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Saturday, May 31, 2014

You Have To Leap








The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.


Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.


The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracke every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.


The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.


Much can be said for social savior-faire,
Bu to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

W. H. Auden


Friday, May 30, 2014

What's Truly Important

"Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
Steve Jobs

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Records On Broadway

A record breaking 299,090 people saw a Broadway show last week. Among new shows, Disney’s “Aladdin” sold most tickets, worth $1,207,953. The revival of “Les Misérables” did almost as good. The most successful shows were again long-running musicals – “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “The Phantom of the Opera” – as well as newer hits like “The Book of Mormon” and “Kinky Boots”. Some big-budget new musicals could not compete: “Rocky” and “Bullets Over Broadway: The Musical” were down slightly compared with the already modest results of previous week. The Broadway League, the trade group for theater owners and producers, also announced the year-end total statistics for the 2013-14 season, which concluded on Sunday. As expected, Broadway grosses overall increased 11.4 percent compared with the previous season, totaling $1.27 billion versus $1.14 billion. Attendance was 12.21 million for the 2013-14 season, compared with 11.57 million for the prior season.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Four Tops 1966

"When I first walked into the Motown offices in Detroit, it felt like I had walked into a cult. It was a club, a family. Mr Gordy was always searching for the new thing. His motto was: "Listen to the radio and hear what's going on." He'd been listening to Bob Dylan and the psychedelic soul stuff the Temptations were doing. He realized music was shifting away from straight rhythm and blues. Holland-Dozier-Holland are now regarded as legendary, but at the time they were just twentysomething boys constantly searching for something new, in the same way as the Beatles were. That's what the Tops needed, because by 1966 they were so huge, there was no way of taking them to another level commercially – only artistically. That piccolo flute intro on Reach Out, which became a transatlantic No 1, is typical of how Motown would do something unexpected. But it was a team effort, like all their hits. Levi was the greatest singer in any group. I say that as someone who also managed the Temptations – and Otis Williams [Temptations singer] agrees. Mr Gordy was the genius at the top of the pyramid. He had an uncanny ability to spot hits."
Shelly Berger, Four Tops manager

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Made Frank Wildhorn A Top Musical Composer

"One of the first things I talk about when I do master classes at theatre programs is, 'Stop listening to theatre music! Listen to everything and try to find something you love in every style of music.' The point is that there is room for everything and, certainly in their day, the Cole Porters and Berlins and Gershwins - they were the popular songwriters of their time. Pop seemed to be a good enough word then…I grew up with so much music in the house - and such eclectic music in the house. I always thank my parents for that because they always taught me what I try to teach, which is: 'Frank, try to find something you like in every style of music - and be open! Just keep being open and keep being a student of it all.' And, whether it's Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff; or it's Matchbox 20 or Linkin Park; or it's Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye; or if it's Traffic or it's Crosby, Stills and Nash; or it's Julie Andrews and Sammy Davis; or it's Whitney Houston - the point is: try to find something in every style that really speaks to you. That's really my philosophy: to be a student of it all and don't close yourself off… I remember when I was fourteen or fifteen when I was teaching myself to play the piano - and I was just kind of just playing jazz - and I heard the scores of SUPERSTAR and WEST SIDE STORY back to back. What I remember about that - and it was very important to my life at that time - I remember saying to myself, 'Oh, my God! So many musical vocabularies are in these two scores: classical, jazz, pop, Latin, theatre, et cetera. So many vocabularies with these big, giant, commercial melodies'. I just got so turned on by the combination of those two scores at the same time… There is no question that my background and learning years as a pop songwriter was by far the best training I could have ever had for the theatre because on a daily basis you are constantly having to write for so many different points of view. Whether it's a sixteen-year-old African American girl or a forty-year-old white country singer from Nashville - everyday you do that when you are working for a publishing company. Sometimes you don't even know who it is you are going to collaborate with until you meet them that day! Every. Single. Day. It was the best training ground I could have had ever had for theatre."
Frank Wildhorn

Monday, May 26, 2014

Eternity

I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get. But, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.
John Green ("The Fault in our Stars")

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sad Truth

Sonnet 73
William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
      This thou perciev'st which makes thy love more strong,
      To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Challenge

"I think the challenge in getting people to come to a Broadway theater is so immense ... you're talking about getting people to come to a piece of real estate that's within an eight block region of New York City. So your whole audience base has to come from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or through tourism. And when you can only get that group of people, you're trying to create something that's as broad as possible so that every single one of those people comes. You want to create something that nobody can say, "Oh, I don't want to be a part of that," because you are talking about such a small possible percentage of people. And that's no way to create an artistic statement; it's a way to create a product. I think we need to accomplish the feat of making theater either a countrywide or an international phenomenon that can happen synergistically.

I think that everybody focuses too much on Broadway as a piece of real estate where you have to make it work in order for a show to be a success. Parade didn't work in New York, and so getting this tour to happen was ... not like merely pulling teeth, but reaching in and pulling out livers. It would take an incredible feat to get Parade to become some national phenomenon. Whereas Rent came in with all these great reviews and a Pulitzer Prize and it made splash in New York. So you can do your tour and make your money ... because the tour is where you make your money, not New York. So the way it works is that you have to hit Broadway and you have to hit it hard, and if you don't make it there you are dead, and that's a problem. Until producers find a way to keep New York from being the be-all and end-all, then what happens in New York is going to be prefabricated, predigested material which will appeal to the family audience, who buy four tickets instead of two, or will make the Times' critic happy. Or do limited runs. There are all these strategies to make a show run in New York and it's depressing, because it means that work which doesn't become a hit within that narrow stretch of the world, doesn't get a chance to exist.

If we take, for instance, Prince of Central Park, which was written by a friend of mine, and was a disaster of a show ... I could say that it had as much value on a theatrical level as, say, Footloose. But Footloose was produced very cannily, with an eye on a specific audience, and it had the value of a name; people had seen or heard of that movie. Neither is a good show, but Footloose got a national tour and will or will not make money for the people involved; it won't have lived and died solely based on the first two weeks that it was running in a city in the north-eastern portion of the United States. Are producers going to look at that and say, "Let's produce a new show that's risky and no one's heard of!" or are they going to say, "How can we insulate ourselves best against failure?"

Any new show is better, in my opinion, then Jekyll and Hyde. I run into a lot of people who don't agree with me, which is fine, but my basic point is that I don't see why Jekyll and Hyde is any more worthy than my show or Michael John's or Ricky Ian's. But there's something very important about Jekyll and Hyde; it exists as this 'thing' outside of its relative success in New York. And that's the challenge of any producer who wants to produce new and interesting work; to figure out how to replicate that phenomenon. And I don't think most people are up to it; I don't think most producers are smart or talented enough to do it."
Jason Robert Brown


Friday, May 23, 2014

Closed "Bridges"

Yesterday “Bridges of Madison County” ended its four month run on Broadway with record gross revenues of $590,791. Obviously many potential visitors could not believe that the show would close so soon. It opened in February to mostly favorable reviews. The composer, Jason Robert Brown, is a love child of Broadway, and quite rightly so. His talents are exceptional, he has his own style and the courage to leave the trodden paths of success. His "Bridges" score is nominated this year for a Tony Award. Other new musicals are struggling as well, such as “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” “After Midnight,” and “Rocky”. This is no consolation for the investors who lost most of the mounting costs of $ 8.5 million. As for “Rocky,” the show’s weekly box-office grosses have been disappointing so far, although it was regarded a "commercial" show and sure hit.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Invitation To Shanghai

ELISABETH, the musical I wrote more than 22 years ago with my friend, Sylvester Levay, has now reached China. A limited performance of the original Viennese production in German (!) will open on December 12th, 2014 in Shanghai.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Paradise

"If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years."
Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Soft" Atheism

"The past decade has seen some trenchant attacks on religion, and I agree with many points made by people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. But these atheists have been rightly criticized for treating all religions as if they were collections of doctrines, to be understood in quite literal ways, and for not attending to episodes in which the world’s religions have sometimes sustained the unfortunate and campaigned for the downtrodden. The “soft atheism” I defend considers religion more extensively, sympathizes with the idea that secularists can learn from religious practices and recommends sometimes making common cause with religious movements for social justice. There’s a version of religion, “refined religion,” that is untouched by the new atheists’ criticisms, and that even survives my argument that religious doctrines are incredible. Refined religion sees the fundamental religious attitude not as belief in a doctrine but as a commitment to promoting the most enduring values. That commitment is typically embedded in social movements — the faithful come together to engage in rites, to explore ideas and ideals with one another and to work cooperatively for ameliorating the conditions of human life. The doctrines they affirm and the rituals they practice are justified insofar as they support and deepen and extend the values to which they are committed. But the doctrines are interpreted nonliterally, seen as apt metaphors or parables for informing our understanding of ourselves and our world and for seeing how we might improve both. To say that God made a covenant with Abraham doesn’t mean that, long ago, some very impressive figure with a white beard negotiated a bargain with a Mesopotamian pastoralist. It is rather to commit yourself to advancing what is most deeply and ultimately valuable, as the story says Abraham did."

Philip Kitcher, 
professor of philosophy at Columbia University 
and the author of the forthcoming book 
“Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism.”

Monday, May 19, 2014

It Stays With You

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Arc de Triomphe

It was in the sixties when I headed for Paris for the first time. It took me just one long day to hitchhike from provincial Munich to the dazzling French metropolis. I found a cheap room in a run down bed & breakfast at the Quartier Latin, and I lived from Brie and Vin Rouge and the air of Paris. On the first morning I opened the window and looked down on a bistro on the corner of a little plaza where four lanes crossed. I smelled fresh croissants and gasoline, heard voices shouting and cars honking. I fell in love with Paris. It means a lot to me to see my name now on an advertising pillow at the Champs Élysées.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dylan Covers Sinatra

On Wednesday, Mr. Dylan’s website, bobdylan.com, posted what appears to be the cover of the singer’s forthcoming album, “Shadows in the Night,” as well as a single track – a gently sung cover of “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” in an ensemble dominated by a country-tinged steel guitar part. The song, written in 1945 by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman, is based on a theme from the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and was a hit for Frank Sinatra in 1946. Maybe Dylan's next album will be a collection of American Songbook standards, like recent albums by Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart. Like everything about Bob Dylan - it's enigmatic.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Legacy

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
Ray Bradbury in "Fahrenheit 451"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Country Singer's Legacy

Willie Nelson donated a major part of his personal collection to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas in Austin. The donation includes posters, platinum records, signed books, screenplays and posters, and letters and photographs from figures like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Bill Clinton and Ann Richards. The collection will be opened to scholars after processing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poison For Writers



"A writer has to be driven crazy to help him to see. A writer needs his poisons."
Philip Roth

Monday, May 12, 2014

Philip Roth At Home

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stoner

In today's New York Times Magazine Steve Almond is raving over a book that was written almost 50 years ago but whose time seems to have come right now. I confess that I had never heard of Stoner or its author, John Williams, before, but I also have never read such an enthusiastic review. According to Mr. Almond the novel tells the life of a hapless university professor of medieval history who struggles to understand who he is. "To read the book today is to recognize how shallow our conception of the heroic has become. Americans worship athletes and moguls and movie stars, those who possess the glittering gifts we equate with worth and happiness. The stories that flash across our screens tend to be paeans to reckless ambition. We might be willing to watch a drama about a meek high-school science teacher, but only if he degenerates into a homicidal meth tycoon. Heck, even our literary memoirs have to tell a “larger than life” story to find a wide audience… Consider our nightly parade of prime-time talent shows and ginned-up documentaries in which chefs and pawn brokers and bored housewives reinvent their private lives as theater. And this is what the rest of us are up to, as well. Consider the growth industries in our tech sector: social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter, look-at-me apps like Instagram and Snapchat, content-sharing websites like YouTube and Pinterest that serve as founts of personal marketing. If you want to be among those who count, and you don’t happen to be endowed with divine talents or a royal lineage, well then, make some noise. Put your wit — or your craft projects or your rants or your pranks — on public display. Otherwise, you wind up like poor Stoner: a footnote in the great human story. But aren’t nearly all of us footnotes in the end? Don’t the dreams we harbor eventually give way to the actuality of our lives? As a fictional hero, William Stoner will have to dwell in obscurity forever. But that, too, is our destiny. Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption... He suffers no delusions about his place in the world. He recognizes that others find him absurd and that his intellectual contributions to his arcane field are at best minor. Over and over again, Stoner is forced to confront his own weakness, his limitations as a son and father and husband and scholar. And yet he refuses to turn away." Steve Almond, by the way, is not the only fan of Stoner. Tom Hanks said in an interview: "It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across." Needless to say that I ordered the book today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Very's Very Wrong


"Never use the word, 'very.' It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn't mean anything. If you feel the urge of 'very' coming on, just write the word, 'damn,' in the place of 'very.' The editor will strike out the word, 'damn,' and you will have a good sentence."
William Allen White

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bob's Problem

“Why is it when people talk about me, they have to go crazy?”
Bob Dylan

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Not Dark Yet

"Well my sense of humanity
Is goin' down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing
There's been some kind of pain
I was born here and I'll die here
Against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin'
But I'm standin' still
Sometimes my burden
Is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet
But it's gettin' there"
Bob Dylan

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Friends?

Two men are camping out when a big grizzly bear walks into the campsite. One of the men drops to the ground and starts hurriedly putting on his running shoes.  His friend says, "You think by putting on your running shoes, you're going to be able to outrun that bear?" 
He replied: "No…I just need to be able to outrun you!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Candy Chang's Blackboard

In February 2011 the American urban planner Candy Chang turned the wall of an abandoned house in New Orleans into an enormous blackboard. She stenciled the words "Before I die, I want to..." at the top of the wall and provided the chalk passers-by needed to complete the sentence. Was the installation ignored, vandalized or ridiculed? No. People filled it in no time with hundreds of serious inscriptions - hopes, dreams, reflections. Word spread, and the wall became a tourist attraction. By now there are hundreds of similar installations in many cities. Obviously that "Before I die..." is a sentence many of us long to complete.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ax


A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.
Franz Kafka

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Digital Is Killing The Novel

"The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man. In the early 1980s, and I would argue throughout the second half of the last century, the literary novel was perceived to be the prince of art forms, the cultural capstone and the apogee of creative endeavour. The capability words have when arranged sequentially to both mimic the free flow of human thought and investigate the physical expressions and interactions of thinking subjects; the way they may be shaped into a believable simulacrum of either the commonsensical world, or any number of invented ones; and the capability of the extended prose form itself, which, unlike any other art form, is able to enact self-analysis, to describe other aesthetic modes and even mimic them. All this led to a general acknowledgment: the novel was the true Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk… I believe the serious novel will continue to be written and read, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse. The current resistance of a lot of the literate public to difficulty in the form is only a subconscious response to having a moribund message pushed at them. As a practising novelist, do I feel depressed about this? No, not particularly, except on those occasions when I breathe in too deeply and choke on my own decadence. I've no intention of writing fictions in the form of tweets or text messages – nor do I see my future in computer-games design. My apprenticeship as a novelist has lasted a long time now, and I still cherish hopes of eventually qualifying. Besides, as the possessor of a Gutenberg mind, it is quite impossible for me to foretell what the new dominant narrative art form will be – if, that is, there is to be one at all."
British novelist Will Self in this year's Richard Hillary memorial lecture, which will be given by him on 6 May at the Gulbenkian theatre, St Cross Building, Oxford.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Lady Bess Well Received In Japan


Hideki Sukenari writes in Japan's The Yomiuri Shimbun of April 30, 2014:

Lady Bess is a play based on the life of Elizabeth I who laid the foundation of the British Empire.  This bold and imaginative production turns the European historical drama not too familiar in Japan into a coming-of-age story of a young girl that resonates with the Japanese audience.  That which attracts attention on the stage are the two huge astronomical clocks.  They are placed in the background and on the floor, looking as though they possess a great power to decide the destiny of people.  In this mysterious setting, the girl accepts her fate as the heir to the throne and then sets out to walk the path of life on her own. This whole process of her extraordinary girlhood evolves with varied music having a Celtic flavor that is evocative of the time and the region.
It is Kunze's favorite style of play in which fictional characters leave their mark in the mind of lead characters.  In "Lady Bess," a young minstrel named Blake takes such role.  The drama centers on the
love story between Bess and the young poet, and illustrates how the princess grows up facing hatred of Queen Mary I, her older half-sister, seeking wisdom of her tutor Ascham and getting impressed by the wits of Prince Philip of Spain.  This extraordinary play unfolds with the dynamic direction effectively using a slanted revolving stage.

The Asahi Shimbun' drama critic, Michie Amano, wrote on April 24, 2014:

"Lady Bess" is a musical by Michael Kunze (book/lyrics), Sylvester Levay (music) and Shuichiro Koike (director/lyrics translation/additional translation). This production makes a good match with "Elisabeth," another masterpiece by the same three-man team. The Empress of Austria of the 19th century becomes obsessed with Death in "Elisabeth," while in "Lady Bess," Princess Bess gets through life's challenges and grows up as Kat, her governess (Mayo Suzukaze), sings in "Growing up."  Although the two storylines are the exact opposites of each other, they share the same central theme.
The heroines wished to live free.  However, they lost their freedom in exchange of growth, which brought them a great sorrow.  This sadness underlies these two stories.
Bess (double-cast by Mari Hanafusa and Aya Hirano) is encouraged by her tutor Ascham (Kanji Ishimaru and Yuichiro Yamaguchi) and endures persecution by Mary I of England (Yuki Mirai and Rie Yoshizawa). Hanafusa excellently personifies the proud character who relies on herself. Nonetheless, Bess's biggest challenge is more closely associated with her heart, in other words, the romance with Robin the minstrel (Ikusaburo Yamazaki and Kazuki Kato). Like Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet," Robin
dares to sneak into her bedroom and invites her on a wandering journey.  However, Queen Mary dies at that very moment and an emissary from the palace brings her a message that summons her to the crowning. The spirit of her mother Anne (Miou Kazune) who died a tragic death watches her over just like the ghost of the former king in "Hamlet." A number of citations from the works of Shakespeare can be found in this drama. Bess sings a duet of "My Heart Belongs to You" with Robin and abandons
her love, thereby putting an end to her girlhood.  "I will never have love again."  In this scene Hirano acutely portrays Bess's pathos.  The play develops with quite a few excellent pieces of music that grab the listeners' attention.
"Lady Bess" is being performed at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo until 24th May and then will go on tour in Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya.



Friday, May 2, 2014

Portrait Of The Year

This photo by the French photographer Sophie Gamand
won this year's coveted Sony world photography award in the category Portraiture.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Powers That Be

Pharrell Williams has revealed that his worldwide hit Happy was originally recorded by Cee Lo Green. "He wanted to do it ... he did do it," Williams explained in a radio interview with Howard Stern yesterday."He sounded amazing on it. I mean, he burns my version! But the ... how do I say this diplomatically? Um ... he ... um ... The powers that be, at the time, did not see it fit for him. Some folks on his team just felt that the priority should be on his album at the time, so they elected not to do that song."