Music For Midsummer’s Eve

Today is Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden. Held each year around the summer solstice, Midsummer festivities have roots in ancient pagan rituals. With countryside bonfires and maypole dances, Swedes and other Scandinavians mark the beginning of a brief period of warmth and extended daylight after many dark, cold months. This time of year, in northern Sweden the sun never sets, while in the south it sets for only an hour or two. Midsummer’s Eve in …

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Happy Birthday, Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the American composer and lyricist, celebrates his 87th birthday today. Last summer, there were rumors that a new Sondheim show, currently in the “workshop” phase, would open this year, off-Broadway. With or without a new work, Sondheim’s contribution to American musical theater is undeniable. With Sondheim, the modern, plot-driven musical (a genre which emerged with Jerome Kern’s 1927 Show Boat and matured with Rodgers and Hammerstein) reached its zenith. Sondheim scores such …

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“Of Thee I Sing”: Gershwin’s Wacky, Tuneful, Political Satire

Today is President’s Day in the U.S. Over the past few years, here at The Listeners’ Club, we’ve marked the occasion with musical portraits of Washington, Lincoln and even Richard Nixon. Today, let’s consider the fictitious presidential candidate John P. Wintergreen who runs on a “love” platform. He’s the goofy protagonist of the 1931 Pulizer-Prize-winning Broadway musical satire Of Thee I Sing, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by George S. …

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“Hallelujah, Baby!”: African-American Civil Rights on Broadway in 1967

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here are two excerpts from Hallelujah, Baby!, a 1967 Broadway musical which has been described as “a chronicle of the struggle for equality during the [first half of the] 20th century.” The plot of Hallelujah Baby! centers around Georgina, a talented, young African-American woman who is determined to develop a career in show business despite her mother’s advice that she “keep her place” as a maid on a South Carolina estate. …

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Candide at 60

Last Thursday marked the 60th anniversary of the Broadway opening of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, a work based on the novella by Voltaire, which falls somewhere between musical theater and operetta. It isn’t often that an overture stops the show, but that’s one of the details Barbara Cook, who played the role of Cunégonde, remembers from the night of December 1, 1956. I am extremely proud to have been part of the original cast of Leonard …

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Kurt Weill’s “September Song” and the Power of Harmony

Even in the case of a popular song, harmony can be as important as melody. For example, listen to the harmonic surprise at the beginning of Richard Rodgers’ If I Loved You from Act 1 of the groundbreaking 1945 musical, Carousel. On the word, “loved,” a sudden, poignant diminished seventh chord takes us to a completely different world. This one melancholy chord tells us everything we need to know about what might lie ahead in the …

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Sinatra in Sin City

This week, I’m attending the 100th convention of the American Federation of Musicians in Las Vegas. Architectural permanence isn’t one of this buzzing entertainment mecca’s attributes. It’s a place which is eternally re-inventing itself- tearing down the old and rebuilding an ever-more-grandiose present, without much regard for the future. Hotels and casinos go up, and then disappear like a mirage in the desert, as last week’s demolition of the iconic Riviera Hotel reminded us. …

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