Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Solve Your Problems - A Musical Answer

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Climb every mountain, of course.

I've always felt that good art allows you to gain some insight about life. You may not have a major epiphany, but you get to take away something to enrich your own existence. And in musical theatre, you should leave able to hum a few bars and remember at least a snippet of lyrics.

Daring Daughter's Beauty and the Beast mini-production includes Be Our Guest, with wonderful lines like
Try the grey stuff; it's delicious
Don't believe me? Ask the dishes
They can sing, they can dance

After all, Miss, this is France
And a dinner here is never second best
Go on, unfold your menu
Take a glance and then you'll

Be our guest
Oui, our guest
Be our guest!

Okay, maybe that's not the most profound advice. But I will say we never had a bad meal in France. And I'm crazy in love with the fun rhymes and melody of this song.

We saw two other musicals in Portland this past week, Ragtime and Sondheim's Company. Each had extremely talented casts. Each was beautifully choreographed.

Coalhouse Walker (Gavin Gregory) sings to Sarah (Rachael Ferrera)

Ragtime shares a vision of the American dream at the turn of the century, when anything seemed possible, even for new immigrants. Consider this excerpt from the song Success:
I'm J.P. Morgan my friends
The wealthiest man on this earth!


You immigrants, look up to me
And you'll see what money is worth!


One day your immigrant sweat
Might get you the whole U.S.!

And if you're trapped
And failure seems imminent,
Think of Houdini,
That fabulous immigrant!
Break those chains with all you possess!

This is America!
This is the land of success!

I'm teaching a course on the American Dream this winter. After reading Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, I felt more than a bit cynical while listening to this song. Ultimately, Ragtime left me saddened about how much injustice persists in America. It wasn't inspiring; it felt like, well, what it was: a really long novel about a period in American history with unhappy endings for many of the characters. Not that I demand a happy ending (okay, I sort of do), but I'd like a sense of forward movement, of progress at least.

Company was in some ways even more unsatisfying. Sure, the performances were stellar. Great singing. But the characters were mostly unlikable, or at least not developed enough for us to care about them. The problem lies with the play's original construction - it was a series of one act plays, rejected until the playwright hooked up with Sondheim to weave a score around them and tie them together. The result is a series of vignettes in which couples try to persuade a 35 year old bachelor friend that he should get married; that marriage provides one with company. How does it end? Well, I'll just say that Daring Daughter, a person who likes clear resolutions, was displeased.

I will admit, though, that it had more clever lyrics. Consider The Little Things You Do Together:
It's the little things you share together,
Swear together,
Wear together,
That make perfect relationships.
The concerts you enjoy together,
Neighbors you annoy together,
Children you destroy together,
That keep marriage intact.

Or Sorry-Grateful:
You're always sorry,
You're always grateful,
You hold her, thinking:
"I'm not alone."
You're still alone.

You don't live for her,
You do live with her,
You're scared she's starting
To drift away,
And scared she'll stay.
Or Being Alive:
Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.
I'd love to know if anyone reluctant to wed has seen Company, experienced an aha! moment, and then got married. I do know that, watching it, I became annoyed with the pushy married couples, recognized my own similar misbehavior toward some single friends, and vowed to refrain in the future.

My ultra suave second husband Hugh Laurie is a talented musician/singer/songwriter. His compositions help to guide us in our daily lives; they provide a vision and a plan of action to deal with the challenges we face. This is one of the family's favorite songs. I do hope you enjoy it, and comment with your favorite line. There are so many good ones.


A Tired Wife said...

Oh ... what bad timing ... to watch the "Kicking Ass" video and be right at the point where background guy really takes off ... and JUST as I'm bursting into a fit of giggles ... Boss Man walks by.

Yeah, what's that look for buddy? I'll kick your ass. LMAO!!!!!

Bee said...

Of course I've already enjoyed the Kicking Ass song. (I have to say that those English boys really "get" America.)

I want to say something about Sondheim and marriage but I'm too tired to form a coherent thought and I can't think of the show I want to refer to. It's kind of depressing, though.

It's 1:32 am. I better go to bed.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't watch the Hugh Laurie/Stephen Fry song because, where I live, we have musicians just like that, and it's a tad depressing.

So, Hugh Laurie's your new second husband. Your standards are slipping! I guess he's sexy on "House" but if you see him sans stubble with that awful posh English accent of his, he wouldn't be attractive at all.

Fantastic Forrest said...

A Tired Wife - deepest apologies. I will endeavor to provide a NSFW warning in future. Although...if Boss Man didn't find that a funny clip, you should really get another job.

Bee - Once you've slept, you must revisit the Sondheim/marriage theme and share your brilliance.

petrochoric - Sorry, lass. Hugh's not my new second husband. He's been the light of my life for a loooooong time. I found his stubblelessness and actual speaking voice a MAJOR thrill. I'm glad you don't fancy him, because I'm going to have to fight Bee for him as it is. A talented musician, a fine actor, a hilarious comedian, and a damned sexy beast.

Anonymous said...

A NSFW? What? I know not of this NSFW of which you speak. Spill it woman!

Fantastic Forrest said...

The google oracle reveals all: NSFW = not safe for work.