Friday, May 28, 2010

The Telephone Hour: Raising Money for MoonSchool

Wow, what a night!

This is the third night of our 2nd Annual Phone-a-thon.  Over the past three nights, cast members from all five shows, volunteers, Board Members, and staff have been calling our patrons to drum up support for MoonSchool, our new education program.

So far things are going pretty well, we've raised about $5,000 but we still have $10,000 to go.  If you'd like to make a donation to MoonSchool, click here or give us a call at (415) 255 - 8207.

Here's a little video message from Dyan McBride, our new Education Director.

Want to know a bit more about MoonSchool?  Here's the Mission Statement:
42nd Street Moon has a 17 year history of exclusively producing musical theatre for the entertainment of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and preserving the distinctive American art form that has long added to the richness of our culture. 42nd Street Moon’s position is that training for musical theatre must be taught in an integrated way, with an emphasis on combining three disparate practices: acting, singing, and dance. This three-prong technique is highly specialized and unlike any other training program one might receive at other San Francisco institutions. MoonSchool will provide this high-level, professional musical theatre training for a diverse student body of all ages and levels in a safe and trusting environment. It will be taught by leading experts and educators in the field. MoonSchool will combine a curriculum of contemporary musical theatre, as well as classical musical theatre from early to mid-20th Century Broadway (a hallmark of 42nd Street Moon’s identity.)

Keep on eye on the Blog for more info about MoonSchool!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jerome Kern: That Moment Divine

I was floating around in cyberspace and came across this blog Something Old, Nothing New:Thoughts on Popular Culture and Unpopular Culture by Jaime Weinman.  This particular post talked about Very Warm for May. With permission from the writer, I’ve reposted an edited version here (all links are mine). Enjoy!

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 convinced 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 [note from Ken: 42nd Street Moon's production uses a combination of the original Boston and Broadway scripts, most of the original Quiller material has been re-introduced into the new San Francisco Production]. 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, 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.

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"). 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. The 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.)

- Jaime J. Weinman, Critic,

If you want to see the West Coast Premiere of Very Warm for May, this weekend is your last chance.  For tickets call 415 255 8207 or click here.  Also, I recommend checking out Something Old, Nothing New it's a terrifically informative and fun blog!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ogden Quiller’s Progressive Playshop Production of ETERNITY

By now I'm sure you know that Very Warm for May has a show within a show plot.  Well the "players" decided they wanted their moment to shine.  If you were one of the lucky few who saw the Ogden Quiller Progressive Playshop Production of Eternity at the Spofford Barn Theatre in Connecticut, you might have forgotten to get a show program.  Here it is.

Ogden Quiller’s Progressive Playshop Production of ETERNITY

Who's Who in the Cast

Ogden Quiller (Writer / Director / Adam Standish) is delighted to see Eternity, his 27th work, produced. He believes that this production will lead to his other 26 plays finally being staged as well. Ogden received his formal training with Karel Capek, while traveling in Czechoslovakia. As an actor Ogden has portrayed the role of Otto Paul Vanderkill, in Children of Manhattan (Wichita Community Presbyterian) and the title role in The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belisa in the Garden (Wallace Theatre in the Square). Ogden is currently working on the novelization of Eternity.

Elizabeth Rose Spofford (Hester Blankwiller) is a graduate of the Westover School for Girls, where she served as President of the Dramatic Club and was an inaugural member of Le Cercle Francais. Under the scrupulous artistic direction of headmistress Louise Bulkley Dillingham, she appeared as Miss Kate Hardcastle in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and as Lydia Languish in Sheridan's The Rivals. Upon graduation and with the encouragement of her mother, Elizabeth left for New York to train at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she appeared in Edna St. Vincent Millay's Aria Da Capo and had the opportunity to work with Broadway notable Johnny Graham in his workshop production of The Gobble-Piper Kiss Off. Elizabeth has actively admired Mister Quiller’s oeuvre since witnessing his ill-fated attempt to engineer improvised performance (Teatrus Extemporanitus) at a mixer hosted by the prestigious Players Club. She’s delighted to be a part of this avant-garde journey in the nostalgic comfort of her childhood local.

Carroll Beamish (Heart Voice and Virginia Creeper) is delighted to make her debut with the Ogden Quiller Progressive Theatre Guild, Inc. A seasoned amateur in the local theatre circuit, Miss Beamish is currently studying Classical Vocal Performance at the Hollace Shaw Conservatory for Talented and Promising Young Women. Most recently, she has performed the roles of Girl (Pinewood High School Summer Musical Theater Review), First Soprano (Pinewood Show Choir Christmas Concert Extravaganza), Gooseberry Bush #4 (Hamlet), and the title role in Carroll Beamish's High School Senior Recital. The upcoming school year at Hollace Shaw will present Carroll in several recitals, concerts, and operas.

Smoothy Watson (Heart Voice and Virginia Creeper) is a graduate of the Eastunder Boys Academy. Although he has never acted before, he has spent a few summers in his church’s chorus under the direction of Choir Mistress Matilda Manly.  At Miss Manly's suggestion, Smoothy auditioned for Mr. Quiller's and is excited to start this new career in acting. Smoothy will be moving to Manhattan this fall with a group of his friends, where he plans on continuing his new path to 42nd Street and beyond!  Smoothy wants to thank his Mom, Dad, Miss Manly, and of course Jesus for all of their support.

Rhetta Hyde (Babbling Brook) has flipped her wig!  She is so excited to be a part of the Ogden Quiller’s Progressive Playshop. Rhetta was born Rhetta-Lynn Majorca Hydenonsvensson (she changed her name at 18 for obvious reasons) and hails from Georgia.  She comes from an old vaudeville family, the singing and dancing Hydenonsvenssons.  She set her sights on the stage and headed for the Big Apple. Needing some dough to get there, Rhetta was encouraged to audition for the Ogden Quiller Progressive Playshop since the summer gig paid “a sawbuck” a week and that buys an awful lot of pop!  Miss Hyde would just like to add: “Gadding about with these artistic types has really been the bees knees and Mr. Quiller’s direction will soon have my on my way to the Big Apple.  And that Lowell Pennyfeather is just to die for! I hope you enjoy my performance as the Babbling Brook because, well, it’s important!”

Shirley Wasserman (Old Musket) has trained since highschool by taking as many acting classes she could from Lou Fields (comedian/ vaudville actor). After landing staring roles in NY theatres including Smiling Faces (Cordoina Potts) with music by Harry Revel lyrics by Mack Gordon and musical book by Harry Clarke and also Walk A Little Faster (Bea Lillie) with music by Vernon Duke and lyrics by E Y Harburg, When the last vaudeville bill closed at New York's Palace Theatre in 1932, some feared that the Broadway musical was doomed to a similar fate. After 3 years of being off the stage, Shirley is excited to make it back again doing what she loves to do

Raymond Sibley (Composer) is happy to work with his Aunt’s childhood friend’s son, Ogden Quiller. Raymond has had some wonderful successes off-off-broadway, and is thrilled to be honing his craft writing for his first time in Connecticut. He hopes that you all enjoy his little ditties and wants you to know his work can be purchased through the Denton & Haskins Music Publishing Company.

Lowell Pennyfeather McGee (Weeping Willow and Personal Assistant to Ogdon Quiller) is joining the Ogdon Quiller Progressive Playshop, Inc. for this summer's production of Eternity to further his dreams of life on the stage.  Lowell first got a taste of the acting "bug" when his father took him to see a play at the local theatre, he doesn't recall the name, but it sure was swell! This led to 15 years of acting, singing, and dancing lessons.  However, it is as the son of a banker that Lowell both perfected the art of sycophantry and gained the organizational skills of a government contractor.  Lowell's exceptionally proud of his superior tenacity, as commented on often by Mr. Quiller, himself!  This is Lowell's first production.

May Graham (Dancer) is newly seventeen, and eager to do anything and everything she wants to do, when she wants to do it! May was born to William and Penny Graham. William and Penny were a Vaudeville pair, living their lives on the road, and eventually taking their two children along with them.  Will instilled his love of the theater in both of his children. Although May is unfazed by her brother Johnny's fame, she admires all he has done on the stage. Despite her connections to the Broadway stage, May is determined to make it on her own, and work her way up the ranks (even if that means working in a barn theater). May wishes to dedicate this performance to her Mother who passed away when she was 3.
Alvin S. Theodore (P-P-Prompter, Ensemble) is thrilled to be a part of Ogden Quiller's new production of Eternity.  Though trained in gardening, Alvin finds every excuse to juggle his tools, and is often seen balancing his hoe on his forehead.  A big fan of the circus, Alvin has also been practicing acrobatics for the past three years.  Alvin hopes that Eternity will tour Germany, as he is fluent in German!
Sonny Spofford (Lighting designer, Bird) is the lighting designer. He is also forced to fill in for people when they miss rehearsal. As well as he is being preassured by his sister and mother to fill out this stupid bio. I had nothing to do with the script, direction, or encouraging of this production.

Would you like to see Ogden Quiller's Eternity? Join Ogden Quiller's Progressive Playshop at the Eureka Theatre for one last week of performances.  For tickets, call the 42nd Street Moon Box office at (415) 255-8207 or click here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Very Warm for May: A Musical Analysis

Robbie Cowan is a performer, musician, coach, director, and liturgist. He has worked with Moon many times in the past and is a recent graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where hereceived his Masters in Music with honors in voice and musical theatre in May of 2009.  Robbie asked to write a guest blog in which analyzes the music of Very Warm for May, the second half of the post does get a bit technical (you musicians and singers out there are gonna love it!), but I still found it fascinating.  Please enjoy!

“All The Things You Are” is nearly universally recognized as the greatest song in the musical theatre canon. Stephen Sondheim, who first saw Very Warm for May at age 9, cites it as his inspiration to begin a career as composer. Jazz legend has it that auditioners for the Miles Davis band were asked to play the song (from memory, of course) in non-standard keys picked randomly on the spot by Davis, himself. It is also frequently mentioned by composers as the one song that they wish they could have written.

One song does not a musical make, though, and this great praise for one number often overshadows an otherwise completely remarkable score. For instance, “In the Heart of the Dark” is another particularly striking song.

Both are moving ballads; both are similar in tempo and style, but these two pieces have interesting dissimilarities as well.

Lyrically, “Things” is an effervescent declaration of love, “the dearest things I know are what you are.”

“Dark” is a short narrative about fleeting romance, “the sun's on its way to steal my dreams. I know that you will fade in the light, and all I can do is wait for the night.” One song is a broad statement, the other a quiet contemplation.

Melodically, too, the songs are markedly dissimilar. “Things” is characterized by a leaping line, covering a vocally demanding 12 note range. It never moves in scalar motion [moving from one note to another in consecutive 1/4 or 1/2 steps] for more than a few notes, preferring instead an energetic rise and fall. Dark dwells on single notes for entire phrases and moves in half-step motion for most of the refrain.

Perhaps most interesting is the differences in harmonic structure.

In “Things,” the verse begins with a progression reminiscent of the high romanticism of Tchaikovsky or Chopin. Once we begin the main theme, though, we are taken through whirlwind modulations which never allow us to settle into a firm tonal center until the very last cadence.
This harmonic progression is not haphazard; it is very well plotted along the circle of fifths, landing briefly on certain chords only to quickly recontextualize them within the harmonic structure. This avoidance of a tonal center perhaps plays on the lyrical intent; the song represents a dizzy, leaping, adoring sort of love.

“Heart of the Dark's” frequent utilization of pedal tones in the verse seems to imply a very different message. The lyrics in this verse speak to waiting, and the pedal serves to reinforce that feeling. In the chorus we find ourselves firmly entrenched in a tonal center, and the harmonic structure favors stepwise motion to the circle of fifths.

This type of motion seems to suggest a static sort of yearning, as the lyrics indicate, a waiting for the dark.

At one point my character [Raymond Sibley - the young composer] mentions that he is looking forward to hearing the song performed, and I can say that I share this sentiment in real life, too. For all of the merits of “All The Things You Are," there is something about the simplistic melancholy of “Dark” that I find heartbreakingly beautiful. Sung by Alex Kaprielian [Miss Wasserman], whose beauty is only matched by her golden voice, this song near the end of the show is really a remarkable musical moment.

Pay close attention to the entrance of the chorus in rich eight part harmony and the extended final cadence.

Having long been familiar with "All the Things," I was amazed to find another remarkable song in this score, and thanks to Moon for making those discoveries possible!

-  Robbie Cowan

Monday, May 3, 2010

Do You Hear that Singing?

Before a rehearsal the other day, I was talking to Bill Fahrner and found out some interesting things about our upcoming production of Very Warm for May.

Often times at
42nd Street Moon we work with very limited "source" material.  A script and piano/vocal score are our creative team's usual tools. Rarely do the shows we produce include dance notations (unlike shows that were chorographed by Jerome Robbins, which almost always come complete with choreography), orchestrations, or even vocal arrangements.

Many times, like in Lady, Be Good!, those gorgeous vocal orchestrations come from our very own Musical Directors.  Notably, Dave Dobrusky has created some absolutely gorgeous vocal arrangments for our productions. Think about what you heard during "Little Jazz Bird;" they didn't hear that on Broadway!

However, Bill let me on to a bit of trivia!  Very Warm for May came complete with a number of original arrangments from 1939.  Those of you coming to the Eureka in the next three weeks will be in for a treat: The original (and unique) vocal arrangement for one of
Jerome Kern's greatest hits, "All the Things You Are," and a number of Kern songs that have never been recorded!

Come to Very Warm for May at the Eureka Theater, May 5-23. For tickets call (415) 255-8207 or
click here.