Len and I are subscribers to a series called Reprise! at UCLA. Len's a musicals fanatic whereas it's a form I enjoy, but I'd probably equally enjoy a staged comedy or drama. Reprise! was originally billed as rarely revived musicals in a limited mounting--no costumes, no choreography, done on-book. This is no longer the case with Reprise!, but they've added "Magical Musical Mondays," a one-night stand following an opening weekend of Reprise! where the performance is on-book in an in-concert style. The players dress in black, the chairs are lined up behind music stands where the players can set their binders. The orchestra (when needed) is in the background.
We have front row, slightly off-center seats for Reprise!, a benefit of our long-standing status as subscribers. Since we bought MMM seats for only two performances this year, where we sit varies.
On Friday night we saw "No Strings" with Scott Bakula from the front row. Last night, at MMM, we saw "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman" from dead center in the second row. We won the lottery on that one, because in the first row with MMM, you can miss seeing the actors because of the podia.
"No Strings" is the only musical Richard Rodgers did alone. That's a good thing. I love Rodgers and Hammerstein's work together--I'm really familiar with all but two of the works listed in the program. And I've enjoyed many of the productions he did with other co-writers, "Two by Two" having a special place in my heart since I did get to see it with Danny Kaye in New York in June, 1971 (very funny performer, said to be an SOB in real life.) The production of "No Strings" was terrific and Bob Mackie did the costumes--which should give you a clue as to how far from the "limited productions" Reprise! has traveled. The performers were all very, very good, particularly Matt Ashford who is more familiar to me from his work in "Days of Our Lives" (Len's addiction, I've never liked the soaps) than as a stage performer. Scott Bakula, of "Quantum Leap" and "Enterprise" fame, has had a stellar career on the stage as well.
Nevertheless, I hated the show. I hated the book. There were only two characters--the Vogue editor and the heiress who stole the show--that I liked. And usually I really have to like spending time with the characters to enjoy the show (have I mentioned how much I hate "Sweeney Todd," one of Len's favorite Sondheim's?) But boy are those Bob Mackie costumes worth the price of admission. On the other hand, you shouldn't leave a musical singing the scenery, as Len likes to put it (a criticism we had of "Lion King," which has memorable songs but a lousy story line. Do you realize the show-stopping "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" means that the kid is wishing for his father to die?) All in all, an evening probably not worth the price of admission.
On the other hand, the Superman musical was a hoot. Len saw the original cast in New York in 1966. He remembered it not fondly, but hey, it's a comic book show. The tone was more 60s Batman slightly campy than the more respectful way the material is treated these days, but it was much better than Len's 40 year memories made it. Much, much better. We had a great time.
When Len saw the original, Jack Cassidy played the egotistical reporter (except for Lois, Clark, and Superman, none of the characters are from the comic book, so there's no continuity to worry about.) Last night, Patrick Cassidy revived his father's part. We've seen Patrick a number of times on the stage in L.A. and he's always good. He was a particularly good Bobby in "Company" and we saw him and his brother Shaun sing two of the princes' songs from "Into the Woods" at an all-Sondheim charity benefit earlier this year. The rest of the cast was equally excellent and there was a very nice posture transformation from Superman to Clark Kent which, with the glasses, makes it quite clear who's portrayed at any point.
The music really sounds like mid-60s American (as opposed to British Invasion.) Len only recalled "You've Got Possibilities" (originally sung by Linda Lavin, I think) as being a break-out, but the rest of the numbers were bouncy and toe-tapping. I just might have to find the CD.
The other fun of Reprise! and MMM is who else is in the audience. On Monday, we saw comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and Shirley Jones (not together), two people we've met on other occasions. Bruce is clean-shaven these days, perhaps a hold-over from his time on Broadway in "Hairspray." Shirley Jones, as always, looked great. Len also said he saw Angie Dickinson. On other evenings we've seen Noelle Neill (Len will be joining her in Metropolis, Illinois next month for a big Superman convention), Jason Alexander, Jayne Meadows, and her now late husband, Steve Allen (yes, we've been attending Reprise! for years.)
The Superman musical definitely made up for "No Strings." We're looking forward to next year's Reprise! season. They've added a show, so now we'll get four instead of three. I'm hoping "Lil' Abner" will be as much fun as Superman was.
Lunch with the Barefoot Contessa
4 weeks ago