Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Follies-original cast 2011 recording





Well, after waiting impatiently for some time, watching snippets and bits on YouTube and hearing from friends in the know that THIS FOLLIES is THE Follies...I have some thoughts...

Follies-the problematic, Broadway "masterpiece" started back in the late 60's and early 70's...following a road laid partly by shows like COMPANY...Stephen Sondheim writing with James Goldman toward a production directed by Hal Prince and Michael Bennett, designed by Boris Aronson starring Alexis Smith, Gene Nelson, Dorothy Collins, John McMartin, Yvonne De Carlo...the names went on and on...staggering, spectacular, new...

It won a lot of Tony Awards, lost a lot of money, produced at least three Musical Theatre "Standards": Losing My Mind, Broadway Baby and I'm Still Here and spawned a fanatical cult of FOLLIES fans including me.

That original production pretty much intact TOURED and played the Shubert all gaudy, huge and sparkly new in Century City and I was there.

Over the years getting a chance to actually perform a staged version of Follies was very difficult so the music like much of Sondheim's song book ended up in reviews and Broadway based concerts.

Movie versions of the show were planned and abandoned and the show became legendary.

Inspired by a vague idea of a musical show about a reunion and a picture of Gloria Swanson doing Haute Couture amidst the rubble of the old ROXY the show winds the tale of a group of performers who get together when the theatre where they all performed is about to be turned into a parking lot.

Two couples particularly; Ben and Phyllis the upscale and wealthy and Sally and Buddy friends of a bygone time, co-stage door johnnies and their chorus girls turned wives are the anchor around which a cast of characters parade through what Sondheim calls "PASTICHE" numbers...songs which in some ways advance the story and or mood of the piece in a way that also evokes another time or a specific compositional style from Operetta to Harold Arlen, Burlesque, Vaudeville... Ziegfeld.

Those interested in the Nexus of the original show can read a fascinating account in TED CHAPIN'S meticulous EVERYTHING WAS POSSIBLE, The Birth of the Musical FOLLIES.

Since he was on the scene and took copious notes he can share myriad obscure details about the sets, costumes, musical numbers and performers in a narrative that starts with the beginning of rehearsals and follows the show through the out of town tryout in Boston and then back to the opening at the Winter Garden in New York...a must read for any FOLLIES fan.

But back to this newest Follies...

Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige and others sign on for a production at the Kennedy Center which becomes a huge hit and moves to Broadway and maybe as the liner notes for the cast recording say perhaps the audience has caught up with the show at last---40 years later.

It's not as if there haven't been other attempts along the way each one from here to the Westend attempting to solve the problems and produce a definitive Follies (and a definitive cast recording).

The original cast recording back in 1971 was cheated of a full reading by producing a single disc album-interestingly the show which DID win the Tony for best musical that year, TWO GENTLEMEN FROM VERONNA (a surprise BTW) DID have a 2 record cast recording.

Follies in Concert an event showcasing star names and a semi staged concert version did manage a fairly definitive cast recording as did the cast of the PEPPERMILL PLAYHOUSE version.

There is also the LONDON cast recording which I believe claims to be the only COMPLETE recording and features alternate numbers and even music from the film STAVISKY which Sondheim used as a clearing house for some of his unused material from Follies.

I keep digressing and I guess it's because I have a hard time forcing myself to say how disappointed I am by this current version.

I am a huge fan of Ms. Peters; hers is a lengthy and rich career and she is a legendary performer of stage, screen and recordings...at one point I felt she might own Losing My Mind and In Buddy's Eyes two of Sally's big numbers from Follies.

I hear she was wonderful if a bit tight in Washington and has blossomed in the Broadway run...she is 64...she is playing a character who SAYS, "I am 49...".

Well, the stage...suspended disbelief...ageless...but her voice on the recording is tight, reedy and doesn't always soar.

She has two voices...her Broadway one and the "Other" one and for many years she was able to maximize one and utilize the other...here she is forced to go exposed and vulnerable into a range which has never been attractive to her...pity.

Again, perhaps one needs to see this production to judge this cast album---shows do change AFTER viewing rather than just hearing them.

JAN MAXWELL has been represented to me as the consummate PHYLLIS-in the album photos she looks like Charles Busch in drag and her voice is a little sweet for the acidic Phyllis queen on the "quip with a sting".

Both Danny Burstein (Buddy)and RON RAINES (Ben) have good strong voices but they are almost interchangeable and lack the division of class and culture that the original cast had...With the exception of Jan Maxwell THIS IS A VERY BLUE COLLAR READING of the material, adding in some of the crucial dialog was a great idea but it also points up just how new york centric the whole endeavour is-far more fitted to 7th Ave than PARK.

Some don't find Elaine Paige as superb as I do-she is one of the only performances that has originality and characterization-the first lady of the British Musical Theatre is far better as an American Movie Star than some of the Americans (maybe its her time in Sunset Blvd-the musical).

The 28 piece orchestra is just what Mr Sondheim and his orchestrator Jonathan Tunick had in mind combined with a 4 piece onstage band but somehow the juxtaposition of the two sounds don't always blow one away on this recording as they do on others...in the prologue there is a place well know to Follies fans where the onstage band gives way to a huge MGM like sound wave as the pit orchestra picks up ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL the music which introduces the ghosts of the theatre and segues into BEAUTIFUL GIRLS...it happens here but tentatively...disappointingly.

Broadway Baby is somewhat thrown away, some numbers fair better than others but in the end this is just another Follies recording with dialog thrown in.

Bernadette does this material better elsewhere...and I suppose that's the thing about this show-hard to please everyone...Take Alexis Smith and Ethel Shutta (or even Elaine Strich) add in one from column A, one from column B...

As an aside I give both Losing My Mind and In Buddy's Eyes to the marvelous Barbara Cook (long may she wave) until someone dethrones her.

My score a barely passing C minus...overall I like the New Jersey cast from 1998 Peppermill, better.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Putting up the Christmas Lights





I had decided this year to forgo putting up outdoor Christmas lights.

As much as I love the twinkling there were a number of factors that were sending me toward just ignoring the whole thing not the least of it being the absence of my dear neighbors who summer in Minnesota and then head to California for the winter.

Over the years I have lived here in Seal Beach, Ray and Mona have become good friends-she had a small stroke last year and he has some medical issues as well so they felt that had to stay east this year.

One of the important driving forces in putting up a big Christmas display was how much THEY loved it.

I often would spot Mona outside gazing at our wonderland of snowflakes, lollipops, Santa and snowmen-a lighted nativity, candles and of course many blinking, dancing lights.

For a couple years I had an acquaintance do the lights but three years ago I started a new tradition-my Niece ANDREA and he husband DAN come down and do the lights for me and then we go over to Long Beach to a great old timey Chinese restaurant for a major pig out.

Last year it was a chilly damp beach day and the "kids" were suffering from the cold but MONA made it special by plying them with hot, fresh peanut butter cookies which they are still talking about this year.

I share this with you because we need to make new traditions and forge forward in keeping our American Christmas spirit alive.

So many people get sad and depressed at this time of year, not enough money, not enough time, easier to just quit and do without, not worth the effort...

I thought I could do without but I am so glad my niece insisted in a way.

I am a child of the 50's, a magical time in so many ways...even though RALPHIE and his Christmas Story family are charecters of more than a decade earlier they share a spirit that was still very much alive when I was a child.

Buying the tree, going out to see the Christmas lights, Christmas pageants at school and church, visiting friends, caroling at the old folks home all the bits and pieces of our collective history as a nation are wrapped up in those holly decked, candy cane years of Rudolph and Frosty.

What Happened?

I remember well the Jewish family in our neighborhood were the first in line to make special holiday cookies and share their stories about "Jewish Christmas"-I know it's not PC and Christ has nothing to do with Channukah but in an inclusive society we don't have to tiptoe around and apologize constantly to each other for every little slip of an idiom.

I went to school for many years with a family of Christian Scientists.

The kids didn't stay in the room for HEALTH or SCIENCE classes-because of their religious beliefs they went off to the library but they were always included in Holiday events.

The Jehovah's Witness kids didn't say the pledge of alliengence to the flag and they didn't participate in Halloween but always were involved in other activities...and so on for the Buddist kid and the Mormons etc etc.

In the days before the hyphenated society and the quick to point fingers keepers of Political correctness we DID all get along...now I know you are rolling you eyes and saying what about the BLACK people and racisim, things weren't so good for them.

Honestly---really---we didn't know there was a problem.

I never heard the "N" word till the 60's and the race riots etc happened.

We lived in white bread suburbia, Norman Rockwell, Donna Reed, Father Knows BEST where Santa and Jesus coexisted with Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Betsy Wetsy and Red nosed Reindeers.

My community was 50% Mexican (I was tempted to say Latino buts lets be honest instead of PC) we didn't notice...my neighbors were Italians, the people across the way were Dutch, Mrs.Andreson and her husband spoke GERMAN as well as English-so who cared that Sonny's grandma spoke SPANISH?

We all bought our clothes at J C PENNY'S, we shopped at the same markets, ate in the same restaurants and on Sunday;s we went off (or not) to various churches...no one cared what colour you were so long as you could get along with everyone else.

We had more problems with the family of poor folks from Oklahoma around the corner who had too many kids and couldn't pay their bills because the Father drank too much and beat his wife than the various ethnic types-and by the way the "OKIES" managed to put up a string of Christmas lights or two and a lighted SANTA for the holidays.

Here we are all these years later and things are more advanced in so many ways but in other ways NOT better...medicine is better, medial care...but few can afford it.

Racism is better but has been replaced by ageism, sizeism and all the other incidious "isms" of the new millenium.

Money is scarce, people are grumpy and angry, entitlement has been worse for this country than segregation and Washington is full of crooks with an agenda that isn't pro-citizen...amidst all this we have to worry about someone being offended because we put a Christmas tree in the park???

Under seperation of church and state I guess there shouldn't be a Christmas tree in the park, nor a nativity or a menorah or any religious symbol-trust me those guys in wigs and knee britches knew what they were doing when they seperated the CHURCH from Government---at this moment we are all in danger from Islamic law and if we don't stop it the ISLAMIC sgenda will rip this country apart the way it is damaging England.

All this aside-I like it when CHRISTMAS and the holidays TWINKLE---people are a little nicer, the world is a little prettier...oh not the world where people pepper spray each other in WALMART or rob each other in darkened parking lots on the way to BLACK FRIDAY sales...that's a world away from mine-I am as oblivious of it as I was naieve in the 50's.

In MANY countries around the globe cities are immobilized by CHRISTMAS.

Christmas markets abound in Europe and no one complains that it somehow excludes others or is insensetive to Scientologists...everyone is busy out looking at the sights, enjoy the special food and music and patting each other on the back.

In the home of the free we can't do that so much-there might be a drive by shooting-WHERE, HOW did we go so wrong?

I will hold on to Christmas in my own way, with my nostalgic ornaments and Michale Buble' crooning carols on the radio. Ralphie and his family having CHINESE TURKEY and Santa coming to town, Angels and snowflakes and glitter and Christmas cookies and yes even FRUITCAKE...it's the MOST wonderful time of the year and it;s a time when EVERYONE should be with everyone else and enjoy the Holidays (thats a word evolved from HOLY days by the way) in their own way and let others celebrate as they will.

I am so glad I didn't do without my Christmas lights this year and I hope you have yours as well...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving


Turkey day is over-except for tripping over a throw rug and breaking a couple toes in the process it was a quiet day spent with friends.

I managed not to over eat, traffic wasn't too bad and I was home in bed by 11pm-an OK day to spend a day that seems so full of stress for others.

My shopping is done, I managed to be creative with my cards and gifts this year...I love to shop and I especially love to gift things to friends and family that I have put a lot of thought and research into.

I am so thankful for my sponge brain able still to retain mental notes to myself so I remember when someone mentions something in April to put it on my Christmas list in the fall.

Last year I discovered ZAZZLE-an online service for creating custom items like mugs and ornaments using one's own art and design...a little pricey but they put out a good product, often have sales and ship promptly with a money back guarantee.

So my BIL will get a gift that is unexpected but that he actually asked for, I can add a few family portrait ornaments to my sisters growing collection and everyone will get something that has a little of my artwork on it this year (like it or not).

ETSY always turns up a few great ideas and finds---last year I got my sister a birds nest which held three egg shaped stones in it with her kids names engraved on them-a unique and lovely item that one would never find in a department store.

I had mugs made with my Christmas collages on them and used them as holders for candy, cocoa mix and other little treasures-those seemed to be a big hit.

This year I also remembered to shop over at BROADWAY CARES an organization which helps many charities across the USA especially AIDS/HIV charities.

For a number of years they have been doing a Christmas CD where the casts of each years Broadway Season record a holiday song which is turned into a compilation.

Not only are these recording unusual, fresh and unique but they create a "living" history of each Broadway season and those who performed.

The website also sells various other Broadway related merchandise and part of your purchase is tax deductible-a great source for your friend or family member who loves the theatre and a showtune.

AMAZON seems to always come through for me-did you know you can order groceries on AMAZON? It's true...but pretty much everything else as well is available-I opted this year to join Amazon PRIME so I get free two day shipping on everything (and streaming video on demand of X FILES)...I had fun comparing prices between sites and watching the packages roll in with discount price's on many items.

Last but certainly not least EBAY---sort of "over" to many people and decidedly a different EBAY from the original version-however you can still find some great buys on EBAY and many items are BUY IT NOW priced...I actually opted for an auction of two and grabbed a couple treasures that I am delighted with and which will be the perfect gifts for friends that are hard to buy for.

That's me on the day after Turkey Day...mellow, a little sore but overall pretty Thankful for another holiday season, good friends, wonderful family and NEW family members this year-so odd to call my 90 year old aunt on Thanksgiving after have lost her for so many years...my cousin was off to Palm Springs but hopefully I will get to spend a few precious hours with them before the holidays.

I hope all of you have a magical, sparkling holiday season this year and all through 2012-be sure to watch A CHRISTMAS STORY-Ralphie and his family remind me so much of Christmases in my childhood...I never did get a BB gun and one of the kids across the street from me actually almost did shoot his brothers eye out...I hate it when parents get that kind of empirical ammunition.

The graphic at the top of this post is my 2011 Christmas card-I did up the design in photoshop, created the card on Zazzle then hand jeweled them (profusely) and signed and numbered

Sunday, November 6, 2011

FALL Storewide Sale at my ETSY shoppe

For the month of November 2011 I will be having a shopwide sale-20% OFF your entire order on my ETSY shoppe.

The coupon code is available here (RICK07161949)do not include the parenthesis just the alphanumeric code is all you need.

Remember this code is good for the month of November and will give you 20$ off your entire order-enter the code in the coupon code box when you check out!!!

Only available on my BLOG but you may share it with friends if you like.

Limited to stock onhand I will not be adding items until Dec 1. 2011

HAVE FUN this is a great way to get the digis you have been wanting at a discount price-my first ever storewide sale!

Remember the code is RICK07161949-ddiscount will be added on checkout

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Rubber Stamps from I BRAKE FOR STAMPS





Della over at IBFS let me know that the new St. dennis exclusive rubber stamps CHRISTMAS BEARS are now up and ready to become a part of your collection.

I BRAKE FOR STAMPS will also be bringing out WINTER BEARS featuring skaters, skiers, snowboarders and other fun designs without the Christmas feel...watch for those coming soon.

The CAROLER BEARS above was my personal favorite from the Christmas set so I am sharing it for you to see here.

You can visit Della's online shoppe from the handy link right over there

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I know many people who highly endorse her stamps and I am always pleased at what a great job she does capturing my artwork for the hard stamp market.

Remember the designs I do for I BRAKE FOR STAMPS are exclusive and I do not sell them as DIGITAL STAMPS so she has the only versions of the Teddy Bear Collection which has been quite popular.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BRAND NEW for 2011



I am happy to introduce a brand new digi sheet for Christmas 2011-LIL BITS OF CHRISTMAS!!!

You told me you loved the spring sheet so here is one for the holidays with all the whimsical motifs I could pack onto one page.

I asked my design team to do some special projects using this sheet and they came up with an incredible selection of projects.

Here are Helene's projects-I had previously listed another project as hers-sorry-these wonderful items are what she created---ditzy me LOL.....








Hazel offers this charming candy box-change the traditional Christmas colours for BLUE and GOLD amd you have a great Channukah gift...






Carina envisioned an advent calendar made of ornaments so she not only used the new designs but some of the classics as well and created this string of merry little vignettes, perfect for country or nostalgic decors...






Here's a sweet cookie container from Elaine and another candy container from Hazel-the choir boys are one of my favorites on this sheet!!

By the way in 2012 Elaine will have a monthly feature on my blog where she will share a card and some challenging techniques with you.

Look for ELAINE'S CARD CORNER every month with a seasonal design using one or more of my images.








Who wouldn't love to find a pair of these adorable candles in their stocking?

A perfect hostess gift, Tine has packaged them in a simple but elegant manner that also makes them perfect for boutiques and Holiday craft Faires!










I will have more holiday projects over the next weeks including a how to on my simple but effective ATC ornaments with a twisted stovepipe wire hanger that elevates them from ATCs to a winning project.

I adapted the design from one of my Tole Painting series SMILES AND BLESSINGS HO HO HOME...that project will be up in about 10 days-I hope to include video that demonstrates how to twist the wire hanger.

To thank all my supporters I have a very special price on this digi sheet for the month of NOVEMBER only!!!

Regular price 12.00usd available at my ETSY shoppe for only $7.50-grab it now before the price goes up in December!

Hope you have enjoyed seeing all these great projects and thanks to my ELITE DESIGN TEAM ladies for creating these special items for me---all of the team is staying on for 2012 and I hope to welcome 3 new designers as well-more about that and all the new features on my BLOG later this month!!!




The ornament above is by Elaine-I love this nostalgic,old fashioned look with the paper doilies- Carina's advent calendar is below...



Here's another card from Hazel-she's SOOOO prolific-I love the way she's finished the whipped cream on the cocoa!!!