Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rachael Lily Rosenbloom Lives!

With all the Hello, Dolly-baloo last week, another small yet pivotal performance (in the annals of musical theatre history) took place on Monday March 13, 2017: the first performance in 44 years of Paul Jabara's self-proclaimed disco musical Rachael Lily Rosenbloom ... And Don't You Ever Forget It.

Written almost entirely by Jabara (with book help from Tom Eyen), Rachael... never made it to Broadway despite seven previews at the Broadhurst Theatre. Since the musical Carrie has been revamped and is now produced often, Rachael... captures the crown as the most notorious flop in Broadway history. Unfortunately, even with the tweaks afforded the show for this concert staging, one can see why. The book is a pastiche of musical theatre references and campy laughs that don't really gel as a compelling story. And the characterization of Rachael makes no sense within the context of, for example, the title - Rachael changes her name to Raquel halfway through the show. In other words, we've forgotten it.

The songs are fun but then Paul Jabara writes fun songs. Remember It's Raining Men, The Main Event, No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) and his Oscar-winning Last Dance? The latter was appended to this concert as a finale but none of Rachael...'s score is as memorable as the aforementioned pop hits although Dear Miss Streisand and Broadway Rhythm immediately come to mind as standouts. (Jabara did record a revision of the musical's Ocho Rios on his 1986 album De La Noche: The True Story (A Poperetta).)

Interestingly, on my very rare audience recording (puff, puff) of one of the 1973 previews (starring Ellen Greene and Anita Morris), the audience is quite receptive to the performance - as was the audience last week at Feinstein’s/54 Below. In my opinion, it had more to do with the performers and audience than the material being performed. Bonnie Milligan (as Rachael), Julia Mattison (as Stella Starfuckoff, the role originated by Morris) and Anastasia McClesky had the showiest roles but all the performers and the band made the hour and 15 minute concert quite enjoyable. My conclusion though is Rachael... will now be forgotten for another 44 years.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Divine Hello, Dolly!

In the new revival of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!, Bette Midler doesn’t so much inhabit the character of Dolly Gallagher Levi as allow Dolly to inhabit her own divinity. With double takes and side eyes, Bette's Dolly breaks the fourth wall while mining all the laughs from Michael Stewart’s classic book. (Breaking the fourth wall is a typical conceit of original playwright Thornton Wilder.) Midler is ably aided by David Hyde Pierce, a perfect foil as Horace Vandergelder and someone who the producers felt worthy enough to add the previously cut Vandergelder solo, Penny In My Pocket, as the second act opener. The rest of the supporting cast sing and dance joyfully in the ageless musical: Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl is adorable, Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy is resplendent, Taylor Trensch as Barnaby Tucker is a mensch and Beanie Feldstein as Minnie Fay is a revelation. The sets are darling, dances energetic throwbacks, costumes colorfully vintage and Herman’s songs tuneful as ever.

Undoubtedly though everyone in the house for this first (March 15) preview was there for Midler’s return to the musical theatre. Exhilaration was in the air as we braved the 20 degree weather for the 8:00 PM curtain. (No late seating EVER … for this engagement.) When Bette finally enters on a trolley, there’s a standing ovation. Bette lifts her skirts to dance at Irene Molloy’s, there’s a standing ovation. She sings the act one closer Before The Parade Passes By, there’s a standing ovation. And following the always entertaining Waiters’ Gallop, when the Harmonia Gardens curtains part and Bette descends the stairs to the strains of the classic title tune, the roar of approval is deafening. Bette’s Dolly is, at once, boisterous, reflective, quirky … and quite hungry. This role would be her star-making turn - if she hadn’t already been a star for almost fifty years! Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! is an event that comes along once in a lifetime and lucky me I have tickets for two more events. How lucky can you get!

(How lucky can you get! See what I did there?)

Click the link for a NSFW throwback on Bette called It's Not Porn. It's Bette Midler!.