Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Took advantage of a trip to New York last week to catch two well-reviewed revivals, South Pacific and Finian's Rainbow. The former was the first ever Broadway return for the Rodgers & Hammerstein smash of the late 40s-early 50s; the latter was a six-performance run by Encores, a group that specializes in reviving musicals, at City Center, nee Mecca Temple, on 55th St. We went Saturday night and possibly because of the rave in that morning's Times, the joint was packed to the gills.

Finian's Rainbow remains a total delight, probably because of its inane plot, which goes off in all kinds of directions--Burton Lane hit his high spot with this score, from How Are Things in Glocca Mora, That Old Devil Moon, and If This Isn't Love, and then the leprechaun's two magnificently rhymed turns, Something Sort of Grandish and If I'm Not Near the Girl I Love, in which E. Y. (Yip) Harburg, the lyricist, had a field day. The first of those two benefitted in the original (1949, I think) from Ella Logan and David Wayne, but Harburg's lyrics went over wonderfully in the presentation of a fine cast without stars. Harburg throws in lots of great lefty political references--including the centerpiece, of course, of turning the racist senator black. Philip Bosco--probably the only famous name in this cast--played the senator (it was Keenan Wynn in the movie). But in the end, how can you not love "Every femme that flutters by me/is a flame that must be fought/ when i'm not fondling the face that I'm fond of/I fondle the face at hand/my heart's in a pickle, it's constantly fickle/and not too partickle, I fear..."

This show was staged just enough, as this series only claims to do minimal staging. The plot needs no more encouragement. We sat in the back of the rear mezz, which at City Center is truly hell'n'gone but it still was fine for both sound and view. Even met a couple we know (mostly through another friend) from DC and his uncle was Yip Harburg. Small world is getting smaller.

There's probably some Bway reason why South Pacific hadn't been revived until now. Maybe it was the years it took for people to identify positively with any war, including the war "that had to be fought": WW II. And Hammerstein's mushy and now embarrassing side, exemplified by LT Cable's second-act song, "You've Got to be Carefully Taught." As a lover of Rodgers & Hart, I would argue that no one could come up with melodies like Richard Rodgers but Rodgers & Hammerstein were left on the shelf for decades because of the pretentiousness of Hammerstein's lyrics compared with Hart's snappy ones, so reminiscent of Cole Porter, another closeted gay guy (as was Rodgers, too, as it happens). I recall Hammerstein's widow or daughter contending on some show that without his words, Kern's immortal Old Man River (from Showboat) was just notes. Well, I'd take Kern's tune (especially when performed by the original Joe, Paul Robeson) over Hammerstein's words anytime on that one.

But South Pacific remains a blockbuster because of the hit after hit song--no clinkers. The stage erupts in excitement in the second scene when the sailors and Seabees charge onstage, led by Milo Minderbinder's inspiration, Luther Billis (created by Myron McCormick). I saw what was the second or even the third cast--Kelly O'Hair, the original Nellie, is pregnant--and they were all wonderful. The current lead, Linda Osnes, probably is more convincing in this ingenue role than Mary Martin was in the original. I always think of Martin as Peter Pan, but we should recall that she made herself known by doing Cole Porter's edgy, naughty My Heart Belongs to Daddy. The male lead has the Pinza vocal heft and deep basso tone. But listen: There's Nothing Like a Dame, Wonderful Guy, This Nearly Was Mine (which I've always preferred to the more famed Some Enchanted Evening), and the delightful throwaways like Happy Talk and Honey Bun.

For opera folks, I took in the Met's Cav'n'Pag on my other open night. Roberto Alagna did both tenor roles and looks young and convincing, especially as Turiddu, and has the pipes for Canio as well. Alberto Mastromarino was listed to do Tonio, who does the famed Prologue in Pag, but filled in for an ill younger baritone listed to sing Alfio in Cav--filled is the word because he is huge. But his voice was good, as was everyone's and Nedda was convincing in the Bird Song and love duet--the reason it's so tough to cast even an Alagna in both tenor roles is that Canio seems to be the older husband insanely jealous of his younger wife. In Cav, it's basically the other way round and it's the baritone who's the jealous husband--in both stories, of course, for good reason! One thing happened that I'd never seen before: Mastromarino delivered such a strong note a few bars before the end of the Prologue that the audience burst into applause early. I'd never seen that happen, and the first baritone I saw in this role was the renowned Leonard Warren (in the first regular Met performance I ever saw). Waltraud Meyer was a superb Santuzza in Cav--despite having the stage manager plead for our indulgence before the curtain rose. Interesingly, she moves on to sing in Wagner's Ring now, including a Brunnhilde or two, I believe.

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