Transcript of Robert
[Columnist/author Ken Mandelbaum participated in the following chat from his home computer. Only slight typographical corrections have been made.]
[RobertArmin] Good evening, Ken
[RobertArmin] Welcome to Fynsworth Alley!
[KenMandelbaum] Hello. It's good to be here.
[RobertArmin] My guest this evening is one of America's (if not the world's) foremost experts on musical theatre.
[KenMandelbaum] That is very kind of you.
[RobertArmin] Ken Mandelbaum is currently a columnist for Broadway.com, but Iíve been reading his writing for nearly twenty years.
[RobertArmin] Has it been that long?
[RobertArmin] When did you first get started writing on the theatre?
[KenMandelbaum] Almost. I began by writing for Show Music Magazine and the New York Native around 1986.
[RobertArmin] Many people may be familiar with one or both of your published books -- the first on Michael Bennett and A Chorus Line, and the second, probably one of the most valuable reference works -- Not Since Carrie!
[KenMandelbaum] In 1987, I began writing regularly for TheaterWeek, and also got a contract to write a book.
[RobertArmin] Was that the Chorus Line book?
[KenMandelbaum] Yes. I simply wondered aloud to a friend why there had not yet been a book about "A Chorus Line," and almost immediately I got a contract to write one,
[KenMandelbaum] Of course, I didn't know at the time that several other books on the topic were in the works.
[RobertArmin] It was the first, and probably the best of several that have come out on that topic.
[RobertArmin] Forgive my typos!
[KenMandelbaum] Thank you. At least mine was the only one to focus on Bennett's work, and on all of his shows.
[RobertArmin] I certainly want to take some time to talk about this season, but first I want to learn a bit more about you.
[RobertArmin] I have a pretty good idea of your tastes and ideas, but what got you interested in theatre in the first place? Was there one defining moment?
[KenMandelbaum] My mother recalls that, as an infant, I loved to play records.
[RobertArmin] Show music even then?
[KenMandelbaum] The first cast album I recall falling in love with was "New Faces of 1952."
[RobertArmin] I can imagine you singing "I'm In Love With Miss Logan!" LOL
[KenMandelbaum] Yes, it was always show music. Of course, it helped that I lived in Brooklyn, and had parents and grandparents who saw my interest and began taking me to musicals.
[KenMandelbaum] I still love that "Miss Logan" song.
[RobertArmin] I envy you that. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I only got the National Companies.
[KenMandelbaum] I'm sure I wish I had seen many of those, as I've always been fascinated by replacements.
[RobertArmin] What was the first "landmark" show you saw as a child.
[KenMandelbaum] I saw "Damn Yankees" in 1956. In 1958, I saw "My Fair Lady" (with Sally Ann Howes and Edward Mulhare) and "West Side Story."
[KenMandelbaum] Also "The Music Man," in 1958.
[KenMandelbaum] The music of "West Side Story" moved me tremendously.
[RobertArmin] I didn't discover the musical theatre until 1962 -- with Carnival -- so I missed the original tours of all of those. Drat.
[RobertArmin] So, you started collecting cast albums quite young.
[KenMandelbaum] I have certain vivid memories of each show, although I wish I could recall everything about them.
[RobertArmin] Peter Filichia is amazing in that regard. I think he has total recall of almost everything he has every seen!
[RobertArmin] I have a very selective memory.
[RobertArmin] The opening moments of Carnival were absolute magic for me, and I convinced my parents to let me see practically everything after that.
[RobertArmin] You had Broadway -- and I had the Valley Music Theatre in Woodland Hills. A theatre in the round like Westbury.
[RobertArmin] Dante, one of our readers, asks: Did either of you see "Bounce" in Washington, DC??
[KenMandelbaum] I saw "Bounce" in DC.
[RobertArmin] Unfortunately, I didn't.
[RobertArmin] Do you have any thoughts about who might bring it to New York?
[KenMandelbaum] I also saw the Sam Mendes-directed workshop in 1999, and I only wish the project had been abandoned at that point.
[KenMandelbaum] I believe there's going to be a New York concert version. But beyond that, it would be tricky to produce locally, as it's fairly elaborate.
[KenMandelbaum] But I suspect the show will come off well on the cast recording.
[RobertArmin] It does seem that Sondheim really had a "thing" about this particular story. Do you think that there actually is a great show in the life of these two guys?
[KenMandelbaum] On the evidence of "Wise Guys"/"Bounce," I would have to say no. The story just isn't particularly dramatic or emotionally involving.
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy asks: What's happening with THE VISIT? I saw the show twice in Chicago, and I love the score.
[KenMandelbaum] I'm sorry to say that I'm not aware of anything happening with the show at this time. As you know, it was to have performances at New York's Public Theatre in February.
[KenMandelbaum] oops, make that "was to have begun..."
[RobertArmin] Fred Ebb has (justifiably) complained that all people want to do is revivals of his work -- they can't get a new show produced in New York!
[KenMandelbaum] It is an unfortunate situation. But intriguing as "The Visit" was in Chicago, it's a risky proposition for a commercial run.
[RobertArmin] I take it you did see that production.
[RobertArmin] But shouldn't the Public and Lincoln Center being doing risky shows?
[KenMandelbaum] Yes. Chita Rivera was quite fine, even better than I had expected. I liked some of the score, and the story remains a fascinating one.
[RobertArmin] StevenD has a question I share: I have to ask where you store all of those recordings plus everything else in your collection.
[KenMandelbaum] It is a constant struggle---I am always rearranging things on various shelves.
[KenMandelbaum] Fortunately, I am very organized, so I can usually put my hands on a CD, tape, or program pretty quickly.
[RobertArmin] Do you hold on to all of your lps once you have the CD? I can't bear to part with the originals.
[KenMandelbaum] Nor can I----I will never part with my LPs, as each one brings back memories. I can remember where I bought just about every one of them.
[RobertArmin] Remember when Sam Goody's used to slice the shrink-wrap off one corner to mark the discount price on the back?
[KenMandelbaum] And I play LPs all the time. Just this week, I was working on a piece on recordings of "Fiddler," and played about a dozen LPs of the show that I hadn't touched for many years.
[KenMandelbaum] Oh yes, I do recall those Sam Goody's codes.
[KenMandelbaum] It is always fun to come across one, on the lower right hand corner of an LP sleeve.
[RobertArmin] I have spent the last year putting most of my lp only cast albums on CDRs. And then onto MP3 files. My computer now has almost 2000 albums available instantly. It really makes it easy to hear things I've long forgotten.
[KenMandelbaum] Would someone like to come here and do that for me? It sounds like an impossible task.
[RobertArmin] It certainly was time consuming!
[RobertArmin] But if you have something I don't, I'll be glad to put it on CD for you!
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy asks: Speaking of recordings, Ken, will you soon be reviewing the new one of The Firebrand of Florence?
[KenMandelbaum] Yes, but I haven't gotten it yet. I can't wait to hear it.
[KenMandelbaum] Have you heard it yet, Danny?
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy responds; I'm waiting to pay off my credit card expenses from Christmas before I order a copy.
[KenMandelbaum] I understand.
[RobertArmin] Speaking of expenses, as a reviewer do you get comps of most everything, or are you still buying a lot?
[KenMandelbaum] I still buy all the foreign stuff, and many of the DVDs. Sometimes it's just easier to buy something,
[RobertArmin] I worked for four record companies, so I managed to fill a lot of holes in my collection as far as CDs go.
[KenMandelbaum] But most of the CD labels are quite good about sending things out promptly.
[RobertArmin] Like you, I've been buying a lot of British DVDs. I found an inexpensive player that plays PAL.
[RobertArmin] I liked your review of Taboo. It makes me want to order that one, too.
[KenMandelbaum] I just recently got such a player, and I love it. It really works well. I've been watching various foreign-language musicals, and most of the DVDs have English subtitles.
[KenMandelbaum] That "Taboo" DVD came along at just the right time.
[KenMandelbaum] It's fun to compare the two very different versions, New York and London.
[KenMandelbaum] Both have their points.
[RobertArmin] I found that I actually enjoyed much of Taboo, but I can't imagine that the book was that bad in London.
[RobertArmin] I was not happy with the new book, but the performances were extraordinary.
[KenMandelbaum] In some ways, it was worse, with a lot of extraneous soap opera about a young man named Billy, and his family and girlfriend.
[RobertArmin] And any show that has Gemma Craven can't be all that bad!
[RobertArmin] God, I would have loved to see her come to New York with it -- or any show.
[KenMandelbaum] I thought all the Broadway leads were excellent, with the exception of Boy George, who really isn't an actor. Still, he's a presence,
[RobertArmin] Unfortunately, we saw Nicola's understudy and she wasn't as good as the rest of the cast.
[KenMandelbaum] Gemma Craven isn't on the "Taboo" DVD. Her replacement, a pop singer named Lyn Paul, plays Billy's mother.
[RobertArmin] Well, then I may not bother! I've loved Gemma since the PBS She Loves Me.
[RobertArmin] My wife and I actually took a train from London to Edinburgh to see her in 42nd Street. It was the only time I saw her live.
[KenMandelbaum] She was just wonderful in that "She Loves Me," so well-acted.
[KenMandelbaum] I didn't know she did "42nd Street"--was that a UK tour?
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy asks: The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, IL put "Sunset Boulevard" in their schedule from Sept. 9 to Nov. 7, 2004. Do you know of any other stock companies doing that show?
[RobertArmin] Yes, Gemma did a limited tour of the show with James Smiley. She was terrific in it.
[KenMandelbaum] I haven't heard of any others yet. I've been patiently waiting for stock Sunsetís to happen. Perhaps we'll get some funny new casts.
[RobertArmin] 42nd Street, that is.
[KenMandelbaum] How about Joan Diener as Norma Desmond?
[RobertArmin] That would be interesting!
[RobertArmin] It's been 50 years since Kismet! And she
[RobertArmin] is still going strong!
[RobertArmin] StevenD writes: Sunset Blvd. in Chicago was originally going to star Hollis Resnik but she passed to do the tour of Millie so its going to be Paula Scrofano I'm just waiting for Leslie Uggams to do it.
[KenMandelbaum] She is mature for "Sunset," but considering how she looked and sounded when she did Aldonza in "La Mancha" in the early '90s, she might be up to doing Norma.
[KenMandelbaum] That last sentence refers to Joan Diener.
[RobertArmin] Uggams, of course, would be interesting in that role, too!
[KenMandelbaum] I wonder if Paper Mill Playhouse might try "Sunset."
[RobertArmin] In the last few weeks, you have been doing some excellent round-ups of 2003.
[RobertArmin] And I recommend that people go over to Broadway.com and take a look.
[KenMandelbaum] Thank you. I never do
[KenMandelbaum] "ten best" lists, but instead do some round-ups.
[RobertArmin] How about a few thoughts on what you're looking forward to -- for example, the One Touch of Venus album!!!
[KenMandelbaum] I only hope I live to see that one released.
[RobertArmin] We both agree that a recording of Love Life is a necessity~
[RobertArmin] What shows should be recorded?
[KenMandelbaum] Absolutely. It might help if Encores! did "Love Life."
[KenMandelbaum] "Love Life" is at the top of the list, I think.
[RobertArmin] What are your thoughts on their next season? Do we really need to see Bye Bye Birdie and Can-Can rescued from oblivion
[KenMandelbaum] "Birdie" is high on the short list of hit musicals that haven't had a revival. So the Encores! production will clearly be testing the waters.
[KenMandelbaum] Personally, I'd rather see "Love Life" or "The Golden Apple," but that's just me.
[RobertArmin] Most people don't know it, but Manny Kladitis already has the rights to produce a national tour of Birdie which he plans to bring in to New York. So the Encores! show won't be moving to Broadway -- at least without his participation.
[KenMandelbaum] As for "Can-Can," it's probably too weak a show for another Broadway revival, so it's probably suitable for Encores!, even if the score is hardly an unknown one.
[RobertArmin] Have you ever thought of doing a list of people that you usually look forward to seeing in shows. Like a Melissa Errico, Carolee Carmello, so forth list.
[RobertArmin] That questions is from StevenD.
[KenMandelbaum] That is a very good idea!! I think I will make a note of that.
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy asks: The eternal question: Will we ever have a recording of CARRIE?
[KenMandelbaum] So true, that is the eternal question.
[RobertArmin] I think that would be an ideal choice for Encores -- Carrie!
[KenMandelbaum] It's impossible to say for sure. I do believe that Seth Rudetsky, who produced those Actor's Fund concerts, is interested in doing "Carrie."
[KenMandelbaum] It may still be the case that the authors of "Carrie" don't want it done.
[RobertArmin] I never thought there was all that much wrong with the score of Carrie...
[RobertArmin] It was just the WORST direction in the history of musical theatre.
[KenMandelbaum] Much of the score is quite strong.
[KenMandelbaum] Yes, quite a misguided staging, sometimes jaw-droppingly so.
[RobertArmin] I wonder if you've ever hear this story about Carrie. I heard it from someone who claims to have actually been there.
[RobertArmin] Terry Hands, the director, ran into Fran Weissler at some get-together before he started work on Carrie...
[RobertArmin] And he said, "I'm going to be directing a musical version of Carrie. How do you see such the show being staged?" (or something to that effect)
[RobertArmin] And Fran answered -- "I see it like Grease."
[RobertArmin] And Hands thought she meant "Greece," which explains the togas and the white columns!
[RobertArmin] If it isn't true, it should be!
[KenMandelbaum] That is a scream---and entirely possible.
[RobertArmin] It's the only logical answer for that insane opening number.
[RobertArmin] Why does Carrie even take a shower when she never even puts her gym clothes on for class?
[RobertArmin] There was definitely a directorial problem there.
[KenMandelbaum] you may well ask---there wasn't much logic to a great deal of that staging.
[KenMandelbaum] But I can still hear the audience cheering, at least the part of the audience that wasn't sitting there in stunned silence.
[RobertArmin] I never did see Moose Murders, but I have seen many other unfortunate shows. My first was probably Wild and Wonderful, which was supposed to star Julie Budd in 1971, but she got out of it during rehearsals. What other classic "bad" shows do you remember?
[KenMandelbaum] I saw "Wild and Wonderful," and it was about as awful as any musical I've ever seen on Broadway.
[RobertArmin] I would love to find a recording or script of that show -- just to remind me of how bad it was.
[KenMandelbaum] It really was quite something, and could be lost to the ages.
[KenMandelbaum] Did you see "Late Night Comic"?
[KenMandelbaum] That was pretty shocking.
[RobertArmin] No, unfortunately.
[KenMandelbaum] Of course, last year at this time, Broadway was enjoying "Dance of the Vampires."
[KenMandelbaum] I doubt we'll see anything as amusingly bad as that for some time.
[RobertArmin] I used to go to shows during previews, but since my wife became a Tony voter we have waited until the official invites. That means we miss a few shows and some major cast changes!
[RobertArmin] Amazingly, we were invited to Dance of the Vampires!
[RobertArmin] It's hard to imagine was they were thinking!
[KenMandelbaum] I do wish they'd made a Broadway cast album. I would play it all the time.
[RobertArmin] You are a masochist. LOLO
[RobertArmin] That was a typo. I don't know was LOLO is...
[KenMandelbaum] The name of a character in "The Merry Widow"?
[KenMandelbaum] one of the "grisette" girls, I think.
[RobertArmin] I think my favorite guilty pleasure among cast albums in The Goodbye Girl. Do you have an album that you really love, even though you think you shouldn't?
[KenMandelbaum] I can't believe it---I was just discussing that subject with a friend, and I also put "The Goodbye Girl" on that list.
[RobertArmin] We have much in common.
[KenMandelbaum] "Legs Diamond" is also fun to play.
[RobertArmin] I even like much of the British Goodbye Girl.
[RobertArmin] Speaking of Legs Diamond...
[RobertArmin] I finally got to see the "young" Julie Wilson in the TV "Kiss Me, Kate."
[KenMandelbaum] she's mighty cute in that.
[RobertArmin] What a revelation. I only know her in the last ten or fifteen years.
[RobertArmin] I loved her singing on "Jimmy," but I never knew her when she was an ingenue.
[KenMandelbaum] It's a shame she didn't do more Broadway shows, or at least more successful ones.
[RobertArmin] In regard to Goodbye Girl, StevenD adds: Anything with Bernadette Peters is a must have
[KenMandelbaum] No question about that.
[KenMandelbaum] But I don't think "The Goodbye Girl" was a happy experience for her.
[KenMandelbaum] It certainly gave her several juicy numbers to sing, though.
[RobertArmin] Personally, I think Neil Simon made a major mistake by making her character stronger. The movie is about a co-dependent woman and that was lost in his effort to make her more liberated.
[RobertArmin] The British version was closer to the movie.
[RobertArmin] Speaking of Kiss Me Kate, Harold Lang was a good friend when I was in college (he taught dance there), so I really miss his performance in the TV version. He turned down every movie offer and only did a limited amount of TV work. A shame.
[KenMandelbaum] I saw him in "Wholesale," the off-Broadway "On the Town," and Ben Bagley's Cole Porter revue.
[RobertArmin] I never did get to seem him in a show, unfortunately.
[RobertArmin] DannyBoy asks: I heard that Bernadette is still missing performances in GYPSY? True?
[KenMandelbaum] Really? I hadn't heard about any unarranged absences since the very beginning of the run.
[RobertArmin] I haven't heard of any either.
[RobertArmin] Bernadette is a real pro, and I don't think she would miss performances casually.
[KenMandelbaum] And I've heard that she is extending her contract, beyond the initial year.
[RobertArmin] It will be interesting to see the situation with The Producers come next week. What are the odds of perfect attendance for both Lane and Broderick?
[RobertArmin] StevenD adds: So I guess that means LuPone is going to let Mamma Rose pass her by (unless its in a concert)
[KenMandelbaum] I wouldn't be at all surprised to find Patti doing "Gypsy" in concert somewhere.
[KenMandelbaum] Re Lane and Broderick, I'm sure they'll try hard not to miss, considering the length of their return engagement.
[RobertArmin] And their paychecks!
[RobertArmin] StevenD has a question that may put you out on a limb? What do you think of people like Michael Reidel and what they say about theater performers?
[RobertArmin] He was at TheaterWeek when you were there, right?
[KenMandelbaum] Well, I will say that I always read Reidel's column.
[KenMandelbaum] Yes, he was an editor at TheaterWeek during much of my time there.
[KenMandelbaum] And we always got along quite well.
[RobertArmin] I've always wondered if he was the editor who changed the last line of my Miss Saigon article. Totally changed my point. Ah well.
[KenMandelbaum] That happened to me too, on more than one occasion. I can still remember a couple of examples, but I won't bore you with them.
[RobertArmin] I've always preferred you and Peter F. Much more interesting to hear the good things, as far as I'm concerned.
[RobertArmin] But I understand Michael's appeal.
[KenMandelbaum] Well, I hope I manage to convey my love of musical theatre.
[RobertArmin] Well, before we wrap up, tell me a bit more about your early days. Did you ever get involved directly in the theatre? As an actor, writer, etc.
[KenMandelbaum] I studied acting a bit----did summer programs at Circle in the Square and Stella Adler.
[KenMandelbaum] I appeared in one-acts for those programs, at Circle and at the Provincetown Playhouse.
[KenMandelbaum] But I was a lousy actor---too self-conscious and nervous.
[RobertArmin] Any thoughts about actually writing a musical?
[KenMandelbaum] I don't believe I have any talent whatsoever in that area.
[RobertArmin] Well, I must say that you have certainly found a niche where you are very good.
[KenMandelbaum] But I have enjoyed meeting and teaching some seminars with young musical-theatre writers.
[KenMandelbaum] Thank you, that is very kind. I still enjoy the opportunity of writing on a subject that has been such a huge part of my life.
[RobertArmin] Whenever I get a bit swell-headed about my collection, I always think of you.
[RobertArmin] We really must meet one of these years. We do have so much in common. I'm amazed that we have still never actually met, although you have written about a few of my productions.
[RobertArmin] StevenD asks: Do you ever think you will update Not Since Carrie or maybe write another book on Musical Theater
[KenMandelbaum] I definitely will do a "Not Since 'Carrie'" update.
[RobertArmin] Come to think of it, did you ever see my "Say, Darling?" I know we all looked for you.
[KenMandelbaum] I am sorry to admit that I didn't see it. So the only "Say, Darling" I saw remains the City Center revival, with Robert Morse in his original role, and Mindy Carson and Orson Bean in other leads.
[RobertArmin] And that was where they added the orchestra for the first time! And ruined the show. Hah
[KenMandelbaum] My parents took me to see it, because they had enjoyed the original.
[RobertArmin] Everyone thinks of it as a bad musical, when it's really a very funny play.
[KenMandelbaum] And do you think we'll ever get the cast recording on CD?
[RobertArmin] Well, I have a digital copy of the master tapes (sshhh!). Including the spoken introductions that were never used. Robert Morse and Horace McMahon actually had lines.
[RobertArmin] And no, I don't think RCA will ever reissue it. But maybe Fynsworth? Who knows. It's a pretty strange album (though I love it, of course).
[KenMandelbaum] It is quite odd, nothing else quite like it, but fun to play.
[KenMandelbaum] and I love that gaudy cover.
[RobertArmin] Sid Ramin did such a great job orchestrating it, but it is so confusing, because so many of the songs were not intended as character songs, so it's hard to figure out how they fit into the show.
[KenMandelbaum] Yes, the recording gives you no idea of what the show was all about.
[RobertArmin] But the strangest songs on the album, get the biggest responses in the show. Odd how that works.
[RobertArmin] Well, you must see the show the next time it comes around. (Don't hold your breath. lol)
[KenMandelbaum] I promise. I have seen the Ed Sullivan sequence, with Vivian Blaine singing the title song, and David Wayne singing the river number.
[RobertArmin] Oh, god, I've got to see that! I have photos, but have never seen them perform it.
[KenMandelbaum] She sounds great.
[RobertArmin] I still think that the show would have run longer if they hadn't changed theatres. And if David Wayne hadn't left early. Although Eddie Albert was an interesting replacement.
[RobertArmin] Who knows.
[KenMandelbaum] I would think Eddie Albert would have been fine. And also fine as the second B'way Harold Hill.
[RobertArmin] Anyway, we only have a couple of minutes...
[RobertArmin] So let me ask you if you have any new books or other projects in the future.
[KenMandelbaum] nothing definite yet, but I do have a couple of ideas.
[KenMandelbaum] sorry to be so vague.
[RobertArmin] Well, we all know where to go for updates -- Broadway.com.
[RobertArmin] Before we go, for anyone planning to come to New York in the next few months, what are your strongest recommendations?
[KenMandelbaum] Well, if the "Hairspray" tour hasn't hit your town yet, I'm sure they'd enjoy that.
[RobertArmin] I'm so pleased that Susan Egan is taking over on Broadway!
[KenMandelbaum] Isn't that "Millie"?
[RobertArmin] She was offered the original workshop but had to turn it down.
[RobertArmin] Sorry, that's what I meant
[RobertArmin] My bad
[RobertArmin] She wouldn't be QUITE right for Hairspray's leading lady.
[KenMandelbaum] They would have to pad her quite a bit.
[RobertArmin] Ken, thank you so much for joining me tonight. It's not quite the same as meeting you in person, but it was fun to get to know a bit more about the man behind the column.
[KenMandelbaum] I enjoyed it. Thanks for asking.
[RobertArmin] I'm not sure who will be my guest next week, but Stephanie J. Block (who plays Liza in The Boy From Oz) will be here in two weeks. Please join us.
[KenMandelbaum] Sounds good---she is quite a good singer.
[RobertArmin] And thanks again, Ken and everyone who joined us this evening. Good night.
[KenMandelbaum] Good night and thank you.