Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The music man - part 1 of ... a few parts

Does it feel like we're in the middle of an upsurge of musical theater? Avenue Q, Fiddler, now Into the Woods. It's good to see the local talents showing off their singing/dancing/acting chops. I enjoyed Avenue Q, and am looking forward to the New Voice performance of Into the Woods. Am not sure I'll watch Fiddler, even if a friend told me that about the guy playing the part of the Fiddler (a christian minister playing the part of a russian jew.... hmmm).

A friend wondered what Into the Woods was all about. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the show, since some people think it's a fairy tale, some people only know of the short one act version (the kiddie edition). And most have never heard about it. I'm not fully immersed in musical theater and can't spout the entire history of one genre over another, but having been brought up watching my share of broadway shows/musicals, here's a short intro and background brief on Stephen Sondheim, the composer and lyricist of Into the Woods. The next post will probably about my favorite Sondheim songs, followed by a review of the musical after I watch it this weekend.

How do I begin to encapsulate in a few paragraphs the genius of Sondheim? Let me start by saying this: I hated "Send in the Clowns" and didn't think much of the composer for a long time till the late 90's. I remember hearing the seemingly ubiquitous Judy Collins version of the song in the 70's and 80's and found it sappy. Her voice was never one I liked, sort of like a comfy velvet sound mixed with hokey folk timbres. Bored me to tears. Years later, I heard other versions of the song sung by other singers, both popular and cabaret artists and realized the song had merits. And through copies of Sondheim revues like Putting it Together and Side by Side, I realized I knew a lot of his music but never related it to him.

It's been said (on countless reviews, websites, etc. Go ahead, google it!) that Sondheim is an acquired taste. I wholeheartedly agree. See above. Definitely not one for younger tastes unless the person can take the dissonant tones, sung over dialogues, jarring verbal imagery, sexually driven story lines, and an attitude that might be construed as very New York. Even his more sappy songs are not straightforward love songs, the words will usually have a twist, send a shiver of humor or discomfort down your back. And for the most part, he writes without trying to date the music to a particular era. Many of his musicals are considered cult favorites; they may have been flops when they were premiered, but given the growing interest in his music by the cognoscenti, new audiences are delighted with exploring his oeuvre. He may have the most number of revivals over the last 20 years, and very popular touring shows.

Consider Sondheim's compositions - they are paeans to Mozart, Ravel, Schoenberg, rap, operetta, Bach, Hammerstein, Gershwin. His lyrics are ambiguous, witty, and never amateur. Many of his best songs allow his female stars (Strich, Massel, Peters, LuPone, Lansbury, etc) to shine with raw emotion. They are not songs for ingenues, they speak to those age old learning moments of heartbreak, destruction, torment, delusional love. Even if you've never had to suffer as much as they have on stage, you're let in on the pathos of it all.

Is there an intro to Sondheim? I think most people know his songs even if they don't know it's a song he wrote or composed. Start with Send in the Clowns (although that still gives me pause), but realize that he wrote the songs to West Side Story and Gypsy, plus the songs from the movie Dick Tracy. I think the revues, Putting it Together, Side by Side, or one of the tribute concerts lets new listeners pick up a song or two to love, if not the entire list. Then take one or two opportunities to listen to more of the songs sung by different performers, and if there's time and interest, buy a ticket to Into the Woods, presented by New Voice Theater Company at the Music Museum in Greenhills this November till the first week of December. Here are some details for interested parties:

09, 16, 23 & 30 Nov and 07 Dec 2007 Friday 8pm
10, 17 & 24 November and 01 & 08 Dec 2007 Saturday 8pm

Ticket prices:
*Balcony Php 700
**Orchestra Side Php 900
***Orchestra Center Php 1200
Tickets are available through Ticketworld or contact the New Voice Company. Lorna Lopez, the Bachelor Girl, is also promoting the show, so check out details on her site.


Katrina said...

I grew up watching theater, too, mostly produced by Repertory; there wasn't much choice then. For that matter, there aren't many now. (By the way, my dad says he saw "Into the Woods" already when Rep did it. I don't remember that.) My parents love musicals, so a trip to NY and London had to include theater. Broadway musicals aren't my favorite thing, but they can be fun. I like the more "modern" incarnations, like "Rent" and "Ave. Q."

Em Dy said...

Too bad, they don't have matinee. I used to love watching Rep when they were still based in Shang and Meralco Theater was where they had the big productions. My favorite Ralion Alonso has moved to HK Disneyland.

mtan said...

Yes, our theater scene is not on par with other large cities, but 3 musicals (plus Cinderella for the kids) in 3 months is a flood for us.

Hope you can make it to the shows Em Dy, a Saturday night show with dinner?

Eternal Wanderer... said...

Hmmm, actually Sondheim wrote the lyrics of of the songs in West Side Story (the music was by Bernstein) and Gypsy (the music was was by Styne) :D

mtan said...

Eternal, yes, that is what I meant by my statement "writing the songs" but thanks for being more specific. A song is both the composition and lyrics, and he only wrote the lyrics.

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