Billy Porter, “The Last Midnight” from Into the Woods, At the Corner of Broadway and Soul (Live)
Last week I saw Billy Porter do King Lear as “Queen Lear”, reproducing (and exponentially expanding upon) a Reggie Jackson production from the early ’90s, setting Billy Shakes’ play in the drag balls of Paris Is Burning. It was, perhaps, the best theatrical event I’ve ever seen. At the very least, the best Shakespeare I’ve seen since my youthful days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I mean, so good I don’t really have any words.
And then today, listening to the Sirius XM Broadway channel at work, I came across this. Seth Rudetsky (the host for a few hours in the afternoon) introduced the song by saying he asked Billy to sing something at a recent show, and Billy tried to defer, “But why? I’m an actress now.” And so he is! But oh sweet Jesus, what a voice!
Long story short: if Billy Porter in drag can be the best King Lear I’ve ever seen, I can’t even fathom how good he would be as the Witch in Into the Woods. I know it was just revived recently and all, but Broadway producers/Steve Sondheim: can’t we make this happen?!? He’s like Vanessa Williams, but with actual balls.
Actually—using The Witch as a reference point makes a lot of sense for Billy’s LEAR (which I also so and liked, though not as unequivocally or enthusiastically as Macartney). But, regardless, this song is FIERCE. I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed listening to it until now.
When the Vanessa Williams revival was first announced, there were murrmurs that Billy was actually considered for the witch, and may have gone as far as doing a workshop to try out the concept. And it wasn’t so recently — both Gypsy & La Cage (and soon Follies) have had two Broadway productions with less time elapsed.
I have finally come to that special place in my process of learning of music know as “frustration”.
Frustration is a hard thing to deal with when you’re trying to practice. You know that feeling where you’re so irritated that you get all hot and need to take a deep breath and just walk away?…
To be fair to Steve, he wrote it as smaller chunks broken up by scenes. It wasn’t until the cast album (well, the demo) that anyone put it all together into the breakneck, marathon, exhausting version you’re working on.
Remember this thread four months ago? Well, apparently the New York Philharmonic is now doing the same program, so it’s cute to watch New Yorkers on the internet get all indignant about it. Funny how they didn’t seem to care about the integrity of the film back in February when this was only supposed to happen in Los Angeles.
When Laurie Beechman was battling the ovarian cancer that eventually took her life, she recorded an album of Broadway songs “of hope and inspiration” entitled No One Is Alone. By 1996, when this album debuted, critics had more or less stopped accusing Sondheim of writing cold, emotionless music, but I wonder if even he ever imagined that one of his songs would lend its title of an album of songs “of hope and inspiration.” (The album also included Laurie’s rendition of “Being Alive.”)
“Much like Marriage Equality, Liz Callaway spent a lot of years in Boston before becoming a star in New York.” I BOW…
To be fair, I grew up watching Liz on Ready to Go, the kids tv show she hosted in Boston (and for which she won an Emmy). I even once won free tickets to the circus during a call-in segment, and it took all my little gayboy restraint not to tell her how much I loved her on the Follies in Concert recording while talking to her live on the air.
Fifteen years later, when I got to work with Liz on her album The Beat Goes On, I told her that story. No shame.
1) I love Liz Callaway and won’t have a word said against her.
2) In case you haven’t noticed, I try reallllly hard not to repeat recordings on this blog, and I’ve already used pretty much every other recording of this song because I do love it so. It just didn’t feel appropriately celebratory to use Boyd Gaines, you know what I’m sayin’?
3) Much like Marriage Equality, Liz Callaway spent a lot of years in Boston before becoming a star in New York.
“Jack Klugman, who played Herbie, Madame Rose’s faithful suitor, recalled the moment, three weeks into rehearsal, when Sondheim and Styne arrived very late to announce they had just finished “Rose’s Turn.” The rehearsal stopped immediately. Styne sat down at the piano. Sondheim began to sing “with such feeling and awareness of what it was about that I just fell apart and bawled like a baby. It was so brilliant. I will never forget that moment.” There is a point in the song when Madame Rose, feeling increasingly bereft, has a psychological block on the word “mother.” When Steve did ‘M-m-momma, M-m-momma,’ and couldn’t get it out, Ethel and I just burst into tears.”—Excerpt from Meryle Secrest’s Stephen Sondheim, a life (via youshouldseeme)
Renée Fleming’s performance of these two songs from Passion (from her album of Broadway songs with Bryn Terfel, Renée & Bryn Under the Stars) makes a compelling case that this show could enter the opera repertory.
Liz Callaway was in the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway. When Ann Morrison, who played Mary, lost her voice during rehearsals, Liz stepped in to sing the part while she recuperated. Essentially, hers was the voice that Sondheim heard as he developed the score, so it’s no surprise that she went on to play a role in the New York Philharmonic concert version of Follies and at the Whitney Museum’s Sondheim tribute.
Here, she sings Our Time as a duet with her sister, jazz singer (and one-time Broadway star of Swing), Ann Hampton Callaway, from her album The Story Goes On.
This is a recording of Dean Jones singing “Happily Ever After” during the out of town tryouts for Company in Boston in 1970. I’ve always liked this song, despite its grim outlook, and have been frustrated that there’s never been a full-length recording of it with an orchestra. (The only full-length recording of it I know of is Craig Lucas’s rendition, backed by a piano, on the original cast album of “Marry Me A Little.”)
Jones’s performance is impeccable, which isn’t surprising, given that his own marriage was falling apart at the time and this song probably matched his mindset more accurately than any of the other closing numbers that cycled through Company during its development.
Perhaps even more exciting is hearing, for the first time, Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations for the song. Those Bacharach-influenced horns! The Vocal Minority! It’s all pretty much brilliant. I wish we had a high-fidelity recording of these charts. Maybe someday we’ll get one.
And a big thank you to Jonathon for letting me experience this!
…which means the 500th Follower Extravaganza will happen tonight! So this is the last call for questions. I’ve received some great questions so far, but I’d love more, so abuse* the heck out of my ask box!
"There’s Something About a War" was cut from Forum, replaced with “Bring Me My Bride.” The former is a little more pointed in its political commentary, but the latter is more germane to the story, which makes it a better fit for the show. Still, the earlier song has its charms. This performance, featuring Cris Groenendaal, comes from the 1983 Sondheim tribute at the Whitney Museum of Art.
Just got back from a screening of Company. As I suspected, I liked it a lot better on screen than I did at Avery Fisher Hall, for two main reasons: the film edited together the best bits of multiple performances, so there were fewer (although not zero) gaffes, and the film eliminated the sound-and-vision issues of sitting in the top balcony.
I still had my quibbles. The sound mix was weird, particularly at the beginning of the show (unless I just got used to it by the end). The orchestra felt buried and at times muddy, and the foregrounding in the mix of whoever was on screen during the group numbers — particularly the opening number — was an odd choice to say the least.
Most of the performers came off much better on screen than they did from the top balcony. The two exceptions were Anika Noni Rose, who was just as miscast up close as she was from a distance (I just don’t understand why you’d cast Marta as anything other than a belter.); and Chrissy Whitehead, whose “Tick Tock” was pretty hot in the theater but didn’t translate to the screen. Still, overall I was glad to revisit this production.
This is the point where I should probably add that I’ve been mentally directing my dream film version of Company for at least the last fifteen years, so any screen version of Company is coming up against my own idealized imagination. Despite that, when this production is released on DVD, I’m sure I will revisit it far more often than the John Doyle production, which I didn’t care for in the theater (from excellent orchestra seats) or on television.
I know I have had big plans to celebrate follower-milestones in the past and have totally flaked on them. I own that and I’m sorry.
So I figure, let’s set a reasonable, achievable goal for 500.
When I get my 500th follower, I will do a Q&A video. Leave questions in my ask, and I will answer them on video.
Want to know about the contents of the letters I used to send to Stephen Sondheim when I was in the fifth grade? Or my opinions on any particular song/show/writer/performer? Or what I had for breakfast? No holds barred*. Ask away.