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Monday, June 30, 2014

London: Musical Nostalgia

New musicals have a difficult time. That opens possibilities and theaters for remakes. Two Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, Cats and Evita, are returning to the West End of London. Evita, written with Tim Rice, will open on 16 September with Marti Pellow playing Che and Madalena Alberto in the title role. It features some of musical theatre's most memorable songs such as Don't Cry for Me Argentina, On This Night of a Thousand Stars and Oh What a Circus. Cats, based on TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, opens in December. The show's stand out song, Memory, has been recorded, incredibly, by more than 150 artists including Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis and Angelika Milster. The show, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, first opened at the New London theatre in 1981 where it ran for 21 years. The nostalgic returns follow the blazing success of Miss Saigon, which Cameron Mackintosh brought back to the west end after a 25 year gap.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Devil In New York

Without doubt Randy Newman is one of the best and most prolific American songwriters and a very fine film composer. I always thought he should write a musical. Five years ago I met with him in Beverly Hills to discuss a project. He seemed interested, but to my regret turned the offer down after some consideration. Too bad. We could have created something great together. Then again, he does not need me at all. In 1995 he released Faust, a concept album meant to become a stage musical. Randy's contemporary remake of the tale of Faust's deal with the devil hit the stage in Los Angeles and Chicago in 1996. Unfortunately the production directed by Michael Greif received only mixed reviews, and therefore never made it to Broadway. Thank God (or His counterpart) coming Tuesday, July 1st, New York audiences will get a chance to see a concert performance of Randy Newman's Faust at a one-night-only Encores! Off-Center production (City Center Mainstage). Randy himself will act as the devil. Other cast members are Michael Cerveris and Laura Osnes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Good bye, Mary!

Mary Rodgers,  the daughter of the legendary musical composer Richard Rodgers, died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 83. By virtue of genetics and talent she lived all her life at the center of American musical theater. Best known for writing the music for the successful Broadway show “Once Upon a Mattress”, she also was known as the author of a novel for young people, “Freaky Friday".


Friday, June 27, 2014

Wow!

The World Cup experience is more than just the game of soccer. It's an event. And it will fly by faster than you think. It will end and you'll be saying, 'Wow, it's over already?' You have to remember to take it all in and enjoy it.
Cobi Jones

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How To Write A "Historic" Musical

Having heard about the success of Lady Bess in Japan an Italian journalist asked me the other day to explain my method for creating shows based on history. Made me think. I did not know that I have a "method". But maybe I have one. I do research for many months, often years. One by one the main characters come alive in my imagination. Some of them even start to talk to me. That's when the structural work starts: I need to find a theatrical concept based on the historic facts. That means reducing the number of characters and giving them dramatic goals. All drama is conflict, and all convincing characters change by trying to cope with opposition. Life is extremely complex, art is focusing on certain aspects of reality. So, at this stage I free myself from being glued to the facts. Not easy for a studied historian. I always feel a bit guilty. But drama has its own logic. It must never try to be a documentary. It's a creative work. Fiction.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graciela Daniele

This woman is one of the theater people I deeply admire. She was ready to do the choreography of the (not yet given up) Broadway production of Rebecca, and it was not the least of my regrets that this did not work out. I will never stop hoping for another opportunity to get her talents for one of my shows. She's not just an amazing choreographer, but also a great and sensitive  director.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Neurology Of Writing

Martin Lotze and his team of researchers of the University of Greifswald in Germany have used fMRI scanners to track the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers working on a piece of fiction. They observed a network of regions in the brain working together as people produced their stories. To their surprise the inner workings of the professionally trained writers were different from those of the amateurs. The brain activity of the professionals showed similarities to that of people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Philippe Petit's Creativity

Regular readers of this blog know my admiration for Philippe Petit who has become famous for his 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. It took six years to plan. Colum McCann made him a hero of the  novel Let the Great World Spin, and the documentary about Petit's World Trade Centre tightrope walk, Man On Wire, won an Academy Award. I would have made Philippe the hero of a musical long ago, if the Twin Towers had not become this century's symbol of destruction instead of creative daring. Lately Philippe wrote a book about Creativity which starts by stating "I frown upon books about creativity". It's not really a self-help book for people who want to emulate him, but rather "a wonderful glimpse into the mind of someone who accomplishes things by thinking and doing differently than others". What I greatly admire is Philippe's ability to dream impossible dreams and his determination to make them come true, whatever the prize. That is, in my opinion, the essence of creative power.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paris Embraces Rodgers And Hammerstein

For a long time Paris was immune to the magic of musicals. International hits like "Phantom of the Opera", "Cats" or even the French musical "Les Miserables" flopped there. But over the last ten years something's changing. All of a sudden Parisians like to see musicals. They have discovered Sondheim lately, and now the Théâtre du Châtelet has produced a grand new staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I”. Although eclipsed by other works by the famous duo — such as “South Pacific and “The Sound of Music” — in popularity, “The King and I” has always had its champions, with its engaging cultural clashes and irresistible songs. The musical, which had its premiere in 1951, is based on a novel by Margaret Landon about the real-life experience of an English woman, Anna Leonowens, who went to Siam in the 1860s to teach the royal children about Western culture. Gertrude Lawrence played Anna, and the then-unknown Yul Brynner was the king. The new production makes French critics search for superlatives and Parisians fight for tickets.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Here's To Anita!

Berlin in the "roaring twenties" was a city of drugs, sex and art. More than one third of its population were less than 30 years old. The survivors of the war enjoyed life, and life was regarded an art. Ten years after the prude "Kaiserreich" the experience of the bloody battle fields and the collapse of the old order had swept away all inhibitions among the city's avant-garde. All kinds of drugs were offered in Berlin's dark night clubs where stark naked girls entertained the rich, the young and the crazy. And a new type of women took the stage: The unabashed lesbians. Her protagonist was a dancer called Anita Berber. She performed in the nude, but regarded herself as an artist and did not accept vulgar comments from tipsy guests. On one occasion she interrupted her dance number, grabbed a bottle from one of the bistro tables and crashed it on the head of a man who had yelled an obscene remark. Anita had loved a great number of generous gentlemen, sexy girls and many pounds of cocaine when, only 29, she died shortly before Berlin's crazy Twenties came to a sudden end.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sign

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.
Woody Allen


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Prime Music, Not Prime For Authors

Amazon introduced a music streaming feature on Thursday called Prime Music. It gives subscribers to its Prime service access to thousands of songs free and without interruptions from advertising. What will the authors get for the use of their copyrights? That's still totally unknown. Amazon offered the record companies a royalty pool, to be divided by a market-share formula of Amazon’s choosing. Sony and Warner Music have signed such deals. Universal, whose catalog includes stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Kanye West, did not reach an agreement with Amazon. After contracts for songwriting rights were rejected by many music publishers, Amazon used an outside firm to obtain “compulsory” licenses through federal copyright provisions. Prime Music is not seen as a major threat to companies like Spotify, Rhapsody and Beats Music. But Amazon’s sheer size gives it a big advantage.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marie Antoinette Never Said This

Marie Antoinette never actually uttered the words Let them eat cake. Though historians have known better all along, it is still popularly believed that Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI and queen of France on the eve of the French Revolution, uttered the insensitive remark upon hearing peasants' complaints that there wasn't enough bread to go around: "Let them eat cake," she supposedly said. It's simply not true. It was a callous and ignorant statement and Marie Antoinette was neither. I could not ignore that famous sentence Writing a musical about Marie Antoinette, but I let it say by someone of her entourage

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Honest Word About Fame

"If I became a philosopher, if I have so keenly sought this fame for which I'm still waiting, it's all been to seduce women basically."
Jean-Paul Sartre

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sinatra Is Still #1

The most important person in the English-language world is Frank Sinatra, according to an analysis of Wikipedia articles led by the University of Toulouse's Young-Ho Eom. Number two is Michael Jackson, and number three is Pope Pius XII. Eom arrived at this somewhat surprising conclusion by using methods borrowed from Google to analyze Wikipedia pages and determine which individuals have the most important articles linking to them. Taking all 24 major language editions of Wikipedia into account, Eom's team carried out the same study and came to a more plausible conclusion: Adolf Hitler. (Even then, Michael Jackson takes the second slot, and Madonna is in third place.) The point of the study wasn't strictly to determine who the most important people are on Wikipedia, but instead to discover if the online encyclopaedia was skewed in the level of attention it gives to various figures, either by gender, time, or location.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Best Score, But Not Best Musical

A musical score is at the heart of what separates a Broadway musical from a Broadway play—or so it would seem. How, then, is it possible for one show to win Best Score, as The Bridges of Madison County did June 8, but not be named Best Musical—an award that went to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder? In this year’s case, voters didn’t have a chance to give Best Musical to Bridges, as it was not nominated in that category, a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence for a Best Score winner. A similar situation happened in 2000, when the Elton John musical Aida won for Best Score, but was not nominated for Best Musical. The top honor went to Contact, a dance musical that used a pre-recorded score of existing musical material. 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Seoul Welcomes Mozart! Again

The Sejong Center in Seoul/South Korea is the largest theater I've seen so far. It seats 3000 people. Nevertheless it still feels like a theater, not like a concert hall. After four successful years, the initial Korean production of the musical Mozart!, created by Sylvester and me more than 15 years ago, has received a face lift. The new version will have its opening night today at this spectacular venue.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Willie's Therapy

"When you're singing, you're using extra muscles, and it requires a lot of exercise and breathing. You can't do that if you're a sissy. If I have any fitness advice for people, I'd tell them to sing more. It's good therapy, too."
Willie Nelson


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Willie's Home

The entertainer Willie Nelson has a ranch in Texas and a residence in Hawaii, but the place that he calls home is a bus named Honeysuckle Rose. Joe Nick Patoski, in an interview for his 2008 biography, “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” asked Mr. Nelson where he considers home. “We were on his bus,” Mr. Patoski said. “He just pointed to the table, to say definitively that this — the bus — was home.”
Even when he is at his ranch in Spicewood, Tex., Mr. Nelson is said to often sleep on the bus, which is where he frequently engages in what he calls “adjusting his personality” — or smoking marijuana.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Curious Disconnect

"Sales of digital downloads dropped a whopping 13 percent in the first quarter of this year after falling 5 percent in 2013, which was the first year since the debut of iTunes that sales of digital music dropped. Apple has certainly noticed; Less than two weeks ago, it announced it would buy Beats Electronics in a $3 billion deal that includes a fledgling streaming music service. The acquisition also included the expensive Beats headphones — $300 and up in a variety of colors so they also serve as fashion accessory. People will still pay large money for devices, and this weekend, thousands of people will spend at least $250 for three-day access to the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York. It’s a curious disconnect: Fans will pay top dollar for a music accessory or a music event. They just won’t pay for, oh yeah, music."
David Carr

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nunn On Shakespeare

“'He was not of an age, but for all time’ — so, in memory of his friend, wrote Ben Jonson in 1623. What prescience! Today, many of us still turn to the plays of Shakespeare as a kind of Bible of Humanism, a depository of the most penetrating insights into our complex and contradictory condition. The plays remain searchingly relevant, as the priorities of different ages find new and unexpected emphases in his language, characters, dramatic situations and underlying themes. In addition to having invented and understood the principles of psychology hundreds of years before Freud, our national poet has not only defined the British, but seemingly created us, our ideas and our ideals; who we are and who we aspire to become. It’s our species that’s under his microscope, as he reveals the beast and the angel in man, capable of unspeakable violence and/or spiritual perfection. Above all, he identifies our capability to find forgiveness. Four hundred years before Nelson Mandela, Shakespeare gives these words to a man confronting an enemy who has repeatedly tried to destroy him: 'The power I have on you is… to spare you.’ All that’s left to say is: 'Shine forth, thou star of poets’—right again, Ben!”
Sir Trevor Nunn

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pablo's Method


"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
Pablo Picasso

Friday, June 6, 2014

Academically Confirmed

Professor Andrew Leyshon, a Professor Economic Geography, examined the effects of digital advances on the studio sector and found the industry to be in a more serious condition than anyone thought. The implications are grim and wide-reaching; affecting emerging talent, employees and record companies alike. Once synonymous with the creative talents of artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Coldplay, the recording studio sector is today becoming better known for closures and redundancies. A number of iconic London recording studios, including Olympic Studios, Townhouse Studios, Whitfield Street Studios (formerly Sony and, before that, CBS Studios) and Eden have closed in recent years. "We all know that the music industry has been radically transformed by software," Professor Leyshon says. "We understand the impact that software formats such as MP3 and problems like internet 'piracy' have had on intellectual property rights and distribution. We also understand the knock-on effects for record companies. But the impact on the recording studio sector has passed by with very little comment." Even the famous Apple Studios are in crisis. They already are rather a tourist attraction today than a birthplace for new pop music.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Studio Demise

Sylvester and I are back in London to do demo recordings for our new Marie Antoinette musical which is scheduled to open in Seoul in October. London offers us the greatest choice of first class singers who not only have a a theatrical background but are also able to sing pop (which we usually prefer). To our disappointment we found the studio we usually book, Sphere Studios in Battersea, run out of business. The ongoing crisis in the music industry and the technical development of desktop recording are seriously depleting the recording studio sector.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blues Is The Foundation

"If you don't know the blues... there's no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music."
Keith Richards


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Donny Hathaway


35 years ago he took his life, but Donny is still one of the greatest soul and blues singers of all times! Listen to him and he's alive.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Books



Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard
by the time I read them.
Arnold Lobel


Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Library Worth A Trip


Above the entrance to St Gallen Abbey Library, one of the oldest of its kind, is a Greek inscription which translates into English as "pharmacy of the soul". The monks who founded the library considered books as medicine for the spirit. The 150,000 strong collection, now part of a Unesco World Heritage site, continues to inspire visitors and scholars today. The visitor is immediately struck by two things – the vast quantity of books and the beauty of the room. Remodelled in the 18th century, using the monastery's own craftsmen, the library is a heady mix of rich woodwork, ceiling paintings and stucco. The whole room – even on a rainy day - is illuminated by light from 34 windows. It is said to be one of the most beautiful Baroque libraries in existence. Only 30,000 of the library's collection – books and manuscripts – can be seen. Some volumes are considered simply too precious to be shown in public.