Tuesday, May 22, 2018


BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1956 AND 1975 ** 1/2 out of ****

The winter-spring series "Broadway By The Year" has been going on for almost twenty years. But somehow it still feels like the best-kept secret in theater. Sure it has full houses and subscribers who've held onto their seats for years and greet each other by name. Yes, creator Scott Siegel has spun this franchise into an ever-growing number of showcases for Broadway and cabaret stars and rising talent both at Town Hall and 54 Below and beyond. Nonetheless, go to BBTY and you'll feel like you've slipped backstage or finally received your theater-insider badge.

This season, Siegel is focusing on one year for each act of the night. On Monday, it was 1956 and 1975, two primo years for musical theater being the last gasp of a golden age and the start of a new flowering. I'm about to tell you what you missed but don't despair: the next Broadway By The Year takes place on June 18 and covers 1988 and the head-spinningly recent season of 2017.

For 1956, the show drew upon Bells Are Ringing, Candide, Mr. Wonderful (the Sammy Davis Jr. showcase), The Most Happy Fella and the peerless My Fair Lady. And 1975? That season offered shows celebrating Tom Chapin (!), Bessie Smith and Rodgers and Hart. Happily it also included the surprisingly successful Shenandoah (I did NOT know that ran more than 1000 performances), The Wiz and two genuine landmarks: Kander & Ebb's Chicago and A Chorus Line.

You come to BBTY to hear covers of classic songs you know well and some rarer songs you're not familiar with, all of them performed by big stars and rising talent. It's a rare night when you don't walk away wanting to hear a "new" song again and write down the name of a performer to keep your eye on. Tonight was no exception, but it was especially good at pointing out new artists ready for their close-up.

It wasn't always as kind to veterans. Lance Roberts is on Broadway right now in the acclaimed revival of My Fair Lady. While he got by on "Too Close For Comfort," Roberts was at sea on the infectious "Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle Of Beer)." It was perhaps the wrong song for the wrong crowd on the wrong evening and when he gamely pointed the mike at the audience for them to sing ("Gimme a pigfoot!") they had blank looks and no idea what to say. He deserved props for selling it anyway as a grand old time. So did Cheryl Freeman on "Home" from The Wiz. That's a song that should bring down the house (any house) but it was an off night for Freeman. However, she delivered a master class in staying in character after the song was over, looking genuinely moved by the tune and the moment even as you knew she was thinking, "Damn! That didn't happen." And Luke Grooms killed it Off Broadway recently in the revival of Jerry Springer: The Opera. But other than singing sans microphone (a BBTY tradition for at least one song), Grooms brought little to "My Heart Is So Full Of You." And "Johnny One Note" was more of a vocal workout than a treat.

Now onto the good news. Douglas Ladnier is a cabaret star and Broadway veteran (from Jeckyl and Hyde among others). His best moment was early on with "Just In Time." But while no one should be asked to sing "Cat's In The Cradle," that slice of bathos simply cannot be sung with too much intensity and was perfect for him. The audience loved it, even as I wondered how Tom Chapin got on Broadway with his own show in the first place. (Ladnier has a new album out now called Heart And Soul showing him equally unafraid of other Seventies hits like "Sometimes When We Touch" and "You Are So Beautiful" alongside classic theater tunes.)

Ladnier had three numbers on the show, which is one of the best parts of BBTY. If someone doesn't wow you right away, chances are you'll get to revise your opinion before the night is over. That was certainly the case for Maxine Linehan, who had the unenviable task of tackling "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady. After a too-serious "It's All Right With Me" I appreciated Linehan's voice but wasn't sure about her interpretations. That changed mightily when she tackled a song from the little known hit Shenandoah. Linehan was singing "The Only Home I Know," a wistful ballad performed by a soldier heading back to his small town after the horrors of the Civil War. A spare, lovely arrangement courtesy of musical director and pianist Ross Patterson allowed Linehan to sit on a stool and deliver the song with unadorned sweetness. You immediately wanted to hear more from Shenandoah and Linehan, a sure sign of success.

And the success of Siegel's showcase Broadway's Rising Stars is how much of the talent that makes it to that annual event keeps popping up all over the theater landscape. Every year Siegel selects the cream of the crop from arts schools all over the country and puts them in Broadway's Rising Stars. This year's show takes place on Monday July 16 at Town Hall. If you'd gone in the past, you would have been among the first to see Joshua Israel and Oakley Boycott. (Note: that's her real name and any suggestion otherwise may lead to legal proceedings.)

Every Broadway By The Year includes some dancing and Israel was on tap Monday. He started off act two in jaunty style with "I Can Do That" from A Chorus Line. "All I Care About" from Chicago was more of the same and they both would have shone better in separate acts. (Is it Siegel's fault they both came out in 1975?) Israel dances with a chip on his shoulder -- that cocky Gene Kelly attitude of yeah, I'm dancing here, you gotta  problem with that? Maybe I'm just a Fred Astaire guy myself, but Israel should balance his attitude with a little more joy or less self-awareness or something.

Three time Tony nominee Carolee Carmello had the right sort of attitude: the pleasure of a star who knows what they're doing and loves it. With shows like Falsettos, Urinetown and Parade on her résumé, it's a well-earned confidence. Carmello first appeared in Act One, delivering the comic gem "I'm Going Back" from Bells Are Ringing with aplomb. It was almost a one-two punch since she returned early in Act Two with "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, underlining that song's irony with bittersweet ease. And she ended the night with the Chorus Line chestnut "What I Did For Love," joined by the entire cast. Simply making it sound fresh is a hard task but she pulled it off. The recent musical Tuck Everlasting wasn't nearly a good enough showcase for Carmello and this night reminded you she's a singular talent that deserves a better one, soon.

And that leaves two newcomers that wowed. Carmello sang a key number from Bells Are Ringing and killed it. That makes it all the more impressive that I kept wondering what Oakley Boycott would have done with the song. Why? Because she'd been onstage just a few minutes earlier delivering a knockout performance of another comic gem from Bells Are Ringing, "Is It A Crime?" Boycott is a statuesque beauty, sporting red hair (at least tonight). (She's also an alumnus of Broadway's Rising Stars, just like Israel.) But two seconds after she began you knew you were in Carol Burnett territory: a terrific voice and talent that is unashamedly ready to make a fool of herself for a laugh or a song that calls for it. That was certainly the case with "Is It A Crime?", with Boycott bringing alive her message center operator with ease, elbows akimbo as she kvetched with the audience, did splits, tottered this way and that and generally had a blast. You immediately want to see a full-blown revival of that show with Boycott as the lead. I spent the rest of the night (especially the second act) waiting for her to return on another number but this was her big moment. She made the most of it.

I felt the same about Kyle Selig. Can you "discover" someone you've already seen perform on Broadway? Yes,  you can! I saw Selig in the new musical Mean Girls. He plays the minor role of boyfriend-to-be to the heroine (hey, it's her show) and I was smart enough to say Selig made "something out of the nothing role of boyfriend-to-be Aaron." Now I see he's been bouncing around, doing out of town tryouts of the potential Broadway musical October Sky among other projects. All I know is that he may be on Broadway in a Tony-nominated musical, but he got a much better showcase in two songs on Broadway By The Year. Up first was the show opener "On The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady. His take on it is far superior to the one in the current Broadway show. Too often, that song is delivered at full blast, an almost over-the-top bit of bombast. Without changing the song too much, Selig gave it a gentler, more vulnerable and thus more touching rendition. I enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed hearing the little old lady lean over to her husband when Selig walked out onstage. "Cute!" she whispered appreciatively. Yes, he's a handsome devil but good looks are a dime a dozen in the entertainment world. Selig has talent and he proved it. Selig followed up his first song with the wistful tune "It Must Be So" from Candide. He was, if anything, even better on one of the best songs from that terrific score. The combination of its relative unfamiliarity and a quiet nature left the audience hushed rather than bursting out with the applause it deserved. Not to fear; it won't be the last time he's onstage doing great work.

So terrific work from Selig and Boycott, a memorable song from Linehan, the pro work of Carmello and you've got more than enough to stamp it another successful evening. And with Siegel, you don't need to wait long: his next production is 54 Sings Broadway's Greatest Hits at Feinstein's 54 Below this Friday, May 25.


Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1956 and 1975 ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the creator of BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next?Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter! Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day with top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.
Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 07, 2018


MY FAIR LADY ** 1/2 out of ****

Is My Fair Lady sexist? To anyone with sense, of course it isn't. The show is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and in both cases the issue at hand is class, not gender. If anything, one might argue My Fair Lady is snobbish. You'd still be wrong but at least you'd be fighting the right battle.

Alan Jay Lerner's terrific book and lyrics pair with the sublime music of Frederick Loewe to tell a story so ingrained in our culture you know it even if you've never seen the show. The latest presentation of it has just opened at Lincoln Center, scored ten Tony nominations and is a shoe-in to win Best Revival Of A Musical.

In it, Henry Higgins is a distinguished phoneticist eavesdropping on the talk of lower class workers at Covent Garden. When a fellow enthusiast for languages greets him, Higgins boasts that in six months he could take even the most untutored peasant and pass her off as a lady. And then Higgins does it. Brilliant man that he is, Higgins relentlessly tutors a flower girl named Eliza, sculpting her into a woman of impeccable diction. She debuts at the Ascot Racecourse (with mixed success) and then attends a fancy ball where Eliza is a triumph. Just as Pygmalion fell in love with one of his own sculptures and brought it to life, Higgins falls for the newly confident Eliza. After the usual roadblocks, they fall happily into each other's arms. The end.

Well, not quite.

If you pay attention, the story of My Fair Lady is much richer and more complicated than that skewed description. And one of the gifts of director Bartlett Sher is to pay attention. He's delivered a string of successful revivals of classic shows, not by re-contextualizing them or imposing some radical concept but simply by listening to the dialogue being spoken, the lyrics being sung, the tale being unfolded. Pay attention and a classic will reward you with fresh insight and humor and drama.

Here Sher focuses like a laser on Eliza and it pays dividends. At Covent Garden our eye is always drawn to Eliza (Lauren Ambrose) even when she is lost in the crowd. We see Higgins and his new friend Col. Pickering (Alan Corduner) start to walk away, turning their backs on the unfortunate creature they were dissecting just a moment ago. It is Eliza who interrupts their departure to parse out exactly what Higgins was saying: with some lessons in diction, she could present herself as respectable and move up in the world. Her way of speaking has doomed Eliza to a life of menial servitude, but her way of speaking can be changed.

The next day, Eliza shows up at the home of Henry Higgins and asks to pay for lessons. She has agency, as someone criticizing the show's gender politics might have to admit. It's not the wealthy Higgins and his boast that put the plot into motion. It's not a genial taunt by Pickering. It's the bold gamble of a flower girl who offers up her worldly wealth to pay for tutoring on how to speak proper.

Now that you're paying attention, you realize even Higgins admits Eliza has a real gift for the task at hand. Once she's had a breakthrough, Eliza soaks up knowledge and works as hard as anyone. Indeed, when she reprises the song "I Could Have Danced All Night" after everyone has gone to bed, it's while grabbing some more books so she can study in bed; Eliza is besotted with learning more than the passing approval of her tutor. It's Eliza who charms and amuses the posh set at Ascot with her frank talk, not just the faux pas we all remember during a race but by calling out a young man she imagines laughing at her. Even under stress, Eliza won't be mocked.

It's Eliza who triumphs at a ball, proving such a perfection of precise English that a rival to Higgins concludes it's too perfect: she must be a foreign born aristocrat! It's Eliza who leaves Higgins of her own accord. And it is Higgins who comes running after her, begging Eliza to accept him as he is, flaws and all. If Eliza comes back at the end, it's clearly her choice to do so.

[In a rare missed opportunity, Sher could have underlined Eliza's independence even more. At the ball, she is the talk of the evening. But a suspicious rival phoneticist --  Professor Zoltan Karpathy -- is circling, waiting for his chance to linguistically pin her down. It's an acid test Eliza shouldn't have to face. Both Col. Pickering and Higgins' mother tell him to avoid the man at all cost. Why risk it? But Higgins and Eliza are dancing, the rival asks to cut in, Higgins hesitates...and then hands Eliza over for the moment of truth. Yet how much better if he hesitated...and Eliza stepped forward of her own accord, ready to meet this final challenge when Higgins had doubt.]

Photo ©2018 by Joan Marcus

So if Eliza as written is her own, steadfast self, why would anyone think My Fair Lady is sexist? The answer surely lies with Henry Higgins, who can be smug, condescending and silly. It's probably more accurate to say Higgins is a self-satisfied misanthrope, but let's assume he is sexist. Clearly depicting a sexist man doesn't mean the show itself is sexist, any more than South Pacific is racist simply because it holds up a mirror to such ugliness.

Does anyone take his battle-of-the-sexes number "I'm An Ordinary Man" seriously? Higgins offers up a string of stereotypes about women, albeit after acknowledging that when two people begin to care for each other she may become tiresome but he becomes jealous and tyrannical. So romance makes both sexes rather irritating. Higgins presents himself in such exaggerated terms (he's got "the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein,"  etc.) that you can play it as gently self-mocking or foolishly boastful but you can't play it seriously. If anything, the joke is on him.

Besides, Higgins is delivering a classic opening gambit for a romantic comedy. He's the character who insists at the top of the show that they will never, ever fall in love. The audience smiles because of course they know -- sure as the sun will rise in the morning -- that this character will fall head over heels in love by the end of the show, if not the end of act one.

Higgins says with some fairness that he's not rude to Eliza in particular -- he's rude to everyone! That's not quite true: he is indeed rude to many people but Higgins is polite to his mother and Pickering, at least. A confirmed bachelor, stuck in his ways, Higgins can be insufferable. So one of the cleverest ideas of Sher was to cast Harry Hadden-Paton in the role. Higgins is usually played by an actor quite a bit older than the one playing Eliza. (Julie Andrews was 20 and Rex Harrison was 48 years old on opening night in 1956. ) With a much older Higgins, his ideas about women can seem...encrusted. He and Pickering become an old boy's club, congratulating each other and ignoring her after the success of the ball.

Here Hadden-Paton is actually three years younger than Ambrose, though he "reads" a little older on stage. Turning Higgins into a younger man than usual and making them contemporaries changes the dynamics considerably. Now his pronouncements seem foolish and silly, more akin to a boy who puts up a "no girlz allowed" sign on his tree fort than a misogynist manifesto. Pickering becomes less of an ally and more of a guilty conscience. And the blooming romance between Higgins and Eliza feels more natural rather than paternal. An elderly Higgins might just want an unpaid servant. A younger Higgins offers the possibility of change and growth and genuine love.

But does he deserve her? In one of the trickiest songs in the canon, Higgins has pleaded his case to Eliza and heads home in frustration, singing "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." Even when his happiness is at stake, Higgins struggles to admit -- even to himself -- that he loves her. Ironically, he can't speak the words.


In the show's boldest stroke, Eliza does indeed return to Higgins, finding him alone in his library, listening to the voice of Eliza he recorded on the day of her very first lesson. He's a man hopelessly in love, but perhaps hopeless at love, as well. She stands face to face with him, offering an intimacy they've never attempted before. Higgins, in a daze, mutters "Where the devil are my slippers?" just to have something to say. She strokes him fondly on the cheek...and then strides boldly off the stage up into the audience and out into the world opening up for her. Higgins looks on, pride and tears crossing his face in equal measure.

This isn't a terribly radical choice. It's the original ending of the play Pygmalion. It was the original ending of the script for the 1938 Oscar winning film that Shaw wrote. (He didn't know the filmmakers shot it with the two leads clinching romantically until seeing the premiere.) And it's been the ending of My Fair Lady since day one. Shaw fought any musical adaptation and almost certainly would have not allowed one that changed his ending. So the theater world simply waited Shaw out. He died in 1950. My Fair Lady opened on Broadway less than six years later.

This "new" old ending is an admirable, exciting, defensible choice. I just don't think it works. Lerner and Loewe didn't write a show about two people falling in love and then falling apart. Every scene, every song brings them closer and closer together, with Eliza's newfound confidence prodding Higgins to break out of his shell and admit he's a man with feelings and needs. Maybe I'm too used to the contours of this story. After all, it was the very first professional theater I ever saw, starring Rex Harrison no less as he toured the country back in the very early 1980s. But if Eliza is going to leave at the end, I think earlier scenes should play darker, with more emotion and more at risk. And the staging doesn't help. Since we've seen Eliza step off the stage and into the "real" world (if not the actual auditorium) at several points in the show, her final breaking of the fourth wall doesn't have the same impact it might if it was taking place for the very first time.


However it ends, it turns out that My Fair Lady really is a problem play of sorts. Not the problem of sexism, but the problem of being embalmed as a "classic." This is only the third revival on Broadway in more than 60 years. One in 1976 lasted less than a year and one in 1993 lasted less than six months. (I'm ignoring Harrison popping in for a few weeks with bus and truck version in 1981 I saw in Florida as a child.) That's shocking for a show of such immense popularity, boasting such great roles and offering a score that ranks among the most hummable and well-known in history. Who better than Sher to tackle it? He brushed aside the issue of gender with good casting and a faith in the text. Unfortunately, he hasn't performed his usual magic of burnishing a too-familiar show into something fresh and new, work he did so well on musicals like South Pacific and the more problematic The King And I.

Apparently, the wax museum quality of director George Cukor's hugely successful but deadly dull film version has suffocated the show but good. It preserved (in amber) iconic performances by Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway as Eliza's dad, not to mention the dazzling black and white brilliance of the Ascot Racetrack scene. But, oh, how it drags with all the self-importance of a prestige picture. Sadly, those faults are on display here. My Fair Lady should be thrilling, its scenes bursting with brisk excitement and humor, one great song tumbling after another. In most musicals, you wait for the songs to begin. In My Fair Lady, the dialogue is so good you're completely absorbed until a song pops in and you'd almost be annoyed if the songs weren't so good they lifted you up into heaven. Not here. This edition moves with the stately progress of an ocean liner, scene dutifully following scene like island stops on a cruise. Here on your left is "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and coming up on your right? "With A Little Bit Of Luck!"

Photo ©2018 by Joan Marcus

One reason for this is the scenic design by Michael Yeargan. The Vivian Beaumont is a jewel of a space and has a deep backstage that only the Metropolitan Opera can match, I believe. Yeargan makes full use of this when creating a photo-realistic home for Higgins that includes a front entrance, bathroom, stairways and a two-level library I not only applauded this particular set, I wondered if it was available for rent. In a moment veteran theatergoers probably appreciated more than most, one scene transition began with the library set poised way, way, way at the back of theater and slowly gliding into view. The luxurious scope of the moment took your breath away. The problem is that it was always gliding slowly in and out. Every scene change became such a parade that Sher fills the dead air with people moving lampposts this way and that just to entertain the eye. Worse, a gap on the left and right of the stage was needed to allow all these moving parts to twirl around one another. That meant giant black strips of material would glide down from the rafters to fill in the gap on either side. All well and good, but this happened so frequently it became distracting, with the black strips yo-yoing up and down all night long in their own merry dance.

Contrast that and the solid-looking Covent Garden with the more "suggestive" (or bare bone) sets, like the cardboard pop-up of a bar that Eliza's dad is forever strolling into for a pint. "With A Little Bit Of Luck" in particular seemed to take place on a notably sparse stage, all the more so when that lavish study hove into view a scene later. And that seemed to contrast even more starkly with the elegant simplicity of the set for Ascot, which suggested everything it needed with only an unfolding canopy. Here costumer Catherine Zuber managed the neat trick of nodding strongly to Cecil Beaton while leaving her own stamp on the moment. True, not every location can be equally lavish but the scenic design lacked a uniform point of view.

Even the home itself felt fussy and overly-detailed. One brief gag takes place when Eliza is dragged by a clutch of maids into a tiled bathroom for a long overdue shower. It's a modest joke but we're stuck with that tiled space for the rest of the show, which is soon revamped into a room with some sort of medical equipment. (I think.) In any case, the home of Higgins is forever spinning like a top -- often quite unnecessarily -- and every time it spins we see that tiled room, even though it is never used again and I became increasingly annoyed at having to look at it. Couldn't the wall collapse and the room "disappear" or not be used in the first place?

You begin to feel this My Fair Lady is a dutiful recreation of moments from the past rather than a living, breathing story taking place today. It's more diorama than drama. That extends to some of the performances. Norbert Leo Butz sounded like slam-dunk casting for the role of Eliza's philosophizing father. But he brings nothing distinctive to the role, seeming to show up and assume the memory of Holloway and those two great numbers do the rest. "Get Me To The Church On Time" can't help but land -- it's the show's most elaborate number by far, but it's expert rather than thrilling. "With A Little Bit of Luck" in particular felt rote, as if Butz were a year into the run rather than a week.

And why can't anyone rethink Freddy? Every production I've ever seen offers up a silly fop of a Freddy (Jordan Donica) who belts out "On the Street Where You Liiiiiiiiiiive" in a tiresome, old-fashioned style. Donica is certainly a handsome man but he's asked to be a nonentity like every Freddy before him. If only this Freddy were sexy and appealing. Imagine if Eliza was actually charmed by him, at least on a physical level. Imagine if he sang that standard with a lighter, defter touch (Harry Connick Jr. does a nice, sure-footed version) rather than declaiming it to the rafters. Higgins might worry about an actual rival instead of being able to dismiss Freddy as casually as we do. No such luck.

One can't do terribly much with the other roles, though as Pickering Allan Corduner sketches out a man that might be more of a foil to Higgins than we're used to seeing. Manu Narayan is suitably silly as Professor Karpathy. And if anyone deserves to glide gracefully on and off stage it is certainly Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Higgins. She gives her scenes the warmth and bite they need.

That leaves our two leads. Harry Hadden-Paton is a solid, if not revolutionary Higgins. His age does most of the work for him in terms of rethinking the part, though he is certainly jolted by more emotion than found in the reserved Rex Harrison. And he nails "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face," a piece that is far trickier than I ever realized. Hadden-Paton might be more prickly, more frustrating, more anything really. But Sher guides him to a grace note that underlines the better angels of Higgins and why Eliza flourishes. Yes he berates her -- as he does others -- but who could take "you squashed cabbage leaf" to heart? Then on the night of her breakthrough, when the rain in Spain finally falls mainly on the plain, it's not the bullying that helps Eliza. The key to her trying just one more time is the way he brings her a cup of tea and speaks a few kind words, treating her with respect and showing faith that she can accomplish this task. And suddenly she does it!

That moment of intimacy speaks volumes, along with the way Lauren Ambrose soaks it up like a flower thirsty for rain. If there is a flaw in this perfect musical, it might be the lack of one more scene between them where he appreciates her more as an equal than a flourishing student. We are told after the fact that Higgins has come to depend on Eliza, but he makes it sound more like she's a useful employee rather than his true love. All night long we see Eliza come into her own; yet for Higgins, his emotional attachment to her is more implied, perhaps to a fault.

We never doubt the change in Eliza, thanks to Lauren Ambrose in her musical theater debut. For years we've been hearing that this excellent dramatic actress was poised to do a big musical. First they announced Funny Girl. Lauren Ambrose in the role that made Barbra Streisand a star forever? Really?? And then it fell through. Then it was Lauren Ambrose in My Fair Lady, the role that made Julie Andrews a star forever. Really?? For those of us who never heard her sing a note, all we could assume was that the woman sure as hell must be able to sing. And indeed she can. It's a lovely clear voice, if not a big brassy one. It's a lucky thing she started with this show rather than Funny Girl. Ambrose can sing nicely and act the hell out of a lyric, but she's not going to belt it to the back of the house a la Tyne Daly or Ethel Merman. My Fair Lady needs subtlety but Funny Girl? Not so much.

In a way, her vocal talent and neophyte status suit the part nicely. When Ambrose sails into a beautiful register, winning us over and expressing the yearning or anger or joy of the moment, you're rooting for her the same way you're rooting for Eliza. Performer and character coincide in a way they rarely do. In the future, she seems best suited for more thoughtful musicals a la Sondheim where her acting skills will be put to the best use. Unlike Audrey Hepburn in the film version, she wisely downplays the broad comedy of the early section (another reason Funny Girl wouldn't have been the best choice).

Some comic bits don't land, like the scene where Higgins and Pickering share a pastry and she can only stare at it wistfully. This might have as much to do with Sher as Ambrose. What she nails is the hunger and self-worth of Eliza, which is there all along from the flower stalls of Covent Garden to the gilded ballrooms of the upper crust. At the ball, Hepburn was all grace and perfection; you never saw her sweat. Ambrose neatly lets the audience into the terror of the moment so we can keep cheering her own. I can imagine her confidence and performance growing throughout the run; this is almost certainly a show you'll want to catch again before she leaves if you possibly can.

That would be a luxury, whereas with previous Sher productions (The Light In The Piazza, South Pacific, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Oslo and more) revisiting a show of his felt essential. It's a first class production, delivered with professionalism and skill and will surely be the most successful revival since the original blockbuster run. "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "The Rain In Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" are all masterpieces and they're all here. You'll nod your head and think, yes, that's pretty much how they're done. Christopher Gattelli offers fine choreography and Ted Sperling conducts a lush 29 piece orchestra, an orchestra so big I may have lost count. Craft is evident in every detail but you never quite feel the ecstasy a great musical like My Fair Lady should generate or even a moment of surprise until right at the end. The pavement stays right beneath your feet from start to finish.

Perhaps my expectations were too high? But if Higgins can demand the best from everyone around him and Eliza can expect the best from herself, surely we can expect the best from this cast and creative team. They've blown away the suggestions of sexism. Perhaps it will take another production to blow away the dust.

NOTE: Lincoln Center produces The Lincoln Center Theater Review, a lovely magazine filled with articles about their current production. The current one is devoted to My Fair Lady and while the collector's program is always a treat, they've really outdone themselves this time. It includes interviews, essays on the history of the show, poems inspired by the Greek myth that gave Pygmalion its name, odes to the show by other musical theater talent, a New Yorker cartoon and more. It's all handsomely packaged with a gorgeous cover and a back page devoted to album art from the countless cast albums and recordings based on the show. if you're lucky enough to be in New York City, slip into the lobby at Lincoln Center, leave the modest suggested tip and snap up a copy fast.


Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2
My Fair Lady ** 1/2

Friday, May 04, 2018


SUMMER AND SMOKE ** 1/2 out of ****

Right after the towering, never-to-be-repeated success of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, playwright Tennessee Williams delivered a prequel of sorts with Summer and Smoke. It told the story of how a Blanche DuBois character might come to be.

Alma (Marin Ireland) is the daughter of a preacher who yearns for artistic refinement and a superior existence, not to mention the handsome but callow son of the doctor next door. Their friendship remains just that, from a childhood fancy to adult recriminations, with Alma unable to accept anything other than a "spiritual" bond while John (Nathan Darrow) enjoys more earthly pleasures with every other woman in sight. Needless to say, when Alma approaches spinsterhood and is finally ready to savor the sins of the flesh, John has reformed himself and pairs off with a pretty young thing. Heartbroken and bitter, Alma tosses herself at the first of what is sure to be a string of traveling salesmen. The clanging bell of that streetcar can almost be heard in the distance.

Summer And Smoke shows Williams beginning to reshuffle his obsessions -- damaged women, simmering desire, the stultifying mores of a small town and above all self-deception -- to less and less effect. The melodrama would be produced fitfully over the years, marking a notable artistic triumph for actress Geraldine Page but never really finding an audience. Williams overhauled it completely in 1962, retitling it with the precious name of The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale. No matter.

Classic Stage Company and Transport Group have staged this flawed work with admirable restraint. Anchored by two excellent performances, it avoids the magnolia-scented hysterics Williams can tempt actors with. By underplaying the tragedy, the pain cuts deeper and more realistically. So you can pinpoint both the symmetrical tidiness of the plotting and the more lurid details of the story, all thanks to the lucid direction of Jack Cummings III. They can't make Summer And Smoke a successful drama, but they do make this production an interesting one.

Photo ©2018 by Carol Rosegg

Classic Stage Company's space always brings out the best in set designers and that's true here for Dane Laffrey, who offers up a clean, well-lighted space with minimal props like a picture of a statue and an anatomy chart to indicate a park or doctor's office. The costumes by Kathryn Howe are also on point, not to mention the lighting (R. Lee Kennedy), sound design (Walter Trarbach, never intrusive) and effective original music by Michael John LaChiusa. It's a top-notch creative team all around.

Which makes it a shame that lesser roles are handled with less aplomb. I blame the script by Williams and director Cummings. Numerous lurid details litter the story and the less they're emphasized the better. Alma has a troubled mother and a dour minister father. But in one scene her mother (Barbara Walsh) seems like a woman-child, perhaps the sufferer of a stroke or special needs. In another, she's a truth-telling harridan, fully in command of her senses. So which is it? Walsh and T. Ryder Smith as the Rev. seem to flounder. The less said about the "exotic" lure of a Mexican temptress and her gangster father the better. But if those scenes couldn't be trimmed or cut somehow (like Williams I was immediately tempted to fix this show), Cummings might have encouraged a lower key from the actors trapped in those roles. Further, an unnecessary opening scene shows Alma and John as children and the show makes the fatal mistake of "playing" them as children, complete with exaggerated vocal performances. It's a misstep that takes a good scene or two for the production to recover from.

In contrast, Hannah Elless as Nellie and Tina Johnson (very amusing as a blunt townswoman) are both strong and Jonathan Spivey and Ryan Spahn are good in modest parts. Spivey underplays the sad sack nature of his also-ran love interest and Spahn underplays the potentially lecherous role of the salesman which is all to the best.

Still, that's a lot of problematic characters and performances that Cummings should have and could have focused better. The marvel is how -- despite all this and the essential flaws of the play -- that the two leads prove to be memorable. John Buchanan convinces as a scoundrel and ne'er do well, without ever exaggerating his prodigal son nature. He's lost but not forever, a bad boy but not really bad, not really. Yes, Alma wants to redeem him and he wants to wake her up, but you aren't forced into Greek tragedy by seeing them spar. Buchanan's charisma grounds the show as much as the heroine.

Somehow I've missed the acclaimed Ireland in all but a few stage productions. She's marvelous here. You can't tackle a Williams heroine without some eccentricity, but Ireland never tilts into the grotesque. You're always on the side of Alma -- even if she frustrates, you don't sit there thinking what on God's green earth could this man see in her? I'd hate to see Summer And Smoke with two lesser actors in these parts. And I'd hate not to see Ireland in whatever she does next. Her Alma is sinking slowly at the end. The salesman agrees to a trip to the local casino (a den of inequity if ever there was one) and Ireland flings up her arm in a game attempt at high spirits. Yes, it will become sad and sordid all too soon for Alma. But Ireland lets you feel the deluded romantic in her is still alive, still open to the possibility of magic, even in a hotel room, even if for just one night. And for a moment, Summer And Smoke conjures a little magic too.


Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2
Summer and Smoke ** 1/2

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


TRAVESTIES *** 1/2 out of ****

Is Tom Stoppard a show-off? His plays are brainy and oh-so-clever and you feel you need to brush up on the topic at hand before the curtain rises or you'll be at sea. Indeed, the program handed out at his masterpiece Arcadia usually includes a helpful summary on the history of British gardens and the philosophical underpinnings of same. Some artists wear their hearts on their sleeve, but Stoppard brandishes his brains, they say!

Stuff and nonsense, I say. Go to the Roundabout's delightful, fizzy revival of Travesties, as you should. I promise, anyone with even a passing understanding of dialectical materialism, pre-Surrealistic art movements and amateur theatricals in Zurich during the war to end all wars will gobble it up.

Now you got that (modest) joke because it's crafted to allow you to enjoy it even if you don't know the topics at hand. Stoppard -- perhaps our greatest living playwright -- is quite a bit better than that. Travesties does indeed involve author James Joyce, Dadaist Tristan Tzara and the revolutionary Lenin along with the many ideas exploding in Europe during World War I. What of it? James Joyce is a towering figure in literature and Ulysses -- the book he is working on while trapped in Zurich -- is a modernist landmark. Does an awareness of Ulysses or Moby-dick now count as hopelessly sophisticated? Lenin for Pete's sake led a revolution that established a totalitarian state in Russia which dominated global politics for a century. Dada-ism is as close to obscure the show gets and even there the mere word Dada practically explains itself. Even 60 Minutes knows modern art can poke fun at the very idea of art, even if 60 Minutes never quite understood it wasn't in on the joke.

Beware of plays that pat you on the back and make you feel a little smarter or smugger for having attended them, the Yasmina Reza boulevard comedies of the world with their knowing middle class archness. They're the theatrical equivalent of James Michener novels or Tom Clancy thrillers, books you can consume and walk away from clutching a few stray details about the conquest of Alaska or nuclear submarines and consider them enlightening.

Go to Travesties knowing nothing about nothing (the way those of us not up on England's dynasties might have first approached a Shakespearean history play) and you'll have great fun. You'll see an old man grapple with his memory, proud intellectuals brought down a notch by their hubris, a strip tease, a romantic comedy of errors in which a passage from Ulysses is unintentionally switched with a diatribe from Lenin that causes quite a bit of confusion, a little song and dance, a lot of limericks, not nearly enough nudity and while you might not always know precisely what is going on you'll be mightily tickled. The true genius of Stoppard is that the play works for everyone but the more you know about any of the historical figures or the movements they inspired in writing and art and politics, the more dazzled you will be. Oh and it all riffs on the classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest to side-splitting effect and if you don't know what that is, well bugger off.

How good is this revival? Stoppard is one of my favorite playwrights and I've waited more than 40 years to see this Tony winning comedy and it met my expectations. To be honest, I read the play just before seeing it and as with Shakespeare, I recommend that for newcomers. Knowing the broad outlines of the story and the dialogue and the various references will allow you to relax and enjoy the shenanigans overseen by director Patrick Marber and his excellent cast.

The marvelous Tom Hollander stars as Henry Carr, who in real life did indeed star in an amateur theatrical production of The Importance Of Being Earnest in Zurich during the war, an event overseen by James Joyce of all people. They had a spat after the play's apparent success and Carr's triumph in the lead role (not Earnest, the other one). Carr sued Joyce, Joyce sued Carr and mostly won and then to rub salt in the wounds mocked Carr by making him a minor character in Ulysses, namely a drunken and obscene soldier. Of course Carr got the last laugh since Joyce's revenge made Carr immortal. And now Stoppard has done it again, making Carr the lead of another great work of art and in the process doubling down on the cleverness of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Instead of making use of one masterpiece (Hamlet), here Stoppard makes hay of Ulysses, Earnest, Dadaism and some of Lenin's choicer phrases to boot.

The richly atmospheric set by Tim Hatley is a shambling, book-stuffed library/home with a rostrum or pulpit of sorts that allows various characters to intone with high drama when necessary, when they're not popping out of it to make a dramatic entrance. Out shambles Hollander, who merely stoops over to indicate the elderly Carr, a man aggrandizing his brush with fame whenever he can recall what he's talking about. Revolution is thick in the air in Zurich but much of the action takes place at the library, where Joyce dictates his masterpiece and Lenin refines his economic and political theories.

Tristan has already launched the nonsense revolution of Dadaism but he counts as a relatively minor character in the presence of those two giants. Carr loves the librarian who is helping Lenin. Tristan loves Carr's sister, who is helping Joyce. And they all butt heads as romantic and financial entanglements multiply. It's possible Carr might have prevented the Russian Revolution if he'd followed orders instead of following his heart. Or perhaps he has the dates all wrong.

Did I mention the limericks? Some scenes are written entirely in limericks; others turn dialogue into song and still others call for full-on chaos worthy of a musical. The director Marber has the entire cast focused on the hugely essential stakes because nothing is funnier than people who are deeply committed to a cause -- Tristan may swim across the floor, brandishing his hands like gills and zooming in on Carr while shouting out "Dada dada dada!" and it may be very, very funny but it's certainly not funny to him.

The entire creative team and cast is working at their peak here. Hatley also did the costumes and they're great, but everything is essential for this clockwork mechanism of a play to run smoothly, from the lighting of Neil Austin to the terrific sound design and original music of Adam Cork, which does the work of ten.

I didn't even recognize Dan Butler of Frasier for a while, who plays Lenin and he's fiercely funny here. Opal Alladin has very little to do as his wife but Scarlett Strallen as Gwendolen (the sister of Carr) and Sara Topham as Cecily the librarian have bigger parts and score nicely, especially in their duel over tea. Peter McDonald is good as Joyce but Patrick Kerr has the droll butler with revolutionary tendencies named Bennett to dig into and if I were McDonald I'd be a little jealous.

Yet the triumphs of the evening belong to Hollander and his co-star Seth Numrich. Hollander is one of those actors about which theater-goers automatically say "Oh, he's always good" for the very understandable reason that he's always good. But he's never been better than here in a role that demands razor wit and charm and bluster and fragility and strength. It's not a revelation because, you know, he's always good. Hollander deservedly earned a Tony nomination and if I were voting, he'd win (as would this revival).

And when you go to see Travesties you'll discover that the real travesty is that Seth Numrich was not nominated as well, for Best Supporting Actor. The star of War Horse on Broadway, Numrich has appeared in all sorts of theater and TV and film but never to such dazzling effect. Oh it's a pinwheel of a performance but that's exactly what this farcical play demands. Whether backing onto the stage with a slightly confused look on his face, speaking with an outrageous Hungarian accent (or is it Bulgarian?), cawing out "dada dada dada" like a bird, effortlessly switching from positively indignant to "hale fellow well met" in the blink of an eye or diving into song and dance, he is an ideal partner for Hollander, returning every shot with elan.

How easy it is to take Hollander for granted. How easy not to realize Numrich could do so much more than he's been asked up to now. And how easy to take for granted Roundabout. It's been more than 40 years since anyone revived the Tony winning play, despite a name brand author like Stoppard to sell it and yet who else would bother? And Travesties is hardly proving a commercial slam dunk even with the rave reviews it has earned. So thank goodness they did it right and how lucky for theatergoers: you can still get great tickets to the smartest, silliest show in town.


Homelife/The Zoo Story (at Signature) *** out of ****
Escape To Margaritaville **
Broadway By The Year: 1947 and 1966 ***
Lobby Hero ***
Frozen **
Rocktopia *
Angels in America ** 1/2
Mean Girls ** 1/2
The Sting **
Mlima's Tale ** 1/2
Children Of A Lesser God ** 1/2
Sancho: An Act Of Remembrance ** 1/2
The Metromaniacs ***
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical *
The Seafarer **
Henry V (Public Mobile Unit w Zenzi Williams) * 1/2
Saint Joan **
Travesties *** 1/2

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Music Library Master S-Z


          Diamond Life (1984) *** 1/2
          Promise (1985) *** 1/2 
          Stronger Than Pride *** 1/2 


          Northern Passage  ** 1/2


          WomanChild *** 1/2
          For One To Love (2015) *** 
          Dreams and Daggers **** 
          The Window *** 1/2 


          Process ***/


          Mogoya ***


          Abraxas *** 1/2 
          Santana IV *** 
          Corazon ** 


          Golden **


          At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me *** 1/2 


          Silk Degrees **** 
          Some Change *** 1/2 
          Fade Into Light ***
          But Beautiful ****
          Speak Low *** 1/2 
          Memphis *** (esp "Corrina, Corrina") 
          A Fool To Care *** 1/2 
          Out Of The Blues *** 12  


          Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol 1 *** 
          Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2 *** 1/2 
          The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 
          The Light Of The Sun 
          Woman *** 1/2


          The Source (1969) *** 1/2


          You Don't Own Me Anymore ***


          I Knew You When **


          In Times Like These ** 


          Ron Sexsmith **** 
          Other Songs 
          Whereabouts *** 1/2 
          Blue Boy 
          Cobblestone Runway 
          Retriever *** 1/2 
          Destination Unknown (as Sexsmith and Kerr) *** 1/2 
          Time Being *** 1/2 
          Exit Strategy Of The Soul 
          Long Player, Late Bloomer 
          Forever Endeavor *** 1/2 
          Carousel One ***/ 
          The Last Rider *** 1/2 


          Camp Holiday *** 1/2 
          Mixtape Of The Open Road *** 


          Hallelujah, I'm A Dreamer *** 1/2 


          Vs The Jealous Machines *** 


          And The War Came ***
          Nobody's Fool *** 1/2 
          Can't Wake Up *** 1/2 


          Has Been *** 
          Ponder The Mystery ** 
          Shatner Claus * 1/2 


          Volume One ***
          Volume Two ***
          A Very She and Him Christmas ***
          Volume Three ***
          Classics *** 1/2 


          Jules Shear *** 


          X (multiply) ** 1/2 


          Need To Feel Your Love * 1/2


          Duncan Sheik ***/
          Phantom Moon *** 1/2 
          White Limousine 
          Spring Awakening Orig Cast Album ****
          Whisper House *** 1/2 
          American Psycho Orig Cast Album ** 1/2
          Legerdemain ***/


          Joan Shelley *** 


          The Shelters ** 1/2 


          Bobby Short (1956) **** 


          Night Dreamers *** 1/2 
          Juju *** 1/2 
          Speak No Evil **** 


          Everyday Is Christmas *** 1/2


          When I Was A Boy  
          Ulysses' Purse *** 1/2 


          Living Like A Refugee *** 1/2 
          Libation *** 


          Carly Simon **
          Anticipation (1971) **
          No Secrets (1972) ***


          Nina Simone And Piano (1969) ****
          Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles ***/


          The Paul Simon Songbook ***
          Paul Simon *** 1/2
          There Goes Rhymin' Simon ****
          Still Crazy After All These Years *** 1/2
          Hearts And Bones *** 1/2
          Graceland ****
          Rhythm Of The Saints *** 1/2
          Songs From The Capeman ***
          You're The One ***
          Surprise ** 1/2 
          So Beautiful Or So What ***
          Stranger To Stranger *** 
          Graceland: The Remixes * 
          In The Blue Light *** 


          Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. * 1/2
          Sounds Of Silence ** 
          Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme *** 
          Live From New York City, 1967 ***
          The Graduate ** 1/2
          Bookends *** 1/2 
          Live 1969 *** 1/2
          Bridge Over Troubled Waters **** 
          Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits **** 
          The Concert In Central Park ***


          Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. **
          Sounds Of Silence ** 1/2
          Parsley, Sage Rosemary And Thyme ***
          The Graduate Soundtrack ** 1/2 


          New Gold Dream *** 
          Sparkle In The Rain *** 1/2 
          Once Upon A Time *** 
          Street Fighting Years 
          Walk Between Worlds ** 1/2 


          Metamodern Sounds in Country Music *** 1/2
          A Sailor's Guide To Earth *** 1/2


          The Song Is You (Sinatra/Dorsey boxed set) ****
          The Voice Of Frank Sinatra **** 
          Songs By Sinatra *** 1/2 
          Christmas Songs By Sinatra *** 
          Frankly Sentimental *** 1/2 
          Dedicated To You ** 1/2 
          Sing And Dance With Frank Sinatra *** 
          The Columbia Years: 1943-1952 -- The Complete Recordings **** 
          The Columbia Years: The V-Discs *** 
          A Voice On Air: 1935-1955 *** 
          Songs For Young Lovers **** 
          Swing Easy! **** 
          In The Wee Small Hours ****
          Songs For Swingin' Lovers **** 
          Close To You *** 1/2 
          A Swingin' Affair *** 
          Where Are You? ***/ 
          A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra *** 
          Come Fly With Me **** 
          Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely **** 
          Come Dance With Me ***! 
          No One Cares *** 
          Frank Sinatra with the Red Norvo Quintet Live In Australia 1959 *** 1/2 
          Nice 'n' Easy *** 
          Sinatra's Swingin' Session!!! *** 
          Come Swing With Me ** 1/2 
          Point Of No Return ** 1/2 
          Concepts (boxed set of Capitol years) *** 1/2  
          The Complete Capitol Singles Collection (boxed set) ***/ 
          Ring-A-Ding-Ding *** 1/2 
          Swing Along With Me aka Sinatra Swings *** 
          I Remember Tommy ** 1/2 
          Sinatra and Strings ** 1/2 
          It Might As Well Be Swing (w Count Basie) ***/ 
          September Of My Years **** 
          Moonlight Sinatra *** 
          Strangers In The Night ** 1/2 
          Sinatra At The Sands ***/ 
          That's Life ** 1/2 
          Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim **** 
          A Man Alone * 1/2 
          Watertown *** 
          Sinatra Jobim **** 
          Sinatra and Company ** 1/2 
          Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back *** 
          Sinatra Jobim Sessions **** 
          Trilogy: Past, Present and Future *** 
          She Shot Me  Down *** 1/2 
          L.A. Is My Lady ** 1/2 
          Duets ** 
          Duets II ** 
          The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings *** 1/2 
          Frank Sinatra In Hollywood: 1940-1964 *** 
          Standing Room Only ** 1/2  


          The Fire Inside *** 



          Manhattan *** 1/2 


          Sophisticated Lady ** 


          Misty and Other Classics *** 


          It Snows *** 


          In The Lonely Hour ** 1/2 
          The Thrill Of It All ***


          The Smiths *** 1/2
          Meat Is Murder *** 
          The Queen Is Dead ****
          Louder Than Bombs ****
          Strangeways Here We Come *** 1/2 


          Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dream 
          A Seat At The Table *** 1/2 
          When I Get Home *** 1/2 


          Dottie's Charms *** 


          Resistance ** 1/2 


          The Beat Goes On: The Best Of Sonny and Cher ** 1/2 


          Bolts Of Blue *** 


          Wena Wena *** 


          See Soundtracks at the bottom of the list


          John David Souther ***


          Chamber Music Society 
          Radio Music Society 
          Emily's D+Evolution ** 1/2  
          12 Little Spells *** 


          Franz Ferdinand Sparks aka FFS ***/ 
          Hippopotamus ** 1/2


          The Specials (1979) ***/ 


          Soviet Kitsch 
          Begin To Hope *** 1/2 
          What We Saw From the Cheap Seats 
          Remember Us To Life *** 1/2 


          The Spinners (1973) *** 1/2


          Dusty In Memphis ****
          Faithful ***/
          White Heat *** 


          Greatest Hits *** 
          The Snake King ***/ 


          Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. *** 
          The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street  Shuffle **** 
          Born To Run **** 
          Darkness On The Edge Of Town ****  
          The River *** 1/2 
          The River (original single LP version) ** 1/2 
          Nebraska **** 
          Born In The U.S.A. *** 1/2 
          Live: 1975-1985 **** 
          Tunnel Of Love *** 1/2 
          Human Touch ** 
          Lucky Town ** 1/2 
          The Ghost Of Tom Joad  ** 
          The Rising ** 1/2 
          Devils and Dust ** 
          We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) **** 
          Magic *** 
          Working On A Dream ** 1/2 
          Wrecking Ball *** 1/2 
          High Hopes ** 1/2 
          Western Stars ** 1/2 


          Wesley Stace's John Wesley Harding ***/ 


          Autumn In New York ** 
          Starring Jo Stafford ** 


          Golden Age ** 1/2 


          I Believe To My Soul (w Allen Tousssaint, Billy Preston, Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas) **** 
          One True Vine *** 1/2  
          Live: Hope At The Holdout ****          
          Livin' On A High Note ** 1/2
          If All I Was Was Black **


          Summertime '06 *** 1/2 
          Big Fish Theory *** 
          FM! *** 


          Traveller *** 1/2 
          From A Room Vol. 1 *** 1/2
          From A Room Vol. 2 ***


          If You Can't Stand The Heat *** 


         Dynamic! *** 


          On The Level ***/


          Can't Buy A Thrill ** 1/2 
          Countdown To Ecstasy *** 
          Pretzel Logic **** 
          Katy Lied *** 1/2 
          The Royal Scam *** 1/2 
          Aja **** 
          Gaucho ** 1/2 
          A Decade Of Steely Dan **** 
          Two Against Nature ** 1/2 
          Everything Must Go ** 


          Radio **  


          Tell 'em I'm Gone ** 1/2 
          The Laughing Apple **


          Michigan *** 1/2
          Seven Swans ***
          Come On Feel The Illinoise ****
          Songs For Christmas ****
          The Age Of Adz ** 1/2
          Silver And Gold *** 1/2
          Carrie And Lowell ****
          Planetarium (w Nico Muhly, James McAllister) ** 1/2 


          Hooray For Love *** 


          The Dream of The Blue Turtles *** 1/2 
          Bring On The Night **** 
          ...Nothing Like The Sun *** 1/2 
          The Soul Cages *** 
          Ten Summoner's Tales *** 
          Fields Of Gold: The Best Of Sting 1984-1994 *** 1/2 
          Mercury Falling 
          Brand New Day 
          Sacred Love 
          The Last Ship 
          57th and Ninth *** 
          44/876 **  


          Wide-Eyed Crossing ***  


          Sea Of Noise ** 


          The Barbra Streisand Album **** 
          The Second Barbra Streisand Album *** 
          The Third Album *** 
          People *** 
          A Christmas Album *** 
          Greatest Hits **** 
          Stoney End 
          Greatest Hits Vol. 2 *** 1/2 
          Guilty ***  
          Emotion ** 
          The Broadway Album **** 
          Just For The Record (boxed set) **** 
          Till I Loved You * 1/2 
          Back To Broadway ** 1/2  
          Higher Ground * 
          A Love Like Ours 
          Christmas Memories * 1/2 
          The Movie Album ** 
          Guilty Pleasures ** 1/2 
          Love Is The Answer ***/ 
          Partners ** 
          Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway * 
          Walls * 


          Danzig In The Moonlight *** 


          Is This It ****  
          Room On Fire *** 1/2 
          First Impressions of Earth *** 
          Angles ** 
          Comedown Machine ** 


          Everybody Wants Some *** 1/2 
          Young and Dangerous *** 


          Saturday Night and Sunday Morning ** 1/2  


          Love This Giant (w David Byrne) ***/ 
          St. Vincent ** 1/2 
          Masseducation ** 1/2 


          Harry Styles ** 1/2 


          Bad Girls ** 1/2 
          The Wanderer * 1/2 
          On The Radio: Greatest Hits Vol. I and II *** (points off for continuous play) 
          Endless Summer: Donna Summer's Greatest Hits ***/ 
          The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer ***/  


          Aromanticism *** 1/2 
          Black In Deep Red ***/  


          I Should Coco *** 1/2 
          In It For The Money **** 
          Supergrass *** 1/2 
          Life On Other Planets 
          Road To Rouen 
          Diamond Hoo Ha  


          The Complete Atlantic Recordings *** 1/2 


          Road To Doris ** 1/2 


          Girlfriend *** 
          Under The Covers Vol. 1 (w Susanna Hoffs) *** 1/2 
          Under The Covers Vol. 2 (w Susanna Hoffs) *** 
          Under The Covers Vol. 3 (w Sussana Hoffs) ** 1/2  
          Tomorrow's Daughter *** 


          The Novelist/Walking Without Effort **** 
          Dressed Up For The Letdown 
          Richard Swift as Onasis 
          The Atlantic Ocean 
          The Hex ** 1/2 


          1989 ** 
          Reputation **


          Ctrl *** 1/2 


          Shallow Grave *** 1/2
          The Wild Hunt *** 1/2
          Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird (ep) ***
          There's No Leaving Now *** 1/2 
          Dark Bird Is Home **** 
          When The Bird Sees The Ground *** 
          I Love You. It's A Fever Dream ***/ 


          Silver Tears *** 


          A Song I Can Live With ** 1/2 


          James Taylor 
          Sweet Baby James 
          Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon 
          One Man Dog 
          Walking Man  
          In The Pocket 
          Greatest Hits ****
          Dad Loves His Work 
          That's Why I'm Here 
          Classic Songs **** 
          Never Die Young 
          New Moon Shine  
          October Road 
          Before This World ** 1/2 


          My World Is Gone *** 


          Think Well Of Me (1962) *** 1/2


          Rule The World: The Greatest Hits *** 


          Bandwagonesque *** 1/2 
          Grand Prix 
          Here ** 1/2 


          Meet The Temptations ** 1/2 
          Sing Smokey Robinson *** 
          The Temptin' Temptations *** 
          Gettin' Ready 
          The Temptations With A Lot O' Soul *** 1/2 
          The Temptations In A Mellow Mood *
          The Temptations Wish it Would Rain ** 1/2 
          Diana Ross and the Supremes Meet The Temptations * 1/2 
          Cloud Nine *** (side one ****; side two ** 1/2) 
          Puzzle People ** 1/2 
          Psychedelic Shack *** 1/2\
          The Temptations Christmas Card ** 1/2 (but "Silent Night" a keeper) 
          Sky's The Limit *** 1/2 
          Solid Rock *** 
          All Directions 
          17 Greatest Hits (Compact Command Performances) **** 


          At Sugar Hill (w Brownie McGee) ***


          No! *** 1/2
          Here Come The ABCs *** 1/2
          Here Come The 123s ***
          Here Comes Science ***
          I Like Fun ** 1/2 


          Bass and Mandolin (w Edgar Meyer) ** 1/2 
          Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau ** 1/2 


          Bulldoze Blues (1927-1929) *** 1/2 


          One Clear Moment ***
          Fashionably Late *** 1/2
          Versatile Heart ***
          Won't Be Long Now *** 1/2
          My Mother Doesn't Know I'm On The Stage *** 1/2 


          Hand Of Kindness ***
          Small Town Romance *** 1/2
          Across A Crowded Room ***
          Daring Adventures *** 1/2
          Amnesia ***
          Rumour And Sigh *** 1/2
          Mirror Blue ** 1/2
          You? Me? Us? **
          Mock Tudor *** 1/2
          The Old Kit Bag ***
          1000 Years Of Popular Music *** 1/2 
          Front Parlour Ballads
          Sweet Warrior
          Dream Attic
          Electric *** 1/2
          Acoustic Classics ***
          Still ** 1/2
          Acoustic Classics II ***
          Acoustic Rarities ** 1/2
          13 Rivers ***/ 


          Henry The Human Fly ***
          I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ****
          Hokey Pokey *** 1/2
          Pour Down Like Silver ****
          First Light ***
          Sunny Vista ** 1/2
          Shoot Out The Lights ****


          Teddy Thompson ***
          Separate Ways *** 1/2
          Upfront And Down Low *** 1/2
          A Piece Of What You Need *** 1/2
          Bella *** 1/2
          Family ***
          Little Windows (w Kelly Jones) *** 1/2


          A Distant Shore 
          Out Of The Woods 
          Love and Its Opposite 
          Tinsel and Lights 
          Record ***/ 


          Antarctica In Color *** 1/2 


          Tassili *** 1/2 
          Emmar *** 1/2  
          Elron ** 1/2


          God Bless Tiny Tim (1968) *** 1/2
          Tiny Tim's 2nd Album (1968) ***


          Witches **


          Life, Love and Faith  
          Southern Nights *** 1/2 
          I Believe To My Soul (w Mavis Staples, Billy Preston, Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas) **** 
          The River In Reverse (w Elvis Costello) *** 1/2 
          The Bright Mississippi  
          Songbook *** 1/2 
          American Tunes ***


          Dounia Tabolo ** 


          Beautiful Africa *** 


          Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am ** 1/2  


          The Low End Theory *** 1/2 
          Midnight Marauders  
          Beats, Rhymes and Life  
          The Love Movement  
          We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service *** 1/2 


          Sings Johnny Mercer (1955) *** 1/2
          The Distinctive Style Of Bobby Troup (1955) ***
          Bobby Swings Tenderly (1957) **
          And His Stars of Jazz (1958) **


          Aqualung *** 

tUnE yArDs 

          Nikki Nack ***/ 


          The First Three Years 
          Tape Deck Heart *** 1/2 
          Positive Songs For Negative People 
          The Third Three Years *** 
          Be More Kind ** (but "The Lifeboat" is lovely) 


          Together At Last 
          Warm *** 


          We're All Somebody Somewhere **  


          Impossible Truth 
          Modern Country *** 


          Wolf ** 1/2 
          Cherry Bomb 
          Flower Boy ** 1/2 
          The Grinch ** 


          Some Hearts 
          Carnival Ride 
          Play On *** 
          Blown Away 
          Storyteller *** / 

          Cry Pretty 


          Impossible Truth 
          Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future  ***


          Boy *** 1/2
          October ***
          War *** 1/2
          Under A Blood Red Sky ****
          The Unforgettable Fire ****
          Wide Awake In America ****
          The Joshua Tree *** 1/2
          Rattle And Hum *** 1/2 
          Achtung Baby *** 1/2
          Zooropa **
          Pop **
          All That You Can't Leave Behind ***
          How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb ** 1/2
          No Line On The Horizon ** 
          Songs Of Innocence ** 1/2
          Songs Of Experience ** 1/2 


          Vampire Weekend 
          Modern Vampires Of The City *** 1/2 
          Father Of The Bride 


          The Wild Swan ***


          The Night I Fell In Love (1985) ***


          MCMLXXXIV **


          See bottom of list


          Sarah Vaughan aka Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown (1954) *** 1/2
          Live At Rosy's ** 1/2 


          Suzanne Vega *** 
          Solitude Standing ***
          Days Of Open Hand *** 1/2
          99.9F  *** 
          Nine Objects Of Desire *** 1/2 
          Songs In Red And Gray 
          Beauty and Crime 
          Close-Up Vol 1: Love Songs *** 1/2 
          Close-Up Vol 2: People and Places *** 1/2 
          Close-Up Vol 3: States Of Being *** 1/2 
          Close-Up Vol 4: Songs Of Family  
          Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles *** 
          Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers *** 


          The Velvet Underground and Nico ****  
          White Light/White Heat 
          The Velvet Underground 
          Loaded *** 1/2 


          The Veronicas ***/ 


          Ghost Notes ***/ 


          b'lieve i'm goin'  down ***
          Lotta Sea Lice (w Courtney Barnett) *** 1/2 


          Highly Evolved *** 1/2 
          Winning Days 
          Vision Valley 
          Wicked Nature *** 1/2 
          In Miracle Land *** 1/2 


          We Can Do Anything *** 


          Voices Carry ***
          Welcome Home *** 1/2
           Everything's Different Now *** 


          High, Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project *** 1/2
          10 Songs For The New Depression ***
          Older Than My Old Man Now 
          Haven't Got The Blues (Yet) *** 


          Rufus Wainwright *** 1/2 
          Poses *** 
          Want One **** 
          Want Two *** 
          Release The Stars ** 1/2 
          Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall  
          Milwaukee At Last!!! 
          All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu 
          Out Of The Game ** 1/2 
          Prima Donna 
          Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets  

          Northern Stars ** 1/2 


          Stay Gold *** 


          Golden Sings That Have Been Sung *** 


          Duet For Guitars #2 ** 1/2
          Transfiguration Of Vincent ***
          Transistor Radio *** 1/2
          Post-War ***
          Hold Time ***
          More Rain ** 1/2 


          Symbolic Dream *** 


          Famous Blue Raincoat **** 
          The Hunter ** 1/2 
          The Well ** 1/2 
          Another Time, Another Place ** 


          A Deeper Understanding **


          The Beginning Of Things ***


          The Fats Waller Songbook aka Sings Fats Waller (1957) *** 1/2
          A Bouquet Of Hits (2017) **


          The Epic *** 1/2 
          Harmony of Difference *** 1/2 
          Heaven and Earth *** 1/2 


          This Is The Sea *** 1/2   
          Fisherman's Blues ***   
          Room To Roam   
          An Appointment With Mr. Yates 
          Fisherman's Box ****   
          Modern Blues *** 


          The Pros and Cons Of Hitchhiking * 1/2
           Is This The Life We Really Want? ** 1/2 


          The Definitive Doc Watson *** 


          The Morning *** 


          Folk Singer Vol. 2 ** 1/2


          North Marine Drive ** 1/2
          Hendra *** 
          Fever Dream ** 1/2 


          Hesitant Alien *** 


          Beauty Behind The Madness ** 1/2


          Everything Will Be Alright In The End ***
          Weezer (White Album) *** 


          The Harrow and the Harvest *** 1/2 


          Stanley Road *** 1/2 
          Heavy Soul 
          22 Dreams 
          Saturn's Pattern ***  


          The College Dropout ***  
          Late Registration  
          808s and Heartbreak  
          My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy *** 1/2  
          Watch The Throne (w Jay-Z) *** 1/2 
          The Life Of Pablo *** 1/2  
          Ye  ** 1/2  


          Modern Creation *** 


          Blunderbuss  *** 1/2  
          Lazaretto ***   
          Boarding House Reach  **  
          Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 *** 1/2  

          See also: The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, The White Stripes


          The White Stripes ***    
          De Stijil    
          White Blood Cells *** 1/2    
          Elephant **** 
          Get Behind Me Satan *** 1/2 
          Icky Thump *** 1/2     


          Sings The Jerome Kern Songbook (1960) *** 1/2 


          Being There 
          Mermaid Avenue (w Billy Bragg) *** 1/2 
          Summer Teeth *** 1/2 
          Mermaid Avenue II (w Billy Bragg) *** 1/2 
          Yankee Hotel Foxtrot *** 1/2  
          A Ghost Is Born  
          Sky Blue Sky 
          Wilco (The Album) 
          The Whole Love 
          Star Wars 
          Schmilco ** 1/2 


          Wild Flag *** 1/2 


          40 Greatest Hits **** 
          The Complete Hank Williams *** 1/2 
          The Garden Spot Programs *** 


          The Highway *** 1/2 


          Car Wheels On A Gravel Road *** / 
          Vanished Gardens (w Charles Lloyd) ** 


          Surely God Is Able *** 1/2       
          The Gospel Soul Of Marion Williams ****  


          Life Through A Lens      
          I've Been Expecting You 
          Sing When You're Winning *** 1/2 
          Swing When You're Winning *** 1/2 
          Intensive Care   
          Swings Both Ways *** 
          Under The Radar, Vol. One ***/ 
          The Heavy Entertainment Show ** 1/2 


          Well Traveled Love *** 1/2 
          Bang Bang *** 
          Kelly Willis 
          Cheater's Game (w Bruce Robison) *** 1/2 
          Our Year (w Bruce Robison) ***/ 
          Back Being Blue ** 1/2 


          Brian Wilson ** 1/2 
          I Just Wasn't Made For These Times 
          Orange Crate Art (w Van Dyke Parks) *** 1/2 
          Gettin' In Over My Head 
          Brian Wilson Presents Smile  *** 1/2 
          What I Really Want For Christmas 
          That Lucky Old Sun 
          Reimagines Gershwin ** 
          In The Key Of Disney 
          No Pier Pressure 


          Fanfare *** 


          Jesse Winchester  
          Learn To Love It *** 
          Love Filling Station *** 1/2 
          A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble *** 


          Frank *** 1/2 
          Back To Black *** 1/2 
          Lioness: Hidden Treasures *** 
          Amy (soundtrack) ** 


          Arc Of A Diver ***
          Back In The High Life ***
          Roll With It ** 1/2 
          Greatest Hits Live (2017) ** 1/2 


           I Sang The Song ***/ 


          Lupercalia *** 


          Sleepless ***           
          Midnight Souvenirs *** 1/2 
          A Cure For Loneliness *** 


          Public Places ** 1/2      


          The Way I'm Livin' ** 1/2           
          The Lonely The Lonesome and the Gone *** 


          Peace Meal *** 


          The Movie (w The Roots) *** 


          Grace ***


          Los Angeles (1980) ** 


          Communion ** 1/2  
          Palo Santo *** 


          Fragile * 


          Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.  
          Hillbilly Deluxe 
          Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room 
          If There Was A Way 
          This Time ****
          Under The Covers 
          Come On Christmas 
          A Long Way Home 
          Tomorrow's Sounds Today 
          South Of Heaven, West Of Hell 
          Population Me 
          Blame The Vain 
          Dwight Sings Buck  
          3 Pears 
          Second-Hand Heart *** 1/2 
          Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars *** 1/2  


          Fade *** 


          Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere *** 1/2 
          After The Gold Rush 
          Live At The Cellar Door *** 
          Harvest ***
          On The Beach *** 1/2 
          Tonight's The Night 
          Decade *** 1/2 
          Rust Never Sleeps 
          Old Ways 
          Landing On Water 
          Freedom *** 
          Ragged Glory ***/ 
          Harvest Moon *** 1/2 
          Sleeps With Angels ** 
          Mirror Ball 
          Broken Arrow  
          Silver And Gold *** 1/2 
          Are You Passionate? ** 
          Greendale * 

          Prairie Wind *** 

          Le Noise *** 
          Americana ** 
          Psychedelic Pill *** 
          A Letter Home *** 
          Storytone *** 
          The Monsanto Years ** 
          Peace Trail **
          Earth *
          Hitchhiker (2017 release recorded in 1976) ***
          The Visitor **

Clearly, I prefer pastoral Neil. (Even though I'm a mild holdout on "Harvest" and prefer several later, similar albums to that acclaimed work.) Probably the first time I was aware of him at all was Live Aid, when he ambled onto the stage and did a very ragged acoustic set. Young's "Sugar Mountain" stopped me cold, even though I wasn't old enough yet to be looking back on my lost youth. I've been a fan ever since. And yet, not one album gets four stars? Not even the epic, genre-defining, ubër boxed set "Decade"? Hey, don't blame me. I'm sure if Neil Young ever accidentally created a perfect album he'd be mighty displeased, yank out the reels of music, throw them on the ground, stomp on 'em a little, muddy them up, maybe cut out a song or two (probably the best ones, just to be perverse), rearrange the tracks so they made no sense and then slap it all back together with a smile. Perfect is the farthest thing from his mind. 


          Dead *** 


          On Human Freakout Mountain *** 1/2 
          Supernatural Voodoo ** 1/2 


          Eliminator ** 1/2 
          Greatest Hits ** 
          La Futura ** 1/2 
          Goin' 50 * 1/2 


          Annie Get Your Gun (Doris Day, Robert Goulet album) (1963) ****
          Camelot Orig Broadway Cast Album ****
          Dear Evan Hansen (2017) ** 1/2
          Hadestown Orig Off Broadway Cast Album *** 1/2
          Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Album *** 1/2 
          My Fair Lady (Orig Broadway Cast Album) ****
          Spring Awakening Orig Cast Album ****
          Sunday in The Park With George (Original 1984) ****
          Sunday in The Park With George (Bway 2017) *** 1/2 


          Baby Driver *** 1/2 
          Black Panther ***/ 
          Blade Runner Original Soundtrack ***/
          Blade Runner Original Complete Score Bootleg **** 
          Blade Runner 2049 *** 
          Guardians Of The Galaxy Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1 *** 1/2          


          Africa Screams Contest *** 1/2 
          Africa Screams Contest Vol. Two *** 1/2 
          Aloha Got Soul 1979-1985 ***            
          Bluesin' By The Bayou ** 1/2 
          Country Soul (2015) ** 1/2 
          Divided and United: Songs of the Civil War *** 1/2 
          Dub Specialist: Studio One Dub FireSpecial ** 1/2 
          Feelin' Right, Saturday Night: The Rick and Ron Anthology *** 1/2 
          The Golden Age Of Popular Music: More Country Hits *** 
          Gonna Sing, Gonna Shout: Bluegrass Gospel From The Pen Of Rick Lang *** 
          John Savage's 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded *** 
          Let The Good Times Roll: 40 Jumping R and B Classics *** 
          Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us *** 1/2 
          Nigeria Freedom Sounds: Popular Music and the Birth... ** 1/2 
          Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat and  Rock n Roll 1965-1970 *** 1/2  
          Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton **           
          Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs ** 
          Songs Of Lennon and McCartney (UK) ** 1/2 
          Soul Of A Nation: Afro-Centric Visions In the Age of Black Power ***/ 
          Southern Soul Crate *** 1/2 
          A Tribute To Dan Fogelberg ** 

          You Make My Heart Sing: 50 Of The Greatest Love Songs Ever (UK) *** 1/2