Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Picture Down The Hall -- The Jewels in the Crown 3

Next up in our series of photos from our jewelry portfolio are some pics of the gorgeous Jennifer... well, maybe FIERCE is a better word!

I love working with this woman. What a face. What a presence. What a body.

And, as divas go, she is decidedly un-diva like. All the attitude with none of the 'tude.

And this glorious pairing is Laurelle and AJ. When it comes to outright beauty, you can't do better than this.

It was almost more than the camera could handle.

Could you die?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Listen Up: The Christmas Music Part Three

There are a few cds that I just have to listen to at Christmas; in the first part of this story I named some of the essentials for our house; but there are these truly lovely holiday cds that may not be in my Ipod in their entirety, but there are several (SEVERAL) tracks from them on my Christmas playlist and the whole cds get full playtime on the home stereo.
Amy Grant has three completely different holiday cds and one called something like The Christmas Collection. I have the three separate releases, A Christmas Album, Home For Christmas and A Christmas to Remember. I will admit that the first released of these, A Christmas Album, gets the least amount of playtime. It isn’t that it’s not good; it’s just a LOT of religious music (though not entirely) and that doesn’t interest me much. It’s a swell cd but I LOVE the second and third. Home for Christmas has a great mixture of Christmas Carols and Christmas songs; her It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and Rockin Around the Christmas Tree are a lot of fun, while the Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Grown Up Christmas List are lovely. I really like her The Night Before Christmas and Breath of Heaven; and the I’ll be Home for Christmas is very sweet. It’s a good cd. A Christmas to Remember, though, is a great cd. It is essential holiday listening. From the opening (title) song, the listener is placed into a happy mood with tuneful melodies and festive, but unsentimental, lyrics. The Christmas songs are heartfelt but not schmaltzy and the carols are lovely and true to the original intent of the writers. There is even a delicious instrumental of Gabriel’s Obe, a piece of music created for the film THE MISSION, by Ennio Morricone – it was later given lyrics and turned into the song Nella Fantasia. With such rich material on one cd, how could Amy Grant have gone wrong?

Doris Day Personal Christmas Collection is right out of my childhood. I listened to her recordings on the Firestone record albums and many of them are in my personal history of the holiday – and all of them are on this cd! I mean, it just isn’t Christmas time without her versions of Silver Bells and Toyland, Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and The Christmas Song. Then there are the songs I didn’t know as a child but came to love as an adult – songs like Snowfall and Be a Child at Christmas Time. One of the great stars and great singers of the last century, she turned out a real treat, a real treasure, when she made this album.

Christmas with Julie Andrews is practically (if not all – as I am not really sure how each song is categorized) Christmas carols. Like I said before, I tend to prefer Christmas songs to Christmas carols – but that isn’t an absolute. I love Christmas carols; they just have to be sung by the right person. When it is time for me to do a little caroling, this is where I come. Like the Doris Day cd, this song harkens back to my childhood and gives me great comfort. This is probably my favourite In the Bleak Midwinter and my favourite Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

Mariah Carey Merry Christmas. This is one of the occasions when I prefer the Christmas songs to the carols. A big Mariah fan, I love to listen to her rock out on All I Want for Christmas is You (one of my favourites) and Christmas Baby Please Come Home but the rest of the album is quite good. I don’t always play the whole thing but it’s worth a listen.

The Christmas Music of Johnny Mathis. No Christmas is complete without this cd. I think, during their duet on Bette Midler’s holiday cd, she calls him Mister Christmas. It’s just a fact. Mr Mathis’ Christmas songs are a part of the tradition itself. I defy anyone to get through the holiday without actually needing to hear It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas or It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, even Marshmallow World and Winter Wonderland. THIS is ESSENTIAL music for your Christmas holiday.

A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector is delicious! What more fun could there be than these famous recordings of The Ronnettes Frosty the Snowman or Sleigh Ride? How about The Crystals doing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town? And even though a lot of these songs are songs for children, these are straight forward, fun, rock versions of the songs that a grown up can enjoy. Darlene Love’s tracks on here are, particularly, good for me.
It’s a well known fact that Helen Reddy is my favourite singer. LaMott, Minnelli, Cox… I have my divas, doncha know. Miss Reddy is a big one for me. I love her; and true love lasts forever. I was very excited when she released this cd and I often drop it into the tray of the player and let it go. I don’t have all of it in my Ipod because she does a couple of songs just for the kids, including a children’s choir – and that falls short of being in the realm of my interest. However, the grown up portion of the cd really is wonderful, featuring her inimitable voice on songs like Christmas Mem’ries, Wishing You an Old Fashioned Christmas, The Christmas of Your Life and Christmas Auld Lang Syne. I do, I do love this cd.

A Cabaret Christmas is an interesting compilation for me because I, so rarely, like to listen to cds like this (remember my estimation of A Hollywood Christmas and the NBC Celebrity Christmas?) but this one is really simple and artistic. The artists let their artistry shine by giving it all over to the source material. Billy Stritch does this wonderful simple arrangement of I’ll Be Home For Christmas that is just him and the piano, a little bass, a little drum and that silky sexy voice of his. There is a lovely duet on Silent Night by Andrea Marcovicci and Karen Akers (a singer I rarely listen to). My favourites are KT Sullivan’s medley of Merry Christmas to Me/Hard Candy Christmas (HEAVENLY) and one of the greatest songs ever written by Johnny Mandel with a lyric by the Bergmans – A Christmas Love Song – and it is performed by the incomparable Ann Hampton Callaway. I am particularly fond of this one because it comes from one of my favourite Christmas movies, Christmas Eve. This cd is terrific.

And Here is one that requires absolutely no explanation whatsoever:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Workout Room Bent Over Bicep Curls

I use a 40 lb barbell. Use weight that feels good to you.

Bend over, hold the weight, let your arms hang. Curl up, using the bicep, til your forearm is parallel to the floor, elbow at 90 degrees. Squeeze! the muscle.

15 - 25 reps
3 sets

Friday, December 18, 2009

Listen Up: The Christmas Music Part Two

I love Christmas cds. I used to have a tradition: I would buy myself one new Christmas cd every season. I had to stop doing it. Too expensive… not enough storage space… and people were beginning to put out cds that didn’t interest me.

Today I was listening to a couple of cds that a friend gave me that I put into my Ipod for examination.

I didn’t like them. Well. I didn’t like all of them. I had to delete some of what I was listening to. That’s the bummer. The first one I tried to listen to was A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS. Oh my gosh, it made me crazy. I had to skip most of the tracks after just a few seconds. I don’t know who produced it but the arrangements were so saccharine that it hurt to listen – almost all the sincere emotion was stripped from every track by synthesized orchestrations and over production, not to mention often schmacty performances by the singers. Not a total loss, though, the cd left me with a recording of Baby It’s Cold Outside by the great Karen Morrow and the equally great Charles Nelson Reilly (and, yeah, it’s schmacty – but it is the best version of schmacty you can get because of these two legendary talents). Also, there is great forgiveness for me in the acceptance of the super sweet arrangement on My Christmas Tree, just because it isn’t every day you get a Diana Canova recording. The recording of Twiggy singing Christmas Children is (I believe) from her own album and it’s completely lovely – but I haven’t checked to see if the arrangements are by the same person; I don’t think so. There is a lovely recording of Silver Bells by Linda Purl and I am always happy to have a new recording by Linda Purl in my Ipod. The loveliest thing on this cd is a song called Winter Was Warm by Jodi Benson that is so heartfelt and so sincere that it really touched me – and it sounds like she is singing with an actual piano and not some synthesized karaoke track. This track is a treat, one worth keeping in your Ipod. I found the rest of the cd to be a heartbreak because I admire so many of the exceptional singers/actors on the recording – I just can’t listen to them, here. Fooey.

Directly on the heels of listening to A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS (and deleting 50 % of it fro my Ipod) I turned my attention to NBC CELEBRITY CHRISTMAS. Not as irritating as the first of these Los Angeles created Christmas cds, there are actually some wonderful recordings here! Of course, not the Baby It’s Cold Outside recording by Bebe Neuwirth and John Lithgow. I found myself remembering the story about how Laurette Taylor would (often) say to actors appearing with her “Just say the line.” Well. I think that is a big problem with a lot of actors these days. Everyone is so afraid to be honest, so afraid to let the authors’ work do its’ job, so afraid of not being different, not being noticed, not being the star, that they (the actors) completely go over the top in their performance, ruining the creation with over production. I happen to love Mr Lithgow and I have affection and admiration for Ms Neuwirth. This cut, though, had to be cut from my Ipod. Listening to it was like having my molars ground down with a nutmeg file. Some other recordings were deleted – not because I didn’t like them but because I won’t play them. Dave Koz is lovely but I don’t need an instrumental version of The Christmas Song; ditto the recordings of Coventry Carol and Let it Snow! What I DO need in my Ipod, though, is the remarkably gorgeous recordings of O Holy Night by Marie Osmond and Silent Night by Megan Mullally. WONDERFUL and heartfelt – the best cuts on the cd. There’s a lovely The First Noel by a person called Jane French. I don’t mind Wendie Malick’s Santa Baby, though there certainly are better; the same goes for Jane Leeve’s sort of charming Winter Wonderland. I actually do, quite, like Katey Segal’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and I take bizarre pleasure in the Wonderful Christmas Time done by Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing and John Spencer – but I also like the musical film Lost Horizon. All in all, not a great offering; but not as bad as Hollywood Christmas… certainly worth a buck or two to hear the Osmond and Mullally tracks.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is a cd of Broadway stars singing Christmas music; it was put out as a BCEFA production. Natch, I should love this cd because the people performing on it are my peeps. No, I don’t know most of them, personally; but we are all members of the New York arts community and I look on them as family, no matter what. The slight (SLIGHT) Problem here is that some of the arrangements are somewhat over the top – but it isn’t as obvious as the Hollywood Christmas cd or the NBC cd; so if you just lighten up and go with it, you’re ready to roll. In fact, it’s really kind of enjoyable. So let’s talk about what I like most of all on this cd… Christine Ebersole singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – and that’s saying a lot because I usually only like the Judy Garland version. It is sublime and gorgeous. Sam Harris doing Merry Christmas Darling –same thing; usually I only want to hear Karen Carpenter sing this song –but it’s Sam Harris, dudes. Mwahvelous. Jane Krakowski’s Santa Baby is sweetly understated and crisp while my darling Alan Cumming does a festive (if a bit silly) duet with Liza on Baby It’s Cold Outside. The Callaways do O Holy Night and to no like that is to not like anything. Daphne Rubin-Vega’s Feliz Navidad is FAB. There’s some lovely and wistful work from Anthony Rapp on Little Drummer Boy and Adam Pacal on New York State of Mind. Patrick Wilson’s We Need a Little Christmas: a delight. Victor Garber’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas is actually the most heartfelt one for me – AGAIN, strange to say because Nancy LaMott’s absolutely destroys me.. but the other day I had my Ipod on and this track was playing as I strolled Manhattan and it just struck a chord in me. It was so honest, so raw. I just love it. Audra McDonald’s White Christmas. Need I say more? It’s White Christmas and it’s Audra McDonald. So you see, this is a cd worth buying. Some good stuff here, thank heaven! Especially after those last two cds. OY.

A Nancy Wilson Christmas. It’s a well documented fact that I am an ardent fan of Miss Nancy Wilson. My daddy introduced me to her work when I was ten or eleven and it has been a passionate love affair ever since. It was, therefore, a great thrill to discover she had a Christmas cd. It was, though, a heartbreak. You see, all the things that I love about Nancy Wilson are exactly what I dislike about the majority of this cd. I sort of feel like Christmas music should be simple, hearfelt, sincere. There is, for the most part, no discernible emotion at all. That’s the bummer. And I gave this cd more consideration than I would most cds. I went beyond my customary 60 second rule and listened to each track for a full two minutes before hitting the skip button. Every single Nacny Wilson cd is listed in my favourites file, until now. Fooey. I will admit that I kept her jazzed up White Christmas in my Ipod, as well as a lovely ballad called All Through the Night and an appropriately jazzy What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Her Christmas Time is Here is alright, though not the best (but, really, is anything better than the original Peanuts version?) and her The Christmas Song is nice, relaxed, jazzy (which, I guess, is the way it should be). The great track on this cd (almost every cd has at least one great track) is her Carol of the Bells. This track will always be on my Christmas playlist – it’s brilliant.

Holiday Soul. I don’t know where this cd came from but it’s in my collection so I played it. It isn’t something I should have liked – like that Nancy Wilson cd; I expected it to be devoid of emotion, of sincerity. Well the first thing I got was an Aretha Franklin Kissing By the Mistletoe and I thought “wow”. Next up: Otis Redding doing Merry Christmas Baby. “wow”. BB King going Christmas Celebration. “wow”. Suffice it to say, as I played the cd filled with wonderful recordings by Louis Armstrong, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Ella Fitzgerald… you know the type. Great artists making great Christmas music. Score!
A Rosie Christmas is another one of those cds somebody gave me and I put it away because I don’t like Rosie O’Donnell. Well, I should clarify. I don’t want to hear her talk. I don’t want to be exposed to her antics. I don’t want to know about her personal life and I don’t want her, in any way, politically active. HOWEVER. I think she has done some lovely acting – I have really enjoyed some of her work. I have loved some of her stand up – I have really enjoyed her stand up. I hate it when she sings. I don’t understand people who want to sing and don’t’ take lessons enough to be able to sing in public without their audience cringing. So I had this cd in my caselogic, unlistened to, except for the track she does with Cher which, natch, went immediately into my Ipod. So when I got it out to play it, imagine my surprise when she created some lovely harmonies with Billy Joel on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; or when she does a lovely White Christmas with Sir Elton John. Extremely festive is the duet of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town with Rosemary Clooney and very fun and twangy is the Santa On the Rooftop with Trisha Yearwood. Not wild about the odd arrangement on Winter Wonderland with Donny Osmond, extremely reviled by the Do You Hear What I Hear duet with Elmo. But I LOVE the track with Cher. I also love that there is a mention in the liner notes that the proceeds from the sale of the cd all went to charity, including the artists’ fees. So. I may not like Rosie; but I respect her.

Elliott Yamin My Kind of Holiday was a gift from my husband last year. A Christmas cd on Christmas day.. well, natch, it didn’t get a lot of play last year. So this year I have been getting to know it. I did so with some trepidation because I did NOT like his debut cd in spite of having loved him on American Idol. So it was with delight that I played this cd and, track after track, found myself grooving around the room. He’s got a great mixture of songs we all know and songs that we will get to know. He went a little over the top on Jingle Bells (I really don’t know why people still record this song) and I admit it outright: don’t like the song Back Door Santa. Don’t like it. Don’t like it. So the bottom line is this is an O K cd. Not my favourite and not one I will listen to from start to finish – but there are some highly listenable cuts on it.

Chris Isaak Christmas – I picked it up for 3 dollars in a bin at the store last year because I love Chris Isaak. Nancy Wilson proved to me that just loving someone isn’t enough. This cd is just a little too specific for me. I know it’s the way Chris Isaak plays, it’s the sound he makes, the music he likes.. I just don’t know how to do Christmas on the beach. It’s so much guitar and so much dudery. It just doesn’t fit the mood that I find myself needing at Christmastime. That being said, I love the song Washington Square and I also have to admit that I love his Blue Christmas (but I love that song anyway…). And for a change of mood, Hey Santa! is really fun, as is Christmas on TV. What I find is this: if an artist does their style, their music with NEW Christmas songs that are new to me, I can get into it. If they put new spins on the classics, I tend to not buy into it. I want Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald. What is really lovely is his low tempo Mele Kalikimaka and his rather traditional Christmas Song. All in all, I put it higher on my list than Elliott Yamin and, certainly, higher than Nancy Wilson (GOD that hurts me to say) because I do love him, so; his voice is like French silk frosting on a butter cake. So even though it ain’t Nancy LaMott or The Carpenters, I’ll get it out and play it once every Christmas season.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Listen Up: The Christmas Music Part One

Like most people who have an Ipod, I have various playlists; I’m not sure how many people have a Christmas playlist in their Ipod but I sure do. I don’t have a lot of actual Christmas cds… that would take up too much space (I have so many, so, so many) but a couple of playlists featuring my favourite Christmas music… that’s totally reasonable.

There are, I discovered today, one or two complete Christmas albums in my Ipod. For instance:

NancyLaMott Just In Time For Christmas. This is, for me, the greatest Christmas album of all time. It really brings the season to life for me. I am so pleased that it means as much to the other members of my family as it does to me – because last night, when it came time to decorate the tree, Brady and Pat both wanted to hear this cd. It is, for our family, the definitive Christmas cd. I always listen, year round even, to her recordings of A Child is Born, Stay With Me, Just in Time for Chistmas, I Saw Three Ships/Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella and I’ll Be Home For Christmas. That’s a lot of favourites for one cd. That should speak volumes.

Michael Buble Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! I admit it. I love Michael Buble. I am one of the masses. And this cd delivers, for me, as much as his regular cds. The only problem is that it is so very brief.

The Carpenters Christmas Portrait. My friend, Paul J. Williams, and I agree on a FEW things. We disagree on a few things, too. One of my proudest moments was when we bonded together over the perfection of the Carpenters Christmas records, on the perfection of HER vocal affluence and how it just isn’t Christmas without Christmas tunes by this group. Two of the best Christmas songs of all time are Merry Christmas Darling and Little Altar Boy.

Maureen McGovern: Christmas With Maureen McGovern is actually one of my favourite entire Christmas cds. It’s in my Ipod, start to finish, because every track is lovely and Christmas-y (leave us not mention her perfect vocals). It is an album without gimmick, even though there is an extremely clever Santa Claus is C.omin’ to Town. My favourites: Caroling, Caroling and The Holy and the Ivey/Bright Bright the Holly Berries. Wonderful!
Barbra Streisand The Christmas Album. You may love her, you may hate her but you cannot deny that this is one of the best, one of the most original, one of the most beautiful Christmas recordings ever done. Every cut, every note, every intake of breath to release those beautiful notes: absolute perfection. My favourite track: The Best Gift.

Bette Midler Cool Yule. This is a fun little album. It’s not the most heartwarming, like LaMott’s and it doesn’t have the consistency of the McGovern one; but it does have the incomparable Miss M running the gamut from bouncy to ballady. I am particularly fond of her Christmas version of From a Distance; and what Bette Midler Christmas cd would be complete without the Hawaii native’s version of Mele Kalikimaka? To make it absolutely perfect, there is a duet with Mr Johnny Mathis…

Nat King Cole Christmas and Kids is a record I grew up with. I have an emotional attachment to every song on it but I especially love the ones that are unique to Mr Cole – Mrs Santa Claus, Buon Natale and The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot (sad but lovely). This is essential Christmas listening.

Sarah Brightman A Winter Symphony is actually a cd you can listen to all year. She mixes in a blend of songs you know with songs you don’t and then has them orchestrated to be so lovely and universal that you don’t realize it’s Christmas music until you hear the word Christmas in the song! Not a big fan of soprano singing (other than Julie Andrews and Rebecca Luker), I can always listen to Sarah. There are some really gorgeous ballads on here like In the Bleak Midwinter and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring – and then there are fun offerings like I wish it could be Christmas Every Day. It’s a REALLY good cd!

The next time I sit down to write about Christmas music, I’ll touch on some of the cds I don’t like and some of the cds I am getting to know.. as well as my ultimate Christmas playlist.

But, for now, go out and pick up one of the cds I’ve mentioned about. May I suggest the Nancy LaMott one?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Picture Down The Hall -- The Jewels in the Crown 2

Two of the friends that I called upon to help with the jewelry photo shoot were two of the people who were, most often, in front of my camera. Whenever I needed a warm body, they wer always there for me, serving as my models without pay.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Little Night Music

I was watching the ice skating on televison. I don’t remember who it was – Peggy Fleming? Dorothy Hamill? Somebody was doing a lovely job skating to Judy Collins sing Send In the Clowns. I didn’t know the song but the performance was lovely.

I was a young teenage boy.
A few years later I bought a cd of instrumental music from Broadway musicals called DIGITAL BROADWAY. There was a medley of two songs called Night Waltz and Send in the Clowns from a musical called A Little Night Music. The sweeping melodies haunted and captivated me. I needed to know more. Even at this young age I was a researcher. I got one of my things for the musical A Little Night Music. A year later, craving to be a singer, I found a store that sold sheet music and vocal selections and bought the music to A Little Night Music so that I could learn the songs – all this without, ever, having heard the cast album. I took that music to my first voice teacher (a high schooler in Switzerland, finding a voice teacher was a tricky thing to do; but I did and he taught me, in his trained operatic style, a few things about singing before I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t do it – a struggle I have fought my entire life). I could not read the music but I could read the words and the song that interested me the most was not Send in the Clowns. The song I wanted to sing was the uber sophisticated Liaisons. My teacher was dubious but he helped me work on the tune, as well as forcing me to try out Send in the Clowns – the song with fewer notes to be hit by my limited range.

Thus began my lifelong association with A Little Night Music.

A freshman in college, I devoured musical theater, spending all my extra cash at Sound Warehouse, buying records every weekend. Each time I bought records, I included a Sondheim album. Soon my collection had almost all of them. Follies, Sweeney Todd, Company, Merrily We Roll Along…. A Little Night Music.

I didn’t understand the intricacies of the score, so I didn’t understand what it meant when people told me the entire score was written in ¾ time. I didn’t know what that meant – but I have, since, been informed that that is a common misconception. The score of A Little Night Music is not comprised only of waltzes. I still don’t really know what that means. They don’t sound like waltzes to me; they only sound like art. I loved that score from the first moment I heard it. I was captivated by the intelligence and the sexiness, by the romance and the reality. It was destined to become one of my favourites.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I went to Amarillo to do a musical (outdoor! Eesh!), where I met a very nice technie named Kyle. I was terribly attracted to him but I wasn’t out of the closet and I didn’t know how to manipulate my gaydar (sometimes I still cannot) so I didn’t know if he was gay and interested. Looking back, I remember laying around his apartment living room, giving us other back and foot rubs and listening to his favourite record – the movie soundtrack to A Little Night Music—and I realize that he was gay and interested. Damn. I missed out on that one. Still, it was sexy, spending parts of that summer in his physical embrace and listening to the rather inferiour recording and looking at the drawing on the cover of the huge tree with the couples fornicating. I had looked at the Broadway cast album many times but it was a darker shade of blue and the couples didn’t show up quite so well. It was dirty. Years later I saw the rather lamentable film version of A Little Night Music; all the humour had been stripped of the script, along with all the sexiness, leaving nothing but some rather opulent scenery and costumes showcased by a film that fell, frustratingly, flat.

In the years to come, I would become acquainted with the Ingmar Bergman film Smiles of a Summer Night. I would see community theater productions that boasted some good production values or some good performances – rarely both. I saw Desiree Armfeldt played by Wendye Clarendon and by Betty Buckley. I listened to a cast album starring the luminous Jean Simmons. Deliriously happy, I watched the live broadcast of the NYCO production starring my childhood idol, Sally Ann Howes. I listened as singers sang the songs from Night Music in concert and on their cds; I listened to people butcher The Miller’s Son and Send in the Clowns while others turned in what would become my favourite versions of the song. I looked at bootlegs of Blair Brown and listened to bootlegs of the original cast, live. I snatched up a new cast recordings starring Judi Dench and picked up a studio recording that featured Sian Phillips and Maria Friedman. I read, with interest, about productions that would star Lee Remick and Natasha Richardson (neither one occurred, sadly, because of the great actresses respective deaths); I heard tell of productions with Lois Nettleton, Juliet Stevenson, Leslie Uggams, Judith Ivey. I heard that Glenn Close would headline the first Broadway revival – something that never happened. I have followed, with voracious appetite, the stories of A Little Night Music.

When I went to work for the Florence Klotz Estate, I got permission from my boss to bring one of the late costumer’s Tony awards home to decorate my abode during the Christmas season. The Tony I chose was A Little Night Music. The first drawing I sought out when I started my job was that of Desriee Armfeldt’s red dress.

It can and should be said that I am a fan of A Little Night Music.

So imagine my delight when my husband stayed up til midnight the night that the tickets went on sale. These were the tickets to the first Broadway revival of my beloved musical and the stars were (one of my homes’ favourites) Catherine Zeta-Jones and the actress who has been the most important actress in both my life and Pat’s.. Miss Angela Lansbury. I awoke the next day and Pat said “I got our tickets to Night Music.”

After waiting weeks of perpetual anticipation, we dressed for the theater and went, giddy and glammed up, to see our divas in this most important production of this most important show. For two plus hours we sat forward in our seats, holding hands, laughing, sighing, crying and wishing we could sing along (sometimes mouthing the words). When we went home, we were on the cloud ninest of heavenly clouds. It was one of those magical nights in a Broadway theater that Pat and I will never forget; on that we have already agreed. Maybe it is just our deep and ardent love of the play itself. Maybe it is our strong affection for Miss Zeta-Jones. Maybe it is our devotion to Miss Lansbury. I can’t say. I don’t care. From the moment the curtain went up, we were destined to be in love.

It’s a small production; that much is clear from the start of the show. When the curtain rises, there is no lush and luxurious set, like the one so many (who have raved about having seen the original production) remember, the set made famous by Boris Aronson. No, this is a wall of mirrors on a bare stage, looking rather like a recital hall. Indeed, instead of a piano, the instrument that starts the show is a cello, placed center stage, like a recital. The Liebeslieder take their places around the cello and the recital has begun. It is a chamber piece being performed by young classical musicians in the middle of an Ingmar Bergman movie. Enter the actors, in modest period dress, mostly dull in colour –it’s rather like looking at a black and white film; it’s rather like looking at a black and white Bergman film. The opulent Florence Klotz costumes we’ve all seen in production stills didn’t make it into this production. These costumes look like the kind of outfits one might see in a production of A Doll’s House. The sets appear to somewhat angular and claustrophobic, not unlike the small rooms and short camera angles to be seen in the movie Smiles of a Summer Night, not unlike the rooms that confine the life and emotions of Nora in the famed Ibsen play mentioned above. It becomes very clear, very fast, that Sir Trevor Nunn has gone to the trouble of looking at the original film upon which this musical is based, has gone to the trouble of looking at the Scandinavian works of the era, the signs of the times, the moods of the day. He has gone back to the source material to bring us INTO the homes and the hearts, the mindsets and the moods of these characters, struggling to find love in the muddle of a sexually driven society. All of this becomes even more abundantly clear when Act Two begins and all the darkness of the city life disappears, only to be replaced by the light of the countryside. What was once black is now white. Did I mention that the film Smiles of a Summer Night is in black and white? We are, indeed, watching an Ingmar Bergman movie. Splashes of colour and oddball configurations illuminate the second act as the guests at Madame Armfeldt’s summer manse become drunk and more clouded by sexual misconduct; and we become drunk with them, watching what appears to be a three dimensional Salvador Dali painting.

Some may be upset that this production has abandoned the glamour of the original production. I don’t understand their upset. After all, why should Trevor Nunn look back to the original production for his inspirations? Why should he not, why WOULD he not, wish to create his OWN artistic vision? It’s a different vision, true; but it is HIS vision.

And what a lovely vision it is.

The smaller orchestra, the smaller orchestrations, allows the audience to really hear each and every delicious syllable of the intricate lyrics. The more intimate settings allow us to really feel as though we are in the room (or at least looking in the window) as these people navigate the relationships and liaisons of their lives. Imagine – the play is set in a land where there are virtually no completely dark hours. It gets dim, but the song itself says that the sun won’t set. These people are living impossibly long days during the lusty months of summertime. Most of them are unemployed and the ones who are employed work hard so that they can play hard. Sex is the foremost thing on their minds. A weekend in the country can be about almost nothing BUT sex. It is only right that the cast be a group of young and vibrant people, the kind who spend all their time actively pursuing the art of procreating. Only Madame Armfeldt, confined to her wheelchair, does not seek out sex; instead, she dispenses memories and advice about the power of sex.

In the star spot, playing this old woman, is Angela Lansbury. Oh, she isn’t the star of the show.. she is a secondary character. Her stature in the business, though, makes her the star. Everyone is there to see Angela Lansbury play Madame Armfeldt. It has, long, been the dream of every theatergoer to see her do this part. Finally, we are all satisfied, for she turns in the performance we have all dreamed of. It is theatrical heaven to hear her say these lines, to hear her sing Sondheim again. Nobody, even the most cynical of theatergoers devoted to hating the production that is NOT the original, could leave the Walter Kerr Theater without being able to say that they were thrilled to see Angie do this part. I would be hard pressed to find a favourite part of her performance but two things I will always remember is how, at the top of Act Two, when she is wheeled out in a wash of blueish-green light, I thought “she looks like Countess Aurelia”; the second is how, as the play progresses, Leonora Armfeldt becomes more and more disheveled until her hair is a wild bird’s nest and her make up appears somewhat grotesque. She is coming apart, physically, before our very eyes, until her famous last line “only the last” eases her into a deep and comforting sleep, at long last. It made me weep

The other star of the show is a bona fide star. This kind of magnetism doesn’t come along every day and when it does, an actor has no choice but to become a star. Oh, they may be an actor, too; but there are certain people who simply cannot help but be a star. When you are in a room with them, you cannot help but stare. Bette Davis had it. So did Errol Flynn. Vanessa Redgrave. Paul Newman. Jessica Lange. Christopher Reeve. Meryl Streep. Kevin Kline. Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman. When they are before you, you simply can not tear your eyes from them. That is Catherine Zeta-Jones all over the place.

There has always been discussion over what makes an actress right to play Desiree Armfeldt. I believe it is a mixture of things… First of all, she is called The One and Only Desiree Armfeldt. So an actress really needs to have the magnetism mentioned above. I think it would be hard to argue with me when I saw Glynis Johns has it. She always has had it. Whether playing Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins or Elsie in While You Were Sleeping, Glynis Johns has always been mesmerizing. Desiree Armfeldt was probably her most shining moment. Those lucky enough to have seen her play the part have talked about it being one of sheer perfection, of absolute joy. I think that the reason Elizabeth Taylor did the film is because she, too, has that kind of magnetism; sadly, something went wrong and the rest of her presence in the movie fell horribly flat. Zeta-Jones has the magnetism, in spades. Among the other qualities I think Miss Desiree Armfeldt needs are warmth – everyone has to love her, from the characters onstage to the people in the audience; sexiness – she has to be a randy, sexy woman that could have any man that she wants; strength—she is a single working mother, making her way in a difficult industry; vulnerability—she needs to let her guard down near the end of the play so that everyone watching (including Frederick Egerman) can see how much she needs him; humour—it is by making people laugh that one makes them fall, truly, in love.

I wasn’t lucky enough to see Glynis Johns. I’ve already said what I thought of Elizabeth Taylor. I didn’t find Betty Buckley possessing of all the qualities I think belong in a good Desiree Armfeldt. I am heartbroken that I didn’t get to see (nobody did) my favourite actress, Lee Remick, as Desiree. Some were lucky enough to see Natasha Richardson (I am sure she was absolute perfection). I have spoken to people who saw this production of Night Music in London with an actress whose name I do not know but who say that she was divine. The other Desiree Armfeldt we all know and talk about is my beloved friend, Judi Dench. I only saw her performance on a tv special about the making of the show, as well as one song performed on a tv special, a tribute to Cameron MacIntosh. All the reports are that hers was the greatest Desiree Armfeldt and the greatest Send In The Clowns, ever. I can’t say. It would be rude to Glynis Johns. I can say that what I know of both of these women’s performances moves me to the marrow. I did see the tv version with Sally Ann Howes as Desiree and I found hers to be a lovely characterization: warm, funny, sexy, strong, vulnerable –and certainly well sung. It is a performance I have championed for many years. I found, less interesting, the dvd bootleg I have of Blair Brown and I missed Juliet Stevenson and Judith Ivey.
Catherine Zeta-Jones, the night we saw the show, seemed to be on her way to meeting the criteria I have for Desiree Armfeldt. I didn’t think she was quite finished baking. She seemed, at times, to be having trouble with her lines and trouble finding the ‘who’ of the woman. She had (definitely had) the magnetism, the strength, the sexiness and the vulnerability. I feel like, when she has found the who, the warmth will follow. It’s not finished yet – but it’s a lot there. I loved her Desiree, I really did. I can’t wait to go back and see how she grows. Some of the things I loved about her Desiree were these: she was real. She was a little pouty and petulant at times (and who among us has not seen an actress stamp her foot and pout, from time to time) and unafraid to be. Pouty and petulant. She was nervous. She was jealous. She was bitter. Parts of Send in the Clowns, it was almost like she was shaking her said, as if to say “I can’t believe you are rejecting me – I can’t believe I opened myself up to this kind of disappointment”. Most of all, what I loved was how much she and Frederick wanted each other. When they were in the room together, it was like all they could do was think about getting naked. It’s been a long, long, time since I have been at a theater and wanting a couple to kiss so much. I was yearning, aching for them to kiss; and in the final moments of the play, she, seated on the ground, looks up at him, simply, with longing and little girl vulnerability, as if to say “please, sweep me off my feet” and he does – and when they (finally!) kiss, the entire audience sighs.

I heard someone say, recently, that Desiree Armfeldt is over the hill and this is her last chance. I can’t say that I agree with that theory. She has a 12 year old daughter – how old can she be? She is a successful actress, so she doesn’t need to marry a man for security. She has a wealthy mother who is approaching her demise – she will inherit all that money. She isn’t reaching her sell by date: she just wants something more than what she has. The fact that this Desiree is so young and beautiful, so vibrant and hearty, makes this production resonate just that much more. It shows that the need for love and a family knows no limitation based on age, class, profession or anything else. It is universal.

Opposite the great Zeta-Jones is an Englishman named Alexander Hanson and, frankly, when I am in the room with him, all I want is to be swept up in his arms and carried away, too. He is handsome as all get-out, sexy as hell, talented to beat the band… he goes toe to toe with the movie star freight trained called the Zeta-Express and he holds his own. I have loved listening to Len Cariou sing on the OBC for over two decades, so it is hard for me to say this: but THIS is my favourite Frederick Egerman. Ever.

And speaking of favourites, let’s talk about Leigh Ann Larkin. Petra is a tricky role. She’s that sassy maid who represents the common folk for whom sex is a pastime, something fun to be done when the work day is through. No middle class morality to cloud her mind – she knows who she is and what she is about. I haven’t ever seen a Petra that I believed – the actress in the part always seems to be very self aware and acting to the audience. And there is the little matter of the difficulty of the song The Miller’s Son (one of my favourites, by the way, and I’ve never heard a Petra do it justice -- for the record my favourite recordings of this song are by Liz Callaway and Rachel York on two different recordings) – I’ve never seen a Petra who was able to handle this number. Til now. Egad. It was stunning. It was dirty, it was raunchy, it was honest, it was funny, it was sexy and it was sung faster than any Miller’s Son I have ever seen

I loved Ramona Mallory as Anne – she was spot on perfect. I loved Aaron Lazar as Carl-Magnus (in both cases, my favourites I’ve ever seen in these parts). I will be on the lookout for them in future parts. Young Hunter Herdlicka put s a new, juvenile spin on Henrik and, though it took me a couple of scenes to get what he was doing, I did get it and I went for it. I never know who is playing the part of a young person in plays because they usually double cast it because of child labour laws. I don’t know which girl was playing Fredrika the night I saw it but she was simply wonderful. Wonderful. The actors playing the Liebeslieder were also simply wonderful and I loved the way Sir Trevor used them in their scenes, like a Scandinavian Greek chorus blended into the action instead of outside of it, watching.
And now we come to the subject of Charlotte Malcolm. I saw Erin Davie in CURTAINS (a show I adored) but I did not see her in Grey Gardens. I was anxious to see what she would do with this character – arguably one of the theatergoing community’s favourites. The character has all the great one liners in the show, that extraordinary song (Every Day A Little Death) and a fabulous arc to follow, as you watch the show. The original, Patricia Elliott, got a Tony award for playing the part. The character is always played by strong women who throw the one liners around with ease, getting the laughs and getting the love (from the audience). Diana Rigg did the movie. Michelle Pawk did it at Lincoln Center. Randy Graff did it in D.C. My favourite has always been the inimitable Maureen Moore on the NYCO PBS broadcast. So I was very excited to see what Erin Davie would do.


She did it different. And while it goes against what I love about Maureen Moore’s performance, I get it. She made Charlotte soft. She made Charlotte a housewife who had been abandoned by her husband. She was weak and weepy and she was desperate. She played the part, not for the laughs, for the emotion, for the reality. She played the part like a woman. You see, the word Countess has confused us all and we think of Charlotte Malcolm as this implacable woman of royal upbringing … but she isn’t. She is a countess by marriage. She is a woman. She married a count. The aristocracy of Europe lived (lives?) differently than normal people and now she must get used to it and put up with all his boloney. So Erin Davie gave this woman a heart and it is broken and her arc becomes stronger and more interesting as she becomes stronger and more interesting until, by the end of the play, she has got her husband back, with the audience cheering her on.

It’s a bold choice.

I applaud bold choices.

Someone recently said a snarky thing to me about a moment in the play in which the characters are seated on the floor with Madame Armfeldt sitting center, in her wheelchair. This person said “Madame Armfeldt would NEVER have her guests sit on the FRIGGIN FLOOR!” I would like to address this comment, now:

Speaking as someone who has lived in Europe and known people of a more aristocratic upbringing, I have observed that the wealthy Europeans, be they royals or rich, don’t care a fig about sitting on a chair or on the ground. They don’t have to care. They know their blood is blue. They don’t’ care about class consciousness because they don’t have to. They require no validation – they know that they live above it all; so they can do whatever the heck they like, including sitting on the ground. Remember the scene in Tea With Mussolini when Lady Hester and her friends and family are sitting on the ground and she says “Americans don’t’ understand picnics”. Squatting on the ground like Bohemians is perfectly acceptable, once you have met your guests and made your first impression. Madame Armfeldt was a peasant, a courtesan; she slept around and made a fortune. Trust me. She doesn’t mind sitting on the floor.

She minds being bored.

I mind being bored, too.
Thank God.
At A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC I wasn’t bored.

Please note that I did not take any of the photos seen in this story of the original Broadway and West End Casts, the National Tour (yes, that is Margarte Hamilton as Madame Armfeldt), the film, the National Theater Production or the current revival on Broadway