway. They are singing the song “Secret Soul.”

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in Musicals

 

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