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Yep, it's a hot one, all right

An under-the-radar piece of Americana stands out among Hollywood-influenced musicals.

December 30, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

The thirst for love, a compulsion to adopt strange accents and a bit of chang-chang-changity-chang-shoo-bop are expressed in recent cast albums.

"110 in the Shade"

The 2007 Broadway revival (PS Classics)

*** 1/2

Here's one that got away. The score aches, shimmers, transcends. Yet, shockingly, it remains little-known.

How exciting, then, to hear this 1963 show as interpreted by some of today's top Broadway talents for Roundabout Theatre Company's revival. Paul Gemignani conducts new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, and Audra McDonald sings the central role.

Set in a parched patch of Texas in 1936, this musical version of N. Richard Nash's play "The Rainmaker" depicts arid lives in need of a downpour. Subtly but unmistakably, the songs by "The Fantasticks" duo of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt evoke an America of Fourth of July picnics and bonfire singalongs, an impression complemented by Tunick's sprightly, Copland-esque arrangements (written for a 2003 revival and also heard at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2004).

Hope struggles against despair in the songs -- with such titles as "Love, Don't Turn Away," "Old Maid" and "Simple Little Things" -- given to McDonald's straight-talking Lizzie. Her low notes resonate, her high notes sparkle, a mixture of shadow and light strikingly paired with a similar duality in Christopher Innvar's voice as Lizzie and the local sheriff dare to dream in "A Man and a Woman." Steve Kazee, portraying a con man with a romantic streak, seems to glimmer as he makes a wish on the "Evenin' Star," written for the original production, cut in tryouts and restored here. John Cullum is around to chuckle at Lizzie's teasing threat to get "Raunchy" -- the number that was such a dazzler on the Tony telecast.


"Young Frankenstein"

Original Broadway cast (Decca Broadway)

** 1/2

It's no "Casablanca" or "Citizen Kane," yet Mel Brooks' 1974 Marx Brothers comedy of a horror film, "Young Frankenstein," endures as one of filmdom's most quotable scripts. Always one to work a gag for all it's worth, Brooks has expanded several of the more memorable lines into songs for his Broadway musical version of the piece.

The lyrics are loaded with the sorts of sexual double-entendres that make the original such a snicker-fest. For melodies, Brooks has imitated other songwriters right and left, as he did in "The Producers." The music, as a result, seems stitched together from existing parts, sort of like the monster created by the next-gen's Frederick Frankenstein. But at least Brooks has a terrific era to imitate. The story is set in 1934, giving him license to copy the lively, sophisticated sounds of Berlin and Porter as well as the music of vaudeville and the operetta.

Christopher Fitzgerald's addlebrained Igor is Bob Hope to Roger Bart's Bing Crosby of a Frederick in the buddy song "Together Again." Sutton Foster, portraying Frederick's pin-up girl of an assistant, conflates sweet little Heidi of the Alps with a lusty German barmaid in the come-hither ditty "Roll in the Hay" (at one point breaking, hysterically, into a yodel). Andrea Martin, as creepy-funny housekeeper Frau Blucher, goes guttural in the Weill-like "He Vas My Boyfriend." Not to be outdone by the Transylvanians, Megan Mullally, as Frederick's sensual but standoffish American fiancee, affects her own accent -- pinched, snooty -- as she admonishes "Please Don't Touch Me."

Unlike the classics they copy, Brooks' tunes -- one of which is called "Deep Love," 'nuf said -- won't ever be timeless. But they're good for a few laughs.



World premiere recording

(Ghostlight Records)


In its limited Broadway run, this odd, arty little project served as a living history of the musical theater. It focused on Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, two towering figures of the World War II era; it was shepherded and directed by postwar great Hal Prince; and it was performed by two of today's leading lights, Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy.

A biography studded with Weill's compositions, "LoveMusik" is meant to evoke the furious passion of the composer's marriage to Lenya. Weill's songs are used not to chronicle his career but to open windows onto his and Lenya's souls. The context reinforces the ever mournful undertow in Weill's melodies, even as they surge with mischievous pleasure. True to Weill's spirit, Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations are earthy and lively, the sounds of the beer hall reinterpreted through a modernist sensibility.

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