Remembering Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury, the legendary star of film, stage, and television, passed away last Tuesday. She would have turned 97 on October 16. Beginning in the 1940s, the Irish-British-American actress earned acclaim on the silver screen with prominent roles in films which included Gaslight (1944), National Velvet (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Between 1984 and 2003, she starred in the popular CBS television series, Murder, She Wrote. Lansbury’s …

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Gershwin on Piano Roll: “Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling”

George Gershwin’s delirious foxtrot, Sweet and Lowdown, was written for the 1925 musical, Tip-Toes. With lyrics by Ira Gershwin, the farcical comedy centers around a three-member vaudeville act which, through duplicity, attempts to snare a wealthy millionaire. The melody exemplifies the high-flying euphoria of the Roaring Twenties, with jazz and blues harmonies and exuberant, tumbling rhythms. George Gershwin’s 1926 performance is preserved on piano roll: The song, That Certain Feeling, was also written for Tip-Toes. It’s …

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“The Colors of My Life”: Cy Coleman Trio

Cy Coleman (1929-2004) was a jazz pianist and one of the great composers of the American musical theater. His Broadway musicals included Sweet Charity (1966), Barnum (1980), City of Angels (1989), and The Will Rogers Follies (1991). One of Coleman’s most enduring songs is The Colors of My Life from the circus-themed Barnum, based on the life of the brash nineteenth century showman, P.T. Barnum. The song, with lyrics by Michael Stewart, comes from a tender moment in the show’s …

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Remembering Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, one of the giants of the American musical theater, has passed away at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was 91. Sondheim was the composer and lyricist for musicals including: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1987). …

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Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”: The Groundbreaking “Bench Scene”

Stephen Sondheim once called the “bench scene” from the first act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical, Carousel, “the singular most important moment in the evolution of contemporary musicals.” Indeed, this extraordinary 12-minute-long love scene, anticipated in earlier Hammerstein works such as Show Boat (1927) and Oklahoma! (1943), set the stage for the late twentieth century Broadway of Sondheim. According to the scholar Thomas Hischak, the scene “is considered the most completely integrated piece of music-drama in the American …

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Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”: Three Operatic Moments

Stephen Sondheim’s grisly 1979 musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, tells a story of blood-soaked, all-consuming revenge which ends in self-annihilation. The action is set in 1845, amid the gloom and hellish alienation of rapidly industrializing Victorian London. The barber, Sweeney Todd, has returned to London from exile in Australia. He was sent there on false charges by the corrupt Judge Turpin, who with the help of Beadle Bamford, tormented and raped …

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“One Touch of Venus”: Excerpts from Kurt Weill’s Musical Comedy

On this date 77 years ago (October 7, 1943), the original production of Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre. The musical comedy is a farcical spoof of the Pygmalion myth. The story is set in motion when a New York City barber, Rodney Hatch, places the engagement ring he intends to give to his fiancé on the finger of a statue of the goddess Venus at an art museum. …

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