Thursday, March 22, 2012

10 FAVORITES (54): Happy Birthday, Lord Lloyd Webber!

What does the Bible, Argentina, a Hollywood studio, a Parisian Opera House and the London back alleys all have in common?  They each serve as the settings for some of the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Lord Lloyd Webber is celebrating his 64th birthday today (coincidentally he shares his birthday with another Broadway musical legend, Stephen Sondheim, who turns 82 today!).  For over 40 years, Lloyd Webber's musicals have thrilled audiences, broken box-office records and reshaped the musical theatre landscape.  His legend has been fully cemented especially with two new revivals of his earliest hits (Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita) opening on Broadway within the next month and the most financially successful musical of all-time now celebrating its 26th year on the London stage (Phantom's 25th anniversary on Broadway will occur in January of next year!).  His sumptuous and epic musical scores have won Tonys, Grammys and even an Oscar.  But what are the songs of his that this "Broadway Baby" will treasure most.  So, in honor of Lord Lloyd Webber's birthday, this week's 10 FAVORITES are devoted to the best songs the man composed for some of the world's most famous musicals.


SONG #10
An Unexpected Song
from Song and Dance or Tell Me On a Sunday
Original Lyrics by Don Black
Additional Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.
Originally written for the one-act musical Tell Me On a Sunday, when that show was combined with a balletic second act to create the 1986 Broadway hit Song and Dance (featuring a stellar Tony-winning performance from Bernadette Peters).  The stand-out song from the show was this charming number that has since become a popular audition song for almost every young female aspiring to stage greatness.  But of course, all these young women take their cues from the phenomenal Ms. Peters (see below!).

All I Ask of You
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
Arguably one of Lloyd Webber's most romantic songs ever written, its sweeping melody moves the audiences to tears towards the end of the first act of the gothic musical romance.  The song has become a standard at most weddings (especially ones where the brides have dragged their fiancee to a performance of Phantom!).

Love Changes Everything
from Aspects of Love
Lyrics by Don Black & Charles Hart
Not many shows open with a powerhouse ballad, but in Aspects of Love Lloyd Webber took a chance.  While the show was not his most successful critically (not many of his shows are exactly beloved by the critics), this song was a popular hit and launched leading man Michael Ball into super stardom in the United Kingdom.

Buenos Aires
from Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
What I've always loved about this song is the mix of rock rhythms and latin-style dance music combined with the forceful attitude of the character of young Eva Peron.  She stands there when she enters the Argentinian metropolis and (while enthralled by what she sees) she is not intimidated to tell the world what to expect from her.  It doesn't hurt that the original Broadway production had a powerhouse performance from the amazing Patti LuPone (below!).

from Cats
Lyrics by Trevor Nunn (adapted from T. S. Eliot)
Every time I've talked with people about this musical, they always ask me "Why the hell did a show about kitty cats run so long on Broadway!?!"  There are lots of reasons why the show was so popular (so many to mention here really!).  One of those reasons though was this extremely popular power ballad that became the show's signature tune.  Who knew that kitties could have powerful emotions!?!

I Don't Know How To Love Him
from Jesus Christ Superstar
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Back in 1970, this was one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's first #1 hits.  Inspired by legendary rock albums by The Who and Led Zeppelin, Lloyd Webber and writing partner Tim Rice released Jesus Christ Superstar as a concept album hoping it would be successful enough to warrant a musical production.  Thanks to hit singles like this one (not to mention the title number!), the show opened on Broadway, opened in London  and had a feature film version all within a matter of 3 years.

As If We Never Said Goodbye
from Sunset Boulevard
Lyrics by Don Black
Additional Lyrics by Christopher Hampton
While Sunset Boulevard is not among Lloyd Webber's shining successes (the multi-million dollar original London and Broadway productions lost most of their original investments), this emotionally charged second-act "aria" gives the actress playing Norma Desmond a chance for a true tour-de-force performance.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical poetry make for brilliant speech by someone who has felt so alone, but now has a chance at returning to her former glory.  Just watch Glenn Close below in her Tony-winning triumph.

The Phantom of the Opera
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
When it comes to Broadway title tunes, this rock-influenced powerhouse ranks among the best (right up there with Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly! and The Sound of Music).  There are several things I love about this number. One of the things is the minute I hear that drum-beat intro, I'm immediately taken back to the first time I saw this show and this musical sequence.  When the Phantom takes Christine to his underground lair, the stage production goes all out in wowing audiences with rising candelabras, swirling mists and a moving boat.  Combine all that with the thrilling final seconds of the song when Christine reaches high E's in her vocalizing, it makes for a memorable musical number.

Don't Cry For Me Argentina
from Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
This song doesn't really need a lot of explanation.  It is a powerful and very emotional song that epitomizes the love Eva Peron had for her people (more importantly the power they could give her!).  The melody is moving and Tim Rice's lyrics are the perfect mix of poetry and politics.  Get a great performer like Patti LuPone or original London star Elaine Paige (below) to sing it and you've got a Grammy-winning hit.

The Music of the Night
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
This goes on my list as one of my favorite Broadway songs of All-Time.  It goes up there with songs by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.  When I first saw Phantom of the Opera almost 20 years ago, I remember this song just moving me to tears (which was a complete turnaround as I had just been wowed by the phenomenal staging of the title number!).  With this song you hear the Phantom's lonliness and his heartbreak, but you also hear the beauty and the passion with which he floods his soul with his art and his music.  It is a hauntingly beautiful song that celebrates the thing that brings us all together: music.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: The Luck of the Irish

Laziness.  Laziness and Procrastination.  Laziness and Procrastination and Lack of originality.  All of these things are what I can blame the "Ghost Town" that has been my blog in the last 17 days.  Over the last few weeks, I have mulled over and gone back and forth on a long list of article ideas that I could have done (if for no other reason than to make the blog seem active).  But for various reasons (no interest, not enough knowledge about the subject or just a plain bad idea!), none of these articles seemed worth going against my integrity as a writer.  I'm not one of those writers who writes just to write, I write because I'm passionate about a project or a topic or an idea.  And none of the article ideas I've had these past two weeks have thrilled me in the way a good topic should.  Just to give you all an idea of what I've been going through, I'll give you a peek at some of the topics that I thought about discussing but eventually scuttled.  First, I was going to do a very topical article about the vitriol that exists in our culture these days.  It was sparked by the debate over what conservative blowhard Rush Limbaugh said about student-activist Sandra Fluke and her pleadings to the U.S. Congress in regards to contraception for young women.  It was further inspired by the back and forth between former teen idol and now very Christian Kirk Cameron and the always stir-the-pot liberal group GLAAD over his comments on Piers Morgan's talk show in regards to gay marriage (for the record, he's not for it...just in case you were wondering!).  I thought about several ways to approach the article (including an angle that brings in the Facebook/Twitter factor and how 24/7 internet makes it much harder to say what you feel), but eventually the topic became too big for me and waaaaaay too political (something I said from the beginning this blog would never be!).  Other article topics that got the boot were a post about the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games books and the soon-to-be-released and highly anticipated film version of the first novel in the series.  But I felt that since I hadn't read the books and only have witnessed the phenom from the sidelines, I wasn't the best person to be talking about it.  There was also the article about how the FOX hit musical-comedy series Glee has disappointed me in their last few episodes before their Spring hiatus, but that topic just seemed a little petty and backbiting (something that I think too much of goes on in Hollywood!).  The other article ideas vary along these same lines as being too big for one post or too flimsy or just poorly researched.  And then I noticed a theme in my thought process when choosing a blog topic: What I think can go wrong with an article!

Now this being St. Patrick's Day, a holiday which celebrates the Irish in all of us (something that is very close to my heart!), I thought that this would be the perfect day to return to the blog.  A word we all hear a lot around St. Patrick's Day is "Luck" (unfortunately also the name of the recently cancelled and exorbitantly expensive HBO series starring Dustin Hoffman!).  Many people have told me that I am "lucky" to be a writer and have my own blog on which I can express my opinions and thoughts, and while I definitely see their point, I have never really felt "lucky" just full of ideas (though some of them don't work as you saw above!).  And then I remembered what most of the "philosophers" of our day (like Oprah and her pals) say about "luck:"  You make your own.  And what they mean by that is that what you put out into the world will be returned to you through Karma or Fate or God or whatever you want to call it.  And that reminded me of the story of St. Patrick, a story I heard over and over growing up in an Irish-Catholic family!  His luck and good fortune came to him because of the devout person he was and the goodness he put out into the world through his good works.  Then I thought about applying this theory to my writing and the way I think about article topics  for the blog, and what I noticed about the many topics that didn't work out failed because I wasn't thinking about what could be good about the article.  In short, I need to make my own "luck."  I need to see what is good about my ideas and focus on that when conceiving and executing my blog topics.  Whether that means I need to not think in broad terms or if that means I need to skip a few weeks to find my footing, that's what will happen.  Because when it comes to this blog (be it 10 FAVORITES or IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS), I want the best of me to shine through (I know that sounds cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is just how you feel!).