Saturday, November 30, 2013

If You're Inspired, Don't Ask

“Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak..surrender to them. Don't ask first whether it's permitted, or would please your teachers or father or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that.”
 Hermann Hesse

Friday, November 29, 2013

Santa's Bag

I just discovered a free app that  is a smart shopping list manager for iPhone with a Christmas twist. It's called Santa's Bag. It gives you space to put down all your gift ideas, sorted by the person who’ll be receiving the gifts and including sections for you to keep track of spending. You can enter photos of each person in your list, and keep track of which gifts you’ve bought and which are left to buy. The interface is slick and easy to use, and the ability to view your data as a list of gifts or by recipient could relieve some pressure during your actual shopping. You can even set a pass code so prying eyes can’t see what gifts you have planned. The downside is that the app is ad-supported and the ads may annoy you. Plus, while the countdown to Christmas display in hours, minutes and seconds is cute, it could stress you out as the holiday nears. For $3 you can upgrade to ditch the ads and get extra features like Dropbox backups and the ability to archive gifts from past years.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Michael Richards Is Back

There are a few comedians I am really fond of. Woody Allen of course, the late Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon are among them. Since the 90's when I became a fan of Seinfeld I added Michael Richards to that list. Playing the part of Cosmo Kramer Richards proved to be a first class entertainer and actor. He was banned from the screen in 2006 when a clip was placed on Youtube which showed him losing his temper and insulting a guest at a live show. After that he moved away from Los Angeles and didn’t seek work and casting directors did not come after him. He took up photography, did a lot of reading, a lot of writing and traveled a bit. It was not just the incident of 2006 that put him out of work. Because he was so identified with the Seinfeld show probably nobody knew what to do with him. Now the 62 year old comedian will come back to TV, again playing a sidekick to a comic entertainer. This time he’s a chauffeur to Kirstie Alley, playing a woman called Madison Banks. I'm glad he's back.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


“Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
Milan Kundera 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Six By Sondheim

James Lapine, who has frequently collaborated with Stephen Sondheim, notably on the musicals Sunday in the Park With George, Passion and Into the Woods, has directed a HBO documentary about my idol titled "Six by Sondheim". I had the pleasure of working with James on "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" in Berlin a dozen years ago. Executive producer of the film is the infamous former New York Times theatre critic and journalist Frank Rich. The documentary is supposed to be brimming with what seem like hundreds of different filmed interviews with Sondheim, dating from 1961 to the present day. Many are interviews Lapine didn't know existed and had never seen, some of them shot on British programs. Strung together, the many interviews are said to draw a consistent portrait of the artist over the years. Sondheim's ideas about his work seemingly formed early and rarely wavered. Neither did his willingness to openly discuss his artistic choices and process. I can't wait to watch the film. It will air Dec. 9, 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Songs Still Make Money

Spotify, which started in Sweden in 2008, is now available in more than 30 countries. The internet service that makes millions of songs available for streaming, by subscription or free with advertising, is eager to expand around the world, as the download market cools and competition for streaming music intensifies. Now the subscription music service, has completed a $250 million financing round that values the company at more than $4 billion. The investment comes from Technology Crossover Ventures, a firm whose media and technology investments have included Netflix, Facebook and Groupon. $ 4 billion is a lot of money. What's in it for the song writers who supply the contents of Spotify ? I'm afraid they altogether will get less than 0.0001 % of the profit.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Notebook's Got A Twin Brother

I carry my Moleskin reporter notebook wherever I go. Since I have an iPhone I can make notes digitally, and by using the Dragon app even verbally. But I don't want to give up the old habit of writing comments and ideas in my little black book. Now there is a handcrafted case for my new iPhone 5 on the market that make my digital companion look like a twin brother of my old time notebook. It's produced by Pad and Quill, a small company in Minneapolis. The leather covers are made in Mexico, and the wood is cut and finished in St. Paul, where the cases are then assembled in a bindery. The Little Pocket Book case costs $ 70. That's not cheap, but it is worth every penny. The phone rests in a cradle of Baltic birch, which is then wrapped in top-grain leather. The exterior is stitched and embossed and includes an elastic band that keeps the case closed. The front flap has three small interior pockets for cards and a larger one for bills. The case even has a ribbon that looks like a bookmark, completing the appearance of a notebook.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keep Learning!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.
Mark Twain

Friday, November 22, 2013

What A Woman!

“As for my own part I care not for death, for all men are mortal; and though I be a woman yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am indeed endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christendom.”
Elizabeth I 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Farewell, Syd!

Sad news. Last Sunday Syd Field, one of my revered teachers, passed away. He was often called the original guru of screenwriting. It is less known that he also inspired a lot of my drama musical dramaturgy. Syd was 77. He wrote eight best-selling books on screenwriting over the course of his career, including Screenplay, published in 1979, which is considered the screenwriter’s bible. He was the first writer to outline the three-act script paradigm followed not only by many TV and film writers today, but also by contemporary librettists like myself.
Born Dec. 19, 1935 in Hollywood, Field received a B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. He spent much of his career writing for the orignal Biography TV Series and worked as a script consultant for 20th Century Fox, Disney, Universal and Tri-Star Pictures. He was inducted into the Final Draft Hall of Fame in 2006 and was the first inductee into the Screenwriting Hall of Fame of the American Screenwriting Association.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lady Bess

At a press conference in Tokyo today Lady Bess will be presented to the public. That's how Sylvester Levay and I call the brand new musical we created over the last three years. The picture shows a moment at London's Sphere Studios where we have recorded the main songs for demonstration. Lady Bess tells the story of the young Elizabeth Tudor (1533-1603) before she became the most famous Queen of England. When Bess was two years and eight months old, her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed. Bess (as she was called by those close to her) was declared illegitimate and deprived of her place in the royal succession. When her  older half-sister, Mary, became Queen, she suspected Bess of plotting against her. Bess was brought to court, and imprisoned at the very room of the Tower of London where her mother had waited for her execution. The dramatic story of Lady Bess is told on stage by an elderly playwright, Robin Blake, who once fell in love with the princess when he was a young poet. It's basically a tale of growing up. My libretto is inspired by well-known historic events, not based on any specific book or movie. Rehearsals for the show start next February. The opening at Tokyo's prestigious Imperial Theater is scheduled for April 13, 2014.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Musical Adaptation We Were Waiting For

Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the film Shakespeare in Love will open at the Noel Coward Theatre next year. The production, adapted from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, will be directed by Declan Donnellan and have design by Nick Ormerod. Together, Donnellan and Ormerod formed theatre company Cheek by Jowl in 1981 and have since directed and designed more than 30 productions together, including Shakespeare plays such as Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Shakespeare in Love will be produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions. Friedman said: ““Every now and then a story comes along that cries out to be staged. This is one such story.  Shakespeare in Love bursts with life and is a moving and hilarious celebration of everything that we love about the inspirational and transformative power of theatre. This project has been several years in development and Tom Schumacher [from Disney Theatrical Productions] and I are thrilled to be confirming its world premiere in London.” Preview performances of Shakespeare in Love will begin in July, 2014. Hall’s other stage credits include the musical Billy Elliot and The Pitman Painters.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wrong Question

Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, "What's in it for me?"
Brian Tracy

Friday, November 15, 2013

Very Early Beatles Tracks

Many of my friends are fans of the Beatles. I'm sure they are excited to learn that there are two "new" Beatles albums out featuring tracks never before released. Here's the review of Allan Kozinn from the New York Times:

In the summer of 1971, one of the first Beatles bootlegs turned up, packaged in a white sleeve with “The Beatles — Yellow Matter Custard — Previously Unreleased Studio Material” rubber-stamped across it. It offered an odd lineup of tracks (performances of Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman”; Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”; Carl Perkins’s “Sure to Fall (in Love With You)”; Arthur Alexander’s “Shot of Rhythm and Blues”), 14 in all, in decent, if slightly tinny, quality.

Beatles scholarship was in its infancy then, and collectors had no idea what these tracks were. When a fan played the disc for John Lennon in 1972, he said it was the Beatles’ failed Decca audition from a decade earlier. He was wrong. By the late 1970s, the recordings’ provenance was established: The Beatles recorded these songs in 1963 for a 15-week BBC radio series, “Pop Go the Beatles.”

Few American fans knew of the half-hour show, or knew that the Beatles performed regularly for the BBC from 1962 to 1965, and British fans rarely mentioned it. On both sides of the Atlantic, the Beatles narrative focused instead on the group’s amazing musical development, as captured in its EMI studio recordings.

But the BBC was crucial to the Beatles’ career. It presented them on its airwaves months before they had a record deal, and when it offered them “Pop Go the Beatles,” the group had released only three singles and one LP.

A new release, “On Air — Live at the BBC, Vol. 2,” and a reissue of its 1994 predecessor, “Live at the BBC” (both Apple/Universal), are a reminder of how important this material is to understanding what made the Beatles tick.

And a lavishly packaged, deeply researched new book, “The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962 to 1970” (Harper Design), by Kevin Howlett — a former BBC producer who has assembled several shows about the Beatles’ BBC work, and is an executive producer of the CDs — clarifies the importance of the relationship to both sides.

Consider that the Beatles’ EMI studio output, from 1962 to 1970, amounted to 212 songs (not counting variant versions or post-breakup releases). At the BBC, they recorded 88 songs, most in multiple performances, for a total of about 280 tracks. Among the 88 are 36 songs, nearly three albums’ worth, that the Beatles never recorded for EMI.

That’s a significant chunk of repertory. Most are covers of American records, and though that may seem a drawback for a band distinguished by its songwriting, they tell us what most influenced the Beatles: namely, Motown hits, Chuck Berry, rockabilly (mostly Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley) and East Coast girl groups.

You know that from the covers the Beatles included on their early albums, of course, but the BBC recordings add depth to the playlist.

“Live at the BBC” includes 30 of the non-EMI 36. “On Air” adds two more — a rocked-up version of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and Mr. Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” — and a third, Perkins’s “Lend Me Your Comb,” that was included on “The Beatles Anthology 1.”

“On Air” also offers hits that the first volume ignored (“She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” among them) and alternative performances of tracks on the earlier set, some superior, all different in illuminating ways.

The accounts of Little Richard’s “Lucille” on the two sets were recorded only two weeks apart, but show Paul McCartney taking different approaches to the screaming lead vocal. Lennon sang the version of Perkins’s “Honey Don’t” on “Live at the BBC.” Ringo Starr sings it on the new set.

Because the BBC performances were essentially live in the studio, they are closer to the Beatles’ live performances than to the carefully tweaked and polished EMI versions. Among the highlights of “On Air” are performances of “Anna,” “Misery,” “You Can’t Do That,” “Words of Love” and “Roll Over Beethoven” that are more sharply etched and more electrifying than the studio recordings.

And there are striking differences in the arrangements: “And I Love Her” and “Till There Was You,” gently acoustic on LP, are electric on “On Air.”

These performances are historic in other ways, too. At the Beatles’ first BBC taping, on March 7, 1962 (Pete Best was still their drummer), they played a cover of the Marvelettes’ 1961 hit, “Please Mr. Postman.”

That performance was the first time any song on the Tamla-Motown label was played on the BBC. Oddly, nothing from that first show — which also includes a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby,” one of the three still unissued non-EMI songs — is included on either of the Apple sets. (The show has been available on bootlegs since the 1980s.)

To its credit, Apple has revamped “Live at the BBC.” All the tracks were freshly transferred, and a few have been replaced with recently discovered, upgraded sources, and a few minor extras have been added. The annoying cross-fading between tracks has been removed, as has the original’s heavy-handed noise reduction.

Alas, Apple has kept the set’s nonchronological running order, as if this were an original Beatles album rather than a compilation.

“On Air” is an enjoyable extension of the franchise. Like “Live at the BBC,” it draws heavily on bootlegs — the BBC, astonishingly, recorded over its early 1960s tapes, so bootlegs are Apple’s main sources, as well as recordings kept by BBC outposts around the world and master tapes taken home by producers — but it presents the music chronologically.

The compilation also includes plenty of the between-songs banter, which, given the Beatles’ personalities, is amusing enough to bear repeated listening.

But these sets merely scrape the surface. The most comprehensive bootleg compilation, “Unsurpassed Broadcasts” (2012), runs to 12 CDs, and, like most bootlegs today, it is an altruistic project — assembled by obsessive collectors, with sound-editing skills, who sequenced it chronologically, provided artwork and notes, and then offered it free on the Internet, entirely because Apple hasn’t done this itself.

At the rate Apple is working, with 19 years between two-disc installments (despite the first set’s sales of five million copies), it will take 80 more years for all the tracks be released. Apple should rethink that. A complete, chronological edition that would put this extraordinary body of work into the official catalog is long overdue.

I recently asked Mr. Howlett whether such a project was being considered. He said it was not: Apple and Universal, he explained, want to appeal to the casual listener, not the specialist.

Could they be mistaking the Beatles for some obscure cult band?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Respect The Lyrics Too!

Music authors' associations and the music industry in general aggressively go after websites for using copyrighted music without permission, especially on YouTube videos. Lyrics demand respect too. According to the National Music Publishers’ Association of America there are five million Google searches each day for lyrics, and more than half of all lyric page views are on sites that reprint song lyrics without licenses, selling advertising based on the enormous traffic they attract. Lately the NMPA was filing take-down notices against what it called the 50 “worst offenders”. This was not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites or the many websites that provide lyrics legally. The target were 50 sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters’ ability to make a living. Actions against websites publishing unlicensed lyrics have been largely successful so far, either by getting the sites to properly license songs or to shut down. The publishers’ association prevailed in court against two sites that failed to comply, and is expected to win in any future cases.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fame and Honor

It's very common to aspire fame and honor in life. There's nothing wrong about it if it motivates you to give your best. Nevertheless it's an illusion to assume that your fame means anything to the world around you. Nor is it proof that your life is important and meaningful. Maybe you'll be forgotten a few years later than those who don't give a *** about that kind of recognition. What's the difference? You will not experience what happens after your death. So you'd better try to be what you are and do what you have to do without considering how people judge you. Oops, I didn't mean to preach, just had to get it off my chest since some people think I care about fame.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Turning Point Maker

As for types like my own, obscurely motivated by the conviction that our existence was worthless if we didn't make a turning point of it, we were assigned to the humanities, to poetry, philosophy, painting -- the nursery games of humankind, which had to be left behind when the age of science began. The humanities would be called upon to choose a wallpaper for the crypt, as the end drew near.
Saul Bellow

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Most Precious Gift

Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself.
Walter T. Anderson 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Only Thing

It was my 16th birthday - my mom and dad gave me my Goya classical guitar that day. I sat down, wrote this song, and I just knew that that was the only thing I could ever really do - write songs and sing them to people.
Stevie Nicks 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How Creators Age

It takes a long time to become young.
Pablo Picasso 

Friday, November 8, 2013


I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.
Henry Ward Beecher 

Thursday, November 7, 2013


When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
John F. Kennedy 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

David Adjmi's Marie Antoinette

At the Soho Rep in New York David Adjmi's latest play, Marie Antoinette, opened the other day. It is a study of the price of celebrity. Having written a musical on the hapless French Queen, I read the review of Alexis Soloski in this week's Village Voice with great interest.
"Adjmi dresses up the familiar story of the doomed queen with ample anachronism and linguistic frisk. Marie (Marin Ireland) seems an ancient regime real housewife with an even larger house and (courtesy costume designer Anka Lupes and wig designer Amanda Miller) rather better style. Teasing her hair while Paris burns, she enthuses about lapdogs and pastry ("The linzer tortes omigod"), even as she complains about life at court: "it's SUFFOCATING ME." She recites every line with a prettily vapid rising inflection. This could be a mere goof and certainly Adjmi writes plenty of japes, maybe too many. "I'm tired," Marie moans. "Three feet of hair is a workout." Later she tells an admirer, "The night Louis and I were married there was a violent thunderstorm and they had to cancel the fireworks, and it's been like that ever since." Director Rebecca Taichman sensibly lets the actors indulge the comedy, even as she allows it to transform into something more troubling and sinister. Designer Stephen Strawbridge keeps the light shining on the audience, implicating us in Marie's fall. When we first see her with her Sèvres porcelain and piles of dainties, hair swirled to empyrean heights, we might indeed feel she deserves a comeuppance. Well, she gets it and more. Macarons cede to just deserts, gowns to rags, quips to insane ramblings, gilded dream to caustic nightmare. And still the degradation continues. We are powerless to stop the violence, and what we may have once desired we now deplore. Or, Adjmi asks, do we? Ireland, a Soho Rep darling, doesn't condescend to Marie. Though an actress of considerable intelligence, she never makes herself smarter than the character and ably expresses Adjmi's tonal variations. If she can't quite play an impossible mad scene, it's hard to conceive of an actor who could, and she excels elsewhere with able assists from Marsha Stephanie Blake and Jennifer Ikeda as her illusive friends, Karl Miller as her supercilious brother, Steven Rattazzi (a putto with a five o'clock shadow) as her childlike husband, and David Greenspan as a frightening sheep. (Yes. A sheep. And yes, truly scary.) Many tragedies include scenes of recognition, in which a Hamlet or an Oedipus comes to terms with what he has effected and endured. Adjmi denies Marie any such reckoning. Early in the play, she remarks, "Sometimes I feel like I'm not even a person." But even as she grasps toward enlightenment, at the end she seems no more whole. As she hallucinates in her cell, she describes her life as "like some awful dream and it's never been mine." She goes to her death unaware, unreconciled, unredeemed. That'll stick in your throat."
Soho Rep. 46 Walker Street. New York. Phone 866-811-4111.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's Nothing

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, November 4, 2013


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Why Kill The Dragon?

Nick Bostrom’s philosophical parable about death recounts the tale of a vicious dragon, with ever-growing appetite, who started with tens and, eventually, went on consuming hundreds of thousands of people every day. The fable recounts the enormous human suffering and economic toll that the dragon-tyrant was exacting on humanity and the countless heroes who perished trying to sleigh it. Eventually people concluded that the dragon was invincible and came up with numerous justifications and teachings that we all ought to embrace the dragon as an inevitability. So, when a sage old man proposed that technology would eventually make it possible to build a contraption that could kill the dragon-tyrant, most experts not only dismissed it as a possibility but also as a worthy goal altogether: “Getting rid of the dragon would deflect us from realizing the aspirations to which our lives naturally point. I tell you – the nature of the dragon is to eat humans. And our own nature is truly and nobly fulfilled only by being eaten by it.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bad For Plots

"There’s nothing worse for plots than cellphones. Once your characters have one, there’s no reason for them to get lost or stranded. Or miss each other at the top of the Empire State Building. If you want anything like that to happen, you either have to explain upfront what happened to the phones or you have to make at least one character some sort of manic pixie Luddite who doesn’t carry one."

Rainbow Rowall

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Death

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Mark Twain