Pale:I like a lot of things. You want bullshit, you want to know what turns me on?
Anna:Nothing. That's fine. I can imagine.
Pale:Yeah, well, I don't like being imagined. I like the ocean. That hurricane. I stayed on the pier--hanging on to this fuckin' pipe railing, wind blowin' so hard you couldn't breathe. Couldn't open my hands the next day. Try to get excited over some fuckin' roller coaster, some loop-the-loop after that. I like those gigantic, citywide fires--like Passaic, wherever; fuckin' Jersey's burnin' down three times a week. Good riddance. Avalanches! Whole villages wiped out. Somethin' that can--like--amaze you. People don't want to hear that shit, they want--like you should get turned on by some crap--you know, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, "I like everyone to be nice." That shit. Chicks or somethin'. Gettin' laid's okay. A really hot shower's good. Clean underwear smells like Downy softener. [Beat.] So you guys all cook for each other. Sittin' here, makin' polite conversation about the state of the world and shit.
Anna:Dancers mainly talk about dance.
Pale:Man, I'm fuckin' up my pants all fucked up.
Anna:That's a nice suit.
Pale:Yeah, I'm a dresser. I keep myself neat. I'm fuckin' up the back of my pants, gettin' all fucked up. Fuckin' linen. Half linen, half wool--fuckin' useless. I could've been the dancer. Who needs it?
Sometimes what’s wrong with inviting the bad thing in? I have nowhere else to be. Come on in. Bad thing, just, be the thing that I do right now and on the other side I’ll do other things. You are handleable. It’s practice, not proving, so. Last night, I was trying to get home. The subway platform was overcrowded. It’s like knowing when you’re about to get sick, seeing an overcrowded platform. This is wrong and it will get wronger and I could change course, take a day off work to rest up or I could stand here. I picked the first car. Normally I pick the last car. But the first car, instead, even though the first car one stop later inevitably fills with millions of people, that’s how the first car works. But I knew I’d get a seat, and those people one stop later would be hovering near me but I’d be sitting, so. I got a seat. There was a baby but the baby wasn’t crying. There was a man with a cane but he got a seat too. The train was skipping stations but not mine. So maybe I wouldn’t have anything to worry about, and then we were pulling out of a station three stops from my home and the train suddenly horribly angrily gleefully stopped. So quickly that we all of us made like we were in a junior high production of The Music Man bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-LEAAAAAAN-fall back but he doesn’t know the territory!
I looked around, like, yes. Obviously. Weren’t we all waiting for this? The balance our lives require? Can’t have a city for nothing. Maybe one person in the car groaned and everyone else just sighed, exchanged significant glances. The MTA is our drunk friend at our other friend’s birthday, whose turn is it to get him home? The conductor announced that the train was going out of service and we’d all need to exit through the last car, which was still at the previous station’s platform. “Do we need to walk on the tracks?” asked somebody, to nobody, and somebody else answered, “No, no.”
So we sat there, bonded in our knowing helplessness, and only one person got agitated the whole time, and he was quickly put down by a lady who was standing there with her kid, that conversation was like “WHY DON’T WE MOVE SOMEONE FUCKIN MOVE” “We can’t.” “Oh, we can’t?” “We can’t, they gotta do the other cars first.” “Oh. Cool.” The baby didn’t cry at all. The guy with the cane just sat. When we finally did walk through the train, an until-then-strangely-quiet group of teenagers giggled to themselves and took flash pictures of each other filing single file. An MTA guy stood in the last car nodding at all of us. “I can’t tell you what’s wrong with it,” he said. “All I can say is that it’s broken.”
On the street I saw all of my carmates, some hailing cabs, some clustered at bus stops. No longer my allies, now in the way of me crossing the street in an expedient fashion. I walked home. I owed them nothing.
Tom Ewing listened to Bryan Adams’ hit ballad 16 times in a row and wrote about it each time. The song holds the record for the longest consecutive run at the top of the British pop chart — 16 weeks, hence 16 listens. Excellent post!
Tom’s post is hilarious, and leads directly into Erik’s weird and embarrassing romantic history storytime: I was in 7th grade when this song came out. A girl in my class named Nicole, that I could barely remember having spoken to, sent the lyrics to this very song in a letter to me via an intermediary of hers. I’d heard the song, everyone had, but I didn’t have any idea how popular it was, even though, looking back, it was fucking everywhere that year. I read the lyrics in disbelief, because how could someone possibly associate them with me? In my head I took them literally, and asked myself, “What does Nicole do? Because according to her she’s doing it all for me, I guess?” I imagined her eating dinner, watching TV, and going to the mall for me. I imagined her talking on the phone, taking notes in class, and maybe popping some zits for me. The whole thing immediately crashed under the weight of its absurd suggestions. I dated Nicole for two weeks because I heard that the girl I actually had a crush on thought I should. But wait! I was worse than that. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson upon receiving that letter, that we shouldn’t appropriate fabulous popular music for our self-serving romantic machinations, but it was only about a year after that that I transcribed a Nine Inch Nails song (“Gave Up,” in case you’re interested. I was messed up back then, ok!) into a letter to a different girl who’d dumped me.
Everything here is great. I’m just riding everyone’s coattails to say, so, the movie came out in the summer of 1991, which means that the videocassette probably came out, what, 1992 or so. So sometime in 1992, let’s say early 1992, I was in 5th grade, and I decided to pay a visit to my elementary school, because even in 5th grade I was precociously nostalgic. I went by the office of the woman who ran the after-school program*, a program I attended a whole damn lot (my #1 talent: asking if I could not do whatever activity was planned and maybe just go sit on the playground somewhere and read a book please please please). And I found the woman who ran the after-school program in her tiny office, which was probably just a broom closet, and she was watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on a tiny television, all by herself. I told this story to a friend of mine this week and she said, “Isn’t it weird, how everyone we knew…was also a person?” Which is a good point.
Also I always assumed that because of the way he sang, Bryan Adams was old and ugly. It just, who sings like that and is also pretty? But a few weeks ago I was moved to watch the video, and I realized that he was not at all old, nor was he particularly unattractive, and is it possible I got this far in my life without really knowing what Bryan Adams looked like? Apparently. I feel okay admitting all this to you guys. I feel safe. Also I just Google image-searched Bryan Adams. Today’s an okay day.
*Yeah, also, I did things like “go by” the offices of adults, because overall I got on better with them than with my peers. I am telling you, I was insufferable. (“Was.”)
But what I really love about this show is the music and lyrics by David Yazbek. There’s a trend in musical theatre right now in which shows are moving toward a pop sensibility. This is not really a new trend (you had to remember that any new show that resembles an old-fashioned score is actually resembling what was considered “pop” fifty to sixty years ago). What’s so marvelous about the music in this show is that the songs effectively work as pop music and showtunes. Yazbek has a rock-music background, having produced albums by XTC and Spacehog (making it even more surprising for him to move into musical comedy scores).
This song is one of the best examples of what he was getting at: bridging a gap between a pop song and a showtune. It starts out as a pop song played on a record player, with Patti LuPone chiming in with her drawn-out phrases and strange pronunciation. And then there’s a weird musical bridge there, a beautiful soliloquy that makes you remember that you’re listening to a piece from a musical rather than a fun, silly throwback to a ’60s love song with Latin touches. Most importantly, it tells a story, which is vital for a showtune, but it does so in a sneaky way; this song tricks you into thinking it’s a pop song.
While The Book of Mormon will certainly sweep (and deservedly so - it might be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen), I hope Women on the Verge has a chance to take home the award for its score, which may more likely have more of a legacy than Mormon’s collection of funny, parodic songs.
Oh my god you guys David Yazbek. Dear, poor man! This guy, he wrote one of my all-time favorite musical scores, no joke, The Full Monty. The songs he wrote for that are wonderful, witty, catchy, touched by the ghost of Frank Loesser and with just a little cussing. You wouldn’t think I’d have to mention the cussing but critics did; the first line of the opening number is “What do I want?/That’s easy, asshole/I want a job/I want to feel like a person/instead of a slob.” Moments later the lyrics mention weed and masturbation. And we haven’t even got yet to the song called “Big-Ass Rock.”
But let’s talk about "Big-Ass Rock" for a second, let’s give it its own paragraph, here, because it is a really fantastic song, not just because it’s funny (it is) or clever (it is) but because it is a genuine musical theater song (SURPRISE, BROADWAY!!!!). It’s not a joke, or a parody. It’s a song with a joke, yes, actually a bunch of them, verbal and musical. But also it introduces two characters to a third, and also introduces us to the third, and also serves as a mini I Want for the third (the song’s sublime bridge, as sung above by Jason Danieley, is something I maybe sing to myself a lot). It is good at its job. And it’s singable, and I hate forever that I’ve never seen it on a karaoke machine (though I kill at “Man”).
So anyway, The Full Monty was a successful show! It was well-reviewed and ran for nearly two years and it never even had a movie star in it or anything! But it won zero Tony Awards. ZERO. How is this possible, you ask me. It is possible because Monty had the misfortune to open in a season that also contained a demon: The Producers. This demon did what all demons do, which is it won all of the Tony Awards. It was nominated for 15 and it won 12, beating Monty over and over again. Look, fine, lots of people like/d The Producers. People went a superlative kind of crazy over it. I didn’t like it. You want to talk about it, we can talk about it, but the short version is it wasn’t for me and I’m glad you had fun. Okay.
Anyway. Five years later Yazbek returned with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a musical I’m going to go ahead and say was underrated, even by me. You go back and listen to that score, that is a damn good score, the standout number being the one that won my dear darling Norbert Leo Butz his Tony, “Great Big Stuff.” So maybe this was the chance for Yazbek to get his Tony due? Nah, nope, you know what else opened that season? Frigging Spamalot. That’s right, another blockbuster musical based on a legendary comic film. HRRAY
Although to be fair, Spamalot only won 3 Tonys that year, including best musical. Also fighting for Tonys that season were Light in the Piazza (6 Tonys) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2 Tonys), both of which are pretty wonderful in their own right. But you gotta feel for Yazbek and his timing, right? Because now it’s a whole new season, another half-decade passed, and here come those Parker & Stone fellas and everyone is loving on ‘em like they ain’t never loved before, except for in 2001, The Producers, remember. It’s a lot like that.
Broadway has a complex. I’m not the first to say it, but I’m gonna say it. Broadway is always completely and utterly shocked to find young people in its seats. Remember the gleeful high-fiving over American Idiot, Spring Awakening, Rent. Cut to a montage of “THE KIDDOS HAVE RETURNED TO BROADWAY AND THEY DON’T HATE US” type pieces, cut to the Tony Awards last year using Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele. All that and you know what the current longest-running show on Broadway is? It’s goddamn Phantom of the Opera, a show with so little youth that when you walk by The Majestic I’m pretty sure you can actually smell embalming fluid. Next on the list of current long runs: Chicago (tour groups), The Lion King (people with small children), Mama Mia! (tour groups). It’s not until you get to the fifth current long-runner, Wicked, that you can really make the youth-driven argument. And even then, the kids at Wicked are not really scenesters. They just love singing as high as they can.
Yazbek, though, that’s a man making musicals for smart adults who like a good time. The Full Monty has a handful of really poignant songs in its score, including “Breeze Off the River,” a song that the main character sings to his son. A poignant song that a grown man sings to his son. That’s for grown-ups, that is. I once saw Yazbek play a show with his band (he has a band!) and he sung “Breeze” by himself, at the piano, with his son’s blankie tucked into his hat. It was so wonderful that I made a Tony out of my two-drink minimum and wept straight into it. I can’t imagine the Tony voters giving Yazbek an award for Women on the Verge. Somehow, again, it’s not his year. But for heaven’s sake. Let’s keep this man writing musicals. It’s so important.
1. Broadway (weeknights): Come the denouement, they crouch. Clutch clutches. Crumple jackets. Sweaty palms and bent knees. Aisle seats hard won not for nothing, Telecharge, these seats are meant for the escape artists of old Broadway. At the crack of curtainfall they are off, up the aisle and out the door, sidewalk agile, chased to Port Authority by the applause that seems, somehow, for them.
2. Broadway (Friday and Saturday nights): Where did Steve get to well he said he would be right back, well he said he was going to get us drinks, well he oh here, Steve, over here! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! He doesn’t see me, are those. Is he. UCCH he’s turning around, did you, remember he did this before, what? when we went to see Julia Roberts rememb STEVE OVER oh he’s, he’s, he does this every time, I don’t know why we the drinks cost about forty dollars anyway and now good Lord you know they put them in a sippy cup yes REALLY and it’s not like he didn’t get tanked enough on the train in STEVE
3. Broadway (matinees): They like to drape their coats over the backs of their seats and so then if you’re so lucky as to be seated behind them you can spend the show tearing tiny edges off your Playbill and crumpling those edges into tiny balls and dropping those tiny balls into the deepest depths of the furriest collars round the quilted-iest hoods. It’s snowing, you bastards. It’s snowing all over.
4. Off-Broadway (nonprofit): So much depends on a volunteer usher dressed in black seating you incorrectly.
5. Off-Broadway (commercial): See there a particular sort of heartbreak in the eyes of the tourist who has laid down how much to see what exactly in a concrete block with, well, I’ll give you this, the fixtures are quite modern and the seats are well-cushioned but they’re all just, in their eyes you can see the screaming going how do I pretend I liked this as they applaud too hard for competency, and—then! The shadow is gone from their eyes and it’s all shall we again take our evening sup from the Smiler’s Deli and Buffet?
6. Off-Off-Broadway: You drunks and louts and you those comped in, you! Smug and intimate, afraid of no steep stair, folding chair, half-lit bathroom, haphazardly folded program. Scanning the room for enemies. Tucking flyers into library books. As brave and entitled as churchgoers, ancient judges, capable of forgiving generosity and blackening silence, they ride home alone, smiling.