WELCOME TO THE SHOW! Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Theater

When the dogs barked me into awakedness this morning, I figured that must mean my son was here. They get frenzied, vying for his attention. But to be fair, they pretty much bark me awake every day.

At least it was daylight and I was ready to get up anyway. It isn’t always as easy.

Sometimes, they get nibbly by 4 in the morning when I am NOT feeling nibbly or particularly affable. I still give them biscuits, even though they don’t deserve it.

It’s faster to feed than argue.

I looked at the window and realized some of their frenzy was because two big squirrels were hanging onto the bird feeders.

The dogs don’t get excited about birds, but squirrels on the deck? NOT to be tolerated.

Then my son came up the stair and soon had refilled both feeders and the show was one. Birds. This was the entire run of birds. Out came titmice and chickadees.

Red finches and nuthatches. A couple of woodpeckers and a few Sapsuckers (you don’t see them often). The feeders had been close to empty, so the word apparently went out and everything with wings showed up for a feeding.

The birds are looking rather fat. I’m sure winter will slim them down, but right now, we have roly-poly birds.

I tapped on the window and the squirrels were so startled, they fell flat on the deck and took off. Those were not thin, hungry squirrels. These are fat, thickly furred healthy squirrels. I don’t mind feeding them, but I prefer they not hang on the feeders.

There’s plenty of goodies on the flat feeder and the deck. I may get them separate feed as winter comes on, but right now, they seem very content with corn and sunflower seeds.

It’s our morning show! Birds fly in from the woods, a few squirrels hang around, the dogs’ bark and I try to drink some coffee.

That is theater!

MUSIC AS MEMORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I hear songs from the past, I always remember them in context. I think about where I was when I first heard them or when I most often heard them. “Oldies” from the 60’s bring back images of doing homework in my bedroom with the radio on. Some songs conjure scenes of riding to or from school with friends and singing along with the radio.

I have always loved Broadway musicals and have been going to see them since childhood. Every show is frozen in time in my mind. My first musical was “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin. I was six and my five-year old friend had to be taken out of the theater because she was so terrified by Captain Hook.

Me (on the left) with the friend who went to “Peter Pan” with me, one or two years later

I saw “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” as a teenager with my parents, the night before my father had major cancer surgery (he survived and lived for many years).

baby-playbill

My favorite Broadway memory is seeing the show “Baby” when I was pregnant with my second child. The show follows several women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, who just had a baby or who just found out they can’t have children. I swear to God my daughter kicked for the first time in the middle of the show about pregnancy and babies! She has always loved musicals too, so maybe her connection to them started in utero!

Today, when we listen to our favorite radio channel, The Broadway channel on Sirius Radio, my daughter and I reminisce about when we saw each show. We often argue about how old she was or what was going on in our lives when we saw this show or that show. She’s usually right.

kertcompany

One of my all time favorite shows has followed me through the different stages of my life. I first saw Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” when it opened in 1970. I was in college and saw it with my parents. It was revived in 1990 and I saw it again as a young mother with my first husband. Another revival was produced in 2010. This time I was a middle-aged empty-nester and saw it with my second (and current) husband. I hope I’m around for the next 20-year anniversary production.

sound-of-music

Another show, “The Sound Of Music” has spanned the generations for me. I saw the original 1959 production, again starring Mary Martin when I was 10 years old. I became obsessed with the show and the music. I played the album endlessly. I can still sing all the songs. I read everything about the show and the cast and anxiously waited for the 1965 movie, with Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp. I became obsessed all over again.

Fast forward to the 1990’s. My daughter was around eight when I first played the movie for her at home. It was magical to see it through a child’s eyes again. She loved it so much we had to watch it over and over on the VCR. She too became obsessed with everything “Sound Of Music.” We even visited the real Von Trapp family resort in Vermont while we were skiing with the family. It is a love we still share. Someday I hope to share the same music with my grandchildren.

So when I listen to the Broadway radio channel, I’m not just listening to good music, or even familiar music. I’m taking a trip down memory lane. I’m reliving the wonderful time I’ve spent in Broadway and off-Broadway theaters over the years.

I don’t go to musical theater as often any more, in part because ticket prices have become so outrageously expensive. But my memories of songs, shows and theatrical experiences are as strong and happy as ever.

LIBERATION: A MUSICAL THAT ALMOST WAS – RICH PASCHALL

“Just imagine how awful we’d feel,” I told Betty one day, “if we got to the end of our lives and never produced our play. Especially if we really could have.  We’d always regret it.”

That’s how I pushed Betty to produce Liberation.  I knew she wasn’t entirely convinced, but that was her way.  She was critical, skeptical of everything. It was her strength.

Twenty years earlier we had done summer theater together.  After rehearsals, we’d adjourn to Betty’s apartment to tell jokes, sing songs and laugh our way to midnight. Those times would become our “good old days.”

We worked on a variety of projects over a few summers, and developed a talented circle of friends.  Betty was 2 years my senior, always the stage manager and sergeant-at-arms.  She kept us in line during our silliest youthful moments.

Rich and Betty at Pajama Game rehearsal
Rich and Betty at Pajama Game rehearsal

With youthful exuberance we decided it would be a great idea to write our own musical, a big production like those we had been part of in the past.  Betty and I would write the book.  Michael, who had overwhelmed us with a beautiful original song about our group called “Friends,” would compose the music.  I had already worked on a Christmas song with Michael and thought I could write the lyrics.

Maybe in a year or two, we thought, it could become our very own summer theater production.  What a terrific idea it seemed.  It didn’t take long to come up with what we thought was a the right story.

It was the middle of the Women’s Liberation era and we decided to use the movement as the setting.  We did not envision a drama but rather a lighter treatment, the story of a strong woman being kept from advancement because she was a woman. In our minds “Jackie” was like Mary from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not quite as outspoken as the leaders of the women’s movement, but determined to succeed.

Betty and I went to work on our outline.  We needed the “who, what, where, when, how.”  “Why” was easy. We wanted to do it and didn’t need a better reason. You can guess who crafted the strong-willed women in the story.  Of course we used people we knew as models for some characters, but I can never reveal that information unless we win a Tony. Then we can do whatever we want.

As we wrote the story, I handed off lyrics to Michael for various songs we wanted.  We weren’t quite sure how all the songs would fit, but we knew what we wanted to say.  After seven months of working on the story, with more than half a dozen songs in hand, Betty and I dumped everything and started over. It had become a complete muddle.

The failed attempt taught us what we needed to know . We defined each character and his or her role in the story.  We had the setting, the conflict, the resolution.  No phony Hollywood love-story ending with characters living happily ever after, but nonetheless a happy ending — differently happy.

Soon we were writing scenes in order.  The title tune became a collaborative effort as Betty and I tossed ideas back and forth, then threw them at Michael while he pounded out chords on Betty’s piano.  A second act song was written first.  A comedy song was a labor of joy. The song we envisioned for the main character, “I Believe,” was Betty’s favorite.   The show took over a year to write but when it was finished, we were proud of the book and its songs.  It was what we wanted.

Sadly, when it came to marketing, we fizzled. We showed the book to a few people we thought might help us, but nothing came of it.

Our labor of love was for Betty real labor.  She did a LOT of typing.  This was before personal computers, so she typed and retyped copies using carbon paper (look it up!).  I have no idea how many times she retyped scenes to incorporate changes.  I have not spent as much time typing here as Betty did on Liberation.

Twenty years later, I told Betty the play would not be dated if we told it as a flashback. The main character would have again hit the glass ceiling and would be inspired to move forward by remembering what had happened twenty years before.  We needed a new opening, ending and one more song.

She agreed to give it a go.  So, Betty and I toured theaters, met with theater companies, brainstormed strategies to raise money.  We wrote new material, polished old material.

Michael, however, had moved on and was reluctant to revisit the show, but we needed him.  We not only wanted him to write a new song, but to score the entire show. That meant arrangements, scene change music, an overture.  We worked hard on convincing him. He eventually gave in to our constant nagging reminders about “the good old days.”

20 years later
L to R: Betty, Rich, Michael, the Liberation writing team

Betty, as always, was fueled by cigarettes and TAB cola.  Again she typed all the drafts and burned up hours on the phone with me discussing the new material.  When I finished crafting an original speech for the main character, in true Betty fashion, she said, “Richard, that’s a great speech.  No women would ever say that, but it’s a great speech.”

“OK”, I replied, a little deflated, “What would she say?”  Betty gave voice to the main character and hero of our story. In the end we were more than pleased.

The story of the Liberation’s production by a local theater company on a large stage with an orchestra is a sad story you’ve heard before. We had no control of the final show. The company mounted a political drama with music. It wasn’t the musical comedy we’d written.  On my own, I agreed with the theater company to scale back the musicians for the third weekend and cancel the fourth and final weekend.  I didn’t consult my colleagues; we were losing money we didn’t have.

It had taken a couple of years from reviving the idea to getting it produced. The work we did the second time around was just plain work.

Betty and I drifted apart after the show closed. She was terribly disappointed that my salesmanship did not put her dream on stage. She had dedicated a big part of her life to a youthful wish, and it had come to nothing.

A few years ago I learned Betty had emphysema.  No surprise really. She had been a long time chain smoker.  Then one day I got an email from Michael. He told me Betty passed away.  He had read the news in an alumni newsletter and was crushed no one had informed us.

I was stunned.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I always believed I’d give Betty her show, the one we originally envisioned.  I imagined I’d drag her away from her typewriter and give her the spotlight she’d never shared when we performed.

Maybe now she’s been liberated from her suffering, but it is not the Liberation she deserved.

Find the lyric to the song on Sunday Night Blog here.

BROADWAY MUSICAL MEMORIES by ELLIN CURLEY

When I hear songs from the past, I always remember them in context. I think about where I was when I first heard them or when I most often heard them. “Oldies” from the 60’s bring back images of doing homework in my bedroom with the radio on. Some songs conjure scenes of riding to or from school with friends and singing along with the radio.

I have always loved Broadway musicals and have been going to see them since childhood. Every show is frozen in time in my mind. My first musical was “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin. I was six and my five-year old friend had to be taken out of the theater because she was so terrified by Captain Hook.

Me (on the left) with the friend who went to “Peter Pan” with me, one or two years later

I saw “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” as a teenager with my parents, the night before my father had major cancer surgery (he survived and lived for many years).

baby-playbill

My favorite Broadway memory is seeing the show “Baby” when I was pregnant with my second child. The show follows several women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, who just had a baby or who just found out they can’t have children. I swear to God my daughter kicked for the first time in the middle of the show about pregnancy and babies! She has always loved musicals too, so maybe her connection to them started in utero!

Today, when we listen to our favorite radio channel, The Broadway channel on Sirius Radio, my daughter and I reminisce about when we saw each show. We often argue about how old she was or what was going on in our lives when we saw this show or that show. She’s usually right.

kertcompany

One of my all time favorite shows has followed me through the different stages of my life. I first saw Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” when it opened in 1970. I was in college and saw it with my parents. It was revived in 1990 and I saw it again as a young mother with my first husband. Another revival was produced in 2010. This time I was a middle-aged empty-nester and saw it with my second (and current) husband. I hope I’m around for the next 20-year anniversary production.

sound-of-music

Another show, “The Sound Of Music” has spanned the generations for me. I saw the original 1959 production, again starring Mary Martin when I was 10 years old. I became obsessed with the show and the music. I played the album endlessly. I can still sing all the songs. I read everything about the show and the cast and anxiously waited for the 1965 movie, with Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp. I became obsessed all over again.

Fast forward to the 1990’s. My daughter was around eight when I first played the movie for her at home. It was magical to see it through a child’s eyes again. She loved it so much we had to watch it over and over on the VCR. She too became obsessed with everything “Sound Of Music.” We even visited the real Von Trapp family resort in Vermont while we were skiing with the family. It is a love we still share. Someday I hope to share the same music with my grandchildren.

So when I listen to the Broadway radio channel, I’m not just listening to good music, or even familiar music. I’m taking a trip down memory lane. I’m reliving the wonderful time I’ve spent in Broadway and off-Broadway theaters over the years.

I don’t go to musical theater as often any more, in part because ticket prices have become so outrageously expensive. But my memories of songs, shows and theatrical experiences are as strong and happy as ever.

IN PRAISE OF THE 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 just 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 nose bleed 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 any more 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 wan’t readily get from 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!

IT’S THE THEATER

A Hall of Fame Teacher

There are a lot of dedicated teachers.  Many find a good school and stay with it for decades.  Most of us can recall a teacher like this.  The fortunate ones will encounter several as they go through school.  I had such a teacher.

It is rare that 20 years after a teacher retires, her legacy lives on.  At my parish and high school, current administrators frequently hear from alumni the stories of a teacher they never met.  “Mrs. Kittler was the best teacher I ever had,” many remark.  The praises have not stopped long after the teacher retired and moved away.

Photo Credit: St. Benedict HS archive
Photo Credit: St. Benedict HS archive

Laurette Kittler started out with a brief foray into acting and would seem to have a promising future.  She decide to follow another passion however, and went into teaching.  In the spring of 1959, St. Benedict High School asked her to come direct a show they had already started.  Apparently it needed help, and a lot of it.  At that time she was teaching at another area school.

The production of Tekakwitha was rescued, more or less, and in the fall of 1959 she moved to St. Benedict where she taught and directed shows for the next 37 years.  Most years it was not one play, but many productions.  Summer shows were frequently part of the program too.  It was not just the drama students who participated.  Often other students showed up to participate in the spring musical.  You just were not cool if you did not join the show.

In recent years a facebook group dedicated to Mrs. Kittler has been formed and hundreds of former students have posted thousands of pictures and programs from past shows.  It seems the legacy was not only contained in the dusty store rooms of the former convent at St. Benedict’s, but also in the albums, cabinets and closets of the former students and parents.

Photo: Courtesy of Monica Kaepplinger-Bofani
Photo: Courtesy of Monica Kaepplinger-Bofani

Now, at the age of 87, Mrs. Kittler has decided to answer the call of her former school and students and return to Chicago from southern California.  She will be honored as a “Hall of Fame” teacher, and current and former students will entertain her with songs from shows she directed.

Alumni wish to thank her for the impression she made on their lives.  Students wish to meet the teacher whose name still echoes through the halls of their school.
*****

It’s The Theater, by Rich Paschall

Project!
She said “Project!”
I thought I was screaming
At the top of my lungs.
Be loud
And also strong.
You have to be heard
Up at the highest rungs.

“Articulate!
And you’ll be great.”
She said that I mumble
And words are not too clear.
Sounds nice
And clear to me.
Why can’t she hear it all,
When she’s standing oh so near?

It’s the theater.
I love the theater,
It has taught me how to act,
And has taught me how to sing,
But more than that.
I learned of life.
Now I hit my mark
When I’m doing anything.

“Hear you!
I can’t hear you,”
Came a voice out of the dark
From the furthest seat away.
I cannot see her,
But I can hear her,
And I’m told I must be louder
In everything I say.

“I’ll go east.
I could go east.
You have to play the show.
And you have to do your best,
But I can walk,
And my hat will float.
I have shown you all the way.
And now you must do the rest.”

So we pray.
It’s time to pray.
We are asking Saint Jude
If he can save the day.
But we’ve been taught.
We learned our lines.
We are ready for our moment
When we can start the play.

It’s the theater.
I love the theater.
It has taught us understanding
Of the world all around.
Not just emotion,
But its compassion
Has us soaring through our lives
With our feet back on the ground.

It’s the theater.
We thank the theater,
The teachers and director
Who helped us find our way.
The lessons learned
Went way beyond
The shows and the songs
To reward us every day.
*****

Note: I recently had to explain the “walk east” reference to a current student. It was a favorite saying of Mrs. Kittler. She would tell students in her own unique way, that when the curtain opens, they must stay and do the show. Her job is done at that point, and she could always walk east until her hat floats if the show is not ready. Lake Michigan is east of us.

LIBERATION – A MUSICAL THAT ALMOST WAS

“Just imagine how awful we’d feel,” I told Betty one day, “if we got to the end of our lives and never produced our play. Especially if we really could have.  We’d always regret it.”

That’s how I convinced Betty to produce Liberation.  We’d update the story. Tell it as a flashback.  I knew she wasn’t entirely convinced, but that was her way.  She was critical, skeptical of everything. It was her strength.

Twenty years earlier we had done summer theater together.  After rehearsals, we’d adjourn to Betty’s apartment to tell jokes, sing songs and laugh our way to midnight.  Those summers doing our best to entertain an audience and ourselves would become our “good old days.”

We worked on a variety of projects and developed a talented circle of friends.  Betty was 2 years my senior, always the stage manager and sergeant-at-arms.  She kept us in line during our silliest youthful moments.

Rich and Betty at Pajama Game rehearsal
Rich and Betty at Pajama Game rehearsal

We decided it would be a great idea to write our own musical, a big production like those we had been part of in the past.  Betty and I would write the book.  Michael, who had overwhelmed us with a beautiful original song about our group called “Friends,” would compose the music.  I had already worked on a Christmas song with Michael and thought I could write the lyrics.

Maybe in a year or two, we thought, it could become our very own summer theater production.  What a terrific idea it seemed.  All we needed was the right story. It didn’t take long to come up with what we thought was a good one.

It was the middle of the Women’s Liberation era and we decided to use the movement as the setting.  We did not envision a drama but rather a lighter treatment, the story of a strong woman being kept from advancement because she was a woman. In our minds “Jackie” was like Mary from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Not quite as outspoken as the leaders of the women’s movement, but determined to succeed.

Betty and I went to work on our outline.  We needed the “who, what, where, when, how.”  “Why” was easy. We wanted to do it and didn’t need a better reason. You can guess who crafted the strong-willed women in the story.  Of course we used people we knew as models for some characters, but I can never reveal that information unless we win a Tony. Then we can do whatever we want.

As we wrote the story, I handed off lyrics to Michael for various songs we wanted.  We weren’t sure how all the songs would fit — or even if they would fit, but we knew what we wanted to say.  After seven months of working on the story, with more than half a dozen songs in hand, Betty and I dumped everything and started over. It had become a complete muddle.

Starting over, we knew what we wanted. We defined each character and his or her role in the story.  We had the setting, the conflict, the resolution.  No phony Hollywood love-story ending with characters living happily ever after, but nonetheless a happy ending — differently happy.

Soon we were writing scenes in order.  The title tune became a collaborative effort as Betty and I tossed ideas back and forth, then threw them at Michael while he pounded out chords on Betty’s piano.  A second act song was written first.  A comedy song was a labor of love. The song we envisioned for the main character was Betty’s favorite.  At a critical juncture in the first act, the main character declares alone on stage, “I Believe.” It took over a year to write but when it was finished, we were proud of the book and its songs.  It was what we wanted.

Sadly, when it came to marketing, we fizzled. We showed the book to a few people we thought might help us, but nothing came of it.

It had been a labor of love for all of us, but for Betty, it was real labor.  She was a fast typist.  While I thought out the story and we talked through it, Betty typed out the drafts.  This was before personal computers, so she typed and retyped copies using carbon paper (look it up!).  I have no idea how many times she retyped scenes to incorporate changes.  I will never in my life spend as much time typing as Betty did on Liberation.

Twenty years later, I told Betty the play would not be dated if we told it as a flashback. The main character would have again hit the glass ceiling and would be inspired to move forward by remembering what had happened twenty years before.  We needed a new opening, ending and one more song.

She agreed to give it a go.  We had developed relationships with people we thought might help us.  Betty and I toured theaters, met with theater companies, brainstormed strategies to raise money.  We wrote new material, polished old material.  We went to plays and worked as ushers.

Michael had moved on and was reluctant to revisit the show, but we needed him.  We not only wanted him to write a new song, but to score the show. That meant arrangements, scene change music, an overture.  We worked hard on convincing him. He eventually gave in to constant nagging reminders about “the good old days.”

20 years later
L to R: Betty, Rich, Michael, the Liberation writing team

Betty, as always, was fueled by cigarettes and TAB cola.  Again she typed all the drafts and burned up hours on the phone with me discussing the new material.  When I finished crafting an original speech for the main character, in true Betty fashion, she said, “Richard, that’s a great speech.  No women would ever say that, but it’s a great speech.”

“OK”, I replied, a little deflated, “What would she say?”  Betty again gave voice to the main character and hero of our story. In the end we were more than pleased.

The story of the Liberation’s production by a local theater company on a large stage with an orchestra is a sad story you’ve heard before. We had no control of the final show. The company mounted a political drama with music. It wasn’t the musical comedy we’d written.  On my own, I agreed with the theater company to scale back the musicians for the third weekend and cancel the fourth and final weekend.  I didn’t consult my colleagues; we were losing money we didn’t have.

It had taken a couple of years from when I revived the idea to getting it produced. The work we did the second time around was just plain work.

Betty and I drifted apart after the show closed. She was terribly disappointed that my salesmanship did not put her dream on stage. She had dedicated a big part of her life to a youthful dream and it had come to nothing.

A few years ago I learned Betty had emphysema.  No surprise really. She had been a long time chain smoker.  Recently, I got an email from Michael. He told me Betty passed away.  He had read the news in an alumni newsletter and was crushed no one had informed us.

I was stunned.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I always believed I’d give Betty her show, the show we originally envisioned.  I imagined I’d drag her away from her typewriter and give her the spotlight she’d never shared when we performed.

Maybe now she’s been liberated from her suffering, but it is not the Liberation she deserved.

Find the lyric to the song on Sunday Night Blog here.