BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY

Carol Channing

“I did everything that I ever thought was marvelous.”

It is a universal sentiment: the desire to do the things you enjoy in life while there is still time left. As you get older, you may feel life, and time, passing you by. If you have deep motivation, you will join the parade before it is too late.

When Carol Channing was young, she fell in love with the theater.  So she went to New York City to seek not just fame and fortune, but those Broadway roles that would make her feel alive.  She found them.

She started in 1941, and in 1949 she achieved her big success when she played Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

She continued on with Broadway success until she hit the biggest Broadway success of all, Dolly Levi.  “Hello Dolly” is the musical version of “The Matchmaker” with music and lyrics by the prolific Broadway songwriter, Jerry Herman.

Carol Channing and David Burns, original run

The widow Dolly was the marriage matchmaker who is asked to find a match for the unmarried, “half millionaire” Horace Vandergelder.  Eventually, Dolly advises her dead husband, Ephram, that it is time to move on with her life and find her own match.  She sets her sights on Horace before it is too late:

Channing found success in movies and television as well as Broadway, but the theater was her greatest love. “It’s very healing. Everybody has their safest place on earth and mine is center stage.”

In 1974 more success came with the musical Lorelei which ran 320 performances, based on the character Channing created in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”  The showed toured the country for almost a year before hitting the Broadway stage.  Along the way the show was being rewritten and fixed up for the Great White Way and fans turned out to see Carol.

The parade never passed Channing by.  She picked up Tony Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award nomination and legions of fans who stayed with her to the end.  She performed her most iconic role, Dolly Levi, over 5000 times through the original run, three revivals, a West End run and national tours. She never tired of the matchmaker who decided to make her own match.

Sources include: “Broadway Legend Carol Channing Dead at 97,” msn.com, January 15, 2019.

NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP – Rich Paschall

Gotta Make You Understand, Rich Paschall

Never gonna give you up 
Never gonna let you down 
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

We’re no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
You wouldn’t get this from any other guy

The 80s dance sensation was the first single released from Rick Astley’s 1987 début album. It rose to number 1 in 25 countries and was, by all measures available, a worldwide hit. It was played so often for so long that people started to get sick of it. This sometimes happens with a mega-hit.

Never gonna give you up

The pounding beat was actually mesmerizing.  The lyric was catchy, as they say. The dancing in Astley’s video was just fun.

The dance video premiered when MTV was still big into playing music videos and this one caught almost everyone’s attention.  With his good looks and deep voice, Astley became a star.  He was categorized not just as a pop singer, but also labeled “blue-eyed soul.”  Many singers with this label were not actually “soul” singers, but have been dubbed so due to their vocal quality.

One of the top cover songs of 2018 is said to be that of Never Gonna Give You Up by Bronze Avery (Gabriel Brown).  The pop singer has slowed down the song and removed the driving beat. The vocal is now a sensuous and soulful take on the original.  It certainly will never achieve the overwhelming success of Astley’s hit, but it can stand on its own merits.

In case you wonder if Astley still has fans, his official music video was posted on his channel in 2009 and now has over a half billion views there.  The lyrics are still well-known, as the ever-young Astley proves when these festival fans sing along at a more recent appearance.

Source: “The Best Cover Songs of 2018,” covermesongs.com, December 17, 2018

INTO MEMORY – Rich Paschall

In Memoriam 2018, Rich Paschall

Many people go into our memories as the years go by.  Some will linger there always.  Some will pass by for a fleeting moment, remembered and then forgotten, as the years put clouds in front of them. Some memories we will cherish always, some not at all.

This past year, as in those preceding it, awards shows and year-end retrospectives highlight those we have lost through their “In Memoriam.”  This phrase is from the Latin term meaning “into memory” so it is into our memories we commend those who have left but meant much to us in our lives.

These passings do not only bring sadness for those who are gone, but they also remind us that we are entering a later time in the autumns of our lives. For this thought, we also have sadness for ourselves, knowing winter is near.

I will offer ten names that meant a lot to me in the past.  There will be no numbers.  It is not a top ten in the usual sense.  I looked over some lists and picked ten that have been committed fondly into my memory.  You may add yours in the comments.

Stan Lee

On the short list, I also had Sen. John McCain, although I disagreed with him often.  There was Stan Lee for creating the comic universe of superheroes. Also listed was Stephen Hawking, who had a beautiful mind locked in a diseased and twisted body.  The prolific playwright Neil Simon brought us many great movies and plays. Also passing was the former lead of Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, and the lead of the Irish pop group Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, who died too young (46).

Waving a fond goodbye but staying forever in my memory:

Jerry Van Dyke, 86.  The younger brother of Dick Van Dyke began his career by playing Rob Petrie’s younger brother in a few episodes of the Dick Van Dyke show.  He is most fondly remembered as an assistant in the long-running sitcom, Coach.

Nanette Fabray, 97. She began her career in vaudeville.  I remember her as someone who appeared frequently on the early variety shows of television and later as a frequent game show guest.  She fought to show the importance of closed captioning in media, as she had been losing her hearing for many years.  Here she performs in the musical “the Band Wagon:”

Tab Hunter, 86.  The actor, singer, and writer became a movie star in the 1950s and ’60s.  He was a teen heart-throb to many young girls and a few young guys too.  He had a number one hit with “Young Love,” although this 1957 performance on the Perry Como Show may not have been his best effort.  At least you will get to hear the girls scream:

Harry Anderson, 65.  The magician and comedian scored two successful comedy series on television.  The first was the long-running Night Court where he played the judge of a Manhattan court at night.  Next up was Dave’s World, loosely based on writings of Dave Barry.

Burt Reynolds, 82.  Although he had many iconic movie roles as well as highly regarded television series, I enjoyed him most in the sitcom Evening Shade. My memory recalls it as a thoughtful, well-written program with a top-notch ensemble cast.

John Mahoney, 77.  The veteran stage and movie actor will be best remembered as the dad on Frasier (and Niles) on the sitcom of the same name.  Locally, John was often seen on stage in Chicago in productions of the renowned Steppenwolf Theater.

Roy Clark, 85.  The country singer and musician played host on the variety show, Hee Haw. Think of Laugh-In populated with country “hicks.” Having many southern relatives, we were greatly amused by this show and watched regularly.

Bill Daily, 91.  Daily was born in Des Moines, Iowa but the family moved to Chicago.  He graduated from high school in my neighborhood (long before my time) and went to the famous Goodman Theater school here.  He scored two successful stints as a sidekick on television, one in I Dream of Jeannie and the other was the Bob Newhart Show.

Penny Marshall, 75.  Best known for playing Laverne on the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley, Marshall went on the be a well-respected producer and director.  “Big” is a favorite film, the first one directed by a woman to gross more than 100 million dollars.

Aretha Franklin, 76.  The Queen of Soul earned a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T in her life.  The talented singer and musician excelled in many musical categories and earned her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Chicago based musical Blues Brothers is a favorite with us and the following is one of the best numbers in the film.

THE GLORIOUS OLD-FASHIONED MUSICAL by ELLIN CURLEY

I normally wouldn’t write a blog about a Broadway show since most blog readers would not have the opportunity to ever see the show themselves. However, I recently saw “She Loves Me”, a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable musical that most of you will be able to see because the show is being filmed, live. It will be streamed starting on June 30. So you too can revel in this charming piece, with the added benefits of close-ups, which I didn’t get in my viewing from the nosebleed seats high in the Mezzanine.

“She Loves Me” was nominated for a Tony Award for best revival of a musical. It also got glowing reviews, all well deserved. It was often referred to as “old-fashioned” and “a jewel of a musical”. Those phrases aptly describe it’s character and ambiance.

It is definitely an old-style romance set in a Parfumerie in 1934 Budapest. The story is based on the book that also provided the plots for two movies, “The Shop Around The Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail”. The latter is the more modern, computer age version. In all three, the main characters work together and don’t get along. However, unbeknownst to them, they are falling in love as anonymous “pen pals” through a lonely hearts club (an online dating service in “You’ve Got Mail”).

Ice Cream Scene

In the show, there are seven main characters who work in the Parfumerie. Each has his own plot line and solo number. The delivery boy who dreams of being a sales clerk; the brown-nosing employee who will do anything to keep his job; the young woman who is “used” by the womanizing co-worker she is having an affair with. You get to know and like all these people as well as the verbally sparring leads.

split dance

The dialogue is well written and quite funny. The sets are sophisticated and beautiful, as are the costumes. The lead actors are perfect. The music is melodic and the lyrics artfully develop character and move the plot along. The staging and choreography are brilliant, intricate and fast-paced. The full cast, including eleven subsidiary characters, work together like a well-oiled machine.

The show creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t get often anymore in the musical theater. I prefer like this kind of “small,” character-driven show. It’s the thing theater can do better than movies or TV. Seeing this kind of show gives you an experience you won’t readily get from any other entertainment medium.

final kiss

You can see a video montage from the show at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx. Scroll down to Videos / Montage

But I urge you to sit back and enjoy 2 ¼ hours of pure entertainment and simple joy. You’ll be smiling and tapping your foot through most of it.

Here’s how you can watch it:

“She Loves Me” will be streamed by a new company called Broadway HD. Their goal is to stream as many theater performances as possible so theater will reach a wider audience. The show will be filmed using nine or ten cameras, so I expect the watching experience will be somewhere between live theater, and movies or TV. It will cost $9.99 to watch it on the Broadway HD website. It will also be available via Roku and Apple TV ( I don’t know about costs on those).

ENJOY!

RUDOLPH AND OTHER STORIES OF CHRISTMAS SONGS – Rich Paschall

Some of the stories behind our favorite Christmas songs, by Rich Paschall

I did not know Dasher, Dancer and the gang until I learned the song. Of course, I learned it rather young, so perhaps no one had a chance to tell me. Besides, why would I want to get to know them since “they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games?” But then one foggy something eve, I guess it was, I learned more about him.

rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-the-movie-1998b

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was a celebrity in this part of the country long before he became an international hit. Chicago-based department stores and mail order giant Montgomery Ward had been giving out their own coloring books at Christmas time for years. Robert L. May, an advertising copywriter, was assigned to come up with a Christmas story in 1939 — and Rudolph was the result.

When his wife passed away, the retailer offered to take May off the project, but he went on to complete it. The resulting book was distributed, but World War II stopped its publication due to restrictions on paper use. Rudolph made a grand reappearance in 1946.

Rudolph might have faded into a mere footnote of Christmas lore had it not been for May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks. He turned the story into a song, which made Rudolph famous throughout the country.

The song led to sequels by May, and eventually to television and movie specials. Rudolph really did “go down in history.”

The animated Christmas special is now over 50 years old and children and adults still watch today.

The song was recorded by cowboy star Gene Autry. Legend has it, he was not fond of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but his wife liked the song. Autry’s 1949 recording became number 1 on the charts. It was the first number 1 song of the 1950s and became the second biggest-selling song of all time, until the 1980s.  Another Christmas classic was already number one.

The Christmas Song is commonly called “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” and also has a Chicago connection.

Musician, singer, actor, composer Mel Tormé, a Chicago native and performer about town before hitting the big time, wrote the classic in 40 minutes one sweltering July day in California in 1944.

Mel spotted a few of the opening lines in a notebook by Bob Wells, a frequent collaborator, and went on to finish them and add music. Wells had just been writing down a few cold weather ideas to help him deal with the hot summer weather.

The song was subsequently recorded by Nat “King” Cole and his trio in June 1946, but Cole convinced the record label to re-record the song with strings. It is the second version, recorded in August 1946, that became a hit. Cole went on to record it again in 1953 and 1961. The 1961 version is the one you hear continuously throughout the season. The vocal performance of the last version is considered the best of Cole’s recordings.

Tormé recorded the song too. Years later he added a verse and a “coda,” which came from “Here We Come A-Wassailing.” In 1992, the composer of one of the best known Christmas songs of all time, finally recorded an album of Christmas songs. Legend has it that The Christmas Song was not one of Tormé’s favorites, but he was grateful for the royalties.

The all time best-selling song was written for a movie, but not for the movie of the same name. White Christmas was one of twelve songs written by Irving Berlin that were included in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn.

The romantic comedy musical starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire with a storyline about two performers in love with the same girl. Crosby loses out to Astaire and leaves the musical act to run an Inn that is only open on holidays. Astaire comes to the Inn after his dance partner (yes, that same girl) leaves him, giving us the opportunity to hear a variety of holiday songs by legendary songwriter, Irving Berlin.

In the movie, White Christmas is a duet when we first hear it, and when it reappears late in the story, the female character Lila, played by Marjorie Reynolds, sings it.  The song picked up the Oscar for best song of 1942.  The recording by Bing Crosby the same year has gone on to sell over an estimated 50 million copies of the single and holds the top spot by far. If you consider all of the compilation albums on which it appears it is likely over 100 million.

It is the overwhelming popularity of the song that led to a movie entitled White Christmas. Of course, Bing Crosby is back in another role, this time teamed up with Danny Kaye. Fred Astaire turned down the project.

White Christmas, like Holiday Inn, achieved great success, but its soundtrack never got a remix into stereo for release as an album. The master recordings were destroyed in a fire.

THE DEFINITIVE VERSION – Rich Paschall

The Christmas List, by Rich Paschall

As you are racing to and fro in this holiday season you are probably being bombarded by holiday songs. Even if you are listening to Talk Radio in your automobile or sleigh, you can not escape the holiday music in stores, malls, and on television.

With so many versions of certain songs floating through the air, down the block and Rockin Around The Christmas Tree, we thought you might need to know the best recordings of the top songs. It might be a little Frosty outside where you are and we don’t want you to have a Blue Christmas. So for your Happy Holidays before Little St. Nick arrives, here is our latest Top Ten list of definitive versions of these holiday classics.

10. A Holly Jolly Christmas, Burl Ives (1909-1995) The song was released in 1965 after being featured the previous year in the animated cartoon classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

9. Feliz Navidad, Jose Feliciano.  The 1970 tune by the Puerto Rican star has become a classic pop tune worldwide.  The song features a simple Spanish chorus and a simple English verse.  The catchy music has taught people everywhere how to say Merry Christmas in Spanish.

8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland (1922-1969) The tune was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis.  It’s a hard song to interpret and I think many singers need to see the movie.

7. Jingle Bell Rock, Bobby Helms (1933-1997) The 1957 “Rockabilly” sound was an immediate hit and eventually went gold for Helms.

6. Christmas Time Is Here, Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) The jazz musician is best known for composing the score to 17 Peanuts animated television specials and a feature-length film.  The first of these was A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965.  Words to this jazz tune were provided by the Charlie Brown television producer, Lee Mendelson (1933-2008).

5. (There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays, Perry Como (1912-2001)  The popular crooner recorded the song in 1954 and sang it for the next 40 years.  “Mr. C” recorded it in stereo in 1959 and it is this version you probably hear today.  Like many popular television variety stars of his era, Como continued holiday shows after his weekly TV shows ended.  This video is from his 1969 Christmas special.

4.  The Christmas Song, Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965) The tune was written by Bob Wells (1922-1998) and another will known singer, Mel Torme (1925-1999), in 1945.  In June 1946 Cole recorded the song, then recorded it again in August with more instruments.  The second version was released.  There was a third recording, then a fourth in stereo in 1961.  It is that last version you here so much today.  Torme also recorded the song some years later, but it is the Nat King Cole version that is best remembered.

3.  It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Andy Williams (1927-2012).  Williams was another popular television crooner.  The song was written in 1963 and recorded by Williams for his first Christmas album.  It was used on his television show the same year and became a Christmas standard over time.  Now it is one of the top 10 Christmas songs of all time.  On this video, Williams appears to be singing along with the popular recording.

2. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee. The 1960s pop star is still singing the 1958 hit by Johnny Marks. Mr. Marks also wrote “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”  Her Christmas hit is in constant rotation on radio holiday playlists and one of the most downloaded holiday songs. I guess she’s not sorry now.

1. White Christmas, Bing Crosby (1903-1977) The Irving Berlin hit was apparently written for the movie Holiday Inn (no-telling with the prolific Mr. Berlin). Crosby first sang it on his radio show in 1941 but recorded it in 1942 for the Holiday Inn movie. It was recorded again in 1947 as the original master wore out from frequent use. The song appeared in two other movies and Crosby sang it for the rest of his life. This video is the final performance. He died soon after, doing what he liked best, playing golf.

What are your favorite versions of holiday classics?  Click on any song title above for the music video.

WHO COVERED WHO? – Rich Paschall

Both Sides, Rich Paschall

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

Judy Collins is still performing “Both Sides, Now.”

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

Judy Collins was the first to release the Joni Mitchell composition”Both Sides, Now” in 1967.  The following year it was released as a single, climbed the charts and won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance.  It is a staple of Collins performances to this day.

In 1969 Joni Mitchell included the song on her album Clouds.  It has since been recorded by a long list of big name artists.  In 2000, Mitchell released a new recording with an orchestral arrangement.  In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine named “Both Sides, Now” one of the top 500 Greatest Songs of all time.

The 1960’s era Collins record was a bit faster paced and more of a “pop tune” than the folksy performance shown above with the Boston Pops. It has been reported that Mitchell disliked the popular Collins hit single.

But now old friends they’re acting strange 
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained 
In living every day.

“Both Sides, Now” by Joni Mitchell © 1967 Gandalf Publishing Co.